Action for Slander

A rather spectacularly amusing comedy, witness the judge’s speech in chambers, on a mortal affair at cards in which the deceived husband seconds a ninny’s drunken accusation of cheating, ultimately it goes to court.

The mistress goes by the boards, the wife returns, the cuckold throws his cards in (the charge was of picking up discards and rejecting draws), a national scandal involving the regiment is stilled.

“A talkative story” (TV Guide).

“All rather leaden” (Time Out Film Guide).


The Divorce of Lady X

A joke about a divorce lawyer who is unacquainted with what Bette Davis (in Death on the Nile) calls “the married state.” It is filmed in a gorgeous Technicolor applied to London hotel rooms, the Inns of Court, a club, etc.

A brilliant comedy whose preponderating element is color, a framework as mysterious as the later Kurosawa, in which Merle Oberon pixilates and Laurence Olivier fulminates and Morton Selten jubilates, and Ralph Richardson is given a long opportunity to win a bet from George Bernard Shaw on whether or not it is possible to represent thought in the cinema.


St Martins Lane

It proceeds from such things as John Ford’s Upstream and Wellman’s A Star Is Born, and goes into Lattuada & Fellini’s Luci del Varietą and Chaplin’s Limelight and Russell’s The Boy Friend, traces of it are everywhere, the ins and outs of show business, a masterwork beyond the ken if not the pale and fringes of the usual run, everyone knows what buskers are, ask the cat (or the sausages) in mink, she knows about the poor beggars on the Sidewalks of London (as it’s known in America), and the Cockney miss called Liberty who’s very gifted, and the very poor grub of a Charlie who sees her right and loses her to “the theatre” that cops a busker tune for a hit.


Q planes

The ray that Marconi was supposed to have been working on in 1935 is the weapon of enemy agents incapacitating test flights to capture plane and crew at various points around the world (cf. Albert S. Rogell’s Air Hawks).

With Major Hammond of British Intelligence, a major precedent for the Bond films.

Nugent of the New York Times especially admired the drollery, Variety as well, and Halliwell’s Film Guide.


Swing Fever

Kay Kyser’s a rube with a “sinfon’etta in D minor” which to an observer “sounds like a Major Bowes loser.”

He joins the alligators with a swing band at Club Sirocco.

He has the hereditary gift of a hypnotic eye, he uses it on a pugilist to defeat a gangster with designs.

Whelan keeps it whippin’, the material is perfected in Silk Stockings (dir. Rouben Mamoulian) as a foreign entanglement, here it’s in excelsis.


Rage at Dawn

The whole point of this is a single close-up of Randolph Scott as the Reno brothers are lynched. It’s placed just before the end in an anticlimactic position for maximum impact and understatement. Structurally, it mirrors and explains the cold-blooded murder of the Peterson man early on (he’s burned alive by the Reno gang).

After an ambushed bank robbery later developed and expanded by Sam Peckinpah into The Wild Bunch’s opening sequence, Whelan starts setting all this up with an extraordinary quiet scene in the Reno household framing Denver Pyle’s Raymond Massey impression.

Most of the work is done by the script, leaving Whelan to lavish his Technicolor on simple interiors, and exteriors that indeed prove shadows are blue. Scott, for example, is not merely put on the case but provided with a lengthy dossier as a former Confederate spy who fooled Secretary of War Stanton, no less. Now he is to infiltrate a murderous gang of train robbers who own the town, with their own judge, prosecutor, and sheriff all elected by the citizenry, his cover story is he’s a painter.

There’s always a breaking sunrise of originality in a Randolph Scott Western, which is one of the reasons connoisseurs treasure them (there’s a joke about this in Sidney Lumet’s Bye Bye Braverman). Precedents reach back to R.N. Bradbury’s Blue Steel, and visible influences also extend to Mankiewicz’ There Was a Crooked Man and George Roy Hill’s The Sting, as well as to The Wild Wild West on television.

The Reno gang, says an opening title, were the first train robbers in America, operating out of Seymour, Indiana at the end of the Civil War. “Thus,” says another at the close, “they passed into American Folklore.”

After the Renos are hoosegowed, a newspaper subhead reads “Seymour Citizens Demonstrate Against County Officials”, but then comes the lynching, and nothing further is said of them, though earlier Scott expresses his preference for arresting those scoundrels over the gang. However, as St. Paul says, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.Where there is “Government of the People, by the People, and for the People” (the phrase is Wycliffe’s), we must look to the People.

Scott’s double take when he’s asked what he paints is a fine joke, and a nice jab at the ęsthetes.