John Eldredge

Sh! The Octopus (1937, William C. McGann)

Sh! The Octopus is a painfully unfunny spoof of the “old dark house” genre. Instead of a house, though, it takes place in a lighthouse on a rocky island. That setting should be enough, but it appears Warner only budgeted for the lighthouse model. The action principally takes place inside the lighthouse, in its large central room.

We hear about other rooms… but we never get to see them.

The film opens with John Eldredge taking possession of the lighthouse. The action then awkwardly moves to Allen Jenkins and Hugh Herbert as two moron detectives. Octopus is in this weird, “make fun of the Irish” comedy style. I’ve never really seen anything like it before….

Anyway, Herbert and Jenkins end up at the lighthouse and countless characters magically appear there too. No one seems to remember it’s supposed to be three miles out to sea.

Most of the acting is bad. Herbert’s endearing, but not good. Jenkins is endearing and mediocre. He’s clearly better than the material.

Eldredge is good. Margaret Irving is absolutely fantastic.

Sadly, she’s not in the film enough and, as Eldredge’s romantic interest, Marcia Ralston is terrible. George Rosener’s awful too.

There’s one amazing special effect at the end (and some good ones throughout involving octopus arms), but there’s nothing else. The most amusing part is this strange section with animals performing tricks.

The plot gets really confusing, which got me hoping the payoff would at least be satisfactory.

Unfortunately, it is not. Not one bit.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William C. McGann; screenplay by George Bricker, based on a play by Ralph Spence and a play by Ralph Murphy and Donald Gallaher; director of photography, Arthur L. Todd; edited by Clarence Kolster; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Hugh Herbert (Kelly), Allen Jenkins (Dempsey), Marcia Ralston (Vesta Vernoff), John Eldredge (Paul Morgan), George Rosener (Capt. Hook), Brandon Tynan (Capt. Cobb), Eric Stanley (Police Commissioner Patrick Aloysious Clancy), Margaret Irving (Polly Crane) and Elspeth Dudgeon (Nanny).


Dangerous Partners (1945, Edward L. Cahn)

Much of Dangerous Partners‘s excellence comes from the script. Edmund L. Hartmann adapted Eleanor Perry’s story, which Marion Parsonnet then from wrote the screenplay from–in other words, it’s hard to know who’s responsible for the script’s brilliance.

Partners has a complex, unpredictable plot–it constantly forces the viewer to reevaluate characters and situations. Added to that compelling mystery element (really, the plot is superior… it’s better than most Hitchcock just in terms of fluidity and inventiveness) are the characters. Again, it’s hard to place responsibility, but every single character in the film is incredibly strong. As it progresses, further depths reveal themselves… it’s just fantastic.

The film sets up five principals–John Warburton and Signe Hasso are married con artists, Warner Alexander is a businessman, Audrey Totter is his showgirl fiancee, and James Craig is Alexander’s corrupt attorney. Edmund Gwenn shows up as a mystery man in all their lives.

Of all the performances, Totter’s is the only one with any weakness. She recovers and does well.

But Hasso and Craig are absolutely amazing. Hasso’s cold-hearted con woman, just arriving in America to make a fast buck, is frightening. Especially when she cruelly knocks Warburton around to motivate him.

And Craig… Craig manages to make a reprehensible mob lawyer not just likable, but an excellent lead character. Craig really holds the film together.

So what’s wrong with the film?

Director Cahn. While his medium and long shots are rather uninspired, his close-ups are particularly disastrous.

Still, Partners still manages to succeed.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edward L. Cahn; screenplay by Marion Parsonnet, based on an adaptation by Edmund L. Hartmann and a story by Eleanor Perry; director of photography, Karl Freund; edited by Ferris Webster; music by David Snell; produced by Arthur Field; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring James Craig (Jeff Caighn), Signe Hasso (Carola Ballister), Edmund Gwenn (Albert Richard Kingby), Audrey Totter (Lili Roegan), Mabel Paige (Marie Drumman), John Warburton (Clyde Ballister), Henry O’Neill (Police Lt. Duffy), Grant Withers (Jonathan Drumman), Felix Bressart (Prof. Roland Budlow), Warner Anderson (Miles Kempen), Stephen McNally (Co-pilot) and John Eldredge (Farrel).


Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case (1940, Harold S. Bucquet)

I wonder, did Lew Ayres ever feel like Jimmy Kildare was a heel? I mean, he’s an unbelievably nice guy–he won’t propose to nurse Mary Lamont (Laraine Day sleepwalks through almost all of Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case, since there’s only one scene where she needs to do anything) because he doesn’t want to make her wait until his internship is over. If it means he loses her to wealthy neurosurgeon Shepperd Strudwick, well, so be it. In fact, he’s such a nice guy… he’s going to risk his career (and prison time) to make sure Strudwick doesn’t get a raw deal–and, presumably, can then marry Day.

Ayres is okay–he certainly doesn’t play the role with any self-awareness–he’s believable as the impossibly well-meaning Kildare. Maybe it isn’t those good intentions, maybe it’s a lack of consideration for himself. It’s selflessness as a certifiable condition. Every single one of these movies, Ayres ends up doing something illegal and he never worries about it. Usually his mom tells him it’s the right thing to do. In Strange Case–the urge to say “in the case of Strange Case” was unbearable–he’s got to force insulin shock treatment (for schizophrenia, they just call it insanity in the script) on a patient in order to save Strudwick. The obvious, putting the John Doe patient’s picture in the newspaper, doesn’t occur to Ayres or any of the hospital staff (they don’t even call the cops). I read up on insulin shock therapy, just because the film’s treatment of it is so goofy. The insulin causes patient John Eldredge’s brain to devolve to a primeval state, then the mind repairs itself. There are a couple of explanations of this phenomenon, first from Samuel S. Hinds (as Ayres’s father… who visits just in time for every movie) then from Ayres. It sounds absurd both times and I had to look it up. Couldn’t find anything about the primeval state… but it’s interesting a film from 1940 doesn’t question evolution. Of course, 1940 is before the G.I. Bill dumbed down American high schools.

Anyway, Strange Case is fine. There’s not much plot to it–Eldredge doesn’t even show up until the halfway point–and it just allows for the cast, now on their fourth picture in the series, to go crazy. Every performance in the film, from the supporting cast members who got saddled with perfunctory scenes before, is great. Walter Kingsford, Frank Orth, Alma Kruger and Horace McMahon (well, I’m not sure he was in any of the other ones, but it’s implied here) all have these fantastic scenes, just because there’s not enough story so they get more material and they’re wonderful. Emma Dunn and Nat Pendleton, who usually do get material, get even better material here. Dunn’s got her best scene in the four films in Strange Case.

And, of course, Lionel Barrymore is outstanding. He and Ayres have a good banter here, even if the movie–as usual–has him firing Ayres for a few minutes.

Bucquet’s direction is phoned in. He’s fine in his composition except for close-ups. It’s like he wasn’t going to do any, then came back and shot them. The close-ups don’t match. It must have driven editor Gene Ruggiero nuts trying to put the picture together.

Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case is a perfectly inoffensive (narratively, anyway) seventy minutes. It would have been a fine to sit through at an air conditioned movie house on a hot summer day… except it opened in April.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Harold S. Bucquet; screenplay by Harry Ruskin and Willis Goldbeck, story by Max Brand and Goldbeck; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Gene Ruggiero; music by David Snell; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lew Ayres (Dr. Jimmy Kildare), Lionel Barrymore (Dr. Leonard Gillespie), Laraine Day (Nurse Mary Lamont), Shepperd Strudwick (Dr. Greg Lane), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Stephen Kildare), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Martha Kildare), Nat Pendleton (Joe Wayman), Walter Kingsford (Dr. Walter Carew), Alma Kruger (Molly Byrd), John Eldredge (Henry Adams), Nell Craig (Nurse Parker) and Marie Blake (Sally).


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