Weekend’s Best Bet Continued…

In running through TCM’s lineup for this weekend, I came across far too many good flicks to list in my regular viewing recommendations in the left column. Not only are there a number of gems showing this weekend, but I have already written about them. So click on the links below to learn more about the movies and consider checking them out yourself this weekend. P.S. All times are Eastern Standard Time and on the U.S. programming schedule.

Beware, My Lovely
6:30 pm Friday on TCM
Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan

The Lost Weekend
10 pm Friday on TCM
Ray Milland, Jane Wyman

Sunrise
8 pm Saturday on TCM
Janet Gaynor, George O’Brien

The Great Race
1 pm Sunday on TCM
Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon

Butterfield 8
10 pm Sunday on TCM
Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey

 

Lone Wolf Spy Hunt

Dullsville

The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939)

      I can only hope that the movies Warren William made as “The Lone Wolf” improved with each subsequent release because the first movie he made as the reformed thief was no less than disappointing. Like several detective/crime novel series of the time, The Lone Wolf character inspired two dozen movies or so between 1917 and 1949. William made about six of those but failed in The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt to convince me I would not be better served watching the Gay Falcon or Saint movies.

     Also tragically cast here as the pining and obnoxious love interest is Ida Lupino, who goes blonde to show us just how dumb she can play. The star really made her mark in other darker roles and merely wastes her talent in poorly named The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt.

     The picture opens on a promising note as our hero Michael Lanyard (William) is cornered on the street by two thugs who whisk him away to the home of Spiro (Ralph Morgan), a criminal who asks the ex-thief to help him open a safe. Lanyard refuses, but Spiro has searched his possessions and holds onto two of the cigarettes that are specially made for the now-upstanding citizen. When a safe in the War Department is robbed of partial plans for an anti-aircraft gun and Lanyard’s cigarette is found on the scene, detectives naturally suspect the man.

     Lanyard offers an alibi and is not arrested, but he is soon lured by the luscious Rita Hayworth as Karen back into the clutches of this spy group. They take him to the lab of the scientist who developed the weapon plans and hope to force him to crack open the safe there and retrieve the remainder of the plans. Lanyard fools the goons, however, and when they go searching the building for him, he cracks the safe, takes the plans for himself and puts a dummy note in the envelope the men seek. When the criminals “find” Lanyard, they have him open the safe and give them the now-worthless envelope.

     Rather than give the stolen plans to the police, Lanyard stores them with a goofy senator friend (Brandon Tynan), whose daughter Val (Lupino) is infatuated with/sort of dating the Lone Wolf. The remainder of the plot focuses on the various extraneous parties that are now mixed up in Lanyard’s trouble and the back-and-forth of stolen plans among characters. Widower Lanyard’s daughter (Virginia Weidler) also becomes entangled.

     William lacks all the charm most ex-criminal/detective characters tend to offer. He has some residual criminal instincts to impress us but not enough to make the audience say, wow. The story is similar, as I mentioned to movies like the Gay Falcon and the Saint and also The Thin Man stories, all of which take a non-police person and have him act as detective all the while trying to clear his own name. The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt pales by comparison to these others in the appeal of the star, the complexity of the plot, and the desirableness of the women side-kicks.

     As I mentioned, Lupino essentially disgraces herself by playing the clingy and snooping girlfriend of Lanyard, who has no intention of truly dating the woman until the last quarter of the film when it seems they might actually get married. Weidler as the daughter, however, adds a lot of fun to the plot. This tom-boy loves playing mafiosa and handcuffs her father’s valet until he agrees to “die” three times the next day when she shoots him with her pretend gun that makes real noises. Weidler is not enough, however, to make The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt worth watching. Catch her in The Philadelphia Story instead.

Feature: My Momentary Celebrity Obsession–Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino

I stumbled upon Ida Lupino utterly by accident while enjoying Bogart’s They Drive By Night. I was instantly spellbound by this rather unorthodox-looking woman who commanded the screen so significantly. I find it surprising that film history has left the woman rather unremembered considering her supreme talent.

I also rather identify with Lupino. Despite going through the typical blonde phase every newcomer to Hollywood seemed to endure, the woman’s early triumphs were as a dark-haired, scrawny and dark eye-makeup-clad gal, not too far flung from my own physical specifications. Lupino proved that her small body in no way would hinder her ability to give big shows that beat down even the toughest men. Her voice was full of sass in these days, and boy is she a sight to see.

Unfortunately, she often viewed herself as a less desirable alternate to Bette Davis, having also worked at Warner Bros. and often taking the scraps Davis turned down. I do not really see any comparison between the two, however, besides that both often played strong women.

As her career progressed, Lupino aged well into more mature roles that showed little of that small woman of past prowess but still held the same talent always present. Despite her on-screen abilities, Lupino would actually become quite well established in directing television.  She also developed production companies to find talent rather than provide it herself.

Somehow Lupino managed to win no awards over her career of more than 60 acting roles, seven directed pictures, and dozens of television episodes and specials. Perhaps this adds to her obscurity in Hollywood history. One need only watch one of her roles in the 1940s to be taken by her obvious skill. It is a wonder the Academy and others did not see it as well.

Beware, My Lovely

Ring a Ding Ding

Beware, My Lovely (1952)

     Thrillers are my favorite type of fright movie, at least as I define them. They contain no gore, no monsters, just a horribly unnerving situation that sets one’s heart pounding as she perches on the edge of her seat. Beware, My Lovely is not only nerve-wracking but also visually well constructed and supported by fine performances.

     That great dramatic actress Ida Lupino will fall captive to the slightly split personality of Robert Ryan‘s handyman, but before we get there, the movie opens on Ryan completing some chores about a house, all the while calling for the woman owner to inform her of his work’s completion. He opens a closet and sees we know not what before running out the door. A moment later a shot of a bucket overflowing with a faucet’s water also lends to a peek into the closet where an open-eyed woman lies on the floor, blinking once. The man runs endlessly before hopping a moving train and speeding out of town.

     We now meet widow Helen Gordon (Lupino), who is struggling to clean up her home where she offers piano lessons. Children leave her house as does a boarder who is to be gone for two weeks. With his departure comes Ryan as Howard Wilton, whom Helen has hired the day prior to clean the residence. All seems fine at the start, but Howard clearly does not like the look of himself in the mirror, especially in comparison to a photo of Helen’s husband in his military uniform. He is especially set off when Helen’s niece (Barbara Whiting) gives him grief, and he locks the door after she leaves, pocketing the key. He is paranoid about whether Helen is happy with his work, and the woman, despite the man’s obvious issues, reassures him and is friendly, at least until she realizes she has been locked in the house.

     As Howard reveals that he has memory lapses that allow him to, for instance, forget where it is he is currently living or that he has hurt someone, finding a body later, Helen realizes the extent of her danger. She verbally tiptoes around the man so as not to increase his anger. Howard eventually rips the telephone from the wall and shuts Helen in the cellar while he shoos away her piano students, who are too young to know anything is wrong. The stress escalates as we worry Howard might force himself on her or worse. In the end it is Howard himself who frees Helen, but the conclusion holds one final stress for the audience.

     The story has similar themes to the later Die! Die! My Darling in which crazy old Tallulah Bankhead‘s character holds her dead son’s wife captive in her rural English home as a mentally handicapped farm hand and butch maid help. In that version, however, the captive was much more aggressive in her attempts to escape. Lupino, however, could not seem to raise her voice above a whisper when shouting out windows for help from a house situated in the middle of town. She breaks a window at one point, but only to whisper for help, not to crawl through. Helen also makes no consideration of climbing out an upstairs window, as would be my instinct. The time period is 1919, however, and Lupino’s character is older than Stefanie Powers‘ in Die! Die! My Darling, perhaps making it less logical for her to be running, climbing and forcing her way from the home.

    Both Lupino and Ryan were fantastic in Beware, My Lovely. Lupino is restrained in her performance of fear and never over does it. Although I think her Helen behaved naively at the start of Howard’s show of a personality disorder, she certainly grew into the physically strained woman thinking that death is around the corner. Ryan does a great job of playing both a rather regular Joe and a man with subtle and more obvious problems. His psychosis grows and subsides with the movement of the story so that we can never be sure what he is capable of or how severe his next reaction will be. Beware, My Lovely was a great Halloween season nail-biter that proves how unnecessary gore and violence are in a frightful flick.

Out of the Fog

Gasser

Out of the Fog (1941)

     Is it possible Ida Lupino was once a young woman? Her mature, cynical roles suggest that the dame skipped over any vulnerable portion of life and went straight for adulthood. In Out of the Fog, however, Lupino seems to shift between her usual tough gal and a girl on the verge of adulthood.

     As 21-year-old Stella Goodwin, we first meet Lupino as she erupts at her boyfriend for playing around with card tricks and allowing other men to mock him. She rushes out the doors of the Sheepshead Bay restaurant and stands by the water where she next confesses to boyfriend George (Eddie Albert) that she is not content with plans to marry him and live in a three-room flat while continuing her miserable existence as a telephone operator. She seems like an adult until she goes home to the flat above her father’s shop where she tries to quietly enter her room without alerting her parents. Here I got an entirely different feel for the character whose long curls suggest youth but dark makeup says otherwise.

     Stella is only part of the plot, however. The antagonist is John Garfield‘s Howard Goff, a racketeer who makes his living selling “protection” to boat owners along the pier. That protection means he will not beat them or set their vessels aflame. His newest target is Jonah (Thomas Mitchell), Stella’s father, and Olaf (John Qualen), who share a small motor boat that provides their only pleasure in life: four nights a week of fishing. Goff is charging $5 a week, saying the duo are getting a discount because Jonah has a pretty daughter, which sparks even deeper worries for the working-class man.

     At first blush, Stella is unimpressed by the mysterious gent, but is quickly thrilled by the exciting life he leads. She starts hitting the town with him instead of George and refuses to let Goff’s business dealings with her father scare her off. When Stella reveals her father has $190 saved up with which he offered to send her to Cuba (to get away from the new beau), Goff sees the dough as an opportunity to demand it from his clients. He also plans to have Stella run away with him to Cuba, so Jonah naturally feels the need to take matters into his own hands.

     Besides Lupino’s mixed maturity in Out of the Fog, I also noticed the almost Jekyll and Hyde way of Garfield’s persona. The man has a sweet face whose round, smiling cheeks make him adorable, but he often played brutes like in this flick. It is almost like casting against type in that he could play an attractive villain capable of violence as easily as someone with the mug of Edward G. Robinson.

     Out of the Fog is no crown in either Lupino or Garfield’s crowns. The plot of a girl nearly corrupted by the intrigue of a criminal is nothing new. Ordinary people considering knocking off their aggressors is also not a novel concept. This movie has standard elements composed with somewhat unique surroundings. I would not say avoid it, but don’t go rushing to rent it.

Pillow to Post

Gasser

Pillow to Post (1945)

     I have not seen loads of Ida Lupino films, but I greatly respect the actress and grasp any opportunity to watch her. I previously expressed surprise at the difference I saw between Lupino in They Drive By Night and While the City Sleeps. In Pillow to Post, she appears in a role utterly different from the work she had done before. The film is a screwball comedy. For those who are familiar with Lupino, the notion of her appearing in such a story is surprising. Lupino was known for playing cynical, hardened women in dramatic pictures. This was none of that.

     Lupino is Jean Howard, the daughter of an oil supplies manufacturer who begs for a job as a salesman because she has otherwise been unable to do her part in society with the absence of men serving in WWII. Jean proves a rather unsuccessful saleswoman until she reaches a town that is home to an army base.

     The locale is utterly out of rooms for any visitors as the area is overrun by families visiting the soldiers. Jean lucks out, however, and gets a room at a car park by failing to deny she is a war bride. The car park only accepts married individuals, so Jean must come up with a “husband” to sign the registration card by the end of her first day. After speaking with Slim (Johnny Mitchell) about buying oil supplies and agreeing to go to dinner to solidify the deal, Jean hits the road hunting for the lieutenant to whom she claims to be engaged. She finds Don Mallory (William Prince) who is unobliging at first but manages to get mixed up in the ruse. What’s worse, his commanding officer Col. Otley, played by Sydney Greenstreet (another foreigner to such comedies), is staying in the car park with his wife. When the two soldiers collide, Don must keep up the charade of being wed to Jean, which ultimately forces him to stay the night in her bungalow and almost leads to him signing half his income and benefits to the woman.

     Considering how strange this role must have been for Lupino, she seems entirely at ease. She is attractive, funny and well suited for the physical comedy. In one scene when she attempts to situate herself across two kitchen chairs to sleep for the night, Lupino is perfectly goofy in the awkward positions she squirms into. William Prince was not a major name in 1945, but because so many of the studio’s leading men were fighting overseas, he was given a chance. Prince would not appear in a lot of films, but went on to a television career in the 1950s.

     Pillow to Post is apparently a rarity as TCM’s Robert Osborne prefaced it by saying most people probably are unaware of its existence. I can understand how this movie that is out of the ordinary for the actress in it would go unnoticed, but it is not a bad movie. It’s a great comedy and romance, that, like many, has its plot driven by a misunderstanding that has gotten out of hand. Often I find myself thinking the characters should just tell the truth and problem solved; however, then we would have no story. In Pillow to Post, both Jean and Don repeatedly plan to clear things up, but as other characters enter into the mix, that becomes more difficult to accomplish. It was nice to see Lupino in such a gleeful role, which makes this flick a bit of a jewel.

Hill-Tillies & No. 5 Checked Out

Gasser

     With TCM committing a good portion of each week during January to Hal Roach Studios, I’ve managed to catch a couple of short subjects from the production company, all of which are new to me. Hal Roach, in fact, I had never heard of before this month.

Hal Roach Studios

     I mentioned catching a couple Laurel & Hardy shorts, with several more on my DVR, but last night I watched another comedic duo, Kelly and Roberti, in addition to a half-hour TV spot from the Screen Directors’ Playhouse. Lyda Roberti and Patsy Kelly are cute in Hill-Tillies which involves the two staging a “back-to-nature” stunt in the woods to gain fame that will hopefully qualify them for a job at a burlesque theater. The plan is to have their friends bring them the necessary camping supplies so they will not be relying on the land, as they’ve told the press. Immediately lost in the woods, however, the duo spend the first night on their own before the necessities finally reach them.

     Kelly reminds me of Oliver Hardy in her approach to comedy. She even has a masculine air about her and acts as the boss of the operation. Roberti, on the other hand, gives off more of a Chico Marx feel –she has the accent and physical goofiness that Marx brother offers. Whether it be a Polish or fake Italian accent, somehow I find the abuse of the English language highly entertaining. There is a certain amount of creativity in finding alternate ways to convey the same meaning using an unconventional assemblage of words.

     No. 5 Checked Out, which was among the many short movies produced for TV with high-end budgets and major stars through the Screen Directors’ Playhouse, was directed and based on a story conceived by Ida Lupino. The actress directed a limited number of feature films but found a home directing television. This short stars Teresa Wright, Peter Lorre, and William Talman with a gritty crime-based plot familiar to Lupino.

     Wright plays a deaf girl who has retreated to a campground her father runs after a harsh breakup from a man who did not care for her disability. When her father dashes off somewhere leaving her to run the place alone, she is surprised to have two guests who insist on staying in a cabin even though the season does not start for two weeks. Lorre is some hardened criminal/murderer who is on the lamb with his partner played by Talman. The latter makes friends with Wright, going fishing with her, etc., with the intention of stealing her car so he can continue to run from his crime (It is unclear whether he is also running from Lorre or if the two just need to switch vehicles.). It takes Talman a while to realize Wright is deaf and when he does he likes her even more. When Lorre thinks the woman has overheard him callously say the men “are wanted for murder” he has ill plans, but Talman stops his partner, who intern stops him.

     No. 5 Checked Out is a really great, slimmed down story that easily could have been broadened into a longer script. The quality on the show was also great. I felt like I was watching a full-length feature and was not sure how the story was going to wrap itself up so quickly. This story does a fine job of keeping things short without leaving the audience feeling as those the ending comes to soon or just cuts off the story.

     I am not sure any of the Screen Directors’ Playhouse episodes are available for purchase and most did not air more than once on TV. With TCM’s showing this week, it is the first time the episodes have been seen since the ’50s.

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