Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Universal-International 1948.

Before watching the movie:

For a long time I thought I had a distant memory of watching this movie, but it might have just been Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy. Whether I saw it or not, my memories are so dim that this might as well be my first time, so I’m doing it now.

It always struck me as strange that the Abbott and Costello movie that Bela Lugosi reprises Dracula in is “Meet Frankenstein”. It looks like they worked in as many of the Universal Monsters as they could make fit into the script, though I guess that list is longer than I generally think of. I don’t know that they ever paired the duo with, say, the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

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Flying Blind

Flying Blind. Paramount Pictures 1941.

Before watching the movie:

I got as far as the title, that it’s a comedy, and the main character starting a charter air service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas for elopements, and trying to keep his stewardess from marrying another man and decided this would be a blast to watch.

I have a strange feeling I’ve seen Richard Arlen play a small airline pilot in a comedy before, but I don’t seem to have done this movie or the other two the producers made with him on this blog, and if I didn’t blog it, I don’t think I would have watched it.

It seems this is the first 1941 movie I’ve watched. Some years ago I made an effort to have covered every decade of the 20th century, maybe it’s time to fill in the holes by year. Around 52 updates a year and over ten years running, hopefully there aren’t that many holes.

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The Bank Dick

The Bank Dick. Universal Pictures 1940.

Before watching the movie:

Between my tastes tending toward the 80s and more recent, having by now seen quite a lot of the more popular movies from that era, and it getting harder to find content on the major platforms from before the last ten years, sometimes I go specifically looking for something much older, especially before the move to color. That’s usually either B-movie sci-fi/horror or a romance, so when I came across a comedy vehicle for W.C. Fields, I jumped at it.

I didn’t spend much time looking over the summary, but it was kind of confusing, like two or three stories at once. It feels like I’m going in even more blind than if I hadn’t read anything.

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Minesweeper

Minesweeper. Paramount Pictures 1943.

Before watching the movie:

Sometimes I like to watch movies I have zero clue about before I see them. I know about one sentence about this movie. The protagonist is a Navy deserter re-enlisting under a false name to serve in the war. It’s supposedly very exciting, though that’s rarely the case for movies from this time.

After watching the movie:

Days after Pearl Harbor, Richard Houston gets thrown out of a boxcar by the other hobos for arguing in favor of every able-bodied man signing up for duty. He’s found by “Fixit” Smith, a handyman going home to reactivate his Navy service as a CPO. Houston claims his name is Jim “Tennessee” Smith, and enlists claiming experience as a salvage diver. Staying at Fixit’s mother’s home, he meets Fixit’s niece Mary, and is immediately smitten, soon drawing her attentions away from another Navy beau who was about to propose to her. Tight-lipped about his secret past, Houston, actually a deserter Navy Lieutenant, gets assigned to a minesweeper as a Gunner’s Mate and builds an honorable life for himself with the Navy, gaining attention for spotting and recovering new enemy detonator tech, though he has a weakness for Mary and for gambling. But all of that is put at risk when a diving accident puts him in the hospital and his commanding officer notes his one keepsake from his old life, a pocketwatch identifying him by name as an academy graduate.

I’m sure this was made as propaganda promoting enlistment, showing a man with a checkered past getting a new start in the Navy and earning his honor back. The Navy didn’t assist with the production out of their love of cinema. There are a few tense scenes, mostly dive sequences. Disarming a bomb is suspenseful, doing it underwater with air piped from the boat above even moreso. Unfortunately, the distressed print I saw was so dark in those scenes I couldn’t make out much of what I was seeing.

This is a sweet, but small story. The summary promised a lot of action, but I don’t think it was considered action even at the time. It’s actually relatively uncomplicated. Pretty much the only conflict is Houston’s secret identity, which isn’t that hard to keep in the 1940s. Once he knows a real identity that nobody’s using, he can just send a wire for an expedited delivery of the other man’s birth certificate with no need to prove he’s someone who should be allowed to use it.

I would’ve appreciated some more of an impression that he feels a class difference between serving as an officer and working as an enlisted man, but he seems to have put any ambition he had behind him and truly want to just serve his country in any way the Navy will have him. Again, there’s an element of propaganda there. There was a communal spirit of doing your part in this country during WWII, but I think it’s been exaggerated by the propaganda that fostered it and nostalgia from the people who lived it. It would be interesting to get a more nuanced look at the wartime climate than contemporary popular media allowed, but of course that wouldn’t get anywhere near a movie sponsored by the Department of Defense like this, and for what it is, it’s nice.

The Devil Bat

The Devil Bat. Producers Releasing Corporation 1940.

Before watching the movie:

Aside from what amounts to silent stock footage in Plan 9 From Outer Space and clips from Dracula movies that I must have seen, I don’t think I’ve actually seen any of Bela Lugosi’s work. I ought to track down good copies of the classic monster movies.

A mad scientist creating a substance that can drive bats to kill is one thing, but I’m curious about the summary I saw describing it as an aftershave lotion. It would be interesting to see the scientist try to create an aftershave lotion and slowly go mad with power on realizing he can use it to make bats get people out of his way for him. But with the quality of many summaries I’ve seen, I think it’s more likely that he passes it off as an aftershave lotion once or twice to get it past skeptical people.

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Holiday Rewind: The Bishop’s Wife

I thought I had originally selected The Bishop’s Wife as a Christmas viewing, but I originally reviewed it in a September, so clearly not. I remember it as being less about Christmas than I had expected, which is strange if I hadn’t gone out of my way for it.

I also remember it being a quiet and almost thoughtful movie. It was light and feel-good more than being about the comedy or the drama. The busy man has to feel in danger of losing his wife to a man in tune with her needs to remember to value life outside of his ambitions. Merry Christmas, take nothing for granted. If I didn’t know that It’s A Wonderful Life only got popular much later because it could be run on TV for cheap, I’d suspect that this movie that came two years later was trying to capitalize on it.

The Bishop’s Wife. RKO Radio Pictures 1948.

Harry Brougham used to be the reverend of a small church in a poor part of the city, but not too long ago was appointed as the local bishop and tasked with overseeing the fundraising and construction of a new cathedral, which he’s become obsessed with building as a glorious edifice, but in order to get the money for such a grand work, must brown nose with the area’s wealthy elite, especially Mrs. Agnes Hamilton, who wants to leverage her donation to make the cathedral a monument to her late husband. But with his constant negotiation and planning meetings with the big donors, Bishop Brougham has not only lost all joy and charity, but also any time to love his wife Julia and daughter Debby. Strained by the tension between his principles and his desire to realize the magnificent cathedral of his dreams, Henry prays for guidance, and into his life pops Dudley, an angel who’s come to pose as Henry’s assistant and help him find his path. Though Henry doesn’t want to believe Dudley is who he says he is, particularly as Dudley won’t perform any miracles with witnesses, he does begrudgingly believe that Dudley may be supernatural. But instead of a helper to raise a cathedral from nothing with the wave of a wing, Dudley spends most of his time raising the spirits of Julia and Debby by “representing” Henry in his roles as husband and father. As Julia is lifted out of the misery of her existence since Henry’s duties took him away from his family life, Dudley’s relationship with her begins to resemble something wholly inappropriate.

This gets billed as a comedy, but it seems more like a light feel-good melodrama. Or really, it’s an unorthodox romance, where the central tension is that not only can the central couple really not be allowed to end up together, but the whole point of them getting dangerously close to falling in love is as a wakeup call to the protagonist. Dudley’s lies of omission and other interactions with the secondary and tertiary cast bring some levity, but it really feels more like comic relief than something intended as a comedy. Although perhaps in its day it was entering comedy territory just to put the pair into situations that lend themselves to misinterpretation from the outside. Definitely there’s a mild laugh a couple of times from people getting the wrong idea, but it’s very mild.

One may almost be tempted to consider it interesting that Cary Grant is not here as a romantic lead, only that’s not actually true, since again, the main shape of the movie is a romance story, only Dudley and Julia can’t actually be together. What makes it unusual is that the tragedy of them not being able to be together isn’t really foregrounded, it’s more of a postscript to the morality play of staging a crisis in Henry’s life.

I’m impressed with myself that in the original review I summed up the movie as feeling like a Christmas card, because I came up with the same imagery in organizing what I expected to write this time. Both times I was probably inspired by It’s A Wonderful Life originating as a short story in a Christmas card, even though I didn’t reference that movie directly in the original review. This came from a novella, as most movies with an unusual amount of texture do.

I also think I was pretty harsh on the diversions from the plot for entertainment value. Does the scene with Dudley, Julia, and their cab driver advance the plot the whole time? No, but it advances the theme of brightening the world with understanding and unconventionality. Does the boys’ choir scene advance the plot? No, but it illustrates some Christmas magic. I don’t know why I remembered it as barely a Christmas story, since so many scenes are steeped in at least being in early winter and the climax is on Christmas Eve, as well as having a very Christmas message of love, generosity, and fellowship. This could easily be among the movies left on repeat on cable channels that send everyone home for Christmas week.

The Phantom of 42nd Street

The Phantom of 42nd Street.
Producers Releasing Corp. 1945.

Before watching the movie:

Sometimes I just want a pulpy mystery. And it doesn’t hurt if it’s closer to one hour than one and a half or two because I’m busy.

I know I’ve seen the name Alan Mowbray around, but I couldn’t place him to anything specific. Seems like someone I should know.

I wonder if audiences outside New York are supposed to get the reference to 42nd street being a cross street with Broadway (something I only know because of the poster) and presumably a place where there are theaters. My initial guess would be that 42nd street would be far enough out of town that it’s not a very nice theater, but New York is gigantic next to the cities I’ve gotten a feel for, so maybe it’s in the heart of the theater district. I don’t know. I’m not a New Yorker, much like most of the people who would be watching this.

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Mystery of the 13th Guest

Mystery of the 13th Guest. Monogram Pictures 1943.

Before watching the movie:

What intrigues me most about this story is that it’s about returning to the case 13 years after the presumed crime happened. The girl’s father invited 13 people to a party and died suddenly shortly thereafter, and now his will has requested that she return to the house and find the truth.

I don’t expect a great masterpiece, but uncovering clues that long after the crime was committed will probably be interesting.

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The Bishop’s Wife

The Bishop’s Wife. RKO Radio Pictures 1948.

Before watching the movie:

Cary Grant and David Niven are an unexpected pairing. Grant gets all the focus, so I saw Cary Grant and that it’s a romance and assumed that Grant is the Bishop. But it turns out that he’s an alleged angel and Niven is the Bishop, which makes more sense for their types.

Grant’s character inveigle his way into the Bishop’s life claiming to be an angel here to help with a challenging renovation, but mostly imposes upon him and attracts the attentions of his wife, hence the title. Sounds like an unusual setup for a screwball comedy.

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The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons.
Mercury 1942.

Before watching the movie:

I seem to recall that this is sometimes regarded as at least equal in stature to Citizen Kane in some way. It doesn’t get the hype that Kane does though, and it seems to get discussed to the extent of “probably Orson Wells’ best film ever, but moving on…”

Much like Kane is a portrait of a life, just with a nominal mystery to drive the plot, this seems to be a portrait of a family’s travails over possibly years. I have a sense that it’s character driven and plot light and would probably be comfortable on the same shelf with Little Women.

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