SUDDENLY (1954)

The sun and fun of Palm Springs, California warms both the heart and the skin of those that go there.  Temperature is in the high 40s in some cases, and the desert around you makes for intrigue in places and people when the night falls.  The unofficial, or depending on who you speak to, the official “King of Palm Springs” was Frank Sinatra during the forties through to the sixties.  Coming off that trip, what better film to look at  than one of Sinatra’s better roles, that of John Baron in the underrated SUDDENLY (1954).

The picture is quintessential 1950s paranoia minus the nuclear threat. Photographed  in a fashion that makes even the scenes in the daylight look menacing, is offered by director Lewis Allen and with a taunt script by Richard Sale.   SUDDENLY (1954) is about a plot to kill the President of the United States while he stops in the little California town of Suddenly. Leading the plot is John Baron (Frank Sinatra),  and his henchmen who take over a house owned by the Benson family, which has the proper vantage point.

Within the home you  have the  post war ‘nuclear family’  of  widowed Ellen Benson  (Nancy Gates) who takes care of her young son, Peter (Kim Charney) and her aged father Peter (Pop) Benson (James Gleason).  Young Peter is a precocious 50s child, t- shirted, jeans and combed hair that is looking forward to watching baseball with Pop Benson if they can get the television working.   Ellen Benson is a pacifist  whose husband  was killed in action.  She is doing her best to care for both her charges while being romanced by lantern jawed, deep voiced, Sheriff Tod Shaw,  played by Sterling Hayden.

Baron and his gang take over the family and their home and wait for the President to arrive.  Sheriff Shaw and  Secret Service Agent Dan Carney (Willis Bouchey) are trying to secure the site when they go to the Benson home and are captured.   Television  repairman Jud (James O Hara) makes a pre-arranged house call to fix the  television and is also captured.  Baron and his gang now have a full house of people: exactly what they didn’t want.  The  waiting produces tension among those concerned as  John Baron becomes more talkative about his reasons. The anger  of  a ‘little man’ feeling trapped seethes from Baron as it did at times from Sinatra in real life.

 

Baron enjoys killing, even to the point of threatening young Peter.   Ellen cannot stand  guns or violence in her home so this sets up some hard discussions.  The  President does come to town as the  tension mounts and  Baron  readies the rifle with telescopic sight and special stand. Not before sudden switches happen and  someone is  in the  wrong place  at the  wrong time.

SUDDENLY (1954) is filled with wonderful claustrophobic camera work even  when shot in essentially two rooms and limited  exteriors.    Point of view  shots abound  as the  resolution happens and  the lives of the Benson family are shattered.   Frank Sinatra  is effective as the brutally violent John Baron.   His look and clothes, complete with fedora, all fit what Old Blue eyes was like during that time in his life. No matter what happened in the  picture, Baron always looks put together .

What really is the strong point of  Sinatra’s performance is  his eyes. Those blue eyes which look light grey with black and white photography as expressive in  both defeat and triumph. This role marks the first time he played a  heavy role. This was a calculated  risk for him and the studio. In spite of winning the  1953  Academy Award  for his role of  “Angelo Maggio,” Sinatra was  driven to prove he was not a “one trick pony” in Hollywood.  SUDDENLY (1954) was without box office heavy weights  like Burt Lancaster,  Debra Kerr,  Montgomery Clift , and Ernest Borgnine to play off of so Sinatra had to carry the picture himself.

Sterling Hayden as Sheriff Tod Shaw is strong, especially playing against Sinatra’s thinner body type.   John Baron controls them all as things  change with voice and kinetic movement. It flows almost with a dancer’s grace.  Shaw, try as he might to assert Law and Order along with Secret Service man Carney,  are both held in check by threats.  This mechanism might seem irrelevant today as one  wonders why the two don’t simply jump John Baron or have  Ellen Benson do something.  It was the 1950s, though, and essentially a picture about pacifism carried too far by the Benson family. Seemingly one had to ready for “Reds under the bed” and other menaces trying to destroy the American dream of postwar life in the suburbs with white picket fence, baseball, or in this case : small town life like artist Norman Rockwell painted.

SUDDENLY (1954) is a taunt thriller that moves  quickly with scenes of  utter desolation that make you almost taste the dust.  It is a bleak, desperate story as people become trapped in a house, each with their own concept of the world, while rolling to a conclusion.  Well worth seeing for an ensemble performance, good story and  directing.    See it  in a restored version if you can. It is best this way, even if you need your television repaired like the Benson family. Enjoy with two fingers of Jack Daniels, four cubes, and  a splash of water. Don’t forget the cocktail napkin to hold it in your palm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CONVENTION CITY (1933)

This is a look at CONVENTION CITY (1933). It is considered a  ‘lost film” due to its content. Film has been censored since it first began as a kinescope show for a nickel. There has always been some group or groups of people in society that wished to control the message, the images, and the depiction of what was acceptable.

 

CONVENTION CITY (1933) was directed by Archie Mayo with such stalwarts as Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Mary Astor, Guy Kibbee, Adolphe Menjou, and Grant Mitchell. It was deemed so notorious  by Warner Brothers that prints were ordered destroyed by Jack Warner.  Still pictures and art survive from this precode gem.

 

 

 

The plot revolves around the convention of the Honeywell Rubber Company in Atlantic  city.  Throughout the film, the employees of Honeywell Rubber are mainly concerned with drinking and sex. President J.B. Honeywell is to choose a new company sales manager.  The picture includes  seductions,  drinking, bribes, and scantily clad people. The position of sales manager is bestowed upon a drunken employee as a bribe.

 

 

Joan Blondell later said that during the making of CONVENTION CITY (1933) dialogue had double meanings.   For instance,  these bits of  dialogue:

“No, but it won’t be marriage. I’ll guarantee you that. A traveling salesman needs a wife like a baby needs a box of matches.”

“Now you take off that dress and I’ll take off my toupee, huh!”

Girl’s voice: “Listen, sister, if they tire you, you better leave town before the Hercules Tool Company gets here.”

Risque  material by the standards of the day.  Jack Warner demanded  Joan Blondel wear underwear for fear of  letting “those bulbs stick out.”

The large studios, in spite of their power to control lives, manipulate the newspapers, and in some cases even obscure criminal facts from the public, knuckled under to the code controllers by editing their pictures accordingly.  Many of the studios held previews in little known theaters and edited films or re-shot whole endings or added new sequences on the strength of printed reactions from the public. The famous MGM train that housed Irving Thalberg, Louis B Mayer and others comes to mind as they shifted through the audience reaction. If it was a good preview, it was a wonderful trip back, if poor then there was tension both creatively and literally.

The reason the studios capitulated was that they simply could not alienate a group of people such as Catholics. The church had tremendous power, lead by The Catholic Legion of Decency. When you were told not to go to a particular film, you did not go.  This brought about the slow demise of such people as Mae West, plus it also made what are now called Pre-code film for the 1920s to 1934 all the more interesting to watch today.  The studios could not afford to offend people of other countries in their depictions as the European market was a huge moneymaker. Many of the studio moguls were also originally from Europe or Canada and felt an obligation to their roots.

The danger today with the various media delivery systems that we have to homes, phones etc. can make something like that into a “must” see for people.  Audiences will want to see it simply because it is forbidden by a segment of our planet, and this can make for a cult film.

Our adoration process today can overshadow flaws in making something marginal into something that it is not.  I do not see why we make film that offends a section of the population.  Mind you, we still do it with persons with disabilities, women, minorities, religions in the media; yet we do not criticize them well, with respect for their traditions. We have lost the ability to produce satire or humor in the media without pushing buttons, causing fear, animosity and cruelty to those we aim our salvo. If we are clever in our approach to a story it is perceived as being ‘highbrow,’ where film for can only be entertainment. The offended groups often protest in media without effect and film as an industry continues to take liberties with them.  We continue to do what film has done on many levels and that is to appeal to the lowest denominator in society because it’s about money. The original moguls knew that right from Hollywood’s beginning.

The real shame is film is a wonderful medium for telling stories. It can criticize, illuminate parts of the human condition and our world in ways we have not thought of or used. The danger today is that we elevate so rapidly what we like or perceive that we should like, to heights undreamed. I cannot help but wonder if it is deserved.  Word of mouth, perceptions of the public are a massive force in film . Caveat emptor.

 

 

MILLIONS LIKE US (1943)

Canadians sometimes  have an inferiority complex when it comes to their military history.  Recent developments notwithstanding, we seem to be ignored in pictures  regarding the Second  World War; likely because it is simply we were seen as being under the British.  It actually may be surprising to learn that we  were under our own command and  did our own slogging in Italy, Sicily and Europe.  The home front back in  Canada was different in that we were not close to the fighting.  We didn’t do  film of  our experiences, yet other  countries did.  This  British picture MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) is a lesser known work that attempts to articulate the home front during the Battle of Britain from the English working class point of  view with distinct style.

MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) was made by GAINSBOROUGH STUDIOS with Eric Portman and Patricia Roc on the poster.   The bulk of the story takes place between Celia Crowson (Patricia Roc) and Fred Blake (Gordon Jackson), which leads one to  think that  Portman’s name was put on the poster for  box office appeal and as per his contract.   The character he plays, shop supervisor and later love interest Charlie Forbes, is large.  Portman  almost made a career playing military personnel with his most famous role that of  Tom Earnshaw in ONE OF OUR  AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (1942).

MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) has a verisimilitude style as directors Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder give us a mix of staged moments and newsreel footage to  begin.    The story is of a  working class family, The Crowsons, whose lives  change due to conscription into service.   Celia Crowson (Patricia Roc) is the  quintessential  cheery, smiling girl that dreams of perhaps meeting a man.  Her older and more confident sister Phylis Crowson (Joy Shelton) goes to parties, dances, and smooches soldiers, even bringing them home to the parlor in the dark. Their widower father Jim Crowson is a hard working  man who, in the custom of the time, comes home wanting his food ready and his paper out.  He also enjoys going down to the pub. He borrows money from Celia to do in one scene.

Phyllis and Celia receive their call up notices, causing much distress for their father who is doing  his bit as a Air Raid Warden.  Celia is hoping to be selected  to go to the  Women’s Auxiliary Air force, but receives a posting to a factory making aircraft parts.  Phyllis gets  selected for the  Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps.  Celia has to report to the factory, and her father begrudgingly has to face this, yet pleads with  her to tell them that she has to stay home and take care of her father, who will have no one to make his meals.  Celia’s adventure begins when she goes to the factory sleeping quarters and meets her  roommates.  There she meets slightly loony Welsh girl Gwen Price (Megs Jenkins), who likes to sleep in her underwear as  “it only gets put back on in the morning.” Celia’s other  roommate is the vain, rich, Jennifer Knowles (Anne Crawford), who has the clothes, the glamour and the attitude of  a person working below their station.

Knowles dislikes the work that they are given in the factory to do; so much that she vocalizes it  to  manager Charlie Forbes, causing friction and  bickering.  While some  airmen from a nearby  base are touring the factory, Celia notices an airman named Fred Blake (Gordon Jackson). Shy eye contact is made but there is no chit chat.   At a  dance the  two of them connect in a shy, tender way by dancing, talking, smiling: a romance begins to blossom.  Fred Blake is a wireless operator who has only been training so far and  is  scared for what may come.  They have some warm moments of two  people that seem desperately wanting companionship but not sure how the other will react.

Jennifer Knowles,  with  style in clothes, hair and makeup begins a  less tender courtship with her supervisor Forbes. Their dislike for each other is shown when Forbes  deliberately snubs Knowles  for a dance as  she is walking towards him expecting it.  The two converse  with hint of  affection covered by a mutual dislike for each other.

The work life is drudgery. Long hours are interspersed with the inevitable air  raid warning. Knowles shows her contempt for the alarm as  she works her machine during a  bombing, making Forbes come and  drag her away from it during the  blackout.

Changes happen in wartime life, hence I have heard many people do not make many friends as they may not have them long.  The reverse is also possible as people cling to those  that they love or persevere due to loneliness or  fear.  MILLIONS LIKE US( 1942) follows those developments in Celia always with an inkling of  British resolve through the  tears and strife.

Patrica Roc strikes the right notes at Celia. She has a bright smile despite what is happening.  Her wardrobe is that of a  working class person with various house dresses and the head scarfed look of a factory worker immortalized  in the image of  Rosie  The Riveter.    Roc does  well with her lines, showing controlled emotion.  She was known as  ‘the archetypal British beauty’ and was at her height in these escapist dramas.

Gordon Jackson is perfectly cast as the shy  airman Fred Blake.  Jackson has a wholesome appearance,  and not over the top tough.   This combines for the right mix of  Blake and  Celia being ordinary people thrust together in difficult circumstances that find life and love. Jackson had a long career in film and television and is perhaps  remembered most for his role in THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963).

The  rest of  the people fill their roles well as we see actors Naunton Wayne (Caldicott) and Basil Radford (Charters) playing two buddies, exchanging rapid dialogue and adding color in characterization as  they both did in similar roles.   The  roles they play are continuations of those in NIGHT  TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940), minus the worrying about lost golf clubs.

MRS. MINIVER (1942) is the film many know in this  type of ‘bolstering the  people back home’ style, along with TENDER COMRADE (1943),  SINCE YOU’VE BEEN AWAY (1944), and THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943) .   MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) is not necessarily like that in many ways.  The picture  features real airmen, policemen, firemen and  factory workers in the large dance hall sequences interspersed with  actual footage of air raids  and factory life that do not look out of place.

MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) has been called a  propaganda film. This is unfair as it attempts to show a slightly  unvarnished  side of  heroic Britain.   The Canadian army in the Second World War was  dubbed ‘Cinderella on the left’ after Normandy as it protected the British flank during the march to Berlin.  MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) could be thought of  as that as it is still worth a look.  See if you can hear the film’s title in the picture.

PAID (1930)

The subversive world of pre-code Hollywood continues to delight.  Each studio had a formula and star that was put into dastardly situations, usually coming out on top or with a new moral fiber.  The pleasure comes from seeing how these  film makers were blatant with their language, actions, and  predicaments.   Sam Wood  delivers a punchy story in PAID (1930), with Joan Crawford burning up the screen.

The plot of PAID (1930) is pretty much a woman, Mary Turner (Joan Crawford), who  takes  revenge on the family of the attorney, Edward Gilder (Purnell Pratt), who sent her to prison.  Mary takes  revenge by  getting the  attorney’s son, Bob Gilder, (Douglas Montgomery) to fall in love with and marry her.  Turner tells him in triumph that ,” You took my name and gave me a number.  Now I took your name.”   In  a film noir style twist, the fates conspire and murder is committed for cash.  Turner is interrogated  with light bulbs blazing in her  eyes and men clustering around her, blasting questions and  accusations.

Robert Armstrong plays bad guy with a heart of gold Joe Garson in the picture.  Garson brought  Turner to his home, yet does not go through with her staying the night as he finds she really isn’t that type. He sends her home with a loan to help.   Garson pops in and out of the story as he  is really in love with Mary Turner and pays a strong price for  his affection.

 

 

Joan is wonderfully , if not stylistically,  venomous  in this  picture.  She is all  flashing dark lined eyes and clipped speech when executing her plan.  The hair and  wardrobe is first rate with changes from foppish poor clothes and hats to longer hair, even in prison to full blown art deco glamour which Joan wears  well.

 

 

PAID (1930) has  some wonderful supporting roles by  female actors such as Marie Provost, born Marie Bickford Dunn in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, and an uncredited Polly Moran.

Provost is wonderful as the scheming Agnes Lynch,  especially when she dresses up as a “little  girl,” with the intent to show she is underage and being taken advantage of by an older millionaire.  Mary Turner and Agnes spin a  terrible yarn for the fellow and his lawyer resulting in a  pay off settlement.

Polly Moran was one of the funniest comediennes of silent  film  under Mack Sennett.   Moran was paired by chance on screen with Marie Dressler.  They made  eight films together as a man chasing, scene stealing  pair for MGM.

The coming of sound did not do what it should have  for Polly Moran as she  survived  in servant and dowager  roles.  She  got to shine once again in a role in ADAMS RIB (1949) . Yet it was not enough. Polly Moran passed  in 1952 due to heart troubles.

PAID (1930) film also has a delightfully subversive, although brief moment with Louise Beavers as a fellow convict  exchanging words with Mary Turner  in the prison shower.

Sam Wood uses camera movement and good roof top sequences. This was surprising since  this is a 1930 film. Films of that era were  usually static due to cumbersome camera size and  sound  recording gear.

PAID (1930) entertains for it  86 minutes of  brisk action and  dialogue.   Joan Crawford and others deliver a story of  woman gone wrong with style.    Solid entertainment with a moral that all these pictures had in the end. The picture is considered by some as  film noir. I disagree, as that cycle  was to begin later  1945.   Well worth your time for a early talking picture.

 

 

ILLEGAL (1955)

Hollywood in the fifties was going through a transition. The moguls were losing control of the medium. Actors were becoming independent. Audiences were evolving.  Sure, scandals  still happened that were hushed up.  The argument, the  evidence, the testimony and the final sound of the gavel hitting wood can all be bought or controlled.  This was the moment in time that ILLEGAL (1955) was produced by Warner Brothers, the studio that often took stories  from “today’s headlines” continued to do so.

Edward G. Robinson at his cynical, fast talking best as  lawyer Victor Scott.  The script benefits  from W.R. Burnett  and James Webb.  W. R.  Burnett provided the original stories in novel or short story form for some of the seminal gangster and  film noir  classics that included Little Caesar (1929), The Beast of the  City (1932), The Asphalt Jungle (1949) and High Sierra (1941),  plus countless screenplay collaborations.

Director Lewis Allen  worked on such pictures  as APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1951) and  SUDDENLY (1954).   Add in a top cast of new for the time players  like  Hugh Marlowe, Nina Foch, Edward Platt,  and Albert Dekker .  Newcomers like Jane Mansfield, Deforest Kelley, Henry Kulky, Ellen Corby and others populated the  screen with taunt action.

Shades of the Warren William repentant lawyer picture  THE MOUTHPIECE from  1932 with a gritty fifties edge emerge.  District Attorney Victor Scott ( Robinson)  delivers an impassioned speech to a jury invoking biblical wrath that sends Edward Clary (A young DeForest Kelly) to the electric chair.   cott has  the highest conviction rate of  anyone previous as  he plays to win.  A  reporter badgers him, asking if he will run for Governor and saying that he  is “too ruthless.”  Scott waves his comments off as him being good at  what he does.

 

New  evidence comes to light in the form of a deathbed confession by an accomplice, taken down by investigator Ray Borden (Hugh Marlowe), proving Clary innocent .   Scott makes a  frantic phone call to the prison: too late to stop the execution.  Wracked with guilt, Scott goes on a drinking bender in seedy bars.  He is nursed somewhat  back by  his associate  Ellen Miles (Nina Foch), whom he gave her first job in the legal profession because her  father gave Scott his start.  Scott  tells her to marry Ray Borden and to “get out,” which hurts her deeply.  Scott slowly passes out in a chair, telling her  that it’s  “father’s orders” that she marry.

 

 

Victor  Scott resigns the District Attorney post and goes into lowly criminal law. The  fees are not so big as he has a playful debate with his loyal office person Miss Hinkel (Ellen Corby) as she wants to buy something that he cannot afford now.   Film noir is full of changes and that sets up a chain of events involving associates working for others.  A  big boss, Frank Garland (Albert Dekker),  becomes involved in a payoff and a murder.   Victor Scott’s business now booms as he gets back his wealth and prestige by employing  theatrics in the courtroom such as  swallowing poison, getting his client off in the court  and then rushing to a doctor to have a stomach pump.

The picture proceeds through Frank Garland’s  involvement and corruption that begins to influence events.  Garland controls companies and has been with many women; even one that one of his men brings to one of his parties. Garland remarks that he is acquainted with her and  gallantly gives her a carnation and smile, much to her escort’s disappointment.

 

The cast is wonderfully sleazy with a shine in ILLEGAL (1955).  Many moments by soon to be television actors like Ellen Corby (THE WALTONS) as the all- suffering Miss Hinkel who sets things right.

Henry Kulky,  who played Chief Curly Jones in first season of the television series VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, plays a prizefighter on trial for beating up a man that is bettered by Victor Scott  in a rather one punch way.

Deforest Kelly  had a long career in theater and  films, mostly Westerns, plays the  accused killer Edward Clary at the film’s beginning.  Kelly went on to be immortalized as  Dr. Leonard McCoy in the television series STAR TREK and its accompanying  film franchise.

Ed Platt, who plays Scott’s replacement Ralph Ford, exudes authority with his voice and stature during the courtroom scenes.  Victor Scott puts him in his place when he tells him “Just remember when you get a thought sitting in that chair. I  have already had that thought.”  Investigator Bordon (Hugh Marlowe) unknowingly does a final bit of irony to Platt’s character when he calls him  “Chief” in a bar scene.  Edward Platt would go on to play Chief in the multi-award winning spy comedy television series GET SMART beginning  in 1965.

ILLEGAL (1955) moves fast with Edward G.  Robinson and others  clipping the  dialogue.  The picture has been compared to The Asphalt Jungle (1950),  due to W. R. Burnett’s presence and the similarity between the Jayne Mansfield role of Angel O’ Hara and the Marilyn Munro role as Angela Phinlay.   Mansfield is acceptable in this role as  she does her best with her presence and  tight  fitting gowns, while speaking in a Munroe like voice, plus singing a song in a dubbed  voice.  It was an attempt to do a similar launch by Warner Brothers for Jayne,  much like it was done for Marilyn.   ILLEGAL (1955) stands on its own as solid acting and a different  story with worthwhile twists and  turns.

STARDUST ELEGANCE: An opinion on simplicity and people.

Watching film for the  sheer enjoyment of it can  sometimes be  overpowering in the amount one  views.  I thought it  would a  good time to step back  -a  type of intermission-  and  look one of the admirable aspects of picture watching which is overlooked: its simplicity.  Embodying simplicity and elegance was TCM Networks  on air host Robert Osborne. March the 6th marked the anniversary of his passing  in 2017.  While TCM is not the only channel for film lovers to watch, it  did make Mr. Osborne a welcome and  often comforting presence for many over twenty years.

I recently took a spin through the Michael Curitz directed 1958 picture THE PROUD REBEL with Alan Ladd and Olivia de Havilland, who were ably supported by Dean Jagger, Cecil Kellaway, Henry Hull and a young Harry Dean Stanton among others.  THE PROUD REBEL (1958) has been called an unremarkable film;  “Saturday afternoon light fare,” which really doesn’t bother me. The formula driven story of a former Confederate soldier (Alan Ladd) who is searching for a doctor to cure his son David (David Ladd), happens to meet a female farmer in his search: Linnett Moore (Olivia de Havilland). She takes them in as a result of brushes with the law and aggressive neighbors.  What struck me after the end credits had rolled by was the simplicity of the story.  The warm feeling that it evoked came through its use of that tried and true ‘boy and his dog’ motif.

I also spent some time with an early Joan Crawford picture,  PAID (1931).  Joan did her best with the girl gone unjustly to prison role that was made interchangeable by  Barbara Stanwyck,  Helen Twelvetrees, Loretta Young, and others still worth watching .   The simplicity of the story and  the way the actors and  crew made the story stood out.

Forest Lawn Glendale pictures by the author

Errol Flynn’s grave with flowers placed by the author.

Spencer Tracy’s grave

Jean Hersholt’s  grave

Mr. Robert Osborne articulated some reasons why people watch classic film at a press conference I attended that never occurred to me. Amazingly, these experiences were a part of me I had not previously considered.  It was mentioned that the TCM network could be classed as a caregiver of sorts. Countless letters are received saying that the network gets people through periods of personal loneliness, unemployment, loss of a loved one, or any number of life transitions.

I, for one, went through a medical convalescence a few years ago of six weeks. I would watch one film, sometimes two, beginning very early in the morning as it was my habit to get up at that time. It was pretty cool to be able to catch up on many of the pictures I had stored on PVR. My medical troubles were short as l was fortunate to heal quickly. It is insular of me to not think of this for a person with a long term situation.

Robert Osborne spoke to this when he said that with our current world situation, why would people not want to see something uplifting?  The network has a tremendous loyal following that is like a family that no other network can boast. You don’t see conventions, festivals or cruises for other networks.  Some would say that networks such as this are selling your past back to you. This is fine since that was what the studio system did. Movies eased people though the Depression, wars, societal transitions with larger than life faces. Momentary escape from what was going on was pretty good for a dime.

Mr. Osborne stoically met everyone who wanted to meet him  in the lobby of the Roosevelt hotel and there were many, including myself.   I told him that I always wanted to say this to him:  I greeted him with, “Hello. I am Robert Osborne,” when it was my turn to which he replied, “Well,now you have.”

I have been very lucky in that we have attended the TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL in Los Angeles in the past as media people with access to press conferences at Mann’s Chinese theater and other  events.   Early morning coffee, muffin, chilly theater and  bleary eyed TCM folk answering questions plus volunteers will be always be a  good memory.    Dare I mention their elegance and simplicity once again? Yes.

 

 

THE INVISIBLE MENACE (1938)

The mystery play, with its creaking doors, sliding panels and bodies falling out of unexpected places has  long been a staple of  stage thrillers.  THE CAT  AND THE CANARY (1927), THE BAT WHISPERS (1930) and others were made into films with the  fusion of the forties of horror/mystery to come.

Boris Karloff, or “Billy Pratt” as his older brothers called him, takes center stage in name only in this John Farrow directed picture THE INVISIBLE MENACE ( 1938).

The picture clocks in at a mere fifty five minutes, suggesting that it was to be part of the bill with other features.   THE INVISIBLE MENACE (1938) does feature Boris Karloff on the poster and in the  trailer as Karloff returns. There  are many  fine performances crammed in to that short screen time.

The  story is Pvt. Eddie  Pratt  (nice reference to Boris in the cast), played by Eddie Craven, who  gets married to Sally (Marie Wilson) on pass. He smuggles her to his island base in his bag to spend their honeymoon.  The base  does not allow women, so poor Sally gets to hide under bunks, in lockers and boxes to evade being found.

The night is filled with fog and shadows as a man is found bayoneted and hung.   Lt. Mathews (Regis Toomey), Colonel Rogers (Cy Kendall) and Dr. Brooks  (Charles Trowbridge) all try to solve the murder with Jevries (Boris Karloff) becoming the harried suspect.  The FBI is called in the person of Colonel Hackett (Henry Kolker)  to drive the investigation forward and make an arrest.

Lt, Mathews, Col Rodgers, Dr Brooks, and Jevries have some amusing dialogue as they trade barbs. Their  mutual excuse of  ‘being in bed and read’  seems too similar.  When  Colonel Rodgers makes that observation he is told “not to pick on them.”   Colonel Hackett arrives in a tuxedo to take charge,  which he does  quite well.  The pace changes with rapid fire dialogue between Hackett and  Jevries, reducing him to a babbling mess, plus revealing a secret pass involving a trip into the jungle.   Henry Kolker does  well in the role as a change of pace from his usual slimy film noir gangster.  The dialogue  with Boris Karloff peaks in an excellent interrogation scene with both actors going at each other.

The comic relief is supplied  by Sally and her enlisted man husband trying to get privacy for their honeymoon.  Marie Wilson does her  trademark “innocent blonde” routine with bits of dialogue and chirpy screams at the right moment.

 

In her career, Wilson developed took the role of  ‘dumb’ blonde with a  figure  that ‘never quit’ to new heights.  She lost the role of ‘Billie Dawn’ in the film version of  BORN YESTERDAY to Judy Holliday.  This was  major disappointment for  her.  At that time a girl named  Norma Jean Baker  came onto the scene and changed her name to Marilyn Munroe, thus limiting Wilson’s career options.  Wilson did go on to a career  in vaudeville blackout shows in the forties with the  highlight  being a mock strip tease.  The stage was a forum for her work, even playing the title roles in GENTLEMAN PREFER BLONDES,  BUS STOP and BORN YESTERDAY on the stage in summer stock and  dinner theater.

 

Regis Toomey had a huge career in film, television, and silent  film; usually playing buddy roles for some larger name. He later moved on to soldiers and other characters. Toomey could do musicals, physical comedy and just be the all around smiley face.

Boris Karloff was featured on the bill for box office appeal.  The horror film genre ceased production and was banned  in the UK and the US because of the horrific, heavily censored story (yet still violent)  THE BLACK CAT (1934) and THE RAVEN (1935), in which he co- starred with Bela Lugosi. The pictures  featured  sadistic scenes like the flaying of flesh in silhouette and  themes of  necrophilia and  hints of incest. Those threads were still were apparent,  even after the Hays Commission came down on the films. The  versatile Karloff  found work in mystery films, playing Asian despots and detectives  such as the MR. WONG series for Poverty Row Studios.  The horror ban was  lifted in 1938 with his return appearance as  the monster  in THE SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).   Karloff complained about these and his mad scientist pictures  to follow as  just walk through roles, but he  always put an effort to do a complete performance.  He was  dismayed at actors who complained about typecasting as he  felt it always gave him work and kept food on the table.    A lesson he learned  from his poorer traveling stock theater days in Canada when one had to learn how to fry an egg if you were lucky have one on an iron plus press your clothes under the mattress you slept on.

THE INVISIBLE MENACE (1938) also has an unbilled quick moment with Carole Landis before her career took off and tragedy struck.

THE INVISIBLE MENACE (1938) packs  a lot into its 55 minute running time. John Farrow keeps the action going in the fog:  a good way to not have spend money on a set and still be  effective. Farrow was married to Maureen O Sullivan. One of their children turned  out to be Mia Farrow, who later married Frank Sinatra. The picture  features performances and moments that go by pretty fast, and this makes for  good ‘pot boiler’ entertainment even if  you can easily figure out the mystery.