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White Corridors & The Carroll Formula

Ring a Ding Ding

     I recently watched two more Screen Directors Playhouse episodes, one of which was highly thrilling the other of which was greatly amusing. The first, White Corridors, was like a mini horror movie. We open on Linda Darnell as Ellen who is distressfully driving her convertible with a panting passenger lying in the back seat. She pulls up to a hospital and wanders through the strangely empty nighttime halls until she meets Pat Hitchcock (daughter to Alfred) playing an unhelpful Nurse Windrod. The woman essentially refuses to admit the sick woman because she has no doctor instructing her to. When Dr. Bruno (Scott Forbes) appears, he agrees to help and brings the patient in.

     Ellen waits as her friend is operated on for a burst appendix and is told she should return to her hotel, and Nurse Windrod seems rather annoyed that visitor will not depart. Wandering the halls, Ellen overhears some moaning and shouting and cracks a door to witness a man dressed as a doctor strangling a patient who is threatening to expose him as a fraud. This happens in silhouette behind a curtain, so Ellen is unsure what the murderer looks like. She attempts to call the police but chickens out and instead confesses the scene to Dr. Bruno. When Dr. Gorwin (John Bentley) enters and informs the woman they two are the only doctors on duty, she realizes one of them must be the murderer, as do they.

     Upon inspecting the scene of the crime, Ellen and the doctors find a male patient fast asleep and no sign of a body. The doctors want to give Ellen a sedative, but when she gets the chance she re-examines the crime scene and hides in a closet where she overhears a doctor and nurse talking about the crime. The story will end with a chase scene once the murder is revealed to us.

     Director Ted Post‘s White Corridors was highly suspenseful and sets the viewer on edge as soon as we meet Hitchcock’s unpleasant and shady nurse. We get the impression seedy things happen in this hospital all the time and the plot pushes us toward our own conclusions about the murderer that will be turned on their head by the end. The performances are all great even if Darnell is rather unattractive. The shady set is also wonderfully eerie, setting us in the proper mood to be frightened.

     Next was the fun but not quite as exciting The Carroll Formula about a “nut case” who derived a magical power from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” story. Michael Wilding is a patient in a mental asylum because he insists that a box of toys were once full-size objects that he can shrink and reconstitute at will. As this David speaks with some psychiatrists, we learn that in researching Lewis Carroll, he discovered the man had found a way to do just that and so he used the technology to create his own shrinking gun.

     Showing this to his girlfriend Sylvia (Havis Davenport), the two realize this holds great potential for world peace because nations could shrink their armies and deliver them on one plane to the opposing country. David, therefore, starts visiting various branches of the military to demonstrate his discovery but does so in a way that baffles and enrages the government officials, which is how he winds up institutionalized. The man escapes, however, by shrinking the bars on the hospital window and re-enlarging a table and rope to allow for him to rappel out the window.

     The Carroll Formula, directed by Tay Garnett, was a lot of fun. One can easily get a laugh by showing people in utter disbelief of a goofy magic trick of sorts. Wilding is entertaining as ever and Davenport is enjoyable as the perhaps surprisingly supportive girlfriend. Some things are simply too real to deny, I guess. The funny device David uses to shrink thinks makes goofy sounds and has a twitching antena that makes it seem like it has a life of its own.

     This episode also made me realize the great resources directors must have had in creating these Screen Directors Playhouse shorts. This one depicts a hangar full of military planes and uses a huge cannon as part of the character’s stunt. This was one impressive series.

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China Seas

Ring a Ding Ding

China Seas (1935)

     I love China Seas, and not just because of Jean Harlow‘s “nip slip” (see below). I am hesitant to call it the best Harlow-Clark Gable collaboration because Red Dust is also stellar, but this one really packs a punch. The chemistry between the lead players is the same hot-headed Harlow against equally stubborn Gable the two typically ignited on screen, but I think Harlow really plays that part best in China Seas while maintaining a vulnerable edge that easily wins over the viewer.

     The story is not just a romance set on a voyage between Hong Kong and Shanghai. It also offers pirates, betrayal, heroism and a conflicting love interest for Gable as ship’s captain Alan Gaskell. Alan is surprised to find before shoving off that China Doll (Harlow), a girl he picked up in Hong Kong –a performer of some sort– has booked herself passage on the non-luxury boat because she’s mad for the captain. Also on board is a friend to both China Doll and Alan, James MacCardle, played by Wallace Beery, but we are tipped off early on he has some shady connection to pirates hiding aboard the ship that seek a shipment of gold.

     Alan immediately discovers that also on board is an ex-lover, Sybil, played by Rosalind Russell, who immediately ignites a passion in the captain who is far more gruff than the man she used to know. China Doll notices this right off and voluntarily backs away from her man, although she does a poor job of severing the ties. Alan plans to marry the now-widowed Sybil as soon as they dock and leave his sea life behind, but Russell’s character quickly fades into the background once a typhoon and subsequent pirate takeover come to the forefront.

     China Doll seems to be missing during the storm during which all passengers have headed for the lounge area of the ship. She is partaking in a drinking/gambling game with MacCardle in his cabin when she finds half a 100 pound note in his wallet that is surefire evidence he is a pirate. MacCardle notices the missing money and forces China Doll to join up with him or essentially be killed. The dame runs to the captain after the storm calms down, but he, drunk, refuses to listen to a word because he thinks she is just there to win him back. That pisses the gal off and she steals the key to the armory, delivering it to MacCardle.

      In the midst of the pirate takeover, a crewmate (Lewis Stone) who chickened out during the typhoon and was arrested because of it, is shot, has his foot broken and still manages to save the day by crawling to the captains quarters to gather grenades. Despite a Chinese torture device, Alan never gives up the location of the gold and convinces the criminals and  MacCardle –who is translating with the pirates and pretending to be on Alan’s side– that there is no gold.

     Alan solves the mystery of how the pirates got the key to the armory and sends China Doll to trial, but not before making his decision about what broad he wants to marry.

      Now to touch on that accidental indecent exposure to which I alluded. There is a scene that I have noticed both times I watched this movie when Harlow’s gown slips from her soldier and she flashes a full breast at the camera. I am doing my best to not sound like a pervert here, but I found it pretty amazing that such a mishap could make into a final film print. For those wanting to look for this incident, it occurs in the scene when China Doll is fighting off a drunken MacCardle who wants his half 100-pound bill back. In stumbling around the room on a ship rocked by the storm, Harlow’s dress strap slips off her soldier, the what would now be deemed “nip slip” occurs and she, realizing what happened, throws her shoulder back to force the gown in place. I find it comical that this happened to Harlow, who always wore slinky dresses that seemed poised to slip from her shoulder at any moment. Call it fate.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Dullsville 

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949)

      I am never one to pass up a Bing Crosby musical, but that is not to say a Bingo flick is a guaranteed smash hit. With A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court I find my stance goes against the grain of opinions at the time the film was released. Although I truly fought the instinct to turn the movie off, moviegoers in 1949 loved Bing’s designated Technicolor extravaganza of the year. The singer was a huge draw in the 1940s no matter if the subject was a large- or small-scale production. The movie also earned Director Tay Garnett a shot at a nonexclusive contract with Paramount, which he regrettably turned down.

     I have never been a huge fan of subject matter that occurs before 1880, so perhaps the medieval theme deterred my fascination with A Connecticut Yankee. Perchance it was the song selection, which I found a bit dull and arbitrarily sprinkled throughout the story. Maybe the story was just a bit too haphazard to maintain my attention. Regardless the reason, I found myself disappointed.

     Crosby plays a 1905 blacksmith/auto mechanic who recounts the story in flashback. Somehow while in his home state of Connecticut, a lightning storm knocks him from a horse and leaves him unconscious only to wake to a Camelot knight poking him in the chest with a lance. Crosby’s Hank takes little convincing to believe he truly has been transported to 528 A.D. England, and the stranger is whisked to the presence of an aging and ailing King Arthur (Sir Cedric Hardwicke). The knight who has captured Hank, Sir Sagramore (William Bendix), tells a tall tale of how the beast transformed from ogre to dragon to his current form, and Arthur declares Hank must be burned at the stake. Just before his intended demise, however, Hank uses the glass from his pocket watch to ignite a bit of paper, convincing all, including Merlin, that he is a sorcerer, thus securing his freedom. Having hence been knighted, Hank mingles with the “people of quality” in the castle and courts Rhonda Fleming‘s Alisande, who happens to be betrothed to Sir Lancelot. Merlin, an evil character, sends for Lancelot when he sees the couple kissing to ensure a hasty end to Hank’s visit.

     Lancelot engages Hank in a joust, but knowing he can either run away as a coward or die as a hero, Hank opts to clamor unarmed onto a smaller horse (the one that traveled with him from Connecticut) and out maneuver the iron clad knight. He lassoes the man and makes a fool of him, which only drives Alisande into her fiancée’s arms. Next, an experience with a poor family who has seen naught but the ill favor of the throne inspires Hank to ask King Arthur on a common-man’s journey to London. Dressing as vagabonds, Hank, Arthur and Sagramore (who has been Hank’s servant) wander about while Merlin plans their end. The trio is captured, sold as slaves, escapes and faces beheading before Hank can use a solar eclipse –described in the modern almanac he carries– to convince the spectators of the group’s true identities.

     We are given no explanation as to how Hank happens to return to his home time, but one has to question why Hank made no effort whatsoever to find a way back. He seemed utterly content to act as a blacksmith and inventor thousands of years before his correct era. I found the story line to be a bit fragmented also. Besides the romance plot between Hank and Alisande, the modern man’s adventures are rather scattered and unconnected. If one ascribes to the theories of time travel that suggest any change in the past will forever alter the future, Hank sure is screwing things up. He “invents” a safety pin and pistol, alters Arthur’s role as king and introduces scandalous dance moves and music to the medieval people.

     The story is based on the Mark Twain novel, but being ignorant of that work I cannot offer a comparison of the drama. The book must have been popular as movie versions were make several times, with this being the musical adaptation.

Source: Robert Osborne

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