The second film was completely new to me, a povert row little gem called MIDNIGHT MANHUNT directed by William C.Thomas (many a producer but he directed half a dozen low budget noir/crime dramas in the 40s) and excellently scripted by David Lang with first class dialogue which is above the usual standard for this kind of fare. Checking Lang out on IMDb I found that he spent most of his long career as a writer contributing scripts to television Westerns and to my surprise I found that I had in my collection what must have been his most prestigious work, HELLCATS OF THE NAVY, an execrable movie starring future President Ronald Reagan and his First Lady, Nancy, which is in everyway inferior to MIDNIGHT MANHUNT. The plot has a dying gangster finding his way into a wax museum where various characters with various motives play hide 'n' seek with the corpse. Direction by Thomas is adequate but the cast is outstanding with Zucco as the suave killer, the wonderful Ann Savage (from DETOUR) as the reporter who lives above the museum. William Gargan as her rival and boyfriend and, in a scene stealing performance, Leo Gorcey as Clutch (although I swear its pronounced Klutz in the movie) who moiders the English language as only he can. Zucco has less to do here than in THE BLACK RAVEN but he does get to pistol whip Ann Savage! Rating ***
Tuesday, 30 March 2010
THE BLACK RAVEN (1943) and MIDNIGHT MANHUNT (1946)
Some film fans wait with excitement mounting, for the latest CGI laden epic from Hollywood. My pulse quickens when I find a George Zucco film I've not seen before and last night I found two! What is more, one of these films I'd never heard of! Let's start with THE BLACK RAVEN. This one I've known about for years. When it was announced for production back in the 1940's in the British trade paper Kinematograph Renters Weekly it was linked with the Edgar Allan Poe poem The Raven, but there is no connection now in the credits and certainly not in the plot. Said plot is the standard poverty row B-movies Old Dark House, although here it is an Old Dark Inn. The Inn is called The Black Raven and is run by a shady character (who else but George Zucco) whose underworld moniker was also The Black Raven. On a stormy, rain-swept night when the bridge has been swept away various people - an eloping couple, a corrupt politician, an embezzling bank clerk and a gang boss on the run - all find themselves stranded at the Inn along with mein host Zucco and his less than bright handy man (Glenn Strange doing a good job as a B-list Lon Chaney Jr.) while outside a killer prowls (I.Stanford Jolley). Ingredients for this kind of film don't get much better. The cast is more than competent and Sam Newfield's direction is good enough to keep things moving along without too much padding. It is, however, George Zucco who makes the film special. Zucco could lift any film of this kind a couple of notches but here he really is on top form. Just watch his face. He's obviously enjoying the whole thing enormously and at times can barely repress a smile - in one scene, as the picture fades to black and just before the cut, he can clearly be seen grinning! His delivery is flippant and the flicker of amusement across his face make him easily, as he so often was, the Man of the Match. Rating : ***
I watched both films on line at The Internet Archives.