30 Days of Noir #1: Lady Gangster (dir by Robert Florey)


Welcome to Noirvember!

Yeah, yeah, I know.  That sounds kinda silly, doesn’t it?  However, November is traditionally the month that classic film bloggers tend to concentrate on writing about film noir.  It provides a bit of grit and cynicism in between the horror fun of October and the holiday schmaltz of December.

I have to admit that I’m a little bit torn when it comes to taking part in Noirvember.  On the one hand, I love a good film noir and there’s quite a few obscure and underrated ones available on YouTube right now.  On the other hand, as a natural-born contrarian, I don’t like the idea of hopping on any bandwagons.

In the end, my love of film noir won out.  So, welcome to my first entry in 30 Days of Noir.

 

The 1942 film, Lady Gangster, opens with Dot Burton (Faye Emerson) walking up to a bank.  She’s carrying a small white dog with her.  Though the bank isn’t due to open for another 30 minutes, she explains to the bank guard that she’s got a train to catch and she simply has to deposit a check.  The guard unlocks the door and lets both her and her dog inside.

While filling out her deposit slip, Dot puts the dog down on the floor.  The dogs runs off, distracting the guard just long enough for three men with guns to slip into the bank and rob the place.  Though the police quickly arrive, the men manage to escape, taking $400,000 with them.

The police are immediately suspicious of Dot, especially when she struggles to keep her story straight as to why she’s at the bank.  The lead detective thinks that Dot was in on it.  Dot says that she was merely out for a stroll with her dog.  Dot says that her dog is named Tiny.  The dog, which looks exactly like one that was recently reported missing, is wearing a collar that reads “Boots.”

The district attorney announces that Dot will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  However, a crusading radio broadcaster named Ken Phillips (Frank Wilcox) is convinced that Dot is being railroaded.  Once he realizes that he went to high school with her, Ken is even more determined to help Dot.  Using the power of the airwaves, he forces the district attorney to release Dot into his custody.  Once free, Dot promptly confesses to Ken that she was a part of the robbery and that she’s hidden the money.  An indignant Ken turns her into the police.

So now, Dot’s in prison and no one’s sure where the money is.  One of the bank robbers even dresses up like a woman so that he can see Dot on visiting day but she refuses to tell him anything.  Dot isn’t going to reveal where the money is unless it means she can also get parole.  She needs to get released soon because she’s already got two psychotic snitches targeting her.

Fortunately, Ken has had a change of heart and is lobbying for her release.  Unfortunately, Dot has been tricked into believing that Ken has once again betrayed her so, naturally enough, she sets him up to be murdered.  When Dot discovers that she’s been fooled, can she find a way to warn Ken before it’s too late?

Believe it or not, all of this happens over the course of 62 minutes.  With that many betrayals, twists, and crimes packed into that short of a running time, there’s never a dull moment in Lady Gangster.  Though the film itself is full of huge plot holes and Frank Wilcox is a bit of a stiff as Ken, the film is totally worth seeing for Faye Emerson’s ferocious performance as Dot Burton.  Dot is a force of nature.  When the robbers try to steal her money, Dot instead steals from them.  When Dot believes that Ken has betrayed her, she sets him up to be murdered with a moment of hesitation.  When Dot discovers that Ken didn’t betray her, she immediately starts scheming to prevent the murder that she arranged.  Even when Dot confesses to being a part of the robbery, she does it on her own terms.  Nobody tells Dot what to do and, in that way, she represents the best of America.  As Dot herself explains it, “I’ll play ball with anyone but Hitler.”

The film has a rather odd ending, one that makes you wonder just how forgiving people generally were back in 1942.  But no matter!  Lady Gangster is a quickly paced movie that’s just melodramatic enough to be enjoyable.  It’s in the public domain and on YouTube.  Watch it for Faye Emerson’s performance.

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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Hand-y Man: Peter Lorre in THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS (Warner Brothers 1946)


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Warner Brothers was in at the beginning of the first horror cycle with DR. X and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM , both starring Lionel Atwill. The studio concentrated more on their gangster flicks, Busby Berkeley musicals, swashbuckling epics, and the occasional highbrow films with George Arliss and Paul Muni, but once in a while they’d throw horror buffs a bone: Karloff in 1936’s THE WALKING DEAD, ’39’s THE RETURN OF DR. X (no relation to the original, instead casting Humphrey Bogart as a pasty-faced zombie!), and a pair of scare comedies from ’41, THE SMILING GHOST and THE BODY DISAPPEARS.

Come 1946, Warners took another stab at horror with THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS, a psychological thriller about a dead pianist’s crawling hand out for murderous revenge… well, sort of. The movie was assembled by a host of horror vets, directed by Robert Florey (MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE…

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Halloween Havoc!: Bela Lugosi in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (Universal 1932)


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We can’t have a proper ‘Halloween Havoc!’ without inviting Bela Lugosi to the party, now can we? After all, his 1931 hit DRACULA practically invented the horror movie as far as ‘talking pictures’ go. Both Bela and director Robert Florey were slated to work on producer Carl Laemmle’s next horror opus FRANKENSTEIN, but Laemmle wasn’t satisfied with their version, handing it over to James Whale, who hired a bit player named Boris Karloff to portray the monster of science, and the rest is history. Lugosi and Florey were instead given MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale, to bring to screen life. This was the first of Bela’s “mad doctor” role, a part he would essay twelve more times in films of varying quality.

It’s Carnival Night in 1845 Paris, and med student Pierre Dupin takes his girlfriend Camille L’Espanaye to make merry watching exotic belly…

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Happy Birthday Peter Lorre: THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK (Columbia 1941)


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In honor of Cracked Rear Viewer’s second anniversary, I’m re-presenting my first post from June 26, 2015. I’ve re-edited it and added some pictures, something I didn’t know how to do at first. My, how times change! Anyway, I hope you enjoy this look at an early noir classic. (Coincidentally, this is also Mr. Lorre’s birthday!)

The sinister star Peter Lorre was born in Hungary on June 26, 1904. He became a big screen sensation as the child killer in Fritz Lang’s German classic M (1931), and like many Jews in Germany at the time, fled the Nazi regime, landing in Britain in 1933. Lorre worked with Alfred Hitchcock there in the original THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, then immigrated to America, starring in films like MAD LOVE  , CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, and the Mr. Moto series. In 1940, the actor starred in what many consider the first film noir, STRANGER ON THE…

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Fabulous Forties #32: Outpost in Morocco (dir by Robert Florey)


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After watching the excellent The Last Chance, I was really hoping that the 32nd film in the Fabulous Forties box set would turn out be a classic as well.  Sadly, that was not the case.  1949’s Outpost in Morocco is a generally forgettable adventure film about the French Foreign Legion.

George Raft plays Capt. Paul Gerard, a captain in the French Foreign Legion.  Now, I happen to like George Raft.  He may not have been the greatest actor of Hollywood’s Golden Age but he did have a roguish charm and he was a great dancer.  Unfortunately, while the role of Paul Gerard did call for a bit of charm, it didn’t call for much dancing.  Instead, Paul Gerard is rather stolid and dependable and a little bit boring.  Needless to say, George Raft was more than a little miscast in the role.

Speaking of miscast, the beautiful but very American Marie Windsor plays Cara, the daughter of the Emir of the Moroccan city of Bel-Rashad.  The French are not allowed to enter the city and there are rumors that the Emir has been using this situation as an opportunity to plot against France.  Since Cara has spent the last few years studying in France, she is willing to go into Bel-Rashad and report on whether or not the rumors are true.  Gerard is assigned to escort her to the city.  Gerard’s superiors suspect that Cara might even fall in love with Gerard and, as a result, will be willing to turn against her father.

And that’s exactly what happens!  It takes exactly 10 days for Cara and Gerard to fall in love.  (We know this because the film is full of excerpts from a journal that Gerard keeps as he escorts Cara across the desert.)  However, once they reach Bel-Rashad, Cara does discover that her father is indeed conspiring against the French.  It is up to Gerard to put down the revolution and defeat the Emir, even if it means potentially sacrificing his love for Cara.

It’s interesting to note that there’s a few scenes where Raft sounds like he’s trying to imitate Humphrey Bogart, which immediately reminded me of how so many of Bogart’s great roles were initially offered to Raft.  I found myself wondering if Raft agreed to do Outpost in Morocco to make up for refusing Bogart’s role in a certain other film that was set in Morocco.

Unfortunately, Outpost in Morocco is no Casablanca.  Whereas Casablanca is a classic that holds up to this day, Outpost in Morocco is best described as being … well, dull.

How boring in Outpost in Morocco?  George Raft looks bored.  Marie Windsor looks bored.  Even the great character actor Akim Tamiroff looks bored!  Portions of the film were shot on location in Morocco so there are a few nice shots of the desert (if that’s your thing) and the ending is a bit darker than you might normally expect for a 1949 adventure film but otherwise, Outpost in Morocco is a fairly forgettable film.

Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone 1.17 “The Fever”


For tonight’s horror on TV, we have an episode of The Twilight Zone entitled The Fever. In this one, Franklin (Everett Sloane) and his wife Flora (Vivi Janiss) visit Las Vegas. Franklin detests gambling but, once he finds himself in Vegas, he finds himself being pursued by a slot machine that, literally, calls his name.


This episode was written by Rod Serling and directed by Robert Florey. (Reportedly, Serling wrote it after losing a good deal of money in Vegas.) It originally aired on January 29th, 1960.


I like this episode. Everett Sloane, who played the beloved Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane, gives a great performance and the taunting slot machine starts out as slightly ludicrous but then becomes genuinely menacing as the episode reaches its conclusion.