Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Stand By All Networks (1942)

After last night's most enjoyable DOUBLE DANGER (1938), it was time today to dip into another "B" movie directed by Lew Landers.

Today's film was STAND BY ALL NETWORKS, a rather silly yet entertaining film warning the American public about the dangers of wartime saboteurs.

The movie, released in October 1942, is set in the weeks prior to Pearl Harbor.  I found it quite interesting in terms of the concerns it conveyed about threats to the mainland United States, and it was also an interesting peek at wartime broadcasting -- complete with warnings the FCC will shut down a station for its news reporting and editorializing! Even a lightweight film such as this has value in terms of its place in U.S. wartime history and the purpose it served on the homefront.

John Beal plays Ben Fallon, a zealous radio reporter who somehow manages to stumble across multiple incidents of wartime sabotage. Ben's boss tells him to cool his rhetoric because Ben doesn't have enough facts to be scaring the public with his theories as to the cause of various incidents.

Then Ben's friend, private investigator Monty Johnson (Patrick McVey), turns up dead after mailing Ben a list of spies...which includes the name of Ben's fellow radio station employee, aviatrix-broadcaster Lela Cramer (Margaret Hayes, who went by Maggie Hayes later in her career).

Secretaries Frances Prescott (Florence Rice) and Nora Cassidy (Mary Treen) help Ben with his detective work.

The movie is a bit hokey, with Ben's impassioned live reporting of various news events, accompanied by stock footage of fires and floods; truthfully, at times the film's overwrought attitude is part of its appeal! The movie is also rather improbable, with a dastardly spy perfectly imitating Ben's voice for broadcasts designed to weaken U.S. morale. The script isn't very good, yet director Landers keeps the action moving quickly and keeps the viewer engaged throughout the movie's 65 minutes.

Some random comments: Why is it that movie characters walk into a dark room, shut the door completely, and only then flip on the light switch next to the door? This is usually a tipoff that Something Awful will be revealed when the lights are flipped on!...Why would a man whose friend was just murdered, and who is in danger himself, leave his front door unlocked and then fling it open when someone knocks?...And we know Ben's a reporter and all that, but it seems to defy credulity that Ben doesn't contact the FBI or another government agency at some point, given the wealth of significant information he accumulates...On a more serious note, at times Ben's pleas to the American public to wake up to what is going on around them seem quite relevant to today's post-9/11 world.

Incidentally, I'd bet my bottom dollar that a street of apartment buildings seen in the second half of the film is the same backlot street where Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur share their memorable romantic interlude in THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943), released by the same studio, Columbia Pictures, the following year.

John Beal and Florence Rice had previously costarred in MGM's BEG, BORROW OR STEAL (1937) and Republic's DOCTORS DON'T TELL (1941). (DOCTORS DON'T TELL was one of the first films directed by Jacques Tourneur; I'd love to see it!) Rice, whose career was mostly spent in "B" movies, retired the following year for marriage. She passed away in Hawaii in 1974. There's a little more info on Beal's long career in my post on another of his Landers films, THE MAN WHO FOUND HIMSELF (1937).

STAND BY ALL NETWORKS provides a nice role for Mary Treen as Fallon's Gal Friday. She plays an integral role in the proceedings, and it's a chance for Treen to shine in a larger-than-usual part. The following year she also had a nice part as one of the nurses in Paramount's SO PROUDLY WE HAIL! (1943).

I smiled when an airplane owner named Slim Terry walked onscreen -- it proved to be young Lloyd Bridges, in one of 24 (!) films he made released in 1942. The centennial of Bridges' birth was yesterday, as a matter of fact. He was born in San Leandro, California, on January 15, 1913.

The cautionary themes of STAND BY ALL NETWORKS would make it a good bottom half of a double bill paired with WATCH ON THE RHINE (1943), a more serious look at wartime threats. It would also be interesting to see STAND BY ALL NETWORKS paired with Hitchcock's wartime film of the same year, SABOTEUR (1942).

STAND BY ALL NETWORKS was shown this week on Turner Classic Movies. It's not available on either VHS or DVD.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

"Why is it that movie characters walk into a dark room, shut the door completely, and only then flip on the light switch next to the door?"

This cracks me up.

I hope I can see this one sometime, if only to catch the "The More the Merrier" apartment block. I also like Mary Treen a lot.

4:59 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I thought Beal a weak leading man. A good actor but without much presence. Florince Rice was wonderful. As a child I always looked for, but seldom found, her. Grantland Rice, her father, was the dean of New York based sports writers.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I think you'd find this one interesting, Jacqueline!

I've always wondered about that turning on the lights in the dark thing, see it in countless films, including twice in this one!

Best wishes,

10:29 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm a Rice fan too, Barrylane! I would be thrilled to have the chance to work my way through her filmography -- so many interesting casts in her films.

Up to this point Beal doesn't do much for me either, although he was effective as the narrator of Disney's SO DEAR TO MY HEART.

Best wishes,

10:29 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

I watched this one too and found it a most pleasant, if unassuming way, to spend an hour.

It's funny you mention that apartment block. My brother watched it with me, and is a "B" detective series fan. He said while we were watching it that he's sure he's seen that street before, probably in a Boston Blackie or Crime Doctor entry. Since they're all from Columbia, he's probably right.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's funny, Kevin! I'll be watching for that street when I catch up with those series. I've seen THE MORE THE MERRIER so many times, I thought "I know this street!" LOL.

I'm guessing it's the Brownstone Street seen here.

Best wishes,

1:14 PM  

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