Seven more movies

Today, a collection of old movies — two maybes, three yeses, and two BIG yeses — all with one thing in common: they're written or co-written by the same man, and you've never heard of him...

Dangerous Passage (1944)
YES — 

This is an interesting, crisply-written B-movie that’s not even an hour long. And it's quite good.

Joe Beck needs to get out of town quickly, so he books northbound passage on a ratty old bucket, just because it’s the next ship sailing. There’s a mysterious woman and curious happenings on this vessel, though, and oil barrels roll loose, and the first mate doesn’t want Beck walking the ship’s aft.

The dialogue drips noir, with wry observations and wisecracks, and the stars are nobody you’ve heard of before — Robert Lowery as Beck, Phyllis Brooks as the dame he meets on the ship, and Charles Arnt as a bad guy who was clearly and delightfully directed to pretend he’s a thinner Sydney Greenstreet.

The guy and girl don’t instantly fall in love, and all through the movie, even after some smoochin’, they’re not sure they can trust each other. Shadowy and economical but smart, it’s an interesting story that brings no other movies to mind. I had a blast watching it, and — Hello, sailor — immediately watched it again.

The screenplay was written by Geoffrey Homes, who also wrote the novel Build My Gallows High, and the great noir movie based on it, Out of the Past (1947). Google explains that Homes was a non de plume for Daniel Mainwaring, and I remember him, too — he adapted the screenplay for Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), from Jack Finney’s novel.

What else came from that dead dude's typewriter, I wondered? If it tastes good, have another drink from the same bottle. From his IMDB page, I picked the movie that sounded worst ...

Space Master X-7 (1958)
YES — 

With that title, you might expect Japanese sci-fi schlock or a puppet movie, but it’s far better than that. This ain't Alien or anything, but it's good cheesy science fiction. Bizarrely, Moe Howard is in it, but he’s billed at the bottom of the same card as eleven unknowns, so it couldn't be the Moe Howard, from the Three Stooges ... could it?

A scientist, Dr Charles Pommer, brings biological samples collected from outer space to his laboratory at home, and finds his ex-lover waiting, eager to renew old squabbles. And here's the first thing that impressed me about this old flick — Doc Pommer is neither a good guy nor a bad guy. He's a smart scientist, and also a major jackass in his private life. We’re all complicated kinda like that, so if a movie's characters are complicated, that’s a promising sign.

Pommer's unearthly specimens turn out to be space fungi, and they're growing, and they like human flesh. When something goes wrong at the lab, the scientist’s last words are a phone call, telling his colleagues that “The lab must be completely destroyed… Burn it to the ground!” And here’s something else that impressed me — They burn it to the ground! In sci-fi books or movies, someone in authority always ignores a warning like that, but not here.

So we have realistic characters, and a smart response, and a rapidly growing space fungi, and remember the scientist’s ex-lover? She was at his house — was she there long enough to be contaminated? After that, the movie becomes a pandemic-relevant chase to find patient zero. 

And I'm a sap — it is Moe Howard, playing it straight as a cab driver. With no pies in the face or nucklenose-twists, he’s funny, in a low-key way, just tawkin’ the way a 1950s cab driver might tawk.

The deadly fungus that killed Dr Pommer is called blood rust, for its color, and Blood Rust might have been a better title for the movie. Almost anything would be a better title. Space Master X-7 sounds like a stupid movie, and maybe that’s why it's unknown, but it's better than most 1950s sci-fi you’ve seen or heard of.

It’s so good, in fact, that I’ve decided to watch more movies written by Daniel Mainwaring — all seven on this page. It’s a Daniel Mainwaring Film Festival!

The Big Steal (1949)

I had to pay for this movie, dang it. Couldn’t find it for free or pirated anywhere.

Was it worth $2.99? I'd pay triple that.

This is a top-tier drama of doublecross, with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, who were also the stars of Out of the Past. It's directed by the great Don Siegel, with ample arch dialogue that says more than the words spoken. It's new to me, and it's a gem of film noir.

Mitchum plays Duke, an Army officer framed in a payroll robbery. He’s brusque, impatient, and often rude — in other words, Robert Mitchum — and he’s looking for the man who stole that payroll. Greer is excellent as Joan, a woman whose fiancé has stolen a few thousand dollars from her, and Duke and Joan soon discover that their respective thieves are the same baddie. This is Greer's movie as much as Mitchum’s — Joan is brilliant, saving the whole shindig several times.

Bad guy Patric Knowles is a shrewd adversary, too. Most of the movie's characters got brains, mistah, with no palookas here. It mostly takes place south of the border, and nixing movie stereotypes, the Mexican cops are clever, too. A smart movie for a smart audience.

Memorable moments:

• “Are you always so chivalrous?””
• the trunk ruse
• the suitcase ruse
• the goat getaway
• the greenscreened car chase, so phony-looking it becomes charming
• “I quit smoking, just now.”
• the detour ruse
• the elopement ruse

They Made Me A Killer (1946)

Robert Lowery stars again, as an auto mechanic named Tom, who specializes in rejiggering engines for speed. He has a speedy vehicle he needs to sell, and a likely buyer, but what he doesn’t know is that the customer is a bank robber, and the test drive will be a getaway.

Forced to drive, Tom is soon a wanted man. The cops have already decided he's guilty, and the hold-up left two people dead, so warm up the electric chair.

Though made in the mid-1940s, it feels even older, and portions of this are too quaint to take seriously in 2021. That said, there are surprises along the way. I loved Tom’s escape from the hospital, the romance he finds on the way, and the uncertainty — does he want to find the bad guys to clear his good name, or does he just want to steal their stolen money?

The Tall Target (1951)

Why have I never heard of this movie before? It’s a very engaging thriller, deserving at least honorable mention alongside the most riveting movies you can think of.

The setting is 1861, after seven states have already seceded from the Union. President-elect Abe Lincoln is traveling to his inauguration in Washington DC, and there’s a plot afoot to assassinate Lincoln before he’s sworn in. One dogged ex-cop is collecting the clues, but nobody believes him. The protagonist’s name is John Kennedy — just a coincidence, but it's jarring the first few times you hear it.

Of course, we know Lincoln wasn’t killed before being sworn in (spoiler!) but you’ll be jittery with suspense anyway. It's directed by Anthony Mann, who made many marvelous movies. There's Ruby Dee and Will Geer in supporting roles, and the classic line, “I’ve never talked to a slave before. We don’t have them in Boston, you know.”

The movie isn't ambiguous about the coming Civil War, either. It takes the position that the secessionists and slaveowners of the South are morally wrong, which, you know, shouldn’t be all that unusual in a movie, but it is.

The Phenix City Story (1955)

This is the true story of a corruption and vice scandal in Phenix City, Alabama. For full effect, please read ‘vice’ in a shocked, offended voice, like the movie’s narrator does.

The documentary-style opening, where real folks from Phenix City are interviewed, is too long and sincere for my tastes, but 15 minutes later, when the movie finally gets underway, it’s a rousing story of little guys against the rich and powerful. It’s good … hell, maybe it’s terrific ... but I’m not the target audience.

When I think of 1955 Alabama, a small town's crooked casino isn't what comes to mind. The bus boycott in Montgomery was happening. In this movie, though, there’s only one black man in Alabama, and he carries a broom, his daughter is murdered and then forgotten by the film, but he’s there at the end with good advice for white folks who need it. The movie’s narration says several times that even the elections were rigged in Phenix City, but ‘rigged’ or ‘unrigged’, black people couldn’t vote.

In a small town in Alabama in the '50s, some of the crookedest local white people were arrested, and that's nice. It’s not a happy ending, though. It’s still Alabama in the '50s.

Southwest Passage (1954)

It's a camel western! The US Army once imported camels to patrol the American southwestern deserts, which makes sense — camels can go a long time and a long distance in the heat without water. It was largely Jefferson Davis’s idea, though, and after he committed his famous treason the Army lost interest, and sold its camels.

Set among the US Camel Corps, Southwest Passage is about a lovable bad guy who escapes from the law by pretending to be a doctor. John Ireland is quite good as the bad guy, Rod Cameron is hollow but handsome as the good guy, and Joanna Dru is better than adequate as the woman torn between them. It’s mildly racist toward the Apache, but that’s to be expected in a 1950s western.

There are a few clever moments, characters, and dialogue bits, and it adds up to a likeable, slow-moving, old-fashioned cornball western. I'm disappointed, though, that the camels are only a minor element, and have next-to-nothing to do with the story.

♦ ♦ ♦

Daniel Mainwaring wrote many more movies, but most are impossible to find online, on torrent, or even on DVD, so sadly, my Mainwaring movie madness probably ends here.

He was born in 1902, died in 1977, and he was a good writer. Posthumous respect.


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  1. I never know what to expect here . . . great -- 7 more movies to see.

    1. Please report back after you've seen some of them.


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