Dick Tracy (1937, Ray Taylor and Alan James), Chapter 11: Harbor Pursuit

Harbor Pursuit starts and finishes in the harbor. For some reason, crackerjack G-Man Ralph Byrd never pieces together the harbor might be a base of operations of the Spider Gang. Just one of the many obvious connections Byrd’s been missing since chapter one.

Or two. Byrd at least seems competent in the first chapter.

After an incredibly lazy–even for Dick Tracy–cliffhanger resolution, there’s a newspaper headline about a missing government engraver. The engraver’s been gone a week, without the FBI concerned. The Spider Gang has had him the whole time, presumably tied up in the same chair; again, whatever.

Byrd’s sidekicks stumble upon a coded communication thanks to resident idiot Smiley Burnette going on the radio to give an address warning about crime. It doesn’t go well, but is apparently supposed to be hilarious. Screenwriters Barry Shipman and Winston Miller are shockingly bad when it comes to humor. The radio announcer who looks mortified at Burnette’s performance (in character, on the radio) is probably the best performance in the whole serial.

Then it’s back to the harbor for an almost decent boat chase. The shots of the actual boats in the harbor–never together–are good. The composite shots with the rear screen projection are godawful.

It might just be Tracy’s imminent conclusion–only four more to go–but Harbor passes smoother than most of the serial’s bad chapters have done. There’s nothing to distinguish it, though–as always–Carleton Young and Fred Hamilton are the ones who give the best performances. They just don’t have anything to do.

Also eye-rolling is how Byrd can’t manage to beat up a single dock worker but can easily best a (presumably experienced) thug.

CREDITS

Directed by Ray Taylor and Alan James; screenplay by Barry Shipman and Winston Miller, based on a story by Morgan Cox and George Morgan and the comic strip by Chester Gould; directors of photography, Edgar Lyons and William Nobles; edited by Edward Todd, Helene Turner, and William Witney; produced by Nat Levine; released by Republic Pictures.

Ralph Byrd (Dick Tracy), Kay Hughes (Gwen Andrews), Smiley Burnette (Mike McGurk), Lee Van Atta (Junior), John Picorri (Moloch), Carleton Young (Gordon), Fred Hamilton (Steve Lockwood), Francis X. Bushman (Chief Clive Anderson), Wedgwood Nowell (H.T. Clayton), Louis Morrell (Walter Potter), Edwin Stanley (Walter Odette), Ann Ainslee (Betty Clayton), and Milburn Morante (Death Valley Johnny).


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Dick Tracy (1937, Ray Taylor and Alan James), Chapter 10: The Gold Ship

The Gold Ship is the tenth chapter of Dick Tracy. It’s the first chapter where Ralph Byrd even entertains the notion his brother might still be alive, even though brainwashed and surgically disguised brother Carleton Young has been running afoul of Byrd since the second chapter.

Young just hasn’t said anything. Even though the big mystery villain said the reason for surgically altering him and brainwashing him was to hurt Byrd.

But that plot point goes away real quick when the action gets underway. Byrd goes out to a ship to investigate an apparent gold robbery. He becomes suspicious of some of the crew, who prove to be villains; a lengthy fistfight ensues.

Gold Ship has some good sets and good action set pieces. The cliffhanger’s undoubtedly going to have a weak resolution, but the fistfight until then is pretty good. It’s not great–the fight choreography is extremely wanting–but it’s pretty good. It’s exciting and feels dangerous, something Tracy has rarely managed lately.

Idiot sidekick Smiley Burnette, who Byrd intentionally brings along as backup to investigate the ship, turns out to be no help because he gets himself tied up in knots. Literally. If directors James and Taylor could do comedy, even with Burnette flopping on every beat, it would help. They cannot. All of Tracy’s okay scenes seem accidentally competent.

Except the miniature effects. They’re actually good.

The chapter’s not a recovery for the serial, but it’s effective on its own.

CREDITS

Directed by Ray Taylor and Alan James; screenplay by Barry Shipman and Winston Miller, based on a story by Morgan Cox and George Morgan and the comic strip by Chester Gould; directors of photography, Edgar Lyons and William Nobles; edited by Edward Todd, Helene Turner, and William Witney; produced by Nat Levine; released by Republic Pictures.

Ralph Byrd (Dick Tracy), Kay Hughes (Gwen Andrews), Smiley Burnette (Mike McGurk), Lee Van Atta (Junior), John Picorri (Moloch), Carleton Young (Gordon), Fred Hamilton (Steve Lockwood), Francis X. Bushman (Chief Clive Anderson), Wedgwood Nowell (H.T. Clayton), Louis Morrell (Walter Potter), Edwin Stanley (Walter Odette), Ann Ainslee (Betty Clayton), and Milburn Morante (Death Valley Johnny).


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Dick Tracy (1937, Ray Taylor and Alan James), Chapter 9: The Stratosphere Adventure

The Stratosphere Adventure isn’t much of an adventure, but it is a fairly interesting chapter. The entire chapter takes place right after the cliffhanger resolve. A cop-out cliffhanger resolve, where federal agent Ralph Byrd puts his own safety before civilian Wedgwood Nowell (big surprise), but still–it’s continuous action, something the serial hasn’t done.

There’s also very little Kay Hughes (though her introduction title card makes her sound like a double agent–she’s not), Smiley Burnette, or Lee Van Atta, which is quite the boon at this point.

After surviving a plane crash, Byrd gets on to the enemy aircraft–the Wing–where his brainwashed, plastic surgery altered brother Carleton Young doesn’t recognize him in disguise. Byrd doesn’t do anything to disguise his voice and he’s just wearing the goggles on a flight suit. Whatever.

Byrd then gets over to the foreign agents’ dirigible. He’s got to stop them from getting the super-fast airplane motor. He’d be able to stop them too, if he could successfully tie up a bad guy. But Byrd can’t and the bad guys turn the table on him, just as Fred Hamilton shoots out the dirigible (not knowing Byrd’s aboard).

Not an exciting chapter. Byrd’s too boring to be exasperating but, come on, he can’t tie someone up? Really? And the FBI’s San Francisco office doesn’t have a more powerful radio than Byrd’s home–where Hughes, Burnette, and Van Atta are congregating (thankfully off-screen most of the chapter).

The miniature aircraft effects are outstanding. And the pacing is sort of cool, one chapter through the next to finish up this particular plot line. It’s not a recovery, but it’s certainly nowhere near as bad as Dick Tracy has been lately.

CREDITS

Directed by Ray Taylor and Alan James; screenplay by Barry Shipman and Winston Miller, based on a story by Morgan Cox and George Morgan and the comic strip by Chester Gould; directors of photography, Edgar Lyons and William Nobles; edited by Edward Todd, Helene Turner, and William Witney; produced by Nat Levine; released by Republic Pictures.

Ralph Byrd (Dick Tracy), Kay Hughes (Gwen Andrews), Smiley Burnette (Mike McGurk), Lee Van Atta (Junior), John Picorri (Moloch), Carleton Young (Gordon), Fred Hamilton (Steve Lockwood), Francis X. Bushman (Chief Clive Anderson), Wedgwood Nowell (H.T. Clayton), Louis Morrell (Walter Potter), Edwin Stanley (Walter Odette), Ann Ainslee (Betty Clayton), and Milburn Morante (Death Valley Johnny).


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You Can’t Take It with You (1938, Frank Capra)

You Can’t Take It with You has three major plot lines, all interconnected, but separate enough the film often feels stretched. There’s the rather lovely romance between stenographer Jean Arthur and her boss, bank vice president James Stewart. There’s Edward Arnold’s attempt to create a munitions monopoly to take advantage of the coming world war. He’s Stewart’s dad; the only thing standing in the way of his monopoly is acquiring a single piece of property (to build a factory to force his competitor to capitulate). Lionel Barrymore owns the property. He doesn’t want to sell, he’s also Arthur’s grandfather.

Everything intersects eventually, though when Arnold and wife Mary Forbes are disapproving of Arthur, Barrymore, and the rest of the family, they don’t know Barrymore’s also holding up the big deal.

Barrymore runs the house as sort of a hippie commune; albeit a late thirties, Depression-era commune. Arthur’s the normal one. Her mom, Spring Byington, is mildly eccentric, always finding one creative hobby or another. Samuel S. Hinds is Arthur’s dad; he makes fireworks in the basement with Halliwell Hobbes, who showed up delivering the ice one day and never left. Similarly, Dub Taylor came to dinner once and stayed, marrying Arthur’s sister, Ann Miller. Miller’s got a Russian dance instructor (displaced by the Revolution), Mischa Auer. The film introduces Barrymore’s eclectic brood via Donald Meek, who Barrymore recruits away from his awful office job. Also in the house are housekeeper Lillian Yarbo and her fiancé, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson. Going to have to talk about Yarbo and Anderson and the film’s treatment of them at some point. On one hand, they’re Black characters with decently sized parts. On the other, Anderson is the only person in the film who Robert Riskin’s script portrays as lazy.

Before getting to that aspect… the better aspects of the script, which are many. The movie opens with Arnold’s prospective business deal (and introduces Stewart as the disinterested boss’s son), then goes to Barrymore who meets up with Meek, then brings him home. The family gets introduced. Then, twenty minutes into the film, top-billed Arthur finally appears. And begins she and Stewart’s possibly star-crossed, rich boy, middle class girl (not to mention the commune) romance. The first ninety minutes are about the romance and its possibilities and realities. Stewart’s mom, Forbes, is opposed. Her thin characterization will also have to be discussed in a bit. But Stewart and Arthur are in love and, based on their courting scenes, love might be able to conquer all. Joseph Walker’s photography is never better than during Stewart and Arthur’s date night. The actors radiate chemistry, with Arthur beaming at Stewart’s wooing in the two shots (then getting to beaming in her close-ups). It’s also some of Capra’s best direction, particularly when the action then moves to a slightly slapstick posh restaurant scene (from Central Park where Stewart shows he’s not a snob by palling around with some street urchins).

Capra always keeps You Can’t Take It with You moving, he always moves between the various subplots (everyone in the house has something going on, usually with crossover, even if it’s a throwaway C plot), but his best direction is when it’s Arthur and Stewart or Arthur and Barrymore. There’s this devastating quiet scene where Barrymore and Arthur talk about love. Barrymore’s got some phenomenal moments in the film, but that scene has his best acting. He gets to reflect, not act. Usually he’s acting. Or if he’s reflecting, Capra isn’t showcasing it because there’s a lot of other stuff going on. The scene also establishes Barrymore’s reflection, so it only needs check-ins in the bigger scenes. The film’s beautifully constructed; Capra and Riskin excel at it.

Turns out, however, those scenes aren’t actually Capra’s best directed in the film because the third act reveals the protagonist of the film isn’t Barrymore, or Arthur, or Stewart, it’s Arnold. You Can’t Take It with You, somewhere in the second act, becomes about Arnold and Barrymore, then Arnold. Arnold’s conundrum sequence in the third act is Capra’s best direction in the picture. Arnold gets this long sequence to himself and is fantastic. He goes from being a hideous capitalist to someone you can believe Stewart likes having–or liked having before the film started, in the distant past–as a dad. Unfortunately, the film can’t organically tie all the threads together at the end, skipping over Barrymore and the family’s storyline, mega-contriving a finish for Arthur and Stewart, mostly so Arnold gets a satisfactory one. It’s sort of a good full circle since he started the film, but it’s also unfortunate. All of Riskin’s inventive plotting throughout the film and nothing for the finish.

Still, thanks to the acting (and the previous material) the finale is still quite effective. So effective you can almost forget about the plotting problems. Almost.

All of the acting in the film is good, some of it is superior. Stewart and Arthur are great as the romantic leads; they both get some rather dramatic moments as well. Arthur’s better than Stewart in them (but her writing is better). Byington and Hinds are lovable, Taylor and Miller are cute, Auer’s awesome. Meek’s adorable. Harry Davenport is great as the judge who presides over the end of second act night court where everyone’s in trouble (including the narrative because that point’s where things could naturally finish).

Arnold’s fantastic. Barrymore’s fantastic. Arnold gets more of the dramatic acting, Barrymore has to do his dramatic acting (for the most part) amid slapstick absurdity. It’s their movie in the end.

Now the more obvious problems. Riskin tries to avoid getting into Barrymore’s political philosophy too much, but what’s left in the film is some nonsensical jingoistic anti-organized capitalism thing. There’s a funny sequence with an IRS investigator (Charles Lane) where Barrymore’s raving against the government and the film never clarifies whether it’s just federal he hates or local too. Barrymore’s a de facto progressive, but it’s not like Yarbo or Anderson ever get to dine with the family. And as dismissive as the film gets about Yarbo, it’s nothing compared to how it characterizes Anderson solely as a relief defrauder.

And Riskin (and Capra) have nothing but ire for Forbes, who’s really the second biggest female part in the film–Byington’s omnipresent but as support–and Forbes is a thinly sketched society harpy. The filmmakers go so far as to pay her heartlessness off Arnold; as he starts to see the humanity in the poors and reflect on his ways, Forbes doubles down and gets even more shallow. Or at least maintains the shallow.

Makes for a handful of queasy scenes where Riskin and Capra go for the cheapest jokes possible.

Nice enough Dimitri Tiomkin score. Okay editing from Gene Havlick; the actors do so well in their two shots and group shots, you almost never want it to go to close-up. It feels empty.

Look fast for an uncredited Ward Bond.

You Can’t Take It with You has some great dialogue, some fine direction, some exceptional performances; Capra and Riskin are willing to go long with the things they care about (Arthur and Stewart’s chemistry, Arnold’s character arc, the whole pre-court jail sequence), but they don’t know how to make it fit in the narrative. The result is an often glorious, very busy mess of a motion picture.

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Capra; screenplay by Robert Riskin, based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart; director of photography, Joseph Walker; edited by Gene Havlick; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jean Arthur (Alice Sycamore), James Stewart (Tony Kirby), Lionel Barrymore (Martin Vanderhof), Edward Arnold (Anthony P. Kirby), Mary Forbes (Mrs. Anthony Kirby), Spring Byington (Penny Sycamore), Samuel S. Hinds (Paul Sycamore), Dub Taylor (Ed Carmichael), Ann Miller (Essie Carmichael), Donald Meek (Poppins), Mischa Auer (Kolenkhov), Halliwell Hobbes (DePinna), Lillian Yarbo (Rheba), Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson (Donald), Clarence Wilson (Blakely), Charles Lane (Henderson), and Harry Davenport (Judge).



blogathon-barrymore

THIS POST IS PART OF THE FOURTH ANNUAL BARRYMORE TRILOGY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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