Sunday, March 22, 2009

'Prison Shadows' done in by weak script

Prison Shadows (1936)
Starring: Edward Nugent, Joan Barclay, Lucille Lund,and Syd Saylor
Director: Robert Hill
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

When boxer Gene Harris (Nugent) kills two men in the ring in two fights seperated by a three-year manslaughter stint in the clink, his trainer (Saylor) smells a rat and tries to investigate.

That's not the best summary of "Prison Shadows", but a more detailed one would give away too much of the plot. Unfortunately, that plot is one that will barely make sense to even the most attentive viewer. It's not that it's overly complicated... it's just that it's dumb, with bad guys that are even dumber. (And they're not dumb for comedy... they're just dumb.)

And speaking of dumb. I think the character Gene has got to be one of the most frustrating characters I've ever experienced in a film. The level of obliviousness he shows to the affection that Good Girl Mary Comstock (Barclay) has for him while he carries his torch for Femme Fatale Clair Thomas (Lund) is maddening.I usually don't mind romantic subplots, but this one bugged the heck out of me.

It's a shame the script for this film is so awful, because all the actors are good in their parts--Nugent is perhaps the weakest of the bunch, but I may feel that way due to his bone-headed character more than anything. He wasn't exactly bad... he was just "blah" when compared to everyone else.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's Spy vs Spy in this Karloff-starring WW2 propaganda film

British Intelligence (aka "Enemy Agent")(1940)
Starring: Margaret Lindsay, Boris Karloff, and Holmes Herbert
Director: Terry Morse
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

It's World War I. The German high command dispatches the beautiful master-spy Helene (Lindsay) to London to help the legendary German agent Strengler infiltrate of the very highest levels of the British war ministry. But British Intelligence have uncovered Strengler's ring, and they've inserted a double-agent into it. But which of the German spies is truly loyal to Britain? The milkman? The minister's secretary? Or maybe this is a case where the butler (Karloff) truly can't be trusted? Who will carry the day in the game of spy vs. spy double-crosses?

"British Intelligence" is a nice little spy movie with healthy doses of World War II propaganda. Despite its outdated political messages, the film is still fun to watch today for anyone who enjoys spy movies.

The film offers of a steady stream of plot twists and turns as British and German agents and double-agents try to trap and outwit each other. It is is well directed, with fine acting, great lighting and camera work, and no padding whatsoever. The final chase scene through the streets of London as it is being bombed by German zeppelins is very tense and expertly executed.

And, although we might think that Boris Karloff has GOT to be the mysterious master spy Spengler--he's Boris Karloff and the's got that creepy scar--the film is so well-crafted that it proves us wrong time again. Karloff may be creepy in the film, but is he a hero or a villain? The film will almost be an an end before we know for sure!

On the downside, the film starts to feel a little like a "Spy Vs. Spy" cartoon (from the old "MAD Magazine") toward the end, and the ending that I'm sure must have seemed ironic or poetic to viewers in the 1940s feels EXACTLY like the end of a "Spy Vs. Spy" cartoon.

Still, the film held my interest until the end, and it's a nice little time capsule featuring a tight story and fine performances. It's political message might be dated, but it's still a film that's worth seeing today.