I’ll Wait For You (1941)
The proverbial luck of mob strong-arm man Jonathan “Lucky” Wilson (Robert Sterling) runs out when Lieutenant McFarley (Paul Kelly) and Sergeant Brent (Don Costello) persuade some of his monetary victims to sing. Apprehended, Wilson makes a break for it, only to take a bullet in the shoulder as he flees. He nevertheless makes it as far as the Connecticut countryside before collapsing, where he is found and taken in by the Millers, a farming family. Ordered by his boss, Tony Berolli (Reed Hadley), to stay where he is – what could be a better hideout? – Wilson unexpectedly finds himself drawn to the Millers and their simple lifestyle, and particularly to the lovely elder daughter, Pauline (Marsha Hunt)… The plot’s been done to death, of course, but the main problem with this re-working of the old hood-with-a-heart-of-gold chestnut is trying to believe baby-faced Robert Sterling as an intimidating mobster. He may talk like Bogart, and dress like Robert Montgomery – both of whom did much better in similar roles – but really, he’s not fooling anyone; he comes across like a kid playing dress-up in his big brother’s clothes. Moreover, the film asks us to accept not just the magnitude of the Millers’ countrified blindness, but also Wilson’s equally staggering citified ignorance – would you believe he doesn’t know where eggs come from? Still, this slight comedy-drama is worth sticking with for the sequence when Wilson’s police adversaries catch up him, but in the face of the Millers’ sheer niceness, find themselves quite unable to give their quarry away. Trapped on the wrong side of a swollen creek, the three men end up calling an unspoken temporary truce and sitting down to luncheon in company with their oblivious hosts… Marsha Hunt is certainly worth a man’s reformation as Pauline; Henry Travers and Fay Holden lend credibility to the Millers; and Virginia Weidler has another of her trademark “kid sister” roles. However, it is Paul Kelly as the sardonic McFarley and Don Costello as his boater-hatted, sad-eyed offsider who come away with the honours.
More than twenty years after it was sent to Mars and subsequently disappeared, a Viking 2 lander is located in the Californian desert in a highly restricted military zone. The lander is transported to an abandoned army testing facility, where NASA scientist Case Montgomery (Cotter Smith) calls in exo-biologist Dr Grazia Scott (Deidre O’Connell) to help him investigate. The two, along with Case’s NASA colleague, Michael Perkett (Leland Orser), examine the lander and determine that it has been modified, with extra housings attached to the outside. Gracia analyses the dust from the outside of the lander, and confirms that it has indeed been on Mars – and that its presence on Earth can only be the result of extraterrestrial intervention. As the scientists are struggling to come to terms with this realisation, the military arrives. Colonel Pratt (Robert Wisdom) announces that the lander is a matter of national security and that the scientists are forbidden to have any further contact with it. They respond by barricading themselves in with it. A furious Pratt orders his men to cut open the door. As Case tries to download the contents of the lander’s computer into NASA’s system, Grazia hears a noise…and something erupts from one of the housings on the lander. Grazia shrieks for the men outside not to open the door, but they take no notice; and the next moment, an alien life-form is loose within the facility… Yes, Invader is yet another post-Alien dark-corridors-and-ducts film—but for once you shouldn’t let that put you off. Lacking a budget, a name cast, expensive special effects, impressive sets – well, lacking pretty much everything, really – the film-makers compensated as best they could by serving up – an intelligent script. No, honestly! Perhaps I can best praise Invader by telling you what it doesn’t have: career professionals who behave like tantrum-throwing children; characters advancing the plot by acting stupidly; a male and a female scientist who have, or had, a personal relationship; a psychotic and/or homicidally hard-line senior military officer; explosions in place of ideas. It’s also unusually free of references to other films, even the one it’s clearly inspired by. Well, almost free. There’s an alien autopsy scene that suggests a fondness for John Carpenter’s version of The Thing, and the two scientists are called “Montgomery” and “Scott”, which might be an allusion, or just word association. No, what we have here is a thoughtful and interesting little film – with the emphasis on “little”. The budget for this thing must have been nearly non-existent, and what money they did have obviously went on the alien, which in its adult form is pretty damn cool. (In the end they give us too clear a look at it for its own good, but the visual power of that shot, as the newly escaped alien stops and stares up at the full moon in the night sky, more than makes up for any revealed shortcomings.) The story progresses through logical steps, some good tension is generated, and the characters react intelligently as their circumstances alter. I particularly like the evolving relationship between Grazia Scott and Colonel Pratt: initially the two diametric poles, with fairly clichéd viewpoints (she wants to save it for science and communicate with it, he wants to blast it off the planet in the name of national security), both of them soften their stances as the emergency worsens, develop respect for one another’s views and abilities, and end up working together to solve a crisis. Invader does a lot right – a lot – and then— And then it goes and ruins everything, with an incredibly abrupt and downbeat ending. Well, perhaps “ruins” is putting it a bit strongly; within the context of the story, the ending is actually valid; but it sure isn’t the one we wanted. The performances of the three leads are all solid and convincing, with Deidre O’Connell making a very refreshing female scientist. I also like Raoul O’Connell (related?) as poor Private Jeffers, who’s having the worst day of his entire life… Invader also features a baby-faced Ryan Phillippe as – get this – “Private Ryan”!
(The Unknown Movies Page provides both a review of Invader, under the film’s alternative title, Lifeform, and an explanation for the ending. To which I can only respond – “Bugger…”)
I Take This Woman (1940)
Georgi Gragore (Hedy Lamarr) travels to the Yucatan with her married lover, Phil Mayberry (Kent Taylor), where he plans to get a quick divorce; but he reneges when his wife, Sandra (Mona Barrie), threatens a divorce suit of his own that will ruin both his name and his career. On the journey home, a despairing Georgi attempts suicide, but is stopped by Dr Karl Decker (Spencer Tracy). Back in New York and at a loss, Georgi finds her way to Decker’s free clinic on the East Side and gets a job there. Decker, already smitten, soon falls in love with her. Georgi agrees to marry Decker, but their relationship is endangered when he feels compelled to try and give her the lifestyle she is accustomed to, and when his insistence that she not run away from her past throws her into company with her old society friends – including Phil Mayberry, who has obtained his divorce… I Take This Woman had a disastrous production history: the shoot dragged on for over eighteen months as it lost first Josef von Sternberg and then Frank Borzage as director, ending up with journeyman W.S. Van Dyke II, who re-shot nearly the entire thing but was unable to enliven this rather tired tale of a woman who knows her husband is worth a hundred of the heel she’s stuck on, but goes on being stuck on him anyway. The real problem with this film is that it needed to be made by Warners, not MGM. Everything’s fine as long as the story is being played out in nightclubs and at premieres, but it falls on its face as soon as it tries to present us with “the East Side”. MGM never could do poor convincingly: everything’s far too spacious and clean, and the people are embarrassing stereotypes. (Case in point: Willie Best as – God help us! – “Sambo”, opening line: “I’ll be an ape’s uncle!”) In fact, you can tell this is an MGM production from the moment Georgi puts on her mink coat to commit suicide! Actually, all jokes aside, this film enters some fairly worrying territory with its implication that the “correct” response of any “sensitive” woman to male treachery is a suicide attempt. Still, Tracy and Lamarr are worth watching, and the supporting cast is terrific, particularly Verree Teasdale as Georgi’s hyperactive best friend (she gets all of Charles MacArthur’s best lines), and Frances Drake as an elegantly parasitic nightclubber. Larraine Day has a brief early role as the film’s second suicidally-inclined female, and Jack Carson gets one line as the husband of one of Decker’s patients.
Kansas City Bomber (1972)
Single mother Diane “K.C.” Carr (Raquel Welch) struggles to make a living as a professional roller derby skater, having to deal with her constant separations from her children and her mother’s disapproval of her lifestyle. Catching the eye of lecherous businessman Burt Henry (Kevin McCarthy), K.C. is transferred to his Portland-based franchise, where she finds herself locked in a bitter struggle for supremacy with fading former star Jackie Burdette (Helena Kallianiotes)… This overlong and over-obvious sports drama is sickly compelling as long as the women are out on the rink kicking the shit out of each other, but grows tiresome whenever it focuses instead on the personal travails of its heroine. The screenplay tries to posit K.C. as an innocent abroad, the one nice and sincere person in a world of corruption and violence, but overplays its hand by making her naïve to the point of stupidity – and beyond. She’s astonished that the skaters she’s brought in to headline over resent her; she’s astonished that her teammates have a problem with the fact that she’s having an affair with their boss. (The best bit, though, is when her boss-lover gets rid of K.C.’s room-mate, who was kind enough – or dumb enough – to take her in, by trading her without warning. Henry’s “explanation”, that he just wanted to be alone with K.C., is evidently enough to soothe her qualms about this arrangement – so much so, she goes on living in her friend’s now-vacated house.) While K.C. is an annoying “heroine”, Kansas City Bomber nevertheless presents a fascinating if depressing portrait of the world of lower-tier sports, and the people who fight to make a living at them. The uncertainty of the life, the boredom and loneliness of the road, and the terror of the future for the aging athlete are all vividly sketched. (This film may well have influenced George Roy Hill’s infinitely superior Slap Shot.) Raquel isn’t a good enough actress to make K.C. credible, but she does a pretty good job on skates. (When it’s her: sometimes it’s obviously a double.) The film’s memorable performances come from its victims: Mary Kay Pass as Lovey, K.C.’s former room-mate; Helena Kallianiotes as borderline alcoholic Jackie; and Norman Alden as roller derby’s eternal butt, “Horrible” Hank Hopkins. A ten-year-old Jodie Foster appears as K.C.’s tomboy daughter.
King Of The Damned (1935)
In a Devil’s Island-like penal colony, Deputy Commandant Montez (Cecil Ramage) learns of valuable mineral deposits on the island, and takes advantage of the illness of his superior, Commandant Courvin (C.M. Hallard), by turning the convicts into a personal road-building and mining crew. Courvin’s daughter, Anna (Helen Vinson), who is also Montez’s fiancé, travels to the colony to nurse her father, unaware that the island is teetering on the brink of a full-scale revolt led by the erudite Convict 83 (Conrad Veidt)… Based upon a play by John Chancellor, King Of The Damned works better as a straight drama than as a political allegory, which, given the year of its production, the behaviour of the convicts post-revolt and the colony being Spanish (at least by implication) rather than the usual French, it was certainly intended to be; the film’s ending is so naïve in its optimism, you could just cry. (Then again, perhaps we’re supposed to recognise the characters’ hopes as delusive.) Politics aside, the film is an enjoyable example of this odd sub-genre, particularly when it focuses upon 83 and his torn loyalties when, on the very eve of the revolt, he learns that he has been pardoned; while the growing attraction between 83 and Anna – conveyed primarily through a series of covert longing glances – pays off marvellously when the naval officer who comes to rescue her discovers to his bemusement that she doesn’t want to be rescued. (“No, no, you don’t understand…I’m with him.”) Also of note are the scope of the production – the huge number of extras employed here makes the revolt more credible than usual – and the fact that one of the main architects of the revolt is a black convict, who is treated without a breath of separatism or condescension. Alas, conditions in the penal colony were apparently a bit more advanced than those operating in the British film industry at the time: the actor playing the black convict is unbilled, and I have been unable to discover his name.
King Solomon’s Mines (1937)
In Africa, the eternally optimistic treasure-hunting Irishman Patrick O’Brien (Arthur Sinclair) and his loyal and loving daughter, Kathleen (Anna Lee), finally admit defeat and decide to head home to Ireland. Through some quick talking, they manage to secure transport part of the way to the coast with hunter and explorer Allan Quatermain (Cedric Hardwicke). On the way, they encounter another oxen train. With it is a mysterious native, Umbopa (Paul Robeson), while inside the wagon lies a dying man, who speaks feverishly of the fabulous treasure of King Solomon’s Mines. O’Brien’s imagination is immediately fired, and he determines to seek this treasure, but also to leave Kathy with Quatermain, who promises to escort her safely to town. Discovering her father’s departure, the frantic Kathy pleads with Quatermain to go after him, but Quatermain refuses, explaining that he must return to town to meet Sir Henry Curtis (John Loder) and his friend, Commander Good (Roland Young), who have hired him to take them hunting. Determined to go after her father, Kathy tricks Sir Henry into giving orders for his expedition’s wagons to “go on ahead” in the direction she wants. Realising the deception, Quatermain, Sir Henry and the Commander go after Kathy, finding her and the wagons in charge of the enigmatic Umbopa. When Kathy declares her intention of going on regardless, the men capitulate and agree to go with her. A perilous and near fatal journey across the desert follows, while beyond the desert lies a land of mountains and a tribe ruled by terror and violence… This is a brisk and enjoyable version of H. Rider Haggard’s venerable tale. There has been some tampering with the text, of course – there’s no white girl along in the book, and the person the expedition is looking for is Sir Henry’s brother – but otherwise it follows the novel with reasonable accuracy. It certainly reproduces all the expected set-pieces: the journey across the desert, the revelation of Umbopa’s true identity and the war that follows, and the discovery of the not-so-mythical Mines. This adaptation is, in its way, rather subversive, inasmuch as the white woman and the black man spend much of their time conspiring together and rebelling against the white male authority figures—and not only are they not punished for it, they are both ultimately rewarded! Paul Robeson – who, remarkably, was top-billed – is believably regal as Umbopa (and yes, he sings); Anna Lee makes a likeably feisty heroine, as usual (though her fake brogue grates); and Cedric Hardwicke is an acerbic Quatermain. The two that everyone remembers, however, are Robert Adams as the psychotic usurper, Twala, and Sydney Fairbrother as Gagool, the terrifying witch-hag who “sniffs out” the enemies of the king.
Lady On A Train (1945)
One of Deanna Durbin’s better efforts to: (i) grow up; and (ii) change her image. Travelling from San Francisco to New York, heiress Nikki Collins (Durbin) witnesses a murder from the window of her train, but of course no-one believes her. Learning via a newsreel that the dead man was a shipping magnate who supposedly died after falling from a ladder, Nikki decides to solve the murder herself… Lady On A Train takes a while to get going, and Deanna rather overdoes the scatterbrained heiress routine at the outset, but once Nikki has infiltrated the family estate of the murder victim by posing as the dead man’s fiancée, the film really picks up steam, becoming a veritable parade of vignettes from some wonderful character actors: domineering Elizabeth Patterson, milquetoast Ralph Bellamy, ne’er-do-well Dan Duryea, cat-clutching George Coulouris and all-purpose henchman Allen Jenkins. Oh, and Edward Everett Horton is there, too, being Edward Everett Horton. Best of all though, is the triumvirate of David Bruce as the long-suffering mystery novelist recruited into the investigation against his will by Nikki; Patricia Morison as his even more long-suffering fiancée; and, most long-suffering of all – because she has to listen to her boss’s prose – Jacqueline deWit as his secretary. (“Tear it up, did you say?” “Type it up.” “Oh.”) And, yes, of course Deanna sings – what do you think? A nightclub scene gives her the chance to do a lovely rendition of Night And Day, but the highlight is when – it’s Christmas Eve – Nikki sings Silent Night down the phone to her father, thereby unknowingly saving her own life by reducing Allen Jenkins, who has broken in to murder her, to a blubbering emotional wreck.
The Lost Express (1925)
Four years after marrying against the wishes of her father, steel and railway magnate John Morgan (Henry Barrows), Ruth Standish (Elita Proctor Otis) is involved in a bitter custody battle with her estranged husband over their young daughter, Alice (Lassie Lou Ahern)—who is also her grandfather’s heiress. Morgan is furious when he discovers that his plan to carry the child out of the country, out of her father’s reach, has been leaked to the newspapers, along with the site of his arranged meeting with his daughter. As Morgan anticipates, the newspaper article brings Arthur Standish (Fred Church) to Cedar Springs, where he angrily confronts Ruth and her brother, Alvin (Jack Mower). However, a new crisis forces the three of them to put aside their differences and work together: John Morgan is kidnapped by three criminals, who hijack his private, one-carriage train. Fortunately, railway agent Helen Martin (Helen Holmes) is on the case… During the 1920s, directed chiefly by her husband, J. P. McGowan, Helen Holmes became famous for her intrepid characters and daring stunt-work in such vehicles as the serial The Hazards Of Helen. At this time, a whole subgenre of “railway thrillers” emerged, of which the McGowan-Holmes films were among the most successful. These films were notable for casting Holmes as the hero, not merely the heroine; far from needing to be rescued, her characters spent most of their time rescuing other people. Generally, Holmes would be cast as a railway employee called upon to thwart a criminal enterprise of some sort: a venture requiring much frantic dashing about, chases, gunplay, and any amount of stunt-work, including death-defying leaps between cars and trains. The Lost Express is a typical example of the genre, with Helen Martin teaming up with Arthur and Ruth Standish and Alvin Morgan (the latter being immediately smitten by her), to discover where the kidnappers have taken the train carrying Morgan, his secretary, Valentine Peabody (Eddie Barry), and the train’s steward, George Washington Jones (Martin Turner), and to devise a plan to rescue the hostages from their gun-wielding abductors. Their efforts to trace the missing train eventually pay off…but the investigators discover that Morgan’s kidnapping is a story with a twist in its tail…
The Lost Zeppelin (1929)
In the mid-1920s, airship design was dominated by the Italian engineer Umberto Nobile, whose semi-rigid ship, Norge, reached the North Pole in 1926 in an expedition planned and executed in collaboration with Roald Amundsen and the American explorer, Lincoln Ellsworth. Nobile then designed and built the Italia, intending it for a series of exploratory flights out of a base in Norway. During the ship’s third flight, dangerous weather combined with equipment failures and poor decisions led to a partial crash in which ten of the expedition (one dead) were left stranded on the ice after the gondola was ripped away from the envelope; the envelope itself, relieved of the weight of the gondola, lifted and blew away: neither it nor the rest of the crew have ever been found. After various rescue efforts that varied from the lethargic to the self-defeating to the disastrous (one costing Amundsen his life), the survivors were eventually rescued: eight out of a crew of eighteen, including Nobile himself; nine, counting Nobile’s dog…
Two films made over the next few years were directly inspired by these events, The Lost Zeppelin and Dirigible—although neither, alas, can strictly be called a disaster movie; and alas yet again, both of them are built around tiresome love triangles.
On the eve of his departure as head of an airship expedition to the South Pole, Commander Donald Hall (Conway Tearle) discovers that his wife, Miriam (Virginia Valli), has fallen in love with Tom Armstrong (Ricardo Cortez), another member of the expedition – and he with her. There is a bitter scene, but the expedition must go ahead. As the zeppelin Explorer sets out, the whole world listens in to broadcasts from the ship, reporting its position and the conditions of the flight. Almost immediately, the airship runs into dangerous, damaging weather, but it survives and makes it to the South Pole. Around the world, the crew are acclaimed as heroes. However, on the return journey, weighted down with snow and ice, the ship plunges to the icy ground… The Lost Zeppelin is a talking picture from 1929, with all the horrors that implies: actors so afraid of the microphone they barely move a muscle, awkward dialogue, static visuals, and props that suggest the backdrop of a play rather than a real room; at least, so it is during the framing scenes. Nevertheless, in spite of a surfeit of boring character stuff, the film is worth watching for the special effects sequences of the zeppelin flight itself, the storm it encounters, its crash, and the survivors’ desperate attempts to find help. Of course, along the way, Tom Armstrong turns out to be a snivelling coward and Miriam realises she’s been a fool; while Donald, oblivious to everything but the stiffness of his upper lip, forces Tom onto the rescue plane that can only hold one passenger, thinking that’s what Miriam would want… It had been quite a long time between viewings of The Lost Zeppelin, and truthfully the only thing I remembered with any clarity was that Donald Hall took his dog along on the expedition; or rather, I remembered my indignant cries of, “What kind of idiot puts his dog in that kind of danger!?” Well, now I know that the answer is “Umberto Nobile”. Of all the details to be accurate…!
Madame X (1937)
Jacqueline Fleuriot (Gladys George) breaks off her adulterous affair just a little too late. Witness to her lover’s murder by another woman scorned, Jacqueline escapes to her home to find her young son taken ill and her furious husband, Bernard (Warren William), all too aware of her absence – and the reason for it. Jacqueline pleads for another chance but the outraged Bernard turns her out of the house, forbidding her to approach their child again and telling the boy his mother is dead. Later, Bernard repents and instigates a search for Jacqueline; but she, misinterpreting the police interest in her, flees from them, taking refuge where and with whom she can – and thus beginning her long slide into alcoholism, degradation, and murder… Well, it was certainly a big week here for thirties dramas with hysterical fifties re-makes; and even more so than John M. Stahl’s version of Magnificent Obsession, this filming of Alexandre Bisson’s perennial tale of self-sacrifice, redemption and mother love is very unexpectedly restrained. Its only lapse into melodramatics comes during the classic courtroom finale, when Jacqueline – “Madame X” – is being defended by the son who doesn’t know her under the horrified eyes of the husband who spurned her, when Raymond (John Beal), lacking evidence, witnesses and a client willing to defend herself, does the only thing a lawyer could do: he lays on the sentiment with a shovel. Otherwise, this is a pleasingly cool rendering of the tale – and is, besides, surprisingly frank about Jacqueline’s sexual misadventures and drinking, particularly for a post-Code movie. Gladys George seizes this actress’s dream-role with both hands and barely gives anyone else a look-in. The supporting cast includes Reginald Owen, Ruth Hussey and George Zucco, but the only other actor really to register is Henry Daniell, wonderfully slimy as a complete skunk with blackmail on his mind, and who ends up with a bullet in the back. And rightly so.
Magnificent Obsession (1935)
Helen Hudson (Irene Dunne) and her similarly-aged step-daughter, Joyce (Betty Furness), arrive at Brightwood Hospital to learn that Dr Wayne Hudson, Helen’s new husband and Joyce’s father, has died of a heart attack, the resuscitation equipment needed to save his life already in use saving that of playboy Robert Merrick (Robert Taylor), who almost drowned after a night of drunken revelry. In the aftermath of Hudson’s death, Helen finds that much of his great wealth has vanished; she subsequently learns of the personal philosophy that compelled him to give help to anyone in need who he encountered, always keeping the transaction a strict secret. Meanwhile, Merrick, aware that the staff blames him for Hudson’s death, flees the hospital. On the road he encounters a woman with car trouble, and stops to help. Smitten with the woman, he follows her back to the hospital, where to his horror he finds that she is Wayne Hudson’s widow. She, in turn, reacts with violent scorn upon learning Merrick’s identity. Retreating into drunkenness, Merrick blunders into the house of a sculptor, Randolph (Ralph Morgan), who allows him to stay and sleep it off. The next morning, Randolph introduces himself as a friend of Hudson’s, and explains to Merrick the late doctor’s philosophy. The chastened Merrick decides to adopt it, and feels vindicated when, after helping a destitute man, he immediately encounters Helen, who begins to soften towards him. However, the rapprochement ends in tragedy when Helen is struck by a passing car, suffering a head injury that leaves her blind… It’s more or less a case of whether you prefer your cheese mild or ripe. While just as full of tragedy and coincidence and self-sacrifice, this early filming of Lloyd C. Douglas’s best-selling novel is an altogether more streamlined and efficient affair than its deliciously overwrought fifties re-make, deliberately keeping its melodramatic moments low-key and earning credibility points thereby – and spoiling a lot of the fun. It is also, one would think, rather closer to what its author intended, inasmuch as it places the roots of Wayne Hudson’s philosophy, his “Magnificent Obsession”, squarely within the Bible and describes it as drawn from the teachings of Jesus, something the 1954 version is oddly skittish about. This film’s Bob Merrick is younger and more callow, a trust fund brat given no particular reason to grow up until his actions bring tragedy to others – inadvertently, it should be stressed: his near-drowning is just bad timing, while he is only tangentially responsible for Helen’s blinding. Indeed, the only really outrageous flourish here is that Bob, having resumed his abandoned medical career in the wake of Helen’s accident, devotes himself to neurosurgery and is ultimately rewarded for his efforts with nothing less than a Nobel Prize! Otherwise, Bob and Helen’s attempts to outdo each other with devotion and self-sacrifice play out with surprisingly little chest-thumping and hand-wringing – and, mercifully, with a complete lack of angel choruses.
(It should perhaps be mentioned that this film’s production designer favoured Grecian figurines, rather than objets d’art resembling A Certain Ebon Deity…)
The Man From Colorado (1948)
The brutalities of the Civil War trigger a psychosis in Colonel Owen Devereaux (Glenn Ford), who develops a lust for killing fed all too easily by the horrors of warfare, In the dying days of the conflict, Devereaux and his men corner a group of Confederates, who raise a flag of truce. Devereaux sees it – but orders his men to fire anyway. In the gruesome aftermath, the remnants of the white flag are discovered by Major Del Stewart (William Holden), Devereaux’s second-in-command and best friend, who makes the desperate decision to destroy the evidence, keeping the secret even when it is revealed that at the time of the massacre, the war was over. The two men return to their home town in Colorado to a hero’s reception – and, in Devereaux’s case, the offer of a judgeship, which he accepts. Stewart confides the truth to Devereaux’s uncle, Doc Merriam (Edgar Buchanan), who insists that it is the responsibility of Devereaux’s friends to help him recover from his “illness”. Stewart reluctantly accepts the post of Federal Marshall, trying to help Devereaux even when the new judge wins the hand of Caroline Emmet (Ellen Drew), the woman they both love. Conflict arises in the town between the returned soldiers and the mining company that has claimed their land in their absence; and as the violence escalates, Stewart is forced to take drastic action as Devereaux gives new meaning to the expression hanging judge… The Man From Colorado is an unnerving psychological western that sits comfortably amongst the works of Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher, although it is finally even grimmer and more violent than most of those. The main problem is that we are never given any real sense of Owen Devereaux before the war; consequently, we never know whether the war “made” him this way, or whether it merely provided the circumstances under which Devereaux’s pre-existant psychosis could flourish. The friendship of Stewart and the love of Caroline do suggest the former, but given Devereaux’s success in concealing his illness even when it most has him in its grip, the issue remains uncertain. In any case, the film’s depiction of abuse of judicial power remains disturbing, while the plight of the disenfranchised soldiers, robbed of their land and their livelihood through a legal loophole that the legislators surely never intended, is affecting; the turning of these men to banditry is as tragic as it is inevitable. The film is relentless in its escalating horrors, at least until its ill-judged coda; ill-judged not in content, but in execution: with all that has happened, with all that is yet to happen, these people should not be smiling as they wave goodbye! Still, you can understand the film-makers wanting to relieve the misery just a little bit. Glenn Ford seems to have relished his against-type casting as Devereaux. William Holden has a tougher task as Stewart, again because of the lack of backstory, but he does well in conveying Stewart’s torn loyalties and his doomed attempts to serve justice and Devereaux at the same time. Ellen Drew is not particularly well treated by the script, but she has her moments when Caroline finally rebels against her husband. Ray Collins and James Millican score as, respectively, the head of the usurping mining company and the leader of the ex-military bandits.
The Man From Hong Kong (1975)
Oh, dear lord, how I love this movie! – one of the Golden Harvest / whoever co-productions that tried to find ways of taking Asian cinema to a world that wasn’t quite ready for it; and, in my opinion, the best of the lot. Not even its insistence on playing “Visit The Tourist Trap”, something that ordinarily makes me cringe, can abate my affection for The Man From Hong Kong, since it is all done in that outsider-eye kind of way that manages to make even the most obvious location seem suddenly unfamiliar. The other thing that this film really has going for it, given its vintage, is its attitude to, well, attitudes. It is only the film’s bad guy who displays a genuinely racist mindset. Hugh Keays-Byrne as Morrie Grosse offers a few tasteless jokes, but they are jokes; when he says something and, clearly, isn’t joking, Jimmy Wang Yu’s Inspector Fang, and the film itself, immediately calls him on it.
Aw, hell!—I can’t review this film, not in any meaningful way; all I can do is react to it. Let’s see, what have we got?—
WANG YU! LAZENBY! I love that Madman Entertainment thought that was the best way to advertise it. I love that they were right. And co-starring Uluru as “Ayres Rock”. Ayres Rock with one tourist bus!? Whoa, orange paper $20 notes!! Hey, Sammo! Sammo trying to evade The Authorities by running up Ayres Rock! The Authorities in shorts and long socks!! Ayres Rock Fu!!! Jimmy Wang Yu with billing, yes! Stone alumni, and soon-to-be Mad Max alumni, as far as the eye can see. Hang-gliding! Sorry, kiting. Jigsaw doing “Sky High” over the opening credits—ahhh, acid flashback!! Best cute-meet ever. Jimmy Wang Yu demonstrating what’s so special about the Special Branch. Pillow-talk: “You’re my first Chinese! Do you often take white girls to bed? “Only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.” The Australian cops’ standard welcome. Subtle Chinese torture. Hey, Grant Page! Owie, right in the man-boob! Gaping unalerted bystanders. The world’s most pathetic police cars. Hey, Paddington! The Sydney equivalent of, “Fruit cart! Fruit cart!” A gaping unalerted dog. That same bloody motorcycle! Kitchen Fu!! Foster’s—yecchh!! Chinese squirrel grip! Cornflakes? Split pants! (I hope those were stunt pants, Grant.) Disinterested restaurant patrons. Restaurant Fu!! Fish Tank Fu!! Exceedingly belated police presence. “A master of kung fu! – but he used his art for an evil purpose.” The Moustache. Australian fashion, circa 1975—OH GOD MY EYES!! The world’s most dramatic slow-motion kung fu knock-down. Frank Thring!! “Security!!” “This is Australia, mate! – not 55 days at Peking!” A sexy Australian bachelor pad, circa 1975—OH GOD MY EYES!! Jimmy Wang Yu’s pyjamas—OH GOD MY EYES!! The Princes Highway, circa 1975—oh, dear lord. Hey, Stanwell Tops! William Tell at a garden-party! Harbour views. White Shoe Fu!! God, no, not the seafood platter!! “The” Martial Arts Centre? Why do they always attack one at a time? Hey, he was gunna fall over! What’s Chinese for, “Oh, crap…”? “Miss Joyce, Ladies Hairdresser →” Elevator Fu!! “If you were a dog or a horse I’d know what to do with you.” Bill Hunter, circa 1975—hee, hee, hee! And a cat provides the best bit of acting in the film. A sexy Australian bachelorette pad, circa 1975—OH GOD MY EYES!! Oh, lord, the romantic montage – complete with water splashing. (At least they don’t eat ice cream). A man is a man is a man… Aaaand Jimmy bags another one. “Asian flu”? Hey, that’s that stretch of road we used to use during family holidays!! Bye, Rebecca; that’s what you get for sleeping with a furriner. Australian car chases: too much is never enough! Nice of them not to kill absolutely everyone. An industrious Australian council-worker! Two fingers? – this film is old. Now, now, Jimmy, that wasn’t nice. Hey, subtle foreshadowing! Now that’s a phone! Orange curtains? – he deserves to die. “Talk about the bloody Yellow Peril!” Sydney, circa 1975—aww, it’s so tiny. “Hey, you!”!!?? – some security guard, George. Hey, don’t shoot Buddha! Aaaand there goes the glass table. Orange Furniture Fu!! OW-OW-OW-OW-OW-OW-OW-OW!!!!!!!!! A souvenir, Jimmy? Uh, I think this counts as “coercion”… MORE exceedingly belated police presence! Greatest villain exit EVAR!!!! “What do you do for an encore?” KER-BLAMMO!!!!!! Jigsaw doing “Sky High” over the closing credits—ahhh, acid flashback!!
So…was it good for you, too??
The Mean Season (1985)
On the verge of quitting his job to become editor of a small-town newspaper, Miami Post journalist Malcolm Anderson (Kurt Russell) is sent to cover the murder of a young woman. Anderson’s reports draw the attention of the killer, who begins to contact him by phone, telling him, among other things, that there will be four more murders. As the killer makes good on his threats, public attention begins to shift to Anderson himself, who suddenly finds that his exclusive reports have made him a celebrity. The killer, furious at losing the public eye, contacts Anderson again and tells him he knows a way to get back all the attention he craves… The Mean Season is half a very good film. Its set-up is fascinating, and about as morally convoluted as you could possibly desire, as Malcolm Anderson moves from writing the news to making the news to being the news. It is also bitterly critical of the tactics employed by certain sections of the media in pursuit of “the news”. The scene that lingers most when all is said and done is that in which Malcolm and his photographer contrive to be with the victim’s mother when the phone-call confirming her daughter’s fate comes: the photographer carefully times his shot to catch the woman at the height of her grief, while Malcolm takes advantage of the moment to steal snapshots of the girl from the family album. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen! But once the killer steps out of the shadows, the film deteriorates into just one more generic thriller, and one, moreover, that never bothers to tie up any of its loose ends. It is also far too dependent on the courageous – read, stupid – behaviour of its characters. Kurt Russell is very good as Malcolm Anderson, not afraid to be unsympathetic; but as his girlfriend, Christine, Mariel Hemingway is all too obviously just there to end up kidnapped and/or dead. A young Andy Garcia is one of the cops on the case. The film was shot in Florida, and uses its locations well.
Midnight Lace (1960)
After an embassy party, American wife in London Kit Preston (Doris Day) is taking a shortcut home through a fog-shrouded park when a strange, high-pitched voice suddenly speaks to her from the darkness – and threatens her by name. The terrified Kit makes it home to her businessman husband, Tony (Rex Harrison), who manages to convince her that it was probably just a sick practical joke. But then the obscene phone-calls start – and the death threats. The Prestons report the situation to Scotland Yard, but the investigation stalls when Kit is unable to prove her allegations. To her horror, she soon realises that not only are her husband and her Aunt Bea (Myrna Loy) beginning to doubt her word, they may be beginning to doubt her sanity… Midnight Lace represents a fair entry in the “persecuted woman” school of thrillers, and Day, although occasionally over the top in Kit’s hysteria scenes, does a better job with her mingled fear, frustration and indignation upon realising that even her nearest and dearest are starting to suspect she’s making the whole story up. (Married to a workaholic and still waiting for her honeymoon, Kit “gets a phone-call” every time something interferes with her and her husband’s romantic plans.) Of course, it’s Doris, so we believe her – right? Midnight Lace does a fair job of setting up possible suspects – slimy Roddy McDowall, financially desperate Herbert Marshall, kind passer-by John Gavin, mysterious scarred stranger Anthony Dawson – but no-one experienced in this kind of film should have any difficulty picking the guilty party. John Williams lends good support as yet another easy-to-under-estimate Scotland Yard inspector—in fact, he and Anthony Dawson play almost the same roles in this as they did in Dial M For Murder six years earlier.
Midnight Shadow (1939)
Wow, my first “race film”… Lord, what an appalling expression that is. It’s hard to know how to react to these ultra-low budget, all-black movies. On one hand, their absolute lack of any social reality and the knowledge that the majority of these productions emanated from white-run companies seeking to inculcate black audiences with the values that would make them “socially acceptable” gives these films a queasy undercurrent. On the other hand, given the utterly demeaning depiction of black people in most mainstream films of the time, seeing them portrayed as normal, intelligent, responsible human beings is very satisfying. Midnight Shadow is an odd little film that changes gears abruptly about halfway through. It starts out as a serious drama about a girl, Margaret Wilson (Frances Redd), who is being courted by a stage mentalist who calls himself “Prince Alihabad” (John Criner); he’s the kind who wears a turban off-stage as well as on. Dazzled by “the Prince”, Mr Wilson (Clinton Rosemond) foolishly reveals that he owns a very valuable piece of oil-bearing land in Texas, which he intends for Margaret’s dowry. This piece of information, and where the deed to the land is kept, reaches not just the Prince, but Margaret’s disgruntled ex-boyfriend, Buster (Edward Brandon), who is waiting for her in the next room, and a mysterious figure lurking in the bushes outside the house. So it is perhaps not surprising when, the next morning, Mr Wilson is dead, the deed is gone, and all three men are missing… And here Midnight Shadow takes a sharp left-turn, as the “investigation” falls to the province of two bumbling private detectives, brothers Lightfoot (Buck Woods) and Junior Lingley (Richard Bates), the latter of whom favours a deerstalker and a Meerschaum pipe. Weirdly, the film treats these two almost with a straight face. Although they are – self-evidently – the Odious Comic Reliefs, the head of the Texas oil company they interview answers their questions seriously, not batting an eye at Junior’s get-up; and in the end, they do in fact catch the killer. From the film’s handling of these characters, and the lack of explanation or introduction for them, I’m inclined to assume that either Buck Woods and Richard Bates were an established act whose schtick the audience was expected to be familiar with, or that there was a series of films featuring their antics. Otherwise, the acting in Midnight Shadow is fairly awkward, although not terrible, with Ollie Ann Robinson taking the honours as the tart-tongued Mrs Wilson.
Mister Frost (1990)
Police inspector Felix Detweiler (Alan Bates) visits the country estate of Mister Frost (Jeff Goldblum), apologetically responding to an unlikely report of a dead body on the premises. Frost replies cheerfully that he just finished burying it… The police investigation that follows discovers twenty-four mutilated bodies, men, women and children. Two years later, Frost is transferred to the experimental St Clare psychiatric hospital, having not spoken a single word through two years of incarceration and examination. However, as soon as he lays eyes upon Dr Sarah Day (Kathy Baker), he announces that he will speak to her, and to her alone. As their sessions begin, Frost announces to Sarah that he is no-one less than Satan himself, and that he intends to use her to remind the world of his existence – by making her believe in him to the point where she will kill him… About halfway through Mister Frost, it struck me how much the film resembles The Medusa Touch: the co-co-co-country production, and the consequent bewildering mixture of accents and nationalities; the central cop-shrink-patient triangle; and the ever-increasing absurdities of its action. But Mister Frost isn’t nearly so much evil fun as The Medusa Touch. The film suffers fatally from its conviction that it’s saying something terribly important – and from the extent to which it has to stack the deck in order to say it. Satan has come to the world in person, we learn, to fight back against his real enemy: “science”; “science”, which has undermined belief in Good and Evil, with its cursed “explanation for everything”. The problem is that the “science” that Mr Frost is battling here is a paper tiger. The functioning of the hospital to which he is sent is frankly ludicrous; the doctors running it are a bunch of screw-ups and emotional cripples; and Sarah Day herself is not just atheistic, but so sceptical, so smug, so obviously riding for a fall that the film’s outcome is apparent from its opening scenes. (In the film’s blinkered pursuit of its “message”, the possibility that a belief in science and a belief in God might co-exist – which, just for the record, they often do – is never allowed an instant’s consideration.) And even then the ending doesn’t make much sense: it doesn’t seem to occur to Sarah that if Frost, as she comes to believe, is who he claims to be, then the last thing in the world she should be doing is what he says. Jeff Goldblum has a fine old time as Frost – has there ever been an actor that didn’t, in that role? – but Alan Bates is strangely lethargic as Detweiler, while the usually reliable Kathy Baker is actually pretty awful as Sarah, particularly during the first half of the film. Her performance improves later on, essentially from the point of the film’s best moment, when Sarah gets under Frost’s skin by telling him, “You’re like a washed-up actor trying to make a comeback – and nobody gives a damn.”
Mr Wong, Detective (1938)
The head of a chemical manufacturing firm is found murdered in his office. The suspects include the “foreigners” (most of whom aren’t) who were determined to stop the shipment of a poisoned gas to be used against their country; the dead man’s business partners, who profit substantially from his death; and the biochemist who accused the dead man of stealing his poison gas formula… Mr Wong, Detective features Boris Karloff’s first outing as “the Chinese detective”, James Lee Wong, and has the strongest story of any entry in the series: the who-dunnit and, in particular, the how-dunnit aspects are quite clever. Two sequences stand out: first, SCIENCE!! – as Wong and some physicist friends try to reconstruct the murder weapon, a glass bubble filled with poison gas (was this before or after Agatha Christie’s The Face Of Helen?); and later, when Wong saves his own life by (Agatha again) pulling a Philomel Cottage, and convincing the bad guys they’ve been exposed to the gas. This entry has certain differences from the later Wong films: Captain Street’s (Grant Withers) girlfriend is corporate secretary Myra Ross (Maxine Jennings) rather than cub reporter Bobbie Logan, and Wong himself is much more overtly “Chinese”. (The studio may have decided to tone this aspect down.) There is an unavoidable cringe-factor attached to Boris Karloff’s casting as “a Chinaman”, but if you can get past that, we’re left as usual with the fact that this “Chinaman” is much smarter and much nicer than any of the Caucasians on display. One of Monogram’s better moments.
Murder In The Clouds (1934)
“Three-Star” Bob Halsey (Lyle Talbot) is the best pilot working for Trans-America Air Lines, but his reckless off-duty antics cause great worry for his employers, and make Judy (Ann Dvorak), his stewardess-girlfriend, contemplate breaking off their relationship. After landing in Los Angeles, Judy is greeted by her brother, Tom (Robert Light), who announces he has been given a regular co-pilot’s job, flying with Three-Star. Three-Star’s own arrival at the airport is preceded by a display of astonishing stunt flying, which enrages his boss, Mr Lackey (Charles C. Wilson), frightens his mechanic, Wings (George Cooper), and gives Judy plenty to think about. However, Three-Star is the best; and when Trans-America wins the government job of piloting scientist Clement Williams (Edward McWade) and a cylinder of his new high explosive to Washington, it is Three-Star who gets the assignment—after he promises solemnly that he will keep out of trouble until the job is over. Three-Star still drifts into his favourite haunt, ‘The Dugout’, where in spite of his good intentions, he gets drawn first into some gambling and then into a fight, and is knocked out cold. The time for Three-Star’s take-off approaches, but there is no sign of him. Knowing that failure to show up will see Three-Star grounded, Tom, effectively disguised in his flight-gear, takes over in the pilot’s seat. Three-Star’s belated arrival, head bandaged and so unsteady as to seem drunk, gives the game away. But more is at stake than Three-Star’s career: mid-flight, the plane blows up. When the its fate is discovered to be the result of sabotage, and there is no sign of the cylinder in the wreckage, the race is one to prevent Williams’ explosive being carried out of the country… The scariest thing about these early aviation films isn’t their hair-raising stunt-flying, or their body counts, but their insistence that to be a good pilot you also have to be an irresponsible idiot incapable of following the rules or of learning anything until somebody else – always somebody else – gets killed. So it is in a string of endless Warners war films, usually with James Cagney as the flier and Pat O’Brien as his justifiably exasperated C. O., and so it is in Murder In The Clouds, a First National copycat production, wherein it is the hero-worshipping Tom who pays the ultimate price—and with Lyle Talbot making a mighty poor substitute for Cagney. The story is largely predictable – right down to the love-triangle, with Judy caught between reckless, dare-may-care Three-Star and steady, reliable George – although the revelation about the identity of one of the bad guys is genuinely surprising. In the end, however, it is the astonishing stunt-flying that steals the show here—so much so that for years afterwards, portions of those sequences, and the dizzying aerial POV photography, turned up repeatedly in other Warners productions. Cast-wise, the bright spot of Murder In The Clouds is Ann Dvorak; while the film has a surprisingly classy production pedigree, with wardrobe by Orry Kelly and the script co-written by Dore Schary.
Mystery Train (1931)
Prominent society woman Marian Radcliffe (Hedda Hopper) stares ruin in the face: her investments have failed and she is deeply in debt. She consults her lawyer, William Mortimer (Bryant Washburn) – also her lover – who tells her there is no way for her to raise any more money. He sighs that it is a pity she doesn’t have a daughter, who might be thrown in the way of young Ronald Stanhope (Nick Stuart), whose executor he is, and who is about to come into an enormous fortune. Mrs Radcliffe reflects that perhaps an actual daughter isn’t necessary… At one of its stops, the train on which Mrs Radcliffe and Mortimer are travelling takes on a police officer and his prisoner, a young woman called Joan Lane (Marceline Day). Encountering the two in a corridor, Mrs Radcliffe is shocked and sympathetic to see the frightened girl in police custody. Up ahead in the darkness, disaster awaits: the train reaches a damaged section of track and crashes; many are killed or injured. Joan Lane survives—but finds herself handcuffed to a man unconscious, or even dead. She fights off a sense of horror and frees herself. As the authorities try to take a tally of the passengers, Joan is asked for identification. She hesitates—and a moment later is claimed as “Joan Radcliffe”, niece of the well-known Mrs Radcliffe. As she is carried away from the scene, Joan swears to Mrs Radcliffe that she is innocent of the charges against her, and promises that she will do anything in her power to repay her benefactor; anything… Though it can by no means be classified as a “disaster movie”, Mystery Train gives us a train crash at the beginning and a runaway train at the end, and so gets a lot closer to the mark than most of its ilk. In between we have a rather creaky romantic melodrama and some awful “comedy”; though there is also compensation in the form of the outrageously selfish and dishonest scheming of William Mortimer and Marian Radcliffe and their ruthless manipulation of the young couple unfortunate enough to fall into their greedy clutches, which extends even to the point of keeping from Joan the news that she has been proven innocent and the charges against her dropped. With possession of the Stanhope Diamond their object, the plotters bring about a “chance” meeting between Joan and Ronald Stanhope, which yields all the fruit they could wish – almost. However, Joan steadfastly refuses Ronald—prompting Mrs Radcliffe to resort to threats and blackmail. The film’s climax plays out on the transcontinental express to California, where as part of an attempted daring jewel theft, the carriage carrying most of the cast is separated from the rest of the train and goes careening out of control down a long and winding section of the track, up which another train is travelling…
My Dear Killer (1972)
While overseeing the dredging of a quarry, a man is decapitated by claw scoop of the excavator. Soon afterwards, the man who supposedly was in charge of the excavator is found hanging in a barn, but Inspector Luca Peretti (George Hilton) determines that the apparent suicide is really another murder. Peretti learns that the first victim, Paradisi, was an investigator for an insurance company, who suddenly quit his job some time before. As he pursues his investigation, Peretti stumbles over frequent references to “the Moroni case”, and realises that the death of Paradisi is somehow linked to the unsolved kidnapping-murder of a young girl and her industrialist father more than a year earlier… My Dear Killer is an unwontedly straightforward giallo, following Inspector Peretti as he tracks down the person responsible for both the gruesome deaths of the young Stefania Moroni and her father and the recent rash of murders. While not amongst the top echelon of its genre, the film nevertheless offers gialli fans plenty of the standard tropes to be going on with: a black-gloved killer, a child’s drawings as clues, the case solved through some outrageous deductive leaps, an Agatha Christie-like suspect-gathering denouement and a couple of spectacularly over-the-top killings. (While the quarry decapitation is a lulu, the high point of the film comes when— Well, let’s just say that if you’re a character in a giallo, you probably shouldn’t keep a circular saw in your apartment.) There’s also a smattering of some very black humour. As the bodies start to pile up, the Inspector’s talent for arriving on the scene just five minutes too late becomes increasingly gigglesome; but the best bit is his demonstration of why the second victim couldn’t have committed suicide…which uses the still-hanging dead body as a prop. On the other hand, there’s nothing remotely amusing about the fate of Stefania, and this aspect of the film may be too much for some. We are shown her, bound and struggling, at the beginning of her captivity, and the script is blunt about her lingering death by starvation. Most appalling of all, though, and all the more so for just being a minor plot detour, is when the Inspector’s questioning of an obviously unbalanced sculptor is interrupted by the entrance of a buck naked little girl. “She’s a model!” explains the sculptor hurriedly, shooing her away – and who knows? – he may even be telling the truth. All we know for sure is that Our Hero doesn’t bother to stick around and find out… George Hilton and Salvo Randone as his tart-tongued colleague make a fairly sympathetic pair of protagonists, while the rest of the characters are the usual hateful giallo crowd. Lara Wendel, who plays Stefania (and is billed here as Daniala Rachele Barnes), would appear ten years later in Tenebre; while the saw victim is Patty Shepard of La Noche De Walpurgis and La Tumba De La Isla Maldita.
The New Adventures Of Tarzan (1935, 12 episodes)
Hearing that his good friend D’Arnot (who found him in the jungles of Africa in the first place) is missing after a plane crash in Guatemala, Tarzan (Herman Brix) goes in search of him in company with a British expedition headed by Major Martling (Frank Baker), who is seeking the Green Goddess, a totem worshipped by the natives that (somehow) contains “the most powerful explosive known to mankind”. Also after the Goddess is Raglan (one of the serial’s producers, Ashton Dearholt aka Don Castello, wisely casting himself as the villain), who intends to sell the explosive to munitions manufacturers, while Ula Vale (Ula Holt), searching for her fiancé, who was in the plane with D’Arnot, joins forces with the Martling expedition in order to thwart Raglan… This Edgar Rice Burroughs-produced serial is a real mixed bag. On the plus side, Herman Brix (later Bruce Bennet) probably does the Tarzan / Lord Greystoke transition better than anyone else ever did, being equally at home in loin cloth and evening clothes, while his natural athleticism makes his Tarzan convincing (although his yell is, frankly, a bit of a worry). The serial’s other virtue is its location shooting in Guatemala, which makes a very welcome change from the Californian forests that usually stand in for the “jungle” in these things. As for the rest of it, well, if you’re familiar with 30s serials, you know what to expect. Cheating cliffhangers abound (Annie Wilkes would hate this), as do geographical absurdities (characters travel between Mombasa and Guatemala in a matter of days); and the writers show a distinct tendency to forget their own story as they go along. Heroine Ula Vale starts out searching for her missing fiancé, and ends up all over Tarzan; a blonde – and distinctly hatchet-faced – “jungle goddess” in sub-Flash Gordon outfits turns up for five minutes and is never seen again; and, best of all, when Tarzan leaves Guatemala, he forgets to take his chimp with him!! As for the rest of it, how much entertainment anyone will derive from this serial might depend upon the extent to which they are able to find its racial-imperialist assumptions ludicrous rather than offensive. Personally, I parted company with the story at the point where the Odious Comic Relief – the Odious, Odious Comic Relief – whips a machine-gun from his backpack and slaughters about two hundred natives for having the temerity to object to their temple being plundered.
No More Ladies (1935)
Yet another of the seemingly endless stream of thirties sex comedy / dramas, and even more insufferable than most. Marcia Townsend (Joan Crawford) loves Sheridan Warren (Robert Montgomery), despite his lack of character. He loves her, but continues to chase after every pretty woman who comes near him. Eventually, Sheridan promises reformation, and the two marry. All goes well for several months, until instead of joining Marcia in the country for a house party, Sheridan dallies in town with an old flame, and ends up spending the night with her; his infidelity is revealed when the alibi he gives, old friend Edgar Holden (Charles Ruggles), turns out to be a guest at the house party. Bitterly hurt, Marcia begins to contemplate retaliating in kind, her schemes of revenge fostered by Jim Salston (Franchot Tone), whose own marriage fell apart some years before when Sheridan had an affair with his wife… The sexual double standard, which dictates that male promises mean little and female promises everything, that an unfaithful husband is to be forgiven with a minimum of fuss while an unfaithful wife is to be cast off with a minimum of delay, has been with us ever since—well, ever since men starting making the rules, I guess; but it has rarely been illustrated as baldly as it is in No More Ladies, with the film’s utter determination to make Marcia to blame for everything. Inasmuch as Marcia was dumb enough to marry a complete skunk like Sheridan, knowing full well that he was a complete skunk, it has some justification, I suppose; but when it comes to an indignant Sheridan, unfaithful and a liar and exposed as both, being allowed to claim the moral high ground over Marcia for her contemplated infidelity, and that without a flicker of irony, it all gets pretty nauseating. A good cast, which apart from the stars features Gail Patrick, Reginald Gardiner, Joan Fontaine and a show-stealing (as usual) Edna May Oliver, can’t rescue this. Rachel Crothers, who adapted A.E. Thomas’s play, had her name removed from the credits; director Edward Griffith fell ill during the production and quit; George Cukor completed the film, but refused screen credit. I don’t blame any of them.