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Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Teckman Mystery (1954)

A crime novelist (John Justin) is commissioned by his publisher (Raymond Huntley) to write the biography of a test pilot (Michael Medwin) who died while testing a new plane. But when he suddenly receives a job offer that would make him postpone the book, his apartment is ransacked and people involved in Teckman's story start turning up dead ... he begins to suspect someone doesn't want this book written! Directed by Wendy Toye, one of Britain's rare woman directors. This cold war thriller may be second tier but if you're a sucker for mysteries (as I am), it proves to be a diverting puzzle. The mystery's resolution is a bit muddled and the final confrontation rings false but I suspect the film makers painted themselves into a corner and wanted to go out with a splash (literally). John Justin (1940's THIEF OF BAGDAD) is a rather dull leading man but fortunately there's Margaret Leighton as the pilot's sister who brings a quiet authority and necessary ambiguity to her role. With Roland Culver and George Coulouris.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Damien: Omen II (1978)

Since the death of his parents, a 12 year old boy (Jonathan Scott Taylor) has been in the care of his uncle (William Holden) and his second wife (Lee Grant). The circumstances regarding his parents' deaths were suspicious and as he approaches his teen years, he will soon discover who he really is. This sequel to the huge hit THE OMEN (1976) is, like most sequels, a pale imitation of the original. The original may not have been a great film but it was focused on its tight narrative and didn't have time for any distractions and it provided a genuine sense of horror and doom. DAMIEN spreads itself too thin with unnecessary characters and its grisly deaths are just that ..... grisly without any sense of true horror. The leads (Holden, Grant) are underwritten and just aren't as interesting as Gregory Peck and Lee Remick were in the first movie. It doesn't help that Scott-Taylor as Damien is about as malevolent as a tepid drink of water. Even Jerry Goldsmith's score (the first won got him an Oscar) seems tired. There is is one compelling sequence with Lew Ayres trapped under a frozen river and the film could have used more moments like that. With Sylvia Sidney, Leo McKern, Robert Foxworth, Lance Henriksen, Ian Hendry, Nicolas Pryor and Elizabeth Shepherd (TOMB OF LIGEIA). 

El Amor Brujo (1986)

A man (Antonio Gades) is wrongfully sent to prison for killing the husband (Juan Antonio Jimenez) of the woman (Cristina Hoyos) he's loved all his life. When he returns, he attempts to rekindle that love and she's willing but the ghost of the husband literally stands in their way. Based on the 1915 ballet by Manuel de Falla and directed by Carlos Saura. This is my favorite of the three flamenco musicals directed by Saura. Saura and Gades have added dialog to the ballet to give it a more cinematic narrative but dance (choreographed by Gades) is always at the forefront. The film is highly stylized and Saura sets the film on an obvious sound stage with makeshift shacks where the dance drama is played out. The film's musical highlight is the spellbinding Ritual Fire Dance beautifully danced by Hoyos and company. Special note must be made of Gerardo Vera's colorful art direction and costumes which only add to the mystic quality of the whole enterprise. With Laura Del Sol (THE HIT).  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Our Man In Marrakesh (1966)

Six passengers board an airport bus from Casablanca to Marrakesh. One of them is a diplomatic courier carrying $2 million to a local man (Herbert Lom) who has some secret documents for sale. No one, not even the documents seller, knows who the courier is. But when one of the passengers (Tony Randall) finds a dead body in his hotel room, it's just the beginning of a cat and mouse game and chase as he and a beautiful journalist (Senta Berger) go on the run. Directed by Don Sharp (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE), this is one of the more enjoyable 1960s international spy spoofs although the film's last 10 minutes are positively lame. As the innocent American who finds himself in the middle of a spy caper, Randall is efficient but one wishes he had more chemistry with the lovely Berger. A more unlikely romance is hard to imagine but then, Randall was never at his best as a leading man, he was a character actor at heart. But there's no getting around that Hitchcock did this kind of thing better (THE 39 STEPS, NORTH BY NORTHWEST). On the plus side, the Moroccan locations are nicely lensed by Michael Reed (ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE). With Terry Thomas, Wilfrid Hyde White, Klaus Kinski, Gregoire Aslan, Margaret Lee, Burt Kwouk and John Le Mesurier.

The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)

A mathematics professor (Jeff Bridges) has been burned too often in relationships and he blames that on the sex. So he seeks a relationship based on friendship and respect and no sex. Enter an English literature professor (Barbra Streisand) and they're off to the races. But how long can a loveless, sexless relationship work? Loosely based on the 1958 Andre Cayatte film LE MIROIR A DEUX FACES and directed by Streisand. The premise is intriguing and the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese (THE FISHER KING) isn't bad at all but I wish Streisand had just directed and cast another actress in the lead role so it didn't come across as such a vanity project. Streisand's Rose is supposed to be a lovable quirky character but when her mother (Lauren Bacall in an Oscar nominated performance) says, "You need a therapist", I'm inclined to agree. Amazingly, Bridges manages to not let Streisand hog the show and it's rather nice to see him as a romantic leading man instead of the recent grizzled rural types he's concentrated on lately. Streisand also miscalculates her character's "makeover". Sure there's a new hairdo and she wears high heels but there isn't a hell of a difference between the before and after. I suppose it sounds like disliked the film but I didn't. I just wish it weren't so Cinderella formulaic. There's a wonderful underscore by Marvin Hamlisch and Streisand. With Pierce Brosnan, George Segal, Brenda Vaccaro, Mimi Rogers, Elle Macpherson, Austin Pendleton, Taina Elg and Leslie Stefanson. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

The life and times of Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell), the great American showman, and the women in his life and the stars he made. Its Oscar win as the best picture of 1936 is a real head-scratcher today. At an over 3 hour running time (including an overture and intermission), the film is quite bloated and I suppose the Academy and audiences of the the day were intimidated by all the spectacle. It's an art director's and costume designer's movie. But man, is it ever a slog to get through. This movie just drags! Like most biopics of the era, there's very little truth in the telling. The production numbers are lavish but does anyone want to see a ballet featuring trained dogs and horses with the dancers hopping over the dutiful pooches? There are some compensations. We get to see the great Fanny Brice sing My Man, there's Luise Rainer in a lovely Oscar winning performance as the first Mrs. Ziegfeld and there's a clever production number with chorus girls dancing on moving beds. But for the most part, it's a lumbering movie that eventually topples over under the weight of all that spectacle. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. With Myrna Loy as the actress Billie Burke, the second Mrs. Ziegfeld, although she doesn't come in until the movie's last 45 minutes. Also with Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Virginia Bruce, Nat Pendleton and A.A. Trimble doing a spot on Will Rogers. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Sleeping Tiger (1954)

After a petty criminal (Dirk Bogarde) attempts to rob a renowned psychiatrist (Alexander Knox) and fails, he's given the option of going to jail or submitting to a rehabilitation experiment at the psychiatrist's hands. This necessitates moving into the doctor's home. But the doctor didn't count on his wife (Alexis Smith) and the thug falling in love. Directed by Joseph Losey in Great Britain, who used a pseudonym since he'd just been blacklisted in America. I found the film to be disturbing in its attitude and borderline misogynistic. Bogarde's thug is a bully, a liar and a thief and Knox's psychiatrist comes across as an enabler who excuses his bad behavior because the criminal had a bad childhood. Meanwhile, he ignores his wife to devote his time to the young man. In the end, the men emerge unscathed while Smith's (going all Joan Crawford on us!) wife is turned into a "hell hath no fury" shrew. Having expended all their empathy for the two men, the film makers have none left and make her the villain. It just left a bad aftertaste in my mouth. With Billie Whitelaw, Hugh Griffith and Maxine Audley.   

The Boatniks (1970)

A bumbling ensign (Robert Morse) takes command of a U.S. Coast Guard vessel in San Diego, California. Three equally bumbling jewel thieves (Phil Silvers, Norman Fell, Mickey Shaughnessy) plot to use a boat that will get them and their stolen loot to Mexico. But a pretty local girl (Stefanie Powers) working at the docks is very suspicious of the three men. Directed by Norman Tokar, the film screams out "1970s live action Disney family comedy!". Instead of Dean Jones, we get Morse but they're interchangeable. The film's idea of laughs are people falling overboard, cans of paint spilling on people, boats colliding and Wally Cox as a chick magnet. The most amusing thing about the film remains the title's play on beatniks. When Don Ameche as a Coast Guard commander says, "It's the old Conrad Veidt trick!", one has to wonder if the parents in the audience, much less the 11 year olds, knew who Veidt was. Morse and Silvers give it the old college try and they're professionals and this was the bland kind of roles Powers was stuck with until HART TO HART rescued her. Still, the film was enough of a hit that Disney rereleased theatrically 7 years later. With Vito Scotti, Al Lewis and Florence Halop.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Another Part Of The Forest (1948)

Set in post Civil War Alabama, the tyrannical patriarch (Fredric March) of the Hubbard family rules his household with an iron fist. But his spawn, two sons (Edmond O'Brien, Dan Duryea) and a daughter (Ann Blyth), plot behind his back to wrest control away from their father. Based on the play by Lillian Hellman, this is actually a prequel to her earlier stage success THE LITTLE FOXES and the play and film gives us the backstory of the conniving vipers of FOXES in their youth. While it lacks the richness and structure of Hellman's earlier play, FOREST proves to be entertaining in its own right. It's interesting to see the young Regina (Bette Davis in the 1941 film, Ann Blyth here) start off as a spoiled brat and slowly emerge into a cold money hungry manipulator that would reach its apotheosis in FOXES. But while Regina may be the focus of FOXES, in FOREST it's the battle of wills between father (March) and son (O'Brien) for control that takes center stage. Directed by Michael Gordon (PILLOW TALK), it's a compelling companion to FOXES. With Betsy Blair as Birdie, which is inspired casting as I can easily see her morphing into Patricia Collinge in FOXES. Also with John Dall, Dona Drake and as the mother horrified by her offspring, Florence Eldridge. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Neon Signs (1996)

Abandoned by his mother (Carrie Pagano) at a motel as a child (Tom Ashley), an 18 year old boy (Matt Dotson) has been raised by the motel owner (Vivienne Maloy). When the motel owner dies, the naive boy accidentally falls in with two aging, gun toting party girls (Carol Lynley, Barbara McNair) and their partner in crime (William Smith). Directed by Marc Kolbe, this low budget "B" movie has an interesting narrative but the screenplay by Lazar Saric is unable to provide the necessary finesse that would elevate it to anything beyond a straight to video package. Dotson's young boy is meant to resemble Voltaire's Candide, a naive innocent in a corrupt world but the way Dotson plays him, he comes across as mentally challenged. The three old pros (Lynley, McNair, Smith) may look rough and may have seen better days but they bring an inner life to their characters not necessarily in the script. There's a weary acceptance to Smith's performance while Lynley and McNair are quite amusing as delusional broads who think they still "have it". Given a rewrite by a good script doctor, a remake might not be a bad thing especially since I doubt anyone has seen this movie anyway.