Forgotten Films: The Unholy Three (1925)

In The Unholy Three, Tod Browning directs Lon Chaney in a dark crime film.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 189th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

Sometimes, I have previously seen the films that I decide to review. Others, I see them for the first time with the idea of writing about them. This week is one of the latter. I became aware of Long Chaney’s work when I saw the film Man of a Thousand Faces with James Cagney, which was a fascinating biographical film. And I initially saw the work of his son, Lon Chaney Jr. in a wonderful series of Universal horror films.

In college, I got to see my first Lon Chaney film, The Phantom of the Opera. What a thrill! I witnessed the wonderful acting, the various stylized movements that he used, the pathos and the horror.

But I never saw any of his others. I recorded several but erased them when I began to run out of space. Silent films take a dedication from the viewer. Watching a talking film allows you to multitask. You can listen to the dialogue while checking email and not necessarily miss much. But silent films require your full attention. You never know when a card is going to appear explaining something essential. And you cannot be assured you’ll catch all the action when there are no loud explosions or screeching tires to draw your attention to the screen.

All that said, I sat back on a Sunday afternoon to watch a classic Chaney film, The Unholy Three. I knew it was one of his big roles so I was ready. At 84 minutes, I could give it all of my attention and still not require the entire afternoon to watch and digest.

Ventriloquist Professor Echo (Chaney) works at a sideshow with several memorable characters. There are the Fat Lady, the Tattooed Lady, Hercules (Victor McLaglen), the diminutive Tweedledee (Harry Earles) and others. Sweet Rosie O’Grady (Mae Busch) works the crowds as a pickpocket. Their lives all get unsettled when Tweedledee gets into a fight with an unruly spectator kid. The ensuing riot ends with them leaving the sideshow.

Echo suggests an alliance between himself, Hercules, and Tweedledee. “We will make millions!” he tells them. They laugh together and Tweedledee proposes the name the Unholy Three.

The next scene shows Rosie entering O’Grady’s Bird Shop, where she greets clerk Hector McDonald (Matt Moore) who sells parrots at the store. Rosie flirts with him. They are interrupted by her grandmother and the infant Little Willie. But things are not as they appear. Grandmother O’Grady is Chaney and Little Willie is Tweedledee. They have a scheme going. Hector sells talking parrots but they really talk for Mrs. O’Grady.

When the birds are delivered, they don’t really talk in the homes of their owners. Mrs. O’Grady goes to visit the homes and case the joints. She brings the pram with the baby inside and he helps in the casing.

One such visit takes place on Christmas Eve at the Arlington home. Grandmother and baby see a wonderful ruby necklace which they prepare to steal that evening. As they make their plans, Rosie comes to visit, but she runs into Hector carrying a tree and ornaments to set up for Little Willie. Grandmother is jealous of Hector and Rosie (since Rosie is his girl). With Echo trapped, Hercules and Tweedledee go on without him to carry out the robbery. Things do not go well and Mr. Arlington is murdered.

Police begin to suspect the grandmother, so Echo sets up Hector to be the fall guy. But Rosie has fallen in love. And the unholy trio has some dissention in their ranks. Thoughts that the loot might be better split by two, or not even split at all, run through their minds.

Bad things happen, some at the hands of a killer ape! My type of film!

I liked this Tod Browning-directed piece quite a lot, though TCM had a film score appended that intruded more often than not. In fact, I just hated the music. It’s a pretty dark film and the ending lacks some believability. But, despite those quibbles, I would watch it again in a heartbeat. Chaney is remarkable. Harry Earles tries to steal every scene, and I had to admire his effort, even though I hated his character.

If you can read your films (and many folks I know can’t. I’m looking at my wife as I type this. She’s one of them!), this is one you should see.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: Adventures of Superman: Superman on Earth (1952) 

The pilot episode of The Adventures of Superman stands as one of the great episodes of ’50s TV.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 187th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

It has been an interesting week, again! I had a nightmare and fell out of bed, striking my forehead against a night stand and opening a cut up. It bled badly and was still oozing two hours later. So, I took myself to the Emergency Room where I got my cut superglued shut and a tetanus shot. I already had a headache and some aching muscles from the fall. And an embarrassed feeling in having to explain what happened. The only good takeaway is that I now have a miniature Harry Potter lightning bolt scar just above my right eyebrow.

Oh, and two of my friends got not-good health reports this week. Another peripheral acquaintance recently lost her mother, her one true love and her business. She took her life this last weekend.

So I needed something to make me feel better. Staying at home to rest my head and back, I decided to watch the premiere episode of The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. “Superman on Earth” is one of my favorite episodes of ‘50s TV.

The 28-minute episode is also one of the best TV superhero origin stories that stays true to its source materials. It begins on Krypton where the weather has been odd. The high council has asked young scientist Jor-El (Robert Robinson, best known as Mr. Boynton on Our Miss Brooks). He says Krypton is being drawn into the sun and will soon explode, but the council laughs him out of the chambers. At his home, he fuels his experimental rocket and discusses his experience with his wife Lara (Aline Towne, who made some memorable appearances in Republic serials). The planet’s weather anomalies begin to intensify, and Jor-El feels that it will soon explode. His rocket can carry one and he offers the seat to her. Instead, she elects to stay with him and send off their small son.

The planet explodes, the rocket speeds away, finding its way to Earth where it crashes in a field near Eben and Sarah Kent (Tom Fadden and Frances Morris). I love how they used the original names associated with the Clark Kent story and the Superman novel I reviewed some time ago.

The story unfolds normally, with Clark Kent growing up, Eben dying and Clark going off to join the Daily Planet. Here we meet the cast that the Adventures of Superman made famous. George Reeves as Superman, Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen and John Hamilton as Perry White are all there in their glory. We also get a glimpse of the slight innuendo and wordplay between Lois and Clark that would characterize all Superman stories for the next 65 years.

Following this episode, I was much more calm and relaxed and decided to watch the Superman vs. The Mole Men movie made the year before. Suddenly, I was six again and living in Richmond, Virginia, watching Superman on an old black-and-white TV. The feeling of nostalgia and all around goodness made the day pass by.

Life was … better. It still wasn’t good. Just better.

I finished the morning watching the end of The Cat People, coming in near the swimming pool scene. It was gloriously noir.

All in all, it was a mixed bag of a day. I need to go read something uplifting too.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: Children of the Damned (1964)

Creepy kids are up to no good in Children of the Damned.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 186th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

When I was 8 or 9 I saw George Sanders and Barbara Shelley in the classic horror film Village of the Damned, which was based on the remarkable John Wyndham novel The Midwich Cuckoos. It was a very effective film with the trope of evil children pitted against a secluded town. In it, one day in the town of Midwich, every person mysteriously falls asleep. Soon, every woman capable of bearing children is found to be pregnant. They all give birth to blond children with golden eyes and a bad attitude.

The film as very successful financially, so naturally it was time for a sequel: Children of the Damned.

But the kids in the first film had been destroyed, so what to do? Following the oldest Hollywood rule regarding sequels, they decided to remake the first film with slight differences.

In this new movie, British psychologist Tom Lewellin (Ian Hendry) and geneticist David Neville (Alan Badel) are working for UNESCO looking into child development. One of their exercises takes them to young Paul Looran (Clive Powell). When given a large 3D puzzle, he completes it in about a minute while the other students being tested are still picking up pieces.

They are amazed and go to check on his parents. They meet Diana (Sheila Allen) who exudes the phrase “lower class” – undressed, unkempt and uneducated. They try to find out about his father. There is no father present. Diana obviously is scared of the boy and hates him. She agrees to let the scientists examine at him.

Meanwhile, other scientists have encountered five more children of the same age and abilities. They all are children of single mothers with no fathers present. And, like Paul, they are super smart and creepy. They can make people do anything. Paul, for example, has set Diana off to rendezvous with the front bumper a speeding truck in a dark tunnel.

The new batch of kids all solve the big puzzle in the same amount of time as Paul, down to the second. They’re brought to London through their various embassies and it’s soon discovered all six are in telepathic communication — instant communication.

But there are politics in motion. The embassies want the kids for themselves and intelligence services get involved, but the kids will have none of that. They have decided Paul’s aunt Susan (Barbara Ferris) will be there spokesperson, against her will.

They hole up in an abandoned church. Bad things befall anyone who tries to remove them. A large church pipe organ turns into a weapon. Soldiers kill each other unwillingly.

This was an OK film, not nearly as effective as the original but better than the 1995 Village remake with Christopher Reeve. I thought the political aspect was pretty shallow and the military involvement might have come from a Republic serial. There seemed to be no real thought to what the soldiers were doing or what might happen to the attackers or the civilian populace.

So, it was not bad, just not particularly good or creepy, until the events surrounding the Indian boy Rashid’s (Mahdu Mathen) killing are resolved. The final resolution of the film was weak to me. Overall, I’m glad I saw it, but I won’t watch it again without one of the creepy kids compelling me to do so.

Of course, your mileage may vary. But watch at your own risk.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Films: The 39 Steps (1935)

The 39 Steps works as a thriller and a comedy.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 185th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

This week, I’m sticking to the early stages of cinema with a film that I saw some 40 + years ago: Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.

About a month ago, Sandi and I went to the Theater of the Big Bend for a performance. The theater department at Sul Ross State University is well known and for good reason. They produce an abundance of plays each year. I believe it was five or six this year. We saw Cabaret in April and it was fabulous. In June, they did The 39 Steps with a cast of four people, and it too was great! (We saw The Fantasticks last weekend. And, once again, we were thrilled to superb performances!)

Since I enjoyed the play of The 39 Steps, I decided to watch the Hitchcock film again. Of course, since I moved a year ago, things are still in chaos. I have looked several times for my Hitchcock collection that includes this film and it has not yet reared its head. But, thanks to Turner Classic Movies and their Hitchcock celebration this month, I was able to DVR the film and watch it again.

The 39 Steps is based loosely on a classic mystery novel of the same name by John Buchan. It follows the fantastic adventures of Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian visiting in London. As the film opens, Hannay is taking in a vaudeville show. He watches a song and dance team who lead into the wonders of Mister Memory (Wylie Watson). Mister Memory commits 50 new facts to his fabulous mind every single day and can call them up to order. During the performance a pistol is fired and Hannay, with the rest of the audience, rushes to leave the show. In the rush, a young woman (Lucie Mannheim) attaches herself to him and asks to come to his home. The woman acts oddly, avoiding windows and shadows. She identifies herself as Annabella Smith and says she is an “agent” (read “spy”) but gives no affiliation. But she does reveal she’s tracking some stolen military air secrets and something called The 39 Steps. She is going to Scotland to meet someone. She also mentions her nemesis, a man of many names who cannot hide the fact that he is missing the upper joint on one of his pinky fingers.

Hannay allows her to use his bed while he sleeps on the sofa. His guest wakes him up with a knife in her back and promptly dies with a map of Scotland in her hand. Not sure what to do, Hannay looks outside and sees men who are obviously waiting for him. He escapes with the map via a funny ruse with the milkman and takes the train. Soon the maid discovers the body and the hunt is on. The newspapers are soon running stories about the murder and a police hunt. At one point, Hannay crashes into a room occupied by a young woman. He kisses her to escape the police, but she will have none of it. She outs him and he has to leap from the train.

Soon he is wandering Scotland and escaping police, spies, and the cold. He meets the woman from the train again and finds himself handcuffed to her. Pretending the pipe in his pocket is a gun, he persuades Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) to assist him and to help foil the spies.

The 39 Steps is a rare blend of comedy and suspense thriller. There are visual jokes, double entendre and more. The scene of the pair sleeping in a hotel bed while handcuffed, wet and hungry is a classic. One scene I loved was a throwaway: as the police and a detective follow Hannay through the train, they all tumble through a doorway like people falling out of the stateroom in the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.

This is the film that helped usher in an amazingly productive period of Hitchcock films and brought him into prominence. Everybody always mentions Psycho and Vertigo when talking about the great director. I would gladly throw this film into that mix as well. It is absurd at times and relies heavily on coincidence and the stupidity of some characters, but I still like a railroad ride into a Cornell Woolrich novel. I’m glad I got to revisit The 39 Steps and I hope you do also.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Film: The Case of the Curious Bride (1935)

The Case of the Curious Bride is an early Perry Mason mystery.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 183rd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

This has been a week! Normally, depending on other commitments, I try to watch a film during the week, then I write up my thoughts on Sunday. This go-round, I was going to have to both watch the film and do the write-up on Sunday.

I had thought to do The 39 Steps, the early Hitchcock version since I had recently seen a dramatization of it, but I could not locate my copy of the film. I had recorded Man Hunt, but when I went to watch it, the recording was of a 1933 film starring Junior Durkind, not the Walter Pigeon and George Sanders suspense thriller. I thought I would watch the Durkin one, but after 10 minutes I turned off the recording and deleted the film from the DVR. I made it 5 minutes further than Sandi did. So, I dipped back into the DVR.

I pulled up The Lost Continent, a Hammer thriller from 1968 with Hildegaard Neff, Eric Porter and Suzanna Leigh. But the quality of the recording was iffy at best. Several times I got a message that the recording had been interrupted. Normally, these interruptions were for a few seconds and I was able to follow the film. But at one key point, the gap was substantial with a total change of scene and characters. I gave up on it also.

Back to the DVR. Hopefully the third time was going to be the charm. I had an early Perry Mason film recorded. I had seen several of the Warren William Masons, so I knew it would be fun. Up popped The Case of the Curious Bride, Williams’ second outing as Mason. The film went smoothly, so here we go.

Perry Mason has just completed a successful defense and is celebrating with his friends and associates. He has picked out some crabs and has gone to Luigi’s to make some fancy Italian dish. Afterward, he plans to leave for a long delayed vacation to China. While preparing the meal, though, he is interrupted by Rhoda Montaine (Margaret Lindsay), who wants to ask him about a problem one of her girlfriends has. The girl had previously been married and husband died four year earlier. She’s since fallen in love and wants to get re-married. But the first husband may be alive. Mason asks the girl’s name and address and Rhoda provides information, which proves false.

Mason is called away and when he returns Rhoda is gone. He has his meal and goes home. The next day, he finds that Rhoda was speaking of herself and that her supposedly dead first husband, Gerald Moxley (Errol Flynn in his second credited Hollywood role) has been killed. Rhoda is fleeing the city and is the obvious suspect. Her new husband, Carl, is suspicious of her behavior and her relation with Dr. Millbeck. Her new father-in-law, C. Phillip Montaine of Pasadena, wants the marriage broken up and offers Mason a lot of money to lose the defense. What’s more, the DA is out for blood.

Williams does pretty well as Mason, but Claire Dodds is wasted as Della Street who does not do much in The Case of the Curious Bride. Allen Jenkins returns as “Spudsy” Drake, Mason’s gopher and right hand worker. He provides a lot of comic relief to these tales, which I do not recall in the novels. (Come to think of it, it has been more than 40 years since I read a Perry Mason so maybe that could be a Forgotten Book column soon.) Olin Howard reprises his role as the coroner Wilbur Strong, who partakes of the gourmet meal with gusto and has a wonderful revelation when exhuming a body early on. And Wini Shaw has a fun song and dance number at the Midnight Burlesque doing a piece called “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.” Sorry, no Snoopy sitting on his dog house.

These films will never replace the Raymond Burr TV appearances, but they are an interesting representation of the time. I found The Case of the Curious Bride worth a viewing. Perhaps you will too. But, as always with a film this old, your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Films: They Met in Bombay (1941)

They Met in Bombay is part comedy caper film and part WW2 action yarn.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 182nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

As I said last week, “police and detective films of the ’30s and ’40s can be a wonderful thing.” So, when browsing through the program guide a few months ago, I was immediately struck by the title They Met in Bombay. I looked up the summary and found it to be a comedy caper about two jewel thieves in India. The stars included Clark Gable, the amazing Rosalind Russell and Peter Lorre. So, onto the DVR it went.

When I was looking for something to watch and describe for you faithful readers, the film struck me again. It starts in Bombay, where the Duchess of Belltravers (Jessie Ralph) is set to appear at the annual celebration of colonial British rule. The Duchess owns a fabulous necklace with a huge diamond pendant, the Star of Asia. Being a well-known jewel, it naturally attracts the attention of thieves. Gerald Meldrick (Gable) is such a thief and he has made a very acceptable copy of the necklace. He arrives at the hotel where the celebration will take place. He presents the manager (Eduardo Ciannelli) with a telegram presenting him as a detective for Lloyd’s of London, which insures the necklace. The necklace is kept is the hotel safe and guarded at all times when it’s not worn.

As he Meldrick checks in, he sees the Baroness Anya van Duren (Russell) arrive to make her own play as a con artist. She goes to her room and studies the history of the Belltravers family, brushing up on the family lineage and personal details such as who their friends are.

When Anya goes to get her hair and nails done, Gerald is there getting a shave. That shave quickly turns into a haircut so he can look admiringly at her. At the celebration, the Duchess notes that Anya looks just like she did when she was younger. Anya’s guests include a local prince, but they have not shown up (because they were never invited). The Duchess invites Anya to join her party as the prince in question is also a friend of hers.

Anya, being a good con artist, ingratiates herself into the Duchess’ confidence, and soon the two are back at the Duchess’ suite where the older woman falls asleep. Anya removes the necklace and departs to her suite. When Gerald enters, he sees that the necklace is gone. He puts his copy on the woman and goes to Anya’s room, where he confronts her as the Lloyd’s detective and gets her to give up the goods. A few minutes after he leaves, she sees the real hotel detectives leaving the Duchess’ room with the necklace, which she asks to see. She then realizes that she has been conned herself.

The next morning, Gerald checks out of the hotel and grabs a ride to the airport. Inside the cab he finds Anya. They discuss the evening’s happenings and the possibility of a partnership. Just as they reach the airport, they hear the sound of the police. Realizing the jig is up, they steal a boat and row out to a freighter on its way to Hong Kong. Captain Chang (Peter Lorre) realizes who the pair are and offers to turn them over when they get to Hong Kong for a £10,000.

The two grab the jewel and escape over the side of the freighter and hide out in Hong Kong for several weeks. Anya has acquired a domestic streak and is hoping the two can retire from theft. Nearly broke, Gerald concocts a new plan to steal money from a businessman who has defrauded the military. Getting a military uniform, he marches through the street acquiring soldiers as he goes along. He arrives at the mark’s house with a large contingent and fleeces the man of his ledgers and all the cash on hand. Things are going well. He and Anya are leaving in a couple of hours. Then the real military shows up. Gerald, using the name Captain Houston, is whisked to the garrison where he is impressed into handling the evacuation of the Chiang Lin province from the Japanese occupation. (This is at the beginning of World War II.)

Here the film turns into a heroic adventure and is no longer the romantic caper comedy it started as. Still, it remains fun. Gable and Russell work well together throughout, although Wikipedia tells me that Lana Turner was originally slated to be the co-star. I like Russell more than I do Turner, so this was fine by me.

Overall, They Met in Bombay was was good film and I really enjoyed it. Peter Lorre was only in the film 10 or 15 minutes and was pretty well wasted as an unscrupulous Chinese freighter captain. I had never heard of this film before, so it was a nice piece of serendipity that I found it and watched it. Perhaps it will work for you also. Though, of course, your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Films: The Amazing Mr. Williams (1939)

The Amazing Mr. Williams is fun clone of The Thin Man.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 181sth in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Police and detective films of the ’30s and ’40s can be a wonderful thing. Recently, while scrolling through the guide on my television, I saw one listed that I had never heard of. Billed as a “breezy Thin Man clone,” The Amazing Mr. Williams starred Melvyn Douglas and Joan Blondell, two stalwarts of this period. I gave it a chance.

Lieutenant Kenny Williams (Douglas) is a homicide detective who has amazing insights in solving cases. Maxine Carroll (Blondell) is the mayor’s secretary and Kenny’s fiancé. But Maxine does not like that Kenny works a job with hours beyond 9 to 5. Their dates are frequently interrupted by murder. Maxine hates that Kenny is a policeman and threatens regularly to leave him unless he quits.

In the opening moments of the film, Kenny is late in arriving to a date and Maxine is furious. He gets there in time to drink her Old Fashioned and apologize. Before he can order, he is dragged away for a locked-room murder involving a woman, midgets and a snake. (And it did not involve the Harry Stephen Keeler solution of a midget hanging from a rope from a helicopter).

Kenny tries to apologize to Maxine and solemnly swears to be there for her. His boss, Captain McGovern (Clarence Kolb), overhears the plans and decides to send Kenny to take convicted murderer Texas Buck Moseby (Edward Brophy) to prison for 40 years. Rather than explain the situation to Maxine (who does not want to hear any more excuses), Kenny takes Buck in tow as he takes Maxine to the Beach Casino for an evening of dinner and dancing. Maxine does not believe that Buck is an old college friend and blows the whistle on Kenny, getting him suspended for 60 days without pay.

Except of course there is another job that needs to be done. The Phantom Slugger has been preying on women on the streets, hitting them with a baseball bat. Seven women have died. Kenny has the idea of sending one of the male cops out in drag to attract the Slugger. But, because of the screw-up with Moseby, Kenny is told he will be the decoy. Maxine fed the idea to the mayor to make Kenny get fed up and resign, but it never works out the way she wants.

In another episode, Kenny resigns but is drug back into service by McGovern, leaving Maxine waiting at the altar. And a final incident which involves an innocent man captured by Kenny who is convicted of murder. While taking him to prison, Kenny realizes that a mistake has been made and that he must remove the man from the train and prove him innocent before the police capture Kenny and send him away for 10 years.

It is light hearted and breezy and episodic. The supporting cast with favorite Donald MacBride as Lieutenant Bixler and Ruth Donnelly and Effie Perkins, Maxine’s roommate and work assistant, is also quite good.

A lot happens in The Amazing Mr. Williams’ 80 minutes, and there are no real dull sections. I really like both Melvyn Douglas and Joan Blondell. They made three films together in 1938 and 1939, as well as one in 1964. This was the second of the three.

Melvyn Douglas also starred in Fast Company, a bibliomystery I reviewed last year which I really enjoyed. He was one of three actors to play book dealer/sleuth Joel Sloan. All three of those films also qualify as The Thin Man clones and are worth watching.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: The Magnetic Monster (1953)

The thing that comes alive in The Magnetic Monster isn’t a giant radiated bug but a killer isotope.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 179th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Boy, have I been loving May at Turner Classic Movies, where they have been showing some wonderful monster and horror movies of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s with Dennis Miller hosting. It has been tempting to review only these movies for a while. I broke with that last week when I looked at Arsene Lupin and the Barrymores.

But here we are again with The Magnetic Monster, a ’50s science-horror movie.

Following the development of the atomic bomb, science as most Americans knew it changed drastically. Science became something terrifying and unfamiliar. And Hollywood was ready to move into this unexplored land.

The Magnetic Monster starts simply enough. The workers at Simon’s Department Store find that all their clocks have stopped. Mr. Simon (character actor favorite Byron Foulgar) begins berating Albert (Bowery Boy William “Billy” Benedict), who vows that he had wound all the clocks. Other appliances are also affected by some mysterious magnetic force which seems to have originated in the apartment above the store. The nearby Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI) is contacted and it dispatches two agents, Dr. Jeffrey Stewart (Richard Carlson) and Dr. Dan Forbes (King Donovan). They find evidence of radioactivity and massive magnetism from a lab above the store. The lab belongs to Dr. Denker (Leonard Mudie), who is carrying a dangerous isotope aboard an airplane. Denker dies from radiation poisoning. He had been bombarding this radioactive isotope with alpha particles, initiating all sorts of weird happenings.

The isotope suddenly began to defy all laws of physics by converting energy into mass, which doubles every 12 hours. While the sample size on hand is small at a quadrupling every 24 hours, it was going to become a huge threat within a few days. At 10 days, the mass would have grown by more than one million times its original size. Five more days would be a billion times. Imagine how much energy that would consume. The OSI began to speculate about how long it would take before the earth was thrown off its orbit.

The MANIAC, a giant card fed computer, taking up about a city block, runs the calculations. There’s lots of footage of the computer working, which means tape moving and cards being moved around. MANIAC finally determines that bombarding the sample within 24 hours with 900 million volts of electricity might do the trick. The experimental power station in Nova Scotia is the only possible place this might happen, even though the unit has a top rating of 600 million volts.

Tensions reach a height as the material is being bombarded and the generator’s creator does not want to see it destroyed.

The film gets tense, and aside from the faulty hand wavy science, I found myself fairly engaged. It was not a giant bug or monster film, though a giant isotope runs wild. Curt Siodmak, who gave us many fine films over the years, provided the screenplay. My favorite of his works was Donovan’s Brain, a 1942 novel which was filmed in 1954 with Nancy Davis and Lew Ayres. Siodmak also directed The Magnetic Monster. The film’s producer was Ivan Tors, in his second production, and Richard Carlson was in the prime of his career with It Came From Outer Space and Creature From the Black Lagoon appearing in 1954. According to Wikipedia this was the first in a three film series featuring the OSI, It was followed by Riders to the Stars and Gog, both in 1954.

This wasn’t a spectacular production but an OK way to enjoy an evening. Give it a try if you have the chance.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Film: Arsene Lupin (1932) 

Two Barrymores star in this 1930s film about the gentleman thief.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 178th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

It was a tough choice this week selecting a Forgotten Film. On one hand, I had more of TCM’s giant creature movies on the DVR and I watched The Deadly Mantis in preparation for the review. But doing two similar films in a row was not how I really wanted to go. So, I glanced through the DVR and ran across Arsene Lupin, a mystery/thriller from 1932. I love older mysteries and the character of Arsene Lupin, so this film won out.

The character of Arsene Lupin, gentleman thief, was first introduced by Maurice Le Blanc in a series of short stories in 1905. By the time this film was made, Lupin had appeared in at least ten films and several plays as well as a number of short stories and novels. Wikipedia shows 19 volumes before the release of this film.

Aside from the subject matter, the film is also notable for being a team-up of John and Lionel Barrymore, two massive stars of the silver screen.  John gets the role of Arsene Lupin and the Duke of Charmerace, a broke aristocrat who runs a robbery ring as the gentleman burglar Arsene Lupin. The film opens with a trussed up servant of Gourney-Martin knocking a telephone off the table and calling the police. He says the house is being robbed by someone approximately six feet tall with a limp. The call goes to the dispatch, where it is identified as possibly being by Arsene Lupin. The call is given to Guerchard (Lionel Barrymore) who is one of the best in the Paris police.

As the police approach the house, the thief flees, but Guerchard follows. When they find the fleeing vehicle, it is abandoned except for a bound, well-dressed figure. The captive identifies himself as the Duke of Charmerace (John Barrymore). Guerchard says that’s a lie. The banter between the mysterious man and the officer continues back and forth continues until Gourney-Martin (Tully Marshall) arrives from the opera and identifies Charmerace to the police. Guerchard believes that Charmerac is still Lupin and was after Gourney-Martin’s famous emerald necklace and other jewels.  Gourney-Martin explains to Guerchard that Lupin would have been disappointed because the jewels are in the Gourney-Martin villa in the countryside. Charmerace hears this at the same time.

Gourney-Martin plans to head out to the countryside to make sure the jewels are OK. Charmerace has a party to host the next evening for his birthday. Guerchard is planning on having men at the party to keep an eye on him. At the party, Charmerace finds a naked woman in his bed. Her name is Countess Sonia (Karen Morley), and the strap on her gown has broken and is being repaired by some of the servants in the next room. Banter and innuendo ensues between the two.

Also at the party are collectors looking for more than a half million francs, which Charmerace promises to pay on the morrow. When the lights are turned out, women’s jewelry goes missing. The police search everyone, but the jewels are not found.

Gourneey-Martin has been at the party and asks Charmerace to come with him to the villa. He agrees and decides to bring Sonia along with him.  Guerchard is interested in this development, as Sonia notifies him about the trip, since she is working for the police.

Gourney-Martin shows Charmerace his safe which has no keyhole or combination. He asks Charmerace to open the door, but when he grasps the handle, he is shocked by the electric current which paralyzes his grip and he cannot let go of the door. Gourney-Martin laughs at the situation until Charmerace uses his free hand to grab Gourney-Martin who also is shocked. Gourney-Martin uses his free hand to flip the switch that turns off the current. He tells Charmerace about the jewels and bonds in the box. The bonds were obtained in a less than legal manner.

The rest of the film deals with Lupin taunting Guerchard and threatening to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre on the following day, in front of the police and Guerchard.

It is a pretty decent film. The two Barrymores show why they were among the most noted actors of their time. Many have played Lupin over the years and John Barrymore was among the best. So, if you have the chance, it is worth spending the 84 minutes with this one. A classic film featuring classic actors in classic roles.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Films: Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1940)

Lloyd Nolan's Mike Shayne differs from the detective featured in the novels, but he's one of the best things about the film.

Lloyd Nolan’s Mike Shayne differs from the detective featured in the novels, but he’s one of the best things about the film.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 171st in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Welcome back to Forgotten Films. This week I decided to go a little further back and pick a B movie that many people have not seen. Michael Shayne, Private Detective was the first of the Mike Shayne stories to go onto celluloid and it has both good and bad points.

The first good point is Lloyd Nolan who played Shayne in seven films for Twentieth Century Fox. He makes an interesting Shayne, tough and no nonsense but one who has a whimsical side too.

The film begins at the race track where Phyllis Brighton (Marjorie Weaver) is losing badly. Her father Hiram Brighton (Clarence Kolb) refuses to give her money to place a bet on a 15-1 long shot. She finds a bookie and attempts to pawn off an expensive brooch to cover a $200 bet. Shayne is nearby and spoils her deal by telling the bookie the jewelry is paste. Phyllis does not know Shayne, but Shayne knows her and her father. Imagine her rage when the horse wins unexpectedly and she does not get her $3,000 reward.

Phyllis complains to her father about Shayne and dear old dad decides that Mike is exactly the person he needs to keep his wayward daughter on the straight and narrow. Since times are a little tight (the furniture company is repossessing his office when Brighton calls), Mike takes the job.

The first stop is a local casino where Phyllis is hanging with Harry Grange (George Meeker), the guy who had given her the tip on the horserace. She is playing roulette and not having any luck. She hits Grange up for a loan and as he is giving it to her, Shayne interrupts. There is discussion and Phyllis takes the money anyway.

Shayne goes to talk to the owner Gordon (Douglas Dumbrille), who is arguing with his daughter Marsha (Joan Valerie) about Grange. Shayne convinces Gordon to give Phyllis back the money she lost. There is a conference with Grange, Phyllis, Gordon and Shayne. It ends with Shayne punching out Grange and taking Phyllis to her home.

Here he meets Aunt Olivia (Elizabeth Patterson) who has always wanted to meet a real detective. She loves solving murder mysteries and regales Shayne with the stories of those she loved. Phyllis has been locked in her room, but she has a spare key and promptly returns to the casino and Grange.

Shayne, of course, follows but lets her alone. Instead, he drugs Grange and takes him away in Phyllis’ car, where he applies catsup to the front of his shirt. He then goes back to the casino and picks up Phyllis and is driving her home since she cannot find her car. He also calls his comic foil Chief Painter (Douglas McBride) of the homicide division to put the fear of god in her.

Driving her home, they spot Phyllis’ car and the slumped form of Grange. Phyllis recognizes the catsup and tries to shake Grange awake. That’s when she sees the gunshot to his forehead. They also find Mike’s gun nearby. It’s been fired.

Mike sends Phyllis home and throws the gun away and awaits the arrival of the police. Things get tough when the police (tipped off by Gordon) find out about the altercation between Grange and Mike.

The film swings between comedic spots and a real mystery. Shayne wisecracks through the whole film. Soon there is murder, kidnapping, horse race fixing and other drama to keep the story moving. Aunt Olivia steals the show whenever she is on stage. And Phyllis begins to think that having Shayne around might not be too bad.

As I said, Nolan is a good thing about the film. But he’s also a bad thing. He is not really the Mike Shayne form the novels (though by the time the film came out, only two had been published). The Shayne of the novels was Irish, red headed and married. Nolan’s not any of these. But, that said, I liked him.

Nolan delivers up something that is a combination of the hardboiled Shayne and the comedic Thin Man type. It must have succeeded because Fox did six more films with Nolan and then the series shifted to PRC where Hugh Beaumont (of Leave it to Beaver fame) did five more. Shayne also went on to appear on radio in several series and on TV. Brett Halliday (a pseudonym used by Davis Dresser) wrote at least 50 Mike Shayne novels (and others wrote 27 more as Halliday, bringing the total to 77). Some of my favorites were written by Robert Terrell, who also did some nice hardboiled work under his own name and Robert Kyle.

Overall I like the film. You should check it out. This first one is available on YouTube or in the Michael Shayne Mysteries collection, which has the first four Nolan Shayne offerings.

As always, my taste is in my mouth. You may hate these things. Hope not, but it’s your life.

I will probably miss the next couple of weeks as I am in the process of moving and it looks like it will be happening imminently. If I do miss my movie reviews, check out Todd Mason’s blog and see what some of the other folks who do the Forgotten Films have to offer up.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.