Tag Archives: Dick Powell

It Happened Tomorrow (1944, René Clair)

At first blush—with the way too obvious exception of Jack Oakie—It Happened Tomorrow seemingly has all the parts needed for success. Seemingly. Dick Powell’s an affable lead; only the role requires no heavy-lifting, which is problematic considering he spends much of the film in one mortal danger or another. Linda Darnell’s an appealing love interest; only she gets less than squat to do in the film. Director Clair does really well with some of the sequences; only other ones he doesn’t. Powell and Darnell are at least consistent—he’s consistently affable and his role consistently requires very little, she’s consistently appealing and she consistently gets treated like scenery. Sometimes inanimate scenery. Clair’s frustratingly back and forth.

Tomorrow has some really saccharine bookends, which Clair and co-screenwriter Dudley Nichols sort of bungle. It goes on way too long, it’s never as cute as Clair seems to think, and it’s just there to manipulate audience expectation. The film then settles into the flashback setting—the late nineteenth century (as embodied by studio backlot) newspaperman Powell has just gotten his big promotion to reporter. He’s written his requisite 500 obituaries, it’s time for the front page. Only he’s nervous about it (and completely blotto); kindly newspaper archivist John Philliber talks fancifully about how if only Powell had tomorrow’s paper, he’d know what he was going to do. Powell doesn’t think much of it and goes out for more drinking, ending up at Oakie and Darnell’s magic show.

It’s love at first sight for Powell and Darnell (well, Powell anyway). Oakie’s her protective uncle, who starts the film with a bad Italian accent, which later disappears without any comment because apparently he’s not actually Italian. It never gets mentioned but it’s also not like you could tell if Oakie was doing a bad sincere Italian accent or a bad insincere one. His performance is abysmal. It must have played different in 1944 because Clair lets him crowd everyone out of his scenes with these protracted deliveries. They never amount to anything. The main plot is Powell and the future newspapers Philliber (who’s not good) ends up giving him, but the ostensible main subplot about Powell and Darnell becomes Powell and Oakie. Once Darnell gets some potential, the film dumps her back into the set dressing category.

At least guys aren’t just ogling her then.

Everyone’s ignoring her. I’m not even sure she’s in some of the shots she’s supposedly in. At one point she doesn’t get to participate in Powell trying to get rich quick because nineteenth century sexism but it’s a movie about magical newspapers so why can’t Clair and Nichols let her into the betting room?

Because there’s not enough room. Because Oakie’s already pushing Powell out.

The first half or so Tomorrow is okay build-up; the second half is constant disappointment.

Edward Brophy has a small part as the betting guy and you wish you could hug him. The film doesn’t have very many wholly successful performances, big parts or small. For example, Edgar Kennedy ought to be great as the police inspector who knows something’s up with Powell and his fortuneteller reporting-style, but it’s—again—a lousy part.

There are a couple great moments in the film. Powell and Darnell’s first date, where they get distracted by their chemistry. And when Darnell’s got to wear one of Powell’s suits. There’s some promise in that scene. Shame Darnell gets downgraded right after it.

The scene where she protests she won’t be treated like anyone’s property then somehow gets treated even worse is foreboding, but even it doesn’t foretell the excessive use of Oakie in the second half.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by René Clair; screenplay by Helene Fraenkel, Dudley Nichols, and Clair, based on a play by Lord Dunsany and a story by Hugh Wedlock Jr. and Howard Snyder; directors of photography, Eugen Schüfftan and Archie Stout; edited by Fred Pressburger; music by Robert Stolz; produced by Arnold Pressburger; released by United Artists.

Starring Dick Powell (Lawrence Stevens), Linda Darnell (Sylvia), Jack Oakie (Cigolini), Edgar Kennedy (Inspector Mulrooney), John Philliber (Pop Benson), and George Cleveland (Mr. Gordon).


This post is part of the Made in 1944 Blogathon hosted by Robin of Pop Culture Reverie.

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Murder, My Sweet (1944, Edward Dmytryk)

Murder, My Sweet takes a peculiar approach to the detective story. Lead Dick Powell graciously lets everyone overshadow him in scenes; he doesn’t exactly fumble his way through his investigation, but he does befuddle his way through it. He’s the audience’s point of entry into the mystery and he’s just as confused as anyone else. Or is he? The film runs just around ninety minutes, with a bookending device; director Dmytryk is all about precision with how the audience (and Powell) experience those ninety minutes.

The film opens with Powell being very jokey, which is nearly off-putting. He doesn’t seem to take anything seriously enough, not being questioned by the police, not having man mountain Mike Mazurki threaten him. Powell’s not exactly passive in his scenes, but he’s certainly not active. Dmytryk and screenwriter John Paxton set Powell’s id loose, but more in a way to get the audience situated. Once you buy into the vague unreality of Mazurki’s giant, somewhat lovable moron, you can accept Mazurki as serious. The same goes for the male supporting cast, Otto Kruger and Miles Mander. The film eases the viewer into accepting them beyond face value. It’s awesome because one might think Dmytryk would be too busy with the many technical aspects of Murder.

Dmytryk lets the film wander (carefully, of course) through Harry J. Wild’s photography. Dmytryk even shows it off at times, with characters turning on and off the lights, playing with the idea of what the light hides and the darkness reveals. During the first act, when Powell’s more amiable than anything else, it’s a very strange, then wonderful disconnect. Especially once Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley show up.

Trevor is the femme fatale, Shirley is the good girl. Neither dominate the plot, but Paxton does a great job implying their presence and their importance when they aren’t around. Powell has great chemistry with both, which should be another place the film fails from the disconnect but instead succeeds–they’re different types of characters, Powell’s chemistry with each actor is different. Powell doesn’t get a character arc, not an internal one, but watching Murder, My Sweet is about figuring him out.

Great music from Roy Webb. Great editing from Joseph Noriega.

All of the acting is outstanding. Trevor, Shirley, Mazurki and Mander all get multiple amazing scenes. Kruger is good too, but he’s the closest to a Powell analogue in terms of style. They get to be playful, no one else does.

Paxton’s script is awesome and Dmytryk’s direction manages to be consistently surprising. He always finds a new way angle, whether it’s for a mood shot or just some dialogue. The film’s style is constantly building on itself. It’s fantastic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edward Dmytryk; screenplay by John Paxton, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler; director of photography, Harry J. Wild; edited by Joseph Noriega; music by Roy Webb; produced by Adrian Scott; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dick Powell (Philip Marlowe), Claire Trevor (Helen Grayle), Anne Shirley (Ann Grayle), Miles Mander (Leuwen Grayle), Mike Mazurki (Moose Malloy), Otto Kruger (Jules Amthor), Donald Douglas (Police Lieutenant Randall), Paul Phillips (Detective Nulty), Ralf Harolde (Dr. Sonderborg), Douglas Walton (Lindsay Marriott) and Esther Howard (Jessie Florian).


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Cry Danger (1951, Robert Parrish)

Cry Danger is a strange film noir… it takes place almost exclusively during the day. It also relies almost solely on humor to move itself along through the first act–not Dick Powell, who spends the whole film with a slightly bemused look on his face, but Richard Erdman. Erdman’s the whole reason to watch Cry Danger… when he’s not around, I just kept waiting for him to show up again. He never disappointed.

Erdman’s so important because Cry Danger is not a particularly involving mystery. It establishes the good guys and the bad guys very early and doesn’t do much to make things interesting between the setup and the resolution. The problem is the lack of a mystery and the foils throughout are spare. Eventually, everything comes to rest on Powell’s shoulders. He’s got to carry the movie through and, while he’s able to do it, it’s at the expense of quite a bit.

The story takes place over three or four days and is occasionally confusing–someone refers to last night and it really seemed like it should have been two nights. But these mistakes (or confounding moments) are forgivable, because Powell’s journey–even if everything is predictable–is fun to watch. Powell knows how to do these roles and he fulfills the genre requirements, but he takes it much further–his character is very likable and without that affection, it’d be hard to get through Cry Danger.

One of the more interesting elements in the film is the excessive violence. Powell beats William Conrad mercilessly twice in the film, both times probably in the second act, and I’d never seen anything like these scenes in any films of the same era. They’re almost 1994 Tarantino-esque. (So Powell turning out to be the hero, who also happens to beat people with sculptures, makes for an odd situation).

But Cry Danger (the title has nothing to do with the film) also uses another neat trick to get around not having a compelling story. A lot of the action takes place in a trailer court and something about returning to the familiar setting, along with peculiar confinement (it’s not inside and it’s open enough for the characters to move around, but it’s also set aside and closed off…), make Cry Danger an enjoyable eighty minutes.

Besides Erdman, who’s so good, and Powell, who’s sturdy and can carry this kind of film without any help, there are also some good performances from Regis Toomey and Conrad. Rhonda Fleming is underwhelming (and the film never reveals how she manages to get so fixed up while living in a trailer), but Jean Porter is kind of good. Porter’s in most of her scenes with Erdman and it’s hard to tell.

Film noirs are not supposed to get by on charm… but Cry Danger does and does so well.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Parrish; screenplay by William Bowers, based on a story by Jerome Cady; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; music by Paul Dunlap and Emil Newman; produced by W.R. Frank and Sam Wiesenthal; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dick Powell (Rocky Mulloy), Rhonda Fleming (Nancy Morgan), Richard Erdman (Delong), William Conrad (Louie Castro), Regis Toomey (Cobb), Jean Porter (Darlene LaVonne), Jay Adler (Williams) and Joan Banks (Alice Fletcher).


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