Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Shriek in the Night (1933)

Reporter Pat Morgan has been working undercover as a secretary for millionaire philanthropist Mr. Harker in order to get a good scoop. One falls right in her lap when one night her 'boss' is murdered-Having fallen from his penthouse window. While the police begin investigating, Pat tries working on her own in her paper's interests, but after a trick by rival journalist Ted Rand, she finds herself out of a job, and even more determined to solve the murder as the bodies pile up...

The title A Shriek in the Night conjures to mind a haunted house picture and given that Ginger Rogers stars, this wouldn't seem too far off the mark given her prior outings, but this 1933 film is actually a crime-mystery flick! It's a pretty decent one too overall, but not without flaws.

Starting with the positives, the characters are an entertaining bunch, and distinctive too! They carry the story decently, and it's an ok one. The pieces are all there in place, but it's the presentation that's a bit iffy. We often either get too much information at once to process, or not enough, leaving us in the dust. I admit to having no idea what was going on at points.

The film builds up a consistent cast of characters, but there'll often be long gaps between their appearances. Because of this I sometimes lost track of who was who. Also a problem is not enough introduction. It takes us a little bit before we realise that Pat, this random secretary, is our lead, while the relationship between her and Ted also feels out of nowhere. They come across like strangers to each-other, and they don't properly meet until halfway into the film, and when they do it's suddenly   that they're an item! Pat and the police inspector also start investigating together like they're a sleuthing pair, but this is suddenly dropped after the halfway point.

This carries over to the identity of the killer. The mystery is an interesting one, and the methods of murder as well as all the minutia like the calling cards are super neat! There simply aren't enough clues for the audience to follow though, and while the identity of the killer is unexpected, I wasn't thinking "Ohhh, it's them" when I found out, but rather "...Them?".

While the writing for the story leaves a little something to be desired, the dialogue is pretty funny! Even though you sometimes wanna slap Ted upside the head, he elicits some laughs, as does a fleetingly appearing maid-"Oh I didn't like that man alive, why would you think I would like him dead?". The ending is absolutely jawdropping though. I wasn't sure if it was meant to be funny, or totally embarrassingly serious!

One of the biggest negatives to A Shriek in the Night is its lack of a soundtrack. It begins to feel a bit leaden after a while when there's no background hum of music to keep you jogging along.

What the film lacks in sound, it makes up for in the visual department. The direction is great, with some interestingly framed shots, and uses of silhouette, darkness, and shadows! While the movie as a whole is far from scary, there are a couple of somewhat creepy moments due to the framing!

The acting here is all fine. Ginger Rogers is a decent lead. Not as great as she is in other films, but she carries herself well. Lyle Talbot is good as your typical 1930s smart alec reporter. The fact that he comes across as even remotely likeable is a testament to his skills. The actor who plays the villain is good at seeming unsuspicious at first, then acts the part of a deranged maniac well, with a great evil laugh! Lillian Harmer is occasionally amusing as the neurotic maid Augusta. It's her piercing and almost parrot-like shriek that I suspect gives the film its title. Louise Beavers is funny as a quick-talking maid, but when she runs away from the morgue, she also runs right out of the movie. And lastly, Arthur Hoyt is nice as the unassuming policeman Wilfred.

A Shriek in the Night is an entertaining enough mystery, with a few peaks and lulls as it goes, and by the end I was happy to have watched it despite any flaws it had...

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A Night to Remember (1942)

Are newlyweds ever happy with their new homes in movies? Nahh, of course not. If they were, we wouldn't have nearly as much fun!

Married couple Jeff and Nancy Troy movie into their new brownstone apartment, situated in the building's cellar. Things seem odd at first, from the presence of an old friend who's terrified out of her wits, to countless people warning them about the place, and a thuggish man who Nancy overhears in a phone booth arranging a meeting in their new home. The next morning, the man is found dead out in the garden, and everyone in the building becomes a suspect. With Nancy's help, Jeff must solve the mystery before the exasperated police arrest him, or before the murderer gets him first...

A Night to Remember is a very funny mystery flick. From the first scene, we're treated to a collection of hilarious moments, from the frights that keep the couple awake at night, to endless struggles with an obstinate door, a 1940s man trying to fend for himself in the kitchen, and more!

While I really enjoyed it, the film is not without some flaws. The main one is the identity of the killer. It's pretty inconsequential. We don't really get any insight into why they're doing this, or even a confrontation. Especially irksome is that there was a possible clue leading to a character I hadn't even thought of suspecting, and that made me really happy to get to the conclusion, knowing the reveal would be such a clever and unexpected one!...But then that character was never seen or mentioned again, and completely unimportant as it turns out.

The plot also isn't a very involved one. The characters do a bit of investigating, but the majority of events are them reacting to the various shenanigans going on around them. It almost feels like they're on the periphery of the mystery for the whole movie.

The ending is very abrupt. The way the villain is defeated is also...weird. Weird in a way you have to see the movie to understand. While talking about the climax, it was neat watching a movie acknowledge that gunfire can go through walls!

Interestingly enough, there was a scene earlier on when the happy couple were kissing, unaware they have an audience outside, which I feel would've made for a much better ending! Full of romance and mirth to play the film out on.

Enough of the negatives. A Night to Remember is brimming with fantastic and funny dialogue.
"Oh Jeff, that's good luck! Close your eyes and make a wish" "I wish my dear wife had never found this place." "I wish my dear husband wasn't such a dope."
Anne: "You don't know him, but you should. He's really swell"-Nancy: "I'm sure he is"-Jeff: "I'm swell too"-Nancy: "Oh who asked you"
"Jeff, don't be a fool!" "Don't be silly, I've always been a fool."

The actors all do fine jobs. The two leads, Loretta Young and Brian Aherne, come across as a likeable couple. They have lots of fun together without it seeming like they're unpleasantly sniping at each-other the whole time, and a few scenes show quite well how they sincerely care for one another. The cast also includes (Miss) Jeff Donnell, Lee Patrick, Gale Sondegaard, and Sydney Toler! The former three all get ok amounts of screentime, but could've had more, while Toler has fun channeling Edgar Kennedy.

A Night to Remember is a little slow at times due to its somewhat lacking plot, but it's never boring, and always entertaining. Bound to at least make you laugh, that's a great reason to recommend...

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Rogues Tavern (1936)

Newlyweds Jimmy and Marjorie, both detectives in one way or another, are trying to find the justice of the peace so they can get married. To this end they end up in a local tavern that's rife with activity for a change. Filled with six other guests, things quickly take an ill-fated turn when they start getting killed. At first it seems like an apparently vicious dog is to blame, but once his cute name is cleared, it becomes clear that the killer is all too human, and will strike again if he's not stopped first...

The Rogues Tavern is a decently fun movie, which starts off quickly and promisingly. Unfortunately, despite its positive qualities, it begins to be weighed down by a lot of little and big problems.

The plot to this film is pretty messy! It starts off with people being savagely killed by a psycho killer,  but as it goes on further, it seems like this story is ignored in favour of a different one about a disgruntled mad scientist trapping everyone inside the specially designed inn. Then this seems to be ignored! The movie keeps introducing new plot elements without explaining the old ones!

For a while the film is muddled, by things become a smidgen clearer by the climax,  and by the end it does make sense why the guy who's plotted this intricate revenge scheme would kill three of his six would-be victims an hour before making his grand evil speech of revenge! He's not the only villain around...

...Yeah, the plot's still confusing though.

The heroes are mostly unenjoyable. They're supposedly both detectives, but Marjorie's sleuthing side rarely comes up and she spends most of the movie trailing around like a dog, or being scared in the next room while Jimmy investigates. What's most frustrating is the way he treats her. He's a dickhead! It's like the writers intended their relationship to be a mutually snarky one (as if common in movies such as these), but forgot to write any pithy comebacks for her, so she seems like a doormat, and he seems one negative comment away from a divorce before they're even married!

The other characters are an ok bunch, but we find out so little about their motives and personalities that it's hard to care or feel invested in them. The only remotely distinctive one is the psychic co-conspirator Gloria. She starts off interesting and mysterious, but gradually becomes a nuisance. She says "I knew this would happen!" so often and in such a way that makes it seem like she didn't have a clue. She also says 'We're doomed!' as often as Frazer from Dad's Army.

The lack of music really hinders the movie after a while. The fact that there's no atmospheric scoring or use of shadows (in fact, everything's almost always brightly lit) make for a not particularly spooky viewing experience. Another side effect of the lack of music is that whenever characters stop talking, everything goes quiet! If not for the hum of the film, you could be forgiven for thinking you accidentally hit the mute button by mistake!

Since the story is utterly unclear at all times, it's up to the actors alone to sell this picture and keep the audience interested. They do an alright job. Whether Wallace Ford is entertaining or annoying to you depends on how you feel about his 'lovable asshole' type of characters, which can come across as just plain assholes!

Vincent Dennis is possibly annoying or funny as the local scaredy-cat Bert, and he disappears after the midway point. Earl Dwire has fun for about a minute as the possibly villainous mad scientist Morgan, looking a bit like a fish, but besides a bit of lurking beforehand, his big moment is fleeting and he's promptly ignored for the rest of the movie. Joan Woodnury is neat and stylish at the start, but eventually began to annoy me with her incessant whining.

One member of the cast who really impressed me at first was Clara Kimball Young. She's wholly unremarkable for the first 45 minutes, but her expressions when her husband is covering for the murderer are really good! But then she squanders all of that with a bizarrely terrible turn at the end that sucks all seriousness from the production.

The location here is alright, but never really felt that lively. Or perhaps it was too lively and that's the problem! Always well lit, always bustling, and never particularly interesting, even when it becomes a deathtrap.

Overall, The Rogues Tavern isn't entirely worth ignoring, because it's got a fair bit to like about it. It really is a flawed movie though, and never comfortably found its footing. Give it a watch if you're interested. Now, to quote the movie,  Pleasant nightmares!...

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Misbehaving Husbands (1940)

Effie and Harry Butler are a happily married couple, and despite his forgetfulness, as well as her happily divorced best friend's insistence that all men are lying scum, she's content with life. This all changes however, when on their anniversary night, Harry is late coming home from work, and a friend of the family's sees him sees him in what looks like a compromising position with another woman (actually a mannequin), not realising he was simply showing a coworker a good window arrangement for his shop. Effie finds out and is furious, immediately enlisting the help of her friend's divorce lawyer, who's all too happy to fan the flames...

Misbehaving Husbands is an entertaining picture. At 58 minutes long, the film doesn't outstay its welcome, and finds a good balance of relationship strife, and dogged investigation. The true motivation [and identity] of the divorce lawyer was a fun addition that gave extra spice to the plot. Overall, it's a simple story, in a good way.

As for some less stellar aspects to Misbehaving Husbands, it's a bit awkward if you hate misunderstandings. I do, and it can be a little hard to watch sometimes, and I often just wanted to reach into the screen and ring everyone's necks! Thankfully this is a short movie, so this feeling doesn't last for long.

Another thing that was a bit of an issue is regarding Jane and Bob. They're likeable enough, and their roles make perfect sense (since it's clear that neither Harry or Effie are up to clearing the misunderstanding, and poor Memphis is deathly afraid his boss is a murderer), but they take forever to show up!

That's as good as any lead-in to start discussing the characters. Harry is a poor hapless fool who can't help but make things worse for himself. Meanwhile, you can't help but feel sorry for Effie, even though this is a misunderstanding that could probably be cleared up relatively easily if only everyone behaved sensibly.

Effie's friend Grace is amusing (especially with lines like "Be thankful you had your eyes opened when you were still young"), but she kinda vanishes by the ending, not really getting a wrap-up to her character arc. The young duo are nice, despite their late introduction, and you enjoy watching them investigate. Another character I liked was the overzealous bodyguard (also introduced fairly late). The fact that he's here defending a supposedly in danger woman makes him instantly likeable despite his brusque nature.

I liked the interestingly named Memphis. It's not often that you see an African-American character in an old movie get an African name, especially a noble Egyptian one! He's definitely one of the funniest and most expressive actors in the movie, and gets the best line, which is jaw-droppingly hilarious.

Lastly, there's the divorce lawyer, who you know you're meant to dislike the moment he says "What put such an idea in your pretty head?". He gets a great comeuppance. Overall, the cast is pretty good, although I have to/must admit a lot of them started blending together. All these white people look the same!

Despite being sometimes over the top with his mannerisms and occasionally unconvincing outbursts, Harry Langdon is a hilarious lead, and amusingly feisty for a middle aged guy from the 1940s! The rest of the cast are fine enough, with Billy Mitchell being a standout. Ralph Byrd is a decently charming and chiseled guy, while Luana Walters is cute as a button.

Misbehaving Husbands may be a little frustrating to some in places, but it's a funny and lighthearted watch...

Streamline Express (1935)

Grumpy playwright Jimmy Hart is at his wit's end when his leading lady, Patricia Wallace, skips town with only two days left until the show. Hurrying to get after her, Jimmy finds that she's getting married to = Freddie Arnold, and is taking the Streamline Express, a new state-of-the-art train that's reported to zip from New York to California in just 20 hours. Now that Jimmy's along for the ride, in the guise of a steward, he's determined to get back his girl, if he doesn't trip on all the other shady characters lying about, from philandering husbands, to blackmailers, and jewel thieves...

Streamline Express is a mixed bag of a film. It's worth noting from the get-go that despite any issues it has, it's still plenty of fun, and the elements all come together quite well. My problem with it lies in the pacing. The story itself isn't that confusing on paper, though because it takes so long for the intrigue to get started, I found myself lost more than once. It also takes a fair while for the romance to be reciprocated, and the end result is that it feels like we waiting almost the whole movie just for Pat to catch up with Jimmy. I wish it would've happened sooner, like maybe at the halfway point?

The bigger problem presented by the pacing issues is the abrupt haste in which the 'mystery' is solved and the day is saved. The plot summary I read said how Jimmy is framed for the 'theft', and Pat has to clear his name. That does all happen, but I was figuring it'd occur at maybe the halfway point, which would comfortably leave the film's second half to focus on sleuthing, after the first full of romantic tension. What actually happens though is that Jimmy is framed in the final 8 minutes, and exonerated only a short time after.

There's a fun assortment of characters here, For ease of =, I'll outline who the different parties are, because god knows you'll need a primer with this movie. Everyone just about looks the same!

Jimmy and Pat have a crazy relationship, which leads to an absolutely jaw-dropping scene at one point! Unfortunately it's only 15 minutes before the end when the interest becomes mutual, so while we see plenty of their verbal sparring, we see very little of them as a couple. Their chemistry in both emotions is still great though. You totally believe these two hate each-other, and love each-other. Pat's upper class fiancee Freddie's a bit of a dope, but he's actually surprisingly likeable. He's so endearing that you kinda wish Pat would end up with him instead.

Besides them, there's a philandering husband and his homewrecker girlfriend, his wife who's snuck aboard to get her man back, an expecting father, and the larcenous villain, who comes off as truly scummy from the moment he turns an innocent joke from a former associate into an opportunity to blackmail them.

This is a funny film with its fair share of amusing scenes, like the unlucky stage rehearsal, Jimmy's numerous failed attempts to get onto the train, and the jewel thief's 'drinking game'. There's some great dialogue, too.
"If he ever howled at me like he did her, I'd call out the marines!", "Yes, and you're the gal that could do it, too, name by name",
Jimmy: "I'll do my own work. Any sap can make a bed."-Pat: "Any sap doesn't seem to be able to!"
and the films closing lines, which I darenot spoil

The setting for the majority of the film is the titular Streamline, and it feels like a real, fleshed-out location. The effects that realise it do a good job too! The train is apparently a cardboard cutout that's been photoshopped in, but it looks convincing enough, and while the window shots of scenery speeding by are clearly not real, we get enough of them to show that the filmmakers did care about the movie's appearance, and didn't want this to just be a static affair that's tooootally filmed on a moving train.

The acting is largely good. It gets silly at times, but you can tell the actors are having fun hamming it up. Victor Jory and Evelyn Venable work well together. You wish there was more of them! I also enjoyed Vince Barnett's performance. Despite his credit, he actually does very little for the first half of the movie, but after that point, he gets more to do, and not only is it quite amusing, it also does a good job informing his character, despite his limited screentime.

Overall, Streamline Express is a pretty fun time, and I definitely recommend it, preferably after reading my review and not before, so you're never as confused as I was!...

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Lords of Magick (1988)

This post is dedicated to my old blogging pal Jesse Gable of Mr. Gable's Reality

Back in the middle ages, Merlinite wizards Ulric and Michael Redglen roam the land. Michael is more interested in keeping his head down and learning new magic, while his carousing brother does what pleases him regardless of the consequences. After the two are captured by the king's guard and sentenced to death for their use of necromancy, despite their benevolent aims, they appeal for their lives in exchange for a favour. He agrees, and commands the Redglen brothers to find the malevolent sorcerer Salatin and rescue the kidnapped princess Luna.

Michael and Ulric track down Salatin, but he taunts them with a riddle before vanishing. A divining session with their master reveals that their enemy has retreated to the future, and so they follow. They have trouble navigating the strange new world of Los Angeles, but soon find a friend in amateur spellcaster Thomas, who's willing to help the duo. The quest is truly on, but can Ulrich stay focused on his goals and not give in to the lure of Salatin? And can Michael and his new friend stop the evil wizard before he can become the one and only Lord of Magick?...

The Lords of Magick is a super cheesy fantasy film that brings new meaning to the word! While it may not be as famous as others of its kind, this is well worth remembering.

The story starts out pretty fun, with a neat classical setting. Unfortunately this soon goes the way of seemingly all high-concept fantasy films on a budget-A fish-out-of-water story on Earth. They've all done this. Beastmaster 2, Masters of the Universe, Thor, and more. I think it's in a way more excusable when it's a comedy, yet also less excusable. The typical 'confused by common modern day objects and customs' trope wouldn't be at home in a serious high fantasy, so a comedic film would be a good fit, however, do you know how many proper fantasy-comedy movies we get? Not a lot!

This qualm aside though, the movie does soon feel at home with its new setting, aside from a moody but otherwise lacking in oomph setting for the final battle-The back room of an electronics storehouse.

The plot isn't the most complex, but it's got some, good twists and turns, some more unexpected than others! There's also its fair share of odd moments, including one scene where the film briefly turns into The Warriors when the brothers accidentally wander into the turf of a garish street gang, who believe them to be a rival gang (a not unfounded guess given these two have swords).

The characters are one of the high points of this film. The two leads get across a good mix of being an everyman who still have a lot to learn, while still being believable opponents in the battle against the seemingly all-powerful Salatin. You never doubt that with a bit of extra training, these two could do the job. As for their personalities, Michael is a softly spoken nice dude who never fails to be pure. Ulric, meanwhile, is a player. A real hound-dog, he's always on the prowl for wine and women, beer and booty. Ulrich undergoes an interesting character change about two thirds in, and it's a surprise to see, but also makes perfect sense. It fits with everything that's come before, and all his seemingly innocuous bad behaviour is seen in a more serious light.

Magical protege and wannabe wizard Thomas is likeable and endearing, while his girlfriend Ellen isn't too skeptical and comes in handy from time to time. The princess is nice enough, but she doesn't appear much, and her love for Michael comes a little out of left field, though it is cute.

Among other things, Lords of Magick is also a comedy. While not all the jokes land, it does reasonably well, with some really funny moments, like the inquisition where the witness boasts about the level of torture he withstood, getting progressively more extreme until he literally says "And then they killed" me (and we realise just why the brothers are actually on trial), or when the brothers are in Salatin's lair to challenge him, and Michael tries to get the absentee villain's attention by peeing on his altar, immediately summoning the now extremely pissed off dark lord.

Moving on to the humorous elements that didn't work as well, there are some out-of-place comedy scenes right before and after a major dramatic moment. I'm also not sure how to feel about the ending. Given the brothers' proclivity to instantly turn to necromancy  perhaps the message of the ending could've been a good coda to that, with Michael realising that perhaps there is peace in death and it should be left alone. Instead he not only totally goes through with it, perhaps cheapening an earlier sacrifice, but we're also given a joke, which is admittedly funny, and closes the film out with a laugh, but could run the risk of spoiling the moment.

There's a reason this movie has a reputation as so bad it's good, and that's partly due to the often hilarious effects. The movie as a whole looks cheap, and we can freely presume the budget was comparable with a generous dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

One of the biggest budget-related hurdles is the fact that the movie's shot on video, but you get past this pretty quickly, which is a relief. Though the film comes dangerously close at times to looking like a home movie when we're shifted to the modern day.

As far as cheesy 80s effects can go, the stuff on display here is on par with the likes of Deathstalker. The visual touches are integrated well with the action, and the choreography is quite good! The effects are particularly impressive when portraying invisible forces, like a nightgown unfurling, a sword flying, or when a book is torn to shreds out of nowhere and set aflame mid flight. Lastly, there's the make-up for the zombies that intermittently show up...Yes, you read that right. Whether or not this production team were originally set to make a zombie film or whether these were leftover props I don't know, but they're not that bad, aside from an embarrassing devil mask.

My final note on the effects work in this film is that there is a lot of it, especially in the final battle! It's on par with the climax of 1963's The Raven in terms of how much we see. While not all of them convince, and some are downright awful, this is effort I can get behind, especially when all too often you see magic in films reduced to a few blue sparks, maybe teleportation, and that's it.

The direction by David Marsh is standard, with a few decently staged moments. The final battle is a little chaotic, but not too bad. In one of the final scenes of the movie is a pretty neat transition effect! It doesn't look entirely convincing, but it's cool all the same. It actually makes you wonder why there weren't other creative shots throughout the film, rather than only one, 2 minutes before the end.

While it may border on sounding like a video game at times, the music here is pretty good.

Despite anyone's inability to keep (or even attempt) a British accent, the acting in Lords of Magick is quite good. Jarrett Parker (Michael) and Mark Gauthier (Ulric) can get over-the-top at times (especially when chanting spells or displaying [broad] emotion), but on the whole they do decently well, especially with more subtle moments. Gauthier does really well with his character shift, making you believe what you see. I also felt Dolores Nascar did a very good job as Thomas's Gypsy friend. She's silly at first, then the way she shows fear really helps make Salatin seem intimidating. The only major weak link in the cast is Salatin himself, as played by Brendan Dillon Jr.. He's clearly having fun, but seems to get carried away, while also not being as good of an actor as the others, and the result is an actor who's chewing the scenery so much that you can see how wide he keeps his mouth open!

Lords of Magick has a lot going against it at first, and your reaction to it might vary depending on your tastes, but if you're a fan of goofy 80s fantasy, then look no further! This is a guaranteed fun time, and that's regardless of whether you find it genuinely good or not!...

Friday, May 31, 2019

Carolina Cotton Appreciation Post

All the way back in...2012 (nooo, it can't have been that long ago!) I discussed the 1940s musical I'm from Arkansas. A pretty decent picture, and one that had a certain actress of note-one Carolina Cotton! I took an immediate liking to her,but never got around to reviewing more of her content, mainly because her 200+ strong filmography left me daunted. Recently, however, I realised there were only 20 or so credits to her name, and I'd misread an extra 0. I haven't had much luck finding many of these, and I'm from Arkansas may well have been her biggest role, so I probably won't get the chance to review more of her films any time soon, but what I can do is write an appreciation post!

Born in 1925, the Nordically named Helena Hagstrom found a talent for that divisive singing known as yodelling. Performing both on the stage and behind the camera, as well as hosting a radio variety show for a time, she honed her skills over the years and had many fun little distinctions. There are more complete and knowledgeable sources of her life, and it's a decently interesting one, but I'm not here to write a full biography. Rather, just to give a general outline, and lighting a path for others to follow. Whether or not I'll eventually look at all her other films remains to be seen, for the two aforementioned reasons, but this post won't be my last or only word on her, because I've written a very special tribute in a certain upcoming project, which will be announced next month. In the meantime, the best place to start  Carolina Cotton is definitely her music, which was certainly the highlight of whatever she appeared in!...Well, unless you hate yodelling, that is...