Saturday, May 28, 2011
Melodramatic intrigue meets down 'n dirty truck driving in director Raoul Walsh's They Drive By Night, a typically energetic Warner Bros. production from 1940. The film follows truckers George Raft and Humphrey Bogart as they deal with punishing hours and low pay hauling produce on all-night drives. Ann Sheridan adds a salty cynicism as the waitress whom Raft takes a shine to. Although enjoyable, this is truly a movie with a split personality. It begins as a gritty working-class melodrama of the type Warners did so well, but then the latter half veers into overheated murder mystery with the arrival of Ida Lupino as the scheming wife of the trucking company boss (Alan Hale). Lupino's big courtroom scene is campy beyond belief, but it only detracts slightly from what is an exciting corker of a movie.
Joyce Compton appears in They Drive By Night's second half as the ditsy girlfriend of Raft and Bogart's fellow driver, played by Roscoe Ates (when Ates declares that she's worth a million bucks, she replies "and just as hard to get."). She's appealing as ever and holds her own against her more famous co-stars in a role that is strangely unbilled, despite its decent size. The following year, Raoul Walsh, George Raft and Alan Hale would re-team on another gritty Warners melodrama, Manpower — with a certain cute "dumb blonde" actress also participating.
They Drive By Night was given a nice DVD treatment by Warner Home Video in 2003 with a new "making of" featurette and a vintage Warner Bros. short called Swingtime in the Movies added as extras. Buy at Amazon.com here.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Behind the Mask counts among the handful of films Joyce Compton did for the budget Monogram studio in the 1940s — whether she was a signed contract player there remains to be seen. Monogram's offerings spanned several genres including Westerns, Romances, Musicals and Film Noir Melodrama. Solid, modest entertainment was the hallmark of their best product, but even the lousiest of Monogram pictures (and trust me, there's plenty) had a scrappy charm.
Behind the Mask was the second of three Monogram productions starring popular radio character The Shadow. What sounds like a promising, gritty drama going in, however, ends up a strange, grimy little film that awkwardly injects comedy into an otherwise unremarkable whodunit. The story concerns the murder of a blackmailing newspaper reporter. Witnesses believe it was the Shadow who committed the deed; the Shadow's alter ego Lamont Cranston (Kane Richmond, sort of a poor guy's Phillip Terry) must prove otherwise with the help of his daffy girlfriend Margo Lane (Barbara Read). Having never heard a radio ep of The Shadow, I can't tell how much fidelity this film has to the source material. The film is an OK time waster whose one (tiny) distinction is Read's chucking of all demure femininity in a proto-Lucille Ball turn.
Joyce appears briefly as a flirty nightclub employee attempting to rope Cranston into a sting operation. She does her best, but the role is typical of the diminishing parts she was taking as her career was fading. Behind the Mask spent years not being available on any home video format, but it has recently turned up as a Netflix Watch Instantly offering.