Tuesday, April 30, 2019
The Mystery Man (1935)
Reporter Larry Doyle has just been rewarded by his paper and the city of = for his work in solving the = murder case. In equal measure, he's fired from said paper after the boss has had enough off his glib tongue. After an all-night bender, Larry wakes up on a train entering St. Louis, where he comes across the similarly broke Anne. Deciding that this young girl needs some help, he decides to take her under his wing and ensure she doesn't have to go hungry.
Meanwhile, the city is being tormented by the malevolent crime lord known as The Eel, whose most recent caper has left a victim in its wake. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Larry is suspected of both the murder and of being The Eel, and must find the true culprit before his goose is cooked...
The Mystery Man is a very entertaining little picture! A combination of genres, it starts out as a comedy of a down-on-his-luck newspaperman, then veers into a cute romance picture of these two lost folk finding each-other and giving each-other a hand, getting into a few fixes along the way. Then comes the final developments when some intrigue is introduced, and the leads have to not only find a murderous master criminal, but also clear Larry's name. The movie balances these acts and genres well, feeling natural and never like a movie that's randomly pulling new directions out of a hat in the vain hope they stick.
Despite the title, this is more of an adventure than a mystery, but this is forgiveable enough. The writing remains solid all the way through, ending with what is either the worst proposal in history, or two lovebirds kidding around with each-other in an adorable way/manner.
The Mystery Man has a well-realised set of characters. The two leads are believable and likeable in their plight, while Larry's three friends back in = comes across as genuinely nice folk even if they are a bit =. His boss there Jonas is a stern taskmaster (but not without a point, or a softer side on occasion) while Larry's new boss in St. Louis is as skeptical and brusque as he is genuinely considerate and risk taking. The guy only gets like 3 or 4 scenes, yet he feels like a fleshed out character.
The Eel however is a pretty wasted villain. He only comes into the story in the last third, and barely appears. Less can be more, but it's not like he's a main cast member or anything. He's a total stranger to us, so there's not even a selection of suspects to guess with.
The acting in The Mystery Man is all good. Robert Armstrong delivers a fine performance, managing to make the character just believably unscrupulous enough without making him unlikeable. He played a similar character in 1929's Big News (with Carole Lombard), and this feels like a natural extension/improvement. Maxine Doyle is just as good,
The Mystery Man is a great little example of 1930s comedy and crime, and of how well the two genres mixed and matched back in the day...
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Murder in the Private Car (1934)
Young telephone operator Ruth Raymond gets the surprise of her life when she turns out to be the long lost daughter to wealthy railway tycoon Luke Carson. Together with her friend Georgia, her boyfriend John, and a mysterious private eye who dogs her tracks and keeps her safe from harms way, Ruth ventures to reunite with her father, facing all kinds of dangerous encounters...
Murder in the Private Car seems like a pretty self-explanatory film from that title-A murder-mystery set on a train, with a colourful set of suspects. Sounds like fun! However, the film actually takes its sweet ass time even getting to that part. One thing I'll commend it for is that it spends plenty of time on the set-up. The problem is that it spends perhaps a bit too much time on it, and so it feels like an eternity before we even get to the train. We're rather quite inundated with the plot, to the point where I started getting confused, but also still stuck in the first act, so it takes forever for Ruth (or us for that matter) to meet her father, not even getting into the murder.
Now we come to the halfway point. My brain was beginning to melt by the time the train temporarily derailed and was accosted by a group of circus animals, but then things get crazier! We go into full comic book territory with a mad villain revealed to have perfect control over the train car. Talking from an unseen location with a creepy voice, he has secret panels cover the doors and windows, has the floor open up to reveal a cache of dynamite, and cuts the carriage loose from the main train. All sounds well and good. But then he's immediately killed just as he finishes his malevolent speech!
This whole high concept cat-and-mouse game on the train only begins when there's 10 minutes left, then it feels as if the writers didn't even want to bother, so the villain is unceremoniously killed offscreen. It nearly comes off as a parody with how effortlessly it happens despite all his expert planning. Overall, Murder in the Private Car wastes so much time with fiddle faddle that important plot developments as well as characters take forever to come into play, and feel confusing when they do finally arrive. I thought "Who's that?" to myself quite a lot!
Despite all these issues, the writing itself is pretty good,with many lines making me laugh. Ruth "I'll tell that office hour Romeo I'm a one man tune!"
Ruth: "Well, I don't know whether to call him father, or dad, or...what do people who have fathers call them?"-Georgia: "Ah, well I'd say that all depends. If he's rich, something like Father, or dad, or even Pater usually pays pretty good. My old man only rated Pappy."
Georgia: "If I don't wake up for two or three days, I'm not dead, I'm just resting."
The direction is pretty neat. The climax is very well filmed! I'm pretty astounded that any movie from back then would've been able to pull off stuff like this (or indeed, been allowed to!). Then, just when you think you've seen it all, we get even more thrilling stuff to witness! The rail changing scene is definitely bound to make your heart leap to your throat, and I bet Hitchcock himself was grinning if he watched it. Really my only issue with it is that the actors/characters take a backseat to the spectacle, not helped by the rushed ending.
Charlie Ruggles and Una Merkel receive top billing in this production, which made me assume they were the leads. I was frankly surprised at how laidback and normal Merkel was, and how squeaky and manic Mary Carlisle was, because usually it's the other way around...Yeah, there's a reason for that. As it turns out, despite those two getting top billing, they're the supporting cast. Carlisle and Russell Hardie and the two leads. Though while Carlisle is her usual good self, Hardie as the love interest was rather boring, and didn't do much.
Charlie Ruggles is weird as the snoopy private eye. Perhaps a bit too weird, and certainly too old for the role considering how often he's referred to as young, yet his love interest is 20 years his junior. Still, he gets his moments. Una Merkel is fun too. Manic, yeah, but she has life in her performance.
For his fleeting screen appearance (all of one scene) Some Guy (uncredited) does a really good job as the spooky voice, sounding pretty creepy! African American actor Jeff Toones is somewhat endearing as Titus, though delivers a pretty annoying exaggerated voice. Whether he's to blame or the director, I can't say. Thankfully his character is never the butt of any mean jokes. He's in the thick of it just as much as everyone else, and treated as an equal.
Murder in the Private Car is a bit too weird for my liking, but has got enough little good qualities to make sure the movie at least doesn't sink like a stone. It certainly could've done with some fine tuning, but it's not horrible...
Monday, April 1, 2019
The Downfall and Reformation of Hiram Stokely: A Beach Party Essay
It is once again that time of year to discuss the artistic merits of the acclaimed Beach Party series, friends! Today we will be delving into the life and times, and afterlife of the on and only Hiram Stokely...
Before we know of the beginning of this man's life, we will see where he is at the beginning of the movie/story. A deceased spirit who wishes to make up for his conniving ways before he moves on to Heaven.
Hiram Stokely began life as an industrious and poetic[reverse?] young man interested in the trade of the theatrical. He worked his way up the ranks of the circus world, wowing audiences everywhere with his magic tricks, including the greatest of all-The Girl in the Invisible Bikini! Sadly, tragedy struck when his love and partner Cecily died in an accident during a performance. Hiram retreated from public life and inside himself, where he became hardened to the feelings of others and decided to use his = skills for crime...
The rest of this man's life sailed by, as he conned people out of their money and got rich off of the proceeds, living inside a stately old Gothic mansion (complete with Chamber of Horrors, of course), under the guidance of his sinister lawyer Reginald Ripper. Eventually he passed away, finding himself in his crypt, and is met by the spirit of his long departed love Cecily. She has been sent from the afterlife to help Hiram redeem his past misdeeds and make his way up to =. While he can't leave the confines of his crypt, only able to watch the actions at the house from his magic ball, the ghostly Cecily will take a more proactive approach to try and defend those present at the will reading from the wiles of the murderous lawyer.
While Hiram may have been given the chance to pull off one last good deed before he moves on, he's not being given a reprieve only after his death, for if you pay attention, you'll realise he already invited his heirs over for the will reading when he was alive. Since he has no descendants of his own, you're probably wondering who they are, and that's a good question. They're the children of the victims who lost [everything] due to Stokely's con-tricks!
Heirs Chuck and Lily are skeptical at first, but the will turns out to be on the level. While even to the end Hiram still had a love for the theatrical, and felt that rewards should never come too easily to those who haven't necessarily earned it, he ultimately left the entirety of his fortune to [the families of] those he hurt in life. It's one thing to suddenly try and redeem oneself when already dead and acutely aware of where they might end up, but the fact this this process began earlier shows that he was a changed man before he was in the grave. Perhaps this is what earned him that post-mortem chance in the first place!
In the end, Reggie Ripper is stopped, and the money is divided between those to who it belongs, though they may have to beat three dozen teenagers away in order to access it. They're an easily pleased lot though. Give 'em a Chamber of Horrors to party in and they're happy. Cecily returns to Hiram with the good news, and they set out to begin their new journey.
In the closing of this day, I think we should all raise a glass in salute to the late Hiram Stokely, and may he wow many in the afterlife with those famous invisible bikinis!...
*PS, as is an April Fool's Day post I'm of course taking the piss to an extent, but partially sincere. I'm not actually making anything up this time! The Boris Karloff-Susan Hart scenes were of course shot after the fact when the movie was completed, but it's interesting to think that even the original offscreen Hiram Stokely is still an unexplored wealth of character! The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini of course comes recommended, though with the proviso that it's perhaps more fun than 'good'...
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