For Reel


Below the Sea (1933)
August 20, 2016, 12:03 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Albert S. Rogell
3 Stars
Below the Sea1933 was an unusually productive year for Fay Wray. Not only would she star in the film that made her a genre film icon in King Kong, but she starred in an additional ten pictures—ranging from the feminist drama Ann Carver’s Profession to horror classic Mystery of the Wax Museum. Below the Sea came right after King Kong and once again found her tangling with a monster: this time a giant octopus! Ralph Bellamy is the unlikely romantic lead in this pre-Code adventure that finds crooked divers searching for gold from a German U-Boat that was lost in World War I. The earliest scenes with Bellamy show him playing the brute complete with beard and eyeshadow. It’s a ridiculous performance—his best work would take advantage of his awkwardness rather than try to mask it—but his scowls and groans produce much entertainment. Wray, on the other hand, is quite good as the scientific explorer who seduces him, as is Esther Howard in a small role as a prostitute (she resembles and plays her scenes with the same sass as Miriam Hopkins). Although the film is by-and-large a standard actioner, director Albert S. Rogell shows a playfulness in the presentation, including a lengthy sequence in German without subtitles and a creative editing transition using a diegetic camera. The climax sees a well-handled use of miniatures and some sly editing as an octopus attacks a diving bell, but the film’s real pleasures have nothing to do with a sense of realism—Below the Sea is a delightful blend of pre-Code brazenness and adventure schlock, complimenting each deep diving scene with innuendo-laden dialogue.

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Carnival Boat (1932)
May 9, 2016, 6:53 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Albert S. Rogell
2.5 Stars
Carnival BoatThe last of three pictures Ginger Rogers made with Albert Rogell for RKO/Pathé studios sees her playing a showgirl that has stolen the heart of a lumberjack (William Boyd). Much is made of the disparity between the logging operation and the showboat of the title, but the former location is what provides the film with its few redeeming qualities. In the staging of sequences like a runaway train, an exploding dam, and even a few shots of men riding on logs as they are being hauled away by cranes, the film effectively utilizes rear projection, miniatures, and convincing stunt work as a means of getting across the scale of the operation. If Carnival Boat won’t fool anyone into thinking it had an A-budget, it has a more impressive sense of spectacle than many similar adventure programmers of its day. Boyd is a blank slate of a leading man (he would later go on to some success with the Hopalong Cassidy pictures), but he does have a nice tender chemistry with his on-screen father, the foreman of the logging operation (Hobart Bosworth). In fact, the romantic comedy aspect of the film has little to do with Boyd and Rogers, but whether or not their love will ever be validated by the father (which happens after Boyd proves himself with a heroic stunt). The action sequences elevate this above many of Rogers’ early pictures, but that’s not saying too much.



The Tip-Off (1931)
June 14, 2011, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Albert S. Rogell

In one of her earliest performances, Ginger Rogers has a supporting role as the girlfriend of a dim-witted boxer played by the affable Robert Armstrong. What’s interesting about the context of this picture is not only that it is pre-Code, but that it came out the same year as two of the most formative gangster films – Little Caesar and The Public Enemy. Despite being such a young genre, this effort already satirizes gangster conventions with the unlikely hero, played by Eddie Quillan, accidentally beginning a feud with a crime lord. Along with the entertaining repartee of Armstrong and Rogers, director Albert S. Rogell stages some impressive fight scenes, including one in which Quillan and Armstrong take out a dozen thugs in a narrow staircase.