For Reel


Trouble for Two (1936)
July 17, 2017, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: J. Walter Ruben
3.5 Stars
Trouble for Two.jpgThis adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s series of “Suicide Club” short stories casts Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell as the soon-to-be-married heirs to the thrones of fictitious countries. Montgomery’s Prince Florizel, having not seen Russell’s Princess Brenda in fifteen years, does not recognize the woman when he takes a liking to her at a local club. If the material seems familiar of similar royal comedies of the era, the film takes a turn at the introduction of the suicide club where the future lovers meet. Occupied by upper class socialites hell-bent on their own destruction, the group gathers regularly and distributes cards—if one is lucky, they’ll receive the card that promises them the relief of death. There is a biting satirical edge in the fact that the wealthy are so bored, ashamed, and complacent that they seek out such activities, but more than that, this sense of danger is played as improbably erotic. The courtship between the leads happens when Brenda is assigned to murder Florizel—in handling these conflicting tones, Montgomery plays the scenes with an excited sense of curiosity, treating it as a kinky game. Russell, playing things much straighter for much of the picture, makes Brenda largely enigmatic, with her final wedding-day wink at her husband finally suggesting that the time of secrets is behind them.

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No Other Woman (1933)
January 28, 2017, 4:34 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: J. Walter Ruben
3.5 Stars
no-other-womanIrene Dunne and Charles Bickford play an unlikely married couple who go from rags-to-riches in this RKO melodrama. If the courtroom finale drives the film to a screeching halt, the first half of the film is benefited by an unusually expressionistic tone for a picture of the type. The couple takes residence in a small house just outside of a steel mill, and as a result the domestic scenes play out with fires raging outside of the windows and the soundtrack includes ceaseless chatter in the supposedly “intimate” scenes. Similarly, the wedding scene is played as sweaty and chaotic, with Dunne being thrown around by a slew of greasy men in their work clothes. The film loses some of the sophistication in the cinematography and art direction in the latter half of the picture in which the character’s fortunes have turned, but the quality of the performances is still high. Although imposing 21st century morals on the narrative is ill-advised, the film is limited by just how abusive the relationship is between the two—Bickford is a repugnant, scheming drunk, and Dunne’s motivations in staying with him are continuously unconvincing.



The Phantom of Crestwood (1932)
October 4, 2015, 7:17 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: J. Walter Ruben
3 Stars
The Phantom of CrestwoodThe Phantom of Crestwood begins with NBC radio broadcaster Graham McNamee announcing that the film is the culmination of a radio serial where listeners were encouraged to send in their own answers to the question, “Who killed Jenny Wren?” The gimmick was a success for RKO Studios, and the resulting picture is given some added interest due to this introductory direct address and the experimental intermingling between two competing genres. Aside from this historical footnote, The Phantom of Crestwood largely plays as a standard old dark house mystery, but it is significantly aided by the eery high-contrast lighting by cinematographer Henry W. Gerrard. The death mask that the killer wears–being the only prop that reflects a significant amount of light in an otherwise rustic, shadow-heavy old mansion–elicits a feeling of uncanniness. J. Walter Ruben’s direction is similarly stylish in the way that flashbacks are used, with a quick, whirling pan that makes one scene blend into the next. But the real standout of this whodunit is Karen Morley as Jenny Wren, whom the film acknowledges will be the victim in the opening minutes. She somewhat resembles Jean Arthur and yet plays a wonderfully opportunistic fatale, heartlessly wrapping a number of men around her finger with an incredible confidence. Even after she is killed, the flashback structure thankfully necessitates her post-mortem appearances.



The Roadhouse Murder (1932)
October 4, 2015, 7:11 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: J. Walter Ruben
2.5 Stars
The Roadhouse MurderThe Roadhouse Murder anticipates Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, Fritz Lang’s final American film, by more than thirty years. Eric Linden plays a struggling reporter who, along with his girlfriend (Dorothy Jordan), stumbles onto a murder scene and devises a plot to frame himself for the murder while stashing away evidence that will convict the real killer during his trial. Of course, things don’t go quite so smoothly, and Linden almost finds himself in the electric chair when his evidence goes missing. The early-goings of the film are quite satisfying, with Linden amiably playing the ne’er-do-well reporter who is wrought to be the joke of the paper. The arrival at the deserted roadhouse where the murders will take place is rendered memorably with a tonal shift into the old dark house genre, complete with a creepy and demanding caretaker (Gustav von Seyffertitz). In the film’s final stretch, however, it plays as both a standard courtroom drama and a detective thriller without the benefit of a legitimate mystery. The biggest problem is Linden’s conception of the leading man. He’s too spunky and sincere to concoct a scheme like this. His cynical performance in Young Bride would have been a more satisfying direction to take the role, where his angry, world-weariness and sense of entitlement would more plausibly lead him to such drastic measures.



Ace of Aces (1933)
June 29, 2012, 10:13 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: J. Walter Ruben

During the late 1920s and early 1930s,  a number of distinctly anti-war pictures were made by Hollywood, most prominent of which being Lewis Milestone’s adaptation of Eric Maria Remarque’s landmark novel, All Quiet on the Western Front. Ace of Aces continues in that trend and, clunky though it may be, manages to share some insight into both what it is that draws a man into war and how a soldier’s proximity to extraordinary violence can fester as a sort of disease within them. John Monk Saunders, who is credited as the story-writer of the first Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Wings, also contributed to this aviation thriller, in which real-life veteran Richard Dix plays a sensitive sculptor who is coaxed into joining the air force by his sweetheart. One he gets his first taste of battle, he becomes a killing machine, declaring himself the “ace of aces” and documenting with pride the number of enemy planes that he has brought down. Dix was impressive as a veteran in a similarly cynical thriller the year previous, The Lost Squadron, and, although his character’s transformation in this latter effort is rather graceless, he inhabits the tortured, nearly inhuman sadist memorably, having no instinct to resort to sentimentality until the very end.