Laraine Day

The Woman on Pier 13 (1949, Robert Stevenson)

The politics of The Woman on Pier 13 are more interesting than the film itself. While it’s rabidly anti-Communist, the film is pro-Union. It sets up the Communist Party (the USA branch—there’s no mention of Soviet ties) as an unimaginably devious and effective organization. There’s no motive for their activities—except to mess with honest, working Americans… in the Union—but villain Thomas Gomez is still fantastic. He doesn’t fret about motivation.

Also more interesting than the film are its credits. Laraine Day gets top billing, but she doesn’t even need to be present until the last twenty minutes. The film’s pacing is awkward, with most of it following either Day’s new husband, played by Robert Ryan, or his old flame, played by Janis Carter. The billing probably should’ve had Day third after Ryan and Carter.

The only thing motivating Ryan’s character throughout is his desire to hide his old Communist Party membership. Even when it becomes clear Day may be in danger, Ryan hesitates. Worse, Ryan doesn’t show any understanding of the character’s selfishness. Instead of being the complicated story of a coward who looks like Robert Ryan, it’s Ryan behaving nonsensically.

Carter’s got some great moments, but her hysterics are fairly awful. John Agar’s good as Day’s impressionable younger brother.

The film’s best performance is from William Talman as a sociopathic hit man. He’s amazing.

Stevenson’s composition’s okay but Roland Gross’s editing is bad. Leigh Harline’s score is terrible.

The film’s peculiar, but not worthwhile.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Stevenson; screenplay by Charles Grayson and Robert Hardy Andrews, based on a story by George W. George and George F. Slavin; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Roland Gross; music by Leigh Harline; produced by Jack J. Gross; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Laraine Day (Nan Lowry Collins), Robert Ryan (Bradley Collins), John Agar (Don Lowry), Thomas Gomez (Vanning), Janis Carter (Christine Norman), Richard Rober (Jim Travers), William Talman (Bailey), Paul E. Burns (J.T. Arnold), Paul Guilfoyle (Ralston), G. Pat Collins (Charlie Dover), Fred Graham (Grip Wilson), Harry Cheshire (J. Francis Cornwall) and Jack Stoney (Garth).


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).


The Secret of Dr. Kildare (1939, Harold S. Bucquet)

Watching The Secret of Dr. Kildare is about two things–seeing Lionel Barrymore’s fantastic performance (even as he’s spouting expositional dialogue, it’s riveting) and finding out the deep dark secret of patient Helen Gilbert. It’s the third film in the series and the staples are already in place–Lew Ayres, under some false pretense, stops working for Barrymore. Ayres’s parents, Samuel S. Hinds and Emma Dunn, show up for some contrived reason. Laraine Day is heartbroken Ayres doesn’t know she loves him. Nat Pendleton flirts with Marie Blake before having one fantastic scene involving a fist fight. The script’s just loose melodramatic threads to get these set pieces into place, held together by the cast’s likability, Barrymore’s talent and the mystery to be solved.

What’s most distressing about the film is its length. It only runs eighty-four minutes but halfway through, it’s already at a near standstill. It’s excruciating at times because the titular Secret is one the audience knows and the film’s present action is a couple weeks. There’s no tension to it–it’s just a matter of how everything will be fixed by the end, not if. The script doesn’t take any chances, it’s all paint by numbers. The mediocrity makes every decent moment in the film seem fantastic, whether it’s Ayres picking up Day for a date or Barrymore fishing with assistant George Reed. The occasionally inventive developments–like Grant Mitchell’s crack “doctor” and Sara Haden’s wacko–get Secret‘s heart rate up, waking the viewer.

While the script gives Barrymore a complex, textured character, Ayres’s Dr. Kildare–especially considering the film’s title bares his name–gets a lukewarm treatment. Ayres gives a fine performance–though Bucquet and editor Frank E. Hull hold reaction shots too long–but there’s no enthusasim… not just from Ayres, but from the film itself. He’s the least interesting character in the film, when he’s not around Barrymore, Dunn or Pendleton, it’s hard to believe Ayres could stay awake to deliver his lines. The scene with his fellow interns offers three other characters who give the impression of being far more interesting. Ayres’s romance with Day is boring–she’s far more lively in her scenes with Barrymore. When it’s just Ayres and Gilbert, only the change in setting, from the hospital to a skyscraper observatory for instance, keep the film moving. If it weren’t for Haden’s loon, the second half (when Barrymore and Ayres are bickering) would be static.

Bucquet, besides that annoying editing laziness I mentioned before, does a decent job. He keeps the scenes with Barrymore, those long expository scenes, interesting. But he doesn’t do anything to overcome the script’s shortcomings.

Besides Barrymore, there’s some fine acting from Pendleton (who has almost nothing to do, but approaches it with relish) and Lionel Atwill. Atwill’s a fine character actor, it’s a shame he’s mostly known for his work in horror films. Gilbert’s okay… as the film progresses, she gets more histrionic. Day has nothing to do.

It’s hard to get involved with the film or invested in it, because there’s little sign the filmmakers had any interest either.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Harold S. Bucquet; screenplay by Willis Goldbeck and Harry Ruskin, based on a story by Max Brand; director of photography, Alfred Gilks; edited by Frank E. Hull; music by David Snell; produced by Lou L. Ostrow; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lew Ayres (Dr. Jimmy Kildare), Lionel Barrymore (Dr. Leonard Gillespie), Lionel Atwill (Paul Messenger), Helen Gilbert (Nancy Messenger), Nat Pendleton (Joe Wayman), Laraine Day (Nurse Mary Lamont), Sara Haden (Nora), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Stephen Kildare), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Martha Kildare), Walter Kingsford (Dr. S.J. Carew), Grant Mitchell (John Xerxes Archley), Alma Kruger (Head Nurse Molly Byrd), Robert Kent (Charles Herron), Marie Blake (Sally), Martha O’Driscoll (Mrs. Roberts) and Nell Craig (Nurse Parker).


Calling Dr. Kildare (1939, Harold S. Bucquet)

Someone thought Calling Dr. Kildare was a good idea. Sitting through the turgid eighty-six minute running time, that thought occasionally popped into my head. Someone thought this story was a good idea. Lew Ayres’s young Dr. Kildare (this one’s set three months, give or take, after the first entry) has a spat with Lionel Barrymore and ends up fired. Or he quit. It’s unclear, because the spat is so minor, it’s impossible to accept what follows as a logical progression of events. It’s not even melodrama; it lacks any events. Ayres ends up doctoring a fugitive while romancing his sister. But apparently MGM wanted to put contract actors like Emma Dunn and Samuel S. Hinds (as Ayres’s parents, who live far away–enough–from New York City, where the principal action is situated), because Ayres ends up hanging out with them for a few minutes of running time. There’s not enough going on in Calling Dr. Kildare to even make up an A plot, much less a full feature (and it’s got more than enough time).

Ayres is fine–if unimpressive–as Kildare. His best scenes are with Barrymore (it’d be impossible for someone not to have good scenes with Barrymore, but more on him in a bit), but there’s some decent stuff with him in the hospital with his fellow interns. Or at the local bar, hanging around Nat Pendleton’s well intentioned lug of an ambulance driver. The bar and the hospital are complicated, detail rich sets. The hospital’s got these huge rooms, tall ceilings–it’s a wonderful area for filmic action to play out. Instead, Calling Dr. Kildare takes place in basements and smaller sets. The script tries to fill it with enough material, enough locations for Ayres to visit, to be a full narrative. But it fails.

Calling Dr. Kildare is one of those excellent examples–it’s got a fine cast and a capable director (Bucquet has some exquisite shots here)–but the script is terrible. It’s predictable and listless. Nothing about the film’s intentions don’t seem requisite. While Ayres basically keeps his head above water, Barrymore is bounding off the surface. Every scene with him is spectacular. He’s got amazing scenes with Pendleton, Alma Kruger and Bobs Watson. As it plods and flounders along, Calling Dr. Kildare is still worth a look just to see what Barrymore’s going to do.

Unfortunately, the rest of the supporting cast doesn’t make out well. Lana Turner’s woman in distress is a tad unbelievable (though she and Barrymore do have a great scene together), but at least she’s a part of the narrative. Laraine Day’s role is an inflated minor part. She’s got almost nothing to do–it’s a shock to see her in the bar during one scene, just because the film keeps her immobile for most of the narrative.

Where Calling Dr. Kildare misses the mark worst is the opening. It’s a deceptive open in Ayres’s hometown, with his parents. It’s not a totally empty scene–they burn off a few minutes sending Hinds (also a doctor) out on a call. Well, later on when Ayres finally does visit home, the film follows the medical thread, not the other (homecoming) one at all. It makes the eventual return awkward and inorganic.

In order, I wanted Calling Dr. Kildare to be good, better, okay, then over. But Barrymore’s great anyway.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Harold S. Bucquet; screenplay by Harry Ruskin and Willis Goldbeck, based on a story by Max Brand; director of photography, Alfred Gilks and Lester White; edited by Robert Kern; music by David Snell; produced by Lou L. Ostrow; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lew Ayres (Dr. James Kildare), Lionel Barrymore (Dr. Leonard Gillespie), Laraine Day (Nurse Mary Lamont), Nat Pendleton (Joe Wayman), Lana Turner (Rosalie Lewett), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Stephen Kildare), Lynne Carver (Alice Raymond), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Martha Kildare), Walter Kingsford (Dr. Walter Carew) and Alma Kruger (Head Nurse Molly Byrd).


Foreign Correspondent (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)

Well shit, I was wrong. I thought Foreign Correspondent was pre-Rebecca and I am incorrect.

I suppose the confusion has to do with the way Hitchcock made Correspondent. It’s very much in the style of his 1930s British films (I’m thinking primarily of The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes), while Rebecca was not. Rebecca was about people, Correspondent is about events. Not that I have a problem with Hitchcock making movies about events (though Saboteur is something awful, as is The Birds). Correspondent is a damn good film. I’ve only seen it once before and the same thing happened today that happened six or seven years ago. I looked at the clock about forty minutes in and wondered how it could have gotten there. The first forty minutes of this film moves faster than any other I’ve seen. The rest moves too, but those first forty feel like eleven.

This film is a propaganda piece. But only sort of. It’s got some incredibly beautiful moments in it, moments I’m not used to in film, particularly not thrillers. In the midst of a plane crash, two characters are none-the-less affected by a death. It’s thirty seconds, probably less, but it really sets Correspondent apart. There’s also some wonderful character relationships in the film that the last hour takes the time to explore. Even the amusing scenes of a man and his assassin-to-be. The romance is exceptionally hurried, but there’s this scene on a boat that makes it all worth it. This film comes together in beautiful ways, works in beautiful ways.

It’s not a well-known Hitchcock. A quick Google search just revealed it to be “little known.” One of the reasons for the lack of notoriety is probably that Warner Bros. didn’t whore it on VHS like Universal did their Hitchcock titles. Another reason is probably Joel McCrea. Even though I saw The Most Dangerous Game at some point growing up, I had no idea who McCrea was until I started looking into film myself. This inquiry happened to coincide with AMC being great–long time ago–so I got a lot of McCrea in there. Foreign Correspondent popped up at some point during that period….

It’s not as deep as Hitchcock could get. Hitchcock did have some deeper films–Rebecca for example–but Foreign Correspondent is probably the best example of Hitchcock’s filmmaking skills. He uses methods and devices in this film that appear in everything. Whether or not these subsequent filmmakers picked it up from Correspondent, I doubt, given the quality of some of them. Watching early, raw Hitchcock is an exciting experience and Correspondent is one of the two best of these raw films (the other is The Lady Vanishes).

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; written by Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton and Robert Benchley; director of photography, Rudolph Mate; edited by Dorothy Spencer; released by United Artists.

Starring Joel McCrea (Johnny Jones/Huntley Haverstock), Laraine Day (Carol Fisher), Herbert Marshall (Stephen Fisher), George Sanders (Ffolliott), Albert Basserman (Van Meer), Robert Benchley (Stebbins), Edmund Gwenn (Rowley), Harry Davenport (Mr. Powers), Eduardo Ciannelli (Krug), Martin Kosleck (Tramp), Eddie Conrad (Latvian Diplomat), Crauford Kent (Toastmaster), Gertrude W. Hoffman (Mrs. Benson), Jane Novak (Miss Benson), Louis Borrell (Captain Lanson), Eily Malyon (English Cashier) and E.E. Clive (Mr. Naismith).


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