Sunday, January 13, 2013

Suicide Squad (Burr/Puritan, 1935)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I eventually watched the movie Suicide Squad, a 1935 independent production by C. C. Burr, released through Puritan Pictures (a company that made mostly Westerns and didn’t usually handle a contemporary film like this one) starring Norman Foster as a character variously named Larry Parker or Barker (given the poor-quality recording, which made a lot of the dialogue virtually unintelligible, it’s not surprising there was confusion about his last name: it seemed to me like “Parker” during the first half of the film and “Barker” during the second half), an obnoxious status-seeker who’s dating a girl named Mary O’Connor (Joyce Compton), whose father Tim (Robert Homans) is a captain in the fire department of the generic city in which this takes place (we see the initials “G.F.D.” on the fire trucks so it seems as if the city’s name begins with “G” — though it could just mean “General” — and that’s the only clue we get, unless you count the generic views of real-life downtown L.A. since this was the sort of production that shot on real locations precisely because they couldn’t afford to maintain or rent a back lot). Larry is really a taxi driver, though when he drives up to the O’Connor apartment for dinner with Mary, Tim, Mary’s mother (Aggie Herring) and her obnoxious kid brother Mickey (Peter Warren), he does a fast dipsy-doodle to make it look like he’s a passenger in the cab instead of driving it. What he really wants is to be a firefighter like Mary’s dad — and Ed Drake (Jack Luden), Larry’s rival suitor for Mary — indeed, in the main explanation we get for the title, we learn that Tim and Ed are part of what’s colloquially known as the “suicide squad,” the firefighters who are routinely sent to the sites of major disasters (today we’d call them “first responders”) and must not only fight the fires but also rescue any people trapped inside the burning buildings.

From those clues you could practically write it yourself and achieve the same results as the actual scribes, C. E. Roberts and Ray Nazarro (story) and Homer King Gordon (script): you just know that Larry is going to be a vain individualist who’d routinely put the other men on his crew in danger fulfilling his own ambition and ego (indeed, Larry actually has a comic-relief sidekick, a newspaper photographer named “Snaps” played by Phil Kramer, whom he takes along on calls so he can be photographed doing glorious rescues and the papers will publicize him); he’ll have his comeuppance when his recklessness endangers the lives of the rest of the rescue squad; he’ll quit the fire department in disgust but he’ll have an opportunity to redeem himself and it’ll all end happily with Larry and Mary paired off, Ed backing away and blessing their union, and Larry a committed, dedicated and responsible firefighter making his wife-to-be and her father proud. All that duly happens, and because C. C. Burr didn’t have much of a budget there’s not a lot of exciting firefighting action — though director Raymond K. Johnson is actually quite creative in mixing stock footage of disasters with new film involving his stars (if you can call them that) to make it surprisingly believable that Norman Foster and Jack Luden are actually on the scene fighting these God-awful fires and attempting rescues under bad conditions — including one scene in which Larry has to catch and render harmless a live electrical wire, and he blows it by giving “Snaps,” of all people, the safety line to handle (and “Snaps,” needless to say, drops it to use his camera). Other than that it’s a mediocre movie whose main interest is in its title, though the film itself really doesn’t live up to the exciting action melodrama the title promises.