...but it's the type of festival that should still be able to happen somewhere, and let me go on record as saying that it's a darned shame that it probably never will.
B IN THE BONNET! The saga of a scuffling screenwriter--writ small...
Posted by Don Malcolm on 6/30/2020, 4:07 pm
Another one who labored in the shadows in many obscure Hollywood cubbyholes, Robert Kent (sometimes using the pseudoymn James Gordon--and why not?) had a prolific career, which included comedies, sci-fi and westerns. Here, of course, we look at his noir/noir-ish output, with a couple of Vincent Price horror films thrown in for laughs. As you'll see, Kent moved around, and while there are only a few top-shelf items on his resumé, he turned out solid "B" work for more than a quarter-century. Does that qualify him for a festival of his own? We'll see..
GAMBLING ON THE HIGH SEAS (1940, dir. George Amy) with Wayne Morris, Jane Wyman
SPY SHIP (1942, dir. B. Reeves “Breezy” Eason) with Craig Stevens, Irene Manning, Maris Wrixon
FIND THE BLACKMAILER (1943, dir. D. Ross Lederman) with Jerome Cowan, Faye Emerson, Gene Lockhart
There were several more in the 1939-44 time frame, but these are the best of the bunch. SPY SHIP is one that Dan H. [2023 EDITOR's NOTE: Who??] will give more than a nod, a reworking of FOG OVER FRISCO that turns into a flag-waver built around the real-life exploits of isolationist-Nazi sympathizing aviatrix Laura Ingalls.
TWO O’CLOCK COURAGE (1945, dir. Anthony Mann) with Tom Conway, Ann Rutherford
THE FALCON IN SAN FRANCISCO (1945, dir. Joseph H. Lewis) with Tom Conway, Rita Corday
Pretty good "auteurs" on those two B's, n'est-ce pas? But the rest of the RKO "B" work Kent was involved with is pretty dire stuff, and Kent was probably fed up with it all even before Howard Hughes came in and blew up the studio's "B" operation.
A brief stop at Eagle-Lion
ASSIGNED TO DANGER (1948, dir. Budd Boetticher) with Gene Raymond, Noreen Nash, Mary Meade
Working with another director who went on to better things...
A taste of the "big time"...
THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949, dir. Max Ophuls) with James Mason, Joan Bennett, Geraldine Brooks
WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950, dir. Otto Preminger) with Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Gary Merrill
Kent was part of a group who "adapted" these films (both taken from novels) but others were more crucially involved in polishing these treatments into finished screenplays. Not keen on free-lancing, Kent signed on with Sam Katzman, the head honcho of Columbia's "B" unit...
The Katzman connection
THE MIAMI STORY (1954, dir. Fred Sears) with Barry Sullivan
INSIDE DETROIT (1956, dir. Fred Sears) with Dennis O’Keefe
THE HOUSTON STORY (1956, dir. William Castle) with Gene Barry, Barbara Hale, Edward Arnold
MIAMI EXPOSÉ (1956, dir. Fred Sears) with Barry Sullivan
Kent made more westerns than noir/crime flicks while working for Katzman, but all of these are watchable, particularly INSIDE DETROIT and THE HOUSTON STORY, with Barbara Hale bringing an "A" game to her blonde bombshell impression.
United Artists and Eddie Cahn
GUNS, GIRLS AND GANGSTERS (1959, dir. Edward L. Cahn) with Mamie Van Doren, Lee Van Cleef
PIER 5, HAVANA (1959, dir. Edward L. Cahn) with Cameron Mitchell, Allison Hayes, Eduardo Noriega
THREE CAME TO KILL (1959, dir. Edward L. Cahn) with Cameron Mitchell, Steve Brodie
I guess the folks at UA knew that "guns" should go ahead of "girls" to sell a picture, but sixty years later we may be less sure about that than they were. By this point Kent could write these in his sleep, and Cahn could keep the audience awake by finding ways to amp up the storylines. Hiring actors like Van Cleef and Mitchell, of course, could cover a multitude of sins...
Corman and Company...
TOWER OF LONDON (1962, dir. Roger Corman) with Vincent Price
DIARY OF A MADMAN (1963, dir. Reginald LeBorg) with Vincent Price
A man's gotta eat, right? I'm sure these were a welcome change of pace for Kent after being ground into sub-genre gruel during his UA years...
A TV interlude
“The Case of the Midnight Howler” (1/16/66, dir. Jesse Hibbs) with Daniel J. Travanti, Myrna Fahey, Lee Patterson
“The Case of the Positive Negative” (5/1/66, dir. Jesse Hibbs) with Brian Donlevy, Ted DeCorsia
Jesse Hibbs had been a second-unit director at Warners when Kent was there, and they were old pals. As PERRY MASON wound down, Hibbs was brought in to "land the plane" and Kent got a shot to put together several scripts, including one where film stars Donlevy and DeCorsia got a chance to chew a little scenery for the small screen.
The last "hurrah"?
THE FILE OF THE GOLDEN GOOSE (1969, dir. Sam Wanamaker) with Yul Brynner, Hilary Dwyer
HOT RODS TO HELL (1967, dir. John Brahm) with Dana Andrews, Jeanne Crain, Mimsy Farmer
GOLDEN GOOSE is a remake of T-MEN, where Kent got an assist from noir stalwart John C. Higgins (the screenwriter on the original). It sets up the so-bad-it's-good swan song of Kent's career (go ahead, dig up his final film--THE CHRISTINE JORGENSEN STORY--and see if you want to be a stickler about this...) featuring Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain in a cult "classic" that many of those who've written about it suggest might've made a smidge more sense had it been filmed in the 50s when the property was originally conceived. But every "B noir" fest should really end with some kind of laugh riot, and HOT RODS TO HELL will deliver the goods. We're not laughing at you, Mr. Kent--we're laughing with you...honest we are!!
Here's how it could be programmed:
"B" IN THE BONNET: THE CAREENING CAREER OF ROBERT E. KENT
Fri--THE RECKLESS MOMENT/ASSIGNED TO DANGER
Sat mat--GAMBLING ON THE HIGH SEAS/SPY SHIP/FIND THE BLACKMAILER
Sat eve--WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS/INSIDE DETROIT
Sun mat--TWO O’CLOCK COURAGE/THE FALCON IN SAN FRANCISCO
Sun eve--THE HOUSTON STORY/THE MIAMI STORY
Mon--GUNS, GIRLS & GANGSTERS/THREE CAME TO KILL
Tue--TOWER OF LONDON/DIARY OF A MADMAN
Wed--PIER 5, HAVANA/ plus PERRY MASON episodes
Thu--THE FILE OF THE GOLDEN GOOSE/HOT RODS TO HELL
For completists only? Maybe. Probably. But you'll marvel at just how vast the journey really is from THE RECKLESS MOMENT to HOT RODS TO HELL.