Desperate (1947)

Desperatedesperate poster
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Harry Essex and Martin Rackin; story by Anthony Mann and Dorothy Atlas
1947/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing; Warner Film Noir Classics Vol. 5 DVD

 

Walt Radak: [ironically as he waits for midnight] Who was it said, “Time flies.”

1947 was Anthony Mann’s break-out year for film noir.  He would improve but this one is quite OK with some classic use of the style.

Steve Randall (Steve Brodie) is a happy newly wed who is about to celebrate his four-month anniversary with wife Anne (Audrey Long).  She has confided in a neighbor that she will announce her pregnancy at dinner that night.  Then Steve gets a call from a “friend” offering him a trucking job at a wage he can’t refuse.  When he gets to the location he finds out that the job is as getaway driver for a heist being organized by tough guy Walt Radak (Raymond Burr).  Radak’s little brother Al begs to go along for the first time.  Steve attempts to alert the police and Al kills a policeman during a scuffle.  He is hauled off to jail.

Walt threatens Steve with harm to Anne if Steve does not turn himself into the police for the murder.  Instead, Steve takes Anne on the lam.  Al is eventually sentenced to the death penalty.

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When Steve gets Anne settled with her relatives in the country, he finally does report his involvement to police inspector Louis Ferrari (Jason Robards Sr.), who does not believe his tale.  He lets Steve go anyway in hopes he will lead him to ringleader Radak.  Now Steve and Anne find themselves relentlessly pursued by both the police and the bad guys.

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The movie is only 75-minutes long but manages to lose steam between its dynamic opening and tense closing.  As usual the best thing about it is Raymond Burr’s intensely menacing villain.  Robards Senior is also very good as the sarcastic cop.  There are some really masterful flourishes in the camerawork.

Clip – check out that swinging lightbulb.  You don’t get much more classic noir than this.

 

Angel and the Badman (1947)

Angel and the Badmanangel-and-the-badman-movie-poster-1947-1020430707
Directed by James Edward Grant
Written by James Edward Grant
1947/USA
John Wayne Productions/Patnel Productions
First viewing/Netflix Rental

Territorial Marshal Wistful McClintock: You know, Quirt, I always figured on using a new rope when hangin’ you… because I kind of respected ya. You never took the best of things and all your men went down looking at ya.

Sometimes a rather corny old-time Western is just what the doctor ordered.

The wonderfully named Quirt Evans (John Wayne) is a famous gunslinger.  He gets wounded in a showdown and is rescued by the Worths, a Quaker family, who take him home and nurse him back to health.  The Penelope (Gail Russell), the daughter of the house, instantly falls in love with her patient and frankly tells him so the minute he is back on his feet.  Quirt has been a hard-drinking hard-loving rapscallion but the simple, loving ways of the family begin to win him over.

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At the same time, Quirt is under threat from his long-time enemy Laredo Stevens (Bruce Cabot).  The local marshall (Harry Carey) is always hanging around predicting that Laredo will end up shot dead and Quirt will end up hanged or vice versa.  The local doctor keeps warning the family that Quirt is bad news.  But Penelope persists.  Can she reform her wild man?

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This is just a nice, romantic Western to watch on a Saturday afternoon.  Some of the screenwriting is a tad overdone but nothing terrible.  All the performances are good.  I especially liked Harry Carey as the Marshall of Doom.

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13 Rue Madeleine (1947)

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Directed by Henry Hathaway
Written by John Monks Jr. and Sy Bartlett
1947/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Charles Gibson: 22 potential agents. Most of them have a foreign background. All of them can speak French. One of them can speak German.

An enjoyable Fox film noir in the semi-documentary style about U.S. intelligence efforts in World War II.

A voice-over narrator sets up the process leading to the creation of the OSS and the recruitment and training of its first class of secret agents.  Their instructor is Bob Sharkey (James Cagney) a tough former businessman with years of experience in Berlin.  He is advised that one of his students is a German agent.  His task is to identify the spy, who is then to be unwittingly used to convey false information about American planning for the D-Day invasion back to the Nazis.  Sharkey intuits early on that Bill O’Connell (Richard Conte) is the bad apple based on his unexpected talents at the game.  O’Connell’s roommate is assigned to accompany him on a fake mission into Holland.  Unfortunately, O’Connell spots the ruse.

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Now the only man sufficiently trained for the actual mission is Sharkey himself.  He must stay one step ahead of O’Connell and make contact with an elusive French resistance leader.  His life is in danger throughout.  With Annabella as a beautiful OSS communicator and Sam Jaffe as the mayor of a French town.

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This is entertaining if not great.  Cagney is good as always and unforgettable in the classic Cagney style at the end.  Conte makes a totally unconvincing German but is so dynamic we don’t mind too much.

Trailer

Hue and Cry (1947)

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Directed by Charles Crighton
Written by T.E.B. Clarke
1947/UK
Ealing Studios
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Felix H. Wilkinson: Oh, how I loathe adventurous-minded boys.

This is said to be the first of the Ealing comedies.  My only real complaint is that my beloved Alistair Sim doesn’t appear in every scene.

A gang of kids spends its days playing at cops and robbers on the rubble of bombed-out post-War London.  They are all addicted to adventure comics, particularly the ones in “Trump” magazine.  One of the older boys is reading the magazine when he spots a car with the same license plate number as in one of the stories.  He thinks the car was used in a crime and reports it.  The policeman says no such number exists but likes the boy and gets him a job working at the Chelsea food market as a porter.

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Some other similarities between real life and the comic occur and since no one will believe him, he looks up the comic’s writer, Felix H. Wilkinson (Sim).  It soon develops that someone is changing details in the comic and using it as code for criminal operations.  The boys and girls set to work in foiling the plot.

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There are funnier Ealing comedies.  The main reasons to see this one are Alistair Sims’s two very funny scenes and to get a good view of London immediately after the Blitz. It’s also not a bad way to spend an hour and 15 minutes.

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The Red House (1947)

The Red HouseRed House, The
Directed by Delmer Daves
Written by Delmer Daves from a novel by George Agnew Chamberlin
1947/USA
Sol Lesser Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Pete Morgan: Don’t put such a high price on courage, it’s an over-rated virtue.

This one seems to have slipped into the public domain with a corresponding deterioration in print quality. Despite this, Edward G. Robinson’s fantastic performance is easily discernible.

The Morgan farm is hidden away near some woods.  Only a circuitous back road leads there.  The shortest way from town is through the woods but Pete Morgan (Robinson) has made these strictly off-limits to trespassers.  Pete has a wooden leg and is getting on in years so the womenfolk, spinster sister Ellen (Judith Anderson) and adopted daughter Meg, persuade him to hire high schooler Nath Storm to help out.  Meg has a crush on her classmate but he is dating sexpot Tibby (Julie London).

Meg has been forbidden to enter the woods all her life.  On his first day, Nath wants to return home by the shortcut after dark but Pete tells him a tale about screams emanating from a red house in the woods to scare him off.  He is unsuccessful but when Nath is physically attacked there on his way home he must return to the farm to spend the night.

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Nath and Meg form a bond while trying to discover the secret of the red house and Meg’s crush develops to full fledged love.  Pete becomes increasingly hostile to the boy and almost insane with anxiety about Meg.  With Rory Calhoun as the town bad boy.

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This movie revealed the mystery a bit too early but was so atmospheric and well-acted that I didn’t care. The film really deserves a restoration so that we can all fully appreciate Bert Glennon’s cinematography and Miklos Rosca’s score.  If you are as big a Ronbinson fan as I am, definitely check it out.  It is currently available in multiple versions on YouTube and on Internet Archive.

Clip – opening

It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)

It Happened on 5th Avenuehappened on 5th avenue poster
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Written by Everett Freeman and Vick Knight; original story by Herbert Clyde Lewis and Frederick Stephani
1947/USA
Roy Del Ruth Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix Rental

Michael J. ‘Mike’ O’Connor: Remind me to nail up the board in the back fence. He’s coming through the front door next winter.

1947 was the year for Christmas movies and here is another one.  The many heartwarming messages in this one are probably best appreciated at Christmastime but the performances by some favorite actors from the 1930’s are good anytime.

Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor Moore) is a lovable tramp who has spent the last three winters holed up in the mansion of Michael J. O’Connor, second richest man in the world, while the family is vacationing in Virginia.  This winter he gets an unexpected number of fellow lodgers.  The first is Jim Bullock (Don DeFore) who has been evicted from his apartment so that the self-same O’Connor can raze the property for an office building.  Then O’Connor’s daughter Trudy (Gale Storm) shows up, having run away from finishing school.  She hides her identity in order to stay in the house with Jim, who she naturally falls for in a big way.  Then Jim offers places to some fellow GIs who are down on their luck.

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Finally Michael T. himself (Charles Ruggles) turns up looking for Trudy.  She tells him of her love for Jim and persuades him to dress in rags in order to meet her intended.  O’Connor tries some dirty tricks to get Jim out of the picture but the only effect is to send Trudy running home for mother Mary (Ann Harding).  You guessed it – soon Mary is living in the house masquerading as a cook.

The rest of the film finds the fun in the situation while McKeever illustrates what “real riches” are to the wealthy and brings the estranged Mike and Mary together again.

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It’s been awhile since I’ve caught up with Victor Moore, Charles Ruggles or Ann Harding and it is always a treat to see them do their stuff.  The romantic leads are only so-so.  This is a movie that would benefit from a dose of Christmas cheer to help the medicine go down but it’s not bad by any means.

It Happened on 5th Avenue was Oscar-nominated for Best Writing, Original Story.

Clip – first few minutes

The Lost Moment (1947)

The Lost Momentlost moment poster
Directed by Martin Gabel
Written by Leonardo Bercovici based on the novel “The Aspern Papers” by Henry James
1947/USA
Walter Wanger Productions
First viewing/Amazon Prime Instant Video

Lewis Venable: In that fearfully incredible moment I knew I had plunged off a precipice into the past. That here was Juliana beyond belief, beautiful, alluring, alive. How strange this was, this Tina, who walked dead among the living and living among the dead, filling me with a nameless fear! I had a sudden impulse to turn and leave, and then I remembered the letters.

The best thing about this noirish Gothic melodrama is Agnes Moorehead as an 105-year-old woman.

The setting is Venice, Italy sometime in the last half of the 19th Century.  A neer-do-well tells publisher Lewis Venable (Robert Cummings) how he can get his hands on priceless love letters written by poet Jeffrey Ashton to Juliana Borderau (Moorhead).  Using this information, Lewis poses as a writer needing lodging while he completes a novel.  Juliana, now 105, is desperately in need of money to keep the mansion.  She is convinced that as long as she has the house she will never die.  Venable is willing to pay the exhorbitant price she quotes in cash and in advance and moves in.  Juliana’s cold, suspicious niece Tina (Susan Hayward) thoroughly disapproves.

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Late one night, Venable hears the piano.  He goes downstairs to find Tina, now looking radiant, playing.  She greets him as her lover Jeffrey and appears to have taken on the personality of a young Juliana.  Venable plays along, still hoping to find the letters, but soon enough his pretense turns to love.  When Juliana becomes ill, Tina warms up to Jeffrey in real life.  I am leaving out lots and lots of turmoil. With Warner’s favorite gangster Eduardo Ciannelli as a kindly priest.

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Henry James took the same ghostly tone in The Aspern Papers as he did in The Turn of the Screw, which was captured on film as The Innocents.  I can’t compare the fictional works but The Lost Moment does not begin to compare with the film version of the other story. The film has plenty of atmosphere but the performances Cummings and Hayward bring it back to 20th century reality.  In the context of those performances, all the overwrought emotions and weird happenings just seem silly.   Moorehead is unrecognizable though and a reason for her fans to catch this one.

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Unconquered (1947)

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Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Written by Charles Bennett, Fredric M. Frank, and Jesse Lasky Jr. from the novel “The Judas Tree” by Neil H. Swanson
1947/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

Martin Garth: The King’s Law moves with the king’s muskets, and there are very few King’s muskets west of the Alleghenies.

There is something wrong on so many levels with seeing Boris Karloff playing an Indian Chief in Technicolor.

The setting is Colonial Pennsylvania.  Abby (Paulette Goddard) is found guilty of murder in 18th Century England and given the choice of hanging or being sold as an “indentured slave” (?) in America at public auction.  She chooses the latter option.  On the journey to the New World, Abby catches the eye of the evil Martin Garth (Howard Da Silva) and he insists on buying her on the spot.  However, somebody insists on an auction and Capt. Christopher Holden (Gary Cooper) stays in the bidding until he wins her and can set her free.  Holden then departs to rejoin his fiancee.

After his departure, Garth manages to regain possession of Abby through some lies and bribery.  After securing ownership papers, he puts his minion “Bone” (Mike Mazurki) in charge of the young woman while he goes off to hand out weapons to the Indians.  Garth has profited from fur trading in the territories and is determined to see no white settlements in his area.

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In the meantime, Holden finds his fiancee has married his brother in his absence.  He reports for duty at one of the fort, near where Abby is toiling as a serving wench in Bone’s tavern.  He reclaims his purchase but when Garth shows a bill of sale it is Holden that is exiled.

It is not necessary to reveal all the twists and turns of the 2 1/2 hour plot.  Just know that Abby changes hands several times; she and Holden make several desperate escapes, one  over a waterfall; and Guyasuta, Chief of the Senecas (Karloff) is ever ready with a burning at the stake or a massacre.  With many familiar faces including Ward Bond, Henry Wilcoxon, Cecil Kellaway, and C. Aubrey Smith.

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If Karloff is not bad enough, Da Silva and Mazurki are totally miscast for this kind of thing. The whole tone feels more like a WWII celebration of the American Way than a period piece.  But then I just don’t appreciate Cecil B. DeMille’s epics.  Cooper and Goddard are OK and there’s plenty of action for those who like this kind of thing.

Unconquered was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects.

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The Egg and I (1947)

The Egg and Iegg_and_i
Directed by Chester Erskine
Written by Chester Erskine and Fred F. Finklehoffe from the novel by Betty MacDonald
1947/USA
Universal International Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

“Sunday! In the country Sunday is the day on which you do exactly as much work as you do on other days but feel guilty all of the time you are doing it because Sunday is a day of rest” ― Betty MacDonald, The Egg and I

Betty (Claudette Colbert) and Bob MadDonald (Fred McMurray) are newlyweds.  Bob has just returned from the war and surprises his bride on their wedding night by telling her he has quit his desk job and bought a chicken farm.  Seems he spent his time in the trenches dreaming of fresh air and farm animals.  Instead of walking out, as I might have done, Betty takes this news with some grace. Her fortitude is tested when she discovers that the farm has long been abandoned and only a mountain of work will make things right.  To say the least, Betty has a steep learning curve, particularly with her cantankerous wood-powered stove.

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These trials are eased some what by laughter at the antics of the odd-ball town folks.  The Kettles in particular are a hoot.  Pa (Percy Kilbride) has never worked a day in his life and feels free to borrow any of the MacDonalds’ property he can get his hands on.  Ma (Marjorie Main) has the patience of Job in managing both Pa and her brood of about twelve kids, although she never can quite remember the names of the children.

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The story is principally a light-hearted look at the challenges overcome by the couple and the idiosyncrasies of country life.  It is marred somewhat by an extraneous subplot dealing with Betty’s jealousy of Bob’s interest in their gentlewoman neighbor’s fancy modern farm.  The main reason I keep coming back to this one is Ma and Pa Kettle.  Every scene they are in is pure gold.  No wonder their characters launched a series of popular B films.

Marjorie Main was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Egg and I.

Trailer

 

Monsieur Vincent

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Directed by Maurice Cloche
Written by Jean-Bernard Luc and Jean Anouilh
1947/France
Edition et Diffusion Cinematographique/Office Familial de Documentaire Artistique/Union Generale Cinematographique
First viewing/Netflix rental

We cannot better assure our eternal happiness than by living and dying in the service of the poor, in the arms of Providence, and with genuine renouncement of ourselves in order to follow Jesus Christ. – St. Vincent De Paul

This biopic of St. Vincent DePaul is appropriately reverent yet enlivened by the fire brought to the character by the great Pierre Fresnay.

The setting is France during the first half of the 17th Century.  Following a time as priest to the nobility in Paris, Father Vincent resolves to become a servant of the poor and accepts a parish in a poor village.  When he arrives, the local aristocracy are in a frenzy that there has been an outbreak of the plague and are living it up locked tight in a mansion.  They have locked up the poor woman who has the plague in her house and plan to set the house on fire when she has died.  Vincent immediately heads there, discovers the woman did not have the plague but has died of her illness, and rescues her starving daughter.  The poorest family in the village is the only one that will take the little girl in.

Vincent’s goodness inspires some of the local elite to provide for the poor and attracts some noblewomen to help with distributing food.  But Vincent’s Paris patron soon calls for him, agreeing to provide for many thousands of poor people if he will return.  He finds himself at the mercy of the aristocracy, though, and is eventually made pastor to the French galleys by the King, forcing him to witness the suffering of the galley slaves.

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Eventually Father Vincent goes back to live among the poor.  He establishes a shelter and hospital.  Once again, a coterie of noblewomen support his work.  But caring for the poor is a smelly, nasty business and the recipients of their generosity are rarely grateful.  The noblewomen also are really more interested in organization and in-fighting than they are in helping the poor.  Vincent discovers that the best caretakers are poor servant girls from the country.

By the end of his life, Father Vincent established an order of priests devoted to service in poor villages and an order of working nuns, as well several hospitals.

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As saintly biographies go, this is refreshingly free of pious preaching.   It’s hard not to be inspired with Vincent’s humility and sincere desire to ease the misery of the poor.  The principal reason to watch this, however, is Pierre Fresnay’s awesome performance.

Monsieur Vincent received an Honorary Oscar as the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1948.

Trailer (no subtitles)