Powder Town


1h 19m 1942
Powder Town

Brief Synopsis

A scientist clashes with a munitions foreman in his fight to create a new explosive.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Action
Spy
Release Date
Jun 19, 1942
Premiere Information
New York opening: 7 Jun 1942
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on a novel by Max Brand (publication undetermined).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 19m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,092ft

Synopsis

Assigned to work at the Jupiter Powder Plant to develop a secret explosive, befuddled young scientist J. Quincy Pennant rents a room at Mrs. Douglas' boardinghouse, where he meets his fellow boarders Dolly Smythe, Sue, Betty and Helen, who are employed as dancers at the Rainbow Gardens casino. Pennant is "adopted' by the glamorous foursome when he evicts Dolly's boisterous suitor, Jeems O'Shea, from the house. Reporting for work at the plant, Pennant meets Dr. Wayne, the head of operations, and his assistant, Oliver Lindsay. Lindsay, who in reality is an enemy agent, becomes annoyed when Pennant refuses to keep a journal of his work. To keep track of Pennant, Wayne assigns Jeems, a plant employee. At first angry with Pennant for humiliating him in front of Dolly, Jeems soon grows to respect the scientist's nerve of steel, and the two become friends. After working continuously for three days and nights, Pennant develops an explosive that can skip over long distances, and Wayne insists that the scientist transcribe his formula. That night, Pennant returns to the boardinghouse with a gift for his neighbor, Sally Dean, with whom he is smitten. When Sally rejects his gift, Pennant laments that he lacks a "formula for love," and the other girls comfort him. After the plant vault is robbed of everything except Pennant's notes, which are in code, Wayne orders the scientist to carry his code in a gunbelt and assigns Jeems to protect him. Unsuccessful at stealing Pennant's plans, Lindsay sends for Sally and offers her money to win the scientist's confidence and formula. Sally accepts his offer and when Pennant professes his love but refuses to decipher his code, she snubs him. When the other girls discover Pennant's coded worksheets, they assume that he is a professional gambler and invite him to the casino that night. Meanwhile, an impatient Lindsay orders Harvey Dodge, his accomplice, to use force to obtain the code. Dodge follows Pennant to the casino, where he attempts to drug the scientist's drink. When Meeker, Jeem's friend, drinks the drugged potion instead, Pennant takes to the gambling tables and wins all the jackpots. Dodge's thugs then stage a fight in which they knock Pennant unconscious and steal the belt containing his notes. Sally and the girls carry the dazed scientist to the office of Chick Parker, owner of the club and also an espionage agent. There, after returning Pennant's notes, Sally locks the door against Dodge's thugs and escapes out the back door with the scientist. At the plant the next day, Wayne chides Pennant for his irresponsible behavior, and the scientist promises to complete his formula by Thursday for a test run. Meanwhile, Lindsay, believing that Sally is now in possession of the formula, offers her fifty dollars for it. On the day of the test, Lindsay's thugs knock Jeems unconscious as he loads explosives in the powder magazine, and when his friend fails to appear at the test site, Pennant goes to look for him. Back at the boardinghouse, Dolly confronts Sally about her duplicity, and the two decide to join forces and save Pennant. Meanwhile, Douglas' thugs have captured Pennant and, after planting a time bomb in the powder magazine, tie him up next to Jeems. Rushing to the plant, Dolly and Sally accuse Lindsay of espionage. In response, he draws a gun and drives away with his accomplices. Discovering that Pennant is still missing, Wayne and the women rush to the powder magazine, where they free the two men. When Jeems warns that a time bomb is about to explode, he and Pennant load the bomb onto a cart and speed down the road away from the plant, where they intercept Lindsay's getaway car. Lindsay tries to run the cart off the road, but only succeeds in knocking Jeems and Pennant off the cart and into a pond. At that moment, the bomb detonates, blowing up Lindsay and his gang. Back at plant headquarters, Wayne demands the formula, and after giving it to him, the scientist declares that he has finally found his "love formula" and kisses Sally.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Action
Spy
Release Date
Jun 19, 1942
Premiere Information
New York opening: 7 Jun 1942
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on a novel by Max Brand (publication undetermined).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 19m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,092ft

Articles

Powder Town - Powder Town


It's a good bet that no one involved in the making of Powder Town (1942) would ever have imagined that the film would still be enjoyed by thousands of viewers, thanks to TCM, more than 75 years later. The picture drew absolutely scathing reviews. "Exceedingly dull," said The New York Times. "An entertainment dud," proclaimed The Hollywood Reporter. "It misfires so completely that no one specifically can be blamed... The audience at preview talked back to it and laughed in the wrong places."

Variety declared: "This is a picture that should never have been made... It lacks story, action, direction, production or meaning... There is an explosion...at the end that will wake up any patrons who might be left in the theatre." The review added wryly that "J. R. McDonough, no longer with RKO, launched this production before he left the studio."

Powder Town had some prominent names involved. Beyond the cast of Victor McLaglen and Edmond O'Brien, there was the veteran director Rowland V. Lee (The Count of Monte Cristo [1934], Tower of London [1939]), and three credited writers who all were--or would soon be--famous for other works.

Vicki Baum, credited with the story idea, had written the classic Grand Hotel (1932).

Max Brand, credited with the novel, was a prolific writer in many mediums, with film work dating back to 1917. Over the years, he had created the characters of Dr. Kildare, the basis for a long-running film series, and Destry, played by James Stewart in Destry Rides Again (1939). Brand's real name was Frederick Faust, but he published under twenty different names throughout his career while turning out an estimated thirty million words of fiction. Two years after the release of Powder Town, he was killed in combat in Italy, at the age of 51, while working as a war correspondent.

The third writer on Powder Town was David Boehm, credited with the screenplay itself. He would be Oscar-nominated a year later for his next film, A Guy Named Joe (1943).

Powder Town is an oddball film, a propagandistic war-themed farce with Edmond O'Brien playing a befuddled scientist named J. Quincy Pennant. He takes a job at a "powder plant" to develop a secret new explosive that can "jump" over long distances- meaning that when it is put in one place to explode, it somehow detonates in two places at once. Victor McLaglen plays bodyguard and nursemaid to O'Brien while enemy agents, espionage and dancing girls abound. The girls share O'Brien's boarding house, and one of them is played by June Havoc in one of her earliest features. In the role of the boarding housekeeper is character actress Mary Gordon, best-remembered for a similar recurring role as housekeeper Mrs. Hudson in the Sherlock Holmes films of the era.

The movie was filmed in November and December 1941, just after the Pearl Harbor attack. Trade reports indicate that filming was delayed due to script issues, but according to critics at least, it wasn't delayed enough.

By Jeremy Arnold
Powder Town  - Powder Town

Powder Town - Powder Town

It's a good bet that no one involved in the making of Powder Town (1942) would ever have imagined that the film would still be enjoyed by thousands of viewers, thanks to TCM, more than 75 years later. The picture drew absolutely scathing reviews. "Exceedingly dull," said The New York Times. "An entertainment dud," proclaimed The Hollywood Reporter. "It misfires so completely that no one specifically can be blamed... The audience at preview talked back to it and laughed in the wrong places." Variety declared: "This is a picture that should never have been made... It lacks story, action, direction, production or meaning... There is an explosion...at the end that will wake up any patrons who might be left in the theatre." The review added wryly that "J. R. McDonough, no longer with RKO, launched this production before he left the studio." Powder Town had some prominent names involved. Beyond the cast of Victor McLaglen and Edmond O'Brien, there was the veteran director Rowland V. Lee (The Count of Monte Cristo [1934], Tower of London [1939]), and three credited writers who all were--or would soon be--famous for other works. Vicki Baum, credited with the story idea, had written the classic Grand Hotel (1932). Max Brand, credited with the novel, was a prolific writer in many mediums, with film work dating back to 1917. Over the years, he had created the characters of Dr. Kildare, the basis for a long-running film series, and Destry, played by James Stewart in Destry Rides Again (1939). Brand's real name was Frederick Faust, but he published under twenty different names throughout his career while turning out an estimated thirty million words of fiction. Two years after the release of Powder Town, he was killed in combat in Italy, at the age of 51, while working as a war correspondent. The third writer on Powder Town was David Boehm, credited with the screenplay itself. He would be Oscar-nominated a year later for his next film, A Guy Named Joe (1943). Powder Town is an oddball film, a propagandistic war-themed farce with Edmond O'Brien playing a befuddled scientist named J. Quincy Pennant. He takes a job at a "powder plant" to develop a secret new explosive that can "jump" over long distances- meaning that when it is put in one place to explode, it somehow detonates in two places at once. Victor McLaglen plays bodyguard and nursemaid to O'Brien while enemy agents, espionage and dancing girls abound. The girls share O'Brien's boarding house, and one of them is played by June Havoc in one of her earliest features. In the role of the boarding housekeeper is character actress Mary Gordon, best-remembered for a similar recurring role as housekeeper Mrs. Hudson in the Sherlock Holmes films of the era. The movie was filmed in November and December 1941, just after the Pearl Harbor attack. Trade reports indicate that filming was delayed due to script issues, but according to critics at least, it wasn't delayed enough. By Jeremy Arnold

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

According to a pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter, Ruth Warrick was originally slated for the lead in this picture. Warwick and Edmond O'Brien were teamed earlier in 1941 for the RKO film Obliging Young Lady. A November Hollywood Reporter news item printed just prior to production noted that the film was delayed because of script problems. John Twist was originally assigned to write the screenplay, but his credit was later downgraded to contributor to screenplay construction by SAB. A December Hollywood Reporter news item, written in the middle of production, notes that additional sequences were to be added to update the film in relation to the United States' recent entry into World War II. According to modern sources, B unit head J. R. McDonough, who launched this production, had left the studio by the time it was released.