Tag Archives: Henry Sharp

Sentence of Death (1953, Matt Harlib)

Sentence of Death unfolds gradually. The action mostly follows Betsy Palmer, playing a naughty blue blood who the tabloids love to cover. She’s slumming it and having a nice private dinner at a drug store. She’s there when someone holds it up and kills the owner.

Enter cops Gene Lyons and Ralph Dunn. Lyons is the younger, more sensitive one. Dunn is the older, lazy one. They round up suspects based on previous behavior and new widow Virginia Vincent identifies James Dean as the murderer. Palmer does not, but also doesn’t say it isn’t him for sure.

Dunn railroads Dean with Lyons nodding along, albeit hesitantly.

Jump ahead until after Dean’s convicted and on death row (hence the title) and Palmer happens to see the man she saw that night. She tries to convince the cops without much success and has to threaten to use her tabloid platform if they don’t investigate. Eventually she convinces Lyons to look into the matter.

When Sentence opens, Palmer’s just annoying. Adrian Spies’s teleplay goes out of its way to make her unlikable. Same goes for Dunn. Dean gets some great material–or just does great things with it–as he realizes he’s in a lot of trouble. For most of that time, before the story jumps ahead, Lyons is just along for the ride. He perturbed banters with Palmer, not much else.

Once they partner to investigate, however, Lyons gets a lot better. Dunn’s failures as a responsible cop wear Lyons down. He also can’t help finding himself interested in Palmer, who proves to have a bit more depth than anyone thought she did.

Palmer’s good once the action gets started. Dean’s only got a couple scenes, he’s excellent in both. Lyons gets good too, though more than anyone else in Sentence he gets too stagy, too exaggerated. Director Harlib doesn’t do much to rein in performances.

Sentence of Death has a surprising twist at the end, some excellent character development, and some nice performances. The wrap up is a little rushed. Not too much, but a little.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Matt Harlib; teleplay by Adrian Spies, based on a story by Thomas Walsh; “Studio One” created by Fletcher Markle; produced by John Haggott; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Gene Lyons (Sgt. Paul Cochran), Betsy Palmer (Ellen Morrison), Ralph Dunn (Sgt. MacReynolds), James Dean (Joe Palica), Virginia Vincent (Mrs. Sawyer), Tony Bickley (Tommy Elliott), Fred J. Scollay (Harry Sawyer), Henry Sharp (Eugene Krantz), Eda Heinemann (Sylvia Krantz), Charles Mendick (District Attorney Lugash), and Frank Biro (The Man).


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The Mysterious Doctor (1943, Benjamin Stoloff)

Apparently, the last time I saw The Mysterious Doctor (in 2001), I didn’t think much of it, rating it at one and a half. It’s a little low, since the film transcends propaganda, which many 1940s propaganda films did, but The Mysterious Doctor does it in interesting ways. Its mood isn’t the usual for a propaganda film. Instead of an espionage thriller or a war film, it’s a ghost story. The first time I saw the film, I compared it–as many do–to a Universal monster movie of the same era. It’s actually not. If it emulates any form, it’s a Val Lewton film. While the setting–a small English village–and the frequent fog might suggest the Universal films, The Mysterious Doctor spends a lot of time on bit characters, something the Universal films had long since stopped doing by 1942. There’s also something else… humor. The Mysterious Doctor has some gags and funny lines; there’s a definite emphasis on amusing the audience.

The film’s pace has a lot to do with its success. It runs under an hour and probably has a present action of three or four days yet, there are subplots and, until the awkwardly staged finale, some rather good performances. Warner used to use their “B” pictures to groom actors for the “A” films and, in Mysterious Doctor, it’s pretty obvious who they were grooming–Eleanor Parker. Though she doesn’t show up until ten or twelve minutes into the film (with a fifty-seven minute picture, that delay is considerable), once she does, she’s the film’s protagonist, with a rather forceful performance. She’s got some good scenes and she gives one particularly great speech, chastising the terrified men of the village. John Loder’s perfectly sturdy–until the end, when most things are falling apart anyway–and their two performances make up for the weaker ones… particularly Bruce Lester, who isn’t terrible, but he’s flimsy.

Technically speaking, Stoloff’s is decent, more impressive when he’s not doing the thriller aspects of the film. I can’t remember if the script’s predictable–I remembered one of the major twists a few minutes into the film and it seems pretty obvious, so it probably is an unsurprising experience, which is fine. It’s a nice package.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Benjamin Stoloff; written by Richard Weil; director of photography, Henry Sharp; edited by Clarence Koster; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Loder (Sir Henry Leland), Eleanor Parker (Letty Carstairs), Bruce Lester (Lt. Christopher ‘Kit’ Hilton), Lester Matthew (Dr. Frederick Holmes), Forrester Harvey (Hugh Penhryn) and Matt Willis (Bart Redmond).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 1: DREAM FACTORY.