July is upon us, although obviously not for much longer, and we have quite the Shamedown ahead. If anyone is coming in late and would like to know what the heck a Shamedown is, the lowdown can be found here. Onward…
I seem to have struck gold on the Poverty Row movies this year, and I freely admit that I did it to myself. 1937’s Sky Racket is in a class by itself, though, it really is.
Marion (Joan Barclay) is all set to marry Count Barksi (Duncan Renaldo) but at the last minute she climbs out her window and convinces her maid, Jenny (Hattie McDaniel) to join her. The two of them hop into a waiting Model A and chug down the road until they run out of gas, whereupon Marion decides to keep running on foot, leaving a moaning Jenny behind to sit on the Ford’s running board and talk to Marion’s Uncle Roger (Henry Roquemore) and the Count.
It takes no time for Marion to head for the airport, presumably to hop on her honeymoon plane and get the heck out of Dodge. When she sees her uncle and the Count, she hides in the front seat of a mail plane. It doesn’t take long for the papers to sound the alarm about Marion supposedly being kidnapped or otherwise the victim of foul play.
While all this intrigue is happening, Eric (Bruce Bennett, credited as Herman Brix) has been given an assignment by the FBI to find out why mail planes have been disappearing, and he’s been told to fly around in a mail plane as a decoy. Guess how he and Marion meet? Yep. She pops up after he’s taken off and her only explanation is that she doesn’t want to get married. Eric is annoyed but seems to buy it.
Meanwhile, the baddies Eric is supposed to catch are watching the skies for mail planes, and when they see Eric’s plane they signal one of their operatives, who brings the plane down with a super-duper death ray. Eric and Marion have to share a parachute when they bail out, and end up being taken hostage by the bad guys. Well, they take Eric first, but when they realize Marion is the missing heiress, they decide to hold her for ransom.
From there Eric and Marion are plunged into a seedy backroom world where they have to wear their poker faces at all times. Outside in the real world the bad guys entertain the public with extremely dated standup comedy while waiting for each other to show up at their rendezvous points. Charles Williams of It’s A Wonderful Life fame gets in on the standup racket too at a completely random moment, and it’s a headscratcher why his uncredited self has to be in the movie playing an unnamed character.
OK. Sky Racket isn’t a great movie, but it’s not a bad one, either. It’s just there. The dialogue is awkward and the plot is clunky, with more filler than plot. The actors have no cohesive chemistry even though they cast some pretty decent people in the principal roles. And they get points for the death ray bit, especially since the ray gun looks a little like an oversized cabinet radio.
Too bad Sky Racket didn’t even make B-movie status. It doesn’t appear on any lists of box office returns, so we can assume it lost money. Beyond the odd passing mention it was barely talked about in the trade papers except for a little blip in the August 21, 1937 issue of Motion Picture Herald about Movie-Wave Cosmetics agreeing to a tie-in deal. We can pretty safely assume its studio, Victory Pictures, didn’t have much money for advertising and distribution. Probably none, actually.
It explains why Marion spends a lot of time blithely powdering her nose and touching up her lipstick while she’s being held hostage. She pulls her cosmetics bag seemingly out of nowhere and it’s all very impressive. If Movie-Wave’s logo had been clearly visible or mentioned the tie-in would have been even more innovative, but they led the way there, anyway.
While the movie was down, it wouldn’t be out forever. If IMDb has any credibility, which it only does on occasion, Sky Racket was pulled out of Poverty Row oblivion to become one of the first TV movies, slated to be broadcast in 1942. Unfortunately, World War Two got in the way, and television would have to wait, although the blip claims the film was broadcast on November 29, 1943. I kinda doubt that’s true, because the majority of credible sources state that television was very much on the back burner during the war, with the exception of some smaller projects going on in the meantime.
After the war was a different story, of course. Sky Racket was cut down to forty-five minutes long and became a staple of early television, broadcasting every year in the early nineteen-fifties, possibly multiple times a year (see a few TV Guide listings here, here, and here). Who knows what the ratings were, but it filled a time slot, anyway, and it is to be hoped the lame standup comedy bits were among the parts to hit the cutting room floor. No one’s got time for that stuff.
As a feature film, Sky Racket went nowhere. As a TV movie it’s downright groundbreaking. Bad acting, bad dialogue, bad story, and oh yeah, product placement. It ticks all the boxes.
For this month’s Pick My Movie Tag, we’re gonna do something a little different, namely, getting specific instead of requesting the tag-ee watch something from their watchlist. So yeah, our July nominees are (drum roll, please)…
Andrew and Michael from Maniacs and Monsters.
My request, if they choose to accept it, is to watch and review the 2021 indie, The Deep House. I just reviewed this film for my Substack page (read it here) and would love to hear their thoughts. That goes for anyone else who might want to see it because it would be fun to get a lot of reactions (it’s kind of an overlooked film). Enjoy, guys… 😉
All right, I hope you’ll check back tomorrow because I’ll be participating in the Western Legends of Cinema blogathon. Thanks for reading, all…
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