Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive Grab Bag: Richard Dix ""

Monday, May 26, 2014

Warner Archive Grab Bag: Richard Dix

ACE OF ACES (1933; J. Walter Ruben)
"It's a new deal, but the ace is wild."
I was first made aware of this film by my friend Cliff Aliperti (@iephemera on twitter) via a wonderful guest list of "VHS Gems" he did for this site:
I had never much heard of Richard Dix at all prior to this and began to start digging into his filmography. Thankfully, Warner Archive was there to provide some gateways (via their DVDs). I began by watching things like ROAR OF THE DRAGON and SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE. It was a good way to start. I've heard it said before, but Richard Dix's acting can be seen as a bit stuff by today's standards, but I got used to it very easily. I was very pleased to see ACE OF ACES get a long awaited release on DVD, especially after it showed up on that list. In ACE, Dix plays an artist/sculptor about to wed his beloved when the United States enters WWI. Dix initially scoffs at the war and the soldiers going off that way, but eventually enlists after a brutal shaming by his lady. He is assigned to a squadron headed up by Ralph Bellamy. The pilots have mascots in their barracks (a goat, a monkey, a pig) and Dix brings his own (a lion cub). Somewhat like a film I saw earlier this year, THE BLUE MAX, ACE OF ACES is basically the tale of one man's journey to end up a war-hardened soldier of the air. He goes from pacifist to a man who thirsts for kills. It's an ugly transformation, but certainly shows the kinds of things wars can do to men. It can take an artistic type and turn him downright cold-blooded. This gruff version of Dix is very reminiscent of the more boorish characters I feel like I've seen Albert Finney play. Also, Dix resembles Finney a bit so it's an easy parallel for me to draw. 

PUBLIC DEFENDER (1931; J. Walter Ruben)
Richard Dix is Batman, err wait, I mean "The Reckoner". In this quick-paced thriller, Dix portrays a wealthy playboy named Pike Winslow who moonlights as a mysterious avenger. Pike 
is aided by his associates, "the Professor" (Boris Karloff) and "Doc" (Paul Hurst). The Reckoner is perceived as one man, but he is actually three. When Pike's lady friend's father is framed for embezzlement, The Reckoner must attempt to clear his name. The Reckoner is actually more along the lines of The Shadow than Batman. He truly does strike fear into the hearts of men by leaving notes under their sandwiches. Instead of a bat, The Reckoner's symbol is that of the scales of justice (which he always fixes to tip against his foes). This movie could use a bit more Karloff, but what movie couldn't honestly.

RENO (1939; John Farrow)
I believe I've mentioned my fandom for John Farrow here before, but if you missed it, I like his films quite a bit. HIS KIND OF WOMAN is literally one of my favorite films ever and I'm a more recent convert to HONDO and ALIAS NICK BEAL. He also did the excellent noir THE BIG CLOCK and another hopefully soon-to-be-released Warner Archive title, FIVE CAME BACK (which he later remade as BACK FROM ETERNITY, which is also good). So needless to say, when I see his name in the credits, the film in question immediately gets a little bit of a boost in my mind. This film needed a boost as it's not quite up to the level of some of Farrow's better work. It's well put together and all, but a might on the dull side. It's the story of a lawyer who came to Reno in the early days with the best intentions, but ended up specializing in divorce and finding the legal loopholes in Reno law that made it the place we know it to be (in regards to marital distress). It is a somewhat interesting story, given a grounded, personal treatment via Richard Dix, but overall I found it to be a bit of a letdown.

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