Archive for Warner Baxter

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…

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

Walsh Out

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 6, 2020 by dcairns

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The latest edition of Forgotten By Fox is now published by MUBI, here. Let Raoul Walsh drag YOU kicking and screaming into the talking era, why don’t you?

Bonus items of audible interest: frying bacon, Warner Baxter’s Mexican accent, Charles Farrell attacks the bead curtains.