The Fabulous Forties #47: Broadway Limited (dir by Gordon Douglas)


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The 47th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was a 1941 comedy named Broadway Limited.

Broadway Limited tells the story of several increasingly desperate characters and a baby.  April Tremaine (Marjorie Woodworth) is a film star whose career is in danger of stagnating.  Her frequent director, the eccentric Ivan Ivanski (Leonid Litinsky), comes up with a plan to increase April’s popularity.  He starts a rumor that she has adopted a baby.  The only problem is that April has to be seen with the baby for the rumor to be believable.

Fortunately, April is going to be traveling from Chicago to New York via a train known as the Broadway Limited.  Ivan decides that April needs to be seen with the baby on the train.  April’s assistant, Patsy (Patsy Kelly), is dating the train’s engineer, Mike (Victor McLaglen).  When Patsy tells Mike about the scheme, Mike decides to help out.  He spots a mysterious man with a baby.  Mike asks if he can borrow the baby for a few minutes.  The man agrees and hands over the baby and then Mike gives the baby to April.  Everyone sees April with the baby but the mysterious man has vanished.  What Mike does not initially know but quickly comes to suspect is that the baby might be the Pierson Baby, whose kidnapping has become national news.

(As confusing as it may sound when you read about it, it’s even more confusing when you actually watch it.)

The rest of the film basically follows Patsy, Mike, Ivan, and April as they all try to get the baby to safety without running the risk of being implicated in the kidnapping.  The four of them keep trying to leave the baby in different parts of the train, where she can be discovered by someone, just to inevitably have the baby somehow end up back in their compartment.

But that’s not all!  The high-strung president of the April Tremaine fan club (played by ZaSu Pitts) is also on the train and she keeps getting in everyone’s way.  And then there’s Dr. Harvey North (Dennis O’Keefe).  Harvey was April’s childhood crush and they just happen to be on the same train!  However, Dr. North believes that, since April has a baby, she must also have a lover…

If Broadway Limited sounds like an extremely busy film … well, it is.  The film attempts to do the screwball thing, with increasingly frantic characters running from compartment to compartment and behaving in increasingly ludicrous ways.  How well it works depends on which character is appearing in which scene.  O’Keefe plays his role too seriously, Litinsky is too broad, and Woodward is never believable as a movie star (which, needless to say, is problem when you’re the star of a movie).  However, Patsy Kelly and Victor McLaglen are both hilarious as Patsy and Mike and have a lot of chemistry.  As long as the film concentrates on Patsy and Mike, it’s entertaining.

Plus, the baby’s super cute!

Broadway Limited is hardly a classic but it works well enough.

 

The Fabulous Forties #4: Topper Returns (dir by Roy Del Ruth)


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The fourth film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1941’s Topper Returns.  Topper Returns was the third (and final) film to be made about Cosmo Topper (Roland Young).  Cosmo Topper is an upper class and mild-mannered banker who likes to collect automobiles and who is married to the somewhat daffy Clara (Billie Burke).  Cosmo would seem to be a pretty normal guy, except for the fact that he can talk to dead people.  In the first Topper film, a ghost played by Cary Grant helped him to learn how to appreciate life.  In the second Topper film, Topper Takes A Trip, a ghost played by Constance Bennett helped to save Topper and Clara’s marriage.  And in this Topper film, a ghost helps …. well actually, the ghost doesn’t help Topper out at all.  Instead, Topper helps the ghost solve her own murder.

When Gail Richards (Joan Blondell) visits her friend Ann Carrington (Carole Landis) for the weekend, she has no idea just how weird things are going to get.  First off, while Gail and Ann are riding in a taxi to the big and foreboding Carrington mansion, a mysterious man in black shoots out the taxi’s tires.  Though the taxi crashes, both Gail and Ann survive and are able to hitch a ride from Ann’s neighbor, Cosmo Topper.

Once they get to the mansion, Gail meets Ann’s strange family.  Gail loves the mansion and who wouldn’t, seeing as how it is big and dark and full of secret passageways?  However, Gail makes the big mistake of switching beds with Ann.  Later that night, when that man in black sneaks into the bedroom and attempts to stab Ann to death, he ends up killing Gail instead.  When we next see Gail, she’s a ghost who can’t leave our world until her murder has been solved.

No worries!  Gail isn’t that upset about being a ghost.  In fact,  she seems to be rather amused by it all.  She floats right over to Topper’s house and demands that he come over and solve her murder.  After some initial reluctance, Topper agrees.  Topper sneaks into the Carrington mansion and gets to work searching for clues and attempting to solve the crime.  Needless to say, it involves a lot of family secrets, hidden rooms, and dark passageways.

Now, I should admit that I haven’t seen the first two Topper films so I don’t know how Topper Returns compares to them.  The majority of the reviews that I’ve read online seem to indicate that Topper Returns is widely considered to be inferior when compared to the first two films.  It is true, as a lot of other reviewers have pointed out, that Topper himself occasionally seems almost superfluous to the film’s plot.  At no point does he mention that he has a history of talking to ghosts and, if not for the fact that the film’s title is Topper Returns, it would be easy to believe that this film was the first appearance of the character.

But no matter!  I enjoyed Topper Returns, mostly because I’d like to think that if I was ever murdered and came back as a ghost, I would manage to have as much fun doing so as Joan Blondell appears to be having in the role of Gail.  Funny, likable, and quick-witted, Gail isn’t going to let a little thing like being dead keep her from having fun!  I also appreciated that the film has a nicely morbid streak.  Towards the end of the film, there’s a cheerful conversation between Gail and another ghost.  Gail mentions that, as soon as the murder has been solved, she can go to Heaven and “you can go to…”  Gail lets her voice trail off but still make a point of glancing down at the ground.

For a modern viewer, the most problematic part of Topper Returns is the character of Chauffeur, who is Topper’s African-American servant and who doesn’t even get a proper name even though he’s in about 80% of the movie.  On the one hand, Chauffeur is written as a total racist stereotype and, as written, the majority of his lines will absolutely make you cringe.  On the other hand, he’s also played by Eddie Anderson, a talented comedic actor who always played his servants in such a way as to suggest that they were actually a hundred times smarter than the white people they were working for.  Though you may not like the way the character is written, it is possible to appreciate the subversive subtext that Anderson brings to his performance (a subtext which, undoubtedly, was not present in the original script).  Anderson was best known for playing comedian Jack Benny’s sidekick and, at one point during Topper Returns, he announces that he’s sick of ghosts and that he’s going “return to Mr. Benny!”

Taken on its own 1941 terms, Topper Returns was an enjoyable old, dark house movie.  Watch it for Joan Blondell having the time of her afterlife.

Horror Film Review: Rosemary’s Baby (dir by Roman Polanski)


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“This is no dream!  This is really happening!”

— Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) in Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Yes, Rosemary, it is.

The classic 1968 horror movie Rosemary’s Baby is probably best remembered for a lengthy and wonderfully surreal “dream” sequence in which naive newlywed Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) is raped by the Devil while a bunch of naked old people stand around her and chant.  At one point, she sees her husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), saying that she’s awake and that she knows what’s going on.  Their neighbor, Minnie Castevet (Ruth Gordon), tells him that Rosemary can’t hear anything and that it’s like she’s dead and then snaps at him, “Now, sing!”  It’s a great sequence, one of the greatest of Roman Polanski’s career, a perfect blending of horror and dark comedy.

For me, the most interesting part of that dream sequence comes at the start.  Rosemary envisions herself naked on a boat and, as she tries to cover herself, who is sitting next to her?  None other than John F. Kennedy!  Suddenly, Rosemary is wearing a bikini and she’s relaxing out on the deck with a glamorous group of people who I assume were meant to be Kennedy relatives.  As the boat leaves the dock, Rosemary sees that her friend and protector, Hutch (Maurice Evans), is standing on the dock.

“Isn’t Hutch coming with us?” Rosemary asks.

“Catholics only,” John F. Kennedy hisses in that famous accent, “I’m afraid we are bound by these prejudices.”

“I understand,” a dazed Rosemary replies.

And it’s a wonderful little moment, though I have to wonder if I’d react as strong if my own background wasn’t Irish Catholic.  But still, there’s something so wonderfully subversive about a bunch of elderly Satanists pretending to be the Kennedys.

And really, Rosemary’s Baby is a wonderfully subversive film.  I imagine it was even more subversive when it was first released back in 1968.  It’s been ripped off and imitated so many times that it has undoubtedly lost some of its impact.  (That’s one reason why I wish I had a time machine, so I could go back in the past and see it was truly like to see a classic film for the first time.)  But still, 47 years after it was initially released, Rosemary’s Baby is still a surprisingly effective horror film.

The film opens with newlyweds Rosemary and Guy moving into the Bramford, an exclusive New York apartment building.  Guy is an actor who, despite having appeared in two off-Broadway shows (one of which was entitled Nobody Likes An Albatross and really, that is so true) and a few motorcycle commercials, is still waiting for his big break.  There are hints that, before she married Guy, Rosemary had a very active and interesting life (when we briefly meet her old friends, they all seem to be a lot more exciting than boring old Guy) but, when we meet her, Rosemary appears to have happily settled into a life of domesticity.

Life at the Bramford is strange.  For one thing, Guy and Rosemary appear to be the only young people living in the entire building.  (There is a young woman named Terry but she ends up jumping out of a window.)  The Woodhouses befriend elderly Minnie Castevet and her husband, Roman (Sidney Blackmer.)  Roman claims to have traveled all over the world and embarrasses the Catholic Rosemary by criticizing the Pope.  Minnie, meanwhile, is the noisiest person in the world.  Guy makes fun of both of them and, yet, he still decides to spend his free time with Roman.

One day, Guy gets a role that he had previously lost.  Why?  Because another actor is struck by a sudden case of blindness.  Shortly afterward, Rosemary has her “dream.”  She wakes up and discovers that her body is covered with red scratches.  Guy claims that he had sex with her while she was asleep and promises to cut his fingernails.

Soon, Rosemary is pregnant but the Castevets insist that she use their doctor, the firm and sinister Dr. Saperstein (Ralph Bellamy, who just 8 year earlier had played FDR in Sunrise at Campobello).  Rosemary knows that something is wrong with the baby but she can’t get anyone to listen to her.  It all leads to one of the best and most iconic endings in the history of horror cinema.

Rosemary’s Baby is a classic of fear and paranoia and it holds up surprisingly well.  See it this October, whether you’re Catholic or not.

(However, do not see the needless 2014 remake.  Seriously, what the Hell was up with that?)

(By the way, is anyone else amazed that I made it through this entire review without making a single joke about either Ronan Farrow or Mia’s lame Sharknado live tweet?  I am shocked.)