Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941) | The supernatural Hollywood classic is comic perfection and a must-see on Blu-ray
Nominated for seven Oscars (and winning two for its story and screenplay) and the inspiration for a slew of guardian angel pictures, including a 1947 sequel, Down to Earth with Rita Hayworth, and two remakes, as Heaven Can Wait, director Alexander Hall’s delightfully droll 1941 fantasy, Here Comes Mr Jordan, is comic perfection.
When working-class boxer Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) dies in a plane crash, he finds himself arriving in heaven 50 years too early owing to a clerical error by an over-zealous chief dispatcher’s messenger (Edward Everett Horton).
On discovering his body has been cremated, his angelic minder, Mr Jordan (Claude Rains) fixes it that so that he can return to Earth using the body of crooked banker Bruce Farnsworth, who’s just been murdered by his adulterous wife (Rita Johnson) and secretary (John Emery).
Falling in love with the daughter of one of his duped investors (Evelyn Keyes), Joe tries to remake Farnsworth’s unworthy life, while also trying to stop a world championship prizefight from being thrown by gamblers…
Robert Montgomery makess for a believable and solid everyman hero as the boxer given a second chance, while Claude Rains gives great support, as do James Gleason as Joe’s boxer manager and Evelyn Keyes as the breezy love interest. But it’s Edward Everett Horton who steals the show as the dithering Messenger 7013. Sweet, sophisticated and super smooth – they certainly don’t make them like this any more – and its prime a slice of Hollywood’s golden age that deserves pride of place in any classic film fan’s collection.
The Criterion Collection Blu-ray release features a new 2K digital restoration, which really makes Joseph Walker’s diffused cinematography zing, and includes the following extras…
• Critic Michael Sragow and filmmaker Michael Schlesinger discuss the film and its influence.
• Audio interview from 1991 in which Elizabeth Montgomery (who died in 1995) looks back at her relationship with her staunch Republican actor father Robert Montgomery (1:19min).
• 1942 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation starring Cary Grant, Claude Rains, Evelyn Keyes and James Gleason.
• Essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme.
• New artwork by Caitlin Kuhwald.
Three brave hearts, adventuring in a wonder world!
Imprisoned by the wicked Grand Vizier Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), Ahmad (John Justin), the rightful king of Bagdad, befriends a young thief called Abu (Sabu). When Ahmad falls for a beautiful princess (June Duprez) and is magically blinded by Jaffar, who wants the princess for his bride, the intrepid duo embark on a series of adventures in a bid to undo the spell and save the princess.
GIGANTIC! The Wonder Picture of All Time!
A triumph of filmmaking in its day and one of Alexander Korda‘s best-loved films, this Oscar-winning Arabian fantasy is a magical, atmospheric carpet ride that still dazzles thanks to its sensational sets and flamboyant art direction. John Justin turns on the matinee idol charm as the messiah-like Ahmad, while Sabu has boundless energy as the pocket-sized action man. But it’s Conrad Veidt’s briliiant, dastardly Jaffar who set the benchmark for the ultimate panto villain. The special effects may look dated now, but they were sensational back in 1940. Six directors ended up working on the film, including Michael Powell (Peeping Tom) and William Cameron Menzies (Invaders from Mars).
DID YOU KNOW?
Alexander Korda had to finish the movie in Hollywood when war broke out in Europe following director Tim Whelan’s location shooting at Tenby Harbour and Freshwater Beach in Pembrokeshire. This was where the iconic scene of Rex Ingram’s giant Djinn coming out of his magic bottle was filmed.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Released as part of Network’s The British Film collection, The Thief of Bagdad is presented in a HD transfer from original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio, and includes an unrestored theatrical trailer and image galleries.
The original 1924 version of The Thief of Bagdad, which was produced and starred Douglas Fairbanks, was one of the costliest films made in Hollywood during the silent era. This vintage classic is also available in a restored version on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Eureka! Entertainment. Part of their The Masters of Cinema Series, the release (which came out in November 2014) includes a new score by Carl Davies, audio commentary by Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance, and a 40-page collectors booklet.
• A German Blu-ray of the 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad was released back in November 2012 by Anolis Entertainment, which included audio commentary and a documentary on Sabu. There’s also an Italian-released version from 4k Studio. Criterion’s DVD release, which came out in 2008, features a host of extras, including a commentary with Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.
When it comes to iconic sleuths of popular fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes rules supreme – witness the success of the BBC’s contemporary take and Guy Ritchie’s buddy movies. It was the same back in the 1930s and 1940s when Basil Rathbone first donned the deerstalker. But there were also some other well-known gumshoes muscling in on Sherlock’s territory at the time, including The Saint and The Falcon, and two oriental detectives, Charlie Chan and Mr Moto.
The character of Mr Moto originally appeared in six novels between 1935 and 1957 created by John P Marquand. Impeccably-dressed, with an penchant for the martial arts, wearing disguises and speaking numerous languages, the diminutive Japanese American Interpol agent was like an Asian James Bond – albeit minus 007’s sex drive. Following the success of the Charlie Chan movies starring Warner Oland, 20th Century Fox brought Mr Moto to life in the shape of Peter Lorre, who had joined the studio in 1936. While the idea of a Hungarian sporting a Viennese accent playing a Japanese character seemed odd at first, Lorre threw himself into the part (with very little make-up – even the teeth are his own) and it worked.
The success of the first film, Think Fast, Mr Moto, ensured the franchise. What wasn’t known at the time, however, was that Lorre was still undergoing drug rehabilitation, so all the scenes in which you see Moto showing off his expert martial art skills were in fact done by stuntman supremo, Harvey Parry (he doubled for Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart – even Vincent Price). But with Parry’s physical feats and Lorre’s acting skills combined, Mr Moto ran for the next eight films, and only came to an end when Lorre (upset he wasn’t getting any comic gigs at Fox) got released from his studio contract.
The entire Mr Moto series is available on DVD in the UK through Odeon Entertainment in one collection or as stand alone DVDs (click on title below), and two of the films, Think Fast Mr Moto and Mr Moto Takes a Vacation play as part of the BFI Peter Lorre season today in London.
Think Fast, Mr Moto (1937) On a ship bound for Shanghai, Moto befriends the ship owner’s playboy son in order to unmask diamond smugglers. Lorre only accepted the role of Mr Moto because it gave him the chance to play a hero. The film was such a success that the studio ordered five more films in the series, while pledging to keep the production values top knotch. Virginia Field, who’d also appear regularly in the series, later turned up in the British sci-fi The Earth Dies Screaming (1965).
Thank You, Mr Moto (1937) Moto is tasked to stop treasure hunters from uncovering the tomb of Ghengis Khan in China. This story was penned by Moto creator John P Marquand himself and John Carradine turns up as a dealer in antiquities.
Mr Moto’s Gamble (1938). Warner Oland was scheduled to star in Charlie Chan at the Fights. When he fell ill, and later died, the studio turned it into the third Mr Moto film, set in the world of boxing. Chan’s Number One son Keye Luke co-stars. Watch out for Lynn Bari (she starred opposite Vincent Price in Shock) and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance from Lon Chaney Jr as an Irish heavy.
Mr Moto Takes a Chance (1938). Released two months after Gamble, the mystery melodrama finds Moto at the ruins of Cambodia’s Ankor Wat, where he discovers a plot to wipe out every foreigner from all of Asia. Despite the fake sets and questionable antics of an American film crew caught up in the drama, its a hoot.
The Mysterious Mr Moto (1938) After orchestrating a daring escape from Devil’s Island, Moto flees with his cellmate to London in order to infiltrate the League of Assassins and discover who is the person in charge. This story was written by thriller writer Philip MacDonald, who penned the 1927 WWI novel Patrol, later filmed as The Lost Patrol in 1929 and 1934 (with Boris Karloff), was an uncredited writer on 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein, and did the novelisation for 1956’s Forbidden Planet (as WJ Stuart). He also wrote the Last Warning and Vacation Moto adventures.
Mr Moto’s Last Warning (1939) This is regarded as the best of the Mr Moto stories in which a band of foreign saboteurs hatch a devastating plot to blow up the French fleet in Port Said, Egypt and blame it on the British. This one’s got a cracking cast including George Sanders, Ricardo Cortez and Robert Coote (who’d play a similar ditzy character in 1973’s Theatre of Blood), as well as John Carradine once again.
Mr Moto in Danger Island (1939) Released three months after Mr Moto’s Last Warning, this remake of the 1934 feature Murder in Trinidad finds Mr Moto trapping a killer and diamond smuggler in Puerto Rico. Real-life philanthropist Jean Hersholt, who won two Oscars for humanitarian causes guest stars.
Mr Moto Takes a Vacation (1939) In his last film as the orienta sleuth, guards a priceless crown destined for San Francisco. The villain of the piece is a master of disguises. Could it be Lionel Atwill, best known for his macabre roles in Mystery in the Wax Museum (1933) and Universal’s Frankenstein films in the 1940s?
* For more about Peter Lorre, check out this informative blog on the iconic actor: http://peterlorrenews.blogspot.co.uk/
* If you are a fan of the film franchise, check out The Complete Mr Moto Film Phile: A Casebook by Howard M Berlin; and The Case Files of the Oriental Sleuths: Charlie Chan, Mr Moto & Mr Wong by David Rothel.
Here’s the trailer for Mr Moto’s Gamble.
His Kind of Woman (1951) | Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell and Vincent Price serve up a film noir like no other
THIS PLACE IS DANGEROUS. THE TIME RIGHT DEADLY. THE DRINKS ARE ON ME!
Professional gambler Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) gets embroiled in an elaborate scheme to get deported gangland boss Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr) back into the US. After receiving an offer of $50,000 from a mysterious benefactor to head to an exclusive resort south of the border, Milner encounters nightclub singer Lenore Brent (Jane Russell) and her narcissist Hollywood actor lover Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price). But as he settles into the rich playground of the Morro’s Lodge and starts falling for Lenore, Milner discovers he is being used as a patsy. With his life is placed in danger, Milner gets an unlikely rescuer – ham actor Cardigan…
WELL, WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE PICTURE?
When it comes to film noir, RKO’s His Kind of Woman (which had its US premiere on August 29 1951) is definitely one of a kind. While the first third of this Howard Hughes-produced movie sticks closely to classic noir tropes, complete with archetypal noir characterisation, dialogue and atmospheric cinematography, the film becomes increasingly comedic as it veers between satire, a battle of the sexes comedy and hard-boiled thriller. There’s even some slapstick thrown amongst the action, courtesy of the mock-heroics of Vincent Price’s flamboyant Cardigan (the scene where he sinks a boat load of local Mexican volunteers being one of film’s comic highlights). But it’s this crazy mixed-up brew that makes the film stand out from more faithful, now long forgotten, noirs of the era.
The film was originally shot under the title Smiler With a Gun in May 1950 under the direction of John Farrow. But on viewing the rushes, Hughes brought in Richard Fleischer to add in some new scenes, many featuring Vincent Price’s Cardigan (Hughes favourite character), and to re-shoot all of the Ferraro scenes with Raymond Burr taking over the role from Lee Van Cleef. The end result was a coup for Price, who ends up getting almost as much screen time as Mitchum, while also showing off his innate comic skills. There’s also a hint of the campy persona he’d go on to become known for. Interestingly, he also gets to quote Shakespeare, something he’d do on a much grander scale in his 1973 magnum opus, Theatre of Blood.
The films ‘stars’, however, fared less well than Price. As Milner, the laconic anti-hero loner, Mitchum is typical noir and certainly plays up to his hard man image, but his scenes alongside Russell’s heart of gold chanteuse lack the frisson that Louella Parsons called ‘the hottest combination to ever hit the screen’. And apart from some clever quips, singing two songs (excellently, I might add) and showing off her ample assets (again most excellently), Russell is practically left in the closet (Cardigan locks her up during the film’s crucial scenes). And speaking of closets, what’s with Burr’s frightening Ferraro? That look of suppressed ecstasy on his face as a sweaty, shirtless Milner is whipped is a very ‘telling’ sight, and makes you wonder if he wants a lot more from Milner than just his face (which is the reason, we learn in the climax, why he engaged Milner in the first place).
WHAT THE REVIEWERS SAID
‘Both Mitchum and Russell score strongly. Russell’s full charms are fetchingly displayed in smart costumes that offer the minimum of protection’ Variety, 1951
‘…the best part of the picture, as far as we are concerned is Vincent Price. He is deliciously funny…’ Los Angeles Daily News, 1951
His Kind of Woman was released on DVD in the UK in 2011 from Odeon Entertainment, as part of the Hollywood Studio Collection, featuring an unrestored print in its 1.33:1 aspect ratio and Dolby Digital mono audio. Region Free. You can purchase a copy here from Play.com
DID YOU KNOW?
Clips from His Kind of Woman featuring Vincent Price were used in A Time For Hyacinths, an episode of the popular US TV series Mod Squad, and played a crucial role in the story which guest starred Price as a Hollywood film star who stages his death after witnessing a murder.