Tag Archives: George Zucco

Having Wonderful Crime (1945, A. Edward Sutherland)

Having Wonderful Crime is a perplexing comedy-mystery. The mystery itself is perplexing because it’s so exceptionally convoluted; three screenwriters and four or five red herrings and the picture only runs seventy minutes. The comedy is perplexing because Crime hinges its comedic potential on lead Pat O’Brien. O’Brien is a skirt-chasing Chicago lawyer who lets rich pal George Murphy talk him into solving crimes. Murphy seems to want to do it because he can’t say no to his girlfriend, Carole Landis. Landis wants to do it because… she’s the idle rich?

There’s a brief setup–including a voiceover introducing O’Brien (whose character appeared in more than just Crime from source author Craig Rice–but O’Brien never repeated the role)–which doesn’t just reveal (after there’s been a shootout) Murphy and Landis are now married (without telling best pal O’Brien) but also a bunch of the players in the next mystery. While on the run from the cops (because O’Brien will be in trouble if they’re found at the crime scene), O’Brien, Murphy, and Landis duck into a magic show. There, Crime introduces Lenore Aubert and Richard Martin as starcrossed lovers working for big jerk magician George Zucco.

After the magic show, which ends with Zucco really disappearing, Murphy and Landis break the married news to O’Brien and head off to their honeymoon. Of course, they end up taking O’Brien along, which is good because when they run into Aubert on the road to the resort–almost literally–they’re able to double register and get adjoining honeymoon suites. Of course, while his new fake bride is up in the room unconscious, O’Brien’s down at the bar trying to make time with Gloria Holden, who gets a thankless part as a professional swimmer.

The initial mystery–before there’s a murder–involves a giant chest, which may have a body in it. Once there’s a murder, the chest is still important, but then O’Brien and pals find out Zucco had played the resort the night before and there were strange goings ons at the resort too. Some involving rich spinsters Blanche Ring and Josephine Whittell, as well as resort manager Charles D. Brown and giant scary porter guy William ‘Wee Willie’ Davis. So many suspects, so much opportunity, so little motive but so many exteriors on the resorts grounds shot day-for-night.

Most of Crime is just O’Brien, Murphy, and Landis walking around outside trying to stumble onto a scene to kill a few minutes.

The film’s humor is utterly perplexing. While Murphy and Landis both occasionally exhibit comedic timing, it’s never when they’re together. There are some nods at slapstick, but usually at its aftermath, like no one thinks they could pull off the gag on screen. O’Brien’s got zero comic timing, so most of Crime’s scenes throwing him into comedic situations–often involving the skirt-chasing–fizzle. They don’t exactly flop, because it’s not like anyone’s trying too hard. Director Sutherland sure isn’t and the screenwriters don’t put any energy into building the gags. Crime gently amuses and never tries for anything else.

And it’s fine, since the film doesn’t have the time or cast to go for more. Landis is the only one of the three leads who’s consistently engaging; even when she gets pointless material, which is most of the time (Crime seems to know she’s easily the most charismatic cast member, yet the script gives her a constantly changing character because… I don’t know, idle rich?). Murphy always seems like he’s waiting for broader comedy. O’Brien always seems like he’s waiting for some actual direction. O’Brien’s scenes might actually play better with a laugh track, just because it’d provide some context for what Sutherland and the screenwriters are going for. Without it he just seems like a big jerk and a lech.

Aubert’s a weak ingenue. Martin’s light as her Romeo. Zucco’s underutilized. Ditto poor Holden. Ring and Whittell are great as the rich old spinsters. It’s a shame they aren’t in it more (Whittell isn’t even credited).

The film’s technically competent. Frank Redman’s day-for-night photography doesn’t transcend and it’s quizzical why they’d set so much of the movie outside when they clearly can’t shoot for it, but it’s not bad. Gene Milford’s editing keeps the pace.

Crime is more diverting than engaging or entertaining. Its creative choices make zero sense–who at RKO really thought people would rather sit through a Pat O’Brien vehicle than a Carole Landis one?

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by A. Edward Sutherland; screenplay by Howard J. Green, Parke Levy, and Stewart Sterling, based on a story by Craig Rice; director of photography, Frank Redman; edited by Gene Milford; music by Leigh Harline; produced by Robert Fellows; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Pat O’Brien (Michael J. Malone), George Murphy (Jake Justus), Carole Landis (Helene Justus), Lenore Aubert (Gilda Mayfair), Richard Martin (Lance Richards), Charles D. Brown (Mr. Winslow), Gloria Holden (Phyllis Gray), Blanche Ring (Elizabeth Lenhart), William ‘Wee Willie’ Davis (Zacharias, the Porter), and George Zucco (The Great Movel).



THIS POST IS PART OF A CENTURY OF CAROLE LANDIS BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CHRISTINE OF OVERTURE BOOKS AND FILM.


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The Mummy’s Ghost (1944, Reginald Le Borg)

The Mummy’s Ghost is, with a couple problems, really good for a monster movie (and leagues ahead of Universal’s other 1940s Mummy features). It’s not so much about the Mummy as the victims and the investigation (but the police investigation, not the scientific–and everyone believes in mummies walking around animate, so there’s no convincing to be done).

But it’s a little more than just the approach to the plot, it’s the whole script. The film opens with a great recap of the previous two, with a split expository scene, starting with villain John Carradine (oh, I forgot, John Carradine plays an Arab here) learning about it then splitting to a college lecture for the second half of the story. It’s a neat narrative shift, bringing the entire cast into the film while still doing the recap.

But Carradine isn’t even a major character. He’s important at the end for a scene or two, but mostly the film focuses on Robert Lowery, a college student whose girlfriend (Ramsay Ames) is taking the Mummy’s return poorly, and Harry Shannon’s sheriff, who knows what he’s pursuing but doesn’t know how to do it.

Shannon’s maybe not leading man quality, but he’s fine. Lowery’s good. Ames is all right too, with her terror coming through rather well.

Le Borg’s a somewhat poor director (the Mummy close-ups are staged terribly), but William A. Sickner’s photography–especially the day for night work–is exquisite.

It’s a real downer too, which is just wonderful.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Reginald Le Borg; screenplay by Griffin Jay, Henry Sucher and Brenda Weisberg, based on a story by Jay and Sucher; director of photography, William A. Sickner; edited by Saul A. Goodkind; music by Frank Skinner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring John Carradine (Yousef Bey), Robert Lowery (Tom Hervey), Ramsay Ames (Amina Mansouri), Barton MacLane (Inspector Walgreen), George Zucco (Andoheb, High Priest of Arkan), Frank Reicher (Prof. Matthew Norman), Harry Shannon (Sheriff Elwood), Emmett Vogan (Coroner), Lester Sharpe (Dr. Ayad, Scripps Museum), Claire Whitney (Mrs. Ella Norman) and Lon Chaney Jr. (Kharis).

The Mummy’s Hand (1940, Christy Cabanne)

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this film.

There’s no discernible reason for it to be called The Mummy’s Hand. I can only guess it has to do with the way they cut the trailer, maybe having the hand come out as a shocker.

It’s not a traditional Universal horror film; it’s one of the first where they cut the budget. Until this point, the films were higher profile (the first three Frankenstein films, even Dracula’s Daughter).

The script is lousy, but it also introduces these bad comic elements–mostly from Wallace Ford, playing the idiot sidekick. The film also has George Zucco as the villain (not the mummy, but the mummy’s master). It’s impossible to take Zucco seriously as a villain in this one–especially since he’s a lecherous villain, lusting after Peggy Moran in these creepy scenes.

She probably gives the film’s best performance; she doesn’t have much competition. Dick Foran’s the lead, who is almost as dumb as Ford.

Cecil Kellaway is good as Moran’s father. Charles Trowbridge as the smart guy who helps the two morons, he’s fine.

Watching The Mummy’s Hand, you can see it as a straight comedy, with the bang, pop, zows of the 1960s “Batman” show, with a laugh track. They kind of need a laugh track. They ape lines from Dracula. It feels desperate.

Vera West gives Moran an amusing Egyptian desert nightgown and Jack P. Pierce’s makeup is great.

It’s hard to make it through the seventy minutes.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christy Cabanne; screenplay by Griffin Jay and Maxwell Shane, based on a story by Jay; director of photography, Elwood Bredell; edited by Philip Cahn; music by Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner; produced by Ben Pivar; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dick Foran (Steve Banning), Peggy Moran (Marta Solvani), Wallace Ford (Babe Jenson), Eduardo Ciannelli (The High Priest), George Zucco (Professor Andoheb), Cecil Kellaway (The Great Solvani), Charles Trowbridge (Dr. Petrie of the Cairo Museum), Tom Tyler (Kharis, the Mummy) and Sig Arno (The Beggar).


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