Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tiger by the Tail

It's movies like The Ticket of Leave Man (1937, directed by George King again) that suggest why Tod Slaughter is largely forgotten relative to his peers. Karloff, Lugosi, the Chaneys, and, hell, even George Zucco and Lionel Atwill all found at least SOME signature roles in legitimately good movies, often as part of rich ensembles. With Slaughter, he's the entire show. Imagine how boring all of those Universal horrors would be if they hadn't outgrown David Manners as their leading man. That's what you get with Slaughter's movies. Left adrift by indifferent filmmakers--Slaughter's constant collaborator George King never does the actor any real favors other than letting him rampage through the scenery--and tasked with carrying the whole show himself, Slaughter falls back on the tics of a Victorian barnstormer: the broad line readings, the insane giggling. After watching a few Slaughter movies in close succession, it plays to me as a rote performance.

The story here is kind of lame. Slaughter plays "The Tiger," another mastercriminal/serial murderer who takes great pleasure in throttling people. The cops are onto him, though, and he has to head to ground. After escaping a stakeout, he forms a "charitable society" as a front for his villainous activities. He also falls for a nightclub singer, and frames her fiancée for passing counterfeit money. The fiancée is the hero of the piece: A "ticket of leave man" is a parolee. Once out of jail, The Tiger continues to torment him, hoping to turn the honest man into a crook and accomplice. Unfortunately, The Tiger never saw a W. C. Fields movie, else he would have known that you can't cheat an honest man. And you can't fool the detective on the case, one Mr. Hawkings, who basically says so at the end of the movie in a "crime does not pay" tone of voice. A lot of characters speak in platitudes in this movie. And the good guys are just a little bit too squeaky clean. There's no such thing as moral ambiguity in this movie, even when it briefly touches on Hitchcock's "wrong man accused" theme. What would Hitch have done with Slaughter, I wonder. For some reason, I could see him casting Slaughter in the Leo G. Carroll roles. But I digress.

This is all a bundle of contrivances and scenes that don't connect with one another, which is common in these films. I don't think director George King even gave much of a crap about the actual theory and practice--to say nothing of the art--of filmmaking. Or even of screenwriting. He's not Ed Wood bad--if he were, his films might be more fun than they are--but he's bad enough. So we're left with Slaughter again and it's fun watching him burn his accomplices alive in his office and it's fun watching him slobber over the heroine and it's even fun watching him feign respectability, but only for a while. The scenes between bouts of villainy are a slog, though, and this movie has too many such intervals.

I don't know. Maybe I just need to get away from the movies Slaughter made with King. Or, hell, just look for yourself:

This concludes my participation in From Beyond Depraved's Slaughter Blogathon. Thanks to Joe for inviting me to play. I'm sorry I haven't been more enthusiastic. I think I just hit the bad spots rather than the highlights. If it's any consolation, that happened to me with the Naschy blogathon, too.

In any case, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.


Anonymous said...

Complain about the plots all you want, but the Slaughter pictures were all old Victorian melodramas. The plots, the formula, it was all set. These were adapted from the stage. Of course there isn't moral ambiguity in these old melodramas. "Crimes of Stephen Hawke" is the exception in that it was a "new old melodrama", not something from Victorian times but something new based on the old formula.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly the kind of comments made by someone totally ignorant of the "rules of the game". Just as someone writing on a western without any knowledge of the rules of the genre...
The Ticket of Leave Man is probably not Tod's best movie, but it's an excellent version of this familiar story. Familiar - except for the author of this review, apparently!