Saturday, March 8, 2014
Upon being released from jail, a non-conformist and penniless painter (Alec Guinness) attempts to harass friends and acquaintances for money to live on. But despite his genuine talent as a painter, he's also a bit of a con artist and a user which makes others reluctant to help him. Gulley Jimson is one of Guinness's great creations, an eccentric artist cum con man who's both irritating and charming at the same time. The film is relatively plotless as Guinness's Gulley goes on his merry way swindling wealthy art patrons and bilking struggling art students under the guise of teaching them while in reality, they're executing his paintings for him! He's really an appalling rascal yet we can't dislike him. I'm not a fan of British comedies as a rule but its Oscar nominated screenplay written by Guinness (based on the Joyce Cary novel) is engaging and director Ronald Neame (THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE) gives it his cinched touch. The underscore is adapted from Prokofiev's LIEUTENANT KIJE. With Kay Walsh, Renee Houston, Robert Coote, Veronica Turleigh, Michael Gough, Ernest Thesiger, Clive Revill and the delightful Mike Morgan as Guinness's protege (who sadly passed away before the film came out at age 29).
Friday, March 7, 2014
After being abandoned by her latest lover (Corrado Pani), a young woman (Claudia Cardinale, looking delectable) tracks him down to his home. He's not there but she meets his 16 year old brother (Jacques Perrin), who develops a serious schoolboy crush on her. Like his previous film VIOLENT SUMMER, director Valerio Zurlini explores the emotional conplexities of an older woman/younger man (or in this case, boy) relationship. Cardinale's Aida is not unlike Fellini's Cabiria as played by Giulietta Masina. She's not the brightest bulb but all she wants is a little slice of happiness. But she's destined to be a born victim and by the film's end, you're taken enough with her to be concerned with what will happen to her. Perrin perfectly catches both the moony jealousy and the shattered innocence of an adolescent's first love. A bittesweet romance that should touch anyone who had their heart broken when encountering love for the first time. With Gian Maria Volonte, Romolo Valli and Luciana Angiolillo.
Five men participate in a daring robbery of a train carrying gold headed for the San Francisco mint. After the heist, they split into three different directions in an attempt to throw the police off their trail. This is a dandy, compact "B" noir which packs a lot of tension in one hour and twelve minutes. Like most good noir, the film is permeated with a sense of fatalism so that even though you don't know what's going to happen, you know there aren't going to be any winners by the time "The End" flashes on the screen. It's slightly reminiscent of Kubrick's THE KILLING (though, of course, no where near as great) in feel and that film's Elisha Cook Jr. turns up here too as one of the robbers. It's got a second string cast but the performances are pretty solid including Gene Raymond, Wayne Morris and Jeanne Cooper. Definitely worth seeking out. Directed by Hubert Cornfield (NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY and the sturdy B&W CinemaScope lensing is by Ernest Haller (GONE WITH THE WIND). With Naura Hayden, Stafford Repp and Steven Ritch, who wrote the tight screenplay.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Two lifelong friends (John Gilbert, Lars Hanson) on leave from from military service return to their Austrian home. Gilbert becomes obsessed with a beautiful married woman (Greta Garbo) and kills her husband in a duel. As punishment, the Army sends him to Africa but not before he asks Hanson to look after Garbo. When he returns after three years, he finds them married. Based on the novel THE UNDYING PAST by Hermann Sudermann, this keyed up romantic melodrama is pretty hoary. Gilbert (way too much make-up), in particular, is ill served by the material. You'd never know this was the same guy who headlined Vidor's THE BIG PARADE so effortlessly. But the reason to see this film is Garbo! She's magnetic, there was no one like her. She's beautifully shot by William Daniels and not surprisingly, Garbo insisted he work on most of her films. One can overlook the film's slightly misogynistic attitude because of her. The purity of the friendship between the two men is tainted by this seductress, so naturally she's going to come to a bad end. Directed by Clarence Brown. With Barbara Ken and Eugenie Besserer.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Two New Yorkers, a professor (Fritz Weaver) and his wife (Ingrid Bergman), move to rural Tennessee for a year so the husband can write a book. While he seems frustrated, she flourishes ... especially when their neighbor (Anthony Quinn) pays attention to her. Based on the novel by Rachel Maddux, this is a sort of precursor to THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Ever since BRIEF ENCOUNTER showed there was a market for middle aged romances, they continue to pop up every so often. This isn't one of the better ones. Outside of a beautifully played kitchen scene between Bergman and Katharine Crawford as her adult daughter, there aren't any surprises and it plays out as expected. I'd call it a tearjerker but but it's a passionless endeavor though one has to admire Bergman's tenacity in plugging away. The film has it set up so that the adultery is inevitable. Her husband is an ardorless intellectual and his wife (Virginia Gregg) is an uncouth frump (when she drinks her coffee, she puts a lump of sugar between her teeth and slurps). The lovely Elmer Bernstein score does its best to conjure up some fervor while Charles Lang's wide screen shooting of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee is breathtaking. Directed by Guy Green (A PATCH OF BLUE). With Tom Fielding as Quinn's ill fated son.
A saloon singer (Claire Trevor) in Dodge City finds herself looked down upon by some of the more "proper" people of the town. But this doesn't stop her from doing good deeds and going to church. But when the new sheriff Bat Masterson (Albert Dekker) and a brash cattleman (Barry Sullivan) on opposite sides of the law find themselves rivals for her affection, only trouble can come of it. This little seen (only 70 votes on the IMDb) routine western has all the virtues of a "B" western. It's brief, moves quickly, doesn't take itself too seriously and holds our interest. Of course, at this point in her career, Trevor could play the floozie with a heart of gold in her sleep. Still, she brings a quiet intelligence to her role that's appreciated. If you're into westerns, there's every possibility this might find some favor with you. The Oscar nominated score is by Miklos Rozsa, one of his rare forays into the movie western. Directed by Jean Archainbaud. With Henry Hull, Percy Kilbride, Marion Martin and Charley Foy playing his real life father, Eddie Foy.
Monday, March 3, 2014
An Irishman (Fred Astaire) and his daughter (Petula Clark) emigrate to America. What she doesn't know is that her father has stolen a pot of gold from the leprechauns and plans to bury it near Fort Knox where he believes it will multiply. What he doesn't know is that he's been followed by a leprechaun (Tommy Steele) who is rapidly turning mortal unless he can return the gold to its Irish roots. This bit of folksy Irish whimsy with a social commentary must have seemed rather old fashioned even in 1947 when it became a hit Broadway musical. Twenty years later, the cobwebs have been dusted off and it's brought to the screen pretty much intact. It's creakiness doomed it in 1968, the year of more innovative fare like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, ROSEMARY'S BABY, PETULIA and FACES. Seen some 35 years later, its antiquated scenario now seems rather sweet and naive. But its the glorious songs by E.Y. Harburg and Burton Lane that make this a perennial favorite of musical lovers: Old Devil Moon (the sensual duet by Clark and Don Francks is the film's highpoint), How Are Things In Glocca Mora, When I'm Not Near The Girl I Love, Look To The Rainbow, If This Isn't Love among others. Astaire's musical swan song. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. With Keenan Wynn (one of the last major actors required to do blackface), Roy Glenn and Al Freeman Jr. (one of the last black actors required to shuffle and say "massah").
When a man (Wendell Corey) attempts to break free of his criminal past, his former partner (Robert Costa) attempts to blackmail him but is killed by the man's fiancee (Nancy Gates in Asian make-up). From there things go from bad to worse and only intensify when the man's first wife (Evelyn Keyes) show up to look for him. Set in Hawaii, this minor Republic noir effort makes good use of its Hawaiian locations but it's not the usual Technicolor exotic tourist Honolulu. Instead, we get the B&W seedy underbelly that the tourists never see, wonderfully shot with lots of shadows and dingy atmosphere by John L. Russell (PSYCHO). That's about the best that you can say about director John H. Auer's (who also produced) improbable scenario. Even its cast has seen better days, notably Evelyn Keyes who looks rather blowsy. The film gives two reliable supporting players, Philip Ahn (who gets to romance Marie Windsor) and Jesse White, some juicy roles for a change rather than the usual uninteresting parts they end up with. With a wasted Elsa Lanchester as a lady taxi driver, Keye Luke and Leonard Strong.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
A private detective (Nick Nolte) is hired by a prostitute (Debra Winger) to gather evidence that would get a new trial for a convicted murderer (Frank Military). While investigating the case, he becomes emotionally involved with her but it becomes clear that she's unstable. Is she the key to a case that could blow the roof off a politically corrupt city that goes right to the top ... or is she a paranoid whack job? Based on one of his minor plays, this is one of only three screenplays Arthur Miller (DEATH OF A SALESMAN) has written for the screen. While the mystery portion is obvious (I doubt Miller was interested in a conventional thriller), the narrative is fairly solid. Unfortunately, Miller's characters aren't believable and don't ring true. Winger, normally a gifted actress, is defeated by the zig-zagging of her character or perhaps as written, it's just unplayable. Or possibly she's just plain miscast, whatever, it's probably her weakest performance (though possibly LEGAL EAGLES might be worse). Miller's gift for dialog eludes him here and if his name wasn't on the credits, you'd never guess he had anything to do with it. The direction by Karel Reisz (FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN) can' be faulted. It's in the writing and to a lesser extent, the acting. The classy Mark Isham score rises above the mire. With Jack Warden, Will Patton, Judith Ivey, Frank Converse and Kathleen Wilhoite.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
In a South American country, a high ranking employee (David Niven) of a sugar company finds his marriage disintegrating to the point where his wife (Leslie Caron) wants to leave him. But when a revolution breaks out and the military takes over the country, the couple find that a simple act of humanity has political repercussions that make them enemies of the state. A potentially intriguing political thriller gets bogged down in domestic issues to the point that it seems the film is encouraging political revolution as an alternative sort of marriage counseling or therapy! The characters' behavior is questionable and poor Leslie Caron is treated as a ninny though considering some of her actions, perhaps it's not unjustified. It's not a bad movie by any means but its potential is barely tapped which makes it a frustrating film. Luckily, Niven and Caron are such strong screen presences that they cover up a lot of the movie's problems. The normally reliable Benjamin Frankel's score is no help but Robert Krasker's (EL CID) neat black and white cinematography is nicely rendered. Directed by Anthony Asquith (THE VIPS). With James Robertson Justice, David Opatoshu and Ian Hunter.