Tuesday, December 10, 2013
In 1865, an East Coast attorney (Scott Brady) goes to Texas to avenge the death of his father, a secret service agent investigating the smuggling of guns from Texas to Mexico. The director Allan Dwan had a prolific career dating back to 1914 and directing such luminaries of the silent screen as Gloria Swanson and Douglas Fairbanks. But by the 1950s, he was relegated to directing a lot of "B" westerns with the occasional gem like SLIGHTLY SCARLET and SILVER LODE to show he still had his directorial chops firmly in place. This routine oater isn't Dwan at his best but I doubt there was much he could do with the ragged material anyway. Everyone dutifully goes through their paces including Anne Bancroft as a sexy "half breed", the kind of role that sent her fleeing Hollywood for the New York stage where her talents were put to better use. The shoddy score is by Edward L. Alperson Jr., the producer's son but John W. Boyle's Eastmancolor lensing is bright and sharp. With Jay C. Flippen, Rhys Williams, Scott Marlowe, Leo Gordon, Jim Davis and Evelyn Rudie.
When a grifter (Clark Gable) meets a fellow con artist (Jean Harlow), sparks fly! But when they attempt to blackmail one of her married lovers, everything goes wrong and she ends up in prison. There are pleasures to be had in basking in the glow of genuine movie stars like Gable and Harlow. It's such sheer gratification just to watch them play off each other that it almost seems rude to ask for more ... like a great script. But the best thing about the film is the lengthy prison sequence which leaves Gable out of the picture for awhile. Since this is a pre code film, we get a gritty look at a diverse assortment of female inmates (both ethnically and socially): a radical leftist (Barbara Barondess), a drunk (Dorothy Burgess), a black preacher's daughter (Theresa Harris) among others. The subplot between Harris who has been turned in for theft by her preacher father (George Reed) is notable for its portrayal of its African-American characters by giving them some substance and dignity rather than the usual stereotyping. Directed by Sam Wood (who is inexplicably not credited). With Stuart Erwin as the good hearted chump hopelessly in love with Harlow, Elizabeth Patterson, Louise Beavers, Inez Courtney and Garry Owen.
Monday, December 9, 2013
In 1901 South America, a mail order bride (Eleanor Parker) by proxy arrives at the large Cocoa plantation of the husband (Charlton Heston) she's never seen or met. He's rather cold, aloof and suspicious of a beautiful woman who would marry a stranger she's never met and leave civilization for the jungles of South America. Exotic jungle adventures were very popular at the box office in the 1950s whether the jungles of Africa, India or South America. This is quite possibly the best of the bunch, I know it's my favorite. The death of its leading lady, Eleanor Parker, today caused me to pull it off the shelf and give it a rewatch in her memory. The adventure is exciting if simplistic but the combination of Heston and Parker, who have a great chemistry together, makes this just pop! The stalwart Heston has never been sexier and Parker positively smolders (the look she gives him as he rubs lotion on her is invaluable). Produced by George Pal and directed by Byron Haskin who had teamed up on WAR OF THE WORLDS the year before, the movie manages to make ants as terrifying as some horror movie monster and if you first saw the movie as an adolescent, its images stayed with you forever. With William Conrad and Abraham Sofaer.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
After his grandfather's death, a rising young executive (Neil Patrick Harris) comes down from New York to temporarily manage his grandfather's real estate business. His grandmother (Debbie Reynolds) asks him to locate a mystery woman that her husband wrote about in his journals, fearing that she might have been his mistress. Trying to track down the mystery woman leads him on a path of discovery ... of his grandfather, of himself ... and forgiveness. Every year around this time, there seems to be a surfeit of Christmas TV movies, usually from Hallmark or Lifetime. Most of them are unbearably treacly but if THE CHRISTMAS WISH doesn't quite escape the sentimentality inherent in these annual holiday offerings, it's still a cut above the usual stuff. It's characters are nicely drawn and the performances by Harris, Reynolds and a young Naomi Watts as a single mother are solid and the Christmas spirit isn't exploited to the point of nausea. Directed by Ian Barry. With Alexandra Wilson, Ian Meltzer and Beverly Archer.
In 1933 Cuba, a group of revolutionaries (or terrorists depending on your point of view) use guerrilla tactics in an attempt to overthrow the repressive government of the Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado Y Morales. They include a Cuban born American (John Garfield), a bank clerk (Jennifer Jones), a dock worker (Gilbert Roland) and a student (David Bond). One of director John Huston's least known films, it came out at the wrong time. Its realistic and gritty (for 1949 Hollywood) portrait of underground rebels systematically targeting government officials in an attempt to topple the government didn't resonate too favorably with a nation where the House Of Un-American Activities was hauling people (including the film's star John Garfield) before them to testify their allegiance. The film has some nice attention to the little details (as days pass, the men actually get face stubble) which makes up for some of the poor rear projection though the lensing by the great Russell Metty (TOUCH OF EVIL) is quite good. Jones does nicely with a Cuban accent but most of the cast like Roland, Pedro Armendariz, Tito Renaldo, Jose Perez and Ramon Novarro are actually Hispanic which lends authenticity. The score is by George Antheil. Kennedy's assassin Lee Harvey Oswald watched this film twice the month before he shot Kennedy. Make of that what you will.
An English professor (Clifton Webb) finds his quiet life turned upside down when his secret past is revealed. When a series of silent movies is shown on television, his former career as a romantic leading man in silent films is exposed. Resentful of the unwanted publicity and intrustion into his private life, he and his daughter (Anne Francis) go to New York to threaten to sue to keep the films off television. If you can buy the idea of Clifton Webb as a dashing 1920s heartthrob a la Valentino, this pleasant if minor comedy is quite agreeable and moves along nicely except for a rather sluggish court sequence toward the end of the film. It shoots some rather vicious arrows at the vapidness of television (circa 1952) but seems rather impervious to its own rather condescending view of silent cinema. Ginger Rogers is quite good as Webb's former leading lady, now hawking perfume on TV. There's an inconsequential subplot involving Francis as Webb's bookish daughter and her romance with a New York public relations man (Jeffrey Hunter). Directed by Claude Binyon. With Elsa Lanchester, Fred Clark, Helene Stanley, Ray Collins, Marietta Canty and Gwen Verdon.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
A respectable young girl (Felicity Jones) is romantically pursued by the famous author Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes, who also directs) even though he is already married. She is appalled by the idea of being his mistress yet can't resist the genius of the man. Based on the non fiction book by Claire Tomalin, the film starts falteringly and I expected the worst, one of those dull spawn of the BBC costume dramas with lots of tea sipping among ladies and gentlemen. But director Fiennes, working from a solid screenplay by Abi Morgan, gives us a stark portrait of the conventions of the time and how those who attempt to break them want their cake and eat it too or become victims of their actions. Fiennes' Dickens is a warts and all portrayal, letting us see both his genius and his cruelty. A respectable effort and don't be afraid of the BBC sheep's clothing ... there's a wolf underneath. The obtrusive score is by Ilan Eshkeri. With Kristin Scott Thomas (Fiennes' squeeze in THE ENGLISH PATIENT, now playing Jones's mother), Tom Hollander and as Dickens' wife, Joanna Scanlan in a performance that you won't soon forget.
At a cocktail party, a mystery writer (Peter Lorre) is told by a Turkish police Captain (Kurt Katch) of the mysterious Dimitrios (Zachary Scott) whose murdered body has been found washed ashore on a beach. Intrigued by the policeman's story, the writer decides to investigate the life of Dimitrios with the possibility of turning it into a book. But he soon finds himself embroiled in the dark forces that surrounded the dead man. Based upon the novel by Eric Ambler (TOPKAPI), the film is greatly admired by the noir crowd but I found it only intermittently entertaining. The "twist" late in the film is no surprise at all (I guessed within minutes of the film's beginning) and much of the film is devoted to flashbacks as to what a horrible person Dimitrios was. I got it the first time! Still, how can you go wrong with Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre at the center of things. The director Jean Negulesco provides a suitable ambience that never quite justifies the result but there's nothing wrong with Arthur Edeson's (THE MALTESE FALCON) B&W lensing or Adolph Deutsch's effective underscore. With Faye Emerson, Steven Geray, Victor Francen, Florence Bates, Eduardo Ciannelli and Marjorie Hoshelle.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
In 18th century France, after discovering her lover (Jeffrey Jones) is going to wed a 15 year old virgin (Fairuza Balk), a wealthy widow (Annette Bening) asks her ex-lover (Colin Firth) to seduce the young virgin. He refuses but not before they make a pernicious wager, that he will seduce a virtuous married woman (Meg Tilly). But this is only the beginning of the emotional destruction that the malevolent pair bring about. VALMONT had the misfortune to be the second film based on Choderlos De Laclos' LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES and released a year after the superior 1988 Stephen Frears film DANGEROUS LIAISONS. Though there's much to appreciate in Milos Forman's version (principally Bening's performance), VALMONT lacks the intense maliciousness of the Frears film. In addition, while the 1988 film was impeccably acted (well, maybe not Keanu Reeves), two performances here simply don't work. Firth's blobby Valmont and Tilly's anemic angelic wife don't generate any passion whatsoever so that their relationship seems manipulated and forced. Handsomely shot in wide screen by Miroslav Ondricek. With Sian Phillips, Henry Thomas (E.T.) and Fabia Drake.
Monday, December 2, 2013
A team of CIA operatives use a defecting high ranking Soviet general (Robert Shaw) as bait by having him travel by train. Their intent is that the Russians will openly attack the train hoping to kill the defector and thus expose their secret agents. With a top notch cast (in addition to Shaw, there's Lee Marvin, Maximilian Schell, Linda Evans), a solid director in Mark Robson, a screenplay by Abraham Polonsky (BODY AND SOUL), one would expect, at the very least, a competent Cold War action piece. But everything seems to go wrong. An enervated Marvin and a tired Shaw seem to walk through their parts and Polonsky's screenplay is often incoherent and illogical. It didn't help that both Robson and Shaw died during the making of the film and Shaw's voice is dubbed throughout the film. The film's avalanche sequence seems to belong to a different movie, perhaps a disaster film. The only asset the film has is Jack Cardiff's nicely rendered cinematography but he's not even listed in the film's credits and Evans at least seems trying to give a performance. With Horst Buchholz, Mike Connors, Joe Namath and Vladek Sheybal.