Tag Archives: Jonathan Hale

The Saint’s Double Trouble (1940, Jack Hively)

George Sanders can do no wrong in The Saint’s Double Trouble, so much so, he has the ability to smooth the film over. He’s such a joy to watch, the critical part of the brain shuts down. Eventually, as the film nears the conclusion, Sanders looses his control, letting judgments percolate to the surface. This condition isn’t particularly rare, but what makes Double Trouble is the repeating effect. Even after it’s clear the film’s charm is pulling the wool over the viewer’s eyes, it goes ahead and charms him or her again, setting up another realization a few minutes further into the running time. It keeps it up until the final shot, which plays on the surface like it should get a pass… but it’s really quite hollow.

There’s a distressing lack of content to The Saint’s Double Trouble. It opens rather grandiosely–or, with grandiose promise–in Cairo. Bela Lugosi shows up, mailing a coffin back to the States (there’s no reference to Dracula, which is kind of unfortunate, because it’s got to be what the viewer’s thinking). Lugosi’s actually quite good in Double Trouble–it might be his best performance (or the best performance I’ve seen from him). But then the film skips to Philadelphia and in The Saint’s Double Trouble, Philadelphia only has one exterior street corner. There’s a depressing lack of scale, with the script, budget and direction failing each other. Hively doesn’t do anything to make the film feel like it’s taking place anywhere other than a backlot. He’s a decent director, even if he likes cheap shots occasionally–and he can’t direct a suspenseful scene–but he’s generally fine.

The script’s a different story. It’s got some good one-liners and some fine conversations, but the film’s plot is so addlebrained, the incredibly complex series of double crosses–occurring off-screen–is never unraveled. It’s not as important as the film’s hook, George Sanders playing both the Saint and the villain. These two characters apparently know each other–it’s implied, at least–but there’s never anything more about it. I’m all for letting the viewer figure things out for him or herself, but The Saint’s Double Trouble asks the viewer to ignore critical reasoning and it goes down like castor oil.

The film’s abbreviated running time–sixty-six minutes soaking wet–means not only does Lugosi get short-changed (he’s even funny at one point), but so does second-billed Helene Whitney. She has a bunch of history with Sanders–thank you expository dialogue–but it doesn’t go anywhere. Their scenes together are wasted, accelerating the plot. Sanders is great in the scenes, but the film doesn’t have a single payoff. It keeps deferring the payoff–it really does seem like it’ll come at the end–but no. The film pulls it away again… and the end is so cheaply done, it makes The Saint’s Double Trouble seem like a low budget impression, filmed in someone’s backyard. Hively’s not entirely at fault–RKO controlled the budget–but he doesn’t do anything creative.

The supporting cast is good. Jonathan Hale’s hilarious as Sanders’s erstwhile sidekick slash pursuer. Whitney certainly shows potential. Elliot Sullivan’s a solid henchman….

It’s a fine diversion, but Double Trouble wastes its ingredients.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Hively; screenplay by Ben Holmes, based on the novel by Leslie Charteris; director of photography, J. Roy Hunt; edited by Theron Warth and Desmond Marquette; music by Roy Webb; produced by Cliff Reid; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring George Sanders (Simon Templar / Boss Duke Bates), Helene Whitney (Anne Bitts), Jonathan Hale (Inspector Henry Fernack), Bela Lugosi (The Partner), Donald MacBride (Chief of Detectives John H. Bohlen), John F. Hamilton (Limpy, a Henchman), Thomas W. Ross (Professor Horatio T. Bitts) and Elliott Sullivan (Monk).


RELATED

Advertisements

The Saint Takes Over (1940, Jack Hively)

Speedily paced. The Saint Takes Over is somehow fast, running sixty-nine minutes, but quite full of content. It’s so full of content, in the first act, I was convinced George Sanders was somehow going to remain non-central to the picture, since so much time was being spent establishing the ground situation he finds himself in. And there’s no mystery either… the murder, if not the motive, is revealed rather early on. But it all still works–and this Saint is my first (besides the tragically unappreciated Val Kilmer one); I waited until after it was over to check IMDb and now I understand I would have known what was going on were I familiar with the series.

The story is engaging because, instead of revealing clues, the characters are continually wrapped tighter and tighter in an impossible situation. Eventually, it’s all up to Sanders to get them out of it, which of course he will, but he does so in a–while not unpredictable–always entertaining way. It’s a solid amusement.

The whole thing, in terms of being entertaining, rests on Sanders’s shoulders. I wanted to see one of his Saint films because it’s Sanders and he’s usually enough… except, I had no idea how amazing his performance was going to be. The film starts on a cruise ship and Sanders intrudes into an existing situation, establishing himself very quickly. It’s a series and establishing the main character in a series is always difficult. What if someone hasn’t seen the previous film or what if the character were played by a different actor… whatever. But Sanders sort of–well, oozes sounds bad–he’s funny, charming, and sophisticated. He’s just amazing. His comic delivery, his sarcastic comments, all perfect. But there’s also another element to the film, the one pushing it beyond the b-programmer. It’s sensitive. The Saint is sensitive and so is the film. The director has some really nice moves for showing the emotional effect of these fantastic, b-movie situations on the characters.

Besides Sanders’s unspeakably great performance, there are a handful of other good ones. Most are mediocre, especially Wendy Barrie, who’s too much the mystery woman, but she does have a couple good scenes. Paul Guilfoyle and Jonathan Hale are both good and after that lengthy establishing period is over, it’s really all about the three (Sanders, Guilfoyle, and Hale) hanging out and being really funny together. It’s a pleasure to watch them, though Hale’s the only one who wouldn’t have anything to do if it weren’t for the others’ great comic performances.

The film is rather simple, but it’s not condescending and it is centered around its characters, even if it sets itself up as being centered around its setpieces. It’s got some depth to it, making it funny, engaging, and deep, which a lot of a-list movies are not. And they don’t have Sanders as the lead… and Sanders makes a great leading man. He’s an acting leading man–that uncommon variety, though there are always the rather obvious exceptions–but he’s actually able to shrink (and Sanders is a big guy) when the Saint needs to shrink. He’s just great.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Hively; screenplay by Lynn Root and Frank Fenton, based on the character created by Leslie Charteris; director of photography, Frank Redman; edited by Desmond Marquette; produced by Howard Benedict; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring George Sanders (Simon Templar), Wendy Barrie (Ruth Summers), Jonathan Hale (Inspector Henry Fernack), Paul Guilfoyle (‘Pearly’ Gates), Morgan Conway (Sam Reese), Robert Emmett Keane (Leo Sloan) and Cy Kendall (Max Bremer).


RELATED

Blondie (1938, Frank R. Strayer)

When I was in middle school, I read most of the comic strips in the newspaper, Blondie being one of them. I remember seeing, in the TV listings around the same time (probably a little later), some station running a bunch of Blondie movies at five o’clock in the morning. I missed taping them, but they’ve since shown up on DVD (some of them–I guess the series has twenty-seven entries). This first film, which I wasn’t expecting much from, is actually fairly good. There are a number of problems, the most damaging being the kid. First–as a relatively modern reader of the Blondie strip, I wasn’t aware of its classical content–is the name: Baby Dumpling. I’m not sure I ever got over it, but the silliness dulled as the movie went on. However, the kid playing the kid, Larry Simms, comes off like a little shithead, not an adorable troublemaker.

The film’s at its best when it’s out of the house and doing comic strip-sized gags. There are a number of three panel gags in the film–until the last act, most of the film is these gags, actually–and they work well for the most part. When in the house, Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake are less successful together then they are alone. For whatever reason, doing the comic strip gags doesn’t work with the two of them. When the film’s acting like its own animal, they’re all right. Lake isn’t particularly good, though he’s a decent physical comedy actor (which is why the scenes with him alone work better) and Singleton ranges in quality too, best when she’s putting up with him, which is the Blondie character’s defining trait. The film’s best scene is a quiet one, when they both check in on the baby. Watching the film, even today, one is participating in the concept–the adaptation of the Blondie comic strip, which has its own set of rules, rules a regular film does not have–and the baby checking scene really breaks free of the concept. It gives the characters real character, as opposed to the two dimensional adaptation.

The best performance in the film is Gene Lockhart, who plays a captain of industry obsessed with tinkering. In a film with so many mediocre performances, Lockhart immediately stands out as giving an excellent performance. I kept waiting for him to come back around.

As for the writing and directing… well, the writing’s all right. It’s certainly not as innocuous as I expected and I did laugh a few times. The director, Frank R. Strayer, is adequate. He’s better outside than in, but the film doesn’t offer many of those opportunities.

I wasn’t expecting much from Blondie (in fact, I was expecting to turn it off), but it’s a nice enough way to spend seventy minutes.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Frank R. Strayer; screenplay by Richard Flournoy, based on the comic strip by Chic Young; director of photography, Henry Freulich; edited by Gene Havlick; music by Leigh Harline and Ben Oakland; produced by Frank Sparks and Robert Sparks; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Penny Singleton (Blondie), Arthur Lake (Dagwood Bumstead), Larry Simms (Baby Dumpling), Gene Lockhart (C.P. Hazlip), Ann Doran (Elsie Hazlip) and Jonathan Hale (J.C. Dithers).


RELATED