Tag Archives: Elisha Cook Jr.

Love Crazy (1941, Jack Conway)

Love Crazy has to be the worst film William Powell and Myrna Loy ever made together. Powell started his career in silents, so it’s possible it’s not his worst film, but I’m pretty sure it’s Loy’s. Love Crazy starts incredibly lazy. It doesn’t bother defining either character–they’re just Powell and Loy playing a couple, Powell’s charming, Loy’s enchanting. They’re playing caricatures, not people–Love Crazy would have been much more amusing if it’d been different actors impersonating Powell and Loy, David Niven and Maggie Smith really should have remade it.

But the script’s weakness doesn’t have much to do with the shallow characters. Like I said, Powell’s charming, Loy’s enchanting, they’re certainly actors one can spend ninety minutes with, even if there’s not much of a story. Love Crazy, unfortunately, has a story–and it’s a bad one. The film’s construction is incompetent. The first forty minutes or so take place over one evening, Powell and Loy’s four-year wedding anniversary. The four-year anniversary, according to Wikipedia, is linen or silk. Neither of these play a part in the film, I just got curious. The tradition–according to the expository dialogue–is for Powell and Loy to walk four miles into the country, get on a boat, then have a late dinner. Powell suggests they do it backwards, which sounds like a diverting enough premise for a picture. But they don’t do any of these backwards activities. Instead, Loy’s mother shows up and the evening goes to pot. While Loy’s off running an errand for her now injured mother–at this point, Love Crazy seems like it could be a mix of The Man Who Came to Dinner and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, told over one evening–Powell all of a sudden decides to skip off with ex-girlfriend Gail Patrick.

Here’s where Love Crazy flushes itself out to sea. Loy thinks Powell’s running around with Patrick, Powell protests his innocence, Loy doesn’t believe him and sets out to divorce him, viewer is supposed to believe Powell–even though the evidence is against him–because he’s William Powell; there must be a reasonable explanation. He and Myrna Loy are movie married after all. What Love Crazy never acknowledges is Powell’s character running out on his ailing mother-in-law (she’s annoying) to hang out with ex-girlfriend Patrick after Loy’s made it clear she doesn’t want him seeing her. It’s such a strange scene where Powell decides to scurry out with Patrick, it’s a ludicrous move just to get something going in the plot. Regardless of Powell’s innocence in terms of fidelity, he’s still a heel who ran out because he was inconvenienced by his mother-in-law. It’s lame.

There’s a lot of slapstick and it’s lame too. A scene where Powell gets his neck stuck in an elevator door implies he might get some brain damage, but it’s never explored. It’d be a far better way for the film to have gone. All of Love Crazy suffers similarly–it always could make a better narrative choice and never does.

Conway’s direction is fine. It’s not his fault. Powell and Loy are both fine. Florence Bates is okay as Loy’s mother. She occasionally overplays the annoying mother-in-law, but not often. She’s usually the good guy compared to Powell. Jack Carson’s good as Loy’s new suitor (a terribly underwritten part, in a film of underwritten parts). Patrick’s bad. Vladimir Sokoloff is awesome in a small role.

It’s a terrible film. I’d never seen it before–Evelyn Prentice instead being the worst Loy and Powell pairing I’d seen–and I wish I never did.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Conway; screenplay by William Ludwig, Charles Lederer and David Hertz, based on a story by Hertz and Ludwig; director of photography, Ray June; edited by Ben Lewis; music by David Snell; produced by Pandro S. Berman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Steve Ireland), Myrna Loy (Susan Ireland), Gail Patrick (Isobel Kimble Grayson), Jack Carson (Ward Willoughby), Florence Bates (Mrs. Cooper), Sidney Blackmer (Lawyer George Renny), Sig Ruman (Doctor Wuthering), Vladimir Sokoloff (Dr. David Klugle), Donald MacBride (‘Pinky’ Grayson), Sara Haden (Miss Cecilia Landis), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs. Bristol), Fern Emmett (Martha), Joseph Crehan (Judge), George Meeker (Lawyer DeWest), Clarence Muse (Robert) and Elisha Cook Jr. (Joe).


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Phantom Lady (1944, Robert Siodmak)

There’s a distinct, definite brilliance to Siodmak’s direction. The film itself is unique in casting a woman as the hero in a film noir, essentially Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, while maintaining her as female. Ella Raines’s boss (played, in the film’s only mediocre performance, by Alan Curtis) is falsely convicted, due to perjury. Raines goes after the three perjurers and Siodmak creates, in each case, a magnificent sequence, whether it’s chase or just discomfort. Phantom Lady’s most well-known for the sexually charged scene with Raines and Elisha Cook Jr. at a jam session, but Siodmak’s just as impressive during the subsequent resolution to that scene.

All of or most of Phantom Lady was shot on set and Siodmak even uses matte paintings–quite effectively–for one of the pursuit scenes. Early on, during the trial, Siodmak gets the acknowledgment of artifice out of the way, summarizing the trial with voiceovers, tracking time with a court stenographer’s shorthand, focusing the cameras on Raines and Thomas Gomez (the sympathetic cop). Once that very artificial sequence is out of the way, once the audience has digested it, Siodmak doesn’t have to worry about anyone griping about the sets.

The relationship between Gomez and Raines is particularly interesting, because he’s in that position as the film noir sympathetic cop who shouldn’t be helping but is helping… but he’s also sensitive to Raines’s position (she’s in love with convicted boss Curtis). The two details never conflict for Gomez (and, to some degree, it’s entirely believable Raines would be as dedicated without the emotional investment). It’s a big surprise, seeing such unique gender dynamics in a Universal noir from 1944.

All the performances–besides Curtis’s–are fantastic. Raines is both the Kansas farm girl in love with her boss and the film noir hero without ever toggling between the two. She’s always both… Cook’s good in his scenes, as are Fay Helm and Andrew Tombes. Franchot Tone is great, surrounded by weird statues in an apartment; it looks like the Coens adapted it for Blood Simple.

I think I’ve only seen Phantom Lady once before, but certainly remembered it being good… I just didn’t remember Siodmak’s utterly great direction (or maybe just wasn’t filmically mature enough to appreciate it).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Bernard C. Schoenfeld, based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Elwood Bredell; edited by Arthur Hilton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Franchot Tone (Jack Marlow), Ella Raines (Carol Richman), Alan Curtis (Scott Henderson), Aurora Miranda (Estela Monteiro), Thomas Gomez (Inspector Burgess), Fay Helm (Ann Terry), Elisha Cook Jr. (Cliff Milburn), Andrew Tombes (Mac the bartender), Regis Toomey (Detective Chewing Gum), Joseph Crehan (Detective Tom), Doris Lloyd (Madame Kettisha) and Virginia Brissac (Dr. Helen Chase).


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