PRISON FARM. Paramount, 1938. Shirley Ross, Lloyd Nolan, John Howard, J. Carrol Naish, Porter Hall, Esther Dale, May Boley, Marjorie Main, John Hart. Director: Louis King.

THE MAGNIFICENT FRAUD. Paramount, 1939. Akim Tamiroff, Lloyd Nolan, Mary Boland, Patricia Morison, George Zucco. Director: Robert Florey.

DANGEROUS TO KNOW. Paramount, 1938. Anna May Wong, Akim Tamiroff, Gail Patrick, Lloyd Nolan, Harvey Stephens, Anthony Quinn, Roscoe Karns, Porter Hall. Co-screenwriter: Horace McCoy, based on the novel On the Spot by Edgar Wallace. Director: Robert Florey.


   Caught a few of those delightful little Paramount “B” movies from the late 30s last week, and enjoyed them quite a lot. The producers of these films were ready to try anything they thought they could get away with on any unused set handy, and as a result, they gave us studio-made ocean liners, city streets, plush B-movie penthouses, and in one movie, even a whole country, created on the Paramount back-lot. The result is some delightfully audacious and unpretentious entertainment.

    Prison Farm offers Lloyd Nolan cast unsympathetically for once as a brash no-good who makes off with the proceeds of a botched robbery, with his unknowing fiancee (Shirley Ross) in tow. When they run afoul of an off-duty backwoods prison guard (J. Carroll Naish) Nolan lets them get railroaded into a short sentence, rather than face some awkward questions about his background.

   The rest of the film cheerfully avoids the usual “Big House” cliches, with Nolan scheming against the mildly sadistic Naish while on the other side of the fann, Ross contends with crypto-lesbian matron Marjorie Main. When John Howard, Paramount’s utility leading man, shows up as a sympathetic prison doctor, attracted to Ross in a decent, manly way, everything’s set for an unsurprising but fast-paced finale.


   The next year, Lloyd Nolan was playing a gangster again, this time a bit more sympathetically, as the chum of a Latin-American dictator (Akim Tamiroff) marked for assassination in The Magnificent Fraud. The title refers to another Akim Tamiroff in the cast — this one a cabaret performer who does impressions — and quicker than you can say “Danny Kaye” the actor is substituted for the mortally wounded dictator so as to be on hand to clinch a badly-needed loan from an American banker.


   The wonder of this thing is that the plot spins out so much more believably than it has any right to, mainly because director Robert Florey pushes the story (centered on Nolan’s attempts to live up to his dead friend’s legacy and evade the machinations of local nasties in on the Big Switcheroo) along at breakneck speed, yet pauses meaningfully to flesh out the characters, producing an hour-long movie, in which no one is conveniently stereotyped.

   This is abetted also by a lot of nifty casting. Aside from Nolan and Tamiroff, who play off each other very nicely, George Zucco and Abrlcr Biberman milk their small parts, Mary Boland gets a surprisingly well-written role as a faded dowager. and lovely Patricia Morison stars as the sexy and Intelligent fiancee of the Banker who’s supposed to close the loan.

   Once again, you get producer, director and the Paramount “B” stock company putting their all into a solid sixty minutes entertainment.



    Which is also the case with Dangerous to Know, which offers Lloyd Nolan, all the way on the side of the Law this time as a tough police detective out to get Akim Tamiroff (again) as a powerful gang boss just starting to go soft over socialite Gail Patrick. with Anthony Quinn and Anna May Wong for partners.

   Unlike most of its fast-paced Paramount ilk, Dangerous to Know is something of a mood piece, with only a few (very effective) action scenes set off against Tamiroff’s growing obsession. Unlike some other arty crime Hicks, however (The Gangster comes to mind) Dangerous has an elegantly gritty look to it, and the producers and players seem to have some idea what it is a Gangster really does for a living.

   In fact, Dangerous to Know has some very impressive credentials indeed. Directed by Robert Florey, who did Murders in the Rue Morgue, written by Horace (Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye) McCoy from a stage play by Edgar Wallace. It’s a film that knows how to be thoughtful without bogging down in it.