Category Archives: 1936

Tell Your Children (1936, Louis J. Gasnier)

Tell Your Children, or Reefer Madness, is sort of mundanely bad. Sure, Carl Pierson’s editing somehow pads shots to make the sixty-six minute movie drag even more than it does because of the terrible script and bad acting, but the script is just dumb and bad. There’s nothing exciting about it, other than to see how the movie is going to be anti-pot propaganda without any facts or any quality in the delivered message movie. For instance, Joseph Forte’s school principal who lectures parents (and the audience) about the evils of “demon weed” marihauna… Forte’s giving the performance like he’s a cheesy villain. It’s a weird take on the character, who otherwise might have been—if not sympathetic—at least… sensible. Forte comes off like a loudmouthed dips hit.

Though no one comes through the film well. Lillian Miles and Dorothy Short are the least terrible. They’re also not amusing. Together with Thelma White, they’re the film’s main female characters. Kenneth Craig, Dave O’Brien, Carleton Young, and Warren McCollum are the men. The men get more to do, so much even though Short’s top-billed she’s got a lot less to do in the film than little brother McCollum. See, Young and White run a dope spot. People come by and smoke marijuana cigarettes, presumably paying for them at some point but the film never shows any cash changing hands between the teenage pot junkies and their older dealers. O’Brien and Miles are recruiters. They try to get the high school kids to go. They hang out at the local soda joint, where the seedy owner helps transition kids from egg creams to ganja. Again, unclear how the business actually works, except of course it wouldn’t work because Children is just sixty-six minutes of bullshit.

Craig and Short are the straight-edge kids. They don’t go to the dope spot, even though McCollum starts going daily. All these kids are in Forte’s school and he takes an interest in them—at least as far as their possible marijuana use goes, but not if there’s home abuse—and Forte doesn’t notice anything with McCollum. Neither does sister Short. Even after McCollum runs somebody over because he’s hopped up on dope. The implied marijuana crisis never comes to anything.

Because it’s a really dumb, bad script. Plotting, dialogue, pacing, everything.

Then Pierson’s editing—especially his terrible use of sound—makes it even worse.

Back to the story. Somehow straight-laced Craig ends up at the dope spot and Miles seduces him, which is fine with O’Brien because he’s got the hots for short. The trysts lead to tragedy, mostly because O’Brien’s used so much reefer he’s lost his mind.

There’s a somewhat adequate trial sequence—the film’s not competently made, but you can tell director Gasnier isn’t working in the best conditions. He’s got some decent medium and long shots, he just doesn’t have sound on them. When he goes in for close-ups and the actors are poorly delivering the script’s lousy exposition… well, Gasnier’s just possibly okay in very different circumstances; he’s very clearly not a miracle worker. Because if he were a miracle worker, Tell Your Children wouldn’t be such an inept piece of crap. Sure, it’s lying propaganda, but it’s also an inept piece of crap. The latter is way more important than the former, as it’s so inept you can’t imagine it working as propaganda.

It’s a bad movie. It’s occasionally funny in that badness, but mostly it’s just bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier; screenplay by Arthur Hoerl and Paul Franklin, based on a story by Lawrence Meade; director of photography, Jack Greenhalgh; edited by Carl Pierson; produced by George A. Hirliman; released by Motion Picture Ventures.

Starring Dorothy Short (Mary), Kenneth Craig (Bill), Lillian Miles (Blanche), Dave O’Brien (Ralph), Thelma White (Mae), Carleton Young (Jack), Warren McCollum (Jimmy), Patricia Royale (Agnes), Harry Harvey Jr. (Junior), and Joseph Forte (Dr. Carroll).


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The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman)

While The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand doesn’t start strong, the first chapter certainly isn’t any indication of how bad the serial is going to get over its fifteen chapters and five hour total run time. It’s never Amazing, there are rarely Exploits, but there is some Clutching Hand. The Hand himself is the mystery villain, always shown from behind or in shadow. The hand shows up as a threat to various characters, sometimes a shadow with a… well, a clutching hand. Sometimes the clutching hand will strangle someone, sometimes it’ll grab a piece of paper. It’s always silly but by the end of the serial, it’s no longer dangerous.

Probably because it never goes ahead and kills any of the annoying cast.

Clutching Hand‘s lead is Jack Mulhall. He’s a master detective, or so he and everyone (and the opening title scrawls) keep saying. But he starts getting duped in the first chapter. His plans are usually dumb and never work out. He regularly lets suspects go free and never calls in backup for when he raids the gang hangout. There’s only one gang hangout. It’s a sailor bar with a bunch of offices upstairs. Both the Clutching Hand and nondescript criminal Jon Hall use the bar for their base of operations. So there are lots of fist fights in the bar. Lots of them. Like probably half the chapters have fist fights in the bar. Eventually involving Mulhall in makeup. Though no one at the bar remembers anyone so it’s unclear why the makeup is so necessary.

Mulhall’s got to wear makeup because he’s trying to find a missing gold formula. Scientist Robert Frazer has discovered a way to turn metal into gold, exciting his corporate overlords and various other peoples. The same night he discovers the formula, he gets assaulted, is apparently dead, but then is kidnapped. Clutching Hand is looking for the gold formula, which also goes missing, and Frazer.

It really is thirteen chapters of those searches too. There’s one main subplot in the serial, involving ex-con Robert Walker (who is pals with Hall) and Frazer’s possible widow, Mae Busch. Walker and Hall are always mysterious, at least until they come across some mysterious guys scamming Busch. But daughter Marion Shilling? She gets nothing to do the whole time. She kind of gets to date reporter Rex Lease, who drafts himself as Mulhall’s sidekick, but there’s no story to their relationship. Clutching Hand is five hours of thin plot contrivances.

Unfortunately, it’s not just fisticuffs, plot contrivances, car chases, and whatever other stupidity the two screenwriters and two adaptation writers come up with. It’s bad enough I’m curious how much of that badness came from Arthur B. Reeve’s source novel, but… you know… not really. Five hours is already way too much time to invest in Clutching Hand.

With a couple exceptions, every chapter is just Clutching Hand spinning its wheels and killing time. Someone has the formula, let’s chase them, no wait, they don’t have it. Same goes for Frazer. Someone sees him–or not, really, Mulhall and Lease spend a lot of time just chasing old men–he’s not really there, or he’s a young guy disguised as an old man, Mulhall and Lease lose track of him because they’re really bad at the detective game. Over and over and over again.

You’d think Busch’s subplot with Walker or the con men would be a relief, but no. Busch gets zip to do in her scenes. It’s always the guys, who are just plodding through the plodding scene. When Clutching Hand actually has decent–read, not godawful–pacing, at least it doesn’t go on forever. It usually just goes on forever. The acting, of course, doesn’t help. Everyone’s bad. Mulhall and Lease get laughable after a while. Busch doesn’t make an impression. Shilling certainly doesn’t. Ruth Mix, as Frazer’s secretary, is kind of likable. She’s unlikable or trying, which goes for in Clutching Hand.

For intrigue, Clutching Hand relies mostly on the Clutching Hand talking to his legion of agents via television monitors–I think Mulhall has a scene where he barges in on him mid-villainy conference and both neglects to identify his enemy or call the cops about the gang hangout–or Frazer’s corporate overlords plotting for their outrageous fortune, once they get the gold formula back. On and on it goes. For hours. In the exact same places. Lease almost gets poisoned twice while loitering around Mulhall’s apartment. The last few chapters–finally–introduce a new setting (a boat), but it doesn’t make much difference. It’s not like the locations are inherently bad–well, they are bad but the sets inadequacies don’t matter anywhere near as much as Herman’s weak direction. The constant fist fights are always terrible, only ever amusing when they get really stupid. Like Lease shooting up the sailor bar with a couple revolvers.

The serial’s resolution manages to be stupid, incomplete, and exasperating all at once. Clutching Hand isn’t one of those serials where you could basically skip everything except the first, second, penultimate, and final chapters. There’s nothing important in the second or penultimate chapters here. Just more nonsense. Of course, one should skip Clutching Hand entirely. It’s wholly terrible (though, in all fairness to Herman, his bad direction is nothing compared to the script or the acting).

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).



The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 15: The Lone Hand

I was expecting Clutching Hand to have a bad ending. It was inevitable. But I didn’t expect them to entirely ignore one of the major plot threads. If Clutching Hand has two plot threads, which it spends fourteen chapters suggesting are intricately connecting, The Lone Hand entirely ignores one of them. It’s astounding. Especially since the chapter uses visual motifs from the plot thread only to forget about their existence moments later.

It’s incredible.

And bad. It’s incredibly bad.

Sadly, it seemed like it wouldn’t be so bad. I mean, the final twist is really dumb and it’d be hard to not make it terrible, but I thought they’d spend the chapter with fisticuffs. They start with a lot of fisticuffs. It seems like they’re going to focus on them and not rush to “wrap” everything up in the last nine minutes.

But rush they do. There’s some weird romance implication at the end, just because they need to keep the cast around perhaps, and there are two or three subplots entirely resolved in ninety seconds of exposition. Now, at least one of those subplots wasn’t clearly a subplot until the the last scene in Clutching Hand. Fifteen chapters, five hours, not a subplot until the last two minutes. The writing is excruitatingly, unimaginably bad.

Real bad acting from Rex Lease here. It’s amazing how bad the actors have gotten as the serial’s gone on. Clutching Hand could be a case study for a film overstaying its welcome. Immediately overstaying its welcome.

The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand has been an awful serial. But The Lone Hand is a particularly awful end to that awful serial. Nothing between the first chapter and the last one matters. They couldn’t even pretend the subplots had heft.

I’m so glad it’s over.

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).


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The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 14: The Silent Spectre

The Silent Spectre surprised me. I didn’t think Clutching Hand would be able to surprise me after they did the boat stuff–and there’s a lot more ship-based fisticuffs this chapter–but then it goes ahead and surprises me the very next chapter.

I had no idea lead Jack Mulhall could be so exceptionally bad. He’s had some dreadful moments throughout the serial, but this chapter features his easily worst moment. He’s got to pretend he thinks Rex Lease has reunited Marion Shilling with her long lost (since the first chapter) father, played by Robert Frazer. Only we know Lease hasn’t reunited Shilling with him because Lease got hijacked and beat up for the invalid Frazer.

Mulhall’s “performance” in the scene is stunning. It’s so bad it’s laugh out loud funny, which is sort of perfect for the penultimate Clutching Hand. It’s so bad it’s mocking you for watching it.

Though a lot does happen in the chapter, maybe more than in any chapter other than the first. There’s the big fight on the boat, then there’s the Frazer-napping–evil businessman Bryant Washburn and vague gangster Jon Hall team up for that one–then there’s Mulhall confronting Washburn and Hall. Oh, and there’s Lease coming back for a minute to give Mulhall the news. There’s a second car chase (the first car chase ends with Frazer getting kidnapped and Lease getting pummeled), there’s Mulhall laying a trap, there’s a shootout, there’s a Clutching Hand note mocking Mulhall–which Mulhall hides from everyone else because he’s apparently aware he’s a joke of a detective–there’s a lot. Especially considering how long the boat fight lasts.

Who knew Clutching Hand could be so action-packed? I knew it could be idiotic, but not action-packed idiotic.

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).


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