Films: Drama/Romance

THE NINE “Pilot.” ABC, 60m, 04 October 2006. Written by Hank Steinberg & K. J. Steinberg. Director: Alex Graves. Currently available on YouTube.

   I’m not including a list of cast credits yet, as it will take both some time and space. I’ll add them below. This is the story of bank heist gone bad, so bad that hostages are taken and are not released until over two days later. Not everyone survives. Those who do, after the media coverage subsides and eventually disappears, as it always does, find that their lives have “changed forever.” The following is taken from Wikipedia. I couldn’t do better:

Main cast, alphabetically, except for the two bank robbers, listed at the end:

   Lourdes Benedicto as Eva Rios, a teller in the bank that is robbed and single mother. Eva is injured during the standoff and dies shortly thereafter. Eva is Franny’s sister.

   John Billingsley as Egan Foote, a data processor. Egan begins the series severely depressed and suicidal. He is in the bank the day of the robbery to kill himself in the bathroom. After the standoff, he is hailed as a hero and feels that he has a “new lease on life”.

   Jessica Collins as Elizabeth “Lizzie” Miller, a social worker. Lizzie is in a serious relationship with Jeremy at the beginning of the series. She finds out she is pregnant before walking into the bank.

   Tim Daly as Nick Cavanaugh, a police officer who happens to be a customer in the bank during the robbery. Nick has a gambling problem. Just prior to the robbery, Nick and Eva arranged to go out on a date.

   Dana Davis as Felicia Jones, a high-school student and daughter of Malcolm. Felicia is in the bank when the robbery occurs. After the standoff, she develops amnesia and cannot remember anything from the event.

   Camille Guaty as Francesca “Franny” Rios, a bank teller and Eva’s sister.

   Chi McBride as Malcolm Jones, the bank manager and Felicia’s father.

   Kim Raver as Kathryn Hale, an Assistant District Attorney. Kathryn is in the bank with her mother at the time of the robbery; her mother is set free. Kathryn’s boyfriend proposes after the robbery. She accepts but has a connection with Nick.

   Scott Wolf as Jeremy Kates, a cardiothoracic surgeon. Jeremy is in a serious relationship with Lizzie at the start of the series.

   Owain Yeoman as Lucas Dalton, one of the two bank robbers. His brother is the other robber. Lucas seems to have a strange connection to Felicia.

   Jeffrey Pierce as Randall Reese, Lucas’s brother and colleague during the bank robbery.

   There were 13 episodes in all, but ratings were poor, and whether all 13 were shown in the US, I haven’t yet worked out. Some may have been shown only online. It’s too bad, as this is a series that is designed to be followed from beginning to end, as the viewer gradually learns what actually happened in those 52 hours, and how the closeness the hostages felt during their crisis carries over to their normal lives. It’s a show meant for bingeing now, and one that would be very difficult to jump into the middle of.

   It’s very well done, and after this first episode ended, I immediately wanted more. I think that went wrong, though, is that it’s very difficult in one 42 minute pilot, to introduce all of the players properly. Some stand out, of course, others far less so. In this pilot, also, during what is shown at the beginning of the hostage standoff and the media frenzy that occurs as they are released, is done with hand-held cameras, adding tremendously to the confusion, but this was the intent and exactly as it should be.

   It might also be that as time went on the story line just wasn’t all that interesting. I’ll probably never know.




DEAD END. Goldwyn/UA, 1937. Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrae, Humphrey Bogart, Wendy Barrie, Claire Trevor, Alan Jenkins, Marjorie Main, and the Dead End Kids. Screenplay by Lillian Hellman, from the play by Sidney Kingsley. Directed by William Wyler.

   A year after The Petrified Forest (recently reviewed here), Bogie found himself again playing a gangster on the run in a film based on a popular (and somewhat self-important) play. But in that year, he had learned how to act for the screen, and the difference is agreeable.

   Let’s dispense with the bad news first: Dead End is as pretentious and mannered as The Petrified Forest was, and even more didactic. Sylvia Sidney’s noble working woman; the insulated, uncaring rich people; the feral youths; and especially Joel McCrae as the voice of Progress… they’re all types first and characters as an afterthought. The film only flickers to anything like real life when it leaves them to check in on “Baby Face” Martin’s tragic homecoming.

   That’s Bogart, ably abetted by Alan Jenkins as his dubious stooge, and if you can wade (or fast-forward) through the other stuff, the payoff is rewarding indeed.

   First there’s Marjorie Main as Martin’s weary-unto-death mother, carrying the infamy of her notorious son like a dead baby in her womb. When they meet, we see the first chink in Martin’s tough-guy façade, and Bogie plays it splendidly, like a fighter trying not to show how bad he’s been hurt, taking his punishment and hoping to make the next round.

   When that round comes though, it’s only for Martin to find out his old girlfriend is now a hooker, and not a very classy one at that. As played by Claire Trevor in a moving cameo, her face is a mask of tragedy cast in brass. And Bogart’s face as he realizes the truth is a study in disillusion: disappointment giving way to disgust and disintegration.

   Kingsley writes a small but telling moment into this scene. Anxious to be rid of her, Bogart shoves a wad of money at Trevor, who stashes it away without counting, then asks Martin if he can spare another Twenty! The mix of need and greed in her voice evokes the character as few could, and when she caps it off by asking for one last kiss, for old time’s sake the effect is incredible.

   Director Wyler and the players do what they can with the rest, but it’s all as artificial as the massive and deliberately stagey set built for the film when Producer Sam Goldwyn refused to shoot on location. That said, it’s still worth seeing for Bogie’s bits.

   And yes, the juvenile delinquents in Dead End became stock players at Warner’s as The Dead End Kids, then elsewhere as the East Side Kids and the Little Tough Guys, before settling down at Monogram as The Bowery Boys. Which makes me wonder if Sidney Kingsley ever got any royalties for Bowery Buckaroos.




A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME. Embassy Pictures, 1964. Shelly Winters, Robert Taylor, Cesar Romero, Ralph Taeger, Kaye Ballard, Broderick Crawford, Mickey Shaugnessy, Jessie White, Lisa Seagram, Benny Rubin, Mari Welles, Tom deAndrea, Edy Williams, Connie Gilchrist, J. Pat O’Malley, Hayden Rorke, Roger C. Carmel. Screenplay by Russell Rouse & Charles Greene, based on the autobiography of Polly Adler. Directed by Russell Rouse.

   “We don’t know enough about life to be sad about this.”

   A House is Not a Home, and in this case it isn’t much of a movie either.

   Supposed to be frank and shocking this is mostly tired and trite, unless you are deeply shocked by someone shouting the word “whore” on screen, or by the fact men pay for sex there is nothing much in this that wouldn’t be perfectly at home with the board of censors.

   Better movies had been much racier and more frank in this same period without once having to scream the word “whore,” out loud or repeatedly (and in a tour de force of bad overacting).

   Polish immigrant Polly Adler (Shelly Winters) is poor and innocent (and Winters at this point in the film is a parody of the kind of part she played so well in A Place in the Sun, actually painful to watch), narrating her fall and rise and moral fall in Adler’s own self serving “what’s a girl to do” style.

   After getting in trouble with a guy she is rescued by good guy Bootlegger Frank Costigan (Robert Taylor) a mobster with ties in government and crime who aides Polly in her becoming a famous madam with rich clients and lady like prostitutes who dress well and behave, mostly.

   Innocent Polly just wakes up a madam one day with absolutely no clue how it happened.

   Meanwhile still nice Polly meets bandleader Casey (Ralph Taeger) who she falls tragically in love with much to her later regret.

   No attempt is made to use period costume or clothes, and the sets are few and far between. It might as well be 1964 in most scenes, and this television instead of a movie.

   Mickey Shaughnessy is a crooked cop “Backdoor Reardon” (and no, not one person involved in the film seems to have gotten just how hilarious that is in this context); Broderick Crawford a crooked cop; Cesar Romero Lucky Luciano; Lisa Seagram a prostitute with a drug problem; Roger C. Carmel a drug addicted horn player, Hayden Rorke a crooked lawyer becoming Luciano’s private judge; Kaye Ballard young Polly’s pal in a sweat shop; J. Pat O’Malley a police inspector; and so on.

   In short a blend of old familiar faces and “and then I slept with” film bio.

   “It seems that sex was a common denominator for all stratum of society.”

   Gee, that’s profound. I think most of us figured that out around puberty, but it is nice to know the world’s most famous madam picked up on it. The Happy Hooker, Polly ain’t. By this movie, save for being raped early on, you could draw the conclusion that Polly herself is a virgin, just a poor little golden-hearted darling picked on by all the mean gangsters, politicians, and policemen wanting a cut of the pound of flesh she carves out of her girls lives.

   The screenplay is a paean to Dick and Jane level dialogue, so pretentious and self serving not a single word sounds as if it had ever passed the lips of an actual living human in the real world. Polly’s ghost writer sounds as if he read The Old Curiosity Shop and Fanny Hill over and over to get the tone he wanted.

   Attractive Meri Welles suicide is a highlight/lowlight a moment of overacting by an an under-talent that could end any career. The writing, staging, and Winters hysterics will have you on the floor laughing. The proper reaction is “throw another one in the river and see if they float.”

   You have to show people as human before their fate means anything even in a movie this bad. Welles sudden New Year’s depression and leap from a balcony is staged like a high school production of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, without context and telegraphed so broadly Marconi could read it from his grave.

   Bad movies come and go, this one mostly went, except it had one thing going for it, seems a couple of young songwriters tackled the title song, and when their names were Hal David and Burt Bacharach, the result was far better than anything in the film. “And a house is not a home, unless love is there..” may not be Cole Porter, but it blows anything in this film away.

   No one really gets a career boost from this. Taylor sleepwalks, Winters keeps trying to act as if this was a real movie. Romero tries hard not to be noticed. Everyone else just does their schtick, though Shaugnessy could be prosecuted for mugging in the first degree.

   “You’ve been a madam, you sold flesh. They haven’t made a soap that can wash that away,” Polly is told by Frank (Robert Taylor) who actually opens his eyes to deliver this gem.

   Polly tries desperately to escape her fate when Casey proposes, but Frank’s words ring too true. What is a poor girl to do, but write a bestseller and have something to retire on.

   “In my house full of people I pin my diamonds on loneliness and despair and I will never have a home.”

   Apparently Polly read one too many Cornell Woolrich novels without having learned the point about fate so she madly dances as gangster Frank looks on trapped like a poor canary in her life of sin … “she’s only a bird in a golden cage …”

   And though she would be good again, this is the exact point Winters career became a satire, a parody of what she was at her best.

   As a general rule it should be noted something about the idea of whorehouses brings out the worst in everyone involved in a Hollywood drama. They work well enough in comedy, but get serious and you can wade knee deep in the angst and overacting.

   Do yourself a favor, listen to the title song over the credits and then quickly turn to something else. It is only the only defense against this film.




THE PETRIFIED FOREST. Warner Brothers, 1936. Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Genevieve Tobin, Dick Foran, Charlie Grapewin, Joe Sawyer, Porter Hall, and Adrian Morris. Screenplay by Charles Kenyon and Delmer Daves, from the play by Robert E. Sherwood. Directed by Archie Mayo.

   Sherwood’s play and the film made from it have not aged well, but if you can accept the artificiality and pardon the pseudo-poetics, it remains oddly fascinating and very watchable.

   The contrived plot has wandering writer manqué Leslie Howard turning up at an isolated eat-here-and-get-gas joint owned by self-styled militiaman Porter Hall, run by his would-be poet daughter Bette Davis (she reads Francois Villon and dreams of seeing Paris) with the eager assistance of lustful pump-jockey Dick Foran, and the interference of grandfather Charles Grapewin, who never stops cadging drinks and telling about the time he met Billy the Kid.

   Then into this mix of flammable futility walks Duke Mantee (Bogart) and his retinue of desperadoes, weary with hunting and fain would lie down. And the rest of the show is the collision of the gangsters’ irresistible force against the all-too-moveable dreams of the others.

   It’s all quite talky and contrived, but I found myself drawn into it anyway. Time and again the aspirations of the ordinary folk get dashed to bits by the bad guys till only Leslie Howard’s doomed romanticism is left to counter Bogart’s lethal fatalism. They spar like gunfighters jockeying for position, edging toward the final shoot-out that must leave one of them dead in the dust, and when it comes, it hits with real intensity.

   The actors carry Sherwood’s ideas with a bluff grace that rises to poesy. I was particularly taken by Dick Foran’s horny has-been football star and Porter Hall’s would-be tough-guy, perfect foils for Howard and Bogart. Davis evokes just the right note of dream-struck, and Grapewin’s old-timer is simply delightful, needy and comic at the same time.

   And then there’s Bogart, splendidly awful in the film that established him in Hollywood.

   Warners bought the play in a package deal with Leslie Howard pre-set to star. They had Cagney and Robinson under contract, but Howard insisted on Bogart, who played Mantee in the stage production. Bogey’s performance is stagey, mannered and over-emphatic, but it’s riveting. The minute he lurches in, arms akimbo, face stamped with the mask of tragedy, it’s as if Frankenstein’s monster had invaded the set. You simply can’t take your eyes off him, bad as he is. And he gets the best line in the whole movie: “You can talk sittin’ down, I heard ya doin’ it.”

   Yes, he’s way too theatrical, but somehow Bogie fits this film as no other actor could have. I’m glad he shed the mannerisms and moved on to become the legend that he was, but I still appreciate this hammy debut into the ranks of the Tough Guys.




LOVE FROM A STRANGER. United Artists, UK/US, 1937. Also released in the US as A Night of Terror. Ann Harding, Basil Rathbone, Binnie Hale, Bruce Seton, Jean Cadell, Bryan Powley, Joan Hickson. Based on the 1936 play of the same name by Frank Vosper, which in turn was based on the 1924 short story “Philomel Cottage,” written by Agatha Christie. Directed by Rowland V. Lee.

   Basil Rathbone used to turn out a fine line of cold-hearted seducers. As a cad supposedly irresistible to women, he was never completely convincing, but that, oddly, was part of his success: when the naive young heiress or wealthy widow fell for Rathbone’s icy charm, you just knew she was walking into a trap. They never seemed to learn, though, and a succession of films like Kind Lady (1935), Rio (’39) and The Mad Doctor (’41) found a variety of leading ladies suddenly-finding-too-late (or is it?) they were in the clutches of a serial killer murderous con man, or at best an insanely jealous spouse.

   Love from a Stranger is pretty typical of the lot, and fun to look at, with a script incorporating the talents of Agatha Christie (original story) Frank Vosper (stage play) and Francis Marion (screen adaptation.) under the steady hand of Rowland V. Lee. Heroine Anne Harding has barely learned she won the lottery before suave, mysterious Basil Rathbone turns up to sweep her off her feet and into a remote cottage, where he likes to spend hours in the cellar listening to “In the Hall of the Mountain King” on the gramophone while burning pictures of his new bride — a sure sign that this marriage is in trouble. More fruity stuff follows, but it’s played for such full-blooded theatricality as to make it rather enjoyable as the story moves to its predestined climax.

   That climax perhaps betrays a bit too much of the film’s stage origins: at the point to which all these things must come, where the heroine ls alone in the house with a killer and no hope of rescue, we suddenly get an awful lot of dialogue. Without revealing too much of the ending, I may say it goes something like this:

RATHBONE: “Well, my dear, something something something.”

HARDING: “No! Wait!”

RATHBONE: “Why should I?”

HARDING: “Because something something something!”

RATHBONE: “Something something?”

HARDING: “Yes! And something else!”

RATHBQNE: “You expect me to believe that?”


RATHBONE: “But if somethlng something, why not something?”

HARDING: “Because something!”

RATHBONE: ”A very pretty story, my dear, but I happen to know something something.”

HARDING: “I know you knew that. I was only something something until something something else something!”


   As you may have noticed, this is an awful lot of plot to carry around just by talking it out, and it gets a bit stagy after the first ten minutes or so. Still fun, though, in its own hammy way, and I have to say I liked this a lot.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #40, September 2005.




DON JUAN. Vitaphone/Warners, 1926. John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Warner Oland, Estelle Taylor, Montagu Love and Nigel de Brulier. Screenplay by Estelle Taylor. Directed by Alan Crosland.

THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN. Warners, 1948. Errol Flynn, Viveca Lindfors, Robert Douglas, Alan Hale, Romney Brent, Robert Warwick, Una O’Connor and Raymond Burr. Screenplay by Herbert Dalmas, George Oppenheimer, William Faulkner, and Robert Florey. Directed by Vincent Sherman.

   Errol Flynn and John Barrymore were close friends and legendary drinking buddies in life, whose paths twice crossed professionally: Flynn’s portrayal of Barrymore in the turgid biopic TOO MUCH, TOO SOON (Warners, 1958) won praise from critics who panned the rest of the film, and he himself said, “I wanted to show a man with a heart, a man eaten up inside — as I knew him to be in those final days when I was close to him.”

   Ten years earlier, when Warners decided to remake Barrymore’s DON JUAN, Flynn was the natural—indeed, the only—choice for the part. Under Vincent Sherman’s workmanlike but uninspired direction, it emerged as a gaudy but oddly lifeless affair, with footage “borrowed” from ROBIN HOOD and THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX, and Flynn visibly tired of the whole swashbuckling-lover act. The supporting players do what they can, a phalanx of writers throw in some witty lines, and stuntman Jock Mahoney even recreates Barrymore’s staircase leap from the earlier film, but on the whole the tale of swordplay and palace intrigue seems profoundly shallow.

   In contrast, the original DON JUAN is an altogether more personal and livelier effort. Barrymore’s first appearance as the legendary lover doesn’t come till twenty minutes into the film, after an extended prologue featuring the star as Don Juan’s father, betrayed by his wife, who entombs her lover in a wall, then devotes himself to wine and women till he’s murdered by a discarded mistress and leaves his son with a parting dictum never to give love; only take it.

   Prologue over, Barrymore makes a light-hearted entrance as Don Juan, skillfully manipulating two ladies at his door while a third slips out his bedroom window. Very soon after, he runs afoul of the Borgias: Warner Oland as Cesare (“We Borgia approve of cleverness in our friends – we have no clever enemies!”) and Estelle Taylor as a predatory Lucrezia. It seems the toxic siblings plan to poison Mary Astor’s dad and marry the girl off to barely-civilized Montagu Love, but Juan/John squelches the cyanide, then beats the lustful bridegroom in one of the finest swordfights ever in the Movies: imaginatively conceived and cleverly edited, it ends with an impressive swan dive down a flight of stairs, so good it was repeated in the later film.

   There’s a lot more plot of course, but one aspect of this thing intrigues me. Early on, as I said, Don Juan’s father seals his wife’s lover up in a wall, and sets his son on a path of loveless and rather misogynistic pleasure. Later on, imprisoned by the Borgias, Juan takes down a wall to escape … and on the other side he finds an erstwhile victim: the husband of a woman he seduced, who went mad with jealousy and murdered his wife. In a surprising twist, the madman forgives and helps Juan escape so he can rescue Mary Astor etc. etc.

   Okay, if we can divorce the whole “Wall” thing from the current political climate, it becomes a striking metaphor for our hero’s psyche. The wall his father built entombed a philanderer and became a barrier that kept the legendary lover from actually loving anyone. It is only when he destroys a wall that Don Juan finds forgiveness and becomes capable of love.

   The screenplay never spells this out—Thank Gawd!—but it adds a special depth to DON JUAN that THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN never achieved… or even attempted.




MARY STEWART – The Moon-Spinners. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1962. M. S. Mill Co. & Morrow, US, hardcover, 1963. Crest #R717, US, paperback; 1st printing, May 1964.

THE MOON-SPINNERS. Buena Vista (Walt Disney), 1964. Starring Hayley Mills, Eli Wallach, Joan Greenwood, Peter McEnery, Irene Pappas, Pola Negri, John LeMessurier, Andre Morell. Screenplay: Michael Dyne, based on the book by Mary Stewart. Directed by James Nielson.

   “Even in Crete nobody’s going to murder a visitor.”

   So speaks young Englishwoman Nicola Ferris as she chides the couple that has given her a ride to the remote seaside village of Agios Georgios, St. George, in the shadow of the White Mountains. Nicola works for the British embassy, and for her holidays she is meeting her older cousin Frances Scorby, a naturalist who has written several books on flowers and who hopes to study local wild flowers.

   Frances, who she calls Aunt Frances, raised her.

   It seems a perfect holiday, beautiful setting, fine food, the sea, and a family reunion for the orphan Nicola.

   The best laid plans and all that.

   This being Mary Stewart, the best of the writers of romantic suspense (and as good as any man in the adventure/suspense/adventure genre), you know things won’t be quite that simple, especially when Nicola runs into a strange man while exploring the island, a fugitive being hunted, and finds herself up to her neck in a mystery involving the attractive mysterious Englishman named Mark Langley hiding out on the mountain with a bullet wound and concerned for his younger brother Colin who has been missing since he was wounded.

   Then there is the attractive Tony Gamble who she meets at the hotel where he does the cooking, and the mysterious Stratos whose sister Sofia runs the inn and who only recently arrived from the West and despises the poverty and ignorance of his own people. And why does Sofia look so frightened of Gamble and her brother?

   And what is the mystery of the Bay of Dolphins where the fates, the ones who spin the silver moon from the title, spin a silver full moon so that you might one night see the lost treasure ship at the bottom of the bay? Because treasure is involved, if not the one the Moon-Spinners reveal.

   I strained across the moving whispering darkness. As before, it was full of sounds, far fuller than when, on the ridge, I stood insulated by the air from the subdued and roaring life of the sea.

   Stewart, like Daphne Du Maurier had a genuine talent for the romance of adventure and lonely places, the Stevensonian voice out of Buchan and Geoffrey Household that gives life to the landscape around her heroines.

   Soon enough Nicola finds Colin, held prisoner, and is drawn even deeper into the mystery that ends in a dangerous battle on Stratos caique.

   The Walt Disney film is shot on location, and while it does away with Colin and combines Mark Langely and Tony Gamble into a single character, stays fairly close to the book until midway through when it dissipates some of the suspense by adding some extraneous characters that seem to have wandered in from The 39 Steps, including Pola Negri as a mysterious woman on a yacht and John LeMessurier as a shady British consul with a wife who drinks and talks too much..

   Hayley Mills in an early grown up (sort of — Disney isn’t quite ready for her to be a Hitchcock blonde exactly) role is Nicola, traveling with her Aunt (Joan Greenwood) in Crete to record folk music (an excuse for some musical interludes) who arrives in Agios Georgios and discover the sinister zodiac obsessed Stratos (Eli Wallach) who wants no one at the hotel, especially the Englishman Mark Gamble (Peter McEnery) who is staying there.

   Some of the suspense is lost, and the ending is a bit too neat, but it is gorgeously shot, the music, including the title song “Moon-Spinners” is good, the actors are all far better than the material, and even with the changes something of the suspense and romantic mood is captured.

   Mills is good as the feisty Nicola, and not all that far from Stewart’s heroine if a bit younger, McEnery a decent leading man, and Wallach by turns sinister, threatening, ingratiating, and threatening.

   Irene Pappas hasn’t much to do but is gorgeous, Joan Greenwood gets to be Joan Greenwood, and Pola Negri — well, that part I can’t explain, but someone must of thought it was needed.

   As a Stewart fan, of course, I would much prefer they had filmed the book, and even with Mills in it, I can’t see what the need of all the business with Negri and LeMessurier was, saving someone involved had seen too many Hitchcock films.

   But how exactly anyone would quite capture the quality of Mary Stewart’s writing on film is hard to see.

   …when the big white bird flew up among the glossy leaves and the lemon flowers, and wheeled into the mountain, I followed it. What else is there to do, when such a thing happens on a brilliant April noonday at the foot of the white mountains of Crete; when the road is hot and dusty, but the gorge is green, and full of the sound of water, and the white wings, flying ahead flicker in and out of deep shadow, and the air is full of the scent of lemon blossoms?




THE PRIVATE LIFE OF DON JUAN. United Artists, 1934. Douglas Fairbanks, Merle Oberon, Bruce Winston, Benita Hume, Gina Malo, Binnie Barnes. Director: Alexander Korda.

   The Private Life of Don Juan lacks wit or pace of action, but it offers an elegant coda to the career of its star, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., here in his fifties and looking tired of the whole thing. When an imposter masquerading as Don Juan is killed by a jealous husband, the legendary lothario takes advantage of the situation and retires to the country, with tepid results. Doug doesn’t do any stunts, there’s no swordplay, little plot, and yet …

   … Halfway through the film, Don Juan attends his own funeral, and director Alexander Korda deals it out with his usual splendour, all billowing cloaks and wailing women, as America’s cavalier strolls through the palazzo contemplating his own mortality. Fairbanks never made another movie, lending an odd elegiac tone to a film that doesn’t really deserve it.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson 53, September 2007.




ROBERT CARSON “Aloha Means Goodbye.” Serialized in five parts in the Saturday Evening Post (*), June 28 to July 26, 1941. No book publication known. Filmed as: Across the Pacific (1942), with Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet. Screenplay and Directed by John Huston.

   The pier was melting into the fog. Swinging slowly in the oily water with the tug straining on her stern, the Genoa Maru came around. The siren sounded. The noise seemed to run in an endless circle through long halls of fog, constantly coming back.

   Richard (Ricky) Leland is sailing from Vancouver on the Japanese freighter the Genoa Maru, with fellow passengers Alberta Marlow (a very calm dame), whose eccentric Uncle Dan owns a plantation on his own island in Hawaii, and the mysterious Dr. Barca, a mysterious Filipino (…he looked genial and unimposing, except for his eyes which were cold and black). No one is quite what they seem including Ricky who appears to be a disgraced American Artillery Officer, but we soon learn is in reality an American agent.

   Even the Genoa Maru isn’t quite what it seems.

   If you have seen the John Huston film Across the Pacific, his first after The Maltese Falcon, and his last before going off to the war, you know the basic story. Barca and the Japanese are part of a dastardly plot to invade and lead a sneak attack on the States involving Alberta Marlow’s Uncle Dan and his plantation, and Ricky Leland is not who or what he seems to be.

   In the film Barca becomes the German, Sidney Greenstreet, and the plot, thanks to Pearl Harbor, turns to Panama instead of Hawaii (coming once the title had been released and making no sense in the film since they never cross the Pacific), but just how close the movie is to the serial (I’m not sure the serial ever appeared in book form) is surprising (right down to the shootout in the Japanese movie theater — that makes more sense in Hawaii than Panama), because the real joy of the film is the by play and double entendre between Bogart and Mary Astor and the war of wits with Greenstreet, and much of that is lifted directly from the dialogue in the serial.

   “I wish I could make up my mind about you.” Alberta said. “Men like you upset girls.”

   “I feel very happy and secure,” Ricky said. “You’ll go over and make friends with eccentric Uncle Dan and we’ll get married and live happily ever after on Uncle Dan’s dough. And if you don’t give me any spending money I’ll stay home all the time.”

   “I don’t want his money.”

   Ricky opened his eyes wide and looked at her. “If you keep talking that way,” Ricky said severely, “our association must end.”

   Carson was a successful author who frequently contributed stories to the Post, and this serial that ran there between late June and early August of 1941 is a lively tale, accompanied by handsome full color illustrations by Ben Stahl.

   Just as Huston virtually transcribed Hammett’s novel the same seems to be true of this serial, though obviously Carson is no Hammett, as Pacific is no Falcon.

   There are minor differences, of course, but Huston was always the most literary of directors and famously honed close to his source material.

   “Aloha” is a product of the slicks as magazines like the Post, American, Liberty, and Collier’s were then known, and much has been written belittling the slick style in comparison to the pulps, but some of the best writers of the time, from Fitzgerald and Faulkner to Philip Wylie and John P. Marquand worked there, and pulp favorites like Erle Stanley Gardner, Fred Nebel, Robert Carse, Edison Marshall, Sax Rohmer, and Rex Stout crossed over into the slicks, and were often paid more. They might get up to $5,000 for a serial at a time a novel might bring as little as $500.

   The Post was always well associated with the mystery genre as the home of Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, Perry Mason, Albert Campion, Roderick Alleyn, and Hercule Poirot.

   “Aloha Means Good-bye” is a fast moving tale in the best sense, with something of the same pace and style of the tongue in cheek movie. I’m not sure if you can really call a book prescient for predicting a Japanese attack on the US in the summer of 1941 (Van Wyck Mason predicted one in 1932 in The Branded Spy Murders; it was something that had been inevitable for much of the century), but it was great timing, however you look at it, and even now an entertaining tale thanks to its lighthearted style.


(*) For anyone interested you can go to Internet Archive and find over 6,000 issues of the Saturday Evening Post from the twenties to the mid-sixties with full serials by Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout, Earl Derr Biggers, P. G. Wodehouse, Dornford Yates, Hammond Innes, Alistair MacLean, Alan LeMay, Eugene Manlove Rhodes, John P, Marquand, Luke Short, Jack Finney, C. S. Forester, Paul Gallico, James Warner Bellah, and many more, as well as short fiction by Philip Wylie, Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Fred Nebel, Lester Dent, and others, illustrated by the likes of Matt Clark, Harold Von Schmidt, and Mitchell Hooks.


A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT. RKO, 1932. John Barrymore, Billie Burke, David Manners, Katharine Hepburn. Director: George Cukor.

   Been wanting to see this one for years. It’s a bit stagey — more in the construction than in the filming — but quite nice. Hepburn is competent in her film debut, and maybe shows a glimmer of the overwhelming talent that made her career, but basically, there’s not much to separate her in this performance from say, Elissa Landi, Margaret Sullavan, or any other near- greats. David Manners, fresh from Dracula and The Mummy, manages to look not too far out of his depth, and Billie Burke is her usual fun self.

   But the picture really belongs to John Barrymore, in a showy part as a recoverir1g Mental Patient who thinks he can pick up tl1e pieces of his long-dead marriage. Though he overacts a bit now and then, he’s quite moving at times. The curtain line is very effective and surprising as well.

   So is the on-screen affection shown between Hepburn and Barrymore, considering that this film was the basis of yet another Hollywood anecdote: During production, Barrymore allegedly Put The Make on Ms. Hepburn in decidedly unsubtle fashion.

   Class act that she was, she pointedly spurned him and did not mention the incident again, till the end of filming when she is alleged to have said, “I shall never do another scene with you,” To which John replied, “I wasn’t aware you ever had.”

— Reprinted from Shropshire Sleuth #71, May 1995.


Next Page »