Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Showing posts with label Sidney Blackmer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sidney Blackmer. Show all posts

Thursday, June 19, 2014


THE HOUSE OF SECRETS (1936). Director: Roland D. Reed.

Barry Wilding (Leslie Fenton) performs an act of chivalry for a young lady, Julie (Muriel Evans), on shipboard, but the woman refuses to divulge her identity or ever see him again. When Barry learns that he's inherited his uncle's estate, Hawk's Nest, and 10,000 pounds, he goes to the house and is thrown off the property by two men while Julie watches from the shadows. Barry and his detective friend, Tom Starr (Sidney Blackmer), are convinced that crooks have taken over Hawk's Nest, but the truth is much more idiotic. When the "secret" is revealed, you can't understand why everyone couldn't have simply told Barry what was going on and avoided all the angst. There are secret passages, a hidden basement, and a fairly exciting climax when everyone is nearly wiped out by poison gas. As a leading man, Fenton wasn't handsome by Hollywood standards, but he was adept and had authority and charisma. Evans and the others are fine, and Blackmer is, as usual, notable in the role of the detective.

Verdict: Barely acceptable hokum but it strangely holds the attention and has some suspense. **1/2.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Mayor Jones [right] samples some of Cy's corn liquor

DOWN ON THE FARM (1938). Director: Malcolm St. Clair.

When the fire department accidentally makes a mess of their home, the Jones family head off to spend some time with Mayor Jones' sister, Ida (Louise Fazenda of The Old Maid) on the farm she co-owns with her brother. Mayor Jones (Jed Prouty) importunes hired hand and Ida's boyfriend Cy (Eddie Collins) to enter a corn husking contest -- Jones was once a corn-husking champ -- but learns that the town council thinks he's got a good shot at running for senator if he enters it himself. When a political boss (an uncredited Sidney Blackmer of Rosemary's Baby), who's backing someone else, offers Jones a post as state coroner, Grandma Jones (Florence Roberts) and Ida rightly see that it's only a bribe to get him out of the race -- no country bumpkins, they. Roger (George Ernest) has a girl named Emma (Roberta Smith) chasing after him, while Jack (Kenneth Howell) is immediately attracted to her older sister, Tessie (Dorris Bowden). Will John Jones win the corn husking contest and get to go to the senate? This is more amiable fun with a very creditable cast who by now were very much at home in their roles. Granny is a little more grumpy in this than usual, but still lovable.

Verdict: More fun with the Joneses. ***.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956). Director: Fritz Lang.

After viewing an  execution in a prison, writer Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews) and newspaper publisher Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer) have a discussion in which the latter wonders if the dead man, convicted on purely circumstantial evidence, could have been innocent. While Spencer is very much opposed to the death penalty, Garrett is thinking more of what a great book it would make if the two of them conspired to make it look as if the latter were responsible for the unsolved murder of a show girl. The idea is to get the innocent Garrett convicted and then whip out photographs Spencer has taken of Garrett planting phony evidence. (It doesn't occur to either of them that by tampering with evidence and obstructing justice they would both be committing serious crimes.) The biggest problem is that the two men don't include Spencer's daughter Susan (Joan Fontaine), who is engaged to Garrett, in the loop. While the whole movie has to be taken with a grain of salt, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt moves at a brisk pace and is quite entertaining, offering a neat twist that most viewers won't see coming. Andrews' stoicism serves him well as Garrett, Blackmer is as good as usual, and Fontaine is simply outstanding in her strongly emotional scenes as Joan. Arthur Franz, Shepperd Strudwick, Barbara Nichols and Philip Bourneuf are also solid in supporting roles. Remade -- quite well -- in 2009.

 Verdict: Invigorating suspense film with neat finale. ***.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (1954). Director: William A. Wellman.

"The youth of man will never die unless he murders it."

NOTE: Some plot details are revealed in this review.This was a [near] disaster film made before the era of disaster films, based on a novel by the once-popular Ernest K. Gann. On a flight from Honolulu to San Francisco, various passengers share their stories, as some unspecified troubles begin, culminating in the loss of an engine and the possibility that they might not have enough fuel to make it to land --  which means they might wind up in the drink. No one can say with any certainty if the plane will float until help arrives, or break up and sink. On board we have a honeymoon couple, middle-aged couples, a woman who's in love with her boss, an aging gal, Sally (Jan Sterling), meeting her future, younger husband for the first time, and so on. One thing the plane doesn't have is any chivalrous men. When Sally explains how nervous she is about meeting her guy considering she's a bit older than the only picture he has of her, neither the pilot Sullivan (Robert Stack) or another male passenger ever tell her that she's still considerably attractive -- gee, what nice guys! When another woman, May (Claire Trevor), betrays her terror of aging -- "no one's whistled at me in years" -- her male companion offers no compliments, either, despite her own good looks. The younger women, including the pretty and efficient stewardess (Julie Bishop) and the darling Miss Chen (Joy Kim) fare a bit better. Sidney Blackmer of Rosemary's Baby is aboard for a little melodrama involving his wife and her alleged lover, David Brian, and there's also Paul Kelly as a disaffected scientist. Loraine Day is a wealthy woman disgusted with her husband's financial decisions, Phil Harris and Ann Doran are disappointed middle-aged tourists; all are fine. William Campbell [Dementia 13] has one of his best roles as an obnoxious younger pilot. The performances and the characterizations are actually pretty good, but The High and the Mighty is only sporadically entertaining and suspenseful, and at nearly two and half hours in length is much too long and in fact fairly tedious for long stretches. But the main problem is that the movie has no pay-off and no real climax. John Wayne -- did I forget to mention him? -- saves the day and that's that. You're happy for the characters but disappointed that there's so little life or death action. Wayne plays an older pilot who is haunted by the death of his wife and boy in a crash that he survived. When he thinks back on this event in a flashback, he furrows his brow to show that he's allegedly "haunted." He's better in scenes when he has to firmly and kindly reassure the passengers; in fact, for the most part he's not bad at all . Dimitri Tiomkin's Oscar-winning music score does most of the work in this movie, however.

Verdict: This is by no means a classic. **1/2.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


THE PANTHER'S CLAW (1942). Director: William Beaudine.

A mysterious figure known as the Black Panther sends letters demanding money to various members of an opera company, including a little wigmaker named Everett P. Digberry (Byron Foulger). Sidney Blackmer of Rosemary's Baby is the police commissioner, and Rick Vallin in his assistant, while Gerta Rozan and Thornton Edwards play a soprano and a fired baritone respectively. The trouble with this creaky old movie is that the intriguing premise it starts out with -- the business with the "Black Panther" -- is summarily dropped in favor of a much more prosaic mystery which has far too few suspects to be interesting -- or entertaining. The picture does give the likable, talented Foulger a big role, Blackmer is his usual fine self, and Billy Mitchell is [stereotypical] fun as porter Nicodemus J. Brown. Fougler also appeared in the serial The Master Key, the late Charlie Chan film The Chinese Ring, and indeed had a long list of credits.

Verdict: Watch Perry Mason instead. **

Thursday, February 26, 2009


CHEERS FOR MISS BISHOP (1941). Director: Tay Garnett.

Ella Bishop (Martha Scott) graduates from a small town college and becomes a teacher there. Chances for love pass her by as the years roll on. This may sound like a dull, sappy movie, but it's actually an engrossing, warmly sentimental drama about small-town life and values, but it doesn't have a puritanical streak: at one point Miss Bishop becomes involved with a married man (Sidney Blackmer) whose wife refuses to divorce him. Donald Douglas plays Del, the man she nearly marries before her bitchy cousin Amy (Mary Anderson) steals him away, and William Gargan is the loyal Sam, who probably loves her better than anybody. There are memorable performances from the aforementioned as well as Edmund Gwenn, as president of Midwestern, Dorothy Peterson as Ella's mother, Rosemary DeCamp as Minna, Marsha Hunt as Amy's daughter, and the always-odd Sterling Holloway as the campus janitor. Martha Scott offers a simply outstanding performance as Ella; she's on top of the part whether she's playing the young student or the old lady retiring at seventy.

Verdict: A lovely movie. ****.