30 Days of Noir #2: Whispering Footsteps (dir by Howard Bretherton)


The 1943 film Whispering Footsteps opens with Mark Borne (John Hubbard) getting ready for his day.  In his bedroom, at the boarding house where he lives, Mark turns on his radio and hears a news report of a double murder in a nearby town.  Two girls have been strangled.

As the news report says that the killer has brown hair, Mark brushes his brown hair.

As the news report says that the killer has brown eyes, Mark looks at his brown eyes in the mirror.

As the news report says that the killer has a “lean, intelligent” face, the camera focuses on Mark’s lean, intelligent face.

Finally, as the news report says that the killer was wearing a gray, double-breasted suit, Mark puts on gray, double-breasted suit.

Yes, Mark looks just like the murderer and that quickly becomes a problem for him as he attempts to go about his day.  When he walks to his job at the local bank, he notices that he’s being followed by a detective (Cy Kendall).  When Mark later tries to take his lunch break, he again finds himself being followed.  Desperate to escape from the detective, Mark steps into a bookstore and buys a random book.  It’s only once he steps outside that Mark discovers that the title of the book is Psychology of the Homicidal.

Mark is a respectable member of the community but, because he looks like a serial killer, everyone in town soon starts to gossip about him.  Why does he go for so many walks?  Why does he sometimes seem to be in a bad mood?  Could he be a murderer?  Even the other residents of the boarding house start to view him with suspicion.  Every time that she sees him, Rose Murphy (Juanita Quigley) screams.

Of course, Rose screams whenever anything happens.  For instance, when she is shown a newspaper story about a local murder, Rose screams.  Whenever anyone walks up behind her, Rose screams.  Whenever anyone says hi to her, Rose screams.  When a woman is found strangled in the basement, Rose screams again.  Admittedly, it’s easy to get annoyed with Rose’s constant screaming but, in that last case, she’s probably justified.

Anyway, Mark only has one person on his side and that’s Brook (Rita Quigley), the daughter of his boss.  And yet, at one point, Brook finds herself being chased through the night by a man in a double-breasted suit.  Is Mark guilty or does he just have the worst luck in the world?

If nothing else, Whispering Footsteps will keep you guessing.  Up until the last minute of the film, you’re never sure whether Mark is innocent or guilty.  Who is the monster, the film asks.  Is it Mark or is it the gossips who have decided to judge him?  As convincingly played by John Hubbard, Mark starts out as upbeat and just a little bit shallow but, by the end of the movie, he’s become a haunted and paranoid man, embittered by the town’s refusal to believe in him.  Charles Halton, as Mark’s self-righteous boss, and Rita Quigley provide good support.  Less successful are some awkward attempts at humor.  It won’t take you long to get tired of Rose screaming.

Clocking in at 52 minutes, Whispering Footsteps was obviously meant to be the second part of a double feature.  It’s a well-done examination of guilt, innocence, and gossip.  See it on a double bill with In A Lonely Place.

The Fabulous Forties #46: The Town Went Wild (dir by Ralph Murphy)


51BRWYTCMZL

The 46th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1946’s The Town Went Wild!  Nice name, huh?

The name is actually a lot nicer than the movie, which is a bit incoherent.  Basically, David (Freddie Bartholomew) is a nice guy who has lived his entire life in the small town.  His best friend is Bob (Jimmy Lydon) and David is also in love with Bob’s sister, Carol (Jill Browning).  David is an engineer who has just been assigned to go work in Alaska.  Before he leaves, he is determined to marry Carol.

Unfortunately, Bob’s father (Edward Everett Horton) and Carol’s father (Tom Tully) hate each other.  They have been feuding for so long that they’re not even sure what they’re feuding about.  However, Carol and David are determined to get married so they decided to elope.  Getting a ride from their friend Mille (Roberta Smith), they go to the next town over and ask the justice of the peace to marry them,

However, before the justice of the peace can marry them, he needs them to publicly post their wedding plans in the local newspaper.  And before David can post those plans, he needs to get his birth certificate from the local registrar.  When David gets his birth certificate, he discovers something shocking.  There was a mix-up at the hosptial!  His Dad went home with the wrong baby.  David is actually … CAROL’S BROTHER!

So, what can they do?  How can David and Carol still get married despite apparently being related?  And will the fathers be able to set aside their feud long enough to help their children out?  The entire town wants to know!

I have to admit that I’m struggling a bit to come up with anything to say about The Town Went Wild.  The movie is a mess and David and Carol are such boring characters that they even make incest look dull.  Unfortunately, the version I saw of The Town Went Wild suffered from one of those infamously cheap Mill Creek transfers, complete with grainy picture, inconsistent sound, abrupt cuts, and the sneaky suspicion that certain scenes did not make the transfer from film to video.

With all that in mind, it’s hard to fairly judge The Town Went Wild but I can say that at least it provided good roles for Edward Everett Horton and Tom Tully.  If nothing else, these two character actors appeared to enjoy playing loud and frequently stupid rivals.  Otherwise, The Town Went Wild is one of those poverty row films that can safely be forgotten.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Foreign Correspondent (dir by Alfred Hitchcock)


ForeignCorrespondent

Before watching a film like 1940’s Foreign Correspondent, it helps to know a little something about history.

Nowadays, when we think about World War II, there’s a tendency to assume that, from the minute that Hitler came to power in Germany and started to invade the rest of Europe, the entire world united against the Nazis.  The truth is actually far more complex.  The world was still recovering from World War I and throughout the 1930s, even as the Axis powers were growing more and more aggressive, respected intellectual leaders and politicians continued to argue that peace must be maintained at all costs.  Pacifism was such a popular concept that otherwise intelligent people were perfectly willing to make excuses for Hitler and Mussolini.  For five years, the UK followed a policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany.  Even after war broke out between Britain and Germany, the U.S. remained officially neutral.  In the 1940 presidential election, President Franklin D. Roosevelt — running on a platform of neutrality — was overwhelmingly reelected over internationalist Wendell Willkie.

Foreign Correspondent, an American film made by a British director, opens before the start of World War II.  An American newspaper editor, Mr. Powers (Harry Davenport), is frustrated because none of his foreign correspondents seem to be able to understand the truth of the situation in Europe.  They all claim that there is going to be no war in Europe but Mr. Powers feels differently.  He also feels that the newspaper’s most celebrated and respected foreign correspondents are just a bunch of out-of-touch elitists.  Instead of sending another upper class academic, Mr. Powers decides to send a hard-boiled crime reporter to cover the situation in Europe.  Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) has never been to Europe and that’s exactly why Mr. Powers decides to send him.  In one of the film’s more clever moments, he does, however, insist that Johnny write under the more distinguished sounding name of “Huntley Haverstock.”

(Foreign Correspondent‘s pointed criticism of out-of-touch elitists repeating the establishment line remains just as relevant today as it was in 1940.)

From the minute the brash and tough Johnny arrives in Europe, he finds himself caught up in a huge conspiracy.  He’s been assigned to report on a group known as the Universal Peace Party and, since this film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, we automatically know that any organization with the word “Peace” in its name has to be up to something shady.  The Universal Peace Party has been founded by Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), who appears to sincere in his desire to avoid war.  Johnny meets and falls in love with Fisher’s daughter, Carol (Laraine Day).

From the minute that Johnny witnesses the assassination of distinguished Dutch diplomat Von Meer (Albert Bassermann), he suspects that things are not how they seem.  Working with Carol and a British journalist named Scott ffolliot* (delightfully played by the great George Sanders), Johnny discovers that Von Meer was not killed at all.  Instead, a double was assassinated and Von Meer was kidnapped by a group of spies.

But who are the spies?  After nearly getting killed by one of Fisher’s bodyguards, Johnny starts to suspect that Stephen Fisher might not be as into world peace as was originally assumed.  Complicating matters, however, is the fact that Johnny is now engaged to marry Carol…

Foreign Correspondent is a wonderfully witty thriller, one that has a very serious message.  While the film is distinguished by Hitchcock’s typically droll sense of humor (eccentric characters abound and the scene where Edmund Gwenn keeps getting interrupted before he can attempt to push Joel McCrea off of a tower is both funny and suspenseful), the film’s message was that America could not afford to stay neutral as war broke out across Europe.  As the all-American Johnny Jones says at the end of the film:

“All that noise you hear isn’t static – it’s death, coming to London. Yes, they’re coming here now. You can hear the bombs falling on the streets and the homes. Don’t tune me out, hang on a while – this is a big story, and you’re part of it. It’s too late to do anything here now except stand in the dark and let them come… as if the lights were all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning, cover them with steel, ring them with guns, build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them. Hello, America, hang on to your lights: they’re the only lights left in the world!”

Foreign Correspondent was nominated for best picture of 1940 but it lost to another far different Hitchcock-directed film, Rebecca.

——

* Yes, that is how he spells his last name.  As he explains, his family dropped the capital name in his surname after an ancestor was executed by Henry II.  Since it was George Sanders doing the explaining, it somehow made perfect sense.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Winner: The Best Years Of Our Lives (dir by William Wyler)


The_Best_Years_of_Our_Lives_film_poster

I’ve seen The Best Years Of Our Lives on TCM a few times.  There’s a part of me that always wishes that this film was dull, in the way that many best picture winners can be when watched through modern eyes, or in any other way overrated.  The Best Years Of Our Lives won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1946 and in doing so, it defeated one of my favorite films of all time, It’s A Wonderful Life.  A part of me would love to be able to say that this was one of the greatest injustices of cinematic history but, honestly, I can’t.    The Best Years Of Our Lives is an excellent film, one that remains more than worthy of every award that it won.

Best_Years_of_Our_Lives_01_bar

The film deals with veterans returning home from World War II and struggling to adjust to life in peacetime.  That’s a topic that’s as relevant today as it was back in 1946.  If there’s anything that remains consistent about human history it’s that there is always a war being fought somewhere and the man and women who fight those wars are often forgotten and abandoned after the final shot has been fired.  The returning veterans in The Best Years Of Our Lives deal with the same issues that our soldiers have to deal with today as they return from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Best Years Of Our Lives follows three veterans as they return home to Boone City, Ohio.  As they try to adjust to civilian life, their loved ones struggle to adjust to them.

 Teresa Wright and Dana Andrews

Teresa Wright and Dana Andrews

Fred Derry (played by Dana Andrews) is a self-described former soda jerk.  (To be honest, I’m really not sure what a soda jerk was but it doesn’t sound like a very fun job.)  During the war, he was a captain in the air force.  He returns home with several decorations and few marketable skills.  During the war, he was good at bombing cities but there’s not much that can be done with that skill during peacetime.  Nearly penniless, Fred takes a job selling perfume at a department store.  He spends his days trying to control her temper and not give into his frustration.  At night, he’s haunted by nightmares of combat.

Teresa Wright and Virginia Mayo

Teresa Wright and Virginia Mayo

Meanwhile, his wife, Marie (Virginia Mayo), finds herself resenting the fact that Fred has come home.  She married him while he was in flight training and, as quickly becomes obvious, she’s less enamored of Fred now that he’s just another civilian with a low-paying job.  (She continually begs him to wear the uniform that he can’t wait to take off.)  The Best Years Of Our Lives is a film full of great performances but Virginia Mayo really stands out.  I have to admit that, whenever I watch this film, I find myself envious of her ability to both snarl and smile at the same time.

Teresa Wright, Myrna Loy, Fredric March, and Michael Hall

Teresa Wright, Myrna Loy, Fredric March, and Michael Hall

Al Stephenson (Fredric March) was a bank loan officer who served as an infantry sergeant.  (It’s interesting to note that the educated and successful Al was outranked by Fred during the war.)  Al returns home to his loving wife, Milly (Myrna Loy), his daughter Peggy (the beautiful Teresa Wright), and his son, Rob (Michael Hall).  At first, Al struggles to reconnect with his family and he deals with the tension by drinking too much.  Rehired by the bank, he approves a risky loan to a fellow veteran.  After the bank president (Ray Collins, a.k.a. Boss Jim Gettys from Citizen Kane) admonishes Al, Al gives a speech about what America owes to its returning veterans.

Meanwhile, Peggy has fallen in love with Fred.  When Milly and Al remind her that Fred is (unhappily) married, Peggy announces, “I am going to break that marriage up!”  It’s a wonderful line, brilliantly delivered by the great Teresa Wright.

Harold Russell

Harold Russell

Marriage is also on the mind of Homer Parrish (Harold Russell).  A former high school quarterback, Homer was planning on marrying Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell) as soon as he finished serving in the Navy.  During the war, he lost both his hands and now he’s returned home with metal hooks.  Homer locks himself away from the world.  When he finally does talk to Wilma, it’s to show her how difficult life with him will be.  Wilma doesn’t care but Homer does.

Harold Russell won an Academy Award for his performance here.  Russell was not a professional actor.  Instead he was a veteran and a real-life amputee.  Watching his performance today, it’s obvious that Russell was not an experienced actor but the natural charm that enchanted the Academy still shines through.

Harold Russell, Dana Andrews, and Fredric March

Harold Russell, Dana Andrews, and Fredric March

It’s been nearly 70 years since The Best Years Of Our Lives was first released but it remains a powerfully honest and surprisingly dark film.  All three of the veterans deal with very real issues and, somewhat surprisingly, the film refuses to provide any of them with the type of conventional happy ending that we tend to take for granted when it comes to movies made before 1967.  As the film concludes, Fred is still struggling financially.  Homer is still adjusting to life as an amputee.  Al is still drinking.   All three have a long road ahead of them but they’re all making progress.  None of them will ever be the same as they were before the war but, at the same time, they’re all working on making new lives for themselves.  They haven’t given up.  They haven’t surrendered to despair and, the film suggests, that is triumph enough.

The Best Years Of Our Lives is a great film and a great best picture winner.  It’s just a shame that it had to be released the same year as It’s A Wonderful Life.