Vincent Sherman

The Hard Way (1943)

The Hard Way PosterAfter the death of their mother, Helen Chernen (Ida Lupino) does her best to raise her younger sister Katie (Joan Leslie). They live in the dismal industrial town of Greenhill, which doesn’t offer many prospects for a bright future. Helen never made it out of Greenhill, but she’s bound and determined for Katie to have a better life. When Katie catches a performance by Paul Collins (Dennis Morgan) and Albert Runkel (Jack Carson) at a vaudeville show, it inspires her to become to go into showbiz herself. Later that night, Katie announces her new ambition to her friends and acts out part of Runkel and Collins’ act, which happens to be witnessed by Runkel and Collins themselves. They’re impressed with her talent and invite her to join the act. Albert is immediately smitten with Katie and they are soon married.

With Katie on the road with Runkel and Collins, Helen tags along to manage Katie’s career and constantly tries to get Katie more time in the act. Eventually, Helen gets Katie her a gig of her own. It’s just a small role initially, but Helen makes sure she gets a promotion by sabotaging the rehearsal of experienced actress Lily Emery (Gladys George). Opening night is a smashing success and opportunities abound for Katie, but when Albert calls to congratulate her, Helen starts trying to drive them apart. It isn’t long before Katie becomes more famous than Albert and when Albert realizes that he can no longer get work on his own without using Katie’s name, he kills himself, sending Katie into an alcohol-fueled downward spiral.

When Katie’s behavior causes a theater producer to find a replacement for her in his show, Helen insists on producing the show herself. One night, Katie runs into Paul, who has moved onto a career as a bandleader. They start seeing each other and Katie is the happiest she has been in years. When they decide to get married, Katie is ultimately left to choose between Paul or Helen.

Not one of the all-time-greats, but The Hard Way is a really strong drama that deserves a bit more recognition. The entire cast absolutely hits it out of the park. Ida Lupino was absolutely glorious as the cold, steely, ruthless Helen.  Joan Leslie is likable and fresh, Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan were great, and Gladys George totally owned her brief role. This is exactly the sort of material director Vincent Sherman excelled at working with. Definitely keep an eye out for The Hard Way; it’s well worth your time.

Affair in Trinidad (1952)

For three years, Chris Emery (Rita Hayworth) has been living in Trinidad with her husband Neal.  He’s an artist, she’s a nightclub singer and dancer.  After one of her performances, she comes off stage to find Inspector Smythe (Torin Thatcher) waiting to break the news that her husband is dead.  At first, the police believe he committed suicide, but they soon discover it was murder.  Chris is ready to go back to America, but the police want her to stay and help them.  They know that Neal’s friend Max Fabian (Alexander Scourby) is responsible for Neal’s death, but they also know that Max is the head of an organization that sells military secrets.  To get the proof they need to convict him on that charge, they ask Chris to spy on him for them.  Wanting to avoid an ugly murder trial, Chris agrees.

A few days later, Neal’s brother Steve (Glenn Ford) arrives in Trinidad after receiving a letter from Neal about having a job for him down there.  Not only is he shocked to find out about his brother’s death, but also that Chris is rumored to be romantically involved with Max.  Chris wants to explain to him what she’s doing, but Inspector Smythe warns her not to.  Determined to get to the bottom of what’s going on, Steve stays with Chris for a few days.  When the two of them are invited to Max’s house for dinner, Steve quickly realizes Max is connected to Neal’s death.

Meanwhile, Max and Steve both have fallen in love with Chris and they each ask her to leave the country with them.  She turns down both of their offers and Steve is frustrated by her apparent desire to stick close to Max.  When Steve tries going to the police with proof of Max’s connection to Neal’s murder, he doesn’t understand why Smythe doesn’t seem to care about the matter.  Chris and Steve each carry on their investigations, but when Max and his associates find out what Chris has been doing, Steve winds up in a shootout to save Chris.

Affair in Trinidad was the first movie Rita Hayworth made after taking a four-year break from movies.  From her first moment on screen, Rita proves that none of her magnetism was lost during those four years.  Teaming her with Glenn Ford again was definitely a good move; their chemistry certainly hadn’t faded with time.  The story is pretty convoluted, but it is entertaining and Rita Hayworth’s charisma more than makes up for a far-fetched story.  All in all, a pretty enjoyable comeback movie.

The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

When the body of notorious gangster Nick Prenta turns up in the desert, it’s only natural that the police would start asking questions.  After they discover that Nick had been friendly with oil heiress Lorna Hansen Forbes (Joan Crawford), she’s the first one they try to talk to.  They go to her house, but find she’s hightailed it out-of-town, so they start looking into Lorna’s background.  It turns out there is no official record of who she is, where she’s from, or what makes her so wealthy.  Meanwhile, Lorna is in Texas, pulling up to her parents’ small home near an oil field.  When she gets inside, she starts telling them the whole sordid story that brought her there.

First she looks back to when she was known as Ethel Whitehead, married to Roy and mother of one son.  Roy doesn’t earn a whole lot of money, but Ethel desperately wants to be able to give her son a better life.  After she buys her son an expensive bicycle, she and Roy get into a bitter argument about it and their son is killed in a tragic accident.  With her son gone, Ethel sees no reason why she should stay married to Roy and leaves him.  She tries to find work, but that doesn’t prove to be easy since she has no skills or experience.  Eventually, she ends up getting a job selling cigars, which leads her to meet Wally, a dress salesman.  Wally is attracted to Ethel and gets her a job working as a dress model.  Ethel quickly learns that part of being a dress model is going out with buyers from out-of-town to Grady’s for a little gambling.

When Ethel meets Martin the accountant, she introduces him to the infamous Grady and manages to get him a job taking care of his books.  Grady really likes Martin and one night, Grady brings Martin to meet his friend George Castleman to get him another job.  Martin quickly finds out that Grady and Castleman are gangsters tied up in every vice imaginable and tells Ethel that he doesn’t want to take it.  Ethel, on the other hand, sees absolutely nothing wrong with taking the job if it would help him get ahead in the world and encourages him to take it.  After Castleman meets Ethel, he becomes quite taken by her and Ethel feels the same way.  Even though Castleman is married, he starts grooming Ethel to be his mistress by getting his socialite friend Patricia to help her create a more aristocratic background and give her a new name, Lorna Hansen Forbes.  As Lorna, she becomes the talk of the society columns.  But when Castleman starts to suspect that his cohort Nick Prenta may not be 100% loyal to him, he sends Lorna to California to get the dirt on him.  However, Lorna gets a little too close to Nick and the two of them fall in love.  Of course, jealousies start to flare and in the gang world, that usually means one (or more) of the people involved won’t be getting out of it alive.

The Damned Don’t Cry is one of my favorite post-MGM Joan Crawford movies.  When the movie starts, it looks like it’s going to be a total re-hash of Mildred Pierce.  A guy has been murdered and the woman police most want to talk to about it is Joan Crawford’s character.  Then Joan treats us to a flashback recalling her past as a working-class mother who longs to be able to provide a better life for her child.  Then when she leaves her husband, she has a hard time finding work because of her lack of experience, but manages to climb the ladder of success.  If you’ve seen Mildred Pierce, I’m sure this all sounds just a tad familiar.  But after that, it becomes a gangster movie aimed at female moviegoers .  If you’re a fan of Joan’s film noir dame roles, you’ll definitely want to see The Damned Don’t Cry.  She gets lots of awesomely tough lines like, “Don’t talk to me about self-respect! That’s something you tell yourself you’ve got when you’ve got nothing else!” delivered in that classic strong Joan Crawford style.  Overall, the movie may not be as strong as Mildred Pierce or Possessed (1947), but Joan makes it pretty darn entertaining.

 

 

I am glad to be part this year’s For the Love of Film (Noir) blogathon.  I wasn’t able to participate last year, but last year’s blogathon raised $30,000 to help save two short silent films.  This year is dedicated to helping preserve 1950’s The Sound of Fury.  Click here to learn more about the blogathon and if you are so inclined to donate money to this cause, please do so here.

Nora Prentiss (1947)

Nora Prentiss is less about Nora and more about Dr. Richard Talbot (Kent Smith).  When we meet Dr. Talbot, he is a successful, married doctor from San Francisco with two children.  However, he has become bored with his life and his marriage.  That all changes when nightclub singer Nora Prentiss (Ann Sheridan) is hit by a car.  Dr. Talbot brings her to his office and tends to her.  Her injuries are only minor, but the two begin to see each other more and more often.  First he comes to see her perform at a nightclub, then they have dinner together, and before we know it, they’re off to his vacation home  together.  Eventually, Dr. Talbot decides he wants to leave his wife, but can’t bring himself to actually ask for a divorce.  When a patient has a heart attack and dies in his office, Dr. Talbot places some of his personal effects on the man, puts him in his car and drives him to a deserted area, where he sets the car on fire and pushes it off a cliff.  Since now people would think he was dead, he was free to run off to New York with Nora and marry her.

But of course, faking your own death never really works out in movies.  He finds out the death is still being investigated back home, so he has to lay low to avoid possibly running into anybody he knew back home.  He didn’t tell Nora what he did and she doesn’t understand why they can never go out and do anything.  Nora eventually has to go back to work and gets a job singing in a new nightclub run by her old friend Phil Dinardo (Robert Alda).  But Dr. Talbot starts to suspect that Nora and Phil are having an affair.  His fears are unfounded, but his possessiveness drives him to confront Phil, which sets off a chain of events that leads to him being put on trial for murdering himself.

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