#70 Detour

Watched: January 08 2017

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer

Starring: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald

Year: 1945

Runtime: 1h 7min

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Al Roberts (Neal) is in a diner, irritable and not very sociable. What has happened? He tells his story to the viewer – and it is not a happy tale.

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“Happy? How can anyone be happy? There is no happiness, only darkness and sadness” – Roberts, probably

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Roberts is a pianist in a nightclub where his best gal Sue (Drake) is also employed as a singer. Walking home from work one night, through the (extreme) fog and darkness, she tells him that she’s planning on seeking her fortune in Hollywood. Roberts is not happy about it, though to be fair, he wasn’t exactly a ball of sunshine before she broke the news either.

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This may be the only time he smiles throughout the entire 67 minutes.

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After she moves, he decides to hitchhike from New York to Los Angeles to see her, and it’s all downhill from there. He considers himself lucky when he gets a ride from rich (and misogynistic) Charles Haskell, Jr (MacDonald), but he could not be more wrong. After Haskell unexpectedly dies, Roberts makes a horrible decision to bury the body and pose as the dead man to stay out of trouble. Already here, we can see where this is going, but not just how bad it’s going to get.

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It never gets really bad until you bring a Dame into it…

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Enter Vera (Savage), a bona fide Dame with all the credentials, including previously fighting off the advances of the now deceased real owner of the car. His new angry and disillusioned passenger leads Roberts to make even more terrible decisions than the ones he’s already made, and they keep spiralling towards inevitable doom.

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Who knew a young woman in a lace knit sweater could be so vicious!

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Now, Roberts is made out to be the victim in this film, and in a way he is. However, he is also the one telling the story and as such there’s a chance his narration is a bit on the unreliable side. Perhaps Haskell’s death (and any subsequent ones) weren’t as accidental as he claims, and his decision to rob the dead man may not have been as spontaneous as we are led to believe. Either way, his life is forever altered and his plans are not to be. Poor Sue.

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Seems guys (with big instruments) are already lining up to take Roberts’ place, though. We’re sure she’ll be fine. After all, it’s not like young, attractive women have ever been mistreated in Hollywood.

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What we learned: Film Noir-narration is the best narration. Also, if someone (accidentally) dies in your presence, just go to the police and fess up at once.

Next time: The Lost Weekend (1945)

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#60 Road to Morocco

Watched: November 27 2016

Director: David Butler

Starring: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Dona Drake, Anthony Quinn

Year: 1942

Runtime: 1h 22min

Note: see note for Cat People. Yup, she was still gone.

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After their ship blows up, two stowaways find themselves on a raft discussing who will eat who first. Luckily, before it comes down to that, they find land and a very friendly camel to take them to Morocco. Yay camels!

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You haven’t lived until you’ve sung a song on the back of a camel. Fact!

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They arrive in a very Arabian Nights-inspired Morocco, complete with princess in distress and violent locals, where they get  up to all sorts of zany antics including, but not limited to, selling each other into slavery. Ah – men, am I right?

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At least, this particular form of slavery consisted of courting a beautiful princess. As far as human trafficking is concerned, it could be a lot worse.

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Once Jeffrey (Crosby) finds out the exact nature of the work he sold Orville’s (Hope) into, he inserts himself into the lives of the newly engaged couple to try to win princess Shalmar (Lamour) for himself. And he succeeds. Which is just as well, as Orville seems more interested in her handmaiden Mihirmah (Drake) anyway.

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Can’t imagine why

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Now, this is when things get really complicated for the two old friends. It turns out the princess is only interested in marrying Orville because a prophecy has foretold that her first husband will die after only a week of marriage, and she is really engaged to a local sheikh, Kasim (Quinn). However, the sheikh cannot compete with the natural charm and musical talents of Bing Crosby, and the princess decides to go with the penniless American instead. The sheikh does not take kindly…

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He doesn’t take kindly at all!

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He kidnaps the princess and her entourage, and leaves Jeff and Orville to die in the desert. It’s up to them to rescue their loves and save the day!

Road to Morocco is very silly, quite raunchy at times, and it breaks the fourth wall masterfully. There’s dancing, action, romance, and cool costumes as well as sometimes sweet, sometimes fun, musical numbers. A great hangover film for early Sunday afternoon. Or Tuesday morning. Whatever rubs your Buddha.

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We all know what he will be rubbing. Ooo – naughty!

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What we learned: make sure your telescope is clean before making life or death prophecies.

Next time: To Be or Not To Be (1942)

#56 Sullivan’s Travels

Watched: November 04 2016

Director: Preston Sturges

Starring: Veronica Lake, Joel McCrea

Year: 1941

Runtime: 1h 30min

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John L. Sullivan (McCrea) wants to make a serious film with real social issues and deep meaning (with a little sex in it) which will educate his audience and make them think about the social and economic structures in place in 1940s USA. The only problem is, he’s a pampered Hollywood director who’s never really experienced any of these problems himself. Also, his producers would rather have him make silly comedies and fun action flicks (with a little sex in them).

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“Let’s face it, you can make whatever you want as long as there’s a little sex in it”

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Naturally, he decides to go undercover as a hobo to experience firsthand the suffering of the penniless, with nothing but ten cents (or something like that), the clothes on his back and a crew of five or six reporters, producers and chefs following him in a bus.

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“What do you mean, some people go on the road without the expert advice of costume designers? Then how do they achieve that ‘poor, penniless hobo’-look?”

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His first venture is somewhat fruitless. Although he hilariously manages to shake his entourage with the help of a little boy in a “whippet tank” and then convinces them to take a vacation in Las Vegas, he doesn’t do too well on his own and is eventually kidnapped by a sexually frustrated woman. After escaping through the window he finds a diner where a failed actress (Lake) buys him breakfast and he then “borrows” his own car to give her a ride home.

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There’s just no way any cop would ever pull over a tramp driving an expensive car

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The Girl (who needs a name anyway?) finds out his true identity and decides to join his experiment, dressed (rather unconvincingly) as a boy. Together they go on fun hobo adventures!

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Turns out dressing like a hobo isn’t really enough to fool actual hobos.

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More problems ensue and after a stint in prison Sullivan realises that comedies aren’t really that bad after all and that serious films with real social issues are actually more interesting to the people not experiencing these issues themselves than the ones living them.

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Just like living the hobo life seems more romantic to people not forced into that position

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It’s pretty much impossible to explain how funny this film is. We loved the fast, snappy dialogue, the long, silent Chaplinesque scenes, the wonderful bass voice of the minister who invites the prisoners to movie night in his church, and the satirical view of 1940s Hollywood (and U.S. society in general). This was also our first Veronica Lake (we know – for shame!) and we have now developed major girl crushes on her. Not only is she gorgeous, but she has a very particular presence which is completely fascinating.

Give Sullivan’s Travels a chance. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it’ll change your life!

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Even as a hobo, Veronica Lake is gorgeous.

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What we learned: if we know what we want, we’ll never live in Pittsburgh. Also, the value of escapism in films is not to be underestimated.

Next time: Suspicion (1941)