Blondie of the Follies

Dullsville

Blondie of the Follies (1932)

Blondie of the Follies (1932)

It is possible I have never seen a movie with more ups and downs in story quality than Blondie of the Follies. At the movie’s opening, it becomes immediately clear that the directorial quality of the flick is on the low side and our characters are hard to immediately relate to.

Blondie (Marion Davies) and Lottie (Billie Dove) live in the same low-rent, uptown Manhattan apartment building and are friends, sort of. Lottie is about to leave with some hot shot men and introduces Blondie, who immediately insults one and storms off. Minutes later the two girls are in an all-out brawl. When Lottie informs her “friend” that she is getting a job in a burlesque joint in midtown, Blondie begs her to stay in touch.

Months later Lottie –now going by the false name Lurlene– is playing the sophisticated socialite, enjoying a swell apartment paid for by a millionaire sweetheart. She is appearing in the follies and opts to deliver a gift to her family on Mother’s Day. While there, Lottie and Blondie reunite in a positive way and the latter joins her friend in an immediate visit of her fancy digs. There she meets the millionaire: Larry Belmont, played by veteran rich cad Robert Montgomery. Larry is immediately interested in the blonde and despite Lottie’s desires to send her home, he insists on taking Blondie to the follies show that night.

Taking Blondie backstage during the show, Larry also secures a job for the girl. Next they drop in at a neighboring speakeasy where Blondie has her first experience with liquor. She is deposited by the millionaire on her parent’s doorstep some time after dawn, much to her ill father’s (James Gleason) chagrin. Blondie immediately flees back to Lottie’s apartment –despite the growing tension/rivalry between them– to pursue her new career.

When Lottie informs the girl, however, that she is in love with Larry, Blondie agrees to back off. She instead goes along with an older, oil tycoon, who establishes a posh residence for the girl. Larry, meanwhile, is stuck on Blondie and breaks it off with Lottie. Months later, Blondie orchestrates a reunion between the former lovers in the hopes of reuniting them. It is then Larry hints he has only fallen for one girl, and it wasn’t Lottie. Blondie refuses to see Larry, and the dames continue their extravagant lives in and out of the follies.

When Larry prepares to leave for France, he insists on seeing Blondie before his departure. Lottie catches word of this and tries to flirt her way into a boat ticket of her own. Seeing Blondie with the man, however, sends Lottie into a rage thinking her friend has not kept her word about staying away from the gent. The fight plays out on stage when Blondie goes flying into the orchestra pit, breaking her leg.

Now ready to head home and forget the glamorous life, Blondie bids adieu to Lottie, Larry and others at a party. Her leg is disfigured from the break and she is now fit to be no man’s wife, she thinks. Days later, Larry turns up at the low-income flat with a slew of doctors who insist they can rebreak and properly mend the leg. Only now does Blondie concede to marry her millionaire.

The first portion of Blondie of the Follies, during which our two frienemies, to coin a term, have multiple ups and downs and Blondie gets her job, is lousy. Montgomery stands out as the worst ass of his career roles as it becomes apparent he knows all of the girls in the follies and cares for none of them. Only around the time he breaks up with Lottie does Larry become something more genuine to the audience. From here he even goes through periods of endearing romance that make the picture feel like it is on track for a great romantic ending. The writers let us down, however, with Blondie’s pathetic about-face on her anti-Larry stance. She never particularly convinces us she pines for the man, and her reason for agreeing to the union –that the man will fix her bum leg and make her marriage-worthy– is regrettable.

The one thing that does not vary throughout the movie is the acting quality. Montgomery makes no false move, and Davies is as fun and humorous as ever. Dove plays a marvelous snobby bitch and is purely contemptible in nearly every moment of the film, even when she is repeating, “I like you Blondie; I always have.” The relationship between the girls is obnoxious. We feel Lottie never truly likes Blondie, yet the other is constantly moving between love and hate and assuming the same of her pal. Whereas Lottie never has Blondie’s best interest at heart, the latter does mostly maintain her promises to Lottie.

I might have given Blondie of the Follies a better grade if not for that disappointing ending. There is nothing more irritating than a romantic movie that falters at the end of the emotional crescendo. The couple does not even kiss to seal the deal.

Boy on a Dolphin

Dullsville

Boy on a Dophin (1957)

Boy on a Dolphin (1957)

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, Boy on a Dolphin is as stupid as its name suggests. The only excuse one can find to endure the movie is the occasional shot of Sophia Loren in ocean-soaked clothes.

The story starts with Loren’s Phaedra discovering a statue of a golden boy riding a dolphin. The item is noticed while the Greek woman dives for sponges, which her unkind boyfriend Rhif (Jorge Mistral) sells. While underwater she not only spots the statue but gets stuck and mauled by debris from the ship to which the artifact is attached.

Once on land, an English doctor, Dr. Hawkins (Laurence Naismith), cleans a large wound on Phaedra’s thigh and finds an ancient nail in it. This evidence and Phaedra’s tales of a boy on a dolphin lead the doctor to connect the nail to a ship that sank 2,000 years ago, one that carried a statue of a boy on a dolphin. All see an opportunity to improve their financial circumstances, and Phaedra sets out to find an archeologist willing to finance the statue’s retrieval.

In Athens, she tries James Calder (Alan Ladd), who runs a museum there. He initially resists her tale but is later convinced. Overhearing the discussion is wealthy Englishman Victor Parmalee (Clifton Webb), who wants the artifact for himself. Calder sets a dinner date with Phaedra, but Parmalee slides in to steal her away, saying he received a message that Calder would be two hours late. Thinking Calder left her waiting, Phaedra decides to let Parmalee finance the job.

But if Parmalee’s personality did not illustrate his antagonistic role, his intentions do. Despite a Greek law that says all artifacts discovered must stay within the country (because so many have been shipped out to fill museums around the world), the wealthy gent wants to smuggle the statue out to sell elsewhere.

Phaedra reunites with Calder and, on Parmalee’s instruction, takes the man out to dive in every area around her island except where she spotted the boy on a dolphin. Calder eventually gets wise to the situation but he is starting to fall for Phaedra and she him. Calder gets himself a metal detector to try to locate the artifact by sonar, forcing the conspiring group to move the statue to an underwater cave. When Phaedra finally gives in and takes Calder to it, Rhif and Parmalee have moved the boy again.

Seeing the change in her loyalty, Rhif ties Phaedra onto the boat he is using to haul the statue out to Parmalee’s yacht. Luckily, Phaedra’s young brother sees the situation and comes to the rescue. Just as Parmalee thinks he is receiving the artifact, the authorities step in to arrest him only to find the ropes holding the statue underwater have been cut. The picture closes on the people of Greece riding a boat to shore with the statue.

Boy on a Dolphin has certain country loyalty elements to its plot as an American (Calder) fights to claim the statue for the Greek people while Parmalee endeavors to steal it. Calder often criticizes Phaedra’s loyalty. It is to that end that the close of the movie acts as the triumph of the poor Greeks hauling in their historical symbol.

Despite her beauty, Loren always played an equally good peasant woman as a socialite. She does so here –her American movie debut– complete with native dancing. The romance for her character really suffers in the execution of the plot, however. Although we expect her eventual connection with Calder, Ladd’s lack of emotional acting –with a face that looks paralyzed by Botox– holds back that story element. The scenes should have been filled with panting, sunsoaked and ocean-wet embraces and near misses between the love birds, but we never see it.

More than anything the story is boring. Aside from the occasional underwater scenes –filmed at Italy’s Cinecitta– that were probably impressive at the time, the movie lacks anything that would keep a viewer interested.

Housewife

Dullsville

Housewife (1934)

Housewife (1934)

In the olden days, women stayed at home, raised the kids, planned parties and didn’t ask what their husbands had been up to when they were “working late.” The subject made a great movie in the form of 1936′s Wife vs. Secretary, but in 1934 it did not make for an enjoyable subject as Housewife.

George Brent‘s Bill Reynolds is in the advertising business. He thinks very highly of himself as the office manager for an advertising agent, but his boss does not think terribly much of him. His wife Nan (Ann Dvorak) has become an expert at running the household on his small salary. When the boss hires a new copywriter in the form of platinum blonde Bette Davis‘ Patricia, things change.

Bill had known Patricia in high school, which is the same time he started dating his wife. Patricia went off to New York and became a big deal advertising writer. So big that she is given her own office at Bill’s firm, whereas he only has a desk outside the boss’ room. His old acquaintance –who had a thing for him back in the day– symbolizes the success Bill lacks.

When Bill gets a bright idea about marketing a client’s beauty cream at double the price by saying it is “double strength”, the boss cares not. Convinced of the brilliance of his idea, Bill takes the plunge and starts his own ad firm, eventually luring away the cosmetic company. Patricia joins the businessman in the new venture and both become very successful. The change is great for Nan as a more fashionable life takes over at home. What Bill is doing during those late nights at work, however, might drive her into the arms of another man. No worries, however, the near ruin of their relationship will mend the Reynolds’ bond and they will spend their lives dreamily gazing into the sunset.

I editorialized a bit on that ending for Housewife to illustrate how pathetic a conclusion we are presented in this flick. Despite the title of the movie, the husband and not the housewife occupies the most screen time and stands out as the story’s protagonist. We see more how his life is changed than how it affects the housewife. And given a choice between exotic and young Davis and home-based Dvorak, I think we’d all be choosing the former.

The story lacks the passion and emotion of Wife vs. Secretary and Brent is probably partly to blame there. Whereas Myrna Loy made us love the housewife for her loyalty and fun-loving personality, we find nothing much to like in Dvorak’s character.

Housewife is one of the 11 movies Brent and Davis made together (See also So Big and The Old Maid). That is more than most on-screen teams did together, yet one does not think of the two in the same vein as Hepburn and Tracy. For starters, at this juncture in their careers, Brent was filling bigger parts while Davis was a supporting player. As time went on and Davis finally got noticed for her talent more than her looks, the woman would become the headliner, such as in Dark Victory. It is a wonder a woman of such great talent spent so much on screen time with a man of such great looks, but nothing more.

So Big (1932)

Dullsville

So Big (1932)

So Big (1932)

Pulitzer Prize winning novels don’t always produce award-worthy movies. Case in point: the 1932 version of So Big. One can see why writers, directors and actors are attracted to award-winning books, but too often something happens between the first reading of the source material and the final editing that results in a lackluster final product.

So Big is the story of a young school teacher who marries and then must fight to save the family farm to secure the future of she and her son. Barbara Stanwyck plays the young woman in this William Wellmandirected version. She is propelled into the school teacher role in a one-room school house farming town after her gambler father is killed in the big city.

This Selena immediately wins the affections of the adolescent boy belonging to the family that has offered her lodging. Roelf (Dick Winslow) is forced to work on his father’s cabbage farm and cannot attend school, but Selena shares books that feed his desire for greater knowledge. Although other family members laughed at Selena’s first comment of the cabbage fields as “beautiful”, Roelf agrees and draws her a picture indicating so.

Roelf is upset when Selena attracts the attention of the most handsome man in town, Pervus, played by the not-so-handsome Earle Fox. The two eventually marry and have a 10-pound son, Dirk. Around this time, Roelf leaves home to find himself a better life. Not so much later Pervus gets sick and dies, leaving the farm work to Selena.

The years pass and Dirk (Hardie Albright) is now a young adult, living in the city, working as an architect’s assistant. His mother made the most of the farm by planting the newly popular asparagus vegetable. Her country home is large, and she was able to send her boy to college where he earned his architecture degree. But Dirk is dissatisfied with his $35 per week salary. He dreams of a fancier life and attempts to fulfill that dream by going around with a wealthy married woman. The dame offers to persuade her husband to hire Dirk as a bond salesman, thus giving Dirk the glamorous life he hoped for.

Selena is naturally disappointed in her son’s desires and personality. Somewhat mirroring her own feelings is the young painter Dallas, played by Bette Davis. Dirk meets her in his office where she is hired to draw an advertisement for the firm. He falls heavily for her, but she is less impressed by him, saying she instead prefers men with rough hands, who have fought for their livelihood.

Dallas leaves for Europe only to return in time to celebrate the return of Roelf (George Brent), now a famous sculptor. She accompanies both Roelf and Dirk to visit Selena, who is overjoyed at seeing Roelf again. As those two stand beside the window, Dallas tells Dirk that his mother is beautiful. End of movie.

Although So Big starts as a movie about the struggles of a young woman to make a place for herself, having lost a comfortable city existence afforded by her father’s unsavory mode of employment. She recalls her father’s advice and makes the most of life, never complaining. When we jump ahead in time, however, the movie switches gears to focus on Dirk, who has become a greedy, lazy man deserving of little respect. We see the movie almost become a romantic tale of Dirk and Dallas, but the picture offers no resolution. We expect to see Dallas choose between the two young men –and we naturally expect her to prefer Roelf– but the movie closes with no conclusion of the romance or of Dirk’s shitty approach to life. Roelf’s presence should drive home to both Selena and Dirk what a disappointment the latter is, but we never get to that point.

Besides being unromantic and uninspiring, So Big is incredibly slow and boring. One finds it hard to find much life in any of the characters. Bette Davis and her platinum hair jump off the screen for the short time she appears there, and George Brent at least doesn’t play his usual self, but Barbara Stanwyck disappoints. Despite her unending optimism, Selena is a depressing character to watch. Either her life circumstances are unappealing or she is pathetically old looking, making us pity her.

  • So Big is set for 11 a.m. ET May 12 on TCM.

The World, the Flesh & the Devil

Dullsville

The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)

The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)

I stumbled upon The World, the Flesh and the Devil several years ago on TCM in the middle of the airing. What I saw was a man arguing with a mannequin named Snotgrass. You can imagine I was intrigued and endured the remainder of a movie that eventually boils down to which of two men gets to mate with the one remaining woman on the earth, whether she likes it or not.

The story is a post-apocalyptic one. We start the picture with Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte) who is in a mine when a rumble causes a cave in and traps him underground. For five days he is trapped, communicating with the surface using a radio that transmits his messages but fails to send any back. Eventually, the digging sounds he has been hearing die away. The man escapes on his own means and reaches the surface to find the town utterly deserted. A newspaper indicates a nuclear attack from the United Nations has wiped out the entire world’s population.

Ralph travels to New York City where he sets up a lonely life in a posh high rise and uses his engineering know-how to set up generators. He installs a couple mannequins as his companions. When he gets fed up with Snotgrass, he launches the inanimate man over his balcony. The fake man’s impact with the ground launches a scream from a young woman who has been watching Ralph for weeks. She is glad to find Ralph has not killed himself but is still leery of him.

The two become fast friends and set up an apartment for the woman, Sarah (Inger Stevens), in a separate building. Over time, Sarah grows fond of Ralph, but he is all to aware of the difference in their skin color and his lingering concerns with propriety prevent him from acting on his own feelings.

But when a man arrives via a boat on the East River, the dynamics of the last men on earth’s relationship changes. Benson’s (Mel Ferrer) health is poor on arrival and Sarah nurses him back to health. He is instantly keen on the lovely young woman, but she doesn’t really want anything to do with him romantically, given her feelings for Ralph. The black man nevertheless pushes the two together and avoids them until Benson confronts him about a desire to get with Sarah.

The conflict between the men grows and becomes a shootout around the city. Benson hunts Ralph until the latter gives up the fight. In the end, all three walk arm in arm off into the sunset.

The World, the Flesh and the Devil might be an adequate inquiry into racial issues in the late 50s when contrasted with a brave new world, but as a last-man-on-earth-type story, it is quite absurd. Ralph takes many opportunities to remind us he is black, which is a plot line that fails to hold up today. We cannot help but think him utterly stupid for pushing the issue, especially when Sarah clearly is not concerned with the racial divide. It is rather disappointing to think that when all other humans are deceased that the remaining races will still fail to mingle.

Ferrer makes a wonderful ass and totally hateable character. It is also disappointing that the plot drives our characters to try to kill one another rather than realize the value of another helping hand in a world gone to hell.

Perhaps because of the year it was released, the movie depicts no dead bodies. Although the human race was allegedly wiped out by the radiation cloud that crawled across the earth –think On the Beach– all of humanity had apparently fled the city as a means of escape, leaving the viewer no corpses to view. Cars are left crashed into posts or clogged on bridges and highways, but no one apparently opted to stay put.

Stories about bleak futures have always intrigued me, but The World, the Flesh and the Devil is far from the best of them. The characters are difficult to relate to because of their racial hangups and ugly motives. The plot takes us nowhere profound and offers quite an absurd ending. Oh, and I should note on that point that as our characters walk off into an unknown future, the screen fills with the words “The Beginning”. Too bad all the story has taught us is that another duel is likely around the corner.

Side Show

Dullsville side show

It seems rare that a really good movie comes out of a story about a travelling circus. The Greatest Show on Earth did it with aplomb, but monstrosities such as Berserk and I’m No Angel leave much to be desired. Then there are the horror movies, such as Freaks,  that achieved their aim well but certainly strayed from the joy we are supposed to associate with circuses. Add to the list of disappointments today’s review: Side Show.

Starring Winnie Lightner as Pat, the jack of all trades at the circus, the story follows the lives of circus sideshow employees as they travel among several towns. The movie only depicts the sideshows –those acts happening outside the big top in the open air and smaller tents of their own. Pat, who resembles a female Karl Malden, displays her important role among the cast of characters when she talks down the drunken owner of the circus, Pop Gowdy (Guy Kibbee). Finances are tight for the circus and some members of the crew aren’t being paid on time.

Pat is in love with Joe (Donald Cook), the “barker” who goes around shouting at patrons to view this or that act. It is clear, however, that Joe does not care as intensely for Pat, despite his promise of love. When Pat’s younger and more beautiful sister Irene (Evalyn Knapp) visits, Joe gropes her while “guessing” her weight before knowing who she is. The attraction is imminent, and Irene wants to stay on with the circus despite Pat’s wishes.

Pat is pretty naive of the budding romance –having hidden her relationship with Joe from her sister– and inadvertently advances it. She sends Irene off alone with Joe to distract him while she arranges a big birthday event. When the duo fail to return in time to see any of the festivities, she is sorely disappointed. It looks like Joe might end up marrying Irene, but he returns to Pat in the end.

The central plot of Side Show is the recounting of a troubled romance with a happy ending. The problem is at no point do we think Joe truly loves Pat enough to marry her. Nor can we picture Lightner as a very good romantic object. She is masculine both in look and in personality –basically running the circus. I found all of the characters difficult to sympathize with.

Adding some light to the cast is Charles Buttersworth who is just another hand at the circus. He is full of one liners, that although they get old, at least add some entertainment value to the movie. His character continually professes his love and desire to marry Pat, and frankly, I would have been happier seeing the woman choose him in the end –if that tells you anything about Cook.

The Gorgeous Hussy

Dullsville

The Gorgeous Hussy (1936)

The Gorgeous Hussy (1936)

It probably comes as no surprise that the star of a movie called The Gorgeous Hussy is Joan Crawford. I think the term hussy was probably used quite regularly to describe the star’s off-screen behavior, but the movie is not as scandalous as the title might suggest. This work of historical fiction is set in 1823 Washington D.C. and places Crawford’s hussy among several government notables of the time.

Crawford plays Peggy, daughter of an innkeeper in D.C. where several lawmakers stay while in the capitol. She has grown up around the men and so Virginia Sen. John Randolph (Melvyn Douglas) has a hard time thinking of the girl as a woman. This reluctance causes him to spurn her when she enters his room late one night to declare her love.

The rejection leads Peggy to accept the advances of a sailor “Bow” Timberlake (Robert Taylor). The couple marries but Bow is called back to duty on the U.S.S. Constitution and dies before ever returning home.

Peggy has been good friends with Andrew (Lionel Barrymore) and Rachel Jackson (Beulah Bondi) for a number of years and begins to hang around with the politician up through a rough campaign for president, which he, of course, wins. The campaign involved a lot of gossip and harsh words against Rachel, who first married Andrew before her divorce from her first husband was finalized. With Jackson as president and Rachel having passed away, Peggy is in classy company but the rumors about her begin to mount.

Randolph returns to D.C. after five years in Russia and has resolved his feelings about Peggy to the point he does want to be with her, but the relationship will not last. Jackson objects to a union between the two and instead convinces Peggy to eventually wed Secretary of War John Eaton, played by Crawford’s one-time husband Franchot Tone. The rumors and “pot house Peg” references culminate in backlash from Jackson who asks his entire cabinet to resign because of their demands Peggy be sent away from Washington for the various scandals she has caused. Being the bigger person, Peggy bows out of the capitol scene.

I think filmmakers run a risk when inserting fictional characters into real historical situations. It is one thing to have fun with history and change aspects of real events for a laugh, but a drama in the same vein is not nearly as fun. If one ignores Crawford’s character in The Gorgeous Hussy, the movie does have some interesting historical aspects, such as the horrible mud that was slung at Rachel Jackson. The movie also becomes a bit predictable in terms of which relationships we know will be unsuccessful for Peggy, given that John Randolph never married someone with her name.

Crawford’s performance is fine, but uninspired. She is a woman with conflicting romantic emotions who is pursued or admired by nearly every man around her. We cannot, however, enjoy the movie as a “what might have been” romance between Peggy and Randolph given the historic requirements. I found it difficult to enjoy any of Peggy’s romantic interludes, which just added junk to what could have been a decent historical recollection of Jackson’s election.

Secret Bride

Dullsville

The Secret Bride (1934)

The Secret Bride (1934)

Barbara Stanwyck is a good example of an actor who is remembered by history as being a real standout performer with many phenomenal movies and roles to her name while still having a list of disappointments on her resume. The same can be said of many stars that eventually rise to a position where they can be choosy with their parts, but everyone has to make a living to start with.

Like Ladies They Talk About and The Bitter Tea of General Yen, The Secret Bride is an easy film on Stanwyck’s list to ignore. At just over an hour in runtime, the movie is horribly rushed, eliminating any chance for a natural ebb and flow of action.

Stanwyck is Ruth Vincent, daughter of the state’s governor. She marries in a town hall the state’s Attorney General Robert Sheldon (Warren William), but before the couple can announce to her father the exciting news, Sheldon is informed that the governor is implicated in a bribery scheme.

Governor Vincent (Arthur Byron) had pardoned John Holdstock, and the latter’s secretary, Willis Martin (Grant Mitchell), is caught by Robert’s investigator depositing $10,000 into Vincent’s personal account. A short while later Holdstock is found to have killed himself. Both Robert and Ruth believe in the governor’s innocence, but they want to prove it before a legislative investigatory committee can impeach him. In order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, the couple commit to keeping their marriage secret.

Keeping the nuptials under wraps does not become a problem until Ruth witnesses the shooting of Robert’s investigator Bredeen (Douglas Dumbrille) from Robert’s apartment window. She did not see the shooter but she knows the direction of the shot clears Bredeen’s girlfriend and Robert’s secretary Hazel (Glenda Farrell) of the crime. Ruth insists on staying out of the investigation because it would raise questions as to why she was in Robert’s apartment late at night. At last, however, she must come forward and admit their marriage in court, potentially ruining her husband’s career.

Stanwyck give the performance we would expect of her but does not blow anyone away. William is equally satisfactory in his part, but the story is difficult to appreciate. It is impossible to unweave the crime oneself, and as the action rushes along, we conclude with one character confessing every detail of the convoluted crime. Ruth and Robert seem to be genuinely in love, an accomplishment for the actors, but that has nearly nothing to do with the story, which is essentially a crime mystery. Perhaps the plot would have been more compelling it had analysed the effect on the newlyweds of the investigation. The emotional trauma and rift it could cause would be more dramatic than a complex crime story.

  • The Secret Bride is set for 2 p.m. ET Dec. 13 on TCM.

Knights of the Round Table

Dullsville

Knights of the Round Table (1954)

I tend to dislike movies set in any ancient era or really any time preceding the turn of the 19th Century. That being the case, the many costume dramas strewn throughout cinema history struggle to entice me. I one test of a truly great movies is that can garner the appreciation and enjoyment of the viewer who dislikes the given genre. Knights of the Roundtable does not do that for me.

Despite its big leading stars and sex appeal, Knights of the Round Table fails in the draw of its story and conviction of its actors. Taking a look at a different angle of the Sword in the Stone story of King Arthur, the flick focuses largely on Sir. Lancelot of the Lake (Robert Taylor) and his relationship with both Arthur (Mel Ferrer) and the king’s wife, Guinevere (Ava Gardner).

Amidst the many sword-fought battle/duel scenes, Lancelot makes the acquaintance of Arthur, who is essentially campaigning to be ruler of the land following his extraction of Excalibur from the stone. Once king, Arthur arranges to make good with his love Guinevere and marry her. The woman is being held in a castle, however, when Lancelot stumbles upon the situation. The knight fights the guard for her, not knowing she is Guinevere.

A love triangle of sorts ensues as Lancelot acts as best friend to Arthur while harboring feelings for the queen who does not hide her appreciation. Arthur seems so blind to the possibility of an inappropriate relationship that he declares Lancelot the Queen’s Champion. Knowing how he feels, Guinevere instructs Lancelot to marry Elaine (Maureen Swanson), who has been pouring her love all over the knight since before Guinevere entered the picture. Lancelot follows through with the marriage and takes his wife away from the castle to oversee the battlefield.

While away, Elaine dies in childbirth, prompting Lancelot’s return to Camelot –and his disposal of the baby with his father. The flame between the queen and the knight is rekindled, and a nearly innocent moment between them sparks a controversy that will bring down Arthur.

This description of the Knights of the Round Table certainly sounds far more sexy than it actually comes off. There are many other plot elements involved related to Modred (Stanley Baker) and Morgan LeFay’s (Anne Crawford) plot to disgrace and unseat Arthur. There is also a bit of a “bromance” within the story tracking the ups and downs between Arthur and Lancelot. The story has potential, but it failed to grasp me on any of these topics. The performances were just too underwhelming to drive an emotional response. Gardner is as gorgeous as ever, but offers nothing more. Ferrer, meanwhile, has never managed to convince me he is capable of a decent performance (including as husband to Audrey Hepburn. Zing!) Taylor, lastly, provides only a middle-of-the-road conveyance of Lancelot, a part that could have been played by anyone.

Knights of the Round Table does, however, have the distinction of being the first movie MGM shot in CinemaScope and recorded in stereo sound. The widescreen technique would become the mainstay of many epic adventures with vast landscapes like this one; though, certainly there were better movies shot in the format.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

The Devil Bat

Dullsville

The Devil Bat (1940)

I have never found bats in themselves to be scary creatures. Their association with vampires drives a certain degree of fright, but you don’t often see movies about the rodent-sized flying creatures attacking people. The solution to the only moderate fear factor associated with bats is to, of course, make the beasts much larger. Thus is the monster in The Devil Bat.

Bela Lugosi plays a scientist whose primary occupation is to create new cosmetic formulas. Dr. Carruthers works for the Heath cosmetic company, owned by a Martin Heath (Edward Mortimer) in the town of Heathville. Martin along with Henry Morton (Guy Usher) built the prosperous company on a cream they bought from the doctor many years earlier, at which point Carruthers could have opted to be a partner in the company. Now he tolls away in his stony lab while the businessmen enjoy their wealth.

After all this time, the doctor opts to get his revenge. He has finally developed a method by which he can make an ordinary bat grow to five times its original size using some sort of electrical stimulation. The scientist has simultaneously created a “shaving lotion” with a strong odor that will attract the bat. To fulfill his plot, Dr. Carruthers one by one entices members of the Health and Morton families to test the new shaving lotion before letting the “devil bat” loose to hunt down the pre-selected prey.

After the first murder –and these are immediately considered murders– an out-of-town reporter Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien) and a photographer One Shot Maguire (Donald Kerr) move in to not only report on the crime but to apparently solve it as well. Johnny immediately makes pals with the police chief and offers to help track down the truth. Johnny will also develop a crush on the Heath daughter Mary (Suzanne Kaaren), and the two will be the first to witness the murderer, AKA devil bat, but are unable to stop death after death.

Bela Lugosi is obviously the big-name star of the picture, but upon arrival of O’Brien’s Johnny to the scene, The Devil Bat attempts to become a reporter-as-detective drama. O’Brien’s poorly acting cannot, however, compete with the Lugosi’s star power despite the villain’s equally sad performance. O’Brien and Kerr attempt to bring humor to the story via their goofy interactions with each other and their curmudgeon of an editor. Lugosi’s doctor will ultimately die by the hand of his own creature, but the conclusion is far less dramatic or cautionary than your typical creature-turns-on-master ending.

The most notable thing about The Devil Bat are the effects, which are awful. The only real bats we see are those small ones exiting the rooftop window at Dr. Carruthers’ home. The normal-sized bad the scientist lugs from storage to his experiment room hangs stiffly upside down from its perch. Upon contact with the electrical impulses, the creature’s wings move rigidly and various cut-away edits allow it to become gradually larger at each glimpse. Lugosi, meanwhile, stands outside the chamber making expressions of delight at the viewing window. The doctor twice creates a devil bat via these means and the first time a strange use of back projection has the doctor listen to his creature with a stethoscope with the scene and the bat being projections. A later repeat of this scene actually involves the puppet bat.

When the bat takes wing, it “flies” clumsily through the sky and is hurled at victims who simply fall to the ground so we cannot see the lack of dexterity of the creature. It also has an awful caterwaul that is a combination of dog bark-type noises and outright screams.

To say The Devil Bat is humorous, is an understatement. The bat itself is such a pathetic creation that its appearance is substance enough for laughs. Lugosi –and other actors– sadly give uninspired and outright bad performances that will cause you either to cringe or snicker. Lugosi certainly was capable of better.

  • The Devil Bat is set for 4 p.m. ET Oct. 31 on TCM.
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