Archive for D Ross Lederman

Mohr and Blore

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2020 by dcairns

Thinner than the Thin Man! Saintlier than the Saint! Crimier than the Crime Doctor and more masonic than Perry Mason! Michael Lanyard, the Lone Wolf, is back, accompanied as ever by his faithful manservant, Jamison… wait, how can he be a lone wolf if he’s accompanied?

We sold Marvelous Mary on the idea of a Lone Wolf watch party so she can feed her Eric Blore addiction (for it is he who essays the role of Jamison, apart from one outing where Alan Mowbray stepped in, with Ron Randall in his only appearance as Lanyard — I’m saving that one for a day when it is not only rainy, but SUBMERGED).

Our double-feature was to consist of ONE DANGEROUS NIGHT, Warren the starving lion’s penultimate Lanyard performance, and then THE LONE WOLF IN MEXICO, in which the now ailing WW is subbed out by pod person Gerald Mohr, a Columbia upstart best known for fading into the background of GILDA. Both films acquired in suitably ratty form, poor prints duped from VHS off-air recordings, the latter one graced with massive, decomposing Spanish subtitles crawling over half the image, through which the actors peered like convicted felons, as perhaps they were. A good evening in.

These subtitles are illegible, it’s a good thing I don’t understand Spanish.

Mary suggested we invite our mutual chum Stuart to partake also. Stuart produced my first short film, so would seem to have much to answer for, but he answered for it fully at the time, I can assure you. I don’t know what he’s done since to make him deserving of this cinematic treat, but probably plenty. I sold the show to him as “pre-televisual time consumption units.” There was eventually a Lone Wolf TV show, after Ron Randall murdered the movie series, and it starred Louis Hayward who seems like excellent low-budget casting, which lets face it is all the series ever got. I might check it out, Alfred E. Green directed some and there are exciting guest stars like Denver Pile and Morris Ankrum. Oh goodie!

I am curious about THE FALSE FACES, the silent Henry B. Walthall vehicle which is available purely because Lon Chaney’s in it. Curious about the numerous other silents also, but none is within my grasp, and the part-talkie THE LONE WOLF’S DAUGHTER is considered lost. Maybe I’ll never find out if Bert Lytell was a worthy precursor to the Starving Lion. With a name like Bert, it’s hard to picture him doing the suavity.

Curious also about the early talkies with Melvyn Douglas (pretty classy casting) and Francis Lederer (pretty surprising casting, though Lederer is ALWAYS surprising, not to say alarming, in any role). I can get those.

ONE DANGEROUS NIGHT is standard Lone Wolf stuff, enlivened by WW failing to take himself or anything else seriously, and by Blore’s “bits”: he’s called upon to impersonate an entire 4th of July party, to loudly feign illness, and to fire a prop Tommy gun, all of which he does so with his usual enthusiasm, which rightly should belong to a man twice his size, but who’d pay for the damage?

Blore being a party.

Blore feigning illness.

Michael Gordon directs, having worked his way up from Boston Blackie by way of the Crime Doctor, with Cyrano still in his future.

Sample dialogue from a henchperson: “Kid’s got a bad case of ants, always in a stew.”

Eric Blore gets to say: “We’re being followed, sir. Couple of storybook characters.”

Anne Savage gets to say: “Come on, honeybunch, let’s go places.”

MEXICO, despite Mohr being somewhat overshadowed by his immediately predecessor, is the same kind of fun. Co-writer of DETOUR, Martin Goldsmith, is one of the credited scribes, and the dialogue has zest. It’s directed by D. Ross Lederman, whose first initial and middle name seem to form their own critical commentary.

Weirdly, though Jamison/Blore is characterised as a reformed thief in all the films, these two are the only ones I’ve seen where he’s portrayed as a sort of kleptomaniac, snatching purses in both flicks to jump-start a spare bit of narrative.

Eric Blore gets to say: “What have we done now??” Also he gets to wear a sombrero and sing the “Ay, ay, ay!” song. You know the one I mean.

Last line of the film is a Mexican policeman saying “…I thee-eenk.” More innocent times. Subtitling this for the Spanish market may have been an act of post-war optimism.

ONE DANGEROUS NIGHT stars Paul Kroll; Cedric Cosmo, aka Captain Braceridge Hemingway; Eve Corby; Stephanie ‘Steffie’ Hajos; Eloise Matthews; Vera; Mr. Bel-Goodie; Sgt. Murphy; Noah Joad; Buddy De Sylva; Capt. Delgado; Joe Brody; Count Alexis Rakonin; The College Cad; Gort; Spat; Leatherstocking; Trustee, Boston Waif Society (uncredited); and Steve McCroskey.

THE LONE WOLF IN MEXICO stars Capt. Delgado again; Cedric Cosmo, aka Captain Braceridge Hemingway again; Ann, Cowgirl in Movie (uncredited); Mona Plash; Minor Supporting Role (uncredited); Roy Church; Megalos (uncredited); Reverend Hawthorne (uncredited); Bret Harte (uncredited); Mendoza (uncredited); Reuben Klopek; Cannabis Dealer (as Leon Lenoir); Samaris (uncredited); Spectator at Medusa Presentation (uncredited); and Leatherstocking again.

Whistling in the Dark

Posted in FILM, literature, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2010 by dcairns

I’d never seen THE WHISTLER nor any of its sequels, so I didn’t know what to expect from MARK OF THE WHISTLER, based on the radio show and also on a Woolrich novelette called Dormant Account.

Elucidating the tricky nature of the film series may take more time than summarizing the movie’s screwy premise. The Whistler himself is a sinister narrator, a bit like The Shadow, only he whistles. The Shadow never whistles: completely different character. The Whistler is morally respectable but does everything he can to appear deeply frightening and mysterious: he appears only in shadow or silhouette (trench coat and fedora), and speaks in a voice a bit like Orson Welles’s wheedling Shadow, with a dash of Vincent Price in Heavy Irony mode. And he has nothing to do with the stories he tells.

So, the radio series was an anthology of different crime-based stories, strung together by a narrator who is quite removed from the stories he tells. In the film series, mostly helmed by sensationalist wizard William Castle, things are a touch more complicated, since the Whistler actually casts his shadow into the scenes he’s talking about, a sort of non-diegetic half-presence in the story.

Complicating things further, the bulk of the Whistlers are tied together by a common leading man, Richard Dix (best known to me as the amiable psychopath in charge of Lewton’s THE GHOST SHIP). Since this is an anthology series, Dix plays a different character in every film, sometimes good, sometimes evil. Odd, no?

Bits of my copy of MARK OF THE WHISTLER were so grainy and dark, Fiona said they looked like they’d been animated with sand. And in one scene the actor fades from view altogether, resulting in an effect perhaps more atmospheric than the original intent.

William Castle, with his love for cheapjack entertainment and head-spinning plot turns, is a natural adaptor for Woolrich. It would be useful to set aside Castle’s later penchant for publicity gimmicks like Emergo (plastic skeleton on a string slides over heads of audience) and Percepto (electric joy buzzers volting audience’s asses) and focus on his love of bizarre story angles. After all, the years of gimmickry make up only a small portion of Castle’s career, which took in westerns, low-rent epics, and plenty of noirs. What serves better to bind it all together into the work of a distinctive crap artist is the love of weird, semi-nonsensical storylines predicated upon absurdities, veering into insanity, trailing off into delirium. HOMICIDAL goes one better than PSYCHO, planting its transvestite character right in plain view (and using every cheat from body doubles to revoicing to sell the deception); THE TINGLER deals with a parasite fed by fear, leaching nervous tension from the base of the spinal cord, and neutralized by screaming; SHANKS is a semi-silent comedy about electro-galvanism starring Marcel Marceau. And this realization also drags in films produced by Castle but not personally directed by him: not just fluff like BUG, in which the fire-raising insect army have a group intelligence that enables them to spell out messages on the wall with their bodies, but more respected films like LADY FROM SHANGHAI (whose “I want you to kill me!” plot is pure Castle schlock) and ROSEMARY’S BABY (spinning on an “is it real?” conundrum like a Philip K Dick sci-fi yarn).

In MARK OF THE WHISTLER, Richard Dix is a good-natured bum who discovers a bank advertising for somebody to claim the contents of an abandoned bank account. Since by chance he shares the name of the missing party to whom the money belongs, Dix decides to impersonate the fellow. Making a deal with disgruntled haberdasher Porter Hall (a delightful curmudgeon from the Preston Sturges stock company, anatomically incomplete without a jutting cigar), he bones up on the missing person and successfully trousers the sum being held, a considerable sum by 1944 standards. The build-up to the imposture is fascinatingly slow, methodical and tense, with the always quiet and understated Dix a rather hypnotic presence.

Now comes the plot twist — the missing man is missing with good reason, since there’s a bad guy out to kill him. Dix has so successfully assumed the wanted party’s identity that he can’t shake it off when he needs to. Further twists, which rather stretch plausibility to the point of snapping-and-pinging, are on their way.

This was all enjoyable enough, so I was happy to try RETURN OF THE WHISTLER, which proved to be the last in the series. Richard Dix having drunk himself to death, and William Castle being busy making other, perhaps even cheaper pictures, this movie stars Michael Duane and proceeds under the helm of D Ross Lederman (should a B-movie maestro really use “DRoss” as a name?) — it’s unexceptional but quite watchable, and uses a favourite Woolrich device…

Duane is trying to marry his French fiancée, but can’t find a justice of the peace, so they’re forced to spend the night apart in a strange town. Checking his spouse-to-be into a hotel with a surly night clerk, in the a.m. he’s alarmed to find her vanished, or do I mean he’s alarmed to NOT find her, vanished? And the clerk denies she was ever there. This one adapts Woolrich’s All At Once, No Alice, with echoes of Phantom Lady and of course THE LADY VANISHES, but plays like a lesser version of You’ll Never See Me Again, one of the author’s most horrific, agonizingly tense, and twistedly autobiographical stories.

In YNSMA, the hero’s wife walks out on him after an argument early in their marriage, returning to her parents, whom he’s never met (Woolrich plots often depend on such unlikely and contrived circumstances. Never mind.) This of course uncomfortably echoes Woolrich’s own short marriage. In the story, the hero goes after his wife but finds she never arrived at her destination, triggering a weird and disorientating investigation that tests Roman Polanski’s very Woolrichian observation that “anxiety has no upper limit.” The climactic revelation punishes the wife even more horribly than the story has already tortured the husband: her mother murdered, she’s been entombed alive by the killer. The rescue does not make for a wholeheartedly happy ending.

RETURN OF THE WHISTLER is altogether lighter, but our leading lady has been unjustly committed as insane by grasping relations, so the dark side is certainly there. The Whistler himself is on hand to poke fun at the struggling hero from time to time ~

It lacks Dix’s ineffable embers of charisma, and Castle’s occasionally imaginative direction, but it’s a decent time-waster with authentic Woolrich elements, even if it shortchanges us on the angst and paranoia.