Monday, March 20, 2017

Tonight's Movies: Infernal Machine (1933) and Sleepers East (1934) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation

I've had a terrific time at this year's UCLA Festival of Preservation!

Tonight I returned for the seventh and final program I'll attend at this year's festival, a double bill of INFERNAL MACHINE (1933) and SLEEPERS EAST (1934).

This was my kind of movie night, a double bill of fast-moving Fox films starring Chester Morris and Preston Foster. These movies had probably not been screened for theater audiences since their initial runs! Neither movie may have been a classic, but I had a good time watching them.

In INFERNAL MACHINE Robert (Morris) "meets cute" with Elinor (Genevieve Tobin) when their taxis collide in France. Soon thereafter charming but penniless Robert decides to follow Elinor and her stuffy businessman fiance (Victor Jory) onto their U.S.-bound ship, but since he has no money he travels as a stowaway.

During the journey the captain (Arthur Hohl) receives a radiogram from Scotland Yard that a bomb (the "infernal machine" of the title) is set to go off at midnight. The communications system immediately goes down so it's impossible to send out a distress signal in hopes of rescue...the only option is to find the bomber and the bomb.

This comic adventure gets sillier from there, as various wacky passengers come under suspicion, and Robert even falsely admits to being the bomber in order to spend time with Elinor (it's a long story).

It's all fairly absurd, perhaps including the captain being so gullible as to believe the bomb threat, but it goes down easily in a lightning-fast 65 minutes, with a pair of charming lead actors, some saucy dialogue, and a wonderful Art Deco ship.

INFERNAL MACHINE was directed by Marcel Varnel and filmed by George Schneiderman. The supporting cast includes Elizabeth Patterson, Edward Van Sloan, James Bell, Mischa Auer, Leonard Carey, Nat Pendleton, Luis Alberni, and J. Carrol Naish.

I love the title SLEEPERS EAST! It sounded familiar and I realized it was based on a novel by Frederick Nebel which was later filmed as one of Lloyd Nolan's Michael Shayne mysteries, SLEEPERS WEST (1941).

Wynne Gibson plays Lena, a recent parolee who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time when she witnesses a nightclub owner being killed by a politician's son. A gangster who had been in the area, ironically intending to kill the victim himself, is arrested for the crime.

Lena wants to avoid any trouble with the law and flees to her hometown, where she's briefly reunited with an old friend, Jason Everett (Preston Foster). Jason carries a torch for Lena, but she takes off again, hoping to hide out from the police in Toledo. No such luck, as an attorney (Harvey Stephens) tracks her down and she's forced to board a train to testify in the murder trial in New York.

Jason is hot on Lena's heels, determined not to lose her this time around, and together they deal with those who want her to testify...and those who don't.

Gibson is well-cast as the hard-bitten, somewhat haggard Lena, who's experienced several years of hard knocks and is trying to reform. She's right for the role, although I admit I didn't find her particularly appealing. That said, she's especially good when she takes the stand, fearful yet wanting to tell the truth, and there's a great end to the scene.

Gibson is a couple years older than Foster, but the gap seems even more than that, perhaps by design. Foster plays a good-hearted, somewhat naive young man who supports Lena even when he learns she'd been in jail rather than an acting success. He's quite appealing, and I was glad to have the chance to see him in this.

I'm always enthused about "train movies" so I especially enjoyed when everyone boarded a train in the last third or so of the film!

SLEEPERS EAST runs a quick 64 minutes. It was directed by Kenneth MacKenna and filmed by Ernest Palmer. The supporting cast includes J. Carrol Naish, Mona Barrie, Suzanne Kaaren, Roger Imhof, Howard Lally, and Fred "Snowflake" Toones. Look for Theresa Harris in a brief but funny bit as the movie begins.

A final note, it's been great to see so many people at the festival! I want to thank everyone once more who's taken the time to say hello or share positive feedback about my blog. It's deeply appreciated!

That's it for me for this year's Festival of Preservation, and I look forward to the festival's return in 2019! The Festival of Preservation continues through next Monday, March 27th.

Happy Spring!

Here are some beautiful floral photos with classic film actresses to celebrate the arrival of spring!

Audrey Hepburn:

Anita Louise:

Myrna Loy:

Frances Dee:

Bonita Granville:

Janet Gaynor:

Deanna Durbin:

Linda Darnell:

Rita Hayworth:

Norma Shearer:

Have a wonderful spring!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Panther Girl of the Kongo (1955) - An Olive Films Blu-ray Review

The Republic Pictures serial PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO (1955) is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films.

Phyllis Coates stars in the title role as the "Panther Girl," also known as Jean Evans; Jean is a jungle wildlife photographer who also happens to swing from vines and be handy with a rifle. She obtained her nickname thanks to shooting a panther which had been terrorizing the locals.

Jean has seen some huge crab-like creatures crawling through the jungle (shades of the previous year's THEM!) so she sends word to big game hunter Larry Sanders (Myron Healey) that she could use help.

The overly large critters are the work of a mad, mad scientist (character actor fave Arthur Space) out there in the jungle, and he and his henchmen (John Day and Mike Ragan) are none too happy that Jean and Larry are on to their work.

Over the course of 12 chapters there's a lot of running around the jungle in circles, fighting back and forth, with Jean and Larry battling the mad scientist's flunkies along with some local tribesmen.

Although I enjoy Coates, Healey, and Space, it must be admitted this serial is pretty flat; you'd think something with lots of cliffhangers involving gun battles, wild animals, dynamite, giant creatures, and quicksand would be more interesting than it is. I was also a bit surprised that mixing '50s sci-fi with a jungle adventure didn't turn out to be more engrossing, as on the surface it seems like a fun idea.

It was also curious that Jean and Larry have a friendly and respectful relationship, but there's an absence of romance; I couldn't quite decide if the lack of romantic tension in their relationship was refreshing or disappointing. I suspect a romance probably could have added a needed spark to the series, but Coates and Healey play their roles as though the possibility never enters their minds.

Other than occasional exotic behavior like riding an elephant or the aforementioned vine-swinging, Jean doesn't have a particularly strong identity as "Panther Girl." Coates comes off as intelligent and capable, but at the same time she's frequently put in damsel in distress situations as the serial chapters end, clawed by a giant sci-fi critter or about to be killed by a gorilla. There's so much high-pitched screaming I had to turn down the TV!

That said, Jean does also bail Larry out from time to time, including pulling him out of the aforementioned quicksand, so it was nice that the life-saving scenes weren't entirely one-sided.

Speaking of quicksand, there's an interesting article with some background at Western Clippings, written by Bruce Dettman. Among other things, Coates recalled in an interview that after filming in the nasty, stagnant Republic swamp, Healey insisted the two of them go get penicillin shots!

PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO was directed by Franklin Adreon. The 12 chapters combine to run 167 minutes.

The crisp picture looks great on Olive's Blu-ray, although the photography by Bud Thackery isn't anything of particular note, and the film also relies heavily on stock footage and process shots.

This was the first serial I've watched, and though I didn't find this one particularly scintillating, I enjoyed the serial format and am curious to try more. And I'm always glad to see lesser-known titles such as this one be made available to the public in such excellent condition. Kudos to Olive Films for preserving this slice of Republic film history from the waning days of movie serials.

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Tonight's Movie: His Greatest Gamble (1934) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Richard Dix stars in the emotional melodrama HIS GREATEST GAMBLE (1934), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Dix plays Phillip, an irresponsible gambler who deeply loves his little girl Alice (Edith Fellows). He steals her away from his coldhearted ex-wife Florence (Erin O'Brien-Moore), but fate catches up with him when he inadvertently causes the death of an old girlfriend (Shirley Grey) who threatens to tell Florence his and Alice's whereabouts.

Phillip goes to jail and Alice is returned to Florence, and as Alice grows into a young woman (now played by Dorothy Wilson) her mother tries to keep control of the girl by insisting she's an invalid who can't walk. It struck me that in this regard there's more than a touch of THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET to the story; it's interesting to note that HIS GREATEST GAMBLE was released just a month ahead of the Norma Shearer version of BARRETTS.

When Alice tries to flee with her sweetheart Stephen (Bruce Cabot), they're stopped. Thanks to the intervention of Alice's old nanny (Eily Malyon), Phillip decides to escape prison, determined to set Alice's life on a happy path.

The film packs a great deal of story into its 71 minutes. It may not always make logical sense -- for instance, though Alice was nine when Phillip went to jail, she doesn't recognize him when they're reunited and believes his story that he's her "Uncle John."

However, any questionable plot points are more than overcome by Dix's moving performance as a complex character whose love for his daughter can't quite overcome his addiction to the roulette table. And though his former wife is clearly an unpleasant woman -- which begs the question, how did they end up married?! -- he was also in the wrong hiding Alice from her mother. Dix does an excellent job playing a charmer with failings, and he's moving without being maudlin. The more of Dix's work I see, the more I like him.

Dix is ably supported by Cabot as Alice's young man; this was made the same year Cabot appeared in FINISHING SCHOOL (1934), where he was Prince Charming for another young lady with mother issues. Leonard Carey also registers strongly as Alfred, Florence's butler who's soon in "John's" corner helping Alice and Stephen.

I also liked Dorothy Wilson, who was delightful in MEN OF AMERICA (1932); the Alice character could have come off as an easily persuaded dimwit but she manages to be sympathetic and likeable as the girl under her mother's thumb, who eventually finds the courage to live her own life.

Look for Samuel S. Hinds in a brief role as a doctor who's fired by Florence when he refuses to order Alice to stay in bed.

The movie was directed by John S. Robertson and filmed by Ted Tetzlaff.


The Warner Archive DVD of HIS GREATEST GAMBLE is a fine print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Happy Birthday to Patricia Morison!

Actress-Singer Patricia Morison turns 102 today!

The 23-year-old Morison made a stunning debut as an amoral crook in her first feature film, PERSONS IN HIDING (1939), which seemed to anticipate the crime classic GUN CRAZY (1950) by over a decade.

Morison was a striking screen presence, with vivid eyes and unusually long, dark hair. She registered strongly in lead roles which included HITLER'S MADMAN (1943) opposite Alan Curtis...

...and THE FALLEN SPARROW (1943) with John Garfield.

However, Hollywood never seemed quite sure what to do with her, and she never broke through to be a movie star of the first rank.

Morison made her way to Broadway, where she had a smash success in 1948 starring in the original cast of Cole Porter's KISS ME, KATE.

Her performance was preserved on film a decade later when she appeared in an abridged TV production:

In 1954 she succeeded Gertrude Lawrence as Broadway's "Mrs. Anna" in THE KING AND I opposite Yul Brynner:

I've been fortunate to see Patricia Morison in person twice. When I was a child in the early '70s I saw her as the Baroness in a Los Angeles stage production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

Werner Klemperer played Uncle Max.

I also saw her interviewed at a screening of THE FALLEN SPARROW in 2015, just after she celebrated her centennial birthday.

An interesting side note, though her name is seen in posters for one of my favorite film noir titles, KISS OF DEATH (1947), her role as Victor Mature's first wife was cut from the film. At least one still of Morison with Mature and Coleen Gray survives; I've always wondered if outtakes exist, as it would be interesting to see them.

A Patricia Morison portrait gallery:

Happiest birthday wishes to a lovely and talented woman whose work has brought me tremendous enjoyment!

Patricia Morison films reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: PERSONS IN HIDING (1939), THE ROUNDUP (1941), ROMANCE OF THE RIO GRANDE (1941), NIGHT IN NEW ORLEANS (1942), WHERE ARE YOUR CHILDREN (1943), HITLER'S MADMAN (1943), THE FALLEN SPARROW (1943), LADY ON A TRAIN (1945), and KISS ME, KATE (1958).

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tonight's Movies: Mamba (1930) and Cheer Up and Smile (1930) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation

It was another terrific night at the 2017 UCLA Festival of Preservation!

I made my fifth visit to the festival to see a double bill of films from 1930, MAMBA (1930) and CHEER UP AND SMILE (1930).

The two-color MAMBA was one of the earliest all-color feature films; while the very first color films were musicals, MAMBA was notable as an early color drama.

Thought lost for many years, a nitrate print had been saved from destruction decades ago by a couple in Australia. (It seems that many "lost" films turn up in unexpected places such as Eastern Europe or Australia, because they were the "end of the line" for exhibition.) Some of the Vitaphone sound discs were missing, but they happened to be in UCLA's collection and were ultimately synced up.

The sound survived for a four-minute sequence which had been excised by Australian censors, so we were able to listen to the missing scene while looking at a handful of stills.

There's more on the film's restoration history in a 2012 post by UCLA's Jan-Christopher Horak, and Leonard Maltin wrote about the movie that same year.

Incidentally, I was curious about the film's locations, which looked unfamiliar; Maltin had also been unsure where MAMBA was filmed until his wife spotted a familiar Universal backlot landmark!

MAMBA is a jungle melodrama which I found to be a very entertaining 78 minutes. Jean Hersholt plays August Bolt, a wealthy but thoroughly nasty plantation owner in East Africa.

Bolt travels to Germany where he weds an impoverished German countess, Helen (Eleanor Boardman); all too soon, Helen realizes her new husband's behavior is not just awkward and embarrassing, but threatening in the extreme.

Karl von Reiden (Ralph Forbes), a German officer Helen meets on the boat to Africa, falls in love with Helen and manages to protect her from the worst of her husband's brutality; Karl even provides Helen with a gun for self-defense after he stops August from whipping her.

Matters come to a head when war breaks out between the Germans and the British; while Karl's regiment is moved to the front and August tries to evade military service and flee the country, restless natives attack the settlement where Helen has been left behind.

The movie is admittedly rather hokey at times, not to mention politically incorrect, but I found it completely entertaining.

Hersholt, usually associated with the kindly Dr. Christian character he played in numerous films, is absolutely repellent as August Bolt, and there is thus considerable satisfaction in his ultimate fate.

Boardman and Forbes manage to rise above some cliched situations and dialogue and find romantic moments which are genuinely moving. I tend to think of Forbes as a British Ralph Bellamy type, always losing the leading lady, so I found it especially interesting to see him as the romantic lead.

Director Albert S. Rogell and cinematographer Charles Boyle opened the movie up far beyond what one might expect from an early talkie, with a great opening tracking shot and some exciting action sequences.

MAMBA provided a memorable evening at the movies, more than worth making the trek up to L.A.

(And an "only in L.A." aside: When I pulled into my parking spot at the Hammer Museum, director John Landis was standing next to my car chatting with someone.)

The second half of the double bill, CHEER UP AND SMILE, wasn't as successful. A silly Fox comedy about a fraternity pledge named Eddie (Arthur Lake) who is suspended from college but ends up a hit as a radio singer, it had its moments but grew tiresome before its 76 minutes were done. I didn't find either Lake or leading lady Dixie Lee (aka Mrs. Bing Crosby) particularly appealing.

The film was chiefly notable for a young actor named Marion Morrison who makes a solid impression as one of Lake's fraternity brothers. That same year Morrison changed his name to John Wayne! As a big Wayne fan I enjoyed seeing him in this; he definitely stands out from the crowd and makes an impression as a fun-loving leader with a conscience.

J. Carroll Naish has a small role as gangster who robs a nighclub. One of the other robbers was very familiar; I thought at first it was a young William Bendix, but he apparently didn't begin his film career for another decade-plus so I'm still in the dark on that one.

I appreciated the beautiful 35mm print, but all in all, this film was strictly a two-star affair.

CHEER UP AND SMILE was directed by Sidney Lanfield. It was filmed by Joseph A. Valentine. The supporting cast included Ogla Baclanova, "Whispering" Jack Smith, Franklin Pangborn, Johnny Arthur, and Charles Judels.

I plan to see one more double bill at the Festival of Preservation, INFERNAL MACHINE (1933) and SLEEPERS EAST (1934). Then it will be time to turn my attention to the annual Noir City Film Festival!

Friday, March 17, 2017

19th Annual Noir City Film Festival Opens in Hollywood March 24th

The 19th Annual Noir City Hollywood festival opens at the Egyptian Theatre next Friday evening, March 24th.

The festival will follow last year's format, taking place over ten consecutive days, concluding on April 2nd.

Last year I was able to attend eight of the festival's ten evenings, including three films on the final night; my hope, unless I need a night off from wading through freeway traffic, is to be at all ten screenings this year! As always, I'll be reporting here on each of the films seen.

I find this year's festival format particularly interesting, pairing an "A" and a "B" film each evening. The schedule is a great mix of old favorites and little-seen rareties. Click any hyperlinked title below for the corresponding review of those films I've seen in the past.

We already have tickets for Opening Night, which features Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942), paired with George Sanders and Gail Patrick in QUIET PLEASE - MURDER (1942).

We saw THIS GUN FOR HIRE at a tribute to Alan Ladd at the festival five years ago but are more than happy to see it again! I've only seen the rather odd QUIET PLEASE - MURDER once and am curious to see it on a big screen.

March 25th features a favorite I've never seen on a big screen, MINISTRY OF FEAR (1944), starring Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, and Dan Duryea. It's paired with ADDRESS UNKNOWN (1944) starring Paul Lukas.

I'm quite thrilled about the schedule on March 26th, when I'll have the chance to see a Deanna Durbin film in a theater for the very first time -- and it's one of my favorites, LADY ON A TRAIN (1945), costarring Ralph Bellamy, Dan Duryea, and many more fun faces. It's paired with Nina Foch in ESCAPE IN THE FOG (1945), directed by Budd Boetticher.

On March 27th the evening kicks off with THE DARK CORNER (1946), starring Mark Stevens and Lucille Ball. It will be shown with BEHIND GREEN LIGHTS (1946), starring William Gargan and Carole Landis.

The rarely seen Alan Ladd-Gail Russell film CALCUTTA (1947) is on the schedule on March 28th. It's shown with BACKLASH (1947) starring Jean Rogers and Richard Travis.

I'm especially looking forward to Wednesday, March 29th and THE ACCUSED (1948), starring Loretta Young and Robert Cummings. It's a Young film I haven't seen yet! It's being screened with THE HUNTED (1948), which I fell in love with at the festival half a dozen years ago. Preston Foster and Belita star. I'm so excited to have another chance to see that one at the Egyptian!

On March 30th there's even more Alan Ladd! He stars in CHICAGO DEADLINE (1949). It's being shown with I WAS A SHOPLIFTER (1950), which has a fantastic cast including Scott Brady, Andrea King, Charles McGraw, Tony Curtis, and Rock Hudson.

March 31st there's a Dana Andrews-Gene Tierney film I've not yet seen, WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950). It's showing with Evelyn Keyes in THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK (1950).

THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF (1950) will be shown on April 1st, starring Lee J. Cobb and Jane Wyatt. It's on a double bill along with Jeff Chandler in IRON MAN (1951), costarring Stephen McNally, Evelyn Keyes, and Rock Hudson.

The festival closes on April 2nd with a noir classic I've never seen, THE BIG HEAT (1953), starring Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. It's paired with WICKED WOMAN (1953) starring Richard Egan and Beverly Michaels.

With the exceptions of CALCUTTA, WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS, and THE BIG HEAT, which will be shown via DCP, all films in the festival will be screened in 35mm prints; some of the prints are brand-new. A number of the films being shown have never been released on DVD.

As a postscript, the TCM Classic Film Festival will be opening on April 6th, just a few days after the completion of the Noir City festival. I'm happy to announce that I will again be covering TCMFF as credentialed media. Some key new announcements about that festival were made yesterday, with the complete schedule anticipated to be released in the next few days. I'll have much more information on that festival soon after the schedule is published!

Key posts on past Noir City Hollywood Festivals: A Visit to the Noir City Film Festival (2010); A Visit to the 13th Noir City Film Festival (2011); First Preview of 14th Annual Noir City Film Festival; Schedule Announced for Noir City 14 in Hollywood; Final Week of Noir City 14 Schedule Announced; A Visit to the 14th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2012); Schedule Announced for Noir City 15 in Hollywood; A Visit to the 15th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2013); Schedule Preview of Noir City 16 in Hollywood; A Visit to the 16th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2014); 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival Opens in Hollywood This Friday; A Visit to the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2015); 18th Annual Noir City Film Festival Opens in Hollywood This Friday; A Visit to the 18th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2016).