The Film Detective announced this past week that five new film restorations will be ready for DVD release on the first Tuesday after Labor Day … Sept. 5. So let’s take a look at what is on the way.
Franklyn Warner launched Fine Arts Pictures Inc. in 1938 with three films, Shadow Over Shanghai, Frontier Scout and Cipher Bureau, which all hit theatres during a four week period beginning with Shadow Over Shanghai in mid-October and finishing with Cipher Bureau during the first week of November.
The Long Shot hit theatres in early January of 1939 and Panama Patrol arrived in May of that year and then nothing until Isle of Destiny in March of 1940. That was it for Fine Arts Pictures Inc. … six films in under two years and then poof; gone!
The Film Detective has the first these Fine Arts Pictures releases, director Charles Lamont’s Shadow Over Shanghai, ready for the collectible DVD marketplace on Sept. 5. The film is an odd assortment of mystery and political intrigue set against the backdrop of the Sino-Japanese War that began in the summer of 1937 with the Chinese government abandoning the defense of Shanghai by November of that year.
A Russian courier by the name of Peter Roma (Edward Woods — The Public Enemy, Tarzan the Fearless, etc.) is trying to reach San Francisco with an amulet that is the key to a Chinese fortune worth $5 million, which can be used to purchase arms to fight the invading Japanese army. However, a Russian agent named Igor Sargoza (Robert Barrat — as Chingachgook in The Last of the Mohicans, plus such films as The Charge of the Light Brigade, Charlie Chan in Honolulu, Northwest Passage, etc.) brings his plane down.
Stranded in war-torn China, Peter just happens to have a sister named Irene (Lynda Grey or Linda Grey in her only starring role … she had small parts in such films as This Gun for Hire, Louisiana Purchase, etc.), who is a teacher at a school in Shanghai. He gives her the trinket and urges her to escape to the United States before the Chinese defenses collapse.
Igor is quickly on her, but an American reporter by the name of Johnny McGinty (played by future Best Supporting Actor winner, James Dunn for his performance as Johnny Nolan in Elia Kazan’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) steps in and rescues her. They turn to her friend, Howard Barclay (Ralph Morgan), for help in getting her out of the country, but he informs her that only Americans are being allowed to evacuate … no problem, a sham marriage to McGinty, who is more that willing to accommodate, will solve the problem.
Shadow Over Shanghai is a fast-paced 65-minute indie/B-movie programmer and you are not even half way through with it and you have Russian-on-Russian intrigue in war ravaged Shanghai, an innocent school teacher thrown into the mix and an American, who has been covering the war, ready and willing to marry a complete stranger … just to help out of course. We are only getting started.
Enter Fuji Yokahama (Paul Sutton — Sunset Murder Case, Little Old New York, etc.), the local head of the Japanese secret service, who is on to Johnny and Irene’s plan and sets a devious plan to murder the both of them on their wedding day. You’ll have to pick up your copy of Shadow Over Shanghai on Sept. 5 to find out if Yokahama’s murder scheme comes off as planned!
Also on the Sept. 5 release calendar from The Film Detective is director Lewis D. Collins’ between-the-wars aviation thriller, Skyway. Released in the summer of 1933 by Monogram Pictures, we are introduced to Robert ‘Flash’ Norris (Ray Walker), a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants flier, who works for the U.S. Postal Services as a mail pilot, who ends up in court for fighting on the midway of a traveling carnival. A chance meeting with a beautiful young woman named Lila (Kathryn Crawford) sets things in motion.
First, he’s fired from the postal service for being in court and missing his required takeoff time. No worries, he borrows a plane and impresses Lila with his stunt flying … they fall in love (fliers have a way with women).
Secondly, if this love affair is going to work out, our boy Flash is going to need a job (it is the depression). As luck would have it, Lila’s dad runs a bank and she talks dear old dad (Claude Gillingwater) into giving him a job. Which, of course, he is not suited for.
This threadbare plot only serves as a vehicle for some spectacular stunt flying, which includes a daring seaplane landing (Flash to the rescue when one of the bank employees heads to South America with a satchel full of cash) and a romantic ending as the lovers fly away to get married (in Yuma).
Rounding out the Sept. 5 selections are Rogue of the Range (1936, Johnny Mack Brown Western co-starring Lois January), Secrets of the Wastelands (1941, William Boyd stars as Hopalong Cassidy) and Sepia Cinderella (1947).