Film Review: Crime School (1938)

Release Date: May 10th, 1938 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Lewis Seiler
Written by: Crane Wilbur, Vincent Sherman
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: The Dead End Kids, Humphrey Bogart, Gale Page, George Offerman Jr., Weldon Heyburn, Cy Kendall

Warner Bros., 86 Minutes

Review:

“Those guards you fired were valuable men. Whatta you want to replace them with? A crew of schoolteachers?” – Morgan, “Maybe you got things just a little twisted, Morgan. This is a school you’re running and not a prison. You’re dealing with kids, not hardened criminals!” – Mark Braden

I never really watched any of the Dead End Kids movies but my mum always liked them. I was aware of who they were but they just seemed like an older, unfunny Little Rascals to me.

However, while trying to clear out my queue on FilmStruck before it closed down, I was hitting all the Humphrey Bogart movies I could, so that brought me to this.

I actually liked this picture and not just because it features Bogart in a prominent role.

The Dead End Kids aren’t as kiddish and comedic as the Little Rascals or other similar groups. It’s certainly a familiar shtick but the tone of this film is mostly serious and has a much harder edge than I expected. In fact, the kids are straight up juvenile criminals and you even believe them to have killed a man, until it’s revealed by dialogue later that the guy they bludgeoned nearly to death, survived the attack.

Anyway, this sends them all to juvenile detention for two years but luckily for them, it is at the beginning of Bogart’s tenure, where he is a stand up guy that is actually trying to reform these boys and not set them up for failure and a life of crime.

The film examines the criminal justice system pretty good for its day. And really, the story is relevant today, as criminal rehabilitation is still a joke.

I liked the message of the movie and what it was trying to convey and I thought that it played out nice on screen. Bogart’s Mark Braden did everything he could to help the kids, even if his actions at the end of the film were a bit criminal too.

The kids weren’t too annoying, Bogart was superb and I thought that his leading lady, Gale Page, was also quite good and pretty lovable.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Dead End Kids movies, as well as other Bogart crime pictures.

Film Review: The Plough and the Stars (1936)

Release Date: December 26th, 1936
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Dudley Nichols, Sean O’Casey
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster, Barry Fitzgerald

RKO Radio Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“The spring of 1916 found a divided Ireland, torn by conflicting Loyalties. Thousands of her sons were at the front fighting the cause of England in the World War. Other thousands remained home planning another fight—a fight, under the flag of the Plough and the Stars, to free their country so that Ireland could take its place among the nations of the world.” – Opening credits prologue

John Ford is considered one of the top directors of his era. Before watching this, I had only ever seen his westerns. So I figured I’d venture out and see some of his other work. And since this had Barbara Stanwyck in it, I gave it a go.

This didn’t really do much for me though. And that’s not to take anything away from the picture, as the acting, especially from Stanwyck was damn good. However, it just seemed to move really slow and only really grabbed me in two scenes.

The first was in the beginning when Stanwyck’s Nora was confronted about not giving letters to her husband in regards to his military career. The second was the finale that saw some action but only enough to wake me up from my slumber for a few seconds.

I found it odd that this was a film that took place in Ireland and dealt specifically with Irish issues but the main cast was mostly American and didn’t even attempt Irish accents. So when real Irish people came into scenes with their authentic accents, it got really weird.

Also, the script wasn’t well written and seemed to be rushed through. That could be due to the short running time and maybe this adaptation of a play, wasn’t seamlessly adapted.

Out of the Ford pictures I have seen, this is the worst and the dullest.

But Stanwyck was actually dynamite and at least gave this dud some life.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Four Men and a Prayer, So Big and Woman In Red.

Film Review: Vampyr (1932)

Also known as: Adventures of David Gray (alternate original title), Castle of Doom (US dubbed version), Not Against the Flesh (US), The Strange Adventure of David Gray (Brazil English title), The Vampire (US copyright title)
Release Date: May 6th, 1932 (Germany)
Directed by: Carl Theodore Dreyer
Written by: Christen Jul, Carl Theodore Dreyer
Based on: In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Wolfgang Zeller
Cast: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz, Henriette Gerard

Carl Theodore Dreyer-Filmproduktion, Tobis-Filmkunst, Vereinigte Star-Film GmbH, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Why does the doctor always come at night?” – Gisèle

Just as Nosferatu was the quintessential vampire movie of the silent German Expressionist era, Vampyr is probably the quintessential vampire movie of German Expressionism once it moved into sound.

This film has aged incredibly well for what it is. It is still quite terrifying, at its core, and it has an ambiance that is chilling and rich with dark folklore.

It’s unsettling as it rolls on and the plot develops. It’s well written and strange, as it doesn’t necessarily follow the typical vampire fiction template. It feels as if it were ripped from old folk tales, as opposed to taking its cues from Bram Stoker’s Dracula like nearly all vampire fiction.

I thought the performances were very dramatic and very reminiscent of the silent era but they were all pretty good. This feels like a stage show put to celluloid, as things feel very confined like the walls are always closing in. I’m not sure if that was the intent of the filmmakers but the scale of the film works to serve the main character’s story, as he keeps falling deeper and deeper into the darkness.

While German Expressionism isn’t really associated with films after the silent era, the style is alive and well here or at least the spirit of it is, as it has evolved. But this does, in my opinion, fit well with the more famous silent horror films that Germany was pumping out in the 1920s.

Vampyr is definitely worth your time if you like films like the original Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: NosferatuThe Cabinet of Dr. CaligariThe Golem and the Swedish film The Phantom Carriage.

Film Review: Black Legion (1937)

Release Date: January 17th, 1937 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Archie Mayo, Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Written by: Robert Lord, Abem Finkel, William Wister Haines
Music by: W. Franke Harling, Howard Jackson, Bernhard Kaun
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Dick Foran, Erin O’Brien-Moore, Ann Sheridan

Warner Bros., 83 Minutes

Review:

“So, you’re afraid! Maybe they better change the name of your outfit from the Black Legion to the Yellow Legion.” – Ed Jackson

I was talking about Humphrey Bogart, my favorite actor, with a friend of mine when he asked, “Did you see that one where he was in the KKK?” I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I looked it up and found this film, which Bogart did really early in his career, before reaching superstardom. Also, it’s not the actual KKK but it is a group based on them called “the Black Legion”.

This film is rather short but it’s definitely got a lot packed into a small package. It’s a true thriller and very noir-esque before film-noir was a thing.

The gist of the story surrounds a hard working man that is looked over for a promotion that he was pretty sure he was going to get. It weighs heavily on him and eventually, some bad seeds take advantage of that and influence him into joining their cause. That cause, sees them dressing up in black hoods, similar to the KKK’s white hoods, where they go out at night in an effort to chase off the foreigners who are coming in and taking their jobs. So the Klan (or “Black Legion”) in this isn’t so much racist, as they are xenophobic.

In his heart, Bogart’s Frank Taylor was opposed to the madness he found himself entangled in but he was already in over his head and couldn’t leave the group for fear of what they might do to him and his family. It all comes crashing down when Frank murders his best friend that was trying his damnedest to save him. Regretful and remorseful, will Frank work to bring down the Black Legion or is the fear of his family’s safety too great?

The film is intense and it moves swiftly. It was hard for me to turn away from it and the acting of Bogart, as well as his best bud, Dick Foran, was superb and kept me glued to the screen.

While this isn’t Bogart or Foran’s best picture or performance, it really goes to show that both men were definitely capable of something greater. Luckily, for us, both men would have busy careers, especially in the noir style of the ’40s and ’50s.

Black Legion is certainly worth a watch. While most movie sites don’t list this as a thriller, it definitely is… and a pretty effective one from start to finish.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Bogart films before he became a big star: High Sierra, They Drive by Night and Crime School.

Film Review: Modern Times (1936)

Also known as: The Masses (working title)
Release Date: February 5th, 1936 (Rivoli Theatre, New York City premiere)
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin
Written by: Charlie Chaplin
Music by: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford, Chester Conklin

United Artists, 87 Minutes

Review:

“[from the Telescreen in the restroom to the factory worker] Hey! Quit stalling, get back to work! Go on!” – President of the Electro Steel Corp.

I’m going to start this by saying that Modern Times is one of my two favorite Charlie Chaplin films. The other is City Lights and it’s hard to put one of these over the other. But this may have a bit of an edge, as I think the factory worker sequences are Chaplin’s best.

This film covers a lot of ground, narratively speaking, for something that’s less than 90 minutes. But in the time that this came out, it’s much longer than most of the Chaplin films before it.

It starts with the Tramp character working in a factory, as the film rolls on, we see him start to break down and eventually go a bit crazy. He’s institutionalized, gets cured and then hits the streets trying to rebuild his life. Along the way, he meets Paulette Goodard’s Ellen, a bit of a troublemaker but her shenanigans are because she’s trying to feed her hungry siblings.

A romance develops and the chemistry between Chaplin and Goddard is pretty natural but maybe we were seeing them actually fall in love, as the two were married for a few years after this picture.

Chaplin really does give one of his best performances here and the stunts were some of the most creative and impressive. While it seems to be going for more of a straight comedy route with the gags than trying to wow us with Chaplin’s resilient physicality, it doesn’t feel like that stuff is lacking. And his routines here are still impressive.

For instance, the balcony roller skating scene is more nerve wracking than physically impressive. But stuff like this isn’t less effective or more effective than Chaplin’s more physical slapstick. I guess that he proved that he didn’t need to beat himself up to still get audiences to love him. Plus, by 1936, that stuff may have been taking a real toll on his body.

Modern Times is a sweet movie that features one of the most beloved film characters of all-time. What’s not to love? This is one of Chaplin’s greatest films and for good reason.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Chaplin’s greatest works: City LightsThe Great Dictator and A King In New York.

Film Review: Bluebeard (1936)

Also known as: Barbe-Bleue (original French title)
Release Date: December 31st, 1936 (France)
Directed by: René Bertrand, Jean Painlevé
Written by: Charles Perrault
Music by: Jean Vincent-Bréchignac

13 Minutes

Review:

Barbe-Bleue or Bluebeard is an animated short film from France that uses claymation to tell its story.

It’s not an exciting story and it is told more like a musical than a regular dramatic film but it is at least pleasant to look at. The art is beautiful, the colors are very vibrant and vivid. I’m assuming though that the original version of the film was done in black and white and the colorized versions was made later.

The stop motion is well executed and everything looks as smooth as it can for being made in the 1930s.

This is subtitled, as it is French, but with just about all of the dialogue coming through in song form, it almost even isn’t necessary to need the translation. Plus, the emotions and actions that are referenced in the music are pretty apparent on screen.

This isn’t an easy to track down short. I luckily found it on FIlmStruck and gave it a watch there, as I was looking for something short to kill 15 minutes or so. This did the trick.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other shorts by Jean Painlevé: Le VampireSea UrchinsLiquid Crystals and The Fourth Dimension.

*Sadly, no trailer or other videos I can post for this.

Film Review: The Public Enemy (1931)

Also known as: Beer and Blood (working title), Enemies of the Public (UK)
Release Date: April 23rd, 1931 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: William A. Wellman
Written by: Kubec Glasmon, John Bright
Based on: Beer and Blood by John Bright, Kubec Glasmon
Music by: David Mendoza, Vitaphone Orchestra
Cast: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Donald Cook

Warner Bros., 83 Minutes

Review:

“You are different, Tommy. Very different. And I’ve discovered it isn’t only a difference in manner and outward appearances. It’s a difference in basic character. The men I know – and I’ve known dozens of them – oh, they’re so nice, so polished, so considerate. Most women like that type. I guess they’re afraid of the other kind. I thought I was too, but you’re so strong. You don’t give, you take. Oh, Tommy, I could love you to death.” – Gwen Allen

As much as I love Edward G. Robinson, I still can’t deny that James Cagney was the king of the classic gangster movie. The Public Enemy is hands down, one of the most well-known gangster films of all-time and for very good reason.

What’s actually most interesting about this film, is it is based on an unpublished book by two former Chicago street thugs that actually personally witnessed some of Al Capone’s violent actions against rival gangs. For a 1930s film, it did have a real feeling of authenticity and a grittiness that set it apart from some of the other gangster films of the time.

James Cagney is exceptional in this and in several key scenes, you don’t even need dialogue, you just read his face and see where he is going and it usually isn’t anywhere good.

The cinematography of Devereaux Jennings was really good and it made this feel more refined than similar pictures. That scene towards the end of Cagney’s Tom Powers crawling through the rain is amazing and conveyed more emotion than the scene would have had otherwise.

I also like the ending a lot. It leaves you thinking that this guy has reformed and he may have but what seems like a happy ending comes with a twist, as Tom Powers is kidnapped from the hospital and then found murdered.

This ending almost defied the old school morality code but at the same time, this was a pre-code film. Anyway, Powers had to pay for his crimes in some form and he does, despite his apparent change of heart after reconciling with his family.

The Public Enemy really made James Cagney’s career and he would do a slew of similar films but if you’ve got a niche, exploit it and make money. That’s what Cagney did and it was off of the back of this film’s massive success.

Without this, the gangster genre might have died out more quickly and it also might not have lead to the film-noir of the 1940s. We also probably wouldn’t have gotten the classic crime picture White Heat or at the very least, that film would have been drastically different.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: White HeatLittle Caesar, the original Scarface and Smart Money.