Carole Lombard in “High Voltage”

Carole Lombard made her “talkie” debut in 1929 in the film High Voltage. She starred with William Boyd and character actor Billy Bevan she was part of a group of people stranded in a snowstorm in an abandoned church.

Somewhere in the Sierras a group of four passengers and their bus driver are attempting to navigate the roads during a blizzard. On the bus are Hendrickson (Phillips Smalley) “The Banker”, a young girl only credited as “The Kid” (Dione Ellis), Dan (Owen Moore) “The Detective” and his prisoner, Billie (Carol [minus the “e”] Lombard) “The Girl”. The driver, Gus (Billy Bevan) “The Driver” claims that the snow is nothing and he will get the group to Chicago.

Of course, Gus is an blowhard who thinks nothing can stop him from performing his duties (neither rain nor snow, etc.), but the weather has a different idea. They get stranded and end up having to trek across the snow on foot. ortunately there is a nearby church…although how they knew which way to go is a mystery. It’s not evident that it is that nearby.

The five get shelter inside the church, but discover they are not alone. There is also a hobo, Bill (William Boyd). Bill has some small stash of food so the six won’t starve to death, and he takes charge. At least as far as the rationing of supplies is concerned. As Bill states, they may be there for 10 days. It comes to light that Bill is on the run from the law himself, which causes some clashing between Bill and Dan.

Thus begins the rather odd stay in the church. While Billie is initially standoffish with Bill, a mutual friendship occurs which actually blossoms into love. And at one point the two decide to make a break for it on he road leaving the others behind. But the sighting of a rescue plane causes them to turn back.

There are certain aspects of this film that are distracting. For one, there seems to be too many times when coherent dialogue is secondary to the actual need to have someone speaking. I attribute this to the nascent novelty of talking pictures. Every time Dan and Bill confront each other they have a conversation it basically deteriorates into a kid’s playground confrontation, with all the menace implied. For instance, early in the picture, when Dan determines that Bill may be not all on the up-and-up, this exchange occurs:

Dan: I’d not be surprised if I haven’t seen YOU some place before.

Bill: Well, maybe you have. Who can tell?

Dan: Maybe one of these days I’ll be taking YOU on to the pen.

Bill: Maybe you will.

Dan: Maybe I will.

Bill: Maybe!

Dan: Maybe!

Truth be told, this little film is not enough to hold interest, unless you are a history buff who wants to see Boyd or Lombard in early talkie roles. Billy Bevan is more of a treat than the two stars, if you ask me. But far be it from me to turn you away from a potential hour of entertainment. Just don’t expect too much “voltage”. The love between Bill and Billie that develops is pretty tame. And the confrontations aren’t very exciting either.

A sad note: This movie was the penultimate appearance of Diane Ellis (“The Kid”). She married her husband in October of 1930 and died on their honeymoon two months later in India.

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.