Thursday, April 30, 2015

Cinéma Inhabituel for May 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


The Star of the Month this May is Sterling Hayden, who made quite a mark on and off the screen. Hayden made his mark in action films, whether film noir or Westerns, and managed quite a long and successful career. Off the screen, his military service, working for OSS in World War II, took him to Yugoslavia, where he worked with Tito’s partisans. This close affiliation led him to join the Communist Party briefly after the war, and he was active in supporting the Communist-controlled painter’s union in its quest to absorb other unions. Called before the House on Un-American Activities Committee, Hayden confessed his past affiliations and named names. Hayden’s then-wife, Betty de Noon, said that the Committee, having a list of all known Communists in the U.S., already knew the names her husband provided. In later years, Hayden repudiated his cooperation with the committee, stating in his autobiography that he has held himself in contempt ever since.

May 6: Featured this night are some of Hayden’s better-known films and performances beginning at 8:00 pm with The Killing (1956) for director Stanley Kubrick. Following at 9:45 is John Huston’s masterful The Asphalt Jungle (1950). At 11:45, it’s Crime Wave (1954), a neat little B from Warner Bros. with Hayden as a cop. The last noteworthy film airs at 1:15 am, the underrated Suddenly (1954), with Hayden as a sheriff of a small California town (named Suddenly) who must confront Frank Sinatra and his band of assassins, who are in town to kill the president.

May 13: At 8:00 pm, it’s the wonderfully ridiculous Zero Hour! (1957). A flight crew suddenly falls ill to ptomaine poisoning during a flight from Winnipeg to Vancouver. The only man capable of taking over is ex-pilot Ted Stryker (Dana Andrews), but his experiences as a pilot in the war have given him a distinct fear of flying. If this all sounds familiar, it is, for it formed the plot of the hilarious Airplane! (1980). Hayden plays the Robert Stack role in this film.

The rest of the night is so-so, with The Golden Hawk (1952), a pirate saga with Rhonda Fleming as a female pirate, at 9:30; Ten Days to Tulara (1958), a dud thriller, at 11:15 pm; and the Korean War actioner, Battle Taxi (1955), at 12:45 am.


The Friday Night Spotlight for May is an excellent one, devoted to the films of Orson Welles. This is great, because it’s almost like having two Stars of the Month, except for the fact that, as a director, and sometimes actor, Welles wasn’t that prolific.

May 1: The evening begins with what are arguably Welles’s two greatest films – Citizen Kane (1941) at 8:00 pm, and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) immediately following at 10:15 pm. Even though Ambersons was taken away from Welles by the studio, re-edited, and new scenes were shot, enough of Welles’ original vision comes across in this portrait of turn-of-the-century Midwestern America.

At midnight, it’s Welles as an actor in the rarely seen Jane Eyre (1944) from 20th Century Fox. Welles plays the mysterious Mr. Rochester and Joan Fontaine is the title character in this slow-moving adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel.

Lastly, at 1:45 am, we’re in for a real treat. It’s Too Much Johnson (1938), a farce based on portions of a 1912 play by William Gillette, a prominent actor/dramatist best known for his stage interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. Most film fans will say that Citizen Kane was Welles’s directorial debut, but the truth is that he directed three other films before making Kane, and this is one of them. Welles never completed the film, and even if he had it wouldn’t have been shown as a regular movie, as it was meant to be part of a stage production by the Mercury Theatre, the New York troupe founded by Welles and producer John Houseman. The film had been considered lost for years, but in 2013, 10 reels were discovered at a warehouse in Pordenone, Italy, a major center of film culture renowned for its annual festival of silent cinema. The footage was sent to the George Eastman House in the U.S., where the film was stabilized and transferred to modern film stock. I’ll be setting my recorder to capture this one for sure.

May 8: More familiar Welles classics air tonight, led off at 8:00 pm by the restored version of his 1958 noir, Touch of Evil. At 10:00 pm, it’s the wonderful The Lady From Shanghai (1948), with Welles as a drifter who gets tangled up with a corrupt tycoon (Everett Sloane) and his beautiful wife (Rita Hayworth).

At 11:45 pm, it’s the overrated Mr. Arkadin (1962), directed by and starring Welles as a famous tycoon with a shady past that a blackmailer is attempting to exploit. Lastly, at 1:45 am, it’s a film Welles co-wrote (with Joseph Cotten), co-produced, and was said to have directed: Journey Into Fear (1943). It’s yet another project RKO took away from him, and in later years he denied directing it. But there are definite signs that Welles did at least direct some scenes, as they bear his unmistakable touch. Everything aside, it’s a well-written and acted thriller, and those who haven’t yet seen it should take it in.

May 15: Anyone for Shakespeare? Airing tonight – three of Welles’s adaptations of Shakespeare. They are interesting, to say the least, and very rarely shown on television. Starting at 8:00 pm, it’s Chimes at Midnight, aka Falstaff (1965), with Welles as Shakespeare’s knight errant. Welles draws mainly from Henry IV and adds scenes from other plays to complete a portrait of the larger-then-life Falstaff; with Jeanne Moreau, John Gielgud, Margaret Rutherford, and Fernando Rey.

At 10:15 pm, it’s Welles’s take on Othello – The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice (1952) with Welles as the celebrated Moorish general and Micheal MacLiammoir brilliant as the scheming Iago. Also with Suzanne Cloutier as Desdemona, and Doris Dowling as Bianca. Look for Joseph Cotten and Joan Fontaine in bit parts.

At midnight, it’s Macbeth (1948), from Republic Studios, believe it or not. Welles is the Scottish warlord, and Jeanette Nolan (in her film debut) shines as Lady Macbeth. It’s a moody and atmospheric adaptation shot in bizarre sets to emphasize its theatricality. I’ve never forgotten it since I first saw it as a teenager, my first exposure to Shakespeare.


May 3: At 2:00 am, it’s director Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai (1954). There’s little I can add to what’s already been said about this adventure about a 16th century Japanese village that hires samurais to protect them from bandits. Of course, it was remade in America as The Magnificent Seven in 1960, but it has also influenced scores of filmmakers from Sam Peckinpah to Arthur Penn.

May 9: Tune in at 12:45 am for James Whale’s original Show Boat (1936), with Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, and the magnificent Paul Robeson (singing “Old Man River”). It’s miles ahead of the tepid 1951 MGM remake. It might seem unusual for Whale, who specialized in horror films, to direct this musical, but he did and it was an excellent job: the film is paced well, never dragging for a minute, and his attention to detail gives us a better look at the setting.

May 10: From Russia, it’s The Ascent (1977), the last film from renowned Soviet director Larisa Shepitko and a film I’ve been yearning to see for years. It’s a haunting drama of two Russian partisans who are captured by Nazi-friendly Belarusians. During their captivity, one of them experiences a spiritual awakening. It contains all the horrors associated with the Great Patriotic War, but it also contains a lot of religious symbolism and has many references to the Crucifixion, unusual for a film made in the Soviet Union at the time. I’m looking forward to seeing it and I hope other cinephiles are, too.

May 12: At 5:45 pm is an interesting film that would have been much better if only they had changed leads. The film is The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969), a modernized adaptation of French playwright Jean Giraduox’s 1943 satire on the Occupation. It concerns a woman named Countess Aurelia, who drifts through life in late ‘60s Paris as if it were still 1919, carrying a parasol and wearing oversized picture hats loaded with veiling. Though she’s a definite oddity, the locals look upon her warmly, as she is a model of civility in an increasingly uncivil world. When she gets wind of a plot by powerful men to level Paris in the belief that it’s sitting on a vast pool of oil, she rallies her fellow citizens and vows to stop all the madness and greed. The problem with the film is not only its modernized setting, but also its lead. Katharine Hepburn plays Countess Aurelia, and she captures nothing of the character’s zany optimism of life, instead sticking out like a sore foot. The Countess should have been played by one of the supporting cast, Giuletta Masina, who is totally wasted in the small role of Gabrielle. Masina has the requisite touch for playing such a complex character within the confines of the delicacy envisioned by the playwright. Where Hepburn galumphs, Masina would charm.

May 15: Following the Welles Shakespeare festival, stay tuned for Akira Kurosawa’s take on MacbethThrone of Blood (1957). It’s the Bard in a samurai setting with a brilliant performance from Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune as the Macbeth character, Taketoki Washizu. I can safely say that nothing like it has ever appeared before or since on the screen. It’s one of the enduring masterpieces of cinema. Look especially for the finale. It’s followed at 4:00 am by another Kurosawa saga, Yojimbo (1961), with Mifune as a traveling samurai who happens upon a town in the midst of a war with different factions fighting each other for control. Mifune plays both sides against each other and brings peace to the town. It owes a lot to Westerns that Kurosawa had seen from America, and would itself be recycled by Sergio Leone as Fistful of Dollars in 1964.


May 2: At 10:30 am, TCM begins unspooling the “Bomba the Jungle Boy” series with the initial entry, Bomba the Jungle Boy (1949). Bomba was Monogram’s answer to Tarzan and even employed Johnny Sheffield, who was Boy in the Tarzan series, as Bomba. This was the first of 12 such Bomba adventures, the series lasting through 1955. Ford Beebe directed and wrote many of the screenplays for the series, which was based on the “Bomba” novels by Roy Rockwood. The films were aimed at the Saturday matinee crowd and were a gold mine for Monogram before the growing programming of television convinced many kids to stay home instead of going to the theater. They’re pretty bad, but if you can be patient and give them a try . . . they’re still pretty bad. In the opener, Bomba helps a photographer (Onslow Stevens) and his daughter on safari.

At 2:00 am, it’s Linda Blair in the incredibly cheesy Roller Boogie (1979). Imagine, someone actually tried to make a disco film on roller skates and it’s even worse then the description, thanks to some awesome non-acting from star Blair.

May 4: At 6:00 pm, it’s Two on a Guillotine (1965) from Warner Bros. Connie Stevens has to spend a week in a creepy old mansion in order to collect her inheritance. Cesar Romero hams it up as her magician father, thought dead, but who is alive, insane, and wants to kill his daughter. It’s William Castle without any of the fun.

May 9: Bomba returns in The Lost Volcano (1950). In this entry he fights greedy African guides who are after hidden treasure.

At 2:00 am, it’s one of the most publicized, and profitable, psychotronic films ever. From none other than director Larry Cohen comes It’s Alive (1974). Somehow, Cohen got Warner Bros. to co-produce and release this film. It concerns a couple who want to have a baby, and an overdose of fertility drugs results in a monster baby being born. The creature doesn’t waste any time killing the doctor and nurses in the delivery room. Later it attacks a milk truck. But the most shocking thing about the film is its PG rating.

May 11: TCM devotes this evening to the theme of “Biker Gang” films, starting at 8:00 pm with Tom Laughlin’s The Born Losers (1967), the film that introduces the character of Billy Jack to an unsuspecting world. At 10:00 pm, it’s the original biker gang flick, Stanley Kramer’s The Wild One (1953), with Marlon Brando and biker rival Lee Marvin competing to see who can be the best slob actor. At 11:30 pm, it’s Jack Nicholson and Adam Rourke in Hell’s Angels on Wheels (1967), a lame attempt to cash in on Roger Corman’s successful The Wild Angels of a year before. This film actually features some real Hell’s Angels, including leader Sonny Barger. At 1:30 am, it’s the psychotronic classic, Easy Rider (1969), followed immediately at 3:15 am by The Glory Stompers (1967), another attempt to cash in on The Wild Angels, with a pre-Easy Rider Dennis Hopper, and Jody McCrea, son of Joel and veteran of the Beach Party films. It also stars Sally Field’s stepfather, Jock Mahoney as one of the bikers. Finally at the wee hour of 4:45 am, it’s Devil’s Angels (1967), a rather lame re-working from AIP of The Wild One, and starring John Cassavetes, of all people.

May 13: A rarely seen “comedy” from RKO airs at 12:15. It’s Genius at Work, with the incredibly lame comedy team of Wally Brown and Alan Carney. Brown and Carney are two radio sleuths that get involved in the hunt for a killer called “The Cobra.” Lionel Atwill is the killer, and Bela Lugosi is wasted as his sidekick.

May 15: An entire morning and afternoon of psychotronic films. Those worth your time are Five Million Years to Earth (1968, 7:30 am); Village of the Damned (1961, 9:15 am); The Giant Behemoth (1959, noon); These Are the Damned (1962, 3:15 pm), and X the Unknown (1956, 5:00 pm).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for May 1-7

May 1–May 7


THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (May 1, 10:15 pm): This is Orson Welles' amazing follow to Citizen Kane starring Joseph Cotten (one of film's greatest actors in only his second film) as Eugene Morgan, a charming and successful automobile manufacturer in the early 1900s. Twenty years after he returns to town, Eugene falls in love with Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello), a former flame who is widowed. But Isabel's son, George (Tim Holt), steeped in his family's tradition and name, interferes in the love affair between his mother and Eugene, who want to marry. The film is beautifully shot with incredible acting and a compelling storyline about those who go to unbelievable lengths to keep their pride at the expense of their own personal happiness and of their families. Were it not for Citizen Kane, this would have been Welles' masterpiece. It also showed his versatility as a director as the two films are about completely different topics.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (May 4, 12:15 am): The last American film directed by Fritz Lang is an excellent one with Dana Andrews convinced by his newspaper publisher father-in-law to plant clues implicating him in the murder of a woman. The plan is to prove the weakness of circumstantial evidence and make a fool out of the local district attorney. The problem is the plan works and Andrews' father-in-law is killed in a car crash with the evidence that he didn't do it burned to a crisp. This leaves Andrews on death row and heading for the chair. The concept and subsequent plot twists are fascinating and riveting, and the film's conclusion is outstanding and brilliantly executed (pun intended).


THE OFFICE WIFE (May 1, 6:45 am): This is a good, solid, Pre-Code soaper featuring two of the most beautiful women of their era: Dorothy MacKaill and Joan Blondell. The plot is already worn by this time - a secretary (MacKaill) in love with her boss (Lewis Stone), but who can’t fool around until she learns his marriage has hit the rocks, and it’s full steam ahead. Actually MacKaill is the replacement for the boss’s original secretary, who also was in love with him and quit when she learned he was getting married. (I don’t know about you, but I’m rather confused as to how Lewis Stone can be such a stud muffin.) MacKaill is fine in her role, but it’s Blondell, who steals the film playing the younger wisecracking sister. We first see her in the bathtub, and later pulling underwear on and off. Well, it is Pre-Code. Also look in the opening scenes for Blanche Friderci as a cigar-smoking, mannishly dressed lesbian getting a writing assignment from boss Stone. Made in 1930, it has the usual hindrances for an early talkie, such as stilted dialogue and obvious blocking, but it does entertain and entertain well.

QUEEN CHRISTINA (May 2, 10:00 pm): When History meets Hollywood, Hollywood always comes out the victor, and this film is a testament to how convincingly Hollywood could revise the past, especially in terms of glamour. And in these terms, Garbo comes out as a clear victor. This is one of her most popular films, both with critics and the public, and unlike some of her others, it has withstood the test of time quite well. Garbo makes for a most glam Christina, who in real life was rather plain, and with the help of co-stars John Gilbert, Ian Keith and Lewis Stone, gives us an excellent portrait of one of history’s most unique characters. The direction by Rueben Mamoulian is excellent, keeping the motion picture moving, which could be quite a challenge in Garbo’s other films. Gilbert, whose reputation was by this time in tatters, acquits himself nicely as the Queen’s lover, Don Antonio de la Prada, and Stone makes for an effective Chancellor Oxenstierna, who was the Queen’s adviser. The real reason this film continues to stir up interest is because of the Swedish Garbo, now known to be bisexual, playing a Swedish queen who was also known to be bisexual. For those with a prurient interest this film will not disappoint, given the strictures of its time, but beyond this it is a solid, entertaining film. Even those who are not exactly fans of Garbo will have no trouble liking this one.

WE DISAGREE ON ... I WANT TO LIVE! (May 4, 8:00 pm)

ED: BI Want to Live! is a good film with a good, but over the top performance from its lead, Susan Hayward, a prostitute-crook who - according to the picture - is framed for murder and condemned to the gas chamber. Robert Wise, the director, stand backs and lets Hayward rip. It’s a typical Hayward performance, not all that removed from her previous turn as Lillian Roth in I’ll Cry Tomorrow, for she was at her best playing troubled characters, where she could fully emote. Wise also spent some hours prepping by going to San Quentin and watching actual executions to give the film a truthful ring, as he knew the execution scene would be the pivotal scene in the film. All well and good, but the film comes across more as a propaganda piece for the abolition of capital punishment than as a human drama. Sure, Hayward may portray Graham with more than a few character flaws, but the impression we’re supposed to take away is the Graham is really just a party girl who was framed by two skels out for revenge. Again, it’s one of Hayward’s patented two hankie performances, playing to the viewer’s sympathy by pulling out all the stops, such as parading around Graham’s infant child as a symbol of the righteousness of her innocence. Yes, it is a good film and ably directed, but its flaws prevent it from being graded higher.

DAVID: A. Let's not quibble about the factual accuracy of this film. It's one perspective of the life and death of Barbara Graham, a career criminal who insists she was framed for murder. We also shouldn't quibble about what Susan Hayward does with this role. She is brilliant and memorable playing Graham. I strongly disagree with Ed that this is a typical Hayward performance. Yes, she played other girls-in-trouble before, but never with the emotional intensity and shattering tragedy in her flawless portrayal of Graham in this film. While there are many film fans who don't know her or only recognize the name, Hayward was one of the finest actresses of her era. She earned a remarkable five Best Actress Oscar nominations between 1947 and 1958, winning in the latter year for her performance in I Want to Live! Hayward's ability to show the many sides of Graham in this film – from prostitute/career criminal to convicted murderer who is about to be executed – is something that stays with the viewer long after the movie ends. Hayward is at her best waiting for the reprieve she never receives while those around her prepare the gas chamber for her death. Her performance is devastating and heartbreaking. Whether Graham was guilty or not – and this film wants to convince you she was innocent – I Want to Live! shows the unpleasant realities of capital punishment in a way never before presented. It is a groundbreaking piece of cinema that gives the viewer pause. Director Robert Wise does some great work here with interesting framing, jump cuts and overhead shots. I agree with Ed that Wise lets Hayward do her thing without interference. But why shouldn't he? Hayward gives a haunting and captivating performance. Adding to the quality of the film is a great moody jazz score.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Miss Pinkerton

Films in Focus

By Ed Garea

Miss Pinkerton (WB, 1932) – Director: Lloyd Bacon. Writers: Niven Busch & Lillie Hayward (adaptation), Robert Tasker (additional dialogue), Mary Roberts Rinehart. Cast: Joan Blondell, George Brent, Ruth Hall, John Wray, Elizabeth Patterson, C. Henry Gordon, Holmes Herbert, Mary Doran, Blanche Friderici, Mae Madison, Allan Lane, Nigel De Brulier Don Dillaway, & Eulalie Jensen. B&W, 66 minutes.

Miss Pinkerton is an attempt by Warner Bros. at the “old dark house” mystery genre. Done correctly, it’s both thrilling and entertaining. Unfortunately, the movie was not done correctly, and today is really only of interest because of the bravura performance of its star, Joan Blondell.

Blondell plays Nurse Adams, who we see at the beginning of the film coming out of the operating room after assisting on yet another busy day of surgery. She’s quite bored with the routine of the hospital and makes no bones about it. Entering the nurses’ quarters she finds them engaged in a game of cards and so decides to retire, which gives us a chance to see the gorgeous Blondell strip down to her underwear. One firmly ensconced in bed with a magazine, she is called to see Miss Gibbons (Jensen), the Superintendent of Nurses. Gibbons tells Adams that she will be assigned to the house of the rich and well known Mitchell family to care for the family’s elderly aunt, Julia Mitchell (Patterson), who is suffering from shock after discovering the body of her nephew, Herbert Wynne (Allan Lane, whose scenes were deleted in the final print), in the house. Gibbons asks Adams if she wouldn’t mind a change. Adams’s answers, “Mind a change? Lady, if you only knew!”

She arrives at the mansion and immediately goes to work assisting Julia’s physician, Dr. Stuart (Gordon), receiving instructions and getting herself familiar with her patient, as Aunt Julia needs around-the-clock care. She also meets the supervising detective on the case, Inspector Patten (Brent). Patten isn’t buying the current police theory that Wynne committed suicide, nor the family’s explanation of accidental death while cleaning his gun. There are no powder burns, and interviews with the family and staff have convinced him Wynne wasn’t the type to take his life. Hugo (Wray), the butler, stated that “he couldn’t kill himself, not the kind he was.” Aunt Julia puts it more succinctly, describing her nephew as a coward. When Patten learns that Wynne had recently taken out a $100,000 insurance policy, he changes his mind to suicide and speculated that perhaps Wynne shot himself through a newspaper to cover and powder burns. He asks Nurse Adams to look for the newspaper.

In addition, Patten recruits her to act as his eyes and ears when he is away and report anything suspicious that’s going on in the house. When she asks what her title would be, as all those investigating a case have titles, he suggests “Miss Pinkerton,” after the famous detective agency.

While searching the house, Adams meets Paula Brent (Hall), who was sneaking in. Brent tells Adams not only was she Wynne's fiancée, but that Wynne was killed for the insurance money and she knows who it was. However, at the inquest, Wynne's death is declared accidental. Meanwhile, Adams sees a mysterious figure creeping around. When she goes to check, the person grabs her and locks her in a closet. Her screams alert the family, who calls the police. When the police arrive, they find Charles Elliot (Dillaway) holding a newspaper with a bullet hole in it. Charles is arrested despite the protests of Adams, who tells Patten she is sure Elliot is innocent.

Aunt Juliet is very distressed about the arrest and summons her lawyer, Arthur Glenn (Herbert). Outside the room, Paula begs Adams to let her search Wynne’s room to clear Elliott. Glenn sends for Adams and his stenographer, Florence Lenz (Doran) to witness Juliet’s signature on a document, but they do not read the document before signing. As Juliet is still very upset, Dr. Stuart asks Adams to prepare a syringe of amyl nitrite for Juliet’s heart. Moments later Juliet dies because arsenic has been substituted for the amyl nitrite. Adams, before she learns of the death, washes out the hypodermic needle as per standard procedure. Dr. Stuart now suspects Adams of switching the medicine and reports her to the police.

Next, Paula is found with a marriage license that reveals her secret marriage to Wynne, a revelation that seems to give Charles motive. Under additional questioning from Patten, Charles admits that he and Paula are in love, and that on the night Wynne was murdered, Charles was with the victim in his room trying to discourage Wynne from pursuing Paula. He then heard someone coming up the stairs and exited out the window. While Charles is telling his story, police find Hugo the butler in a room, chloroformed. When he comes to, Hugo tells the police to question Florence.

Upon questioning, Florence reveals that it was lawyer Glenn who arranged a plan to cheat the insurance company out of their money by having Wynne marry Paula and fake his suicide and disappear, so that he and Paula could collect on the policy. But Wynne upset the plan by refusing to take a powder, so Glenn murdered him. Glenn later killed Juliet to prevent her from revealing that she hid the newspaper through which the shots were fired at Wynne. Juliet thought Adams and Florence were witnessing her signature on a confession, but Glenn used a blank piece of paper and destroyed the confession. With the case solved, Patten gets a phone call directing him to a new murder. He asks Adams if she wants to come along, but she declines. It seems she’d rather return to the peace and quiet of the hospital.

So what have we learned from all this? Well, to start, the film was based on a novel by popular author Mary Roberts Reinhart. Reinhart came to specialize in the “old dark house” mystery, with her best-known work along these lines being her play, The Bat (1920), which inspired the renowned 1926 film adaptation, as well as one in 1931, titled The Bat Whispers. She is also credited with inventing the “had I but known” school of mystery writing (with the publication of The Circular Staircase in 1908), and the phrase “the butler did it,” from her 1930 novel, The Door, although she never used that phrase in the book.

In Reinhart’s story, Hilda Adams is a visiting nurse who works for the homicide squad and poses as just a nurse at the crime scene. In the film, she’s made a nurse at a hospital, and her first name is stricken – she’s simply “Nurse Adams.” It would seem like the perfect vehicle for Blondell, giving her a platform for her usual energetic, clever, wisecracking performance. She even gets knocked on her keister a few times during the course of the picture. But both the script and director Lloyd Bacon lets her down, for while Blondell gives a strong performance, the rest of the cast seems rather unmotivated, and the plot needlessly confused. Were Michael Curtiz or Mervyn Leroy in the director’s chair, Miss Pinkerton would be a much more lively film. As it is, it’s a film with a lot of potential and a small payoff.

Being an old dark house mystery we can expect plenty of red herrings, suspicious characters, secret passages, screaming women, lights going out at the most opportune times, and mysterious shadows followed by menacing hands. In this film, there’s no shortage of suspicious characters: the dying old aunt, a maid, an eccentric butler (of course), an evil looking doctor, a shady lawyer and his equally shady looking secretary, a fiancée, and the fiancée’s lover. And they all look incredibly guilty to boot; any one of them, or all of them, could have done it. But there’s an old saying that too many cooks spoil the broth, and it’s certainly the case here. Miss Pinkerton is done in by the weight of its script. There’s just too much going on in too short a time.

Compare this film with Curtiz’s The Kennel Murder Case. Both have multiple red herrings, but in the Curtiz film, there’s a strong character with the authority to sort everything out and make sense of it all, while solving the crime. That’s just what Miss Pinkerton lacks. Blondell’s main function in the film seems to be to get terrorized throughout the film’s running time. She’s terrific in those scenes, as her big blue eyes open even wider and she screams her lovely head off. But she lacks the balancing act of authority. She’s simply a nurse snooping around, and when she does any detective work, it goes nowhere. The character with the authority is Inspector Patten, played by George Brent, and all he does is come and go, mostly go. He’s absent, except for a few walk-ons, until the end, when he rushes to Blondell’s aid after hearing her scream as she’s almost choked to death, and solves the case. 

On a minor note, what about the dog to whom Adams takes such a liking? In these types of mysteries, the dog can usually point to something or someone overlooked. But here, all the dog does is eat and go outside. It’s an opportunity wasted.

Bacon tries to spice up the convoluted plot by adding some atmosphere in the form of shadows and long silences. However, without the necessary tension, all these add up to are simple conversation breaks, for the film is merely one long conversation with little to back it up. It would help if Bacon would give us some sense of the house’s layout. Half the time we don’t know where we’re supposed to be, and we aren’t helped that only a few of the scenes have any sense of bearing on the mystery. Mostly the characters are eavesdropping on each other. In fact, the biggest mystery of the film is the discrepancy between the exterior shots of the house, with the interior, which seems so much roomier than the exterior, even though everybody seems to be bumping their heads throughout.

It would have really helped the film if there were any chemistry between Adams and Patten. For any chemistry to take hold, Brent has to be there, and as we have seen, he’s mostly absent. It isn’t until the end that we see any romance bloom, as they share a tender embrace followed with some great dialogue: (Adams) “Wait, are you married?” (Patten) “No. You?” (Adams) “No.” Unfortunately, it’s right after this exchange that Patten receives his call alerting him to the new murders, giving the viewer the impression that it was added as an afterthought, which might well be the case.

One plus for Miss Pinkerton is the photography of Barney McGill, who concocts the menacing shadows and takes some of his shots from oblique angles, adding a sense of terror that is so obviously lacking throughout the rest of the film. The scene where Adams sees Patten approach in a bathroom mirror also adds to our pleasure. But in the end it was not enough, and even the bravura performance of Blondell was not enough to pull Miss Pinkerton from the mire of mediocrity to which the writers and the director have sentenced it.


To say that Warner Brothers kept star Joan Blondell busy is an understatement. She appeared in 21 films in 1931 and 1932. In fact, her schedule was so exhausting that in one take on Miss Pinkerton that required her to lay on a cot and feign sleep, she had to be shaken awake by the crew.

Look for cameos by Lyle Talbot as a newspaper editor and young Walter Brennan as a police dispatcher (both uncredited).

Memorable Dialogue

Nurse Adams arrives at the crime scene in a cab.
ADAMS (to the driver): Here’s a dollar. Keep the change.
DRIVER (looks at the meter): But the fare is a dollar!
ADAMS: Then we’re even.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Lost River

Dinner and a Movie 

I Lost Jane on the River

By Steve Herte

Every time I see a movie at the Angelika Theater I feel like I’ve been a part of the Tribeca Film Festival, even though it’s not technically located in Tribeca. The feel of the place is intimate and conveys the sense of being at a private screening. The individual theaters (there are seven of them) are all below ground and you can hear the subway rumbling. The capacity of each is maybe 60 to 70 seats. I don’t feel lost in a crowd (something I despise) at the Angelika.

Thus, after the most difficult workweek of the year, I was ready for that sense of being special and having an enjoyable, but casual evening. I used Helene’s theory of life before going out, “Have no expectations and you’ll never be disappointed.” Enjoy!

Lost River (WB, 2014) – Director: Ryan Gosling. Writer: Ryan Gosling. Stars: Christina Hendricks, Landyn Stewart. Ben Mendelsohn, Iain De Caestecker, Matt Smith, Torrey Wigfield, Saoirse Ronan, Barbara Steele, & Reda Kateb. Color, 95 minutes.

The scene opens on the Town of Lost River to the strains of 1938 “Deep Purple.” The camera focuses on one after another dilapidated, deserted house – some nearly falling down in disrepair. An adorable tot, Frankie (Stewart) exits the front door of one such hovel and uses the rickety banister to descend the front steps and goes to play in the weedy patch that serves as a front yard.

His mother, Billy (Hendricks), is behind in her payments for the house she inherited from her grandmother (otherwise she would join the throngs of neighbors who’ve already left town), and she goes to hopefully reason with Carl, the bank manager. But Carl no longer works there. The new bank manager, Dave (Mendelsohn), is not as easy-going as his predecessor and he explains that she has a choice: make the payments or leave.

Billy’s other son, a young man going by the handle of Bones (De Caestecker), knows the family is in dire straits and goes out on forays to strip the deserted houses of parts and copper to sell at the junk dealer and hopefully ease his mother’s burden. This activity however, is not without peril. Another young man, appropriately called Bully (Smith), who rides around in a plush blue armchair perched over the back seat of a white 1970s Cadillac, believes he owns the town and everything in it and will do anything to anybody who disagrees.

Bully’s driver, a young man who comes to be known as Face (Wigfield), is a pyromaniac. As Bones emerges from a house with his duffle bag full of copper tubing, he knows Bully and Face are there when his bicycle crosses the street in front of him on fire. He drops the bag and runs.

The only other “family” in Lost River is a young girl nicknamed Rat (Ronan) – she has a pet rat – and her grandma (Steele). It is from Rat that we learn the fate of Lost River. Her grandfather was killed during the construction of the dam that created the nearby reservoir while inundating an entire town and a prehistoric theme park called Prehistoric Forest. Grandma hasn’t spoken a word since then and only sits in her chair, veiled as if for a funeral, and watches videos of her wedding. Rat believes the town is under a curse and that the only thing that can break the curse involves “bringing the beast up from the bottom of the reservoir.”

Sleazy Dave has designs on Billy and offers her a job in his creepy club. How creepy is it? For entertainment, people are bloodily “murdered” on stage to give the depraved audience their thrills. Against her better judgment (and shock at the performances), Billy agrees to work there. Her only friend, known only as “Cab Driver” (Kateb), worries about her working in a place where the front door is shaped like gaping jaws of a ghoul.

Bones and Rat have a friendship that is developing further and Rat tells him her theory of salvation. Bones, still annoyed that Bully stole his duffle, manages to retrieve it and elude both Bully and Face (for which error Face has his lips brutally snipped off by Bully), finding himself on a street that leads into the reservoir. The over-arching streetlamp poles are the only indication that there once was a street there. Otherwise, it’s overgrown with weeds. Naturally, after what Rat told him, he’s curious. He gets an inflatable boat and an old fish tank, rows out a bit into the reservoir and peers down at the bottom. Upon seeing what he believes is “the beast,” he’s startled back into the boat. Now he knows his mission in life.

Though billed as a science fiction/fantasy, there is nothing scientific in Lost River. The fantasy that is there is the whole curse thing and how Bones resolves, and breaks, the curse. The only “fantastic” moment in the film occurs after Bones has successfully sawed off the head of a submerged dinosaur and, as he’s returning to shore the streetlamps mysteriously light one by one. The film is more arty-farty than outré, and more brutal than thought provoking. If ever there was a movie demonstrating man’s inhumanity to man, this one makes for a good example.

The acting seems dull and listless (except for Bully, who is way over the top), but it’s forgivable when the camera continually bombards the audience with the deplorable conditions of living in Lost River. Barbara Steele is the only member of the cast whose famous name I recognized. As a beautiful young actress, she could be considered the Queen of Gothic Horror – both Italian and American. I loved her as Dr. Julia Hoffman in the 1991 remake of Dark Shadows after Grayson Hall created the role in the TV series (1960s-70s). She didn’t get a word of dialogue and yet she spoke volumes with her face as Face set her house on fire right before her eyes.

Christina Hendricks gives us the best performance in this film with the widest range of emotions, from fear and horror to love and tenderness. Ben Mendelsohn is pretty good at playing the creepy pervert and he performs an incredibly degenerate version of the song “Cool Water.” Did I mention that this film is not for children? It nearly gave me nightmares.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

100 West Houston Street, New York

In my many years of living in New York City (yes, I know we in Queens call Manhattan “The City,” but we’re still a borough, and hence, a part of it), I’ve learned a general rule that even-numbered addresses are usually on the South sides of streets and the East sides of Avenues i.e. 290 Broadway – East side, and 110 West 44th Street – South side. This theory goes out the window below the neat gridlines and into the “named” streets of southern Manhattan.

My guess that 100 West Houston would be on the south side was incorrect and I wound up re-crossing the wide street to get to my destination. The deep green awning outside Jane overhangs a park bench, providing shade for weary tourists, and two were taking advantage of it upon my arrival. Inside, all is aglow in shades of blonde wood and light tan, with one charcoal wall at the back graced by a large abstract painting of a field. The two large mirrors on one sidewall give the illusion of it being a much larger space, and the woven shades on the rectangular swags float lightly over the dining crowd. A young lady at the Captain’s Station acknowledged my reservation and led me to a bare-topped table (dining is casual here) near the back at a comfortable banquette. On my way over from the theater I noted that the many restaurants I passed on Houston were all doing good business that evening and Jane was no exception.

Leah, my server, soon appeared, took my water preference, and gave me the menu. It was a two-sided plastic-enclosed affair with food on one side and drinks on the other. When Leah asked if I wanted a cocktail I chose something called “Sweet Heat” – jalapeno infused tequila, orange liqueur, charred pineapple, and coconut water. Leah noted that this was one of their newer cocktails and that it was rapidly becoming quite popular. I could see why. It burned and at the same it satisfied my sweet tooth, and the bits of pineapple were fun to spear with my swizzle stick.

Leah described the specials of the day and I almost chose one appetizer, an asparagus salad with prosciutto wrapped around the spears and a poached egg on top whose yolk becomes a part of the dressing. But as I read the entire menu, I found more dishes equally as enticing. I sipped my drink while deciding on two “starters,” a main course and a side.

After discussing with Leah about the order my dishes were to arrive and when, I was ready to enjoy, and another server brought the breadbasket. The bread was so good, fresh and crusty that I completely disregarded the bottle of olive oil standing in the center of my table until much later.

The roasted meatballs – with local mozzarella, in a spicy tomato sauce, garnished with cilantro – arrived first (as agreed), still sizzling in a square iron skillet. Though they were a quarter of the size of the ones I had at Umberto’s in Little Italy, they were every bit as juicy and flavorful. The sauce was rich and thick, not particularly “spicy,” but delicious. I left only the skillet.

The 2014 Malbec, Enrique Foster “Ique” Mendoza, Argentina, though incredibly young for a Malbec was perfect with my meal. Its tannic touches and medium body accented the tomato sauce nicely as well as that of the dishes to follow.

I didn’t know what to expect when I ordered the mushroom soup “gratinée” – with caramelized onions, crostini croutons, and topped with melted gruyère. It was more like a French onion soup (with the right cheese, I noted to Leah) though heavier on the mushrooms than onions. Once I convinced myself that it really wasn’t onion soup I enjoyed it thoroughly (the resemblance was striking, though).

My main course, the blackened pork chop, was served on a bed of cheddar jalapeño grits and crowned with three smoked tomatoes and a spring of watercress. It was tender and easy to cut, though a little bit more well done than I would prefer. The blackening process, however, added a Southwestern flavor to the meat. I told Leah my pork chop story from the “famous” Palm Restaurant where professional hockey players could have used my dish as a puck. The jalapeños were not pronounced in the grits and the net effect was “mild” spicy. The side dish was one of my all-time favorite vegetables, Brussels sprouts. But these were enormous. Halved, seared and partially caramelized, they were like candy to me. I asked if the chef had a time machine to the Jurassic era, remarking on the size of these jumbo veggies.

With nothing left but the memories of these fine dishes, I turned to dessert. Having seen the desserts the two young men at the next table ordered, notably the “Key Lime Pie in a Jar,” and (the enormous) “Milk and Cookies,” I chose the “Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate” – chocolate ganache tart, mini whoopee pie, chocolate pot de crème. This turned out to be eminently manageable and satisfying. I would have liked the pot de crème to be more liquid, but the other two were perfect.

To finish, I ordered the “Lord Bergamot” Earl Grey tea and a snifter of Chateau de Pellehaut Armagnac. Alas, they didn’t have enough left for a full snifter, but Leah gave me what they had (on the house) and asked me what other choice I had. The Busnel Calvados filled the bill adequately.

I thanked Leah for a wonderful serving job and, on my way out, I learned that Jane has been in operation for 13 years! I know that Manhattan is a big city and that, at any one time there are approximately 7,000 restaurants serving the hungry public, but it still amazes me when I find one that I might have found earlier. There is much to like about Jane and several reasons to return.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for April 23-30

April 23–April 30


THE APARTMENT (April 24, 3:15 pm): Director Billy Wilder's follow-up to the overrated Some Like It Hot, this wonderful comedy-drama stars Jack Lemmon as an opportunistic office worker who sort of sleeps his way to the top. Well, he lets his office managers use his apartment as a place to have sex with their various mistresses. Because of that, he gets promoted to the personnel department, where his supervisor, Fred MacMurray, excellent at playing sleazy characters, convinces his new assistant to let him have the apartment on an exclusive basis. MacMurray's latest mistress is the company's elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine), who Lemmon likes a lot, but doesn't say anything to her. A fabulous cast with one of Hollywood's best directors and an intelligent, funny script, and you have 1960's Oscar winner for Best Picture. It was nominated for nine others, winning four of those. Incredibly, MacMurray wasn't even nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (April 26, 10:00 pm): I'm not a fan of musicals so when I recommend one, watch it. Singin' in the Rain is the greatest musical ever made. It's funny, it's charming, the singing is great and the dancing is unbelievable. While Gene Kelly's numbers are spectacular, Donald O'Connor's performance of "Make 'Em Laugh" is the best in the film. O'Connor had a unique physical style of dance that included him taking a number of pratfalls and other things that later took a toll on his body. The plot isn't exceptionally strong, but it's quite clever – spoofing Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies.


MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (April 23, 2:00 pm): A great vintage Pre-Code horror film from Warner Brothers in two-strip Technicolor process with Glenda Farrell as a reporter investigating the sudden disappearance of young women. Could it have something to do with wax sculptor Lionel Atwill? He has his eyes of Glenda’s friend, Fay Wray. Tune in and find out. This film was later remade in 3-D as House of Wax, starring Vincent Price, but I much prefer the original. It has that ‘30s sass, especially from Farrell in the lead that the later version completely lacks.

THE BIG HOUSE (April 25, 10:45 pm): Technically, it wasn’t the first prison drama to come from Hollywood, but it was the first one that talked, and it was certainly one of the most powerful, setting the template for years to come. They’re all here, the prison characters that have become cliché over the years: the innocent (Robert Montgomery), jailed for vehicular manslaughter and thrown into a cell with two of the hardest convicts ever to break a rock: forger and thief Chester Morris, and the totally uncouth and murderous Wallace Beery, aptly nicknamed “Machine Gun” for his antics outside the walls. Lewis Stone is the warden, trying hard to keep a lid on this simmering pot that could explode at any minute. Directed with innovation by George William Hill and written by his wife, Frances Marion, who toured San Quentin with notebook in hand to record observations of prison life and conversations with convicts and officials alike. The best thing about this film is, except for an unnecessary romantic subplot, it still packs quite a punch when seen today, which is quite a compliment.

WE DISAGREE ON ... HOW THE WEST WAS WON (April 24, 4:30 am)

ED: AThis epic Western, boasting four directors and an all-star cast, follows four generations of one family, told in five segments beginning in 1839 as they travel through the Erie Canal on their way West. Other segments chronicle their experience in homesteading, surviving the Civil War, witnessing the expansion of the railroad, and facing notorious outlaws. It all spells E-p-i-c, and even more foreboding is that it was made especially for Cinerama. It’s also 165 minutes in length. So the recipe for disaster is in place: four directors, all-star cast, Cinerama process, and a lengthy running time. However, for all that baggage, the film acquits itself nicely. The directors happen to be John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, and Richard Thorpe, who directed the connecting segments – directors experienced not only with action movies, but also some damn good Westerns. Despite its length, the film never fails to keep our attention, the atmosphere is grand, the photography downright awesome, the characters clearly defined, and the picture never lets up with the action. One factor that definitely worked in its favor was in splitting the film into segments and using a different director for each segment, as directing a film this long can become a Herculean task that can wear down the best director. The film also touches all the bases: runaway wagon trains, daunting river rapids, buffalo stampedes, The Rockies and Monument Valley, the coming of the telegraph and the Pony Express, Indian attacks, railroad barons, and dangerous outlaws. Ford’s direction of the Civil War episode was John Ford at his best. The audience is always taking a chance when watching an epic; many of them turn out to be long, tedious affairs. But How The West Was Won could also be subtitled “How To Make an Epic.” And that’s why it’s a favorite of mine.

DAVID: B-. This film comes with an impressive pedigree. It's a Western with John Ford as one of its directors and an all-star cast including Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. The movie poster touted "24 Great Stars in the Mightiest Adventure Ever Filmed!" Spencer Tracy provides the narration, and it's beautifully filmed in Cinerama, a very advanced, very expensive process for 1963, when it was released. It's a good film, thus my grade of B-, so I'm not going to trash it for argument's sake. However, for nearly every step forward, it take a step back. While the cast is great, we don't get to spend much time with them. It seemed like the movie was trying to fit in as many film legends as possible just to say they're in it. There's little to no character development and most of the actors either have cameos or small roles. Because of that, the viewer can't get attached to the characters as they leave the screen almost as fast as they entered a few minutes prior. There's some nice work such as Ford's Civil War segment, which, surprisingly, lasts about 15 minutes in a film that is ridiculously long – almost three hours. The overall length would be fine if portions of it weren't also boring and pointless. Epics tell the story of a character or two or three, and allow the audience to see the development of that person or people. That doesn't happen here as it's a story of four generations of one family. That wouldn't be an issue if there was a solid storyline. There's a lot of potential in this movie, and some of it is realized. Of all the great actors in the film, a decent amount is dedicated to a character played by George Peppard, who is quite good. The movie has great scenery and a beautiful look, but it should have been tighter (shorter!) with more focus.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Monday, April 20, 2015


The Psychotronic Zone

By Ed Garea

Fear (Monogram, 1946) - Director: Alfred Zeisler. Writers: Dennis J. Cooper & Alfred Zeisler (s/p); Fyodor Dostoevsky (novel, Crime and Punishment), uncredited. Cast: Peter Cookson, Warren William, Anne Gwynne, Francis Pierlot, Nestor Paiva, James Cardwell, Almira Sessions, William Moss, Ernie Adams, & Charles Calvert. B&W, 68 minutes.

Dostoevsky’s novel, Crime and Punishment, is without a doubt one of the classics of literature and, as such, it’s been adapted into movies over the years, with the most famous being the 1935 Columbia production starring Peter Lorre. The next American production came in 1946, made by Monogram, of all studios. Although Dostoevsky is excised from the credits, perhaps to make viewers think the writers came up with it all on their own, one gander at the film is enough to remind anyone who read the novel or had seen one of the movie adaptations that it was indeed Dostoevsky’s story, even if he didn’t get credit.

That being said, how does the film play out? All in all, not bad, considering that its star, Cookson, is blander than a loaf of store-bought white bread. Director Zeisler keeps everything moving and everyone in play, while the film has some good actors in supporting parts to help overcome the deficiencies of the leading man, particularly William - as Porfiry to Cookson’s Raskolnikov - and Gwynne, though she has practically no reason for being in the film other than to give Cookson someone to talk to in order to stretch out the running time. The film also contains the typical Monogram plot holes (it just wouldn’t be a Monogram film without them) and a novel plot twist at the end, which for cinephiles becomes the movie’s raison d’etre.

Medical student Larry Crain (Cookson) lives in a shabby one-room flat. He also owes everyone: his landlady, his friends, and now his school, which has sent him a letter telling him his scholarship has been revoked because the school is revoking all scholarships (in reality that's about as likely to happen as the moon being found to be made of green cheese). At any rate, the landlady (Sessions) has been bugging him, and out of desperation he goes to see Professor Stanley (Pierlot), who doubles on the side as a pawnbroker.

Stanley looks over the watch Larry has brought, noting that Larry owes him back interest for the last item pawned. Larry promises to pay that off, and Stanley gives him $10 for the watch, which actually translates to $8, as Stanley deducts the interest on this item ahead of time. A trusting fellow, he is. But the scene also serves as a set-up for what is to follow, for Stanley goes to his wall safe to retrieve the money. What, for only eight dollars? No, to show us the strongbox he removes from the safe and which contains oodles and oodles of dough, as well as other pawned items. We notice that Larry is getting the urge to whack the professor right there and then; he’s fiddling with a fireplace poker as Stanley places the box on a table. He doesn’t go through with it, but he’s definitely thinking about it.

The next scene finds him in the local eatery, where he runs into some of his fellow students, and more importantly, the Girl. It’s Gwynne, and when the proprietor asks her to pay for her coffee, she searches her purse, in which she seemingly keeps everything except money. No matter, for Larry’s a gentleman, and he gladly pays for her coffee while she promises to repay him the next time they meet. They exchange introductions: she is Eileen, he is Larry.

Larry returns home to find two pieces of bad news: a tuition bill from the school and an ultimatum from his landlady - either pay up or hit the road. His mind now made up, Larry returns to Professor Stanley’s apartment, carrying an old ashtray he wrapped to make to look like something worth pawning. He hides in the hallway shadows until a painter working on an empty unit leaves. Stanley is reluctant to open the door for Larry (weren’t you just here yesterday?), but Larry convinces him he has something else to pawn. 

As Stanley lets him in, Larry shows him the tightly wrapped ashtray. The safe is open and the strongbox is on the table. Stanley is struggling with the wrapping as Larry sneaks up behind him and lets him have it with the poker. It’s the best scene is the film, for we never see Larry land the poker on the prof’s noggin, but see Stanley’s hands as they unwrap the ashtray, and as he’s hit, the ashtray slip from his hand, land on the table, and knock over a glass of wine, which stains the white table cloth like blood. It’s an effective use of the camera, giving the scene a noirish aspect.

As Peter is about to help himself to the loot, there’s a knock at the door. At the door are some other students who have come to see their friendly pawnbroker. They start to leave until one notices that the lights are on inside. Larry hears them talking about getting the manager, and after they leave he grabs the ashtray and books it out of there - cashless. When he hears someone coming up the stairs he ducks into the empty unit, getting paint on his jacket sleeve. He makes it back to his place, stuffs the jacket under his bed and drops off to sleep.

The next day, he’s rousted out of bed by the landlady and Detective Schaefer (Paiva), who has come to haul him down to the station. On the way out, the landlady hands him a letter that has just come in the mail. At the station, Larry meets Captain Burke (William), who informs him about an announcement in the previous day’s paper requesting Stanley’s customers to come down to the station to reclaim their possessions; Larry was the only one not to do so. Larry’s excuse is that he slept through the entire day and did not see the paper. While waiting on Burke, Larry opens his mail to discover a check for $1,000 from a periodical for an article he submitted. He tells Burke the news as he leaves, and heads for his favorite hangout to celebrate. There, he finds Eileen now working behind the counter. As they renew acquaintances, they decide to go on a picnic, but Schaefer enters with orders to bring Larry back to the station.

At the station, Burke compliments Larry on his article, “Men Above the Law,” in which he argues that if enough good results from an evil act, the act is justified. Burke questions Larry as to whether or not that is an argument or his personal philosophy: that some men are above the law. Larry states it's his personal philosophy and leaves to return to the restaurant. His friends inform him that the college has learned about his article and decided to renew his scholarship. He’s also going on that picnic with Eileen. Everything is going his way at last.

Now if only he could get Captain Burke out of his hair, for it seems that no matter which way he turns or where he goes, Larry keeps running into Detective Schaefer, who brings him to the office to confer with Burke. Burke tells Larry that he found clothing fibers clinging to the paint inside the vacant unit. Larry weasels his way out with a contrived explanation, but once he gets home, he makes sure to burn the incriminating jacket.

He eventually winds up at Eileen’s home, where he confesses all. She advises him to confess to the police and he agrees. But when he returns home, Burke is waiting there for him with a copy of that day’s newspaper. The headline? “Painter Confesses Murder.” Burke explains that innocent people sometimes confess to others’ crimes. He calmly asks Larry to drop by the station and Larry agrees, but once Burke leaves, Larry starts packing. He arranges to meet Eileen at a travel agency. When he sees her waiting, he is so anxious to get to her that he dashes across the street and is hit by a car.

Is this the end of Larry? Not so fast. Cut back to Larry’s room, awash in harp music and a swirling vortex. He’s sleeping. A knock at the door rouses him out of his slumber. It was all a dream! At the door is Professor Stanley, who gives Larry a loan of $120 and news that his scholarship has been renewed. As Larry step out of his apartment he bumps into Eileen in the hallway. Only her name isn’t Eileen, see? It’s Cathy, and she has tracked him down to repay his 60 cents before compound interest sets in. While she’s there, she decides to rent a room from Mrs. Williams, the landlady. As she repays him, he asks her out. And he also asks if he can call her “Eileen.” Creepy, huh? Completely unmoved, she remarks that “he sure must have been in love with that girl!” Larry responds by telling her he’ll tell her all about it one day as the movie fades to the end title.

Talk about disappointing. The movie, which already has a decent ending, decides to tack on a cheesy coda. Was director Zeisler trying to add on time to the film? Or, perhaps he was imitating his idol, Fritz Lang, by copying his trick ending from his 1944 film with Edward G. Robinson, The Woman In the Window. It’s now 1946, who’s going to remember a 1944 film? Or, just maybe, he was trying to leave the audience with something to talk about as they left the theater. If that was his intention, I’m sure he succeeded, for they probably muttered, “What a cheesy ending,” to each other as they walked up the aisles.


As mentioned before, Fear is the Poverty Row version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Warren William, who does not make his appearance until almost one-third of the film is gone, is Porfiry. Peter Cookson is obviously Raskolnikov. One wonders why the studio does not acknowledge its debt to Dostoevsky. It’s not as if they had to pay any royalties. But then again, it just wouldn’t be a Monogram production if they resorted to that type of thing. Anne Gwynne got the worst deal playing an updated Sonia, as she was little more than window dressing.

As Crain, Cookson put in a decent, if unspectacular, performance, one that would be expected given his lack of acting experience at the time. He began his career at Universal and floated around the studios. His second appearance was an unbilled part in the Spencer Tracy-Irene Dunne wartime soaper, A Guy Named Joe, for MGM. He soon ended up at Monogram, which would be his home base until he left the Silver Screen later in 1946, his last appearance being a starring role in William Beaudine’s morality play, Don’t Gamble With Strangers. He moved to Broadway and made a name for himself starring in the original production of The Heiress. He later split his time between Broadway and the television studios of New York City, guest starring in assorted series and teleplays. In addition, he also became a producer of Broadway and off-Broadway plays. In 1949, he married fellow thespian Beatrice Straight, a marriage that lasted until his death in 1990 from bone cancer.

Of course, to the surprise of no one, it’s Warren William who steals the movie, even though, as mentioned before, we do not see him until the film is well underway. Born Warren William Krech in Atkin, Minnesota, in 1894, he was one of moviedom’s great, unappreciated actors, beginning his career as William Warren on Broadway in 1924, with a small role in the H.G. Wells play, The Wonderful Visit. He would go on to appear in 17 more Broadway productions, along with a couple of silent pictures under the name “Warren Kretch.” He joined Warner Bros. in 1931, assuming the role of the underhanded businessman in many a Pre-Code feature. His patrician looks and manners were showcased in Cecil B. DeMille’s production of Cleopatra, in 1934, where he played Julius Caesar to Claudette Colbert’s titular character. Also, while at Warner’s he gained fame as the screen’s first Perry Mason. After making Stage Struck in 1936, William left to join the rolls at MGM as a character actor. From there it was on to Columbia, where he was noted for his portrayal of Michael Lanyard in the long running “Lone Wolf” series. After his run in the series ended, William continued in character parts, but his failing health caused other major studios to avoid him, which is the reason why he landed at Monogram. He died in 1948 at age 53 from multiple myeloma, a form of cancer of the blood.

Although Fear was his next-to-last film before his death, as the cancer took its toll, he still managed to turn in a delightful performance as Burke - sly, yet most amiable, stroking Crain’s ego, making him feel more like a colleague than a suspect, all the while gathering information. He may have been deathly ill, but it didn’t show in his sprightly performance.

Gwynne, a Universal starlet who gained fame as a pin-up queen during the war, is given little to do as Eileen, becoming almost peripheral to the plot. Her only interaction is with Crain, and her scenes almost throwaway, as if the film could well go on without her presence. If she was meant to be a type as Joan Bennett played in The Woman in the Window, Zeisler needn’t have bothered.

The only other actor of note was Nestor Paiva, as lead detective Schaefer, whose character seemed to exist only to tell Larry that Burke wanted to see him. Paiva would turn up at Universal in the ‘50s, appearing in numerous science-fiction films. Also look for the unbilled Darren McGavin, in only his fifth film, as one of Larry’s fellow students congratulating him on the publication of his article.

Fear is typical of the Monogram output at the time, a forgettable thriller meant only as a diversion for its audience until the main attraction unspooled.