Max Steiner

Dark Victory (1939, Edmund Goulding)

Bette Davis and George Brent never kiss in Dark Victory. He’s a brilliant neurosurgeon, she’s a mysteriously ill young socialite. He saves her, they fall in love. But does he really save her….

Victory gives Davis an excellent part, right up until the end of the film. It’s a somewhat bumpy ride–in the first act, which is three acts of its own, Davis isn’t particularly likable. The film establishes her on her Long Island estate, twenty-three and free. And very rich. With some decent suitors (Ronald Reagan in an affable performance) and her best friend (and secretary) Geraldine Fitzgerald. Davis goes riding during the day, out on the town in the evening, then home to party all night.

The film opens with her dealings with Humphrey Bogart, who plays her stablehand. He’s Irish and sexist. Bogart’s accent is usually Irish, though very noticeable when not. The sexism just leads to banter; it’s not a great part, in the end, for Bogart. He’s a tool of the melodrama. But he’s still likable, especially at the beginning, when Davis comes off like a spoiled brat and Fitzgerald her enabler.

The film’s focus moves soon to Brent, who gets her case from a decidedly underused Henry Travers. Brent’s excellent as the conflicted doctor, enough so to humanize Davis in their first scene together. From then on, although the action sticks with Brent for quite a while, Davis’s part gets better. She’d had some good dialogue quips, but she was the film’s subject–more, the film’s characters’ subject–not the protagonist.

Whether or not she ever truly gets to be the protagonist is questionable (and one of the film’s eventual failings; it shouldn’t be in question).

So the first thirty-five minutes concern Davis’s recent headaches and how Brent treats them. There’s never a discussion of medical ethics in Dark Victory and it kind of needs it. A lot, as it turns out. Because the only way for the film to function without them–which leads to Brent and Fitzgerald alternately and jointly infantalizing Davis–is through melodrama. After forty-five minutes, Dark Victory never tries for more than melodrama; it promises more than melodrama, but it never attempts to fulfill those promises.

The melodrama does give Davis and Fitzgerald some good material. Not really Brent. Brent gets overshadowed by everyone in the second half of the film, including Reagan (not to mention Bogart, accent or not). The script avoids dealing with Brent, once he’s done just as a doctor. Brent still has some fine moments in the film, but nothing like he had in the first half, when his forced calm demeanor ached with tragedy. It’d be a lot to keep up the entire runtime, sure, but at least screenwriter Robinson could’ve had him in some longer scenes.

Robinson’s adapting from a play, which might explain some of the pacing after the first act. Davis goes through a minor character change, with some fabulous costuming, incidentally, but it requires a rather extreme narrative distance. For her next character change–she gets a lot of character development with the part, going through four distinct phases–the narrative distance closes in, which is great, but the script gets real choppy. It’s a stagy bit of narrative. Not stagily filmed, but stagily plotted. There’s a jump forward, then an exposition-heavy sequence taking place over a single night, with characters strolling through in order to explain what’s happened since the jump forward. All the acting’s fine–Davis is great–but it’s too jammed, too rushed.

And if it’s going to be so jammed, so rushed, at least have Travers do a walkthrough. He goes from leading the second tier supporting cast in the first act to complete, inexplicable onscreen absence.

Davis’s performance makes the film. Brent’s, for a while, seems like it could but their relationship is way too chaste (exceptionally so considering they were carrying on off-screen). Fitzgerald and Davis have a wonderful relationship, full of character development and so on… until the development stops. The film foreshadows a lot for its characters and delivers none of it. Ostensibly it delivers on one thing, but through cop out.

Technically, the film’s fine. Goulding’s composition is decent, if unimaginative in his overuse of interior long shots–the sets aren’t that great and even if they were, they’re immaterial to the melodrama–and Ernest Haller’s photography is good. Max Steiner’s score is excellent.

Davis gets to do so much in Dark Victory, it’s unfortunate the film doesn’t let her do all it promises for her. I almost started talking about the film as the difference between a part and a role. If there’s such a difference, Dark Victory gives Davis a great part but promises her a great role.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edmund Goulding; screenplay by Casey Robinson, based on the play by George Emerson Brewer Jr. and Bertram Bloch; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by William Holmes; music by Max Steiner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bette Davis (Judith Traherne), George Brent (Dr. Frederick Steele), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Ann King), Ronald Reagan (Alec), Humphrey Bogart (Michael O’Leary), Virginia Brissac (Martha), Cora Witherspoon (Carrie), Dorothy Peterson (Miss Wainwright), and Henry Travers (Dr. Parsons).


The Voice of the Turtle (1947, Irving Rapper)

The Voice of the Turtle runs an hour and forty minutes. There’s a split about forty minutes in and, in the second hour, leads Eleanor Parker and Ronald Reagan are playing slightly different characters. Screenwriter John Van Druten adapted his play (with additional dialogue from Charles Hoffman) and had to “clean things up.” The play was very controversial on release in 1943, dealing with affairs and sexual desire and the like; the movie’s sanitized. There’s one shockingly direct mention but it goes by so fast, it’s like it never happened. And then there’s a clothing malfunction scene, which seems risque, but isn’t explored. Maybe it was a big moment in the play and they wanted to keep it?

A faithful adaptation of the play is, frankly, unimaginable with the cast and production of the film. Voice of the Turtle plays like a strange attempt at big budget slapstick. The production values are mostly great. The sets, the backlot street scenes. The frequent projection composites, transporting Reagan and Parker to New York City locations, don’t come off. But Sol Polito’s photography is nice regardless. And Rapper isn’t a bad director. He does really well when Turtle isn’t in its “stage setting,” Parker’s apartment. Once they’re in the apartment, Rapper directs everything like its funny, even when it’s not. Nothing when it shouldn’t be, but the script introduces Parker’s eccentric neatness tendencies (way too late) and Rapper seems to think it’s the best physical comedy ever.

It’s not. It’s not even funny. In the context of the narrative, given how upset Parker is during some of the sequences, it’d be insensitive if Rapper weren’t generally oblivious with how to direct the apartment sequences. Reagan and Parker share sad faces, hugs, kisses, and comic setpieces. Everything comes off contrived, which Reagan and Parker help counteract.

Second-billed Parker is the lead. Reagan only gets one real scene to himself–a walk in front of a projection of Central Park–but neither of them gets much to do. Parker gets more because she’s also got this subplot involving getting a role with a lecherous middle-aged actor and being oblivious. It’s diverting, because Parker playing a solvent but unsuccessful actress is interesting, while her being sad over scummy ex-boyfriend Kent Smith dumping her isn’t interesting. For the first forty, Parker nevers get to lead a scene, she’s always playing backup to Smith, Eve Arden, or Reagan. But the first forty minutes are somehow more successful, just due to lack of ambition. It’s a comedy of errors.

Sure, the errors involve Arden dumping visiting soldier Reagan because a better prospect is in town (Wayne Morris) and Parker getting stuck entertaining him, but it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be risque. Arden gives it the right amount of wink and Parker plays along.

Parker’s good. She never has a particularly great moment. The third act is particularly rough, with Reagan getting better stuff to do. Parker just gets to clean. One can only imagine how good she would’ve been in the play.

Reagan’s likable without ever being particularly appealing. He does slightly better with romantic sincerity than he does with the initially jilted booty call. He has no sense of comic timing, which doesn’t end up hurting the film since Rapper doesn’t have any either.

The supporting cast is either fine or negligible enough not to make a difference. Arden’s fine–she’s good in the first twenty, but the script turns her into a caricature (as far as dialogue, maybe not intention) for the last hour. It’s too bad. Morris is a little too absurd. Smith doesn’t have his full part–in the play, he’s married and Parker’s his mistress; in the movie, he’s just a moustached jerk. Still, if he did have more of a part, Smith probably wouldn’t be able to handle it. He’s doltish.

John Emery has an awesome scene. It probably would’ve been great if he and Parker could have implied premarital sex existed, but instead, it’s just fun.

Max Steiner’s score is way too much. He goes overboard trying to give the romance some melodramatic musical flare, amping it up to the point it comes off inappropriate. It’s too much, given how lightly Rapper and the script approach things.

The Voice of the Turtle is charming thanks to its leads and the nice production values. Knowing about the play explains many incongruities, but doesn’t excuse Rapper, Van Druten, and Hoffman’s failures to fix them. With Parker, Reagan, and Arden, it wouldn’t have been hard to produce a solid, innocuous, slight comedy.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Irving Rapper; screenplay by John Van Druten and Charles Hoffman, based on the play by Van Druten; director of photography, Sol Polito; edited by Rudi Fehr; music by Max Steiner; produced by Hoffman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Sally Middleton), Ronald Reagan (Sergeant Bill Page), Eve Arden (Olive Lashbrooke), Kent Smith (Kenneth Bartlett), Wayne Morris (Comm. Ned Burling), John Emery (George Harrington), and John Holland (Henry Atherton).


Thirteen Women (1932, George Archainbaud)

Thirteen Women runs just under an hour. A minute under an hour. There was pre-release cutting on the studio’s part. But with those fifty-nine minutes, director Archainbaud is still able to create one heck of a creepy film. The film’s not a mystery. It’s not even a thriller. It’s all gimmick, but it’s suspenseful all gimmick.

The story’s simple–Myrna Loy is an Anglo-Indian woman whose plans to assimilate into white culture were once dashed. To get her revenge, she enlists C. Henry Gordon’s questionably insightful mystic to terrorize her victims and to push them into suicide and worse.

The film opens with a couple of the victims, using their plight for exposition. Not the Loy backstory, which comes in later. It’s relevant throughout, however, because the most peculiar thing about Thirteen Women is how reasonable Loy’s villain comes across. When Irene Dunne, who’s one of the intended victims, argues with Loy about motivation… well, it’s a little strange to hear the two talking around white privilege back in a pre-code RKO thriller. It makes me interested in the source novel. Loy and Dunne basically split the runtime, but Loy’s got a far more dynamic character and part in the story. Dunne just has an annoying kid–Wally Albright, who looks at the camera way too much–and a fetching police detective, Ricardo Cortez.

Of course, Cortez describes Loy in slurs. It’s pre-code, sure, but it’s very weird. Cortez and Dunne’s bigotry doesn’t get heroic presentation. It doesn’t get negative, not until Dunne has to acknowledge her responsibility for it. Thirteen Women knows exactly what it’s doing, at least in terms of Loy’s story. Who knows if it’s from the studio cuts or just Bartlett Cormack and Samuel Ornitz’s screenplay, but the Dunne sections plod along. Dunne’s fine, but she has nothing to do. Everyone who acts opposite her gets more material. But then those characters just disappear because Thirteen Women does only run fifty-nine minutes and it features multiple action set pieces. It’s sensational and not just in its raciness. Archainbaud goes all out with the film.

Good performances from Loy and Dunne. Pretty good from Cortez. He’s lazy, but his scenes are pretty lazy too. He basically calls out for all the story’s actual detective work to be done; he’s fine at the exposition, but it’s all he’s got. Gordon’s awesome as the mystic. Jill Esmond’s fine as Dunne’s sidekick who disappears.

The film doesn’t have a natural narrative flow, except for Loy. It’s jerky with everything else. Archainbaud holds it together admirably, with nice technical support from cinematographer Leo Tover and editor Charles L. Kimball. Max Steiner’s score is outstanding.

So Thirteen Women has its problems, but it’s well-made, well-acted, reasonably charming and only fifty-nine minutes. It’s all right.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Archainbaud; screenplay by Barlett Cormack and Samuel Ornitz, based on the novel by Tiffany Thayer; director of photography, Leo Tover; edited by Charles L. Kimball; music by Max Steiner; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Myrna Loy (Ursula Georgi), Irene Dunne (Laura Stanhope), Jill Esmond (Jo Turner), Ricardo Cortez (Police Sergeant Barry Clive), Wally Albright (Bobby Stanhope) and C. Henry Gordon (Swami Yogadachi).


Caged (1950, John Cromwell)

Max Steiner does the music for Caged, which is strange to think about because Caged barely has any music. Director Cromwell instead emphasizes the silence, especially as the film opens. Right after the opening credits, which do have music, Caged gets very quiet. “Silence” reads all the walls in the women’s prison where protagonist Eleanor Parker finds herself. At its most obvious, one could say Caged is the story of Parker going from first time offender to repeat offender, which is besides the point. Parker’s fate is decided right from the start. There are four principal characters in Caged, two inmates, two prison employees. None of them have any free will, it’s just how they come to realize it.

Cromwell, thanks to Carl E. Guthrie’s photography and Owen Marks’s editing, is able to do a lot with the filmmaking. Caged’s silences–waiting for a noise, praying for more silence–is just one of the many techniques Cromwell uses to get the viewer into the cage with Parker and everyone else. Caged should feel stagy at times; same sets, over and over. The outside world is just a glimpse and a bland glimpse at that. There’s not even a world over the wall, when the inmates are in the yard. They, along with the viewer, know there’s a world out there but it’s left to the imagination for everyone. Caged just concerns this place and these people.

Virginia Kellogg’s screenplay juxtaposes innocent Parker and Agnes Moorehead’s compassionate superintendent. Both women have bad role models–Parker has Betty Garde’s hardened con woman while brutal matron Hope Emerson wants to sway Moorehead back to viciousness. Once it becomes clear Parker isn’t just the subject of the film–Caged might have some social commentary to make, but it isn’t trying to propagandize–but the protagonist and the viewer has to stick with her, follow her hardening, it becomes even more frightening. Most of the scares happen in the first half of the film, but the second half, as despondence sets in, is even more terrifying.

Parker is singular. There aren’t adjectives to describe her performance. Moorehead’s great, Emerson’s great, Garde’s great. The supporting cast is all good. Look fast for Jane Darwell.

Caged is an outstanding film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Cromwell; screenplay by Virginia Kellogg, based on a story by Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld; director of photography, Carl E. Guthrie; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Marie Allen), Agnes Moorehead (Ruth Benton), Hope Emerson (Evelyn Harper), Betty Garde (Kitty Stark), Ellen Corby (Emma Barber), Jan Sterling (Smoochie), Olive Deering (June Roberts) and Lee Patrick (Elvira Powell).


The Flame and the Arrow (1950, Jacques Tourneur)

The Flame and the Arrow is an unfortunate effort. Most of the fault is Waldo Salt’s strangely tone-deaf screenplay. There’s narrative rhyme and reason, but none of it takes the actual resulting film into account–characters played by actors with no chemistry get thrown together. Director Tourneur doesn’t seem suited for the material. It’s a big swashbuckling epic–though lead Burt Lancaster is adamant about his lack of swordsmanship–and Tourneur doesn’t do anything with the scale.

The film has a bunch of necessary, desirable elements, but nothing to hold them together. Lancaster is agile and amiable. He’s a mountain man who romances the townswomen–married and unmarried–at his leisure (and their pleasure). He’s got an adorable son (Gordon Gebert), whose mother has run off with the Hessian overlord. Frank Allenby’s good as the overlord. He doesn’t get a lot to do, but it’s more than Lynn Baggett gets to do as Gebert’s mother. Salt’s script doesn’t dwell much on the characters, but least of all on Baggett. It’s unfortunate, because it seems like there should be something serious to Arrow, but no one wants to acknowledge it.

Virginia Mayo is the love interest. Unfortunately, it’s for Lancaster. Mayo and Lancaster have terrible chemistry. She does better with every other actor, including Nick Cravat, who plays Lancaster’s mute, acrobatic sidekick. And that particular scene is awful, because Cravat’s not funny and Tourneur has no idea how to make him any more amusing.

Robert Douglas is okay as Mayo’s other suitor and Lancaster’s reluctant ally. Salt’s script does him no favors either.

Arrow runs less than ninety minutes. Some natural narrative gestures go incomplete; maybe things got cut. Max Steiner’s score is energetic without being inspired. Ernest Haller’s photography operates on a “good enough” principal.

But the good pieces aren’t just Lancaster and the castle sets, there are good ideas in Salt’s script. He just doesn’t bring anything together. He’ll come up with a great set piece with obvious ways to tie it into the rest of the picture, but Arrow will just drop it in. And even if the script functioned better, Tourneur’s direction is too disinterested.

The film’s often tedious and painfully lacking in charm, but it ought to be a lot better. The third act, where Arrow could redeem itself, instead weighs it down even more.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; written by Waldo Salt; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by Alan Crosland Jr.; music by Max Steiner; produced by Harold Hecht and Frank Ross; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Dardo Bartoli), Virginia Mayo (Anne de Hesse), Robert Douglas (Marchese Alessandro de Granazia), Aline MacMahon (Nonna Bartoli), Frank Allenby (Count ‘The Hawk’ Ulrich), Nick Cravat (Piccolo), Lynn Baggett (Francesca), Gordon Gebert (Rudi Bartoli, Dardo’s Son), Norman Lloyd (Apollo, the Troubador), Victor Kilian (Apothecary Mazzoni) and Francis Pierlot (Papa Pietro).


Angels with Dirty Faces (1938, Michael Curtiz)

Angels with Dirty Faces runs less than ninety minutes, but doesn’t really fill them. The first fifteen minutes of the film are flashbacks, tracking James Cagney’s character from troubled boyhood to juvenile detention to prison. Once the present action starts, Cagney immediately reunites with Pat O’Brien’s now priest, former similarly troubled youth. But Angels doesn’t have a story for O’Brien separate from Cagney and it doesn’t have much of a story for Cagney separate from the Dead End Kids.

For much of the film, Angels uses the Dead End Kids in a reduced capacity, or at least it immediately qualifies the scenes they get to themselves, tying it into Cagney’s recently released gangster storyline. The film’s last act, however, almost entirely removes Cagney and O’Brien. It does remove them separate from the Dead End Kids’s storyline; poor Ann Sheridan, as Cagney’s unlikely love interest, does entirely disappear for the third act.

So while they never have quite enough story to make a full film, even a ninety minute one, screenwriters John Wexley and Warren Duff certainly seem like they should have enough material for one. But since the Dead End Kids are all caricatures, maybe it’s just not possible. Cagney, O’Brien and Sheridan only get slightly better scenes–they’re just better actors. Director Curtiz expects more from them and gets it.

Curtiz directs some great sequences, like the lengthy, thrilling final shootout sequence or anything with Sheridan and Cagney.

Cagney’s fantastic performance almost carries Angels; the structure’s just too wobbly.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; screenplay by John Wexley and Warren Duff, based on a story by Rowland Brown; director of photography, Sol Polito; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring James Cagney (Rocky Sullivan), Pat O’Brien (Jerry Connolly), Humphrey Bogart (James Frazier), Ann Sheridan (Laury Ferguson), George Bancroft (Mac Keefer), Billy Halop (Soapy), Bobby Jordan (Swing), Leo Gorcey (Bim), Gabriel Dell (Pasty), Huntz Hall (Crab) and Bernard Punsly (Hunky).


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, John Huston)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre often comes as a complete surprise, even though director Huston carefully foreshadows certain events. He’s playing with viewer expectations–both of having Humphrey Bogart as his lead and Walter Huston in a supporting role. Sierra Madre is a thriller, but a thriller set during an adventure movie.

Bogart and Tim Holt play a couple down on their luck Americans who manage to get out a little ahead and throw in with Huston to go gold prospecting. This development comes at the end of the first act–Huston’s very deliberate with the screenplay, very careful about how he positions the audience’s relationship with the characters. The audience isn’t along for the adventure, the audience is kept back a bit. Huston is also deliberate with the shot composition; he and cinematographer Ted D. McCord fill the first half of the film with these exceptional group shots of the actors.

All three are fantastic. Huston has what seems like it’s going to be the showiest role, but it calms down soon into the second act. Bogart’s a combination of against type and in exaggerated type. He’s got some amazing scenes. Holt’s something of the straight man; Huston gives him the quietest character development and, in some ways, the quietest arc.

Max Steiner’s music is also crucial. Huston uses it to help guide the audience’s relationship with the film.

Sierra Madre is small, contained, expansive, elaborate. Huston and his actors do some truly exceptional work in the film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Huston; screenplay by Huston, based on the novel by B. Traven; director of photography, Ted D. McCord; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; produced by Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Dobbs), Walter Huston (Howard), Tim Holt (Curtin), Bruce Bennett (Cody), Barton MacLane (McCormick), Alfonso Bedoya (Gold Hat), Arturo Soto Rangel (Presidente), Manuel Dondé (El Jefe), José Torvay (Pablo) and Margarito Luna (Pancho).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE 31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON 2015 HOSTED BY PAULA OF PAULA’S CINEMA CLUB, KELLEE OF OUTSPOKEN AND FRECKLED, and AURORA OF ONCE UPON A SCREEN


Murder on the Blackboard (1934, George Archainbaud)

As its title suggests, Murder on the Blackboard concerns a murder in a school, specifically an elementary school. Only one student appears; Blackboard concentrates on the rather shady goings-ons of the staff. There’s a drunk janitor, a lecherous principal, not to mention a love triangle between teachers. And, one mustn’t forget, Edna May Oliver’s Ms. Withers.

Blackboard is the second in the Withers and Piper (James Gleason) series, though it’s not a direct sequel to the first. Here, Oliver and Gleason bicker and flirt in their charming and funny cantankerous people of a certain age way, but without any relationship development.

Willis Goldbeck’s script has a great structure, which makes Blackboard sail along–ably assisted by the aforementioned bickering. It’s a full ten minutes before Oliver even appears, as Blackboard establishes not just the suspects, but the possible victims, and then it’s a real-time investigation for a while once Gleason shows up. Archainbaud’s direction is okay, though he apparently didn’t give Archie Marshek enough material for smooth cutting. Nicholas Musuraca’s photography–Blackboard almost entirely takes place in the school–is real nice.

There supporting cast is competent, but they don’t make much impression after those first ten minutes. Bruce Cabot, Gertrude Michael and Barbara Fritchie are the teacher love triangle; Cabot’s easily the best of the three. Tully Marshall’s amusing as the principal, particularly opposite Oliver.

Oliver, Gleason and Goldbeck produce an excellent diversion. They distract from the mystery’s lack of mysteriousness for nearly the entire running time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Archainbaud; screenplay by Willis Goldbeck, based on the story by Stuart Palmer; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Archie Marshek; music by Bernhard Kaun and Max Steiner; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Edna May Oliver (Hildegarde Withers), James Gleason (Inspector Oscar Piper), Bruce Cabot (Ad Stevens), Gertrude Michael (Jane Davis), Barbara Fritchie (Louise Halloran), Tully Marshall (Mr. MacFarland), Frederick Vogeding (Otto Schweitzer), Regis Toomey (Detective Smiley North), Edgar Kennedy (Detective Donahue) and Jackie Searl (Leland Stanford Jones).


The Most Dangerous Game (1932, Ernest B. Schoedsack and Irving Pichel)

Running about an hour, The Most Dangerous Game shouldn’t be boring. But it somehow manages. Worse, the boring stuff comes at the end; directors Schoedsack and Pichel drag out the conclusion with a false ending or two.

The film doesn’t have much to recommend it. That laborious ending wipes short runtime off the board, leaving nothing but good sets, Henry W. Gerrard’s photography and Leslie Banks’s glorious scene-chewing performance as the bad guy. James Ashmore Creelman’s script occasionally has good dialogue, most of it goes to Banks. Unfortunately, Creelman’s script doesn’t have a good story.

Still, the script isn’t Game‘s problem. Simply, Directors Schoedsack and Pichel do a rather bad job. They rely heavily on second person close-ups–the actors are performing for the viewer, showing exaggerated emotion; it’s a terrible choice. Joel McCrea seems silly in the lead and Fay Wray is often just plain bad. She has a couple good moments, early on, but they’re amid some atrocious ones.

The hunt–if you don’t know what kind of animal is “the most dangerous game,” I won’t spoil it (though you should)–starts up over halfway into the film. Here Schoedsack and Pichel present a really boring chase sequence through the magnificent jungle sets. Their action is two dimensional. They also never establish their setting, which would have made the action play better… and give Game more weight.

Robert Armstrong is hilarious, but he isn’t not enough to save the picture.

And Max Steiner’s score is dreadful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Irving Pichel; screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman, based on the story by Richard Connell; director of photography, Henry W. Gerrard; edited by Archie Marshek; music by Max Steiner; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Joel McCrea (Robert Rainsford), Fay Wray (Eve Trowbridge), Robert Armstrong (Martin Trowbridge), Leslie Banks (Count Zaroff), Noble Johnson (Ivan), Steve Clemente (Tartar) and William B. Davidson (Captain).


The Son of Kong (1933, Ernest B. Schoedsack)

King Kong opened in April 1933, The Son of Kong opened for Christmas 1933. The rush shows. The special effects really suffer–for whatever reason, when Robert Armstrong and Helen Mack are added to the little Kong’s shots, it’s fine, but when little Kong is added to Armstrong and Mack’s… it’s not. It’s like the focus is off on the rear projector.

But the story suffers more. Son of Kong runs a lean seventy minutes, with almost forty-five gone by before the little Kong shows up. That pacing is actually fine. It gives the movie time to catch up with Armstrong and skipper Frank Reicher, get them out to sea in a new story and then introduce the girl. There’s got to be a pretty face. And when Helen Mack shows up, Son of Kong takes a decidedly darker turn. It’s a downer–Mack’s stuck on a tiny port village with no prospects thanks to an alcohol father (a disturbing Clarence Wilson). Armstrong runs into an old acquaintance, who ties into the first movie, played by John Marston. Marston’s also playing a down and out drunk and the whole film sort of wallows in despair.

It opened with a fine comic sequence with Armstrong avoiding process servers, which mixed the character’s despair with being an amusing film experience… but later on, writer Ruth Rose apparently didn’t want to curb it. The scenes at the port are so depressing, it’s fully believable when Armstrong and Mack soon connect onboard the ship–even though their fortunes aren’t much better. At least they aren’t in that port anymore.

The relationship between Armstrong and Mack is Son of Kong‘s best feature. The sequel’s entirely superfluous and, at its best, is a simply another seventy minutes the viewer gets to spend with Armstrong. Here he gets to develop the character free of narrative constraint and his performance is excellent. Reicher also gets a lot more emphasis and he’s great too. But with Mack, Armstrong’s performance comes alive. There’s nuance and subtlety to their interactions, something more sublime than the film could ever hope for. It doesn’t hurt she’s a perfect counterpart to him, down to her voice.

When the film gets to the island and little Kong and the assorted monsters, it does all right for quite a while. It’s all rapidly paced, but it gets into the kinship between Armstrong and the little Kong, which is affecting thanks to Armstrong’s performance.

Then the movie ends. Had it gone on for longer–and I’m not even talking about a decent Armstrong and Mack kiss–I’m just talking about some more content, it would have been much better. Because the entry to the island, the set-up there, is all fantastic–and then it stops. Instead of the bigger sequel of today, it’s the smaller sequel–the pre-Empire Strikes Back sequel. When Skull Island sinks at the end, it almost seems like the filmmakers are ruling out any further, even cheaper returns… and it’s damn unfortunate this one wasn’t given more of a budget. As an inessential sequel goes, The Son of Kong has a lot going for it and it’s a shame it wasn’t able to fully realize it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack; written by Ruth Rose; directors of photography, Edward Linden, J.O. Taylor and Vernon L. Walker; edited by Ted Cheesman; music by Max Steiner; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham), Helen Mack (Hilda), Frank Reicher (Englehorn), John Marston (Helstrom), Victor Wong (Charlie, the Chinese Cook) and Ed Brady (Red).


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