Tag Archives: James Burke

Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring (1941, James P. Hogan)

Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring‘s title confuses me for a couple reasons. First, Ralph Bellamy’s Ellery Queen disappears for long stretches of the seventy-minute runtime. When he does show up, he usually makes a mistake or overlooks something, then someone else comes in and gets the investigation back on track. Second is the Murder Ring. There isn’t one in the movie. Not in either obvious usage of the word “ring.”

Most of Murder Ring takes place at a hospital–wait a second, they never solve the inciting mystery in the film. It gets so confused, everyone (including the viewer, hopefully) forgets.

Anyway, most of the picture involves two bumbling crooks, played by Paul Hurst and Tom Dugan, trying to escape from the hospital. They’re worried they’re murder suspects, so they assault cops, kidnap girls and so on to escape and prove their innocence.

Did I mention Murder Ring is really dumb?

The hospital hijinks probably take more than a third of the runtime–maybe forty minutes of it–and then the case gets solved in the last fifteen. Bellamy doesn’t do much solving. His assistant, an appealing Margaret Lindsay does most of the work… even though she’s not much brighter than Bellamy. They do have decent chemistry though.

Mona Barrie and James Burke give the best supporting performances. Hurst’s W.C. Fields impression gets tiresome.

Hogan’s direction is adequate, but Dwight Caldwell’s editing is awful.

It’s probably most useful as an example of why whodunits shouldn’t be slapstick.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James P. Hogan; screenplay by Eric Taylor and Gertrude Purcell, based on a story by Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee; director of photography, James S. Brown Jr.; edited by Dwight Caldwell; music by Zee Zahler; produced by Larry Darmour; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Ralph Bellamy (Ellery Queen), Margaret Lindsay (Nikki Porter), Charley Grapewin (Insp. Queen), Mona Barrie (Nurse Marian Tracy), Paul Hurst (Page), James Burke (Sgt. Velie), Leon Ames (John Stack), George Zucco (Dr. Edwin L. Jannery), Blanche Yurka (Mrs. Augusta Stack), Charlotte Wynters (Miss Fox), Tom Dugan (Lou Thomas), Olin Howland (Dr. Williams), Dennis Moore (Dr. Dunn), Jean Fenwick (Alice Stack) and Pierre Watkin (Crothers).


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The Mystery Man (1935, Ray McCarey)

I hope Robert Armstrong got paid well for The Mystery Man, because it doesn’t do him any other good. While it’s nice to see Armstrong in a lead role, the film’s so incompetently produced, it’s sometimes painful. Armstrong acts well but director McCarey doesn’t know how to compose shots. You’ll get what should be a close-up as a medium shot. Of course, the script’s bad too so Armstrong’s working against it too.

The plot isn’t terrible—Armstrong’s a newspaper reporter with more ego than sense who finds himself broke after a week-long bender. He meets Maxine Doyle, who’s in similar financial straits. The problem with the film is mostly Doyle. If she were any good, the film might be charming, regardless of technical merits and writing. But she’s awful—just painfully bad.

But so’s the rest of the supporting cast. Armstrong’s sidekicks, played by James P. Burtis, Monte Collins and Sam Lufkin, all awful. His bosses—Henry Kolker and James Burke—awful. Guy Usher turns in the closest thing to a decent performance, but he’s not good by any stretch.

Meanwhile, there’s Armstrong moving through these inept actors, trying to do what he can with the bad dialogue, on the incredibly cheap sets (the hotel suite appears to be the newspaper editor’s office too, based on the wall design)… and he maintains some dignity.

The concept isn’t bad; it could have been a good leading man vehicle for Armstrong… instead of an unfortunate, disappointing entry in his filmography.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ray McCarey; screenplay by John W. Krafft and Rollo Lloyd, based on a story by Tate Finn and an adaptation by William A. Johnston; director of photography, Harry Neumann; edited by Carl Pierson; released by Monogram Pictures.

Starring Robert Armstrong (Larry Doyle), Maxine Doyle (Anne Ogilvie), Henry Kolker (Jo-Jo), LeRoy Mason (The Eel), James Burke (Managing Editor Marvin), Guy Usher (District Attorney Johnson), James P. Burtis (Whalen), Monte Collins (Dunn), Sam Lufkin (Weeks), Otto Fries (Nate), Norman Houston (T. Fulton Whistler), Dell Henderson (Mr. Clark), Lee Shumway (Plainclothes Man) and Sam Flint (Jerome Roberts).


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Beau Geste (1939, William A. Wellman)

Beau Geste is a colonial adventure, European soldiers under siege in the Arabian desert. There’s some imagination to the telling, but not at all enough. The strangest thing about the film is the title–Gary Cooper plays Beau Geste, who in some ways is the least of the film’s characters. I think Cooper must get the littlest screen time of the main actors and the film often feels absent of his presence.

The problem stems from the structure. Geste opens with the discovery of a mystery–a desert fort, all the soldiers dead, but a peculiar confession in one of the men’s hands and two shots fired by a ghost. It’s all very Arthur Conan Doyle, except the viewer has to wait almost two hours to discover the solution (well, not really… just the entire solution… from the first flashback, the general answer is clear). After the first scene, the action goes back fifteen years to that revealing flashback. Then there’s a second mystery–this one of great importance–hinted at. It’s not a real mystery because the viewer is deceived into thinking he or she has seen all the relevant action. But it’s of great importance in the end and to a character’s entire motivation. Without it, the film makes little sense–and at the end, there’s a big finger snapping, “of course” moment. It’s a lousy moment, of course, and ruins the film’s already bad denouement.

When the film does get back to the present day and starts toward unraveling the mystery of the first scene, it starts kind of well. The scenes with Cooper, Robert Preston and Ray Milland as wealthy brothers in English luxury are fine. Cooper and Preston have a decent moment together and Milland’s appealing enough romancing Susan Hayward. Both Hayward and G.P. Huntley are useless in any narrative sense, but whatever, the film’s at least trying to be interesting in these scenes.

It lasts only a few minutes, unfortunately. Then there’s another big mystery (tying in to the first scene’s mystery) and it’s off to the Foreign Legion. I always thought Beau Geste was a big adventure story, but the film’s mostly just the three brothers (until Preston goes off to a different fort) and their vicious sergeant, poorly played by Brian Donlevy. It isn’t really Donlevy’s fault–his character has absolutely no depth. He’s a standard movie bad guy, absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever (not even after Cooper observes one about him). The film plays him as pure nefariousness and most of the film’s running time suffers from it. Beau Geste is a mutiny thriller.

William A. Wellman does a mediocre job directing the film, which really hurts it. He has some grandiose scale at the beginning, but losses it immediately in the flashback and never gets it back. The film’s beautifully photographed by Theodor Sparkuhl and Archie Stout, but Thomas Scott’s editing is the pits. Every time Wellman’s action scenes start to look good, there’s a distracting jump-cut. Cooper shoots at the left of the screen and his target gets hit from a bullet moving left to right. The sets are nice too.

Preston has some good moments (Milland gets stuck with a lot of weak moments) and Cooper’s fine when he’s around; the film doesn’t really have any standout performances. J. Carrol Naish is bad as Donlevy’s stooge–probably giving the film’s worst performance–and the less said about the cowboy legionnaires the better. Harold Huber does have a nice small role, however.

Another big problem with Beau Geste is how familiar it all seems… like the source novel was nothing but a creative plagiarism of The Four Feathers. But not having read the novel, it’s impossible to say what went wrong–the adaptation or the story itself. Beau Geste is a monotonous chore to get through, especially as the ending rolls downhill for the last seven or ten minutes.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Robert Carson, based on the novel by Percival Christopher Wren; directors of photography, Theodor Sparkuhl and Archie Stout; edited by Thomas Scott; music by Alfred Newman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Gary Cooper (Michael ‘Beau’ Geste), Ray Milland (John Geste), Robert Preston (Digby Geste), Brian Donlevy (Sgt. Markoff), Susan Hayward (Isobel Rivers), J. Carrol Naish (Rasinoff), Albert Dekker (Legionnaire Schwartz), Broderick Crawford (Hank Miller), Charles Barton (Buddy McMonigal), James Stephenson (Maj. Henri de Beaujolais), Heather Thatcher (Lady Patricia Brandon), James Burke (Lt. Dufour) and G.P. Huntley (Augustus Brandon).


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