Film Festival

Windy City 2024 Film Schedule

The 22nd consecutive Windy City film program, as you might expect, spotlights vintage motion pictures adapted from yarns written by prolific pulpsters for some of the top rough-paper periodicals of their day. This year’s crop of notable authors represented in the schedule includes Raymond Chandler, Max Brand, Cornell Woolrich, Edgar Wallace, Gordon Young, Walt Coburn, and Richard Sale, among others. The list of movies boasts a number of real obscurities, which is typical of our lineups. The notes that follow are presented in the order in which the films will be screened. As always, we invite you to take periodic breaks from dealer-room shopping, get off your feet for a while, and enjoy some of these cinematic treasures.


12:00 P.M. — Whoopee! (1930, Samuel Goldwyn Productions, distributed by United Artists, 93 minutes).

Adapted from E. J. Rath’s “The Wreck” in Argosy All-Story Weekly, December 6, 1921—January 7, 1922, and the 1928-29 Florenz Ziegfeld stage production Whoopee!

Hypochondriacal Henry Williams (Eddie Cantor), having decided the desert Southwest is good for what ails him, has been living on the Morgan ranch for two years. Henry’s faithful nurse Mary Custer (Ethel Shutta) makes sure he takes the myriad medicines prescribed for him even though she knows he’s in fine health. Morgan’s daughter Sally (Eleanor Hunt) is expected to marry Sheriff Bob Wells (Jack Rutherford), but she’s in love with Wanenis (Paul Gregory), an Indian lad whom her father has forbidden her from seeing. On her wedding day a desperate Nancy contrives to have Henry spirit her away from the ranch in his flivver. She spreads the word that Henry plans to elope with her. This news brings the infuriated sheriff and his deputies thundering across the desert to the Indian reservation, where Nancy and her clueless chauffeur have taken refuge. The impending showdown promises to be worse for Henry’s health than all his supposed ailments put together.

Whoopee! is probably the least likely movie in Hollywood history to have a pulp yarn as its inspiration. E. J. Rath’s “The Wreck” was serialized in Argosy All-Story prior to publication in hardcovers as The Nervous Wreck, the title also affixed to a stage adaptation authored by Owen Davis in 1923. Five years later, the legendary theatrical impresario Florenz Ziegfeld produced another play based on Rath’s story, this one a sprightly musical comedy starring banjo-eyed entertainer Eddie Cantor. Whoopee! was a smash hit, playing more than a year on Broadway and logging over 400 performances. By that time talking pictures had become the rage and movie musicals were in vogue, so Ziegfeld partnered with equally legendary producer Samuel Goldwyn to adapt his stage success to the silver screen. The two men brought most of the Broadway cast to Hollywood to reprise their roles, and to add box-office allure they filmed the show in the then-popular “two-strip” Technicolor process. 

The celluloid Whoopee! was just as successful as its theatrical forerunner and launched several Tinseltown careers, among them Cantor’s and that of dance director Busby Berkeley, pioneering the elaborate, kaleidoscopically photographed routines he would later perfect in such Warner Bros. musicals as 42nd Street and Footlight Parade. Today Whoopee! shows its age, and we’ve no doubt many of its topical jokes will go over the heads of Windy City viewers. But it’s a fascinating curio that offers a great deal of fun.

02:00 P.M. — Singing Guns (1950, Republic Pictures, 91 minutes).

Adapted from George Owen Baxter [Frederick Faust]’s “Singing Guns” in Western Story Magazine, December 15, 1928—January 19, 1929.

Notorious bandit Rhiannon (Vaughn Monroe) is believed to have secreted on Hangman’s Mountain a fortune in stolen gold. After his latest stagecoach holdup the outlaw is spotted and pursued by Goldville sheriff Jim Caradac (Ward Bond), whom Rhiannon seriously wounds in a shootout. The conscience-stricken bandit brings his nemesis to nearby physician Jonathan Mark (Walter Brennan) and submits to a blood transfusion to save Caradac’s life. Subsequently Rhiannon—whose true identity remains unknown to the townspeople—is deputized to take up the sheriff’s duties while Jim recovers. But is the bandit simply using this new-found respectability to line up his biggest robbery yet?

Presumably Republic Pictures licensed screen rights to Faust’s novel—which many devotees consider among his best—for the title alone, since they were looking for a suitable Western property to launch the movie career of popular recording star Monroe, whose 1949 rendition of “Mule Train” was one of the year’s best-selling records. (Naturally, the song was included in the film.) Predictably, screenwriters Dorrell and Stuart McGowan tinkered with Faust’s plot, softening Rhiannon’s character and turning Caradac into a quasi-villain. But the story’s principal thrust—involving the outlaw’s gradual reformation—is maintained. Republic spent more liberally than usual on the production, shooting it in color on gorgeous locations near Sedona, Arizona. Faust purists won’t get eye-strain looking for faults, but viewers desiring pleasant entertainment and a break from the dealer room will enjoy Singing Guns.

03:45 P.M. — High Tide (1947, Monogram Pictures, 72 minutes).

Adapted from Raoul Whitfield’s “Inside Job” in Black Mask, February 1932. Reprinted in The Hard-Boiled Omnibus (Simon & Schuster, 1946).

The story begins late at night on a California beach where a car has just been wrecked. The driver, newspaper editor Hugh Fresney (Lee Tracy), has broken his back in the crash and is immobile. His passenger, private detective Tim Slade (Don Castle), fell out but remains pinned beneath the vehicle. Both are certain to drown when the tide sweeps in, and they reflect on the circumstances that led up to the wreck. Racket-busting Fresney, having been threatened while trying to break up a gambling ring, had engaged the services of his old friend Slade to fend off the would-be assassins. But Fate had something different in store. . . .

An obscure “B” movie released by humble Monogram, one of Hollywood’s smallest studios, High Tide was embraced some years ago by film noir cultists who saw more value in it than did audiences during its 1947 theatrical release. We ran a bootleg DVD here five years ago, but the image quality left a great deal to be desired and the subtleties of Henry Sharp’s cinematography were lost. Thankfully, since then the film has been restored and issued on the same sparkling Blu-ray with another pulp-based Monogram noir, The Guilty. As we wanted very much to include the latter film in our 2024 lineup, we figured High Tide deserved another chance.

Although lacking the bravura visual style of such noir classics as Phantom Lady and Out of the Past, this Jack Wrather-produced opus at least features archetypal characters familiar to genre devotees: cynical private eye, sultry femme fatale, hapless fall guy, brutal crime boss, and so on. The narrative is well developed, with scripter Robert Presnell milking Raoul Whitfield’s non-series Black Mask yarn and adding some nifty touches of his own. High Tide, while inexpensively made, is a taut, compelling little film that has “pulp” in every frame.

Post-Auction — The Tulsa Kid (1940, Republic Pictures, 54 minutes).

Adapted from E. B. Mann’s “Guns for Hire” in Star Western, February 1934.

Upon arriving in the town of Wind River, Tom Benton (Don “Red” Barry) witnesses hot-headed young rancher Bob Wallace (David Durand) shoot crooked saloon owner Sam Ellis (Stanley Blystone) in self-defense. Ellis and his partner Dirk Saunders (George Douglas) have been attempting to prevent Wallace from accessing water on their property, a violation of rangeland custom. When the young hothead is framed for murder, Benton testifies on his behalf and later befriends Bob and his sister Mary (Luana Walters). Saunders assigns his enforcer, hired gunman Montana Smith (Noah Beery Sr.), to “take care of” Bob and his newfound friend Benton. But Montana has a surprise coming: It turns out that Tom is his old protegé, once known as the Tulsa Kid, who has given up gunfighting but may find himself forced to confront his old mentor, renowned for never backing down from a fight.

Republic Pictures owed its success to inexpensive “B” Westerns of the Saturday-matinee type, which no Hollywood studio, major or minor, was better at turning out. Cheaply but efficiently made, Republic’s horse operas were formulaic products that boasted exciting action sequences and top-notch stuntwork. The Tulsa Kid was written by prolific scripter Oliver Drake, who in 1934 had penned the first screen adaptation of Mann’s Star Western tale, a Poverty Row quickie that starred Lane Chandler and bore the story’s title. Drake appropriated the plot for Tulsa Kid, changing the character names and some events to disguise his pilfering and avoid having to re-license “Guns for Hire” from E. B. Mann. Republic’s version is not only superior to the 1934 production, it’s a model “B” Western in every way. Fast-moving and fun, we guarantee it’ll make no demands on the endurance of weary conventioneers who’ve just finished sitting through a lengthy auction.


10:00 a.m. — Hurricane Smith (1952, Paramount Pictures, 90 minutes).

Adapted from Gordon Young’s “Storm Rovers” in Adventure, December 18, 1920.

In the mid-19th century the slave ship Southern Cross, commanded by Captain Raikes (Emile Meyer), has earned a reputation as the terror of the South Seas. As the film begins, Raikes and his crew members land on an island to gather a new load of human cargo. They are spotted by three stranded adventurers—Hurricane Smith (John Ireland), Dan O’Hara (Forrest Tucker), and Dick Brundage (Richard Arlen)—who secretly row to the Southern Cross, seize it, and set sail for Australia. Smith explains that, years before, he buried a half million in gold on the small island of Dakaru, off the northern Australian coast. And he means to recover it. Without funds, the three adventurers rename their schooner The Lady Betty and hire out to Eric Gorvahlsen (James Craig), who claims to be head of a scientific expedition. He is accompanied by Doctor Whitmore (Murray Matheson) and his half-Polynesian daughter Luana (Yvonne De Carlo). Meanwhile, Captain Raikes has trailed the Southern Cross to the Australian port and prepares to wreak vengeance on the men who stole his ship. 

Gordon Young’s “Storm Rovers,” published complete in a 1920 issue of Adventure, was already three decades old when independent producer Nat Holt purchased the movie rights and hired veteran pulp fictioneer Frank Gruber to adapt and script it. Interestingly, the screenplay was titled Hurricane Williams—the original name of Young’s seafaring antihero—and Hurricane’s sidekick bore the surname Maguire, as per the story. For reasons unknown, the characters were rechristened Smith and O’Hara and the picture’s title changed to Hurricane Smith. Gruber’s screenplay retained Young’s basic plot and most of the characters, but for all the film’s action and violence it wasn’t nearly as savage as the novel, a truly blood-thirsty opus. 

Our main criticism of the movie is the casting of John Ireland as Smith/Williams. Future F Troop star Forrest Tucker, cast as O’Hara/Maguire, is more dynamic and more physically imposing by far. He overshadows Ireland in every sequence they share, and one wonders why producer Holt didn’t switch actors, giving Tucker the leading role and making Ireland the sidekick. Yvonne De Carlo, breathtakingly beautiful in Technicolor, adds the requisite sex appeal but otherwise contributes little to the narrative. There’s plenty of swashbuckling action and intrigue, though, and we can think of much worse ways to spend 90 minutes.

11:45 p.m. — Dangerous to Know (1938, Paramount Pictures, 70 minutes).

Adapted from Edgar Wallace’s “On the Spot” in Detective Story Magazine, April 25—May 30, 1931; also his play of the same title.

Known to high society for his suave manner, impeccable taste, and musical talent, Stephen Recka (Akim Tamiroff) enjoys a secret life as the city’s undisputed crime boss—a ruthless schemer whose bidding is done by dimwitted thugs, wealthy businessmen, and crooked politicians alike. When Recka’s long-time mistress, Madame Lan Ying (Anna May Wong), stages a lavish birthday party for him, one of the curious attendees is beautiful socialite Margaret Van Case (Gail Patrick), with whom the Napoleon of Crime is instantly smitten. His infatuation with Margaret drives a wedge between social-climbing Recka and Lan Ying. Their falling-out, coupled with a planned mutiny against the boss, might give police inspector Brandon (Lloyd Nolan) the opening he needs to bring Recka to justice.

Inspired by the rise of Chicago mobster Al Capone, the incredibly productive Edgar Wallace reportedly wrote his play On the Spot in just four days. It opened in one of London’s West End theaters in April 1930 and logged more than 400 performances. A Broadway production mounted later that year starred Anna May Wong as the Chinese mistress. Wallace novelized the play in 1931; after serialization in Detective Story Magazine it was published between hard covers under Doubleday’s Crime Club imprint. 

Paramount purchased movie rights to the story early in the Thirties but abruptly abandoned plans to make it as a big-budget drama. After languishing on a shelf for several years the property in late 1937 was dusted off and assigned to producer Edward T. Lowe, who was instructed to produce it as a high-class “B” picture. When the film’s director Robert Florey assembled his cast, Anna May Wong—who had recently starred in his thriller Daughter of Shanghai (1937)—was the obvious choice to fill the mistress role. Florey’s stylish melodramas, the best of which were produced at Paramount in the late Thirties, often relied on evocative lighting and bravura camerawork to enhance hackneyed plots. In making Dangerous to Know he soft-pedaled visual trickery and concentrated on eliciting strong performances from Wong and Tamiroff. Shooting the film in just three weeks on a short budget, Florey extracted every ounce of entertainment value he could squeeze from Wallace’s original story.

01:00 p.m. — The Guilty (1947, Monogram Pictures, 70 minutes).

Adapted from Cornell Woolrich’s “He Looked Like Murder” in Detective Fiction Weekly, February 8, 1941.

World-weary veteran Mike Carr (Don Castle) returns to his New York City neighborhood after a prolonged absence and visits a shabby tavern where he hopes to see Estelle Mitchell (Bonita Granville), whose twin sister Linda (also Granville) was murdered six months ago. Both siblings had quarreled over Mike’s roommate and fellow serviceman, Johnny Dixon (Wally Cassell), perpetually on the verge of nervous collapse as a result of his war experiences. Linda, the more virtuous sister, had the inside track but worried about Johnny’s mental stability. He’s the natural prime suspect when her body is found stuffed, with a broken neck, into a barrel on the roof of his apartment building. Police detective Heller (Regis Toomey) investigates the crime and seems to uncover the killer. But despite all the evidence he compiles, Heller has guessed wrong—a mistake that threatens to have tragic consequences.

The second of three Cornell Woolrich adaptations released by lowly Monogram Pictures, The Guilty reflected that studio’s post-World War II infatuation with the burgeoning sub-genre known as film noir. In 1944 Monogram had scored mightily with a cheap but stylish noir directed by William Castle, When Strangers Marry. The company spent the next five years trying to replicate that sleeper hit, with only partial and periodic success. Wealthy Texas oilman Jack Wrather, eager to crash the movie business, chose a noir project with which to worm his way into Monogram. At that time Woolrich was hugely bankable, with profitable films having recently been made from his yarns by such major studios as RKO, Paramount, and Universal. 

Wrather licensed “He Looked Like Murder” and hired little-known character actor Don Castle to play the lead. For the twin sisters he engaged filmdom’s erstwhile Nancy Drew, former child star Bonita Granville, who had matured into a beautiful woman with an eye-catching figure—the perfect femme fatale for a low-budget noir. Screenwriter Robert Presnell made numerous changes to Woolrich’s original, including the addition of a second Mitchell sister. Director John Reinhardt and cinematographer Henry Sharp collaborated seamlessly, lavishing attention on the visuals and leaving the principal players to fend for themselves. The film went significantly over budget and over schedule but was good enough to return a substantial profit to Monogram. Wrather got more than money out of the venture, though: He fell in love with Granville and married her after divorcing his first wife. The oilman’s show-business accomplishments later included buying The Lone Ranger, Inc. from broadcasting mogul George W. Trendle.

02:30 p.m. — Shadows Over Shanghai (1938, Grand National Pictures, 63 minutes).

Adapted from Richard B. Sale’s “Shadows Over China” in Thrilling Adventures, May 1938.

American teacher Irene Roma (Linda Gray), educating children in a Chinese mission during the Sino-Japanese War, is entrusted with an ancient and valuable amulet. The disposal of this precious artifact in Shanghai is expected to yield five million dollars, earmarked for the purchase of munitions to be used against the invaders. Irene is aided by two fellow Yanks, brash newspaper photographer Johnny McGinty (James Dunn) and Howard Barclay (Ralph Morgan), an enigmatic but influential man of means whose presence in China has never been explained. They are pursued by former Russian spy and current soldier of fortune Igor Sargoza (Robert Barrat), hired by Japanese agents to seize the amulet, thus preventing its sale. He is prepared to stop at nothing—not even murder.

Prolific pulpster Richard Sale had only recently sold movie rights to one of his Daffy Dill detective yarns when producer Franklyn Warner contacted him about optioning “Shadows Over China,” published in Thrilling Adventures. Warner’s newly formed independent production company, Fine Arts Pictures, had just secured distribution through Grand National Pictures. He had also just obtained financing and was eager to launch Fine Arts with a topical film, and at that time the Sino-Japanese War made headlines in American newspapers almost daily. Shadows Over Shanghai had adequate production mounting, but Warner allotted the lion’s share of his budget to the hiring of skilled principal players known for their work in major-studio movies. The polished performances of Dunn, Morgan, Barrat, and other cast members gave Fine Arts’ inaugural film a leg up on Grand National’s typical releases, sourced from Poverty Row producers and extremely variable in quality. Indeed, with only a little more production value Shanghai could easily have competed with “B” product turned out by Fox, Warners, or Paramount. It’s a slick and entertaining albeit minor programmer.

03:45 p.m. — The Falcon Takes Over (1942, RKO Radio Pictures, 62 minutes).

Adapted from Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely (Knopf, 1940) and the stories “The Man Who Liked Dogs” in Black Mask, March 1936; “Try the Girl” in Black Mask, January 1937; and “Mandarin’s Jade” in Dime Detective, November 1937.

While waiting in a car outside ritzy Club 13 for his boss Gay Lawrence (George Sanders), a debonair detective also known as The Falcon, Jonathan “Goldy” Locke (Allen Jenkins) is approached by hulking convict Moose Malloy (Ward Bond), who’s looking for an old girlfriend named Velma. Five years ago, before Moose “went up the river,” she worked at the club. Realizing Goldy can’t give him any information, Malloy storms into the club and apparently shoots the owner during a closed-door confrontation in the latter’s office. The Moose dashes outside and forces Goldy to drive him away, leading both the police and The Falcon on a dizzy chase. When his faithful sidekick is arrested as an accomplice to the murder, Gay Lawrence takes up the case—which finds him mixed up with a boozy widow, a society wastrel, a phony psychic, and the effort to recover a stolen jade necklace. Not to mention the Moose’s ongoing search for the missing Velma.

As most pulp fans know, Chandler’s hardboiled classic Farewell My Lovely cannibalized several of his novelettes for Black Mask and Dime Detective. RKO Radio Pictures purchased screen rights to the novel in late 1941. Within a couple months the story was assigned to producer Howard Benedict for adaptation as one of the newly launched “Falcon” series of “B” pictures starring George Sanders. Benedict had been turning out the “Saint” films based on the dashing adventurer created by Leslie Charteris; Sanders played the character in all but the first series entry and had been embraced by the moviegoing public. But Charteris became increasingly obstreperous and RKO decided to sever its association with him. Rather than sacrifice what was a popular and profitable series, the studio licensed a Michael Arlen short story, “Gay Falcon,” whose protagonist was essentially The Saint by another name. 

Chandler’s Philip Marlowe was not yet well known, so Farewell My Lovely became the source material for one of The Falcon’s breezy “B”-grade outings. Remarkably, scripters Lynn Root and Frank Fenton—old hands at this sort of thing—were able to cram most of the novel’s characters, situations, and nuances into a film that, once edited, lasted little more than an hour. The picture was quite well received and did good business, so RKO decided to remake it, casting former crooner Dick Powell as Marlowe. Released in 1944 as Murder My Sweet, it is an acknowledged classic of film noir. But the unpretentious Falcon Takes Over, made in less than half the time for a third of Murder’s cost, has nothing of which to be ashamed: It’s a dandy little time-killer we think you’ll enjoy very much.

Post-Auction — The Westerner (1934, Columbia Pictures, 58 minutes).

Adapted from Walt Coburn’s “Burnt Ranch” in Western Story Magazine, April 1, 1933.

Rancher Tim Addison (Tim McCoy), competing in a rodeo, is badly injured when thrown during his ride of a wild horse named Midnight. He keeps the dangerous animal and vows to tame it, but when his father Zack (Edward LeSaint) is apparently killed by Midnight, Tim blames himself. He buys the ranch next to one owned by Juanita Barnes (Marion Shilling) with his inheritance. Tim’s grizzled ranch hand Uncle Ben (Harry Todd) warns him that Juanita’s foreman, Wayne Wallace (Hooper Atchley), is up to no good and was implicated in the murder of his former boss. Tim and blustery Bob Lockhart (Joseph Sauers, aka Joe Sawyer) are rivals for Juanita’s affections, and for reasons of his own Wallace provokes a fight between them. Shortly thereafter, Tim learns his father’s death may not have been an accident. . . . 

Former U.S. Cavalry officer McCoy was an extremely popular star of “B” Westerns during the early Thirties, when he was under contract to Columbia Pictures. The eight films he made during the 1934-35 season are held in particularly high esteem, due mostly to their superior scripts and workmanlike direction by David Selman. The Westerner was one of several McCoys during this period that were adapted from pulp-magazine stories, and Harold Shumate’s script does a fine job of translating Walt Coburn’s novel to the screen with nuances intact. Colonel Tim, as he was known to fans, was an excellent rider and reputed to have the fastest draw of any Western-movie star (clocked at a quarter-second from holster pull to muzzle flash). But he preferred well-developed, character-based stories to weak narratives concocted as frameworks for stereotypical action sequences. And, as a better actor than many of his contemporaries, Tim had the chops to be convincing in dramatic situations. The Westerner offers ample proof of that.

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