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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Manuela (1957)

A 42 year old captain (Trevor Howard) of a cargo ship is disillusioned with his life and drinks heavily. But when he discovers a 17 year old stowaway (Elsa Martinelli) on board, he falls in love and becomes oblivious to his duties as captain of the ship. Realistically, is there a future for them? Based on the novel by William Woods (who also did the screenplay), this is an early directorial effort by Guy Hamilton (GOLDFINGER). It's an interesting film that seems to have slipped under the radar (it currently has only 36 votes on its IMDb page) of most filmgoers. While not quite LOLITA, its tale of an aging alcoholic sea captain and a young underage girl is handled tastefully and honestly. The film's ending is ambiguous thus leaving us to give it the ending we want to imagine which I preferred to an alternate ending that was shot but not used which was more bleak. Howard, one of the best British actors (who still hasn't been given his due), is excellent here and Martinelli (obviously older than 17) is charming. They make up for Pedro Armendariz' overacting. With Donald Pleasence and Jack MacGowran.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fedora (1978)

A film producer (William Holden) who has seen better days attends the funeral of the legendary film actress Fedora (Marthe Keller). At the funeral, he reflects how only two weeks earlier he went to Greece in an attempt to lure the actress out of retirement to star in his film. But what he discovers there is a more startling story than anything she played out on the screen. Based on a novella by actor turned writer Thomas Tryon (THE OTHER), this is a rather silly film. It's been decades since I've read Tryon's book but I don't recall his story being so foolish. If one didn't know that Billy Wilder was one of Hollywood's greatest film directors, from this film you'd assume he was a hack. I can't help but compare it to Aldrich's LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE since both films are very similar thematically. Aldrich's film isn't very good either but it has a sense of the absurd and it's much livelier. And it takes a star to play a star and Marthe Keller isn't a star. You can't believe she was a Hollywood legend. At least in LYLAH CLARE, they had a real star (Kim Novak) playing a Hollywood legend. No one is at there best here, even Miklos Rozsa's score sounds warmed over. With Hildegard Knef, Jose Ferrer, Frances Sternhagen, Stephen Collins, Mario Adorf and as themselves, Henry Fonda and Michael York.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Trial (1955)

In a small California beach town, a Mexican youth (Rafael Campos) is arrested for the murder of a 16 year old girl. A law professor (Glenn Ford) attempting to get some criminal trial experience is given the case to handle by the head (Arthur Kennedy in an Oscar nominated performance) of a small law firm. But the trial lawyer finds himself not only fighting the town's racism but the intentional exploitation of his client by his employer for his own political agenda. Earlier in the year, MGM had a critical and box office hit with BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK which dealt with racism against Japanese-Americans during WWII. But it was filmed in Eastman color and CinemaScope and employed some action sequences. TRIAL is a grittier film, shot in B&W and eschewing any thriller aspects. The film fully takes on racism (the judge in the case is black) and both the communist party and House Of Un-American Activities Committee. A lot on its plate, perhaps too much because the ending is unsatisfactory. But the intent is appreciated and for the most part executed admirably. Directed by Mark Robson (PEYTON PLACE). With Dorothy McGuire, John Hodiak, Katy Jurado, Robert Middleton, Elisha Cook, Barry Kelley and John Hoyt. 

Hands Across The Table (1935)

A gold digging manicurist (Carole Lombard) and a penniless playboy (Fred MacMurray) hook up with the understanding that they're both looking to marry for wealth, not love. But as Cupid works his magic, they have a hard time sticking to the agenda. Directed by Mitchell Leisen (HOLD BACK THE DAWN), this amiable comedy is boosted by the presence of Lombard and MacMurray who make for a great romantic team. If one is only familiar with the Disneyfied MacMurray of the 1960s, it can come as surprise to see how much charm he had and yes, sex appeal. And Lombard is lovely without that shrillness that mars her performances in her more acclaimed films like MY MAN GODFREY and TWENTIETH CENTURY. It's a piffle of a movie really but so effortless that one doesn't have to work very hard to enjoy it. Ralph Bellamy is again the third wheel but it's a relief to see him not played as a doofus and the butt of jokes as he was in THE AWFUL TRUTH and HIS GIRL FRIDAY. With William Demarest, Ruth Donnelly and Astrid Allwyn.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

A pair of bank robbing brothers (George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino) force a pastor (Harvey Keitel), traveling with his daughter (Juliette Lewis) and adopted Chinese son (Ernest Liu), into taking them across the border to Mexico. But what they find in Mexico is infinitely more horrifying than the law that's after them. Directed by Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY) from a rather silly screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, this vampire comedy lacks the playfulness of LOVE AT FIRST BITE. The first part of the film, before they get to Mexico, is poorly done. Tarantino's awful performance just pulls one out of the movie. Clooney seems embarrassed (why do I suspect he'd love to wipe this film from his resume), Lewis seems to be having fun and one has to admire Keitel for saying a line like "I'll be a lap dog of Satan" with a straight face. The first vampire attack in the Mexican bar is a spectacular piece of pulp horror cinema, beautifully done. It's not a film to be taken remotely seriously. In fact, I've met some people who don't think/know it's a comedy. Also in the cast: Salma Hayek, John Saxon, Michael Parks, Fred Williamson (I can't tell if his acting is bad or it's the putrid dialog he's given), Kelly Preston, Cheech Marin, Marc Lawrence and John Hawkes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Magic Christian (1969)

One of the world's wealthiest men (Peter Sellers) legally adopts a young homeless vagrant (Ringo Starr). He then proceeds to show the boy that every man has his price and if the money is large enough, they will do anything for money. Based on the novel by Terry Southern, who co-wrote the screenplay with the director Joseph McGrath, the film has no real plot to speak of but it's a series of comedy sketches. The humor is very hit and miss (more of the latter than the former) and if one isn't especially attuned to English humor, perhaps even less than that. McGrath was one of the directors of the 1967 CASINO ROYALE which, like MAGIC CHRISTIAN, was a bit of a mess but at least it was more consistent in its tone. After awhile, watching people humiliating themselves for the almighty dollar (or pound in this case) isn't funny anymore. Even if one shares the film's cynicism regarding humankind, the film has made its point and then it's just repetition. The large cast includes Laurence Harvey, Raquel Welch, Yul Brynner, Richard Attenborough, John Cleese, Christopher Lee, Roman Polanski, Dennis Price, Wilfrid Hyde White, Isabel Jeans and Hattie Jacques.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Other Love (1947)

A world famous concert pianist (Barbara Stanwyck) is diagnosed with a possibly terminal illness and sent to a Swiss sanitarium for rest and treatment. She falls in love with her doctor (David Niven) but confronted with her own mortality, she leaves the sanitarium and runs off to Monte Carlo with a handsome race car driver (Richard Conte). Based on the short story BEYOND by Erich Maria Remarque, this is a decent 1940s soap opera with Stanwyck wasting away in a stylish Edith Head wardrobe while Miklos Rozsa's violins play on the soundtrack. It's what used to (still?) be called a weepie and for what it is, it's predictably entertaining. Stanwyck is one of those actresses who is eminently watchable regardless of the quality of the script and she manages to bring some genuine pathos to her part. Still, it's the kind of thing Douglas Sirk did so much better at Universal (think MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION). Directed by Andre De Toth. With Gilbert Roland, Joan Lorring, Natalie Schafer, Lenore Aubert and Ann Codee.

The Screaming Skull (1958)

A widower (John Hudson) brings his new bride (Peggy Webber) to the large mansion with lush garden grounds that he inherited from his first wife. But soon she starts hearing screams in the night as well as seeing a mysterious skull that may belong to the deceased first wife. This badly written, poorly acted low budget horror flick is enjoyable in a cheesy way but it's predictable from the first few minutes. It's all rather silly really though when I first saw it as a child, it scared the pants off me! The film opens with a disclaimer that if you die of fright during the film, the film company will bury you free of charge ... ah, the days of hyperbolic showmanship! The film's most notable feature is its attractive setting, the Huntington Hartford estate in San Marino, California. The film does have some superior talent involved, notably Floyd Crosby (HIGH NOON) who did the cinematography and Ernest Gold (EXODUS) who did the score. The film is directed by the actor Alex Nicol, who plays the child like gardener in the film. With Russ Conway and Toni Johnson.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

When popular rock 'n roll star Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) is drafted into the Army, the longtime girlfriend (Janet Leigh) of an unsuccessful songwriter (Dick Van Dyke, recreating his stage role) arranges to have the rock star to sing one of her boyfriend's songs on the Ed Sullivan (who plays himself) Show. A typical teen age girl (Ann-Margret) is selected to represent Birdie's fan to receive a kiss from him on the show. But everything soon snowballs into a potential disaster. Based on the 1960 hit Broadway musical, no one who saw the 1963 film when it opened will ever forget the image of that pouting sex kitten in the yellow dress rushing toward the camera on a treadmill as she gyrated to the title song. We all knew we were seeing a star being born before our very eyes. The film itself is a delightful good natured musical satire with hummable songs by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, wonderful dances by Onna White (OLIVER!) and an ingratiating cast. Leigh is lovely though miscast, even with a black wig she doesn't come across believably as a Latina and her role has been downscaled from the Broadway show in order to build up Ann-Margret's part. Her Shriner's dance remains a highlight, however. Directed by George Sidney. With Maureen Stapleton, Paul Lynde, Bobby Rydell, Mary LaRoche and Frank Albertson.

Elsa & Fred (2014)

Set in New Orleans, a recently widowed elderly curmudgeon (Christopher Plummer) moves into an apartment because his daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) wants him living closer to her. But the woman next door (Shirley MacLaine), who happens to be a chronic liar, decides to bring him out of his shell and enjoy life. Based on the 2005 Argentinean film ELSA Y FRED, this is the kind of movie that thinks it's cute to have senior citizens behaving like jerks. MacLaine's character is irresponsible and manipulative but we're supposed to find her adorable. She skips out of restaurants without paying the bill, tells lies about grandchildren that don't exist to get money but she listens to rap music so she's cool and full of life! HAROLD AND MAUDE has a lot to answer for! The movie has barely started when you get the feeling that one of them is going to kick the bucket before the movie is over. But before that happens, you know they're going to live, live, live! These aren't real senior citizens, these types only exist in the movies. HAROLD AND MAUDE has a lot to answer for and yes, I know I said that already. The LA DOLCE VITA sequence at the film's end is handled quite nicely, I'll give it that. Directed by Michael Radford (IL POSTINO). With George Segal, James Brolin, Scott Bakula, Chris Noth and Erika Alexander.