Saturday, May 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Burn 'Em Up O'Connor (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Dennis O'Keefe has an early starring role as a race car driver in BURN 'EM UP O'CONNOR (1939), just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

O'Keefe plays brash Jerry O'Connor, a driver who hooks up with a racing outfit run by Pinky Delano (Harry Carey Sr.) after becoming attracted to Delano's daughter Jane (Cecilia Parker). Jane and Jerry "meet cute" when he runs her car off the road, and needless to say she's not impressed.

One of Delano's drivers, "Rocks" Rivera (Alan Curtis), is unable to make a turn in a race and killed. Shortly thereafter two more drivers (Tom Neal and Tom Collins) meet a similar fate after being blinded while driving. Jerry's mechanic pal Buddy (Nat Pendleton) turns detective...meanwhile, as a precaution, Jerry practices making turns while "driving blind."

With a cast like this one, it should be a fun "B" movie, but the script by Milton Merlin and Byron Morgan is dull and the whole thing never really gels.

I've shared here that I'm a big fan of lead actor Dennis O'Keefe, but some of his early leading roles are problematic; as with a film he made the same year, THE KID FROM TEXAS (1939), he's stymied by an inferior script and his own performance. Occasionally we see the bright, more interesting man underneath the rash exterior, but he plays much of the role with the same annoying yokel style as in THE KID FROM TEXAS.

As O'Keefe moved into the '40s and '50s he had better material, including some scripts written by himself, and he developed a much more appealing and compelling screen presence, whether playing romantic leading men or the occasional noir anti-hero or villain. Seeing his earliest leading roles, which he received after several years of toiling in the industry as a bit player, is rather interesting when placed in the context of his successful career.

In the right hands O'Connor's love-hate relationship with the pretty Parker could have had potential, but she spends so much time fending him off that it's almost unbelievable when she finally gets around to liking him. Parker is delightful in Westerns opposite actors like Buck Jones and George O'Brien, and of course she was also in the long-running ANDY HARDY series; she's lovely here but doesn't have much to do but pout.

Carey offers his usual smoothly professional, likeable performance -- his grin sure lit up the screen -- and Pendleton has more to do than he often does, playing a man who's dumb like a fox, but all in all it's kind of a long 70 minutes.

BURN 'EM UP O'CONNOR was directed by Edward Sedgwick. It was filmed in black and white by Lester White. The supporting cast also includes Charley Grapewin, Frank Orth, Addison Richards, Helen Jerome Eddy, and Si Jenks.

The Warner Archive DVD has a good picture and sound. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to attending three film festivals in a month's time, I have quite a backlog of DVD and Blu-ray screeners, so stay tuned for even more reviews in the coming days and weeks, along with my ongoing festival coverage!

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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


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