‘B’-ware, My Love: HOUSE OF SECRETS (Chesterfield 1936)


cracked rear viewer


Do you like movies with gloomy old mansions, secret passageways, clutching hands behind curtains, bloodcurdling screams, and the like? How about we throw in some Chicago gangsters and a hidden pirate treasure? Then you may like HOUSE OF SECRETS, a ‘B’ mystery originally sold to audiences as a horror thriller. It’s no classic, to be sure, but it is an enjoyable little low-budget film produced by tiny independent Chesterfield Pictures, who specialized in this sort of thing, and featuring a better than average cast of Familiar Faces.

Aboard a ship bound for London, a young American woman is accosted by a cad who swears he saw her leaving a drug palace in Paris. Globetrotting but near penniless Barry Wilding defends her honor, but the mysterious blonde won’t reveal her name. Barry runs into his old friend Tom while in Jolly Olde England, a detective on the trail of a murderer…

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30 Days of Noir #22: Woman On The Run (dir by Norman Foster)


Like many film noirs, this 1950 film opens with a murder.

On a dark night in San Francisco, a man attempts to blackmail an unseen person called “Danny Boy” and gets shot for his trouble.  The gunshot is heard by a frustrated painter, named Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott), who is out walking his dog.  Frank sees the dead body being pushed out of a car and then catches a shadowy glimpse of the killer.  When the killer open fires on him, Frank runs for it.

Like a good citizen, Frank goes to the police but, when he learns that the victim was due to testify against a local gangster, Frank panics and vanishes.  When Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith) goes to see Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), he’s shocked to discover that Eleanor isn’t shocked by Frank’s disappearance and that she doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.  As Eleanor explains it, Frank is a notorious coward and, years ago, their once strong marriage became a loveless charade.  Frank’s vanished and Eleanor doesn’t care.

Or does she?

While it quickly becomes obvious that Eleanor is telling the truth about not knowing where Frank is, she’s not being totally honest about no longer caring about him.  For instance, when she learns that Frank has been hiding a heart condition from her, Eleanor goes to the doctor to pick up his medicine, just in case he should happen to come by the house.  Of course, it’s not always easy to get out of the house, especially now that the police are watching Eleanor.

Eleanor wants to track down Frank without involving the police and it seems like there’s only one person who is interested in helping he do that..  Played by Dennis O’Keefe, this person is a tough reporter and he says that he wants to do an exclusive story on Frank.  He offers to help Eleanor track him down and he even says that he’ll pay $1,000 for the chance to interview Frank.  The reporter and Eleanor are soon searching San Francisco, retracing Frank’s day-to-day life and discovering that Frank loved Eleanor more than she ever realized….

What’s that?  Oh, did I forget to mention the reporter’s name?

His name is Danny.

That’s right.  Eleanor is trying to find Frank so that she can save his life and working with her is the one man who wants to kill him!

Needless to say, this leads to a great deal of suspense.  On the one hand, you’re happy that Eleanor is rediscovering how much she loves Frank.  On the other hand, you spend almost the entire movie worried that Eleanor is going to lead Danny right to him.  Shot on location in San Francisco and featuring all of the dark shadows and tough dialogue that one could possibly hope to get in a film noir, Woman On The Run is an underrated suspense gem.  Full of atmosphere and steadily building suspense, Woman on the Run features a great and acerbic performance from Ann Sheridan and a genuinely exciting climax that’s set at a local amusement park.  Seriously, roller coasters are super scary!

Woman on the Run was directed by Norman Foster.  If you’ve recently watched The Other Side of the Wind on Netflix, you might recognize the name.  A longtime friend of Orson Welles, Foster played the role of Billy Boyle in Welles’s final film.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Yankee Doodle Dandy (dir by Michael Curtiz)


Yankee_Doodle_Dandy_poster

So, today, I got off work so that I could vote in Texas’s Super Tuesday primary.  After I cast my vote (and don’t ask me who I voted for because it’s a secret ballot for a reason!), I came home and I turned on the TV and I discovered that, as a result of spending February recording countless films off of Lifetime and TCM, I only had 9 hours of space left on my DVR.  As a result, the DVR was threatening to erase my recordings of Bend It Like Beckham, Jesus Christ Superstar, American Anthem, an episode of The Bachelor from 2011, and the entire series of Saved By The Bell: The College Years.

“Acgk!” I exclaimed in terror.

So, I immediately sat down and started the process of cleaning out the DVR.  I started things out by watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, a film from 1942.

Yankee Doodle Dandy is a biopic of a songwriter, signer, and dancer named George M. Cohan.  I have to admit, that when the film started, I had absolutely no idea who George M. Cohan was.  Imagine my surprise as I watched the film and I discovered that Cohan had written all of the old-fashioned patriotic songs that are played by the Richardson Symphony Orchestra whenever I go to see the 4th of July fireworks show at Breckenridge Park.  He wrote You’re A Grand Old Flag, The Yankee Doodle Boy, and Over There.  Though I may not have heard of him, Cohan was an American institution during the first half of the 20th Century.  Even if I hadn’t read that on Wikipedia, I would have been able to guess from watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, which, at times, seems to be making a case for sainthood.

And that’s not meant to be a complaint!  74 years after it was originally released, Yankee Doodle Dandy is still a terrifically entertaining film.  It opens with George (played by James Cagney) accepting a Congressional Gold Medal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  (We only see Roosevelt from behind and needless to say, the President did not play himself.  Instead, Captain Jack Young sat in a chair while FDR’s voice was provided by impressionist Art Gilmore.)  Cohan proceeds to tell Roosevelt his life story, starting with his birth on the 4th of July.  Cohan tells how he was born into a showbiz family and a major theme of the film is how Cohan took care of his family even after becoming famous.

The other major theme is patriotism.  As portrayed in this biopic, Cohan is perhaps the most patriotic man who ever lived.  That may sound corny but Cagney pulls it off.  When we see him sitting at the piano and coming up with the lyrics for another song extolling the greatness of America, we never doubt his sincerity.  In fact, he’s so sincere that he makes us believe as well.  Watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, I found myself regretting that I have to live in such an overwhelmingly cynical time.  If George M. Cohan was alive today, he’d punch out anyone who called this country “Murica.”

Yankee Doodle Dandy is an amazingly positive film.  There are a few scenes where Cohan has to deal with a few Broadway types who are jealous of his talent and his confidence but, otherwise, it’s pretty much one triumph after another for Cohan.  Normally, of course, there’s nothing more annoying than listening to someone talk about how great his life is but fortunately, Cohan is played by James Cagney and Cagney gives one of the best performance of all time in the role.

Cagney, of course, is best remembered for playing gangsters but he got his start as a dancer.  In Yankee Doodle Dandy, Cagney is so energetic and so happy and such a complete and totally showman that you can’t help but get caught up in his story.  When he says that, as a result of his success, things have never been better, you don’t resent him for it.  Instead, you’re happy for him because he’s amazingly talented and deserve the best!

Seriously, watch him below:

James Cagney won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance here.  Yankee Doodle Dandy was also nominated for best picture but lost to Mrs. Miniver.

I’m really glad that I watched Yankee Doodle Dandy today.  In this time of overwhelming negativity, it was just what I needed!