Sunday, September 13, 2009

Movies that I’ve stared at recently on TCM #38 (Boring Saturday afternoon edition)

One of these Saturdays, I swear I’m going to pick up where I left off on the exciting adventures contained in the 1945 Universal cliffhanger Jungle Queen. I know, I keep promising to go back to it…I’m sure there’s some sort of psychological reason why I continue to avoid it but until I can diagnose the problem I’ll just have to keep working on it every day and in every way until I’m able to lick it. In the meantime, here are a handful of flicks that I occupied my time with yesterday (Warning: spoilers ahead):

Always Together (1948) – Multi-millionaire Jonathan Turner (Cecil Kellaway), told by a staff of physicians that he has not long to live, gives away a million dollars to working girl Jane Barker (Joyce Reynolds)…who in turn keeps mum about the gift because she’s concerned her relationship with unemployed writer Donn Masters (Robert Hutton) will go phffft! But when Turner makes a rapid recovery from his malady, he’s determined to get back the money (with the help of lawyer Ernest Truex) and nearly succeeds by planting doubt in Jane’s mind that her marriage to Donn is about to go sour because the money has changed the both of them. Jane heads to Reno for a divorce, and Donn follows (he’s countersuing his wife to get alimony) and just when things look bleak for our two lovebirds they make up before the closing credits roll. Ah, youth!

Okay, normally I would avoid movies like this like Jehovah’s Witnesses but I recorded it because Rick “Hold the mayo” Brooks at Cultureshark e-mailed me to let me know that it contains a cameo by my man Bogart (and the appearance, brief and at the end, is pretty funny). You’ll also catch glimpses of Warner Bros. stars like Jack Carson, Dennis Morgan (the two men do not, however, appear as a team), Janis Page, Eleanor Parker, Errol Flynn and Alexis Smith...their cameos pretty much constitute the high points of Together (Reynolds’ character goes to see a lot of movies and imagines scenes from her life in the same fashion). Reynolds and Hutton are as exciting as a milkshake with two straws, so it’s pretty much left up to old pros Kellaway and Truex to carry the comedy load; there are also brief appearances from OTR writer-performer Ransom Sherman (as the judge during the divorce proceedings) future director Don “Congo Bill” McGuire, Tom Dugan, Dewey Robinson, Grady Sutton and Clifton Young (“Homer” from the Joe McDoakes shorts). Future Tonight Show director Freddie de Cordova held the reins on this one, and the script was written by future Billy Wilder collaborator I.A.L. “Iz” Diamond with Henry and Phoebe Ephron—mom and pop to writer-director Nora.

Shield for Murder (1954) – Here’s something that’s a bit more my meat: crooked cop Barney Nolan (Edmond O’Brien, who also co-directed with Howard W. Koch) croaks a mob bagman for the twenty-five large he’s carrying and sets it up to look like the bookie was killed making a break for it. Mark Brewster (John Agar), Nolan’s partner (Barney more or less showed him the ropes), believes that Barney’s innocent but his fellow cops aren’t convinced due to Nolan’s unsavory reputation. Nolan—who’s going to use the money to buy a suburban home and marry his girlfriend (Marla English) to make a honest woman out of her—runs into a little interference with gangster Packy Reed (Hugh Sanders), the owner of the missing 25 G’s…especially when Reed sends a pair of his goombahs (Claude Akins, Larry Ryle) out to shake Barney down. But his troubles really begin when it turns out that an elderly deaf-mute (David Hughes) turns up at the station to inform the cops that Nolan’s explanation for the killing is a load of ca-ca, and that prompts Barney to snuff the only eyewitness. Brewster finally puts the pieces together and an APB goes out to round-up Barney…who is ironically shot down on the very front lawn of the home he had schemed to buy.

Shield for Murder certainly isn’t a great film noir, but it’s definitely worth a look-see, particularly since it was one of only two times O’Brien had a turn behind the camera (the other being a 1961 outing, Man-Trap). O’Brien brings some interesting facets to his character that keeps it from being the same-old-same-old: he’s not really a bad individual (witness his counseling of a young punk who’s hauled into the precinct for stealing groceries), just someone who’s fed up with his current station in life and anxious to take a few shortcuts to get ahead. Of course, those TDOY readers who know Eddie as “the sweatiest man in noir” won’t be disappointed; the perspiration begins around the point when O’Brien’s character realizes he’s got to take out the deaf-mute witness. As for the rest of the cast, Agar’s okay (making the transition from John Wayne sidekick/Mr. Shirley Temple to B-movie sci-fi icon) and English is certainly attractive (she looks a bit like a young Liz Taylor)—but the individuals who make the viewer sit up and take notice are Carolyn Jones (as a boozy barfly) and Claude Akins as a hit man desperately trying to be a hipster (he says “man” a lot but he does feature in a memorable shootout at a high school swimming pool). OTR veteran Herb Butterfield plays a philosophical reporter, and other familiar TDOY faces include Emile “Riot in Cell Block 11” Meyer (as the precinct captain; I love the disgust on his face and in his voice when he realizes he’s just lost a bet of a week’s salary to Agar), William Schallert, Richard Deacon, Vito Scotti and Stafford “Officer O’Hara” Repp, making his feature-film debut.

Lord of the Flies (1963) – Okay, this film wasn’t on TCM but rather was recorded off IFC On Demand; it’s Peter Brook’s adaptation of William Golding’s classic 1954 novel that seemed such a chore to get through when it was assigned in one of my high-school English classes, but was rather painless in an one-and-a-half-hour movie that still receives critical plaudits to this day. We all know the story: thirty school-age boys are shipwrecked on a deserted island and though an attempt is made at the beginning to establish some sort of civilized political order—courtesy of two boys, Ralph (James Aubrey) and Piggy (Hugh Edwards)—the gang of boys, led by Jack (Tom Chapin), resort to base human nature and become a pack of savages. Director Brook threw out most of the script for this film and let his junior cast improvise (which helps the film quite a bit; it has a sort of semi-documentary feel) and though much of the movie ended up being heavily edited to its now ninety-minute running time, I think they made the right decision because the shortened version doesn’t wear out its welcome. The definition of “horror film” is often bandied about at great length but I think Flies more than qualifies; it’s a creepy little flick that has a tendency to stick with you for a time after seeing it.


Sebina said...

I've been meaning to view my copy of 'Shield for Murder' for a while.

In my book, there's nothing better than a good day watching movies.

Toby O'B said...

I read 'Lord Of The Flies' in eighth grade; it wasn't going to be required until 12th. Good reasoning too - turned out to be one of the most traumatic experiences of my life to that point. I've never seen the movie versions, never even went back to read it again once I was a high school senior. Still haunts me!