Saturday, April 14, 2018

Captain Kidd (1945)

Any movie with Charles Laughton as a pirate has to be worth a look, and Captain Kidd (released in 1945) turns out to be pretty good.

William Kidd was one of the most famous of all pirates, and one of the most controversial, the controversy stemming from the fact that there is considerable doubt as to whether Kidd really was technically a pirate at all.

In the movie we’re left in no doubt that Kidd (played of course by Laughton) is a cut-throat and a remarkably devious rogue. He is also ambitious. He wants to buy his way into the aristocracy and that’s going to require a great deal of money. It’s also obviously going to require him to appear to have obtained the money by legal means. So when he sets out on   his latest voyage, armed with a letter of marque (authorising him to attack ships of enemy states) signed by the King, his intention is to engage in piracy whilst appearing to be acting within the letter of the law.

For this voyage he selects his crew with great care. They are all prisoners from Newgate Prison, all awaiting execution for piracy, and all of them guaranteed to be loyal since they’ve been promised a royal pardon if they survive the voyage.

His officers are even bigger rogues than the crew. They are pirates who have served with Kidd before. They have no scruples whatsoever.

Kidd is a man who always has some dishonest but profitable scheme in mind. He is not the only one making schemes. Orange Povy (John Carradine) has plans of his own and he knows Kidd extremely well. He believes he can match wits with him.

Jose Lorenzo (Gilbert Roland) is another of the officers with his own agenda. And then there’s Adam Mercy (Randolph Scott), something of a mystery man and the object of much suspicion on the part of his fellow officers, and especially on the part of the Captain. Lorenzo and Mercy will also try to mach wits with Kidd.

Things get more complicated after Kidd’s rendezvous with the Quedagh Merchant, a ship he is supposed to escort through the pirate-infested waters near Madagascar. The Quedagh Merchant is carrying treasure of immense value, and it is also carrying the beautiful young Lady Anne Dunstan (Barbara Britton). The challenge for Kidd is to get his hands on the treasure without appearing to have committed an act of piracy. He also has plans for Lady Anne, and he’s not the only one.

Captain Kidd keeps a list of names hidden in a secret drawer in his cabin. It’s a list of people who are or have been accomplices in his schemes, and who feel themselves entitled to a share of the loot. The list is distressingly long. It seems a great pity to have to divide the loot so many ways. It would be much safer, more convenient and more profitable if that list of names could be reduced to a more manageable level. Kidd has plans to do just this.

Charles Laughton is in magnificent form. This is overacting taken to the most delightfully extreme levels. He manages to be both horrifyingly amoral and oddly likeable, and also very very amusing. Kidd’s attempts to turn himself into a gentleman provide a good deal of fun. He has hired a valet, Shadwell (Reginald Owen) to teach him the finer points of gentlemanly behaviour. This proves to be quite a challenge for Shadwell.

The supporting cast is very strong, with John Carradine being wonderfully sinister.

Rowland V. Lee was a competent director and does a solid job despite having to work with a somewhat limited budget. With Charles Laughton in full flight there’s never the slightest danger of things becoming boring. The screenplay plays fast and loose with history but it gives Laughton the kind of dialogue he can sink his teeth into. There’s not a huge amount of action but there’s enough to keep the viewer’s interest.

Captain Kidd is in the public domain and there are therefore a number of DVD releases of varying quality. I can’t comment on these discs since I caught this movie on broadcast television (with the print being in reasonable condition).

This would have been a pretty enjoyable pirate adventure anyway, with plenty of nasty plot twists and a gallery of colourful rogues. It’s Charles Laughton’s performance that lifts it to a higher level. For Laughton fans, or for pirate movie fans, it’s pretty much a must-see movie. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Barry Lyndon was released in 1975 and is in every way a typical Stanley Kubrick film. It’s visually breathtaking. It’s also entirely lacking in emotion, but deliberately so. Kubrick does not want us to care about any of the characters in the film. He wants us to regard them in the same dispassionate way that he views them. It’s a movie you may or may not enjoy but in its own way it’s an extraordinary movie.

It was based on a very minor novel (The Luck of Barry Lyndon) by Thackeray and again this is almost certainly a deliberate choice on Kubrick’s part. Had he chosen to adapt a better known Victorian novel there’s the danger that the audience might have been familiar with the book and might therefore already have formed an opinion about it. It suits Kubrick’s purposes to choose a novel that very few people have read.

Thackeray was the inventor of the so-called "novel without a hero” and this is indeed a movie without a hero. Thackeray’s much more famous novel Vanity Fair would have suited Kubrick’s purposes equally well except that it’s too widely known and the audience would have preconceptions about it.

Barry Lyndon is not even a real anti-hero. An anti-hero is someone about whom we have some feelings even if they’re mainly negative. Barry is simply a non-hero. We don’t care enough about him to dislike him and the whole movie is so detached that it’s difficult even to work up disapproval for Barry.

There’s only one character in the movie who could potentially function as a hero, and that’s the young Lord Bullingdon, but he’s almost as unsympathetic as Barry and definitely not the stuff heroes are made of.

The protagonist (played by Ryan O’Neal) starts life as Redmond Barry, an Irishman born into modest respectability but penniless due to the untimely death of his father in a duel. Another duel will be the crucial event that launches Barry on his career (and a third duel will have equally momentous consequences). Barry suffers misfortunes and joins the British army and participates in the Seven Years War (an extraordinary cynical and senseless war brought about by the breathtaking amorality of Frederick the Great and which therefore serves as the ideal background to the story). Barry deserts and ends up in the Prussian service (a byword for brutality). Barry has no intention of remaining a humble soldier. He waits patiently for his chance of escape (he is a man who does not make things happen but he is extremely adept at recognising opportunities when they fall into his lap).

Barry’s fortunes prosper when he teams up with the Chevalier du Balibari (Patrick Magee), a professional gambler and amateur libertine. It has taken a series of betrayals to get Barry into this favourable situation but betrayal comes very easily to him. By the halfway stage of the movie Barry’s lack of morals, his eye for the main chance and a certain amount of luck have propelled him to the top of the social heap. He marries a fabulously wealthy widow. He has everything he ever desired. He has done little to deserve it. In the second half it all starts to fall apart for him, partly through his own flaws and partly through bad luck.

Much nonsense has been written about the supposed miscasting of Ryan O’Neal in the title role. In fact O’Neal is perfectly cast in every way. Barry Lyndon is a man with considerable ambitions and with a talent for opportunism but he has no morality and no beliefs and no personality to speak of. He takes on the colouring of his surroundings. O’Neal’s performance has just the right quality of complete emotional detachment but then in the rare moments that Barry has to display genuine emotion O’Neal rises to the occasion. It’s a perfectly judged performance and it’s obviously exactly what Kubrick wanted.

Marisa Berenson can’t act but that doesn’t matter since her role is more a modelling assignment than an acting job - her task is to look right and she does. She’s part of the decor really.

Hardy Krüger of course can act and he does a fine job as the Prussian Captain Potzdorf who manages to get the better of Barry for a while but is eventually betrayed by him.

Patrick Magee was a Kubrick favourite and he gives another outrageous but wonderful performance as the deplorable Chevalier du Balibari.

It’s often been remarked that almost every scene in this movie looks like a painting. There’s considerable truth to this. It’s a movie that is more a series of striking visual images than a conventional movie. There is a straightforward narrative here but it’s of little importance. No-one could possibly care what Barry’s ultimate fate is going to be. The images don’t serve the story. The story serves the images. Kubrick gets away with it because the images are so incredibly gorgeous. If there’s ever been a more beautiful movie than Barry Lyndon then I’ve yet to see it.

Kubrick was insistent that he wanted to use only natural light. If a scene took place by candlelight then the lighting for that scene would be provided entirely by candlelight. Special lenses and very fast film made it possible to do this and there’s no question that the film not only looks superb, it looks superb in a very distinctive way. It has a look that is quite different from any previous historical epic. Cinematographer John Alcott, set designer Ken Adam and costume designers Ulla-Britt Söderlund and Milena Canonero all won richly deserved Oscars for this movie.

Barry Lyndon is a movie that is worth seeing for its intoxicating images alone. In fact they’re enough to make it a must-see movie. It’s interesting as an epic without a trace of heroism. Like most of Kubrick’s better movies it’s just not like other people’s movies.

It’s an amazing technical achievement but was it really a worthwhile exercise? Was it a movie that was actually worth making? The answer to that pretty much depends on how you feel about Kubrick. If you’re a Kubrick sceptic then Barry Lyndon will probably confirm all your doubts about him. If you’re a Kubrick fan you’ll be overjoyed because this movie is the concentrated essence of Kubrickian film-making. It’s not a movie with anything profound to say. The protagonist sacrifices anyone and anything to achieve his ambitions and then finds that maybe it wasn’t worthwhile after all. Not exactly dazzlingly original. What is profound and original is the way it’s done - the extreme lack of any trace of heroism, the uncompromising refusal to manipulate the audience’s emotional responses or moral judgments and the unique style. I think it’s enough to justify the movie.

And I’m going to highly recommend this one because even if you end up not liking it it’s still one of those movies you have to see at least once.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Poppy (1936)

For my money W.C. Fields was the supreme comic genius of American cinema. Poppy, made at Paramount in 1936, is not quite in the same league as masterpieces like The Bank Dick but it’s still quite entertaining.

Fields usually played either a henpecked husband or a swindler (and in my view he was funniest as a swindler). In this case he’s a carny huckster and all-round con-man but Professor Eustace P. McGargle is a rogue with definite charm.

His travelling companion and partner-in-crime is his beautiful daughter Poppy (Rochelle Hudson).

Arriving in yet another small town and looking for easy pickings the Professor stumbles across what could be the biggest and most lucrative con of his entire career - passing off his daughter as an heiress. Poppy on the other hand has found true love but can she really expect a respectable young man with prospects to marry a carnival girl?

That’s the sum total of the plot. The romantic melodrama part of the story is exceedingly threadbare and threatens to slow things down unnecessarily but it’s made bearable by Rochelle Hudson’s charm and spirit and by the genuine and surprising affection between father and daughter.

Really the movie is mostly an excuse for Fields to strut his stuff in a series of comic set-pieces, which he does with considerable style and success. The talking dog routine gets things off to a good start. Fields’ anarchic musical performance is a particular highlight.

Eustace P. McGargle is a terrific character, perfectly suited to Fields’ style of comedy. He’s not just a rogue - he enjoys being a rogue. You can’t help wondering if he manages to pull off his big coup whether he could ever really be happy living in comfortable respectability. It seems unlikely. Swindling is in his blood and he loves the challenge.

Lynne Overman as crooked attorney Eddie G. Whiffen and Catherine Doucet as the Countess DePuizzi provide adequate comic support although needless to say it’s Fields who gets most of the laughs.

Poppy started life as a Broadway musical. Fields was the star and his performance provided the basic template for so many of his later great performances. Poppy was filmed twice. The 1925 silent version, Sally of the Sawdust, was directed by D.W. Griffith. The 1936 sound version was helmed by A. Edward Sutherland. Fields starred in both movie versions so Professor McGargle must count as being just about his most enduring role.

In this movie Fields gets to deliver one of his most famous lines when he offers Poppy the only fatherly advice he can think of - “Never give a sucker an even break.”

Poppy is one of no less than seventeen movies in Universal’s superb Region 2 W.C. Fields Collection boxed set, which includes pretty much all of his great feature films. A must-have set for Fields fans. Poppy gets a very satisfactory transfer.

Poppy has some good moments although the romance angle does drag a little. The movie only comes alive when Fields takes centre stage. This one is really for hardcore Fields fans. If you haven’t yet discovered the magic of W.C. Fields then there are better films to start with, with The Bank Dick being the obvious choice.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Timetable (1956)

Mark Stevens had a long if not spectacularly distinguished career as an actor, and a somewhat abbreviated career as a director. In spite of this he managed to direct two bona fide film noir classics, Cry Vengeance (1954) and Timetable (1956). It’s Timetable with which we are concerned here.

Timetable is a tricky movie to review. There’s a very big twist at the midway point and even to hint at the nature of that twist would spoil the movie and I’m certainly not going to do that. So I’m going to keep things very very vague indeed.

The film opens with an extended heist sequence which is truly excellent (and it’s on a train which is even better). The heist is meticulously planned and executed and Stevens directs this sequence with total confidence.

We then get introduced to the two men tasked with tracking down the robbers, railway cop Joe Armstrong (King Calder) and insurance investigator Charlie Norman (Mark Stevens). It looks like a perfect crime but Joe isn’t too concerned about that - he’s arrested plenty of guys who thought they’d planned the perfect crime. No matter how good the plan, sooner or later something somewhere will go wrong and it will start to unravel. The more elaborate the plan, the more things there are to go wrong. And this was certainly an elaborate heist, involving a hijacked ambulance and a stolen helicopter!

Up to this point Timetable has given the impression of being one of those crime movies to which the noir label gets attached even though it isn’t noir. It starts as a heist movie then seems like it’s going to settle into being a police procedural. But don’t worry, once the big twist kicks in it gets very noir indeed.

Stevens really does an assured job with this film. It’s beautifully paced, it has that great opening heist, it has a fine extended action climax and the noirness builds remorselessly. Aben Kandel’s very solid and quite literate screenplay helps a good deal. There’s some decent semi-hardboiled dialogue too.

There’s nothing startlingly new here but everything is tightly constructed and holds together perfectly.

It doesn’t go overboard with the noir visuals but there’s enough to get the right atmosphere, and the action finale is very noir.

Stevens also does a pretty good job as lead actor. It’s a complex role, playing a man under a great deal of pressure.

The whole cast is extremely good. Wesley Addy is particularly good as the very smooth thief masquerading as a medico, but his smoothness is all on the surface and underneath he’s ready to fall apart under the slightest stress.

There has to be a femme fatale and Felicia Farr fulfils that role satisfactorily. Whether she’s really a true femme fatale or just a woman who happens to serve as a catalyst for trouble is debatable but that touch of ambiguity is a plus rather than a minus.

Alan Reed (better known as the voice of Fred Flintstone) is excellent, mixing bravado with weakness quite nicely. King Calder is one of those actors born to play cops and he’s terrific.

Look out for Jack Klugman giving a great performance in a very small early role.

While the focus is on Charlie all of the characters have at least some depth to them, and in their very different ways they’re all believable. They’re not just doing things because the plot requires them to do so - their actions are plausibly motivated.

The only available DVD release appears to be the one from Alpha Video. By Alpha Video standards the transfer is passable. It’s quite dark in places but since this is film noir that doesn’t matter to much.

Timetable is a very well-made and well-acted movie, with production values that are perhaps just a bit better than the usual B-movie standards, and most importantly this is a full-blown film noir. Highly recommended.

Stevens’ earlier Cry Vengeance is also well worth a look.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Woman in Question (1950)

In the early 1950s a film appeared that took a revolutionary approach to narrative. It was a crime story, with the same events told from several different (and often contradictory) points of view. No, the film I’m talking about isn’t Kurosawa’s Rashomon, it’s Anthony Asquith’s 1950 British crime thriller The Woman in Question which (by a slight margin) predates Kurosawa’s masterpiece.

The Woman in Question has an apparently simple plot. The murdered body of Agnes Houston (who worked as a fortune-teller under the name Madame Astra) is found. The discovery is made by a small boy. He is the son of a neighbour, Mrs Finch (Hermione Baddeley). Agnes Houston had been heard having a violent quarrel with her sister Catherine (Susan Shaw) and with Bob Baker (Dirk Bogarde). It appears that Bob’s affections, initially directed towards Agnes, had recently been diverted towards her sister.

Superintendent Lodge (Duncan Macrae) interviews the various witnesses and suspects. Their accounts are presented to us in a series of flashback sequences.

In Mrs Finch’s account Mrs Houston was a most respectable woman, unlike that hussy of a sister of hers. Mrs Finch also paints a very unflattering portrait of young Bob Baker. She also hints at the possibility that Catherine may have been on excessively friendly terms with Agnes Houston’s husband, who is now dying.

Catherine’s version of events is very different. Far from being a paragon of respectability it now appears that Agnes was much too find of the bottle and much too fond of men, and it also appears that she had been a less than ideal wife to her late husband. Catherine and Bob were innocent young lovers, if Catherine is to be believed.

Bob is the next to be interviewed. Not surprisingly his account is very favourable to himself, and not at all favourable to the late Mrs Houston.

There are three other witnesses. There’s Mr Pollard, the mild-mannered middle-aged gentleman who runs the pet shop across the road from Mrs Houston’s house. His account makes it clear that he had hopes of marrying Agnes Houston after her husband’s death, but while this might be possible Superintendent Lodge also has to consider the possibility that the romance was strictly one-way, and if Pollard had finally realised that she had no interest in him other than in using him to do odd jobs and lend her money then he could conceivably be a suspect.

The fifth interview is with two girls who turned up on the night of the murder to have their fortunes told.

There’s one last possible suspect, an Irish sailor with whom Agnes Houston was very friendly indeed. He was also at her house on the fatal night, and he has his own version of the story as well.

Superintendent Lodge believes that the only way to solve the case is to solve the mystery of Agnes Houston herself. Each witness has presented a different view of her, but which of those versions was the real woman? If they know that they will know who killed her. And, interestingly enough, both Superintendent Lodge and the audience do eventually get a fairly clear picture of her.

While the narrative structure is clearly very very close to that of Kurosawa’s film the intentions of Asquith and his scriptwriter John Cresswell are rather different. While the multiple perspectives are certainly used for straightforward detective story purposes they are also used as an opportunity for a great deal of sly humour and some acute social observation. On the whole The Woman in Question has a fairly light and rather witty feel to it.

One of the big pluses of the multiple-perspective approach is that it gives the actors the chance to play the same roles, and the same scenes, in five different ways. They certainly seem to relish this chance. Jean Kent as Mrs Houston gets to be very prim and proper, and also to play her role as a slovenly drunk and as a shrewd and ruthless schemer. Dirk Bogarde gets to be a romantic hero, and to be a sinister bad boy as well.

The Woman in Question is an innovative and skilful piece of film-making. It’s also a clever and inventive murder mystery and an amusing and witty exploration of the various faces that we present to the world, and how the world sees us. Very highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Man with a Cloak (1951)

The Man with a Cloak is an interesting idea that doesn’t quite come off but this 1951 MGM period crime melodrama is worth watching for some glorious acting.

Madeleine Minot (Leslie Caron) is a young French girl who arrives in New York in 1848 in search of the ageing and very disreputable Charles Thevenet (Louis Calhern). Thevenet had been one of Napoleon’s generals and remains an enthusiastic Bonapartist. His loyalty to Bonaparte has been equalled only by his devotion to women and dissipation. Madeleine on the other hand is a Republican but for some reason she has convinced herself that she can persuade the old man to leave his fortune to his grandson in Paris. She is in love with the grandson. Once they get the old boy’s money they will use it for the cause of Republicanism (or at least they’ve convinced themselves that they only want Thevenet’s money for that idealistic purpose). 1848 was of course the year that saw the establishment of the short-lived Second Republic in France, which was soon swept away by Napoleon III.

Madeleine and her lover are not the only ones after Thevenet’s money. His mistress Lorna Bounty (Barbara Stanwyck) and his butler Martin (Joe de Santis) have spent years waiting for Thevenet to die so they can get his fortune. It has even crossed their minds that it might be possible to hasten the old man’s demise.

Lorna and Martin are clever and ruthless and the naïve Madeleine might seem to be completely outclassed by such seasoned conspirators but she has acquired an unlikely (although possibly not entirely reliable) ally in the person of a drunken poet named Dupin (Joseph Cotten). Dupin is perpetually penniless and drunk but he’s no fool and Lorna immediately recognises him as a dangerous enemy. Being the sort of woman she is she sets out to neutralise the threat by enticing Dupin with the prospect of either a share of the loot or a chance to enjoy her physical charms.

What follows is a battle of wits and wills between Dupin and Lorna.

The plot (based on a story by John Dickson Carr) is absurdly melodramatic and overwrought but it has its moments. There are times however when it threatens to collapse under the weight of its own self-conscious cleverness.

Dupin is supposed to be a mystery man with his true identity only revealed as a surprise twist at the end although in fact his identity is blindingly obvious right from the start. Fortunately it doesn’t really matter since it’s only a literary in-joke and actually the movie might have worked better had that whole idea been ditched.

It’s the acting that carries this movie. Stanwyck is in full-on spider woman mode and she’s magnificent. There’s some subtlety here too. Lorna Bounty is scheming, unscrupulous and very deadly but she’s oddly sympathetic at times. She’s villainous but only up to a point. She’s prepared to do what she has to do to get that money but in a perverse way she’s honest and open about her scheming. Old Thevenet has always known what the score was. And her ruthlessness has limits - she has no interest in cruelty for its own sake.

Joseph Cotten is pretty good too. He has no pride but he has charm. He’s a likeable rogue.

Louis Calhern is excellent, making Thevenet a thorough reprobate but a rather good-natured one. He’s selfish and self-indulgent but he’s never pretended to be a saint.

Leslie Caron is the problem. We’re meant to regard Madeleine as the idealistic heroine but oddly enough she comes across as being more of a hypocrite than the supposed villains. She also comes across as insipid and irritating.

Jim Backus as the good-hearted Irish innkeeper who allows Dupin to remain permanently drunk on permanent credit is the best of the supporting players.

The period details are impressive. This is an MGM movie so it looks like it’s had a lot of money spent on it, and well spent too.

The Man with a Cloak has some neat little ideas in it. There’s plenty of scheming but what’s going on is not always as obvious as it seems and there are some nice ironic touches. At times it gets a bit too clever for its own good but it’s always entertaining. The performances, especially those by Stanwyck and Calhern, are more than sufficient reason to see it. This is an absolute must-see movie for Barbara Stanwyck fans.

The Man with a Cloak has been released in the made-on-demand Warner Archive series. I can’t comment on the quality of that disc since I caught this movie on TCM.

Very melodramatic but despite a few flaws it’s thoroughly enjoyable and definitely recommended.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Tip on a Dead Jockey (1957)

Tip on a Dead Jockey is a 1957 crime thriller with a definite noirish tinge and an aviation background, which certainly sounds rather promising.

Phyllis Tredman (Dorothy Malone) goes to Reno, for the usual reason, but finds it’s not as easy as she imagined since she seems to have no valid grounds for a divorce. In fact when she thinks about it she realises she has no idea why she is getting divorced. All she knows is that her husband Lloyd wrote to her from Madrid (where he has been living apart from her for nearly two years) asking her to divorce him and he gave no reason. So she decides that perhaps she should go to Madrid and find out what is going on. What she discovers is not quite what she expected.

Lloyd Tredman (Robert Taylor) seems like a pretty nice guy but there is something that is not quite right about him. He’d been a flyer, and a very good one, in both World War 2 and the Korean War. Now he seems to be drifting. His life seems too irresponsible and precarious for a middle-aged man.

It doesn’t take long for us to find out what the problem is. He can’t fly any more. He’s lost his nerve. That obviously limits his career prospects (flying is what he’s trained to do and after the war he’d been an airline pilot) but it does more than that. As his buddy Jimmy Heldon (Jack Lord) remarks, when a flyer can’t fly any more there are other things he can’t do either. This is clearly something that is eating away at Lloyd’s soul.

And now Lloyd is in trouble. He’s in big money trouble. He’s been making his living mostly from gambling and he’s had some bad luck (although it’s possible that luck actually had nothing to do with it). There is a way out. He’s been offered an enormous amount of money to do a very simple job. It’s not exactly legal but it appears to be almost risk-free and it also appears to be not really immoral. The problem is that it involves flying.

Now the crime thriller and romance sub-plots start to intertwine, and they do so surprisingly effectively. Lloyd allows both his fear of flying and his confused emotional life to persuade him to do something that is more than just dishonourable and cowardly. He then retreats into self-pity. This is starting to move towards real film noir territory, with a flawed hero tempted his own weaknesses into taking the first step towards ruin and degradation.

It’s all very promising but then it starts to pull its punches a bit. Of course it’s always worth remembering that no-one in Hollywood in the 40s or 50s was consciously making film noir. In retrospect we read film noir themes into many of the crime films of the era but at the time the film-makers were just making crime movies. If you accept this movie simply as a crime movie it works quite well with the darker moments being a bonus for modern film noir fans.

By the late 1940s Robert Taylor was starting to look just a little weather-beaten which might explain why he started to get offered some slightly darker roles, often in movies that were at least borderline film noir. These roles turned out to suit him perfectly. He could do the hardboiled thing, he could play tortured characters but most of all what he was particularly good at was conveying world-weariness. Not exactly cynical world-weariness, but world-weariness with a touch of pessimism and a touch of fatalism. That’s exactly what his part in Tip on a Dead Jockey requires and he’s superb.

Dorothy Malone gives a fine performance as the sympathetic wife trying her best to understand the struggle her husband is having with his private demons. Jack Lord is pretty solid as Lloyd’s buddy Jimmy.

The single most surprising thing about this movie is that Robert Taylor sings! He does a duet with Dorothy Malone, and it’s a song with lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse, not quite what you expect in a movie such as this. It’s only a single musical number but it does achieve its purpose in letting us know something about how Lloyd and Phyllis really feel about each other.

Tip on a Dead Jockey was made in Cinemascope and gives the impression of having had a fairly decent budget, and it’s an MGM production so it certainly doesn’t look cheap. Robert Taylor was still a fairly big star. This all suggests that the movie was either a cheap A-picture or at the more expensive end of the B-picture spectrum. Content-wise however this is pure B-movie stuff.

Which is fine, I like B-movies. There are some decent aerial sequences, Robert Taylor is extremely good, there’s some suspense and some romance. It’s not a great movie but it deliver perfectly adequate entertainment. Recommended.