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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

June Moon (1974)

A naive young man (Tom Fitzsimmons) from Schenectady moves to New York City in the hopes of becoming a songwriter. He collaborates with an older songwriter (Jack Cassidy) but he falls into the clutches of the older man's devious sister in law (Susan Sarandon) who uses him to make her lover (Kevin McCarthy) jealous. What will it take for him to wake up and smell the coffee? Based on the 1929 Broadway show by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner, this was filmed twice in the 1930s, once under the original title in 1931 then as BLONDE TROUBLE in 1937. This version filmed for public television retains the original play's modest charms while putting a darker spin on the money hungry bitchy sisters (Sarandon and Estelle Parsons) which borders on misogyny at times. The satire on Tin Pan Alley holds up well and fortunately for this production, at its core is Fitzsimmons who plays innocent naivete beautifully which is not always as easy as it looks. Too often it comes across as forced and phony but Fitzsimmons aces it. Directed by Burt Shevelove and Kirk Browning. With Barbara Dana, Austin Pendleton, Lee Meredith and Stephen Sondheim in a rare acting role.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Hanging Tree (1959)

During the gold rush in the latter part of the 1800s, a doctor (Gary Cooper) with a mysterious past arrives in a Montana mining camp. He blackmails a young man (Ben Piazza) into becoming his indentured servant. But when a woman (Maria Schell) is found with severe sunburn, dehydration and temporary blindness from exposure, she will affect both their lives. The director Delmer Daves has directed several of the best westerns of the 1950s: the great 3:10 TO YUMA, THE LAST WAGON and JUBAL. You can add this one to the list. It's a complicated western that puts the emphasis on character development and psychology rather than gunfights or cowboys vs. Indians. The acting is uniformly good and the film provides that rarity in westerns, a strong and complex part for a woman. But ... and it's a big but ... the film seemed like it was on its way toward something dark and horrible and then, all of a sudden there's this what the ancient Greeks called deus ex machina. Out of nowhere, a quick and pat resolution. It's a serious enough flaw that prevents me from calling it a great western. But it's still one of the best westerns of the era, good enough to inspire Max Steiner to give it a fresh score rather than one of his retreads. With Karl Malden, George C. Scott (in his film debut), Karl Swenson and Virginia Gregg (aptly referred to by Piazza as a female snake, not good enough to crawl).

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)

A transient (Jack Nicholson) hitchhiking his way to Los Angeles stops at a small roadside cafe and gas station run by an older Greek man (John Colicos) who offers him a job as a car mechanic. He's reluctant to accept until he sets his eyes on the Greek's sexy young wife (Jessica Lange). After they become lovers, it's only a matter of time before they conspire to kill him. The second American film version (it's also been made in France, Germany and Italy) of the James M. Cain novel, this is more accurate to Cain's novel than the 1946 Lana Turner/John Garfield MGM film. Restricted by the censorship dictates of the era, the Tay Garnett film could only suggest the sexual heat the two protagonists had for each other. I'm not trying to denigrate the 1946 film which is excellent and one of the important noir films of the 1940s, but the sexual aspect is key to the Cain novel. Handsomely shot by the great Bergman collaborater Sven Nykvist, the period detail is exquisite. I've never been a fan of David Mamet either as a playwright or screenwriter and his adaptation is troublesome. He seems to want to gut Cain's style which, despite it being cleaned up, the 1946 film managed to suggest. But if the 1976 KING KONG suggested that Lange was a star in the making, this film fulfills that promise. Disheveled and tense, Lange lets us see this woman's desperation and longing to break out. The film editor is Graeme Clifford who would direct Lange to an Oscar nomination in FRANCES the next year. Gracefully directed (perhaps too graceful) by Bob Rafelson with a beauty of a score by Michael Small. With Anjelica Huston, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd and John P. Ryan.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cash McCall (1960)

The owner (Dean Jagger) of a plastics company decides to sell his business to a corporate raider (James Garner, who passed away this week) for two million dollars. But he doesn't tell the buyer of the possible loss of the company's biggest customer. Meanwhile the buyer has plans of his own to turn a profit with the company while romancing the owner's daughter (Natalie Wood). Based upon the novel by Cameron Hawley whose first book EXECUTIVE SUITE was turned into a successful motion picture at MGM. Although both books and films deal with the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing in the corporate business world, CASH MCCALL is more of a lightweight. It's central love story is unconvincing, possibly because Garner and Wood transmit no heat and the film's portrayal of the machinations of buying and selling are often confusing to the layman. Some of the supporting performances are good especially Henry Jones as Garner's somewhat befuddled right hand man and Nina Foch as a conniving man trap. Directed by Joseph Pevney (MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES). With E.G. Marshall, Otto Kruger, Linda Watkins, Parley Baer and Edward Platt.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Vertigo (1958)

No longer able to perform his job as a policeman due to his fear of heights and the ensuing vertigo which resulted in the death of a fellow cop, a man (James Stewart) agrees to work as a private investigator following the wife (Kim Novak) of a wealthy friend (Tom Helmore). The man is worried about his wife's blackouts and suicidal tendencies. What no one counted on was the detective and the wife falling in love and the destructive aftermath. So much has already been written and analyzed about Alfred Hitchcock's greatest film, that there's precious little I can add or say. Is it a masterpiece? Indisputably! Misunderstood when it was first released, its reputation has bloomed considerably in the ensuing 50 plus years till it eventually toppled CITIZEN KANE from its perch in the Sight And Sound poll as the best film of "all time". Those looking for a typical Hitchcockian suspense film are usually disappointed since Hitchcock pushes suspense back in place of a film that is so intricate and layered in its structure that it easily holds up to repeated viewings. Stewart and Novak in career best performances inhabit their complex roles beautifully: a man in love with an ideal that doesn't exist, so obsessesed with that ideal that he wants, like Dr. Frankenstein, to create her out of dead parts and a woman so in love that she risks everything in a game that neither can win. Everyone from cinematographer Robert Burks to costume designer Edith Head is at the peak of their game. But special mention must be made of Bernard Herrmann's great score which becomes a very fabric of the film's existence. Based on the novel D'ENTRE LES MORTS by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (DIABOLIQUE). With Barbara Bel Geddes, Henry Jones, Raymond Bailey, Ellen Corby and Lee Patrick.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014)

Set in San Francisco, a "simian" virus (though it was created by man) has wiped out most of the human population and the apes have retreated to the forests. The ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis), a victim of unethical laboratory experimentation, distrusts the humans. But when a small group of humans invade their area, it eventually precipitates a battle of power over who will dominate. Superior to its predecessor RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, director Matt Reeves (CLOVERFIELD) has created a thrilling and provocative action piece that is a perfect example of the intelligent summer blockbuster. It builds such good will that one can forgive it running out of steam by the time it reaches its conclusion. The film's biggest flaw is that, unlike the engrossing ape characters, it can't do much with its human characters. A duller more insipid bunch you won't find anywhere and they bog the movie down whenever they're on screen which is a lot. But Andy Serkis is terrific here, a really strong physical as well as emotional performance. Of course, the film is laden with CGI but it's well done CGI or as well as can be expected making something unreal look real. It's one overcast film though in the visual sense, browns and grays dominate and I couldn't help but wish for a splash of yellow or red! With Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell as the film's simian villain and Gary Oldman as his human counterpart.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cult Of The Cobra (1955)

In 1945, six American soldiers in Asia (possibly India) view a forbidden snake ceremony where a woman morphs into a cobra. When one of them attempts to take a photo, chaos ensues and the high priest vows the men will all die. One does die there from a snake bite but when they get home to the states, other deaths imply the curse is upon them! I had a good time with this kitschy potboiler. You know exactly what it is going in and I wasn't disappointed. How can you not like a movie with a woman dancing in a cobra outfit that looks like it came right out of season one of AMERICAN HORROR STORY. I couldn't help but grin how when anyone mentioned snakes or curses, ominous music would play and the cameraman (the great Russell Metty) would highlight the area around Faith Domergue's eyes. As a horror film, it's not very scary unless rubber cobras frighten you. Actually, I developed a sympathy for Domergue's snake girl and her mission to wipe out the G.I.s. After all, they were told not to make their presence known during the ceremony. It's not the kind of film where the acting matters much but Marshall Thompson delivers a little more than the role requires so he was the only character I didn't want to see become a victim. Directed by Francis D. Lyon. With Richard Long, David Janssen, Jack Kelly and Kathleen Hughes who I was hoping would get bit!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Smultronstallet (aka Wild Strawberries) (1957)

A rather cold and self absorbed aged academic (Victor Sjostrom) is being honored with a special doctorate degree by a university. As he travels the long auto ride with his daughter in law (Ingrid Thulin) to receive the honor, he reflects on his life through dreams and flashbacks. This is a lovely and poignant rumination and self examination of one's life, the mistakes we've made, the wrongs we've done others and perhaps the opportunity to set some of it right and free ourselves in the process. One of Ingmar Bergman's more accessible films, it features a beautiful performance by the famed actor/director Sjostrom in his final film role. It contains some of the most unforgettable sequences in Bergman's career: Sjostrom's first dream on the deserted streets, his visit to his old mother, the bickering couple they pick up on the road. Thulin is also wonderful though it's often difficult to get past her great beauty to appreciate her performance. A genuine example of cinema as an art form. With Bibi Andersson (playing two roles), Gunnar Bjornstrand, Max Von Sydow, Gunnel Lindblom, Naima Wifstrand, Folke Sundquist and Bjorn Bjelfvenstam.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kona Coast (1968)

When his estranged daughter (Gloria Nakea) is found drowned with needle tracks on her arms, her father (Richard Boone) attempts to track down her killers and avenge his daughter's death. Very loosely based on a John D. MacDonald (CAPE FEAR) short story, this is a pretty lame movie. Outside of the colorful and lush Hawaiian locales, it feels like a standard TV movie of the week or an episode of MAGNUM PI. The aging Boone makes for a questionable chick magnet and watching the lovely Vera Miles as a recovering alcoholic and ex-flame of his pining and lusting over him is disconcerting. The poor Miles is also saddled with the worst of the film's pedestrian dialog. Thankfully, the movie cuts away when Boone starts doing the hula! Directed by Lamont Johnson, a solid television director who didn't have much luck with his film efforts (he directed LIPSTICK). With Joan Blondell, Chips Rafferty, Kent Smith and as the film's gay villain Steve Ihnat, a solid character actor who died at age 37.

Good Sam (1948)

A good Samaritan (Gary Cooper) overextends his kind acts by loaning money, his car, even his home to others. This frustrates his practical wife (Ann Sheridan) who feels they'll never get ahead as long as he sticks to his belief of doing good for others over his own family. The first hour of this Leo McCarey (THE AWFUL TRUTH) comedy is quite enjoyable. Sheridan's sarcastic spouse proves a perfect foil for the gullible do-gooder husband. The breakfast scene where a garage mechanic (Clinton Sundberg) takes advantage of Cooper's hospitality is priceless. Unfortunately, the second hour goes all mawkish and sentimental on us (think Frank Capra!) and turns Sheridan's character into a harridan. Projecting intelligence was never Cooper's strong suit so his good Samaritan comes across as thick skulled and obstinate when I don't think that's what McCarey intended. It ends up being half a good movie. With Ruth Roman, Joan Lorring, Edmund Lowe, Ray Collins, Minerva Urecal and Louise Beavers.