Mardi Gras Film Review: Lady Behave! (dir by Lloyd Corrigan)


The 1938 film, Lady Behave!, begins with a woman named Clarice (Patricia Farr) getting ready to go out and celebrate Mardi Gras.  Even though Clarice invites her older sister, Paula (Sally Eilers), to come with her, Paula refuses.  Paula has work to do at home.  It’s pretty obvious that this is the way that it’s always been between the two sisters.  Clarice has fun while Paula stays home and waits for her to return.

Fortunately, Clarice does return in the morning.  As she tells Paula, she had a great time during Mardi Gras.  In fact, she had such a great time that she ended up getting married!  She married a wealthy northerner named Stephen Cormack (Neil Hamilton).  The only problem is that Clarice is already married!  She’s totally forgotten that she only recently became the wife of a dissolute playboy named Michael Andrews (Joseph Schildkraut).  By getting married a second time, Clarice has committed bigamy!  She could go to prison for 10 years!

Whatever is Paula to do?

Well, what if she arranges for Clarice to leave the country?

What if she tries to bribe Michael into accepting an annulment?

What if Paula goes up to New York and pretends to be Clarice (because, after all, Stephen was pretty drunk when he married her)?

What is she does all three!?

Of course, when Paula goes up to New York, she discovers that Stephen is out of the country.  She moves into his mansion, where she discovers that his two children — Patricia (Marcia Mae Jones) and Hank (George Ernest) — are convinced that she’s just a gold digger who only wants to steal their father’s money (and, it should be noted, also their inheritance).  When Michael shows up at Stephen’s mansion, he explains to Paula that he needs $10,000 for a horse and he’ll only agree to an annulment if he gets the money.  However, when he meets Patricia and Hank, he tells them that if they pay him $30,000, he’ll help to break up the marriage between Stephen and Paula (who, of course, everyone but Michael thinks is actually Clarice).

Eventually, Stephen shows up and he assumes that Paula actually is Clarice.  Paula and Stephen quickly fall in love and it turns out that Stephen is very serious about his new marriage.  He even wants to take Paula on a honeymoon.  Of course, he thinks Paula is Clarice and Paula is freaking out because they’re not actually married but she wishes that they were.  But, if they did actually get married, Stephen would be guilty of bigamy and then he’d have to leave the country like Clarice and….

Yes, this is one of those somewhat busy screwball comedies where almost every action is motivated by a misunderstanding and where all of the dialogue is extremely snappy.  To be honest, it’s all a bit too hyper.  Though the film originally had a running time of 70 minutes, most of the existing prints are only 57 minutes long.  This film has a lot of plot for only 57 minutes and it’s often difficult to keep track of what’s happening from one scene to the next.  That wouldn’t be a problem if this film starred someone like William Powell and Carole Lombard (or, for that matter, Cary Grant and Myrna Loy) but instead, this film features Sally Eilers and Neil Hamilton, who are likable performers but not quite likable enough to carry the film over it’s rough edges.

On the plus side, Joseph Schildkraut has some very funny scenes as the flamboyant Michael.  And Marcia Mae Jones and George Ernest both do a great work as Stephen’s paranoid children.  They consistently made me laugh.  Otherwise, Lady Behave! is a bit too frantic for its own good.

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.

Horror on the Lens: The Hound of the Baskervilles (dir by Sidney Lanfield)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have 1939’s The Hound of the Baskervilles!

Based, of course, on the novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, The House of the Baskervilles is well-remembered for being the first of many Sherlock Holmes films to star Basil Rathbone as the detective and Nigel Bruce as his loyal sidekick, Dr. Watson.  Interestingly enough, Holmes is absent for a good deal of the film, leaving it up to Watson to do the majority of the investigating.  That said, you can still see why Rathbone’s interpretation of the character proved to be so popular that he would go on to play Holmes in a total of 14 movies and one radio series.

Enjoy!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: THE IRISH IN US (Warner Brothers 1935)


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Faith and begorrah! You can’t get much more Irish than a film featuring Jimmy Cagney , Pat O’Brien , and Frank McHugh all together. THE IRISH IN US is sentimental as an Irish lullaby, formulaic as a limerick, and full of blarney, but saints preserve us it sure is a whole lot of fun! The story concerns three Irish-American brothers, the O’Hara’s, living with their Irish mum in a cramped NYC apartment. There’s sensible, levelheaded cop Pat (O’Brien), dimwitted fireman Michael (McHugh), and ‘black sheep’ Danny (Cagney), who’s a fight promoter.

O’Brien, Cagney, and McHugh

Pat announces his intention to marry pretty Lucille Jackson (19-year-old Olivia de Havilland in an early role), while Danny’s got a new fighter named Carbarn Hammerschlog ( Allen Jenkins , who’s a riot), a punchy pug who “every time he hears a bell ring, he starts sluggin”! Danny and Lucille ‘meet cute’ while he’s out…

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Horror Film Review: The Bride of Frankenstein (dir by James Whale)


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1935‘s The Bride of Frankenstein is usually described as being a sequel to Frankenstein, but I think it would be better to call it a continuation.  In much the same way that all modern YA adaptations seem to be split into two parts, Universal split Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein into two separate films.  The bare basics of The Bride of Frankenstein‘s plot — the monster learns to talk and demands that his creator build him a mate — can all be found in the original novel.

(Of course, in the original novel, the monster somehow learns how to speaks like an Oxford grad and Dr. Frankenstein destroys the female monster before bringing her to life.  The monster responds by killing Elizabeth.  Seriously, Frankenstein is a dark book.)

Bride of Frankenstein features one of my favorite openings of all time.  Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton) are praising Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) and the story that she’s told about how a dedicated scientist played God and created life.  Mary informs them that she’s not finished and then proceeds to tell them the rest of the story.  It’s a great opening because it lets us know that the rest of what we’re seeing is taking place directly inside of Mary’s mind.  It frees the film from the constraints of realism and allows director James Whale to fully indulge his every whim, no matter how bizarre.  When you’re inside someone else’s imagination, anything can happen and that’s certainly the feeling that you get as you watch The Bride of Frankenstein.

The Bride of Frankenstein opens with that burning windmill and a wounded Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) being carried back to his wife, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson, replacing Mae Clarke).  Gone is the original film’s coda, in which Elizabeth announces that she’s pregnant.  And why shouldn’t it be gone?  It felt awkward in the first movie and, like any good writer, Mary Shelley is fixing her story as she goes along.

While Henry is recovering, he is approached by a former mentor, Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger).  Dr. Pretorious is undoubtedly an eccentric and definitely a little bit crazy but he believes in Frankenstein’s work.  In fact, Dr. Pretorious has even created life on his own!  He’s created a bunch of tiny people that he keeps in several glass jars.  They’re impressive but, sadly, they’ll never conquer the world.  Pretorious wants Frankenstein to, once again, work with him to create life.  As Pretorious explains it, it’s time to usher in a new age of “God and monsters!”

(Interestingly enough, one of Pretorious’s henchmen is played by Dwight Frye, who previously played Frankenstein’s henchman, Fritz, in the first film.  Frye dies in both films.  Reportedly, Universal bestowed upon him the nickname, “The Man of a Thousand Deaths.”  It can perhaps be argued that Dwight Frye was both the Steve Buscemi and the Giovanni Lombardo Radice of Universal horror.)

Meanwhile, the monster (Boris Karloff, credited with just his last name because, just four years after Frankenstein and the Mummy, he was already an icon) has survived the burning windmill.  He’s lonely, he’s afraid, and he actually kills more people in The Bride of Frankenstein than he did in Frankenstein.  And yet, he’s still the film’s most sympathetic character.  With everyone constantly trying to kill him, you can understand why the monster is quick to attack every human being that he sees.  He’s almost like a dog who, after years of abuse, automatically growls and bears his teeth at anyone that he sees.

And yet, the monster does eventually find a friend.  A blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) invites the monster into his own home.  (Of course, the hermit does not know who the monster is.  He just assumes that monster is a normal man who does not know how to speak.)  As time passes, the hermit teaches the monster how to say a few words and also tells the monster that there is nothing worse than being lonely.  The monster learns that “Friend good.”  The monster even learns how to smoke a cigar and Heggie and Karloff play these roles with such warmth (Bride of Frankenstein is not only the film where the Monster learns to talk, it’s also the one where he learns to smile) that you really start to dread the inevitable scene where everything goes wrong.

And that scene does arrive.  Two hunters stop by the hermit’s shack and immediately attack the Monster.  The Monster flees.  The shack burns down.  The hermit is led away from his only friend, apparently destined to be lonely once again.

Eventually, of course, the Monster does get his bride.  The Bride is such an iconic character that it’s easy to forget that she only appears in the final ten minutes of the film.  Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary and the Bride.  She screams when she sees the Monster.  “We belong dead,” the Monster replies and my heart breaks a little every time.

So, which is better?  Frankenstein or The Bride of Frankenstein?  I don’t think it’s necessary to choose one or the other.  To use a metaphor that might be appreciated by Henry and Dr. Petorious, Frankenstein is the brain while The Bride of Frankenstein is the heart.  They’re two good films that, when watched together, form one great film.

The Fabulous Forties #48: Pot O’ Gold (dir by George Marshall)


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The 48th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1941’s Pot O’ Gold.  At first, I was really excited about watching Pot O’ Gold because it starred James Stewart, one of my favorite of the Golden Age stars.  “Wow,” I thought, “James Stewart never made a bad movie!  This is going to be great!”  However, before watching the film, I looked Pot O’ Gold up on Wikipedia and I discovered that apparently, James Stewart considered Pot O’ Gold to be the worst film that he ever made.

After having watched the film, I think that Jimmy may very well have been correct in his assessment.

Pot O’ Gold is a musical comedy.  Stewart plays Jimmy Haskell, the owner of a music store.  Jimmy loves music but he’s a terrible businessman.  Despite the fact that his store always seems to be full of quirky characters playing musical instruments, it still goes out of business.  Jimmy is forced to go to work for his uncle, C.J. Haskell (Charles Winninger).  C.J. not only owns a health food company but he also produces a radio show.

And, on top of all that, C.J. hates music!

Unfortunately, considering how much C.J. hates music, he lives right next door to the McCorkles, a family of Irish musicians.  The McCorkles are constantly practicing in front of C.J.’s store and, as a result, C.J. is constantly forced to call the cops to make them go away.

When Jimmy first arrives at the store, he befriends the McCorkles.  He even falls in love with Molly McCorkle (Paulette Goddard).  Unfortunately, none of the McCorkles know that he is C.J.’s nephew and C.J. doesn’t know that his nephew secretly continues to love music.  Meanwhile, C.J. is trying to catch the mysterious person who threw a tomato at him.  What he doesn’t realize is that the tomato was thrown by … JIMMY!

And it just keeps going on and on from there.  C.J. conspires to get rid of the McCorkles.  Jimmy tries to bring peace between the two sided without the Molly discovering that he’s related to C.J. and without C.J. realizing that Jimmy threw that tomato.  Jimmy eventually goes on C.J.’s radio show and soon, he’s using the show as a way to give away money to the needy.  Meanwhile, he struggles to forge peace between the McCorkles and C.J. without Molly discovering his true identity and without C.J. finding out he threw that tomato.  Will C.J. ever learn to love music and will it ever occur to anyone that this whole mess could easily be resolved by everyone making an effort not to randomly break out into song every time C.J. happens to be walking down the street?

Pot O’ Gold is an amazingly silly movie and I don’t mean silly in a good way.  This is one of those films where every issue could be resolved if people just showed a little intelligence.  It’s also a movie where everyone breaks into song every few minutes.  The key to a successful musical is that the songs have to feel like the grow organically out of the action.  The songs in Pot O’ Gold feel like they’re just there to be there.

Personally, I think James Stewart is one of those actors who can make any movie worth seeing.  He is his normal, likable self in this film but Pot O’ Gold never seems worthy of his famous persona.

Incidentally, Pot O’ Gold’s credited producer was James Roosevelt, FDR’s wastrel son.  I don’t know how much he had to do with the actual production but I’ve always wanted an excuse to use the word “wastrel” in a review.