Cinevent Past Notes: SUSPENSE (1946)

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Richard M Roberts
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Cinevent Past Notes: SUSPENSE (1946)

Postby Richard M Roberts » Sun Sep 08, 2013 8:18 am

“It’s an Ice-skating musical!”
“It’s a Film-noir!”
“It’s an Ice-skating musical!!!”
“It’s a Film-Noir!!!”

Silly kids, it’s an Ice-skating musical AND a Film-Noir!!! Here’s something you never thought you’d see ; an Ice-Skating musical Film-noir Monogram A picture and what’s even weirder, it’s pretty good to boot!

This magnum opus of the semi-notorious King Brothers, Frank and Maurice, real names Kozinski, had to be the high-point of their checkered producing careers ( that later brought you such classics as GORGO (1961)). After supplying some number of B product to Monogram for a number of years (including KLONDIKE FURY (1942) an honest-to God remake of that venerable classic KLONDIKE (1932)), they really hit it big with DILLINGER (1945) starring Laurence Tierney and Edmund Lowe. The mega-money they made from that one(and the taxes they’d owe from it) prompted the Brothers King to shoot for the big(well, bigger) time by spending an advertised one million dollars on this, Monogram’s first shot at the top of the bill.

Scouting both within and without Monogram’s studio walls, the King Brothers hired Paramount Director Frank Tuttle, no slouch himself when it came to either musicals (THIS IS THE NIGHT, THE BIG BROADCAST) of Film –noir (THE GLASS KEY, THIS GUN FOR HIRE). Tuttle was another intelligent and underrated Director who had helmed many a Paramount hit since the silent days and was hitting major career setbacks as he ran afoul of HUAC and the Hollywood Blacklist. He was more than happy to film the screenplay written by up and coming writer Phillip Yordan, who had also penned DILLINGER, and would later become a front for blacklisted screenwriters himself in the 1950’s, especially with veteran Cinematographer Karl Struss behind the lens. This talented trio make SUSPENSE’s interesting mix blend reasonably smoothly. Struss creates some wonderfully shadowed and haunting images, making great use of Hollywood’s Pan-Pacific Auditorium and it’s art-deco/pre-Jetson’s design for all it’s strange menace as the scene of the film’s main action (Good thinking on the King Brother’s part, it’s a neat location and it has an ice-floor as well.).

The ice-skating aspects of the film are handled by Monogram’s own Belita, full name Maria Belita Gladys Lyne Jepson-Turner, the studio’s house-Sonia Heine and a cool blonde british babe who had arrived in America as a war refugee and figure-eighted her way towards low-rent stardom in Monogram’s ICE CAPADES (1941), then landed the leading role in SILVER SKATES (1943) and a musical based on her life called LADY, LETS DANCE (1944). But by 1946, Babes on Skates box office was on the dwindle, so it was the King Brother’s brilliant idea to move the icy ballerina into crime pictures, punctuated with the occasional musical number. Skating lost serious ground in her next two pictures, THE GANGSTER (1947) is all-noir save a short skating scene sans music, and THE HUNTED (1948) is totally skateless. By then Belita was unimpressed with Monogram and visa-versa, so she returned to the Continent where she performed ballet both ice and iceless, occasionally making film appearances in pictures like THE MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER (1949), playing Burgess Meredith’s wife, or NEVER LET ME GO (1953) as a Russian dance-diva/informer who finks on Clark Gable and Gene Tierney.

Backing up Belita in SUSPENSE is an all-around fine cast. Barry Sullivan is the mysterious loner who works his way up from peanut vendor to Producer of the ice-shows, seducing Belita right under the nose of her promoter-husband Albert Dekker, the schlemiel who may or may not get bumped-off and may or may not stay bumped-off. Eugene Pallette essays his final film role before his ultra-right-wing survivalist beliefs retired him to his Nevada Ranch to fend-off the commies. And Bonita Granville shows up as Sullivan’s larcenous and conniving old-flame. Beats anything Sam Katzman ever brought to the lot.

SUSPENSE is definitely worthy of a Friday night post-bedtime stay-up. As ice-skaters go, Belita is actually a pretty cool femme fatale, and her skating numbers, staged by Nick Castle, are entertainingly bizarre and in keeping with the whole grisly affair. Insider info: Belita unfortunately suffered one slight photographic imperfection, she had a hairline scar that ran down her left cheek. If one gets bored with the slightly drawn-out plot, one can wile away the time marveling at the creative lengths Messrs Tuttle, Struss, and the Monogram makeup department go in hiding that scar. It says something about Belita’s falling stock with Monogram and the King Brothers when, in her next film THE GANGSTER, Director Gordon Wiles makes not only no attempt to hide it, but emphasizes it to make her character seem truly a tough but glamorous gangster’s moll. No wonder she took her skates and went home!

Look, nobody’s hailing SUSPENSE as the second coming here, but it’s definitely a surprise and a quality picture from a studio more used to cranking out the latest Bela Lugosi or Bowery Boys. Even Monogram knew these talents were slumming, that’s why they created Allied Artists to handle any further attempts at A-picturing. Walk in five minutes late and you’ll swear you’re watching a Paramount or an RKO. I guarantee ya’, you’ll never see another picture like it.



RICHARD M ROBERTS

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Re: Cinevent Past Notes: SUSPENSE (1946)

Postby Gary Johnson » Sun Sep 08, 2013 8:07 pm

This flick would had been much more interesting if the producers had the guts to actually hire Sonia Henie for the part and then bump her off in the 3rd reel.

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Re: Cinevent Past Notes: SUSPENSE (1946)

Postby Ian Elliot » Mon Apr 25, 2016 11:05 pm

Just saw TRUMBO, and was a little taken aback by the cartoonish portrayal of the King Bros. as fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants cheapie grinders (though I always enjoy John Goodman and Stephen Root, whatever they're doing). Seemed rather unfair to me, I thought the people behind WHEN STRANGERS MARRY, GUN CRAZY, etc. had a certain commitment to the craft...any thoughts?

Richard M Roberts
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Re: Cinevent Past Notes: SUSPENSE (1946)

Postby Richard M Roberts » Tue Apr 26, 2016 2:25 am

Ian Elliot wrote:Just saw TRUMBO, and was a little taken aback by the cartoonish portrayal of the King Bros. as fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants cheapie grinders (though I always enjoy John Goodman and Stephen Root, whatever they're doing). Seemed rather unfair to me, I thought the people behind WHEN STRANGERS MARRY, GUN CRAZY, etc. had a certain commitment to the craft...any thoughts?



Haven't seen TRUMBO (it is a recent movie after all, who has time to waste on that crap when there's so much old stuff to see), but what I heard about it in it's cartoonish treatment of a number of other celebrities, why should the King Brothers be any different?

That said, the King Brothers were indeed apparently laundering mob money to make their movies, and had those kind of ties. That also said, they did make a number of damn good movies in the 40's, and seemed to hire good talents to make them, and they did indeed take the plunge in spending more money to make Monogram's first A features, so why should we single them out, they probably weren't any more thuggish than a number of other moguls. Look at Las Vegas now, it was a heck of a lot more fun and entertaining place when the mob ran it over the corporations, who seem to have even fewer principles.


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