Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - John Knight ""

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - John Knight

John Knight does not host a blog,but he is a regular contributor to The Hannibal-8, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings and Riding The High Country.
As far as my attitude to cinema goes I would best describe myself as a dedicated
B Movie Junkie!

(Crane Wilbur; 1949)
I am a huge admirer of writer/director Crane Wilbur's better known prison films CANON CITY and BEHIND THE WALLS OF FOLSOM PRISON the latter made such an impression on a young Johnny Cash that it inspired his classic "Folsom Prison Blues" I'm glad I checked out THE STORY OF MOLLY X it's pretty much on-target with it's social conscience and Feminist vibe.

Molly (June Havoc,sensational),is one tough cookie.This is demonstrated in the opening scene when a hapless sailor tries to chat her up in a bar. Molly,to be fair,never had the best start in life;losing her beloved father as a child;as a teenager fending off the unwanted attention of an abusive stepfather;which Molly describes as a constant cat and mouse situation.

It's 1945, Molly now an adult is a career criminal-she leads a gang of three male bank robbers. After a bank heist goes horribly wrong, Molly is sent to a "progressive" prison in scenic Tehachapi, California. No stern wardens or drab grey uniforms here,the women are encouraged to design and make their own from a choice of attractive fabrics-all part of the rehabilitation process. There is also a prison cat and dog,the latter bonds with Molly as soon as she enters the prison gates, so we know she's a softie at heart despite her constant efforts to buck the system.

There are however,more sombre tones to the film;the prison also acts as a holding facility to women who's cases are under review.Occasionally,these unfortunate women are transported at dawn to San Quentin to await the gas chamber;these scenes are both poignant and chilling.

Molly also has to contend with her nemesis,nasty femme fatale Dorothy Hart. There is a doozy of a punch up between the two,no hair pulling antics here,the pair deliver a series of blistering left and right hooks that would shame many a male action star. As if all this is not enough,tenacious cop Charles McGraw is convinced he can nail Molly with an old murder rap.
THE STORY OF MOLLY X is a fascinating social document and a darn good thriller as well.

(Crane Wilbur; 1950)
Incarcerated as a juvenile Richard Basehart ends up serving 15 years in the slammer after killing a guard,albeit by accident.Now 30 Basehart is released into a strange,somewhat alien world what's more he has a lot of life to catch up with having never had a relationship or tasted liquor. His first taste of liquor he finds unpleasant and as fate would have it three women enter his life. This trio include gold-digger Marilyn Maxwell,femme fatale Signe Hasso and "good girl" Dorothy Hart.There is also the matter of a million bucks worth of stashed ill gotten loot and a trio of gangsters lead by a very creepy Harry Morgan. Harry's idea of fun is to insert a scalpel under victims fingernails; nasty,very nasty.

The best part of the film are the early stages where Basehart tries to adjust to the outside world; these scenes are presented as a series of vignettes strikingly shot by Irving Glassberg. Crane Wilbur's film is somewhat contrived but is also involving and engaging. Many thanks to UK Noir expert Nick Beal for sourcing these two very hard to find Crane Wilbur films.

(Jack Arnold; 1957)
Philip Reed plays a local big shot married to a tramp Elaine Stewart. Facing a murder rap for gunning down his wife's lover Reed hires hot shot New York lawyer Jeff Chandler,despite the fact there is little love lost between the pair. Chandler, in turn is framed by corrupt sheriff Jack Carson,for bribing a juror,Gail Russell. Chandler, perhaps unwisely,decides to defend himself.
Jeanne Crain is Chandler's dutiful ex wife. An involving legal thriller with great photography by Carl Guthrie.

Director Jack Arnold (and indeed,producer Albert Zugsmith) were on a roll in 1957 with the classic INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and the modern day Western MAN IN THE SHADOW also starring Chandler.

(Gerd Oswald; 1957)
Barbara Stanwyck plays an over ambitious,frankly neurotic wife married to police detective Sterling Hayden. Stanwyck will go to any length including murder to further Hayden's career. This leads to tragic and indeed, ironic results. Apart from the Stanwyck Hayden duo the film has two other interesting pairings;Virginia Grey and Royal Dano and Fay Wray and Raymond Burr. I was surprised to see schlockmeister Herman Cohen's name listed as producer of this high quality beautifully shot and directed Noir.

We normally associate Cohen with cult classics like I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM. Mr Cohen obviously appreciated underrated Virginia Grey as he hired her in his earlier TARGET EARTH and the much later BLACK ZOO.

CRIME OF PASSION was recently restored in high definition by Classicflix
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(William Castle; 1949)
The "frame up" has always been a staple ingredient of Film Noir. UNDERTOW is a good example of this. Scott Brady is framed for the murder of a big time racketeer. To complicate matters Brady's supposed girl friend Dorothy Hart is the racketeer's niece. I use the term supposed because Dorothy is duplicitous, to say the least. Wounded and on the run Brady has the cops and the mob on his case. He is given refuge by ever so sweet schoolteacher Peggy Dow who he had met briefly in a Reno casino. UNDERTOW packs a lot into it's brief 70 minutes,the film is so fast moving it seems longer. UNDERTOW's bar is raised by outstanding location photography from Irving Glassberg.

UNDERTOW is one of several good Noirs William Castle made for Universal. After leaving Universal Castle made 17 films for legendary producer Sam Katzman. The Castle Katzman films (including three 3D specials) ran the whole genre gamut; but Sam being Sam,their ambitions were compromised by their budgets. One of the best of these,a very decent little Western, THE LAW VS BILLY THE KID also starred Brady.
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Jerry Entract said...

Really interesting choices here, John! Would I be correct in seeing a 'theme' here - the films are all released by Universal-International??

I only know 2 of these - "CRIME OF PASSION" & "UNDERTOW" and they are just my kind of movie. I suspect the other 3 would be also.

Kristina said...

These sound great, I've seen CRIME OF PASSION and TATTERED DRESS, loved Jack Carson's work in that, nice role for Gail Russell too. MOLLY X sounds fantastic, recently saw and enjoyed both of Crane Wilbur's you mention in the blurb, CANON and FOLSOM. Love reading these discovery lists, always more cool movies to look for!

john k said...

Hi Jerry,
CRIME OF PASSION actually was a United Artists release-the film
far exceeded my expectations. So many great Universal Noirs
that need to be released on disc.
So glad you enjoyed CANON and FOLSOM great as thrillers and as
social documents.
Crane Wilbur was a really interesting guy both as a writer and
director-his name appears on a whole heap of my fave movies.

western mike said...

Well done John, a very fine list that is definitely not run of the mill.
I agree with Jerry, you seem to be on a Universal International kick, which is OK by me, as it is one of my favourite 1950s studios.
There are some very interesting titles there, and most I have never heard of before, I guess I will now have to search a little harder, as I really like those black and white crime and noir films.

Anonymous said...

I made a comment here the other day but it seems to have disappeared in the ether. Anyway, it was just to say that those two Crane Wilbur titles are unfamiliar to me, but sound most interesting.


Laura said...

Hi John!! Loved this list, including that it has three Dorothy Hart films! I've previously enjoyed OUTSIDE THE WALL and THE TATTERED DRESS. I first read your post over the weekend, and it inspired me to pull UNDERTOW off the shelf and watch it fpr the first time -- really enjoyed it. (My review will be posting soon, thanks for the idea!)

I recently picked up the new ClassicFlix release of CRIME OF PASSION but haven't watched it yet. THE STORY OF MOLLY X is a film I don't know at all but with Dorothy Hart and John Russell in the cast it definitely sounds like my cup of tea also.

Thanks for a great list and the viewing inspiration. Always enjoy this series and look forward to reading more lists including from the commenting company here. (I chose my list a few days ago and just have to finish writing it up!)

Best wishes,

john k said...

Hi Mike,
Those obscure Universal Noirs need to be released on disc,
most of their Fifties Westerns are available on DVD
(and Blu Ray) somewhere on the Planet.
Sorry your initial post vanished-it happens to me all
the time,but not here! I certainly think that you will
enjoy the two Crane Wilbur Films.
So glad that you enjoyed UNDERTOW...the ending sort
of pre-figured some of Castle's later Horror/Thrillers,
very dark with a nightmare quality about it.
CRIME OF PASSION was a real surprise-sensational cast,
and one I'm sure you will enjoy...I look forward to your
review of UNDERTOW (and hopefully CRIME OF PASSION)
sometime soon.