Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK

Warren William, Hayward, Joan Bennett, Hayward
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1939). Director: James Whale. Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas pere.

When it is discovered that the queen has given birth to two identical boys, it is decided one will have to be sent away to be raised by a foster father, D'Artagnan (Warren William), to avoid the in-fighting and sibling rivalry that would undoubtedly result. Alas, things don't work out as planned when the foppish and cruel Louis XIV (Louis Hayward) discovers that he has a twin in Philippe of Gascony (also Hayward), who. along with his "father," D'Artagnan, objects to the salt tax. D'Artagnan and his fellow musketeers are rounded up and put in prison, but it amuses Louis to seemingly allow Philippe the run of the palace (an unlikely development, considering). Philippe takes advantage of Louis' absence to free his father and musketeers and work other wiles. Eventually, however, Louis wises up and imprisons his brother, forcing him to wear an iron mask and hoping his growing beard will eventually suffocate him. But Louis is wrong in thinking that this is the end of his twin just as Philippe is wrong in underestimating his brother. The Man in the Iron Mask had been filmed both before and after this version -- Dumas' story has been filmed many times, in fact -- but this may be the best-known version. At times the verisimilitude of the film is about on the level of an Abbott and Costello feature, but whatever the picture's flaws, it boasts a remarkable lead performance from Louis Hayward [Midnight Intruder], who is superb as he successfully limns two distinct characterizations. There is also fine work from the ever-florid Warren William; from William Royle [Drums of Fu Manchu] as the Commandant of the Bastille; and especially from the marvelous Joseph Schildkraut [Cleopatra] as the utterly loathsome Fouquet, a former tutor who "advises" his majesty. Joan Bennett is a little out-classed in this (not to mention Marion Martin as Louis' French mistress!), as costume dramas were not her forte. There's a very good score by Lucien Moraweck. Albert Dekker, Dwight Frye, and Peter Cushing (in his film debut) are also in the picture, but don't blink or you might miss them!

Verdict: A superb lead performance -- or rather two of them -- is the chief distinction of the picture. **1/2.

DR. STRANGELOVE

Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove
DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964). Director: Stanley Kubrick.

"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the war room!" 

Going off his nut, General Jack D, Ripper (Sterling Hayden) sends planes bearing megaton bombs into Russia without orders from the President (Peter Sellers). While Ripper's special British assistant, Mandrake (also Sellers), desperately tries to get the code from him that will stop the planes, President Muffley confers in the war room with General Turgidson (George C. Scott), the Russian ambassador Sadesky (Peter Bull), and the ex (?) Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove (Sellers yet again). Meanwhile Major Kong (Slim Pickens) is determined to deliver his megaton payload come hell or highwater. Then the president learns from his opposite number, the unseen Dimitri, that if a bomb goes off on Russian soil it will automatically unleash a Doomsday weapon that will destroy all life on Earth! Dr. Strangelove has a plot that's strangely similar to Fail-Safe, released the same year, only Strangelove is not played straight but as a very, very dark black comedy (and is better known than the other picture), brutally -- if broadly -- satirizing the arms race, the cold war, and the paranoia and obsession people had at the time over atomic weapons and the possibility of WWIII. The deliberate pace of Strangelove may make the film seem longer than it actually is -- just a bit over 90 minutes -- but it is entertaining, grimly amusing, and very well-acted by all, with Sellers superb in a trio of very different roles. Hayden [Naked Alibi] , Scott, Bull (who can be seen trying hard to keep a straight face during Seller's antics as Dr. Strangelove in one scene), Keenan Wynn [Royal Wedding] as Colonel Guano, Tracy Reed as Turgidson's paramour, and Pickens in his most notable and iconic role are all on the money. Still, as well-made as it is, one can't quite say that this is a picture you will enjoySeven Days in May also came out in 1964 and dealt with the military-industrial complex, but there were no out of control missiles in it.

Verdict: Not for every taste, but certainly unique. ***.

KILL ME AGAIN

Michael Madsen points gun at Val Kilmer
KILL ME AGAIN (1989). Director: John Dahl.

Jack Andrews (Val Kilmer) is a down-on-his-luck private eye who owes $10,000 gambling money to hoodlums. Into his office comes Fay Forrester (Joanne Whalley), who has just stolen thousands from a boyfriend, Vince (Michael Madsen), who ripped off the mob. Fay importunes Jack into helping her fake her own death so she can go on with her life without fear of reprisal, although she doesn't let Jack in on everything. Before long Jack is suspected of murder, Vince and the mob are both gunning for him, and Jack finds an unlikely ally -- or does he? At one point Fay tells Jack that her original estimate of him was that he was a loser, and despite certain developments, her first impressions are accurate, as the man seems completely inept as a private eye. There are attempts to create pathos with brief flashbacks showing how he failed to save a woman, his wife most likely, from drowning, but this comes to nothing. Kill Me Again is entertaining and well-acted -- Michael Madsen especially scores as the vicious and threatening Vince -- but all the plot turns can't disguise the fact  that this is lower case film noir.. Jack's methods for faking someone's death may have played in the 1940's, but they seem ridiculous in a movie from the 80's. John Gries is effective as Jack's doomed buddy, Alan, and Bibi Besch shows up briefly as Jack's secretary. Kilmer [The Saint] and Whalley [Shattered] were married at the time; she was then known as Joanne Whalley-Kilmer. She's not bad as the femme fatale but a little insufficient as a major sexpot.

Verdict: It plays, but you've seen this once too often. **1/2.

ON THE RIVIERA

Gene Tierney and Danny Kaye 
ON THE RIVIERA (1951). Director: Walter Lang.

Entertainer Jack Martin (Danny Kaye) works on the Riviera with his girlfriend, Colette (Corinne Calvet), but he is told by club manager Gapeaux (Sig Ruman) that he is through unless he comes up with a catchier act. Jack decides to do his impression of married playboy and famous pilot Henri Duran (also Kaye) who looks just like him. To keep a business deal from collapsing along with their careers, associates of Duran importune Jack to pretend to be Duran while he is out of town, causing complications involving Colette and Duran's wife, Lili (Gene Tierney). This is a remake of That Night in Rio (itself a remake of a French film), and it has one insurmountable problem. Why do a remake unless it is an improvement over, or distinctly different from, the original? This version adds Technicolor and a few weak songs by Sylvia Fine (Kaye's wife) that you forget even as you're listening to them. Another problem is that On the Riviera casts competent but essentially unknown French actors in smaller roles instead of the flavorful and more familiar character actors that usually pepper and add enjoyment to these films. Kaye is okay, but has been seen to better advantage in other vehicles. Corinne Calvet [So This is Paris] is gorgeous and capable, as is Gene Tierney [The Pleasure Seekers]. Clinton Sundberg [The Kissing Bandit] plays the taciturn butler, Antoine, in his usual effective style. Jean Murat is Felix Periton, with whom Duran wants desperately to do business. Kaye does so-so impressions of Maurice Chevalier and Carmen Miranda, both of whom starred in previous versions.

Verdict: One dip in the well too many. **.

IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK

Jean Arthur and Herbert Marshall
IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK (1935). Director: William A. Seiter.

Jim Buchanan (Herbert Marshall) is engaged to Evelyn Fletcher (Freida Inescort), whose chief interest in him seems to be his money. One afternoon in the park Jim encounters job-hungry Joan (Jean Arthur), who assumes he's out of work and importunes him to go with her to answer an ad for cook and butler in the mansion of gangster Mike Rossini (Leo Carrillo of Horror Island). Smitten with the refreshingly sweet and honest Joan, Jim goes along with the gag, although Rossini assumes the two are married. Understandably, all manner of complications occur. If You Could Only Cook is standard, silly, highly contrived screwball comedy stuff, only the laughs don't quite arrive with enough frequency. Arthur and Marshall are both wonderful, however, and their performances are the chief reason for watching the movie. Carrillo is fine, Inescort is given little to do but does it well, and Lionel Stander [Mr. Deeds Goes to Town] is simply gross and typically repulsive as Rossini's good right hand. Jean Arthur and Leo Carrillo also appeared together in History is Made at Night.

Verdict: Slight and over-familiar, but the stars are great. **.

THE OUTLAWS IS COMING

Adam West and the Stooges: DeRitas, Howard and Fine
THE OUTLAWS IS COMING (1965). Director: Norman Maurer.

In 1871 a group of outlaws want to slaughter the buffalo to send the Indians on the warpath for their own nefarious purposes. Kenneth Cabot (Adam West of Batman) is sent out to Wyoming with three associates (Larry Fine, Moe Howard, and Joe DeRita) to save the Buffalo from extinction. There they run into Annie Oakley (Nancy Kovack of Diary of a Madman), who actually does the shootin' attributed to Kenneth, as well as bad guys Rance Rodan (Don Lamond) and Trigger Mortis (Mort Mills of The Name of the Game is Kill), who make Kenneth the sheriff and the Stooges his deputies -- with the average life expectancy of about a day. The Outlaws is Coming is pretty silly stuff, geared primarily to children despite its violence and gun play, but it does have some inspired moments. There's the bit when the Stooges are forced to drink a Tarantula Fizz (Tiny Brauer is amusing as their bartender), and a clever business when the boys pour glue into the guns and holsters of all of the outlaws as they sleep, hoping to head off their own slaughter. DeRita and Fine make comical drag queens when they accidentally enter the room of some show gals instead of the outlaws. Annie Oakley has a cat fight with Calamity Jane, and Henry Gibson plays an Indian, but he isn't especially funny, no surprise there. Emil Sitka is also not funny as an Indian chief. At 88 minutes the picture is too long.

Verdict: Elvis the skunk is in this too! **.

DALLAS: THE FINAL SEASONS

Larry Hagman and Gayle Hunnicutt
DALLAS Season 12 - 14. 1988 - 1991.

I was never the biggest fan of Dallas, but like most people (including my late mother who never watched the show ever) I tuned in for "Who Shot J.R?" but the show never became a guilty pleasure until the last couple of seasons, which were fast-paced fun. J. R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) got involved in a near-shotgun wedding with Callie (Cathy Podewell), had himself committed to a mental institution to get some papers (from Alexis Smith!), got shot again by his ex-wife Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), who used her money to finance a biopic about him. While this roman a clef film took center stage in season 12, the sub-plot never really amounted to much. Sue Ellen simply told J. R. that she wouldn't release the film as long as he behaved himself. We never saw the reaction from the cast or even the director (whom she married off-screen) when they found out the public would never even see the movie. George Kennedy [Strait-Jacket] showed up as a business rival with his own inner demons, and Gayle Hunnicutt [The Legend of Hell House] appeared in more than one season as J. R.'s lost and long-time love (when she finally breaks off her engagement to him, J. R. doesn't try very hard to get her back). Meanwhile Bobby (Patrick Duffy of The Last of Mrs. Lincoln) lost his wife, Pam, who first ran off after being disfigured in a car crash and then got a terminal illness, but decided not to tell anyone; Bobby's next wife was shot and killed on their honeymoon. Hagman wasn't a great actor, but he made the most of J. R. and offered a very effective portrayal. The performers on Dallas sometimes phoned in their performances, but at other times they were really on target. For instance, George Kennedy had a great scene when he's talking to his son on the phone and expressing how overjoyed he is that he's being released from a Mexican prison. Season 13 introduced the charming Sasha Mitchell as J. R.'s son (by Hunnicutt, who was quite good), who crosses both wits and swords with his father. Mitchell was not a seasoned performer, but he had an appealing, inoffensive arrogance that complimented his good looks and made him an asset to the show. A mention should be made of the two very talented child performers, Omri Katz and Joshua Harris, as the sons, respectively, of J.R. and Bobby. It was fun to see Barbara Eden, Hagman's co-star from I Dream of Jeannie, as an oil woman who really puts J. R through the wringer in season 14. Ken Kercheval was fine as J. R.'s bitter rival, Cliff Barnes, but the character could be so irritating (and always looked like an unmade bed) that it's a wonder he lasted fourteen seasons when others were sent packing! The disappointing last episode of the show had J. R. contemplating suicide while a demon played by Joel Gray (!) showed him what life would have been like for the other members of his family if he had never been born. Ted Shackleford as Gary Ewing (of Knots Landing) probably had more footage in this episode than in all the other seasons combined. The final season was followed by three TV movies and the show was revived in 2014 with some of the original players.

Verdict: Big hair, bad marriages, cat fights, bar fights, bed-hopping, philandering, plotting and co-plotting, and a little something about the oil industry, ***

Thursday, July 20, 2017

NOT AS A STRANGER

Olivia de Havilland
NOT AS A STRANGER (1955). Producer/director: Stanley Kramer.

"Chris, help me, for God's sake, help me." --Lucas Marsh.

Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) is determined to be a doctor but hasn't got the financial backing he needs to continue his internship. To get the money he romances the adoring Swedish nurse, Kristina (Olivia de Havilland), who has saved up quite a bit of money. The two get married, Lucas is able to complete his studies, and the couple relocate to a small town where Lucas becomes assistant to the aging family doctor, Dave Runkleman (Charles Bickford). Then there's the complication of the seductive Widow Lang (Gloria Grahame). Will Lucas ever be able to feel an honest and profound love for his wife? Not as a Stranger is a nice picture with winning performances, with Mitchum [Angel Face] doing some of the best work of his career. De Havilland [The Dark Mirror] is on the mark as Kris, as is Grahame, but she is given so little to do that it's a wonder her character was even included. It's also a mystery why Frank Sinatra [The Kissing Bandit] took the role of Al, Lucas' intern-buddy, as it's really a relatively minor supporting part. When Sinatra and Mitchum are on screen together, Frank looks unbelievably scrawny in contrast, which the crooner must have hated, but his performance is fine. Lon Chaney Jr. is not memorable as Lucas' drunken father, playing it in too obvious and phony a fashion, but Gertrude Hoffman has a nice bit as an old woman who tells the doctor that she has nowhere to go. The film introduces some weighty matters -- is the doctor's job just to keep people alive no matter what even when they're ready to let go? -- but never quite gets a grip on them. People in the doctor's office  include everyone from Nancy Kulp to Alfalfa! Lee Marvin and Mae Clarke have smaller roles as nurse and intern. Broderick Crawford offers a gruff but interesting performance as Lucas' and Al's teacher in the early hospital scenes. Franz Planer's photography is excellent, and it could be said that George Antheil's score is more than partly responsible for the whole success of the movie.

Verdict: Some moving moments and an interesting story, with a very well-cast and effective Mitchum. ***.

ROUGHSHOD

Gloria Grahame and Robert Sterling
ROUGHSHOD (1949). Director: Mark Robson.

Four ladies of ill repute have been thrown out of Aspen when they encounter Clay Phillips (Robert Sterling) and his younger brother, Steve (Claude Jarman, Jr.) on the road after their wagon breaks down. Clay agrees to take the ladies part of the way, but has to concentrate on taking some horses to his ranch in Sonora. Adding to Clay's woes is the fact that an enemy named Lednov (John Ireland) has escaped from prison with two pals and is gunning for him. Clay also can't quite disguise his disapproval of Mary (Gloria Grahame) and the rest of her companions. Roughshod is an engaging and entertaining picture with some fine performances, especially from Grahame and young Jarman, Jr., both of whom share top billing with Sterling [Bunco Squad], most famous for the TV show Topper, who gives a better performance than expected. (Sterling was handsome and talented enough to have been developed into a major movie star, but his primary credits were on television; maybe he just lacked that certain oomph.) Grahame is as delightful and adept as ever, and Jarman [Intruder in the Dust] proves to be one of the most talented child actors in Hollywood. Ireland offers a chilling portrait of the determined killer, Lednov, and there's nice work from Myrna Dell, Jeff Donnell, and Martha Hyer as the three other "show girls" in the group. Sara Haden, James Bell [Back from the Dead], and Jeff Corey score in smaller roles. There are many affecting scenes in the movie, and a highly satisfying wind-up. Joseph Biroc's cinematography is typically outstanding, and there's a flavorful score by Roy Webb.

Verdict: An  unheralded gem with some fine performances. ***.


MANHATTAN

Allen, Keaton, Murphy, Hoffman
MANHATTAN  (1979 ). Director: Woody Allen.Written by Allen and Marshall Brickman.

"I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics."

"My first wife was a kindergarten teacher. She got into drugs, moved to L.A. became a moonie. Now she's a William Morris agent."

41-year-old Isaac (Woody Allen), whose wife, Jill (Meryl Streep), left him for another woman, Connie (Karen Ludwig), is now dating an adoring 17-year-old named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). Isaac's buddy, Yale (Michael Murphy), who is married to Emily (Anne Byrne Hoffman), is having an affair with Mary (Diane Keaton), but Isaac and Mary find themselves drawn to each other, especially as Yale shows no signs of leaving his wife, and Isaac is all too aware of the age difference between him and Tracy. As Manhattan begins, it seems to be a love valentine to New York City, but as the movie proceeds it becomes clear that it is just another Woody Allen Movie with the same fake, self-serving Woody Allen-type characters.you see in most of his movies. This "Manhattan" is strictly for and about rich white upper eastsiders -- you won't see a Black, Latino or Asian face throughout the movie (although there is a gay couple, as mentioned)! As expected, there's some good dialogue, and the acting is mostly on target, although Keaton tries to be amusing and generally fails. A built-in problem with Allen's movies is that, while the real Allen probably has no problem getting dates because he's rich and famous, having all these women throwing themselves at a less successful fellow who looks like Allen is highly improbable. Given what we now know of Allen's private life, it's easy to see why the plot goes in certain directions. Bella Abzug has a cameo and the repulsive Wallace Shawn, even less attractive than Allen, shows up very briefly as Keaton's ex-husband. Back in the seventies, Allen's films were seen as sharp and sophisticated and altogether wonderful, dealing frankly with adult subject matter, or what passes for same, but many of them don't really hold up and are due for reevaluation. Manhattan does its best to avoid the real dramatic scenes, especially in the depiction of Yale's discarded wife. The ending to the film makes Isaac seem even yuckier.

Verdict: Allen has made some good movies, but this isn't one of them. This should have been called A Nerd's Fantasy Life. **.




MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY

Woody Allen
MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (1993). Director: Woody Allen. Screenplay by Allen and Marshall Brickman.

Carol Lipton (Diane Keaton) is convinced that an older neighbor, Paul House (Jerry Adler), murdered his wife, who supposedly died of a heart attack. Carol's husband, Larry (Woody Allen), thinks she's nuts, but their divorced friend, Ted (Alan Alda of Same Time, Next Year), thinks she may be on to something. When Carol and Ted team up to track down House's possible girlfriend, Larry is afraid something may be developing between the two. A book editor, Larry convinces one of his authors, Marcia Fox (Anjelica Huston), to go on a date with Ted, but then Carol gets jealous when Marcia gets involved in solving the mystery ... Manhattan Murder Mystery is obviously a homage to those comedy-mystery films of the forties with the plucky heroine determined to get to the bottom of a case, and it's an entertaining, well-acted picture, even if Allen and Keaton aren't exactly William Powell and Myrna Loy. Leisurely-paced, and longer than some of his dramas, the movie keeps introducing enough perplexing elements to keep the viewer in suspense. I do wish the picture didn't ape the final sequence of the far superior The Lady from Shanghai, which is playing in a theater where the climax takes place. Carol and Larry make a likable couple with a basically warm relationship. Melanie Norris, Lynn Cohen, Marge Redmond, Joy Behar, and Ron Rifkin have smaller roles and are fine. The credit music is Cole Porter's marvelous "I Happen to Like New York," sung by Bobby Short.

Verdict: I liked this a lot more than the more "serious" Manhattan. ***.

MEET THE BARON

Edna May Oliver puts Ted Healy and his Stooges in line
MEET THE BARON (1933). Director: Walter Lang.

"I know I'm not good-looking, but what's my opinion against thousands of others." -- Jimmy Durante.

Two men (Jack Pearl, who is not given a name, and Jimmy Durante as "Joe McGoo") are lost in the jungles of Africa when they encounter Baron Munchausen (Henry Kolker of The Crash), who takes all of their water supply and abandons them. Jack and Joe are rescued, and the former is mistaken for the real Munchausen, and hailed as a hero. The two men are brought to Cuddle College where "Munchausen" is to lecture, and they meet the upstairs maid Zasu (Zasu Pitts of Let's Face It), janitor Ted Healy and his Stooges, and Dean Primrose (Edna May Oliver). All is well until the real Baron Munchausen shows up ... Jack Pearl had done his turn as the baron on the radio (and was still doing it on Jackie Gleason's show in the early sixties), but while he's a competent performer, he isn't that funny and his film career never amounted to much. It's easy to see why the Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Curly Howard, and Larry Fine) dumped the completely unimpressive Ted Healy, their nominal leader, and branched out on their own; nevertheless Healy did quite a few movies after Meet the Baron. Zasu Pitts is Zasu Pitts, but the film is stolen by an absolutely excellent comic performance by Edna May Oliver [Lydia], who can put those stooges in their places! A highlight is the MGM Girls doing the production number "Clean as a Whistle," not to mention the smashing final gag.

NOTE: It took me long enough to realize it, but I have been continuously misspelling Zasu Pitts name as Zazu with a "z" when it's Zasu with an "s," for shame! If only the damned lady hadn't appeared in so many movies reviewed on this blog! I have corrected some of the earlier reviews, but you'll probably still come across the misspelling now and then. Let's hope I get it right in the future, Zasu!

Verdict: Minor, but cute, comedy with enthusiastic players. **1/2.

WIVES UNDER SUSPICION

Warren William and Gail Patrick
WIVES UNDER SUSPICION (1938). Director: James Whale.

James Stowell (Warren William) is a tough district attorney who rarely sees any side but his own. Ambitious and dedicated, he generally neglects his lovely wife, Lucy (Gail Patrick), going so far as to cancel a vacation at the last minute so that he can prosecute Dr. MacAllen (Ralph Morgan), who has murdered his wife. Stowell is convinced that the murder was premeditated while MacAllen's attorney argues that it was a sudden crime of passion. Stowell is unconvinced, until he thinks that Lucy is carrying on with her handsome friend, Phil (William Lundigan) ... The performances are zesty enough to keep this rather creaky old melodrama entertaining, although the script is fairly obvious and generally superficial. Ralph Morgan [Sleep, My Love] has a great scene when he confesses to Stowell, and the pic benefits from two comic performances from Cecil Cunningham [Daughter of Shanghai] as Stowell's secretary, "Sharpy," and Lillian Yarbo [Presenting Lily Mars] as the maid Creola, although the character is handled in the usual racist fashion of the period. Constance Moore is Phil's girlfriend, Elizabeth, and Milburn Stone is Stowell's assistant. This is a remake of the 1933 A Kiss Before the Mirror, which was also directed by James Whale and is considered to be superior.

Verdict: William performs with his usual flair and the others are fine. **1/2.


A KISS FOR CORLISS

Tom Tully, Shirley Temple and Gloria Holden
A KISS FOR CORLISS (aka Almost a Bride/1949). Director: Richard Wallace.

In this sequel to Kiss and Tell, Corliss Archer (Shirley Temple) gets in more hot water when her father, Harry (Tom Tully), represents the wife of a much-married man in a divorce action. Kenneth Marquis (David Niven), the husband in the case, hates Harry Archer and begins playfully courting his daughter for spite. Meanwhile Corliss writes fake stories about her involvement with Kenneth in her diary in order to make boyfriend Dexter (Darryl Hickman) jealous, resulting in the engagement of Kenneth and Corliss hitting the papers and Harry having conniption fits!.A Kiss for Corliss has an amusing script, but the problem is in the casting. Temple is fine as Corliss, but I can think of a dozen actors who could do more with the part and be a lot funnier than Tully (who played the role of a neighbor in the earlier film). Gloria Holden as Corliss' mother is most famous for playing the lead in Dracula's Daughter, but again she's hardly a skilled comedienne. Niven's role is completely one-dimensional but he displays his customary charm. Hickman, also cast in another role in the earlier film, takes over from Jerome Courtland as Dexter, and Kathryn Card returns as the Archer housekeeper, as does Virginia Welles as Corliss' friend, Mildred Pringle -- all are fine. Oddly, Mildred got married to Corliss' brother in Kiss and Tell, but seems to be single -- with no husband or brother in sight -- in the sequel. Robert Ellis [Space Master X-7] is fun as the nasty little teen Raymond Pringle; later he played Dexter in the 1954 TV series Meet Corliss Archer. This was Shirley Temple's last film, retiring from movies at the ripe old age of 21.

Verdict: Goodbye Shirley! **1/2. .

Thursday, July 13, 2017

CAGNEY!

White Heat
CAGNEY! July 17th, 1899 - March 20th, 1986.

It would be all too easy to dismiss James Cagney as a mere personality who traded too much on his tough guy image and played the same role once too often. In truth, Cagney was a much more talented and versatile actor than he may have been given credit for. True, he was easy to impersonate, and was not exactly the kind of performer who could lose himself in a characterization that was too far from himself. But within his range he was often quite effective, and as adept at drama as he was at comedy. In his early years, he was always arguing with Warner Brothers for better and different scripts (although one senses he kind of liked the tough image, especially as he could probably have been knocked over with a feather by bigger guys, truth be told). On rare occasions he was totally miscast or gave a poor performance, overdoing the nasty shtick and masticating the scenery like a male Bette Davis, but more often he was simply outstanding [Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye; Man of a Thousand Faces]. The characters he played were often unpleasant, and that goes for the "good"guys as well as the bad, as he was a product of a time when manliness was summed up by the frequent use of  one's fists and insensitivity was the rule of the day. But he could also show his gentler side when it was warranted by the script, and he danced his way across many musicals [The West Point Story], which was appropriate, as in his later years he said he always considered himself a dancer first and actor second.

A few Cagney movies have already been reviewed on this blog, but we've got a fresh crop this week.:
Something to Sing About, Lady Killer, White Heat, Tribute to a Bad Man, These Wilder Years, The Strawberry Blonde, and A Lion Is In the Streets, plus a critique of a biography of the actor.


LADY KILLER

Cagney
LADY KILLER (1933). Director: Roy Del Ruth.

Fired from his job as usher, Dan Quigley (James Cagney) falls in with a gang of con artists who later take to robbing houses. Although Dan doesn't want anybody to get killed, the worst happens, and everyone takes it on the lam to California. There Dan becomes a movie extra, and then a star, until his old gang members show up to cause trouble. Lady Killer is another of those cheerfully amoral comedy-dramas with Cagney -- who is excellent -- playing another of his unpleasant if charismatic characters. The two ladies in his life are gang member Myra (Mae Clarke) and actress Lois (Margaret Lindsay of Dangerous); both women give very good performances, and Douglass.Dumbrille [A Life at Stake] is another cast stand-out as the leader of the gang. A repulsive scene has a bullying Cagney cornering a movie critic in a rest room and forcing him to literally eat his review. Cagney would probably have wanted it to be believed that Lady Killer is more or less his life story, but of course most of this is pure fiction, including the bit with the studio wanting to dump Quigley when news of his past leaks out (the studios tended to cover up for their assets). Dan doesn't turn on the gang because they're bad guys but because they threaten his livelihood, but the picture makes him out to be some kind of hero (not to mention he'd be in serious hot water even if he didn't kill anyone because he helped plan and execute the robberies). Still, this is fast, snappy and for the most part, fun, if morally questionable. One highlight is when the director insists Dan eat garlic before his love scene with poor Lois. Leslie Fenton is also in the cast. Clarke and Cagney were famously teamed in The Public Enemy two years earlier.

Verdict: Cagney is on top of his game even if the script is (literally) all over the lot. **1/2.


SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT

Cagney and Evelyn Daw
SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT (1937). Director: Victor Schertzinger.

"A Japanese who speaks better English than I do, with a weakness for wiener schnitzel. It's too much for me in my weakened condition." -- Terry. 

Terry Rooney (James Cagney) is a popular musical theater man who is tapped to go to Hollywood to make his first picture. Planning to send for his singing sweetheart, Rita (Evelyn Daw), he goes to the studio and meets publicity man Hank Meyers (William Frawley) and studio chief B. O. Regan (Gene Lockhart of A Scandal in Paris), as well as major star Stephanie Hajos (Mona Barrie of The Devil's Mask). After a blow out on the set, Terry walks out and marries Rita, only to discover his first film is a big hit and he's a big star himself. The only trouble is that his marriage must be kept secret ... Cagney is, as expected, swell in the picture, as are most of his supporting players, including Dwight Frye as a hairdresser and Philip Ahn, as his butler, Ito. There's an excellent scene when Ahn reveals that he speaks English perfectly (although in real life he was Korean-American and not Japanese). As for leading lady Daw, it's easy to see why she appeared in only one other movie. Despite a heavy chin, Daw was cute, and not unappealing in an amateurish way, but she has one of the the worst soprano voices I've ever heard -- shrill, nasal, and altogether awful (if not quite as bad as Florence Foster Jenkins). Director Schertzinger's discovery, she retired to get married not a moment too soon. Something to Sing About has some nice tunes, including the title number, Cagney does a lovely soft shoe routine with two professional dancers, and of course is given a chance to belt guys around to prove his "manhood." A shipboard sequence features an actual "cat fight" with two real cats boxing one another (!) and a sailor in drag is tossed over the railing!

Verdict: Frothy, mindless, and reasonably entertaining. **1/2.

THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE

James and Olivia
THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE (1941). Director: Raoul Walsh.

In old time New York, Biff Grimes (James Cagney) is a struggling dentist with a wife, Amy (Olivia de Havilland). He gets word that there's a man, Hugo Barnstead (Jack Carson), who has such a severe toothache that he needs to come by on a Sunday and he can name his price. When Biff finds out who his patient is, his mind goes back to years ago. Most of the film consists of a a long flashback that explains why he has good reason to hate the man. Will Hugo get a lethal dose of laughing gas? The Strawberry Blonde is an odd comedy-drama with scenes of low comedy blended not so felicitously with more dramatic ones, and coming up short as a whole. The acting helps put it over: Cagney. playing yet another rather unsympathetic character, is full of his trademark bluster and charisma. De Havilland [Libel] is lovely and generally expert in her portrayal of the woman that Biff first despises. Scoring very big is Rita Hayworth [Salome] as Virginia, the woman Biff had originally wanted but who was stolen by Hugo; as a married couple who hate each other both Hayworth and Carson [The Groom Wore Spurs] are very effective, with the former giving a particularly adept performance (there's more to Hayworth than just sex appeal).Alan Hale, Una O'Connor, and George Reeves are also good as Biff's father, a neighbor lady, and a college boy that Biff has a quarrel with. A big problem with Blonde is that there are just too many really stupid moments, many of them consisting of scenes crafted to show off Cagney's aging tough guy image, including a ridiculous scene when he beats up several college boys at once -- sure! Since most of the film takes place some years in the past, Cagney at 42 is too old to be entirely convincing in the role as well. Still, the movie is fast-paced and unpredictable, and does have a few funny scenes, such as the Grimes and Barnsteads first encounter with spaghetti at the dinner table. The film's main strength is in how it gets across how relationships can turn out far differently than you expected, and in how one's heartbreak over another, initially devastating, often turns out to be the best thing that could have happened. This is a remake of One Sunday Afternoon, with Gary Cooper playing Biff. A musical version in 1948 cast Dennis Morgan as Biff! Raoul Walsh directed that version as well.

Verdict: A little too odd but certainly different. **1/2.

WHITE HEAT

Margaret Wycherly and James Cagney
WHITE HEAT (1949). Director: Raoul Walsh.

Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) is head of a gang that robs a train, a robbery in which four people are murdered. Hiding out with his cronies, as well as his devoted mother, Ma Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly) -- who is nearly as tough as he is --  and not-so-devoted wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo), Cody conceives of a plot to keep him from being sent to death row by copping to a comparatively minor robbery that he didn't commit. In stir for two years, Cody meets a fellow prisoner, Vic Pardo (Edmond O'Brien), who is actually undercover cop Hank Fallon, and learns from his beloved Ma that Verna has run off with Big Ed Somers (Steve Cochran), who wants to take over Cody's gang. Cody makes up his mind to get out and take care of Big Ed and everyone else ... White Heat is a slick, well-directed, and fast-paced crime thriller that features excellent performances across the board, with Cagney charismatically playing a mentally-deranged killer who suffers debilitating attacks from time to time (these sequences are handled very well by Cagney). Wycherly [Keeper of the Flame] manages to etch a highly effective portrait of Cody's mother without descending into caricature, and Mayo offers one of her best performances as the duplicitous if clever Verna; Cochran also makes an impression as her easily-discarded lover. There's also nice work from John Archer [No Man's Woman] as the head cop on the case, and Fred Clark [Back from Eternity] as one of Cody's confederates. Sid Hickox' cinematography is first-rate, and Max Steiner, whose genius wasn't limited to romantic pictures, offers a memorably tense and very exciting score for the picture. This has a classic ending with Cagney hollering "Top of the World, Ma!" at the top of a refinery.

Verdict: Brisk, tense, entertaining crime picture with a powerful Cagney performance. ***.

A LION IS IN THE STREETS

Barbara Hale and James Cagney
A LION IS IN THE STREETS (1953). Director: Raoul Walsh.

In the Louisiana backwoods, Hank Martin (James Cagney) drives his truck around selling all manner of goods to his neighbors. He meets and marries schoolteacher Verity (Barbara Hale) and takes her to his shack -- but he doesn't intend to stay there for long. Hank is convinced that Robert Castleberry (Larry Keating) is short-weighting the cotton brought to his plant and cheating the farmers, a charge strongly denied by Castleberry, creating an incident that leads to more than one death. Then Hank gets it into his head to run for governor, and makes a deal with the devil. Meanwhile his pregnant wife is unaware that Hank has turned the young woman with a crush on him, Flamingo (Anne Francis), into his mistress. This will not end well. In fact, the ending to the movie is the best thing about the picture (literally and figuratively) and perhaps Cagney's only really good acting in the film. It almost seems as if Cagney thinks that if he hollers, blusters and rages enough it will make the audience forget how utterly unconvincing the film is as a whole. A rage that might be appropriate for a gangster doesn't work at all for Hank Martin, and it's one of Cagney's rare forgettable performances. On the other hand, Barbara Hale [Perry Mason] is lovely and convincing as Verity, and Anne Francis also shines as Flamingo, and there are notable turns from Keating [When Worlds Collide]; John McIntire [Shadow on the Wall] as Jeb; and Warner Anderson as Jules. Also in the cast are Cagney's sister, Jeanne, as Jeb's wife; Lon Chaney Jr.; Ellen Corby; Onslow Stevens as a lawyer; and Sara Haden, although I didn't spot her and she seems to have no lines. The wildest scene in the movie has Flamingo trying to feed Verity to a pack of alligators out of jealousy! Franz Waxman's discordant score seems to fit, but can't help, this oddball and unmemorable movie. Apparently Walsh cut out the last third of Luthor Davis' screenplay and came up with a new finale. You also sense that several scenes, especially those pertaining to the relationship between Hank and Flamingo, were left on the cutting room floor. Similar material was already covered in the 1949 All the King's Men.

Verdict: Cagney, shamelessly chewing the scenery, is almost a parody of himself in this. **.

TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN

 Don Dubbins with his mentor, Cagney
TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN (1956). Director: Robert Wise.

"You act like a man with a lot of ideas, all of them second-rate and none of them honorable." 

"A man doesn't die of a broken heart from his first love, only from his last."

Young Steve Miller, who wants to be a cowboy or wrangler, winds up in the territory owned and run by Jeremy Rodock (James Cagney). Rodock has had to put up with people encroaching on his land and stealing horses and livestock for years, and he enacts his own rough justice, including hanging the perpetrators. The latest to earn his enmity is his old partner, L.A. Peterson (James Bell), and his son, Lars (Vic Morrow), but he may be wrong in his belief that either murdered one of his ranch hands. Rodock lives with Jocasta (Irene Papas, in her American debut), a woman with a past who is coveted by McNulty (Stephen McNally) and for whom Steve develops a growing infatuation. Finally tensions begin to boil over and Jocasta fears that Steve may develop the same hardness she sees in Jeremy, but is it possible that Rodock can mend his ways? Tribute to a Bad Man is an interesting western with some intriguing characters, and interactions among them, and the acting is uniformly good. Cagney is marvelous as the crusty autocrat with romantic leanings, and Papas gives a lovely performance as the woman he is devoted to. ("Introduced" in this film, Papas had already made several films overseas.) Don Dubbins was Cagney's protege, and the boyishly handsome actor always gives sensitive portrayals as he does here. McNally [The Lady Pays Off] and Morrow [Great White] make multi-dimensional villains, and James Bell and Jeannette Nolan [My Blood Runs Cold] score as Morrow's parents. Lee Van Cleef, Royal Dano, Peter Chong, and Onslow Stevens also make notable, if briefer, contributions. Cagney's patronage led to Dubbins appearing in this and These Wilder Years with Cagney, but the long career that followed consisted mostly of television work. This has nice widescreen Robert Surtees cinematography, adroit Robert Wise direction, a good Miklos Rozsa score, and a touching ending, although one could argue that the film certainly glosses over certain aspects of Rodock's character and actions.

Verdict: Romance and hangings in the wide open spaces. ***.

THESE WILDER YEARS

THESE WILDER YEARS (1956). Director: Roy Rowland.

Steve Bradford (James Cagney) is a successful businessman who has never married but now misses the son he denied twenty years ago and whom he has never known. Steve butts heads, albeit pleasantly, with Ann Dempster (Barbara Stanwyck), who runs the adoption agency that could help Bradford be united with his child, but Ann is opposed to the idea. Steve tries various tactics, including searching for the birth mother he abandoned years ago, and then taking the agency to court. As Steve fights his battle, he becomes closer to a young, unwed mother, Suzie (Betty Lou Keim), who must give up her baby even though she doesn't want to. These Wilder Years couldn't exactly be classified as unpredictable -- and one senses the whole business could have been handled more intelligently by everyone concerned -- but it's a nice, absorbing picture with very good performances. Stanwyck and Cagney not only got along famously while the film was being made, but play marvelously together -- two solid pros uplifting their material. There is also fine work from Walter Pidgeon [Forbidden Planet] as Steve's lawyer; Edward Andrews [Youngblood Hawke] as another small-town lawyer; Don Dubbins as the young man in question; Dean Jones as the son-in-law of the birth mother; Dorothy Adams [Laura] as Aunt Martha; and others. Mary Lawrence and dancer Marc Platt have not a word of dialogue but they certainly register in that moment when Mr. and Mrs. Callahan are given their new baby by Ann. And there's a nice score by Jeff Alexander. as well. One supposes the title was concocted to make this seem like another story of rebellious youth, which it isn't.

Verdict: Smooth, very well-played, and poignant. ***.

CAGNEY

CAGNEY. John McCabe. Knopf; 1997.

John McCabe was actually the ghost writer for Cagney's memoirs, Cagney by Cagney, and herein fills in some of the gaps based on his knowledge of and conversations with the star and icon. There's Cagney's early days growing up in a tough neighborhood, his early stage career and his dissatisfaction with movie assignments and the money he was making, his hiring his actor-brother William to be his manager, his long-term marriage to wife "Willie," and so on. Apparently his relationship with his two adopted children was far from perfect, perhaps stemming from the fact that they were put in a separate house and didn't receive that much nurturing from their parents. There's just a little gossip -- Merle Oberon allegedly coming on to Cagney and being rebuffed -- and lots of information about Cagney's career. McCabe doesn't love every Cagney performance, and dissects his mannerisms and acting approach to certain roles, right or wrong, but considers him one of the three greatest American actors. While this is a solid and substantial book, one senses that a lot of has been left on the "cutting room floor," so to speak; sometimes being friends with your subject is not the best idea. With lots of illustrations and a filmography.

Verdict: Good, but something's missing ... ***.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A DOUBLE LIFE

Shelley Winters and Ronald Colman
A DOUBLE LIFE (1947). Director: George Cukor.

Anthony John (Ronald Colman) is a well-known theater actor who is divorced from, but still in love with, his ex-wife, Brita (Signe Hasso of A Reflection of Fear). They have remained friends and co-workers and decide to do their rendition of Shakespeare's Othello. Never too tightly wrapped to begin with, Anthony begins unraveling as the successful show goes on month after month, developing an intense jealousy over Brita (and a publicist named Bill played by Edmond O'Brien), that threatens to rival Othello's equally unfounded jealousy over Desdemona. Is someone going to pay the ultimate price for Anthony's madness, and who will it be? A Double Life has a famous star -- Colman won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance -- and director, but the movie is successful neither as drama nor suspense film. The characters in the script by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin are too superficial to make us actually care about anyone, and there is no real tension in the movie, Shelley Winters plays a waitress that Colman dallies with, but this very good actress is hardly given enough to work with in her two brief scenes with the star. Signe Hasso comes off better as Desdemona than Colman does in his okay but often hammy interpretation of Othello. There are people who really love this movie (they go on about it as if were along the lines of he actual Othello) and Colman's performance, but I think Colman has given better performances in much better pictures than this. Betsy Blair has a nice bit as a hopeful actress, and Ray Collins, Whit Bissell, and Joe Sawyer also have minor supporting roles. Cukor has directed better melodramas than this, including Gaslight and A Woman's Face. In the final sequence Hasso seems to be indulging in a bit of silent movie acting! I believe Colman's Oscar was given for his body of work. This bears some similarities to the earlier The Brighton Strangler, which some may actually consider the better movie..

Verdict: See a performance of Othello instead. **.

THE DOLLY SISTERS

June Haver, Betty Grable and John Payne
THE DOLLY SISTERS (1945). Director: Irving Cummings.

Latsie Dolly (S. Z. Sakall) brings his two nieces from Hungary to America where Jenny (Betty Grable) and Rosie (June Haver) become a popular singing and dancing sister act. Jenny falls for entertainer Harry Fox (John Payne) but their romance hits a couple of snags. Lest you think that the Dolly Sisters were a mere invention of 20th Century-Fox, these gals actually existed, and a true story of their lives would have shocked the hell out of staid 1940's movie house patrons. In this sanitized version of their backstage history, the focus is on the love affair and marriage of Jenny and Harry -- Harry Fox was also a real person -- but the latter was only one of Jenny's husbands -- and lovers. This movie completely ignores the fact that the two gals became more famous for gambling and bed-hopping with wealthy men than they did for their singing and dancing! A car crash which necessitated plastic surgery for Dolly is presented in the movie, and would seem like a lame attempt to add "drama" were it not for the fact that it actually happened. Reginald Gardiner [Black Widow] plays a duke who dallies with Jenny after she and Harry part ways, and Frank Latimore [Shock] is a real-life store owner, Irving Netcher, who marries Rosie. Trudy Marshall [Mark of the Gorilla] has a nice bit as Lenora, a woman who has the misfortune of falling for Harry even though he's still in love with Jenny. While the screenplay is mediocre, The Dolly Sisters is bolstered by sumptuous Technicolor, high-class cinematography from Ernest Palmer, professional performances (from Sig Ruman and others), and some pleasant songs (Gordon and Monaco), although the best numbers are standards such as "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." Two ladies who make an impression are Collette Lyons as (fictional?) entertainer Flo Daly and an uncredited chorus cutie who plays "Rosie Rouge" in a production number devoted to make up. (This song, in particular, has a weird off-kilter melody, if you can even call it that.) I have no idea what they were like in real life, but as embodied by Haver and Grable, the Dolly Sisters come off as a decorative but not terribly mesmerizing or especially talented vaudeville act.

Verdict: Smooth and entertaining and good to look at it nothing else. ***.

MOVIE BOOK EXPLOSION

Baby Leroy


It seems that there have never been quite so many movie-oriented books before. Companies such as BearManor come out regularly with tomes on (to most people) obscure players, long-forgotten movies, supporting players with a story to tell, and everyone, apparently, has put together their memoirs. Then we have hastily cobbled together self-published bios from people with a tenuous connection to the "star" as well as books on old TV shows with lots of stills and production photos. Nothing wrong with any of that, except at times you think it looks like it's getting a little out of hand. To my knowledge, the following books don't actually exist (yet), but any day now you may see one of them.


Baby: The Wild, Sweet Life of Baby Leroy.
"The Tammy Grimes Show" Companion.
"Life with Lucy:" The Best Lucy Show Ever!
Everyone I have Ever Had Sex With. The Hot, Secret Life of Zasu Pitts.
Troy and Tab: Parallel Lives of Hollywood Heartthrobs
"Raw Wind in Eden:" The Story of This Fabulous Masterpiece.
Pinky! The Pinky Lee Story.
Shug Fisher as "Shorty Kellems": The Heart and Soul  of "The Beverly Hillbillies."
Jethro Bodine: His Life Story.
"The Partridge Family" Companion.
"My Mother the Car:"Behind the Scenes of the Classic Sitcom.
 Full of Genius. The Lives of the Barry Sisters.
Such Pain: The Horrible Hollywood Feud of Margaret Hamilton and Mary Wickes
Judy: I Married Garland in Secret -- and Wasn't Gay!
The Unparalleled Genius of the Fabulous Ritz Brothers.
Slightly Alfalfa: The Gas House Kids Companion.
My Story: Greta Garbo's Maid Tells of Her Life with The Reclusive Star
I Was Dean Martin's Dentist!
Sinatra's Pets: Frank's Menagerie from Sammy the Poodle to Ted the Chimp.
Love Bites: How I Slept with over 100,000 Men and Women in Hollywood!


THE HAMMER VAULT

THE HAMMER VAULT: Treasures from the Archives of Hammer Films. Marcus Hearn. Titan; 2011. Revised and Updated Edition.

This beautiful over-sized coffee table book is a compendium of photos and memorabilia relating to the famous -- some might say infamous -- Hammer studios, who chiefly made horror films but branched out to other genres from time to time as well. Hammer studios made a name for itself with its new, bloodier versions of Dracula and Frankenstein, and made stars of such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Some of the filmmakers most associated with the studio include Val Guest, Terence Fisher, and Jimmy Sangster, among others. The book is chock full of production stills, behind-the-scenes shots, annotated shooting scripts, posters, drawings, press books, letters, publicity kits, and all manner of esoterica relating to the studio. The book covers all of the output of the studio from the very early days (The Quatermass Xperiment) to more recent films such as The Woman in Black, providing a fairly complete history of Hammer. You can also read about Hammer projects that were announced or conceived but never came to fruition.

Verdict: A must for the obsessive Hammer enthusiast. ***.

THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT

Larry Fine, Moe Howard, Joe DeRita
THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT (1962). Director: Edward Bernds.

"The arrow's pointing half-way -- I don't know if it's half full or half empty!"

Needing a place to stay, the Three Stooges (Larry Fine, Moe Howard, and Joe DeRita) answer an ad placed by a scientist named Danforth (Emil Sitka). Danforth has invented a kind of combination sub-tractor-copter-spaceship which hardly looks like it could get off the ground but at one point shoots the boys into orbit. A handsome Air Force man, Captain Tom Andrews (Edson Stroll of McHale's Navy) comes to look at the professor's invention, but spends more time looking over his daughter, Carol (Carol Christensen). Then there are a couple of Martians, who resemble Universal monsters, hovering about and planning an attack on the earth. A sub-plot has the boys being told that their cartoon show will be canceled unless they come up with a new approach and arrive at the studio by a certain time. The Stooges are fine, but even they need decent material, and even kids would probably find this a little too silly. Sitka isn't funny at all, so his casting is strange (even stranger is that he later became one of the stooges after Fine's death), Strangely, Sitka reminds one of Dustin Hoffman! Many jokes are repeated too often.

Verdict: Good-natured if really stupid. **.

THE DEVIL BAT

Bela!
THE DEVIL BAT (1940). Director: Jean Yarbrough.

The town of Heath believes that Dr. Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi) is a kind-hearted soul who wouldn't hurt a fly, but he secretly harbors hatred for the Heath family who grew rich on his formulas when he foolishly accepted cash instead of a percentage. His method of revenge is bizarre to say the least. He has used electricity to create a gigantic bat, about ten times the size of a normal bat, and sends if off after his victims by using a special shaving lotion that attracts the bloodthirsty animal. When each victim tells the doctor good-night or farewell, he grimly intones "Goodbye." The Devil Bat is hard to take seriously but it is a fun movie, with a better performance from Lugosi than the picture probably deserves. Lugosi's portrait of a man whose bitterness has nearly driven him insane but who hides it beneath an avuncular manner, is dead-on. The other actors don't seem to matter much next to Lugosi but they include Dave O'Brien [Captain Midnight] as a reporter, Donald Kerr as his photographer, Suzanne Kaaren as Mary Heath, and John Ellis and Alan Baldwin as her brothers. When the photographer tricks up a fake Devil bat to fool his editor, it doesn't look much worse than the "real" thing, a mock-up inter-cut with close-ups of a bat's mouth. This was essentially remade six years later as The Flying Serpent with George Zucco. Followed by Devil Bat's Daughter. From  poverty row studio PRC.

Verdict: Bela goes bats! **1/2.

BAREFOOT BOY

Jackie Moran and Marcia Mae Jones
BAREFOOT BOY (1938). Director: Karl Brown.

Billy Whittaker (Jackie Moran) is a small town boy who runs about barefoot all the time and has a crush on a neighbor girl named Julia (Marilyn Knowlden). Vying for her affections is an obnoxious lad named Kenneth Hale (Bradley Metcalfe), whose father, John (Ralph Morgan of The Monster and the Ape), is just out of prison and sends the arrogant youngster to live with the Whittakers. An old house in the woods holds a secret, not only the bank notes supposedly stolen by John Hale but the real criminals, hiding out, as well. Marcia Mae Jones [Haunted House] plays Julia's sister Pige, who is even more obnoxious than Kenneth, and Johnnie Morris is their likable brother, Jeff. Barefoot Boy is supposedly inspired by the poem of the same name, but it really has nothing to do with it -- this is just another Moran/Jones movie from Monogram. Moran and most of the other actors are fine, but the movie is cheap and unmemorable. Pudgy-faced, plain, and extremely irritating, most viewers probably wanted to strangle Miss Jones. Metcalfe makes a better impression as Kenneth.

Verdict: Proof that some children should be seen and not heard. *1/2.