Monday, April 30, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for May 1-15

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


May is a wonderful month for B-movie lovers, especially those who like movie series. TCM is airing various movie series during the month. a run down of them follows:

May 1: 8 pm - 3 am: Blondie. 4:15 am Mexican Spitfire.

May 2: 6:45 am - 1:30 pm: Mexican Spitfire. 2:45 pm - 6:30 pm: Four Daughters and sequels. 8 pm through the night: Maisie.

May 3: 6:45 am - 10:15 am: Maisie. Noon - 6:45 pm. Fibber McGee and MollyGreat Gildersleeve.

May 8: 8 pm through the night: Tarzan

May 9: 6 am - 6:30 pm Tarzan. 8 pm - 2 am: Jungle Jim. 3:30 am: Bomba.

May 10: 6:15am - 6:45 pm: Bomba.

May 15: 8 pm through the night: The Hardy Family.


A double feature from noted Japanese director Takumi Furukawa begins at 2 am with his 1964 opus, Cruel Gun Story (Kenju zankoku monogatari). this is a moody and atmospheric noir with another good performance from famed Japanese tough guy Jo Shishido as Togawa who, after recently getting out of jail, is hired by a mob boss to assemble a small group of men for the biggest cash heist in Japan's history. The job requires much planning and each man has their role to fill but, of course, nothing seems to go right once the plan goes into action. Betrayal, violence and revenge are the main themes and it’s an enjoyable noir with a rather dim ending.

Following at 3:45 am is his A Colt is My Passport (Koruto wa ore no pasupōto). this 1967 film is hard-boiled noir at its best. it once again stars Jo Shishido as a crafty hitman, who with his longtime sidekick (Jerry Fujido)  has carried out a hit of an opposing gang boss. though they make a quick getaway, they are captured by the boss’ henchmen. Later, after managing a narrow escape, the pair makes their way to a cheap hotel outside of Yokohama. Looking to catch a boat for foreign shores, Shishido and Fujido become locked into an explosive gun battle with the henchmen, who are out for violent revenge.

Furukawa is one of my favorite action directors. His films and their style have influenced directors who came afterward, such as Ringo Lam and John Woo. Anyone who like noir and action will love these films.


Two extraordinary films from Japanese directors will be shown beginning at 2 am The first is from director Toshio Matsumoto: his 1969 film, Funeral Parade of Roses. This is one weird, wild – and strangely enjoyable – film. Both Eddie (Pita) and the transvestite Leda (Osamu Ogasawara) have sexual designs on bar manager and drug dealer Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya). Gonda is afraid Leda will dime him out to the cops if he doesn’t give in to his/her sexual yearnings. Leda ultimately feels he has no real choice and commits suicide, This leaves Eddie and Gonda free to engage in their homosexual yearnings for each other. But when Gonda discovers he is actually Eddie's father, he kills himself with a knife. Eddie, extremely distraught, then uses the same knife to cut his own eyes out. Think of it as a gonzo version of Oedipus Rex, and don’t kid yourself - the ending is really violent.

Following at 4 am is Crazed Fruit (Kurutta Kajitsu, 1956). It’s probability the first JD film in Japan, though these films are referred to there as “taiyozoku,” or “sun tribe,” a term coined to describe the rich, bored, and mean-spirited youth that were often the subjects of popular novelist Shintaro Ishihara, who wrote the best-selling Seasons of the Sun and other books along the same theme. Crazed Fruit is a powerful drama, though not without the occasional comic undertone. Privileged teenage brothers Natsuhisa and Haruki Takishima (Yujiro Ishihara and Masahiko Tsugawa) take advantage of lack of guidance from their absentee parents and are spending their summer holiday along the Zushi coast (just outside Tokyo) pursuing such hedonistic activities as drinking, gambling hanging out with Natsuhisa's narcissistic and bored teen friends, led by the arrogant rich Eurasian leader Frank (Masumi Okada). “Boredom is our credo.” 
Their activities are interrupted by the arrival of Eri (Mie Kitahara), a beautiful young woman. Haruki, the younger brother (and a virgin) becomes infatuated with Eri, but his older brother is also attracted to her, and learns she’s married to an American businessman. But instead of this ending everything, Natsuhisa initiates a triangle by seeking Eri’s favors as well. 

Nakahima’s first film, it signaled a shift in Japanese cinema and captured the zeitgeist of the time – how postwar Japan was changing from its traditional roots and how Western influences and a more comfortable standard of living created an idle class of youth who lacked respect their elders, questioned traditional values, and defy convention in favor of such pursuits as gambling, lying around by the sea, and pursuing the opposite sex. These shirkers aren't really rebelling for change. They're complaining because they can. Though the message of Crazed Fruit has long been forgotten, it is essential for understanding the sea change in Japanese culture during the ‘50s and the effect it had on Japanese society.


A double feature from Polish director Andrzej Wajda begins at 2 am with his 1982 feature, Danton, with Gerard Depardieu starring as the French Revolutionary. The film is set in November 1793. Danton is returning to Paris from voluntary exile at his country retreat after learning that the Committee for Public Safety, under the incitement of his fellow revolutionary and rival, Maximillian Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak) has begun a series of massive executions, known as The Terror. Confident in the peoples' support, Danton clashes with his former ally, but the clever and calculating Robespierre rounds up Danton and his followers for trial before a revolutionary tribunal. As expected, they are found guilty and dispatched to the guillotine. Wajda made the film as an allegorical commentary upon the then current events in Poland that pitted Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement against the puppet Soviet Communist regime of the Polish government headed by General Jaruzelski. For Wajda, Danton represents the muddled Western world while Robespierre represents the Stalinist totalitarianism in the East. This is a Wajda film I haven’t yet seen and I heard it’s far more talky than action filled, but from everything I heard and read, Depardieu makes for a great Danton, and Wajda is an excellent director.

Following at 4:30 am is his 1955 film, A Generation (Pokolenie). A Generation is the first of Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda's "underground trilogy" and also Wajda's first-ever feature film. Originally titled Pokolenie, the film dissects the impact that World War II had on the youth of Poland. Stacy (Tadevsz Lomnicki) is an impressionable young Warsaw resident who falls in love with resistance leader Dorotea (Ursula Modrzinska). Wanja shows how the passion they feel towards their cause is entwined with their passion towards one another. There are several moments where the director contradicts the “official” version of events in the Polish Uprising to show the actual facts, many of which were experienced by Wajda himself. Done partly as a way of showing the disillusionment so many young Poles went through after the war, the film and director found themselves subject to close scrutiny and an abundance of government interference when it was first released. Sharp-eyed viewers will be able to spot a young Roman Polanski in the underground scenes.


May 7: At 8 pm Robert Donat, Margaret Leighton and Sir Cedric Hardwicke star in The Winslow Boy (1948). A film adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play, it concerns a young boy, Ronnie Winslow (Neil North), who is accused of a petty theft and expelled from naval school. Convinced of his innocence, the boy's father (Cedric Hardwicke) and sister (Margaret Leighton) want to see justice done, and, along with lawyer, Sir Robert Morton (Robert Donat), they initiate a series of courtroom battles to clear Ronnie's name creating a political fire storm along the way. It’s a brilliantly acted film, with crisp direction from Anthony Asquith. If it sounds like a David Mamet play, be advised that Mamet write the screenplay for the excellent 1999 remake, starring Rebecca Pidgeon, Jeremy Northam and Nigel Hawthorne.

May 13: Barbara Stanwyck turns on the suds machine full blast in the classic 1937 soaper, Stella Dallas, at 10 pm.


May 6: The MGM all-star extravaganza, Grand Hotel, airs at 6 am, followed by Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in Frank Capra’s classic, It Happened One Night.

May 13: Stanwyck is an orphaned girl who becomes a schoolteacher in the midst of a farming community and raises her son (Dickie Moore/Hardie Albright) to aspire to big things in the 1932 original version of So Big. Bette Davis also appears in the film. It would be remade in 1953 with Jane Wyman in the lead.


May 1: Steve Reeves is the Son of Spartacus, the only man who can put an end to the tyranny of Caesar Grassus (Claudio Gora) in the 1963 sword and sandal epic The Slave, airing at 6:15 pm.

May 4: At 2:15 am, it’s Anatomy of a Psycho. The unstable young brother of a criminal sentenced to the gas chamber has made a list of the people who sent him there and prepares to exact his revenge. Watch for Ronnie Burns, son of George and Gracie, as the boyfriend of the protagonist’s sister. Following at 3:45 am is William Castle’s tale of greed and murder, Homicidal.

May 5: Tarzan and the Amazons, from 1945, airs at 10 am.

May 11: A morning and afternoon of director Tod Browning’s films begins at 6:30 am with the 1925 silent The Unholy Three and ends at 6:45 pm with the underrated  drama Miracles for Sale from 1939.


May 6: Clara Bow shot to stadium as a spunky shop girl who has designs on the handsome playboy owner of her department store in It, airing at 12:15 am. Look for an unbilled Gary Cooper.

May  8: Robert Flaherty examiners the harsh life of an Eskimo family in the groundbreaking documentary, Nanook of the North (1922), showing at 8:30 am.


May 15: Even though it’s being shown at the early hour of 6 am, White Comanche (1968) is a must. William Shatner plays twin Indians: Notah Moon, a peyote-addicted, bare-chested bad ass half-breed in war paint who kills white men and rapes their women, and his innocent brother, Johnny Moon, who is always being mistaken for his brother and almost lynched. Shatner can’t even handle one role, let alone two. Combined with a bad script and almost nonexistent direction, it makes for total entertainment. Joseph Cotten was slumming in this as the sheriff. Watch for the knife fight between Notah’s squaw, White Fawn (Perla Cristal) and a Comanche warrior, plus the showdown where the twin Shatners face off. Not to be missed. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for May 1-7

May 1–May 7


DODSWORTH (May 3, 9:30 pm): Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) is a rich automobile manufacturer who loves his job, but is convinced to retire early by his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), a vain woman who is fearful of growing old. She wants to see the world, particularly Europe, lead an exciting life. Sam is a regular guy who wants to please his wife. Fran quickly grows bored of Sam and spends most of her time with other men. She eventually dumps him for a European noble, leaving Sam to mope around Italy, where he sees a divorcee (Mary Astor), who he first met while traveling on the Queen Mary to Europe. The two fall in love, but Fran wants to reconcile. I won't ruin the ending. Everything works exceptionally well in this film. The acting is top-notch (besides the three leads, David Niven is great in a smaller role in one of his earliest films, and Maria Ouspenskaya as a baroness is a scene-stealer), the story is first-rate, and with William Wyler as the director, the movie is filmed and paced perfectly.

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (May 6, 8:00 am): An absolute classic, directed by Frank Capra, about a runaway snobby socialite (Claudette Colbert) and a reporter (Clark Gable). This movie really put the two actors on the movie map even though they both already had about 20 credits to their names. It's a wonderful screwball romantic comedy with great chemistry between the pair. The story takes place over more than one night despite the title. It's a wonderful film with two of cinema's most famous scenes. The first has Colbert successfully hitching a ride, after Gable fails, by lifting up her skirt and showing her leg. The other has the two of them sharing a room and Gable putting up a blanket to separate them, calling it "the walls of Jericho," which ties in nicely at the end of the film. Released in 1934, it has aged well.


HOMICIDAL (May 4, 3:45 am): Another great hokey B horror film from William Castle centered around a murderous scheme to collect a rich inheritance. Miriam Webster (Patricia Breslin), the object of the murder, is to share in the inheritance with her half-brother Warren, who lives with his childhood guardian Helga (Eugenie Leontovich) in the mansion where Warren and Mariam grew up. Confined to a wheelchair after recently suffering a stroke, Helga is cared for by her nurse Emily (Joan Marshall), a strange young woman who has formed a close bond with Warren. Just when we think we have everything figured out, the film blindsides us with a surprising conclusion. A nice little gem of a movie, it’s not as gimmicky and tongue-in-cheek as Castle's usual fare and comes across as one of his most interesting and effective shockers. As with all Castle’s films, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

GRAND HOTEL (May 6, 6:00 am): Hollywood’s first all-star film, it was a risk that turned into a huge hit for MGM. Five different characters are staying at the luxury hotel over the course of two night, linked together by varying forms of desperation. There is Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), a fading suicidal ballerina; Baron Von Gaigern (John Barrymore), a charming and destitute hotel thief who plans to rob Grusinskaya of her valuable pearls; Mr. Preysing (Wallace Beery), a ruthless industrialist who is gambling his entire future on a business merger that may not go through; Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), a meek, terminally ill accountant who intends to go through his life savings living his last days in style; and Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford), an ambitious stenographer willing to do more than just take dictation to get ahead. It’s the interaction between the characters that makes the film the deserved classic it is today. Lewis Stone plays Otternschlag, the alcoholic house doctor whose caustic observations set the film in motion. of the scene. In the opening scene he sets the tone of the film when he remarks, "People come, people go, and nothing ever happens.” The performances by Garbo, Beery, and the Barrymores are what we expect, but it’s Crawford’s stenographer who steals the show. Her Flaemmchen is a beautifully balanced portrait of ambition driven by desperation. Grand Hotel won the Oscar for Best Picture and has been remade many times over the years (Hotel BerlinWeekend at the Waldorf, to name a few), and has even surfaced as a Broadway musical. A film always worth the time to watch.

WE AGREE ON ... HANG ‘EM HIGH (May 5, 8:00 pm):

ED: A-. Though it may look like another of Clint’s Spaghetti Westerns, this one was actually produced in the U.S. by Clint’s own company, Malposo. Clint is a rancher mistaken by Ed Begley and his vigilantes for a rustler and hanged from a tree. Only they botched the job and a passing marshal (Ben Johnson) cuts him down. He is later cleared of any wrongdoing and released by Judge Fenton (Pat Hingle), just in time to witness the hanging of the man who really murdered the owner of the cattle. In need of money he accepts the job of deputy and is assigned to arrest the men who tried to hang him. It goes on from there as Clint enforces the law while clashing with Fenton over the placation of justice. With Inger Stevens as a shopkeeper haunted by her own ghosts and noir icon Charles McGraw as a sheriff. The final confrontation between Clint and Begley matches his earlier efforts for Sergio Leone in ironic violence. All in all, a satisfying dark Western.

DAVID: A-. When it comes to great cutting-edge Westerns, Clint Eastwood has made more than anyone. Many of them have received the praise they deserve including The "Man with No Name" trilogy of A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as well as High Plains DrifterThe Outlaw Josey Wales, and Unforgiven. To me, 1968's Hang 'Em High belongs in the same class as those. Eastwood is Jed Cooper, who is wrongly accused by a posse (including Bruce Dern, Ed Begley Sr. and Alan Hale Jr., the Skipper on Gilligan's Island) of killing a man and stealing his cattle. The posse hangs Cooper, but that doesn't kill him – even though it leaves him with a nasty scar around his neck. As Eastwood characters are prone to do, Cooper wants revenge. But this one has a twist. Cooper, who was previously a lawman, becomes a federal marshal. He comes across a member of the posse and tries to arrest him, but ends up having to shoot (and of course, kill) him when he reaches for his gun. Slowly, he comes across everyone in the posse. Cooper wants to see all of them brought to justice, but because that would lead to being hanged, none of them are terribly interested in the proposition. There are plenty of shootouts and great action scenes, but the best part of the film is Cooper's struggle to uphold the law while resisting his strong urge to seek revenge. This was Eastwood's first film after the "Man with No Name" trilogy. Yeah, he immediately did another Western, but the character of Cooper is far more complex than his roles in the trilogy.

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

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Great Day

Films in Focus

By Ed Garea

Great Day (RKO, 1945) – Director: Lance Comfort. Writers: John Davenport, Lesley Storm & Wolfgang Wilhelm (s/p). Lesley Storm (play). Stars: Eric Portman, Flora Robson, Sheila Sim, Isobel Jeans, Walter Fitzgerald, Philip Friend, Marjorie Rhodes, Maire O’Neill, John Laurie, Kathleen Harrison, Leslie Dwyer, Margaret Withers, Beatrice Varley, Irene Handl & Patricia Hayes. B&W, 62 minutes.

This is a curious little slice-of-life movie that lacks the necessary drama but is redeemed at the end by the extraordinary performances of Flora Robson and Eric Portman as a married couple on the verge of ruin.

The ostensible plot centers around the Women’s Institute, a community-based organization for women originally founded to revitalize rural communities and to encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War. Its aims and activities centered around providing women with educational opportunities and the chance to build new skills. This in turn, it was hoped, would enable them to take part in a wide variety of activities, taking on issues that mattered to them and their communities. During the Second World War their contribution was limited to such activities as looking after evacuees, and running the government-sponsored Preservation Centers where volunteers canned or made jam of excess produce, with the produce being sent to depots to be added to the rations. After the war, the organization returned to its original mission. It’s still alive and well today, with over 250,000 members in Britain. 

The film begins at the height of World War II, as the Women's Institute club of Denley, England, learns that American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt will be visiting their village the next day to inspect its various homefront activities. The women are thrilled to have been selected to represent England and it is agreed that the news of Mrs. Roosevelt's visit be kept secret as a security precaution.

Leading the work at the hall is Mrs. Liz Ellis (Robson), who is not without a few personal issues of her own, as her husband Capt. John (Portman) drinks too much, spending money they don’t have on whiskey and living on his past in World War I. 

As the women are preparing the village hall for their visitor, Margaret Ellis (Sim), Liz’s daughter, is finishing a long day of wartime farm work. She has been helping Bob Tyndale (Fitzgerald) on his farm, Marsh Manor. Despite a twenty-five year gap in their ages, Meg has agreed to marry him. However, she has not publicly announced her engagement as she fears the reaction of Bob's sister Jane (Withers), an embittered spinster who resents Meg's presence at the manor. Another issue for Meg is that her former boyfriend Geoffrey Winthrop (Friend) is still in love with her.

When Meg confides in her mother, Liz’s advice is to follow her heart, though she endorses Bob as good husband material. Although Liz loves her husband, she is anxious for her daughter to obtain the financial and emotional security Liz lacks. John for his part, yearns to be free from responsibility; he is shamed by the fact that Meg and Liz work hard without complaint. 

To add to Meg’s quandary, Geoffrey, an officer in the British army, arrives in town on a three-day pass, though Liz is of the feeling that Geoffrey is too "wild" for Meg. Geoffrey is unaware of Meg's relationship with Bob and, having been stood up by her the night before, demands an explanation. 

Meg refuses to reveal the truth about her and Bob, but later, Nora Mumford, the local pub owner, tells Jane about the engagement during an argument and Geoffrey, after receiving notice to report for immediate duty, overhears the news. Jane, resentful of Meg, also hears tune news of the engagement and accuses Meg of being a gold digger.  

While the women are seeing to the last-minute details at the hall, John is at Nora's pub, The Swan, drinking and regaling a group of American and Scottish officers with stories of the last war. Later, a drunken John tries to steal money from a woman's purse after he is refused credit by barmaid Bridget Walsh (O’Neill), acting on the orders of owner Nora Mumford (Rhodes). He’s caught in the act by another customer and arrested. 

Meanwhile, Meg has called to the road to serve tea to Geoffrey's departing regiment. There she finally tells Geoffrey of her fears about repeating her mother's marital mistake. He advises her not to base her future on her parents' past and presses her to admit her love. Int doesn’t take long for Meg to recommit herself to Geoffrey.

John returns home to find an exhausted Elizabeth sewing a new dress for Joan Riley, the little girl who has been chosen to welcome Mrs. Roosevelt. At first John denies his guilt in the theft, but his shame over the matter forces hm to leave the house. 

When Meg returns home a distraught Liz tells her that she is worried about John's state of mind. Meg rushes to find her father in the surrounding woods and finds him about to jump into a pond. Her arrival surprises him and, pledging that she and Elizabeth will stand by him, she convinces him to face his shame. 

The next day, while the village descends on the hall to greet Mrs. Roosevelt, Elizabeth persuades John to accompany her to the ceremony. With her husband and daughter by her side, Elizabeth beams with teary pride as Joan welcomes Mrs. Roosevelt on behalf of the women of Denley.


As stated before, this is a a strangely curious movie. The ostensible plot about Mrs. Roosevelt’s visit is pushed to the back in favor of the Ellis family drama. However, the lack of a strong narrative style combined with the meandering pace until the Ellis family comes from and center makes Great Day more of a slice-of-life film, something that would have been perfect as a two-hour television movie on the BBC or ITV.

What prevents the film from backsliding completely into mediocrity is the strength of direction from Lance Comfort, who allows the scenes to move along seamlessly by allowing the actors to carry the film with uniformly good performances, especially those of leads Robson and Portman. Robson is amazing as Liz, as she calmly keeps things smoothly running at the center and within the family despite the chaos going on about her. Her underplaying of Elizabeth Ellis adds weight to the film and boosts the performances of both Portman as her wayward husband and Sim as her concerned daughter. Every performance in the film, from those of Patricia Hayes and Isobel Jeans to Walter Fitzgerald and Margaret Withers. The movie is also helped by its relatively short running time, which keeps it from becoming too bogged down in one storyline as opposed to the others,

In the final analysis, Great Day entertains despite its lack of a strong central storyline and providers us with a glimpse into English village life during World War II.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dick Tracy

The Psychotronic Zone

By Ed Garea

Dick Tracy (RKO, 1945) – Director: William Berke. Writers: Eric Taylor (s/p), Chester Gould (comic strip). Stars: Morgan Conway, Anne Jeffreys, Mike Mazurki, Jane Greer, Lyle Latell, Joseph Crehan, Mickey Kuhn, Trevor Bardette. Morgan Wallace, Milton Parsons & William Halligan. B&W, 61 minutes.

In 1931 Chester Gould’s unique comic strip, Dick Tracy, first appeared in the pages of the Detroit Mirror. A few years and many newspapers later, it became a pop culture phenomenon, with handsome heroes fighting grotesque villains. Names such as Pruneface Boche, Flattop Jones, B.B. Eyes, Lips Manlis and Itchy Oliver became familiar in almost every household. At its height, the strip was carried in more than 800 newspapers with an estimated readership of 100 million. 

Eventually, it wasn’t long before Hollywood got in on the act. Republic Pictures was the first with its 1937 multi-chapter serial Dick Tracy. It proved so successful that the studio followed it up the next year with Dick Tracy Returns. Then followed Dick Tracy's G-Men in 1939 and Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc. in 1941. All of the serials starred Ralph Byrd as Tracy. 

In 1945 RKO decided to do its own take on the detective. The studio paid Gould $10,000 for the rights to make the film and brought in character actor Morgan Conway from Broadway to play Tracy. The choice of Conway was somewhat ironic as his fame in Hollywood came from playing heels.

The film opens with schoolteacher Dorothy Stafford alighting from a bus near her home. As she walks to her home in the seeming tea of night she suspects that she is being followed. She is, by a hulking man in the shadows whom we quickly recognize as Mike Mazurki. Needless to say, she never makes it home, her body found on the street by a passerby. 

Dick Tracy and his right-hand man, Pat Patton (Latell), are assigned to the case. In Stafford’s purse Dick finds a note demanding that Dorothy deposit $500 in a trash can located at a street corner near the murder scene. The note is simply signed “Splitface.” 

Shortly after, the mayor (Halligan) receives a note from Splitface. This time the demand is that $10,000 be deposited in a trash can the next evening. Dick, puzzled by the disparity in the amount of the extortion demands, examines Dorothy's records and finds the name Wilbur Thomas. Dick and Pat drive to the Thomas home, only to discover Thomas' body in the driveway, his throat slit in the same manner as Dorothy's. 

Following the murderer's footprints, Dick sees a man enter the backyard of Thomas' neighbor, Steven Owens (Wallace). As Dick questions Owens, Pat slips into the house through a rear window, later telling Dick that he found bloodstains on the carpet. Now suspicious of Owens, Dick learns that he is the owner of the Paradise Club. After finishing at Owens' house, Dick and Pat return to inspect Thomas' body. They find a business card from the Paradise Club lying next to the corpse. 

The following evening, a trap is set with the extortion money, but no one shows to claim it. Dick begins to suspect that the victims were targeted by a killer and must share some common thread. Following the obvious lead, Dick invites his sweetheart Tess Trueheart (Jeffreys) to accompany him while he checks out the Paradise Club. There, Dick is greeted by Owens' daughter Judith (Greer). She tells him that she saw a strange man in the garden and gives Dick a key to the house. At the house, Dick and Tess discover that the electricity has been turned off, and while Dick goes to look for the fuse box, Tess sees a man with a hideous scar across his face run out of a closet and speed away in his car. 

Dick jumps into his car and trails the man to a brownstone. Dick climbs to the roof, where he finds Professor Linwood J. Starling (Bardette) looking at the stars through a telescope. When questioned, Starling denies seeing Splitface and Dick insists on searching his room. Finding a knife under Starling's mattress, Dick questions the professor about the weapon. Starling just gazes into his crystal ball, then goes into a trance and tells Tracy that 14 will die and there are 12 more to go. Just then, the police break down the door to the professor's room, awakening him from the trance and hauling him to headquarters for further questioning. This is all watched from the roof by Splitface. 

Thinking that the scar may be a mere disguise, Dick takes Tess back to the Paradise Club to see if she can identify Owens as Splitface. Judith informs them that her father has disappeared, hinting the reason has something to do with him owing large gambling debts. Dick becomes suspicious of Judith's jittery behavior and takes her into protective custody. Meanwhile, Pat has traced the knife found in Starling's room to a surgical supply store, where he learns that an undertaker named Deathridge (Parsons) purchased three of the knives. Dick goes to question Deathridge, who claims that the knives have simply disappeared. But when he asks about Starling, Dick’s suspicions are aroused and he believes there is a connection between the undertaker and the professor.

At headquarters, Dick tricks Starling into revealing what he knows about Deathridge. Dick's plan is to bring Starling and Deathridge face to face. But he is thwarted when Deathridge is found murdered, his throat slit like the others. When he returns to headquarters from investigating the undertaker's murder, Dick learns that Starling has been released on bail. Starling hurries home and begins packing his suitcase when he hears a rapping on the window. It’s Splitface, who calls the professor up to the roof, where he accuses Starling of drawing police attention by sending extortion demands to Splitface's victims. Starling tries to explain his actions, but Splitface  slits the professor's throat. When Dick arrives at Starling's apartment, he finds the extortion money on the professor's body and realizes that Starling has been extorting money from Splitface's intended victims and that Deathridge was  killed because he knew too much.

Mulling over Starling's prediction about 14 victims, Dick concludes that 14 is the number of people that serve on a jury. Dick questions the mayor about any jury experience he might have had, and the mayor remembers being a juror at the trial of Alexis Banning. After being convicted of murdering his wife, Banning swore revenge on the jury. A check of the records reveals that Banning is at large. Learning that Banning was scarred across the face in prison, Tracy identifies him as Splitface. With the murderer identified, Judith decides to leave the Tracy house, even though her father is still missing. When Tess calls Dick to inform him of Judith's departure, Splitface breaks into the house and takes Tess hostage, grabbing the phone to warn Dick to call off the police. 

As Splitface speeds away in his car with Tess, Tracy Jr., Dick's adopted son (Kuhn), jumps onto the back of the car, throwing off pieces of his clothing along the way to create a trail. Dick follows Junior’s trail to the docks and an abandoned riverboat where Splitface is holding Tess and Junior. After subduing Splitface, Dick promises to take Tess to dinner, but is called away to solve another crime.


Dick Tracy makes for an excellent debut film in a series that eventually reached four films before the studio pulled the plug. Conway reprised his role as Tracy in the sequel, Dick Tracy vs. Cueball (1946), but though his Tracy was praised by critics and Gould himself as the closest to the original concept, exhibitors complained. To them, Byrd was Dick Tracy, and only Byrd would do. RKO acquiesced and hired him to finish the series: Dick Tracy’s Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (both 1947). Unfortunately for Byrd, because of this he spent the rest of his career typecast as Dick Tracy.

Dick Tracy is a fast-moving film, even given its running time of only 61 minutes, barely giving the audience a chance to rest. Director William Berke and cameraman Frank Redman make good use of the sets, giving the film a noir flavor, especially evident in the neighborhood (RKO’s back lot in Encino) scenes at the beginning of the film. These lend the picture an eerie sort of noir atmosphere. Other sets used include the riverboat from Man Alive (1945) and the brownstone from The Magnificent Ambersons and Cat People (both 1942).

The film is also faithful to the source material. Though the villain, Splitface, was created by screenwriter Eric Taylor, it fits the classic mold of Gould's villains, often named for their physical attributes or deformities, and is even seen by some bloggers as an actual villain from the comic strip.

The performances are uniformly good. Conway makes for an excellent Tracy, though Jeffreys has little to do in her role as Tracy’s long-suffering sweetheart. Her only highlight is when she crosses swords with Jane Greer’s Judith Owens. Speaking of Greer, this was her film debut. She followed the usual path of young actors who were first tried out in B’s to see if the public liked them before being pushed into A-films. Likewise, Kuhn, whose career highlight until then was as Beau Wilkes in GWTW, has little to do as Junior, aside from fingerprinting Dick to see if he had raided the fridge the night before and following Splitface to his hiding place. Lyle Latell does a fine job in the comic relief role of Pat Patton and Joseph Crehan provides solid support as Chief Brandon, who always has Tracy’s back.

Like all the movies in the series, it’s the villains who move it along, and Mike Mazurki is excellent as Splitface. An actor who originally moonlighted in Hollywood from his regular job as professional wrestler “Iron” Mike Mazurki, he made enough of an impact in Tinseltown to be employed for over 50 years, usually in character roles as dimwitted muscle, which belied the fact that he graduated with honors from Manhattan College in New York with a B.A., where he also starred on the wrestling team, and earned a law degree from Fordham. However, wrestling paid more than being a lawyer and Mazurki opted for the mat. He broke into movies in 1934 with help from Mae West, and his best known role was as Moose Malloy in the 1944 classic Murder, My Sweet. Offstage, he founded The Cauliflower Alley Club in the mid-60s, a fraternal non-profit organization for retired wrestlers, boxers, actors and stuntmen. Mazurki passed away in 1990. His daughter, Michelle Mazurki, carries on the thespian tradition.

Mazurki is aided in his villainy by the underrated Trevor Bardette, who had been playing heels since the silent days, and Milton Parsons, who somehow made everyone he played a bit creepy.

How We Know It’s Low-Budget, Department: When Tracy arrives at the Professor’s place and finds his body, he goes through the pockets and removes the $1,000 that the Professor had extorted from Thomas. Upon closer inspection, it seems to be money from the game of Monopoly.


After the RKO series ended, Gould and the Famous Artists Syndicate were interested in resuming the series in 1948 with the specification that Conway be restored to the title role, but the series was not revived.

According to the TCM essay on the film by Roger Fristoe, Gould himself was asked to review the film for the Chicago Tribune. "The gentleman with whom I had shared sweat, blood and tears for almost 15 years – Dick Tracy in the flesh – Morgan Conway's flesh, to be exact – [is] right on the screen at the Palace," he wrote. "And for once he did the talking and I listened. I felt pretty helpless, too, because I couldn't use a piece of art gum to change his face or hat, and what he said came from a script and not from a stubby old lead pencil held by yours truly." 

The movies were not the only Tracy vehicle outside the comics. There was a radio show, which ran from 1934 to 1948; a 30-minute television show, Dick Tracy, which starred Ralph Byrd and ran on ABC from 1950 until the star’s untimely death from a heart attack in 1952; a dreadful cartoon show, The Dick Tracy Show, produced by UPA from 1961-62 with Everett Sloane (Citizen KaneThe Lady From Shanghai) wasted as the voice of Tracy; and the famous 1990 Touchstone film with Warren Beatty as the detective. Filmed in loud primary colors to emulate the feeling of the comic strip, Beatty, who was reluctant to take on the role, but acquiesced when shown the money, insured there would be no sequels, no matter how popular the movie proved to be, by wiping out all the villains.

In 1961 the Chants had a hit on Verve with the doowop/R&B “Dick Tracy.”

Saturday, April 21, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for April 23-30

April 23–April 30


OUT OF THE FOG (April 23, 6:30 pm): They Made Me a Criminal (1939) brought the great John Garfield to the attention of movie fans. Two years later, Out of the Fog proved that with the proper script, Garfield was among the elite actors of his era - an era that included Humphrey Bogart, Joseph Cotten, Cary Grant, James Stewart and Orson Welles. In this film, Garfield plays Harold Goff, a sadistic gangster who demands protection money from fishermen at a Brooklyn pier. He is incredibly cruel yet also charming as he falls for the daughter, played by Ida Lupino, of one of the fishermen he is terrorizing. It's one of Warner Brothers' best gritty film noirs. There is nothing likable about Goff, but you won't be able to stop watching until you see how he gets it in the end. 

THE APARTMENT (April 24, 8:00 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, so deliciously sleazy in this role, 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.


THE CREEPING UNKNOWN (April 28, 8:00 pm): The first in Hammer’s Quartermass Trilogy, starring Brian Donlevy as Professor Quartermass. He has just shot a manned rocket into space, but when it crashes upon return, one of the astronauts is missing and the other is in bad shape. The surviving astronaut, played well by Richard Wordsworth, has been infected by an alien fungus that is slowly changing him into a version of itself. A wonderfully creepy, tense, well-written and well-acted film based on the hit BBC miniseries by Nigel Kneale. Look for Jane Asher as a young girl Wordsworth encounters while on the run from the hospital.

THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE (April 29, 2:00 am): The films of Max Ophuls are noted for their subtlety, and this film is a prime example. Taking a simple premiss, that of a French woman whose series of white lies does her in, Ophuls raises it to the level of high tragedy. although it opened in the U.S. to mild praise, the film is viewed today as one of the greatest gems of movie history, and perhaps the acme of Ophuls’ career. Of course, a good cast helps, and Ophuls has a terrific one with Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux and Vittorio De Sica as his leads. Ophuls is in his element here, painstakingly designing mies-en-scenes that frame and define his characters, and combining that with close-ups that allow us some psychological insight into the characters. The plot is beautifully staged, opening and closing on the consideration of the eponymous piece of jewelry that passes from owner to owner until returning to Darrieux. This is a film of charm and beauty with a marvelous subtext of the pain that goes hand in hand with vanity and which no amount of lies can cover or explain.

WE AGREE ON ... THE WRONG BOX (April 26, 1:30 am)

ED: A. The Wrong Box is a beautifully constructed dark comedy centered around two brothers, Masterman Finsbury (John Mills) and Joseph Finsbury (Ralph Richardson), who are the last survivors of a tontine investment scheme. Whoever outlives the other will inherit the entire fortune. A tontine usually doesn’t work like this. Usually, each member gets a regular annuity payment which increases over time as investment members die. But then it wouldn’t be funny; having the last survivor get it all leads to all sorts of comic shenanigans. The brothers haven’t spoken for 40 years, despite living next to each other. When Masterman, who is desperately poor, learns he and his brother are the last two survivors, he plans to kill him and claim the money. Also complicating matters is Michael Caine as Michael, Masterman’s grandson, who falls in love with Joseph’s granddaughter, played by Nanette Newman. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are also aboard as Michael’s greedy cousins who are also after the fortune. However, it’s Peter Sellers, in a minor role as befuddled and bumbling Doctor Pratt. Although he has only two scenes, he nearly walks away with the picture, turning a couple of routine criminal encounters in his office, which is loaded with cats, into a full blown comedy of errors. At its heart, The Wrong Box is a delightful farce, backed by a superior script and loaded with outstanding performances, especially from Mills and Richardson. It also has what most farces lack: restraint, subtlety and a sly underlying wit. 

DAVID: A. Ed perfectly describes the plot so there's no need for me to restate it. It's an exceptionally funny dark comedy featuring some of the best British comedians of the era – notably Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, who were a legendary team, and the always brilliant Peter Sellers – along with excellent "serious" actors – in particular Ralph Richardson, Michael Caine and John Mills – who show their comedic talent. The 1966 film is an adaption of an 1889 book. While the film has a detailed absurd plot, it is the quips and sight gags that make me laugh out loud every few minutes. Because the plot is so outrageous, it's a testament to the actors that they're able to show some restraint as to not let the film's story spiral out of control. If you haven't seen it or it's been a few years since your last viewing, you owe it to yourself to watch it. If you've seen this film a few times, well, I don't need to convince you to watch it again. 

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