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Timeless Family Classics: 50 Movies [12 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

Heading for Heaven
In this comedy, a realtor at the end of his rope is grossly misdiagnosed as having three months to live. The already hyper-nervous man is therefore convinced that he will die. Later some of his clothing is recovered from a local creek and his family and friends assume that the poor man took his own life. The bereaved then consult a swami to see if they can contact the dead realtor's spirit. Instead the realtor himself shows up. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

Run to the High Country
Keith Larsen not only starred in Run to the High Country but also handled the production end. Top billing is afforded Larsen's son Erik, playing a boy with an ecological bent. In attempting to protect the local wildlife from hunters, Erik places his own life in jeopardy at every turn. The story is, at best, merely adequate: the main selling card of Run to the High Country is its gorgeous Utah location photography. Karen Steele and Alvin Keeswood also appear. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Flying Wild
Mugs McGinniss (Leo Gorcey), top dog of the East Side Kids, takes a job at an airplane plant. Here he grows suspicious of Dr. Nagel (George Pembroke), operator of a flying ambulance service. Mugs becomes convinced that Nagel is using his plane to smuggle aviation secrets to a gang of enemy agents, but he can't prove his allegations. With the help of his East Side pals Danny (Bobby Jordan), Scruno ("Sunshine Sammy" Morrison), Peewee (David Gorcey) and Louie (Bobby Stone), Mugs gets the goods on the duplicitous Doc-but nearly gets killed in the process. A not-bad combination of comedy and melodrama, Flying Wild offers the viewers a more intelligent group of "East Side Kids" than they're accustomed to. Even so, this is the film in which Leo Gorcey introduces the comic malapropisms for which he became famous. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Lost in the Stratosphere
Lost in the Stratosphere is one of three Monogram vehicles for James Cagney's look-alike brother William (later a successful producer). Inspired by the U.S. Army's recent experiments with atmospheric balloons, the film stars Cagney and Edward Nugent as inveterate practical jokers Cooper and Wood. Their friendship cleft in twain by the arrival of pretty Evelyn (June Collyer). The climax occurs when one of the boys' pranks misfires, sending both of them aloft in a fragile weather balloon. By the time they've managed to land the darned thing, they've become heroes. The film's laughable special effects (one can see the process-screen clouds "bleed" through the actors) are counterbalanced by the overall energy and enthusiasm of its stars. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Mr. Boggs Steps Out
In this comedy, a dull statistician changes his life after winning a pile of money after successfully determining the number of beans in a barrel. He decides to do something novel with the prize and ends up buying a barrel factory. He encounters trouble when the nearby pickle factory is threatened by a shyster attempting to close it. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

Goodbye Love
Goodbye Love is a lampoon of what was once designated the "alimony racket." Refusing to meet his wife's exorbitant alimony demands, Sidney Blackmer volunteers to go to jail, where he finds that his cellmate is his own valet (Charlie Ruggles), incarcerated because he can't make his alimony payments. Finally able to raise enough money to secure his freedom, Ruggles heads to Atlantic City, where he makes the acquaintance of a gold-digger Veree Teasdale. Eventually Teasdale marries Blackmer for the express purpose of later divorcing him and claiming his bank account. When Blackmer learns the truth, he enlists the aid of Ruggles and newspaperman Ray Walker to get even with both his past and present wife. The frivolous storyline requires Charlie Ruggles to pose as a British nobleman and a big-game hunter, which he does with his usual comic aplomb. The final production of Jefferson Pictures Corporation, Goodbye Love was released by RKO Radio. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Jane Eyre
This version of the Charlotte Bronte classic is the first to use sound. The story closely follows the book as it chronicles the romantic travails of a troubled orphan girl who grows up to be a governess in love with her employer who returns her affections. She has finally found happiness. Alas, her happiness is short-lived as she learns that her love has locked his crazy wife in a remote wing of the house. The distraught governess flees and gets engaged to a new man. Just before they marry, she learns that her true love's house has burned down, immolating his wife and leaving him nearly blind. Without hesitation she returns to him and romantic bliss ensues. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

A Bride for Henry
If the big-time studios could score in the "screwball comedy" genre, then small-time Monogram Pictures could join the club with A Bride for Henry. Warren Hull, fresh from a contract dispute with Warner Bros., played Henry, with fellow Warners refugee Anne Nagel as his bride. Henry Mollison, a newcomer from England, is the third spoke of the romantic triangle which motivates the story. The film slaps a new coat of paint on the old gag about a honeymoon continually being interrupted by a handsome ex-suitor. A Bride for Henry delivered plenty of laughs to a 1937 audience unaccustomed to seeing a comedy emerge from the action- and mystery-oriented Monogram studios. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Pepper & His Wacky Taxi
John Astin and Frank Sinatra, Jr. star in this comedy concerning a disgruntled cannery worker who quit his job, paints the word "taxi" in the side of a 1959 Cadillac, and proceeds to start his own cab service. But the Cadillac is stolen just as business begins to pick up, jeopardizing the entire endeavor. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

A Farewell to Arms
This first film version of Ernest Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms stars Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. Cooper plays Lt. Frederick Henry, a World War I officer who falls in love with English Red Cross nurse Catherine Barkley (Hayes)-after first mistaking her for a woman of ill repute. Henry's friend, Major Rinaldi, is envious of the romance, and pulls strings to have Catherine transferred to Milan. When Henry is wounded in battle, he ends up in the very hospital where Catherine works. They resume the affair, which reaches an ecstatic peak just before Henry is returned to the front. The now-pregnant Catherine remains in Switzerland, sending letters by the bushelfull to Henry. But the jealous Rinaldi sees to it that Henry never receives those letters, leading Catherine to conclude sorrowfully that Henry has forgotten her. As the Armistice approaches, Henry makes his way to Switzerland, hoping to find Catherine. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Lay That Rifle Down
In this musical comedy, a young woman endures the drudgery of working as a charwoman in her aunt's hotel. She is not paid much for her hard work. To make her drab existence a little more exciting, she enrolls in a correspondence charm course, which unbeknownst to her is a scam. Soon the swindlers show up and plan to use her to help them con her aunt and a bank president out of their money. When one of the con men sees the good hearted girl working with the orphans on her family farm, he has a sudden change of heart. Her life takes a sudden turn for the better when oil is discovered under her farm. Suddenly the drab little drudgess finds herself living like a duchess. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

Let's Get Tough!
Set soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Let's Get Tough! opens with the East Side Kids -- Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, David Gorcey, Sammy "Sunshine" Morrison, and Bobby Stone -- trying to enlist in the armed forces and getting turned down because they're not yet 18 years old. Eager to contribute and frustrated at not being allowed to help out in the national emergency, they decide to take action on their own when they see an argument between Kino, a Japanese dealer in antiques, and a local boy named Fritz Heinbach (Gabriel Dell). They try to run Kino out of his own store but instead, the shopkeeper runs them off, and the boys get a warning from "Pop" Stevens (Robert Armstrong), the local cop on the beat, to stay out of trouble. That night, however, they return intent on trashing Kino's store, only to find the man at his desk, stabbed to death. When they're pulled in by the police, the boys find out that Kino was a Chinese agent impersonating a Japanese, and trying to uncover a cell of saboteurs. The boys decide to investigate on their own after they hear rumors that Bill (Tom Brown), the brother of one of them, has been thrown out of the army for his un-American beliefs and has been seen hanging around Matsui, who is considered a potential suspect. They end up infiltrating a meeting of Japanese saboteurs and spies, and find an alliance between them and German immigrant Fritz Heinbach; Bill turns out to be an American agent working the same case as Kino, but they're all trapped, until one of the gang escapes to summon the police. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Kid Dynamite
Amateur fighter and all-around bully Muggs McGinniss (Leo Gorcey) tries to cheat in a pool game with hustler Harry Wycoff (Gabriel Dell). He is thwarted by his own friend Danny Lyons (Bobby Jordan), who has some strong ideas about right and wrong and wants to keep his friend honest. Muggs has to knock Wycoff down with his fists to avoid paying off, and promises to get even with Danny and criticizing him as a coward, without the "killer instinct" it takes to win, in boxing or anything else, as far as Muggs is concerned. In revenge for his pummeling, Wycoff, who works for a local bookmaker, arranges to have Muggs kidnapped ahead of the amateur boxing match in which he's supposed to fight. Danny goes into the ring in his place and wins, but Muggs is convinced that Danny arranged the kidnapping. They clash over and over throughout the movie, in an amateur dance contest and as rivals for a job at a local garage, and over Danny's wish to marry Muggs' sister, and then Muggs finds out that he was all wrong -- that Danny had nothing to do with thekidnapping. But by then he's jealous of Danny, and continues riding him mercilessly, and Danny can't fight back because he's promised his mother never to fight in the street like a common hooligan. Muggs gets even more fierce in his resentment when Danny joins the army showing himself to be more of a man than Muggs and becoming a hero to the neighborhood in the bargain. Finally, Danny realizes that if Muggs is ever to grow up, someone is going to have to stand up to him. The two agree to settle their differences with their fists. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

The Nut Farm
This amusing lampoon of low-budget filmmaking is set in motion when fly-by-night entrepreneur Bradley Page talks small-towner Mrs. Bent (Betty Alden) into financing a movie. Mrs. Bent's shiftless brother Willie Barton (Wallace Ford) is appointed director of the film, which turns out to be a big-time bomb. The day is saved when the film, a "serious" desert melodrama, is re-edited as a slapstick comedy. The winner in this instance is Mrs. Bent's long-suffering husband (Oscar Apfel), who'd wanted all along to invest his wife's money in the nut farm of the title. Based on a 1929 play by John C. Brownell, The Nut Farm is an interesting precursor to such later moviemaking satires as After the Fox and Sweet Liberty. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Inspector General
The satirical bite of Gogol's play The Government Inspector is dispensed with in favor of traditional Danny Kaye buffoonery in The Inspector General. Kaye plays the illiterate stooge of two-bit medicine-show- entrepreneur Walter Slezak. Abandoned by Slezak, the starving Kaye wanders into a corruption-ridden Russian village, which is all geared up for a visit from the Inspector General. Mistaking Kaye for that selfsame royal inspector, the townsfolk fawn on the confused Kaye, granting him his every whim and plying him with all sorts of bribes. In the original Gogol play, the boorish phony inspector takes advantage of the villagers' error by laying waste to the town and seducing a few local maidens; in the film, Kaye is as pure as the driven borscht, as is his true love (Barbara Bates), the only honest person in town. The treachery is in the hands of Slezak, who fakes Kaye's death and tries to blackmail the crooked local officials. The deus-ex-machina arrival of the real Inspector General foils the crooks and places the nonplused Kaye in the job of town mayor. Those of you who read the play in college may remember it ends with everyone frozen in horror when the genuine inspector shows up, with Gogol's stage directions insisting that the actors hold their fearful poses for a full sixty seconds. Be assured that in the film version of Inspector General, nothing stands still--least of all Danny Kaye, who cuts quite a swath through several Sylvia Fine/Johnny Mercer specialty songs. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Little Princess
Shirley Temple's first Technicolor feature, The Little Princess was inspired by the oft-filmed novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Set in turn-of-the-century England, the film finds Temple being enrolled in a boarding school by her wealthy widowed father (Ian Hunter), who must head off to fight in the Boer War. At first, Temple is treated like royalty; her behavior couldn't be more down to earth, but this preferential treatment foments resentment. When her father is reported killed in the war, circumstances are severely altered. The spiteful headmistress (Mary Nash) relegates Temple to servant status and forces the girl to sleep in a drafty attic. She keeps her spirits up by hoping against hope that her father will return, and to that end she haunts the corridors of a nearby military hospital. Queen Victoria doesn't have to make a guest appearance in the tearfully joyous closing sequence, but it does serve as icing on the cake to this, one of Temple's most enjoyable feature films. Reliable Shirley Temple flick supporting actors Cesar Romero and Arthur Treacher are back in harness in The Little Princess, while adult leading lady Anita Louise figures prominently in a sugary dream sequence. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Bill Cracks Down
Tons Walker (Grant Withers) is the man in charge of the steel mill built from the ground up by the late William Reardon (Pierre Watkin). The fact that Tons is barely capable of putting his shoes on properly is unimportant: he will inherit Reardon's business on the proviso that he straighten out his late employer's wastrel son Bill (Ranny Weeks). Making Tons' job tougher is the fact that Bill has designs on our hero's sweetheart Susan (Beatrice Roberts); on the other hand, Bill isn't too keen on the fact that Tons has fallen for his sweetie Elaine (Judith Allen). By and by, however, both Bill and Tons begin taking their business responsibilities seriously, emerging as inseparable pals by film's end. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Freckles Comes Home
The bucolic, down-home novels and short stories of Gene Stratton-Porter had been fodder for Monogram's screenwriting staff ever since the early 1930s. This cinemazation of Stratton-Porter's Freckles Comes Home stars Johnny Downs as the title character, who returns from college to his sedentary home town. Freckles' efforts to bring the community kicking and screaming into the 20th century somehow require him to tackle a group of gangsters who've taken up residence for the purpose of knocking off the town's bank. Every so often, the story stops dead in its tracks to permit black comedian Mantan Moreland to indulge in one of his famous "interrupted conversation" routines; they're the highlight of the picture. Seen as Johnny Downs' hometown sweetheart is Gale Storm, who does some of her best acting to date as the bank president's daughter. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Groom Wore Spurs
Since someone had already used the title The Bride Wore Boots, it follows that there'd eventually be a film called The Groom Wore Spurs. Jack Carson stars as movie cowboy hero Ben Castle, who in "real life" is exactly the opposite of his screen image. When Castle gets into a scrape in Las Vegas, he is bailed out by lady lawyer Abigail Furnival (Ginger Rogers). Despite Castle's many faults, Abigail can't help falling in love with the big lug. Once they've entered into a marriage of convenience (a plot device better seen than described), Abigail sets about to force Castle to truly become the virtuous, hard-riding, sweet-singing character he plays on screen. The film is bogged down with an unnecessary murder-mystery subplot, which is happily disposed of during a climactic slapstick chase. The Groom Wore Spurs was produced independently by Fidelity Pictures and released by Universal. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Hurricane Express
The Admiral Was a Lady
In this film Wanda Hendrix plays a WAVE officer who is endlessly pursued by ex-airmen Edmond O'Brien, Johnny Sands, and Steve Brodie. However, Hendrix only has eyes for her boyfriend Dick Erdman, who is on the lam from vengeful millionaire Rudy Vallee. ~ Iotis Erlewine, Rovi

Beyond Tomorrow
Harry Carey Sr., C. Aubrey Smith and Charles Winninger play three wealthy bachelors who have spent their lives wrapped up in themselves. Left all alone on Christmas eve, the elderly trio invite a couple of strangers to dinner: misplaced cowpoke Richard Carlson and pretty, but aimless, Jean Parker. Hoping that they've accomplished a bit of matchmaking, the three old duffers board a plane and head off to an important business meeting. The plane crashes, killing all three men. They return to their mansion as ghosts, only to discover that Carlson is making the same mistake they made: he's allowing his drive for success to override his affection for Parker. Feeling as though they won't be welcome in Heaven until they rectify this situation, Carey, Smith, and Winninger stick around to set things right. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Kid
Adventure Island
Adventure Island is a shorter and less satisfying remake of the 1937 Paramount actioner Ebb Tide. Rory Calhoun, Paul Kelly and John Abbott star as Herrick, Lochlin and Hulsh, three mercenary seamen involved in illegal activities in the South Seas. Hired to pilot a schooner to Australia, the threesome plan instead to rob the vessel of its precious cargo. Much to their dismay, they discover that the cargo is bogus, and that they're stuck taking care of the former captain's pretty but contentious daughter Faith Rhonda Fleming. The four lost souls are later imprisoned by Mr. Atwater Alan Napier, in the role played in Ebb Tide by Lloyd Nolan, a megalomaniac who rules a tiny island by exploiting the superstitions of the local natives. Assembled by Pine-Thomas productions, Adventure Island represents a rare excursion away from Poverty Row by director Sam Newfield, here travelling under the alias of Peter Stewart. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Hay Foot
Instant recall allows a man to become a very valuable Good Samaritan in this comedy. ~ Jeaniff Dorset, Rovi

Uncle Joe
Gale Storm and Zasu Pitts star in this comedic tale of a troublesome young city girl who is sent to spend summer in the country, only to find that the great outdoors hold equally as much potential for mischief as the concrete jungle. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

The Borrowers
Fans of the 1970s cartoon series The Littles may enjoy its live-action spiritual ancestor The Borrowers. Dennis Larson plays an eight-year-old boy living in Victorian England. While exploring his aunt's (Dame Judith Anderson) mansion, Larson peeks under the floorboards...and what should he see but a family of inches-high humans (Eddie Albert, Tammy Grimes, Karen Pearson), who survive by "borrowing" bits and pieces from the Big People. Discovered, the Borrowers scramble to avoid being captured and displayed as curiosities. First telecast December 14, 1973, The Borrowers was based on the novel by Mary Norton (of Bedknobs and Broomsticks fame). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Our Town
Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town is given the Hollywood treatment in this adaptation directed by Sam Wood featuring an evocative score by Aaron Copland and outstanding production design by William Cameron Menzies. Frank Craven is Mr. Morgan, the narrator and our guide through the small town of Grover's Corners in the more innocent American times of 1901, 1904, and 1913. Mr. Morgan chronicles the lives of a handful of Grover's Corners citizens, centering upon Emily Webb (Martha Scott), the daughter of the local newspaper editor (Guy Kibbee), and George Gibbs (William Holden), the son of the local doctor (Thomas Mitchell). Emily and George fall in love and the film details their difficult courtship, marriage, and tragic childbirth. The film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, losing out to Rebecca. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

Gulliver's Travels
My Dear Secretary
Produced by comedy specialist Harry M. Popkin and his brother Leo Popkin, My Dear Secretary stars Kirk Douglas as Owen Waterbury, a best-selling novelist with an eye for the ladies. When aspiring writer Stephanie Gaylord (Laraine Day) signs on as his secretary, Waterbury assumes that he's lined up another sexual conquest. But Stephanie is not so easily won over, and the rest of the film finds Waterbury striving to come up to her standards. Whenever the film's pace lags, one can count on the farcical expertise of Keenan Wynn, borrowed from MGM to play Douglas' sardonic confidante, to save the day. Along with Strange Love of Martha Ivers, My Dear Secretary is one of the most accessible of Kirk Douglas' early films thanks to its public-domain status. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Lost Honeymoon
The second Hollywood-filmed effort from the British-based Eagle Lion company, Lost Honeymoon is a decided improvement on the first (It's a Joke, Son). Franchot Tone plays returning GI Johnny Gray, who knows that he suffered from amnesia while in London but doesn't know what he did during his memory lapse. Johnny soon finds out when British lass Amy Atkins (Ann Richards) shows up at his doorstep. Amy insists that not only is she married to Johnny, but that she's the mother of his two children! In desperation, Johnny runs around trying to bonk himself in the noggin so that he can regain his amnesia and escape from his parental responsibilities-and that's just one of the many comic complications. Hardly an important film, Lost Honeymoon is a consistently entertaining one. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

A Star Is Born
A Star is Born came into being when producer David O. Selznick decided to tell a "true behind-the-scenes" story of Hollywood. The truth, of course, was filtered a bit for box-office purposes, although Selznick and an army of screenwriters based much of their script on actual people and events. Janet Gaynor stars as Esther Blodgett, the small-town girl who dreams of Hollywood stardom, a role later played by both Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand in the 1954 and 1976 remakes. Jeered at by most of her family, Esther finds an ally in her crusty old grandma (May Robson), who admires the girl's "pioneer spirit" and bankrolls Esther's trip to Tinseltown. On arrival, Esther heads straight to Central Casting, where a world-weary receptionist (Peggy Wood), trying to let the girl down gently, tells her that her chances for stardom are about one in a thousand. "Maybe I'll be that one!" replies Esther defiantly. Months pass: through the intervention of her best friend, assistant director Danny McGuire (Andy Devine), Esther gets a waitressing job at an upscale Hollywood party. Her efforts to "audition" for the guests are met with quizzical stares, but she manages to impress Norman Maine (Fredric March), the alcoholic matinee idol later played by James Mason and Kris Kristofferson. Esther gets her first big break in Norman's next picture and a marriage proposal from the smitten Mr. Maine. It's a hit, but as Esther (now named Vicki)'s star ascends, Norman's popularity plummets due to a string of lousy pictures and an ongoing alcohol problem. The film won Academy Awards for director William Wellman and Robert Carson in the "original story" category and for W. Howard Greene's glistening Technicolor cinematography. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Lost World
This adventure virtually butchers its source, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic novel. But with stop-motion photography and special effects that were incredibly innovative in 1924 and 1925, who cared? These effects were the whole film, and Wallace Beery's inspired performance was a bonus. The tale opens on reporter Edward Malone (Lloyd Hughes), who wants to marry Gladys Hungerford (Alma Bennett). Gladys, however, only wants to marry a man of great deeds. So Malone, having asked his editor for an adventuresome assignment, is given the task of interviewing Professor Challenger (Beery), who is planning an expedition to a "lost world." Malone accompanies Challenger and his men to South America where, on a great plateau, they find a prehistoric world occupied by dinosaurs and ape-like men. They barely escape with their lives, but they manage to bring a brontosaurus back to London. The beast breaks out and terrorizes the city before crashing through the London bridge and swimming out toward the ocean to freedom. In the midst of all this, Malone has fallen in love with Paula White, the daughter of an explorer (Bessie Love). Since Gladys, it turns out, has married a clerk, Malone is able to wed his new sweetheart. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

The Racketeer
This late-20s gangster movie features Carole Lombard as a young gal who agrees to marry a smooth-talking gangster in exchange for the mob man's pledge to arrange a big-time concert appearance for her violinist boyfriend. The only thing that can save the day for the mis-aligned lovers is a shootout between the cops and the gangland thugs. This film is notable because it is one of the early 'talkies," and uses the newly developing audio technology with abandon. In fact, most of the action takes place off screen and the characters tell the cameras just what's happened. This one's small on sets, big on dialog. ~ Phillip Erlewine, Rovi

The Time of Your Life
After turning down several other Hollywood producers, playwright William Saroyan sold the film rights of his whimsical Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Time of Your Life to James and William Cagney. The scene is a rundown San Francisco waterfront bar, populated by a group of lovable eccentrics. Joe (James Cagney), a philosophical souse, encourages all around him to indulge in their wildest dreams. Joe's pal Tom (Wayne Morris), a born patsy, runs errands for Joe, the only person who has ever shown him kindness. Kitty (Jeanne Cagney), a streetwalker, willingly allows Joe to sponge drinks off her in exchange for a few nice words. Harry (Paul Draper), an enthusiastic but hopelessly untalented dancer-comedian, is hired by bartender Nick (William Bendix) at Joe's urging. And Kit Carson (James Barton), an addled old man who lives in a dream world, is prodded by Joe into weaving his unlikely reminiscences of the Wild West. It is Kit Carson (James Barton) who solves everyone's problems by eliminating a particularly scabrous detective named Blick (Tom Powers). Time of Your Life was originally filmed with Saroyan's bizarrely humorous ending intact, but the preview audiences reacted negatively, forcing the Cagney brothers to shoot $300,000 worth of retakes. Though many historians have written off The Time of Your Life as a brave failure, the film was actually a hit, grossing $1.5 million. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Big Chance
Eagle Productions was another of those exotically named independent studios that came and went in the early 1930s. Eagle's The Big Chance stars John Darrow as an aspiring boxer. Ignoring the advice of trainer Matthew Betz, Darrow falls among bad company. Faithful Merna Kennedy saves Darrow from such predators as vampish Natalie Morehead and slimy J. Carroll Naish. The Big Chance was reissued in the late 1930s to cash in on the popularity of Mickey Rooney, here cast as a hero-worshipping urchin. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Swing It, Sailor!
Men may come and men may go, but silly service comedies like Swing It Sailor go on forever. James Dunn and Ray Mayer star as Pete Kelly and Husky Stone a pair of over-age but under-mature gobs. Pete and Husky's main purpose in life seems to be duking it out over the affections of peroxide blonde Myrtle Montrose (Isabel Jewell) Back on duty, our heroes conspire to drive the rest of the Navy nuts with their goofy antics. Ultimately, Husky finds himself abandoned on a derelict ship slated for target practice, forcing the suddenly sobered Pete to race to his rescue. Most of the naval maneuvers seen in the final reels of Swing It Sailor were harvested from newsreel footage, some of it seemingly older than the three leading players. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

My Favorite Brunette
Just as Bob Hope's My Favorite Blonde (1942) was a takeoff on Alfred Hitchcock, Hope's My Favorite Brunette was a lampoon of the noirish "hard-boiled detective" school popularized by Raymond Chandler. Awaiting execution on death row, Hope tells the gathered reporters how he got into his present predicament. It seems that Hope was once a baby photographer, his office adjacent to the one leased by a private detective (played in an amusing unbilled cameo by Alan Ladd). While hanging around the p.i.'s office, Hope is mistaken for the detective by beautiful client Dorothy Lamour. She hires Hope to search for her missing uncle, and also entrusts him with a valuable map. Hope's diligent (if inept) sleuthing takes him to a shady rest sanitarium, where he runs afoul of lamebrained henchman Lon Chaney, Jr. and sinister, knife-throwing Peter Lorre. Both are in the employ of attorney Charles Dingle, who is responsible for the disappearance of Lamour's uncle. Escaping the sanitarium with Lamour in tow, Hope follows the trail of evidence to noted geologist Reginald Denny. The geologist is murdered, and Hope is accused of the crime. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Boys of the City
In their second Monogram caper, Knuckles (Dave O'Brien) and the East Side Kids (Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Sunshine Sammy Morrison, et al.) are on their way to camp in the Adirondacks when they offer a lift to Judge Parker (Forrest Taylor) and his ward Louise (Inna Gest), who are having car trouble. Much to the boys' derision, the judge is the very same who wrongly convicted Knuckles in the previous film. And if that isn't enough, the learned jurist's secluded mansion proves to be in the haunted house category complete with sliding panels, hidden passageways, and a deranged housekeeper (Minerva Urecal). When the judge is found murdered and his ward missing, henchmen Giles (Denny Moore) and Simp (Vince Barnett) naturally accuse Knuckles, who has a motive but no alibi. In their bumbling search for the judge's missing ward, the boys stumble across a prowling detective (Alden Chase), however, and the real culprit is soon unmasked to be none other than -- well, suffice it to say, the killer is the least likely candidate, the East Side Kids, Louise, and Knuckles not included. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Oliver Twist
Based on Dicken's classic novel, this is the first sound version of the oft-filmed tale of a plucky orphan who struggles to survive on the rough, unforgiving London streets. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

Against a Crooked Sky
Against a Crooked Sky is a remake of John Ford's landmark western The Searchers. Richard Boone appears in the John Wayne role, playing an ageing trapper obsessed with rescuing a white girl from her Indian captors. Another movie veteran, Henry Wilcoxon, is the ruthless yet honorable Indian chief. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

That's My Baby
Only at Republic studios would action star Richard Arlen head the cast of a muscial comedy. In That's My Baby, Tim Jones (Arlen) and his girl friend Betty (Ellen Drew) try to pull her dad, the appropriately named R. P. Moody (Minor Watson), out of a deep blue funk. On the verge of suicide, Moody is cheered up by a series of musical numbers, performed by the likes of bandleader Freddie "Schnickelfritz" Fisher and pianist Gene Rogers. The film's highlight is an animated sequence produced by Dave Fleischer, who'd left Paramount several years earlier to form his own independent cartoon firm. The screenplay for That's My Baby was the handiwork of no less than novelist Irving Wallace! ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Scared Stiff
This comedy centers around an inept reporter who wouldn't recognize a hot story if it burned him on the hand. The trouble begins when he is assigned to do a story on a local wine festival. Meanwhile an escaped convict holds the heated interest of the rest of the newspaper employees. The bungler gets involved when he goes to the wrong location and ends up on a bus where someone is killed. He becomes a suspect, and later when he must stop at an inn, he finds his girl friend and a detective there too. At the inn, the proprietor has two priceless jeweled chess pieces that have been attracting a lot of attention from the public, and from the fugitive convict. Mayhem ensues when the crook shows up to claim the chessmen. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi

Fair Play
The Flying Deuces
In their first starring feature away from the Hal Roach studios, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy play a couple of fish peddlers from Des Moines on a Cook's Tour of Paris. While stopping over at quaint suburban inn, Ollie falls in love with innkeeper's daughter Georgette (Jean Parker). At Stan's prodding, Ollie pops the question to Georgette, who gently refuses because there is Someone Else. Disconsolately, Ollie decides to commit suicide by jumping into the Seine, insisting that Stan join him in his plunge to oblivion. The boys are halted from this drastic action by the timely arrival of Francois (Reginald Gardiner), an officer in the French Foreign Legion. Francois convinces Stan and Ollie that they'll forget all about Ollie's lost love if they join the Legion, and within a few days our heroes are in uniform at an outpost in French Morocco, where they are promptly assigned to laundry detail. Alas, try as he might, Ollie can't forget his beloved Georgette-until Stan suggests that he pretend to forget so that they can get back in their own clothes and head home. This Ollie does, but not before accidentally setting fire to a mountain of laundry. After leaving behind a rather nasty letter of resignation for their scowling commandant (Charles Middleton), Stan and Ollie pack their bags and head for the airport-where Ollie is reunited with Georgette, who turns out to be the wife of their commanding officer Francois! Sentenced to death for desertion, the boys tunnel their way out of their jail cell and hide out in an airplane, which Stan accidentally sends into flight. After a wild and noisy ride, the plane crashes, leading to the flm's hilarious-and somehow touching--"freak" ending. Officially a remake of Les Aviateurs, a French vehicle for Fernandel and Toto, The Flying Deuces also owes a lot to the earlier Laurel & Hardy Foreign Legion farce Beau Hunks. Highlights include Stan and Ollie's impromptu soft-shoe rendition of "Shine on Harvest Moon", and Stan's lunatic excursion into Harpo Marx territory as he plays a bed-spring "harp". Produced by Boris Morros and released by RKO Radio, Flying Deuces is unquestionably the best of Laurel & Hardy's non-Hal Roach vehicles. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Iron Mask
The Iron Mask was Douglas Fairbanks' sequel to his popular 1921 vehicle The Three Musketeers. Fairbanks returns to his original role of D'Artagnan, while Marguerite de La Motte and Nigel De Brulier briefly reprise their Musketeers roles as, respectively, Constance and Cardinal Richelieu. After tying up loose plot ends from the first film, the middle-aged D'Artagnan and his equally venerable fellow musketeers Athos (Leon Bary, also returning from the 1921 film), Porthos (Stanley J. "Tiny" Sandford) and Aramis (Gino Corrado) set about to rescue Louis XIV (William Bakewell), the rightful King of France. Louis XIV has been entombed in a dungeon by his twin brother (also Bakewell) and his head has been locked in an impenetrable iron mask. All of this is at the behest of the scheming De Rochefort (Ulrich Haupt), the real power behind the throne. The Iron Mask was Fairbanks' last silent film; perhaps in acknowledgment of the passing of a Golden era, Fairbanks "died" on screen for the first and only time in his career. Most currently available prints of Iron Mask are taken from the 1940 reissue, narrated by Douglas Fairbanks Jr; in 1974 the younger Fairbanks prepared a restored version of the original, including two brief dialogue passages filmed by Fairbanks back in 1929. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Medicine Man
Jack Benny wasn't even 39 yet when he starred in the maudlin backstage drama The Medicine Man. Benny plays Dr. John Harvey, the worldly and none-too-honest title character, who while passing through a small town falls in love with winsome Mamie Goltz (Betty Bronson), the victim of what one observer described as the most abusive father in movie history (E. Alyn Warren). Our hero puts his larcenous nature on the back burner to champion Mamie's cause when her despicable dad tries to force her into a marriage with an equally odious elderly millionaire. Forced out of town due to a scandal, the doctor is nowhere to be found during the wedding ceremonies, and for several uncomfortable minutes it looks like poor Mamie will have to go through with it. Not a good film by any standards, The Medicine Man is worth having if only to see Jack Benny in a virtually "straight" role. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The General
Buster Keaton plays Johnny Gray, a Southern railroad engineer who loves his train engine, The General, almost as much as he loves Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). When the opening shots of the Civil War are fired at Fort Sumter, Johnny tries to enlist -- and he is deemed too useful as an engineer to be a soldier. All Johnny knows is that he's been rejected, and Annabelle, thinking him a coward, turns her back on him. When Northern spies steal the General (and, unwittingly, Annabelle), the story switches from drama and romance to adventure mixed with Keaton's trademark deadpan humor as he uses every means possible to catch up to the General, thwart the Yankees, and rescue his darling Annabelle -- for starters. As always, Keaton performs his own stunts, combining his prodigious dexterity, impeccable comic timing, and expressive body language to convey more emotion than the stars of any of the talkies that were soon to dominate cinema. ~ Emru Townsend, Rovi

The Gang's All Here
The Monogram publicity machine advertised Gang's All Here as a story of "Young Americans Fighting for Their Rights." Young driver Frankie (Frankie Darro) decides to take on a gang of truck hijackers single-handed, running into opposition from the crooked district manager behind the crime spree. Frankie is aided and abetted by undercover insurance investigator George (Keye Luke), boss' daughter Patsy (Marcia Mae Jones) and longtime pal Jefferson (Mantan Moreland). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Big Trees
Ever since slipping into Public Domain, The Big Trees has become one of the most accessible and oft-televised of Kirk Douglas' pictures. Douglas plays an unscrupulous lumberjack who covets the land owned by a religious sect. All that's saving him from being the film's main villain is the fact that there's an even nastier contingent out to claim the sect's territory. His greed tempered by the love of pious Eve Miller, Douglas turns out to be a good guy after all in the film's climax. Watch for Alan Hale Jr. as "Tiny," doubling for his own father, who appears in long-shot in the stock footage. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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