Saturday, September 16, 2017

Stubs - Key Largo

Key Largo (1948) Starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor. Directed by John Huston. Screenplay by Richard Brooks and John Huston. Based on the play Key Largo by Maxwell Anderson, as produced by The Playwrights Company (New York, 27 Nov 1939). Produced by Jerry Wald. Run Time: 100 minutes. USA. Black and White. Drama, Crime, Film Noir.

Tell me if this sounds familiar, a deserter of the Spanish Civil War redeems himself in death by defending the family of a true war hero against Mexican bandidos on the tiny island of Key Largo, Florida. No? Well, that’s the story of the play Key Largo that was the basis for the film. With World War II still on everyone’s mind, it is no surprise that the story was updated. Mexican Bandidos are replaced with prohibition-era gangsters. There are some other changes made to the point that the original story is all but impossible to see in the finished film. But that’s Hollywood.

At this point in his career, Humphrey Bogart was getting top-billing. After such films as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942), Bogart was finally a full-fledged star. But so was Edward G. Robinson.

Born in Bucharest, Romania, Robinson had been a star since Little Caesar (1931). Often cast as gangster, Robinson had worked with James Cagney, Bette Davis and Bogart. But he had also shown his versatility starring in comedic send ups of his tough guy image, A Slight Case of Murder (1938), as well as a political film, Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), and biographical films as Paul Ehrlich in Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940) and Paul Julius Reuter in A Dispatch from Reuter's (1940). He also made film noirs including Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944), Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945); and Orson Welles' The Stranger (1946) and Irving Reis’ All My Sons (1948).

In their four previous films, Bullets or Ballots (1936), Kid Galahad (1937), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) and Brother Orchid (1940), Robinson had received top-billing. Now, while Bogart would receive top-billing, Robinson’s name would appear in second place, but slightly higher than Bogart’s on the poster to show that he was an equal.

Edward G. Robinson gets second, but equal billing to Bogart.

The film is also notable for Bogart’s teaming with wife Lauren Bacall. After success in To Have and to Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946) and Dark Passage (1947), Key Largo would represent their fourth and final pairing.

Key Largo would be in production between December 1947 and mid-March 1948. The hurricane footage was stock, having been shot for a Ronald Reagan melodrama, Night Unto Night (1948).
Following the end of World War II, disillusioned ex-Major Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) arrives on the island of Key Largo, Florida to visit the family of George Temple, a friend from the Army who had served under him and was killed in the Italian campaign.

In the hotel's bar, Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) meets (from left to right) Janes Temple (John Barrymore), Ralph Feeney (William Haade), "Toots" Bass (Harry Lewis), Curly Hoff (Thomas Gomez), Angel Garcia (Dan Seymour) and George's widow, Nora (Lauren Bacall). 

Entering the rundown Hotel Largo, where Frank is to meet George’s father, the wheel-chair bound James (Lionel Barrymore) and George’s widow, Nora (Lauren Bacall), he encounters guests in the hotel’s bar: Curly Hoff (Thomas Gomez), "Toots" Bass (Harry Lewis), Angel Garcia (Dan Seymour), Ralph Feeney (William Haade) and Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor). Frank is informed by Curly that the hotel is closed for the season, but he still seeks out the Temples, who invite him to spend the night.

Frank tells James and Nora about George's bravery under fire.

Frank tells James and Nora about where George is buried and recounts his heroism under fire. Nora seems taken with Frank, stating that George frequently mentioned him in his letters home. Frank tells them that George had told him personal and confidential details about the Temples and that he had committed to memory the small and cherished details George had spoken of, to relieve the boredom, stress, and terror that was the stark reality of combat.

Nora offers that the guests have offered Mr. Temple an amount of money that he couldn’t refuse to open the hotel even though it was closed for the winter and there is a Hurricane expected. He also learns that there is a sixth guest who remains secluded in his room. The guests insist that they are in the Florida Keys on a fishing trip and have a charter boat waiting down by the docks.

With a hurricane coming, the three go about preparing the hotel. They are interrupted when Sheriff Ben Wade (Monte Blue) and his deputy Sawyer (John Rodney) arrive looking for the Osceola brothers, John (Jay Silverheels) and Tom (Rodd Redwing), a pair of Seminole Indians who escaped custody after being arrested on minor charges. Mr. Temple promises Sheriff Wade that he has some influence with the local Indians and will get the Osceolas to surrender. But soon after the Sheriff leaves, local Indians come to the hotel seeking refuge from the approaching hurricane, including the Osceolas.

Back inside the hotel, Curly, Ralph, Angel and Toots pull guns and take the Temples and Frank as their hostage. The sixth member and leader of the group finally makes an appearance. Frank recognizes him as notorious gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), who was exiled to Cuba some years before for being an undesirable alien. Rocco has entered the country illegally in order to make a delivery of counterfeit money, but his contacts have been delayed by the approaching storm.

Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) is an old-style gangster who has already been deported from the U.S.

It is revealed to the Temples and Frank that the gang had discovered Sawyer looking about, so they beat him up and knocked him unconscious. As they are held at gunpoint, Temple lets go a stream of insults toward Rocco, who responds by taunting Temple, explaining how he will one day return back to prominence.

Rocco makes an inappropriate pass at Nora.

Rocco is impressed by Nora's feistiness and makes a pass at her. In response to his overtures, she spits in his face.

She spits in his face.

Angry, Rocco wants to kill her, but Frank stops him with some fast talking. Mocking Frank's heroics, Rocco gives Frank a pistol and tells him that he can rid the world of Rocco if he is willing to die in the process. To the disappointment of both Nora and Temple, Frank refuses to shoot, stating that he believes in self-preservation over heroics and that "One Rocco more or less isn't worth dying for!" After Frank throws the gun down, Sawyer grabs it and tries to use it to escape, but Rocco shoots him. Turns out the gun Sawyer picked up, the one given to Frank by Rocco, wasn’t loaded.

Claire Trevor plays Rocco's ex, Gaye, who is now an alcoholic.

James wants to believe Frank knew that Rocco gave the gun to him unloaded, but Frank is adamant that he didn’t. Rocco orders his men to take Sawyer's body by boat to deep water and throw it overboard.

Rocco then demands that Gaye, his alcoholic former mistress, sing a song before she can have another drink. She sings "Moanin' Low," (words by Howard Dietz, music by Ralph Rainger) a capella, but doesn’t sing very well. Rocco still refuses to give her a drink and Frank takes pity on her. Frank goes to the bar, pours a drink and gives it to Gaye. While Gaye says "Thanks, fella" to Frank, Rocco slaps him in the face several times for disobeying his orders. Frank ignores the slaps, and says, "You're welcome" to Gaye.

Rocco slaps Frank for disobeying him and giving Gaye a drink.

The full force of the hurricane then hits, which terrifies Rocco and Frank uses the opportunity to “shame” him:

Frank McCloud: You don't like it, do you Rocco, the storm? Show it your gun, why don't you? If it doesn't stop, shoot it.

The storm also gives Nora a chance to challenge Frank about his disillusionment. Nora tells Frank that she knows his story about her husband's heroism was false and that Frank was the real hero. Mr. Temple then invites Frank to come live with them at the hotel, a prospect that seems to intrigue Nora.
After the storm has passed, Sheriff Wade returns looking for Sawyer and finds his body on the road, where it had been washed up during the storm. Rocco blames the murder on the Oceola brothers.

Sheriff Ben Wade (Monte Blue) finds the body of Officer
 Sawyer after it is washed up after the Hurricane.

Along with the other Seminoles, they hadn’t been been allowed inside the hotel at Rocco’s orders. Sheriff Wade then goes out to the dock where the Indians are preparing their own boats to leave. When the Oceolas try to escape, Wade shoots them down.

After Wade leaves with Sawyer's body, Rocco's contact, Ziggy (Marc Lawrence), arrives to conclude their business deal. Rocco sells Ziggy a large amount of counterfeit money. Even though the meeting is tense. Rocco and Ziggy are old friends and joke about better days ahead for gangsters like themselves.

Curly looks on as Ziggy (Marc Lawrence) and Rocco do some business.

Once the business is concluded, Rocco is ready to leave. It is then that he finds out the Skipper (Alberto Morin) of the boat, against Rocco’s direct orders, has moved it to deeper water to avoid damage from the hurricane. They need another boat and commandeer Temple’s. Rocco then forces Frank, who has skills as a seaman, to take him and his henchmen back to Cuba on the small boat.

Even though Rocco threatens him, the Skipper (Alberto Morin) moves the boat of out the way of the Hurricane.

Rocco pays James Temple for their stay and has his henchmen gather everyone's bags, except for Gaye's. Even though she wants to come with him, Rocco tells her he won’t be taking her with him. Instead, he gives her some money for expenses.

Both Nora and Gaye try to convince Frank to make a break for safety once he is outside the hotel, but he agrees to take the men to Cuba. Gaye appears to make a last-ditch attempt to convince Rocco to take her with him. She hugs him and, while embracing him, steals Rocco's gun. She then manages to slip the gun to Frank.

Gaye makes a last desperate attempt to get Rocco to take her with him.

Once they’re out at sea, Curly worries that Gaye will tell the authorities about Ziggy, but Rocco tells him that is exactly what he wants to happen.

Up on deck, Toots is sea sick. Frank sees his opportunity. He first tricks Ralph into looking over stern under the guise that there might be something on the propeller. When Ralph looks over the edge, Frank races the engine and knocks him into the water.

Toots fires at Frank after Ralph has been dumped in the ocean.

Toots realizes that Ralph has been lost at sea and when Frank won’t go back, he shoots him. Even though he’s wounded, Frank returns fires back and kills him.

Hearing shots, Curly goes up to the main deck and is mortally wounded by Frank in an exchange of gunfire. Curly staggers down the ladder, but before he can respond to Rocco’s questions, he dies.
Rocco wants Angel to go up and see what has happened, even lying to him that Frank is dead. But Angel refuses and Rocco kills him.

Angel doesn't want to go up, so Rocco kills him.

Rocco then tries to trick into surrendering by offering to share the money with him. He even throws one of the guns out on deck, as if it’s his. But from Frank’s vantage point, he can see that Rocco still has his gun. When Rocco comes up on deck, Frank shoots him, but Rocco isn’t dead yet, and fires one more time at Frank, before Frank shoots again and kills him.

Rocco tries to trick Frank into trusting him.

Frank then radios the Miami Coast Guard station, “NAM”, and radios his position. He then asks them to connect him to the hotel so he can tell Nora and Temple that he is coming back home.

From his vantage point, Frank can see everything and kills Rocco.

The film opened in New York on July 16, 1948 and nationwide on July 31st. In his review for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther gave much of the credit for the film’s success to director John Huston for his tightening and speeding up the action. “He has dropped out a lot of prior build-up, thrown away some complexities and avoided the final fatalism which Mr. Anderson (the playwright) always seems to indulge.”

Crowther also credits Huston with getting “stinging performances out of most of his cast—notably out of Mr. Robinson” and calls Bogart’s performance “penetrating.” He calls Claire Trevor’s performance “picturesque.”

Director and co-writer on the set with Bogart and Bacall.

For the most part, Crowther’s is still right. Despite the staging, which is mostly interiors within the hotel, the action never seems to stop. There is never a dull moment in the film. This is due both to the screenplay by Richard Brooks and Huston as well as Huston’s directing. He always seems to get a good performance out of Bogart, from their first film together, The Maltese Falcon, to their last, The African Queen (1951), for which Bogart would finally win a long overdue Academy Award for Best Actor.

I have seen my fair share of Edward G. Robinson films and I don’t believe I’ve seen him give a really bad performance, even if the film isn’t all that good. Here he is able to channel his earlier gangster film roles into something new. His Rocco knows that he’s a relic of the past, but he’s not going gently into that dark night.

Lauren Bacall always does well when playing opposite her then husband, Bogart. They make a very engaging couple on the screen. She is a strong-spirited woman, but still a product of her time. Rather than going out on her own, she has stayed to take care of her deceased husband’s father, an admirable task. It is obvious that there are underplayed sparks between husband and wife on screen, which adds to the subtle flirtation going on between Frank and Nora.

Lionel Barrymore plays James Temple.

Lionel Barrymore is also one of those actors that leaves it all on the screen. Even wheelchair bound, Barrymore gives a very strong performance. He can play a grumpy doctor as in Three Men in White (1944), a heartless villain as in It's A Wonderful Life (1946) and even helpless victim all while seated.

But of all the actors and actresses in the film, it was Claire Trevor who was singled out by the Academy Awards for her performance as the alcoholic ex-gun moll. Her win as Best Supporting Actress came after her second of three nominations she would receive in her career, the others for Francey in Dead End (1937) and her last would be for May Holst in The High and the Mighty (1954). Trevor may be best remembered though for her portrayal of Dallas in John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939).

Key Largo is an easy film to recommend. A film noir at heart, the film shows what happens when the ideals of post-war America runs smack into its own darker past. Under John Huston’s direction, Key Largo is a really great movie. You should see it if you’re a film noir fan, a fan of Edward G. Robinson or a fan of Humphrey Bogart, with or without Lauren Bacall. There is so much to enjoy that the trip to Key Largo is one worth taking

Be sure to check out our Film Noir Review Hub for reviews of other films in this genre.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Night Trap - 25th Anniversary Edition (PS4)

It would be difficult to discuss the history of video games without bringing up Night Trap. Developed by Digital Pictures in 1987 and released on Sega CD in 1992, Night Trap would almost singlehandedly lead to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, better known as the ESRB. This gave the game a cult following such that 25 years later, it received a digital HD rerelease by Screaming Villains on PS4 and PC, with an Xbox One release to follow, along with a limited physical version by Limited Run Games. Considering the historical value of this game, it was hard to pass up the opportunity to play it, especially on a physical disc. With that said, the game itself, while improved, is a bit lacking.

The Collector's Edition package from Limited Run Games,
featuring the full box art from the 2017 release.

A group of students working at a resort have been mysteriously disappearing. Local authorities had no clue until the group S.C.A.T. (Special Control Attack Team) tapped into the camera system of a nearby winery house and recovered footage of the students being trapped by one of the residents. S.C.A.T. is sending in a young agent named Kelly (Dana Plato) to scout the house undercover until she gives them a signal to go in. Another agent has placed an override switch on the camera system, which gives them complete control over the cameras and traps within the house. It is up to you to use this power to help Kelly and the rest of S.C.A.T. during their mission.

From here, the rest of the game can be accurately described as an interactive movie. There are eight security cameras the player can switch between. As they scroll through these cameras, a movie plays out while enemies called Augers periodically roam the property. The player has to skillfully trap the Augers at exactly the right time to allow the movie to continue to completion.

Combining live action footage with the technology of video games is an interesting concept, but Night Trap’s execution of it has some noticeable flaws. For one thing, the game is very strictly timed down to the second due to the live nature of the video feed. As such, it is nigh-impossible to see the whole movie and trap a good number of Augers at the same time, not to mention the different perspectives within the movie which play out at the same time. For instance, while Kelly and the other party guests are performing a song, a S.C.A.T. agent is taken away by Augers. Going for a perfect run, in which the player captures all 100 possible Augers and all four members of the Martin family, is another story. Not only does this require missing out on most of the movie, but also following the very precise timing either memorized through grueling trial and error or a modern walkthrough that someone else can read off to you while you play.

One thing the game doesn’t tell you is that activating the traps also requires the player to have the correct color access code. The code initially starts at Blue, but there are a few points in the game where the Martin family changes the color, meaning you have to know exactly which security camera to be on and what time it occurs in order to hear what the next color will be. In addition, a single playthrough of the game takes a minimum of around 25 minutes, assuming you don’t get any Game Overs from failing captures at specific times. Should the player get a Game Over, they will have to start over from the beginning, unless they hit the one checkpoint near the 14-minute mark, which seems to mimic the original two-disc setup of the original Sega CD version, though either way several minutes of progress will be erased. Should the player die after the checkpoint, they will begin with the correct access code color for that time frame.

The gameplay of Night Trap (2017 interface).

Then there’s the movie itself, told through FMV (Full Motion Video) sequences. Night Trap is very much like a B movie, including the cheap costumes, sets and effects, a bad plot where some things are left completely unexplained and plenty of cheesy overacting. In other words, it’s laughably bad. Even Dana Plato of Diff’rent Strokes fame, perhaps the most competent actor in the game, gives a somewhat overacted performance. Playing through the game unlocks a Theater mode to view parts of the movie you may have missed, but you’ll then have to play through the game enough times to see every scene for at least one second, including the deaths, in order to view everything at your leisure. Depending on how much you like Night Trap, this may become an exercise in patience. However, the music is at least memorable, likely due to the minimal use of it, mainly the catchy Night Trap theme and the music for the Augers and the infamous bathroom scene; incidentally, these tracks are the ones highlighted on a cassette tape that comes with the Collector’s Edition.

While the game itself may be lackluster, there are some obvious improvements made for the 2017 remaster. For one, the image and audio quality is crystal clear, so no compression artifacts like the earlier 1990s releases. There is also a major quality of life improvement regarding the camera icons. Instead of a static image, the icons now display full video of what’s going on in the house at any given moment, be it Auger appearances or parts of the movie. Even then, Augers can be a bit sneaky in the Driveway camera, since the game takes place at night. As a nice touch, the PS4 controller’s light bar will also change color to match the code color the player selects. If someone doesn’t wish to play Night Trap with the revamped icons or the 2017 layout, it is also possible to play the game with the original static icons for a challenge, as well as different game layouts recreating those from the 1992 Sega CD, 1993 3DO and 1994 Sega CD 32X releases.

However, while there aren’t really any control issues, I did notice an audio glitch issue that came up during one of my playthroughs. Sometimes, when switching from one scene to another and then returning to the previous scene, the audio from the scene will start over from the beginning, putting the audio and video out of synch. This didn’t affect me too much, as I was paying more attention to Augers for a perfect run, but the player should watch out for this glitch, as it might potentially cause them to miss hearing the next access code for the traps.

As befitting a 25th anniversary release, the game now comes with a number of extras. Apart from the Theater mode, the player can unlock production stills and the game timeline used during filming and post-production. Also available are a couple videos, including a new interview with Director James Riley, and for the first time, a playable version of Scene of the Crime, a prototype version of Night Trap.

A screenshot of Scene of the Crime.

Scene of the Crime follows the same gameplay as Night Trap, though on a smaller scale. In this game, the player is tasked with watching the security cameras in a house to see if anyone will attempt to steal jewelry from a safe during a party. Naturally, someone steals the jewels and, to complete the game, the player has to identify which of the seven guests has committed the crime. It’s sort of a watered-down version of Night Trap, since the film only lasts a couple minutes and there are fewer cameras to select from on a map of the house, although the game does highlight certain areas where action is occurring. The short length also makes it easy to replay, though it is once again a test of patience depending on how many plays it takes you to single out the right suspect.

Of course, it’s not the story or the gameplay of Night Trap that has kept it relevant 25 years later, but rather the game’s legacy and influence on the video game industry. When Night Trap first released, it represented a leap forward with gaming technology with its combination of live action footage and player interactivity. However, this marriage of footage and gameplay freaked out moral groups as well as US Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl, who felt that it was beginning to blur a line between fiction and reality. The game, along with Mortal Kombat (1992), subsequently came under scrutiny during congressional hearings about violence in video games and their impact on young minds. One scene from Night Trap in particular, in which a group of Augers attack a woman wearing a nightgown in the bathroom, was misrepresented as promoting violence against women. The hearings also claimed that Night Trap was about “trapping and killing women” and that it featured gratuitous violence and sex.

The scene that ultimately led to the creation of the ESRB.
(Video by WarpedPixels)

The result of the congressional hearings ultimately led to the creation of the ESRB, the video game rating system that’s still used in the US to this day. With the creation of the ESRB, Night Trap received an M rating, meaning only those 17 and older can play it, while the 25th Anniversary Edition has been rated T, meaning those 13 and older can play. Another result of the hearings was the increased sales of Night Trap instigated by the controversy, giving it significantly more attention than it perhaps deserved and justifying releases on other platforms, granting it a cult following which eventually justified the current 2017 release.

On its own merits, Night Trap is at best an average game and enjoyably bad at worst. With simplistic gameplay, a cheesy B movie which not even Dana Plato can really save and a heavy trial-and-error element, it is a little difficult to figure out who would unironically enjoy this game today. However, with vastly improved audio and video, as well a few good improvements which make the core mechanics somewhat less frustrating, this release is easily the best way to play. The added bonus features, including a new interview with director James Riley and the ability to play Scene of the Crime, also add a bit of value to the overall package. I would recommend Night Trap – 25th Anniversary Edition to newer players for the historical value alone, although the actual game may only hold ironic entertainment for those willing to stick it out to the end.

Stubs - Blonde Crazy

Blonde Crazy (1931) Starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Louis Calhern, Noel Francis, Ray Milland Directed by Roy Del Ruth. Screenplay by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright. Producer: None Credited. Run Time: 78 minutes. U.S.A. Black and White. Pre-Code, Crime, Comedy, Drama

James Cagney and Joan Blondell had arrived in Hollywood together, both brought from Broadway to recreate their roles in Sinner’s Holiday (1930). Both seemed meant for stardom from almost the beginning. Warner Brothers knew what they had and would pair them in six more movies through 1934, including Other Men’s Women (1931); The Public Enemy (1931), The Crowd Roars (1932); Footlight Parade (1933); He Was Her Man (1934). But before those films, there was Blonde Crazy (1931), which would be Blondell’s first starring role. Cagney by then had become a star thanks to The Public Enemy, which had already been released on May 15th.

But they weren’t the only potential stars working at Warner Bros. Marian Marsh, who had arrived in 1929, was originally cast in the role that would become Blondell’s. Marsh, who had never had a credited role, burst onto the scene in Svengali (1931) opposite John Barrymore, which was released on May 22, 1931, shortly before Blonde Crazy would go into production.

But Blondell would end up in the role. With a screenplay by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright, the pair who had written The Public Enemy, the film went into production in early June 1931 and finished about a month later on July 8. The working title of the film was Larceny Lane, which was later used when the film was released in Britain.

Bert Harris (James Cagney) is the bellhop at a Midwestern hotel, but he has bigger plans. A womanizer, Bert also peddles liquor, prohibition being the rule of the day. When Ann Roberts (Joan Blondell) enters the hotel, she immediately catches his eye, even though Four-Eyes - Hotel Desk Clerk (Charles Lane) doesn’t seem to notice her at all.

Four-Eyes (Charles Lane) doesn't seem to notice Ann's (Joan
Blondell) appeal, but it isn't lost on Bert (James Cagney).

She is there looking for a job in housekeeping that had apparently already been filled, but Bert wants her around, so he pretends to Mrs. Snyder (Maude Eburne) that Ann is the woman she hired and then bribes Jimmy (Ray Cooke), the other girl’s boyfriend and his fellow bellhop at the hotel, to forget about the job.

Bert sweet talks Mrs. Snyder (Maude Eburne) into thinking Ann is the woman she's hired.

No sooner does Ann start working there then her co-worker Peggy (Polly Waters) warns her about Bert. And true to form, Bert uses a rouse to get Ann alone in one of the hotel rooms that is undergoing renovation. But Ann is not interested and lets Bert know with one of many slaps to the face that she will land throughout the film. But Bert isn’t bothered and calls down to get Peggy to come up to the room. Despite what she’d said to Ann, Peggy willingly goes.

Even though Peggy (Polly Waters) warns Ann about Bert, she is
 only too willing to join in him a vacant hotel room.

Ann’s looks are not overlooked by hotel guest A. Rupert Johnson, Jr. (Guy Kibbee), who makes two awkward plays for her which she rejects. But Bert, who has been summoned to bring ginger ale to the room as a mixer for Johnson’s liquor, manages to use Ann to sell him on his own, which he claims is a favorite of hers. Johnson gladly pays Bert’s $10 asking price.

Mr. Johnson (Guy Kibbee) makes a play for Ann with jewelry.

When Bert goes to Ann to give her share of the bounty, Peggy gets involved, complaining that she’d warned Ann from getting involved with Bert. After slaps to the face all around with Ann knocking Peggy to the floor, Ann leaves. Bert gets another slap from Peggy for laughing at her.

Bert convinces Mr. Johnson that his liquor is Ann's favorite.

Bert is not through with Ann or with Johnson. Ann agrees to go out with Johnson and they end up parking. But a passing patrolman sees them and demands that they get out of the car. Johnson tries to bribe the officer to let them be, but that only makes things worse. Add to that, the officer finds liquor in the backseat of the car. While they are being arrested, Bert happens to drive by. He offers to help and Johnson, who is anxious not to ruin his reputation, accepts his help. Bert, who claims to know the officer, manages to get them off. Turns out the officer is an impostor named Hank (Nat Pendleton), an ex-con, and they shake Johnson down for $5000.

In a big city, Ann and Bert meet Dapper Dan (Louis Calhern) and Helen (Noel Francis).

With that money, the partners get out of town and head to a larger city so they can find more suckers to con. Bert, who keeps a scrapbook about scams, makes friends with Dapper Dan Barker (Louis Calhern) and his companion Helen (Noel Francis). Helen takes a liking to Bert, who falls under her spell. Dan, though, offers to help Bert make a score.

Bert keeps a scrapbook of cons he reads about.

Kansas City Dutch (Peter Erkelenz), a counterfeiter whose $20 bills are so good they’re easy to pass, is just one step ahead of the cops and needs to dump his bills before leaving town.

In one of the films more risqué scenes, Bert goes to Ann’s room and while she is naked in the bath, he explains the setup and she agrees to let him use her money to get into the deal. The money she tells him is in her bra, which is in a pile of her lingerie which Bert paws through before removing the money.

Ann takes a bath while Bert asks to borrow her money.

Using Ann’s share of the money, as well as his own, Bert buys in. Dutch, who is desperate to leave town, agrees to a 3 to 1 payment, selling them $45,000 worth of counterfeit $20s for only $15,000.
But it turns out Bert is the one getting scammed. When they take the money back to his hotel room, Helen comes to the door. Before answering, they hide the bag with the money in a drawer. Dan leaves with Helen, but he and Bert make plans to meet in the morning. But as soon as they leave, Bert goes to check on the money and discovers that the drawer is fake and there is a hole in the wall in the adjoining suite. When he manages to break in, he finds the money gone, but a note from Helen mocking him and telling him to put the note in his scrapbook.

Dan has Bert hide the "counterfeit" money in a fake drawer.

We see Dan and Helen on a train out of town with Dutch, all laughing at how easily Bert was fooled by the real money they were pretending was counterfeit.

But Bert can’t bring himself to tell Ann that he’s lost her money. Instead, he thinks of a way to get the money back. He sees a notice in the paper about the impending marriage of a rich man’s daughter and that the family has immediately gone out of town. Pretending to be the father’s personal secretary, Bert goes into a jewelry store and gets them to deliver a $15,000 diamond bracelet to the man’s house and to bill him later. On the way out of the store, Bert asks for the salesman’s business card.

To make back the money he's lost, Bert swindles a jewelry store out of an expensive bracelet.

After the bracelet is delivered, Bert calls the house and tells the butler that the delivery has been a mistake and that the jewelry will send out their man to retrieve it. Using the salesman’s card, Bert pretends that he is the store representative and the butler duly hands over the bracelet. From there, Bert takes the bracelet to a pawnbroker (Otto Lederer), whom he manhandles into giving him $5000 for it.

As soon as they have their money back, Ann and Bert are on a train out of town, chasing after Dan. On board the train, Ann bumps into Joe Reynolds (Ray Milland), with whom she will fall in love with. Bert and Ann have long ago resigned themselves to being platonic partners, even though Bert isn’t keen on Joe.

Ann meets Joe Reynolds (Ray Milland) on board the train to the big city and falls in love.

In New York City, Ann runs into Dan, who tells her over lunch how they had made a sucker out of Bert. When she later asks Bert about it, he tells her the story about the bracelet. She’s determined to make Dan pay for causing Bert to resort to robbery and sets up her own scam.

In one of the films harder to believe sequences, Ann has arranged for Dan to accompany her and Col. Bellock (William Burress) to the races with the idea of scamming the older man out of his money. She inadvertently delays them so they’re in the car when the first race has run. But the Colonel and Dan make a side bet, using the racing information in the paper. We see Dan’s chauffer on the phone getting the winner and then changing the last two numbers of the license plate of his car to match the winning number of the horse. Dan waits for the car to pull up next to them to pick the winner, betting ever increasing amounts; starting with $1000 and escalating from there. The two men agree that Ann can hold the money.

With the help of Col. Bellock (William Burress), Ann gets even with Dan.

Well, this happens twice before the Colonel’s car runs out of gas and his driver has to fill up the tank. Dan berates the driver for running out of gas. Then the two men bet on the third race after Dan’s chauffer once again changes his license plate and drives by.

However, when they get to the track, Dan finds that he’s bet on the wrong horses. Ann and the Colonel disappear while Dan goes looking for his chauffer. He finds the car with a note from Ann telling him to add this to his own scrapbook, a call back to Helen’s note to Bert. The chauffer and the Colonel both skip town with only a few hundred dollars for their parts in the con.

When Bert and Ann split up the money, he asks her to marry him, but she while she might have said “Yes” six months ago, she’s in love with Joe now. Bert sits in a cab across the street for the church and watches the happy couple leave after their wedding. He then takes off to Europe for a year.

Bert asks Ann to marry him, but she's in love with Joe.

Upon his return, Bert is a different guy and is not interested in scams, even turning down one he’s offered by a fellow conman (Philip Sleeman) involving selling swastika good luck charms to widows. (Up until the rise of Nazism, the swastika was considered a symbol of good luck and success, so don’t read anything more into it.)

Soon afterward, Ann comes to see him, telling him that Joe is in a lot of trouble and she needs Bert’s help. Joe had embezzled $30,000 in negotiable bonds from his employer and risked it on a get rich quick scheme that didn’t pay off. But Bert doesn’t have $30,000. He does offer to help, however, going to see Joe to make arrangements. His plan is to break into the safe and steal what’s left. When the robbery is detected, they’ll assume the $30,000 was part of the take. Joe gives him the key to his office and the safe’s combination.

The robbery goes smoothly, though Bert has to leave quickly when the night watchman makes his rounds. But Joe has set up a double cross and the police are waiting for Bert when he slides down the fire escape. Bert tries to run and leads the police on a car chase through the busy streets of the city. The police end up shooting him and Bert ends up crashing his car into a storefront.

In one of the more interesting shots in the film, an overhead one looking down at the men in their cells, we see Ann being led by a Prison Matron (Lucille Ward) to Bert’s cell. He’s in bandages. Ann tells him what Joe had done. She tells Bert that she loves him and that no matter what happens, she’ll wait for him. Hearing that brightens Bert’s spirits.

And then the movie abruptly ends.

The film was released on November 14, 1931, and was by all accounts successful at the box office. Critics seemed to like it for the most part, with Mordaunt Hall at the New York Times calling it “lively and cleverly acted.” Variety noted “Everything depends on the dialog and playing - both come through satisfactorily. “While satisfactorily doesn’t sound like high praise, the review added “Cagney and Blondell make a natural pair.”

While some critics felt the final scene with Blondell and Cagney seemed to have been tacked on to give the film a moral ending, but my complaint is that the film ends before it feels resolved. Our hero is about to go to jail, that seems a certainty, but Bert has been able to talk his way out of pretty much any predicament so one has to wonder. It is as if the film hit its time limit and just stopped.

Cagney gives the same performance he gave through much of the early thirties, solid despite the flimsy storylines his characters sometimes existed in. So many of his early Warner Bros. films seem like they’re in a dash from start to finish and this one seems to be no exception. You get the impression Cagney isn’t acting so much as he is running for the finish line.

Joan Blondell was simply awesome to watch. She is one of those actresses that you can’t take your eyes off of. Cute, funny and vivacious, Blondell doesn’t seem like she can do any wrong in her early films with Cagney. Together, Cagney and Blondell are as much a natural pair back then as they are now.

Joan Blondell as about as nude as you can be in mainstream films of the 1930s.

A couple of notes about the other actors. Ray Milland was fairly new to America when he appeared in Blonde Crazy. A British actor, he had appeared in films in his home country before moving to Hollywood in 1930. He was still playing bit parts at the time, when he was cast in Blonde Crazy. His role, though brief, reminded me of his role as Tony Wendice in Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954). There too he is conniving.

Noel Francis also came to Hollywood at the beginning of the sound era. A Texan, she was originally hired for her singing and dancing abilities, but drifted into tough girl roles when musicals fell out of favor. She had appeared with Cagney once before in Smart Money (1931), but her career would stall and she would be out of pictures by the end of 1937. Here she is suitably alluring, which is about all her role as Helen requires.

Noel Francis plays Helen, Dan's accomplice in crime.

While so many in this cast were relative newcomers to Hollywood, Louis Calhern was an old hand by then, having been in films since the early 1920s, successfully making the transition to sound. He is perhaps better remembered as Groucho’s foil in Duck Soup (1933) and one of the money men behind the heist, as well as Marilyn Monroe’s lover in The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Here he plays to the material and his Dan is a ruthless conman who does get his comeuppance.

Guy Kibbee seems to be playing against type here. We're used to seeing him cast as someone fatherly like Pop Greer opposite Cagney in The Crowd Roars or Pop Riley again with Cagney in Taxi! (1932) In Blonde Crazy, he’s a lecherous old man, putting the moves on Blondell’s Ann when she delivers towels to his room. He sort of gets what he deserves when Bert and Ann take him for $5000.

So, the acting is pretty good all-around and the dialogue is suitably snappy, though I quickly tired of the way Cagney pronounced “Honey” when talking to any of a number of women. I don’t blame Cagney as much as I would the script and the director. Another issue I have with the script is that for grifters, neither really commits much in the way of larceny. You can count the cons they commit on one hand and still have several fingers left over. Bert is more talk than action really and Ann isn’t too far behind.

Still, the film is definitely pre-code in its attitudes about drinking, crime and sex. Even though the U.S. was still knee deep in the Prohibition experiment, selling illegal hooch doesn’t really get more than a raised eyebrow. While Johnson is threatened with being arrest for transporting it, that is all part of the con that separates him from his money. Otherwise, it seems to be as natural as anything to be drinking.

Sex is also handled in a pre-code manner. While Ann turns down Bert’s advances, Peggy has no compulsion about taking her place in the hotel room Bert has confiscated. Bert also really checks out the ass of a woman dancing near his table, leering at the woman’s backside, even while he’s sitting with Ann. And there is Blondell’s bath scene. While we never actually see her naked body, the viewer’s imagination doesn’t have to work very hard to imagine her in that state. She is about as nude as any actress would get during the 1930s.

Cagney leers at woman's rear end as she dances next to his table in Blonde Crazy.

On crime, while Bert may be headed to the Big House at the end of the film, perhaps just desserts for a criminal life, Joe, who committed embezzlement, appears to get away with his crime. That’s not the production code way.

Even though I feel like the ending is somewhat jarring and some of the action seems unlikely and impractical, the film still has its moments. The last stretched out hand holding between Ann and Bert as she’s being escorted out of the room, but obviously doesn’t want to leave, stands out as a rather poignant one.

I would definitely recommend this film to anyone who is a fan of Cagney’s and/or Blondell’s. These two deliver what you expect them to. You will not be disappointed if that’s why you should choose to watch. Far from a great film, Blonde Crazy is entertaining enough and there is so much packed into the story that there is really never a dull moment.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Stubs - The Mad Miss Manton

The Mad Miss Manton (1938) Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Sam Levene. Directed by Leigh Jason. Screenplay by Philip G. Epstein. Produced by P. J. Wolfson. Run Time: 80 Minutes. USA. Black and White. Screwball Comedy, Mystery

To begin with, if you’re a true-believer that fur is murder, then you should skip this film and this review. The film takes place at a time when that was not the concept and rich women, which this film is also full of, wore fur coats as part of their regular wardrobe. You can’t revisionist a movie, so the furs are there for all to see. So, last chance if you’re going to be bothered.

Okay, you’ve been warned!

By the late 1930s, Barbara Stanwyck was already a big star, having appeared in Night Nurse (1931), Baby Face (1933) and Stella Dallas (1937). But she was not RKO's first choice to play the lead in the film. They originally wanted Irene Dunne or Kathrine Hepburn. The latter turned it down, having only recently appearing in another Screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby (1938), a film that didn’t really do all that well at the box office and wasn’t anxious to make another one. Stanwyck, who had a non-exclusive deal with RKO, was already on suspension there and made the film to fulfill her requirements.

Henry Fonda, a stage actor, had only been in films since 1935’s The Farmer Takes a Wife. Up until now, his best-known film may have been Jezebel (1938), in which he played opposite Bette Davis. At this point in his career, his best-known films were still in front of him. RKO got Fonda on loan from Walter Wagner, the producer he was under contract to in Hollywood.

With a screenplay by Philip G. Epstein, who would later co-write Casablanca (1942), the film went into production on July 8, 1938, and be completed on August 17. The exterior New York scenes were shot at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, CA, which meant the women would be running around in furs in 100-degree temperatures.

The first time we meet Melsa Manton (Barbara Stanwyck) is when she gets home at three in the morning. The doorman for her building is waiting for her with her dogs that she wants to take for a walk. While they’re near a Subway construction site, Manton hears the door on a townhouse nearby and sees someone she knows, Ronnie Belden (William Corson), running towards a car and speeding away.

Melsa knows the house and curious as to what Ronnie was running from, Melsa ties up her dogs and goes up the stairs to investigate for herself. The lights are out and there doesn’t seem to be anyone inside. On the floor, she finds a diamond pendant, which she picks up and puts in the pocket of the cloak she’s wearing. In an inner room, she finds the body of George Lane, one of the owners, lying on the floor.

Still in her costume. Melsa Manton (Barbara Stanwyck) brings the police to the crime scene.

Frightened, she runs from the room, but her cloak gets caught in the door. She struggles but decides to leave it. Underneath, it is revealed she’s wearing a Bo-peep sort of costume, left over from the party she had attended earlier. Running down to a call box, she summons the police. Led by 
Lieutenant Mike Brent (Sam Levene), the police arrive, but don’t believe her at first; Melsa has a reputation that precedes her. They follow her back to the building, but there is no cloak and no body.

Melsa is part of a group of similar women, which The Morning Clarion dubs "Park Avenue Pranksters”. The editor of the paper, Peter Ames (Henry Fonda), has no patience for their antics and the paper publishes an editorial referring to the events as a hoax and assailing the group for their antics, feeling there is no place for them during the Depression. When she enters Peter’s office, she slaps the first man she sees, Peter’s Secretary (Vinton Hayworth), before asking if he’s Peter. When he answers “No” she slaps Peter, who slaps her back, “To complete the circle.” But Melsa is not through as Mr. Spengler, the Process Server (Irving Bacon), serves notice that she is filing a $1 million libel lawsuit against him and the paper.

Melsa and her fur-wearing band of Pranksters.

That evening, much to the chagrin of her maid Hilda (Hattie McDaniels), Melsa brings together her seven society girlfriends, the members of the Pranksters: Helen Frayne (Frances Mercer), Dora Fenton (Catherine O'Quinn), Gloria Hamilton (Kay Sutton), Lee Wilson (Ann Evers), Pat James (Whitney Bourne), Myra Frost (Linda Terry) and Kit Beverly (Vicki Lester). All are fur-clad, which is sort of their uniform throughout the film.

They decide that in order to save their reputations, they have to help Melsa out and go to investigate the alleged crime scene. But as they’re leaving, they find Melsa’s cloak stabbed into the front door with a knife and a note of warning.

The girls search the crime scene before Peter shows up.

But the girls continue with their mission. At the scene of the crime, one of them thinks she finds something, which doesn’t turn out to be anything.

Helen Frayne: Look! I found a bloodstain!
Dora Fenton: How can that be blood, it's blue!
Gloria Hamilton: Maybe he shot Mrs. Astor.

Peter shows up there as well, but the Pranksters attack him, tying him up and putting a gag in his mouth before they leave him there.

Next, the group goes to Ronnie Belden’s. But once again, there doesn’t seem to be anyone home. Melsa does recover the jeweled broach and they find a match for the knife in Melsa’s door in Ronnie’s kitchen, leading them to suspect he is behind the murder. They decide to leave, but Pat, who is hungry, refuses to go until she finds something to eat. She’s already cut the bread she intends to use and when she goes to the icebox she doesn’t find food, but rather Belden’s body, which has been stuffed in there.

They take Ronnie Belden's body out of the icebox and to Peter's couch.

To prove her point, Melsa and her gang take Belden’s body back to Peter’s office, where they leave it. Lt. Brent interrogates her about the body at the Clarion, that is until Peter calls her attorney. But during interrogation, Melsa admits to having the broach, a detail that Brent doesn’t let pass. As soon as she and her cohorts are outside the Clarion, he arrests her for their possession. He plans to take her downtown using Ronnie’s car and tells her to sit in the rumble seat. That’s where they discover George Lane’s body, which has been stuffed in there.

Peter Ames (Henry Fonda) and Lieutenant Mike Brent (Sam Levene) are outplayed by Melsa.

George was supposedly out of town for the past week. His wife is, of course, a suspect, but no one has seen her since the day of the murder. The Pranksters decide to descend on the charity ball the new widow is also co-sponsoring, as do Brent and Peter. The latter even goes to Melsa’s apartment with hopes of accompanying her. He insists on going in, even after Hilda follows her boss’ instructions and dumps a vase of water on him. But Melsa is adamant about going with her own date.

Hilda (Hattie McDaniels) follows orders and throws water into Peter's face.

But at the party, she sees Brent and Peter talking and tries her best to nonchalantly eavesdrop as they discuss Lane’s life insurance policy. To confuse things, his wife Sheila is not the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, his business partner Mr. Thomas is and the latter is going broke.

Melsa decides to investigate further, so she grabs fellow prankster Helen and sneaks over to Lane's brokerage firm. But Peter is already there and he’s brought with him a professional safecracker. In the company safe, they find incriminating papers about Sheila's first husband, criminal Eddie Norris (Stanley Ridges), who then shows up with a gun. Peter manages to overwhelm Eddie and the police take him into custody.

But Eddie’s girlfriend, Frances Glesk (Penny Singleton), comes to see Melsa and tells her that Eddie loves her and provides him an alibi, even though she claims it’s also enough to get him convicted. They were at a hockey game together at Madison Square Garden on the night of the Lane murder and were only separated for a ten-minute intermission, which she fears would be construed as enough time to have committed the murder of George Lane. The Pranksters agree to help, but before they can leave, Peter comes over to celebrate. He’s gotten a raise of $25 for catching a murderer and wants to share his new bounty with Melsa. When Frances tries to confront Peter, Melsa intercepts and introduces her as Doris’ out of town cousin.

Melsa does her best to get Peter out of the apartment, but no sooner has the door closed behind him then he comes back inside to use the phone. He calls to talk to Lt. Brent having figured out that Frances is not a cousin. But the girls unplug the phone and then gang up on him. They knock him down and then tie him up in Melsa’s bed. Before they leave, Melsa takes his pants.

For a second time, Peter gets tied up by Melsa and her friends.

The Pranksters then try to see if it’s possible to get from the Madison Square Garden to Lane’s townhouse. They try all available means of transportation, but cannot make it back and forth in under ten minutes.

Melsa, as a way of getting back at Peter, gives the story to a rival paper, the New York Star, whose editor (Paul Everton) offers her a job as a reporter if she ever wants one. But Melsa is in a hurry to get down to the District Attorney’s office to stop the injustice she sees is about to happen.

When she gets there, Eddie is already inside, but the District Attorney’s secretary (Grady Sutton) refuses to let her in. She manages, unbeknownst to him, to pin a copy of the Star’s front page to the back of his suit jacket, so when he goes in to deliver a file, Brent notices the paper, while Eddie tells them that he’s gone straight after getting out of prison and is working on the new subway project.

Melsa goes to the DA's office with evidence she thinks will free Eddie. The DA (Robert
Middlemass) does not look amused. Neither does his secretary (Grady Sutton).

Peter is not as upset about the disruption as the District Attorney (Robert Middlemass) or Brent only that she gave it to a rival paper and could cost him his job. But as much as Peter might be upset with her, he realizes that he’s in love with her as well.

Three of the Pranksters wait for their marching orders from Melsa.

Next Melsa brings together her Pranksters to search for Sheila Lane, who hasn’t been seen since her husband’s murder. They have already determined that Sheila uses a particular hair color to maintain her red hair, so they fan out to look for her; find the hair color and you’ll find the woman. The meeting is broken up when Hilda comes in to turn down Melsa’s bed for the night. But while she’s preparing the bed, the phone rings and Bat Regan (Paul Guilfoyle) tells Hilda to tell Melsa to stop her investigation.

Hilda calls the Clarion to tell Peter what happened and even though his publisher is telling him his place is behind his desk, Peter rushes over to Melsa’s. Even though she doesn’t want him to, he decides to stay the night to watch her. He tries to give Hilda a gun, but she runs off.

Melsa makes smoking in bed look glamorous.

While she’s lying in bed, Melsa asks for a cigarette and she and Peter talk about his past love when he was five and their shared fear of heights. He confesses to her that he’s worried about her and they come back to their impasse when he asks who is threatening her. She tries to kick him out when one of the Pranksters call, having found Sheila, who is staying at the Hotel Ashton under the name Sharon Lester. She tries to go meet her down on the street, but Peter follows her down, telling her not to go out before the police arrive. Just as they exit onto the sidewalk, Lt. Brent arrives. But that doesn’t stop Bat from taking pot shots at her from a moving car, though Peter is the one who gets shot. Brent returns fire, killing the driver and crashing the car. Bat is arrested. They find money that Bat threw out of the car, money he got from Lane. He claims it was won gambling, but Brent suspects it was blackmail.

Peter is hospitalized, though his condition is not considered life-threatening. In fact, he is given a steak dinner while he’s in bed. Melsa comes to visit him and Brent tells him to play up his condition in hopes of getting more information out of her. Brent hides the tray with the steak under the bed and Peter does his best to sound like he’s on death’s door.

Peter pretends to be dying so he and Brent can get information from her.

Melsa, at first, falls for it, telling them Bat took a shot at her because they were looking for Sheila Lane. She tells Brent where Sheila is staying and her aka. Brent runs out to call for backup. Only when Melsa sits down does she see the tray of food under the bed. She then picks up the fork from the plate and pretends that there is more that she didn’t tell Brent.

Melsa Manton: Remember when I went into Ronnie Beldon's apartment?
Peter Ames: Yes dear.
Melsa Manton: When I went into the bathroom, I found something.
Peter Ames: In the bathroom?
Melsa Manton: Yes, floating around in a foot of water in the bathtub.
Peter Ames: Louder, dear, I can hardly hear you.
Melsa Manton: [ominously] I'll come closer.
Peter Ames: Tell me dear, what was it?
Melsa Manton: [yelling] The Normandie, you black-hearted faker, in full sail!

She then stabs him in the leg with the fork.

At police headquarters, Brent interrogates Sheila Lane. She tells him that she turned to Bat, a man she had worked for and he gave her money and put her up. She admits to having an affair with Ronnie, which kept him from going to the police when he found the body. She had gone there, too, which is why her brooch was there. Ronnie must have taken the body while Melsa was calling the police, but he was killed before he could dispose of it. Brent accuses Sheila of helping Ronnie kill her husband and then killing him.

After Sheila is taken to jail, Brent calls Melsa and Peter into his office with a proposition. Brent will release Sheila from custody if Melsa will agree to be a decoy. They’ll plant a story about her finding new evidence hoping it would bring out the real killer. Peter would be with her in public and there would be police around. She reluctantly agrees. We watch as all of the suspects read the paper.

Peter takes Melsa to a restaurant where the police are undercover.

They go out to an Argentinian-themed restaurant. There is a heavy police presence, including the doorman, the waiter and a couple of the musicians in the club’s band. They dance, with Peter holding her too close at first and then her holding onto him for protection. Despite the police, a gun sticks out between some curtains and a shot is fired at their table. No one is hit and the assailant escapes. The only evidence left behind is a piece of tar paper, which Melsa recognizes. Excusing herself, she calls for the Pranksters to meet in her apartment and then escapes through a window.

The waiter is also an undercover police officer.

Instead of going home, Melsa goes back to the subway construction site, where there are rolls of tar paper. She ventures down inside where she sees a man who appears to be holding a gun. But the gun turns out to be his pipe and the man turns out to be the Subway Watchmen (John Qualen). She bluffs that she’s a stockholder. She asks him about an electric handcar on the track and he admits that it could go to Madison Square Garden in ten minutes.

Turns out Eddie (Stanley Ridges) isn't as innocent as Melsa thought.

When she gets back to her apartment, Eddie is waiting for her and pushes his way into her apartment. He tries to convince her not to be frightened. She tries to pretend she’s not and that she likes him and that he helped her girlfriend Frances. But Eddie says Frances is only a friend and that the only woman he really ever loved was Sheila. He recalls how he would think about her while he was in prison, but he was still happy she had married well. But he heard that Lane used to beat her and that he wanted to kill him as a result. Ronnie had seen him, so Eddie had to kill him too. He then tells her that he’ll have to kill her.

Lt. Brent and the Pranksters are there to stop Eddie from leaving.

The phone rings and he lets her answer so Hilda won’t come in. It’s Peter calling to check on her. After the call, Eddie tries to escort her out when Peter comes in, wanting to hear her say she loves him again. Peter doesn’t know what’s going on until she fills him in. He takes them both hostage, but down in the lobby, Brent and his men are waiting for them. At that moment, the Pranksters arrive in force. There is a standoff, but a police sharpshooter guns Eddie down.

Peter and Melsa arrange to get married right away, which has Brent calling for bicarbonate of soda.
Released on October 21, 1938, the film was not a huge success by major studio standards of the day, 
though it did make a profit of $88,000.

The idea of mixing comedy and mystery had been around since 1930's Ghost Parade and was pretty well-established by The Thin Man (1934) and its subsequent sequels, so this film wasn’t really breaking new ground. That doesn’t mean that it is not funny on its own.

A lot of the credit for the success of The Mad Miss Manton has to go to Julius Epstein’s screenplay, which is filled with a lot of very clever lines of dialogue and keeps the atmosphere very light throughout, even during what might be darker moments in a more serious take. There are moments when a little bit of the time in which the film was made comes through. While no one mentions Nazis, which were already in control in Germany, there are a couple of references to communism and not in a good way.

Plot points come along as fast as the dialogue with characters being introduced and sometimes discarded at a lightning pace. There is a lot to keep track of so the film does demand the viewer to pay attention.

One of the actresses with some of the better lines was Hattie McDaniel’s Hilda. Say what you may about racism during the 1930s, Hilda was free to speak her mind to her boss, Melsa. They had a very interesting relationship, part maid, part mother, part confidant, you get the impression that there wasn’t anything Hilda wouldn’t do for Melsa if asked, even throwing water on Peter when he comes calling. McDaniel was a prominent black actress of the time, even though they were mostly subservient roles to white bosses. She would be the first Black actress to win an acting Academy Award for her role as Mammy in Gone with The Wind (1939).

The leads, Stanwyck and Fonda, are both very good in their roles; in fact, it is hard to think of any films that either was bad in, though not every film either was in would be considered great or a classic. They seem to have a fairly good chemistry, though they would only make two more films together, The Lady Eve (1941) and You Belong to Me (1941), which were both romantic comedies, though The Lady Eve, like The Mad Miss Manton, was also a Screwball comedy.

Stanwyck and her Pranksters were modern women, in that they seemed to call their own shots. Oh, there were men around, but these women were not controlled by them. They do have the wealth to maintain themselves. There is a certain hive mentality at work, but they seem to be looking for a good time on their own terms. Stanwyck is a true star and vivacious on the screen. You want to watch her and it is like she wants you watching as well.

Fonda’s character is a little more generic. A young man on the rise, a newspaper editor who, at the beginning at least, seems a little idealized. He finds the Pranksters, given the state of the world around them, to be quite frivolous. Even falling in love doesn’t change his attitude, though, in the end, he seems to be willing to drop his worldview for love and her money.

Another actor that always seems to give a good performance and does here as well is Sam Levene who plays Lt. Brent, the often-frustrated detective investigating the murders. While Brent is always jumping to the wrong conclusions, Levene does so with a certain comedic flair. Levene who split his time between Broadway and Hollywood appeared in such films as Golden Boy (1939); Shadow of the Thin Man (1941); The Killers (1946); Brute Force (1947); Crossfire (1947) and ...And Justice for All (1979).

Eyes of a killer. 

I would be remiss in not mentioning Stanley Ridges, who plays Eddie Norris. He is a true psychotic, who loves to kill but still feels a little odd about the thought of killing Melsa, though he has every intention of doing it. Not the sort of character you see so well-defined in a comedy.

The Mad Miss Manton reminded me of another Stanwyck film, Witness to Murder (1954). In this film, Stanwyck plays a shop girl, or rather woman, who looks out her apartment window one night and sees a neighbor Albert Richter (George Sanders) kill a woman. Like Mad Miss Manton, when the police arrive, there is no body and no one believes her. She does find an ally in Police Lt. Lawrence Mathews (Gary Merrill). While romance is not so assured, the murderer is eventually captured. But rather than a comedic touch, the film takes a much more serious look at its subject matter.

The Mad Miss Manton is not a well-known film, but it is one that should you have a chance to watch it, you should take it. Like all screwball comedies, you have to be prepared for the dialogue to come fast, but your attention will be rewarded.