18 Days of Paranoia #1: The Flight That Disappeared (dir by Reginald Le Borg)


Way back in the early days of the site, I did a series of reviews called 31 Days of Paranoia, in which I reviewed films about mysteries, cover-ups, and conspiracies.  Unfortunately, because I wasn’t all that disciplined about posting during the early days of the Shattered Lens, my 31 Days of Paranoia ended up being something like 24 days.  Still, it was a lot of fun and, historically, it was important because it was the very first “themed” series of reviews that I had ever done.  Shattered Politics, Embracing the Melodrama, Back to School, Sprin Breakdown, and all the rest started with 31 Days of Paranoia.

So, with this being the 10-year anniversary of the Shattered Lens’s founding and Spring Breakdown wrapping itself up tomorrow, I figured why not return to where it all started.  From now til April, please enjoy …. 18 Days of Paranoia!

We begin with:

The 1961 film, The Flight That Disappeared, deals with an airplane that …. wait for it …. disappears!

What’s happened to Trans-Coast Airways Flight 60?  When it first took off from Los Angeles, everything seemed fine.  It was carrying a small but well-behaved group of middle-aged people to Washington D.C.  The pilots all seemed like good professionals.  The two flight attendants were busy serving people coffee and having conversations about whether or not one of them would ever get married.  She had every right to be concerned, of course, seeing as how she was in her 20s and still unmarried and childless, despite the fact that this film was made in 1961.

It doesn’t take too long for something strange to happen.  The plane suddenly starts to climb upward, eventually going up over 10 miles high in the sky.  The pilots can’t do anything to get the plane to come back down.  Due to the lack of oxygen, some of the passengers start to pass out.  One passenger panics and opens a door, out of which he promptly falls.  Oddly, this doesn’t create the whole vacuum effects that we always see in other movies where a window or a door is opened while a plane is in the air.  Stranger still, no one thinks to close the door afterwards.  Was this intentional or was it just crappy filmmaking?  It’s hard to say.

Why is the plane being lifted up into the air?  Could it have something to do with the three atomic scientists who are all on the plane?  One of them, Dr. Morris (Dayton Lummis), is wearing glasses and has a van dyke beard so you know he’s smart!  It turns out that Dr. Morris has been working on the Beta Bomb, which is apparently the most powerful atomic bomb ever built.  I kept waiting for someone to ask Dr. Morris why it was called the Beta Bomb and not the Alpha Bomb or the Omega Bomb or the Big Scary Bomb or the …. well, seriously, anything would be better than Beta Bomb!  Everyone in the movie says, “Beta Bomb,” in a tone that’s meant to communicate reverence but it just sounds too much like “Beta Male” for me to really take it seriously.

But, again, who is responsible for the flight climbing?  Is it the Russians?  Is it aliens?  Is it some enemy of the American way?  While everyone else on the plane is passed out, the three scientists find themselves awake.  Their watches are no longer running and, despite the fact that they appear to be alive, their hearts are no longer beating.  Are they dead?  Or have they been transported to the future where they will now be put on trial for the crime of developing the Beta Bomb?

Of course, the thing with being put on trial in the future is that it provides the perfect defense for making weapons in the present.  “Hey,” a smart defense attorney would say, “you’re still alive in the future and you’ve got time travel technology so what are you bitching about?”  But the jurors explain that they’re actually the ghosts of the people who would have been born in the future if not for the Beta Bomb which …. what?  So, is the plane in the future or is it in the afterlife?  The film itself doesn’t seem to be sure.

I’m probably making it sound like this is a more intriguing film than it actually is.  This movie is about 72 minutes long and all the stuff with the people in the future takes place during the final 10 minutes.  That means that the film is essentially just 60 minutes of people saying, “We’re still climbing.”  From a historical point of view, it’s an interesting example of people being paranoid about the arms race.  (If the film were made today, the future the ghostly jurors would be the souls of people who were not born in the future due to climate change.)  From an entertainment point of view, it’s a forgettable dud.

Horror Film Review: The Walking Dead (dir by Michael Curtiz)


In this 1936 film (which has absolutely no relation to the AMC zombie show), Boris Karloff plays John Ellman.  John Ellman is perhaps one of the unluckiest guys ever.  Seriously check this out:

John Ellman was once an acclaimed concert pianist.  However, he was wrongly convicted of killing his wife and spent ten years in prison.  Now that he’s finally been paroled, he can’t get anyone to hire him.  Meanwhile, the judge who originally sent him to prison is in the news for having defied the mob and sentenced a well-known gangster to prison.  The mob is out for revenge but, rather than take the fall themselves, they’d rather frame a patsy.  And who could be a better patsy than a man who everyone already knows has a grudge against the judge?

Nolan (Ricardo Cortez), a crooked lawyer, arranges for Ellman to be given a job.  Ellman is told that he simply has to spy on the judge for a few nights to determine whether the judge is having an extramarital affair.  Ellman agrees and soon finds himself being set up.  The gangsters kill the judge and plant the body in Ellman’s car.  Ellman is arrested and sentenced to die.  It doesn’t matter that there are witnesses who know that Ellman’s innocent.  No one is willing to cross the mafia.

Ellman is convicted and promptly executed but his story isn’t over.  A scientist named Dr. Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn, who later played the man who might be Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street) knows that Ellman is innocent.  He takes Ellman’s body and, through an artificial heart and a bunch of other science-y things, he manages to revive Ellman.  John Ellman lives again!  Of course, he’s a bit of a zombie now and he doesn’t have any memory of his former life.  And yet, he instinctively knows who set him up to be executed and he sets out for revenge.

What’s interesting is that Ellman doesn’t kill anyone.  Even after he’s revived and presumably has no concept of right and wrong, John Ellman remains a rather passive zombie.  For the most part, the racketeers die because of how they react to the sight of the previously dead Ellman coming towards them.  For that matter, Beaumont isn’t the typical mad scientist that you might expect to turn up in a film like this.  He’s a benevolent man who was simply doing what he thought was the right thing.  Though the film ends with a warning about playing God, one can’t hep but get the feeling that, unlike Frankenstein, the film is overall very supportive of the idea of reviving the dead.

Directed by Michael Curtiz (who also did Casablanca, Mildred Pierce, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and countless other classic films), The Walking Dead is a combination horror/gangster film.  The film’s plot is a bit too convoluted for its own good but, overall, The Walking Dead works because of Boris Karloff’s performance.  He’s poignantly pathetic as the living John Ellman and then rather chilling as the vengeance-driven, recently revived Ellman.  The film’s most effective scenes are the ones where he just stares at his enemies, fixing them with a gaze that takes no prisoners and offers no hope.  It’s a great performance that elevates an otherwise uneven film.

Lisa Cleans Out The DVR: Road Gang (dir by Louis King)


I was going to start this review with a quote from Gandhi: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its prisoners.”  That was something that I first heard from a perpetually stoned ex-seminarian who used to live in a trailer park in Lake Dallas.  I always figured that, being as stoned as he usually was, he probably knew what he was talking about but, upon doing research for this review, I have discovered that Gandhi actually didn’t say that.  What Gandhi said was, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”  Fortunately, it’s the same basic idea and, regardless of how you phrase it, it’s a quote that perfectly encapsulates the message of the 1936 film, Road Gang.

Road Gang tells the story of Jim (Donald Woods) and Bob (Carlyle Moore, Jr.).  Bob is fun-loving.  Jim is more serious and engaged to marry heiress Barbara Winston (Kay Linaker).  Jim and Bob live in an unnamed Southern state (though I’m going to assume that the state is supposed to be Georgia, just because).  Jim has just written an article that exposes the corruption of political boss, J.W. Moett (Joe King).  The article is so good that both Jim and Bob have been offered jobs in Chicago!  There’s a lot of corrupt political figures who can be exposed in Chicago!

However, while driving up north, Jim and Bob are arrested on trumped-up charges.  At first, Jim and Bob laugh off Moett’s desperation but, unfortunately, another criminal happens to be breaking out of jail at the same time that Jim and Bob arrives for booking.  That criminal kills the arresting officer and then forces Jim and Bob to drive him across the state.  Eventually, the police recapture the three of them.  However, the escaping criminal is killed and Jim and Bob are arrested as accessories.  Under the advice of their lawyer, Mr. Dudley (Edward Van Sloan), they plead guilty and accept a deal.  What they don’t know is that Dudley works for Moett and that, as a result of pleading guilty, they are going to be sentenced to five years in a prison camp.

Okay, so the film gets off to a pretty melodramatic start.  And, to be honest, the entire film is extremely melodramatic.  A lot of time is devoted to Barbara trying find evidence that Jim and Bob were set up, something that is made difficult by the fact that Barbara’s father, like Mr. Dudley, works for Moett.  Fast-paced and not-always-logical, this is a B-movie, in every sense of the term.

And yet, as melodramatic as it is, Road Gang is deadly serious when it comes to portraying the brutality of the prison camp.  From the minute that Bob and Jim arrive, they find themselves at the mercy of the corrupt warden and his sadistic guards.  The prisoners are largely used as slave labor and subjected to punishments that are often arbitrary and extreme.

Road Gang doesn’t flinch when it comes to portraying why prison often not only fails to rehabilitate but also helps to transform minor offenders into hardened criminals.  There’s a disturbing scene in which Jim, Bob, and the other prisoners are forced to listen as another prisoner is whipped.  The crack of the whip and his howls of agony explode across the soundtrack in a symphony of pain and sadism.  Jim and Bob have two very different reactions to being in prison.  One survives.  One allows himself to be killed rather than take one more day in confinement.

Road Gang is often compared to I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang.  Actually, beyond the theme of a fatally compromised justice system, there is no comparison.  The angry and fact-based I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang is a hundred times better and, quite frankly, Donald Woods was no Paul Muni.  However, Road Gang still has its moments of power.  Decades after it was made, the issues it raises continue to be relevant.  Do we send people to prison to rehabilitate them or to punish them and are the two goals mutually exclusive?  And how can we say that someone has “paid his debt to society” when, even after a prisoner serves his time, the stigma of having been imprisoned closes and locks most doors of opportunity?

Road Gang shows up occasionally on TCM.  There’s where I recorded it on January 23rd of this year.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Boys Town (dir by Norman Taurog)


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Before writing about the 1938 film Boys Town, I want to share a story that might be false but it’s still a nice little story.  Call this an Oscar Urban Legend:

Boys Town is about a real-life community in Nebraska, a home for orphaned and homeless boys that was started by Father Edward Flanagan.  In the film, which was made while Father Flanagan was still very much alive, he was played by Spencer Tracy.  Boys Town was a huge box office success that led to the real Boys Town receiving a lot of favorable publicity.  When Tracy won his Oscar for Boys Town, his entire acceptance speech was devoted to Father Flanagan.

However, a problem arose when an overeager PR person at MGM announced that Spencer Tracy would be donating his Oscar to Boys Town.  Tracy didn’t want to give away his Oscar.  He felt that he had earned it through his acting and that he should be able to keep it.  Tracy, the legend continues, was eventually persuaded to donate his Oscar on the condition that he would get a replacement.

However, when the replacement arrived, the engraving on the award read, “Best Actor — Dick Tracy.”

That’s a fun little story, one that is at least partially true.  (Tracy’s Oscar — or at least one of them — does currently reside at the Boys Town national headquarters.)  It’s also a story that, in many ways, is more interesting than the film itself.

Don’t get me wrong.  Boys Town is not a bad movie.  For me, it was kind of nice to see a movie where a priest was portrayed positively as opposed to being accused of being a pederast.  In a way, Boys Town serves as a nice counterbalance to Spotlight.  But, with all that said, there’s not a surprising moment to be found in Boys Town.  It’s pretty much a standard 1930s juvenile delinquency melodrama.

The movie opens when Father Flanagan giving last rites to a man who is about to be executed.  (Boys Town takes a firm stand against the death penalty, which is one of the more consistent and laudable stands of the modern Church.)  The man says the he never had a chance.  From the time he was a young boy, he was thrown into the reform school system.  Instead of being reformed, he just learned how to be a better criminal.  Father Flanagan is so moved by the doomed man’s words that he starts Boys Town, under the assumption that “there’s no such thing as a bad boy.”

Father Flanagan’s techniques are put to the test when Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney ) arrives.  Whitey is angry.  He’s rebellious.  He tries to run away every chance that he gets and, during one such escape attempt, he even gets caught up in a bank robbery.  Can Father Flanagan reach Whitey and prove that there’s no such thing as a bad boy?

Well, you already know the answer to that.  As I said, there’s really nothing surprising to be found in the plot of Boys Town.  It’s just not a very interesting movie, though there is a great shot of a despondent Whitey walking past a several lines of former juvenile delinquents, all kneeling in prayer.  As Father Flanagan, Spencer Tracy is the ideal priest but his role is almost a supporting one.  Believe it or not, the film is dominated by Mickey Rooney, who gives a raw and edgy performance as the angry Whitey Marsh.

(That said, it’s hard to take Whitey seriously as a future gangster when he’s always wearing a bowtie.  Then again, that may have been the height of gangster style in 1938.)

Boys Town was nominated for best picture but lost to You Can’t Take It With You.

The Fabulous Forties #45: Love Laughs At Andy Hardy (dir by Willis Goldbeck)


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I cringed a little when I saw that the 45th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1946’s Love Laughs At Andy Hardy.  

This was because I had never seen an Andy Hardy film before but I did know enough to know that, starting in the 1930s, MGM made a series of films that featured Mickey Rooney in the role of a “nice, young man” named Andy Hardy.  Andy was a well-meaning kid who grew up in Middle America under the watchful eye of his father, Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone).  What little I had heard of the Andy Hardy films led me to suspect that they were very much a product of their time and had not aged particularly well.

Having now watched Love Laughs At Andy Hardy … well, I can confirm that it is a product of its time.  And it is definitely an uneven film, though perhaps I would have felt differently if I had seen any of the other Andy Hardy films.  (Love Laughs was the 15th film about Andy Hardy and it pretty much assumes that the viewer already knows who Andy and all of his friends and family are.)  But I will say this: Mickey Rooney was a really good actor.  In fact, as I watched Love Laughs At Andy Hardy, I was shocked by just how good a performance Rooney gave.  When I think of Mickey Rooney — well, to be honest, it’s rare that I ever do.  But when I do, it’s usually in relation to the exploitation films he made after he was a star.  These were movies like The Manipulator or Silent Night Deadly Night 5, all of which feature an elderly and obviously unwell Mickey acting up a storm.  In contrast to those film, in Love Laughs At Andy Hardy, Mickey gives a totally empathetic and, at times, even subtle performance.   Even by contemporary standards, his performance feels real and, as I watched, I started to understand how there actually could have been 16 separate films about Andy Hardy.  You really do find yourself caring about the little guy,

As for this film, it opens with Andy returning from serving in World War II.  Apparently, he left college to enlist in the army.  Now that he’s back in America, he’s ready to return to college and ask his old girlfriend, Kay (Bonita Granville) to marry him.  However, to Andy’s shock and disappointment, Kay has moved on and has other plans.  Why, it’s almost enough to make Andy want to drop out of school, give up his dreams of becoming an attorney, and try to find work as an engineer in South America!

Fortunately, Judge Hardy is there to talk some sense into his son.

It’s all fairly predictable and, as I said before, definitely uneven.  I get the feeling that a lot of the scenes in Love Laughs At Andy Hardy were meant to serve as call backs to previous films in the series.  Watching this film without a context can lead to a lot of confusion.  But, again, it’s all saved by Mickey Rooney’s performance.  While I can’t really give this film a strong recommendation, I imagine if you’re fan of Rooney’s or the Andy Hardy films, you’ll enjoy it.

Perhaps the best scene in the film comes when Andy is set up on a blind date with a girl named Coffy (Dorothy Ford).  When Andy goes to Coffy’s dorm to pick her up, he can’t understand why all the other girls keep looking at him and laughing.  However, once Coffy shows up, it quickly becomes obvious.  Coffy is 6’2 while Andy is a full foot shorter.

However, when Andy and Coffy arrive at the college dance, they defy all the laughs and the snide remarks.  Instead of surrendering to the expectations of snarky society, they perform a dance to end all dances and I’m going to conclude this review by sharing it below.

Enjoy!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Pride of the Yankees (dir by Sam Wood)


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“People all say that I’ve had a bad break. But today … today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

— Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper) at the end of The Pride of the Yankees (1943)

After airing Foreign Correspondent earlier tonight, TCM followed up by showing the 1943 best picture nominee, The Pride of the Yankees.  Knowing that Pride of the Yankees was going to be a baseball film and that I know next to nothing about baseball, I recruited my sister, the Dazzling Erin, to watch the movie with me.  Erin loves baseball and I knew that she would be able to explain anything that went over my head.

Well, I absolutely loved watching this movie with my sister but it turns out that The Pride of the Yankees isn’t really much of a baseball movie.  True, it’s about a real life baseball player.  Several actual players appeared as themselves.  About 85% of the film’s dialogue deals with baseball and probably about 70% of the film features characters playing some form of the game.  But the film never goes into any great detail about baseball or how it’s played.  There’s no talk of strategy or rules or deeper meaning or anything else.  Going into the film, I knew that baseball was a game that involved throwing, swinging bats, and running.  And it turns out that was all that I needed to know.

The Pride of the Yankees is less about baseball and more about celebrity.  It’s a biopic of Lou Gehrig, who today is best known for his battle with ALS, a disease that is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Lou Gehrig died on June 2, 1941 and The Pride of the Yankees was released just a year later.  Watching the film, it’s obvious that Gehrig was a beloved figure, the type of celebrity who, if he were alive today, would probably be the center of stories like, “Lou Gehrig Did Something This Weekend And It Was Perfect.”  Watching the film, it easy to imagine how traumatic it must have been for the nation when a beloved athlete like Lou Gehrig died at the age of 37.

As a result, The Pride of the Yankees is less a biopic and more a case for canonization.  From the minute that the film’s Lou Gehrig appears on-screen, he is presented as being the type of saintly athlete who, by promising to hit two home runs in one game, inspires a crippled child to walk.  Lou is modest, kind, unpretentious, and never gets angry.  Over the course of the film, he takes care of his mother, displays a worthy work ethic, and marries Eleanor.  He and Eleanor have a perfect marriage without a single argument or a hint of trouble, except for the fact that Lou sometimes gets so busy playing baseball with the local children that he’s late coming home.  There’s not a hint of sadness in their life, until Lou suddenly gets sick.

And really, it should not work.  If ever there’s ever been a film that should be painfully out-of-place in our more cynical times, it would be The Pride of the Yankees.  However, the film still works because Lou is played by Gary Cooper and Eleanor is played by Teresa Wright.  These two excellent performers bring their considerable talents to making overly sentimental scenes feel credible.  Gary Cooper was 40 years old when he made The Pride of the Yankees and there’s a few scenes — especially the ones where Lou is supposed to be a student at Columbia University — where Cooper is clearly too old for the role.  But, for the most part, Gary Cooper did a great job as Lou Gehrig.  Cooper is especially memorable when Lou first starts to show signs of being ill.  Watching Lou struggle to swing a bat, I was reminded of a horse struggling to stand on an injured leg.  It was almost painfully poignant.

The Pride of the Yankees was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including best picture.  However, it lost to another sentimental film that featured Teresa Wright, Mrs. Miniver.

Netflix Noir #1: Crime Against Joe (dir by Lee Sholem)


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After watching Inherent Vice last weekend, I decided to get on Netflix and do a search for film noirs.  This led to me watching four film noirs from the 50s, all of which were previously unknown to me.

For my first Netflix Noir, I watched a little something called Crime Against Joe.  It’s a 69 minute film from 1956.  It’s about a guy named Joe.  There’s been a crime.  Oddly enough, the crime really against Joe.  Instead, he’s been wrongly accused of committing a crime against a nightclub singer named Irene.  So, perhaps a better title for this film would have been It Sucks To Be Joe.

But anyway —

Crime Against Joe was directed by Lee Sholem.  According to Wikipedia, Lee Sholem had a 40 year career as a director.  During that time, he directed over 1,300 television episodes and feature films and he finished every single one of them either on time or early.  And you can certainly see evidence of that in Crime Against Joe, a film that starts out in a rush and pretty much never slows down until the final fade out.

Joe (John Bromfeld) was voted “most likely to succeed” in high school but — surprise!  surprise! — he’s failed to live up to the expectations set for him by the 1945 yearbook.  Instead, he enlisted in the army, served in the Korean War, and was diagnosed with “battle fatigue.”  (I assume that battle fatigue was the 1950s version of PTSD.)  He spent a while in a mental hospital and it was there that he first started painting.  When he was released, he moved in with his widowed mother (Frances Morris).  While she works to support him, Joe spends his time drinking and painting.

As the movie begins, a drunken Joe has just destroyed his latest painting.  (“I can see it in my head but it doesn’t come out on canvas!” Joe shouts, which is actually a pretty good way to describe the dark feeling that all artists occasionally get.)  He wanders around town, drunk.  He talks to a waitress named Slacks (Julie London), who is obviously in love with him.  He gets some sage advice from Red (Henry Calvin), a taxi driver.   He stumbles into a nightclub where he harasses a singer (Alika Louis) before finally getting thrown out of the club.  In the parking lot, as he stumbles away, a mysterious cowboy (Rhodes Reason) glares at him.

Joe stumbles about until, around two in the morning, he runs into a young woman wearing a nightgown.  He tries to talk to her but she only stares at him, her placid face frozen in a zombie-like state.  Joe leads her to a nearby house where the woman’s father thanks him for his help and then slams the door in his face.

Later that night, the nightclub singer is found dead on the side of the road.  Found near her body is a high school pin that belonged to someone from the class of 1945.  Knowing that Joe was drunk that night and had been seen in the nightclub, Detective Hollander (Robert Keys) goes to Joe’s house.  Hollander demands to see Joe’s high school pin.  Joe says he doesn’t know where it is.  Hollander stares at Joe’s paintings.  “You always paint half-naked women?” Hollander sneers before arresting Joe for murder.

At the station, Joe says that he was leading the woman back to her house at the same time that the singer was murdered.  The woman’s father shows up at the police station.  No, he says, Joe was nowhere near his house at two in the morning.  Joe is arrested for murder…

Fortunately, Slacks is willing to risk her life to prove that Joe is innocent.  And Joe knows that the murderer had to have been someone who he went to high school with…

Crime Against Joe is one of those low-budget, obscure B-movies that actually a lot more interesting than you might think.  John Bromfeld does a good job as Joe and the character’s PSTD gives the film a bit more depth than you might otherwise expect.  Julie London is great in the role of brave and selfless Slacks (though it’s interesting that this film felt the need to give a masculine nickname to a strong female character) and Rhodes Reason is genuinely menacing as the mysterious cowboy.  Crime Against Joe is also full of unexpected and occasionally surreal details.  The most obvious example would be the zombie-like woman who Joe runs into on the night of the murder.  However, my favorite little oddity is the fact that signs reading “Corey for Councilman” keep popping up in the strangest locations.

(It eventually turns out that Joe went to high school with Corey and the scene where Joe confronts his old classmate is a fun little piece of political satire.  That said, there was a part of me that hoped the significance of the sings would just remain an odd and unexplained little detail.)

There’s actually a surprisingly subversive streak running through Crime Against Joe.  We usually tend to think of the 50s as being a time when authority figures (like the police) were viewed with blind trust.  In Crime Against Joe, however, nobody in power is portrayed positively.  The police, for instance, come across like a bunch of close-minded bullies who are prepared to convict Joe based solely on his paintings and his less-than-sterling war record.  The scenes where Hollander interrogates Joe are full of menace.  In the end, this film is on the side of those living on the margins of respectable society.  When Joe and Slacks try to prove Joe’s innocence, they’re also attempting to prove their own right to exist in a society that has rejected both of them.

Crime Against Joe may not be a well-known film but there’s a lot more going on under its surface than you might originally think.  It’s on Netflix so check it out when you’ve got 70 minutes to spare.