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Monday, February 28, 2011

Smoke Signal (1955)

After a massacre at their fort by Ute Indians, a small handful of surviving soldiers plus a prisoner (Dana Andrews) awaiting court martial, a girl (Piper Laurie) and a skin hunter (Douglas Spencer) flee in canoes down the treacherous, uncharted Colorado river in an escape attempt. Thus, the film becomes more of an adventure than a traditional western as the bulk of the film takes place on the river. While the locations (Utah and Arizona) are lend authenticity to the film, the majority of the river rapids sequences are obviously done in a studio against projected backdrops which lessens the excitement. Still, some suspense is generated, not only by the "will they or will they not make it" plot but also by the tension between Andrews and the martinet Captain (William Talman) determined to bring Andrews through to court martial. Perhaps it is a routine western but it's compact and efficient and successfully completes its modest ambitions. Directed by Jerry Hopper and with Rex Reason (as Laurie's slimy fiancee), Robert J. Wilke, Milburn Stone and William Schallert. A western that I think non-western fans might enjoy even more than western fans.

You'll Find Out (1940)

A bandleader (Kay Kyser) and his orchestra are hired to play at the 21st birthday party of an heiress. The festivities turn deadly, however, when an attempt is made on her life. Directed by David Butler (CALAMITY JANE), this movie should be a lot more fun than it is. I'm a sucker for those "old creepy mansions with secret passages on a dark and stormy night as a killer stalks the house guests" horror comedies but this is no CAT AND THE CANARY or GHOST BREAKERS and, alas, no Bob Hope or Abbott & Costello. Instead, we're stuck with the weird Kay Kyser and the unfunny Ish Kabibble, who apparently were the cat's meow to 1940 audiences but their brand of comedic hi-jinks hasn't traveled well. I only laughed once when a dog with a stick of lit dynamite in his mouth ran around chasing everybody. The film does have an ace up its sleeve, however, a trifecta of villains played by Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Bela Lugosi. Unfortunately, none of them are at their best and, in fact, Karloff and Lugosi are wasted while Lorre has a few good moments. With Dennis O'Keefe, Ginny Simms, Harry Babbitt and Alma Kruger.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Senso (1954)

Set in 1860's Venice at the time the Austrian occupation was nearing its end when Italian nationalists revolted against their presence, an aristocratic and married Italian countess (Alida Valli) enters an affair with an Austrian lieutenant (Farley Granger) which will have far reaching and tragic consequences. Directed by Luchino Visconti, this is a remarkable melodrama. Its portrayal of unbridled passion (I'm not sure one can legitimately call it love) and how reason and pride disappear as one abandons oneself to it, stands alone in cinema annals. It's clear right from the beginning that the Austrian lieutenant is unworthy of her and when he looks at her and says, "You shouldn't love me. No one should." you know the worst is yet to come. Visconti's rich Technicolor imagery is unsurpassed here, enhanced by the talents of Robert Krasker (THE THIRD MAN) and Aldo Graziato (UMBERTO D). Valli is superb here and it's Granger's finest hour though I suspect being dubbed in Italian helped. Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles (THE SHELTERING SKY) are credited with something called "dialogue collaboration". I'm not quite sure what that means but perhaps it's more evident in the cut, dubbed version called THE WANTON COUNTESS. With Massimo Girotti and Sergio Fantoni.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Big Game (1974)

The son (Brendon Boone) of a scientist (Ray Milland) is blackmailed into handing over his father's invention, a mind machine that controls armies, to a cartel of terrorists. At least, I think they're terrorists because the film is such an incoherent mess that you're never sure who the bad guys actually are and what they want the invention for since they're unable to operate it! The plot (if one is generous enough to use that term) is silly and nothing makes any sense. Directed by Robert Day, the film bounces from Italy to Hong Kong to South Africa and the locations are quite handsome but it's a dumb movie lacking even the most simplistic logic. It's the kind of movie where one of the major characters are mowed down by two machine guns yet when they carry the body away, there isn't a drop of blood much less any bullet holes. Despite his top billing, Stephen Boyd is barely in the film, the biggest role belongs to the nondescript Boone, and he doesn't look very well (he would be dead in 3 years). There's a melodic score by Francesco De Masi. With France Nuyen (looking great), Cameron Mitchell and John Van Dreelen.

Libel (1959)

A Canadian (Paul Massie) visiting London sees a television program featuring Sir Mark Loddon (Dirk Bogarde) and is certain that the man is not, in fact, Sir Mark but a look alike Frank Wellney (Dirk Bogarde) who usurped Sir Mark's identity after killing him during an escape from a POW camp. His condemns Sir Mark publicly and through the press until Lord Loddon has no recourse but to sue him for libel. After the initial exposition, the film becomes a courtroom drama. I'm quite partial to courtroom dramas myself but this is no ANATOMY OF A MURDER or even a WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION. Its outcome is never in doubt so the only mystery is how the truth will be verified. It's pretty talky (its based on a 1935 play) without the tension that might have made a gripping courtroom thriller. It doesn't help that both Bogarde and Massie seem to be having a contest to see who can give the most mannered, tic ridden performance. Olivia De Havilland as Bogarde's wife seems a model of understated acting in comparison. De Havilland is only 5 years older than Bogarde but she seems much older than him here, even with Bogarde's fake gray hair. There is an excellent score by Benjamin Frankel however. With Robert Morley (wonderful as always), Wilfrid Hyde-White (not so wonderful), Robert Shaw and Anthony Dawson.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bachelor In Paradise (1961)

A best selling author (Bob Hope) on love making around the world, who has been living in Europe for 14 years, must return to the United States because of taxes owed to the IRS. In order to pay off his taxes, he goes undercover to a suburban community in Southern California to write a book on how Americans deal with sex and romance. Directed by Jack Arnold (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE), an unlikely director for a sex farce, the film is a typical Hope vehicle but more sophisticated than his usual fare. Oh, he still has the one line zingers but he's venturing into Rock Hudson/Doris Day territory here and the plot isn't as thin or far fetched as some of his comedies. Lana Turner in a rare foray into comedy plays straight man to Hope but she loosens up enough to do an amusing Tahitian dance while drunk. The talented supporting cast all seem up for the hi-jinks including Paula Prentiss, Jim Hutton, Janis Paige, Agnes Moorehead, Virginia Grey and Don Porter. The cocktail lounge score is by Henry Mancini, whose title song received an Oscar nomination.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fire Down Below (1957)

Set in the Caribbean, two small time smugglers and former Korean war buddies (Robert Mitchum, Jack Lemmon) come into conflict over a mysterious woman (Rita Hayworth), a stateless Lithuanian who they are paid to smuggle into Cuba. Mitchum thinks she's no good while Lemmon falls hopelessly in love with her. Directed by Robert Parrish, the film is divided into two parts. The first focuses on the strained relationship between Mitchum and Hayworth then there's a major plot shift that happens off screen and the second half of the film becomes a race against time thriller as Lemmon is trapped in a ship under iron rubble as the clock ticks away before the ship either sinks or explodes. There's a double meaning to the film's title, too, referring both to the sexual heat between Hayworth and Mitchum and the fire in the ship's hull and threatens to destroy Lemmon. Hayworth is a little ragged around the edges here which is a perfect fit for her character but she's still Hayworth as she shows when she has a sexy Latin dance number. It's no great shakes as a movie but the Star power of the three leads is more than enough to hold your attention. The handsome CinemaScope cinematography is courtesy of Desmond Dickinson (Olivier's HAMLET). With Anthony Newley, Herbert Lom, Bernard Lee, Edric Connor and Eric Pohlmann.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bullwhip (1958)

According to her father's will, a fiercely independent young woman (Rhonda Fleming) must marry immediately in order to retain control of her father's estate and business. To this end, with the aid of a corrupt judge, she marries a man (Guy Madison) about to be hanged to fulfill her father's last wishes. But when he escapes from jail, he follows her and demands his place as her husband. Directed by Harmon Jones, this would ordinarily be a nondescript routine "pass the time" western. What makes it so disturbing, even repugnant, is the systematic humiliation and domineering of the woman by the cocky and arrogant man in an attempt to break her independent spirit and take control. It's the most sexist western I've ever seen in that respect. Madison is adequate and Fleming looks breathtaking in color and CinemaScope but the unsavory aspects of the story dampen whatever enjoyment one might ordinarily have. The title song, with whip cracks and all, is by Frankie Laine, who else? I wonder if Mel Brooks saw BULLWHIP as the title song from BLAZING SADDLES, also sung by Laine sounds quite similar.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Exorcist (1973)

An actress (Ellen Burstyn) shooting a film in Washington D.C. is disturbed by the strange behavior and changes in her 12 year old daughter (Linda Blair). Medical doctors can find no physical reasons for the behavior and as the child's increasingly violent behavior escalates, she seeks the help of an exorcist. One of the most commercially successful horror films of all time, THE EXORCIST retains its primal anxiety and ability to tap into the most rudimentary of fears. The kamikaze direction by William Friedkin is like a sledge hammer, he keeps punching at you but there's no denying its effectiveness. Based on the best selling potboiler by William Peter Blatty (who also did the screenplay), the film is anchored by a terrific performance by Ellen Burstyn whose performance gives the fantastic a reality that grounds the movie. There are other good performances by Blair, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn and Max Von Sydow but it's surprising how poor some of the other actors are, notably Jason Miller and Jack MacGowran. The superb sound work (it just crawls under your skin) by Robert Knudson and Christopher Newman justifiably won the Oscar. With Peter Masterson and as the voice of the demon, Mercedes McCambridge.

Crazy On The Outside (2010)

After serving three years in prison, an ex-con (Tim Allen) attempts to rebuild his life but there are complications. He's still hooked on his deceitful ex-girlfriend (Julie Bowen), his former partner (Ray Liotta) tries to lure him back into the illegal business that got him convicted in the first place and his wacky sister (Sigourney Weaver) has told the family that he's been living in France for three years instead of being in prison. Directed by Allen, the film is too predictable and the lines just aren't funny. The only amusing thing that works consistently is the euphemism of France for prison. A major impediment is that Allen's character is not the brightest bulb. We can see the trouble coming way before he does. The most interesting character is Weaver as his sister and it's near miraculous that she's able to squeeze some laughs out of the most lame dialogue. I doubt probation officers would be pleased with the portrayal of Jeanne Tripplehorn as the neurotic probation officer who has a propensity for falling in love with ex-cons. The score is by David Newman, whose score has some amusing faux Philip Glass moments. With Kelsey Grammer and J.K. Simmons.

Mrs. 'Arris Goes To Paris (1992)

When a cockney charwoman (Angela Lansbury) sees one of her employer's Dior gowns, she becomes determined to own one herself and to that end, saves her money to fulfill her dream of going to Paris and buying a Dior evening gown. Directed by Anthony Shaw (Lansbury's son) and based on the novel by Paul Gallico (who wrote a series of novels featuring the character of Mrs. Harris), this is a perfectly charming low-keyed adult fairy tale. Set in the mid 1950s, the film deviates from the Gallico novel in order to give it a happier, if more conventional, ending. The detail of the period is quite good and, of course, Lansbury is wonderful. The romantic subplot between a top Dior model (Tamara Gorski) and an accountant (Lothaire Bluteau, BENT) in the house of Dior is weak, much more interesting is the elegant widow (Diana Rigg) who supervises the Dior fashion house. With Omar Sharif as a French government official who befriends Lansbury and Lila Kaye as Lansbury's charwoman neighbor.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bagdad (1949)

A Bedouin princess (Maureen O'Hara) returning from England, where she had been sent to be educated, finds that her father has been murdered by a group of bandits knows as The Black Robes. She seeks the protection of the corrupt Pasha of Bagdad (Vincent Price) while she investigates the killing of her father. Directed by Charles Lamont (ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY), this is the kind of Arabian Nights potboiler that five years earlier would have starred Maria Montez rather than the red haired O'Hara (looking gorgeous in Technicolor but no explanation for an Arab desert princess having flame colored tresses). It's mindless entertainment running at a brief 80 minutes so it doesn't have time to wear out its welcome. O'Hara sings three songs and has a dance number to pad out the running time. The German actor Paul Hubschmid (billed as Paul Christian here), best known for Fritz Lang's 1959 Indian epic TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR plays the desert chieftain attempting to prove his innocence in O'Hara's father's murder. With John Sutton and Jeff Corey.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Death In Love (2009)

A monstrous psychotic (Jacqueline Bisset), who survived the concentration camps by seducing a Nazi doctor (who did medical experiments on Jews) into becoming his love slave passes on her emotional and mental instabilities to her two grown sons. One (Josh Lucas) is unable to have a healthy, lasting relationship with a woman, the other (Lukas Haas) is a self mutilating agoraphobic. As Lucas becomes involved in a homoerotic relationship with a co-worker (Adam Brody), Bisset's lovers start getting murdered by a serial killer. The movie is as crazy as it sounds. The director Boaz Yakin is borderline exploitative. The scenes of torture and experimentation on Jews in the concentration camps are so graphic and bloody, I had to turn away. The untalented Josh Lucas is so bad and one begins to develop a perverse sympathy for him, the actor not his character. There's lots of talk, talk, talk but it's not the way real people talk, it's psychobabble! That being said, the film is fascinating but I'm not sure in a good way. It's harder to shake off than much better films so I suppose that says something. Bisset is superb here, she's never done anything like this before and it's a brave performance and Haas is very good too so it's a pity it's not for a better film. I'm not sure what to make of the rock song sung in Yiddish over the end title credits. Let me just say I've never seen anything like it and leave it at that.

White Dog (1982)

A young actress (Kristy McNichol) accidentally hits a dog, a white German Shepherd, and after taking it to a vet, brings the dog home. To her horror, she discovers the dog is a trained "white dog", a dog trained from birth to attack and maim blacks. In an attempt to untrain the dog from its learned racism, a black animal handler (Paul Winfield) takes the challenge on. Directed by the great Samuel Fuller, the film has a controversial history and was initially only released in Europe where it opened to favorable reviews but Paramount pictures buckled under to pressure groups (amid rumors it was a "racist" film) and let it sit on a shelf for many years. The film is, in fact, a powerful anti-racist allegory indicating racism is not natural but learned and if it can be learned, it can be deprogrammed. This, however, being a Sam Fuller film, the ending is never in doubt. The script (co-written by Curtis Hanson, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) is hampered by some inexcusably poor acting by the leads: McNichol, the normally reliable Winfield, Burl Ives and Jameson Parker. Fortunately, not bad enough to dampen the film's primitive power. Ennio Morricone composed the film's elegant score.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sons And Lovers (1960)

An aspiring painter (Dean Stockwell) in a small mining village becomes a battle zone for his rough-hewn miner father (Trevor Howard) who doesn't think much of his son's aspirations and his delicate mother (Wendy Hiller), who he's emotionally over attached to and who encourages him to better himself. Based on the acclaimed D.H. Lawrence novel and directed by the great cinematographer Jack Cardiff (THE RED SHOES), the film leaves much of the novel out (about a third) which is understandable and focuses on Stockwell's character rather than on the other son played by William Lucas who has a more important role in the novel. All things considered, it's still a powerful film with terrific performances by Howard and Hiller. Their scenes together crackle with a spellbinding intensity. Stockwell's accent is barely adequate but other than that, he brings a quiet intensity as the Lawrence stand in. The B&W cinematography by Freddie Francis is exquisite and earned him a justified Oscar. The effective score is by Mario Nascimbene. With Mary Ure, quite good in an Oscar nominated performance, as the married feminist who has an affair with Stockwell, Heather Sears (ROOM AT THE TOP) as the good girl, Donald Pleasence, Rosalie Crutchley and Ernest Thesiger.

La Tete Contre Les Murs (aka Head Against The Wall) (1959)

An emotionally disturbed young man (Jean Pierre Mocky) is institutionalized against his will at a mental asylum by his spiteful father (Jean Galland). There, two doctors with decidedly different methods in treating their patients attempt to cure their patients. One (Pierre Brasseur) is more traditional and disciplinary and by the book and also a bit of a hypocrite (he chastises an intern for using the word lunatic to describe a patient but in private with another doctor, he does the exact same thing). The other (Paul Meurisse) is less authoritative and allows more freedom. The same year he directed the elegant horror film LES YEUX SANS VISAGE, Georges Franju directed this less known but insightful look into mental asylums and its treatment of patients. It's far more restrained and matter of fact than the overheated melodrama of its American counterparts like THE SNAKE PIT or ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and therefore by default, more disturbing. The similarities to Ken Kesey's CUCKOO'S NEST are evident and one wonders if Kesey had seen it as the film came out in 1959 and Kesey's novel published in 1962. Maurice Jarre contributes one of his very best scores. With Anouk Aimee and Charles Aznavour, who would probably have gotten an Oscar nomination if this had been an American film.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Brief Encounter (1974)

At a railway station tea shop, a housewife (Sophia Loren) is assisted by a doctor (Richard Burton) after she gets a piece of grit from a passing train in her eye. They run into each other again and a tentative near platonic romance begins although she feels guilty because she's happily married with children but he's unhappily married. Directed by Alan Bridges (THE HIRELING) and based on Noel Coward's play STILL LIFE, which was previously made by David Lean in 1945 under the present title, the film suffers by the lack of chemistry between Loren and Burton which is a pity because they're quite good here. It's a treat to see a low-keyed, restrained Burton who curbs his tendency to overact and Loren playing against type but we never see the passion, the intensity of their relationship. They talk about it, yes, but we never see it. The film almost seems turned over to Loren's character. We get a detailed view of her home life with her husband (Jack Hedley) and children but there's just one brief scene with Burton at home with his icy wife (Ann Firbank). It's photographed by Arthur Ibbetson (ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS) who gives the film a few nice touches and the quietly effective score is by Cyril Ornadel.

Goliath And The Barbarians (aka Il Terrore Dei Barbari) (1959)

Set in 6th century Italy during the "Barbarian" invasions, when a small village is devastated by the pillage, rape and killing of its citizens by barbarian tribes, a young man (Steve Reeves) vows to avenge the death of his father and destroy as many of the barbarian tribe as he can. Directed by Carlo Campogalliani, this may be the best of the Steve Reeves Italian sword and sandal epics (which isn't saying much) but it lacks the imagination of his HERCULES or even HERCULES UNCHAINED. Reeves seems to easily conquer the barbarians by beating them with a big stick of some kind while it seems odd that it never occurs to the barbarians to shoot him with an arrow. The battle scenes are handled nicely and cinematography by Bitto Albertini often has a nice rich look to it and the Les Baxter score (for the U.S. cut) is stirring. The exotic Chelo Alonso as the daughter of a barbarian ruler, and Reeves' love interest, has a couple of sexy dance numbers. With Andrea Checchi and Bruce Cabot (the original KING KONG) makes an appearance.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

This Earth Is Mine (1959)

A sprawling saga of a wine making dynasty set in the Napa Valley of Northern California during the last days of prohibition. A young woman (Jean Simmons) arrives from England to stay with her grandfather (Claude Rains), the patriarch of the clan, where she finds a conflict between the grandfather and her cousin (Rock Hudson), carrying the burden of an illegitimate birth, about the future of the vineyards. Hudson wants to sell the grapes to bootleggers for booze but Rains refuses to have his grapes used for illegal purposes. Directed by Henry King (SONG OF BERNARDETTE) from a screenplay by Casey Robinson (NOW VOYAGER), this melodrama suffers from a muted restraint which ill serves the genre. The structure cries out for a more ambitious film (something along the lines of GIANT) but the plot seems splintered as if pieces have been left out. I haven't read the 1942 novel by Alice Tisdale Hobart that the film is based on but perhaps her novel has been bowdlerized. Hudson seems inadequate to the demands placed on him in the role but the rest of the cast does well enough especially Dorothy McGuire as Rains' strong willed daughter. The score is by Hugo Friedhofer. With Anna Lee, Kent Smith, Ken Scott and Cindy Robbins.

Blue Remembered Hills (1979)

Set in 1943 England during WWII, the film follows seven aimless, foolish 7 year old children on a sunny afternoon that turns deadly when a mean spirited prank goes wrong. Directed by Brian Gibson (WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?) and written by Dennis Potter (PENNIES FROM HEAVEN), the film examines how cruel children can be (a squirrel is gleefully beaten to death) and perhaps an allegory for their adult counterparts which may be why it's set in WWII. My main problem with the film is the casting of adult actors as the children. It distances the horror we would feel if the parts were played by actual child actors. There's nothing sillier than grown ups acting like children (does anyone remember the embarrassing vision of Grant and Rogers in Hawks' MONKEY BUSINESS?) and the actors tend to act more like children than real children do. The thick regional accents also hampers the clarity of the dialogue. The seven children are played by Helen Mirren, Colin Welland (who would later turn writer and win an Oscar for CHARIOTS OF FIRE), Michael Elphick, Robin Ellis, John Bird, Janine Duvitski and Colin Jeavons.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Song Without End (1960)

The story follows the career and loves of Franz Liszt (Dirk Bogarde) as he struggles with his passion for performing while avoiding his composing talents as he also contends with his current mistress (Genevieve Page) and his new love (Capucine). Directed by Charles Vidor, who had previously directed the Chopin biopic A SONG TO REMEMBER, the film plays out like a soap opera padded out with scenes of Bogarde as Lizst pounding away on the piano and the usual name dropping as Wagner, Chopin and George Sand all pop up briefly. It's hard to gauge how much was intentional but Bogarde's Lizst comes across as a temperamental, self indulgent, arrogant and selfish spoiled brat which makes him all the harder to embrace. Vidor died before filming was completed and the direction was taken over by George Cukor and it's impossible to tell where Vidor ends and Cukor begins. Capucine, in her first major screen role, seems awkward but looks lovely in her Jean Louis gowns. Page as the woman who abandoned her husband to bear Liszt's children is the most interesting character in the film, one feels her anguish and anger. Morris Stoloff and Harry Sukman are responsible for adapting Lizst's music (including using it an underscore) and the great James Wong Howe is responsible for the opulent cinematography. With Patricia Morison, Martita Hunt, Ivan Desny, Marcel Dalio, Lou Jacobi, Alexander Davion, Katherine Squire and Abraham Sofaer.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Five Finger Exercise (1962)

Set in the summer home of an upper middle class family in seaside town of Carmel in California, the film follows the unraveling of a dysfunctional family precipitated by the presence of a gentle, sensitive German emigre (Maximilian Schell) whose attendance causes them to face their maladjusted lives. Directed by Daniel Mann (THE ROSE TATTOO) and based on the play by Peter Shaffer (AMADEUS, EQUUS), the play is transposed from England to America which causes it to lose some of its resonance though the film keeps the father (Jack Hawkins) a Brit. Schell is wonderful but Rosalind Russell as the family's pretentious matriarch overplays her hand. At times it feels like she's regurgitating her AUNTIE MAME performance but this time without the comedic inflections. Richard Beymer (WEST SIDE STORY), never the strongest actor, is saddled with some of the play's most affected dialogue and can't manage to make it sound real instead of being a mouthpiece for the author. Still, the storyline is strong enough to sustain one's interest though the abrupt ending seems like we've been left out of the loop and the film touches peripherally on German guilt about WWII which I wish had been expanded on. Harry Stradling did the crisp B&W cinematography almost making us forget this was once a play and Jerome Moross did the score. With Annette Gorman and Lana Wood.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Designing Woman (1957)

Two New Yorkers on business in Beverly Hills, a sports writer (Gregory Peck) and a fashion designer (Lauren Bacall), fall in love immediately and get married in a matter of days. When they return home, however, their different lifestyles and different group of friends clash and they begin to realize they know very little about each other. Smoothly directed by Vincente Minnelli with an Oscar winning screenplay by George Wells (WHERE THE BOYS ARE), this stylish romantic comedy is a thinly veiled reworking of the 1942 Tracy and Hepburn vehicle WOMAN OF THE YEAR given the full glossy MGM treatment. Gregory Peck proves himself surprisingly adept at comedy (a few of his reactions are priceless) and Bacall has never been more likeable. The marvelous Dolores Gray plays the musical comedy actress (with a scene stealing chocolate poodle) who loses Peck to Bacall and gets to sing a couple of songs. Helen Rose did the eye popping costumes and the melodic score is by Andre Previn. With Chuck Connors, Sam Levene, Dean Jones, Tom Helmore, Richard Deacon, Mickey Shaughnessy as a punch drunk pugilist who sleeps with his eyes open and Jack Cole who also did the choreography.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Adua E Le Compagne (1960)

After their brothel is closed down, four prostitutes attempt to start a new life by opening a restaurant in the countryside. But the past has long arms and can be cruel and unforgiving and happy endings don't always come to those who try. Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli (a director whose work I'm unfamiliar with), the film takes an unromanticized look at prostitution with excellent work by the four actresses. Simone Signoret is slightly hampered by being dubbed in Italian but she brings strength to the determined leader of the quartet, Sandra Milo (8 1/2) is charming as the easy going but not too bright free spirit, Emmanuelle Riva (HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR) as the high strung hooker trying to raise a child and Gina Rovere is touching as the one who finds true love only to have it snatched away. With Marcello Mastroianni as the car salesman who courts Signoret, only to crumble when she needs him. Normally, I'm all for honest endings even if they hurt but, for once, I wanted to buy the Cinderella ending because this one stung. The jazz score is by Piero Piccioni.

Freud (aka The Secret Passion) (1962)

Unlike his fellow colleagues, the young doctor Sigmund Freud (Montgomery Clift) doesn't see hysteria in patients as a ploy to get attention but rather a symptom of a deeper, underlying neuroses. With this in mind, he concentrates on exploring the subconscious, often using hypnosis, in an attempt unlock their repressed memories and bring about a cure. Directed by John Huston, it's impossible to portray a lifetime of work in a two hours, fifteen minute running time so Huston cheats by cramming many case histories in several patients. Much of it can justifiably be called simplistic (as many of Freud's detractors would say of many of his theories) but what Huston has done, and what makes the film work, is turn Freud's research into a psychological thriller and exploration of the subconscious mind that is as riveting as any Agatha Christie mystery. Clift as Freud seems a trifle more reactive than necessary. In a way, this seems like an extension of his doctor in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. The real scene stealer here is the young Susannah York as his neurotic patient who is a cornucopia of symptoms (my favorite moment is when York says, "I was raised Prostitute ..... I mean Protestant!"). Curiously, Huston himself narrates Freud's inner thoughts rather than Clift. There's a superb atonal Oscar nominated score by Jerry Goldsmith. With Larry Parks, Susan Kohner, Eileen Herlie, Eric Portman, David McCallum and Rosalie Crutchley.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hot Blood (1956)

After he is tricked into an unwanted arranged marriage against his will, a gypsy (Cornel Wilde) resists the temptations of his bride (Jane Russell) eventually abandoning her. Directed by the great Nicholas Ray, whose films were often compellingly focused on outsiders in films like THEY LIVE BY NIGHT and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, you'd think a story on the closed off world of the gypsy subculture would be right up his alley. But this seems to be strictly collect a paycheck movie and even the most ardent auteur would have a hard time defending this lightweight film in the Ray canon. There is so much dancing and singing in the film that it's practically a musical (though it's obvious both Russell and Wilde have dance doubles). The film's ads hilariously shrieked, "Jane Russell shakes her tambourines and drives Cornel wild!" which is more memorable than anything in the film. At least, for Hollywood movie stars, Russell and Wilde look like they could be gypsies. Shot in CinemaScope by Ray June (THE GREAT ZIEGFELD) and the score is by Les Baxter. With Luther Adler, Joseph Calleia, Helen Westcott and Richard Deacon.

Night And The City (1992)

An ambulance chasing shyster (Robert De Niro), with big dreams of making a quick buck, decides to take revenge on the racketeer (Alan King) who humiliated him in court by conning the mobster's brother (Jack Warden) into fronting a boxing promotion. In an attempt to raise the money, he borrows from his married mistress (Jessica Lange) with a very jealous husband (Cliff Gorman). Directed by Irwin Winkler, better known as a producer (he won an Oscar for ROCKY) rather than a director, and based on the 1950 Jules Dassin film noir, the film is a travesty of the original. Even if the Dassin film had never existed, this would still be a poor film. Winkler didn't even have the guts to go with the original film's dark ending, ending here instead with an everything will turn out all right finale. De Niro plays it like a doofus, a clown and he overdoes it. Even the smallest gesture becomes a tic until he's no longer a recognizable human being. He's downright repulsive and it makes no sense that Lange's character would be in love with him when she obviously can do so much better. The most interesting relationship (and the best performances) in the film is the antagonistic relationship between the two brothers, King and Warden. With Eli Wallach and Regis Philbin.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Gun For A Coward (1957)

A western that follows three brothers: Fred MacMurray as the eldest and the one everyone depends upon, Jeffrey Hunter as the middle son whose sensitivity earns him a reputation for cowardice and Dean Stockwell as the reckless, hot headed kid brother. Janice Rule is MacMurray's fiancee who's really in love with Hunter. Directed by Abner Biberman, the film is handsomely shot in CinemaScope but it's pretty predictable. Is there any doubt that Hunter will have to eventually prove his manhood by an act of violence? Some of the characters are interesting, particularly Josephine Hutchinson as the boys' mother whose favoritism to the middle son contributes to his indecisiveness, lack of interest in her youngest son encourages his recklessness and unspoken, her coldness toward her eldest son may have cost him the warmth necessary to hold onto Rule. As a western, standard stuff with some psychological enhancement. With Chill Wills and John Larch.

Internes Can't Take Money (1937)

A young doctor (Joel McCrea) in an emergency room at a major hospital becomes infatuated with a woman (Barbara Stanwyck), just released from prison, who is looking for the daughter her husband took away before he died. Directed by Alfred Santell, this minor programmer is most notable as the first film featuring the character of Dr. Kildare, played by McCrea. The next year, MGM would start a long running series of films featuring the character with Lew Ayres as Dr. Kildare. The film is elevated by Stanwyck and McCrea who bring a lot more to the table than what's in the script. Not just their likeability as actors but they invest their characters with weight and color. Otherwise, the film is typical 1930s studio product used to fill up theatres in between their next prestigious productions. The film's highlight is a delicate operation performed on a small time mobster (Lloyd Nolan) in a bar room. With Lee Bowman and Fay Holden.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Casino Royale (1954)

An American CIA agent James Bond (Barry Nelson) is assigned to work with his British counterpart Leiter (Michael Pate) in bringing down the Soviet agent Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre) by beating him in a game of Baccarat. Le Chiffre has been using party funds to gamble and lost and his life depends on his winning and Bond's ability at Baccarat makes him the right man for the job. This first adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel was done for live television and is almost unrecognizable from Fleming's book. The British Bond of HMSS is now an American CIA agent and the CIA agent of the novel, Leiter, is now a British agent and the production, for the most part, focuses on the actual Baccarat game. It's of archival interest mostly as the first James Bond adaptation for film or television and a must for James Bond buffs but of only marginal interest to the casual moviegoer. Nelson makes for a bland Bond and only Lorre as Le Chiffre brings a sense of the Bond universe. With Linda Christian as the first Bond girl, her name changed from Vesper of the book to Valerie.

Casino Royale (1967)

James Bond 007 (David Niven) is forced out of retirement after "M" (John Huston) is killed to investigate a rash of disappearances and deaths of spies under SMERSH's directives. This spy spoof is all over the place, everything but the kitchen sink thrown in and never more so than in the film's bizarre big brawl finale at the casino with the U.S. Cavalry, the French foreign legion, seals and Indians parachuting through the roof. The film doesn't even try to make any narrative sense despite the effort of five directors (Huston, Val Guest, Robert Parrish, Ken Hughes, Joseph McGrath) . That said, the film plays better today than it did in 1967. It's surreal insanity allows for many splendid sight gags, tongue in cheek deliveries and puns. Erratic, yes, and parts of it are almost embarrassingly lame but its playful attempt to please become almost charming. The massive cast includes Peter Sellers, Deborah Kerr (wonderful to see her do physical comedy), Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, William Holden, Woody Allen (not at his best), Charles Boyer, Peter O'Toole, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean Paul Belmondo, George Raft, Joanna Pettet (whose dance number is a highlight), Daliah Lavi, Kurt Kasznar, Anna Quayle and Barbara Bouchet. The tuneful, witty score is by Burt Bacharach and introduced the seductive The Look Of Love sung by the great Dusty Springfield and the often inspired art direction by Michael Stringer.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Shark! (1969)

An American gunrunner (Burt Reynolds), stranded in North Africa, accepts a job offer from a mysterious woman (Silvia Pinal, Bunuel's VIRIDIANA) to assist a scientist (Barry Sullivan) in his undersea research. He soon discovers that it's just a cover for raiding a sunken ship of treasure. Directed by the great Samuel Fuller but you'd never know it if his name wasn't on the credits. It's easily the career low point for the maverick director, horribly inept and sloppily made. To be fair though, the editing was taken away from Fuller and he asked to have his name removed from the film but the producers refused. Still, from what remains I can't imagine anything worthwhile to be gleaned from the ashes. The film dedicated the film to its stuntmen which seems self serving since a stuntman was killed by a shark during the filming. Mexico does a credible job of standing in for North Africa though, not surprisingly, all the Arabs look Mexican! The film's ironic finale is pretty terrific actually. Pity it's wasted on an inferior film. Fuller completists might find some interest in it but it lacks Fuller's primitive pulpy trademark style. With Arthur Kennedy as an alcoholic doctor and Carlos Barry as an Arab street kid who Reynolds takes under his wing and is meant to be adorable but is just annoying.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Second Time Around (1961)

In 1911 New York, a young widow (Debbie Reynolds) with two children heads west to Arizona to start a new life. But upon arrival, she finds the man who promised her a job dead, murdered in a hold up, and the town run by a corrupt sheriff (Ken Scott) and a gambler (Steve Forrest) and the only work she can find is as a ranch hand to an eccentric female rancher (a restrained Thelma Ritter). Directed by the veteran director Vincent Sherman (MR. SKEFFINGTON), this lightweight western comedy is a typical western romp. Two brawls, one in an ice cream shop and the other in a saloon, and Reynolds a fish out of water city slicker taking more than a few pratfalls in the mud, at times she seems to be rehearsing for her Molly Brown character which would come three years later. It's rather sweet really without getting sticky. The popular and Oscar nominated standard The Second Time Around comes the film though in the print I saw, the song is not sung but used, without lyrics, as part of the underscore. With Andy Griffith, Juliet Prowse (who, alas, gets to dance only briefly), Isobel Elsom, Eleanor Audley and Timothy Carey.

War Of The Satellites (1958)

All attempts to put a manned space flight into space are destroyed by an unknown force shortly after they leave the earth's atmosphere. Shortly after the most recent destroyed satellite, Earth receives a message from outer space telling them, they are not wanted in Outer Space and to abandon their attempts to conquer Outer Space. Man doesn't listen. This low budget fifties sci-fi feature directed by Roger Corman makes no pretense to scientific accuracy (or anything else for that matter) and it's pretty much mindless popcorn entertainment that you can watch while only half paying attention. Still, if you've an affection for 50s science fiction, it's hard to resist its ludicrous sincerity. With Richard Devon, Susan Cabot, Corman regular Dick Miller (BUCKET OF BLOOD) and comedienne Mitzi McCall.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Footsteps In The Fog (1955)

After poisoning his wife and getting away with it, a man (Stewart Granger) is blackmailed by the household's drab little maid (Jean Simmons) who's discovered his secret. Then it becomes a deadly cat and mouse game as she becomes more and more controlling as he falls in love with another woman (Belinda Lee). Will he attempt another murder to break free from her clutches? Or will she outwit him and keep him under her thumb? All kinds of wicked twists and turns occur as they play a deadly game. This neat little atmospheric (gas lit street lamps, thick fog) thriller set in Victorian London was directed by Arthur Lubin who's never shown a particular talent for suspense before. He's best known for a series of Abbott & Costello movies like BUCK PRIVATES and the FRANCIS, the talking mule movies. Who knew he had it in him to direct a top notch nail biter like this? Granger, who usually played the stalwart hero, and Simmons, normally a great beauty, must have relished the opportunity to play against type. Benjamin Frankel (NIGHT OF THE IGUANA) did the excellent score and Christopher Challis (TWO FOR THE ROAD) did the elegant Technicolor cinematography. With Bill Travers, Finlay Currie and Marjorie Rhodes.

Live And Let Die (1973)

After three British agents are killed, Her Majesty's Secret Service sends James Bond (Roger Moore) to New York to investigate. His investigation eventually leads to a small island in the Caribbean presided over by a minor dictator (Yaphet Kotto) with drug connections. The eighth entry in the Bond franchise is one of the most pedestrian to put it mildly. Moore, who makes his debut as 007 here, has yet to find his Bond rhythm (he wouldn't until the tenth entry THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) and coupled with the lovely but wan Jane Seymour as the Bond girl, it makes for a tedious venture. It's not that they don't try. Not only do we get car chases but we also get a boat chase which seems interminable. Filmed at the height of the "blaxploitation" era of film making, the film's villains are black which often makes the film, unfairly, charged with racism when in fact, what race, gender or sexual orientation hasn't been made a Bond villain or villainess? Actually, the most offensive and cliched stereotype is the redneck, tobacco chewing and spitting redneck sheriff played by Clifton James. Apparently the film makers were sufficiently impressed enough to bring him back for the next Bond film! There's a witty episode with Bond at a crocodile farm but other than that the film is flaccid. There is that great title song by Paul McCartney though. With Julius Harris, David Hedison, Lois Maxwell, Bernard Lee and Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedi.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

King Lear (1953)

An elderly King (Orson Welles) decides to retire from the throne and offers to divide his kingdom to his three daughters, the ones who love him most getting the largest shares. Two of his daughters (Beatrice Straight NETWORK, Margaret Phillips THE NUN'S STORY) flatter him while the third (Natasha Parry, Zeffirelli's ROMEO AND JULIET), while expressing her love, refuses to flatter him and in a rage, he disinherits her. But the two daughters prove themselves to be selfish and cruel and drive him away with only his fool (Alan Badel) to accompany him. Shakespeare's great tragedy, possibly his greatest, gets a stripped down production by Peter Brook who staged it with assistance from director Andrew McCullough. Everything not relating directly to the Lear plot is excised, most notably the Edgar/Edmond/Gloucester subplot which makes the production a showcase for Welles as Lear and what a wonderful Lear he is. Alas, the production is limited by both the cuts, the budget and limitations of live television (though surprisingly the graphic eye gouging scene got by the censors) but don't let that dissuade you. The score is by Virgil Thomson, no less. With Arnold Moss, Bramwell Fletcher, Michael MacLiammoir and Lloyd Bochner.

Isadora (1968)

Opening on the French Riviera in 1927 during the last week of her life, the Karel Reisz (THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN) film on the life of the revolutionary, free thinking, free spirited, controversial and celebrated dancer Isadora Duncan (Vanessa Redgrave) fluctuates between that week and the story of her rise as a visionary in the world of modern dance. As far as movie bios go, it's blessedly free of most of the cliches (she wasn't a drug addict or alcoholic) of the genre but neither, due to the restrictions of the genre, very fluid as cinema. A film like this rises or falls on the shoulders of the actress playing Isadora and that is the film's piece de resistance, an extraordinary performance by Redgrave as Isadora Duncan that ranks with the greatest female performances committed to film (she won the Cannes film festival best actress award as well as the New York Film Critics and an Oscar nomination), playing the fresh faced young Isadora and the henna haired aging Isadora with equal aplomb. So brilliant that one overlooks a crucial fact ... Redgrave is not a dancer. Fortunately, she carries herself as a dancer but when we see her dancing, she doesn't have a dancer's grace, a dancer's mobility. The dreary score is by Maurice Jarre. With Jason Robards, James Fox, John Fraser, Zvonimir Crnko and Bessie Love.

The Birds (1963)

In a small Northern California seaside town, a series of unexplained, escalating bird attacks turns deadly while a wealthy socialite (Tippi Hedren) and an attorney (Rod Taylor) find themselves falling in love and dealing not only with the vicious attacks but his mother's (Jessica Tandy) neurosis. This Alfred Hitchcock classic is one of his greatest achievements. Using the literate Evan Hunter script as a template, Hitchcock goes beyond mere suspense and shock but his intelligent, well written characters are a very part of the fabric, not just filler until the next bird attack. I can't imagine a contemporary horror film (though to call THE BIRDS a horror film seems ludicrous) taking the time and devote to such detailed characterizations. Hitchcock's pacing (aided by George Tomasini's judicious editing), Robert Burks' creative cinematography and the audacious sound design by Oskar Sala and Remi Gassmann (Bernard Herrmann is credited as a sound consultant) all contribute to an extremely consuming build up and one of the bleakest fade outs in film history. The acting ranges from good (Suzanne Pleshette) to superb (Tandy). With Veronica Cartwright and a large cast filled by a gallery of quality character actors like Charles McGraw, Elizabeth Wilson, Joe Mantell, Ethel Griffies, Richard Deacon, Ruth McDevitt, Lonny Chapman, Karl Swenson, Doreen Lang and Malcolm Atterbury.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Border River (1954)

As the Civil War continues to rage on in the United States, a Confederate officer (Joel McCrea) crosses over to Mexico to a "free zone", ruled over by a self important despot (Pedro Armendariz), in an attempt to buy guns for the Confederacy with two million in stolen gold bullion. But things heat up when McCrea makes eyes to Yvonne De Carlo, the object of Armendariz' heart despite her loathing of him. Directed by the veteran George Sherman, this is an enjoyable minor programmer, the kind of movie that was usually the first half of a double feature in the neighborhood nabes. There's nothing remotely fresh or provocative about it but a pleasant Technicolor time waster that should find favor with western fans, non western fans shouldn't even bother. With Alfonso Bedoya and Ivan Triesault.

Buta To Gunkan (aka Pigs And Battleships) (1961)

In a small fishing village in post war Japan which is now a port for the United States Navy, a petty thug (Hiroyuki Nagato) and a bar girl (Jitsuko Yoshimura), who's hopelessly in love with him, attempt to fulfill their aspirations in a changing Japan. He wants to be a Yakuza big shot and she just wants to get married, have him work in a factory and settle down to domestic life. Directed by Shohei Imamura, the film could safely be described as a black comedy, an often satirical look at the local Yakuza as well as the corruption of traditional Japanese life (more specifically its women) by the influence of the American presence in Japan. The film is hampered by its leading characters. Nagato's gangster wannabe is incredibly dumb or to be more generous, naive and his appeal to Yoshimura is lost to us which makes her come across as a clinging, nagging girlfriend. One can barely summon up much compassion for their situation which seems of their own making. Imamura's portrayal of Americans as big, dumb brutes are a caricature but perhaps justifiable retaliation for Hollywood's stereotypical portrayals of Japanese though out the decades. Still, it's eminently watchable and Imamura manages to whip up an imaginative finale. The playful score is by Toshiro Mayuzumi. With Tetsuro Tanba (Tiger Tanaka from YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) and the prolific Eijiro Tono who I swear pops up in every other Japanese film I see.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Evening Primrose (1966)

A young poet (Anthony Perkins) seeks refuge from the world by hiding out in a department store. There, he is surprised to meet an entire community of elderly people who, similarly, have abandoned the real world to take up residence in the department store, hiding by day and coming out at night. Complications arise when he falls in love with a young girl (Charmian Carr) who is there against her will but she can't leave because of "the dark men" who come and take away burglars, stragglers and anyone else who might give their secret away. Directed by Paul Bogart (TORCH SONG TRILOGY) and based on a short story by John Collier, the film is best known for its Stephen Sondheim score. It's a dark piece of whimsy but it's the Sondheim songs that make it memorable. Curiously, Carr is given "and introducing" billing as if no one were aware of the massive success of THE SOUND OF MUSIC in which she played Liesl. Perkins' vocals are fine but Carr's rendition of the lovely I Remember Sky is a revelation and just about breaks your heart and I've heard it sung by Streisand, Cleo Laine, Judy Collins and Maureen McGovern. With Dorothy Stickney and Larry Gates.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Saigon - Year Of The Cat (1983)

Set in 1974 Vietnam, an English bank loan officer (Judi Dench) and an American CIA agent (Frederic Forrest) begin a tentative romance as the Vietcong approaches South Vietnam and the fall of Saigon to the communists is imminent. Directed by Stephen Frears (THE GRIFTERS) from a screenplay by the British playwright David Hare (PLENTY), the film has a good sense of the tension and urgency during the last days before Saigon falls and the hurried departure of American personnel and the abandonment of the very Vietnamese that helped them and leaving them to their fate under the communists. Hare's dialogue is problematic, often heavy handed. Dench manages to deliver Hare's words with assurance but Forrest seems to have difficulty wrapping his tongue around them and some of Hare's characters verge on caricatures like the American ambassador (E.G. Marshall). Fortunately, the subject matter is fascinating enough to hold our interest. The drippy score is by the usually reliable George Fenton. With Wallace Shawn, Roger Rees and Josef Sommer.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

No Room For The Groom (1952)

On their honeymoon night, after a quickie Las Vegas wedding, the groom (Tony Curtis) catches chicken pox and is hospitalized and then sent immediately overseas thus never consummating his marriage to his bride (Piper Laurie). When he returns home ten months later, he finds his home filled with his wife's freeloading, shiftless relatives and a deceitful, manipulative mother in law (Spring Byington). Directed by Douglas Sirk, this amiable comedy may be lightweight but he invests it with the tartness of reality. The film's most fascinating character is the destructive mother in law played by Byington, who feigns her concern for her daughter's best interests when, in fact, looking out for herself and feeding off the mindless relatives who make her feel important. Curtis is very good here, already displaying the beginning of the comedic chops that would later bloom in films like SOME LIKE IT HOT. A perfect companion piece to Sirk's other small town comedy HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY GAL? which would follow, this time with Rock Hudson replacing Curtis opposite Piper Laurie. Co-starring Don DeFore, Jack Kelly, Fess Parker and Lillian Bronson.

Anastasia (1956)

In 1928 Paris, a young woman (Ingrid Bergman) who has spent the last ten years drifting, including stays in hospitals, has no memory of who she is. A Russian emigre (Yul Brynner) seizes the opportunity to coach her in an attempt to pass her off as the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the daughter of Czar Nicholas II, and the alleged sole survivor of the assassinated dynasty. The film, directed by Anatole Litvak and based on the play by Guy Bolton (who co-wrote the screenplay) and Marcelle Maurette takes the rumors and alleged claims of one "Anna Anderson", who made claims she was Anastasia, and uses it as the basis of the film's story. After Ms. Anderson's death, the rumors were put to rest, she was not Anastasia. But the film makes for an engrossing story anyway, due in no small part to the strong performance of Bergman, which earned her a second Oscar, which almost convinces us she is Anastasia. The elegant CinemaScope lensing is by Oscar winner Jack Hildyard (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) and with a sterling Oscar nominated score by Alfred Newman. With Helen Hayes as the Dowager Empress, whose reconciliation scene with Bergman is the highlight of the film. The large cast includes Akim Tamiroff, Martita Hunt, Natalie Schafer, Felix Aylmer and Ivan Desny.