Review: Torment/The Paper Gallows (1949): Operation Illogic Bomb

Brother, can you spare a crime?

Taking one for the team department:

Probably the best things I can say about director John Guillermin’s 1949 film Torment (aka The Paper Gallows) is it’s only a scant 65 minutes and that time certainly isn’t wasted, as the story gets right to it as soon as the film begins. A man in a trench coat and hat sneaks into a dark house and seems to shoot another man dead. It turns out, that man in the trench coat is Jim Brandon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dermot_Walsh), a crime novelist who reenacts violent crimes for his novels but is having a bit of trouble with his latest book. Jim lives with his brother Cliff (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bentley_(actor)) and a pretty live-in secretary, Joan (Rona Anderson). Cliff also writes crime novels with better success, it seems. Cliff and Joan quickly figure out Jim is cooking up a new murder mystery based on the sound of multiple gunshots around the house (and Cliff also discovers Jim is using real bullets this time!). Jim shows up and fails in dictating his new ideas to Joan, but Cliff tamps his now cranky brother down while Joan prepares the evening’s dinner (soup, spaghetti and prunes- yeesh!).

Cliff and Joanie, NOT siting in a tree….

Yes, we find out both siblings have a thing for Joan, but she’s more attracted to Cliff, as he’s a LOT more stable than his brother, who’s more than a little strange, as we’ll soon find out (or if we haven’t guessed already). Cliff mentions that one Curley Wilson (Michael Martin Harvey) is supposed to drop by later that evening to chat. Apparently, Curley is a former criminal with a penchant for lock picking, so the plan is to leave the front door unlocked and let Curley have his fun with it when he arrives, which he does. Cliff goes looking for Curley after he hears what he thinks are movements in another room, but finds a dead cat Jim had strangled earlier during his opening “murder.” Weirdly, Joan is only mildly upset about this once she’s told. Cliff soon finds what he thinks is Curley’s corpse with a knife in his back, but the body vanishes after he tells Joan and worse, Jim suggests they all go to bed soon after, which they do. Curley isn’t found at all, but everyone goes to bed as if nothing happened that evening? But wait, there’s MORE.

MVD sells this on DVD if you really want to see this.
Demanding that “A” for effort and still failing the class..

It was at this point where I had some major questions, but I decided to keep watching because I figured the film would pull itself up from the fresh holes it had dug for itself and the second half would make some kind of sense. But, nooooooo. The film’s single mindedness not only revealed who the murderer was (and too soon at that), the story tried valiantly to toss a few noir-like monkey wrenched plot devices into the mix guaranteed to deceive absolutely no one as the murderer tried to cover some tracks (and actually commit a new murder, to boot). This ends up as a good looking, moody and dark toned film that’s filled with unbelievably strange characters, bizarre situations and one dead cat, whose demise is brushed off one too many times. There’s an awful gunfight/chase late in the movie that’s laughably predictable and the ending feels somewhat unsatisfactory even as a character gets their just desserts. Fortunately, the director made much better films later on in his career, and you can see that growth in specific works. As noted, this only 65 minutes long, so it’s not a total waste of time, but you’ll feel cheated if you go in with any great expectations.

-GW

Bugs Bunny Makes His Case, Circa 1949…

 

“Bugs Bunny Was Here!” 1949’s Rebel Rabbit was and is one of the more pointed WB cartoons and an all-time personal favorite. As a friend of mine who was born and raised there said to me a few days back “Florida is a mighty odd place, man.” And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Random Film of the Day*: Mighty Joe Young

*For the next week or so, I’m going to add a random film the great Ray Harryhausen worked on. The legendary special effects MASTER passed away on May 7, 2013 at age 92 in London and yes, the film world has lost a true giant as well as a fine and talented gentleman…

Mighty Joe Young posterWith Ernest B. Schoedsack’s 1949 film Mighty Joe Young, stop motion animation fans saw the torch passed from the past master of the technique, Willis O’Brien to his willing, eager and more than able apprentice (and future master), Ray Harryhausen. Where 1925’s startling The Lost World and 1933’s epic King Kong helped pioneer stop motion (and its more comedic sequel, Son of Kong added a neat dinosaur chase scene to the list of O’Brien’s classic scenes), Mighty Joe Young was pretty much Harryhausen’s film from start to finish.

O’Brien hired Ray as an assistant animator, but based on different accounts, ended up letting the young man handle the bulk of the actual animation while he supervised the technical aspect of the special effects. While the film’s story was provided by King Kong co-writer/co-creator Merian C. Cooper and has some direct thematic resemblances to that earlier film (to the point were some less astute viewers think it’s an actual Kong sequel), Joe’s smaller size, demeanor and human-like qualities were greatly enhanced by stellar animation, some fantastic action scenes and a really great use of humor throughout that makes it nowhere as dark as Kong, nor as silly as its rushed into theaters sequel…
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Random Film of the Week: The Window

the windowI remember seeing The Window as a kid on TV and probably laughing a wee bit too much because the lying wolf-crying brat who no one believed about the murder he finally DID see was getting his just desserts when all those chickens came home to roost. Seeing it a few times more as I got older (and thankfully, wiser) revealed a pretty sinister film noir thriller with probably the best child performance I’d ever seen in a film that old.

Granted, I’m not advocating the already generally creepy “Child in Danger!” flick or that entire sub-genre of flicks made throughout cinematic history as a “must-see” collection of films if you’ve got a very soft spot for your own brood of lovable lamp-breaking, cookie stealing ankle-biters. However, as a chilling little classic film that’s never been remade properly (at least in my humble opinion), it’s a total spine-shaker right from the beginning…

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