Brian Donlevy

Beau Geste 1939

Beau Geste (1939)

As some Legionaries approach a fort in the desert, they initially think it’s fully manned with soldiers, but upon closer inspection, they realize all the soldiers are dead and have been posed to look alive from a distance. As they look at the bodies, they find a note on one of them confessing to stealing a valuable sapphire known as the “Blue Water.”

As children, brothers Beau (Gary Cooper), John (Ray Milland), and Digby (Robert Preston) were adopted by their aunt Lady Brandon (Heather Thatcher) and enjoy a happy childhood living with her, her ward Isobel (Susan Hayward), and her heir Augustus (G.P. Huntley). Lady Brandon is the owner of the valuable “Blue Water” sapphire, which, thanks to her husband, is the last valuable asset she owns. When her husband wants to sell it, Beau asks Lady Brandon to let them see it one last time. But while they’re looking at it, the lights suddenly go out and the jewel is gone.

Not wanting to disgrace the family, each of the Geste brothers leaves a note confessing to stealing the jewel and leaves to join the French Foreign Legion. But it isn’t long before their cruel Sergeant Markoff (Brian Donlevy) hears the brothers had been involved in a jewel heist and that Beau is the most likely suspect. When the fort where Beau and John are stationed is attacked, nearly all of their fellow soldiers are killed during battle. Markoff, Beau, and John are the last three standing and Markoff takes the chance to try to make the “Blue Water” sapphire his own.

Beau Geste is a movie that really does have a little something for everyone. It’s got the mystery surrounding the missing jewel, it’s got a story about brotherly love, it’s got lots of thrilling battle scenes, and it has just a little bit of a love story to it. You just don’t see too many movies that have that kind of combination. And if you were to find another movie (that wasn’t another adaptation of the novel “Beau Geste”) that has all of those things, you’d be even harder pressed to find one with such a high-caliber cast and excellent direction. I had a hard time buying a nearly 40-year-old Gary Cooper as a 20-something Beau Geste, but other than that, the cast was great. Although Gary Cooper and Ray Milland are two very recognizable names, Brian Donlevy is a great reason to want to see this movie; his performance as the sadistic Markoff was fantastic.

Beau Geste also had one of the most absolutely intriguing opening scenes I’ve seen in a while. A few Legionaries finding a fort manned by a bunch of corpses and a note confessing to a jewel heist is definitely the kind of opening that makes you want to keep watching the movie. On the whole, I really liked Beau Geste a lot more than I expected to; in fact, it’s one of my favorite movie discoveries in recent memory. Although it was a big hit when it was released, it’s not a movie I hear talked about very often anymore, and that’s really too bad.

A Cry in the Night (1956)

A Cry in the Night PosterLike many teenagers, Elizabeth Taggart (Natalie Wood) enjoys spending evenings with her boyfriend Owen (Richard Anderson) at the town’s Lovers’ Loop.  Elizabeth and Owen are engaged, but it’s a secret engagement because Elizabeth is afraid that her overbearing father, police captain Dan Taggart (Edmond O’Brien), won’t approve.  One night at Lovers’ Loop, a disturbed man named Harold Loftus (Raymond Burr) hides among the trees watching the couples.  When Owen hears a noise, he goes to investigate and is knocked unconscious by Harold.  Harold then drives off in Owen’s car with Elizabeth inside.

After Owen comes to again, he tries to get help from the police, but the officers mistakenly think he’s drunk and take him to the station to sober up.  Meanwhile, Harold has taken Elizabeth to an abandoned shack where he tries to force her into being his girlfriend.  Back at the jail, Owen is examined by a doctor who realizes Owen isn’t just another drunk.  The police finally listen to his story and realize Captain Taggart’s daughter is involved.  When Captain Taggart finds out his daughter has been kidnapped, he blames Owen for the ordeal.

While the police are investigating Elizabeth’s kidnapping, Harold’s mother calls the station to report that he has gone missing.  The way Harold’s mother talks about him makes a criminal profiler realize that Harold might be the man they’re looking for.  They manage to track down the shack, but Harold isn’t willing to let Elizabeth go without a fight.  During the fight, Owen saves Captain Taggart’s life and when Harold finally surrenders, Captain Taggart finally gives his blessing for Elizabeth and Owen to be together.

I was somewhat underwhelmed by A Cry in the Night.  The cast is quite good; Raymond Burr made an excellent creep and Edmond O’Brien nailed the overbearing aspect of his character.  A Cry in the Night isn’t a bad movie, but unfortunately there just isn’t a lot of substance to it.  It’s an alright way to spend 75 minutes, but it left me wanting something more.

Killer McCoy (1947)

Killer McCoy PosterTommy McCoy (Mickey Rooney) is a hard working, albeit hot tempered, kid who supports his family by selling newspapers and playing pool while his father Brian (James Dunn) looks for work in the theater.  When Brian is approached about performing at a local boxing match, he convinces Tommy to join him.  After their performance, Tommy challenges one of the boxers to a fight on the spur of the moment and wins.  Lightweight boxing champion Johnny Martin (Mickey Knox) watches the match and is not only impressed by Tommy and Brian’s act, he sees Tommy as a potential boxer.

Johnny hires Brian and Tommy to perform during his shows and while they’re on the road, Johnny takes Tommy under his wing and teaches him all about boxing.  When Johnny retires from boxing, Tommy quickly takes Johnny’s place in the boxing world and Brian becomes his manager.  But after a while, Johnny decides to make a comeback and his big return to boxing is set to be in a fight against Tommy.  Tommy doesn’t want to fight Johnny, but Brian has started drinking and gambling heavily and owes money to notorious gambler Jim Caighn (Brian Donlevy), so Tommy agrees to fight Johnny just for the money.  But Johnny is so out of practice that a light punch from Tommy is enough to kill him.

Tommy is devastated by Johnny’s death and wants to quit boxing, but his father has sold Tommy’s contract to Jim Caighn.  Jim works out a deal with Tommy where he throws his matches so that Jim can make a lot of money and they share the profits.  While training at one of Jim’s houses, Tommy meets Jim’s daughter Sheila (Ann Blyth) and starts dating her, despite Jim’s disapproval.  Just before a big fight, Brian gets drunk and tells some of Jim’s rivals that Jim has been fixing Tommy’s fights.  In retaliation, they hold Brian and Sheila hostage, threatening to hurt them unless Tommy takes a fall in the last round.

Mickey Rooney movies tend to be pretty hit-or-miss with me, but Killer McCoy was a definite hit.  It’s easily one of the best performances of his I’ve ever seen. James Dunn and Brian Donlevy both played very well against Rooney and made for an excellent supporting cast.

Even though I really enjoyed Killer McCoy, it isn’t perfect.  After Johnny’s accidental death, Tommy earns the nickname of Killer McCoy, which he eventually starts to adopt for himself.  I just didn’t find it believable that a person who was so upset about accidentally killing his friend would ever wear a robe with “Killer McCoy” embroidered on the back of it.  The ending felt very forced and was also not very believable.  I also felt Ann Blyth was a little underutilized.

But on the whole, Killer McCoy is a pretty enjoyable boxing flick that deserves more recognition than it gets.  The cast alone is enough to make it worth seeing at least once.