It Happened One Night (1934)

Directed by Frank Capra
Cinematography Joseph Walker
A spoiled heiress running away from her family is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story.
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This classic never loses its magic! Romance, warmth & humor!

13 May 2001 | by gmmax (Peoria, Illinois) – See all my reviews

This sweet comedy never loses its appeal. Claudette Colbert is a spoiled young girl who meets a worldly, attractive newspaper reporter (Clark Gable). In the beginning, she treats him like a servant, but he never knuckles under to this behavior. The interaction between these two is very romantic and humorous. It is the classic portrayal of what may be called “sexual tension.” He takes care of her – does not take advantage of her – but makes her realize that her wealthy background cannot carry her through as a human being, she has to earn his respect by treating him with respect. There is a scene in which the two of them are forced to hitchhike, and their “breakfast” is only a handful of carrots plucked from a garden they were lucky to find. As Gable stands at the edge of the road and Colbert is perched atop a wooden fence, his wisecracking posture is said to be the inspiration for the beloved cartoon character Bugs Bunny. This is a must-see for every one who loves old movies, and entertaining for all.

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A fantastic Capra film.

Author: emma502 from iowa city, iowa
7 May 2003

It Happened One Night directed by Frank Capra was made and released in 1934 by Columbia Pictures as a small budget film that was not expected to do well at the box office. Yet, after its release the film gained many accolades and won the Academy Award for best picture in 1934. Due to the original small nature of the film, the leading man role was surprisingly filled by Clark Gable who was on loan from another studio. He stared opposite of Claudette Colbert.

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Capra’s film was a combination of many ideals, emotions and social perceptions of the American society of the thirties but it was also a combination of many new and innovative filming techniques and sound advancements. The film unfolds the story in such a attention-grabbing and remarkable way that most of today’s cinema use his style and ideals when producing and creating films. Capra used the idea of a moving camera, one that was not fixed upon a box, but on a moveable crane instead. This produced more sweeping shots, more angles for filming and fewer distance shots. It allowed for more movement of the actors as well as a more realistic and real life feeling to the movie. The film also incorporates back projection of images.

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This is were a scene is filmed previously and played in the background while the actors perform the scene in front of the projection. Back projection is used for car scenes to give the impression that the actors are driving but in reality they are in a sound stage. Capra also incorporated the use of a wipe in his film. The technique of moving left to right and fading in or out to change a scene or show elapsed time took the place of the traditional place cards in silent films and allowed for a more constant stream for the film. The film was also all talk, the new technology of a sound strip on the side of the film was used. The text cards of silent films were completely discarded. Another camera trick by Capra is to show a change in feelings within Clark Gable’s character for Claudette Colbert’s character by depicting her character in a different light.

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This happens two times within the film at key moments to the development of their relationship. Claudette Colbert is seen in a close up of softer light to emphasize Clark Gable’s character seeing her in a `different light.’ In this romantic comedy Capra not only showed new styles and techniques but also addressed social issues of the time. Through comedy he showed the outlandish nature of the rich (King arriving for his own wedding in a helicopter) and the nature of man being the controller in relationships as well as in society. The fighting and struggles between the two main characters showed the man taking care of the woman, the social norms of how men and woman should act around each other in that era. But the fighting and the banter also show a strong-minded and intelligent woman. The two strong-willed main characters balanced each other out.

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Capra’s techniques for showing the social relationship between the rich and working classes as well as a relationship between man and woman in the 1930s captured film makers and film viewers for over 70 years. Films are now compared to his style of camera movement and his style of capturing the American ideals. When movies of today make a similar statement of achieving what one wants they are referred to as Capra-esc. Capra’s imagination and style is one that changed the outlook of American films and introduced a new genre to film goers everywhere.

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The Hero As Comedian

10/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
24 December 2005

In his autobiography, The Name’s Above the Title, Frank Capra said that until It Happened One Night drama had four stock characters, the hero, the heroine, the comedian, and the villain.

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What Capra did and you might notice he followed that in a whole lot of his films, the characters of hero and comedian are combined. Not completely though because Claudette Colbert gets a few laughs herself, especially with that system all her own. But in doing what he did for Clark Gable’s character, Capra created a whole new type of screen comedy, the classic screwball comedy and It Happened One Night surely set the mold.

Capra’s autobiography told the story of the making of It Happened One Night which in itself could be a movie. Capra worked for Columbia Pictures which at that time was a minor studio, along the lines of Republic or Monogram. As Capra tells it he had a vision about this story that Samuel Hopkins Adams wrote and persuaded Harry Cohn to buy it.

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Capra also had a stroke of good luck. Adolph Zukor at Paramount and Louis B. Mayer at MGM were looking to punish a couple of recalcitrant stars, Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. The idea was to show these two what it was like to work in a small budget studio without all the perks of Paramount and MGM. In fact the description of Gable arriving to work at Columbia that first day, drunk as a skunk, is priceless. Capra dressed him down good and said that to his credit Gable came to work afterwards and couldn’t have been more cooperative.

At some point Harry Cohn at Columbia was convinced that maybe Capra had something. He had in fact delivered for Columbia the previous year with Lady for a Day. So the publicity drums were beat.

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The rest as they say is history. It Happened One Night won the first Oscar grand slam, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress. It won the first Oscars Columbia Pictures ever got and lifted it right into the ranks of the major studios. And it set the standard for screwball comedy.

The film could never have gotten off the ground were it not for the chemistry of Gable and Colbert. They’re together for most of the film so if it doesn’t click between the two of them, you have people walking out in droves. Colbert had already played a wide variety of parts at Paramount, ranging from Poppaea and Cleopatra to comedies with Maurice Chevalier like The Big Pond. Gable had played a whole lot of tough guys on both sides of the law at MGM. It Happened One Night showed he had some real comic talent, a flair MGM exploited in his roles from then on in.

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Gable and Colbert did only one other film together, Boom Town for MGM. You can’t get much more different than those two films. Boom Town had a huge MGM budget, Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr as well, and a lot of special effects involving the oil industry and hazards therein. It’s also a great film, but it’s not a classic like It Happened One Night.

Clean Sweep

9/10
Author: aimless-46 from Kentucky
8 November 2005

Consider this, “It Happened One Night” was made in 1933 which gives it the distinction 70+ years later of being the oldest film still widely viewed by mainstream audiences. And most of the runner-ups for oldest film are 1930’s screwball comedies inspired by the success of this seminal film which made a clean sweep of the 1934 Academy Awards. The genre has held up over the years because these are small human stories with themes that are still relevant.

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The main reason “It Happened One Night” worked then and still works today is the accidental pairing of Colbert and Gable, who provide an amazing chemistry under Frank Capra’s direction. Columbia Pictures was a small player in the early days of talking pictures and studio head Harry Cohn had difficulty rounding up two major stars to play the leads in this modest budget production. Colbert was not interested in doing another Capra film after a negative experience working for him six years earlier in her silent picture debut. Cohn told Capra: “That French broad likes money” and Capra finally got her on board with an offer of $50,000 (double her usual price) and a guarantee that production would only last 28 days. Gable was under contract to MGM but had been making trouble for them so as punishment Louis B. Mayer personally loaned him to Columbia for this film.

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The film had a lot else going for it; a motivated Capra, a great script that would play well with small town America, and a good ensemble of supporting talent. The story concerns a spoiled young heiress (Colbert) trying to escape the control of her father (nicely played by Walter Connelly). Dodging her father’s private detective she takes a Miami to New York bus where she meets a recently fired reporter (Gable) who agrees to help her in exchange for an exclusive story. Cozy quarters and many adventures lead them to change their initial opinions of each other (brainless brat and obnoxious bully) as an undisclosed affection develops. On the eve of their arrival in New York they try to sort out their feelings for each other.

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While the script is not really successful in convincingly illustrating the process of their falling in love (one minute they are just friends and the next they are in love), Capra is able to sell it with a simple connection process between these two characters which is at work throughout the film. As another reviewer has written: “Far from lovey-dovey, the dialogue is witty, sharp and occasionally heartless. We may know the outcome, but the road to get there is paved with arguments, anger and misunderstandings. It’s also clever, funny and a bit risqué (for 1934)” . During their three days and nights together Colbert convincingly gives us a character who matures from a spoiled rich girl to a responsible adult, motivated by a desire to improve her companion’s opinion of her. Gable shows real star presence, playing a confident, charming, and resourceful gentleman. By the end their sudden love is credible because they have demonstrated that they are both exactly what the other is looking for in a partner.

After the Oscar ceremony Capra threw a party where he downed a magnum of champagne and passed out on his front lawn clutching his Best Director Oscar.

Then again, what do I know? I’m only a child.

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Jesse James (1939)

Directed by Henry King
After railroad agents forcibly evict the James family from their family farm, Jesse and Frank turn to banditry for revenge.
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yet another Tyrone power winner

25 April 2016 | by rickdumesnil-55203 (Canada) – See all my reviews

simply loved the movie. let me start i absolutely was grateful that the black character PINKY was treated so nice. one of the rare Hollywood movie where the boss didn’t boss around and took time to chat. the scene when Jessie ask pinky if the baby is cute….simply breath taking. the scenery the acting especially by power Fonda Scott darwell and hull you cant ask for more. NANCY KELLY was touching but for me she seemed plain and not so pretty. of course i didn’t want Jessie to die in the end and his reunion with Jessie Jr. was simply well done and tear jerking. i gave it a 9 and took off 1 point because of the handling of the horses. how cruel. i just MR. POWER was against it but had no choice. good movie though glad i got the DVD….POWER FOREVER.

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A highly romanticized account of the infamous desperado…

8/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
30 November 2007

Splendid in his first Western and his first Technicolor movie, Power portrayed Jesse James as a sympathetic hero and the most charming bank robber of the Old West…

Teamed with Henry Fonda, and stalwart Randolph Scott, Henry King came with a Western classic, considered as one the best Jesse James of the series…

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The film opens in Pineville with hothead Jesse and temperate Frank as a couple of Missouri brothers who, embittered by the ruthless tactics of a railroad agent, got a warrant and had to skip out, hiding out until Major Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull) can get the governor to give them a fair trial … But the railroad’s got too much at stake to let two farmer boys bollix things up…

After they had thrown Barshee (Brian Donlevy), the brutal railroad representative off the farm of their widowed mother (Jane Darwell) when she refused to sign over her property, Jesse and Frank later learn that she had been killed by a bomb tossed into their home by Barshee himself… Jesse returns, shoots Barshee, and vows revenge on the railroad, with the complete sympathy of the Missouri populace…

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Jesse’s sweetheart, Zee and her uncle, publisher Major Rufus, are among the James’ supporters, as is U. S. Marshal Will Wright (Scott), but he has a job to do and is forced to track down the two brothers…

Jesse and Frank have expanded their operation from merely harassing the St. Louis Midland with a series of holdups to robbing banks…

Pursuaded by railroad president McCoy (Donald Meek) to talk Jesse into surrendering, Wright extracts a written promise of a light sentence for the desperado… Zee then urges Jesse to give himself up following their wedding…

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Of course, Henry King tries to show how Jesse hated the railroads and from that hate he presented a charismatic hero… But this hero was not going to last… The more luck he had, the worse he gets… It’ll be his appetite for shooting and robbing until something happens to him…

He also shows a worried fiancée keeping thinking of an outlaw all the time out there in the hills just going on and on to nowhere just trying to keep alive with everybody after him, wanting to kill him to get that money…

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There’s a scene near the end where Zee (Nancy Kelly) after delivering her baby is lying in bed with her creature, with the presence of the Marshal, so to speak, between herself and her uncle that suddenly made clear to me what the entire film was about… Her feelings as a woman: “I’m so tired to care. This is the way it always is. We live like animals, scared animals. We move. We hide. We don’t dare to go out… ”

Obviously she is a sensitive woman who exposes her being on screen without losing sight of reality… That’s quite a great scene from King, and key in this great Western, as it’s really all about her character, Zee Cobb, a struggling woman in love now a mother with a baby to take care of…

So please don’t miss it!

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The Jesse We Somehow Have Gotten to Want to Remember

10/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
21 April 2007
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It was the luck of Tyrone Power that he became the pet male star of Producer Genius Daryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox. He was constantly finding decent adventure film properties for Power to use, resulting in a huge public following for the star.

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Unfortunately in 1938 Power was lent to MGM to appear in the extravaganza historical film MARIE ANTOINETTE with Norma Shearer. He gave a fine performance as her friend/probable lover Count Axel Fersen, but his fans were puzzled, and some critics had a field day. It was like a problem a decade and a half earlier suffered by silent idol Rudolf Valentino, when he made some costume films like MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE. Then Valentino suggested the choice of these rolls proved Valentino was a “powder puff” (i.e. homosexual). Now they suggested the same (after one film only!) for Power.

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To recoup meant taking Power into a particular historical film – a western. Long before the idea of a homosexual cowboy found any open acceptance on the screen, most actors found that the most masculine American role was as a cowboy. And if Power was going to play a westerner, he should play one who did not take nonsense – indeed was downright dangerous to people he disliked. Such a person was Jesse Woodson James (1848 – 1882). Zanuck’s genius at picking the right properties showed up here to such great affect, that a year later MGM copied the idea for their resident star with a huge female following, Robert Taylor, with the film BILLY THE KID.

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In first rate Technicolor, we watch a screen-writer’s version of Jesse’s complicated and violent life, in the last days of the Civil War (for the South), fighting carpetbaggers, banks, and railroads from the North, turning bandit against these aggressors, and then controlling the best bank and train robbing gang from 1868 – 1876 in the Mississippi/Missouri Valley. It also follows the love and marriage and tribulations of Jesse and his wife Zee Cobb (Nancy Kelly), and the events leading to his assassination (which more of below) by Robert Ford (John Carridine) a member of his gang. His brother and gang partner Frank is played by Henry Fonda. His love rival but occasional ally, the Marshall is Randolph Scott. Besides Carridine, the villains are a half-way comic banker/railroad owner played by Donald Meek, and his agent played by J. Edward Bromberg (possibly his best known role). And as for that “great” editor, Col. Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull) anyone who does not think him a great character should be taken outside and hanged like a dog!

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Henry King, a good journeyman director used by Power and Zanauck in several films, turned in a first rate job, even as the screenplay really improves Jesse’s record. It is questionable if he was in the Confederate army or even served with Quantrill (as Frank and the missing Cole Younger, his cousin, did). But he was thoroughly tied to the lost cause, and the post war poverty that hit his part of Missouri did not endear the victors to him. Given the way money ruled the Gilded Age millionaires, one can see that the avariciousness’s of the banks and railroads would have worsened the situation. But did that give Jesse and Frank and their gang the right to kill any former Union foe they encountered in what was technically peacetime?

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The Northfield Bank Raid is rightly seen as the destruction of the James – Younger Gang, and as a model of overreaching. Unlike the fictional version in the story (the plan is betrayed, so the bank becomes a trap), Jesse and the gang tried to rob two banks in Northfield, Minnesota, and thought the locals there would be as indifferent as Missourians or Kansas on-lookers (they weren’t). Many were shot and killed on both sides, but worse Cole and his brothers were captured and sent to prison. Jesse and Frank and several others escaped – but regrouped in Missouri. It lasted for six more years with bank and railroad robberies before Jesse was killed by Ford.

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There is no denying (as Hull says at the end) that James was a criminal. But to be fair, the Federal Government and the Pinkertons did not behave well either. Keep in mind, in 1870 Federal intervention in the states was limited to the Reconstruction policies, not to policing action. But Ulysses Grant, although from Ohio, had lived in Missouri for years, and took a personal interest in the James Gang. He was willing to use the Pinkertons as his agents, including one incident where a bomb-like device was used against Jesse’s mother’s family, injuring several (his mother lost her arm), and killing his half-brother. So furious was Jesse about this, for a couple of months he was in Chicago seeking a chance to attack and kill Allan Pinkerton!

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And then there is that final killing – Governor Crittenden of Missouri, from a distinguished Kentucky family, smashed his career in setting up a “hit” by Ford, in which Jesse was shot in the back in his parlor! I don’t think any other criminal of the top rank in American History (maybe Dillinger in his demise at the Biograph Theater in Chicago) ever came across as having had his bad list of actions cleaned by the manner his death was caused. In 1881 Crittenden was considered a possible future Democratic Presidential candidate. After 1882 his career was finished. As for Ford, he was shot down years later – his killer given a judicial slap on the hand.

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JESSE JAMES cuts down the negative issues a bit too much, and builds up his good characteristics too much. Yet it works splendidly as film. Other “James” films like I SHOT JESSE JAMES or THE GREAT NORTHFIELD RAID may be truer somehow, but this is the JAMES we like to recall – and the JAMES that will live.

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8/10
Author: jhclues from Salem, Oregon
8 December 2001

A real life legend of the Old West comes to life in this 1939 film, which may not be historically accurate or honest enough for purists, but nevertheless tells a good story while leaving any moral judgments up to the audience.

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`Jesse James,’ directed by Henry King, stars Tyrone Power as the man heralded by some as the Robin Hood of cowboys. Whether or not he was actually a hero is debatable, and what this movie does is supply the motivation for the wrong-doing on Jesse’s part– at least up to a point. At the time this film was made, it was necessary for the filmmaker to present a story like this in a way that reflected a reckoning of sorts for a character engaged in any form of moral turpitude; and this film is no exception. But in this case, it’s done with subtlety, and in a way that still allows the viewer’s sympathies to be with the protagonist, regardless of his crimes.

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At the heart of the matter is basically another version of the oft-told David and Goliath tale. In this story, Goliath is the railroad, expanding ever-westward and growing bigger and stronger by the day. When they encounter the farm on which Jesse, his brother, Frank (Henry Fonda) and their mother (Jane Darwell) reside and make their living, the railroad does what any self-respecting conglomerate would do– they take it, pay the owners a pittance and lay their rail without giving it another thought. Only this time, the railroad messed with the wrong people. Not one to take it lying down, Jesse forms a gang– which includes Frank– and strikes back in the only way he knows how: By robbing the trains. And, just as Bonnie and Clyde would become, in a sense, local heroes a few years later, many began looking up to James as something of a redeemer; the man who stood up for all the others who were either unwilling or unable to do it for themselves after being wronged, as well, by the ruthless machinery of progress.

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Power gives an outstanding performance as Jesse James, to whom he brings an intensity that seethes beneath his rugged good looks and determined attitude. Like Beatty did with Clyde, Power makes Jesse an outlaw you can’t help but like, and actually admire. Because the James Power presents is nothing more nor less than a good man seeking reparation for the injury visited not only upon himself, but upon his family, to whom he feels justice is now due. It’s a very credible and believable portrayal, though under close scrutiny his Jesse may come across as somewhat idealistically unflawed. Then again, within the time frame of this story, we are seeing a man adamant and single-minded of purpose, and the depth Power brings to the character more than accounts for what may be construed as a flawless nature.

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As Frank James, Henry Fonda presents a man perhaps more laid-back than his brother, but every bit as volatile and adamant in his quest for justice. There’s a coolness in his eyes and in his manner that belies the tenacity of his character. Fonda conveys the sense that Frank is a lion; he’s no trouble without provocation, but once aroused he will demand satisfaction and stay with the scent until he has it. And it’s that sense of dogged determination that Fonda and Power bring to their respective characters that makes them so engaging and accessible. Goliath is the real bad guy here, and you want to see him fall; and these are the guys you want to see bring him down.

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In a supporting role, John Carradine gives a noteworthy performance as Jesse’s own personal Judas, Bob Ford, a man who made history by demonstrating that there is, indeed, no honor among thieves. Carradine brings Ford to life in a sly and sinister way that leaves no doubt as to who the real villain of the story is.

The supporting cast includes Nancy Kelly (Zee), Randolph Scott (Will), Slim Summerville (Jailer), Brian Donlevy (Barshee), Donald Meek (McCoy), Charles Tannen (Charlie Ford), Claire Du Brey (Mrs. Ford) and Henry Hull, in an energetic and memorable performance as Major Rufus Cobb. Compared to many of the westerns made in the past couple of decades or so, this film is rather antiseptic in it’s presentation; that is to say it lacks the graphic visuals of say, `The Wild Bunch’ or Eastwood’s `Unforgiven.’ But `Jesse James’ is satisfying entertainment that doesn’t require or rely upon shocking realism to tell the story, but rather the talent and finesse of a great cast and a savvy director. It’s a movie that will keep you involved, and Power and Fonda make it an especially enriching cinematic experience. In a very classic sense, this is the magic of the movies. I rate this one 8/10.

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Special cast, special movie, just don’t expect a history lesson.

8/10
Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
20 January 2009

We are at the time of the Iron Horse birth, the railroads are buying out the farm land at ridiculously low prices, even resorting to bully tactics to get the signature rights. When one particularly nasty railroad agent tries his strong arm tactics on the mother of the James brothers, he gets more than he bargained for. In an act of almost vengeful negligence, the agent causes the death of Mrs James and thus sets the wheels in motion for what was to become folklore notoriety, Jesse James, his brother Frank, and a gang of seemingly loyal thieves, went on to etch their names in outlaw history.

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There is no getting away from the fact that history tells us that this is a highly fictionalised account of Jesse James and his exploits. What we are given here by director Henry King and his screenwriter Nunally Johnson, is a more romanticised look at the legend of the man himself; which sure as heck fire makes for one dandy and enjoyable watch. The cast is one to savour, Tyrone Power (Jesse James), Henry Fonda (Frank James), Randolph Scott (Will Wright), Brian Donlevy (Barshee) and John Carradine (Bob Ford) all line up to entertain the masses with fine results, with Fonda possibly owing his subsequent career to his appearance here. He would return a year later in the successful sequel The Return Of Frank James and subsequently go on to greater and more rewarding projects. Power of course would go on and pick up the trusty blade and start swishing away, a career beckoned for this matinée idol for sure, but it’s nice to revisit this particular picture to see that Power could indeed be an actor of note, capable of some emotional depth instead of making Jesse just another outlawish thug. If the makers have made the character too “heroic” then that’s for debate, it’s one of the many historical “itches” that have irked historians over the years. But Power plays it as such and it works very well.

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One of the film’s main strengths is the pairing of Power and Fonda, very believable as a kinship united in ideals, with both men expertly handled by the reliable Henry King. The Technicolor from Howard Greene and George Barnes is wonderfully put to good use here, splendidly capturing the essence of the time with eye catching results. While the film itself has a fine action quota, gun play and galloping horses all feature throughout, and the characterisations of the main players lend themselves to pulse raising sequences. To leave us with what? A highly accomplished Western picture that ends in the way that history has showed it should-whilst the rest of the film is flimsy history at best? Yes. But ultimately it really doesn’t matter if one is after some Western entertainment, because for sure this picture scores high in that regard. 8/10

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Kid Glove Killer (1942)

Director:

Fred Zinnemann

Cinematography by

Paul Vogel
Crime lab expert Gordon McKay uses the latest forensic techniques to solve murders in a city plagued by political corruption and mob rackets.

First Feature for Fred Zinnemann

4 May 2013 | by wes-connors (Los Angeles) – See all my reviews

Voters elect to “clean up crime” by electing Samuel S. Hinds (as Richard Daniels) mayor of a small city. Gangsters strike back immediately by murdering his district attorney. The homicide is investigated by forensics expert Van Heflin (as Gordon McKay) and his attractive assistant Marsha Hunt (as Jane Mitchell).

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She provides Mr. Heflin with most of his cigarettes. A likely couple, they say “match me” instead of “got a light?” Special prosecutor and crime-busting radio show host Lee Bowman (as Gerald “Jerry” Ladimer) is also on the hunt. In a “love triangle” subplot that adds tension later on, both men are attracted to Ms. Hunt…

As a car-hop, young Ava Gardner asks if anyone wants desert. Things heat up when the mayor is also murdered. In a “best supporting actor” role, sweating restaurant owner Eddie Quillan (as Eddie Wright) is accused. We know who the real killer is and who could be the next victim. This was a good feature length debut for director Fred Zinnemann. Before the car bomb, one of the characters says, “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” which has no connection to The Beach Boys’ song. However, the phrases “Don’t Worry Baby” and “I Get Around” fairly quickly follow. God only knows if Brian Wilson was jotting down song titles while watching.

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****** Kid Glove Killer (4/17/42) Fred Zinnemann ~ Van Heflin, Marsha Hunt, Lee Bowman, Eddie Quillan

B movie from an A director

6/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
24 December 2006

Van Heflin is a forensics man trying to solve a couple of murders in “Kid Glove Killer,” a 1942 MGM film also starring Marsha Hunt and Lee Bowman. As in “The Grand Central Murder,” it’s Heflin’s performance that puts this film across, though this time he is aided by the lovely Marsha Hunt as his assistant, whom he calls “Mitchell.” Lee Bowman plays a crooked politician pretending to be a good guy, and as a result, he’s eager to see an innocent man put away for murder.

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He also is after the aforementioned Mitchell, who is waiting around for Heflin to make a move. Hunt’s role is somewhat dated (or maybe not) – she’s on her way to becoming a good forensics person, but says that the job is not for a woman and she wants to get married. Evidently that will put an end to her career.

Heflin was an interesting actor who could do character roles and leads. This film was made around the time of his breakthrough role in “Johnny Eager,” after which he hung up his B movie mantle and moved on to bigger things. He always brought wry humor and subtle characterizations to his roles as well as excellent timing. Lee Bowman was a mustached actor who looked like he came from the Warren William era. He’s solid but not terribly exciting. Hunt brings warmth and sparkle to her role.

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There was, in my opinion, a major problem with the plot having to do with Heflin testing to find particles in the hair of various suspects some time after the crime – wouldn’t the particles have come out when they washed their hair? You really end up thinking no one ever took a shower.

Nice beginning for Zinnemann, who would go on to direct some big features such as “High Noon.”

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Mind If I Vacuum Your Head?

7/10
Author: dougdoepke from Claremont, USA
19 March 2011

No need to recap the plot. It’s a slick, efficient little crime drama from a studio that didn’t much care for that B-movie genre (MGM). On one hand, there’s no mystery— we know the culprit from the outset; neither is there much atmosphere— it’s microscopes instead of dark streets and shadowy men; while the story itself is pretty shopworn— best friends on different sides of the law angling for the same girl. On the plus side, however, are the colorful characters and some nice touches.

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Note, for example, how rather unlikable Heflin’s criminologist is, always bossing poor Hunt around and slyly demeaning her—not the way a force for good is expected to act. But he’s all business even as her confused heart wavers. Hunt is perfect as the educated lab assistant, attractive and perky, without being annoying. And Bowman looks and acts like the charming fixer, even if his Jekyll and Hyde is something of a stretch.

The business with the cigarettes both defines the Heflin-Hunt relationship and adds character color. It’s an efficient touch that also has a surprisingly clever payoff. Then there’s that jumbo vacuum that sucks the hair off your head and may also be a lethal weapon not found at the local barbershop. All in all, it’s a fine cast and an ace director all of whom would soon go on to bigger and better things. Fortunately they left behind this slick little 70-minute diversion.

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Wasted talent

5/10
Author: samhill5215 from United States
2 October 2010

Here’s yet another of those pre-WWII silly attempts at serious film making. Given it’s relatively high rating and its headliners, Van Heflin and Marsha Hunt, I was expecting much more. Unfortunately I was highly disappointed. To begin with, the plot about forensic scientists Heflin and Hunt solving a high profile murder on what at least to me seems as extremely weak evidence is pretentious. Moreover it’s convenient when the murderer shows up to collect the evidence thereby sealing his guilt. If at least that part of it had been more believable! But the producers had to throw in sexual politics typical of the 40s: a woman scientist who just wants to get married despite the fact she has a master’s degree. With that as her paramount ambition she’s willing to settle for anyone, even someone she just met.
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How unfortunate! This could have been a much better film if the forensic evidence alone had been better. And it would have been even better if Heflin and Hunt had an adult instead of a contrived relationship. What a waste! The only bright spot was a brief, uncredited appearance by Ava Gardner as a car hop in her eighth film.

Not bad

Author: Robert J. Maxwell (rmax304823@yahoo.com) from Deming, New Mexico, USA
10 September 2002

Zinnemann’s first film is definitely a B feature. Any movie that has Van Heflin as the lead and Lee Bowman and Marsha Hunt in support has got to be a B. (Hunt was later to fall afoul of anti-communist forces in Hollywood and her career, such as it was, was over, despite her cutely upsloped nose.)

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It’s basically a police vs. racketeers story, but the police work is done behind the scenes in a lab called “Crime Laboratory” on the door. Everything Jack Webb does in “He Walked By Night,” Van Heflin does here, except that he is the chief focus of the movie rather than an occasionally consulted expert source. In fact, come to think of it, he does some pretty amazing things in that lab. I’ll bet HE wouldn’t have made a hash of the scientific evidence in the O. J. Simpson case! Bowman parades around as an ambitious racket buster but is in reality a sneaky murderer.

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You can tell because he has that kind of mustache. Exemplifying the Peter Principle, he finds his level of incompetence as an actor here. Van Heflin, on the other hand, turns in an interesting characterization, laconic and intense at the same time, keeping his assistant Hunt at a distance with his ironic smile and refusal to take her seriously. Heflin seems to me a largely underrated actor. He has considerable range, from modest and loving and a bit dull (“Shane”) to cynical and brutal (“They Came to Cordura”) and believable in any case.

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The movie spends as much time on the triangle involving Heflin, Hunt, and Bowman as it does on the crime theme itself, and not to its detriment. The script is evocative in its datedness. One can become a celebrity by being an effective radio speaker. Everybody smokes freely and uses paper matches. Women’s fashions look hideous. The black telephones have rotary dials. Heflin mixes some potions together and they bubble over with vapor from the dry ice in the container. (Heflin sets the ominously gurgling glass in front of Bowman and says, “Wait till I get the reagent.” “Bring two straws,” says Bowman.) Ava Gardner has a few lines as a carhop. Robert Blake is seen briefly as a dark-eyed boy leaning over into the front seat of a car.

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Zinnemann was a nervous wreck when the movie was first shown. It was a small audience consisting of Louis B. Mayer and his stooges. Before the film was finished, someone entered and whispered to Mayer and after a flurry of activity they rose and walked out of the showing. Zinnemann was certain his goose was cooked. But in fact Mayer had just received news that Carol Lombard had been killed in an airplane crash and, whatever feelings he might have had about Lombard, he could be certain that the event would impact on Clark Gable, Lombard’s loving husband and one of MGM’s biggest stars. The movie isn’t worth much analysis because there really isn’t much to it. But I kind of enjoyed it.

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Good “B” Movie

8/10
Author: fwdixon from United States
9 April 2014
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Van Heflin is miscast (IMO) as a forensic criminologist trying to solve the murder of the anti-corruption mayor. Marsha Hunt is the love interest and his assistant. Lee Bowman plays the ambitious young attorney who helped get the mayor elected. As the film starts, the crime-busting mayor and DA had just gotten elected and the mayor is thanking Bowman. Cut to the next scene where Bowman secretly meets with crime kingpin and political fixer John Litel and arranges the murder of the DA. After the DA’s body is found, Heflin uses forensics to find the killer and Bowman is made a “Special Investigator” who also make fatuous crime busting appearances on the radio!

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But the mayor figures out that Bowman is crooked, call him into his office and tells him he plans to launch an investigation the very next day. Of course, he’s signed his own death warrant and Bowman plants a bomb in the mayor’s car that blows him to kingdom come the next morning. Beanery owner Eddie Quillen gets picked up for the murder and Bowman uses his influence to screw him even more. Meanwhile, Bowman is romancing Marsha Hunt and she foolishly keeps tipping him to everything that Van Heflin figures out. Pretty soon Heflin uncovers evidence of Bowman’s guilt and, of course, Hunt unwittingly tips him off. It all come to a head when Bowman goes gunning for Heflin at his laboratory. A pretty good fight ensues and Bowman is subdued and arrested. A sappy added on final scene has Heflin proposing (successfully of course) to Marsha Hunt.

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I really enjoyed this movie. The script is good, the pacing brisk and the acting, while certainly not Oscar worthy, was pretty darn good. Plenty of familiar 30s/40s character actors are on hand too. Anyhoo, Van Heflin, although he gives a journeyman performance, is hard for me to accept as a “good guy”. He always plays morally questionable characters much better. I feel the roles of Heflin and Bowman should have been switched. My “B” Movie Meter: 8* out of 10*

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Debut

30 October 2000 | by KuRt-33 (kurtaerden@yahoo.com) (Antwerp, Belgium) – See all my reviews

The category for this movie might be ‘mystery’, the plot however certainly isn’t. Within the first five minutes of the film you found out that Jerry is corrupt and you meet McKay, the man who’ll certainly solve the crime. This makes you wonder why the movie would be interesting.

Still, like most of Hitchcock’s features, it’s not what the movie is about, it’s what you do with the plot that makes the movie. Zinneman’s first is quite good for a debut: the film is sober but effective. The relation between McKay and his female assistant Mitchell is more interesting than 95% of the working relations you normally get to see. McKay’s forensic quest is quite interesting too.

Bear in mind that it’s a debut and watch a very nice film.

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Black Widow (1954)

Black Widow is a 1954 DeLuxe Color mystery film in CinemaScope, with elements of film noir, written, produced and directed by Nunnally Johnson and starring Ginger Rogers, Van Heflin, Gene Tierney, and George Raft.

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Peter Denver (Van Heflin) is a renowned Broadway producer attending a party—hosted by the viciously haughty and celebrated actress Carlotta “Lottie” Marin (Ginger Rogers) and her quiet husband Brian Mullen (Reginald Gardiner)—when he meets Nancy “Nanny” Ordway (Peggy Ann Garner). Ordway is a seemingly naïve, 20-year-old, aspiring writer, who hopes to make it big in New York. She convinces a reluctant Denver to let her use his apartment to work during the day, while his wife, Iris (Gene Tierney), also a famous actress, is away, but with her permission.

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After the Denvers return from the airport and find Nancy hanging dead in their bathroom, a variety of people Ordway has recently met in New York begin to reveal deeper and darker connections with her. Lt. Bruce (George Raft), the detective assigned to the case, soon discovers that this apparent suicide was in fact a homicide and believes that Denver, quickly suspected of having an affair with Ordway, is the murderer. Denver evades arrest and seeks clues to discover the real murderer; the case becomes cluttered when he and Lt. Bruce independently realize that Ordway’s dealings in New York have not been as innocent as her superficial personality.

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Ordway had recently stayed with an artist roommate, whose deceived brother she evidently agreed to marry, while also staying for some time with her uncle. A series of flashbacks reveal that, all along the way, Ordway was craftily piecing together a scheme that would help her climb the social ladder and, later, conceal the identity of an apparent secret lover, while falsely implicating Denver; this mysterious romance is confirmed by an autopsy, which reveals that Ordway was pregnant at the time of her death. Everyone Ordway knew is suddenly a suspect in the murder case, including Lottie Marin and Brian Mullen, who live in the same apartment building as the Denvers.

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In the end, Mullen, who can no longer keep quiet to his friend Peter Denver, reveals that he was Ordway’s secret lover, although he swears that he didn’t kill her. Having bugged Mullen’s apartment, Lt. Bruce barges in, charging Mullen with the homicide. Finally Marin admits she in fact strangled Ordway for having the affair with her husband, and set up the killing to look like a suicide.

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Tightly constructed, beautifully filmed, straight up high society suspense

17 August 2011 | by secondtake (United States) – See all my reviews

Black Widow (1954)

An early full color Cinemascope drama, loaded with starts, and written by a high powered but somewhat forgotten stage and screen writer of the 40s and 50s, Nunnally Johnson. And this is one of a handful of films he directed, too. It’s really quite a fully blossomed drama, and it grows with complexity as it goes. And it’s packed with stars. The leading man has always impressed me even though he’s not the handsome or powerful sort that usually commands the first credits, Van Heflin. he’s really amazing, subtle and perfectly sophisticated and well meaning and (eventually) tortured.

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His wife is played with usual cool cheerfulness by Gene Tierney, and their neighbor and friend is a haughty and ridiculous (perfectly so) Ginger Rogers. Rogers takes her role to the hilt, both in arrogance and frivolity and later in emotional breakdown.

What ensues is not just highbrow Broadway theater culture, but eventually a criminal (or psychologically suspenseful) tidal wave sweeps over the relatively lightweight beginnings, and the effect is kind of remarkable in its own way. I mean, it’s so completely theatrical and melodramatic, and yet it really works as an interpersonal and heartfelt (and probing) drama, too. The writing is smart, nuanced, and it plays the line of being exactly what it is–meaning that it’s about the very world that Johnson lives in.

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The cop in this case is George Raft, always a little stiff and stiff again here, but he does his job. The seductress who is the center of all these talents is Peggy Ann Garner. Who is she? Well, after several years of being a successful child actress, and except for a small role in an obscure 1951 Fred Zinnemann film as an adult, Garner was a television actress (including some t.v. movies) bouncing from one series to another. Then, at the end of her career, she had small roles in three more features. And in many ways, she’s the weak link here–she’s supposed to be sleeping her way to success in the theater world, and yet there’s something not quite right about her in this role. I suppose I underestimate middle aged rich men.

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The plot this girl weaves for those around her is elaborate and devilish. And when it goes wrong for her, it really goes wrong for our main man Heflin. At the point the film is very much like Hitchcock film, with the apparently innocent man accused of a crime. Unlike Hitchcock, Johnson uses flashbacks at key points near the end., which do their job but also have a way of deflating the suspense.

See for yourself!

Fading stars breathe life into artificial murder mystery set on Broadway

8/10
Author: bmacv from Western New York
6 October 2003

No matter how pretentious the cocktail party, never escape by asking another wallflower out for dinner. That was theatrical producer Van Heflin’s mistake when, on the terrace of Broadway diva Ginger Rogers’ apartment, he took pity on hopeful young writer Peggy Ann Garner. Just a few months later, she was found hanged in the bathroom of his apartment.

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It was all very innocent, though. While his wife, another star on the Rialto (Gene Tierney), was away tending to her ailing mother, Heflin let Garner use his place as a daytime office so she could write in quiet comfort. (Well, not so quiet: She listens to `The Dance of the Seven Veils’ from Salome incessantly and fixates on a line from the opera: `The mystery of love is stronger than the mystery of death.’) But when it turns out not only that she was pregnant but that she was murdered, the police sensibly enough find in Heflin their prime suspect.

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Black Widow, written and directed by Nunnally Johnson, assembles an impressive array of Hollywood luminaries across whose resumés long shadows were beginning to creep. Along with Rogers, Tierney and Heflin, there’s George Raft as a police detective, Otto Krueger as Garner’s actor uncle and Reginald Gardiner as Rogers’ whipped spouse. It’s an ensemble-cast, 40s-high-style mystery movie, made about a decade too late but not too much the worse for that (even allowing for its color and Cinemascope).

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Heflin’s technically the center of the movie – the patsy racing around to prove his innocence. But the meatier parts go to the women, except for Tierney, all but wasted in the recessive role of the elegant but dutiful wife. Garner makes her abrupt exit early in the movie, but returns in startlingly revisionist flashbacks. And, as the grande dame (named `Carlotta,’ perhaps in homage to another grande dame of the stage, Marie Dressler’s Carlotta Vance in Dinner at Eight?), Rogers strides around in big-ticket outfits and fakes a highfalutin drama-queen accent. For most of the movie it seems like ill-fitting role for the essentially proletarian Rogers, but it’s shrewdly written, and near the end she shows her true colors, becoming, briefly, sensational.

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Like Repeat Performance and All About Eve, Black Widow uncoils in a high-strung, back-stabbing theatrical milieu that’s now all but vanished – all the money and the glamour have moved west. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but the tiny part of a struggling Greenwich Village actor is taken by television producer Aaron Spelling, now one of the richest men in Hollywood.) The movie cheats a little by withholding information essential to our reading of the characters, but it’s a forgivable feint; the characters are all `types’ anyhow. There is, however, one baffling omission – there’s not a single widow in the plot.

High Wall (1947)

Directed by Curtis Bernhardt
Cinematography Paul Vogel

After a brain-damaged man confesses to murder and is committed, Dr. Ann Lorrison tries to prove his innocence.

great performance by Taylor

7/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
3 September 2006

Robert Taylor is Steven Kenet, accused of killing his unfaithful wife in “High Wall,” a 1947 film noir also starring Audrey Totter and Herbert Marshall. In our first glimpse of Steve, he’s in a car with a dead woman careening down the road to get rid of her. The problem is, due to a brain injury suffered during the war, he can’t remember what happened. He is institutionalized for psychiatric evaluation to see if he can stand trial as a sane person. Audrey Totter is Ann, the psychiatrist who takes in Steve’s small son as well as works with her patient to try and uncover the truth. Herbert Marshall plays his dead wife’s boss.

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After World War II, Hollywood began to explore mental and emotional disorders and the use of psychiatry to unlock the traumas of the mind. “Possessed,” “Spellbound,” and “The Snake Pit” are just a few of the dozens of films employing the use of psychiatry, mental hospitals, and/or psychotropic drugs. In “High Wall,” the psychiatry seems to be more of a plot device than something that is actually used to help the patient. It’s there to provide flashbacks. Meanwhile, the Taylor character, once he has surgery, has a mind of his own and is constantly slipping out or in the psychiatrist’s office window, hiding in her car, and visiting the scene of the crime. The biggest problem is that the character of the murder victim is never developed, and the reasons for her behavior are never made clear. Nevertheless, the film manages to hold one’s interest, has a great atmosphere and a couple of really shocking moments. There are also some very funny bits throughout, including a scene where Steve meets the public defender.

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This is one of Robert Taylor’s best performances. After “Johnny Eager,” one of Hollywood’s biggest heartthrobs began to play more complex roles and more bad guys. It was a good move; he played them very well. He doesn’t get much support from Audrey Totter, who turns in a dull, somewhat cold performance in an attempt to be a professional woman. She doesn’t give the role a lot of shading. Herbert Marshall seems somewhat miscast and is too lethargic for a role that requires some emotional range.

Very watchable for handsome Taylor’s excellent performance.

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Physician Heal Thyself

7/10
Author: seymourblack-1 from United Kingdom
8 May 2009
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It’s difficult to understand why “High Wall” remains such an overlooked and under-appreciated movie. It certainly has much to commend it, such as the creative and stylish expressionist cinematography which greatly enhances the action and the judicious use of close ups which add intensity to some of the more dramatic moments (especially those involving the two main characters). The grid-like shadows that adorn the walls, floors and patients in the Psychiatric Hospital, emphasise the perception of it being an institution where people are caged in. A high speed sequence in one of the early scenes in which Steven Kenet (Robert Taylor) drives a car recklessly and crashes with his wife’s dead body in the front passenger seat, effectively grabs the audience’s attention and provokes interest in what events had led to such a dramatic incident. This thriller also features one of the most casual murders imaginable where the weapon used is an umbrella handle! Equally bizarrely, there is also the spectacle of a psychiatrist who goes completely off the rails when she takes a series of actions which are seriously unprofessional.

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Steven Kenet (an ex-bomber pilot) is arrested after his wife’s murder but genuinely can’t remember whether he killed her or not and is therefore, referred to a Psychiatric Hospital for assessment. Medical tests reveal the presence of a blood clot on his brain and it’s believed that the clot is the most likely cause of his memory lapses. An operation to remove the clot is recommended but Steven initially refuses permission. Steven’s six year old son had been living with his mother and one day when Dr Ann Lorrison (Audrey Totter) is trying to persuade him to change his mind about the operation, she tells him that his mother has died and that unless he has the operation, there is no possibility that he could be declared mentally fit enough to deal with his own finances and his son would then have to be admitted to the county orphanage. The operation goes ahead and is successful but still does not bring back any memory of his wife’s death.

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A man called Henry Cronner (Vince Barnett) tries to sell Steven useful information about his wife’s death but is murdered shortly after. This leads Steven to believe that he may be innocent and he then agrees to be given the truth drug (sodium pentothal) so that he can describe to Ann all that he remembers from the night of his wife’s murder. He can remember starting to attack his wife and then when he woke up she was dead.

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Ann goes to her car and is surprised to find Steven is in the back seat. He gets her to take him to the murder scene where he goes through everything he can remember. One night when Ann visits Steven, he locks her in his cell and escapes. Ann searches for him and eventually finds him outside the murder scene. At the apartment where the murder took place, they meet someone they suspect may be involved and Ann administers the truth drug and carries out some questioning which gradually reveals who murdered Mrs Kenet.

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Dr Lorrison had initially suspected that Kenet may be guilty and that he’d refused treatment to protect himself from prosecution. As she got more familiar with his case she started to feel more sympathetic towards him and after he’d had the operation and undergone the sodium pentothal test, her attraction to him had deepened.

Dr Lorrison is a remarkably unethical practitioner who improperly gains temporary custody of her patient’s son and then, when it suits her, tells Kenet that his son is in danger of being sent to an orphanage.

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At a later stage she disingenuously informs Kenet that his son has been taken in by a woman called Martha Ferguson (conveniently omitting to mention that Ferguson is actually her aunt with whom she lives). After the first occasion when Kenet escaped from the hospital and forced her to go with him to the scene of the murder, she didn’t report the matter to her colleagues and after his second escape she also went to join him at the same location. This time however, she readily injected the suspect with sodium pentothal despite the fact that he was confused and groggy after being savagely beaten up by Kenet!!!

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Robert Taylor turns in a very good performance as a man whose condition makes him tense and truculent at times and whose predicament also makes him anguished and confused. He projects all these feelings quite powerfully and also shows a more tender side to his personality in the scenes involving his son.

Murders and Medicinal Mania.

7/10
Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
11 January 2014

High Wall is directed by Curtis Bernhardt and adapted to screenplay by Sydney Boehm and Lester Cole from the play by Alan R. Clark and Bradbury Foote. It stars Robert Taylor, Audrey Totter, Herbert Marshall, Dorothy Patrick and H.B. Warner. Music is by Bronislau Kaper and cinematography by Paul Vogel.

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Suffering from a brain injury sustained during the war, Steven Kenet (Taylor) is further rocked by the realisation that he may have strangled his wife during one of his blackout episodes. Committed to a county asylum, Steven responds to treatment by Dr. Ann Lorrison (Totter) and comes to believe he just might be innocent of his wife’s murder. But can he convince the authorities? Can he in fact get out of the asylum to find proof?

By 1947 film noir had firmly encompassed the plot strand involving returning veterans from the war. Plot would find them struggling to readjust into society, they would be battle scarred, emotionally torn or suffering some form of injury, such as a popular favourite of film makers of the time, the amnesia sufferer. High Wall is one of the better pictures from the original film noir cycle to deal with this premise. Where except for a daft method used to bring the story to its conclusion, it’s a well thought out and intelligent picture.

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The pairing of Taylor and Totter is one of the film’s strengths, they are helped no end by having parts that requires them to veer away from roles that they were accustomed to. Bernhardt and Vogel dress the picture up superbly, the camera glides eerily around the asylum, throwing impressive shadows across the drama, and the camera technique used for Kenet’s flashback sequences proves mood magnificent. Out of the asylum the visuals still remain beautiful whilst still exuding a bleakness befitting the unfolding story, with rain drenched streets the order of the night. While Kaper drifts a suitably haunting musical score across proceedings.

It’s unhurried and cares about attention to details, and even though some of the ethics involved in story are dubious, this is a smart entry in the psychological film noir canon. 7.5/10

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Johnny Eager (1941)

Director:

Mervyn LeRoy

Cinematography by

Harold Rosson
District Attorney’s daughter falls in love with a gangster the D.A. is trying to put in jail.
A good forties gangster film!

6 August 2003 | by Woody Martin (Vanright@hotmail.com) (Bklyn. New York) – See all my reviews

Robert Taylor was just great in this film, Van Heflin was great as well. Taylor as a likeable bad guy with class, you can’t help but root for him in the end, wishing for a happy ending, but knowing that this likeable gangster will go out in blaze of glory. I wish it were available on a DVD format, they don’t make them like this any more!

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Enchanting film-noir with endearing performances

7/10
Author:Jugu Abraham (jugu_abraham@yahoo.co.uk)from Trivandrum, Kerala, India
13 January 2003

Just as Sydney Greenstreet is unforgettable in “The Maltese Falcon”, Van Heflin’s role in Johnny Eager is memorable. Heflin won an Academy Award for this role that would be a dream role for any serious actor. The role provides superb lines, wide emotional range and an unusual character for a Forties movie. A weeping Heflin would be arresting to even a casual viewer. Several years later, Heflin played a somewhat similar but rugged and drunk Musketeer with a broken marriage in “The Three Musketeers.” The casting of “Johnny Eager” is the secret to its success.

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Robert Taylor made a name as the good looking good guy in the movies, but he is even better when he plays the bad guy in a handful of films. This is one such example. The strength of this role is his ability to transform from a likable good guy into a steely, gangster with an eye-brow movement and a subtle variation in his voice. Yet amongst the several negative roles (“Conspirator”, “Undercurrent”, “Ride, Vaqeuro”, “The Night Walker”), Taylor in “Johnny Eager” is able to present the versatile actor he was.

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The lovely Lana Turner is overshadowed by Taylor and Heflin, not just by the script but their individual performances. Usually Turner overshadows her male colleagues.

The film would never have stood out but for the script (Grant and Mahin) and the direction (LeRoy). The opening sequence and the ending sequence are well crafted and can stand alongside the best of film noir. I am surprised that this work gets often overlooked in discussions about the best examples of the genre. I found the film richly entertaining and well-made.

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T(aylor) +T(urner)=Dynamite!

Author:retro_gal
5 December 2003

“Johnny Eager” was the one and only movie film god and goddess Robert Taylor and Lana Turner made together, which is very puzzling–their single pairing raked in the dough at the box office, and the fact that they were both under long-term contract to the same studio, MGM, made it such that no pesky and expensive loan-outs from other studios would be necessary (in fact, Taylor has the distinction of being MGM’s longest contract star, with Turner not far behind) . But however lamentable that is, much consolation can be garnered from the fact that their lone film is a very memorable and excellent one, with a solid storyline, good direction, great casting and flawless performances by all.

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In a marvelously inspired decision, Robert Taylor was cast in the title role as Johnny Eager, Gangster–quite a departure, to say the least, from his previously romantic matinee idol roles which established him as a star. At first glance the perfectly handsome, gentlemanly Taylor would seem woefully miscast, but proves otherwise–he holds his perfect features with such an air of menace and calculation and acts every inch the tough guy, both of which are completely convincing. One never gets the sense that he is “trying” to be a heavy, he simply is. In fact, “Johnny Eager” would be the start of a new phase in Taylor’s career where, like actors such as Dick Powell and fellow MGM star Robert Montgomery, he would cut loose from his light, “nice guy” leading man roles and emerge with a much darker, harder-edged “flawed hero” if not “bad man” persona. In this film he does so terrifically as the cynical, selfish, big time recently parolled hood who’s only priorities are money and avoiding a return to the big house.

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He faces problems with each when he is unable to get a license from any judge to open up his greyhound racing racket, and when the daughter of the prosecutor who sent him away falls for him. But the cunning and ruthless Johnny Eager sees how he can use the girl and her father to meet his own ends and cleverly concocts a devious, heartless scheme to do so–but things don’t turn out as expected when the unexpected happens and he genuinely falls for her.

And how could any man not? Lana Turner plays the part of the prosecutor-judge’s daughter, sociology student Lisbeth Bard, who has the power to make any bad man rue his rotten ways–she is captivating with her luscious, luxe blond beauty (which in her physical prime was such that she often is considered by “critics,” whoever they may be, as one of cinema’s greatest beauties, and justifiably so. In fact, in the relatively recent “Femme Fatale,” Rebecca Romijn-Stamos was made up to look like Lana) and warm sensuality blended with a slightly cool sultriness.

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She simply shimmers and sparkles, glitters and gleams like a white diamond. Her rapport and sexual chemistry with Taylor is so palpable and electrifying that I consider him one of her best leading men, alongiside only John Garfield in “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. In fact, during filming the two had an affair and their powerful attraction translates onto film. Though Turner was, with good reason, known more for her riveting looks, glamorous sex appeal and strong screen presence rather than her acting ability, in this film she turns in a truly depthful, sincere, multi-faceted performance, running the gamut from cool, assessing fascination to frantic, desperate angst, which probably had a lot to do with the fact that she was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, her trusted mentor back from her starlet days at Warner Bros., who “brought” her with him when he moved over to MGM.

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The dynamic Edward Arnold is good as usual as Lisbeth’s lawyer father, who is alternately sinister and sympathetic because of his willingness to do anything to protect his beloved daughter, whether it be from Johnny Eager or from jail time, even if it means forsaking his honesty and breaking the law which he has promised to uphold. Despite the sterling performances of these actors, it is Van Heflin who steals the show (and won the AA for Best Supporting Actor) in his star turn as Johnny’s best and only friend Jeff Hartnett, and a strange one at that–a maudlin, conscious-ridden, cerebral alcoholic, the type who seems like he would be the last person fit for the criminal world. But despite this, he sticks with Johnny, and the viewer (or at least I did) truly gets the sense that there is a homoerotic bond, at least on Heflin’s part.

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This is good stuff and I highly recommend it. If you are into film noirs, then this is a must see.

p.s. Someone flippantly dismissed Turner as a sort of 2nd rate Veronica Lake–that is definitely not true, for it can be argued that Turner became a star around or even before Lake did and despite their sultry, stunning blond looks and charisma, the two had distinct personas of their own and were not “interchangeable.” Although one could never go so far as to say Lake was mysterious, she was somewhat inscrutable and “cool-er”, something Turner was not. And while Lake definitely did have sufficient star quality, Lana had much more of it, and what’s more, she also had a strong audience rapport–something that enabled her to remain a star even when her looks started to fade and despite the shock over the Stompanato Scandal. Lake was a star mostly on the basis of her hairdo, and when it went out of vogue or she changed it, interest in her waned. I say this as a fan of both of these marvelous ladies.

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don’t doubt Robert Taylor

2 January 2007 | by RanchoTuVu (Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico) – See all my reviews

A parolee masquerades as a cabby while running a dog racing track on the side. As the film opens, he has an interview with his parole officer, and then goes to the track, which is under an injunction from the D. A. who had sent him to prison in the first place and who’s step-daughter (Lana Turner) he later falls in love with, enters the exterior of his office, puts on one of his expensive sport coats, and becomes the head of a rather extensive gambling racket. For doubters of Robert Taylor, this could make them believers as he rises well above this fantasy like story that wants to be a tough crime drama but refuses to be gritty enough to sink into a convenient gutter. Nonetheless, Taylor puts a lot of punch into his part, outshining the film’s Oscar winner Van Heflin, who plays his heavy drinking philosophizing associate.

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Van Heflin shines in this MGM gangster film

10/10
Author:reelguy2from Boulder, Colorado
17 November 2004

MGM produced this well-written, well-produced gangster saga, a type of film that was very unusual for the studio.

As the alcoholic, self-loathing, philosophizing buddy of Johnny Eager (Robert Taylor), Heflin steals the show. He plays his role with great intensity and complexity, making his performance one of the most deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscars in the history of the Academy Awards. His crying scenes are enough to choke a person up, and his possible suggestion of a homoerotic attraction to Eager is unique in a film of this era.

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It’s unfortunate that Heflin’s subsequent roles and performances were generally dull. This actor needed roles that put him emotionally on the edge and exploited his intensity. But at least in Johnny Eager, Heflin set a standard for screen acting that remains a role model to this day.

Robert Taylor plays his scenes with Heflin with some dramatic tension and a hint of subtext, while still remaining comfortably within the confines of a handsome Hollywood leading man. Turner delivers her lines very artificially, coming across as insincere, and her face seems incapable of expressing emotion. Beautiful she is, but given the taut script, the director had the potential of eliciting less formulaic playing from her. Luckily, the rest of the cast is excellent -especially Edward Arnold and Robert Sterling.

Watch this one and you won’t be disappointed. Heflin’s performance is worth it all.

 

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A sesquipedalian Heflin!

Author: sandra small (sandi_small@muchomail.com) from gateshead, tyne and wear, england, uk
20 December 2008

The celebrated German philosopher Immanual Kant’s premise of theory was that there is no originality, because we are influenced by what we experience. In that case Johnny Eager (1942)is a clichéd gangster film. But the clichéd roles give way to nuanced characters, which have originality within their various slants of their respective stereotypes. Director Leroy achieves this by adding to the clichés of sharp suited mobsters and their dolls anomalies as in the emotional, erudite gangster with ethics.

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A classic stereotype, (well observed and researched by the production team) is that of Lana Turner’s character; Lizbeth Bard. She is the clichéd sociology student. That is she is a middle class naive ingénue, whose fascination with her subject matter gets her in too deep. This role gave Turner credibility as an actor! Likewise, the film gave Taylor the credibility he deserved as an actor of dimensions. His caricature of the solipsistic gangster gave him an edge which usurped his ‘pretty boy’ image.

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Nevertheless Taylor’s Johnny Eager seems to have a sense of his beauty that has the women running to him. One example is the scene when the women run to serve him at the desk near the start of the film. This begs the question of was Johnny Eager’s looks that had the women eating out of his hand? or was it his ‘gangster’ image that attracted them? Could Eager have had the women falling for him with just looks alone? His character wouldn’t be half as sexy in the role of Bard’s other love interest, that of the sweet, well intentioned good -guy as in Robert Sterling’s character; Jimmy Courtney.

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The other stand out performance (deserved of his Oscar) is that of Van Heflin playing the complex ,sesquipedalian and polymath, Jeff Hartnett. He is the cerebral side kick of Eager. Like the women, he has got in too deep with Eager because of his homo erotic attraction to the latter.

Mention should also go to the excellent turns by Edward Arnald as the over protective Dad, who has come from nothing,making it as a respectable lawyer, with ambitions for his daughter to marry a wealthy socialite with a good name. His over protectiveness as Bard’s Dad gives way to a subtext of incest. This has Hartnett (Heflin) mention the famous psychologist Freud.

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Also outstanding in this film is the clever script, which is evidently well researched, as in the example of the naive sociology student. The direction of the film is a credit to Mervyn LeRoy who portrays the clichéd caricatures of the characters to almost perfection. . The film takes allot of twists and turns, which defines it as ‘film noir’.

This was the film that altered the career of Robert Taylor, transforming him from a ‘pretty boy’ film star to a credible actor. It definitely is worth seeing.

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Cabbie by day, gangster by night, and hunk – always!

8/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
15 August 2006

Robert Taylor is a reformed gangster on parole at the beginning of “Johnny Eager.” After meeting with his parole officer and two sociology students – one of whom is the gorgeous Lana Turner – Johnny transforms himself into the gangster he has remained. It’s in this identity that he runs into Turner again at a nightclub. The gangster interests her more than the cabbie. Little does he know, her father is the prosecutor who has an injunction to keep a dog track from opening in which Johnny has a financial stake.

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According to Lana Turner, she and Taylor flirted and made out, and Taylor told Stanwyck he wanted a divorce. Turner didn’t want to break up the marriage and told Taylor it was no go. Stanwyck, however, never spoke to Turner again. Turner and Taylor make a beautiful couple and they sizzle on screen.

Both turn in excellent performances. Turner plays a love-struck, vulnerable young woman who will do anything to protect her man – she’s great. Taylor, sporting a mustache, is terrific as Johnny – a goody two shoes around his parole officer, a mean, selfish tough guy around everyone else. He has no idea how to love or to be loved.

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Van Heflin won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as Johnny’s friend Jeff, an alcoholic philosopher and Johnny’s conscience. Heflin plays up the sensitivity of Jeff and his love for Johnny, giving the role gay overtones. He is fantastic.

If you’re under the impression that Taylor and Turner were just two of Hollywood’s non-acting pretty people, think again. During their careers, both played many worthwhile roles and played them well. If the critics dismissed them because of their looks, or in Turner’s case, the headlines she garnered in her private life, too bad, but the audience always got their money’s worth with these two pros.

Wonderful film!

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Badge 711

7/10
Author: sol from Brooklyn NY USA
24 January 2005

(Some Spoilers) Davilishly handsome Robert Taylor as paroled crime bigwig Johnny Eager with the eye-popping gorgeous 21 year-old Lana Turner as Lisbeth Brad. As well as Van Heflin who received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as Johnny’s sad sack drunk and scholarly pal Jeff Hartenett put on quite a show in the MGM glossy crime/drama “Johnny Eager”.

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Doing his parole as a taxi driver Johnny Eager is still secretly running his old crime organization with that cold and hard-fisted efficiency that he ran it before he was sent up the river to the state penitentiary. At his monthly parole board hearing Johnny meets two sociology students Lisbeth Bard and Judy Sanford, Lana Turner and Dana Lewis, and both fall, Judy outwardly and Lisbeth secretly, for the good-looking former hoodlum.

Later Johnny again meets Lisbeth at a nightclub that he was doing business with and learns that she’s the step-daughter of State DA and the man who put him behind bars John Benson Farrell, Edward Arnold. Johnny has all the top police and politicians paid off to allow him to go back to business as top city crime boss. Eeryone but the straight and honest DA Farrell who swore to do everything to put Johnny back in prison.

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With Lisbeth madly in love with Johnny he sees a chance to take advantage of her blind passion for him to his benefit. Getting Lisbeth up at his pad he has one of his hoods Julio, Paul Stewart, break in and get into a fight with him. As Julio has Johnny on the floor and is about to knife him Johnny screams to Lisbeth to shoot him with his gun and she does killing Julio saving Johnny’s life. Unknown to Lisbeth the gun had blanks and Julio was anything but dead but the thought on her part of killing someone drove Lisbeth into a deep depression.

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Johnny uses the fact of Lisbeth’s guilt to blackmail her step-father DA Farrell to stop hounding him. At the same time have him approve of Johnny opening the dog racetrack, run by his mob! Something which DA Farrell publicly avowed never to sanction.

Not realizing how much Lisbeth is in love with him this whole plan backfires on Johnny when she tells him that she’s willing to take the rap for him! This in order to keep Johnny out of prison for being at the scene of the crime. With Julio alive this would show not only Lisbeth, who Johnny didn’t really care that much for, but her step-father the State DA what a low-life louse he is and throw him back in the clink this time for good.

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Never really loving anyone Johnny’s attraction to Lisbeth and her selfless love for him turned out to be his downfall. Trying to tell Lisbeth that Julio was alive and that she has nothing to feel guilty about only makes Lisbeth fall more in love with Johnny. Lisbeth thinking that he’s trying to keep her from going to jail for saving his life by killing Julio. In desperation Johnny now sees that the only way he can get out of this dangerous situation is to make sure that Julio is really dead and this turns out to be a fatal mistake on Johnny’s part.

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Robert Taylor is darkly handsome and effective as the ruthless Johnny Eager as he finds out that his good looks and success with women turned out to be his Achilles Heel. There was a heart-breaking scene at the dog-track when one of Johnny Eager’s former girlfriends Mea, Glenda Farrell, tried to get him to use his influence to get her husband police officer Joe Agridowski, Byron Shores, back on his old beat. That way he can spend more time with her and their three kids. It takes officer Argidowski twice as long to go to work and back from where he’s assigned to now and it’s injuring his feet from walking the twice as long beat.

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Johnny coldly and unfeeling turns the desperate Mea down even though he could have easily helped her husband. Later there ironically turned out to be a bit of poetic justice for Mea and her husband Joe in the final scene of the movie at Johnny Eager’s expense.

The Mad Genius (1931)

Emphasis on the Word Mad

2 July 2016 | by mmallon4 (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I feel like no other decade seems to have as many obscure gems lost to time as the 1930’s; case in point, The Mad Genius. Coming out in the same year as the iconic adaptations of Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde; but in my humble opinion, The Mad Genius is a better and more intriguing film than any of those.

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The opening of The Mad Genius does a superb job at setting a time and place; central Europe in the early 20th century. There is an impeccable level of detail in creating the world of a travelling performer; with the falling of the rain, the wind and the sound of horse and carriage taking full advantage of sound technology to create a world. Equally as impressive is Vladimar Ivan Tsarakov’s (John Barrymore) Berlin theatre and the large scale stage set with hints of German expressionism throughout and the wide spread use of music in the soundtrack, unlike other early talkies.

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John Barrymore is (unsurprisingly) mesmerising as Vladimar Ivan Tsarakov (quite a name), one of the most repulsive characters he ever played as he spends the movie spewing pompous and at times mad scientist like dialogue. He has a misogynistic attitude towards women and is even seen ogling up the skirts of his dancers, in one of the film’s very pre-code elements. He is even a drug dealer, although the word drug is never used in the film nor is it indentified what substances appear in the film. In one scene in which he refuses to deal drugs with the stage director played by Luis Alberni, I love his summary on drugs when he throws them into the fire; “If I drop this, you will be free, but you will suffer of course, but in the end, you will be happier than you could ever dream”. Likewise In one of the movie’s comic highlights there is an early use of profanity in film; “It’s unbelievable that there’s any human being living, who should be such a stupid ass”.

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One of the many interesting observations in The Mad Genius is the combination of elements from other movies. The plot itself is derivative of Barrymore’s previous horror outing Svengali, while Tsarakov’s desire to create a great ballet dancer out of a young boy is a variation on Dr Frankenstein (which the movie itself alludes to). When Tsarakov is wearing on overcoat he is bent over like Quasimodo; Barrymore’s facial appearance is very similar to that of Bela Lugosi in White Zombie, likewise his voice is reminiscent of Lugosi’s Dracula. The theatre setting has vibes of The Phantom of the Opera and perhaps most interestingly are the elements of The Red Shoes with the film’s inclusion of ballet and the themes of going to extremes for one’s art. Could Powell and Pressburger have taken inspiration from The Mad Genius?

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THE MAD GENIUS (Michael Curtiz, 1931) ***

7/10
Author: MARIO GAUCI (marrod@melita.com) from Naxxar, Malta
23 January 2010
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Warner Brothers were clearly eager to give the 1931 public what it wanted and also consolidate the success of SVENGALI made earlier that year by instantly reuniting the leads from that film – John Barrymore and Marian Marsh – in a quickly rehashed potboiler on similar lines.

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Barrymore is an embittered puppeteer whose lameness had dashed his dreams of a dancing career but, as fate would have it, is provided with the opportunity of living that glory vicariously through the agile street urchin he saves one day from the clutches of his cruel father (a small role for a pre-fame Boris Karloff). Growing up to be a peerless dancer (played by an uncharismatic Donald Cook) through the ruthless patronage of his foster father, he is ready to give it all up for the love of an innocent girl in the show (Marsh) but, needless to say, Barrymore will not let anything stand in the way of art and his ambitious plans for the prized pupil.

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Amusing sidekick Charles Butterworth helplessly looks on as Barrymore sadistically convinces dope-addicted choreographer (Luis Alberni) to fire Marsh but Cook overhears their heinous scheme and this causes a rift between impresario and protégé. Years pass but more scheming on Barrymore’s part enables the estrangement of the lovers and the rekindling of the working relationship between father and son. Once again, however, fate intervenes with Barrymore eventually getting his just desserts at the hands of the distraught Alberni – on stage during the performance of what was to be Cook’s crowning achievement! Admittedly, the plot is much inferior to that of SVENGALI but an unhinged Barrymore is always worth watching, Marsh is typically lovely while Michael Curtiz’s expressionistic direction (his first of three notable forays in the genre) and Anton Grot’s stylish sets lend the production a touch of class that keeps one watching if not exactly enthralled.

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The Follow – Up To SVENGALI

10/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
29 January 2008
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When Michael Curtiz directed this odd ballet and horror film he presumably had the recent success of the John Barrymore – Marian Marsh film SVENGALI (from George Du Maurier’s TRILBY) in mind. That story was based on a novel wherein a great singer is actually controlled (by hypnosis) by her impresario. Although Svengali’s character in the novel was quite obnoxious, the film version softened it to make one realize he was in control of Trilby but loved her and could not be certain if she loved him back. In the end it turned out she did.

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The story of THE MAD GENIUS was similar – Donald Cook is a brilliant ballet dancer who was trained by impresario Barrymore, and the latter is determined to get his protégé the career he deserves – by all means necessary. This means derailing anything or anyone who Barrymore concludes will prevent this. Marsh is a female member of the ballet company that Cook is falling for, and Barrymore is willing to push her out of the company, and even turn her into a wealthy nobleman’s mistress to keep Cook in line.

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The film actually works. In the background was a misunderstanding of the relationship between Diaghilev and Nijinski (who many thought was that impresario’s puppet). Here one realizes Barrymore is a man who is so hung up on the success of his adopted son that he does not stop even while he realizes he is doing harm to so many others. To perfect the boy’s dancing (and the company’s) he is willing to be the drug supplier to dance master Luis Alberni (one of the first examples of cocaine use in movies). When not pimping for his wealthy aristocratic backer, he runs a tight ship on all the dancers and his factotum associate Charles Butterworth.

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But he is human. One of the funniest aspects of the film is how Barrymore picks up his own sexual partners from starry eyed young woman coming in to join the ballet company. He always uses the same line with them, and even the same hour the next day to visit his office (three o’clock). Butterworth adds his bit too, as he tries constantly to interest Barrymore or anyone in a really bad ballet he’s written (Barrymore, who is happy and drunk when Butterworth finally corners him, slowly sobers up when hearing this idiotic story line, and ends up saying he never realized what an ass Butterworth really was).

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Finally there is a cameo that I find fascinating. This is the film wherein Boris Karloff (for about one minute) shares screen time with John Barrymore. They never did so again.

tasty ham, attractively served; side dishes not bad

Author: mukava991 from United States
1 February 2015

In “The Mad Genius” John Barrymore delivers one of his most enjoyable screen performances, playing a club-footed, alcoholic, womanizing Russian puppeteer who takes an abused youth under his wing and molds him into a great star with the Ballet Russe, an accomplishment he could never attain himself due to his deformity. Some may consider his performance hammy, but at least it’s Grade A.

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The film opens expressionistically somewhere in “Central Europe” on a rain-drenched night with Barrymore and his dim-witted sidekick (the deadpan Charles Butterworth) rehearsing a traveling puppet show when a barefoot youth (Frankie Darro), fleeing a beating from his insanely sadistic father (Boris Karloff), stumbles into their tent. Barrymore and Butterworth hide him and leave town in a horse-drawn wagon shot at a tilted angle as it creaks along a muddy road.

Zip to Berlin several years later. The youth is now a young man (Donald Cook) who is in love with a fellow dancer (Marian Marsh). Barrymore, still the puppeteer but of humans now, wants no one interfering with his controlling relationship and maneuvers Marsh out of the company while elevating a lesser dancer to her position. Meanwhile, Barrymore’s dance director (Luis Alberni) is slowly going mad from a cocaine addiction enabled by his employer. The two are locked together, feeding on each other’s weaknesses, paralleling the central relationship between teacher-mentor and star-protégé. Barrymore needs Alberni’s skills as a dance master; Alberni can’t function without the drugs Barrymore provides.

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The camera often shoots from low angles, with ceilings visible. Lots of chiaroscuro. Pre-Code subject matter includes extramarital cohabitation, prostitution, drug addiction, and (for the time) grisly violence. Suggestive dialogue abounds.

Barrymore feasts on the role. Luis Alberni plays the frenzied addict to the hilt. Marian Marsh and Donald Cook are sometimes mechanical and artificial but not to the extent that they undermine their roles and both have strong moments. Carmel Myers is excellent in a brief drunken scene with Barrymore.

Donald Cook looks so much like the Warners contract actress Kay Francis that they should have been cast in a movie together as siblings. Just sayin’.

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Svengali (1931)

Cinematography Barney McGill
Directed by Archie Mayo

Svengali is a 1931 American pre-Code supernatural drama/horror film produced and distributed by Warner Bros. The film stars John Barrymore and co-stars Marian Marsh. It was directed by Archie Mayo and the screenplay was written by J. Grubb Alexander. It is based on the gothic horror novel Trilby (1894) by George du Maurier. The film was originally released on May 22, 1931. Warner Brothers was so pleased by the box office on this film that the studio hurriedly reteamed Barrymore and Marsh for another horror film The Mad Genius, released on November 7, 1931.

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Svengali (1931)

3 April 2005 | by MARIO GAUCI (marrod@melita.com) (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

I’ve only watched the film once – by way of Roan’s fine if not outstanding DVD – and this happened fairly recently. SVENGALI follows its source novel (“Trilby” by George Du Maurier) pretty closely, which is rare for horror film-adaptations of the 1930s. Apart from John Barrymore’s appropriately mesmerizing leading performance (here revisiting the genre after a whole decade), I recall one particularly amazing tracking shot demonstrating Svengali’s hypnotic powers over Trilby, and there are even brief flashes of nudity (remember this was a Pre-Code film, but also that our heroine is a model)! Barrymore followed SVENGALI with the thematically-similar THE MAD GENIUS (1931) but, unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to watch that one…

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Superb Barrymore-Delightful Marsh

10/10
Author: roxyroxy
9 March 2005

This is such a great early sound film from the Warner Brothers studio. The sets by Anton Grot are amazing (there is an eye-popping miniature set of the rooftops of Paris). The sentimental background music used in “Svengali” is Thomas Dunn English’s “Ben Bolt”, which is played effectively throughout the film and is partially sang twice. The great John Barrymore IS the one and only Svengali and is superb in the role. He captures Svengali’s wicked humor and cunningness perfectly.

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Marian Marsh is ideally cast and simply delightful as the artists model Trilby. She even looks like Trilby as drawn in George Du Maurier’s novel. She displays an infectious smile and high-spirited jolliness that other actresses who have played Trilby have failed to deliver (Clara Kimball Young was okay in the 1915 silent version (“Trilby”), but Hildagarde Neff and Jodie Foster weren’t at all appealing in the later sound remakes). Mostly everyone else in 1931’s “Svengali” give good performances (the exception being Carmel Myers, whose acting dates badly). This 1931 version of “Svengali” will always be a film worth seeing for Barrymore’s humorous villain, Marsh’s adorable heroine and those glorious expressionistic sets by Anton Grot on the early Warner Brothers sound stages.

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A Real Treat!

10/10
Author: MarcoAntonio1
5 August 2005

I just love this version of the classic tale “Trilby”. John Barrymore is excellent as Svengali and pretty Marian Marsh is utterly charming as Trilby. The film has a very bohemian look and feel to it which is one of the reasons why you should enjoy it. The expressionistic sets were by Anton Grot and there is the famous striking miniature set of the rooftops of Paris that the camera tracks over in the classic scene where Svengali wills Trilby from her apartment to his one stormy midnight. Warner Brothers paired Barrymore and Marsh once again in “The Mad Genius” which is a rather adult, pre-code story with Barrymore just as menacing as he is in “Svengali”, but not the demoniac that he is in this film. Note: The Roan Group (Roan Group.com) has the best DVD edition of “Svengali” available on the market.

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Fantastic design and Barrymore in his prime.

Author: Bobs-9 from Chicago, Illinois, USA
19 April 2004

The remark of an earlier commentator below caught my eye when he stated that the change in perspective from comedy to serious drama in this film didn’t work for him. I’ve found this to be a most striking feature of the film as well, but I always thought it very effective in giving the film, and the characters, more scope than the average uniform, by-the-book comedy, thriller, horror film, drama, etc. A bit like real life, no?

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Anyway, I’ve always been a fan of this film, and I don’t think the acting is at all hokey for its era or genre. The stylized acting of the time, which appears artificial by today’s standards, seems to me to go well with the weird expressionist set design in evoking a fantastic world where fantastic things can occur. Also, the chance to see Barrymore ham it up in grand style as Svengali is, in my view, a rare treat, like experiencing a bit of show biz history. I bristled a bit at the review of this film by Scott Weinberg of the Apollo Movie Guide (see “external reviews” link).

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He states that in 1931 you could entertain people by showing 75 minutes of an airport runway, and that his being born in the 70s may explain why this film put him to sleep. Maybe so. I myself was born in the 50s and also did not grow up with this style of filmmaking, though I probably saw more of it on TV than he did. That doesn’t preclude my appreciation of it, any more than it precludes my appreciation for films of the 70s, the 80s, or the 20s for that matter. Good film is good film, and having no appreciation for the first 3 decades of cinema and some of its greatest innovators seems a severe handicap for anyone who writes about film, but at least he was honest about it.

I’m not saying that this film is on a par with the work of Murnau or Eisenstein, but I do think it’s a fascinating and stylish look into a bygone era of cinema, and can be appreciated as such.

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“Himmell!! That Throat!!!”

10/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
9 October 2006

Historic note of interest: In the early 19th Century, there was a scandal involving the British General-in-Chief of the Armies (then fighting Napoleon) where his mistress was found to have been selling commissions to wealthy, but undeserving men, for high private fees. The General-in-Chief resigned in 1809 as a result of this scandal. He was Frederick Augustus, Duke of York, second oldest (and favorite) son of King George III. The mistress, Mary Anne Clarke, faced some legal problems, but triumphed over most of them (she actually had public opinion on her side).

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Ms Clarke would marry and have a family. Her grandson was George Du Maurier (more of later); Her great-grandson was Gerald Du Maurier, the leading stage actor of the first half of the 20th Century; Her great-great-granddaughter was Daphne Du Maurier, novelist (REBECCA, JAMAICA INN, FRENCHMAN’S CREEK, MY COUSIN RACHEL, THE SCAPEGOAT), and great-great-grandma’s sympathetic biographer (MARY ANNE). By the way, while Ms Clarke had quite a noteworthy progeny, the Duke of York never had any legitimate children, or illegitimate ones of note.

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But SVENGALI is not Daphne’s book. It is the chief novel of her grandfather George. By the way, the title of the novel is not SVENGALI, but TRILBY. Trilby O’Farrell is the heroine of the story, and Svengali is the villain (“Little Billee” is the hero). But in Svengali George Du Maurier created one of the most memorable villain figures in the 1880 and 1890s, with Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula and Conan Doyle’s Professor James Moriarty, Anthony Hope’s Rupert of Hentzau and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Henry Jeckyll/Edward Hyde.

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Unfortunately there is an element in Svengali that is played down somewhat (but his appearance – based on the novel’s illustrations by Du Maurier (who was a successful cartoonist) emphasize without subtlety). Svengali is Jewish – and a real villain in the story. He is first seen as a hanger-on, and one who sneers at the attempts by Little Billee, Taffy, and the Laird to be artists. That is because he has his own powers, but he is looking for the right person to use them on. He finds that person in Trilby, a beautiful young girl, quite innocent, who works as a model. One day he examines Trilby’s throat somewhat bemusedly and discovers that it is perfectly formed for singing (hence the comment I put in the “Summary Box”).

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Up to that time she is falling for Billee, but soon Svengali is giving her all kinds of singing lessons. Billee and his friends note this with apprehension (they barely can tolerate Svengali). Then she becomes increasingly distant and cold to them, especially Billee. Soon she leaves with Svengali. Billee suffers a collapse as a result.

Billee recovers and in a few years learns that Trilby is the leading concert singer in Europe. But wherever she goes it is always with her impresario/husband Svengali. He “keeps an eye” on her and her activities. Billee can’t stand this, especially after an accidental meeting with her leads to a feeling she doesn’t even know who he is. He starts pursuing them, and finally drives to the fatal conclusion (which is quite different in the novel, but similar).

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I doubt if hypnotism really could do what Du Maurier suggested Svengali could do to Trilby. But this film certainly suggests it can. John Barrymore’s Svengali was the closest role (in his sound films; he had played Dr. Jeckyll in a silent film) to a horror part, but he manages to make the impresario/hypnotist/musician a sad and compelling figure: the tragedy for Barrymore’s Svengali is his success – he knows he controls Trilby (Marian Marsh), but that knowledge also brings doubt that she could ever love him or give herself to him on her own free will. It is a damning situation, and he does not know the answer until the last moment of the film. Svengali would be a hallmark role for Barrymore – he is a reference point in the role of Oscar Jaffe in the comedy TWENTIETH CENTURY, and a slightly watered down version is his unhappy impresario/husband to Jeanette MacDonald in MAYTIME.

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The Big Combo (1955)

Directed by Joseph H. Lewis

The Big Combo is a 1955 film noir crime film directed by Joseph H. Lewis and photographed by cinematographer John Alton, with music by David Raksin.

The film stars Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte and Brian Donlevy, as well as Jean Wallace, who was Wilde’s wife at the time. It also included the final screen appearance of actress Helen Walker.

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unacknowledged film noir classic!

9 October 1999 | by Rajdeep EndowSee all my reviews

It is surprising that the brilliance of this film has not been adequately recognised by the viewing public or the critics. Probably inspired by the prototypical rogue cop in Fritz Lang’s “The Big Heat”, this film features the crusade of one man – Lieutenant Diamond (Cornel Wilde in a super performance) to pin down Richard Conte’s smooth-tongued gangster. Struggling to keep away the departmental bureaucracy, he battles singlehandedly against organised crime with a devotion to duty bordering on the obsessional (“It’s my sworn duty to push too far”).

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Despite the absence of any big name in the cast, this film presents all the elements that we have come to love about American film noir – great lighting and photography, tight script (“First is first, and second is nobody”), a great storyline, and some superb performances (Susan Lowell as a society girl – the gangster’s moll – is ravishing).

Watch this film. It’s time it got recognition amongst the greatest films to come out of Hollywood. Ever.

Reviews of the movie today are mostly positive. Chris Dashiell on the website CineScene finds the dialogue “run of the mill” but praises the film’s director, writing that “Lewis had a remarkable ability to infuse poetry into the most banal material, and The Big Combo is one of his best efforts… it’s not as startlingly inventive as Lewis’s best film, Gun Crazy (1949), but it’s a quality B-film, satisfying and dark.”

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The staff at Variety magazine liked the film’s direction, music and photography, despite “a rambling, not-too-credible plot.” They wrote, “Performances are in keeping with the bare-knuckle direction by Joseph Lewis and, on that score, are good. Low-key photography by John Alton, one of his best,and a jazz-derived score by David Raksin with solo piano by Jacob Gimpel are in keeping with the film’s tough mood.”Film critic Ed Gonzalez lauded the film in his review, writing, “Shadows and lies are the stars of The Big Combo, a spellbinding black-and-white chiaroscuro with the segmented texture of a spider’s web …

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John Alton’s lush camera work is so dominant here you wouldn’t know Joseph H. Lewis was also behind the camera. The story doesn’t have any of the he-she psychosexual politicking that juices the director’s Gun Crazy, but that’s no loss given this film’s richer returns. The set-pieces are fierce, as is the Casablanca tweak of the last shot, and Wallace’s performance—a sad spectacle of a hurting creature caught between light and dark, good and evil—is one of noir’s great unheralded triumphs.”

Critics have compared the quality of The Big Combo to Fritz Lang‘s The Big Heat as one of the great film noir detective classics in terms of style.

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The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 91% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on eleven reviews

Tell Him You Hate Music And Quickly!

9/10
Author: ArchAngel Michael from Quis Ut Deus?
23 August 2016

Spoilers Ahead:

Conte gave great performances in Thieves’ Highway, in an atypical hero role, and as a good villain in Cry Of The City; this is the best villain he ever achieved. Mr. Brown vents his venom equally upon henchmen, his number two Donlevy, and Diamond his nemesis on the police force. This Noir is one of a kind in its rare delineation of the terrible fate of the gangster’s moll.

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As the movie opens, we get to see Susan’s exasperation at dragging around two hoods who shadow her everywhere she wishes to go. Van Cleef and Holliman are excellent at showing you how they cannot wait to get their nasty hands on Susan who is on the down-slope of that all important: keeping Mr. Brown’s attentions. She conveys this great sense of the foreboding of what is to come. Be warned, this is not remotely for kiddies, truly the darkest Noir of the period next to CrashOut. Conte taunts everyone around him constantly daring them to attack him. Even a boxer is not spared from his lecture on improperly hating his opponent sufficiently. He uses his number two, whom he displaced, as a negative example of not having sufficient B’s to destroy anyone in your way friend or foe. He finishes the lesson off by striking the boxer, normally a very bad idea, but Conte’s Mr. Brown is pure ambitious malevolence in human form.

My header comes from a very innovative torture session on Diamond using hair tonic and a hearing aid to dish out some serious physical abuse. This Noir is also rare in its departure of showing the cops in an idealized form: not here, the corruption is on full display with Mr. Brown having tentacles into Diamond’s superiors. Wilde was always a ‘pretty boy’ of the period with limited acting range, Donlevy and Conte make up for any acting deficits. Brown is outsmarting Diamond all throughout the movie, with a little help from his goons and downtown corruption. Brown is just as cruel to anyone working for him, watch what happens when he thinks Van Cleef and Holliman know too much!

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The best scene in the movie is Brian Donlevy’s horrible fate when he tries an end run, attempting to bribe Brown’s goons in a tragic coup, to wrest control from Mr. Brown. Brown was so clever that he sensed the smoldering resentment beneath Donlevy’s surface, the poor sap takes the bait; it doesn’t go well. Wilde’s acting limitations are made up by a bevy of gorgeous women who are believably chasing after Wilde. Diamond’s obsession with Alicia, coupled with Susan’s awareness of Brown’s ruthlessness, gives us a believable ending.

SPOILER: I love the finale, forgive the philosopher: What a powerful existential metaphor for Brown. Like a freaking vampire, Light destroys him. He scurries about like the giant rat he is with Susan shining the light on him. This is an example of how good a movie this is, it is not a brainless, boring Noir like The Clock; this is intense and violent with great writing.

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You will believe Brown got to the top after watching Conte’s portrayal of him. I collect Noir and it is Conte’s best performance by a mile. Everything and everyone is background to his Mr. Brown. Even his creepy goons give him a wide berth. While not a feminist Noir, Susan shows us the feminine side of being a moll plus the destruction of Brown is left to her: quite apropos. She goes from a terrified victim, anticipating her future destruction, to the spotlight operator of doom, at the very end. After The Lineup and The Big Heat, this is my third favorite Noir. It was just released on Blu Ray, you will have to zoom it to get those crappy side bars off of the screen. The more famous of Noirs: Laura, Double Indemnity and Out Of The Past, simply don’t have the intensity, all the way through, that these three do. They are short, intense and well written. I love Out Of The Past but it does has some slow parts in it. This, like the aforementioned other two, moves like lightning. A Great Film Noir. He Is One Nasty Music Lover!. Q.E.D.

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I’m trying to run an impersonal business. Killing is very personal. Once it gets started, it’s hard to stop.

9/10
Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
6 August 2010

The Big Combo is directed by Joseph H. Lewis, written by Philip Yordan and photographed by cinematographer and noir icon John Alton. David Raksin scores the music and it stars Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Jean Wallace, Brian Donlevy, Lee Van Cleef & Earl Holliman. The story sees Wilde as Police Lt. Leonard Diamond who is on a personal mission to bring down sadistic gangster Mr. Brown (Conte). Something that’s doubly perilous since he’s infatuated with Brown’s girlfriend, Susan Lowell (Wallace), who is trapped by the hold that Brown has on her.

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Violent, dark and sexy, The Big Combo is a riveting experience from start to finish. In truth, Yordan’s writing is pretty standard stuff here, but Lewis, Raksin and Alton really raise the bar in film noir atmospherics. From the nifty beginning where a blonde lady flees a darkened boxing match-pursued by two heavies-to the foggy airport conclusion, Lewis’ movie revels in shifty shadows, shifty sexual motives and even shiftier characters. Upon its release the film caused something of a stir on account of its tricksy thematics, and that’s not hard to believe since the film still comes off as potent even today. It’s a film where what you don’t see has the greater effect, and where suggestion is everything; for better or worse. One sexy scene involving Conte {stepping in when Jack Palance bailed} and Wallace so incensed Wilde, who was then married to Wallace, he tried to have it taken out the picture! Yes this is a ripper of a movie to be sure.

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Set entirely at night time, in and amongst dimly lit back alleys, rain-sodden pathways and moody plush apartments, the piece gives Alton the chance to shoot his chiaroscuro magic. I can’t state enough just how great his work is here, sexual urges are cloaked in a fatalistic sheen, nocturnal shenanigans briefly lit by the blink of some neon ray. Masterful. Away from the smart technical aspects (the cast are strong, the set pieces brisk too), the piece works great as a gangster movie, this in spite of there only being a small handful of crooks in the story. That the two henchmen {superbly underplayed by Cleef & Holliman} are evidently gay, just adds more sexual deviance into the sleazy norish stew. Gangsters, cops & society gals, all of them have a sense of doom hanging over them, to which they have the same things in common; that of blending violence with sex. Raw direction, moodily photographed and jazzily scored, The Big Combo is a big movie in the noir pantheon. 9/10

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You can’t tell a jury that a man’s guilty because he’s too Innocent!

7/10
Author: sol from Brooklyn NY USA
15 April 2007
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

****SPOILERS**** Were introduced to the movie “The Big Combo” with a really super cool and jazzy score by music composer David Raksin. At a local boxing arena and see this cool, like the music, statuesque and sharp looking blond running from two perusers who we assume are out to either work her over or even kill her. We find out soon enough that the two man chasing and finally catching up with the woman are Fante & Mingo, who sound like a song and dance duet, played by Lee Van Cleef & Earl Holliman and the sexy blond is Susan Lowell, Jean Wallace, who’s Fante & Mingo boss Mafiso Mr Brown’s, Richard Conte, very uncooperative girlfriend.

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Susan doesn’t know it at the time but she caught the eye of police Let. Leonard Diamond, Cornel Wilde, who became so infatuated with her, from afar, that he spends all his off, and vacation, time following her around to keep tabs not only on Susan who’s abusive boyfriend Mr. Brown that Let. Diamond wants to free her from. It’s when Susan swallows a jar of sleeping pills that almost kills her that Let. Diamond makes his move using that tragic occasion to have Susan arrested for attempted murder, of herself, in her suicide attempt.

Trying to save Susan from the unfeeling and obsessive Mr. Brown Let. Diamond does his share of abusing Susan himself by hounding her, in and out of the hospital emergency ward, to the point where she almost suffers a nervous breakdown. We later learn Mr. Brown also drove his old lady Alicia, Helen walker, to crack up as well. In fact it’s Alicia who’s the key to this whole confusing story with her sudden disappearance on a cruise in the middle of Atlantic Ocean some seven years earlier!

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Trying to get a murder rap on Mr. Brown for his wife’s Alicia murder Let. Diamond uncovers the startling fact that it wasn’t Alicia who Mr. Brown whacked, or deep sixth, some time ago on that Atlantic cruise. Mr. Brown knocked off his former boss Mr. Grazzi who’s job as big time Mafia kingpin Mr. Brown took over! Alicia in fact is alive and-well let’s just say alive-with her being put against her will into a private sanitarium where she now spends all of her time talking to and conversing with the plants that she grows in the sanitariums greenhouse.

The film has Let. Diamond go so far in his obsessive attempt to get Mr. Brown arrested so he can save Susan from his clutches, and even more important keep her all to himself, that you don’t look at what he’s doing as anything righteous heroic or even legal! It’s all a desperate act of a loved crazed and uncontrollable stalker very much like the unbalanced Travis Bickel in “Taxi Driver.

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Mr Brown for his part had nothing but sheer contempt for the overzealous and obnoxious Let.Diamond who at first didn’t even talk directly to him using his now stooge, as well as doormat, and former boss Joe McClure, Brian Dunlevy, as his intermediary or interpretor! Even though he and Let. Diamond both spoke the English language! It’s when Let. Diamond starts to put the screws on him that Mr. Brown starts to play dirty.

Mr. Brown using his two henchmen Fante & Mingo to go so far as to kidnap the pain in the butt Let. Diamond They then torture and humiliated him, by forcing a bottle of hair lotion down his throat. Fante & Mingo finally try murder Let. Diamond only ending up drilling his old girlfriend, who was replaced by Susan, Rita (Helen Stanton)with 11 bullets as she was staying in a fleabag hotel room that Let. Diamond was registered in.

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Like all sick and deluded sociopaths Mr. Brown turns out to be his own worst enemy by turning his own gang of hoods against himself. The kicker comes when Mr. Brown tries to do in both loyal and dedicated Farte & Mingo for all the good work they did for him in the movie, like setting up the vengeful and a bit delusional Joe McCrue. Bringing the two hoods a box filled with dynamite sticks, which he told the two hit men was a gift for their services, Mr. Brown has it set to go off as soon as they opened it. It went off all right but only Farte got blown away with his tight as a Victorian brassiere bosom buddy Mingo miraculously surviving. Mingo now knowing what a back-stabbing creep his boss Mr. Brown is decides to spill the beans on him which in the end got him a lifetime and rent-freed apartment, or cell, in the state penitentiary.

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Boomerang (1947)

Directed by Elia Kazan
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
The true story of a prosecutor’s fight to prove the innocence of a man accused of a notorious murder.
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Cameo Alert – Arthur Miller

This is a pretty good, taut, realistic, gritty film-noirish film from the camera lens of Elia Kazan. Kazan gives us the story of a Connetticut district attorney bumping the legal establishment in Hartford by NOT railroading a suspect who he knows to be innocent despite exhausting pressures to prosecute from local elected officials, businessmen, police, etc… The film, as previously noted, has a semi-documentary feel to it – all due to Kazan’s expertise behind the camera. Whilst the story certainly is engaging, the acting is all high-level here with Dana Andrews doing a fine job as Henry L. Harvey the attorney faced with an ethical dilemma.

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Andrews acting range is not too wide but he delivers here and is more than ably assisted by men(and women) like Ed Begley as a businessman gone bad, Jane Wyatt as his lovely wife(Andrews’s wife that is),Arthur Kennedy as the suspect with seemingly little to say, and a couple of Kazan would-be regulars – Lee J. Cobb doing a phenomenal job as a decent yet hard-headed police chief and Karl Malden as a police detective. Kazan shows us the story from many angles and has the benefit of having a real story as the basis of his film. We see the angles of different political opponents, a jealous/crazy girlfriend, local people who saw the crime of a priest being shot, and the journalists who try to scare up any angle they can. Some scenes are quite jarring like the confession scene. Arthur Miller, the great American playwright is seen briefly in a scene of suspects being lined-up. He was Kazan’s close friend.

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Solid Murder Drama

7/10
Author: jpdoherty from Ireland
11 May 2009
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is another fine Film Noir from the vaults of 20th Century Fox! Made in 1947 “Boomerang” was the brainchild of talented producer Louis deRochemont who began to bring a new semi-documentary style of picture making to cinema. He strove to give a more realistic look to films by shooting in actual locations and eschewing the phony indoor exteriors offered by the studios. “Boomerang” was such a project and was filmed in Connecticut where events in this true story took place.

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Splendidly directed by Elia Kazan and sharply photographed in glorious black & white by Norbert Brodine “Boomerang” does indeed have a newsreel look about it especially with the fine voice of Reed Hadley (uncredited) doing the narration. Previously deRochemont had great success with this type of picture with his production “The House on 92nd Street” two years earlier. Richard Murphy’s taut screenplay for “Boomerang”, from an article in Reader’s Digest, was based on an actual incident in Bridgeport, Connecticut where the murder of a kindly church pastor occurred. The film recounts the efforts of the town council to bring pressure to bear on the frustrated local police department to bring the killer to justice by any and every means possible. Dana Andrews gives his usual stalwart and likable performance as the local D.A. who suddenly finds himself going over to the side of the defense when the only and hapless suspect is coerced into signing a confession for the murder.

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The movie has a wonderful all-involving style to it with beautifully lit and splendidly atmospheric courtroom scenes. And there are uniformly excellent performances throughout from Sam Levene, Robert Keith, Ed Begley, Karl Malden but especially from Arthur Kennedy as the suspected culprit and Lee J. Cobb as the police chief.

A great movie that every noir devotee will want in their collection. Extras include a commentary, a poster gallery and a Trailer. Good one Fox!

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Good Acting Highlights This Story Of Human Foibles

7/10
Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
23 July 2008
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Boy, this can be a frustrating story to watch, but the acting was great with a number of well-known people doing their usual excellent jobs. I’m speaking of actors like Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Dana Andrews, Ed Begley, Sam Lavene, Jane Wyatt, Robert Keith and more.

The story shows how people go about doing things for the wrong reasons. It’s tragic when it involves a man’s life. Here, an Episcopal priest gets shot in broad daylight in a New England town (Hartford, Conn., I think.) Amazingly, he runs away and is not caught. Soon, with no clues and no suspects, the public is demanding action. A lot of this looks like a bunch of clichés, but it’s based on a true story.

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It’s an election year so you have one party which is desperate to hand over a killer and satisfy the public. You have the opposite party led by a defense team which doesn’t care if their man’s guilty or not; they just want the guy to go free and make the others look bad. The cops, meanwhile, don’t want to keep looking bad so they’re anxious to pin something on the first suspect that looks really guilty. This sort of thing goes back-and-forth throughout the film. You know the suspect “John Waldron” (Kennedy) is Innocent so it’s frustrating watching him get in deeper and deeper.

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You see two extremes. In the “old days” like when this was filmed, a guy could be brought into the police station and has harassed to the point of making a false confession. Where’s the lawyer? “Ah, you’ll get one later,” says a cop. It looks ridiculous to us today. Now, we are used to the opposite where the accused doesn’t go anywhere or say anything without a lawyer present. It seems too many guilty men go free today but – in this movie’s era and previous to that – too many innocent people were sentenced. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a middle ground where justice always prevails? Even more ridiculous is somebody allowed to bring a gun into the courtroom but, once again, it’s life 60 years ago.

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Also involved in the story is an overzealous press (what else is new?), promises of government posts, a scorned woman lying her butt off, a man who has put all his money into a business project and what happens in the case affects him, and the usual “good guy” who won’t sell out his principles. Speaking of that, about at the one-hour remark, we see a quote from the “Lawyer’s Code Of Ethics.” I had to laugh; I don’t know one lawyer who subscribes to that! From the above, you get the gist of the story. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say, it’s a wonderfully-acted film with some good direction by some young director named Elia Kazan! If you watch, be prepared to have your blood pressure go up and down. It’s a very manipulative movie, but that helps make it interesting.

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It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Wade.

7/10
Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
26 October 2010
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Boomerang is directed by Elia Kazan, based on a story written by Fulton Oursler (Anthony Abbot), with the screenplay written by Richard Murphy. It stars Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Ed Begley & Karl Malden. Plot is based around a true story, a case that even today remains unsolved, where a priest was shot and murdered in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1924. A vagrant and ex-serviceman (here played by Kennedy) was indicted for the murder. The evidence at first glance seemed solid, but the state attorney (Andrews here) on prosecution duties wasn’t convinced and set about deconstructing the evidence. Much to the shock of his superiors and others with vested interests.

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Gripping melodrama told in semi-documentary style and filmed on location in Stamford, Connecticut (Kazan was refused permission to actually film in Bridgeport). As a crime story it’s as solid as it gets, dripping with realism and filling out the plot with may notable points of reference. Political pressures, police procedural, corruption, unstable witnesses, bitter dames and of course an innocent man on trial for his life (we know the latter since it’s based on facts and Kazan lets us in on it early on). It’s all in there for a taut, suspenseful and noirishly well told story. The acting is top dollar, both from the leads and an impressive supporting cast. While even tho more time should have been afforded the “dodgy dealings” aspects, it slots into place nicely enough to still leave us splendidly agitated at the no resolution outcome. It’s all in the build up and execution. 7/10

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They never really solved the murder of Father Dahlme

8/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
27 September 2009
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

History is loaded with homicides that never were solved, some of which have become part of global history (such as the 1888 Whitechapel or “Jack the Ripper” Murders, or the 1892 Fall River or “Lizzie Borden Case). The murder in Bridgeport, Connecticut of Father Dahlme in 1924 is a relatively forgotten case, except it was made into this film that was an early directing experience of Elia Kazan. Starring Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Ed Begley Jr., Robert Keith, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Karl Malden, Philip Coolidge, Cara Williams, the film was a “B” feature that was lucky enough to have top character actors and even some filming in Connecticut (but not Bridgeport – actually it was shot in Stamford).

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Father Dahme was a popular figure in Bridgeport who was shot on the main street while lighting his pipe on a dark night. But there were at least half-a-dozen witnesses to the shooting. Unfortuntately the killer wore a dark coat and light hat (which many American males had as parts of their wardrobes) and evaded capture quickly. Pressure was put on the local government to find the killer (the political issue deals with the new “reform” party being confronted by the outed old party – represented by newspaper owner Taylor Holmes – is well handled in the film). Finally a suspect, an unemployed war veteran (Kennedy), is arrested in Ohio. A trail of circumstantial evidence seems strong enough to bring charges against Kennedy, completed by the so-called confession (signed) that he gave them.

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The case is presented to the State Attorney (Andrews), but he is noticing how weak the individual links are. With the use of his staff and friends he tests out various points, and finds that while the witnesses in most cases are probably honest in their testimony (one exception is Cara Williams, who has a grudge against Kennedy), they might be mistaken. So is some more important ballistics tests.

Andrews proceeds to surprise everyone by pulling the rug out of his case. The Judge warns him about disbarment and possible trial for malfeasance in office. Chief of Detectives Cobb is furious that his men are being considered forcing that confession. And banker-politician Begley turns out to show a sneaky and vicious streak demanding Andrews change back to prosecuting Kennedy for his own reasons.

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It is an exciting story, and follows the main points of the mystery correctly. This is understandable because the screenplay was based on an article in “Reader’s Digest” the previous year by “Anthony Abbott” (Fulton Oursler) the creator of the “Thatcher Colt” mysteries, which were popular in the 1930s (several of which were turned into films, such as THE PRESIDENT’S MYSTERY PLOT). The result is Kennedy is released from prison, and while the film admits some people in Bridgeport believe he was guilty, two other suspects (both of whom die violently in different ways) are shown as potential alternate perpetrators.*

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The odd performance of the prosecutor turned out to demonstrate his integrity to the public. It was Homer Cummings, a Democrat from Connecticut who was former Democratic National Chairman, and who (from 1933 – 1939) was Attorney General of the U.S. under Franklin Roosevelt. This is quite a fascinating conclusion to the film (and to history) but not so unusual. The Massachusetts prosecutor of Lizzie Borden was William H. Moody, who would end up Attorney General of the U.S. and later a U.S. Supreme Court Justice under Theodore Roosevelt (Lizzie, by the way, sent him a letter of congratulations!).

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Altogether a well-done “B” feature, and one with point as a civics lesson. In fact, with it’s view of just what should be expected from our public prosecutors seeking true justice, BOOMERANG makes a nice companion film to TWELVE ANGRY MEN, which looked at what to really expect from our juries.

(*If you check the WIKIPEDIA article on “Homer Cummings” you will find that the suspect who was the basis of Arthur Kennedy’s character died in 1961. Apparently nothing criminal was associated with him afterward.)

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