A Wee Bit O’Blarney with Cagney & O’Brien: BOY MEETS GIRL (Warner Brothers 1938)

Tomorrow’s the day when everybody’s Irish, and America celebrates St. Patrick’s Day! The green beer will flow and copious amounts of Jameson will be consumed,  the corned beef and cabbage will be piled high, and “Danny Boy” will be sung by drunks in every pub across the land. Come Monday, offices everywhere will be unproductive, as all you amateur Irishmen will be nursing hangovers of Emerald Isle proportions. They say laughter is the best medicine, so my suggestion is to start your workday watching an underrated screwball comedy called BOY MEETS GIRL, starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, both members in good standing of “Hollywood’s Irish Mafia”!

Jimmy and Pat play a pair of wacky screenwriters working for Royal Studios on a vehicle for fading cowboy star Dick Foran. Pretentious producer Ralph Bellamy has enough problems without these two jokers, as rumor has it Royal is about to be sold to a British conglomerate! While the boys verbally spar with Foran and agent Frank McHugh , commissary waitress Marie Wilson delivers food, and promptly faints. They all think she’s had an epileptic fit, but the truth is she’s pregnant, and about to give birth… right in Bellamy’s office!

The two nutty scribes get a brainstorm… they’ll costar Marie’s kid with Foran in his next picture! Cagney and O’Brien have Marie sign a contract giving them power of attorney, and little ‘Happy’ quickly becomes an eight-month-old superstar, to the chagrin of jealous Foran, who tries to woo Marie with his cowboy “charm”, but she’s fallen for extra Bruce Lester. The writers scheme to have someone go to a gala premiere posing as Happy’s dad, and central casting sends them Lester. The stunt backfires, and Jimmy and Pat are fired, as is baby Happy. Is this the end for Happy, or will there be a ‘Happy’ Ending?

You already know the answer – this is Hollywood, there’s always a happy ending! BOY MEETS GIRL is fast and frenetic fun, with Cagney and O’Brien cutting loose from their usual dramatics and having a grand old time. The two (take a deep breath) talksofastattimesitshardtounderstandthem, and the pace is downright exhausting! Marie Wilson almost steals the show as the dizzy mom, warming up for her later role as Irma Peterson on MY FRIEND IRMA, whom she portrayed on radio, television, and a pair of movies that introduced the world to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. And Foran’s a revelation, spoofing his cowboy star image as the self-centered sagebrush idol.

Fellow ‘Irish Mafia’ members Bellamy and McHugh are also funny in their respective roles, as is Bruce Lester, who had good parts in IF I WERE KING, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and THE LETTER. Harry Seymour and Bert Hanlon play a pair of decidedly non-Irish songwriters, Penny Singleton shows up briefly as a manicurist, young Ronald Reagan is the flustered  radio announcer at the movie premiere, and Curt Bois, Carole Landis, Peggy Moran (Foran’s future THE MUMMY’S HAND costar), John Ridgley, and James Stephenson appear in bits.

Screenwriters Bella and Samuel Spewack adapted their hit Broadway play, peppering it with plenty of Hollywood in-jokes, and director Lloyd Bacon keeps things zipping along. Cagney and O’Brien’s characters are loosely based on Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, while Bellamy’s producer is modeled after Daryl F. Zanuck. There’s a hilarious faux trailer for Happy’s latest hit movie GOLDEN NUGGET, and the movie playing at the  premiere is an Errol Flynn epic called THE WHITE RAJAH… which was actually the title of a script Flynn wrote himself that Warners rejected as being unfilmable!

So hoist those glasses of Guinness high tomorrow, boyos! And before you  load up on black coffee and greasy food or decide to indulge in some “hair of the dog” Monday morning, watch BOY MEETS GIRL instead. It probably won’t  cure your hangover, but you’ll be too busy laughing to notice!

Halloween Havoc!: HORROR ISLAND (Universal 1941)

Universal Pictures kept cranking out the horrors, but HORROR ISLAND isn’t one of them. It’s as misleading a title as Hollywood ever produced, more of a comedy/mystery with some “old dark house” elements thrown in for good measure. This little ‘B’ was released as a double feature with MAN MADE MONSTER, and while its good for what it is, it ain’t horror!

Atmospherically directed by George Waggner and shot by Universal workhorse Woody Bredell , HORROR ISLAND  begins spookily enough with a peg-legged sailor trodding the docks attacked by the mysterious Phantom. Rescued from the briny water by hard-pressed for cash entrepreneur Bill Martin and his pal Stuff Oliver, we learn the sailor is Tobias Clump, a Spaniard who claims he has half a map of Sir Henry Morgan’s buried treasure – and The Phantom just stole the other half! Bill happens to have inherited Morgan’s Island, where twenty million dollars worth of pirate gold and jewels are hidden. They take the map piece to an expert, who claims it’s a fake, so Bill gets an idea to exploit the legend by starting a new business promoting excursions to Morgan’s Island and setting up suckers on a bogus treasure hunt.

After “meeting cute” with rich Wendy Creighton (and her jaded boyfriend with the preposterous name of Thurman Coldwater), Bill, Stuff, and Tobias set sail with their first guests: Wendy and Thurman, Bill’s cousin George (who wants to buy the island for himself), nosy cop Sgt. McGoon, meek Professor Quinley, and shady couple Rod and Arleen Grady. Bill and Stuff have tricked out the island’s castle (yes, there’s a castle) to frighten the customers, but there’s more unexplainable doings than they planned, and the customers get more than they bargained for as they get picked off one by one by The Phantom…

The cast is stocked with Universal contract players, all of whom are good at what they do. Dick Foran and Peggy Moran (stars of THE MUMMY’S HAND ) make likeable leads and carry the picture along with comic actors Leo Carrillo (Tobias), Fuzzy Knight (Stuff), Walter Catlett (McGoon), and Iris Adrian (Arleen). Everything is wrapped up neatly in just over an hour, and if you like movies with secret passageways, mysterious phantoms, and things that go “boo” in the night, you’ll enjoy HORROR ISLAND… but it ain’t horror!

Halloween Havoc!: THE MUMMY’S HAND (Universal 1940)

Universal revived The Mummy in 1940’s THE MUMMY’S HAND, but except for the backstory (and judicious use of stock footage), there’s no relation to the 1932 Karloff classic . Instead of Imhotep we’re introduced to Kharis, the undead killing machine, as the High Priest of Karnak (Eduardo Cianelli in old age makeup) relates the tale of Princess Ananka, whose tomb is broken into by Kharis, who steals the sacred tanna leaves to try and bring her back to life. Kharis gets busted, and is condemned to be buried alive! For he “who shall defile the temple of the gods, a cruel and violent death shall be his fate, and never shall his soul find rest for all eternity. Such is the curse of Amon-Ra, king of all the gods”. So there!

The High Priest croaks, making Andoheb (George Zucco ) the new High Priest. Meanwhile in Cairo, Americans Steve Banning (Dick Foran ) and his Brooklyn buddy Babe Jensen (Wallace Ford ) are stranded and trying to get home. Banning, an unemployed archeologist, buys an unusual cracked piece of pottery at the bazaar, and brings it to his friend Professor Petrie (Charles Trowbridge) at the Cairo Museum. Steve knows the hieroglyphic markings point the way to the Hill of the Seven Jackals, where lies Ananka’s tomb, and wants funding for an expedition that’ll bring fame and fortune, and return him to the good graces of New York’s Scripps Museum.

But wait, who’s that? Why, it’s ‘Professor’ Andoheb, who scoffs at Steve’s find, calling it a forgery and refusing funding, so Steve and Babe seek alternative backing. A chance meeting with a magician from Brooklyn named Solvani the Great (Cecil Kellaway in an amusing performance) leads to the boys talking the adventurous prestidigitator into a partnership, much to the chagrin of his beautiful daughter Marta (Peggy Moran), who’s been told by Andoheb the Americans are a couple of swindlers out to fleece dear old dad and leave him for dead! Marta is won over by Steve’s manly charm (as you knew she would be), and the expedition gets underway.

Steve, Babe, Marta, Solvani, and Petrie (who’s along for verification) find an opening and break the cursed seal, causing the native diggers to run off in fear, except for brave Ali (Leon Belasco). Inside, they find the sarcophagus of Kharis and a vat full of tanna leaves (“they smell like clover”, according to Steve, in case you were wondering). While Petrie examines Kharis’s body alone, guess who pops up? Yep, it’s Andoheb, vowing vengeance, and ordering Kharis to kill the poor prof. Now the mad Andoheb sets Kharis loose to dish out that “cruel and violent death” curse, while setting his own sights on the lovely Marta…

The script by Griffin Jay and Maxwell Shane has some gaps in logic and character continuity, but not enough to distract anyone from enjoying this fantastic and fun film. Christy Cabanne’s direction is workmanlike, but he keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. Cowboy star Tom Tyler resembled Karloff enough to match the footage used from the ’32 film, and he makes a demented monster (Tyler would later portray Fawcett Comics’ superstar CAPTAIN MARVEL in the 1941 serial). Foran makes a burly hero, and Moran a fine Scream Queen. Wallace Ford (Babe) is the comic relief; he was a top character actor in films from the early thirties to 1965’s A PATCH OF BLUE. Ford’s horror credits include the classic FREAKS , a pair of Bela Lugosi shockers (MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG and THE APE MAN), and a reprisal of his role here in the sequel THE MUMMY’S TOMB.

Bug-eyed George Zucco has what I think is his best horror part as Andoheb, the mad priest of Karnak in charge of Kharis. Zucco was a respected character actor during the 30’s, and made a fine Professor Moriarty in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. But during the 40’s, the actor seemed to take any role available, and starred in some real dreck at Monogram and PRC. In THE MUMMY’S HAND, Zucco is restrained, and his Andoheb is a creepy character indeed, especially when he’s lusting after Peggy Moran (but then, who can blame him?).

THE MUMMY’S HAND was popular enough to merit a series of Kharis pictures and we’ll discuss each of them this Halloween season, but it won’t be Tom Tyler behind the bandages. Instead, it’s Universal’s newest horror star… Lon Chaney Jr!

 

B-Girls and B-Movies: CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL (United Artists 1957)

CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL is just a routine ‘B’ crime drama, one of many churned out in the 50’s. Yet the performances of stars Brian Keith Beverly Garland , and an above-average supporting cast helped elevate the by-the-numbers material into something watchable. It’s those Familiar Faces we all know and love from countless movies that made CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL work for me.

The story revolves around racketeers muscling in on the Worker’s National Union so they can bring their “numbers rackets and ‘B’ girls” to the city. Politically ambitious State’s Attorney Jim Fremont is dead set on busting them up, and when the union’s treasurer is murdered, the finger of suspicion is pointed at honest Union President Artie Blane. Blane’s been framed by his rival, VP Ken Harrison, who takes his orders from “disbarred attorney” Alan Dixon, “one of the masterminds of the old Capone gang”. Blane is brought to trial and, thanks to some chicanery by an “old derelict” with the improbable name of Candymouth Duggan and a dummied-up tape recorder, is convicted of murder in the first degree.

Blane’s fiancée Laura Barton just won’t let the case go; she knows Blane was with her the night of the killing and is determined to prove his innocence. When the tape recording of Blane’s voice is found to be bogus, the case is reopened. Candymouth gets iced by Harrison’s “goons, and a nightclub impressionist named Kerry Jordan is also rubbed out. Fremont tracks down Laura’s former neighbor Sylvia, now living at a clip joint run by the mob called the Shanghai Low. He takes a brutal beating from the goons, and Laura and Sylvia are about to be shanghaied themselves on a plane bound for the Philippines before the cops come to rescue, getting into a car chase with the gangsters (“They’re gaining on us!”, one goon exclaims), and a shootout that leaves the three racketeers dead, but not before Harrison confesses everything and Dixon gets busted, putting an end to their reign of terror.

Brian Keith exhibits his natural ease before the cameras as Fremont. The actor had good parts in THE VIOLENT MEN, 5 AGAINST THE HOUSE, and THE PARENT TRAP, but that one role that would’ve put him on top always eluded him. Keith fared better on the small screen, starring in Sam Peckinpah’s seminal THE WESTERNER, the popular but saccharine sitcom FAMILY AFFAIR, and the comedy-actioner HARDCASTLE AND MCCORMICK. He became a respected character actor in the 70’s and 80’s with films like THE WIND AND THE LION (as Teddy Roosevelt), THE MOUNTAIN MEN, and SHARKEY’S MACHINE.

Beverly Garland (Laura) was the 1950”s Queen of the ‘B’ Girls (as in ‘B’ movies, not the other kind!), a fan favorite for her quickies with Roger Corman (SWAMP WOMEN, GUNSLINGER, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, NOT OFTHIS EARTH) and the silly horror THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE.  Bev really puts her all into the role, like she’s auditioning for juicier parts. It didn’t happen, but she certainly proves here she’s not just another pretty face, and later did get some good roles in both PRETTY POISON and AIRPORT 1975.

A slew of Familiar Faces appear in the movie, starting with former Universal leading man Dick Foran (THE MUMMY’S HAND, RIDE ‘EM COWBOY ) as the wronged Blane. Our favorite weasel Elisha Cook Jr.   does his usual fine job as the rum-soaked “old derelict” Candymouth. Character actor Douglas Kennedy is the crooked Harrison, ex-Garbo costar Gavin Gordon plays Dixon, sexy Beverly Tyler (VOODOO ISLAND, TOUGHEST MAN IN TOMBSTONE) is Sylvia, and the two goons are pretty-boy Anthony George (TV’s CHECKMATE, DARK SHADOWS) and mean-mugged noir vet Jack Lambert . Not to mention SUPERMAN’S Phyllis Coates as Keith’s wife and John Hamilton as the defense attorney.

Sidney Salkow isn’t given much to work with in either script or budget, but he guides his players along smoothly. You won’t find CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL on any “best-of” or “Top Ten” lists, but for fans of well acted ‘B’s and Familiar Face spotters it’s an enjoyable way to spend 75 minutes of your time.

 

 

 

 

CLEANING OUT THE DVR Pt 2: Five Films From Five Decades

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Well, it’s time once again to get rid of some movies on my DVR so I can make room for more movies! Last night I had myself a mini-movie marathon watching four in a row (the fifth I’d already screened and jotted down some notes on it). So here, for your education and edification, are five films from five decades:

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THE RETURN OF DR. X (Warner Brothers 1939; director Vincent Sherman)

Despite the title, this is not a sequel to 1932’s DOCTOR X starring Lionel Atwill. This one’s all about a reporter (Wayne Morris) and a doctor (Dennis Morgan) investigating a string of murders where the bodies have been drained of blood. Humphrey Bogart plays Dr. Quesne, alias the mad Dr. X, in pasty white make-up and a streak of white in his hair. Seems he’s been brought back from the dead by Dr. Flegg (John Litel) after being electrocuted and now needs human blood to survive. It’s no wonder Bogie hated this film, playing a role more suitable for Bela Lugosi in his Monogram days. Fun Fact: Dead End Kid/Bowery Boy Huntz Hall plays newsroom boy Pinky in a rare solo appearance.

Continue reading “CLEANING OUT THE DVR Pt 2: Five Films From Five Decades”