The Shop Around the Corner (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“The Shop Around the Corner” is an MGM movie starring Jimmy Stewart that combines elements of comedy, drama and romance to tell the story of a retail store in Budapest, Hungary called Matuschek and Company.  Mr. Matuschek, played by Frank Morgan is the owner of a leather goods store that is struggling to survive at the end of the Great Depression.  Matuschek is enthusiastic, self-important and comically hot-headed.

His lead salesman is Alfred Kralik, played by Stewart.  Kralik is intelligent, earnest and falling in love with a woman he’s never met.  He’s in an anonymous pen-pal relationship with a woman that he knows simply as “dear friend.”  As it turns out dear friend also happens to be his co-worker Klara Novak, played by Margaret Sullavan.  But in their real life Kralik and Klara detest each other.  In addition to this comedy of errors love/hate relationship, there are other characters and other sub-plots.  Kralik’s closest friend at the shop is Mr. Pirovitch played in a wonderfully comic turn by Felix Bressart.  Pirovitch is Mr. Matuschek’s favorite whipping boy.  His favorite statement is “Pirovitch you’re an idiot.”  To which the meek Pirovitch replies, “Yes, Mr. Matuschek, I’m an idiot.”

There is Ferencz Vadas, another of the sales clerks, played with enormous pomposity and self-regard by Joseph Schildkraut.  And finally, there is the errand boy Pepi Katona who snipes sarcastically at all his superiors and ends up as the hero of the second plot line.  For along with the romance there is a drama.  Mr. Matuschek has become aware of the fact that his wife is having an affair and he believes it is with one of his employees.  And since Kralik has had the most opportunity to meet Mrs. Matuschek he is the prime suspect.  So, whereas formerly Matuschek treated Kralik almost as a son now he hates and distrusts him.  After goading Kralik into anger, Matuschek discharges him.  But when the private detectives finish their investigation, they name Mr. Vadas as Matuschek’s rival.  With his life in shambles Matuschek attempts to end it all with a pistol.  But in the nick of time Pepi breaks in on his suicide and hands Matuschek over to the hospital for psychiatric observation.

Meanwhile Kralik discovers that on top of being fired his “dear friend” is Klara Novak.  He finds this out when he is supposed to be meeting her at a café with each of them wearing a carnation.  Spying Klara’s carnation from outside he throws away his carnation and pretends that he was just stopping at the café to meet Pirovitch.  Klara accuses him of trying to spoil her prospective date, insults him and finishes by calling him an insignificant clerk.  After this he leaves in complete dejection and misery.

But in the next act Matuschek calls Kralik to his hospital bed to apologize for his terrible treatment and to beg him to come back and manage the store while Matuschek recuperates from his nervous breakdown.  Even Pepi is rewarded for saving Mr. Matuschek by becoming a salesman.  Now with roles reversed Klara is dejected because her date never showed up and on top of that she finds that the man she insulted is now her boss.  But all ends well.  Kralik fires the despicable Vadas in royal fashion.  The store has a stellar Christmas sales total and Mr. Matuschek returns in time to give everyone a wonderful bonus.  And finally, the lovers are re-united.  But first Kralik has some fun with Klara by pretending that he had met her “dear friend” and he was fat, bald, old, and a greedy fraud.  When Klara finally discovers that Kralik is her “dear friend” she is relieved and happy.

This is a relatively silly story.  But the dialogue and the acting are remarkably good.  Even the minor parts are played skillfully and with great comic verve.  There is great heart here.  And the humanity of all the characters, even the villainous Vadas feels very real.  You believe the story.  There is a Dickensian feel to the production.  I highly recommend this story to everyone.  It’s a gem.

Gilda (1946) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is considered a film noir.  I’d call it a happy ending in search of a plot.

The movie begins with Glenn Ford as Johnny Farrell, a down on his luck American in Argentina that is rescued from an armed robbery by a mysterious man with a sword cane.  This man, Ballin Mundson, ends up hiring him to run his illegal casino and soon enough he is Mundson’s right hand man and has all the secrets of Mundson’s fabulous wealth and power.  Apparently Mundson was in cahoots with Nazis who gave him fabulous secrets for cornering the market on fabulous tungsten.  Really, tungsten.  We’re told that a monopoly on tungsten will give Mundson control of the world!  So, since this is 1946 there are disgruntled ex-Nazis running around.  Apparently, they gave him the secrets of tungsten.  Plus, Mundson marries Gilda (played by the very beautiful Rita Hayworth) who was heavily involved with Farrell back in the United States.  But although Mundson suspects that they have history neither will admit to it.

For whatever reason that you care to come up with yourself we’re supposed to believe that Johnny and Gilda hate and love each other and all the tricks Gilda plays to make Johnny either jealous, or worried about Mundson becoming jealous, or both, make sense.  But they don’t.  It’s silly and annoying.

But all good things must come to an end.  Both the Argentine police and the Nazis are closing in on Mundson.  Probably a spike in the price of tungsten.  In rapid succession, Mundson kills one of the Nazis, orders a plane to be ready for him at an airfield, sees Gilda and Johnny kissing in her bedroom then flees to the airfield with Johnny and the police in hot pursuit.  They arrive in time to watch Mundson’s plane take off and then explode over the Atlantic Ocean.  But Mundson parachutes out and is picked up by a waiting boat.

If that’s not goofy enough, Johnny then marries Gilda, the heiress to the tungsten cartel and takes the reins of tungsten power.  He then tells Gilda that she will be treated as a prisoner with no conjugal privileges until she admits to all the love affairs she’s had since Johnny left her in their old life.  Huhh?  She runs away to Uruguay (!) but the Tungsten King has his henchmen bring her back.  Gilda and Johnny are very unhappy.

Meanwhile the police want to bust up the tungsten cartel and they close the casino to force Johnny to give them the information.  When he does, the police inspector tells Johnny that Gilda and Johnny are both in love with each other and they should go back to America and be happy.  So, Johnny walks into the casino to ask Gilda to forgive him and return to America with him.

Just then Mundson returns and intends to shoot Johnny and Gilda.  But the bathroom attendant stabs Mundson in the back with his own sword cane.  And the police inspector tells Johnny and the bathroom guy that since Mundson committed suicide months ago he can’t be murdered.  Huhh?

I forgot to tell you about the bathroom attendant.  He’s comic relief that advises both Johnny and Gilda on life.  Plus, he’s a bathroom attendant.

So, Gilda and Johnny live happily ever after unless they screw up again.

Okay, that’s unbelievable isn’t it?  But the guy who plays Mundson is fun to listen to with his German accent and his love of canes and capes and stuff.  Rita Hayworth is fun to look at and she dances sometimes and lip synchs to someone singing “Put the Blame on Mame.”  And even though all this stuff sounds absurd the movie moves right along and, well, before you know it there’s that plane crash and then that happy ending.

This is a silly movie but I think it’s worth watching because Rita Hayworth is very pretty and looks swell dancing.  And there are Nazis and there is that bathroom attendant who is sort of a home-grown philosopher and pretty handy with a sword cane.

So, I recommend this film but if what I wrote doesn’t convince you then give it a pass.

Night Must Fall (1937) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This is a very strange movie.  Robert Montgomery plays Danny, a young man working at a hotel when a murder takes place.  The police suspect him but a rich cantankerous old woman, Mrs. Bramson, hires him to be her personal assistant and live in her home on an isolated forested estate.  Supposedly Danny is going to marry Bramson’s maid Dora.  But he seems more interested in Bramson’s niece Olivia played by Rosalind Russell.  To round out the household is the acid-tongued cook Emily.

So that’s the setup.  Mrs. Bramson is a bitter unpleasant woman who even despises her own niece but Danny pretends affection for the old lady and a sensitivity to her problems and becomes her closest companion.  Olivia can see that he is acting but for whatever reason she doesn’t expose him for a phony when she has the chance.

But much more seriously, she begins to suspect that Danny is the murderer and that he has the murdered woman’s head in a locked hatbox that he keeps in his room.  When the police inspector questions Danny about the murder and searches his room, he finds the hatbox and demands that Danny open it but Olivia intervenes and claims the box is hers and the Inspector relents.  Now this seems inexplicable.  She claims that she dislikes and distrusts Danny but for some reason she saves him.  Later on, Danny tells her that she is actually attracted to him because of the excitement he has brought into her life.

And indeed, Olivia is desperate for something to relieve the boredom of her hum-drum existence living with her aunt in this isolated rural environment.  She longs for excitement and for that reason has rejected the marriage proposal of Justin Laurie who is her aunt’s lawyer and an affectionate, dependable if unexciting suitor.

But everything comes to a head and Olivia cracks under the strain of living in the house with the manic Danny and she flees to Justin’s home leaving her aunt alone with Danny.  Danny murders her and empties her safe of a large amount of cash.  He prepares to burn down the house when Olivia returns and confronts him over the murder.  He happily admits it and informs her that she too will be murdered and burned in the fire.  But just then Justin arrives with the police and Danny has a final scene to declare his madness to himself in a hallway mirror before being carted away for justice.

This is a very strange movie.  My read is this is a woman’s movie.  Other than the murderer the main characters are all women.  The lonely house in the woods reinforces this strange dynamic of women isolated with a sociopathic man who preys on women.  But only Olivia has figured it all out.  Mrs. Bramson is completely taken in.  Dora and Emily can’t make up their minds if he is real or not.  But even Olivia is mesmerized by his tour de force.  She knows he’s a liar and she suspects that he’s a murderer but she retains a sympathy for him that’s hard to believe.

I asked Camera Girl about this because she’s a woman.  I said, “You’re a woman, is this possible?”  She said it could be somewhat believable that a woman who was so desperately bored might welcome the distraction of experiencing the weirdness of such a colorful character.  So, we agreed that although the idea of Olivia helping Danny escape detection is sort of hard to believe, the movie was fairly interesting.

Montgomery’s portrayal of Danny and Russell’s Olivia are fairly compelling characters.  And the rest of the cast is very good too.  As much as this movie is odd and the motif of Olivia allowing Danny to escape detection is far-fetched, nevertheless, I will still recommend this movie for people who like psychological dramas.

The Great McGinty (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Having just lived through a stolen presidential election I thought this was the perfect time to review Preston Sturges’ comical look at crooked politics.

The movie opens up in a bar in a Latin American country.  A young American is getting drunk and becoming more and more depressed.  He had to escape from the United States and leave his family behind because he was a bank teller who got caught stealing money.  The bartender played by Brian Donlevy follows him into the bathroom just in time to stop him from shooting himself.  The bartender tells him not to despair.  He tells the young man that his case is minor compared to his own.  Then he tells his story and the scene changes to the bartender’s story.  We find out his name Dan McGinty.

When we first see him, he is a hobo in tattered clothes wandering the streets of some big eastern city, probably New York.  It’s election day and a political hack (played by William Demerast) collars him and tells him that if he votes for the crooked mayor under an assumed name, he’ll get paid two bucks.  When McGinty asks the fixer, what happens if he can vote twice the guy tells him he’ll get four bucks.  So McGinty goes to every polling station and votes thirty-seven times.  But the fixer doesn’t have enough money to pay McGinty off so he brings him down to headquarters to ask the “Boss” for the cash.  The Boss, played hilariously with an absurd Russian accent by Akim Tamiroff, is so impressed by McGinty’s nerve that he takes him under his wing to make him a successful crook.  First, he makes McGinty a collector for the protection racket that the Boss runs.  When his verbal and pugilistic skills allow him to clean up even the most delinquent customers the Boss realizes that McGinty will rise very high in the Boss’s political machine.  He graduates to squeezing all the city contractors for the kickbacks that the Boss gets for letting them skip the bidding process.  The relationship between McGinty and the Boss is one of fratricidal familiarity.  They are both berserk fighters who enjoy nothing better than brawling with each other at the drop of a hat.  There are several brawls in the course of the movie.

Eventually the Boss decides that the old mayor is too weak and he decides that McGinty will be the new mayor.  But before he can run, he has to get married.  Apparently the newly enfranchised woman vote didn’t cotton to bachelor mayors.  He and his secretary Catherine form a marriage of convenience.  She is a divorcee with two kids and they both agree that a marriage in name only would suit them both.  But as you can guess eventually, they both fall in love and ruin the whole thing.  Catherine is at heart an idealist and she hopes that some day Dan can go straight and get out from under the Boss’s thumb.

Finally, the Boss decides to run McGinty for governor and he wins.  Now McGinty decides he wants Catherine and the kids to respect him so he has it out with the Boss.  And right in the governor’s office he and the Boss get into a colossal fist fight and then the Boss pulls a gun and tries to shoot McGinty for which he is hauled off to jail for attempted murder.

But the Boss gets his revenge and has McGinty arrested for being involved in a crooked contract back when he was mayor.  Now the Boss and McGinty are in adjoining cells and they strike a deal and the Boss arranges for both of them to break out of jail and escape the country.  McGinty just has enough time to call Catherine and tell her where there is a safety deposit box with enough money to take care of her and the kids for life.

In the next scene they’re back in the Latin American bar where McGinty is the bartender and the Boss is the owner.  Just as he finishes the story and calms the young man down, he decides to make the cash register ring.  This is supposed to tip off the Boss that McGinty is stealing from him and they get into one of their habitual fistfights.  Obviously, the fight is the highlight of the day for both of these exiles.

Preston Sturges wrote and directed this comedy and like many of his films it has an originality sadly lacking in most movies.  The characters of McGinty and the Boss are extremely vivid and despite their obvious criminality quite likeable.  The rest of the cast are more than adequate and the dialog is quite good.  Highly recommended.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 14 – Saboteur (1942) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Saboteur is one of Hitchcock’s earlier Hollywood era productions.  It’s the story of Barry Kane, played by Robert Cummings, a wartime factory worker who is mistakenly accused of being a Nazi saboteur.  The story starts out at an airplane manufacturing plant where Barry and his friend Ken Mason are employed.  At lunch they bump into another employee named Frank Fry who acts very suspiciously.  Barry sees an envelope that Fry is sending to a man in another town and finds a large amount of money that Fry drops on the ground.  When he gives the money back to Fry, he becomes very angry.  Suddenly a large fire breaks out and Barry, Ken and Fry head toward it.  Fry gives Ken a fire extinguisher but when Ken directs it at the fire, he becomes engulfed by the inferno and dies.

During the investigation it turns out that there is no employee named Fry and Barry’s story about the whole event is doubted when it turns out the extinguisher was filled with gasoline.  He is blamed for the fire and is being hunted as a Nazi saboteur.  He runs away and hitches a ride with a truck driver heading for the town that Fry’s letter was addressed to.

When he reaches the address, the man living there, Charles Tobin, denies knowing anyone named Fry but Barry accidentally finds a telegram from Fry to Tobin.  Realizing that Tobin is one of the saboteurs and has called the police to arrest him, Barry flees but is quickly captured by the police.  Later he escapes from them by leaping off a bridge into a river.  Eventually he reaches the cabin of a blind man who suspects that he is a fugitive from the law because he can hear Barry’s handcuffs clinking against each other.  The blind man prefers to believe Barry is innocent and agrees to help him get out of his handcuffs.  But the man’s niece, Patricia “Pat” Martin, arrives and wants to turn him into the police because of the news reports branding him as a dangerous saboteur.

Now follows a confusing and slightly ridiculous chain of events that involves circus freaks and an eventual change of heart by Pat toward Barry.  Eventually Barry convinces part of the sabotage gang that he is working for Tobin and is driven to New York City where the next big action is planned.  Pat is captured and also ends up in New York.  The new target is a battleship that has been completed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  The saboteurs manage to sink it and capture both Barry and Pat.  But by a clever ruse she is able to signal the police and all the saboteurs except Fry are captured by the police.  Fry escapes to the Statue of Liberty and there is a climactic fight on the torch of the statue where Fry falls onto the torch arm and is hanging by his fingernails.  Barry manages to grab hold of Fry’s jacket sleeve and is waiting for the police to bring a rope to allow for a rescue.  But before they can arrive the sleeve rips free and Fry falls to his death.  Barry kisses Pat and the movie ends.

Well, you can’t say Hitchcock doesn’t throw everything including the kitchen sink into the plot.  Bearded women, Siamese twins, midgets, trusting blind men, a pretty girl who models for billboards, sunken battleships, the Statue of Liberty, the Hoover Dam, leaps off bridges, Rockefeller Center, Nazi spies, shoot outs in movie theaters, you name it.  And this movie is noticeably a Hollywood product.  There is all of the wartime patriotism there and the tropes that the studios had built up at this point.  The production values are high but the dialog and acting are a bit mediocre.

It’s a pretty good effort but hardly one of Hitchcock’s finest productions.  I’d called it recommended but not highly recommended.  Let’s say it is moderately entertaining but it wouldn’t be something I’d re-watch often.

High Sierra (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

High Sierra was Humphrey Bogart’s first starring role.  He plays Roy Earle, a veteran gangster sent to prison in Chicago for life.  But after ten years one of his old bosses, Big Mac, manages to get him a pardon and arranges for a car and some money to allow Roy to come to California to head up a jewelry heist in a wealthy desert resort where the ultra-wealthy winter.  Mac has recruited a couple of young small-time thieves Babe and Red to assist Earle.  The other part of the ring is the hotel night manager Louis Mendoza who will provide the inside information.

But Roy gets a surprise when he arrives at the meeting place, a mountain cabin park.  Babe has picked up a girl named Marie from a dance hall and brought her along. Roy angrily tells his crew and the girl that she has to go.  Marie, played by Ida Lupino, goes to talk to Roy and convinces him that she is the most trustworthy member of the crew.  She admits that she knows the plan of the heist because Mendoza talks too much.  After a few more incidents between Marie and Babe and Red, Roy decides to have her stay in his cabin and lays down the law with the two young men.

After this a romantic relationship begins between Roy and Marie, although he warns her that love is not a possibility for her with him.  Roy’s heart has been caught by a young farm girl that he has met while travelling to California.  Velma is travelling with her grandfather and grandmother from Ohio to live with her recently remarried mother in Los Angeles.  Roy has had the chance to help the family out as they struggle to pay for the trip cross country.  Their country roots remind him of his own family from rural Indiana and Velma’s unspoiled beauty and unaffected manner charms him.  The girl has a clubbed foot and Roy enlists a mob doctor he knows to arrange for a surgeon to operate on the girl’s foot to repair the problem.  But after the surgery Velma declines his offer to marry him.  She has a boyfriend back in Ohio that she is still interested in.  Roy takes the refusal hard but promises to come back when she has healed from her surgery to see her walk and say goodbye to the family.

Finally, conditions at the hotel are right for the heist.  Marie and Roy take one car and Babe and Red in another.  While Babe and Red are breaking open the safety deposit boxes Roy guards the lobby and Marie is in one of the cars watching for trouble.  She warns them of the approach of a late-night couple arriving at the hotel and Roy holds them on one of the lobby couches along with the bell boy.  But finally, an armed security guard enters.  Roy gets the drop on him but when the scream of the woman on the couch distracts Roy the guard pulls his gun and they exchange shots.  The guard is fatally wounded and Roy is struck on the side.

Rattled by the shooting Mendoza refuses to remain behind to claim his innocence as the plan required and instead goes in the car with Babe and Red.  The two cars take off but the car with the three men takes the wrong road and crashes along a hairpin turn.  Babe and Red are killed and Mendoza injured.  Mendoza is picked up by the police and Roy and Marie return to the cabin without incident.  Roy goes to visit his friend the mob doctor who tends to his wounds.  Then he goes to Mac but finds he’s died of a heart attack.  Following instructions Mac had given him earlier he passes the gems onto a mob contact who gives Roy a little money in advance and the promise that the deal with the big boss would be transacted soon and Roy would get his cut.  While waiting for this Roy goes to see Velma and meets her fiancé whom he immediately takes a strong dislike to.  Velma berates Roy for his jealousy and he leaves.  Now Roy sees Marie’s loyalty and love for him in a new light and promises that as soon as they get their money, they’ll start a new life together.

But all his plans fall apart as the newspapers are full of the story of the heist.  Mendoza has confessed and named Roy as the mastermind of the plot and the murderer of the guard.  Roy puts Marie on a bus to escape the dragnet and promises to catch up with her later when he gets clear.  But Roy is soon identified and the police pursuit corners him in a blocked pass in the Sierra Nevada.  Roy climbs up into the hills and holds the police off with a machine gun.  Marie hears report of the stand-off and heads back to be near him.  A reporter recognizes her from her description and the police try to persuade her to call to Roy to give himself up.  But she refuses.

The police manage to get a sharp shooter with a high-powered rifle on the cliff that overlooks Roy’s position.  And when Roy’s dog Pard escapes from Marie and runs toward Roy’s voice as he banters with the police the dog’s barking reveals to Roy that Marie must be nearby.  He runs out onto the exposed rocks calling her name and is killed by the sniper.

This movie is a sort of combination gangster movie and melodrama.  Even though Ida Lupino got the top billing because of her established reputation at the time really the movie belongs to Bogart.  He plays the part as naturally as any of his later roles.  The plot moves along pretty well and even the Velma plot line isn’t too distracting.  At times I think Lupino is given a little too much melodrama to successfully portray but I think the movie holds up pretty well.  And there are a few character actors in supporting roles; Henry Hull as Doc Banton, Henry Travers as Velma’s grandfather and Donald MacBride as Big Mac that add human interest to the story.  One sort of interesting bit of trivia, the dog Pard was played by Zero, Bogart’s own pet dog.

I think Bogart has half a dozen movies in his resume that are better than High Sierra.  That being said this is a good movie.  I can recommend it.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 10 – Shadow of a Doubt – A Classic Movie Review

Hitchcock gives us a crime drama wrapped in a family reunion.  Charles Oakley, played by Joseph Cotten, is being investigated by the police in the northeast United States as one of two suspects in the “Merry Widow” murders.  Three wealthy widows were strangled by an acquaintance.  Charles sends a telegram to his married sister, Emma Newton in California saying he wants to come visit her and her family.  Emma is married to Joseph Newton and they live with their three children Charlotte (Charlie), Ann and Roger. Emma dotes on her baby brother and in her eyes, he can do no wrong.  Her husband Joseph (played by Henry Travers) works at the local bank and is a quiet man who, along with his neighbor Herbie Hawkins (played by Hume Cronyn) enjoys reading and discussing the murders committed in detective novels. Ann and Roger are small children who intersect with the main story only obliquely.  But Charlie is a high school graduate who feels stifled living in the small town of Santa Rosa.  She is named after her mother’s brother, the legendary Uncle Charlie.  And right before word of Uncle Charlie’s arrival reaches them, she has been bemoaning the boredom that is their life and has decided to send a telegram to Uncle Charlie and ask him to visit them.

When Charlie hears that her uncle is coming to stay with them, she is overjoyed.  She takes the coincidence of his plans and hers as fate and is sure that his presence will add excitement and life to her stultified family.  But strange things begin happening and Uncle Charlie’s presence becomes a strange mystery for Charlie to solve.  He surreptitiously rips a page out of the family’s copy of the newspaper and when she tells him that she knows he did it he reacts violently and wrenches the paper from her hand, hurting her in the process.  When the next day two men request and get permission from Mrs. Newton to interview and photograph the family as part of some national survey, Uncle Charlie berates her for her foolishness and tells her that he refuses to be interviewed or photographed.

The survey takers are actually police detectives Jack Graham and Fred Saunders attempting to get a photo of Uncle Charlie to allow witnesses to identify him.  Jack asks Charlie if she would show him around town as part of his survey and she agrees.  During their walk Jack reveals to Charlie what they are really doing and that if the identification is positive, they will arrest Uncle Charlie.  Charlie is in a panic.  She doesn’t know what to believe but all the strange behavior of her uncle leads her to believe that it could be true.  She runs to the library and finds the newspaper article her uncle was hiding.  It is a description of the Merry Widow murder case.  One of the women who was murdered turns out to have the same initials as the inscription in a ring that Uncle Charlie had recently given her.

She confronts him and tells Uncle Charlie that the police are getting ready to arrest him.  She reveals what she found out about the ring and throws it back at him.  Uncle Charlie begs her to let him escape and spare her mother the shock of knowing her brother is a murderer.  She agrees.  But before anything else can happen news comes that the other suspect in the murders was killed trying to escape capture.  Now the detectives are no longer after Uncle Charlie.  We also learn that Jack Graham is in love with Charlie and tells her that he will return to ask her to marry him.

Uncle Charlie decides that he will stay in Santa Rosa but now he comes to the conclusion that Charlie knows too much about him.  He plans to have her die by an apparent accident.  In the first event she almost breaks her neck when an outdoor stair step breaks off under her foot and she barely catches hold of the handrail.  Later on, she finds that the step had been sawn almost through.  Next, Uncle Charlie arranges for her to go into a garage where a running car motor had filled the building with exhaust fumes and the key was removed from the ignition so the engine could not be stopped.  And just as she tried to exit the garage the door slammed shut and was jammed tight so she couldn’t escape.  Luckily Herbie Hawkins happened by and heard her cries and allowed for her rescue by, of all people, Uncle Charlie.  He deftly kicked the shim from the jammed door and put the key in the ignition as he turned it off.  Then he carried the unconscious Charlie into the fresh air where she revived.

Now convinced that she had to get Uncle Charlie to leave she used her uncle’s absence at a party to find the ring in his room.  Seeing it on her finger Uncle Charlie announces that he would be leaving the next day for San Francisco.  But while seeing him off at the train Charlie is maneuvered by him onto the departing train and by sheer brute strength, he drags her over to an open door on the end of a train car and prepared to throw her off the train as soon as its speed is sufficient to kill her.  But at the last second Charlie wrenches herself free and in doing so causes Uncle Charlie to lose his balance and fall off the train directly onto the tracks of an oncoming train.

In the next scene Uncle Charlie’s funeral is going on in the church and Charlie is outside explaining to Jack Graham why she didn’t turn her uncle in to the police.  They both agree that they will keep Uncle Charlie’s secret away from the people of Santa Rosa.

Most critics think that Shadow of a Doubt is one of Hitchcock’s best works.  I tend to agree.  Allowing Charles Oakley to give his feelings about society in general and about his victims at the family dinner table and during a fraught conversation with his niece at a seedy dive bar hits the right notes in this strange juxtaposition of normal family life and antisocial psychosis.  The tension between Charlie’s desire to spare her mother and even in a sense her uncle from the consequences of his crimes and her horror at what he actually was see-saws the movie right to the end.  There are many nice touches from the supporting cast.  I especially enjoy Hume Cronyn and Henry Travers arguing over the advantages and disadvantages of poisoned mushrooms over blunt force trauma as a murder weapon.  It shows that Hitchcock had already embraced his reputation for graveyard humor and didn’t mind letting the audience in on the joke.

And it was fun to see Joseph Cotton as a psychotic killer.  Cotton always seems to show up as the honest, likable hero.  It must have been a relief for him to get to play a monster for once.  He was very good.

If you are a fan of Hitchcock and haven’t seen Shadow of a Doubt do yourself a favor and see it.  And even if you’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, I can highly recommend this one.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 11 – The Lady Vanishes (1938) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This was Alfred Hitchcock’s last movie filmed in England before leaving for Hollywood.  The plot involves a train somewhere in central Europe with some British citizens on their way back home.  An old English lady named Miss Froy is involved in some kind of espionage.  She befriends a young woman named Iris Henderson who is going home to marry a rich man she doesn’t love.  When Miss Froy disappears from the train and all the other passengers and crew swear she was never there Iris recruits Gilbert Redman to help her solve the mystery.  There are comic touches that involve a pair of friends named Caldicott and Charters who are obsessed with reaching England in time to watch the National Cricket match.  In fact, the comic bit they did in this film was so popular that the actors, Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford respectively, reprised their characters in a number of films for many years afterward.

Hitchcock builds up the characters with plenty of background and personal details in scenes that take place before the train ride and once the young couple begin delving into the mystery it is obvious that a criminal conspiracy is taking place to kidnap Miss Froy, although no apparent reason exists.  On the train is a noted brain surgeon and he tries to convince Iris that a serious blow to the head that she sustained just before getting on the train is the source of her delusion about the missing Miss Froy.  Later on, we find out that he is the ringleader of the plot.

Finally, Miss Froy is freed and she reveals to Iris and Gilbert that she is a British spy and she must flee the train and go cross country to return to England.  But first she teaches Gilbert a musical phrase that is code for some top-secret information.  The adventure comes to a climax in a gun battle between the storm trooper and the English passengers as they attempt to take control of the train and flee over a border to a non-hostile country.  After several casualties they escape and return to safety.  When they reach England, Iris decides to forsake her rich loveless bridegroom and go off with Gilbert.  But first they head for the British foreign office to give them the musical code message.  But just as they reach the office Gilbert realizes he has forgotten the music.  But then hears the tune being played on a piano in the room they are about to enter and they see Miss Froy playing the tune.

This all sounds like a ridiculous jumble and in a way it is.  There are all kinds of odd things going on as there always are in a Hitchcock film.  A homicidal magician complete with a booth for making women disappear.  A mysterious burn victim with bandages that cover her face who is brought on the train well after Miss Froy disappeared.  There’s a deaf-mute nun in high heels.  A platoon of storm troopers that I guess are supposed to be German.  An avalanche, a murdered singer, clog dancers, a comedic Italian innkeeper who promises things he can’t deliver in four or five languages and scantily clad women.

But it’s actually highly entertaining.  All the little details of the story are well done and diverting.  The various characters are given enough development and even the villains are well rounded characters.  I thoroughly enjoy this movie and highly recommend it.

They Drive by Night (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This story about truckers back in the depression era is described as a film noir but I think I’d call it a melodrama.  George Raft and Humphrey Bogart are brothers Joe and Paul Fabrini.  They are partners in a long-haul trucking business.  They are owed money by the scheduler who assigns them loads and relatedly they owe money to the guy who sold them their truck.  We see them dealing with both sides of this debt relationship.  We also see how dangerous driving at the edge of exhaustion can be when their friend crashes his truck on the road in front of them because he fell asleep at the wheel.  And finally, it catches up with the Fabrinis.  Paul falls asleep at the wheel and drives off a slope.  The truck is totaled and because of his injuries Paul has his right arm amputated.  Joe breaks the news to Paul’s wife Pearl and she admits she is almost relieved that his disability will keep him from driving trucks ever again and at least spare his life.  Feeling responsible for what has happened to Paul Joe goes to an old friend of his Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale) who has a trucking company and obtains a driving job which will allow him to support Paul and Pearl.  But it won’t pay enough to allow Joe to marry his new girlfriend Cassie Harley (Ann Sheridan).  But there is a complication.  Ed’s wife Lana (Ida Lupino) is infatuated with Joe.  She talks Ed into making Joe the scheduler so that he’ll be around the garage and therefore easier for her to fraternize with.  But Joe refuses to go behind his boss and friend’s back with this unfaithful wife.  Finally, after being rejected categorically by Joe because of her status as Ed’s wife Lana goes crazy.  She drives Ed home from a party and after parking the car in the garage she leaves him drunk and passed out in the car and closes the garage door with the car engine on.  She explains the asphyxiation to the police as Ed sleeping drunk in the car as he often did and him somehow waking up, starting the engine and then falling back asleep.

With Ed gone Lana brings Joe into the business as a partner.  But now she finds out that Joe is engaged to be married.  She becomes enraged and tells Joe that she murdered Ed for him and won’t be separated from him for any reason.  Joe rebuffs her and walks away shocked.  Lana, now consumed by bitterness goes to the police and confesses that she murdered Ed but swears that Joe forced her to do it against her will.  Now there is a trial in which the circumstantial evidence provided by Lana makes Joe’s position very bad.  But when Lana finally testifies at the trial she has become totally unhinged through guilt.  She claims that she was compelled to kill Ed by the presence of the automatic garage door mechanism.  And she is dragged out of the courtroom laughing hysterically that it was the door that made her do it.

And so, we get the happy ending.  Joe owns the trucking business, Paul is his scheduler, the truckers admire and like Joe for his honest treatment and now Joe has the money to marry Cassie.

This movie is a product of the Hays Code.  Criminals have to be punished so we know that Lana is going to get her comeuppance and because Joe is a stand-up guy, he’ll end up okay.  And because this is a Warner Bros. studio production it has a lot of the character actors that were around at that time.  Alan Hale, Roscoe Karns and Charles Halton were some of the more memorable faces you see.  Karns has a relatively minor part as one of the truck drivers but he steals several scenes with his goofball manner and his fascination with playing the pinball games that seem to be in every diner that the truckers frequent along their routes between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  The camaraderie between the truckers and the diner personnel is a substantial portion of the movie and some of the more interesting dialog.  But the movie belongs to Raft and Lupino.  Her ill-fated infatuation for him powers the plot, such as it is.  As I said, I consider this a melodrama and not a great movie.  But the Raft’s interaction with the rest of the cast other than Lupino makes this movie an interesting slice of life from the depression era and full of human interest.  This is not a great movie but it’s fun to watch. I recommend it on that basis.

Pitfall (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

In this film noir Dick Powell is John Forbes, a married man who works as an adjuster for an insurance company.  He lives in the suburbs with his pretty wife Sue, played by Jane Wyatt and his young son Tommy.  Based on the domestic scenes, we see that Forbes is bored with his humdrum existence of work and tame suburban monotony.

One day an insurance investigator, J.B. MacDonald (played by truly creepy Raymond Burr) comes to Forbes with a case that requires him to interview a woman, Mona Stevens played by frequent femme fatale actress, Lizabeth Scott.  Her fiancé, Bill Smiley, has passed along to her gifts paid for with money he fraudulently obtained against his insurance.  During his meeting with Forbes MacDonald indicates that he is lusting after Stevens and will be making a play for her while her boyfriend is in jail.  We can tell that Forbes despises MacDonald but in order to maintain a working relationship with the investigator ignores the crudity of MacDonald’s plan.

When Forbes meets Mona Stevens at her apartment he blandly and uncaringly requires her to surrender her engagement ring and other gifts given by Smiley.  She upbraids him for his callousness and just to show her disdain for his power she tells him about an asset he didn’t know about, a small speed boat that she loves more than anything else.  Now Forbes feels remorse for being such a heel and while going out to see the boat he apologizes and tells her he’ll buy her a drink to show her that he has nothing against her.  The couple go to the dock and at her invitation they go out on the boat and she even allows him to drive it.  They both enjoy the ride and each other’s company.  Afterwards they go to a bar and have some drinks and Forbes tells Mona that he won’t include the boat in his report.  During the scene sexual attraction is on display on both sides and afterwards they head back to Mona’s apartment.  Meanwhile we are shown MacDonald skulking around watching them.  In the next scene Forbes is shown arriving at his home very late in the night and he sneaks into his bedroom where his wife is asleep.  His guilt over betraying her is plain to see on his face.

The next day MacDonald shows up in Forbes’ office and tells him he doesn’t want Forbes interfering with his play for Mona.  Also, he informs Forbes that he has added the speed boat to the list of assets that Mona must relinquish.  Forbes tells MacDonald to stop annoying Mona and not to interfere with his actions either professionally or personally.  Forbes meets with Mona and tells her about the speed boat and MacDonald’s part in it.  Mona volunteers that MacDonald has been annoying her.  When Forbes gets home that night MacDonald is waiting for him in front of his garage and administers a serious beat down on Forbes.  Forbes tells his wife and the police that he had been robbed by strangers.  His doctor tells him he’ll have to stay in bed for a couple of weeks and Forbes tells his job that he has a bad cold.

When Forbes doesn’t show up for a few days Mona calls his office and is informed that he is home sick.  She drives to his house with some soup and there discovers that Forbes is a married man.  She actually speaks to his wife in front of the house claiming that she is looking for a house on a different street.  When Forbes finally gets well, he goes to speak to Mona and she tells him she has discovered his secret.  Forbes admits his deception and apologizes.  Now Mona tells him that Macdonald is pressing his demands for a relationship, hounding her at work and is threatening to tell her fiancé in prison that she is having an affair with Forbes.  Apparently, MacDonald who is a former policeman has connections in the prison.  Forbes promises to fix the situation.

Forbes goes to MacDonald’s apartment and administers a beating that at least matches the one he got from MacDonald.  And he warns him to stay away from Mona and Forbes’ family.  Time passes and Smiley will be getting out of jail.  MacDonald has been visiting him in jail and filling his mind with stories that Mona is having an affair with Forbes.  Smiley shows up at Mona’s apartment drunk and armed with a pistol that MacDonald gave him.  He accuses her of infidelity with Forbes and says he’s going over to his house to settle things.  Mona phones Forbes and warns him.  Forbes arms himself and when Smiley arrives, he pulls the gun on him and tells him to leave or be shot.  Smiley leaves but as soon as Forbes goes back in his house Smiley smashes through a large window in the living room and enters the house.  As soon as he steps foot in the house Forbes shoots him several times.  Forbes pretends that the man is a prowler in his statement to the police.

Meanwhile MacDonald is at Mona’s apartment and listens on her radio to the police channel where they hear about the shooting at Forbes’ address.  When the radio reports add homicide to the message MacDonald calls a friend at the precinct and learns that Forbes has killed Smiley.  MacDonald then informs Mona that with Smiley dead and Forbes entangled with his death and Macdonald’s connections with the police, Mona will have no choice but to go away with MacDonald and be his girlfriend.  As he starts packing her clothes her face becomes bleak and she reaches into a drawer, pulls out a pistol and puts several bullets into MacDonald.

Back at Forbes’ home he is racked with guilt and confesses to his wife his relationship with Smiley’s fiancé and the reason for the break in.  He then wanders off into the night preparing himself for the consequences of his actions.  He ends up at police headquarters and makes his statement to the district attorney and there learns that Mona has shot MacDonald and depending on whether he lives will be indicted for either murder or attempted murder.  No charges will be brought against Forbes but the DA rebukes him.  He says that Forbes’ attempt to conceal his infidelity is responsible for the shootings.  Otherwise he could have called the police and prevented the incidents.  As Forbes is leaving the building, he sees Mona being led away by the police.

As he leaves the building, he sees his wife Sue waiting for him in their family car.  He gets in and as she is driving him home, they discuss their situation.  Forbes is contrite and assumes she will want a divorce.  Sue admits that she has considered it but isn’t sure that is what she wants.  She does think they will have to move to another town and suggests that he asks for a transfer from his company.  When he asks her how she will take up her life with him after the betrayal she admits that things will not be the same but says she is willing to give it a chance.

I find this movie interesting for a number of reasons.  The fact that the adulterous husband avoided all legal consequences and might not even lose his wife was a very atypical ending in 1948.  The Hays Code required that the guilty be punished and that included moral offenses that might not have a jail sentence specified.  Also, the reality of a pillar of the community being bored with his “American Dream” existence was sort of heretical.  But the reality of post-war America is a fitting subject for a realistic appraisal of how men would adapt to a world that no longer needed war heroes but rather expected a boring but dependable “Father Knows Best” husband and dad.  Interestingly, Jane Wyatt who played the wife is best known for her part as the loyal, dependable wife in that show Father Knows Best.  The crisis and resolution of John Forbes’ transgression is handled in a more realistic and nuanced way than what would have been seen in the 1930s and early 40s.  Forbes breaks the accepted boundaries of morality but instead of paying with his life or his freedom he is stuck with his conscience and the knowledge that his wife can no longer believe in him.  One man is dead because of him and an innocent woman will go to jail.  This is much more like what life is really like.  Lots of gray, not so much black and white.  Flawed people living with the consequences of their mistakes and hopefully learning from them.

And on a personal basis, I find the fact that Mona filled Raymond Burr full of lead very satisfying and admirable.  It shows the right attitude.  Interesting movie with nuanced characters and lots of things to think about.  Highly recommended.