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.


Blogger KC said...

These sound like a great treat! Oh Preston, you're kind of dreamy :-)

11:02 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yep! :) Wish he'd done even more leading man roles than he did.

I love making those kinds of discoveries...there's always more to learn and enjoy in classic films!

Best wishes,

11:53 AM  
Blogger KC said...

I am so glad you share my affection for Preston :-)

12:06 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

The Infernal Machine sounds like a lot of fun. You saw Sleepers East - I am so jealous. I wrote about Sleepers West for the CMBA trains, planes, automobiles blogathon a while back and I've been curious about the earlier picture ever since.

I'll be showing my daughter Kansas City Confidential soon in a bid to introduce her to more Preston Foster. Hooray!

1:52 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I wish more of the films we see at UCLA could be put out on DVD eventually! Such fun to see these rareties.

KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL is still on my "to see for the first time" list -- I have it sitting next to my TV! Foster, Payne, Gray -- great cast!

Best wishes,

5:10 PM  

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