The Cahn Film Festival

CageofEvil

As May approaches, the film world turns its eyes to the Cannes Film Festival, which will host world premiere screenings from the likes of Jia Zhangke and Alexander Payne at its Grand Théâtre Lumière. I, however, will be celebrating the Edward L. Cahn Film Festival, taking place on my mustard stained IKEA couch in Brooklyn. No accreditation was necessary aside from an active Netflix account, and travel time was limited to trips to the bathroom. Cahn, born in Brooklyn, was a promising director of incendiary corruption dramas at Universal (Afraid to Talk, Laughter in Hell) before spinning his wheels for MGM short subjects in the late ’30s. He re-emerged as a pathologically prolific director of B-Westerns and gangster films in the 1950s, at AIP and the various companies of Robert E. Kent. Seventeen of these grim 1950s features are available to stream on Netflix, but all are due to expire from the service tomorrow [UPDATE: only OKLAHOMA TERRITORY and IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE expired, the other 15 were renewed], along with almost 1,000 other titles (check here for the full list). So I attempted to watch Cahn’s films with as much speed and urgency as he made them.

the-music-box-kid-movie-poster-1960-1020253923

I began with The Music Box Kid (1960), a thinly veiled bio of Dutch Schulz, mob boss of the Bronx in the 1920s and 30s. Here he’s called Larry Shaw, and played by professional handsome man Ron Foster, who would later land a recurring role on the soap Guiding Light. He exaggerates his natural vanity into a monstrous maw of need, his hawk-like features pecking approval out of people. He tells his wife he is an insurance salesman, one of many double-lives led by Cahn characters, who are constantly throwing up false identities. Interior lives are more colorful than exterior ones in his movies, which take place exclusively in under-furnished office spaces and living rooms, this result of low budgets emphasizing the transitory nature of these thugs. Each room looks newly moved into, and just as easily could be left.

cage of evil 1

Foster plays a similar character in Cage of Evil (1960), although he starts out on the right side of the law. Scott Harper is an aggressive detective assigned to a jewelry robbery, first seen beating an innocent witness for his spotty memory. A chain-smoking skittish type, his cigarettes seem to act as vents to keep him from blowing his top. After he’s passed over for a promotion, even the smokes can’t temper his anger and he flips, drawing up a scheme to snag the jewels for himself and the impassive blonde he’s been investigating (Patricia Blair). More unstable than Larry Shaw, Harper is incapable of maintaining his double life for long, resorting to panicked spasms of violence that inevitably boomerang against his own vulnerable body.

vice_raid_40

Mamie Van Doren is the duplicitous vulnerable body in Vice Raid (1960), a Detroit prostitute flown into NYC to entrap a Vice cop (Richard Coogan). Van Doren was a Marilyn Monroe clone who had descended the Hollywood ladder from star player with Universal all the way down to Poverty Row and Kent’s Imperial Pictures. She was joined by former ace studio DP Stanley Cortez, who had gone from lensing the deep focus marvels of Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons to the flat planes of Vice Raid and, later that same year, Dinosaurus!. The first meeting between Van Doren and Coogan is the purest representation of Cahn’s films in this period. Vice cop Coogan is undercover as a photographer in a dingy hotel room, hoping to lure her into making an indecent proposal. Van Doren has an act of her own, as the faux-innocent whore waiting to get collared so she can later accuse him of abuse. It’s a roundelay of false fronts, their characters as fake as the flimsy hotel set.

noose-for-a-gunman-movie-poster-1960-1020253885

As Dave Kehr wrote, where Cahn’s crime films are personal, his Westerns are perfunctory, but strange continuities still emerged in my marathon viewing. One of the haunting set-pieces of Laughter in Hell (1933) is the death-by-hanging of a group of Black prisoners, and lynching recurs as a theme, although in the post-code 1950s, racial difference has been eroded from view. There is a thwarted lynching in the rote courtroom drama Oklahoma Territory (1960), but it becomes the central image of Noose for a Gunman (1960). Case Britton (Jim Davis) is introduced as destined for hanging. The first shot is of a noose in extreme close-up to the left, with Britton riding slowly into focus at the right. As he passes by there is a sign nailed to the tree, “Reserved for Case Britton”. The town has marked him for death, the latest in Cahn’s corrupted cities. This one is controlled by rich landowner Carl Avery (Barton MacLane), who had Britton’s son killed five years before. By the end the town is overrun by outlaws and close to dissolution. Only Britton and his friend Jim (Harey Carey, Jr.) can save it from oblivion. In one offhand moment, as the friends are gathered by a hotel door, Carey grabs his left bicep with his right. It is the same gestural tic that his father performed as a silent Western star, and made famous by John Wayne at the end of The Searchers. Here it is just a silent tribute from son to father, in a programmer lost to history but found in Netflix.

Cahn’s reputation will never fully revive until his 1930s work is made available, but his Robert E. Kent productions are addictive, relentless exercises in deglamorization. America becomes a succession of drab flophouses and emptied out apartments, populated by shadows eager to erase their selves for a shot at the good life. Hope to see you next year at the Cahn Film Festival 2014. I can comfortably seat three, and it looks like Amazon Prime still has plenty of his work on offer. See you then.

14 Responses The Cahn Film Festival
Posted By swac44 : April 30, 2013 2:31 pm

Dang, wish I could see these in the Great White North.

Posted By swac44 : April 30, 2013 2:31 pm

Dang, wish I could see these in the Great White North.

Posted By Doug : April 30, 2013 3:09 pm

Spielberg. Spielberg has success in films, but it comes with a price-in his movies we appreciate his craftsmanship, but we are so used to his work that he can’t surprise us any more.
Edward L. Cahn-he can surprise me, fake left and go right, because I haven’t yet seen any of his work. Reading this post, I think that will change, though I don’t like streaming movies.
I love surprises.
I am discovering more ‘fresh’ films from film makers who would refuse to make ‘cookie cutter’ movies even if they could afford a cookie cutter. Thanks to the internets and IMDB and, of course, the Movie Morlocks, who share their passions for film with us ‘amateurs’; I have seen some great films, learned some film history, and have been the better for it.
Mr. Sweeney,I will join you for the 2014 Edward L. Cahn film festival from my non-Ikea cat-shredded sofa. Thanks for the invite.

Posted By Doug : April 30, 2013 3:09 pm

Spielberg. Spielberg has success in films, but it comes with a price-in his movies we appreciate his craftsmanship, but we are so used to his work that he can’t surprise us any more.
Edward L. Cahn-he can surprise me, fake left and go right, because I haven’t yet seen any of his work. Reading this post, I think that will change, though I don’t like streaming movies.
I love surprises.
I am discovering more ‘fresh’ films from film makers who would refuse to make ‘cookie cutter’ movies even if they could afford a cookie cutter. Thanks to the internets and IMDB and, of course, the Movie Morlocks, who share their passions for film with us ‘amateurs’; I have seen some great films, learned some film history, and have been the better for it.
Mr. Sweeney,I will join you for the 2014 Edward L. Cahn film festival from my non-Ikea cat-shredded sofa. Thanks for the invite.

Posted By Richard Brandt : May 1, 2013 3:29 pm

Try as I might, I couldn’t quite catch all the films I wanted to that were expiring on May 1; thanks to instantwatcher.com, I can find those movies due to expire that aren’t already flagged in my instant queue. A whole passel of movies seem to have recently vanished without any warning, though.

Still, no way was I gonna miss “Vice Raid.”

Posted By Richard Brandt : May 1, 2013 3:29 pm

Try as I might, I couldn’t quite catch all the films I wanted to that were expiring on May 1; thanks to instantwatcher.com, I can find those movies due to expire that aren’t already flagged in my instant queue. A whole passel of movies seem to have recently vanished without any warning, though.

Still, no way was I gonna miss “Vice Raid.”

Posted By jennifromrollamo : May 1, 2013 5:15 pm

Jim Davis, I believe, became famous in his later years playing Jock Ewing on Dallas.

Posted By jennifromrollamo : May 1, 2013 5:15 pm

Jim Davis, I believe, became famous in his later years playing Jock Ewing on Dallas.

Posted By Streamageddon: 3.8% Less Bad Than We Thought | : May 2, 2013 1:38 pm

[...] the films of Edward L. Cahn – this part of the purge concerns a nearly invisible director of skid-row westerns, thrillers, and sci-fi pictures, of such non-repute that even the most intrepid cinephiles are likely to give him a miss. Sadly his best movie, It! The Terror Beyond Space – a prototype for Alien and Prometheus – has not been restored to the site, but there’s a lot to choose from. Make a day of it, as my friend Robert Sweeney did. [...]

Posted By Streamageddon: 3.8% Less Bad Than We Thought | : May 2, 2013 1:38 pm

[...] the films of Edward L. Cahn – this part of the purge concerns a nearly invisible director of skid-row westerns, thrillers, and sci-fi pictures, of such non-repute that even the most intrepid cinephiles are likely to give him a miss. Sadly his best movie, It! The Terror Beyond Space – a prototype for Alien and Prometheus – has not been restored to the site, but there’s a lot to choose from. Make a day of it, as my friend Robert Sweeney did. [...]

Posted By robbushblog : May 9, 2013 12:09 pm

Mamie Van Doren in her hot glory, as a prostitute? I’m there!

Posted By robbushblog : May 9, 2013 12:09 pm

Mamie Van Doren in her hot glory, as a prostitute? I’m there!

Posted By swac44 : May 9, 2013 1:17 pm

I just saw Vice Raid go on sale for $16 at Movies Unlimited, if anyone is looking for a copy.

Posted By swac44 : May 9, 2013 1:17 pm

I just saw Vice Raid go on sale for $16 at Movies Unlimited, if anyone is looking for a copy.

Leave a Reply

Current day month ye@r *

MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D  Action Films  Actors  Actors' Endorsements  Actresses  animal stars  Animation  Anime  Anthology Films  Art in Movies  Autobiography  Avant-Garde  Aviation  Awards  B-movies  Beer in Film  Behind the Scenes  Best of the Year lists  Biography  Biopics  Blu-Ray  Books on Film  Boxing films  British Cinema  Canadian Cinema  Character Actors  Chicago Film History  Cinematography  Classic Films  College Life on Film  Comedy  Comic Book Movies  Crime  Czech Film  Dance on Film  Digital Cinema  Directors  Disaster Films  Documentary  Drama  DVD  Early Talkies  Editing  Educational Films  European Influence on American Cinema  Experimental  Exploitation  Fairy Tales on Film  Faith or Christian-based Films  Family Films  Film Composers  Film Criticism  film festivals  Film History in Florida  Film Noir  Film Scholars  Film titles  Filmmaking Techniques  Films of the 1980s  Food in Film  Foreign Film  French Film  Gangster films  Genre  Genre spoofs  HD & Blu-Ray  Holiday Movies  Hollywood history  Hollywood lifestyles  Horror  Horror Movies  Icons  independent film  Italian Film  Japanese Film  Korean Film  Literary Adaptations  Martial Arts  Melodramas  Method Acting  Mexican Cinema  Moguls  Monster Movies  Movie Books  Movie Costumes  movie flops  Movie locations  Movie lovers  Movie Reviewers  Movie settings  Movie Stars  Movies about movies  Music in Film  Musicals  Outdoor Cinema  Paranoid Thrillers  Parenting on film  Pirate movies  Polish film industry  political thrillers  Politics in Film  Pornography  Pre-Code  Producers  Race in American Film  Remakes  Revenge  Road Movies  Romance  Romantic Comedies  Satire  Scandals  Science Fiction  Screenwriters  Semi-documentaries  Serials  Short Films  Silent Film  silent films  Social Problem Film  Sports  Sports on Film  Stereotypes  Straight-to-DVD  Studio Politics  Stunts and stuntmen  Suspense thriller  TCM Classic Film Festival  TCM Underground  Television  The British in Hollywood  The Germans in Hollywood  The Hungarians in Hollywood  The Irish in Hollywood  Theaters  Thriller  Trains in movies  Underground Cinema  VOD  War film  Westerns  Women in the Film Industry  Women's Weepies