For Reel


The Smiling Ghost (1941)
August 21, 2015, 2:30 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Lewis Seiler
3 Stars
The Smiling GhostParamount’s success in merging the haunted house and low brow comedy genres with The Cat and the Canary in 1939 led to a number of imitators, perhaps the best of which being Bob Hope’s next stab at the genre with The Ghost Breakers. If Warner Brothers’ attempt at imitation doesn’t quite live up to standard of its predecessors, it’s nonetheless a well-constructed, if derivative picture. As with the best films of its ilk, the horror genre is not completely overshadowed by the comedy–the eponymous ghost is made up to somewhat resemble Lon Chaney’s Phantom or Conrad Veidt’s Gwynplaine, and director Lewis Seiler builds suspense by letting audiences in on his presence when the leads are distracted elsewhere. It’s formulaic stuff with the occasional digression–Alan Hale is bizarrely cast as the valet, a tough talking clod who in the climax wields dual pistols. Willie Best, who also starred in The Ghost Breakers, is the highlight as the lead’s (Wayne Morris) perpetually frightened valet. In these thankless parts, Best dependably showed remarkable comic timing and charisma.



King of the Underworld (1939)
December 16, 2013, 11:59 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Lewis Seiler
2.5 Stars
King of the UnderworldKay Francis was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1930s, however her career was in decline by the end of the decade and Warner Brothers was looking for a way out of her expensive contract. In an effort to get her to leave the studio, she was assigned the part of a doctor in the remake of the 1935 Paul Muni vehicle Dr. Socrates, which Jack Warner didn’t believe she’d want anything to do with. She did indeed agree to the film and it would be released with a major slap-in-the-face in her second billing behind Humphrey Bogart, then hardly a star (in fact, her name is barely visible on the poster). The behind-the-scenes drama is far more interesting than the film itself, which spins a rather typical gangster yarn in which Bogart plays a naive hothead who forces Francis to serve as his doctor and James Stephenson to write his autobiography. Bogart is entertaining in the part, even if the imbecilic dialogue doesn’t sound right coming out of the world-weary sophisticate’s mouth. The final sequence, in which Francis blinds Bogart and his gang in order to assist with their arrest, is the highlight. At a brisk 67 minutes, it’s the kind of fast-moving, digestible entertainment that Warner Brothers could reliably churn out, however it’s not much better than you’d expect of a film that was made primarily to embarrass its star.



Women’s Prison (1955)
February 23, 2012, 2:09 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Lewis Seiler

Ida Lupino, an accomplished veteran in front of the camera, would direct a number of low-budget independent features during the early 1950s, making her the sole female director working in Hollywood at the time. Struggling to find financiers for her projects in the mid-fifties, she had to take on acting jobs in pictures like Women’s Prison in order to keep busy. While the film may not serve as much more than junk food, Lupino brings her typical ferocity to the material, which she always accompanied with a slight underlying tone of sadness. Directed by Lewis Seiler, Women’s Prison is the brassy sort of programmer that moves nimbly and captivates if only because of its cast. Alongside Lupino, who revels in her role as the sadistic warden of the titular setting, are, among others, a pair of recognizable platinum blondes: Jan Sterling, remembered for The High and the Mighty and Ace in the Hole, and Cleo Moore, Columbia’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. Sterling, as the wizened inmate who takes a newcomer played by Phyllis Thaxter under her wing, is a charming, intelligent presence who supplies the film with its heart. It is in the writing that the picture suffers, however – the pacing is awkward, and Thaxter’s character appears to have been intended to play a much bigger part before being cut almost entirely.