Hollywood's Leading Men [6 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

Meet John Doe
The first of director Frank Capra's independent productions (in partnership with Robert Riskin), Meet John Doe begins with the end of reporter Ann Mitchell's (Barbara Stanwyck) job. Fired as part of a downsizing move, she ends her last column with an imaginary letter written by "John Doe." Angered at the ill treatment of America's little people, the fabricated Doe announces that he's going to jump off City Hall on Christmas Eve. When the phony letter goes to press, it causes a public sensation. Seeking to secure her job, Mitchell talks her managing editor (James Gleason) into playing up the John Doe letter for all it's worth; but to ward off accusations from rival papers that the letter was bogus, they decide to hire someone to pose as John Doe: a ballplayer-turned-hobo (Gary Cooper), who'll do anything for three squares and a place to sleep. "John Doe" and his traveling companion The Colonel (Walter Brennan) are ensconced in a luxury hotel while Mitchell continues churning out chunks of John Doe philosophy. When newspaper publisher D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold), a fascistic type with presidential aspirations, decides to use Doe as his ticket to the White House, he puts Doe on the radio to deliver inspirational speeches to the masses -- ghost-written by Mitchell, who, it is implied, has become the publisher's mistress. The central message of the Doe speeches is "Love Thy Neighbor," though, conceived in cynicism, the speeches strike so responsive a chord with the public that John Doe clubs pop up all over the country. Believing he is working for the good of America, Cooper agrees to front the National John Doe Movement -- until he discovers that Norton plans to exploit Doe in order to create a third political party and impose a virtual dictatorship on the country. The last of Capra's "social statement" films, Meet John Doe posted a profit, although Capra and Riskin were forced to dissolve their corporation due to excessive taxes. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

They Made Me a Criminal
Scarlet Street
Masterfully directed by Fritz Lang, Scarlet Street is a bleak film in which an ordinary man succumbs first to vice and then to murder. Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) is a lonely man married to a nagging wife. Painting is the only thing that brings him joy. Cross meets Kitty (Joan Bennett) who, believing him to be a famous painter, begins an affair with him. Encouraged by her lover, con man Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea) Kitty persuades Cross to embezzle money from his employer in order to pay for her lavish apartment. In that apartment, happy for the first time in his life, Cross paints Kitty's picture. Johnny then pretends that Kitty painted to portrait, which has won great critical acclaim. Finally realizing he has been manipulated, Cross kills Kitty, loses his job, and because his name has been stolen by Kitty, is unable to paint. He suffers a mental breakdown as the film ends, haunted by guilt. Kitty and Johnny are two of the most amoral and casual villains in the history of film noir, both like predatory animals completely without conscience. Milton Krasner's photography is excellent in its use of stark black-and-white to convey psychological states. Fritz Lang is unparalleled in his ability to convey the desperation of hapless, naïve victims in a cruelly realistic world. ~ Linda Rasmussen, Rovi

Angel on My Shoulder
In this comedy, Paul Muni plays a recently murdered gangster who finds himself roasting in Hell. Muni can't believe that he's in for All Eternity and keeps trying to "bust out," which brings him to the attention of the Head Man (Claude Rains), who calls himself Nick. Nick strikes a bargain with Muni: There's a troublesome honest judge on Earth who's been shipping too many souls to Hell; if Muni will take over the judge's body and begin performing bad deeds, Nick will set him free. Muni readily agrees, eager to settle the score with the ex-partner (Hardie Albright) who bumped him off. Once he "becomes" the judge, however, Muni discovers that he is utterly incapable of performing any misdeeds--and when he falls in love with the judge's fiancee (Anne Baxter), Muni becomes determined to wriggle out of his agreement. Angel on My Shoulder is based on a story by Harry Segall, whose previous play Heaven Can Wait was filmed as Here Comes Mr. Jordan, also with Claude Rains. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Blood on the Sun
In his first film in two years, James Cagney stars as Nick Condon, the American editor of a pre-WW2 Tokyo newspaper. When two of his best friends are horribly murdered, Condon suspects that the "peaceful" Japanese military government is up to no good. He dedicates himself to getting his hands on the "Tanka Plan," a Japanese blueprint for conquering the world, and bringing this document to the attention of the Free World. As a result, he is targeted for persecution by the corrupt Tokyo police and betrayed by a traitorous fellow journalist. On a pleasanter note, Condon makes the acquaintance of half-Chinese Iris Hilliard (Sylvia Sidney), who agrees to help him foil the Japanese High Command. As was customary in wartime films, virtually all the Japanese characters in Blood on the Sun are played by Chinese, Korean, and Caucasian actors; for example, Robert Armstrong is cast as Colonel Tojo, while Premiere Tenaka is enacted by John Emery. Having lapsed into the public domain, Blood on the Sun is available from several distributors and also exists in a computer-colorized version. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Beat the Devil
Humphrey Bogart stars as one of five disreputable adventurers who are trying to get uranium out of East Africa. Bogart's associates include pompous fraud Robert Morley, and Peter Lorre as the German-accented "O'Hara", whose wartime record is forever a source of speculation and suspicion. Becoming involved in Bogart's machinations are a prim British married couple (Edward Underdown and blonde-wigged Jennifer Jones). As a climax to their many misadventures and double-crosses, the uranium seekers end up facing extermination by an Arab firing squad. The satirical nature of Beat the Devil eluded many moviegoers in 1953, and the film was a failure. The fact that the picture attained cult status in lesser years failed to impress its star Humphrey Bogart, who could only remember that he lost a considerable chunk of his own money when he became involved in the project. Peter Viernick worked on the script on an uncredited basis. Beat the Devil eventually fell into public domain, leading to numerous inferior editions by second and third-tiered labels. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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