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Infernal Machine  /  Sleepers East

Sleepers East
March 20, 2017 - 7:30 pm
Archive director Jan-Christopher Horak, head of preservation Scott MacQueen.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute and The AFI/NEA Film Preservation Grants Program

Infernal Machine  (1933)

Based on a novel and play written by Carl Sloboda and borrowing on themes from Guy de Maupassant's short story “Boule de Suif,” Infernal Machine is an examination of the threat of impending death on a group of people aboard a ship bound for New York.

This pre-Code comedy-thriller centers on Robert Holden (Chester Morris), a broke and discouraged veteran, who meets fellow American Elinor Green (Genevieve Tobin) at a cafe in Paris.  After their first encounter, Holden's attempt to return Green's thought-to-be stolen purse ends up rendering him a stowaway on board a ship bound for America.  Also aboard is a collection of characters, including Green's banker fiancé, a famed scientist, and an opera singer.  Unbeknownst to the notable passengers, they are all being observed by Spencer (James Bell), a telegram operator and obsessed author, who seeks to write an exposé on celebrities entitled “The Arrogance of Power.”  Romance begins to blossom between Holden and Green, just as Spencer produces a radiogram claiming that an “infernal machine,” or bomb, is aboard the ship.  Accusations fly and the passengers begin to turn on one another, showing their true nature.  Quickly each passenger accuses the others of planting the bomb until eventually Holden, jealous of Green's attention to her undeserving fiancé, falsely admits to being the culprit.  In his role as assumed perpetrator, Holden tests the group further.

Infernal Machine was one of only three films directed by the French-born Marcel Varnel for the Hollywood studio system.  Shortly after directing this feature, Varnel relocated to London where he continued to direct a series of low-budget comedies.  —Staci Hogsett

35mm, b/w, 65 min.  Director: Marcel Varnel.  Production: Fox Films Corp.  Distribution: Fox Films Corp.  Screenplay: Arthur Kober.  Based on the novel and play Die Höllen Maschine by Carl Sloboda and an English-language adaptation The Infernal Machine by B. Harrison Orkow.  Cinematography: George Schneiderman.  Art Director: Gordon Wiles.  Music Director: Sammy Kaylin.  Cast: Chester Morris, Genevieve Tobin, Victor Jorey, Elizabeth Patterson, Edward Van Sloan.

Restored from a 35mm nitrate print.  Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Film Technology Company, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Inc., Simon Daniel Sound.  Special thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute

Sleepers East  (1934)

No good deed goes unpunished for Lena Karelson (Wynne Gibson), hooker with a heart of gold trying to go straight in the big city.  Covering a bachelor party for a friend in need, Lena winds up at a gambling house where she is the sole witness when Mayor Wentworth's drunken lout of a son shoots the owner.  Wentworth's political machine wants Lena to falsely incriminate mob boss Callahan to bolster their re-election campaign.  Callahan's mouthpiece nabs Lena first, conveying her stealthily by train from Toledo to New York to prevent her from testifying against the big boss.

A midnight special smash-up, a tense courtroom finale and true love triumphant round out this typical Fox pre-Code programmer, released just before the Legion of Decency dropped the hammer in 1934.  The last of only six pictures helmed by actor turned director Kenneth MacKenna (Temple Tower, his 1930 endeavor to fill Ronald Colman's shoes as Bulldog Drummond, is a UCLA restoration that screened during our 2013 Festival), Sleepers East can be enjoyed as a codicil to Wynne Gibson's delightful turn as the streetwalker plucked from the gutter when she inherits a legacy in If I Had a Million (1932).

Fox switched tracks at the roundhouse in 1941 when producer Sol Wurtzel remade his original film and revamped the story for Lloyd Nolan's private detective Michael Shayne as Sleepers West.  This seminal version has not been seen in 82 years.  —Scott MacQueen

35mm, b/w, 69 min.  Director: Kenneth MacKenna.  Production: Fox Film Corporation.  Distribution: Fox Film Corporation.  Producer: Sol M. Wurtzel.  Screenwriter: Lester Cole.  Cinematography: Ernest Palmer.  Art Director: Duncan Cramer.  Cast: Wynne Gibson, Preston Foster, Mona Barrie, Harvey Stephens, J. Carroll Naish.

Restored from the 35mm nitrate studio print.  Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, Simon Daniel Sound, DJ Audio, Inc.  Special thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.