Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Experiment Perilous (1944)

Experiment Perilous could, at a stretch, be described as belonging to the sub-genre of gaslight noir. Made at RKO in 1944 and directed by Jacques Tourneur, it’s an entertaining psychological thriller.

In 1903 Dr Hunt Bailey (George Brent) meets a middle-aged woman named Cissie Bederaux on a train. She seems rather nervous and informs Bailey that although she’s returning to her family in New York she is determined not to live with them. Her manner suggests something wrong, and Dr Bailey being a psychiatrist naturally takes note.

Experiment Perilous (1944)

On arrival in New York he finds himself drawn into the Bederaux family’s orbit. Cissie’s wealthy brother Nick (Paul Lukas) is married to a much younger woman, the astonishingly beautiful Allida (Hedy Lamarr). It doesn’t take long to become obvious that all is not well in the Bederaux household.

Nick is worried about Allida’s nerves and believes she is displaying a neurotic anxiety over their son. He seem to be trying to persuade Dr Bailey to take her on as a patient, or at least to provide some medical support for his concerns. Dr Bailey however is developing an interest in Allida that has nothing to do with medicine. He is apparently just the latest in a long line of men who have fallen under her spell.

Experiment Perilous (1944)

It would be helpful if Bailey could discuss things with Cissie as she seemed to know some secrets about the Bederaux family’s past. Unfortunately Cissie died mysteriously soon after arriving in New York. As it happens an item of Cissie’s luggage had been mixed up with Dr Bailey’s on the train trip, and as luck would have it that item of luggage contained not only Cissie’s diaries but also a lengthy account she had written of Nick’s childhood. Dr Bailey can’t restrain himself from reading this account, and now he is developing his own theories about what is going on. It’s a story of suicide, madness and murder and Dr Bailey suspects there may be more murders to come.

With a fine screenplay by Warren Duff and with Jacques Tourneur’s usual quietly stylish approach as director this is an effective little thriller. The film noir label that has been applied to it by some is not entirely convincing but it’s a good movie in its own right.

Experiment Perilous (1944)

Paul Lukas and George Brent give solid performances. Hedy Lamarr is however the star and she gives a nicely nuanced performance, carefully avoiding the temptation to play Allida as a hysteric.

The psychologically unwholesome atmosphere in Nick Bederaux’s house is captured effectively, and the hall of fish tanks is a nice touch suggesting unhealthy decadence.

Experiment Perilous (1944)

Odeon’s UK DVD release is barebones but picture and sound quality are excellent.

An obscure movie that deserves to be better known. Recommended.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Caine Mutiny (1954)

By the end of the 1940s Humphrey Bogart was growing tired of tough guy roles and was seeking to expand his range as an actor. This led him to take on roles in romantic comedies (Sabrina), adventure romances (The African Queen) and offbeat comedy thrillers (Beat the Devil). It also led him to take on one of his most acclaimed roles of the 50s, in the war drama The Caine Mutiny (which earned him his third Oscar nomination).

The Caine Mutiny is a war movie with very little action. It’s more concerned with psychological stresses and moral choices and it deals with those themes in a more complex way than you’d expect in a Hollywood movie.

The Caine Mutiny (1954)

It is 1944 and Ensign Willie Keith has been assigned to his first shipboard posting. To say that the posting comes as a disappointment to the wealthy young Yale-educated officer would be an understatement. The USS Caine is not exactly the most glamorous ship in the fleet. In fact it’s just about the bottom of the barrel. It’s a battered destroyed converted for minesweeping duties and it may well be the slackest ship in the US Navy. Keith has an opportunity to take a much more glamorous appointment on an admiral’s staff but he is shamed into remaining on board the Caine.

It’s not that that the Caine is an unhappy ship. The captain is easy-going, the atmosphere is relaxed. It’s just that the captain is a bit too easy-going and the atmosphere a bit too relaxed. No-one on the Caine gives a damn. Being an officer on the Caine is a dead end. The Caine is engaged mostly in boring routine duties such a target-towing and there are no opportunities for an ambitious officer to distinguish himself.

The Caine Mutiny (1954)

All that is about to change when the ship gets a new captain. Lieutenant-Commander Philip Francis Queeg is regular navy, not a reservist, and he believes in doing thing the navy way. He is determined to enforce some discipline. That does not please the Caine’s officers. The previous captain had allowed the executive officer, Lieutenant Maryk (Van Johnson), to more or less run the ship and he’d allowed officers like Lieutenant Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray) to do whatever they wanted. So Keefer, a cynical intellectual, had divided his time between working on his novel and complaining. Clearly he believes that it’s a shocking injustice that a man of his exceptional gifts should have to do anything as tedious as doing his duty.

Keefer immediately sets out to undermine Queeg’s authority. Unfortunately for Lt-Commander Queeg he’s rather vulnerable to Keefer’s attacks on his authority. Queeg has seen almost continuous active service since the war began and he’s close to being burnt out. His nerves have been shaken and he makes mistakes. With loyal and competent officers to support him he would undoubtedly overcome those problems, but he’s not going to find loyal and competent officers on the Caine.

The Caine Mutiny (1954)

To compound these problems Queeg has an approach to command that is entirely foreign to the Caine. He believes in the importance of the little things and is enraged by he slovenliness of the crew. And he’s inclined to be prickly and to obsess over minor infractions of regulations. This gives Keefer (who fancies himself as an amateur psychologist) the perfect opportunity to paint the captain as a paranoid neurotic. And even more unfortunately it creates a situation where the basically decent and loyal executive officer Maryk is inclined to listen to Keefer’s promptings. Finally, after Queeg has made several apparent errors of judgment, Maryk is persuaded to relieve Queeg of his command. Maryk and Keith (who was officer of the deck at the time) now face a court martial at which they will have to justify their extraordinary actions.

This rather far-fetched plot could easily have collapsed but it’s saved by two things - the quality of the acting and the ambiguity of the situation that led to the mutiny. Bogart gives a bravura performance. He avoids making Queeg merely a ridiculous figure and gives him a certain tragic dignity. Because this story is a tragedy. Queeg is not a bad man and he’s not even a bad captain, he’s just seen too much action and he’s tired and he’s increasingly isolated as his officers turn on him. Maryk can be seen as an equally tragic figure, a competent officer with a fatal flaw - he’s a weak man who forgets where his duty lies and is manipulated into committing the ultimate act of disloyalty.

The Caine Mutiny (1954)

The key question is, when the typhoon hits, is it Queeg who loses his nerve or is it Lieutenant Maryk? It’s a question that the movie leaves open and this is its greatest strength. Queeg certainly exhibits signs of instability, but does this actually make him unfit for command? When he asks his officers to support him, in the film’s most moving scene, they ignore him.

Van Johnson’s subtle performance as Maryk is superbly effective. Fred MacMurray was always at his best playing slimy villains and Lieutenant Keefer is as slimy as they come. José Ferrer is excellent as the defence counsel who would have been far happier prosecuting this case.

The Caine Mutiny (1954)

Edward Dmytryk wisely doesn’t try anything fancy. He has a superb cast and he’s content to allow the actors to carry the story, which they do in fine style. The Caine Mutiny is a fine example of 1950s Hollywood film-making.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Black Swan (1942)

The Black Swan is a colourful pirate yarn with Tyrone Power who was at that time 20th Century Fox’s leading star of swashbuckling epics. And if those sorts of movies are your thing this one will not disappoint.

It’s purportedly based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini, probably the greatest of all authors of swashbuckling adventure stories. In fact the movie has little to do with Sabatini’s novel but it’s still great fun.

The legendary pirate Henry Morgan has been pardoned, given a knighthood and appointed as governor of Jamaica. Acting on the principle that you set a thief to catch a thief Morgan has been given the job of cleaning up piracy in the Caribbean.

The Black Swan (1942)

Not surprisingly that news draws a mixed response from Morgan’s old buccaneering buddies. Some are willing to accept the royal pardon and the grants of land that Morgan has been given the authority to distribute whilst others refuse to give up their pirating ways.

Chief among those who reject Morgan’s offer is the rough, tough, ruthless and dissipated Captain Billy Leach (George Sanders). Those who accept Morgan’s offer are led by the dashing Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power). There’s a further complication however - Jamie has fallen in love with the beautiful Margaret Denby, daughter of the former governor. Margaret is engaged to Roger Ingram, an elegant foppish wastrel. Ingram sees Jamie as a dangerous romantic rival and he is determined to destroy the handsome reformed pirate But that’s not the end of Ingram’s perfidy - he is also selling information to Captain Billy Leach, assisting the pirate in preying on English shipping.

The Black Swan (1942)

Jamie Waring is given the task of hunting down Billy Leach but it proves to be a tricky assignment. He finds himself outgunned by Leach’s squadron and Jamie has to pretend he has returned to his piratical ways while trying to find a way to turn the tables.

The mix of action, adventure, romance and humour is irresistible. The action sequences are impressive and it’s all filmed in glorious Technicolor and looks absolutely splendid.

The Black Swan (1942)

As a swashbuckling hero Tyrone Power is very good although it has to be admitted he’s no Eroll Flynn. He does take his shirt off a lot though which presumably added quite a lot to his sex symbol image. Maureen O’Hara makes a feisty heroine. The strangest thing about this movie is George Sanders’ performance - instead of being the smooth aristocratic villain we expect he’s a scruffy red-bearded old sea dog. It’s bizarre casting but Sanders puts everything into it and he gets away with it.

It’s Laird Cregar though who steals the picture as Henry Morgan. He chews every piece of scenery he can get his hands on and he’s delightful. Anthony Quinn has a small role as Billy Leach’s chief lieutenant.

The Black Swan (1942)

The Black Swan has everything you could possibly want in a pirate movie. Tremendous fun.

The Region 4 DVD from Bounty is totally lacking in extras but it’s a nice print.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dead Reckoning (1947)

Dead Reckoning (1947)

Dead Reckoning, directed by John Cromwell, is a 1947 film noir about a man (played by Humphrey Bogart) who sets out to find out what happened to an army buddy whato disappeared immediately after returning from World War 2. It has all the standard noir elements – smooth gangsters, colourful hoodlums, night clubs, a flashback with voiceover, and of course a femme fatale.

The femme fatale in this case is played by Lizabeth Scott, and she sizzles. But then she always did. Once you hear that husky voice of hers you know you’ve entered the world of film noir. Her performance in this movie has been much criticised, and quite wrongly in my opinion. The movie has its problems but she’s not one of them.

Dead Reckoning (1947)

The title is important, dead reckoning being a method of navigation that relies on estimating your position based on estimating your course and speed from a particular starting point, and if you don’t know your starting point accurately you will inevitably get badly lost. And that’s the situation Captain Rip Murdock (Bogart) is in.

Murdock tells the tale in an extended flashback. He and Sergeant Johnny Drake are on their way to Washington. The war is over and they’re both going to collect medals, but Johnny disappears. He disappears because there might be press photographers at the medal presentation and that could be embarrassing since he isn’t Johnny Drake at all. In fact he’s a man wanted for murder who joined up under a false name.

Dead Reckoning (1947)

Murdock sets off to find his buddy but what he finds is a badly burned corpse in the morgue. Is the body Johnny’s? Murdock’s starting point is that he knows Johnny couldn’t have been mixed up in murder and know he’s determined to unravel the mystery.

His next step is to find Johnny’s girl. Dusty (Lizabeth Scott) is a singer. He thinks she’s the key to the mystery, and he’s right. But falling in love with her means that Murdock doesn’t want to believe she’s the murderer. He also doesn’t want to believe Johnny is the murderer but somebody shot Dusty’s husband and if it wasn’t Dusty and it wasn’t Johnny then he’s left with an embarrassing lack of plausible suspects.

Dead Reckoning (1947)

Dead Reckoning has been accused of having a totally incoherent plot. Which is perfectly true. But this is film noir and plot coherence is less important than atmosphere and style and those qualities it has in spades. It also has enough classic film noir dialogue to keep any fan happy, as when Murdock observes that, “Maybe she was all right. Maybe Christmas comes in July.”

And it has Bogart, and he’s in top form. He knows that Dusty is the kind of girl you should never ever fall in love with but somehow he desperately wants to believe that all his instincts are wrong. Bogart and Scott work well together and Scott not only makes Bogart want to believe in her she makes the audience want to as well even though we know as well as he does that she’s probably no good.

Dead Reckoning (1947)

So maybe it’s not one of the great noirs but it’s consistently entertaining, it looks good and it’s dripping with noirness. And it has two of the iconic noir stars demonstrating why they’re such iconic figures. So I say check it out.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Saint Strikes Back (1939)

The Saint Strikes Back (1939)

The Saint Strikes Back was the first of five films in which George Sanders played the role of master criminal-turned crime-fighter Simon Templar. The role requires a mixture of sophistication, humour, physical menace, ruthlessness and charm. Sanders didn’t quite have the physical menace but he had all of the other qualities in abundance.

The movie is based on one of the best of Leslie Charteris’s early tales of The Saint, Angels of Doom (also published as The Saint Meets His Match and She Was a Lady). Valerie Travers (Wendy Barrie), the daughter of a police officer who had been dismissed from the force for corruption, becomes a criminal mastermind. Her objective is not crime itself but revenge as she believes her father was innocent.

The Saint Strikes Back (1939)

Simon Templar becomes involved when a mobster is gunned down in a San Francisco night-club. The convoluted plot sees the Saint targeted as a suspect while he works in uneasy partnership with his old friend Inspector Henry Fernack to clear the reputation of Valerie’s now deceased father.

The Saint Strikes Back (1939)

The plot is serviceable but the main asset of the movie is the character of Simon Templar and, even more particularly, George Sander’s performance. John Twist’s screenplay gives Sanders plenty of sparkling dialogue which he delivers with his customary panache. The strong supporting cast is highlighted by Barry Fitzgerald, Jonathan Hale as Inspector Fernack and Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon from the Batman TV series).

The Saint Strikes Back (1939)

RKO’s crime B-movies always had plenty of atmosphere and this is no exception. Director John Farrow would go on to helm some notable film noir titles.

The Region 2 DVD is lacking in extras but looks reasonable enough.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Am Waiting (1957)

I Am Waiting (Ore wa matteru ze) is the earliest of the five movies in the Nikkatsu Noir boxed set, and it ticks enough of the noir boxes to satisfy most noir enthusiasts.

Jôji Shimaki is a boxer who was banned from the ring after killing a man in a barroom brawl. Now he runs a bar that is a sort of refuge for outsiders and losers. His brother emigrated to Brazil a year earlier and Jôji has been waiting to hear from him so he can go and join him. Brazil is for Jôji a sort of magical talisman, a promised land where he can make a new start.

I Am Waiting (1957)

He meets Saeko. He’s a boxer who can’t box any more, she’s an opera singer whose voice has gone, reducing her to performing in sleazy dives. They’re both broken and they’re not unnaturally drawn together.

Saeko thinks she might have killed a man too, a man who was making unwelcome advances to her. Unfortunately she had become involved with some dubious characters and she has a night-club boss who is also a gangster after her for breaking her singing contract.

I Am Waiting (1957)

Jôji tries to keep Saeko out of of further trouble while at the same time pursuing an obsessive quest to find out why he hasn’t heard from his brother.

Stylistically this film is pure noir, and it has the right mood as well. Most of the characters who inhabit the world of Jôji’s bar are classic noir characters. They’re not bad people, but they’re lost and they can’t find their way back.

I Am Waiting (1957)

The movie benefits considerably from its two magnetic leads, Yûjirô Ishihara as Jôji and Mie Kitahara as Saeko. Mie Kitahara definitely has an iconic noir look. They would go on to co-star in many more films.

The mood owes as much to pre-war French film noir as to Hollywood noir, although without the extreme nihilism of the French variety. Nikkatsu was a studio trying to reinvent itself in the late 50s, trying (with considerable success) to tap into the growing youth market.

I Am Waiting (1957)

The DVD from Nikkatsu’s Eclipse series is reasonably impressive although it lacks extras. The movie is presented in its original 1.33: aspect ratio.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Man in the Vault (1956)

Man in the Vault is a competent 1956 B noir that provides decent entertainment without reaching any great heights.

Tommy Dancer (William Campbell) is a locksmith who is approached by small-time racketeer Willis Trent in a bowling alley. Trent needs a footlocker opened, a task for which he pays Tommy way too much money. That should have rung warning bells but it’s not until Trent explains that he actually has a much bigger job in mind that Tommy finally figures out he might be getting into something dangerous and illegal. By this time Tommy has fallen for glamorous rich girl Betty Turner (Karen Sharpe) he met at a party at Trent’s place and Tommy isn’t really thinking all that clearly.

He is smart enough to refuse Trent’s approach but it’s too late, Trent has him hooked and will use Betty to force Tommy to play ball.

Man in the Vault (1956)

Trent has a plan to rob big-league mobster Paul de Camp’s safety deposit box at a local bank. Trent used to be de Camp’s partner but while de Camp has moved up in the world Trent is still just a straightforward hoodlum. Trent’s plan is not a very good one, given that he’s the first person de Camp is going to suspect.

Tommy has always been basically an honest guy but meeting Betty has given him ideas. Her family is wealthy and her parents give her anything she wants. Tommy thinks that it’s not fair that he isn’t rich as well, so the lure of easy money starts to tempt him. In fact he starts to think that maybe it would be an even better idea to keep all of de Camp’s money himself instead of splitting with Trent. Tommy’s a nice boy but he’s not real bright.

Man in the Vault (1956)

And security at the bank is so lax that it really does seem like a no-risk plan. Except of course for the fact of having an angry mobster trying to kill you afterwards.

There are in fact a whole bunch of people involved in the pan to rob de Camp and they’re trying to double-cross each other. There’s shady lawyer Earl Faraday, who is also carrying a torch for Betty. There’s also de Camp’s glamorous girlfriend Flo (Anita Ekberg). It’s a pretty standard but serviceable crime movie plot with a touch of noir coming from the involvement of the well-meaning but weak-willed Tommy.

Man in the Vault (1956)

Technically the movie is at best competent. The chase scene in the bowling alley is reasonably well executed but don’t expect anything startling as far as visual style is concerned.

William Campbell is quite effective as Tommy Dancer, playing him as a bit of an innocent but with a bit of an edge as well that prevents the character from being too wet. Karen Sharpe is adequate as Betty, not quite a femme fatale and not quite a spoilt rich girl but a woman who certainly spells danger for Tommy.

Man in the Vault (1956)

Mike Mazurki, who played the heavy in countless crime and horror movies, is as entertaining as always as Trent’s chief henchman. Anita Ekberg is competent and certainly adds glamour.

Man in the Vault was produced by John Wayne’s production company, Batjac. While it’s one of the company’s lesser efforts it’s still worth a look.

Man in the Vault (1956)

The Region 4 DVD is barebones but it’s a decent widescreen print.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Union Pacific (1939)

Union Pacific is a 1939 Cecil B. DeMille western, and in the story of the building of the first tran-continental railroad he found a tale with the grand sweep required of a DeMille movie. Released in 1939, it confirmed DeMille’s ability to make wonderfully entertaining epics.

In the 1860s the Union Pacific railroad is being built from east to west to link up with the Central Pacific railroad in California. Backroom deals by crooked bankers have in effect turned the project into a race with the Union Pacific facing ruin if they lose. And those who are determined that they will lose have hit upon an ingenious method of sabotage. Sid Campeau (Brian Donlevy) has been given the job of supplying the workers building the railroad with cut-price booze, gambling and other distractions to slow down the construction.

To combat this menace the Union Pacific employs as trouble-shooter Civil War hero Captain Jeff Butler (Joel McCrea). Butler is tough, honest, a crack shot and thoroughly decent. He’s like a very tough Boy Scout.

Butler cleans up a lot of the problems by shooting people like gambler Jack Cordray (Anthony Quinn). He has more of a problem with Campeau’s chief lieutenant, Dick Allen (Robert Preston). He and Dick were old army buddies and they’re still good friends but now they’re on opposite sides. Even worse, they’re romantic rivals as well. They’re both in love with feisty Irish beauty Mollie Monahan (Barbara Stanwyck).

Mollie is the Union Pacific’s travelling postmistress. Her father is an engine driver. She was born into the world of the railways, it’s the only world she knows and she loves it.

While Jeff Butler is kept busy trying to counter the machinations of Sid Campeau Dick Allen has stolen a march on him in the romance stakes and Dick and Mollie are soon engaged. Jeff is too noble to do anything underhanded to come between them although he’s clearly still carrying a torch for Mollie.

The villains are suitably villainous and the heroes are suitably heroic. The cast is a strong one and all the players deliver exactly the performances that were required.

There’s plenty of action and excitement, there’s spectacle, there’s romance, there’s everything required to turn this film into box office gold and it was indeed a huge hit at the time. It might seem like an old-fashioned movie by today’s standards when we’re accustomed to seeing heroic subjects treated with cynicism and sneering, but it demonstrates that old-fashioned Hollywood showmanship has a great deal going for it. This is a supremely entertaining movie.

It’s also very politically incorrect - if that bothers you then you’re not going to like this movie one little bit.

Union Pacific is highly recommended and it's included in the wonderful DeMille DVD boxed set that came out a few years back, a set which I also recommend very very highly.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951)

The most interesting thing about Tomorrow Is Another Day is the way in which it departs from our expectations. It does this most notably in its treatment of the femme fatale.

This 1951 Warner Brothers B-movie was directed by Felix E. Feist. Feist was always a B-movie director but he made some interesting if rather uneven noirish crime thrillers. Screenwriter Guy Endore worked on some notable horror movies and his own novels provided the basis for several good films, including Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool and the excellent 1961 Hammer gothic horror flick Curse of the Werewolf.

Tomorrow Is Another Day is a story of an ex-con trying to go straight. Bill Clark (Steve Cochran) was convicted of the murder of his violent alcoholic father at the age of thirteen. After eighteen years he is released. Not surprisingly he knows little of women but he’s anxious to learn. Perhaps a dance hall was not the best place in which to commence his education but that’s where he ends up.

Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951)

At the dance hall he meets taxi dancer Cay (Ruth Roman). Cay is hardbitten and cynical but to Bill she’s the girl of his dreams. He finally manages to get invited back to her apartment and that’s when things start to go wrong. A loud-mouthed bully storms into the apartment and starts pushing her around, a gun is produced, Bill takes a heavy knock on the head and passes out and when he regains consciousness it’s to see the other man staggering out of the door with a gunshot wound in his belly.

All that would be bad enough but the guy with the bullet in his gut turns out to be a cop. Worse still, a detective-lieutenant. Realising that Bill has no memory of what happened Cay convinces him that he shot the detective when in fact she was the one who pulled the trigger.

Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951)

Since this is a crime movie it doesn’t occur to either of them that Cay in fact shot the detective in self-defence, and maybe if I’d just been released from prison I’d be sceptical about getting a fair hearing as well. So now they’re on the run. And Bill comes up with a clever idea - since they’re on the run together they might as well get married!

Surprisingly enough Cay thinks this is a swell idea. Even more surprisingly she now turns out to be the ideal wife. This is the part of the story that challenges plausibility a little, although I guess if two people are thrown together in such circumstances it’s not impossible that love might suddenly blossom.

Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951)

They end up fruit-picking in California which goes well until they encounter the one thing that every criminal on the run most fears - a kid with an enthusiasm for true crime magazines. And of course the kid comes across an article about America’s youngest convicted killer, Bill Clark.

Steve Cochran gives a pretty good performance as Bill, a likeable guy who just hasn’t had the breaks. Ruth Roman as Cay has the more difficult role since she has to sell her sudden personality change to the audience, which she does more successfully than you might expect.

Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951)

This is as much a romantic melodrama as a film noir. It actually makes a refreshing change from the self-pity and misery and nihilistic despair that so often are part of the film noir package. It’s a movie about hope and if you’re too cynical to believe in hope or in true love then you probably won’t like it. Personally I don’t mind movies that actually make me feel slightly better about humanity and about life and I enjoyed it.

The Warner Archive DVD-R offers a very good print of this rather overlooked movie.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pin Up Girl (1944)

I’ve been trying to broaden my classic movies education a little, delving into genres that I’ve previously avoided. One such genre is 1940s Hollywood musicals. I’ve come to enjoy the musicals of the 30s but I’ve always assumed that the 40s musicals would be too saccharine for my tastes. In any case, I decided to give Pin Up Girl a whirl.

This was one of Betty Grable’s better known films, and having only ever seen her in How to Marry a Millionaire I’ve never understood the Grable mystique but I was prepared to be enlightened.

Grable plays Lorry Jones, who works at a military canteen in Missouri and has become a minor celebrity thanks to a pin-up photo (which is in fact the very famous Grable pin-up photo). The photo has been so popular with the troops that Lorry is now engaged to several hundred of them. It’s not that she’s a bad person, it’s just that when nice boys in a uniform ask her to marry them she doesn’t like to disappoint them.

Now she and her friend are off to Washington for a USO show but somehow they end in New York, at a very fancy night-club. There weren’t any tables available, until Lorry assured the doorman that she was there to meet Tommy Dooley, the famous war hero just returned from Guadalcanal. That’s Lorry’s other minor fault - she tends to embroider the truth just a little. Well actually she embroiders it a lot.

When Tommy Dooley actually turns up at the club and has to explain herself to the club owner Eddie Hall (Joe E. Brown) she tells them she’s a musical comedy star. Then of course she’s invited to do a number from the show she’s currently starring in, which is potentially awkward since she’s never even seen the show. But thanks to the magic of the movies it doesn’t matter - she gets up and does the number and it’s a huge success.

That more or less sets the tone for the movie - realism is not going to be allowed to spoil any of the fun. This is a movie where intimate night-clubs have stages as big as football fields.

After the night-club scene we find Lorry working as a stenographer for a chief petty officer who just happens to be Tommy Dooley’s NCO. You’d think he’d recognise her straight away but of course this is the movies where a girl wearing glasses is totally unrecognisable as the same girl without glasses.

Various romantic complications follow as Dooley falls for Lorry the glamour girl but has to deal with jealous night-club singer Molly McKay as well as one of Lorry’s many fiances. And naturally somehow Lorry has to get her big break in show business.

The plot is incoherent and so flimsy it’s hardly there at all but this is a musical so who needs a plot? What it does have are spectacular musical production numbers, romance and good-natured comedy and that’s enough. Grable is amusing and impossible to dislike, the support cast is solid. The sets are pure Hollywood fantasy but they’re fun. It’s shot in Technicolor and looks like a gigantic candy confection.

This movie is about as lightweight as a movie could possibly be but it’s enjoyably silly. These were the days before irony became compulsory in Hollywood movies, an age when sneering cynicism was not considered to be an essential ingredient in entertainment. It’s convinced me that perhaps the musicals of the 40s really did have something going for them.

The Region 4 DVD disappointingly includes none of the extras that come with the Region 1 release. The transfer is OK although the colour balance doesn’t seem entirely right.