Sunday, April 30, 2023

Time to Kill


Time to Kill
Directed by Herbert I. Leeds
Written by Brett Halliday (characters), Clarence Upton Young, based on a novel by Raymond Chandler
Starring Lloyd Nolan, Heather Angel, Ethel Griffies, James Seay
IMDB Entry

Last week, while researching my entry for The Brasher Doubloon, I happened on the fact that the book has previously been adapted as a Mike Shayne programmer starring Lloyd Nolan.  Naturally, I had to check out Time to Kill.

Michael Shayne (Lloyd Nolan) is a detective hired to find the Brasher Doubloon, stolen from Mrs. Murdock (Ethel Griffies). He meets her secretary Myrtle Davis (Heather Angel), who seems to be hiding a secret.

The movie varies substantially from the later version.  Myrtle's secret gets a short shift, where it is far more prominent in the remake.  The big difference is Lloyd Nolan's portrayal of Shayne. Whereas George Montgomery didn't quite have the gravitas to be Marlowe, Nolan makes him more than just a wisecracker. Nolan played Shayne in five times before this and is the perfect actor for this sort of role. Alas, this was the last movie in the series.

The studio clearly didn't know what to do with Chandler. It was an odd hybrid of franchises. Chandler had had some success, but the studio must have decided he wasn't well enough know to make a movie featuring his name and instead attached it to an existing franchise, with just enough of his novel left to make the connection clear.

Director Herbert I. Leeds did several B-pictures for Fox and seemed to be known for his efficiency. This might have served him well in television,* but his death in 1953 cut short his career.

Nolan had a long career as a character actor and is best known for playing Diahann Carrol's crusty but kind boss in Julia.

*He directed many episodes of Jackie Gleason's The Life of Riley.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The Brasher Doubloon

The Brasher Doubloon
Directed by
John Brahm
Written by Dorothy Bennett from Leonard Praskins's adaptation of The High Window by Raymond Chandler
Starring George Montgomery, Nancy Guild, Florence Bates, Conrad Janis, Roy Roberts, Fritz Kortner
IMDB Entry

In the late 40s, Hollywood discovered Raymond Chandler. Double Indemnity and Murder My Sweet* were hits and established the film noir genre. Other studios rushed to adapt his works. 20th Century Fox was lucky: they already owned the rights to Chandler's The High Window** and turned it into The Brasher Doubloon.

Detective Philip Marlowe (George Montgomery) is hired by Elizabeth Murdock (Florence Bates) to recover the coin that gives the movie its name. In her mansion, Marlowe runs into Merle Davis (Nancy Guild), Murdock's secretary, who seems to know a dangerous secret and Murdock's son Leslie (Conrad Janis), who is suspicious as all get-out. Marlowe gets caught up into a bunch of shady criminals, who may have stolen the doubloon -- or may not have. After several murders, Marlowe gets to the bottom of the case.

Chandler's storytelling carries the movie.  George Montgomery is perhaps the least impressive version of the detective -- heavy on the wisecracking but light on the mood that makes film noir. Nancy Guild doesn't stand out particularly, though Florence Bates and Conrad Janis*** do make their characters stand out. 

Marlow's meeting with Mrs. Murdock parallel similar scenes between Marlowe and General Sternwood  in The Big Sleep. Another character, Rudolph Vanier (Fritz Kortner), clearly is based on Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon.

Viewers may recognize Roy Roberts as the police officer leading the investigation.  Roberts was a busy character actor in TV, with noticeable roles in Petticoat Junction, Bewitched, The Lucy Show, McHale's Navy, and The Gale Storm Show.

*He cowrote the script on the first and the second was based on one of his novels.

**And had filmed it as Time to Kill, starring Lloyd Nolan as Michael Shayne.

***Best known today for his role in Mork and Mindy.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Lady Gangster


Lady Gangster


Directed by Robert Florey (as Florian Roberts)
Written by Anthony Coldeway, from a play by Dorothy Mackaye and Carlton Miles
Starring Faye Emerson, Julie Bishop, Frank Wilcox, Roland Drew, Jackie Gleason
IMDB entry

It's not all that unusual for a movie's title to be misleading. Lady Gangster sounds exciting, but it more a prison drama than a movie about her running rackets. 

Dot Burton (Faye Emerson) joins a gang planning to rob a bank. They hand her a dog to make her seem even more harmless, but when she doesn't know the dog's name, everything unravels. She is caught but manages to hide the money and is convinced by a crusading reporter™ Kenneth Phillips (Frank Wilcox) to turn herself in, do the time, and come out a free woman. Dot, who has fallen in love with Phillips, agrees and is sent to prison.

The crooks want the money. Their leader, Carey (Roland Drew), dresses up as her sister to try to find where she hid the loot. The movie focuses on the politics of the woman inmates, including portraying a Black woman (unusual, though the just wants to play boogie woogie music on the radio) and hinting a a few same-sex couples.* Dot eventually has to break out of prison to keep Carey from getting the money and killing Kenneth.

The acting is serviceable.  Emerson does give a nice portrayal of a hard-nosed woman, and Julie Bishop is fine as her friend in prison. Jackie Gleason** had part of one of the crooks who is enamored of Dot and tries to stand up for her against Carey. Viewers who look carefully might spot William Hopper*** as the D.A.'s aide John; he's not recognizable due to his dark hair, but his voice is familiar to any Perry Mason fan.

Director Robert Florey was in movies from the silent days into the TV era. His best-known film was the first film by the Marx Brothers -- The Cocoanuts. Legend has it he was unable to control his laughter and ruined takes until he took up residence in a soundproof box.


*Given the time frame, the Hayes Office wouldn't allow anything more than the most subtle of hints. They had no problem with the crossdressing scene.

**Billed as Jackie C. Gleason

***Billed as DeWolfe Hopper. Everyone knows that gossip queen Hedda Hopper was his mother, but his father, DeWolfe Hopper, was a major vaudeville star, known for his rendition of "Casey at the Bat." He was instrumental in popularizing the poem.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Sensation Hunters (Club Paradise)

Sensation Hunters
Directed by
Cristy Cabanne
Written by Dennis J. Cooper from a story by John Faxon
Starring Robert Lowrey, Doris Merrick, Eddie Quillan, Byron Folger
IMDB Entry

Monogram pictures was the low-rent district of Hollywood.  They produced pictures that aspired to be B-movies and were usually at the bottom of the barrel, most of them forgotten and forgettable. As I was looking up film noir for this series, I stumbled across Sensation Hunters. I had seen very few Monogram pictures, so decided to look it up.

Julie Rogers (Doris Merrick) is a young woman who's going out with Ray Lawson (Eddie Quillan), a trumpet player. Her domineering father (Bryon Folger) doesn't like the match. One evening, Ray had to leave for an audition, and she sees Danny Burke (Robert Lowry). Burke is a cad, who loves 'em and leaves 'em, but Julie doesn't care.

Ray takes her to a gambling club, which is raided. He is sentenced to 30 days in jail. Julie can't pay the fine, but her father shows up and takes care of it. Once that's done, he kicks her out of their apartment and out of his life.

Julie gets a job singing at the Club Paradise, and rekindles her infatuation for Danny, even when Ray establishes himself as a successful bandleader. I
t all leads to the inevitable (but arbitrary) tragedy.

The movie is all over the map. Julie gets her job too easily. She suffers because Ray took her to the illegal gambling den, whereas you'd expect it to be Danny. Any tension is broken up by musical numbers that pad out the time. The ending seems like a half-assed attempt to make the whole mess a film noir.

Still, it's fun to watch, if not exactly good. Doris Merrick had a few films, but never made a splash, Robert Lowrey and Eddie Quillan both had long careers in TV and movies as minor players, Quillan working steadily into the 1980s, his biggest role in the TV show Julia. The most recognizable actor to modern audiences is John Hamilton-- Perry White in The Adventures of Superman -- who has a few lines as a judge. Minerva Urecal, who was very busy as a character actress, has a small part as Julie's mother.

Director Christie Cabanne was unfamiliar to me, but he directed over 160 films, starting in the silent days and cranking out up to seven full-length features a year.* I figure he worked fast and brought things in under budget. Most of his films are forgettable and his list has few titles that even the most avid film buff would recognize.


*He started work as an assistant to D.W. Griffith.

Sunday, April 2, 2023


Directed by
William A. Selter
Written by Devery Freeman
Starring Fred MacMurray, Claire Trevor, Raymond Burr
IMDB Entry

As I mentioned last week, "film noir" is an exceedingly imprecise term. It has become a catchall for any film in black and white where a crime has been committed at some point and has themes of moral and political corruption. Borderline starts out noir, but turns into something else.

Madeline Haley (Clare Trevor) volunteers to go undercover to smoke out the Mexican drug lord Pete Ritchie (Raymond Burr).* She flirts with one of Ritche's gang and gets close to him when a rival drug lord, Johnny Mackin (Fred MacMurray) breaks in and steals his narcotics. He grabs Madeline and takes her with him on a trip to smuggle the drugs and see who the American contact is. 

Turns out that Mackin is also an undercover narcotics agent. Both keep their secrets from each other.**

At this point, the film changes into what was clearly influenced by It Happened One Night.*** The two have adventures and issues, as they keep running into Ritchie.

MacMurray usually preferred to play a nice guy image, but his best films had him as a bad guy. His introduction as a drug dealer is electrifying; he's good once he softens, but it is a letdown.

Trevor won an Oscar a couple of years before in Key Largo. She's also very good in the early going before the film goes all romantic.

Raymond Burr was a very busy actor before Perry Mason and Godzilla. He was one of the best heavies of his era, his size making him menacing.  The great Charles Lane makes an appearance as a customs official uncredited (of course).

Borderline is a strange movie, mostly because of its jarringly shift in tone. But if you go with it, it's quite enjoyable


*Especially interesting is an early scene where Madeline tries to volunteer for the job. She is eminently qualified, but her boss doesn't recognize her fitness for the job (despite her angling hard for it) until one of the male agents mentions her.

**One of the few times where it's not unreasonable that the two don't tell the secret that would solve their problems:  both think the other is among drug dealers.

***A couple of the scenes parallel scenes from the earlier movie -- sharing a hotel room without sharing a bed, and hitchhiking. Luckily, they both vary their ending to be different.