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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Jungle Woman (1944)

At an inquest for the murder of a woman (Acquanetta), her doctor (J. Carrol Naish) confesses to the killing. But in flashback, through various witnesses, we are told of the events leading up to her death. Directed by Reginald LeBorg, this was a sequel to CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943) with Acquanetta reprising her character. Yet another variation on the classic CAT PEOPLE (1942) but without the psychological underpinnings and stylish direction, not to mention that the dreadful Acquanetta is no Simone Simon. The film gets off to a shaky start and never recovers but at barely over an hour long, the tedium is soon over. Although top billed, Universal's resident scream queen Evelyn Ankers hasn't much to do and soon disappears from the plot. With Milburn Stone, Lois Collier, Douglass Dumbrille, Nana Bryant and Richard Davis. 

Raggedy Man (1981)

Set in 1944 Texas, a divorced woman (Sissy Spacek) raising two young sons (Henry Thomas, Carey Hollis) in a small town finds herself the object of gossip when she befriends a sailor (Eric Roberts) on a three day leave. Based on the novel by William D. Witliff and Sara Clark and directed by Jack Fisk. This lovely tale of a single mother struggling to raise her children on a paltry salary as a phone operator gets it right. Jack Fisk is primarily known as a production designer on films like BADLANDS, CARRIE, THE MASTER among many others and RAGGEDY MAN was his first film as a director (he would go on to direct only three other films). He is also the husband of Sissy Spacek. Fisk perfectly captures small town rural life and the period atmosphere is spot on. No surprise, Spacek easily embodies the frustration of a woman who feels trapped in an unforgiving town with no future in it for her or her boys. As the sailor, Roberts is both tender and charming and his performance reminds us what a subtle actor he was before he got typecast as extreme whack jobs (STAR 80, POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE). The film's shift in tone in the last 15 minutes from rural drama to lady in peril thriller is rather disorienting. Even Jerry Goldsmith's score goes from Americana to ALIEN like scoring but it does have a payoff. With Sam Shepard, R.G. Armstrong, William Sanderson and Tracey Walter. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Death On The Nile (2004)

After her wealthy best friend (Emily Blunt) steals her boyfriend (JJ Feild) away and marries him, a young woman (Emma Griffiths Malin) stalks the couple during their Egyptian honeymoon aboard a cruise ship traveling down the Nile. Also on board is the renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) which proves fortuitous. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie and directed by Andy Wilson. Why do film makers think they need to improve or update Agatha Christie? The 1978 film version eliminated a few minor characters but other than that, it's a faithful adaptation of the Christie novel and the definitive version. I knew this one was headed for trouble when it began with two naked people in bed going at it like rabbits and a few moments later, Emily Blunt is snorting cocaine! There are also suggestions of incest and homosexuality, none of which are in Christie's source novel. At least the film makers retained the 1930s setting. I suppose if you'd never read Christie's novel or seen the 1978 version, this entry might seem perfectly acceptable. And again, I find the admiration for Suchet's Poirot inexplicable. He's no more Christie's Poirot than Margaret Rutherford was Christie's Miss Marple. Also in the cast: James Fox, Frances De La Tour, David Soul, Judy Parfitt and Daisy Donovan.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Angel (1937)

The neglected wife (Marlene Dietrich) of a British diplomat (Herbert Marshall) has a brief affair in Paris with a man (Melvyn Douglas). They don't exchange names or identities but several weeks later, her husband meets the man at a diplomatic function and invites him to lunch at his home. Based on the play by Melchior Lengyel and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The only collaboration between Dietrich and Lubitsch doesn't enjoy a very high reputation among his movies. It lacks the famous Lubitsch "touch" and there's not much wit about it. It's not without its merits, particularly Lubitsch's handling of the servants which he would later perfect in CLUNY BROWN. But the central story is a bit of a drag and seems to go in circles. Marshall is his usual stolid self and Douglas can't seem to pull himself out of his lethargy. As for Dietrich, she's lovely and a bit more animated than usual. Not unworthy by any means, it's Lubitsch but not essential Lubitsch. With Edward Everett Horton, Laura Hope Crews and Ernest Cossart, who has the funniest line in the film.  

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Sword Of Ali Baba (1965)

In the year 1258, the Mongols invade Baghdad but the Caliph (Moroni Olsen) and his young son (Scotty Beckett) escape and evade capture. But the Caliph is betrayed by his friend Prince Cassim (Frank Puglia) and killed. However, the young boy escapes into the desert where he is raised by a group of bandits and as a young man (Peter Mann), he is known as Ali Baba, a champion of the repressed people. Directed by Virgil Vogel (THE MOLE PEOPLE), the film is a scene for scene remake of the 1944 ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES with Frank Puglia playing the same part he played in 1944. Not only that but the film's first 17 minutes (excluding the credits) is lifted intact from the 1944 film. After that, copious amounts of footage from the 1944 movie are generously used. As for the film itself, the acting is shockingly bad. After watching the wooden Peter Mann in the Jon Hall role and the pouting Jocelyn Lane in the Maria Montez role, you'll never badmouth Hall or Montez's acting ability again. The only real "acting" comes from Gavin McLeod (THE LOVE BOAT) who gives an enjoyably campy (whether intentional, I can't say) performance in brownface as the villainous Mongol leader. With Greg Morris (MISSION IMPOSSIBLE), Frank DeKova, Peter Whitney, Frank McGrath and Irene Tsu.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

L'Amore (1948)

Two short stories on the subject of love starring Anna Magnani and directed by Roberto Rossellini: 1) THE HUMAN VOICE by Jean Cocteau. A woman (Magnani) all alone in her apartment talks to her ex-lover on the telephone on the eve of his marriage to another woman. 2) THE MIRACLE. A simple minded peasant woman (Magnani) is seduced by a stranger (Federico Fellini) who she believes is Saint Joseph and when she later finds out she is carrying his child, she believes it is a miraculous holy birth. The two short films are a showcase for the talents of Anna Magnani who Rossellini greatly admired. Italy's greatest actress and one of the world's greatest actresses, Magnani is legendary for the emotional rawness of her performances. Nothing is held back and she could be all exposed nerves which gave her characters a consistent honesty that "Method" actors could only hope to achieve. This ability is on display in HUMAN VOICE. Who hasn't gone all to pieces after a break up and Magnani delivers all the desperation and pain of trying to keep your dignity while your emotional core is fractured. THE MIRACLE has a controversial history. It was considered sacrilegious and banned in the U.S. and went all the way to the Supreme Court which declared it a form of artistic expression and protected by the First Amendment.

The Castaway Cowboy (1974)

A Texas cowboy (James Garner) is shanghaied and when he jumps ship, he finds himself washed ashore on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. A widow (Vera Miles) with a small son (Eric Shea, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE) running a failing potato farm nurses him back to health. Directed by Vincent McEveety, the novelty of a Hawaiian western quickly wears off once the tedium sets in. This being a Walt Disney production, it's family friendly but it's sloppily written with cardboard characters. The film portrays the indigenous Hawaiians as shiftless superstitious savages till the Caucasian cowboy whips them into shape. The training of the Hawaiians to become cowboys is supposed to provide the film's humor but the comedy is lame. To the film's credit, at least it casts actual Hawaiian actors rather than putting white actors in brownface. This being Kauai, known as the garden island, the scenery is lush and handsome, so's there's that. With Robert Culp as the villain hoping to marry Vera Miles, Gregory Sierra and Manu Tupou.    

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Backstabbing For Beginners (2018)

An idealistic and perhaps naive aspiring diplomat (Theo James) gets a dream job working as an assistant to the Under Secretary General (Ben Kingsley) at the United Nations. His boss is in charge of operating the Oil For Food program which is designed to help Iraqi citizens without allowing the oil sale to aid Saddam Hussein and his regime. But he soon finds himself involved in a system of greed, corruption, betrayal and murder under the guise of helping humanity. Based on the non fiction memoir by Michael Soussan and directed by Per Fly Plejdrup. I love a good political thriller (Z, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, 3 DAYS OF THE CONDOR etc.) and while this one doesn't reach the heights of those movies, it deserved a better fate than slipping under the radar into oblivion. Based on a true story yet with the usual dramatic license to spice things up like a romance (Theo James and Belcim Bilgin as a Kurdish interpreter). Why do film makers think a movie must have a romance to keep us involved? Do they think we'll think the protagonist is gay if he doesn't bed down the pretty girl at his side? That aside, this is an extremely well made documentary style political thriller that leaves one with a sense of sadness (and cynicism) that corruption infiltrates everything, even the do gooders. Definitely worth checking out. With Jacqueline Bisset and Brian Markinson.

The Iron Horse (1924)

Abraham Lincoln (Charles Edward Bull) authorizes the ambitious construction of a railway system that will connect the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railways. But the historic project is fraught with peril from deception and betrayal to hostile Cheyenne Indians. Directed by John Ford (his first major film), this is a genuine epic western that displays Ford's affection for the American West as well as his propensity to mythologize it, his eye for landscapes (filmed in California and Nevada) as well as his flaws. Notably, his tendency toward inserting inane humor into what is essentially a dramatic story which slows the movie up. Ford whips up an exciting attack by Cheyenne Indians on the railway workers that's quite thrilling. The leading protagonist is played the immensely appealing George O'Brien (SUNRISE). Unfortunately, he's saddled with a leading lady (Madge Bellamy) whose prissy character is unpleasant. I much preferred the secondary leading lady (Gladys Hulette) whose feisty saloon gal is more appealing. There does seem to be a slight (unintended) xenophobic attitude toward the "foreign" railroad workers (Italians and Chinese) who are referred to as troublemakers. The transfer I saw had a wonderful underscore by Christopher Caliendo. With Cyril Chadwick, Fred Kohler and George Waggner (who would go on direct horror films at Universal) as Buffalo Bill. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Comedy Of Terrors (1963)

In late 19th century New England, an alcoholic undertaker (Vincent Price) with a diminishing clientele assists his fading business by murdering potential clients with the help of his assistant (Peter Lorre). Written by Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND) and directed by Jacques Tourneur (I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE). I rather like horror comedies (GHOSTBUSTERS, the 1939 CAT AND THE CANARY etc.) but this one is a bit of a stinker. You don't so much sit through it as endure it. I only laughed twice and both times was at Joyce Jameson's (as Price's abused wife) attempts at singing opera. Certainly the talented cast is up to it and they all give it their best but the screenplay lets them down. With a brief running time of an hour and 23 minutes, it still drags. Boris Karloff is spottily amusing as Price's senile father in law and Basil Rathbone hams it up nicely. With Joe E. Brown, Beverly Powers and Rhubarb the cat stealing scenes as Cleopatra.