Monday, November 30, 2020

The Crooked Web (1955)

The owner of a drive-in diner is pulled into a plot to retrieve some looted gold, buried in Germany before the end of the war. Little does he know this plan is just a ruse to bring him back to Germany, where he is wanted by police for a crime committed there during wartime.

There's a lot of plot packed into this dense little thriller, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing even after you think you've got it figured out, although it does get a bit far-fetched at times. The detectives posing as brother and sister stretch credibility with how close they come to blowing their cover and risk jeopardizing this elaborate mission over and over again, though Frank Lovejoy is suitably gullible as the subject of their investigation.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Inside Job (1946)

A remake of Tod Browning's Outside the Law, which he'd filmed in 1920 and 1930. This version, based on Browning and Garrett Fort's original story, was produced by Universal in 1946, directed by Jean Yarbrough. A reformed ex-convict, working in a big department store around the holidays, is confronted by a gangster who knows his past about pulling off an inside job. The ex-con and his wife decide to pull off the job on their own and start a new life, but the gangster gets wise to their double-cross.

This version suffers from the same problem as the 1930 version -- it turns deadly dull when the couple is holed up in their apartment hiding from the cops for most of the second half of the film. It also lacks the star presence of the previous versions (Lon Chaney in the original, Edward G. Robinson in the first remake), although Preston Foster delivers a solid performance as gangster Bart Madden, and Ann Rutherford and Alan Curtis are sympathetic as the romantic leads.

Although he'd filmed the story twice before, it would be interesting to see what Browning would have done with the material in the post-war era of this version.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Mad Love, The Devil-Doll

I recently watched a double-feature of these two '30s macabre thrillers from MGM. Mad Love is probably the most "Universal" picture MGM ever made -- an quasi-Expressionist horror film based on the 1924 German film The Hands of Orlac. It's directed by Karl Freund, the top cinematographer of the German Expressionist movement who had recently come to Hollywood and was moving in to directing around this time. This version tells the same basic story about the brilliant concert pianist (Frankenstein's Colin Clive) who loses his hands in a horrific accident, and has them replaced with those of a recently-executed murderer. Before long, he begins to feel the same compulsion to kill. The emphasis in this version is put on the character of the mad, possessive doctor, played by Peter Lorre in a truly sinister performance, who obsesses over the musician's wife and only helps her husband for his own selfish reasons.

The Devil-Doll is the penultimate film from Tod Browning, one of Hollywood's most singular visionaries. It tells the fantastic story of a wrongly-accused man (Lionel Barrymore) who escapes from prison and returns to exact revenge on his business partners who framed him, by using miniaturized and re-animated human figures who carry out his diabolical demands. It's hard to imagine any other director making this film at MGM in 1936. Erich von Stroheim was one of the screenwriters.