Released in 1937, The Shadow Strikes is the earliest film based on the pulp fiction and radio hero, the Shadow. In fact, it may just be the earliest film based on any superhero — if we can apply the term to the Shadow. Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to do so, as he’s certainly a forefather of the genre and has plenty of thematic similarities, but it’s a little more difficult to apply the term in this particular film.
See, to some extent it’s unclear as to whether director Lynn Shores and the writers were fully aware of who the Shadow is. While it’s based off an actual Shadow story, “The Ghost of the Manor”, it doesn’t feel entirely like a Shadow adventure. Continue reading →
What with the Thanksgiving holiday, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to watch films the past few days, but there’s always time to catch a short film. In the mood for some classic stupidity, I decided to check out Disorder in the Court, starring the Three Stooges — in the classic Moe, Larry, and Curly configuration. Released in 1936, Disorder in the Court is one of the most readily available Stooges shorts, due to a lapse in updating its copyright status putting it into the public domain. The short was directed by Jack White, under the pseudonym Preston Black.
Gail Tempest (Suzanne Karen), a night club dancer, is on trial for the murder of her boyfriend. The defense attorney (Bud Jamison) is certain he can get her acquitted, though, due to the strength of eyewitness testimony from the the night club musicians: the Three Stooges, naturally. Continue reading →
I haven’t yet had the opportunity to check out the 1931 classic Dracula, but I took the opportunity to check out another collaboration between director Tod Browning and actor Bela Lugosi — 1935′s Mark of the Vampire. Naturally, Lugosi is once again playing a vampire, though in this case his name is Count Mora, and he’s backed up by a female vampire named Luna (Carroll Borland). The two get very few lines in the film, and mostly act intimidating and eerie. They’re good at that, no question, but it does seem like a little bit of a waste of Lugosi’s talents. Continue reading →
I remember reading Richard Connell’s short story, The Most Dangerous Game, in my tenth grade English class. It was a solid, entertaining story, about a man who finds himself shipwrecked on an island, and subsequently hunted for sport by the mad aristocrat who lives there. It’s not hard to see how it would have some appeal for filmmakers, and indeed the story has inspired dozens of films and television episodes. However, only once has it actually been given a feature film under its own name, and that was with the original film adaptation. Directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack, The Most Dangerous Game was released in 1932, starring Joel McCrea as Robert Rainsford, the castaway hero and Leslie Banks as Count Zaroff, the mad huntsman. Continue reading →
If Alfred Hitchcock is known for a “type” of movie, it’s probably thrillers. And espionage thrillers are a subgenre that he returned to time and time again. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that one of his films was simply titled Secret Agent. The 1936 film stars John Gielgud in the lead role, as a British soldier whose death is faked so he can become an undercover agent for the government during the first world war. Now dubbed Richard Ashenden, he is sent on assignment by “R” (Charles Carson) to find a German double agent and eliminate him before he escapes to enemy territory. Complicating the issue is that “R” does not know what the double agent looks like, nor any details. Ashenden’s predecessor on the task was killed before he could relay any of the critical information to headquarters. So Ashenden is going into a dangerous mission, effectively blind. Continue reading →
It’s amazing how some personalities from older movies and short films are still so recognizable today. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are still easy to identify even for younger generations, even if many of those same people have never watched an actual Laurel and Hardy film. The thin man and the fat man have become almost an archetype of comedy pairings, and it’s largely due to the characters that these two actors portrayed themselves as (with Abbott and Costello also contributing to the image, in a less exaggerated form.)
I saw Babes in Toyland a few years ago, and while I enjoyed it, I could tell it wasn’t quite the archetypal Laurel and Hardy film. The Flying Deuces may come after their best-known run under producer Hal Roach — it’s directed by A. Edward Sutherland and produced by Boris Morros — but this 1939 film feels a lot more like what my generation has been told to expect from Stan and Ollie. It’s a silly, light-hearted film with a simple plot and a lot of funny gags. Continue reading →
Fritz Lang’s 1931 film M is considered by many to be a classic example of film noir. It’s made it into a few top 100 lists (including being #50 on IMDb), and is cited as being a major influence on both the genre and films in general. It was filmed in German, but the Criterion Collection has released a version with deftly-translated subtitles; when I had the opportunity to see that version, I decided to do so.
The film is inspired by various serial killers around Germany at the time that Lang was writing it. It stars Peter Lorre as a disturbed man who has become a serial child killer in a German city, and Lorre’s performance is exceptionally creepy, especially with Lang adding in one of the first leitmotifs in film history, with the killer (actually Lang dubbed in) whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King” whenever he is taken by his compulsion to stalk, kidnap, and murder children. Continue reading →
The 39 Steps is a 1935 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, with the classic Hitchcock plot: an ordinary man finds himself mixed up in acts of espionage against his will and has to find a way to extricate himself and save the day. Adapted from the first of adventure novelist John Buchan’s “Richard Hannay” novels — and apparently adapted very loosely — it stars Richard Donat in the lead role as Hannay.
Hannay is enjoying himself at a public performance by “Mr. Memory” (Wylie Watson in a small amusing role) when a fight breaks out in the audience and shots are fired. After the theatre clears out, he is approached by an attractive young woman (Lucie Mannheim), who asks if she can come home with him. He thinks she’s just being pleasantly forward, but when they get to his rented apartment, Miss Annabelle Smith reveals that she is the one who fired the shots, as a diversion to escape two men who are hunting her. She’s a spy, charged with protecting a national secret, and if she doesn’t get a message to a certain Scottish village in time, the secret will be smuggled out of the country. Continue reading →
Any film buff — and just about everyone else — knows the name of Alfred Hitchcock, and can name several of his classic films. Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds and more have earned respected places as part of pop culture history. 1936′s Sabotage — originally released in the U.S. as The Woman Alone — is more obscure, and possibly overlooked.
Of course, when a man directs over 60 films, there are bound to be a few that fall by the wayside, and some of them may even deserve to. But even if I went into it knowing nothing beyond “this is a Hitchcock film”, that’s enough to make me a little curious about it, so I decided to check it out. Continue reading →
The 1930s were a different time in many ways. There was a fascination at the time with the concept of the Chinese detective, a sleuth who could solve crimes that baffled the police but who was nevertheless an outsider whose ways both gave him insights foreign to the general public and at the same time made him an eccentric who could not always be understood himself. While best exemplified by Charlie Chan, Chan was hardly the only example, and there were extensive runs of short mystery films based on the similar Mr. Moto and Mr. James Lee Wong, of which 1938′s Mr. Wong, Detective is the first.
But at the same time that America was so fascinated with the Chinese detective, Hollywood wasn’t about to put an Asian man in the lead role of a film. So, in a move that would be cringe-inducing today, Mr. James Lee Wong, Chinese-American, is played by Boris Karloff, an Englishman with some distant Anglo-Indian heritage, with a fair amount of squinting. (Racial sensitivity wasn’t remotely on Hollywood’s radar back in those days.)