Ray Enright | While the Patient Slept | Trail Street

Classic Film and Television Home Page

Ray Enright

Ray Enright was a Hollywood director.

Ray Enright does not have that good a track record as a director. He made a lot of musicals in the 1930's, which sometimes have great musical numbers from their choreographers, but which otherwise are dismal viewing experiences in their dramatic sections. The Singing Marine is just plain stupefying; On Your Toes (1939) is notable only for the Slaughter on Tenth Avenue Ballet, and Dames (1934) for its Busby Berkeley finale (including the wonderful long sequence choreographing "I Only Have Eyes For You".) On the plus side, Ready, Willing and Able (1935) is more enjoyable throughout, although once again, the big typewriter finale choreographed by Bobby Connolly is the best part. Did Enright make any creative contribution to the spectacular dance numbers that run through his films?

In the same year, Enright made an amusing comedy, The Traveling Saleslady (1935).

While the Patient Slept

Ray Enright's whodunit, While the Patient Slept (1935), is surprisingly faithful in its plotting to Mignon G. Eberhart's 1930 novel. But it lacks the marvelous mise-en-scène Eberhart brought to her prose account of mysterious nocturnal goings-on in a spooky old mansion.

Still, this film must have been a hit with audiences, because it launched a whole series of films, in which every actress on the Warner Brothers lot played Eberhart's nurse detective Sarah Keate.

Trail Street

Visual Style

Trail Street (1947) is a little known Western, directed by an even more obscure figure, Ray Enright. I was just channel surfing when this came on, and started to watch it with the sound turned off. The visuals looked interesting, and watched the whole movie silent, just occasionally turning on the volume to get some clues about the story. The visuals are more graceful than I would have expected.

There are some vigorous camera movements, in which Enright follows a character through a crowd:

Even when Enright is not moving his camera, many of the visuals have a kinetic quality. People are always moving into or out of the frame. Their motions are graceful and vivid. There is a long sequence of various couples in the plot dancing at a fete. Even Robert Ryan, who I do not think of as the ballroom dancing type, has a rhythmic outing with his girlfriend here. All in all, while the film is no masterpiece, it shows graceful mise-en-scène.

Another notable sequence: when Scott rescues the old farmers that had been tied up by bad guys. This sequence ends with an architecturally striking shot. It looks much different from anything I've seen in a Western before. Some fresh visual thinking is at work here.

Noir Costumes and Steve Brodie

1947 was the best year of actor Steve Brodie's career. He got to play a leading man in the wonderful Desperate (Anthony Mann). And he had smaller but juicy roles as villains in Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur) and Trail Street. While he played working class stiffs in the other two films, he gets to swagger around as the town's villainous land baron in Trail Street. Brodie sports the sort of thin mustache worn by Society types, such as Zachary Scott's spineless rotter in Mildred Pierce.

Brodie also gets some of the best clothes of his career, ornate, spiffy Western suits. Costume designer Adele Balkan actually gives better clothes to supporting actors Brodie and Ryan, than she does to star Randolph Scott. While this is sociologically accurate - it makes sense for town money bags Brodie to be better dressed than Marshall Scott - it somewhat violates Hollywood tradition. Similarly in Bodyguard (Richard Fleischer), Balkan has supporting actor Philip Terry in dressier suits than lead Lawrence Tierney.

The elegant Western suits worn by Robert Ryan and Steve Brodie in Trail Street are frequently pinstriped, and recall the dressy pinstriped suits worn by men in film noir, at its height in 1947. This is the first and only Western I can recall seeing which adapts such modern noir looks to its Old West characters' clothes. Pinstripes are especially effective at adding some glamour to black and white films, such as both Trail Street and film noir. They are just as flattering to men here in Western mode, as they are in the urban landscapes of film noir. Just three years later, in 1950, most Hollywood Westerns would break out in full color, in an attempt to give theater audiences an experience they could not get from their black and white TVs at home. Cowboy costumes would turn into symphonies of color. The experiment with pinstripe suits seen in Trail Street would have little point or place in these all-color extravaganzas.