Kiss of Death

“Kiss of Death” (1947),is a crime drama and referred to as “a film noir” by some critics, although it is missing a key element – while its story and staging resemble many of the B-class movies in this category, the protagonist does not die in the final scene.  The move stars Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Coleen Gray and, introduces Richard Widmark (his first on screen role). Available from Prime Video, we came upon this film because of our reading the Palace Movie Mystery book series. The plot is typical noir crime drama:  Nick Bianco (Mature) is captured at the scene of jewelry store robbery.  In exchange for information about those involved (who got away), Nick is offered a deal/reduced sentence by the Assistant DA Louis D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) which he turns down and, after trial, he is sentenced to 20 years in prison. In prison, he meets and becomes pals with Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark).  Three years into his sentence, his wife stops writing and he ultimately finds out she committed suicide because of money problems (also, he learns she was raped by one of his crime partners, Rizzo, who has gotten away scott-free).  Nick writes to the DA to say he has reconsidered and is now willing to help him; however, because time has passed, he cannot use the information about the robbery to reduce his sentence.  He does, however, ask Nick if he will help by informing on Udo, to which Nick agrees.  Ultimately, a case is made against Udo, he is tried, but found not guilty and now Nick, his second wife, Nettie (Coleen Gray) and two daughters are in the Udo’s gun sights.  Nick decides that the only way to deal with the situation is to send his family away (upstate NY) and confront Udo which, of course, leads to a gun-battle – you have to see the film to see how this (and Nick’s family situation) is resolved.  There are three reasons, we believe, to see this 98 minute black and while film:  1) it’s shot on location in Manhattan; noir films were typically shot on “the backlot”; 2) Richard Widmark, as a psychopath with a high pitched laugh, does a great job in his role – he was nominated for an Oscar; and, 3) Nick’s two small daughters, notwithstanding the circumstance of the film, are thoroughly adorable and scene stealers in those in which they appear.  We give it a Good for an Afternoon rating.

Mannequin

Mannequin (1937), is a film that piqued our interest when mentioned in the “Movie Palace Mysteries” series (previously reviewed on our site).  We were attracted to it because three of our favorite movie people from the classic films era were involved:  Frank Borzage (director) and, actors Joan Crawford and Spencer Tracy (in the days before he had teamed up with Katherine Hepburn). This is a sad drama/love story and while only 95 minutes long, you must withstand the first 15-20 minutes of tortuous scenes involving Crawford and Alan Curtis.  Desperate to leave behind a life of poverty, Jessie Cassidy (Crawford) manipulates her boyfriend, Eddie (Curtis) into marrying her thinking that he can provide the better life she seeks. As it turns out, Eddie is a rotten human being – he’s a con artist, has no money and he pushes Jessie to work as a model (aka mannequin) and showgirl to support them.  As would often happen in those days, showgirls end up at parties for rich and famous guys. At one such party, Jessie meets John Hennessy (Tracy) a wealthy shipping tycoon.  Hennessy is immediately attracted to Jessie and looks for ways to cross paths with her. Eddie learns of Hennessy’s attraction to Jessie and he proposes to her that she divorce him, engage in a relationship with Hennessy, get him to marry her, then divorce him so they had make a “big score” settlement so they’ll be set for life!  The movie’s drama centers around how all this will play out and if, in the end, Jessie with end up with Hennessy (and, not Eddie).  You must watch the film to find out!  Once past the early scenes, the movie is gripping because you end up rooting for both Jessie (not to make any more life choice mistakes) and Hennessy, whose business fortunes take a turn for worst.  Alan Curtis does “rotten” really well and you cannot help but hate him in his role as Eddie.  Crawford and Tracy turn in credible performances for what most critics would characterize as a B-list movie.  We give it a Good for An Afternoon rating.

Random Harvest

Ah, has any movie based on a book by James Hilton been anything less than magic?  We revisited this 1942 movie as it was mentioned in “The Movie Palace Mysteries” and we were in the mood for some sweet sentimentality.   The movie stars Ronald Coleman and Greer Garson – one can swoon just listening to their gorgeous voices – as potentially star-crossed lovers.   The plot was apparently not a hit with reviewers at the time, but who cares?   If you have ever read a James Hilton book or seen a movie based on one (think “Lost Horizon” or “Good-bye, Mr. Chips”) then you know what to expect.   While the movie isn’t 100% faithful to the surprise turn the book takes for obvious reasons (you need to see the actors on the screen), the story is the same.  Coleman plays a World War I airman with amnesia, who is saved from being returned to the asylum by Garson’s character Paula.   She calls him Smithy, as he has no idea who he really is, and of course they fall in love and are soon married with a small cottage to call home.  She supports them with secretarial jobs as Smithy tries his hand at writing.  Soon he has what appears to be a burgeoning career as a paid author.  They have a baby, and all appears blissful after Smithy receives an offer to interview for a full-time job at a publication in Liverpool.   Off he goes with his house key in his pocket and a ticket to the big city, and the second and longer part of the story commences.  Smithy has an unfortunate accident that (of course) restores his memory and obliterates the last two years of his life with Paula.     Lo and behold, “Smithy” is actually wealthy Charles Ranier who returns to his somewhat unpleasant family and assumes management of the family business.  The only token of where he’s been is a key, but to what he cannot remember.   We are led to believe that years go by, Paula never stops looking for Smithy, Charles has ensured that the family business is thriving, and he is supported by an invaluable assistant named Margaret who you don’t see for a good block of time until…….   While you can probably guess the plot twist even if you’ve never read the book, no spoilers here.  Suffice it to say, they lived happily ever after.   If you’re a James Hilton fan, this is definitely Top in Genre, but even if you’re just in need of a gauzy, lovely movie then you should Grab It If It’s Leaving. 

The Awful Truth

From 1937 (available to rent on Prime Video), this screwball comedy stars Irene Dunne and Cary Grant as a rich New York married couple who suspect each other of infidelity. The awful truth is that they really do love each other, find it difficult to let go and do happily reunite just before the divorce is finalized at the stroke of midnight (final scene). We stumbled upon this early Cary Grant film while reading the “Movie Palace Mysteries” series.  As fans of Grant, we thought we had seen most of his films; however, this one clearly escaped us.  Nominated for six Academy Awards, the film showcases Grant’s comedic skills in his early days as an emerging box office star. A quite attractive Dunne (and some critics would say under-recognized for never having won an Oscar) matches Grant’s comedic skill scene for scene. The plot revolves around Jerry Warriner (Grant) and Lucy Warriner (Dunn) and their mutual suspicion that they are having affairs – Jerry with Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont) and Lucy with Armand Duvalle (Alex D’Arcy).  This leads to divorce proceedings in which the judge rules the divorce will be final in 90 days (and, also rules Lucy will have custody of their dog; nice twist because it gives Jerry visitation rights and the opportunity to meddle in Lucy’s supposed affair!).  The lion’s share of the film focuses on each other’s attempts (some quite comedic) to undermine their respective love affairs only to find, in the end, that they still love each other and reunite.  This 90-minute film moves along quickly, is quite amusing and does provide a look back into the type of escapism from social and economic depression that Hollywood studios pitched to its audiences.  Grant, Dunne, and other players turn in solid performances; and the adaptation of the 1923 play (same title, by Arthur Richman) is another reason for its Academy recognition.  We give it a Worth the Search rating.

Stage Door

This fun flick from 1937 was mentioned in “The Movie Palace Mystery Series”, with an unfortunate misstatement (Rosalind Russell had no part!).  However, the cast is so wonderful that we just couldn’t resist revisiting the movie through Amazon Prime.  The story is centered around a boardinghouse (the Footlight Club) for aspiring actresses, and the boarders are a veritable treasure trove of early Hollywood beauty and talent.   We first are introduced to the characters played by Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Andrea Leeds and Ginger Rogers among others as they are gathered in the living room of the Club.  They are all largely unemployed but are game to go to every audition to secure a role that will at least pay their board if not secure worldwide acclaim.  Their banter amidst day to day travails really “sets the stage” (pun intended) for our concern for them, and interest in their lives.  We also meet the owner of the Club, employees there, and naturally, a few young and not-so-young men who are going out with several of the boarders.  Enter Katherine Hepburn’s character, Tracy, who is clearly more polished, wealthier, and possibly more of a snob than the other ladies (I refuse to call them “girls”).   She is, however, quite clearly determined to find out if she has what it takes to make it on the stage, despite the fact that her wealthy father is definitely not in agreement with her plans.    Well, of course we find that Tracy isn’t so much a snob as she is unaccustomed to the kind of friendship and rivalry found at the Club.  While the story about how and why Tracy lands a part for a new production (through some backdoor moves by her wealthy father) is somewhat expected, the plot also concerns one of the boarders who had been a success and yearned for that very same part as her road back to the spotlight.  Alas, not to be, with tragic consequences.  Without further spoilers, suffice it to say that our Kate ends up giving a wonderful performance, and the rest of the crew finally understand that she is truly one of them. As a side note, this is the film that contains that often-used line when imitating Hepburn, “The calla lilies are in bloom again…..” which she delivers with just the right high brow intonation. All in all, it was fun to see so many fresh young faces so early in their careers, with caustic yet witty dialogue at every turn, and we give it Good for an Afternoon.