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Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Mirror Crack'd (1980)

Excitement runs through a small English village in 1953 when a famous film actress (Elizabeth Taylor) and her director husband (Rock Hudson) come to make a movie about Mary, Queen of Scots. But when a local woman (Maureen Bennett) is murdered at a reception in the actress's home, it's possible that she was not the intended victim and the intended target is the actress. Certainly, the suspects are plenty. Based on an Agatha Christie novel that's been spiced up a bit with some bawdy humor that you'd never find in Dame Agatha's novels, the film is only moderately interesting. Angela Lansbury as Christie's sleuth Miss Marple (closer to Christie's conception than Margaret Rutherford was) spends most of the film recovering from a sprained foot which leaves her policeman nephew (Edward Fox) to carry on most of the sleuthing. There's a slight unpleasantness in Christie exploiting a tragic incident in the life of a real person (the actress Gene Tierney) for her entertainment but even if you can get past that, it's not one of the better film adaptation of her mysteries. The director Guy Hamilton (GOLDFINGER) needed to provide a sense of immediacy which without, it's rather lackadaisical. The bitch scenes between Taylor and a rival actress (Kim Novak) are amusing and provide some sparks. Also in the cast Tony Curtis, Geraldine Chaplin, Pierce Brosnan, Anthony Steel, Dinah Sheridan, Hildegard Neil and Allan Cuthbertson.

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954)

Set in 1850 Oregon, a frontiersman (Howard Keel) comes into town looking for a wife. He finds a willing bride (Jane Powell) but when she arrives at his farm, she discovers he has six brothers that he didn't tell her about. But having a woman on the place only makes the brothers desirous of brides of their own. This Oscar nominated (best picture) folksy and raucous musical is one of the most joyous of all film musicals. Inspired by Stephen Vincent Benet's short story SOBBIN' WOMEN, director Stanley Donen aided immeasurably by choreographer Michael Kidd gives us a robust and energetic entertainment that hasn't lost its luster in the ensuing years. The film's musical set piece, the barn raising dance may well be the best dance number in an MGM musical film that didn't involve Astaire or Kelly. The songs by Johnny Mercer and Gene De Paul are melodic and clever and it won the best scoring of a musical Oscar for Saul Chaplin and Adolph Deutsch. There's been some contemporary backlash against the film for being politically incorrect. Hairy mountain men kidnapping women and carrying them off to their mountain lair may be appalling but the film obviously doesn't condone it so ..... lighten up! As the brothers: Russ Tamblyn, Jacques D'Amoise, Tommy Rall, Jeff Richards, Marc Platt and Matt Mattox and as the brides: Julie Newmar, Ruta Lee, Virginia Gibson, Betty Carr, Nancy Kilgas and Norma Doggett.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Love Affair (1939)

Although they are both engaged to other people, when a playboy (Charles Boyer) and a singer (Irene Dunne) meet on a luxury liner, there's an attraction that can't be denied and grows stronger until by the end of the voyage, it's love. One of the most popular films of its year (it received six Oscar nominations including best film), the film is just fine during the ocean voyage segment where there's enough humor to make it a pleasant love story. Plus while I've never cared much for Dunne in her dramas, I've always enjoyed her work in comedy and she gets a chance to work her comedic chops a bit. But once they reach New York, the film becomes tedious and bogs down in sentimental twaddle that sucks the life out of it. The director Leo McCarey remade the film again in 1957 as AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER and it worked better for me there than here. With Maria Ouspenskaya as Boyer's grandmother in the film's best scenes, Lee Bowman and Astrid Allwyn.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Strait Jacket (1964)

After being released from a mental asylum after 20 years for the ax murders of her husband (Lee Majors) and his girlfriend (Patricia Crest), a woman (Joan Crawford) goes to stay on her brother's (Leif Erickson) farm. It is there she is reunited with the daughter (Diane Baker) that witnessed the killings when she was a child. But there are signs that the mother may not be fully recovered as her strange behavior causes discomfort to those around her. Directed by schlockmeister extraordinaire William Castle from an original screenplay by Robert Bloch (PSYCHO), this is a fun movie in ways that weren't originally intended. Actually Crawford is very good in her first early scenes when she arrives from the asylum. But it isn't long before before she dons a wig and squeezes into a tight dress and the histrionics smash through her soft focus photography! That isn't a complaint, it's what makes the film so enjoyable as kitsch or "camp" if you prefer. Even the obviously fake decapitated heads add to the merriment. You got to hand to Crawford, love her or hate her, the woman was a Star, the quintessential Movie Star. As her daughter, Baker provides some levity to the overheated proceedings. With George Kennedy, Rochelle Hudson, Howard St. John, Edith Atwater and the bland John Anthony Hayes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Last Of The Red Hot Lovers (1972)

A man (Alan Arkin) in his mid forties is having a mid life crisis. He attempts a series of extra marital affairs that turn out to be disastrous with the sarcastic promiscuous Elaine (Sally Kellerman), the mad as a hatter Bobbi (Paula Prentiss) and the uptight suburban housewife Jeanette (Renee Taylor). In the 1960s and 70s, Neil Simon was a sure thing when it came to comedy whether on Broadway or Hollywood. His plays were an automatic sell for the movies (almost always adapted by him) and he wrote a few original screenplays too. Today, while some (like BAREFOOT IN THE PARK) still retain their charm, many of the film adaptations are static. A few actors in a room bantering quips back and forth is acceptable on the stage but it gets a wee tiresome on celluloid after awhile. LOVERS isn't one of Simon's better works and the third sequence with Arkin and Taylor can be painful to watch as the actors flap around desperately trying to breathe life into the scene. The first two sequences work considerably better thanks to Kellerman and Prentiss, expert comediennes who can squeeze a laugh (or at least a smile) out of the weakest material. Listlessly directed by Gene Saks.

The Big Clock (1948)

When the head (Charles Laughton) of a publishing empire assigns his crime editor (Ray Milland) to track down a mysterious man who may have killed a woman (Rita Johnson), who just happened to be the tycoon's mistress, the editor finds himself in the unenviable position of tracking down ... himself! Can he expose the real killer before the circumstantial evidence does him in? Based on a novel by Kenneth Fearing, this is a smart unassuming slice of film noir with dollops of humor thrown in. Perhaps too much as it often takes away from the tension that director John Farrow has carefully built up and one cheap laugh that stretches credibility though it's convenient for our hero's escape. I'm not a big fan of Milland's work in general but he's inoffensive here. The slack is picked up by Laughton, George Macready as his right hand man, Elsa Lanchester as an eccentric painter and a host of first rate character actors. Overall though, a clever taut thriller that just misses being classic. Updated and remade in 1987 as NO WAY OUT with Kevin Costner in Milland's role. With Maureen O'Sullivan (the director's wife) as Milland's wife, Harry Morgan, Lloyd Corrigan, Richard Webb and Dan Tobin.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

After her gay brother (Bill Hader) is released from a hospital after a suicide attempt, the sister (Kristen Wiig) he hasn't seen in ten years takes him in. They begin to bond again but their troubled past has so screwed them up that they may never be whole again ..... if they ever were. A popular film at this year's Sundance film festival, I was expecting more than another dysfunctional family dramedy. The cliches are abundant but I wouldn't mind that if only the writing were better. It makes one appreciate how good Tracy Letts writing on last year's dysfunctional family drama AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY was. There's a subplot involving Hader and an old high school teacher (Ty Burrell, MODERN FAMILY) that's the most interesting portion of the film but it's not fully developed. Fortunately, the running time is a merciful 90 minutes as it was already starting to wear out its welcome. On the plus side and it's a very big plus are the two central performances by Wiig and especially Hader which manage to stomp over the cliches and bring something fresh to the table. Directed by Craig Johnson. With Luke Wilson (very good) as Wiig's good natured husband and Joanna Gleason as their delusional mother.

Hercules (1997)

When Zeus (Rip Torn) and Hera (Samantha Eggar) have a son, they name him Hercules. But the god of the underworld Hades (James Woods) fears that this child will grow up and interfere with his plans to take over Mount Olympus so he has the infant kidnapped by his underlings (Bobcat Goldthwait, Matt Frewer) and ordered that he be killed but they bungle it. Instead he (Tate Donovan) survives and is raised by mortal parents (Hal Holbrook, Barbara Barrie). One of the more lackluster entries in the Walt Disney animation films that found new life in the wake of the enormous success of 1989's THE LITTLE MERMAID. Even the songs by Alan Menken (David Zippel does the lyrics here) are a rather generic lot with only the catchy I Wont' Say I'm In Love lingering awhile. The animation is rather unimaginative and the narrative lacking in the heart that made THE LITTLE MERMAID and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST so special. The humor is rather silly, I think I might have cracked a smile once ..... maybe. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. With the voices of Charlton Heston (whose delivery of the line, "You go, girl!" almost makes it worthwhile), Danny DeVito, Amanda Plummer, Paul Shaffer, Kathleen Freeman and Susan Egan.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Portrait Of Alison (1955)

When his journalist brother is killed in an auto accident (along with a female passenger) in Italy, a commercial artist (Robert Beatty) is questioned by the police about a mysterious postcard his brother mailed before he was killed but he knows nothing about it. Shortly after, the father (Henry Oscar) of the female passenger in the car asks him to paint a portrait of the girl (Terry Moore) from her photograph. But when a model (Josephine Griffin) is found murdered in his apartment, the artist becomes the prime suspect and the auto crash seems less likely to have been an accident. This British crime drama is rather overly complicated but that might be explained by the fact that it's based on a six part television series squeezed into a 90 minute running time. It's a respectable effort, however. Directed by Guy Green (A PATCH OF BLUE), it's nicely ambient (with a steal from Preminger's LAURA) and mystery buffs should have a nice time with it. The cinematography is by Wilkie Cooper (7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD). Retitled POSTMARK FOR DANGER for its American release. With William Sylvester, Geoffrey Keen and Allan Cuthbertson.

La Notte (1961)

A writer (Marcello Mastroianni) who is considered an intellectual and his wife (Jeanne Moreau), who's not, lead an emotionally empty existence. After Michelangelo Antonioni's groundbreaking masterpiece L'AVVENTURA pushed him into the forefront of Italian cinema, his follow up LA NOTTE was highly anticipated. But instead of breaking new ground or going in a different direction, what we got was more of the same. Which isn't to say it isn't a good film, it is but it's much less subtle than L'AVVENTURA as if Antonioni listened to complaints that audiences didn't "get" L'AVVENTURA so he made its themes of alienation in an increasingly materialistic and sterile society so obvious that a toddler couldn't help but "get" it! Visually, it's a stunner. It's all angles, textures and surfaces. Gianni Di Venanzo's (8 1/2) black and white lensing is a testament to how B&W cinematography is an art unto itself. Pick any random frame and you could hang it on your wall. Yet you have to hand it to Antonioni, making a film about bored people without being boring is nothing to sneeze at. With Monica Vitti and Bernhard Wicki.