Heel with a Heart: Dan Duryea in THE UNDERWORLD STORY (United Artists 1950)


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Hollywood’s favorite heel Dan Duryea got a rare starring role in THE UNDERWORLD STORY, a 1950 crime drama in which he plays… you guessed it, a heel! But this heel redeems himself at the film’s conclusion, and Duryea even wins the girl. Since that girl is played by my not-so-secret crush Gale Storm , you just know I had to watch this one!

The part of muckraking tabloid journalist Mike Reese is tailor-made for Duryea’s sleazy charms. He’s a big-city reporter who breaks a story about gangster Turk Meyers spilling to the D.A., resulting in the thug ending up murdered on the courthouse steps in a hail of bullets. DA Ralph Monroe (Michael O’Shea )  puts the pressure on Mike’s editor, and Reese becomes persona non grata in the newspaper game. Seeing an ad for a partner at a small town newspaper, Mike gets a $5,000 “loan” from crime boss Carl…

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Christmas Surprise: IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE (Allied Artists 1947)


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I’d never heard of IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE until it’s recent broadcast on TCM. This unsung little holiday gem was a TV staple for decades before being pulled from viewing in 1990, only resurfacing in 2009 when a small but dedicated band of classic film fans put the pressure on to see it aired once again. And I’m glad they did, for this charming, unpretensious comedy boasts a marvelous cast, an Oscar-nominated screenplay, and a Frank Capra-esque feel without a lot of the Capra-corn.

Capra himself was scheduled to direct it back in 1945, but instead he chose to make another Christmas film you may have heard of, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Veteran Roy Del Ruth obtained the rights, and IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE became the first release of Allied Artists, the larger budgeted, more prestigious arm of Monogram Pictures (and you know how much I love Monogram movies!)…

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The Fabulous Forties #23: Freckles Comes Home (dir by Jean Yarbrough)


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The 23rd film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was an hour-long “comedy” from 1942.  The name of the film was Freckles Comes Home and I have to admit that I’m struggling to come up with anything to say about it.  That’s the thing about these Mill Creek box sets.  Occasionally, you’ll come across a really good movie and, even more frequently, you’ll come across a really bad movie.  But often times, you find yourself watching filler.  If I had to guess, Freckles Comes Home was probably a movie that was made to act as the 2nd half of a double feature.  Not much money nor effort was put into it.  It’s not terrible and it’s certainly not good.  It’s just sort of there.

With a title like Freckles Comes Home, I was expecting this movie would be about a lost dog but it turns out that I was wrong.  Freckles (played by Johnny Downs) is a human being.  He’s returning home from college because a friend of his has inherited some real estate and isn’t sure what to do about it.  While sitting on the bus home, Freckles spends so much time talking about how much he loves his hometown that the man sitting next to him decides that maybe he’ll make that town his home as well.  Unfortunately, that man is Muggsy Dolan (Walter Sande).  As you would expect with a name like Muggsy, Dolan is a criminal on the run.

Back in town, Freckles attempts to convince his father not to build a road that will go through his friend’s property.  He also romantically pursues a childhood friend named Jane (Gale Storm), despite the fact that everyone insists that Jane can do better than Freckles.  (Personally, I was wondering why — in the year 1942 — a young man like Freckles wasn’t overseas, fighting for his country.  DON’T YOU KNOW THERE’S A WAR ON, FRECKLES!?)  Meanwhile, Muggsy is plotting to rob the town bank…

And then there’s Jeff (Mantan Moreland), who is the porter at the local hotel.  Jeff thinks that he has a machine that will allow him to find buried gold.  And since Jeff is an African-American in a 1940s film, it’s impossible to watch the way the movie treats him without cringing.  There’s a few scenes where Moreland, as an actor, subtly suggests that Jeff is smarter than the movie gives him credit for and certainly, Moreland’s performance is the most memorable in the film but that really doesn’t make the role any less demeaning.

Anyway, Freckles Comes Home was largely forgettable.  I assume that audiences in the 1940s may have enjoyed it (especially if it was included on a double bill with a more interesting movie) but, seen today, there’s just not that much to be said about it.  It exists, it’s something of a time capsule, and that’s pretty much all there is to say about it.

 

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 7: Film Noir Festival


Now that Lisa’s finished cleaning out her DVR, it’s time once again for me to clean mine, featuring five fabulous films noir:

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I first got my DVR service from DirecTV just in time for last year’s TCM Summer of Darkness series, and there’s still a ton of films I haven’t gotten around to viewing… until now! So without further ado, let’s dive right into the fog-shrouded world of film noir:

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RAW DEAL (Eagle-Lion 1948, D: Anthony Mann)

This tough-talking film seems to cram every film noir trope in the book into its 79 minutes. Gangster Dennis O’Keefe busts out of prison with the help of his moll ( Claire Trevor ), kidnaps social worker Marsha Hunt, and goes after the sadistic crime boss (Raymond Burr) who owes him fifty grand. Director Mann and DP John Alton make this flawed but effective ultra-low budget film work, with help from a great cast. Burr’s nasty, fire-obsessed kingpin is scary, and John Ireland as his torpedo has a great fight scene with O’Keefe. The flaming finale is well staged…

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The Daily Grindhouse: Revenge of the Zombies (dir by Steve Sekely)


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Last night, the Late Night Movie Crew and I watched the 1943 film, Revenge of the Zombies.

Revenge of the Zombies deals with the mysterious Dr. von Aldermann (John Carradine), who has a house on the Louisiana bayous and who is involved in weird, 1940s-style scientific experiments.  As is evident from his name (but not particularly from Carradine’s disinterested performance), von Aldermann is from Germany and his experiments are designed to create an army of zombies who will destroy American from within for the benefit for the Third Reich.  This is a pretty big deal and von Aldermann isn’t particularly subtle about his schemes but, as the film’s begins, nobody has figured out what’s going on.

I guess you can get away with anything on the bayous.

Von Aldermann’s wife Lila (Veda Ann Borg) has recently died but, thanks to the mad scientist, she’s still walking around Louisiana and leading an army of zombies.  Lila’s brother (Robert Lowery) shows up with a private investigator (Mauritz Hugo) and yet another mad scientist (Barry Macollum)  and they eventually figure out that something weird is happening.  With the help of von Aldermann’s secretary (Gale Storm), they try to thwart von Aldermann’s plans and keep the world safe for democracy.

There are a few good points about Revenge of the Zombies.  For one thing, the film is only 61 minutes long so the suffering is short.  As with any low-budget John Carradine horror film, Revenge of the Zombies is fun to watch with a group of snarky friends.  Historically, this film is significant for being one of the first zombie movies.  It’s always interesting to see how non-threatening zombies were in the days before George Romero and The Walking Dead.

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And then there’s the character of Jeff (Mantan Moreland), who is a chauffeur and who provides most of the film’s comic relief. It’s always difficult for contemporary audiences to deal with the racial attitudes displayed in the films and literature of the past.  On the one hand, Jeff is written as a complete and total stereotype and, as you listen to his dialogue, you’re painfully aware of the fact that the goal was to get audiences to laugh at him as opposed to with him.  On the other hand, Moreland is literally the only actor in the film who actually gives a good performance.  Even when delivering the most cringe-worthy of dialogue, Moreland does so with a conviction and commitment that holds your interest.  As you watch Revenge of the Zombies, you really don’t care what happens to most of the bland and interchangeable characters.  But you really do want Jeff to survive.

And, ultimately, you do take some comfort in that.  Moreland was given a role that, as written, was very demeaning but, in the end, Jeff is the only character that you care about.

As for the rest of Revenge of the Zombies, it’s short, it’s pretty bad but it’s not terrible, and you can watch it below!