Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Pacific Liner (1939)

PACIFIC LINER is another one of a number of films starring Chester Morris and directed by Lew Landers. Unfortunately a potentially interesting story is done in by the film's overreliance on Victor McLaglen, who gives a loud, blustery performance.

The movie starts out well enough, with the opening credits playing backed by Robert Russell Bennett's Oscar-nominated score. (The music isn't very noticeable after the credits, and the score quite rightly lost to what I think might be the greatest film score of all time, Erich Wolfgang Korngold's THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD.) There's a nice sequence of the title ship departing Shanghai, but after that the movie settles into dullsville.

Morris plays a ship's doctor, with Wendy Barrie as the nurse who loves him. They find themselves battling a cholera epidemic among the crew, as one by one the firemen who keep the engines running succumb to the disease.

McLaglen is the ship's autocratic Chief Engineer. Unfortunately McLaglen has much more screen time than Morris or Barrie, and he wears out his welcome quickly. I can tolerate McLaglen in small doses in supporting roles in John Ford films such as SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) or THE QUIET MAN (1952), but when it's all McLaglen, all the time, not so much.

I also had trouble with the storyline which has him vying with Morris for Barrie's attentions; Barrie never takes him seriously, but the idea is pretty silly to begin with, not least as McLaglen was a quarter century older than Barrie.

That same year Morris and Barrie would costar in the very fine, spooky "B" thriller FIVE CAME BACK (1939), directed by John Farrow. Unfortunately for Morris, he also appeared with another abrasive actor, Wallace Beery, in 1939's THUNDER AFLOAT. I'll never get the casting of McLaglen or Beery in leading roles, but apparently at the time they were popular enough!

McLaglen's crew includes Alan Hale (Sr.), Barry Fitzgerald, Allan "Rocky" Lane, and Paul Guilfoyle. Halliwell Hobbes is the captain.

This 76-minute movie was filmed by Nicholas Musuraca.

PACIFIC LINER isn't out on DVD or VHS, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

There's a fair-minded review of this film posted at Apocalypse Later.

Films directed by Lew Landers which have previously been reviewed at this site: NIGHT WAITRESS (1936), WITHOUT ORDERS (1936), FLIGHT FROM GLORY (1937), THEY WANTED TO MARRY (1937), THE MAN WHO FOUND HIMSELF (1937), DANGER PATROL (1937), BORDER CAFE (1937), DOUBLE DANGER (1938), CRASHING HOLLYWOOD (1938), SKY GIANT (1938), SMASHING THE RACKETS (1938), TWELVE CROWDED HOURS (1939), CONSPIRACY (1939), STAND BY ALL NETWORKS (1942), ALIAS BOSTON BLACKIE (1942), AFTER MIDNIGHT WITH BOSTON BLACKIE (1943), THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1947), DAVY CROCKETT, INDIAN SCOUT (1950), and MAN IN THE DARK (1952).

7 Comments:

Blogger barrylane said...

I ahppen to agree with your evaluation of McLaglen's work inthis film -- but not generally. He was an almost enormous star. Lew Landers seems to be a director being ceolebrated in hind sight -- I think he is an undeserving figure for reevaluation A competent and industrous craftsman. When McLaglen was in the hands of Ford, Walsh...etc. he was warm and ingratiating.

7:35 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's hard to imagine a movie like THE QUIET MAN without McLaglen -- including Maureen O'Hara ordering him "Wipe your feet!" Bigger roles, he's just not my personal cuppa tea. :)

I'm curious, why wouldn't any filmmaker, described by you as a "competent and industrious craftsman," not be worthy of reevaluation? I don't think anyone taking a fresh look at Landers' work is claiming he's a misunderstood John Ford or anything, certainly not me (grin) -- yet there is a great deal to enjoy in his work and I've been very glad to become acquainted with an entire world of movies hitherto unknown to me. Their quality is uneven and at least one (DAVY CROCKETT) was pretty bad, but my movie viewing was really enriched this year taking in films such as FLIGHT FROM GLORY, DOUBLE DANGER, and CRASHING HOLLYWOOD. Seen as a whole, his '30s and '40s films comprise an interesting little RKO/Columbia "B" movie world which I enjoy visiting.

Best wishes,
Laura

7:55 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Laura -- I know an array of capable ppeople, Lesley Selander, William Witney, and Landers, haave been targeted for soemthing that is absent. Of course they did good work -- that was their job. That none of these men moved on to higher budgeted projects, say unlike George Sherman, or Budd Boetticher, is all one needs to know after having seen the films. These may not be entry level jobs as such but they are entry level in the directorial scheme of things.

9:05 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Lew Landers got the work out, on time, and without disturbing the studio machinery. It was fine, the equal of having a hamburger anywhere -- albeit some are a little better than others. But that is it. No one asks for the recipe -- except in hindsight when we seem to need more cinematic heroes.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

"I'm curious, why wouldn't any filmmaker, described by you as a "competent and industrious craftsman," not be worthy of reevaluation?"

That says it very well. barrylane, I know you did hit a similarly negative note about Landers here earlier. Even then, Laura had spent a great deal of time with his movies, and she gives a lot of warm and insightful attention here to B movies and programmers generally. I find your naysaying about Landers in this context needlessly sour and ungracious toward the spirit of this blog. Moreover, I've been watching a lot of his films lately and find him very inventive within the constraints of the films, usually finding the right tone, nice stylistic touches, working well with the actors and projecting a sensibility of his own, even if it's hard to pin down over such a diverse range of assignments and so many movies made so quickly. No less than Dave Kehr gave Landers a "Further Research" piece in March/April Film Comment and it's well worth reading.

Making B movies and programmers is not something to treat so scornfully as you have a tendency to do. Some directors moved up from this and some did not, but their work at this level is always worthy of attention in either case. It is expertise on all levels of production that made Hollywood great in the studio system days. And in any event, I take the attitude that there is nothing in movies that is not worth reevaluating or discovering.
It's never a closed book.

Since you don't say one specific thing of substance about Landers you are really just being patronizing toward him as well as toward Laura's interest in seeing his movies and writing about them.

10:03 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Blake Lucas --
I'm not at all scornful but accept the work for what it is and its intentions. By the way, I recently saw again the Boetticher Collection and was impressed by your comments.

11:28 AM  
Blogger LĂȘ said...

I'm sorry this film is a little bad. THe last film I reviewed, This is my affair, has McLaglen in a supporting role. I really like seeing his bit parts! Have you seen The Informer, by which he won a Best Actor Oscar? It's wonderful.

2:17 PM  

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