Friday, May 30, 2014

Clue of the New Pin (1961)

In 1960 Britain’s Merton Park Studios launched a series of cheap crime B-movies based on the works of Edgar Wallace. Oddly enough, at almost exactly the same time the German Rialto studio launched its own very successful and prolific series of Edgar Wallace crime thrillers, known in Germany as krimis. It says much for the continued popularity of Wallace’s books that thirty years after his death his name was still considered to be a major selling point, and that both the British and German film series proved to be highly successful.

It actually made a good deal of sense. Wallace’s books had a certain sensationalism about them that made them perfect material for low-budget movies. The outrageousness of his plots was sufficient to compensate for the limited budgets.

The forty-six British Merton Park Wallace thrillers were shown on television in the US as  The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre but the films had originally been made for theatrical release.

Clue of the New Pin was a 1961 entry in the series, based on a 1923 Wallace novel. 

John Tredmore (David Horne) is a rather misanthropic figure who made his fortune in the East before returning to Britain. How he made his fortune is a complete mystery. He certainly isn’t prepared to reveal the secret and he seems to have successfully covered up all traces of his earlier life. His nephew Rex Lander (Paul Daneman) acts as his secretary. Tredmore treats his nephew with ill-disguised contempt but Lander puts up with it because he believes himself to be Tredmore’s only living relative and therefore expects to inherit the old man’s fortune.

Tredmore, who has a strong distrust of banks, keeps much of his fortune in an elaborate strongroom in his house. There is only one entrance to the strongroom and there is only one key, which the old millionaire keeps on his person at all times.

Tab Holland (James Villiers) is a popular television journalist who has, somewhat to his own surprise, managed to convince Tredmore to give him an interview. The irascible old millionaire has however assured him that he will not get any of his secrets out of him.

Both Rex and Tab are rivals for the affection of movie starlet Jane Ardfern (Catherine Woodville) and it appears that old John Tredmore has taken a rather keen interest in the young actress as well.

Also involved is a mysterious old fellow named Ramsey Brown (Clive Morton). He is an old friend of Tredmore’s, or perhaps an old enemy would be more accurate. Either way he knows Tredmore’s secrets.

All of this leads up to murder, but it is a very puzzling murder indeed. More than puzzling; it is a quite impossible murder. The body is found in John Tredmore’s strongroom. The door to the strongroom can only be locked from the outside with the key, which is as mentioned earlier the only key. The door is in fact found locked from the outside, but the key is found inside, lying on top of a table. Various theories are proposed as to how the murderer might have locked the door from outside and slid the key back under the door, but no-one can explain how the key could have ended up on the table.

Detective Superintendent Carver’s problem is not a lack of suspects, or even a lack of motives. His problem is that he cannot charge anyone with the murder unless he can explain how the murder was committed. Even the most skilled prosecuting counsel is unlikely to secure a conviction for what is on the face of it an impossible crime.

This movie is therefore more of a howdunit than a whodunit. It is not difficult to guess the identity of the murderer, and the movie does not really try to keep the criminal’s identity a secret. The real mystery is the murder method.

What makes this movie a cut above the usual run of low-budget crime films is the uniformly high quality of the acting. James Villiers was an actor with a remarkable talent for portraying rather well-born young men who were either extremely charming or extremely sinister, or more often both. He is in fine form here as the very smooth television journalist. Paul Daneman is almost as good as the old man’s downtrodden nephew. 

Catherine Woodville as the starlet, Bernard Archard as Superintendent Carver, Clive Morton as the mysterious Ramsey Brown and David Horne as the formidable old millionaire all provide excellent support.

Director Allan Davis had a rather short and not very distinguished career. He does a competent job and keeps things moving at a brisk pace which is always the most important task for a director of a low-budget movie. Philip Mackie wrote the screenplay. He would go on to have a successful career as a writer for television.

Clue of the New Pin is undemanding but enjoyable fun. Recommended.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Love from a Stranger (1937)

Love from a Stranger (AKA A Night of Terror) is a 1937 British crime melodrama based on a short story by Agatha Christie. Christie was best-known for her detective stories but she also write thrillers and Love from a Stranger is more psychological thriller than detective story. It can also be regarded as being to a certain extent a precursor of the British style of film noir, being very much darker than most 1930s murder mysteries. The heroine is, to a limited extent, a noir protagonist in that one mistake plunges her into a noir nightmare world. The male villain on the other hand has something in common with the classic noir femme fatale.

Christie’s thrillers often tended to be quite dark, Endless Night being a good example.

Carol Howard (Anne Harding) works in an office and shares a flat with her friend Kate Meadows (Binnie Hale) and her hypochondriac aunt, Aunt Loo (Jean Cadell). She lives a life of drudgery, her only hope coming from her addiction to buying lottery tickets. Her boyfriend Ronnie (Bruce Seaton) is always chiding her for what he sees as her childish belief that she can somehow escape from reality by winning the lottery. Until one day Carol really does win the lottery. She wins a very large amount of money indeed in the French National Lottery.

This puts great strain on her relationship with Ronnie and leads to the ending of their engagement. Ronnie cannot bear the thought of being supported by a rich wife.

Carol is now a wealthy woman and she and Kate set off to Paris to collect Carol’s winnings, intending to then go on to a European tour. On the ferry to France she meets handsome debonair playboy Gerald Lovell (Basil Rathbone). Gerald is cultured and wealthy, or at least he claims to be. He had already met Carol when came to view her flat with a view to renting it so seeing him on the ferry is something of a surprise. Gerald sweeps her off her feet, which isn’t very difficult given the rather limited life she has led. Before very long she and Gerald are married.

The warning signs that something is not right are there from the start but Carol refuses to recognise them. Gerald spins her a story about his fortune being tied up in a South American bank, an annoying circumstance because Gerald is anxious to buy a house in the country. It’s just the sort of house Carol has always dreamed of and it seems such a pity to miss out on it just because of a silly mix-up that has made it temporarily difficult for Gerald to access his fortune. Carol comes up with a very sensible solution. She will lend Gerald the five thousand pounds to buy the house and he will pay her back as soon as his one becomes available. All Carol has to do is sign a few papers. Carol doesn’t understand such financial matters but since Gerald assures her that it’s all very simple and straightforward she doesn’t bother to read them.

Before the marriage Gerald had been charming and attentive but that soon starts to change. Gerald becomes unpredictable and morose and is subject to violent fits of temper. Carol isn’t worried; poor Gerald has just been under a lot of stress and he still has nightmares about the war. She is convinced that all she needs to do is to a loving and supportive wife and everything will be fine.

Of course things are not fine. Gerald’s behaviour becomes more unstable. Gerald reads a lot of criminology books and he flies into a rage when Carol looks at one of these books, and especially when she looks at the chapter dealing with a notorious fortune-hunter who married and murdered three women. Gerald’s health is also a matter of concern. When Carol finally persuades him to consult a doctor the doctor diagnoses a heart condition.

Despite her attempts to persuade herself that she has nothing to worry about Carol is increasingly nervous and is even starting to be just a little scared, especially when Gerald sends the servants away at a time when his behaviour is more strange than usual. Being left alone in the house with a man who is more and more paranoid and unbalanced is not a happy prospect. Of course Gerald is really just highly strung and nervous and she’s probably just being silly, but even so. Does Carol really have something to worry about or is she just being unnecessarily suspicious?

The film has something in common with Francis Iles’ 1932 psychological crime thriller Before the Fact, later filmed by Alfred Hitchcock as Suspicion. In fact it has definite similarities to Hitchcock’s style of suspense films.

Ann Harding is an adequate heroine. A first she seems to be impossibly na├»ve but as the story progresses her character develops somewhat as her potentially dangerous situation brings out some unexpected strength of character. Basil Rathbone is superb in the early part of the film as the charming, but perhaps too charming, Gerald Lovell. As the plot unfolds he changes gears dramatically and starts to go delightfully over-the-top, becoming sinister and then downright scary. Basil Rathbone’s ability to switch very easily between charming and sinister is one of the movie’s chief assets.

This is one of the areas in which this movie moves sharply into psychological theory territory with some actual character development, with Gerald changing for the worse and Carol changing for the better.

This movie in included in several of the Mill Creek public domain DVD sets, including their rather good Dark Crimes set. The print is a bit rough in places but is reasonably satisfactory.

Love from a Stranger works equally well as a psychological thriller and a crime melodrama. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable movie and I’d even go so far as to describe it as a neglected gem. It’s certainly an interesting movie and something of a must-see for Basil Rathbone fans. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Roberta (1935)

Roberta, released in 1935, was the third of the RKO Astaire-Rogers musicals and one thing is immediately apparent. RKO still had no idea of the box-office gold they had on their hands. Fred and Ginger are relegated to supporting roles with the main plot being a dreary and very slow-moving romance between Irene Dunne (who got top billing in the movie) Randolph Scott.

Randolph Scott is John Kent, an American football player who unexpectedly inherits the House of Roberta, one of the most renowned fashion houses in Paris. 

Roberta herself (Helen Westley) had been in failing health and for some years most of the designing had been in the hands of her assistant Stephanie (Irene Dunne). Roberta had always intended to leave the business to Stephanie but had neglected to make a will. As a result her nephew John Kent finds himself the owner of a fashion house. Kent of course knows nothing about women’s clothing. The obvious solution would be to offer Stephanie a partnership but he takes a while to come to that very self-evident conclusion. He and Stephanie naturally fall in love and naturally there are the usual complications you expect in a romantic comedy. The problem with this romantic comedy plot is that it is totally lacking in romantic chemistry and even more totally lacking in comedy. While the movie focuses on these two it drags unbearably. Irene Dunne was exceptionally good at comedy but with the script offering her no funny lines she is hopelessly at sea.

Fortunately the movie has a much more entertaining sub-plot involving band leader Huck Haines (Astaire) and the Countess Scharwenka (Rogers). Of course Scharwenka is no countess; she’s an American girl from the Mid West who grew up with Huck. As she explains, if a girl wants to make it as a singer in Paris she has to be a countess. Huck and his band, the Indianans, arrived in Paris to be the resident band at the Cafe Russe but the owner of the establishment wanted Indians (the kind that wear feathered headgear) and not Indianans (who are just regular guys from Indiana). Countess Scharwenka pulls some strings and they eventually end up with the job anyway.

Of course Scharwenka and Huck are in love as well, only it takes them a while to figure that out.

The romantic troubles between Kent and Stephanie threaten to ruin the House of Roberta on the eve of a major fashion show so Huck and Scharwenka have to find a way to get them back together again to save the show.

Most of the first half of this much-too-long movie should have been left on the cutting-room floor. No-one is going to be the slightest bit interested in a dreary romance between two very dreary people. It’s not the fault of Randolph Scott or Irene Dunne but the script really is a clunker. The fashion show itself will either bore or entrance you depending on your level of interest in 1930s women’s fashions. The studio spent a fortune on the fashions and the show is handsomely mounted.

Once the action switches to Fred and Ginger it becomes an entirely different movie. They actually do get some good lines and they make the most of them and their performances really sparkle. Unusually they get to play characters who like each other right from the start, which might reduce the dramatic tension but as compensation it gives some real warmth to their on-screen banter. 

There’s some great music by Jerome Kern including some absolutely superb classic songs like I Won’t Dance and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. Unfortunately Irene Dunne gets to sing most of the songs. Her operatic style of singing is completely unsuited to the movie and provides a jarring contrast to the light and breezy style of the music in the Astaire-Rogers numbers.

The biggest problem of all in this very problematic movie is that Astaire and Rogers get to do very little dancing. When they do get the opportunity they’re terrific and the movie suddenly comes alive.

Edward Cronjager’s very competent cinematography and Van Nest Polglase’s wonderful art direction are major assets.

After this movie the penny finally dropped at RKO. Astaire and Rogers were promoted to star billing on their next picture, Top Hat. The result was a box-office smash hit.

The Warner Home Video presentation is very good, with some slight graininess but generally excellent picture quality.

Without Fred and Ginger this movie would have been a boring fiasco. Had they been given a lot more screen time and a lot more dancing it could have been splendid entertainment. As it stands it’s worth seeing only for the brief moments when Fred and Ginger get to work their magic.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The House on 92nd Street (1945)

The House on 92nd Street is included in Fox’s excellent series of film noir releases on DVD. In fact the movie is not even remotely a film noir. It is however an effective spy thriller and is important in being the first movie to adopt the semi-documentary approach that would soon become so popular.

The movie was made shortly before the end of the Second World War. The claim is made in the beginning of the film that it was only able to be made after the dropping of the atomic bombs in August 1945 and since the movie is all about atomic secrets that claim is almost certainly true.

The House on 92nd Street starts with a lengthy introduction filling in the background of suspected German espionage and sabotage efforts in the United States and the early parts of the film are dominated by voiceover narration. The action proper begins shortly before the entry of the United States into the war. The FBI is already undertaking strenuous efforts to uncover German spy rings. They get a big break when German-American university graduate William Dietrich (William Eythe) is approached by a member of a Nazi spy ring. Dietrich is a loyal American and immediately report the approach to the FBI. Special Agent George Briggs (Lloyd Nolan), a senior counter-espionage officer, realises this is an opportunity to infiltrate the German espionage network and Dietrich agrees to become a double agent.

The FBI is particularly concerned about a chance discovery that the Germans are aware of Process 97, a key element in the research into the atomic bomb. A German agent killed in a traffic accident had revealed this fact just before he died, and had also revealed the existence of a very important spy known only as Mr Christopher. William Dietrich’s job will be to find out how the Germans are obtaining information on Process 97, and to discover the identity of Mr Christopher.

Dietrich goes to Hamburg to be trained as a German spy after which he returns to the US and makes contact with Nazi spy Elsa Gebhardt (Signe Hasso). Dietrich has been assigned the task of setting up a radio transmitting station to pass intelligence back to Germany more quickly. What his fellow German spies do not realise is that he has set up a short-range transmitter. His signals are picked up by an FBI radio station which then transmits the messages to Germany. The messages are doctored by the FBI to ensure that the intelligence received in Germany will be either valueless or misleading.

Being a double agent is a dangerous game to play, as Dietrich will find out. As the FBI closes it net on the German spy ring the hyper-suspicious German spies are closing their net on Dietrich.

William Eythe is stolid but effective enough. Lloyd Nolan gives a restrained performance, probably not surprising since the co-operation with the FBI that the film-makers needed required FBI agents to be portrayed in a dignified and quietly heroic manner.

The supporting performances are both more impressive and much more colourful. Signe Hasso is excellent as the ice blonde spy Eva Gebhardt. Leo G. Carroll is superb as the suave spy Colonel Hammersohn, skillfully hinting at the menace beneath the smooth and confident surface. Harry Bellaver and Bruno Wick are convincingly sinister while Lydia St Clair makes a suitably chilling Gestapo operative.

Producer Louis De Rochemont persuaded J. Edgar Hoover to allow many scenes in the movie to be filmed in the actual FBI buildings. To give the movie even greater verisimilitude several of the actors, including Lloyd Nolan, were permitted to undergo a week of FBI training. Much of the surveillance footage shown in the movie is real FBI footage. The Bureau even lent the film-makers surveillance vans from which to shoot some of the location shots in New York. Most of the FBI personnel shown in the movie were actual FBI personnel. The plot of the movie is based in part on two actual FBI cases involving German spy rings.

The movie shows the FBI acting to prevent the Nazis from getting the secrets of the atomic bomb. Ironically within a few years of the film’s release Soviet spies including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg would pass on those very atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

The House on 92nd Street broke entirely new ground with its bold mixing of real documentary footage, scenes shot in a documentary style and much more noirish scenes. Also revolutionary was the extent of location shooting, several years before The Naked City which is usually credited for introducing the semi-documentary style. 

The documentary style and the objectivity of much of the movie prevents it from being true film noir although director Henry Hathaway and his cinematographer Norbert Brodine do manage at times to capture a genuine film noir feel and mood. The mix of styles is uneasy at times but generally speaking, given that the movie was attempting something that had never been done before, it works reasonably well.

This movie is also important in being one of the first Hollywood spy films to focus on gadgetry and technology, elements that are skillfully integrated into the plot rather than being there just to add colour.

As usual Fox have come up with an excellent transfer. Extras include a typically informative commentary track by Eddie Mulller.

The House on 92nd Street is a very important movie historically, pioneering new approaches to both the crime and spy movie genres. This in itself is sufficient to make it worth seeing. Aside from that it’s an entertaining spy thriller. Recommended.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Night To Remember (1942)

A Night To Remember is not, sadly, a movie to remember. It’s about as forgettable as a movie can be. That’s not to say it’s overtly bad but it’s certainly not a high point in cinematic history.

The idea behind this 1942 Columbia production seemed to be that any movie with a crime-solving married couple had to be a sure-fire winner. Given the enormous success of the Thin Man movies that probably seemed like a reasonable assumption. But the Thin Man movies had William Powell and Myrna Loy. A Night To Remember has Loretta Young and Brian Aherne. Loretta Young is fine but Brian Aherne is no William Powell. The Thin Man movies always had witty sparkling scripts. Wit and sparkle are sadly lacking in the screenplay of A Night to Remember.

Brian Aherne is murder mystery author Jeff Troy. Loretta Young is his wife Nancy. Jeff has decided to write a real novel, murder mysteries being apparently not real novels. It will be set in Greenwich Village. Nancy has the idea that it’s going to be pretty hard for Jeff to write a great novel about Greenwich Village unless he actually lives there so she’s found them what she thinks is a delightfully romantic and atmospheric basement apartment. The apartment certainly has atmosphere but it’s not the atmosphere she was aiming for. It’s gloomy and it soon transpires that it has an evil reputation. It used to be a speakeasy but its reputation seems to be connected with criminal activities of a more recent date.

The behaviour of the building’s other tenants is very odd, not to say paranoid. And the discovery of a corpse in the garden attached to the basement apartment does not enhance its attractiveness. There’s obviously a mystery here and since Jeff writes murder mysteries he thinks he should be able to solve it. In fact he thinks he’s better fitted to solve it than Inspector Hankins (Sidney Toler), an opinion not shared by the hardboiled New York police inspector.

There’s really nothing wrong with the set-up. The problem is that the screenplay gives the players very little to work with in the way of actual gags. As a result the performers have to work overtime in a desperate attempt to extract some laughs from the material. Not surprisingly they end up trying too hard and the performances feel forced and at times become irritating. The big problem is Brian Aherne who tries very hard indeed, to singularly little effect, and he becomes very irritating indeed. His bumbling amateur detective soon starts to grate on one’s nerves. It’s the sort of role, and the sort of premise, that really needs the sophisticated approach of a William Powell, rather than Aherne’s attempts at slapstick.

Loretta Young keeps her performance slightly more in check and at least avoids the pitfall of becoming actively annoying.

Sidney Toler is the best thing about this movie. He understands that a drily amused approach pays bigger dividends than Aherne’s mugging.

The other problem is that the mystery itself is less than riveting so the somewhat clunky murder mystery angle does little to keep the audience’s interest.

The Troy’s basement apartment has another inhabitant, a tortoise named Old Hickory who used to be the speakeasy’s mascot. It’s a symptom of this movie’s problems that Old Hickory has to shoulder much of the comedy element, and even the most comically gifted tortoise would be struggling with this script. But he does at least do his best and he has no trouble stealing scenes from the other actors.

Sadly director Richard Wallace is quite unable to overcome the deficiencies of the screenplay by by Richard Flournoy and Jack Henley.

My difficulties with this movie may perhaps reflect the fact that the style of comedy is not one that I’m especially enamoured of, my own tastes running more to sophisticated banter rather than physical comedy (unless it’s done particularly well). 

A Night To Remember is featured in volume two of the otherwise generally excellent Columbia Icons of Screwball Comedy boxed set. The transfer is perfectly adequate.

A Night To Remember is innocuous enough, especially if you’re a Loretta Young completist, but it’s certainly one of the lesser screwball comedies. The boxed set itself is highly recommended but it’s difficult to recommend this particular movie. You might want to leave to a time when you’re in a in a very undemanding mood.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Killer Is Loose (1956)

Budd Boetticher is today revered for his westerns. The Killer Is Loose, made in 1956, isn’t a western but a taut crime thriller with perhaps just a dash of film noir.

The movie opens with a bank robbery. It’s fairly obvious that it was an inside job, or at least involved someone working for the bank. The robbers knew too many details about the bank’s security. The trail quickly leads the cops to mild-mannered bank teller Leon Poole, holed up in his apartment. In a tragic mix-up Poole’s wife is shot dead by the police. It is clearly not the fault of the police. It is Poole’s fault - if you go around shooting at cops you have to expect that they’ll shoot back, and the police were sure that Poole was alone in the apartment. Poole has caused his wife’s death by getting involved in an armed robbery and then taking pot-shots at the cops but he doesn’t see it that way. He cannot accept his own responsibility. He blames Detective Sam Wagner (Joseph Cotten) and he vows to get revenge. This all happens right at the beginning of the movie so I haven’t revealed any spoilers. The robbery sequences simply set up the movie’s main plot line.

A few years later Sam Wagner is a Lieutenant in a nice safe desk job. That’s not what he wanted, but his selfish and constantly complaining wife Lila (Rhonda Fleming) gave him no choice. Sam is devoted to Lila. The desk job was Lila’s doing but she’s still not satisfied and continually pressures Sam to leave the force.

And now the past catches up to Sam Wagner. Leon Poole has killed a guard and escaped from prison. No-one had taken his threats of revenge too seriously, at least not until one of the cops thought to have a talk with Poole’s former cell-mate. Now it is disturbingly clear that Poole really is serious about taking revenge, and taking it in a particularly nasty way. He doesn’t intend to kill Sam Wagner - he intends to kill Sam’s wife.

Poole eludes a massive manhunt and it is clear that he is now in the city and he’s stalking Lila Wagner. The problem for the police is to find a way to draw Poole out without getting any more people killed. 

It’s a setup with plenty of potential for suspense and Boetticher makes the most of it. There are a couple of superb set-pieces that neatly combine tension, visual interest and psychological dissections of character’s motives. These set-pieces make this more than just a routine low-budget crime thriller.

Joseph Cotten is solid enough as Wagner. Rhonda Fleming has a difficult time playing an unsympathetic character and fails to find the right approach. Her problematic performance and her character’s general unpleasantness are the movie’s main weak spot. Veteran Australian actor Michael Pate (one of my favourite character actors) gets to play a good guy for once as Detective Chris Gillespie. Alan Hale Jr (yes that’s right, the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island) plays it very straight as another cop.

What really makes this movie stand out is Wendell Corey’s riveting performance as Leon Poole. Poole is a guy who has never been been taken seriously by anyone is his life, apart from his wife. He’s already partly unhinged, as evidenced by his involvement in the kind of violent crime for which he is totally inadequate and his wife’s death pushes him right over the edge. Corey gives a subtle but extremely chilling performance, combining inadequacy with burning resentment and sudden moments of totally unexpected extreme violence. It’s a truly great performance by an actor who has never received the attention he deserves.

Poole’s encounter with his wartime sergeant is a key psychological moment with an unexpected and shocking sting in the tail.

MGM’s Limited Edition Collection provides a good print that is, unforgivably, in the wrong aspect ratio.

The Killer Is Loose is a well-constructed exciting thriller. Budd Boetticher fans will find that he was as adept at crime thrillers as he was at westerns. Wendell Corey’s performance makes it a must-see movie. Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Going Hollywood (1933)

Going Hollywood (also released as Cinderella’s Fella) is a bright and breezy romantic musical romp with a Hollywood setting. Marion Davies gets top billing ahead of Bing Crosby, not yet a major star but definitely on the way up.

Sylvia Bruce (Davies) works as a teacher in a girls’ boarding school, teaching French to the girls. Sylvia does not fit in with the stuffy atmosphere of the school. Things come to a crisis when the headmistress catches Sylvia listening to the radio. Even worse, she is listening to one of those crooners who pose such a threat to public morals.

Sylvia quits and sets off to find the crooner in question, Bill Williams (Crosby). She has decides she is madly in love with him. Arranging a meeting with the singer is quite a challenge - he has so many lovesick girls chasing him and is becoming a little paranoid about it.

When she learns Williams is off to Hollywood to pursue a film career there’s only one thing to do - follow him there. Unlike the thousands of other girls flocking to Hollywood Sylvia isn’t interested in breaking into the movies but since Bill Williams is now working in the movies she has little choice in the matter. 

Bill is co-starring in a lavish musical with his girlfriend Lili Yvonne (Fifi D'Orsay), a spoilt and very temperamental French star. The movie is being bankrolled by the well-meaning but rather ineffectual Ernest P. Baker (Stuart Erwin), a rich young man who hopes to raise the artistic standards of the movies. The director of the movie, Conroy (Ned Sparks) barely tolerates Baker’s presence on set.

By dint of a great deal of perseverance and imaginative effort Sylvia lands a spot in the chorus. Of course we know that somehow or other Sylvia is going to become a star even if that’s not her ambition and her big break comes about as a result of Lili’s outrageous behaviour. But landing a starring spot in a movie proves to be easier than landing the starring spot in Bill Williams’ heart. Lili is going to fight for her man and she’s likely to be a formidable opponent.

Marion Davies wasn’t a great dramatic actress but she was a gifted comedienne and she handles her role with ease and style. Her impersonation of the impossible French star is one of the movie’s highlights. Bing Crosby at 30 had already developed the ultra-laidback cool guy style that would serve him so well. Davies are Crosby have plenty of chemistry and they’re very easy to like.

Naturally Crosby gets plenty of chances to sing, which he does in his inimitable style. His rendition of Temptation is another of the movie’s highlights.

The supporting cast is another of the movie’s strengths. Fifi D'Orsay chews the scenery for all she’s worth. Ned Sparks is splendid as Conroy, the flinty director who seems to dislike everyone and everything. Stuart Erwin is gently amusing as the hapless but amiable Baker. The one weak link is the painful but mercifully brief comic relief provided by a trio called Three Radio Rogues. Apart from that one low spot the comedy is handled in an easy-going low-key manner that is perfectly suited to the talents of Davies and Crosby.

Director Raoul Walsh was known for his action pictures rather than for musicals but his lively approach works perfectly. The movie positively zings along through its modest 78-minute running time. While this frothy MGM production has little in common with the contemporary Warner Brothers musicals it does share their frenetic energy. The dream sequences are a particular delight.

Going Hollywood has plenty of style, the music sparkles and it has the right mix of romance and comedy. Its main assets though are the delightful performances of its two leads. Recommended.