A Movie A Day #155: Out of the Fog (1941, directed by Anatole Litvak)


When two aging fishermen (Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen) attempt to buy a new boat, they run into a problem with local mobster, Harold Goff (John Garfield).  As Goff explains, if they do not pay him $5.00 a week, something bad could happen to their boat.  When one of the fisherman’s daughter (Ida Lupino) falls in love with Goff, she makes the mistake of letting him know that her father is planning on giving her $190 so that she can take a trip to Cuba.  When Goff demands the money for himself, the fishermen attempt to go to the police, just to be told that there is nothing that the authorities can do.  Goff tricked them into signing an “insurance” contract that allows him to demand whatever he wants.  The two fishermen are forced to consider taking drastic measures on their own.  Out of the Fog is an effective, early film noir, distinguished mostly be John Garfield’s sinister performance as Harold Goff.

Out of the Fog is also memorable as an example of how Hollywood dealt with adapting work with political content during the production code era.  Out of the Fog was based on The Gentle People, a play by Irwin Shaw.  In the play, which was staged by The Group Theater in 1939, Harold Goff was obviously meant to be a symbol of both European fascism and American capitalism.  In the play, the two fisherman had Jewish names and were meant to symbolize those being persecuted by the Third Reich and its allies.  In the transition for stage to film, Jonah Goodman became Jonah Goodwin and he was played by the very talented but definitely not Jewish Thomas Mitchell.   The play ended with Harold triumphant and apparently unstoppable.  Under the production code, all criminals had to be punished, which meant the ending had to be changed.  Out of the Fog is an effective 1940s crime thriller but, without any political subtext, it lacks the play’s bight.

One final note: while Out of the Fog had a good cast, with up and comer John Garfield squaring against old vets Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen, the original Broadway play’s cast was also distinguished.  Along with contemporary film stars Sylvia Sidney and Franchot Tone, the play’s cast was a who’s who of actors and directors who would go on to be prominent in the 1950 and 60s: Lee J. Cobb, Sam Jaffe, Karl Malden, Martin Ritt, and Elia Kazan all had roles.

 

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Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 10: Halloween Leftovers


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Halloween has come and gone, though most people have plenty of leftovers on hand, including your Cracked Rear Viewer. Here are some treats (and a few tricks) that didn’t quite make the cut this year:

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ISLE OF THE DEAD (RKO 1945, D: Mark Robson)

Typically atmospheric Val Lewton production stars Boris Karloff as a Greek general trapped on a plague-ridden island along with a young girl (Ellen Drew) who may or may not be a vorvolaka (vampire-like spirit). This film features one of Lewton’s patented tropes, as Drew wanders through the woods alone, with the howling wind and ominous sounds of the creatures of the night. Very creepy, with another excellent Karloff performance and strong support from Lewton regulars Alan Napier, Jason Robards Sr, and Skelton Knaggs. Fun Fact: Like BEDLAM , this was inspired by a painting, Arnold Bocklin’s “Isle of the Dead”.

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THE BOWERY BOYS MEET THE MONSTERS (Allied Artists 1954, D: Edward…

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Halloween Havoc!: Bela Lugosi Meets The East Side Kids… Twice!


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Ten years after making horror history as DRACULA,   Bela Lugosi signed a contract with Monogram Studios producer Sam Katzman   to star in a series of low-budget shockers. The films have been affectionately dubbed by fans “The Monogram Nine” and for the most part are really terrible, redeemed only by the presence of our favorite Hungarian. Two of the films were with the East Side Kids, SPOOKS RUN WILD and GHOSTS ON THE LOOSE, making them sort of Poverty Row All-Star Productions for wartime audiences.

I won’t go too deeply into all the Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/Bowery Boys variations here. Suffice it to say original Dead Enders Leo Gorcey   (Muggs), Huntz Hall (Glimpy), and Bobby Jordan (Danny) landed at Monogram after their Warner Brothers contracts expired, much to Jack Warner’s relief. The young actors were a rowdy bunch, and Jack was probably glad to be rid of them! Anyway, the trio were popular with the masses, and…

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The Holy Grail of Bad Cinema: THE PHYNX (Warner Brothers 1970)


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(WARNING: The movie I’m about to review is so bad, I can’t even find a proper poster for it. Beware… )

I was so excited when I  found out TCM was airing THE PHYNX at 4:00am!  I’d heard about how bad it for years now, and couldn’t wait to view it for myself today on my trusty DVR. I wasn’t disappointed, for THE PHYNX is a truly inept movie, so out of touch with its audience… and just what is its audience? We’ve got a Pre-Fab rock band, spy spoof shenanigans, wretched “comedy”, and cameos from movie stars twenty years past their prime. Just who was this movie made for, anyway?

The film defies description, but I’ll give it a whirl because, well because that’s what I do! We begin as a secret agent attempts to crash into Communist Albania in unsuccessful and unfunny ways, then segue into some psychedelic cartoons…

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The Fabulous Forties #33: Boys of the City (dir by Joseph H. Lewis)


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The 33rd film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1940’s Boys of the City.

As a classic film lover, I have to admit that I groaned a bit when the opening credits announced that Boys of the City starred “East Side Kids.”  The East Side Kids were a group of actors who appeared in a number of B-movies from the 1930s through the 50s.  Many of the actors started out as members of the Dead End Kids and a few more were members of a group known as The Little Tough Guys.  In the 40s, they merged to become the East Side Kids and then eventually, once the East Side Kids started to hit their 30s, they became known as the Bowery Boys.  Their movies started out as tough and gritty melodramas but, by the time they were known as the Bowery Boys, they were making cartoonish comedies.  Occasionally, one of their films will show up on TCM.  Their early serious films (Dead End, Angels With Dirty Faces) remain watchable but, from what little I’ve seen of them, their later comedies appear to be damn near unbearable.

Boys of the City finds the East Side Kids in transition.  The kids still have an edge to them.  They are definitely portrayed as being juvenile delinquents who are walking a thin line between either a short life of crime or a long life of poverty.  But them film itself, while it may not be as cartoonish as the films that were to come in the future, is definitely a comedy.

Basically, the East Side Kids (Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Hal E. Chester, Frankie Burke, Sunshine Sammy, Donald Haines, David Gorcey, and Algy Williams) have been arrested for vandalism and are given a choice.  They can either go to juvenile hall or they can spend the summer at a camp in upstate New York.  Somewhat reluctantly (and hopefully remembering the unlucky fates of Humphrey Bogart in Dead End and James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces), the kids agree to go to the camp.

However, on the way to the camp, their car breaks down and they are forced to stay at the nearby home of a crooked judge (Forrest Taylor) until they can get the car repaired.  The judge, however, is killed and it’s up to the East Side Kids to solve the murder!  Was the judge killed by the gangsters that he was set to testify against?  Was he killed by his niece (Inna Gest)?  Or maybe it was his housekeeper, Agnes (Minerva Urecal, who appears to be parodying Judith Anderson’s performance in Rebecca)?  Or was he murdered by Knuckles (Dave O’Brien), who the judge wrongly sentenced to die and who, following his vindication and release from prison, has become a guardian to the East Side Kids?

Who knows?  Who cares?  I certainly didn’t.

Clocking in at 68 minutes, Boys of the City is a typical 1940s second feature.  Designed to keep audiences entertained without requiring them to think, Boys of the City moves quickly and adds up to nothing.  I know that there are some classic film lovers who can tell the difference between the various East Side Kids (or Dead End Kids or Bowery Boys or whatever you want to call them) but they all pretty much blended together for me.

Not surprisingly for a film made in 1940, Boys of the City is full of casual racism.  Sunshine Sammy plays an East Side Kid named Scruno.  As soon as Scruno sees the cemetery next to the house, his eyes go wide and he says, “G-g-g-ghosts!”  Apparently, that was very popular in the 40s but today, it’s impossible to watch without cringing.

Boys of the City has some interest as a time capsule but otherwise, it’s a film that is easily and happily forgotten about.

Film Review: Dead End (dir. by William Wyler)


Originally released in 1937, Dead End is a gangster film with social conscience.  Based on a Broadway play and featuring a screenplay by the iconic progressive writer Lillian Hellman, Dead End is a crime film that’s more interested in the root causes of crime than in crime itself.

Dead End takes place over the course of one day in the slums of New York City.  While tenement children spend their time swimming in the East River and idealizing gangsters, wealthy people live in high-rise apartments and depend on the police and their doorman (played, naturally enough, by Ward Bond) to keep them protected from the poor people living next door.

Among the poor is Drina (Sylvia Sidney), who divides her time between marching on a picket line and trying to keep her younger brother Tommy (Billy Halop) from hanging out with the local street gang, the Dead End Kids (Huntz Hall, Bernard Punsly, Leo Gorcey, and Gabriel Dell).  Drina’s childhood friend is Dave (Joel McCrea), an idealistic architect who is having an affair with a rich man’s mistress (Wendy Barrie).

Complicating things is the arrival of Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart).  Like Dave, Martin grew up in the slums.  However, while Dave is trying to escape by making an honest living, Martin has already escaped by choosing a life of crime.  Now, he’s viewed as a hero by Tommy and his friends and with wariness by Dave and Drina who know that Martin’s presence will eventually lead to the police invading their home.  Martin, however, is more concerned with seeing his mother (Marjorie Main) and his ex-girlfriend (Clare Trevor), who has become a prostitute and is suffering from syphilis.

For a film that was made close to 80 years ago, Dead End holds up pretty well.  Is this because it’s a brilliant film or just because the connection between poverty and crime has remained one of the constants of human history?  It’s probably a combination of both.  Considering that Dead End was filmed on a Hollywood backlot, it’s a surprisingly gritty and realistic film that only occasionally feels a bit stagey.  The film’s entire cast does a good job of bringing this particular dead end to life, though the obvious star of the film is Humphrey Bogart.  As played by Bogart, Baby Face Martin is both sympathetic and despicable, the epitome of the potential that can be found and wasted in any American city.

Dead End was nominated for best picture but lost to The Life of Emile Zola.  The film also received a much deserved nomination for best art design but lost to Lost Horizon while Clare Trevor lost the race for best supporting actress to Alice Brady, who won for In Old Chicago.  Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Humphrey Bogart did not even receive a nomination for his excellent work in Dead End.  Meanwhile, the film’s tough gang of street kids proved to be so popular that they, as a group, were cast in several other films.  Originally credited as the Dead End Kids (and later known as the Bowery Boys), they ended up making a total of 89 films together.  With the possible exception of Angels With Dirty Faces, none of those films are as highly regarded as Dead End.