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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August Watch List --- Week One

This is some of what's been looked at in a past week. Not ones I'd feature in a post, but worth at least a word or two. There'll be more, as two dozen are done. I'd like to keep this up, and enjoy it so far, flaking out always a possibility of course, but who knew Greenbriar itself would approach seven years?
THE LONG HAUL (1957) --- Excellent and tough as nails Brit-thriller from Columbia DVD-On Demand. Victor Mature repeatedly said he was no actor. This proves otherwise. Nasty business among low-downers driving trucks out of Liverpool --- is this a life Beatle members might have drifted into had not fame rescued them? Similar to Hell Drivers of greater repute ... I liked this one as much. UK noir seems to me grittier than US counterparts. So many are still out there to discover ...

THE BISHOP MURDER CASE (1929) --- Stiffer even than when Bill Powell cracked the Canary case, lacks also Louise Brooks for a bracer, but there is The Great Baz as Philo Vance, and his two profiles stick together nicely throughout. A stone-age talker where one guy handled "stage direction" and another did the rest (but what rest?), thus a shared director credit. Longish (88 minutes) as in five and ten minute naps for me throughout, but I always watch when TCM shows it --- someone there must like Bishop. Roland Young is the most relaxed player here. He always comes off very modern to me. Story gets complicated at times. Guess mystery watchers then were sharper than I am now.

ISLAND OF DOOMED MEN (1940) --- Peter Lorre was great in "A's," but ideally suited for programmers where they could build sixty-five minutes around his warped persona. He cruelly oversees a prison atoll here, and has Charles (Ming) Middleton for a lieutenant. The kind of "B" better left to those who grew up with such stuff on TV. The above still and caption in Castle Of Frankenstein #5 was what cranked me up to see it in Summer '64. Columbia's On-Demand DVD is stellar --- all theirs so far have been. Used to be in Screen Gems' "Son Of Shock" package and was everywhere, at least until the early 70's. Who's going to visit this Island after us Monster Kids die out?

SLATTERY'S HURRICANE (1949) --- A good vehicle for rising star Richard Widmark, partly shot on Florida coastlines. Andre DeToth directs, his then wife Veronica Lake is along, looking different and somehow wrong minus the signature hair style. Linda Darnell plays another of her been-around characters and is fine. Slattery isn't noir and that's kept it obscure. Herman Wouk wrote the source novel (he's now ninety-seven and counting!). Dick unknowingly smuggles giggle powder and that's where trouble starts. This is one I wish Fox had done a better job transferring for On-Demand DVD. It merits re-mastering.

TIMBER STAMPEDE (1939) --- You need only watch a handful of George O' Briens to become a fan, his among tip-top series westerns from beginnings with the genre to a late-30's end (other than isolated instances after). Timber Stampede was for RKO in 1939. It doesn't look cheap like misconception most have of B westerns. Better ones by the mid-30's had polish to rival A's, especially O' Brien's. He's got muscle to whup heavies by the bushel, slinging 'em around like Maciste in sword/sandal pics to come (in fact, George could easily have done a Samson or two himself, given the inclination). I'm looking for Warner Archive to eventually package these.

JUNIOR MISS (1945) --- Peggy Ann Garner in the title role and based on a Broadway hit. She meddles/misunderstands to chaotic effect, but Mom/Dad forbear and hugs go round for a happy finish. There'll never be teens like these again (Mona Freeman the older sister). It takes place in NYC (circa 1945), thus kids chatter about shows at the Roxy and Rialto theatres. In fact, they're all movie-mad, which adds to fun. Peggy thinks her father's having an affair because Clark Gable was that way in a pic she saw. Callow boys wear ties, overcoats, fedoras. Try that now and folks would laugh, or think you're cracked. Junior Miss made me wish (again) I'd lived back then. Course I'd probably be dead now, so guess not. Delights are compounded by a gorgeous transfer Fox did for their On-Demand DVD.

HARMON OF MICHIGAN (1941) --- Tom Harmon played football --- well enough for Columbia to make a movie about his feats. Fallen short of a leading man face, Tom did have personality and was natural with dialogue. His rookie coaching turns ruthless (something about a "Flying Wedge," which we're told is unethical, if not illegal) and Harmon, as Harmon, stops at nothing toward the big win. There's an "Old Pop" mentor that gets a worst of things from ingrate TH. Famous booth announcers make grid stuff credible. Tom was a good sport to portray himself as so misguided (doubt he would have if Harmon were similarly askew in real life). He straightens out at the end, but only just. I don't know football from hurling javelins, but I enjoyed this a lot. Wonder how often Harmon and Nelson family members revisit it. Another excellent Columbia DVD.

ESCAPE IN THE FOG (1945) --- Must confess to clock-watching through a lugubrious 65 minutes. "Oscar Boetticher Jr." directed, but it wasn't much help. There's no cheap so enervating as Columbia cheap. It's six days out and I can't recall what happens in this thing. Did I fall asleep again? Another picture Nina Foch didn't like to mention when she taught acting years later. I hear Columbia (like RKO) staged things dark to avoid decorating sets, though Otto Kruger supplies usual beacon of light. Interest flags when he's offscreen. Columbia delivers another splendid DVD. Their preservation dept. puts as much care in cheapies like this as on big titles.


Anonymous Bob said...

I must confess that I love The Bishop Murder Case. Rathbone is closest to Van Dine's Vance, in my mind, than any other actor who played the role. And he is always a joy to watch. Is this available on DVD, do you know?

10:30 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Not yet on DVD, Bob, but I patiently await it.

10:36 AM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

The bow & arrow murder in "Bishop Murder Case" gave me high hopes of a nasty little pre-Code murder mystery, but the results left me a little disappointed (and sleepy). You're right about early '30s mysteries being more complicated than current pictures. There's one Perry Mason movie (with Warren Williams) that left my wife, daughter and I utterly confused, even when the whole thing was explained at the end. So confused I can't remember the title.

And the sets in those Columbia b-movies are so grimy -- the same three little paintings on every wall in every movie -- even more so, it seems, now that they're re-mastered. TCM just ran the Boston Blackie series; every set had looked like it was going to fall down with a good breeze. (I even heard sound effects used in the Three Stooges shorts.) Although the best one, "One Mysterious Night," was directed by Boetticher.

And if you're into truckdrivers on bennies b-movies, check out "Death in Small Doses." Chuck Connors steals the show as a hophead, looking (and sounding) eerily like Willem Defoe.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You're completely right about Roland Young. I love his laid back insouciance, it reminds me bit of Leslie Howard.

And thanks for the little plug for my Baz blog! It's much appreciated :-)

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed Escape in the Fog, just saw it at the UCLA Film and TV Archive as part of their Boetticher series. A little slow, but nice little supernatural story.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

Philo Vance as a screen hero was always a puzzle to me. I don't know anything about the novels (although I picked up a copy of "The Benson Murder Case" because of the title), but in the various films I've seen he seems utterly generic beyond being rich. What was there that made the books so popular that just didn't translate to film?

Powell was okay, but way more entertaining as Nick Charles. Rathbone gives no hint of his future Sherlock Holmes. And the WWII entries with whoever were polished but perfunctory.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting for releases of Warren William as Perry Mason (a glorious shyster in hilarious contrast to Raymond Burr's guardian of justice) and Edna May Oliver as Hildegarde Withers.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Really enjoyed your review roundup! I just saw my first George O'Brien "B" Western a couple weeks ago and was impressed -- especially as I know and love Lone Pine and they did some nice filming there. I'll be watching more and happily recorded TIMBER STAMPEDE a few days ago.

I've also put HARMON OF MICHIGAN on my wish list! Sounds really neat.

Best wishes,

2:39 AM  

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