Friday, August 11, 2017

Movie review - "House Across the Bay" (1940) **

George Raft is in this but really its a Joan Bennett film. She's a singer in clubs (doing a Carmen Miranda style number!) who is spotted by Raft, a big time gambler/dodgy guy, who promptly falls in love. They marry and are blissfully happy... but Bennett is worried about rivals wanting to shoot him so she dobs him in to the IRS and he goes to prison. Nice! Double nice in that he gets ten years, not the one she was thinking. Which isn't very sympathetic and puts us off Bennett which is a shame since the subject of wives of prisoners on the outside is an interesting one.

Bennett makes friends with Gladys George, and is pursued by nice Walter Pidgeon (not introduced until 45 minutes or so in) and lecherous lawyer Lloyd Nolan.

The direction is brisk and the actors are fine. I'm not sure Bennett had the goods to be a top rank star but she's pretty and warm, and I enjoyed the novelty of seeing her sing two numbers (one as a Carmen Miranda type). Nolan is very good, and Raft enjoyable in a straight up gangster-but-decent part... (He didn't like to do them for Warners who were annoyed he went and played that sort of role for Walter Wanger.) Pidgeon could play this role in his sleep.

The story has promise but the script is wonky - it's all mis-shapen. It starts too early - with Raft not having met Bennett yet. We spend time with their courtship, then see them in love, and he goes off to prison. All these interesting characters and story possibilities are introduced and not developed - like the rival gang who shoot at Raft, why not use them? Or the character played by Gladys George, the fellow wife of a prisoner - why not use them more? And it's awfully easy for Raft to break out of Alactraz and swim across that harbour.

Maybe the script had to be reworked once Raft was cast or something to give him more screen time. Really the story should be about Bennett's struggle, her friendship with the girls, and her relationship with Pidgeon, with Nolan and Raft as the threats.

Or maybe it simply needed some more good old fashioned tabloid excitement - you could imagine Warners giving it the treatment with Bette Davis or Joan Blondell or something. Whatever, the film doesn't really work - though it's always a pleasure to spend time with actors like these during Hollywood's Golden Age.

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