Indiscreet, 1931, b&w. Leo McCarey (dir.), Gloria Swanson, Ben Lyon, Monroe Owsley, Barbara Kent, Arthur Lake, Maude Eburne. 1:32 [1:13]
I’m of two minds on this one. On the one hand, it’s a nicely done romantic comedy with some remarkable comedic turns by Gloria Swanson (particularly when she demonstrates the “slight touch of insanity” in her family), a satisfying overall plot and generally solid acting. Yes, there’s some uneasiness between melodrama and comedy, and the occasional songs seem out of placeâ€”but it was fun overall.
On the other, the soundtrack’s sometimes damaged enough to be really annoying, and once in a while there’s visible damage as well. The missing 19 minutes would probably improve the movie.
Overall, it’s a good romantic comedy undone by the print quality, yielding $1.25.
Chandu on the Magic Island, 1935, b&w. Ray Taylor (dir.), Bela Lugosi, Maria Alba. 1:10 [1:06].
This is apparently a sequel to some other movie or movies (or recut episodes of a serial) with Bela Lugosi as Frank Chandler, aka Chandu the Magician. This one involves a Princess Nadji, a yacht, evil crewmen, the lost island of Lemuria, some dark-magic cat-worshiping religion and a proposed sacrifice to reanimate a dead ruler.
I could say that the print’s damaged in some parts and the sound’s questionable. Both of those are trueâ€”but I don’t think seeing this one in vivid Technicolor with crystal-clear surround sound and on a big screen would help. It struck me as incoherent even by the standards of Z mystic-“scifi” flicks. (There’s no science here, but plenty of fiction.) My charitable quick review: An awful mess, but devoted fans of Bela Lugosi might find something to like. For that, I’ll give a reluctant $0.50.
Hell’s House, 1932, b&w, Howard Higgin (dir.), Bette Davis, Pat O’Brien, Junior Durkin. 1:12.
Rural kid sees his mother get run over by a car (driver gets out, looks at victim, drives away; kid makes no move to remember license plate or, apparently, call authorities). Next scene: Kid shows up at urban home of aunt & uncle, who have a boarder who acts like a hotshotâ€”and the uncle’s out of work. Next scene: Kid asks hotshot if he knows of a job; hotshot, who’s actually a bootlegger, hires kid to take phone calls but never say who he works for or where he lives. Next sceneâ€”this movie moves fastâ€”cops show up, kid won’t talk, kid gets sent to reformatory for three years.
Then there’s a bunch of reformatory stuff, with a side plot of newspaper reporter trying to blow the lid off the terrible conditions there but not getting cooperation. Kid’s best buddy, another kid with a heart condition, tries to smuggle letter out for kid, gets caught, won’t snitch, goes to solitary, where the ticker goes worse. Kid knows this, busts out (in the outgoing garbage), pleads with hotshot to help. Despite hotshot’s not actually knowing anybody, he manages to get in to see the reporter, kid tells storyâ€¦and, as the cops arrive, the bootlegger finally develops a heart and signs a confession. After which, of course, the reformatory gets cleaned up (the kid doesn’t go back). Oh, his friend dies.
Pat O’Brien’s the hotshot. Bette Davis is his girlfriend, who suspects he’s mostly a blowhard. Incidentally, the plot summary on the sleeve gets it badly wrong, having the kid escape because the hotshot Kelly is seeing too much of the kid’s girlfriendâ€”but the kid doesn’t have a girlfriend in the movie.
All a little too formulaicâ€”and maybe it doesn’t matter in this case. While the print’s so-so visually, the soundtrack is so scratchy that I almost gave up on it several times. I can’t imagine most sane people would ever listen all the way through. Given that, it can’t earn more than $0.50.
The Evil Mind (or The Clairvoyant), 1934, b&w. Maurice Elvey (dir.), Claude Rains, Jane Baxter, Athole Stewart. 1:21 [1:08].
Maximus works as a stage clairvoyant, using his wife’s clues to say what she’s holdingâ€”until, in the presence of another woman, he suddenly makes a real and correct prediction. This happens a couple of times; he gets a big London stage engagement but the producer’s unhappy because he can’t do big predictions to order. Meanwhile, his wife’s becoming jealous of the young woman. This all leads up to his unwilling prediction of a tunneling catastropheâ€”one that, when it comes true, causes him to be put on trial on the basis that his prediction caused the catastrophe.
There’s little point in saying more about the plot. It’s not bad, actually, and there’s a nice twist involving why he only makes accurate predictions under certain circumstances. The print is jumpy at points, 13 minutes are missing and the soundtrack’s damaged at points as well, but not so much as to ruin the picture. It’s generally well-acted. While the sleeve lists Fay Wray (the wife) as the “legend,” I’d say Claude Rains’ faintly bizarre and very well played Maximus deserves more credit. The original title (“The Clairvoyant”) suits this better, as there’s nothing evil in Rains’ predictions. I’ll give it $1.00.
This feels like a very weak final discâ€”in a couple of cases, finding something to fill out the 50. Such is life.