Tag Archives: Ella Raines

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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Enter Arsene Lupin (1944, Ford Beebe)

It’s hard to find anything good about Enter Arsene Lupin. Ella Raines isn’t as bad as the other primary cast members, though she’s not as good as some of the bit players. The film does hold some historical value both in the use of the Universal European backlot set for England–apparently, 1944 London looks a lot like a German town in the 1850s–and for director Beebe and screenwriter Bertram Millhauser’s insistence on xenophobia.

The French are, with the exception of lead Charles Korvin, treated as either blithering idiots or lovable simpletons. The English are a little better, but not much. The Greeks are worst of all, getting a particularly harsh treatment in dialogue. Americans, unrepresented in the film, must be the best.

The anti-French sentiment comes out most strikingly in J. Carrol Naish. He’s a moronic police inspector who talks nonsense, with a terrible accent, and the British treat him accordingly (like he’s a fool). But Korvin’s sidekick, George Dolenz–he cooks, of course–doesn’t get much better treatment.

Hungarian Korvin doesn’t even attempt a French accent. He’s just blandly European. He’s also supposed to be charming–he’s a gentleman thief, after all–but it doesn’t come off.

Some of the problem is Korvin, some’s Millhauser’s weak script, but most of it is Beebe’s inept direction. From the first scene, it’s clear Beebe can’t stage a scene for suspense or dialogue. The best directed moments of Arsene Lupin are the insert location shots.

It’s a dreadful picture.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Ford Beebe; screenplay by Bertram Millhauser, based on a character created by Maurice Leblanc; director of photography, Hal Mohr; edited by Saul A. Goodkind; music by Milton Rosen; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Charles Korvin (Arsene Lupin), Ella Raines (Stacie Kanares), J. Carrol Naish (Ganimard), George Dolenz (Dubose), Gale Sondergaard (Bessie Seagrave), Miles Mander (Charles Seagrave), Leyland Hodgson (Constable Ryder), Tom Pilkington (Pollett), Lillian Bronson (Wheeler), Holmes Herbert (Jobson), Charles La Torre (Inspector Cogswell), Gerald Hamer (Doc Marling), Ted Cooper (Cartwright), Art Foster (Superintendent), Clyde Kenney (Beckwith) and Alphonse Martell (Conductor).


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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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The Runaround (1946, Charles Lamont)

It takes a while for The Runaround to get started… actually, I suppose it’d more accurate to say it stalls out after the first fifteen minutes, then takes another twenty or so to get started again. The film starts out strong with Frank McHugh in a sidekick role–McHugh’s perfect in that role–and lead Rod Cameron is appealing (even if he’s not the most emotive actor). The first fifteen minutes are a comedic chase between Cameron and opponent (they’re private detectives competing–whoever brings home the missing heiress wins) Broderick Crawford. Crawford’s really broad in this role, so broad it got me thinking about the use of the term to describe performances. It doesn’t hurt the film much (though, obviously, a really good performance would have been nice), but it is a surprise coming from Crawford. There’s not much in the script, but it’s open enough he could have done something with it.

Then Ella Raines shows up (as the missing heiress) and the movie stalls out. The script tries to force her in to the existing chance and competition sequences already going and it starts getting tiresome around the forty minute mark. The characters had been moving east–from California–for a few minutes with the same gags going on, then there’s a wonderfully choreographed chase scene involving a dozen taxis and… the movie changes. A lot has to do with Raines’s character developing, but it also changes tone. The Runaround changes, almost immediately, in to a great road movie. There’s still the competition and chase elements, but they become third and fourth, behind the romance and the road movie.

Lamont is a particularly good fight scene director–I’m pretty sure the scene where Crawford knocks the door shut with a jump kick is really him–and he has some other nice sequences. Most of them are on the road… It’s nice how the movie can skirt taking too long to get where it’s going and putting in some substandard minutes and not call attention to the obvious quality shift (oddly, the less McHugh is in the story, the better the movie). It plays like it needed a rewrite, like the writers figured out certain aspects of the story when writing the script, then never went back to tighten up the scenes.

There are also quite a few good more traditional comedy moments (particularly the hotel with the annoyingly friendly employees or the husband and wife who are supposed to be acting like newlyweds, but after six years and three kids, find the idea repugnant) and they contribute to The Runaround’s success. But most of the credit belongs to Cameron and Raines’s chemistry, even if she’s done far better work in other films (though, like I said before, the script works against her for her first fifteen minutes or so).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Lamont; screenplay by Sam Hellman and Arthur T. Horman, based on a story by Horman and Walter Wise; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Joseph Gershenson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Ella Raines (Penelope), Rod Cameron (Kildane), Broderick Crawford (Louis Prentiss), Frank McHugh (Wally Quayle), George Cleveland (Feenan the cabbie), Joan Shawlee (Baby Willis), Samuel S. Hinds (Norman Hampton), Joe Sawyer (Hutchins), Nana Bryant (Mrs. Mildred Hampton), Dave Willock (Willis), Charles Coleman (Butler) and Jack Overman (Cusack).


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