The Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon: A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1942)

This post is part of The Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon hosted by Cinema Dilettante and myself!  Be sure to scroll down and check out the other great entries!lygbpolaroid

What do you do when your husband only wants to write murder mysteries?  Well if you are Nancy Troy (Loretta Young), you rent a new apartment.  And so it is that Nancy and Jeff (Brian Aherne) arrive at their new home in the basement of an apartment building at 13 Gay Street in Greenwich Village.  Unfortunately, Nancy’s dreams of newly decorated homey bliss will have to wait because Eddie Turner, the building’s owner, informs them that the electricity has not yet been turned on and advises that they come back tomorrow.  Nancy is insistent that they move in that evening, despite the lack of lights and furniture, and she and Jeff are getting their bearings when Nancy spots an old friend.

Anne Carstairs (Jeff Donnell) is climbing the stairs but she is only too happy to stop and talk to Nancy.  Anne tells them that she married now and has an apartment on the second floor of the building, but she becomes unexplainably flustered when Nancy reveals that they have just taken the basement apartment.  Anne hurries off and once inside she, and several other tenants including Mr. Turner, ponder why the Troys would move into the building at all.  It seems that all the tenants share a similar dilemma which has caused them to take up residence.

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Later that evening Jeff and Nancy go to a local restaurant for dinner.  Nancy goes off to make a phone call and Jeff reacquaints himself with restaurant owner and apartment neighbor, Polly Franklin (Lee Patrick).  Polly also becomes flustered when she finds out that Jeff is now living in the basement apartment.  Meanwhile, Nancy overhears a very large man in the next booth making a phone call to someone demanding that they meet him at 13 Gay Street in the basement apartment.  Nancy returns to the table and relates her story to Jeff and Polly, who takes this as a cue to excuse herself.  Jeff decides to take matters into his own hands and confront the would be apartment thief, which results in him earning a punch on the nose.

Back in their apartment, Jeff and Nancy hear the sound of water running.  They soon find that the tub in their bathroom has recently been filled and drained of water.  Setting down the candle they have been using for light, the couple is shocked to find it moving on its own.  Upon closer examination it is found to in fact be a turtle.  Old Hickory is his name and he used to be the mascot of a certain speakeasy that used to be in residence in the basement of 13 Gay Street.  It is at this moment that the movers finally arrive with the couple’s furniture.  After several feats of strength and some male posturing, Nancy and Jeff tuck in for a comfortable night’s sleep in their own beds.  They are awakened by several police officers trooping in and out of their apartment.  The body of a man has been found in their back yard and it is someone that the Troys recognize.  It is the man from the restaurant!  Jeff soon decides that he going to solve the mystery of the murdered man and make into his next bestselling novel…much to Nancy’s dismay.

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A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, not to be confused with the film of the same name about the Titanic, is quite a fun and enjoyable screwball comedy.  I’ve read some reviews that have said that this film isn’t particularly funny or that the ending is lazy, but I have to disagree.  Too often I think when people think screwball comedy they think only of MY MAN GODFREY, BRINGING UP BABY, or THEODORA GOES WILD.  These are the pinnacle of the art form and while A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is not on the level of BRINGING UP BABY, it is still a very good screwball comedy/mystery in its own right.  The story and mystery are a bit different than the usual fare, with the film mixing comedy, suspense, mystery, and a bit of drama quite effectively.

I really enjoyed Brian Aherne in this.  His portrayal of Jeff Troy was a great combination of wit, charm, cool, and foolishness.  When he returns from the police station he is only concerned with being hungry, rather than being traumatized by a police interrogation.  At one point someone screams and when Nancy tells him to go and see what it was Jeff replies, “What do you mean?  I know what it was, someone screamed.”  And then there is the issue of the apartment door.  Aherne gives a non-traditional performance as the “hero”, being neither all knowing nor a bumbling idiot but a nice combination of the two.

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My usual thoughts regarding Loretta Young come from her roles in THE BISHOPS’S WIFE and HEROES FOR SALE.  I tend to think of her as virtuous but serious women.  But I am delighted to say that she is quite a good comedienne and A NIGHT TO REMEMBER gives her ample opportunity to show this.  She has moments of hand wringing and “Oh Jeff!”-ing of course, but there are far more moments of her keeping pace with her husband and throwing off several witty and sarcastic one liners.  She loves Jeff but remains wholly unimpressed when he tries too hard to play the hero detective.  She gets scared sometimes by the strange goings-on in her new home but never lets it get the best of her, often sticking by Jeff during his sketchier investigations.  Loretta Young looks lovely as always, but she shows a bright and witty side of her talents that I hope to see more examples of!

Is A NIGHT TO REMEMBER a great screwball comedy on par with the best of them?  No, but I do think that it comes close.  This screwball comedy mystery is a truly fun and funny movie, and one that I hope more people will take the time to see.  In a genre that can too easily fall into troupes and well-used gags, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER takes a unique and smart approach to adapting The Frightened Stiff by Kelley Roos.  If you want a film that has a little bit of everything, including Sidney Toler and a turtle, then A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is for you!  As a special birthday treat for Loretta Young, I will leave you with a chance to watch it for yourself.

 

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Watching With Warner: CRACK-UP (1946)

What if I told you that I just watched a film noir that turned into a murder mystery?  What if I told you that said noir starred Pat O’Brien, Claire Trevor, and Herbert Marshall?  And what if I told you that this noir/murder mystery centered around the world of art and art forgery?  Impossible, you say!  But no!  It is true!  It can all be seen in CRACK-UP from 1946.

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The Manhattan Museum has been closed up for the night and a policeman is going his rounds when he is confronted by a strange sight.  A man, clearly delirious, has smashed a window and is now attempting to destroy a statue.  The policeman confronts and struggles with the man before subduing him.  Initially believing the man to be drunk the police and the museum board, led by one Dr. Lowell (Ray Collins), bring the man back to Dr. Lowell’s house to recuperate.  The man is George Steele (Pat O’Brien), art expert and lecturer at the museum who has just been released from military service.  Dr. Lowell deduces that George is not drunk but ill, and George furthers this idea by insisting to the police lieutenant that he has just been in a train accident.  Police Lieutenant Cochrane informs George that there have been no train accidents reported and that his mother was never taken to the hospital.  Dr. Lowell believes that George’s experiences in the military might be affecting his memory and so asks him to relate everything that he can remember leading up to that night in the museum.  George begins his tale…

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After giving a rather inflammatory lecture to a group of art lovers in the museum, George is receiving a dressing down by museum director Barton. The director feels that George’s lectures are far too explosive and is also annoyed by George’s promise to use an X-Ray machine to show his lecture goers how art forgeries are detected by using the recently exhibited Dürer’s Adoration of the Kings as an example.  Irritated by his boss’ closed minded behavior George runs into his girlfriend Terry Cordell (Claire Trevor) and her new friend Traybin (Herbert Marshall).  George and Terry head out for a date and drink and just as George begins to relax and enjoy himself, he receives an urgent phone call telling him that he mother has taken ill and has been taken to the hospital.  George hurries off to the train station, promising to call Terry in the morning.  Once there he gets his ticket and rushes to catch the train, almost running into a man half carrying another seemingly very drunk man.  Onboard George settles in and stares out the window.  To his horror he sees a train coming towards them, almost as if by design, and then colliding.

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Back in the present day George concludes his story by saying that after the train crash he suddenly found himself back at the museum.  Traybin, who has accompanied Terry to Dr. Lowell’s, excuses himself and asks Cochrane to follow him into the hall.  Once there Traybin, who is an English art expert, requests that Cochrane lets George go but have him tailed.  Cochrane agrees and George is released, but not before being fired by Barton.  Upon returning to his apartment, George, Terry, and Traybin find that it has been ransacked.  George confides to Terry that he worries that he is suffering from post-traumatic stress and she urges him to forget the events of that night.  But George can’t do that and he resolves to piece together just what happened to him.

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The next evening he boards the commuter train and finds that no one on board remembers seeing him.  Discouraged, he gets off at a station and asks the clerk there if he saw anything strange.  The clerk recalls seeing three men, two men helping one man who appeared to be very drunk, and George realizes that the third man must have been him.  He hurries back to the museum to inform his friend, and museum employee, Stevenson.  Stevenson has even more news as he has heard that Barton just got word that a Thomas Gainsborough recently lost at sea was in fact a fake.  George realizes that there must be another forgery currently in the museum and gets Stevenson to agree to help him get into the museum vaults later that night.  But when George returns to the museum to meet Stevenson he finds his friend dead and himself the prime suspect.

I bought CRACK-UP during the Black Friday sale at Warner Archive sole due to the cast and the fact that the plot started off with, “I’ve been in a train crash!” “There was no train crash!”.  Very THE LADY VANISHES.  I found that this was a really fun and intriguing mystery, a wholly unique take on the film noir.  As I said, there were moments that reminded me of THE LADY VANISHES and other elements of Hitchcock which gave the story an interesting and imaginative flair.  The story begins with George trying to figure out what happened on the train but quickly evolves into a murder mystery and caper movie.  This is not to say that it disregards its noir roots, on the contrary.  George is not only the everyman fighting against corruption but CRACK-UP addresses upfront the affects that post-traumatic stress had on the minds of the men suffering from it.

Pat O’Brien is quite good in this.  He is usually a loud tough guy but here he is much quieter and reserved, giving hints at the wounded and injured man below.  He even speaks in a softer register making George someone that you have to pay attention to.  This was a completely different role than what I was used to seeing him in and I have to say that he did a really great job.  He is well supported by Claire Trevor, who portrays Terry as a woman who loves her man and will do whatever he needs in order to help him.  And Herbert Marshall…well, he just needs to show up doesn’t he?

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CRACK-UP is a noir that is different and one that takes creative chances in its attempt to tell a story.  It is not quite like any other noir I have seen but it is definitely one that I will watch again, and one that deserves more recognition and appreciation!

Watching With Warner: WHILE THE PATIENT SLEPT (1935)

Those who know the Warner Archive Podcast will also know the name Allen Jenkins.  You will also have heard of the Jenkins Awards.  This is an award designed by DW Ferranti on the Warner Archive Podcast to celebrate great actors who have been forgotten by popular culture, such as namesake Allen Jenkins.  Listeners are invited to write in and nominate their favorite actors or actresses for a chance at the Jenkins Award, which I also encourage you all to do.  My personal nominee is one Aline MacMahone, a fabulous actress who is most well-known for playing good-hearted wives and mothers but who is sadly mostly forgotten today.  So imagine my delight when I found a movie that not only stars Aline MacMahone as a crime solving nurse, but that also features Allen Jenkins!  Being that this movie is pretty short, only sixty-five minutes long, and is also a whodunit mystery in an effort to not spoil anything my recap will be briefer than usual.

One stormy night Richard Federie receives a telegram.  The message is brief but the contents are shocking enough to give Mr. Federie a stroke, just as he was reaching for his green model elephant above the fireplace.  He falls to the floor and drops the elephant, and this is where his family finds him.  His clan is full of the usual suspicious characters, a devoted granddaughter (Patricia Ellis) and her lover (Lyle Talbot), a bitter niece (Dorothy Tee), a spiteful daughter-in-law (Helen Flint), an insufferable cousin (Hobart Cavanaugh), a lawyer (Henry O’Neill) and a greedy son (Robert Barrat).  In fact it is the son that will cause the most trouble, as we will soon see.

Through the stormy night comes a car bearing nurse Sarah Keate (Aline MacMahone).  She has been sent for to care for the ailing Mr. Federie and that is just what she intends to do.  Before settling in for the night Federie’s granddaughter, March, comes in to check on her beloved grandfather and his nurse.  After asking if Sarah needs anything else, March requests to be summoned first if her grandfather should awaken as she is certain that he will want to speak to her first before anyone.  She then leaves and is soon followed by Mr. Federie’s son, Adolf.  Adolf also requests to be summoned first if his father wakes up as he is also certain that his father will wish to speak with him first.  In rapid succesion Sarah is accosted by the rest of the Federie clan, all of whom believe that they are the one that will be asked for first when the old man awakens.  By the time that cousin Eustace appears Sarah has had enough, and shoos him from the room after she assures him his name will be placed on the list!

Later that night, while everyone sleeps, March slips through her boyfriend’s room to check on her grandfather.  Her boyfriend, Ross, sees her go through but says nothing and lies back down.  After assuring herself that everything is as it should be, March leaves the room just moments before another visitor enters.  Adolf checks on the sleeping form of nurse Sarah and then hurries to the fireplace to retrieve the green elephant left there by his father.  He takes the elephant and begins to climb the stairs towards Ross’ room when suddenly a shot rings out.  Adolf falls and rolls down the stairs where he is discovered by Sarah.  Awakened by her cries the rest of the family converges on her room where they find Adolf, lying dead.  The family decides to call the police and it is at this moment that Adolf’s wife Isobel, now widow, appears asking what has happened.  When they tell her, Isobel seems slightly surprised but not as upset as you might expect her to be.

Policeman Lance O’Leary (Guy Kibbee) is on the case, along with his right hand man Jackson (Allen Jenkins)!  O’Leary and Jackson have worked with Sarah before, and O’Leary is pleased to be alongside her again.  With a love light in his eye, O’Leary sets about questioning the house staff and various family members.  Each seems more guilty than the next, but Sarah believes that March is the only family member who is above suspicion.  At that moment though, March is out in the rain talking with a mysterious man.  He pleads with her to do as he asks and she agrees before hurrying back inside.  She enters through the kitchen where she runs into Sarah and the cook.  She has also been spotted by the police who are in hot pursuit, and so she quickly slips out of the room.  Sarah, noticing the trail of water on the floor, hurriedly mops the floor just before the two policeman enter the kitchen.  When they ask if anyone has passed through Sarah answers, quite truthfully, that it doesn’t look like anyone has.

O’Leary bemoans to Sarah his surplus of suspects, and the fact that they are all lying so hard to make themselves look innocent that it makes them all look guilty.  At this point, the ballistics expert has arrived and delivers his findings to the detectives.  He believes that Adolf was shot from the balcony above, but Sarah remembers seeing movement behind the curtains just below the stairs.  In fact, she wonders, if Adolf was leaning over the railing at the time when he was shot could it not appear that he was shot from above?  It could!  And Sarah has now remembered something more!  When she discovered the body the little green elephant was lying nearby, the very same little elephant that she returned to the mantelpiece before the rest of the family arrived.  This elephant must be the key to the entire case!  But when Sarah and O’Leary go to retrieve it, they find that it has disappeared!  Where could it have gotten to?  Sarah soon learns that the butler has taken it, but he quickly returns it to her saying that he has felt eyes on him ever since he took it.  O’Leary now believes that the butler is the most likely suspect but he is forced to reconsider when the butler is also found dead at the hands of the unknown assailant.

This is such a fun film, I really enjoyed it!  It is based on a character created by American author, Mignon G. Eberhart, who was thought to be the equivalent of Agatha Christie.  Sarah Keates was featured in several novels, two more of which have been made into feature films from the Warner Archive.  They each feature Ann Sheridan as Sarah Keates, and I am definitely planning on checking them out.  But I will say that I am sad that this is the only time that Aline MacMahone took on the role.

Aline MacMahone is really an underrated actress, and not one that many people know today.  My first time seeing her was alongside Ann Dvorak in HEAT LIGHTNING and I was blown away immediately.  After seeing her in other films, such as HEROES FOR SALE, I was convinced that this was a great actress.  Some have called her homely or plain, but I think she is beautiful and real.  Her acting is always a wonderful combination of sharp wit, humor, pathos, and intelligence.  Her banter with O’Leary is quite funny and you get a good sense of what the relationship between these two characters is. The supporting cast is also terrific with Guy Kibbee putting on a great performance as the quick talking detective, Robert Barrat (reuniting with Aline MacMahone from HEROES FOR SALE) as the duplicitous son, and Allen Jenkins at his Allen Jenkins-iest as the right hand man who just wants to make captain!  This preview clip gives a good sense of what this movie is:

If you get a chance to see this film I highly suggest you do!  If you like Agatha Christie you will most likely be charmed by Sarah Keate and Detective O’Leary, I know that I was!