Monday, January 18, 2016

If I Give Them the Yarn, Will They Make Me One Too?

So here it is, mid-January and I'm just now blogging the first movie we watched in 2016. The reason is not the usual procrastination, but freaking Netflix. We had ordered up Cinema's Dark Side: Impact/ The Second Woman/ They Made Me a Criminal (1951) for an entire weekend, and the disc was cracked. So we went out to the local used bookstore and bought a handful of discs, which I won't blog about because not Netflix.

The replacement disc was whole, so we finally got to watch The Second Woman (I've seen the other two). It starts with Betsy Drake remembering a seaside villa as it was before it became the deserted wreck it is now - but it isn't Manderly. It was a modernist seaside villa, next to a cozy old mansion, where Drake is staying with her Aunt, Florence Bates. It is owned and built by architect Robert Young, who is seen killing himself in the next scene. And now to the flashback...

The movie is more or less a combination of Rebecca and Gaslight. Young has been tormented bad luck and memory lapses since his wife died on their honeymoon. But is it bad luck or does he have enemies - or is he a paranoiac who is doing the damage himself?

Betsy Drake adds a touch of Suspicion to the picture, as the shy naive woman drawn to the supposed bad boy. She's an actuarial account from Nebraska with a boyish haircut and dowdy wardrobe. She makes a fresh heroine. I still think Young has a face for comedy, but he is sells his part pretty well. A nice little Gothic.

Impact is another good one - Brian Donlevy's wife's lover tries to kill him on a road trip but kills himself instead. Everyone assumes it was Donlevy who died, so he hides out in Idaho with small-town mechanic Ella Raines. There's a touch of the Tahoe idyll in Out of the Past in this part, but he is soon defending himself from a murder charge brought by police detective Charles Coburn with only Ella on his side. Hey, that's the same role she played in Phantom Lady!

The plot is pretty clever, but the best part for us might have been the No. California locations. There's a nice scene in downtown Sausalito, and Larkspur CA stands in for the fictional Larkspur ID.

We saved the best for last: They Made a Criminal (If I give them the yarn...). I've seen it before, and known it as a classic, but it surprised me how ... odd it is. First of all, it is directed by Busby Berkeley, without a single touch of his insane choreography. In fact, the first few boxing matches are pretty flat-footed. Also, it's a social drama with those delightful delinquents, the Dead End Kids. But mostly we were struck by how good it was.

It stars the late John Garfield as a championship boxer who gets involved in a murder - once again the real murder is killed in a fiery wreck and everyone figures it was him. So he takes it on the lam and winds up on a date orchard/reformatory in Arizona, where he falls in love. The dilemma: to prove himself to the kids who look up to him, he has to win a boxing match. But there's a detective who suspects something and would instantly recognize his boxing stance.

I wouldn't say it was more suspenseful than most, but more touching. Garfield's boxer is a wiseguy who would never tell the truth to a dame when he can come up with a story, and he hates suckers. But in the end, he let's himself be the sucker, because he cares. The great cast, including Claude Rains as the detective doesn't hurt.

These three movies go really well together, what with the unjustly accused men and the fiery car wrecks and all. It's a good three-fer deal, even though the individual movies aren't that long. But if it comes with a big crack, it's no good at all.

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