Tag Archives: James Bell

I Walked with a Zombie (1943, Jacques Tourneur)

Before it stumbles through its third act, I Walked with a Zombie’s biggest problem is the pacing. It’s exceedingly boring during the second act. Its second biggest problem is it’s too short. The second act plays so poorly because there’s not enough going on, there’s just not time for it in sixty-eight minutes.

Otherwise, the film’s wondrous. Tourneur’s direction is sublime, beautiful music from Roy Webb, luscious black and white photography from J. Roy Hunt and these amazing sets. The film takes place on a small Caribbean island, with a nurse (Frances Dee) caring for a strangely ill woman. The nurse discovers she’s the fourth wheel on a love triangle between the woman and two brothers (Tom Conway and James Ellison).

The great performances from Conway and Ellison can’t make up for them disappearing occasionally for relatively long stretches. Dee’s fine in the lead–a more dynamic performance might have helped with the second act but nothing can fix the ending. Nice performances from James Bell, Edith Barrett and Theresa Harris too.

Some of the problem is the script, obviously. Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray accelerate the romance between Dee and Conway and don’t actually give them a courtship. Instead, Ellison gets those scenes. And it’s never clear if Harris is a villain or not. Not to mention there being a mystery angle introduced late in the second act. It’s all a mess.

It’s a beautiful one, but Zombie’s often magnificent pieces don’t add up to a successful picture.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray, based on a story by Inez Wallace; director of photography, J. Roy Hunt; edited by Mark Robson; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Frances Dee (Betsy Connell), Tom Conway (Paul Holland), James Ellison (Wesley Rand), Edith Barrett (Mrs. Rand), James Bell (Dr. Maxwell), Christine Gordon (Jessica Holland), Theresa Harris (Alma), Sir Lancelot (Calypso Singer) and Darby Jones (Carrefour).


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The Leopard Man (1943, Jacques Tourneur)

The Leopard Man has such beauteous production values–one would never think it was a low budget picture, not with Robert De Grasse’s lush blacks and he and director Tourneur’s tracking shots–it’s a shame the acting fails the film.

A lot of the problem the script. Co-screenwriters Ardel Wray and Edward Dein try hard to show Hispanic culture in a New Mexico town, both in the dialogue and the tone. Sadly, they fail miserably. The script seems to be showing the townspeople as solemnly dignified, but it comes off as callow and ignorant.

Tourneur follows prospective victims around to ratchet up the fear factor, which is a fine approach, but the actors are just terrible. Second-billed Margo gives such an awful performance–not to mention her character being a lousy human being in general–every time the titular monster takes a victim, it’s sad it’s not her. Her fellow ingenues, Margaret Landry and Tuulikki Paananen, are both awful too.

In the ostensible female lead, Jean Brooks is good but she has almost nothing to do. She and leading man Dennis O’Keefe are literally visitors in The Leopard Man; the film downgrades their presence to a subplot.

Good supporting work from James Bell and Abner Biberman helps. Ben Bard is iffy as the cop.

Great music from Roy Webb, excellent cutting from Mark Robson. Tourneur’s composition is outstanding no matter the scene. The Leopard Man is a technical delight to behold… it’s a shame about the middling stuff.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Ardel Wray and Edward Dein, based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Mark Robson; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dennis O’Keefe (Jerry Manning), Jean Brooks (Kiki Walker), James Bell (Dr. Galbraith), Ben Bard (Chief Roblos), Abner Biberman (Charlie How-Come), Margaret Landry (Teresa Delgado), Tuulikki Paananen (Consuelo Contreras), Isabel Jewell (Maria the Fortune Teller) and Margo (Clo-Clo).


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The Spiral Staircase (1945, Robert Siodmak)

The Spiral Staircase opens with this lovely homage to silent cinema. Director Siodmak takes great care with the setting in time–Nicholas Musuraca’s sumptuous cinematography helps–and then Spiral becomes a waiting game. Certainly if Siodmak took such great care with one sequence, he’ll return to that level of care again….

However, he does not. The rest of Spiral is exposition and contrivance. It takes place in the evening of the same day, with mute maid Dorothy McGuire vaguely convinced her life is in danger (she was at the pictures, but for no narrative reason). Siodmak and screenwriter Mel Dinelli don’t know what to do with a mute protagonist so they basically shove McGuire aside for the vocal supporting cast members. They do give her a love interest, a tepid Kent Smith, and one inexplicable daydream sequence.

The rest of the supporting cast is fantastic–George Brent, Elsa Lanchester, Sara Allgood and Gordon Oliver. Ethel Barrymore, as McGuire’s employer and friend, is okay. The material isn’t there for her. Dinelli doesn’t know how to structure his script, though he and Siodmak do pass time well. Until the final third, Spiral sails by. Maybe because, as I initially mentioned, one assumes Siodmak is going to do something sublime again.

The Roy Webb music is good, the editing from Harry W. Gerstad and Harry Marker is not. Once Siodmak gets inside the house where eighty percent of the story takes place, he’s infrequently exceptional. His inserts are awful.

Spiral is extremely disappointing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Mel Dinelli, based on a novel by Ethel Lina White; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Harry W. Gerstad and Harry Marker; music by Roy Webb; produced by Dore Schary; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dorothy McGuire (Helen Capel), George Brent (Professor Albert Warren), Ethel Barrymore (Mrs. Warren), Kent Smith (Dr. Brian Parry), Rhonda Fleming (Blanche), Gordon Oliver (Steve Warren), Elsa Lanchester (Mrs. Oates), Sara Allgood (Nurse Barker), Rhys Williams (Mr. Oates), James Bell (The Constable) and Erville Alderson (Dr. Harvey).


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Private Detective 62 (1933, Michael Curtiz)

Private Detective 62 is not much of a mystery. Except perhaps the title, which has nothing to do with the film so far as I could tell. Instead, it’s an interesting drama taking place at a detective agency. William Powell plays a diplomatic agent who gets busted by the French while on assignment and gets fired, so he has to find a job. Five minutes later–and a lot of looking in a nice montage–and he’s a private detective. Except the agency owner oscillates between dumb and evil, making things interesting for Powell, who’s trying to run a helpful detective agency… not one trapping wives in precarious situations to help their husbands divorce.

It’s no surprise Powell’s good–the story moves around quite a bit in the first act, giving him more to do than be a moral detective–or Michael Curtiz. Curtiz doesn’t have many jaw-dropping sequences in this one (he had such sequences in the early 1930s, including one in a Philo Vance starring Powell), but he does an excellent job throughout. Unfortunately, Curtiz’s excitement behind the camera isn’t matched by the screenplay, which is disinterested in itself.

Arthur Hohl is pretty good as the villain, James Bell is better as his stooge. Margaret Lindsay is a fine romantic interest for Powell, even if her character gets stupid at times and it’s absolutely unbelievable she ever would.

The film’s not particularly involving–at one point I realized I didn’t even care if Lindsay and Powell got together at the end–but Powell’s performance carries it and it’s really well made by Curtiz.

It’s also very interesting as a social document–the film deals both with the Depression (one prospective employer tells Powell he should have stayed in Europe) and Prohibition. Very interesting to see how people talked about the issues contemporaneously–has got to be the first time I’ve used that word.

The location shooting–not sure if it was on the lot, IMDb reveals no information–is excellent as well. On the technical side, however, there may have been some significant editing defects.

But still… a fine way to spend sixty-seven minutes.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; screenplay by Rian James, based on a story by Raoul Whitfield; director of photography, Tony Gaudio; edited by Harold McLernon; released by Warner Bros.

Starring William Powell (Don Free), Margaret Lindsay (Janet Reynolds), Ruth Donnelly (Amy Moran), Gordon Westcott (Tony Bandor), Arthur Hohl (Dan Hogan), Natalie Moorhead (Mrs. Helen Burns), James Bell (Whitey) and Hobart Cavanaugh (Harcourt S. Burns).


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