Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Last week  this column featured The Shadow Strikes, featuring Rod La Rocque as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow.  This is Behind the Mask, another in the five or so featuring The Shadow. It stars Kane Richmond as Lamont Cranston (The Shadow) and Barbara Read as Margo Lane, Cranston’s main squeeze. The Shadow Strikes came out in 1937, and this one followed in 1946. The big difference is in the improvement in cinematography and acting, but not much else. The story is still lame, a comedy of murder and mayhem. We are going to see people dropping dead all over accompanied by loads of laughs.

This is from Monogram Pictures (what else). Details are from Wikipedia and IMDb.

Opening scenes show shady reporter Jeff Mann (James Cardwell) making the rounds for his sideline operation (blackmail). A hundred here, a few hundred there, and people’s names won’t appear in his column. Here he muscles sumptuous gambling operator Mae Bishop (Marjorie Hoshelle). With each visit the eager Mr. Mann drops word that his fees are going up.

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And that’s the end of the sleazy reporter. Back at his office at the newspaper a shadowy figure comes in through the window behind him. The first his co-workers notice anything wrong they see an ominous silhouette on Mann’s office window. It’s The Shadow, they are sure of it.

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Meanwhile, the real Shadow, Lamont Cranston, is making cuddle bunnies with his fiancée, Margo Lane. They are going to be married the next day.

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It goes downhill from  there. This has nothing to offer by way of a plot. Cranston, both as himself and as The Shadow, bumbles his way through the case of mounting bodies. Here he deals with some officers of the law.

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Here Cranston has lured Edith Merrill (June Clyde) up to his place, the idea being to schmooze her and get her to lead him to an important source of evidence. Unfortunately girlfriend Margo and girlfriend’s girlfriend arrive first, and Cranston’s butler, Shrevvie  (George Chandler), hides them behind the couch just in time as Miss Merrill arrives. Here the two are listening with increasing agitation as Cranston makes progress of various kinds.

It’s all very comical, but that’s the last we see of the lovely Edith. As she exits and takes the elevator down a shadowy figure is waiting and grabs her from behind.

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On another occasion The Shadow attempts to penetrate a suspect’s fortified position and tangles with three of his henchmen. He defeats the three through the application of John Barrymore gymnastics and Shrevvie wielding a pair of Indian clubs (they are in a gymnasium).

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Of course it all comes to an end when Cranston gets the host of suspects together at the newspaper office and reveals the mystery killer.

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What this has over and beyond last Sunday’s bad movie is a hint at direction and cinematography. Settings and shots are more realistic, and the action moves, comparatively. Vis, the stiffness rampant last Sunday:

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Some of these movies are available to watch free on YouTube:

The Shadow Strikes

The Shadow Returns

But I’m guessing not this one. I will have a review of The Shadow Returns some Sunday in the future. Not soon.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

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Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows…

Those are the words I heard on the radio, growing up before television. The Shadow had “the power to cloud men’s minds so they cannot see him.” I remembered well. So well, in fact, that years later when  I met a couple, and they introduced themselves as Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane I knew right off they were fakes. I never let them know that I knew.

The character was originally developed as a “mysterious radio narrator who hosted a program designed to promote magazine sales for Street and Smith Publications.” In 1931 Walter B. Gibson expanded the character into pulp literature. The Shadow was “[o]ne of the most famous adventure heroes of the 20th century United States.” The Wikipedia entry mentions five movies, but I never saw any of these until February, when a collection showed up on Amazon Prime Video.

Here is The Shadow Strikes, starring “Rod La Rocque as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow.” It came out in 1937 from Grand National Pictures, which is probably why I didn’t catch it at the neighborhood theater. Margo Lane is not in this one. She probably came along later. We shall see. Cranston doesn’t have a main squeeze in this flick, but he does develop an itch for leading lady Marcia Delthern, played by Agnes Anderson.

For all its drama (people getting killed), this is played for fun. It starts with a big mix up. Cranston is examining the bullet that killed his father (obviously another story). Then, for reasons unclear to me on first viewing, he goes to the offices of Chester Randall, Attorney at Law. Whether he intended to crack Randall’s safe for some documents, or not, it  turns out that when he gets there two safe crackers are a few minutes ahead of him. They have the safe open and are looking for the “affidavit” in question. Cranston enters as The Shadow, wearing his black overcoat and hat and a black cloth mask. He gets the drop on  the crooks and phones the police.

Just before the cops arrive, Cranston steps into Randall’s private office and waits for the police to take the crooks away. When all leave, he goes to the safe and pilfers the items he was looking for. Surprise, surprise! Police Captain Breen (Kenneth Harlan) returns to check on things and discovers Cranston en flagrante. Cranston’s only way out is to assume the identity of the attorney Randall, and things go down hill from there. It’s pure comedy, with bodies piling up.

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Before they can leave Randall’s office, Randall gets a phone call. Cranston continues to play the part and goes to the desperate client’s home to review and to  rewrite the man’s will. We know what’s going to happen. While the two are sitting there discussing  Mr. Caleb Delthern’s (John St. Polis ) family matters, somebody shoots Delthern dead. No point  in changing the will now. Rather than exit stage right, Cranston continues to play the part in order to solve the crime.

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A key villain is arch criminal Barney Grossett (Cy Kendall), who runs an apparently illegal  gambling operation, where Delthern’s son Jasper (James Blakeley) has run up a tab of $11,000.

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And on. Guess what? It was the butler all along. He didn’t want Delthern to change his will and cut out his son, who has plans to marry Marcia.

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It’s all as flat and dry as the West Texas plains. Acting is not up to par with 1930s’ level, and cinematography is uninspired. Look at the image at the top of this post, where Cranston and Breen are having a pow-wow. The director’s instruction manual says the audience wants to see the front of people doing the talking, so both actors are turned just enough so the audience can see the fronts of their jackets. It’s drained of all drama. Compare that to just about any image from a modern film or even a TV production. Here’s a screen shot from Lethal Weapon. Modern directors get the viewer right into the action.

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Dialog is uninspiring:

Breen: What’s up?

Cranston: I don’t know. Well thanks again, Captain. If you need me for anything, I’m at your service.

Breen: I think I’d better go along with you.

Cranston, Oh, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.

Breen: Well, you don’t seem to know what they want with you, and perhaps… Yeah, I think I’d better go along.

The story lurches along. Cranston wants to get the goods on Grossett. So he barges into  Grossett’s office, a couple of times, eventually leaving a hidden microphone. About as clumsy a maneuver as ever unwound on the big screen. Not spoiling the plot, but Grossett follows Cranston to his place. The evil  butler Wellington (Wilson Benge) is there with a gun. See the above screen shot. Grossett barges in and discovers Cranston is The Shadow. Grossett fires. Wellington fires. Both are dead. And Marcia marries he fiancée. Cranston compares a bullet from Grossett’s gun with the bullet that killed his father. That’s end of the movie.

Up next Sunday: another movie with The Shadow. A comparison between the two is worth a look.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This came out in 2001, and I didn’t see it then. What happened was Barbara Jean went to Best Buy without me, and she came home with some great DVD movies that were on sale. One of them was Pearl Harbor. Being a movie snob, I sniffed at this, which resulted in Barbara Jean taking it right back to Best Buy and getting her money back. Which meant I wasn’t able to watch it until I caught it on Hulu in February. Here are some details from Wikipedia.

This stars Ben Affleck as First Lieutenant (later Captain) Rafe McCawley, Josh Hartnett as First Lieutenant (later Captain) Daniel “Danny” Walker, and Kate Beckinsale as Lieutenant Evelyn Johnson McCawley. What happens is Rafe and Danny grow up on neighboring farms in Tennessee, and Danny’s father is a crop duster. Both boys want to  fly. What happens next is a story about America’s entry into World War Two, as it must have happened on another planet.

So they grow up and join the Army, which is what was the United States Air Force in those days. Rafe meets good looking nurse Evelyn when she sticks him in the butt with needles. A great romance is formed, and they meet again in New York, where Rafe is due to be shipped out to England to contribute to the Battle of Britain as a volunteer. This is 1940, and America is not yet in the war. Rafe decides not to consummate their relationship before shipping out, because he doesn’t want their romance to look like a one-time fling.

The movie shows some great air battle scenes as Rafe makes a name for himself as a fighter ace, but all this ends with his plane going down in the Channel. In the meantime Danny and Evelyn get shipped off to Hawaii, about as far as you  can get from the war (heh heh). Word comes that Rafe is dead, and Danny and Evelyn get a thing going that terminates in the base parachute loft one night. Then Evelyn discovers:

  • Rafe is still alive and is coming to Hawaii.
  • She is pregnant.

This does not go well, Evelyn keeps her pregnancy secret from Danny, but Rafe is pissed his best buddy has been making time with his best girl while he was dead. It leads to fisticuffs. That’s Saturday night, 6 December 1941. The next morning the bad old Japanese attack the base.

Danny and Rafe make heroes of themselves, commandeering two fighters and annihilating six Zeroes (Zekes). The movie displays a protracted depiction of the Pearl Harbor attack. Then Rafe and Danny are summoned stateside to join up with their old boss, Jimmy Doolittle.

The two become B-25 pilots and join in on the  18 April 1942 raid on the Japanese mainland. All the planes have been forced to launch 200 miles too far from the mainland. Rafe makes a hard landing in a rice paddy, right in the midst of a detachment of occupying Japanese. With one crew member already dead, the survivors fight the Japanese to their last ammunition. Danny’s B-25 appears, and strafes the Japanese before, itself crash landing.

More Japanese come, and Danny is killed. Before Danny dies Rafe informs him that he is going to be a father. Then Rafe is repatriated and meets up with Evelyn. Then end shows the two of them married and  raising Danny’s son.

It’s about three hours of pure syrup, with some battle action thrown in. Treatment of historical events makes a mockery of a serious episode in our past. Start with the opening scene.

This is Tennessee, 1923. Danny’s dad is dusting crops from a bi-plane. Call me a stickler for facts, but commercial crop dusting from planes didn’t get under way until 1924.

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The boys want to fly when they grow up.

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About the best part of the movie is Beckinsale. Absolutely stunning. Here Affleck has his drawers down, trying to make time with her while she doubles the number of jabs, just for fun.

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The last night in New York shows Rafe and Evelyn taking an unauthorized tour of the Queen Mary. Beyond absurd. The ship was being used for troop transport during the war, and it would have been impossible to get this close without getting your ass shot off.

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Rafe, has to leave. We thought he was going on the Queen Mary, but he boards a train and watches through the window as Evelyn searches for him to say goodbye. Wait, isn’t the Queen Mary docked in New York. Where’s the train going?

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The raid on Pearl Harbor is loaded with drama, some imagined. Historically, the battleship Arizona was destroyed by a bomb that penetrated to an ammunition magazine and exploded. The movie shows the bomb barreling down from the sky toward the ship’s deck, penetrating several levels before coming to rest among some warheads. The arming propeller on  the bomb continues to spin for a while, then the bomb explodes.

Not really. These propellers spin in the air stream as the bomb drops free, arming the bomb. Once the propeller rotates a defined number of times, the bomb is armed. The bomb fuse then responds to impact. Armor-piercing fuses detect the first impact, starting a timing fuse, which then detonates the bomb on the order of a few milliseconds after  the first impact. The movie over-dramatized this action twice for effect.

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The recreation  of the attack is maybe the most elaborate ever depicted. Planes fly in, drop torpedoes, strafe ships and shore facilities, drop aerial bombs. Ships blow up, capsize. Men die horrible deaths by the thousands. Some of it is true to life.

A real character is Navy Messman Third Class Doris Miller, depicted here by Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Petty Officer Second Class Dorie Miller aboard the battleship West Virginia. The movie gives him a promotion and alters his heroics only slightly. As a black man, he had limited options. Mess cook was one such. However, aboard ships at general quarters, everybody is assigned a combat or damage control position. Miller’s was ammunition handler for an anti-aircraft gun. When the ammunition locker was destroyed he was ordered first to assist the ship’s dying captain and then to help man an anti-aircraft gun. He stepped into command of a gun and engaged enemy aircraft until his ammunition ran out For his action he was awarded the Navy Cross, the first for a person of color. In 1943 he was killed when the escort carrier Liscome Bay was sunk by enemy action.

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Rafe and Danny recreate the exploits of Second Lieutenants George Welch and Kenneth M. Taylor, with emphasis on the term recreate. The two had P-40 aircraft stashed at a remote field and drove there after the attack started. They got into the air and claimed six Japanese plane between the two of them. The two were the only American air defense in the engagement.

The movie over dramatizes the action of the two pilots, shown here playing a convoluted game of cat and mouse with the six Japanese pilots. The sequence consumes several minutes of celluloid and depicts some improbable combat tactics:

Taylor, who died in November 2006, called the film adaptation “a piece of trash… over-sensationalized and distorted.

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Piled-on drama includes Japanese fighters strafing random people on the ground. Does not make sense, and never happened. Here’s a dose of reality. You mount a top secret mission. Sail 4000 miles, deep into enemy territory to strike a knockout blow against a powerful enemy. You launch two waves of aircraft to destroy the enemy fleet anchored in its harbor. At that distance from your carrier base your planes have limited time over target. And you spend some of that time and risk valuable aircraft strafing random targets? This fallacy was seen previously. In Harm’s Way stars John WayneKirk Douglas, and Patricia Neal, and it features the Pearl Harbor attack. One scene shows a Japanese fighter strafing and killing Kirk Douglas’ unfaithful wife and her lover along a beach road. Clue-deprived script writers flourish in Hollywood.

The immediate assignment of Rafe and Danny to Doolittle’s operation is highly unrealistic. When the Doolittle raid was conceived a few days after the attack, well-trained B-25 crews were already available for the job. The transition from single-engine fighters to twin-engine bombers would have required weeks of training  for Rafe and Danny. However, the show needed go on.

The raid on the Japanese mainland is completely cross ways with the actual events. The movie shows Doolittle’s raiders heading in for the attack in formation. In reality the bombers flew their missions individually, making a pass back over the flight deck after take off to get their headings. They seldom caught sight of each other after leaving the carrier Hornet.

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All 16 planes of  the Doolittle raid were lost, being shot down, abandoned or crash landed in China, or interred for the duration after landing in the Soviet Union. Doolittle and his crew bailed in the dark over China and were repatriated. Doolittle thought the debacle would result in a court martial for himself, but he was awarded the Medal of Honor and flew combat missions over Europe. Forty-five at the time of the raid, he survived past the fiftieth anniversary.

Nothing like the episode in the rice paddy happened. It was night by the time the raiders reached China, and there was no way one crew would have been able to assist another, already down. It’s pure melodrama.

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One thing accurate is Evelyn’s narration at the end. Until the Doolittle raid, America knew only defeat. Afterward, only victory. The Japanese Empire was crushed by annihilation bombing in 1945 and surrendered on 2 September 1945. Today the democratic nation of Japan is America’s strongest business and military partner in the region.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Continuing with the 1940s movie series featuring master detective Charlie Chan, here is one produced after the time lead actor Sidney Toler acquired the theme from Twentieth Century Fox. Opening credits list United Artists, but that’s just the video, which I’m watching on Amazon Prime Video. Once the film credits start rolling we see “Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors (Ltd).” I’m getting details from Wikipedia, which lists the production company as Monogram Pictures. Monogram was famous at the time (1945) for low-budget entertainment. Toler was the second actor having no Chinese ancestry to play the detective. Since the original was released without a copyright notice, it has fallen into the public domain and can be viewed for free on YouTube. The MGM Lion appears first, followed by the United Artists logo.

This production is characteristic of movies produced during World War Two. Viewers will find it loaded with patriotic references. The theme is wartime, and it involves a spy ring attempting to steal radar secrets being developed at a laboratory located in the same building with a radio/television studio.

Opening scenes show police following a suspect. He stalks a fog-bound waterfront street, doubling back, hiding momentarily inside a parked car, then taking refuge aboard a docked boat. Charlie Chan appears and meets Captain Flynn (Robert Homans). Chan has instructed Flynn and his men to keep an eye on the culprit, and he is dismayed to see they are about to apprehend him. Chan only wanted to follow the person, hoping he would lead to bigger fish.

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Too late on multiple levels. The suspect is found to have been eliminated by a person unknown. Meanwhile, the killer has escaped in the car previously mentioned. But Chan has noted the plate number, and it tracks to a radio actor. They will turn their investigation toward the radio/television studio.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Chan’s son, Tommy Chan (Benson Fong), and recurring character Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland). They are at the police station, poring over mug shots, where Brown’s photo shows up unexpectedly.

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Arriving at the radio studio, Chan meets the cast of characters:

It was Diane Hall’s car that was mysteriously borrowed to commit the killing.

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Mrs. Marsh is indignant at the interruption and stalks off.

Meanwhile, the killer makes an odd phone call, and immediately a teletype machine responds with instructions from the ring leader, unknown to  all.thescarletclue-04

Levity is introduced when Birmingham meets up with Ben Carter, playing himself.

Carter appeared in Gone With the Wind (1939) as well as casting all the other African American actors and actresses in it, Maryland (1940) and Tin Pan Alley (1940). Carter often performed in comic roles and in scenes which allowed him to display his singing ability such as in The Harvey Girls (1946) and A Day at the Races (1937). Among his most prominent roles were in the Charlie Chan movies The Scarlet Clue (1945) and Dark Alibi (1946).

The two play a comedy skit that involves each finishing the other’s line of thinking. This is one of those funny movies where lots of people die.

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The Hamilton Laboratory, where secret radar technology is being developed.

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At this point Gloria drops in to pay a visit on Ralph Brett (I. Stanford Jolley), her boss and also the killer. She announces she knows Brett is the one who “borrowed” Diane’s car for the previous night. She wants more significant roles in the radio show and more money. She is signing her own death warrant.

Brett makes the mysterious phone call and receives a teletype response to not worry about Gloria.

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And that’s the end of Gloria. She sniffs something suspicious during a radio performance, asks for a cigarette, collapses and dies. Very strange.

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Brett eventually outlives his usefulness. He receives a teletype to take the elevator, check for anything at the seventh floor, then proceed to the tenth floor. A mysterious hand throws a switch, and the elevator floor swings open, dropping the unfortunate Mr. Brett down the shaft. The only dramatic special effect in the movie.

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A laboratory connects the mysterious odor and cigarette smoke with a deadly poison thus generated, which killed Gloria and subsequently another member of the radio cast. This before the unfortunate is able to tell Charlie Chan critical information about the case.

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In the end the spy mastermind is undone by the trick elevator. It’s a playback from a Sherlock Holmes movie that has Holmes’ nemesis falling for his own dead fall trap.

In this case, the kingpin turns out to be the disagreeable Mrs. Marsh, and the cleaning woman, Hulda Swenson, turns out to be Janet Carter (Victoria Faust), a counter-espionage agent working with Chan. They examine the remains of the unfortunate Mrs. Marsh.

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And that’s the end of the movie.

You saw they only real drama with the trick elevator. All the rest is fairly routine movie whodunit routine. Which gets this the Bad Movie of the Week award. Watch it for free. Slightly over an hour run time. A one-bagger.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Here’s one more of the Bulldog Drummond series. I don’t know when the supply is going to run out, but when it does I’m proposing a Bulldog Drummond binging party. Stay alert.

This came out in 1939, so I missed it by a year. Even a couple of years later it would have been wasted on my, the plot being too convoluted. Then, maybe not. It’s Bulldog Drummond’s Bride, featuring John Howard as Captain Hugh Chesterton ‘Bulldog’ Drummond and that good looking Heather Angel as Phyllis Clavering, Bulldog Drummond’s bride.

Wikipedia, from which I am drawing technical details, lists Paramount Pictures as the production company, but opening credits show, first, The Criterion Collection, followed by a splash screen proclaiming “A Janus Films Presentation,” then (from the film itself) “Congress Films, Inc. Presents,” and finally the title credits and the movie. I watched this on Amazon Prime Video, but you can also catch it on YouTube:

It’s a crashing opening. A London postman is collecting from a box in front of a bank when he is suddenly bowled over by a massive explosion from inside. Out runs a bank robber, loot in hand, and off down the street. A painter named Garvey (Gerald Hamer), working in an apartment nearby, is alerted by the explosion, and presently the robber, Henri Armides (Eduardo Ciannelli), climbs in through the window. The two are in cahoots.

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Enter Drummond and bride-to-be Phyllis. They are making their way to their new apartment, which takes them right past the bank while police are throwing up a cordon around the neighborhood. The two cannot proceed further, and embrace amidst the hubbub.

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It will turn out eventually, that the new Drummonds’ future apartment is exactly the one where Armides has taken refuge. He changes painter’s rags with his partner in crime and casts about for a place to stash the swag. He finds a place in what will later turn out to be Phyllis’ portable radio.

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Then, when Drummond’s friend and cohort, Algy Longworth (Reginald Denny), drops by, Armides pretends to have gone bonkers from lead poisoning (paint), and smears himself, and also Algy. It’s his plan to escape the police cordon in disguise. The swag remains in the radio.

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But the radio winds up in France. A telegram from Phyllis instructs Drummond to ship the radio forthwith by air.

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Armides escapes from the mental hospital where he has been taken and reunites with Garvey. They search Drummond’s digs for the radio, seeing instead a telegram from Phyllis being slipped under the door. It advises Drummond that the radio has arrived safely in France. The crooks decide to waylay Drummond with that old fishing line-pistol trap, set to spring when Drummond opens the door.

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Of course that doesn’t work. It never does. But Drummond gets wise. The crooks have taken the telegram, but they leave the envelope behind. Drummond contacts the telegraph office and gets a repeat of the message, concluding the crooks are on their way to France and sweet Phyllis. Drummond and Algy speed away by air to France to save Phyllis.

But Drummond’s affectionate prior supervisor, Col. J.A. Nielson (H.B. Warner), takes it upon himself to waylay Drummond and dissuade him from interfering with police matters. He fakes a message to French police, and Drummond is thrown into a French jail when he arrives. As luck would have it, Garvey is in the same cell, having been nabbed by the police in his attempt to hoax Phyllis out of the radio.

Dinner for Garvey arrives. It has been sent by persons unknown, but we soon figure out who sent the snack. The dinner includes a note instructing Garvey to break the wine bottle, which he does, after sharing the wine with Drummond. Garvey does not know Drummond and supposes him to be a master criminal, which he admires.

Inside the bottle is an explosive device that Garvey uses to blow a hole in the wall, enabling the pair to escape.

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But Drummond’s friends have caught up with the situation, and Mayor Jean Philippe Napoleon Dupres (Louis Mercier) insists on performing the marriage ceremony right on the spot.

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That doesn’t happen, because Drummond is hot on Armides’ trail, and there is a protracted fight on the rooftops. Drummond retrieves the radio and the money, but Armides escapes.

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The wedding is concluded, and a bottle of wine is sent in. Drummond recognizes Armides’ work and tosses the bottle with the explosive into a well, where Armides has taken refuge. Poetic justice.

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It’s a farce of crime and romance, where the audience laughs while multiple people die. Without the screen presence of Ms. Angel this might not be worth seeing. Too bad there are no nude scenes.

The description I have just laid on should explain why this comes in as the week’s bad movie. Contact me if you need more.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

I have had feedback from readers. Charlie Chan movies are not Bad Movie of the Week. I admit I was a great fan of Charlie Chan movies, although I never saw one on the big screen. They came and went before my time. Today I am a pretend movie critic, so I have to judge these on their technical and artistic merits. Hence, this week’s Bad Movie of the Week.

It’s Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, starring Sidney Toler in the title role, as most often. Toler, a boy from Missouri, played the Chinese detective from the death of Warner Oland in 1938 through the remaining 11 releases. My guess is there was a scarcity of Chinese in California, forcing studios to dip into the pool of European stock. This production does feature two actors of Chinese ancestry: Marianne Quon as Iris Chan and Benson Fong as Tommy Chan, two  of Detective Chan’s grown children. By the time this was made Twentieth Century Fox had dropped this and other low-budget work, due partly to a paucity of available talent during the war years. Toler picked up the rights and continued the series with Monogram Pictures, culminating in 1944. He died in 1947. Readers of these reviews will recognize Monogram as the king of low-budget films during the time.

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Police Detective Chan was typically with a metropolitan police force, but for the war effort he now joins the Secret Service. Opening scenes show two Secret Service agents, Inspector Jones (Arthur Loft) and Inspector Lewis (Eddy Chandler), doing personal security for George Melton (John Elliott), inventor of an advanced torpedo. Does anybody  beside me notice two grown men wearing hats inside a building?

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Melton excuses himself and tells the Secret Service to mind their own business while he attends a gala for some acquaintances downstairs. Within seconds Melton is dead. The Secret Service arrives, stunned, as the guests look on.

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Charlie Chan is called in. He must take over the case.

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Shortly, a copy of the secret plans for the torpedo are discovered. Melton had the only copy in his pocket when he left to greet his guests. Now detectives have found it stuck inside a book on a shelf in the room where Melton died. It’s an obvious hoax. Even movie goers in 1944 would realize you cannot represent a serious torpedo design in such a lame fashion.

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Chan’s two children show up, uninvited. They want to help with the investigation. Already present is a character named Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland). Brown is a recurring presence in Charlie Chan movies, previously in the role as an employee of Chan’s. Here he is a limo driver who happened to be present and got caught in the crime scene clamp down. He and the two Chan children are injected into the plot for comic relief.

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After that it’s an Agatha Christie plot. One more person gets killed, it’s one of the spies. What remains is for Chan to gather all suspects (all the guests) into one room and play out a charade before revealing the remaining culprit, also the one who killed the other spy.

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Not a lot of dramatic staging was wasted on this production. Charlie Chan leaves the Secret Service office in Washington D.C., gets in the cab, goes to the Melton mansion, gets out of the cab, and walks inside. The movie shows him walking out of the office, getting into the cab, getting out of the cab, and walking up to the front door of the Melton mansion. I could have done that.

There’s an outside shot of the Secret Service offices. In front flies the California state flag. Little effort was wasted on continuity, either.

Chan’s two children are his number three son and his number two daughter. My knowledge of Chinese culture is hazy, but I recall that the sons of your wife are your number one sons. Your number two sons are your nephews. Similarly with daughters.

This print is in excellent shape. See it if you can. I caught it on Amazon Prime Video, but you can also catch it free on YouTube:

 

 

 

 

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Remember, I watch these so that you don’t have to.

This came out in 1944, back when we lived in a town that didn’t have a movie theater. No TV, either. The title is Rogues Gallery, and that’s interesting on two points:

  • There was a drama show on radio (remember, no TV) when I was a kid, and the title was Rogue’s Gallery. It featured this detective or some such person, and his name was Richard Rogue. Hence the title. It came after this movie, so we wonder where they got the idea for the movie.
  • This movie has nothing anywhere near anything like a gallery full of rogues. We wonder where they got the title.

The opening credits show this was a production of PRC Pictures, Inc. Images are screen shots from the movie on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

What this film is really about is the adventures, over a few short hours, of a wacky girl reporter and her photographer sidekick. They are Patsy Clark (Robin Raymond) and Eddie Porter (Frank Jenks), although Jenks gets top billing, because he’s a guy, you know. Their boss is City Editor Gentry (Edward Keane). The two headline hunters are sent off to get the scoop on a new invention.

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People get killed in this movie, but it’s still played as comedy. Recall Greek comedy. The pair fail in their attempt to brush past the security at the Emerson Foundation Laboratory. The inventor, Professor Reynolds (H.B. Warner), refuses to see them. He is busy working on his invention. After they leave the professor is attacked in his lab, and the police are called. The plans for the invention have been stolen. Patsy and Eddie notice all the police traffic on the road heading back to the Emerson Foundation, and they follow the action.

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Lurking about inside the building, looking for a story, Eddie encounters the thief, dashing about the corridors of the darkened building. The stolen plans go flying, and Patsy recovers them.

Do they return the stolen plans? No way. This is a great story. They head off in their car to have the plans analyzed by an engineer friend. Before they get there the culprit, identity still undisclosed, curbs their car and demands the plans. Instead, Eddie points his camera out the car window and fires the flash into the assailant’s face. They make their getaway.

Patsy’s engineer friend, Joe Seawell (Norval Mitchell), doesn’t know how the invention works, but he can  tell it has something to do with eavesdropping from a distance. That is intriguing.

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Patsy and Eddie now take the stolen plans back to the Emerson Foundation where they leverage their possession for a news scoop. Patsy gets the story and phones it in. Eddie starts to take a photo.

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Just then the lights go out, and there is a gunshot. When the lights come back on Eddie is beneath an  overturned couch, with the plans. Outside, on  the terrace lies the body of Eddie Griffith (Earle S. Dewey). Patsy insists they phone Police Lieutenant Daniel O’Day (Robert Homans). When he arrives, the body is gone. It turns up in the the back passenger compartment of Eddie Porter’s car. When Patsy and Eddie drive the body to police headquarters to show Lieutenant O’Day, the body turns up missing again. It later turns up in O’Day’s car. (???)

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Patsy figures one of the principles of the Emerson Foundation is the culprit, and she is able to identify him through the use of a recording made by Professor Reynolds’ invention. By then professor is already dead, murdered.

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It turns out Eddie Porter has had a photo of the culprit all along. When he flashed their assailant through the car window he obtained a perfect image of the killer. Patsy and Eddie don’t get fired from the paper after all.

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Yes, the plot is the definition of lame. They go to the lab, they leave the lab, the inventor is koshed, they return to the lab, the culprit is chased through the building. the plans go flying, Patsy grabs them, they head off to the engineer’s place, they get waylaid, the culprit doesn’t get the plans, the lights go out at the Foundation, there is a shot, Eddie keeps possession of the plans, Griffith is found dead, his body disappears and is subsequently found in Patsy’s car then disappears to be found later in O’Day’s car, Patsy figures out who did it.

Acting is flat. Direction is stilted. This was 1944. There was a war going on. James Stewart and Clark Gable were flying combat over Europe. Talent was hard to come by.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Again, thank you, Amazon Prime Video. I can’t find these anywhere else. This is The Mystery Man from back in 1935, before I was born. And a remarkably clear print this is. It’s from Monogram Pictures, though the opening video shows the MGM lion, in color. Monogram is noted for a slew of low-budget productions during its time, and I have reviewed a slew or two.

I’m guessing “the mystery man” is a criminal  chap known as “The Eel” (LeRoy Mason), which fact I had to figure out on my own. But he comes in later. Opening shots show a high-profile meeting of staff in a Chicago newspaper. Ace reporter Larry Doyle (Robert Armstrong) is receiving an award. His reporting is credited with bringing down a notorious crime figure. Managing Editor Marvin (James Burke) is hosting the confab, and Doyle is presented a .45 caliber police revolver as a prize. The weapon plays critically in the plot, but only after a lengthly string of shenanigans, to be described.

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Doyle is a smart ass, and he mouths off to his boss and gets fired. He and his buddies go on a drinking binge, and when he finally comes around he is on a train pulling into Saint Louis. And just about broke. Broke also is sweet Anne Ogilvie (Maxine Doyle). They meet in a diner.

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Doyle figures that since they are both in the same financial stranglehold, they should team up and con their way into some creature comforts while Doyle waits for funds to be sent from Chicago. They check into an up-scale hotel as man and wife. This could get interesting.

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Funds are slow in arriving, and Doyle needs to pawn the pistol. The pawn broker is in cahoots with The Eel, and the gun enters a life of crime.

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Coincidence, coincidence, Doyle meets up with the prize pistole an hour or so later. He and his squeeze treat themselves to a night out at a place called The Trocadéro. They don’t think highly of the joint and soon leave. But as they are leaving Doyle spots what turns out to be a robbery getaway car. As the dynamic duo watch from hiding, a policeman arrives and engages in a gun battle with the driver. Both are killed. Then The Eel exits, bag of cash in hand. He ambushes the security guy who comes looking for him. In the mean time, Doyle has secreted himself in the getaway car, and The Eel hands him the money by mistake before hightailing it out on foot.

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Doyle figures he has the case wrapped up. He has The Eel’s money, and he knows where The Eel tossed the pistol. For reasons baffling to me, Doyle and Anne take the money back to their hotel room while Doyle works to parlay his position into a lucrative news story.

The tables are turned when it is revealed the gun that killed the security guy is the one presented to Doyle the previous day in Chicago and pawned just prior to the murder. The pawn broker fibs to the police, telling them he was shown the gun but never accepted it. He points his finger at Doyle.

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The police give Doyle an opportunity to unravel the crime story, and Doyle and Anne go back to the pawn shop, where Doyle confronts the broker and punches him out.

About that time The Eel comes, looking for his money, which was supposed to have been delivered to the pawn shop by the driver, now dead. When The Eel spots Doyle posing as the pawn broker, he corners him in the back room and offers him his life in exchange for the money.

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But Anne has been hiding in a closet and she lets fly a shot that takes down the notorious Eel. And that’s how Larry and Anne wind up getting married.

Acting is top tier, and so is direction and cinematography. The plot is a can of  worms. It starts in Chicago and works its way by means of a miracle not fully explained to Saint Louis. Then there is the lengthy saga of Larry and Anne getting to know each other and conniving to keep afloat until backup funds arrive. Finally, well past the half way point, the gun begins to play in the plot, and there is the crime and the resolution in the last few minutes. An award for drama does not await.

And that’s what gets this one the Bad Movie of the Week.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

It turns out Amazon Prime Video has a trove of these treasures. They’re cheap-as-dirt crime stories that may or may not have kept people’s minds off the looming war. This is Double Cross, from  1941, out of Producers Releasing Corporation. It’s the first I’ve heard of this group, but there may be more from them in the pipeline. I’m getting details from Wikipedia.

Here is the Silver Slipper, and you can guess what kind of joint it is. You will be shocked, shocked! to learn that gambling is going on here. Pretty Ellen Bronson (Pauline Moore) works as the house photographer, walking around, looking good, and taking pictures of customers who want them. Some do, and some don’t.

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Meanwhile, in the back room, Ellen’s brother Steve Bronson (Richard Beach) is schmoozing with Fay Saunders (Wynne Gibson), part owner of the establishment. This is not good. Steve is a motorcycle cop, and he shouldn’t be in such a place. That soon becomes apparent.

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Police raid the joint, causing a considerable ruckus. Steve flings open the door, revealing police tussling with club co-owner Nick Taggart (John Miljan), head gangster in town, and also Fay’s main squeeze. Fay reacts appropriately, or not, by un-holstering Steve’s service revolver and letting fly, killing a cop. The cops return in kind, mortally wounding Steve. Fay lets slip it was Steve who did the shooting. Poor girl.

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Steve’s best friend is Jim Murray (Kane Richmond), also a motorcycle cop, and Ellen’s main squeeze. Jim tries to pry details of the shooting out of Steve before he dies, but Steve regrets there is not enough time left to tell the story. Jim comforts Ellen, who must now find a new job, since the Silver Slipper is being shuttered by the authorities (gambling).

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Ha! We should have guessed. The mayor (William Halligan) is in Taggart’s pocket. Here the mayor is telling Taggart to never come to the office again, but to wait for a signal so they can meet. High class.

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Jim’s father is Police Captain Murray (Robert Homans). The captain gets tough, some would even say physical, with Taggart, threating to run him out of town. Taggart responds by putting out a hit on the captain. Bullets fly, coming through the window behind Captain Murray’s window, killing another cop, in the office to  drop off some papers.

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Jim pretends to go rogue to get in with Taggart. Ellen resumes her job when the Silver  Slipper reopens. Ellen hears voices inside Taggart’s office and determines the mayor has come in the back way and is picking up a payoff from Taggart. Jim gives Ellen a boost up, and she captures the scene with her trusty flash camera.

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Ellen is found out. The crooks want the photo. Jim spirits the film out and to a shop to be printed. This was before Canon 5D digital SLR cameras. Fay becomes distraught that things are falling apart. There is name calling. Fay harangues Taggart viciously. Not the person you want to harangue viciously, he has a knife. That’s the end of Fay.

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Taggart has Ellen and Jim as prisoners. He devises a scheme to ambush Captain Murray, using Jim as bait. In the back of the Dollar Moving and Storage van Taggart and two gunnies proceed to the place they expect Captain Murray to be waiting. But Jim has pulled a fast one. He has pulled the police radio from his motorcycle and installed it in the truck. He is driving, and he cold-cocks the henchman guarding him. He radios the cops, and they ride up en masse. The gunfight is not even close. The police ventilate the back of the van and waste the mug who had been guarding Jim. The remaining thug, Miggs (Heinie Conklin), goes soft and releases Ellen without harm.

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And that’s the end of the movie.

The plot is lame, without much appeal to plausibility. Performances by the players would plank over somebody’s footbridge, they are that  stiff. This print is poor quality, but it likely sparkled when first minted. A lot of cinematic history has been lost due to indifferent storage. Computer  digitization is currently archiving what remains, but had it been available 70 years ago, this would have been among the last in the queue to be scanned.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Again, much thanks to Amazon Prime Video for this one. It came out in 1947, when I was in the first grade. Saw it the first time in December. It was distributed by Screen Guild Productions. Details are from Wikipedia. It’s bad in a number of ways, but mainly for a planked over plot.

This starts with a police car chase at night, ending in a crash. Los Angeles, likely. The car goes off the road and into one of those steep canyons the place is famous for. Killed are gangster “Dixie” Logan (Robert Kent) and newly-minted District Attorney Lawrence Dale (Edmund MacDonald). The sole survivor is Dale’s supposed wife Marian (Luana Walters). Ace police reporter George “Mitch” Mitchell (Russell Wade) visits Marian in the hospital to get the full story.

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Marian recounts how it all started. She and Mitch first met at Wade’s office when she came there to apply for a secretary job. She gets hired and starts a romance with her new boss.

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Meanwhile Mitch romances the future Mrs. Dale, and this scene at an upscale restaurant is the only cultural interlude in the entire movie. Gene Rodgers plays a lively jazz piece. I believe we called it boogie-woogie in those days.

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Marian recounts how she came to watch Logan’s criminal racketeering trial and also to observe prosecutor Wade in action. He parades witness after witness to put Logan away for decades. Logan is defiant and vows revenge.

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Still in flashback, the janitor (Vince Barnett) who cleans Wade’s office is seen messing with a hidden recording device. About that time two hit men working for a local gangster identify him as a member of Logan’s gang and whisk him down the hall to dump him into an elevator shaft.

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The local gangsters want Wade to fire Marian, because they suspect she is involved in the spying. Wade is in cahoots with the gangsters. Instead, Wade marries Marian in a rushed ceremony. Leaving the wedding at the JP’s office, Marian escapes a pistol shot from a car that speeds away.

Back at Wade’s domicile, the newlyweds have a confrontation. Marian reveals that for her this is a marriage of convenience. She knows about Wade’s criminal involvement, and she intends to get Wade promoted to district attorney. He goes along with the plan. No wedding night bliss for him.

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Logan escapes. He confronts two witnesses from his trial, back in town to claim the remainder of the money promised by the local gangsters for testifying falsely against him. He coerces confessions from  the two, pays them, and sends them on their way, to be gunned down on the street as they leave. The killers are from the local gang. Mitch has been observing all of this and attempts to snag copies of the confessions, but he loses a tussle with Logan, and Logan gets away with the two documents.

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Anyhow, there is a big brouhaha involving Wade, Marian, and Logan. Everything comes to a head. Marian is in reality Logan’s legal wife, having set out to prove his innocence. Too late for Logan and Wade. She has mailed incriminating documents to the now district attorney, and the police are coming. The police chase ensues, and we are back to where the story picked up in the beginning.

All the crooks are either dead now or else incriminated, and Mitch makes moves on Marian.

Yes, this plot is too plastic to be real. Crooks are scheming with shady politicians to “take over the city,” whatever that means. There was a corral full of these idealistic story lines in the late 40s, and this is one of the lesser believable. Contemplate this segment of the plot:

Marian convinces Wade he should cut his three partners in crime out by playing them off against each other. Cut to three scenes in sequence with Wade telling each in turn something like, “I plan to get rid of the other two so we can have the city all to ourselves.” Pure corn.

This production chews up 64 minutes of celluloid, according to Wikipedia. No bathroom break needed.