Sucker Money, 1933, b&w. Dorothy Davenport & Melville Shyer (dirs.), Mischa Auer, Phyllis Barrington, Earl McCarthy, Mona Lisa. 0:59.
The opening titles call this an exposé of phony psychics—but it’s really a remarkably slow-moving B movie. Newspaper editor sees an interesting help-wanted ad, tells reporter to go undercover on what might be a human interest story. The job turns out to be one of the actors in a swami’s theatricals, as the swami works to con marks out of big money, then move on.
We get danger, hypnotism, lots of nonsense, a swami who’s fond of killing as many associates as possible, and an eventual happy ending. In the process, we also get some absurd acting and one of the most lethargic suspense flicks I’ve ever seen. Very charitably, $0.75.
The Chase, 1946, b&w. Arthur Ripley (dir.), Robert Cummings, Michele Morgan, Steve Cochran, Peter Lorre. 1:26 [1:22]
Down-on-his-luck navy vet, standing outside a café unable to afford a meal, finds a lost wallet at his feet. Has a meal—then, seeing the card for the wallet’s owner, returns it to a posh Miami house where two suspicious servants eventually lead him to the owner. The owner’s a tough guy, a successful criminal, who’s impressed with the vet’s honesty and takes him on as a chauffeur (firing his existing chauffeur). On the first drive, the thug shows off his trick car: He can flip a switch and take over control of the accelerator from the back seat, in this case running it up to 110MPH and seemingly racing to cross the tracks ahead of an oncoming train—before suddenly stopping.
The thug’s wife (I guess successful criminals who dress nicely are mobsters, not thugs) is desperate to leave him, enlists the chauffeur to take her to Havana…and she’s killed there, with the murder pinned on the chauffeur. There’s a complex chase…and we find out that it’s all a hallucination/dream…or at least part of it is. The vet takes a whole bunch of pills and calls his Navy doctor.
There’s more plot after that, and a happy ending of sorts. It’s an interesting piece of noir, with Lorre doing a good job as the thug’s sidekick and Cummings good in a non-comedy role. Unfortunately, the print’s frequently bad enough to be nearly unwatchable in night scenes, the missing four minutes could be significant, the romance makes little sense and the ending’s a little too easy. On balance, I’ll give it $1.25.
Woman in the Shadows (orig. Woman in the Dark), 1934, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Fay Wray, Ralph Bellamy, Melvyn Douglas, Roscoe Ates, Ruth Gillette, Joe King, Granville Bates. 1:09.
As we begin, a man’s getting out of prison—with the warden saying he probably shouldn’t have been there anyway, and he needs to watch his temper. The parolee (Bellamy) gives back the money the prison provides on release—and adds some of his own, for whatever good purposes the warden finds. The man, who hit somebody in a fight and was in prison for three years for manslaughter because the other person died, is going back home to live in his deceased father’s cottage and stay out of trouble.
The story seems mostly to be about attitudes. The sheriff thinks any ex-con is a criminal and to be avoided, with his word meaning nothing. The sheriff and police think that a single woman (Wray) who’s beautiful and tried to make a living as a singer is essentially a prostitute—and her word means nothing. And, of course, a degenerate wealthy young man (Douglas) is the Pride of the Community, and his word is worth everything. A lawyer starts out by pawing his client and booking her into an adjacent room at a motel. Oh, and police are generally both incompetent and fully willing to violate anybody’s rights.
The heart of the story comes in the last seven minutes, which makes for some odd pacing. It ends happily, I guess. Great cast, some good performances, decent print, but I found the whole somewhat unsatisfactory. (By the way, the longest IMDB review is flat-out wrong, with its “shady gangster and on the run moll.”) On balance, $1.25.
The Scar (orig. Hollow Triumph), 1948, b&w. Steve Sekely (dir.), Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks. 1:23.
Here’s the setup for this noir mystery: A bright guy named Muller—medical education, all that, but a habitual criminal—gets out of prison, with a job reference and expectation by the warden that he’ll be back. He immediately contacts his crooked colleagues and insists on setting up a casino heist. It doesn’t go quite as planned. Although Muller and one accomplice get away with $200 grand (or something like that), four others are captured and give up his name. The casino owner’s known as someone who never gives up when he’s crossed.
Muller goes to LA and takes the job, such as it is…and, delivering a parcel, is recognized. But he’s recognized as someone else, the psychiatrist Dr. Bartok, and when the person (a dentist in the same building) sees him full-face, he sees the one difference: Bartok, otherwise an exact double, has a large scar on his face. Muller also encounters Bartok’s secretary, who obviously had something going with Bartok.
After Muller encounters a couple of the casino owner’s hoods, he decides to become Bartok. He romances the secretary and gets some of Bartok’s voice records; he also takes a picture of Bartok so he can create his own scar. Except that the photo store screwed up doing the enlargement—flipping the photo.
Ah, but nobody notices—including the secretary, patients, the dentist and Bartok’s girlfriend. (Muller’s killed Bartok to assume his identity, naturally.) And so it goes, right up until the climax, which is a slight twist and has to do with Bartok’s own considerable failings.
An odd story but an interesting one, well played by Henreid as Muller and Bartok and Bennett as the secretary, with a strong supporting cast and excellent, subtle lighting and photography. (For what it’s worth, a 28-year-old Jack Webb is in the movie—for about two minutes in a tiny uncredited part as one of the hoods.) I wouldn’t call it great, but it’s quite good and the print’s consistently very good. Worth $1.50.