Search This Blog

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Boy Friend (1971)

When the "star" (Glenda Jackson) of a rather third rate small theater company performing THE BOY FRIEND misses a performance, her unprepared understudy (Twiggy) must go on. But it just so happens, a big Hollywood producer (Vladek Sheybal) is in the audience with the idea of possibly making the show into a film. Most people usually fall into one of two camps regarding Ken Russell's film of the 1953 Sandy Wilson musical. Some find Russell's wickedly irreverent backstage musical a campy delight while others are horrified by what Russell has done to Wilson's sweetly innocent pastiche of 1920s musicals. I love the film myself. Russell manages to balance the vinegar driven backstage hysteria (which is not a part of Wilson's play) with an affectionate send up of not only 1920s Broadway musicals but 1930s film musicals too. Twiggy is charming, her wispy voice is more than adequate (the songs are hardly taxing) and she looks terrific in her 1930s white satin gowns. Alas, she's saddled with the hunky looking but hollow Christopher Gable as her partner. Three of the supporting cast stand out: that dancing giant Tommy Tune, the vampish Antonia Ellis and the smoky voiced Georgina Hale. With Max Adrian, Barbara Windsor (who has one good number, Nicer In Nice), Murray Melvin, Graham Armitage, Moyra Fraser, Catherine Willmer and Max Pringle.

John Paul Jones (1959)

After accidentally killing a sailor in self defense, a Scottish ship captain (Robert Stack) flees to the American colonies which are still under British rule. After the Declaration Of Independence is signed, the seaman is recruited to command a warship in the war for independence from the British. This romanticized film biography of the naval war hero John Paul Jones is a clunky, laborious affair that whitewashes the more unsavory aspects of his life. For example, there's a scene where Stack as Jones orders one of his officers to toss his cat o'nine tails overboard because there will be no flogging on his ship. In reality, Jones himself once flogged one of his sailors so badly that the man died from his injuries. A couple of fictional romances (Marisa Pavan and Erin O'Brien are the ladies) are also tossed in to assure the audience that Jones was no pansy boy. Stack's stoic (to put it kindly) performance does the film no favors. The director John Farrow can't even whip up a good battle scene and Jones's famous line, "I have not yet begun to fight!" falls flat. The intrusive Yankee Doodle score is Max Steiner at his worst. With Bette Davis as Catherine The Great, Charles Coburn as Benjamin Franklin, Jean Pierre Aumont as King Louis XVI, Macdonald Carey, David Farrar, Peter Cushing, Thomas Gomez, Susana Canales and Bruce Cabot.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vampyr (1932)

A young man (Nicolas De Gunzburg acting under the name Julian West) staying at a small French country inn finds himself drawn to a small chateau outside the town where there is evidence of evil, possibly in the form of vampirism. Loosely based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu's IN A GLASS DARKLY, Carl Theodor Dreyer's enigmatic vampire tale is more Poe than Bram Stoker. The narrative makes little sense and is best watched as a surreal dream than a traditional vampire tale. Indeed, Dreyer seems little interested in the actual horror genre, there are no real frights, but rather as an excuse to use cinema in shaping a hypnagogic atmosphere where reality and apparition are so blended that you can't tell one from the other. Dialog is extremely minimal and Dreyer uses intertitles frequently so that the film actually seems more like a silent film than a talkie. Long dismissed as minor Dreyer, I much prefer it to his late works like ORDET and GERTRUD. The cast consists of mostly non professionals but this is not a film dependent on acting. The "actors" are used like chess pieces with Dreyer playing a solitary chess game. De Gunzberg was actually a wealthy titled Baron, who funded the film. With Sybille Schmitz and Maurice Schutz.

Kaleidoscope (1966)

A dishonest professional gambler (Warren Beatty) is blackmailed by his girlfriend's (Susannah York) Scotland Yard detective father (Clive Revill) into helping him ruin a wealthy narcotics dealer (Eric Porter) with an addiction to high stakes poker. KALEIDOSCOPE is one of those movies that probably play better today than when first released (it wasn't a success). The 1960s had a glut of those swinging London flix, there wasn't anything special about most of them, but today KALEIDOSCOPE seems an modestly entertaining relic of the era. Since I love cards, perhaps I'm overly partial to films dealing where card games play a central role. This was director Jack Smight's follow up to his Paul Newman hit HARPER and like that film, Smight is lucky to have two charismatic romantic leads in Beatty and York. This was obviously a paycheck role for Beatty, so he's more relaxed (which is a good thing) than he is in his more personal projects where he often tries too hard and York is the very embodiment of the 60s English dolly. With Murray Melvin, Jane Birkin and Yootha Joyce.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Barkleys Of Broadway (1949)

A husband (Fred Astaire) and wife (Ginger Rogers) musical comedy team reach a crisis in their relationship when she feels he takes her talent for granted. When a writer/director (Jacques Francois) pursues her for a dramatic role in his play based on the life of Sarah Bernhardt, she accepts thus causing a rift in their marriage. The tenth and final pairing of the Astaire & Rogers and their only one in color. While it's not on the same level as the greatest of their RKO films, it's still better than their lesser ones (SHALL WE DANCE, STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE). The script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green is solid but the songs by Harry Warren and Ira Gershwin, save one, are a lackluster lot. The one gem is They Can't Take That Away From Me (music by George Gershwin) previously performed in SHALL WE DANCE which is the dance highpoint of the film. And whose bright idea was it to place the opening credits over Astaire & Rogers dancing? Curiously, in the dramatic scene where Rogers as Bernhardt supposedly proves her dramatic talents, she's awful! Directed by Charles Walters. With Oscar Levant doing Oscar Levant, Billie Burke, Gale Robbins, Clinton Sundberg, George Zucco, Hans Conreid and Frank Ferguson.

Twilight Women (1952)

A woman (Freda Jackson) runs a boarding house that takes in unwed mothers under the guise of charity. But in reality, she's a sadistic and ruthless blackmailer and sells babies on the black market. This rather lurid exploitation film is based on a play by Sylvia Rayman and the film, directed by Gordon Parry, is too oddly compelling not to be diverting but it's an overwrought piece of melodrama. Jackson is quite good, seemingly kind on the surface but concealing a demon underneath. Among her boarders, the standouts are Rene Ray as the mistress of a convicted killer (Laurence Harvey) and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny of the Bond films) as a young woman separated from her lover. The often sunny score by Allan Gray seems somewhat inappropriate considering the subject matter. With Dora Bryan and Vida Hope.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Red Dust (1932)

On a rubber plantation in the Indochinese jungle, the owner (Clark Gable) welcomes a new engineer (Gene Raymond), who unexpectedly brings his wife (Mary Astor), to work on a project. Complications arise when he finds himself attracted to the wife which irritates the stranded prostitute (Jean Harlow) who has designs on Gable. A greatly entertaining romantic drama that showcases the studio system, in this case MGM, at its best. It's based on a play by Wilson Collison which I'm unfamiliar with but I suspect the often amusingly tart dialog is the work of screenwriter John Lee Mahin. Harlow, in perhaps the quintessential Harlow role, is pretty spectacular here. She's never been sexier and she looks like a million. But the sexual tension between Gable and Astor is palpable enough to make one wish they'd done more films together. Directed by Victor Fleming who provides the film with a steamy tropical atmosphere and the requisite tension. Remade in 1953 as MOGAMBO by John Ford with Gable playing the same role. With Donald Crisp and Willie Fung.

A Connecticut Yankee (1955)

When his fiancee (Gale Sherwood) catches him with an old flame (Janet Blair) at his bachelor party, she hits the groom to be (Eddie Albert) over the head with a bottle. When he wakes up, he finds himself in King Arthur's (Boris Karloff) court in Camelot. Mark Twain's novel A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT has been filmed several times including a 1931 film with Will Rogers and a 1949 musical with Bing Crosby. This version in based on the 1927 Broadway musical by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (the Crosby musical was not based on the Rodgers & Hart show). The show was heavily altered for a 1943 revival with some new songs and this version harkins back to the 1927 version but keeping some of the new songs from the 1943 version. All versions play fast and loose with the original Twain novel. This one's plot is rather lame and clumsily executed. But oh those wonderful Rodgers & Hart tunes: Thou Swell, To Keep My Alive and My Heart Stood Still among them. Directed by Max Liebman. With John Conte, Bambi Linn, Rod Alexander (who also did the choreography) and Leonard Elliott as Merlin.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Unconditional Love (2002)

After her husband (Dan Aykroyd) leaves her and her favorite singer (Jonathan Pryce) is murdered, a woman (Kathy Bates) decides to attend the singer's funeral in England. It's there that she meets the singer's lover (Rupert Everett) and together they decide to track down the singer's murderer. Directed by P.J. Hogan, who had great success with the comedies MURIEL'S WEDDING and MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING, but this time he seems overwhelmed by the material which is in serious need of tightening (it runs over two hours). There's a terrific comedy in here somewhere and a lot of time, it's on display. But Hogan and his co-screenwriter Jocelyn Moorhouse try to mix two many story lines which leaves the film unfocused and too much time is spent on scenes when we just want to move on. Still, when it hits its marks, it's very funny. With Julie Andrews, Lynn Redgrave, Peter Sarsgaard, Stephanie Beacham, Jack Noseworthy, Barry Manilow and the wonderful Meredith Eaton who steals every scene she's in as Bates' dwarf daughter in law.

Autumn Leaves (1956)

A lonely older woman (Joan Crawford, looking more butch than usual) meets a lonely, slightly immature young man (Cliff Robertson) and despite their age difference, fall in love and marry. But after the marriage, she notices inconsistencies in his history until it becomes clear that he's emotionally disturbed. Directed by Robert Aldrich (who would later direct Crawford in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?), the film is not without interest in its depiction of a May-December romance but the relationship between the two has Crawford turning motherly toward the almost child like Robertson which gives the film an unintended (one hopes) creepy incestuous feel to it. It doesn't help that Crawford is just awful in it while Robertson seems to be doing a dry run for his Oscar winning role in CHARLY. Far more interesting are the twisted pair played by Vera Miles as Robertson's amoral ex-wife and Lorne Greene as Robertson's malicious father. The title song is sung by Nat King Cole. With Ruth Donnelly, Shepperd Strudwick, Marjorie Bennett and Maxine Cooper (Velma in Aldrich's KISS ME DEADLY).

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Calamity Jane And Sam Bass (1949)

A transient by the name of Sam Bass (Howard Duff) arrives in a small town looking for a job but soon becomes attracted to both the sheriff's sister (Dorothy Hart, THE NAKED CITY) and the idea of buying a horse to race. But when a crooked promoter (Marc Lawrence) destroys his dream, he reluctantly turns outlaw. The title is a misnomer. The film is all about Duff's character, a real outlaw, and Calamity Jane (Yvonne De Carlo) is in the film only peripherally for the first half before the second half features her more prominently but it's still about Sam Bass. Directed by George Sherman, it's a generic western with only its downbeat ending to make it standout among the plethora of "B" oaters. De Carlo is lively but Duff's performance is D.O.A. Historically, it's piffle as there's no evidence that the real Sam Bass and Calamity Jane ever knew each other. With Lloyd Bridges, Norman Lloyd, Willard Parker, Roy Roberts and Ann Doran.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Amour (2012)

Tragedy strikes an elderly couple in their 80s when the wife (Emmanuelle Riva, HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR) suffers a stroke that leaves her semi-paralyzed. Her husband (Jean Louis Trintignant) attempts to take care of her but she gets progressively worse. Winner of this year's Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes film festival, Michael Haneke's new film is potent stuff, too powerful perhaps for some as I counted five walk outs during the screening. The film is unrelentingly grim in its portrait of a vital human being deteriorating before our very eyes and everyone helpless to do anything about it. Haneke being Haneke, of course, eschews the sentimentality inherent in the material, this is no tearjerker. As cinema, it's near perfect but as someone who has actually lived through the film's situation, it's not a film I ever care to sit through again. Riva's performance is, justifiably, getting heaps of praise but Trintignant not only matches her every step of the way, he might even push past her. With Isabelle Huppert as their daughter.

Mystery Street (1950)

When the body of a bar girl (Jan Sterling) is discovered on a Cape Cod beach, a detective (Ricardo Montalban) joins forces with a Harvard medical examiner (Bruce Bennett) who uses the relatively new concept of forensics to piece together how she was killed and who did it. With the proliferation of those CSI shows all over TV, the subject of forensics and how vital it is in solving crimes is old hat. But in 1950, it provided a fresh and different approach to the crime thriller. An early effort by the director John Sturges (THE GREAT ESCAPE) with a screenplay co-authored by Richard Brooks (ELMER GANTRY), this is an unassuming little "B" which manages to deliver some modest excitement and an intelligent script that provides a satisfying slice of noir. Shot on actual Boston locations rather than the MGM backlot, the film is closer to the docu-noirs like NAKED CITY or CALL NORTHSIDE 777 than the traditional studio noirs like THE BIG SLEEP. The fine cast includes Sally Forrest, Elsa Lanchester, Betsy Blair, Marshall Thompson and Edmon Ryan.

Friday, December 21, 2012

White Mischief (1987)

In 1941 Kenya, a group of jaded and decadent British expatriates indulge in orgies, casual adulterous affairs as well as drugs. But when one of their own (Charles Dance) is found murdered and the husband (Joss Ackland) of the deceased's mistress (Greta Scacchi) is arrested for the murder, even the decadent community is shocked. Based on an actual incident known as the Happy Valley murder case, Michael Radford's (IL POSTINO) film is a wry look at the casual moral rot of a dying colonialist society. There's no one to empathize with, not even the murder victim which distances us from the proceedings so that we're merely observers, nothing more. Visually, the film gets everything right but it's just not a film one can warm to. Scacchi looks terrific but her character is too ambiguous to make much sense of while Ackland and Dance aren't interesting enough to make us care. Fortunately, the supporting performances pick up the slack, especially Sarah Miles as a drug addled whack job who attends cocktail parties with a snake draped around her and has the film's best lines. Also with Trevor Howard, Geraldine Chaplin, Hugh Grant, John Hurt, Ray McAnally, Murray Head, Jacqueline Pearce and Susan Fleetwood.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hans Brinker (1969)

Set in 1838 Holland, when their father (John Gregson) is seriously injured in a fall from a dike, the Brinker family must struggle and take whatever menial work is available to support themselves. Young Hans (Robin Askwith) and his sister Gretel (Roberta Tovey) dream of entering and winning the Silver Skates competition but they can't afford new skates and must do with homemade wooden skates. Based on the popular children's book HANS BRINKER, OR THE SILVER SKATES by Mary Mapes Dodge, this wholesome family musical is too saccharine to be enjoyable though there is one disturbing sequence when the father attempts to kill the mother (Eleanor Parker, whose singing voice is dubbed by Sandy Stewart). The sappy tunes by Moose Charlap (the Mary Martin PETER PAN) are an uninspired lot and the one good song, the lively Proper Manners is undermined by poor staging. Filmed in Germany and the Netherlands. Directed by Robert Scheerer. With Richard Basehart and Cyril Ritchard.

Sinbad The Sailor (1947)

For the first time, Sinbad (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) reveals the tale of his eighth voyage. Discovering an abandoned ship with a poisoned crew, Sinbad finds a map to the lost treasure of Alexander The Great on the fabled island of Deryabar. But there are others, who will stop at nothing, to get possession of that map. Whether intentional or not, the presence of Fairbanks Jr. in the title role seems a homage to his father Fairbanks Sr., the star of such silent swashbucklers as THIEF OF BAGHDAD and THE BLACK PIRATE. He brings the appropriate panache to the role though it's obvious, unlike his father, that he doesn't do his own stunts. There's too much chatter and not enough swash and though everyone tries hard, there doesn't seem to be a genuine affection for the genre. On the plus side, the three strip Technicolor is gorgeous which benefits its leading lady Maureen O'Hara, often called the "Queen of Technicolor", greatly and Walter Slezak gives a sly performance as a seemingly humble barber. Directed by Richard Wallace. With Anthony Quinn, Jane Greer, George Tobias, Sheldon Leonard, Mike Mazurki and Alan Napier.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Four In A Jeep (1951)

In post war Vienna, the city is divided into four sectors: American, Russian, French and British. An international police consisting of four military policeman from each of the four nations (the American Ralph Meeker, the Russian Yossi Yadin, the British Michael Medwin, the French Albert Dinan) riding in the same jeep perform their daily duties patrolling the city. But when an Austrian widow (Viveca Lindfors) whose husband (Hans Putz) is a POW wanted by the Soviets is harassed by the Russians, it threatens the tenuous peaceful coexistence between the Russians and Americans. A relatively little seen film, it was somewhat critically admired in its day, winning the top prize at the Berlin film festival as well as a BAFTA nomination and runner up at the Cannes film festival. It's a rather simple story of how a love (or rather a love story) can bring opposing nations together. It's intentions are good but it does come across as rather transparent today. Directed by Leopold Lindtberg. With Paulette Dubost as Dinan's garrulous wife.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Trouble In Paradise (1932)

When two thieves (Miriam Hopkins, Herbert Marshall) meet up in Venice, they decide to join forces. After several successful adventures, they plot to inveigle their way into the confidence of a wealthy socialite (Kay Francis) and rob her. But Cupid puts a wrinkle in their perfect plan when Marshall finds himself attracted to his victim. Pure bliss! The very model of what is referred to as "the Lubitsch touch". Elegant, sexy, witty, light and smart. If there's ever such a thing as a perfect film, this is it. It makes one a bit sad and nostalgic (something I rarely get) that there's no modern equivalent of this graceful and refined comedic style made for adults. Lubitsch is blessed with his three leads. They know how to make the most of the material, casually scattering their lines like pearls delicately dropping off a necklace. And I love how Lubitsch doesn't get all quaggy at the end, instead giving us a poignantly tart but very funny coda. Based on the play THE HONEST FINDER by Aladar Laszlo. With Edward Everett Horton, Charles Ruggles and C. Aubrey Smith.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Easy To Wed (1946)

After an heiress (Esther Williams) threatens a tabloid newspaper with a libel suit, the paper's manager (Keenan Wynn) talks one of his employees (Van Johnson) into romancing her and then having his longtime girlfriend (Lucille Ball) pose as Johnson's wife and forcing Williams to drop the libel suit to avoid the bad publicity. But things don't go as planned when Johnson falls for the heiress for real. If the plot sounds familiar, it should. It's a remake of the 1936 screwball comedy LIBELED LADY but this time in Technicolor and padded with musical numbers. But while this revamp follows the original closely in plot, it shows how important casting is. The likable Williams and Johnson simply don't have the comic chops of William Powell and Myrna Loy who played the roles in the original. Ball (who displays the comedic talents that would come to fruition with I LOVE LUCY) and Wynn fare better in the Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy parts but the bubbles are gone. Williams is used as an actress and singer here, she takes a quick dip in the pool but no underwater production numbers. Directed by Edward Buzzell (BEST FOOT FORWARD). With June Lockhart, Cecil Kellaway, Ben Blue and Ethel Smith and her organ.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Django Unchained (2012)

A German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) helps a slave called Django (Jamie Foxx) escape because he needs the slave to identify three brothers who have a price on their head that the bounty hunter wants to collect. He makes a deal that after the brothers are identified and killed, they will go after Django's wife (Kerry Washington) who was sold to a brutal plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). The latest film by Quentin Tarantino is an uneasy mixture of broad comedy and blaxploitation, more MANDINGO than UNCLE TOM'S CABIN. Has there ever been a comedy about slavery before? If you ever wondered what it would be like if the Three Stooges joined the Ku Klux Klan, this movie shows you. The film plays out like a variation of Tarantino's last film INGLORIOUS BASTERDS but instead of a Jewish revenge fantasy against the Nazis, it's an African American revenge fantasy against racist slave oppressors. While I'm ambivalent about the film, there's no doubt you're in the hands of a master film maker. Tarantino displays his love of cinema in just about every scene in the film and as always, his use of music is impeccable. With the exception of Don Johnson's hammy turn, the acting is excellent especially Samuel L. Jackson in the film's best performance as an Uncle Tom slave. The large cast includes Franco Nero (the original Django), Dennis Christopher, Bruce Dern, Russ Tamblyn, Michael Parks, James Russo, James Remar and Tarantino himself.

Lola Montes (1955)

Suffering the ultimate indignation of being displayed at the circus like a freak, the notorious courtesan and dancer Lola Montes (Martine Carol) reflects on her life through a series of flashbacks. This was the final film of the great Max Ophuls and his only film in color, CinemaScope and stereophonic sound. Thematically, it fits right in with Ophuls' two other elegant films portraying women whose romantic passions lead them to dire consequences (LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, EARRINGS OF MADAME DE...) forming a sort of trilogy. But while there have been attempts to declare LOLA MONTES as Ophuls' masterpiece (notably Andrew Sarris), it simply isn't as good as those two other films. The circus framing, while visually stunning, is awkward and inert and the film's languid pace often works against it. The casting of Martine Carol as Lola is also problematic, there's no life in her performance. This can work in the circus segment as she's clearly given up on life but the flashbacks are acted in the same way! And though only 35 when the film was made, she comes across as forty-ish and matronly. I couldn't help but wish that Ophuls had gotten Ava Gardner instead. Still, it is Max Ophuls and that's enough to demand attention. With Peter Ustinov, Oskar Werner, Anton Walbrook and Paulette Dubost.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Guilt Trip (2012)

An inventor (Seth Rogen) invites his mother (Barbra Streisand) to accompany him on a road trip from New York to San Francisco as he attends several business meetings across the country promoting a new invention. What he doesn't tell her is that he plans to reunite her with an old boyfriend in San Francisco. This sweet natured, easy going comedy is quite pleasant. That may not sound like much of a recommendation but trust me, anyone who's ever been stuck as an adult with their mother alone together for days at a time will relate to the film. Streisand and Rogen have a marvelous rapport and one can easily believe them as mother and son. The film balances wacky humor with some telling observations about mothers and sons. It's a feel good movie without getting all mushy on us and who can ask for anything more? Directed by Anne Fletcher (THE PROPOSAL). With Kathy Najimy, Miriam Margolyes, Nora Dunn, Brett Cullen, Colin Hanks, Adam Scott and Ari Graynor.

Les Miserables (2012)

After being released from 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, a man (Hugh Jackman) resolves to bury his old identity and start life anew. But a police inspector (Russell Crowe) who believes criminals never change makes it his life's work to catch him and imprison him again. Based on the 1980 international musical success, over thirty years later it finally reaches the screen and it was well worth the wait. Overwhelming about sums it up, perhaps the first genuine musical Epic. The director Tom Hooper (THE KING'S SPEECH) and his screenwriter William Nicholson (GLADIATOR) have eliminated all dialog so that the film plays out like an opera, entirely sung. It's as passionate and grandiose as an opera so it's a good thing as the insertion of spoken dialog, song, dialog, song, dialog etc. would smash the fluidity of the material. Hooper's idea to use actors rather than singers and have them sing "live" as opposed to lip syncing to pre-recorded tracks (the norm on movie musicals) is inspired as it allows the actors to control the moment rather than be locked in to a pre-recorded track allowing reality rather than artificial perfection. The cast is uniformly excellent: Jackman gives a career best performance, Anne Hathaway will break your heart (the audience broke into spontaneous applause after her I Dreamed A Dream), even Russell Crowe rises to the occasion. With Eddie Redmayne (excellent and what a set of pipes), Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, Daniel Huttlestone and Colm Wilikinson. After the film was over, I've never heard such loud and sustained applause at a film as this.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Private's Affair (1959)

Three guys are inducted into the Army at the same time: a "beatnik" (Sal Mineo), a rancher (Gary Crosby, yes, Bing's kid) and a wholesome middle class young man (Barry Coe). The three enter an Army talent show but problems arise when Coe, due to a mix up, is accidentally and secretly married to an older U.S. Army official (Jessie Royce Landis) high up in the chain of command. Directed by the veteran Raoul Walsh, this film is so lightweight that you expect it to dissolve at any minute. Though not a musical, the film is padded out with a couple of unmemorable musical numbers and a monkey act. Coe's character takes center stage and his comical situation provides whatever minor laughs there are to be had. The rest of the film consists of romantic encounters with the film's three leading ladies: Barbara Eden, Terry Moore and Christine Carere (A CERTAIN SMILE). With Jim Backus and Bob Denver, who would go on to do GILLIGAN'S ISLAND together a few years later and Ken Scott.

Scandal (1989)

In 1959 London, an osteopath (John Hurt) with rich and titled clients, befriends a 19 year old nightclub dancer (Joanne Whalley) and though she moves in with him, it's strictly platonic. But soon the doctor introduces the girl and her 16 year old friend (the cat eyed Bridget Fonda) to a series of influential and wealthy men including the Minister Of War (Ian McKellen) and the resulting scandal will topple the Conservative government in England. The Profumo affair is a vague memory today but it was indeed a sensational scandal that remained in the headlines for months in the early 1960s. This film account of that affair is very well done being at various turns; sexy, touching, witty, tragic and just plain juicy. We can see what a loser Hurt's social climbing doctor is within minutes of meeting him and his scapegoat status seems almost a cruel sacrifice. One can't really blame the girls, at least as portrayed here, they're two silly teens out for a bit of fun who find themselves over their heads. Directed by Michael Caton Jones. The score is by Carl Davis and there's a terrific end credit song sung by Dusty Springfield, Nothing Has Been Proved. With Jeroen Krabbe, Britt Ekland, Daniel Massey, Ronald Fraser and Roland Gift.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rage In Heaven (1941)

After escaping from a mental institution and returning to the family home, an insane man (Robert Montgomery) appears outwardly normal but his paranoia simmers beneath. He is jealous of his best friend (George Sanders) and after he marries his mother's (Lucile Watson) pretty secretary (Ingrid Bergman), he becomes obsessed with the idea that his wife and best friend are lovers behind his back. Based on the novel by James Hilton (RANDOM HARVEST), the similarities to LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN are too similar to ignore (Montgomery as Gene Tierney, Bergman as Cornel Wilde and Sanders as Jeanne Crain) and indeed, a major plot development in RAGE IN HEAVEN is a major plot point in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. It's nowhere as good as the 1945 film but it's entertaining enough if a little silly. Montgomery is so obviously crazy that you wonder why someone doesn't insist he see a psychiatrist. Perhaps apocryphal but reputedly Montgomery didn't want to do the film and purposely gave a flat performance which caused MGM to insert a prologue in which a doctor (Oscar Homolka) refers to how emotionless his character is. Whatever the truth, it's an effective performance. Bergman is lovely and it's nice to see Sanders as the hero instead of the cad for a change. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke.

The Angry Silence (1960)

When his fellow workers decide to go on strike, a factory worker (Richard Attenborough) decides to go it alone and cross picket lines to work. The retribution from his fellow Union workers is quick and ugly. Ostensibly the film is about the rights of the individual versus the group mentality. Perhaps that's what the film makers intended but at it's heart, it's an anti-union film. I suppose what one takes away from the film depends on one's personal feelings regarding unions. Attenborough's character is a none too bright (otherwise surely he would have known what the consequences of his actions would be) working class bloke though, of course, he doesn't deserve what happens to him. The union officials are portrayed as conniving agitators preying on their uneducated dupes. A bit one sided to be entirely believable but the acting is good including Pier Angeli as Attenborough's Italian immigrant wife. The Oscar nominated screenplay is by Bryan Forbes and Guy Green directs. There's a strong score by Malcolm Arnold. With Michael Craig, Brian Bedford, Bernard Lee, Laurence Naismith, Geoffrey Keen, Marianne Stone and Oliver Reed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Female (1933)

The female head (Ruth Chatterton, DODSWORTH) of a major automobile corporation has no time for a relationship. Like many a male counterpart, she uses her power to sexually use her underlings and casually tosses them aside when she's through with them. But when she meets a new employee (George Brent), she discovers he's not like the others and he'll be a harder nut to crack. At first, the film seems to be an early feminist film with a strong woman who treats men they way they treat women and those portions of the film are the most interesting. But, this being 1933, like Kate in TAMING OF THE SHREW, she must be tamed and transformed into a good little housewife. Her male secretary admonishes her toward the end of the film, "You're just a woman, after all". But the director Michael Curtiz doesn't dwell much on any cultural or gender implications in the material and gets the job done in a tight 60 minutes. Fashion hasn't got up yet with Chatterton which is too bad. She's really quite a good actress and very appealing here. With Johnny Mack Brown, Douglass Dumbrille, Gavin Gordon and Ruth Donnelly.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Red Sundown (1956)

When his companion (James Millican) is killed in a shoot out, a gunfighter (Rory Calhoun) keeps his promise to him that he would abandon that life and settle down to honest work. But in a new town, he finds the only job open to him is that of a deputy to the sheriff (Dean Jagger). But will he be able to live down his past? The director Jack Arnold is justifiably noted for his fine work in the sci-fi genre with films like CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE. But he also made some excellent if minor westerns, notably NO NAME ON THE BULLET, MAN IN THE SHADOW and this "B" western which while simply done, provides a strong introspection at a lifestyle without the pat summary and leaves us with an open ending. The male characters are nicely drawn especially Grant Williams who gives a finely etched portrayal of a cold blooded gunman. Alas, the women don't fare as well, more stereotypes (Martha Hyer's prim daughter, Lita Baron's hot Mexican with a past) than anything else. A definite find for western buffs. With Robert Middleton, Leo Gordon and John Doucette.

Mary, Mary (1963)

When a newly divorced New York publisher (Barry Nelson, AIRPORT) is audited by the Internal Revenue Services, his accountant (Hiram Sherman) asks the publisher's ex wife (Debbie Reynolds) to come in from Philadelphia to help sort out some unaccounted for checks. The publisher's fiancee (Diane McBain) and a movie star (Michael Rennie) provide for some complications. Based on Jean Kerr's inexplicably huge Broadway hit (it ran for over 1,500 performances and Maggie Smith had a hit with it in London's West End), Mervyn LeRoy doesn't so much direct it as supervise it. The play's one set, a living room, remains the film's center with a little grudging opening up for the screen: 2 minutes in a restaurant, 2 minutes on the street, 2 minutes in a car etc. Meanwhile, instead of dialog, the actors bat punchlines and bon mots at each other for two hours. This in itself wouldn't be bad if the lines were witty or scintillating but Ms. Kerr's witticisms come across today like a poor Neil Simon wannabe. Nelson, recreating his stage role, fares the worst. Perhaps a victim of having played the role too many times, there isn't a moment of spontaneity in his performance, just a lot of indicating to the balcony.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Starting Out In The Evening (2007)

A once celebrated but long forgotten writer (Frank Langella) is approached by a graduate student (Lauren Ambrose) who wants to do her thesis on his work though her motives remain ambiguous. He reluctantly consents but it slowly turns into a more complex relationship than writer and student. Based on the novel by Brian Morton, director Andrew Wagner's film is first and foremost, a tour de force for Langella. But as good as he is, and he's superb, Langella's performance doesn't overshadow the film's delicate but incisive look at a once great writer in his twilight years. The acute screenplay (by Wagner and Fred Parnes) doesn't rush but takes a leisurely pace which is mandatory for a character driven piece such as this that allows the necessary character development to pull the narrative together. There's a subplot which follows the writer's unmarried daughter (Lili Taylor) whose biological clock is ticking and her relationship with a man (Adrian Lester) who doesn't want children. I suppose this is the kind of film where some people would complain that "nothing happens" but, of course, it's interior rather than exterior. A nice unobtrusive score by Adam Gorgoni.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Wetbacks (1956)

In desperate need of cash, a seaman (Lloyd Bridges) charters his boat to an obnoxious boozed up businessman (Barton MacLane) and his mistress (Nancy Gates, SOME CAME RUNNING). But when the drunk abandons both the seaman without paying him his fee and his mistress, the seaman reluctantly agrees to run illegal Mexican immigrants to California on his boat. The unceremoniously titled WETBACKS is a low budget quickie that looks to have been filmed on the fly. But for what it is, it's an efficient little "B" tackling a still controversial subject. The sole directorial credit of Hank McCune, who also produced the movie, it's the kind of movie that in a month's time will be a blur in your cinematic memory. Luckily, Bridges and the attractive Gates are strong enough actors to make the most of their roles. The underscore is by Les Baxter (MASTER OF THE WORLD). With John Hoyt and Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

L'Incorrigible (1975)

Soon after being released from prison, a con man and master of disguise (Jean Paul Belmondo) goes back to his old ways, namely selling things (like homes and boats among other things) that don't belong to him. But when the new social worker (Genevieve Bujold) assigned to him catches his fancy, it puts a crimp in his criminal activities. In the 1960s, the comedies of Philippe De Broca found great favor with art house audiences with films like THAT MAN FROM RIO and KING OF HEARTS (THE DEVIL BY THE TAIL is a personal favorite). But he seems to have fallen out of fashion in recent years. L'INCORRIGIBLE is a frantic farce that gets a boost from Belmondo's energetic performance and Bujold's engaging presence but it's never as funny as it seems to think it is and more than once I wished Blake Edwards would come just take it over. The melodic score is by Georges Delerue. With Capucine (who isn't given enough to do), Andrea Ferreol and Daniel Ceccaldi.

Road To Bali (1952)

To avoid a shotgun marriage in Australia, two song and dance men (Bing Crosby, Bob Hope) sign on as deep sea divers for an Indonesian prince (Murvyn Vye). Arriving on the island, they both find themselves attracted to the prince's cousin (Dorothy Lamour) who warns them they are in danger from the deceitful prince. The sixth in the series of ROAD movies which starred Crosby, Hope and Lamour; this is the only one shot in Technicolor. It follows the pattern of the rest of the franchise; topical references, breaking the fourth wall, Crosby and Hope trading derogatory quips about each other, fighting over Lamour etc. It feels tired and they must have sensed it too as it took them ten years (ROAD TO HONG KONG) before they decided to go back into the water. As expected, it's the thinnest of plots and the gags fly all over the place but unfortunately, they tend to miss their target more often than they hit it. Still, the irrepressible Hope manages to bat a zinger or two (when Crosby is about to serenade Lamour, Hope quips to the audience, "He's going to sing! Now's the time to go out for some popcorn"). Directed by Hal Walker. With Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Jane Russell, Carolyn Jones, Michael Ansara and Leon Askin.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bernie (2012)

Based on a true story, a mortician (Jack Black) is a popular and beloved member of a small Texas community. He becomes the inseparable companion of the town's wealthiest woman (Shirley MacLaine), who's more than 40 years older than him but also intensely disliked by the town. Still, the town is shocked when he is arrested for her murder. The film starts off promisingly with its subtly sly humor but it starts circling on itself until you fear the film might all be exposition. It's essentially a flimsy one joke movie that peaks far too early. I can't quite decide if the director Richard Linklater (whose ME AND ORSON WELLES is woefully underseen) is condescending towards his small town subjects or displays an agreeable affection. I almost wish the film hadn't been based on a true story, it's somehow easier to laugh at a dark comedy when it isn't a real murder, when a real woman was killed and not just a figment of the writer's imagination. Jack Black is superb! An intricate, mannered performance that's near flawless. I'd be more impressed with MacLaine if I hadn't seen her give the same performance in STEEL MAGNOLIAS and Matthew McConaughey as a prosecuting attorney is just fine but he was better in this year's THE PAPERBOY. Worth seeing for Black's performance alone

Girl Crazy (1943)

A wealthy young playboy (Mickey Rooney) seems more interested in nightclubs and girls rather than his Yale studies. His frustrated father (Henry O'Neill) decides to send him to an all male agricultural college in the West in the hopes he'll grow up. Once there, the son becomes infatuated with the local post mistress (Judy Garland). Based on the hit 1930 George and Ira Gershwin Broadway musical (that made stars of Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman), the plot has been slightly rearranged to resemble the typical Rooney & Garland MGM musicals. Not that that's a bad thing. The show's original plot was a simplistic narrative designed to showcase the great Gershwin score with terrific songs like I Got Rhythm, But Not For Me, Embraceable You and Bidin' My Time. Garland comes off slightly better than Rooney mainly because Rooney's allowed to indulge in his usual schtick that doesn't play well today. Directed by Norman Taurog (BLUE HAWAII) with future director Charles Walters doing the choreography (he does a lovely dance with Garland to Embraceable You. But Busby Berkeley was brought in to choreograph the big finale I Got Rhythm. With June Allyson (MGM hadn't quite figured out what to do with her yet, here she seems to be groomed as MGM's answer to Betty Hutton), Nancy Walker, Peter Lawford, Rags Ragland, Guy Kibbee, Frances Rafferty and Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra.

Private Hell 36 (1954)

When a police detective (Steve Cochran) and his partner (Howard Duff) are assigned to investigate the appearance of stolen (marked) money from a New York robbery that has shown up in Los Angeles, it places them in the way of temptation and a dark spiral to a bad end. Effectively directed by Don Siegel, this nifty economical piece of L.A. noir pulp isn't a crucial entry in the film noir canon but its minor virtues are enough to find a second tier niche. All the requisite elements are in place. low key black and white visuals, the femme fatale (Ida Lupino, who co-wrote the script), the moral quandary (Duff's character), the moral rot (Cochran's character) etc. On the down side, the film is hampered by the domestic scenes with Dorothy Malone as Duff's wife, constantly fretting and worrying which provide a contrast to the heated romance between Lupino and Cochran with Lupino the screenwriter giving herself the best lines. I could have done without the sanctimonious narration by the police Captain (Dean Jagger). The subdued jazz score is by Leith Stevens. With Dabbs Greer, Richard Deacon, James Anderson and King Donovan.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Come Back Little Sheba (1977)

Set in the late 1940s in a small mid-western college town, a recovering alcoholic (Laurence Olivier) and his slovenly wife (Joanne Woodward) have a tenuous marriage at best. But the presence of a pretty young boarder (Carrie Fisher) only serves to remind the husband of how his forced marriage (she was pregnant) ruined his chances. Based on the 1950 Tony award winning William Inge play, it's one of those rare plays that reads better than it plays. Somehow its dialog has an ease and naturalness on the page that often seems awkward and slightly artificial when spoken. So it requires just the right actors to inhabit the central characters, Lola and Doc, and get us to view them as people and not mouthpieces reciting the author's words. This production directed by Silvio Narizzano (GEORGY GIRL) gets it half right. While Woodward seems to have a fundamental grasp of her character and slips into Lola easily, Olivier is just all wrong. He may be one of the great actors of the 20th century but his work here is just surface, there's nothing underneath. Reputedly, Olivier stepped into the role after Robert Mitchum bolted the production, now that's a Doc I'd want to see. With Nicholas Campbell and Patience Collier.

The Gorgeous Hussy (1936)

In 1823 Washington, an innkeeper's daughter (Joan Crawford) catches the eyes of five gentlemen who each will have a profound effect on her life. A naval officer (Robert Taylor), a senator (Melvyn Douglas) from Virginia, the Secretary Of War (Franchot Tone), a newspaperman (James Stewart) and President Andrew Jackson (Lionel Barrymore). You'd think a movie with this much star power would have something to recommend it but it's a dismal affair. Very loosely based on an actual incident, this Clarence Brown helmed costumer can't quite get a pulse going. Of all the movie queens of the 1930s, was there a star less suited to these period films than Crawford? Crawford's appeal was her very modern vitality which made her an audience favorite, particularly with female audiences. Flouncing around with her ruffles and ringlets here, Crawford merely looks like she wandered in from a rather dull costume party. The handsome Taylor brings a bit of youthful dash but he's killed off early in the film and the remaining gentlemen can't seem to drum up much enthusiasm except for Barrymore whose enthusiasm goes overboard into overacting. With Beulah Bondi as Mrs. Jackson, Louis Calhern, Alison Skipworth, Melville Cooper and Sidney Toler as Daniel Webster.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Flame And The Arrow (1950)

In 12th century Italy in the province of Lombardy under Hessian rule, a free spirited hunter (Burt Lancaster) and his son (Gordon Gebert) become involved in a rebellion when the Hessian count (Frank Allenby) takes the boy from him. This highly enjoyable Technicolor swashbuckler gives Lancaster a chance to show off his athletic prowess acquired as a circus acrobat with his partner Nick Cravat, who also appears in the film. He leaps, he scales, he flips, he swings, he falls, effortlessly and without a stunt man, all the while showing off his pearly whites. A couple of years later, he'd do another wonderful swashbuckler THE CRIMSON PIRATE but alas, a sudden attack of seriousness caused him to abandon such enjoyable romps for more serious fare like COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA and THE ROSE TATTOO, our loss. Jacques Tourneur keeps everything moving along nicely while Max Steiner's Oscar nominated score adds zip. Quite empty headed of course but isn't it movies like this which made us fall in love with the medium in the first place? Cream and peaches Virginia Mayo provides the romantic interest. With Robert Douglas, Norman Lloyd, Aline MacMahon and Lynn Baggett.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Last Hard Men (1976)

After escaping from a prison chain gang with several other prisoners, a convict (James Coburn) sets out for revenge on the lawman (Charlton Heston) who was responsible for capturing him. The retired ranger spreads the news of a gold shipment as bait to re-capture his nemesis but Coburn kidnaps Heston's daughter (Barbara Hershey) instead. A bleak, unpleasant western. Effective and at times exciting, yes but brutal. The violence is in your face and there's a thoroughly repulsive elongated rape sequence. Heston is one of the most imposing of screen actors and it takes a strong actor to make us believe someone can be a genuine threat to him. Coburn, in his most despicable bad guy role, rises to the occasion. This is one guy you don't want to mess with. The Arizona locations are nicely captured in wide screen Panavision by Duke Callaghan (CONAN THE BARBARIAN). The film score is credited to Jerry Goldsmith but, in fact, it's not an original score but a piecemeal score accumulated by taking tracks from other Goldsmith film scores and piecing them together. Directed by westerns veteran Andrew V. McLaglen. With Michael Parks, Jorge Rivero, Larry Wilcox, Thalmus Rasulala and Christopher Mitchum, exhibiting none of his father Robert's charisma or talent.

The Forbidden Street (aka Britannia Mews) (1949)

Against the wishes of her upper class parents (Wilfrid Hyde White, Fay Compton), a girl (Maureen O'Hara) marries an impoverished painter (Dana Andrews) and moves to the slums. But the marriage is an unhappy one, due partly to the husband's alcoholism. But when he dies suspiciously, she becomes a victim of blackmail by the local hag (Dame Sybil Thorndike). Based on the novel by Margery Sharp (CLUNY BROWN), the first part of the film appears to be veering towards a dark noir-ish tale but with the appearance of a drunk ex-actor (also played by Dana Andrews), it turns into a soapy melodrama and becomes less interesting. As the painter, Andrews is dubbed by a British actor but as the ex-actor, he uses his own voice and an inadequate English accent. The most intriguing aspect of the second half of the film is that O'Hara and Andrews are living together without benefit of matrimony but passing themselves off as a married couple. Surely, quite daring for 1949. It's wonderful to see Dame Sybil in a decent film role which allows her to display her legendary acting talent, her Medusa harridan will make your skin crawl. Nimbly directed by Jean Negulesco (THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN). With Anthony Tancred and Diane Hart.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Impossible (2012)

On December 26, 2004; a deadly tsunami with waves almost 100 feet hit the Thailand coast (as well as Sri Lanka and Indonesia) killing over 230,000 people in fourteen countries. This is the true story of one family's survival. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (EL ORFANATO), this is an emotional rollercoaster of a movie. Don't even think of calling it a "disaster" movie. Just chuck any preconceived notions that the film exploits the horror of the 2004 tsunami. Normally, "inspirational" true stories of people overcoming disaster (whether personal or from nature) has avoid stamped all over my movie passport. But this is a wonderful achievement. In the first ten minutes of the film, Bayona has given us all we need to know about this family and after the disaster strikes, the layers of strength and endurance the human can endure both physically and emotionally is what the movie is truly about. The stunning tsunami sequence is awesome and remarkably is not CGI and throws you right into the horror of it all. But it's the human story that touches us and without Spielberg manipulation. The actors all give superb performances and Naomi Watts as the mother is deserving an Oscar nomination. Every bit as good are Ewan McGregor as the father, Tom Holland (excellent), Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast as the three sons. With Geraldine Chaplin, who only has one scene but it's one you won't forget.

Tea And Sympathy (1956)

Returning to the boarding school he attended ten years earlier, a sensitive young man (John Kerr) recalls the unpleasant experience of being different than the other boys and not fitting in which made him a pariah. He also remembers the tender housemaster's wife (Deborah Kerr), who understood him and offered him more than tea and sympathy. Based on the "daring" Broadway play by Robert Anderson (who also wrote the screenplay), the restrictions of the conservative 1950s forced the direct homosexual implications in the play to be eliminated. However, this turns out to the film's advantage. Unlike many popular plays of the era, TEA AND SYMPATHY is terribly dated which explains why it's never seen any revivals. Under Vincente Minnelli's dexterous direction, the film is no longer about "is he or isn't he gay?" but on the nature of masculinity and how society views what a "real" man should be which makes it still relevant in the 21st century. The film is far from perfect, however. It's still a bit of a long winded talkfest and the film's final coda, an apology for the film's adultery is demeaning. An achingly lovely score by Adolph Deutsch. With Leif Erickson, Edward Andrews, Norma Crane, Dean Jones, Tom Laughlin (BILLY JACK) and Jacqueline DeWit.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Killing Them Softly (2012)

After an illegal poker game (under mafia sanction) is robbed by two small time hoods (Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn), a hit man (Brad Pitt) is brought in to not only find out who robbed the game but to execute them. Based on the 1974 novel COGAN'S TRADE by George V. Higgins, the film tries too hard to be cool and what we end up with is a stylish but empty vessel. Andrew Dominik's last film ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD was one of the great American films of the last decade but fearing a sophomore stumble, I went in with lowered expectations. Alas, I should have lowered them more. A really disappointing film. Dominik has gussied up the film, bookending the film with Obama speeches, in an attempt to tie in the current economical situation in the U.S. with the film's cynical portrait of a corrupt America spawning the vermin who populate the film. No surprise, Pitt delivers another finely etched performance (no one else in the film matches him), too good for the movie because it exposes how rotten everything else is in it. Instead of being shocked or repelled by the violence like we would be in a Peckinpah film, Dominik lingers over it in slow motion from various angles until one wants to scream, "Enough already!". With Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins and Sam Shepard.

Hyde Park On Hudson (2012)

In 1939 as war looms on the horizon in Europe, the King (Samuel West) and Queen (Olivia Colman) of England arrive at Hyde Park, the country home of President Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray) where the King hopes to solidify support from America. Meanwhile, the President is having a long term affair with his fifth cousin (Laura Linney). Is there a market for a genteel Merchant and Ivory-ish romance between a wheelchair bound sitting President and his homely cousin? Probably not, which is why the King of England's visit takes over the movie. Unfortunately, coming on the heels so soon after THE KING'S SPEECH, it's not enough to perk up a rather drab effort. It's a handsome looking movie (shot by Lol Crawley) but the screenplay by Richard Nelson can't seem to make up its mind whether it wants to be a biting comedy about American and British manners or a poignant romance and the fusion doesn't work. Murray and Linney are affable enough but it's Olivia Williams (so outstanding in GHOST WRITER two years ago) refreshing as Eleanor Roosevelt that takes the film's acting honors. The effective underscore is by Jeremy Sams. Efficiently directed by Roger Michell (NOTTING HILL). With Eleanor Bron, Elizabeth Wilson and Elizabeth Marvel.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Liquidator (1965)

Under the mistaken assumption that he's a superb marksman, a Colonel (Trevor Howard) in British Intelligence recruits an ex-soldier (Rod Taylor) as an assassin. With the promise of a rich life style and a bevy of beauties, he agrees although he is repelled by the thought of killing. He solves this by hiring a professional hit man (Erick Sykes) to do his killing for him. This satire of the Bond movies sets the tone with a Bond like credit sequence created by Richard Williams (WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?) and Shirley Bassey belting the title song and for the first 45 minutes or so, it's fairly smart and amusing but it deflates itself in the last hour (the cold blooded killing of an innocent girl was a mistake). As always, the rugged Taylor is eminently likable but no one else has much to do. Directed by Jack Cardiff (SONS AND LOVERS) from the novel by John Gardner, not surprisingly, the hired hand to continue the Bond novels after Ian Fleming's death. The stylish faux Bond score is by Lalo Schifrin. With Jill St. John (struggling with an English accent) in what seems as a dry run for her Bond girl in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, Akim Tamiroff, David Tomlinson (MARY POPPINS), Wilfrid Hyde White, Gabriella Licudi and Suzy Kendall.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Faces (1954)

Between 1934 and 1968, Leonard Stillman produced a series of revues consisting of comedy sketches and musical numbers called NEW FACES on Broadway which introduced young hopefuls to the New York stage. Among the names "introduced" in Stillman's revues who found fame: Henry Fonda (1934 edition), Maggie Smith (1956 edition), Imogene Coca (1934 edition). This film, the only NEW FACES revue to make it to the big screen uses his cast from NEW FACES OF 1952. Utilizing the wide screen CinemaScope process (perfect for replicating the stage) and stereophonic sound, the film is a mixed bag. The comedy sketches (Mel Brooks was one of the writers) are dated so it leaves the musical numbers to carry the film. The show's break out star Eartha Kitt purrs three of her signature tunes: C'est Si Bon, Monotonous and Santa Baby and the song Love Is A Simple Thing sung by Kitt, Robert Clary and Rosemary O'Reilly became a standard. Aside from Kitt, other cast members who went on to various degrees of fame include Clary (TV's HOGAN'S HEROES), Paul Lynde (BYE BYE BIRDIE and TV's HOLLYWOOD SQUARES), Alice Ghostley (TV's BEWITCHED) and Carol Lawrence, who found fame as the original Maria in WEST SIDE STORY. Directed by Harry Horner. Also with June Carroll, Ronny Graham and Virginia Wilson.

Film D'Amore E D'Anarchia (aka Love And Anarchy) (1973)

When his close friend is murdered by the police, a young farmer (Giancarlo Giannini, whose performance here won the best actor award at the Cannes film festival) takes it upon himself to accomplish what his friend intended to do before being killed ... assassinate Benito Mussolini! Unlike most overtly political films which tend to be either intense dramas or comedic satires, the director Lina Wertmuller balances both with equal dexterity. By turns funny, brutal, tender, bawdy and intense; Wertmuller realizes she can do more to get her intent across by entertaining you rather than giving you a political diatribe (though the film can be shrill at times). The majority of the film takes place in a brothel and Wertmuller really shines in these sequences. Like Fellini, she has an eye for faces and assisted by Giuseppe Rotunno's camera and Gianni Giovagnoni's art direction, it often borders on beauty. The sad faced Giannini and Mariangela Melato as a brassy bleached blonde whore not only make a wonderful contrast but bring an added verve to the already heightened proceedings. The underscore is shared by Nino Rota and Carlo Savina. With the Kewpie doll Lina Polito as the prostitute who falls in love with Giannini and Eros Pagni overdoing the fascist pig bit.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Two Rode Together (1961)

A sheriff (James Stewart) and an Army Major (Richard Widmark) are sent by the U.S. Army to retrieve the surviving white captives held by a Comanche chief (Henry Brandon) for the past nine years. But it's not an easy task as some of the survivors, perhaps sensing the hostilities of the white community, refuse to return. Directed by John Ford, the specter of his classic THE SEARCHERS hovers over the film. Granted, it had been only five years since THE SEARCHERS had been released but the film had not yet (at least in this country) been acknowledged as one of great American films. If THE SEARCHERS had not existed then perhaps this effort would have fared better but honestly, it's just not as good. Stewart's character is a pale imitation of Wayne's Ethan Edwards but the film does paint a darker picture of white captives being accepted back into the fold. While there's a happy ending for THE SEARCHER's Debbie, the fate of the white boy (David Kent) here is much grimmer. Still, an essential film for the Fordians. Based on the novel COMANCHE CAPTIVES by Will Cook. With Shirley Jones, Linda Cristal (THE ALAMO), John McIntire, Jeanette Nolan, Andy Devine, Paul Birch, Mae Clarke and the usual Ford stock company: Andy Devine, Woody Strode, Anna Lee, Olive Carey, John Qualen, Ken Curtis and Harry Carey Jr.