Archive for Jerome Cowan

Things I Read Off the Screen in The Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2021 by dcairns

PROFESSIONAL BUILDING. Well,what kind of Crime Doctor would operate out of an Amateur Building?

This was my first CRIME DOCTOR film — pure B movie goodness. I’ll definitely watch more. William Castle directed a couple, but this one was by the noir-adjacent Eugene Forde, who throws in an expressionist-adjacent dream sequence:

POISON!

So, anyway, Warner Baxter is Dr. Robert Ordway from the radio programme Crime Doctor, where he was played by THE NAKED CITY’s House Jameson. For the movies, you need a movie star (radio adaptation I LOVE A MYSTERY ported over the audio actors from its source, and they were a tad disappointing to gaze upon). For a B-movie you will settle for a FORMER movie star. Enter Warner.

(Cary Grant described stardom as a crowded bus — he hung off the back for a few years, then squeezed inside, “then Warner Baxter fell off and I got to sit down.”)

ROBERT ORDWAY M.D. PRACTICE LIMITED TO PSYCHIATRY

And crime-solving, of course. Lloyd Bridges and Lynn Merrick, both staple supporting players in B pictures — he keeps turning up as waiters and stuff in the LONE WOLF films — are the nice young couple who come to ask Crime Doc’s advice. He was an innocent suspect in a previous murder case where his employer was offed, and Ordway got him off. The police still think he’s a little off. Soon, he’ll be a suspect again — perhaps he’s been hired precisely to divert suspicion from the real killer. This is roughly the plot of Carol Reed’s THE GIRL IN THE NEWS, made a few years earlier in the UK, and therefore suitable for re-arranging into a fresh plot.

POISON. Soon, even L. Merrick will be suspecting L. Bridges of being the poisoner. Hard not to, when he carries poison about with him. But that’s too simple for the Crime Doctor, who explains that a guilty man would have thrown the poison away. An innocent man suspected of murder might have done the same, but not our Lloyd.

PATRICIA GIRLS. GOLDEN NIGHTS. G ROOMS OFFICE. NO SMOKING. QUIET.

A flashback takes us into a vaguely Gay Nineties theatrical setting, which feels like a different movie. I joked that from now on the film would be a period musical and we’d never return to the detective story. B movies very rarely go that far awry but sometimes, out of sheer cheapniz, you get peculiar narrative strategies.

CAFE MAN DESERTS WIFE AND CHILD. A truly magnificent headline. Cafe man? I imagine the same editor’s other works: LAMP WOMAN SLAYS FOUR. FLASK PERSON IN WASP SHOCK. BANISTER THING DESTROYS IDAHO. They’ve also buried the lede: this is a case more of theft than abandonment. Unusually for the period, the full newspaper story has been typed up and printed by some Columbia employee, rather than just some Latin text or a cut-and-paste article about the Chamber of Commerce. So you can learn that the theft victim is one Walter Burns, so we’re back to Cary Grant again.

UNIONS. SUPER-SOFT SCHOLL’S NO-PADS.

BURNS PHARMACEUTICAL CO. ADDISON BLAKE PRESIDENT. 1128. FOR SALE. APPLY BUSINESS PROPERTIES INC. 916 WEST 18TH AVENUE. CITY CAB CO.

The B-movie world is full of Acme-type generic business names. City Cabs. Professional Buildings. Business Properties Inc. Looking forward to REPO MAN, where characters drink from cans labelled BEER, or buy tins of FOOD.

PHYSICIAN 7X 38 51.

The Warner Baxter we meet in this film (not pictured) is a strangely muted fellow — perhaps preferable to the barking bully of the 1930s. He’d suffered a nervous breakdown and was going to die pretty soon. Either this, or the underwritten character, makes him gentler and actually more appealing. But not very lively or interesting.

JOE’S LUNCH ROOM. SHORT ORDERS. OPEN ALL HOURS. “What the hell is a lunch room?” demanded Fiona. “A Room where you get Lunch,” I suggested. She felt any business opening only at lunchtime would be a failure, but the answer is painted on the window: the round-the-clock lunch, a great American invention. But is it really lunch if it’s all hours? Another mystery we’ll never solve.

Buncha names. MR. MRS. MALLORY CARTWRIGHT.

This charming couple supplies all the eccentricity the film can bear. She’s discovered working as a cook in the murdered man’s house, but she’s clearly not legit. The Crime Doctor catches her “pretending to cook.” She soon throws off her disguise and flees through an open window. Learning her real name, he tracks her to her home address, where alas she does NOT say “Come in, I was just pretending to make coffee.” We learn that she’s a process server, and was serving food in order to get close enough to her target. Her husband is played by Jerome Cowan, and he’s a sheet music salesman and unconscious pyromaniac — small fires break out whenever he’s around. This becomes a hilarious running gag. This couple have little to do with anything, they’re mainly herrings of a deep crimson hue, but they bring the entertainment. The fact that Cowan’s job requires him to play the piano to demonstrate songs, and he does this very, very badly, is also hilarious. Does he sell many songs to the people whose homes he ignites? THAT question may actually be the Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case, but there’s no time for a solution because this is —

COLUMBIA THE END

Gingergangers

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2017 by dcairns

SHALL WE DANCE is perhaps not quite as good as THE GAY DIVORCEE or TOP HAT but then nothing is. It has Fred and Ginger and Gershwin tunes and Mark Sandrich directing a script by a whole gang including series regulars Adrian Scott and Ernest Pagano.

Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore (as Cecil Flintidge: clearly a role he was born for) are back as support for Fred and Ginger, but there’s no Erik Rhodes this time — Fred has taken the funny foreigner part for himself. He plays Peter P. Peters, whose stage name, Petrov, causes Ginger to expect him to be a sombre, pompous Russian ballet star before she’s met him. Overhearing her remarks, Fred resolves to BE a stage Russian (for some reason, Fred always sets out to annoy Ginger when they first meet).

His goofy Russian is hilarious, though, part Erik Rhodes, part Lugosi. He prances about the room, striking Slavic attitudes, he says “Ochi Chernye” as if it were a greeting, and ends with “I mos’ go. I mos’ go to Mos-go!” Very silly indeed.

Fred also dances with the art deco engine room of the Queen Anne, a film first. RKO’s idea of an ocean liner is probably somewhat credible — I bet 1930s liners really were built in the streamlined style. But I doubt their engine rooms were white, moderne palaces of engineering with mirrored floors and a spare double bass to slap.

The movie is so entertaining it can delay the appearance of Blore for almost half its length, and wait even longer for Fred and Ginger to dance together. We get They All Laughed and Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off (on rollerskates!), and lots of crazy farce plotting, including an uncanny development where Jerome Cowan tries to substantiate the fake news that Astaire & Rogers are married by smuggling a sort of fembot duplicate of Miss R. into Fred’s bedchamber.

Later, Fred finds the automaton stashed in a cupboard. His reaction reminded me of someone ~

Pierre Batcheff in UN CHIEN ANDALOU.

Also, Ginger has a very cute little dog.

This little nameless trouper is a natural! He burns up the screen! Fiona thought he was the cutest dog ever — he draws the eye throughout Fred’s rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me by being adorably sleepy. But I had to remind her of the puppy in THE YOUNG IN HEART with the one big dark eyebrow. It’s a close run thing. You can vote on it if you like.

Did he grow up to be the dog from YOJIMBO?

“Jane of Aylesbury” in THE YOUNG IN HEART. Pretty stiff competition.

Film climaxes with the eeriest number of all Fred & Ginger extravaganzas, featuring as it does a chorus of girls in detachable Ginger masks (reminding Fiona of Sheryl Lee removing her face in Twin Peaks: The Return) and also the alarming Harriet Hoctor, a diabolical creature from an alternate dimension, or else a freak born, by a cruel caprice of Mother Nature, with half her body upside down. The feather gown adds to her unreality by making her seem weightless. It’s all a bit much. She never caught on.

GOD PLEASE NO TAKE IT AWAY TAKE IT AWAY KILL IT

Bickel Victory

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2016 by dcairns

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Captures the mood chez mois round about now.

As these things do at Shadowplay, John Cromwell Week is running on into a fortnight or so…

I’m indebted to Nicky Smith for the information that it was John Cromwell who advised a young actor named Ernest Frederick McIntyre Bickel that he might do better under the name Fredric March. The name, and the actor, were subsequently so successful that they appeared together in two Cromwell films, VICTORY and SO ENDS OUR NIGHT. I admired both.

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VICTORY adapts Joseph Conrad’s novel, previously filmed by Maurice Tourneur and later a dream project for Richard Lester (scripted by Pinter).

In The Hollywood Professionals Volume 5, Cromwell is quoted by author Kingsley Canham as expressing dissatisfaction with VICTORY, since he couldn’t get the performance he wanted out of chief villain Sir Cedric Hardwicke and he couldn’t find a cockney actor to play his “secretary,” thus was forced to resort to Jerome Cowan, a good all-rounder but no Londoner. In fact, to my eyes, Hardwicke appears excellent — a modern, minimalist take on malignancy. His sinister sunglasses, a touch borrowed from Ben Deeley in the silent version (Conrad makes no mention of them) make his face (even) more skull-like than usual.

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If Cromwell was dissatisfied with his baddies, he surely must have been pleased with March and particularly Betty Field, who produces a remarkably credible English accent which really wasn’t called for, but which sounds very sweet. You may know her from OF MICE AND MEN, but this is an unrecognizably different characterisation. It’s essential that we care about this couple despite their age difference and the brevity of their acquaintance. March is so gentle and Field so vulnerable… Cromwell assists with the same direct-address camera angles he used in OF HUMAN BONDAGE, letting the audience inhabit each character in turn.

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Also: Sig Rumann as the oily Schomberg, perfect if unimaginative type-casting as a sneaky blowhard. He doesn’t have a beard to point in this one, but his chin threatens to go off all on its own.

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SO ENDS OUR NIGHT is a tale of stateless refugees in pre-war Europe, from a novel by Erich Maria Remarque. It suffers from a structural feature easier to make work in a book: a divided protagonist. A very young Glenn Ford gets most of the screen time, pursuing Margaret Sullavan (practically compulsory casting in Remarque adaptations, it seems), but March keeps popping up and taking the narrative away with him. He’s a more compelling actor and he gets Erich Von Stroheim and Frances Dee to interact with, but it has the effect of deforming the narrative.

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Although my copies of both movies are pretty rotten, it’s just possible to appreciate the contribution of William Cameron Menzies to the latter film — as production designer, he did far more than plan sets, he sketched every composition, somewhat usurping Cromwell’s role with the director’s grateful cooperation. The film was a low-budget one — too depressing a story to excite Hollywood enthusiasm, even at the start of the war — and Menzies’ careful planning allowed miracles to be achieved.

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Another Menzies-designed Cromwell flick, MADE FOR EACH OTHER (1939), is available in pristine form. Despite starring James Stewart and Carole Lombard, it’s pretty bad — two-thirds painfully predictable sitcom schtick (admittedly, they hadn’t had decades of domestic television comedy to wear out this kind of thing yet) followed by a mind-bogglingly inappropriate action climax. As a slight recompense, it does offer Louise Beavers (Mae West’s grape-peeler-in-chief, Beulah) playing an intelligent and capable woman, which she rarely got to do. Beavers would turn up very briefly in Cromwell’s late production, THE GODDESS, demonstrating his long memory.

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After an hour devoted to Stewart’s struggle to raise a family and get on in his law firm (as boss, Charles Coburn plays an intransigent patriarch just as he did in the superior IN NAME ONLY), the movie abruptly swerves into lunatic melodrama, as the Stewart-Lombard baby gets sick and an experimental vaccine must be flown at once, overnight in a torrential storm, from Salt Lake City. Selznick, the presiding lunatic in this whole affair, throws resources at this totally left-field ending, and Menzies provides dazzling visual accompaniment. It’s like I Love Lucy suddenly decided to climax with the third act of DIE HARD. Madness.

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