Rupert Pupkin Speaks: My Warner Archive Grab Bag: WIFE WANTED, KILROY WAS HERE & LOST ANGEL ""

Monday, August 26, 2013


WIFE WANTED(1946; Phil Karlson)
Starring and produced by Kay Francis, this is a twisty little genre number was directed by genre great Phil Karlson. Ms. Francis plays an actress in the twilight of her career who gets herself entangled in some crooked real estate deals(with a side-order of murder and blackmail!). Her involvement with a lonely hearts 'friendship club' is tied into the real estate shenanigans too. The club attempts to set up wealthy fellas with young ladies, but in this case they try to hook them into buying property too. This was Francis' last film and she looks lovely here. She rocks a few killer hats. I've certainly seen better Karlson films, but this is an adequate little Mongram time-waster noir.

KILROY WAS HERE(1947; Phil Karlson)
Also directed by Karlson, this is 180 degrees from WIFE WANTED in that its more of a campus comedy. I haven't delved deep enough into Karlson's films, but this is one of the first comedies I've come across from him. This film features a couple of Jackies- Cooper and Coogan. One was a famous child actor, the other would one day be known for his signature role as Uncle Fester(though he also had some memorable child roles including Chaplin's THE KID). Cooper plays a soldier by the name of John J. Killroy. Killroy is a name that goes hand in hand with the phrase "Killroy was Here" which was drawn onto walls all over Europe during the war along with a sketch of a guy peeking over a wall. When John J. Killroy gets his discharge from the army, the G.I. bill gives him avenue to a college education. When he hits a snag in getting into Benson College, he gets some help from the gal press-agent for the school. Jackie Coogan as Cooper's buddy who plays up him being THE Kilroy himself, is a nice little showcase role. Coogan is a lively, charismatic character and I was kind of surprised by him as I was so used to Uncle Fester. He's the highlight of the movie for me for sure.
I have an odd affection for the sort of light campus comedy from this period. You've got the obligatory 40 year old-looking fraternity fellas and corny goings on. Pixar's recent MONSTER'S UNIVERSITY recalls not only the college comedies of the 1980s, but also this kind of film to a lesser degree. Having grown up in the 80s myself, I always got a sense that college was the wildest time in a person's life. The idea of it being such a wholesome place flies in the face if that idea but is nonetheless entertaining.

LOST ANGEL(1943; Roy Rowland)
Some professor at the Pickering Institute of Child Psychology decide to take a baby girl through a very special experiment. She will be raised and educated by them each day to see if she turns out any differently than a conventionally parented child. They diplomatically name her 'Alpha' after the 1st letter in the Greek alphabet. So from a very young age, she is thrown into a regular regiment of schooling. Each day is divided into blocks and she is taught not only academics, and languages but also arts, music, physical education and chess among other things. When she reaches the ripe old age of six, she meets a fast-talking reporter  who opens her eyes a bit to things not so academic. The things of imagination and fantasy which she has been lead to be skeptical of. Once inspired with the idea that these magical things exist, she decides to leave the institute to go off and see for herself. She leaves a note for her teachers that says simply, "I am going. I will be back. I have to find out something". And so her adventure into the city begins. The film is at once quite charming and yet oddly terrifying when you think of any attempt to update it to the present day. being a father of a 4 year old girl myself, it is hard not to shake at least some uneasy feeling when watching a story about a very young girl on her own in the city. That aside, the movie has a Capra-ish kiddie sensibility about it and that makes the universe feel safe and warm and cuddly for the most part. It reminds of a similar film from almost 10 years later called THE LITTLE FUGITIVE which features a little boy on his own near Coney Island. I prefer that film to this one, but LOST ANGEL is a nice companion piece to it.
Alpha is played by the rather adorable Margaret O'Brien(THE UNFINISHED DANCE) and she does a bang-up job. She brings a less-than obnoxious precociousness to the role and it is quite refreshing. Typically, a character like this can make you want to claw your eyes for being so darned annoying. Not that this kid is without her irritating qualities, but overall O'Brien brings a darling earnestness to the character that can't help to warm ones heart cockles a bit. The cast includes Warner Archive favorite Donald Meek, plus Keenan Wynn, Alan Napier(Alfred the butler from the 1960 Batman TV series) and a very young Robert Blake! All in all a wonderfully charming little movie. It's one of those relatively unheralded classics in search of an audience.

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