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X MARKS THE SPOT (1931)

X MARKS THE SPOT (1931) B&W. 67 Minutes. Oldies.com $7.98
http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7792D.html

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Inspired by plays and films like THE FRONT PAGE (U.A.1931), X MARKS THE SPOT (Tiffany,1931) starts with peppy banter that was common in newspaper stories of the 1920’s and thirties.

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The film changes tone briefly when reporter Ted Lloyd (Wallace Ford) finds his younger sister collapsed in the street. Ted finds out he will need $5,000 to save his kid sister by sending her to this one Dr. Mueller in Germany.

He gets offers of $500 here and $600-$700 there from his friends, but says it’s not enough (hinted, if you take it and add it up, it’s closer to your goal!).

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Desperate, Ted goes to the local pool hall to meet with gangster Edward Riggs (Fred Kohler)to ask for the money. “Ha ha Ha-you don’t make five grand a year, says the gangster. Ted offers to get info on the district attorney if it helps save his sister. The gangster socks him saying he hates squealers but gives him the five grand.

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More stuff occurs in the newsroom before Ted meets with Sue(Sally Blane) for some quips and flirting before the film heads off to the Follies. Some pre-code dialogue (reporter offers to print an actress’ photo in the paper, only this time with her clothes on.).

Showgirl Vivian Parker (Mary Nolan) ends up murdered, and Ted becomes the main suspect as he was the last one to see her alive. Ted finds out that Riggs was responsible for the killing, but the gangster reminds him of how he helped with his sister’s medical bills.

How will Ted act when Riggs is put on trial?

X MARKS THE SPOT was one of the last three films made by Tiffany (along with DEATH KISS,1932 starring Bela Lugosi). The studio had been involved with a major prestige picture (JOURNEY’s END ,1930, James Whales ‘adaptation of the stage play), but like so many indie producers, they lacked proper distribution. When they folded, their films like so many independent productions, fell into public domain.

X … is a compactly made drama of the early sound era. The acting ranges from very good to stiff.

Lew Cody as editor George Howe is a strong competent performer. He had been acting in films since 1914, and had been married to actress Mabel Nomand. He died in 1934 at age 50.

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Wallace Ford is probably the best known actor from this film by today ‘s viewers, appearing a year later in MGM’s FREAKS as well as Frankie McPhillips in THE INFORMER(RKO,1935). His career last until 1965, with television making up the bulk of his later work.

Sally Blane also had a long career, usually in supporting roles in major films (CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND, FOX,1939) but here she is the female lead and makes one wish that she had larger parts in films.

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Mary Nolan as showgirl Vivian has a bit of a Midwest accent (“Git Outta heah!”) and is a bit stiff (no pun intended). Her life seemed to be one of those tales that warned of the dangers of show business. She had been a Ziegfeld showgirl who had been fired due to a scandal with a married man (who beat and abused her), but had a good career in silent films both in the U.S. and Germany. Under contract to Universal, she was loaned out to appear in the Lon Chaney MGM film WEST OF ZANZIBAR (1928) and received good reviews. She had another abusive relationship with Eddie Mannix (who also was possibly involved with the murder of George Reeves. Reeves had been having an affair with Mannix’ wife), who beat her so bad that she became addicted to morphine. This led to her contract being terminated at the major studios and thus struggled along at the indies. She died at age 45 from a Seconal overdose.

Clarence Muse made a career of playing butlers, porters, and servants, but the actor had starred and worked in theatre, as well as starring in HEARTS IN DIXIE (1929), the first all-black movie produced by Fox. Here he is trapped in embarrassing stereotype dialogue in his scenes.

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Helen Parrish also began in silent films, playing Babe Ruth’s daughter in BABE COMES HOME (1st National,1927; also released as a Vocafilm sound film, with added music and sound effects) as well as appearing in Our Gang films. Later she appeared in films starring Deanna Durbin, as well as the female lead in another film called X MARKS THE SPOT (Republic,1942), also available from OLDIES http://www.oldies.com/product-view/4748D.html . She died at only age 34 from cancer.

Fred Kohler had made a career playing baddies, most memorably in the silent John Ford THE IRON HORSE (Fox,1924).

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Director Earl C. Kenton directed over 130 films from 1916 to 1957. He is best known for ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (Paramount,1932) and HOUSE OF DRACULA(Universal,1945). The camera work is very fluid at times with some dolly work showing that sound equipment was no longer holding directors to static shots that had plagued earlier sound films.

The film comes from the collection of John Carpenter and his THE MOVIE MAN’S MOVIE MATINEE https://www.facebook.com/groups/1117540858264025/ . Collectors like Carpenter have done much to save a lot of films from disappearing, as well as getting them out to the general public. The print is from a dupey 16mm, but to be fair, I would doubt a better print still exists. At one point, we see a notice about a reel change, which made me nostalgic for when the only way you could see these films was from a private collection.

While not a classic, it is an entertaining little drama, with some good 30s banter, a bit of pre code naughtiness, a shootout near the finale and a style that would later lead to film noir.

Kevin G Shinnick

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