50 Movie Pack Hollywood Legends, Disc 8

The Town Went Wild, 1944, b&w. Ralph Murphy (dir.), Freddie Bartholomew, Jimmy Lydon, Edward Everett Horton, Tom Tully, Jill Browning, Maude Eburne, Jimmy Conlin. 1:17 [1:05]

What dramatic sweep: Incest, infectious diseases, breaking and entering, family feuds, fistfights, two trials… Well, OK, it’s a screwball romantic comedy—with emphasis on the screwball. The son of one feuding neighbor runs off with the daughter of the next-door feuding neighbor to elope in a nearby town—with the daughter’s brother finding transportation and cover. (The son’s on his way to Alaska, for reasons that aren’t quite clear. That’s important because he needs a copy of his birth certificate. Wait for it. Turns out they can’t get married yet: They have to wait three days after the license is issued, and it gets published in the meantime.

Meanwhile, the clowns at city hall (in the first town) discover that two birth certificates may have been switched—and, in an immediate court hearing, the sons are told that they belong with each other’s family (there’s no real proof, but they both have a birthmark that should identify one of them). Which, if you think about it…well, bad enough that the kid would now be marrying his sister (I didn’t make up anything in the first sentence), but they conclude that they’ll all go to prison because of the marriage license. So Steps Must Be Taken…which lead to another trial involving both fathers and their employer. (Measles are involved, not to spoil even more of the plot.)

It’s all played with great energy by a talented cast. As presented in this print, it’s really too short to be a full-fledged feature, but it plays like a brisk screwball comedy without big holes in the plot. The sound track’s a little iffy at times, and the video and sound are a bit out of synch. (That happens in some of the movies, but is usually corrected a few minutes in. Not so this time.) Those flaws and the brevity of the flick bring it down to $1.25.

The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955, b&w. Otto Preminger (dir.), Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin, Robert Strauss, John Conte, George E. Stone. 1:59.

The real stuff—not the most pleasant movie in the world, but powerful and well-acted. Frank Sinatra plays the title role, Frankie Machine, where “golden arm” refers to his skill as an (illegal) poker dealer, his newfound talent as a drummer—and, to be sure, all the gold that gets pumped into his arm, one needle at a time. He gets off the dope and quits the illegal gambling after getting out of treatment—or at least he tries, but his wife (who appears to be wheelchair-bound after an accident he’s responsible for) wants him to stick with what he knows. There’s a very brief scene midway where it becomes clear that she’s faking the physical disability; in some ways, she’s more of an enabler than the slick pusher.

Kim Novak plays the girlfriend with heart, brains and determination—and does a superb job, as does Sinatra (who won an Oscar nomination for the role). For that matter, Darren McGavin as the dealer is first rate also. So is Eleanor Parker as the wife.

It’s a gritty, well-written, well-acted downer, and a true classic. The plot plays well throughout—as we watch someone get pulled back in to his bad old ways, and eventually go cold turkey in a fairly harrowing sequence. The print’s generally quite good, and the sound’s good enough to support Elmer Bernstein’s first-rate jazz score (another Oscar nomination). I don’t know that I’d watch it again, but can’t possibly give it less than $2.

High Voltage, 1929, b&w. Howard Higgin (dir.), William Boyd, Carole Lombard, Owen Moore, Phillips Smalley, Billy Bevan, Diane Ellis. 1:03.

An odd title for an odd short flick with a fine cast. The setup requires a fair amount of disbelief: A coach or bus apparently going from Sacramento to Reno during a huge snow storm. When it stops for gas, the station attendant says they’ll never make it through and should stop there, but the blowhard driver says he can make it. Passengers include one banker, one young woman on the way to meet her fiancée, and a cop taking a woman (Carole Lombard) back East to serve out a prison sentence. The last two are on their way to catch a train, as is (I believe) the young woman. The film is set in a time when there are not only buses but airplanes—but, apparently, either no train running from Sacramento east or the train’s so unreliable that it makes more sense to ride a bus out into a huge snowstorm. I suppose there was such a period, but it’s a little implausible.
Naturally, the bus gets stuck. Somehow, it’s 40 miles to the nearest city or town—but there’s a church close enough so the stranded group can see it and make their way there. Where they find a hobo (William Boyd), who (it turns out) is also on the lam. (You may know William Boyd by the character he played in about 70 movies and 40 TV shows starting in 1935: Hopalong Cassidy. He’s a lot darker here!)

That’s the setup. The guy who’s already there has some food but probably not enough for the ten days he estimates they’ll be there (based on nothing obvious). There’s some jockeying for position, some shoving around, some threats… and mostly lots of talk and very little of anything else, although the hobo (who pretty much takes command) does manage to push them all out to get some fresh air, leading to two of them falling through ice (and being rescued). The hobo starts to go off in the night with the woman on her way back to prison (he knows of a ranger station ten miles away)—but then a plane starts circling overhead, he can’t go through with abandoning the others, and they agree to serve their time and move on from there. (Sorry for the plot spoilers, but there’s not much plot here to spoil.)

So I guess it’s a drama of tension among half a dozen stranded types. I suppose, but hardly enough tension to justify the title. Reasonably well acted. Some film damage. One real oddity: The opening credits refer to the characters as archetypes—The Boy, The Girl, The Detective, and so on—even though they all have names in the movie. Knowing the date does make a difference: This is a very early talkie. I’ll give it $1.

The Hoosier Schoolboy, 1937, b&w. William Nigh (dir.), Mickey Rooney, Anne Nagel, Frank Shields, Edward Pawley, William Gould, Dorothy Vaughan. 1:02.

Ostensibly, this movie’s about a kid from the wrong side of the tracks and the new schoolteacher who—after almost being sent packing because she might be a labor agitator—tries to redeem him and his drunken war-hero father. But the plot is equally about a “milk strike,” with dairy farmers who worked with a “cooperative” dairy, whose owner is now underpricing them under difficult circumstances. Or maybe it’s about the new schoolteacher, possibly too spunky for her own good, and the seemingly-playboy son of the dairy owner who wants to make everything right (and win her affection).

That’s a lot of plot for a one-hour movie and it didn’t feel as though either one was explored very well. If you just love Mickey Rooney’s tough kid with a heart of gold character, you’ll probably like this movie. Between dark video at times, flawed video at other times and a sense that the movie wasn’t ready to explore anything very deeply, I didn’t find it very satisfactory. $0.75.

I Cover the Waterfront, 1933, b&w. James Cruze (dir.), Ben Lyon, Claudette Colbert, Ernest Torrence, Hobart Cavanaugh, Maurice Black, Purnell Pratt. 1:15 [1:01].

The waterfront reporter promises his editor a big story on Chinese immigrants being smuggled. He winds up with a “bad lead” because the fishing captain involved is so ruthless he’ll cheerfully drown the immigrant rather than risk exposure. Eventually, he gets the story through a plot involving romancing the captain’s daughter; he also gets shot along the way. There’s a side story involving a drunken reporter who turns up in his apartment. Unfortunately, the whole thing seems scattered, possibly because of missing footage. It’s not bad, but hardly a classic in this rendition. $1.00.

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