The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936)

The Prisoner of Shark Island Prisoner of Shark Island Poster
Directed by John Ford
Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson
1936/USA
Darryl F. Zanuck Productions/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing

 

Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd: Once before I was a doctor. I’m still a doctor.

This historical drama contains some masterful direction by John Ford and a solid perfomance by Warner Baxter.

According to the DVD commentary, historical accuracy is not this film’s strong suit.  Any way, Dr. Samuel Mudd (Warner Baxter) is minding his own business when a couple of strangers come to the door.  One of them has a badly broken leg and the doctor and his wife (Gloria Stuart) tend to it.  Turns out the injured man is John Wilkes Booth, on the run from his assassination of Lincoln.  Poor Sam is rapidly arrested and tried by kangaroo court-martial.  He luckily escapes hanging but is sentenced to life in prison on an island in the Dry Tortugas.

After an exciting failed escape attempt across the shark-infested waters surrounding the island, Sam is apprehended and thrown into a kind of dungeon with loyal ex-slave Buck. But when a yellow fever epidemic strikes guards and prisoners alike and fells the only doctor, it’s Dr. Sam to the rescue and he manfully takes control of the prison personnel to fight the plague.  With Harry Carey as the prison commandant and John Carradine as a sadistic guard.

 

Prisoner of Shark Island 1

I had never heard of this film before gathering my list for 1936.  Now, I wonder why.  It is one of the better John Ford films I have seen with beautiful framing, shooting, and lighting and good solid story telling.  This is also, bar none, the best performance I have seen from Warner Baxter.  Usually, he chews the scenery but here he is admirably restrained.

The film could be faulted for its treatment of the many African-American characters, though it is certainly no worse than other movies of its time and better than many.  Despite this, I thought it was well worth seeing.

Masters of Cinema trailer

 

 

The Informer (1935)

The InformerInformer Poster
Directed by John Ford
1935/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

Repeat viewing

 

Gypo Nolan: And now the British think I’m with the Irish, and the Irish think I’m with the British. The long and short of it is I’m walkin’ around starving without a dog to lick my trousers!

Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaghlen) is a big lug who is down on his luck.  He got bounced from his local IRA unit for failing to kill a prisoner.  He is broke and his girl has turned to prostitution.  One fine night he notices a poster promising a 20 pound reward for the capture of his friend, Frankie.  Shortly thereafter, he sees an advertisement for a sea voyage to America for 10 pounds.  He meets Frankie at a pub and, without much thought, is off to the British soldiers who patrol the streets.  Only problem is everything Gypo does is on impulse, he is mighty fond of the bottle, and the IRA will stop at nothing to root out the informer.

Informer 1

You can almost feel the dampness and cold of the foggy streets of Dublin when you watch this movie.  This is more “stage-bound” somehow than other Ford films but is nonetheless excellent.  Victor McLaghlen is wonderful.  You believe all the bewilderment, bluster, and violence of the character.  Whether this was a match of actor with role or a specific characterization I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.  I have read, though, that John Ford was really rough on McLaghlen (making him perform without notice and hung over, etc.) to get the performance out of him.

The Informer won Oscars for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Score and was  nominated for Best Picture and Best Editing.  Is the first film and only film to win the New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Picture by a unanimous vote on the first ballot.

Re-release trailer

 

Judge Priest (1934)

Judge Priest Judge Priest Poster
Directed by John Ford
1934/USA
Fox Film Corporation

First viewing
#85 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Opening crawl: The figures in this story are familiar ghosts of my own boyhood. The War between the States was over, but its tragedies and comedies haunted every grown man’s mind, and the stories that were swapped took deep root in my memory.

This is essentially a love letter to a simpler time – in this case 1890’s Kentucky, where folks still remember the glories of the antebellum South vividly.  Judge Priest (Will Rogers) presides over the court in his small town dispensing justice and folksy wisdom.  His nephew returns to town, having just graduated from law school, and is courting a local belle.  His mother objects due to the girl’s lack of breeding; her father’s identity is unknown.  The nephew’s first client is a mysterious loner who is charged with assault for defending the girl’s honor.  Judge Priest is forced to recuse himself from the case, which enables him to assist his nephew at the trial.  With Hattie McDaniel as Judge Priest’s cook/maid and Stepin Fetchit as his errand boy.

Judge Priest 2

Well, I have to admit that this was much better than Doctor Bull, the 1933 Will Rogers/John Ford movie I saw.  There is a sort of small town charm to the storytelling.  On the other hand, there is also much too much of Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, better known in his Stepin Fetchit persona.  His shtick just makes my skin crawl.  I can’t help it. Many people would also be offended by Hattie McDaniel’s character but that does not rub me so much the wrong way.

Setting the racial stereotyping questions aside, I do not understand why this pleasant but unremarkable film should be rated a “must see.” It is an introduction to Will Rogers, who I suppose is a major personality of early 20th Century American pop culture but not more than some others we don’t meet in our journey through The List.  Will Rogers worked with Stepin Fetchit many times so it may be hard to pick a decent Rogers film that doesn’t include that character.

Clip – Stepin Fetchit and Hattie McDaniel

The World Moves On (1934)

The World Moves OnThe_World_Moves_On_1934_poster
Directed by John Ford
1934/USA
Fox Film Corporation

First viewing

 

This film follows the fortunes of the Girard family and its cotton and textile businesses from 1825 through 1934, similar to the premise of Fox’s 1933 Best Picture Oscar winner Cavalcade.  The story starts in New Orleans with the reading of the will of the firm’s founder.  The will enjoins his three sons to establish branches in New Orleans, Paris, and Berlin and forms a partnership between the family and Henry Warburton.  Oldest son Richard (Franchot Tone) is named executor. Warburton’s wife (Madeleine Carroll) and Richard are quietly and chastely in love but they are soon parted when Warburton leaves for Manchester to start a textile mill there.

The film then segues to 1914 and a wedding between cousins in the French and German branches of the family.  Richard Girard (Tone, again) and Mary Warburton (Carroll) attend the wedding.  Mary is engaged to one of the German cousins but Richard and Mary feel that they have met before and begin to yearn for one another.  Richard is heartbroken that Mary is engaged to another and enlists in the French Foreign Legion when World War I breaks out.  The war naturally divides the family but brings Mary and Richard together.  We follow the fate of the family through the stock market crash of 1929 and on into 1934.  When the family holds its last meeting some suggest that another war is in the cards.  This is followed by footage of Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo and their armies.

Mary and Richard in 1825

Mary and Richard in 1825

The film is competently made and very watchable.  It suffers from being all over the place.  It’s not quite a romance and not quite a war movie.  Madeleine Carroll is positively radiant in this film and turns in an excellent performance.  Franchot Tone not so much. The film makers also chose to include some unfortunate and unnecessary “comic relief” by Stepin Fetchit during the WWI section.

I got excited about the fantastic combat footage and then realized it looked familiar. It turns out 7 minutes of war footage from Raymond Bernard’s Wooden Crosses, one of my Top 10 for 1932, was included in this film.  This was the first film to be granted the production seal of approval under new guidelines set forth by the Production Code Administration Office and the Motion Picture Producers and Directors of America.  It received Certificate No. 1.

The Lost Patrol (1934)

The Lost Patrolthe_lost_patrol_1934
Directed by John Ford
1934/USA
RKO Radio Pictures

First viewing

 

The Sergeant: What’s the use of chewin’ the rag about something we might of done?

Morelli: Right you are, Sarge!

The Sergeant: Yeah, I know what you’re thinkin’. Perhaps I’ve done everything wrong! Perhaps this and perhaps that! But what I’ve done I’ve done, and what I haven’t, I haven’t!

A British Army patrol is on duty in the Mesopotamian Desert during WWI when its officer is killed by Arab sniper fire.  Since the officer was the only one who knew where the patrol was headed, the men are lost.  The Sargeant (Victor McLaglen) leads the men to a desert oasis where their horses are promptly stolen.  The men hunker down to await rescue while under constant threat from Arabs.  With Boris Karloff as an unpopular bible-thumping soldier and Wallace Ford as another of the men.

The Lost Patrol 2

The rather depressing story did nothing to capture my attention. It was nice to see Karloff in a fairly meaty non-horror role. Unfortunately, his character goes mad and Karloff heads straight over the top. Victor McLaglen is always pretty good. Some nice photography of sand dunes. Meh.

Clip – opening sequence