Year: 1933

Director: Albert Ray

Cast: Ginger Rogers, Lyle Talbot, Harvey Clark, Purnell Pratt, Lillian Harmer, Arthur Hoyt, Louise Beavers

Before she got famous with Fred, Ginger Rogers made a lot of B-grade films. A Shriek in the Night is a better one, and another film that has a low rating on IMDb that I don’t understand. It’s certainly not a great movie, but it’s a good one.

Ginger plays Pat, a reporter who’s been working undercover as the secretary to a possibly crooked public figure. When that man is killed, she’s in the prime position to get a good scoop. However, her scoop is stolen by her sometimes paramour Ted (Talbot). The two eventually end up working together, and the closer they get to the murderer, the more danger their lives are in.

Ginger is incredibly spunk and likeable in this movie. In a lot of films of these types from the early 1930s, when they had a pretty young actress playing an inquisitive reporter, the actress often didn’t seem anywhere near smart enough for the role. But Ginger comes across as being extremely intelligent and resourceful. And she has good chemistry with Talbot. The relationship begins with the usual hate/love of the two leads of strong personality. Fortunately, though, it goes a different direction and sticks mostly with the ‘love’ side of things. Which is a good choice, because as good as they are when they’re fighting, Rogers and Talbot are much more adorable as a couple.

The film does have some tone problems. It’s a mystery/comedy. It is very funny, with Rogers and Talbot delivering their fair share of zingers, and Purnell Pratt being funny and quippy as the lead Inspector. He especially earns some great laughs in the first scene. It also has some extremely well done moments on the thriller side. Towards the end there are some very well executed moments of genuine creepiness and suspense. However, the two tones never really gel completely. While both comedy and suspense are done well, they don’t come together well. It’s like watching two different movies.

There is a good central mystery, though. Unlike a lot of movies of this type, A Shriek in the Night is more focused on it’s murder mystery than it is on the romance. Sometimes with mysteries, you follow the story with some interest, but not trying to figure it out because you know they’ll just tell you it all in the end. With this film, however, I found myself constantly engaged with the mystery, greatly interested in all the clues and revalations, and trying to figure it out before the end. They do kind of blow their load by revealing the killer a little too early.

With its great cast, charming leads, and intriguing mystery, A Shriek In the Night is definitely a chiller worth your time.

NOTE: This movie is available on YouTube.

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1932

Director: Jack Conway

Cast: Jean Harlow, Chester Morris, Una Merkel, Lewis Stone, Leila Hymes, Henry Stephenson, May Robson, Charles Boyer, Harvey Clark

Red-Headed Woman is a very simple movie that follows a gold digger named Lillian as played by Jean Harlow as she shamelessly uses her sexuality to try and climb higher and higher. While the movie seemed mediocre to me I could certainly see why some would enjoy it more then I did. My sympathy for her boss and what he goes through as she does everything in her power to ruin his marriage got in the way of enjoying her antics. Some enjoyment comes from seeing such blatant sexuality portrayed in this pre-code film, but the shock value of hearing sex frankly discussed and sexuality paraded so freely in such an old film wears off quickly. It certainly doesn’t make up for the overly simple story line and the stiff acting of the films atypical leading man, played by Chester Morris. The acting highlights were Una Merkel, who plays Lillian’s roommate and best friend and Jean Harlow herself.

Red-Headed Woman is one of the quintessential films that typifies the typecasting that plagued Jean Harlow’s short career. The film also contains some well known scenes and dialogue from Harlow’s career that would have to be included on any reel featuring her most memorable moments. An example being the placement of a key down her blouse.  A key that is a married man’s only hope of getting out of the bedroom she has just locked him in, alone, with her. Another example is a famous line where Lillian asks a store clerk if the dress she is considering buying is transparent and after receiving the reply that it is, eagerly deciding to purchase it.

The film is an interesting look at the lengths a woman so inclined would go to in order to secure status and wealth. My assumption is that the film was meant to be light and fun, a sexual romp on celluloid, if you will, but I couldn’t help but get distracted by the tragedy of Jean Harlow’s character and the mayhem her promiscuous choices cause. I wonder if any women would find any sort of joy out of the portrayal of power a woman wielding her sexuality can have and the influence she can have simply by being beautiful and sexually accessible. My guess is that most women would look down on her and find her inability to be successful in a less demeaning way tragic. It is interesting to see how a woman willing to abandon all self-respect can so easily throw a monkey wrench in the lives of incredibly powerful and influential men. Perhaps I over thought this movie. Those interested in simply seeing a 1930s film that deals candidly with the subject of sex will likely get a kick out of this naughty bit of nostalgia.