"I just killed a rat!"
A lady gas station attendant gets mixed up with escaped murderers.
A lady gas station attendant gets mixed up with escaped murderers.
"Ain't it funny how often a decent, respectable girl will fall for some worthless…"
"Yeah, but that's the way it works sometimes."
Mini-Collab w/ Rob
There's nothing like a fast-paced Warner Brothers drama from the pre-Code era to give you a thrill! In a proto-noir predating the studio's adaptation of The Petrified Forest, Mervyn LeRoy's Heat Lightning (isn't that such a great title?) packs plenty of tension, yearning, lust and regret into this hour-long tale of two sisters, Olga (Aline MacMahon, one of my favorite Brooklynites!) and Myra (Ann Dvorak, always such a striking presence), who run a combination gas station/diner/motel in the Mojave Desert. Interesting folks pass through constantly, like a squabbling married couple (future Grapes of Wrath Oscar…
There is a stunning moment in Heat Lightning during which the movie slows down and takes a long, shaky breath. It takes place right after the sun goes down, and the oppressive heat of the day is starting to loosen its grip. The patriarch of a Mexican family, camping for the night, lifts his guitar and sings, and his voice is the only one we hear as director Mervyn LeRoy's camera quietly checks in with a handful of his characters, letting us wonder what they're thinking, and what will transpire when things are put in motion again. They sit and wait just as we do, taking the moment as a break between rounds -- a pause before their lives move…
Everything you could want from a pre-code or from Warners generally.
Aline MacMahon and Ann Dvorak are sisters running a mojave desert gas station. MacMahon is the mechanic, having had a wild life and trying to quiet down, Dvorak never given the chance to have one.
Customers and locals come and go, little human stories are told, in amongst it MacMahon's murderer on the lam ex comes by and sets his sights on the jewellery of Glenda Farrell and Ruth Donnelly's stranded molls.
It's an hour and one location, so in some ways feeling bottle episode stagey but actually it's shot on mojave locations and you can feel the heat. The characters are archetypes and theyre played by people who…
“Desert towns don’t ask any questions.”
The filling station is not a mirage. Memories of the cabaret in Tulsa while serving beer and topping off tanks for hitchhikers and traveling lecturers. A couple tomatoes come and go, a couple gals fresh from Reno (code word for divorce), dripping with jewels, come. Olga (Aline MacMahon) is happy in her new blue collar, honest life. She’s good hearted, making amends. She’s changed a lot. She’s intentionally de-glorified herself with overalls, bandana and oil stains. She gives space to the Mexican family on their way to a fiesta who don’t have a dollar to their name.
The past returns in the form of a bank robber and old flame, threatening the mirage she’s…
"You put a man and a woman together, it's complicated."
The difference in two sisters' natures clashing with the elder's sage advice that to traverse the path she did can yield nothing but disharmony and ruin, affirming that it's better to endure the fear of missing out than the humiliation and regret of having been mistreated and discarded. When we first meet Aline MacMahon's Olga, it's clear that she doesn't want her sister Myra (Ann Dvorak) to walk the same path she did but for simpler, almost matronly reasons. She's dressed down and oddly albeit convincingly contented by the oppressive heat and quietude, although Myra's got other ideas of a less, well, boring nature. Enter George, a certifiably self-serving hood,…
Like The Petrified Forest but fun: a tough, crackling, slangy piece of Pre-Code magic about mannish mechanic Aline MacMahon, her frustrated kid sister (Ann Dvorak) and the fugitives, floozies and other lost souls who stumble into their desert gas station.
It’s a little masterpiece: a film that juggles irreverence, suspense and drama, working hard for its emotional moments, which are understated and all the more effective for it.
And it has pretty much my dream cast, dominated by MacMahon – who’s in terrific form – but with a decent part for Dvorak (largely sidelined by Warner’s after taking an eight-month honeymoon and briefing against the studio from the boat), as well as perfect supporting bits for Willard Robertson as McMahon’s quietly-spoken admirer, Glenda Farrell as a flirtatious divorcee, and Frank McHugh as her put-upon chauffeur.
Plus Lyle Talbot as a nervy bank robber on the lam. It is 1934 after all.
Mini-collab w/ Jetta
"I know you and your nips. I didn’t want you to get tight on me."
I'm going to add this to my Neo-Noir of the Weirdlands list because, although clearly not a neo-noir - in fact, I don't think I would classify this as a classic film noir, either - it clearly shares a spiritual connection to those desert-bound, highway-orbiting films of (mainly) the '90's that I love so much.
"Never mind the lecture, I don’t feel like being bawled out.""Well it looks like it’s a little late for that, now."
Whether this was a clear influence on the likes of David Lynch or the Coen brothers or just a serendipitous predecessor, I have no idea. But…
A spectacular Pre-Code that, while short, didn't feel rushed or incomplete. You have a single location populated by a colorful cast of characters, and you get to know them all reasonably well. I thought this was so good, I wouldn't have minded spending another hour with them. I'm not too familiar with Aline MacMahon, but she really shone in her role. Also, nice to see Frank McHugh and Glenda Farrell in fun supporting parts.
I've seen 7 or 8 films directed by Mervyn LeRoy, and none of them have been disappointments. At his best, he never lets a scene overstay it's welcome, but he always gives his characters room to breathe. Blessed with a strong cast here, headed by the always wonderful Ailene MacMahon as Olga, this is the definition of economic filmmaking, but each character is fleshed out, either with strong dialog, or effective staging. While this is a strong example of a pre-Code Hollywood B, short and sweet, it's the strong female cast that gives the film its unique character. Set in one spot, a small desert gas station/lunch counter/bar run by Olga and her younger sister Myra, (Ann Dvorak) this definitely…
It’s a little bit depressing that this masterpiece has been around for 78 years now, and it is still almost entirely unknown. (However, Hollywood brought this on itself by releasing too many great films during the Pre-Code years.) The immediate physical presence of this location and the actors is overpowering. The day scenes are actually filmed out in the middle of the desert, and everyone looks like they are one glass of water away from passing out. Aline MacMahon looks like she stepped out of a Dorothea Lange photo. When the actors walk toward the camera, Leroy lets them come slightly too close for comfort, putting us in their space. A girl and a gas station, that’s all you need for a movie.
initially watched this for my wife, ann dvorak, and went down the rabbit hole of 1930s pre-code films instead but i didn’t regret it one bit
'Say, it's your turn to sit up front with that old thigh-pincher..' (Ruth Donnelly as Mrs.'Tinkle' Ashton-Ashley)
Brief Synopsis: At a gas station in the middle of the Mojave desert, two sisters (Aline MacMahon and Ann Dvorak) attend to their customers, including a pair of dangerous fugitives (Preston Foster and Lyle Talbot) who are on the run after botching a recent bank heist.
Verdict: One of the last pre-Code films and what a beauty! More ambitious and unorthodox than most cheap B-movies of the period, Mervyn LeRoy's film packs several vignettes into its brief running time - just over an hour - before concentrating towards the end on the melodramatic aspects of the story. The ensemble cast is headed by…