The Watch List For 2/21/13
THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940) --- Vincent Price lacks flair of Claude Rains as the transparent one, and novelty of 1933's great trick show was spent by now, so this sequel could only repeat bumps that worked before. It all comes down to unmasking of a guilty party for whom Price takes a murder blame, trivial pursuit considering worldwide domination Rains had in mind. What were any Universal monsters but exploitable elements ground to powder by lessening encores? TIMR has solid production more typical of 30's effort than B treatment accorded the genre as 40's ennui took hold. Fun aspects of invisibility are but briefly enjoyed by Price before he gets to serious business of proving innocence. We're not accustomed to Uni goblins redeemed for a happy finish, so a cheery end here is both novel and welcome. Special effects too are in ways an advance on '33 application, but directing Joe May is no James Whale. Universal's DVD, by the way, looks fantastic.
KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1937) --- How to do an African location adventure without taking your cast there. A second unit instead hauled doubles to the Dark Continent for stirring footage that director Robert Stevenson could match later with Anna Lee, Cedric Hardwicke (as Quatermain), John Loder, and Roland Young. The star presence is Paul Robeson, not there to let down an expectant public, so he sings at what would seem inopportune moments, making it work by sheer force of voice and personality. MGM's 1950 remake would smooth edges of Rider Haggard's story, though aspects of this original would not be surpassed by said slicker (and Technicolor'ed) treatment. The treasure cave and its collapse are charmingly faked and manage to thrill despite limit on what Gaumont-British could spend. The company was out to crack US markets with
CARTOON FACTORY (1924) --- Another of amazing Inkwell cartoons done by seeming hundreds (just how many survive?) by genius-before-Walt Max Fleischer, who still awaits proper credit for animation more innovative from a start than Disney's early work. Fleischer was as much inventor as artist, patents in his name revealing a first use of rotoscope and Multiplane photography. Had Max kept control of a library, we'd maybe have Fleischer Treasure volumes and his name enshrined among immortals. A life's effort is instead scattered to PD and indifferent ownership winds --- you must go five or six places to sample properly --- and even these are thickets of adequate at best quality (with happy exception of Popeye from Warners). Cartoon Factory was made silent, but so entertaining as to rate soundtrack addition for a 30's reissue, joined by a number of Fleischers making that grade. Max got infinite variation from Ko-Ko's emerge from an inkwell as Popeye later would from a spinach can. The clown that ran smooth thanks to rotoscope did battle with easel-sat Fleischer for a decade in which Max tormented his creation and got same in return. There were no cartoons from the silent era so imaginative as these. Cartoon Factory is available in beaut preservation from Flicker Alley's Saved From The Flames DVD box, a three-disc collection of filmic rarities.
SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 (1950) --- Allied Artists enters the lion's den of film noir and throws lower-cost gauntlet at Eagle-Lion sleepers like Raw Deal and T-Men, these having clicked enough to earn "A" dates and boff receipts. Southside's challenge is for undercover man Don DeFore to get goods on a funny money ring and retrieve plates enabling it. How he'll prevail makes for white-knuckling shot amidst odd LA environs, with story/dialogue an equal to what big studios served with their crime-thrilling. I'll bet hopes were high for Southside 1-1000. Would this one propel the former Monogram Studio to major status? Alas, not quite, but rebirth as Allied Artists was in progress, and good ones bearing that logo were more and more in evidence. A problem any movie about counterfeiters had was government ban of real money shown on screen, thus bills under examination are patently phony and undercut what's otherwise believable (a few scenes do use real currency, but never seen close up). Warner Archives offers an excellent DVD of this rare title.
EYES IN THE NIGHT (1942) --- Mystery's novelty here is blind detective Edward Arnold and crime-busting canine companion pitted against Germanic spy ring in pursuit of secret codes. This was a Metro B, which means anyone else's A, and directed by fledgling, but much talented, Fred Zinnemann.