Pre-Code on YouTube

•January 17, 2021 • 17 Comments

Happy New Year, classic film lovers!

I hope that you all are having a great start to 2021 – the last time I wrote, it was for 30 straight days of noir for Noirvember 2020, so I thought I’d start this year with a leap into the pre-Code pool. If you read my Noirvember posts, you’ll know that there’s a wide variety of noir features on YouTube – but there’s also a plethora of pre-Code movies there as well. Some of them are not in the best condition, and there are certainly some that aren’t worth your time, but there are others that are absolutely first-rate – today, I’m sharing two of these:

Don’t Bet on Women (1931)

“All women need handling.” Hmph.

I first discovered this film at the 2015 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, and it was one of the highlights of the event for me. This feature stars Edmund Lowe (who was married at the time to actress Lilyan Tashman) as Roger Fallon, a notorious womanizer with a low opinion of the opposite sex (“They’re all bad. They’re deceitful! Hard! Calculating! But, oh, how fascinating!”). Fallon’s views on women are in sharp contrast to those of his new attorney, Herbert Drake (Roland Young), who is happily married and theorizes that women are like children who are only “as bad as we allow them to be . . . all women need handling.”

When the two men encounter each other at a party, they clash again over their differing outlooks regarding women. Drake winds up betting the self-assured Fallon that it will take him more than 48 hours to capture a kiss from the first woman he sees. As it turns out, the first woman Roger sees is Herbert’s wife, Jeanne (Jeanette MacDonald). And that’s when the fun really begins!

Other Stuff:

If Una Merkel was in a scene, she was walking away with it.

Una Merkel plays Tallulah Hope, the man-crazy, slightly scatterbrained, Southern belle friend of Jeanne Drake. She’s a sheer delight in the role, and steals every scene she’s in.

Louise Beavers is seen in the film for a scant couple of seconds; she enters a room, says, “I beg your pardon” and leaves.

Another small part is played by Henry Kolker – you might remember him from one of the best-known pre-Codes, Baby Face, where he played a wealthy executive who becomes the “sugar daddy” to the title character. He can also be seen as Baron Franz in Jewel Robbery (1932), with William Powell and Kay Francis, and the father of Katharine Hepburn in Holiday (1938).

Favorite Quotes

“All parties are alike . . . Women wear a new frock now and then. But they never think of wearing a new face.” – Edmund Lowe

“There’s no virtue in a woman being good if she’s never had a chance to be bad.” – Jeanette MacDonald

Deluge (1933)

The effects were pretty special — especially for 1933.

Last summer, as part of my (failed) attempt to complete the annual Classic Movie Book Challenge, I managed to read one book: Hollywood’s Hard-Luck Ladies, by Laura Wagner. The book talks about the careers and personal tragedies of 23 actresses from the Golden Age of Cinema; one of these was Peggy Shannon, who – according to the author – was a standout in a 1933 film “about the dog-eat-dog world that results from an apocalyptic earthquake and flood.” That film was Deluge. I’d never heard of it before, but I soon found that it was available on YouTube, so I decided to check it out. And what an experience!

The film opens as information about the approach of a violent storm begins to spread across the world. We’re introduced to a few characters – Claire Arlington (Shannon), a marathon athlete who was just about to embark on a world-record swimming attempt, and Martin Webster (Sidney Blackmer), who tries to save his wife and two small children after hearing about the impending disaster on the radio. After a sudden lunar eclipse and earthquake, we’re shown nearly 10 minutes of the destruction of the city of New York, complete with toppling skyscrapers and massive floods. And while some of the special effects are obviously low-budget, much of the sequence is frighteningly impressive. After the destruction, we see that Claire and Martin have survived – only to find that their troubles are just beginning.

Peggy Shannon. So pretty. So sad.

Logging in at about 66 minutes, this once-lost film is fascinating to watch. It’s no Gone With the Wind, but it will hold your attention from start to finish. Shannon, who was strikingly pretty, had a sad life off-screen, dying from alcoholism at the age of 34, just eight years after the film’s release – but author Laura Wagner was right: she’s a standout in this feature.

Other stuff:

One of the many creepy men in this movie who try to get their hands on Claire is played by Ralf Harolde. He was good at bringing these kinds of characters to life – he was an unethical doctor with a facial tic in Night Nurse (1933) and another crooked physician in Murder, My Sweet (1944).

Samuel Hinds was in approximately two gazillion movies during his career. Take a peek at his IMDB page sometime.

Samuel Hinds is seen in a small role as a weather forecaster – you’ll recognize him as Jean Arthur’s father in You Can’t Take It With You (1936) and George Bailey’s father in It’s a Wonderful Life (1939).

Deluge was directed by Felix Feist, who I know better for his noir work; he helmed The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947), The Threat (1949), and The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950).

Favorite Quote:

“If you mean talk it over calmly, you picked the wrong time and the wrong woman. I’m used to fighting for what I want.” – Peggy Shannon

And that’s it for my first installment of pre-Codes on YouTube. Stay tuned for future posts on time-worthy pre-Codes that you can find on this website. For free!

You only owe it to yourself.

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 30: The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

•November 30, 2020 • 8 Comments

Can you believe that this is the last day of Noirvember? Seriously, where does the time go?

Ah, well – no use moaning over spent months. We’ve got more important things to do.

I’m wrapping up my YouTube noir series with The Hitch-Hiker (1953). Interestingly (to me, at least), it’s my second consecutive YouTube pick to star Frank Lovejoy, the second with a plot focusing on two male friends, and the second to be based on a true story.

It’s also the second to be almost too harrowing to watch.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Frank Lovejoy and Edmond O’Brien star as Gilbert Bowen and Roy Collins, longtime buddies and family men who are excitedly embarking on a weekend fishing trip. Their plans for fun and relaxation transform into something altogether different, though, when they pick up a hitch-hiker who just happens to be an ex-con on a murder spree.

WHAT ELSE?

This ain’t no Hamilton Burger.

The ex-con is played by William Talman, who was in a pick earlier this month, City That Never Sleeps, and is probably best known for his role as Hamilton Burger in the long-running Perry Mason TV series. His performance here will make you forget all about Mr. Burger – especially when he falls asleep with one eye open. (Yikes.)

The film is helmed by actress-turned-director Ida Lupino. Lupino also co-wrote the screenplay, with her ex-husband Collier Young, with whom she created the company that produced the picture, The Filmakers. Lupino was the first woman to director a film noir, and later became the first woman to direct an episode of The Twilight Zone.

The Hitch-Hiker was inspired by the story of Billy Cook, who killed six people during a 22-day crime spree in the early 1950s. During his murderous cross-country endeavor, Cook kidnapped a couple of hunters, forcing them to drive him to Mexico. He was later captured and sentenced to death. While he was imprisoned in California’s San Quentin State Prison, Ida Lupino visited Cook, who granted her the exclusive rights to his story.

TOMORROW . . .

The sun’ll come out . . . because the shadows of Noirvember will have faded away. But you can celebrate noir with me every day! (I’m a poet, and I don’t know it.)

Thanks for coming along on this month-long journey!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 29: Try and Get Me! (1950)

•November 29, 2020 • 4 Comments

Today, I’m recommending a movie that I’ve only seen once and, frankly, I don’t know if I’ll ever see it again.

It’s not because it’s not a first-rate noir. It is.

It’s just that it’s often hard to take – especially toward the end. But please don’t let that stop you from checking it out. Because you really owe it to yourself to see it.

At least once.

The movie is Try And Get Me! (1950).

(One more thing: you may never look at Lloyd Bridges the same way again.)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Howard is coaxed over to the wrong side of the law by this smooth criminal, played by Lloyd Bridges.

Frank Lovejoy stars as Howard Tyler, an unemployed, down-on-his-luck war vet who is reluctantly lured into a life of crime in an effort to provide for his expectant wife and son. Like most of the best-laid plans in the world of film noir, Howard gets more than he bargained for.

WHAT ELSE?

Kathleen Ryan: One of Ireland’s best.

Howard’s wife is played by Kathleen Ryan, who you can see in one of my YouTube recommendations from earlier this month, the excellent Odd Man Out (1947). A native of Ireland, Ryan was included on a recently released list of the 50 Greatest Irish Actors of All Time by the Irish Times newspaper.

The film’s source material was a novel, The Condemned, by Jo Pagano, who also wrote the screenplay. Pagano’s novel was inspired by the 1933 kidnapping case of Brooke Hart, the wealthy son of a department store owner in San Jose, California. Pagano penned several other screenplays, but had better success on the small screen, writing for such series as 77 Sunset Strip, The Naked City, The F.B.I., and Bonanza.

Director Cy Endfield, who was once a professional magician, also helmed The Underworld Story, starring Dan Duryea and released earlier in the same year as Try and Get Me (which, incidentally, was originally issued as The Sound of Fury.) In the early 1950s, Endfield was blacklisted for refusing to name names during the HUAC Communist witchhunts. He later moved to England and directed a number of films under such names as Charles de Lautour, Hugh Raker, and C. Raker Endfield.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on the last day of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 28: City That Never Sleeps (1953)

•November 28, 2020 • 2 Comments

You don’t hear much about City That Never Sleeps (1953), and that’s a real shame. It’s got a lot of good stuff, from great use of shadows to voiceover narration (okay, it’s the city talking, but whatever).

It’s also chock full of dark, cynical, and duplicitous characters, including a magician who has turned to a life of crime, and a former actor who can only find work dressing up as a “mechanical man” and performing in a department store window — from which he observes much of the film’s dastardly deeds.

And it’s got Marie Windsor. Enough said?

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

These sunny smiles belie the film’s darkness.

Gig Young stars as Johnny Kelly, a disillusioned cop who plans to quit his job, leave his wife, and take off with his mistress (Mala Powers), who works as a nightclub dancer. The action takes place on a single night in Chicago, and weaves together a spate of intertwining stories of greed, larceny, and desperation.

WHAT ELSE?

Johnny’s wife is played by Paula Raymond, who you may recognize from her featured roles in Devil’s Doorway (1950) and The Tall Target (1951), as well as a string of TV series. Her career was derailed in 1962, when she was nearly killed in a car crash, but she was able to return to acting after extensive facial surgery. She later landed a job on the NBC soaper Days of Our Lives, but she was written off the show when she fell on the set and broke her ankle. Over the next two decades, she would break both hips and her shoulder in two other accidents. She started working on her memoirs in 1999 (I Was Born Right, Where Did I Go Wrong or The Misadventures of a Dumb Dame) but, sadly, she died in 2003 before it was finished.

Bad luck seemed to follow Paula Raymond like a shadow.

The film’s screenplay comes courtesy of one Steve Fisher, a name that may not ring any bells, but it should. He was also responsible for the words of several other noirs, including Lady in the Lake (1947), Dead Reckoning (1947), and I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes (1948). He also wrote the novel, I Wake Up Screaming, which was made into a movie by the same name in 1941 and remade as Vicki in 1953. Not only that, but he was nominated for an Oscar for original story for the Cary Grant war picture Destination Toyko (1943). Now you know.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 29 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 27: Kiss of Death (1947)

•November 27, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Kiss of Death (1947) is one of those noirs that I knew about before I saw it. This is the one where Richard Widmark tosses a wheelchair-bound old lady down a flight of stairs.

How could you not want to check out a movie with a scene like that?

But there’s more to this film than Widmark’s psychopathic character (and his maniacal laugh), including a cast featuring Victor Mature, Coleen Gray, and Karl Malden; direction by Henry Hathaway; and a screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer. (More about them below.) It’s a must see!

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Mature stars as Nick Bianco, a career criminal who’s nabbed by the police during a bungled robbery attempt. After first declining the D.A.’s offer of leniency if he’ll squeal on his pals, Bianco later decides to cooperate, spurred by his responsibility for his two young daughters.

WHAT ELSE?

This film marked Richard Widmark’s debut. From his first scene, you could see that he was something special.

Director Henry Hathaway helmed one of my YouTube recommendations for earlier this month, Fourteen Hours (1951). His non-noir pedigree included Peter Ibbetson (1935); The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), and three segments from How the West Was Won (1962).

What a debut!

Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer were an acclaimed screenwriting team, responsible for the 1947 noir Ride the Pink Horse and Monkey Business, the 1952 Cary Grant comedy. (Incidentally, Lederer was raised by his aunt, actress Marion Davies.)

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 28 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 26: Quicksand (1950)

•November 26, 2020 • 10 Comments

Mickey Rooney? In film noir?

You bet your babes in arms.

Today’s YouTube pick is Quicksand (1950), a noir that will have you practically on the edge of your seat. It’s so chock full of noir, it’ll have you shouting at your TV: “No! Don’t do it!”

Until almost the end, that is – when this otherwise practically perfect feature takes a goofy turn that almost derails the whole works. But not quite. It still serves up more than an hour of everything you want in a noir. Check it out and see what I mean. You won’t be sorry. Just hang on to your chair.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Rooney stars as Dan, an auto mechanic who meets a dreamy dish at a local diner, and lifts twenty bucks from the cash register at his job so he can show her a good time. After that, things are downhill all the way.

Jeanne Cagney, whispering noirish nothings.

WHAT ELSE?

The dreamy diner dish is played by Jeanne Cagney, James Cagney’s younger sister. She can be seen in her brother’s Oscar-winning film, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), as well as three other Cagney feature, including Man of a Thousand Faces (1957). She’s also in the Marilyn Monroe noir Don’t Bother to Knock (1952).

A small role is played by Jimmie Dodd, best known as the master of ceremonies in the Mickey Mouse Club. Dodd made a brief appearance in a YouTube noir pick from earlier this month, Too Late for Tears.

Peter Lorre? Yes, please!

Barbara Bates – who you may remember from All About Eve (1950) – has a featured part, as Dan’s wanna-be girlfriend. In All About Eve, Bates was the aspiring actress seen at the film’s end, fantasizing about taking Eve’s place. Sadly, Bates committed suicide at the age of 43.

Did I mention that Peter Lorre is in the film? What more do you need?

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 27 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 25: Odd Man Out (1947)

•November 25, 2020 • 9 Comments

I’d heard about today’s YouTube pick for years, but I never had any real interest in seeing it.

Once I finally decided to check it out, I was blown away.

Odd Man Out (1947) stars James Mason, but he may be the only performer in the film that you’ve ever heard of. But, believe me, it won’t matter one bit. This is one cracking good movie, and you simply must do yourself a favor and see it.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Mason stars as Johnny McQueen, the leader of an underground organization in Ireland. When Johnny is wounded during the commission of a robbery designed to secure funds for the group, he finds himself the subject of a citywide manhunt. (This has got to be the most boring synopsis I’ve ever written. Trust me – the movie is so much better than I’ve made it sound here.)

WHAT ELSE?

This British noir was directed by Carol Reed, who also helmed The Third Man (1949), starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles.

The film was the first British movie to with the BAFTA award for Best British Film.

Mason called this the best performance of his career.

James Mason called his performance in Odd Man Out the best of his career. (I agree.)

Actor Stewart Granger was reportedly offered the role played by Mason, but turned it down because of the dearth of dialogue. He later regretted his decision, particularly when he saw the positive impact the film had on Mason’s career.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 26 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 24: D.O.A. (1949)

•November 24, 2020 • 6 Comments

Today’s YouTube pick is one of noir’s best-known offerings: D.O.A. (1949).

It’s got a perfect noir premise, a perfect noir opening, a perfect noir end, and in between, a characteristically labryrinthine noir plot. D.O.A. also serves up a great cast that includes Edmond O’Brien, Luther Adler and, playing a sadistically psychopathic hood, Neville Brand.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

It’s a very simple story: a man learns that he’s inadvertently ingested a fatal dose of poison, and spends what’s left of his life tracking down the people responsible for his impending death.

WHAT ELSE?

The director of the film was Rudolph Mate, whose other noirs included The Dark Past (1948) and Union Station (1950). He also helmed a first-rate western, The Violent Men (1955), which stars noir vets Glenn Ford, Edward G. Robinson, and Barbara Stanwyck.

Neville Brand played psychos like no other.

A featured role was played in the film by Lynne Baggett, who had a real-life story that would rival any noir. Read more about her rise and fall here.

The screenplay was written by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, the writing team that was also responsible for one of my favorite low-budget noirs, Wicked Woman (1953).

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 25 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 23: The Brothers Rico (1957)

•November 23, 2020 • 2 Comments

Like a handful of my other YouTube recommendations this month, I’d only seen today’s film once, years ago, before reviewing it again for today’s post. But once was enough.

I remember being pleasantly surprised when I discovered the movie – I didn’t know anything about it going in, except that it came at the end of the classic film noir cycle, and that its cast not only included one of my top contenders for all-time favorite noir actors, Richard Conte, but also an actor I had a bit of a crush on as a teen, James Darren. It was a good sign.

I had no idea how good it would be.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The Brothers Rico.

Conte stars as Eddie Rico, an ex-accountant for the mob, who has left his past behind and is now squeaky clean, running a successful laundry business and planning to adopt a baby with his wife. But when Eddie learns that his two kid brothers have been involved in a mob hit, it’s just the beginning of a tangled web that only entraps him the more he tries to escape it.

WHAT ELSE?

The film was based on a story by Georges Simenon, a prolific Belgian writer whose works were adapted into nearly 200 movies or television shows.

Eddie’s mother is played by Argentina Brunetti, and his grandmother is played by Argentina’s real-life mother, Sicilian actress Mimi Aguglia. Brunetti made her big-screen debut as Mrs. Martini in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), and continued working into her 90s; one of her last roles was in an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. She died in 2005 at the age of 98.

Foster had a small but memorable role.

Conte’s wife was played by Dianne Foster, who also had a featured role in the 1954 noir, Drive a Crooked Road, starring Mickey Rooney. That same year, she missed out on yet another noir, Pushover, losing the starring part to Kim Novak.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 24 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 22: The Great Flamarion (1945)

•November 22, 2020 • 2 Comments

I love, love, love today’s YouTube noir pick: The Great Flamarion (1945).

It’s another one of those films that, for decades, was completely off my noir radar. (Noir-dar?) Then, a few years ago, I was sent a copy of the movie by a fellow noir lover who I met through an Internet message board. And I STILL let several months go by before popping it into my DVD player. Once I did, I was kicking myself for letting so much time go by.

As I watched the opening credits roll, I saw that the movie starred Dan Duryea, who is one of my favorite noir perfomers; Erich von Stroheim, who played Max von Mayerling in Sunset Boulevard; and Mary Beth Hughes, who is in my very favorite episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I Accuse My Parents (1944). Not only that, but it’s directed by Anthony Mann!! You know, the guy who gave us a slew first-rate noirs, including Desperate (1947), T-Men (1947), Raw Deal (1948), and Border Incident (1949). It was practically guaranteed to be a winner.

And I can tell you, I wasn’t disappointed.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Von Stroheim and Hughes.

Erich von Stroheim plays the title role, an expert sharpshooter who makes his living performing in an upscale vaudeville act. He’s aided by two assistants, the husband-and-wife team of Al and Connie Wallace (Hughes and Duryea). It turns out that Al is an alcoholic, and Connie’s sweet face is a perfect front for her mercenary, larcenous nature. It also turns out that, despite Flamarion’s steely persona, he’s no match for Connie once she turns on her considerable charms. And you can just imagine where that leaves Al.

WHAT ELSE?

Von Stroheim was multitalented; in addition to acting, he helmed such silent classics as Greed (1924) and The Merry Widow (1925), and authored screenplays as well as novels.

Vaudeville noir, courtesy of James Brown.

The cinematographer on the film was the incredibly prolific James Spencer Brown, Jr. He worked mostly with low-budget films, starting in the mid-1920s, for studios like Monogram and Republic. He died just four years after the release of The Great Flamarion, at the age of 57. 

Also in the cast is Esther Howard, who you’ll recognize from her appearance in numerous noirs, including Murder, My Sweet (1944), Detour (1945), and Born to Kill (1947)

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 23 of Noirvember!