Friday, May 22, 2020

The Vanishing Shadow (1934)

The Vanishing Shadow is a 1934 Universal serial.

Young Stanley Stanfield (Onslow Stevens) has inherited a newspaper but his two passions in life are inventing and planning to get revenge on Wade Barnett (Walter Miller), whom he blames for his father’s death. When he meets Barnett’s daughter (played by Ada Ince), who calls herself Gloria Grant, he’s inclined to hate her until he discovers that she doesn’t like her old man either. After that you figure it’s a safe bet they’re going to fall in love.

But let’s for a moment return to the subject of inventing. What Stanfield is working on is an invisibility ray. He’s having a few problems so he enlists the help of an older genius inventor, Professor Carl van Dorn (James Durkin), who just happens to be working on an invisibly ray as well. The problem both men are having is with shadows. They can make a man disappear but they can’t make his shadow disappear.

The Professor is working on some other inventions as well. He’s a kindly middle-aged man but he’s developing a death ray, which puzzles Stanley somewhat. The Professor assures him that the death ray will be used only for good although how you can use a death ray for good remains an enigma.

Professor van Dorn has a whole bunch of other gadgets he’s invented as well. One cute thing about this serial is that while Stanley likes and admires van Dorn he’s slightly disturbed (as we the audience are) by the sheer murderousness of his gadgets, and by the Professor’s apparent willingness to use them. In fact, his keenness to use them.

Of course Wade Barnett has plans of his own and those plans are definitely not going to be to Stanley’s advantage. He frames Stanley for murder. All this happened early in the first episode so I’m not giving away any spoilers.

The problem with invisibility is that it makes anyone who possesses the secret too invulnerable so it was a nice idea that this ray leaves you with a shadow so you’re not completely invulnerable after all. And the shadow adds a very slight touch of spookiness.

You might be wondering about the robot. He’s featured in the opening sequence of each chapter but he takes a long time to put in an appearance. But don’t worry, the robot does have a part to play. And he’s like all the Professor’s inventions - the Professor claims that he has lots of peaceful applications but he seems like he’s mostly designed to break things.

There’s a bit more depth to the characters here than you expect in a serial. I’ve already mentioned Professor van Dorn’s combination of kindliness and murderousness. There’s also Wade Barnett. He’s the chief villain and he’s certainly ruthless and immoral, but on the other hand he genuinely loves his daughter.

Gloria is interestingly conflicted. She loves Stanley and she’s thrown in her lot with him. She strongly disapproves of her father. But he’s still her father and she still loves him.

Even Dorgan, Barnett’s chief henchman and an unscrupulous thug, shows in one scene where he discovers something he didn’t know about Barnett that he’s capable of understanding and respecting normal human emotions. He’s a hoodlum but he’s not quite a mere monster.

The acting is slightly more nuanced that usual as well. Walter Miller as Wade Barnett is especially good. He’s a bad guy but he has what seem to be occasional flashes of conscience, and Miller makes them convincing. James Durkin is great as Professor van Dorn he’s disturbingly manic and obsessed.

Even the ending is slightly more complex than you might expect.

VCI’s DVD release is reasonably good. Image quality and sound quality are quite acceptable.

Interestingly this was regarded for some time as a lost serial.

The Vanishing Shadow is an above average serial with a nice mix of science fiction and crime thriller elements. And the science fiction elements are not just tacked on but integrated into the plot. The special effects are also quite effective. Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Kitten with a Whip (1964)

Kitten with a Whip is a very underrated 1964 juvenile delinquent melodrama which was a perfect star vehicle for the always awesome Ann-Margret.

David Stratton (John Forsythe) is a rising politician with senatorial aspirations. His wife and daughter are out of town at the moment. That doesn’t mean David has been up to no good while they’ve been away. David’s idea of a wild time is a round of golf. And with his political ambitions he is ultra-sensitive to even the slightest breath of scandal (this was 1964). So he’s a little bit disturbed one morning when he glances into his five-year-old daughter’s bedroom and finds a 17-year-old girl fast asleep in the bed. A very attractive blonde 17-year-old girl in a torn nightdress. The girl is Jody (Ann-Margret) and she has a good explanation. She had to run away from home because her mother’s drunken boyfriend tried to get her into bed and being a good girl and being very protective of her virtue well naturally she had to get away. It was just pure good luck that she found David’s front door open. Well actually it was a window and she had to break in but she was really scared and what else could a poor innocent girl do?

For a politician David is rather naïve. He swallows Jody’s story hook, line and sinker. Of course he will try to help the poor girl. He buys her a new dress, gives her some money and puts her on a bus. He’s now feeling very pleased with himself. He handled the situation adroitly and he helped a damsel in distress.

So it comes as a shock some time later in the golf club when he sees the TV news and discovers that Jody actually broke out of Juvenile Hall after stabbing the matron (who may well die). Still he can console himself with the thought that Jody is now on a bus so it’s not his problem. Therefore it’s more than disconcerting when he gets back home and there’s Jody, clad only in a bath towel. Of course she has another really good explanation ready to go. David’s not falling for her line this time. He’s going to call the police. At least that what he intends to do until Jody informs him that if he does she’s going to cry rape.

At this point David starts to know how a trapped animal feels. Jody is an adorable kitten but she’s holding the whip and she won’t hesitate to use it.

David’s problems have only just begun. He’s about to take a roller-coaster ride and there’s no getting off. Jody’s friends turn up, there’s a knifing and eventually the crazy circus that David’s life has become ends up in Tijuana where the roller-coaster is going to stop but will there be any survivors?

Writer-director Douglas Heyes is better remembered for his television work. He was responsible for some of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone. The film was shot in black-and-white which works, nicely enhancing the B-movie feel.

While this is a juvenile delinquent movie it’s not one of those ultra-cheap Z-grade movies of that genre that enjoyed such a vogue in the 50s. Kitten with a Whip is a lot more slick and polished. It was made by Universal with a reasonable budget. It’s an odd hybrid - it has the camp and even kitsch qualities of a typical juvenile delinquent movie combined with high production values and a very good cast.

The first half of the movie is high camp outrageousness and it’s also very funny. There is some dazzlingly bizarre dialogue. Then the game becomes more dangerous. It’s still outrageously camp but with more and more of a film noir sense of impending doom. But you can never be sure if it’s going to end in tragedy or farce.

Kitten with a Whip is based on Wade Miller’s 1959 novel of the same title which I reviewed here.

Some elements of the novel certainly had to be softened for the film version. In the book David sleeps with Jody and there’s always a touch of lust mixed with his bewilderment and mounting horror of the train wreck that Jody is making of his life. That element is eliminated in the film. An aspiring senator having sex with an under-age girl was not something you were going to get away with in a major studio production in 1964. The surprising thing is that apart from that the movie is a reasonably faithful adaptation and even the ending is pretty close to the feel of the book’s ending.

John Forsythe was a good casting choice. He plays David as a decent kind of guy who’s a bit of a stick-in-the-mud and a bit naïve. Forsythe nicely captures David’s sheer bewilderment. He’s like a deer caught in the headlights. He has never met a girl like Jody and didn’t even know such girls existed. He has absolutely no idea what to do. We can’t really despise him. He’s too fundamentally decent. But we can’t quite respect him - he’s too helpless. Forsythe’s performance might seem stilted and colourless to some but he’s playing a guy whose whole life is stilted. He’s a politician. He’s as phoney as Jody.

Ann-Margret pulls out all the stops. She was a competent actress but not exactly subtle. Fortunately subtlety is not required here. What she does manage to do is to make Jody convincingly complex and unpredictable. Jody doesn’t have enough self-awareness to be truly evil. She’s more like a wild animal, frightening because she herself doesn’t know what she’s going to do next, or why. But there is an edge of cruelty. She’s a wild animal but with enough human cunning to be much more dangerous. And she has zero capacity for comprehending the harm she can do. She’s a cat playing with a mouse and David is the mouse.

Critics have generally entirely missed the point of Ann-Margret’s performance. They have complained that while it’s fun it’s too histrionic and artificial and fails to be convincingly real. But that is exactly the point of it. Jody has no understanding whatsoever of real human emotions. All she can do is mimic actual feelings. Jody emotes the way she sees people in movies and on TV emote. She is entirely artificial. We do eventually realise that there’s a real person in there somewhere but Jody herself never realises this. Jody can’t tell the truth because she doesn’t know what it is. She can’t project real feelings because she’s never developed any. She just switches back and forth from one rôle to another, from one piece of make-believe to another. Ann-Margret captures this perfectly. I doubt if any other actress could have played this rôle. They would almost certainly have made the mistake of trying to be real. Ann-Margret does not make that mistake. She is histrionic and artificial but it’s not bad acting, it’s the right acting for the part. Whether this was consciously her intention or whether it was just pure luck doesn’t matter. Her performance is perfect.

Kitten with a Whip is deliriously over-the-top but while it’s often dismissed as a so-bad-it’s-good movie that’s not quite fair. It’s consciously and deliberately over-the-top but that’s the only way it was going to work. Had it tried to play things straight it could have been a dreary Social Problem movie instead of the delightful feast of fun and kitsch with a dash of noir that it turned out to be. It’s obviously a must-see for Ann-Margret fans but it’s also amazingly entertaining. Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Solo for Sparrow (1962)

Solo for Sparrow is a 1962 entry in the Merton Park Studios cycle of Edgar Wallace crime thrillers. It’s fairly typical of this generally very competent British B-movie series.

It starts with a clever robbery of a jeweller’s shop. The gang kidnaps an elderly female employee whose job it is to lock up at night. She and the owner are the only ones to have keys to both the front door and the safe. A good plan, if only the old lady hadn’t died on them. Now it’s a murder case.

It’s Inspector Sparrow’s case but maybe not for long. His superior, Superintendent Symington, intends to call in Scotland Yard. Sparrow decides to take some leave, although what he really intends to do is to break the case before the Yard can. Like most local detectives he’s somewhat resentful of the way Scotland Yard ends up getting all the glamour. This is a local crime, Sparrow knows the ground and he knows all the local villains. He can see no reason why he shouldn’t solve the case on his own.

It doesn’t take Sparrow long to pick up the scent. There are a couple of elements in the robbery that excite his curiosity a great deal. Sparrow’s methods are sound but perhaps not entirely conventional. Or it might be more accurate to say, not entirely legal. Wire-tapping is definitely not permitted without Home Office approval but what the Home Office doesn’t know won’t hurt them.

It’s all part of a trap Sparrow intends to lay (he can lay the trap because he already has a fair idea of the identity of at least one of the gang members). Of course there’s always the possibility the gang will lay a trap for Sparrow. This is a pretty ruthless gang.

This is a straightforward crime story with no sensational twists (although the method by which Sparrow extricates himself from one very nasty situation is ingenious). Sparrow just follows the leads he has then puts on the pressure in the hope that one of the gang members will crack, which of course is probable given the fact that murder was involved and the authorities are going to be wanting to hang someone for that.

Glyn Houston plays Sparrow. Houston was one of those thoroughly reliable British actors who could play parts like this in their sleep. He does a fine job. Sparrow is a sympathetic character but he’s a bit of a chancer. Both his career and his love life are at a bit of a crossroads. His love life problem could be easily solved if friendly local barmaid Sue was given half a chance. She doesn’t even mind being dragged along when Sparrow is on the job - surely a perfect candidate to be a policeman’s wife.

Anthony Newlands oozes oiliness as the jeweller Reynolds. Nadja Regin adds some glamour as Reynolds’ wife. Allan Cuthbertson, one of my absolute favourite British character actors, puts in an appearance as Sparrow’s superior officer. Look out for Michael Caine in a minor rôle. Cult TV fans will enjoy seeing William Gaunt (from The Champions) as Sparrow’s sergeant and Wanda Ventham (Colonel Lake from UFO) in a bit part.

Director Gordon Flemyng worked mostly in television. There’s nothing spectacular about the job he does here but he keeps the action moving along. Roger Marshall, who had a very distinguished career as a television writer, provided the very serviceable screenplay.

This movie is included in Network’s Edgar Wallace Mysteries volume three DVD boxed set. These sets are an absolute must for British B-movie fans. The 16:9 enhanced transfer is excellent.

Solo for Sparrow is decent if routine entertainment. Not one of the better movies in this cycle but the strong cast is a definite bonus. If you’re going to buy the boxed set anyway (and you should) then it’s worth giving this one a spin if you don’t set your expectations too high.

Friday, May 8, 2020

L’immortelle (The Immortal One, 1963)

L’immortelle (The Immortal One) was Alain Robbe-Grillet’s first film as a director although he had already established a reputation in film circles as the screenwriter of the prodigiously clever and convoluted 1961 movie Last Year at Marienbad. And in its own way L’immortelle (like all of Robbe-Grillet’s films) is every bit as interesting.

Here's the link to my review of L’immortelle At Cult Movie Reviews.

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Man in the Back Seat (1961)

The Man in the Back Seat is included in Network’s Edgar Wallace Mysteries Volume Five boxed set but not only is it not one of Merton Park Edgar Wallace films, it’s not an Edgar Wallace film. It was made by Independent Artists from an original script by Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice and was directed by Vernon Sewell. It was released in 1961.

Tony (Derren Nesbitt) and Frank (Keith Faulkner) are a couple of likely lads who’ve come up with a foolproof plan for robbing a bookie as he leaves the greyhound track. All they have to do is knock him on the head as he’s getting out of his car, grab his bag containing his takings and make their getaway in his car. Nothing could be simpler. Only one problem - to prevent just this sort of robbery the bookie has handcuffed himself to his bag. So the lads have to take the unconscious bookie with them.

It’s no problem really. He must have the key on him. But he doesn’t.

And the bookie is not looking too good. Maybe Tony hit him a bit too hard. He’s alive but he’s in a bad way.

This movie is like a comedy of errors, except that it’s black comedy. It actually reminds me a little of Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry, except in this case it’s a live body rather than a dead one causing the trouble. It’s not just the difficulty of getting to the money in the bag. What do they do with the guy then? He obviously needs to be taken to a hospital or at least to a doctor but they can’t do that. They come up with a series of schemes to try to get some help for the stricken bookie, or to find a way to get him to a hospital without being seen, but something always goes wrong.

What’s interesting is that while there’s definitely a black comedy element there’s also a definite film noir element. Tony and Frank are stupid and incompetent thieves but they’re not really evil. Things just got out of hand. Now they’re descending into the noir nightmare world. If the man dies they’ll hang, they don’t want him to die, but they can’t seem to find a way out. They just keep descending further and further into the nightmare.

Derren Nesbitt is one of my favourite English actors of this period and this is just the sort of rôle at which he excels. Tony is over-confident and cocky but he’s not as smart as he thinks he is and he’s not as cool-headed as he thinks he is. His quick thinking, deciding that they’d take the bookie with them, has landed them in a nightmare.

Frank is even less smart and cool-headed than his buddy plus he’s just had a fight with his wife who thinks (quite correctly as it turns out) that he’s spending too much time with that no-good layabout Tony. Frank would like to get out of the situation but he doesn’t want to betray Tony, but he doesn’t want to make his wife any more upset than she already is. Keith Faulkner’s performance balances nicely on the edge of hysteria.

They keep ending up back in the car with the bookie in the back seat. That’s where a large part of the action takes place, giving a nice sense of claustrophobia and desperation. It’s as if they’re condemned to drive around London forever with an unconscious possibly (for all they know) dying man as a back-seat passenger. It all happens at night, in true film noir style.

While the film noir influence is obvious (and both thematically and visually this movie is very film noir) and I’ve mentioned a certain Hitchcock movie already, there’s also a bit of the feel of an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents with a neat little sting in the tail. The ending is neat too - it’s not quite what you’re expecting in an early 60s British crime thriller. There’s also just a hint of horror. And most effectively there’s that feeling of futility. No matter what these guys do, they’re both literally and figuratively driving around in circles. There just seems to be no escape.

Network’s anamorphic transfer is excellent as always.

The Man in the Back Seat is a very pleasant little surprise, an offbeat and very effective little noir thriller. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Madame X (1966)

Madame X is a 1966 Ross Hunter melodrama so you know it’s going to be very melodramatic indeed and it’s going to be lavish with very high production values.

Rising diplomat Clay Anderson (John Forsythe) has married poor shop girl Holly (Lana Turner). They’re socially mismatched but they’re madly in love and against the odds the marriage seems quite successful and they have a son. Clay’s mother Estelle (Constance Bennett) doesn’t really approve of the marriage but she has little choice other than to accept it.

The trouble starts as Clay’s career blossoms and he has to spend an enormous amount of time away from home. Holly starts to see way too much of charming but notorious playboy Phil Benton (Ricardo Montalban in full-on Latin Lover mode). Then an accident occurs which gives Estelle the chance to get rid of Holly. Holly is presented with a stark choice - she can risk a scandal and possibly worse or she can disappear. So she chooses the option of disappearing from Clay’s life.

Estelle packs Holly off to Switzerland, ensured that he will be generously provided for financially. As you might expect Holly cracks up and is found dying in the snow by the kindly musician Christian Torben (John van Dreleen). He nurses her back to health, or at least to physical health but the emotional scars are another matter. They may never heal.

Christian wants to marry her but of course she can’t and she lives and her life goes steadily downhill. She ends up in Mexico, an alcoholic and (it is at least implied) a whore. She hooks up with grifter Dan Sullivan (Burgess Meredith) and amazingly things get even worse for her. Dan has a plan and she cannot permit him to carry it out. The plan will bring her into contact with a young lawyer (played by Keir Dullea), with mometous consequences.

Lana Turner’s performance is extremely melodramatic, but that’s Lana Turner. If you cast her in a melodrama she knew exactly what was required of her and she delivered the goods in her inimitable and outrageously over-the-top style. She was not by any stretch of the imagination a great actress but here’s she’s doing what she did best and she’s doing it well. As the movie progresses she overacts more and more and the more she overacts the better she gets (which was alway the case with Lana Turner).

The other key cast members all know what is required of them as well. Their performances might not be good by conventional standards but they’re just right for this film.

Director David Lowell Rich does a competent job but this is very much a Ross Hunter film. Ross Hunter was proof that a producer could be an auteur. It has all the Ross Hunter trademarks. It’s in Technicolor and widescreen and it looks lush and expensive. It has the Ross Hunter look, in spades.

This is pure melodrama and it’s very much what used to be described as a woman’s picture. You can criticise it for being sentimental and for being campy and for being overwrought but it’s supposed to be all those things. It’s idle to criticise a movie than in fact achieves everything it sets out to achieve. Of course it is perfectly valid to dislike it because it’s simply not your cup of tea.

Madame X has had several DVD and Blu-Ray releases. The one I have is the double-feature pack (paired with Portrait in Black) from Universal. The anamorphic transfer is very good. The only extra is the trailer.

If you’re contemplating seeing this movie there are three questions you need to ask yourself. Do you enjoy totally excessive melodramas? Do you like the Ross Hunter style? Do you like Lana Turner? If (like me) you answered yes to these questions then I recommend this film although it has to be said that there are better Ross Hunter melodramas out there.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Naked Alibi (1954)

Naked Alibi, an overlooked B-feature produced by Ross Hunter and released by Universal International  in 1954, establishes its noir credentials right from the start.

Al Willis (Gene Barry) is a baker and a very respectable church-going family man who gets himself arrested after a few too many drinks. The cops try to pin a robbery rap on him. He gets sore and takes a swing at Lieutenant Parks and makes a few wild drunken threats so the cops give Al a working over. Then they realise that they have zero evidence so they let him go.

That would be the end of story, except that the following night Lieutenant Parks is gunned down. Based on his wild threats Chief of Detectives Conroy (Sterling Hayden) is convinced that Al Willis is the killer, despite a complete absence of evidence.

Conroy is even more convinced when two more cops are murdered. Of course once again there’s zero evidence against Al but Conroy is clearly not the sort of cop who worries very much about petty details like evidence or suspect’s rights.

What’s interesting is that we really don’t know what’s going on with Conroy in the early part of the film. Is he corrupt? Is he really a thug (apparently he’s been the subject of numerous complaints)? Is he crazy? Is he cracking up? Or is he a dedicated if perhaps slightly over-zealous cop? He’s definitely not a conventional nice guy but at this stage we can’t be sure if he’s going to turn out to be the villain or the hero.

We also don’t know about Al Willis. The cops are certainly trying to railroad him, but while he appears to be a poor innocent schmuck we can’t be absolutely sure of his innocence. So either of the two main male characters could end up as the villain.

Conroy is totally obsessed and although facing the possible ruin of his career he continues remorselessly to pursue Al Willis, following to a small (and very disreputable) town on the Mexican border.

At this point the film changes gears. We find out a lot more about what really drives these two men. More importantly, Gloria Grahame makes her entrance. And it’s quite an entrance. The first we see of her is a view of her bottom on a barstool, wiggling in a remarkable enticing manner. She gets our attention, and she holds it for the rest of the movie.

She plays Mariana, a night club singer who is also Al Willis’s girlfriend. Willis is of course a married man. This is a movie that tries to be as salacious as possible, and by 1954 standards it certainly succeeds. Now we get the three main characters drawn together in a web of suspicion and betrayal. It might not be a dazzlingly original plot but it’s executed with a great deal of skill and style.

Director Jerry Hopper started his career as an editor, always good training for a future director. His pacing is relentless. This is a movie that never stops to draw breath. Hopper’s career as a film director was eclipsed by his later much more successful career in television. Lawrence Roman’s screenplay is very solid with some interesting twists. Within the limitations of a B-movie budget there’s enough noir visual style to satisfy any reasonable person (the cinematographer was the great Russell Metty).

Sterling Hayden and Gene Barry are both excellent. Barry is particularly good. He really pulls out all the stops. As good as they are they’re both overshadowed by Gloria Grahame. She truly sizzles (aided by a very sexy wardrobe) but she was an actress who could ooze sex whilst still delivering a nicely nuanced performance, in this case as a troubled young woman trapped in a situation she doesn’t fully comprehend.

The movie has plenty of moral ambiguity, and plenty of sexual tension. The promotional material promised sex, sin and melodrama and it delivers.

Why is the movie called Naked Alibi? Because it’s a cool title and it has the word naked in it. That’s the sort of movie this is. It’s an unashamedly lurid potboiler of a B-picture and if that’s what you like then this is a very very good example of the type. It’s also surprisingly subtle and complex (helped the superb acting of the three leads) with a bit of an edge to it and it’s immensely enjoyable, so this is a superior B-movie. An absolute must-see for Gloria Grahame fans. Very highly recommended.

Kino Lorber’s DVD offers a very good anamorphic transfer (the movie is in widescreen and black-and-white). There’s an audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger. I’ve never heard of her but she knows her noir stuff and she’s enthusiastic and she clearly loves this film.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Small Voice (1948)

The Small Voice (AKA The Hideout) is a 1948 British crime thriller that is a bit more complex than the usual run of such films.

Playwright Murray Byrne (James Donald) and his wife Eleanor (Valerie Hobson) are quarrelling. Which is what they do most of the time. It’s not that they’re no longer in love. They just can’t seem to live together. Murray lost a leg during the war and he’s never quite recovered his confidence. He feels like half a man, all that sort of thing. And Eleanor has a lot of male admirers. She’s an actress and a glamorous one. Male admirers come with the territory. She has no intention of being unfaithful but she can’t convince Murray of that. And eventually Murray’s self-pity will drive her into the arms of another man. Eleanor wants to get out before that happens. She’s decided to leave him. Things are pretty tense as they drive home from the railway station.

They’re about to get a lot tenser. Murray and Eleanor are about to encounter three desperate armed fugitives who killed a policeman. Now their car has crashed and they need a place to hide out.

Boke (Howard Keel) is the ringleader who masterminded an escape from a military prison, along with Frankie and the slightly simple-minded Jim. The three fugitives hold the Byrnes hostage in the Byrne’s cottage but there’s a complication. In the other car involved in the accident were two small children. Frankie and Jim decided to bring them along to the cottage. They might be desperadoes but they’re not callous enough to leave two terrified children behind, and they’re certainly not cold-blooded enough to kill the children. And one of the kids is sick. Real sick.

Now the battle of wills starts. Murray thinks that being a playwright specialising in plays about crime he can break Boke’s spirit. Boke thinks he can break Murray’s spirit. Eleanor thinks she can uncover some basic humanity in Boke and persuade him to save the sick boy. It all works because of the nicely understated performances, and because of the well-crafted script.

But the hostage drama is only part of what’s going on. There’s also the marriage between Murray and Eleanor, a marriage that is not merely headed for the rocks but has already hit them. Now they’re going to have to depend on each other for a while at least. Eleanor is not sure if she can depend on Murray, and Murray is not sure about that either. But it’s not just their own lives on the line but a child’s as well.

Of course there’s tension between the fugitives as well. A policeman was killed. Someone is going to hang for that, but it was Boke who pulled the trigger so why should the other two swing for it as well? And there’s the race against time element. The boy has meningitis. Without treatment his chances of survival are very slim and if he dies then Boke’s accomplices can be quite certain of keeping an appointment with the hangman.

James Donald’s natural seriousness as an actor stands him in good stead here. Murray is a humourless prickly kind of character. He’s a character we grow to respect, rather than one we like immediately. Valerie Hobson has the right combination of glamour and strength of character to make Eleanor convincing. Howard Keel, in a rare non-singing rôle, brings a brooding intensity to Boke.

There’s some interesting subtle sexual tension between Boke and Eleanor. The relationship between Murray and Eleanor is always believable. They both behave unreasonably at times but no matter how exasperated they are with each other they’re also obviously still in love even if their chances of repairing their marriage seem hopeless.

Network’s Region 2 DVD is full frame (the movie was shot in the (4:3 aspect ratio). As usual there are no extras and as usual the transfer is extremely good.

So we have here a taut suspense thriller laced with emotional drama and both elements work very successfully. Like so many British crime films of this era it’s a very well-made little film. Is it good enough to qualify for neglected gem status? I think it is. Therefore The Small Voice is highly recommended.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Une Parisienne (1957)

Une Parisienne (AKA La Parisienne) is an early Brigitte Bardot movie, released in 1957. I find Bardot’s romantic comedies of this era to be rather charming and this one is no exception. It was directed by Michel Boisrond who also helmed two of her other equally enjoyable 1950s romantic comedies, Naughty Girl and Come Dance With Me.

Bardot plays Brigitte Laurier, the daughter of the President of France. She has decided that she is madly in love with her father’s private secretary, Michel Legrand (Henri Vidal). Michel already has enough to worry about, with assorted mistresses including at least one who has tried to kill him. He is also ambitious and does not want to offend her other by playing footsies with his daughter.

Brigitte is however a very determined girl and she cooks up various schemes to capture Michel, schemes which eventually succeed. Once they are married the trouble really starts. Brigitte is sure that her new husband is still playing around with his mistresses (and certainly his mistresses are still pursuing him). So, at a reception for a European prince,  she announces that she is going to have an affair with the next man who walks through the door. The next man who walks through the door happens to be the prince. Brigitte is undaunted.

Prince Charles is played by Charles Boyer, perhaps a little old at that time to be paired with Bardot (he was 58). But then Brigitte’s pursuit of the prince is supposed to be outrageous. It is fascinating to see Boyer, one of the great French male screen heart-throbs of an earlier era, teamed up with the greatest French female sex symbol of the 50s (and possibly the greatest French female sex symbol of all time).

Bardot was twenty-three at the time, at the height of her beauty and already a seasoned actress. She had a particular gift for light comedy. She made something of a speciality of playing naughty girls. Not evil women, not dangerous women, just girls who are harmlessly and delightfully troublesome. The sort of women who won’t ruin a man’s life but they will make his life an endless series of dramas. But he won’t really mind. That’s the sort of girl she plays in this movie. Brigitte is oblivious to the normal social rules and creates mayhem but in a good-natured sort of way. She is exasperating but always adorable.

As is the case with all of her movies of this period (and most of the movies of her career) this is almost entirely a star vehicle for Bardot. She is the reason you’re going to watch this movie and she is more than capable of carrying such a film on her own. She positively sparkles. She is astonishingly sexy, but in a playful and almost wholesome way. She gives the impression of being a woman who really enjoyed everything about being a woman.

While this is very much Bardot’s movie she gets very good support from Henri Vidal and from Boyer.

This movie gets off to a bit of a slow start but once it builds up a head of steam it becomes a sheer delight. It’s a movie in which adultery is taken for granted and anyone could be sharing anyone else’s bed but it’s a kind of honest adultery. The characters have affairs but they don’t really hide them and (in contrast to real life) no-one actually gets hurt. This is the jet set lifestyle.

And Brigitte only wants to have an affair to make her husband love her. What she really wants is a proper marriage, which she doesn’t think she has.

The witty script gives Bardot and her co-stars something to work with.

This was 1957 so there’s no nudity and Bardot proves she didn’t need to get naked to be sexy.

This movie has been released on DVD but good luck finding it, especially a version with English subtitles. I caught it on cable TV. It’s a great pity because it’s one of Bardot’s best early films.

Une Parisienne is a frothy lightweight romantic sex comedy with Bardot at the top of her game, doing the sort of thing she did supremely well. What’s not to love? Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Candidate for Murder (1962)

Candidate for Murder is a 1962 entry in the incredibly prolific series of Edgar Wallace thrillers made by Merton Park Studios in England.

Donald Edwards (Michael Gough) has a beautiful and glamorous wife but Helene Edwards  (Erika Remberg) is a film star and she’s off to Hollywood to make a movie. And she’s announced that she thinks they should have a trial separation. She also has a friend, a handsome barrister named Robert Vaughan (John Justin). Helene insists that there’s nothing in it although it’s pretty obvious that there’s quite a bit in it.

Donald was always a jealous husband and now he’s become just a little unhinged by all this. In fact he’s hired a hitman to resolve his marital difficulties for him.

Kersten (Hans von Borsody) is the hitman. He’s a German, a veteran of the French Foreign Legion, and he’s your archetypal cold-as-ice professional killer.

Of course things don’t go off quite as expected. In fact they don’t go off as anybody expected.

The basic setup is as old as the hills but this one adds some genuinely neat and original twists (and there are quite a few of those twists). It even has some interesting character stuff.

And there’s some location shooting and even some action.

Playing a character who is a bit unhinged is obviously right up Michael Gough’s alley. He’s trying to stay in control but right from the start it’s clear he’s not playing with a full deck. He wants Kersten to tell him all about killing, how it feels for the killer and how it feels for the victim. Kersten obviously doesn’t feel anything at all and is annoyed by the questioning. He’s happy to do the job but not too comfortable about the thought that he may be working for an unpredictable madman.

Erika Remberg does well as Helene, making her neither too sympathetic nor too unsympathetic. She probably has done her best to be a good wife but Donald Edwards would obviously be a difficult man to be married to.

Director David Villiers is a bit of a mystery man. He apparently died the same year this movie was released, having directed only two features. He handles things here very efficiently.

Writer Lukas Heller had a much more illustrious career, having scripted a varied assortment of odd but interesting movies (The Killing of Sister George, the delightful tongue-in-cheek spy flick Hot Enough for June, The Dirty Dozen and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?). His screenplay for Candidate for Murder is extremely clever.

The black-and-white cinematography is very good and I liked the Edwards house - one of those split-level houses so popular in the early 60s.

The one aspect of the movie that some people seem to find unsatisfactory and implausible (or poorly motivated) actually makes perfect sense if you watch the movie carefully. Perhaps some viewers just weren’t expecting such subtlety, or weren’t expecting to have to think about a cheap B-movie.

This film is part of Network’s Edgar Wallace Mysteries Volume Three DVD boxed set. As usual the anamorphic transfer (all the Merton Park Edgar Wallace films were shot widescreen) is excellent.

Candidate for Murder is for my money one of the better entries in what is on the whole a pretty solid cycle of mystery thrillers. Highly recommended.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Jungle Girl (1941)

Jungle Girl is one of the series of excellent late 1930s/early 1940s Republic serials directed by William Witney and John English. This one was released in 1941 and introduced Nyoka the Jungle Girl who would also feature in a later William Witney-directed serial, Perils of Nyoka.

Jungle Girl is supposedly based on a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Now Burroughs did indeed write a novel called Jungle Girl. And a very good novel it is too - you can read my review here. But there is absolutely no connection whatsoever between this novel and the Jungle Girl serial. Obviously Republic bought the rights to the book since the Edgar Rice Burroughs name would be a definite box-office asset and then proceeded to create their own story. Which doesn't matter. Jungle Girl is a fine novel, and the Jungle Girl serial is terrific as well. They’re just not related in any way.

Nyoka (Frances Gifford) does seem a little bit like a lady Tarzan. She travels through the jungle by swinging through the trees on vines, she rides elephants and she knows the jungle like the back of her hand. But Nyoka is not an orphan raised by apes. She lives in the depths of the West African rainforest in the unexplored region of the Simbula Swamps, in the territory of the Masamba tribe. She lives there with her father, Dr John Meredith. Many years earlier Dr Meredith saved the life of the chief of the Masamba and as a result he was made the tribe’s witch doctor or medicine man and he has spent the intervening years bringing the benefits of modern medicine to the Masamba.

There is a reason that Dr Meredith has chosen to remain deep in the jungle and and has chosen to raise his daughter Nyoka there. He has an evil twin brother named Bradley, a notorious criminal now serving a long prison sentence, and his self-imposed exile is his way of avoiding any contact with his brother, and avoiding the scandals associated with his brother. Nyoka is therefore, like Tarzan, caught between two worlds. She has picked up a western education from her father and she has picked up the lore of the jungle as well.

Everything is fine until Jack Stanton (Tom Neal) arrives in his aeroplane with a passenger, a certain Slick Latimer (Gerald Mohr). Latimer tells Dr Meredith that his brother is dying and that he must go to him immediately. But maybe it isn’t a great idea to trust Slick Latimer. Nyoka has some problems to deal with as well. When Dr Meredith became the tribe’s witch doctor the previous holder of that office, Shamba, was displaced. And he’s been brooding about it ever since. Now he’s ready to do something about it. He’s ready to perform some nasty voodoo rites and to take more direct steps as well, with Nyoka as his target.

The key is the Lion Amulet, which is not only the badge of office of the current medicine man, it also allows across to the Caves of Nakros. That’s where the tribe keeps its treasure. And that treasure consists of an immense hoard of diamonds.

Slick Latimer and Bradley Meredith have their own plans to get hold of the Lion Amulet, with Bradley Meredith posing as his brother.

Frances Gifford is an energetic and appealing heroine. She looks convincing athletic and she’s very attractive. She’s not a great actress but she’s quite adequate. Tom Neal as Jack is an interesting choice for the hero rôle. He’s remembered today for his off-the-wall and disturbingly intense performance in Edgar G. Ulmer’s bizarre but fascinating 1945 film noir Detour. He’s intense here as well, making him intriguingly different to most serial heroes. In fact his acting is pretty decent. So we have a genuinely interesting heroine and a genuine interesting hero.

We also have a pretty cool villain in Slick Latimer, played by Gerald Mohr who positively drips with evilness.

It’s quite amusing that very few of the Masamba tribesmen look even slightly African. In fact I think the actors playing those parts cover just about every ethnicity except African. The Masamba chief is played by a Hawaiian while the evil witch doctor Shamba is played by a Syrian.

There are all the usual hazards for our heroes to face. The only problem with jungle serials is that you pretty much know you’re going to get a guy in a gorilla suit, poison darts, the hero wrassling crocodiles and lions, etc. What matters is that being a Republic serial of this era the fights, the stunts and the cliffhangers are all without exception extremely well executed. There’s an excellent cliffhanger ending that is incredibly similar to an equally excellent cliffhanger in an earlier William Witney-John English serial, the superb Daredevils of the Red Circle. And one cute touch is that in this serial it’s the heroine, not the hero, who wrassles crocodiles and lions barehanded. She gets captured a lot and has to be rescued, but Jack and his sidekick Curly also get captured a lot and Nyoka does her share of rescuing.

There’s also the obligatory cute kid, with an obligatory cute pet (a remarkably intelligent monkey).

With most serials you have to put up with at least one filler chapter made up of flashbacks from earlier chapters but that’s not the case here. There are also no real pacing problems - the action keeps moving along pretty nicely.

The fact that Jack has a plane which plays an important part in the story adds some further interest and there’s an aerial action climax.

VCI’s DVD release is very pleasing. The transfers are very good. The earlier VHS releases of this serial have a very poor reputation (even by VHS standards) for image quality but there’s nothing to complain of here.

Jungle Girl is certainly a superior serial. It’s better acted than most, the jungle setting is utilised well, the cliffhangers are great and it’s generally very enjoyable viewing. Highly recommended.