Monday, November 9, 2015

Black Sheep

Those with access to FXM Retro will be able to see a movie that doesn't show up very much other than there: Black Sheep, at 6:00 AM.

Edmund Lowe plays John Dugan, a man who has spent the last two decades of his life or so plying the international cruise trade and making a living gambling against the wealthy passengers. But now he's reduced to travelling second-class, which is where he meets Janette (Claire Trevor). She's an actress returning home from England, and she too is travelling second-class. So John decides to be kind to Janette and break the rules by taking her to parts of the ship that are only for first-class passengers. It's there that they meet Fred (Tom Brown) for the first time. He's a troubled young man from a well-to-do famliy, and as we first meet him he's getting his shirt handed to him by a couple of professional gamblers working in tandem (Eugene Pallette and Jed Prouty). John takes pity on the poor boy, and joins the game to win back the money Fred lost.

It turns out that Fred has much bigger problems, ones that lead him to try to climb over the ship's railing and jump overboard! When John and Janette question him about this, we learn that Fred has lost so much gambling that he's severely indebted to his girlfriend, the widow Bath (Adrienne Ames). Except that she's not much of a girlfriend; she's a thief who has been stealing all sorts of jewels from the wealthy people of Europe. Indeed, she's smuggling some of those jewels from Europe even as we speak. In exchange for cancelling the debt, Bath wants Fred to smuggle the jewels through customs.

John is willing to help Fred, but it turns out that there is a big complication. While talking to Fred in Fred's cabin, John sees a picture of Fred and his mom. John immediately recognizes the woman, which is unsurprising considering that John was married to her twenty years earlier and is in fact Fred's father! John was pretty much asked to leave the relationship quietly because, as a man given to gambling, he was entirely unsuited to the social standing of the Curtis family.

So we've got a bunch of things going on here, including one that I haven't mentioned, which is that Janette has taken a liking to John and wants to reform him, getting him to quit plying the cruise ships and settle down with her. There's the jewel heist, which is going to get somebody in trouble at customs. And there's also the relationship between John and Fred, which John understandably doesn't want revealed, even though Fred's mother is definitely going to be there at customs and spot John i he and Fred go through customs together.

All in all, Black Sheep is a movie that I think Fox intended to be a B movie but which rises above that to an extent. There's a lot of the same formula that we can see in different arrangements in all those other 1930s B movies, but something about this one seems to be a bit better. I think I'd put that down to the job Edmund Lowe does. He carries the movie and makes the otherwise well-worn material succeed. Tom Brown doesn't do much here, while the two women are good if not quite as good as Lowe. There's also the presence of all those character actors, which always adds a nice touch.

I don't think Black Sheep has ever received a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch it on FXM Retro before they put it back in their vaults.

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