Fog Island, 1945, b&w. Terry O. Morse (dir.), George Zucco, Lionel Atwill, Jerome Cowan, Sharon Douglas, Veda Ann Borg, John Whitney, Ian Keith, George Lloyd. 1:12 [1:09]
Businessman gets out of prison after an embezzlement sentence and returns to his mansion on a lonely, fog-shrouded island (a former pirate hideaway, which may explain the secret passages). His wife died while he was in prison; his stepdaughter’s there, as is a shifty butler. He believes that several colleagues—who framed him for the embezzlement and ran the company into the ground—murdered his wife as part of a search for the “hidden treasure” (which doesn’t exist: the losses were due to bad investments, not embezzlement). So he invites the lot of them out for a weekend. They all come, including the son of one who’s died—and, other than that upstanding son (who wooed the daughter at college, but was rejected by her because she assumed he was after her supposed money), they’re a mutually-suspicious, backbiting, nasty little group. Oh, there’s also his cellmate and former accountant…
Naturally, the launch that brought them all to the island has to go back to the mainland “for repairs.” That leaves the lot stranded. After enticing them with some specific clues and items, he leaves them to their own devices—which mostly consist of trying to find the “treasure” and stalking one another. It’s a lot more entertaining than I expected, and it all works out—sort of—in the end. (Well, not for the businessman, but you can’t have everything.) The soundtrack is clipped just often enough to be annoying, and the print’s not great. Not a masterpiece, but pretty good; with flaws, I come up with $1.25.
They Made Me a Criminal, 1939, b&w. Busby Berkeley (dir.), John Garfield, Claude Rains, Ann Sheridan, May Robson, Gloria Dickson, the Dead End Kids (Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, etc.). 1:32.
The setup: Johnnie Bradford, a southpaw boxer with a serious drinking problem, wins the championship—and, during the celebration, winds up in a brawl that leaves a reporter dead. He didn’t do it, but he passed out during the process. His manager (who beaned the reporter wih a bottle of booze, killing him) takes off with Bradford’s dame, his watch and his money—leaving him as the obvious patsie. But the cops find the victim, put out a bulletin for the champ’s car (being driven by the couple) and, in the chase, they wind up crashing and burning. The cops assume Bradford’s dead and the case is closed. Except for one detective (who blew an investigation years before), Claude Rains, who notes that the burned guy’s watch is on the wrong wrist…
Meanwhile, Bradford (John Garfield) goes to a lawyer to figure out what to do. He has $10,000 in a safe deposit box. The lawyer says he’ll get it and to lay low—then gives Bradford $250, says he’s taking the rest as his fee, and tells him to ride the rails as far as he can go. Which Bradford does, winding up at an Arizona orchard that’s also a sort of rehabilitation camp for delinquents, namely the Dead End Kids. It’s run by a feisty old lady and her beautiful daughter (Dickson—Sheridan’s the dame).
That’s enough for the plot. Let’s say the happy ending requires an unexpected and unlikely soft spot, but was probably the only way to end the flick. Lots of boxing; I wonder whether Busby Berkeley choreographed the fight sequences? A lot depends on your tolerance for the Dead End Kids, aka the East Side Kids and the Bowery Boys. In this case, I thought they were OK, although still basically hammy little thugs. Decent print. Call it $1.50.
Jigsaw, 1949, b&w. Fletcher Markle (dir.), Franchot Tone, Jean Wallace, Myron McCormick, Marc Lawrence, Winifred Lenihan, Doe Avedon, Hedley Rainnie, George Breen. 1:10.
A printer apparently commits suicide, but a cop—also the eventual brother-in-law of a breezy Assistant DA—checks into it and also winds up dead. The Assistant DA, who never seems to take much of anything seriously, gets deeply into a web of New York neofascists (who may be in it for the money), intrigue, attempted seduction and more murders—and along the way is appointed Special Prosecutor for the case (whatever that case may be). Lively, complex plot, but Franchot Tone as the hero really does seem a little too disengaged for the role. Still, it moves. Anybody who hasn’t figured out the mastermind halfway through the film isn’t really trying, but that’s not particularly unusual.
Quite a few uncredited cameos, mostly in a nightclub: Marlene Dietrich, Henry Fonda, John Garfield, Burgess Meredith and more. Some decent filming. Some damage to the print (missing bits and a white streak down the screen during portions). Not great, but worth $1.25.
Algiers, 1938, b&w. John Cromwell (dir.), Charles Boyer, Sigrid Gurie, Hedy Lamarr, Joseph Calleia, Alan Hale, Gene Lockhart, Walter Kingsford, Paul Harvey. 1:36 [1:39].
Pepe Le Moko is a French jewel thief now holed up in the Casbah, where he’s essentially impossible to arrest. Enter a no-nonsense French officer who wants him caught—and a gorgeous Frenchwoman on vacation with her fiancée. There’s not too much doubt where this will all end, but the story—a classic—is in the getting there.
This one really is a classic, with Le Moko’s slightly odd band of compatriots, his one song (well, with Charles Boyer playing thepart…), the magnificent Hedy Lamarr, a great supporting cast, fine cinematography and all the atmosphere of the Casbah itself. The only letdown (other than a tiny number of lost frames) is the soundtrack, which has background noise and occasional distortion. That reduces the value of an eminently enjoyable classic to $1.75.