What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Detour (1945)

And here we are to try out the recent release of the 1945 noir Detour, starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage!

Piano player Al Roberts (Tom Neal) is in love with singer Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake), who has decided to go out to Hollywood alone. One night, when a patron is a bit more generous in tipping him, Al calls Sue and decides to come out to see her and get married. He starts hitchhiking his way from New York, eventually ending up with Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald), who is also going towards California. However, one night when it’s raining and Charles is fast asleep, Al tries to get his help with putting the roof up on the convertible, only for Charles to fall down and hit his head, dying instantly. Worried, Al decides to hide the body and assume Charles’ identity, so he won’t get into trouble. Al ends up picking up another traveler, Vera (Ann Savage), but finds out too late that she knew Charles and tries to blackmail Al. In her greed, she drives him up the wall as she first orders him to sell the car, then changes her mind when she finds out Charles’ rich father is about to die, leading to the two of them quarreling.

Apparently a very low-budget film, this is a wonderful movie. None of the people in this movie were big stars then, and would probably be forgotten if not for this movie. I would definitely say that actress Ann Savage lives up to her last name here, making for a very greedy and dangerous femme fatale as she drags Tom Neal’s character down further and further. While the sets are few, they help create this movie’s atmosphere (of course, during the driving scenes, they do have rear projection screens, but they work well enough here). I had heard of this movie prior to my first viewing, but seeing it is definitely an experience, and one I would definitely recommend!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. It’s long been in the public domain, so most transfers have looked terrible. While I myself haven’t seen the movie prior to this release, I can say, based on the set’s restoration featurette, which showed what they had to work with from some elements, that this movie does indeed look fantastic, and is definitely the best way to view this movie! Detour is one hour, ten minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Continuing on with the month of “Noir-vember,” we have the 1944 film Murder, My Sweet, starring Dick Powell, Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley!

One night in his office, private detective Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) is visited by Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki). Moose wants to hire him to find his girlfriend, Velma Valento, who is missing after eight years. They don’t have any luck, but at least one person Philip talks to seems to know more than they let on. Soon, he is contacted by Lindsay Marriott (Douglas Walton), who wants to hire him as a bodyguard while he pays the ransom for some jewels. However, things don’t go well, and Lindsay is killed, with Philip also conked. After the police question Philip and warn him to stay away from psychic Jules Amthor (Otto Kruger), Philip returns to his office. There, he is met by Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley), who tries (and fails) to pose as a reporter. She reveals that it is her stepmother, Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor), who owns the jade necklace that had been stolen and Lindsay was trying to recover. Ann’s father, Mr. Grayle (Miles Mander), ends up hiring Philip to help find the jade necklace, but he finds the two cases intersecting as Amthor uses Moose to help shake information out of Philip on the location of the necklace.  But will Philip live to tell the tale?

Murder, My Sweet is based on the 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler. RKO Studios had already bought the film rights and made a film just a few years before. However, the movie, The Falcon Takes Over (1942), was used as part of another detective franchise, replacing Philip Marlowe with detective Gay Lawrence (AKA the Falcon), and changing a lot from the novel. Due to some of the substantial changes made, it was easier to convince the studio heads to do a re-make so quickly. Of course, while he was cast as Philip Marlowe, Dick Powell was hardly who anybody would have picked for the role. At the time, he was typecast in a lot of musical roles, due mainly to the success of some of the Busby Berkeley films he starred in, such as 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, and a number of others. He was getting tired of them, but that’s all the studios wanted to cast him in. When signing with RKO, that’s what they wanted him to do as well, but he apparently had enough power to get it into his contract that he could do this movie. Of course, the movie was briefly released by the novel’s original title, Farewell, My Lovely, but, due to Dick Powell’s reputation, audiences thought they were going to see a musical, and came away disappointed. But, the title was changed, and the film became a hit, allowing audiences to see Dick Powell in a new light!

My own opinion is that this is a great noir. I love the dialogue, which gives us such vivid descriptions, and of a type that would not seem at home in any other film genre. The visuals, from the “smoke” when he is all “coked up” to the screen going black when the character is knocked out and many other instances, all make this movie a fun experience. While I mainly know Dick Powell from some of his musicals and comedies, this film is a wonderful change of pace, and he just works so well in it! It’s definitely an easy thing for me to give this movie some of my highest recommendations for a film noir!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection. Since I had heard that it was given one of their usually fantastic transfers, it was an easy movie for me to give a chance, as I hadn’t seen or heard of it before then! And I’m glad to have seen it! The movie is one hour, thirty-five minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1939)

Up for a good mystery? Then let’s get into The Hound Of The Baskervilles from 1939, starring Richard Greene, Basil Rathbone, Wendy Barrie and Nigel Bruce.

Upon the death of Sir Charles Baskerville (Ian MacLaren), his nephew Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene) comes from Canada to take over the estate. Among some of the late Sir Charles’ friends is Dr. James Mortimer (Lionel Atwill), who comes to see Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) in hopes that the famous detective might be able to convince Sir Henry to stay away from Baskerville Hall. When Sir Henry arrives, Sherlock instead wants to encourage him to go on. He ends up foiling an assassination attempt before Sir Henry leaves London, but sends Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) with Sir Henry, electing to stay behind to work on something else. After they arrive at Baskerville Hall, they meet Beryl Stapleton (Wendy Barrie) and her brother John Stapleton (Morton Lowry), along with a few of their other neighbors. The howling of a hound at night bothers them, considering the legend of a hound that had killed one of Sir Henry’s ancestors, but it is the convict brother of Sir Henry’s butler’s wife that ends up killed (because he was wearing some of Sir Henry’s clothes). Sherlock, meanwhile, has been lurking in the background, trying to figure things out. After revealing himself, he decides to pretend to leave, in order to allow the potential murder of Sir Henry so that he could catch the killer. But can he get back in time and prevent the murder?

Based on the classic story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the 1939 film is probably the best-known version of the tale. Of course, at the time, they had no idea that it would be so successful, spawning thirteen more films as well as a radio series with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce continuing in their roles. But for this movie, Basil Rathbone as Sherlock was the second-billed actor, behind Richard Greene’s Sir Henry Baskerville (although, to be fair, Basil’s Sherlock disappears for a good part of the movie). But one remarkable point about this movie, according to TCM, is that it was the first Sherlock Holmes movie done as a period piece, being set firmly in the past as opposed to being done in then-modern times. The movie’s success resulted in another film being produced by Fox that same year (also a period film, based on a play), before the series moved to Universal a few years later, who brought the series back to modern times.

Having seen all of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce series, I will say that this is the best of the bunch. While it is definitely an introduction, I do like Basil’s portrayal of the character. It may not be based on the original stories, although I really don’t know myself, as I am going off what others have said plus other big and small screen versions of the character, but I like his way best. To me, he brings out the character’s humanity without maintaining the arrogance that I have seen in other portrayals. To me, he cares, and that alone makes his version more fun to watch. The fact that Basil and Nigel were friends offscreen just heightens the dynamic here. This is a wonderful movie, and one I would highly recommend! The first movie in this series is definitely the best place to start (at least, if you want to start with a high point instead of a low one, anyways)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray as part of the fourteen film Basil Rathbone In The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection from MPI Home Video, and is one hour, twenty minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… He Walked By Night (1948)

Now it’s time to start off the month of “Noir-vember” with the 1948 film He Walked By Night, starring Richard Basehart and Scott Brady.

When police officer Rollins observes somebody trying to break into a radio shop, he pulls over to check on him. Before he can do anything, the robber shoots him and makes his escape. Officer Rollins doesn’t survive, and so the killer is hunted down, led by Captain Breen (Roy Roberts), with detectives Marty Brennan (Scott Brady) and Chuck Jones (James Cardwell) helping him. The two detectives almost catch up with the killer at an electronic store he was selling electronic equipment to, but he escapes, shooting and paralyzing Detective Chuck Jones in the process. Afterwards, the killer commits a string of liquor store robberies, but once the police realize the robberies have been committed by the same man, they rely on the robbery witnesses to build a composite sketch of his face. Detective Marty Brennan figures out that the killer must have been associated with the police at one point, and, in questioning other precincts, discovers that the killer is Roy Morgan (Richard Basehart). Once the police discover where he lives, they close in on him. Will the police finally catch him, or will he escape yet again?

The story for this movie was inspired by the then-recent case of William Erwin Walker, nicknamed “Machine Gun Walker,” who had killed a police officer in 1946. In true Hollywood fashion, some things were changed for the movie, but don’t let that stop you. I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I thought I would (and I thought it would be interesting going into it)! While the credited director of the movie is Alfred Werker, there seems to be some contention that director Anthony Mann was involved in directing at least some of the movie. While I don’t know one way or the other about that, I can’t deny this movie left a strong impression on me. Whether it’s scenes like when Richard Basehart’s character is removing a bullet that hit him (without actually showing any blood or gore), or seeing how the police put together the composite image with the help of all the witnesses or the final chase, this movie has many wonderful moments. And of course, the movie’s almost documentary style inspired Jack Webb (who played the lab technician Lee in this movie) to come up with what would become known as Dragnet, which started out on radio before becoming a TV show as well! All in all, a very interesting movie, and one I would highly recommend!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Classicflix, either individually as a special edition with extras or as part of the three-film John Alton Collection (without extras). Extras on the special edition include a commentary by Alan K. Rode and Julie Kirgo, a featurette on the movie, an image gallery and a 24 page booklet with an essay by Max Alvarez along with other pictures related to the movie. But of course, the transfer on this movie is also a highlight, considering how fantastic it looks, which makes it well worth it, with or without extras! The movie is one hour, nineteen minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Star Of Midnight (1935)

Now we’re back for The Thin Man starring William Powell and Ginger Rogers. Wait, Ginger Rogers? Oh, that’s right, this is the 1935 film Star Of Midnight.

When Alice Markham disappears from Chicago, her boyfriend Tim Winthrop (Leslie Fenton) comes to New York to ask his lawyer friend Clay “Dal” Dalzell (William Powell) to help him find her. Dal is reluctant at first, but the two of them and Dal’s marriage-minded girlfriend Donna Mantin (Ginger Rogers) go to see the show Midnight, which features the big star Mary Smith, who always wears a mask in public. Before he can see the show, Dal is called away to see gangster Jimmy Kinland (Paul Kelly) to negotiate for some letters Donna wants back. After doing so, Dal returns to his apartment to hear that Mary Smith had disappeared, and newspaperman Tommy Tennant (Russell Hopton) comes to tell him what he found out about Mary Smith. However, before Tennant can tell Dal anything, he is shot and killed, and the killer tosses the gun at Dal. Having handled the gun, he is suspected by the police, so he decides to try and solve the case, with the aid of Donna (whether he wants her help or not). As he gets further into the situation, he learns why Alice had disappeared from Chicago, and tries to set a trap for the murderer, who is hunting her down, too.

In one of those examples of how Hollywood hasn’t changed in many years, with the success of The Thin Man came a number of copycat movies, as the studios tried to cash in on the idea. Thin Man star William Powell was in the process of signing a contract with MGM afterwards, but signed a quick deal with RKO, which allowed him to star in two similar films, the 1936 film The Ex-Mrs. Bradford and this one. Co-starring with him was Ginger Rogers, who was enjoying her own success co-starring with Fred Astaire in their own series of films. She did Star Of Midnight in between filming Roberta and Top Hat with Fred Astaire.

Personally, having finally seen The Thin Man, it is easy for me to say that that is the better movie. The overall film is fun, made better by the chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy. That being said, Star Of Midnight comes awfully close, for me! Ginger’s not Myrna Loy, but she certainly brings her own brand of sass to the role, which is still just as fun in my book! While the relationship is an unmarried one, there is still enough history shown between the two, and I enjoy watching it a lot! I’ll admit, William Powell’s Clay Dalzell is very similar to Nick Charles, including a fondness for drinking, but while similar, it still works well with this movie! While I would say the right film ended up starting a franchise, I know I can’t help but wish that Star Of Midnight had been the start of a series for its two leads as well! It’s just a wonderful movie that I would easily recommend for fans of either star (or fans of The Thin Man, for that matter)!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection and is one hour, thirty minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Upper World (1934)

We’re back again for the 1934 movie Upper World starring Warren William, Mary Astor and Ginger Rogers!

Alex Stream (Warren William), a big man in the railroad industry, is in the middle of a big merger, which is keeping him quite busy, while his wife, Hettie (Mary Astor), is obsessed with big society parties. Then, one day, he rescues showgirl Lily Linda (Ginger Rogers) from drowning. Grateful, she cooks a meal for him, which he enjoys. Soon, Alex tries to plan an anniversary dinner with his wife, but she declines because she forgot and had a big society party to go to. On his way home from work, Alex passes by the burlesque theater that Lily is headlining and decides on a whim to take her to the dinner he had arranged. He openly admits to the fact that he is married, but they end up spending a lot of time together. Her former boyfriend/manager Lou Colima (J. Carroll Naish) wants to blackmail Alex, due to the upcoming railroad merger being so big, but she loves Alex and refuses. Unwilling to accept “no” for an answer, he steals some letters Alex had written to her. When Alex came in and tried to take them back, Lou tried to shoot Alex, but hit Lily, who got between the two to save Alex. Alex got his hands on another gun and shot Lou. He tried to hide his involvement and got out of there, but it quickly becomes a big case, with at least one policeman breathing down his neck, due to a grudge (more on that in a bit).

While this movie is enjoyable as a fun romantic comedy before it switches into a thriller as Warren William’s Alex tries to avoid being caught by the police, it definitely has its flaws. From my perspective, I would say that most of them have to do with Alex, as he is a hard character to figure out. On the one hand, we’re supposed to cheer for him as he goes from being too busy for a lot of things to trying to find time for fun and wanting to do so with his family, but, on the other hand, we also see his wealth and influence as a problem, particularly when he uses his influence to get his chauffeur out of a traffic ticket (and gets the policeman demoted in the process). It’s annoying seeing one of his work colleagues in the car with him arguing that his driver shouldn’t be given a ticket purely because of who he is, and it makes him look (and feel) like he is above the law. If not for that, I could more easily understand why he is trying to hide his involvement when Ginger’s Lily and her ex are killed, but the fact that he essentially drags down a good policeman through his influence just makes him look bad. And the ending just feels unearned. Honestly, that is the part of the movie that would have BENEFITTED more from the Code going into effect (although I can’t really say how without spoiling the movie). That being said, enough of the rest of the film worked fine as a pre-Code.

Personally, I think the movie is worth seeing for Ginger Rogers alone. After being successfully paired with Fred Astaire in Flying Down To Rio, she made several solo movies (including this one) while she waited for him to end his run in the Broadway and London productions of The Gay Divorce. In this movie, I consider her the most truly likeable character, as she knows that Warren William’s Alex is married and is unlikely to leave his wife for her, but she still enjoys spending time with him and cares for him, even being willing to take a bullet for him. And while the movie doesn’t qualify as a musical, it’s still fun listening to her and Warren goofing around singing “Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf,” and she also gets to do a burlesque number to the song “Shake Your Powder Puff” (and wearing an outfit that is proof enough that this movie was still a pre-Code). So, again, I like this movie even if only because of her, and I would recommend giving this one a try!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, thirteen minutes in length.

My Rating: 7/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933)

If you’re in the money, then I hope you’re here as we get into Gold Diggers Of 1933, starring Warren William, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell!

Producer Barney Hopkins (Ned Sparks) has an idea for a show, but no cash to put it on with. He meets songwriter Brad Roberts (Dick Powell) when he is meeting with some of the chorus girls from Barney’s attempted shows, and Brad puts up the money to do the show, as long as his girlfriend Polly Parker (Ruby Keeler) is given the lead. When the male lead has issues with lumbago, Brad has to go on in his place. The show is successful, but it is revealed that Brad is actually Robert Treat Bradford, a member of a wealthy society family. His brother, J. Lawrence Bradford (Warren William) is less than thrilled that his brother is involved in show business, but he is particularly adamant that Brad should not go out with Polly, since Lawrence and the family lawyer Faneuil Peabody (Guy Kibbee) believe all chorus girls are gold diggers. Lawrence and Faneuil come to Polly’s apartment, and mistake one of her roommates, Carol King (Joan Blondell) for her. Carol and other roommate Trixie Lorraine (Aline MacMahon) decide to play along with the mistake and get back at them for insulting them. While it’s a game for the gals at first, they do start to have real feelings for the two men (and vice versa).

After the success of 42nd Street, Warner Brothers quickly followed up with Gold Diggers Of 1933, bringing back a lot of the cast, choreographer Busby Berkeley and songwriters Harry Warren and Al Dubin (and make sure you note who the songwriters are, as that helps make at least one line early in the movie that much funnier). But for the story, they made use of a Broadway show called The Gold Diggers that they had already filmed twice before, once as a silent film and again as an early talkie, the film The Gold Diggers Of Broadway, which is sadly now a lost film except for a few surviving reels. Busby Berkeley was given more freedom and a bigger budget to work with for this movie, resulting in four big numbers, including the song “Remember My Forgotten Man,” which drew inspiration from the then-recent Bonus March (in which veterans of the first world war, suffering from the effects of the Depression, tried and failed to claim their government pensions that had been promised to them after the war).

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the songs “We’re In The Money” and the “Shadow Waltz.” “We’re In The Money” is probably this film’s most iconic number, starting us off with a group of chorus girls, led by Ginger Rogers, singing on stage how the Depression is over for them, as they are (literally) covered in money, only for a sheriff and his deputies to come in and take everything because the show’s producer hadn’t paid the bills. Of course, Ginger makes the song memorable by doing part of it in pig Latin (which was apparently something she was doing offscreen just for fun and somebody heard her doing then suggested she do it in the movie). “Shadow Waltz,” while not quite as well known, is still fun, especially when seeing the dancers moving around with neon-lit violins.

There are definitely two distinct halves to this movie, with the first focusing on putting on the show and on Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler’s characters, while the second half focuses more on the gold digger aspects as Warren William’s character mistakenly tries to stop the relationship and is taken for a ride by the roommates. It works, and definitely keeps the movie from essentially repeating 42nd Street. Overall, a very fun pre-Code film, and one that is highly recommended! This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection and is one hour, thirty-seven minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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