The Stranger (1946)

An agent for a war crimes commission decides, in desperation, to let a German war criminal out of prison in the hopes that he may lead them to another German who committed atrocious acts against humanity during World War II. This other German is suspected to hide under assumed identity somewhere in the United States. He must be found before he can commit new crimes.

Orson Welles and Loretta Young in The Stranger (1946)

Thus begins Orson Welles’ The Stranger, a film where Welles both played one of the leading roles (the German in hiding) and directed. It is one of rather few Orson Welles films that can be found at the Internet Archive, and for that reason alone deserves our attention.

This is a typical film noir in many ways, such as its dramatic camera angles and lighting, and also the script which is full of cynism and human evil.

The version of the film I link to here is an excellent quality MPEG4. If you strive for nothing short of perfection, then there is also a Matroska copy made from the same source, but it is almost five times as large, and I doubt if you will notice the difference.

This film is best enjoyed for Orson Welles, even though many of the supporting cast are also very good. Welles is, as always, excellent in his acting as well as in his directing. And if the plot happens to be just a bit too improbable for this to be any of Welles’ best films, then that just goes to show that this film is a child of its time.

Orson Welles in The Stranger (1946)

The Stranger
Download link
Year: 1946
Running time: 1 h 35 min
Director: Orson Welles
Stars: Orson Welles
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (960×738)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (963 M)

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Dressed to Kill (1946)

Later this week, this blog turns four years. With this week’s post, I therefore take you back to where it all began: Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in 1946.

That first film I wrote about was Terror by Night, arguably the best of the many Sherlock Holmes films available at the Internet Archive. Later that same year, Rathbone along with Nigel Bruce were to make their last screen appearances as the famous detective and his sidekick. While not quite as good as the earlier film, Dressed to Kill is not a bad pick if you like old-school mysteries.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson in Dressed to Kill (1946)

Dressed to Kill begins with two preludes. First is a scene from a prison, then one from an auction hall. Both involve music boxes, and this is of course no coincidence. Later, we find ourselves on home turf, as far as Holmes mysteries go. Holmes and Watson sit in the 221 B Baker Street apartment, the one playing the violin, the other musing over some old cases that have recently seen print. Watson’s old pal “Stinky” calls for a visit, and of course he brings a somewhat intriguing mystery. A mystery with a music box. Well, who would have imagined?

In an attack of lacking imagination, the producer and writer here re-used the plot of the Arthur Conan Doyle story “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”, which had already been filmed with Rathbone two years earlier as The Pearl of Death. But there is a twist. The music boxes that are featured in place of the original’s Napoleon busts are not exactly identical; the music they play has slight variations, and in those variations is a code. A code that only Sherlock Holmes can crack. We are also treated with a number of memorable crooks, including a femme fatale well played by Patricia Morison.

With this film, I consider myself to have mined the Internet Archive for worthwhile Sherlock Holmes films, except for one little bonus feature that I saved for next week. There are several other Holmes-related films in the Archive, but all are either too poor or too short, usually both. Of historical interest is, for example, a series of silent shorts.

In addition to this one and Terror by Night, two of the fourteen Rathbone/Bruce films are available for download at the Internet Archive, and in the intervening years since my first post I have written about both. They are Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943) and The Woman in Green (1945).

This film is best enjoyed whenever you are in the mood for some good, classic, Holmes. Few are better than Rathbone, and add to that solid scenography, dialogue and directing. I still think that Terror by Night is the best Holmes film at the Internet Archive, but when you have seen that, you will want more, and Dressed to Kill is not a bad next selection.

Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson and Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in Dressed to Kill (1946)

Dressed to Kill
Download link
Year: 1946
Running time: 1 h 12 min
Director: Roy William Neill
Stars: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (960×738)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (3.1 G)

Great Expectations (1946)

There is definitely a tangible difference between British and American film from the 1930s and 40s. A difference that can be seen in almost everly little detail. Cutting, acting, plotting, lighting, you name it. Which one you prefer is perhaps a matter of taste, but I personally have a very soft spot for the British variety.

Tony Wager in Great Expectations (1946)

David Lean’s Great Expectations is an excellent example. Based on the Charles Dickens novel of the same title (which is also available at the Internet Archive), it tells the story of young Pip. Orphaned and brought up by his brother-in-law the blacksmith, he eventually becomes the protégé of an anonymous benefactor, who helps to pay for his learning to become a gentleman in London.

In his childhood, Pip had come to Miss Havisham’s house to be the playmate of the haughty but beautiful Estella. When Pip, the adult gentleman, is called upon to visit Miss Havisham, he again meets Estella, and his youthful love for her is rekindled.

This is only a small sample of the wonderful story, which in turn is a shortened version of Dickens’ original. It is really a beautifully executed adaptation, and well deserving of the two Academy Awards it received.

This film is best enjoyed if you love old mansions and 19th century costumes. As a historical drama, it has few equals from its time.

John Mills and Valerie Hobson in Great Expectations (1946)

Great Expectations
Download link
Year: 1946
Running time: 1 h 53 min
Director: David Lean
Stars: John Mills, Valerie Hobson
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (688×519)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (1.5 G)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

German expressionism, which on film had its peak in the 1920s with directors such as Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, has had a tremendous impact upon Hollywood film. One of its footprints can be seen in the Film Noir movement of the 1940s and 1950s.

The Noir filmmakers, just like their expressionist forerunners, explore the dark and hidden sides of the human mind. The Noir movement, which was not to any great extent identified and named during its heyday, can sometimes be difficult to define and pinpoint, but to me, this focus on the inner demons and fears is perhaps its most important defining element.

Take the excellent Noir The Strange Love of Martha Ivers for example. Like in so many other Noirs, we see a cynical anti-hero, the gambler Sam Masterson (played excellently by Van Heflin). By chance he runs into his childhood sweetheart Martha (Barbara Stanwyck, also excellent), who seems to have everything a woman can dream of, but hides a dark secret together with her husband (a young Kirk Douglas, absolutely brilliant).

Barbara Stanwyck, Van Helfin and Kirk Douglas in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

As if the tension in this meeting was not enough, Sam also takes an interest in the paroled woman Toni (Lizabeth Scott, good, though not as stellar as the others). Thus, the plot of this film revolves around two love triangles, with Martha and Sam still attracted to one another, though separated still by the terrible events of the past.

Add to the mix the patent dramatic photography found in the best Noirs, an excellent script with good dialogue, and competent editing. Stir, and you get what is perhaps one of the top ten or fifteen Noirs of all time.

By all means, there are a few occasions when the film touches on the overly sentimental, the action sequences are a bit stiff, and there is some rather superfluous Gideonite propaganda, but those are minor quibbles, which do not significantly decrease the overall impact of this classical and powerful movie.

This film is best enjoyed as soon as possible. This is one Internet Archive experience you will not want to miss!

Kirk Douglas, Van Helfin and  Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Download link
Year: 1946
Running time: 1 h 56 min
Director: Lewis Milestone
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.4 G)

Swamp Fire (1946)

Today it is exactly thirty years since Johnny Weissmuller passed away, the most iconic of the many Tarzan actors on the silver screen. Weissmuller, who was already famous for his achievements as a swimmer, including five Olympic gold medals, was the first to portray the ape man in a sound movie. When Weissmuller’s acting career started, Tarzan’s popularity was going downhill fast. Weissmuller’s twelve films turned that trend, and without them it is possible that Tarzan would not have such a strong iconic presence today.

As Weissmuller’s Tarzan career was nearing its inevitable end, he also made the film Swamp Fire. This is, in fact, Weissmuller’s only major role where he did not play either Tarzan, Jungle Jim or himself.

Buster Crabbe, Carol Thurston and Johnny Weissmuller in Swamp Fire (1946)

In Swamp Fire, Weissmuller plays Johnny Duval who returns home to the Louisiana bayou after service in World War II. But due to his traumatic experiences in the war, he cannot go back to his old job as a bar pilot. Duval wants to marry his old sweetheart Toni, but then there is the headstrong and rich city girl Janet Hilton, who has decided that she wants Duval for herself. To complicate things further, Buster Crabbe (who had also played Tarzan, in the film Tarzan the Fearless (1933)) plays Mike, who is also after Toni’s heart.

I guess, this being the Big Man’s death date and all, one should be respectful. But then, mommy always told me to tell the truth too and, truth be told, Swamp Fire would be a pretty nice little romantic melodrama if not for Weissmuller in the lead. Because while most of the other actors do what can be expected under the circumstances, and Buster Crabbe is really good, Weissmuller is mostly stiff and unconvincing. His acting repertoire turns out to be very limited, as he uses the same mannerisms here as in his Tarzans. But while they work there, they fail here.

This film is best enjoyed for the very unusual pairing of two Tarzan actors. Not only that, but Virginia Grey (Janet Hilton) had previously played against Weissmuller in Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942), and it would appear that the film is shot in the same swamp jungles as the very first Tarzan movie, Tarzan of the Apes (1918). For a final Tarzan connection, the film includes a Tarzan tribute scene where Duval wrestles with an overgrown alligator.

Carol Thurston, Johnny Weissmuller and Virginia Grey in Swamp Fire (1946)

Swamp Fire
Download link
Year: 1946
Running time: 1 h 9 min
Director: William Pine
Stars: Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (688×519)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (1.4 G)

Terror by Night (1946)

As I write this blog’s very first post, it just so happens that tomorrow is the World Book Day. So I thought, what better way to celebrate than to start off with perhaps the most iconic literary character of all time. Sherlock Holmes.

When you think about Sherlock Holmes, perhaps actors like Robert Downey, Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller come to mind. But they are only the latest few in a very long line of screen Sherlocks. The first one, in fact, is not even known by name. He appeared in a very short and silly film called Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900).

What actor you favour is a matter of preference, of course. My own vote goes to Jeremy Brett of the 80s and 90s, but before him the undisputed Sherlock for fans all over the world was Basil Rathbone. He did the role no less than fourteen times, defining the almost aristocratic detective that many still associate with the character. Even more important for future interpretations may have been Nigel Bruce’s slightly thick-headed Dr. Watson.

Basil Rathbone and Renee Godfrey in Terror by Night (1946)

The Internet Archive has a good number of Sherlock Holmes features. Perhaps some day I will write about a wonderful little TV series from the 1950s, but today we focus on Rathbone. Five of his Sherlock films are on IA. All are good, but if you want to watch just one, make it Terror by Night from 1946.

While not Rathbone’s most well-known performance, it is certainly a very good one. Holmes is given the task of guarding a valuable diamond during a train journey, and most of the film is set on board the train. An old train with its steam engine and passenger compartments makes a perfect backdrop for a mystery, as has been proven again and again in films such as Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938). The shape of the train helps to tighten the plot, since it is impossible to move from point A to point C without passing point B along the way. Good use is made of this dramatic convenience in the film.

Terror by Night is packed with clichés, but quite honestly: How is it possible to make Sherlock Holmes without the clichés? Even the modern interpretations cannot do without them. In this particular case, they are used with such charm and ease that they only serve to raise the film to even higher levels. Rathbone acts cool and in control in a way that is pure joy to behold, and quite a relief from today’s slightly psychotic Sherlocks.

This film is best enjoyed with a large cup of hot Earl Grey tea, and some scones and marmalade.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in Terror by Night (1946)

Terror by Night
Download link
Year: 1946
Running time: 58 min
Director: Roy William Neill
Stars: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.9 G)