Friday, September 28, 2018

The Invisible Killer (1939)

A passable late Golden Age type detective drama but with the enthusiastic amateur detective helping/hindering the police Sue (Grace Bradley) a reporter engaged to police detective Jerry (Roland Drew).

Someone is bumping off persons behind gambling in the town but there is no sign of any murder weapons. Autopsies reveal the victims are being poisoned but the police have little idea how... when we find out how it is pretty ingenious, and ridiculous.

Sue always seems one step ahead of Jerry, much to his dismay though his constant references to breaking her neck get old fast. The film is a solid but unspectacular crime drama though the attempts at light heartedness and humour seem a little forced.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Cumbernauld Hit (1977)

This is a rather difficult film to categorise. It was made as a promotional film for a new town called Cumbernauld in the 1970s but instead of a fairly standard set of promotional images (often narrated by someone famous, see below) somehow the decision was made to do it as a spoof spy or action film.

It stars Fenella Fielding as Liana, the evil mastermind behind a plot to take over the town using mysterious weapons including little boxes which turn to be a bio-weapon with which she holds the town to ransom. Local journalist Valerie Fyfer is trying to work out how to stop her and her evil plot.

Its all very strange, sometimes very very strange and Fenella is wonderful camping it up throughout. Little of the film makes much sense and is more like a vaguely linked series of weird and humorous vignettes (which of course are designed to show off the town, it's people and what goes on there - expect plenty of 70s architecture, which personally I love).

Its nonsense and it makes the film so wonderful. If it was any good at promoting Cumbernauld though is another question. In it's own little way it is epic, almost as good as a certain other British town promotional film from the 1970s...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Phantom Cowboy (1935)

When a stagecoach is held up by The Phantom the coach ends up a runaway with Ruth Rogers (Doris Brook) onboard. Bill Collins (Ted Wells) and his incredibly annoying sidekick Pete (Jimmy Aubrey) save Ruth and get drawn into the hunt for The Phantom.

Though quite what is happening is really anyone's guess. The storyline has "issues" shall we say. The acting also has plenty of issues, as in there does not appear to be any.

Bill and Pete catch up with The Phantom after he steals their clothes and then fries them bacon (honestly). He turns out to be Bill's double. He explains that he has only turned to crime because crooked Buck Houston (George Chesebro) is after his prospecting claim. He persuades them to help him out...

It isn't a long film (less than an hour) but is padded out by seeming endless filler. A very strange film in many ways. It is possibly the worst film ever made though i did enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Gentle Trap (1960)

Johnny (Spencer Teakle) is a budding young burglar on his first job, he lucks out with a fortune in diamonds from a safe but on the way out his partner Sam (Arthur Hewlett) is mown down by a rival gang and he is forced to flee. Johnny comes home and has found his girlfriend has done a runner.

The girlfriend Sylvia (Dawn Brooks) has shacked up with a gangland boss and seedy club owner Ricky (Martin Benson) and it turns out it was she who sold out Johnny.

On the run from the hoods and the police Johnny falls in with Mary (Dorinda Stevens) who runs yet another dodgy nightclub. Johnny is nursed by Mary's sister Jean (Felicity Young) but has he really found a safe haven?

Low budget Noir thrills where everyone seems to be on the take. Watchable without being brilliant but it kind of suits the setting, a really seedy side of London.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Bank Alarm (1937)

A rash of bank robberies is being carried out, Federal agents Alan (Conrad Nagel) and Bobbie (Eleanor Hunt) are called in to investigate. The gang led by Joe Karlotti (Wheeler Oakman) are tough and ruthless - bumping off people left right and centre, but make a mistake with counterfeiting bank notes which gives the agents a lead. One complication is Alan's sister (Wilma Francis) is being romanced by one of the gang (Frank Milan)...

An interesting and well thought out crime drama though an unsurprising police procedural. It is good to see Bobbie play a proper role in the investigation and not just be a bit of eye candy.

The only real criticism being Clarence the photographer (Vince Barnett) who tries to pull off a slap stick routine but finds it's not as easy to make that funny rather than just annoying.

Friday, September 21, 2018

War of the Underworld (1996)

The success of the Young & Dangerous series of triad movies in HK spawned many copycats of varying quality. War of the Underworld is one of the better ones and is indeed a good film if not exactly original.

The story is a basic (and well worn) tale of triad betrayal and revenge but the cast is very good (Tony Leung, Jordan Chan, Carman Lee among others) and the action solid... and very bloody. You certainly get your machete worth.

Some of the camera work is maybe trying too hard to be "arty" at times and there is a little too much nonsense about triad "honour" and how they are the descendants of the kung fu masters but that won't spoil your enjoyment too much.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The King Murder (1932)

An enjoyable and complicated whodunnit. Dorothy Revier is Miriam King, who is... shall we say, popular with rich men. She has a number of lovers from whom she often extracts cash by charm or blackmail if that doesn't work. But the blackmailer is also being pushed for cash herself.

Meanwhile Elizabeth Hawthorn (Natalie Moorhead) is concerned that her fiance is one of Miriam's friends and warns the police that something might happen. Funnily enough not long after the police, in the form of Detective Henry Barton (Conway Tearle), are called to her apartment where she has been found dead. Now she was originally found dead by one of her ex-s Jose Moreno (Don Alvarado) who was burgularing her apartment at the time! Plus there is Miriam's ex-friend Pearl Hope (Marceline Day) who is Jose's current squeeze...

So nicely complex, a murder investigation with many potential suspects. The case was in fact based on a real-life murder of NY showgirl Dorothy King in 1923. The investigation led by Barton is a fairly straightforward police procedural. A bit of a plodder but the conclusion (and revealed method of murder) is fascinating.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Sky Liner (1949)

Sky Liner is a cheap and cheerful early Cold War spy drama. On a transcontinental flight from New York to Los Angeles are a motley crew including a criminal on the run, an annoying wannabe child actress, a Communist agent working as a secretary in the State Department, another Communist pretending to be her boss (after he killed the real one) and an FBI Agent.

Rochelle Hudson is the secretary and is already under suspicion from agent Steve (Richard Travis). More complications arise when another suspicious foreigner (Steven Geray) joins the flight. Meanwhile the child wannabee actress terrorises the passengers by singing to them to their "delight". The flight attendant Carol (Pamela Blake) is confused, especially when someone is found dead on board, i think everyone is pretty confused by now to be honest.

It isn't a great film but fascinating as a period piece, back when air travel was glamorous. A little too much weird lightness is included in the film which jars a bit though the final action scenes are exciting and finish the film off well. The real star of the film is the Lockheed Constellation they are flying on though.
From SDASM archive

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Heroes in Blue (1939)

A standard low-budget crime drama, nothing you haven't seen in scores of other B-movies but done competently enough.

Two brothers on opposite sides of the line, Terry a righteous policeman (Dick Purcell) and Joe (Charles Quigley) mixed up with the mob. When Joe loses the money of his boss Frank Moran (Edward Keane) and kills a fellow gangster in a fight he is on the run from both the mob and the police.

Terry and Joe's father (Frank Sheridan) gets dragged into the mob's dealings to save his son... but Terry won't let family sentiment get in the way of justice.

A decent film but not without flaws. One being the character of Joe, he is barely believable as a gangster, if he is one he is the wimpiest ever.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Boss of Big Town (1942)

In times of war with food being scarce the position of City Market Official Michael Flynn (John Litel) is vital. The city marketers are being put under pressure by a slick gangster Miljan (Kenneth Craige) - though the real Mr Big is as yet unknown. Flynn is also being leaned on but resists the overtures of the gang. City attorney Moore (H.B. Warner) is also putting the pressure on Flynn to sort it all out.

After failing to stop the attacks on market traders Flynn is fired but decides to go undercover and pretends to fall in with Miljan so he can find out who Mr Big is...

Not the most exciting film ever, the story is a bit unoriginal and it is overall a bit dull though the final reveal and showdown work. The wartime propaganda isn't laid on very thick which is a blessing. It is watchable though the best thing about the film is the title.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Shadows of the Orient (1935)

A rather insipid tale of people smuggling and organised crime. The gangs are smuggling in Chinese people over the border in biplanes - though if challenged by the air force then the pilot just drops the poor people to their deaths!

After that horror we then switch to Chinatown where the Judge's daughter Viola (Esther Ralston) gets caught up in a raid on a gambling den linked to the smugglers. Viola is seduced by the gang boss King Moss (Sidney Blackmer) and ends up getting drawn into the whole sordid plot. The police led by Inspector Baxter (Regis Toomey) and his older sidekick J. Farrell MacDonald are on the case though...

Not the best of films and rather dated in various ways especially with some of the jarring stereotypes, but it is not without some charms, the interplay between Toomey and MacDonald is quite amusing. While some of the story is rather grim the main cast do make the most of it. The police investigation scenes are fast moving and slick, though the film is weighed down a bit by a fair bit of padding. There are some pretty nifty aerial scenes to raise the film above the mundane.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Enter the Dragon (1973)

For this blog's two hundredth review another of our all-time favourite films...

Enter the Dragon was Bruce Lee at his zenith, his breakthrough into international pop culture and cinema. Alas he died not long after completing the film so was never able to capitalise on the buzz it created - as indeed it did. The kung-fu craze in the 70s and beyond was largely due to this film.

Enter the Dragon took martial arts films out of their traditional Chinese mindset (though it is still set largely in Hong Kong) and added Western action elements. The result is fantastic, and also pretty epic in it's 70s-ness.

Bruce Lee is hired by British intelligence official Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks) to join a martial arts tournament by Han (Shih Ken) to gain intelligence on Han's suspected drug smuggling and other criminal activities. Joining Lee in this tournament are gambler Roper (John Saxon) and Williams (Jim Kelly) who both have different reasons for being there but get drawn into the game between Lee and Han. Of course it all ends in an epic fight.

The storyline isn't much to get excited about (though if you like i did once review the novelisation) but the action is intense, mixed with cool early 70s funky style. It also has a final showdown in a hall of mirrors.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Murder by Television (1935)

A rather run-of-the-mill murder mystery though enlivened by the novel appearance of early television as a setting. Professor Houghland (Charles Hill Mailes) has invented a new method of television broadcast which can be broadcast pictures instantly from anywhere in the world (exactly how this miracle is accomplished isn't really explained). Everyone is after his technology but Houghland is an idealist who won't sell to anyone.

Houghland is murdered in the middle of a demonstration of his television broadcast. The police led by Henry Mowbray have to find out who dunnit. That is easier said than done as it is a baffling film (for much of the film the cast look bemused, and for good reason). Bela Lugosi plays identical twins, one an assistant of Houghland (and really an agent) and the other in the pay of a corporation or foreign power after the technology.

It is a bit dull with some ill-considered attempts at light relief to pad the film out, though Lugosi plays a good role as usual. It is all a bit of a shame as the film could have been a whole lot better considering the rather exotic nature of the main plot device. Interestingly the film seems to recycle a bit of footage from The Phantom Broadcast with the same newspaper seller.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Night of the Demon (1957)

Is Dr Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) in possession of the ability to summon demons and a servant of Satan? Well Professor Harrington (Maurice Denham) thinks so but after he goes and challenges Karswell in his creepy mansion he is apparently killed by the Horned One. Or maybe it's just an electric shock?

Dr Holden (Dana Andrews) is on his way over from the US and he is sceptical about everything involving witchcraft. Harrington's niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins) assists him in his investigation into what really is going on. Then Dr Holden finds he is "marked for death"... a rune covered parchment passed onto Holden by Karswell. Only by giving Karswell the parchment back can Holden survive.

Superbly creepy Satanic horror. The film is full of atmosphere and dark horror imagery. Dr Karswell is a tremendous character, dripping evil one moment and the mundane the other.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Mystery Liner (1934)

An ocean liner is to test a new method of remote control, however the captain (Noah Beery) falls ill on the eve of the test voyage (which has a complement of crew and passengers despite the test for some reason). A foreign power is after the S-505 technology at the heart of the test. With a ship full of mysterious characters we are set for an exciting film eh?

Well partially. Although the set-up is interesting the execution is at times a bit lacking. The film takes ages to get going, too much of the time being wasted on the rather annoying Granny Plimpton (Zeffie Tilbury) who should have been chucked in the brig.

When the captain's illness is found to be due to a poison suspicion falls on a number of people including his replacement Captain Downey (Boothe Howard) or his First Officer (Cornelius Keefe). Plus who is this mysterious foreign gentleman Von Kesseling (Gustav von Seyffertitz) who always seems to be wandering around? Major Pope (Edwin Maxwell) is on the case... in a pompous manner but is he all he seems?

Once it gets going it's a neat little spy film - though not one which makes much sense -  with touches of science fiction including an early form of instant messenger.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Midnight Phantom (1935)

Midnight Phantom is a curiously disjointed film, at times it seems more like a string of random film snippets thrown together by someone drunk.

At it's core the film is about new police chief Sullivan (Jim Farley) who is very good at making enemies especially amongst his senior officers. Lieutenant Burke (Lloyd Hughes) is also sore at Sullivan as he opposes the marriage to his daughter Diana (Claudia Bell). It is also gossiped that Sullivan is knocking off his secretary (Barbara Bedford) much to the fury of the mother (Mary Foy). Eventually the chief is killed... right in the middle of a police conference being held by the rather smug criminologist Professor Graham (Reginald Denny).

The film is pretty shoddy in execution, obviously filmed in a rush on a very low budget. Many times in the film there are awkward pauses where the actors desperately try and remember their barely rehearsed lines. The pacing is also off with a number of strange tangents. However awful as much of it it all oddly seems to add to the enjoyment. The film takes a while to get going but the final act is good.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Double X: The Name of the Game (1992)

In the 1990s and early 2000s there was a bit of a thing for people famous as comedians moving into serious drama. Hugh Laurie of course, even Bob Monkhouse. But Norman Wisdom? Yes indeed he appeared in this British gangster film and it is utterly awful... and utterly brilliant at the same time.

William Katt plays ex-Chicago PD officer Michael Cooper who is on holiday in Scotland when he comes across ageing safe cracker Arthur (Norman Wisdom). He is on the run from a brutal gang led by Iggy (Bernard Hill) and Ross (Simon Ward). Well I say brutal... Iggy is almost like a pantomime villain, only slightly too over the top to make it in panto.

Our Arthur is a crook but gentle and dislikes the sadistic violent ways of Izzy, now he is on the run from various assassins who like blowing up cars in hotel carparks and the like. Cooper helps Arthur evade them... but is he everything he seems to be?

It is just so laughable, Wisdom basically plays the same role as he always has in films. Only it doesn't quite work as well in a serious crime film, especially one involving shootings and torture scenes. Sometimes though you do think you are watching a weird kind of comedy as so much of the film is absurd. To be fair as the film progresses Wisdom seems to be getting the hang of it and it is Norman Wisdom so it is very enjoyable despite the film's many drawbacks (and without him in it it would just be an unwatchable mess)... but you just keep thinking "Mr Grimsdale!" while some bloke is getting tortured with electrodes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Great God Gold (1935)

A tale of dodgy financial dealings during the 1929 Stock Market Crash. Sidney Blackmer plays John Hart, a stockbroker who has an aura of magic around him.

When a newspaper interview with Phil Stuart (Regis Toomey) inadvertently leads to the crash he gets drawn into the receivership business... mostly by his new rather strange habit of making his decisions on the flip of a coin.

When his actions lead to the death of hotel owner George Harper (George Irving) the daughter Marcia (Martha Sleeper) vows to bring down Hart with the help of reporter Phil Stuart. This is a bit of a problem for Hart who has the hots for Marcia (mind you he seems to have the hots for every single woman he meets including his secretary Gloria Shea and the wife of one of his business partners Maria Alba).

Hart starts off seemingly a businessman with a conscience but ends up uncaring about destroying so many lives and becomes greedier and greedier... obviously his corrupt and womanising ways do bring him down in the end though not maybe quite how you'd expect. Although a bit obvious and corny at times this is an enjoyable film with some good performances especially from Blackmer who manages to fit every single human emotion possible into the film. Sleeper also does a very good role, an example of a silent movie actress who could switch to sound films, though unfortunately she did not make many more movies after this.