Cleaning Out The DVR: Let Us Live! (dir by John Brahm)

In the 1939 film, Let Us Live!, Henry Fonda plays Brick Tennant.  Brick is a poor but honest taxi driver who has always lived a law-abiding life and who is looking forward to marrying waitress named Mary Roberts (Maureen O’Sullivan).  However, when a taxi is used as a getaway car in a violent robbery that leaves a policeman dead, Brick finds that he’s a suspect.

At first, Brick isn’t too worried.  It turns out that every taxi driver in Boston is apparently being considered a suspect.  Brick is just 1 out of 120.  However, when the police bring Brick in to take part in a lineup, one of the witnesses insists that Brick and his friend, Joe Linden (Alan Baxter), were involved in the robbery.  Despite the fact that Brick and Mary were at a church, planning their wedding, during the robbery, Brick and Joe are arrested and put on trial for murder.  Despite Brick’s initial faith in the system, he and Joe are convicted and sentenced to die.

On death row, Brick faces the inhumane reality of American justice.  He watches as other prisoners slowly lose their mind as a result of neglect and abuse.  He watches as another prisoner drops dead in front of him, to the indifference of the guards.  Even when Mary tells him that she’s still looking for evidence that will exonerate him, Brick says that he no longer cares.  The state of Massachusetts is determined to kill him and he doesn’t believe that there’s any way stop them.  As Mary puts it, Brick is now dead inside.

Still, Mary continued to investigate.  Helping her is a police detective named Everett (Ralph Bellamy).  Everett comes to realize that two innocent men are sitting on Death Row but will he and Mary be able to find the real culprits before the state executes Brick and Joe?

While watching Let Us Live, I found it impossible not to compare the film to The Wrong Man, another film in which Henry Fonda played an innocent man being railroaded by the system.  Both The Wrong Man and Let Us Live were based on a true stories, though Let Us Live takes considerably more liberty with its source material than The Wong Man does.  Whereas The Wrong Man is a docudrama that’s full of moody atmosphere courtesy of director Alfred Hitchcock, Let Us Live is much more of a fast-paced, melodramatic B-move.

That said, Let Us Live! is still a definitely effective look at how an innocent man can be railroaded by a system that’s often more concerned with getting a quick conviction than actually searching for the truth.  Sadly, the issues that Let Us Live deals with are just as relevant today as they were in 1939.  The film’s power comes from Henry Fonda’s performance as Brick.  It’s truly heart-breaking to watch Brick go from being a cheerful optimist to a man who has been so broken down by American justice that he can’t even bring himself to celebrate the news that he might be released.  The film ends on a grim note, a reminder that some damage cannot be undone.

Let Us Live! is another good but obscure film that I discovered through TCM.  Keep an eye out for it!

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


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.


Cleaning Out The DVR #1: Captains Courageous (dir by Victor Fleming)


For the last few days, I’ve been desperately trying to clean out my DVR.  Ever since this year began, I have been obsessively recording movies and now, I suddenly find myself with just a few hours of space left!  Now, I know that the simple solution would be to just start erasing stuff but that’s just not the way I do things.  I recorded that stuff so you better believe I’m going to watch and review every single minute of it!

Last night, I did a quick count and discovered that I have 38 movies to watch before I can officially declare the DVR to have been “cleaned out.”  While that may sound like a lot, it’s not if you consider that — by watching and reviewing 4 movies a day — I can have the whole job done by the end of the next week!  That’s my plan and my challenge to myself.  Can I watch and review 38 movies in 10 days?

Let’s find out!

So, I started things out by watching the 1937 film, Captains Courageous.  Captains Courageous was aired on TCM as a part of their 31 Days of Oscar.  Not only was Captains Courageous nominated for best picture but it won Spencer Tracy his first Oscar.  Tracy was one of the quintessential American actors so it’s interesting to note that he won his first Oscar for playing a Portuguese fisherman who speaks in exaggeratedly broken English.

Spencer Tracy may have won the Oscar for Best Actor but his role is really a supporting one.  Instead, Captains Courageous is about an extremely spoiled, obnoxious, and annoying 15 year-old named Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew).  From the minute that Harvey first appears on screen, it’s difficult to like him.  The son of a rich businessman (Melvyn Douglas), Harvey is hated by everyone.  His family’s butler rolls his eyes whenever Harvey calls for him.  His classmates (and, of course, Harvey attends a snooty private school) want nothing to do with him.  When his father takes him on a trans-Atlantic cruise, even the sailors seem like they want to toss him overboard.

However, before they get a chance to give him one quick shove over the railing, Harvey does their job for them.  He falls overboard and he nearly drowns before being rescued by a fisherman named Manuel (Spencer Tracy).  Manuel takes him back to the fishing schooner, where that ship’s captain (Lionel Barrymore) refuses to believe that Harvey is rich.  Since the rest of the crew quickly decides that they dislike Harvey as much as everyone else does, the captain saves Harvey from being thrown back overboard by “hiring” him as a fisherman.  And, of course, the captain makes Manuel responsible for him.

Though initially hostile, Harvey and Manuel slowly start to bond.  Harvey learns about the importance of hard work and starts to grow up.  And, eventually, it all leads to tragedy.  That’s just how things work in the movies.

As you can probably guess from the plot description above, there’s not a subtle moment to be found in Captains Courageous but, as is so often the case with 1930s Hollywood, that’s actually what makes the film appealing.  Captains Courageous wears its sentiment on its sleeve and it makes for an interesting contrast to the more cynical films of today.  While it takes a while to get used to seeing Spencer Tracy giving such a theatrical performance, he does eventually win you over.  Freddie Bartholomew is vulnerable enough to you can forgive his character for being so obnoxious.  Meanwhile, Lionel Barrymore and Mevlyn Douglas are well-cast in their supporting roles and, if you keep an eye open, you’ll see everyone from John Carradine to a young Mickey Rooney working on the schooner.  Ultimately, Captains Courageous is a well-made and likable coming-of-age film that still holds up today.