Blood on the Moon (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“Blood on the Moon” is a western that manages to transcend some of the cliches of the genre.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

When we first meet Robert Mitchum as Jim Garry, he’s riding through an Indian reservation to reach an old partner of his, Tate Riling (played by Robert Preston).  He’s intercepted by a cattle outfit run by John Lufton.  He tells Garry that Riling is trying to prevent Lufton from getting his cattle off the reservation in time to avoid their confiscation by the government over a voided contract.

When Garry finally reaches Riling, he finds out what kind of job he’s been summoned to perform.  Riling is in cahoots with a federal agent named Pindalest that procures the cattle for the reservation.  They’re trying to force Lufton to sell his cattle for pennies on the dollar and then sell them to Pindalest at the full price with a goodly bribe to Pindalest.  Out of the huge profit Riling will cut Garry in for ten thousand dollars for being the gun hand to make sure nothing interferes with Riling’s plan.

When Riling and his men and the homesteaders that he’s fooled into helping him attack Lufton’s herd they manage to scatter it thoroughly which should be enough to guarantee that Riling’s plan will succeed.  But one of the homesteaders, Kris Bardon (played by Walter Brennan) loses his son in the stampede and Garry decides the whole plan is too dirty for him to go on with.  He quits Riling’s crew and manages to save Lufton’s life when two of Riling’s men were preparing to gun him down.

To further confuse the situation Lufton has two daughters.  Carol Lufton is in love with Riling and has been providing him with information about her father’s plans and actions.  Amy Lufton starts out hating Garry but over the course of the movie as she sees his actions are well-intentioned, she changes her mind and comes to trust him.

When Garry quits the crew Riling goes looking for him and they have a huge brawl in a cantina.  Garry finally knocks Riling out.  When one of Riling’s henchmen gets ready to execute a defenseless Garry, Kris Bardon shoots the gun hand.  Now Garry goes to Lufton and reveals the whole plan about Riling conspiring with Pindalest to steal the herd.  They come up with a plan to defeat it.

Garry goes to Pindalest as if he’s still working with Riling and tells him to suspend the government’s seizure order on Lufton’s herd and creates a ruse that has Pindalest go with him out into the mountains to give Lufton enough time to gather the herd and bring it off the reservation.  The ruse succeeds up to a point but then an Indian whose friends with Riling tips him off that Pindalist is being stalled by Garry.  Riling and his men come after Garry and in an altercation, Garry is stabbed and Pindalist is rescued.

A badly wounded Garry escapes to Kris Bardon’s cabin where Amy Lufton joins them to nurse Garry’s wound.  Soon Riling, Pindalist and one other gunman show up and surround the cabin while Bardon and Amy hold them off with rifles.  That night Garry, sensing that eventually the outlaws would manage to overcome the defense, tells Bardon and Amy to provide a diversion while he slips out the door and sneaks behind the gunmen and takes them on.

He manages to pistol whip Pindalist into unconsciousness and shoot the other gunman.  And in the final confrontation he shoots it out with his former friend Riling.  Garry is victorious and he reappears at the cabin.  Later John Lufton and his men appear at the cabin.  They take Pindalist into custody for delivery to the marshal.  And as the drama ends Amy tells her father of her plans to marry Jim Garry.

Although this western was made during the heyday of that genre, this production differed substantially from the typical black hat, white hat conflict.  Mitchum’s character is more reminiscent of the characters he usually portrayed in film noirs where he would be a small time criminal or a gun for hire.  He straddles the line between good and evil pretty thoroughly until almost the end of the movie.  And that’s what keeps the movie from devolving into a typical good guy, bad guy shootout.  Mitchum and Preston manage to keep the battle between light and darkness alive and interesting throughout the movie.  The rest of the cast isn’t afforded much opportunity to rise above the normal western tropes.  The two actresses in love with Garry and Riling are given fairly stereotypical plot and dialog for those roles and the other parts fairly equally follow the conventions of the genre.  But Mitchum and Preston provide the fireworks and it boosts the movie well above the average.  Highly recommended for fans of westerns and fans of Robert Mitchum.

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I think the chief interest in this movie is that it comes across as a light-hearted crime drama.  In a real sense I think it could be considered a comedy.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Edward G. Robinson is the eponymous Clitterhouse, a surgeon with a keen and inquiring scientific mind.  When we first meet him in the opening scene, he is in a darkened bedroom rifling through a wall safe.  Just then a burglar enters through the second story window.  Clitterhouse trains a strong flashlight on the burglar and convinces him that he’s being covered by a gun.  He gets the burglar to stand facing the wall with his hands up.  Just then a second burglar who’s on the ladder looks in.  It’s Bogart playing Rocks Valentine (some name, huh).  He sees the situation and heads back down the ladder to escape.

Clitterhouse leaves the burglar in the bedroom and reenters a society party that’s going on downstairs.  A coloratura soprano is singing an aria.  Clitterhouse accepts a brandy from a butler, calls one of his associates about a patient he is treating and then calls the police and an ambulance just as a woman screams from upstairs and someone in the house shoots the burglar as he attempts to exit the house.  Clitterhouse treats the wounded burglar but he is recognized by his voice.  But Police Inspector Lane played by Donald Crisp laughingly allows Clitterhouse to be on his way to a surgical appointment without even inspecting Clitterhouse’s medical bag filled with the pilfered jewels.

Thus, the scene is set.  Clitterhouse is engaged in research on the physiological aspects of crime.  For this experiment he has committed four burglaries.  Now to expand his research he is reaching out to a jewelry fence, Jo Keller (played by Claire Trevor) and a gang of burglars headed by Rocks that includes such familiar character actors as Ward Bond, Vladimir Sokoloff and Burt Hanlon.  Clitterhouse identifies the victims and meticulously plans the heist.  The gang and Keller provide the manpower and the connections to perform the thefts and sell the loot.

In the final crime, a theft of furs from a warehouse, Rocks tries to double-cross Clitterhouse by locking him in the refrigerated vault.  But one of Keller’s men saves him.  At this point Clitterhouse has completed his research.  He has taken blood samples, blood pressure and other diagnostic tests on the gang members and now he wants to end his association with the underworld.  But Rocks figures out Clitterhouse’s true identity and tells the doctor that he will be forced to continue his criminal activities indefinitely.

Clitterhouse seems outwardly to agree to Rocks’ ultimatum but actually he doctors Rocks’ drink with a deadly dose of a drug.  Rocks falls asleep and then Clitterhouse and Keller dump the body in the river.  Eventually the police discover Clitterhouse’s guilt in Rocks’ murder and he goes on trial for murder.  His lawyer uses an insanity defense.  The prosecution gets Clitterhouse to testify against himself by stating that his scientific study is completely accurate and therefore the work of a sane man.  But the jury finds him insane based on the idea that only a madman would knowingly admit his sanity when he knows it would cause his own death.

Despite the fact that Clitterhouse murders Rocks in cold blood I see this movie as a comedy.  Throughout the story the atmosphere of the whole thing is light-hearted and I find it impossible to take any of it seriously.  There are a number of silly moments when the various gang members come off more as clowns than criminals.  The only menacing character is Bogart’s Rocks.  And as we see he is no match for Robinson’s genteel madman.  So, what can I make of a whimsical film noir?  Well, not too much.  It’s not a great movie but it is amusing in its own way.  I’ll recommend it to fans of the 1930s.  If we need a serious movie with Bogart and Robinson we’ll have to wait for their rematch in Key Largo

Murder, My Sweet (1944) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Murder My Sweet is based on Raymond Chandler’s book “Farewell My Lovely,” one of his books about the fictional detective Philip Marlowe.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Marlowe (played by Dick Powell) is contracted by an ex-con named Moose Malloy to find an old girlfriend named Velma.  Malloy is a hulking brute who has just spent eight years in prison for some violent crime and several times in the movie he overreacts over some disappointment by strangling or roughing up one of the protagonists.

As Marlowe begins to get a lead on someone who knew Velma, he is sidetracked when he is hired by Lindsay Marriott to assist in an attempt to pay ransom money for the return of an expensive piece of jewelry.  The two men head out to a lonely stretch of road to perform the exchange but when they split up both Marlowe and Marriott are attacked by an assailant using a lead sap.  Marlowe eventually regains consciousness but when he returns to their car, he finds that Marriott has been bludgeoned to death.

The police, in the person of Lt. Randall, grill Marlowe on the details of the murder and after threatening him with indictment over his involvement finally let him go.  They do ask whether Marriott mentioned a Jules Author in regards to the stolen jewelry but they refuse to give him any details about Amthor and warn him to not get involved in the case any further.

The next day a woman pretending to be a reporter questions Marlowe about the jewelry theft.  She refers to it as a necklace.  Marlowe figures out that she isn’t a reporter and finally gets her to admit that she is Ann Grayle, the daughter of the man who lost the necklace.  Or rather she is the stepdaughter of the woman, Helen Grayle, who actually lost it.  She hates her stepmother but is trying to recover the very expensive jade necklace that her father gave to Helen.

Ann and Marlowe drive to the Grayle estate.  The house is a palace and we find out that Mr. Leuwen Grayle is a collector of fine jade and the necklace cost over $100,000.  We then meet Helen who is a beautiful blonde who barely waits for her husband to leave the room before she comes onto Marlowe and hires him to recover the necklace.  At that point Jules Amthor shows up at the Grayle residence and Marlowe finds out that he is a quack doctor who is mixed up with both Helen and the deceased Marriott.  Later Ann tries to persuade Marlowe to give up the case because of the unscrupulous nature of her stepmother.  But Marlowe refuses.

Amthor gets in touch with Moose Malloy and has him bring Marlowe to Amthor’s penthouse.  He questions Marlowe about the whereabouts of the necklace but when Marlowe assures him, he hasn’t got the necklace Amthor convinces Malloy that Marlowe is hiding Velma from him so Malloy chokes Marlowe into unconsciousness and Amthor has Marlowe installed in the private sanitarium of a Dr. Sonderborg where narcotics and truth serum are used to try to pry the necklace’s location from Marlowe’s mind.  After three days of this treatment Marlowe manages to escape his captors and when he meets up with Moose Malloy again, he convinces the dimwitted giant that Amthor was lying to him.

Fearing that the police and Amthor might have his apartment staked out Marlowe shows up at Ann Grayle’s home and tells her about Amthor’s actions.  She decides to help Marlowe and after updating the police on Amthor’s involvement in the necklace theft Marlowe and Ann head to Marriott’s beach house to try and figure out what was actually going on among all the shady characters involved in the case.

And there they find Helen.  She chases off Ann and then provides the real situation with the necklace.  Amthor was blackmailing Helen over things in her past.  The necklace was the price he was demanding.  Marriott was working with Amthor.  Helen admits that she murdered Marriott in order to get back the necklace.  Now she wants to enlist Marlowe to murder Amthor and thus get herself clear of his blackmail.  Marlowe appears to go along with her plan.

When he gets back to his office, he finds Moose there and discovers that Moose has killed Amthor by accident.  Marlowe brings Moose back to the beach house and leaves him outside waiting to bring him in to see Helen whom he has figured out is Moose’s “Velma.”  Helen is in the house and Marlowe brings her up to date on Amthor’s death.  Now Ann and her father show up.  Helen then reveals that she’s had the necklace all along and was only toying with Amthor.  When she finds out that Marlowe is going to turn her over to the police for Marriott’s death, she pulls a gun on him and has her husband take Marlowe’s gun from him.  But when she points the gun at Marlowe to kill him her husband shoots her with Marlowe’s gun and she dies.

The gun shot causes Moose to enter the house and seeing his “Velma dead he goes to attack Mr. Grayle.  When Grayle raises his gun at Malloy, Marlowe tries to stop the gun play but he instead has his face near the gun muzzle as it goes off and his eyes are scorched by the muzzle flash.  The scene shifts to Marlowe with his eyes bandaged telling his story to the police.  Unbeknownst to him Malloy was killed by Mr. Grayle but not before he had a chance to turn the gun on Grayle.  In the final scene we see Ann Grayle drive off with Marlowe in passionate embrace.  Somehow love has triumphed over murder and greed!

As with all Raymond Chandler stories the plot is convoluted, confusing and loaded with bizarre characters.  Moose Malloy is definitely a cartoon character.  And several of the female characters seem unable to resist Marlowe’s debatable charms.  There is a decidedly frantic aspect to the constant action.  Maybe some people would find this off-putting and unreal.  I think of it as the hallmark of the film noir style that this film exemplifies.  Humphrey Bogart played Marlowe a few years later in “The Bid Sleep.”  But I think Powell in Murder My Sweet is the quintessential Marlowe.  I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys film noir and anyone else who would like to try out the genre.  Highly recommended.

Out of the Past (1947) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is one of the quintessential film noirs.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Robert Mitchum is Jeff Bailey, an auto repair shop owner living in a small town.  He has a girl, Ann Miller who is in love with him and a deaf-mute boy who helps him with his shop.  But he is hiding from his past.  He was Jeff Markham, a private detective that was sent on an assignment by underworld boss Whit Sterling (played with good natured panache by Kirk Douglas) to find a girl who stole $40,000 from Whit and shot him for good measure.  The girl, Kathie Moffat is hiding out in Mexico and while staking her out Jeff falls entirely in love with her and the two run away to live their lives far from Whit Sterling.

But Jeff’s partner Jack Fisher, hunts them down and demands the $40,000 to keep from telling Sterling about their double cross.  During a fistfight between Jeff and Fisher Kathie shoots Fisher dead.  While Jeff buries Fisher’s body Kathie skips out on him.  Jeff decides to take on the new identity as Jeff Bailey and settles in the small town of Bridgeport, California.

But now one of Whit Sterling’s men arrives in Bridgeport and recognizes Jeff.  He summons Jeff to Whit’s summer house on Lake Tahoe.  When Jeff gets there, he finds Kathie has reconciled with Whit and now it’s Jeff’s turn to square accounts with the underworld boss.  There is a complicated scenario where Jeff is supposed to recover some tax documents that Whit’s accountant is using to blackmail him.  But it’s really a set-up whereby Jeff will be the fall guy for the accountant’s murder.  And, of course, Kathie is part of the double cross too.  There are a number of reversals but finally Jeff arranges a deal with Sterling such that Kathie will be on the hook for Fisher’s murder and Jeff will be cleared of all the various crimes he’s been framed for in return for the return of the tax documents.

But Kathie decides to upend the deal by murdering Sterling.  Now she and Jeff are on the run for the various murders that have been committed and Jeff realizes that he’ll never have that small town life he tried to escape to.  He and Kathie die in a hail of bullets as he drives their car into a police ambush.

Interspersed between the action scenes we have the love story between Jeff and Ann.  She’s a gentle woman who believes that Jeff has a good side that exists beneath the tough persona that he projects to the world.  And her belief in him propels him to try and escape from the criminal existence that Kathie has drawn him into.  But fate eventually claims his life and leaves Ann to mourn him.

As with all good film noir, the plot is an awful mess.  All of their terrible choices propel the protagonists to their bleak fates.  But the movie is a pleasure to watch.  Mitchum is at the top of his game with a tightly knit plot and lots of great lines to toss off.  Kirk Douglas is an affable crime boss and adds a lot to the film.  Kathie is a wonderfully dishonest femme fatale and is constantly double-crossing everyone in sight.  And the rest of the supporting cast is fine too.  I highly recommend this movie for film noir devotees and basically anyone who likes a good story.

The Big House (1930) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Other than Wallace Beery who starred and Lewis Stone as the Warden I don’t remember ever having seen any of the other cast.  This is a very early “talkie” and so the acting is a bit broad.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

An upper-class young man, Kent, is sentenced to ten years in prison for killing a man in an automobile accident while driving drunk.  He is put in a crowded cell with the two toughest prisoners.  Wallace Beery is “Machine Gun Butch” and the other prisoner is a master thief named Morgan.

Kent gets into conflicts with most of the prisoners because of his soft upbringing so he joins up with one of the prison rats and agrees to give information to the guards in return for lightening his sentence.  Kent has a beautiful sister Anne.  Morgan sees her when she comes to visit her brother and falls in love with her.  Because of a frame up by Kent, Morgan loses his imminent parole chance.  When an opportunity occurs Morgan escapes from the prison and goes to see Anne.  She figures out that he is an escapee but helps him escape pursuit.  Somehow or other they strike up a romance and he even comes home to visit her parents!

But eventually he is recaptured and arrives back in prison just as Butch is plotting a major jail break.  But Kent rats them out and the escape becomes a riot with Butch and his men holding the guards as hostages and both sides blazing away at each other with machine guns.  Finally Butch declares that he will kill all the guards one by one if his men aren’t allowed to escape.  When Butch kills the head guard, the Warden calls for the Army to bring in tanks to break up the riot.

Morgan decides to save the guards by locking them in a cell with a solid steel door and throwing away the key.  Butch decides that Morgan is the rat and goes gunning for him.  In the melee Kent is killed in the crossfire and butch and Morgan wound each other in a gunfight.  When Butch discovers that it was Kent who sold him out, he and Morgan reconcile with Butch dying of his wounds.  The tanks overcome the prisoners’ resistance and order is restored.  Afterward Morgan is hailed as a hero for saving the guards’ lives.  He is pardoned and upon getting out he is welcomed out by his fiancée Anne.

This movie is a parody of prison.  Butch and most of the other prisoners and guards are caricatures of the stereotypes that we would come to expect in movies about prison.  But I found myself enjoying the movie mostly because Wallace Beery is an enjoyable comic actor in most of the movies I’ve seen him in.  And how can you dislike a movie that features the prisoners setting up and betting on and cheering for their favorites in a cockroach race.  Especially when we find out that the race was fixed by the favorite being glued to the ground with bubble gum!  I don’t think I can recommend this movie for anyone in particular except for fans of Wallace Beery.  Good old Long John Silver.

The Westerner (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

In this western story Gary Cooper is Cole Harden a drifter passing through Vinegarroon, Texas on his way to California.  But Vinegarroon is the home of “Judge” Roy Bean, the only law west of the Pecos River.  Bean (played by Walter Brennan) is a hanging judge who hands out rough justice based on being an advocate for the cattlemen.  If the cattlemen stampede a herd of cattle through a corn field and the farmer shoots one of the steers he’ll be hanged by Bean for the offense.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

When Harden appears in the movie, he’s being led to Bean’s court house (saloon) because one of the locals recognized Harden’s horse as one that was stolen from a local.  Naturally the jury will declare him guilty but Harden manages to convince Bean that he is a friend of the famous actress Lily Langtry whom Bean greatly admires.  Claiming that he has a lock of her hair Harden gets Bean to “suspend” his sentence while evidence of his innocence can be found.  While Harden and Bean cement their friendship over bogus tales of Langtry and Bean’s rotgut whiskey the real horse thief walks into the saloon and Harden punches him out and retrieves the purchase price of the horse from his pockets.  When the thief attempts to shoot Harden, Bean beats him to the draw and thus reinforces the bond between the drifter and the hangin’ judge.

After this the movie drifts off into other directions.  Harden leaves town and while travelling through the area ends up working as a field hand for the Mathew family on their farm.  A romance blossoms between and Harden and the daughter Jane.  But we find out that Judge Bean has been persecuting the farmers and intends to drive them off their land through harassment and judicial malfeasance.  The farmers organize and decide to go en masse and shoot Bean to end their problem.  When Harden hears this, he gallops to Bean’s saloon and warns Bean.  Harden and Bean stop the plot and send the farmers away.  But Harden convinces Bean to remove all the cattle from the valley where the farmers live in exchange for Lily Langtry’s lock of hair that Harden claims to have.  Harden manages to get a lock of Jane Mathew’s hair for the purpose and when Bean fulfills his promise to move the cattle, he ceremoniously hands over the hair.

Now the farmers are triumphant and have a celebratory feast.  But while it is going on the cattlemen set fire to the fields and homesteads of the farmers and destroy the whole valley.  Jane’s father is murdered by the cattlemen and she blames Harden for the deeds she attributes to his friend Bean.

Harden forces Bean to admit that he was responsible for the fire and Harden leaves town to get a warrant for the arrest of Bean for murder and arson.  Coincidentally Lily Langtry is in the area for a concert and Judge Bean buys up all the tickets so that he can enjoy a private audience with Miss Langtry.  And the performance becomes the site of a shootout between Harden and Bean.  Eventually Harden fatally wounds Bean but before Bean dies Harden carries him backstage so Bean can see Langtry before he dies.

In the final scene Harden and Jane are a married couple on a rebuilt farm celebrating the return of the other settlers that had been driven out by Bean.

By the description, you can tell this is a very strange western.  The way I can describe it is a comedy for the first half of the movie that switches over into a more conventional melodrama.  From my point of view the comedic portions of the movie are the better parts.  Cooper and Brennan have a weird funny chemistry that makes the movie interesting and enjoyable.  The later romance and drama are okay but clash with the comedic elements.  I’ll recommend the movie based on the scenes with Cooper and Brennan even though as whole the movie is sort of a mess.

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert are the newlywed couple Gil and Lana Martin.  They have migrated from the settled and comfortable area near Albany, New York to settle in the frontier farming community of Deerfield in the Mohawk Valley.  But this is during the American revolutionary war and the Mohawk Valley is the scene of conflicts between Americans and their Indian allies versus British troops, loyalist settlers and their Indian allies.  The movie starts off with Lana learning to accept the rigors of frontier life after her more affluent existence with her well-to-do family.  But once the young couple begin to prosper the attacks begin.  The Indians burn down their homestead and they are reduced to living as servants in the house of a rich old woman Sarah McKlennar (played by the irascible Edna May Oliver).  Gil is enlisted in the local militia and they participate in the Battle of Oriskany where they are victorious but at a cost of nearly half their men.

Meanwhile Lana gives birth to their daughter and the Martins find a happy life working for McKlennar.  But eventually war returns to Deerfield.  An overpowering war party of Indians is approaching.  The settlers abandon their farms for the relative safety of Fort Schuyler.  The settlers resist the attack for as long as their ammunition holds out but eventually Gil is sent out on a desperate mission to get reinforcements from Fort Dayton.  Three Indian braves chase him for hours through forests and grasslands until finally he reaches the fort and brings help.  Just as the Indians have occupied the stockade and a desperate hand to hand battle is under way, the militia from Fort Dayton arrive to save the settlers.  They quickly defeat the enemy and restore order.  The commanding officer informs the settlers that the war is now over and the English have surrendered to General Washington.  Lana and her child have survived the battle but Mrs. McKlennar was mortally wounded and as she dies, she leaves her farm and money to the Martins.

The movie is a semi-historical account and the action of the story is dramatic enough and the characters interesting enough to keep the viewers’ interest.  I found Edna May Oliver’s portrayal of the cantankerous Mrs. McKlennar as probably the dramatic highlight of the movie.  Fonda and Colbert do an admirable job as the young couple trying to survive the war and various character actors such as Ward Bond and John Carradine add substantially to the effort.  I would rate this movie as a diverting historical adventure story.  Perfect for a winter evening when you don’t want to go to sleep too early.

The Naked City (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

In this movie the star is New York City at the height of its prominence as the largest city of the most powerful country on the planet.  The tagline of the movie is “There are eight million stories in the Naked City.  This is one of them.”  And almost every shot of the film highlights the sights and sounds of New York.  Everything from the crowded subway cars and crowded streets to dizzying vistas on the tops of buildings and the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge.

The story begins with the late-night murder of Jean Dexter, a pretty blonde model.  It is followed by one of the two murderers killing his partner for being too soft-hearted.

The murder of Jean Dexter falls into the lap of police Lt. Dan Muldoon played with his best Irish brogue by Barry Fitzgerald.  Assisted by detective Jimmy Halloran played by Don Taylor they run down leads until they find Frank Niles, played by Howard Duff.  Every word coming out of Niles’ mouth, including “and and but” is a lie.  And when they find out that he is engaged to Jean’s close friend Ruth Morrison but that Ruth doesn’t even know that Niles was a close friend of Dexter they know they’ve found their connection.  At every step Niles shows himself to be tied to the murder and to a jewel robbery ring.  But at the same time all evidence clears him of Jean’s murder.

Finally, the clues add up to the fact that Jean Dexter and Frank Niles were the brains behind the jewelry theft ring.  They hired two burglars and used information from the husband of a society matron to rob the houses of the wealthy when it was known that they would be at a party.  But finally, the burglars decided to cut Jean out of the picture by murdering and robbing her.  Under threat that he would be indicted as an accessory to murder Niles confesses and provides the names of the two burglars.

The climax of the movie is a manhunt and a shootout between the police and the murderer while he is cornered at the top of one of the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge, hundreds of feet in the air.

In a lot of ways, the movie is a standard police procedural.  But there are enough secondary players to round out the story in a satisfying way.  We meet detective Halloran’s wife and young son and hope with him that he won’t have to obey his wife and spank his son for crossing Northern Boulevard by himself.  We meet Jean Dexter’s parents and watch as the mother goes from declaring her hatred for her prodigal daughter to crying over her “baby” and hugging Jean’s cold dead body in the morgue.  We even meet the murderer’s Lower East Side neighbors who know him as the friendly harmonica playing guy that all the kids like.

This is not a great movie.  It’s a good one.  I recommend it as what it is, an interesting police story.

Sergeant York (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“Sergeant York” stars Gary Cooper as the eponymous WWI hero.  The story relates his pre-war life and shows how he overcame a wild youth to “find religion.”  He lives in a log cabin with his mother and younger brother and sister.  Being hillbillies, the soil of his family land is very poor.  When he finds a girl, he wants to marry he sets his mind to buying some “bottom land.”  But a rival in love frustrates this ambition and it was when he was set to settle this feud with his rifle that divine intervention steps in.  Lightning knocks him off his horse and damages his rifle and Alvin ends up at the church where Pastor Rosier Pile played by Walter Brennan, welcomes Alvin back to the Lord’s flock.

But when America enters World War I Alvin York has to somehow square his biblical aversion to killing with his duties as an American citizen.  This conflict and how the reality of the modern battlefield affects him is the climax of the film.  As was stated in his Congressional Medal of Honor citation Alvin single-handedly killed 28 German soldiers with his rifle and pistol and in doing so forced the surrender of 132 Germans and 35 machine guns.  In the movie York explains to the investigators of his actions that he killed the Germans to stop the guns.  As he explains it his actions were meant to save lives.

After the war Alvin returns home and to his great surprise a grateful nation hails him as a hero with a ticker tape parade down Wall Street in New York City.  But even more importantly his home state of Tennessee presents him with a beautiful house on fertile land in his hometown.

Sergeant York was made on the eve of America’s entry into WW II.  In fact, Pearl Harbor was attacked while the movie was still in the theaters.  It is claimed that thousands of young men went directly from the movie theater to the enlistment station.  It could be defensibly claimed that it is a propaganda film for the war effort.  Nevertheless, York’s war time actions were not exaggerated in any way.  Obviously, the supernatural basis of his religious conversion is pure Hollywood but doubtless the portrayal of Alvin York as a simple backwoods man was quite accurate.  The reality of poverty in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee was real and the importance of family and religion was true.

Gary Cooper’s portrayal of York is somewhat broad and even comical at times but I find that is one of the charms of the film.  The other actors in the Tennessee scenes equally play up the hillbilly stereotypical behaviors.  But recognizing those characteristics I still recommend this movie as a fascinating personal story that shows the collision of an older world with the 20th century.  Sergeant York was an American original.

Gaslight (1944) An OCF Classic Movie Review

“Gaslight” is a thriller based on a stage play of the same name.  And in fact, our term “gaslighting” is based on the psychological abuse that is featured in this story.

Ingrid Bergman is Paula Alquist.  As a girl she lived with her famous aunt Alice Alquist, a diva of the Opera stage.  But when her aunt is murdered Paula is sent away from her aunt’s home in London to study music in Italy.  As a grown woman she falls in love with a pianist who plays for the maestro that Paula studies under.  Charles Boyer plays her lover Gregory Anton.  He convinces Paula to marry him and then to move back to London and take up residence in her aunt’s former home.

But once they settle into the house Gregory begins a concerted campaign to undermine Paula’s sanity.  He engineers situations where she seems to lose things or moves things without knowing that she’s done it.  And Gregory conspires with the maid Nancy (played by Angela Lansbury) to undermine Paula’s standing in the home by treating her like a feeble-minded invalid.  And she is isolated from the outside world under the pretext that she has become erratic and would embarrass herself if others witnessed her mental decline.

But one person exists who is aware of Paula’s return to London and is interested in her situation.  This is a Scotland Yard detective, Brian Cameron played by Joseph Cotten.  As a boy he had met Alice Alquist and now he is determined to solve the old murder case.  He suspects that Gregory is up to no good.  Cameron employs the local constable whose beat includes the Alquist home.  He encourages the constable to date Nancy the maid and find out what is going on inside the house.  And Cameron directs him to follow Gregory Anton and find out where he goes every night.

And through Cameron we learn from his superior at Scotland Yard that there were missing jewels that belonged to a foreign king who was a lover of Alice Alquist.  He had given them to her but they disappeared after her murder.  Now Cameron has the motive he has always lacked for the murder and soon he’ll have more.

One of the recurring nightmares that Paula experiences is that every night after her husband leaves the house to go to “work” the gas in her room would go down as if someone had turned on another light in the house.  And at the same time, she would here noises from above her room.  But the attic was boarded up so no one could enter it and no one else ever notices the gas change but her.

Eventually Cameron figures out that Gregory enters the vacant house around the block in order to climb on the roof and enter the attic of his own home from the roof.  There he searches for the jewels of Alice Alquist.  Once Cameron figures this out he barges into the Alquist home while Gregory is in the attic and he confronts Paula with the information.  While Cameron is searching Gregory’s locked desk for his gun Paula notices a letter that Gregory had claimed that she had imagined.  This note was written by an admirer of Alice Alquist named Sergis Bauer and had been found in Alice’s papers when she died.  After examining it and comparing it to an example of Gregory’s handwriting Cameron informs Paula that Gregory and Sergis Bauer are the same man.  Now it is clear that Gregory is her aunt’s murderer.

Meanwhile Gregory has finally found the jewels in the attic and Cameron notices the gas light rising meaning Gregory is coming home.  Cameron rushes out of the house to catch Gregory on his way home.  But Gregory no longer needs to keep up a pretense of working outside his home so he comes through the boarded-up attic door inside the house.   When Gregory discovers his desk has been rifled, he accuses Paula.  She declares that a man did it.  When Gregory demands to know what man was in the house the cook lies claiming that no one has been in the house in order to stall for time.  But hearing this Paula begins to doubt her sanity again.   She is just about to collapse into despair when Cameron shows up and confronts Gregory.  A struggle ensues and after a stray shot Cameron disarms Gregory.  Gregory bolts up into the attic and Cameron follows.  Meanwhile the cook has summoned the constable from the street and he bounds up the stairs and the two policemen subdue and tie Gregory to a chair in the attic.

For the finale Cameron agrees to let Paula talk alone to the securely bound Gregory.  Gregory begs Paula to take a knife out of a cabinet drawer and cut him free to allow him to escape.  But now Paula taunts him with his own words.  She says she’s insane so she can’t trust her own senses that something is actually a knife.  Then she throws the knife away and says, “But I seem to have lost it.”  Then by chance she finds a piece of jewelry that Gregory claimed she had lost and she becomes agitated and she declares her hatred for him and her joy at seeing him being brought to justice.  And she opens the door and demands that Cameron take Gregory away to his fate.

Right up front in the discussion I have to state that listening to Charles Boyer’s voice in this movie annoys the hell out of me.  The combination of his accent and his constant hectoring of Paula makes me want to punch him in the nose.  But at the same time Paula’s inability to stand up to Gregory’s bullying is also very annoying.  I want to shake her and slap her in the face and tell her to snap out of it.  Interestingly, Camera Girl has claimed in the past that I employ gaslighting against her.  But I claim it’s just a combination of bad memory and growing insanity on her part.  Silly woman.

Beyond those visceral feeling I enjoy this movie, especially the ending where Joseph Cotten sets things right.  Ingrid Bergman is a very good actress and even in this exaggerated atmosphere of emotional turbulence she provides a very convincing performance.

Highly recommended.