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Friday, September 30, 2011

Mister Cory (1957)

A young punk (Tony Curtis) from the Chicago slums gets a job as a busboy at a posh country club resort. But he's ambitious and he passes himself off as a guest at the country club and romances a well bred heiress (Martha Hyer) while gambling on the side to fund his deceit. This is an enjoyable, well made potboiler elevated by Blake Edwards' stylish direction and Russell Metty's elegant CinemaScope lensing with Lake Tahoe and Lake Arrowhead subbing for Illinois. There's nothing particularly out of the ordinary to make it stand out but curiously it's a favorite of Jean Luc Godard. The young Curtis effortlessly brings some cocky panache to the unlikable hero but it's William Reynolds (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS) as Hyer's weak, rich playboy fiance that steals the acting honors. The uncredited score is by Henry Mancini. With Charles Bickford, Kathryn Grant (adorable as Hyer's brash kid sister), Henry Daniell and Willis Bouchey.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Sand Pebbles (1966)

Set in 1926 China when the country was in turmoil, torn between their own war lords from within and the interference of foreign countries from without. A sailor (Steve McQueen) on a rundown gun boat is a loner but the circumstances of both the political situation and personal attachments overwhelm him and force him into a destiny that he is ill prepared for. Based on the best seller by Richard McKenna (with a screenplay by TEA AND SYMPATHY's Robert Anderson), Robert Wise's three hour epic is a potent multi tiered look at western imperialism that manages, at least until the very end, to avoid preachiness. The film is populated with several engrossing story lines and characters and (with one exception) well acted. As the misfit machinist's mate, McQueen gives his best performance and was justifiably rewarded with an Oscar nomination. Richard Crenna, Richard Attenborough and Mako (also Oscar nominated) give strong performances with only Candice Bergen still unable to overcome her awkwardness as an actress at this early point in her career. Jerry Goldsmith contributes one of his very best scores. With Marayat Andriane (who would retire from film and write erotic Emmanuelle novels) as Attenborough's love interest, Larry Gates, Simon Oakland, Charles Robinson, Gavin MacLeod, Richard Loo, James Hong and Beulah Quo.

The Lady Gambles (1949)

While accompanying her husband (Robert Preston) on a business trip to Las Vegas, a housewife (Barbara Stanwyck) discovers gambling and finds herself addicted. Thus her fall from grace begins with the lies, the stealing, the broken marriage and ending up in a hospital ward. While films about alcoholism (THE LOST WEEKEND, SMASH UP) became fashionable in the forties, gambling addiction was hardly addressed and certainly even more rare with a female protagonist. So this Michael Gordon (PILLOW TALK) film is interesting from that aspect although the film is rather simplistic in that dime store Freudian psychology frequently practiced in 40s cinema about the causes of Stanwyck's gambling addiction. Also, there's not much subtlety, her addiction goes from zero to sixty without any brakes. Stanwyck, no surprise, gives a strong performance going from the happy Chicago housewife to the cheating shill getting beaten up in dark alleys. Unusual for the period, there's some actual location shooting in Vegas rather than duplicating it on a soundstage. There's an excellent score by the undervalued Frank Skinner (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS). With Tony Curtis, Stephen McNally, Leif Erickson, Peter Leeds, Jerry Paris, John Hoyt as a terribly insensitive doctor and Edith Barrett as Stanwyck's neurotic, clinging sister.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fierce Creatures (1997)

When a British zoo is acquired by an Australian tycoon (Kevin Kline), he insists on an increase in revenues up to 20% or he will close the zoo. The new manager (John Cleese) institutes a fierce creatures only policy meaning the soft and cuddly animals will have to go. Almost ten years after the sleeper success of A FISH CALLED WANDA, its four stars reunited for this black comedy (an accidental homicide is played for laughs) with similarities to WANDA but it can't be called a sequel but not only is it an entirely new storyline but the actors are all playing different characters. This film which was started by Robert Young and completed by Fred Schepisi is erratic in its laughs. When it hits its mark, it can be hysterically funny but alas, most of the humor is rather lame with the laughs few and far between. Not surprisingly, Cleese provides most of the humor and poor Kline (who won an Oscar for WANDA) is stuck with the lame bits. Of WANDA's other two stars, Jamie Lee Curtis has very little to do except provide eye candy and Michael Palin is wasted. The winsome score is by Jerry Goldsmith. With Robert Lindsay, Maria Aitken, Carey Lowell and Ronnie Corbett.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Don't Go Near The Water (1957)

Set on a small island in the South Pacific during WWII, a public relations unit for the Navy sits out the war while its commander (Fred Clark) seems oblivious to the boredom of the officers under his command. Based on a popular best seller by William Brinkley, this is one of many military service comedies that were popular in the 1950s. Indeed, WATER's leading man Glenn Ford starred in several of them. TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON and IMITATION GENERAL come to mind. Directed by Charles Walters, the film is episodic going from one humorous incident to another, often dropping characters and storylines as it moves on to the next. As far as service comedies go, it's passable entertainment though it doesn't rank with the best (like OPERATION MAD BALL). It's more akin to MISTER ROBERTS though I much preferred WATER. The MGM sound stages do fairly well passing for a South Pacific island although the rear projection shots are fairly obvious. The large cast includes Gia Scala as a native island girl who catches Ford's fancy, Anne Francis, Earl Holliman, Eva Gabor, Keenan Wynn, Russ Tamblyn, Jeff Richards, Mary Wickes, Mickey Shaughnessy and Jack Albertson.

The Wheeler Dealers (1963)

When a wealthy Texas oilman (James Garner) is short on funds, he goes to New York to raise some capital and falls for a security analyst (Lee Remick) who's determined to break the glass ceiling on Wall Street for her gender. Considering this romantic comedy plagiarizes or perhaps I should say "borrows" generously from PILLOW TALK, it's pleasantly amiable in an early glamorous 1960s Hollywood way. Garner easily slips into Rock Hudson's shoes, he bases his entire performance on Hudson's Texas act in TALK. But the lovely Remick is no Doris Day and when it comes time to fume (is there a Doris Day romantic comedy from TALK onward where she doesn't have a fuming scene?), she can't quite go there. In 2011, the film's characters aren't as "cute" as they probably were in 1963. For one, they're the prototypes of the Wall Street raiders that began devastating the economy that is largely responsible for the pickle we're in now and when one of the characters says, in effect, that the government will pick up the bill if their scheme fails, chills ran down my spine instead of the laughter it probably got in 1963. Directed by Arthur Hiller (LOVE STORY). The large supporting cast includes Pat Crowley, Chill Wills, Jim Backus, Phil Harris, John Astin, Elliott Reid, Louis Nye, Robert Strauss, Vaughn Taylor, John Marley, Eleanor Audley, Charles Lane and Carmen Phillips.

Thanks For The Memory (1938)

A struggling writer (Bob Hope) can't seem to find enough time to finish his novel so his wife (Shirley Ross) returns to work as a model and while he stays at home attempting to finish his book while playing househusband in his spare time. Hope and Ross scored a big success when they dueted on the song Thanks For The Memory in THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 which went on to win a best song Oscar so Paramount teamed them up in this lame comedy. It's easily one of Hope's worst films, at least until the mid 1960s. It tries to strait jacket Hope into a typical leading man role and his impish, self effacing personality and rapid fire throwaway quips are sorely missed. Who wants to see a Bob Hope movie that any generic leading man (Fred MacMurray could have done this in his sleep) could have played just as well. The most memorable thing in the film is their terrific New York apartment set. Hope and Ross did score another hit song though with the pleasant Two Sleepy People. Directed by George Archainbaud. With Hedda Hopper, Otto Kruger, Laura Hope Crews (a bit more portly than her Aunt Pittypat days), Eddie Anderson and Charles Butterworth.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Atonement (2007)

In 1935 England, a precocious 13 year old girl (Saoirse Ronan) witnesses an act of love making between her older sister (Keira Knightley) and her lover (James McAvoy) which she misinterprets as an act of rape. When her teenaged cousin (Juno Temple) is sexually attacked in the night, Ronan accuses McAvoy and she is believed thus sending the innocent McAvoy to prison. The ramifications damage several lives. Based on the novel by Ian McEwan, this is a devastating, heartbreaking film adeptly handled by director Joe Wright. The only flaw, and it's a minor one, is a 5 minute long take without any cuts that takes place during the evacuation of Dunkirk. It's mightily impressive for sure but it seems to be an act of "showing off" rather than contributing anything concrete to the film's narrative. It stands out like a sore thumb. The film would make an excellent companion piece to the 1970 film THE GO BETWEEN. That film deals with the damage a self centered pair of lovers do to a child that has long reaching effects while ATONEMENT deals with the damage a self centered child does to a pair of lovers with similar damage. The Oscar winning score is by Dario Marianelli. With Romola Garai who takes over for Ronan as a young woman, Vanessa Redgrave who takes over for Garai as an older woman and Brenda Blethyn.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Manfish (1956)

An arrogant, and somewhat of a bully, captain (John Bromfield) of a boat called the Manfish joins forces with an expatriate Brit (Victor Jory in a rare leading role) to hunt for treasure in the waters off the Jamaican coast. This low budget potboiler is very loosely adapted from two Edgar Allan Poe short stories, THE GOLD BUG and THE TELL TALE HEART. About all it has going for it is the lush and colorful Caribbean scenery as there's no real suspense, the characters are unlikable except for Lon Chaney Jr.'s big hearted but dumb Swede and the performances pretty amateurish. Though filmed in color, it's fallen into the public domain and most prints are in black and white. Directed by W. Lee Wilder. With Barbara Nichols in her film debut (as a brunette) and Tessa Prendergast. A curiosity but that's about it.

Take Shelter (2011)

A young man (Michael Shannon) with a wife (Jessica Chastain) and a deaf daughter (Tova Stewart) is tormented with apocalyptic visions of tornadoes, raging storms and faceless zombie like apparitions roaming the roads. Are these signs of a mental breakdown or is he a prophet with visions of a dark future? This stunning, powerful film is the vision of writer and director Jeff Nichols (SHOTGUN STORIES) and the film is a metaphor for the justifiable paranoia that many Americans are feeling right now. Nichols has tapped into our fear (not unlike Soderbergh's CONTAGION), like the film's protagonist, that something just isn't right with the world right now. Whether it's the near disastrous economy or frightening change in weather conditions around the world, who doesn't have that uneasy feeling that something dark and horrid is just around the corner? The film's pace is very slow which may cause some impatience but I think Nichols was right to take his time, leaving us as off balance as Shannon. After this and BUG, it's time for Shannon to venture out of the whacko roles and try something else. Oh, he does top notch work here as he did in BUG but there's such a thing as going to the well once too often. That sorceress Jessica Chastain gives her fourth terrific performance of the year and I'm excited to see what she'll come up with next! The film's ending is as powerful an image as I've seen all year. With Kathy Baker as Shannon's mentally ill mother.

Mayerling (1936)

Based on the notorious 1889 romance and murder/suicide of 30 year old Crown Prince Rudolf (Charles Boyer) of Austria and his 17 year old mistress (Danielle Darrieux), this is one of the great romantic films ever made. Before he went to Hollywood to make such films as THE SNAKE PIT and ANASTASIA, Anatole Litvak directed this delicate and sublime tragic romance in France and it may be his best film. It's a sumptuous piece from the art direction to the Georges Annenkov costumes to the cinematography courtesy of Armand Thirard (DIABOLIQUE). Boyer with his liquid sad eyes and Darrieux with her delicate beauty make for a marvelous coupling and that they are both excellent actors is icing on the gateau. With Jean Dax, Jean Debucourt, Andre Dubosc, Gina Manes and a delightful comedic performance by Suzy Prim as the giddy courtesan who aids the lovers in their deception. Remade in 1968 by MGM with Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve in the Boyer and Darrieux roles.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Moneyball (2011)

Unable to put together a winning team due to what he feels are budget constraints, the manager (Brad Pitt) of the Oakland Athletics attempts to use statistics to create a competitive team. Based on a true story, this is a wonderful film. Normally, I'm apathetic to sports films but MONEYBALL isn't a ROCKY clone but an intriguing look at the behind the scenes workings of a struggling baseball team. Its two hours plus running time just flies by. Very little actual time is spent on recreating baseball games but the inside political maneuverings between teams, players and the money men. One needn't be a sports fan to fall under its spell. Pitt, who's in just about every scene, once again proves what a likable screen presence he is as well as a consistently fine actor. Jonah Hill (SUPERBAD) as the team's statistician makes an impressive transition from geek comedy to more subdued acting. Directed by Bennett Miller (CAPOTE) with a screenplay from Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian and a fine muted score by Mychael Danna. With Philip Seymour Hoffman, a shamefully wasted Robin Wright (who I suspect ended on the cutting room floor), Arliss Howard, Tammy Blanchard, Stephen Bishop, Chris Pratt and Kerris Dorsey in a winning performance as Pitt's 12 year old daughter.

Two Tickets To Broadway (1951)

A girl (Janet Leigh) from a small town heads to New York to become an actress on Broadway. She becomes part of an act headed by a singer (the leaden Tony Martin) with three other girls (Ann Miller, Gloria DeHaven, Barbara Lawrence) but their manager (Eddie Bracken) is shady, making them promises he can't keep. This uninspired backstage Technicolor musical doesn't have much to offer. The songs (with the exception of Rodgers & Hart's Manhattan) are a dull lot and what's a musical without good songs? Busby Berkeley did the choreography and his two production numbers are the most enjoyable pieces in the film. The Worry Bird number allows Miller to show off her rat a tat tat tapping moves and the politically incorrect Big Chief Hole In The Ground is a bouncy swing piece. Howard Hughes "presents" and James V. Kern directed. With a weird French acrobatic trapeze dance act called The Charlivels, Bob Crosby (Bing's brother and much more appealing) and an annoying vaudeville act, Joe Smith and Charles Dale (reputedly Neil Simon based his THE SUNSHINE BOYS on them) as Yiddish delicatessen owners, Joan Shawlee and Joi Lansing. Supposedly among the showgirls are Vera Miles and Mamie Van Doren but I didn't spot them.

The Goddess (1958)

A lonely and unloved child (Patty Duke) grows into an afflicted young girl (Kim Stanley) whose craving for love has made her a promiscuous teenager who dreams of going to Hollywood and becoming a movie star. Eventually, she fulfills her fantasies of stardom but happiness and peace of mind still elude her. The director John Cromwell (SINCE YOU WENT AWAY) does what he can with the overcooked Paddy Chayefsky screenplay but to little avail, it's an uphill battle. The dialogue is often pretentiously cringe inducing (though not as bad as his NETWORK). As the neurotic screen queen, Stanley is flawless. Not a false note (though her hysteria at her mother's funeral is a might too obvious) in her performance. But one can't escape the fact that she's miscast and so despite her impeccable performance, she's never quite believable. Stanley is simply too plain and borderline dowdy to be convincing as a Marilyn Monroe sex symbol. Even when playing the pre movie star teen, the 33 year old Stanley looks 40ish. The imposing score is by Virgil Thomson. The cast includes Lloyd Bridges (very good as Stanley's second husband), Steven Hill, Elizabeth Wilson, Betty Lou Holland, Joan Copeland, Joyce Van Patten, Joanne Linville, Bert Freed and Werner Klemperer.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Say Hello To Yesterday (1971)

A creepy, shiftless stalker (the charmless, untalented Leonard Whiting) pursues an uptight bitch (Jean Simmons). I kept waiting for Simmons to pull a gun out of purse and shoot Whiting but then with a shock I realized that I wasn't watching some bizarre psychological cat and mouse game like LAST TANGO IN PARIS but a bittersweet May-December romance and we were supposed to find the repulsive Whiting charming! It's clear why Whiting's career went nowhere after his big break in Zeffirelli's ROMEO AND JULIET, he's a big whole in the center of the screen. The lovely Simmons is an always welcome screen presence and though she has one strong scene near the film's end, she can't save it. The BRIEF ENCOUNTER (which the film attempts to emulate) ending is meant to be poignant and perhaps it would be in a better film. Its pretentiousness can be evidenced by the fact that neither Simmons or Whiting have a name, she the woman and he is the boy. A chore to sit through and when the end finally comes, it's a relief. Directed by Alvin Rakoff. The oh so 70s score is by Riz Ortolani.

The Seekers (1954)

In the early 19th century, a British sailor (Jack Hawkins) and his companion (Noel Purcell) while exploring the island of New Zealand become friends with the Maori chief (Inia Te Wiata) who grants them a parcel of land. When Hawkins returns to claim the parcel of land, he brings with him a new wife (Glynis Johns) and a handful of settlers. But some of the Maori resent the intrusion of the white man. Directed by Ken Annakin (THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES), this is a rather tepid adventure film that seems to condescend to the native Maoris while smugly approving of British colonialism bringing "civilization" to the perceived savages. But all that aside, even on its own terms, it doesn't succeed. The film's main asset is the beautiful New Zealand locations sumptuously photographed by the great Geoffrey Unsworth (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY). The disappointing score is by William Alwyn. With Laya Raki as the Maori chief's skimpily clad, hip shaking vixen of a wife who you know spells trouble from her first appearance. Also, a rare dramatic performance from the British comic actor Kenneth Williams whose character is quite annoying, so much so that you want to slap him silly.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Ref (1994)

On Christmas Eve, a thief (Denis Leary) on the run from the police kidnaps a married couple (Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis) and holds them hostage in their home. However, the couple's constant bickering as well as their dysfunctional relatives begin to wear down the thief's patience. This is a wickedly funny movie enhanced by the skillful playing of the three leads and although Leary's performance may be one note, he plays that one note impeccably. At a relatively brief 90 minutes or so it doesn't wear out its welcome though it can't sustain itself and the film's final 10 minutes are uncharacteristically sentimental (the ending was re-shot because of a negative audience response). Directed by Ted Demme with a fine score is by David A. Stewart (of the Eurythmics). The talented cast includes the wonderfully tart Glynis Johns as the mother from Hell, Christine Baranski, Raymond J. Barry, Richard Bright, J.K. Simmons, John Benjamin Hickey, BD Wong and Rutanya Alda.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The 7th Dawn (1964)

At the end of WWII, three friends who fought the Japanese in Malaya take different paths. William Holden becomes a wealthy rubber plantation owner in Malaya, Capucine becomes an activist school teacher and Tetsuro Tanba (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) becomes a communist revolutionary. But several years later, fate reunites them with tragic consequences. I don't know as this film is discussed much, it seems rather forgotten. So I was surprised at how strong it was, both as an action adventure and as a rumination on loyalty, friendship and idealism. I think I would have enjoyed it a little more however, if its bleak ending wasn't so inevitable. We need something to root for, don't we? But if we realize it's never going to come, it takes away that ray of hope that keeps us pulling for its protagonists. Strong direction by Lewis Gilbert (ALFIE) with the BAFTA nominated cinematography of Freddie Young (DOCTOR ZHIVAGO) and an exotic score by Riz Ortolani. Unexpectedly, Capucine in an atypical role as Holden's Eurasian mistress who becomes an innocent pawn in a game of treachery by both the British colonials and the Marxist revolutionaries gives the film's best performance. With Susannah York, Michael Goodliffe, Beulah Quo, Maurice Denham and Allan Cuthbertson.

Rachel And The Stranger (1948)

A widower (William Holden) in the colonial wilderness decides he needs a wife to help him raise his son (Gary Gray) so he goes to the local settlement where he buys an indentured servant (Loretta Young) and takes her as his wife. The relationship between them remains platonic until a traveling man (Robert Mitchum) visits and takes an interest in her and Holden begins to re-assess the situation. This is a heartwarming western tale that manages to avoid sentimentality and more concerned with its characters' inability to communicate rather than action though there is a spirited Shoshone attack at the end of the film. The screenplay by Waldo Salt (MIDNIGHT COWBOY) based on the Howard Fast (SPARTACUS) short story is solid and Norman Foster's quiet and unobtrusive direction lets the three stars shine. Young actually displays a modest sex appeal while Holden and Mitchum demonstrate a reserved masculine charm though the young Gray can't disguise that fake child actor behavior so prevalent in the so called "Golden Age" of Hollywood. With Tom Tully, Frank Ferguson and Sara Haden.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Dream Of Kings (1969)

Set in Chicago's Greek-American community, a well respected citizen (Anthony Quinn) of the community is determined to take his dying 7 year old son to Greece after doctors have given up hope. But he has no money. This is one tedious movie to sit through. Once again, Quinn adopts his Zorba persona and plays a Greek peasant that's a life force, a beloved street corner sage. Well, I intensely disliked ZORBA THE GREEK and if it didn't work for me then, it certainly doesn't work for me now and when Quinn goes in to his little Greek dance, shimmying his shoulders and yelling, "Opa!", I cringed. It's a dreary piece of kitchen sink drama. Even the normally appealing Inger Stevens as a neighborhood widow is unusually dour and a scene with Quinn seducing her has all the appeal of Lugosi as Dracula about to take a bite out of pale Helen Chandler. Yet we're meant to admire Quinn and nod our heads when his best friend (Sam Levene) tells him, "Because you're alive, I'm alive!" in understanding. Based on the novel of the same name by Harry Mark Petrakis. Directed by Daniel Mann (THE ROSE TATTOO) with the score, unmistakably, by Alex North. The cast includes the sad eyed Irene Papas as Quinn's long suffering wife, Alan Reed and Val Avery.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Gun Runners (1958)

The owner (Audie Murphy) of a charter boat in the Florida keys is in debt and in danger of losing his boat. In an attempt to save his livelihood, he finds himself unwittingly involved with a dangerous and untrustworthy profiteer (Eddie Albert, making a superb cold blooded villain) selling guns to Cubans. This is the third film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's novel TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT following the 1944 Bogart and Bacall film and the second 1950 remake with John Garfield entitled THE BREAKING POINT. Directed by Don Siegel, it's a vigorous, straight forward action piece (nicely shot in B&W by the Oscar winning Hal Mohr) without the noir trappings of the previous film adaptations. Murphy may lack the charisma of a Bogart or Garfield but he makes for a likable, ordinary man caught up in circumstances beyond his control. The score is by Leith Stevens. With the always welcome Patricia Owens, Everett Sloane in the old Walter Brennan rummy part, Richard Jaeckel, Jack Elam, John Qualen, Peggy Maley, Herb Vigran and in Bacall's old femme fatale role, Miss Stockholm of 1952, a lovely Swede by the name of Gita Hall who retired to marry the actor Barry Sullivan.

Munchhausen (1943)

The descendant of the famous Baron Munchhausen (Hans Albers) regales his guests with the tales of his illustrious ancestor. His adventures at the court of Catherine The Great where he was her lover, his days as a slave in the palace of a Turkish king, his doomed love affair in Venice and a trip to the moon in a balloon. Filmed in Germany at the height of the Third Reich, this colorful (shot in Agfacolor) fantasy is surprising in that it somehow avoids Nazi propaganda (even though the production itself was ordered by the Propaganda Minister, the notorious Joseph Goebbels) and delivers a stylish entertainment along the lines of THE WIZARD OF OZ or Michael Powell's THE THIEF OF BAGDAD though I'm surprised that a line against invading Poland got through! I was also surprised that such a family friendly film had such copious nudity. That aside, it's really a wonderful fantasy that holds its own with Terry Gilliam's much admired 1988 Munchhausen film. The humor is often bizarrely amusing as when a rabid dog bites someone's jacket and when the jacket is put back in the closet, it infects the other clothing in the closet and the clothes go crazy and have to be shot! Directed by Josef von Baky. Quite delightful.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Child Is Waiting (1963)

When a new teacher (Judy Garland) joins the staff of a school dedicated to teaching mentally challenged (what used to be called retarded) children and young adults, she immediately clashes with the director (Burt Lancaster) of the institution over his methods. The film was directed by the inventive John Cassavetes but it was produced by uninventive Stanley Kramer and they clashed over the direction the film was taking as well as its "message". Alas, as the producer Kramer won by firing Cassavetes. The film is overtly sentimental and rather dubious in its sociological theories. But Cassavetes left his mark on the film, principally on the excellent performances. Garland, in particular, gives a sensitive nuanced performance but there's also excellent work from Gena Rowlands and Steven Hill as the divorced parents of a disturbed child who Garland takes under her wing. The film benefits by using actual disabled children rather than professional child actors playing mentally challenged although I did spot Billy Mumy (LOST IN SPACE) in there. The score by Ernest Gold is rather good except for a pretentious main title (percussion and a cacophonous children's chorus). With Paul Stewart, Elizabeth Wilson, Lawrence Tierney, Barbara Pepper and Juanita Moore.

The Girl In Black Stockings (1957)

At a Utah resort, the mutilated body of a pretty girl is discovered. Everyone at the resort becomes a suspect. This minor "B" B&W murder mystery has a cult following but it's titillating metaphorical title aside, it's really nothing special. The direction by Howard W. Koch plods along without the faculty needed to ante up the stakes and when the killer is revealed, it's no surprise. This was the last film of the young Anne Bancroft before she bolted Hollywood and went to Broadway and you can see why. If this was the best they could give her, it was never going to happen for her in Hollywood. Ron Randell as an embittered quadriplegic gives some strange line readings but no one stands out here, not even Mamie Van Doren and her pulchritude. The score is by Les Baxter. With Lex Barker, Marie Windsor, John Dehner, Stuart Whitman, Diana Van Der Vlis and Dan Blocker (BONANZA). The film's credits does have an amusing credit however. It reads "Women's costumes by The Pink Poodle of Kanab, Utah"!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sands Of The Kalahari (1965)

When a private plane carrying four passengers in addition to the pilot and co-pilot crashes in the South African desert, it becomes survival of the fittest. It doesn't help that the one passenger (Stuart Whitman) that shows leadership ability is a neanderthal sociopath. This is a rather nasty film to sit through. Not because it's not well made but because we can't really warm up to any of the characters who, for the most part, seem rather superficial and unlikable. The normally appealing Susannah York plays a weak willed ninny that her sex would be ashamed of, Nigel Davenport is an opportunistic would be rapist, Harry Andrews is a German who may have been a Nazi, Theodore Bikel is a well intentioned but ineffectual doctor which leaves only the morose Stanley Baker for the audience to root for. Directed by Cy Endfield (ZULU), the film seems overlong though the film is infused with a sense of menace as a colony of hostile baboons ominously watch the proceedings and why wouldn't they be hostile with Whitman sadistically killing them for no real reason. The wan score is by John Dankworth with Erwin Hiller (I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING) in charge of the Panavision desert vistas with Spain partially subbing for South Africa. Effective yes, but unpleasant.

Noble House (1988)

Based on the massive (1,000 pages plus) best seller by James Clavell (SHOGUN), this six hour film centers on the "tai-pan" (Pierce Brosnan), the head of a trading company fighting off a take over in Hong Kong in the last years before Hong Kong reverts to China. The storyline has been updated to the 1980s from the novel's 1960s milieu. As directed by Gary Nelson (THE BLACK HOLE), it's juicy "can't wait to see what happens next" multiple storylines populated by colorful characters who weave in and out of each other's lives make for an irresistible potboiler. The production values are, for the most part, quite lush and elegantly shot by the Italian cinematographer Cristiano Pogany. The first half of the film features a spectacular fire on a multi tiered floating restaurant in the Hong Kong harbor reminiscent of TOWERING INFERNO while the second half features a luxury apartment building collapsing when a landslide hits it. Unfortunately, the last 30 minutes or so spent tying up all the plot's loose ends is an anti-climax. The huge cast includes Deborah Raffin, John Houseman, Denholm Elliott, Nancy Kwan, John Rhys-Davies (memorable as Brosnan's chief nemesis), Ben Masters, Julia Nickson, Burt Kwouk, Lisa Lu, Tia Carrere, John Van Dreelen, Gordon Jackson and Khigh Dhiegh.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Forbidden Past (1951)

The niece (Ava Gardner) of an aristocratic but impoverished old New Orleans family falls in love with a penniless research scientist (Robert Mitchum). But when he returns from South America with a new bride (Janis Carter), she uses her recently acquired inheritance in her plans for revenge. Directed by Robert Stevenson (MARY POPPINS) from the novel CARRIAGE TRADE by Polan Banks, this is an old fashioned "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" melodrama and quite entertaining, too. Though the rough around the edges Mitchum is questionable casting as a bookish research scientist, the fetching Gardner is at the height of her beauty and one could be content basking in her exquisite close ups. The acting honors are stolen by Melvyn Douglas as Gardner's wily, unctuous and conscienceless cousin who ruins everything. He's positively slimy and it's a breath of relief when he gets his just desserts. The expert art and set direction recreates late 19th century New Orleans milieu with adroit dexterity and lovingly shot by Harry J. Wild (GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES). With Lucile Watson, Gordon Oliver and Clarence Muse.

Wild Boys Of The Road (1933)

At the height of the Great Depression, two teens (Frankie Darro, Edwin Phillips) leave home to avoid being a burden to their impoverished parents. They become train hopping hobos and later form a trio with a young girl (Dorothy Coonan, who would later marry the film's director, William A. Wellman) disguised as a boy. This is a wonderful, poignant look at the hardships in the depression era and its victims struggling to survive while society views them as vagrants and turns away. I wish the film's last 4 minutes or so weren't so obviously a deus ex machina in the form of a fairy godmother judge who makes everything well. What it needed was a hard hitting last moments like I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG. But those eye rolling last minutes can be readily forgiven because of what preceded. The acting is generally good from the pinch faced Darro, the likable Coonan and the exceedingly appealing Phillips who surprisingly made only one other film. Wellman's direction is tight and economical, clocking in at barely over an hour. With Rochelle Hudson, Ward Bond, Sterling Holloway and Minna Gombell.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Comanche Territory (1950)

Jim Bowie (Macdonald Carey) and an ex U.S. Senator (Will Geer) are sent by the government into Comanche territory to extend a peace treaty along with a codicil that allows the U.S. government to mine silver on the Comanche territory. But the treaty is stolen and as the expiration of the current treaty nears, settlers plan on raiding Comanche territory. Directed by the veteran George Sherman, this is a typical Universal "B" western. The kind of short (it runs 73 minutes) oater that squeezed into theatres to fill the need to occupy movie houses in between the major films. As such, it does its job and it's an inoffensive cowboy and Indians shoot 'em up. The vapid Macdonald Carey makes for a dreary hero but fortunately there's the gorgeous Maureen O'Hara as the feisty heroine in three strip Technicolor and the equally stunning Arizona vistas (including Sedona) beautifully shot by Maury Gertsman. The score is by Frank Skinner (WRITTEN ON THE WIND). With Charles Drake, James Best, Pedro De Cordoba and Parley Baer.

Life Stinks (1991)

A wealthy Los Angeles businessman (Mel Brooks, who also directed) enters a wager with a rival businessman (Jeffrey Tambor) that he can survive on the streets of L.A. for 30 days with no money, no home or other comforts. While the film may resemble the 1983 comedy TRADING PLACES slightly, unlike that film the priority isn't keeping laughs coming. As a comedy, LIFE STINKS is pretty much a dud. But what it does have is heart and there are several poignant moments that reflect on the plight of the homeless in a major urban city. The "happily ever after" ending is phony as all get out but there are some genuinely authentic moments among the shallow ones. Lesley Ann Warren as a bag lady who teaches Brooks the ropes of living on the streets gives a strong performance that lifts the film up a few notches. There are two wonderful sequences that stand out. The first is an Astaire & Rogers dance number danced by Brooks and Warren amid the garbage, rags and empty boxes. The second is a genuinely amusing duel between two bulldozers that parodies those Godzilla vs. Gamera (or Mothra or King Kong etc.) Japanese creature features. The score is by John Morris. With Howard Morris, Teddy Wilson, Rudy De Luca and Billy Barty.

En Effeuillant La Marguerite (aka Plucking The Daisy) (1956)

After writing a racy novel that scandalizes her father (Jacques Dumesnil), an 18 year old girl (Brigitte Bardot, still an ingenue at this stage of her career) runs off to Paris. However, once there, she needs money so she enters a striptease contest with a cash prize for the winner but she wears a mask so her family and fiance (Daniel Gelin, MURMUR OF THE HEART) won't recognize her. This rather amusing farce is vaguely reminiscent of those 1930s screwball comedies like THEODORA GOES WILD and though the cast is game, they're far from expert farceurs. Much of the time, you're thinking "Oh, this is supposed to be funny" but you're not laughing. Directed with verve by Marc Allegret, everyone plays with so much spirit that it's difficult not to give in to the nonsense. Darry Cowl as Bardot's chain smoking brother gets on one's nerves rather quickly though but the rest of the cast does fine including Luciana Paluzzi, Robert Hirsch and Yves Marie Maurin.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Angel Baby (1961)

A mute girl (Salome Jens) is taken to an evangelist (George Hamilton) and her power of speech is restored. She devotes her life to God but is ultimately exploited by those out to make a profit out of religion. This film came out the year after the superior ELMER GANTRY and can't transcend its exploitation roots. It's derivative in so many ways and clumsily put together. It seems to condescend to the "white trash" believers exploiting them in the same way the evangelical hucksters did but also pandering to the "superiority" the audience is supposed to feel toward them. Jens as the Angel Baby of the title is actually very good and if the film had been better, or even a hit, it's the kind of performance and role that would have propelled her to stardom. But her performance isn't enough to save the film and she's saddled with George Hamilton's performance which is inadequate to the demands of the role. I'm ambivalent about the hysterical Mercedes McCambridge as Hamilton's bible spouting wife. She's either brilliant or godawful, I still haven't decided. Two old pros, Joan Blondell and Henry Jones, bring what they can as a boozing couple watching out for Jens but a young Burt Reynolds is still too wet around the edges. Directed by Paul Wendkos (THE MEPHISTO WALTZ).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Debt (2011)

In 1997 Israel, a former Mossad agent (Helen Mirren) attends a book party for her daughter's (Romi Aboulafia) just published book on her mother's heroism in tracking down and executing a Nazi war criminal (Jesper Christensen). But there's a dark, unspoken secret in her mother's past that effects the present of all involved including the daughter as we find out when the film bounces back forth between 1966 East Berlin and 1997 Israel. Based on a 2007 Israeli film, this is a complex, layered thriller that the director John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) keeps you on the edge of your seat. A real nail biter as it were as you never know exactly where it's going. Although top billed, the film really belongs to the wonderful Jessica Chastain who plays the young Mirren in the film's lengthy flashback. After her one two punch this year with TREE OF LIFE and THE HELP and now THE DEBT, surely she's the new actress to watch! The fine score is by Thomas Newman. The superb cast includes Tom Wilkinson as Mirren's husband with Marton Csokas as his younger self, Ciaran Hinds as the third member of the Mossad team with Sam Worthington (AVATAR) as his younger self. Highly recommended.

Tarzan's Magic Fountain (1949)

When an aviatrix (Evelyn Ankers) emerges from the jungle after being lost for 20 years, she still looks the same as if time hadn't passed due to a secret water source hidden deep in the jungle that restores youth. Two devious con men (Albert Dekker, Charles Drake) plot to discover the source and make themselves rich. But not if Tarzan (Lex Barker) has anything to say about it. The debut of Barker as Tarzan, taking over from Johnny Weismuller. The film itself is a rather silly concoction of jungle adventure and science fiction that passes the time amiably. If a little too much time is expended on the tiresome antics of Cheetah the chimp, Barker makes for a pleasantly easy going Tarzan and Brenda Joyce returning as Jane for the fifth and final time plays a more important part in the storyline than usual. Directed by Lee Sholem. With Alan Napier and Henry Brandon.

Gervaise (1956)

A laundress (Maria Schell) and her children in mid 19th century Paris are abandoned by her lover (Armand Mestral). Things look up when she remarries but after her husband (Francois Perier) has an accident after a fall from a roof, things take a turn for the worse. Based on the Emile Zola novel L'ASSOMMOIR, Rene Clement's Oscar nominated (best foreign) film is a dour look at the deterioration of a human soul, piece by piece until it's demolished. What keeps one from giving oneself over to the film completely is the heroine's complicity in her own victimization and ultimate destruction. One simply can't sympathize with her. Maria Schell's performance is exquisite (she won the Venice film festival best actress award) even if she is playing a human dishrag. It's a painful, joyless watch. The mise en scene is beautifully constructed and evocative by production designer Paul Bertrand. The score is by Georges Auric. With a wonderfully wicked performance by Suzy Delair as the sly Virginie who waits years for her revenge, Jacques Harden whose blacksmith remains the most likable character and little Chantal Gozzi as the cunning Nana, the daughter of Schell and Perier, who would grow up to become the heroine of Zola's next novel and several film adaptations.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Contagion (2011)

Returning home from a business trip to Hong Kong, a woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) feels unwell but she attributes it to jet lag. But when she has a seizure and dies, she becomes Patient Zero in a pandemic of global proportions. Shot with a digital camera and directed by Steven Soderbergh (ERIN BROCKOVICH), this is a corker of a medical thriller. Terrifying all the more because Soderbergh shoots in a realistic, semi documentary style (think Kazan's PANIC IN THE STREETS but less melodramatic and more natural) rather than the more action oriented spreading virus thrillers like OUTBREAK. All the more disturbing because it's not far fetched but clinically exacting in its portrayal of a race against time for a cure as a society self destructs in chaos and fear. The percussive pulsating score which propels it all forward is by Clint Martinez. Smart, intelligent and positively riveting! Though it's not the kind of film with any stand out performances as the story is the star and no one actor is allotted much time for a detailed character, the massive cast includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law as a paranoid conspiracy theorist, Laurence Fishburne, Elliott Gould, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes and Sanaa Lathan all giving solid performances.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Cousin Rachel (1952)

A young man (Richard Burton) is disturbed when he gets letters from an older cousin (John Sutton), who raised him, from Italy expressing concerns that his new wife (Olivia De Havilland) is poisoning him. After his cousin dies, he's convinced the wife murdered him but when he meets her, he finds himself attracted to her and doubts occur. This Gothic romantic mystery from the pen of Daphne Du Maurier (REBECCA) is a perfect example of the genre at its finest. Not on a level with Hitchcock's film adaptation of REBECCA but a near irresistible concoction effectively directed by Henry Koster (THE ROBE). De Havilland, in particular, is quite good here in a deliberately ambivalent performance that continually keeps us guessing, "is she or isn't she?" till the very end. Despite his Oscar nomination for his performance here, Burton is overly intense, almost jumping out of his skin when less would be more. The handsome production values are first rate including the Oscar nominated art direction and costume design and a superb atmospheric score by Franz Waxman. With lovely Audrey Dalton, Ronald Squire, George Dolenz and Argentina Brunetti.

The Kite Runner (2007)

Two Afghan children, one Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) the son of a wealthy merchant (Homayoun Ershadi in a superb performance) and the other Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada in a winning performance) the son of the family servant, are childhood best friends. But the merchant's son has no backbone and betrays his friend in an unforgivable act that he will have to deal with the rest of his life. Based on the best seller by Khaled Hosseini and directed by Marc Forster (MONSTER'S BALL), this is a powerful film that pulls no punches. The main problem I have with it is that the protagonist never owns up to his heinous act and while he attempts to redeem himself in the end, it doesn't or shouldn't let him off the hook though the film seems to forgive him. The film's last half hour is a wee bit disappointing in that it becomes a standard action film as the adult Amir (Khalid Abdalla, UNITED 93) returns to Afghanistan to right a wrong. But for the most part, it's an involving tale of friendship, shame and redemption. The effective score is by Alberto Iglesias and excellent cinematography by Roberto Schaefer (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) with China standing in for Afghanistan. With Atossa Leoni as Abdalla's wife.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Love Has Many Faces (1965)

When the body of a beach boy is washed ashore on an Acapulco beach, an investigation ensues to determine whether it was suicide or murder. But his death turns an ugly light to the "jet set" scene where wealthy Americans engage in what one character refers to as "nothing illegal, just immoral" games. This sudser reeks of glamour what with a poor, over tanned Lana Turner suffering in her luxurious Acapulco beach house (and what a house!) in her Edith Head wardrobe while downing cocktails while her ex-beach boy husband (Cliff Robertson) dallies with Stefanie Powers. But the film never delivers what it promises ... nothing happens. It's doubtful even a Sirk or a Minnelli could whip up a souffle out of this cheese. Most hideous is an oily, leathery Hugh O'Brian as a beach boy -senior division - who's so repugnant you cringe every time he touches Turner. It's not that he's so unattractive but so bland (it's obvious why he never became a star) that one finds it unbelievable that even the most hard up matron would cough up bucks for him. Still, Acapulco never looked so inviting under Joseph Ruttenberg's lensing. Directed by Alexander Singer with a forgettable score by the normally reliable David Raksin (LAURA), Nancy Wilson sings the theme song. With Ruth Roman and Virginia Grey as two older wealthy women on the prowl for young beach boys and Ron Husmann as the only one in the film with a conscience.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Home In Indiana (1944)

A troubled and rebellious teen (Lon McCallister) is sent to live with his aunt (Charlotte Greenwood) and uncle (Walter Brennan) on a rundown former horse breeding farm. His love for horses helps him bond with his uncle and they attempt to turn a foal into a champion harness racer. This Technicolor homespun tale is part animal movie (think NATIONAL VELVET) and part young romance as sophisticated June Haver and tomboyish Jeanne Crain both attract McCallister's attention. It's the horse movie that features the more compelling storyline. The young players are attractive with enough spark (it's easy to see why Crain quickly became a popular fan favorite) to hold their own with the horses. It may be corn but there's enough impartial emotion that you don't have to feel manipulated when you get teary eyed at the film's end. The color cinematography by Edward Conjager (1943's HEAVEN CAN WAIT) was nominated for an Oscar. Directed by the veteran Henry Hathaway, musical score by Hugo Friedhofer. With Ward Bond, Willie Best, Charles Dingle, Robert Condon and George Reed. Remade in 1957 as APRIL LOVE.

Le Fate (aka The Queens) (1966)

An omnibus film featuring four comedic short stories revolving around four striking women. In the first, a young woman (Monica Vitti) is rescued from a rape attempt by a motorist (Renzo Giovampietro), who gets turned on by Vitti's detailed description of the rape attempt. In the second, an opportunistic tramp (Claudia Cardinale) uses her baby to con money from strangers. In the third, a bourgeois housewife (Raquel Welch) seduces her husband's friend (Jean Sorel) while her husband is asleep. In the fourth, a haughty rich socialite (Capucine) seduces her chauffeur (Alberto Sordi) whenever she's drunk but when sober can't remember what she did. The segments were directed respectively by Luciano Salce, Mario Monicelli, Mauro Bolognini and Antonio Pietrangeli. The first and fourth are the most successful. The Vitti segment flirts with crossing the line (rape just isn't amusing) but fortunately never quite does and Vitti is a delicious and sexy comedienne. The fourth one is quite poignant really. The elegant Capucine, almost always stiff in her dramatic parts, sparkles in her comedic roles (PINK PANTHER, WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?) and she's a delight here as is Sordi as her besotted and befuddled chauffeur. With Enrico Maria Salerno, who provides a "twist" in the Vitti segment.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Oklahoma! (1955)

A cowboy (Gordon MacRae) has a mutual attraction with a farm girl (Shirley Jones) but an ominous farmhand (Rod Steiger) who works on the farm is determined to put his claim on the girl. This simple musical based on the groundbreaking Rodgers & Hammerstein stage musical of 1943 is at odds with the big screen treatment it receives here. Shot in the Todd-AO (a 70 millimeter format) process by Robert Surtees, it looks fantastic with a near remarkable depth for a non 3D film. But the large Oklahoma vistas (though it was actually shot in Arizona), elaborate ballet sequence (much more expansive than its stage versions) and sense of importance almost dwarfs the lovely musical at the heart of things. With the exception of Poor Jud Is Dead, the R&H score is chock full of memorable tunes that have almost all become standards. MacRae is adequate but Jones positively sparkles in her film debut. Directed by Fred Zinnemann and the memorable choreography by Agnes DeMille. With Gloria Grahame singing charmingly off key as Ado Annie, the graceful Gene Nelson who shines in the Kansas City number, Eddie Albert, James Whitmore, Charlotte Greenwood, Barbara Lawrence, James Mitchell and Jay C. Flippen.

The Geisha Boy (1958)

A magician (Jerry Lewis) on a USO tour to entertain troops in Japan becomes attached to a fatherless Japanese boy (Robert Hirano). The film is written and directed by Frank Tashlin (THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT) and the film is pure Tashlin. While Lewis is in peak form, the sight gags are clearly Tashlin's doing whether it's a sunburned rabbit, a bath house tidal wave or Lewis catching a baseball with his mouth. The film gets uncomfortably treacly in the last 20 minutes but up until then, it's quite funny and one of Lewis's superior vehicles. The film appears to have been shot in Hollywood (in VistaVision) but you could have fooled me as the Japanese locations look authentic. The score is by Walter Scharf. With Suzanne Pleshette (in her film debut), Sessue Hayakawa (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI), Nobu McCarthy, Marie McDonald as a temperamental movie star, Barton MacLane and a scene stealing rabbit called Harry Hare.

Adventure In Sahara (1938)

An American pilot (Paul Kelly) joins the French Foreign Legion to get revenge on the sadistic commandant (C. Henry Gordon) who he hold responsible for the death of his brother. The Captain's cruelty eventually causes a revolt among the legionnaires. The most notable name connected with this dimwitted potboiler is Samuel Fuller who wrote the story (but not the screenplay) that served as the basis of this film. It's sort of a MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY in the desert. Barely an hour long, there's not much to recommend. It's rather silly, not believable and generally badly acted. Directed by D. Ross Lederman. With Dwight Frye, Marc Lawrence, Robert Fiske and as the aviatrix girlfriend who just happens to crash her plane in the desert as Kelly is on a patrol, Lorna Gray.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Iron Curtain (1948)

A Russian cipher clerk (Dana Andrews) for the Soviet Embassy in Canada and his wife (Gene Tierney, wasted in the dreary wife role) are content with their life in the West. When he and his family are ordered back to Moscow, he must make a life altering decision. Based on the actual case of Igor Gouzenko, a defector from the Soviet Union, whose exposure of the Soviet spy system and infiltration of secret agents into Canada made headlines. The film stays fairly close to the facts and attempts a faux documentary style but takes great dramatic license to make the film more of a thriller. Though based on reality, the film weakens its premise by having all the Russians (except for Andrews and Tierney) played so villainously that the actors practically hiss their lines and if they had moustaches, no doubt they'd twirl them! Surely, the Russians (even spies) were more subtle than that! Directed by the almost always engaging William A. Wellman (HIGH AND THE MIGHTY) for whom this must have been strictly a paycheck movie. For his score, Alfred Newman adapted the music of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Miaskovsky. With June Havoc as a slinky Soviet agent, Edna Best, Eduard Franz and Berry Kroeger.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cette Sacree Gamine (aka Naughty Girl) (1956)

A nightclub owner (Bernard Lancret) must leave Paris quickly to evade police so he asks his star attraction (Jean Bretonniere) to look after his young daughter (Brigitte Bardot) until he can return. Complications and romance ensue. Before she became an international sex symbol with AND GOD CREATED WOMAN, Brigitte Bardot starred in lightweight comedies like this one which closely resembles Frank Tashlin's SUSAN SLEPT HERE from two years before. Indeed, like the 1954 film, there's even a musical dream sequence (Bardot appears to be a decent dancer) and one can see Debbie Reynolds or Sandra Dee effortlessly playing Bardot's role in an American version. Still, despite all the farcical antics and the frantic efforts of the game cast, it plays like a tepid cup of tea rather than sparkling wine. Directed by Michel Boisrond with a screenplay by Roger Vadim. Cinematography by Joseph C. Brun (ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW) who makes excellent use of the CinemaScope frame, particularly in a multi telephone conversation. With Mischa Auer (MY MAN GODFREY), Francoise Fabian, Michel Serrault and Raymond Bussieres who steals the film as Lancret's tart tongued butler.

Murder At The Vicarage (1986)

When a retired Colonel (Robert Lang) is found shot to death in the vicar's (Paul Eddington) study, there is no shortage of suspects. The man was universally disliked, even by his wife (Polly Adams) and daughter (Tara MacGowran). Based on the Agatha Christie novel, the first novel to feature Miss Marple, this is a decent if unimaginative adaptation. The details and the atmosphere of the sleepy village of St. Mary Mead are all perfect. But the whole venture seems rather lackadaisical with no real sense of mystery which is essential to a good whodunit. The acting seems rather bland on the whole with the exception, of course, of Joan Hickson as Miss Marple who once again embodies Christie's octogenarian heroine to perfection. Directed by Julian Amyes. With Rosalie Crutchley, Cheryl Campbell, James Hazeldine, Norma West and David Horovitch.

Walls Of Jericho (1948)

Set in Kansas in the early 1900's, the friendship of an attorney (Cornel Wilde) and a newspaper publisher (Kirk Douglas) deteriorates when Douglas brings his new bride (Linda Darnell) into the small town of Jericho. She's scheming, manipulative and ambitious and will stop at nothing to further her husband's career. Directed by John M. Stahl (LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN), this is a wonderful, juicy melodrama along the lines of KINGS ROW and PEYTON PLACE. A small town seemingly respectable on the surface but when the layers are peeled, we find rape, murder, adultery, alcoholism, illegitimate children and political corruption! The kind of movie that if it were a book, you'd call a real page turner. While both Wilde and Douglas are both fine, it's the ladies who dominate the performances. Darnell is marvelous as the devious plotting wife, Anne Baxter as a still rare (it is the early 1900's) woman lawyer in a man's world, Ann Dvorak (Hawk's SCARFACE) as Wilde's bitter and shrewish wife and Colleen Townsend as the girl on trial for killing the man who tried to rape her. Music by Alfred Newman. With Patricia Morison, Marjorie Rambeau, Henry Hull, Barton MacLane, Ann Doran and Gene Nelson.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Raging Moon (aka Long Ago Tomorrow) (1971)

A cocky, working class amateur soccer player (Malcolm McDowell) contracts a virus that leaves him a paraplegic. At the home for the disabled he's sent to live, he finds himself attracted to a slightly older woman (Nanette Newman), also a paraplegic, who slowly breaks down his resentment. The first half of this film is fairly strong, examining the difficulties of adjusting to life as a paraplegic, before succumbing to a fairly conventional weepie. Still, one must give credit to director Bryan Forbes (who also wrote the screenplay) for keeping the maudlin aspect of it relatively in check. He doesn't shamelessly go for the tear ducts the way, say, something like LOVE STORY does. It's sentimental, yes but it's an honest sentiment. McDowell is very good (more than very good actually) but that's expected. The surprise is Newman's performance. Too often derided because of the "If you hire Bryan Forbes, you have to take the wife too" factor, she gives a delicate, effective performance, easily her best film work. The syrupy score by Stanley Myers is of no help. Also notable are Georgia Brown (Nancy in the original Broadway OLIVER!) and Barry Jackson as a married couple who work in the church run home. With Bernard Lee, Geoffrey Bayldon, Margery Mason and Gerald Sim.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Living Daylights (1987)

James Bond 007 (Timothy Dalton) is assigned to assist the escape of a Soviet defector (Jeroen Krabbe) to the West. But shortly after his arrival in the West, Krabbe is kidnapped ..... seemingly by the Russians but 007 uncovers evidence to the contrary. The 15th entry in the James Bond franchise is a winner! Elegant and thrilling with just the right amount of polish, so good in fact that it's able to survive the fly in the ointment. Namely, Timothy Dalton in his debut as 007 replacing Roger Moore in the series. While not, perhaps, as weak as George Lazenby, Dalton is an anemic Bond. But the film contains some of the best moments in the Bond universe. Here, it's the Afghanistan section (handsomely shot by Alec Mills) which ranks with the best Bond sequences. This was the final Bond film to be scored by oo7's musical alter ego, John Barry but it's one of Barry's best Bond scores. The punchy title tune is sung by the Swedish group, a-ha. Maryam D'Abo makes for fetching Bond girl though she doesn't have much to do. Directed by John Glen. The rest of cast includes Joe Don Baker, Art Malik, John Rhys-Davies, Desmond Llewelyn, Geoffrey Keen, Walter Gotell and Andreas Wisniewski.