Let Us Live (1939) John Brahm

   let_us_live2.jpg   Let Us Live is based on a March 1936 Harper’s magazine article by Boston Globe crime reporter, Joseph F. Dinneen, called Murder in Massachusetts. Dinneen’s true story focuses on two taxi cab drivers identified by almost a dozen witnesses for killing a man during a Lynn, Massachusetts movie theater robbery. The real killers, arrested about three weeks later were small time Jewish hoods Abraham Faber and brothers Irving and Murton Millen. The real killers’ story is rather fascinating in itself. Abraham Faber seemed like an unlikely individual to become a hoodlum. Faber attended MIT, graduating with a degree in aeronautical engineering. The Millen brothers were thugs. Small time hoods who hauled illegal booze during the prohibition days. The threesome apparently knew each other from days gone by growing up in Roxbury, Mass. Unemployed during the Depression, Abraham Faber reconnected with his childhood friends and the trio began a small time crime spree. In January, 1934 they graduated to murder when they shot a man during the Paramount theater robbery in Lynn, Mass. One month later, they robbed the Needham Trust Co., killing two police officers and wounding a fire fighter in the process. About three weeks later in New York City two of the men were arrested and confessed to the crimes. The third man was arrested in Boston. The taxi cab drivers arrested for the first murder were released. The Farber-Millen gang were convicted and executed in June of 1935. Continue reading

Hangover Square (1945) John Brahm

This review contains spoilers

Director John Brahm waste no time getting the suspense moving, as the film opens we see an older man fighting off an unseen attacker. From the camera’s POV a knife soon appears plunging into the chest of the man and then a quick shot of the killer tossing a gas lit lamp on to the floor, a deadly fire begins to rage. It is a powerful opening to a visually stunning film worthy of Hitchcock. Laird Cregar stars as George Harvey Bone a turn of the century classical composer inflicted with increasingly frequent blackouts that result in a murdering rampage. When Bone meets dance hall singer Netta (Linda Darnell) who plays up to him, manipulating him to write a few popular type songs she can include in her act, the old boy is hooked. Netta uses Bone, flirting yet continually resisting his affection. Of course, Bone eventually realizes he is being used by the cheap floozy and seeks his revenge by killing Netta and dumping her lifeless body on to the top of a barn fire set during a celebration on Guy Fawkes Night.

Fire plays an important part in this film occurring in at least in three significant points including the finale as Bone meets his own demise in a concert hall, where his piano concerto is being performed. The madman sets the theater on fire as the police attempt to surround him. The final image is one of Bone at the piano regally performing his work as he is engulfed in ever growing flames.

“Hangover Square” was a follow up reuniting in fog bound Victorian London director John Brahm, screenwriter Barre Lyndon (whose screenplay is based on the Patrick Hamilton novel), two of the three films stars Laird Cregar and George Sanders all who collaborated in the successful 1944 version of “The Lodger” just one year earlier. The setting of the original source novel was just prior to England’s entry into the war with Germany. For the film the creators changed the setting to turn of the century London to more closely resemble the mood and atmosphere of the prior year’s hit film.

 Brahm use of a subjective camera and low-angles united with Joseph LaShelle’s noir cinematography make for a first-rate entertaining piece of filmmaking.  The other major highlight in this film is the music of Bernard Herrmann who not only composed the incidental music but also the major concert pieces performed.  The film is a major vehicle for Herrmann’s work and one of his best scores. Both Herrmann (Psycho, North by Northwest, Marnie, Vertigo) and LaShelle (Alfred Hitchcock Presents) worked with Hitchcock, which this film could have easily been directed by. Brahm does an inspired job and like Herrmann and LaShelle would work for Hitchcock himself later in his career directing many episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”    Brahm also did some very good episodes of “The Twilight Zone”, “Thriller”, “The Outer Limits” and “The Man from UNCLE” among many others.  

Sadly, this was Laird Creager’s final film in a life that was way too short.


The Lodger (1944) John Brahm

The opening murder scene sets the stage for the remainder of this darkly drenched eerie atmospheric horror. A woman is walking home late at night in foggy London; the streets are so wet they almost glisten. The woman turns into an alleyway out of the camera’s eye, we hear a scream and she is soon dead. We see her hand in a close up on the sidewalk curb as water trickles by along the curb. Jack the Ripper has struck again. If you ever wonder where Hammer Films  found  its stylish look for horror,  well it just might have been here this 1944 20th Century Fox thriller.

The 1940’s are generally not considered a high point in time for horror films yet this production of “The Lodger” is the exception to the rule. Directed by German born John Brahm, this remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s original silent version is directly influenced by the German Expressionist film movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s, with its harsh lighting and superb camera placement. Laird Cregar’s magnificent  expressionistic and moving  performance fits right in.

Cregar’s Mr. Slade, as he is called, is a sexually twisted individual obsessed with his dead brother (he was a genius!), ruined by women, actresses specifically. We see Slade’s almost manic obsession with his brother in one scene when he is holding a photograph of him and practically pouring out his love in a way that seems to be more than just well, brotherly love. Slade takes out his revenge by killing off these “actresses” (really prostitutes but this is a 1940’s film) slicing and dicing them up.

Slade has rented a couple of rooms from Robert (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) and Ellen Bonting (Sara Allgood). Soon after the new lodger settles in, he discovers the Bonting’s niece Lily Langley (Merle Oberon), an actress of course,  also is living in the same quarters, and he becomes quickly obsessed with the young beauty. The elder couple slowly become suspicious of their new border suspecting he is the infamous Jack the Ripper when they discover him oddly going out late at night. Later on, Lily finds him mysteriously burning some soiled clothing. A dandy like police inspector, George Sanders, in a rather dull role, tries to woo Lily and hunt down the Ripper at the same time.

While the story is more or less what we have seen now over and over in so many other Jack the Ripper tales, it is the visual storytelling ability of John Brahm and the performance of Laird Cregar that rank this film so high on the scale. Cregar manages to make his perverted, sexually twisted character frightening and strangely sympathetic at the same time. You know this guy is sick, and a murderer, but he somehow comes across as a sadly wounded bird. The film is beautifully shot by Lucien Ballard whose long career included such works as “Berlin Express”, “The Killing”, “Pay or Die”, “Will Penny” and “The Wild Bunch.”

Brahm and Cregar would reteam again the following year in “Hangover Square” where Cregar would again portray a maniac type killer. Sadly, Cregar died in 1945 at the age of 31 after battling with a weight disorder. After “The Lodger”, John Brahm had two more good films in him “Hangover Square” and “The Locket.” In the 1950’s and on into the 1960’s Brahm’s best work would be in television where he worked on episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” ,”The Twilight Zone”, “Thriller”, “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” among others.