The best part of the DVD-on-demand business (or MOD, as the
studios call it) is that Warner Bros., Sony, and 20th Century Fox
are unearthing rare titles from their vaults. Many have never been on home
video in any form, and some haven’t ever had television exposure. My latest
“discovery” is a 1934 Columbia title called Among
the Missing, directed by Albert S. Rogell and written by Herbert Asbury and
Fred Niblo, Jr., from a story by Florence Wagner. It stars Henrietta Crosman, Richard
Cromwell, Billie Seward, and Arthur Hohl—not exactly an all-star lineup, unless
you’ve seen Crosman’s memorable performance in John Ford’s Pilgrimage. Crosman was a veteran stage actress who made a memorable
talkie debut as the matriarch in The
Royal Family of Broadway (the hilarious play based on the Barrymores) and
then gave a heartbreaking performance in the leading role of John Ford’s Pilgrimage in 1933. Older actresses were
in vogue during the 1930s, led by Marie Dressler (America’s top box-office star
in 1933), May Robson (who played the title role in Frank Capra’s Lady for a Day) and the redoubtable Alison
Crosman’s understated performance as an elderly woman who
flees from her sponging son and daughter-in-law helps make Among the Missing so watchable, despite a predictable story. But
what really makes this programmer worth seeing is the way the action is staged,
on a variety of Los Angeles locations, and photographed by Joseph August. August
shot his first film in 1912, became William S. Hart’s personal cameraman in the
teens, was a founding member of the American Society of Cinematographers
(better known as the ASC) and began a long, fruitful collaboration with John
Ford in the late 1920s. He’s responsible for the still-impressive visuals
pairing two Edward G. Robinsons in Ford’s The
Whole Town’s Talking (1935), and was wounded alongside the director while
shooting The Battle of Midway (1942).
Their final film together was They Were
In Among the Missing,
August shoots night-for-night scenes in a local park, even as a police
spotlight tracks fleeing robber Richard Cromwell. He has fun with exaggerated
shadows during a burglary scene alongside a warehouse. And a climactic robbery
at a downtown office building is clearly shot on a bona fide location instead
of a studio set, lending credibility (and suspense) to the drama. There is also a bucolic picnic scene shot at Echo Park.
Under contract to Columbia in the 1930s, it was typical for
a worker—even an exceptional one like Joe August—to fill time between A-list
assignments like Man’s Castle and Twentieth Century with short subjects (like Woman Haters with the Three Stooges) and
B movies such as Among the Missing.
The cast works well together. Hohl is a slick villain with a veneer of civility
and Cromwell isn’t as cloying as he is in some 1930s films. I wasn’t familiar
with likable leading lady Billie Seward, but I’ve learned that she let her
career slide after marrying Hollywood
Reporter publisher Billy Wilkerson in 1935; they divorced in 1938 but she
never regained her footing onscreen.
Among the Missing
is hardly a forgotten classic, but its modest attributes made it well worth an
hour of my time. I mean that almost literally: the film runs 62 minutes.
You can purchase a copy through Warner Archive HERE.