Showing posts with label John Farrow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Farrow. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sorority House (1939)

Sorority House (1939)

Alice Fisher (Anne Shirley) and her father Lew (J.M. Kerrigan) live simple lives. Mr. Fisher runs a humble grocery story and his bright daughter helps him with the ins and outs of the business. Attending Talbot University is a pipe dream for Alice until her father surprises her with a selfless gift. He sacrifices what little money he has for two years tuition so Alice can fulfill her dream. Once at college, Alice immediately gets caught up the social politics of sorority culture. Being part of a good sorority, like the Gamma House, ensures a proper standing in campus culture.

Anne Shirley and J.M. Kerrigan in Sorority House (1939)
Anne Shirley and J.M. Kerrigan
"I'll miss your brains." - Mr. Fisher to his daughter Alice

Alice rooms with two very different coeds. First there is Dotty (Barbara Read), a wise-cracking dame who befriends Alice and rejects sorority culture because she's been rejected herself. She refers to fellow rejects as dreeps (a dreary college girls who weep). Then there is Merle (Adele Pearce, later known as Pamela Blake) who has drunk the sorority Kool-Aid and wants nothing more than to be a member of the Gamma House. Alice and Merle soon discover the downside of sorority rushes. Merle becomes the target of powerful Gamma sorority ice queen Neva (Doris Jordan, later known as Doris Davenport). Alice gets a boost from medical student Bill Loomis (James Ellison), a big man on campus who has a lot of sway with the Gamma girls. However, Alice starts to lose sight of her values and the simple lifestyle her father taught her, as she gets caught up in the tangle of campus life.

Anne Shirley, Barbara Read and Pamela Blake in Sorority House (1939)
Anne Shirley, Barbara Read and Pamela Blake

"That doesn't sound very democratic to me." - Alice
"Whoever told you college was democratic? - Dotty

Directed by John Farrow, Sorority House (1939) is a collegiate drama released by RKO. Based on a story by Mary Coyle Chase, the script is injected with a poignant social message by screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. As I do with many of Dalton Trumbo's works, I had quite a strong reaction to the story line and characters. At one point I felt the urge to slap Alice across the face and burn the Gamma House down to the ground. The story hooks you from that initially emotionally heartwarming scene so when the kick in the butt comes at the story's climax you feel it. Sorority House isn't just your run-of-the-mill collegiate fluff. It's a story with an important social message. It warns against the dangers of groups like sororities that do a lot of damage when they exclude or try to control others behaviors. The moral of the story: "live and let live."

"The essence of success is a good start." - Mrs. Scott (Elizabeth Risdon)

I particularly enjoyed the performances by J.M. Kerrigan and Anne Shirley. Poor James Ellison has a rather weak role as Alice's boyfriend. He's really there for the plot and doesn't add much more to the movie which is unfortunate. Actresses Veronica Lake and Marge Champion have bit roles as coeds. I wasn't able to spot them but maybe someone with a sharp eye can. Chill Wills has a brief role at the start of the film.

Anne Shirley and James Ellison

1930s era Sorority House
The Gamma girls

I have absolutely no interest in modern collegiate life so I live vicariously through these old movies. Sorority House has it's silly and somewhat backwards moments (like Mr. Fisher telling Dotty she might not become an Abe Lincoln but she could be the mother of a future president). However, I loved it's overall message. If you're looking for a good double bill, I recommend Sorority House (1939) with RKO's Finishing School (1934), both available from the Warner Archive Collection.

Sorority House (1939) is available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive. You can purchase the DVD from the WB Shop. Use my buy links to shop and you will help support this site. Thanks!

 Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Sorority House (1939) to review!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Alias Nick Beal (1949)

Alias Nick Beal (1949) poster

It's a story as old as time. A mortal sells his soul to the devil for what he really wants only to suffer the consequences later. Bargaining with evil always comes at a cost.

"I'd give my soul to nail him." - Joseph Foster

Joseph Foster (Thomas Mitchell) is a good man by all accounts. He's devoted to his wife Martha (Geraldine Wall). He runs an athletic club for wayward boys with his good friend Reverend Thomas Garfield (George Macready) and takes on a particular tough case with Larry Price (Darryl Hickman). As district attorney, he seeks to put a criminal in jail but just needs the proof.  And this is when his troubles begins. When he proclaims he would sell his soul for evidence needed in the case, a mysterious figure by the name of Nick Beal (Ray Milland) shows up. He's a strange man. He appears and disappears seemingly out of the blue. He's conjures up the much needed evidence and helps Foster run for governor. Then things start to spiral out of control. Foster develops a wandering eye when Beal hires prostitute Donna Allen (Audrey Totter) to play the role of dutiful campaign secretary and temptation to Foster. Then people start to question how Foster was able to get that evidence that had once been destroyed. Foster can't seem to shake the shadowy figure who haunts him day by day. Who exactly is Nick Beal and what does he want from Foster? Can Foster save his marriage, his career, his life?

Directed by John Farrow, Alias Nick Beal (1949) is a terrific Film Noir with a fantastic cast, captivating story, ominous music, beautiful and eerie cinematography. It's everything a film noir should be: dark, brooding and captivating. Based on an original story by Mindret Lord and adapted for the screen by Jonathan Latimer, Alias Nick Beal is a modern story in the tradition of Goethe's Faust. It's a morality tale with a clear warning against "trading principles for personal glory."

Audrey Totter and Ray Milland in Alias Nick Beal
Audrey Totter and Ray Milland in Alias Nick Beal

If you came to Alias Nick Beal for Ray Milland, you won't be disappointed. A few years after his Academy Award winning performance in The Lost Weekend, Milland wanted to strengthen his acting muscles with different types of characters. Nick Beal presented him with a chance to play a villain, a captivating one at that. Audrey Totter has a fantastic role as Donna who transforms from a lowlife to a career woman. She's a complex character who begins to doubt her newfound role. Totter is always amazing to watch on screen and I love her in this sort of two-part role. One of my favorite actors of all time Darryl Hickman has small but memorable role as a tough kid from the streets who becomes the recipient of Foster's benevolence. Cast members looked back on this film kindly. John Farrow and Audrey Totter both proclaimed it as one of their best films. Farrow could be tough on actors but he seemed to get on swimmingly with Milland.

Watching Alias Nick Beal, I couldn't help but feel like it came from a parallel universe. Another old Hollywood where many movies like this existed and this one just happened to sneak through to the other side. Perhaps it's the fact that this film is so highly sought-after and hard to get that makes it that way. This movie aired recently on TCM as part of their Summer Under the Stars tribute to Ray Milland. It was the first time they had ever screened the moment making it one not to miss. This film, along with many others, are part of the Paramount library owned and tightly controlled by MCA. If you find yourself with an opportunity to watch Alias Nick Beal, do so. Who knows when you'll get another chance.

Update: According to this article in The Hollywood Reporter, the last film Hugh Hefner screened at the Playboy Mansion, nine days before he passed away, was Alias Nick Beal. Did he tape it off of TCM?!

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