Monday, February 15, 2016

Mystery Junction (1951)

I’m very very fond of British crime thrillers of the 1950s but it has to be admitted that Mystery Junction is not of the great examples of the breed. It was made by Merton Park Studios which means it’s an ultra-low budget movie, in fact it’s more or less a quota quickie. That’s not always a bad thing but Mystery Junction contains the one plot element that I find to be pretty much unforgivable. Unfortunately I can’t reveal what that element is without revealing a major spoiler which I’m not going to do.

Mystery Junction does have a perfect setup for a crime thriller. It starts on board a train. A proper train, one with corridors and compartments, the way trains are supposed to be. Halfway through the action switches to a lonely railway station waiting room with a group of passengers stranded, entirely cut off from the outside world by a very severe snowstorm. Naturally someone has cut the telephone wires! And one of these people is a desperate murderer.

OK, it’s not a startlingly original setup but this is the kind of classic scenario with which no director (or writer for that matter) can go very far wrong.

One of the passengers on the train is Larry Gordon (Sydney Tafler), a popular writer of detective stories. He is sharing a compartment with an elderly lady who of course turns out to be a huge fan of his books. While she’s asking him all the usual questions they hear a scream. It’s probably just a noise made by the train but being a writer of detective stories Larry can’t very well just ignore such a thing. He has to investigate. After all, it might be a murder! And in fact that is exactly what it is. There’s also a man in a locked compartment with a gun.

Larry does the obvious thing and alerts the guard. It soon becomes clear that there is definitely dirty work afoot. A policeman, Detective-Sergeant Peterson, is escorting a prisoner on his way to stand trial for murder. The prisoner is the notorious Steve Harding (Martin Benson). There was another policeman escorting the prisoner but he has now disappeared.

A dozen or so passengers disembark from the train at a rather isolated rural station to wait for a connecting train. With the snow getting steadily worse it is likely that there will be no connecting train for many hours. The passengers take refuge in the waiting room. It’s a somewhat tense situation. This little group includes Sergeant Peterson and his prisoner, and it also includes a murderer. It may also include one or more accomplices of Harding, with plans to aid his escape. 

Larry Gordon will find himself in a curious position - being asked by a murderer to solve another murder. And there may soon be even more murders to solve. This film has, by the standards of 1950s British crime movies, a rather impressive body count!

This was a rare opportunity for Sydney Tafler to play a lead role. Tafler was talented and reliable actor and rather versatile, being able to play likeable, sinister or even downright sleazy characters as required and being reasonably adept at dramatic roles and light comedy. In this film he’s likeable and fairly heroic.

The supporting cast is generally quite competent. Martin Benson is a convincingly menacing hoodlum. Barbara Murray is solid enough as Pat Dawn, one half of a not overly successful show business team. There’s just the slightest hint of a romance sub-plot between Pat and Larry.

Writer-director Michael McCarthy’s brief career was cut short by his very early death. As a director he proves himself to be professional enough within the very limiting confines of the film’s extremely low budget. He achieves quite an effective atmosphere of menace and claustrophobia. The feeling of claustrophobia may well have been considerably enhanced by the minuscule budget - most of the action is confined to a single room, presumably because there was no money for any more sets. It works well enough.

The plot is somewhat on the outrageously complicated side, with double-crosses and guilty secrets and hidden identities. It might not be very believable and it does rely somewhat on coincidence but in a movie of this type that tends to be more of a bonus than anything else.

Network’s DVD release is par for the course for this company - in other words it’s barebones but the transfer is superb.

If not for its one fatal flaw Mystery Junction would be a reasonably enjoyable crime thriller. As it stands it’s still a fairly harmless time-killer. Worth a rental.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Mirror Crack'd (1980)

After the success in the 1970s of a couple of movies based on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries it seemed logical enough to attempt an adaptation of a novel featuring Christie’s other popular series detective, Miss Marple. The result was The Mirror Crack'd in 1980 and it’s rather entertaining.

This British production boasts a galaxy of British and America acting talent. All-star films of this era often collapsed under the weight of too many stars (many of them being somewhat faded stars) but in this case they’re all well cast and they all do well.

There is great excitement in the picturesque little English village of St Mary Mead. Hollywood film star Maria Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) is there to make a movie, along with her director husband Jason Rudd (Rock Hudson) and producer Martin N. Fenn (Tony Curtis).

All is not well with the film people however. Marina hasn’t made a movie for several years and has had a series of breakdowns. She is kept together, after a fashion, with pills. Things start to go really wrong when Fenn arrives at a party with another Hollywood star, Lola Brewster (Kim Novak). Lola is playing a small part in the film. Marina and Lola hate each other. Which is putting it mildly.

The party ends with an even bigger disaster. A woman from the village, a devoted Marina Rudd fan who has been looking forward to meeting her idol again (they met briefly during the war), keels over dead. Poison is suspected, and subsequently proved. But why on earth would anyone want to poison such an inoffensive soul?

Detective Chief Inspector Craddock (Edward Fox) is puzzled but perhaps his favourite aunt can help. His aunt being a certain Miss Jane Marple (Angela Lansbury), who has rendered him some very useful assistance in the past.

The key to the case seems to be the complicated relationships between Marina, Jason Rudd, Lola Brewster and Martin Fenn. 

Chief Inspector Craddock’s task might be frustrating but it has its compensation - he is a keen movie fan and is thoroughly enjoying mixing with the stars (he remembers some of Marina’s movies better than she does).

Although it’s based on an Agatha Christie novel the movie is not as plot-driven as you might expect (although Christie fans will be aware that there was actually a good deal more to her work than ingenious plotting). There’s quite an emphasis on character, and especially on the troubled life of Marina Rudd. This makes sense - there’s not much point in having major stars in a movie if they’re not going to be given something useful to do. Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in particular get the chance to demonstrate their acting chops. 

The vendetta between Marina and Lola provides some of the film’s best moments, with some gloriously bitchy dialogue which Taylor and Novak deliver with relish. Taylor of course could play the bitch onscreen as well as any actress who has ever lived and Novak proves herself to be just as capable.

Edward Fox makes a very amiable detective, a thoroughly decent fellow who is no fool either. Whether Christie purists will approve or not I found Angela Lansbury to be a more than acceptable Miss Marple. She’s convincingly shrewd, she’s gently amusing and she’s likeable whether being syrupy. 

Director Guy Hamilton did not make a huge number of movies but among his relatively modest output can be found under-appreciated gems like The Best of Enemies and Funeral in Berlin as well as no less than four Bond movies (including the classic Goldfinger and the very underrated Diamonds Are Forever). Hamilton was quite at home with the mystery and suspense genres, especially when combined with the opportunity for visual excess, and he displays a sure touch here.

The Region 4 DVD offers a good anamorphic transfer without any extras apart from a trailer.

The Mirror Crack'd offers plenty of enjoyment. It looks splendid. It has a pretty decent plot. It has some fine acting from Rock Hudson, Edward Fox and Charles Gray (as the butler) and some deliciously ripe but entirely appropriate over-acting from Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak and Tony Curtis. Angela Lansbury is an engaging and lively Miss Marple, being just feisty enough to have a bit of bite without ever becoming irritating or saccharine. It’s not a movie to be taken seriously but it doesn’t wasn’t to be taken seriously. This is not a substantial and nourishing meal - it’s a slice of rich chocolate cake and if you’re in the mood to indulge yourself it offers plenty of enjoyment. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Here Come the Waves (1944)

I’ve become quite a fan of Bing Crosby’s musicals so I was predisposed to like Here Come the Waves. I did enjoy it, but perhaps not quite as much as I’d anticipated.

Released in 1944, this was obviously an attempt by Paramount to show they were doing their bit for the war effort. Betty Hutton plays a dual role as twin sisters Rosemary and Susie Allison, a couple of singer/dancers who get carried away by doing a song promoting recruitment for the WAVES and end up joining up themselves.

Rosemary is the elder sister by twelve minutes and she’s the sensible practical one. Susie is blonder and flightier. Much flightier. In fact she’s your basic Hollywood Dumb Blonde. Susie is a fan of popular crooner Johnny Cabot (Bing Crosby). Actually to say she’s a fan is an understatement. She pretty much swoons every time she listens to one of his records. When she actually meets him she faints dead away.

Naturally she’s excited when she learns that Johnny has enlisted as well. With only a million or so people in the Navy she’s bound to run into him again. And of course she does.

The problem is that Johnny falls for Rosemary rather than Susie. Johnny’s best pal Windy (Sonny Tufts) falls for Rosemary as well. Susie and Windy come up with all sorts of elaborate schemes to disrupt any romance between Johnny and Rosemary. This should be easy since Rosemary doesn’t even like Johnny but she soon shows disturbing signs of changing her mind about him.

Since Betty Hutton plays both identical twins it’s not hard to guess that at some stage the plot will make use of this and we’ll see Rosemary mistaken for Susie or Susie mistaken for Rosemary. This does indeed happen.

One of Susie’s bright ideas was to forge a letter from Johnny to the naval authorities suggesting that he should put on a show to help recruitment for the WAVES. This will take him away from his ship and therefore away from any chance of combat - the idea is that Rosemary will then think he’s a coward.

The show turns out to be a great success and of course the Allison twins are part of it. Meanwhile Johnny is trying to do everything he can to get sent back to his ship.

The plot is nothing startling but it’s sufficient to provide some romantic intrigues and provide the excuse for the musical numbers.

Mark Sandrich had directed some of the best of the Astaire-Rogers musicals of the 30s so he was obviously qualified to helm this production, which he does efficiently enough.

Bing Crosby is very good. Betty Hutton throws herself into her roles with enthusiasm - perhaps too much enthusiasm! It’s a matter of taste of course but her performance as Susie is sometimes a bit too much of a good thing.

My other main reservation about this film is also a matter of taste. My own preference is for musicals that, if they’re going to attempt big musical production numbers, offer as much visual as aural splendour. Here Come the Waves doesn’t quite manage to do that. The production numbers lack any real visual flair although the songs are pleasant enough. The final production number is little more than a recruiting ad for the US Navy which would have been OK (you expect that in a wartime film) but it’s rather stodgy and unimaginative.

The best thing about the movie is the amusing treatment of Johnny Cabot’s fame. Bing Crosby was arguably the first genuine pop star in the modern sense and he did inspire fanatical devotion among his admires, especially those of the female persuasion. Therefore Johnny Cabot spends much of the movie trying to avoid being mobbed by female fans. The plot actually makes some clever use of this. 

Here Come the Waves is included in Universal’s excellent Bing Crosby: Screen Legends DVD boxed set. The transfer is extremely good. There are no extras.

Overall this is a frothy and fairly entertaining musical. How much you enjoy it probably depends on how you feel about Betty Hutton. If you’re not bothered by her excessiveness then you’ll love the picture. If her over-the-topness does bother you might not be quite so entranced but since the DVD boxed set is so good and so very much worth buying you might as well give it a go anyway. So with that minor caveat, recommended. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Partners in Crime (1961)

Merton Park Studios in England was a small studio specialising in very low-budget B-pictures, mostly in the crime genre. In the early 60s they made a series of over forty Edgar Wallace adaptations. These were intended for theatrical release in Britain and were sold to American television where they were screened as The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre. Partners in Crime was a 1961 entry in the series, based on Wallace’s 1918 novel The Man Who Knew.

A wealthy soft drinks tycoon is murdered. It appears to be a burglary gone wrong although Inspector Mann (Bernard Lee) has his doubts. This is one of those movies that offers very little in the way of mystery. We know almost from the start who the murderer is and how the crime was committed. The interest (such as it is) comes from watching the police unravel the mystery. Essentially it’s a police procedural.

The deceased tycoon, Harold Strickland, had built up the business with his partner Frank Merril (John Van Eyssen). They had served together during the war. Strickland had been a sergeant-major and Merril had been his commanding officer. In business the roles had been reversed with Strickland becoming the company chairman and Merril being the junior partner. Strickland was married to the glamorous Freda (Moira Redmond), a woman much younger than himself.

The key to the solving of the crime is the murder weapon, a revolver, which finds itself into the hands of a couple of young tearaways on motorcycles. They’re low-grade juvenile delinquents and their idea of selling the revolver turns out to be a rather spectacularly bad idea.

There’s no mystery so the film has to rely on suspense, which it does with moderate success. The ending is quite well executed though.

The acting is quite solid. Bernard Lee could play a police inspector in his sleep but he’s as solid as always. Moira Redmond does the femme fatale bit quite well. Gordon Boyd (who later became a minor television celebrity in Australia) is quite competent as an Australian lorry driver caught up in the plot. The minor players are all perfectly adequate.

The low budget is no real problem. British B-movies of this era, no matter how cheap they might be, always manage to avoid looking shoddy.

Director Peter Duffell spent most of his career in television. He does a passable job but the movie fails to generate much excitement. Robert Stewart’s screenplay simply does not have enough plot to keep things interesting. It’s hard to believe this was based on an Edgar Wallace novel - I find it difficult to credit that Wallace would have written anything as uninteresting as this.

British B-pictures of this period are often very much better and very much more interesting than you might expect at first glance. This particular movie is one that, sadly, never manages to be anything more than routine. 

Network have done a superb job with the transfer. It’s widescreen and anamorphic and it looks marvellous. Network really do put in some effort with their releases. This movie is included in their Edgar Wallace Mysteries volume 1 DVD boxed set, a set that is well worth buying if you’re a fan of British crime B-movies. It includes movies like The Clue of the New Pin and The Clue of the Twisted Candle that are fine B-movies and well worth seeing. It also includes October Moth, an intriguing non-series movie that has no Edgar Wallace connection but is definitely worth viewing.

Partners in Crime is a competent by-the-numbers low-budget crime thriller. It’s not one of the better movies in this series but it’s a harmless time-killer.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The French Connection (1971)

The French Connection is widely regarded as one of the great cop movies of the 70s. I’m ashamed to say that for some inexplicable reason I had never seen this film until now. In some ways it’s typical of 70s cop movies while in other ways it’s highly atypical. Like all of William Friedkin’s movies it’s slightly quirky and worth seeing.

Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) from the New York Narcotics Bureau are relaxing in a night club when they notice a group of known big time criminals. Nothing odd about that, except that there is one guy in the group who is spending an enormous amount of money and they’ve never seen him before. That definitely is odd. Doyle and Russo know all the big criminal operators in the city. Intrigued, they decide to tail the big spender. They see enough to convince them that the guy is involved in something big. Their hunch is that it’s something very big indeed, and they’re right. They have stumbled onto a huge deal to import $32 million of uncut heroin into the US from Marseilles.

After weeks of patient surveillance they are slowly building their case but their problem is that the principal in this drug smuggling deal is a very very smart operator indeed. The case proves to be frustrating and seems destined to lead nowhere. But Popeye Doyle never gives up. Never.

This is a slow-burn cop thriller. The first 65 minutes is essentially a police procedural. If you want to capture a major criminal you need to be very patient and very methodical, and that’s exactly the approach Friedkin takes with his movie. The pacing is leisurely but the approach pays off. Doyle, Russo and the other cops spend hour after hour tailing their suspects. This could be extremely boring but it isn’t. It isn’t boring partly because the details of police surveillance methods are fascinating but mostly because Friedkin is so skillful at building atmosphere and at making this kind of routine police work visually interesting. There’s a particularly good sequence in which Popeye is trying to tail a suspect on the subway. It’s tense but it’s also clever and witty.

The movie does eventually get exciting - very exciting. And the excitement is all the more effective since we’ve had to wait for it. The legendary car chase scene (which only involves one car but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out why) lives up to the hype.

One of the cool things about the way the movie switches gears is that it’s really just a change in pacing, not a change in content. Doyle has been chasing the bad guys right through the picture. Initially it’s a slow-motion chase as he shadows the criminals through the streets of New York. Then it suddenly becomes a hyper-fast adrenaline-charged chase.

The film was based on a real-life case. Not just inspired by a real case, but based very closely on it. And Popeye Doyle and Cloudy were based on two legendary real-life New York narcotics cops, Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso. Director William Friedkin got to know Egan and Grosso and went out on drug busts with them. Egan and Grosso not only worked as advisers on the set, they both played roles in the movie (Egan has a fairly substantial part as Popeye’s boss and went on to have quite an acting career). The two real-life cops made sure that their movie counterparts behaved the way actual cops would have behaved.

Friedkin wanted the film to have a semi-documentary feel, even going so far as to set up scenes without telling the camera operator what the actors were going to do. If the actors moved the camera operator had to decide for himself which actor to follow.

I’ve never been able to make up my mind about Gene Hackman. He certainly seemed to be good at playing unsympathetic characters. Characters don’t come much more unsympathetic than Popeye Doyle. He’s abrasive and bad-tempered and while a good cop has to be obsessive he’s a bit too obsessive for comfort. We do however feel some empathy for his sheer doggedness. Friedkin came to have a certain admiration for both Egan and Grosso and while Doyle isn’t obviously likeable the viewer ends up developing that same sort of grudging respect for him. 

Of course in the 70s anti-heroes were fashionable and heroic cops were unfashionable. This got a bit tiresome after a while. It’s difficult to care about sociopathic anti-heroes and if you don’t care about the protagonist it’s hard to care about the film. With Popeye Doyle Hackman at times goes perilously close to losing our sympathy but on the whole he’s successful at maintaining a difficult balancing act. We’re sometimes appalled by Doyle but we can’t hate him.

Roy Scheider is solid as Russo but we don’t get to know the character so it’s hard to get too interested in him.

Fernando Rey steals the film by default. Charnier is a bit of a cardboard character but at least he has style.

The ending of the movie is certainly a problem. It’s disappointing in the way endings of 1970s movies often are disappointing.

Since the characters are not always exactly likeable the movie has to rely on action, atmosphere and style. Fortunately it has plenty of all three ingredients. The atmosphere is typical of 70s cop movies but even more so than usual - this is a very seedy, grimy, grubby and even squalid movie. This relentlessly downbeat doom-laden atmosphere is one of its main claims to being considered a neo-noir (the other being obviously the destructive and self-destructive qualities of its protagonist).

Is this a neo-noir? It probably has at least as strong a claim to neo-noir status as other 70s crime movies such as Dirty Harry and Death Wish. The French Connection reminds me a little of Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (a movie that has been much misunderstood in my view). It raises questions about the dangers of obsessiveness but it also raises questions about the effects that uncontrolled crime can have on society and on individuals. Popeye Doyle might not be the sort of guy you’d want to invite to your house for a dinner party but when you consider the scale of the crimes he’s dealing with it’s perhaps a little unfair to complain that he doesn’t deal with such problems gently. As is the case with the protagonists of The Big Heat and Dirty Harry you could argue that if society doesn’t confront the problem of crime then society is going to need guys like Dave Bannion, Harry Callaghan and Popeye Doyle to clean up the mess.

It’s not easy to tell exactly where Friedkin stands on these issues, or whether he really intends Doyle to be a hero or anti-hero or even a villain. As long as Friedkin sticks more or less to the facts of the real case he’s on firm ground. When he departs from the real-life story (as he does quite radically in several key scenes) the movie becomes less sure-footed. Even worse, there are important elements that are likely to be missed unless you listen to his audio commentary. Friedkin wanted to address issues of high-level corruption but such issues just aren’t made effectively by the film itself.

The Blu-Ray release raises some problems. Image quality is wildly variable and is often barely VHS quality. Partly this is because of the way the film was originally shot - on location and using natural light which means that some of the night scenes are very dark and very murky. It also seems that for the Blu-Ray release Friedkin tinkered with the colour with the result that the film doesn’t look the same now as it did when originally released. 

On the plus side there’s an incredibly interesting and informative director’s commentary by Friedkin.

The French Connection almost lives up to its glowing reputation. Of the three outstanding American neo-noir crime films of the 70s (the others being Dirty Harry and Death Wish) The French Connection is the least satisfactory. Having said that it’s still an impressive movie and I still highly recommend it.

Monday, January 11, 2016

You Can’t Escape (1956)

You Can’t Escape is a 1956 British suspense thriller released by Associated British-Pathé that takes what could have been a routine story idea and gives it a couple of interesting and original twists. The result is quite entertaining. I won’t spoil the movie by revealing these twists or giving any clues as to how it all plays out.

Peter Darwin (Robert Urquhart) is a successful novelist who saves the life of heiress Kay March (Noelle Middleton) when her plane cracks up on landing. Peter is a charming well-educated young man and it isn’t long before romance is blossoming. Everything is going just swimmingly until Peter’s old flame Claire Segar shows up and gives Peter the good news that he’s about to become a dad. Only Peter doesn’t see this as good news at all. His engagement to Kay March has already been announced and Peter has no desire to see his future happiness thwarted by an old discarded girlfriend. They quarrel and Claire is killed.

Claire’s death is an accident. Obviously the sensible thing to do would be to notify the police. It would be inconvenient and the inquest might be embarrassing but it was after all an accident. Of course if characters in suspense movies did the sensible thing in such situations we’d have very few suspense movies. Peter does what any self-respecting character in a movie would do. He buries the body and hopes it will never be discovered.

Surprisingly Kay gets herself involved in this mess very early on and although she knows it’s stupid she is persuaded to do something very foolish.

Of course we know that Peter’s foolproof plan for hiding the body is going to come unstuck and that he’s going to find himself in all sorts of difficulties. Everything that could go wrong does go wrong.

To add a further complication there’s an old friend of Claire’s, a Dr Anstruther (Guy Rolfe), who seems likely to cause some problems. There’s also Rodney Nixon (Peter Reynolds), a rather disreputable freelance journalist with a nose for scandal. Then there’s the local archaeological society, who decide to do a dig in a spot that could prove slightly awkward for Peter. Not to mention poachers and village policemen who seem to keep turning up in distressingly inconvenient places.

Apart from the plot twists what makes this movie more interesting than most is that Peter is  an intriguingly complex character who doesn’t behave the way the initial setup would lead us to believe he will. 

There’s also a very slight resemblance to Hitchcock’s Suspicion - we have a heroine who isn’t quite sure how far she should believe the hero. Peter Darwin is charming and likeable and seems like the sort of young man who would make an ideal husband - but is he really all he seems to be? The relationship between Peter and Kay doesn’t quite follow the pattern we might expect either.

Fine performances from all the principals make a major contribution to the movie’s success. Robert Urquhart as Peter is nicely ambiguous, Peter Reynolds is deliciously smooth and mercenary as the journalist and Noelle Middleton is an effectively sympathetic emotionally torn heroine. Guy Rolfe gets top billing although he’s really a supporting player but he’s very solid.

Director Wilfred Eades had a very short career in film (in fact just two directing credits) followed by a rather short career in television. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the job he does here. Robert Hall and Doreen Montgomery provide a clever well-constructed screenplay. 

Like most British thrillers and mysteries of this era this is a very well-made movie that turns out to be better than we expect it to be.

The correct aspect aspect ratio of this film is open to debate. It was shot in 1.33:1 but distributed in two versions - one in that aspect ratio and another matted to 1.66:1 for cinemas equipped for widescreen exhibition. In other words both aspect ratios can be considered to be perfectly correct representations of the original theatrical release. Network have solved this problem for their DVD release by offering both versions. Since the widescreen version involves a loss of some picture information I elected to watch the 1.33:1 version but really it’s a matter of personal taste. What matters is that the transfers are extremely good.

You Can’t Escape is an absorbing and well-crafted suspense thriller that provides fine entertainment. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Carefree (1938)

Carefree, released in 1938, was the second-to-last of the RKO Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals. It’s more or less a screwball comedy with musical numbers (courtesy of Irving Berlin), and it’s a combination that works superbly.

Astaire is psychiatrist Dr Tony Flagg. He agrees to help out his pal Stephen Arden (Ralph Bellamy). Stephen is engaged to Amanda Cooper (Ginger Rogers) but she keeps breaking off their engagement. Dr Flagg is confident that by psychoanalysing Amanda he can find out what the problem is.

The usual pattern in an Astaire-Rogers movie is that they start out hating each other before discovering that they’re actually in love. This one is slightly different. They do clash at first but very quickly Amanda falls for Tony. The difficulty is that she can’t tell him. After all he is her doctor. Not to mention that she’s supposed to be engaged to his best friend. Then Tony makes the mistake of putting her under anaesthetic as part of his treatment and the truth comes out. He makes an even bigger mistake by hypnotising her which, among other things, leads her to her going after him with a double-barreled shotgun.

While she’s under the effect of the anaesthetic she also manages to create a great deal of mayhem and get herself arrested.

The hypnosis has Amanda switching back and forth between thinking she’s in love with Stephen and thinking she’s in love with Tony, which gives the plot the necessary screwball comedy elements.

The very short 83-minute running time makes this film pleasingly fast-paced and snappy (as a good screwball comedy should be). Some of the Astaire-Rogers pictures drag just a little in the middle but that’s certainly not the case here.

Having Astaire play a psychoanalyst offers the opportunity for a dream sequence which is wisely not overdone and works rather well. It also offers the opportunity for a lot of humour at the expense of the psychiatric profession, an aspect that I personally find very enjoyable.

The casting in this film is absolutely perfect. You might wonder about casting Astaire as a psychiatrist but since the role is played for comedy it works extremely well. Astaire’s characterisations could be just a trifle pushy at times but in this movie he’s all easy-going charm. Rogers is as splendid as ever. Ralph Bellamy makes a fine second lead and demonstrates his fine comic skills. Luella Gear, a major Broadway star who made few films, has great fun as Amanda’s fun-loving Aunt Cora. 

There’s plenty of visual inventiveness on display here with Astaire’s solo golfing dance routine being a highlight.

This was the last of the five Fred and Ginger musicals directed by Mark Sandrich and by this time he certainly knew a thing or two about directing musicals.

RKO originally intended to shoot this movie, or at the very least part of it, in colour. The idea was shelved due to the cost considerations. One of the musical numbers was in fact shot in colour but the quality was unsatisfactory and it was reshot in black-and-white.

If there’s a weakness to this picture it’s that there’s not quite as much dancing as you might expect, although what there is is pretty good. That means it has to rely on the comedy. Fortunately the comedy is genuinely funny so it isn’t a problem. Rogers in particular gets to show off her very considerable talents as a comic actress. 

For some reason this movie is not generally well thought of even by ardent Astaire-Rogers fans. Part of the reason for that may be the relative scarcity of the musical numbers. And comedy is of course very subjective. I found this movie to be very funny indeed but perhaps that’s just me.

The Warner Home Video DVD (from the second of their Astaire-Rogers boxed sets) offers an excellent transfer.

Carefree is probably the most underrated of the Fred and Ginger musicals. It’s a good screwball comedy with the musical numbers being a bonus. Highly recommended.