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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lionel Atwill Leads The Parade Of Suspects


A Warner Mystery Programmer: The Firebird (1934)

Another mystery where the killer is evident early on, but that won't lessen pleasure of an ace cast in fun setting of flats and common areas where classes mix and clash. Upper register is Lionel Atwill and Verree Teasdale as parents to coddled Anita Louise, while downstairs matinee idol of the local stage Ricardo Cortez lays in wait to despoil innocence and threaten fidelity. Maybe Cortez was tired of plying his heels straight by late 1934 when this came along, for there's humor to his vain actor that makes us sorry to see him offed so early in, whatever his trepidations. William Dieterle directs, so this is no tossed-to-wind whodunit, The Firebird stylish to fit of this émigré pic-maker. I'd call it a programmer, not a B, $168K having been spent, more than WB would allot to budget work later from Bryan Foy's unit. The Firebird was stage-derived, not a great success there, but striving toward something beyond mere killing and its solution, as does the film. Cortez as cad was main thrust of advertising and the trailer, latter which has cast members addressing viewers direct. Latter-day lure Atwill begins at typical low-key, ratchets up as tension increases and suspicion comes closer to home. This is high-octane Atwill when he still commanded respect from majors and alternated between support in large projects and leads where outlay was smaller. Seen on TCM.

2 Comments:

Blogger Ken Zimmerman Jr. said...

Any film that stars both Lionel Atwill and Ricardo Cortez is well worth watching. Both men are some of the most underrated stars of the 1930s and 1940s.

11:31 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard M. Roberts also watched "The Firebird" on TCM and shares some thoughts:


I caught THE FIREBIRD when TCM ran it of recent, and both Linda and I were impressed how the cast and Dieterle kept it interesting. Has anyone ever done an article about the number of Hungarian or Viennese plays that got turned into American movies in the early 30? Was Alexander Korda or Hans Kraly peddling them from a suitcase or something? I though Atwill was terrific in an odd part, he made a very conservative and staid character very sympathetic in his bewilderment as his whole life falls apart in one night. Cortez was good too, and I’ll watch C. Aubrey Smith in anything. It was a nice little surprise, as was another Atwill performance we saw around the same time in LAST TRAIN FROM MADRID, an “all-star” Paramount programmer from 1937 where he played a somewhat human Spanish Colonel during the Spahish Civil War (it’s on Youtube if you want to take a gander).

11:54 AM  

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