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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Yeoman Of The Guard (1957)

Set in 16th century London, a maiden (Celeste Holm) is in love with a prisoner (Bill Hayes) who is condemned to death. Her father (Norman Atkins) concocts a plan to free the prisoner. However, another friend (Robert Wright) of the prisoner concocts another plan that will prevent the prisoner's wicked cousin from inheriting his estates. Alas, the two plans work against each other. Based on the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and directed by George Schafer. This charming confection is breezy and witty and the Gilbert and Sullivan songs are delightful. This production softens the play's more bittersweet ending somewhat emphasizing the comedic aspects. The cast is strong vocally except for Holm but she makes up for it with spirit. Operetta (and Gilbert and Sullivan in general) seems an acquired taste but this is hard to resist. With the great Barbara Cook in glorious voice, Alfred Drake, Henry Calvin, Norman Barrs and Muriel O'Malley.

Der Letzte Mann (aka The Last Laugh) (1924)

An aging doorman (Emil Jannings) at a posh hotel takes pride in his work and is proud of his standing in his community because of the "prestige" of his job. But when he is relieved of his duties and assigned to be an attendant in the hotel's men's room, he falls into a depression and begins to go downhill. Directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, the film omits any intertitle cards of spoken dialog which is rare for a silent film. Instead, it lets the visuals flow and the narrative as filmed is so precise that title cards aren't needed. It features yet another remarkable performance from Jannings although his decline from prideful to decrepit seems too rapid. While its narrative is simple, it is far from simplistic and Murnau touches on the complex relationship between a man and his work and how his work defines him. When that work is taken away, who is he? The film has a lengthy epilogue that is rather touching and sweet and makes for a "happy" ending although I would have preferred the somberness of the reality of the actual situation. With Maly Delschaft and Emilie Kurz. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Night They Took Miss Beautiful (1977)

Terrorists hijack an airplane flying from Miami to the Bahamas that contain the finalists of a beauty pageant and demand five million dollars in ransom. Directed by Robert Michael Lewis and perfectly appalling! Not only poorly written but poorly directed and acted. With a title like THE NIGHT THEY TOOK MISS BEAUTIFUL and a premise like that, one would think this would be a trashy hoot but it's just plain bad. The terrorists are cartoonish rather than terrifying, the "evil" government agents are cliches and the nominal hero (Chuck Connors), an airport security man, is incompetent. The acting is dreadful right down the line except for Stella Stevens and that's only because she's given nothing to do. The most amusing performance comes from Sheree North as a strung out junkie lesbian terrorist. Oh, she's as godawful as everyone else but at least she's amusing in a kind of bad acting way. I felt bad for the actors but I suppose they have bills to pay too. With Phil Silvers, Victoria Principal, Gary Collins, Henry Gibson, Peter Haskell and Karen Lamm.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Mob (1951)

A police detective (Broderick Crawford) goes undercover as a dock worker to investigate the killing of the chief investigator and a witness on a waterfront crime case. Based on the novel WATERFRONT by Ferguson Findley and stylishly directed by Robert Parrish (CRY DANGER). This is a better than average mix of film noir and gangster movie. It's a compact film with some twists and turns, some easy to guess and others no so easy. The film is focused on the narrative with very little padding (like romance or comic bits) and has a nice texture to it that reflects the grittiness of police work and life on the docks. Crawford is very good here and he gets some good support from Richard Kiley as a fellow dock hand. It may not be anything special but it's a good solid example of a crime/noir film. The striking B&W lensing is by Joseph Walker (HIS GIRL FRIDAY). With Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Neville Brand, Betty Buehler, Frank DeKova and Matt Crowley.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A New Kind Of Love (1963)

A young woman (Joanne Woodward), who has no time for romance, flies to Paris where she intends to copycat haute couture fashion designs and sell them retail at a much lower price. On the plane, she meets a playboy journalist (Paul Newman) who mistakes her for a man. Once in Paris, she has a glamorous make over and gets her revenge. But the revenge backfires when she falls in love with him. Directed by Melville Shavelson (HOUSEBOAT), this is an unoriginal romantic comedy that suffers from the miscasting of its male lead. Paul Newman has shown a comedic sense in some of his dramatic roles but in a full out comedy, he's unable to deliver the goods. Woodward does marginally better, she seems to have a sense of the absurdity of the situation. Even with top notch farceurs like Doris Day and Rock Hudson, the script would have cobwebs on it  but at least they would infuse the movie with timing and much needed charm. The supporting cast helps some. With Maurice Chevalier, Thelma Ritter, Eva Gabor, George Tobias, Marvin Kaplan, Robert Clary and Joan Staley.  

Abbott And Costello In Hollywood (1945)

Two barbers (Bud Abbott, Lou Costello) figure they'll make more money as Hollywood agents instead of barbers. To this end, they take a struggling singer (Bob Haymes) under their wing and try to sell him to a major Hollywood director (Donald MacBride). Directed by S. Sylvan Simon (THE FULLER BRUSH MAN), Abbott and Costello were loaned out to MGM by Universal who had them under contract. Being MGM, the film has a distinctly bigger budget look to it and a musical finale that seems right at place in the home of Hollywood's greatest musicals. It's an enjoyable romp with two hilarious comic pieces that stand out. The first when Costello is mistaken for a stunt dummy while shooting a western and the second, when he uses a recording to help cure his insomnia. For fans of the comic duo, this is a real treat but even if you're not a fan, I suspect you won't be able to suppress a grin at least. With Lucille Ball, Preston Foster, Mike Mazurki, Rags Ragland, Karin Booth, Jean Porter, Marion Martin, Warner Anderson and the appealing Frances Rafferty who should have had a bigger career.

A Caribbean Mystery (1989)

While vacationing on a Caribbean island recovering from an illness, an elderly woman (Joan Hickson) from a small English village finds herself involved in murder when an elderly retired Major (Frank Middlemass) is poisoned. But it won't be the last murder. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie and directed by Christopher Petit. While Hickson remains the definitive Miss Marple of the Christie novels and the Barbados locations provide an attractive backdrop, this is a rather mundane adaptation. There have been some minor changes from Christie's book and a few additions but none of the changes or additions improve on Christie's original story. The 1983 adaptation with Helen Hayes as Miss Marple stuck to Christie's novel and remains a much more pleasant rendering. Outside of Hickson and Donald Pleasence as a wealthy invalid, the acting is mediocre especially by Robert Swann and Sue Lloyd, two Brits playing Americans and with awful American accents. With Sophie Ward and T.P. McKenna.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

L'Enfer D'Henri Georges Clouzot (Henri Georges Clouzot's Inferno) (2009)

In 1964, the famed French director Henri Georges Clouzot (WAGES OF FEAR, DIABOLIQUE) attempted his most ambitious film yet. A film about a husband (Serge Reggiani) insanely jealous of his young wife (Romy Schneider). The film would venture into cinematic territory that Clouzot had never attempted before. The shooting was a disaster and the film abandoned after three weeks of shooting. Piecing together surviving footage from the film as well as new footage with Berenice Bejo (THE ARTIST) and Jacques Gamblin in Schneider's and Reggiani's roles (for scenes never shot) and interviewing the surviving cast and crew, Serge Bromberg's documentary examines the history of the film and its collapse. The footage that survives is stunning and while we'll never know, it has all the earmarks of an innovative masterpiece. The documentary shows Clouzot as a director with an amazing vision but unable to translate it to his satisfaction, his pushing the actors beyond limits that any actor has to suffer and three entire camera crews often waiting around while Clouzot waits for inspiration. This documentary is de rigeur for anyone remotely interested in Clouzot or cinema. With Dany Carrel, Jean Claude Bercq and Catherine Allegret.

Una Mujer Fantastica (aka A Fantastic Woman) (2017)

After her much older lover (Francisco Reyes) suddenly dies, a young transgender woman (Daniela Vega) finds the safety of her world shattered. Without his protection, she must now face the hostility of a culture not receptive to transgender persons. Directed by Sebastian Lelio (GLORIA), this film is one of this year's Oscar nominees for foreign language film (it's from Chile). There's a lot to admire here. Notably, despite the discrimination she faces, the film does not portray Vega as a victim. We see the discrimination she has to put up with (and some of it is pretty horrific), but there's absolutely no self pity in her. Instead, we a woman finding her own voice and fighting back for the dignity owed her. Vega's expressive performance allows her a wide range of emotions and I admired the subtlety with which she let them filter out. My only quibble is ..... just what was in locker 181? I think I can guess but it would have been nice if Lelio let us in on it. There's an excellent underscore by Matthew Herbert. With Luis Gnecco, Aline Kuppenheim and Nicolas Saavedra.

Friday, February 16, 2018

High Noon (1952)

On his last day in office, a U.S. Marshal (Gary Cooper) has just gotten married. But when he hears that a man (Ian MacDonald) who has vowed to kill him has just been given parole from a state prison, he is torn between staying and doing his duty and leaving with his Quaker bride (Grace Kelly), who abhors violence. Based on the short story THE TIN STAR by John W. Cunningham and directed by Fred Zinnemann (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY). This is one of the great westerns! With the assistance of a superb editor (Elmo Williams), Zinnemann has given us a tight and compact western played out in real time. For years since its release, its political subtext has been hotly debated but whether or not Carl Foreman intended the film as an allegory on the current (at the time) HUAC witch hunts, it works either with such a subtext or as a straight western. Dimitri Tiomkin's superb Oscar winning underscore is one of those rare film scores that are such a very part of the film's fabric that it's impossible to imagine the film's impact without it. The large cast includes Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Thomas Mitchell, Lee Van Cleef, Lon Chaney Jr., Otto Kruger and Robert J. Wilke.