Friday, May 18, 2012
104. WHIRLPOOL (1934)
This winning Columbia drama was directed by Roy William Neill, best-remembered for directing and producing most of Universal's Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone, but also responsible for such top-notch terror pictures as BLACK MOON, THE BLACK ROOM and the first of the "versus" pictures, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. Scripted by Ethel Hill (THE LITTLE PRINCESS) and graduating script girl Dorothy Howell, from a story by Howard Emmett Rogers (presumably too busy adapting TARZAN AND HIS MATE to do the job himself), WHIRLPOOL sounds awfully scatterbrained when reduced to a synopsis -- as the DVD notes acknowledge, it starts out as a carnival picture (DP Benjamin Kline, who sho James Whale's JOURNEY'S END, wins us over right away with a terrific crane/dolly shot), then becomes a love story, a prison yarn, a crime picture, a newspaper drama, only to turn into a sentimental story of family reunion. However, Neill's masterful eye for detail ensures that the mind never wanders or is tempted to condescend; there is always something, or someone fun, popping up to keep this hopped-up buggy turning corners with one leg out. Largely forgotten leading man Jack Holt has the same mix of brashness and tenderness that Robert Armstrong throws around in KING KONG, and his chemistry with the silk-voiced Arthur nearly tips over from the paternal to the romantic at times, which adds to the confusion for her fiancé Bob (Donald Cook), a young guy who rattles off his newspaper office dialogue so fast, you'd think the place was going to explode at any second. The montages illustrating the shared activities that estranged father and daughter cram into their few days together are almost hilariously eventful. (The film's uses of montage are quite interesting in themselves; stock footage from Lewis Milestone's ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is incorporated, along with much newsreel material, into the time passing outside Buck's prison cell.) But the film also offers something deeper, under its forward-leaning bluster and twinkle, that assures us that Buck/Duke is really a decent person despite the path he's followed, and it builds to a finale that reminds us (and members of the press) that it's sometimes the nobler thing to do to keep a secret. I liked this one a lot.
Viewed via Sony/TCM's DVD, available only as part of THE JEAN ARTHUR DRAMA COLLECTION box set.
at 4:15 PM