Wednesday 13 March 2024

The Bribe (1949)

Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Writer: Marguerite Roberts, based on the short story by Frederick Nebel
Stars: Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price and John Hodiak

Index: The First Thirty.

Here’s another Vincent Price movie that I’d never even heard of, though it turns out that I have seen parts of it, in Steve Martin’s comedy nod to film noir, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. He takes his name of Rigby from this film and the whole Friends and Enemies of Carlotta angle is taken from its location, Carlotta being a town on the Central American island of Los Trancos.

Of course, this is the original and it wants to be taken seriously, a little too much if Rigby’s got anything to say about it. That’s Rigby the American cop, in the form of Robert Taylor, who’s sent to Carlotta to find out who’s behind a war surplus racket.

Apparently someone’s buying lots of scrap, but someone’s including good airplane motors in the shipments, which are then shipped out of the country, where they’re conditioned and sold. That’s millions of dollars in profit, none of it taxed, and if there’s anything that’s more un-American than taking money from Uncle Sam, I don’t know what it is.

There are only two suspects, so Rigby looks at them first when he gets to Carlotta in the guise of a fisherman. Apparently, nobody goes to Carlotta except to fish. Or to steal airplane engines, of course. They’re a married couple, Tugwell and Elizabeth Hintten. Tug flew down with the airline, but lost his job so now tends bar at Pedro’s and drinks himself into a stupor on his day off. Liz sings there and well too, but we only get a couple of songs. Tug is played by John Hodiak, Liz by Ava Gardner.

Monday 11 March 2024

The Three Musketeers (1948)

Director: George Sidney
Writer: Robert Ardrey, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas
Stars: Lana Turner, Gene Kelly, June Allyson, Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury, Frank Morgan, Vincent Price, Keenan Wynn and John Sutton

Index: The First Thirty.

For a beloved family classic, there’s an awful lot wrong with this famous take on The Three Musketeers, now only the seventh result for the famous title on IMDb, but the fifteenth made at that time. However, it won me over again in the end, as it does each time. I’m embarrassed early on but it leaves me smiling by the end.

The Three Musketeers this time out—Athos, Porthos and Aramis, as always—are played by Van Heflin, Gig Young and Robert Coote, who make for a jolly lot of honourable scoundrels, Heflin in particular bringing substance to his role and not only in the sense of alcohol.

The new fish, D’Artagnan, who trawls them into a rash of adventures, is Gene Kelly, utterly sure that he’s in a musical even though writer Robert Ardrey and director George Sidney had no such ambition. He overdoes everything as a living cartoon and I never bought his comedy, but the balance and energy he has as a dancer does lend itself to magnificent swordfights.

On his first day in Paris, he manages to find his way into a duel with all three of the above musketeers on the very same day, but the first turns into a rout of Richelieu’s men, who show up to arrest them. Given a string of ambitious leaps, I wondered if he was aiming at Douglas Fairbanks Sr. more than Errol Flynn, but then I realised that his ability to turn anything into a prop meant that he was aiming at Jackie Chan, merely thirty-five years too early.

Thursday 7 March 2024

Rogues' Regiment (1948)

Director: Robert Florey
Writer: Robert Buckner, based on a story by Robert Buckner and Robert Florey
Stars: Dick Powell, Marta Toren, Vincent Price and Stephen McNally

Index: The First Thirty.

Back to regularly scheduled programming, Price’s next film proper after Up in Central Park is a picture that tries to be every different film genre all at once. It doesn’t work, which might explain why this is criminally underseen and unavailable outside the grey market, but it is a particularly fascinating attempt.

As the opening credits roll, it’s obviously a French Foreign Legion movie, which is backed up by those very words showing up under the title on the movie’s poster. And it is, but not in the usual way. This is a far cry from Beau Geste.

For a start, the very next scenes involve the burning of the bodies of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun outside their bunker in Berlin in 1945. It might seem historical to us but it was notably topical for 1948, being only three years on. It’s only two years after the Nuremberg Trials, our next stop, to watch in archive footage, the fate of the leading Nazis to survive the war. One, however, also sentenced to death, isn’t there.

Monday 4 March 2024

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Directors: Charles Barton and Walter Lantz
Writers: Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo and John Grant
Stars: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange and Lenore Aubert

Index: The First Thirty.

While it took Vincent Price sixteen films to land top billing, achieving it with Shock, and he was very much a supporting actor throughout the rest of his First Thirty, his profile was such that his name made it onto every single poster for every single feature he was in from Service de Luxe to Up in Central Park. That remarkable streak, comprising his first twenty-one films, is ended here, as he’s given less to do in this one than in any other thus far and possibly in his entire career.

That’s because he’s basically just a sight gag in the last minute of the film, delivering a pair of lines and some maniacal laughter to serve as the final punchline to the original Universal comedy horror flick. Let me set the scene.

Abbott and Costello have survived the film, thinking back on what they just went through. While Lou saw everything, his partner didn’t, consistently so for comedic effect, and so he’s adamant to get that across now they’re safe.

“The next time that I tell you that I saw something when I saw it, you believe me that I saw it,” Lou spits out in his infamously thick Brooklyn accent.

Bud is dismissive. “Oh relax. Now that we’ve seen the last of Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Monster, there’s nobody to frighten us any more.”

Friday 1 March 2024

Up in Central Park (1948)

Director: William A. Seiter
Writer: Karl Tunberg, based on the musical by Herbert Fields, Dorothy Fields and Sigmund Romberg
Stars: Deanna Durbin, Dick Haymes and Vincent Price

Index: The First Thirty.

Four words are needed to set you up for Up in Central Park and not all of them are obvious from the poster. Sure, it’s a romantic musical, as you’d expect. It’s also a comedy, or at least it’s supposed to be, and that’s there too. The fourth word needed, though, is “politics”.

You see, this is a fictional story set against the backdrop of a very real political era, that of the dominance of Tammany Hall in 1870s New York. Vincent Price is notorious William Tweed, whom everyone calls “Bill” or “Boss”, depending on whether they’re in his favour or not. And, just in case a word like “notorious” wasn’t enough, here’s a little history lesson.

Back when the Republicans were liberal and the Democrats were conservative, there was a Democrat named William Tweed, who owned New York, not literally, as he was merely third in the ranks of landowners, but through his influence and control. He sat on the boards of railroads, banks, utilities, mines, newspapers, even the Brooklyn Bridge Company. He was a state senator in New York and a congressman in Washington. He orchestrated elections and controlled finances, to the degree that, by the time he was convicted of corruption and sent to jail for life, he had extracted the equivalent of $5 billion in today’s money from the city.