Friday, August 15, 2014

Exposed (1938)

Director: Harold D. Schuster                            Writers: Charles Kaufman & Franklin Coen
Film Score: Frank Skinner                               Cinematography: Stanley Cortez
Starring: Glenda Farrell, Otto Kruger, Herbert Mundin and Charles D. Brown

It looks like what Universal was going for with Exposed is something along the lines of The Thin Man, a screwball mystery featuring Glenda Farrell and Otto Kruger as the detective couple. Unfortunately, the screenplay gives the couple’s relationship no time to develop, and the mystery gets short shrift until the very last part of the film. Based on an unpublished story by George L. Bilson called “Candid Camera Girl,” it’s an odd little film that doesn’t seem to have a narrative center. Ostensibly the film is built around Farrell’s character, a wisecracking magazine photographer reminiscent of the reporter she played in Mystery of the Wax Museum, but she doesn’t have the same drive and energy here. Otto Kruger, a freelance actor, was working for several different studios as well as making films in Britain. His last picture for Universal was his outstanding performance in Dracula’s Daughter two years earlier. His character should have been the focal point of the screenplay but he’s little more than a supporting player in the first half of the film. The one part of the story that is clever is the way that the mystery actually becomes two simultaneous mysteries in the second half of the film.

The film begins with Glenda Farrell as a photographer for Flash Magazine, at the scene of crimes and disasters, coming in with her negatives at the last possible second. It’s a real pain for the editor Charles D. Brown, but gold at the newsstands. When the next assignment comes in, however, she tells Brown she’s taking the afternoon off and runs into Depression victim Herbert Mundin in the park with his dog. After taking his picture she goes into the flophouse where he sleeps, but when she tries to photograph drunkard Otto Kruger he becomes indignant at her using his misery for her art. He instantly convenes a mock trial, the rest of the tenants find her guilty, and she’s given the bum’s rush. It turns out Kruger was a prosecutor who lost a murder case and never recovered, and Flash’s article on him is as popular as it is unflattering of the former attorney. But when Kruger sues the magazine for libel, Farrell tries to make amends by finding the daughter of the murdered man for Kruger. When she does, Kruger settles his case with the magazine and gives the money to the girl. What he doesn’t know is that the girl is a fake. Because the real girl is dead, Farrell’s roommate Lorraine Krueger pretends to be the girl so the magazine doesn’t have to pay the money.

But there are many other newspapers covering the story, and with Kruger is back in the district attorney’s office the truth is bound to come out. What Farrell doesn’t put together is the fact that, if the wrong man was executed for murder, then the real murderer must still be out there and could also have something to do with the daughter’s death as well. Director Harold Schuster began his career in the sound era as a film editor, and this was only his sixth film and his second for Universal. Frankly, his style is not very good. He uses very few close ups, but almost all of the film is two shots and full frame exteriors that are reminiscent of poverty row productions. Glenda Farrell and Otto Kruger are tremendous actors and if there is any value in the film at all in this film it is because of them. Herbert Mundin does fine for what he’s given, but it’s nothing that any good character actor could have done. The rest of the cast is decidedly sub-par, and the screenplay doesn’t help. The mystery and the romance should both have been amped up and made the driving force of the film. As it is, Exposed is only recommended for fans of Kruger and Farrell.

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