Thursday, November 20, 2008

Movies I’ve recently stared at on TCM (part 1 of an ongoing series)

Payment Deferred (1932) – This one has been on my “Must-See” list for sometime, and I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed. MGM adapted this from a popular stage play (by Jeffrey Dell, from a C.S. Forester novel) that starred Charles Laughton and wife Elsa Lanchester—sadly, Elsa didn’t make the transition to the silver screen; she was replaced by Maureen O’Sullivan. Charlie plays William Marble, a likable soul who’s drowning in a sea of red ink—so when he’s presented with the opportunity to pull himself out of the financial hole he’s dug by offing his nephew (Ray Milland—who was 27 at the time but looks like he’s just been allowed to wear long pants) with a dose of cyanide he does so—and then plants Milland in the backyard. Sure and begorrah, Laughton is tripped up at the end…but not quite in the way you’d expect. The performances from Laughton (who’s amazing as a cold-blooded killer you just can’t help developing an affinity for), O’Sullivan, Milland, Dorothy Peterson (superb as Charlie’s long-suffering spouse) and Verree Teasdale are all first-rate; silent comic Billy Bevan also has a small role as a real estate agent chum of Laughton’s (and finished out his career in Hollywood playing assorted butlers, porters and constables—generally of the Cockney variety…though Bevan himself was an Aussie). Laughton, O’Sullivan and Milland would reunite sixteen years later for The Big Clock (1948), a nifty little film noir directed by Maureen’s hubby, John Farrow. There’s only one discordant note in this film: a minor character refers to Laughton’s position at the bank as a “clerk”—forgetting that they pronounce it “clark” (like the candy bar) in the U.K. (Deferred is one of the many movies TCM is showing as a nod to Laughton as “Star of the Month”…but I’d have given my left man-tit if only they had scheduled Hobson’s Choice [1954].)

Trail of the Rustlers (1950) – I’ll confess that when it comes to B-westerns, my education is woefully lacking—I usually find myself depending on folks like Boyd Magers or Chuck Anderson to fill in the gaps. So seeing my first Charles Starrett/Durango Kid western was quite a treat; this one gets three stars from Mr. Magers himself. The plot is pretty straightforward: a gang of malcontents are scheming to buy up all the ranchland in the sleepy little hamlet of Rio Perdido (Spanish for "lost river") because of the recent drought...and are able to speed things up a bit, saleswise, when one of them (Don Harvey) masquerades as Durango ('who's always worked outside the law...but never against it") and starts terrorizing the town. It's pretty much your run-of-the-mill B-oater stuff, but what I did notice that was different was that the villain (Mira McKinney) isn't the usual respected-by-all-banker but some dame what runs a hotel and is working alongside her two idiot sons (Harvey, Myron Healey). Smiley Burnette provides the comic relief (and musical interludes, along with Eddie Cletro and his Roundup Boys), but what I still can’t dope out is how Gene Autry protégée Gail Davis (later TV’s Annie Oakley) gets second billing while serial/western vet Gene Roth (as the town sheriff) gets bupkis…and Roth has more screen time than Gail! I have to say, though—Rustlers was a pleasant little diversion…I always thought that when it came to programmers, Columbia ruled the roost.

Ride the High Country (1962) – “All I want is to enter my house justified.” Still the best film Sam Peckinpah ever directed, and a western I never get tired of. Randolph Scott (in his final film) and Joel McCrea are friends and former lawmen who are hired to transport a shipment of gold from a godforsaken mining community (Coarse Gold) into town—Scott is secretly planning to make off with the bounty while McCrea insists on maintaining his personal code of ethics. Naturally, by the film’s conclusion, McCrea wins Scott over to his way of thinking (“Hell…I know that…I always did…you just forgot it for a while, that’s all”) when they’re forced into a final showdown between three of the most loathsome reprobates (James Drury, John Anderson and Warren Oates) in cinematic history. A conservative guess would be that I’ve seen this movie close to fifty times and I’m fascinated by its themes of companionship and honor—it sounds ludicrous, I know, but I’d dearly love to go out in this world just like McCrea does…in a blaze of glory.

TCM ran another Randy Scott western last night, Comanche Station (1960), and while I had every intention of seeing it other plans overtook the viewing. I’m not all that disappointed, because it’s one of five Scott classics available in the Budd Boetticher DVD box set that was released last week—it’s on its way to Rancho Yesteryear, hopefully sometime before the weekend. In the meantime, allow me to whet your appetite for these cinematic goodies by pointing you towards two reviews of the set—one from Lloyd's mardecortasbaja.com and the other courtesy of John McElwee’s Greenbriar Picture Shows (and a doff of the TDOY chapeau to Laughing Gravy for giving me a heads-up on the latter).

2 comments:

Erica said...

Outstanding writeup of "Payment Deferred." Need to share: My electricity in my apartment is all hosed and the result is that my DVD player + VCR are not working, and I am DYING to watch that movie now (even if Elsa's not in it). Hopfully, Hanukkah Harry will be good to me this year and I'll get a portable DVD player, since, based on the handful of films I've seen with Laughton, I consider myself a fan, especially since I caught him in "Witness for the Prosecution," definitely one of the greatest movies of all time. He was so adorable in it.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Witness for the Prosecution...absotively, posolutely one of my favorite movies.

Laughton was an incomparable actor, but it always seemed to me that he gave some of his best performances in his twilight years. Sir Wilfred from Witness is the first role that comes to mind, but I also think his turn as Senator Seab Cooley in Advise and Consent is first-rate, too.