My Week in Movies: April 7-13

Good Morning (1959) Gentle, warm, wonderful. I sorta rambled about it earlier this week.

Pajama Party (1964) Dammit, it’s the Tommy Kirk one. The full write-up’s here.

The Verdict (1946) Don Siegel’s first feature, starring Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre? Yes, please. There’s not much to the plot, in which a disgraced former Scotland Yard honcho gets wrapped up in a murder investigation, but the movie’s heavy on ideas and mood, both of which are plenty delicious. The locked room mystery is clever, the haunting character study cleverer. Unlike…

Behind the Mask (1946) Neither the mystery nor the characters are worth much in this B picture. Behind the Mask is a curiosity – it features the Shadow but omits any supernatural elements, which would be like writing a Flash comic book and making it about a guy who’s decent at jogging. Here, Lamont Cranston doesn’t know from hypnosis; he’s just a guy who puts on a mask and punches criminals sometimes. Heavy on the sometimes, since rarely never see him in masked action. He’s been framed for murder, you see, so he spends the bulk of the film as his alter ego, helping the cops. It’s a plain ol’ Poverty Row thriller with Shadow characters grafted on haphazardly, making it fascinating in its failure as a franchise picture. Luckily, it’s also surprisingly entertaining, with a brisk pace, ample comic relief, and some very quotable one-liners. (“You’ve cherchezed one femme too many!”) Separate from its crazy-pants Shadow-in-name-only trappings, it’s solid matinee fun.

The Whistler (1944) Then there’s The Whistler, the first in a series based on the classic radio anthology. Having big studio backing (via Columbia) helps keep it, if not polished, then at least not cheap, while hiring William Castle (!) to direct ensures not only a slickly entertaining picture, but one filled with some dazzling pre-noir imagery. (A scene set in a shadowy alleyway is a doozy.) The basic plot is typical Whistler: a man hires a stranger to kill him, only to run into the expected string of complications when he changes his mind. Plenty of fun.

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