Monday, July 8, 2013

Stuff I Scrambled to See on Netflix Before It Expired Theater (Part 2)

Well, it's been nearly two months since I scrambled to see it all, but, hey, I still saw it. So here are some capsule reviews of another batch of those titles that kept me busy before the big May 1 Massacre. Today's installment is Monogram Madness.

There's something about that Monogram logo coming up at the beginning of a picture that fills my heart with joy. The Poverty Row studio cranked out a bunch the man nicknamed "One Shot" cranked out tons of these  of movies in Hollywood's Golden Age, and, sure, many of them were considerably less than golden, but many are still enjoyable today. One type of film the company specialized in was the comedy thriller. Often it featured a sassy lady and a bland but well-meaning fella teaming up to solve some kind of mystery, experiencing some scares and some bumps on the head (maybe even a moider or two) along the way.

Netfliz quietly added a bunch of these (and other studios' similar efforts) a few years back, and they are unpretentious little programmers that almost always get in and out in under 70-75 minutes.

Fashion Model (1945) is an enjoyable picture that is still available on Instant Watching. The name William Beaudine is a familiar one to B-movie buff; "One Shot" cranked out tons of these back in the day. It's tempting to say that all of the cheapo quickies Beaudine made, this of them. But really this is a legit charmer.

As the opening credits rolled, I wondered why this "Tim Ryan" fellow was getting such prominent billing with Robert Lowery and Marjorie Weaver. Then I saw the screenplay credit: "Tim Ryan." Aha! Ryan is a police detective (unimaginatively named 'O'Hara") who tries to solve the murder of a fashion model in conjunction with/competition with/in pursuit of the leads' stockboy/model combo. See, Lowery's character is himself accused of the crime, so he has to clear his name by finding the REAL killer, and his girlfriend helps him, and--well, hey, just because it's a familiar tale doesn't mean it can't be entertaining.

I'm happy to report that this title survived the May 1 purge and returned a day or so later. So if you have an hour to kill and seek an unassuming time-waster, I recommend "Fashion Model" for your Instant Watching pleasure.

Two Shadow movies starring Kane Richmond as the pulp hero are not currently available on Instant Watching, but they are worth tracking down. Of the two, I found the second, The Missing Lady,  tenser and more involving than Behind the Mask (both from 1946), but be forewarned: These movies present a much lighter take on the character than, well, just about any other take on the character outside of "Mad" magazine.

Richmond, already a veteran of serials when he starred in The Shadow Returns (which was NOT one of the titles available on Netflix, and I'd sure like to see it), is a solid if unspectacular presence as Lamont Cranston. He receives able support from Barbara Read as longtime gal Margo Lane, but more importantly, ubiquitous era character actor George Chandler makes an amusing and compelling sidekick.

The pictures Netflix posted, plus the Shadow name and the movie titles, made these sound noirish, but these are much more comedy-mysteries in the typical Monogram vein than anything resembling hard-boiled. They are competently made, though, under the direction of Phil Karlson, who went on to make some truly stellar legitimate noirs. I'm sorry to report these are NOT on Netflix now, but I'll keep an eye out and try to let you know if and when they return.

UPDATE: As we were going to press (Actually, I could have revised this post to integrate this, but I always wanted to say that), I saw 1945's Tragedy at Midnight, one of the Republic pictures that is set to expire from Netflix on July 15. It is in much the same vein, under an hour, featuring a pair of radio detectives of sorts who  become suspects in a case. It's fast-moving with some amusing touches, like when Roscoe Karns, a detective assigned by the beleaguered police to basically harass John Howard's radio star because he makes them look bad, is talking to his boss on the telephone in a split screen, and at the end of the exchange, they gasp at each other. This one is apparently only gonna be around another week, but it's also worth a look.