The Amazing Edward G. Robinson: Is He or Isn’t He?

Edward G. Robinson (centre) leads a dangerous double life. Image lksdjf klsadfj

Edward G. Robinson (centre) leads a dangerous double life. Image: fdp.pl

Sometimes movies pose tantalizing questions, such as: Is the main character off his rocker?

Hamlet is a famous example of a character with ambiguous mental health; so is another lesser-known figure, Dr.  Clitterhouse.

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) is a black comedy about a successful medical doctor (Edward G. Robinson) who becomes fascinated by what he calls “the Criminal Mind”. He desires to write a book examining the physiological characteristics of criminal brains, and he’s convinced this research will help law enforcement agents battle crime.

The only way he can do this, he reasons, is to become a criminal himself so he can measure his physiological responses (e.g. blood pressure, pupil dilation, etc.) after committing a crime.

Fortunately for Robinson, he falls in with a gang headed by criminal power couple Humphrey Bogart and Claire Trevor. Their gang specializes in stealing and liquidating stolen goods.

Robinson couldn’t be happier in this new secret life as a gangster – er, we mean his new life as a “scientific researcher”. He continually monitors gang members’ vital signs before and after they stage robberies, and carefully records this data in a thick book for future analysis.

Unfortunately for Robinson, a disgruntled Bogart distrusts his motives, and refuses to participate in the testing. He also doesn’t like Trevor’s growing attraction to Robinson. (What? You didn’t think Edward G. Robinson was a ladies’ man? Get outta here! Dames fall for him all the time.)

A showdown between Bogart and Robinson is inevitable – and it coincides with Robinson’s realization that, in order to have perfect insight into the Criminal Mind, he needs to commit the ultimate crime: Murder.

Humprey Bogart (centre) suddenly feels ill after trying to Blackmail Edward G. Robinson (left). Image: aldfkj

Humphrey Bogart (centre) suddenly feels ill after a foiled blackmail attempt. Image & review: Pretty Clever Films

Robinson’s mental state is the central question in this film. Is he misguided in his pursuit of science? Is he fulfilling secret criminal fantasies? Or is he plain wacko?

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse was originally a short story by British playwright Barré Lyndon before it was adapted as a stage play that ran in both London and New York.

We (as in, yours truly) are very fussy when it comes to transferring plays to the screen. We find there is a tendency for scenes to drag and the dialogue to become onerous. But this is not the case with Dr. Clitterhouse.

Director Anatole Litvak and screenwriters John Wexley and John Huston have created a near-perfect screen adaptation. For instance, in one scene, there is a robbery at a fur coat manufacturer which is as tense as anything you’ve seen in a film noir. As this scene unfolds, you’ll find yourself holding your breath. Guaranteed.

The movie is also perfectly cast, with Bogart as the sneering, sarcastic hoodlum, and Trevor as the ambitious criminal businesswoman. And there is Robinson, a mercurial character who purposely allows us to read into his motives whatever we choose.

This is one of those rare films that lends itself to intense philosophical discussion. What is the role of science in our society? How far should scientists go verify controversial hypotheses?

If you’re keen to see Edward G. Robinson as a lunatic-but-maybe-not-a-lunatic, we recommend The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse. This movie will keep you guessing until the end – and even then you may not be sure.

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse: Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor, Hymphrey Bogart. Directed by Anatole Litvak. Written by John Wexley and John Huston. Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., 1938, B&W, 87 mins.

A Mexican Revenge

Dolores del Rio plays Pat O'Brien like a two-bit Image: kdsjf dksljf

Dolores del Rio is dressed for revenge. Image: Dawn’s Dolores del Rio

They say revenge is a dish best served cold.

We (as in, yours truly) are not very skilled in the “getting even” department, which is why we’re paying close attention to a 1935 comedy about Mexican folks getting even with American folks.

In Caliente is a stylish 1930s musical comedy with dazzling choreography by Busby Berkeley. It stars the über-glam Dolores del Rio as a Mexican-born dancer who is unable to forgive a New York magazine editor for disparaging her talent in print.

Pat O’Brien plays said editor, a rapid-speaking, short-tempered man who believes yelling is better than talking. He is also the worst kind of critic because he writes reviews of performances without ever seeing them.

In his magazine, O’Brien wrote that del Rio was “a bag of bones” and “onion soup without the onions.” (Whoa! Watch that smart mouth of yours, O’Brien.)

So, if you were Dolores del Rio and you knew this cad was vacationing in your hometown the same time you were, would you be tempted to get even? Exactly.

Fortunately for del Rio, O’Brien becomes smitten with her as soon as he sees her, and who could blame him? She’s the Hollywood Gold Standard: thin, beautiful, well dressed. She’s the type who exercises in chiffon.

del Rio and her manager (Leo Carrillo) use O’Brien’s feelings to leverage their revenge. (“His name is engraved on my heart in letters of blood,” says a seething Carrillo.) These two careful plot their revenge until – uh oh! – del Rio discovers O’Brien is not quite the beast she thought he was and, despite everything, she may be falling for him.

Drat. Another Hollywood story where True Love derails revenge and no one wants to get even any more.

Or do they?

(actor) loves to do business with Americans. (Screencap by yours truly)

Leo Carrillo (left) loves doing business with Americans.

The most interesting revenge in this movie doesn’t involve del Rio at all. It involves the citizens of Caliente.

Caliente, as portrayed by the movie, is a resort town overrun with Americans who can’t spend money fast enough. These Americans are used to having a Certain Level of Service. For instance, they need people to carry luggage, drive taxis and mix cocktails. By default, these thankless tasks must fall to the residents of Caliente.

Not only that, the Americans have turned Caliente into the ideal American resort, with gentrified tennis courts and chaise lounges by the pool. The Americans don’t really want to be in Mexico, they just want to say they’ve been.

What’s a local resident to do?

Whenever possible, the film shows locals cheerfully hustling Americans at the card table or over-charging them to have their picture taken on a mule. A local band charges a small fee to play at your party, but it’ll cost you more if you want them to leave.

There is a wonderful scene (on the golf course!) where Carrillo hustles O’Brien’s assistant (Edward Everett Horton). Carrillo explains del Rio is a great artist but not a business woman and that she’ll need “a little something in advance.” Horton promptly writes a cheque.

See? These locals are only doing what the Americans want, and that is to ease money out of those alligator-skin wallets.

In Caliente is a frilly and beautifully-filmed movie with a talented cast and memorable music. However, you may find yourself rooting more for the residents of Caliente than the main characters.

In Caliente: Dolores del Rio, Pat O’Brien, Leo Carrillo. Directed by Lloyd Bacon. Written by Jerry Wald and Julius Epstein. Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., 1935, B&W, 84 mins.

This post is part of the HOLLYWOOD HISPANIC HERITAGE blogathon hosted by Movie Star Makeover and Once Upon a Screen. Be sure to read all the other contributions!

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O Canada Blogathon: It’s a Wrap!

Silver Screenings:

Thanks to everyone for a really fun – and Canadian – blogathon! :)

Originally posted on speakeasy:

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We make jokes about Canadians saying ‘sorry’ all the time, but this time we’re really sorry to see this amazing event come to an end. Ruth of Silver Screenings and I thank everybody who took the time to watch and write something honouring Canada’s movies and movie people. So many eras, figures and types of films were covered so well. The full archive of posts, related previews and all announcements is now here  to be enjoyed anytime, please make sure you’ve visited all the great blogs who contributed wonderful reviews and profiles.

Thanks to the good (and very Canadian) folks at The National Film Board of Canada (NFB), one lucky blogathon participant will receive a DVD of Sarah Polley’s film Stories We Tell.

The blog drawn is A Shroud of Thoughts. Congratulations and once again a huge Thank You to everyone for taking part and making this such…

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O Canada Blogathon: Oct. 9 Roundup

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*Sob* It’s the final day of the O Canada blogathon, and we’re concluding our Canadian love fest with profiles of some über famous Canadian filmmakers, as well as reviews of some haunting movies.

Shadows and Satin: Norma Shearer in Strangers May Kiss (or, The Dumbbell and The Jackass)

Hitchcock’s World finishes up the Cronenfest with eXistenZ, the original Inception

Movie Rat completes the series on Léolo Part 6 – With His Family in the Common RoomPart 7 – Between Ignorance and Horror and Part 8 – Conclusion: The Ashes of Poetry

Forgotten Films: The Changeling

Vienna’s Classic Hollywood: actor John Qualen

Cary Grant Won’t Eat You: My Favorite Canadian: Michael J. Fox

Creme de la Creme: Jewison’s Jewel, The Thomas Crown Affair

The Joy and Agony of Movies: Donald Sutherland

One Track Muse: A Beginner’s Guide to Fay Wray

Loud Green Bird: Atom Egoyan’s Exotica

Thanks to the good (and very Canadian) folks at The National Film Board of Canada (NFB), one lucky blogathon participant will receive a DVD of Sarah Polley’s film Stories We Tell. The winner, selected by a random draw, will be announced tomorrow (Oct. 10).

Many thanks to the NFB!

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O Canada Blogathon: Oct. 8 roundup

Originally posted on speakeasy:

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Today’s posts about Canadian cinema and movie people are truly diverse: horror, western, action, and a dysfunctional family tale, brought to you by a star and a director from Quebec, twin female directors, and a pro wrestling star. Read on and enjoy…

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O Canada Blogathon: Oct. 7 Roundup

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Time flies when you’re having fun in Canada!

Today’s posts show the diversity of Canadian filmmakers, past and present, who have helped create films as varied as the Canadian landscape. Is there a single distinct Canadian filmmaking style? Happily, there isn’t – as today’s posts prove.

Movie Rat: Léolo, part 3 The Word Tamer

The Midnight Palace: Michael Sarrazin’s The Reincarnation of Peter Proud

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear: Niagara

Hitchcock’s World: The Lesson to be Learned in Naked Lunch

History on Film: Passchendaele

Caftan Woman: Alexander Knox

Canadian Cinephile: On Leslie Neilsen – Half-Truths & Fart Jokes

Pamela Fallon Thornley: New Brunswick’s Old Hollywood Connection

Thanks to the good (and very Canadian) folks at The National Film Board of Canada (NFB), one lucky blogathon participant will receive a DVD of Sarah Polley’s film Stories We Tell. A winner will be selected by way of a random draw from bloggers who post within the blogathon period.

Many thanks to the NFB!

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Stealing the Scen(ery) from Buster Keaton

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Buster Keaton knits a fashionable sweater while riding through the Canadian Rockies. Image: shelleysdavies.com

Buster Keaton may have been one of the most coordinated people on earth.

His early film career is testament to his athleticism and physical sense of humour. The brilliant 1926 film, The General, for example, has you holding your breath as Keaton performs stunts on moving trains. Sometimes you can hardly watch because of the danger, but he’s so nimble and funny you can’t not watch.

One of Keaton’s last film roles was also performed on a moving train – or, more accurately, a railway speeder.

In the 1965 silent short, The Railrodder, Keaton is a Londoner who sees a newspaper ad promoting Canadian tourism, and immediately decides to travel to the Great White North. When he arrives on Canada’s Atlantic shore, he discovers two things: (1) it’s 3,900 miles to the Pacific Ocean; and (2) there’s an abandoned railway speeder which he uses to get across that 3900-mile stretch.

The Railrodder is a rather strange, but delightful homage to Keaton’s silent film prowess and to the importance of the railroad in Canadian history. Keaton, who turned 69(!) during filming, busies himself while riding the speeder across Canada. He cooks scrambled eggs, does a bit of “housework”, tries to hunt geese. All of these are done while the speeder is in motion.

There are quieter moments, too. In one scene, Keaton stops the speeder in the middle of the Prairies while he prissily sets out a formal tea service and sips, unhurriedly, from a china cup.

All of these activities are made possible by the presence of a mysterious orange box on the speeder. This box seems to house an entire props department including, but not limited to, a rifle, the aforementioned tea service, and a large buffalo-skin coat to wear whilst riding through the mountains.

The Railrodder is determined to show us how progressive Canada was in the mid 1960s. Scenes unfailingly include power lines, manufacturing plants, and bridges – lots of bridges. To someone who hasn’t been to Canada, it might look as though you couldn’t spit without hitting a bridge.

Despite these unsightly signs of progress, Canada looks beautiful and majestic and interesting. Which creates an unusual dilemma.

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The well-dressed Keaton surveys the Prairies. Image: Will Has a Blog

Keaton is billed as the star of the show, and rightfully so. He’s funny, engaging and utterly entertaining. (Click here for an outtake prank.) But he has to work to steal the scene from the main character: Canada.

In our opinion (not that we’re biased), some of the most impressive Canadian scenery is left out of the film. Yet, the varied landscapes – from ocean to prairie to mountain – make you appreciate how big this place is. (Canada is the second largest nation, area-wise, in the world.)

There’s absolutely no one else besides Buster Keaton you’d want riding a speeder across Canada. But when he’s in the Rockies, for instance, you hardly notice him. The mountains look so crisp and inviting it’s easy to get lost in the scenery.

The Railrodder was produced by the National Film Board of Canada, and every Canadian Of A Certain Age has seen it at least once. We adore this film because it embraces two things we admire: Buster Keaton’s talent and our magnificent country.

The Railrodder: starring Buster Keaton. Directed by Gerald Potterton (and the uncredited Buster Keaton & John Spotton). Written by Gerald Potterton (and the uncredited Buster Keaton). The National Film Board of Canada, 1965, Colour, 25 mins.

This post is part of the O Canada Blogathon hosted by yours truly and the über-Canadian Speakeasy. Click HERE for a list of participants.

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O Canada Blogathon: Oct. 5 Roundup

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It’s the second fabulous day of the O Canada blogathon, and there are so many Canadian goings-on, we can hardly contain ourselves.

Today, we’re featuring Canadian women who wrote the proverbial book on how to be a movie star, along with a Hitchcock classic filmed in beautiful Quebec City. We’re also taking a look at an innovative and controversial director, along with a Canadian film from 1982 that made the world sit up and take notice.

And yes! We have another Mountie Movie!

Critica Retro: Marie Dressler Facts (use translate buttons)

Girls Do Film: Was Florence Lawrence the First Movie Star?

Hitchcock’s World: David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and the Role of Television in Our World

Movies Silently: Mary Pickford is Living “The Dream

The Stop Button: Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess

Moon in Gemini: The Grey Fox (1982)

Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings: Tyrone Power as the Pony Soldier

Thanks to The National Film Board of Canada (NFB), one lucky blogathon participant will receive the DVD of Sarah Polley’s film Stories We Tell. (See below.) A winner will be selected by way of a random draw from bloggers who post within the blogathon period.

Many thanks to the NFB!

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