Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to watch on TCM in September 2022

September is sometimes a bit of a letdown after the glory days of August’s Summer Under the Stars, but TCM always manages to come through with a lovely follow-up selection of pre-Code and film noir features. And this month is no different. Here are my Shadowy and Satiny picks for the month – they’re a pair of gems!

SHADOWY PICK: High Sierra (1941)

Humphrey Bogart is TCM’s Star of the Month, so it’s only fitting that my shadowy pick is taken from one of his films. An early entry in the noir canon, High Sierra boasts a top-notch pedigree. In addition to Bogart, its stellar cast includes top-billed Ida Lupino, Arthur Kennedy, and the always-reliable Barton MacClane. The associate producer was Mark Hellinger, who would later move over to Universal and go on to produce such classics as The Killers, Brute Force, and The Naked City. John Huston and W.R. Burnett were responsible for the screenplay; later that year, Huston would write the screenplay for The Maltese Falcon and make his debut behind the camera directing the film, and Burnett was the author of High Sierra’s source novel, as well as Little Caesar and The Asphalt Jungle. And High Sierra was directed by Raoul Walsh, who also helmed The Roaring Twenties, They Drive By Night, and They Died With Their Boots On.

The film’s sizable cast includes Cornel Wilde, Arthur Kennedy, Bogart, Alan Curtis, and Ida Lupino.

High Sierra opens with the pardon of aging bank robber Roy Earle, who has just been released from a Chicago prison after an eight-year stretch. Directed by his boss Big Mac (Donald MacBride), who wants to knock off a west coast resort hotel before he retires, Earle hits the road for the hideout in the Sierra mountains to team up with his partners in the crime.

There are a lot of moving parts – and moving people – in this story: there’s Jack Kranmer (Barton MacLane), Big Mac’s right-hand man, who gives Earle his marching orders (and gets a double slap for delivering the instructions with a lack of respect). Pa and Ma Goodhew (Henry Travers) and their pretty granddaughter, Velma (Joan Leslie), who Earle meets on the road on his way to California – and becomes intricately involved in their lives later on. Marie (Ida Lupino), a worldly wise dame who Babe picked up in a dime-a-dance joint in Los Angeles and installed at the mountain hideout. And Louis Mendoza (Cornel Wilde), a jittery clerk at the resort who serves as the inside man for the heist. (Don’t get me started on Algernon, the Black handyman at the mountain cabin, played by Willie Best. Just don’t get me started.)

Earle is entranced by Velma. At first.

When Earle arrives at the mountain hideout, he meets the two young hoods who’ve been hired to do the job with him: Red (Arthur Kennedy), the leader of the duo, who fanboys over Earle like he was a rock star; and Babe (Alan Curtis), a hot-headed jerk who’s ever ready to deliver a wallop to Marie but sidesteps a face-to-face encounter with Earle. As the men prepare for the upcoming heist, Marie grows fonder of the tough, gentlemanly Earle, but Earle finds himself infatuated with the Goodhew’s granddaughter. Will the heist go off without a hitch? Who will Earle wind up with – Marie, Velma . . . or neither?

Other stuff:

Bogie and Zero.

Bogart’s dog in the film – his name is Pard – was played by the actor’s real-life dog, Zero.

Isabel Jewell – who you might know from Lost Horizon (1937), Marked Woman (1937), Gone With the Wind (1939), or Born to Kill (1947) – has what amounts to a bit part: one scene, four lines.

Keep your eyes peeled for this goof. When Earle meets Pa Goodhew at a roadside gas station, he tells him his name is Mr. Collins. But when Earle encounters Pa again, Pa greets him as “Roy.” (How did he know his first name??)

SATINY PICK: I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang

I find it hard to believe that after 11 years of blogging here at Shadows and Satin, I’ve never written about I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932). Well, I’m going to remedy that oversight this month, as Chain Gang is my Satiny pick for September.

Jim’s mother (Louise Carter) and his sister (I think), played by Sally Blane.

Starring Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, and Helen Vinson, this grim and gritty feature begins after World War I, as the servicemen return to their homs. Among the men is Sgt. Jim Allen (Muni), who plans to parlay the experience he gained in the army engineering corps into a construction job when he returns home, rather than go back to the factory job he’d had before the war.  “I don’t want to be spending the rest of my life answering a factory whistle instead of a bugle call. Or be cooped up in a shipping room all day,” he says. “I want to do something worthwhile.”

But Jim’s met with resistance from his family when he informs them of his plans, and before long, he caves to the pressure of his mother and sanctimonious brother (“A job in the hand’s worth two in the bush!”), returns to the factory, and watches longingly as a bridge is built nearby. Still, Jim’s simply not happy, and his growing dissatisfaction leads him to Boston, where he lands a construction job, only to lose the gig when the company is forced to cut back. This kicks off a trek throughout the country, from New Orleans to Wisconsin to St. Louis, with Jim taking odd jobs where he can, hitching rides on railcars, and eventually trying to pawn the Belgium war medal he received (only to be shown a case full of WWI medals that had been pawned already).

He just wanted a hamburger. Is that too much to ask?

Jim’s fortunes plummet further when a flophouse resident named Mike (Preston Foster) takes him to a nearby diner with the promise of a free hamburger. Instead, Mike pulls a gun on the owner and forces Jim to withdraw the contents of the cash register. While trying to escape, Mike is gunned down by police and Jim is captured – despite his protestations of innocence, he’s convicted of theft and given 10 years of hard labor on the chain gang.

Jim finds that life on the chain gang is beyond deplorable. The men have to ask for permission to wipe the sweat off their brows or risk a beating for loafing. They have to all bathe in the same used, dirty water. If an overseer fingers them for subpar work during the day, they are beaten that night with a leather strap. Their food consists of grease, fried dough, pig fat, and sorghum. (Ulp.) After six months, Jim manages to escape – but he finds that his troubles are just beginning.

Other stuff:

In an early scene, one of the returning servicemen complains about an upcoming bunk inspection and declares that the first person who mentions the word “inspection” to him once he gets home to Texas is “just gonna be S.O.L.” I don’t know about you, but where I come from, S.O.L. means “shit out of luck.”

High Sierra airs on TCM September 9th and I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang on September 10th. Check ‘em out!

You only owe it to yourself.

~ by shadowsandsatin on August 28, 2022.

2 Responses to “Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to watch on TCM in September 2022”

  1. Looking forward to your review of Fugitive/Chain Gang (which I’ve never seen, even though Helen Vinson is in it!).

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