Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rogues Tavern

If you're not one of those people who only watch movies made within the past ten years, Archive.org can be a great source of entertainment.

Recently, I enjoyed a little public domain gem entitled "Rogues Tavern." This 1936 mystery is very much a product of its time. Collecting a group of people together in an isolated location and killing them off one by one had been a staple of mystery stories since the early 1920's -- in this case, it's an out-of-the-way tavern, where two detectives inadvertently turn up just as the bodies start to accumulate.

Quite frankly, it's not much of a mystery. The identity of the murderer is completely unexpected, but only because an additional character never mentioned before is introduced right before the denouement. It's a horrible cheat, but that's OK. None of the characters take the plot very seriously, and neither should the viewer.

This bit of exposition from the beginning of the film sets the tone right from the outset. And Wallace Ford and Barbara Pepper have a nice amount of screen chemistry.

So why watch this forgotten B picture? Well, the dialogue's reasonably witty.

OK, I said "reasonably."

There's also some ambitious photography. Puritan Pictures was a short-lived "poverty row" studio, constrained to making movies on a tight budget. Nevertheless, they managed to make the most of their limited resources.

Check out the massive set that serves as the tavern's lobby (and for economic reasons where most of the action takes place). The nice, long establishing shot slowly explores the room and shows us all of the suspects/victims. Although the camera wobbles a little (probably due to the quality of the equipment used), it's a great shot and adds a lot to the film.

And finally, there's Joan Woodbury. Her screen presence is remarkable. Here's her opening scene.

I'd never heard of her before viewing "Rogues Tavern," but afterwards I looked for other films she appeared in.

And that's why I like viewing these kind of movies. I never know what I'll discover -- but I usually find something (like Mantan Moreland).

- Ralph

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