What would happen if you took an arrogant, caustic and cynical New York City intellectual and transplanted him into the heartland of America? That was the premise of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s hit play, The Man Who Came to Dinner. The play premiered on Broadway in October 1939 and ran for more than two years, 730 performances to be exact. Legend has it Moss Hart came up with the idea after a visit from the prickly theater critic, New Yorker columnist, Alexander Woollcott, to his country home and began making one demand after another, including shutting off the heat and insisting on a bed time snack consisting of cookies and a milkshake. Woollcott was a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table, a self-proclaimed group of witty and sometimes verbally vicious intellectuals trading barbs and witticisms. They met every day for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel. Among the members were Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman, Robert E. Sherwood, Heywood Broun, Ruth Hale (Broun’s wife) and Marc Connelly. There were other members, some officially part of the group and others who were unofficial occasional visitors. Continue reading
House of Bamboo (1955) Sam Fuller
The film is set in post war Japan, a time when there is still a strong American military presence. Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack) arrives in Tokyo looking to connect with his old army buddy Webber (Biff Elliot) who he learns from his Japanese wife has been killed. Upset over his friend’s death, though it seems more because he came all the way over from the states and his friend’s death has inconveniently left him twisting in the wind. To get by he attempts to muscle in on some protection rackets at a couple of pachinko parlors which only brings Eddie to the attention of Tokyo’s American crime-boss, Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan). After checking Eddie out with some inside sources Dawson invites the determined newcomer to join the gang (all made up of former G.I’s), soon becoming his right hand man much to the discontent of Griff (Cameron Mitchell). Dawson runs the gang and their heist like a military operation, though unlike the Marines whose motto is no man left behind, Dawson’s rule is if you’re wounded during a heist you are killed and then left behind. Continue reading
It is Cagney versus Raft in the classic 1939 Warners prison drama EACH DAWN I DIE. Directed by William Keighley, Cagney is Frank Ross an investigative reporter who exposes a political candidate’s corrupt association with a construction company. After the article is published, Ross is snatched by some goons right in front of the newspaper building, knocked out, and soused with alcohol he is sent away in a speeding car which results in a car accident with three innocent people being killed. Framed for the murders, Ross is sent to prison where he meets big shot Stacey (George Raft). At first, they get off on the wrong foot with Ross continuing to claim he was framed and innocent, all falling on deaf ears with both prison officials and his fellow inmates. The two soon become pals when Ross saves Stacey’s life from an attempt by another prisoner to kill him.
The film has all the by now standard prison themes you expect, the innocent man who was framed, the prisoner who is a snitch, the sadistic guard, the prison system that turns a good man bad, the prison break and the riot. It’s all there but what is most exciting is Cagney! Brash, cocky and full of himself, grinning confidently just the way we like him. Here he gets to face off against George Raft, who by the way hooked up with some real gangsters in his off-screen life, and is even better known for giving Humphrey Bogart some of the best roles of his career when he turned down “Casablanca” and “High Sierra.” Raft is fine as Stacey but the film belongs to Cagney who goes through an entire array of emotions from a wronged innocent to a crazed bitter jail-bird locked up in solitary.
The cast also includes George Bancroft as the Warden, Victor Jory as a corrupt member of the parole board, Jane Bryant as Cagney’s loyal girlfriend fighting for his release and former boxer Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom. This is the kind of film you expect from Warner Brothers, hard-hitting, socially conscience and gritty.