Saturday, July 24, 2021

Fly-Away Baby (1937)

Fly-Away Baby (later retitled Crime in the Clouds) is the second of Warner Brothers B-movies featuring ace girl reporter Torchy Blane. It was released in 1937.

A jeweller has been murdered, and $250,000 worth of diamonds have been stolen. Lieutenant Steve McBride (Barton MacLane) figures it was a professional jewel heist. His reporter girlfriend Torchy has the idea that maybe Lucien "Sonny" Croy (Gordon Oliver) is the real culprit. Croy is a reporter as well, of sorts. Actually his father owns a newspaper and has put him to work much against his will. Croy has a motive for the murder but he also has an alibi.

Croy has come up with a publicity stunt for his paper - an attempt to set a record for circumnavigating the globe by commercial air services.

Rival reporter Hughie Sprague (Hugh O’Connell) has decided to turn the round-the-world trip into a two-way race. And Torchy persuades her publisher to let her make it a three-way race. Torchy hopes that in the course of the race she will be able to gather the evidence to prove her theory correct.

There actually turns out to be a fourth unofficial racer. Gahagan (Tom Kennedy), McBride’s police driver, has resigned from the force to take up a new career as a private detective. Gahagan is the Torchy Blane series’ regular comic relief character and his presence is entirely irrelevant and fails to provide anything more than very mild amusement.

That’s pretty much it for the plot, and as a mystery plot it’s terribly thin. In fact the race around the world is as much as anything an attempt to add some excitement to the film and to distract the audience’s attention away from the deficiencies of the plotting. This attempt at least partially succeeds and it does add a certain air of some glamour and exoticism, through the magic of stock footage.

Aviation buffs will enjoy seeing lots of (stock footage) shots of DC-3s and Pan Am Clipper flying boats and they will get even more of a buzz from the climax on board a zeppelin. I’ve long maintained that no movie that features zeppelins can ever be considered a total failure.

The great strength of the movie is the superb chemistry between Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane. They appeared together in seven of the nine Torchy Blane films. Once again Torchy and McBride are about to get married but every time that happens either Torchy gets the scent of a hot story or McBride gets distracted by a new murder case so we get the feeling that somehow they never are actually going to get hitched.

In Frederick Nebel’s original stories McBride (actually it was MacBride in Nebel’s stories) was the hero and he had a boozy male reporter sidekick named Kennedy. Turning the sidekick into an attractive woman and making her the lead character was a pretty shrewd move on the part of the producers of the movie series.

The stock footage is utilised pretty well. The zeppelin sets (presumably left over from some A-picture) look good.

The race-around-the-world idea is a bit lame. How is it a race if all three contestants take the same scheduled commercial flights? That angle really needed a bit more work.

The Warner Archive Torchy Blane DVD set includes all nine films. Fly-Away Baby gets a very good transfer. Image and sound quality are fine.

Fly-Away Baby is a bit disappointing after the first film in the series, Smart Blonde, but Farrell and MacLane are so good that they manage to carry it off and it’s kinda fun. Recommended.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Cosh Boy (1953)

Cosh Boy (also released under the title The Slasher) is a British juvenile delinquent crime B-movie which is notable for giving 19-year-old Joan Collins one of her first starring rôles.

The movie start with one of those amusing public service announcement type warnings about the dangers of juvenile delinquency and how it’s all caused by parents being too soft.

Roy Walsh (James Kenney) leads a juvenile delinquent gang which specialises in coshing old ladies. Roy and his pal Alfie get picked up by the cops after one of their robberies and placed on probation. One of the terms of the probation is that they have to attend a local youth club. Roy thinks the youth club could have possibilities - if they attend regularly they can use it to provide alibis for their crimes.

At the youth club Roy meets Alfie’s gorgeous kid sister Rene and falls for her. The trouble is that Rene already has a boyfriend, Brian. And Brian is not a loser like Roy.

Roy decides that something will have to be done about Brian.

Rene ends up falling for Roy anyway because, you know, it’s the bad boy thing. And she convinces herself that he loves her. Rene is supposed to be only sixteen so it’s plausible enough that she’d make some disastrous choices.

The amusing thing about Roy’s criminal plans is that they always require someone other than Roy to take all the risks. He justifies this by explaining that he’s the brains of the outfit.

Roy’s mother Elsie (Betty Ann Davies) has been dating a Canadian guy named Bob Stevens (Robert Ayres) and this upsets Roy very much indeed. He thinks it’s disgusting. After all his mother is really really old - she’s in her thirties! Roy’s displeasure may also have something to do with the fact that Bob knows Roy is a worthless little punk. Bob has made it clear that if he marries Elsie he won’t take any nonsense from Roy. Roy is afraid of Bob, as he’s afraid of anyone who stands up to him.

As you’d expect Roy and his gang get into more violent crimes and the romance between Roy and Rene has predictable results. The world is closing in on Roy and he’s getting more desperate, and more scared. When it comes down to it Roy is a complete coward.

This was a fairly early (but very competent) directorial effort for Lewis Gilbert who went on to have a distinguished and varied career. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Vernon Harris. The screenplay holds no great surprises but in 1953 it was pretty hard-hitting. In fact teenage thugs beating up old ladies is still pretty hard-hitting.

There’s nothing noir about this film. Or at least there’s nothing noir about the content - Roy is a vicious little thug right from the start and he’s a loser right from the start. He has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The style is somewhat noir with plenty of night scenes and shadows.

James Kenney’s performance as Roy is excessive but effective. He manages to convince us that Roy really is not just vicious but totally out of control.

Joan Collins is good but doesn’t get too many opportunities to spread her acting wings. Rene is naïve but he doesn’t deserve a loser like Roy. Betty Ann Davies has a very unsympathetic part since the movie makes it quite clear that Roy’s behaviour is entirely her fault for pandering to him and being unwilling to face the truth that he’s gone thoroughly bad.

There’s an amusing scene towards the end that reflects 1950s views on how to deal with juvenile delinquents. It’s the sort of thing you wouldn’t get away with in a film today.

Cosh Boy is part of Kino Lorber’s British Noir II boxed set (which also includes Vicious Circle, Time Is My Enemy, Time Lock and The Interrupted Journey). The transfer is quite acceptable.

This movie isn’t noir but it’s a good and fairly unflinching juvenile delinquent movie and it’s recommended.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Hue and Cry (1947)

Hue and Cry, released in 1947 and directed by Charles Crichton, was the first of the famous Ealing comedies. Michael Balcon, head of production at Ealing, had not been thinking in terms of making a series of comedies but the success of Hue and Cry made such a series suddenly seem like a very good idea indeed.

Joe Kirby (Harry Fowler) is a young man with a vivid imagination. When he swipes a comic book from a younger boy it sparks that imagination into overdrive. He’d love to be a famous detective like Selwyn Pike, the hero of the comic book (Selwyn Pike being obviously a Sexton Blake-type hero). And then he sees a van in the street, and it has the same licence number as the van that features in Selwyn Pike’s latest comic-book adventure! The van in the comic is being used to transport corpses. Maybe the van Joe saw isn’t being used for that exact purpose but it could be involved in some criminal endeavour. Joe thinks that’s practically a certainty.

Joe’s first attempt at playing amateur detective lands him in trouble with the police. The good-natured Detective Inspector Ford assures him that there’s no such licence plate as the one he saw, because there are no licence plated beginning with the letters GZ.

Joe talks things over with his pals and together they come up with an elaborate conspiracy theory involving secret codes that might explain that licence plate. By now Joe has pretty much convinced himself that it’s his destiny to be a great detective and that it will only be a matter of time before Detective Inspector Ford offers him a job with the Criminal Investigation Department.

Joe’s amateur sleuthing leads him to the man who wrote the comic book, Felix H. Wilkinson (Alastair Sim).

The youngsters think they’ve come up with a brilliant plan to foil a major criminal conspiracy but their plans backfires on them. But they’re not disheartened. They think they’ve figured out the identity of the diabolical criminal mastermind behind the whole thing.

There’s plenty of amusement to be had and the crime plot is pleasingly fast-paced. This is a movie bursting with energy, something that would have been appreciated by audiences living through the austerity of post-war Britain.

Alistair Sim gets top billing although he really only has a minor supporting rôle. But Sim had the star power the movie needed and while his appearances are brief they’re also brilliant.

The young actors are generally very good with Harry Fowler as Joe being a fine likeable hero whose boundless optimism and outrageous confidence in his powers as a detective carry him through all setbacks.

Charles Crichton went on to even greater success at Ealing with The Lavendar Hill Mob. He later had a very successful career as a television director.

T.E.B. Clarke wrote the screenplay and became one of Ealing’s most successful comedy writers. Crichton and Clarke worked together a number of times, with great success.

The location shooting (of which there’s quite a bit) provides some fascinating glimpses of immediate post-war London.

It’s not hard to see why this movie was a hit. Kids would have loved it as a light-hearted “kids playing at being detectives” romp while their parents would have enjoyed the comedy and the clever wittiness of the plot.

Hue and Cry has had a number of DVD and Blu-Ray releases and you should have no difficulty finding a copy.

This is a charming, witty and amusing movie. Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Rivals (1963)

The Rivals is one of the Edgar Wallace thrillers from Britain’s Merton Park Studios. It was released in 1963 and it has a rather neat setup.

A gang has kidnapped Christina Neilson, the daughter of a wealthy man named Rolf Neilson. They’re about to deliver the ransom note along with the evidence that they hold the girl (the evidence being her beret with a distinctive gold brooch). It’s all done up in a neat package sitting in the glove compartment of their car. And then their car gets stolen.

The car was stolen by a couple of professional car thieves, Steve and Eddy, and they quickly discover the package. And they recognise its significance. They now figure that with this package in their possession they can collect the ransom themselves. Kim, the girlfriend of one of the car thieves, thinks it would have been more sensible to go to the police and of course she’s right. However the two young car thieves are blinded by greed and they decide to go ahead with their plan. It’s obviously a very dangerous game they’re playing.

In fact these two young tearaways have already run into danger without realising it. The took seconds to steal the car even though it was locked. That tells the kidnappers something very important. Their car was stolen by professionals. If you’re a member of the criminal classes you know the way other professional criminals operate and you also know how to track down other professional criminals.

Rolf Neilson has already decided to pay the ransom. But will he end up paying it to the right people? What will happen to his daughter if he pays it to the wrong people? What further mistakes will Steve and Eddy make? And what of the kidnappers - are they going to make mistakes as well?

This is a story where all the criminals have bright ideas that really should work but that unfortunate car theft sets off a chain reaction of trivial things that could spell disaster for one or both of the rival sets of criminals. Perhaps all of the criminals in this story are just not quite as smart as they think they are.

French-born director Max Varnel made a few low-budget features and then spent the rest of his career in television, initially in Britain and later in Australia. It’s difficult to fault the job he does here.

Screenwriter John Roddick did scripts for three of the Merton Park Edgar Wallace movies (including The Double) but he also ended up spending the bulk of his career in television, contributing scripts to plenty of notable series including The Saint, Danger Man, Z Cars and Paul Temple. His script for The Rivals is pleasingly clever and well-constructed.

It’s impossible to pick a standout performer in this film. All the performances are solid and effective.

The Rivals
is to be found in the fifth of Network’s wonderful Edgar Wallace DVD boxed sets and as usual the anamorphic transfer is very very good. The film is of course in black-and-white.

The Rivals is a fairly typical of the Merton Park Edgar Wallace flicks. Despite the very limited budget it’s tightly-constructed, well-acted and very professionally executed. Everything works as it should. The overall quality of this series of films is remarkably high and this is one of the very very good ones. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

elsewhere in the blogosphere

Michael’s Movie Palace has a review of the deliciously campy and trashy The Carpetbaggers (1964), a movie that is a real guilty pleasure of mine. My own review can be found here.

At Laura's Miscellaneous Musings there are reviews of Ziegfeld Follies (which I’m now tempted to buy) and Green Dolphin Street (which I know I should get around to seeing).

Riding the High Country has a review of an Anita Ekberg western, Valerie. I had no idea she’d ever made a western but it sounds like an interesting movie.

Real Weegie Midget Reviews has a review of what sounds like an absolute fascinating Bing Crosby TV movie, Dr Cook’s Garden. A dark chiller with Bing has to be worth a look.

As far as my own blogs are concerned, at Cult Movie Reviews I’ve done write-ups on the wonderfully stylish French crime/adventure thriller Fantomas (1964) and the amusing Matt Helm romp The Silencers (1966).

At Vintage Pop Fictions I’ve reviewed Lionel Davidson’s humorous 1960 spy novel The Night of Wenceslaus (on which the very entertaining 1964 movie Hot Enough for June was based) and Robert van Gulik's excellent historical detective story The Chinese Nail Murders.

At Cult TV Lounge you’ll find my thoughts on the most infamous episode of The Avengers, A Touch of Brimstone and one of the original Six Million Dollar Man TV movies, The Solid Gold Kidnapping (which is much more James Bondian than the TV series).

Friday, July 2, 2021

Station Six-Sahara (1963)

Station Six-Sahara is a deliciously overheated 1963 British potboiler starring American blonde bombshell Carroll Baker.

Five men operate an oil pumping station out in the wastes of the Sahara Desert. You’d have to be a fairly odd sort of guy to sign a five-year contract to be stuck in the middle of nowhere like that. These five men are all fairly odd to begin with and the isolation and the heat has exaggerated their personal peculiarities even further. And there’s plenty of tension.

The boss of the Station Six pumping station, Kramer (Peter van Eyck), is a German who doesn’t like Germans. He’s a control freak and he’s much too tightly wrapped. Major Macey (Denholm Elliott) is a pompous ass and a toady who talks constantly about his war experiences. Santos (Mario Dorf) is the silent brooding type. Fletcher (Ian Bannen) is the rough diamond type except that underneath the crude exterior there might not be any actual diamond.

And the newest arrival is Martin Dönitz (Hansjörg Felmy), another German. Which immediately puts him at odds with Kramer.

Kramer likes to play poker and when he wants to play poker everyone has to play. It’s the rule. Dönitz is forced, against his will, into one of these poker games. Kramer enjoys power games more than he enjoys poker. The tensions between Dönitz and Kramer start heating up.

Since these guys are all loners they don’t get any mail when the mail truck turns up. Except for the Major. He always gets a stack of mail. For some reason this drives Fletcher crazy and he comes up with an idea which is probably a really bad idea but it amuses him. He offers to buy one of the Major’s letters, for a month’s pay. The deal is that he chooses a letter at random and the Major has no idea which of his letters Fletcher will choose. The Major agrees and then realises he’s done something really dumb and makes frantic efforts to get the letter back.

Station Six is a powder keg. All it needs is for someone to throw a lighted match. The lighted match takes the form of Catherine Starr (Carroll Baker). She arrives in style. A big American car comes screaming out of the desert and crashes right in the middle of Station Six. Catherine is unhurt but her companion is badly injured.

We soon find out out that her companion is her ex-husband Jimmy (Biff McGuire) and he’d been trying to kill them both. Apparently that’s the sort of thing that Jimmy does on a regular basis. He’s wildly unstable and he wants Catherine back and he won’t give up. Why exactly Catherine was driving through the desert with a crazy ex-husband like that remains a mystery.

Naturally the five men of Station Six are driven into a frenzy by Catherine’s arrival. Catherine enjoys this. She’s playing with fire, especially when she sleeps with one of the men, but she’s a girl who likes playing with fire. She enjoys it so much that she decides to sleep with another of the men as well. You just know that things are going to get seriously messy, and they do. That powder keg is going to explode.

Peter van Eyck, Denholm Elliott and Ian Bannen are very impressive but the reason you’re going to watch this movie is Carroll Baker’s sizzling performance, and she certainly does sizzle. She’s also a very underrated actress who was more than just a sexpot although mostly she got to play sexpots.

Bryan Forbes (who had a very good career as writer, director and actor) and Brian Clemens (who went on to fame as a writer and producer on The Avengers) co-wrote the script. This movie gets about as sexy as it was possible to get in 1963. The tensions between the characters are handled very skilfully. It’s an intelligent provocative script.

Seth Holt directed. His career was cut short by his tragic death at the age of 47 but he made a few interesting movies including the rather good British film noir Nowhere To Go.

Network’s DVD offers a good anamorphic transfer (the movie was shot in black-and-white). The only extra is an extensive image gallery. Network have released this one on Blu-Ray as well.

Station Six-Sahara was a British-West German co-production. It’s delightfully steamy and sleazy and overcooked. There’s simmering eroticism and there’s quite a bit of humour as well (courtesy of Ian Bannen and Denholm Elliott).

This is one of those overlooked movies that really is worth the rediscovery. Highly recommended, and a must for Carroll Baker fans.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959)

The Wreck of the Mary Deare is an Anglo-American co-production with a script by Eric Ambler based on a Hammond Innes novel. It stars Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston and Michael Redgrave and was directed by Michael Anderson (a director with a solid track record in the action/thriller genres). With all that talent involved you’d be expecting something fairly special. Whether it lives up to that promise remains to be seen.

It was also, interestingly enough, originally going to be directed by a guy named Alfred Hitchcock.

The Wreck of the Mary Deare is a nautical thriller but it’s also a character study of a flawed man caught in an impossible situation in which nobody is likely to believe his version of events, whether his account is true or not.

John Sands (Charlton Heston) and his partner are salvage operators. Steaming through the English Channel in their little salvage vessel, the Sea Witch, they encounter a steamer which appeared to be drifting and abandoned. If this is the case then they would be able to claim the salvage rights. The steamer is the Mary Deare. Sands boards her, only to discover that she hasn’t been abandoned. Not quite. One man is still aboard, Captain Gideon Patch (Gary Cooper). Patch was actually the First Officer but took command four days earlier when Captain Taggart was lost overboard.

Due to wild weather Sands is unable to return to the Sea Witch. He tells his partner he’ll see him in St Malo.

Now things start to get mysterious. Patch claims to have been attacked by a member of the crew. He is secretive and some of his actions are difficult for Sands to understand. No distress call has been sent and Patch could have asked the Sea Witch to send such a call but he didn’t. Which is strange, since the Mary Deare is in no condition to reach port without the assistance of an ocean-going tug.

The Mary Deare is headed for a treacherous reef and Captain Patch’s response is even more surprising. Sands isn’t very happy about Patch’s actions since it’s his skin that is at stake as well as Captain Patch’s.

Patch and Sands survive and Patch makes a very odd request. Sands isn’t pleased about it. Patch pleads with Sands to trust him. For reasons that he himself cannot understand Sands decides to do so, a decision that could have all sorts of consequences when the Court of Enquiry meets to investigate the loss of the Mary Deare.

At which point the movie switches gears, becoming a court-room drama. And the saga of the Mary Deare becomes even more mysterious. There is only one way in which the mystery can be cleared up but it will be a gamble.

The movie will later switch gears again, back to being a thriller.

It’s interesting to watch two legends of American acting together in this movie. Gary Cooper was very near the end of his career, and his life. But as an actor he’s still got it. Charlton Heston had had a meteoric rise in the preceding few years and was close to his peak. They work well together which is important because the strange relationship between these two men is crucial to the movie’s success. The relationship is a mixture of suspicion and reluctant trust. Patch is a complicated man with serious character flaws but Sands seems to sense a certain basic decency in the man, even if sometimes it’s well hidden. Sands has some complexity as well. He’s in the salvage business to make a buck and he hates to miss any opportunity to do so but he has a certain sense of honour as well.

The miniatures work in the early part of the film really is superb. If the movie were remade today it would rely on CGI and I very much doubt if it would look anywhere near as impressive. The first third of the movie aboard the Mary Deare really is terrific stuff. Things slow down a bit in the court-room scenes but then we get some more fine action scenes at the end.

You could almost say there’s a hint of noir to this movie. It definitely has some psychological thriller elements as Patch struggles with his inner demons.

The Warner Archive DVD release offers a very good anamorphic transfer (the movie was shot in colour and in the Cinemascope aspect ratio).

This is a fine reasonably intelligent thriller with great special effects, fine acting and some emotionally depth. The scenes at sea really are done extremely well. Highly recommended.

If you’re a Hammond Innes fan then Snowbound (1947) is also worth a look.