Monday, November 22, 2021

NOIRVEMBER HOTEL: Tight Spot, 1955

It was interesting to discover recently in the decades between my first and second viewing of Tight Spot, 1955 how much of the movie remained vivid in my memory; a true sign that something is working. In my opinion, that something was director Phil Karlson whose way with a well-paced western or crime picture truly came to a peak in the 1950s with pictures such as Gunman's Walk and The Brothers Rico.

William Bowers (Cry Danger) screenplay was based on a play by Leonard Kantor titled Dead Pigeon which had a brief run of 21 performances on Broadway over the Christmas holiday of 1953-1954. The three person drama set in a single hotel room featured Joan Lorring (The Corn is Green) as a potential trial witness with Lloyd Bridges (The Sound of Fury) and James Gregory (The Manchurian Candidate) as her police detective guards.

The Samuel French synopsis reads: "Two detectives bring a young lady from the penitentiary to a secluded seaside hotel and hold her in protective custody before her appearance at a murder trial. Actually, the girl knows nothing about the murder of a gangster but has turned state's witness in order to get a day's vacation from prison. But the underworld does not know this: nor do the detectives who are in league with the underworld and who are ordered to kill the girl. But the younger of the men has a heart and a bit of a conscience left. He upsets things when he falls in love with the girl. The menace that night comes from the other detective who is undeterred in his mission of murder."


Sherry Conley played by Ginger Rogers is in a tight spot. She has less than a year left on her five year prison sentence, having assisted a less than honest boyfriend in a payroll robbery. How was she to know what he had in mind? Sherry has information that can assist the Feds in getting a conviction on a mobster. It is an undesirable alien rap that can only result in deportation, but it is better than nothing. Until now witnesses have disappeared or been killed. The prosecutor has one weekend to convince Sherry to "do her duty." Sherry doesn't think it is worth it although she will take advantage of the sudden plush accommodations. Of course, the mob only wants to tie up loose ends and that means Sherry Conley must die.

Ginger Rogers was perhaps ten years or so older than the character as presented through the dialogue. The tweaking of a line here or there would have assisted in her characterization. In fact, though no means a hag (We should all look so good in that polka dot dress.), her been-around-the-block status assists with the character of Sherry.

Ginger brings her considerable professionalism and instincts to the role as the actress was always adept at the quips which make up a lot of film noir dialogue. The character of Sherry Conley finds sisterhood with much of Ginger's filmography, the neglected and abused Ellie May Adams in Primerose Path, the vainglorious Roxie Hart, and the vulnerable convict Mary Marshall in I'll Be Seeing You.


Detective Vince Striker played by Brian Keith is in a tight spot. He's worked hard on this case but he realizes what is at stake for the reluctant witness. It is the sort of detail he would rather avoid. His reasons are many and varied, but suffice to say he is in as tight a spot as he has ever been in his life.

Brian Keith was breaking out of the uncredited portion of his career with a number of fine and tough-minded characters during this period, mostly at Columbia. See The Violent Men, 5 Against the House, and Nightfall. Ruggedly handsome and adept at his craft, Vince Striker is a character that gives the actor a myriad of emotions to convey and some nice action sequences.

Prosecutor Lloyd Hallett played by Edward G. Robinson is in a tight spot. The mob has all the power and the means of getting information that should be secret. The mob is powerful and committed. Killing isn't an option they use occasionally; they are brazen with the tactic. The deportation isn't what Hallett has spent years building up a case for, but the time is now and he needs this witness.

Edward G. Robinson channels a bit of Barton Keyes from Double Indemnity as he deals with his resistant witness and the leak in his department. Particularly satisfying is a scene with the mobster's lawyer where Hallett holds nothing back in his feelings about the criminal.


Mobster Benjamin Costain played by Lloyd Greene is in a tight spot. Every time he gets rid of one "loose end" the Feds come up with another. This time it is some dame he doesn't even remember who can finger him for this stupid deportation. Sherry is merely another nuisance to be taken out. Costain has no doubt in his power and is an angry man, but can he keep all of his team in line?

Lorne Greene, the legendary Canadian broadcaster appears in his second Hollywood feature as the mobster Costain. His barely contained anger makes the character a frightening antagonist. Despite the might of the law collected against him, Costain's arrogance will not imagine defeat.

The play is opened up from the hotel room to give the audience views of the penitentiary, city streets, and the intrusion of television. The prison shows us Sherry's present circumstances, how she has adapted, and why she would like a break. The city streets bring us shop windows, people, and sudden violence. The television intrudes with an insipid telethon with a mediocre entertainer to contrast the life and death stakes facing our characters.

I find Tight Spot an engrossing and fascinating crime drama with an outstanding cast and taut direction. If you haven't seen it, give it a try. If, like me, you saw it eons ago, surprise yourself with a revisit to the Noirvember Hotel.

Of note:


Actress Katherine Anderson is a ray of sunshine in the dark environs as prison guard Willoughby. According to online sources, Ms. Anderson turns 99 on December 11th. 







Friday, November 12, 2021

THE DISTRACTION BLOGATHON: Sherlock Holmes in Washington, 1943

 

Rebecca Deniston of Taking Up Room is hosting The Distraction Blogathon from November 12th to 14th. Join the fun HEREBlogathon Wrapup

Rebecca's blogathon mandate: "MacGuffin's. Red herrings. Dangling carrots. Bait and switch. Whatever. We all know how movies mess with our heads."


My contribution to the blogathon includes both a distraction and a MacGuffin.


Basil Rathbone

Putting the distraction in The Distraction Blogathon is Basil's "do" as Sherlock Holmes. It is not the first time he has startled us in this way but, thankfully, it will be the last.

Gerald Hamer

Meet John Grayson, an unassuming law clerk who is in actuality Alfred Pettibone, secret agent. He is transporting vital information from the U.K. to the American government. He and the document are in danger.

Marjorie Lord, Thurston Hall, Gerald Hamer, Clarence Muse

Onboard the train from NYC to Washington, Nancy Partridge innocently asks for a light and gets more than she bargained for as Agent Pettibone slips his matchbook, which is more than a matchbook into her handbag. 

Clarence Muse, Marjorie Lord, John Archer

At the journey's end, Nancy meets her fiance Lt. Merriam. In three days' time (he only has a three-day pass), the happy couple will be married.

Gerald Hamer

While the happy couple celebrates, our brave Pettibone is whisked away by enemy spies. The agent is doomed.

Basil Rathbone, Holmes Herbert

MacGuffin: "The thing that the spies are after but the audience don't care about."

- Alfred Hitchcock

Mr. Ahrens from the Home Office: "Grayson was carrying a document of a very confidential nature. Its contents are of such grave international importance that I am not at liberty to reveal them. But if that document falls into the hands of the --- I can only say that it would be absolutely disastrous for this government and our allies." If that doesn't spell "MacGuffin", I don't know what does!

Nigel Bruce, Basil Rathbone

Prior to leaving for America to join the FBI in the case of the kidnapped agent, Holmes and Watson search the agent's home. Holmes determines the brilliant Pettibone has reduced the bulky document to microfilm, and its hiding place in a V for Victory matchbook. Aha! We know that matchbook is currently in the possession of Washington socialite Nancy Patridge.

Gavin Muir, Basil Rathbone, Clarence Muse

Sherlock Holmes questions the porter on the train during the fateful trip. He learns of the people with whom Pettibone came in contact, including a senator, a woman with a book, a woman with pet mice, and a woman who asked for a light. He learns of an upcoming wedding and the fact that the spies have not yet recovered the document.

Basil Rathbone

Holmes avails himself of the FBI laboratory discovering much that the FBI lab man overlooked. Vital clues are now forming his hypothesis. Note: Holmes has yet to look in a mirror.

Marjorie Lord

Thanks to the fluff part of the newspaper, i.e., the society news, Holmes now knows where to find the engaged couple. Unfortunately, so do the spies!

George Zucco

The mysterious head of the spy ring knows not what he holds in his hand. That which he seeks is his.

Marjorie Lord

When the kidnapped socialite Nancy Partridge clues into the importance of the matchbook, she bravely keeps silent in spite of threats and violence. Will rescue come in time?

George Zucco

Holmes, through cleverness and disguise, confronts international spy (since the days of the Kaiser) Heinrich Hinkle, known for many years in Washington as antique dealer Richard Stanley.

Basil Rathbone, Marjorie Lord

The gags and makeshift handcuffs indicate that Holmes' rescue attempt goes awry. However, he had the forethought to send Watson for the FBI and a dramatic shootout ensues during which Hinkle escapes with Holmes in pursuit. 

Edmund MacDonald, George Zucco, Nigel Bruce

Hinkle faces the ignominy of capture - and that's not all.

Basil Rathbone

Sherlock Holmes serves up the microfilm as a coup de grace. He's allowed the brag. After all, he broke the case.

Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce

Holmes quotes Winston Church to conclude this picture. After all, it is 1942 and a little "hands across the sea" bonding keeps up morale when you are fighting Nazis.

Of note:


Our romantic subplot leads Marjorie Lord and John Archer were married from 1941 to 1953 and were the parents of actress Anne Archer.

George Zucco

Hinkle/Stanley in Sherlock Holmes in Washington is played by George Zucco, who is my favourite Moriarty in the series, having played him in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1939.

Henry Daniell

Henry Daniell is in Sherlock Holmes in Washington as William Easter, Hinkle's top henchman. He had played a British politician in The Voice of Terror, also 1942, and would later play Professor Moriarty in The Woman in Green, 1945.

Gerald Hamer

Gerald Hamer, Pettibone in Sherlock Holmes in Washington is pictured above as he appeared in the outstanding Holmes picture The Scarlet Claw, 1944. See also Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, 1943, Pursuit to Algiers, 1945, and Terror by Night, 1946.

Ian Wolfe, Basil Rathbone

Sherlock Holmes in Washington was the first of four Holmes pictures for Ian Wolfe followed by The Scarlet Claw and The Pearl of Death in 1944 and Dressed to Kill in 1946.












Monday, November 1, 2021

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR NOVEMBER ON TCM

 

Here is the oft-told tale of a young fellow of dubious background and hard-scrabble existence finding his way in a cruel and judgmental world. In fact, you might even call our hero a stray.

Wildfire is a bull terrier and we become part of his life's journey through the sassy narration of Vic Morrow. The turn of the 20th century Bowery is no place for gentlefolk or gentle dogs. Separated from his mother and only knowing the name of his grand champion father, Regent Royal, Wildfire falls in with the tough and abusive Patch McGill played by Jeff Richards (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers). Patch is out for the quick buck and doesn't care who gets hurt along the way.


Eventually, Wildfire becomes part of the circle of kindly trainer Jeremiah Nolan played by Edmund Gwenn (Foreign Correspondent) and learns of a different sort of life and a different sort of human. Life is no less complicated as Nolan works for the emotionally conflicted and wealthy Wyndham played by Dean Jagger (Pursued). 

Where will this twisted road take our hero? Will he find resolution or redemption? As the cold autumn wears on, you will enjoy a familiar story told in an unfamiliar manner. Sometimes that is what we need, plus the studio sheen of MGM and some Eastmancolor.

Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916)

It's a Dog's Life is based on the 1903 novel The Bar Sinister by Richard Harding Davis. In my youth, I found a compilation of the noted foreign correspondent's journalistic endeavours at a second-hand bookstore and lived the adventures and tragedies of history through his eyes. Davis's plays and novels were no less successful and influential, forming the basis of several films, shorts, and features. This screen telling was adapted by John Michael Hayes (The Trouble with Harry) and directed by Herman Hoffman (The Invisible Boy).


The Bar Sinister was earlier adapted as the 1927 film Almost Human. One can see its influence as well in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey the 1993 remake with animal narration of The Incredible Journey the 1963 film of Sheila Burnford's 1961 novel.


TCM is screening It's a Dog's Life early on Tuesday, November 9th as part of a slate of films devoted to Man's Best Friend. Perhaps your favourite is already among the lineup and perhaps this movie will join that list.










THE UMPTEENTH BLOGATION: 42nd Street, 1933

Theresa, the CineMaven herself is hosting The Umpteenth Blogathon on January 18th. A tribute to those movies which have an addictive hold ...