4 quick reviews (Morgan, Conway, Evans +)

welcome to a roundup of quick reviews:

Calm Yourself. Robert Young is decades ahead of his time in starting a personal assistant business, one that promises to do all the hard and unpleasant stuff for you, or a “worrying bureau” as one review called it. One of Young’s first jobs is picking up and hiding Frank Morgan’s daughter Madge Evans from his new wife who doesn’t know Morgan even has a daughter, let alone that he’s old enough to have one just about her same age. 
Young is hired to keep Evans away until Morgan can break the news, which Young does by fooling Evans into thinking her father doesn’t want to see her and then employs her in his startup, which eventually gets involved in a phony dog abduction and a mix-up about a baby abduction. I’m a big Madge Evans fan; for such a glam nice girl, she also made a good spunky straight-woman, serious and mildly disapproving amidst madcap goings-on, as in Piccadilly Jim, besides being a reliable dramatic actress as in The Mayor of Hell (both movies I’ve seen her in recently). Here Evans is funny when she’s clueless, better as things get more and more ridiculously out of control, and great when she figures out she’s been lied to, storming off, but not before making sure to leave Young’s office as messy as she found it. Also (and pretty much always) fun is Nat Pendleton, not least because he and Evans take part in an unbelievable car chase reminiscent of the one in the French Connection, even though you see the cars pass the same signs, and end up under the exact same garage sign where the chase starts. Evans started as a child star, and was married to Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Sidney Kingsley (Dead End, Detective Story) from their elopement in 1939, after which she was done with movies, to her death in 1981.

By Your Leave. Another movie where Frank Morgan is trying to hold on to his youth at all costs. Here Morgan is bored with his too-comfy marriage, and feels like his time as a wild and crazy guy is growing short, especially after seeing how quickly neighbor girl Betty Grable has grown up and sees him only as the cute old fogey next door. Morgan then makes a daring proposal, talking his wife Genevieve Tobin into both of them getting a “Hall Pass” from the marriage, splitting their vacay savings to do whatever they want, meeting up after the split, never to discuss what transpired during their time away from each other. Tobin, who is happy in the marriage, reluctantly accepts, with the creeping awareness and some resignation that this probably means Morgan’s sick of her and wants out for good. Off on his own, Morgan tries and fails to hook up with his secretary (married), a showgirl (bored of him, drives off) and ends up spending more time with a drunk who’s mistaken him for an old college buddy than he does with any women. When he finally gets his shot it’s with an escort who’s more interested in analyzing him, and he chickens out, realizing how lucky he is to have his wife. Meanwhile, Tobin has actually found love, with a worldly lecturing Indiana Jones type explorer (Neil Hamilton), and is ready to run off with him, and here endeth spoilers (there’s a pith helmet involved). Margaret Hamilton is fabulous as the couple’s housekeeper, dripping with insolence and well timed sarcasm.

Secrets of the French Police. another one with Frank Morgan (I recorded all these and more in June when TCM was celebrating his birthday) in the lead as an inspector trying to solve the kidnapping of a flower girl (Gwili Andre), with the help of her gentleman thief boyfriend. Andre is being held captive by Gregory Ratoff and gang, hypnotized and prepped to pass as lost Russian princess Anastasia Romanoff. The movie has some neat sets and atmosphere, crazy plot twists and pulp fiction elements, Asian servants, creepy palaces, underground lairs where women are turned into statues, getaway canals, and laughable forensic techniques that wouldn’t solve a crossword puzzle (the interchangeable 2D potatohead facial reconstruction thing is especially mindboggling, though they did create an uncanny Gwili Andre facsimile). A convoluted curiosity, entertaining but unremarkable. Gwili Andre is pretty stunning though, she was heralded as the next Garbo, a David O. Selznick discovery from Denmark. Her career went nowhere though, and in 1959 she committed suicide by setting herself on fire amidst her film photos.

Two O’Clock Courage. I love Tom Conway (George Sanders’ brother, for those not in the know) and will watch pretty much anything with him in it; also leading here is Ann Rutherford, noir fans will get a kick out of seeing young Jane (still Bettejane in these credits) Greer, and as a bonus there’s the icy bad girl Jean Brooks. In this Anthony Mann remake of Two in the Dark, Conway plays an amnesia victim almost run over by Rutherford in her cab, named “Eddie.” She helps him figure out who he is, and why he would or wouldn’t have murdered someone, as they come to discover it all has to do with a stolen play and some complicated affairs. Portrayals of police and detectives as a bunch of stupid buffoons is much too common from these types of movies and really gets on my nerves, but aside from that one quibble, this is a nice light mystery with some comic moments and fun performances, typical B fare, and a lot like the Falcon series. Jean Brooks, who was in a few Falcon movies herself, and is now probably best known for her amazingly creepy performance (not to mention some inspiring dark and drastic Bettie bangs) in Val Lewton’s The Seventh Victim, was in the early 1940s married to director Richard Brooks, and basically drank herself to death, dying with little public notice, on the day of JFK’s funeral in 1963.
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