Monday, April 12, 2010

Movies that I’ve stared at recently on TCM #54

Dangerously They Live (1941) – Jane Graystone (Nancy Colman) is a young woman admitted to the hospital after suffering injuries in a taxicab crash, and earnest young intern Michael “Mike” Lewis (John Garfield) is assigned to her case. Dr. Lewis is convinced that Jane is suffering from temporary amnesia because she insists her last name is “Graystone” and not “Goodwin”—the same moniker as her father John (Moroni Olsen), who’s come to identify her. Jane confides in Michael that she is in actuality an Allied agent with top secret information and that Daddy Dearest is really a Nazi spy interested in learning what she knows. Mike, on the other hand, takes this all cumo graino salto—particularly when eminent psychiatrist Dr. Ingersoll (Raymond Massey) is brought into the case. But Lewis soon learns that you can’t judge a (medical) book by its cover when he’s taken prisoner inside the Goodwin household along with the vulnerable Jane.

There’s really not a lot that you’ll find new in Dangerously; it’s a tried-and-true WW2 propaganda flick whose only real novelty is that despite his success at the box office, Warner Bros. had no qualms about sticking Julie in one of their B-programmers if they thought they could get away with it. (Nevertheless, as a certified Garfield fan I felt it my duty to give it a watch.) Veteran director Robert Florey and a cast of old pros serve this quickie well: Lee Patrick, Esther Dale, John Ridgely, Frank Reicher, Cliff Clark, Arthur Aylesworth and Ben Welden as—and this you may find hard to believe—a thug in Olsen and Massey’s employ. The location of the Nazi’s hideout—concealed in the freezer of a delicatessen—is kinda novel.

The Secret Fury (1950) – Concert pianist Ellen Ewing (Claudette Colbert) is chomping at the bit to get hitched to her fiancé, David McLean (Robert Ryan)—but no sooner have they started the matrimonial stomp when some party pooper (Willard Parker) stands up (when the bishop asks if anyone has objections to their coupling) during the ceremony and claims that Ellen is already wed to a man named Lucian Randall (Dave Barbour). Ellen is flabbergasted—she knows nothing of any such wedding, has never met the man before—but as she, David, her Aunt Clara (Jane Cowl) and family attorney Gregory Kent (Philip Ober) investigate they find several witnesses—including a justice of the peace (Percy Helton) and a hotel maid (Vivian Vance)—who swear Ellen is Mrs. Randall. Ellen and David confront Randall at a jam session in an apartment one evening, and when Ellen and Randall go behind closed doors to discuss the matter, a shot rings out and Randall ends up dead. Ellen is then put on trial for Randall’s murder—prosecuted by D.A. Eric Lowell (Paul Kelly)—but before the proceedings end, she has a nervous breakdown in court, prompting a trip to the Snake Pit. Can David find the evidence that will exonerate his would-be wife?

Your enjoyment of Fury will depend on one thing: just how far you’re willing to suspend disbelief, because there are enough holes in its plot to drive a U-Haul through. Anytime Percy Helton plays a representative of the law it’s bound to send up a few flags—and I couldn’t believe they allowed Paul Kelly to prosecute the case, considering his romantic history with Colbert. Still, Fury features fine acting from all the principals; and even though the villain’s identity is fairly easy to dope out he does suffer a particularly nasty demise. I think this is one of the few instances where I’ve seen Vivian Vance in something other than being sidekick to Lucille Ball (her then-husband, Philip Ober, has a much larger role in this film, of course), and it’s also noteworthy as actor Mel Ferrer’s directorial debut (Ferrer worked on a few other films—and directed wife Audrey Hepburn in Green Mansions [1959]—but never really got a chance to reach his full potential). Jose Ferrer—who is not related to Mel—appears in this film in an uncredited bit part, and if you’re fast enough you can glimpse TDOY fave Kathleen Freeman in the jury box.

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) – Yes, it’s three hours long and director-producer Stanley Kramer doesn’t skimp on tackling “the Big Issues” but I revisited this movie Saturday night and found it to be every bit as entertaining as when I first watched it years ago. It’s a dramatized version of the 1948 Nuremberg trials, where several individuals in the Nazi regime were charged with crimes against humanity. The problem was that by this time, most of the key figures were either dead or long missing, and so it came down to an issue of whether people were responsible for “just following orders.” The key strength of Nuremberg is the acting, particularly Spencer Tracy as Judge Hayward (the characters in the film are all composites of real-life individuals) and Montgomery Clift as a confused victim of sterilization, but fine performances are also turned in by Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland and Oscar winner Maximilian Schell. You’ll also spot quite a few TDOY favorites like Edward Binns (as a senator), William Shatner, Werner Klemperer, Alan Baxter (his voice gave him away), Ray Teal (as one of Tracy’s fellow judges) and Howard Caine—not to mention OTR veterans Virginia Christine, Ben Wright and Karl Swenson.

Originally, I had planned to include Ship of Fools (1965) in this post but last-minute complications sort of put the kibosh on that. I will, however, point out that my mother seemed positively delighted when she learned that I’ve never seen Ship…since it’s one of the few films she’s watched that I haven’t. My father’s reaction: “I didn’t think it was possible.” (Durante-like) “I’m sur-rounded by assassins!”

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1 comment:

Matt said...

The one thing I remember about The Secret Fury is that the jazzbo, beatnik pad of bad guys was furnished with midcentury modern decor, including Eames chairs. You hardly ever see that stuff in old movies. They may have been a bunch of druggie beatniks, but by gum they had great taste.

Thanks for the Sunshine Award, too!