Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Captured in Chinatown (1935)

What a wonderfully weird film! Two Chinese clans seemingly endless blood feud is finally ended by a couple (Joy Ling and Wing Foo) who cross the divide. To cement the union a highly valuable jade necklace is to be presented at the wedding but some (American) crooks led by Zamboni (Paul Ellis) plot to steal it.

Amid this mayhem a young reporter couple Bob and Ann (played by Charles Delaney and Marion Shilling) in a love-hate relationship who get wrapped up in the theft and save the day and avert a full on bloody Triad war.

The real star of the show is Tarzan the dog who performs tricks like turning on the gas to boil the kettle for his owner's coffee and delivering notes. Tarzan is also probably the best actor in the film too (and got top billing).

Tarzan's tricks are mostly to pad the film out as there isn't a lot of storyline to fill the time otherwise. It is all pretty awful but happily it's in the "so bad it's good" category mostly because the dated stereotypes are just so ridiculous.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring (1941)

A murder mystery set in a hospital with a high degree of farce, maybe a bit too much but it is undeniably entertaining. Ralph Bellamy plays the famous mystery writer/amateur sleuth Ellery Queen this time with Charley Grapewin his old man on the force and Margaret Lindsey as Nikki, Ellery's assistant.

The rather unpleasant Augusta Stack (Blanche Yurka), benefactor of a local hospital, calls in the police as she suspects one of her surgeons is a murderer. Ellery Queen gets drawn into the case but when Augusta is bought in after an auto accident and mysteriously dies during an operation he begins to investigate the strange goings on in the hospital.

Unfortunately for the Queens possible suspects start get bumped off too. Quite a lot of the film is a bit of a romp in the hospital as an injured hoodlum tries to escape the police. If you can get past the farce it is quite an interesting murder mystery.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Exile Express (1939)

Anna Sten is Nadine, the Ukrainian assistant to a scientist (Harry Davenport) and preparing to become an American citizen. On the eve of the ceremony Soviet spies led by her "boyfriend" Paul Brandt (Jerome Cowan) - not that she knows his real intentions towards her - kill the scientist to get their hands on a potential chemical weapon. However they need Nadine to translate the notes, but she is on a train heading across the country to be deported having being suspected of involvement in the scientist's death.

Reporter Steve (Alan Marshall) is also on the train covering another story. He becomes interested in Nadine and gets involved when she makes a getaway. He even ends up becoming married to her! However not only are the police after them, Brandt and his gang are too...

Although often ridiculous, and with a bit too much lightness thrown in at times - some of the "comedy" characters are simply bizarre and tedious apart from the raving lunatic Bolshevik. The film is an enjoyable romp with some chase scenes but quite a lot of filler, luckily Anna Sten and Alan Marshall do a good enough job to keep you interested.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Last Alarm (1940)

Jim Hadley (J. Farrell MacDonald) is a respected old soak firefighter who has retired but is finding himself at a loose end. Meanwhile a deranged pyromaniac called Wendell (George Pembroke) has caused a series of fires and it is putting the insurance company which Jim's daughter Joan (Polly Ann Young) works at and her insurance investigator beau Frank (Warren Hull) under pressure.

When Jim's old buddy is killed in the latest fire he is bought in to help the investigation. Wendell knows the net is closing in but he turns his attention to bringing down the Hadleys.

Although the plot is pretty basic the film is an entertaining crime film with a difference. Apart from Wendell's over the top maniac act most of the acting is very natural, especially by MacDonald. Although a low budget film it looks good, in particular making good use of stock footage.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Sunset Murder Case (1938)

An enjoyable murder mystery but most notable for it's female nudity which in 1938 was quite something. As you can imagine the film was banned left right and centre.

It starred Sally Rand as Kathy O'Connor a dancer whose policeman father is killed, with the help of reporter Lou (Dennis Moore) she hatches a plot to infiltrate the nightclub she thinks was responsible for her father's death as a stripper.

It sounds rather ridiculous and exploitative, and it definitely is the former. Luckily it largely manages to avoid the latter. However the film doesn't really make any sense at all. Why does Sally suspect the nightclub for example, and why are people being bumped off? Something to do with blackmail but it is all rather murky but the balloon dance is nice.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Cover Girl Killer (1959)

Someone is killing cover girls from a popular soft-core girlie mag, the murderer (Harry H Corbett) kills the girls and then reenacts the cover photo. Inspector Brunner (Victor Brooks) is on the case in a methodical plodding manner. He is assisted by John Mason (Spencer Teakle) who is the owner of the girlie mag - which he apparently inherited from his uncle. Otherwise he is an archaeologist!

To lure the serial killer into a trap Felicity (June Rawson) is put on the cover of the magazine and thus becomes the next target for Corbett's sinister murderer.

Corbett's character is really interesting with a deep level of psychosis. The sleazy setting of the film adds an enjoyable layer of dirt but as a crime drama it is rather lacking. The police seem particularly dopey but the amateur saves the day in Golden Age fashion. Not the best film but Corbett's performance is worth checking out, this is way beyond Steptoe.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Jim Hanvey - Detective (1937)

A charming yet curious detective film. The film subverts so much what you might expect from detective films of this era.

Guy Kibbee is Jim Hanvey, a retired rather bumbling but wise cracking detective. He is called upon to find some stolen emeralds, only the man who is thought to have stolen them Don (Tom Brown) and his beau Joan (Lucie Kaye) turn up at his home and admit it.

So begins a rather complicated case involving double crossing and murder. It is all rather chaotic but Jim Hanvey's jovial and cheery dialogue carries the film. Plus Joan's mother (Catharine Doucet) has some great lines.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Braindead (1992)

Boy (Timothy Balme) meets girl (Diana Penalver), but has domineering mother (Elizabeth Moody), who turns into a zombie.

This is an early 90s black comedy directed by Peter Jackson way before any Lord of the Rings, but this is epic in its own special way. Epic gore for sure.

There is a plot though its more a hook for a lot of gore laden action set pieces including the rather hilarious fighting priest (Stuart Devanie) scene.

The film scores well on "OMG NO!" moments and some genuinely funny dark humour though the final half an hour is pretty much wall to wall violent gore and can get a bit tiresome after the umpteenth liquidised zombie. The sheer ridiculousness of the zombie romp takes you through though, like a zombie hand through a head.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Legion of Missing Men (1937)

A decent enough film about the French Foreign Legion. It is not unlike other films about the Legion especially made pre-war, expect plenty of shootouts in the desert and murderous Arab rebels (who speak English in a rather mysterious convoluted way).

It stars Ralph Forbes as Ben, a veteran of the Legion. Things take a turn for the worst when Ben's younger brother Don (Ben Alexander) turns up in Morocco and has joined the Legion. Despite his brother's warnings Don falls foul of the rather prickly NCO Garcia (George Regas) and ends up on punishment routine. The Arabs led by Sheik (Roy D'Arcy) capture Don and Ben is forced to get the guns working...

It isn't a bad film, just not that original. The two brothers fall out over a nightclub singer (Hala Linda) but are reunited to save the day et cetera.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Big Town After Dark (1947)

Based on a radio show this is an enjoyable crime drama. Steve Wilson (Phillip Reed) is the managing director of a newspaper. His star reporter Lorelei (Hillary Brooke) decides to quit to become a novelist, the owner brings in his niece Susan (Ann Gillis) to replace her as the police reporter.

However is Susan all she seems to be? She seems linked to the local gambling boss Chuck (Richard Travis). When Steve is beaten up while taking Susan to a poker joint, Susan then apparently goes missing. Has she been kidnapped? She turns up with a plausible story but not before the uncle has been swindled out of fifty grand. Lorelei is suspicious and decides to find out what is really going on though things are complicated by Steve having the hots for Susan...

Its typical Noir fare, beatings in dingy gambling joints punctuated by slick dialogue. The story is straightforward but well written and the performances are good though Brooke's ice blonde character is a little too cold.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Death from a Distance (1935)

A prominent astronomer Professor Einfeld (Lee Kohlmar) is giving a lecture in a planetarium, while everyone's gaze is on the heavens a shot rings out. One of the audience has been killed.

Detective Mallory (Russell Hopton) is on the case and begins the investigations, reporter Key Palmer (Lola Lane) was present at the show and is keen to stay on the inside though her relationship with Mallory is rather fractious (though obviously they will get together in the end).

Despite the planetarium being sealed immediately and thus the murderer being one of the audience members the case is baffling and Mallory has to rely on a number of tricks to solve the crime. It is a decent but not startling film with the usual cliches including the dopey assistant detective (Lew Kelly) and various red herrings. Despite the low budget the film looks good, the observatory setting is the best part of the film. The dialogue is pretty snappy, the two leads giving good performances. Apparently this was the first ever film broadcast on US TV in 1941.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967)

Fu Manchu stories are complete nonsense of course, a vision of the Orient that was outdated and fanciful even in it's day, and drenched in Yellow Peril nonsense but the sheer madness of this film is what makes it so compelling.

Christopher Lee is Fu Manchu, has holed up in his remote Chinese stronghold with his daughter Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) and his army of bad men with swords. He is plotting revenge on his nemesis Inspector Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer) with the help of a mindless dacoit who has been turned into a duplicate of Smith by a captive plastic surgeon (Wolfgang Keiling) in order to discredit him. Meanwhile Fu Manchu is also plotting to become the king of crime and take over the world...

So it's stuffed full of every cliche possible: junks, sedan chairs, pigtails and many men with swords. Christopher Lee is magnificent as Fu Manchu, kingpin of this mad world. It is ridiculous and trashy and so campy. Pretty brutal too with beheadings and torture of women amongst the "pleasures" in Fu Manchu's lair. The film could do with a bit more Christopher Lee though but the appearance of Tony Ferrer, the "James Bond of the Philippines", as the head of the Shanghai police is entertaining.