Category Archives: james cagney
Quicksand ~ I bet you never knew Mickey Rooney made a film noir, did you? This lost flick from 1950 stars Rooney as a good old American kid, almost a grown up Andy Hardy without the smarts who wants to take a flashy girl, played by Jeanne Cagney (Jimmy’s sister), out and impress her. He sneaks twenty bucks from the register at work, fully intending to return it the next day, and chaos ensues. She’s not the innocent girl she seems, and is involved in shady dealings, including the creepy and fearsome Peter Lorre who runs the local arcade.
Though for the most part forgotten, this is a pure example of film noir, as our mostly innocent protagonist falls deeper and deeper into a criminal whirlpool of quicksand, thus the title. Taken from Cornell Woolrich story and deftly played by the cast, this film was also one of the first to feature product placement – keep an eye out for Pepsi and Bit-O-Honey.
Quicksand does have two failings, and they’re not all that bad, and of course I’m excluding the, er, intriguing fashion of the time. It suffers from the Woody Woodpecker syndrome of “None of this would have happened if only he’d gone to the police in the first place.” Also, it’s hard to ever forget that Mickey Rooney is anybody other than Mickey Rooney. Still, it’s an intriguing time capsule, and a great lost film noir.
I discovered something a couple months back. At our local National Amusements theater, Showplace at the Ritz in Voorhees NJ, they have a weekly feature called “Silver Screen Classics” where every Monday they show a classic film from yesteryear for only two bucks, including popcorn and a soda. What a bargain!
Some of the films shown that I’ve seen so far:
The Time of Your Life ~ A quirky little flick that was a labor of love for James Cagney and his wife Jeanne. Based on a William Saroyan play and shakily brought to the screen, it’s more of a series of character studies set in a bar rather than an actual story, and yet it’s quite entertaining. William Bendix shines as Nick the bartender, Tom Powers plays the heavy and crazy old James Barton steals the show as Kit Carson. Enjoyable.
Busy Bodies ~ Classic Laurel and Hardy, this time as sawmill workers. Offered as a pre-show to the above flick, this was a wonderful reminder of the comedic genius of the team. Great gags and stunts sure to entertain children and adults of all ages.
At War with the Army ~ This first Martin and Lewis film was a bit of a disappointment. First the print wasn’t so hot, but also because it just wasn’t that funny – to me at least. The audience was roaring. I just never found Jerry Lewis to be all that funny with Dean, he was annoying if anything, and here he does his finest annoying. Dean is good here and the bits of him, without Jerry, being funny were good I thought.
Wine, Women and Bong ~ Shown before the above movie, this was a pleasant surprise. And it should be noted that the pre-shows for the Silver Screen Classics are sometimes the best part. Directed by Three Stooges veteran Jules White this short featured the short-lived comedy team of Max Baer and Max ‘Slapsie Maxie’ Rosenbloom. What was interesting was that they were both ex-boxers, but it was only Rosenbloom who acted punch drunk most of the time. Rosenbloom actually sounded much like Michael Rispoli in Death to Smoochy. They were no Three Stooges and some of the gags were a bit predictable, but I laughed harder at this than at Martin and Lewis. Great stuff.
Beat the Devil ~ An all-star cast and great folks behind the camera, this flick never lives up to what it could have been. I can easily see this remade as a suspenseful caper, but here it never gets up to a lukewarm drama. Directed by John Huston and written by Truman Capote and starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley and Gina Lollobrigida, there is much promise, but as I said, no impact, in this flick about conmen out for oil-rich property in Africa. A big part of the problem is Jennifer Jones, acting as an amateur here, and also that Bogart was sick at the time and not up to his usual antics. The pacing is also deadly dull. This could be good, as I said, it’s just begging for a remake.
Call It Murder ~ Originally released as Midnight (actually a much more logical title), this was pushed as a Humphrey Bogart film even though he’s only peripherally in it. Obviously it was repackaged after Bogie made it big in gangster films. Still, it’s a nice little stage drama. It borders on preachy in a few places when talking about the death penalty but for the most part delivers the goods.
Second Chorus ~ Never been a Fred Astaire fan but this was a surprise. The biggest surprise was Burgess Meredith out of “Twilight Zone” and “Batman” mode. The man has quite a range – here he’s Astaire’s best friend and rival for the girl and a job with Artie Shaw’s orchestra. He might lose that contest but he certainly steals the film from Fred Astaire and his dancing feet.
For the latest schedule of upcoming films, please check out the Silver Screen Classics website.