Under the Red Robe (1937)

It seems to me that there is often something special about films set during the period of king Louis XIII (with Cardinal Richelieu in the head of government). I guess it is the gilt from The Three Musketeers, with all of its nice adaptations, that rubs off a bit. One such film that can be found at the Internet Archive is Under the Red Robe.

Conrad Veidt in Victor Sjöström's Under the Red Robe (1937)

This romantic adventure finds the swordsman Gil de Berault in trouble. He is in danger of being executed for duelling, but the sly Cardinal Richelieu gives him an opportunity for pardon if he can find and capture a rebellious protestant. de Berault eagerly sets off to do the task, but as the plot progresses, he is about to find obstacles he had not anticipated.

The director of this typical genre piece was Victor Sjöström (sometimes called “Victor Seastrom” in Hollywood, as also in this British production). Sjöström started making film in Sweden, where he directed simple melodramas in the early 1910s. He quickly moved to more advanced topics, and made several timeless classics, such as The Outlaw and His Wife (1918) and The Phantom Carriage (1921). Sjöström was recruited to Hollywood, where he also made several very good silents, but in the early 1930s, he moved back to Europe. He still acted and produced films, but for some reason he directed very few of his own in the sound era. Under the Red Robe, his last film, is nowhere near as groundbreaking as some of his classic works, but it is a nice piece of craftsmanship.

Unfortunately, the copy at the Internet Archive is pretty blurry in places, and contrast is poor overall. I know of no better online version, however.

This film is best enjoyed if you are a fan of either Conrad Veidt (de Berault) or Raymond Massey (Richelieu). Both are very good, even though I think Massey (always an enjoyable and dedicated actor) perhaps overacts a bit at times. The female lead, Annabella, is given first billing in the credits, but even though she is also good as the sister of the religious rebel, she is mostly forgotten nowadays.

Conrad Veidt and Annabella in Victor Sjöström's Under the Red Robe (1937)

Under the Red Robe
Download link
Year: 1937
Running time: 1 h 22 min
Director: Victor Sjöström
Stars: Conrad Veidt, Annabella
Image quality: Acceptabe
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (577 M)

Advertisements

Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes war (1937)

There is a lot of German film at the Internet Archive. There are German wartime newsreels, silent classics from the German Expressionism and World War II propaganda such as Kampf um Norwegen, just to mention a few important categories.

Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes war, this week’s film, has nothing to do with wars nor expressionism, however. It is a very refreshing mystery comedy, and as the title implies there is also a Sherlock Holmes connection.

Hans Albers and Heinz Rühmann in Der Mann der Sherlock Holmes war / The Man who was Sherlock Holmes (1937)

The film begins with two persons, dressed up as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, stopping a train in the middle of the night in order to get on board. We soon find out that they are not the famous detective and his companion at all. Exactly what they are after is something we are not told at this point, but everyone fall for their ruse. The train personnel do everything they can to help them, while a couple of criminals on board bolt for the woods, just in case, leaving their baggage behind. “Watson” and “Holmes” soon encounter a couple of very nice women in the next compartment and promptly develop a romantic interest.

This beginning may sound a bit convoluted, and I guess it is. And even while the rest of the film follows the same pattern story-wise, it is made with such charm and skill that I am drawn into the fiction without reservation or hesitation.

The Sherlock Holmes fanatic will be disappointed to learn that the “real” Holmes never shows up in this film, but as a consolation, there is a fictional Arthur Conan Doyle who appears briefly on a few occasions.

The film is set largely in and around the 1910 World’s Fair in Brussels. In addition to the themes of fake identities and romance, we find elements such as rare postage stamps, forgery and a strange inheritance. The whole thing ends with a trial in a gigantic courtroom. A worthy conclusion of a film that, all things considered, must be said to be well worth a watch.

There are no subtitles for this film, so stay away unless you know German.

This film is best enjoyed for the brilliant actors. Hans Albers is often recognized for his excellent portrayal of the fake Holmes, but Heinz Rühmann is perhaps even better as his equally fake Watson sidekick.

Hans Albers in Der Mann der Sherlock Holmes war / The Man who was Sherlock Holmes (1937)

Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes war
Download link
Year: 1937
Language: German (no subtitles)
Running time: 1 h 46 min
Director: Karl Hartl
Stars: Hans Albers, Heinz Rühmann
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (512×384)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (701 M)

Atlantic Flight (1937)

In one of my first posts on this blog, I wrote about the 1937 film Non-Stop New York, and how that film had been influenced by real-world events, namely the first commercial transatlantic roundtrip, made by pilot Dick Merrill.

Merrill became something of a hero and celebrity after his flight, and Non-Stop New York was not the only film based on his trip. In fact, Merrill starred in the film Atlantic Flight. Not only did he play the pilot Dick Bennett on a mission which is suspiciously similar to his own celebrated flight, but his real-world co-pilot played his fictional co-pilot as well, and they even used the same plane for some scenes. The character Bennett was perhaps named after the airfield Floyd Bennett Field, where Merrill landed after his return flight.

Dick Merrill as Dick Bennett in Atlantic Flight (1937)

Merrill actually made several transatlantic flights, and the first two are often confused with one another. The first was called the Ping-Pong Flight, because thousands of ping-pong balls had been crammed into empty spaces in wings and fuselage in order to make the plane float if it had to land on water. The balls were later sold as memorabilia. The second flight, Coronation Flight, was that first commercial roundtrip flight. The cargo was news photos of the Hindenburg disaster (going east) and George VI’s coronation (going west), allowing newspapers on both sides to scoop their competition, since photos could not be sent by cable back in those days.

As far as I understand, the flight dramatized in the film is a mashup of the two flights, using dramatic elements from both. The purpose of the movie flight, however, is entirely original, involving bringing back a serum to save a person’s life. The film’s rather thin plot centers around this achievement.

It has often been stated as a fact that actual in-flight film from Merrill’s real flight was used in the making of the movie, but even if that is true, it is only a matter of a few seconds of film from the take-off and/or the landing. The rest is mostly model and studio shots, along with some stock footage. All in all, the flight scenes must be considered to be acceptable considering the film’s budget and production time, but they would not be reason by themselves to watch the film.

This film is best enjoyed for its connection with historic events. Frankly, it is not a good film, and Frank Merrill is terrible in his role, acting with the entire repertoire of a brick. Non-Stop New York, while also a B movie, is a far better movie, but Atlantic Flight remains an interesting film because it is much more closely interwoven with Merrill’s real flight. If you want even more of the real historical connection behind the film, the Internet Archive contains a Pathé news reel which not only covers the George VI coronation and the Hindenburg disaster, but also news about Amelia Earhart’s fateful last flight. Earhart went missing around the same time that Atlantic Flight was produced, and she used the exact same model aircraft (Lockheed Model 10E Electra) as Merrill did for Coronation Flight, though both planes had been considerably altered.

Lockheed Model 10E Electra in Atlantic Flight (1937)

Atlantic Flight
Download link
Year: 1937
Running time: 59 min
Director: William Nigh
Stars: Frank Merrill
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×576)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (698 M)

Zorro Rides Again (1937)

There is a strong link between the characters of Zorro and Batman, a link that I have a feeling has not yet been thoroughly explored. I will come back to that link later on.

Zorro Rides Again was the first (and best) of three serials based on the Zorro character. All three are available from the Internet Archive, and I may quite possibly return to the other two in the future.

Duncan Renaldo and John Carroll in Zorro Rides Again (1937)

This version does not try to be very creative with the Zorro character. It is not a reboot per se, yet largely builds its own background and characters; still everything pretty much remains from earlier versions. The main character is the original Zorro’s great grandson James Vega, and when he arrives to help protect a railroad construction plagued by a villainous terrorist called El Lobo, great hopes are placed on him. But like his forefather, he pretends to be a foppish dillettante by day, only to change into Zorro’s costume by night. All the old attributes are here. The only thing missing is the black cape.

Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman’s creators, drew inspiration from many sources and characters when creating Batman. One of them, The Bat, has already been covered in this blog. Other sources have been reported to include Sherlock Holmes and The Phantom. Kane has reportedly said that one of his sources was the film The Mark of Zorro (1920). There is no reason to doubt the truth of the statement, of course. Douglas Fairbanks’ Zorro film has been tremendously influential on a number of levels, not least for the Zorro character himself.

Yet I think we should not dismiss Zorro Rides Again. Admittedly, it may not be as elegant or ground-breaking as The Mark of Zorro, but there are two reasons to believe that it may have left an impact on Batman. To begin with, it was released only two years prior to the first published Batman story, so the timing is much better than for the considerably older Fairbanks film. But even more to the point, Zorro Rides Again may have been the first use of Zorro’s underground cavern hideout, and thus not only provided inspiration for many Zorro incarnations to come, but potentially served as a model for the Batcave.

So my bottom line is that while The Mark of Zorro may have been the main inspiration going from Zorro to Batman, Zorro Rides Again may well have stimulated Kane’s interest in the Zorro character, and it probably also contributed some small pieces of inspiration itself.

This serial is best enjoyed if you enjoy serials in general or if you want an introduction to the genre. It is a good representative with a lot of nice action and fancy stuntwork. The plot may be stupid at times, but it is never dull. The actors … well, you never watch serials for the actors, anyhow.

John Carroll in Zorro Rides Again (1937)

Zorro Rides Again
Download link (first chapter and links to the other eleven)
Year: 1937
Running time: 3 h 34 min
Directors: John English, William Witney
Stars: John Carroll
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable

Young and Innocent (1937)

One of Hitchcock‘s most common themes, and one which remained with him for almost his entire career, is that of an innocent man (or woman) who has to flee from the authorities in order to clean his name. There is also bound to be a bit of romance and love along the way. Hitchcock’s most famous movie of this kind was perhaps North by Northwest, but he used it many times, even in one of his early silent films.

Nova Pilbeam and Derrick De Marney in Alfred Hitchcock's Young and Innocent (1937)

Young and Innocent (known as The Girl Was Young in America) is a typical example. Here we see young Robert who happens to be the first to find a murdered woman. It turns out that the murder was committed with a belt from a raincoat, just such a raincoat that Robert claims was stolen from him earlier. To make matters worse, Robert appears to have a motive since he had unfinished business with the woman.

Hitchcock’s way of telling the story is typical. There is never any doubt about where our sympathies are supposed to lie, just as there is never any real doubt that the ending will be a happy one. So very soon after the film has begun, we know pretty much how the story will end. And even so, Hitchcock manages to enthrall us, and makes us stay spellbound right up to the very end.

The excitement in this kind of Hitchcock story stems not from the uncertainty about the ending, as in a good whodunnit, but in what way we are going to get there. Our protagonist is placed in a seemingly endless series of predicaments, each of which seems nearly without escape. Thus, Hitchcock manages to build simultaneously upon our inherent demand for security and our wish to be excited and just a little bit terrified.

It is interesting that the novel upon which Young and Innocent was based is originally a whodunnit, but Hitchcock took away and added elements until he had the story he was interested in telling.

There is a clear relationship between this “falsely accused” subgenre and the road movie genre, since the plot often involves the protagonist fleeing from place to place, trying to pick up clues or just staying one step ahead of his hunters. However, unlike a proper road movie, there is rarely much real character development evident in Hitchcock’s protagonists.

This film is best enjoyed for Hitchcock’s masterful storytelling techniques, not least the wonderful dolly tracking sequence through the ballroom and onto extreme closeup on the face of a band member. Brilliant and elegant.

George Curzon in Alfred Hitchcock's Young and Innocent (1937)

Young and Innocent
Download link
Year: 1937
Running time: 1 h 22 min
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Nova Pilbeam, Derrick De Marney
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (2.1 G)

A Star is Born (1937)

A Star is Born is a film which should not be good. But it is.

The theme seems to be a perfectly hopeless one. Country girl goes to Hollywood, hoping to be a star of the movies. She succeeds. End of story. I mean, anyone knows that it is practically impossible to break into stardom without contacts, so a film with some big star (Janet Gaynor) pretending to struggle just has to be ridiculous, right? Indeed, much of the film is melodramatic, sometimes bordering on the pathetic.

Adolphe Menjou and Janet Gaynor in A Star is Born (1937)

So this could have been a disaster, but it is saved by mainly three things. First, the acting and directing are excellent. Gaynor succeeds in making the country girl in the big town believable (though a bit of an accent in the beginning would not have hurt), but above all Fredric March is brilliant as the leading male. The supporting cast is also very good, not least Adolphe Menjou (above) as the fatherly producer.

The second reason is the script. Witty, elegant and nicely paced, there are few dull moments here. In a lovely meta gimmick, the film even begins by zooming in on the first page of its own script.

Third, and perhaps most important: Beneath the melodramatic surface lies some real drama. This is most obvious in March’s exquisite portrayal of an alcoholic who has just passed his peak and is going downhill without even realising it.

The film has been remade at least twice. The 1954 remake with Judy Garland is also said to be very good.

This film is best enjoyed if you are into 1930s Hollywood celebrities. There are many inside jokes and references to actors and directors.

Janet Gaynor with an Oscar and Fredric March at the Academy Awards in A Star is Born (1937)

A Star is Born
Download link
Year: 1937
Running time: 1 h 51 min
Director: William A. Wellman
Stars: Janet Gaynor, Fredric March
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (700 M)

Moonlight Sonata (1937)

Off the top of my head, I can think of no more than maybe half a dozen international fictional films where all or most of the action is set in my native Sweden. Therefore, it is extremely fascinating that out of this half dozen, two were made in the same country (England) and in the same year (1937). One is Dark Journey, which I reviewed almost exactly a year ago. The other is the subject of today’s post, namely Moonlight Sonata.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski at the grand piano in Moonlight Sonata (1937)

Other than the (coincidental?) connection with Sweden, however, these two films are radically different. While Dark Journey is a spy thriller with nationalistic and political overtones, Moonlight Sonata is a romantic drama, or perhaps rather melodrama, with very little thrill at all.

At the center of the story we find the young Swedish man Eric Molander and his beloved Ingrid, whom he wants to marry. She, however, is uncertain about her feelings, and when fate intervenes in the shape of a forced landing with a passenger aircraft things take some rather unexpected turns.

The plane carries two passengers, the pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski and the businessman Mario de la Costa. While waiting for transportation from the island where the plane went down, they are invited to stay at the baroness Lindenborg’s mansion, where Eric and Ingrid also live. But not everything is the way it first seems, and the visitors affect their surroundings, each in different ways.

Paderewski, who plays himself in the film, was a very interesting person. He was a world famous composer and concert pianist, but he was also a Polish nationalist and politician. In 1919, he became one of Poland’s first prime ministers when the country was reformed after World War I. But in this film, made only a few years before his death, all focus is upon his skill and fame as a pianist. The film, in fact, begins with a very long concert performance. If, like me, you enjoy good classical music, then this is one of the film’s absolute highlights. From a dramatic point of view, however, it detracts from the film’s story.

There are some annoying logical glitches in the story. For one thing, according to IMDb, the downed plane shown in the film is a de Havilland 84 Dragon. It is highly unlikely that any such planes were ever used to travel between Stockholm and Paris, but if they were, it would have been completely impossible to make the flight non-stop. At least one refuelling stop would have been necessary, probably in Hamburg. So, why does de la Costa ask if they have yet reached Paris after he wakes up?

Perhaps not surprisingly, there is no Swedish family of Lindenborg barons. There is, however, a Danish manor by that name, owned for generations by the counts von Schimmelmann. Perhaps that was the inspiration behind the name?

Let’s face it: Moonlight Sonata is a boring film about boring people doing boring things for boring reasons. Yet I do not hesitate to recommend it, because even though it is not very good, it is still interesting.

This film is best enjoyed by lovers of classical music. Paderewski’s piano playing is impressive and deserves to be remembered. In addition, the film is interesting for its image of Sweden and Swedes.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Marie Tempest in Moonlight Sonata (1937)

Moonlight Sonata
Download link
Year: 1937
Running time: 1 h 25 min
Director: Lothar Mendes
Stars: Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Marie Tempest
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG4 (833 M)