Kid Galahad is a solid entertaining Warner Brothers film starring Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, so you can hardly go wrong. The film was directed by Micheal Curtiz who just a few years later would direct Bogie in one of cinema’s greatest classics, Casablanca. Here Bogie is still a second string player in one of his typical, for the time, gangster punk roles he was being typecast to play. He had the unlikely name of Turkey Morgan. Like what tough guy has a nickname of Turkey? Continue reading
By 1965, Steve McQueen was a star with hit films like “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Great Escape” already behind him. Yet, McQueen still had not proven he could carry a film, films where he alone was the big name. “The Honeymoon Machine,” “The War Lover” and “Hell is For Heroes” did little at the box office no matter what their quality. McQueen was still chasing the one actor who he saw as his rival, Paul Newman. With the release of “The Cincinnati Kid,” Steve would be on a cinematic roll pushing him through the stratosphere for the next few years equal to that of his screen rival.
I first saw “The Cincinnati Kid” in 1965 at a little theater in Downtown Brooklyn called the Duffield. Back in those days, this area of Brooklyn was a sort of mini Times Square with the boroughs largest and fanciest movie palaces all within walking distance. The Loew’s Metropolitan, RKO Albee, Brooklyn Fox and Brooklyn Paramount were all large grand scale theaters, each seating more than 3,000 people. The Duffield, on the other hand, was a small theater, approximately 900 seats, located on a side street (Duffield Street) just off Fulton Street, the main thoroughfare. McQueen was cool, as Eric Stoner, aka The Cincinnati Kid, his screen persona in full bloom. He had the walk and the look. He doesn’t talk too much but McQueen was always at his best when playing the silent type, it was all in his face and his body language. In truth, I was always more of a Paul Newman fan, but in this film McQueen was it, total sixties cool. Continue reading
“The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse” is an odd little Warner’s film with Edward G. Robinson as a Park Avenue doctor who decides to do some research on criminal behavior by becoming a criminal himself. After stealing some expensive jewelry at a dinner party he seeks out a fence by the name of Joe Keller who turns out to be Jo Keller (Claire Trevor), a woman. Jo’s gang includes “Rocks” Valentine (Humphrey Bogart), a young Ward Bond, Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom and Warner Brothers’ regular Allan Jenkins.
To continue his research the good doctor goes on “vacation” in Europe freeing him up from his practice to secretly join the gang in a series of daring robberies. This is a out of the ordinary film that manages at times to be suspenseful, funny, and sinister with a whiff of mad scientist thrown in for good measure. At times the actors seem to be in different films; Bogart in a straight gangster film with “Rocks” in the ranks of his greatest slime ball characters while Robinson acts as a scientifically aloof madman obsessed with his findings going to any length to save his breakthrough research.
In the final courtroom scene Clitterhouse is on trial for poisoning “Rocks” after he discovered the Doctor’s real identity and blackmails him forcing in to stay in the gang. Clitterhouse objects to testimony in court that he must be insane fearing all his research would be disregarded. Still the jury finds him innocent by reason of insanity leaving Clitterhouse not only confused but innocent of murder charges, an ending that was daring for its time when the production code was strictly enforced and criminals must pay for their sins.
The script was written by John Wexley and John Huston based on a play by Barre Lyndon, and was directed by the reliable Anatole Litvak. It was during the filming of this movie that Bogart and Huston met and became friends, a partnership that would lead to some of Hollywood’s greatest films. Huston, Robinson, Bogart and Trevor would reunite some ten years later in “Key Largo.”
This is a reprint of a short review from my Weekly Wrap column that I have been doing over at the “Watching Shadows on the Wall” blog, I am reposting some of the short reviews I have written over there that fit into the scope of 24frames.
From Little Caesar to Little Giant. Just two years after Edward G. Robinson made celluloid history as Rico in Mervyn LeRoy’s “Little Caesar” he and Warner Brothers were spoofing his tough guy image in this little gem. With a story line similar to the better known “A Slight Case of Murder”, which was made some five years later in 1938, this film has Robinson as gangster Bugs Ahearn who decides to get out of the bootlegging business and go straight after Roosevelt’s victory over Hoover and the government’s announcement to repeal prohibition.
Rich from his 12 years of bootlegging, he decides to relocate to California and mingle in high society. The film becomes a fish of water story as Bugs, hiding his true identity, become a target for every scam artist on the west coast especially the evil Cass family. From pretty Polly Cass (Helen Vinson) who seduces him hoping to marry so she can get a quickie divorce and a large settlement, to her brother who sells Bugs polo ponies and finally, the father who sells Bugs an investment firm on the verge of bankruptcy and has the law coming down on them for fraud. Also on board and about the only honest person in the film is Ruth Wayburn (Mary Astor) who of course falls secretly in love with our gangster hero.
The mix of slapstick and verbal humor, many that play on Robinson’s gangster screen image, keeps this film moving at a snappy pace. The film is directed by Roy Del Ruth whose career seems to have flourished during the pre-code era while he was at Warners. His works from this period include “The Maltese Falcon” (1931), “Blonde Crazy”, “Lady Killer”, “Blessed Event”, “Employee Entrance” and “Taxi.”
“The Little Giant” is the least known of four comedy gangster films Robinson did in his career, at least with him in the lead, and deserves to be known better than it is. TCM always has the other three in their rotation (The Whole Town’s Talkin’. A Slight Cast of Murder and Larceny Inc.) however, this one seems to have fallen off the map. It deserves better.
This is a reprint of a short review from my Weekly Wrap column that I have been doing over at the “Watching Shadows on the Wall” blog, which frankly does not get much traffic. Susequently, I thought I would repost some of the short reviews I have written over there that fit into the scope of 24frames.
Vice Squad – Arnold Laven (***) standard cops and criminal “B” film. Made in 1953, it is the kind of routine movie that the advent of television killed off. Edward G. Robinson past his heydays but still big enough to command the lead in this kind of film stars as a police captain who does not mind bending the law if it means capturing two cop killers. Co-starring is the beautiful Paulette Goddard as madam who helps police Captain Robinson out. Though she received second billing her role is essentially a cameo. The cast is filled with some good character actors including Porter Hall as the funeral director and Lee Van Cleef as one of the cop killers ( I don’t think I am giving anything away here. A decent script by Lawrence Roman, with some exceptional dialogue between Robinson and Goddard, and some excellent shadowy photography by Joseph Biroc who worked with Sam Fuller a few times in the 1950’s. Definitely worth a look for those who like crime films from this period.
The effects of what was happening in Europe during the 1930’s changed attitudes of many in Hollywood. Anti-fascist groups organized, some led by movie stars like Paul Muni, James Cagney Melvyn Douglas and Sylvia Sydney. Most of the American public was still recovering from the depression and were not concerned about the potential war that was about to erupt in Europe and felt that American interest were best served by staying out of the furor building up over there. As late as 1939, Joe Kennedy, America’s Ambassador to England was at odds with President Roosevelt over Roosevelt’s providing ships to aid Churchill and England who feared an invasion by Hitler.
Warner Brothers, the most socially committed of all the major studios, led by Jack Warner, always persisted in making films that provided more than just entertainment value. In the early 1930’s Warner’s produced films that were ripped from “today’s headlines”, films with a message, “I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang”, “Heroes for Sale”, “The Public Enemy” and “They Won’t Forget” to name a few. In the late 1930’s Warner’s, unlike MGM, closed their business operations in Germany after their offices were attacked by hate mongers that resulted in the death of one employee. This was done despite the fact that Germany was Hollywood’s largest European customer at the time.
Based on a series of articles by former FBI agent Leon G. Torrou, who had been active as an agent investigating the infiltration of Nazi spies in the United States, “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” is considered the first anti-Nazi film to come out of Hollywood.
The story involves Dr. Karl Kassel (Paul Lukas) a propagandist who has come to America to rally support for the Nazi cause focusing on German-Americans. He brings forth the Fuehrer words that Germans are Germans first and Americans second and that they need to help bring down the evils of democracy. An unemployed disaffected man name Kurt Schneider (Frances Lederer) joins the cause, agreeing spy for the Nazis. Schneider manages to obtain sensitive troop information deceiving a German-American soldier (Joe Sawyer) into providing the data. A German passenger ship, the Bismarck, is continuously transporting new agents into America, including Hilda Kleinhauser who will eventually be apprehended by FBI agent Ed Renard (Edward G. Robinson) who has been assigned to investigate the case. When Miss Kleinhauser confesses and Schneider is arrested, the domino effect of the entire spy ring begins to crumble.
Directed by Anatole Litvak, “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” was a powerful document for the time, awakening Americans to the threat that war at their front door. Believing that Hitler and the war was Europe’s problem only, many American’s wanted to continue an isolationist policy. For making the film, producer Jack Warner would face accusations of being a warmonger. The film is done in a semi-documentary style incorporating actual news clips throughout the story. Overall, the film is fast paced and thoroughly engrossing. Edward G. Robinson delivers a typical strong performance as the lead FBI agent Renard expounding on the evils of the Nazi threat and America’s do nothing policy. The real acting highlight belongs to Paul Lukas as Dr. Kassel whose pro-Nazi rants are frighteningly as real as those you see of Hitler himself. George Sanders is also on board playing Nazi officer Franz Schlager.
It should be mentioned that many actors and behind the scenes artists who worked on this film feared a backlash back in Germany. Actors and crew with family members still living in the fatherland feared for their safety. Some actors resorted to changing their names to help in hiding their identity. Composer Max Steiner and cinematographer Ernest Haller received no credit on this film, which may have been purposeful on their part fearing a backlash to relatives back in Germany. The film was banned in both Germany and Japan as well as other European countries that had fallen to the Nazi machine. It is rumored Hitler promised to kill everyone involved in the making of this film after Germany has won the war.
Considered the first film to be released on the topic of anti-Nazism the film was released six months prior to the start of the war in 1939, awakening Americans to the danger of Hitler’s Germany. Still, there were isolationists who refused to take heed. There were groups in America who considered anti-Nazism to mean you were pro-communism. Supporters of Germany branded actors like Edward G. Robinson, Frances Leader, studio head Jack Warner and others communists or at least communist supporters. In the film if you look closely you will see a propaganda flyer headline that accuses then President Franklin Roosevelt of being a communist.
By 1940 and after, other filmmakers and studios jumped on the anti-Nazi bandwagon as Hitler’s terror spread across Europe with films like “All Through the Night”, “Foreign Correspondent”, :Man Hunt and “The Mortal Storm.” After MGM released “The Mortal Storm in 1940, Hitler banned MGM films. “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” remains the most blatant and one of the most interesting.
One last note, director Don Siegel worked on the montage sequences of this film.
“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.
Chris 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.
Kitty 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.
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.
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.
In 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