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Yet another classic review thread


LsDoorMat
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TopBilled said he had no problem with me posting another classic review thread - I wanted to ask him first since he has been doing the same thing for quite awhile. I'm just copying some of my imdb reviews over for viewing and discussion. imdb seems to be the territory of 14 year old boys, so not much feedback on my reviews of older films. Feel free to hate away in your comments if you dislike them. I'm doing this partly to keep some of these old films remembered, and partly to become a better reviewer.

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I really thought that it was impossible for a film starring Adolphe Menjou to be this bad. Menjou was capable of ably playing a variety of characters from villain to tarnished hero, and he was also very able at playing comedy. However, even the talented Menjou cannot save this film. The plot is that young wealthy playboy Drogo Gaines (John Hubbard) gets cold feet on his wedding day, and decides to pretend he is insane. His jilted bride retaliates by having him committed. In the asylum, Gaines meets Carleton Carroway (Adolphe Menjou), and together the two escape and join a traveling carnival. In time, and through a series of comic misadventures, Gaines falls for Penguin Moore (Carole Landis), the beautiful leader of the carnival.

 

The problem is that besides Menjou, the players are just not that talented, and the jokes are just not that funny. Also, neither the overall plot nor the mismatched romance is very compelling. Cut down to 20 minutes or so, this might have been an OK 1940's comic short, but at 70 minutes it just seems to drag on forever. Hal Roach was capable of much funnier stuff. I would definitely pass on this one.

 

PRODUCER: Hal Roach Studios

 

My imdb score: 4/10

Review Feedback: 0/6 people find this review helpful

 

COMMENTS: Everybody seems to hate this review. I don't know if it's because of my writing style or the fact that they disagree with me.

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This would be of interest mainly to fans of early sound film. If Avatar is your thing, you probably would not be interested in this one.

 

The film is actually a sequel of sorts to the 1928 part talkie, "Show Girl, also starring Alice White as Dixie Dugan. Even though Alice had done six films since that one, it was decided to move her story to Hollywood two years later. I have no idea if the original Show Girl still exists, although people on this site are apparently rating it.

 

The big attractions here are the exhibition of several things you could only see in 1929-1930 motion pictures, in addition to several ironies. The first irony is that Vitaphone is being prominently displayed as the technology of sound film when, by this time, even Warner Brothers knew it was time to move to sound on film rather than sound on disc, which was so limiting in how and where films could be shot. Another irony is that Blanche Sweet is pretty much playing herself here as Donny Harris, the faded star who considers a supporting role to Alice White's Dixie Dugan in "Rainbow Girl" to be her last chance. In real life, 1930 was Blanche Sweet's last year in films. However, Ms. Sweet did get a somewhat happy ending with a long time stage career and a long marriage to another star of the stage, Raymond Hackett, that only ended with his death.

 

Also of interest is the big bizarre musical number "I've Got My Eye on You" in which Alice White and her accompanying chorus emerge from and disappear into a large clown-like head. During this number you get a good look at the way a Vitaphoned film was shot with three cross-cutting camera booths set up, along with a look at the Vitaphone technicians inside supervising the making of the sound discs.

 

Finally, note the movie premiere of "Rainbow Girl" shown at the end of the film. Several Warner Brothers stars of note appear at the microphone including Al Jolson, Loretta Young, and Noah Beery. Notice that a very young Noah Beery Jr. (Rockford Files) accompanies his father. Some think that this scene was the basis for the Hollywood premiere scene at the beginning of "Singin in the Rain".

 

The story is pedestrian, and actually the title says it all, but it is cute and appealing in the way that many of First National's early sound films were. You can definitely see a difference in First National's and Warner Brothers' early sound films even though by this time they had been one company for a year. Warner's early sound films seemed to go for a goofy over-the-top style in 1929 and 1930, while First National seemed to "look for the silver lining" with a feel good flavor.

 

Highly recommended for those interested in the Dawn of Sound.

 

PRODUCER: First National Pictures/Warner Brothers

 

My imdb rating: 8/10

Review Rating: 16/16

 

COMMENTS: The most popular review I've written on imdb. I really don't know why.

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There's nothing really shocking or even interesting about this precode, not even for 1930. It's basically about a ring of professional "party girls" that work for one particular madam and go around entertaining bored businessmen. Doug Fairbanks Jr. is the partying son of the head of a manufacturing concern who crashes one of these parties one night and winds up with two souvenirs he could have done without - a huge hangover and a party girl wife. In the meantime, he's in love with his father's secretary who is a former party girl herself.

 

What is really notable here is the extremely bad acting. I've seen Doug Fairbanks Jr. in several of his early roles, and even if the films weren't that great, Doug's acting was OK. Here he really hams it up, along with the rest of the cast. I can only chalk it up to bad directing by Victor Halperin who made a number of unmemorable B pictures in the 30's, one of the exceptions to that being 1932's excellent "White Zombie".

 

The one strange thing that keeps happening in this film that I've never seen before is that everyone seems to think it's OK to drive your car into the service elevator of tall buildings and emerge on the floor of your choice. Fairbanks and his friends do it when they are crashing the party, and the police do the same thing at the end.

 

My verdict would be to pass on this film, even if you're a precode fan. It's neither cheesy nor entertaining enough to be worth your time.

 

PRODUCER: Victor Halperin Productions/Tiffany

 

my imdb rating: 5/10

Rating of my review: 0/4 find it helpful

 

COMMENTS: Once again, I really don't see why people would hate on this review other than the fact that they disagree with it.

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This little film received Academy Award nominations for art direction and score, and I have to wonder how it escaped a nomination for cinematography as well, because this story does not have a great deal of action in it. Instead, much is said through the vivid score and the masterful cinematography that renders the shadows that the Nazis cast often more menacing that the Nazis themselves.

 

Not commercially available as far as I know, this is a film that deserves rediscovery. The story opens on a celebration between two friends and partners in San Francisco. Martin Schulz (Paul Lukas) is returning to his home country of Germany along with his wife and four of his five sons. His partner, Max Eisenstein (Morris Carnovsky), will meanwhile keep their art gallery going in San Francisco along with Martin's son, Heinrich. Max's daughter, Griselle, is also going to Germany to seek out a career as an actress. Heinrich and Griselle are in love, but have decided to delay marriage so that Griselle can pursue her career.

 

Once in Germany, Martin gets swept up into the building Nazi movement when he is befriended and flattered by the silver-tongued Baron von Friesche, who eventually convinces him that he should cut off all communication with his old friend Max because he is Jewish. When the Nazis come after Max's daughter Griselle when they learn she is Jewish, Martin stands by and does nothing to help her, allowing his old friend's daughter to perish at their hands and on his doorstep. However, a society such as the Nazi's that is built on purity of opinion and constant suspicion can sometimes be cleverly manipulated to be an instrument of revenge. Thus, by means of a very simple plan executed by someone in the U.S., Martin soon finds himself isolated and under suspicion of espionage - a prisoner in his own home as well of his own imagination of what will come next.

 

I highly recommend this film as it is still relevant today, especially from a psychological standpoint of how totalitarian movements start out by preying on the desperation of the many and the self-importance of a few.

 

PRODUCER: Columbia

 

my imdb rating: 8/10

Review feedback: 16/16 found the review helpful

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Universal in the early 30's is mainly remembered as the home of the horror film, but in fact they ventured into other kinds of films as well. This fast little precode seems like it might have come from Warner Bros., but instead it is the product of Universal. Boris Karloff plays "Happy" the owner of a night club and husband to an unfaithful wife, not that he doesn't have a roving eye himself. George Raft shows up briefly in the film as a tough guy who has an eye for chorus girl Mae Clark. Finally there is Lew Ayres as the son of a prominent family whose mother has just recently shot his father dead and been acquitted. This is not the mom of a heart of gold that you see in so many depression era films, and the young man spends night after night in Happy's club trying to forget his troubles. Add in a snappy Busby Berkeley number and Happy's run-in with the suppliers of his bootleg whiskey and you have a very fast moving little precode. The film is visually interesting too, with an introduction similar to 1929's "Broadway", also by Universal, minus the silver-skinned giant calling the city to awaken and join him in his debauchery. Highly recommended, that is, if you can ever find a copy.

 

PRODUCER: Universal

 

my imdb rating of film: 8/10

Review feedback: 12/12 find it helpful

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Wow, if soulless unbridled greed was worthy of death there wouldn't be a live banker left in America!..

 

... and I'll let you decide as to whether or not that would be a good thing! Let me also warn you that I spoil the 1937 film, "Confession" just a little bit further down. The title "Alimony Madness" is meant to get your sympathy from the start, because, let's face it, nobody would be sympathetic of the ex-husband in a film named "Child Support Madness".

 

This poverty row film is quite well done with players that showed up in some of the major studios' films of the 1930's, in particular Leon Ames and Helen Chandler, and they certainly show their acting chops here.

 

Architect John Thurman (Leon Ames) is doing well, and although good with blueprints and design, apparently never saw the blueprints for his first wife's designs on his money - past, present, and future. After a year of marriage, Eloise wants a divorce. She also wants one thousand dollars a month and John's 40K stock portfolio, pre stock market crash. John agrees to all of this and even agrees to a New York divorce rather than a Reno one, and the only grounds for divorce in those days in that state was adultery.

 

It turns out that the paid correspondent is just a girl down on her luck (Helen Chandler as Joan) who needs money to send back home to the folks. She's actually a stenographer. All she has to do is sit in a chair until the wife's paid detectives break in - all pre-arranged of course. Now, almost everyone has an unusual story of how they met their spouse, and John's story is that this paid correspondent is the woman of his dreams - honest, forthright, and not at all bad on the eyes.

 

John and Joan eventually marry, but in the meantime the Great Depression sets in causing the collapse of John's business. It doesn't help that John's ex-wife, who insisted on the adultery ruse, is going around playing the wronged wife to the privileged set, further contracting John's business. Joan, who thought the two could just live on love, now sees the facts - the first wife is a premeditated blood sucker and will never remarry because she has such a great deal in John. They will always toil away as court appointed slaves to her.

 

Even this is acceptable to Joan until one night when their child gets ill John is arrested for non-payment of alimony on the way to the drug store to buy vital medicine for the child. Hauled into court and not even allowed to tell his wife he's been detained, he has to give up his last twenty bucks to the court to avoid jail. When he finally returns home with the medicine the child is dead. Joan decides to abandon her pride and go and settle things with Eloise once and for all. Eloise orders her out, but when Joan sees a twenty dollar bill for veterinary services for "Baby", Eloise's dog, the same amount of money that would have saved her child, she grabs a gun and shoots Eloise dead.

 

Now all of this is told in flashback, in the courtroom, by Joan herself. The jury is in tears, the district attorney is in tears, and Joan is exonerated, and practically congratulated by the judge.

 

The reason I'm so completely spoiling this film is that this is quite a turn from what would be accepted after the production code came in just a year later. In 1937's "Confession", Kay Francis kills a real blackguard who is about to lead the daughter who doesn't know her down the road to ruin, not to escape heavy financial obligations as Joan did, and yet she has to go jail under the code.

 

Highly recommended as a well done film from the 1930's on an unusual subject.

 

PRODUCER: Fanchon Royer Pictures

 

my imdb rating of film: 7/10

review feedback - Nobody has rated the review yet.

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TITLE: Tim McCoy in a non-western with sometimes hilarious results

 

 

 

Tim McCoy was a big western star at Columbia - that's the kind of film in which people were accustomed to seeing him. Here he's playing a gentleman of the press. Lauded by his boss in the morning for bringing in a great scoop, he's almost fired by that same boss in the afternoon for making a fool out of the paper. What happened is that he went to check out the shooting of a well known gangster. The police had corralled a girl found at the scene who will tell them nothing, and they really don't think she did it, but they think she knows who did. Tim looks around the house and, lo and behold, the shooter is still inside, knocks Tim out cold, steals his press pass, and goes right past the police. A rival paper plays up the angle of Tim's press pass being the key to the suspect's escape, thus drawing his boss' ire. Tim vows to get the scoop on who the killer is, job or no job, since this has become personal.

 

What Tim runs into is bigger than just a gangster shooting. What he uncovers is a "pay to play" scheme involving the parole system. Tim does get sent to prison, but it is done intentionally by him faking a drunk driving accident. The judge was in on the scheme, knowing that Tim needs to get close to certain convicts to figure out what is going on, and basically "helps" Tim by giving him the sentence he wants.

 

Once back on the street, Tim closes in on the corrupt officials involved and the gangsters. The hilarious results I talked about is when Tim is chasing one of the gangsters across some city roofs and shooting it out with him while the police look on, obviously OK with a civilian turning a crowded city street into a shooting gallery. Later, when the car he is riding in is ambushed by the gangsters, he jumps on back of one of the police motorcycles that come upon the scene and is, once again, shooting it out with the gangsters as they go on a wild chase.

 

These shoot-outs, accepted by the police, can only be a homage to Tim's Western fans who came to watch Tim McCoy shoot it out with outlaws, and the fact that it is modern times and Tim has a press pass not a badge is not going to prevent Columbia from giving the public what it wants.

 

Recommended for fans of Tim McCoy and of the old 30's newspaper caper films.

 

PRODUCER: Columbia

 

my imdb rating of film: 7/10

feedback: Nobody has rated the review yet

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TITLE: William Powell as you've never seen him before...

 

... because usually William Powell played a wise dapper fellow. Here he is a bumbling fool, a Foghorn Leghorn like bag of wind who is almost unrecognizable dressed up like Colonel Sanders with white hair and beard. And the pity of it all is he is also a U.S. Senator. To prevent offense, his home state is never named, nor is the region of the country from which he hails ever named. For that matter, his political party is not named either. Senator Melvin G. Ashton (Powell) is facing reelection to the senate. He knows he'll lose, so it's either back to the private sector after 35 years in various political offices - in his youth he painted white lines down the middle of roads - or he can run for President. He chooses the latter purely because of the paycheck potential.

 

The senator's personal assistant (Peter Lind Hayes as Lew Gibson) has a reporter girlfriend (Ella Raines as Poppy), and Lew invites her to listen to the Senator's speech one night. The senator drones on for over two hours saying nothing and boring the audience to tears. Poppy walks out after arguing with Lew that she wants to expose Ashton as the bag of wind that he is.

 

The reason the head of the party (Ray Collins as Fred Houlihan) is tolerating Ashton's candidacy is that the senator has a diary in which he has written down the details of all of the party's dirty deals and is holding it over the party's head unless they at least let him try to win the nomination. But then the unspeakable happens - somebody steals the senator's diary and unless it is recovered not only the senator, but his entire political party is doomed.

 

This film is like a reverse video of "State of the Union" from the following year, where Spencer Tracy is a thoughtful man who threatens the party as a possible presidential candidate as he speaks for himself. Here Ashton is a buffoon without a thought in his head who would never speak anything meaningful to anyone. It is a rare breath of cynicism regarding America's political institutions just as the Cold War is ramping up - and did I mention it is hilarious?

 

Allen Jenkins has a great supporting role as a very mercenary private detective. Milton Parsons is the party operative who has the job of calling in the party "cleanup crew" with names that sound like they are all in the mafia. I'd describe the rest of the characters, but suffice it to say that nobody in this film seems to have any positive character traits and thus none of them are people you will find the least bit admirable.

 

The final scene is hilarious with even a dig at the safety of nuclear testing and a cameo that will surprise you and leave you laughing if you know anything about film history. Highly recommended.

 

PRODUCER: Universal

 

my imdb rating of the film: 9/10

review feedback: Nothing yet

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TITLE: Will Rogers goes to the middle east to find ....steel???

 

 

 

The whole movie is just a great farce. You have Will Rogers as American razor blade magnate Earl Tinker in search of the world's finest steel in a place that virtually has none - the Middle East. He's sailing across the ocean to talk to the tribes that make the steel, but he wants his competitors in the razor blade business to think this is a pleasure trip. Dorothy Peterson is his justifiably suspicious wife and Peggy Ross is his daughter. In a throwaway but amusing role, considering how things turned out, you have Joel McCrea as a whiny failed stuck-up playwright who eventually courts Earl's daughter and actually plays a big part in saving the day. Jetta Goudal plays the femme fatale who pretends to have an eye for Earl but actually works for his competitor and just wants to know what his business plans are. Earl loves his wife but he's flattered such a mysterious lady seems to have an interest in him.

 

Towards the end of the film you get to see Boris Karloff as a sheik. He made this after Frankenstein but before his other Universal horror films.

 

Although the part of plutocrat would seem an odd role for Rogers, he still inserts much of his homespun humor, including a bit on the radio in which he gets a few zingers in at Congress. It's one of the few Will Rogers films that Fox never put on DVD, probably because it is such an odd role for Will Rogers. I'd definitely recommend this one if it ever comes your way.

 

PRODUCER: Fox Films

 

my imdb rating: 7/10

Review feedback: None yet

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TITLE: A Gothic little tale set in modern times...

 

... 1941 that is. It boasts fine photography and a great score. It's part horror tale, part noir. John Raden returns for the funeral of Maxim Raden, his father and owner of all of the mills around town. It's obvious from the remarks of the average citizens outside the cemetery gates that their collective sentiment is good riddance.

 

Dr. Ben Saunders (Harry Carey) then reveals to John a terrible secret he's been keeping - that 25 years ago he forged a death certificate for John's identical twin brother Paul. Paul had become mentally disturbed and Maxim moved into a hotel in town and kept the insane Paul locked up in a room at Radin mansion with kindly and loyal servant Pompey as his keeper. Paul became disturbed probably due to a head injury received when his father threw him across the room when Paul came to his mother's rescue during one of the beatings Maxim was giving her. What did Dr. Saunders get in return? Maxim Radin endowed his clinic, but with Paul recently turning more violent, both Saunders' psychological and actual burden have become heavier and heavier. John, sent away to school before any of this happened, had no knowledge of any of this up until now.

 

Well, Paul kills Pompey, escapes his room, and finds some money at his father's grave. (It was unclear to me what money was doing there.) With this money and his misleading mostly gentle child-like demeanor he manages to rent a room in a rooming house and attract the attentions of the landlady's daughter (Susan Hayward as Millie Pickens). Millie teaches Paul to blend in - helps him find new clothes, gets him to shave - and now the town has an unpredictable homicidal maniac in its midst who only acts homicidal when the urge to kill strikes him but doesn't look the least bit out of place. Meanwhile, John Raden cannot convince Saunders to call the police because he doesn't want to lose the clinic he's worked so hard for. Of course the fact that the townspeople think Paul is dead and Paul and John are identical twins will eventually figure into this plot, but I'll let you watch and see how.

 

Albert Dekker does a great job of playing the dual role of sophisticated good guy John and child-like insane Paul, but it is Susan Hayward as Millie who steals the show. You can never quite tell if she really likes Paul because he's different - not pawing her all of the time - or if she's just after the gifts he can give her after she sees the wad of cash he keeps in his pockets. It's a great early role for her. Harry Carey gets to do more than he usually does late in his career, which were roles that usually entailed playing the wise old good guy. Here he is quite gray and not until the end are you sure just which side of his character will win. For those of you looking for a glimpse of Frances Farmer at work, that's all you'll get - a glimpse. She is barely noticeable as the wife of John Raden.

 

As for the atmosphere - it's perfect with thunderstorms, poorly lit rooms, cemeteries at night, and Paul's victims all found left with a terrified expression and their hands over their ears. Highly recommended for fans of old style horror. It's a shame this one isn't better known.

 

Producer: Paramount

 

my imdb rating of film: 9/10

Review feedback: Nothing yet

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TITLE: The effects of bad company compounded by "just one of those days"...

 

...

... and believe me I'm not trying to trivialize what the two main characters did. This short little British noir is powered by very good acting by a trio of British players with whom I am not familiar combined with great atmosphere. Two young guys who want a short cut to the good life and aren't getting anywhere by betting on the dogs at the track decide to rob a bookie. They reason he'll be an easy target since what he does is illegal anyways and he won't report the crime to the police. From the time we meet the two robbers you know exactly where they are coming from. Frank is the weak-willed guy who goes along with whatever his more dominant and nefarious friend Tony wants, because "we're mates". Frank has a conscience and probably would have never gone down this road if not for Tony. Tony is bad news, is really nobody's mate, but knows how to manipulate Frank to help him get what he wants.

 

The basic plot is the robbery goes bad from the start with the bookie handcuffed to his briefcase full of money, with the key to the handcuff forgotten on the bookie's desk as he leaves his office at the track. The pair of thieves are thus forced to take the unconscious bookie along with them as they have to steal the bookie's car too while they figure out how to extricate the bag from the bookie, and with them having to hit the bookie a second time when he comes to in the car. The bookie is seriously injured by this second blow, and now these two rather incompetent thugs have to balance not getting caught (Tony's top priority) with getting the bookie the medical attention he needs (Frank's main concern). The one concern they share is that of being given the death sentence should the bookie die.

 

Everything that can go wrong does, and adding to the drama, Frank has a wife who has had it with him catting around at night with Tony whom she has pegged as bad news from the start.

 

I'd highly recommend this little film that I just happened to run across on youtube. It's very short at an hour in length, but the tension just never lets up.

 

PRODUCER: Independent Artists

 

my imdb rating of film: 8/10

Review feedback: Nothing yet.

 

COMMENT: The film was pulled from youtube days after I saw it for copyright violation although it has never been on home video in any form either in America or abroad.

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WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD

 

 

 

Soapy Gibson (Edward Ellis) and his wife Annie (Marjorie Rambeau) run a lonely hearts club in a small town. Even during the Depression years these were often "clip joints" - places where people with money but no mate got taken by someone offering the promise of companionship. However, Soapy and Annie are strictly on the level - and they have more than one reason to want to stay on the level. You see Soapy escaped from the law years ago, had some plastic surgery and changed his name, and has been living on the lam with his wife ever since. The film opens with a weekly meeting of the lonely hearts club in progress, and the only real complaint anybody can make is that the neighbors hate the volume and singing voice of one member of the club. The Gibsons are saving up to buy a farm, which has always been their dream.

 

Then something upsets their lifestyle completely. The mother of one of Soapy's old gang is dying and sends a letter asking if Soapy and his wife will take care of the gang member's daughter. You see, the daughter has been told her father is dead when he has been in jail for many years, plus the daughter has no memory of her father at all. At first the Gibsons balk about this, and are afraid that the cops might figure Soapy's real identity if the old gang member's daughter is living with them. But the girl (Dorothy Jordan as Mary) steals their hearts. They change her name to Gibson so that nobody will get wise to her real identity, and the three begin to gel into a family unit in the MGM tradition, although this is a Paramount film. Eddie Quillan plays Andy, a young reporter who takes an interest in Mary, and the Gibsons approve of their dating.

 

Up to now things have been rather slow, and I was actually beginning to get a little bored with this film. But things liven up pretty quickly. Louis Calhern as Magruder, a violent con-man, enters the scene. The plastic surgeon who did Soapys surgery told Magruder about Soapy before he died, and Magruder uses that information to muscle in on the Gibsons' lonely hearts club and make it a real clip joint. The Gibsons have a real dilemma on their hands. If Magruder hangs around and clips the wrong person, it puts them in the headlights of the police. If they say no to Magruder, he'll tip them off to Soapy's real identity.

 

To complicate matters, Magruder has his eye on having Mary for himself. What follows is a murder, a frame up, and three people all rushing to the airport on a rainy night to gun down Magruder. All three get there at the same time - one succeeds. But who succeeded? Apparently the police don't know and this movie is impossible to spoil because the audience never knows either! It seems that society is better off without this guy and the movie leaves it at that. As the city desk editor says when young reporter Andy calls in and says Magruder's been shot and killed - "Good!".

 

The whole thing has a precode ending as a murderer unknown goes unpunished with Soapy apparently in the clear for his past misdeeds. If Edward Ellis looks familiar, he's the original "Thin Man" in 1934's "The Thin Man" - the guy whose disappearance is at the heart of the mystery in the first place. I thought Dorothy Jordan was very good here as the teenage girl. She showed much more range than she did in those early sound musicals over at MGM. She's still playing it sweet and straight, but there is some genuine mischief and playfulness being demonstrated. Marjorie Rambeau is just perfect as an aging flapper, loyal wife to Soapy, surrogate mom to Mary, astute, tough, and tender depending on what's called for. Louis Calhern is pitch perfect as always as a villain with perfect manners - unless you cross him.

 

This is a good film, well worth your time in spite of a lack of big name stars - in fact there's not one contract Paramount player in the cast. Recommended.

 

PRODUCER: Paramount

 

My imdb rating of film: 7/10

Review Feedback: Nothing yet

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This film is probably not well known because it was made just before Fox Films went bankrupt and was bought up and combined with 20th Century Pictures. It is hard to track down, and thus the one misleading storyline about it I see printed is that a nurse marries a navy doctor because she is interested in nursing the man's crippled daughter back to health. That's not really what happens.

 

The main plot line of the film is that a civilian nurse in a Navy hospital (Claire Trevor as Vicki Blake) and a widower naval officer who is a doctor (Ralph Bellamy as Dr. Quentin Harden) meet and fall in love. Quentin lost his wife nine years before when their daughter, Susan, was born. Susan has recently suffered from polio and all of the doctors say she will never walk again. Quentin proposes to Vicki but admits he can't put memories of his first wife out of his mind. Vicki admits being rather tainted on marriage because of her parents' divorce when she was a child. To get Quentin out of her system, Vicki leaves her position and goes to visit her mother in Buenos Aires, where she has remarried a wealthy gentleman. When Vicki's visit is done, she sails for Pearl Harbor where her close friends, the Keats, are now stationed. Mr. Keats is a naval officer. Vicki is surprised to see that Quentin is stationed at Pearl Harbor too, realizes she is not over him, and marries him.

 

After a year of marriage, Vicki can't deal with living with the ghost of the first Mrs. Harden any longer, and she has a reason to leave when she learns of a treatment in Los Angeles that can possibly get Susan walking again. Now Ralph Bellamy could play a tough unlikeable cookie in his films, but here he is very sweet and sentimental to the point that it's difficult to perceive this coldness that Vicki is almost hysterical about. Meanwhile, months pass, and a lonely Quentin gets the attention of an attractive woman at a bar as disapproving older friends look on with great disdain as the two begin dancing, implying the beginning of an extra-marital romance. At this point, I'll let you try to track down a copy of this film and see how the melodrama plays out.

 

Don't let my description of an almost paint by numbers 30's melodrama make you think this is not an interesting film. There is some very strange stuff going on in this one as far as side plots and ironies. First off, in an early scene, Claire Trevor's character is told that a seaman is "going overboard" - dying - and wants her at his bedside. He requests she sing a song. She sings "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" in a perfectly good voice when Trevor's terrible rendition of a song would be part of a cruel joke in "Key Largo" 13 years later. As Trevor's character walks to the seaman's bedside there is an African American seaman in a bed apparently dying surrounded by other African Americans singing traditional African American spirituals - an odd sight in a Navy hospital.

 

When a ship docks in the harbor and the sailors come ashore, sailor Butch (Warren Hymer) is asked what is the first thing he wants to do. He says - "I can't wait to get my leg over ... a motorcycle!". Usually we have sailors on leave hitting the nearest bar, but here they all hit the pavement one after another in a bizarre motorcycle racing scene among the sailors on shore leave. Again, how odd. In fact, it seems the accident prone Butch does his best to stay horizontal and in the hospital. This was peacetime - 1935 - and there was no draft. So why exactly DID he join the navy? Later, in Pearl Harbor, Butch isn't in the navy at all. Somehow he has morphed into the Hardens' houseboy. As if anyone would want someone that lazy and clumsy handling their best china.

 

Ben Lyon isn't given much to do here. In fact he doesn't even join the plot until Vicki is sailing for Pearl Harbor. Onboard he seems to be some kind of persistent flirt and is constantly hounding her, but then forgets all that once he is in Hawaii.

 

I'd recommend this one because, as is common in the Fox films of the early 30's it's not the main plot that will necessarily grab your attention, it is all of the odd little things going on in the background.

 

PRODUCER: Fox Films

 

my imdb rating of film: 6/10

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TITLE: A descendant of the Puritans is forced to deal with "this modern age"

 

I doubt this film could have been pulled off without Ronald Colman in the title role as a descendant of the prominent Apley family of Boston. His entire life is taken up with people of similar background, and he considers anything outside of the Back Bay of Boston to be a foreign country. The film is set in the years prior to WWI and horse drawn forms of transportation are still the norm. He believes in his own form of noblesse oblige, and is very satisfied with his ways of giving back to the community - Tuesday Night Club on Tuesday, Wednesday Night Club on Wednesday - need I say more?

 

In this rarefied museum piece of a life, George's children are about to turn everything upside down. His daughter is in love with a Harvard professor - so far so good - who is a Yale man! And the young man is teaching that Emerson is a rebel! Even worse, his son is in love with a young lady from Worcester whose father is president of a tool and die works! "A foreigner" as George himself says. To top things off a flashing electric sign advertising Grapenuts has been put within sight of his front door.

 

Like I said before, if the part of George was played by anybody else but the dapper and charming Colman, this guy would probably come across as insufferable. As it turns out, George really has a generous soul, a point that is driven home by Colman's portrayal, but his point of view is crowded with traditions that are centuries old whose origin he doesn't really understand himself, and to step away from them - or to see any member of his family step away from them - leads to a sense of discomfort that makes him feel that he perceives a wrong that must be righted.

 

I'll let you watch and see how this all works out, but it really is a delightful comedy of manners with real heart and delightful character actors in the supporting roles. Highly recommended.

 

PRODUCER: Twentieth Century Fox

 

My imdb rating: 7/10

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TITLE: John Triton never seems to "see" anything good in the future, does he?

 

The first scene is Elliott Carson (John Lund) rescuing his fiancée, Jean Courtland (Gail Russell) from committing suicide - he was told where and how by John Triton. He takes her into a nearby café where John Triton (Edward G. Robinson) is sitting at one of the café tables. Elliot assumes because of Jean's wealth that Triton is part of some kind of con game. Triton then begins his story in flashback. Years before he had a vaudeville act in which he pretended to be one who could see the future. As he says, "it was a phony act, but it was a first-class phony act". Then one night in the middle of a show he has his first real premonition and tells one particular woman that her child is in danger and she must run home. Another time he is talking to a little boy behind the theater and has a premonition that he will be run over by a car. He says something to change the boys plans - he gives him free tickets to the show. The boy says he needs to go tell his mom and, of course, he's run over by a car anyways. Meanwhile his - let us be kind and just call him "less deep and thoughtful" - colleague, Whitney Courtland (Jerome Cowan), is using John's ability to make a fortune on the stock market.

 

Meanwhile John is haunted by the bad premonitions he is getting about which he can do nothing. The last is the worst though. He sees the future of his love, Jenny (Virginia Bruce). In his premonition the two marry, there is a child, the child lives but Jenny dies. So one night he clears out and decides to become a recluse. If he doesn't talk to anyone he can't see their bad end which he can't seem to change anyways. He knows Whitney will take care of Jenny, and he does. The two marry, have a child, and just as in his premonition, Jenny dies in childbirth. Gail Russell's character, Jean, is the daughter that would have been his, so he does keep track of her over the years. He moves to L.A. just to be in the same town as she and her dad. And then the trouble starts again. First he gets a premonition about Whitney's death when he hears about him trying to break a flight record. Thus he chances meeting Jenny's daughter, Jean, and warns her about the premonition he has. She tries contacting her dad, but it's too late. His plane has cracked up and Whitney is dead. Then John gets a premonition about Jean's death "under the stars", and we are back to the present, in the café.

 

John wants to retreat back into his little world, but not until he can finally save someone, and not just anyone. He wants to save the daughter that might have been his had things been different. Of course now he has the suspicious fiancé to contend with along with the police whom the fiancé calls who say they found foul play involved in the crack up of Whitney's plane and suspect John as being part of some conspiracy. Plus they think he could be a little nuts and have the police psychiatrists examining him. Meanwhile Jean is in danger and is being guarded by skeptics. How will this all pan out? Watch and find out.

 

Edward G. Robinson plays the melancholy clairvoyant just brilliantly as you can see how this supposed gift is weighing him down. Like Peter Boyle in the X-Files episode "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose", a gift is not much of a gift if all it does is give you visions of pain and death you can't seem to change. It is a very gloomy film from the start with the atmosphere of a noir, but not with the kinds of characters and situations normally associated with noir. Highly recommended.

 

PRODUCER: Paramount

 

My imdb rating of the film 8/10

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Like the other reviewer said, films this good shouldn't be so rarely seen and hard to find, that is, if you've even heard of it in the first place. This is definitely in the category of a precode as issues such as life, death, and life after death could not be explored so boldly after the code came into effect in 1934.

 

This rare Fox horror film is set at an international peace conference in which Captain. Paul Onslow (Warner Baxter), representative from a small fictitious country, is the sole dissenter in an agreement involving all the European countries. The decision must be unanimous or the agreement will not be in force. Onslow feels the agreement will be a disaster for his country and is unmoved by any argument or threat for that matter. Early that afternoon the conference adjourns and is to reconvene that night at 11PM for a final vote.

 

Onslow has an eventful day. He has an attempt made on his life, he falls in love - or I should say he realizes he has always been in love - with a long-time acquaintance and becomes engaged, an odd little man with a mysterious machine moves into the home of his host, and finally - he is strangled to death by an unknown assailant a little after 6PM in his room.

 

His body is discovered by a small group of close friends minutes after his death. As luck would have it the odd little man I mentioned earlier is a scientist whose mysterious machine can bring any life form back from the dead, but only for six hours. He demonstrates first on a rabbit, and then Onslow is brought back.

 

If you're expecting the shocked grunting character from 1936's "Walking Dead" you've expected wrong. Onslow is as articulate and dapper as he was before his death. However, like Karloff's character, he knows all that was going on while he was dead - including the fact that he only has six hours until he dies again - and seems to have the answers to the universe. However, he refuses to tell the few people who know what happened who killed him. Instead he jumps into his car and heads into the night, promising to confront his murderer personally, and also make that final vote at the conference. Remember now, nobody knows he is "dead" except the few who discovered his body, and they're keeping what happened to themselves. Along the way Onslow runs into three people he saw on the street that day and manages to comfort them with his personal knowledge of loved ones lost and a new empathy, although he was a pretty nice guy to begin with.

 

If the film has one real flaw it is that the revealing of the murderer is rather anticlimactic. There were so many possible suspects and the actual culprit is so nondescript that I had to go back to the beginning of the film to realize who the killer was.

 

Particularly moving is how Onslow handles the issue of his fiancée, who doesn't know what has happened to him. Also used to good effect is the rabbit that was brought back fifteen minutes before Onslow. It acts as a living hour glass, always letting Onslow know just how much time he has left. Highly recommended.

 

PRODUCER: Fox Films

 

My imdb rating of film : 9/10

Review feedback. 3/3 people have found this review helpful so far

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... yet worthwhile viewing because of the stars and because of the strange pacing and overall presentation. None of the principal players - Albert Gran, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Anita Page, and Zasu Pitts - were under contract at Universal, in fact all were in the middle of good careers at other studios, so it would be interesting to know why all of this talent was assembled for such a film into which such little effort was spent.

 

Norman Overbeck (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), member of a prominent family, is about to be married. Unknown to his family, he was married for a short time the previous year to artist Isabel (Anita Page). They annulled the marriage before they could disclose the news to their families. But there was one thing Norman could not annul - his son by Isabel. Norman is informed of his birth and his existence for that matter by the maternity hospital where his son is born. Needless to say, Norman rushes down to the hospital to see his son along with his good friend Gilbert (Roscoe Karns).

 

This is where the movie completely loses its way. There are some expectant fathers that completely hijack the film for about 20 minutes or so with the usual expectant father jokes. Problem is, the jokes just aren't that funny. The highly anticipated meeting between Isabel and Norman is brief and disappointing. The end result is, Isabel insists on putting their son up for adoption, and after she leaves the hospital Norman steals the child from the hospital and takes him to an undisclosed location to raise the baby himself. At least, that's all I can surmise as the scene changes from Norman in the hospital sneaking along the hallway with the child to Zasu Pitts on the phone, presumably a servant of Norman's.

 

Norman makes quite a mess of things in the next ten minutes. He winds up engaged to three women simultaneously in his haste to find a mother for the baby, Zasu accidentally gives away the baby's location to the maternity hospital who is now fast on their heels, and Isabel shows up at Norman's apartment, her maternal instincts having suddenly kicked in.

 

How does all of this turn out? With disappointingly pat answers is all I will tell you.

 

The other weird thing about this movie is the score. A song that sounds like something from the gay 90's plays at the introduction and then again at the end, completely out of step with the mood of the film. In between there is dead silence - no score at all.

 

The print I saw of this film was in very bad condition. Visually it was bad enough, being a rather blurry print. The audio was just awful with the early recording techniques causing a very loud hum to vigorously compete with the dialogue. If someone offers you a copy for viewing just don't get your hopes up too high.

 

PRODUCER: Universal

 

My imdb rating of the film: 6/10

Review feedback: 0/1 people found this review helpful

 

COMMENT: I don't think I spoiled things too much, and my review is currently the only review of this film on imdb. Somebody read this and thought the only information on the film that can be found on imdb is unhelpful? My inquiring mind would like to know why.

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I hadn't seen this film for years, and then I only remembered parts of it. The parts I did remember were the dialogue scenes between Kay Francis and estranged hubby Walter Huston, and between Huston and the children who do not know him. This part of the film is very good and made me want to see it again.

 

When I saw it again the other night for the first time in years on TCM I was horrified. Worse, I was somewhat bored. Either I never saw or my memory blocked out the musical portions. Obviously, Warner Bros. was trying to turn Gloria Warren into their own Deanna Durbin, but she just lacked the "star quality" Durbin had and was a completely uninteresting actress, at least in this film.

 

The film could have been a great one if the music had been eliminated and the focus kept on the melodrama - a man (Walter Huston) getting out of prison and giving up a woman who loves him and his children so they can all have some security with a rather bland fellow who wants to marry the woman (Kay Francis). Instead, Huston paces from the "good" side of town where we are tormented by Warren's operatic screeching, to the bad side of town where a novelty harmonica band act torments us some more. Just goes to proves bad music has a home in both the low-brow and high-brow varieties.

 

What gets five stars from me is the warm family story and the title song, "Always In My Heart" which is really quite beautiful and a bit of a theme song for the entire situation portrayed in the film.

 

If you want to see what Kay Francis and Walter Huston can do for a film without all of this distraction thrown in, try to track down a copy of "Gentlemen of the Press". There they really sizzle.

 

PRODUCER: Warner Brothers

 

My imdb rating of the film: 5/10

Review feedback: 3/8 people found this helpful

 

COMMENTS: I think people dislike this one because of the negative comments I made about the film. I'll let you be the judge.

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TITLE: Historical inaccuracies aside, I really liked it!

 

 

 

I thought the chemistry among the three leads - Gordon McRae as Buddy De Sylva, Dan Dailey as Ray Henderson, and Ernest Borgnine as Lew Brown - was absolutely perfect even if not necessarily true. Probably the hardest thing to take at first is the excessively caustic nature of Borgnine's portrayal of Lew Brown until you get to know a little more about Lew, his background, and his friends and then things begin to make sense. There's a good contrast of personalities here - De Sylva civilized but selfish versus the street-wise loud and rude Brown who'd put it all on the line for a friend. Then there's Henderson's gentle family man play-for-keeps style versus De Sylva's flavor-of-the-month attitude towards women. I don't know if any of this was true, but as cinema I liked it.

 

Knowing something about the early talkie musicals and the composers behind them, some things did bother me. At one point the film has the three going out to Hollywood to work on the 1929 early talkie musical "Sunnyside Up". This was largely a homespun little film in the tradition of the early Fox musicals with even a harpsichord number included. Instead, what we see on the set is an elaborate fan-dance like number with a man in a tuxedo singing "If I Had a Talking Picture of You" accompanied by dancing girls with long red boas. This is not how I remember Charles Farrell singing this one. In fact, if there is one big complaint I have is that the songs are pure 20's but the choreography and tempo of the numbers are like something out of an MGM musical ballet with Gene Kelly that would have been popular at the time of the film's release - 1956.

 

The key to enjoying this film is to focus on the beautiful music, good performances, and the pleasant nature of the story. Do that and I think you'll like it. I don't think this was ever intended to be a serious biopic.

 

PRODUCER: Twentieth Century Fox

 

My imdb rating of the film: 7/10

Review feedback: 0/1 people found it helpful

 

COMMENTS: Maybe I got negged because I mentioned the 1950's musical presentation of 20's numbers in a 50's film? Just guessing. Also, Fox NEVER shows this one in the original Cinemascope presentation. It's always shown Pan and Scan. In fact they sell their MOD version Pan and Scan! Maybe somebody didn't like my review because I failed to mention that. You be the judge.

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TITLE: If you ever thought children are good old age insurance...

 

 

 

... this movie will make you think again. The film is the story of a rural housewife with a layabout husband and four rowdy children, and she's completely devoted to all of them. We first meet Ma Shelby (Mae Marsh) when she is in her 30's, managing to eek out a living doing laundry during the day and into the wee hours. She's working so hard to provide for her brood that she nods off during the day. Meanwhile her husband claims that this job or that job does not pay enough to be worth his shoe leather, all the while stealing expense money from the small jar in which Ma has stashed the family's meager finances. The best thing we can say about this man is that apparently he doesn't beat or cheat on Ma Shelby. That's the best true statement you could put on his epitaph.

 

The children grow up, and the story begins to focus more on Johnny (James Dunn), the good son who is devoted to his mother, and his sweetheart Isabel (Sally Eilers). Johnny and Isabel have big plans, but a bad decision by Pa Shelby - whose values have not improved with age - starts a cascade of events that force Johnny far away from home for an extended period of time and eventually has Ma Shelby headed "over the hill" to the poor house in her old age. The term "poor house" is bandied about a great deal nowadays, but until the middle of the twentieth century it was a very real place where the poor, the old, and the unwanted were spartanly warehoused.

 

Now realize Ma's other three children are alive, well, and close enough to help, they just don't, mainly because of the objections of their spouses. The fact that there are three of them allows them to shift blame from one to the other without feeling personally responsible for Ma. How will this all play out? Watch and find out.

 

This is a heart rending look at how the elderly being disposable is not just something that started in modern times, but was a recognizable trend some eighty years ago and before, since this film is a talkie remake of an even older silent film. As for Ms. Marsh's portrayal of Ma, there is something just a little unrealistic about how she tolerates being pushed around and aside after a lifetime of devotion to her family, but it does make the final five minutes of the film all the more memorable.

 

Do note that this film is technically a precode, but not the way that you would normally think of a precode. The precode element is Ma's son Isaac, who is a preacher who steals even from his own mother to hide his unscrupulous dealings with others not so passive as Ma. He is truly his father's son, but unlike Dad he's found a money-making angle and veneer of respectability in his profession of man of the cloth. After the production code began to be enforced in 1934, nobody claiming to be a preacher would ever be allowed to be portrayed as a scoundrel as well.

 

Highly recommended for the acting of everyone involved and for covering a topic that is still relevant today.

 

PRODUCER: Fox Films

 

My imdb rating of the film: 9/10

Review feedback: 0/1 people found this one helpful

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This is one of those high society precodes in which everybody is cheating on their own spouse with someone else's spouse. Adolphe Menjou plays one of the few single people in this high society group, but he still has quite the taste for the married women. Leila Hyams plays Connie, Menjou's latest woman of interest. However, she is in love with her husband and doesn't care to enter into an affair. Her husband, Jack, has had one affair with a showgirl that Connie doesn't know about. Mix all of this together and you have a variation on the more famous "The Divorcée". It's just a shame that Adolphe Menjou, the most interesting actor in the cast, doesn't spend more time on screen.

 

The studios all made movies like this during the Depression - films about wealthy people who had nothing better to do but play musical chairs with their love lives with not a glimpse of the dire situation that was playing out in the nation. This one is worth sitting through if you run into it, but there is really nothing to distinguish it other than Hyam's always adequate performance in whatever script she was thrown into and, of course, the ever-dashing Menjou.

 

PRODUCER: MGM

 

My imdb rating of the film: 6/10

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TITLE: I normally like just about everything Nancy Carroll was in...

 

...but I didn't like this one at all. It's not that it is bad, it is just so mediocre that it is exceedingly dull. I am a fan to the point of obsession of the early talkies and early talkie musicals, and this is not one of the good ones folks. It's also not so bad it's good either. (Think Golden Dawn here.) The plot has possibilities but is lackluster in its execution - an antebellum planter family of the old south is short on cash so the family is getting ready to move out of their mansion for awhile and rent to another family to make some money. The needed extra servants for the rich family do not arrive, so the brother and sister that were getting ready to move out pose as the missing servants to save the lease agreement and thus the plantation. Nancy Carroll and Skeets Gallagher play the sister and brother, Olivia and Charles Dangerfield. The wealthy tenant family consists of snobby matron Mrs. Falkner (Jobyna Howland) and her free-spirit daughter Cora (Lilian Roth). Along for the visit is wealthy Burton Crane (Stanley Smith) whom Mrs. Falkner has picked for the job of future son-in-law. However, her daughter does not share her enthusiasm. With mistaken identities abounding, there is plenty of opportunity for romance that crosses class boundaries, or at least seems to do so.

 

The music is totally uninspired with one exception - the number "Sing You Sinners". That number alone is worth the price of admission. Zasu Pitts, who is usually quite funny, is just annoying here. The script has her crying hysterically and repeating phrases and just being a little too dim for anything fun to come of it. I fell asleep three times trying to get through this one, and thus I'd not recommend it at all.

 

PRODUCER: Paramount

 

my imdb rating: 4/10

Review feedback: 0/3 people found this review helpful

 

COMMENTS: Honestly, folks this stagey film is one of the reasons that Hollywood stopped making musicals for a couple of years.

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Wayne Morris, known from 1950 on for his Westerns, here plays Alex "Lucky" Downing, a man with more than a few odd dilemmas, each one causing the next. First, he is a chemical engineer at the time right before America entered WWII during the biggest industrial build-up of the last century who oddly enough cannot find a job of any kind and therefore is literally under siege by creditors. This causes him to put an ad in the paper making himself available for work - any kind of work. The job he gets is to pretend to be the fiancé of an heiress he has never seen for the sum of one thousand dollars, which is a princely sum in 1941. Fortunately the girl turns out to be very attractive (Alexis Smith as Elinor Bentley). His next dilemma, unknown to him at first, is that he is being used as bait by the Bentley family to try to draw "The Smiling Ghost" out into the open. The Smiling Ghost is a name given to whoever or whatever it is who has killed or maimed each and every one of Elinor's fiancés, three so far. Downing's final dilemma is that he has two girls competing for his affection - first the heiress Elinor is beginning to fall for him. Secondly there is a female reporter interested in the story of the smiling ghost (Brenda Marshall as Lil Barstow) who is also attracted to our hero.

 

This film has plenty of comedy, with Alan Hale as a detective under cover as a butler who from the first time you see him doesn't act or speak like a butler, not to mention Wayne Morris' likable every-man style. It also has plenty of atmosphere with the spooky dark Bentley mansion, fog in the graveyard at night, and a rather strange member of the Bentley family whose hobby includes collecting shrunken heads.

 

The only real negative in the film is the use of racial stereotypes as humor in the person of Clarence (Willie Best), Alex' assistant and friend. Clarence is portrayed as being superstitious and cowardly comic relief, and it's sad but not the least bit atypical for movies made at this time to put African Americans into such roles.

 

Besides that one negative, I'd rate it as one of the better B comedy/thrillers made in the 40's, especially when you realize that it was made at Warner Brothers, which wasn't a studio particularly well known for that genre.

 

PRODUCER: Warner Brothers

 

my imdb rating of the film: 7/10

Review feedback: 0/3 people found this review helpful

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