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Short reviews of the other stuff I watch

 
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Q Planes (1939)

Death rays were everywhere during the twenties and thirties; and Q Planes posits that a device that Marconi was working on at the time of his death, capable of “stopping a car motor at twenty-five yards”, has been perfected by An Unspecified Foreign Power, who are using it to bring down planes carrying new technology, which is then appropriated. (You’d think that people who could build a death ray could develop their own technology, but never mind.) Government operative Charles Hammond (Ralph Richardson) is convinced that the disappearance of experimental planes all over the world is far from coincidental, but he has trouble convincing either his superiors or Barrett (George Merritt), the head of the British firm under threat. A plane supposedly carrying a new supercharger is sent up and, in mid-flight, has its engines and its radio cut out. Preparing to bail out, the crew is relieved to see a salvage boat on the waters below; they coast to a belly landing and wait for rescue.... The disappearance of a second Barrett & Wade plane and its crew drives test pilot Tony McVane (Laurence Olivier) almost to his breaking point, particularly when he discovers that the cafeteria worker, Kay (Valerie Hobson), with whom he has been carrying out a somewhat prickly flirtation, is an undercover reporter – and Charles Hammond’s sister. Hammond, McVane and Kay join forces, with the truth about the “salvage boat” discovered just too late to stop McVane taking up a third plane, determined to learn his colleagues’ fate by offering himself as bait. Q Planes contrives an “action hero” climax for Laurence Olivier, during which half a dozen British aviators (rather improbably captured rather than killed) manage to escape and overcome the entire crew of the salvage boat – take that, Unspecified Foreign Power! – but this is Ralph Richardson’s film all the way, as he has enormous fun playing a silly duffer who really isn’t. This is, in fact, an incongruously light-hearted offering, considering not just its subject matter, but the year of its production. Still, let’s not forget that one of the most popular British films of the same year centred on a threatened German invasion of England, and yet managed to make the German spy sent to bring that invasion about the sympathetic character. Ya gotta love the British.

Rachel And The Stranger (1948)

Hunter Jim Fairways (Robert Mitchum) visits the farm of his friend David Harvey (William Harvey), only to discover that David’s wife, the woman they both loved, has died, leaving him with their young son. David struggles on alone for several months, finally concluding gloomily that he needs a woman around the place, both for chores and to raise the young Davey (Gary Gray). David rides to the nearest stockade town, begging help from Parson Jackson (Tom Tully). The parson suggests that David buy bondservant Rachel (Loretta Young) from her present master – warning him, however, that he will have to marry her, as they cannot live together at the isolated farm otherwise. David reluctantly agrees, while Rachel’s opinion isn’t asked. After the hastily arranged wedding, David and Rachel return to the farm, where Rachel must struggle with the harshness of frontier life, her step-son’s hostility, and her husband’s indifference. Matters change abruptly, however, when Jim Fairways turns up without warning and invites himself for a visit. With growing resentment, David watches Jim’s attentions to Rachel, and her blossoming under them – and another romantic triangle begins to form.... Rachel And The Stranger is a hard film to categorise. It isn’t a western, although it climaxes with an Indian raid. It isn’t a romance, since its central couple spend most of the film oblivious to one another. It certainly isn’t an action film, since most of its “drama” involves three people running a farm. It isn’t even historical in the usual sense, never getting away from the day-to-day life of the frontiersman-farmer, whatever might be going on in the bigger world. It does, however, draw an absorbing picture of the hard realities of the pioneer life: the quiet courage of those undertaking it; the bitter isolation of it; and the pragmatism needed to survive it. When David rides into town after numerous months, the parson greets him with an inquiry after his wife; by the end of the conversation, he’s arranging a second marriage for him. Rachel And The Stranger is perhaps most interesting in its examination of the eternal question of “what women want” – or rather, of what, in dangerous times, constitutes a desirable husband. The screenplay stresses the intelligence of both Rachel and her predecessor, then has both women make the same romantic choice: the unimaginative but dependable David over the attractive and insightful but footloose Jim. The film is most thoughtful in its handling of David. There is a certain ironic distance kept – the screenplay is entirely in sympathy with Rachel’s growing exasperation at David’s obtuseness – but it isn’t unkind, making it clear that most of his myopia stems from the simple fact that he is still mourning his wife, and that his unnecessarily brusque treatment of Rachel is due not to any innate unkindness, but from an involuntary resentment of her simply for being a woman, but not the right woman. (There’s a wonderful moment when David comes suddenly upon Rachel with her hair down and looking quite stunning. He eyes her for a moment and then says crossly, “You sure do have a lot of hair.” We infer that the late Mrs Harvey kept hers cropped.) Having firmly established David’s indifference to Rachel, the film allows itself a little discreet fun on the dreaded subject of s-e-x. After outlining Rachel’s duties with respect to the farm and the boy, David adds that there will be “a few other things”. “Figured there would be,” responds Rachel grimly, gritting her teeth – only to have the oblivious David start talking about his late wife’s flower garden and her plans for paving stones. All this changes when Jim Fairways turns up out of the blue and, in effect, starts courting Rachel under David’s very nose – and the increasingly indignant David finds himself looking at her through Jim’s eyes. All three of this film’s stars were at the top of their game here. Loretta Young, gorgeous in colour, was fresh off her Oscar for The Farmer’s Daughter, while Robert Mitchum had, over the preceding two years, earned his stardom with a series of strong performances. William Holden, at this time still making his reputation and two years away from his break-out performance in Sunset Boulevard, nevertheless holds his own against his high-powered co-stars with a shaded performance that manages to make David as sympathetic as he is frustrating.

Raiders Of Ghost City (1944, 13 chapters)

Towards the end of the Civil War, Captain Steve Clark (Dennis Moore) of the Secret Service is sent to California to investigate the hijacking of gold shipments intended for the Union by a band of Confederates led by Captain Clay Randolph (Regis Toomey), a West Point classmate of Clark’s. Enemy agents become aware of Clark, and even before he gets near California he owes his life to one “Idaho” Jones (Joe Sawyer), a Wells Fargo detective sent west to investigate the murder of his predecessor, whose daughter, Cathy Haines (Wanda McKay), now runs the Wells Fargo office in Oro Grande. It soon transpires that the Confederates themselves are being used; that the raiders supposedly working with Clay Randolph are actually in the employ of Alex Morel (Lionel Atwill), a local saloon owner harbouring a deadly secret. Randolph discovers the truth, but is killed before he can tell Clark. His only clue a number of coins from different countries, all bearing the date 1752, Clark teams with Idaho and Cathy to thwart the gold raiders and to reveal their secret identities.... This is for the most part a serviceable serial, filled with the usual gun-play, dashing back and forth and death traps. (My favourite is when Steve Clark is trapped in a wooden container that is filling with water. Do try not to notice that his mouth is still above the surface when the container starts to overflow.) However, it takes on additional interest through its integration of real historical events, sometimes outrageously inaccurately, sometimes closer to the mark. As part of the raiders’ schemes, they try to stir the local Indians to revolt; they are held in check by the promise of a personal message from “the Great White Chief”, only that message never comes: it is April, 1865. Having the characters react to Lincoln’s assassination gives an unexpected depth to the later stages of this serial, which is also put to immediate dramatic purpose: Clark needs desperately to send a telegram, but cannot get it through: the wires, coast to coast, are jammed with the dreadful news. While consistently entertaining, over its final few chapters this serial really builds up a head of steam, becoming suspenseful and exciting as the long-threatened Indian revolt finally happens, and the final showdown between the good guys and the bad guys takes place. Dennis Moore is a serviceable hero, and Wanda McKay a fair heroine (she’s more the “dashing to get help” kind than the “pitch in” kind, but at least she’s not a fainter); but no-one can compete with yet another pitch-perfect villainous performance from Lionel Atwill as Morel – although he is well-supported by Virginia Christine as Trina Dressard, a saloon singer who never gets further into a song that the first four bars. Perhaps we should be grateful. Of course these two have a terrible secret; and it is (this being made in 1944) that they are, ahem, Prussians; and that their mission is to use the stolen American gold to buy Alaska from the Russians. Cheek!

The Rains Of Ranchipur (1952)

Unhappily married and coldly promiscuous Edwina Esketh (Lana Turner) accompanies her husband, Lord Allen Esketh (Michael Rennie), to the Indian province of Ranchipur. While Allen is buying horses from the Maharani (Eugenie Leontovich), Edwina meets and embarks upon a passionate affair with the local surgeon-saint, Dr Rama Safti (Richard Burton). Obstacles arise first in human form, with violent opposition from the Maharani and Safti’s best friend, Tom Ransome (Fred MacMurray), and later as Acts of God, with flooding rain, a collapsing dam and an earthquake tearing the lovers apart. While The Rains Of Ranchipur probably comes under the general heading of “unnecessary re-make”, it isn’t completely without merit. Where this version scores points is in its refusal to shy away from the fact that Edwina is, in fact, a thoroughly nasty bit of work, a real use-’em-and-dump-’em type who bought her husband for his title and gets her kicks by humiliating him. Where it stumbles is in not spending nearly enough time – as The Rains Came, conversely, intelligently does – on the critical period between the meeting, and instant physical attraction, of Edwina and Safti, and the time when they are “in love”. Consequently, Edwina’s reformation is never really convincing. However, the film’s frankness about the nature of the relationship between the two is very daring considering when it was made: this is the earliest film I know of to depict consensual physical contact between a white woman and an Asian or a Eurasian man. (Even if it is Burton in brownface. As we B-Masters learned during our “So Sorry” Roundtable, the later a piece of racial impersonation comes, the more offensive it seems; and certainly Burton’s character here jars in a way that Tyrone Power’s did not. Perhaps it’s the colour photography? In truth, they don’t darken Burton too much; just enough to make his blue eyes distractingly obvious.) Also startling is Edwina’s admission that, had she succeeded in seducing Safti at the outset, he would have been just one more notch on her belt, a memory of “the one with brown skin”; and that the Maharani’s rage against Edwina, for all that she refers to Safti as “her son”, is obviously provoked by sexual jealousy. The other interesting aspect of this version is that it was a contemporary production, its events therefore taking place after India’s liberation. Thus we learn that Safti has spent time in jail as a follower of Ghandi; while the Maharani is only a figurehead, a relic of earlier days with no real power. Other updatings do not work as well, particularly not the substitution of a post-war-lost-idealist Tom Ransome for the wastrel-younger-son-packed-off-to-India Ransome of The Rains Came. The Rains Of Ranchipur is, finally, less a good film than a film of good moments. I am particularly fond of the reaction of the Christian missionary who has nursed Edwina through a near-fatal illness to the arrival of Safti at her bedside: a beaming smile and a cheerful, “She’ll be all right now that you’re here!” I do like my missionaries broadminded, don’t you? But the highlight, undoubtedly, is when the news of Edwina’s illness reaches Safti via her cuckolded husband. “In his ignorance,” says Esketh with infinite bitterness, “the messenger came to me instead of to you....”

(Speaking of racial impersonation: the white actor smothered in dark make-up and playing the local chief of police is none other than John Banner.)

Rancho Notorious (1952)

Fritz Lang’s third and final venture into the realm of the western is one strange film. Mild-mannered ranch hand Vern Haskell (Arthur Kennedy) becomes another of Lang’s revenge-driven loners after his fiancée is raped and murdered. A faint trail of clues leads him to a former showgirl named Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich) and a mysterious place known as Chuck-A-Luck. Learning that jailed outlaw Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer) is Altar’s lover, Vern breaks him out, accompanying him to Chuck-A-Luck, which turns out to be a ranch and gambling saloon where Altar offers safe refuge to outlaws, at the price of a cut of their hauls. Posing as an outlaw himself, Vern becomes convinced that one of the men hiding out at Chuck-A-Luck is the one he seeks – but which one? At first glance, Rancho Notorious seems to sit comfortably amongst the many dark and revisionist westerns that emerged during the 1950s, which use long-established genre tropes as a means to explore the psychology of their characters; but there is a certain mocking air about this film – particular in its use of the de rigueur theme song, with William Lee warbling about “Hate! Murder! And Revenge!” at irregular intervals throughout – which suggests that Lang took his western less seriously than many of his contemporaries did theirs. This may perhaps also be seen in the fact that Vern Haskell never quite loses his grip upon his reality in the way that many of Lang’s dark protagonists tend to do. True, in posing as an outlaw, Vern begins to behave like an outlaw; and in pretending to fall for Altar, to an extent he does, even though in doing so, he sails perilously close to betraying his friendship for Frenchy. But when he comes across the evidence he needs and knows who brutalised and murdered his girl, the pieces all fall back into place. Although less emotionally exhausting than most of Lang’s films, Rancho Notorious is infused with a sense of loss and regret that makes it rather moving, particularly in its constant evoking of Destry Rides Again, and its merciless reminders of the thirteen-years-younger Marlene Dietrich. At the same time, Lang does allow an unusual (for him) degree of sympathy for his characters to emerge as their fate catches up with them. This is particularly true with regard to the central triangle: Frenchy can only look on helplessly as Altar begins to fall, not so much for Vern himself, but for the could-have-been he represents. (Go away,” Altar tells Vern in the film’s signature line, “and come back ten years ago.”) Mel Ferrer gives one of his most effective performances as Frenchy, while amongst the supporting cast, George Reeves stands out as the outlaw upon whom Vern’s suspicions fall.

Rendezvous (1935)

As America’s involvement in WWI escalates, the military suffers severe losses of their transports due to the enemy’s interception of their secret codes. A search is under way for the author of the definitive text on encryption and decryption, in the hope that his recruitment will allow the creation of an unbreakable code; but the government has no luck in finding the book’s pseudonymous author until Bill Gordon (William Powell), a former international correspondent newly inducted into the army, confides a secret to the girl he is falling in love with, Joel Carter (Rosalind Russell) – whose Uncle John (Samuel S. Hinds) just happens to be the Assistant Secretary of War. On the verge of his departure for France, a furious Bill is co-opted into the War Department, where he finds himself in a desperate race to crack the enemy’s codes and unearth a spy ring based in Washington, before more troop transports can be torpedoed.... Rendezvous is a fair spy thriller almost ruined by an astonishingly unfunny performance from Rosalind Russell, here playing one of the most unbearable characters ever passed off as a film’s “heroine”. Of course, this was 1935; a few years later, no American film would have dreamed of finding humour in a girl pulling strings to get her boyfriend kept from active war duty, nor indeed in her interfering in his work at every opportunity, when any delay in his cracking the enemy’s code will mean the death of thousands of young Americans. Truthfully, it is unlikely whether Joel’s blinkered and selfish obsession with Bill Gordon would have been funny at any time, but in context it is quite horrifying. One wonders how grafting (alleged) screwball humour onto a story about the sinking of troop ships could ever have seemed like a good idea. However, when Joel is out of the picture and the film concentrates on its dramatic content, it remains engaging, particularly the extended game of cat-and-mouse between Bill and a charming lady spy, Olivia Karloff (Binnie Barnes); the tension being significantly heightened by the fact that neither of the combatants knows quite as much about the other as they think they do. Rendezvous is also bolstered by a fine supporting cast, including Lionel Atwill and a very young and dashing Cesar Romero.

The Return Of Doctor X (1939)

“Interesting stuff, blood.” Rookie reporter Walt Garrett (Wayne Morris) is sent to interview stage actress Angela Merrova (Lya Lys), but finds her stabbed to death – although strangely, there is no blood. Intent on establishing himself professionally, Garrett breaks the story in his paper before alerting the police, and when they do belatedly investigate, the body is gone. Not just gone: the next morning, Garrett and his editor are confronted with an ill-looking but definitely alive Angela Merrova, who threatens a lawsuit. The bewildered Garrett takes his case to his friend, Dr Mike Rhodes (Dennis Morgan). Their investigation leads them to a second murder, where the blood at the scene isn’t blood, and to researcher Dr Flegg, whose oddly pallid assistant bears a strange resemblance to a man executed for murder some years previously.... The Return Of Doctor X gets badmouthed a lot, but I find it both hilarious and fascinating: fascinating, because of what it reveals of the state of medicine at the time, with blood groups “1, 2, 3 and 4”, and professional blood donors, on call to be present during operations, because no-one had figured out how to store blood for transfusion. And hilarious because of, well, everything else! Like all Warners horror films, this one is acutely uncomfortable about being a horror film in the first place, and for the most part plays out like a straight mystery, with a puzzled reporter trying to make sense of things. But the reveal, when it comes, makes it all worthwhile: mad science, artificial blood, the living dead, and Humphrey Bogart in his only horror role! And never, my friends, never will you see any actor more uncomfortable in a part than Bogart is here, with his deathly (heh!) white face, a skunk stripe in his hair, and a bunny rabbit to cuddle. John Litel is the mad scientist (doctor, actually) who brings Marshall Quesne, aka Maurice Xavier, aka Doctor X, back from the dead so that he can have access to his brilliant scientific theories....and never mind that in life, those theories led Doctor X to starve a number of children to death! Despite its title, The Return Of Doctor X has to connection to Doctor X. On the other hand, in his makeup here, Humphrey Bogart bears an unmistakeable resemblance to one of the characters in the serial Dick Tracy, made two years earlier.

Ride Lonesome (1959)

A good way to start an argument amongst western buffs is to ask, “Which is the best of the Randolph Scott-Budd Boetticher films?” This tense psychological drama is the one for my money. Bounty hunter Scott is escorting callow killer James Best to Santa Cruz for hanging, knowing that his vengeful elder brother Lee Van Cleef is on their heels. Along the way, Scott enters into an uneasy alliance with former outlaws Pernell Roberts and James Coburn, who can win an amnesty for their crimes if they are the ones to deliver Best. The screenplay (by Burt Kennedy) then proceeds to trap its characters, and the viewer, in a moral quagmire, offering up a villain who has committed one of the vilest acts imaginable....only it was a long time ago, and it kind of slipped his mind; a “hero” who hunts men for a living, and who is so consumed by schemes of revenge that he has lost sight of all ethical considerations; and an honourable outlaw who wants nothing more than to go straight and settle down – and if he has to kill a friend to achieve that goal, well, that’s just too bad.... We know what to anticipate from Scott and Van Cleef; the unexpected pleasure of Ride Lonesome is the work of its supporting cast, with James Coburn (in his debut) a delight as the loyal but thick-headed Wiley, and a remarkably fine and nuanced performance from Pernell Roberts. At only 73 minutes, Ride Lonesome is a masterpiece of efficiency in story-telling, and a perfect riposte to those people who say they dislike westerns because they’re “simplistic”.

Ring Of Fire (1961)

Two deputies in a small Oregon town arrest three young adults wanted over a gas station hold-up. On the road to the sheriff’s station, the female of the trio, Bobbie Anderson (Joyce Taylor), manages to slip a concealed gun to Frank Henderson (Frank Gorshin). Steve Walsh (David Janssen) offers himself as a hostage on condition that his partner, who is married with children, is released. As the local sheriff (Ron Myron) gathers a posse consisting of the local loggers, the criminals and their hostage abandon their car and proceed on foot ever deeper into the woods. The tension of the situation continues to escalate, due to Roy Anderson’s (James Johnson) drinking and temper, Bobbie’s teasing advances to Steve, and Frank’s insistence on smoking, at the height of the driest summer the area has ever known.... Ring Of Fire is an uneven but interesting action/adventure film. It suffers particularly from its dialogue – way too many “Daddy-O”-s and such – but it is consistently interesting, and the climactic fire sequence is spectacular and frightening. After several feints – the hostage situation, the hijacking of a car, the near shooting of a motorcycle cop, the uneasy relationship between kidnappers and hostage, the former reliant upon the latter’s woodcraft for their survival – the story begins to focus upon the intriguing but worrying relationship that develops between Steve and Bobbie, the latter of whom taunts and ridicules Steve, but twice saves his life from her trigger-tempered and far more hardened criminal associates. (It all starts when Bobbie sneers at Steve for not searching her. He tells her that it’s policy not to search females. “In spite of the risk?” “Because of the risk.”) Despite his profession, Steve has evidently led a fairly sheltered life; he is appalled by the grim details that Bobbie casually reveals about herself. She, in turn, hardly knows how to respond to someone who is, all too obviously, the first decent man she’s ever met. (It is implied – pretty clearly, considering when this was made – that Bobbie has no idea how to relate to a man other than sexually.) Steve, on the other hand, knows very well that he’s being played, but wants very much to believe that Bobbie isn’t as bad as she seems. At the critical moment we get a fade to black. We know what that usually means, of course – but here it takes on a whole new importance when the newly re-arrested Frank takes revenge on Steve by revealing that Bobbie is only seventeen and accusing him of statutory rape. All of this, however, and a great deal more, becomes essentially irrelevant when Frank’s discarded cigarette sets off a tinder-box in the woods, forcing the entire population of a town to be evacuated. The only way out is a train belonging to a logging company, which is forced to travel over a rickety wooden bridge, around which the flames are already growing.... There are some good performances here, particularly from David Janssen and Frank Gorshin; although from my point of view the most interesting thing about this film is how much more likeable Joyce Taylor is playing a bad girl here than she was playing the heroine of Atlantis, The Lost Continent the same year. The location photography is very beautiful – this was partially set and shot in Olympic National Park – and, evidently, the remains of the train and the bridge from the climax still lie at the bottom of a gorge along the Wynoochee River in Washington State.

Romance In Manhattan (1935)

Karel Novak (Francis Lederer) arrives at Ellis Island to be greeted by the news that while he was in transit, the American authorities raised the sum necessary for an immigrant to enter the country from $50 to $200. Faced with being sent back to Czechoslovakia, the desperate Novak jumps overboard, swimming ashore in New York but losing his money in the process. At first too overwhelmed by his surroundings to worry about his circumstances, hunger finally drives Novak to steal the leftovers from a meal put out for the cast of a Broadway show. Caught by chorus girl Sylvia Dennis (Ginger Rogers), Novak convinces her of both his need and his sincerity. Sylvia takes Novak home with her, lending him blankets so that he can sleep on the roof of her apartment building. Novak sets about earning the $200 he needs to stay in the country; while Sylvia has problems of her own, as she is threatened with losing custody of her young brother, Frankie (Jimmy Butler), who plays truant from school in order to earn money as a news-boy. Novak and Sylvia begin to fall in love, as the authorities begin to close in on them both.... Romance In Manhattan is a charming yet rather curious little film. At first glance one of the many “American rapture” movies that proliferated at the time, at closer inspection the film is more clear-eyed and critical than you might anticipate. For example, Karel Novak’s constant acclamation of his new home is cruelly undercut by a subplot involving a shyster who cleans him out and then turns him in to Immigration. There are also some points that probably look different in retrospect than they did at the time. Novak finds employment as a cab-driver; when a strike is called, he immediately hires himself out as scab labour, an act interpreted only as a praiseworthy willingness to work. No thought that unionism and striking might be among the American freedoms that Novak has been eulogising ever intrudes. This interlude is rather at odds with the “one for all” feel that otherwise permeates this Depression-era production, as Novak, Sylvia and Frankie pitch in to help one another out. But neither Novak nor Sylvia can evade their respective nemeses forever; and it takes an unlikely Deus ex machina in the shape of the nicest, friendliest, most corrupt group of New York cops ever to save the day. This was one of Ginger Rogers’ most important early roles, and the shifting moods of the story allow her to show her range. Francis Lederer, an underrated actor, is very appealing as Novak. Lederer’s own range would allow him, over the course of a long career, to move from romantic and comedic parts, as here, to convincing horror movie roles in films such as The Return Of Dracula and Terror Is A Man....although his most frightening performance would come in Jean Renoir’s version of Diary Of A Chambermaid.

Rome Express (1932)

The eponymous train speeds between Paris and Rome with a motley collection of travellers on board, among them the perpetrator of a startling art theft (Donald Calthrop). Unfortunately for him, the two confederates that he is betraying (Conrad Veidt and Hugh Williams) are also on the train....and unfortunately for all three of them, the mild-mannered, fussy, eccentric entomologist down the carriage (Frank Vosper) turns out to be one of the leading detectives from the Sûreté. Drawn into the conflict are a number of the other passengers, all of whom have something to hide, including the movie star with a dark past (Esther Ralston), the adulterous wife who’s having second thoughts (Joan Barry), and the avaricious, cold-blooded “philanthropist” (Cedric Hardwicke) and his worm-may-turn secretary (Eliot Makeham). This is the great grand-daddy of all train thrillers and, for screenwriter Sidney Gilliat, a dry run for The Lady Vanishes six years later, which takes everything but its central situation from this film. (Train-ophile Gilliat also worked on the first version of The Ghost Train and the comedy thriller Seven Sinners.) The film is also important for initiating the British career of Conrad Veidt, who exudes menacing charm as the leader of the criminal gang. Great fun.

Scene Of The Crime (1949)

Off-duty detective Edward Monigan (G. Pat Collins) is shot and killed, apparently while guarding an illegal bookie shop. The discovery of a roll of cash on the body seems to confirm that Monigan was a cop gone bad. Monigan’s former partner, Mike Conovan (Van Johnson), is put in charge of the investigation, along with his current partner, Fred Piper (John McIntire), and rookie detective C.C. Gordon (Tom Drake). The investigation sees Conovan caught in the middle of a dangerous street war, a situation that puts intolerable pressure upon his marriage to Gloria (Arlene Dahl), a model; pressure increased still more when Conovan is forced by circumstances to pretend to romance Lili (Gloria DeHaven), the exotic dancer-girlfriend of one of his suspects.... Emanating from the same MGM B-unit that gave us Kid Glove Killer and Mystery Street, Scene Of The Crime maintains the gritty, noir-ish feel of its companion films but trades in forensic science for the police procedural. There is some difficulty about accepting Van Johnson as a tough-talking, two-fisted homicide detective; but the biggest problem here is that – good old MGM! – the film so gosh-darn polite, giving us a strip club where no-one takes their clothes off (Gloria DeHaven’s Lili actually has more on by the end of her act!), and some truly ludicrous “street language”: when a stoolie known as The Sleeper (Norman Lloyd) uses the word “stinkin’” in front of Gloria Conovan, he feels compelled to apologise for it. Still, while the specifics of the film seem horribly cliched these days – truthfully, this is to Police Squad as Zero Hour! is to Flying High – there are plenty of memorable moments in this that, for good or ill, keep you watching. The best, perhaps, is a throwaway remark from aggrieved private eye P.J. Pontiac (Robert Gist), after Conovan and Piper rescue him from the most recent in a line of beatings, blaming his professional woes on Humphrey Bogart: “He takes a punch and comes up smiling; I take a punch and come up pickled.” On the other hand, what on earth are we to make of a line of dialogue like, “Careful, Mr. Wiggly, or you'll have thirteen fish to fry and no little wormies to catch them with”? Whatever else it is, Scene Of The Crime is a fascinating look back at old-school policing: at the time when there was no such thing as that pesky “probable cause”; when breaking and entering was all in a day’s work; when an uncooperative suspect could be “persuaded” to talk by a scalding cup of coffee in the face. (To be fair, Conovan doesn’t actually do that; but by the way The Sleeper recoils when the detective picks up his coffee, we see clearly that he, at least, has been down that road before.) Yet for all its cliches, this film is unexpectedly progressive in its depiction of the Conovan marriage. Of course, all the usual problems and conflicts are there, and towards the end Gloria does decide (briefly) that she can’t take it any more; but underneath, the details are fascinating. Mike and Gloria have been married for four years, yet Gloria is still working, and is never criticised for doing so. She’s a model, and certainly earning more than Mike, a point that never comes up; nor do we ever catch the faintest hint of wounded male ego from Mike. An ex-boyfriend of Gloria's, a millionaire businessman, is still hanging around on the fringes; his presence annoys Mike, but it never occurs to him to be jealous, or to doubt Gloria. Matching her man, Gloria’s trust in Mike is absolute – even when he cancels on her to take Lili out nightclubbing – and he, in turn, proves entirely worthy of that trust. This is one of the most interesting, and heartening, marriages to be found in a film of this era, a real partnership of equals. The rest of Scene Of The Crime might be by-the-book stuff, but here it makes a worthy effort to break a little new ground.

Shadow On The Wall (1950)

David Starrling (Zachary Scott) begins to suspect that his second wife, Celia (Kristine Miller), is involved with another man, Crane Wymouth (Tom Helmore), who is the fiancé of her sister, Dell Faring (Ann Sothern). Finding evidence of an affair, David threatens Celia with a gun. She lashes out at him with a silver hand-mirror and knocks him unconscious. At that moment, Dell returns to the apartment to confront her sister over Crane – and ends up shooting Celia dead with David’s gun. As Dell slips away, David’s young daughter, Susan (Gigi Perreau), hidden in the shadows, screams and screams.... David is convicted of Celia’s murder and sentenced to death. Meanwhile, the traumatised Susan is placed under the care of child psychologist Dr Caroline Cranford (Nancy Davis), who begins to suspect that the girl saw something on the night of the murder that, could she be brought to remember it, might prove David’s innocence. Dr Cranford confides her suspicions to the girl’s one remaining relative – Dell Faring.... This is an effective and often disturbing little thriller. Its strongest point is the shifting character of Dell. At the outset sympathetic despite her impulsive killing of Celia, and even when she cannot find the courage to confess after David’s conviction, once Dell realises that Susan may be able to finger her as the real killer – and makes up her mind to do something about silencing her – this film moves into some unusually dark territory. This was an uncharacteristic role for the usually bubbly Sothern, and you get the feeling that she appreciated the change of pace. Gigi Perreau, aged only nine, is effective as the beleaguered Susan, particularly in the scene when she is taken to visit her father – and displays a complete lack of emotion. Jimmy Hunt also has a small role as a fellow patient of Susan’s, who very nearly becomes the accidental victim of one of Dell’s murderous schemes. Apart from its thriller aspects, Shadow On The Wall is another of the numerous post-war “justification of psychiatry” films, with Nancy Davis scoring as the dedicated Dr Cranford. It’s interesting how often in these films the psychiatrist is a woman. Of course, from a modern standpoint, the scariest thing about this film is the circumstances of David’s conviction and near-execution: these days, five minutes in the apartment for any halfway decent CSI team is all it would take to blow the entire “David” theory out of the water. C’est la morte.

She-Gods Of Shark Reef (1958)

Lee Johnston (Don Durant) – not his real name – flees the scene of a botched arms theft and the killing of a security guard and heads for the home of his brother, Christy (Bill Cord), on the far side of the Big Island, The two make a run for it in Christy’s boat, but a hurricane drives them onto a reef, where the two become entangled in kelp and almost drowned. Their lives are saved by the inhabitants of a small island, who pull them from the water. The two men discover that this island is the base of a pearl-diving operation, and that the female divers and their supervisor, Pua (Jeanne Gerson), are the only inhabitants. The brothers learn that in ten days, a boat from the company will be visiting the island. Lee divides his time between searching for another way off the island, in order to evade capture, and obsessing over the cache of pearls he knows is in Pua’s office, while Christy is attracted to one of the young divers, Mahia (Lisa Montell). Meanwhile, the ocean storms continue and the pearl yield drops; and Pua begins to consider ways of placating Tangaroa, the angry shark-god who lives near the reef.... In which Roger Corman takes a holiday in Hawaii, and the rest of us pay for it. After filming Naked Paradise, Corman & Co. stuck around for another few days and slapped together this tepid pseudo-adventure film. In a good print that would show off the scenery, She-Gods Of Shark Reef might be an acceptable time-waster, but as things are, it’s a real slog. Nothing much happens, and no-one is very interesting or likeable; even the usual compensating Corman marginalia is largely absent, although I did find myself increasingly intrigued by the workings of the mysterious “Company”, and the question of whether they deposited these women on this island in the first place, or whether they just removed all the men. As usual when sharks are being offered up as the Big Bad, they come out of it a lot worse than the people do (a knifing scene that I’m hoping was faked; the footage was certainly re-used, so I can give them that); the one on-screen shark attack, which is supposed to be our dramatic climax, is pretty ridiculous . There are a few other amusing touches along the way here – like the single flag semaphore system, and the stone head supposed to represent Tangaroa the shark-god – but they’re hardly worth it.

See El Santo’s full review here.

The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw (1958)

Here’s an embarrassing confession: I love this film! About equidistant between Destry Rides Again and Blazing Saddles sits this good-natured fish-out-of-water comedy, which sees mild-mannered Englishman Kenneth More venturing into the wild, wild west in order to bolster the sales of his family’s long-founded but failing gunsmiths firm, and in the course of a few eventful days, earning himself a reputation as a deadly shot, being appointed sheriff of a frontier town, settling a range war, making peace with and being adopted into the local Indian tribe, and romancing saloon owner Jayne Mansfield – all of it more or less accidentally. Good support is given by Robert Morley, Henry Hull, Bruce Cabot, William Campbell and – as More’s “father” – Chief Jonas Applegarth; while the freakazoid romantic pairing of More and Mansfield works far better than it has any right to – much like the film itself. (“I couldn’t fall for a local idiot,” fumes Mansfield at one point. “I had to go for the international kind.”) No doubt director Raoul Walsh had made enough westerns by this stage in his career to thoroughly enjoy skewering their clichés....but there’s no feeling of contempt for such films here, just a sense of fun. And without wanting to spoil things for anyone, I may say that the closing exchange between More and Mansfield has been a running joke in my household for years.

SOS Coast Guard (1937, 12 chapters)

When the S.S. Carfax is driven onto rocks in a violent storm, decorated Coast Guard Lieutenant Terry Kent (Ralph Byrd) is put in charge of the rescue; his younger brother, Jim (Thomas Carr), is also involved. Reporter Jean Norman (Maxine Doyle), covering the story, recognises one of the rescued passengers as Boroff (Bela Lugosi), an international criminal previously believed dead. Boroff was on his way to the country of Morovania with a secret cache of the radioactive element, amatite, the main component of a deadly “disintegrating gas”. When Boroff flees, Jim Kent pursues him, and is shot dead. An anguished Terry swears to bring Boroff to justice, and to prevent the disintegrating gas falling into the wrong hands.... SOS Coast Guard is one of my favourite serials, a lively effort that piles absurdity on top of absurdity, and in the end becomes a battle between the good guys and the bad guys to determine which of them is the more incompetent. (The bad guys win, but only just.) Of course, any serial with Bela as chief bad guy has a good head start – although truthfully we don’t see as much of him as we’d like. (By the way--- “Boroff”? The Carfax? Cute.) Still, there are any number of bizarrely twisted plot points here that hold the attention even in Bela’s absence. Take, for instance, Thorg (Richard Alexander), Boroff’s devoted, bald, mute, lobotomised henchman, who spends most of the story stripping off to his swimmers and trying to drown people – mostly Terry Kent, and mostly unsuccessfully. (There’s an underling bad guy whose primary duty seems to be collecting Thorg’s discarded clothing.) It is, of course, revealed that Boroff was the one who lobotomised Thorg in the first place....guess how that relationship ends? Recognised in the first episode, Boroff reacts by adopting a cunning disguise: he shaves off his goatee. “Those fools will never penetrate my disguise!” he later declares, apparently in all seriousness. The absolutely highlight of this serial, however, is the cover adopted by Boroff and his men as they try to salvage the amatite from the sunken ship: they pose as kelp farmers....and this in spite of the fact that none of Boroff’s goons ever wear anything but the standard issue thirties suit, tie and hat. Somehow seeing through this cunning disguise, Terry and Jean visit the dockside warehouse where the “kelp farmers” work, on the pretext of Jean writing a story about kelp farming for her paper. (Alas, we are not privileged to listen in to that interview. I wonder what on earth she asked?) But apart from all these marvels, there is something else that makes SOS Coast Guard stand out from its brethren. There’s an Odious Comic Relief here, of course – of course. It’s Jean’s bumbling photographer, Snapper McGee (Lee Ford), whose schtick consists primarily of his inability ever to get his camera and tripod set up at the right time and right place, complete with much tripping over and falling off places as he backs away to get his shot. None of this is remotely funny, of course – of course. And yet....when Snapper isn’t failing miserably at being amusing, he’s actually, well, useful. Mostly it’s accidental, like when he reveals the whereabouts of the hidden amatite, or discovers how the disintegrating gas is being smuggled out of the country; but sometimes it is actually intentional. For instance, at the end of the first episode, when he and Jean become trapped on the sinking Carfax, Snapper quickly lets off some distress flares. Several other times he either sends for help or helps out himself, putting himself in considerable danger. Anyway, you can imagine my bemusement when, about midway through the third episode, I found myself verbally standing up for the Odious Comic Relief. Loudly. Emphatically. It will be some time before I recover from the shock of it, believe you me.... I guess the lesson here is that, even as in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, in a story where everyone is an idiot, the Idiot Savant can come out of it looking okay. As for the others, Ralph Byrd makes an energetic hero, and courageously did his own stunts – although my opinion of him as the worst fake fighter ever is certainly confirmed. Jean Norman is one of those reporters who never actually goes to work (she just follows Terry around: more press agent than reporter); also, she has a brother who’s a scientist, and who naturally contributes much hilarity. (Maxine Doyle would later marry the serial's co-director, William Whitney.) The bonus for me, though, was the reappearance of John Piccori, the unforgettable Moloch of the serial Dick Tracy. Here he’s Rackerby, a weak-willed scientist pressed into Boroff’s service, and as entertaining as ever. All in all, highly recommended.

Things I Learned From Watching This SerialTM:

1. It sucks to be Ralph Byrd’s brother.
2. In 1937, the Coast Guard was the pre-eminent American law enforcement agency.
3. In 1937, the Coast Guard’s jurisdiction included Hawaii and inland Canada.
4. If boats do not respond to being hailed, it is perfectly legal for the Coast Guard to shell them and blow them and their occupants out of the water.
5. Kelp farmers RULE!!

Quote:  “You might as well surrender, Boroff! You can’t get away from the Coast Guard!”

Split Second (1992)

WTF!? “Confusing” barely begins to describe this muddled science fiction outing, which actually challenges The Dark for its sheer inability to make up its mind what it’s about and what its monster is. We know how The Dark got the way it is; Lord knows who was responsible for this mess. It’s “The Future” – and global warming has had its way with the world, resulting in a London that’s flooded, polluted, rat-infested and rife with disease. (This may indeed be one of the earliest examples of the environmental warning sub-genre, but this stuff is only there to look kewl in a distinctly sub-Blade Runner sort of way.) A killer is on the loose, ripping out the hearts of his victims; and apparently in the believe that it takes a psychopath to catch a psychopath, chocolate-munching, caffeine-guzzling, heavy ordnance-toting Harley Stone (Rutger Hauer) is brought back from suspension and teamed up with suit-wearing, university-educated, health food nibbling Dick Durkin (Neil Duncan). They’re the original odd couple! And together, they fight crime! Apparently operating under the delusion that this isn’t quite enough clichés for us to be going on with, the film opens with Stone visiting a strip club. Then we learn that Stone’s partner was killed before his eyes by the same killer. And that Stone was having an affair with his partner’s wife. And that Stone is somehow in psychic contact with the killer. You following all this? Pay attention, I’ll be asking questions. After teasing us with everything from a giant rat to an actual satanic manifestation, the film proceeds to serve up a monster so unabashedly copied from Alien, you almost have to admire its chutzpah. Lost in this mess are Michael J. Pollard, playing exactly the same role after all these years; Pete Postlethwaite; and the late, great Ian Dury. Also, Kim Cattrall shows up in her Undiscovered Country ’do and flashes her boobs in a textbook example of the Gratuitous Shower Scene. Look, I’m not saying that Split Second isn’t entertaining. Just don’t try to make sense of it. Your head might explode.

Click here to see if anyone else can make sense of this film.

The Storm (1938)

Close, but no cigar. Had the climax of this film occupied more of its running-time, or if it had not just cut to “afterwards” without resolving anything, I might have made a ruling in the other direction, but as it is I can’t really call this a disaster movie. What it is, unfortunately, is one of those films where the alleged “hero” behaves like a complete arsehole from start to finish, and yet we’re supposed to sympathise with him. Bob Roberts (Charles Bickford), wireless operator for the Globe Steamship Line, is good enough at his job that his employers turn a blind eye to the fact that he is also a drinking, brawling, womanising, completely obnoxious jerk. In England, Roberts catches up with old friend Jack Stacey (Preston Foster) who, since they last met, has married and had a child, and is soon to transfer to a land job. Stacey’s settling down makes Roberts ponder his own footloose existence and his future. The friends' ships both get caught in fog near a dangerous ice-drift. Captain Kelly (Samuel S, Hinds) takes all precautions in spite of his perishable cargo; but Captain Cogswell (Barton MacLane) presses ahead with disastrous consequences. The Astoria goes to the rescue of the Capricorn, collecting the entire crew from three life-boats---all except Stacey. Cogswell insists that he was killed on board, but Roberts knows from the time of Stacey’s last radio message that Cogswell left him behind... Considering his loss, Roberts is granted a furlough. However, his visit home is marred by the revelation that his kid brother, Jim (Tom Brown), has qualified as a wireless operator and intends to follow in his footsteps. Furthermore, Jim is engaged to Peggy (Nan Grey), a nurse on the Global Line, who, because of a misunderstanding, Roberts believes is a chippy taking advantage of Jim and treats accordingly. Roberts suffers another terrible blow when the Astoria is destroyed in an explosion, just after he transfers off. The final straw is his discovery that Jim and Peggy have both obtained postings on the Orion, and plan to be married at the end of their passage. Roberts arranges a post on the Orion for himself, discovering too late that the captain is Cogswell. Peggy is worried about Jim’s health and tries to persuade him not to sail, but the boy allows Roberts’ jeering to bait him into staying on the job. It is a decision all three will bitterly regret. Jim collapses with acute appendicitis, there is no doctor on board, and the Orion is heading into a savage storm... See? See? But---no, it just doesn’t feel right, in the end; not even when The Storm sets up a scenario of Peggy having to drain Jim’s infected appendix during the storm, via medical advice from shore, with the radio-tower hit by lightning just as she is about to make her incision... The film is worth watching just for this sequence, but be warned: the majority of its running-time is devoted to the thoroughly unlikeable Roberts and his rude, stupid, drunken, violent behaviour.

Surviving The Game (1994)

I’m not sure the world really needed yet another riff on “The Most Dangerous Game”, but this one benefits from an absurdly good cast: Rutger Hauer, Gary Busey, F. Murray Abraham, Charles S. Dutton and Ice-T as the “prey”. Taking a cue from the previous year’s Hard Target, Surviving The Game has homeless men being sent into the wilderness on the pretext of being hired as hunting guides, only to learn too late that the job description wasn’t entirely accurate. (Although how anyone could find themselves in the middle of nowhere with Rutger Hauer and Gary Busey and not immediately intuit that they’re in deep doo-doo is beyond me.) There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, but of all the versions of “The Most Dangerous Game”, this is probably the one where you most want to see the hunters get theirs. Anyway, even if you don’t like it, you can at least enjoy the stunning location photography: this is the rare film that has Washington State played by Washington State, and not by British Columbia. (Understand, this is from someone who watches First Blood for the scenery.) And hey! – Charles S. Dutton dies! Aren’t you astonished?

Sword Of The Valiant (1982)

At a Christmas gathering, an old and crusty King Arthur (Trevor Howard) berates his knights for growing lazy and complacent. The festivities are further interrupted by the Green Knight (Sean Connery), who proposes a game: one of those present will strike at him with an axe. If they succeed in decapitating him with one blow, they win; otherwise, he will get one strike back. To the disgust of both Arthur and the Knight, no-one speaks – until Gawain (Miles O’Keeffe), a mere squire, steps forward. After being knighted by the king, Gawain strikes at the Green Knight and severs his head at a blow – then looks on in horrified disbelief as the body picks the head up and re-attaches it. Impressed by Gawain’s courage, the Green Knight stays his hand, giving the young knight a riddle and a year in which to solve it – and a warning that if he fails, the fate deferred will be meted out.... Released in the wake of successful fantasy productions such as Excalibur and Conan The Barbarian, Sword Of The Valiant is a pretty minor effort. (It’s a Golan-Globus, which speaks for itself.) A definite product of the “one damn thing after another” school of story-telling, the film suffers badly from the fact that, well, Gawain’s adventures just aren’t that interesting. It’s also badly paced – there’s no sense of time passing, or of Gawain’s gruesome fate drawing ever nearer – and we are given no particular reason to care about Gawain and Linet, whose love story is resolved (sort of) with comical abruptness. Cursed with the worst wig in the history of film-making, and wearing a puffy shirt that could make your eyeballs bleed, Miles O’Keeffe turns Gawain into a “hero” to weep for. His first two acts out in the big wide world are to attempt to kill a unicorn for food (!!), and to realise that he should have asked for instructions on how to “relieve himself” before he put the armour on. It goes downhill from there. The film brightens up a bit with the arrival of Brian Vosper as a criminally inclined friar and John Rhys-Davies (of course) as the evil Baron Fortinbras – a graduate, evidently, of the Brian Blessed School of Bluster – but Peter Cushing is criminally wasted as Fortinbras’ chancellor. Trevor Howard gives us an interesting Arthur, though, and the film is probably worth watching just for the chance to see Sean Connery in green face-paint and spangles. (Of course, those of you who have just seen him in a nappy might disagree.)

Third Finger, Left Hand (1940)

Magazine editor Margot Sherwood Merrick (Myrna Loy) invents a husband in order to hold onto her job, a position that she knows her lecherous publisher’s jealous wife would never allow her to occupy if Margot weren’t a married woman. A chance encounter with artist Jeff Thompson (Mervyn Douglas) leads to romance, but the straight-laced Thompson walks out in disgust when he discovers that Margot is married. Hurt but unable to forget, Thompson begins to investigate the mysteriously absent “Merrick”, and upon proving to his own satisfaction that there is no such person, he punishes Margot for her deception by publicly announcing himself to be Merrick. As circumstances grow increasingly complicated, Margot tries to rid herself of her “husband”, only to realise that she cannot do it without a divorce – and that the only way she can divorce him is to marry him in the first place.... Third Finger, Left Hand is a let-down. After starting out looking like a seriously-intentioned albeit comedic examination of the difficulties of career women during the forties, it ends up in blithe agreement with the male philosophy that Margot denounces so scornfully at the outset, that “single woman have no reason to be in the workplace, except as a way of attracting men”: after putting herself through hoops in order to hold onto her career, Margot ends up tossing it all away and pursuing Thompson literally across the country, apparently forgetting that she has a career at all. Moreover, the puritanical and smugly superior Thompson is, frankly, rather unlikeable; as so often in these kind of movies, the second male lead – Lee Bowman as company lawyer Phillip Booth – seems a much more attractive prospect, yet is dismissed without a second thought. Still, the film very nearly redeems itself with two late sequences. The first is when, after a Niagara Falls wedding, Margot and Jeff encounter friends from his home town of Wapakoneta, Ohio – and Margot exacts full revenge on her “husband” by posing as a slang-slinging, gum-snapping Brooklynite. (One does wonder where the refined and aristocratic Margot learnt such language.) The second comes when Margot and Jeff are on their way to Reno, Phillip along to negotiate the settlement (and to marry Margot, so he hopes). Desperate to stall, Jeff inquires of Sam (Ernest Whitman), the conductor, if there might by another lawyer on board, only to learn that Sam himself is studying law by correspondence – and that, on the basis of his time-consuming obfusculation of Phillip, he has the makings of a very excellent lawyer, too. The funny and uncondescending use of a black character in such a role in a film of this vintage (and from this studio) is unexpected and refreshing.

The Three Musketeers (1933, 12 episodes)

In the desert of Algiers, a troop of soldiers is under attack by the forces of a mysterious individual known as "El Shaitan", who is leading an Arab revolt against the Foreign Legion. The lives of the last three men, Clancy (Jack Mulhall), Renard (Raymond Hatton) and Schmidt (Francis X. Bushman Jr), are saved when Lt Tom Wayne (John Wayne), from the American embassy in Paris, fires upon the attacking Arabs from his plane. Clancy explains that they were trying to stop a caravan that was running guns. The three grateful soldiers laugh that they are “the Three Musketeers” and Tom their D’Artagnon; the four swear eternal friendship. Tom then travels on to visit his sweetheart, Elaine Corday (Ruth Hall), and her brother, Armand (Creighton Chaney). Armand, however, has a deadly secret: he has been blackmailed into helping El Shaitan, and was with the caravan. El Shaitan declares Tom an enemy, and orders Armand to use him and his embassy connections to bring another shipment of arms into the country. Armand does so, but the ruse is discovered; and Tom, in Paris, finds himself accused as a gun-runner. Escaping back to North Africa, Tom gets the truth out of Armand, who is then killed by El Shaitan. Tom is found standing over the body, and is soon wanted for both gun-running and murder.... The opening credits of this serial insist that it is “a modern version of the famous story”, but any resemblance between this serial and M. Dumas’ novel is, as they say, entirely coincidental. You can also forget anything you ever heard about the iron discipline of the Foreign Legion: when they aren’t either breaking into their CO’s office, or breaking their pal Tom out of military prison, these Three Musketeers spend most of their time in town, eating and drinking and – [*shudder*] – singing in taverns, and brawling in the street; they get positively indignant when asked to perform any actual, you know, duties. The main problem with The Three Musketeers is that is never lives up to its exciting and quite complex first episode, but devolves into repetitive scenes of riding back and forth across the desert, and white people sneaking around dressed up as “Arabs”. Actually, this latter aspect is one of this serial’s more pleasing absurdities, particularly when Tom Wayne, a foot taller than anyone else, and with his military boots and his tie showing, is supposed to be impenetrably disguised, to the point where he can infiltrate the band of Arab rebels without being detected. (Of course, it helps that, although they know Tom is onto them, the rebels never change their password!) At this point in his career, John Wayne is still incredibly awkward, far more at home in his action scenes than in those with dialogue. Ruth Hall is an adequate heroine, mercifully the dashing-across-the-desert kind, rather than the stand-around-screaming kind. (She attempts a French accent for about five minutes during the first episode, then forgets about it.) Lon Chaney Jr, still billed as “Creighton”, gives one of his best early performances as the tormented Armand. Noah Beery Jr also shows up for just long enough to get shot in the back; while that’s legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt under the mask as “El Shaitan” (although it isn’t his voice).

Things I Learned From Watching This SerialTM:  every single Arab in the world is called El Something-or-other.

Treasure Of The Jamaica Reef (1975)

Some people whose identities I didn’t really catch, for reasons that were never quite clear (hey, blame overloud music in the expository scenes), travel to the West Indies to search for a famous sunken galleon and a long-lost cave supposedly containing treasure from it, after securing sole international salvage rights for the operation. However, two other people (never quite clear about them, either) get wind of the arrangement and plan to let the salvagers do all the hard work before stepping in to relieve them of any finds. Things don’t do quite to plan for them: hand-grenade + boat = explosion so powerful it doesn’t even leave debris. This movie was shot on location, and it is evident that the actors enjoyed the experience very much; the production also had repercussions for two of its participants, inasmuch as the Cheryl Stoppelmoor “introduced” here later married her co-star David Ladd. However, about 80% of this film consists of scuba-diving scenes, so approach with caution. The film has the expected leisurely pace, but does manage to build some suspense when, forced by circumstance to take on the grim task of recovering occupied coffins from a sunken liner, one of the salvagers becomes trapped in the wreck with a very limited supply of air. Stephen Boyd, Chuck Woolery and David Ladd are the main salvagers, with Rosey Grier lending a hand; Darby Hinton is a young hanger-on; and Ms Stoppelmoor provides set decoration by wandering around in a skimpy bikini. On all the available evidence, no animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture. However, a visit to the IMDb would suggest that my print was cut, as there are references there to a murder scene that never happened (and yes, reading the fine print we see a credit for “re-editing”). As things stand, film’s alternative title, Evil In The Deep, makes no sense whatsoever. Possibly the film was re-named at a later date, to cash in on The Deep.

ET AL. Main Index

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----tidied up 28/06/2014