Horror On The Lens: The Dead Don’t Die (dir by Curtis Harrington)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have a 1975 made-for-television movie called The Dead Don’t Die!

The Dead Don’t Die takes place in Chicago during the 1930s.  George Hamilton is a sailor who comes home just in time to witness his brother being executed for a crime that he swears he didn’t commit.  Hamilton is convinced that his brother was innocent so he decides to launch an investigation of his own.  This eventually leads to Hamilton not only being attacked by dead people but also discovering a plot involving a mysterious voodoo priest!

Featuring atmospheric direction for Curtis Harrington and a witty script by Robert Bloch, The Dead Don’t Die is an enjoyable horror mystery.  Along with George Hamilton, the cast includes such luminaries of “old” Hollywood as Ray Milland, Ralph Meeker, Reggie Nalder, and Joan Blondell.  (Admittedly, George Hamilton is not the most convincing sailor to ever appear in a movie but even his miscasting seems to work in a strange way.)

And you can watch it below!

Enjoy!

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #1: The Public Enemy (dir by William Wellman)


For this month, I’ve decided to review movies about mobsters.

There’s no specific reason for that, beyond the fact that I just happen to love mobster movies.  Of course, a good gangster film is rarely just about crime.  Anyone who has ever seen The Godfather can tell you that.  At their best, American gangster films are about the American dream and the lengths that some will go to achieve it.

Plus, they’re just a lot of fun to watch.  Some of the greatest actors of all time made their mark in gangster films.

Take 1931’s The Public Enemy, for instance.

Produced during the final days of prohibition and the early years of the Great Depression, The Public Enemy tells the story of three boys who grew up poor.  Tom Powers (James Cagney) and his friend, Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) pursued a life of crime, rising through the ranks of organized crime before eventually meeting a tragic end.  The third, Mike Powers (Donald Cook), stayed on the straight-and-narrow path.  He went into the Marines and he rebuked his brother, Tom, when he discovered that Tom’s money was due to “blood and beer.”

The film opens and closes with a title card that basically tells us that Mike Powers has the right idea but, when you watch the film, you can’t help but wonder if maybe Tom had a point about his brother being kind of a sap.  Mike might be a decent citizen and he might have a chestful of medals as the result of his wartime heroics but what else does he have?  Tom Powers, meanwhile, has no education and, it would appear, no conscience, no real friends, and no one that he really loves and yet he becomes a rich man who is acquainted with powerful figures.  While Mike stays at home with their mother, Tom lives in an ornate penthouse.  When his first girlfriend (Mae Clarke) gets on his nerves, Tom shoves a grapefruit in her face and then gets an even more glamorous girlfriend, Gwen (Jean Harlow).  (Meanwhile, even dumb old Matt is doing okay for himself, marrying a woman played by Joan Blondell.)  It’s hard not to imagine that the film’s original audience — who were still reeling from the Stock Market Crash of 1929 — looked at Mike and Tom Powers and quickly decided that they’d much rather be a part of Tom’s life than Mike’s.  Even if Tom is destined for an early grave or a lifetime behind bars, at least he appears to be having fun.  Speaking for myself, I’d much rather go out with the guy who has nice clothe and his own luxury apartment than with the self-righteous dud who is still living at home with his mother.

Of course, another reason why we gravitate towards Tom Powers is because he’s played by James Cagney, who was one of the most charismatic of the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age and whose performance still holds up today.  Cagney gives a ferocious performance, snarling out his lines and always moving like a caged animal, even when he’s just preparing to have breakfast.  He’s full of an energy that’s both dangerous and exciting to watch.  Cagney also brings a very powerful anger to the role of Tom Powers.  As played Cagney, Tom Power is not just a criminal because he’s greedy.  He’s also a criminal because he has no use for a society that he feels has rejected him since birth and which has never given him a fair chance.  He becomes wealthy not just because he wants money but because he wants to taunt everyone who ever said that he wouldn’t amount to anything.  He’s every crime is more than act of greed.  It’s also an act of rebellion, a joyful to a society that wants to tell people what they’re allowed to believe and do.  He’s the ultimate 1930s rebel, giving the the finger to not only the two Hoovers (Herbert and J. Edgar) but also to the good government leftists would be soon be swept into power with FDR.  Despite the fact that The Public Enemy was made nearly 90 years ago, there’s nothing creaky about Cagney’s performance.  It still feels vital and powerful today and it elevates the entire film.

The Public Enemy holds up surprisingly well.  The film may be close to 90 but Cagney’s ferocious performance still feels fresh and powerfully alive.

 

Cleaning Out the DVR #24: Crime Does Not Pay!


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We’re way overdue for a Cleaning Out the DVR post – haven’t done one since back in April! – so let’s jump right in with 4 capsule reviews of 4 classic crime films:

SINNERS’ HOLIDAY (Warner Brothers 1930; D: John Adolfi) – Early talkie interesting as the screen debut of James Cagney , mixed up in “the booze racket”, who shoots bootlegger Warren Hymer, and who’s penny arcade owner maw Lucille LaVerne covers up by pinning the murder on daughter Evalyn Knapp’s ex-con boyfriend Grant Withers. Some pretty racy Pre-Code elements include Joan Blondell as Cagney’s “gutter floozie” main squeeze. Film’s 60 minute running time makes it speed by, aided by some fluid for the era camerawork. Fun Fact: Cagney and Blondell appeared in the original Broadway play “Penny Arcade”; when superstar entertainer Al Jolson bought the rights, he insisted Jimmy and Joan be cast in the film version, and…

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Pre-Code Confidential #29: Joan Blondell is BLONDIE JOHNSON (Warner Bros 1933)


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There are many contenders for the crown Queen of Pre-Code – Jean Harlow, Miriam Hopkins, Barbara Stanwyck, Mae West, and a slew of other dames – but there’s only one Joan Blondell! Rose Joan Blondell was “born in a trunk” (as they say) to vaudevillian parents on August 30, 1906, and made her stage debut at the tender age of four months. Little Joanie took to show biz like a duck to water, and worked her way up to Broadway, costarring with a young actor named James Cagney in 1930’s PENNY ARCADE; the pair went to Hollywood for the film version, retitled SINNERS’ HOLIDAY, their first of seven screen teamings.

Our Girl Joanie struck a chord with Depression Era audiences: she was a tough, wisecracking, fast-talking, been-around-the-block tomato whose tough-as-leather veneer cloaked a heart of gold. Joan and Glenda Farrell had ’em rolling in the aisles as a pair…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday Joan Blondell


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking. Hollywood Pre-Code Queen Joan Blondell was born on this date in 1906. After starring in vaudeville and on Broadway, Joan made her film debut in 1930, beginning a screen career that lasted 50 years, until her death in 1979 (her final film was released posthumously in 1981). In honor of one of my favorite stars of the Golden Age, here are 4 Shots from the Films of Joan Blondell (and be on the lookout for more on Joanie, coming next week!):

Blonde Crazy (1931; D: Roy Del Ruth)

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933; D: Mervyn LeRoy)

Nightmare Alley (1947; D: Edmund Goulding)

Grease (1978; D: Randal Kleiser)

Happy Birthday, Joanie!

Royal Flush: THE CINCINNATI KID (MGM 1965)


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There are movies about the high-stakes world of poker, and then there’s THE CINCINNATI KID. This gripping look at backroom gambling has long been a favorite of mine because of the high-powered all-star cast led by two acting icons from two separate generations – “The Epitome of Cool” Steve McQueen and “Original Gangster” Edward G. Robinson . The film was a breakthrough for director Norman Jewison, who went after this from lightweight fluff like 40 POUNDS OF TROUBLE and SEND ME NO FLOWERS to weightier material like IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT and THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR.

The film revolves around a poker showdown between up and coming young stud Eric Stoner, known as The Kid, and veteran Lancey Howard, venerated in card playing circles as The Man. This theme of young tyro vs old pro wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, having been hashed and rehashed in countless Westerns over the…

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Pre Code Confidential #26: THREE ON A MATCH (Warner Brothers 1932)


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Mervyn LeRoy is usually talked about today as a producer and director of classy, prestige pictures, but he first made his mark in the down-and-dirty world of Pre-Code films. LeRoy ushered in the gangster cycle with LITTLE CAESAR, making a star out of Edward G. Robinson, then followed up with Eddie G in the grimy tabloid drama FIVE STAR FINAL . I AM A FUGITVE FROM A CHAIN GANG tackled brutal penal conditions in the South, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 featured half-naked showgirls and the Depression Era anthem “Remember My Forgotten Man”, and HEAT LIGHTNING was banned by the Catholic Legion of Decency! LeRoy’s style in these early films was pedal-to-the-metal excitement, and THREE ON A MATCH is an outstanding example.

The film follows three young ladies from their schoolgirl days to adulthood: there’s wild child Mary, studious Ruth, and ‘most popular’ Vivien. I loved the way writer Lucien Hubbard’s…

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Cleaning Out the DVR #20: ALL-STAR PRE-CODE LADIES EDITION!


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I know all of you, like me, will be watching tonight’s 89th annual Major League Baseball All-Star G
ame, and… wait, what’s that? You say you WON’T be watching the All-Star Game? You have no interest in baseball? Heretics!! But I understand, I really do, and for you non-baseball enthusiasts I’ve assembled a quartet of Pre-Code films to view as an alternative, starring some of the era’s most fabulous females. While I watch the game, you can hunt down and enjoy the following four films celebrating the ladies of Pre-Code:

DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON (Paramount 1931; D: Lloyd Corrigan) – Exotic Anna May Wong stars as Princess Ling Moy, an “Oriental dancer” and daughter of the infamous Dr. Fu Manchu (Warner Oland)! When Fu dies, Ling Moy takes up the mantle of vengeance against the Petrie family, tasked with killing surviving son Ronald. Sessue Hayakawa (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI)…

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A Hidden ‘Poil’: THREE MEN ON A HORSE (Warner Brothers 1936)


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Frank McHugh got a rare starring role in the comedy THREE MEN ON A HORSE, based on the hit Broadway play by George Abbott and John Cecil Holmes. McHugh was usually cast as the funny friend of fellow members of “Hollywood’s Irish Mafia “ James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, but here he takes center stage as a meek, hen-pecked type who has an uncanny knack for picking winning horses – as long as he doesn’t bet on them!

Greeting card writer Erwin Trowbridge is beset by a whiney wife, obnoxious brother-in-law, and bullying boss. After a row with wifey brought on by meddling bro-in-law, Erwin leaves his humble Ozone Park, Queens abode and decides to skip work and get sloshed. Stumbling into a seedy hotel bar frequented by Runyonesque gamblers, Erwin gives them a winning pony – then passes out. The three mugs, Patsy, Charlie, and Frankie, bring him up…

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Horror On The Lens: The Dead Don’t Die (dir by Curtis Harrington)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have a 1975 made-for-television movie called The Dead Don’t Die!

The Dead Don’t Die takes place in Chicago during the 1930s.  George Hamilton is a sailor who comes home just in time to witness his brother being executed for a crime that he swears he didn’t commit.  Hamilton is convinced that his brother was innocent so he decides to launch an investigation of his own.  This eventually leads to Hamilton not only being attacked by dead people but also discovering a plot involving a mysterious voodoo priest!

Featuring atmospheric direction for Curtis Harrington and a witty script by Robert Bloch, The Dead Don’t Die is an enjoyable horror mystery.  Along with George Hamilton, the cast includes such luminaries of “old” Hollywood as Ray Milland, Ralph Meeker, Reggie Nalder, and Joan Blondell.  (Admittedly, George Hamilton is not the most convincing sailor to ever appear in a movie but even his miscasting seems to work in a strange way.)

And you can watch it below!

Enjoy!