For Reel


Once a Doctor (1937)
March 31, 2016, 5:02 pm
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Director: William Clemens
3.5 Stars
Once a DoctorThis ambitious programmer from director William Clemens was released the same year as Internes Can’t Take Money, the Paramount hit that launched the Dr. Kildare series of films. Perhaps more significantly, however, 1937 also saw the release of one of director Frank Borzage’s masterpieces, History is Made at Night, which concludes with a surprising Titanic-like disaster. Similarly, Once a Doctor finds its climax on the roaring seas, where a doctor will need to zipline from boat to boat in order to perform a surgery on the man that ruined his life. Once a Doctor‘s great pleasures come from this style of melodrama, accompanied effectively by the touching score by Heinz Roemheld and given more visual grace than the usual programmer by cinematographer L. William O’Connell. The usually forgettable Donald Woods is well-cast as the honorable doctor, who in the early scenes discusses death with a surprising frankness for a genre that at the time didn’t treat grim subject matter so mundanely. If the film lacks a strong romance (Jean Muir is underwritten as the love interest and the two share little chemistry together), Woods’ true on again off again affair is with his profession itself, which brings him to heartbreak in its own way. For director Clemens, this was a huge step up in quality from his earlier run of pictures—as a director-for-hire on B-pictures, he shows an unusual talent for mimicking the formula of a typical prestige film.



Here Comes Carter (1936)
March 31, 2016, 4:56 pm
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Director: William Clemens
2.5 Stars
Here Comes CarterRoss Alexander’s career took off a few years too late. His smug, cynical persona might have been a better match for early-1930s Warner Brothers comedies, but instead was relegated to filling in supporting roles in pictures like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Captain Blood. Physically, he looks like a young Jack Benny stretched out into Jimmy Stewart’s frame, and he performs with a moderately more wholesome approach to Lee Tracy’s sense of embitterment. Here Comes Carter was his penultimate film before his death by his own hands, and if the screenplay doesn’t offer him many memorable wisecracks, it does admirably highlight the career that could have been. He plays a press agent turned gossip columnist who begins to spread dirt on a star with mob connections (Craig Reynolds), putting his career and life in jeopardy. A romantic triangle involving Glenda Farrell and Anne Nagel barely gets off the ground, but both women bring something to the picture—Farrell, as always, is a wisecracking delight, and she also earns empathy by giving a few pained reaction shots as her boss flirts with Nagel (his inevitable wife of choice). Among the memorable supporting turns is John Sheehan as a star who takes issue with Alexander’s radio show… only he’s so starstruck and flattered by Alexander’s charms that he doesn’t do much about it!



The Law in Her Hands (1936)
March 30, 2016, 4:45 pm
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Director: William Clemens
3 Stars
The Law in Her HandsThis unusual Warner Brothers programmer is full of Hollywood’s worst moralizing tendencies regarding women in the workplace, but the journey getting to the condescending finale offers some unexpected surprises. For starters, The Law in Her Hands discusses the world of law as one in which one needs to be craftier than their opponent, and not in the sense of using logic, reasoning, and the nature of the laws themselves to do so. The two green female lawyers build their practice by hiring actors and staging photographs—behavior that is not condemned, but viewed as a valid method of serving justice to equally corrupt opponents. That Glenda Farrell is responsible for staging these farces is a huge benefit to the film, bringing her brassy, street smart persona to offset Margaret Lindsay’s very ordinariness. She’s not the only reliable presence from the Warners stock company, with Lyle Talbot effectively playing the gangster that Lindsay comes to work for before taking down. Talbot rarely appeared in supporting roles this significant, and he effectively plays his menacing racketeer as a seductive businessman. Modern audiences will have a hard time stomaching the film’s attitude regarding women (although it shouldn’t be a surprise after similarly themed pictures like Female), but as with many 1930s Hollywood pictures, these revolting endings don’t take away from the fact that the picture involves problem-solving, enormously savvy women who bring about the downfall of an oppressive male thug.



Man Hunt (1936)
March 30, 2016, 4:41 pm
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Director: William Clemens
2.5 Stars
Man HuntThe enforcement of the Production Code did a number on the gangster characters who populated Warner Brothers in the early-1930s. Although earlier efforts did ultimately argue that, “crime does not pay”, the crooks were nonetheless presented as suave; the violence and law-breaking sexy. Man Hunt is released immediately in the post-‘G’ Men era, where the gangsters are understood as the villains, with little effort given into making them sympathetic characters. William Gargan plays a small town newsporter who gets a big break when his girlfriend, a school teacher (Marguerite Churchill), has a run-in with a notorious prison escapee (Ricardo Cortez). The studio’s new penchant for this type of moralizing is exemplified by the consistently bland Gargan, one of the most anonymous of white-meat leading men in early 30s B-pictures. More than just condemning the life of crime, the picture goes so far as to suggest that the city itself is encroaching on a small town and attempting to corrupt rural values—in the end, a persnickety old coot (Chas. Sale) helps bring down the enemy with his own weapon. Churchill is now largely forgotten but has a striking beauty and charisma about her, but it’s Cortez as the gangster who steals the picture. There’s such a dangerous chemistry between Churchill and Cortez that viewers should be excused for hoping that Churchill becomes his moll and leaves the lame Gargan.



Devil’s Island (1939)
November 30, 2015, 6:56 pm
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Director: William Clemens
3.5 Stars
Devil's IslandWarner Brothers, quick to capitalize on both social issues and current headlines, rushed this Boris Karloff picture into production after the notoriously cruel French penal colony stopped receiving prisoners in 1938. It afforded Karloff the chance to play an unambiguous hero as the respected surgeon who is wrongfully accused after offering medical assistance to a revolutionary. While its reputation has been eclipsed by its predecessors in the genre–The Prisoner of Shark Island and Captain Blood share many plot similarities–it is efficiently made, with director William Clemens and cinematographer George Barnes packing in the hour running time with small, memorable details that give the setting its sense of horror (such as the practice of barring all of the prisoner’s legs together before lights out). Karloff is very good at playing an empathetic victim, but he also brings a great sense of anger to the role–he’s not a man who is resigned to his own fate, but who comes to be outraged by the cruelty to those around him. As the overseer, James Stephenson wisely underplays the role. Instead of interpreting the Colonel as a sniveling psychopath, Stephenson suggests a pompous, upper class snob, who seems physically repulsed by Karloff when he has to call on him to save his daughter.