Cute comedy, doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that’d be nominated for seven oscars, but there you have it. Town malcontent Cary Grant is arrested for a trumped-up charge. Everyone knows he’ll be killed by the town mob, so he escapes and hides out in old schoolmate Jean Arthur’s house. But she’s fixing it up for visiting law professor Ronald Colman, and when he arrives early, she arranges to stay in the house as his secretary so she can take care of Grant, keeping him hidden away from Colman in the attic. Colman is a self-important Good Man who refuses to deal with real people in real situations, preferring to stay apolitical and theoretical as he’s about to be appointed to the Supreme Court, so Arthur and Grant arrange run-ins between him and the corrupt town officials that are rigging Grant’s case, convincing him to bring his great influence into play.
Jean Arthur would be in Stevens’s The More The Merrier the following year, which I thought about while watching this – Jean and two guys in a single living space trying not to run into each other. Grant was between Suspicion and Once Upon a Honeymoon, and Colman played amnesiac in Random Harvest the same year. “This is a great country is it not?” I was happy to recognize the commie from Trouble In Paradise ten years later as a borscht peddler.
Mob violence must’ve been on Fritz Lang’s mind, after making M and fleeing nazis. This is my second or third favorite of his films, a powerhouse drama with a simmering Spencer Tracy, a wrong-man revenge tale. Makes me all upset every time I watch it. I always forget the incriminating word slip that reveals to Tracy’s girl that he’s still alive: it’s memento/momentum.
It’s hard to skim Patrick McGilligan’s Lang bio since it’s full of conflicting stories told by Lang himself, a notorious fabricator. It seems in the original script, Joe was an honest lawyer and after he’s presumed dead his wife (not fiancee) falls in love with a rival attorney. Joe plans to let the townsfolk/mob hang after some are convicted, but he’s discovered by the attorney/wife who run to stop the hanging. No redemption for Joe – he pulls a gun to stop them. Lang suggested Joe become more likable and the wife take over the story after Joe is “killed” so women will have more to enjoy from the film. “There was indeed a tremendous amount of social awareness in the early versions, which featured breadlines, black characters, even a settlement house where Katherine worked. [Newspaperman, The Front Page screenwriter] Cormack’s first rewrite cleared away some of the social commentary; more would disappear as he honed the script.” Lang had shot scenes to visualize Joe’s guilt: ghosts emerging from behind trees to chase him. At the first test screening, which was Lang’s own cut, “after the ghosts came on the public didn’t stop laughing.” So producer Joe Mankiewicz recut the film, removing the ghosts and shooting a final scene where Joe’s wife hugs him forgivingly (which was never in the Lang version) and the movie opened to acclaim. Lang began a lifelong feud with Mankiewicz and studio head Louis Mayer swore Lang would never work at MGM again – some way to begin his Hollywood career. Fury made a star out of Spencer Tracy and exiled Fritz Lang to make westerns and sequels.
Based on the true story of James Reavis – however his wikipedia article sounds like the true story would make for a far less interesting movie than Fuller’s script. It’s got the pen-and-ink technicality (his forgery is discovered because he uses the wrong kind of ink), the marrying a trumped-up land heir, and the prison time, but it lacks the monastery, the gypsy camp and Reavis-Price’s completely solitary audacity of it all (the real Reavis had financial backers, co-conspirators and hired thugs). Also the guy who exposed the fraud was named Royal Johnson, not John Griff.
Vincent Price hadn’t found horror fame yet, but he acts up a storm in this – convincing as a showman, a lover, a silent conspirator and an enraged victim of mob violence (see below). His plan involves the U.S. government honoring Spanish land grants – he trumps up his young ward (later his wife, ew) as the sole living heiress of a previously unclaimed grant for the whole territory of Arizona, planting her fictional parents’ gravestones, engraving a proclamation into a giant stone, posing as a monk for three years to inscribe the false grant into the ancient records and getting some gypsies to help him break in where the copy of the records is kept.
For all that work he is very nearly killed by the angry villagers, but the government saves him in order to imprison him. His wife (Ellen Drew of Christmas In July, who again fails to make much of an impression) apparently forgives him for giving her a false identity and roping her into his land-grab scheme, picks him up from prison at the end.
Fictional-historical adventure-romance-dramas aren’t exactly what Sam Fuller is known for, but he pulls it off. I guess he was one of the few writer/directors out there at this time, and The Steel Helmet wasn’t far behind. The only bit that doesn’t work for me is the silly framing device of old men smoking cigars and reminiscing about the Baron’s crazy scheme. At least Sam worked cigars into the story somehow.
That’s Reed Hadley as Griff, the government’s expert fraud analyst who manages to debunk Price and help him escape the angry crowd. Within a couple years of this, Hadley played both Jesse James (for Fuller) and Jesse’s brother Frank, and appeared in two MST3K-bait films.