Snapshot of Joyce vacationing at California's Lake Arrowhead in the 1940s, photographer unknown.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
Here's how I described Ellis Island at my weblog, Scrubbles.net:
Another cruddy 1930s b-movie which would have otherwise gone past my radar, had Joyce Compton not co-starred. This had something to do with gangsters and a dopey pair of Ellis Island employees who uncover their dirty deeds, but it didn’t hold my interest whenever Joyce (tiny role as the nurse girlfriend of one of the dopes) wasn’t on screen – which wasn’t too often!
The dull, often incomprehensible Ellis Island found Joyce working at yet another poverty row studio (Invincible Pictures), playing yet another thankless part as the goofy sidekick's girlfriend. She doesn't appear in too many scenes (and looks rather distracted when she does). Probably the best thing about this incompetently made trifle is that it's very short - 67 minutes. Even at that brief length, this plodding flick still seems like it's about an hour too long!
Like many of Joyce's other films, Ellis Island has slipped into the public domain and is commonly available to watch online (such as at Archive.org) although the print leaves something to be desired. The version that I saw was a standalone DVD offered by Alpha Home Video which contains one of the worst-quality transfers I've ever seen on a disc. Not only was the picture blurry, it had VHS-era video artifacts at the bottom of the frame throughout the entire film. Buy Ellis Island here.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
Joyce Compton's career in the mid- to late-1930s seemed to alternate between leads in poverty row productions and supporting parts in b-movies from the big studios (With a few bit parts thrown in. Why? Only Joyce herself could tell you.) Among the big studio efforts she appeared in was 1936's Murder with Pictures, a cliché-ridden comedy/mystery from Paramount starring a too-smirky Lew Ayres (above left) as a newspaper photographer who enjoys outpacing the police on various hot cases. He winds up becoming part of the story he’s covering when an alluring mystery lady (Gail Patrick, below left) enters his apartment seeking shelter from the pursuing authorities. The woman is a murder suspect, wrongly accused and desperate to clear her name. Ayres winds up helping her AND coming up with the incriminating photograph that proves who the real killer is. A rather silly, slight film that (at the very least) moves along at a brisk pace and has a glossy production unusual for a b-picture. The plot gets needlessly complex and Ayres is more annoying than good - but raven-haired Patrick is a knockout. So is Joyce, for that matter. She’s got a fairly decent-sized role here as Ayres’ jealous fiancee, looking swanky in fur-lined ensembles designed by Edith Head.
Murder With Pictures has slipped into the public domain and is commonly available to watch online (such as at Archive.org) although the print leaves something to be desired. The version that I saw is included on the Mystery Classics 50 Movie Pack DVD collection released by Treeline/Mill Creek Entertainment in 2009.
Monday, April 16, 2012
Let 'Em Have It is a gritty little gangster pic made as the film industry was pressured to glorify the good, hard-working long arm of the law over the bad guys. The film follows three young FBI recruits, played by Richard Arlen, Henry Stephens and Gordon Jones, as they pursue an attempted extortion/kidnapping case involving the family of socialite Virginia Bruce. Produced by indie Edward Small Productions, this was a decent, faced-paced flick with more action and violence that what you’d normally expect from a ’30s-era picture. The story is very similar to the James Cagney vehicle G-Men, with all its straightforward and often unintentionally funny procedural scenes. Although it lacks the nuance of that film, it's a moderately interesting actioner.
Joyce's appearance in Let 'Em Have It is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it turn the pretty girlfriend of an eager-beaver young agent played by actor Eric Linden (seen below in a publicity still with Joyce). Her inconsequential role amounts to a couple of brief scenes - and she doesn't even appear at the funeral when Linden's character is killed! Miss Compton's talents would have been put to better use if she'd been cast as one of the film's two gangsters' floozies. Those colorful characters are played by Dorothy Appleby and Barbara Pepper - who both do a pretty good job.
Let 'Em Have It received a DVD release in 2005 as part of Sony Wonder's Gangsters, Guns & Floozies Crime Collection. The film is decently presented on disc with no extras. Buy at Amazon.com here.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Here's a screen shot of Edward Everett Horton and Paul Kelly flanking a surprised-looking Joyce in 1941's Ziegfeld Girl. This luxe MGM musical stars Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr as a trio of 1920s lovelies who meet different fates on their way down the Giant Staircase of Fame, when they become the lucky few hired as chorus girls in Flo Ziegfeld's famous Follies. It's quite a fun movie, albeit overlong and campy at times (especially the scenes with a too-young Turner as the responsibility-chucking, alcoholic Ziegfeld Girl). Garland fares the best as the perky, ambitious one whose well-intentioned yet clueless vaudeville hoofer dad (Charles Winninger) is holding her back. She also gets a good ballad to sing in "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." Stone-faced Lamarr is mesmerizing, but lacks a good storyline. First-billed Jimmy Stewart also appears as Turner's sensible trucker boyfriend, but he seems distracted - perhaps by Turner's embarrassing scenery-chewing?
Joyce appears in the first five minutes as an auditioning chorus girl in the office of Ziegfeld associate Paul Kelly, with supporting star Edward Everett Horton looking on in amusement. The gauche Joyce doesn't appear to have what it takes to be a Ziegfeld Girl. However, since the movie doesn't make her fate too clear, I prefer to think that she's in the chorus somewhere wearing those fabulous Adrian clothes during the "Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody" number. That's what the movies are for, right?
Ziegfeld Girl was given a nice DVD treatment by Warner Home Video back in 2004. The disc includes a special introduction, a deleted musical number with Garland, and bonus shorts. Buy at Amazon.com here.
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Blues in the Night ranks as one of the more enjoyable Warner Brothers melodramas of the 1940s. Silly and overblown at times, but engrossing nonetheless. Richard Whorf (above, left) heads a mid-level cast as jazz pianist Jigger Pine, a regular guy with a quartet that includes wormlike Elia Kazan, hulking Peter Whitney and young pup Billy Halop. The trio are at a crossroads. A scuffle with a belligerent customer at the dive where they’re playing lands them in jail, prompting them to stick with the noncommercial blues-influenced style they love. They travel to New Orleans to meet with trumpeter Jack Carson, who is married to lovely singer Priscilla Lane. The group form a swell combo, riding the rails and playing wherever they can to get a decent meal. Eventually they befriend gangster Lloyd Nolan, who leads them to a New Jersey dive where sad sack Wallace Ford and hard-bitten singer Betty Field (who is amazing in this) work. The story gets very complex from there, helped along by some eye-popping montages from the uncredited Don Siegel. I love the “traveling across America” montage and the “I hate these singing lessons” montage. The “I’m going crazy” montage is a pip, as well.
Joyce Compton appears in the film's first five minutes as a blonde patron in the seedy bar where Wharf's band is playing. Although Joyce's character is seen enjoying the jazzy tunes, her drunk dancing partner (played by Matt McHugh, brother of W.B. character actor Frank McHugh) is annoying the band with his persistent requests for "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles". His pestering causes a barroom brawl which prompts Wharf & Co. to go and ply their trade in New Orleans. Joyce is quite cute in this tiny role. It's not very indicative of the more substantial parts she was doing at this time in movies like Bedtime Story and Sky Murder, however.
In 2008, Warner Bros. released Blues in the Night in a nicely packaged DVD with several bonus cartoons and musical shorts that utilize the famous Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer title song. It is available (cheap!) at Amazon.com here.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
“Pre Code Shirley Tempe” might be the best description for the heated Southern drama Lena Rivers, which recently came out on DVD under its reissue title The Sin of Lena Rivers. The film focuses on elfin actress Charlotte Henry playing a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who bears the stigma of illegitimate parentage. Henry’s Lena Rivers is raised by her grandmother (Beryl Mercer doing her usual kindhearted mama thing) after he mother dies in childbirth. After the grandfather dies in a boating accident, the duo are invited to live with a rich uncle in their relatives’ plush Kentucky mansion. The girl doesn’t fit in with the hoi polloi, preferring the company of the servants, but one neighbor (James Kirkwood) has a strange bond with the girl — even gifting her with a wild horse that only she can tame. As it turns out, the neighbor is the girl’s father and her ability to turn the horse into a racing champion is what will endear her to the others. A rather sweet film that is marred somewhat by its condescending attitude towards black people (Henry even observes that they’re “like children” when she spies a group of them relaxing and singing). Charlotte Henry was best known for playing Alice in the flop 1933 version of Alice in Wonderland; here she is merely okay.
In a good-sized role, Joyce Compton appears as the vixenish Southern belle who gets jealous when Charlotte Henry comes between her and her beau (Morgan Galloway). Her scenes are worth a peek in this otherwise routine, overly predictable outing.
The DVD for Lena Rivers is a typical Alpha Home Video outing with scratchy picture and muffled sound quality. The Spring 2011 release can be bought at Amazon.com here.