Cover of Black Legion
Directed by Archie Mayo & Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Produced by Robert Lord
Written by Story: Robert Lord
Screenplay: Abem Finkel & William Wister Haines
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Music by W. Franke Harling, Howard Jackson & Bernhard Kaun (all uncredited)
Cinematography George Barnes
Editing by Owen Marks
Studio Warner Bros.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) January 17, 1937 (NYC)
January 30, 1937 (US)
Running time 83 minutes
Country United States
Black Legion is a 1937 film that depicts an offshoot of the notorious Ku Klux Klan. Many of the messages contained in the film are just as poignant today as they were 70+ years ago, that is that in times of trouble that it is easy to blame and scapegoat migrants. Having recently read the ramblings of a Melbourne white supremacist who among other things labelled me a ‘race traitor’, shows that despite what some people say, deep racism is still around. Just by browsing the Anti-Bogan website you can see just how warped some people still are about these things.
In Black Legion Humphrey Bogart plays Frank Taylor, a factory worker who gets passed over for a promotion at his job, which goes to Polish American Henry Brandon. Taylor ends up falling for the propaganda of the Black Legion, a clandestine white supremicist organisation. Thanks to the ideas promoted by the Legion, Taylor begins to blame foreigners for his woes. There are consequences for Taylor as he loses his wife and child and then murders his best friend after letting slip his membership of the Legion.
The film is very well acted and the young Bogart is great. This was still a year or so before he became a big star. The film is a little preachy, but it is still totally absorbing.
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Directed by Howard Hawks & Richard Rosson
Produced by Howard Hughes
Scarface by Armitage Trail
Screenplay by Ben Hecht
Starring Paul Muni
Cinematography Lee Garmes & L.W. O’Connell
Editing by Edward Curtiss
Distributed by United Artists
Release date April 9, 1932
Running time 93 minutes
Country United States
Language English & Italian
Firstly this is the original Scarface – AKA Scarface Shame of a Nation, not the 1983 version featuring Al Pacino. This is the 1932 version featuring Paul Muni and George Raft and directed by Howard Hawks. It is probably one of the most celebrated gangster films of the 1930s, with Paul Muni giving a great, charismatic performance as the ambitious villain Tony Camonte. His performance is perhaps the equal of James Cagney’s in Public Enemy or Edward G Robinson in Little Caesar, although he seems to be rather forgotten today. One criticism of the picture I have is that I do think that Boris Karloff was horribly miscast as the rival gangster Gaffney. It is very hard to believe that someone with a proper English gentleman’s voice (and what a voice) would be a hard-nosed gangster from Chicago.
This was a very controversial film in its time, with the censors demanding lots of cuts and even am alternative ending because it was felt that this movie glorified the life of gangsters. Fortunately the film was being financed by the richest man on Earth at that time, Howard Hughes, and he was able to make these changes to the picture, although when the censors still would not pass the movie he just released the original version in states that had very relaxed censorship regulations.
There were also several accidents on set with Gaylord Lloyd, brother of silent screen comedian Harold Lloyd, losing an eye after being shot by live ammunition!!!
Directed by Howard Hawks (uncredited)
Written by Novella:
John W. Campbell, Jr.
Starring Margaret Sheridan
Robert O. Cornthwaite
James R. Young
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography Russell Harlan, ASC
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date April 29, 1951
Running time 87 min.
Watch the skies
The Thing From Another World is often hailed as the first great sci-fi/horror film but I’m not so sure. I guess that it is the film that kicked off the 1950s sci-fi cycle of films and admit that the sci-fi elements of the film have the potential to be great, but I was very disappointed at the horror element of the film.
For those who don’t know the story, a UFO crashes to Earth near the North Pole and is found by scientists and airforce officials. Whilst the spaceship is destroyed thanks to the ineptitude of the airforce personnel, they do find an alien encased in the ice. They take the alien back to their base still in the ice, but his icy tomb is melted and he is alive. Soon it is discovered that he is plant-based and bullets don’t harm him, and that he needs blood to survive and to reproduce.
The reason why I find the horror elements of the film to be disappointing is that despite the potential for tension, no one in the film seems to be scared of the alien. Sure they say that they are frightened, yet the audience cannot see that. Despite knowing that they cannot kill the monster with bullets and that it eats humans, the airforce people decide to confront it armed only with guns, while in another scene with the alien on the loose one of the airforce people jokes with his girlfriend, who also just happened to be posted to the area. Why should I be afraid of their fate if they aren’t?
I suppose that I feel frustrated that the film has so much potential but didn’t capitalise on it in its entirety. Despite this lack of tension the film is still entertaining if talky and I enjoyed watching it a lot.
Directed by Robert Moore
Produced by Ray Stark
Written by Neil Simon
Starring Eileen Brennan
Music by Dave Grusin
Cinematography David M. Walsh
Editing by Margaret Booth & John F. Burnett
Distributed by Columbia
Release date 23 June 1976
Running time 94 minutes
Country United States
Neil Simon’s Murder By Death is a spoof of all those mystery films (and novels) of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. At the time of its release Agatha Christie’s stories were undergoing a revival on the big screen as Murder On The Orient Express (1974) was released at around this time.
Murder By Death has a star-studded cast, with Truman Capote (the writer of Breakfast At Tiffany’s) hosts a murder in which he has invited the world’s greatest detectives, among them Inspector Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) who is based on Charlie Chan. Whilst many may consider it to be politicall incorrect for Sellers to be playing a Chinese detective I find it to be OK, as he is parodying the Charlie Chan films from the 30s & 40s in which Warner Oland and Sidney Toler went yellow face to play the Oriental detective.
Also in the cast is David Niven and Maggie Smith whose characters are based on the society detectives from the Thin Man series of movies. James Coco’s Perrier is a spoof of Poirot, Elsa Lanchester’s Miss Marbles is of course based on Miss Marple, while Peter Falk’s Sam Diamond is based on Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon, as portrayed by Humphrey Bogart.
There are a lot of quick fire jokes and if you are a fan of detective films you will love this. Not all the jokes hit the mark but most of them are quite funny.
Directed by Billy Wilder
Produced by Billy Wilder
Written by Samuel A. Taylor (play Sabrina Fair)
Billy Wilder & Ernest Lehman
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Music by Frederick Hollander
Cinematography Charles Lang
Editing by Arthur P. Schmidt
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date September 9, 1954 London premiere
Running time 113 min
I don’t usually watch too many romantic comedies. You many think that this is a little prejudiced of me but I find that most modern romantic movies are riddled with clichés. Usually boy meets girl, they discover that they have nothing in common, they fight and bicker and come to hate each other but in the end they find that opposites attract and they find true love. The End. It’s been done so many times in the recent past and it has become stale and boring.
I am happy to report that Sabrina was a lot better film than I expected. The performances from Hepburn and Bogart are terrific whilst Holden plays a great comic relief part. The film is the classic Cinderella story where a girl from the working class background meets her Prince Charming but there are a lot of twists and turns that Billy Wilder has put in to make this film a unique experience. Whilst Hepburn plays the central character in the film it is Bogart whose performance is the best, as we see his growth from a work obsessed corporate suit into a romantic fool after falling in love with Sabrina. He was of course known for his tough guy roles so it is quite refreshing to see him play someone who ends up being so fragile and human. While this film helped to make Hepburn a star and a sophisticated sex symbol of the 1950s it is Bogart’s performance that makes this film so enjoyable.