The Maltese Falcon

Del Ruth sets this up for Huston as a steady line of continuous thought, a crackling wire that hems or haws when it’s feigning but always full of current, and here Miles Archer of Spade & Archer Private Operatives listens in on the fatal conversation.

Huston capitalizes on Del Ruth’s punctuation, that last look Spade gives Archer, the phonograph needle bouncing back and forth at the end of a record in the clinches.

Sam the Grocery Man’s memorable search of Ruth Wonderly’s apartment starts as a once over lightly and gets right down to the bottom of things.

Holy wars? I’ll bet that was a great racket!”

A perfectly amazing film, no doubt about it. Gutman’s gunsel, Dr. Cairo, the lady in the opening scene...

Death of Gutman and Cairo. Samuel Spade of San Francisco speaks Chinese.

At the Winter Garden, the New York Times reviewer heard “the reassuring hum which is the hallmark of contented audiences” and saw “cultivated humor and a keen intelligence.”

Variety, “no easy job.” Leonard Maltin, “quite good.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “excellent”.



Del Ruth’s astonishing portrait of the war, a year before Hitler took power.

“On the whole, however,” Andrew Sarris writes in The American Cinema, “Roy Del Ruth seemed more a trend follower than a trend setter.”

Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times thought little enough of it, “the story, such as it is...”

Variety pegged it as “an hour’s entertainment for the boys”.

Halliwell’s Film Guide has “sassy comedy drama with plenty going on” and cites the golden words of Time, “a sordid but amusing observation on minor metropolitan endeavors.”


Employees’ Entrance

An inside view of a great New York department store “at war” in the Depression. The basis can be analyzed as The Front Page, the life of the company is at stake instead of a man set to be hanged, it’s a time for total mobilization or maximum effort, which accounts for some of the more outré moments and consequences of a hard business practice.

The poetry of department stores is in the elevator operator’s cries of merchandise at every floor, the poetry of business is everywhere in the script, a particular form of business, run on ideas and labor rather than retrenchment, which means bankruptcy.

“A decidedly fictional type of story,” said Mordaunt Hall in his New York Times review.



A long-delayed mass escape by Allied prisoners of war in France.

At the time (M.H., New York Times), this was considered “a trifle too melodramatic to be credible.”

The main lines of analysis were subsequently carried out by David Lean in The Bridge on the River Kwai and Sam Peckinpah in The Wild Bunch (from Aldrich’s Vera Cruz), also Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

Halliwell’s Film Guide, unflustered, sides with the Times, and quotes Variety of the same opinion.

Del Ruth’s masterpiece is antecedent to Renoir’s La Grande illusion and is very strongly reflected in Robson’s Von Ryan’s Express.


Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back

Algy’s wedding night.

Prince Achmed has converted his fortune to furs aboard the Bombay Girl out of London, trying to exchange them for gold in port.

Deaths attend the transaction, Captain Drummond lights upon the whole thing whilst leaving the wedding feast in a fog, hoping for “just a trout, a dog, and a book.”

That’s how it works out, in a perfect masterpiece, “an excellent entertainment,” as Mordaunt Hall put it in the New York Times.

The screenplay is by Nunnally Johnson out of Sapper.


Kid Millions

A nice Brooklyn boy (his girl’s named Nora) much put upon by Irish stepbrothers finds his fortune in the desert or, as he would say, his ship comes in.

Andre Sennwald’s backhanded praises in his New York Times review include “a shade this side of inspiration” and “a bit long for complete enjoyment.”

Variety likewise, “another Samuel Goldwyn-Eddie Cantor musical comedy extravaganza, and again strong entertainment. Follows more or less the comedy lines of all Cantor pictures. And with Cantor singing the same kind of songs” (Dave Kehr in the Chicago Reader echoes this).

Halliwell’s Film Guide records it as “dated” but cites Variety’s other side, “Goldwyn-Cantor girl-and-gag socko.”



Topper Returns

The lady abscondeth, albeit unwillingly, in a construction between The Enforcer and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The painstaking fabrication and maintenance of the overall gag, its patient extension to the perimeter of its orbit, and Eddie Anderson running faster than the boss’s wheels at the end by virtue of Emersonian “special strength,” as well as the fine special effects and classic acting of such as H.B. Warner make it a nice clean comedy for all ages, and one that penetrates a lot of old malarkey. One points out all this because criticism tends toward the tangential approach, which here would leave itincentrifugalexhaustion.

A film what is mur-der! An amazing comedy that is beyond praise from practically every point of view and knows it, compressing as it does several genres into a lickety-split piece of madness and mayhem on a very serious subject, with topflight performances, if that isn’t too mild a description.


Du Barry Was a Lady

The title cards show by dissolves Du Barry stripped bare (behind a folding screen). A screenful of beauties recite a posy or two, then the camera pulls back to reveal the stage of the Club Petite.

Red Skelton is the hat check boy, Gene Kelly is the hoofer, Lucille Ball is the chanteuse, Zero Mostel is the fortuneteller Rami the Swami, Douglass Dumbrille is Lucy’s favorite admirer and rich, Virginia O’Brien is the cigarette girl, and Rags Ragland delivers the pivotal telegram.

Hedy,” says Mostel imitating Charles Boyer, “my name is Pipi Le Caca,” that’s how it sounds. A novelty act, The Oxford Boys (three men and a guitar) mimic half-a-dozen swing bands in rapid succession, Kay Kyser, Fred Waring, Horace Heidt, Harry James (a solo on nose trumpet), Guy Lombardo, Tommy Dorsey, no, the camera moves left to reveal that trombone solo is being played by Dorsey himself, with his band and two spinet pianos en face.

The chanteuse’s maid assesses the field, “he has more lettuce than a victory garden.” Del Ruth’s greatness as a director is evident in the pipes and stripes and bricks and pix of this dressing room with NOTICE TO ARTISTS beside the door.

She sends the hoofer flying onto the stage in his white tie and tails, where he dances a solo in the spotlight until the lights come up brightly and he’s flanked by girls in canary (left) or magenta (right). Most of this is a characteristic long take, with a gag shot and a quick finish.

The joke material is inebriating and forms a complement to the music. Del Ruth puts the camera on O’Brien in a medium close-up for half of “Salome”, cuts once to a new angle and divides this second shot with a camera move. After that, Ragland attempts to deliver his telegram. Skelton checks his hat. “Give me me hat,” says Ragland. He gets a topper, Skelton gets a high-hat’s rug (“where’s the head?”) and the news he’s won the Irish Sweepstakes. Ragland gets his job.

Skelton hires the club for a private party. He loves an Esquire girl, and introduces twelve of them (November is all in white with a Puritan chapeau and a short frou-frou, holding a large pumpkin, December is in a red sequined evening gown, holding a bouquet of poinsettias).

The drama is that he loves the chanteuse, and so does the hoofer, but she grew up poor and won’t marry anybody but a Crœsus, yet she loves Kelly. Ragland has the solution, slip him a Rooney. What’s a Rooney? “A high-power Mickey. He goes into a comma [sic] about a fortnight.” Skelton drinks it by mistake and has a dream in which he sees a life-sized portrait of himself in a strange costume and reads the title, “His Majesty Louis XV, 1743”. He lets out a whistle and says, “what a setback!”

The Dorsey band periwigged and stockinged plays for him, eloquent trombone, snap-crackling trumpet, hooty sax, Buddy Rich on drums, and a brass section. This is “Katie Went to Haiti”, with The Pied Pipers. Ragland is the Dauphin. Skelton is informed he has a mistress, Ball as Du Barry. He goes to the gatekeeper. “Greetings, son! Open ‘er up!” She’s reviewing the troops in her boudoir, and orders them to find The Black Arrow (Kelly). The King chases her around the room, then he pulls a large red velvet case from his apparel. “Oh,” she says, “Louis, are you going to play that thing again?” Skelton has the great number, “Crêpes Suzette”.

At the inn, Mostel introduces The Black Arrow, “direct from the palace, the star of our revolution” and an inspiration for History of the World: Part I. Here is what it has all been for, the mortal wisdom that Del Ruth has a genius for couching in hilarity, the King is overtaxing his subjects to pay for Du Barry’s extravagance. That’s all, that’s enough. The King sees the error of his ways, but Dumbrille (as the Duc de Rigor) sends Kelly and Mostel to the tumbril. “Double Header To-Day” says the sign in the town square, and the guillotine is a two-holer.

Skelton wakes up, gives up the girl (O’Brien loves him), flashes his wad and gives that up, too, to the tax man (Donald Meek). That’s the end of the film, but Del Ruth signs it as finished with Kelly, Ball, Skelton and O’Brien singing and dancing “Friendship”, joined by Tommy Dorsey doing the same just to let you know “no symbols where none intended.”


The Babe Ruth Story

Baltimore to Boston, the pitching career, “STRIKES OUT TY COBB”.

Change of horses, “were you a tailor, before you became a genius?” The better half. Setting a kid on his feet.

The lesson, closely followed by Hiller in Babe, is on the placid ease of the man, all Del Ruth’s art goes into a complete representation, a stately film, too, in the costumes and settings that serve the same purpose.

Russell’s Valentino also occupies a cage briefly, “then I’ll know where you are nights.” Hence the slump, and more hectoring. The Yankee comeback beats all, “goshdarnedest”.

Hence the inner life of the subject is seen everywhere, that of the film in striking mechanics, to coin a phrase, at work in every scene. The beautiful structural realization that ties a home run in Chicago to retirement is especially remarkable, the pain in the neck and the sacrifice come later.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “Roy Del Ruth (no relation), who produced and directed the film, has contributed the least imagination in image and movement that is possible.”

The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “hollow heroics... phony sentimentality... bogus script... mincemeat... applesauce”.

Leonard Maltin, “perfectly dreadful”.

Again, Russell has Henri Gaudier Brzeska onstage in Savage Messiah like the Babe, but Halliwell’s Film Guide is no further enlightened than its American counterparts, “dim, sentimental and faintly mystical.”

“Paint not the thing,” says Mallarmé, “but the effect it produces.” Critics by and large could not recognize the man in the sports pages from Del Ruth’s man of the sport, a marvelously accurate portrayal.

Hal Erickson (Rovi), “so bad it’s good... awful, almost stupefyingly so.”

TV Guide, which points out the contribution of Bendix’ personal genius and skill, considers the result “sanitized but enjoyable”.

Question of Ruth in management, finally, banned in Boston, burked in New York.



The amusement value of show folks at Travis AFB, where troops fly out round the clock and the wounded fly back on the same planes, is tested and found, not wanting exactly but something else again, something on the order of basic training, from scratch to a real understanding, and that ain’t easy.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times missed the point entirely, “entertainment” he called it, in quotation marks, subtle guy.

More than enough genius is exhibited, always downgraded from number to number, not at all what Crowther, pardon the expression, thought.

Del Ruth of all people knows what a thing’s worth, the whole cotton-pickinmegillah only adds up to an honest imparting of all the resources of art to hapless or bumptious servicemen going to a place known only as “the front line”, or not.

“Insipid”, says Halliwell’s Film Guide, and “more insipid”.