Tag Archives: Allen Jenkins

Lawyer Man (1932, William Dieterle)

Lawyer Man is a tad too streamlined. It runs around seventy minutes, charting neighborhood attorney–meaning he works with ethnic types and not blue bloods–William Powell’s rise and fall from grace. At the end, he says something about the events taking place over two years, which the film accomplishes through a variety of narrative shortcuts, usually newspaper headlines. The second half of the film is a little too truncated; it plays like the budget ran out around the forty-five minute mark.

The film opens on the crowded streets of the East Side of Manhattan; Powell’s office is amid the Jewish theaters, the street markets, the hustle and bustle of the working folk. He’s got an admiring secretary (Joan Blondell) but he’s a skirt-chaser, which contributes to his eventual downfall. Something Blondell warns him about frequently.

By the second half of the film, when Powell’s made it, there’s no more exterior street scenes. It’s one office to another, usually with the same handful of cast members. After some wonderfully efficient setup, the plot proper kicks off with society lawyer Alan Dinehart offering Powell a partnership. Whenever Powell beats someone in court, they always want to be pals–he’s such a good lawyer they can’t help it. Unfortunately, part of the film’s efficiency is never showing any of the courtroom lawyering. Even when it’s Powell on trial.

Anyway. Powell and Blondell go uptown to a skyscraper office and a better class of clients. Powell’s still skirt-chasing, Blondell’s still obviously mooning over him (Powell’s unbelievable obliviousness to it is one of Lawyer Man’s failings), but they’re more successful. And then in walks Helen Vinson as Dinehart’s sister and a suitable marriage prospect for Powell. So the film’s now got Powell, Blondell, Vinson, and Dinehart in the mix as far as characters.

Immediately after Powell runs afoul of political fixer David Landau, Claire Dodd comes into the film. She’s a showgirl just jilted by society doctor (and Landau flunky) Kenneth Thomson. Since Lawyer Man is so streamlined, it only takes her about five minutes to have Powell wrapped around her finger. And about ten minutes until she’s helped get him into a bunch of hot water.

Powell’s got to scrap to stay afloat and he becomes a dirty opportunist, with only Blondell sticking by him. At this point, the film sheds pretty much everyone except Powell and Blondell–and shaves Blondell’s subplot off her–as Powell fights to regain his good name. Landau becomes a much bigger player, until he’s pretty much the only other billed actor who interacts with Powell by the final third.

Instead of character development, there’s a lot of summary and speeches from Powell. It’s masterfully done summary, sure, but it’s still just summary. The speeches are a little much. Dieterle sort of zones out during them. He’s really involved when it’s about Powell’s skirt-chasing (there are some great examples of pre-Code visual euphemisms in Lawyer Man too) and Dieterle does really well with the bigger sets. When it’s just the static offices and melodrama… he checks out. Not on the actors, however. Blondell and Powell maintain their charm throughout, even as their characters thin. Blondell’s not the only one who loses her subplots as things progress; Powell goes from a Tex Avery wolf to a practical monk by the end.

The supporting cast is all fine. Landau’s got the only significant part throughout. He’s good.

Lawyer Man’s a little too short, a little too slight. It needs just a little more time to bring its threads together. And to keep its threads in play.

But for a seventy-ish minute programmer? It’s pretty darn good. Great photography from Robert Kurrle and the film’s general sense of humor help.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by William Dieterle; screenplay by Rian James and James Seymour, based on the novel by Max Trell; director of photography, Robert Kurrle; edited by Thomas Pratt; music by Bernhard Kaun; produced by Hal B. Wallis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring William Powell (Anton Adam), Joan Blondell (Olga Michaels), David Landau (John Gilmurry), Helen Vinson (Barbara Bentley), Claire Dodd (Virginia St. Johns), Kenneth Thomson (Dr. Frank Gresham), Allen Jenkins (Izzy Levine), Ann Brody (Mrs. Levine), and Alan Dinehart (Granville Bentley).


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The Gay Falcon (1941, Irving Reis)

The Gay Falcon answers a question I never thought to ask. Can George Sanders flop a part? The answer is yes. There are extenuating circumstances to be sure, but Sanders flops the lead in Falcon. He’s a skirt-chasing, playboy criminologist, which ought to be a natural fit for Sanders. Instead he comes off as a so callous he doesn’t recognize his misogyny nitwit.

Most of the problem, besides director Reis’s inability to get the cast above it, is the script. Lynn Root and Frank Fenton only have to fill sixty-six minutes and they barely come up with enough to cover.

The films starts with Nina Vale visiting fiancé Sanders in his office. He’s given up international adventuring and detectiving and skirt-chasing to be a stock broker. He brings along his faithful sidekick from his detective days, expert locksmith Allen Jenkins, on the stockbroking venture.

Maybe ten minutes later Sanders is charmlessly enamored with Wendy Barrie, who’s trying to hire him to look into jewel thieves. Barrie’s secretary to high society party planner Gladys Cooper and someone’s ripping off her parties. Won’t Sanders help?

Of course he will. It’s off to a party–maybe the only time Falcon has the scale it needs. The budget’s another issue, even if the RKO backlot looks great thanks to Nicholas Musuraca’s gorgeous photography.

Pretty soon Jenkins is in jail for a murder he didn’t commit, Vale is mad at Sanders, Barrie is lovestruck at Sanders, and Sanders is on the case.

The mystery isn’t mysterious and only goes on so long because Sanders and Jenkins don’t appear to be very good at international adventuring and detectiving. Sanders is theoretically better at the skirt-chasing but the film would be less obvious about it if he turned into a cartoon dog and his tongue fell onto the floor whenever a woman walked past.

Except, of course, Lucile Gleason, who isn’t beautiful so Sanders is a boar to her. Gleason and Willie Fung (as Sanders’s jawdroppingly yellowfaced butler) are always played for jokes, which just makes the film look all the more desperate. It’s like it knows it can’t connect with Sanders and Barrie’s banter so it tries Jenkins’s lovable oaf, fails, tries Vale’s jealous, silly female hysterics, fails, tries dumb cops Edward Brophy (who isn’t lovable, which is the film’s greatest crime) and Arthur Shields (who gets worse the longer he’s in the film), fails. Casual sexism and racism… they don’t work either.

So it all rests on Sanders being a skirt-chaser and a genius detective. Except he’s a dimwit detective. And his performance as a skirt-chaser is so exaggerated it’d be better if he’d at least chew some scenery.

There aren’t any good performances in the film. Vale’s better than most. Jenkins and Sanders can’t sell their stupid actions. Once Barrie becomes Sanders’s sidekick, she becomes the butt of the script’s jokes. She wasn’t very good before, but she’s worse then. Cooper’s maybe the best. Brophy should be so much funnier, but the writing is bad and Reis doesn’t direct the actors. At all.

Or, worse, he does and Falcon is the result.

Aside from the Musuraca photography and morbid curiosity, there’s nothing to The Gay Falcon. No sixty-six minute movie should be tedious. Falcon gets tedious from the fourth or fifth scene.

And George Crone’s editing is terrible. Maybe Reis didn’t get coverage, but still, terrible editing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Irving Reis; screenplay by Lynn Root and Frank Fenton, based on the story by Michael Arlen; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by George Crone; music by Paul Sawtell; produced by Howard Benedict; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring George Sanders (Gay Laurence), Wendy Barrie (Helen Reed), Allen Jenkins (Jonathan G. ‘Goldie’ Locke), Nina Vale (Elinor Benford), Arthur Shields (Inspector Mike Waldeck), Turhan Bey (Manuel Retana), Gladys Cooper (Maxine Wood), Edward Brophy (Detective Bates), Eddie Dunn (Detective Grimes), Lucile Gleason (Vera Gardner), and Willie Fung (Jerry).


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The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947, George S. Kaufman)

The Senator Was Indiscreet is a fun enough little film. It’s little for a few reasons; sadly, the primary one is the budget. Enough of the film takes place in William Powell’s hotel room, one would think it’s a play adaptation.

The story is more ambitious than the finished film can realize. Powell’s a dimwit senator who lucks into being a Presidential contender (thanks to Peter Lind Hayes’s overzealous publicity man). Things go well for Powell, until his diary goes missing, leading to a panic.

Powell’s hilarious; he’s very much against type as the titular senator, who bumbles into things occasionally but also seems aware of his corruption. Indiscreet excels at being universal–it’s not about either party, it’s just about American politics in general. It’s sort of timeless, actually.

Second billed Ella Raines plays the one reporter Powell can’t dupe (and Hayes’s girlfriend) and, except for having almost nothing to do until the last third, is quite good. Ray Collins is great as the party man who has to deal with Powell. Hayes’s performance is more appealing than good.

Arleen Whelan has the other primary supporting role and she brings nothing to it. It might just be because the film’s too constrained to give her character proper treatment.

Director Kaufman tries hard with the reduced budget, but he can only do so much. The production values sometimes injure his inventiveness but he does a fine job keeping the picture moving.

Indiscreet‘s a good time…. with a great final joke.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George S. Kaufman; screenplay by Charles MacArthur, based on a story by Edwin Lanham; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by Sherman A. Rose; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof; produced by Nunnally Johnson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring William Powell (Senator Melvin G. Ashton), Peter Lind Hayes (Lew Gibson), Ella Raines (Poppy McNaughton), Ray Collins (Houlihan), Arleen Whelan (Valerie Shepherd), Allen Jenkins (Farrell), Charles D. Brown (Dinty), Whit Bissell (Oakes) and Hans Conried (The Bolshevik).


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Sh! The Octopus (1937, William C. McGann)

Sh! The Octopus is a painfully unfunny spoof of the “old dark house” genre. Instead of a house, though, it takes place in a lighthouse on a rocky island. That setting should be enough, but it appears Warner only budgeted for the lighthouse model. The action principally takes place inside the lighthouse, in its large central room.

We hear about other rooms… but we never get to see them.

The film opens with John Eldredge taking possession of the lighthouse. The action then awkwardly moves to Allen Jenkins and Hugh Herbert as two moron detectives. Octopus is in this weird, “make fun of the Irish” comedy style. I’ve never really seen anything like it before….

Anyway, Herbert and Jenkins end up at the lighthouse and countless characters magically appear there too. No one seems to remember it’s supposed to be three miles out to sea.

Most of the acting is bad. Herbert’s endearing, but not good. Jenkins is endearing and mediocre. He’s clearly better than the material.

Eldredge is good. Margaret Irving is absolutely fantastic.

Sadly, she’s not in the film enough and, as Eldredge’s romantic interest, Marcia Ralston is terrible. George Rosener’s awful too.

There’s one amazing special effect at the end (and some good ones throughout involving octopus arms), but there’s nothing else. The most amusing part is this strange section with animals performing tricks.

The plot gets really confusing, which got me hoping the payoff would at least be satisfactory.

Unfortunately, it is not. Not one bit.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William C. McGann; screenplay by George Bricker, based on a play by Ralph Spence and a play by Ralph Murphy and Donald Gallaher; director of photography, Arthur L. Todd; edited by Clarence Kolster; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Hugh Herbert (Kelly), Allen Jenkins (Dempsey), Marcia Ralston (Vesta Vernoff), John Eldredge (Paul Morgan), George Rosener (Capt. Hook), Brandon Tynan (Capt. Cobb), Eric Stanley (Police Commissioner Patrick Aloysious Clancy), Margaret Irving (Polly Crane) and Elspeth Dudgeon (Nanny).


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