Tag Archives: Raymond Massey

The Old Dark House (1932, James Whale)

The Old Dark House is a strange film about strange people doing strange things. Director Whale and screenwriter Benn W. Levy rarely let the film get a set tone–unless one counts the consistent mix of comedy and horror. It’s not straight comedy; the comic elements tend to be either absurdly strange or pedestrian. Husband and wife Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart bickering over his driving until the storm becomes too dangerous for an argument, for example.

Whale goes for peculiar horror elements–relying on his cast to be creepy enough in their performances sometimes, but other times utilizing for practical effects in scenes without a cast member having to do much. The editing, from Clarence Kolster, is spectacular. Whale often goes for a visceral reaction, like when Boris Karloff’s vicious manservant preys on Stuart.

But just like the mix of light comedy and horror, Whale and Levy take the time to deepen even Karloff’s character. All of the characters end up getting some depth, both the “regular” people and then the crazy family living in the titular house. The film’s both cynical and hopeful, with Lilian Bond’s chorus girl having an arrangement with industrialist Charles Laughton, but not one with expectations.

Because Laughton’s messed up, just like almost everyone in the film. Melvyn Douglas’s drunken, mildly broken World War I veteran is ostensible lead–it’s between him and Stuart–and the film subtly implies his problems.

It’s a deliberately, beautifully made, beautifully acted (Ernest Thesiger mesmerizes) film. Truly fantastic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Whale; screenplay by Benn W. Levy and R.C. Sherriff, based on a novel by J.B. Priestley; director of photography, Arthur Edeson; edited by Clarence Kolster; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Boris Karloff (Morgan), Melvyn Douglas (Penderel), Charles Laughton (Sir William Porterhouse), Lilian Bond (Gladys), Ernest Thesiger (Horace Femm), Eva Moore (Rebecca Femm), Raymond Massey (Philip Waverton), Gloria Stuart (Margaret Waverton), Elspeth Dudgeon (Sir Roderick Femm) and Brember Wills (Saul Femm).


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The Speckled Band (1931, Jack Raymond)

I think The Speckled Band is a period piece but maybe not. There aren’t any exterior establishing shots in London, so no automobiles. It’s a question because the Sherlock Holmes in this film isn’t some recluse… he’s got an office and three secretaries.

The film has a very episodic feel to it, but not in the traditional sense–it feels like an entry in a film series, but it’s Raymond Massey’s only Holmes appearance. Massey does a fantastic job, infusing the character with an affable, melancholy feel. His Holmes feels the outcast due to his intellect–not the traditional approach to the character.

But since the film concentrates on the mystery, top-billed Lyn Harding and Angela Baddeley have the most to do. Baddeley is the victim to be and Harding is her vile stepfather, who’s probably going to kill her. I’m not sure a more revolting villain than Harding in this film–he doesn’t have a single moment he’s not plotting something rather nasty.

Director Raymond has some nice compositions and he keeps a great tone to the film. I was never sure if Baddeley, high billing or not, was going to live through the film.

Freddie Young’s cinematography is nice, particularly the outdoor scenes. They made me wish the sequences were longer, as Raymond and Young knew how to make the countryside lush with foreboding.

Athole Stewart makes a good Watson (the film even introduces him before Massey).

Besides Baddeley’s tepid love interest (Ivan Brandt), it’s rather solid.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Raymond; screenplay by W.P. Lipscomb, based on a story by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Freddie Young; edited by Maclean Rogers; produced by Herbert Wilcox; released by Woolf & Freedman Film Service.

Starring Lyn Harding (Dr. Grimesby Rylott), Raymond Massey (Sherlock Holmes), Angela Baddeley (Helen Stonor), Nancy Price (Mrs. Staunton), Athole Stewart (Dr. John Watson), Marie Ault (Mrs. Hudson), Franklyn Bellamy (Alaine), Ivan Brandt (Curtis) and Stanley Lathbury (Rodgers).


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Arsenic and Old Lace (1944, Frank Capra)

Arsenic and Old Lace has to be one of the finest–if not the finest–film adaptations of a stage production. Nothing about the film, save the knowledge it’s from a play, suggests its theatrical origins… not the one night present action, not the one set. It’s an ideal motion picture comedy, down to what has to be Frank Capra’s most inventive direction. Capra’s confined to that one set for the majority of the film and he keeps things very interesting. He reveals the house gradually, not even exploring the full size of the main room–where around seventy percent of the story takes place–until well into the third act of the film.

The film’s full of fantastic performances, but the story’s split between Cary Grant and Raymond Massey. Grant disappears for a while and Massey takes over, but filling a completely different role than Grant. The film sort of goes without a protagonist for a while in Grant’s absence (Massey isn’t really an antagonist at this point) and the story accelerates into a different area without him. When he returns, he doesn’t inhabit the film in the same way. For the first half, watching Arsenic and Old Lace is watching Grant. Sure, lots of good stuff is going on around him, but his performance is captivating. It’s unlike anything else (Grant hated the performance) and it’s wonderful. Maybe because it so perfectly matches the viewer’s expectation of a reasonable person’s response to the film’s fantastic situation. The romance between Grant and Priscilla Lane–which has a lot of texture independent of the main action’s two plots (the aunts and their gentlemen and Massey’s return)–is wonderful too. Lane and Grant play great off each other; it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the roles.

Massey has the film’s most difficult role, since it’s so incredible. I wonder how much Arsenic and Old Lace did for Boris Karloff’s name recognition, as Massey has to personify the idea of Karloff (and the unmentioned Frankenstein) from his first moment on film. But Massey has to go further–he has to be both menacing, dangerous and silly. The viewer has to be scared of Massey and what he might do, but also has to be able to laugh at him. By the time he’s ready to go after Grant, the viewer’s already had a chance to laugh at him a little, but Massey brings it all around to present real danger.

Peter Lorre has a similar position. He has to be funny–Lorre’s performance is one of film’s great comedic performances–but also endearing and a little disturbing. He’s still Massey’s partner in crime, even if he’s incredibly likable. There isn’t a weak performance in the film or even one less than stellar, but Lorre still stands out.

The rest of the supporting cast–Josephine Hull and Jean Adair as the two aunts are great–is all exceptional. Arsenic and Old Lace is one of those flawlessly casted films.

My wife had never seen the film before, which made the viewing even more entertaining. It’s least like the rest of Capra’s films of the period, but that dissimilarity somehow makes it more exciting to see from him. It’s as close to experimental as Capra ever got with his style. It might even be his most impressive work as a director; he’s essential to the film, which has such a strong script, it’s easy to think he could have gotten lost somewhere.

I’m hard pressed to identify my favorite part of the film. I love the sequences with Lane and Grant in the graveyard, but Grant’s long stretch of discovering what’s going on–where he’s the whole show–is fantastic too. But then there’s Lorre….

There’s just too many great things about Arsenic and Old Lace to narrow it down.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Frank Capra; screenplay by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, based on the play by Joseph Kesselring; director of photography, Sol Polito; edited by Daniel Mandell; music by Max Steiner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Cary Grant (Mortimer Brewster), Josephine Hull (Aunt Abby Brewster), Jean Adair (Aunt Martha Brewster), Raymond Massey (Jonathan Brewster), Peter Lorre (Dr. Herman Einstein), Priscilla Lane (Elaine Harper), John Alexander (Theodore Brewster), Jack Carson (Officer Patrick O’Hara), John Ridgely (Officer Saunders), Edward McNamara (Police Sgt. Brophy), James Gleason (Lt. Rooney), Grant Mitchell (Reverend Harper), Edward Everett Horton (Mr. Witherspoon), Vaughan Glaser (Judge Cullman), Chester Clute (Dr. Gilchrist), Edward McWade (Mr. Gibbs), Charles Lane (Reporter at Marriage License Office) and Garry Owen (Taxi Cab Driver).


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Chain Lightning (1950, Stuart Heisler)

Both critically and popularly, Chain Lightning gets classified as one of Bogart’s lesser, late 1940s films. While the film certainly is a star vehicle for Bogart, it’s only “lesser” if one compares it to Bogart’s stellar films (basically, the ones everyone remembers). On its own, Chain Lightning is far from perfect, but it’s a fine film. Director Stuart Heisler can direct some good scenes–since the film’s about a test pilot, there’s a lot of Bogart-only scenes, which Heisler handles (he has trouble when it’s a group scene). The special effects are quite good and they’re another thing Heisler incorporates well. I was about to say he didn’t do the romance scenes right, but there’s one scene between Bogart and Eleanor Parker where I can say I’ve never seen the shots before or since, so he does good on that aspect too.

The problems with Chain Lightning come from its lack of prestige. It’s about a test pilot, Bogart’s the only “star,” as Parker probably wouldn’t become a star for another year or two. (Apparently, Chain Lightning’s release was even held up for a year). The film’s got some really dynamic character relationships–between Bogart and Parker (he abandoned her in Europe during the war when he went home for no reason other than laziness), between Parker and Bogart’s rival Richard Whorf, and between Bogart and Whorf. Except none of the relationships are standard–Whorf, for instance, thinks the world of Bogart’s pilot, while never doubting Parker will choose him (even though, obviously, the audience knows different). Bogart gets to come across as petty and mercenary, to degrees I don’t think I’ve ever seen him go before (even in Casablanca, which is probably the best comparison). It’s just too short.

At ninety-five minutes, with multiple special effects sequences and a five or six year present action (some takes place during the war, then in 1950… sorry, 1949), it’s way too short. There’s not enough fat on the script to pad out the film, so it’s just the one straight gesture and the writers can’t quite make it work without hokey voiceovers and narration. For some of it, most of it in the middle, actually, I kept thinking it was so much better than I remembered it being (then the final act came around). Still, it’s certainly not a bad or even mediocre film. It has a lot going for it.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Heisler; written by Liam O’Brien and Vincent B. Evans, from a story by Lester Cole; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by Thomas Reilly; music by David Buttolph; produced by Anthony Veiller; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Matt Brennan), Eleanor Parker (Jo Holloway), Raymond Massey (Leland Willis), Richard Whorf (Carl Troxall), James Brown (Major Hinkle), Roy Roberts (Gen. Hewitt), Morris Ankrum (Ed Bostwick), Fay Baker (Mrs. Willis) and Fred E. Sherman (Jeb Farley).


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