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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Guest Wife (1945)

A foreign correspondent (Don Ameche) creates a fictional wife for himself to appease his boss (Charles Dingle). But when the boss insists on meeting the non existent wife, he borrows the wife (Claudette Colbert) of his best friend (Dick Foran) to pass off as his own. The premise of having a fake husband or wife has been used many times in film. Most recently, the Sandra Bullock comedy THE PROPOSAL comes to mind. This is an acceptable if middling comedy but it doesn't quite work because of the unpleasant implications. What kind of man loans his wife to his best friend? It doesn't help that Foran's character seems more concerned with the welfare of his best friend than he is with his wife or their marriage. She eventually gets her comedic revenge on them both but one can't help but wonder why she doesn't just leave both of the jerks as neither are worthy of her. Foran doesn't have a funny bone in his body which doesn't assist matters. Thank heavens for Colbert's expert timing and she plays the substandard material as if she were playing Noel Coward. Directed by Sam Wood (FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS). With Grant Mitchell and Wilma Francis. 

Apollo 13 (1995)

In 1970, NASA's third moon landing mission Apollo 13 is on its way to the moon when an explosion on the spacecraft destroys the oxygen supply and electrical power. Instead of a moon landing, the mission turns into a mission to get the astronauts home safely. I'm not a fan of director Ron Howard but this is probably his best film. It's no small feat to take a true story of which we all know the outcome yet keep the suspense quotient high enough so that we're on the edge of our seats. Based on the book LOST MOON: THE PERILOUS VOYAGE OF APOLLO 13 which was co-written by astronaut Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks in the film), Howard manages to keep the human element center stage while still keeping it scientifically accurate most of the time (I guess Howard didn't get the "there's no sound in space" memo). He's fortunate enough to have a stellar cast of actors who flesh out the often thinly written roles. In addition to Hanks (the most likable of actors), there's Ed Harris (Oscar nominated), Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Bill Paxton and Kathleen Quinlan (also Oscar nominated) who does miracles with that most dreary of roles, the waiting wife. Howard is not without some manipulation but there's no excuse for James Horner's shameless score. With Roger Corman and Xander Berkeley.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The 39 Steps (1935)

A Canadian visitor (Robert Donat) takes in a frightened woman (Lucie Mannheim) who claims to be a spy who has uncovered a plot to steal important military secrets. When she is murdered, he takes it upon himself to warn the proper authorities but it backfires on him and he finds himself on the run from the law. Based on the novel by John Buchan and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this smooth and affable spy thriller showcases the often impudent humor and suspense that define the term Hitchcockian. This was the film that began all those "wrong man on the run with an unwilling female" movies culminating perhaps with Hitchcock's own 1959 NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Donat is no Cary Grant but he's charming and has a nice chemistry with Madeleine Carroll, the archetypal Hitchcock blonde. It's not a film that should be scrutinized or the film's lack of logic will drive you batty but just enjoy the ride. With Peggy Ashcroft, John Laurie, Helen Haye, Elizabeth Inglis (Sigourney Weaver's mother) and Godfrey Tearle as the film's villain.

The River's Edge (1957)

A grifter (Ray Milland) on the run from the law travels to New Mexico and seeks out his old girlfriend (Debra Paget), now married to a rancher (Anthony Quinn). The con man coerces the rancher to guide him across the border to Mexico but the trek will prove deadly. The film career of the director Allan Dwan goes all the way back to 1911 (he directed the 1922 ROBIN HOOD with Douglas Fairbanks). In the 1950s, he directed some good to excellent low budget films produced by Benedict Bogeaus at RKO. This one (also produced by Bogeaus) is a 20th Century Fox film filmed in CinemaScope and it's a tight (it runs less than 90 minutes) crime adventure with noir-ish shading though it was filmed in color. Visually, Dwan nicely uses the colorful majestic Mexican landscape (shot by Harold Lipstein, HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS) as a contrast to the sordid triangle of the three protagonists. Milland, as he proved in DIAL M FOR MURDER, makes for a coldly calculated villain, Quinn is solid and Paget looks stunning in Technicolor. Her bright red hair can't help but conjure up images of Dwan's SLIGHTLY SCARLET which came out the year before and starred two redheads. There's a nice score by Louis Forbes. With Harry Carey Jr. and Chubby Johnson.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Force 10 From Navarone (1978)

After the success of their mission on the Greek island of Navarone, two survivors (Robert Shaw, Edward Fox) are sent on a mission to Yugoslavia to assassinate a traitor (Franco Nero) who has infiltrated the Yugoslavian partisans. 17 years after THE GUNS OF NAVARONE lit up the box office and got nominated for a best picture Oscar, this "sequel" emerged. I'm a huge fan of the 1961 film and this follow up is a betrayal of everything that the original was. GUNS is one of the best WWII action adventure movies and it had a point to make (how while war often brings out the braveness of men, it uses up courage that could be put to better use elsewhere). FORCE 10 is a routine WWII actioner that brings in some trite and anachronistic humor in an attempt to curry favor with a more cynical 70s mentality. The film even tosses in a black soldier (Carl Weathers) who is clearly 1978 rather than 1944. Sluggishly directed by Guy Hamilton. With Harrison Ford, Barbara Bach (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME), Alan Badel and Richard Kiel.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Girl Hunters (1963)

Since his girl Friday Velda went missing, the hard boiled detective Mike Hammer (Mickey Spillane) went on a drinking binge and is now a recovering alcoholic. His longtime friend (Scott Peters) on the police force asks him for his help on a case. Coincidentally, the case may lead him to discovering Velma's fate. In a rare case of a book's author playing his own creation, the writer Mickey Spillane plays Mike Hammer. Mike Hammer had been adapted for the screen several times (notably Aldrich's KISS ME DEADLY) and on TV where Darren McGavin played him. Spillane is no actor and his performance is rather amateurish but physically he looks the part. But as directed by Roy Rowland (HIT THE DECK), the film feels like a parody of hard boiled pulp fiction in spite of itself. The kind of writing that was spoofed in The Girl Hunt Ballet in Minnelli's THE BAND WAGON. The plot is confusing and never comes together and there's (no surprise) just the teeniest bit of misogyny ("I don't hit women, I kick them") in the narrative. With Lloyd Nolan, Shirley Eaton (GOLDFINGER) and Hy Gardner. 

Maps To The Stars (2014)

A young burn victim (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in L.A. from Florida. An aspiring actor/writer (Robert Pattinson) drives limos. A mean spirited teen star (Evan Bird) risks his career by doing drugs. A self help guru (John Cusack) doesn't practice what he preaches. An aging actress (Julianne Moore) is desperate to remake one of her mother's old movies. And the sins of the fathers (and mothers) are visited upon their children. Julianne Moore won the best actress award for MAPS at last year's Cannes film festival and it has already played the rest of the world but is only now opening in the U.S. If you're a fan of director David Cronenberg (and I am), this is pure Cronenberg. If you're not, you're probably going to have problems with it. This is a horror movie but its monsters are of the recognizable human kind. It's not an audience friendly film, it's the kind of "life is shit, then you die" movie that I love. A film about dysfunctional homicidal incest isn't going to play well at the mall. Julianne Moore gives an awesome kick ass performance mercifully free of the "Oscar bait" that marred her work in STILL ALICE. With Carrie Fisher, Olivia Williams, Dawn Greenhaigh, Jonathan Watton and Sarah Gadon.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Life Of Her Own (1950)

An aspiring model (Lana Turner) leaves her small Kansas hometown for New York where she seeks fame and fortune. But be careful of what you wish for. As directed by George Cukor, the film starts out promisingly. It appears that it might be a hard, dark look at the cutthroat world of fashion modeling. But it soon deflates into a sordid tale of Turner's character having an affair with a married man (Ray Milland). The film might have worked with a stronger actress than Turner, who is miscast as a high fashion model. She doesn't have the figure (too short and thick wasted) or the carriage of a real model. It doesn't help that she and Milland (who's pretty bad here) have zero chemistry. Apparently the film's downbeat ending was changed at the studio's insistence. Two performances stand out however. Ann Dvorak is wonderful as an aging model turned party girl at the end of her tether. She brings a reality and a truth to the film and when her character exits the film, it never recovers. The other performance is that of Margaret Phillips as Milland's wife. In what could have been a cliche of the martyr wife, she brings a quiet dignity and class to the role. There's a lovely score by Bronislau Kaper (so lovely he reused it again two years later for INVITATION). With Tom Ewell, Barry Sullivan, Jean Hagen, Louis Calhern, Phyllis Kirk, Lurene Tuttle and Kathleen Freeman.

Die Buchse Der Pandora (aka Pandora's Box) (1929)

The mistress (Louise Brooks) of a wealthy newspaper publisher (Fritz Kortner) will have none of it when he tells her that he is leaving her for another woman (Daisy D'Ora) and intends to marry her. She gets her way for awhile but her carefree lifestyle will soon take a dark turn, ending in degradation, prostitution and death. Based on two plays by Frank Wedekind (which also served as the source material for Alan Berg's opera LULU), G.W. Pabst's (THREEPENNY OPERA) film would seem inconceivable without Brooks in the leading role. A mixture of vitality, sensuality and innocence, Brooks inhabits the role of Lulu to the point that she and the character become one. The film itself is a chronicle of the rise and fall of an amoral pleasure seeking temptress yet there doesn't seem to be any moralizing on Pabst's part. Perhaps, like us, he's infatuated with Brooks' Lulu and she seems a victim of her own nonconformity and passions rather than a self conscious femme fatale. With Francis Lederer (who would go on to a Hollywood film career), Alice Roberts, Carl Goetz and Gustav Diessl. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Battling For Baby (1992)

Two former childhood friends, a concert pianist (Suzanne Pleshette) and a beautician (Debbie Reynolds), must reconcile their bitter dislike for each other when their children (Courteney Cox, John Terlesky) marry. But when a baby comes along, the feud goes into a no holds barred rivalry. This average family friendly comedy goes through the motions without a trace of originality. You know as the glamorous grandmother (Pleshette) and the homespun grandmother (Reynolds) toss barbs and quips at each other, that they will eventually get to the source of what really broke up their friendship and that a warm and fuzzy happy ending isn't far behind. Any minor (very minor) pleasures to be had come from the expert playing of Pleshette and Reynolds who manage to make the cliches tolerable. These two gals know their way around a quip. Directed by Art Wolff. With Doug McClure and Leigh Lawson.