Monomania

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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

  • Dave, I very much enjoyed reading this string of erudite comments—an oasis in the internet cesspool! I offer a few remarks of my own:

    The Film Noir Foundation is hoping to restore the Monogram picture THE GUILTY (1948) next year, which ranks right up there for capturing the Woolrich flop-sweat in cheap B form. It’s directed by another “subject for further research,” John Reinhardt, whose HIGH TIDE (from a crazily entertaining story by Raoul Whitfield) we recently restored and have out on the NOIR CITY circuit. We’re also preserving in 35mm Boris Ingster’s SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 (1950, Allied Artists). Next year, we’ll be touring our new restoration of the great TOO LATE FOR TEARS, which was referenced a couple of times above.

    As for GATSBY, I’ve never pitched it as a true noir, but I confess (as Richard T. Jameson suggested) that I will stretch the definition if it allows us to screen rarities that would otherwise be languishing in a vault somewhere. My pitch on the 1949 GATSBY is that it shows how the noir movement, cresting in 1949, could “stain” even a classic like Fitzgerald’s novella. David Ladd has appeared a couple of times with the film, and speaks movingly of how much his father identified with Jay Gatsby. I actually think his portrayal is dead-on, even if the film is very flawed. Ladd expected John Farrow to direct it, but Farrow chose to make ALIAS NICK BEAL instead (imho, Farrow’s masterpiece) and Ladd ended up with Elliot Nugent, who was merely fulfilling the last of a three-picture deal at Paramount. I actually liked Betty Field as Daisy; she really seems to understand the character. And hey, if it’s NOT noir, then what are Elisha Cook and Jack Lambert doing in it? … Also, enjoyed your comments on the King Bros. I have a book coming about shortly in France (from Wild Side) called GUN CRAZY: Un Film de Joseph H. Lewis? (yes, with a question mark!) which contains probably the most extensive info yet published on the Kings—they had a helluva track record, those boys. I trace the history of GUN CRAZY from MacKinlay Kantor’s original SE POST short story through its several script versions (starting in 1946) and all the way through its production, release, demise, and resurrection. A lot of fallacies are dispelled and myths shattered—without in any way diminishing the film’s greatness. If you don’t read French I’ll send you a copy of the original manuscript. Keep up the great work! And hey, I’ll be showing CRASHOUT, TRY AND GET ME, and ALIAS NICK BEAL at MOMA on November 2, as part of its Festival of Preservation … hope to see you there!

  • Thanks for your illuminating comments, Eddie. I hope you will drop by more often.

    As it happens, I’ve already written about John Reinhardt for Film Comment, and even managed to establish something of a biography for this elusive figure. It was in the May/June 2012 issue. Can’t wait to see some decent copies of his work (only “Chicago Calling” is available in a good copy, through Warner Archive).

    Folks, don’t miss Eddie’s films at the MoMA show on Sat., Nov. 2 if you are anywhere remotely in the neighborhood. I’m particularly excited to see “Alias Nick Beal” in a nice new print (I can only concur with Eddie’s evaluation — it’s by far the most accomplished, most personal film by Farrow that I’ve seen), but “Crashout” and “Try and Get Me” are no slouches, either.

  • Dave, I’ll gladly trade you my GUN CRAZY ms for a copy of your Reinhardt article. Have you seen FOR YOU I DIE? I showed it at the Cinematheque in Paris in 2011, a print from BFI. Very strange movie, but one I really enjoy, probably more than any film of his I’ve seen. It’s just so unpredictable. I’m showing both HIGH TIDE and CHICAGO CALLING in Lyon next month. Curious to see what a French audience makes of them. CHICAGO, of course, is like an Los Angeles version of BICYCLE THIEVES. And what a document of the old Bunker Hill section of L.A.!

  • Robert Garrick

    People who read my posts on this blog know that when I see something in a 35mm copy, I make a note of it. That’s becoming harder to do, and in a few years it will probably be almost impossible, except for certain select venues (universities and museums, mostly). Here in St. Louis I believe there are three or four spots that are still capable of 35mm projection. It’s my expectation too that this change will cause many prints to be trashed.

    I mention this because Eddie Muller is a hero to people who care about film, rather than video projection. He always shows 35mm copies when possible–it’s a big deal to him. Another place that makes a big noise about this is Doc Films at the University of Chicago–it’s almost all 35mm, and when it isn’t, they tell you.

    Even museums, now, don’t always say when they’re projecting a DVD. This drives me crazy.

    Muller is also a force in the film preservation arena. His Film Noir Foundation (find it easily on Google–take a look) is worth your attention and your money, if you can afford it. We have good copies (on film) of things like “The Prowler” (1951) and “Cry Danger” (1951), and many more, because of the Foundation.

  • Comin’ at you, Eddie. I think I’ve seen all of Reinhardt’s American films — which doesn’t take more than a long weekend — but the Spanish language and German films continue mostly to elude me. How many other filmmakers can say they directed Carlos Gardel, Dan Duryea and Heinz Ruhmann?

  • alex

    Anyone who’s seen Gatstby (1949) want to take a stab at how noirish it might be — for example to what extent Seitz shot it in the quasi-expressionistic chairosuro tones of “Double Indemnity”?

    Wouldn’t take much for Gatsby to metamorphosize as near noir given Daisy’s femme fatlallish core and Jay’s end in some Long Island analogue to that pool from which Holden rises from an L.A. pool in the near-noir Wilder/Seitz “Sunset Boulevard” a few years latter.

    Indeed, the original Gatsby narrative devolves into a combination of two of Krutnick’s varioants of the nour narrative, the “the ‘tough’ suspense thriller” in which the “the girl” precipitates the protagonist’s descent into full ruin and “The criminal-advernture thriller ” in which criminal as well as rightous forces fatallyconverge on the not-so-tough-guy protangonist. (Of course there’s always the “green light at the end of the pier,” but it’s a thin line between romanticism and irony (if, indeed, there’s any line between them at all).

  • alex

    To extend my application of Krutnick to Gatsby (1949), let’s not forget that Jay Gatsby is a Vet.

  • Blake Lucas

    Speaking of projected movies (as opposed to digital projection), a word to the wise to those of you who like Howard Hawks (most here I’m guessing) and are lucky enough to live in New York (the happy few in this case):

    Tomorrow on the Complete Hawks 2:00 at Museum of the Modern Image, they have promised a print of THE CROWD ROARS from the Library of Congress and running time is listed as 85 minutes, which is correct for the original film. I’m guessing this is an original print and the info is right. Studio copies that are run by TCM and now on DVD at Warner Archive are the 70 minute reissue version and that’s what most here have seen.

    I’ve written before that I managed to see the original once and the difference was significant–I’d say it’s the difference between a movie most Hawks fans would find likeable but minor (the cut version) and one that does register as major (the original). The laying in of the compelling Cagney/Dvorak relationship in the first part of the film is especially more elaborate and so better sets up the whole film.

    I think most will agree that 15 minutes out of an 85 movie is a lot, especially with a director so good at keeping things on track, at whatever pace a film of his may have.

    I’d go see it if again if I was there and wish I were. I know most Hawks pretty well so don’t miss the whole series too much but still haven’t seen either CRADLE SNATCHERS or TRENT’S LAST CASE, so sorry not to have that opportunity. Someday hopefully.

  • Blake Lucas

    Guess I’ll throw in my two cents on THE GREAT GATSBY too. I haven’t seen the Baz Luhrmann version and have no plans to, but of the two I’ve seen I liked the Nugent version better (UCLA used to have a nitrate and I saw it there). It’s not as faithful, but again, since when is this a criteria of anything? I love the novel–I doubt a movie of it will ever be made that can compare to it, but a lot of this is Fitzgerald’s beautiful writing which exists as prose and couldn’t be captured in a movie. A movie must do something else.

    In terms of the character as portrayed in the 1949 movie version, I like Alan Ladd and think he was perfect for the role. One doesn’t need to know anything about Ladd’s personal life to feel he brings a quiet sadness to his screen presence and when it goes with a role it is golden, especially as he was commonly asked to bring this to characters who were as tough as they were essentially inward.

    Again, I love THE GREAT GATSBY as a novel, if not quite as much as TENDER IS THE NIGHT. It never needed to be made into a movie at all. But if it’s going to be, just judge each film on its own terms. I don’t know Nugent too well and can certainly imagine more distinctive and individual handling than his, but he did OK overall as I recall.

  • alex

    Blake Lucas,

    Interesting comments about THE CROWD ROARS and GATSBY (1949).

    Any recollection of Seitz ‘s cinematography?

    Judging from some strong voices here and some well articulated views at. –ah, much derided vox populi– IMDB, Ladd does a fine job as Gatsby.

  • jbryant

    Cy Endfield’s HELL DRIVERS is on TCM tonight.

  • Daniel F.

    Cy Endfield’s HELL DRIVERS is one hell of a film. Highly recommended for those who haven’t seen it yet. Wonderful cast — Baker, Cummins, Lom, McGoohan, Connery — and expert, attentive direction of milieus and action sequences.

  • Richard T. Jameson

    Looks as if TCM finally ran HELL DRIVERS in a format closer to its original VistaVision. It’s been pretty boxy in previous showings.

  • David Cohen

    For those in the Washington area: Eddie Muller’s noirs are also coming to AFI in Silver Spring. Looking forward to getting to at least a film or three.

  • george

    Barry Putterman said: “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.”

    Those two films — and a lot of Monogram’s early ’30s releases — were produced by independent companies or producers. (LENA RIVERS, starring a pre-ALICE IN WONDERLAND Charlotte Henry, was a Tiffany production.) Monogram was the distributor. I don’t think Monogram produced much of anything in the early ’30s other than B Westerns.

  • george

    Just watched JUNGLE BRIDE (1933), an “I.E. Chadwick” production released by Monogram. Stars are Anita Page and Charles Starrett, who were working for MGM a year earlier. Co-directed by Harry O. Hoyt, director of the silent version of THE LOST WORLD.

    Definitely pre-Code, with an undressing scene for Page, and plenty of cleavage in other scenes. (She keeps pulling up her lowcut blouse before even more is shown.) Interesting little film, with an unusually mobile camera — for a B movie — in the early scenes, and some amazing shots of someone who is NOT Charles Starrett wrestling a lion.

  • Barry Putterman

    George, a quick glance at “The Monogram Checklist” indicates that the original Monogram, along with Mascot, was folded into what became Republic in 1935 and ceased to exist. However, Trem Carr and W. Ray Johnston did not get along with Herbert Yates and broke away from Republic in 1937 to re-start Monogram.

    I want to thank Blake for the heads up about THE CROWD ROARS. Having seen all of the currently available Hawks films, I wasn’t planning to schlep out to Astoria for this series and so didn’t pay close attention to the what was programmed. However, I hadn’t seen the 85 minute version of THE CROWD ROARS. Unfortunately, since it has been many, many years since I had seen the 70 minute version, I couldn’t really say what was new to me this time around. However, it did seem like a better film this time, so I’m glad that I made the trek. AND, as an added bonus, the fine program notes were by Tony Williams.

  • Patrick Henry

    Just looked at Reinhardt’s spy movie SOFIA (1948, not Monogram but still a B). Very cynical for its era with a Graham Greene atmosphere of seediness and people suddenly changing sides to whoever offers more money. But its color (Cinecolor) is unlifelike (even though William Clothier was D.P.), with its two leading ladies, Sigrid Gurie and Patricia Morison, rather unflatteringly photographed. Sigrid is given a flour-white complexion, Patricia a waxy, sickly-looking one. Has anyone seen a print that looks better?

  • Robert Garrick

    Patrick, your description of Cinecolor as “unlifelike” is unfortunately accurate, and the copy you saw of “Sofia” was probably typical. For a certain sad group of us here, Cinecolor will always conjure up the title “Scared To Death” (1947), a lame Bela Lugosi film from Golden Gate Pictures (Monogram would have been a step up). The ubiquitous Christy Cabanne directed, and please let’s not do any further research on him.

    Cinecolor was a cheap, two-strip color process, and a competitor to Technicolor. Technicolor was expensive, required special (heavy) cameras, took a long time to process, and its owners had exclusive contracts with certain companies, like Disney. Plus you had to deal with Natalie Kalmus. Cinecolor had a different kind of problem: It looked awful. Blues, greens, and purples, in particular, were not rendered properly in Cinecolor. Fleshtones were usually flesh-colored, but in Cinecolor they still didn’t look real to me.

    There’s a lot more Cinecolor arcana that I could get into, but I’ll resist. John Belton, back in 2000, wrote a good piece on the process. Basically, the important points are: Cinecolor looked weird, and it was cheap. It was more or less gone by the early ’50s, replaced by a slightly better three-strip process called SuperCineColor, but that disappeared too by the mid-50s as cheap (that word again) chemical color processes (Eastmancolor, Warnercolor, etc.) started to replace Technicolor.

    Thank goodness the technical side of filmmaking got so cheap. Otherwise we wouldn’t have $20 million to give to Bruce Willis.

  • Blake Lucas

    “Thank goodness the technical side of filmmaking got so cheap. Otherwise we wouldn’t have $20 million to give to Bruce Willis.”

    The comment of the day maybe. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, so did both at once.

  • Steve Elworth

    But Christy started with Griffith.

  • Barry L

    Robert:

    I think you will find quite a few Cinecolor films produced by Columbia that look significantly better. In fact. the Scott-Brown westerns, Coroner Creek for example, looks pretty good. Likewise, the Scott-Nat Holt films that went out through Fox, Caribou Trail, Canadian Pacific, Fighting Man of the Plains, all look fine. Fred Jackman shot most of these and as in any thing else the people in charge work well or not with their tools. There are many more examples of adequate Cinecolor work but I’ll not belabor the point here.

  • Robert Garrick

    Yeah, Steve, that was a cheap shot I took at Cabanne, to get a cheap laugh (continuing the “cheap” theme of my previous post). Actually I think Christy would be fascinating to interview, but that isn’t going to happen given that he died in 1950. I’m not sure how much of his silent work survives, but there was a ton of it. He was there at the beginning, making over thirty short films in 1913 and 1914.

    Christy worked with Griffith, but he was also close to Raoul Walsh, who starred in some of his early films and who helped direct Cabanne’s first film, a documentary on Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, starring Villa himself, called “Life of Villa” (1912). It might have been the first snuff film too–Villa insisted on including footage of the execution by firing squad of “several dozen” federal prisoners (according to the IMDB) but the suits thought the footage was too grisly and cut it out. Villa never saw the film and you aren’t going to see it either–it’s lost (at least for now).

    Cabanne was from St. Louis and I wonder about his name, because there’s a Cabanne Street here (pronounced CABIN-EE) that was in a posh section of town when Christy Cabanne was born in 1888. It’s only two blocks north of Kensington Avenue, the home of Esther Smith and The Boy Next Door. There’s also a Cabanne House in St. Louis, built in 1819, that was the first brick farmhouse west of the Mississippi River. Christy Cabanne was educated at the U.S. Naval Academy, so he probably had a fancy upbringing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he were related to the old St. Louis French family that built the house and after whom the street was named.

  • Richard T. Jameson

    Steve Elworth, Christy started with Griffith, but that does nothing to account for Scared to Death.

    Was it indeed Cinecolor on that feature, Robert? The main title proudly reads “Scared to Death in Natural Color.” If ya gotta go, that’s certainly one way. (I see that IMDb tags it as Cinecolor.)

    Was Cinecolor what was used on Randolph Scott’s Westerns of the late Forties/cusp of the Fifties, the ones produced by Nat Holt? A number of them appear to survive only in black-and-white versions (Fighting Man of the Plains, for one). That used to be the case for Coroner Creek, which has a Cinecolor credit in the main titles, but in recent years TCM has been running it in a color version. Restoration or colorization? It does look as if it’s in “real color,” as opposed to the colorized horrors of Ted Turner’s guilty past.

    While we’re at it, how did Cinecolor stack up against Trucolor, the process from Herbert J. Yates Consolidated company? Although Trucolor disappeared from theatrical releases as of the late Fifties, I recall “Color by Consolidated” as a frequent credit on Sixties TV shows.

  • george

    Thanks for the info, Barry. I knew Mascot was absorbed into Republic, but I didn’t know Monogram was part of the deal. I wonder if that’s how Republic acquired John Wayne.

  • Robert Garrick

    George, I believe the short answer to your question is: “Yes.”

    I don’t know that John Wayne was contractually required to move to Republic after Mascot, Monogram, and Consolidated Film Labs were merged into it in 1935, but there is no question that he was a big part of the package that Herbert Yates (of Consolidated) thought he was putting together. Wayne had made dozens of serials and B-westerns at Mascot and Monogram (and at other places too, like Warners), and he continued to do the same at Republic, notably in eight “Three Mesquiteers” features made in 1938-1939, with Wayne replacing Bob Livingston, whom Republic had fingered for bigger things.

    Mascot was a threadbare operation when it started out in 1927, housed in shabby second-story offices on Santa Monica Boulevard, and using rented facilities and equipment for all its filmmaking. Its logo featured a tiger sitting on top of a globe–sort of a combination of RKO, Universal, and MGM. But Mascot head Nat Levine hit it big with serials, and by 1933 had become successful enough to buy Sennett Studios (after Mack Sennett went broke). When Republic absorbed Mascot, that became Republic’s studio. (Later, “Leave It To Beaver” was shot there; so was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”)

    Wayne’s start at Mascot came via three serials, none of which were westerns: “The Shadow of the Eagle” (1932), “The Hurricane Express” (1932), and “The Three Musketeers” (1933).

    Wayne was connected to Monogram through producer Paul Malvern and his Lone Star production unit, which released its films through Monogram. There were 22 of the Wayne/Lone Star films, most of which also featured Yakima Canutt as a stuntman or supporting player. It was Canutt who is supposed to have taught Wayne how to spin his gun as he plucked it out of his holster.

    When Herbert Yates assembled Republic Pictures in 1935, Wayne, Malvern, and Lone Star came in the deal, one way or another. So did Trem Carr and Ray Johnston, who had been running Monogram. Carr had also been involved in the Lone Star productions. Nat Levine joined Republic too. As Barry notes above, Johnston didn’t last long at Republic; he left to restart Monogram in 1937. Levine left in 1938 with a buyout from Yates. Carr and Malvern left earliest of all in 1936, to produce at Universal, taking Wayne with them for some things. An example would be “Conflict” (1936), with Wayne playing a boxer. Wayne also made “I Cover the War” (1937) for Carr and Malvern at Universal, directed by Arthur “Mr. Ed” Lubin, written by George “The Wolfman” Waggner, and photographed by Stanley “The Magnificent Ambersons” Cortez. Despite all this talent, the Universal films did nothing for Wayne’s career and he was soon back at Republic making the Three Mesquiteers films. In the middle of the Mesquiteers run, John Wayne found time to make “Stagecoach” which, unlike the sojourn at Universal, turned out to be a good career move.

  • Robert Garrick

    RTJ, why Golden Gate Pictures didn’t say “Cinecolor” on its opening title for “Scared To Death” might be the single most obscure mystery in the history of the cinema. The process was indeed Cinecolor; that’s what Arthur Lennig says in his authoritative biography of Lugosi. But the opening title of the film says “Photographed in Natural Color.” Maybe Cinecolor wasn’t cheesy enough for Golden Gate?

    The cinematographer for “Scared to Death” (1947), incidentally, was none other than Marcel Le Picard, whom I discussed earlier in this thread in the context of “Voodoo Man” and “Spooks Run Wild.” Back in that earlier comment, I mentioned that Le Picard’s very first credit was for a film called “The Outlaw’s Revenge” (1915), starring Raoul Walsh and directed by Christy Cabanne, who also directed “Scared to Death.” “The Outlaw’s Revenge” was yet another Pancho Villa movie from Cabanne and Walsh.

    Cabanne and Le Picard never worked together again after “The Outlaws Revenge” in 1915 until . . . 1947, when they made “Scared to Death.”

    As Dooley Wilson might say, a lot of water under the bridge.

  • Robert Garrick

    One more quick Cinecolor comment. Cinecolor looks so strange to the modern eye that some of the Cinecolor features were digitally “colorized” when they were released as VHS films. That’s what happened to “Scared to Death” when Republic Home Video released it in the 1990s. So if you see a Cinecolor film that looks pretty good . . .well, maybe it’s not really a Cinecolor film anymore.

  • Joe Dante

    For those Very Few who may be unfamiliar with the vaunted “Scared to Death”, here’s my take on it at Trailers from Hell. It’s from a Cinecolor print.

    http://trailersfromhell.com/scared-to-death/

  • David Boxwell

    When the great Jack Lambert’s five minutes in THE GREAT GATSBY (49) are up, the film reverts from its brief and compelling flirtation with film noir to the relatively mundane Paramount house style of the late 40s. And the framing device of Nugent’s version is just awful: old married couple Nick and Jordan at the grave of the dead Gatsby, with the rest of the film in flashback. Pure hackery.

    A hallmark of Monogram’s 40s melodramas is the truly insane floral wallpaper present in every domestic interior.

  • alex

    Thanks, DB.

  • “Mascot head Nat Levine hit it big with serials, and by 1933 had become successful enough to buy Sennett Studios (after Mack Sennett went broke). When Republic absorbed Mascot, that became Republic’s studio.”

    Is this the lot now known as “CBS Radford” in Studio City? I know that this lot was used for TV production in the 60s and that it was the Republic lot in the 50s, but was Republic operating from an earlier venue that’s the one you describe above?

  • Robert Garrick

    Yes, X, that’s the one. There are also two L.A. TV stations in there. To think that it all goes back to Sennett and Mascot.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CBS_Studio_Center

  • Robert Garrick

    Joe Dante, that was awesome, and in two minutes you covered every critical aspect of the film, including Lugosi’s helpful line about Indigo. Indigo was played by two-foot-tall Angelo Rossitto, best remembered as one of the gooble-gobble chanters from “Freaks” (1932), and he lived until 1991, staying pretty busy the whole time. He had a small role in Sam Fuller’s “The Baron of Arizona” (1950).

    Cinecolor was not a good process, but it adds a compelling, Edward Hopper look to “Scared to Death.” The interiors (and in “Scared to Death,” there are nothing but interiors) are drab, depressing, and dimly lit, like the sort we vaguely remember from visits to grandmother’s house back in the ’50s, because she was still using furniture from the 1920s and hadn’t completely figured out how to use light bulbs yet. And grandmother’s hair looked something like Molly Lamont’s.

    No doubt it was “Scared to Death” that gave Billy Wilder the idea of having a corpse narrate a film in flashback.

  • Mike Gebert

    One terrific Monogram noir that’s been released by Warners a few years ago but is surprisingly not mentioned here: Decoy, with a short-lived British actress named Jean Gillie as a conniving femme fatale. It survives in great shape and was released on this double-title set:

    http://www.amazon.com/Crime-Wave-Decoy-Double-Feature/dp/B000PKG7CA/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1381087550&sr=8-3&tag=wp-amazon-associate-20

    “Cinecolor was not a good process”

    Because its two color strips were on opposite sides of the emulsion, collector/preservationist Eric Grayson said that “God Himself could not focus Cinecolor.”

    “RTJ, why Golden Gate Pictures didn’t say “Cinecolor” on its opening title for “Scared To Death” might be the single most obscure mystery in the history of the cinema. The process was indeed Cinecolor; that’s what Arthur Lennig says in his authoritative biography of Lugosi. But the opening title of the film says “Photographed in Natural Color.” Maybe Cinecolor wasn’t cheesy enough for Golden Gate?”

    Offhand, my guess would be that it was shot in Cinecolor but then they didn’t want to pay to have the prints made by Cinecolor so couldn’t use the name, and went with processing by some cheaper firm that used the name Natural Color. Something like that anyway.

  • Robert Garrick

    “Decoy” (1946) is just starting to emerge from obscurity–for most of the last half-century it’s been impossible to see–but it sounds extremely interesting. Many of the reviews on the IMDB are raves. Lead actress Jean Gillie, a Brit, is repeatedly compared to Ann Savage. Critic Edgar Chaput describes Gillie in “Decoy” as “evil’s representative on this planet” and “a wild animal . . . not normal.” Gillie had done musical and non-musical comedy in the 1930s, working several times with Jack Buchanan, but it is “Decoy” for which she is remembered today. After “Decoy,” she had one more memorable role, as the “bad girl” in Zoltan Korda’s “The Macomber Affair” (1947). Gillie was fifth-billed in that. Two years later she was dead of pneumonia, at the age of 33.

    There’s a backstory here, and it involves Jack Bernhard, a man who was drawn to dark material and who worked in Hollywood’s netherworld. Gillie married Bernhard in 1944 and in short order he was directing his first film, “Decoy,” showcasing his new wife as a harpie-from-hell. Bernhard worked for just a few more years–his last film was made in 1950. In 1948 he directed “Blonde Ice,” a film about (stop me if you’ve heard this before) a ruthless, gorgeous, crazy, homicidal woman who plows through men in her search for money. There’s a story that Edgar Ulmer, uncredited, wrote that one, possibly as the flipside to “Bluebeard.” “Blonde Ice” was unavailable for decades but it emerged at about the same time as “Decoy,” maybe a dozen years ago, and has made the noir circuit. I saw a 16mm print in Palm Springs about eight years ago. It’s a below-average noir, but its lead female, played by Leslie Brooks, stays in your head. The film is public domain and is available online.

    Bernhard, while having his cup of coffee in Hollywood, also directed films with the titles “Violence” (1947) and “Perilous Waters” (1948). He lived until 1997, but he doesn’t seem to have been involved in the film industry after 1950.

    “Decoy” was written by the talented Stanley Rubin, who also wrote “Macao” (1952) and produced “The Narrow Margin” (1952). He’s still alive (96 years old) and I heard him speak a few years ago. He talked a lot about the Fleischer film but didn’t say a word about Bernhard. Nedrick Young, who later acted in several Joseph H. Lewis films, also helped to write “Decoy.” He was the slightly (only slightly) conflicted killer-in-black in “Terror in a Texas Town” (1958).

    Anyway, I need to see “Decoy.” Thanks to Mike Gebert for bringing this title to my attention.

  • Barry L

    Interesting about Gillie and Buchanan, an actor I found with limited to zero appeal, but in The Macomber Affair she was most certainly not a bad girl. That part was reserved for the leading lady, Joan Bennett. Gillie was a sympathetic bar tender friend of Peck’s character.

  • Robert Garrick

    Barry L, you are certainly right about Joan Bennett in “The Macomber Affair” and I messed up when I transferred some of her venom to Gillie. Bosley Crowther, on some kind of an alliteration high, wrote that Bennett (in the film) was “completely hydrochloric as the peevish, deceitful dame, showing in every glance and gesture her corrosive concern for herself. And Robert Preston is patently the victim of her perpetually acid abuse . . . ”

    You write like that, you get to work for the New York Times.

  • Barry L

    As for Crowther — I suppose we can all agree about his work. Hard to believe.

  • alex

    “You write like that, you get to work for the New York Times.”

    Has N. Y. Times arts writing ever before been singeled out for purple prose? (Ditto for today’s Times “movie” writing.)

    And that use of “dame,” ain’t it more evokative of the ’50s POST?

    Plain spoken, well detailed writing true to the precepts of Struck and White, such as we see in the October 7, 2013, 12:08 am post of this Garrick fellow. seems more like it.

    True their was this “dame” at The New Yorker who sometimes

  • I don’t know if the Times staff is guided by Strunk and White but they do have a marvelously comprehensive staff-crafted stylebook to guide them along.

  • jbryant

    The opening sequence of DECOY is a real grabber, right up there with GUN CRAZY. And there are many solid scenes thereafter, with Bernhard generally showing a level of solid craft on a Poverty Row budget, with a good and twisty script. He and his war bride both had talent, I’d say. The film’s slightly unusual structure doesn’t allow Gillie to really break out until the climactic moments, but she gives a confident, sly performance all along the way. The male lead is Edward Norris (who looks rather like a cross between Charles Grodin and Steven Hill).

  • Patrick Henry

    JB: The male lead (the doctor), whom you accurately describe, is not Edward Norris but Herbert Rudley. (Though Norris is starred and Rudley is given below the title billing.) Rudley has an odd acting style, not sure to what extent it was intentional. He seems to have his mind on something other than the scene he’s playing, and from time to time grudgingly, resentfully takes notice of what’s going on around him.

  • Barry Putterman

    Herbert Rudley, Ira Gershwin in RHAPSODY IN BLUE. Rudley left me totally unprepared for the actual Ira Gershwin when I eventually saw him in interview clips. I read a book about Desilu studio a while back in which somebody described the cast of the series “The Mothers-in-Law” as; “Eve Arden was the star, Kaye Ballard was the worrier, Roger Carmel was the ego, and Herb Rudley needed the work.”

    Has anybody heard from our host recently? I’m growing a bit concerned.

  • Joe Dante

    Herb Rudley was a sort of handsomer version of Howard McNear and had few lead roles in features. He’s probably best remembered for his 56 episodes of “The Mothers-in-Law”, but horror fans know him as the only non-iconic lead in the retro mad doctor epic “The Black Sleep”.
    One of his career highpoints was as a neurotic officer in Milestone’s underrated “A Walk in the Sun”.

  • Foster Grimm

    Herbert Rudley is surprisingly good in Dwan’s BREWSTER’S MILLIONS.

  • jbryant

    Hmm, I don’t normally assume anything about an actor’s identify from their billing, but I guess I did in the case of Edward Norris and Herbert Rudley. Oddly enough, when I looked up some pictures of Rudley on Google, I immediately recognized him in the ones in which he is older and mustachioed. To me, he looked nothing very little like his Grodin/Hill-ish younger self. I saw him in a hundred things growing up. Anyway, thanks for the corrections and clarifications, all.

  • jbryant

    Hmm, I don’t normally assume anything about an actor’s identify from their billing, but I guess I did in the case of Edward Norris and Herbert Rudley. Oddly enough, when I looked up some pictures of Rudley on Google, I immediately recognized him in the ones in which he is older and mustachioed. To me, he looked very little like his Grodin/Hill-ish younger self. I saw him in a hundred things growing up. Anyway, thanks for the corrections and clarifications, all.

  • Robert Garrick

    I just caught up with “Fear” (1946), which Dave previews in two sentences in his intro above. Peter Cookson, in the film, looks great, and he’s always dressed in a nicely tailored suit. (It’s described as worn and unpressed, but it looks good onscreen, and Cookson is impeccably groomed.) In a year or two, Cookson would move to Broadway and enjoy great success there, as an actor and as a singer.

    But at Monogram, Cookson is trapped in a grim world of cheap rooming houses with crazy wallpaper, diners where you can’t afford the stew and have to settle for the soup, and disagreeable, selfish, frightening people. Everyone is having a hard time and ultimately, everyone is hostile. In “Fear,” the character who is most civil to Cookson is Warren William’s police chief, who suspects Cookson of murder. William is excellent in the film–relaxed and ambiguous. As for Cookson, he speaks his lines but gives little indication of what’s bubbling beneath the surface. Obviously he had a face, and a style of delivery, for Broadway, and not for the movies.

    The director of “Fear,” Alfred Zeisler, was born in Chicago but somehow found his way to Germany in the 1920s, where his film career started. By the mid-1930s Zeisler had returned to America, where he directed Cary Grant in a film called “The Amazing Adventure” (1936). (I have not seen it or any other Zeisler film besides “Fear.”) Then it was on to the U.K. for a few projects, but Zeisler’s directing career never got much traction, and it ended in the late 1940s with three poverty row titles: “Fear,” “Parole, Inc.” (1948), and “Alimony” (1949). The last two films were done for Orbit Productions/Eagle-Lion, and apparently they’re around. Zeisler also did some acting, and he appeared (almost always as an uncredited generic German) in films directed by Delmar Daves, John Ford, Raoul Walsh, Robert Wise, and Joseph Mankiewicz. He died in 1985, near Seattle, more than thirty years after his last Hollywood credits.

    As many have noted, Zeisler’s script for “Fear” is obviously derived from Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” The victim in “Fear,” as in the book, is a pawnbroker, and the killer has some fancy notions about ends and means. Cookson isn’t a good enough actor to show us much suffering, but the milieu in which he moves is sufficiently unclean and depressing to get the point across. The film is consistently interesting to look at. Cookson describes his room as ratty, with low ceilings, and we know he’s telling the truth because Zeisler puts his camera low in the early scenes to show the cramped vertical space in the room. As the film progresses, the camera moves higher, literally looking down on Cookson. The lighting is gloomy and dark, which serves to cover up Monogram’s cheap sets but which also sets a proper tone.

    There are elements of “Woman in the Window” (1944) in this film too, and of Lang in general. But the film it reminded me of more than any other was the seminal noir “Stranger on the Third Floor” (1940). That film’s hero (if that is the word), John McGuire, commutes between a shabby rooming house and a drab lunch counter, just like Cookson, whom he vaguely resembles. Both men have pleasantly clueless, straight-arrow girlfriends, but otherwise in their private lives, both men are surrounded by a frightening menagerie of human flotsam. Both men are consumed with worry about being arrested for murder, and both men stitch all of this together in a Caligari-style dream sequence.

    “Fear” wrapped just days before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and it was released after the war was over. But there’s no mention of the war in “Fear,” whose world (dare I say “way of life”?) is completely contained in those joyless rooming houses and lunch counters.

  • Barry Lane

    Amazing Adventure with Cary Grant is a British picture.