Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Blackwell's Island (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

John Garfield is an appealing leading man in BLACKWELL'S ISLAND (1939), one of several Garfield titles released this month by the Warner Archive.

This film, made in the typical '30s Warner Bros. "ripped from the headlines" style, features Garfield as a crusading newspaperman. He follows a killer mob boss (Stanley Fields) into prison on New York's Blackwell's Island, later proving that the mobster had left prison briefly to commit a murder.

This was just Garfield's third starring role, following FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938) and THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL (1939). BLACKWELL'S ISLAND is certainly not one of his finest films, but it's interesting to take a look at his early work as he climbed the ladder at Warner Bros., and it's a fast-paced, enjoyable 71-minute "B" film with various fun faces.

Lovely Rosemary Lane, who was also in FOUR DAUGHTERS, plays a nurse who becomes Garfield's girlfriend. As a Lane Sisters fan I wished she'd had more scenes, but she's lovely and it's good to see her whenever she comes on screen.

Victor Jory, who was Ike Clanton in last night's TOMBSTONE: THE TOWN TOO TOUGH TO DIE (1942), is a good guy police commissioner determined to clear corruption from Blackwell's Island. Jory's righthand man is Milburn Stone, aka "Doc" of GUNSMOKE. Leon Ames has a single scene as a prosecuting attorney.

At one point in the film I thought to myself how pretty a secretary was; it didn't dawn on me at that moment that it was Brenda Marshall, in her very first film role.

Fields is an odd villain; imagine the ditzy, annoying comedian Hugh Herbert as a gangland killer and that's about what you have with Fields.

My main quibble with the film was that it was so completely unbelievable, with the mobster basically running the prison, ensconced in comfort with his dogs, his toy trains, and his barber. And yet, if various stories and reviews read online are accurate, this aspect of the film actually isn't too far from the truth! Amazing.

The supporting cast includes Dick Purcell, Granville Bates, Morgan Conway, and Charley Foy.

BLACKWELL'S ISLAND was directed by William C. McGann, who happens to have been the director of last night's movie TOMBSTONE. IMDb indicates that an uncredited Michael Curtiz also worked on the film. It was shot in black and white by Sid Hickox. The Crane Wilbur screenplay was based on a story by Wilbur and Lee Katz.

The Warner Archive DVD looks good. The disc includes the trailer, always a welcome addition.

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 at the Warner Archive website.


Blogger redcon1 said...

Thanks for the great review, Laura. Lesser John Garfield is still better than many other actor's best. I'm looking forward to the viewing some of the other new Garfield releases from the Archive.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you! He's quite young and charming in this. :)

I'll be reviewing Garfield DUST BE MY DESTINY in the very near future, which also stars another Lane sister, Priscilla.

Best wishes,

5:16 PM  

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