Thursday, August 21, 2014
The Captain (Alec Guinness) of a ship that travels between Gibraltar and North Africa is a most contented man. And why shouldn't he be? In Gibraltar, he's married to a domestic wife (Celia Johnson, BRIEF ENCOUNTER) who cooks, darns his socks and keeps his home. In North Africa, he has an exciting Latin lover (Yvonne De Carlo) and they're up all night dancing and drinking champagne! But he's so self centered that he can't see that the domestic wife wants some excitement in her life and the sexy mistress wants to stay home and cook for her man. This disarming sly comedy is a delight! Guinness's reputation as one of the great dramatic actors often obscures his stellar talents as a comic actor and this film serves as a reminder of his comedic abilities. But perhaps the biggest surprise is how well De Carlo holds her own with Guinness and Celia Johnson as an actress. Nothing she did in Hollywood made use of the comic talent she displays here. The story is told in flashback and the Oscar nominated screenplay by Alec Coppel (VERTIGO) and Nicholas Phipps is such a clever piece that one can forgive the rather unlikely finale. Malcolm Arnold provides the lively underscore. With Charles Goldner, Sebastian Cabot, Ferdy Mayne, Peter Bull and Miles Malleson.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Three small time New Orleans thieves, two brothers (Matt Dillon, Gary Sinise) and a psychopath (William Fichtner), are on the run from the law because of a bungled hold up. They hide out at a basement bar and take the owner (M. Emmet Walsh), barmaid (Faye Dunaway) and three customers (Viggo Mortensen, Skeet Ulrich, John Spencer) as hostages. But as they struggle to find a way out, everything falls apart around them. Actor Kevin Spacey's first directorial effort (far superior to his second, the misguided BEYOND THE SEA) is an intense thriller with a bleak view of mankind. Dunaway has a line at the film's end, "None of us are heroes" and boy, is she right! Those that survive the long night's siege will never be free of their guilt. Not surprisingly since he is an actor, Spacey elicits first rate performances from his entire cast notably Sinise and Dunaway. The restless score by Michael Brook keeps things on edge. With Joseph Mantegna and Frankie Faison.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
A train robber (George Peppard) is betrayed by his partner (John Vernon) and ends up in prison for three years. When he gets out, his first task is to get even. But his partner is now a respectable citizen married to the woman (Diana Muldaur) he stole from his former cohort. A decent western is in here somewhere but the film is bogged down with lots of lame comedy. For example, a bit about a continuously fainting mother isn't funny the first time around yet the gag is repeated three more times! There is a major subplot featuring Chinese miners and it's refreshing to see that the stereotype is avoided and the characters are treated not only with dignity but have some resolve of their own. The cinematography by Alric Edens (MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ) can't quite overcome that Universal TV look that permeated their product in the mid 1960s to 1970s but it's sharp with vivid colors. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen. With France Nuyen and Soon Tek Oh as a pair of lovebirds and with a stellar cast of character actors including Marie Windsor, John Doucette, Harry Carey Jr., Richard Loo, Joan Shawlee, Donald Barry, George Chandler and Ben Cooper.
A self made millionaire (Walter Huston) sells his automobile company and retires by going on an ocean voyage to Europe with his socially snobbish wife (Ruth Chatterton), who is afraid of aging. But instead of bringing them together as they had hoped, the trip divides them as they discover they each want different things. Based on the Sinclair Lewis novel via a stage adaptation by Sidney Howard (who did the screenplay), this is an adult film in the best sense of the word. Intelligent, well written, well acted, solidly directed (by William Wyler). I've not read read the Sinclair Lewis source material so I don't know how much of it he took from the book but Howard's dialogue is first rate. Sharp and incisive and Wyler shows what a wonderful craftsman he could be with great material (and actors) to work with. Chatterton's character is usually referred to as a bitch because of her behavior. She is but I totally understood her frustration and unhappiness and Chatterton makes her hard to completely dislike. With Mary Astor, John Payne, Spring Byington, Maria Ouspenskaya and a very young David Niven as a gigolo.
After a nuclear submarine comes into contact with a large unknown object that disables it, portions of that object are studied by two renowned marine biologists (Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis) who come up with a startling revelation. It's a massive octopus! This sci-fi feature is one of a legion of giant creature movies (ants, tarantulas, crabs, locusts, leeches etc.) that permeated 1950s science fiction cinema. The superior model animation by the great Ray Harryhausen lifts this entry into a slightly above average genre piece but it's far from one of the best examples of this type of movie. Its pace is relaxed, perhaps too relaxed and coming after a well done destruction of the Golden Gate bridge and a rampage on the streets of San Francisco, the final destruction of the octopus is anti-climatic. The producer is the notoriously cheap Sam Katzman so that might explain some of slapdash quality of the film. Directed by Robert Gordon. With Kenneth Tobey (who else?) as the naval hero and Ian Keith.
Monday, August 18, 2014
With his wife (Dorothy Peterson) and children away on vacation, a college professor (Edward G. Robinson) accepts an invitation from a beautiful stranger (Joan Bennett) to come to her apartment to look at some art work. When her lover (Arthur Loft) barges in, he attacks the professor who in self defense stabs him to death with a pair of scissors. Instead of going to the police, they decide to dispose of the body and cover up the killing. Bad idea! Based on the novel ONCE OFF GUARD by J.H. Wallis, Fritz Lang's film noir is a strong, tense nailbiter with Robinson very effective as an ordinary man who finds himself caught up in a situation that he's losing control over. Bennett plays one of her more sympathetic femme fatales, certainly more sympathetic than the slut she would play in Lang's SCARLET STREET, again with Robinson, the next year. It has, unfortunately, one of the most cowardly endings ever in a film noir, clearly a sop to the Production Code, it's an embarrassment. Up till that point, it's first rate and compelling. The underscore by Arthur Lange and Hugo Friedhofer copped an Oscar nomination. With Dan Duryea (who would join Robinson and Bennett in Lang's SCARLET STREET), Raymond Massey and Iris Adrian.
Four young women working for a publishing company in Manhattan and their ambitions both in career and romance are examined in Jean Negulesco's film of the best selling novel by Rona Jaffe. Caroline (Hope Lange) is fresh out of college but "unofficially" engaged, Gregg (Suzy Parker) is an aspiring actress biding time doing secretarial work, Barbara (Martha Hyer) is a single mother with a child recovering from an affair with a married man and April (Diane Baker) is a naive small town girl looking for romance. The film is different from the usual romantic three girls looking to catch a husband movies that Fox was doing around this time. This is a much darker, less glamorous take on the subject involving abortion, adultery, madness and deceit. Closer to PEYTON PLACE than THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN. It's a juicy melodrama that touches on a few kernels of truth amid the glossy CinemaScope sheen. Clocking in at two hours, Martha Hyer's role is a victim of the cutting room floor as her character's fate is left hanging. Not coincidentally, unlike the other three actresses, Hyer was not a Fox contract player. The film features Joan Crawford in a supporting role but it's probably her last really good performance (BABY JANE belonged to Davis). She really nails it as an aging woman grasping at her last chance for happiness but realizing it's come too late. The lovely title song sung by Johnny Mathis is by Sammy Cahn and Alfred Newman. With Stephen Boyd, Louis Jourdan, Brian Aherne, Robert Evans, Brett Halsey, Donald Harron and June Blair.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
In 1928, an internationally famous magician and cynic (Colin Firth) is asked by his childhood friend (Simon McBurney, FRIENDS WITH MONEY) to help expose a fake medium (Emma Stone). But on the French Riviera, he finds himself falling under her spell and reevaluating his misanthropic lifestyle. Woody Allen's latest film is a congenial piece of piffle but ultimately inconsequential. It's the kind of film that's pleasant enough while you're watching it but fades from memory within hours of leaving the theater. The first third is the best and has promise but then one quickly realizes that it's not going anywhere and the disappointment sets in. Allen has painted himself in a corner so that there is nowhere to go! Darius Khondji's (THE IMMIGRANT) lensing of the South of France is lush, Sonia Grande's period costumes are perfection, Emma Stone is adorable but the laughs are sporadic. Slight as it is, I found it preferable to Allen's horribly overpraised BLUE JASMINE. With Marcia Gay Harden, Eileen Atkins, Jacki Weaver, Catherine McCormack, Hamish Linklater and Ute Lemper.
Saturday, August 16, 2014
In Paris, a happily married doctor (Maurice Chevalier) is faithful to his wife (Jeanette MacDonald) who he is madly in love with. But when her schoolgirl friend (Genevieve Tobin) enters the picture, his fidelity is tested. One of the treasures of early thirties musicals, Ernst Lubitsch's sly oh so French musical comedy is a pre-code film. So that means adultery is treated casually while everyone forgives each other for their dalliances, real or imagined while singing the charming Oscar Straus and Leo Robin witty ditties. For those used to the aging Chevalier of his GIGI days, it comes as quite a surprise to see how appealing he was in his early career. Similarly, MacDonald is delightful, a fluid sexy minx quite unrecognizable from the iron butterfly MGM turned her into when they paired her with Nelson Eddy. Apparently George Cukor had his finger in the finished product but it feels totally like a Lubitsch film. With Roland Young, Charles Ruggles and Josephine Dunn.
Set in Czechoslovakia, the corpse of a a foreign journalist (Jean Sorel, BELLE DE JOUR) is discovered and brought to the morgue and pronounced D.O.A. Except that he's alive and his brain feverishly trying to remember the series of events that brought him to this point. But will he be able to make them realize he's alive before his planned autopsy? Directed by Aldo Lado, this is unusual for an Italian giallo because the violence is remarkably restrained. Instead of the usual excessive gore inherent in the genre, Lado's film relies on suspense rather than bloodletting. So it's an exercise in style over substance and it works on that level which is good since the actual mystery itself when revealed is rather ludicrous. Still, I don't think I quite expected the grim conclusion that transpires. It's an odd polyglot of a cast with the French Sorel, the Swedish Ingrid Thulin playing Americans, the Italian Mario Adorf playing an Irishman and the American Barbara Bach (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) as a Czech but that's due more to the necessities of international production in the 60s and 70s than anything else. Ennio Morricone provides one of hims more subtle scores.