Tag Archives: RKO Radio Pictures

Lucky Partners (1940, Lewis Milestone)

Any movie with a Somerset Maugham reference like this one (to The Moon and Sixpence) is going to get me to go a little soft on it, but given how late the reference fully realizes, Lucky Partners was already reasonably safe. When I saw Lewis Milestone directed it, I knew there’d at least be some nice camerawork and Ginger Rogers RKO comedies are also generally decent. I just realized, thinking about it, Lucky Partners is only the second film I’ve seen starring Ronald Colman, which is a mistake. Colman glides through the film. Most of it is his scenes and he carries the whole thing with geniality. From the fourth shot–the film has a nice Milestone opening, so I can remember the shots–Colman’s the whole thing… which is amusing, but also problematic, because Ginger Rogers and Jack Carson’s characters suffer so Colman can remain the protagonist.

The film makes a number of assertions and changes them to keep the film moving. First, Rogers is likable. Then, she isn’t. Then, she is. Then, she isn’t. First, Carson is a jerk. Then, he’s not. Then, he’s an even bigger jerk. First, the film’s set up as a wonderful neighborhood piece with a great supporting cast. Then it becomes a road picture. Then it becomes a slightly mystical romance. Then it becomes a courtroom comedy. The first act of the film moves fast–twenty-five minutes went by in a snap–but the end of the second act drags, as the film desperately tries to tie itself up. The opening is strong and I kept hoping the film would regain some of that quality as it moved through its ninety-degree squiggles–and the film kept showing potential for said recovery–but it never did. The film’s lowest point was just before it declared itself a charming and mediocre comedy. Harry Davenport as the judge, who’s enamored with Rogers, clangs that change.

Given the excellent quality of Ginger Rogers’s other RKO features, Lucky Partners should be a bigger disappointment, but it’s such a pleasant viewing experience, it’s hard to get particularly upset. In fact, I think the film’s a major achievement. Though he’s a wonderful director, Milestone rarely made good films. And Lucky Partners is so close to good, it counts.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Milestone; screenplay by Allan Scott and John Van Druten, based on a story by Sacha Guitry; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Henry Berman; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; produced by George Haight; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ronald Colman (David Grant), Ginger Rogers (Jean Newton), Jack Carson (Frederick Harper), Spring Byington (Aunt Lucy), Cecilia Loftus (Mrs. Alice Sylvester) and Harry Davenport (Judge).


RELATED

Advertisements

One Crowded Night (1940, Irving Reis)

One Crowded Night opens strong enough–a Mojave desert motel and lunch counter, run by a family with a past, with employees with romantic woes. It’s an RKO B-picture, as the most recognizable people in the cast are bit players from bigger films. It’s filmed on location (at the motel) and it starts centered around Anne Revere’s character, which gets it that “strong enough” comment. Revere plays a woman whose husband’s in prison and she’s dropped out from her former life. At first, it sounds like he did it, then we find out he was framed. Once I heard it was an unjust imprisonment, I knew Crowded Night was going to get into trouble, but she’s real good anyway. Unfortunately, she doesn’t remain the focus… especially not after the husband shows up.

If it had been about the women, Crowded Night could have been excellent. All of the female actors are good, with Revere and Billie Seward standing out. Seward’s particularly exceptional. Crowded Night was one of her last films, after a number of Westerns, and it’s worth seeing just for her performance. Another reason it should have concentrated on the women is the men. None of the male actors are good, only a couple are mediocre–though Steve Pendleton approaches having a good scene–and the two most important, Charles Lang and Paul Guilfoyle, are terrible.

The film’s constructed to solve a problem–it’s a sixty-eight minute deus ex machina, in fact–and all the added complications take away from what works. Oddly, the film was never predictable past the unbelievably fortuitous set-up. Characters remained in peril throughout, making for a tense last ten minutes. The director, Irving Reis, did go on to bigger films, which is no surprise, since much of One Crowded Night is well-directed. At first I thought it wasn’t, then I realized it’s just the editing. The film has the worst cuts between shots I’ve ever seen. They’re eyesores and until I caught on, I blamed it all on Reis. Actually, the bad taste from the edits was carrying over into his good work.

So, for a sixty-eight minute B-picture, One Crowded Night is fine. Seward and Revere make up for the film’s acting and writing deficiencies and Reis is just a bonus.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Irving Reis; screenplay by Ben Collins and Arnaud d’Usseau, based on a story by Ben Holmes; director of photography, J. Roy Hunt; edited by Theron Warth; produced by Cliff Reid; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Billie Seward (Gladys), William Haade (Joe Miller), Charles Lang (Fred Matson), Pamela Blake (Ruth Matson), J.M. Kerrigan (Brother ‘Doc’ Joseph), Paul Guilfoyle (Jim Andrews), Anne Revere (Mae Andrews), Gale Storm (Annie Mathews), Dick Hogan (Vince Sanders), George Watts (Pa Mathews), Emma Dunn (Ma Mathews), Don Costello (Lefty), Steve Pendleton (Mat Denlen), Casey Johnson (Bobby Andrews), Harry Shannon (Detective Lt. McDermott) and Ferris Taylor (Detective Sgt. Lansing).


RELATED

The Fugitive (1947, John Ford)

While filming Citizen Kane, Orson Welles screened John Ford’s Stagecoach every night. He said everything one could do in film was done in Stagecoach. Maybe Ford heard about it, because The Fugitive looks like an Orson Welles film… and it’s not just the foreign (Mexico) shooting location with American actors surrounded by non-English speaking extras. The Fugitive is Ford’s oddest sound picture. Large portions of it don’t even need sound, just ambient music and noises. There are long sequences without any necessary speech, there’s even moments where dialogue is muted, overpowered by street music. During the scenes filmed in the Mexican city… you’d think it was Touch of Evil.

However, Ford is not the same kind of director as Welles. What works for Welles does not work for Ford. The Fugitive is arranged as a series of vignettes, but Ford can’t get enough oomph going to distinguish one from the other. Sure, there’s the change in sound design, but the storytelling focus doesn’t change. It’s easily Ford’s most experimental work–it’s easily one of the most experimental works I’ve seen from a Hollywood director–but the script works against it, particularly in the end, when the film’s finally turning around.

The Fugitive is set in a newly Fascist South American country where Catholic priests are hunted and executed. Henry Fonda–playing a native alongside Mexican actors–is less than stellar in the lead. First, Fonda’s a straightforward actor and The Fugitive attempts to veer. Second, and more, the fugitive is the subject of The Fugitive, not the protagonist. It’s about a handful of characters who encounter this fugitive priest, not the story of a fugitive priest encountering and reencountering a bunch of people. As far as these people go, obviously, Ward Bond is the best. He’s the only American playing an American and he’s got some great moments as a fellow fugitive. Robert Armstrong, not playing an American, is good in a blink-and-you-miss it role–his part made me think most of Welles’ style of handling cameos. The worst–in the film–is easily J. Carrol Naish, who’s in full makeup as an Indian. He’s irritating beyond belief and silly on top of it. I think he was under contract at RKO at the time. Of the Mexican actors, Pedro Armendáriz is the best, but the script fails him time and again. More than anyone else, The Fugitive is about Armendáriz and someone missed it. The other lead, Dolores del Rio, is all right, but Ford gives her these loving shots and… I don’t know, it’s hard to take her seriously with all that soft light.

Even with all the problems–it’s boring on top of it all; Ford did not know how to carry long sequences without dialogue or action–it’s still worth a look. Oddly enough, a film professor once told me it was Ford’s favorite of his films.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based on a novel by Graham Greene; director of photography, Gabriel Figueroa; edited by Jack Murray; music by Richard Hageman; produced by Ford and Merian C. Cooper; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Henry Fonda (A Fugitive), Dolores del Rio (An Indian Woman), Pedro Armendáriz (A Lieutenant of Police), J. Carrol Naish (A Police Informer), Leo Carrillo (The Chief of Police), Ward Bond (El Gringo) and Robert Armstrong (A Police Sergeant).


RELATED