Action Adventure movies


REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


SUBMARINE Jack Holt

SUBMARINE. Columbia, 1928. Silent film with sound effects. Jack Holt, Dorothy Revier, Ralph Graves, Clarence Burton, Arthur Rankin. Director: Frank Capra. Shown at Cinefest 26, Syracuse NY, March 2006.

   Ace deep-sea diver Jack Dorgan (Jack Holt) marries a woman he meets at a dancehall (Bessie, played by Dorothy Revier). When he’s called to work, Bessie, bored, goes out and meets Bob Mason (Ralph Graves), who, unknown to her, is Jack’s best friend.

   Jack returns unexpectedly, finds the two together and throws Bob out of the house. When Bob is trapped in a sunken submarine, Jack, the only diver who might be able to reach the sub, sulks at home, unwilling to help the man who betrayed his friendship. A chance discovery reveals Bessie’s duplicity and Jack races to the rescue of the crew.

SUBMARINE Jack Holt

   According to the program notes, this was Columbia’s first “A” picture, and Capra was brought on after Harry Cohn fired the original director. Capra obtains the assistance of the Navy, shooting on location in San Pedro with 100 Navy seamen as extras.

   The last third of the film keeps cutting from the trapped seamen to the rescue attempt, with the tension building until the final minutes of the film. Capra’s skill with actors makes the shopworn triangle believable and Holt, one of my two favorite actors when I was a kid (the other was Buck Jones), is every boy’s idea of a resourceful hero.

   Graves, hardly remembered today, is almost as good as Holt, and Revier is perfect as the girl you love to hate.

SUBMARINE Jack Holt

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


NORTH WEST FRONTIER

NORTH WEST FRONTIER. The Rank Organisation, UK, 1959. US title: Flame Over India. Kenneth More, Lauren Bacall, Herbert Lom, Wilfrid Hyde-White, I. S. Johar, Ian Hunter. Directed by J. Lee Thompson.

   Set your movie on a train and you already have my attention. Make one of the classic action films of all time with a first rate cast and superb tension from an expert at directing action and suspense (Cape Fear, The Guns of Navarone) *, and you have a first rate film shot in gorgeous color and on location.

   Kenneth More is a British officer in command of a small troop of Sikhs in an isolated kingdom on India’s rugged outlaw ridden northwest frontier. A rebellion has broken out against the local Maharajah, and the British consul (Ian Hunter) wants More to get a group of Europeans trapped in the palace out safely — and along with them, the Maharajah’s young son and his American tutor (Lauren Bacall).

   Among the European’s are a Dutch journalist with Indian blood (Lom), a garrulous older man (Hyde-White), a gun runner, and a redoubtable older Englishwoman. Their only means of escape an aging train engine, her Indian driver (I. S. Johar), one coal car, a flat car, and a passenger car.

   Film goers used to today’s frenetically paced films will find the fact this one bothers to stop to develop character, build an intriguing relationship between professional soldier More and doubting American Bacall, and establish the other characters as well, a bit slow, but even they will be impressed by the action sequences beginning with the breakout from the surrounded palace in the train and including running gun fights, a perilously damaged bridge across a precipitous gorge, and a final full out assault by hordes of tribesmen on horseback while a traitor in their midst pins the passengers and soldiers down with a .50 caliber machine gun he has taken over.

   More and Bacall have real spark together, Lom provides both menace and depth, and Hyde White is his usual charming self, but the real surprise of the film is Johar, who takes what could be a stereotyped local and gives him both real courage, strength, determination, and character. Both he, and through him the aging train engine he loves, become compelling characters in the film.

NORTH WEST FRONTIER

   He takes what could be an embarrassing and potentially racist stereotype and gives him dignity and humanity.

   The film isn’t an old fashioned paean to the Raj though, in the Gunga Din or Lives of the Bengal Lancers tradition. It asks questions, and while it is unstinting in its admiration for More’s professional soldier, it, and Bacall’s character, bring up the question of what right he or the British Empire has there. And More is no superman, but a tough wry professional, limited perhaps in his devotion to his duty, but also human, canny, good humored, and courageous.

   This is a stunningly photographed film with an intelligent script and a real sense of the time and the place.

   One scene in particular in a crowded engine room while a rickety and dangerously open donkey engine runs the pumps to water the train’s engine while Lom is left alone with the prince is splendidly shot and guaranteed to get you on the edge of your seat.

NORTH WEST FRONTIER

   Within the confines of an action packed thriller it takes on questions of race, fanaticism, duty, freedom, and individual courage without ever faltering in the line of suspense and action or brushing the questions it asks off with simple answers.

   In relation to what has been happening in the Middle East in recent years it may be as pertinent as ever.

   Granted, despite the best efforts of all concerned there isn’t a lot of doubt who the villain proves to be, but that said, he is given both dignity and depth. You may be pulling for him to fail and cheering for the heroes to escape, but you can’t ignore his points or his own plight. All the major characters are presented as real humans rising or failing to rise in a crisis, not as mere plot points.

   And the film manages to end on a nice note of irony — a recognition that an era was coming to an end and a new world being born. It’s the perfect coda to a first class adventure film and a fine study of people caught in desperate circumstances and showing grace under pressure.

    * Sadly Thompson did not live up to his early films and ended up hacking out some tired and unimpressive Charles Bronson films late in his career.

NORTH WEST FRONTIER

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


REACHER Tom Cruise

JACK REACHER. Paramount Pictures, 2013. Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall, David Oyelowo. Based on the novel One Shot by Lee Child. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie (also screenplay).

   “There’s this guy, he doesn’t care about law, he doesn’t care about proof. He cares about what’s right. He knows what I did. He knows where I am. And this guy, he made me a promise, if I ever got in trouble he’d be there.”

   Who was that masked man?

   Actually he’s Jack Reacher, hero of a series of books by British television writer Lee Child, a cross between Travis McGee, Mike Hammer, and. yes, the Lone Ranger. Here he’s played by super star Tom Cruise. Reacher really isn’t a hero, he’s a sociopath gone off the grid out of paranoia and what fits every definition of schizo effective disorder ever penned, whose tarnished armor should be replaced by a strait jacket.

   Unlike both McGee and Hammer Reacher has no self recognition, no dark nights of the soul when he questions himself or his motives. He’s a sociopath incapable of examining his own motives, actions, or morality. Showtime’s Dexter is better balanced and he’s a serial killer.

   Confession time before I go any farther. I find the Reacher books appallingly written, inauthentic, badly researched, and universally stupid. I don’t like them much either. Child is the type writer who thinks he sounds like an American if he uses “guy” twenty to thirty times on the same page.

   He makes huge gaping mistakes like putting a military base in Dallas (save for the Naval Air Station, Dallas never had a base — ever — not at all — not even in WW II), and going on for an entire book about how ineffective a .38 caliber gun is and then praising the 9mm automatic. The .38 and the 9mm are damn near the same thing (9 mm is .35 inches — you would think a Brit would know the metric system), he also seems ignorant of the fact that the .38 revolver is one of the most efficient hand guns ever made.

   If he thinks getting shot by a .38 is nothing he should recall what a .22 did to President Reagan. In another book the Secret Service hires him to stalk the Vice President like a real assassin — this despite the fact he is homeless loner living off the grid. No trouble buying that plot. These things add up over time.

   I’m not a gun nut, and better writers than Child have made such mistakes (Ian Fleming for one), but they don’t rant for three hundred pages about it, and they didn’t have the Internet at their fingertips.

REACHER Tom Cruise

   This is symptomatic of the problems I have with Child and the movie made from his book. There is nothing original, nothing new, nothing period. This isn’t up to the level of the generic paperback series of my youth or the later Men’s Action series.

   I promise you Mack Bolan knew what gun he was using whether he knew syntax or not. This isn’t as good as run of the mill series television from that era either. The plot pretty much is run of the mill television.

   In addition Reacher is a huge pain in the ass, always right, always the smartest, toughest, most ‘perfectest’ hero in the game. He’s so perfect he gives me dyspepsia. Casting Tom Cruise in the role didn’t help things much, humility is not one of his stronger acting skills.

   Confession Part deux, I’m no Cruise fan. I particularly don’t like him when he tries to play a flawless hero, but he can be great when he either laughs at himself (Knight and Day) or allows his hero to be human.

   He’s much better in films like the Mission Impossible series (his character in these films differs from Reacher in that he is usually fighting great odds with his life or that of his loved ones at stake), Minority Report, Risky Business, Rain Man, or Born on the Fourth of July playing fallible humans often battling huge odds, heroes struggling to reclaim their lives, or men struggling with difficult moral problems with a flawed character.

At least in Top Gun his character had something to be arrogant about in a profession that calls for more than a little over confidence, and it was only a little exaggerated about what personalities make great fighter pilots.

   As Jack Reacher he doesn’t make the ‘guy’ heroic or iconic, he plays him as a horses rear, a rude creepy loner who has watched too many James Dean movies without noticing the humanity under Dean’s cool. You’ll be excused if you root for the villain.

   At the point where the great Robert Duvall comes in as a colorful aging gun dealer playing Tonto to Reacher’s Lone Ranger in a terribly written role, the patter between the two actors will make you remember the Bowery Boys fondly. God awful is the only description I can give of it. I hope at least Duvall got a bundle for it. Something good should come from this movie.

   Joe Kraemer’s score did win an award and the trailer was great, but the movie, not so much. It had a great opening weekend in theaters, but in the end didn’t bring in that much more than it cost ($20 million is not considered a profit in Hollywood these days, not the way they calculate it), so audiences do have taste and word of mouth lives.

   The plot is incredibly cliched, obvious, and plain silly. The screenplay and book were apparently written by Marconi, because every twist and turn is telegraphed with the subtly of a hammer on an anvil.

   Former army sniper James Barr (Joseph Siroka) stands accused of a killing spree and calls on Reacher, a former MP who once proved Barr murdered four people in Afghanistan but couldn’t nail him because the army needed a hero. Reacher would be perfectly happy to see Barr dead, but he agrees to work with Barr’s lawyer Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) who just happens to be the prosecutor’s daughter and has daddy issues.

REACHER Tom Cruise

   She and Reacher semi flirt, but it is so lead footed there is never any question of them getting together. Pike is attractive, and shows a bit of cleavage, but it’s not enough to keep you sitting through this. She does what she can with nothing much to work with. A better movie would have dropped Reacher and focused on her more interesting character, but then you have to explain the title.

   David Oyelowo isn’t bad as the assassin Reacher battles, but he has nothing to work with. Maybe in a later movie we’ll see what he can do. Werner Herzog does creepy great, but it’s too little too late.

   Reacher is of course devastating with women, and a devastating wit. as this little exchange will show.

            Girl (Alea Fast): Mind if I share your table, I’m Sandy.

            Reacher: “So was I last week at the beach.

   What Shavian wit. James Bond will have to retire his Bond mots. How can you top wit like that? I don’t know how Cruise delivered the line without laughing — or crying. That is pitifully bad, but then most of this film is.

   John Gardner, the American one, wrote in an essay about what he called Dis-Pollyanna, an unearned cynical pose assumed by people with no life experience to base that cynicism on. That’s Child. It’s second hand life picked up from books, television, and movies not experience. It’s imitative of people who earned that voice like his models John D. MacDonald and Mickey Spillane, but theirs was real coming from their lives. Child’s is coming from episodes of Magnum P.I. (but not as well written or directed, much less acted). Peter Cheyney’s Lemmie Caution was more authentic, and Lemmie was at least funny. Reacher is just depressing.

REACHER Tom Cruise

   I won’t give away the plot save to say it is incredibly hackneyed, a plot device so old Street and Smith would have hesitated to put Nick Carter through it in the Nickel Library. Worse still, it is ineptly done. The second hand action scenes have been done better on television and the car chases were better choreographed on Rockford Files and Mannix.

   There is one line that defines the film perfectly: “It’s grassy knoll ridiculous.”

   As played by Tom Cruise in this disaster of a film Jack Reacher lacks the substance of corrugated cardboard.

   Reacher even puts down his gun when he has the bad guy dead to rights to fight him hand to hand when Helen Roden is still hostage to a man who has orchestrated countless murders.

   Didn’t these people learn anything from Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Who is he, Roy Rogers? No, I apologize to Roy, he never pulled a boner like that while there was a gun at Dale’s head.

   This cost me $1.20 to rent from a Redbox kiosk. I was cheated. Don’t you be, this was even worse than the last Die Hard movie, and that was one of the worst blockbusters of the year.

   Flat, cliched, obvious, poorly written, with no real action, drama, or characters to root for, this is a painfully bad movie with a plot they would have rejected for an episode of The Dukes of Hazard.

   And it is exactly the movie Jack Reacher and Lee Child deserved, but not their fans who deserve much more than this cynically made half-hearted effort at starting another franchise for Cruise. Nothing much happens in the film and what does happen is pretty inept.

   I can’t even recommend this as a good bad movie, it’s not enough fun to even laugh at.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME 1932

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. RKO Radio Pictures, 1932. Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Leslie Banks, Noble Johnson. Based on the story by Richard Connell. Directors: Irving Pichel & Ernest B. Schoedsack.

   I caught Danger: Diabolik a week or so ago and enjoyed it but wasn’t overwhelmed, despite all the talk about it being just like a comic book on film. If you want a movie that looks like a 60s comic book, try Deadlier Than the Male, with Richard Johnson as Bulldog Drummond battling Elke Sommer. Some real Batman-sty!e visuals here.

   Anyway, the extra features on the Diabolik DVD said a lot about making the movie look like a fumetti, which rang a bell, so I pulled out my tape of The Most Dangerous Game, and I have to say every frame looks like it was ripped from the cover of an old pulp magazine, dyed Black & White, and flung across the screen.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME 1932

   Splendid sets, atmospheric lighting, fast pace, and as I say, the constant lurid imagery. There’s a bit where Joel McCrae is in the dungeon freeing Faye Wray when a Chinese guy comes at them with a hatchet and McCrae turns and shoots him in one smooth motion. That image, of Wray in bondage, McCrae blasting away at the hatchet man amid the Gothic surroundings … well, it’s just one of thousands in this pulp-cover film.

   I also want to add a word about Leslie Banks as the villain. Brilliant. It would have easy to play Count Zaroff as just suave and sadistic, but Banks adds a subtle layer of Twit. His Zaroff boasts and preens and leers, but there’s a hint of insecurity in his shifty eyes, a nervousness in the mouth…

   It’s the same look one used to see on those pathetic and obviously chemical-dependent play-actor “sadists” in the old bondage films, or the face one saw on former President Bush when he talked about executions, and it adds a dimension to the part that goes way beyond its pulp-paper charms.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME 1932

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         

THE GOLDEN SALAMANDER. General Film Distributors, UK, 1950; Eagle-Lion Classics, US, 1951. Trevor Howard, Anouk (Aimée), Herbert Lom, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Walter Rilla, Miles Mallenson, Jacques Sernas, Peter Copely Screenplay: Ronald Neame, Leslie Storm & Victor Canning, based on the latter’s novel. Cinematography: Oswald Morris. Director: Ronald Neame.

THE GOLDEN SALAMANDER Victor  Canning

   “We are given eyes, but not without the wisdom to keep them shut.” : Aribe (Peter Copely) to archaeologist David Redfern (Trevor Howard).

   David Redfern is a British archaeologist sent to Tunis to recover Etruscan art treasures washed ashore years earlier in a storm, and now in the cellar of Serafis (Walter Rilla), a wealthy man who lives in the villa Ben Negro in the small village of Kabarta on the coast. For Redfern it promises to be a nice trip, an interesting job of cataloging and repacking the treasures, and a few weeks of sun and fishing in between.

   His arrival is none to promising though, in a driving rain storm and on a narrow rocky road, he runs into a rock-fall blocking the road. Nothing for it but to foot it to Kabarta in the driving rain and the cafe/inn where he has a reservation. But on the other side of the rock-fall he spies a wrecked lorry — and carrying a cargo of Browning automatic pistols. Gun runners.

   When he hears another lorry coming Redfern decides not to get involved and watches from a grove of cork trees near the road. Two men get out of the lorry, Herbert Lom, and Jacques Sernas. Redfern decides to stay out of it though. A little gun running is none of his business. He hikes to the cafe where he meets piano player Agno (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and the beautiful French expatriate owner, Anne Tabu (Anouk) to whom he is immediately attracted. It promises to be a good trip after all.

   The next day he meets Serafis (Walter Rilla), a charming type happy to be rid of the treasures he has been guarding, and Douvet (Miles Mallinson) the local police chief. He has almost forgotten the lorry and the guns until the two men come in the cafe — one Rankl (Lom) and the other Max (Sernas), Anne’s brother.

   There were many fine writers of adventure and suspense in the late forties and well into the eighties, names like Hammond Innes, later Gavin Lyall, Alan Williams, Alistair Maclean, but there was always something more to Canning, a weight, almost a gravity, to his grounded professional heroes, reluctant perhaps, but capable and when needed ruthless.

THE GOLDEN SALAMANDER Victor  Canning

   Though Canning’s novels became darker, especially about the security services, his capable and professional heroes only grew deeper. Even the hapless vicar in The Great Adventure turns out to be adept at crime and skullduggery. Eric Ambler and Graham Greene’s trapped and often foolish heroes weren’t for him. A Canning hero is always a professional man, engineer, archaeologist, reporter, ships captain, private detective, spy …

   And perhaps because Canning began as a novelist rather than a thriller writer his books had something more, an indefinable quality that you could distinguish in only a few pages. His books were vivid and cinematic, but never at the expense of character or style.

THE GOLDEN SALAMANDER Victor  Canning

   David Redfern is a typical Canning hero, and facing a typical Canning dilemma: are we responsible to confront evil, or only spectators who should, as Aribe the Arab worker suggests, keep our eyes shut. Among the Etruscan artifacts is a golden salamander and on it engraved: “Not by ignoring evil does one overcome it, but by going to meet it.” The two sides of the coin, alpha omega, become part of the evil by denying it exists, or confront it and risk the consequences.

   Falling for Anne and admiring her brother’s art and devotion to his sister is the difference for Redfern, the weight on the scale, he offers Max a way out — passage to France, and work as an artist, and Max accepts.

   Small actions have big repercussions. A few days later David and Anna spend a day fishing and swim at the beach — where they find Max’s weighted body, murdered by Rankl.

THE GOLDEN SALAMANDER Victor  Canning

   Guilty and angry David decides to go to the authorities, but Douvet is a pawn of the conspiracy, the phone lines are down to Tunis, and even the mail is controlled By Douvet’s mistress. Finally he goes to Sernas for help, only to find Sernas is the leader of the criminals and plans for David to have an ‘accident’ at the towns big yearly boar hunt the next day. With only Anne on his side he’s hopeless. Even Agno is part of it.

   But Agno has weakness other than absinthe — he loves Anna and Max.

   Location shooting, Neame’s sure hand directing suspense films (David Lean was once his editor), the cinematography by Oswald Morris, camera work by cinematographer and director Freddie Francis, and a fine cast combine for a truly enjoyable adventure, slow to build, but with a fine chase at the end. This is the traditional adventure film, not an endless concussive assault of constant action, but actual characters with inner lives and difficult choices to make.

   Lom is at his slimy best, and manages to even slip a hint of an unhealthy obsession about Max into his meaningful glances, Rilla, always a smooth villain in the Claude Rains mode brings a fine sinister streak to Serafis bluffing a playing up to the last moment, and Hyde-White, different than you usually see him as Agno, the absinthe addicted piano player who observes even participates in conspiracy, but will only go so far, gives a fine little performance looking quite different than you likely picture him.

THE GOLDEN SALAMANDER Victor  Canning

   Anouk is a revelation here. Wearing little makeup and playing as a sensual innocent she has something of the freshness and promise of a young Ingrid Bergman. You can see why Redfern falls in love with her innocent rather melancholy Anne, and why a man would confront dragons for her — or even salamanders. She is well matched with Howard whose presence as a leading man was as assured as his later character roles.

   Howard did several films in this vein in this period, Malaga (with Dorothy Dandridge), They Made Me a Criminal, the Archers The Adventuress, and the legendary The Clouded Yellow. Neame’s experience in this genre dates back to the fine thriller Take My Life based on Winston Graham’s novel in the thirties and he was adept in other genres as well. It was a natural collaboration.

   This solid entertaining thriller isn’t all that well known, but deserves better. You can watch it online at several movie sites (most requiring a paid subscription), and the print is a good clean one. Catch it and see how effortless they used to make it look. This is a fine example of the British thriller at its near best, and a fine adaptation of one of Victor Canning’s best.

THE GOLDEN SALAMANDER Victor  Canning

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


MAN AT LARGE

MAN AT LARGE. Fox, 1941. Marjorie Weaver, George Reeves, Richard Derr, Steve Geray, Milton Parsons, Spencer Charters, Lucien Littlefield, Elisha Cook Jr., Minerva Urecal. Director: Eugene Forde.

   An un-sung little B-movie that seems at times like an episode of the old Superman TV show, starting off at a great metropolitan newspaper with a grouchy editor, a plucky girl reporter (Marjorie Weaver) and even a visit from George Reeves!

   What follows is a tricky, fast-moving and mostly-fun farrago about the search for a fugitive German escapee from a Canadian POW camp (this was made before Pearl Harbor, but the movie doesn’t hesitate to peg the bad guys as Germans) on the run in the US.

MAN AT LARGE

   Then a surprise as it quickly pivots into a game of cat-und-mouse between the FBI and a nest of spies preying on American cargo ships, who relay their secret messages in pulp-magazine stories written by a Master Spy.

   Said spymaster is played by Steven Geray, an actor normally typed as milquetoasts, who seems to have a lot of fun here playing it sinister. And since he’s a writer for the pulps, Geray’s character is naturally a cultured tea-drinking man of affluence, living in a luxury apartment surrounded by servants—like all pulp writers of his day.

   Obviously none of this can be taken seriously, and to their credit, Writer John Larkin and director Eugene Forde (both veterans of Fox’s Charlie Chan series) don’t try. Forde directs with an eye for pace, helped out by the photography of Virgil Miller, who heaped atmosphere into Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series and Larkin fills his script with twists and jokes, both surprising and funny.

MAN AT LARGE

   He also “borrows” heavily from Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, with our hero suspected of murder after hearing a vital clue gasped out by the victim, a search for a clandestine group known as “The 21 Whistlers” a bit in a noisy music hall, and even some by-play with handcuffs on the hero and heroine.

   To Larkin and Forde’s credit though, there’s also a dandy and highly original climax with Reeves and Weaver stalked through a locked apartment by a sharp-shooting blind man.

   The result is a film that’s easy to like, and over-and-done-with before you notice it’s gone, considerably enlivened by the playing of Reeves, who looks here like an actor on the verge of stardom, and Ms Weaver, Fox’s all-purpose perky B-movie queen, whose lively thesping never quite lifted her from the low-budget rut — with the astonishing exception of her role as Mary Todd in John Ford’s Young Mr Lincoln.

MAN AT LARGE

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


CLEMENTS RIPLEY – Black Moon. Harcourt Brace & Co, hardcover, 1933.

BLACK MOON

BLACK MOON. Columbia, 1934. Jack Holt, Fay Wray, Dorothy Burgess, Cora Sue Collins, Arnold Korff, Clarence Muse. Based on the novel by Clements Ripley. Director: Roy William Neill.

   Clements Ripley’s Black Moon amounts to very little really, but it has its moments. Steven Lane is one of those wealthy, athletic, handsome and single young men who crop up regularly in adventure stories of that day, and as this one opens he’s on his way to an island somewhere south of Haiti to marry Amalia Perez, your typical fiery Latin beauty, who mysteriously returned to the tiny isle of her birth just as they were getting serious about each other back in New York.

   Lane is barely past the first page when he gets a bit of foreshadowing from a cagey servant — a black man named “Lunch” whose depiction is regrettably condescending — and it’s not much later that he encounters Amalia’s uncle, Dr. Perez, who owns the island (and the people on it, he presumes) and looks over his niece’s interests with a solicitude bordering on the pathological.

   Amalia herself appears not much later, but she seems so remote and disinterested that Lane wonders how serious they were about each other to begin with. Fortunately, there’s a perky level-headed young American girl around on the island and the veteran reader of this sort of thing can see their attraction coming several chapters before they do.

BLACK MOON

   The plot develops apace, with unrest among the natives, sinister drums, mysterious disappearances and even more mysterious antics from the sultry Amalia, who turns out to be a High Priestess of the local Voodoo cult, bent on human sacrifice.

   Well we’ve all dated girls like that from time to time, but oddly enough it is not Amalia who emerges as the villain of the piece but her uncle, the good doctor whose fine manners mask a control freak on the order of Count Zaroff, gradually spinning out of bounds as he countenances murder, cover-up and even cold-blooded savagery in the name of tradition and family pride—all with the suave graciousness one expects from baddies in pulp fiction.

   And even more surprising, the racially stereotyped Lunch starts taking on more and more of the heroics, performing handy bits of business like chewing through ropes and even a bit of convenient killing that our nominal hero is just too decent a chap to commit. Before we get to the end, Ripley has treated us to a fine panoply of thrills, including capture by natives, murder on the garden path, black magic rites and a running gun battle across the island by hero and villain with the natives in hot pursuit of them both. Possibly not the most intelligent book you could pick, but undeniably lively.

BLACK MOON

   Black Moon had the good fortune to be filmed by Roy William Neil at Columbia in 1934, and it’s really a crackerjack little film, handled by Neill – he of the Universal / Rathbone / Holmes movies — with his usual flair for atmosphere and pace. Dorothy Burgess plays the mysterious Latina, but as the film opens she’s already married to Lane, who has become a solid businessman, played by square-jawed and middle-aged Jack Holt.

   But Burgess is yearning to return to the Caribbean island of her birth, and Holt lets her take their daughter and his secretary (Faye Wray) down there while he wraps up some business stateside, and in his absence things in the tropics go quickly hellward as Dorothy recalls her upbringing and realizes she was raised to be the priestess of a local voodoo cult – a destiny she will embrace even if it becomes the spark of a bloody religious uprising.

   This has it all: steamy tropical suspense, bursts of action, and those incessant drums pounding-in-my-head-night-and-day-Oh-why-won’t-they-stop? Neill, who brought elegance to predestined piffle like Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, directs with real feeling for the lurid essence of the material, and the result is a splendidly watchable little film I can highly recommend.

   And though there’s no way to segue smoothly into this, I should add that Clarence Muse, one of the few minority performers of his day to consistently invest his roles with intelligence and dignity, brings real depth and feeling to the role of “Lunch” lifting the character out of the rut most black-servants-in-the-movies found themselves stuck in.

BLACK MOON

Next Page »