Archive for Ann Sheridan

Sparring Filchers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on July 2, 2021 by dcairns

THE NOTORIOUS SOPHIE LANG is only just a pre-code, but it’s a pre-code to the core, dealing as it does with a couple of competing jewel thieves. The title character is played by Gertrude Michael with a good deal of skill and charisma — the plot requires her to assume fake identities and GM is fully up to the task of putting on a Garbo voice and so on. Her romantic partner / competitor, Paul Cavanagh, is blander, but still capable. Best of all, Sophie has a long-suffering sidekick played by Alison Skipworth, who is always good value.

Co-directed by Ralph Murphy and William Cameron Menzies under what circumstances I know not — need to get the Menzies bio! — this looks cheap but is crammed with improbable twists and moves at a good lick. When circumstances force our heroine to flee across rooftops in just her undies, she drops through a skylight and lands in the dressing room of a fashion show, surrounded by other women in their undies. The coincidence is ridiculous but the movie wins points for coming up with some kind of a solution, and for showing us lots of women in their undies (apparently Ann Sheridan is in there somewhere, paying the bills while losing her Texas accent).

We don’t get any of Menzies’ more vertiginous compositions: the main stylistic device is a quick pan in wide shot from one half of the set to the other, a way of adding verve while saving time.

I realise I’ve seen the star in multiple films but she was always in the background of someone like Mae West, whom you can’t look away from and who didn’t give anyone else good lines. Away from that kind of gravitational pull, she’s zesty and appealing.

There was an attempt to spin Sophie into a series, but the code had kicked in so she couldn’t steal any jewels, which must have taken some of the fun out. Also, they couldn’t tempt Skipworth back.

THE NOTORIOUS SOPHIE LANG stars Calpurnia; Lord Penrose; Sir Joseph Whemple; Miss Mabel Jellyman; Lord Basil Epping; Apartment Thug (uncredited); Mr. Throstle; Prof. Summerlee; and Randy Monaghan.

Angles and Dirty Phases

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2020 by dcairns
A striking inverted angle from CASTLE ON THE HUDSON

Lesser Litvaks —

CASTLE ON THE HUDSON is a remake of Curtiz’s 20,000 YEARS IN SING SING, which I’ve never seen, though the title fascinated me as a kid. I ought to do a compare-and-contrast. I found this one a bit by-the-numbers with John Garfield as a Cagney clone. (He’s better as a complete swine in OUT OF THE FOG, his other role for this director.) It’s got a lot of punch, but lacks Litvak’s usual fluidity: too many close-ups.

It really comes alive, though, during the few minutes when Burgess Meredith comes in takes it by the throat. I’m guessing Litvak admired OF MICE AND MEN since he snapped up Burgess here and Betty Field for BLUES IN THE NIGHT.

CITY FOR CONQUEST —

“That was a book by Aben Kandel that was quite successful at the time, a book very difficult to adapt into a motion picture, because it dealt with
as enormous a city as New York is I was fascinated by the book, and had a terrible feeling, a kind of horrible ambition, about doing a picture about the city of New York that I was so terribly· impressed with from the moment I came here. It was a challenge to me, because basically I still was quite a foreigner at that time. I spent quite a while in New York, just for my basic acquaintance with the city, and the people of the city, before I started on the story.”

Writer Aben Kandel came to my attention for his involvement as screenwriter in the rather drole SING AND LIKE IT (1934) but later was mixed up in TROG and CRAZE, two ghastly low-budget horror affairs made in Britain. How he descended from being an acclaimed novelist to that dreck is an unknown but no doubt depressing story.

CITY FOR CONQUEST stars the actual Cagney, along with Ann Sheridan again, and a young and unusually appealing Arthur Kennedy. Plus Elia frickin’ Kazan, during his brief stint as a Warners character player. Both his big roles were for Litvak (BLUES IN THE NIGHT is the other) and he tears up the screen. But all the characters are from stock, and typecast accordingly. One is happy to see Frank McHugh as a sidekick, but not exactly surprised. Warners specialised in cramming the screen with yammering cut-outs, but somehow in this case thing feel thin.

Cagney & Kazan!

Cagney threw himself into training to play a boxer and really felt they were adapting a great book, but he was bitterly disappointed by the end result. “I worked like a dog on City for Conquest,” he wrote, or dictated, in Cagney By Cagney, “There were some excellent passages in Kandel’s novel, and all of us doing the picture realized that retaining them (as we were doing) would give City for Conquest distinction. Then I saw the final cut of the picture, and this was quite a surprise. The studio had edited out the best scenes in the picture, excellent stuff, leaving only the novel’s skeleton. What remained was a trite melodrama.”

He’s not wrong. Worse, you can see the trailing stumps of scenes and characters that clearly needed further development for the thing to make structural sense. Frank Craven as “the old timer” is set up as a Greek chorus, an old hobo who talks to the camera, but he only appears a couple of times. I think a lot of it might still have been corny, but it could have hung together.

Litvak: “I was crazy about Jimmy Cagney, and Warner Bros. was crazy about him because he was a big star. This is for the first time when Jimmy Cagney played the part of a weak man. As you know, Jimmy Cagney mostly played — particularly at that time — tough guys, dominating tough guys. I thought — I always felt– that Jimmy was a great actor, and didn’t have to do this stereotyped kind of a fellow, this gangster he had played for years. I came with this proposition to Warners and finally they accepted it. I found that Jimmy Cagney was a bit scared of this picture. I would say that in all my career this was one of the few times when I had trouble with an actor. I explain it to myself as a strange feeling Jimmy had about the part. He was not quite sure what he was doing. But I must say that I feel (and I think the public agreed with me too, and the critics) that it was probably one of the
best things Jimmy Cagney did on the screen.”

Maybe Cagney just didn’t have the weakness in him? What co-star could convincingly intimidate him?

Cagney did ruefully note the picture’s box office success, but strongly implies that the public was wrong. I am unable to find an original source for the star’s description of Litvak as “a natural born asshole,” but going by both men’s recollections it does seem quite possible that he said it at some time. Cagney always admitted to being difficult, but only when he was trying to give a good performance and felt he was being hampered.

Interesting that Litvak doesn’t mention the film’s truncation, which he SHOULD have been unhappy about, since the mutilation is hardly invisible.

Cagney as the blinded boxer redeems it a little with his convincing physicality both as prize-fighter (his dancing background pays off) and blinded newsie — he really tries to look properly, unphotogenically disabled. And Kazan is a knockout. He’s obviously intended to form the fourth corner of a structure that interleaves Cagney, Sheridan and Kennedy’s struggles, and the reduction of his role is really frustrating because he’s so bloody good, damn him.

“I coulda been a contender, Tola…”

I’m not sure if anyone ever asked Kazan about working for Litvak. He must have learned SOMETHING about screen acting from the experience.

CASTLE ON THE HUDSON stars Porfirio Diaz; Nora Prentiss; Hildy Johnson; The Penguin; Miles Archer; Kewpie Blain; Carson Drew; Lady Macduff; Danny Leggett; Pete Daggett; Michael Axford; Bim; Detective Bates; Egeus – Father to Hermia; Louie the Lug; Dr. Leonardo; Noah Joad; and Cueball.

CITY FOR CONQUEST stars George M. Cohan; Nora Prentiss; Jackson Bentley; Battling Burrows; Asa Timberlake; ‘Spud’ Connors; ‘Pusher’ Ross; Nickie Haroyen; Alexis Zorba; Effie Perine; Madame Therese De Farge; Dixie Belle Lee; Inspector Crane; Detective Bates; El Gringo; Bim; The Obtrusive Gentleman; Max Jacobs; and Cueball.

Juke Swamp

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on January 31, 2015 by dcairns

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JUKE GIRL is a pretty good Warner melo from the pen of A.I. Bezzerides — like all his films it manages a prominent role for a Greek-American character, and carries a bit of a political punch. Odd to see such a left-leaning film, siding with farmers against crooked wholesalers, yet starring Ronald Reagan. He’s actually kind of winning in it.

The title character is lovely Ann Sheridan, who dances with customers in Muckeye’s bar. The movie is in no way hers. The plan must have been to imply that it’s the story of a racy dance hall hostess to cover the fact that the movie is really about organized labour. It would have been great if Reagan had gotten in trouble with HUAC for being in it, but alas even their idiocy had limits.

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My favourite line is Ann seducing her way onto the premises of the wholesalers’ so Ron can steal a truck to help out the embattled Greek farmer who must get his produce to market before it spoils. “Gee, a packing house must be a wonderful place at night,” she coos through the fence.

With almost precode energy, the movie does a lot of packing itself, cramming in a murder and framing along with the dirty business dealings and hints of political corruption. It’s oppressively crammed with ugly mugs, bulbous, walking Drew Friedman cartoons — if you have Richard Whorf AND Howard Da Silva in a movie, you are possibly subjecting your audience’s nerves to what the automobile industry calls destructive testing. How much nasal sneering can we take?

Curtis Bernhardt directs, without his interesting expressionistic flourishes, but with a lot of GUSTO.

At the end, the murderer is revealed as wholesaler Gene Lockhart, so Ron and Ann are saved from the lynch mob. We think that’s going to be the situation defused, since Lockhart, an unintentional killer, is clearly in the throes of complete nervous collapse and can be turned over to the sheriff, but NO — the ugly (ugly!) mob he has whipped up now turns on him, and Bernhardt, who can’t help himself, chucks in one METROPOLIS style high angle of hands reaching for the miscreant, ringing around him, seemingly about to tear him apart like Charles Laughton’s Dr. Moreau…

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And we fade out. A coda rounds off the fate of the other characters, but this moment of bloody, Reign of Terror revolution is never referred to again, and we are left to assume that Lockhart was (a) torn limb from limb (b) hanged from a lamppost or (c) eaten.

This is why Warner pictures are the coolest.

The title attracted me in the same way that SO YOUNG SO BAD and PROBLEM GIRLS seem like really appealing movies based on titles alone. Watch for them here soon!