Happy Birthday Boris Karloff: John Ford’s THE LOST PATROL (RKO 1934)


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King of Classic Horror Boris Karloff was born on this date in 1887. The actor is beloved by fans for his work in genre flicks like FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY , THE BLACK CAT, THE BODY SNATCHER , and many other screen tales of terror. But Karloff had always prided himself on being a working actor, and stepped outside the genre bounds many times. He excelled in some early gangster classics (THE CRIMINAL CODE, SCARFACE), played George Arliss’ nemesis in HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD, was a Chinese warlord in WEST OF SHANGHAI, an Oriental sleuth in Monogram’s MR. WONG series, the psychiatrist in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, and a scientist in THE VENETIAN AFFAIR . And then there’s John Ford’s THE LOST PATROL.

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The film itself tells the story of a British troop traveling through the Mesopotamian desert circa 1917. When their leader is shot dead by an unseen Arab bullet, the stoic Sergeant…

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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 #19: Whistle Stop (dir by Leonide Moguy)


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The 19th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1946’s Whistle Stop and I’m sad to say that I ran into some trouble when I tried to watch it.  As much as I love the Mill Creek box sets, the DVDs within are somewhat notorious for getting easily damaged.  That was the problem that I ran into when I tried to watch Whistle Stop.  From the minute I hit play, the film would randomly pause.  The picture would randomly pixelate.  The sound would randomly vanish.  As you may have picked up, it was all very random but it also made it impossible for me to watch Whistle Stop.

However, like almost every other film that’s ever shown up in Mill Creek box set, Whistle Stop is in the public domain and, therefore, it’s been uploaded to YouTube by dozens of different accounts.  Once I realized that the DVD wasn’t going to work, I switched over to YouTube and I finally got watch Whistle Stop.

Really, I probably shouldn’t have gone to all the trouble.  Of the 19 Fabulous Forties films that I’ve watched so far, Whistle Stop is perhaps the least interesting.  Half of the film is a film noir and the other half if a small town melodrama but, with its convoluted plot and uninspired direction, it really doesn’t work as either.

Mary (Ava Gardner) grew up in a small town but, eventually, she left and went to the big city, hoping to make a new life for herself.  Apparently, she didn’t succeed because, two years later, she returns to the small town.  (The town is so small and obscure that it’s mostly known for its train stop.  Hence, it’s a “whistle stop.”)  When she returns, she discovers that her ex-boyfriend, Kenny Veech (George Raft) has become a loser in her absence.  Kenny is still in love with her but he’s also bitter at her for leaving town.

Making things even worse, from Kenny’s point of view, is that Mary is now dating a sleazy nightclub owner named Lew Lentz (Tom Conway).  Kenny’s best friend, Gitlo (Victor McLaglen), comes up with a plan, in which he and Kenny will kill Lew and make it look like a robbery.  However, Lew has plans of his own and…

You know what?  I’m probably making Whistle Stop sound more interesting than it actually is.  This is one of those films were the plot manages to be absurdly complicated without actually adding up to much. On the plus side, Ava Gardner, one of my favorite of great femme fatales, is beautiful and sultry as Mary and reminded me of why, for several years, Film Noir Femme Fatale was my default Halloween costume.  Tom Conway makes Lew Lentz so amazingly sleazy that you can’t help but admire his commitment to the role.  On the other hand, George Raft is totally miscast and way too handsome and naturally rakish to play a total loser like Kenny Veech.  Watching the film, you can tell that he wasn’t particularly comfortable playing such an insecure and passive character.

Whistle Stop wasn’t particularly memorable but if you want to watch it, you can do so below.  It’s free!

Cleaning Out The DVR #5: Around The World In 80 Days (dir by Michael Anderson)


Last night, as a part of my effort to clean out my DVR by watching and reviewing 38 movies in 10 days, I watched the 1956 Best Picture winner, Around The World In 80 Days.

Based on a novel by Jules Verne, Around The World In 80 Days announces, from the start, that it’s going to be a spectacle.  Before it even begins telling its story, it gives us a lengthy prologue in which Edward R. Murrow discusses the importance of the movies and Jules Verne.  He also shows and narrates footage from Georges Méliès’s A Trip To The Moon.  Seen today, the most interesting thing about the prologue (outside of A Trip To The Moon) is the fact that Edward R. Murrow comes across as being such a pompous windbag.  Take that, Goodnight and Good Luck.

Once we finally get done with Murrow assuring us that we’re about to see something incredibly important, we get down to the actual film.  In 1872, an English gentleman named Phileas Fogg (played by David Niven) goes to London’s Reform Club and announces that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.  Four other members of the club bet him 20,000 pounds that he cannot.  Fogg takes them up on their wager and soon, he and his valet, Passepartout (Cantinflas) are racing across the world.

Around The World in 80 Days is basically a travelogue, following Fogg and Passepartout as they stop in various countries and have various Technicolor adventures.  If you’re looking for a serious examination of different cultures, this is not the film to watch.  Despite the pompousness of Murrow’s introduction, this is a pure adventure film and not meant to be taken as much more than pure entertainment.  When Fogg and Passepartout land in Spain, it means flamenco dancing and bullfighting.  When they travel to the U.S., it means cowboys and Indians.  When they stop off in India, it means that they have to rescue Princess Aouda (Shirley MacClaine!!!) from being sacrificed.  Aouda ends up joining them for the rest of their journey.

Also following them is Insepctor Fix (Robert Newton), who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber.  Fix follows them across the world, just waiting for his chance to arrest Fogg and disrupt his race across the globe.

But it’s not just Inspector Fix who is on the look out for the world travelers.  Around The World In 80 Days is full of cameos, with every valet, sailor, policeman, and innocent bystander played by a celebrity.  (If the movie were made today, Kim Kardashian and Chelsea Handler would show up at the bullfight.)  I watch a lot of old movies so I recognized some of the star cameos.  For instance, it was impossible not to notice Marlene Dietrich hanging out in the old west saloon, Frank Sinatra playing piano or Peter Lorre wandering around the cruise ship.  But I have to admit that I missed quite a few of the cameos, much as how a viewer 60 years in the future probably wouldn’t recognize Kim K or Chelsea Handler in our hypothetical 2016 remake.  However, I could tell whenever someone famous showed up on screen because the camera would often linger on them and the celeb would often look straight at the audience with a “It’s me!” look on their face.

Around The World in 80 Days is usually dismissed as one of the lesser best picture winners and it’s true that it is an extremely long movie, one which doesn’t necessarily add up to much beyond David Niven, Cantinflas, and the celeb cameos.  But, while it may not be Oscar worthy, it is a likable movie.  David Niven is always fun to watch and he and Cantinflas have a nice rapport.  Shirley MacClaine is not exactly believable as an Indian princess but it’s still interesting to see her when she was young and just starting her film career.

Add to that, Around The World In 80 Days features Jose Greco in this scene:

Around The World In 80 Days may not rank with the greatest films ever made but it’s still an entertaining artifact of its time.  Whenever you sit through one of today’s multi-billion dollar cinematic spectacles, remember that you’re watching one of the descendants of Around The World In 80 Days.

44 Days of Paranoia #24: The Informer (dir by John Ford)


For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, I want to take a look at John Ford’s Oscar-winning 1935 film, The Informer.

The Informer takes place in Dublin in 1921, during the Irish War of Independence and shortly before the creation of the Irish Free State.  Friendly but stupid and irresponsible Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen) has been kicked out of the Irish Republican Army and is pretty much a pariah among his own people.  His prostitute girlfriend, meanwhile, only wants to raise enough money to book passage for America and start a new life.

Gypo sees an opportunity when he runs into his former IRA colleague Frankie (Wallace Ford), who is one of the few people to treat Gypo kindly.  Frankie is also fugitive who has a £20 bounty on his head.  Gypo impulsively turns informer and lets the British know where Frankie is hiding.

When Frankie is killed, the guilt-ridden Gypo uses the reward money to buy a bottle of whiskey and then spends the rest of the day drunk and trying to convince the IRA the Frankie was betrayed by a nonexistent man named Mulligan.

When it was initially released in 1935, The Informer did well with both audiences and critics.  It was nominated for Best Picture and won Oscars for John Ford, Victor McLaglen, and screenwriter Dudley Nichols.  However, when viewed today, it’s easy to see the flaws in The Informer.  The film feels stagey, heavy-handed, and rather melodramatic.

And yet, with all that in mind, I still like The Informer.

Some of that, of course, is because it’s a film about Ireland and, specifically, it’s a film about how the Irish Catholics were oppressed by British occupiers.  This is a topic that I find to be endlessly fascinating and, speaking a someone who still has family living in Ardglass, County Down, I have to admit that I have a weakness for films (like this one) which tend to take the Irish side of things.

On a technical level, John Ford’s direction holds up pretty well.  There’s a few scenes where the story’s theatricality gets the better of him but, for the most part, Ford does a good job of capturing Gypo’s dreary existence and maintaining a level of suspense, despite the fact that Gypo’s fate is obvious to the audience long before it’s obvious to anyone in the film.  In Ford’s hands, the fog-filled and shadowy streets of Dublin serve as a representation of Gypo’s increasingly desperate and paranoid mindset.  Ford’s Dublin is a world where danger can come out of nowhere and where there’s no place for a big and stupid target like Gypo to hide.

The film is dominated by Victor McLaglen’s theatrical performance.  Again, there a few moments where McLaglen’s performance is a bit too broad but, for the most part, his boisterous approach works will for his well-meaning but not too smart character.  One can see not only why the film’s characters are weary of Gypo  but also why they have a difficult time rejecting him all together.

The Informer may not be perfect but it’s still worth tracking down and seeing.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street