The Watch List For 10-3-12
CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG (1934) --- Warren William's first as Perry Mason, a series remarkably different from what TV would accustom us to. Mason wasn't precode, mores the pity, but there's black humor and blurred ethics to serve as antidote to stolid Ray Burr and televised adherence to letters of law. William is sassy and the practice is just another line of snake oil for him. Secretary Della is obviously a squeeze, but no one hammers the point (but imagine if this dog had howled prior to PCA enforcement). Trouble, if any, with Warner Masons was shoe-horning the character into fixed blueprint of pics done casual with regard literary antecedent. Not that Erle Gardner's books were sacred text, but they'd caught on sufficient to merit send-off accorded here, Howling Dog beginner of a series Warners meant to cultivate and continue, ala MGM with its Thin Mans.
If Perry wasn't much like
William/Mason doesn't mind skirting the law as shortcut to client acquittal, so there's happy maintenance of at least some precode practice methods (though Perry wouldn't, indeed couldn't, go so far as Bill Powell's Lawyer Man or Warren William's own Mouthpiece). Did Mason inspire youth to enter law, or just hustle generally after Warren William example? Initial PM's were just north of B's, descending from there to William's departure and substitution of Ricardo Cortez, the flip side of a same coin (Donald Woods would come too, representing the scrubs). Howling Dog was made for $149K, brought back worldwide rentals of $443K, so there was happiness ahead. Maybe it's not my favorite of the Mason lot (Curious Bride is snappier), but these things blur in the mind, so I'd not say with certainty. Often on TCM, but word is that Warner Archive contemplates release of the set, a motion lots hope will be granted.
BACK FROM ETERNITY (1956) --- RKO had this stellar property filmed before as Five Came Back in 1939, that a sleeper and major career advance for director John Farrow. Now it's 1956 and a wider screen on which to stage air disaster and resulting struggle to survive in South American jungles. Success of such usually hangs on who's cast. Robert Ryan leads as the conflicted pilot. There's also Rod Steiger, Phyllis Kirk, Gene Barry, Anita Ekberg (Ohhh, That Ekberg! said ads). There's even little Jon Provost, who finds a beheaded Fred Clark amongst the brush. Such events keep the show lively. Fun because narrative doesn't always take cliché ways out. Parallels with The High and The Mighty, plus Eternity in its title, as in From Here To ..., might have given RKO reason for hope, but by 9/56 when Back came out, the studio's own liner had crashed and was burning.
THE FATAL HOUR (1940) --- A first time viewing Mr. Wong with Boris Karloff had me praying he'd not speak pidgin English. Well thanks be, for Wong was Oxford-educated and but for slant eyes, the Karloff of old. These Wongs were for Monogram, so mysteries unfold on dullish sets among stock-still assemblage of mostly four or less. You could listen to Wong on the radio and do as well. Of course, there'd be no reportage of The Fatal Hour at Greenbriar minus BK as lead. There's funny bloopers I used to have on 16mm of Karloff as Wong profaning a prop safe he can't open. Why is it dumb cops have to shout so much? I'd like everyone in movies and life to adopt Karloff's dulcet tones. The whodunit's solution here was cock-eyed even by relax standards of B sleuthing. There's a hatful more Wongs if you dare watching, most all in the Public Domain, so sources are infinite.
EASY LIVING (1949) --- Inside pro football, circa 1949. It's not a young man's game, as embodied by cast members who are themselves beyond athletic prime. Credibility is much enhanced by Victor Mature, Sonny Tufts, and Gordon Jones as beefcake passing sell date, conveying well their unease over futures on a grueling field. Easy Living centers on sport, but is really about men facing reality of short-term prime of life. That the pic excels comes as no surprise what with Jacques Tourneur's credit as director. Whatever was not good was made so once he came to a project. Easy Living had promise to begin with, derived from an Irwin Shaw story with Charles Schnee scripting. It's grown up about what guides and misguides people in areas of stress. Situations that normally serve rote melodramatic purpose go unexpected directions here.
I found myself liking Art Smith's hissable at first glance despoiler of innocence (and not so innocent Liz Scott as Victor Mature's faithless wife). Scott's final confront with Smith is cruel on both sides, a late 40's getting between the lines of censorship that make us realize adult content was doable even at height of PCA enforcement. The out of left field finish slapped me hard as Vic did Liz, but I'd have been less pleased had he paired with all too clearly positioned (up to then) Lucille Ball, loving him from respectability's distance. The Mature-Ball ending was said to have been intended, which would have made Easy Living more of a standard issue. Whatever Scott's failings as to wifely concern and loyalty, it's her that Mature wants, and obviously for benefits we don't see him enjoy on screen.
BERKELEY SQUARE (1933) --- Leslie Howard time travels to a