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 Wednesday

One of a continuing series

About the time this came out in  1974 I worked for a company that had some installations in New York City, so I was spending some time there. There were movie posters featuring the movie, and it  may have been up on one of the theaters in Times Square. I am sure I never saw all of it until this March, when it came available on Amazon Prime Video. It’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, also known as The Taking of Pelham 123. There’s also a book, available in Kindle, but I don’t promise to do a review.

It’s a crime thriller, set in Manhattan, and Pelham 123 is a subway train on the IRT (Interurban Rapid Transit) line. Pelham 123 is the  name of the train—final stop Pelham, starting out at 1:23 p.m., hence the title. The movie involves four criminals who hijack the train to extract $1 million dollars  ransom from the city. The production company is Palomar Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening scene shows Harold Longman a.k.a. Mr. Green (Martin Balsam) getting out of a taxi in mid-town Manhattan and getting on the train. He carries a package. We can guess what’s in the package. Get set for some action.

Others get on the train at different stations, each carrying a package. All are obviously wearing fake mustaches. All are wearing trench coats and hats. The last aboard is Bernard Ryder a.k.a. Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw). He kicks things off by thrusting a gun in the conductor’s face and taking over the train.

An interesting note is that Mr. Green has a bad cold and is always sniffling and sneezing. This is going to prove pivotal.

Walter Matthau is Lt. Zachary Garber of the transit police, who is in the process of escorting some gentlemen from the Tokyo subway system, here to see how the Americans do it. The New York City system is the largest in the world. The meeting with the Japanese executives ends abruptly when it becomes apparent a train has been hijacked.

These are four very desperate men. They want a million dollars within one hour, or they will start killing hostages. The mayor (Lee Wallace) must be brought into the picture, because he has to authorize payment of the money. Although Ed Koch did not become mayor of New York City until four years later, the mayor immediately reminds viewers of Mr. Koch.

There is gripping drama, as the crooks hurl threats and emphasize their demands.

The fire power is impressive. The four carry automatic weapons, and they fire them off when they feel it’s necessary. When negotiations falter, Mr. Blue puts the conductor off the train and shoots him.

Another criminal is Giuseppe Benvenuto a.k.a. Mr. Grey (Héctor Elizondo). He’s a loose cannon, eager to do damage, in need of anger management.

The police figure their only recourse is to pay the million dollars, and scenes show the frantic effort to get the bills counted and packaged as demanded.

Then the bills have to be brought to the 23rd Street station, and wouldn’t you know it, the cop car bringing the loot crashes. Motorcycle cops complete the delivery, and the crooks begin to put into motion their escape plane, which involves setting the train, by now down to a single car, loose heading south while they attempt to sneak topside through an emergency exit to a sidewalk grate.

That’s the point at which everything falls apart for the crooks. Mr. Grey refuses to ditch his weapon as part of the plan for the crooks to blend in with street traffic. Mr. Blue shoots him down on the steps leading to the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, all this time there has been a cop aboard the car in plain clothes, and he has been waiting for a chance to make his move. He guns down George Steever a.k.a. Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman), leaving only two of the original four alive.

Finally the cops have figured out what’s going on, and Garber confronts Mr. Blue in the tunnel. With no escape and no plan B, Mr. Blue takes the easy way out and steps on the line’s third rail. Mr. Green makes his escape, and a subsequent scene shows him rolling in cash on his bed.

To bad for Mr. Green. The cops have figured that one of the crooks must be a cashiered subway employee, because somebody was needed who knew how to operate the train. Garber and another cop go from door to door with a list of ex train drivers and end up knocking on Mr. Green’s door. He hides the cash, and brushes off the cops. As they are about to leave, Mr. Green sneezes. The jig is up.

It’s a tense but uneven plot. Four heavily-armed thugs take of a train and start killing people, demanding a million dollars. And bits of humor are sprinkled here and there.

Viewers’ credulity is stretched in places. The line apparently runs north and south approximately under Park Avenue, terminating at the south end of Manhattan Island. The cops concentrate their efforts on where the train car is and where they suspect the cooks must be. I’ve seen more police presence involved in a police car chase on Los Angeles streets than in this movie. It is never made clear why the cops don’t blanket all exits up and down the line. As it is, they get decoyed away from the 23rd street exit, giving the crooks a way out, although only Mr. Green takes advantage of the opportunity.

The final hunt for the escaped train man is unrealistic and lackadaisical. The most wanted man in the country is loose, and only two cops go door to door looking for him. The Constitution be damned, but any police force in the country would have hauled all suspects down to the station for questioning. Garber and the other cop ask Green a few questions and are satisfied with his answer, “I was here all day,” and they start to leave. Nah!

The cops believe the crooks must still be on the train car, because a dead man switch in the cab would prevent the train from moving without the operator present. And they don’t figure out what every train driver in the country has already figured out, that there is always a way to defeat these safeguards.

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 Wednesday

One of a continuing series

The title is reused from an earlier production. Night Moves came out in 1975, starring Gene Hackman, This is a later production with no similarity to the prior. Night Moves was released in 2013 and doesn’t have the star power. It’s a low-key story about environmental terrorism with people getting killed. I caught it on Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) are two environmentally conscious twenty-somethings, and they check out a dam across a small river in Oregon. They dam is an environmental monstrosity in their view. The lack of a fish ladder prevents salmon from swimming upstream to spawn. It needs to come down. They have a plan.

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Dena is from amazing wealth, and $10,000 cash allows the to purchase a boat. We can guess what they plan to do with the boat. The catch phrase could be something like “boat, bomb, dam: some assembly required.” The name of the boat is Night Moves, hence the title.

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Josh has a friend Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard). Harmon is a former Marine, and he knows how to build the bomb. Dena is leery of Harmon He’s prone to be loose with facts. Over lunch at a fast food table they discuss the destruction of the dam.

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The plan incurs the purchase of an extra 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Harmon already has 1000 pounds, but figures an additional 500 pounds will ensure success. Post Timothy McVeigh, the stuff is a controlled substance. There is intrigue as Dena weasels her way toward making the purchase at a country feed store.

The plot begins in earnest as the trio mix fuel oil with the fertilizer to make the explosive. They strip out the luxury boat and pack the hull with bags of the mixture. Then they head to the lake. There is additional intrigue as they attempt to be nonchalant, parking at a campsite on the lake and waiting for night to launch. It seems to them everything they do attracts unwanted attention.

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The plan is successful. They park the boat against the dam and set a timer, making their way back to camp in a canoe. On-time, there is a loud boom in the distance,  and police cars are soon speeding  past them on the country road. At a police check point, Josh and Dena show their fake IDs and pass through.

Of course, things have not gone as expected. A camper downstream of the dam has been killed, and it’s a murder case, as well. Also bad is the reaction of their environmental movement friends. The dam is only one of a hundred and makes no difference in the overall picture. What is needed is not the destruction of dams but the winning of popular support for the cause. Police come prowling around, and tension grows. Josh loses his job because of the suspicion surrounding him.

Jena comes completely apart. The trio are supposed to have no further contact, but recriminations fly between cell phones, a dangerous trend. Despondent, Dena plots suicide, but Josh confronts her, demanding she cease inviting attention. Dena orders Josh to leave, and he panics. He kills her and hints at it in a phone call with Harmon. Harmon advises Josh to get very lost.

The movie ends with Josh applying for a job in  a distant sporting goods store. Security cameras about the store remind Josh that in today’s society it is impossible for a person to get completely lost.

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The movie is devoid of dramatic action, possibly with the exception of when Josh strangles Dena. Technical details show a lack of authenticity. For example, the three park the boat next to the dam, but they don’t sink it. 1500 pounds of ammonium nitrate explosive might blow off the top of the dam, but it won’t topple the dam. To bring down the dam the explosion has to go off under water and at the base of the dam.

This is well known to anybody who has seen The Dam Busters. It’s a true-to-life film about an operation the Brits carried out in World War Two. The trick was to drop bombs into lakes behind three German dams. The bombs had to skip along the water until they bumped up against the dam. Then the bombs would sink and explode at the base of the dams. It worked, but with the loss of a third of the aircraft involved. If I can get a copy of the movie I will do a review.

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 Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Hard to believe this one is over 30 years old. It came out in 1985, around the time my movie going was beginning to  slack, and it never came on HBO or Turner Classic movies. I caught it on Amazon Prime Video in February.

It’s Silver Bullet, by Stephen King, who also did the screen play. It was produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis and distributed by Paramount pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

Yes, this is a Stephen King story, so you are seeing  this, a human head lying between the rails on a railway line. There is prior footage that shows how this gentleman got into this predicament, but I’m being spare on the graphics today.

The story is told by teenager Jane Coslaw (Megan Follows), who by the time of the telling has grown up, the movie being set in 1976. She tells of how the killings started in her small  home town on the night of the last full moon before the end of the spring school term. This killing was passed off as an accident, the victim being a railway worker noted for heavy drinking on the job.

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Jane is burdened by her crippled brother Marty (Corey Haim), for whom she is the designated caretaker. We see Jane as she witnesses a disagreement between two locals, one of whom accuses the other of getting her pregnant.

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Pregnant and contemplating suicide is Stella Randolph (Wendy Walker). Just as she swallows the fatal dose of sleeping pills or whatever, the werewolf, for this is a werewolf film, bursts through her bedroom window and tears her apart.

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The Coslaw family is beset by Uncle Red (Gary Busey), a heavy drinker and also feared to be a bad influence on Marty.

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Marty’s friend, Brady Kincaid (Joe Wright) is next. He’s been mean to Jane, so he may have been coming his due. Flying his kite in the park is the last we see of him alive, and his body has been found torn apart.

Sheriff Joe Haller (Terry O’Quinn) tries to dissuade a mob from going into the woods to look for the killer. To no avail. Three more victims fall to the werewolf in a dark and foggy swamp.

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Uncle Red is losing his wife (she’s leaving him), and he dotes on Marty. He constructs a super motorized wheelchair for Marty, which he names the Silver Bullet. It is fast.

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Marty is told to never take the Silver Bullet out by himself. So that very night he takes the Silver Bullet out by himself. He brings along some fireworks with the idea of shooting them  off on a wooden footbridge. The werewolf attacks. Marty shoots the werewolf in the eye with a rocket and escapes.

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Grownups won’t believe Marty’s story, but sister Jane goes looking for somebody in the town with one eye out. Horrors, it’s the Reverend Lester Lowe (Everett McGill).

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Again, grownups won’t believe what Marty and Jane suspect. Then, on the road, the Reverend chases Marty with his car and tries to kill him.

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Shown the matching paint scrapes due to a collision with the Reverend’s car, Sheriff Haller goes to investigate. The werewolf kills him.

Uncle Red takes matters in his own hands. He accepts two silver pendants from the children and takes them to a gun shop. Here the gunsmith melts them down and constructs an actual silver bullet.

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Then Uncle Red lays a trap. He tricks Jane and Marty’s parents into taking a vacation, leaving him in charge of the kids. They wait in the house for the werewolf to attack. By nearly the end of the night Uncle Red is giving up, and he removes the silver bullet from the pistol.

Then the werewolf attacks,  bursting through the wall. The silver bullet goes flying, falling through a floor grate. The werewolf tosses Uncle Red about the room and goes for the two children. Marty fishes the bullet out of the grate and loads it into the pistol. A single shot does it for the werewolf, and everybody is saved. As the werewolf dies he re morphs into the Reverend, now missing both eyes.

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And that’s the end of the movie.

There is nothing wrong with this movie except that it is about 100% predictable. It’s a straight-line werewolf story with victim following victim, until the principle characters confront the danger and eliminate it.

Except that there is a certain lack of reality, in addition to the werewolf bit. Multiple murders are occurring in the town, and there is no call for outside help. The story does not include any expected police procedures, gathering forensic evidence, talking to forensic experts.

Marty tells of shooting the werewolf at the footbridge, but nobody follows up to examine the evidence of the  rocket being fired and werewolf blood samples collected from the bridge.

The Reverend now is lacking his left eye, and nobody asks him what happened to his eye.

The story came from King’s  Cycle of the Werewolf, which might be worth reading. King is an excellent writer, his The Green Mile being a prime example.

Corey Haim parleyed his child star beginning into a successful acting career, but he died at 38 of a drug overdose.

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 Wednesday

One of a continuing series

From 25 years ago, it’s a movie I never got to see before. Maybe it was because I was going to college about then and didn’t have time. The topic intrigued me. I was acquainted through trailers running on TV, and I had the idea there was a double meaning in the title. It’s Sneakers from 1992 and starring Robert Redford and also Ben Kingsley. It’s hard to imagine these two guys are 25 years older now. Then, so am I.

This is from Universal Studios. I caught it on Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

“Sneakers” is, or was, the term for people who used remote access to break into others’ computers for fun and mischief. I had the idea “sneakers” also alluded to the juvenile mentality of these people. Anyhow, back in 1969 we see two sneakers, Martin Brice (Redford) and a person named Cosmo (Kingsley) in a college dorm breaking into bank accounts and transferring large sums of money. Brice assures Cosmo there is no chance they will get caught and punished for this. Then he goes out for pizza.

His VW minivan won’t start (cold and snowy), and he watches in horror as police raid their dorm room and haul Cosmo off to  jail. Brice escapes and becomes Bishop.

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It’s maybe 23 years later, and Bishop now has his own company. What his company does is break into banks and steal money. Here he is closing out a fake account he has created for himself. $100,000 in bills go into his briefcase. He then dumps the money onto the table in the bank’s conference room and explains how it was all done and what the bank needs to do to  spruce up its security. He pockets a check for his services and goes back to his company’s digs, which appear to be in a warehouse of some kind. This is a shoestring operation.

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Two feds show up. They know Bishop is Brice, and they are not friendly. They are with the NSA and either he cooperates with them, or he goes to jail. They want him to steal a device from a mathematician who has developed it for nefarious purposes.

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Bishop enlists his employees, one of whom is a cashiered CIA snoop named Donald Creas and played by Sidney Poitier). Here we see Bishop sneaking past a hotel clerk while a co-worker distracts the clerk with a phony package delivery.

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They get the device, a “black box,” and the horror sets in. While the crew is celebrating their score and contemplating the big check they will receive at the hand off the next morning they discover the value of what they have stolen. It provides the user means to crack the most advanced encryption in use. They realize this is a prize many would kill for, and that turns out to be true. The two “NSA” types are not (currently) with the NSA, and they plan to kill Bishop and not make the payment. At the hand-over Crease, waiting in the getaway car discovers from a newspaper headline the mathematician has been murdered, and he summons Bishop back to the car before he can get the payoff check, which check was likely just an illusion.

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The box is gone, along with the two phony NSA spooks, and the crew is out the payoff. Then the group that obtained the box kills a Russian spook and his driver, and they kidnap Bishop, taking him to their headquarters and a room with a massive computer that has all the appearances of a period piece Cray supercomputer. Head of the operation is Cosmo, who did not die in prison as advertised. Cosmo warns Bishop off any future interference, and Bishop is dumped off on a deserted street.

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To cut to the chase, the crew figure out where Bishop was taken, and a massive sneaker escapade gets them the black box. No time to celebrate, though. The real NSA is onto them, and once again threats of prison are leveled at Bishop, by none other than James Earl Jones, here playing NSA Agent Bernard Abbott. Bishop’s crew agree to cough up the box in exchange for all the goodies they had expected to obtain with their expected payoff. An agreement is reached, and Bishop hands over the box.

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Ha! The joke’s on  the NSA. Bishop has retained the crucial circuit that does the decryption, and the movie ends with a TV announcer giving the sad news that the Republican Party treasury has been looted. On the bright side, on the same newscast, anonymous donors have made huge contributions to Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and the United Negro College Fund.

This plot is quaint on a number of points. About 1969 I was working with one of Seymour Cray‘s first computers, so I  was sort of aware of what the computer world was like back then. 1969 was too early for big banks to have their computer operations on-line and vulnerable to remote looting.

The encryption  cracking was developed by a mathematician named Dr. Gunter Janek (Donal Logue), and his process has been incorporated into an integrated circuit. This device would be truly amazing if it really had the ability to crack modern encryption, even back in 1992. That is definitely a bit of science fiction, as the difficulty of cracking these codes is well-studied mathematics. The cracking can be accomplished, in principle, but requiring massive, need I say “astronomical,” amounts of computation. The short answer is, no.

Bishop hands over the black box to the two phony NSA types. One of them reaches into  a briefcase, ostensibly to retrieve the payoff check, but suspected of about to pull a gun. No. There is no way, with this much at stake, the two were going to blow Bishop away in a public place. After shooting Bishop their next act would have to be quietly slipping away and hoping nobody noticed the gunshot and the dead body.

Anyhow, Cosmo has multiple opportunities to kill his former friend and former dorm mate, and he does not. Old college ties and all that. Cosmo is revealed as super altruistic—he’s doing all this to bring down major industries and the entire fabric of world economics. That will reduce humanity to a level playing field with everybody equally impoverished. And  to accomplish this in the name of world peace he has a Russian spook and his driver gunned down on a public street?

In the final encounter, Bishop’s crew has the black box, and they are back at their safe place, and in bursts the real NSA with real guns. And Bishop negotiates the handover of the box? If the NSA team was ready to negotiate, why the guns in the first place?

It was pleasant, in today’s political climate, seeing in the end the Republicans looted and all their money going to liberal causes. Who could have imagined 25 years ago?

I first caught Poitier in what may have been his breakthrough role. It was Blackboard Jungle in 1955, and it introduced film goers to rock and roll, with Bill Haley & His Comets playing Rock Around the Clock. Poitier was a high school tough, and Glenn Ford was a newby teacher at South Manual Trades high school in New York City.

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Poitier went on to garner an Oscar for his role in Lilies of the FieldShoot to Kill is the film I am waiting to see again, and I will do a review if it ever pops up on Hulu or Amazon Prime Video.

In 1991 Katie Hafner and John Markoff came out with their book, Cyberpunk. It detailed the exploits of Kevin Mitnick, Pengo and Project Equalizer, and Robert T. Morris. These were escapades that made headlines in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. These cases never came close to the level depicted in the movie, which plot seems to have presaged the level of criminal sophistication seen in modern cyber crime. Cliff Stoll’s book, The Cuckoo’s Egg is a detailed account, unmatched at the time,  of an extended computer crime escapade. It was published in 1989 and recounted Stoll’s encounter with Project Equalizer. At that early stage the protracted attack on American government computers never reached the level of  sophistication seen in the movie. That level appears to have been matched only years later.

A lot is made in the movie of cracking passwords. The truth is that fairly simple passwords, involving non-language combinations of letters and numbers, are beyond the ability of a computer to crack. Direct password attacks are routinely thwarted by the simple device of locking accounts after multiple log in failures and by notifying users of such attempts.

Successful intrusion is typically accomplished by:

  • Social engineering, convincing somebody to give out a password
  • Phishing, tricking a user into suppling a password in order to execute a bogus login
  • Security compromise, rogue or careless system  administrators [This was the approached used by Edward Snowden.]
  • Network snooping, intercepting network traffic and decrypting secure communications and stealing passwords sent in the clear

These approaches do not provide the drama and rapid development required of this movie plot.

A fact not reflected in most fictional tales of military espionage is that secret information is not kept on computers connected to outside lines. Thefts of classified government information have always involved somebody walking out of a secure facility with a copy of the stolen data. This is the approach used by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning.

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: