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Another day to look forward to: Dick Powell!


slaytonf
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With the exception of one Preston Sturges title that is played twice a year every year on TCM, this Dick Powell tribute seriously neglects his output at Paramount in the 1940s. He had several highly successful hit comedies and musicals at Paramount. People tend to think that after he left Warners he immediately segued into those hardboiled roles at RKO, but that is not what happened.

 

Also, after his noir phase, he went back to doing fluffier material in the early 1950s-- including a big hit comedy at Universal and a musical comedy at RKO as well as some lightweight fare at MGM with his wife June Allyson. So in terms of his acting career, he is much more than 30s crooner and 40s noir guy.

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I'm disappointed Dick Powell's "day" didn't include Cry Danger, a good little noir with lots of snappy dialogue, atmospheric settings (like the shabby trailer park !), and fun characters (like Richard Erdman and his erstwhile girl, Jean Porter).

 

It would have been all the more appropriate since Powell also directed this film.

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With the exception of one Preston Sturges title that is played twice a year every year on TCM, this Dick Powell tribute seriously neglects his output at Paramount in the 1940s. He had several highly successful hit comedies and musicals at Paramount. People tend to think that after he left Warners he immediately segued into those hardboiled roles at RKO, but that is not what happened.

 

Also, after his noir phase, he went back to doing fluffier material in the early 1950s-- including a big hit comedy at Universal and a musical comedy at RKO as well as some lightweight fare at MGM with his wife June Allyson. So in terms of his acting career, he is much more than 30s crooner and 40s noir guy.

Sorry to hear he wasn't given the opportunity to do more serious acting - he was a VERY good actor, much, much, much better than Wayne, e.g., and look at all the opportunities given him. Go figure.

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So, has anyone here seen Cry Danger ?

I think it's good but overrated. Definitely not as polished as THE TALL TARGET or Powell's MGM films from the same period. Basically betrayed by its budget, which works to its advantage in some regards-- but I kept thinking the trailer park scene was made by filming outside the stars' dressing room trailers. Seriously. The real reason to watch CRY DANGER is for the chance to see Bill Conrad as a bad guy, rivaling anything Raymond Burr ever did in this genre.

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So, has anyone here seen Cry Danger ?

 

I bought the DVD and then recorded it when TCM played it in January of 2013.  It's up there with Murder, My Sweet as his best noir film, with Rhonda Fleming as a perfectly cast femme fatale.

 

(Paranthetically, can anyone imagine an actress with a screen name of Rhonda being cast as anything but a femme fatale?  The very sound of that name conjures up images of a dame with a shiv up her sleeve.)

 

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The real reason to watch CRY DANGER is for the chance to see Bill Conrad as a bad guy, rivaling anything Raymond Burr ever did in this genre.

 

While I disagree with your assessment of the movie as a whole, I definitely sign on to what you say about William Conrad's performance.  He doesn't have Burr's undertone of mental instability, but he's every bit as convincing in his portrayals of a variety of underworld archetypes.

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So, has anyone here seen Cry Danger ?

Well, I have, MissW, to the extent that I created a thread about it last year in which you may recall that you participated.

 

Powell didn't actually direct the film, which I believe you earlier stated, but he was producer, though I'm not certain that he had his name on the credits in that regard, and he had a lot to say about the making of the film.

 

I'm very partial to well made little economy features like this, shot very expressively in a seedy trailer camp, among its settings. While the story is nothing special, it does offer some very smart dialogue. Few actors had such great throwaway delivery of hard bitten dialogue like Powell.

 

Particularly effective is that scene in which a vengeful Powell plays Russian roulette with William Conrad, Conrad forced to lie with his back on a table during Powell's interrogation of him with the gun. There is only a large closeup of Conrad's frightened face upside down as he hears the click of the gun's empty chambers against his head. Conrad doesn't look quite human during those upset down closeups, almost appearing more like large scared toad (a bit of a reflection of his devious character, I suppose).

 

But what I particularly like about this film is Richard Erdman's oddly compulsive characterization, a character whose grey shadings always makes you wonder if he will or won't be a real pal to the film's hero. Erdman is amusing in his comments but there's also something a little "off" about his character. Erdman, if memory serves me correctly, had some of the best dialogue in the film. 

 

I believe Erdman once had an anecdote in what he commented that he was playing the most interesting character in the film, to which Powell replied "I know it." I like Powell's lack of ego as an actor to have allowed that in a film in which he was calling a lot of the shots. Powell was an artless performer in these tough guys films, his every gesture and nuance on screen so seemingly natural and effortless. Dick Powell was a remarkable talent, a fact that became increasingly more apparent as his career progressed as a television director, producer, star.

 

He was the main force and guiding influence of Four Star Television, cranking out TV show after TV show. After Powell's cancer death in 1963 Four Star Television only lasted a few more years before it fell apart.

 

I'm happy to report that Cry Danger, the last of Powell's tough guys films, has been released on DVD.

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So, has anyone here seen Cry Danger ?

 

I bought the DVD and then recorded it when TCM played it in January of 2013.  It's up there with Murder, My Sweet as his best noir film, with Rhonda Fleming as a perfectly cast femme fatale.

 

(Paranthetically, can anyone imagine an actress with a screen name of Rhonda being cast as anything but a femme fatale?  The very sound of that name conjures up images of a dame with a shiv up her sleeve.)

 

-----------------------------------------------------------

 

The real reason to watch CRY DANGER is for the chance to see Bill Conrad as a bad guy, rivaling anything Raymond Burr ever did in this genre.

 

While I disagree with your assessment of the movie as a whole, I definitely sign on to what you say about William Conrad's performance.  He doesn't have Burr's undertone of mental instability, but he's every bit as convincing in his portrayals of a variety of underworld archetypes.

Frankly, I have not given my full assessment of CRY DANGER. I was just speaking generally in my earlier post. It is definitely not a big budget film and in noir that can work to the storytellers' advantage. 

 

What Bill Conrad has in all his roles, whether he's playing a baddie or a detective, is a masculine toughness. Bill Conrad seems like a guy who would go into a manicure shop to get a date with the manicurist. Burr would go there to get, well, a manicure.

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I don't see how you could disagree with my assessment as a whole, because quite frankly I have not given my full assessment of CRY DANGER. I was just speaking generally in my earlier post. It is definitely not a big budget film and in noir that can work to the storytellers' advantage.

 

I disagree with your opinion that it's "overrated."  That's all.

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I don't see how you could disagree with my assessment as a whole, because quite frankly I have not given my full assessment of CRY DANGER. I was just speaking generally in my earlier post. It is definitely not a big budget film and in noir that can work to the storytellers' advantage.

 

I disagree with your opinion that it's "overrated."  That's all.

It's overrated insomuch that noir enthusiasts overrate all their favorite films, because they think their genre is number one. Musical fans are a lot friendlier I find. LOL  And I knew that a thread about Dick Powell would quickly veer away from his many musical contributions to a discussion about a film (a noir film no surprise there) that didn't even air yesterday. So we are witnessing a bias in favor of noir on these boards and this time we are using Dick Powell to push it. So yeah that's overrated to me.

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Yup...that's the one I enjoyed. He should have worked with Anthony Mann some more. This is one of his best films, if not THE best film that he made in the 1950s.

Loved this Powell film. Always though it ironic that Powell's character is trying to save Lincoln from assassination and Powell's character's name was John Kennedy....

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Loved this Powell film. Always though it ironic that Powell's character is trying to save Lincoln from assassination and Powell's character's name was John Kennedy....

Also ironic in that Lincoln could never ultimately be saved from assassination. It's a smooth film, capably directed by Mann, shot in glorious black-and-white with that familiar MGM gloss-- and isn't Adolphe Menjou just the best in a third-billed role?!

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It's overrated insomuch that noir enthusiasts overrate all their favorite films, because they think their genre is number one. Musical fans are a lot friendlier I find. LOL  And I knew that a thread about Dick Powell would quickly veer away from his many musical contributions to a discussion about a film (a noir film no surprise there) that didn't even air yesterday. So we are witnessing a bias in favor of noir on these boards and this time we are using Dick Powell to push it. So yeah that's overrated to me.

 

How did you find out I was a "pusher"? Now my secret's out.

Yes, I admit it, I push film noir. Although these days, it's hard to find a trench coat with pockets big enough to accomodate the bootleg DVDs I'm carrying.

And I always get paranoid when I hear that song, the one with the line "G o d d a m n   the pusher." I'm just trying to promote a good product, one that is only slightly addictive.

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It's overrated insomuch that noir enthusiasts overrate all their favorite films, because they think their genre is number one. Musical fans are a lot friendlier I find. LOL  And I knew that a thread about Dick Powell would quickly veer away from his many musical contributions to a discussion about a film (a noir film no surprise there) that didn't even air yesterday. So we are witnessing a bias in favor of noir on these boards and this time we are using Dick Powell to push it. So yeah that's overrated to me.

 

At first your post kind of bugged me but I believe you are making a valid point (and your joke about miusical fans is very funny given the actor of the topic is Dick Powell).   Now I'm one of those noir enthusiast but I can see where "noir nuts" like myself could overrate a standard noir type film over a film from another genre that that is of higher quality  (or a movie that makes a more lasting impression).

 

But at least when I do this I only do it with noir films.   If I start doing this with 50s low budget Sci-fi films, shoot me! 

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I don't see how you could disagree with my assessment as a whole, because quite frankly I have not given my full assessment of CRY DANGER. I was just speaking generally in my earlier post. It is definitely not a big budget film and in noir that can work to the storytellers' advantage.

 

I disagree with your opinion that it's "overrated."  That's all.

It's overrated insomuch that noir enthusiasts overrate all their favorite films, because they think their genre is number one. Musical fans are a lot friendlier I find. LOL  And I knew that a thread about Dick Powell would quickly veer away from his many musical contributions to a discussion about a film (a noir film no surprise there) that didn't even air yesterday. So we are witnessing a bias in favor of noir on these boards and this time we are using Dick Powell to push it. So yeah that's overrated to me.

 

I'd be more than willing to let Dick Powell himself rate the relative quality of his post-1933 musicals vs. his noirs and other post-WW2 dramatic movies.  He was sick of being cast as an overaged adolescent in a fantasy world of sweetness and light, and you can't blame him.  His first three Big Time musicals (42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade) were terrific, but Powell's parts could have been played by almost any boyishly handsome actor in the Warner Brothers stable.

 

As to the general point of who overrates their favorite genres, everyone does that to an extent.  But if you go by which genres seem to be favored by critics, and by the producers of classic era retrospectives that go beyond the AFI top 100, I think it's safe to say that the B-movie noirs rate a lot higher than Andy Hardy or Esther Williams, or similar genres along those lines.  Of course that, too,  IS JUST AN OPINION, and I fully realize that not everyone (or even anyone) approves this message. :)

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I'd be more than willing to let Dick Powell himself rate the relative quality of his post-1933 musicals vs. his noirs and other post-WW2 dramatic movies.  He was sick of being cast as an overaged adolescent in a fantasy world of sweetness and light, and you can't blame him.  His first three Big Time musicals (42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade) were terrific, but Powell's parts could have been played by almost any boyishly handsome actor in the Warner Brothers stable.

 

I think when he started at Warners the idea was 'Hire someone who might be another Rudy Vallee' for the studio. He was quickly typecast as the boyish crooner and made a lot of films at Warners in a relatively short period of time. It's a wonder that audiences didn't tire of him because he was certainly overexposed. But my guess is that his wholesomeness kept winning people over. Then, when he went against type in those 40s noir dramas, he found fans appreciating his talent as an actor as opposed to his talent as a singer. Then in the 50s he reinvents himself as a director and television producer. So in an interesting turn of events, he becomes an even bigger, longer lasting star than Rudy Vallee. And some might say, instead of being Warners' answer to Vallee, he was actually their answer to Bing Crosby in terms of popularity, versatility and longevity. At least that's how I regard him.

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So many comments. . . .where do I begin?

 

I've seen Cry Danger, and like it a lot.  I recorded it when it was shown before, and take out the disk every once in a while.  Yes, it's low budget, and it demonstrates what good moviemaking depends on:  characterization, dialog, direction.  You can spend gazillions on godzilla and just end up with a man in a rubber suit.  And I, for one, don't overrate it, I know it's no great feat of moviemaking, but it's still well above the average for noirs.

 

As for William Conrad, all I can say is that there is no one who could portray an oily character, seamy with corruption, as well as he; be it a cop, a political operative, or a criminal.  How he ended up a good-guy on TV is beyond me.  But that seems to happen to a lot of heavies when they make the transition to the small screen.

 

As for Powell only showing his ability after he left his juvenile days, the reason audiences didn't tire of him, and why he was so strongly typecast is precisely because he was so good an actor, and made his performances seem so effortlessly tossed off.  No, it wasn't anybody who could perform in those roles,  their inherent vapidness requires a good performer to make them seem like something more than a cardboard cut out.  The memorable musicals he was in without him would have been that much less memorable.  

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As for Powell only showing his ability after he left his juvenile days, the reason audiences didn't tire of him, and why he was so strongly typecast is precisely because he was so good an actor, and made his performances seem so effortlessly tossed off.  No, it wasn't anybody who could perform in those roles,  their inherent vapidness requires a good performer to make them seem like something more than a cardboard cut out.  The memorable musicals he was in without him would have been that much less memorable.

 

Powell was indeed a fine actor, and I was probably a bit too hard of his earlier performances in my previous comment.  But his three great musicals (42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade) were more dependent on the likes of Warner Baxter, Jimmy Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler (for "Shanghai Lil" in particular), Ginger Rogers*, the stable of WB character actors (Kibbee, Sparks, George E.Stone, etc.), the snappy dialogue, and Busby Berkeley's signature production numbers than they were on Dick Powell's acting or crooning ability.  He was more than adequate in those three films, and in his other pre-1945 roles as well, but with a few exceptions like Sturges's Christmas in July, his performances were on the whole far less memorable than in his later noir and serious dramatic roles.

 

*Is there a single Powell moment in any of those three Berkeleys to rival Rogers' opening "We're in the Money" number in Gold Diggers of 1933, or her "Must've been tough on your mother, never having any children" line in 42nd Street?

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Powell was indeed a fine actor, and I was probably a bit too hard of his earlier performances in my previous comment.  But his three great musicals (42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade) were more dependent on the likes of Warner Baxter, Jimmy Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler (for "Shanghai Lil" in particular), Ginger Rogers*, the stable of WB character actors (Kibbee, Sparks, George E.Stone, etc.), the snappy dialogue, and Busby Berkeley's signature production numbers than they were on Dick Powell's acting or crooning ability.  He was more than adequate in those three films, and in his other pre-1945 roles as well, but with a few exceptions like Sturges's Christmas in July, his performances were on the whole far less memorable than in his later noir and serious dramatic roles.

 

*Is there a single Powell moment in any of those three Berkeleys to rival Rogers' opening "We're in the Money" number in Gold Diggers of 1933, or her "Must've been tough on your mother, never having any children" line in 42nd Street?

 

Of course, Mr. Powell wasn't the sole arc lamp in those musicals.  And there might have been one or two that shone brighter than he.  As I posted, the roles he was rutted in were distinguished for their undistinguishedness.  His role would not naturally lend itself to zingers as Miss Rogers'.  And though he is not remembered for any one particular thing from them, he is very definitely remembered from them.  A lesser talent would have faded from recollection.  His pairing with Ruby Keeler was one of the more successful in film.  According to IMDB, they made seven movies together.  And despite the non-underestimatableness of the American public's intelligence, he had to bring something to his roles to sustain that series.

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Of course, Mr. Powell wasn't the sole arc lamp in those musicals.  And there might have been one or two that shone brighter than he.  As I posted, the roles he was rutted in were distinguished for their undistinguishedness.  His role would not naturally lend itself to zingers as Miss Rogers'.  And though he is not remembered for any one particular thing from them, he is very definitely remembered from them.  A lesser talent would have faded from recollection.  His pairing with Ruby Keeler was one of the more successful in film.  According to IMDB, they made seven movies together.  And despite the non-underestimatableness of the American public's intelligence, he had to bring something to his roles to sustain that series.

He also made an impression with Marion Davies in the two films they did together. In fact, Davies developed a mad crush on Powell during filming and her paramour Hearst was not too happy about it. HEARTS DIVIDED, the second collaboration, will air on TCM in mid-November. It's worth a look!

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Of course, Mr. Powell wasn't the sole arc lamp in those musicals.  And there might have been one or two that shone brighter than he.

 

Gold Diggers of 1933 was the only one of those three movies where Powell could honestly be called a central character, and it was by far the weakest film of the trio.*    As he said himself in 42nd Street, he was "one of Broadway's better known juveniles", and while that didn't define his roles in those movies, it still pretty much nailed his lightweight persona in them.  These are three of my favorite musicals, but not because of Dick Powell.  And Powell is one of my favorite actors, but not because of his role in those musicals.

 

*When Warren William is cast as an honest man, you know there's something amiss. ;)

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