Scarlet Street (1945) Fritz Lang

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“They’ll be masterpieces!”

 

Kitty March (Joan Bennett) is not one of the brightest femme fatales to grace the screen though she certainly ranks up there as one of the nastiest. She would even give Ann Savage in “Detour” a run for her money. When her milquetoast admirer Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson) finds out she has been selling his paintings under her own name, instead of being upset, he seems actually glad. He has only one demand, that she allows him to paint her portrait, to which she replies, “sure, and you can start right now,” as she hands him a bottle of nail polish so he can paint her toenails.  “They’ll be masterpieces” she slyly sneers as the scene fades. 

This is just one of many masterful scenes in what is arguably Fritz Lang’s greatest American film and one of his finest overall. Based on the French novel “La Chienne” (The Bitch) with a screenplay by Dudley Nichols, “Scarlet Street” is a brilliant, dark tale of an emasculated husband who naively yet willingly subjects himself to humiliation and being made the fool when he falls in love with a beautiful heartless streetwalker. The novel was previously filmed in 1931 by French master Jean Renoir. “Scarlet Street” has been available for years in cheap low grade public domain copies until KINO, in 2005, released a solid pristine newly mastered print preserved by the Library of Congress.

ss-0n-sidewalkChris Cross (Robinson), a mild mannered cashier and Sunday afternoon artist, is being honored at a dinner in a Greenwich Village restaurant for twenty-five years of loyal service to his company. Later that night, on his way to the subway to go back to his Brooklyn apartment, he sees a woman being smacked around by a man. He comes to her rescue, surprisingly knocking the man down with his umbrella. When he goes to calls out to the police for help, the man runs off. The woman is Kitty March, who Chris becomes quickly captivated by. After walking her home, he ask to see her again.

Chris’ home life is lonely, dominated by his tyrannical wife Adele (Rosalind Ivan), who brow beats and criticizes him every minute of the day. Chris’ only pleasure is his painting which he is forecd to do in their tiny bathroom.  If that is not enough, Adele keeps a large painting of her first husband (he supposedly drown trying to save a woman) hanging on the wall looking down on everyone who enters the apartment.

 scarlett-streetKitty gets the impression that Chris is a rich and well-known artist, a notion he hopes impresses her, and does nothing to dispel. Her “boyfriend” Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea), the guy who was slapping her around earlier, convinces Kitty that this old man is a goldmine and she should continue to pursue a relationship with him even start asking him for money.  This dirty scenario sets in motion events that will lead to everyone’s eventual demise.

Chris soon sets Kitty up in a fancy studio apartment in Greenwich Village. Unbeknownst to both Kitty and Johnny the only way Chris can afford all this is by stealing from his company, also by cashing in an insurance policy of his wife’s (from her first husband, policies she was saving for her old age). Johnny’s next scheme is to sell Chris’ paintings, over Kitty’s half-hearted objections. When an influential art critic and gallery owner praises the paintings and offers to sell them, Johnny convinces the two art experts that Kitty is the artist going by the name of Katherine March.

Shopping one day, Adele passes by the art gallery now displaying “Katherine’s artwork.” At home, Chris is cutting up some freshly purchased liver when Adele arrives back home furious. She demands to know how long Chris has known Katherine March. Chris, believing Adele discovered his secret passion for Kitty, is visibly shaken but denies knowing the woman. As the scene evolves with Adele demanding to know about this Katherine March, Chris begins approaching his wife with the knife in his hand. We and Chris soon discover Adele mistakenly thinks Chris has been copying her artwork and that his “lousy” paintings are not even originals. Denigrating him for being nothing more than a copycat, she stalks off to another room. Chris drops the knife; its point sticking into the floor.   scarletstreet1

When Chris confronts Kitty about the paintings being sold, he is surprisingly happy to let her sell them under her name. His one demand is he wants to do a portrait of her.  Soon after, Adele’s first husband shows up alive which frees up Chris now to  propose marriage to Kitty who laughs in his face at the proposal, telling him he is “old and ugly and I’m sick of you, sick, sick, sick!” In a fit of sexually frustrated rage, Chris, using a handy ice pick stabs Kitty multiple times to death.

Chris believes his crimes are discovered when two cops show up at the office where he works. Believing they are about to arrest him for Kitty’s murder he is stunned they are there only to charge him with the embezzlement of $1,200 previously stolen from the company. His boss fires him but decides to not press charges.

The police find enough circumstantial evidence to charge Johnny for Kitty’s murder. At the trial, Chris denies knowing anything about the paintings, sealing Johnny’s faith to the electric chair. Though his revenge is complete, Chris’ guilt is only beginning. Haunted by Kitty and Johnny’s voices, Chris attempts suicide by hanging himself. Six years later, still haunted by voices, Chris is living on the streets. Two policemen, kick him off a park bench where he was sleeping, telling him to go down to the bowery where he belongs. We next see him as he passes by an art gallery that just sold the portrait of Kitty for $10,000. Chris walks by the gallery, unknown, curled up, hunched over still tortured by the voices of Kitty and Johnny. No one get away with murder.

Edward G. Robinson has played mild meek men before (The Whole Town’s Talkin’) but nothing prepares you for Eddie G. in a frilly apron with his over bearing wife constantly pouncing on him to wash the dishes. Lang, with sly humor, arranged several scenes where he puts Robinson in an apron. Robinson’s Chris Cross has lived a life of dull repetition and constant submission consisting of a nine to five job as a cashier, a loyal employee for twenty-five years, and a nagging wife at home. His only pleasure is his art work which he can only do on Sunday’s in between the constant complaining from Adele that he does not make enough money for them to even afford a radio. For Chris, Kitty is a breath of fresh air, a chance to have a life. Edward G. Robinson has never given a bad performance and he is terrific here. The final part of the film as we watch his decent into hell is especially noteworthy.

For Kitty and her slap happy boyfriend Johnny, Chris is an instrument to be used for ill gotten financial rewards. Chris is a sap to Kitty. He believes anything, she says. Johnny convinces Kitty to lead him on and she does. Sure, she tells Chris, she would marry him, but hey, he’s married, so what can you do. They’re both using Chris to extract as much money as they can, though Johnny seems to be the one who ends up with every dollar that comes Kitty’s way. No matter what Johnny does, nor how he treats her, Kitty stills love him.

 Though it is never clearly stated, due to the restrictions of the production code, Kitty is a streetwalker (she doesn’t seem to have any other job) and Johnny’s her pimp, which make clearer his actions on how he is constantly treating her, more as a commodity than a girlfriend. Joan Bennett, in her third of four films she would make with Fritz Lang is a convincingly nasty piece of work, beautiful, seductive and evil. Dan Duryea is credibly slimy as dirt bag Johnny Prince.

There are no likable characters in the film, everyone is corrupt, Chris who only married his battle-axe wife out of loneliness admits he has never seen a woman naked, which you could interpret to mean his marriage to Adele has never been consummated. His wife doesn’t disagree and comments, and I’m paraphrasing here, “I should hope not.” Kitty and Johnny are two bottom feeders, ready to snatch every dollar they can from Chris. Chris’ wife is a nagging, demanding, complaining, unhappy individual. Returning from the dead, Adele’s first husband whom she treasured (he was a police officer!) turns out to have been a thief and actually was on the run faking his own death. Chris’ boss who eventually fires him for embezzlement, left Chris’ party early because he has a beautiful young lady waiting patiently for him out in his limo and she is not his wife!

 

 If the film has a weak spot, it is the return of Adele’s first husband from the dead. It is totally contrived and unbelievable. The only reason for his return seems like a forced plot device that will get Chris single so he will go to Kitty and propose marriage, setting up her laughing fit and vicious verbal tirade that will result in his ultimate violent revenge.   

 joan-bennett-fritz-lang-scarletstreet   I’d be remiss if I did not mention Lang’s use of the song “Melancholy Baby” throughout the film. The song is as bleak and dark as the characters that fill the screen. Finally, the amazing cinematography of Milton Krasner who made the dark and damp wet-filled back lot version of Greenwich Village glisten in the early part of the film as he does for the rest of the film.

    “Scarlet Street” opened to mostly positive reviews. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, if you are familiar with his work, New York Times critic Bosley Crowthers (1) missed the boat on this film giving it a mixed review calling it a “sluggish and manufactured tale”….“an average thriller job.” As for Robinson’s performance, he “performs monotonously and with little illumination of an adventurous spirit seeking air.”  For Joan Bennett, she was “static and colorless.” He only had good word for Dan Duryea who “hits a proper and credible stride, making a vicious and serpentine creature out of a cheap, chiseling tinhorn off the streets.”  Most other critics of the time liked the film and more importantly, the film was a hit with the public. The previous year, Lang and the three actors made an almost equally as good noir with “The Woman in the Window.”     

    “Scarlet Street” was the first film for Diana Productions, a production company consisting of Walter Wagner, Joan Bennett and Fritz Lang.  For those who are not aware, the relation between the three was more than professional. Wagner was Joan Bennett’s husband and Lang was her lover, so the relationship, business and professional was “complicated, to say the least. In the early 1950,’s Wagner shot and wounded by then agent Jennings’s Lang, Bennett’s alleged lover at the time. Wagner spent four months in jail and Bennett’s film career was effectively ended. She did managed to make a few more films though most of her future work would be in television.   

 4280-scarlet-streetIn talking to Peter Bogdanovich (2), Lang mentions that he had no trouble with the film from the censors. Lang must have been forgetful or his memory of events has been distorted over the years. Depending on the state you lived in, the feverish stabbing of Kitty consisted of one to seven stabs (3). The film was banned by three state censor boards, New York, Atlanta and Milwaukee. The New York censors held up the release of the film until February of 1946. However, it was in Atlanta where the film was delayed for ten months! All this notoriety surely contributed of the film’s financial success, making it one of Universal’s biggest grossing film’s of the decade.

   

 

  

Sources:   (1) The New York Times Feb 16, 1946

                (2) Fritz Lang in America – Peter Bogdanovich

                (3) The Rough Guide to Film Noir – Alexander Ballinger & Danny Graydon

             

 

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Little Fugitive (1953) Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin & Ray Abrashkin

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“Our New Wave would never have come into being if it hadn’t been for the young American Morris Engel, who showed us the way to independent production with his fine movie The Little Fugitive,” – Francois Truffaut  (The New Yorker.)

 

    One of the earliest works in the American Independent film movement was, The Little Fugitive, a film made by Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin and Ray Abrashkin (aka Ray Asbury). Actually, at the time this film was made there was no movement, this was the beginning. This deceivingly simple and lyrical film about a young Brooklyn boy who runs away to Coney Island after being tricked into believing he killed his older brother has influenced future filmmakers such as John Cassavetes and Martin Scorsese. The movie was filmed in Brooklyn and much of it at a Coney Island that does not exist anymore (Steeplechase Park, Parachute Jump), nor does the Brooklyn of the 1950’s. The film works on various levels, as a romanticized and nostalgic look back, but more importantly on a human level, especially the relationship between the two young siblings. It’s a look at a simpler and innocent time that unfortunately has disappeared.

little-fugposterAfter viewing the film, you realize that nothing much really happens except for a day in the life of young Joey who has run away, yet he finds joy and delight in the engaging world of the Coney Island amusement park. He eats cotton candy, rides the merry-go-round, plays in the ocean, and watches a young couple neck under the boardwalk. The film is done so beautifully and unobtrusively with a feeling of authenticity that it draws you into this young boy’s world. The directors never let you forget you are looking at this all from the perspective of a seven year old’s point of view. The candid scenes at the beach were filmed with a camera designed by Engel, made mobile enough to be inconspicuously carried unseen among the thousands of people on the beach, the boardwalk and in the amusement park as it follows Joey on his journey.

To anyone who has ever had an older or younger brother, the story will hold a ring of truth. It’s summertime, schools out and young Joey is hanging around with his older brother, Lennie, and his friends. The older boys do not want the kid tagging along so one of Lennie’s friends comes up with a scheme that convinces Joey he shot and killed Lennie. Frighten of the consequences, they encourage Joey to run away. He first goes home and grabs some money his mother left by the telephone (Their mother had to leave the boys alone overnight due to an emergency with her own mother. Dad is deceased.) Joey then hops on the elevated train and rides to the last stop, Coney Island, a safe haven and a wonderland for little boys.  With the few dollars in his pocket, Joey spends his time lost in the rides and sights of the well-known Brooklyn attraction.

You can certainly see the influences this film must have had on a young  Francois Truffaut. The lyrical quality, the affinity for young children, the long takes, the use of real locations. Engel relishes the scenes at Coney Island as he, and we the audience, observe Joey as he moves about from the boardwalk to the beach and to the rides. Truffaut, in The 400 Blows, reflects this same sense of delight with his alter ego, Antoine Doinel.

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Morris Engel, like his wife and co-director, Ruth Orkin (Ray Abrashkin, aka Ray Ashbury, is also credited as a co-director), was a still photographer and the film’s visual beauty validates the multi talent behind the camera (he was also the cinematographer). Engel was born in Brooklyn and was certainly familiar with the local landmark where much of the film takes place. Engel was trained at The Photo League, a cooperative of photographers who focused on social concerns and issues. Paul Strand, Bernice Abbott and Ralph Steiner were a few of his colleagues. He later worked for PM magazine where he met Ray Abrashkin. Other magazines he worked for include Fortune, Ladies Home Journal and Collier’s. Engel also spent four years in the Navy as a combat photographer and was part of the Normandy invasion. He also assisted Paul Strand on his film “NativeLand” receiving one of his first tastes for filmmaking.

  little-fuigitve-stillRuth Orkin grew up in Hollywood and was undoubtedly familiar with the Hollywood filmmaking scene; her mother was silent screen actress Mary Ruby. Orkin was given her first camera at an early age and soon after began photographing her family and friends. At the age of 17, she traveled across the country by bicycle, her destination the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. On the journey, she photographed the entire trip. A few years later, Ruth moved to New York permanently and began a career as a photographer working first as a photographer at nightclubs and then for magazines, including Life. In 1951, Life sent Orkin to Europe on assignment. One of her stops was in Italy where she met an American woman traveling alone and took a series of photographs one of which became her most famous work. Upon her return to America, she married Morris Engel.

When Engel made known his intent to make a movie, Orkin, thought he was crazy. At this time, the early 1950’s, independent filmmaking was in its infancy. The technology was exceptionally expensive for the individual to pursue. The three filmmakers all ended up doing triple duty or more on the film as director, writer, editor, cinematographer and producer. Orkin also had a small part in the film. 

    Young Richie Andrusco (Joey) was an amazing find. He was a non-professional actor, moving among the crowds with an assurance and naturalness that is rare for such a young child.  According to IMDB, Andrusco did only one other acting job, in 1955, on a TV show called I Spy (not the 1960’s Robert Culp/Bill Cosby series). 

The Little Fugitive would go on to win the Silver Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival in 1953 and was nominated as well for Best Screenplay Award from the Writer’s Guild and an Academy Award nomination for Best Story. Engel and Orin made one other film, Lollipops and Lovers. Two years later Engel made his final feature film, Weddings and Babies.

    On April 8th, at 7:30PM, TCM will be premiering a documentary on Morris Engel called “The Independent”, directed by Mary Engel, daughter of Morris and Ruth.  This will be followed by showings of “The Little Fugitive” at 8PM, “Lollipops and Lovers” at 9:30PM and “Weddings and Babies” at 11PM. Following these features will be a short 1997 documentary on Ruth Orkin called “Ruth Orkin: Frames of Life” which includes interviews with Cornell Capa, Mark Ellen Mark among others. The film is also directed Mary Engel and narrated by Julie Harris.

Related Links 

The photographs of Morris Engel.

The photographs  of Ruth Orkin.

Here’s a 2002  article on Morris Engel.

Film Forum – Jules Dassin Tribute

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 Starting Friday the Film Forum is presenting a 12-day tribute to director Jules Dassin who passed away last year. Dassin’s career can be split into two parts, his Hollywood period and his expatriate period. Both are rich in cinematic treasures.

Works include:

 

Reunion in France

Night and the City

Brute Force

The Naked City

Thieves Highway (Click here for a review I wrote at HALO-17)

Uptight

Rififi

Never on Sunday

He Who Must Die

10:30PM Summer

 

All these films are included in the tribute plus others. 

 

 Click here for the schedule.

 

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Recent New  York Times article on Dassin.

 

Dassin article from the Museum of the Moving Image

 

New York Times Obituary.

 

Salon article – Jules Dassin The Early Years.

 

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Original reviews of Jules Dassin films from The New York Times 

Brute Force                                                night1

The Naked City

Rififi

Never on Sunday

Uptight

Thieves’ Highway

Night and the City

Never on Sunday

Rogue Cop (1954) Roy Rowland

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    MGM was not known for its hard–hitting crime films though in reality they had their share, “Johnny Eager” and “The Beast of the City” to name a couple. In 1954, MGM released “Rogue Cop”, a crooked cop saga that can hold its own against other 1950’s crime films like “The Big Combo” and “Kansas City Confidential.”   The film stars former matinee idol Robert Taylor, along with Janet Leigh, George Raft and Anne Francis. For Taylor, the role of a crooked cop may be viewed as a stretch though he did play a gangster years earlier in “Johnny Eager.” For George Raft, it was a comeback of sorts, a return to the gangster role that he avoided for more than 15 years. The two leading ladies are both gorgeous and hold their own especially the under appreciated Anne Francis who plays Raft’s alcoholic girlfriend.  Her performance is really the standout in the film. The screenplay is by Sidney Boehmn, who wrote such other gripping crime films like “The Big Heat” and “Violent Saturday.” Boehmn’s screenplay was adapted from a novel by William McGivern. McGivern novels were also the source for many crime genre films among them “The Big Heat”, “Odds Against Tomorrow” and “Hell on Frisco Bay.”  Cinematographer John F. Seitz received an Oscar nomination for his excellent black and white cinematography. 

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     While not perfect, “Rogue Cop” is a gritty tough film with Taylor providing a better than usual performance as the corrupt flawed detective Christopher Kelvaney, and George Raft is always at his best when he portrays a criminal. The acting highlight, as mentioned, really belongs though to Anne Francis who is the pathetic victim of Raft’s  low-key but sadistic hood with little so regard, after she misguidedly laughs at him after being beaten up by Kelvaney,  sends her over to some “friends” to have their ways with her. While you never see on screen what happens, the next time you see Francis you can just read her face and easily assume the horror she went through at the hands of  her former lover’s  “friends. “Rogue Cop” is a decent entertaining film noir that will not disappoint you. 

 

 

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932) Mervyn LeRoy

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    Pauline Kael called “I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang. “One of the best of the social-protest films–naive, heavy, artless, but a straightforward, unadorned story with moments that haunted a generation” The state of Georgia banned the film for gross exaggeration.  The 1932 film is at least partially responsible for reform of the prison system.

Mervyn LeRoy had already directed Edward G. Robinson in “Little Caesar” the year before, and just finished up “Three on a Match” when he was assigned to film “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang”, a brutal dark chilling, tightly paced look at what prison life was like, primarily in the South. Warner Brothers was known for its gritty socially conscience films and LeRoy was one if it main proponents. Based on the true story of Robert Elliott Burns who wrote his autobiography (I Am a Fugitive From a Georgia Chain Gang) with a screenplay by Brown Holmes and Howard J. Green.

fugitve-lc0a    Paul Muni is James Allen a recently discharged World War I veteran returning to his middle America small town where he is greeted by his mother, brother and girlfriend. His mother and brother want James to go back to his factory job but no one seems to understand how war changes a man. His brother Chris, a reverend, sees James as being ungrateful when Mr. Parker, his former boss at the factory, offers him his job back and James doesn’t want it (there was no G.I. Bill at the time). His brother encourages him to take the job and be “a soldier of peace instead of a soldier of war.” James does not want to be a soldier of any kind, he’s restless and wants to find himself, maybe be an engineer, which he learned something about while in the Army. Reluctantly, James succumbs and goes back to the factory but it just isn’t working out. He soon leaves and heads to New England, gets a job but is quickly laid off. He makes his way down south, then back up North and then South again to New Orleans eventually ending up in Georgia (not explicitly stated) out of work, riding the rails and penniless. James is pounding the pavement when he meets another out of work vagrant, Pete (Preston Foster), who convinces him they can get a couple of burgers for free at a local dumpy diner. Once inside the diner, Pete pulls out a pistol and tells James to take the money from the cash register. James is surprised by the turn of events but does as he is told. As they make their way out of the diner, the police, somewhat magically, come busting through, shoot Pete, and capture James as he tries to escape.

    Southern justice is quick and tough and James is swiftly sentenced to 10 years on a chain gang. The scenes of prison life are harsh, up at 4:30AM, breaking rock in the hot until they return to their dirt infested barracks around 8PM at night. Those prisoners who did not put in a good days work are beaten by the warden with a thick leather strap. The food is slop consisting of pig fat, grease and fried dough. As time goes by, James can’t take it no more and decides to escape. He gets Sebastian, a black prisoner, who has a deadly accurate swing with a sledgehammer, to smash his chain ankle restraints against a rail, making them loose enough for him slip off, which he does when he escapes the next day.fugitvestill

    James makes his way to a small nearby town where he meets up with Barney (Allen Jenkins) a former chain gang mate who gives him shelter for the night along with a friendly woman, Linda (Noel Francis), who’s willing to provide James with a good time for the evening. The next day, James makes his way out of town sneaking passed the law and heads up to Chicago where he gets a job at a construction site. He also finds a small apartment where a young, beautiful and ambitious Landlady, Marie (Glenda Farrell) gives him a reduced rate on the rent because she is attracted to him. At his new job James, now calling himself Allan James, quickly works his way up the corporate ladder to foreman position and then up to a surveyor while studying to become an engineer. Marie is bored with James who is always studying, and now that he is making more money, wants a better apartment and plans to move out until Marie informs him he isn’t going anywhere except back to prison unless he marries her. They are soon married though the marriage goes south quickly. Out of boredom, Marie is cheating on James and he meets a young woman, Helen (Helen Vinson), who he falls in love with. When he later pleads to Marie for a divorce, she threatens to call the police and soon after does as we see two detectives arrive at his office to arrest him.

    A deal is arranged where he will serves 90 days back in Georgia, in a clerical position and then will be pardoned. At first, he is reluctant to accept the deal; however, after talking it over with Helen, he agrees to go back.

    As one would expect, the spurned Southern prison officials do not hold their part of the bargain. James finds himself back on the chain gang; his expected pardon after serving 90 days is denied and later on indefinitely denied. James manages to escape again, and after a year on the run makes his way back to where Helen lives just to let her know he’s okay. He can’t stay they are after him. He lives in the dark, he runs, he hides. She finally asks as he disappears into the dark “How do you live?”

“I steal.”

  fugitive-lc  Not without minor faults,” I Am a Fugitive From A Chain Gang”, is still a powerfully strong piece of social medicine. The kind of relevant film Warner Brothers did so well in the 1930’s. Far from running away from the tough issue, Warners seemed to embrace them and provide realistic looks at what they were like. In fact, the film feels more like a 1930’s depression era film that one that takes place soon after World War I. Whether Warners realism was due to social consciousness or just grabbing the newspaper headlines of the day and turning them into lurid films to draw audiences, and their money, is irrelevant. Many of these films turned out well on both counts.  The film’s look at what life is like inside the prison system is downright gruesome making “Cool Hand Luke” look like a pleasant weekend at a vacation resort. Men are beaten, one scene shows a prisoner, standing in the hot sun tied to a post. The food, and the term is used loosely, is putrid and any humane treatment was left at the prison gate. These scenes inside the camp are some of the most powerful and disturbing in the film.   

    An interesting concept was the modernity of James Allen’s thinking after getting out of the Army. His mother and Reverend brother want him to go back to his factory job however; James doesn’t want to be tied down to a boring job he has no interest in.  His brother calls him ungrateful for not accepting his former bosses offer to get his job back but James wants something more exciting and wants to find himself. His mother actually uses these words after she comes around to his way of thinking. Finding oneself is such a modern notion I was somewhat surprised to hear it spoken in a1932 film. Most people back then were too busy trying to survive to worry about “finding themselves.” Of course, if James had stayed at his boring job, and not went looking for himself he would have not ended up on a Chain Gang.

    fugitve-vhs-large1    The film does have some questionable scenes. The character of the Marie, the Landlady, who seems so anxious to give James a reduced rate enticing him to take the apartment, one has to ask why. While James is ambitious, there are no signs yet that he would be a success, or was it that Marie is just attracted to him. Marie seems almost desperate to keep him there and it is never clear why. Then there is the scene with Helen, the good time girl his former prison mate Barney provides him with for the night. James seems almost reluctant to accept her advances and keep shying away. For a heterosexual male who has been deprived of female companionship for a long time he is strangely unenthusiastic about accepting her advances. Overall, these are minor quibbles and certainly do not distract from what a gripping powerful film.    

    At the time of the filming, Robert Ellis Burns was still a fugitive and Warner Brothers did not list him in the credits of the film though he acted as a consultant. After the film’s release, Burns was arrested in East Orange, New Jersey where he was operating a Toy Store. Unlike Burns book, the film never mentions which state Allen is incarcerated though most people and the state of Georgia realized it. Certainly chain gang warden J. Harold Hardy did when in early 1933 he sued (source: TIME magazine) Warner Brothers and Vita phone for one million dollars for “vicious, untrue and false attacks” as depicted in the film.
Finally, a few words about Paul Muni, who gives an extraordinary performance here. He received his second Academy Award nomination for his role here though he lost to Charles Laughton for his performance is “The Private Henry Life of Henry the VII.”  Muni was a brilliant and eccentric perfectionist who gave detailed characterization to his parts creating unforgettable roles. John Baxter in his book “Hollywood in the Thirties” states, the film was originally set up to be a gangster melodrama, cashing in on Muni’s recent success with “Scarface” It was LeRoy who transformed  the film to an attack on social injustice.

    Mark you calendar, “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang” will be on TCM on May 2nd at 8PM. Don’t miss it.

Attached here are a couple of TIME magazine articles from 1932 and 1933 on Robert Elliott Burns.

Follow Me Quietly (1949) Richard Fleischer

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    Director Richard Fleischer made a series of good tight low-budget film noirs in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s including, “Violent Saturday”, “The Clay Pigeon”, “Armored Car Robbery”, “The Narrow Margin” and “Follow Me Quietly”, a decent if pedestrian thriller. At a condensed length of barely 60 minutes, the film is worth watching as long as you are not expecting too much. This is unfortunate because the film opens up with some nice dark rainy filled streets, setting us up for what is hoped to be an atmospheric trip through some dark mean streets. Instead what we get is William Lundigan as Detective Sgt. Grant, a blander actor would be harder to find, who at first comes across in some early scenes with some potential only to slip into a state of insomnia. The female lead, played by Dorothy Patrick, is no femme fatale but a somewhat dorky journalist named Ann Gorman who works for a magazine rag and is continually trying to get Grant to give her a story on the serial killer known as “The Judge.”  The strangest scene in the film takes place in Grant’s apartment when he unexpectedly finds Gorman waiting there for him, still trying to get information for a story. Grant, pretty much ignoring her goes into the bathroom takes the quickest shower on record, comes out in his pajamas and gets into bed finally agreeing to provide a story. He rolls over turning his back to her and says to her to shut the lights out as she leaves. The scene probably could have been played a lot more erotically, and maybe that was the intent, but it just seems to all fall flat. The supposed romance that develops between Grant and Gorman leads nowhere. Actually, considering the way he treated her in the beginning she should have had no interest in him anyway except for professional reasons.                   

 followmequietlyposter   The aforementioned serial killer, “The Judge” whom Grant becomes obsessed with capturing, is of the letter writing school of serial murderers, those who cut out letters from newspapers and paste them on a sheet of paper sending them to the police. Of course, he is called “The Judge” as he sets himself up as judge and jury to his victims’ for their alleged sins. From the various clues that have been left behind Grant and his crack team put together a life like though faceless dummy of “The Judge” to give fellow officers an idea of what the killer looks like. This later will lead to the most effective scene in the film that takes place in Grant’s office. As an aside, the faceless dummy is reminiscent of the old Dick Tracy comics’ character, which had a criminal with a blank face known as Frankie Redrum, aka The Blank. Yes, redrum is murder spelled backward just like in “The Shining.”   

   The ending itself , somewhat reminiscent of “White Heat” and “He Walked by Night” , is decent enough, through nowhere near as exciting and like most of the film it seems to promise more than it can deliver.

    While Fleischer is credited as the sole director is has been suggested that Anthony Mann may have directed some scenes. Mann was a co-writer on the film and it has been previously written how the film’s ending is similar to other Mann works. Film writer Jeanine Basinger in her book “Anthony Mann” writes that Mann’s footprints can be seen in “the visual presentation of the final shoot-out in an abandon chemical plant and in the mixture of a semi-documentary police story and an atmospheric murder mystery.” However, she adds that without access to RKO files it is difficult to say for sure what input Mann had. The one certain highlight is the camerawork by Robert De Grasse whose other works include “The Men”, “Born to Kill” and nourish films like Val Lewton’s  “The Leopard Man” and “The Body Snatcher.”    

Overall, “Follow Me Quietly” is certainly worth watching as long a your are not expecting to find a buried treasure.      

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) Mervyn LeRoy

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Directed by Mervyn LeRoy with songs by Al Rubin and Harry Warren and choreographed by Busby Berkeley (in the credits he is listed as dance director), Gold Diggers of 1933 was the second of Warner Brothers three 1933 backstage musicals, all reflecting the depression though none as directly and straight forward as this one.

   The film opens during a rehearsal of the ironic and iconic song, We’re in the Money. It’s sung by Ginger Rogers (Fay) in a full face close up dressed in an outfit lined with silver dollars and a strategically placed large silver dollar covering her “private parts.” Along with a chorus of scantily dressed showgirls, Rogers sings the Al Dubin/Harry Warren standard.  Rogers even does one amazing verse of the song in Pig Latin. It’s a brilliant start to what is, arguably, the grittiest musical ever made. The musical number comes to an unexpected end when the sheriff and his boys come in and seize all the property and costumes including snatching Ginger’s most personal piece. This opening scene sets up the tone for the rest of the story, with Fay sarcastically informing the three leading ladies, as they talk about being out of work again, “it’s the Depression, dearie.”

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