Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Overlooked Films: THE SHADOW in "International Crime" (1938)

I expected to hate this movie. After all, I didn’t think much of the first in the series, The Shadow Strikes (reviewed HERE), and I’d heard that in this one, The Shadow doesn't even bother to don his costume.

Well, garsh, I was wrong - at least about hating it. Though International Crime (1938) is in no wise faithful to any other incarnation of The Shadow, it’s an all-around fun movie, and interesting on several levels.

First, the weird parts. Unlike the pulp Shadow, our hero in this one is the genuine Lamont Cranston, and is a prizefighting newspaperman. But that’s not all. From his office at the The Daily Classic, he does a daily radio broadcast, with a faithful following of cops, crooks and “millions” of other folks. On the radio he calls himself The Shadow (though his identity is by no means a secret) and his newspaper column is called “The Shadow Says.” The police resent him, but he thinks he’s helping them by advertising that Crime Doesn’t Pay. And as advertised - he never bothers with a black hat or cloak.

Unlike the radio Shadow, this Cranston does not have the power to cloud men’s minds, and does not have a beautiful and faithful companion named Margo Lane. His companion here is a beautiful pain-in-the-neck named Phoebe Lane, who wants to break into crime reporting, and calls herself as “The Shadow’s shadow.” Cranston is less enthusiastic about the relationship. “Miss Lane,” he asks her, “why didn’t you stick to the babies and biscuits end of the newspaper business instead of hurling yourself into the jaws of death?”

There are some nice touches. The image of The Shadow on the newspaper column is the same one used for the Shadow Club pin and insignia in the pulps. The Shadow's cabbie Moe (never called "Shrevy") is on hand, and forced to pretend Cranston is a stranger to him. At a scene outside a movie theater, we see a poster for Here’s Flash Casey. And at one point we have this exchange, after which both actors smirk:
Pheobe: “What are you going to do?”
Cranston: “I don’t know.”
Pheobe: You don’t know?”
Cranston: “That’s right. The Shadow doesn’t know.”

For me, the biggest and best surprise of the film was the comedy. The Cranston-Pheobe relationship was clearly influenced by the success of the first two Thin Man films, released in 1934 and 1936. Rod LaRocque does surprising well in Nick Charles-mode, and Astrid Allwyn (whom I’d never heard of) does a fair impression of Nora. They keep up a steady banter as she, like Nora, tries to help in the investigation while he, like Nick, tries to keep her out of harm’s way. There’s even a snatch of racy dialogue in the back of a cab.
Cranston: “Young lady, you’re impossible.”
Pheobe: “Not if the right man comes along.” 
To which Cranston delivers a very Nick-like look of shock.

And the dialogue is surprisingly good throughout. At one point, when Commissioner Weston orders Cranston put in handcuffs, The Shadow says, “Oh, never mind those things. I don’t go in for flashy jewelry.” And when Cranston tells Pheobe to go home and get dressed so they can go night-clubbing, we have this exchange.
Pheobe: “Now let’s see… shall I wear black or blue?”
Cranston: “You’ll wear both black and blue if you don’t hurry. Scram, sister!”

The plot? Oh, it has something to do with bankers and bonds and agents of a foreign power, but all of that's incidental. The important thing is that this is a mash-up between The Shadow and the Thin Man, and that’s two great things that - amazingly - go great together.

Not convinced? See the whole film here:

For the finest in Overlooked Films, tune in each week at this time to SWEET FREEDOM.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Life-Size Lone Ranger

This 6-foot poster was a giveaway to Wheaties eaters in 1957. 
Don't you wish you'd eaten your Wheaties?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Today! Robert Redford is among the guest stars on THE VIRGINIAN "Cast Favorites" Marathon

Here's the line up:
1:00 pm James Drury presents The Mountain of the Sun
2:30 pm Sarah Lane presents The Beloved Outlaw
4:00 pm Roberta Shore presents The Evil That Men Do (with Robert Redford)
5:30 pm James Drury presents Felicity’s Spring
7:00 pm Don Quine presents Yesterday’s Timepiece
8:30 pm Gary Clarke presents Duel At Shiloh (with Brian Keith)
10:00 pm Diane Roter presents Nobody Said Hello (with James Whitmore)
11:30 pm Roberta Shore presents The Evil That Men Do (Encore)

More exclusive videos HERE


Friday, April 26, 2013

Tomorrow: THE VIRGINIAN "Cast Favorites" Marathon on INSP

It's true. Tomorrow, Saturday April 27, INSP will air an all-day Virginian marathon, with stars reminiscing about the series, the actors and their favorite episodes. There's never-before-seen footage here, and even James Drury, the Virginian himself, is excited. “They captured more than just our favorite shows," he says, "the stories that came out of these interviews are priceless. We’re all planning to watch – I sure know where I’ll be on April 27th!”

Here's the line up:
1:00 pm James Drury presents The Mountain of the Sun
2:30 pm Sarah Lane presents The Beloved Outlaw
4:00 pm Roberta Shore presents The Evil That Men Do
5:30 pm James Drury presents Felicity’s Spring
7:00 pm Don Quine presents Yesterday’s Timepiece
8:30 pm Gary Clarke presents Duel At Shiloh
10:00 pm Diane Roter presents Nobody Said Hello
11:30 pm Roberta Shore presents The Evil That Men Do (Encore)

P.S. Forgotten Books will return next Friday at it's regularly scheduled time. Meanwhile, check out this week's FB line up at pattinase.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Overlooked Films: LIght the Fuse ... Sartana is Coming! (1970)

Hey, I don’t know much about Spaghetti westerns, but I know what I like, and I DO like this Sartana character. This particular entry in the series wasn’t too bad, either, but left me thinking there are probably better ones.

Light the Fuse … Sartana is Coming! Opens with three scumbags in badges getting their jollies by pistolwhipping - and then killing - the town judge. In rides a man in black, who they mistake for a preacher. And it’s a rather big mistake. He blasts all three and totes their bodies away on a horse. Why? It’s his subtle way of gaining entry - as a prisoner - to a prison where a sometime friend is being held. This sometime friend, you see, is suspected of having made off with half a million in gold, and the loot is still missing.

The rest of the film is about Sartana and a flock of less-admirable villains hunting for the gold. As Sartana, Gianni Garko looks like a cross between Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. And he’s fond of James Bond (or James West) tricks like a blowgun hidden in the heel of his shoe, or a pipe organ that doubles as a cannon/machine gun.

The movie’s plot is overly complicated, and - aside from Sartana - there are at least four factions hunting the gold. Two of those factions have large crews of gunmen, so Mr. S uses the time-honored tactic of pitting them against each other, while he sits by to pick off the survivors.

On the plus side, there are plenty of good shootouts and an astronomical body count. There’s even a brief homage to The Three Stooges: At a poker table, one player says, “I see you. I see you.” Another gives him Moe’s trademark two-finger poke in the eyes and says, “You won’t anymore.”

Near as I can tell, Garko was the first actor to assume the Sartana role, and returned at least three times, this being the last. The series was popular enough to spawn a dozen or so ripoff sequels. Garko also made one flick as Django, and appeared in a whole lot of other mostly-Italian productions. Just for variety, he also once had a guest shot on Space: 1999.

More Forgotten Flicks at Sweet Freedom.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Forgotten Books: COME EASY - GO EASY by James Hadley Chase

There’s nothing fancy about James Hadley Chase’s prose. The narrator of Come Easy - Go Easy tells his tale in simple I did this and she did that fashion. The strength here is in the story. While the simplicity of the prose keeps you moving in a straight line, the story sneaks up from behind and socks you over the head.

Our hero Chet Carson works for the Lawrence Safe Corp, making him an expert on opening safes. The loot the company’s clients put in their safes tempts him until he can no longer resist, and he plans a heist with good buddy and fellow safe-expert Roy. But the job goes sour, Roy kills a guy and scampers, leaving Chet holding the bag.

Unfortunately for Chet, he’s too loyal to finger Roy, so he’s sentenced to a long spell in prison. Finding conditions intolerable, he risks everything on an escape - and makes it. But as you can probably guess, his troubles are only beginning.

Chet finds himself a sweet place to hide - a backend of beyond service station in a place called Point of No Return, only to find himself intwined with a money-hungry woman and another Lawrence Safe full of loot. And, worst of all, his old “pal” Roy.

First published in the UK in 1960, Come Easy - Go Easy is now the first half of a JHC double from Stark House Press. I’m now looking forward to the second half!

More Forgotten Books at pattinase!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Overlooked Films: Frank Sinatra in Richard Sale's SUDDENLY (1954)

Suddenly caught my eye at the library because it looked like a noirish thing with Frank Sinatra. But I got REALLY interested when I saw that it was written by pulp writer and several-kinds-of-novelist Richard Sale. (For much, much more about Mr. Sale, click HERE.)

Because the credit reads “Written by Richard Sale,” I figured he wrote both the story and the screenplay, so I tried to pay extra attention to both. And both are good. I have no complaints. It’s just that neither rises to the level of, say, a Daffy Dill story or a novel like Passing Strange.

One of the most Sale-like exchanges of dialogue comes at the beginning. A passing motorist pulls to the curb and asks the deputy sheriff how far it is to the next town. Then we get this:

MOTORIST: What's town is this?
DEPUTY: Suddenly.
MOTORIST: Suddenly what?
DEPUTY: No, no, that's the name.
MOTORIST: That's a funny name for a town.
DEPUTY: Hangover from the old days. That's the way things used to happen here. Suddenly.
DEPUTY: Road agents, gamblers, gunfighters…
MOTORIST: Well, I take it things have changed.
DEPUTY: Uh-huh. Things happen so slow the town council is figuring to change the name to Gradually.

At the end of the film, the same exchange begins between a different motorist and the sheriff, played by Sterling Hayden. But when the motorist says, “That’s a funny name for a town,” Hayden rubs his chin and says, “I dunno. I dunno about that.” Because by that time, he’s learned different.

Here‘s the basic idea: Sheriff Sterling Hayden is just lazing around this Mayberry-like town, wishing the good-looking widow would allow him to escort her to church, when he gets word that the President is coming in on the five o’clock train. It’s all very hush-hush, and Hayden can’t even tell his loyal deputy what’s happening. In advance of the President’s train, the secret service shows up and starts scouring homes and businesses that might offer firing lines for a possible assassin. For at least the first half hour of the film, this heightened paranoia makes no sense, especially because this film take place circa 1954 rather than circa 1965.

Then Frank Sinatra shows up with a couple of thugs and muscles his way into a house overlooking the railroad tracks. Eventually we learn that some mysterious client (we never learn who) has promised Sinatra half a million bucks to kill the Prez, and that someone has tipped the law to the plan. The house Sinatra occupies just happens to be the residence of the good-looking widow, her eightish-year-old son and her pop. And naturally, Sterling Hayden stops by and gets caught in Sinatra’s trap.

Sinatra, as you might expect, makes a great vain and bloodthirsty killer. He’s also a bit nuts - proud of the Silver Star he got for killing 28 Germans in the war but touchy about getting a Section Eight discharge for being too fond of killing.

Sinatra’s dialogue is sprinkled with tough guy slang, a tribute to Sale’s years in the detective pulps, but lacks the punch and humor I was hoping for.

The film does have some nice touches. In the beginning, the kid is lusting after a cap gun in a store window. I was unable to read the name on the gun, but it’s clearly a Leslie-Henry product. (They made pistols bearing the names Davy Crockett and Alan Ladd, among others). And the cap gun plays an important role later in the story. At one point we see the kid reading a comic book, and when he closes it we see it’s an issue of Mighty Mouse. Whoever selected those props had mighty good taste.

At one point, Hayden says that his life, along with that of the widow and her son, don’t really count compared to that of the President’s. For some reason he thinks a President’s life is much more valuable than that of an ordinary human. That seemed like a screwy notion to me. Sinatra makes more sense when he notes that when you kill a President another one immediately takes his place, and nothing really changes. So what was Sale's opinion on that issue? Makes me wonder.

More Overlooked films at Sweet Freedom.