Tag Archives: Julie Bishop

The Black Cat (1934, Edgar G. Ulmer)

The Black Cat has a lot going on. It’s the story of two American honeymooners–David Manners and Julie Bishop–who, for whatever reason, decide Hungary is better than Niagara Falls. It’s also the story of a recently freed Hungarian soldier Bela Lugosi, who went into the war a happily married psychiatrist, only to lose his family after being imprisioned for fifteen years. Finally, it’s the story of Boris Karloff’s Austrian “architect,” who used to command Lugosi’s regiment, but sold them out to the Russians so he could escape to run off with Lugosi’s wife. Oh, and Karloff’s a big Satanic priest. Because the Austrians are Satanists and the Hungarians are either cute or loyal.

Aside from Karloff’s satanism? He kills women and keeps them hung up, preserved, in his dungeon. He built his giant, Art Deco house atop the fortress he betrayed to the Russians.

Through coincidence, Manners and Bishop find themselves in Lugosi’s questionable–but generally benevolent–company. Through bad luck, they find themselves part of Lugosi’s quest to avenge himself upon Karloff. Only Lugosi doesn’t even know how much avenging he’s going to need to do upon Karloff. He’s only got a rough idea.

Most of Ulmer’s direction is excellent. The first act has this shaky camerawork–“courtesy” cameraman John J. Mescall–but eventually those hiccups stop. He does pretty well with the actors. Bishop doesn’t have much to do except scream and pass out from fear, but she’s effective. Manners is in the awkward spot of not being the lead, but looking like he ought to be the lead. Meanwhile, actual lead Lugosi gets a character arc he chaffs against; while Peter Ruric’s script doesn’t favor anyone, Lugosi gets the harshest treatment.

The script’s rather xenophobic–look at these strange Eastern Europeans with their Satanism and so on–and Lugosi gets caught in a lot of it. Otherwise, he’s beyond sympathetic. His nemesis isn’t just a traitor, he’s a traitor who stole his family, murders random women to embalm, and is a Satanic priest.

In that part, Karloff’s okay, not much more. He looks the part–though the height difference between him and Lugosi (Lugosi’s much taller) is disconcerting. Lugosi does better. He doesn’t do great–he suffers from intense ailurophobia (fear of cats) and Karloff has apparently an endless supply of black cats around to creep Lugosi out.

The set design is a big deal, with the Art Deco house overpowering the boring dungeon. Maybe because the dungeon seems too cramped and its geography is confusing, but not in a good way. The third act takes place almost entirely in the dungeon, which doesn’t help things; it’s also when all the character problems and incongruities come to a head.

Solid editing from Ray Curtiss, especially during the first act and then the Satanic ritual. Great music from Heinz Roemheld.

The Black Cat runs just over an hour. Its present action is a day and a half or so. It shouldn’t slog but it does. The setup of the characters then of Karloff and his nightmare house (despite it being bright and Art Deco) all goes well. But Manners and Bishop’s parts get reduced a little too much in the second half; Karloff getting more to do isn’t better. He’s effective at being threatening but there’s not a lot of danger in the script. It’s too spare. There are only four real characters. It can’t spare them.

The film’s pre-Code, so the Hays Code can’t be blamed for the finish, just common morality. Still, The Black Cat’s a reasonable success, with some excellent moments for Lugosi in particular. And Ulmer’s direction can carry it. Most of the time.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer; screenplay by Peter Ruric, based on a story by Ulmer and Ruric; edited by Ray Curtiss; music by Heinz Roemheld; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Bela Lugosi (Dr. Vitus Werdegast), Julie Bishop (Joan Alison), David Manners (Peter Alison), Egon Brecher (The Majordomo), Harry Cording (Thamal), and Boris Karloff (Hjalmar Poelzig).


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Busses Roar (1942, D. Ross Lederman)

Busses Roar is a slight propaganda film. It doesn’t fully commit to any of its subplots, not even the patriotism. With the exception of the establishing the villainous Japanese, German and the gangster at the opening and the flag-waving speech at the end, it’s not too heavy on it.

Most of the film’s almost an hour runtime takes place in a bus terminal. The gangster (Rex Williams, who isn’t any good, but isn’t as bad as the film’s worst) has to take a bus to deliver a bomb to some oil fields. There’s the whole range of bus passengers to put in danger, but the actual bus in crisis sequence is hurried. Director Lederman does a lot better establishing all the characters.

Most of that action is Julie Bishop trying to get someone to buy her a ticket. Her character is the smartest part of George Bilson and Anthony Coldeway’s script, just because they can introduce so many supporting cast members through her storyline.

Ignoring its overtly bigoted elements, the film has some decent performances and moments. For example, the storyline with newlyweds Harry Lewis and Elisabeth Fraser isn’t bad at all.

The most hilariously awful performance is probably Peter Whitney as the German spy.

Richard Travis gets top-billing–and is Bishop’s eventual love interest–and he manages to be both weak as a leading man, but somewhat likable.

Unfortunately the big action finale is ineptly and cheaply executed; the bus depot scenes look perfectly good.

Roar it doesn’t. More like gurgle.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by D. Ross Lederman; screenplay by George Bilson and Anthony Coldeway, based on a story by Coldeway; director of photography, James Van Trees; edited by James Gibbon; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Richard Travis (Sergeant Ryan), Julie Bishop (Reba Richards), Charles Drake (Eddie Sloan), Eleanor Parker (Norma), Elisabeth Fraser (Betty), Richard Fraser (Dick Remick), Peter Whitney (Frederick Hoff), Frank Wilcox (Detective Quinn), Willie Best (Sunshine), Rex Williams (Jerry Silva), Harry Lewis (Danny), Bill Kennedy (The Moocher), George Meeker (Nick Stoddard), Vera Lewis (Mrs. Dipper), Harry C. Bradley (Henry Dipper), Lottie Williams (First Old Maid), Leah Baird (Second Old Maid) and Chester Gan (Yamanito).


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

Westward the Women (1951, William A. Wellman)

Robert Taylor leads over a hundred women from Missouri to California. It’s set in 1851, so California is the other side of world. I thought it was going to be cute from that description. Taylor’s films were often aware of being Robert Taylor films, but of those 100+ women, only one thinks Taylor’s good-looking, so Westward the Women isn’t one of those Taylor films. It’s a rough film. It has cute moments and funny moments, heart-warming moments too, I suppose–but it’s rough. It might even be mean. I’m not sure to what degree the filmmakers realized how mean the film was getting.

Some of Taylor’s work in the film is his best. At a certain point, the film runs out of things for him to do and concentrates on the romance, which is fine, but he ceases to be the focus. The rest of the performances are all right (except Taylor’s love interest, once the romance starts), but the script betrays the two best supporting ones. Hope Emerson is excellent in the role of a New Englander who talks exaggerated ship-speak for everything. There’s a poor Japanese guy–played by Henry Nakamura, who did little else–who’s got the worst stereotypical dialogue, but a rather important role in the film. Again, his character loses steam in the last part.

The romance shares the second half’s focus with the more interesting aspect of Westward the Women. At a certain point, the women are left alone with Taylor and have to toughen up for the journey. There’s a great scene–I can think of a good adjective for it–when a woman is in labor in a wagon and a wheel breaks off. A group of the other women hold up the wagon while she gives birth, which would not be an easy task, and then proceed to fawn over the newborn. There’s another great, similar scene at the end, but I can’t give that away.

When I said before the film was mean–it kills characters left and right. The only sympathetic character it doesn’t kill is the dog. In addition to showing the difficulty in crossing the country, it throws the audience off guard. You never know if a character is going to make it or not. Even with this tension, however, the film ambles a little too much. It’s got a long present action–at least four months, but it might be more like seven–and since only a handful of the women are realized, the film is mostly in summary. But it’s real pretty summary. Wellman’s direction of the desert landscape is wonderful. Not only is the scenery incorporated into the story (unlike the frequent Monument Valley backdrops) but his camera angles take full advantage of them.

However, the film doesn’t take place entirely in the desert, only thirty minutes of it does. So, you have those twenty or thirty minutes of great direction, an hour or so of a great Taylor performance, a half hour of the great relationship between Taylor and the Japanese guy, and Emerson only getting rid of the lame seafarer dialogue at the end. Still, it’s a good film–it might be the only widescreen academy ratio film I can think of.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Charles Schnee, based on a story by Frank Capra; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by James E. Newcom; music by Jeff Alexander; produced by Dore Schary; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Taylor (Buck), Denise Darcel (Danon), Hope Emerson (Patience), John McIntire (Roy Whitman), Julie Bishop (Laurie), Lenore Lonergan (Maggie), Marilyn Erskine (Jean), Beverly Dennis (Rose), Henry Nakamura (Ito) and Renata Vanni (Mrs. Maroni).


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