Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Incredible Jewel Robbery (TV)

Directed by
Mitchell Leisen
Written by Dallas Gaultois, James Edmiston
Starring Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Groucho Marx
IMDB Entry
Full Movie on ShoutTV

I’m a major Marx Brothers fan, but there’s been one thing of theirs I never expected to see.  It was the last time they actually were on screen together, in a 30-minute silent comedy that’s primarily a vehicle for Harpo (of course) and Chico.

The plot is simple. Nick (Harpo) and Harry (Chico) are shown stealing a bunch of odd items from various stores.  They then go to a secluded spot and repaint their car to look like a police car.  It turns out to be a plot to steal jewels from the jeweler.

Harpo as GookieBut forget the part.  The show* is an excuse for sight gags, some new, some old.  Harpo makes a gookie**, and there are sight gags throughout, some amusing, others not so. It’s great seeing the two of them on the screen, and Groucho appears in the final scene and utters the only line of dialog in the half hour.

The film was directed by Mitchell Leisen, a top film director in the 1930s who had worked with W. C. Fields, Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, and other top stars. 

Like most TV of the 50s, the show was ephemeral and, despite the Marx Brothers name, didn’t seem to be aired again.  It came back in the DVD era, and can currently be seen online at 

It’s certainly not classic Marx Brothers, but completists and fans may want to give it a look.

*Introduced by Ronald Reagn.

**A face he made in just about every Marx Brother’s movie.  It’s named after a cigar roller of their youth who made the face unconsciously while working.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Slaughterhouse Five(1972)
Directed by
George Roy Hill
Written by Stephen Geller, from the novel by Kurt Vonnegut
Starring Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, Eugene Roche, Valerie Perrine
IMDB Entry

Kurt Vonnegut was a favorite author of mine, but, other than Mother Night, movies of his books were few and far between.   In 1972, George Roy Hill took a swing at his most acclaimed novel, Slaughterhouse-Five.*

As in the book, Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sachs) become unstuck in time, traveling backward and forward to events in his rather eventful life. Billy is captured by aliens (where he meets Hollywood starlet Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine)), but most of the movie (like in the novel) covers the bombing of Dresden in World War II.**

What sticks in my mind was the performance of Eugene Roche ad Edgar Darby, one of Pilgrim’s fellow prisoners. He is absolutely amazing as Roche, a decent and very likeable guy that got caught up in the madness of war.  It was the second time I noticed him; he had made a series of commercials for Ajax Dishwashing Liquid as a “dishwashing expert.”  But the qualities that served him well as a pitchman – most importantly, his likeability – made him just perfect in the role.

There were other newcomers in the cast.  Valerie Perrine made an impressive entrance, and started out on a career of playing sex symbols, but with an intelligence (even when the character wasn’t) of a serious actor, and was also memorable in SteambathIt was Michael Sach’s first film and an early role for Ron Liebman.

Vonnegut praised the adaptation, and the film did OK business, but wasn’t a major hit.

*Cat’s Cradle was probably his best known overall.

**Vonnegut was a witness, being a POW there when the city was firebombed.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Hall-Mills Murder Case (history)

Wikipedia Page

Hall & MillsEvery few years, some legal case is dubbed “The Trial of the Century”:  The Lindbergh Kidnapping, the O.J. Simpson Case, the trials of murderers Beulah Annan and Belva Gaerner,* for instance.  As time goes by, these trials become forgotten, and new ones come along.  But for me, the Hall-Mills Murder Case is up there among the most sensational of the 20th century.

It started with the discovery of two bodies in a field in New Jersey, a man and a woman, both shot in the head; the woman had had her throat cut first.  The bodies had been posed after they died, along with some torn up love letters. They were found to be Edward Wheeler Hall, an Episcopal minister, and Eleanor Reinhardt Mills, a singer in the church choir.  Both Hall  and Miss were married.  But not to each other.

The investigation was botched from the start.  Crowds trampled the site (known as a local lover’s lane) before the police could figure out who would be in charge, and evidence was destroyed.

Of course, this was the heyday of sensational journalism and the combination of sex, adultery, and murder was striking sensationalist gold.  All the New York papers were on top of the case and the trial

Ultimately, the prosecution charged Frances Hall (Hall’s widow) and her two brothers, Henry Stevens and William “Willie” Carpenter, saying Frances got Henry, an expert marksman, to do the crime.

The trial was a circus, with the press sensationalizing every moment.  Forty-seven newspapers from all over the US were there to report on the trial, and there were requests for over 100 seats for the press.

The Pig WomanThe key witness for the prosecution was Jane Gibson, though she quickly got the sobriquet “The Pig Woman” because she raised hogs.  She supposedly saw the murder going down.  Her testimony was more sensation, especially since she was in the hospital with cancer and couldn’t walk.  Her hospital bed was moved into the courtroom and she testified lying down.

Love letters between the two victims were entered into evidence

When it came time for the defendants to take the stand, they were ready.  Henry Stevens, who was an expert marksman, had witnesses putting him miles away at the time of the crime, which didn’t help the prosecution.

But Willie was the star.  He had a reputation as something of a character:  he loved to follow firetrucks and was considered a bit “slow.”  But he turned out to be a good witness – polite and straightforward. 

Ultimate, the verdict was “not guilty.”

The ballyhoo slowly died down, as other sensations took its place, and, like most “trials of the century,” it was soon forgotten.

The murders are still unsolved.

*You might know them by the names of the fictionalized version: Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly.