A great movie to watch in the covid era. Friends and strangers are quarantined on a Greek island, told no touching, no gathering in groups, and each person stands up in turn saying “oh but I am the special exception and I simply must leave the island.”

Brutal General Boris Karloff puts himself in charge of law and order. Ellen Drew (halfway between Christmas in July and Baron of Arizona) cares for Katherine Emery (The Maze), while a boring white guy (Marc Cramer of The Canterville Ghost) pines for Ellen. Not pining for Ellen are Karloff and the Lady In Black (Helene Thimig of Cloak & Dagger), who believe Ellen is an evil spirit who brought the plague. This belief is explained by the amazing opening titles: “under conquest and oppression the people of Greece allowed their legends to degenerate into superstition.”

Conspirators:

Confronting Ellen:

A perfectly fine historical drama with some fab lighting and good faces (La Pointe Courte‘s Silvia Monfort). Coming between Beauty and the Beast and Orpheus, it lacks most of the sfx magic of those, but it’s so neglected I was half-expecting it to be lousy. I didn’t even have the correct title, knowing it as The Eagle Has Two Heads, while The Two-Headed Eagle makes more sense.

Monfort is the audience-surrogate newcomer to a castle where the widowed queen has shut herself away for ten years, and is about to hold a ball. Queen Edwige Feuillère (just off starring in a Dostoevsky adaptation) is surprised by a visitor at her window who looks exactly like King Jean Marais, and the bulk of the movie is psychological spy games between these two. She calls him “My Death” (which is very Cocteau) since he’s meant to be an assassin, the corrupt cops outside pretending to search for him. He is of course a poet, and she of course falls for him, in a dignified/suicidal way.

Police chief Jacques Varennes (La Poison) hides in a treehouse, and he and the queen run around giving everyone contradictory orders, until she gets to die with her king as she’s always dreamed (Marais taking a nice fall down the stairs).

The queen uses a room-sized model palace as a shooting gallery:

Laura is Ghost and Mrs. Muir star Gene Tierney, and she is dead. Detective Dana Andrews (moving up from playing the mob guy in Ball of Fire) is the detective, inviting Laura’s friend Clifton Webb to join the investigation since he’s a writer who loves murder cases. Prickly gossip columnists make good movie characters. Our chief suspect is Laura’s fiancee Vincent Price, but Dana keeps up the heat (incl. some weird tactics: one time he gets everyone over to drink cheap whisky then dismisses them a minute later). Laura turns out to be alive, a friend of hers having been shotgunned in the face and presumed to be her, and at her still-alive party, jealous Webb is outed as the killer.

“Dames are always pulling a switch on you.” I like Andrews – he has an interesting face, but he underplays hard in this. He’s better than Dorothy Adams as Housekeeper Bessie, who must’ve improved by the time she appeared in The Killing, since I don’t remember anyone derailing that movie like this. It’s one of those perfect-looking 40’s films – besides all the great closeups and composed shots there’s such smooth camera movement.

Claudette Colbert, medium-charming, is paired with Fred MacMurray at his most eagerly straightforward, in a fish-out-of-water movie of cityfolk going country, most famous for creating the oversized characters of Ma & Pa Kettle. There were at least ten more Kettle films plus a TV remake of this movie.

They get a dog, fall in the pigpen, clean up the farmhouse, struggle to impress an implacable chicken buyer, get charity from the bighearted locals, never have any romantic time alone, and endure every first-draft farm-life idea the screenwriters could throw at them. It’s all overstuffed quantity-over-quality, like the breakfast restaurant that stole its name. Fred is seemingly sweet on the rich neighbor (Louise Allbritton of Son of Dracula), leading Claudette to preemptively leave him, but really he’s secretly negotiating to trade in their failing and wrecked farm for her fancy automated one (economics make no sense in this film).

Claudette and the eldest Kettle kid in their fancy plaids:

I’m sad that there’s bird killing in this movie, but at least it’s traumatic to young Bart, who remains gun-crazy but never shoots a living creature again. Going through a teenage Russ Tamblyn phase, he’s sent to reform school for breaking into a gun shop, and years later returns from the army as John Dall (just off playing Brandon-who-thought-he-was-god in Rope). Still gun crazy, he reconnects with his childhood buddies and sees the gun crazy Peggy Cummins (also love interest of Night of the Demon) in a circus. An impulsive Bart steals her away from drunken proprietor Barry Kroeger (Cry of the City) – they get fired, married, and live the high life with absolutely no plan until they end up broke in Vegas, and she talks him into doing holdups. On the run, they’re gonna give up the criminal life after One Last Job, a big one where they get hired by the targeted company and work from the inside. With no traumatic backstory to stop her, Peggy freely shoots civilians during their escape, and trouble quickly closes in when desperate Bart takes them to his hometown to hide out. Such great camerawork, especially in the car scenes.

Russ/Bart:

Mostly I experienced flashbacks of reading this for the first time in one high school’s English class, or performing it in another high school’s drama class. This preceded Lean’s Oliver Twist, which also opens with strikingly-shot whipping-wind outdoor scenes.

Beat out The Ghost and Mrs. Muir for a cinematography oscar, pretty impressive. Standout acting by Bernard Miles (who’d do a Nicholas Nickleby film the next year) as Pip’s decent brother in law, and Finlay Currie (just off I Know Where I’m Going!) as the convict/benefactor… I liked Young Pip better than Adult Pip, surprisingly.

After Blood on the Moon, why not have a Robert Wise double feature? This Robert Ryan boxing drama (premiering just six weeks after he starred in Caught) is something special, taking place in real-time but without the single-shot gimmick of your Rope or your Russian Ark, or the boredoms of your Timecode.

Handsome Robert Ryan is supposed to have been losing matches for 20 years, his girl Audrey Totter (Any Number Can Play the same year) wants him to quit, meanwhile his manager is “throwing” the fight, telling a gangster that Ryan will take a fall, but without telling Ryan, assuming he’ll lose anyway and the manager can keep all the money. Buncha greasy weirdos in this movie, a good sign. Nice focus on the other loser boxers and the bloodthirsty crowd. The happy ending is Ryan winning his fight against all odds, everyone’s mad at him, his girl didn’t show up, then gangsters smash his hand with a brick and she comes and picks him up. Ryan had debuted in the pictues a decade earlier with Golden Gloves, a movie about corruption in boxing.

L-R: Ryan with toady Red (Percy Helton of Criss Cross the same year), manager George Tobias (Greek barber of The Strawberry Blonde) and boxer James Edwards (Manchurian Candidate, The Steel Helmet):

Good-looking movie with a nothing-special ending. Played the commentary for a while – Robert Wise came up as editor, cut Kane and Ambersons, then while working for Val Lewton he started directing, and this was his first A picture. He’s either well-prepared or has a great memory.

Robert Mitchum is set up as an innocent wandering into a feuding town – his camp is wiped out by a cattle herd then he’s given a shitty welcome by a bunch of suspicious fucks led by Tom Tully. Mitchum is just passing through, so they let him drift, but really he’s a hired gun for old buddy Robert Preston (The Music Man himself). But Preston proves to be a villain, and Mitchum falls for Tully’s daughter Barbara Bel Geddes (Vertigo‘s Midge), while her own sister is helping the enemy, whose plot involves getting Tully’s cattle confiscated by the law and buying it back himself. When Walter Brennan’s son is killed, it’s not just a money game anymore, and Mitchum and Bel Geddes (rifleman lovers who met playfully shooting at each other) go out and get bloody revenge.

Wicked Preston and mixed-up kid Phyllis Thaxter:

Opens with a series of insanely awesome process shots as Oliver’s doomed mother trudges through a rainstorm. Oliver grows up in the orphanarium, asks if he can please sir have some more, plays a “mute” following funeral processions, while behind the scenes there’s a scandal-drama involving an amulet that proves he’s from a wealthy family. I took notes on character names and plot details, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to find an Oliver Twist synopsis whenever I need. Besides the nice cinematography, it’s just a parade of good performances, actors well-suited to their roles – until Alec Guinness appears as the giant-honkered Jew-monster Fagin. Villain Bill Sykes steals the kid, and after a rooftop chase scene, justice is served.

Something like the eighth filmed adaptation of Oliver Twist, and the last until the 60’s musical version. The kid grew up to direct/produce Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers episodes. Robert Newton, who played Sykes, went on to create the most influential pirate characters in the movies. Oliver’s kindly rich grandpa Henry Stephenson was the kindly neighbor in Cukor’s Little Women. I’m glad to see that even at the time Guinness’s portrayal was considered unacceptable by some – it sure didn’t hurt his career. Kay Walsh maybe overdoes her part, but that didn’t stop her from getting a Hitchcock picture next. Dodger Anthony Newley became a singer/songwriter who’d influence Bowie.