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Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Alligator People (1959)

A young bride (Beverly Garland) is abandoned by her husband (Richard Crane) on their wedding night. She manages to trace him back to his ancestral home in the Louisiana bayous where she discovers a terrible secret. Directed by Roy Del Ruth, this is an enjoyable if not particularly original low budget programmer. It's a pity that the alligator "people" look wasn't perfected because all we get is a man in what is essentially an alligator mask that looks like a Halloween costume. Fortunately he isn't revealed until the very end but until then, Del Ruth provides a nice atmosphere that keeps us in anticipation. Beverly Garland wasn't called the original Scream Queen for nothing and she puts her lungs to good use here several times. With George Macready, Bruce Bennett, Douglas Kennedy, Frieda Inescort and Lon Chaney Jr. as a lecherous thug who's more frightening than any alligator or alligator people.   

Les Sorcieres De Salem (1957)

Salem, Massachusetts in the year 1692. After being spurned from his wife's (Simone Signoret) bed, a Puritan farmer (Yves Montand) beds down with a teenage girl (Mylene Demongeot). When he later rejects her, she and a group of other girls feign possession and accuse fellow villagers of witchcraft. Her intention is to have his wife executed for witchcraft and thus leaving the husband to her. Based on the 1953 play by Arthur Miller and adapted for the screen by Jean Paul Sartre and directed by Raymond Rouleau. Miller's play was an allegory on the "witch hunts" by the House Un-American Activities Committee from that period. It wasn't until 1996 that Hollywood made a film version of Miller's play. But almost 40 years earlier, the French had no compunctions about making a movie out of Miller's controversial piece. It seems odd at first to see such an American story played out in French but one soon gets over it. Sartre's screenplay is faithful to the play and well acted by all and forthright in a way that would not have been possible for Hollywood in 1957. Still powerful stuff some 40 years later. With Michel Piccoli, Alfred Adam, Pascale Petit and Jean Debucourt.  

Friday, September 22, 2017

Battle Of The Sexes (2017)

The (in)famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) that had America riveted as it dealt with its own male chauvinism and the rise of feminism. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) from a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE). As long as the film is dealing with tennis and gender equality, the film is very good but when it deals with King's sexuality, it's a big yawn. The film makers can't get a handle on how to deal with it so they give us movie cliches like sunsets, silhouette kisses and lines like "This can't happen again!". It doesn't help that Andrea Riseborough as King's lover isn't a very interesting actress. As expected, Stone and Carell are excellent as the rising tennis star and the hustling has been. Carell, in particular, shows us the human behind the loud mouth buffoon. Remarkably, Dayton and Faris manage to drum up a great deal of excitement and tension during the big tennis match considering we already know the outcome going in. One minor complaint: couldn't they have gotten Carell a better tennis double? The double looks nothing like him. Other than Riseborough, the supporting cast is excellent especially Elisabeth Shue and Austin Stowell as Briggs and King's spouses respectively. With Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming and Natalie Morales.  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Viaggio Con Anita (aka Lovers And Liars) (1979)

Set in Italy, a married businessman (Giancarlo Giannini) wants to take his girlfriend (Lorraine De Selle) with him on his auto trip to see his dying father. When she refuses, he spontaneously takes the girlfriend's visiting American friend (Goldie Hawn) instead. Directed by Mario Monicelli (BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET). First off, I watched the English language version which is some 20 minutes shorter than the Italian cut. No doubt that is to the film's disadvantage. That being said, I can't imagine my opinion being vastly different unless the English language version eliminated all the positive qualities of its characters. Giannini's character seems more interested in getting laid than seeing his dying father (when he finally gets there, the father is dead). Hawn is on the rebound from the lover she left when she finds out he was married. So what does she do? Gets involved with another married man! Who can care about people like these two? Hawn and Giannini are very appealing actors but while Hawn manages to hold onto her charms, Giannini is so irritating that when he gets punched out in a bar I could have cheered. The underscore is by Ennio Morricone. With Claudine Auger (THUNDERBALL), Laura Betti, Aurore Clement and Andrea Ferreol.

Beggars Of Life (1928)

After killing her adopted father, a young girl (Louise Brooks) runs off with a drifter (Richard Arlen). Dressed as a boy, she and the drifter attempt to escape to Canada via the rails with the police in hot pursuit. Loosely based on the non fiction book by Jim Tully which Maxwell Anderson adapted into the play OUTSIDE LOOKING IN and directed by William A. Wellman (THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY). This is a lovely film for the most part although it gets needlessly sentimental toward the film's end. Although Wallace Beery as a hobo thug gets top billing, the film belongs to Brooks and Arlen. Beery is very good though his character's change of heart toward the end seems arbitrary and out of character. But the film has an authentic feel to it, indeed many of the hobos and rail riders in the film were played by real hobos. There's a nicely done train crash at the end which was done without any special effects, they crashed a real train. After the filming was done, some minimal dialog and  sound effects were added post production without Wellman's blessing but the transfer I saw was the silent version Wellman preferred. With Roscoe Karns and Blue Washington.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Warning Shot (1967)

When staking out an apartment building, a policeman (David Janssen) tells a man (Donald Curtis) to stop but the man pulls a gun on him and the cop shoots him dead. But the man's gun mysteriously disappears and the dead man turns out to be a pillar of the community. How can he prove he's not just a trigger happy cop? Based on the novel 711 OFFICER NEEDS HELP by Whit Masterson and directed by Buzz Kulik. It's a well done if messy police drama. I liked it that Janssen's cop is a bit of a screw up rather than a typical above board hero type cop out to prove his innocence. Still, I think it might have been more interesting if we hadn't been shown the man actually pulling the gun so that we couldn't be sure of the cop's innocence until the very end. It could have used some tightening up and Joan Collins as Janssen's ex-wife could have easily have been eliminated from the film without any loss. Her scenes just drag the movie down. My favorite performance came from Eleanor Parker as the victim's boozed up nymphomaniac widow! With Walter Pidgeon, George Sanders, Lillian Gish, Stefanie Powers, Keenan Wynn, Ed Begley, Carroll O'Connor, George Grizzard, Sam Wanamaker and Jean Carson.

Tycoon (1947)

Set in Peru, an American engineer (John Wayne) is hired by a wealthy industrialist (Cedric Hardwicke) to build a tunnel through the Andes mountains. The two men are in conflict over the methods of building the tunnel which creates tension. That tension is increased when the engineer falls in love with the industrialist's daughter (Laraine Day). Based on the 1934 novel by C.E. Scoggins and directed by Richard Wallace. At over a two hours running time, the film can't sustain either the drama or the tension necessary to keep the viewer involved. Handsomely shot in three strip Techinicolor with Lone Pine and Arcadia, both in California, standing in for Peru. For a change, Wayne has a role where he isn't the "hero". In fact, for a large portion of the film, he's a stubborn jerk. The supporting cast doesn't amount to much, even a great actress like Judith Anderson is saddled with a nothing role. This is for Wayne fans only! With Anthony Quinn, James Gleason, Paul Fix and Ann Codee.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A.D. (1985)

This 8 hour film traces the rise of Christianity in Jerusalem and Rome while concurrently examining the corruption of Rome through four of its emperors: the paranoid Tiberius (James Mason), the mad Caligula (John McEnery), the timid Claudius (Richard Kiley) and the devious Nero (Anthony Andrews). Based on the novel KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Anthony Burgess (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) who co-wrote the screenplay and directed by Stuart Cooper. As long as the film concentrates on the machinations of Roman politics, it remains an engrossing tale but the Christian sequences are insufferable especially those involving Peter (Denis Quilley) and Paul (Philip Sayer). The acting varies from awful (Neil Dickson) to very good (Chris Humphreys). The massive cast includes Ava Gardner, Susan Sarandon, Ian McShane, John Houseman, Colleen Dewhurst, Jack Warden, Richard Roundtree, Fernando Rey, Millie Perkins, Jennifer O'Neill, Ben Vereen, Anthony Zerbe, David Hedison, Amanda Pays, Diane Venora, Akosua Busia and Michael Wilding Jr. as Jesus.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Apache Drums (1951)

Set in a scarcely populated Arizona desert town, a gambler (Stephen McNally) with an itchy gun finger and the town's mayor (Willard Parker) are both in love with the same girl (Coleen Gray). But that all takes a backseat when a group of renegade Indians attack the town. Based on STAND AT SPANISH BOOT by Harry Brown and directed by Hugo Fregonese. This was also the last film produced by Val Lewton, most famous for his RKO horror films of the 1940s like CAT PEOPLE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. It's a "B" western but very well done. The film's big set piece or high point if you prefer is the almost 30 minute assault by the Apaches on the townspeople trapped in a church. This is where the Lewton touch is evident. Like his horror films which suggested more than they showed, we're constantly reminded of the Apache's presence without actually seeing them by their constant drums and war cries and when they attack it's unexpected and startling. The acting is decent though I found Arthur Shields as the town preacher constantly bringing up God and constantly referring to the Apaches as heathen and devils irritating. With James Best, Clarence Muse and James Griffith. 

The Return Of The Pink Panther (1975)

When the legendary Pink Panther diamond is stolen from a Middle Eastern museum, suspicion falls on the now retired Lord Lytton (Christopher Plummer) who police have long suspected of being The Phantom. Assigned to the case against the will of his superior (Herbert Lom), Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) attempts to link The Phantom to the theft. There were 11 years between the last Pink Panther film (A SHOT IN THE DARK) from 1964 to 1975. Directed once again by Blake Edwards, the film takes a long time in getting its rhythm going. Laughs are sporadic and often weak. Things pick up in the second half especially with a hilarious set piece when Clouseau gets caught in Lady Lytton's (Catherine Schell) hotel room. The film is worth seeing for that sequence alone with everyone involved in the scene showing an expertise in physical comedy. Henry Mancini again supplies the suitable underscore. With Burt Kwouk, Peter Arne, Gregoire Aslan and Graham Stark.