Search This Blog


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Il Sepolcro Dei Re (aka Cleopatra's Daughter) (1960)

The daughter (Debra Paget) of Cleopatra is forced into a loveless marriage with a neurotic and unstable Pharaoh (Corrado Pani). When he is murdered, he declares his wife the murderess and decrees that she be buried with him alive. But her lover, the court physician (Ettore Manni), has a plan. First off, I saw this via a wretched pan and scan public domain transfer which appears to have been edited but even taking that into account, I doubt it would be much improved even if I saw it under better circumstances. It's a typical sword and sandal potboiler and in spite of using Cleopatra's daughter (the only one of her four children to survive to adulthood) as the central character, there isn't a shred of historical accuracy in the narrative. The production values and the costumes are good, Paget is fetching but the story line is often difficult to follow. But I've a soft spot for corn like this so I was modestly (very modestly) entertained. Directed by Fernando Cerchio with an underscore by Giovanni Fusco (L'AVVENTURA). With Robert Alda, Erno Crisa and Yvette Lebon.

Feher Isten (aka White God) (2014)

When her mother has to go to Australia on business, a 13 year old girl (Zsofia Psotta) is sent to stay with her estranged father (Sandor Zsofer). She brings her dog (played by two dogs, Bodie and Luke) with her. But the father dislikes dogs and when he refuses to pay the fine imposed by the government for "mongrel" dogs, he abandons the dog by the side of the road. Thus a girl's pet is found, abused and turned into a killer. The film is an allegory about the "misfits" or "unwanted" in society. For the first 90 minutes of the film, it's very realistic and animal lovers will have a difficult time with scenes of (simulated) graphic animal cruelty and abuse. The last 30 minutes leaves realism behind as it becomes almost a horror movie with the dogs getting their revenge on mankind for decades of abuse and neglect. The director Kornel Mundruczo paints himself into a corner until he has nowhere to go so he just ends the movie. That being said, the final shot (Marcell Rev did the superb cinematography) is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen in a film. Still, one can't help wonder what the film's point is. Why are we subjected to 90 minutes of animal brutality only to reach an ending that is without a catharsis or an inkling of what lies ahead? 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dracula's Daughter (1936)

After the death her father, Count Dracula's daughter (Gloria Holden) hopes that his death has released her from the curse of vampirism. But she finds that it hasn't and she still craves the blood of humans. So she contacts a psychiatrist (Otto Kruger) in the longing that he can "cure" her. The first of Universal's several Dracula sequels, the movie has garnered a cult following for several reasons, one of which is the lesbian undertones of the film (it was featured in THE CELLULOID CLOSET). But as horror cinema, it's rather anemic and sluggishly paced. Directed by Lambert Hillyer, the movie is rich in atmosphere and Holden in the title role bring an interesting angst to her character. But we're stuck with the dull as dishwater Kruger for a leading man and it doesn't help that the psychiatrist he plays is fairly incompetent. The highlight of the film is the seduction of Nan Grey (in the film's most natural performance) by Holden which conjures a genuine sense of fear. With Marguerite Churchill, Irving Pichel, Hedda Hopper, Edward Van Sloan and Eily Malyon. 

Beat The Devil (1953)

An American (Humphrey Bogart) down on his luck has fallen in with a motley gang of swindlers headed by an Englishman (Robert Morley) who plan to acquire land in East Africa that is rich in uranium deposits. While they wait in an Italian port for their ship to leave, a pompous Brit (Edward Underdown) and his pathological liar of a wife (Jennifer Jones) enter the picture and put their plan at risk. Marginally based on the novel by James Helvick, apparently the film's script (credited to Truman Capote and director John Huston) was written as it was being filmed with the cast getting the pages daily. There are those who consider the film an unholy mess but there are others (like me) who consider it an understated droll and witty comedy. It's like the Crosby and Hope ROAD movies only at a slightly more sophisticated level. Bogart seems slightly exasperated and befuddled through out as if he wasn't quite sure where all this was heading but the rest of the cast seem to get the joke. Especially Jennifer Jones who walks off with the movie (based on this and CLUNY BROWN, she should have concentrated on comedies). With Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre, Bernard Lee, Manuel Serano and Ivor Barnard.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tulsa (1949)

Set in the 1920s, after the death of her cattle rancher father (Harry Shannon), a young woman (Susan Hayward) vows revenge on the wealthy oil baron (Lloyd Gough) whose oil wells were responsible for her father's death. Instead, she finds herself bitten by the oil bug and revenge is forgotten as she becomes obsessed with oil profits and uses inherited drilling rights to make her known as The Oil Queen of Tulsa. While it's amusing to see Hayward as a greedy oil baroness who'll stop at nothing including betrayal as she climbs to the top of the oil hierarchy, this potboiler is really no more entertaining than an average episode of DYNASTY (which also dealt with oil) except that Hayward doesn't have Joan Collins' fabulous wardrobe. There is one thrilling oil wells on fire sequence that's pretty spectacular (the film received an Oscar nomination for special effects). Directed by Stuart Heisler. With Robert Preston, Pedro Armendariz, Chill Wills (whose contrived folksiness wears out very quickly), Lola Albright and Ed Begley.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Best House In London (1969)

In Victorian London, prostitutes throng the streets blocking tradesmen's shops. What to do? The Home Secretary (John Bird) has the idea of opening a secretly funded government brothel to take them off the streets. But a young feminist (Joanna Pettet, THE GROUP) from a prestigious family makes it her mission to take the fallen women off the streets and teach them respectable professions. Directed by Philip Saville, this late 60s sex romp was originally rated X (since changed to NC-17) and one can see why. While tame by contemporary standards, the movie's sense of humor doesn't play well in today's PC climate. We're more sensitive to the problem of international sex trade and young girls being exploited against their will. In the film, mothers sell off their virgin daughters to become prostitutes. Let me remind you this is a comedy! There's also a scene with a little girl singing about a certain part of her body that would never get the okay today. I won't even go into the rape jokes. But it's biggest problem is that the laughs just aren't there. I think I grinned once when a not too bright wench quips "He had carnival knowledge of me!". The actors are game including David Hemmings playing a dual role as both hero and villain. With George Sanders, Dany Robin, John Cleese, Martita Hunt, Maurice Denham, Tessie O'Shea, Marianne Stone and Warren Mitchell.

Countess Dracula (1971)

In 17th century Hungary, an aging Countess (Ingrid Pitt) discovers that bathing in the blood of young virgins will restore her youth. She passes herself as her own daughter while she has her real daughter (Lesley Anne Down) locked up. Hammer films began sexing up their horror films in the early 1970s and this movie, along with THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, are representative of that change. Based on the legend of Elizabeth Bathory (an early serial killer), the movie could have used more visceral chills. Most of the killings are done off camera and there's never a real sense of horror. In fact, outside of some bare breasts, it's really quite tame. In the title role, Pitt is appropriately lusty but the acting honors belong to Nigel Green as her sometime lover. He has a sadistic streak and if anyone is to be feared, it's him. The ending is surprisingly abrupt and we're left hanging as to what happens to Down. Fans of the Hammer horrors should be pleased though. Directed by Peter Sasdy. With Sandor Eles, Patience Collier and Maurice Denham.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mata Hari, Agent H21 (1964)

During WWI, an exotic dancer by the name of Mata Hari (Jeanne Moreau) works as a German spy while living in France. When she falls in love with a young soldier (Jean Louis Trintignant), who is one of her victims, she has second thoughts about her profession. But her superiors won't let her resign. Many films have been made about the legendary Dutch dancer executed by a firing squad for spying for Germany during WWI, most notably the 1931 film starring Greta Garbo. The name itself has become a synonym for a femme fatale using her powers of seduction to extract information. Unfortunately, as directed by Jean Louis Richard (who was Moreau's ex-husband) who also wrote the screenplay along with Francois Truffaut, this version is rather peaked. Moreau is one of the world's greatest actresses yet she is unable to breath much life into the routine script. Even the brief snippet we see of her "dancing" is disappointing, a dancer Moreau is not. She remains, of course, an indelible screen presence. When you see Moreau and Trintignant gamboling in the fields to Georges Delerue's delicate underscore you realize the film is routine and isn't going to get any better. With Jean Pierre Leaud, Claude Rich, Albert Remy, Marie Dubois and Nicole Desailly.

The Martian (2015)

When a fierce and deadly storm occurs during an expedition on Mars, a crew member (Matt Damon) is hit by debris and sent flying. After an attempt to locate him proves futile, he is assumed dead and the mission's commander (Jessica Chastain) makes a decision to abort the mission and head for Earth. But he, in fact, survives. Based on the novel by Andy Weir, an alternate title for this could have been ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS if that title hadn't already been taken. I don't know how scientifically accurate the film is but it's a grand piece of entertainment. Frankly I'd lost interest in the output of director Ridley Scott after years of crap like GLADIATOR and PROMETHEUS but this may be his best film since THELMA AND LOUISE some 24 years ago (though to be honest I've skipped a lot of his stuff since then). Matt Damon does an excellent job, it's not easy acting in a vacuum and he spends the majority of the film by himself. The film lacks the grace and beauty of the best science fiction films like 2001 or even FORBIDDEN PLANET. But knowing Scott's filmography, I doubt that was uppermost in his mind. There's an excellent supporting ensemble, most of whom are overqualified for stuff like this. Among them Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Kate Mara. With Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, Donald Glover and Mackenzie Davis. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Weapon (1956)

In one of the bombed out buildings left over from WWII in London, a young boy (Jon Whiteley, MOONFLEET) finds a gun and accidentally shoots another boy. As he goes on the run out of fear, his anxious mother (Lizabeth Scott) tries to find him. But the gun was used in a murder ten years earlier to kill a U.S. soldier, so two other people want to find the boy too. An American Army Captain (Steve Cochran) ... and the killer (George Cole). Directed by Val Guest (THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT), the premise of the film is intriguing enough to carry the film over some very rough spots. Shot in striking B&W, the cinematographer Reginald H. Wyer gives the movie the atmospheric feel of a film noir. I was most taken how the film's two lead actresses were effectively cast against type. Scott usually plays the femme fatale in noir films but here she's a warm and loving mother (I think it's the only film where she played a mother) and in the film's best performance, the affable French beauty Nicole Maurey plays a hard bitten and bruised prostitute. Not all it could have been but an industrious if minor thriller. With Herbert Marshall and Laurence Naismith.