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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Man In The Gray Flannel Suit (1956)

Nudged on by his aggressive wife (Jennifer Jones) to climb the corporate ladder, a man (Gregory Peck) accepts a public relations job for a television network where he finds himself torn between compromise and being true to himself. Based on the best seller by Sloan Wilson (A SUMMER PLACE), this is an ambitious look on the Madison Avenue mentality, the MAD MEN of its day, perhaps a little too ambitious. Going over the 2 1/2 hour mark, the film could have used some excising of the bloat. The entire and lengthy flashback sequence in Rome could have been cut without any harm to the film though it would have eliminated the romantic subplot with Marisa Pavan that figures prominently in the film's finale. There is another story that runs parallel to Peck's story, that of the company head (Fredric March in an effective low keyed performance) and his relationship with his estranged wife (Ann Harding) and daughter (Gigi Perreau) that also takes up quite a bit of the film's running time but unlike the WWII Italian segment, its importance is crucial. Directed by Nunnally Johnson. The persuasive score is by Bernard Herrmann. With Lee J. Cobb, Keenan Wynn, Arthur O'Connell, Henry Daniell, Gene Lockhart, Sandy Descher, Kenneth Tobey, Nan Martin, Connie Gilchrist, Roy Glenn, Dorothy Adams and DeForest Kelley.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Silver Streak (1976)

On a cross country train trip from Los Angeles to Chicago, a man (Gene Wilder) sees a dead body thrown off the train during the night. But when he attempts to investigate, he's thrown off the train. I love movies that take place on trains and I love comedy thrillers but this one is so inept I don't know where to begin. Wilder's character is rather a dim bulb and while Wilder is perfect for the eccentric, quirky characters he played in BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, he's all wrong for a conventional romantic leading man. As the "girl", it's near painful to see a talent like Jill Clayburgh wasted on such a near non existent part. An hour into the film, Richard Pryor pops in and one perks up as he livens up the proceedings but soon after, there's that sinking feeling that he's not going to save the picture. There's a sequence with Wilder in blackface that's so lame that one can't even be offended by it. It's the kind of sloppily made film that leaves too much time (like Wilder milking a cow) for us to wonder why the characters are behaving so illogically. Dully directed by Arthur Hiller from a script by Colin Higgins, who would go on to write and direct one of the best comedy thrillers of the 70s, FOUL PLAY. The silky score is by Henry Mancini. With Patrick McGoohan, Ned Beatty, Ray Walston, Clifton James, Fred Willard, Stefan Gierasch and Richard Kiel in a dry run for the role he'd play the next year in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

Last Flight Of Noah's Ark (1980)

A cantankerous animal hating pilot (Elliott Gould) finds himself flying a dilapidated B-29 bomber transporting a missionary (Genevieve Bujold) and a cargo of farm animals and two young stowaways (Ricky Schroder, Tammy Lauren) to a South Pacific island. But they are forced to make a crash landing on an uncharted island inhabited by two Japanese soldiers (Yuki Shimoda from AUNTIE MAME, John Fujioka) who've been on the island for 35 years and don't know WWII is over. Since this is a Walt Disney family film, the Japanese soldiers aren't dangerous but wacky and adorable. Fortunately, the cynical presence of the burly Gould and the ladylike sexiness of Bujold prevent the film from totally sinking into treacle. As far as stranded on a desert island movies go, there have been better but this one is amiable enough and the Hawaiian locations are handsomely shot by Charles F. Wheeler (TORA TORA TORA). The unremarkable score is by Maurice Jarre who also composed the cringing and mawkish song (lyrics by Hal David) that rears its ugly head a few times. Directed by Charles Jarrott (who directed Bujold to an Oscar nomination in ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS). With Vincent Gardenia, John P. Ryan and Dana Elcar.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Et Dieu ... Crea La Femme (aka And God Created Woman) (1956)

A young teen-aged girl (Brigitte Bardot) scandalizes the small seaside port she lives at by her unconventional behavior and disregard for societal taboos. Two local brothers (Jean Louis Trintignant, Christian Marquand) and a wealthy older man (Curt Jurgens) all want to possess her. This was the film that turned Brigitte Bardot into an international sensation in the 1950s. It wasn't her first film but it's the one that lit the firecracker under her career. Directed by her then husband Roger Vadim, the film is carefully designed to display her to advantage. Vadim has her photographed (in CinemaScope) lying nude in the morning sun, sprawled across the hood of a white sports car in a tight red dress, wet and stretched out on a beach with her dress open to her navel, dancing with wild abandon to hot bongos while barefoot, etc. There was nothing sexually coy about Bardot, she positively reeked of sex! She certainly justified Vadim's (and the camera's) fascination with her, there had been nothing like her before! Still, there's a bit of uncomfortable sexism in the film's attitude toward her. One character says of Bardot, "She's a wild animal who needs to be tamed!" and she's too hot for any man to handle alright. But once her husband Trintignant slaps her around, she follows him home like a beaten puppy, no doubt beaten into submission and a proper French wife! Shot in St. Tropez in bright sunlight by Armand Thirard (DIABOLIQUE). With Isabelle Corey.

Kidnapping Of The President (1980)

An unstable Latin American terrorist (Miguel Fernandes in a laughably bad performance), whose motives are less idealistic than monetary, concocts a plan to kidnap the U.S. President (Hal Holbrook) during a state visit to Toronto. This shockingly inept political thriller loses any semblance of believability because of the cartoonish characterizations of the three terrorists (in addition to Fernandes, there's Cindy Girling and Maury Chaykin) who couldn't kidnap a dog in real life much less the President and the ineptitude of the Secret Service as portrayed in the film which allows a President to be kidnapped so easily! As directed by George Mendeluk, there's no tension or excitement which is fatal to a thriller. Stuff like this was done far better in something like AIR FORCE ONE. With William Shatner as the Secret Service agent overseeing the rescue, Van Johnson (in the film's most difficult role) as the Vice President, Ava Gardner as his ambitious shrewish wife, Elizabeth Shepherd (TOMB OF LIGEIA) as the First Lady and Michael J. Reynolds representing the Canadian law enforcement.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Four In The Morning (1965)

In the early dawn, police pull the body of an unidentified young woman out of the Thames river, apparently a suicide. A young wife (Judi Dench) feels trapped in a marriage with a baby and an immature husband (Norman Rodway) who wants no responsibilities. A young woman (Ann Lynn) reluctantly falls in love with a man (Brian Phelps) who wants no strings attached. This "kitchen sink" drama isn't based on a play but it feels like it was. The film is heavily dialogue driven as its characters spar back and forth regarding romance, marriage and relationships. As the three stories criss cross, the film teases us that the body may be either Dench or Lynn but since we're never shown the face of the body, we never know if it is one of them or another woman altogether. Is the anonymous woman significant? Does she symbolize the futility and possible future of the unhappy Dench and Lynn? Director Anthony Simmons (who also did the screenplay) doesn't give us a clue. It's hard to get past the tedium of these characters' situation and we really don't get enough insight to care though the males (there's a third man, Joe Melia as a friend of Dench and Phelps) seem rather chauvinistic in their attitude toward the women. The somber underscore is by John Barry.

Junior Bonner (1972)

An aging rodeo rider (Steve McQueen) returns to his home town for a 4th of July rodeo celebration. There, he reunites with his estranged parents; his dreamer of a father (Robert Preston) with a roving eye, his long suffering mother (Ida Lupino) and money hungry brother (Joe Don Baker). A rather gentle, reflective look at one of the director Sam Peckinpah's favorite themes, that of the slow passing of an institution without anything to take its place. Peckinpah has a genuine feel for his subject and the world of the rodeo feels authentic and he mercifully doesn't condescend to it. However, depending on what scene you're watching, one isn't sure if the pacing is languid or sluggish. McQueen is just fine but it's the two veterans, Preston and Lupino in effortlessly expert performances who embody Peckinpah's theme. The one blight in the film is a seemingly endless barroom brawl that conjures up the worst of John Ford's excesses. Peckinpah regulars provided the wide screen cinematography which is by Lucien Ballard (BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE) and Jerry Fielding (STRAW DOGS) composed the tiresome good ole boy score. With Ben Johnson, Mary Murphy (who the film could have used more of), Donald Barry, Sandra Deel, Dub Taylor and Barbara Leigh who takes up space providing eye candy.

Women's Prison (1955)

When a young housewife (Phyllis Thaxter) enters prison for manslaughter, she finds herself in a corrupt prison system under a sadistic warden (Ida Lupino in a rare bad performance). Directed by Lewis Seiler (GUADALCANAL DIARY), this is a rather cheesy "women behind bars" exploitation movie. Every cliche from the black prisoner who sings Swing Lo Sweet Chariot to prisoners pounding on their cell bars with tin cups to the butch matrons, no cliche goes unturned! It's a pretty unrealistic, one sided view of prison life. With the exception of a kindly doctor (Howard Duff), all the prison staff are snarling nasties and all the prisoners talk in snappy patter and are fun to be around. Couldn't they have thrown in at least one cold blooded career criminal to balance out the fun broads? Despite or maybe because of all the genre cliches, it's more entertaining than it has a right to be! It lacks the heart that made CAGED powerful and Thaxter's whiny nervous Nellie is so annoying that one can't drum up the sympathy one gave to Eleanor Parker in that film. With Jan Sterling, Audrey Totter, Cleo Moore, Juanita Moore, Barry Kelley, Mae Clarke, Gertrude Michael, Warren Stevens and Vivian Marshall who has the film's best punchline.

Friday, February 24, 2012

In The Soup (1992)

A down and out aspiring film maker (Steve Buscemi) sells his script to a con man (Seymour Cassel) involved in illegal activities who promises to raise the financing to shoot the film. Meanwhile, the writer is obsessed with the Latina (Jennifer Beals, who was married to the film's director at the time) who lives next door. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance film festival, Alexandre Rockwell's idiosyncratic, almost surreal, B&W caper has some charm and wit which goes a long way in tempering the irritating sense that the film is often being quirky for quirky's sake. Peculiar characters like the couple played by Carol Kane and director Jim Jarmusch pop in, do their few minutes of schtick and just as quickly disappear. Buscemi does the quintessential Buscemi schlub here but it's Seymour Cassel who takes over the movie, he's just so much more vital than anyone else in the film. Still, all in all a good example of early 90s independent film making. With Stanley Tucci, Will Patton, Debi Mazar, Sam Rockwell and Elizabeth Bracco.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Youngblood Hawke (1964)

A rather unrefined Kentucky struggling writer (James Franciscus) comes to New York where his first novel is published to middling success. But it's his second novel (which wins the Pulitzer Prize) that elevates his career to another level but he sells out his Art for fame and fortune. Based on the Herman Wouk (THE CAINE MUTINY) novel, any chance for a good film was severely compromised by the casting of the bland Franciscus in the lead role. With his clean scrubbed Yale looks and demeanor, he's the very antithesis of a rough Kentucky truck driver. The film's ads shrieked, "Youngblood Hawke, A Woman Could Feel Him Across The Room". Not with the white bread Franciscus they can't, the role screams for a young Steve McQueen. The film's changes from the novel, which includes a happy ending, alters the story's tone severely. The film's most complex and interesting character is the predatory cafe society maven superbly played by Genevieve Page (BELLE DU JOUR). She's too good for both Hawke and the film which punishes her harshly for her trespasses while Hawke simply learns a lesson. Directed by Delmer Daves. The monotonous score is by Max Steiner. The large cast includes Suzanne Pleshette, Mary Astor, Eva Gabor, Mildred Dunnock, Edward Andrews (who has one terrific scene as a book critic), Lee Bowman, Kent Smith, John Dehner, Hayden Rorke, Don Porter and Mark Miller.

Isle Of The Dead (1945)

In 1912 Greece during the first Balkan war, a handful group of people on a small island are quarantined because of the plague. However, old prejudices and superstitions run rampant and a young girl (Ellen Drew) is suspected of being a vorvolakas, an evil spirit who lives off the life and blood of others. One of the atmospheric and stylish legendary horror films produced by Val Lewton at RKO in the 1940s, this is one of his weakest. In order for the horror to work, the director Mark Robson (PEYTON PLACE) needs to make the unbelievable credible but he doesn't. It all seems rather silly and we roll our eyes at the ignorance of the superstitious old woman (Helen Thimig) and the Greek general (Boris Karloff) as they persecute the young girl. The film does slightly pick up in the last 20 minutes with some genuinely creepy atmosphere (a walk through the forest is reminiscent of the walk through the cane fields in I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE) but it's too late to save the picture. Some of the acting is pretty hideous, in particularly the banal leading man Marc Cramer and Jason Robards Sr. (father of Jason Robards Jr.). The score is by Leigh Harline. With Katherine Emery and Alan Napier.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Poker Alice (1987)

A gambling lady (Elizabeth Taylor, looking sensational) wins a house in a poker game. The house turns out to be a brothel. While she tries to unload the house on her terms, she must deal with the rivalry between her cousin and traveling companion (George Hamilton) and the bounty hunter (Tom Skerritt) she's fallen in love with. Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman, this is a breezy and diverting western which, although filled with the cliches of the genre, provides Taylor with a strong central role that allows her to take center stage with the command of a true Star. The film's low point is when it stoops to a cheesy cat fight between Taylor (or rather Taylor's obvious stunt double) and Susan Tyrell as one of the prostitutes she's inherited. Filmed in Arizona. With Richard Mulligan, David Wayne (HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE) and Liz Torres.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Interrupted Melody (1955)

The story of Marjorie Lawrence, played by Eleanor Parker, a popular Australian opera singer whose career was cut short in her prime by polio. MGM was on a biography kick of female singers in 1955. In addition to this film, they also released LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME about Ruth Etting and Lillian Roth's story, I'LL CRY TOMORROW the same year. Directed by Curtis Bernhardt, the film gets the full lush MGM treatment but the story is hackneyed. It's the usual rags to riches to tragedy to tragedy overcome movie bio but shockingly its screenplay won an Oscar! Even Ms. Lawrence herself reputedly disliked the film. Parker is quite good though her Oscar nomination for her performance is rather dubious though it's certainly preferable to her other wheelchair performance the same year in MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM. The film is littered with operatic highlights from MADAME BUTTERLY, LA BOHEME, TRISTAN UND ISOLDE and CARMEN with Parker making for a very sexy Carmen. Glenn Ford is the doctor husband who stands by her side through out it all. With Roger Moore, Cecil Kellaway, Stuart Whitman, Evelyn Ellis, Peter Leeds, Ann Codee, Stephen Bekassy and Eileen Farrell, who not only dubbed Parker's singing voice but plays one of Codee's students.

Monday, February 20, 2012

La Baie Des Anges (aka Bay Of Angels) (1963)

A young bank employee (Claude Mann) goes with a co-worker (Paul Guers) to a casino where he gambles for the first time. Seized by the gambling fever, he spends his vacation at the casinos in Nice where he encounters a gambling addict (Jeanne Moreau) and enters her world of living life on the edge and a spin of the roulette wheel. This fascinating portrait of the lure of the gambler's life where chance and obsession walk a perilous tightrope is fortunate to have Jacques Demy at the helm and even more fortunate to have Jeanne Moreau in the central role. Platinum blonde, chain smoking, garbed by Pierre Cardin, she's never been more compelling and we fall in love with her as immediately as Claude Mann does. The way she haunts the gambling tables and casinos, like a drug addict looking for a fix, we begin to understand the intensity of the gambler's fervor and Demy swathes her in a careless elegance. The one note score is by Michel Legrand and the crisp sun washed black and white cinematography by Jean Rabier (THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tokyo Nagaremono (aka Tokyo Drifter) (1966)

A former Yakuza member (Tetsuya Watari) is trying to go straight. But he is loyal to his former boss (Ryuji Kita) and refuses an offer from a rival Yakuza gang to join them. But his presence in Tokyo causes trouble for his former boss so he leaves Tokyo but it seems loyalty is a one way street and it's just a matter of time before he's drawn into the Yakuza gang wars once again. This highly stylized, surrealistic parody/satire of the Yakuza was directed by Seijun Suzuki is almost overloaded visually with the vivid "pop art" look created by the art director Takeo Kimura. Objects in a room will change color within a scene, scenes shift from realistic locations to pristine white sound stages. One's senses are almost giddy with the razzle dazzle effects, so much so that you don't mind that the film's "plot" is often incoherent. It's as if Vincente Minnelli directed a Yakuza gangster film as an MGM musical. It wouldn't surprise me at all if this film didn't influence Tarantino's KILL BILL. With Chieko Matsubara as Watari's chanteuse love interest.

The Prowler (1951)

When a lonely housewife (Evelyn Keyes) reports a prowler, one (Van Heflin) of the two policemen attending the scene becomes obsessed with her. He calculatedly plays on her loneliness (her husband works nights) and eventually seduces her. But what the woman doesn't realize is that the cop is a sociopath and nothing will stop him in getting the wife ... not even her husband. This startling, effective noir has some very minor script problems but the combined artistry of Joseph Losey's intense direction, Dalton Trumbo's detailed screenplay and Arthur Miller's (an Oscar winner for HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY) atmospheric B&W cinematography as well as the potent central performances of Heflin and Keyes make this a minor gem in the film noir canon. Trumbo was persona non grata at this time because of the HUAC witch hunts so the script was credited to Hugo Butler and shortly after the director Losey also fell victim to HUAC and left for England where he became one of the major directors of 1960s English cinema. Definitely one to check out. The score is by Lyn Murray (TO CATCH A THIEF) and future auteur Robert Aldrich was Losey's assistant director. With George Nader, John Maxwell, Katherine Warren, Madge Blake and Emerson Treacy.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Harper (1966)

A down and out L.A. private eye (Paul Newman) is hired by a wealthy if malicious woman (Lauren Bacall) to find her missing husband. But it turns out to be more than just a missing persons case as smuggling, kidnapping and murder enter the picture. Based on the Ross Macdonald novel THE MOVING TARGET with a substandard screenplay by William Goldman, HARPER is the kind of movie you wish you liked more. All the elements are in place for an entertaining faux Raymond Chandler noir-ish tale updated to the 1960s but despite some good moments, most of it provided by its talented cast who keep you glued, it can't recreate that irresistible perfume of wit and moral rot that defines the best of the genre like DOUBLE INDEMNITY or THE BIG SLEEP. Oh, it's enjoyable enough but as disposable as Kleenex. The generic direction is by Jack Smight and the jazz tinged score is by Oscar winner Johnny Mandel (THE SANDPIPER). The top notch cast includes Janet Leigh, Robert Wagner, Julie Harris, Pamela Tiffin, Robert Webber, Arthur Hill, Strother Martin, Jacqueline DeWit and Shelley Winters who just about walks away with the film as a washed up overweight ex-starlet.

There Goes The Bride (1980)

On the day of his daughter's (Toria Fuller) wedding, an advertising executive (Tom Smothers) is hit on the head and when he recovers, he sees a 1920s flapper (Twiggy) that no one else can see. Perfectly dreadful. Is there anything worse than a piece of leaden whimsical farce? All of the characters run around frantically, carrying on hysterically as if they did it loudly and quickly enough no one would notice how unfunny it all is. It's all to no avail, the movie is D.O.A. Smothers is fine in small doses but can't carry a film (though he fared much better in De Palma's GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT) and poor Twiggy is left floundering with no one to play off of. Her character is named Polly, no doubt after the 20s flapper she played in THE BOY FRIEND but whereas Ken Russell nurtured her carefully in that film, she's all adrift here. It's embarrassing to see such fine actors as Martin Balsam humiliate themselves. Only Geoffrey Sumner as the bride's grandfather, seemingly unaware of how bad the movie is, gets into the spirit of things and one can see what the movie might have been. Directed by Terry Marcel. The cast includes Sylvia Syms, Phil Silvers, Hermione Baddeley, Broderick Crawford, Jim Backus and Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales (RIO BRAVO).

The Garden Of Allah (1936)

A wealthy but lonely woman (Marlene Dietrich), armed with only her strong faith, is drifting aimlessly looking for a great happiness in her life. A young monk (Charles Boyer) has second thoughts about his vocation and flees the shelter of his monastery for the secular world. They meet and fall in love but he withholds his past from her. Richard Boleslawski (THEODORA GOES WILD) directed this delirious piece of kitsch in lurid three strip Technicolor and the cinematographers W. Howard Greene and Harold Rosson won a special Oscar for their color photography. Boyer has never been more romantically brooding, suffering in silence exquisitely. I've never been a fan of Dietrich's artificial glamour and her exotic woman of mystery act tires quickly. But her work here may be my favorite Dietrich performance. She's rather vulnerable and there's a delicacy about her that I find preferable to her hard edged mamas of DESTRY RIDES AGAIN or imperious goddesses like SCARLET EMPRESS. It's all blissfully ostentatious but irresistible nonsense. Max Steiner did the score, one of his rare good ones. With Basil Rathbone, Alan Marshal, Joseph Schildkraut, C. Aubrey Smith, Lucile Watson, John Carradine and Tilly Losch.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951)

After being released from an 18 year prison sentence for murder, an ex-con (Steve Cochran) becomes infatuated with a brassy blonde taxi dancer (Ruth Roman). When they accidentally kill a cop (Hugh Sanders), they take to the road trying to escape the police. Despite its mawkish title (Scarlett O'Hara's famous last line from GONE WITH THE WIND), this is a engrossing noir-ish "couple on the run from the law" that were popular around this time like Nick Ray's THEY LIVE BY NIGHT and Joseph H. Lewis's GUN CRAZY. Cochran and Roman work against their normal on screen personas, the tough guy and the tough broad. Sure on the surface but underneath, two lost and lonely souls trapped by circumstances beyond their control and striving to keep a sense of normalcy in their lives. The film's moral ambiguity shifts and characters that seemed decent and hard working do things out of "necessity" that they would never have done otherwise. Directed by Felix E. Feist (DONOVAN'S BRAIN). The moody B&W cinematography is by Robert Burks (VERTIGO) and the effective underscore by Daniele Amfitheatrof. With Lurene Tuttle, Ray Teal, Morris Ankrum and Lee Patrick.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Piano (1993)

In the mid 19th century, a mute woman (Holly Hunter) and her young daughter (Anna Paquin) travel from Scotland to New Zealand where a marriage to a frontiersman (Sam Neill) has been arranged by her father. The husband is a coarse somewhat confused man but his friend (Harvey Keitel) possesses a sensitivity that eventually wears down her emotional resistance. This haunting, evocative film directed by Jane Campion (who won a best original screenplay Oscar for this) won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival and it's a remarkably sensitive portrait of a woman without a voice, literally of course but metaphorically without a voice in the society of her time. Even her marriage is arranged by her father and no explanation is given to why she simply stopped talking at age six. Hunter's career best performance (Cannes film festival and Oscar best actress awards) is stunning as is the remarkable performance by a then 10 year old Paquin (unlike most child actors, there isn't a false note in her performance) who won the supporting actress Oscar. The score by Michael Nyman is one of those rare scores that become a very part of the film's fabric and the exquisite cinematography is courtesy of Stuart Dryburgh.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chinese Coffee (2000)

After being fired from his job as a doorman at a French restaurant, an aging failed writer (Al Pacino, who also directed) goes to the apartment of his friend, another failed writer (Jerry Orbach), to get some monies owed him. But they spend all night arguing about art, their failed lives and their friendship until it turns hostile over perceptions on Pacino's new manuscript. Set in 1982 Greenwich Village, the film is based on the play by Ira Lewis (who also did the screenplay) and is essentially a two character acting piece. The film opens it up a little with brief flashbacks and some exterior shots but the bulk of the film is the two characters simply talking and arguing with each other. Sort of a MY DINNER WITH ANDRE meets WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRIGNIA WOOLF?. While the characters seem perceptive about each other, they're delusional and lack insight into themselves especially Orbach's character. Pacino is good here, really good, giving a perceptive performance and reining in his tendency to chew the scenery. His work here is relatively subtle so that when he does suddenly explode, it's powerful. The film did the film festival circuit in 2000 but Pacino, perhaps sensing the film had no commercial potential, withheld the film until 2007 when it saw a DVD release. There's a fine delicate score by Elmer Bernstein. With Susan Floyd and Ellen McElduff. For fans of Pacino and Orbach, a must but I think everyone else can safely pass.

Father Of The Bride (1950)

When his young daughter (Elizabeth Taylor) announces her engagement, her father (Spencer Tracy in an Oscar nominated performance) finds himself besieged by doubts and frustration over the enormity of the wedding as well as coping with the loss of his daughter. This thoroughly enjoyable piece of wedding cake, despite its satirical jabs at the wedding process, is a typical wholesome American fantasy that never existed outside of the movies. The perfect house, the perfect parents, the perfect daughter (the young Taylor's beauty can make you gasp), the perfect wedding etc. and all given the MGM polish. And who better than MGM's resident magician Vincente Minnelli to carve it all into a perfect valentine? Joan Bennett at 39, as the mother of the bride, has the same darkly ethereal beauty as the young Taylor and that Bennett could have given birth to her is entirely plausible. Charming is often overused in describing movies but here, perfectly applicable. This was a big enough hit to spawn a sequel FATHER'S LITTLE DIVIDEND the following year. Remade quite successfully in 1991. With Russ Tamblyn, Billie Burke, Leo G. Carroll, Marietta Canty, Melville Cooper, Fay Baker and Don Taylor as the nondescript groom.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

One Foot In Hell (1960)

When an impoverished man (Alan Ladd) brings his ill and pregnant wife (Rachel Stephens) to a new town, their indifference and lack of compassion results in his wife's death. Feeling guilty, the town offers penance by making him a deputy sheriff and welcome him into the community. While on the surface a model citizen, he secretly plots a terrible revenge on the town to avenge his wife. To this end, he recruits a drunken ex-soldier (Don Murray), a prostitute (Dolores Michaels) and two gunslingers (Dan O'Herlihy, Barry Coe). While an intriguing and fresh premise for a western, this is no HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. Ladd, in his most unsympathetic role, isn't a strong enough actor to register the rage simmering underneath his complacent surface. It doesn't help that he looks terrible, aged and bloated. The director James B. Clark doesn't have the edginess that would have increased the tension quotient that a film like this requires. Still, the intriguing posit is enticing enough to keep one entertained through out it all. William C. Mellor (A PLACE IN THE SUN) did the CinemaScope lensing and Dominic Frontiere is responsible for the routine score. With Larry Gates and Karl Swenson.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lydia Bailey (1952)

In the Haiti of 1802, the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte are attempting to reclaim the country which is now free from former French rule. His forces are met with opposition from the black revolutionaries lead by an ex-slave, Toussaint Louverture (Ken Renard). Into this war torn strife, an American attorney (Dale Robertson) arrives to obtain the signature of an American citizen (Anne Francis) residing in Haiti and finds himself fighting alongside the Haitians against the French. This historical adventure from the best seller by Kenneth Roberts suffers from a lackluster leading man as well as what appears to be a limited budget. That aside, the film is a decent historical romance which, for its day, gives its black characters some depth and dignity. Most notably the wonderful black actor William Marshall (BLACULA) as a General in the Haitian army. Despite playing the title character, Francis doesn't have much to do other than look lovely in Travilla's period costumes. The choreography for the native dancing is by the great Jack Cole (GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES). Directed by Jean Negulesco (JOHNNY BELINDA) with a nice score by Hugo Friedhofer. With Charles Korvin, Roy Glenn, Adeline De Walt Reynolds, Juanita Moore in probably her best role until IMITATION OF LIFE and Gladys Holland in a showy role as Napoleon's catty sister.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Edge Of Eternity (1959)

An Arizona deputy (Cornel Wilde) is investigating the murder of an unidentified man (John Roy) who is found hung. But when two other deaths occur, it appears they are possibly connected and the pressure is on for the killings to be solved. Directed by Don Siegel, this is an often taut little thriller but rather sloppy writing and editing compromise its effectiveness. A major clue is somehow overlooked and never addressed though it's blatantly obvious and a character takes credit for a murder but we've been shown the murder and he's not even there! If one can overlook such things, chances are you'll find this rather gripping. The gorgeous Grand Canyon locations are impressively shot in CinemaScope by Oscar winner Burnett Guffey (BONNIE AND CLYDE) and there's a thrilling finale aboard a mining bucket suspended over the Grand Canyon made even more tense when you realize that it's not CGI but real stunt men suspended over the Canyon! The score is by Daniele Amfitheatrof. With the lovely Victoria Shaw (THE EDDY DUCHIN STORY) as the love interest, Mickey Shaughnessy, Edgar Buchanan and Rian Garrick.

Visions Of Eight (1973)

The 1972 Olympics as seen through the eyes of eight different directors from eight different countries, each choosing a particular segment of the Olympics to focus on. The 1973 Olympics were, of course, the scene of the shocking massacre of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists which is only alluded to in the film itself though the film is dedicated to the slain Israeli athletes. Olympic documentaries have been done before, most notably Leni Riefenstahl's OLYMPIA (1938) and Kon Ichikawa's (who returns here) TOKYO OLYMPIAD. What's most surprising considering what a rich subject at hand is what, for the most part, a dull film it is. The is a visual essay showcasing the grace and strength of the athlete but also his obsessions. Russia's Yuri Ozerov focuses on the moments before the competition begins but his segment is a throwaway, almost over before it begins. Sweden's Mai Zetterling focuses on weight lifters. Japan's Kon Ichikawa on the 100 meter race. Germany's Michael Pfleghar on female athletes, the Czech Milos Forman on the Decathlon. U.S.'s Arthur Penn on the pole vault. France's Claude Lelouch, in the film's best segment, focuses on the losers and Britain's John Schlesinger focuses on the Marathon, specifically one runner, Ronald Hill. His is also the only segment to reference the tragedy. The original score is by Henry Mancini.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Last Holiday (1950)

A quiet unassuming man (Alec Guinness) is told by his physician (Ronald Simpson) that he has a terminal illness with only a matter of weeks to live. He gathers all his savings and registers at a posh seaside hotel where he intends to live life to the fullest until his end. The irony is that once diagnosed with a fatal illness, all sorts of wonderful things begin to happen to him that he can't take advantage of. This bleak yet moving dark comedy is a lovely piece of fanciful irony flawlessly executed. I don't think Guinness has ever been more charming and he's supported by a near perfect ensemble cast. Directed by Henry Cass and based on a screenplay by J.B. Priestley. Remade in 2006 under the same title with Queen Latifah in Guinness's role but the film didn't have the guts to keep the original doleful ending and replaced it with a happy ending. The excellent cast includes Beatrice Campbell (MASTER OF BALLANTRAE), the always welcome Kay Walsh, Gregoire Aslan, Wilfrid Hyde White, Bernard Lee, Helen Cherry, Sidney James, Ernest Thesiger and David McCallum.

The Foxes Of Harrow (1947)

In 1827 New Orleans, a transplanted Irishman (Rex Harrison), who was the bastard son of the daughter of a nobleman, falls in love with the strong willed, stubborn daughter (Maureen O'Hara) of an aristocratic Creole family. He is determined to marry the girl and build an empire and a dynasty for their son. But her strong will is what will prevent their marriage from ever being truly happy. Based on the best seller by Frank Yerby (it was the first novel by an African-American to sell over a million copies as well as the first novel by an African-American to be bought by Hollywood), this is an old fashioned historical drama of the Old South that plays out like a good and juicy page turner. Perhaps since it was written by a black man, the film has some startling (for its time) moments as when (prescient to Toni Morrison's BELOVED), a proud slave attempts to kill her child rather than letting it grow up to be a slave or when a white woman takes a black child to replace the son she's lost. Joseph LaShelle's crisp cinematography could have benefited being shot in Technicolor rather than B&W. The rousing score is by David Buttolph. With Victor McLaglen, Vanessa Brown, Patricia Medina, Richard Haydn, Hugo Haas, Celia Lovsky, Roy Roberts and Dorothy Adams.

Akai Satsui (aka Intentions Of Murder) (1964)

A bovine drudge (Masumi Harukawa) is "married" to an insensitive, verbally abusive, chronically ill man (Ko Nishimura). One night, while her husband is away on business, a young man (Shigeru Tsuyuguchi) breaks into her home and robs, beats and rapes her. She doesn't report the rape but the rapist continues to stalk her and she unwillingly (though this is never made certain) enters a sexual relationship with her rapist. I've greatly admired the films of Shohei Imamura and while I can see why the subject matter interests him, he handled such similar themes much better in the superior INSECT WOMAN. We're supposed to feel empathy for the plump housewife but she's such a born victim and complicit in her own fate (unlike say, Thomas Hardy's Tess, another born victim) that it's difficult to accede. And we're asked to sit through 2 1/2 hours of her self victimization. The film finally lost me halfway through when her rapist stalker attempts to strangle her and throw her off a train but has a seizure and begs her to get a pill out of his pocket. Instead of doing the logical thing and splitting, she does and then he continues to molest her and then go to his place for wild sex! After that, I just sat in numbness and waited for the thing to finally end. The best thing about the film is robust wide screen cinematography of Shinsaku Himeda. The score is by Toshiro Mayuzumi.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Beyond Mombasa (1956)

Upon arriving in East Africa to join his brother in a uranium mining operation, a drifter (Cornel Wilde) discovers his brother has been murdered by a native cult called the leopard men. But Wilde believes there's more behind his brother's death than that and when he, along with several others, go deep into the jungle to locate the uranium mine, it's clear someone doesn't want them to discover it. Exotic African adventures were all the rage in the 1950s and BEYOND MOMBASA is a rather indifferent entry. Though his motive may be unknown, the film's villain is blatantly obvious and when the revelation comes, it's no surprise. A mixture of location footage in Kenya handsomely shot by Freddie Young (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA) and an obvious sound stage jungle, it's the kind of pleasant time waster that you can pay only half attention to and still get what's going on. Directed by George Marshall (DESTRY RIDES AGAIN). With Donna Reed (her husband was one of the producers) who as the romantic interest wears brightly colored frocks around the safari campfire, Leo Genn (whose acting is unexpectedly poor), Christopher Lee and Ron Randell.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Bell For Adano (1945)

During WWII, an Italian-American U.S. Army major (John Hodiak) is placed in charge of the small seaside Italian village of Adano. His duty is to assist the townspeople's transition from fascism to democracy among other things. But a bell that was taken by the fascist government and melted into ammunition and was a symbol for the town's daily life may be what's needed to restore order to the town. Based on the Pulitzer prize winning novel by John Hersey, this is a delightful dramedy that shows what can be done when one abides by common sense rather than adhering to the rule books, even if it means a personal drawback. There is an unusually adult relationship between the married Hodiak and a young girl (Gene Tierney, who's charming despite her dicey Italian accent) who's waiting for her fiancé to return from a prisoner of war camp. Their need for companionship when separated from their loved ones takes precedence over social convention. The film's cinematic highpoint is the return of the Italian POWs to the women who've been waiting for them, affectingly handled by the director Henry King (12 O'CLOCK HIGH). The strong score is by Alfred Newman. With William Bendix, Richard Conte, Glenn Langan, Harry Morgan, Marcel Dalio, Hugo Haas, Eduardo Ciannelli, Fortunio Bonanova and Roy Roberts.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

E.T.The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

A lonely 10 year old boy (Henry Thomas) is being raised by a divorced single mother (Dee Wallace) along with his older brother (Robert MacNaughton) and little sister (Drew Barrymore). One evening he meets up with a small extra terrestrial that has been accidentally left behind on Earth when his ship left without him. The boy and the alien form an unbreakable bond. Not only one of the greatest sci-fi fantasy films ever made, this Steven Spielberg classic is one of the all time great films (in an AFI poll, it was rated the 24th best film of all time). I don't know that any film has explored a child's need for companionship, to have someone that belongs to you, so indelibly. With the exception of Wallace's mother, until the government agents take over the child's home, we never see any adults. Oh we hear them, we see them in silhouette or from the shoulders down but Spielberg keeps them out because he wants us to see it from a child's perspective. Young Thomas's performance is inconsistent, at time convincing, at other times, child actor rather than child. But it never compromises the film. Yeah, pretty much a masterpiece. John Williams' Oscar winning score is one of the greatest. With Peter Coyote, C. Thomas Howell and Erika Eleniak.

Dark Journey (1937)

Set in neutral Sweden at the height of WWI, a young woman (Vivien Leigh) who owns a fancy dress shop but is in actuality a German spy gets romantically entangled with a German deserter (Conrad Veidt) who's come to Sweden to avoid the war. However, neither is what they seem and loyalty to one's country is challenged by love. This romantic spy thriller is very well done and the pre-Scarlett O'Hara Leigh already shows an actress in full command of her talents. It's a bit difficult to accept Veidt (he'll always be CASABLANCA's Major Strasser) as a romantic lead at first but he eventually wins us over. Things seem a bit rushed towards the end but the director Victor Saville (GREEN DOLPHIN STREET) handles the film's only action sequence quite capably. With Robert Newton, Cecil Parker, Joan Gardner and Anthony Bushell.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chisum (1970)

A land baron by the name of Chisum (John Wayne) is challenged by a greedy newcomer (Forrest Tucker) who is intent on taking over the town and eventually Chisum's land, too. This is pretty much a standard late John Wayne western entry, directed without much style by Andrew V. McLaglen (who directed five Wayne westerns). A tacky main title sequence accompanied by Merle Haggard singing the cheesy lyrics leaves you expecting the worst but while it's generic Wayne, it's nothing to be ashamed of. The most interesting aspect of the film is how it incorporates two actual western legends, Pat Garrett (Glenn Corbett) and Billy The Kid (Geoffrey Deuel), and has them meeting up here for the first time. McLaglen whips up an effective showdown between the "good" (though most of them are outlaws) guys and the bad guys in a standoff that lasts from the night to early morning. There is (at least for me) a disturbing cattle stampede sequence in which one can clearly see a cow falling over and being trampled on by the other cattle which appears to be accidental but still. The wide open vistas are nicely done by William H. Clothier and the unmemorable score is by Dominic Frontiere. The large cast includes Ben Johnson, Richard Jaeckel, Christopher George, Patric Knowles, Bruce Cabot, Andrew Prine, John Agar, Pamela McMyler and Lynda Day George.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Devil At 4 O'Clock (1960)

On a small French island in the South Pacific, a failed priest (Spencer Tracy) is being relieved of his duties by a younger priest (Kerwin Mathews, 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD). But when the island's volcano shows signs of erupting, the priest is determined to save the residents of a children's hospital built in the path of the volcano. It's a race against time, as the last boat departs the island at 4 o'clock. An early entry in the disaster movie sweepstakes, most of the film is well done with decent special effects but one gets restless during the film's last minutes when it goes all religious faith on us as various characters prepare to meet their maker. Most of it was obviously shot on a Hollywood sound stage with some actual exterior shooting in Hawaii. Tracy, by this point in his career, had played enough priest parts that it's second nature to him. But Frank Sinatra, as a convict who assists Tracy in evacuating the hospital, does some nice character work. The first rate score is by George Duning (PICNIC). Directed by Mervyn LeRoy (MISTER ROBERTS). With Jean Pierre Aumont, Alexander Scourby, Bernie Hamilton, Barbara Luna, Gregoire Aslan, Marcel Dalio and Cathy Lewis.

Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

The fascinating true story of Texas congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) whose efforts, with the assistance of a CIA operative (Philip Seymour Hoffman in an Oscar nominated performance) and a wealthy socialite (Julia Roberts) provided support and weapons to Afghan rebels against the Soviets in the early 1980s. With generous doses of humor, director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin provide an unusual backdrop and assortment of characters than your usual Washington D.C. stories. Hanks' congressman is a womanizing boozer as well as recreational drug user while Roberts' politically motivated socialite is a hard drinking, born again Christian not above casually climbing into bed to get what she wants. The real Charlie Wilson (who died about three years after the film's release) had no objections to how he was portrayed, how could he? It was a matter of record. Though the film's end downplays the ramifications of our abandonment of Afghanistan (until 9/11 brought us back), the film is a perceptive yet irreverent look at covert politics and activities. With Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Ned Beatty and John Slattery.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Back Street (1941)

At the turn of the 20th century in small town America, a young woman (Margaret Sullavan) meets a young banker (Charles Boyer). They fall in love but through circumstances beyond their control are parted. Five years later, they meet again in New York City and even though he's now married, she becomes his mistress for the next 25 years. Directed by Robert Stevenson (MARY POPPINS), this second of the three film versions of the Fannie Hurst (IMITATION OF LIFE) novel is difficult to watch using contemporary mores and sensibilities. Sullavan's character seems to have no identity apart from her "career" as a mistress. I realize this is supposed to be very romantic, the idea of a woman so in love that she waits around for years for the man to make time for her and she's grateful for it! But the temptation to yell at her, "Dump him! Find someone who'll treat you right" is powerful. The 1961 remake remedied some of this by having the wife a shrew who wouldn't give him a divorce. Here, the wife is only briefly seen and doesn't know about the back street affair. Fortunately, Margaret Sullavan is one of those actresses with such a likable screen persona and presence that she makes a lot of the objections moot. The Oscar nominated score is by Frank Skinner who would do a much better score for the 1961 remake. With Tim Holt, Richard Carlson, Frank McHugh, Dorothy Adams and Esther Dale.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Happy Ever After (1954)

When a beloved benefactor (A.E. Matthews) of a small Irish village passes away, the town welcomes his nephew (David Niven) who inherited the estate. However, unlike his uncle, the money hungry nephew presses the townspeople for loans owed, rents unpaid and abandons institutions that his uncle underwrote. So, they decide to kill him. This amusing comedy with dark undertones might lay the Irish whimsy (even though it was filmed entirely in England) on a bit thick but it's so good natured in its deviltry that it's best to let it soak in. Niven seems to be having a wonderful time playing the heartless rogue and Yvonne De Carlo matches him as the glamorous, gold digging widow who returns to the village after her husband's death. The comedic finale where the village conspires to do Niven in by various methods (decapitation, scaring him to death, blowing him up) is deftly handled and full of chuckles. Directed by Mario Zampi. With Barry Fitzgerald, Noelle Middleton, Robert Urquhart, Michael Shepley and George Cole. Released in the U.S. under the title TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Five students: a jock (Emilio Estevez), a brainy nerd (Anthony Michael Hall), a popular "prom queen" (Molly Ringwald), a misfit (Ally Sheedy) and a "bad boy" (Judd Nelson) are thrown together at an early Saturday morning detention class. Though seemingly different, by the end of the day, they've opened up to each other and bonded. Arguably the best high school movie ever made, over 25 years later the film holds up surprisingly well. Although stereotypes defined by the exterior images they project, anyone who's ever been to high school knows these types exist and chances are were fit into one of the five. The director John Hughes (who also wrote the script) slightly panders to his demographic by stacking the deck. While the students are represented by the five different types, the one teacher we're provided with is a total jerk. I suspect to the 2012 teen audience, some of the film has a "you had to be there" quality to it. Specifically, the rebellious "bad boy" who seemed so cool in 1985 now comes across a uncouth bully. It doesn't help that he's played by the supremely untalented Judd Nelson. Fortunately, the other four actors ace it (Hall and Sheedy are pretty awesome) and the big confessional scene between the five is beautifully played out. There's simply no excuse for the phony as Hell ending. The MTV music video style montages date the film but the soundtrack is comprised of a terrific selection of mid 80s pop rock.

Never Take Sweets From A Stranger (1960)

An English family relocates to Canada where the father (Patrick Allen) has accepted a position as a school principal. However, when his 9 year old daughter (Janina Faye), along with her friend (Frances Green), is molested by an aging pedophile (Felix Aylmer), he finds himself an outsider as the town looks the other way as the pedophile is the patriarch of the town's most influential family. A film that can be truly called ahead of its time, this disturbing film is still shocking even though it was made over 50 years ago. Child sexual abuse wasn't as open or talked about in 1960 as it is today and the film's graphic depiction must have seemed sordid and unpleasant (it still is) to audiences back then. The scene where the defense lawyer harasses and twists the child's testimony in order to discredit her is quite abhorrent. Since this was a Hammer film, the film is at times an uneasy mixture of horror and social commentary. A scene where Aylmer (who doesn't speak a word in the entire film) chases the two little girls through the woods is right out of FRANKENSTEIN! Still, to the film's credit though some of it seems psychologically naive by today's standards, it follows its story to its dark conclusion rather than giving us a pat ending. Directed by Cyril Frankel from a play by Roger Garis. With Gwen Watford, Niall MacGinnis and Robert Arden (Welles' MR. ARKADIN). For its U.S. release, the word sweets was changed to candy.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lisbon (1956)

An American smuggler (Ray Milland, who also directed) in Portugal is hired by a professional thief (Claude Rains), who in turn is being paid by a wealthy American woman (Maureen O'Hara) who has a trick or two up her sleeve, to smuggle the woman's elderly husband (Percy Marmont) out from behind the Iron Curtain. This amiable romantic thriller is reminiscent of those Warners exotic international capers that combined romance and action, think CASABLANCA or TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT but, of course, not as good. Still, it's a serviceable late show entry if you don't have high expectations. Rains, in particular, brings an urbane quality to his charming sadist (he kills birds with his tennis racket and feeds them to his cat). The handsome Portugal locations are shot by Jack Marta (CAT BALLOU) though, unfortunately, the transfer I saw was compromised by the wide screen (2.35 aspect ratio) cut down to 1.85. The score by Nelson Riddle incorporates his top 40 hit Lisbon Antigua as part of the underscore. With Yvonne Furneaux (LA DOLCE VITA), Francis Lederer and Jay Novello.

Les Deux Anglaises Et Le Continent (aka Two English Girls) (1971)

At the turn of the century, a young Frenchman (Jean Pierre Leaud) meets a young English girl (Kika Markham) in Paris. She invites him to England to spend time with her mother (Sylvia Marriott) and sister (Stacey Tendeter) with the notion of playing matchmaker between him and her sister. Eventually, both sisters become romantically involved with him. Francois Truffaut directs this film based on the novel by Henri Pierre Roche which is a gender reversal of another Roche novel, JULES ET JIM (also made into a film by Truffaut) which had a woman in love with two men. The film suffers terribly in comparison to Truffaut's previous film. None of the characters are as fascinating or compelling as Jeanne Moreau's Catherine. Leaud, looking bewildered through it all, gives a stilted, passionless performance. Just what the two sisters see in him is lost on us. While the two actresses playing the sisters fare somewhat better, for a film about love and passion it's too analytical. Don't talk about it endlessly for over two hours, show us! Truffaut does the narration and the exquisite score is by Georges Delerue (who has a cameo as Leaud's business manager). With Philippe Leotard and David Markham (Kika's father, who played Jacqueline Bisset's husband in DAY FOR NIGHT).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Catchfire (1990)

After suffering a blowout late at night on a freeway, a young artist (Jodie Foster) accidentally witnesses a mob hit. The head mobster (Joe Pesci) spots her but his men are ineffective in killing her. The mafia boss (Vincent Price) hires a professional hit man (Dennis Hopper, who also directed) to find and snuff out the girl but while pursuing her, the hit man becomes obsessed with her and wants to possess her. Hopper's original cut ran three hours and when the studio shaved it down to one hour and forty minutes against his wishes, he had his name removed and the film went out with the standard pseudonym of Alan Smithee (though the print I saw had Hopper's name as director). As is, the film has major gaps in the plot line and characters are underdeveloped (and disappear never to be seen again) and behave in illogical ways. The mixture of thriller and dark comedy plays awkwardly. But there's enough that's good here that I'm willing to give Hopper the benefit of the doubt that his three hour cut would fill in the gaps and flesh out the characters rather than the self indulgence of a director. The film's title sequence, with Foster driving at night through the San Pedro refineries, flames shooting out into the night sky while accompanied by Curt Sobel's intense score is a beauty. The large cast includes Charlie Sheen, Dean Stockwell, Bob Dylan, John Turturro, Julie Adams, Catherine Keener, Fred Ward and Helena Kallianiotes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Yield To The Night (1956)

Before the movie's opening credits begin, the film opens with a blonde (Diana Dors) shooting a woman (Mercia Shaw) in cold blood several times in front of her home. The rest of the film is devoted to the monotonous day to day existence awaiting her execution while she recollects her past and the events leading up to the murder. If the film seems tedious and slow moving at times, it's just being real and eschewing the melodramatic cliches of prison movies. Dors' character is hard to read. She doesn't seem to have any remorse over her murder yet she's not a brazen, cold blooded killer either which makes it more difficult to condemn her but we can't quite shed any tears over her either. For those who only know Dors as a blonde bombshell, Britain's answer to Marilyn Monroe, her performance is a revelation and a pity that she didn't get more roles that taxed her as an actress. This was her last English film before she left to conquer Hollywood which emphasized her sex symbol status rather than her talents as an actress. Directed by J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE) and based on the book by Joan Henry who also co-wrote the screenplay. With Michael Craig as Dors' lover and the reason for her fall, Yvonne Mitchell as a sympathetic prison matron, Geoffrey Keen, Marjorie Rhodes, Mona Washbourne, Athene Seyler, Dandy Nichols and Marianne Stone.

Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

The devious Professor Moriarty (George Zucco) concocts two crimes. One, a ruse to keep his nemesis Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) occupied and the real crime of the century for which he hopes to humiliate Holmes and disgrace his reputation. The second of the Rathbone/Holmes films isn't based on any of the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories but rather loosely on a play by William Gillette. For most of its running time, it keeps to the feel and style of the Doyle characters and the film has a nice faux Victorian London atmosphere. But the "action" ending with Holmes and Moriarty engaged in a fist fight is pretty silly. Still, at least it wasn't placed in a contemporary setting like many of the Rathbone/Holmes films unfortunately were. The film features Ida Lupino as the damsel in distress who comes to Holmes for assistance. She's still pretty much an ingenue at this point in her career but the next year she would move to Warners and her breakthrough role in THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT would solidify her as a top tier actress. Directed by Alfred L. Werker. With Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, of course plus Alan Marshal (looking like a young Olivier), Henry Stephenson and Mary Gordon.