Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Strange Mr. Gregory

“The Strange Mr. Gregory” (1946) is a semi-engaging flick from Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures. I wouldn’t recommend it to the casual viewer, but to movie fans who get a kick out of low budget melodramas it’s an engaging 63-minute filler..

Former matinee idol Edmund Lowe plays the titled Mr. Gregory, a magician and hypnotist of some renown who, in his spare time, practices the art of suspended animation. One night a fellow magician John Randall (Don Douglas) comes backstage with his wife Ellen (mega babe Jean Rogers from two 1930s Flash Gordon serials) to express his admiration for the show. Gregory becomes immediately infatuated with Ellen and hatches a plan to fake his own murder and frame John for it, freeing Ellen for himself.

How Gregory accomplishes this is pretty easy to figure out, but clever twists and writing were not the forte of Monogram. They specialized in cranking out B pictures of about an hour long in all genres to serve as supporting features for A pictures from the major studios. Casts frequently consisted of actors and actresses on their way down, or up, acting on economical sets and photographed in the most perfunctory manner.

But these little melodramas from the Poverty Row studios like Monogram or Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) hold a fascination that’s quite indescribable. Nothing is very polished and the sets are appropriately grungy, but this helps these melodramas attain a certain authenticity.

Movie buffs will appreciate seeing Jonathan Hale, Mr. Dithers from the Blondie movies, as a defense attorney who sees nothing wrong with entering tombs in a cemetery without a search warrant.

Frank Reicher plays Gregory’s butler (oddly named Riker) who played the ship’s captain in “King Kong” (1933) and “Son of Kong” (1933). It was probably too taxing to come up with a name for the butler, so they let Frank keep his surname but changed its spelling. Because this is Monogram, allowances can be, and should be, made.

Jean Rogers is always a pleasure to watch and she boosts the proceedings considerably. Ten years since her role as Dale Arden in the legendary “Flash Gordon” serial, she is still as lovely as ever.

I taped this last summer off TCM and finally had a chance to watch it last night. TCM, bless them, has been showing more Monogram titles of late. I’m wondering if it’s a new package, like with their recent purchase of Columbia and post-1949 Paramount titles?

I hope to see more Monogram titles on TCM, including the rarely seen, intriguingly titled “I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes”, a film noir based on a Cornell Woolrich novel, and starring the very appealing Elyse Knox (mother of Mark Harmon). I would love to see that one.

To be fair, “The Strange Mr. Gregory” should only get two stars, but its low-rent atmosphere, and the presence of Jean Rogers, ups it to the two-and-a-half-stars range.


cinecdoque said...

totally agree with the authenticity of its grunginess, it's a movie i would've liked to watch when kid. one of those flicks that demands a minimum from the viewer... or is it a maximum of suspension of disbelief?

e.g.: i love it when john randall receives the box of roses and kicks it supposedly "irritated". don douglas' acting is absolutely wrong, and still there is a sane laughter.

i'm sure the writers of the prestige are some of those movie fans who got a kick out of this vampire somehow noirish melodrama. if you look closely at it, the prestige is a modern defense of the secrets that confine (gregory's) magic so we can still be able to look at the world with amazement.

long live poverty row studios,

Kevin Deany said...

Hi Gabriel: Thanks so much for reading.

Yes Poverty Row studios forever. I've long maintained that cable TV will not reach its full potential until The Monogram Channel debuts.