Archive for James Flood

Doctor, Lawyer, Beggar Man, Thief

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2020 by dcairns

With a nod to Tom Waits’ Heart Attack and Vine, I conceived the idea of a Warren William Weekend Quadruple Feature — Since pre-code Warner Bros were in the process of producing a Mighty Tapestry of works documenting every aspect of American life, it’s easy to find any of their stars in roles embodying the roles Waits sings of. One could make the same series with William Powell, with a little studio-hopping (THE EX-MRS. BRADFORD, LAWYER MAN, MY MAN GODFREY, JEWEL THIEF), to name one.

Warren W. appears in BEDSIDE, THE MOUTHPIECE, THE MIND READER and THE DARK HORSE — I’ve had to stretch the definition of “beggar man” considerably, though — I would LOVE to see WW playing a shabby-genteel hobo, but I have to settle for a high society psychic, a profession that relates to sideshow charlatanry, but it’s definitely a cheat. On the other hand, for “thief” we could have had any of the LONE WOLF films and several others. The main reason for the exercise was to look at BEDSIDE again in the company of THE MOUTHPIECE, which I’d never seen… My suspicion was that they’d be basically the same film.

David Landau appears in losing hand of cards.

Not so! Although of course both have WW in rogue mode. Both are tales of sinners redeemed. But in BEDSIDE (Robert Florey), he’s so disgustingly corrupt (in a charming way) that his ultimate escape from any consequences for his actions as a phony doc — the medical profession closes ranks to avoid a scandal — comes off (and may have been sneakily intended) as satire. Whereas THE MOUTHPIECE ends on a stunningly ambiguous note — will WW pay the ultimate price for his misdeeds?

It’s hilarious to me that THE MOUTHPIECE shows our perennial rogue quitting the DA’s office in a fit of ethical revulsion after accidentally sending an innocent man to the electric chair, and then becoming, in reaction, a mob lawyer. Corruption awaits him in every direction, he just happens to fall into it. He saves J. Carroll Naish AND Jack La Rue, that’s how bad he is. He also has Aline McMahon as secretary/better angel, which is a sure sign of a man with a troubled conscience — see also FIVE STAR FINAL.

Both films have very good hangover scenes — WW had that slicked back hair — ruffle him, and a shaggy squid wafts loose its tendrils.

I can’t absolutely decide if the daringly open ending of MOUTHPIECE — there are strong indications that our hero will (a) die and (b) live — as the end title fades up he’s a virtual Schrödinger’s shyster — is the result of cunning or fumbling. The film has several writers and two directors (Elliott Nugent and James Flood). Did they all get together and come up with something clever, or all fight each other and come up with something muddled? The result is really interesting, whatever the process.

WW also lawyers up as Perry Mason, four times, and in James Whale’s WIVES UNDER SUSPICION, where his DA has an abacus of little skulls documenting/celebrating each killer he’s sent to the chair.

Loy Above

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 15, 2017 by dcairns

WINGS IN THE DARK — “Terrible title!” pronounced Fiona — is a piece of junk from Cary Grant’s Paramount years, before he found himself, but it has Myrna Loy, and she’s in no doubt as to her location, apart from at the film’s climax when she’s lost in the fog in her plane — yes, she’s an aviatrix, still a hot topic at the time. Which means she gets to wear darling outfits. Grant, an inventor and fellow aviator blinded by a gas explosion, has to fly up and rescue her in his science plane.

It’s a piece of junk but it’s hugely satisfying. Grant strains too hard, and has Hobart Kavanaugh as “Mac,” a Scottish sidekick, with the worst accent on record: he doesn’t actually say “The engines canna take much more of this,” but seems constantly on the verge of it. Loy’s face is in constant, adorable motion, puckering up in little self-critical moues, if “moues” is the word I want. Do that in a 1930s Buck Rogers collar and you take the cake for cuteness.

Fiona noted that Myrna finds time to apply lipstick — and remove it — between shots on her epic Moscow-to-New York record-beating flight. The natural look is for realism, to help Myrna look tired when she’s been flying for forty-eight hours. The lipstick appears as soon as she establishes radio contact with Cary Grant. He has that effect on a lot of people.

The film is lightly feminist: Loy bankrolls Grant’s pseudo-radar invention with her own sky-writing and barnstorming career, and even when he rescues her at the end, she turns around and rescues HIM right back. Six different people wrote this soap opera nonsense, James Flood directed it. A lot of Paramount’s lesser works aren’t as compelling — having bailed on the shapeless WEDDING PRESENT (1936, Grant again, this time with Joan Bennett), we found we had to finish this one, and were both glad and a little ashamed we did.