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Monday, July 24, 2017

Woman On The Run (1950)

After he witnesses a murder, a man (Ross Elliott) goes on the run. Since he is the only one who can identify the killer, the police focus on his wife (Ann Sheridan) in the hopes she can lead them to him. Based on a magazine short story by Sylvia Tate entitled MAN ON THE RUN and directed by Norman Foster (JOURNEY INTO FEAR). This minor film noir is unique in its married protagonists. An unhappily married couple on the verge of divorce, Sheridan's wife discovers that she really doesn't know her husband at all and her preconceptions of him have been damaging to their relationship. The film is also abundant in sardonic humor which offsets the race against time to find the husband before the killer finds him. Midway through the movie, the audience is alerted to the identity of the murderer which adds to the tension since we know who the killer is but the film's characters don't. The majority of the film was shot in San Francisco and the director of cinematography Hal Mohr (THE WILD ONE) does a bang up job of shooting the city in striking B&W images though L.A. stands in for San Francisco in a couple of major scenes. I'm not sure why the film makers thought the rollercoaster finale was a good idea. While it's very cinematic, it still seems arbitrary rather than organic. With Dennis O'Keefe as a reporter, Robert Keith, John Qualen, Joan Shawlee, Reiko Sato and Victor Sen Young.  

Journey Into Fear (1943)

An American engineer (Joseph Cotten) and his wife (Ruth Warrick) are traveling through Turkey when they stopover in Istanbul where they are met by the Turkish representative (Everett Sloane) of the engineer's U.S. company. When the Turkish employee takes the American to a nightclub, a murder takes place and suddenly international intrigue has the American on the run trying to save his skin! Based on the novel by Eric Ambler and adapted for the screen by Cotten and directed by Norman Foster. A mess of a movie and quite often incoherent but still entertaining nonetheless. Orson Welles, who plays a Turkish policeman, co-wrote the screenplay with Cotten although he's not credited and reputedly had a hand in the direction of some scenes although the official credit goes to Foster. Karl Struss's (SUNRISE) evocative B&W cinematography goes a long way in creating a topsy turvy world of paranoia. It's the kind of film where practically everyone seems suspicious and not to be trusted, not even its "hero". But something about the film seems unfinished as if scenes were deleted that migh have added some coherency to the movie. Also with Dolores Del Rio, Agnes Moorehead, Richard Bennett, Hans Conreid, Jack Durant and Jack Moss.  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

In May of 1940, British and French soldiers find themselves cut off and surrounded by German troops at the beaches of Dunkirk. An evacuation attempt seems almost impossible as there are more soldiers than ships to rescue them and the Germans are bombing from both the air and land as well as U-boat attacks on the sea. Directed by Christopher Nolan, this is an incredibly intense and visceral cinematic experience. Dialog is kept to a minimum as we are thrown into the thick of the desperation, fear, hysteria and heroism of the evacuation. Easily Nolan's best film to date (though that's not saying much) but giving credit where it is due, Nolan gives us a masterful piece of direction and wisely keeping the events under a two hour running time, he doesn't let the movie slow down for a minute. It should easily take its place among the best war films ever made and it runs rings around SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. On the downside, there's yet another shitty Hans Zimmer score but more importantly there is no one for the audience to latch onto. There aren't any characters as such, not really, and the few there are are underdeveloped. Should do very well at the next Oscars (except for the acting and writing categories). With Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Harry Styles.

Gertrud (1964)

In early 20th century Sweden, a woman (Nina Pens Rode) tells her husband (Bendt Rothe), a rising politician, that she is leaving him for another man (Baard Owe). But love isn't always a smooth road. Based on the 1906 play by Hjalmar Soderberg and directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in his final film. Considering how fluid most of Dreyer's films are (VAMPYR, PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, DAY OF WRATH), GERTRUD is surprisingly static and uncinematic. I've not read Soderberg's play but it comes across as faux Ibsen, specifically A DOLL'S HOUSE. Dreyer uses long takes with the actors barely moving and acting so stiffly that you'd swear they all had metal rods up their asses. For a film where love is the central motif, it's bloodless and lacks passion. As Gertrud, Rode delivers her lines in a monotone that she seems to be reading them off cue cards! I've not seen any of these actors in other films so I don't know if they were directed that way or they're just lousy actors (Rothe is particularly terrible). The material might have worked with more intense actors and I could see Bergman doing it with members of his stock company like Harriet Andersson and Erland Josephson. The film does have its fans though (like Jean Luc Godard). With Ebbe Rode and Axel Strobye.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Once Bitten (1985)

A 400 year old vampire (Lauren Hutton) must have the blood of a male virgin to keep her youth and beauty. This being L.A. in the 1980s, a male virgin is hard to find! But find one she does in the form of a geeky high school kid (Jim Carrey) but he's not too keen on the idea of being a vampire. Ah, the 1980s, the era of dumb comedies. I think it's safe to say this film probably would never have existed if it hadn't been for the success of LOVE AT FIRST BITE six years earlier. Unfortunately, the film lacks BITE's impudent wit and affection for the genre. Which isn't to say the laughs aren't here, they're just fewer and far between. Mostly they come from Jim Carrey in his first leading role and Cleavon Little (BLAZING SADDLES) as Hutton's sassy butler/chauffeur. Carrey gets a chance to do at what he's best at, physical comedy and his influence from Jerry Lewis has never been more obvious. The "kids" in this film aren't a very interesting lot so I found myself cheering the vampires on. Directed by Howard Storm. With Karin Kopins, Thomas Ballatore, Skip Lackey and Megan Mullally.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Gambling Ship (1933)

A Chicago gangster (Cary Grant) gets acquitted of a murder rap and decides to go legit. To this end, he takes a train to Los Angeles to start his new life but he falls in love with a fellow passenger (Benita Hume). He keeps his past from her but he doesn't realize she has a few secrets of her own. Based on several short stories by Paul Cain and directed by Louis J. Gasnier and Max Marcin. This modestly enjoyable pre-code programmer features appealing performances by a pre-stardom Cary Grant and the charming Benita Hume (who would retire to marry Ronald Colman then George Sanders). I would imagine it's actually more appealing now than it was in 1933 when it was pretty standard stuff. Today, its quaintness is rather endearing. These programmers were quick (this one runs 70 minutes) and pushed the narrative quickly so that you didn't have the time to ponder the absurdities of the plot. The supporting cast includes Glenda Farrell, Jack La Rue, Roscoe Karns and Arthur Vinton.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mary, Queen Of Scots (1971)

After the death of her husband, the King of France (Richard Denning), Mary of Scotland (Vanessa Redgrave) returns to Scotland to take her place as the Scottish Queen. But Queen Elizabeth I (Glenda Jackson) fearing a takeover of the English throne by her cousin takes action to subvert any such thing. Directed by Charles Jarrott (ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS), John Hale's screenplay takes liberties with history for dramatic effect and the result is a grandly entertaining if historically inaccurate film. There is no evidence that Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart met in real life but when you have two great actresses like Redgrave and Jackson and they have no scenes together, you better well write one! Redgrave is all gossamer loveliness in contrast to Jackson's sturdy monarch. But as wonderful as they are, they are supported by an excellent (save one) cast. The sore thumb is Timothy Dalton as Mary's treacherous second husband , who overacts terribly. The production values are ace and there's a superb score by John Barry. With Trevor Howard, Ian Holm, Patrick McGoohan, Nigel Davenport, Daniel Massey and Andrew Keir. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What Makes Sammy Run? (1959)

A young man (Larry Blyden) rises from copy boy at a New York newspaper to the head of a major Hollywood studio by lying, stealing, using people and stepping over bodies. Based on the praised 1941 novel by Budd Schulberg (who adapted his novel) and directed by Delbert Mann (SEPARATE TABLES). This acidic look at the rise of an amoral protagonist at the expense of innocent people was, and still is, highly controversial. Reputedly Samuel Goldwyn offered Schulberg money not to publish the book and according to Schulberg, Steven Spielberg said the book was "anti Hollywood and should never be filmed". I don't know about it being "anti" Hollywood but it's a venal piece of entertainment and I mean that as a compliment. We can see the attraction of the Sammys of this world as they skyrocket to the top but what goes up must come down and we wait for the inevitable comeuppance. Blyden is very good in the title role and he's matched by Dina Merrill as the chilly ice princess every bit as soulless as he. With John Forsythe as the story's conscience, Barbara Rush, Sidney Blackmer, Norman Fell and Monique Van Vooren. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

One Eyed Jacks (1961)

After pulling a bank heist in Mexico, one (Marlon Brando) of the bandits is betrayed by his partner (Karl Malden). As a result, he is sent to prison. But when he escapes, there is only one thing on his mind ..... revenge! Based on the novel THE AUTHENTIC DEATH OF HENDRY JONES by Charles Neider and directed by Brando, his only attempt at directing a feature film. This is an undervalued Freudian western and quite different from its genre brethren. First, there's the stunning backdrop of the Monterey coast beautifully shot by Charles Lang (BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE), who received an Oscar nomination for his work here. How many westerns are set on a beach? The film focuses on character rather than gun play which allows for some excellent performances and fleshed out characters rather than western stereotypes. The film's only flaw is its length. As engrossing as it is, it can't justify its near 2 1/2 hour running time. Brando's performance is fresh and well thought out rather than give us a cliched cowboy bent on revenge. He is equally matched by Malden in one of his best performances. There's a beauty of an underscore by Hugo Friedhofer. With Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, Timothy Carey, Miriam Colon, Ray Teal, Philip Ahn and Pina Pellicer as Brando's love interest.  

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Set in a small Welsh mining town, a coal miner (Donald Crisp in his Oscar winning performance) and his wife (Sara Allgood) struggle to hold their family together through severe hardships. Based on the novel by Richard Llewellyn and directed by John Ford. It has been many many years since I'd seen HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and I had forgotten what an excellent film it is. The movie gets a lot of flak (unfairly) for winning the best picture Oscar over CITIZEN KANE but the argument over the relevance of the Oscars aside, it's a worthy choice. This being a John Ford movie, it's heavy with sentiment but fortunately since we're dealing with the Welsh and not the Irish, we're spared Victor McLaglen's mugging and starting barroom brawls. Most impressive is the art direction of Richard Day and Nathan Juran who are responsible for the 80 acre Welsh village that was built in the Santa Monica mountains and quite justifiably took home Oscars for their work here. The film is rich in its sense of family and family loyalties. The beautiful score is by Alfred Newman. The cast is perfect and includes Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Roddy McDowall (one of the best child actor performances), Anna Lee, Patric Knowles, Barry Fitzgerald, John Loder, Rhys Williams (one of the few actors in the film who is actually Welsh) and Ethel Griffies.