Thursday, July 20, 2017

“He’s all speed…the fastest thing in horseflesh…”

In a booklet that was originally supposed to accompany the DVD collection Becoming Charley Chase (it’s still online—which was a tremendous relief because the copy I downloaded succumbed to the recent hard drive clusterfudge), Richard M. Roberts had this nice take on why the comedian didn’t do more feature film work: “He wasn’t particularly ambitious.  Chase never reached beyond the two-reel form with any seriousness, nor was he ever promoted by Roach with the zeal reserved for Laurel and Hardy, the reigning stars on the lot.  Chase was popular with audiences, and they expected and enjoyed his monthly appearance before the feature program.  They seemed satisfied with the twenty minutes they spent with him.  They never clamored for more, and he never offered.”

Patsy Kelly and Charley Chase in
Kelly the Second (1936)
Chase did appear in a handful of features.  His best known is his delightful turn as the obnoxious conventioneer (and brother-in-law of Oliver Hardy) in Sons of the Desert (1933), and three years later appeared alongside Patsy Kelly in the Hal Roach-produced Kelly the Second (1936).  The 1929 feature Chase made for Universal, Modern Love, was restored a few years back; I haven’t been fortunate to see this one but it did make the film festival circuit, notably Hollywood’s Cinecon (44) in 2008.  The only other feature on Charley’s cinematic C.V. (to my knowledge) is The King of Wild Horses (1924), which I did sit down with this week.  It features Mr. Chase (billed as Charles Parrott) in a “straight” role in a Roach feature starring the Rin-Tin-Tin of movie equines, Rex, the Wonder Horse.

The Wonder Horse goes by “The Black” in this oater (the nag actually answered to “Casey Jones” in his debut film before switching to “Rex” for subsequent films), and he’s the object of obsession by a cowpoke named Billy Blair (Léon Bary), who has sworn to capture and tame the wild stallion…and gets that opportunity when he saves The Black from perishing in a raging inferno that erupts in his stomping grounds.  Towards the end of the film, Blair decides to give The Black his freedom…and the horse briefly returns to his old environs before deciding that domestication isn’t such a terrible existence—after all, Billy is getting ready to settle down with a filly of his own, Mary Fielding (Edna Murphy).

Léon Bary, Pat Hartigan, Charley and Edna Murphy
Mixed into this story of a boy and his horse is a subplot involving Mary’s brother Boyd (Charley), who’s deep in debt to Wade Galvin, (Pat Hartigan) the unscrupulous foreman of his father’s (Sidney De Gray) ranch.  (A title card reads that Boyd’s precarious financial situation is due to “questionable gambling methods,” which made me laugh out loud.)  I’ve read in some places where Charley is described as the villain of the piece…which isn’t entirely accurate—he’s more like the poor boob who gets in over his head and is forced to do Galvin’s bidding.  Chase was cast in this movie about the time he was pressed into inaugurating the “Jimmie Jump” comedy series at Roach (once studio star Harold Lloyd struck out on his own), and I was tickled to no end seeing him doing something a bit out of his element.

That having been said, I don’t think Wild Horses is as good as the other Rex film I reviewed previously on the blog—No Man’s Land (1927), which features a pair of comedic faces in Oliver Hardy (as the despicable Sharkey Nye) and James Finlayson.  The weakness in Horses is that the plot concentrates on the taming of the “king,” which to be honest is a little bit of a tough slog at times—I think a better way to approach this would have been too have the Blair character reminisce to Mary Fielding how he made the acquaintance of his horse friend through flashbacks, allowing a lot of the dull man-and-horse sequences to be trimmed.  Land concentrates mostly on the human characters in its plot, and seems to only have Rex around whenever Hardy’s villain starts to display filthy intentions toward Barbara Kent’s heroine.

I’m not sorry I watched King of Wild Horses—it has been on my “must-see” list for a good while now—but I must come clean here and admit that I cheated on this one a bit.  See, I purchased a DVD from that paired Horses with No Man’s Land and as Horses started to unspool in my DVD player I couldn’t help but notice that the picture quality left a lot to be desired—it was a terribly dark and murky print.  (I knew reading the title cards was going to be tough even though the movie isn’t particularly dialogue-driven.)  Drawing on my imperfect memory, I vaguely remembered seeing it listed on YouTube…and while that print had its share of problems it wasn’t as much of a chore to watch as the Alpha version.  If you’re a Charley Chase fan (and if you aren’t—what’s your excuse, Bunky?), you’ll get a giggle out of seeing the man whose life was “one long embarrassing moment” ride tall in the saddle.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Adventures in Blu-ray: Abbott & Costello Rarities

Thunderbean Animation has firmly established itself in the Blu-ray/DVD field as the go-to label for classic cartoon releases, ranging from the oeuvre of Willie Whopper and Cubby Bear to their current project of restoring all 27 shorts from the Van Beuren Studio’s Rainbow Parade series (1934-35).  It’s a labor of love for Thunderbean CEO Steve Stanchfield, a cartoon historian and film preservationist dedicated to hunting up the best existing 16mm/35mm materials for these outstanding sets.  In May, Thunderbean’s long-anticipated Abbott & Costello Rarities—an outstanding collection of odds and ends spotlighting the great comedy duo—finally hit the streets, and if you’re as big a fan of Bud and Lou as your humble narrator, you need to track this down with all deliberate speed.

Lou, Bud, and Kate
I’ve had to cut back on the significant amount of DVD-age purchased for the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives of late, so I was most fortunate to score a free copy of the Rarities Blu-ray/DVD combo from a longstanding member of the TDOY faithful (he asked me to keep his identity secret so as not to interfere with his sideline of bringing maniacal supervillains to justice).  There’s something for everyone in this collection…but I’ll come clean and admit that my favorite features were those of the audio variety.  Rarities includes a March 10, 1938 excerpt from The Kate Smith Hour (the boys do a variation of the “betting parlor” routine that was later recycled in 1943’s It Ain’t Hay) and the July 3 premiere broadcast of their 1940 summer stint as replacements for Fred Allen’s show (I was only aware of one other It’s Time to Smile program in collector’s hands).  Another uncirculated broadcast is from November 4, 1943—the night that Lou returned to radio after he recovered from rheumatic fever…and the same night he learned of the drowning death of his infant son “Butch” earlier that day; Lana Turner is the guest, and Bud informs the audience of Lou’s tragedy at the end of the broadcast.  A rare recording of their Saturday morning series (The Abbott & Costello Children’s Show from June 20, 1948) is also included among the audio gems (audience warm-ups, actualities, etc.).

Bud and Jerry Lewis
The Rarities collection includes trailers from some of Bud and Lou’s classic film comedies (Buck Privates, In the Navy, etc.) and “blowups” (bloopers) from others like Pardon My Sarong and Little Giant (I really got a kick out of seeing the outtakes from Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, my favorite A&C vehicle).  There are newsreel clips, excerpts from Lou’s home movies, and an amazing collection of footage (Kodachrome) from the team’s 1943 war bond tour (where they sold nearly $85 million worth of bonds).  A favorite highlight of mine is an unearthed November 1, 1953 telecast of The Colgate Comedy Hour, in which Bud must work solo in Lou’s absence (Costello is ill) with an assist from Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis.  The program includes clips from previous Colgate shows featuring Lou—one their famous “Rubdown” sketch (with stooges Sid Fields and Bobby Barber) and another hilarious skit where the duo goes to great lengths to get rid of a stolen necklace (the two men have difficulty keeping it together before the finish).  In addition to Dino’s singing (both solo and comedy songs accompanied by Jer’s clowning with Al Goodman’s orchestra), Peggy Lee does a few numbers (including the Halo shampoo jingle) and Gene Nelson dances (I kind of fast-forwarded through this).

Another favorite from this set: Lou, Bud, and Charles Laughton (as Bud's chauffeur!) make a plea for Christmas Seals.
Chris Costello, whose outstanding biography of her father (Lou’s on First) was written up for the blog in October of last year, provided much of the material for this release…and I’ll admit, the content more than surpassed my expectations (I was expecting a lot of the public domain A&C filler that’s been previously released).  At the risk of sounding like a parrot…this is a collection that Abbott & Costello fans will want for their bookshelf—a more-than-justified reward for those who have waited patiently all these years to see it come to fruition.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

From the DVR: The Goddess (1958)

Before winning Academy Awards for the screenplays to such Thrilling Days of Yesteryear favorites as The Hospital (1971) and Network (1976—a movie that becomes more and more eerily prescient every time I watch it), Paddy Chayefsky was one of the small screen’s most respected scribes, with contributions to such live television presentations as “Marty” (later adapted for the movies and winning Chayefsky his first Oscar) and “The Bachelor Party” (also becoming a big screen candidate in 1957).  The Goddess (1958) would be Paddy’s first original screenplay (and it also garnered an Academy Award nom), and I revisited this little gem last week after DVR’ing it from The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™.

Kim Stanley, Steven Hill
Newly-widowed Laureen Faulkner (Betty Lou Holland) has arrived in a small Maryland town with her four-year-old daughter Emily Ann to pick up the pieces by moving in with her brother (Gerald Hiken) and his wife (Joan Copeland).  Because Laureen is still in her 20s and anxious to have a little fun in life, she’s quite upset about being saddled with Emily Ann…and at one point even asks her in-laws to take the little girl in while she pursues other romantic interests (a man who wants to marry her doesn’t like children).  She expresses this wish within earshot of Emily Ann (who was eavesdropping while seated at the top of the stairs), an incident that surely scars the little tyke later when she’s turned eight (and played by a young Patty Duke) … and incapable of getting any love or attention from her indifferent, preoccupied mother.

Stanley, Hill, Betty Lou Holland
As Emily Ann (Kim Stanley) approaches adolescence, she becomes in many ways “her mother’s child”: she’s a capricious flibbertigibbet who dreams of respectability and acceptance by becoming a motion picture star.  She makes moves in that direction by marrying John Tower (Steven Hill), the son of a silent film legend; Tower is an irresponsible drunk who at least has enough decency to warn Emily that if they were to marry it would be an endless series of disappointments and heartbreak.  He’s right on the button on that score; things sour quickly in their marriage and Emily finds herself in a familiar situation when she tries to fob off her infant daughter on her mother.

Stanley, Lloyd Bridges
Five years later, Emily is now a Hollywood starlet renamed “Rita Shawn.”  She capitalizes on the ardor of ex-pugilist Dutch Seymour (Lloyd Bridges) by marrying him to give her career a boost…but that union turns out to be every bit as poisonous as her first marriage to Tower.  It does, however, achieve the desired effect of enhancing her status in the industry…particularly after a lecherous studio head (Donald McKee) offers her a lucrative contract.  Five years later, and Rita Shawn is one of the most bankable attractions in the industry…but she’s also a most unhappy one, with a never-ending battle with the bottle that led to a nervous breakdown.  Idolized by moviegoers, the woman formerly known as Emily Ann Faulkner is still stymied by her need for acceptance and to be loved.

Kim Stanley
The inspiration for the main character for The Goddess is readily apparent: it’s a thinly-disguised portrayal of Marilyn Monroe…though Paddy Chayefsky was always careful to disavow any obvious comparisons (particularly after Marilyn’s then-husband, playwright Arthur Miller, discussed the possibility of a lawsuit).  Other actresses that purportedly inspired the character of Emily Ann/Rita include Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, and Joan Crawford (though outside of Emily Ann’s assiduous ambition I don’t quite see this one); Kim Stanley, who portrays the Monroe clone, always thought her character more accurately mirrored Jayne Mansfield.  The irony is that Stanley’s personal life would later mimic that of the Emily Ann character; despite showcases in such films as Séance on a Wet Afternoon (for which she received an Oscar nomination as Best Actress) and TV shows like Ben Casey (winning an Emmy) and The Eleventh Hour, Stanley suffered a mental breakdown that scaled back her movie and TV appearances—she later became an acting teacher in her home state of New Mexico.  (Beginning in the 1970s, she returned to the small screen and then the big one, getting another Academy Award nomination for playing the mother of troubled actress Frances Farmer in 1982’s Frances and winning an Emmy in 1985 for her turn as “Big Mama” in the American Playhouse production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” [1984].)

Stanley, Holland
It’s been close to thirty years since revisiting The Goddess (I remember renting the VHS back when I worked for Ballbuster Blockbuster Video in the late 80s) and I was very surprised that it’s improved with age.  It’s not a perfect movie—it’s dramatically uneven (there were clashes between Chayefsky and veteran director John Cromwell) and many of the minor characters aren’t as fully developed as I would like—but I admire the film for resisting the attempt to put a big Hollywood happy ending on what transpires; by the time the credits roll no one is really satisfied with their lives and are simply resigned to taking as it comes.  Stanley is fantastic as a person who simply cannot satisfy her craving to be loved, and the scene where she tries and fails to reconcile with mother Holland (who’s morphed into a religious fanatic as she’s gotten older—a nice touch) is particularly heartbreaking.  The movie is also a nice showcase for Sea Hunt star Bridges, who handles his role as a frustrated ex-athlete with far more aplomb than I was expecting.

There are lots of future TV faces in The Goddess (notably future Oscar winner and Brooklyn Heights resident Patty Duke, in her first credited film role) including Steven Hill (billed as Steve), Joyce van Patten, Joanne Linville, Werner Klemperer, and David “You son of a gun!” White.  It’s TDOY fave Elizabeth Wilson, however, who commits cinematic larceny by practically walking away with the movie as Stanley’s protective assistant—a woman who’s resigned herself to the role as the actress’ surrogate mother (and caregiver), telling Hill’s character: “We got her to a psychiatrist for four months...then he said to me...she will never really respond to treatment...she will always be the same...she gets simple therapy now...I'll take her back to California...and she'll go on making movies...because that's all she knows to do...and whatever happens after that, happens...but I kind of love her...and I'll take good care of her...”  If you missed this one on TCM, it is available on MOD DVD from Sony…I will warn you, though—the feature is bleak and uncompromising…but life’s like that.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Crime Does Not Pay #9: “Torture Money” (01/02/37)

Torture Money (1937), the ninth short in MGM’s Crime Does Not Pay franchise, would win the studio back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel) …and while the CDNP folks would garner five additional nominations in that category before the series ended in 1947, I’m not convinced I would have been so willing to hand over a statuette for this entry (1939’s Drunk Driving, another nominee, is a much better short…and a more deserving winner, IMO, than Warner Brothers’ sappy Sons of Liberty, which took home the prize that year).  The man responsible for the previous CDNP Oscar winner, The Public Pays, also wrote the story and screenplay for Money—John C. Higgins.  Oh, and Torture Money does have this little mash note at the beginning contributed by James Edgar “Two-Gun” Davis (though he signs it without the “Two-Gun”), the L.A. Chief of Police at the time of Money’s release:

Aww…wasn’t that sweet of him?  Before you break out the stationery for an RSVP to accompany your candy and flowers, leave us look at Chief Davis’ entry on Wikipedia: “Under Davis, the LAPD developed its lasting reputation as an organization that relied on brute force to enforce public order.  It also became very publicly entangled in corruption.  Members of the LAPD were revealed to have undertaken a campaign of brutal harassment, including the bombings of political reformers who had incurred the wrath of the department and the civic administration.”  Bad cop.  No donut.

I can’t be 100% on this, but I believe this is the first CDNP entry in which the narrator identifies himself as “the MGM Crime Reporter” (he just goes by “the MGM reporter” in previous shorts).  He is not, sadly, identified at the [always reliable] IMDb so if you know the actor—operators in the comments section are standing by.

REPORTER: Once again, as the MGM Crime Reporter, it is my privilege to bring you another episode in our “Crime Does Not Pay” series…may I present—Captain Michael Karnahan, chief of the Bunco and Pickpocket detail of the Metropolitan Police Force…

Great Caesar’s Ghost!  That’s John Hamilton (nice soup strainer, Johnny!), the veteran character actor fondly remembered as Daily Planet Editor Perry White on TV’s The Adventures of Superman…which is why the “Great Caesar’s Ghost” gag will get quite a workout here at TDOY, since this will not be the last time we see Hamilton portraying faux law enforcement officials (Torture Money is his CDNP debut).  (I mean, seriously—what is up with this “Metropolitan Police Force” nonsense?)

KARNAHAN: Criminals devote all their time and cleverness to devising new ways of making a living through terrorism and fraud…

Well, really—if you don’t innovate, how are you supposed to stay ahead of the competition?

KARNAHAN: The average citizen stands idly by…shrugs his shoulders…is totally indifferent…”What of it?” he says…”As long as they don’t touch my family or my property it isn’t my problem…they’re not getting anything out of me” …

I was completely unaware the “Me decade” began back in 1936.

KARNAHAN: Don’t fool yourself, my friends…whether your home is robbed or your neighbor’s—you pay for it!

Cap’n Karnahan is referring to “one of the most cruel rackets in America”—insurance fraud—and in showing us “the inner workings,” we are whisked away to a traffic accident involving this unconscious man:

That’s character veteran Murray Alper, whose cinematic resume includes such movies as Seven Keys to Baldpate (1935) and The Milky Way (1936)—chances were if there was a cab driver in a movie, it’s even money Murray was playing him—but is best remembered here at Rancho Yesteryear as the truck driver who gives fugitive Bob Cummings an assist in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942—I love his monologue about his wife’s fondness for new hats and “moon pitchers”).  Alper’s character is “Little Davie Barkell,” who’s the “victim” in this phony accident (there’s also a guy who claims to have broken his nose on the taxicab’s meter) engineered by this unscrupulous representative of the legal profession:

Meet Milton Beecher (spelled “Beacher” at the IMDb—but my spelling is confirmed in the short), a shyster who’s having to commit insurance fraud on a phenomenal scale because television hasn’t yet been invented to continually showcase his annoying ads during noon newscasts on WSB-TV.  Beecher is portrayed by character great Edwin Maxwell, who will also be a recurring player in the CDNP series.  (Around Rancho Yesteryear, we know Maxwell as “Dr. Egelhoffer” in His Girl Friday [1940]—Edwin’s also in the Ernst Lubitsch-directed Ninotchka [1939] and The Shop Around the Corner [1940].)

BEECHER: I think that $5000 for a fractured skull, bad bruises, and a broken arm is little enough, Mr. Carmathy…and a $1000 for the cab passenger who suffered a broken nose…

Milt is doing some good old-fashioned haggling with Alex Carmathy (Jason Robards, Sr.)—claim manager for the Universal Accident Insurance Company.  When Carmathy’s counteroffer for damages is rebuffed by Beecher, the insurance man remarks that perhaps this matter would best be settled in court—particularly since “We have a witness who reported that it looked as if the victim threw himself in front of the cab.”  Beecher seems most reluctant to pursue that remedy…and so he revises his earlier offer, which satisfies Carmathy.

CARMATHY: Very well…soon as I get a release from your clients…
BEECHER: Oh, that’s all right—I have complete authority to handle everything

Beecher hands Carmathy a document that Barkell signed granting him power of attorney…which means Beecher is either a most efficient little legal eagle, or there’s something screwy in St. Louis.  We find out it’s the latter in a following scene, as we see Miltie counting out a wad of cash:

BEECHER: I always like those Universal Accident Company checks…the bank never turns them down…here you are, kid—you did a good job…

Beecher hands some money to the cab driver (Roger Moore—not the guy who played James Bond), who starts to protest because he was promised a C-note and he’s only been given fifty bucks.  “Fifty’s what you get—take or leave it,” Beecher snarls, threatening him with being fired from the cab company and tossed in the sneezer if he squawks.  “Whaddya think of that—he’s got larceny in his soul and he squawks like a sucker,” Milt complains as he hands the Broken Nose Guy his cut.  (Evil help is so hard to find these days.)  Beecher also ladles out payment to the “witnesses,” of which a female witness remarks “Any time at all, Mr. Beecher.”  See—some employees are grateful for what they get.

One of Beecher’s henchmen, Red (Mel Ruick), asks how “Little Davie” is doing…and Beecher responds that Barkell is still in the hospital.  The two of them enter a side room where another goon, Doc (Norman Willis), is praised by his boss for his “work” on Little Davie.

DOC: Well…these “accidents” have to be real…
RED: Ah, nobody’ll ever get onto this…too smart a set-up…
BEECHER: I know, I know—I wouldn’t be in this racket if I didn’t leave all the exits open…

You’ve seen enough movies to witness that when supervillains start to boast, sooner or later the hero brings about their downfall and sanity returns to the world.  In fact, Mr. Carmathy is tattling to Karnahan about his latest experience with attorney Beecher while the bad guys are high-fiving themselves:

CARMATHY: All of Beecher’s cases against us were unbeatable—he’s collected over $100,000 from Universal alone…
KARNAHAN: Well, your investigators and doctors verified the claims, of course…
CARMATHY: Yes…here is a chart prepared by the Insurance Index Bureau…

We don’t need to look at no steenkin’ charts to see this Beecher guy is a menace to capitalism—having run this sweet, sweet racket in Salt Lake City, Denver, St. Louis and Chicago—and he must be stopped!

CARMATHY: …and in almost every case, the driver involved had taken out insurance a few days or a week before the accident…Beecher always has plenty of witnesses…yet when his last claim in Salt Lake was denied, he didn’t take it into court…instead, he moved to Denver…he collected many claims there…his last was denied…still, he refused to take it into court…he had several witnesses against us in this taxicab accident…but when I suggested fighting it out in court, he backed down…why?

Could be cowardice.  Or that he’s a sh*tty lawyer.  It’s all rhetorical, of course, because the District Attorney has taken an interest in all this…and the man who’ll be doing the investigating is Larry Morgan (identified as “Martin” at the…well, you know), played by (Peter) George Lynn (Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo, Adventures of Captain Marvel).  The write-up for Money at the IMDb suggests that Lar is some sort of reporter—which is how Leonard Maltin identifies him in his entry in Selected Short Subjects.  I kind of got the impression that Morgan was more of an undercover cop, though Cap’n Karnahan does tell Larry as he heads out “I can guarantee you the full assistance of the police department.”  Could he be a Fed?  Quien sabe?

First step in his investigation—confirming that “Little Davie’s” injuries are real.  A Dr. Kelsey (Charles Trowbridge—last seen in Alibi Racket) confirms that Barkell isn’t “shamming” the company, so Larry asks if it would be possible for him to see Barkell “without him seeing me.”  Since they just doped Davie up a few minutes ago, a Nurse Barry (Mary Howard) takes Morgan into Barkell’s room…and Larry removes a drinking glass from the nightstand.  A fingerprint check reveals that “Little Davie” is not an individual of particularly sterling character:

In a following scene, Nurse Barry and an orderly bandage up Larry for the purpose of placing him in Barkell’s room so he can spy on him.  The doc explains that Mr. Morgan “has been struck by a hit-and-run driver…and knocked unconscious” and that they are to “place no other patients in there.”

LARRY: If my roommate has any questions, why…just shake your head and act serious…and when I give three rings on the call bell, come in with the operating stretcher and wheel me out…

When the orderly gets a little carried away and starts to bandage Morgan’s ears he gets a sharp rebuke: “Don’t cover up my ears—they’re not unconscious.”  (No, but your sense of humor is.)

The playing-possum Morgan is wheeled into Barkell’s room, where Little Davie has been perusing a gossip magazine.

BARKELL: Whatsa matter with the guy?
NURSE: Hit-and-run driver…he’s been unconscious for several days—we had to move him up here from another ward…
BARKELL: Unconscious, eh?  Tough…

Peek-a-boo!  There’s a dissolve, and when Nurse Barry returns to Little Davie’s room he says to her: “You better check that guy—he never moves.”  Barry assures Barkell that the “patient” is still breathing, but Davie would like a transfer—“He gives me the creeps.”  “Mr. Barkell” is interrupted by visitors—Beecher and his mugs have stopped by—and though his guests are concerned about the bandaged Morgan, Davie assures him he’s out like a match.  “Talk to this unconscious guy when he comes to,” Milton tells Barkell, always drumming up bidness in true lawyer-style—“We might make a case out of it.”

BEECHER: Brought you some money, kid…
BARKELL: Cashed in already, eh?
RED: Sure…he settled out of court…
BARKELL: That old fracture of mine sure fooled ‘em again!
BEECHER: Shut up—you talk too much…leave a message at my office if you want me…

“Or you can find him at my place,” Doc chimes in as the trio prepare to hit the gift shop.  With the departure of Beecher and Company, it looks as if Larry has the goods on those evildoers…and so he rings the call button thrice to signal to Nurse Barry she needs to rescue him with the operating stretcher.  But there is still more work to do as the crack medical team liberates Morgan from his bandaged prison.

LARRY: Now I’ve just died on the operating table…tomorrow I’m coming to life as a hospital orderly… (To Barry) Now you hint around to Little Davie that I’m a jailbird…that I have a police record…and that I’ve served time in another state…can you act mysterious about it?

“It’s the role I was born to play!”  The scene shifts to some nice gentlemen enjoying a leisurely game of craps.  At least that’s what it looks like at first glance—it’s actually the method that Milton Beecher, Shyster at Law uses to select the individual who will be portraying the “victim” in the firm’s next insurance scam.  A luckless Joe rolls “boxcars”…

…and is told by Beecher he’s going to be the next pats…er, hero.  This gentleman is played by character veteran Raymond Hatton—previously seen in Desert Death—but he’s not particularly jazzed about the assignment:

RAYMOND: But, Boss…I gotta…I gotta weak heart…
BEECHER: A weak heart’s better than one that’s stopped altogether…I don’t allow anyone that’s yellow to work for me…come on, boys—take him there…this isn’t the bridge club…
RAYMOND (as Doc and Red drag him off): No!  On the level…I tell ya, I can’t take it…

His pleas for help are soon cut off by the sound of a sap hitting his skull, and with a dissolve he’s deposited at a street corner by Doc and Red as the car speeds off.  But the car is simply making a trip around the block so that it can return with full force (Ray’s looking a little disheveled and covered in contusions).

Beecher’s criminal enterprise hadn’t counted on a lovely little girl who’s wandered into the scenario—carrying a single loaf of bread to take home to her 12 brothers and 11 sisters, no doubt.  (Well, it’s MGM—gotta put a little heart into this.)  She says to Hatton: “Oh, gee—you’re hurt.”  Ray motions for the little sprat to get out of the way…but the driver comes barreling down the street like a bat out of Heck and…

RAYMOND: Look!  You hit the kid!
DRIVER: Lie down, you fool!

He lays Hatton out with a haymaker, and then he kneels in front of the car as the camera pans over to slices of bread all over the street.  RIP, Little Bread Girl.

The scene shifts to Little Davie’s hospital room, as he interrogates Larry the Orderly as to the whereabouts of his little unconscious bandaged friend.  “He kicked off a couple of days ago,” Morgan tells him.

BARKELL: …the nurse was tellin’ me about you…
LARRY: Yeah…what’d she say?
BARKELL: Ah, it’s nothin’…don’t worry about it…everybody gets in jams…
LARRY: Yeah…

Barkell gives him a drag off his cigarette, then asks Larry if he’ll give him a shave later—“I’m gettin’ out of this morgue today.”  Nurse Barry interrupts their conversation by telling him the hospital superintendent wants to see him…but he’s really been summoned by a phone call from Cap’n Karnahan.

KARNAHAN: There were three more bad smash-ups last night…the drivers are going to be questioned by the accident investigation bureau…just how much longer do you intend looking them over?
LARRY: Till one of that gang shows up…

Larry moseys on down to police headquarters, where he spots Red in another office and identifies him as one of the gang.  “He ran down a man and a little girl,” Karnahan informs him.  “She’s badly hurt…if she dies, we’ll slap a second-degree murder charge on him.”

But not now, argues Larry—Red must be turned loose lest the rest of the mob get suspicious.  Karnahan reluctantly agrees, and Red gets a visit from his attorney:

BEECHER: The kid died this morning…
RED: Ah…I figured she’d seen too much…maybe she’d squawk…
BEECHER: Well, forget it…she’s dead…

“F*ck it, Dude—let’s go bowling…”

BEECHER: …I’m handling the case for her mother, and we’re going to collect plenty on it…
RED: Yeah, but what about me?  I’m not takin’ any manslaughter rap…
BEECHER: You won’t…you won’t…the coroner’s inquest will clear you…now, remember…the police think it was just an ordinary accident…and I’m here to get your deposition on how it happened…

I’m no legal expert…but that sounds a little like conflict of interest to me.  Beecher is shrewd enough to operate his insurance racket outside the confines of his legitimate office.  Larry wants to learn the location of his lair, and he explains to Karnahan that he’s going to cozy up to Little Davie (he knows Barkell hangs out in a pool hall) and see if he can infiltrate Beecher’s mob.  He waves off Karnahan’s insistence on having one of his men “shadow” Larry, but of course cops are by their nature a little slow on the uptake:

KARNAHAN: Well…Little Davie…workin’ the ol’ pickpocket gag with a bandaged arm, eh?
BARKELL: It’s busted…on the level…I just came from the hospital… (Pointing to Larry) Ask this guy!
LARRY: That’s right…copper…I work in the same hospital…

Okay, technically that’s a teensy fib—since Larry has moved on, arranging to have himself “fired” to join the Beecher outfit.

KARNAHAN: Okay…I just want you to keep straight, Little Davie… (He leaves)
BARKELL: How did you know he was a flatfoot?
LARRY: Eh, I can smell ‘em a mile off…

“It’s the tantalizing aroma of…bacon…”

BARKELL: Good cop…that guy…
LARRY: Yeah, all the good cops are in coffins

Larry’s decidedly anti-police stance is later relayed by Little Davie to Beecher; Barkell points Morgan out as the two men stroll past the pool hall.  Learning that “he has a police record and he hates cops,” Beecher tells his stooge to “send him around.”

Beecher’s mob gathers around for another round of “craps” as Little Davie explains to Larry that they roll to see who the next “hero” will be.  We witness a bit of chicanery as Red switches the dice on Larry…

…and he rolls the dreaded “boxcars”.  Larry is told to “come into the office,” and then there is a brief cutaway to Karnahan at headquarters, where he worries himself that Morgan hasn’t reported back in.  Back in Beecher’s hideout, he explains to Larry and a woman (Bernadene Hayes) identified at the IMDb as “Debbie” that the pair of them will be the accident victims—and that there’s no fear of really getting plowed down, because the driver “can stop on a dime and still make change.”  Debbie decides she wants out—so Beecher threatens her into compliance by telling her he’ll “wire the Nevada police—you know they’re very anxious to find Daisy.”  (Whether “Daisy” is an alias used by Debbie or maybe her child goes unexplained.)

BEECHER (to Larry): You’re not turnin’ yellow, too—are you?
LARRY: No…I need the dough too bad…

Maybe this guy really is a reporter.  Beecher will have a couple of his men planted as witnesses, and all Larry and Debbie will have to do is be ambulanced to the hospital—he’ll take care of the rest.  Beecher has the two sign the power of attorney statements, and after doing so Debbie asks “Well—what time should I come back?”

“You’re not leaving,” Beecher answers her.  “Go into that room—both of you.”  Once inside, Debbie cries out in terror…for it’s in Doc’s “office” that we see some of the interesting devices he utilizes to simulate injuries:

This goon observes: "This makes a great bruisin' machine!"

 In the other room, Little Davie turns on the radio and cranks the volume to drown out the expected screams while Doc orders Debbie over to a table to get “a few abrasions” with the help of a cheese grater.  We got a taste of this in the previously reviewed Accidents Will Happen (1939) when the insurance scammers had to break our pal Clinton Rosemond’s arm to insure reality…but this is some pretty cold-blooded stuff for a two-reel short.

When the job is done, Milton is once again filled with admiration for Doc’s “good night’s work.”  “Anything to help a couple of kids get along,” he replies modestly.  “Remember on this accident—we take two ways: we take the city for big damages, and we take the insurance company,” his boss reminds him.

“That’s what the city gets for being careless,” Doc editorializes.  The plan is to stage an accident near Sunrise and Garland, where the unnamed metropolis has dug up some of the street—the bad guys will wreck an automobile at the site, and then Larry and Debbie will place themselves in the excavation, crying “Lawsuit!”  But despite his injuries (he looks like those gorillas broke his arm), Larry manages to get to a telephone he spotted earlier and contact Karnahan (after subduing Red with a knock to the noggin), who’s ready to swoop in with some men before the “accident” can commence.  (I liked the presence of men with cameras, taking pictures with flash bulbs popping.)  Karnahan takes charge of rounding up the rest of the mob in Beecher’s hangout—as a barely conscious Red is dragged out, he barks at the henchman “We want you for murder!”

KARNAHAN: Larry Morgan’s testimony secured an all-around conviction…the sentences of this mob totaled more than 200 years…consider thatif you think crime pays!

Okay, take a victory lap, Michael me boyo—I guess you earned it.  Next time: It May Happen to You (1937)—with that “celebrated actor,” J. Carrol Naish!  G’bye now!