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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Lady Scarface (1941)

Unaware that she is a woman, a Chicago police detective (Dennis O'Keefe) doggedly pursues a criminal mastermind (Judith Anderson) to New York with a plan to trap her. But an innocent pair of newlyweds (Rand Brooks, Mildred Coles) accidentally get mixed up in the trap when they are mistaken for members of her gang. Directed by Frank Woodruff (TWO SENORITAS FROM CHICAGO), this pulp programmer is modestly enjoyable on its own B movie terms. Coming in at a refreshingly short hour and six minutes, it doesn't have a chance to wear out its welcome. Despite playing the title role, Anderson is given little screen time with the focus on the detective played by O'Keefe and the feisty girl reporter (Frances Neal) right on his heels. Nothing special at all but if you come across it, it's not an unpleasant way to spend the time. With Eric Blore, Marion Martin, Arthur Shields and Marc Lawrence. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

A young lawyer (James Stewart) fresh out of law school is on a stagecoach when it is held up by the notorious Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). When he attempts to rescue a woman (Anna Lee) from being molested, he is brutally beaten and whipped by Valance. When rescued, he is taken in by a family of Swedish immigrants but he is stunned to find the town's populace weak and helpless against Valance's thuggish ways. Directed by John Ford. One of Ford's highly regarded films, I find it a decent film but remain perplexed at the esteem in which the film is held in certain critical circles as well as western fans. There's simply too much that's wrong with it. There's the length for one thing. It feels padded out and could easily lose some twenty minutes. The casting of a 53 year old Stewart as a young law school graduate is impossible to surmount. And a good amount of the acting is just bad. Notably Edmond O'Brien's scenery chewing alcoholic newspaper publisher. He makes John Carradine's pontificating orator almost subtle by comparison and you can add Marvin's snarling villain to the list too. And the dialogue is often stuffed with cliches, John Wayne actually tells Vera Miles, "You look beautiful when you're mad". On the plus side, Wayne is very good in one of his best performances and William H. Clothier's pristine B&W cinematography is to be savored, even if much of its exteriors are filmed on sound stages. Still, I'm in the minority in my lack of enthusiasm. With Andy Devine, Jeanette Nolan, Lee Van Cleef, Woody Strode, John Qualen and Ken Murray.   

Beau Brummell (1954)

An ex-soldier (Stewart Granger) has a reputation as a fashionable bon vivant despite having no visible income. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with the Prince of Wales (Peter Ustinov) and although they are genuine friends, he isn't above using the friendship to his own benefit. Based on an 1890 play by Clyde Fitch (and made into a 1924 film with John Barrymore as Brummell) and directed by Curtis Bernhardt (INTERRUPTED MELODY). What would MGM have done without Stewart Granger in the 1950s? Who else could they have used for these period productions like SCARAMOUCHE, PRISONER OF ZENDA, YOUNG BESS, MOONFLEET etc. This gorgeous looking but stodgy historical drama is the least interesting of these vehicles. Possibly because Beau Brummell, at least as portrayed here, was a rather arrogant and unlikable chap. As the female lead, Elizabeth Taylor is merely decoration, used for her jaw dropping beauty. There is some good acting done by the supporting players. In addition to Ustinov, there's Robert Morley playing the mad King George III and in her film debut, Rosemary Harris as Ustinov's mistress. With James Donald, Paul Rogers and Peter Bull.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

A League Of Their Own (1992)

Set during WWII, major league baseball is suffering a setback with men at war. The owner (Garry Marshall) of a candy company also owns a baseball team and persuades the co-owners to bankroll a a woman's league for the duration of the war. Directed by Penny Marshall, this is a fictionalized account of the All American Girls Professional League which lasted from 1943 to 1954. It's hard not to fall under the movie's spell as it chronicles an important part of sports and feminist history. The film's story is strong enough to overcome the frequent lapses into mawkishness which threaten to undermine the good will engendered by the subject matter. Two things stand out that bothered me. The whiny "blame everybody else but you for your problems" character played by Lori Singer gets a pass by the film makers and the fact that Tom Hanks (who I adore) isn't quite believable as an alcoholic washed up baseball player reduced to coaching girls baseball. I kept on thinking how much better a James Caan or a Burt Reynolds would have been in the part. Hanks is a sweetie, there's no getting around it and the role calls for an edgier actor. With Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell, Bill Pullman, David Strathairn and Jon Lovitz.

Kiss Them For Me (1957)

Set during WWII in 1944, three Navy pilots (Cary Grant, Ray Walston, Larry Blyden) orchestrate a 4 day leave in San Francisco where they plan to celebrate with booze and broads! Based on the Broadway play by Luther Davis which in turn is based on the novel SHORE LEAVE by Frederic Wakeman and directed by Stanley Donen (CHARADE). A bit of a slog to get through. Why anyone thought to resurrect an unsuccessful play which closed in four months on Broadway in 1945 is anybody's guess. It's not as if it was a critically acclaimed gem waiting to be rediscovered. A miscast Cary Grant is a bit mature for the role of a hot shot pilot out for a good time (a young Richard Widmark played the role in the play) and the film accomplishes something one wouldn't think possible. It renders Grant utterly charmless. Nothing works except for the occasional spark Jayne Mansfield (playing Judy Holliday's stage role) brings to the film. With Suzy Parker, Leif Erickson, Werner Klemperer, Kathleen Freeman, Nancy Kulp and Richard Deacon. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Judy Berlin ((1999)

Taking place in a single day in a small New Jersey town during which a total solar eclipse is set to occur, the film follows an ensemble of characters but focuses specifically on three women: a young woman (Edie Falco) who has illusions of being an actress and leaves for Hollywood, her school teacher mother (Barbara Barrie) and a housewife (Madeline Kahn) in an unhappy marriage. Directed by Eric Mendelsohn (who's made only one other film since this one), this was a popular film at Sundance and earned him a prize for his directing. In many ways, it's a captivating film but in this case, it is not greater than the sum of its parts. It's a piecemeal movie and not all of those pieces are equal. The real star of the movie is the luminous B&W cinematography of Jeffrey Seckendorf that takes you into another dimension. I found Falco's character irritatingly upbeat and not entirely believable. Madeline Kahn in a rare dramatic role gives the film's best performance. She was the only character I could relate to, which considering she appears to be recovering from or on the verge of a nervous breakdown doesn't speak well of me, I suppose. Recommended with reservations. With Anne Meara, Julie Kavner, Carlin Glynn, Bob Dishy, Aaron Harnick, Novella Nelson and Bette Henritze.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Severed Head (1971)

Although he has a mistress (Jennie Linden, WOMEN IN LOVE), a man (Ian Holm) is devastated when his wife (Lee Remick) asks for a divorce so she can marry her psychoanalyst (Richard Attenborough). Based on the novel by Iris Murdoch and directed by Dick Clement (OTLEY). This satire on the British upper class  bourgeoisie and their so called superiority to conventional social mores is quite witty and well acted. Their seemingly laissez faire attitude only a mask for insecurities and conventionality. The film stays faithful to the novel although making Remick's character more glamorous and younger than her counterpart in the book changes some of the dynamics of the narrative. This romantic/sexual roundelay includes Claire Bloom as Attenborough's sister and Clive Revill as Holm's brother as they change partners as readily as they change their clothes. A comedy about adultery and incest was probably quite shocking in 1971 (the book was published ten years earlier) but it presaged the coming sexual revolution of the 1970s. The breezy underscore is by Stanley Myers. With Ann Firbank as Holm's sister, the only other major character in the movie. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Invaders From Mars (1953)

A young boy (Jimmy Hunt) is awakened during the night by a thunderstorm. When he looks out the window, he sees a spaceship disappear into the large sand pit beyond his home. When he attempts to tell his parents (Leif Erickson, Hillary Brooke) what he saw, they don't believe him and neither do the authorities. Directed by William Cameron Menzies (THINGS TO COME), the film has a large cult following and is greatly admired in some corners by sci-fi film buffs. Personally, I found it rather dull and unimpressive. The plot line seems typical of 1950s low budget "it came from outer space" invasion movies except that it is shot in color (Eastman color by way of CineColor prints) which distinguishes it from the rest of the pack. One can argue that (like Siegel's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS which would come three years later) there's a subtext, a fear of "Red" invaders but of the Russian kind rather than the Martian kind. To be fair, the transfer I saw was unrestored and the color seemed rather dingy and the look of the film seems too dark. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more if I saw a cleaner transfer. Remade in 1986. With Helena Carter, Arthur Franz, Morris Ankrum and Barbara Billingsley.

Hamlet (1990)

In medieval Denmark, a prince (Mel Gibson) is dismayed when his mother (Glenn Close) marries her brother in law (Alan Bates) so soon after his father's (Paul Scofield) death. When he discovers the King was murdered by his brother in order to get both the throne and the queen, he plots his revenge. Adapted from the play by William Shakespeare and directed by Franco Zeffirelli. While purists may be disturbed with how Zeffirelli has pared down Shakespeare's tragedy to the essentials, as cinema, it works quite nicely. Zeffirelli's ROMEO AND JULIET (1968) was a popular box office success because it attracted the youth crowd by casting teenagers (however inadequate they were as actors) in the leads. Here by casting Gibson (who at least was a classically trained actor) known at the time for his role in action movies like MAD MAX and LETHAL WEAPON, he hoped to attract the younger crowd again. It didn't repeat ROMEO AND JULIET's success but it's a solid effort. There are many things to admire about it and Gibson's performance (while unlikely to be listed with the great Hamlets) is among them. The film's best performance comes from Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia. I've seen many Ophelias and I've never been as moved as I was by Bonham Carter's "mad" scene(s). She doesn't overplay it yet you ache for her descent into madness. The film is immeasurably aided by Ennio Morricone's strong underscore. With Ian Holm, Nathaniel Parker, Pete Postlethwaite and John McEnery.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo (aka The Girl Who Knew Too Much) (1963)

An American tourist (Leticia Roman) witnesses a murder in the middle of the night but when there's no evidence of a body, the police think it was a product of her imagination. She convinces a young doctor (John Saxon) to help her investigate. Directed by Mario Bava (BLACK SUNDAY), this moderately entertaining B&W thriller is referred to as an early example of the giallo but really, it comes across more like an Agatha Christie style murder mystery (Christie's THE ABC MURDERS comes to mind). It's rather convoluted (that sounds nicer than messy) in its execution. In the film's first 15 minutes, our heroine sees a woman stabbed to death, gets her purse stolen by a mugger, has her unconscious body molested and watches her Aunt suffocate to death! Bava wastes no time! When the murderer is eventually unmasked, the motive makes no sense. In fact, I'm still not sure there was a motive. There's style to spare so one can overlook the senseless plot. With Valentina Cortese and Dante DiPaolo (Rosemary Clooney's husband).