Monomania

don't gamble with strangers small

This week’s New York Times column is a note of thanks to the gang at Warner Brothers for doing right by the Monogram library — a much-abused and hopelessly obscure body of work that WB most likely acquired for the sake of the studio’s late productions (by then, it had been renamed Allied Artists) including “Cabaret,” “Papillon” and “The Man Who Would Be King.” The Warner Archive Collection has been diligent about getting out Monogram’s apparently endless “Bowery Boys” series — deeply implanted in the minds of many baby boomers because of after-school television broadcasts in the 60s — and in digging up decent copies of the Monogram Charlie Chan films. More recently, they’ve been getting around to some of Monogram’s more adult-oriented fare, including some compellingly sordid work from Monogram’s house directors William Nigh (“Where Are Your Children?”), Phil Karlson (“Wife Wanted”) and the insanely prolific William Beaudine, who went off auto-pilot at least long enough to produce one strikingly cynical noir, “Don’t Gamble with Strangers.” TCM recently ran Alfred Zeisler’s remarkable “Fear,” an unacknowledged remake of “Crime and Punishment” with the robotic Peter Cookson as a medical student who murders a professor who moonlights as a loan shark; it’s one of those fascinating, Ulmeresque exercises in low-budgets expressivity in which it is ultimately impossible to discern between the film’s strengths and its weaknesses. The TCM copy of “Fear” appeared to have been sourced from a beaten-up 16-millimeter television print, which suggests that the Monogram library may be even less well preserved than Republic. Here’s hoping that Warners turns up a watchable version of Nigh’s late career wonderment “I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes” (1948), the one adaptation of a Cornell Woolrich story I know of that truly captures the sweaty claustrophobia of Woolrich’s unhappy world.

104 comments to Monomania

  • Robert Garrick

    I’ve mentioned “Suspense” (1946) once or twice previously. It was produced by the King Brothers, and I’ve always read that it was the only A-budgeted film ever released under the Monogram name. Frank Tuttle directed, and it starred Belita, Monogram’s ice-skating answer to Sonja Henie.

    “Suspense” is pretty good. For years it was something of a ghost film for me. I saw the last half hour on an obscure all-night channel back around 1975, and I could swear there were some mind-boggling noirish shots. For forty years after that I couldn’t find the film anywhere. But now it’s relatively easy to see, and there’s a DVD. The film is pretty good, and Belita is fetching (at least to me) and not a bad actress. The noir effects are there, but they’re relatively subdued–until the final fifteen minutes, when Tuttle and his cameraman Karl Struss really cranked up the chiaroscuro. Those are the sequences that hit me like a Marciano punch back in 1975.

    Monogram’s studios, on the wrong end of Sunset Boulevard (between Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, near Silver Lake) became the headquarters of the Los Angeles public television station, KCET Channel 28, for years. I always wanted to get in there and look around to see if any vestiges of Monogram remained. It’s probably too late to do that; in 2011 the whole site was sold to another kind of Hollywood institution, the Church of Scientology.

  • Michael Dempsey

    On the poster for “Don’t Gamble With Strangers” (which I haven’t seen), the name of producer Jeffrey Bernerd (18 credits per imdb.com that seem, justly or not, all but unknown nowadays) appears in letters twice the size of those naming director William Beaudine (71 credits, as Dave reports in his article), while those citing the two writers are so small that an electron microscope would be helpful in making them legible. Is this a reliable indicator of who generally had the real clout (if that’s the word for Poverty Row productions) on Monogram filmmaking teams?

    William Nigh has 121 credits on imdb.com. Given the present obscurity of nearly all of them, this number might suggest a hack. (Of course, Allan Dwan, no hack, has many more.)

    But if two extant Nigh’s titles, “My Four Years In Germany” (1918), an interesting quasi-documentary World War I propaganda piece, and “Mr. Wu” (1927), an often striking Lon Chaney picture are any indication, his career in and out of Poverty Row might repay further exploration should a significant number of the 121 still be accessible. One that, as of this writing, exists only in brief fragments is Chaney’s final silent and penultimate picture, “Thunder” (made, like “Mr. Wu”) at MGM.

  • Joe Dante

    At least as far as the ’80s KCET had maintained much of the original Monogram lot. Particularly distinctive was the brickwork at the front gate which can be glimpsed in the opening shots of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as well as some of “Target Earth” and one of the Lugosi vehicles. For a pretty good tour of the lot as it existed in 1959 see the police chase sequence in “Arson for Hire”, in which characters run around the prop area past the Tabonga costume seen in “From Hell it Came”.
    I have no idea what’s been done to the property since.

  • A long and detailed piece by Stuart Galbraith IV (he of the long and detailed Kurosawa/Mifune biography) on the Charlie Chan Monogram collection. Pleasingly, he states that these are pressed DVDs not MODs, and corroborates their high image quality:

    http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/61533/charlie-chan-collection-shadows-over-chinatown-docks-of-new-orleans-shanghai-chest-the-golden-eye/

  • Barry Putterman

    When the Monogram films first became available to TCM, they scheduled a number of films which never wound up being shown. On the other hand, when George Feltenstein spoke at Cinecon a few years ago, he proudly announced that he had located 200 Monogram B westerns which Warners wasn’t even aware that they owned. So clearly there is chaos in the library and I don’t suppose that Warners is too interested in the Feltenstein crew spending too much time or money straightening things out.

    Still, we are seeing progress. Those B westerns are now becoming available to us and, of course, one can never have too much Johnny Mack Brown. And I’m hopeful that we will see still more progress. Individual titles such as FEAR must be a tough sell, but, as I mentioned before, the Joe Palooka films would be worth the effort. And how about a Gale Storm box set? Or “The Teen-agers” series featuring Noel Neill and the ever-popular June Preisser? And this even before we get to the huge number of Allied Artists titles not currently in circulation.

    And speaking of the Charlie Chan Monograms, one of them had a line in it which I have always cherished. After Number One Son wound down another one of his cockamamie enthusiasm jags, Toler deadpanned “If silence is golden you are bankrupt.”

  • Robert, as near as I have been able to figure, the King brothers — Frank, Maurice and Herman — were Los Angeles jukebox entrepreneurs who began pumping their extra cash into film production, making their own creative decisions (Frank being the leader of the band) and only releasing their films through Monogram (though heaven knows why). They were responsible for many if not most of the “prestige pictures” (a relative term in this context) released by Monogram, including William Castle’s “When Strangers Marry” (1944), Max Nosseck’s “Dillinger” (1945) and Gordon Wiles’ “The Gangster” (1947), with a very ambitious screenplay, styled as a Greek tragedy, by Daniel Fuchs. Their best known production — Joe Lewis’s “Gun Crazy” — was made after they left Monogram and began releasing their films through United Artists.

    Michael, William Nigh is certainly a subject for further research (at one point, I wanted to call my now-deceased Film Comment column “The Auer Is Nigh,” but not even Barry Putterman got that joke). A great deal of his work for Monogram and other independent studios has fallen into the public domain and is available through Alpha and the other PD outfits, but his best work was probably in the teens and early twenties, most of which, of course, has been lost. Ads from the period suggest he was a major force as an actor-writer-director: his 1917 “The Blue Streak,” for Fox with Nigh in the title role (!), appears to have been a big hit, but no prints are known to exist. One film that does, and has recently been gloriously restored, is the 1914 “Salomy Jane,” available on the “Treasures 5: The West” DVD collection from the National Film Preservation Foundation. Nigh was making A pictures right up to 1930, when the failure of his first sound film, “Lord Byron of Broadway” (also available through Warner Archive) apparently got him banished to the indies, along with a lot of other silent era directors who were suddenly and unjustly perceived as over-the-hill. Dwan very nearly suffered a similar fate, but managed to bounce back as a B director at Fox before returning, with Edward Small and then Republic, to indie production for the rest of his career. Dwan came to prefer Poverty Row for the creative freedom it gave him (as long as he worked within budgetary limits, of course); we have no record, at least that I have been able of find, of how Nigh felt about it.

  • Barry Putterman

    Hey Dave, I got that joke! I’m just not quite sure what I want to do with it.

    William Nigh put in a brief appearance in Walter Mirisch’s autobiography. He was described as being a silent movie veteran who mostly enjoyed telling stories about the good old days on the set.

    THE GANGSTER, by the way, is based on Daniel Fuchs’ novel “Low Company.” Fuchs’ three early novels were re-issued around 1970 as “The Williamsburg Trilogy” since they were all set in his home area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My parents came from that neighborhood too, so I bought the book without knowing too much about Fuchs’ subsequent Hollywood career. While reading the middle volume, “Homage To Blenholt,” I decided that there was no point in my trying to write a novel because it had already been written.

    I join everyone here in mourning the death of “The Auer is Nigh.” Could there possibly be an on-line resurrection?

  • Alex Hicks

    Revelations of the like of “Crashout,” “Les Maudits,” “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” and these new Monogram options(plus possibilities as “I Wouldn’t be in Your Shoes”) aare greatly appreciated –and arrive en mass in opart, I think, because the news is not too tightly tied to autuerist vettings and prospects, interesting as these are.

    It’s pleasant to comtemplate a new Woolrich adaptation there with the fine stuff we already long familiar and available, but I’m game.

  • Robert Garrick

    Maybe it didn’t hit the big-city lights in “Film Comment,” but “The Auer is Nigh” did not go to waste–

    http://www.davekehr.com/?p=1061

    And I, for one, am crushed that Dave’s FC column has now achieved room temperature. Why, oh why? H. Bruce Humberstone (speaking of Charlie Chan) remains unanalyzed, and based on that skirt he was wearing in the back pages of “Kings of the Bs,” he could use some analysis.

  • Patrick Henry

    I’m looking forward to seeing DON’T GAMBLE WITH STRANGERS, because Kane Richmond was so good as the hero of the SPY SMASHER serial. The Popular Library paperback edition of Paul Cain’s FAST ONE has a chatty Afterword by Irvin Faust. He daydreams about the movie version that never got made (could never pass the Hays Office) and thinks Kane Richmond a good choice to play Kells, Cain’s anti-hero. I wish there could have been a movie of FAST ONE directed by Rowland Brown with Kane Richmond or the young, cold-faced Paul Kelly as the lead.

    Two incidental facts about Paul Cain: (1) As “George Ruric” he was asst. to JvS on SALVATION HUNTERS; (2) he dedicated FAST ONE to Gertrude Michael, apparently his inamorata at the time and likely the model for FAST ONE’s sleepy, alcoholic heroine Grandquist.

  • There is a touring show called Noir City, with host Eddie Muller, which features films noirs from the early ’50s in 35 mm prints. Though Paramount is represented, so are Allied Artists, Monogram, and Eagle-Lion. Among the eight films are an early Cy Endfield (Try and Get Me -The Sound of Fury) and a Douglas Sirk (Sleep My Love). Here’s the link to a local presentation this weekend:

    http://hollywoodtheatre.org/noir-city/

    I’ve never seen these films, which include the Ladd Gatsby. I’m not sure all of them are truly “noir,” but its good to see a package that digs deep into the genre instead of trotting out the usual Falcon-Indemnity-Past array of good, but familiar titles.

  • D.K.,
    The only one of these films I’ve seen is Douglas Sirk’s Sleep My Love. Recommended!
    ***
    The little I know about Monogram is due to their Bowery Boys pictures being well distributed.

    Joseph H. Lewis directed three East Side Kids films The latter two are excellent: full Lewis pictures with his themes and visual style. The horse racing pic That Gang of Mine (1940) and the boxing Pride of the Bowery (1940 are real cinema.
    However, Boys of the City (1940) is a terrible movie, the worst picture I have ever seen by Lewis. It is impersonal and shows few Lewis characteristics.

    Lewis’ strange crime thriller Invisible Ghost (1941) is the only other Monogram picture he made (as far as I can remember). It too is a “real Lewis film”.
    ***
    Similarly, Phil Karlson did a good job with Live Wires (1946), the first official Bowery Boys picture. Its a silly comedy, not at the level of Lewis, but still a creditable film showing Karlson’s personal touch.
    ***
    I too like William Nigh’s silent films like “Salomy Jane,” which I learned about here from Dave Kehr!
    It is sad news that his Film Comment column is over.

  • nicolas saada

    Hello to Dave and the champions of the “old new “, at a time when everyone succumbs to the “new old”. Some if these Monogram or Eagle Lion programmer feel sometimes more contemporary than much of teh stuff we watch on tv or in cinemas. I recently watched what would have been a Cecil B De mille Budget at Monogram, an MGM film called DIAL 119, directed by Gerald Mayer with a sense of tempo and dread seldom seen in modern blockbusters. The question is not about being nostalgic, but more about films becoming in a way too clever and smart for their own good.

  • nicolas saada

    Clever and smart does not mean intelligent in this case. Just maniplulativé, exploitative , pushint on he right buttons. Which don’t prevent films such as FLIGHT or JACK REACHER to be very pleasant surprises.

  • Lawrence Chadbourne

    Michael D: Two other good Nighs are from 1945, both with Kay Francis: Divorce, and especially
    Allotment Wives.

  • offtopic — but important (I think). Quebec lost two of its most eminent film makers this past week, First on September 18, Arthur Lamothe died. Lamothe was noted mostly for his documentaries, many of which focused on Native American communities in Quebec:

    http://www.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/arts_et_spectacles/2013/09/18/012-deces-arthur-lamothe.shtml

    Then, yesterday, Michel Brault died. Brault, who was one of Quebec’s greatest cinematographers and directors, was one of my personal cinematic heroes (and the _only_ one I ever got an e-mail from).

    Brault was was the cinematographer for Claude Jutra’s “Mon Oncle Antoine” and Mankiewicz’s “Le bons debarras” (Good Riddance) — and he was director (along with Pierre Perrault) of “Pour la suite du monde” (For Those Who Will Follow) and (by himself) of “Les ordres” (The Orders). He was also part of the team that made the ground-breaking 1958 “Les raquetteurs” (The Snowshoers). He worked with Jean Rouch on Chronicle of a Summer — and with Rouch provided technical advice to Eclair on how to design their first lightweight synchronized sound camera.

    Brault also made a very fascinating-sounding series about the music of French America that I never got a chance to see (because it is only available unsubbed — and at institutional pricing).

    I would note that “Les ordres”, a somewhat fictionalized docu-drama about an incident of severe provincial government repression in Quebec following two kidnappings of government ministers, remains all too contemporary (and universal).

    Michel Brault’s work, alas, never got the attention it deserved “south of the border” — but his work was given a mini-retrospective here in Boston a few years ago (though he was not well enough to appear personally at this). No US coverage of his passing yet. So, here’s a French report:

    http://www.journaldemontreal.com/2013/09/21/le-cineaste-michel-brault-nest-plus

  • Other good William Nigh films are “Across to Singapore” (1928), “Boy of the Streets” (1937).

    Nicolas’ point about the vigor and creativity of classical era story telling is a good one. We need to recapture some of this inventiveness and verve.
    ***
    TCM showed William Beaudine’s little B-movie yesterday, “Detective Kitty O’Day” (1944). The sequel will be shown next week “Adventures of Kitty O’Day” (1945).
    Kitty is a secretary turned amateur detective. The tale mixes comedy and mystery, and is fun to watch. Comedy-mysteries are a favorite genre, and are still being made in TV series like CASTLE or WHITE COLLAR.

    But “Detective Kitty O’Day” has the most skeletal visual style. It does indeed seem as if Beaudine was on “auto-pilot”, as Dave Kehr put it. Maybe more subtleties will emerge with future Beaudine films.

    Kitty’s boyfriend and detective helper is played by Peter Cookson. He seems to be a regular: He’s in the movie poster at the top of this blog.

  • mike schlesinger

    Part of the problem is that Warners owns part of the Monogram library and MGM/UA the other part; not sure where the dividing line is. As for WB, they acquired their share when they bought Lorimar, which was the successor to Allied Artists.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well just a few words about Peter Cookson since we usually associate appearing in Monogram films as being the end of the line for both directors and performers. From Monogram Cookson went on to become one of the first students at The Actor’s Studio, played Morris Townsend in the original Broadway cast of “The Heiress,” and introduced the song “It’s All Right With Me” as part of the original cast in “Can-Can.” He was also on the production end for a while on Broadway as well.

    Not bad you might say. But had he stayed at Monogram, he might have become Bomba the Jungle Boy!

  • Robert Garrick

    Quite a few actors and directors who used to be somebody drew their final paychecks from Monogram, as Barry suggests. The best example is probably Kay Francis, who not only starred in but co-produced three films for Monogram that have already been mentioned in this thread. “Divorce” (1945) and “Allotment Wives” (1945) were directed by William Nigh, and “Wife Wanted” (1946), her last film at age 41, was directed by Phil Karlson.

    Another example would be Bela Lugosi, but Lugosi made so many Grade-Z films late in his career that Monogram actually fits somewhere in the middle of his long slide. I would argue that one Lugosi film, “Bowery at Midnight” (1942, directed by Wallace Fox, and also starring Tom Neal) is the best-known Monogram title of all. It’s got Lugosi; it’s got zombies; it’s got gangsters; and it’s got the Bowery. It’s also got one of the best titles in the history of the movies. The film was on TV constantly in the 1950s and 1960s, and no adolescent boy who had anything to say about it was going to miss it. It is by no means a good film, but it’s a good vehicle for Lugosi.

    Lugosi was in eight other Monogram films, including William Nigh’s “Black Dragons” (1942), Joseph H. Lewis’s solemn and moody “The Invisible Ghost” (1941), and three for William Beaudine: “Ghosts on the Loose” (1943, with Ava Gardner), “Voodoo Man” (1944), and “The Ape Man” (1943). Of the Beaudines, the one to check out is “Voodoo Man,” which looks better than some films out of MGM, let alone Monogram. The cameraman was Marcel Le Picard, whose first credit was “The Outlaw’s Revenge” (1915), with Raoul Walsh top-billed. Le Picard’s filmography is not distinguished, but he seems to have been inspired by “Voodoo Man.” The film is public domain and it’s hard to find a good copy.

    Then there’s “Spooks Run Wild” (1941). People who pay close attention to such things, and heaven help them, often cite this title as the best of the Lugosi Monograms. The script was by Carl Foreman; Le Picard was again behind the camera; Sam Katzman produced; and the director was Phil Rosen, a Subject for Further Research if ever there was one. Rosen was born in 1888 in what is now Poland, but his entire film career, which began in 1912, took place in the United States. He is reputed to have done some distinguished work in the silent era, but I haven’t seen any of those films. Rosen worked as both director and cinematographer in the early silent period, and he was a founding member (and later President) of the American Society of Cinematographers.

    “Spooks Run Wild” looks far better than any Monogram film made in about two weeks has a right to. There are copious amounts of semi-decent atmosphere, both outdoors (in a graveyard) and in an old mansion. This is another public domain title, but there are good copies around. “Spooks Run Wild” has run on TCM and that’s probably the best place to see it. The film opened just before Halloween in 1941–that was one month before everything changed on December 6. The New York Times, in a throwaway review, said it was “less horror than horrible,” but in the context of Monogram, mid-career Lugosi, and the East Side Kids, this is the title that stands out.

  • Robert Garrick

    Some careers ended (or at least fell into their dotage) at Monogram, but others began there. Robert Mitchum’s life as a star began, for all practical purposes, with “When Strangers Marry” (1944), which also gave Rhonda Fleming her first film credit. The film was an early credit, too, for William Castle (director) and Philip Yordan (screenplay).

    Other stars who hit it big at Monogram before they became household names elsewhere:

    Randolph Scott. He made a half-dozen westerns at Paramount for Henry Hathaway in 1932 and 1933 in which he was top-billed, but Monogram gave him his first top-billed role in a non-western, in “Broken Dreams” (1933).

    Alan Ladd. He was fourth-billed in “Her First Romance” (1940), a musical comedy that was one of the first films directed by Edward Dmytryck.

    Lionel Atwill. “The Sphinx” (1933), directed by Phil Rosen (see my post above), was an early talking role for Atwill, one of the most chilling of all horror stars, on-screen and off. Atwill had already done his two horror films at Warners for Michael Curtiz, “Mystery of the Wax Museum” (1933) and “Doctor X” (1932), but his most famous roles were still to come.

  • Thanks for alerting us to this sad news, Michael. I don’t know Lamothe’s work, but Brault was a very important figure, not so much for his later work on fiction films as for his founding role in the aesthetic that became cinema verite. I was at a dinner with the French cinematographer Ppirre Lhomme the other evening, for the New York opening of “Le Joli Mai,” the early verite feature co-directed by Lhomme and Chris Marker, and Lhomme insisted that Brault was much more important than Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin inshaping the influential “Chronique d’un ete” (1961), on which Brault led a team of five cinematographers. “Les Ordres” floored me when I saw it at the Chicago Film Festival in 1974; I just couldn’t believe that a government as ostensibly benign as Canada’s could be capable of such atrocities against its own citizens. I wonder how it would play today. New Yorker used to distribute it but I imagine those rights have long expired.

  • Greetings, Nicolas! I like “Dial 1119,” too, with its use of Marshall Thompson as an early, Norman Bates-style boyish psycho killer, and its early, angry denunciation of television as a tool for distorting reality and creating hysteria. The film is in Warner’s “Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 5.” I’d be curious to see other films by Meyer, who was a cousin of Louis B. and the son of MGM’s studio manager Jerry Mayer; according to IMDB, he also had a year-long affair with Dorothy Dandridge, whom he directed in “Bright Road” (1953).

  • Barry L

    Dave,
    Your take on the politics behind Les Ordres is completely incorrect. The government of Canada reacted to decades long terrorism, bombs in the street, mail boxes, stock exchange, until finally there was kidnapping and murder. Prime Minister Trudeau is the only one in the world who has dealt efficiently with home grown political intimidation and murder. No one was killed by the government — they were inconvenienced. This political situation is ongoing and rather than me furthering this argument it is my suggestion just to search the repressive, stupid and parochial goings on in current day Quebec.

  • Mention of the “mysterious” Monogram screenwriter Caryl Coleman intrigued me enough to run him through the Variety database. Looks like he was a San Francisco-based radio writer in the 30s and 40s (some of the films he wrote are based on his radio plays), then returned to S.F. as a writer & producer for local television after his brief stint at Monogram. Last mention of him in Variety comes in 1967, as executive producer of a TV doc called KPIX’s THE MAZE: ETCHED IN ACID. Coleman had “been influenced by the underground music and film techniques to good effect,” the trade paper assures us. Believe it or not, you can judge for yourself:

    https://diva.sfsu.edu/bundles/189388

  • alex

    DAVID K and BARRY L.

    Best perhaps not to get into either the emtionality of many expressions/reflections of Quebecois nationalism or the repressive depredations of even the “best ” of governments when faced with extra-legal threats.

  • alex

    Great stuff here from Holmes,, Grost, Saada, Garrick –and Eddie Muller– on discount no.

    SLEEP, MY LOVELY may be more Gothic (a la GASLIGHT) than noir, but it ‘s great discount Sirk.

  • Alex,
    Thank you!

    There is a lot of good information in this week’s posts.

    Have seen a couple of good films by Phil Rosen.
    THE YOUNG RAJAH is a silent, that only survives in fragments. These have been put together and screened on TCM. They show good story telling and sympathetic characters.
    STEP BY STEP (1946) is a B-movie comedy mystery. Very low budget. But fun to watch.

  • Michel Brault was a key figure for direct cinema and cinéma-vérité, more important than generally known. He also shot three films for Mario Ruspoli and appeared as an interviewee in Florence Dauman’s recent delightful documentary MARIO RUSPOLI, PRINCE DES BALEINES ET AUTRES RARÉTÉS (2011).

    We screened POUR LA SUITE DU MONDE in our “50 Years Ago” series recently, and it still looks great. It is also legally online, http://www.nfb.ca/film/pour_la_suite_du_monde_en/

  • Just a word from David Denby who was criticised in an earlier thread: “In my original piece I wrote that German filmmakers “tended toward agonized expressionism in the nineteen-twenties and rigid didacticism during the Nazi period.” The word “tended” was meant to propel a quick generalization, but it’s not good enough. In the thirties, the German film industry also produced musicals and comedies.” (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/09/how-could-harvard-have-published-ben-urwands-the-collaboration.html)

  • Barry Putterman

    Well I haven’t read either of these books yet so it is possible that they deal with many particulars which are only covered by general statements in overviews such as Denby’s.

    In reading the piece that Fredrik points us towards, I would first ask if the argument is being made that Hollywood stopped making anti-Nazi films in 1933, when exactly did they START making anti-Nazi films? And why should they have been making anti-Nazi films? In the depths of the Depression and with the entire American social order in danger of collapse did our film going audience really care about what was happening in Germany?

    Then, while one can certainly see a smaller number of obviously Jewish characters in American movies after the enforcement of the Production Code, was that the only, or even the primary change that the Code made in American movies? And were the studios’ fears unfounded about the economic consequences of not cooperating with censorship boards given their experience of the reaction to the scandals of the 20s and the shaky financial ground they were on during the Depression 30s? (By the way, harkening back to an even earlier thread, just as one can point to the unusually sympathetic and dimensional portraits of Bill Robinson and other African American characters in Dwan’s ONE MILE FROM HEAVEN, there is also J. Edward Bromberg as Tex Shapiro in his THAT I MAY LIVE. Both films from 1937).

    So I would agree with Denby that the context needs to be broadened in order to understand these historical and analytical arguments. Which is also why saying that the German film industry also produced musicals and comedies is a pathetically insufficient summation of what was happening over there.

  • george

    I’ve been watching Monograms from the early ’30s on YouTube (THE MONTANA KID, LAW OF THE SEA, LENA RIVERS, KLONDIKE, POLICE COURT and others). These are crude but watchable films. They’re antique melodramas, and one thing that makes them seem antique is the presence of former silent stars: Priscilla Dean, Aileen Pringle, Henry B. Walthall, King Baggott, Betty Compson, etc. Poverty Row provided work for these people on the way down.

    The low-key acting in these Monograms seems modern and realistic, although I wonder if it’s due to the actors being under-rehearsed (if they had any rehearsal at all) and their scenes being shot in one take.

    Also interesting to see Thelma Todd in a rare dramatic role in KLONDIKE, playing a warm-hearted character instead of her usual casting as a gold digger.

  • David Cohen

    Excellent points, Barry. … A related point would be that there was a deep and abiding disillusionment in America about World War I, with a strong notion that the U.S. had been conned into war at least partially by anti-German propaganda that made Germany seem much more awful than it actually was. (I recognize this wasn’t a universal belief but is is prominent in 1930s culture. And the belief certainly fueled the isolationist movement through the decade.) One can’t blame the studios for not wanting to appear to be pushing that same propaganda line again, especially up til the time that it became clear that there were indeed truly awful things to reveal. It is, of course, utterly tragic that Nazi Germany would end up being much more horrible than anyone could have dreamed up.

  • Other sympathetic Jewish characters include the heroine’s landlady in You and Me (Fritz Lang, 1938). The IMDB bills her as “Mrs. Abie Levine aka Mama”.

    Still, one can strongly miss films with Jewish central characters, such as The Rag Man (Edward F. Cline, 1925) and Symphony of Six Million (Gregory La Cava, 1932). These good films and many more like them suggest what was lost when the Nazis found ways to ban films with Jewish characters.

    The Young Rajah (Phil Rosen, 1922) is a powerfully anti-racist film. It should be much better known. Rudolph Valentino oozes glamour from every pore as the title character.

    California Frontier (Elmer Clifton, 1938) looks at prejudice against Hispanics. It’s a B-movie Western. If the zombie idea that “All Westerns are right wing” ever dies, people will discover there are many Westerns which battle racism and prejudice. Don’t miss Redskin (Victor Schertzinger, 1929) and Massacre (Alan Crosland, 1934).

  • I’m no expert on either Michel Brault or direct cinema, unfortunately.

    But did find a documentary history of the movement often fascinating:
    Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment (Peter Wintonick, Canada, 2000)

    Michel Brault and just about everybody else appears as themselves in this.

  • Not to mention, Mike, Maurice Moscovitch’s Max Rubens in McCarey’s “Make Way for Tomorrow” — the only character other than Beluah Bondi who seems to understand what Victor Moore is going through. And this is 1937, way after the studios began shying away from Jewish characters.

  • alex

    Idly Googling ” you tube noir” I arrived at a list of 54 films, some of them never noticed by me before, e.g., SUDDEN FEAR, TOO LATE FOR TEARS, SALON MEXICO.

  • george

    Phil Rosen directed KLONDIKE and LENA RIVERS, both Monogram releases from 1932. You can watch ‘em free on YouTube.

  • Peter Hogue

    George — KLONDIKE is indeed something special — esp. for Thelma Todd’s scenes with Lyle Talbott

    Alex — SALON MEXICO (1949) is a must-see: great Mexican film noir, directed by Emilio Fernandez and photographed by Gabriel Figueroa….

  • Gregg Rickman

    There was some discussion of William Beaudine’s WHERE THERE’S A WILL, with English comic Will Hay, on the English comedy thread of last January (“The Getting of Wisdom”). Since then I’ve seen Beaudine’s other three films with Hay (DANDY DICK, BOYS WILL BE BOYS, WINDBAG THE SAILOR). These last two are two of Hays’ funniest. I’ve also read Wendy Marshall’s biography, “William Beaudine: From Silents to Television,” which I recommend. If people wonder what happened to Beaudine, his long sojourn in England rendered him a non-person in Hollywood upon his return in the late 30s, which explains the move from the big studios to “the wrong end of Sunset Boulevard.”

  • Barry Putterman

    Actually, the same thing happened to both Dwan and Walsh. They went to England to make a few films and found that their high profile status in the industry had disappeared on their return. This was probably the exact wrong time to be leaving Hollywood. First, the transition to sound had scrambled everybody’s status and then the Depression had put the industry in serious financial jeopardy. In fact, I believe that not only did Fox, Universal and Paramount come under new management in the mid 30s, but Monogram did as well. I’m a bit shaky on the specifics, but my understanding is that the company which released KLONDIKE and LENA RIVERS in 1932 is very different from the company we know from the late 30s to the early 50s.

    In any event, while Dwan and Walsh fought their way back to varying degrees of prominence, Beaudine sank further and further towards oblivion. So the English interlude is a start point, but it doesn’t explain everything.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Barry, Wendy Marshall’s book goes into more detail about the particulars of Beaudine’s career collapse after his return from England; it has however been a few months since I’ve read this particular library book so I won’t chance getting the details wrong. He’d offended some of the powers that be, if I recall correctly. Walsh and Dwan avoided that trap.

    I did get a largely favorable impression of Beaudine’s personality (and work ethic!) from the book, which I do recommend. The material on his two films for Mary Pickford is especially interesting. She was very tough to work for (which I believe Lubitsch, Borzage and Maurice Tourneur also found out).

  • Alex

    Eddie Muller’s inclusion “The Great Gatsby” (1949) within a film noir film tour has been an interesting stimulant.

    On first impression, the idea of “Gatsby” as noirw as intriguing with a bridge between the iconic Anglo-Saxon hero and film noir like the Alan Ladd in the lead.

    Then, on second thought, realization that Ladd’s director was Elliott Nugen seemd to trivialize my fancy.

    Then, on second thought, realization that Ladd’s director was Elliott Nugent seemed to trivialize my fancy. But, hey, with noirish favorite John F. Seitz (of Hitchcock favorite “Double Indemnity”)behind the camera and a cast as promising as Alan Ladd, Betty Field, Macdonald Carey, Ruth Hussey, Barry Sullivan, Howard Da Silva, Shelley Winters, Ed Begleyand Elisha Cook Jr., hope revived.

    Anyone have anything to say about the actual, viewed “The Great Gatsby” (1949)?

  • Robert Garrick

    I’ve heard good things about the Wendy Marshall book on Beaudine too, and I mentioned it a while back in the “Sparrows” thread. We need to remember, though, that Marshall was Beaudine’s granddaughter. It’s possible that some things have been smoothed over. Here’s a link to the book:

    https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810852181

    Alex, it’s interesting that Nugent’s “The Great Gatsby” (1949) was made at all, because when F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940, all of his novels were out-of-print, including Gatsby. But he’s had something of a comeback. He’s buried (next to Zelda) across the street from the Volkswagen dealer in Rockville, Maryland where I bought two cars back in the 1990s. I always made a point of visiting his grave when I had my cars serviced.

    Nugent’s film was real tough to see for a long time, but Eddie Muller has been shuttling it around the country for about a year in a 35mm copy, and I believe there’s also a DVD. I saw it years ago at the AFI Theatre, and was not too impressed. Betty Field is wrong as Daisy, and Ladd was stiff as usual. Howard da Silva was Wilson–he also pops up in the 1974 Jack Clayton “Gatsby” as Jewish gangster Meyer Wolfsheim. As I’ve said before, I like the 1974 film quite a bit, and I thought it captured the book well, EXCEPT for the gooey stuff that was wrapped around the Daisy/Gatsby romance parts in the middle and in a few other places. Perhaps unfortunately, when I read the book now, I see the scenes from the 1974 film.

    I don’t remember much about the 1949 film, but I do remember my reaction, which was that it wasn’t a noir; it didn’t grab the book like the Clayton film did; and in general, I was disappointed.

  • “I don’t remember much about the 1949 film, but I do remember my reaction, which was that it wasn’t a noir; it didn’t grab the book like the Clayton film did; and in general, I was disappointed.”

    Ditto. I suppose you could argue for the noir connection on the basis of the cast, but that’s about all.

    As for filming THE GREAT GATSBY after it went out of print, I vaguely recall that Paramount still owned the rights to the novel dating from their 1920s version. I could be wrong about that though.

  • Barry L

    x359594

    Of course you are not wrong. All three productions went out via Paramount. I do not believe any of the talented film people have come close to Gatsby. They emphasize dreamy romance when this character is a career criminal and a dangerous guy, suffering perhaps, from mild depression. Fitzgerald thought Clark Gable would have been right in the part, and he agreed but I believe that Bogart in Casablanca came closest to touching this character. Redford, Ladd and Warner Baxter, whose performance I did not see, all strike me as milk fed veal cutlets. Or, as Chandler said famously about Ladd, a small boy’s idea of a tough guy. DiCaprio no exception.

  • alex

    Alas, it looks like GATSBY (1949) can’t even be enjoyed as a stylistically quirky adaptation : and, since I find the sometimes great Jack Clayton ‘s version pulseless and the Mad Aussie ‘s recent effory –abominable until his strenuous stylistic groping calms down toward the end and the film provides glimpses of a solid mediocrity.

    Nice comments on casting not done, Barry. But catching a innocent stereo on an often hsrdboiled Gatsby ‘s no easier challenge than balancing an ethereal allure and icily egotistical aloofness in Daisy.

  • Richard T. Jameson

    Barry L, DiCaprio makes an honorable job of playing Gatsby and is far and away the most defensible thing about the recent Luhrmann farrago. But honorable doesn’t extend to accurate, especially if we accept your corrective reading of what kind of guy the former Jay Gatz was.

    Free-associating now: Redford made an unpersuasive Gatsby, and that wasn’t the only time he avoided bringing the note of danger a role demanded. In the Eighties it was rumored that Redford would star in the film version of William Hjortsberg’s novel Falling Angel. He didn’t. Without playing the spoiler, let’s just say that the private-eye protagonist of that tale has a lot of dark freight to carry. Redford in that role was something to conjure with; it ended up (in 1987’s Angel Heart) being filled by Mickey Rourke, for whom dark freight was a what-else-is-new? Having Alan Parker as adapter-director was tantamount to hanging out an “Abandon hope, all who enter here” sign on the project.

    Not having seen the 1949 Gatsby, I can’t speak to its noir/not-noir standing. But it wouldn’t be the first untenable stretch for Muller in applying the noir label. One hesitates to protest: If calling a movie “noir” ups its chances of being restored, returned to circulation, and attracting ticket-buyers, maybe a little semantic impurity is tolerable. Then again, as we all know, it’s always an uphill fight to achieve and maintain clarity in talking about film.

  • Peter Hogue

    I haven’t haven’t much liked any of the three movie versions I’ve seen of Fitzgerald’s novel, but I’d give Luhrmann credit for at least attempting to deal with a crucial point that is often neglected in discussions of the novel as well: Gatsby is the “title character” of the novel, but the novel’s central consciousness and, arguably, main character is its narrator, Nick Carraway.

  • Peter Hogue

    Further postscript on William Nigh: since so much of my formative years of movie watching was a matter of B movies (esp. Monogram pictures) on 1950’s TV, I’ve probably seen a lot more Wm. Nigh than I actually remember. But the William Nigh most impressed on my memory these days derives mainly from more recent adventures in the territory (and not-quite-lost continent) of B-westerns. Nigh has directorial credit on one of Ken Maynard’s first talkies, “Fighting Thru; or, California in 1878″ (Tiffany 1930) which has an unusual-for-Maynard setting (later days of the California Gold Rush). Nigh served as director on three of the very brusque B-westerns Harry Carey Sr. did for the Weiss Brothers in the early 30’s — very raw action & plots, with unusual casting including George Hayes (before he became “Gabby”), and a general feeling of pre-Code pulp made more for adults than for youthful matinee audiences. In 1946-47, he directed four of the Cisco Kid pictures featuring Gilbert Roland in the title role; these films seem to take the juvenile audience a little more into account, but Roland is seemingly given free rein to portray Cisco as a swaggering, philosophizing, semi-Rabelaisian version of himself (similar in some ways to the character he will play a few years later in “The Bad and the Beautiful”). And while Nigh has only a shared directorial credit on “Salomy Jane” (in which he is also a featured player), that astonishing early feature makes for a remarkable debut….