Saturday, September 29, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for October 1-7

October 1–October 7


THE PETRIFIED FOREST (October 4, 12:30 pm): In one of his first major roles, Humphrey Bogart plays Duke Mantee, a notorious gangster on the run. Bogart was so great in this 1936 film as the heavy – bringing depth, emotion and character to the role – that Warner Brothers spent nearly five years casting Bogart in other movies as the bad guy. But very few were of this quality. Duke and his gang end up in a diner near the Petrified Forest in Arizona with the police chasing them. The gang takes everyone inside hostage, including Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), a once great writer who is now an alcoholic. Not fearing death because of what life has become for him, Squier engages Duke in conversation, pushing his buttons. The interaction between the two is outstanding. Also at the diner is Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis), who owns it with her father and grandfather. Davis is excellent and even subdued as a secondary character.

NOSFERATU (October 7, 12:00 am): The first – and to me, the best – version of Bram Stoker's Dracula on screen. This is a 1922 silent film directed by the legendary German Expressionist director F.W. Murnau. Star Max Schreck as Count Orlock – the movie is a Dracula adaptation to avoid a lawsuit from Stoker's estate – is absolutely terrifying without being gory or over the top. While it's close to 100 years old, it's remarkable how well it holds up. It's a landmark in horror films.


RED HEADED WOMAN (Oct. 2, 9:30 am): Watching Jean Harlow in Hell’s Angels (1930) and The Public Enemy (1932), one thing sticks out like a glass jaw: the woman can’t act. But she goes to MGM, and a year later she is completely mesmerizing in this story of a gold digger who busts up her boss’s marriage, and that’s for starters. Harlow shows a real flair for comedy and lighter roles, which is perfect for the film. She also had the perfect writer in Anita Loos, who took what was a turgid soap opera by original writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and turned in into a completely tongue-in-cheek, saucy comedy. Had Harlow played the original script, the film would have sunk like a lead balloon. Instead she readily adapted to Loos’s scenario and took it from there. Its one of my favorites from the Pre-Code era and that is entirely due to Harlow.

THE UNKNOWN (October 3, 8:00 pm): When Lon Chaney and Tod Browning teamed up they made some of the best and most unusual fits of Chaney’s career. The Unknown may just be the weirdest of the lot. Chaney is “Alonzo the Armless Wonder,” an armless knife thrower who uses his feet to thrown the knives. In actually he’s a criminal on the run and only pretends to be armless, bring strapped into a straitjacket type of restraint before each performance. The love of his life is his assistant, Nanon (Joan Crawford). They could be together if not for her abnormal fear of having a man’s arms around her. Chaney is so besotted that he has his arms amputated for real to prove to her his love. After he returns from the operation he finds her in the arms of Malabar the strongman (Norman Kerry), who has cured her of this fear. It’s right out of Grand Guignol and remains one of the creepiest movies ever made.

WE AGREE ON ... THE THIN MAN (October 2, 1:00 pm)

ED: A+. This is a truly remarkable film that only seems to get better with the passage of time. And yet, were it not for its director, Woody “One Shot” Van Dyke, it would have opened, run its course, and quickly been forgotten. Van Dyke, while directing Manhattan Melodrama, noticed the unique chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy. When handed the assignment to direct The Thin Man, he suggested Powell and Loy as its stars. The MGM brass shot it down; their reason being that Powell was too old to play Nick Charles and Loy was better suited to play the exotic or the other woman. But Van Dyke persisted, and as the film was to be quickly shot on a low budget, the brass acquiesced, thinking that if it tanked, they wouldn’t lose much money. Instead it turned out to be one of the greatest casting choices in film history and made a star out of Myrna Loy. Van Dyke told screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett to downplay the mystery and focus on the relationship between Nick and Nora Charles. He was right. Who tunes in to see how the mystery unfolds? We’re much more interested in the byplay of Nick and Nora. That’s what makes this film so enjoyable and one that can be viewed multiple times. When released it became a huge hit and led to five sequels, not bad for a low budget film that was a combination of equal parts mystery and screwball comedy.

DAVID: A+. Without a doubt, William Powell and Myrna Loy are my all-time favorite movie couple and they were never better than in this film, which is one of the most charming and enjoyable you'll ever see. Powell and Loy are so good together that people were convinced they were really married. Powell is Nick Charles, a charming (did he ever play a character who wasn't charming?) ex-private detective who knows every cop and criminal in the big city and both sides of the law love him. Loy is Nora, his new wife and a socialite, who doesn't mind that Nick is a hard-drinking ex-private eye. Actually, she rather enjoys the excitement and wants to help her husband solve a murder. Loy, who was a stunningly beautiful woman, was also an outstanding actress. The two of them are so in sync with each other and hysterically funny as they piece the clues together. The plot, which is somewhat confusing even to those of us who've seen this more than a few times, is secondary to the funny banter between the leads. One of my favorite exchanges is Nick saying "I was shot twice in The Tribune." Nora: "I read you were shot five times in the tabloids." Nick finishes it: "It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids." It’s a funny, entertaining film that really showcases these two incredible talents. This film spawned five sequels. While the first sequel, After the Thin Man, is very good, they get progressively worse. But the interaction between the two leads remains solid. 

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

Thursday, September 27, 2018

King of the Underworld

The B-Hive

By Ed Garea

King of the Underworld (WB, 1939) – Director: Lewis Seiler. Writers: George Bricker & Vincent Sherman (s/p). W.R. Burnett (story). Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Kay Francis, James Stephenson, John Eldridge, Jessie Busley, Arthur Aylesworth, Raymond Brown, Harland Tucker, Ralph Remley, Charley Foy, Murray Alper, Joe Devlin, Elliott Sullivan, Alan Davis & John Harmon. B&W, 67 minutes.

1939 was a great year for Hollywood, but not if you happened to be either Kay Francis or Humphrey Bogart. 

Kay Francis was wooed away from Paramount and signed to a $200,000 a year contract by Warners when she was hot box office back in the early ‘30s. By 1938, with the rise of the younger and more dynamic Bette Davis, she had cooled off considerably and Jack Warner was trying to find ways to get her to break the contract. One such way was to star her in this dreck. Also cast as her Napoleon Bonaparte quoting criminal nemesis was Humphrey Bogart, who began his career at Warner Bros. on a high note with The Petrified Forest in 1935. Since then he’s been cast as the heavy in almost every studio picture since, with the nadir of his career being cast as a vampire of sorts in 1939’s The Return of Doctor X (read our essay on the film here).

King of the Underworld did nothing for either career, other than giving them a reason to depart the studio. Besides placing her in bad movies, the studio also made Francis help out with the screen tests of up-and-coming actors. The final indignity came when the film was released in January 1939. Bogart was given star billing with Francis’s name below his in decidedly smaller type. Bogart, who had befriended Francis during the shooting of the film in the summer of 1938, knew the studio wasn’t doing him any favors. He saw it for what it was, which caused him to further despise Jack Warner, if such a thing was possible. 

King of the Underworld was shot in 20 days. The story goes as follows: Niles and Carol Nelson (Eldridge and Francis) are married doctors. Struggling to establish a practice, they operate on a gunshot victim given up for dead by other doctors. Miraculously, they save him. The gunshot victim is a gangster in the empty of Joe Gurney (Bogart), who is delighted to have found such dedicated medics. So delighted in fact, that he shows up at their office and gives Niles $500 as a token of his appreciation. 

Niles explains there sudden fortune to Carol as a result of playing the ponies (Niles is an inveterate gambler). They decide to move uptown and Niles promises to stop playing the ponies. At first things are going well, though Niles keeps disappearing at time. Carol thinks he’s back to playing the ponies, but when he leaves one evening she trails him to a seedy section of town. She can’t find him, but does find his car and decides to wait there. As she does, the place is raided by the police and Niles, attending to one of Gurney’s men, is killed in the crossfire.

Carol is arrested as an accomplice and tried, but the result is a hung jury. Nevertheless she has three months to clear her name of lose her medical license. Carol decides the best way to do this is to trail Gurney and bring him to justice. She sets up her medical practice in a small town where she was informed Gurney has been frequently seen and in which two of Gurney's gangsters have been imprisoned. However, Gurney, a gangster with delusions of Napoleonic grandeur, breaks into the jail and frees his men.     

Wounded in the jailbreak, Gurney calls upon Carol and has her tend his wounds. Also wounded in the jailbreak is down-and-out English writer Bill Stevens (Stephenson), who had innocently accepted a ride from the notorious gangster. When the local medic, Doctor Sanders (Aylesworth) refuses to treat the alleged criminal, Carol extracts the bullet and befriends Bill, who is later taken prisoner by Gurney (he likes the fact that Bill can quote Napoleon) so that he can write the gangster's biography.        

When Gurney’s wound worsens, he sends for Carol. Returning back home she learns from the grocer that the doctor had relayed his suspicions about Carol to the sheriff, with there result that the sheriff and federal agents are coming to arrest her for her involvement with Gurney. 

Carol comes up with a plan to capture the mobster and his henchmen. Convincing Gurney and his men that they have an eye infection, Carol temporarily blinds the mobsters with adrenaline eye drops and calls for the federal agents to close in. After a blinded Gurney is mowed down in a gun battle Carol is exonerated and as the film ends we see her in domestic bliss with Bill, now a successful writer, and their son.


The screenplay was based on the novel, Dr. Socrates, by famed crime writer William Riley “W.R.” Burnett, and was released in 1935 under  the same title starring Paul Muni. Lewis Seiler was known as a company director, churning them out as written. He was nothing if not prolific, beginning his career in 1923 directing silent comedy shorts for Fox. By the time he retired in 1958 he had over 90 films and teleplays to his credit. His work on this movie was typical of his style. Seiler knows how to frame a scene and keep a story moving. The faults in the movie lie more with the hacked together script rather than and directorial fault.

The script, by George Bricker and Vincent Sherman, was unfinished by the time principal photography commenced, and even Francis and Bogart chipped in ideas and dialogue (accompanied, it was said, by famed writer and mutual friend Louis Bromfield) to help finish it. Sherman (later promoted to the director’s chair) visited the set daily to work out any unforeseen snags. This had an unsettling effect on Seiler, who had a preference for slow pacing and liked a finished script. He was said to have had little enthusiasm for the film and would show up to set and start blocking scenes without having read the part of the script that was to be shot on that day. Originally shot as Unlawful, the title was changed during post-production.

The acting is excellent, much better than it should be for this type of nonsense. Francis, who was once quoted as saying that she would mop the sound stage if that’s what it took to continue drawing her salary, gives her usual professional performance. Bogart, too, was professional, adding a little levity into a role he just couldn’t take seriously. James Stephenson, as Carol’s love interest, gives a solid performance with what little he has to work with, but it seems as though his character exists only for plot advancement.

Bogart did have a little fun when filming the trailer. After delivering the line, “I'm King of the Underworld and nobody is better than I am,” he jabbed his forefinger at the center of the lens and ad-libbed, “And that goes for you, too, Jack Warner!

In the final analysis, King of the Underworld is predictable, but fun, especially for Bogart and Francis fans.


Joe Gurney: (after Carol mends his gunshot wound) Well, can I take it or can I take it?
Dr. Carol Nelson: You can take it. Some people aren't sensitive to pain, especially moronic types.
Joe Gurney: Hey, did you hear that, Slick? I'm a moronic type.
Slick: Yeah? Hey, what's that?
Joe Gurney: I don't know. Some type of medical name, ain't it doc?

Bill Stevens: (discussing Gurney’s plans for a biography) What you want is a ghost writer.
Joe Gurney: Nah no mystery stuff, just plain facts.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Here Comes Carter

The B-Hive

By Ed Garea

Here Comes Carter (WB, 1936) – Director: William Clemens. Writers: Roy Chanslor (s/p). Michael Jacoby (story). Stars: Ross Alexander, Glenda Farrell, Anne Nagel, Craig Reynolds, Hobart Cavanaugh, George E. Stone, John Sheehan, Joseph Crehan, Dennis Moore, Norman Willis, John T. Murray, Charley Foy, Eddy Chandler, Davison Clark & Wayne Morris. B&W, 58 minutes.

And there goes Carter. At a little less than an hour, it’s over before we know it, although there’s a lot of plot packed into that hour.

Ross Alexander is Kent Carter, Director of Public Relations at Premiere Pictures. In other words, head flack. He has a slight problem in that he doesn’t want to give his secretary, Linda Warren (Nagel), a screen test because he wants to marry her and wants a stay-at-home wife.   

To make him jealous, she tells him she had dinner with actor Rex Marchbanks (Reynolds). Rex is easily Kent’s least favorite person in any case, so when Linda gives him the news, he really has a reason to hate Rex. The unknowing Rex, however, hands Kent a golden opportunity for a little revenge. Would Kent take care of his wife, who is suing him for non-support? Kent seizes on the opportunity and turns Rex in to the authorities.

When Rex is ultimately cleared, he takes revenge by getting Kent fired. Linda begs Kent to apologize and get his job back, but he refuses. Reduced to trading an autographed cigarette lighter to diner owner Bill (Morris in only his second picture) in return for a hot dog and mug of beer, he notices Bill listening intently to the radio. When he asks Bill what’s so important, Bill responds that he never misses Mel Winter’s Hollywood gossip show. This gives Kent an idea. Why not use his inside knowledge of Hollywood to make money? He offers to provide dipso radio gossip Winter (Cavanaugh) with real scandals. Winter is too timid to broadcast such damaging information, preferring press releases, but he does hire Kent as his writer.

One day, Winter is too drunk to broadcast and the sponsor hires Kent as a replacement. Kent is an instant hit, using his new position to attack Rex whenever possible. In retaliation, Rex asks gangster Steve Moran (Willis) to throw a scare into Kent. Moran sends one of his enforcers, Slugs Dana (Sheehan in an entertaining performance), to threaten Kent, but Kent Buys him off with tickets to a movie preview starring Slugs's favorite actress.

Kent secretly arranges an audition for Linda, who repays him by refusing to be involved with him as long as he broadcasts scandals in Hollywood. When Kent keeps riding Rex on the air, Moran and one of his thugs, Boots Bennett (Stone), beat him up and sending him to the hospital. Kent refuses to tell the police who beat him because he’s saving the information to announce it on the air.

Slugs, who has become a source of inadvertent news to Kent in return for preview passes, tells the broadcaster that Moran once killed a man during a robbery. Kent then breaks a story that Moran and Marchbanks are in reality brothers. Moran breaks into the radio station intending to kill Kent, but the police shoot him first. Having learned that he was responsible for her singing career, Linda reconciles with Kent, who agrees to change his profession.


Unbelievably, Glenda Farrell is second-billed to Alexander in this movie. although she appears in a minor role as Verna Kennedy, Mel Winters’s former secretary inherited by Kent when he took over the position. Although she has a nice little scene encouraging Linda not to give up on Carter, despite the fact she is mad about the boy, it’s just further proof that Warner’s didn’t know what to do with talented actresses. Just a few months later (January 2, 1937), Warner’s released Smart Blonde, which turned Farrell into a very popular star in one of the iconic roles of the ‘30s, that of reporter Torchy Blaine. Read our review of it here.

The song Nagel sings on a radio broadcast, “Thru the Courtesy of Love” (also played during the opening credits) bears a more than striking resemblance to Jackie Gleason’s composition, “Melancholy Serenade,” which was used as the theme of his television show. Compare the two some time; both are on You Tube.

Besides Wayne Morris, look for Jane Wyman as a nurse and Marjorie Weaver is a secretary for studio head Joseph Crehan. Both actresses are uncredited.

Anne Nagel was one of Hollywood’s “hard-luck cases,” never making it higher than the cusp of stardom. She met Alexander on the set of Here Comes Carter. They fell in love and married on September 16, 1936. Just a scant few months later, on January 2, 1937, Alexander, a closeted homosexual in financial straits and depressed over the suicide of former wife Aleta Freile in 1935, shot himself in the temple with a .22 pistol in a barn behind their Encino ranch home. The loss affected Nagel deeply. She signed with Universal in 1939, but stardom still eluded her as the studio assigned her to B-horror and Western films. She left Universal to freelance, but could only find work on Poverty Row, working at Monogram, PRC and Republic. Her last film, an uncredited appearance in RKO’s 1950 noir, Armored Car Robbery, was the best film she had done in years. She worked doing television guest shots until 1954 when, plagued by alcoholism, she could no longer find work. Her 1941 marriage to Army Air Corps officer, James H. Keehan in 1941, was an unhappy one and ended in divorce in 1951. She spent the last years of her life virtually penniless before passing away from liver cancer on July 6, 1966, at only 50 years of age.

Friday, September 21, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for September 23-30

September 23–September 30


THE LAST WALTZ (September 24, 9:00 pm): Martin Scorsese directs this all-time classic concert film that captures the last time the five original members of the legendary rock/folk/Americana group The Band performed. It features appearances by, among others, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and a great set with Bob Dylan, who The Band backed when he first went electric. It's one of the best rock movies ever made though it's certainly not perfect. The interview segments with the group's members are just as good as the music. You can read a full review I wrote a couple of years ago about the film here that does it justice. 

WUTHERING HEIGHTS (September 26, 6:00 pm): It's always challenging to adapt a classic book into a movie, and this 1939 film uses less than half of Emily Bronte's 34 chapters (eliminating the second generation of characters) in the book. But it's still a stunning film directed by one of the true masters, William Wyler. Laurence Olivier gives an unforgettable performance as Heathcliff, showing a wide range of emotions in a complicated role. Heathcliff is bitter, vengeful, conflicted and passionately in love. I doubt anyone else could do justice to the role. Merle Oberon as Cathy is also wonderful as are many members of the cast including David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Hugh Williams.


HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE (Sept. 25, 8:00 pm): A dead on, hilarious satire about the marginalization of African-Americans in Hollywood, directed by Robert Townshend and written by Townshend and Keenan Ivory Wayans. The film is a series of vignettes tied together by the experiences of Bobby Taylor (Townshend) in auditioning for parts that turns out to be stereotypical. One of the funniest vignettes is “Black Acting School,” in which prospective students are taught how to play slaves, butlers, criminals, and street punks. Other standout vignettes are “Sneakin’ Into The Movies,” a parody of Siskel and Ebert, and “Sam Ace,” a take off on hard-boiled detectives with the hero taking on villain Jerry Curl. Besides the satiric broadsides, the film also offers a refreshing authentic glimpse into real middle-class African-Americans in stark contrast to the roles they are offered in the film industry. It’s a welcome shot at an industry that always saw itself as immune and never missed a chance to pat itself on the back (see George Clooney’s ridiculously smug speech at the 2006 Oscars).

WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? (September 27, 2:00 pm): A surprising look into Hollywood that been unjustly overlooked after the release of A Star is Born, which it inspired. Lowell Sherman is unforgettable as the dipso director whose career has sliding into oblivion with Constance Bennett shining as a waitress whose ambition is to be a movie star, a goal she fulfills with the help of Sherman. With Gregory Ratoff and Neil Hamilton. A must see for all movie fans.

WE DISAGREE ON ... 42ND STREET (September 30, 8:15 am)

EDA++. This is the mother of all Pre-Code musicals, and the prototype for all future musicals. The story is simple – Sugar Daddy Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee) is backing a new Broadway show titled “Pretty Lady,” which will star his squeeze Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels). The trouble is that while Brock is Dillon’s Main Squeeze, she doesn’t want to be squoze by him. She’d rather be in the arms of old boyfriend George Brent, with whom she’s still in love. Things come to a boil, with the result that Bebe breaks her ankle and can’t go on. Just as it looks like there’s going to be a dark theater, young Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) is plucked from the chorus line by director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) and given the chance to be the star. You know the rest. Once Busby Berkeley takes over staging the dance numbers, it’ll never be quite the same again, both for the musicals and for Berkeley. Not only does the film contain unforgettable numbers such as “Young and Healthy,” Shuffling Off to Buffalo,” and the title song, but listen in and catch some of the most risque lines and scenarios ever to populate a musical. Ginger Rogers, in an early role, plays a character named Anytime Annie. “She only said ‘No’ once, and that was when she didn’t hear the question,” says backstage manager Andy Lee (George E. Stone). Also watch for the homosexual innuendo between Julian Marsh and Andy Lee. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen this film over the years, but each time I sit down to watch, it comes across still as fresh as the first time I saw it.

DAVID: C. When I saw the play on Broadway in 1982, I thought it was fun, primarily because of the great choreography. The plot is simplistic and there's a handful of good songs. When I saw the 1933 movie, of which the play is based, I wondered why anyone would take a mediocre at best film and make it a play. (Of course, the play was an unbelievable success and the film was well-received.) The movie is filled with cliche lines about putting on a Broadway musical including the unknown chorus girl becoming the star. “Sawyer, you're going out a younger, but you've got to come back a star!” and “Sawyer, you listen to me and you listen hard” are two such cheesy lines. The only missing piece is Mickey Rooney. Like its play adaption, the movie's plot is virtually nonexistent. The movie is a shade under 90 minutes and about 20 minutes of it is three song-and-dance numbers from the fictitious play being put on in the film. The Busby Berkeley dance numbers have entertaining moments and the cinematography of them is good, but not nearly enough to keep my interest. 

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Mouthpiece

Films In Focus

By Ed Garea

The Mouthpiece (WB, 1932) – Directors: James Flood, Elliott Nugent. Writers: Joseph Jackson (s/), Earl Baldwin (adaptation & dialogue), Frank J. Collins (play). Stars: Warren William, Sidney Fox, Aline MacMahon, John Wray, Mae Madison, Ralph Ince, Morgan Wallace, Guy Kibbee, J. Carrol Naish, Walter Walker, Stanley Fields, Murray Kinnell, Noel Francis & William Janney. B&W, 86 minutes.

If we were to choose any actor as the perfect heel in the Pre-Code era I think Warren William would win by seven furlongs. To paraphrase William’s biographer, John Stageland, William specialized in playing characters noted for a bankrupt conscience, predatory sexuality and a deeply buried smidgen of decency.

And yet, according to Stageland, Warner Bros. offered the role to nearly every other actor in the Warner-First National stable before giving it to William. The only reason he got the role at all was because everyone else had turned its down. The movie made him a star.

The Mouthpiece is a film based on the career of noted attorney William Joseph Fallon, who made his reputation defending all kinds of criminals and getting them acquitted. One of his most famous clients was Arnold Rothstein, who he defended against charges of fixing the 1919 World Series, and for whom Fallon was on permanent call. Fallon (who dubbed himself, “The Great Mouthpiece”) could, according to his biographer Gene Fowler, read and memorize a book in just a few hours and use its contents to devastating effect in the courtroom the next day. 

Gene Fowler’s best-selling biography of Fallon, The Great Mouthpiece, published in September 1931, four years after Fallon’s death at age 41 from alcohol related causes (he had been a teetotaler for much of his life until Prohibition), inspired a rash of movies about his exploits. Three were released in the month of May 1932 alone, beginning with The Mouthpiece (May 7), followed by RKO’s State’s Attorney, starring John Barrymore and Helen Twelvetrees (May 20), and Columbia’s Attorney for the Defense, starring Edmund Lowe and Evelyn Brent (May 21). Warner Bros., which began the trend, ended it with Lawyer Man, starring William Powell and Joan Blondell, released January 7, 1933. Two films released before the publication of Fowler’s book with Fallon-inspired characters were Paramount’s 1930 For the Defense, with William Powell and Kay Francis; and MGM’s 1931 A Free Soul, with Lionel Barrymore as the Fallon character, Clark Gable as the hood he defends, and Norma Shearer as Barrymore’s daughter and Gable’s paramour.

As The Mouthpiece opens we meet Vince Day (William), an overworked ADA prosecuting a defendant accused of murdering his wife. Everything we see in the courtroom, from Day’s oratory, to the faces on the jury, to the face of the defendant himself, tells us his conviction is a foregone conclusion. And so it is – a conviction for first-degree murder, with the death penalty to be applied. However, at the hour of execution the D.A. (Walker) informs Day that the defendant was innocent; the gardner confessed to the murder. The D.A. phones the governor, but it’s too late; an innocent victim is dead and Day, absolutely crushed by the news, resigns in disgrace. After drowning his sorrows in Guy Kibbee’s watering hole, Day vows never to prosecute another case and begins a new career as a defense attorney.

At first he’s a success, getting his clients acquitted. But very little money is coming his way. Back at the watering hole, friendly bartender Kibbee gives him some advice. Day had been defending the wrong people – those who were innocent. The big money lies in defending the guilty.

The next time we see Vince Day he’s back in the courtroom, defending his client O’Leary, who is accused of murder. Using bombast and outrageous stunts he gets his client acquitted. Back at the watering hole he tells bartender kibble what he’s learned:  Sensationalism! Ballyhoo! Barnum and Bailey. Give ’em a three ring circus and toss in a little Houdini on the side. Give ’em a swell show and they won’t even stop to think.”

Next we see Day’s secretary, Miss Hickey (MacMahon) usher in a new client, Mr. Barton (Wray). Barton has embezzled $90,000 from his employer, E.A. Smith & Associates and is in a panic because the company is going over the books. Day asks Barton how much of the embezzled money he has left. $40,000, replies Barton. Day asks him to hand it over and sends him to another room to wait. Day then calls Smith (Wallace), tells him he’s been robbed, and invites him over to his office. There he tells Smith he’ll return $30,000 of his money if Smith agrees not to prosecute. Smith agrees. When Smith later learns from Barton that he gave Day $40,000 the employer is outraged and walks out in a huff. Barton asks for a cut of the remaining $10,000, telling Day that he won’t be able to find another job. But Day cold-heartedly tells him, “Yours? You stole it. I earned it.” 

While this is going on Celia Faraday (Fox), a naive young girl from Kentucky, has come into the office seeking a job. Hickey tells him, that “she’s jailbait and dumb,” but after meeting her and learning she’s been in the city for five months looking for a job, Day hires her. His sights are set on seducing the young woman. 

When Day learns that Smith plans to file charges against him for helping himself to the stolen $10,000 he produces a copy of the waiver Smith signed for the return of his $30,000 in the DA’s office, forcing Smith to either back down or face a charge himself of compounding a felony. 

There’s a brief scene where Day begins putting the moves on his little Kentucky Kernel, Celia, but she is so naive and innocent she has no inkling of what he means under the double-talk.

Now comes the movie’s most famous scene, one that people with whom I’ve discussed the movie always bring up. Defending Tony Rocca (Naish), accused of murder by poison, Day holds up the poison bottle. “This is the bottle containing the so-called poison,” he declares before gulping the contents down to the accompaniment of gasps from the gallery. While everyone tries to recover we notice the presence of Celia who also looks most concerned.

As expected the jury finds Rocco Not Guilty. After shaking hands with the jurors and prosecutor, Day leaves the courtroom accompanied by a couple of other men and briskly walks down the street and into a building where he has his stomach pumped, remarking how glad he is the the jury didn’t know that the poison took 45 minutes to work. 

As Day is celebrating his victory at a party Celia is dining at a chop suey joint with boyfriend Johnny (Janney). Celia puts in a call to Day and is told by his servant, Thompson (Kinnell), that she is to deliver some papers to his apartment. As she arrives, Day is there to meet her in a smoking jacket. Day makes his big move, kissing her, but she pulls away, telling him she’s not interested. Day then tries to impress her with the revelation that there really was poison in the bottle, but instead of being impressed, she’s disgusted to the point of where she quits her job.  Day, floored by the way the night has turned out, apologizes, asking if she would stay on until he finds a replacement and she reluctantly agrees.

On Celia’s last day Day gives her a $100 check endorsed over from a law journal for an article he wrote. As this is clean money, she accepts. But that night, a distraught Celia, along with Hickey, arrives at his apartment, looking for him. Hickey, reckoning he’s at Guy Kibbee’s gin mill, finds him there and brings him back home. Along with Thompson she cleans him up to properly receive Celia.

Celia is in a panic because Johnny, a bank messenger, he was robbed of some bonds, but the police believe he was an inside man and arrested him. Day bails him out and has him sent over to his apartment. Sending Celia out of the room Day grills Johnny, but comes to believe in his innocence after Johnny tells him that he wouldn’t be able to look Celia in the face if he stole money. He tells both Celia and Johnny that he’ll clear this up in time for their wedding.     

Day learns from bail bondsman Roscoe (Ince) that Joe Garland (an uncredited Jack La Rue) committed the theft. He asks Garland to confess as a favor to him, and when the thief refuses, Vince has him arrested.

Back in Day’s office, Celia and Johnny show up to thank him and invite him to their wedding. He says he’ll do his best to be there. After they leave Roscoe enters, telling Day the boys aren’t happy because he ratted. Day not only tells Roscoe where to go, but also mentions that he has a file that contains information about the boys and their activities that will be handed over to the police if anything happens to him. Roscoe’s not buying it. He leaves as Hickey comes in.

Day tells Hickey he’s tired of “crooked streets and crooked people” and is returning to civil practice. After ordering flowers over the phone he leaves for the kids’ wedding. Looking out the window, Hickey sees trouble coming. She calls out to him and chases down the stairs trying to catch up to him.

As Day pauses to buy a newspaper, a driver across the street makes his car backfire, followed by a gunshot. Day slumps into the wall, but then straightens up and slowly makes his way into the cab as Hickey catches up to him. As the cabbie asks, “Where to?” Day replies, “Emergency hospital. And you better hurry.” As Hickey pulls her hand back from Day she sees it’s covered in blood. Day laughs, telling her the joke’s on Roscoe and the boys because those papers really do exist. As the film ends he looks at Hickey. “Good old Hickey,” he says. “You’re always around when I need you, aren’t you, Sweetheart.”


The Mouthpiece is pure Warren William, establishing the template for later portrayals of men without consciences. As Day, William is pitch perfect. Not for a minute do we doubt either his characterization or his performance. When he appears he commands the screen and we end up only caring what he’s up to this time.

As Hickey, Day’s loyal secretary, McMahon gives another one of her patented performances. Though we’ve seen it before, most notable opposite Edward G, Robinson in Five Star Final, she never ceases to impress us with the variety of her loyal characters. Instead of being just a one-note actress, MacMahon brings a sense of spontaneity into the role. Though we know just what she’s going to do – this is a Warner Bros. film, after all – we enjoy the verve she brings with her. It’s a shame there weren’t more scenes with her. 

Sidney Fox, in the role of the ingenue, comes off rather uneven, as her Kentucky accent seems to drift in and out throughout the film, a problem that can be attributed to bad writing in having a New York actress attempt to be a Southern lady. The diminutive Fox (4’ 11”), born Sidney Leifer in New York City, began her career at Universal in The Bad Sister (1931), opposite Conrad Nagel, Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis (in her first film). She received a strong push from the studio, fueled in part by rumors that she was Carl Laemmle, Jr.’s mistress. Named one of 13 “Wampas Baby Stars” of 1931, she also began making the covers of such movie magazines as Modern Screen and Movie Mirror. But her career fizzled out in 1934 after only 14 films, the most memorable of which was the 1932 production of Murders in the Rue Morgue (for which she was amazingly billed ahead of Bela Lugosi). Her last three pictures – Midnight (1934), Down to Their Last Yacht (1934) and School for Girls (1934), for Poverty Row studio Liberty Films – did nothing to reverse her downhill slide, although she remained a romantic leading lady throughout her career and was never reduced to bit parts. After leaving Hollywood she found some work here and there on the Orpheum Theatre circuit, on radio and a brief return to Broadway in a replacement role. Then, nothing. Her stormy marriage to Universal editor Charles Beahan in 1932 helped her slide into depression and illness. On the morning of November 15, 1942, the 34-year-old actress was found dead in her Beverly Hills bedroom by her husband after consuming a number of sleeping pills.

In the final frame, The Mouthpiece is an entertaining effort whose performances from William and MacMahon raise it above the level of ordinary programmer. It was remade twice, in 1940 as The Man Who Talked Too Much with George Brent in 1940, and in 1955 as Illegal with Edward G. Robinson. Neither remake comes close to matching the original. Stick with this one.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for September 16-30

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


Celluloid Club fan Joe Weber writes to inform us about a resident at the retirement home where he works. It is none other than famed graphic designer Pablo Ferro. If you’ve never heard of Pablo Ferro, you’re not alone. His is a talent that is always seen but rarely acknowledged. In fact every one who has seen a movie from 1964 to 2014 has seen Mr. Ferro’s work. He was a title designer, and not only just a title designer, but the best in the business according to directors Stanley Kubrick and Jonathan Demme. Kubrick hailed Ferro as the father of the sixties look and the MTV aesthetics. Pablo Ferro began his career in 1964 when he designed the titles for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Over the years he has served as title designer and graphics designer for 93 films, including The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Midnight Cowboy (1969), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Harold and Maude (also 1971), Being There (1979), To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), L.A. Confidential (1997), the HBO movie Winchell (1998), Napoleon Dynamite (2004), and Men in Black 3 (2012). His titles and montage sequences have appeared in 12 Academy Award winning films.

For those of us old enough to remember the original NBC peacock, announcing that the program is in color, he created that, also. He also directed two movies: Me, Myself and I (1992) with Jobeth Williams and George Segal; and the TV movie Rage (1983). 

Pablo Ferro has won over 70 national and international awards, among them numerous Clios, a DGA Excellence in Film Award, and several Lifetime Achievement awards. He has also been nominated by such highly regarded institutions as the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt. In 1999 Pablo was awarded the prestigious DaimlerChrysler Design Award, and in 2000 Pablo was inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame.

There is also a documentary titled Pablo (2012), about his life and career. Look for it – you will not be disappointed. Joe told us that it’s a honor to have met him and that he is a joy to be around every day. Knowing Joe as I do, compliments from him do not come easily, so Pablo Ferro must be quite a man in addition to being a genius. 


September 30: A double feature from the groundbreaking Spanish director begins at 2:15 am with his 1973 feature, Spirit of the Beehive. Combining a serious view of village life in the ‘40s with a unique look at the world of childhood imagination, the film follows the adventures of a young girl named Ana (Ana Torrent). The daughter of a beekeeper, she is captivated when she sees a roadshow featuring the 1931 movie Frankenstein. Her sister Isabel (Isabel Telleria) tells Ana that the monster is a spirit who can be conjured up simply by calling out for him. Ana returns alone to an isolated barn where she and her sister routinely play, and there she meets a stranger that she believes is Frankenstein’s Monster. Following at 4:15 am is El Sur (The South) the director’s 1985 look at a southern Spanish village. Set in 1957, 15-year old Estrella (Iciar Bollain), is awakened by the barking of dogs in the distance, and the voice of her mother calling for her husband Agustin (Omero Antonutti). When Estrella finds her father's pendulum (which he wore on a chain around his neck) under her pillow, she realizes that he has left for good. What follows is told in flashback, as Estrella describes how her family came to live in this village, and her attempt to understand her mysterious, moody physician father Agustin. Both films examine not only the ives of their characters but also the atmosphere of Franco’s authoritarian regime and both are considered masterpieces of European cinema. 


September 16:  A double feature from the famed director begins at 2 am with his masterpiece, and one of the best films ever made, The Rules of the Game, from 1939. It’s a brilliant satire, using a veneer of light comedy, on the upper classes of France, following the romantic shenanigans (both upstairs and downstairs) that occur at a French country estate. During the course of the film Renoir sends up their follies, rituals and class distinctions. If he thought he was going to get away with it he was sadly mistaken, for the film was savaged upon its release, with audiences actually hissing. Of course, it’s a Must See.

Following at 4 am, it’s The Golden Coach (1953), a delight about a theater company touring South America in the 18th century and the amorous doings of the leading lady (Anna Magnani). Sumptuously filmed with a dazzling use of color, this has to be one of the best films ever made about the art of acting.


September 23: One film, two different versions. At 2 am comes the 1959 remake, Floating Weeds, about a struggling acting company that visits a remote island, where its leader (Ganjiro Nakamura) visits his illegitimate son and the son’s mother, with whom he had a passionate affair years before. Shot in color, it’s directed with Ozu’s usual thoroughness and is excellently acted. Following at 4 am is the original silent version, A Story of Floating Weeds, from 1934. Though sound had come to Japanese cinema in 1931, as late as 1938, roughly one-third of Japanese films were silent. But you shouldn’t let lack of sound prevent you from enjoying a well-made and moving film. Take it in, by all means.


September 27: At 11:15 pm comes one of the most lauded and successful foreign films, Black Orpheus (1959). An imaginative retelling of the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice set against the backdrop of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, it features some of the most beautifully photographed color images ever to be shown. Gorgeous and totally compelling, with wonderful performances from its cast, it truly deserves to be be seen.


September 22: At midnight, it’s The Stranger, Orson Welles’s excellent 1946 tale of an escaped Nazi war criminal (Welles) who marries a local schoolteacher (Loretta Young) and settles down in a small Connecticut town where he lives quietly until federal investigator Edward G. Robinson tracks him down and exposes him. It’s one of Welles’s most underrated and compelling films, with excellent performances all around.

September 29: Sometimes, Monogram surprised everyone with a good film. Such is the case with The Gangster, from 1947. Produced by the King Brothers, Frank and Maurice,  it stars Barry Sullivan in a strong performance as Shubunka, a racketeer whose territory is coveted by fellow gangster Cornell (Sheldon Leonard). Belita co-stars as Shubunka’s show girl squeeze. She’s deeply in love with him, but his paranoia about Cornell is damaging their relationship as he thinks she’s two-timing him. John Ireland is along for the ride with a good performance as Frank Karty, a compulsive gambler who begs Shubunka for money or a piece of the action. Not the usual Monogram product, it, too, can be seen at Midnight. 


September 16: “On the funny side, there's the Marx Brothers, except Zeppo, the Ritz Brothers, no exceptions, both Laurel and Hardy, and Woody Woodpecker.”  Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker), My Favorite Year.

Although nearly forgotten today, in their heyday the Ritz Brothers (Al, Harry and Jimmy) had a large following. They were the stars of Broadway and enjoyed a movie career lasting from the late ‘30s to the early ‘40s. Although some fans compared them to the Marx Brothers, the Ritzes did not play contrasting characters like the Marxes. The boisterous Ritzes frequently behaved identically, which made it difficult for audiences to tell them apart. Harry was the ringleader with Jimmy and Al enthusiastically following his lead. They frequently broke into songs and dances during their feature comedies, and often did celebrity impersonations. They were a huge influence on comics such as Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, and Mel Brooks. Tonight, TCM pays tribute to the brothers with three of their films from Fox, beginning at 8 pm with Kentucky Moonshine. In this 1938 film, the boys learns that radio singer Tony Martin is going to Kentucky in order to boost ratings. Along with Marjorie Weaver they travel to Kentucky, posing as hillbillies in a bid to be discovered.

At 9:45 pm, the Brothers star in Life Begins in College (1937), their first feature film as headliners. Nat Pendleton is excellent as a rich student who, through the Ritzes, donates $50,000 to Lombardy College with two conditions: the football coach, under fire, must stay on, and the Ritzes must be allowed to play for the football team. Gloria Stuart and Joan Davis provide solid support.

The tribute wraps up at 11:15 pm with the 1938 comedy, Straight, Place and Show. The Brothers inherit a racehorse, raise training and entrance money in a wrestling match, help young Denny Paine train the horse of his fiancée, Barbara Drake (Phyliss Brooks), and expose some crooked Russian jockeys while they’re at it. With Ethel Merman.

It did not end well at Fox for the talented trio. After complaints about being cast in that old war horse, The Gorilla (1939), the Brothers left the studio and moved over to Universal.


September 23: Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding were a popular pair in English cinema who Daily Mirror columnist and critic Godfrey Winn called “the greatest team in British films.” TCM is running a double feature honoring the pair, beginning with Spring in Park Lane (1948) at 8 pm, a romantic comedy with Neagle as a diamond merchant’s niece who falls for the new footman (Wilding), unaware he is actually an impoverished aristocrat. In Maytime in Mayfair (1949) at 10 pm,  Michael Gore-Brown (Wilding) is a broke playboy gentleman who inherits London's leading dress store in the posh Mayfair district. Instead of selling it for cash, he falls in love with the shop’s manager, Ellen Grahame (Neagle) and decides to make a go of   the business, especially when he learns that a rival shop across the street seems to get the new fashions first. This is a delightful musical comedy and the pair’s first in Technicolor. 


September 18: Director King Vidor is featured in a double feature beginning at 2 am with his all-Black musical, Hallelujah (1929), followed at 4 am with his acclaimed 1931 drama of life in New York City’s tenements, Street Scene, starring Sylvia Sidney and Beulah Bondi. Both films are Must Sees.

September 19: Ex-convicts Robert Young, Nat Pendleton and Ted Healy help impoverished Louisiana shrimper Jean Parker Parker and her family fight off a hostile takeover by the half-Chinese C. Henry Gordon in the meandering 1934 drama Lazy River at 2 pm.

September 24: William Powell and Joan Blondell star in the 1933 drama Lawyer Man at 12:45 pm. Following at 3:15 pm it’s Lionel Barrymore, Norma Shearer and Clark Gable in 1931’s A Free Soul (read our review here). At 5 pm, Warren William shakes things up in The Mouthpiece (1932); and at 6:30 pm John Barrymore stars in State’s Attorney, also from 1932.

September 26: John Gilbert is a chauffeur up to no good in the excellent Downstairs (1932) at 11 am, and at 2:30 pm newlywed Helen Hayes discovers that she and husband Robert Montgomery’s snooty family speak different languages in Another Language (1933).

September 27: Six pre-Codes are featured today, beginning with Norma Shearer in The Divorcee (1930) at 7:30 am. Following in order are Madame Satan (1930) at 9 am, Hepburn and Colin Clive in Christopher Strong (1933) at 11:15 am, Stanwyck and Blondell in Illicit (1931) at 12:30 pm, Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman in What Price Hollywood? (1932) at 2 pm, and finally, Stanwyck and Brent in Baby Face (1933) at 3:30 pm.


September 17: A different kind of monster threatens Tokyo run the 1962 kaiju feature, Mothra, airing at 3:30 am.

September 18: George Sanders in The Gay Falcon (1942) at 7:30 am. A Val Lewton double feature kicks off with Cat People (1942) at 8:45 am, followed by The Seventh Victim at  10 am.

September 20: Tamara Dobson fights the scenery chewing Shelley Winters in Cleopatra Jones (1973) at 1:45 am.

September 21: The Bowery Boys encounter genie pic Blore in Bowery to Bagdad (1955) at 1 am, followed by Macon County Line (1974) and Return to Macon County (1975 beginning at 2:15 am.

September 22: At 10 am the last of TCM’s Saturday morning Tarzan series, Tarzan the Magnificent (1960), airs at 10:09 am, preceded by Popeye in Dizzy Divers (1935) at 10 am.

September 24: In an evening dedicated to director Martin Scorsese, one of his early efforts, Boxcar Bertha (1972), starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine, is showing at 11:15 pm.

Joseph Lewis’s classic, Gun Crazy (1950), is scheduled for 3 am.

September 25: Melvin Van Peebles’s satirical 1970 classic, Watermelon Man, starring Godfrey Cambridge and Estelle Parsons, will air at 11:30 pm.

September 28: Alone in the Dark (1982), with Jack Palance and Donald Pleasance, will be shown at 2 am, followed at 45 am by Deborah Kerr and David Niven in Eye of the Devil (1966).

September 29: A Tom and Jerry cartoon, The House of Tomorrow (1949), will air at 8 am. At 10 am, Popeye returns in You Gotta Be a Football Hero (1940), followed immediately by Louis Heyward in The Saint in New York (1938). Read our review here.