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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Cleaning Out The DVR #11: Going My Way (dir by Leo McCarey)


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Last night, continuing my effort to watch 38 movies in 10 days (and, for the record, I have 7 days left as of today), I watched the 1944 musical-comedy-drama Going My Way.

Going My Way tells the episodic story of Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby), a priest from St. Louis who is assigned to take charge of a struggling parish in New York City.  O’Malley is meant to replace Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald), a stubbornly old-fashioned priest who is struggling to keep up with a changing world.  Though O’Malley is to take charge of the parish’s affairs, Fitzgibbon is to remain the pastor.  However, the compassionate O’Malley doesn’t tell Fitzgibbon about the arrangement and allows Fitzgibbon to believe that O’Malley is only meant to be his assistant.

It’s obvious from the start that Fitzgibbon and O’Malley have differing approaches.  Fitzgibbon is a traditionalist.  O’Malley, on the other hand, is a priest who sings.  He’s a priest who understands that the best way to prevent the local teens from forming a street gang is to convince them to start a choir instead.  When it appears that 18 year-old Carol (Jean Heather) is “living in sin,” it is the nonjudgmental O’Malley who convinces her to marry her boyfriend.

And, slowly but surely, Fitzgibbon and O’Malley start to appreciate each other.  O’Malley is even able to convince Fitzgibbon to play a round of golf with him, while Fitzgibbon tells O’Malley about his love for his mother in Ireland.

What’s interesting is that we learn very little about O’Malley’s past.  In many ways, he’s like a 1940s super hero or maybe a less violent and far more ethical version of one of Clint Eastwood’s western heroes.   He shows up suddenly, he fixes things, and then he moves on.  Instead of a cape or a poncho, he wears a collar.

(And, of course, he doesn’t kill anyone.  Actually, that’s probably a lousy analogy but I decided I’d give it a try anyway…)

At one point, O’Malley does run into an opera singer named  Genevieve Linden (Rise Stevens).  He and Genevieve (whose real name is Jenny) talk briefly about their past and it becomes obvious that they once had a romantic relationship.  We don’t learn the exact details but it does bring some unexpected melancholy to an otherwise cheerful film.  It reminds us of what O’Malley gave up to become a priest.

Fortunately, Genevieve is more than happy to help out with O’Malley’s choir, even arranging for them to meet with a record executive (William Frawley).  The executive doesn’t have much interest in religious music but then he hears Bing O’Malley sing Swinging On A Star.

It’s a bit strange to watch Going My Way today because it is a film that has not a hint of cynicism.  There’s no way that a contemporary, mainstream film would ever portray a priest as positively as Father O’Malley is portrayed in this film.  Indeed, it says something about the world that we live in that I instinctively cringed a little whenever O’Malley was working with the choir, largely because films like Doubt and Spotlight have encouraged me to view any film scene featuring a priest and an pre-teen boy with suspicion.  O’Malley is the ideal priest, the type of priest that those of us who were raised Catholic wish that we could have known when we were young and impressionable.  Bing Crosby does a pretty good job of playing him, too.  Watching Going My Way felt like stepping into a time machine and going to a simpler and more innocent time.

In the end, Going My Way is a slight but watchable film.  It doesn’t add up too much but, at the same time, it’s always likable.  Though the film may be about a priest, the emphasis is less on religion and more on kindness, charity, and community.  Going My Way was a huge success at the box office and even won the Oscar for best picture.

Personally, I would have given the Oscar to Double Indemnity but Going My Way is still a likable movie.

Speaking of likable, the Academy was so impressed with Barry Fitzgerald’s performance that they actually nominated it twice!  He got so many votes in both categories that Fitzgerald ended up nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.  Subsequently, the Academy changed the rules and decreed that a performance could only be nominated in one category.  As for Fitzgerald, he won the Oscar for best supporting actor.  He later broke the Oscar while practicing his golf swing.

Barry and Oscar

Barry and Oscar

(Don’t worry.  The Academy sent him a replacement.)

Cleaning Out The DVR #7: The More The Merrier (dir by George Stevens)


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After I finished with Watch On The Rhine, I decided to watch another film from 1943.  Like Watch On The Rhine, The More The Merrier is a film about life during wartime and it takes place in Washington, D.C.  However, that’s all that they have in common.  Whereas Watch On The Rhine was a serious and somber affair, The More The Merrier is thoroughly delightful little comedy.

The More The Merrier opens with a retired millionaire named Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn) arriving in Washington D.C.  He’s been asked to serve as an adviser for a commission that has been tasked with solving America’s housing shortage.  (This was apparently a very real concern during World War II.)  However, as soon as Dingle arrives, he finds directly effected by the problem that he’s supposed to be solving.  His hotel room won’t be available for two days and he has no where to stay.  After a quick look through the newspaper, Ben finds an ad for a roommate.

When he arrives at the apartment, he discovers a long line of men waiting outside.  They’re all in the same situation as him and are hoping that Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) will select him for her roommate.  However, Connie picks Ben, largely because he’s old and rich and she won’t have to worry about him hitting on her on like most guys nor does she have to worry about him borrowing her clothes or getting jealous of her, like she would have to with a female roommate.  Connie is engaged to a boring but well-paid bureaucrat named Charles Pendergrast (Richard Gaines).  She doesn’t really love Pendergrast (and he has an annoying habit of shushing her) but, after growing up poor because her mother married for love, Connie is determined to not to make the same mistake.

Ben and Connie struggle, at first, to adjust to each other’s habits.  Connie keeps to an exact schedule and claims to not have any use for frivolity.  Ben is the exact opposite.  The early scenes of them trying (and, of course, failing) to stay out of each other’s way are hilarious, with both Coburn and Arthur giving brilliant comedic performances.  (I’m jealous of how wonderfully Jean Arthur could express exasperation.)  Connie’s apartment is already small and it gets even smaller once she sublets half of it to Benjamin Dingle.

However, things are about to get even more crowded.  One day, while out exploring Washington, Ben runs into Joe Carter (Joel McCrea), a sergeant who has a few days before he’s scheduled to be shipped overseas and who has no place to stay.  Generously, Ben agrees to sublet half of his half of the apartment to Joe.  Of course, Ben does this without telling Connie.

When, after another hilarious and artfully done sequence of the three new roommates wandering around the apartment and just barely missing each other, Connie discovers what Ben has done, she orders both Ben and Joe to leave the apartment.  Ben agrees to do so, if she gives him back his security deposit.  Unfortunately, Connie already spent that money on a hat…

So, they’re stuck together.  Connie is attracted to Joe and Joe to Connie but Connie is also determined to marry Pendergrast.  (When Joe scornfully says that he bets Pendergrast combs his hair “every hour on the hour,” Connie snaps back, “Mr. Pendergrast has no hair!”)  Fortunately, Ben — being older and wiser — can see that Joe and Connie are perfect for each other and he starts doing everything he can to bring the two together.

As Ben says more than once, “Damn the torpedoes!  Full speed ahead!”

Jean Arthur is one of my favorite actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age.  She had this perfect “no bullshit” attitude, mixed with an unexpected vulnerability.  In The More The Merrier, she’s just as credible when she’s ordering Ben and Joe to leave as when she’s breaking into tears after she catches Ben reading her diary.  In the role of Ben, Charles Coburn is warm, kind, and wonderfully eccentric.  (When Joe asks him what does for a living, Ben cheerfully replies, “I’m a well-to-do retired millionaire.  How ’bout you?”)  And then you have Joel McCrea, in the role of the “cute but dumb” Joe Carter.  He’s not really that dumb but he certainly is cute.  Wisely, McCrea never tries to be funny.  Instead, he gets most of his laughs just by reacting to all of the craziness going on around him.

Briskly directed by George Stevens, The More The Merrier features a snappy script from Frank Ross, who was married to Jean Arthur.  It’s full of hilarious lines but, at the same time, there’s an undercurrent of melancholy to it as well.  Hanging, like a shadow over all of the comedy and the romance, is the fact that Joe is soon going to be shipped overseas.  Even while you laugh, you’re very aware that there’s a chance he might not be coming back.  That reality brings an unexpected depth to the film’s otherwise cheerful love story.

The More The Merrier was nominated for best picture but it lost to Casablanca.  However, Charles Coburn did win the Oscar for best supporting actor.