Alan Ladd’s first major screen appearance, a tepid thriller with Barbara Stanwyck and Errol Flynn and a wicked satire from Italian film director Pietro Germi hightlight this week’s short takes.
This Gun For Hire (1942) Frank Tuttle
Alan Ladd is a nasty hired killer out for revenge after he is paid off in marked bills and he soon finds the police are quickly on his tail. Based on a novel by Grahame Greene, the movie comes across as one part foreign intrigue and two parts a noir crime film. Ladd is good as the pretty boy killer, with a soft spot for cats, who inadvertently becomes involved with a group selling chemical secrets to the Japanese. Veronica Lake is recruited by a senate committee to help expose the men selling the secrets becomes mixed up in the police hunt for Ladd. Ladd’s killer eventually finds redemption through Lake’s character who befriends him. This was the first teaming of the handsome Ladd and the gentle soft beauty of sexy Veronica Lake. It’s also the film that made Ladd a star. The memorable Laird Cregar, so good in “Hangover Square” and “The Lodger,” makes for an interesting weasel like neurotic criminal. I admittedly have always found Robert Preston, here he play the police Lieutenant in charge of the case, rather dull and he does nothing here to change my mind.
Cry Wolf (1947) Peter Godfrey
Cry Wolf is a disappointing thriller with more holes than a pasta strainer. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, who can give some acrobatic lessons to Angeline Jole, climbs roofs, jumps into kitchen food elevators, climbs in through windows and leaps over fences, all in an attempt to find out what a sluggish, somnambulistic Errol Flynn is hiding in his mansion. There are screams in the night, a pretty niece, played by a young Geraldine Brooks, who may or may not be imaging things, a dead husband (Stanwyck’s) who may or may not be dead and a head mistress who must have attended the Mrs. Danver’s school of servants. The biggest disappointment is Errol Flynn, swashbuckler supreme, who unfortunately here is as limp as the scripts drippy ending. Flynn and Stanwyck have little chemistry and at times seem to be in two different movies. Babs is all high energy and Flynn floats through the role like he has taken one too many sleeping pills.
The clumsy plot has to do with the arrival of Sandra Demarest (Stanwyck) at the mansion of Mark Cardwell. Upon her arrival she announces she is the wife of his late nephew James who recently died. Mark is suspicious of her claims (a two million dollar inheritance is at stake) and Sandra remains at the mansion while Mark’s lawyer looks into her claims of this secret marriage. Also living there is Julie (Geraldine Brooks), James younger sister who is practically being held prisoner by Mark. Her claims of screams from Marks’s private laboratory and other strange going’s on during the night are at first thought to be delusions but Sandra hears them too.
Flynn isn’t alone in this mess, Brooks and the usually reliable Richard Basehart also leave you wanting. Thank God for Stanwyck, who somehow manages to rise above all the claptrap, with a straight face, I might add, and keep you at least interested.
Seduced and Abandoned (1964) Pietro Germi
A dark satirical tale of old world Sicilian honor where the whore/madonna complex is the curse of every woman and murder and kidnapping are traditional reactions to protecting the respect of La Famiglia. Fifteen year old Agnese, a gorgeous Stefania Sandrelli, is impregnated by Peppino (Aldo Puglisi), her older and plainer looking sister Matilde’s fiancé. When the girls father, Don Vincenzo (Saro Urzi) discovers the indiscretion, he flies into a furious rage beating his youngest daughter and locking her in her room. He demands Peppino must now marry Agnese instead of Matilde for bringing such dishonor to his famiglia. Peppino reacts by running away. The disrespected Don sends his son Antonio to find Peppino and kill him! Agnese meanwhile goes to the police in an attempt to stop the insanity. Director Pietro Germi, who previously made “Divorce, Italian Style” and his writers skewer the world of Italian double standards, macho morality, family values and religion. Saro Urzi won Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. A devilishly funny film.