Benjamin Cole Favorites
Benjamin Cole is a wire reporter, covering financial markets for MT Newswires. He likes to review old movies not just as movies, but windows into the time and place they were shot, and the morals, codes, norms of the era. And the automobiles!
Cole will endeavor to review every film he watches from "Jimbo Theatre," for the good, the bad, and the fun---and most movies are fun.
Fame is the Spur-1947
Another Brit offering in the Jimbo Theater, and another good one. Classy cinematography throughout, and opening scenes are near-classic, with an overlay quote from philosopher John Milton no less. This is not bowling-league fare! Based on a novel of same name.
Okay, so poor-boy played by Michael Redgrave, born in a mill-mining town, spends youth in bookshop, reads leftie literature, becomes politically active. Acquires wealth and fame and elected office, but sells out. At various stages in plot, he shows cowardice and betrays friends, class and colleagues, and ends up feeble and despised.
That is the usual review of this film, but I think the plot is actually more subtle. Some of the situations that Redgrave (as lead Hamer Radshaw) faces are in fact mixed--should Brits join a war against Germany, for example (WWI). It is not a question that can be simply settled on the basis of class loyalty. There is an excellent question raised about women's rights, also.
There is some overdone visual metaphors about a sword and a scabbard, and the film even seems at times to want to critique Redgrave both ways---he is too much the rabble rouser and then too much the compromiser. In his dotage, Redgrave gets bashed for being infirm. Talk about piling on. Or maybe Redgrave is symbolic of a labor movement that has lost its way.
But all in all, a very well executed movie, imparting insights into the historical period (turn of the century up past WWI) and also into the time it was made (1947). The Brits were obviously more comfortable with socialism than the Americans, at least then.
You will enjoy Fame is the Spur, and the film's opening will even make you feel a bit erudite for watching. --30--
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Murder With Pictures - 1936
This b/w Paramount production romps right along; viewers cannot doze off. Love the art deco opening credits, btw.
This is another reminder of the days when newspapers were huge, pre-Internet and even pre-TV. So, the plot revolves around a newspaper photographer, Kent Murdock (acted by Lew Ayres). A gangster beats a murder rap, a beautiful woman (Meg Archer, played by Gail Patrick) shows up to somehow inflict revenge. More foul play follows.
Well, guess what, boy meets girl.
There are shots of the Stocker oil fields in Los Angeles, still there btw.
Lew Ayres' acting in this film pre-figures Bob Hope's deadpanning a decade later, or maybe Jack Lemmon or Tom Hanks.
They call this a "B" movie, and maybe it is---yet it is well-crafted and acted, and hardly a dull moment in 69 minutes. If you can follow the plot, you will like it. --30--
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The Hollywood Stadium Mystery - 1938
This b/w movie zips right along, cleverly done, even in the opening credits, which are presented as newspaper headlines.
Before your seat is warm, the city's District Attorney (actor Neil Hamilton) and leading mystery authoress, Pauline Ward (Evelyn Venable) are trading quips and trying to crack the case of a boxer murdered in the ring at Hollywood Stadium---great scenes there, where an American Legion live band entertains the crowd from an elevated, cramped bandstand.
This 58-minute film was made in the Great Depression, and for whatever reason Depression-era films often have scenes of great indoor splendor---the authoress' apartment looks large enough to park 18-wheelers, amid furniture fit for a museum.
The conclusion is fun, the guilty party unexpected, the only mar being the audience is not clued into what provoked the guilty party until late in the picture, after the fact, so-to-speak. In fact, the plot melts down a bit in the last few scenes. Watch closely--does it appear the guilty party knows of an unusual murder weapon before he should? This goes un-noticed in the film.
But for a "b" movie, this picture really zings, well worth the hour. And the presentation is a reminder that people used to really listen to the radio---that was before TV and the Internet. --30--
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Inner Sanctum - 1948
This is a strange-o low-budget thriller, yet oddly interesting as well.
The title has nothing to do with the movie--that was the title of a radio series---The Inner Sanctum Mystery show---and also a Simon and Schuster book series, and also a Universal Pictures film series. This is the last film of the movie series. Why this movie is so entitled is another mystery.
The plot involves a man (actor Charles Russell) who murders his fiancé at a lonely small-town train stop, perhaps accidentally in a struggle of her initiation. He was trying to run out on her, she pursued, nail file at the ready. Panicked, he puts the dead woman back on the train and makes to town.
There is a witness, a teenage boy.
Here the story get ugly, as then Russell begins to plot the death of the teen-age boy too, thus completely undermining any sympathy viewers may have had for him.
Trapped in the small town by floodwaters, Russell boards at…well, a boarding house. This is actually an interesting part of the film. We are reminded there was a time, and in the not-so-distant past, when boarding houses were common, even for "middle class" people perhaps a bit straitened. So we see middle-class people taking rooms, and communal, but polite meals. It really does not look so bad, although this cinematic version may be idealized.
A pretty blonde boarding house denizen (Mary Beth Hughes) falls for Russell, figures out he is the murderer…and plots to leave with him! She even attempts to blackmail him into taking her to San Francisco, and out of the dreary small town in which she feels trapped. This, after knowing him for part of two days.
Billy House plays a small town newspaperman, and is an excellent character actor. One might have hoped for the bluff House to somehow crack the case, but he is left adrift in the film, more or less.
After some romping around, Russell is exposed, and awaits arrest at the end of the 62 minutes of b/w film. There is some voodoo doo-doo about a guy on the train who saw it all coming.
No, Inner Sanctum is not a classic, but it is watchable in a radio-show type of way, unpretentious, a bit erratic, and another glimpse into worlds passed away, such as boarding houses for ordinary people, and one-man small-town newspapers.
Parting note: Jimbo's copy appears to have some short segments missing, and perhaps one scene out of order (no fault of Jimbos!). But still a lot of fun. --30--
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The Outlaw - 1943
This was the film made successful and famous by censors and Jane Russell's superb anatomy, on display in low-cut blouses.
Banned for a few years in the U.S., the film is a lengthy two-hour-long black-and-white Western directed by Howard Hughes (the proto-billionaire), though informal credits are given to Howard Hawks and also Jules Furthman.
Russell plays vamp Rio, Jack Buetel is Billy the Kid and Walter Huston is Doc Holliday. Thomas Mitchell is Sheriff Pat Garrett.
There is lots to like in the film, from Russell's exhibition, to Walter Huston's expert acting, to some excellent cinematography. The film historians say much of the film was shot in New Mex and Arizona; but I also see Joshua trees, which live only in the Mojave Desert, California, and what appears to be the Santa Monica mountains. Also, despite the out-of-door shoots, many "outdoor' scenes are obviously indoor sets.
Curiously, the censors and the public focussed on Russell's breasts, and the fact she may have had consensual sex with Billy the Kid before marriage. This resulted in some re-takes, editing and an off-screen marriage before the film was released.
But earlier in the film, in nighttime barn scene, when Russell was trying to murder Billy the Kid (as a stranger) he stops her in a struggle and, it is strongly suggested, forces himself upon her. This provocative scene is never mentioned in film reviews, and I do not know why.
In truth, the The Outlaw as a film wanders around, and perhaps the trio of rotating directors needed a firm hand on the edit-and-cut blade. Instead of "epic," The Outlaw may tend to the "long."
But The Outlaw is a bit of film history, and captures what was considered risqué at the time. They won't make 'em like this anymore. --30--
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The Flying Deuces - 1939 Laurel & Hardy
What can be added to the praise already heaped upon the comic duo Laurel and Hardy?
They are funny, unpretentious, and endearing. The world is a little brighter for them, and the films we have.
The Flying Deuces has many gems in it, including a wonderful song-and-dance performance by the pair, to the tune of "Shine On, Harvest Moon"---unwittingly, they are lollygagging, while an angered French Foreign Legion officer is hunting for their heads. Our heroes have joined the FFL so that Hardy can forget a broken heart. But they decide they want to quit---however, the FFL calls that executable desertion.
Quite a few funny moments here, including the classic line by Laurel, when pondering the explanation that he will be shot with the morning sun, replies, "Gee, I hope it is cloudy tomorrow."
The laundry scene is famous.
Charles Middleton, as the humorless FFL Commandant, remains eternal despite a limited role.
Filmed in the Santa Monica mountains in part, and probably the old Burbank Airport. I think some real scenes of FFL'ers were spliced in, early in the film.
Perhaps the film was funnier when first seen as a 12-year-old boy. But certainly worth watching at any age. --30--
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Murder on Lenox Avenue - 1941
This is another historical oddity in Jimbo's vaults, worth it for those who have an interest in lost musical and entertainment forms. Sociologists could have field day with this one too.
The film is set in Harlem, and not a white face is seen throughout the picture. One may ponder why so many of the actors and actresses are light-skinned African Americans, from beauties to baddies.
The highlights are several musical numbers, exhibiting a style and presentation perhaps gone forever. The plot, despite the title, does not really involve a murder, and is somewhat awkwardly developed.
There is a fleeting shot of the outside of now-demolished Pennsylvania Station in NYC, considered one of the greatest railroad stations of all time. When you see the grand edifice, you will wonder how anyone could have destroyed such a marvel.
The director of Lenox Avenue was Arthur Dreifuss, German-born, and whose late career involved tame-by-modern-standards "exploitation" flicks.
As a film, Lenox Avenue struggles. As a period piece, fascinating. --30--
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Pitfall - 1948
This is a professionally made and acted b/w film-noir thriller from 1948, and the craftsmanship shows. Directed by Andre De Toth, distributed by United Artists.
Dick Powell plays an insurance-industry exec tired of the hum-drum, which he rather heavy-handedly announces at the movie's opening. It is tough to feel sorry for him---his wife is the cutest Jane Wyatt (yes, Father Knows Best), he has a hillside home with views in Los Angeles, and a spiffy 1947 Chevrolet convertible---in which his wife loyally gives him a ride to work, after removing the apron she wore to cook him breakfast. (Side note to Angelenos: The hills look like Mt. Washington, or Highland Park, but oddly treeless. In the subsequent 65 years, a lot of trees and shrubbery has grown up).
But Powell soon falls for a blonde stunner-model (Lizabeth Scott) he meets on a case, and then meets skullduggery at the hands of youthful ex-cop and detective Raymond Burr (Perry Mason, Ironside), who has the demented obsession for the same Lizabeth Scott, and no scruples about using department connections or blackmail to put Powell out and the blonde-stunner into his hefty arms. Burr plays the heavy well.
There are fleeting scenes of downtown Los Angeles, and the old May Company department on Wilshire Blvd., now a museum. Beachside L.A. looks undeveloped and deserted. Great takes of what is perhaps the old downtown jail.
The film builds excellent tension to the denouement, in a set of believable if dramatic entrapping circumstances for the luckless Powell.
The concluding scenes pour a Niagara of moral condemnation on Powell, and one wonders how much was done to please censors and others. Jeez, the guy was seduced by a blonde model who had a drunk gun-crazy bf fresh out of jail, egged on by the creepy Raymond Burr. And how many men say "no" to a pretty blonde model?
Very watchable fare, perhaps just lightly flawed by the obvious opening scenes, the oddity of the blonde model Lizabeth Scott who never asks Powell if he is married (and why does he not wear a wedding ring?), and the extended condemnation of Powell in concluding scenes.
Add on: Seems like every American movie from the 1940s and 1950s features a bar scene or two, and important liquor cabinets in homes. Was this a reaction to Prohibition? --30--
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Mr. Peek-a-Boo - 1951
This is a fun French-Anglo-American film produced by Franstudio-Paris in 1951, in which lead actor and everyman Bourvil has inexplicably gained the power to walk through walls.
The history of this film is curious; Jimbo's version is shot in English (it does not appear dubbed), and is b/w. The film websites say there is also a color (not colorized) version, and a French-language version. The fact that the film was originally shot in color may explain its often grey, washy look. If you are old enough, you may have watched a color movie on a black-and-white TV set. This looks like that.
The other oddity is although the film is shot in France, many of the actors are American, judging from their accents. The dialogue scenes are reminiscent of Dobie Gillis reruns.
The lead character, French comedian Bourvil, was a stage actor until this film, a relative success in France, launched his career. The special effects are entertaining and convincing, a feat for 1951.
The plot, what there is of it, is that Bourvil falls in love with a gorgeous jewel thief (Joan Greenwood) and tries to impress and convert her to the honest life.
Like many films in Jimbo's vaults, this one is fun to watch but also informative, in this case of life in France in 1951, from cramped apartments, to limited work areas for public bureaucrats, to clothing, to streets not jammed with automobiles.
This film is a simple French comedy, and a glimpse into Gallic humor. No heavy statements are made, or even hinted at. Just for laughs, and nothing wrong with that. --30--
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