Category Archives: 1936

The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 2: Shadows

There are some amusing moments in Shadows; not good moments, but amusing ones. Like when reporter turned detective sidekick Rex Lease trespasses on a boat and assaults the crew members. It’s a perplexing action sequence–the second fistfight in the (very long) chapter–and incompetently cut together. It culminates with Lease’s adversary clearly jumping into the water after being punched in the previous shot. There’s very little point in blaming editor Earl Turner for the terrible cutting. He obviously wasn’t working from very good footage.

Also with the boat fistfight is the lack of diegetic sound. There are some quiet punches looped in, but there’s a lot of silence in Shadows. Usually when there shouldn’t be, like after Lease is poisoned with gas and Jack Mulhall works frantically to save him. Once Lease is in the clear–the chapter runs twenty minutes and every time there’s something dramatic, you just wish it would cliffhang and it never does. But once Lease is in the clear, Mulhall just kind of makes fun of him for not taking the poisoning more seriously. There’s no question as to how or why Lease was poisoned.

The chapter starts with an exceptionally boring cliffhanger resolution, only for a deliveryman to team up with Mulhall and Lease for a car chase. The serial takes The Clutching Hand bit seriously, with the hand appearing out of nowhere (or through special secret, hand-sized passages) to wreck havoc. Or take packages. Anyway, there’s a whole subplot with the delivery guy. And Robert Walker and Jon Hall come back for a scene, because apparently they’re important.

If Mulhall had any good will, he burns through it here. He’s really bad opposite other actors, especially if they’re adversarial. He’s an understated blowhard.

As a spoof or a comedy, Clutching Hand might get some traction. Played straight, it’s just nonsense. Like Lease following suspect Bryant Washburn. Why’s he a suspect? Because he’s… present?

And the Clutching Hand makes an appearance–well, in silhouette because he’s the mystery villain–and gives his orders to his lackies over television. Then laughs manically.

For no apparent reason.

Oh, the car chase. I lost track of the nonsensical car chase with the mysterious moving truck guys attacking the heroes. Shadows is twenty minutes of nonsense flung at the audience.

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 1: Who Is the Clutching Hand?

Who Is the Clutching Hand? opens with Robert Walker getting out of prison. The warden warns him not to be a recidivist; Walker tells him he’s going to keep being a crook, he’s just not going to get caught.

Is Walker the Clutching Hand? Who knows.

The action then moves to a boring board room meeting with CEO Mahlon Hamilton yelling at his staff. Is he the Clutching Hand? Who knows.

There are a lot of characters momentarily introduced in this first chapter of The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand but no one gets much emphasis. Walker eventually gets into a bar fight where Jon Hall, as his criminal buddy, gets introduced. The bar fight has the same cheap factor the rest of the serial has going against it, but at least it’s energetic. By the end of the chapter, there’s barely any energy.

After Walker and Hamilton get introduced, it’s Robert Frazer’s turn. He’s a scientist (who works for Hamilton) and he’s just discovered a way to turn any material into gold. He has a lab at home (or near it, it’s somewhat unclear) so he can get visitors like Rex Lease, the reporter who’s romancing Frazer’s daughter, Marion Shilling.

Hamilton and Shilling don’t get introduced until the action has jumped ahead to the evening, when Frazer is giving secretary Ruth Mix dictation of the formula for gold-making. Not the whole thing, but some of it.

Then, after she leaves the room, someone attacks him. But they’ve turned out the lights so we can’t see who. Lease tries to intercede but gets knocked down some stairs–he just catches a glimpse of Frazer on the floor, apparently dead. They call the cops real fast and discover the body gone–it takes the cops to get back into the room–so Lease calls his pal, deductive detective Jack Mulhall in to investigate.

They find a note to Mulhall threatening him to stay away, signed “The Clutching Hand.” Turns out The Clutching Hand is some kind of master villain who Mulhall has tangled with in the past.

If this first chapter is any indication, Amazing Exploits doesn’t have much going for it–probably very few amazing exploits. Technically it’s… low mediocre. Nearly adequate? It’s cheap. Frazer’s big house–oh, right, turns out Walker has it in for the doctor–anyway, he’s got a big house and there’s a lot of action around it. However some exterior shots of the house are clearly poorly altered interiors (like the front door). Then there are exterior shots, which cinematographer James Diamond can’t really shoot, and Earl Turner jaggedly cuts together with the interior shooting to poor effect.

And the car chase, though not plotted poorly, isn’t well-executed.

Plus no one seems very smart (especially the cops). Mulhall’s supposed to be a genius, but he falls into a trap at the end of the first chapter so the big brain on Mulhall is in question. Also, Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald​’s script just writes him as a Sherlock Holmes knockoff and not one to take seriously. Occasionally the script does have a gem of a line, however, and it’s a shock.

The cast’s not in it enough to make much impression (Shilling and step-mom Mae Busch are currently set dressing), the direction is no great shakes, the mystery isn’t mysterious. So far Amazing Exploits is anything but.

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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Petticoat Fever (1936, George Fitzmaurice)

For most of its eighty minute runtime, Petticoat Fever operates entirely on charm and technical competence. The charm of its cast, not the charm of Harold Goodman’s screenplay (from Mark Reed’s play). Robert Montgomery is the sole operator of a wireless station in arctic Canada (save Otto Yamaoka as his Inuit servant; the film’s moderately gross on Yamaoka’s treatment, though that grossness is front-loaded) who unexpectedly has Myrna Loy dropped in his proverbial lap. She’s fiancée to a jackass, adventuring British lord, Reginald Owen, whose plane runs out of fuel near the wireless station. They need to bunk up with Montgomery, who takes one look at Loy and decides his guests can’t leave and that he’s got to seduce Loy.

Of course, Montgomery’s form of seducing is this amiable, infectous goofiness, which Loy can’t help but find endearing. Meanwhile Owen’s oblivious to the depth of Montgomery’s intentions and his determination to see them through; Owen’s also oblivious to Loy’s reception of said intentions, which isn’t a surprise. Owen’s a complete jackass. Though there is a bit of a first act faux pas when Loy, who’s cynical in her reasons for marrying Owen but not hostilely so, initiates some physical affection, which serves to inform the viewer of their relationship status. Despite the script’s mediocrity, it’s one of Goldman’s only actual obvious narrative missteps. It sets Loy’s character development back five or ten minutes; the movie’s eighty, she doesn’t show up until ten plus in; the time can’t be wasted.

Of course, the audience already knows Montgomery also has a fiancée, he just doesn’t know she (Winifred Shotter) still considers him her fiancé. The film opens with Shotter iced in on a ship on her way to finally join Montgomery, two years later than she’d promised him. That opening bookend, which also has this great playing checkers via wireless transition from ship to Montgomery’s station, is Shotter’s only scene until the end of the first hour. She comes back at the worse possible time, when the film’s finally got Montgomery and Loy on the same page and Owen a fantastic foil. All that setup and character positioning gets flushed for Shotter, who’s not worth it. Not in terms of performance (she’s fine, but utterly disposable) or narrative.

Because Petticoat is about its stars’ charm, not the supporting cast. Except Owen. It needs Owen. He’s utterly believable as a titled jackass.

With a handful of excursions outdoors to the frozen, snowy landscape–including a cute polar bear–the film takes place in the station. Mostly in the large, open living room. A couple other locations inside the station get introduced in the last twenty-five minutes and it’s sort of a shock. Director Fitzmaurice isn’t interested in showcasing the sets, interior or exterior (the snowy exteriors–but soundstage–look great, Fitzmaurice just doesn’t care); he’s all about the actors. Not directing their performances or figuring out interesting ways to support them through composition, just shooting them delivering their lines and relying on them to convey all the emotion and subtext the film needs to succeed.

And, of course, Montgomery, Loy, and Owen can do it. It just would’ve been nice if Fitzmaurice cared enough to ask more from them.

Montgomery’s immediately likable; no small feat as his first full scene–which is very long–involves being a dipshit to Yamaoka specifically and about Inuit people in general. Once Owen arrives–who’s immediately an amusing jackass–Goldman no longer has to leverage entirely on racist jokes to fill minutes. There are still a few, but nothing like that opening scene. Not even when the two girls Yamaoka affably kidnaps–Bo Ching and Iris Yamaoka (Otto’s sister and, no one caught it apparently, love interest)–show up.

And Loy’s Loy. She’s charming, graceful, and affable. The script gives her almost nothing to do for the first fifty minutes of the film; once it does, Loy handles it beautifully. Then it seems like the movie’s going one way and it’ll give her something to do. Then it doesn’t–the aforementioned failed plot foil–but sort of promises to give Loy an even better thing to do. Then it doesn’t. Despite her being essential to the film’s success, Petticoat Fever dreadfully underutilizes Loy. It’s like it knows Montgomery can carry it, so it doesn’t even try sharing that responsibility.

Basically, the film’s charm sustains it until things start getting better, when that elevation suddenly drops, the charm’s still there for Fever to fall back on. In the last half hour, the film all of a sudden gets potentially better only to end up disappointing, which didn’t seem possible for the first fifty minutes. Fever pretends it’s going to get (very measuredly) ambitious, then doesn’t.

It’d help a lot if Shotter were better. Between Fitzmaurice’s flat direction and Goldman’s flatter script, just being fine isn’t good enough given how important Shotter is to the third act.

Rather nice photography from Ernest Haller. Fredrick Y. Smith’s editing could be a lot better; he doesn’t seem to know how to cut for the comedy. Maybe he was having trouble finding it too. Fitzmaurice tends to mute it.

Petticoat Fever is an entirely affable, entertaining, competently executed comedy. It could’ve been more. And should’ve been, given the principal cast.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Fitzmaurice; screenplay by Harold Goldman, based on the play by Mark Reed; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by Fredrick Y. Smith; music by William Axt; produced by Frank Davis; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Montgomery (Dascom Dinsmore), Myrna Loy (Irene Campton), Reginald Owen (Sir James Felton), Otto Yamaoka (Kimo), Winifred Shotter (Clara Wilson), Bo Ching (Big Seal), Iris Yamaoka (Little Seal), and George Hassell (Captain Landry).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE WINTER IN JULY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY DEBBIE OF MOON IN GEMINI.


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Dracula's Daughter (1936, Lambert Hillyer)

Dracula’s Daughter starts as a comedy. With Billy Bevan’s bumbling police constable, there’s nothing else to call it. Sure, the opening deals with the immediate aftermath of the original Dracula–returning Edward Van Sloan arrested for driving a stake through a man’s heart–but it’s all for smiles, if not laughs. Bevan’s terrified expressions carry the movie until it’s time for Gloria Holden to show up.

Holden plays the title role. She’s in England to dispose of her father’s remains and to paint (and to prey upon the living). She’s not happy about preying upon the living and Garrett Fort’s screenplay implies its all going to be about vampirism as a compulsion. Top-billed Otto Kruger ties everything together; he’s a society psychiatrist, trained by Van Sloan, who ends up defending his old teacher while taking an interest in Holden. She’s in society because her paintings? It’s unclear why anyone would invite her. Fort’s script isn’t good on narrative progression.

Holden thinks Kruger might be able to help her with the vampirism. She assumed her father’s death would help, but her man servant and familiar Irving Pichel convinces her otherwise. Pichel’s just around to encourage Holden’s bad habits. He definitely looks creepy, but he doesn’t treat her with any respect, much less fear. It creates a bit of a tonal imbalance–the vampire isn’t bad, the human encouraging her is bad–until Holden finally takes up the villain reins.

Once Holden and Pichel go after Nan Grey (who’s rather good in her small part), it’s clear the happy London society dalliances are soon to be over. See, Kruger’s her doctor too. And he’s going to get to the bottom of it. Can Holden convince him to join her–possibly replacing Pichel–in Transylvania before Kruger can dehypnotize Grey long enough to find out who attacked her?

It’d be a far more effective twist if Holden’s character were better developed (and established in the first place) and if director Hillyer didn’t direct Kruger like he’s always waiting to react to a punchline. Once the initial comedic stuff is over–though Scotland Yard man Gilbert Emery is mostly for laughs (including the film’s best ones)–Hillyer starts giving Kruger these close-ups where he’s just reacting to something or pensively smoking. I guess he needs to be doing something since he’s not figuring out Van Sloan’s not crazy and Holden’s got something weird going on.

Twenty-something Marguerite Churchill is quinquagenarian Kruger’s assistant. She’s an heiress or something so she gives him a lot of guff. She’s also, of course, enamored with him. Because why wouldn’t she be enamored with her fifty-year old boss. They don’t have any romantic chemistry, though occasionally Kruger does come off paternal. Too occasionally.

Churchill’s unprofessional jealousy of Holden eventually gets her in a lot of trouble, kicking off the final act, where Kruger’s got to fly to Transylvania to try to save the day. He doesn’t, as it turns out, because Fort’s script is goofy. I wonder if it had to contort itself through the Hays Code. Hopefully. At least contorting for the Code would provide an excuse.

The film’s got good sets and fine photography from George Robinson. Hillyer starts with some creepiness, but soon gives it up. Why the film should want to scare Bevan’s bumbling constable but not Churchill or Grey’s damsels is another of its mysteries. There are some excellent foggy London effects and some real mood with Holden, in her black wraps–though Holden’s costuming when she’s not a creature of the night is grey and drab.

Holden’s okay. The film’s failures aren’t her fault. They’re not Kruger’s fault either, but he’s so miscast after a while–and Hillyer’s direction of him is so awry–he gets tiring. Van Sloan’s fun for a while, but he too can’t survive. Churchill’s just annoying. Maybe it’s supposed to be the part.

Dracula’s Daughter is an almost solid production of a troubled script. It’s a bunch of ill-fitting pieces mashed together without success.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Garrett Fort, based on a suggestion by David O. Selznick and a story by Bram Stoker; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Milton Carruth; produced by E.M. Asher; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Otto Kruger (Jeffrey Garth), Gloria Holden (Countess Marya Zaleska), Irving Pichel (Sandor), Edward Van Sloan (Professor Von Helsing), Marguerite Churchill (Janet), Gilbert Emery (Sir Basil Humphrey), Nan Grey (Lili), and Billy Bevan (Albert).


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