Tuesday, August 22, 2017

“You stole the only thing I ever loved—now…”


Since he’s in arrears to the Secure Finance and Loan Company, young Toby Locke (Matty Kemp) agrees to join the outfit as a collection agent…but learns too late that despite its official-sounding title, Secure is little more than a protection racket ruled under the iron fist of its CEO, Joe Travis (Bryant Washburn, Sr.).  The event that brings about Toby’s dissatisfaction with his career choice is the death of a client named George Marvin, who’s murdered by one of Tobe’s fellow collectors—a genial gent who answers to ‘Smiles’ Badolio (Jack La Rue).  (Mother Badolio had quite the sense of humor, it would seem.)

Toby’s got a girlfriend in Judith Avery (Betty Burgess), whose gob is positively smacked when her fiancé calls and demands that they tie the knot P.D.Q.  The nuptials are Travis’ idea; the D.A. (Edward Keene) is nosing around Joe’s company heckbent on putting the boss and his staff away on racketeering charges, and if Judith and Toby become husband and wife Judy can’t testify against her husband.  The honeymoon never gets underway, however; Toby tells the new Mrs. Locke that their marriage is merely a sham, and a despondent Judith decides to end it all by trying to beat a freight train to a railroad crossing.  (Here’s a pro-tip: in a contest between car and train…always bet on the train.)

During her convalescence, Judith becomes the object of affection for Dr. Craig Mitchell (Lloyd Hughes)—who’s so smitten with his patient he even offers her a job in his office (I would think HR would have a few things to say about that).  Judy keeps Craig at arms’ length because she’s still carrying a torch for Toby…who has problems of his own, particularly when he croaks Smiles’ brother Louie (Anthony Orlando) in the process of collecting $10,000 from a client.  (Contrary to his colorful nickname, Smiles is not pleased about the death of his brother.)

Imperial Productions, a small states’ rights independent who cranked out a lot of B-westerns in its heyday, purportedly had I Demand Payment (1938) finished and ready to release in December of 1936, according to a Film Daily article published around that time.  The reason for the delay remains to be seen, but the movie—which has seen a DVD release from Alpha Video this month—is an entertaining if not particularly remarkable little programmer.  A 1932 novel by Rob Eden, Second Choice, was adapted by Sherman L. Lowe (a journeyman scribe whose screenplays include Burn ‘Em Up Barnes [1934] and Crimson Romance [1934]) and directed/produced by Clifford Sanforth (Murder by Television [1935]).

The (always reliable) IMDb notes that Payment has a running time of 61 minutes but I clocked the Alpha version at 54.  I didn’t notice any interruptions in continuity, however.  The movie doesn’t set any lofty goals other than to amuse the viewer for that short amount of time but it boasts an impressive cast despite its independent origins.  Betty Burgess gets top billing as the lovely but prone-to-bad-judgment Judith; Burgess had made a splash in the 1935 musical Coronado but only appeared in three additional features (Payment was her penultimate) before retiring from the motion picture industry.  There was a bit o’gossip about her romance with co-star Matty Kemp (not to be confused with the Atlanta Braves fielder) that the two of them were really manacled together IRL, as the kids call it nowadays.  Kemp plays the wide-eyed innocent in Payment well, but when he’s required to become a bad guy in the second half he falls woefully short.

I’m a big fan of Jack La Rue, the actor often mistaken for Humphrey Bogart whose picture career fluctuated between high-profile films (he’s probably best known for 1932’s A Farewell to Arms and as the villain in the TDOY Pre-Code fave The Story of Temple Drake [1933[) and a slew of B-pictures.  Guinn “Big Boy” Williams provides a little comic relief as a hood named “Happy” (there’s a running gag where any loud noise causes Hap to draw his weapon as a force of habit) but he’s hampered a bit by the lack of material.  You’ve also got Lloyd Hughes (who appeared in such silents as The Sea Hawk [1924] and The Lost World [1925]) and Sheila Terry (known for appearing in early John Wayne oaters) on hand—I Demand Payment would be Terry’s cinematic swan song; she would later become a press agent before committing suicide in 1957 at the young age of 46.  (Sorry I had to end this one on a bummer.  As always, many thanks to Alpha’s Brian Krey for proving TDOY with the screener.)

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