August 30, 2014
New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/08/30/case-curious-bride-1935-warren-william/The Case of the Curious Bride (1935) with Warren William
Given the growing unrest and the increasingly turbulent debate about the subject I have decided to drop my regularly scheduled post and instead answer the question at hand and debate The Case of the Curious Bride.
1935’s The Case of the Curious Bride is, in fact, the strongest of the Perry Mason films of the mid-1930s, of which the first two feature Warren William as the famed icon.  Does it rival Citizen Kane?  Surely not, but what are the facts of the case?
However, the film is readily entertaining and has more going for it behind the scenes than one might expect.  For starters, though it has some star talent, including the aforementioned Warren William, we also have Claire Dodd as his assistant Della.  We also get the first American production featuring Errol Flynn, though if you blink or nod off you miss him.  Given Flynn’s rather minimal screen time, it is somewhat incredulous that the film has been featured as a portion of Errol Flynn film festivals and is now perhaps best known for his role in it.
There are three things which make the film stand out from the other films in the series (and for full disclosure a reminder that some don’t feature William).  First is the script which, though at odds in some places with the original Erle Stanley Gardner novel of the same name, creates an atmosphere that is perhaps a bit more flippant than the author would have preferred.  There are constant little one liners which bring quite a bit of appreciated humor to the picture.  Further, this certainly is not the Perry Mason of Raymond Burr.  The downside of this more light-hearted approach is the diminishment of the mystery at hand, but the trade-off makes for a better picture in this case.
In this iteration Mason is severely extroverted, a world class chef and wine expert, and at least a sporadic womanizer and lawbreaker.  (Reference the conversation he has with Rhoda about his last scheduled meeting with her on that last one.)
Second, as Warren William’s second portrayal of the criminologist, his performance is simply that much better.   William has grown into the role and it clearly fits him well.  He is not only appropriately witty and haughty (the latter bordering on arrogance), but his personalization comes across as almost English in character.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly of the three is the direction of Michael Curtiz.  Though the script is clearly structured to be fast paced, Curtiz’ usual workmanlike (but not pedestrian) efficiency is all over the end result.  At a crisp 80 minutes, the story flows quickly with slight pauses only for critical moments.   One notable result of this fast pacing is the quick fades Curtiz’ uses throughout.  At first these are jarring, then annoying.  By the conclusion of the film the viewer is numb to them.
Though not a real factor in the film, one must note the appearance of Errol Flynn as well, who you only see in a flashback in the extreme end of the picture.  Here is the young dashing Flynn of Captain Blood, which would be made later the same year and make him the star we all remember.  Officially he is also a corpse unseen under a sheet, though that could be anyone under there.
The Case of the Curious Bride rises and falls with Warren William.  As enjoyable as the film is, the balance of the cast really serves only as foils to Mason himself.  It would be especially good to have seen more significant roles for Rhoda (Margaret Lindsay) and Della (Claire Dodd).  That said, let’s touch on the plot briefly.
After an especially favorable win, we open with Mason ready to make a fine crab dinner (at a restaurant he can apparently commandeer at will) before departing for a lengthy vacation in China.  Mid meal he is beset upon by former girlfriend Rhoda who needs his advice.  A friend has just remarried and wants to confirm that her first husband- who she believes passed away five years ago- is, in fact, dead.   Of course Mason deducts immediately that there is no friend and the question is truly Rhoda’s own.
Along the course of the picture, Mason, along with a rather comical coroner, not only exhume the dead husband’s coffin to find buried with a wooden cigar store Indian, but are also called to a murder scene at which they actually find the freshly deceased husband (Errol Flynn as Gregory Moxley) in question.  Evidently he is an extortionist who became caught up in his own web.
Rhoda unwittingly incriminates herself in the murder as is charged with the crime before Mason untangles it all and exposes the true killer.  I’ve skipped a few minor twists to keep some spoilers hidden but this is the general flow of the picture.
We too have some of the standard clichés of the detective genre, though to be honest they surely were not so clichéd then- but to call them trendsetting is surely extravagant.  First is the perhaps exotic menagerie of hobbies our protagonist has, which we see in the more popular images of the Sherlock Holmes of Basil Rathbone.  Warren William clearly here is a man of the world among the Philistines, much like our favorite Holmes.
We also have the sometime humorous rivalry with the slow-witted police chief, which we see again and again in history.  First to mind again comes the Holmes-Lestrade relationship of the later Universal Holmes series and also the Clouseau-Dreyfus relationship of the Peter Sellers Pink Panther series.
Last is what I call the ‘big reveal,’ where the inspector/detective/whatever gets the entire cast together to unveil the culprit and walk through the case.  Though used constantly throughout film history, we’d again point out the above two series but also through in every Agatha Christie based film as strong corollaries.
So, though you’ve since seen much what comprises The Case of the Curious Bride elsewhere, you likely haven’t seen this unique recipe.  With the secret ingredients of Warren William and Michael Curtiz, this is a treat well worth a taste.
The defense rests.

New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/08/30/case-curious-bride-1935-warren-william/

The Case of the Curious Bride (1935) with Warren William

1935 case of the curious bride

Given the growing unrest and the increasingly turbulent debate about the subject I have decided to drop my regularly scheduled post and instead answer the question at hand and debate The Case of the Curious Bride.

1935’s The Case of the Curious Bride is, in fact, the strongest of the Perry Mason films of the mid-1930s, of which the first two feature Warren William as the famed icon.  Does it rival Citizen Kane?  Surely not, but what are the facts of the case?

However, the film is readily entertaining and has more going for it behind the scenes than one might expect.  For starters, though it has some star talent, including the aforementioned Warren William, we also have Claire Dodd as his assistant Della.  We also get the first American production featuring Errol Flynn, though if you blink or nod off you miss him.  Given Flynn’s rather minimal screen time, it is somewhat incredulous that the film has been featured as a portion of Errol Flynn film festivals and is now perhaps best known for his role in it.

1935 case of the curious bride warren william 1There are three things which make the film stand out from the other films in the series (and for full disclosure a reminder that some don’t feature William).  First is the script which, though at odds in some places with the original Erle Stanley Gardner novel of the same name, creates an atmosphere that is perhaps a bit more flippant than the author would have preferred.  There are constant little one liners which bring quite a bit of appreciated humor to the picture.  Further, this certainly is not the Perry Mason of Raymond Burr.  The downside of this more light-hearted approach is the diminishment of the mystery at hand, but the trade-off makes for a better picture in this case.

In this iteration Mason is severely extroverted, a world class chef and wine expert, and at least a sporadic womanizer and lawbreaker.  (Reference the conversation he has with Rhoda about his last scheduled meeting with her on that last one.)

Second, as Warren William’s second portrayal of the criminologist, his performance is simply that much better.   William has grown into the role and it clearly fits him well.  He is not only appropriately witty and haughty (the latter bordering on arrogance), but his personalization comes across as almost English in character.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly of the three is the direction of Michael Curtiz.  Though the script is clearly structured to be fast paced, Curtiz’ usual workmanlike (but not pedestrian) efficiency is all over the end result.  At a crisp 80 minutes, the story flows quickly with slight pauses only for critical moments.   One notable result of this fast pacing is the quick fades Curtiz’ uses throughout.  At first these are jarring, then annoying.  By the conclusion of the film the viewer is numb to them.

1935 case of the curious bride errol flynnThough not a real factor in the film, one must note the appearance of Errol Flynn as well, who you only see in a flashback in the extreme end of the picture.  Here is the young dashing Flynn of Captain Blood, which would be made later the same year and make him the star we all remember.  Officially he is also a corpse unseen under a sheet, though that could be anyone under there.

The Case of the Curious Bride rises and falls with Warren William.  As enjoyable as the film is, the balance of the cast really serves only as foils to Mason himself.  It would be especially good to have seen more significant roles for Rhoda (Margaret Lindsay) and Della (Claire Dodd).  That said, let’s touch on the plot briefly.

1935 case of the curious bride openingAfter an especially favorable win, we open with Mason ready to make a fine crab dinner (at a restaurant he can apparently commandeer at will) before departing for a lengthy vacation in China.  Mid meal he is beset upon by former girlfriend Rhoda who needs his advice.  A friend has just remarried and wants to confirm that her first husband- who she believes passed away five years ago- is, in fact, dead.   Of course Mason deducts immediately that there is no friend and the question is truly Rhoda’s own.

Along the course of the picture, Mason, along with a rather comical coroner, not only exhume the dead husband’s coffin to find buried with a wooden cigar store Indian, but are also called to a murder scene at which they actually find the freshly deceased husband (Errol Flynn as Gregory Moxley) in question.  Evidently he is an extortionist who became caught up in his own web.

Rhoda unwittingly incriminates herself in the murder as is charged with the crime before Mason untangles it all and exposes the true killer.  I’ve skipped a few minor twists to keep some spoilers hidden but this is the general flow of the picture.

1935 case of the curious bride warren william 2We too have some of the standard clichés of the detective genre, though to be honest they surely were not so clichéd then- but to call them trendsetting is surely extravagant.  First is the perhaps exotic menagerie of hobbies our protagonist has, which we see in the more popular images of the Sherlock Holmes of Basil Rathbone.  Warren William clearly here is a man of the world among the Philistines, much like our favorite Holmes.

We also have the sometime humorous rivalry with the slow-witted police chief, which we see again and again in history.  First to mind again comes the Holmes-Lestrade relationship of the later Universal Holmes series and also the Clouseau-Dreyfus relationship of the Peter Sellers Pink Panther series.

1935 case of the curious bride end castLast is what I call the ‘big reveal,’ where the inspector/detective/whatever gets the entire cast together to unveil the culprit and walk through the case.  Though used constantly throughout film history, we’d again point out the above two series but also through in every Agatha Christie based film as strong corollaries.

So, though you’ve since seen much what comprises The Case of the Curious Bride elsewhere, you likely haven’t seen this unique recipe.  With the secret ingredients of Warren William and Michael Curtiz, this is a treat well worth a taste.

The defense rests.

August 22, 2014
New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/08/22/invisible-woman-1940-virginia-bruce/The Invisible Woman (1940) with Virginia Bruce“If more women were invisible, life would be much less complicated.”— Professor Gibbs
The 1940 Universal movie The Invisible Womanis an obvious sequel of sorts to The Invisible Man, made seven years earlier by the same studio, and starring the great Claude Rains, who almost single-handed carries the film. Manhas its comic moments, but it also has its dark side and tragic consequences for Jack Griffin, Rains’ character, who achieves invisibility but is unable to “get back,” and is driven insane, shot in the snow by the police and dies in the hospital, only then becoming visible for the first time in the movie.
The Invisible Woman has no such serious moments, isn’t a horror film and exists purely for laughs and lively slapstick, though the presence of John Barrymore may pique the curiosity. Whatever happened to him, anyway, this member of the famous Barrymore dynasty, this actor once called the greatest Hamlet of all time? Although his fall from grace was caused by alcoholism and fading memory, in Woman he seems to hold up his end fairly well, wandering through the film with a subtle comic flair, which he never lost, even, it’s rumored, on his deathbed. This was Barrymore’s third-to-last film. He would die in 1942.
The special effects, which were such a novelty in The Invisible Man and are a bit less sophisticated and inventive in the female counterpart, are the central attraction of both films, the work of special effects wizard John P. Fulton. He also helped bring to life, as it were, some of Universal’s trademark horror films—Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Mummy, Werewolf of London,The Wolf Man and many other titles.
The director is the little-known A. Edward Sutherland, one of the original Keystone Kops and director of a number of W. C. Fields and Laurel and Hardy comedies. If nothing else, he keeps the pace hopping. Better known is Elwood Bredell, the film’s cinematographer, responsible for Hellzapoppin’, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, Adventures of Don Juan and The Inspector General. He may not be one of the great cinematographers by any means, but he proves again that even the minor artists of Hollywood’s golden age could turn in the goods.
Despite the two films being from the same studio, and not all that many years apart, there are few carryovers among the supporting players. Henry Travers, John Carradine, Holmes Herbert, Una O’Connor, Dwight Frye, Forrester Harvey, even the redoubtable E. E. Clive—all in Man—are absent in Woman. However, Mary Gordon, landlady to Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes in that same studio’s detective series, does appear in both films, if nothing more than “appear.”
Still, there are enough familiar names in the supporting cast of The Invisible Woman to be a treat for anyone looking for those old familiar faces that made the films of the ’30s and ’40s such adventures in a kind of can-you-pick-them-out game. The supporting casts in both films, nonetheless, are of the same generation.
Receiving top billing, even above Barrymore, Virginia Bruce replaced Margaret Sullavan, who thought The Invisible Woman beneath her acting skills. For some reason, I often confuse Bruce with Virginia Grey, maybe, not that they look anyway alike (they don’t), but because both are “B” leading ladies, often play “the other woman” and, yes, both display similar personae, with limited charisma.
Bruce here is very much up front in the action, playing Kitty Carroll, who answers daffy Professor Gibbs’ (Barrymore) newspaper ad for a volunteer, someone who wishes to become invisible—and attain all the questionable advantages that provides. A department store model, Kitty sees possibilities in such a transformation, a way of getting even with her mean-spirited boss, appropriately named Mr. Growly (Charles Lane), who has fired her for being honest with her customers when a sleeve tears during a dress modeling.
In the film’s beginning, lawyer Hudson (Thurston Hall, here in a larger role than usual, but still his blustery self), arrives at the home of playboy Richard Russell (John Howard, fresh from The Philadelphia Story). Hudson is greeted at the door by George the butler (Charles Ruggles, the eccentric leopard-caller in Bringing Up Baby and famously teamed with Mary Boland in a comedy series in the early ’30s). George, already, has done a pratfall down a staircase, sending a serving tray flying, and, moments later, has another encounter with the floor at the front door.
“Get up! Get up!” Hudson tells him. “I am up,” George replies. “I was up. And I’ve been up all night. I would have stayed up if you hadn’t knocked me down.”
Hudson tells Russell that because of his extravagant living, he’s flat broke, which means there won’t be any more money for Gibbs’ work on his invisibility machine. His home/laboratory is in an outbuilding on the Russell estate, complete with housekeeper Mrs. Jackson (Margaret Hamilton in an undernourished part), who sometimes does the eccentric old fossil’s bidding, and at others—well, Hamilton has always been rather arrogantly independent.
Kitty answered Gibbs’ newspaper ad using a man’s name, so the professor is surprised, to say the least, when a woman appears at his doorstep. He’s game though and quickly asks her to undress for the first test for his machine. The machine works! (Amazing, even in this comedy the Hollywood censors were concerned about “nudity” on screen!) When Kitty later has to dress, now invisible, she complains, “This is worse than dressing in the dark.”
Russell and Kitty have a love-hate relationship, with little time to concentrate on either feeling. Their scenes are incidental to the special effects—clothes moving without bodies, floating objects, unseen slaps—and then the second half of the film begins with a visit by gangdoms very own. Gangster Foghorn (Donald MacBride) arrives with his two henchmen, Bill (gangster specialist Edward Brophy, from The Thin Man to The Last Hurrah) and Frankie (Shemp Howard, one of the original Three Stooges). They’ve come to steal the professor’s machine. The gang coerces the old fuddy-duddy into demonstrating it, to see if it will work on their boss “Blackie” Cole (Oscar Homolka, an Austrian adept at both comedy and drama), who wants to return to Russia—really incognito.
The antics that follow would do credit—if that’s an appropriate comparison—to the Three Stooges, and not merely because of Shemp Howard’s presence. The gangsters cavort with the machine, which has its side effects. Foghorn acquires a falsetto voice after passing through the device, and as George, who clearly has the best lines, says, “I don’t know [who’s at the door], sir, but it sounds like Jenny Lind.”
Kitty, once she has become seeable again, learns that alcohol will return her to invisibility. Being unseen is needed to defeat the gangsters, who have stolen the machine and taken it to their hideout in Mexico. Further, this invisibility thing seems to be hereditary; after Kitty and Russell are married and have a child, the infant becomes invisible when rubbed with an alcohol-based cream.Of course, John P. Fulton’s best special effects moment, now combined with Lane’s convincing startled disbelief, is Kitty’s final appearance at the department store. At a fashion show—a gown without a head—she sends the ladies running for their lives. In Growly’s office, Kitty first appears without a head and proceeds to remove her clothes until there’s nothing left but her gloves, in the invisible buff, which also managed to pass those censors! She yanks Growly by his tie, bangs the window pane on his head and kicks him in the derriere (discreetly implied in a view from outside the window). Even the gloves gone now, Kitty slams Growly’s office door, the glass panes shattering to the floor. Chairs, a water cooler, a time clock, seemingly on their own, crash to the floor on her exit. With one final goggle-eyed stare, Growly faints backward to the floor.
John Barrymore, known as the Great Profile, made his best talkies in the early thirties, before his drinking interfered with his work: A Bill of Divorcement, which brought Katharine Hepburn to the movies,Twentieth Century, Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight. Or maybe, more accurately, these were the best of his films in which he appeared, as the latter two were true ensemble pictures, shared with numerous other stars—Great Garbo, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Marie Dressler and brother Lionel Barrymore.
Beginning in 1912 with the silents and continuing into the early talkies, Barrymore played a variety of familiar characters—Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Sherlock Holmes, Don Juan, Richard III and Hamlet, Svengali and Ahab in Moby Dick (1930)—all to be later played by others. In the same year as The Invisible Woman, he made a more or less parody of himself, The Great Profile, about a drunken actor. By this time, Barrymore was reading his lines from blackboards, which, surprisingly, he did with aplomb, to no detriment to the film’s schedule.
Many of the best and most typical comments by this lecherous predator of young and old actresses alike are too racy to quote here, but here are a few of his tamer observations on life and acting: “The good die young, because they see no point in living if you have to be good.” When asked during his final illness about dying, he replied, “Die? I should say not, old fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.” He was once asked by a student of Shakespeare, “Tell me, Mr. Barrymore, in your view, did Ophelia ever sleep with Hamlet?” After some thought, the actor replied, “Only in the Chicago company.”
It isn’t surprising that Virginia Bruce’s nemesis in The Invisible Woman, Charles Lane, appeared in a number of Barrymore films, including Twentieth Century and The Great Profile. He made literally hundreds of films, and would be the clear winner in any of those can-you-pick-them-out games, even more frequent in screen appearances than those much-seen supporting actors Harry Davenport, Henry Stephenson and Edward Everett Horton.
As one of the last survivors of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and among the first performers to join movie and television guilds, Lane wasn’t in real life the miserly, odious bureaucrat with the permanent scowl he presented in most of his films. Actually a nice man, he was a mainstay in many of Frank Capra’s films, including Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can’t Take It with You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life. His other films include the original Blondie, The Cat and the Canary (1939), Ball of Fire, The Farmer’s Daughter, Call Northside 777, Teacher’s Pet, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Murphy’s Romance.
Going into TV in the early ’50s, and for over four decades, he became everywhere on the tube—in I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, St. Elsewhere, L.A. Law and so many others. He is best remembered, perhaps, as the cantankerous—what else?—railroad executive Homer Bedloe in TV’s Petticoat Junction.
In 2006, Lane narrated a Night Before Christmas short and just before his death was working on a documentary, You Know the Face, detailing his long career. He lived to be 102, dying in 2007, active almost to the end.

New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/08/22/invisible-woman-1940-virginia-bruce/

The Invisible Woman (1940) with Virginia Bruce

1940 the invisible woman“If more women were invisible, life would be much less complicated.”— Professor Gibbs

The 1940 Universal movie The Invisible Womanis an obvious sequel of sorts to The Invisible Man, made seven years earlier by the same studio, and starring the great Claude Rains, who almost single-handed carries the film. Manhas its comic moments, but it also has its dark side and tragic consequences for Jack Griffin, Rains’ character, who achieves invisibility but is unable to “get back,” and is driven insane, shot in the snow by the police and dies in the hospital, only then becoming visible for the first time in the movie.

The Invisible Woman has no such serious moments, isn’t a horror film and exists purely for laughs and lively slapstick, though the presence of John Barrymore may pique the curiosity. Whatever happened to him, anyway, this member of the famous Barrymore dynasty, this actor once called the greatest Hamlet of all time? Although his fall from grace was caused by alcoholism and fading memory, in Woman he seems to hold up his end fairly well, wandering through the film with a subtle comic flair, which he never lost, even, it’s rumored, on his deathbed. This was Barrymore’s third-to-last film. He would die in 1942.

The special effects, which were such a novelty in The Invisible Man and are a bit less sophisticated and inventive in the female counterpart, are the central attraction of both films, the work of special effects wizard John P. Fulton. He also helped bring to life, as it were, some of Universal’s trademark horror films—Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Mummy, Werewolf of London,The Wolf Man and many other titles.

The director is the little-known A. Edward Sutherland, one of the original Keystone Kops and director of a number of W. C. Fields and Laurel and Hardy comedies. If nothing else, he keeps the pace hopping. Better known is Elwood Bredell, the film’s cinematographer, responsible for Hellzapoppin’, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, Adventures of Don Juan and The Inspector General. He may not be one of the great cinematographers by any means, but he proves again that even the minor artists of Hollywood’s golden age could turn in the goods.

the invisible woman 1940 john barrymoreDespite the two films being from the same studio, and not all that many years apart, there are few carryovers among the supporting players. Henry Travers, John Carradine, Holmes Herbert, Una O’Connor, Dwight Frye, Forrester Harvey, even the redoubtable E. E. Clive—all in Man—are absent in Woman. However, Mary Gordon, landlady to Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes in that same studio’s detective series, does appear in both films, if nothing more than “appear.”

Still, there are enough familiar names in the supporting cast of The Invisible Woman to be a treat for anyone looking for those old familiar faces that made the films of the ’30s and ’40s such adventures in a kind of can-you-pick-them-out game. The supporting casts in both films, nonetheless, are of the same generation.

the invisible woman 1940 virgina bruceReceiving top billing, even above Barrymore, Virginia Bruce replaced Margaret Sullavan, who thought The Invisible Woman beneath her acting skills. For some reason, I often confuse Bruce with Virginia Grey, maybe, not that they look anyway alike (they don’t), but because both are “B” leading ladies, often play “the other woman” and, yes, both display similar personae, with limited charisma.

Bruce here is very much up front in the action, playing Kitty Carroll, who answers daffy Professor Gibbs’ (Barrymore) newspaper ad for a volunteer, someone who wishes to become invisible—and attain all the questionable advantages that provides. A department store model, Kitty sees possibilities in such a transformation, a way of getting even with her mean-spirited boss, appropriately named Mr. Growly (Charles Lane), who has fired her for being honest with her customers when a sleeve tears during a dress modeling.

In the film’s beginning, lawyer Hudson (Thurston Hall, here in a larger role than usual, but still his blustery self), arrives at the home of playboy Richard Russell (John Howard, fresh from The Philadelphia Story). Hudson is greeted at the door by George the butler (Charles Ruggles, the eccentric leopard-caller in Bringing Up Baby and famously teamed with Mary Boland in a comedy series in the early ’30s). George, already, has done a pratfall down a staircase, sending a serving tray flying, and, moments later, has another encounter with the floor at the front door.

“Get up! Get up!” Hudson tells him. “I am up,” George replies. “I was up. And I’ve been up all night. I would have stayed up if you hadn’t knocked me down.”

the invisible woman margaret hamiltonHudson tells Russell that because of his extravagant living, he’s flat broke, which means there won’t be any more money for Gibbs’ work on his invisibility machine. His home/laboratory is in an outbuilding on the Russell estate, complete with housekeeper Mrs. Jackson (Margaret Hamilton in an undernourished part), who sometimes does the eccentric old fossil’s bidding, and at others—well, Hamilton has always been rather arrogantly independent.

Kitty answered Gibbs’ newspaper ad using a man’s name, so the professor is surprised, to say the least, when a woman appears at his doorstep. He’s game though and quickly asks her to undress for the first test for his machine. The machine works! (Amazing, even in this comedy the Hollywood censors were concerned about “nudity” on screen!) When Kitty later has to dress, now invisible, she complains, “This is worse than dressing in the dark.”

the invisible woman 1940Russell and Kitty have a love-hate relationship, with little time to concentrate on either feeling. Their scenes are incidental to the special effects—clothes moving without bodies, floating objects, unseen slaps—and then the second half of the film begins with a visit by gangdoms very own. Gangster Foghorn (Donald MacBride) arrives with his two henchmen, Bill (gangster specialist Edward Brophy, from The Thin Man to The Last Hurrah) and Frankie (Shemp Howard, one of the original Three Stooges). They’ve come to steal the professor’s machine. The gang coerces the old fuddy-duddy into demonstrating it, to see if it will work on their boss “Blackie” Cole (Oscar Homolka, an Austrian adept at both comedy and drama), who wants to return to Russia—really incognito.

The antics that follow would do credit—if that’s an appropriate comparison—to the Three Stooges, and not merely because of Shemp Howard’s presence. The gangsters cavort with the machine, which has its side effects. Foghorn acquires a falsetto voice after passing through the device, and as George, who clearly has the best lines, says, “I don’t know [who’s at the door], sir, but it sounds like Jenny Lind.”

Kitty, once she has become seeable again, learns that alcohol will return her to invisibility. Being unseen is needed to defeat the gangsters, who have stolen the machine and taken it to their hideout in Mexico. Further, this invisibility thing seems to be hereditary; after Kitty and Russell are married and have a child, the infant becomes invisible when rubbed with an alcohol-based cream.the invisible woman 1940 charles laneOf course, John P. Fulton’s best special effects moment, now combined with Lane’s convincing startled disbelief, is Kitty’s final appearance at the department store. At a fashion show—a gown without a head—she sends the ladies running for their lives. In Growly’s office, Kitty first appears without a head and proceeds to remove her clothes until there’s nothing left but her gloves, in the invisible buff, which also managed to pass those censors! She yanks Growly by his tie, bangs the window pane on his head and kicks him in the derriere (discreetly implied in a view from outside the window). Even the gloves gone now, Kitty slams Growly’s office door, the glass panes shattering to the floor. Chairs, a water cooler, a time clock, seemingly on their own, crash to the floor on her exit. With one final goggle-eyed stare, Growly faints backward to the floor.

John Barrymore, known as the Great Profile, made his best talkies in the early thirties, before his drinking interfered with his work: A Bill of Divorcement, which brought Katharine Hepburn to the movies,Twentieth Century, Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight. Or maybe, more accurately, these were the best of his films in which he appeared, as the latter two were true ensemble pictures, shared with numerous other stars—Great Garbo, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Marie Dressler and brother Lionel Barrymore.

the invisible woman 1940 john barrymore 1Beginning in 1912 with the silents and continuing into the early talkies, Barrymore played a variety of familiar characters—Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Sherlock Holmes, Don Juan, Richard III and Hamlet, Svengali and Ahab in Moby Dick (1930)—all to be later played by others. In the same year as The Invisible Woman, he made a more or less parody of himself, The Great Profile, about a drunken actor. By this time, Barrymore was reading his lines from blackboards, which, surprisingly, he did with aplomb, to no detriment to the film’s schedule.

Many of the best and most typical comments by this lecherous predator of young and old actresses alike are too racy to quote here, but here are a few of his tamer observations on life and acting: “The good die young, because they see no point in living if you have to be good.” When asked during his final illness about dying, he replied, “Die? I should say not, old fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.” He was once asked by a student of Shakespeare, “Tell me, Mr. Barrymore, in your view, did Ophelia ever sleep with Hamlet?” After some thought, the actor replied, “Only in the Chicago company.”

the invisible woman 1940 3It isn’t surprising that Virginia Bruce’s nemesis in The Invisible Woman, Charles Lane, appeared in a number of Barrymore films, including Twentieth Century and The Great Profile. He made literally hundreds of films, and would be the clear winner in any of those can-you-pick-them-out games, even more frequent in screen appearances than those much-seen supporting actors Harry Davenport, Henry Stephenson and Edward Everett Horton.

As one of the last survivors of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and among the first performers to join movie and television guilds, Lane wasn’t in real life the miserly, odious bureaucrat with the permanent scowl he presented in most of his films. Actually a nice man, he was a mainstay in many of Frank Capra’s films, including Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can’t Take It with You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life. His other films include the original Blondie, The Cat and the Canary (1939), Ball of Fire, The Farmer’s Daughter, Call Northside 777, Teacher’s Pet, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Murphy’s Romance.

the invisible woman charles lane 2Going into TV in the early ’50s, and for over four decades, he became everywhere on the tube—in I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, St. Elsewhere, L.A. Law and so many others. He is best remembered, perhaps, as the cantankerous—what else?—railroad executive Homer Bedloe in TV’s Petticoat Junction.

In 2006, Lane narrated a Night Before Christmas short and just before his death was working on a documentary, You Know the Face, detailing his long career. He lived to be 102, dying in 2007, active almost to the end.

August 14, 2014
New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/08/14/backfire-1950-virginia-mayo/Backfire (1950) with Virginia Mayo
That “White Heat” girl turns it on again!
Directed in 1950 by veteran director Vincent Sherman, Backfire is fairly easy to describe if you can follow riddles wrapped in enigmas double bagged with confusion.  Another example would be flashback in a flashback in a flashback.
Moviegoers of the time must have had the same confusion.  Both posters and taglines for the film lean heavily on the success of the earlier 1949 film White Heat.  It was a good marketing plan, as both feature Viriginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien on the screen working through a script from Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts.  There’s a fly in this ointment, however.  Backfire was completed in 1948 and if anything the studio (Warner Brothers) knew it was a weak picture and hence shelved it.  The great success of White Heat gave them the idea to capitalize further.
Virginia Mayo sadly is the one ‘A’ star in Backfire and her association with both pictures puts her squarely in the crosshairs.  Neither the poster art depicting her as a femme fatale or the tagline which hints at the same are accurate.  If anything, Mayo’s role (Julie Benson) in the film as nurse and love interest of Gordon MacRae (Bob Corey) is, with the exception of one important scene late in the film, an extremely minor one.
The film starts smartly enough, with Bob convalescing in a hospital through several surgeries.  Julie is his nurse and of course they’ve become an item.  While staying at the hospital Bob and fellow war veteran Steve Connolly (Edmond O’Brien) share dreams of their plans for buying a ranch together.
But as Bob’s release date nears, Steve disappears.  A mysterious woman appears on night at the foot of his hospital bed (we  find out later this is Lysa- played by Viveca Lindfors).  She warns Bob that Steve is hurt and needs help.
Finally Bob is released but confronted by the police chief (Ed Begley) who is following up on leads that Steve is involved in a murder.  This is the fairly strong and engaging first act.
From here the film deteriorates into a miasma of flashbacks, each one launched as the chief begins an interrogation of a new suspect.  Though the flashback motif worked with great success in Citizen Kane and The Killers, among other films, here it simply confuses.
At the end of these flashbacks, the few highly engaged viewers can piece together a murder mystery involving secret identities, fixed boxing matches, gambling, and call girls.  But by the end of the film neither the viewers or the cast seem to really care and most are (like I was) simply happy that the journey is over.
In the hindsight of the over sixty years since the release of Backfire it is perhaps more than a bit unfair to be so critical of the film.  It was intended, per Jack Warner, to be a ‘B’ film whose intent was only to get idle contract players to generate some revenue.  Director Vincent Sherman thought (more or less correctly) that the script was weak and convoluted.  Filmed immediately after 1948’s The Adventures of Don Juan, Backfire made had found Sherman wishing again for the alcoholic Flynn.  Another holdover from Juan, Viveca Lindfors went on suspension briefly due to her concerns over the film as well.  The larger ‘tell’ is that the studio held it for two years, waiting for the right time to capitalize with it.
Often incorrectly labeled as a noir film, Backfire is simply a murder plot with a few sparsely applied noir attributes.  The strong first act gives the best sense of noir, with its overall blurred perception of reality through illness, surgery, drugs, and the like.  From there any atmosphere dissipates with the breeze and it may as well be Perry Mason.
I mentioned earlier that most of the cast seems exhausted and simply going through the paces by the end of the picture.  One of the reasons may be that most of them are here only on spot duty- appearing for brief and sometimes random moments.  Mayo has a bit part outside of one strong scene.  Gordon MacRae, though present mostly throughout, seems perhaps out of his depth.  His depiction of Bob is much like that of a passenger on a train- simply waiting for what he is going to see next.
Edmond O’Brien is the only one who drives any sense of urgency and passion on screen.  In spite of the material, he is still engaged and gives a good performance.  Dana Clark and Viveca Lindfors sadly fall more into the Mayo camp here, with nothing much to do either.
At the end of the day, Sherman was most likely correct in his assessment of the flaws of the film.  They are mostly created by the script, which meanders from one flashback to another, tossing in coincidences along the way until all belief and logic is suspended.  For what it is worth, all involved seem to have done the best with what they were presented.  Director Sherman and cinematographer Carl Guthrie turn in a well shot and atmospheric film which includes several well paced action sequences.  But the flaw remains tying everything together cohesively.
As movie critic for The New York Times Bosley Crowther wrote in 1950 “In this case, the title is descriptive of the effort expended by all. A short and sweet observation covers “Backfire”: It does!”
Even now it is hard to disagree with Crowther’s diagnosis. Perhaps this did need to gestate a bit before coming out. True too that some of the key elements were reformed in a more mature form in the much more successful White Heat.

New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/08/14/backfire-1950-virginia-mayo/

Backfire (1950) with Virginia Mayo

Movie Poster for 1950 film Backfire, with Virginia Mayo and Gordon MacRae.

That “White Heat” girl turns it on again!

Directed in 1950 by veteran director Vincent Sherman, Backfire is fairly easy to describe if you can follow riddles wrapped in enigmas double bagged with confusion.  Another example would be flashback in a flashback in a flashback.

Moviegoers of the time must have had the same confusion.  Both posters and taglines for the film lean heavily on the success of the earlier 1949 film White Heat.  It was a good marketing plan, as both feature Viriginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien on the screen working through a script from Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts.  There’s a fly in this ointment, however.  Backfire was completed in 1948 and if anything the studio (Warner Brothers) knew it was a weak picture and hence shelved it.  The great success of White Heat gave them the idea to capitalize further.

Virginia Mayo sadly is the one ‘A’ star in Backfire and her association with both pictures puts her squarely in the crosshairs.  Neither the poster art depicting her as a femme fatale or the tagline which hints at the same are accurate.  If anything, Mayo’s role (Julie Benson) in the film as nurse and love interest of Gordon MacRae (Bob Corey) is, with the exception of one important scene late in the film, an extremely minor one.

backfire 1950 virginia mayo gordon macrae 2The film starts smartly enough, with Bob convalescing in a hospital through several surgeries.  Julie is his nurse and of course they’ve become an item.  While staying at the hospital Bob and fellow war veteran Steve Connolly (Edmond O’Brien) share dreams of their plans for buying a ranch together.

But as Bob’s release date nears, Steve disappears.  A mysterious woman appears on night at the foot of his hospital bed (we  find out later this is Lysa- played by Viveca Lindfors).  She warns Bob that Steve is hurt and needs help.

Finally Bob is released but confronted by the police chief (Ed Begley) who is following up on leads that Steve is involved in a murder.  This is the fairly strong and engaging first act.

backfire 1950 virginia mayo gordon macraeFrom here the film deteriorates into a miasma of flashbacks, each one launched as the chief begins an interrogation of a new suspect.  Though the flashback motif worked with great success in Citizen Kane and The Killers, among other films, here it simply confuses.

At the end of these flashbacks, the few highly engaged viewers can piece together a murder mystery involving secret identities, fixed boxing matches, gambling, and call girls.  But by the end of the film neither the viewers or the cast seem to really care and most are (like I was) simply happy that the journey is over.

In the hindsight of the over sixty years since the release of Backfire it is perhaps more than a bit unfair to be so critical of the film.  It was intended, per Jack Warner, to be a ‘B’ film whose intent was only to get idle contract players to generate some revenue.  Director Vincent Sherman thought (more or less correctly) that the script was weak and convoluted.  Filmed immediately after 1948’s The Adventures of Don Juan, Backfire made had found Sherman wishing again for the alcoholic Flynn.  Another holdover from Juan, Viveca Lindfors went on suspension briefly due to her concerns over the film as well.  The larger ‘tell’ is that the studio held it for two years, waiting for the right time to capitalize with it.

Backfire with Edmond O'Brien and Viveca LindforsOften incorrectly labeled as a noir film, Backfire is simply a murder plot with a few sparsely applied noir attributes.  The strong first act gives the best sense of noir, with its overall blurred perception of reality through illness, surgery, drugs, and the like.  From there any atmosphere dissipates with the breeze and it may as well be Perry Mason.

I mentioned earlier that most of the cast seems exhausted and simply going through the paces by the end of the picture.  One of the reasons may be that most of them are here only on spot duty- appearing for brief and sometimes random moments.  Mayo has a bit part outside of one strong scene.  Gordon MacRae, though present mostly throughout, seems perhaps out of his depth.  His depiction of Bob is much like that of a passenger on a train- simply waiting for what he is going to see next.

Edmond O’Brien is the only one who drives any sense of urgency and passion on screen.  In spite of the material, he is still engaged and gives a good performance.  Dana Clark and Viveca Lindfors sadly fall more into the Mayo camp here, with nothing much to do either.

Backfire (1950) with Dane ClarkAt the end of the day, Sherman was most likely correct in his assessment of the flaws of the film.  They are mostly created by the script, which meanders from one flashback to another, tossing in coincidences along the way until all belief and logic is suspended.  For what it is worth, all involved seem to have done the best with what they were presented.  Director Sherman and cinematographer Carl Guthrie turn in a well shot and atmospheric film which includes several well paced action sequences.  But the flaw remains tying everything together cohesively.

As movie critic for The New York Times Bosley Crowther wrote in 1950 “In this case, the title is descriptive of the effort expended by all. A short and sweet observation covers “Backfire”: It does!”

Even now it is hard to disagree with Crowther’s diagnosis. Perhaps this did need to gestate a bit before coming out. True too that some of the key elements were reformed in a more mature form in the much more successful White Heat.

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