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Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Stranger Came Home (aka The Unholy Four) (1954)

A man (William Sylvester) returns home after 4 years of amnesia. He hopes to discover who left him for dead 4 years ago. The suspects include three friends (Patrick Holt, Paul Carpenter, David King Wood) who were with him and even his wife (Paulette Goddard) who may have been behind it. But when one of the four turns up murdered, he becomes a prime suspect in the murder. An early Hammer film directed by Hammer vet Terence Fisher. It's based on a novel by George Sanders (yes, the actor) but in actuality was ghost written by veteran screenwriter Leigh Brackett (THE BIG SLEEP). It's a weak rather muddled murder mystery. It's never clear enough (at least to me) about the actual motive of the murder and why the murderer continues to kill. Sylvester's protagonist is thoroughly unlikable and one can see why someone would like to murder him on his unpleasant personality alone. With Patricia Owens and Russell Napier.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Betrayed (1988)

An FBI agent (Debra Winger) goes undercover to infiltrate a right wing terrorist group suspected in the killing of a liberal Jewish radio talk show host (Richard Libertini). Lines and loyalties get blurred when she finds herself attracted to the leader (Tom Berenger) of a white supremacist group.  Directed by Costa-Gavras, who is an old hand at political thrillers with movies like MISSING and the Oscar winning Z on his resume. But the screenplay is by that hack Joe Eszterhas (SHOWGIRLS) and the combination of director and screenwriter is not a good fit. Eszterhas' script is heavy handed and Costa-Gavras isn't able to whip up much tension out of the unsubtle script. Are we to believe that the FBI would encourage an agent to kill innocent people and sleep with the enemy to get information? Perhaps I'm naive but I didn't buy it, at least as shown here. Ironically, the film is probably more timely today than it was in 1988. The present administration has all kinds of racists and right wing whack jobs coming out of the closet and what they're spouting isn't all that different from what's portrayed in the film. Highly uneven but worth watching. With Betsy Blair (MARTY), John Heard, John Mahoney, Ted Levine and Jeffrey DeMunn.

Duel In The Sun (1946)

After her father (Herbert Marshall) is executed for killing her mother (Tilly Losch) and her lover (Sidney Blackmer), a young girl (Jennifer Jones) is sent out West to live with her father's first love (Lillian Gish). As her mother's daughter, it's difficult for her to repress her sexual desires especially when the no good family son (a surprisingly sexy Gregory Peck) seduces her. Westerns are often referred to as horse operas but never has the term been more apt than in King Vidor's insane operatic epic western. Pauline Kael referred to it as Wagnerian and that about sums it up. Eveything is done on a massive scale. When in the opening scene we enter a saloon, it's the biggest saloon you've ever seen, the size of an airplane hangar. When Lionel Barrymore rides out to stop a train from crossing his property, he's accompanied by literally hundreds of galloping cowboys accompanied by Dimitri Tiomkin's thundering music. And the passions are operatic too. Love and hate mixed together as lovers declare their love for each other while killing each other. It's bonkers but so irresistibly compelling that you watch it giddy with excitement. Often referred to as "lust in the dust", there's never been a western like it. With Lionel Barrymore, Walter Huston, Charles Bickford, Joan Tetzel, Otto Kruger and Butterfly McQueen.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Grace Of Monaco (2014)

In 1962, the principality of Monaco finds itself under siege from France as De Gaulle's (Andre Penvern) government not only attempts to tax Monaco's citizens but threatens to take Monaco by force if necessary. Meanwhile, Monaco's Princess Grace (Nicole Kidman) receives an offer by Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton Griffiths) to return to the big screen. A misguided effort to turn a year in the life of Princess Grace into a political crisis thriller. When a film begins by telling you it's a fictional account based on actual events, you know that means it most likely has very little based on fact. Not that taking a real life framework and imposing a fictional text to fill it out can't result in a good film. It certainly can as last year's superb JACKIE proved. But nothing in GRACE OF MONACO rings true. One can't help but admire Kidman trying to flesh out a performance from a weakly constructed script but she can only do so much. The film opened in Europe but it went to cable TV in the U.S. It did get an Emmy nomination for best telefilm and Kidman got a SAG nomination for her work here but chalk this one up as an interesting failure. Directed by Olivier Dahan. With Tim Roth as Prince Rainier (it's not a flattering portrait), Frank Langella, Parker Posey (in the film's best performance), Derek Jacobi and Paz Vega as Maria Callas.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Furia A Bahia Pour OSS 117 (aka OSS 117 Mission For A Killer) (1965)

Under the guise of a journalist, a secret agent (Frederick Stafford, TOPAZ) is sent to Brazil to find out who is drugging innocent people and turning them into assassins. But when he arrives, he finds he's just in time to see his contact (Claude Carliez) murdered. Based on the novel DERNIER QUART D'HEURE by Jean Bruce (his 44th OSS 117 book), this was the third entry in the popular (at least in Europe) OSS 177 secret agent film series. This is a pretty straight forward spy caper, heavily influenced by the Bond series. The handsome but vacuous Stafford doesn't bring much to the role but he doesn't sink the movie either. The film benefits from Marcel Grignon's wide screen lensing of the stunning Brazilian locations, both Rio De Janeiro and the lush jungles. Its plot of a fascist mad man plotting world domination had already reached its apotheosis with DR. NO (1962) but the film is entertaining enough even as an also ran. Michel Magne's underscore could have used some punch. His samba music is fine but the action scenes remain unscored and they could have used some help. Directed by Andre Hunebelle. With the lovely Mylene Demongeot, Raymond Pellegrin and Francois Maistre.

Steambath (1973)

A disparate group of strangers including a writer (Bill Bixby), a party girl (Valerie Perrine), a seaman (Stephen Elliott), a gambler (Kenneth Mars), a Jew (Herb Edelman) and two homosexuals (Neil J. Schwartz, Patrick Spohn) find themselves in a steam bath. It isn't long before they realize they're all dead and that the Puerto Rican attendant (Jose Perez) is God. Based on the 1970 play by Bruce Jay Friedman and directed by Burt Brinckerhoff. When this debuted on public television, it was quite controversial, not only due to its subject matter but its nudity which was groundbreaking at the time. Indeed, many PBS outlets refused to carry the show. Friedman's play hasn't aged well. Its stereotypical depiction of gay men was done in a time when someone just playing a flaming homosexual was good for a cheap laugh. Jose Perez's one note performance as God is just plain awful. Friedman's idea of God as a magician doing tricks is rather mundane but perhaps that was his point, that God is mundane. What was provocative in 1970 now comes across as trite. The sexy Perrine's performance consists of grinning a lot but outside of Bixby playing against type, none of the performances are memorable. With Peter Kastner (YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW) and Biff Elliot.   

Monday, March 20, 2017

They Made Me A Criminal (1939)

When a not too bright boxer (John Garfield) gets framed for a murder committed by his manager, he goes on the run and ends up in Arizona. It's there that he becomes involved with a girl (Gloria Dickson) and her grandmother (May Robson) who are running a date farm where juvenile delinquents from New York are sent for rehabilitation. Based on a novel and play by Bertram Milhauser and Beulah Marie Dix and directed by Busby Berkeley (42ND STREET). The juvenile delinquents are played by the same actors who played the juvenile delinquents in DEAD END (1937) and went on to make several movies as The Dead End Kids. They were tolerable in DEAD END but they were a one joke act that was already beginning to wear thin by the time this movie came out. Some how we're supposed to find them amusing but I found them obnoxious and irritating and it didn't help that Garfield's character is kind of a sleazebag so that I didn't have much empathy for him either. Ann Sheridan as Garfield's good time girlfriend is killed off far too early in the movie and she's replaced by Gloria Dickson who's appealing in a generic sort of way. It's pretty maudlin in spots and I suppose one's affection for it depends on how Warners gritty 1930s output appeal to you. With Claude Rains playing against type as a tough talking detective.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Heller In Pink Tights (1960)

In the Old West of the 1880s, a traveling theatrical troupe has a nasty habit of skipping town without paying their bills! But when the company's lead actress (Sophia Loren) bets herself in a poker game and loses to a gunslinger (Steve Forrest), he's not the man to skip out on even if he has to go through hostile Indian territory to get his woman. Based on the novel by Louis L'Amour and directed by George Cukor (MY FAIR LADY). Cukor is just about the last director you'd think of to direct a western but he brings a stunning and elegant color palette to this comedic western. To this end, he brought in the famed Russian illustrator and photographer Hoyningen Huene to oversee the art and design of the film and the contributions of art directors Gene Allen and Hal Pereira and costume designer Edith Head do the movie proud in giving the film a painterly look. As to the film itself, it's not bad at all but Cukor doesn't have the feel for a real western and the film feels schizophrenic. Anthony Quinn is the male lead but the film is stolen by Eileen Heckart as an actress mother and Margaret O'Brien as the daughter she refuses to let grow up. With the silent film star Ramon Novarro and the director Edmund Lowe, Frank Silvera and Edward Binns.

Beauty And The Beast (2017)

In 18th century France, an enchantress (Hattie Morahan) casts a spell on a narcissistic prince (Dan Stevens) and turns him into a beast. The spell can only be broken if he can find someone to love him for who he is ... a beast. Enter a feisty peasant girl (Emma Watson), who offers herself as a prisoner instead of her father (Kevin Kline) who the beast has imprisoned. This live action remake of the beloved 1991 Disney animated film most likely won't please the die hard fans of the original but if you're not attached to the 1991 film, you may prefer it. I liked the 1991 film but I found this more satisfying for several reasons. For one, it just seemed more magical. In an animated film, when a candlestick talks and sings, you expect it, it's animated! But in a live action film, it's truly other worldly. I must confess that although I dislike 3D, the 3D here is superb and also gives the film an eerie supernatural fairy tale quality. And finally, the actors bring an emotional core to the film that cartoon characters, however skillfully drawn, just can't! One major difference between the 1991 animated film and this one is Luke Evan's Gaston. He was pompously amusing in the first one, here he's positively despicable. The film's ace here is Watson who brings some authority to Belle, no girlie princess she! The new songs are lovely and the production design is impeccable. With Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Josh Gad and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Raven (1935)

A genius medical surgeon (Bela Lugosi), who is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe, has sadistic tendencies and has a collection of torture devices in a secret chamber. When he is spurned by the woman (Irene Ware) he loves, his plots a diabolical revenge. Although Edgar Allan Poe is given credit as the source material, other than the title of his most famous poem, there's really nothing of Poe in the movie. Directed by Lew Landers, this is still a fun horror movie though it's more kitsch than genuinely scary. As the mad doctor, Lugosi can't resist hamming it up shamelessly but Boris Karloff as the poor deformed wretch blackmailed by Lugosi gives a sympathetic and subtle performance. Surprisingly, the film's torture and mutilation proved too gruesome for 1935 audiences and the film was not a success. It is a rather sick and twisted tale and even some 80 years later, it remains quite unpleasant in its sadism. But there's no denying how skillful Landers is at creating a creepy ambiance. Compared to Karloff and Lugosi, the rest of the cast are a dull lot. With Lester Matthews, Inez Courtney, Ian Wolfe and Samuel S. Hinds whose pompous judge may be even more unsympathetic than Lugosi.