Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Shadows on the Stairs (1941)

A sometimes-strange sometimes-sweet murder mystery set in a London boarding house. The house run by Stella Armitage (Frieda Inescort) is full of interesting characters including spiv Joseph Reynolds (Paul Cavanagh), Indian student/rebel Ram Singh (Turhan Bey), playwright Hugh Bromilow (Bruce Lester) and the sullen maid Lucy (Phyllis Barry).

Stella is having an affair with Joseph behind the back of her husband Tom (Miles Mander). Though Joseph is also knocking off Lucy. If that's not enough he is also involved in mysterious schemes with Ram Singh (who also gets attacked by another Indian in his room and stabs him). Then Joseph is found dead, the Inspector (Lumsden Hare) begins his investigation, though other bodies then turn up. There are plenty of suspects but the actual culprit is a surprise. But the real ending is an even bigger surprise.

So it's sometimes-sweet, (though if I explained why i wrote that if would spoil the ending). It is a fairly light mystery but rocks along at a good rate of knots. It is pretty strange, but in a good way.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Charlie Chan's Secret (1936)

Estranged son Allen Colby (Jerry Miley) is returning to his family after several years and being presumed dead. Not good news to some of his family members who have been spending his inheritance... including on psychic research. Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) discovers Colby survived a shipwreck but at a seance Colby turns up dead, recently stabbed.

So who killed Allen Colby, well there are plenty of suspects of course including his aunt Henrietta (Henrietta Crosman) who wants to continue the psychic research, Fred (Edward Trevor) and Janice (Astrid Allwyn) who have been living off the inheritance and the strange caretaker Ulrich (Egon Brecher) who had a grudge against Allen. Or is it the psychic research Professor (Arthur Edmund Carewe) who is anxious to continue the funding? Charlie begins his investigation in a creepy old house full of hidden passages, moving panels and various oddities.

A highly entertaining Golden Age type movie, Charlie Chan is without any of his sons in this film so the humour and buffoonery is lower than usual but the mystery is good. Plenty of pseudo-Chinese "proverbs" too.

Monday, January 21, 2019

British Intelligence (1940)

A spy is betraying British military secrets to the Germans during the First World War. The top British agent Frank Bennett (Bruce Lester) is sent to capture the German spy Strendler but is betrayed and ends up hospitalised. He is nursed back to health by a pretty nurse Helene (Margaret Lindsay)... who is in fact another top German spy!

Now using the identity of a refugee known as "Frances Hautry" she is sent to London to infiltrate the home of Bennett's father Arthur (Holmes Herbert), a cabinet minister. The butler Valdar (Boris Karloff) turns out to be another German spy!

The head of British intelligence Yeats (Leonard Mudie) already suspects Helene... and Valdar turns out to be a double agent. But Frank Bennett turns up at his family home and recognises his ex-nurse things get even more complicated... especially when Valdar tells Helene that he is Strendler!

Although sometimes thinly veiled propaganda this is an exciting war and espionage film. The plot is sometimes confusing when you wonder exactly which side some of the characters are on. The film ends with a zeppelin raid, any film with zeppelins is great!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Before Morning (1933)

So Elsie (Lora Baxter) is in a relationship with Jim (Russell Hicks) but when she tells him she is engaged to Horace from Detroit (Blaine Cordner) he falls ill and dies (amusingly while Elsie is singing down the telephone). Horace agrees to help Elsie dispose of Jim's body and keep the police out of it.

They decide to use a sanitarium run by a Dr Gruelle (Leo Carrillo) and make it look like Jim died there. However Dr Gruelle turns out to be a bit of a cad who tells Elsie that Jim was murdered by poison and tried to blackmail her as the poisoner...

The film was based on a Broadway play (not quite the success as stated in the credits) and most of the actors were from the stage. It's probably why most of the acting is a bit off and somewhat over the top. It is a bit of a strange film but not without some good points and i'm not talking about the wardrobe malfunctions...

Some of the acting is so odd it is compelling. If treated as an over the top melodrama this film kind of works. The twist and conclusion are worth the slog early on.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Murder on Flight 502 (1975)

A rather low-budget rip-off of the Airport type of movie, an ensemble of stereotypes (retired couple, man with a secret (Fernando Lamas), alcoholic writer (Polly Bergen), fading rock star (Sonny Bono) et cetera) are stuck on a plane where bad things happen...

The plane is a flight from New York to London piloted by Captain Larkin (Robert Stack). When the plane is already en route NY airport security chief Robert Davenport (George Maharis) received a letter warning him that murders will take place on Flight 502...

Luckily there is a police officer Detective Myerson (Hugh O'Brian) is aboard and begins to look for the possible murderer with the help of the captain and Davenport. There are a number of suspects but the captain and the chief flight attendant (Farrah Fawcett) try and keep everything under control but when the murders finally begin things quickly unravel...

Nothing about this film is that original at all but the cast ensemble is good and they make the most of what is a fairly low budget film. The film has some good twists and certainly is entertaining enough though might be a bit of a struggle on the long-haul.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Mr. Moto's Last Warning (1939)

Japanese detective Mr Moto (Peter Lorre) of the international police is drawn into a plot to try and draw Britain and France into a war. A French fleet is en route to join a Royal Navy fleet on joint maneuvers but is delayed at Port Said because of warnings of sabotage from the British secret service. Plotters led by Fabian (Ricardo Cortez), who is posing as a ventriloquist in a rather mediocre music hall act, try to get rid of Mr Moto though he manages to escape.

Fabian and his men discover a British secret agent (John Carradine) and kill him. Fabian's girlfriend Connie (Virginia Field) helps him track Moto, unaware her man is a brutal agent, but she soon finds out the truth...

It is all nonsense of course and pretty corny but the strangeness carries you through. A brutal agent who talks of blowing up warships one minute and then makes cute lines through his ventriloquist's dummy the next. As for Mr Moto, he is as "oriental" as Mr Wong or Charlie Chan.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Energetic 21 (1982)

Leslie Cheung is a street racer who drives a Porsche 911. In the first part of the film you see how he and his buddies hang out and basically do very little. There are a couple of strange tangents (well it is a HK film after all) including a faked demonic possession that ends up in a fat girl getting pregnant. No really. I'm not making that up.

Rowena Cortes, who plays the sister of one of Leslie's friends, also gets into some scrapes including fighting girls over a dress and accidentally getting her boyfriend beaten up on his driving test. Leslie's mum brings a Westerner home but Leslie doesn't like it as its filthy apparently...

Then in the second half of the film things really get going. Another Westerner is accidentally killed in a fight and the guys suddenly start acting incredibly stupidly (or more than they were already). They begin running around like headless chickens and even turn on each other as the Police close in. In the end they are holed up in a supermarket, the Police have them surrounded. So how did it all go wrong? It is a HK film about young people, it always goes wrong.

So what is this film really about? It's an entertaining romp with some good car stunts thrown in, especially a cool stunt-a-rama with some go-karts. The main problem with the film is that the guys' characters seem to change utterly after they kill the guy. They turn from being some layabout losers into psychotic madman...

So it doesn't really make any sense but it's a decent slab of early 80s HK idol cinema if you like that sort of thing. It has it all all : young beautiful people, hot 80s sports cars, cheesy nightclubs and HK 80s cool. Fantastic basically. Just don't expect much coherence.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Red Haired Alibi (1932)

Lynn Monith (Merna Kennedy) is a naive young girl with red hair (which is mentioned every few minutes in the film). She meets the suave Trent Travers (Theodore von Eitz) who offers her a job in New York. She accepts and finds herself having to pose as Travers' "wife" in some unusual situations. Travers is a gangster you see... soon Lynn realises there is a reason she keeps having to lie to the police.

Finally Lynn leaves Travers and relocates to White Plains. In typical movie coincidence manner Lynn bumps into Bob Shelton (Grant Withers) again (whom she met briefly in NY) and gets hired to nurse his daughter (Shirley Temple in one of her earliest roles). She and Bob gets married but when she bumps into Travers again (who by now is on the run) in New York things reach a (red) head...

An enjoyable film, the story is nothing too unusual and the plot a bit by the numbers but the film moves along at a decent pace. Lynn's red hair has a starring role. As do the Art Deco interiors of the various hotels and restaurants, simply gorgeous.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Spies of the Air (1940)

Charles Houghton (Roger Livesey) is designing top secret aviation technology when he finds his files have been disturbed in his safe. His wife Dorothy (Joan Marion) has the safe combination and is having an affair with test pilot Peter Thurloe (Barry K. Barnes)...

Spymaster Colonel Cairns (Felix Aylmer) already knows something dodgy is going on as photographs of the plans have already been found on captured/killed foreign agents...

So who is the spy? There are a number of suspects and suspicious activities going on but also a few red herrings. The film is a bit slow at times though the suspense keeps you interested and it builds and builds as the film progresses. A satisfactory ending if not a happy landing.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Mr. Wong in Chinatown (1939)

A young woman (Lotus Long) turns up at Mr Wong's (Boris Karloff) home asking to see the famous detective urgently. However before she can see him she is bumped off by a poison dart. Wong and Inspector Street (Grant Withers) begin the investigation with only a vague clue to start with, perky reporter Roberta Logan (Marjorie Reynolds) to help/hinder...

The murdered woman, Princess Lin Hwa, was on a secret mission to buy warplanes for the Chinese government. The investigation soon turns up a masked man who was keen to stop her and won't stop at one murder... and Mr Wong himself is soon in the firing line.

The film is a bit slow, it's not the best in the Mr Wong series though Karloff was always good value as Wong.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Manhunt in Space (1954)

A clunky but entertaining 1950s science-fiction romp, all rocket ships, clicky switches and very dodgy outfits.

Vena Ray (Sally Mansfield) is en route to Casa 7 to see her brother when her ship becomes the latest cargo ship to mysteriously vanish. Space ranger Rocky Jones (Richard Crane) is sent to investigate assisted by his partner Winky (Scotty Beckett) and for some reason a little kid. A group of space pirates led by Rinkman (Henry Brandon) is behind the ship disappearances but is there also an inside man...

This is a movie version of three episodes of Rocky Jones Space Ranger. A satisfying space opera, if only getting in outer space for real could be quite so simple.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Face in the Fog (1936)

A mysterious hunched masked character known as The Fiend is killing theatre people using that well known Golden Age method of frozen bullets. Reporter Jean Monroe (June Collyer) is on the Fiend's hitlist after she lies she knows what he looks like and narrowly avoids death. Now with her friend/colleague Frank Gordon (Lloyd Hughes) she looks to find out just who this Fiend is...

The police are investigating too of course but bring in stage writer / part-time amateur detective Peter Fortune (Lawrence Gray) to assist. He suggests an associate who is an expert in devising fiendish ways to kill people. Soon an actor called Reardon (Jack Mulhall) is arrested as the Fiend but is he the guilty man? Well no as he ends up dead too...

So this looks like a pretty standard Golden Age type mystery. Indeed there is nothing that novel about the film, the mystery takes second place to much running around but it's an entertaining romp. The real identity of The Fiend is pretty obvious to be honest but it's fun following the case.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Young & Dangerous : The Prequel (1998)

The Young & Dangerous movie series is about a bunch of Triad members and their adventures in the dark and squalid world of HK organised crime, this prequel details how the guys as teenagers first entered this world. Despite the ever present danger that prequels usually bring to a movie series this actually isn't a bad film at all.

The first portion of the movie is a bit of a slog though as the boys get kicked out of school for rock and roll and smoking a lot (in fact an entire tobacco harvest seems to have gone into the making of this film). The action soon picks up once they join the triads (which seems a bit easy, the boss of a local branch just asks them and they say OK... and that's it). Being a triad movie there is a lot of action and violence of course, and it's pretty bloody.

Of course the film throws in a number of pop stars such as Nicholas Tse, some of whom do not really seem to have a role in the film apart from adding to the star power but the leads especially Tse are solid and the story while standard (betrayals, endless fights, respect your daigoh et cetera) is also solid and all in all a worthwhile addition to the series.

Friday, January 4, 2019

One Frightened Night (1935)

Millionaire Jasper Whyte (Charley Grapewin) decides to divide his fortune between his relations, friends and staff - who he has touchy relationships with to various degrees - before a new inheritance tax comes into force. He'd rather give the money to his granddaughter Doris but he can't locate her. But then, just after he has shared out his millions, two women (Mary Carlisle and Evalyn Knapp) turn up that stormy night who both claim to be her...

Obviously this throws the night into confusion and those suddenly disinherited rather put out. One of the Dorises then turns up dead.

This is a fun film (which plays up to the stereotypes of the genre nicely) with some good performances - especially by the rather ropey magician Luvalle (Wallace Ford). Set on a stormy night in a creepy old house to give it the required atmosphere the film has plenty of red herrings, murders, mysterious ways to commit them and suspects which results in a true Golden Age type romp.