Sunday, September 09, 2018

Tonight's Movies: The Shakedown (1929), The Virginia Judge (1935), and Miss Tatlock's Millions (1948) at Cinecon

On Labor Day I returned to the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood for the final day of Cinecon 54!

After a six-film, three-short Sunday, Monday was a more relaxed day for me, "only" seeing three films, just as I had on the festival's opening night.

The morning began with THE SHAKEDOWN (1929), a silent film with a prerecorded track. It was directed by the great William Wyler, which made it a festival "must see" for me. I have gradually started seeing some of his earliest work thanks to film festivals, such as A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931) at the TCM Fest, and this summer I also revisited Wyler's COUNSELLOR AT LAW (1933) at UCLA.

THE SHAKEDOWN reminded me a bit of an earlier John Ford film starring Buck Jones, JUST PALS (1920), inasmuch as the central theme of each film is how a ne'er-do-well is reformed when he takes responsibility for an orphaned boy. James Murray is Dave, the young man in THE SHAKEDOWN, with Jack Hanlon as the boy he takes under his wing.

In both JUST PALS and THE SHAKEDOWN the young man also finds love; the leading lady of THE SHAKEDOWN is lovely Barbara Kent, who appeared the year before in the marvelous silent LONESOME (1928).

THE SHAKEDOWN started out a bit ho-hum, watching Dave and his cohorts run a boxing scam, but it picked up interest as it went and was ultimately a satisfying, heartwarming film.

James Murray was somewhat reminiscent of a young Dick Powell or Charles Farrell, creating a well-rounded, conflicted, and ultimately sympathetic character. Murray was in a number of other films, including King Vidor's THE CROWD (1928); I was saddened to learn he died of alcoholism in 1936.

Wheeler Oakman, who starred in OUTSIDE THE LAW (1920) earlier in the festival, has a large role here as the shifty boxing manager. Watch for director Wyler making a cameo in a fight sequence! According to IMDb John Huston was an extra but I didn't spot him.

THE SHAKEDOWN was filmed by Jerome Ash and Charles Stumar. It runs 70 minutes.

July 2020 Update: THE SHAKEDOWN will be released this month by Kino Lorber on Blu-ray and DVD.

August 2020 Update: My review of the new Kino Lorber Blu-ray may be read here.

The one and only Marsha Hunt, who will be 101 next month, was on hand to introduce her very first film, THE VIRGINIA JUDGE (1935). How amazing it was to watch this film knowing that Marsha was watching her 17-year-old self along with us! She glows and seems completely confident and natural alongside her costars Johnny Downs and Robert Cummings.

THE VIRGINIA JUDGE is the story of Jim (Cummings), a very troubled young man who is unable to accept his kindly stepfather (Walter C. Kelly), the titular judge. Jim gets into trouble trying to impress pretty Mary Lee (Hunt), who's also being courted by wealthy Bob (Downs); Jim "borrows" a car (owned by scary Charles Middleton) without permission in order to take Mary Lee for a ride and wrecks it, and that's just the start of his problems. He actually has the nerve to sell a rifle out of the car's trunk to Bob in order to get money to pay for the repairs!

Things go from bad to worse when Jim and Bob tussle over a gun at a carnival...

In some ways the film is rather sad as so much of the 62 minutes is spent watching Jim bring more and more trouble on himself, despite his supportive mother (Virginia Hammond) and stepfather, who keeps trying to build bridges which Jim rejects. While not a particularly special film, I enjoyed watching the young Cummings and Hunt, who were soon reunited in DESERT GOLD (1936) and HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1936). And what a treat to see this film in such a gorgeous print!

THE VIRGINIA JUDGE was directed by Edward Sedgwick and filmed by Milton R. Krasner. Familiar faces in the cast include Stepin Fetchit, Etta McDaniel, Sam McDaniel, Fred "Snowflake" Toones, Irving Bacon, and Arthur Aylesworth.

MISS TATLOCK'S MILLIONS (1948) was also shown in a beautiful print. I've been interested in this film for long time, given that it stars faves John Lund and Wanda Hendrix. I actually own a copy thanks to a very kind friend, but had held off watching it in hopes I'd have an opportunity to first "meet" this film on a big screen in 35mm, and I lucked out! What fun to see it with an appreciative audience laughing along. I'll surely be revisiting it via my copy before long.

MISS TATLOCK'S MILLIONS is weird, wonderful and steamy, with a great cast in a film which is half slapstick, half sophisticated screwball farce. It was one of a few films directed by actor Richard Haydn (Uncle Max in THE SOUND OF MUSIC), who also appears in the film. The screenplay is by Richard L. Breen and the great Charles Brackett; per IMDb, uncredited writers on the film also included Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.

The plot almost defies description so bear with my attempt a thumbnail synopsis: Movie stuntman Tim Burke (Lund) is hired by a man named Noonan (Barry Fitzgerald) to "play" mentally incompetent Schuyler Tatlock at the reading of a family will. Schuyler has long been absent from the family scene and Noonan, his ostensible caretaker, actually believes him dead but doesn't want the easy money to stop rolling in, hence his need to produce a living, breathing Schuyler for the rest of the family.

Greedy relatives (Ilka Chase, Monty Woolley, and Dan Tobin) would love to get their hands on more of the family money, to the extent that Cassie (Chase) has her playboy son (Robert Stack) romancing his cousin Nan (Hendrix), Schuyler's sister, intending for them to marry and keep the money in the family.

Many complications ensue, including all of the money being left to Schuyler; if he's dead it goes to a charity. Tim/Schuyler also accidentally regains his "sanity" when he hits his head...I don't even know how to explain all of that so I won't! Meanwhile, Nan is confused by her decidedly odd feelings toward her "brother," and Tim wants desperately to tell her the truth, but if he does it will upset his plans to ensure she inherits Schuyler's fortune.

I suspect none of the above makes much sense! It's a film that really needs to be experienced; it desperately needs a release on DVD.

The normally rather elegant Lund is seen as never before in this, embracing Schuyler's childlike crazy side in what I can only describe as a Jerry Lewis type manner (not that I've seen much of Lewis onscreen!). The depiction of a mentally challenged individual is actually a little troubling viewed from the vantage point of 2018, but I tried to put any discomfort aside and just go with it as pure fantasy; Schuyler's problems are supposedly the result of a childhood head injury.

Lund is quite amazing in basically a dual role, straddling the line between performing as Schuyler for the family and communicating Tim's true feelings to Noonan. His love for Nan is deep and absolute, making the scenes where they're separated quite moving and the ending overwhelmingly joyous.

When the movie isn't focused on slapstick craziness there are some absolutely terrific bits of dialogue, with some of the best lines going to Monty Woolley. There are also delightful cameos by Ray Milland and Mitchell Leisen at the start of the movie; Leisen would later direct some of Lund's best work in films like NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950) and THE MATING SEASON (1951).

Hendrix is charming as the innocent, intrigued Nan who finds herself in the middle of a very mixed-up situation, and the rest of the cast is great, including Stack as a rather slimy "wolf."

MISS TATLOCK'S MILLIONS was filmed in black and white by Charles Lang. It runs 101 minutes.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I decided to leave before the screening of the final film, ON THE AVENUE (1937), as my energy was flagging and I had a long drive home. And it turned out that some film cans were mislabeled and I missed THE PIED PIPER (1942), which I haven't seen since I was a child! Ah, well. It would be really great if both films would be reprised on next year's Cinecon schedule!

Once again, I'm unaware of any of the three films seen on Labor Day being currently available for home viewing, which I really hope will be rectified in the future.

Previously: Cinecon Classic Film Festival Opens in Hollywood August 30th. (This post contains links to all Cinecon 54 coverage.)


Blogger Lee R said...

I first became a fan of Monty Woolley after seeing him in the terrific MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER. So I've been on the lookout for Woolley films since. Also after seeing Joel McCrea's SADDLE TRAMP I became an instant fan of Wanda Hendrix. So after seeing Woolley & Hendrix & even Bing's Barry Fitzgerald were in a movie call Miss Tatlock's Millions I went on a mission to find it. I found it at Movies Unlimited and was extremely entertained when I got to see it. I love political INcorrectness anytime I see it, making this movie a real gem. Political Correctness is just a nice way of saying Censorship which I despise. So 4 stars to Miss Tatlock & her Millions of laughs.

And as Pied Piper had Monty in it, I went on another mission to find Pied Piper. I found it but it was available from the EXTREMELY unreliable so-called Loving The Classics DVD seller of sorts. Well, I took a chance, waited months and months and finally it showed up. They never respond to any customer concerns, you're ignored. BUT at least after months they did send out the disc. The movie was good and interesting, but I was expecting to see a comedy with Woolley in it, it was really quite an engrossing war drama. Monty was smuggling out little kids out of France after Germans waltzed in without a fight. It was a good movie, but expect a drama not a comedy.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad to know you enjoy MISS TATLOCK also, Lee! It's really different and has so much going for it.

I know I saw THE PIED PIPER once many moons ago, but I remember nothing about it...hoping to catch up with that one again someday!! Thanks for sharing your feedback on it.

Best wishes,

2:52 PM  

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