Sunday 28 June 2020

On YouTube - Barrie Pattison unearths EMERGENCY CALL (Edward L Cahn, USA, 1933)

Well, through most of a life of compulsive film going I rated Edward L. Cahn (left) among the most jeer worthy of Hollywood directors - just above Edgar Ulmer in fact.

Roger Corman mentioned him as someone who had talent but found himself in a situation where he couldn't bring anything to the films. Corman had made a study of the area. He played cards with Maury Dexter. The only one who remained mysterious to him was Fred F. Sears.

However, I discovered that Cahn's uncredited work on the cutting of All Quiet on the Western Front had projected him into a thirties directing career which had him filming John Huston scripts and turning out work admired among the informed. His  Law and Order of 1932 fields Walter Huston as Wyatt Earp and Harry Carey as Doc Holliday. You’d have to work pretty hard to screw up with that combination and scenes like Huston’s bedside undertakings to Carey do ring. There’s another 1932 one called Afraid to Talk with Sidney Fox which has been suggested as notable but I have yet to find that in Cinémathèque land.

After these Cahn was back to shorts and B movie oblivion. So when Cahn’s 1933 Emergency Call popped onto my YouTube screen in a just about watchable copy, I couldn’t resist.

Fresh from a heavy dose of pre-Code Warners viewing I had to notice the skimpy production values RKO had provided - particularly minimally dressed sets, absence of exteriors and sparse scoring. This said Eddy Cahn gives it a good try with camera tracking in the studio built hospital corridors, flats and warehouse and brisk editing. William Boyd no less manages to suggest a leading man of some authority shortly before he took the easy way out and immortalized himself as Hopalong Cassidy. He and next billed star Wynne Gibson turn out to not be the love interest. Hoppy’s squeeze is one Betty Furness who is barely seen.

The piece is about medical rackets with new doctor Boyd’s supervisor and  father-in-law to be making Bill’s path easy by putting him on ambulance call, to the derision of the drivers. This comes to a halt when he and William Gargan have to down a knife wielding maniac who has run amok on the apartment block top floor - it’s always the top floor.

Turns out that gangster Edwin Maxwell (of course) has sidewalk flopper George E. Stone in his pay and takes a dim view of Bill turning him out of the hospital in his pajamas for faking injury. By this time Gargan and Gibson have become an item so it’s even more concerning when Ed is wheeled in injured after a quite well staged fight in a freight elevator and it looks like he’s going to be treated with the lethal WW1 ether that the army has rejected and Maxwell has sold to the hospital.

You can’t really say they shafted Ed Cahn. Costume designer Walter Punkett and music supervisor Max Steiner went on to do Gone With the Wind and one time explorer producer Merian C. Cooper would partner with John Ford in Argosy Films. Joe Mankiewicz gets a writer credit. We can only hope he’d baled before they got to the feeble ending. 

All up I’ve seen worse and this one casts some light on a significant period in Hollywood film making. I’m still looking for Afraid to Talk.

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