The Man Who Reclaimed His Head
From war, from the usurpation of his publisher, who loses it to the munitions-makers who collude and connive even with the enemy to sustain the war until the essential commodity is exhausted, and that is patriotism.
A great masterpiece by a director of genius, “overwrought and underdone” according to Andre Sennwald of the New York Times, “far from a smash” (Variety), an “oddball period melodrama” (Halliwell’s Film Guide, the film is set in France at the time of the Great War).
Claude Rains the writer, Joan Bennett his wife, Lionel Atwill the publisher.
With the evidence in his old kit bag, the writer tells the histoire to an old friend from the Lycée Condorcet, now the best lawyer in Paris.
Adventure in Manhattan
An absolutely shocking masterpiece (“a mild melodrama,” according to Nugent of the New York Times, who was shocked at the portrayal of journalists).
A false play of the trenches and no man’s land (Fury’s Road) at the Alvin Theatre masks a tunnel burglary at the Commercial National Bank next door.
The cast put on a show for the crime reporter, the leading actress is destitute, a straying wife thrown out who returns to find her young daughter dead, a Press Club ruse to deflate a genius.
He lies doggo later on, feigning depression to throw the mastermind off.
Joel McCrea, Jean Arthur, Reginald Owen as a Stateside Mabuse, Thomas Mitchell as the editor.
The Last Gangster
He goes down for income tax evasion, a vicious murderer, the No. 1 crime boss, and when he gets out ten years later his old gang with some new blood torture his hoard of loot out of him, his wife’s remarried, his own son doesn’t know him, he dies protecting the kid at last from finding out about his father. The bare bones of an outline, omitting the return with a bride from the old country, the cross-country train-and-ferry ride to prison, its modern improvements, and the gangster’s pride and joy a well-brought-up Bostonian.
They Came To Blow Up America
Berlin’s “school for saboteurs”. The same hotheaded subordinate in Big Jim McLain, “we could borrow a leaf from Hitler when it comes to dealing with our enemies and we’d have fewer of ‘em.” The same scion with a surprising turn of mind in Leo McCarey’s My Son John. “Not every member of the German-American Bund is to be condemned,” says he, back from South America to his Heidelberger parents in Milwaukee.
“No matter how rotten a government is, we have been taught that it will not fall of its own weight, strong hands are needed to push it over, and ours are those hands!” Ludwig’s ringleader is advised by his parents to make a clean breast of it, “ignorance is forgivable, but stupidity, never,” he is nevertheless operating undercover in the Abteilung Geheimdienst as one of “the best men they can get their hands on” for training in demolition and sabotage, “the disruption and destruction of the American war effort on the home front.”
It is clear by now that masterpieces are Ludwig’s forte, and so in Berlin his American agent working for German naval intelligence is captivated by a pretty girl in the underground who is made a special assignment by the Gestapo, “you will make love to the girl, if—necessary, and you will try to find the proof we seek to crystallize our suspicions concerning her.” Lovely girl, leaflets she distributes clandestinely in handfuls, “what you alone can do isn’t worth the concentration camp and all that it can mean in terror and suffering.”
A real Nazi wife hoist on her own is the counterimage, and the old family friend with a pipeline to the polizei, and some fine fast work by a Coast Guardsman on the beach at Amagansett. Bridges, tunnels, forests, communications, war materials and the factories that produce them are all targets.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, as green a horn as Damon Runyon’s loafers ever could wish, had just come in off the banana boat, “artificiality drips all over the screen.” he observed for the record. TV Guide, “intriguing WW II drama”. Sandra Brennan (All Movie Guide), “provocative WW II drama.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “potboiler”.
The Fighting Seabees
The surprising structure didn’t fool T.M.P. of the New York Times, he never even noticed it.
Construction men on Navy jobs at the very start of the war are decimated, defend themselves ineffectually, and join up as a Construction Battalion. This is the allure of a Navy fiancée against the brawling freedom of the catskinners, welders, etc.
A certain sacrifice, on top of the initial and secondary losses, is entailed. A mighty great picture that ends in 1942 with a unit decoration (cf. Jerry London’s Killdozer).
Wake of the Red Witch
The treasure at the bottom of the sea, placed there to atone for another purloined, buys freedom. Pearls and gold, a gift from island natives for killing the guardian octopus, bullion from a partner in the venture.
Crowther (New York Times) considered it an affront to “good sense”.
The Big Wheel
In a tale about auto racing, this is just the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who offended the hierarchy of Salzburg (they had offended him greatly) but was praised after all by Joseph Haydn as “the finest composer I know, either living or not.”
Big Jim McLain
The structural basis is a comic relation to Sternberg’s Jet Pilot, significant references are to Wyler’s Jezebel and McCarey’s My Son John. The essence of the enemy plans is to play both ends against the middle. The vivid location filming is a bedrock of Leonard Freeman’s Hawaii Five-0 and the work of Andy Sidaris (cf. for instance Picasso Trigger).
“How stands the Union?”
A young G-man bristles at the Fifth Amendment and dies of Soviet truth serum (cp. They Came To Blow Up America). The psychiatric angle is played out in beautiful Hawaii, where the Arizona is a caution, a psychiatric nurse fills the bill.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times called it “irresponsible and unforgivable,” Variety saw a hasty production and “evidence of that haste,” the Catholic News Service Media Review Office has a “dated patriotic melodrama”, Leonard Maltin “a relic of its era,” TV Guide “a smashing conclusion,” and Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide) “the worst,” Halliwell’s Film Guide finds it “curious and rather offensive”.
A Rose for Lotta
The great Lotta Crabtree consents to appear in a lurid drama as a charmer who beguiles Little Joe off the Ponderosa so the mine owners can force Ben to sell them timber. The premiere episode, a masterpiece among Westerns, is entrusted to Ludwig. Dortort has the script and authors a Biblical patriarch in “heaven” with his sons from North, East and South. Crabtree’s performance on the bare commodious stage with boxes close at hand, the vicious search for Joe in the Chinese district after his escape from Crabtree’s well-appointed hotel room at International House (Hop Sing’s father, Hop Ling, runs a capacious laundry), the owners’ two hirelings captured by the Chinese after setting fire to a canvas structure, Joe and Lotta (Yvonne De Carlo) discovered dancing in safety, Adam’s farewell kiss to Lotta from a man of years, make a panoply of images in the best style.