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The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 2: Shadows

There are some amusing moments in Shadows; not good moments, but amusing ones. Like when reporter turned detective sidekick Rex Lease trespasses on a boat and assaults the crew members. It’s a perplexing action sequence–the second fistfight in the (very long) chapter–and incompetently cut together. It culminates with Lease’s adversary clearly jumping into the water after being punched in the previous shot. There’s very little point in blaming editor Earl Turner for the terrible cutting. He obviously wasn’t working from very good footage.

Also with the boat fistfight is the lack of diegetic sound. There are some quiet punches looped in, but there’s a lot of silence in Shadows. Usually when there shouldn’t be, like after Lease is poisoned with gas and Jack Mulhall works frantically to save him. Once Lease is in the clear–the chapter runs twenty minutes and every time there’s something dramatic, you just wish it would cliffhang and it never does. But once Lease is in the clear, Mulhall just kind of makes fun of him for not taking the poisoning more seriously. There’s no question as to how or why Lease was poisoned.

The chapter starts with an exceptionally boring cliffhanger resolution, only for a deliveryman to team up with Mulhall and Lease for a car chase. The serial takes The Clutching Hand bit seriously, with the hand appearing out of nowhere (or through special secret, hand-sized passages) to wreck havoc. Or take packages. Anyway, there’s a whole subplot with the delivery guy. And Robert Walker and Jon Hall come back for a scene, because apparently they’re important.

If Mulhall had any good will, he burns through it here. He’s really bad opposite other actors, especially if they’re adversarial. He’s an understated blowhard.

As a spoof or a comedy, Clutching Hand might get some traction. Played straight, it’s just nonsense. Like Lease following suspect Bryant Washburn. Why’s he a suspect? Because he’s… present?

And the Clutching Hand makes an appearance–well, in silhouette because he’s the mystery villain–and gives his orders to his lackies over television. Then laughs manically.

For no apparent reason.

Oh, the car chase. I lost track of the nonsensical car chase with the mysterious moving truck guys attacking the heroes. Shadows is twenty minutes of nonsense flung at the audience.

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).


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The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 1: Who Is the Clutching Hand?

Who Is the Clutching Hand? opens with Robert Walker getting out of prison. The warden warns him not to be a recidivist; Walker tells him he’s going to keep being a crook, he’s just not going to get caught.

Is Walker the Clutching Hand? Who knows.

The action then moves to a boring board room meeting with CEO Mahlon Hamilton yelling at his staff. Is he the Clutching Hand? Who knows.

There are a lot of characters momentarily introduced in this first chapter of The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand but no one gets much emphasis. Walker eventually gets into a bar fight where Jon Hall, as his criminal buddy, gets introduced. The bar fight has the same cheap factor the rest of the serial has going against it, but at least it’s energetic. By the end of the chapter, there’s barely any energy.

After Walker and Hamilton get introduced, it’s Robert Frazer’s turn. He’s a scientist (who works for Hamilton) and he’s just discovered a way to turn any material into gold. He has a lab at home (or near it, it’s somewhat unclear) so he can get visitors like Rex Lease, the reporter who’s romancing Frazer’s daughter, Marion Shilling.

Hamilton and Shilling don’t get introduced until the action has jumped ahead to the evening, when Frazer is giving secretary Ruth Mix dictation of the formula for gold-making. Not the whole thing, but some of it.

Then, after she leaves the room, someone attacks him. But they’ve turned out the lights so we can’t see who. Lease tries to intercede but gets knocked down some stairs–he just catches a glimpse of Frazer on the floor, apparently dead. They call the cops real fast and discover the body gone–it takes the cops to get back into the room–so Lease calls his pal, deductive detective Jack Mulhall in to investigate.

They find a note to Mulhall threatening him to stay away, signed “The Clutching Hand.” Turns out The Clutching Hand is some kind of master villain who Mulhall has tangled with in the past.

If this first chapter is any indication, Amazing Exploits doesn’t have much going for it–probably very few amazing exploits. Technically it’s… low mediocre. Nearly adequate? It’s cheap. Frazer’s big house–oh, right, turns out Walker has it in for the doctor–anyway, he’s got a big house and there’s a lot of action around it. However some exterior shots of the house are clearly poorly altered interiors (like the front door). Then there are exterior shots, which cinematographer James Diamond can’t really shoot, and Earl Turner jaggedly cuts together with the interior shooting to poor effect.

And the car chase, though not plotted poorly, isn’t well-executed.

Plus no one seems very smart (especially the cops). Mulhall’s supposed to be a genius, but he falls into a trap at the end of the first chapter so the big brain on Mulhall is in question. Also, Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald​’s script just writes him as a Sherlock Holmes knockoff and not one to take seriously. Occasionally the script does have a gem of a line, however, and it’s a shock.

The cast’s not in it enough to make much impression (Shilling and step-mom Mae Busch are currently set dressing), the direction is no great shakes, the mystery isn’t mysterious. So far Amazing Exploits is anything but.

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).


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The Grim Game (1919, Irvin Willat)

Some of The Grim Game is spent on Harry Houdini’s illusions. The film puts Houdini, playing a reporter, in various tight spots where he has to escape from one thing or another. By the third act of the film, Houdini’s escapes aren’t even the focus–though there is a fantastic mid-air plane sequence. The plot gets in the way.

The film gives the illusion of great complexity. Houdini’s rich uncle (Thomas Jefferson in the film’s only weak performance) is an awful miser and is planning on shutting down Houdini’s newspaper (Houdini’s the star reporter). So Houdini hatches a plan to save the paper. It requires Jefferson to go missing; of course, all the good guys will know where he’s gone.

This development comes after Game spends a lot of time setting up Jefferson, setting up Arthur Hoyt as his doctor, Ann Forrest as his ward (who Houdini romances but who Hoyt wants to marry for her eventual fortune). Most of this setup is a waste of time (especially in the case of Mae Busch as a cabaret star who gets involved). Walter Woods’s script meanders, oblivious to its lack of suspense.

Obviously, things go wrong–way too quickly–and Houdini ends up in jail. Director Willat does all right with the action, but he has no time for anything else. He rushes, almost nervous about giving away too many clues to the eventual mystery. Except, without clues or questions, the mystery resolves lamely.

Hoyt’s excellent, Forrest’s likable (even if she barely has anything to do–it’s not even clear she knows Hoyt is a suitor). Houdini’s confident and thorough. The film never takes itself too seriously, which is swell, except that lack of self-interest hurts once it gets to the “who cares” resolution to the mystery. It needed a better script. And more Houdini escapes.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Irvin Willat; screenplay by Walter Woods, based on a story by Arthur B. Reeve and John Grey; directors of photography, Frank M. Blount and J.O. Taylor; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harry Houdini (Harvey Hanford), Ann Forrest (Mary Cameron), Arthur Hoyt (Dr. Harvey Tyson), Augustus Phillips (Clifton Allison), Tully Marshall (Richard Raver), Mae Busch (Ethel Delmead) and Thomas Jefferson (Dudley Cameron).



lauren-blogathon

THIS POST IS PART OF THE THE SILENT CINEMA BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.

Oliver the Eighth (1934, Lloyd French)

Watching Oliver Hardy muddle through Oliver the Eighth‘s terrible dialogue makes one wonder if the short truly did not have a writer–there isn’t one credited–or if the actors just made it up on the spot.

Given the rampant stupidity in Eighth, the latter seems more likely.

The short’s idiotic “writing” hampers it more than enough and director French’s ineptitude just makes the viewing experience work. Eighth concerns Hardy and Stan Laurel ending up locked in a house with a murderous widow and her nutty butler. The butler, played by Jack Barty, is mildly amusing at times, making him the only good thing in Eighth.

In order for the plot to work Hardy and Laurel have to be incredibly stupid and incredibly passive. The short opens with them owning a barber shop. It isn’t believable they could get to a job, much less own a business.

Eighth is awful.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Lloyd French; director of photography, Art Lloyd; edited by Bert Jordan; produced by Hal Roach; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Stan Laurel (Stan), Oliver Hardy (Oliver), Mae Busch (Mrs. Fox) and Jack Barty (Jitters the Butler).


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