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Friday, December 15, 2017

Ruby (1977)

An ex-mobster's mistress (Piper Laurie) is running a drive in theater in a rural part of the country. 16 years earlier, her lover (Sal Vecchio) had been murdered in a gangland killing and that very night, she gave birth to their daughter. Now, suddenly the men responsible for his death are dying violent deaths and she has visions of her dead lover returning. Directed by Curtis Harrington (WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?), this low budget exploitation film taking place at a drive in seems made for the drive in trade! For most of its running time, it appears to be a ghost story but suddenly in the movie's last half hour it turns into THE EXORCIST. Outside of Piper Laurie, who's very good and Stuart Whitman, who's okay, the acting is pretty lousy. For a horror film, it lacks any sense of dread or tension. To Harrington's credit, he infuses the film with a nice visual atmosphere and sense of period detail. With Janit Baldwin, Fred Kohler Jr. and Roger Davis. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Man With Two Brains (1983)

A world famous brain surgeon (Steve Martin) marries a duplicitous gold digger (Kathleen Turner) who taunts him by withholding sex from him while she has sex with the gardener and room service waiters. But when he comes across a brain (Sissy Spacek) in a jar in a scientist's (David Warner) laboratory, it's love! Directed by Carl Reiner, who co-wrote the screenplay along with Martin and George Gipe. This parody of science fiction "mad scientist" movies is quite funny. It's totally silly of course so don't look for logic or realism, just enjoy the jokes. Kathleen Turner is hilarious as the evil, ball busting vixen in what might be described as her BODY HEAT character  for laughs. Spacek proves that voice acting can be just as important as "real" acting as her brain is a charmer and you can see why Martin would fall in love with her/it. All in all, one of the funniest comedies of the 1980s. The underscore is by Joel Goldsmith (son of Jerry). With James Cromwell, George Furth, Estelle Reiner, Randi Brooks, Jeffrey Combs and Merv Griffin. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Hired Gun (1957)

A Texas woman (Anne Francis) accused of murdering her husband escapes from jail with the help of a family friend (Chuck Connors) to New Mexico. When New Mexico refuses to extradite her, the murdered man's father (John Litel) hires a gunslinger (Rory Calhoun) to bring her back. Directed by Ray Nazarro, this economical B&W western shot in CinemaScope is a programmer that has the feel of an episode from a western TV series. It's padded out to feature length with superfluous things like an Indian attack but it's a moderately enjoyable mid range western that turned a modest profit when released 60 years ago. Surprisingly, the film doesn't attempt a romance between Calhoun and Francis. Instead it concentrates on the gunslinger letting his guard down and open to a human connection instead of acting the professional mercenary. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone except western buffs. With Vince Edwards and Robert Burton.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Housekeeper's Daughter (1939)

A feeble mind flower peddler (George E. Stone) has a crush on a Broadway actress (Lilian Bond). When she's threatened by a gangster (Marc Lawrence), he puts poison in the thug's coffee but the actress drinks it instead. The gangster dumps her body in the river. This is just the start of a screwball comedy about a housekeeper's daughter (Joan Bennett), a fast talking reporter (Adolphe Menjou), a naive rich boy (John Hubbard) and newspaper editor (Donald Meek). Directed by Hal Roach, the film never lives up to the comedic potential its premise suggests. The movie takes too long to get its rhythm going and it only starts popping in the film's last half hour. The film is a testament to star power as Joan Bennett and Adolphe Menjou make the most of their lines but the charmless John Hubbard is a hole in the screen. Lovers of comedy murder mysteries will most likely be agreeable to this offering but others may not be so forgiving. I enjoyed it more than not. With Victor Mature (in his screen debut), Peggy Wood (THE SOUND OF MUSIC), William Gargan and Leila McIntyre.  

A Wedding (1961)

A bridegroom's (Dennis Edwards) plan to have a General attend his wedding backfires when the "General" turns out to be a lowly naval captain (Robert Gillespie). Based on the 1889 one act play by Anton Chekhov and directed by Rosemary Hill. Chekhov's curtain raiser is a slight piece of amusing social commentary about social status and anti-intellectual attitudes among the working class in late 19th century Russia. The length is perfect as Chekhov manages to say enough without over extending himself. The acting is broad but not offensively so. The cast includes Roy Kinnear, Graham Armitage, Hilary Mason, Julia McCarthy and Anne Robson.

Travels With My Aunt (1972)

At his mother's funeral, a strait laced bank manager (Alec McCowen) meets his eccentric and flamboyant Aunt Augusta (Maggie Smith) for the first time since he was an infant. The Aunt is trying to raise the ransom money for an old lover (Robert Stephens) and coerces her unwilling nephew into helping her. Based on the novel by Graham Greene (THE THIRD MAN) and directed by George Cukor. This delightful comic romp owes everything to Maggie Smith's Oscar nominated performance. Whether whooping about or dripping sarcasm, Smith is magnificent. Every time she's off screen, the film drags a bit and the scenes on the train between McCowen and Cindy Williams (as an American hippie) just about stop the movie cold. It's a great looking film thanks to Douglas Slocombe's lensing (it was filmed in England, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Turkey and Yugoslavia), John Box's production design and Anthony Powell's Oscar winning costumes. It's no AUNTIE MAME but it's still an Aunt worth spending some time with. With Louis Gossett Jr., Robert Flemyng and Corinne Marchand.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Gidget (1959)

A 16 year old girl (Sandra Dee) finds herself out of sync with her boy crazy girlfriends. But when she discovers surfing while at the beach, she becomes the mascot for a group of older surfers lead by The Kahuna (Cliff Robertson) and finds herself attracted to one (James Darren), in particular. Based on the novel GIDGET, THE LITTLE GIRL WITH BIG IDEAS by Frederick Kohner and directed by Paul Wendkos (THE MEPHISTO WALTZ). A popular hit, it spawned several movie sequels as well as a TV sitcom and is credited for mainstreaming surfing in the U.S. It's a sweet little movie with a more realistic look at the Southern California surfing culture than the BEACH PARTY movies which would follow four years later. 1959 was Sandra Dee's breakthrough year and this was one of the three films that would make her one of Hollywood's biggest box office stars, a sort of junior Doris Day, for the next several years. Not great art by any means but a reminder that movies are sometimes propelled by minor pleasures. Still, the idea of a 16 year old girl hanging out with a group of older guys probably wouldn't play well with contemporary thinking. With Arthur O'Connell, Jo Morrow, Doug McClure, Yvonne Craig, Tom Laughlin and Joby Baker. 

One Million B.C. (1940)

A group of hikers seek shelter in a cave during a sudden storm in the mountains. An anthropologist (Conrad Nagel) already in the cave explains the drawings on the cave walls and the story of the rock people and the shell people in prehistoric times. Directed by Hal Roach and his son, Hal Roach Jr. It's an interesting piece of fantasy adventure but rather slow moving which make its hour and 21 minute running time on the sluggish side. The film's Oscar nominated special effects were quite impressive for its day although the use of enlarged lizards and crocodiles to play dinosaurs may be bothersome for some. I was fine with it. The volcano eruption is very well done. The minimal dialog consists of grunts and a made up "cave man" language. The focus of the film is on the romance between the neanderthal "rock" man (Victor Mature) and the enlightened "shell" woman (Carole Landis). Oddly enough, this film made them stars and 20th Century Fox signed them both to contracts where their careers would blossom. Remade in 1966 with Raquel Welch. With Lon Chaney Jr. as Mature's father.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Disaster Artist (2017)

In 1998 San Francisco, an aspiring actor (Dave Franco) meets an eccentric and mysterious guy by the name of Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in his acting class. Drawn to him because of his fearless personality, on impulse he moves to Los Angeles with the guy to break into the movies. Based on the non-fiction book by Greg Sestero (played by Dave Franco) and directed by James Franco. It would have been easy to make THE DISASTER ARTIST which focuses on the filming of THE ROOM, considered by many as the best "worst movie ever made", into an all out ha-ha comedy condescending to its film makers' ambitions vs. lack of talent. But the film's power lies not in its humor but in its poignancy, that there's a real person with emotions behind that delusional front. The film is about dreams and friendship at its core and Franco's Tommy Wiseau is an outsider wanting to fit in but he has no talent, he's not good looking, he has an abrasive personality and no one likes him until he meets Greg. James Franco is absolutely fantastic here in what might well be a career defining performance. You may be repelled by him but your heart still aches for him. The massive cast include Seth Rogen, Sharon Stone, Zac Efron, Melanie Griffith, Bryan Cranston, Jacki Weaver, Kristen Bell, Judd Apatow, Megan Mullally, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie and Josh Hutcherson.     

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Sayonara (1957)

Set during the Korean war, an ace Air Force pilot (Marlon Brando) is re-assigned to Japan at the request of his fiancee's (Patricia Owens) father (Kent Smith), an Air Force General. But instead of being reunited with his fiancee, he finds himself attracted to a Japanese entertainer (Miiko Taka). Based on the novel by James Michener (HAWAII) and directed by Joshua Logan (PICNIC). Pushing the 2 1/2 hour mark, this lush romance focuses on racism and prejudice and the clash of cultures. Beautifully shot in the Technirama format entirely on location in Japan by Ellsworth Fredericks (SEVEN DAYS IN MAY), the screenplay by Paul Osborn carefully covers the appalling military policy at that time of not allowing Japanese wives to emigrate to the U.S. with their spouses. Fortunately, it's done without the heavy handed preachy hammer of tolerance that a less skilled film maker (cough*Stanley Kramer*cough) would probably have done. The film's only downside is the casting of Ricardo Montalban as a Japanese Kabuki actor which plays even worse today than it did in 1957. Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki as an interracial couple both received Oscars for their performances. There's a lovely Franz Waxman underscore. With James Garner, Martha Scott and Reiko Kuba.