Thursday, February 28, 2019

'Take the Stand' is a fine Who-Dunnit

Take the Stand (1934)
Starring: Russell Hopton, Thelma Todd, Jack La Rue, Gail Patrick, Burton Churchill, Leslie Fenton, Shiela Terry, Jason Robards, Arnold Gray, Bradley Page, and DeWitt Jennings
Director: Phil Rosen
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A gossip columnist and radio host (La Rue) is murdered and the suspect list includes some of New York City's most celebrated, notorious, and dangerous figures from the pinnacle of high society to the deepest parts of the criminal underworld. Newly minted police detective Bill Hamilton (Hopton) has his work cut out for him, because he must identify a killer in a large group of suspects with air-tight alibis, and he is racing against his own department who wants to close the case by hanging the murder on whatever convienent target emerges first.

"Take the Stand" is a fast-moving film that unfolds like a condensed Agatha Christie novel. The murder and how it was executed was clever--so clever that I only had part of it worked out by the end which is a testament to the quality of the script (or the novel it was based on) since I've read so many mystery novels and seen so many movies of this type that. The murder weapon was also highly inventive, even if it seems less so with 85 years between its first release and it being used many times since in fiction, comic strips... and even a story that was proposed for an ill-fated Violet Strange project I once tried to pull together. (That said, even when the film was made there was a problem with the clues relating to the murder weapon, and they should have been addressed, because the movie otherwise mades attempts to incorporate forensics as the science existed in the 1930s.)

The casting in the film is perfect, with each actor and actress fitting their part, and everyone does a fine job with their characters. Oftentimes, there's one or two performers who either overact so severely or are otherwise just so bad they cast a pall upon the rest of the performances. Not so here.

Russell Hopton in particular does a standout job as the police detective who grows increasingly frustrated with his own colleagues, In a change of pace for films from this period, the cops are not all bigots and morons, but one who isn't--Hopton's character--has a hard time with the rest. Hopton's character is doubly interesting since he shares a secret with one of the suspects that may give him a blindspot in regards to identifying the murderer.

Thelma Todd is another cast member who turns in a remarkable performance, because it is so subdued. She plays the victim's personal assistant, and her role in the eventual solution to the mystery is perfectly believable because she is constantly hovering around the other characters, present but unnoticed except in the instances where she call s attention to herself, or is called upon by another character. In every other role I've seen Todd in, she has virtually leapt off the screen with her presense, so I was very impressed with what I saw happen in this movie.

One final touch in this film that modern viewers will find interesting is the theme of homophobia. One of the murder suspects is an opera singer who the gossip columnist keeps threatening to "out." I haven't seen the topic dealt with as straight forwardly and openly as it is in this film, nor have I seen a gay character played as free of simpering and mincing as this one. The character's sexuality seems to be an open secret in some circles, and the characters in the film don't really seem to care about it--but the gay character knows what will happen if the public were to hear about it on the radio, and he is panicked enough about it that he seems to be willing to resort to any means to prevent his career from being destroyed. These days, it seems many musicians would use their homosexuality as a selling point instead of viewing it as something that could destroy them.

All in all, while a key part of the mystery in "Take the Stand" has been copied to the point of becoming a cliche, there are still enough here to make it worth your time to check out.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

It's Ms. Captain Marvel!

In anticipation of the upcoming "Captain Marvel" movie, here's a portrait gallery of Carol Danvers in her two Ms. Marvel outfits, and the one she wore after she became Captain Marvel.

Jessica Drew, better known as Spider-Woman decided to pop by to wish Carol success with her movie (which is in State-side theaters on March 7, 2019). Maybe, if fame doesn't go to her head, Carol will visit during an upcoming Spider-Woman Sunday!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Beverley Owen has passed away

Born in 1937, Beverley Owen spent most of her brief acting career appearing on a variety of TV shows during 1963 and 1964. She reached the height of her success when she was cast as Marilyn Munster on the fantasy-based sit-com "The Munsters". Marilyn was the "plain one" in a family who look like monsters out of 1940s horror films.
Owen only appeared in two unaired pilots  and the first 13 episode of "The Munsters", because 1964 was the year she retired from acting to get married and raise her two daughters.
Owen passed away on Feb. 21 2019 at the age of 81.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

'Off the Trolley' is a perfect title

Off the Trolley (1919)
Starring: Harold Lloyd, Bebe Daniels, Harry "Snub" Pollard, Sammy Brooks, and Bud Jamison
Director: Alf Goulding
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Unpleasant characters (Lloyd and Daniels) ride a streetcar with the world's most inept driver (Pollard).

Since it's a 100-year-old silent film, some are prone to dismiss "Off the Trolley" as not worth their time. Those people would be missing out on seven minutes of nearly non-stop amazement and laughter... because this one packs in more madness into its brief running time than many feature-length comedies do at ten times the length.

Harold Lloyd plays one of those trickster characters that are lots of fun in comedies and comic strips but you know would be in prison (or dead) if they existed in the real world... and he's in fine form in this picture. From his initial encounter with hotty ticket taker Bebe Daniels on their way to work, through his slapstick escape from an ever-growing crowd of cops, his conflicts with other passengers on the streetcar, and his dealing with would-be robbers, are all incredibly funny and spectacular examples of well-timed physical comedy.

Bebe Daniels is also lots of fun in this film. I'm usually annoyed by insta-romances, but here it seems clear that all she's looking for from Lloyd's character is a "bit of fun"... which is for the best, because even if she had something more in mind, it would end as soon as she discovered what he gets up to and does to her behind her back. (Although, frankly, based on their first interaction, part of me thinks the Daniels and Lloyd characters probably deserve each other.)

Since you're here already, why don't you take a view minutes to check out this great little film, embedded below via YouTube?

'All Teed Up' brings chaos to the golf course

All Teed Up (1930)
Starring: Charlie Chase, Thelma Todd, Dale Henderson, Carl Stockdale, and Tennen Holz
Director: James Horne
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A socially inept banker (Chase) decides to take up golf. A chance encounter, and romantic chemistry, with a young woman (Todd) gets him invited to play on the course of an exclusive private club.

"All Teed Up" is a social comedy that uses golf as its source of humor. When it was made, the sport of golf had transformed from something played by an elite few to a national craze, and everyone from the struggling middle class on up were picking up clubs and knocking balls around. Charley Chase's character seems to be conceived to be a caricature of an average white collar worker hoping to be part of the new Big Thing even if he knows nothing about it. The three men he plays against, and tries to befriend in his inept and highly annoying way, are also caricatures of typical golfers, and they grow so frustrated that this clueless newbie is beating them that they start cheating. Despite the chaos he ends up causing, Chase's character is so guileless that viewers can't help but always be on his side as the film unfolds. Although some of the sequences during the golf game go on for a little too long and become repetitive, they never get boring because Chase's character is so likable. Heck, he's so likeable that you'll find yourself saying "good job" as he finally snaps and throws a temper tantrum (and yes... he does swear to a degree that might give the film a PG rating!)

One of the things that made this film very interesting was the scenes featuring Thelma Todd at the beginning and the end. Although Todd doesn't do much other than react to Chase being goofy, it's a clear demonstration of how well the two played off each other. Her appearance in this film is also a clear example of how she could light up the screen by just being present.

"All Teed Up" is one of several films where Chase and Todd are teamed up. Producer Hal Roach was so pleased with Todd's performance that by 1931 he had given her a comedy series of her own where she was one-half of a female Laurel & Hardy or Wheeler & Woosley team, first with veteran comedienne Zasu Pitts and later Patsy Kelly as her co-stars. Most of Todd's appearances with Chase are included among the 17 films in the Charley Chase at Hal Roach: The Talkies, Volume One set. I'll be reviewing more of these shorts as The Year of the Hot Toddy continues! 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Amazing Ms. Marvel!

Before she got promoted to Captain, Carol Danvers was a Ms... but she was still a Marvel!

By Gene Gonzales

In preparation for the upcoming "Captain Marvel" movie, here are some portraits of Ms. Marvel as she appeared in 1970s and early 1980s (before Chris Claremont and the editors at Marvel Comics literally had her abused and raped).

By Darrel Young

By Rodrigo Rosa-DeSosa
By Aaron Lopresti

By Buzz

Monday, February 18, 2019

Musical Monday: k.d lang

I'm sure we could all make a list of musicians and singers we feel deserved greater fame than they achieved--or at least were more widely known like certain craptacular pop stars are. My list is a long one, and one of the names on it is k.d. lang. When she recorded what SHOULD have been the title song for the James Bond film "Tomorrow Never Dies"--it was the main theme for the film's score--I was sure he would finally get the wide fame she was due. Sadly it was not be the case. Although others have followed in lang's stylistic footsteps, and become more widely known, she has remained relatively obscure.

Here's one of k.d. lang's better-known songs. I confess to not understanding how the vaudeville-esque show going on in the video connects with the song (I have an idea, but I am not convinced I'm right), so if you have an idea, I'd love to hear it.

And speaking of "Tomorrow Never Dies", here's the best James Bond main titles song you've never heard. (It was relegated to the end credits of the movie for which it was written and performed. Instead, the film opened with a tepid song performed by Sheryl Crowe.)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

'Night of the Demon' is terror-riffic!

Night of the Demon (1957) (aka "Curse of the Demon")
Starring: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall McGinnis, Liam Redmond, and Athene Seyler
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

An American (Andrews) travels to England to help investigate a demonic cult, and he finds himself targeted by supernatural forces unleashed by the cult's leader (McGinnis).

"Night of the Demon" is a by-the-numbers horror film where a skeptic is beset by supernatural forces and the only way he can survive is to turn the tables on those who have unleashed them. The fact that it's straight-forward with only one unexpected and shocking moment isn't a strike against it, because the story is expertly paced and structured, and so excellently acted by ever cast member that the predictability of the story becomes irrelevant.

The mood grows increasingly intense as the film unfolds, and the trainyard climax is perhaps one of the best finishes to a horror film I've ever seen. What's better, the film delivers its scares through quality acting, lighting, sparse use of soundtrack music, and perfect pacing; who could have imagined that a piece of paper fluttering away on a breeze could be such a source of suspense? I highly recommend this film to anyone who likes their horror with a minimum of gore.

With all the praise I'm heaping on the film, you may be wondering why I'm only giving it a rating of Eight Stars? It's because of the film's one and only misstep; it establishes right from the beginning that the supernatural powers of the villainious cult leader (played with just the right amount of slimeness and pomposity by the underappreciated character actor Niall McGinnis) are real. While on the one hand, it accelerates the viewer's sense of apprehension for the death-marked hero, it undermines takes away any mystery in the story. We don't even the a startling reveal of the demonic creature, as that, too, is shown to us in the very beginning. It's hard for to judge if the film would have been better with the more standard "is it all a hoax or is it supernatural forces" approach, but I leaning toward thinking it would have. Therefore, I am assigning it a rating of a High Eight.

"Night of the Demon" was released in the United States in 1958 under the title "Curse of the Demon", with a running time that's roughly 7 minutes shorter than the original British version. The most recent DVD release contains both cuts of the film, and I was sure that part of the cut material would be from the opening sequence where we see a character get killed by fire demon. I was wrong; instead, character building bits, and a crucial exposition scene were cut from the film.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Space Girl Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day, and love is in the void between planets.
By Arthur Adams

'Chickens Come Home' is top Laurel & Hardy

Chickens Come Home (1931)
Starring: Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel, Mae Busch, Thelma Todd, James Finlayson, Norma Drew, and Patsy O'Byrne
Director: James W. Horne
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

When Oliver (Hardy) becomes a candidate for Mayor, an old lover (Busch) resurfaces to blackmail him with a compromising photo. Oliver refuses to pay her off, so his campaign manager (Laurel) tries to neutralize her through other means... which go horribly awry.

You can file this one under "timeless classics", because the storyline of "Chickens Come  Home" is funnier, yet feels just as topical, as whatever the most recent "edgy" and heavy-handed political skit  you might see on late-night television. I would love to see some enterprising filmmaker do a remake of this film with only some minor updates to bring it into modern times, but otherwise keep it as it is--even to the point where the performers' characters are named after them. Given the strong parallels there are between the events of this film and a certain situation with a stripper, a US presidential candidate, and his shady attorney, I think it would be add a lot to the fun of to the film to see the reaction of the obsessed and mentally deficient on both sides of the political spectrum.

As for the film, it's one of the best with Laurel & Hardy that I've seen. Both headliners get to play to their strengths and each major supporting cast member gets their turn at being funny, too. Hardy in particular gets to shine in this film. He has the best material to work with, and he plays nicely off Thelma Todd, who plays Hardy's wife with lots of charm and confused stares. In fact, this film would have been even stronger if Stan Laurel and Mae Busch's roles had been reduced mostly to the scenes they already share with Hardy; while the bit where Stan tries to keep Mae in her apartment is funny, I kept wanting to go back to the Hardy household. It's not that the scene was bad, it's just that the real story was unfolding elsewhere, and I the detour was not welcome.

Everything about this film is very funny. From the business our politically ambitious heroes--they manufacture fertilizer--through their last-ditch effort to hide their attempts to hide their efforts to attempt to hide Hardy's old relationship from their wives, every bit is perfectly performed by the highly talented cast. The one complaint I have about the film basically boils down to one sequence not being as good as the rest of the film (not to mention a little predictable)... so that's a weak complaint indeed.

Trivia: "Chickens Come Home" is a remake of a 1927 silent movie titled "Love 'Em and Weep." Many of the same cast members are featured in both films, with Stan Laurel and Mae Busch playing mostly the same roles, but Oliver Hardy had a bit part in the first version while James Finlayson was the one subjected to the blackmail, where here Hardy has the major role and Finlayson is a bit player.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Felix the Cat learns the Black Bottom

We've all heard of the Charleston dance, and seen it performed in numerous movies, but by 1927, that dance had been replaced as a favorite among America's Dancing Daughters by the Black Bottom. .

The Black Bottom is based on a dance that had been around in black communities of the South since at least the early 1900s--and as it began to gain national popularity, one dancer stated that it was "as old as the hills." It came to national attention when it was performed in variety shows in Harlem and on New York City's Broadway. The most famous performer of the Black Bottom at the time was Ann Pennington, an already famous dancer who rode the Black Bottom craze to even more fame, including numerous bit-parts in films throughout the 1930s.

As the national Black Bottom craze was still climbing--and even going international--Ann Pennington did a shoot for "Photoplay" magazine in which she taught Felix the Cat how to performe the dance. The photos appeared on a two-page spread in the issue of "Photoplay" cover-dated January 1927.

You can read more about the Black Bottom at Wikipedia. Meanwhile, here's Ann and Felix performing the Black Bottom!

Hop down front then doodle back.
Mooch to your left...
...  then mooch to your right.
Do the mess around.
Break a leg until you're near the ground [this is a hobbling step]

Finally, here's video showing performances of both solo and couples versions of the Black Bottom.

Monday, February 11, 2019

This early fantasy film is hokey but still fun

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)
Starring: Bebe Daniels, Robert Z. Leonard, Alvin Wyckoff, Hobart Bosworth, Winifred Greenwood, and Olive Cox
Director: Otis Turner
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Dorothy Gale (Daniels) discovers a scarecrow (Leonard) near her home is alive and aware. She unties him from the frame he's on, and he saves her, her dog Toto, and a pair of farm animals from a sudden cyclone that sweeps everyone off the strange and magical land of Oz. Here, they make new friends and enemies, including the evil witch Momba (Greenwood).

"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" is reported to be one of four different film adaptations that were released in 1910, and it is the only one that survives to this day. The version I watched is a bit blurry and is missing both opening and closing credits/title cards, but it is in much better shape that films of more recent vintage I've sat through. It's either been restored, or film-lovers had the extra-ordinarily good luck of a copy having been kept somewhere under the exact right conditions for preservation.

Seeing that this film is almost 110 years old as I write this review, it's tricky for me to pass judgement on. For example, to my eyes, the film feels like a community theatre performance--a well-staged and elaborate community theatre performance but still at the level of community theatre--and that feeling is enhanced by the fact that the film consists entirely of static long shots with each scene framed as if it was unfolding on a stage... as well as the costumes worn by the actors playing the Cowardly Lion and the farm animals that are following Dorothy. Most of the special effects in the film are also mostly of the kind that would work well during a live stage performance, and I found myself chuckling more than I suspect the director would have liked during the scene where the cyclone spirits Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the random farm animals following her around to Oz.

Still, this is a very entertaining film, even if I wonder about some of the choices that its writer/director made back then. At 13 minutes, this is more of an outline (or a highlight reel) of a Wizard of Oz movie than anything else, and while most of the iconic characters are here, some might have been best omitted since, to viewers with no prior knowledge of the Wizard of Oz novels, they seem to serve no purpose other than being weird for the sake of being weird. For example, Glinda the Good Witch shows up (levitating with a hilariously bad bit of wire-work), turns Toto into a giant dog that puts the Cowardly Lion in his place. Since neither Toto nor the Cowardly Lion do anything noteworthy outside this scene, and the Good Witch is never explained nor appears again in the film, the smart thing to do would have been to just omit those characters and have spent more time on the scenes in and around the castle of  Momba the Evil Witch. (What we do see is some of the neatest and funniest bits in the film; I wish there had been more of it.)

Another curious thing about the film is that it includes brief three song-and-dance production numbers... you know, the sort of thing you see in musicals. In a silent movie. They're fun to watch, but their presence still baffles me.

In the final analysis, this film is a bit of weirdness that I can think of three reasons you might want to check it out. First, if you're interested in early silent movies, you'll enjoy the artistry that went into making the sets, the costumes, and the special effects. Secondly, if you're a fan of the Wizard of Oz--especially the well-known 1939 film starring Judy Garland, you should see this movie, because it obviously served as a major inspiration for the costume designers 25+ years later. (The Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and especially the Tin Man, all strongly resemble their counterparts in the more famous effort.) It's also fun, because of the differences that exist between it and the 1939 film... I especially liked the flying lizardmen that this film has. Finally, any lover of classic cinema needs to watch it, because it's the first starring role for Bebe Daniels, an actress who is little known today but who was a veritable superstar in the 1920s. She starred in this film at the age of 9, and it's a testimony to her talent that she first transitioned from child actor to adult roles, and then successfully made the leap to sound films in the late 1920s. Given that her overcame the obstacle that kill film careers to this very day--moving from child to adult actor in films--and her star continued to ascend through the 1930s (at which point she transitioned again to a career in radio plays), it's a shame that the passage of time has obscured her reputation. (I will make a point of seeking out more of her films to review in this space.)

Meanwhile, you can watch "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" right here, on this blog, via this embedded YouTube video.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

I want to warn you off of 'Midnight Warning'

Midnight Warning (1932) (aka "Eyes of Mystery" and "The Midnight Warning")
Starring: William Boyd, Hooper Atchley, Huntley Gordon, Lloyd Whitlock, Claudia Dell, John Harron, and Phillips Smalley
Director: Spencer Gordon Bennett
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

After Dr. Walcott (Atchley) is nearly killed by a sniper, ace detective Thorwalt Cornish (Boyd) sets out to find the culprit, as well as why someone would want to assassinate his good friend. He discovers that the staff of hotel is keeping a secret... a secret someone is apparently willing to kill for.

For about half of its running time, "Midnight Warning" is a by-the-numbers detective film, with William Boyd serving as a low-rent Sherlock Holmes and Hooper Atchley doubling as the Dr. Watson figure and the crime victim that is "the client." Then, as one mystery is solved, the film moves into thriller territory, as the heroes uncover an apparent and mysterious conspiracy between hotel managers and city officials that involve a vanishing guest and an apparent effort to make the world believe that Enid Van Buren (Claudia Dell) insane, to the point of attempting to drive her truly mad. Finally, as the conspiracy begins to unravel, the film moves into horror territory, as the conspirators make one final push to keep their secret and silence Enid for good.

The progression through genres as the plot evolves is interesting and it would make for an excellent movie if not for two reasons: First, the horror portion of the film comes with a level of silliness that must have been eye-rolling even back in the 1930s; and, second, the film's ultimate resolution is so outrageous that it should offend the sensibilities of even the most hardcore believer in the notion that the government and our "betters" are always right. I'm going to break with habit and spoil the ending of the film and reveal that not only do the villains get away with their abuses, but virtually every character in the film becomes aware of the full scope of what they did, and they all apparently go "oh, okay... whatever."

No matter how generous I try to be, I can't suspend my disbelief to accept that a woman who was deliberately targeted for destruction by a group of rich and powerful men would just let them get away with it; I can't believe that her protective fiance would just let them get away with it; I can't believe a police consultant they manipulated to further their ends would just let them get away with it; and I can believe the seemingly upright Dr. Walcott would let them get way with it. I CAN believe that the Great Detective of the story would let them get away with it, because, while he seems to be in the Sherlock Holmes model, he seems to be utterly lacking in Holmes' sense of morality and desire to see justice done. He seems more interested in just solving mysteries and seeing his name in the papers. I can easily accept this character taking the stance that the hotel owners and city officials should get away with a cover-up and trying to destroy an innocent woman's life and sanity, because he has all of them over a barrel for future blackmail.

"Midnight Warning" is, until its last few minutes a moderately entertaining film that gets a bit wobbly towards end... and then goes off the rails like a train crashing into an oil refinery and exploding. I have a sequel in my head where Enid and her fiance (possibly aided by Walcott) take their revenge, and that imaginary film is probably why I'm rating this the lowest possible Four. The ending is so atrocious that it soured me on everything that came before.

This is not a film I can recommend... unless you've set yourself the goal of watching every Claudia Dell movie, or are doing a scholarly paper on the differences in films from before and after the implementation of the Hays Code for production standards.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The stars of 'Corsair' give strong performances, but are let down by a flawed script

Corsair (1931)
Starring: Chester Morris, Thelma Todd (as Alison Loyd), Frank McHugh, Mayo Methot, Fred Kholer, Ned Sparks, and Emmett Corrigan
Director: Roland West
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

It's Prohibition Era America. John Hawks (Morris), a one-time college football star grows angry and disgusted with the predatory business practises of his investment banker boss (Corrigan), and the way his boss's daughter, Alison (Todd), seems to treat him like her property and possible living sex doll, he decides to turn the tables on them by becoming a predator himself: Teaming up with the mistreated and disgruntled employees (Sparks and Methot) of bootlegger Big John (Kohler), with whom the banker is secretly in business, Hawks launches a pirating operation geared toward intercepting Big John's shipments and selling the stolen booze to the investment banker, thus making him pay for the same illicit goods twice.

As the summary above might indicate, "Corsair" is a complicated story. It is full of twists and turns and reversals. Some of these are surprisingly tragic. It's also a story that's populated with great characters... but, unfortunately, the most important of these characters are not developed to their full potential--the two main characters, John Hawks and Alison Corning.

Thelma Todd is best remembered today for her roles in comedies, but she proves in "Corsair" that she could tackle dramatic roles with just as much effectiveness. Her man-eating character in this film is so cold and self-assured that she doesn't even try to hide her dark heart and lusts. While watching the film, I had the sense that Todd's character was more than just a spoiled rich girl with a wild and independent streak, but was actually a sociopath or perhaps even a psychopath.

Unfortunately, we never see enough of Todd interacting with other characters to really know if my interpretation of her is right or wrong. She comes onto Hawks, who sees her for what and who she is and rebuffs her advances again and again. This only makes her come at him harder, and it's what eventually puts her in the middle of Hawks piracy operation, and everyone in danger (including herself and her feckless fiance).

Speaking of John Hawks, as mentioned, his character is woefully underdeveloped. We know he's an ex-football star, we know he's a man of high morals and is willing to stand by those morals... but it's never made obvious why he goes to the extremes he does, becoming a pirate with the express purpose of robbing a powerful and dangerous bootlegger just so he can stick it to a rich banker who happens to have a sociopathic daughter who set her sights on him. Maybe something happened between  Alison and John during the months he worked for her father that we aren't privy to, or maybe John saw more dirty dealings on the part of his employer beyond hard-selling little old ladies on risky investments that made more money for the firm than for them? Who can say, because there's nothing in the film to give a clearer reason for why John does what he does.

This lack of depth to John and Alison, or any dimension to their relationship with each other, makes them boring lead characters, and it causes them to be overshadowed by John's "insiders" in the bootlegger's operation--a couple, Sophie and Slim (played by Mayo Methot and Ned Sparks), who help John rob their boss because their cut will allow them to escape the yoke of crime they are laboring under. Methot, for example, has a couple of really effective scenes that deftly define her character's motivation, her relationship with Sparks, as well as inspire a great deal of sympathy from the viewers. If only Todd or Morris had been given such well-crafted scenes to perform.

Aside from the underdeveloped main characters, "Corsair" is mostly an excellent film. It's a different sort of gangster movie that's beautifully and creatively filmed--with some surprisingly modern-seeming techniques given that this is a film from 1931, from a director whose career was over at this point--and it delivers tension and suspense found all-too-rarely in the B-pictures of this period.

I say "mostly excellent" because the great parts of the film are sandwiched between absolute dreck. The opening scene is dragged out and annoying because the filmmakers obviously and clumsily try to conceal Thelma Todd's identity for as long as they could--she made this film under what was supposed to be her "new stage name", so I suspect they were going for a Big Reveal and failed. And the film's finish is absolutely awful and out of step with the rest of the movie. I won't say anything more, for risk of spoiling it, but Morris and Todd's final scene together is perhaps one of the worst bits of cinema the public has ever been subjected to.

All in all, the good in "Corsair" outweighs the bad, and I think it's worth checking out for anyone who likes 1930s crime dramas. It's also worth watching for the performances given by Ned Sparks and Mayo Methot, as well as those of Chester Morris and Thelma Todd. In each case, we get to see them play types of roles that they were rarely seen in... and they get to show that they were actors with greater range than their professional pigeon-holes allowed them to show. (One can only imagine how great Morris and Todd could have been if they had been graced with the sort of material that Sparks and Methot had to work with.)

"Corsair" is the one and only time that Alison Loyd is better known as Thelma Todd. This was the one and only time she used that "stage name", reportedly at the urging of her boyfriend, director Roland West, and a numerologist who claimed it would help her career.

Also, this was the first film role for Mayo Methot. She would go onto have a minor film career that would be over by 1940, thanks to her alcoholism and bad temper. (Once, in a drunken rage during her short marriage to Humphrey Bogart, she threatened him and dinner guests with a loaded gun.)

Finally, "Corsair" was director Roland West's final movie. His career had been waning since silent movies fell out of favor, and in 1934 he went into business with Thelma Todd as co-owner of a cafe. Following her death in 1935, he broke for good with everything Hollywood related. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Princesses of Mars, Part 29

Sometimes, a Martian Princess needs a Prince (or maybe just a man)....

By Ed Benes
By Mike Hoffman
By Thomas Yeates
By Ron Adrian
By Emanuela Lupacchino

Monday, February 4, 2019

Musical Monday: Everything She Wants

This week, it's 35 years since Wham!'s third consequetive hit song debuted in the U.S. Check out the song and the video... and don't let the monstrous mullets scare you too much!

Who is Wham! you ask? Well, it's where George Michael got his start as one half of a duo. You can read all about it by clicking here.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

It's Sunday with Spider-Woman!

It's time for another visit with the original (and best) Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew! (Although it looks like she's still finishing her breakfast...)

By Tyler Kirkham

By Gary Martin

And then, Black Widow decided to ruin the peaceful day by proving that while she may know Spider-Woman, she doesn't fear her!

By George Perez
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