"You forgot the eyes wouldn't burn, didn't you?"
H. Bala | Carson - hey, we have an IKEA store! - CA USA | 04/19/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There's always that gratification of the quick thrill, something to be said for those barely over-an-hour long onscreen whodunits cranked out in the '30s and '40s, in which the plot doesn't eff around getting down to brass tacks, the dialogue is delivered rapid-fire, the stodgy police are predictably baffled, and it's a whale of a time, soaking in the mood and the behaviors and mannerisms so defined by that era, back when everyone smoked like chimney stacks and it wasn't so much a cool thing as it was the thing that was just done. Kinda like the men back then having had to wear hats.
MYSTERY CLASSICS Vol. 12 presents four more obscure but fairly watchable mysteries: FOG ISLAND, GREEN EYES, THE GREEN GLOVE, and INTERNATIONAL CRIME. As usual, these poverty row potboilers are peopled with likable but not exactly top-drawer leads. And yet these actors evidence enough charm and acting chops that they sell these flicks. Contrary to this DVD collection's label of "MYSTERY CLASSICS," these mysteries aren't quite of the classic persuasion, but they'll do just fine if you've got an hour or so to kick around, and you need a break from Bogie and Bacall, from Powell and Loy, from Alfred Hitchcock (although I don't know why you would). Given, overall, the films featured here probably range in the neighborhood of 3 stars out of 5, and the transfer quality isn't exactly the best, but there's a certain quaint and shabby appeal to this collection and you cannot beat the asking price.
FOG ISLAND (1945, 70 minutes):
- Leo Grainger, firing innuendo at a guest who made a remark about the old mansion: "Yes, strangely enough, it was built by pirates. But you shouldn't have any difficulty in finding your way around, John."
A man, falsely accused of murder and embezzlement, has been finally released from prison. In his five-year stint in stir, Leo Grainger (George Zucco), rightfully bitter, had plenty of time to hatch his revenge on those what done him wrong. Accordingly, Grainger invites certain "old friends" (including perennial heavy Lionel Atwell) to an isolated spooky mansion on Fog Island for a weekend of frivolity and merry-making... and murder.
There's a whiff of the "Old Dark House" going on here, and FOG ISLAND certainly is atmospheric. But FOG ISLAND isn't as fun as other "Old Dark House" pictures and it's the murkiest looking of the four movies on this DVD. There's the usual shifty cast, with the only two characters seemingly beyond reproach being Grainger's step-daughter Gail and the party crasher who came in place of his dead dad. Everyone else seems to nurse a shady agenda. There isn't much levity to counter the tension, and if you've seen your share of "Old Dark House" dramas, you know a bit of humor goes a long way.
But it's always interesting to see a roomful of bad guys throwing subtle elbows. Grainger sets his traps, doles out his peculiar party gifts, and stands back and watches the show. His machinations are predicated on the greed and duplicity of his old associates, and these guests don't disappoint. FOG ISLAND offers some good moments - and wouldn't it be jake if every house features hidden passages and disguised pits? - but overall this chiller is an unevenly directed, stiff and dusty fuddy-duddy, and the romantic sub-plot is played out woodenly. However, the haunting watery climax may well stick in your mind for a bit.
GREEN EYES (1934, 68 minutes):
During a fancy masquerade bash, cranky old Steven Kester gets dead and murdered, and this whodunit is off and running. Prime suspects include Kester's grand-daughter and her fiance, their romance having been frowned upon by the victim. And what of Kester's shady business partners? No-nonsense Police Captain Crofton (John Wray) launches his poking and prodding. Glib and meddlesome (and aren't they all?) mystery writer Bill Tracy (Charles Starett) lingers like a bad habit and occasionally suggests an idea or a theory. And then a key suspect gets bumped off.
One does wonder why the police captain allows the mystery writer to hang around during his investigation. Maybe the captain is covering his bases for when he makes a bold statement like "I've got this case about sewed up." Thankfully, for the movie audience, Charles Starett is a welcome and wiseacre presence; I keep forgetting that he made films other than those two-bit westerns. But this is a far cry from the Durango Kid, what with Starett looking pretty silly here dressed as a yodeler (costume party, remember?). Based on Harriette Ashbrook's novel THE MURDER OF STEVEN KESTER, GREEN EYES does plod a bit and the plot runs around in circles for segments of the film, and it's very talky. But Starett makes it fun, although I wish he'd yanked the police captain's chain even more. You may want to stick around for the nifty twist ending.
THE GREEN GLOVE (1952, 89 minutes):
THE GREEN GLOVE is the best of this bunch, and, for Glenn Ford's character, prosperity simply isn't around his corner. Ford plays Michael Blake, a down-and-out World War II vet who years later returns to France on a quest for a fabulous jewel-crusted relic. But is he seeking to return the treasure to its rightful place or is there a more selfish reason? In Paris he finds himself stalked by mysterious figures and framed for murder. And when the French police start sniffing around, Michael Blake goes on the run. But at least he takes the cute tour guide with him.
THE GREEN GLOVE kicks off with a corpse in a church and then winds back to relate the events which lead up to that moment. And it becomes obvious, as the plot unfolds, that this story is more of a chase thriller than a whodunit. There's suspense and a wonderful noirish vibe, certainly, just not much of a mystery. A solid cast anchors the film, with Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Geraldine Brooks, and the villainous George Macready providing good support. Brooks, lovely and lively, is charming as Chris, the tour guide who gets caught up in Ford's mess. Glenn Ford, however, makes for stiff leading man material. His nemesis, the aristocratic art thief wickedly played by Macready, exudes more presence.
But our eyes feast on the picturesque cinematography, on the lavish French locale, and we take in Joseph Kosma's lyrical theme score. Highlights include an amusing scene in which the couple on the run pretend to be newlyweds (although, okay, Donat and Carroll did it first and better), a thrilling chase staged on a steep goat path, and a nice twist tying in to the opening sequence. Like I said, the best of this bunch.
INTERNATIONAL CRIME (1938, 63 minutes):
This one is also pretty good. If you're expecting the same Shadow who makes the criminals drop a load in their pants, they get so scared... If you're expecting the Shadow with the hat and the cloak and the hypnotic eyes who answers to "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" - well, this guy in this movie ain't him. The Lamont Cranston in INTERNATIONAL CRIME falls out of that same cookie cutter mold of quick-talking detectives from the '30s and '40s, like Philo Vance and Nick Charles. In this version, Cranston is a reporter and amateur criminologist who broadcasts on a radio crime show called "The Shadow Speaks."
While on the air, Cranston gets a tip regarding an imminent robbery at the Metropolitan Theatre. The police and Cranston stake out the Metropolitan except that nothing happens. Meanwhile, somewhere else, an international banker is murdered, his safe blasted open. When circumstances suggest this to be the work of newly paroled safe cracker Honest John, the Shadow instead cries foul and goes on to try to prove Honest John's innocence.
LaRocque is pretty good here, and his character seems to have a lot of fun poking his nose into other people's business, faking accents, and tweaking the Police Commissioner's nose. Again, if you're looking for the scary, sinister Shadow of pulp adventure fame, that cat ain't here. LaRocque's Shadow stays strictly in a suit, and he's solving crimes in part to gather fodder for his radio show. Astrid Allwyn is bananas as Cranston's dizzy dame assistant Phoebe Lane (she calls herself "The Shadow's Shadow"), although there are moments in this movie when you may want to strangle her for being so oblivious (especially when she introduces herself as Cranton's wife in the restaurant). This is LaRocque's second outing as the Shadow, after THE SHADOW STRIKES. INTERNATIONAL CRIME, for what it is, is brief and diverting stuff, with some nice moments."