Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

June 1, 2020

newly rediscovered, the 1929 early-sound crime short THE LINE-UP

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 9:52 pm
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lineup

Want to see a fascinating film that you’ve never seen before? It comes from a unique window of time in that brief period between silent films and talkies, and it is a poverty row independent production made on a shoestring in New York on a limited number of small sets.

Film-makers had to re-learn their craft during the early days of sound, and it’s to the credit of the obscure people who put together this film that they were willing to step into the arena at the beginning of the sound era and take on the big boys at their own game, with few resources but big ambitions. According to the film notes provided by Geno Cuddy on the You Tube presentation of THE LINE-UP (1929), the small company “Classic Pictures” planned to make a dozen dramatic shorts, although THE LINE-UP was the only one that got made (Cuddy’s notes describe a second film that had a title and concept planned—-read the notes yourself before you watch the film). Director Charles Glett had only directed one previous short, in 1927 (evidently available on an Alpha Video compilation DVD!), and he was scheduled to direct all 12 films. He never directed another film after this one. Writer Frances Kanes, who gets special “by” billing on the title card, has no other IMDB credits. Producer Carl Lipman has no other IMDB credits. There is surely an interesting backstory about the production of this film and the creation of “Classic Pictures,” but alas, none of the principals survive to tell it.

What does survive as a sole 16mm print, made available to us for viewing by crime film authority (and author of a book on the films of Peter Lorre) Ray Cabana, who has a number of interesting observations on the film in a comment on the IMDB. You should read that too.

Anyone who has seen films such as DANCE HALL RACKET (1954), or any of Fanchon Royer’s 1930’s productions, or any of Bud Pollard’s films, knows the production sleight-of-hand techniques used in very low-budget indie cinema to make a “feature film” shot on a limited number of sets, and they are clearly in evidence here, though there is also a clever plot, some interesting (and in a few places quite daring!) photography, some novel settings, enthusiastic performances, and a truly surprising ending, all of which work together to make THE LINE-UP a fascinating curio well worth your time. Heck, it’s only 24 minutes long. Coincidentally, I watched one of the Hal Roach “Streamliner” features yesterday, ABOUT FACE with William Tracy and Joe Sawyer, which was 42 minutes long, so I’m in a kind of “less is more” mood right now, I guess, and THE LINE-UP does not need to be a second longer than it is.

Yes, the sound is not clearly recorded in parts (and some parts are shot silent, of course, since film-makers were still thinking in terms of “sound sequences within a film” in early 1929), but anyone who has seen early-sound low-budget films (watch HOWDY BROADWAY some time!) can adapt to that. The film also has the refreshing “outsider” technical quality one sees in something like Dwain Esper’s early films such as MANIAC or NARCOTIC.

I can’t imagine anyone interested in early indie cinema or outsider film or 30’s low-budget crime films NOT finding THE LINE-UP a fascinating experience. I certainly did, watching it a second time immediately after the first. Thanks to Cabana and Cuddy for making it available.

Perhaps it’s time for me to now dust off that half-finished blog post from a year or two ago on the early sound 1929-1930 comedy shorts of Pathe, right before they ceased production.

Forget about Netflix or Amazon Prime for a while, and take 23 minutes to watch THE LINE-UP via the You Tube link below….and let’s hope other previously unknown independent films from the early-sound era surface in the next few years.

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and if that’s not enough, how about a double-bill….yes, here below is a 1928 short subject, also made in New York, starring Tommy Christian’s dance band (stars of the previously mentioned HOWDY BROADWAY), called PEP AND PERSONALITY, from Raytone Talking Pictures.

 

Enjoy. And the entire double bill runs about 35 minutes!

I’ll try to be back again within the week with comments on a 1961 French adventure film starring Lex Barker (right before his German Dr. Mabuse films) shot on location in Morocco, something which also, like THE LINE-UP (and PEP AND PERSONALITY), should be new to most readers/viewers.

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postscript…. contrary to the IMDB credits for THE LINE-UP, the film’s star WILLIAM BLACK is definitely NOT the William Black who appears in the off-the-wall 1934 LIFE RETURNS as Dr. Cornish’s assistant. I just watched half of LIFE RETURNS to verify that! The William Black in THE LINE-UP had a long string of silent-film credits (if it’s the same actor–see my comments below) and appeared in W. C. Fields’ 1930 film THE GOLF SPECIALIST. If the IMDB birth year for Black is correct, though, he was 59 when he made THE LINE-UP, which I find hard to believe. If so, he must have found the fountain of youth, as I’d doubt this actor is over 35. Perhaps he’s another William Black….or the birth date is wrong.

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