Last Days of Pompeii

In the time of Jesus Christ, blacksmith Marcus (Preston Foster) is content with his life, beautiful wife Julia (Gloria Shea) and six-month-old son. However, when Julia and their child are run down by a chariot in the streets of Pompeii, Marcus spends the little money he has to pay for a doctor and medicine. Needing more, in desperation, he becomes a gladiator. He wins his fight, but in vain; his wife and child die.

Blaming his poverty, he becomes an embittered professional gladiator and grows wealthier with each victory. In one match, he kills his opponent, only to discover he has orphaned a young boy named Flavius (David Holt). Full of remorse, he adopts the boy and purchases a slave, Leaster (Wyrley Birch), to tutor him. However, the added responsibility makes him too cautious in the arena, and he is defeated and injured. The injury ends his second career.

When Cleon (William V. Mong), a slave dealer, offers him a job, Marcus is at first contemptuous, but eventually takes it. He raids an African village for slaves, where a father battles Marcus’ raiders until his young son’s life is threatened and he is forced to surrender. Marcus identifies with the father’s grief at being unable to protect his son. He stops slaving and turns to trading instead.

One day, Marcus rescues a fortune teller, who foretells that Flavius will be saved by the greatest man in Judea. Marcus and Flavius travel to Jerusalem to see the man that Marcus thinks fits that description: Pontius Pilate (Basil Rathbone), the Roman governor. At an inn along the way, a man tells him that the greatest man is staying in the stable (similar to the one in which he was born), but Marcus does not believe him.

On learning that Marcus was once a great gladiator, Pilate employs him secretly to lead a band of cutthroats to raid the chief of the Ammonites, who has been causing him problems. Marcus comes away with many fine horses and much treasure, but when he goes to see his son, he finds that Flavius has been thrown from a horse and is near death. With no doctors around, Marcus desperately takes the boy to a noted healer and begs for his help. The healer is Jesus, who saves Flavius’s life. When Marcus later reports back to Pilate with his share of the treasure, Pilate has sentenced Christ to death. The remorseful (as depicted in this film) Pilate is disheartened with guilt over his condemnation of an innocent man.

Marcus leaves the city quickly, but as his party is departing, one of the apostles recognizes him and begs him to rescue Jesus, carrying his cross through the streets, but Marcus refuses. As Marcus and Flavius leave Jerusalem, they see three crosses on Calvary behind them.

Years pass. Marcus has grown wealthy as the head of the arena in Pompeii. Flavius (played as an adult by John Wood) is now a young man. Flavius is haunted by the memory of the man who healed him, though his recollections are so vague that his father easily dismisses them as nonsense. One day, Marcus welcomes Pontius Pilate as a guest to his lavish home. When Flavius mentions his early childhood memories of a man speaking about love and compassion, Marcus assures him, as he has always insisted, that there was no such person. Pilate answers, “Don’t lie to him, Marcus. There was such a man.” Flavius asks, “What happened to him?”, and the still-remorseful Pilate answers, “I crucified him.” It is then that the memory of the three “crosses on the hill” comes flooding back to Flavius.

Unbeknownst to Marcus, Flavius has been secretly helping slaves escape from certain death in his father’s arena. However, he is arrested with a group of the runaways and sentenced to die. When he discovers what has happened, Marcus tries to free Flavius, but in vain. Flavius is herded into the arena with the others, but as the fighting begins, Mount Vesuvius erupts. As Marcus wanders stunned through the streets with the panic-stricken populace, he sees the jailer who refused to release Flavius trying to free his own son from the rubble. The dying man begs Marcus for mercy for his son. Marcus angrily refuses, but then remembers begging Jesus for mercy for Flavius and rescues the boy. Marcus sees his faithful servant Burbix (Alan Hale) leading a group of slaves carrying his treasure on litters. He orders them to use the litters to rescue the injured instead. As they get to a ship, Marcus sees that one of those saved is Flavius and offers a prayer of thanksgiving. The prefect and his men try to get through a gate to take the ship for themselves. Marcus holds the gate shut, giving the boat enough time to get away at the cost of his life. He has a vision of Christ reaching out to him just before he dies.

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In Kurdistan during World War I, Michael Andrews (Cary Grant) is a British officer captured by Kurds, imprisoned, and awaiting execution. The local Turkish commander (Claude Rains) helps Andrews escape and confides that he is a British intelligence officer (initially “Smith,” later named as John Stevenson) in disguise. The two set out to warn friendly villagers of a pending Kurdish attack. After a difficult river crossing, and after Andrews flirts with a married tribal woman, Stevenson returns to espionage. Andrews, who has hurt his leg, goes to Cairo for medical treatment. There, Andrews falls in love with his nurse, Rosemary Haydon (Gertrude Michael), who ultimately refuses Andrews by saying she’s secretly married to an unnamed man she’d known briefly a few years before.

Andrews transfers to the Sudan, where his patrol takes over a fort after finding that its troops had been massacred. Meanwhile Stevenson goes back to Haydon—revealed as his wife—who confesses her love for Andrews. Stevenson requests a transfer to the Sudan to confront Andrews. Shortly after Stevenson reaches the fort, thousands of African tribesman attack it. Realizing that a handful of men can’t hold the fort, Andrews, Stevenson, and their troops set out over sand dunes and eventually enter the jungle with the tribesmen in hot pursuit. British troops appear out of nowhere, deus ex machina, defeat the tribesmen, and rescue Andrews. Stevenson, mortally wounded in the battle, dies a hero’s death, presumably leaving Andrews free to marry widow Haydon.

Little Colonel

Shortly after the American Civil War, southern belle Elizabeth Lloyd (Evelyn Venable) marries a northerner, Jack Sherman (John Lodge). Her father Colonel Lloyd (Lionel Barrymore) disowns her in anger and retaliation. Elizabeth and Jack move west where they become parents of a girl they name Lloyd Sherman (Shirley Temple).

Six years later, Lloyd Sherman is made an honorary colonel in the Army. Elizabeth returns to the south with little Lloyd and settles in a cottage near Colonel Lloyd’s mansion while her husband Jack remains in the west prospecting for gold. When Colonel Lloyd discovers his daughter living in the neighborhood, he treats her with disdain. Little Lloyd learns of her parents’ past from housekeeper Mom Beck (Hattie McDaniel), and, when she meets her grandfather for the first time, throws mud at him. The two eventually become contentious friends.

Elizabeth’s husband returns from the west with a fever. He has lost everything in his prospecting venture, but the family is saved from complete ruin when the Union Pacific Railroad requests right of way across Jack’s western property. Jack’s former prospecting partners have heard of the Railroad’s offer and try to swindle Jack. They resort to holding the Sherman couple hostage until the deed to their valuable property is located.

Little Lloyd runs through the dark woods for her grandfather, but he refuses to help. He changes his mind when little Lloyd says she never wants to see him again. They arrive at the cottage just in time to save Elizabeth and Jack. The film ends with a brief Technicolor sequence featuring a ‘pink party’ for little Lloyd, her friends, and her reconciled family.

Littlest Rebel

In 1861 in the Old South, Virgie Cary (Shirley Temple) is celebrating her sixth birthday in the ballroom of the family plantation. A family slave, Uncle Billy (Bill Robinson), dances for her party guests, but the celebration is brought abruptly to an end when a messenger arrives with news of the assault on Fort Sumter and a declaration of war. Virgie’s father (John Boles) is ordered to the Armory with horse and side-arms. He becomes a scout for the Confederate Army, crossing enemy lines to gather information. On these expeditions, he sometimes briefly visits his family at their plantation behind Union lines.

One day, Colonel Morrison (Jack Holt), a Union officer, arrives at the Cary plantation looking for Virgie’s father. Virgie defies him, hitting him with a pebble from her slingshot and singing “Dixie”. After Morrison leaves, Cary arrives to visit his family but quickly departs when slaves warn of approaching Union troops. Led by the brutal Sgt. Dudley (Guinn Williams), the Union troops begin to loot the house. Colonel Morrison returns, puts an end to the plundering, and orders Dudley lashed. With this act, Morrison rises in Virgie’s esteem.

One stormy night, battle rages near the plantation. Virgie and her mother are forced to flee with Uncle Billy when their house is burned to the ground. Mrs. Cary (Karen Morley) falls gravely ill but finds refuge in a slave cabin. Her husband crosses enemy lines to be with his wife during her last moments. After his wife’s death, Cary makes plans to take Virgie to his sister in Richmond. When Colonel Morrison learns of the plan, he aids Cary by providing him with a Yankee uniform and a pass. The plan is foiled, and Cary and Morrison are sentenced to death.

The two are confined to a makeshift prison where Virgie and Uncle Billy visit them daily singing “Polly Wolly Doodle”. A kindly Union officer urges Uncle Billy to appeal to President Lincoln for a pardon. Short on funds, Uncle Billy and Virgie sing and dance in public spaces and ‘pass the cap’. Once in Washington, they are ushered into Lincoln’s (Frank McGlynn Sr.) office where the President pardons Cary and Morrison after hearing Virgie’s story.

Finally, Virgie happily sings “Polly Wolly Doodle” to her father, Colonel Morrison and a group of soldiers.

Lives of a Bengal Lancer

On the northwest frontier of India during the British Raj, Scottish Canadian Lieutenant Alan McGregor (Gary Cooper), in charge of newcomers, welcomes two replacements to the 41st Bengal Lancers: Lieutenant John Forsythe (Franchot Tone) and Lieutenant Donald Stone (Richard Cromwell), the son of the unit’s commander, Colonel Tom Stone (Guy Standing). Lieutenant Stone, a “cub” (meaning a newly commissioned officer), eagerly anticipated serving on the Indian frontier, particularly because he specifically was requested and assumed that his father sent for him; Lieutenant Forsythe, an experienced cavalrymen and something of a teasing character, was sent out as a replacement for an officer who was killed in action. After his arrival Lieutenant Stone discovers that his father keeps him at arms length, wanting to treat him the same as he treats all of the other men. He also reveals that he did not request his son serve in his regiment, a discovery that breaks his heart and leads to him going on a drunken bender. Attempting to show impartiality, the colonel treats his son indifferently. The Colonel’s commitment to strictly military behavior and adherence to protocol is interpreted by young Stone as indifference. He had not seen his father since he was a boy and had looked forward to spending time with him.

Lieutenant Barrett, (Colin Tapley) disguised as a native rebel in order to spy on Mohammed Khan (Douglass Dumbrille), reports that Khan is preparing an uprising against the British. He plans to intercept and hijack a military convoy transporting two million rounds of ammunition. When Khan discovers that Colonel Stone knows of his plan, he orders Tania Volkanskaya, a beautiful Russian agent, to seduce and kidnap Lieutenant Stone in an attempt to extract classified information about the ammunition caravan from him, or use him as leverage to attract his father. When the colonel refuses to attempt his son’s rescue, McGregor and Forsythe, appalled by the “lack of concern” the colonel has for his own son, leave the camp at night without orders. Disguised as native merchants trying to sell blankets, they successfully get inside Mohammed Khan’s fortress. However, they are recognized by Tania, who had met the two men at a social event. McGregor and Forsythe are taken prisoner.

During a seemingly friendly interrogation, Khan says “We have ways of making men talk,” the first time such a phrase was uttered in film or literature. He wants to know when and where the munitions will be transported so that he can attack and steal the arms. He has the prisoners tortured for the information. Bamboo shoots are shoved under their fingernails and set on fire. McGregor and Forsythe refuse to talk, but the demoralized Stone, feeling rejected by his father, cracks and reveals what he knows. As a result, the ammunition convoy is captured.

After receiving news of the stolen ammunition, Colonel Stone takes the 41st to battle Mohammed Khan. From their cell, the captives see the overmatched Bengal Lancers deploy to assault Khan’s fortress. They manage to escape and blow up the ammunition tower, young Stone redeeming himself by killing Khan with a dagger. With their ammunition gone, their leader dead, and their fortress in ruins as a result of the battle, the remaining rebels surrender. However, McGregor, who was principally responsible for the destruction of the ammunition tower, was machine gunned as he blew up the tower, then died in the subsequent explosion.

In recognition of their bravery and valor in battle, Lieutenants Forsythe and Stone are awarded the Distinguished Service Order. McGregor posthumously receives the Victoria Cross, Great Britain’s highest award for military valor, with Colonel Stone pinning the medal to the saddle cloth of McGregor’s horse as was the custom in the 41st Lancers (according to the film).

It’s in the Air (1935 film)

Con men Calvin Churchill (Jack Benny) and “Clip” McGurk (Ted Healy), in the business of fixing races, boxing matches and other sporting events, are forced to go on the run when Henry Potke (Nat Pendleton), special investigator from the Revenue Department, is after them for tax evasion. Potke tracks the con men to a hotel room, where they trick him by claiming they are suffering from a highly infectious influenza. Potke flees in terror.

In a hurry to skip town, Calvin tells Clip to go to Desert Springs, California, to see his wife Alice (Una Merkel), who is a tennis instructor at a resort. Calvin meets W. R. Gridley (Grant Mitchell), a devious schemer who uses his lovely daughter Grace (Mary Carlisle) to convince Calvin to buy an air balloon. Calvin thinks that Gridley is the sucker, however, and negotiates a free aircraft ride to find the perfect location for a stratospheric flight in his new balloon. Calvin introduces Clip as one of the most daring balloonists in America. Clip, however, is afraid of heights.

Alice tells Calvin that she will not return to him until he quits his devious schemes but no sooner does he comply, than she witnesses him fleecing some hotel guests to pay for his room. When Calvin’s photo appears in a newspaper, Potke heads off to the resort.

After leaving $85,000 in cash with Alice, Calvin tries to find Clip, who is in hiding, afraid to be forced to fly in the balloon. At the launch; the two hucksters finally arrive, and soar off into space. They make radio contact at a record 73,900 feet and after they broadcast their promoters’ advertisements, Calvin and Clip find themselves in trouble when the balloon falls apart.

Forced to parachute to safety, Calvin tells reporters about his desire to be reunited with his wife. Potke arrives to announce that the charges for delinquent tax payments have been dropped, and Calvin and Alice reunite for good.

Posted in I

G Men

One year after graduation, New York City lawyer James “Brick” Davis (James Cagney) has no clients because he refuses to compromise with his ideals and integrity. His friend Eddie Buchanan (Regis Toomey) tries to recruit him as a federal agent or “G Man” (government man), but Davis is unsure. However, when Buchanan is killed while trying to arrest a gangster, Davis changes his mind, determined to bring the killer to justice. He bids farewell to his mentor, “Mac” MacKay (William Harrigan), a mob boss who financed his education to keep Davis on the right side of the law. He bids farewell to Jean Morgan (Ann Dvorak), the star of MacKay’s nightclub who has feelings for Davis.

Davis travels to Washington, D.C. to begin his training. A mutual dislike forms immediately between him and his instructor, Jeff McCord (Robert Armstrong) which eventually subsides as time passes, but not before McCord openly mocks and derides Davis’ attempts at training . However, Davis is attracted to McCord’s sister Kay (Margaret Lindsay) which strengthens his determination to remain passive despite McCord’s efforts to rile him.

Meanwhile, MacKay retires and buys a resort lodge out in the woods of Wisconsin. His men, free of his restraint, embark on a crime spree. Hamstrung by existing laws (federal agents have to get local warrants and are not even allowed to carry guns), the head of the G-Men pleads for new laws to empower his beleaguered men. They are enacted with great speed.

Davis identifies one of the perpetrators, Danny Leggett (Edward Pawley), by his superstition of always wearing a gardenia. Not having completed his training, he can only give agent Hugh Farrell (Lloyd Nolan) tips on Leggett’s habits. Farrell tracks down and arrests his quarry, but he and some of his men are gunned down, and Leggett escapes.

McCord is put in charge of the manhunt and given his choice of five agents. He picks Davis, a decision that later pays dividends when Jean is brought in for questioning, Davis learns she is now married to Collins (Barton MacLane), one of the crooks. She inadvertently lets slip that the gang is hiding out at MacKay’s lodge (against MacKay’s will). In the ensuing wild shootout, Davis kills MacKay, who was being used as a human shield. Before he dies, MacKay forgives his distraught friend. Davis then tries to resign from the department but McCord talks him out of it by reminding him that McKay’s death wasn’t his fault and asks him to stay on.

Only Collins gets away. McCord and Davis go to Jean’s apartment to warn her. Jean is not there, but Collins is, and shoots at them. Davis pushes McCord out of the way and takes a bullet meant for him. Collins gets away. Davis ends up in the hospital (where Kay is a nurse) for his shoulder wound. Collins kidnaps Kay to use as a hostage. Jean finds out where he is hiding and telephones Davis, only to be shot by her husband. Davis bolts from his hospital bed, has some final words for the dying Jean, sneaks inside the garage and rescues Kay. Collins is shot to death by McCord as he tries to drive away. Kay escorts the still-bandaged Davis back to the hospital, vowing to “handle your case personally.”

Posted in G

The Healer (1935 film)

Dr. Holden (Ralph Bellamy) is “The Healer” (the original title) in this 1930s morally uplifting pot-boiler. He is a doctor that has come home to a warm springs to try to heal children from the unnamed crippling disease (polio). He runs a destitute camp for these children, assisted by Evelyn Allen (Karen Morley) who looks upon the Doc as a great man. Jimmy (Mickey Rooney) is a paraplegic kid whom the Doc promises to cure. This little triangle is interrupted by a rich girl Joan Bradshaw (Judith Allen) who cons the good Doc into building a sanitorium for the wealthy with her father’s money. Doc is momentarily swayed, but comes to his senses just as a forest fire threatens his original cabins around the warm spring. His treatment of Jimmy pays off as Jimmy rides a bicycle to save the day. Doc realizes that his true love is Evelyn, not the self-interested Joan.

Posted in H

The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935 film)

Dan Harrow goes to work as a driver for Samson Weaver on the Erie Canal, but his heart is set on buying a farm and settling down, even though his father was a canal man. This ambition and his distaste for fighting puzzle Molly Larkins, the girlfriend and cook of Jotham Klore, but she develops a liking for him anyway.

When Samson wins $5000 in a lottery, he gives Dan a half share of his boat. This prompts Dan to propose to Molly, but she wants to stay on the Erie Canal, not live on a farm, so she will only go work for him, much to Jotham’s displeasure. Jotham arrives at a big fair at the same time as Molly and Dan. Samson warns Dan, so he asks Molly to leave for Utica. Molly is ashamed of him, thinking he is a coward, but he confesses that he is going to Utica to finalize the purchase of a farm. Molly is so disgusted by this news that she quarrels with him. He departs for his new farm, leaving his share of the boat to Molly and warning her that the Erie Canal’s days of prosperity are numbered, as the railroads move in.

Molly is miserable, but refuses to admit it. She tells her friend Fortune Friendly that she might have gotten used to the idea of being a farmer’s wife, but she could never marry a coward. Fortune decides to take matters into his own hands. He goes to see Dan. He lies and tells Dan that Molly is being shunned and insulted for having worked for a coward. Dan decides to have it out with Jotham. Molly then tries to prevent the fight, but without success. When Dan manages to beat Jotham, Molly tells him he is the new champion of the Canal and that he should stay, but he finally gives up on her. He tells that he no longer wants her and heads home. However, she follows him to his place, and he embraces her.

Posted in F

Frisco Kid

In San Francisco in the 1850s, a city where gold fever has left shipowners short-handed, Bat Morgan, a sailor come ashore is robbed and nearly shanghaied aboard another ship. Managing to escape, he sticks around town to pay back those responsible and then to take a cut in the action in the vice district. Organizing the various gambling houses (and other forms of vice implied but, for Code reasons, not explicitly stated) into a consolidated enterprise in alliance with a corrupt city boss, Jim Dailey, he comes into conflict with a crusading newspaper, run by Jean Barrat, the daughter of the late murdered publisher, and Charles Ford, the idealistic editor.

Loyal to his friends, even when they are on the other side, Bat Morgan protects the editor, when Jim Dailey orders him eliminated. He also falls in love with Jean, but his way of life and lack of any morality beyond looking out for number one make a permanent relationship all but impossible.

Riled at a judge’s snub, he determines to bring his Barbary Coast crowd to the opening night at the Opera House, which the Judge has opened as an alternative place of amusement to the gambling dens. A gambler, Paul Morra, shoulders his way into the judge’s box and on a flimsy excuse, murders him. The outrage provokes a public outcry, and when Morra is arrested and jailed and a lynch mob gathers, crying for his blood, Bat arranges his release, not so much because he likes him as because he owes him a debt of gratitude for having started him on the upward rise.

Soon after, Ford is murdered by Jim Dailey in a bar-room fight. Jean blames Bat, holding him responsible for all the evil done by those who work with him. A vigilance movement sets out to clean up the town, rounding up Morra and Dailey, and hanging them both. When the lowlife of the Barbary Coast determine to pay it back by wrecking the press and burning the city, Bat Morgan convinces them to do otherwise. Trying to keep them from fighting back as the vigilantes come to destroy the Coast, he is shot in the back by one of the underworld forces and captured by the vigilantes. Jean Barrat saves him from hanging, and he is permitted to go free, on her parole.

Posted in F

Front Page Woman

Ellen Garfield refuses to marry fellow reporter Curt Devlin until he admits she is as good at her craft as any man. The two work for rival newspapers, and their ongoing efforts to better each other eventually leads to Ellen getting fired when Curt tricks her into misreporting the verdict of a murder trial. The tables are turned when she scoops him by getting the real perpetrator, Inez Cordoza, to confess to the crime. Forced to admit Ellen is a good reporter, he finally wins her hand.

Posted in F