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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Two Flags West (1950)

During the Civil War, President Lincoln issued a proclamation that Confederate prisoners of war could regain their freedom if they joined the Union army in defending the frontier in the West. A group of Southern soldiers headed by Joseph Cotten volunteer for such an assignment but when they reach their destination, they find an embittered Southern hater (Jeff Chandler) in charge of the fort and whose arrogance brings a hellish fury to descend on the fort. Tensions abound, not only between the Union and Confederate soldiers but also between Chandler and his widowed Spanish sister in law (Linda Darnell) who he keeps a virtual prisoner and who is eager to return to her Monterey home. Directed by that excellent craftsman Robert Wise (WEST SIDE STORY), this is a wonderful western. All four principals (Cornel Wilde comprises the quartet) have rich, strongly delineated characters that make it easy for us to invest in their fates. Wise whips up an exciting, tense and fateful siege by the Kiowa for the finale. The intelligent and layered screenplay is by Casey Robinson (NOW VOYAGER) and the majestic score by Hugo Friedhofer. With Dale Robertson, Jay C. Flippen and Arthur Hunnicutt. A must for all western fans.

The Black Windmill (1974)

The young son of a British intelligence agent (Michael Caine), who is working on breaking an arms smuggling ring, is kidnapped by the very people his father is investigating. When they demand a ransom of uncut diamonds which are held by his superiors, Caine finds they refuse to aid in the rescue of his child and it falls on his shoulders to get justice done. Directed by Don Siegel, this spy thriller is uneven. The first portion is very good what with Caine playing a variation on his Harry Palmer roles, only this time with a wife (Janet Suzman, NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA) and child. It jumps the shark toward the last third when it becomes far fetched and an uninspired bang-bang conclusion. The script seems rather sloppy in the details as in when Caine remarks how his son made him take him to THE SOUND OF MUSIC four times though the boy doesn't appear to have been born when the film came out. Donald Pleasence makes for a chillingly bureaucratic MI6 head and the wonderful Delphine Seyrig is marvelous as a rather slutty kidnapper. With Clive Revill, John Vernon, Joss Ackland, Catherine Schell, Denis Quilley and Hermione Baddeley.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Portrait In Black (1960)

Set in San Francisco, the beautiful but unhappy wife (Lana Turner) of a shipping magnate (Lloyd Nolan) falls in love with her husband's doctor (Anthony Quinn). Together, they plot and carry out her husband's murder but soon after mysterious letters arrive accusing them. Plot wise, it has the seeds of a typical film noir, what with the adulterous wife and her lover bumping off her in the way spouse. But as produced by the wizard of plush known as Ross Hunter, instead of B&W it's in bright Technicolor and Lana Turner suffers in diamonds, mink and a glamorous Jean Louis wardrobe. Directed by Michael Gordon (PILLOW TALK), it's a pleasing mixture of film noir and melodrama with a generous dose of soap. There's a marvelous Frank Skinner score, one of his very best, with the shimmering cinematography courtesy of Sirk's sorcerer of the camera, Russell Metty. With Sandra Dee, Richard Basehart, Lloyd Nolan, John Saxon, Ray Walston, Virginia Grey and Anna May Wong.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Shoot "Em Up (2007)

An itinerant man (Clive Owen) in a major metropolis intercedes when a gunman attempts to kill a pregnant woman. The woman is killed but not after he has delivered her baby. From then on, Owen and the baby, along with the help of a lactating hooker (Monica Bellucci), must keep one step ahead of the killers headed by Paul Giamatti who want the baby. Based on an original screenplay by the director Michael Davis, the film feels like it was based on a pulpy graphic novel. The film is full of over the top cartoonish gore and blood (who knew a carrot could be a lethal weapon?), bad puns and a headache inducing headbanger score. Its juvenile jokes couldn't possibly amuse the most backward of fourteen year old adolescents. The film literally bangs you into submission until you're numbed. The movie is lucky to have the likable, magnetic Owen in the male lead. Whatever watchability the film has, comes from his presence. Giamatti's smugness is beginning to outwear his welcome. Tiresome to the extreme.

Loss Of A Teardrop Diamond (2009)

Set in Tennessee in the 1920s, a headstrong and willful wealthy Southern belle (Bryce Dallas Howard) ill suited for provincial Memphis society falls in love with the poor son (Chris Evans) of an alcoholic father and insane mother. Based on an unpublished 1957 screenplay by Tennessee Williams, the film is ill served by the uninspired direction of Jodie Markell. Williams is one of the great American playwrights of the 20th century, but this piece lacks the poetry and imagery of his greatest works. I don't know if Williams considered the screenplay finished but it seems incomplete, a work in progress that needed tweaking and refining. Only in one scene does it come alive, when Howard is confronted by the stroke ridden aunt (Ellen Burstyn) of her best friend (Mamie Gummer, EVENING). Maybe if it had been directed by Elia Kazan in 1957 and with, say, Carroll Baker or Joanne Woodward in the lead role it might have worked. Evans is a supremely uninteresting actor and unworthy of Howard's character's passion. With Ann-Margret (wasted), Will Patton and Jessica Collins who's very good.

Pagan Love Song (1950)

An American schoolteacher (Howard Keel) comes to Tahiti after inheriting a plantation where he meets and falls for a beautiful Tahitian girl (a brown skinned Esther Williams). The slight plot serves as a framework for some unmemorable songs sung by Keel and a couple of swimming production numbers for Ms. Williams. The stereotypical concept of the happy, brown natives singing and laughing in the sun all day grates a bit but otherwise, it's typical, harmless MGM Technicolor fluff. The highlight of the film is a splashy and colorful Tahitian percussive production number with native dancers. Directed by the choreographer Robert Alton (WHITE CHRISTMAS, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN), one of only two films he directed. Williams' singing is dubbed by Betty Wand. With Rita Moreno, Minna Gombell and Charles Mauu.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Once Upon A Crime (1992)

In glamorous Monte Carlo, an out of work actor (Richard Lewis), a jilted American (Sean Young), an aging gigolo (George Hamilton), an obsessive gambler (John Candy), an American (James Belushi) on a business trip with his wife (Cybill Shepherd) and a lost dachshund (Napoleon) are all key figures in the grisly murder and dismemberment of a wealthy widow. Directed by comic actor Eugene Levy (SCTV), this is an uneven but very funny crime comedy. The actors tend to overdo the hysterics a bit but overall, with one exception, they hit all the right farcical notes, often bringing laughs to weak material. The one exception is, surprisingly, John Candy who is totally unfunny. He just can't seem to blend into an ensemble comedy. The pace is frantic, the laughs more hit than miss but if you're partial to "whodunit" comedies, as I am, a fun ride can be had. With Giancarlo Giannini playing straight man as the detective on the case, Ornella Muti, Joss Ackland and Elsa Martinelli.

Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

A small New England town is in an uproar when their local newspaper prints excerpts from a risque best seller which they consider to be obscene. Little to they know that the authoress of that scandalous novel was written under a pseudonym by one of their most strait laced and respected citizens (Irene Dunne). I've never been a fan of Dunne in her weepies like LOVE AFFAIR or her musical performances like ROBERTA. But as a screwball comedienne, she can't be touched! She's enchanting here in an Oscar nominated performance. The film manages to be quite amusing while shooting down its target ... hypocrisy, whether of the small minded small town variety or the double standard of so called free souls who delude themselves when they really aren't free at all but just as concerned with societal approval as anyone else. It's a pity Dunne didn't have a partner equal to her. In her pairings with Cary Grant whether THE AWFUL TRUTH or MY FAVORITE WIFE, she has an equal but Melvyn Douglas doesn't have the soul of a farceur. Directed by Richard Boleslawski and with Thomas Mitchell, Spring Byington, Elisabeth Risdon and Thurston Hall.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Last Embrace (1979)

After a CIA agent (Roy Scheider) is caught in a double cross set up in which his wife is killed, he has a breakdown and is committed to a sanitarium. When he is released, he receives a mysterious death threat in Hebrew and an investigation reveals a sinister backstory in which the sins of the fathers are visited upon their children. Jonathan Demme won an Oscar for the classic thriller SILENCE OF THE LAMBS but 12 years earlier directed this Hitchcockian exercise. Demme's homage includes inspiration not only from PSYCHO and VERTIGO but even in the stunning music score by Miklos Rozsa (who won an Oscar for Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND). Scheider remarkably brings so much to an underwritten part and Janet Margolin, in her best role since DAVID AND LISA, plays the mousy museum worker who holds the secret to the conspiracy. It's an accomplishment that goes beyond mere style or homage but, not unlike his SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, into the very darkness of moral corruption. The cast includes Christopher Walken, Mandy Patinkin, Sam Levene, John Glover, Charles Napier and Marcia Rodd.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving (2008)

In post Civil War New England, a widow (Helene Joy) and her three children live in near poverty when the eldest daughter (Tatiana Maslany) writes a letter to her wealthy grandmother (Jacqueline Bisset), who has been estranged from her daughter for years, in the hopes she will provide an answer to their dilemma. The film plays out like a lost chapter from LITTLE WOMEN and why wouldn't it since it's based on a short story by Louisa May Alcott, LITTLE WOMEN's author. Shot in a snowy Canadian landscape which stands in for New England, it's a modest, gentle natured movie that doesn't overdo the sweetness. Bisset's character retains her tartness through most of the film while Joy makes for a formidable opponent. Maslany's character is a budding writer, like Jo in LITTLE WOMEN, but she could have used more of Jo's spunk and feistiness though the fault may lie in the actress and not the writing. Directed by Graeme Campbell with a lovely score by James Gelfand.

The Naked And The Dead (1958)

It's 1943 WWII on an island in the South Pacific where a division of American marines under the command of a martinet of a General (Raymond Massey) is attempting to drive off the Japanese from the island. The General clashes with a Lieutenant (Cliff Robertson) on how the enlisted men are treated and the platoon's sadistic Sergeant (Aldo Ray) shows signs of being psychotic. Based on the best selling novel by Norman Mailer (his first novel) and directed by the Hollywood veteran Raoul Walsh, the first part of the film focuses on the conflict between the officers and enlisted men and the second part of the film becomes more of a typical WWII film as a small platoon attempts to reach a Japanese held mountain top. Walsh doesn't flinch from the brutalities of war, Ray's character collects gold teeth from dead Japanese and withholds information from his own troop to fulfill his agenda despite the danger to his men while the cruel Massey treats enlisted men like vermin with only the humanistic Robertson to offer some semblance of sanity. The portrayal of women comes off poorly with Barbara Nichols as Ray's adulterous trampy wife and Lili St. Cyr, perhaps the most famous stripper in the fifties, playing, what else, a stripper. Bernard Herrmann did the brassy and brooding score. With Richard Jaeckel, Joey Bishop, William Campbell, James Best, Jerry Paris and Robert Gist.

Way Of A Gaucho (1952)

Set in 1870's Argentina, a gaucho (an Argentinean cowboy) played by Rory Calhoun is sentenced to army service after killing a man in a fair fight. There, he clashes with the strong willed Major (Richard Boone) determined to break him. When he escapes to the mountains where he becomes a bandit hero to the Argentinean peasants, the single minded Major continues his relentless pursuit. Directed by Jacques Tourneur (CAT PEOPLE), the film benefits enormously from being filmed in the actual Argentina locations which gives the film a validity that sets it apart from a typical Hollywood western. Filmed in the Pampas and mountains, it looks genuine in a way that no soundstage or North American location could replicate. Unfortunately, some of the casting is problematic. Calhoun seems to be right out of Dodge City rather than Buenos Aires and that bland specimen of the American male, Hugh Marlowe (ALL ABOUT EVE) is a fish out of water. Fortunately, Boone seems believable and Gene Tierney has the grace and elegance of an Argentinean aristocrat. The film is notable for its era in its frank relationship between Calhoun and Tierney who are obviously loving and living without benefits of marriage and the film's ambiguous ending that leaves the fate of its major characters in doubt. With Everett Sloane.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

La Double Vie De Veronique (aka The Double Life Of Veronique) (1991)

Two young women (both played by Irene Jacob) live parallel lives, one in Poland and the other in France. They are unaware of each other though each senses the presence of an "other". One of them dies early in the film, leaving the other to piece together the mystery which is, of course, ultimately unsolvable. I love the complex simplicity with which director Krzysztof Kieslowski moves the narrative forward. It could so easily have veered into the obtuse pretentiousness of something like LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD but Kieslowski realizes his enigma doesn't need the repetitive layers to make his cinematic puzzle more absorbing. Jacob (made up and lit to look like Juliette Binoche, the star of Kieslowski's TROIS COULEURS: BLEU) gives just enough of a subtle difference that we are able to tell the two Veroniques (called Weronicka in Poland) apart. Philippe Volter is the puppeteer whose obvious symbolism can be forgiven. Zbigniew Preisner's score calls attention to itself though I understand it's intentional and the cinematographer Slawomir Idziak bathes the film with his stylized use of colors and filters that even Sirk would applaud.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Atlantis, The Lost Continent (1961)

A Greek fisherman (Sal Ponti acting under the name of Anthony Hall) discovers a young woman (Joyce Taylor) adrift on the sea and rescues her. She claims to be a Princess of the nation of Atlantis, a land unknown to the Greeks. When she attempts to return home, she is joined by the Greek who has fallen in love with her. Alas, when they reach Atlantis, the princess finds her father, the King (Edgar Stehli), weakened and under the influence of the evil Zaren (John Dall, ROPE). George Pal's entertaining piece of kitsch is fun in a boys' adventure sort of way. Movie buffs will have fun recognizing the stock shots from QUO VADIS (1951) as well as sets from FORBIDDEN PLANET and THE PRODIGAL. The special effects, highlighted by the destruction of Atlantis, are a mixed bag though the miniatures are pretty decent. Ponti (maybe it was the name change) is a truly terrible actor but the lovely Joyce Taylor is the best thing about the film along with the ear pleasing score by Russell Garcia. With Frank DeKova, Edward Platt, Jay Novello and Berry Kroeger.

Father Is A Bachelor (1950)

When the con man (Charles Winninger) of a traveling medicine show is arrested in a small town, his minstrel singer (William Holden) finds himself adopted by seven orphaned moppets who are keeping the death of their parents a secret from the town. Slowly but surely, the carefree bachelor finds himself attached to the children and acting as their surrogate father. After the initial horror of seeing Holden singing Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie in full blackface, the film settles in to a typical folksy and wholesome family comedy and part of its appeal is directly responsible to Holden who is the last actor you'd expect to see in a movie like this but whose natural sincerity as an actor goes a long way in keeping the saccharine in check. There are enough songs sung in the film, mostly by Holden (dubbed, of course) that it's practically a musical! The lovely undervalued Coleen Gray provides the romantic interest while Clinton Sundberg makes for an unctuous lawyer who threatens to upset the apple cart. Two directors, Norman Foster and Abby Berlin, are credited. With Billy Gray, Stuart Erwin, Sig Ruman, Ruby Dandridge and Peggy Converse and Lillian Bronson who threaten to steal the movie as two marriage minded spinster sisters.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Saadia (1953)

A beautiful Berber girl by the name of Saadia (Rita Gam) is considered to have the "evil eye" by the small Moroccan village she lives in because of a curse placed on her by the local witch (Wanda Roth). A French doctor (Mel Ferrer) as well as the Prince (Cornel Wilde) of the province, who has been educated in western ways, attempt to educate the populace as well as put a stop to their superstitious customs. But they both fall under the spell of the beautiful Saadia. Shot in actual Morocco locales with real Arabs in the cast, the film has more authenticity than those Universal backlot Maria Montez "Arabian nights" potboilers but I'm not so sure it has much more credibility. It's still a rather absurd romanticized western view of Arab culture. Mel Ferrer has always been a bit of snooze as an actor but Wilde is curiously restrained here when his performance could have used more spark. The exotic Gam is lovely and brings a graceful elegance to the role. The score, by Bronislau Kaper, is disappointing. Directed by Albert Lewin (PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY) and with Michel Simon in a rare appearance in an American film as a bandit chief, Cyril Cusack and Richard Johnson. The narration is by Edmund Purdom.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just Another Love Story (aka Kaerlighed Pa Film) (2007)

When his stalled auto is hit by a young woman (Rebecka Hemse) driving recklessly, a family man (Anders W. Berthelsen) visits her in the hospital where she is in a deep coma. Her family mistakes him for the boyfriend she left in Viet Nam. Foolishly, he allows them to believe he is the boyfriend (who the girl shot to death in Hanoi) but when suddenly she comes out of the coma, her memory is gone and he continues the deception. But we know from the very beginning of the film which opens with Berthelsen bleeding and dying in the rain, that tragedy looms over the movie's landscape but even so we're not prepared for the enormity of how disturbing it all is. Directed by Ole Bornedal (the Danish director who directed both NATTEVAGTEN and its English language remake, NIGHTWATCH), the film is infuriating in many ways because Berthelsen's actions seem so consciously foolish, much less ethically wrong, that he seems almost self destructive. But when the grand scheme of the film is revealed, he becomes a tragic, almost Shakespearean, protagonist. Bornedal's technique sometimes threatens to call attention to itself (not unlike MEMENTO) and often gets in the way of the story but if you hang in there, you'll be rewarded.

Santiago (1956)

Two rival gunrunners (Alan Ladd, Lloyd Nolan) form an uneasy alliance when they agree to deliver weapons to Cuban revolutionaries fighting the Spanish in late 19th century Cuba. While both are coldly mercenary, when a beautiful young freedom fighter (Rossana Podesta, HELEN OF TROY) enters the picture, she catches their fancy but in different ways. Directed by that generic vet Gordon Douglas (THEM!), this is a routine action adventure, indistinguishable from countless others. The production design is very good. Shot on the soundstages of Warner Brothers but in an impressive realistic jungle set standing in for the Cuban wilds that you'd swear it was the real thing. Ladd looks tired but Lloyd Nolan seems out of his element here. He's a bit old for his role, he's too grandfatherly to be brawling and lusting after Podesta. There's a strange unspoken relationship between Chill Wills as a riverboat captain and Don Blackman as his former slave that makes one give pause. With Royal Dano, Paul Fix and Frank DeKova.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The King's Speech (2010)

Because of a pronounced stammer, the wife (Helena Bonham Carter) of the Duke Of York (Colin Firth) seeks out a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to help her husband overcome his handicap. While the Duke's brother (Guy Pearce) and future King's obsession with the American Wallis Simpson (Eve Best) threatens the throne and Hitler's rise to power threatens England's peace, Firth must contend not only with the psychological reasons behind his stammer but with the burden of greatness thrust upon him. With a solid screenplay by David Seidler and sensitively directed by Tom Hooper, this is a strong powerful beautifully sustained piece of work with a stunning Oscar caliber performance by Colin Firth. Impeccably acted down to the smallest role by a perfect cast, it's the kind of film that had the potential to be a dried up piece of Masterpiece Theatre retread but it's a vital, witty and uplifting without being schmaltzy. The effective score is by Alexandre Desplat. The marvelous cast includes Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall (as Churchill), Anthony Andrews and Jennifer Ehle. Highly recommended.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Lady Without Passport (1950)

When an illegal alien is killed by an auto, an investigation shows he came from Cuba. An immigrations officer (John Hodiak) goes undercover in Cuba, posing as a Hungarian eager to get to the United States, in an attempt to track down and arrest those dealing in human smuggling. But when he falls for a beautiful concentration camp survivor (Hedy Lamarr) also eager to be smuggled into the U.S., complications and loyalties ensue. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis, who directed the cult favorite GUN CRAZY, it's a fairly engrossing adventure with some exteriors actually shot in pre-Castro Cuba and an MGM soundstage believably passing for Havana. Surprisingly, the film ends up being fairly sympathetic to the undocumented alien dilemma. George Macready (GILDA) makes for a convincing oily, human smuggler whose intentions aren't altruistic but financial. The lovely jewel of a score is by David Raksin (LAURA) and the atmospheric cinematography by Oscar winner Paul Vogel (TIME MACHINE). With James Craig, Steven Hill, Richard Crane, Ann Codee and King Donovan.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1982)

Decent retelling of the famous Victor Hugo novel although it is no more faithful to the novel than the rest of the many filmed adaptations of the book. Once again, a relatively romantic ending is put in place instead of Hugo's tragic finale (which is actually more romantic than any of the film versions). Anthony Hopkins makes for a subdued Quasimodo which allows Derek Jacobi as the tortured Archdeacon battling for his soul against his lust for the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda (Lesley Anne Down) to take center stage. The storming of Notre Dame by the thieves of Paris is very well done due in no small part by the handsomely atmospheric production design by Oscar winner John Stoll (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA). Alan Hume (RETURN OF THE JEDI) is responsible for the sumptuous cinematography. With John Gielgud as a sadistic inquisitor, Robert Powell (miscast) as the vain Phoebus, a swarthy robust David Suchet (almost unrecognizable as the man who would later play Poirot), Nigel Hawthorne, Rosalie Crutchley, Roland Culver, Tim Piggot-Smith and Gerry Sundquist.

Nancy Goes To Rio (1950)

An actress mother (Ann Sothern) and her teen-aged daughter (Jane Powell), who also wants to become an actress, become rivals both professionally and romantically when they compete for the same part and the same man (Barry Sullivan). It's not as serious as it sounds, MILDRED PIERCE it's not, it's an engaging piece of MGM musical fluff in bright three strip Technicolor with Powell trilling away and Carmen Miranda doing the samba in platform shoes and gaudy outfits. Powell overdoes the perky naivete but fortunately there's Sothern and Louis Calhern as her lecherous grandfather to temper the saccharine. The bulk of the humor comes from a misunderstanding when everyone mistakenly thinks Powell is an unwed mother and once that's all cleared up there's not much left. There is one lovely song, Magic Is The Moonlight, but the remaining musical numbers are undistinguished. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard (THE GREAT ZIEGFELD) and with Glenn Anders (LADY FROM SHANGHAI), Scotty Beckett, Hans Conreid and Fortunio Bonanova.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It Ain't Hay (1943)

After killing a horse which was the sole means of support to an ill man (Cecil Kellaway) and his daughter (Patsy O'Connor), a man (Lou Costello) and his buddy (Bud Abbott) attempt to replace the horse which causes a whole string of misunderstandings. Loosely based on the Damon Runyon story PRINCESS O'HARA, this film was long unavailable due to legal problems with the Runyon estate and often referred to as the "lost" Abbott & Costello film. Alas, A&C fans didn't miss much as it's pretty dull stuff. The gags don't amount to much and the best sight gags belong to the nag who plays Teabiscuit (like when he walks through a hotel corridor with over-sized sunglasses on and pillows under his feet to deaden the sound). Worse still, some truly awful songs and musical numbers are stuffed into the film to pad out its brief running time though a black tap act called The Four Step-Brothers are pretty impressive. For A&C completists only. With Eugene Pallette and Grace MacDonald.

Fate Is The Hunter (1964)

When a jet plane crashes shortly after take off, it kills all the passengers and crew except for one survivor, the stewardess (Suzanne Pleshette). The airline attempts to blame the crash on pilot error amid rumors he had been drinking but an airline executive (Glenn Ford) and a friend of the pilot (Rod Taylor) refuses to believe it and begins investigating to determine the actual cause of the crash. Using only the title of the 1961 best seller by Ernest K. Gann (HIGH AND THE MIGHTY), the Ralph Nelson (LILIES OF THE FIELD) directed film is only peripherally a "disaster" film. It's more of a mystery with Ford as an amateur detective tracking down Taylor's friends and acquaintances and discovering that perhaps he didn't know his friend that well at all. The film ends with a taut and exciting recreation of the flight under the exact circumstances to determine the cause of the tragedy. Two brief performances stand out. Dorothy Malone as Taylor's callous wealthy heiress ex-fiancee and Mark Stevens (STREET WITH NO NAME) as Taylor's alcoholic best pal. The Oscar nominated B&W CinemaScope photography is by Milton Krasner and the minimal score by Jerry Goldsmith. With Nancy Kwan, Jane Russell, Wally Cox, Constance Towers, Nehemiah Persoff and Mary Wickes.

One Desire (1955)

At the turn of the 20th century, a dance hall madam (Anne Baxter, who looks tres chic in her glamorous Bill Thomas costumes) attempts a new life of respectability in a new town where no one knows her. She even embraces motherhood, acting as a surrogate mother to her boyfriend's (Rock Hudson) younger brother (Barry Curtis) and a recently orphaned girl (Natalie Wood, the same year she did REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE). But when the town's rich bitch (Julie Adams) sets her cap on Hudson, it's only a matter of time before Baxter's past is brought to the fore. Handsomely produced by Ross Hunter, it's a strong romantic melodrama directed with style by television veteran Jerry Hopper that has a juicy role for Baxter and she does it justice and Adams gets a rare "bad girl" role that she can sink her teeth into. Second billed Hudson is sturdy and forthright. The music is by Frank Skinner. With Betty Garde (CAGED) and Carl Benton Reid.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Goya's Ghosts (2006)

Opening in 1792 Spain at the height of the Spanish Inquisition, a young girl (Natalie Portman) from a wealthy family is arrested by the Inquisition and tortured into confessing, though she's innocent, that she practices Jewish rituals. Her family asks the famous painter Goya (Stellan Skarsgard), for whom she modeled, to intercede in her behalf with a high ranking monk (Javier Bardem) for her freedom. What follows is a tragedy that takes 15 years to come to fruition. It's an ambitious, almost Dickensian, project with so much that's good, that it's a pity that director Milos Forman (AMADEUS) can't quite hide the seams of a contrived screenplay (which he co-scripted with Jean Claude Carriere). It's a great looking film, due in no small part to the production design by Patrizia Von Brandenstein and I don't think I've ever seen a film that showed the corruption and horrors of the Inquisition with such clarity as this. Some of the casting is bizarre (Randy Quaid as King Carlos IV of Spain!) and Portman is required to play both mother and daughter and she's simply too young physically to play the old woman, driven mad by years of torture and abuse. With Michael Lonsdale and Blanca Portillo (VOLVER).

Monday, November 15, 2010

He Ran All The Way (1951)

A small time thug and loser (John Garfield) and his pal (Norman Lloyd) rob a payroll but things go wrong and a policeman is killed and Lloyd is wounded. On the run, Garfield picks up a shy wallflower (Shelley Winters) at a public swimming pool and then proceeds to hold her family hostage and terrorize them. This was Garfield's last film so it's a pity he isn't better. In fact, his performance is pretty bad. Garfield's snarling cop killer is so nasty and creepy that it's not believable that, however naive, a plain Jane like Winters would invite him into her home, much less actually fall in love with him. Amazingly, Garfield, director John Berry and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo were all under investigation by the House Of Un American Activities and, in fact, when the film was released Berry's and Trumbo's names were removed from the credits. Still, it's all pretty intense at an economical 77 minutes with fine supporting work from Wallace Ford and Selena Royle as Winters' parents and Gladys George as Garfield's alcoholic mother. The robust score is by Franz Waxman and the sharp B&W cinematography by the great James Wong Howe.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Starter Wife (2007)

When the wife (Debra Messing) of a successful studio executive (Peter Jacobson) gets dumped for a younger woman, she finds herself an outcast in the Beverly Hills/Malibu/Rodeo Drive lifestyle, doors once open to her are now closed and she must now reevaluate her choices. Pushing the six hour mark, its hard to feel too sorry for a woman whose biggest problem is that she's no longer on the A-list, no longer gets invited to premieres, parties and lunch with the other studio wives. The cliched script doesn't give much help. It gives her the standard alcoholic, bitchy wisecracking best friend (Judy Davis) as well as the standard bitchy wisecracking gay commitment-phobic best friend (Chris Diamantopoulos) as well as a black girlfriend (Anika Noni Rose) too and when she falls for a homeless drifter (Stephen Moyer), it's not the toothless, smelly homeless type but a hunky blonde with a gymrat body type. Oh, the poor dear! You can't possibly take any of it seriously and if you don't, it's enjoyable in a shallow way, as shallow as its characters. With Joe Mantegna, Miranda Otto and Novella Nelson. THE FIRST WIVES CLUB did this kind of thing much better and with more wit.

The Lion (1962)

Concerned with her daughter's (Pamela Franklin) unorthodox upbringing (the child's best friend and playmate is a grown male lion) in the African bush with her second husband (Trevor Howard), her mother (Capucine) asks her ex-husband (William Holden) to visit them with the intent that he return with the daughter to America. His visit, however, brings a disruption far beyond what was intended. Directed by Jack Cardiff, the brilliant cinematographer of RED SHOES and BLACK NARCISSUS, the film shows an uncanny understanding of how children relate to animals and the unconditional affection they give to them. Cardiff is less fortunate with the adults however. Their handling of the situation is dubious. Is the child better off in so called civilization than being raised on a reserve by her mother and stepfather? Is the mother's concern entirely for the daughter or does she have other, if subconscious, motives? Someone, ultimately, has to get hurt. Though the cinematographer is Edward Scaife (KHARTOUM), no doubt Cardiff had a hand in the stunning African visuals (the film was shot in Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda) though there are some awkward process shots. Very loosely based on the novel by Joseph Kessel. The music is by Oscar winner Malcolm Arnold.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Left Hand Of God (1955)

A pilot turned mercenary (Humphrey Bogart) for a Chinese war lord (Lee J. Cobb) in 1947 China attempts to escape from his clutches by temporarily impersonating a priest at a small mission until a caravan can take him to the coast. But he finds that both the mission and its people as well as the war lord's determination are more than he bargained for. Directed by Edward Dmytrk and attractively shot in CinemaScope (Bogart's only wide screen film) by Franz Planer, the film is a forthright if simple piece of entertainment that manages to get its humanist message across with a minimum of preaching. The film attempts to titillate with a "forbidden" romance between the priest and the mission nurse (Gene Tierney, who wouldn't make another film again for 7 years) but, of course, though she doesn't, we know he's not really a priest. Bogart looks a bit ragged around the edges (he'd do only 2 more films before dying of cancer two years later) but he still holds the screen like only a true Star could. The colorful score is by Victor Young. With Agnes Moorehead, E.G. Marshall, Jean Porter, Carl Benton Reid and Philip Ahn.

Zwartboek (aka Black Book) (2006)

The films begins in 1956 Israel with a chance encounter between two women who knew each other during WWII and then film flashes back to the waning years of WWII in the Netherlands. A young Jewish woman (Carice Van Houten) fleeing Nazi occupied Holland with her family and other Jews are caught by the German SS and massacred, she being the only survivor. She joins the resistance and is given the assignment to seduce a high ranking Nazi officer and procure information but evidence points toward a traitorous mole in the resistance movement who may be more deadly than her Nazi conquest. Director Paul Verhoeven's Hollywood stay produced decidedly mixed results. There were some good films like BASIC INSTINCT and TOTAL RECALL but there were jaw dropping stinkers like STARSHIP TROOPERS and the notorious SHOWGIRLS, too. With BLACK BOOK, he returns to his pre-Hollywood glory days of SOLDIER OF ORANGE and THE FOURTH MAN. This is a terrific WWII espionage thriller with an excellent central performance by Van Houten. Verhoeven veers off into dubious and sensationalistic areas (no one ever accused him of good taste) but for the most part, he sublimates his tendency to go for the groin and gives us a strong and moving elegy on bravery and the endurance of the human spirit. The score is by Anne Dudley. With Sebastian Koch (whose good performance here makes up for his awful work in LIVES OF OTHERS), Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn and Waldemar Kobus.

Friday, November 12, 2010

And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians) (1974)

Yet another movie adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie novel filmed several times, most notably the 1945 Rene Clair film. Eight people (two servants make the number 10), for various reasons, are invited to attend a gathering as the guests of a mysterious Mr. Owen at a posh but isolated hotel in the Iranian desert (in the Christie novel, it's an island). None of them have met him but a taped recording by Mr. Owen accuses the ten of crimes which resulted in death. Slowly but surely, like the nursery rhyme, the guests are killed off one by one. Directed by Peter Collinson (THE ITALIAN JOB), this is a picturesque and handsome looking film but as a Christie adaptation, it's inept. No suspense is generated and it's indifferently acted by actors who have all proven their talents elsewhere. The irksome faux Morricone score offers no help but Christie's mystery is almost foolproof, so even a mediocrity like this holds your attention. Surely a credit to the great Dame Agatha. With Oliver Reed, Richard Attenborough, Elke Sommer, Gert Frobe, Stephane Audran, Herbert Lom, Charles Aznavour, Maria Rohm, Adolfo Celi and Alberto De Mendoza.

Pillars Of The Sky (1956)

Set in 1868 Oregon, when the U.S. Cavalry crosses into Indian territory to built a fort, the indigenous Indians consider the action breaking the treaty which gave them the land. War is inevitable. Shot in CinemaScope and balancing actual Oregon locations with sound-stage exteriors, this is a straight forward western with an emphatic pro-Christian bent. Indeed, the film's ads proclaimed, "The night of the tomahawk and the cross!". The film could have well been funded by Trinity Broadcasting Network had it been around in 1956. The Indians have been baptized as Christians by a minister (Ward Bond) and some of the tribes desert the Church when battle breaks out while others stick to their faith and help the white man. An adulterous triangle between Jeff Chandler, Dorothy Malone and Keith Andes also ends in a way that would please the faithful. Directed by George Marshall (DESTRY RIDES AGAIN) and co-starring Lee Marvin (doing a terrible Irish accent), Sydney Chaplin, Michael Ansara, Martin Milner and Olive Carey.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Wrong Box (1966)

Two brothers (John Mills, Ralph Richardson) are the last surviving members of a tontine, an investment endeavor in which the last surviving member inherits 100,000 pounds. Mills plots to murder his brother in order to leave the money to his grandson (Michael Caine) while Richardson's two nephews (Dudley Moore, Peter Cook) mistakenly believing their uncle to be dead attempt to cover up his death till after Mills' death so they can inherit as Richardson's survivors. Directed by Bryan Forbes and with a screenplay by Larry Gelbart (TOOTSIE) and Burt Shevelove (FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM) loosely based on a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, it's a delightfully droll farce which never sacrifices wit for a cheap laugh. The cast are all game and in peak form. Mills shows a surprising ability for physical comedy while Richardson is perfection as a pontificating windbag, totally unaware of what a bore he is. Even Nanette Newman displays a comic flair as Richardson's dizzy niece who finds eggs obscene and Peter Sellers in a small role as a cat loving doctor of dubious credibility and Wilfrid Lawson as Mills' decaying butler take turns stealing the film. With Tony Hancock, Cicely Courtneidge, Marianne Stone, Leonard Rossiter and Irene Handl. John Barry wrote the subtle score.

The Egyptian (1954)

Based on the best seller by Mika Waltari set in 18th dynasty Egypt, Michael Curtiz' massive epic tells the story of a physician (Edmund Purdom), who becomes friend and doctor to the Pharaoh Akhnaton (Michael Wilding), and his adventures amid the religious and political intrigues of the enlightened but doomed Pharaoh's reign. With the exception of the tedious proselytizing about God toward the film's end, the film is quite an impressive, eye popping example of the Hollywood historical epic at its peak and much more entertaining than stuff like THE ROBE. Unfortunately, it's saddled with the bland Purdom as its central character though I'm not sure anyone could have made such a passive character interesting, even Brando (who turned the part down). Some of it is in the writing and the characters and not even a fine actress like Jean Simmons can do much with the saintly tavern maid who falls for Purdom. Much more lively and devious are the Victor Mature as the politically ambitious soldier, Gene Tierney as the wicked sister of the Pharaoh, Peter Ustinov as the lazy thieving rascal of a man servant and Bella Darvi as the evil and narcissistic Babylonian courtesan. With Judith Evelyn, Henry Daniell, John Carradine and Tommy Rettig. The film's excellent score is by two of the greatest, Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann and Leon Shamroy's CinemaScope lensing received an Oscar nomination.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Go-Between (1971)

"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there". With those lines, spoken in the present, we are taken back to the summer of 1900 when a 12 year old boy (Dominic Guard) spends the summer at his aristocratic schoolmate's family estate where he develops a crush on his friend's older sister (Julie Christie) who coldly manipulates him into carrying messages to her lover (Alan Bates), a farmer and therefore because of the class system forbidden to her. The effect of this situation is traumatic and destroys his life, leaving him a barren lonely adult. The two lovers fail to see how unprepared the boy is to carry this burden because as a child, their passion is beyond his ken of understanding. Christie is lovely so it's easy to see how a young boy could fall under her spell but still her using him seems unspeakably cruel and even to the end, she romanticizes the situation, failing to see how she has destroyed him. Joseph Losey directs from Harold Pinter's script of the L.P. Hartley novel and as they proved with THE SERVANT and ACCIDENT, they're a perfect match for this kind of examination of upper class ennui and corruption. With Michael Redgrave, Margaret Leighton (in an Oscar nominated performance), Edward Fox and Michael Gough. The music is by Michel Legrand.

The Midnight Story (1957)

When his parish priest and mentor is brutally stabbed to death, a policeman (Tony Curtis) focuses in on a restaurant owner (an overacting Gilbert Roland) who, despite any evidence, he's convinced was involved in the killing. Going undercover, Curtis becomes involved in Roland's life and family, becoming his friend and even falling in love with his immigrant cousin (Marisa Pavan). The conundrum of becoming a man's good friend and a part of his family while realizing you may have to arrest him, which is the most interesting aspect of the film, isn't as fully explored as it could have been. What we're left with is an adequate thriller whose conclusion is never in doubt. Efficiently directed by Joseph Pevney (TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR) and shot in crisp B&W by that visual sorcerer Russell Metty (TOUCH OF EVIL) in CinemaScope. With Jay C. Flippen, Argentina Brunetti, Ted De Corsia, Peggy Maley and Kathleen Freeman.

Monday, November 8, 2010

You Only Live Twice (1967)

When Russian and American spacecraft vanish in mid orbit, each country accuses the other of sabotage. But the British Secret Service suspects that source of these mysterious space kidnappings may be in Japan so they send their top agent James Bond (Sean Connery) to investigate. The James Bond franchise is in peak form here, cutting out some of the bloat that marred the previous entry, THUNDERBALL. A strong screenplay by Roald Dahl from the Ian Fleming novel, assured direction by Lewis Gilbert (ALFIE), handsome cinematography by Oscar winner Freddie Young (though the rear projection shots stand out like a sore thumb) and a superb score by John Barry which includes the haunting title song sung by Nancy Sinatra. Some of the visuals are among the most indelible in the Bond canon including the fight on the Kobe docks shot from a helicopter or the Ninjas sliding down the ropes in Blofeld's volcano hideaway. Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama are the Bond girls, Karin Dor the Bond "bad" girl and Donald Pleasence an unnerving Ernest Blofeld. With Charles Gray, Tetsuro Tanba, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Teru Shimada, Tsai Chin and Burt Kwouk.

I Shot Billy The Kid (1950)

"B" movie programmer that begins by proclaiming its authenticity regarding the legend of Billy The Kid (Donald Barry) and his downfall at the hands of Pat Garrett (Robert Lowery). Despite that, nothing rings true and it's just another low budget routine western and although its running time is just around an hour, it's slow moving with lots of continuous and tedious shots of Barry or Lowery riding to their destination as if the film makers doubted our ability to decipher how they got there. It's the kind of movie where comical Mexicans say things like, "Ay, chihuahua!". Barry is no "kid" either. He was pushing 40 here when playing the 21 year old Billy and, strangely, plays him with a constant grin on his face. With Tom Neal, Wally Vernon, Wendy Lee and a score by Albert Glasser.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Friendships, Secrets And Lies (1979)

When a sorority house is being demolished in order to make way for a parking lot, the remains of a baby skeleton are found. The six women (Stella Stevens, Paula Prentiss, Tina Louise, Shelley Fabares, Loretta Swit, Cathryn Damon) who lived there the summer when the baby was killed/aborted reflect on that summer and who among them was responsible. Though the film is rather antiquated in 2010 terms on such subjects as homosexuality (one character proclaims she couldn't have had a baby because she's a lesbian) and domestic violence (another character stays with the brutish husband who beats her up), the film itself seems to be a feminist plea on a woman's right to choose and the right to safe abortions. Interestingly, like the 1939 THE WOMEN, there are no males in the film. It's an all female cast and indeed, heavily female behind the camera with two women directors, a woman writer, a female editor, a woman composer and art director, too. The film's inept screenplay defeats most of the actresses (most notably Tina Louise) and only Prentiss manages to rise above the mediocrity of the writing to bring some depth to her character. With Sondra Locke as an opportunistic feminist news reporter who rides over the six women's feelings in order to further her own agenda.

Boogie Woogie (2010)

Set in the London art world, the film (from a novel by Danny Moynihan who also penned the screenplay) aims its eye on a group of artists, art dealers, art collectors, gallery owners and hangers on who have the collective morality of a nest of vipers. They're shallow, ambitious, predatory, narcissistic, self absorbed individuals who, while they make for fascinating characters, are ultimately a turn off. With the exception of Christopher Lee as a dying art collector whose great love is Art, the rest of the characters are only motivated by what Art can do for them. I'm not sure there's actually a point to the film, it's Altmanesque without the heart or the wit, but it's never boring. Directed by Duncan Ward in his feature film directing debut, the film is drenched in cynicism without irony. The large ensemble cast includes Gillian Anderson, Alan Cumming, Heather Graham, Danny Huston (who's just awful), Joanna Lumley, Amanda Seyfried, Stellan Skarsgard, Simon McBurney, Jaime Winstone and Charlotte Rampling who has the film's best scene as a three time married maven who coaches Anderson on the finer points of divorce over lunch and drinks.

Slightly Dangerous (1943)

A young counter clerk (Lana Turner) in a small town drug store is bored and dissatisfied with her dull life. A contretemps with the new manager (Robert Young) causes her to flee her dreary life but the note she leaves behind is misconstrued as a suicide note. But a chance accident (she's hit on the head by a falling bucket) gives her an opportunity for the exciting life she's always dreamed about. When one thinks of screwball comedy, one thinks of Jean Arthur or Carole Lombard, not Lana Turner! Turner doesn't have the light touch the genre requires though she shines in a couple of scenes. Her hysterics after regaining consciousness is very funny and there's a sweet dance sequence while eating burgers with Young. Robert Young is pretty much a cipher here, demonstrating very little charm and no chemistry whatsoever with Turner. Directed by Wesley Ruggles (who did many screwball comedies with Lombard, Arthur and Colbert). The film is full of one of those wonderful supporting casts of character actors that so often populate the genre like Walter Brennan, Dame May Whitty, Eugene Pallette, Florence Bates, Alan Mowbray, Mantan Moreland, Norma Varden and Kay Medford.

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

Set in Mexico, two teen-aged slackers (Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna) who spend their summer days getting high while their girlfriends vacation in Italy meet up with an older woman (Maribel Verdu, PAN'S LABYRINTH) at a wedding. The three go off on a road tour together in search of the perfect beach but it is a summer that will affect the boys lives profoundly. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron (CHILDREN OF MEN), the film plays out like a raunchier, sexed up version of SUMMER OF 42 but in the end, no less sentimental. Curiously, the film has an unseen narrator who provides background information about the character's past and their future which fills in the gaps that the narrative is unable to provide. Bernal and Luna are fine but the screenplay doesn't allow them much character development which leaves the burden to Verdu which she does with aplomb and subtlety. Despite the haphazard teen "hey dude" comedy beginnings, the film ends on a poignant note.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Pleasure Seekers (1964)

Three American girls (Ann-Margret, Carol Lynley, Pamela Tiffin) in Madrid find romance, then heartbreak, then romance again. A remake of the 1954 hit THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (and by the same director, Jean Negulesco) relocated from Italy to Spain. With the exception of Lynley's character, the girls seem dumbed down and less captivating than the gals in the 1954 film and the Madrid background doesn't hold the romance of the Rome locations. Ann-Margret is given four songs to sing and with the exception of the title song, they're a pretty dire bunch. Still, it's colorful and there are minor pleasures such as seeing Gene Tierney, whose powder room confrontation with Lynley is the film's highlight, in her final film role. Lionel Newman is responsible for the Oscar nominated scoring and the lensing by Oscar winner Daniel L. Fapp (WEST SIDE STORY) is classy. With Anthony Franciosa, Brian Keith, Isobel Elsom, Antonio Gades, Gardner McKay and a handsome piece of wood by the name of Andre Lawrence.

Interlude (1957)

A young and naive American girl (June Allyson) travels to Germany for work where she becomes involved with a worldly symphony conductor (Rossano Brazzi) who she later discovers is married to an unstable woman (Marianne Koch A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) with mental and emotional problems. Made during director Douglas Sirk's most creative period, this film doesn't get as much attention as his other Universal melodramas. Granted, it's nowhere near his great works like ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, WRITTEN ON THE WIND or IMITATION OF LIFE but it's an engrossing, interesting film. The film is part Henry James (DAISY MILLER, Allyson's unsophisticated, guileless American girl ripe for European "corruption") and part Charlotte Bronte (JANE EYRE the romance with a married man with an insane wife). Koch's loony wife is by far the most interesting character and one wishes her character had been developed more. This was the German born Sirk's first film made in Germany since he emigrated to America and I don't think I've seen Germany look so beautiful and lovingly photographed (by William Daniels in CinemaScope). Based on a story by James M. Cain. With Jane Wyatt, Francoise Rosay, Keith Andes and Frances Bergen.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

In The Navy (1941)

The massive success of BUCK PRIVATES which featured Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in the Army caused Universal to halt production on their next film HOLD THAT GHOST and whip up this wan comedy which put them in the Navy. It's one of their weaker vehicles but ironically was a huge hit for them. There's one genuinely hilarious routine with Abbott conning Costello out of his money by getting him trying to guess which cup has a lemon under it as Abbott switches them around. The Andrews Sisters are responsible for two of the three musical highlights, the lively Gimme Some Skin My Friend and the kitschy Hula-Ba-Luau which the sisters perform with native drums attached to their hips and the Condo Brothers do a bouncy tap number. Other than that, it's pretty dull going. Dick Powell as a popular radio crooner hiding out in the navy and Claire Dodd as a newspaper reporter provide the anemic romance. With Dick Foran and Shemp Howard.

Boy On A Dolphin (1957)

On the island of Hydra in Greece, a peasant girl (Sophia Loren in her American film debut), who makes her living diving for sponges, discovers an ancient statue of a gold boy riding on a bronze dolphin. An archaeologist (Alan Ladd) and a wealthy art collector (Clifton Webb) race against time in an attempt to obtain the statue, Ladd for the glory of Greece and Webb for his own personal collection. The film is most famous for the indelible image (even if you haven't seen the film, you've seen the photo) of a dripping wet Loren fresh out of the Aegean sea. The film itself is grand entertainment greatly enhanced by the stunning Greek landscapes and islands in CinemaScope shot by Milton Krasner (ALL ABOUT EVE) and the Oscar nominated score by Hugo Friedhofer, one of the most beautiful film scores ever written. Julie London sings the haunting theme song over the opening credits while Sophia Loren sings it, in Greek yet, in the film proper. Directed by Jean Negulesco. With Laurence Naismith, Jorge Mistral, Gertrude Flynn and Alex Minotis.

The General Died At Dawn (1936)

A not too bright soldier of fortune (Gary Cooper) on a mission to deliver money to buy guns for a group of revolutionaries hoping to defeat a corrupt Chinese war lord (despite his Oscar nomination, an unconvincing Akim Tamiroff) gets waylaid by a femme fatale (Madeleine Carroll) which begins a chain of dire consequences for all involved. The screenplay, co-written by Clifford Odets, is unusual for an adventure film in that all the characters are highly, some fatally, flawed and often unlikable. Cooper is pretty dumb for a hero, which might be amusing if this had any comedic elements but it doesn't and his irresponsible behavior is often irritating and Carroll's dubious heroine has a weak moral center, acting as shill for her scumbag father (Porter Hall). The film's highly imaginative cinematography by Victor Milner got a well deserved Oscar nomination as did the film's subtle score by Werner Janssen. Director Lewis Milestone (ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT) keeps the action to a minimum while keeping the attention on the film's idiosyncratic characters. With William Frawley in a shockingly bad performance, Dudley Digges, Philip Ahn, Leonid Kinskey and John O'Hara (yes, the John "BUTTERFIELD 8" O'Hara) as a newspaper reporter.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pickup Alley (1957)

A narcotics agent (Victor Mature) chases a cold blooded dope smuggler/killer (Trevor Howard) from New York to Rome to Greece and New York again. Shot in stylish black and white CinemaScope by Oscar winning cinematographer Ted Moore (GOLDFINGER) and directed by a second string director John Gilling, it's a fairly diverting thriller. The ads for the film shrieked, "This is a picture about DOPE!" but the movie seems less concerned about narcotics (MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM it's not) than being a fairly standard action film in an international setting. The film's opening is a bit disconcerting. It's supposed to be New York but it's clearly London with a lot of English actors with bad American accents but that handicap is over once they hit Europe. The overly insistent score, mostly jazz, is by Richard Rodney Bennett. With that gorgeous piece of human architecture Anita Ekberg as Howard's unwilling accomplice, Martin Benson, Andre Morell, Dorothy Alison and Eric Pohlmann.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

X, Y And Zee (aka Zee And Company) (1972)

Based on a novel by the Irish writer Edna O'Brien, who also did the screenplay, the Brian G. Hutton (WHERE EAGLES DARE) film focuses on a toxic marriage between a controlling but vital wife (Elizabeth Taylor) and her philandering spouse (Michael Caine) that reaches a crucial state when he falls in love with a quiet young widow (Susannah York). Taylor is pretty awesome here in one of her best performances, what one refers to as a tour de force (she won the Italian Oscar for best actress for her work here) and a force of nature, she is. Her Zee is brimming with life to an overwhelming degree so that you can see why living with her could exhaust you to the point that a passive young thing like York would seem like a life raft to Caine. Taylor's Zee is whizzing around to the degree that you're never quite sure if she's genuine in her sincere moments or her devious mind is clicking away, setting the stage for a grander plan. Caine carefully balances his performance, rising to Taylor's near hysteria in his scenes with her and tender in his scenes with York. O'Brien's clever screenplay is full of wit yet still delving into the untidiness of romantic relationships. With Margaret Leighton and John Standing.