Classic Film Alert on May 2nd

On May 2nd two must see films will be making rare appearances on the Fox Movie Channel and TCM.  First up is Jules Dassin’s classic film noir “Thieves Highway” on Saturday May 2nd at 11:30AM and again on May 13th at 9:45AM on the Fox Movie Channel.

Released on DVD as part of the Criterion Collection “Thieves Highway” is Dassin right in the middle of his best period with “The Naked City” and “Brute Force” behind him and “Night and the City” and “Riffifi” still to come. This was Dassin final American film until his rare 1968 film “Up Tight”,  a black cast remake of  “The Informer.”

Here’s a review I wrote for Halo-17.

thieveshighway-lc

 

thieves_highway_1949_8

thieveshighway-still

thieveshwy-still

Later that same day, TCM will broadcast the 1932 classic prison drama, Mervyn LeRoy’s  “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang” at 8PM. A repeat broadcast is scheduled for June 20th at 7:15AM.  Based on a true story this is one of Warner Brothers classic social dramas that they did so well back then.

Here’s a quick link to the review I wrote a short while back.

fugitive_movieposter1

fugitve1

 

fugitveburnsstrap

Don’t miss the chance to see this two classic works.

Advertisements

Robert DeNiro – Licenced to Hack

licenseab

The above photo is a copy of the taxi cab licence Robert DeNiro applied for during his reserch for the role of Travis Bickle in Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”  DeNiro recently donated artifacts and other papers from his career which are now available to the public at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Attached here is the article from The New York Times.

Night Nurse (1931) William Wellman

night-nurse-posterbarbara-stanwyck

       Violence against women, alcoholism, child abuse, racy dialogue, gangsters, lust driven interns, bootlegging and sex – “Night Nurse”, a 1932 William Wellman melodrama, has it all. You never have seen so much vice tossed and mixed into one 75-minute cinematic festival of sin.  In addition, it stars two of the sexiest, talented and biggest stars of the pre-code era, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell. If you add in a young virile, though nasty Clark Gable, you cannot ask for more.
  night-nurse-apllying-for-jobstanwb21 
           

    Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) wants to be a nurse and is at first turned down by the old biddy nurse in charge because she lacks the required education. You see Lora had to quit school to help out with her family. Dejected and on her way out of the hospital, a gentlemen entering accidently knocks her bag out of her hand. Well, it turns out the man is Dr. Bell (Charles Wininger) head of the hospital. To make amends, for dropping the contents of her bag all over the floor, and staring at her legs as he picks up the dropped items placing them back in her bag, he arranges with the nasty head nurse, now all smiles, apologetic and under the assumption Lora knows Dr. Bell, for Lora to start her training on the night shift.  She is set up to share a room with fellow nurse the jaded gum chewing Maloney (Joan Blondell). Soon the two are going out partying and undressing together, even sharing a bed after being caught coming in after curfew by the old biddy nurse. On a more serious note, Lora get some real medical emergency education assisting doctors in surgery, sometime successfully and well sometimes not so much. One night, while on duty in comes Mortie, (Ben Lyons), a bootlegger we soon find out, with a bullet wound. Bound by duty to report all bullet injuries to the police, Mortie, who deep down is a swell guy, convinces her not to do so.

 night-nurse-stanwyck-blondell-uw

     Upon graduating, both Lora and Maloney get jobs as private nurses for a well to do family with Lora as the night nurse and Maloney taking the day shift. Their main responsibilities are taking care of two young children, whose father is dead and whose mother is too busy drinking and partying to care of them.  The kids are heirs to a large fortune and this is where Nick, the Chauffeur (Clark Gable), enters the scene. Nick is a low life who is arranging, along with a crooked doctor in on the plot, to starve the children to death, marry the widow mother, and get access to the kids’ trust fund. Of course, our heroine, discovered what Nick is up too and with the help of bootlegger Mortie manages to save the day and the kids but only after being viciously beaten by Nick and giving a blood transfusion to save one of the malnourished young girls.

    “Night Nurse” was one of the first of the pre-code films released on home video under the Forbidden Hollywood banner back in the 1990’s. Back in those days, the VHS series was hosted and introduced by Leonard Maltin.

 ningt-nursen1881

    The film is dated in many respects but there is much to keep you interested. Racy wild dialogue like when a young intern tells nurses Stanwyck and Blondell that they can’t show him anything he has not just seen in a delivery room and  the children’s mother wildly yelling out at one point “I’m a dipsomaniac and I like it!” And what other film ends with the audience being told that Clark Gable has been “taken for a ride.”  Mortie, Lora’s bootlegging admirer and the guy who knows the guys who took Nick for his final ride end up with Lora riding off into the urban sunset.

    Gable, in an early role, is convincingly evil as Nick the Chauffeur. Had he not become a star he could have had a good career portraying immoral characters as he does here and in some other early performances. With his gruff voice, he is perfect. Joan Blondell is her sexy and sassy self and for anyone who has followed this blog knows Joan, along with Stanwyck, are two of my favorite actresses. This was the second of three films they appeared in together. Stanwyck is wonderful as the strong willed nurse determined to save the children from the cruelty being imposed on them by Nick and an inattentive mother. In one scene, she actually drags the drunken mother across a room hoping to get her to pay attention to what is happening to her daughters and mutters under her breath “you mother!” The part itself does not require much depth from an acting perspective just a lot of toughness and a ‘have been there before attitude’ from Stanwyck, which she does so well. Just how tough was Stanwyck? Well, here she puts the soon to be anointed “King” Clark Gable in his place and just two years later, she cuts down to size a young John Wayne in “Baby Face.” That pretty tough! Interesting enough, Warner Brothers had the chance to sign Gable to a contract but passed on him leaving the door open for MGM to sign the future Rhett Butler.

 night-nurse-bs-leg2

   

    The screenplay is based on a novel by Dora Macy, aka Grace Perkins. Reading a review of the novel in Time magazine (6/13/30), demonstrates the faithfulness of the screenplay to the book except for the character of Nick who in the movie seems to have replaced an Uncle, along with a sister-in-law, as the brains behind the plot to starve the children.

Directed by William Wellman, who keeps the pace moving, though like many Wellman films it is rough around the edges, but never dull. “Night Nurse” was the first of five films Wellman would make with Stanwyck. The others were “The Purchase Price”, “So Big”, “The Great Man’s Lady” and “Lady of Burlesque.”   With at least ten sinful pre-code films in her credits Stanwyck stands up there alongside Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Ruth Chatterton and other queens of pre-code films.

711 Ocean Drive (1950) Joseph M. Newman

711-ocean-poster

The Syndicate, the organization, the outfit, the rackets, the mob, all synonymous terms used in post-war crime films to identify the criminal underworld. Eventually, terms like crime family, The Family and Mafia would overshadow them all. In 1950, the Kefauver Hearings brought forth the top mob figures of the day right into our homes, via the newest electronic and revolutionary family toy, the TV. These gangsters with names like Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, Meyer Lansky craved a veneer of respectability, more so than hoods of previous years like Al Capone, John Dillinger or Bugs Moran. Hollywood recognized the mob was changing, just like the rest of the world, and so crime films of the 1950’s began to reflect this new criminal hierarchy, the organization. You see it in films like “The Racket,” and Phil Karlson’s “The Big Combo” where big boss Richard Conte is only known as Mr. Brown. In the “The Enforcer,” a film based on organized crime’s own murder for hire “company,” Murder Incorporated, a term invented by the newspaper media and the title of a 1960 movie with Peter Falk, covered similar ground as “The Enforcer.”

Into this pattern falls “711 Ocean Drive”, the story of the rise and fall of Mal Granger (Edmond O’Brien), a phone company technician who gets involved with some ‘big shots’ running the numbers racket when they realize he can modernize their communications, and he realizes he can make a lot more money by helping them do so. The films begins with an introductory statement, typical in many films of this period, that it could not have been made without the protection of various police departments. Then the actual story begins as we see Lt. Pete Wright (Howard St. John) of the “Gangster Squad” in a squad car chasing after Granger. Wright begins to tell the story in flashback and most of the film remains in this fashion until we get near the climatic ending which takes place at Boulder Dam (eventually it was renamed Hoover Dam).    711lobbycrd

The film opened in July of 1950 to mixed reviews. New York Times critic Bosley Crowthers said, “711 Ocean Drive” is no more original or revealing than 100 previous gangster films. He is the same evil fellow you have seen countless times before, and the story of his badgering of the hero is as familiar as the palm of your hand.  Additionally, the film’s ending is sanctimonious and simple in its preaching about the evils of gambling. Viewing the film today, these shortcomings still stand out however, do not let it deter you from the enjoyment of the rest of the film. 

“711 Oceans Drive” has many things going for it, starting with director Joseph Newman, who keeps the film going at a nice swift pace; there really is never a dull spot. Never a topnotch director, Newman is probably best known for directing “This Planet Earth,” does a solid craftsman like job.  Visually, it is cinematographer Franz Planer providing some exceptional work here with some fine noirish like lighting. The scenes at the Dam are truly worth the price of admission all by themselves. Planer worked on some other nice noir films like  “Criss Cross,” “Champion” and Phil Karlson’s little known “99 River Street.”  Other films he contributed to include “The Caine Mutiny,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “King of Kings.” Edmond O’Brien give us one of his best performances with a character that is a far cry from Frank Bigalow in “D.O.A.” released the same year. Don Porter (does anyone remember Porter from the TV series “Private Secretary’ and The Ann Southern Show?), as Mason, the local top crime lord, comes across exceptionally well as the slimy wife beating hood, that it is hard to find any sympathy for when he is executed gangland style, courtesy of arrangements made by Granger. Joanne Dru is Gail, Porter’s cheating wife who falls for Granger eventually trying to escape with him. Finally, there is Otto Kruger as th Mr. Big or the organizaiton, the nationwide boss of bosses who does not like to get his hands dirty but has no problem giving the orders to others to do so.

Overall, the “711 Ocean Drive” film is a decent “B” film noir with some nice touches and a terrific ending that keeps you involved.

The Great McGinty (1940) Preston Sturges

great-mcginty-posteqr1 

 

   “The Great McGinty” was Preston Sturges first directorial effort. Already rooted with a reputation as an excellent screenwriter, Sturges sought to direct; he disliked when directors changed his scripts, in particular Mitchell Leisen who directed two of his works, “Easy Living” and “Remember the Night.” Sturges, in a deal with Paramount, sold “The Great McGinty” script for $1 in exchange for letting him direct his first film. For legal reasons, Paramount actually had to increase the payment to $10 but either way Sturges was directing. The script’s origin goes back to 1932 and went under various titles among them “The Vagrant”, “Down Went McGinty” and “The Biography of a Bum.”mcginty-vhs-small0_

    We first meet McGinty bartending in an unnamed banana republic where he begins to tell his story to another American (Louis Jean Heydt) who is drunk, depressed and on the verge of suicide. In an attempt to convince the man, others have fallen further in life than he has McGinty narrates his story. We flashback to an American city, probably Chicago, where we first meet McGinty as a vagrant getting mixed up with local gangsters who are rigging elections and controlling elected officials. A character, only known by the name The Politician (William Demarest) is fixing votes for the current puppet Mayor, Wilfred Tillinghast who is owned by the big guy in town simply called The Boss (Akim Tamnioff). Straight from the breadlines, McGinty is a willing volunteer to join The Politician’s crusade to vote and vote often, with the promise he will get $2 for every time he vote’s. How is this accomplished? By using the names of dead people and going to different election polls of course. McGinty’s tenacity brings him to the attention of The Boss when it is discovered he managed to amazingly vote 37 times! Now he wants the $74 that is owed to him.  The Boss is impressed by his doggedness and hires McGinty as an enforcer to ensure delinquent storeowners pay for protection (“you’ve got to pay somebody to protect you from human greed.”) The Boss soon realizes that McGinty has potential for being more than just a thug and shortly has him running for the office of Alderman. Within a short period, Tillinghast is out as Mayor, and McGinty is The Boss’ new “reform” candidate.  There is only one problem, McGinty now has to get married because as The Boss tells it “if you haven’t heard, the women have the vote now….they don’t like bachelors.”  So, McGinty marries his secretary Catherine (Muriel Angelus) who has her own reasons for agreeing to this odd couple arrangement. What first starts out as a “business” arrangement soon turns to love when McGinty becomes jealous of Catherine  going out to dinner with an old male friend of hers. It does not take long for Catherine to go from calling him Mr. McGinty to darling.

    The graft has been lucrative and the Boss decides to go big time and have McGinty run for Governor. Before long victory is theirs, however The Boss’ new plans for bigger graft are thwarted when McGinty decides to go the honest route. No sooner is he in office they fight over McGinty’s new honesty policy resulting in The Boss shooting McGinty. The Boss is sent to jail, and he immediately implicates McGinty in all the graft schemes they initiated over the years. The new Governor is quickly arrested, ending up in a jail cell next to The Boss.

great_mcginty_1940_0    Both men manage to escape, thanks to The Politician, and exit the country in the dark of night. For McGinty, this also meant leaving his wife and family behind. We flash forward to the present time as McGinty’s finishes telling his tale. One customer who has been listening to McGinty’s story yells out that it is all a lot of malarkey.  McGinty does not deny it however; truth or not, he did save a man from suicide.

    When the film was released in August of 1940, no one was expecting much. There was no advance publicity from Paramount. All anticipated the film to come into town, play a week or two and disappear. To the surprise of everyone, the film turned out to be a laugh out loud hit. Moreover, the film had bite! It also had Brian Donlevy in a rare lead role that he took full advantage of, delivering an excellent and sensitive portrayal of a man who starts out as a simple thug and develops into a selfless individual.  Akim Tamiroff plays well off Donlevy and Muriel Angelus is fine in the pivotal role of his secretary/wife who at first accepts the greed and thief of her husband’s political lifestyle by rationalizing that it is impossible to rob from the people because when you rob, you spend and it all ends up going back to the people. When she eventually abandons this absurd philosophy, it also kindles McGinty’s will to go straight and be an honest politician. Of course, going honest turned out to be his downfall. William Demarest, one of the many actors who became part of Sturges stock company is lively and filled with plenty of spunk in his role known only as The Politician. Many other actors who would become part of Sturges “stock company’’ also appear in the film. Brian Donlevy and Akim Tamiroff would reprise their roles as McGinty and The Boss a few years later in Sturges’ “The Miracle of Morgan Creek.”

            For Muriel Angelus, “The Great McGinty” would be her final film. She made two appearances on Broadway in the early 1940’s in “Sunny River” and  Fats Waller’s “Early to Bed” before retiring. In the late 1930’s she had made her Broadway debut  in the Rogers and Hart musical, “The Boys from Syracuse.”  

   An interesting aside (source Wikipedia) is Akim Tamiroff’s malaprop laced performance here was the source for the villainous spy Boris Badenov character in the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show   

Wild Boys of the Road (1933) William Wellman

wb01

Despite an upbeat ending Wild Boys of the Road is one of the darkest, bleakest films of the depression era. William Wellman already had a reputation for going straight for the jugular, as he did in his previous film, Heroes for Sale. He did not beat around the bush. While films like Gold Diggers of 1933 dealt with the Great Depression, it was mostly light hearted and escapist. You get no such relief in this 1933 hard core pre-code drama. 

Living through The Great Depression was tough for many including the thousands and thousands of dispossessed youngsters riding boxcars and living in shantytowns. Wellman, or as he was known “Wild Bill” Wellman was a tough son of a bitch, yet he worked within the studio system fighting for good scripts. Legend has it he once dumped a trunk load of manure onto a studio bosses desk along with a script that he felt the same way about (1).

    The film opens up on a light note with young Eddie Smith (Frankie Darrow) and his friend Tommy (Edwin Phillips) going to a high school dance with their girls. At first, it sort of feels like we could be in Carvel with Andy Hardy and his friends. However, the signs soon point to a different road. Tommy needs to borrow the 75 cents entrance fee because he doesn’t have the money; his mother being unable to find a job. Tommy is even thinking about quitting school to find a job himself. Eddie tells him to wait until he talks to his Dad about helping them out, but when he gets home, it is only to find out that his father has been laid off from his own job at the factory. Eddie sells his jalopy to help with the family finances but after two months, his Dad is still out of work and the rent is two months overdue, Eddie and Tommy soon decide to leave home. It’s best that way in order to relieve some of the burden on their families. They head to Chicago to find jobs.wellmanwildboys1

   The boys hop a boxcar where they meet Sally (Dorothy Coonan), a young girl also on her way to Chicago to live with her Aunt. As they ride the rails, more kids join them. Arriving in Chicago, they are unceremoniously greeted by the police and railroad guards with the power to decide who can stay who cannot. They allow Sally and the boys to stay since she is going to live with her Aunt. Other kids are turned away; there are no jobs in Chicago either. Sally’s Aunt, turns out to be a Madame running a Brothel. She is happy to see them, however soon after they arrive, the place is raided by the police and the thresome quickly escape heading back to the railroad yards and on to another town. On the road, their hardships mount, as does the number of kids riding the rails. One of the girls, Grace (Rochelle Hudson) is raped by a railroad worker (a very young Ward Bond). During an escape from the railroad goons, Tommy falls, his leg is crushed by an oncoming train and it has to be amputated by a kindly doctor.  They are run out of another town after a free for all brawl with the police. They soon end up in New York where Eddie feels he can get a job and surprisingly does. Only thing is he needs three dollars for a uniform, which he does not have. Two suspicious men offer Eddie five dollars, to do them a favor. He has to take an envelope over to the ticket seller at the movie theater across the street. The woman, they say, will give him a package, which he will bring back to the men. Overjoyed at the easy money, Eddie takes the letter over which contains a demand for money. Seeing two policemen nearby, the woman screams for help. Eddie ducks into the movie theater and the cops chase after him. Inside the theater, James Cagney is on screen in Footlight’s Parade (another Warner’s depression film though on a much lighter note) as the police apprehend Eddie, Tommy and Sally. The soon are standing before a judge in court who threatens them with jail time. However, after a passionate speech from Eddie the judge offers to help get them jobs if they promise that once they have enough money they will go back to their families.

   Despite some outdated dialogue and an ending that seems somewhat out of place, Wild Boys of the Road is an agonizing look at the plight of America’s young homeless during the Depression, and the lack of government empathy reflected by then President Hoover’s failed approach to ending the Depression. His belief that aiding the average U.S. citizen would only make them lazy and depend more  and more on government (2). 

  wellmanwb2  The film’s ending is about the only ray of hope in the movie, though to some extent it dilutes everything that came before. The original 1933 review from the New York Times (3) points out “Its tragedy has been over sentimentalized, its drama is mostly melodrama and, by endowing it with a happy ending, the producers have robbed it of its values as a social challenge.”  The Times critic, Frank S. Nugent blames Wellman for the failure. While I believe Nugent is partially correct about the ending, I disagee the film is robbed of its values as a social challenge. There are a couple of points to make about the ending. The kindly judge, whose offer to get the kids jobs, symbolizes the new optimism that was brought on by Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. Under Franklin, the government was now creating new jobs and putting people back to work. Secondly, the almost cringe like feeling you get when Eddie somersaults outside the courthouse is probably the most awkward scene about the ending. Yet Eddie’s elation, that good gosh golly everything is going to be alright, is put slightly off kilter when after the somersault he stands face to face with Tommy, and he realizes, for him no matter what, life will never be quite the same. It is a short moment that is passed over quickly as the three kids happily jump into the car as the film ends. So is the ending a failure, as the New York Times critic said? Did the studio cop out for a happy ending? Well, yes they did. According to the Goatdog’s Movies blog, Jack Warner changed the ending himself which originally had Eddie going to a juvenile reformatory and Sally getting ten months in prison. (I do find it odd that Eddie’s end up in a reformatory and Sally in prison. They were both kids, why was Sally sent to prison, and what happened to Tommy?). As the film stands the ending does come off as a tacked on happy ending taking away from the power of all that preceded for the past sixty minutes or so. Wellman probably did the best he could under the forced circumstances.  As it is, and unlike 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? another bleak dark vision of the Great Depression that stayed true to its downbeat course, the ending of Wild Boys of the Road did not stay true to its convictions. It gave hope to the public of its day, the sun will shine tomorrow, and maybe they needed that.

  wildboys5Wellman was no stranger to films with social issues. Gangsters in The Public Enemy, returning vets and drug addiction in Heroes for Sale, mob rule and lynching in The Ox-Bow Incident and child welfare in Night Nurse. Despite Wellman’s anti-authority outlook in life, he worked well within the studio system mixing genres, such as screwball comedy (Nothing Sacred),  westerns (Buffalo Bill), war (Battleground) and adventure (Beau Geste). Of all the genres, Wellman always returned to war and aviation themed films. A World War I aviator, first for the French and later for the U.S., he brought a tough realistic point of view to films like Wings (the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture). Wellman would return to aviation themed films late in his career with two John Wayne starring films Island in the Sky and  The High and the Mighty, and in his final film, Lafayette Escadrille.  Wild Boys of the Road, and it should really read Wild Boys and Girls of the Road,  like most of Wellman’s films of this period, as Dave Kehr (4) points out, has an in your face quality that will remind you of Sam Fuller’s work some years later.

 wildboys22While the film is erratic in its brilliance, there are scenes that are truly disturbing and unsettling. One scene shows the young homeless boys and girls fighting with the police as they try to hold onto their sewer city “home.” Wellman, always on the side of the underdog, presents the police as symbols of an autocratic system. By using an excellent combination of close-ups and editing, the scene in which Tommy’s leg is crushed is both brutal and affectively moving. The authenticity of the boxcar and railroad yards scene,s filmed on location, certainly adds to the film’s realism. Wild Boys of the Road is still a strong look at the depression, the forced lawlessness, the poverty and the victimization of youth. The film gives you a strong punch in the gut that you will soon not forget.

One of the films more tongue in cheek scenes has young Eddie whistling, We’re in the Money as he walks away from his empty garage after selling his jalopy to help his family financially. The song, of course, was from Gold Diggers of 1933 which came out only three months earlier than Wild Boys of the Road.

The cast led by Frankie Darro, Edwin Phillips, Dorothy Coonan and Rochelle Hudson all give good  performances. Darro, never seemed to out grow juvenile roles, though his career lasted a long time appearing in films like “A Day at the Races, Saratoga, The Babe Ruth Story and such serials as Junior G-Men of the Air and The Phantom Empire  Dorothy Coonan, who appeared in 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 as a chorus girl caught the eye of William Wellman and would soon become the fourth and final Mrs. William Wellman. The marriage would produce seven children. Also in the film are the fine character actors Sterling Holloway, Grant Mitchell and Minna Gombell.

Wild Boys of the Road was not a financial success and much like today’s audiences, the public of 1933 seemed to prefer their movies to be of a lighter fare.

   

 

 

Sources: (1) Los Angeles Times – William Wellman: tough taskmaster for tough times

                    Sam Adams – 3/22/09

               (2) Great Depression and Herbert Hoover – Donald J. Mabry

               (3) Wild Boys of the Road – New York Times  9/22/33 

               (4) On the William Wellman Depression Express – Dave Kehr – New York

                    Times 3/20/09