Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Postal Inspector (1936)

A light hearted musical crime film where Ricardo Cortez plays Bill Davis, who has made the rather dull bureaucratic job of being a post inspector into some kind of butch all-American hero. Bill crosses paths with singer Connie (Patricia Ellis) who sings in a club owned by the short of cash Benez (Bela Lugosi).

She lets slip that there is a shipment of $3 million worth of retired bank notes set to be sent back to Washington. Benez schemes to steal the cash during a flood disaster which engulfs the city...

It is a confusing film, it seems a bit unsure at times what kind of film it is. is it a crime film, a comedy, a disaster film, a musical? It is obviously sponsored by the US Postal Service and the propaganda is laid on a little thick. The flood scenes are well done and Connie's singing is pretty decent too. It ends with a pretty exciting speedboat chase! Despite it's shortcomings this is an enjoyable film.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Terror of the Tongs (1961)

The Terror of the Tongs is a crazy film, set in HK in 1910 and involving a secret society called the Red Dragon Tong. Historical accuracy and Chinese stereotypes are somewhat suspect.

Geoffrey Toon is Captain Sale, a steamer captain unwittingly drawn into a Tong plot when one of his passengers (played by Burt Kwok - obviously he would be in this film) is killed at port but not before he has passed a list of names to Sale's daughter Helena (Barbara Brown). However the Tong, led by Christopher Lee, want this list no matter the cost, even if the cost is Helena's life...

It is hard to really judge this film, obviously the racial stereotypes are way off and the story is often complete nonsense but despite the madness it is compelling and it is so often hilarious (unintentionally of course). Christopher Lee is superbly sinister as the Tong leader.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Hell Harbor (1930)

A rather strange film. Anita (Lupe Velez) is a lovely girl who dreams of leaving her sleepy backwater island and moving to Havana (this is Cuba way before the revolution of course).

Unfortunately her father (Gibson Gowland) is a rather unpleasant individual who wants to "sell" his daughter in marriage to a sleazy merchant (Jean Hersholt) for a fist full of pearls. Obviously Anita is rather keener on Plan A.

A handsome young American (John Holland) arrives on his yacht and makes things even more complicated. Well that's really the plot, it's a sometimes silly and sometimes annoying movie that doesn't really go anywhere (not even Havana) but is not without charm - nearly all provided by Velez.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Racketeer (1929)

An early talkie, with the usual problems of the times: dialogue being disjointed and slow, scenes being static. However the film is worth persisting with because of an interesting story: it's a mixture of love triangle and gangster movie.

Robert Armstrong is Keane, a tough NY gangster. He falls in love with Rhoda (Carole Lombard) who seems to be a bit of a sucker for a loser as she left her rich husband for drunk violinist Tony (Roland Drew). Keane helps Rhoda and the bum out, drying him out and getting him a top gig. All he wants is Rhoda's hand in marriage, though she can't deny her love for Tony but will Keane's past finally catch up with him?

So it is fairly unrealistic, in reality Tony would have ended up in concrete wellies. Keane also seems fairly small fry despite being considered the top dog. However the story is quite unusual and the film is better than the sum of it's parts. For some reason the film was banned in the UK on original release though a cut version called Love's Conquest was allowed the following year.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Police Patrol (1933)

Mack McCue (James Flavin) and Bob Larkin (Pat O'Malley) are a couple of detectives and rivals, they end up fighting over the same girl - gangster moll Lil Daley (Madge Bellamy) who is involved with the gangster  the detectives are investigating for murder. The detectives get demoted to the riot squad.

Meanwhile the daughter of the judge in the case gets kidnapped and there is blackmail too. Well it is all rather confusing but more or less makes sense.

The problem with the film is that it just isn't very exciting (until the final act) despite all of the above, everything is rather awkward, slow and stilted including most of the dialogue. However it isn't all bad, Bellamy is great. Really expressive as you would expect a silent movie star to be. The final act of the film has some action (at last!)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Top of the Bill (1971)

Before the TV and movie star, even before the radio and record star was the music hall star. This charming (and frequently rather odd) documentary celebrates the days of music hall, variety and vaudeville which even in 1971 was passing into fading memory (some of the members of the public with memories of music hall were in their eighties).

There is sadness as Ben Warriss and Ken Goodwin give us a tour of former music hall venues which are now bingo halls, shopping centres or even just piles of rubble. Also quite sad is when Ben interviews young passers by and they don't know who he is!

The memories are interspersed by example music hall acts by the likes of Sally Barnes, Charlie Chester performs as Max Miller and Ken Goodwin who does a George Formby impression. Not only has music hall now gone, but the London in this film is largely unrecognisable. Well it was indeed a lost world and it was wonderful.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Sphinx (1933)

Someone is bumping off stock brokers, there is a suspect called Mr Breen (Lionel Atwill) whom an eye-witness claims was present at the scene and spoke to him... but doctors have proven that Mr Breen is deaf and dumb.

Jack Burton (Theodore Newton) is a reporter convinced Breen is somehow guilty but his fellow reporter and girlfriend Jerry Crane (Sheila Terry) is of the opposite opinion. Has she put herself at risk going to interview Mr Breen?

Yet another low-budget crime drama but this one has some interesting twists (though you will probably guess what is going on before the big reveal) and a great performance by Atwill. Some of the rest has been seen before though including the bumbling cops and wiseguy reporter who acts like he owns the place. Breen uses sign language though it doesn't seem very authentic and most of the time its off camera.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Double Cross (1941)

Double Cross is a middling crime drama, solid but unspectacular. Kane Richmond plays Jim Murray, a policeman whose friend Steve (Richard Beach) is killed during a raid on a nightclub owned by Nick Taggart (John Miljan) and Fay Saunders (Wynne Gibson) who double crosses Steve resulting in his death.

Jim vows to bring down the gangsters and engineers a dishonourable discharge from the police so he can join the gang and bring them down from within. The gangsters are tough though and have the mayor in their pocket...

Not a bad film but pretty shoddy and slapdash at times. Some of it doesn't make a lot of sense, such as when Jim tries to get a clandestine photograph of Nick and the mayor and uses a camera with a flash! Continuing on a photography theme look out for an early example of photo bombing!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Mystery of Mr Wong (1939)

Collector Brandon Edwards (Morgan Wallace) has returned home with a sapphire stolen from China, the gem is said to bring doom upon the holder. Edwards indeed is killed during a game of charades, Detective Wong (Boris Karloff) is present at the party and witnesses the death, and begins the investigation.

The sapphire meanwhile has also gone missing, or rather stolen. The maid (Lotus Long) seems involved in the theft, but in the murder too? It seems she knows who the murderer was and gets bumped off herself...

Karloff was always a good turn, and his Mr Wong character was very enjoyable. A complicated murder mystery with typical Golden Age touches (large house, motley crew of suspects). Edwards' wife Valerie (Dorothy Tree) overacts to a hilarious degree.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Johnny One-Eye (1950)

Years ago NY gangsters Martin (Pat O'Brien) and Dane (Wayne Morris) got away with killing a rival and now have legitimate businesses. However an ambitious DA has new evidence and has persuaded Dane to shop his old mate Martin in return for immunity. Martin confronts Dane and ends up injured and on the run after a shoot-out.

Hiding from the law Martin finds and befriends a one-eyed dog which he names Johnny. By coincidence the dog is the pet of Elsie (Gayle Reed) the daughter of Lily (Dolores Moran) who is Dane's current squeeze...

The film starts off very Noir indeed though when Elsie is introduced we nearly drown in sentimentality and little girl cuteness. Lose the Elsie sub-plot and the film would have been much better and a tough gangster tale, as it is it's rather uneven but worth persevering with.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Monte Carlo Nights (1934)

High society jockey/playboy Larry Sturgis (John Darrow) is preparing to marry Mary Vernon (Mary Brian) but then is wrongly convicted of murder on the eve of the wedding.

He manages to escape and sets off in pursuit of the real murderer... to Monte Carlo (of course!) There he befriends a French woman (Yola d'Avril) and seeks the murderer who he knows is a gambler who plays certain numbers on the roulette table...

Quite a lot of story to fit into a fairly short film them and it is rather break-neck at times, maybe a bit too fast at points of the film as it can become a bit confusing. Such as why exactly does the police inspector (George Hayes) think Larry is innocent and how does an escaped con manage to get to Monte Carlo with the police on high alert? Once the film gets going though its a winner, unlike Larry who fell off his horse at the start!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Piccadilly (1929)

Piccadilly is a silent movie classic, set in the stylish world of London night clubs in the late Jazz Age. Wilmot (Jameson Thomas) has a successful restaurant and night club at Piccadilly Circus with a star attraction of dance partners Vic (Cyril Ritchard) and Mable (Gilda Grey).

When Vic quits after disagreements with Wilmot and Mable the club hits trouble, then Wilmot finds in the kitchen the Chinese dishwasher Shosho (Anna May Wong) and falls for her exotic (though quite frankly a bit ridiculous) "oriental" dancing. Shosho becomes the club's new hit dance act but trouble comes when Wilmot falls in love with her, which is a problem for Shosho's lover Jim (King Ho Chang)...

It is stylish nonsense, Wong's "oriental style" dancing is ridiculously stereotyped but her charisma conquers the screen. The film has gorgeous cinematography. A late silent movie, soon talkies would take over but this film really showed what could be done.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Curtain at Eight (1933)

An average murder mystery, average in acting for sure though a chimpanzee and Natalie Moorhead in a brief role do quite well. Paul Cavanagh plays a theatre idol with as many enemies and debts as mistresses (and there seem to be a lot of those). Thus when he killed there are many possible suspects.

Especially as he was killed during a party when the lights were taken out. The investigation is handled by two detectives who have amusingly opposite characters: Aubury Smith plays an elderly laid back and thoughtful role and Sam Hardy is brash and frequently foolhardy.

It isn't a bad film once it gets started but it takes the first half of the film to get started. As a setting for a murder mystery a theatre with all its nooks and crannies is a good one. An interesting point in the film is where one of the characters calls another one "Hitler" as a mild/jokey insult. Of course this was 1933...