Archive for Olin Howland

The Sunday Intertitle: Following Yonder Noir

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2021 by dcairns

More from THE GOLD RUSH very soon.

On Christmas day we watched the Cukor-Garland-Mason A STAR IS BORN, which I don’t think I’d ever seen all the way through. Brilliant stuff. And with a Christmas scene! So that warrants further discussion.

We also watched two seasonal thrillers. CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY is obviously the greatest entry in the tinsel noir micro-sub-genre, but I had been unaware of the existence of MR. SOFT TOUCH (Gordon Douglas & Henry Levin, 1949 — not sure what mishap necessitated two journeyman directors) and COVER UP (Alfred E.Green, same year). Both are OK.

In the first, Glenn Ford is a sympathetic crook, Joe Miracle — back from the war, he’s found the mob have taken over his nightclub and killed his partner. He rips off the joint and hides out in a homeless shelter, where he uses his stack of 100Gs and his underworld acumen to help the indigents and romance Evelyn Keyes. Patterned very much on the JOHNNY O’CLOCK model, it suffers from an awkward, inconclusive ending (happy or sad?) and startling tonal shifts — Ford doing good deeds, and also smashing Roman Bohnen’s knuckles with a crank. Like they couldn’t decide if it was Damon Runyon or THE BIG HEAT.

It has the world’s most beautiful office safe, though. And I’m an Olin Howland completist so it was good seeing him as a skinny Santa (he also turned up in the Cukor).

COVER UP has nifty dialogue — banter between smart insurance man Dennis O’Keefe and smalltown cop William Bendix — as our hero tries to prove murder in a case earmarked by a whole town as suicide. O’Keefe worked on this as writer, under a pseudonym and with a small army of helpers. It has everything but an ending, wrapping up with an anticlimactic discussion which hauls it back from the brink of being an expose of small town corruption — it becomes a sympathetic cover up, in which we get to agree that the reputations of great citizens who commit the odd homicide should be protected for the general good. This rather lets it out of being a proper film noir, which is a shame.

Barbara Britton is very winning, and the very welcome appearance of Hank Worden gives a suggestion of the Twin Peaksian territory it COULD have explored…

Evidently the victim was a golf ball.

MR. SOFT TOUCH stars Dave the Dude; Suellen – Their Daughter; Cherry Valance; Mrs. Bailey; Pa Kettle; Auntie Em; Willy Garzah; Stanislaus ‘Duke’ Covelske; Candy; Kane’s father; Mrs. Hudson; Mrs. Leuchtag – Carl’s Immigrating Friend (uncredited); and Wilbur Strong.

COVER UP stars Buzz Wanchek; Montague L. ‘Monty’ Brewster; Cynthy Waters; President Harry S. Truman; Ceinwen; Inmate, Wilma Lentz; First Lady of the Land (uncredited); Lilith’s Friend in Spode Room (uncredited); and Mose Harper.

Dr. Crime

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2021 by dcairns

I’m rapidly buying up all John D.MacDonald’s Travis McGee books, and almost as rapidly burning my way through the CRIME DOCTOR series of Columbia B pictures with Warner Baxter. The McDonalds are better, but the Baxters have a comforting cosiness — not noir, though they’re shadowy thrillers all right. Every one of them has a somnolent scene of WB wandering around a dark interior by flashlight or candlelight. But they’re neat and unambiguous.

Michael Gordon, whose career makes no sense, did the first, in which the character’s radio origin story is replayed, and forgotten about thereafter. Like Arnie in TOTAL RECALL he goes from being a bad guy to a good guy by having his memory wiped. Seems like the prisons could save a lot of money by reforming prisoners with a simple blow on the head.

Olin Howland as a rogue phrenologist, COME ON!

The most cinematically important film of the series — which isn’t really important at all, but bear with me — is THE CRIME DOCTOR’S MAN HUNT, directed by William Castle. One can’t imagine that the directors of this series had much script input, but it’s a curious fact that Castle’s later fondness for publicity gimmicks and trick processes went hand-in-hand with a passion for tricksy plots. It’s sensibility that makes sense, unlike Michael Gordon’s (CRIME DOC, CYRANO DE BERGERAC, PILLOW TALK?). It even fits with his rep as a bit of a con artist. Narrative tricks and pranks. Remember also that he produced LADY FROM SHANGHAI and ROSEMARY’S BABY, and imagine how prosaic those movies would look if he’d been allowed to direct them.

Oh, we also watched THE WHISTLER, another radio spin-off directed by Castle and co-written by CRIME DOC scribe Eric Taylor, which borrows the “kill me” plot from Jules Verne’s The Tribulations of a Chinese Man from China, a wild variation on which turns up again in LADY FROM S. Decades later, Marc Behm would sell that plot to the Beatles as basis for their second film, with Ringo as the depressed man who hires a hitman to off himself — but then the team found out Belmondo was filming the same storyline, though Richard Lester didn’t know it was stolen from Verne until I told him…

But back to CD MAN HUNT, which isn’t about a man hunt at all — the titles to these things are pretty random, and a couple don’t even mention the Crime Doc, Robert Ordway, in the title. This one has a story by Taylor but script by Leigh Brackett. It’s no BIG SLEEP but it’s decent. There are signs of haste, like a character’s real name being revealed as Armstrong, seconds before a reference to “strong arm men.” A reference to “the Benway house” which clashes bumpily with the lead character’s name. But it’s a neat story. Major spoilers follow, but are you really going to watch the film? If so, use the embed above.

Ellen Drew appears in an apparent dual role as sisters, one good, one evil, but after that’s revealed (and it’s not too surprising, as Drew uses the same tragic delivery whether she’s wearing the bad sister blonde wig and specs or not), a new wrinkle is added: one sister is dead and the other has developed a split personality in order to replace her. After the mystery has been solved, Warner B. delivers a dollarbook Freud mansplaining that feels very familiar, but the film it’s recalling, PSYCHO, hadn’t been made yet.

It’s really kind of touching that Castle directed a film which seems to provide a template for PSYCHO — did Robert Bloch see the movie, I wonder? — and then later be reduced to copying Hitchcock with HOMICIDAL, which reverses the gender disguise element. And, again, gives us an insight into how prosaic PSYCHO might look if Hitch weren’t directing it.

Having watched about half the CD movies now, I am resigned to running out soon, but Eric Taylor has forty-odd other credits, including (ulp) BIG JIM MCLAIN, SON OF DRACULA, a bunch of Ellery Queen pics, BLACK FRIDAY…

Warren William Weekends

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2020 by dcairns

Fiona and I have been having Friday evening watch parties with friends… for some reason we’ve settled on Warren William as the centre of the cinematic universe. We started with the Lone Wolf series, to which we may return like a lone wolf to its vomit, but we moved on to GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1933 where he gets to play a fatuous character instead of just playing a regular character in a fatuous manner (I LOVE WW’s fatuousness) and thence on to his Perry Mason films, which are of a slightly higher standard than the Lone Wolves — less generic, more eccentric. Since Mason doesn’t have a regular comedy sidekick or any regular co-stars, he gets to more comedy himself and this is no bad thing. Though of course Eric Blore would always be welcome.

Speaking of casting irregularities, we wound up watching THE CASE OF THE BLACK CAT which does NOT have WW in it. Riccardo Cortez who, like WW, had unsuccessfully played lead in a version of THE MALTESE FALCON, unsuccessfully plays lead here. He’d soon start directing films for Fox, not one of which is available even as an illegal download. That’s how good he was.

But the first film in our double-feature, THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE features a really ebullient turn by WW with professional sidekick Allen Jenkins backing him up, and strong support from character wizards like Olin Howland, Warren Hymer and Maya Methot. Michael Curtiz directs with a rocket up his arse and somebody’s just handed editor Terry Morse a shiny new optical printer so every scene ends with a zoom-in and blur effect FOR NO REASON. Morse later got the job of shoving another Perry Mason, Raymond Burr, into GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. Stick with me, kids, it’s not much fun but it’s educational.

GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1933 stars Michael Lanyard; Lady Fingers; Hattie ‘Mom’ Frink; Peggy Sawyer; Philip Marlowe; Scattergood Baines; Caterpillar; Kitty Foyle; Screwball; Sir Alfred MacGlennon Keith; Chico; Sgt. Dickens; Max Jacobs; Montague L. ‘Monty’ Brewster; Sermon; Helen St. James; and the voice of Winnie the Pooh.

THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE stars Philo Vance; Doris Kane (Leo); Perry Mason; Vivian Rich; Jonathan G. ‘Goldie’ Locke; Steve Wilson; Lt. of Detectives Dundy; Inez Cardoza; Angelface; Mr. Davis – Schoolteacher (twice); Judge Thatcher; Uranium Prospector (uncredited); Peter Blood; Zedorah Chapman; Aramis.

THE CASE OF THE BLACK CAT stars Sam Spade; Tommy Thomas; Marie Donati; ‘Snoop’ Davis; Player Eating Bonnie’s Chicken (uncredited); Wild Bill Hickok; Colonel Skeffington; Sheriff Prettywillie; Mr. Waterbury; and Wax Figure (uncredited). Let’s face it, this wasn’t a stellar cast.