Lady on a Train (1945) Charles David

 

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   Deanna Durbin spent the majority of her short career, she retired in her late twenties, at Universal where she made a series of light, but popular musicals that made her one of the top stars of the time. However, like many artists, Durbin wanted to do something different. In 1944 and 1945, she got her chance with the film noir, Christmas Holiday and the following year with the comedy/mystery film, Lady on a Train. Neither film did well at the box office. Durbin soon returned to her musicals until she retired, married her third husband, director Charles David, and moved to France where she lived for the rest of her life. Continue reading

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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

The Awful Truth (1937) Leo McCarey

 

Along with Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges, Leo McCarey arguably epitomizes the art of the screwball comedy. Of course other filmmakers have dabbled in screwball with winning results like William Wellman (Nothing Sacred),  Gregory La Cava (My Man Godfrey), Mitchell Leisen (Easy Living) among others but these three men combined made some of the cleverest and funniest works of that period.

Made in 1937, “The Awful Truth” is one of the gems of this, for lack of a better term, sub-genre. Nominated for Best Picture, Leo McCarey managed to snag the Best Director award though the film lost to the more “important” and “esteemed” winner, “The Life of Emile Zola.”  Based on a play by Arthur Richard with an Oscar nominated screenplay by Vina Delmar, though it is said Dorothy Parker had much to do with the script. Continue reading

Picture Snatcher (1933) Lloyd Bacon

Within four years Cagney made 19 films establishing his brash New York City persona as an alternative to the typical Hollywood male stars of the era. Cagney and the advent of sound movies were a perfect fit. His fast talking self-confident, cocky style was a perfect antidote to the stiffness of many actors transforming themselves from silent films to sound. Besides the cockier Cagney was, the more we loved him.

“Picture Snatcher” is a breezy, fast paced entertaining pre-code film that does it all right without ever managing to achieve greatness. The film stars an electric James Cagney as Danny Kean a streetwise recently released ex-con who decides to go straight.

After telling his former cohorts, and collecting his share of the last job before his incarceration, that he is quitting the rackets Danny gets a job at a New York tabloid called “The Graphic” through a connection he made with the City Editor Al McLean (Ralph Bellamy) while in the clink.  Not suited for reporting but brash enough to take a job as a photographer when all others are reluctant to go the scene where a crazed firemen is hold up  with a rifle after discovering his wife’s remains in bed with another man after a fire. Posing as an insurance adjustor, Danny worms his way into the distraught man’s confidence while his real true goal is to steal a photo of the man’s family to publish in the paper.

Along the way, Danny meets Allison (Alice White) a two-timing dame who is supposed to be McLean’s girl but has desires for Danny who continually fights her off. Danny does have his principles, he does not fool around with a friend’s dame.  He is more attracted to a young journalism student  named Patricia Nolan (Patricia Ellis) who happens to be the daughter of tough but lovable cop Lt. Casey Nolan (Robert O’Connor).

Danny’s ethics as a press photographer are no better than they were as a hoodlum; he steals a pass from another reporter to gain entry into Sing Sing to witness an electrocution of a female prisoner. Inside the prison, Danny with a miniature camera strapped to his ankle gets his money shot which makes the paper’s front page, but in the process get s his girlfriend’s father/cop busted in rank as was in charge of security and received the blame for Danny slipping into the facility.

The execution sequence is based on the true story of one Ruth Snyder who in 1928 became the first woman to be electrocuted since the late 1800’s. Snyder and her lover, also electrocuted, killed her husband for insurance money (should sound familiar, the case inspired James Cain to use as the basis for Double Indemnity).   The New York Daily News hired an out of town photographer from the Chicago Tribune, someone unknown to the prison guards at Sing Sing, to sneak in to witness the execution and snap the photo which appeared the next day on the front page of the Daily News with the headline DEAD!

Danny does redeem himself somewhat by the end of the film when he is caught in an apartment with one of his former hoodlum buddies, Jerry the Mug. He protects Jerry’s frightened wife and kids trapped in the apartment as Jerry recklessly shoots it out with the police. As the battle with the police is about to reach it dramatic end, Danny gets an incredible photo of Jerry as he shot to death by the police.

Written by Allan Rivkin and P.J. Wolfson based on a story by Danny Adhern, The Picture Snatcher is overall a light-hearted fast moving film filled with gangsters and newspaperman directed by Lloyd Bacon and played to the hilt by Cagney. The films generally low opinion of the news media, whether intentional or not, remains relevant to today with the onslaught of all the in your face vulture paparazzi we see brought to the extremes today in gossip magazines and TV. The Picture Snatcher is Cagney’s film all the way, his exhilarating performance drives the film and must have been a revelation to audiences of the day who were used to more suave refined leading men than the in your face anti-authoritarian  character Cagney is here and would perfect in so many films yet to come.