Search This Blog

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Helen Morgan Story (1957)

Set in the roaring 20s, the story of Helen Morgan (Ann Blyth) and her rise to fame from a carnival hula dancer to Broadway star. Along the way, there's her on and off again affair with a bootlegger (Paul Newman) as well as a married attorney (Richard Carlson) and a battle with alcohol. Directed by Michael Curtiz, this movie biography is more fiction than fact. The bootlegger played by Newman and the married attorney played by Carlson were created for the film. It's pretty familiar territory if you seen other movie bios on female singers like LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (Ruth Etting), I'LL CRY TOMORROW (Lillian Roth) and LADY SINGS THE BLUES (Billie Holliday). It's a pity the script is a string of cliches because Ann Blyth is good, very good although why they dubbed her (pop singer Gogi Grant dubs her) when Blyth had already proven her vocal talents in musicals like KISMET and ROSE MARIE is perplexing. To boot, Blyth's own singing voice is much closer to Morgan's than Grant's is. With Cara Williams, Alan King, Rudy Vallee, Gene Evans, Virginia Vincent, Dorothy Green, Leonid Kinskey, Iris Adrian and Juanita Moore.   

Chamber Of Horrors (1966)

Two amateur sleuths (Cesare Danova, Wilfrid Hyde White) operate a wax museum. They help the police find an insane murderer (Patrick O'Neal) who is convicted. But he later escapes and begins killing those responsible for putting him behind bars. Directed by Hy Averback (I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOKLAS), this is often erroneously referred to as a remake of the 1953 film HOUSE OF WAX. While there are decided similarities, it is not a remake. It was originally made for TV with the intention of turning it into a TV series where the amateur sleuths would solve a murder each week. Instead, it was released to theaters. Since, as a horror film, it's rather routine, the film was given a gimmick. Whenever a murder was about to occur, a red flash and a horn warning would appear on the screen so that the more delicate could close their eyes or look away from the screen. It was a silly gimmick, especially considering the murders are not graphic at all (this was made for TV after all). Still, it's surprisingly entertaining for something so mild that it could have been made in the 1930s. With Tony Curtis, Suzy Parker, Laura Devon, Marie Windsor, Wayne Rogers, Patrice Wymore, Jeanette Nolan and Barry Kroeger. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Passion (1996)

In 19th century Italy, a soldier (Jere Shea) has a married mistress (Marin Mazzie). But when he's transferred from Milan to a remote military outpost, he comes into contact with a sickly, plain woman (Donna Murphy) who becomes obsessed with him. Based on the 1994 Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim which was based on Ettore Scola's 1983 film PASSIONE D'AMORE which in turn was based on the 19th century novel FOSCA by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. I'm a huge fan of Sondheim but this is easily the weakest of his musicals. At heart, it's a rather unhealthy tale of a psychologically disturbed woman who stalks a soldier who in the end turns out to be a masochist and as sick as she is and yet the whole thing romanticized by Sondheim and director and book writer James Lapine. It's just too creepy! It's that rare Sondheim show devoid of any humor whatsoever. It's a relentless downer. I kept wanting to like it but its characters are unappealing and Sondheim's score tends to be monotonous. With Tom Aldredge and Gregg Edelman.

Running Mates (2000)

As a Michigan Governor (Tom Selleck) makes his bid for the Democratic nomination for President, several women in his life, both past and present, put pressure on him: his campaign manager (Laura Linney), his wife (Nancy Travis), a Hollywood fundraiser (Teri Hatcher) and a Washington socialite (Faye Dunaway) who wants her husband (Robert Culp) to be the VP on the ticket. Directed by Ron Lagomarsino, this film starts off promisingly with a cynical look at the behind the scenes machinations of compromises and political backscratching and deal making. But by the time we get to the end of the journey, it's thinned out to a shallow version of a Frank Capra MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON "we the people" feel good ending that screams out "Fake!" If it only it had played out to its more honest cynicism. The acting is decent with Faye Dunaway especially good as an ambitious political wife far too good for her womanizing husband. Also in the cast: Bob Gunton, Bruce McGill, Stephen Lang and Caroline Aaron.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

Lured (1947)

A serial killer known as the poet killer lures his victims by placing personal ads in the newspaper. After her friend (Tanis Chandler) disappears after placing an ad in the personals, a dancer (Lucille Ball) is recruited by Scotland Yard as bait to ferret out the murderer. Directed by Douglas Sirk (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS), this is a terrific thriller. It's said every director has one Hitchcock movie in him and this is Sirk's. Sirk takes his time in setting up the plot with a major red herring but when the red herring is this good, who cares? Guessing the killer's identity isn't that difficult really but I love the way Sirk teases us with bits of distracting humor. A sequence with Boris Karloff as a deranged fashion designer is both amusing and frightening. Everyone recognizes Ball as one of the great comedy actresses but here she proves a strong dramatic actress as well. The B&W cinematography by William H. Daniels (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF) drenches the film with atmosphere. With George Sanders, Charles Coburn, Cedric Hardwicke, Joseph Calleia, Alan Mowbray, Ann Codee and George Zucco, who just about steals the movie. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

4 Mosche Di Velluto Grigio (aka Four Flies On Grey Velvet) (1971)

A drummer (Michael Brandon) in a rock band is being stalked by a mysterious stranger (Calisto Calisti). When he eventually confronts the stranger, they fight and the stranger is accidentally killed. But someone photographed the killing and is now taunting him. Just what do they want and why? Written and directed by Dario Argento, this is the final entry in his "animal" trilogy coming after BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and CAT O'NINE TAILS. It's easily the weakest of the three gialli and indeed, one of Argento's weakest films. With one exception, the suspense factor is feeble and the two leads, Brandon and Mimsy Farmer as his wife, are uninteresting actors. The one scene that stands out is Francine Racette hiding in a closet from the killer and her eventual murder. But aside from that, the narrative is disjointed and when everything is explained to us at the very end, it doesn't make up for the lack of structure. I get it that Argento's films are defined by his style but here it's just not enough to carry the film. Ennio Morricone's score is a mixed bag. With Bud Spencer and Jean Pierrre Marielle as a gay private detective. I like the idea of a gay private eye but it's a pity that Argento goes for the stereotype.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Loot (1970)

Two young bank robbers (Hywel Bennett, Roy Holder) have pulled off a successful heist. They hide the money in the casket of Holder's recently deceased mother intending to later remove the money and put mother back in her casket. However, everything that could go wrong does. Based on the farce by Joe Orton (ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE) and directed by Silvio Narizzano (GEORGY GIRL). This diabolical black comedy does little to hide its theatrical origins and indeed, I suspect it might play better on stage than on screen. Which is not to say, it's not amusing in its celluloid incarnation but the broad play acting and stylized frenzy may put some people off. Acting wise, the film belongs to two actors not normally associated with comedy. Lee Remick is hilarious as a gold digging nurse who's been married 7 times ("I can't marry you. You're the wrong faith and income bracket!") and Richard Attenborough as a corrupt and sadistic police detective ("Anything you say may be taken down, twisted round, altered and used in evidence against you"). With Milo O'Shea and Dick Emery.

Cyborg 2087 (1966)

In the year 2087, the fascist state controls the population through something called "radio telepathy". A group of anti-fascist revolutionaries send a cyborg (Michael Rennie) back in time to the year 1966 to find the inventor (Eduard Franz) and stop the discovery of "radio telepathy". Directed by Franklin Adreon, this low budget slice of science fiction isn't outrageous enough to qualify as "camp" but its cheesy ineptness provides an eminently watchable "B" movie experience. Actually intended as a TV movie, it was released into cinemas instead. With Rennie as the cyborg of the title, one can't help but be reminded of the similarities of his Klaatu in the classic THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. But plot wise, the film resembles and anticipates Cameron's THE TERMINATOR (1984) more than anything else. The film is very much of its time (1966), the film has a flat TV look and shot in bright colors and there's even a sequence where the movie stops so we can watch some teenagers do The Jerk! With Wendell Corey, Karen Steele, Warren Stevens, Jo Ann Pflug, John Beck and Adam Roarke.    

L'Amour D'une Femme (1953)

A young female doctor (Micheline Presle) arrives at a desolate French island in the English Channel to take the place of the 70 year old doctor (Robert Naly) who is retiring. She has to overcome prejudice toward women doctors from the island's male population but she quickly finds romance with an Italian engineer (Massimo Girotti), who also has old fashioned ideas about women. Directed by Jean Gremillon. Although it would be perhaps stretching it to call this a feminist drama, the film is remarkably prescient in its observations regarding the pressure women have of choosing between a husband and family and a career. Presle's character is a dedicated doctor yet to the "macho" Italian who wants to marry her, a career is something a woman has until she gets married and doesn't have to work anymore. The film and Presle are very good at showing the complexities on all sides and avoids the strict black and white lines that a more contemporary film would most likely have on the subject. The film's final close up of Presle displays the pain of a decision which may be "right" but doesn't make it any easier. With Gaby Morlay and Paolo Stoppa.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Scream 2 (1997)

When a new movie opens based on a true story about a pair of serial killers, the survivor (Neve Campbell) of that event finds herself once again thrust into the unwelcome media limelight. Things go from bad to horrible, when a copycat killer begins terrorizing the small college town. Directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, the men behind the original SCREAM (1996). This is that rarity, a sequel that surpasses the original. This is one hell of a rollercoaster ride! Craven and Williamson jack up the body count and increase the intensity, all the while savoring every bit of black humor they can squeeze out. Williamson's script is smart and full of surprises and Craven doesn't let go of his grip and delivers a terrific finish. The film's killer (no pun intended) opening says a lot about horror movies and horror movie fans! Which isn't to say that the film doesn't have its flaws. There's a lame sequence of Jerry O'Connell serenading Campbell in the school cafeteria that could have easily been excised with no harm to the film. The performances are fine except for Timothy Olyphant, who's pretty embarrassing. The rest of the large cast includes David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Liev Schreiber, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jada Pinkett, Heather Graham, Luke Wilson, David Warner, Laurie Metcalf, Jamie Kennedy, Portia De Rossi, Tori Spelling and Omar Epps.