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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Whisky Galore (1949)

On an isolated Scottish island during WWII, where whisky is drunk like water, a panic begins when their government ration of whisky is used up. However, a freighter goes aground in the heavy fog one night. Its cargo ... 50,000 cases of whisky! The islanders plot a raid before the ship sinks but not if the by the book British commander (Basil Radford, THE LADY VANISHES) of the Home Guard has his way. This quaint Ealing comedy directed by Alexander MacKendrick (SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS) seems greatly loved by a good many people and it has its minor charms but overall, I found the whimsy a bit too thickly laid on for my taste. I was grateful for the bible thumping, dominating battle-axe played by Jean Cadell, who locks her adult son (Gordon Jackson) in his bedroom for talking back to her to balance things out! Nicely shot on location in the Outer Hebrides. Based on the novel by Compton MacKenzie (who co-wrote the screenplay) and based on an actual incident which occurred in 1941. With Joan Greenwood (wasted), Catherine Lacey, Bruce Seton and James Robertson Justice.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Daddy Long Legs (1955)

While in France on a visit for the State department, a millionaire (Fred Astaire) comes across an orphanage where he discovers an 18 year old girl (Leslie Caron), who has spent her entire life at the orphanage. Charmed by her, he arranges for her to be educated in the U.S. under a scholarship. He forgets about her until he meets her a couple of years later and a May-December romance blossoms. Previously made in 1919 with Mary Pickford and 1931 with Janet Gaynor, the film starts off rather dicey, what with singing French orphans and Caron at her most gamin. But once the action moves to America, we're treated to some marvelous Johnny Mercer songs including the Oscar nominated standard Something's Gotta Give and the lovely romantic ballad, Dream. Not to mention some marvelous dancing by Astaire and Caron. This was Astaire's first wide screen (CinemaScope) film and doing his own choreography, he (and his assistant Dave Robel) take advantage of the screen's shape to allow for more breadth of movement. In addition, there's a marvelous 12 minute ballet choreographed by Roland Petit for Caron and composed by Alex North. Plus, unlike some of his other pairings with younger leading ladies, the film actually focuses on and addresses the age difference. Directed by Jean Negulesco in the full bloom of his CinemaScope period at Fox. With Terry Moore, Thelma Ritter, Fred Clark, Kathryn Givney, Larry Keating, Ann Codee, Ray Anthony, Sara Shane and Barrie Chase.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Something Wild (1961)

On her way home from choir practice, a teenage girl (Carroll Baker) is dragged into the bushes and raped. Thus begins her psychological breakdown and withdrawal. She leaves home without telling her mother (Mildred Dunnock) and takes a job at a 5&10 store while living in a seedy one room apartment. That's the first act. The second act begins when after a failed suicide attempt, an emotionally disturbed garage mechanic (Ralph Meeker) takes her home and keeps her a prisoner (not unlike THE COLLECTOR). This is one freaky movie! Directed by Jack Garfein whose only other feature film was the equally weird THE STRANGE ONE, one is never quite sure what Garfein (who co-wrote the screenplay with Alex Karmel based on Karmel's novel MARY ANN) is trying to say. Are we supposed to buy that idea that two unhealthy lost souls, both deeply in need of therapy, can heal each other through love? The first portion of the film is very cinematic what with Saul Bass's wonderful main title and Aaron Copland's kinetic underscore and Eugen Schufftan's excellent lensing of the New York backdrop. But the second half is like watching a stage play as the action never leaves Meeker's one room apartment. I'm not sure how I feel about it but the acting is excellent and it's never boring, I'll give you that. With Doris Roberts, Jean Stapleton, Clifton James and Martin Kosleck.

Superdad (1973)

A Southern California attorney (Bob Crane, HOGAN'S HEROES) is unhappy with the direction his teen aged daughter's (Kathleen Cody) life is taking. She seems more intent on hanging out at the beach goofing off with her friends than preparing for her future. So he sends her to a college in the San Francisco Bay Area to improve her prospects. This rather reactionary Walt Disney comedy seems aimed at the teen market and their parents rather than the usual 12 and under demographics. Since this is a Disney movie, all the teens are squeaky clean and their worst offence is "borrowing" an ambulance to take them to the beach! But when the wholesome blonde daughter goes off to a Bay Area college, the horror! ..... she falls in with hippies and goes on protest marches! Of course, dad and mom (lovely Barbara Rush) march off to Frisco in indignation. I had to laugh out loud when Crane goes to visit his daughter's hippie artist boyfriend (Joby Baker), the music gets all dark and ominous as he walks through a string of stoned dark and dirty hippies. Not to worry, as I said it's a Disney movie so everything ends happily with a teenage weeding with Cody married to squeaky clean Kurt Russell. Directed by Vincent McEveety (HERBIE GOES TO MONTE CARLO). With Bruno Kirby, Joe Flynn, Dick Van Patten, Ed Begley Jr., Steve Dunne, Naomi Stevens and as a beer guzzling, pool playing landlady, Judith Lowry.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Cabin In The Sky (1943)

A shiftless gambler by the name of Little Joe (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson) is shot during a card game and as he lies dying, the agents of Heaven (Kenneth Spencer) and Hell (Rex Ingram, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD) fight for his soul. A deal is brokered whereupon Little Joe is given another six months of life to redeem himself or literally, go to Hell. This rather grim synopsis disguises the fact that this is one of the great delights of the 1940s Hollywood musical. A whimsical fantasy bolstered by Vincente Minnelli's expert direction (amazingly, this was his first film) and terrific performances. When you hear Ethel Waters crooning Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe, you know the definition of sublime. But then there's John William Sublett strutting his stuff to Shine, Lena Horne crooning Honey In The Honeycomb, Duke Ellington's swing music and Archie Savage's choreography to sweeten the pot. Curiously, instead of feeling "dated", there's a timeless quality to this cinematic fable, most likely because it is an illusion. The songs are by Harold Arlen & E.Y. Harburg and Vernon Duke & John La Touche. With Louis Armstrong, Butterfly McQueen, Mantan Moreland, Ruby Dandridge and Willie Best.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Full Treatment (aka Stop Me Before I Kill) (1960)

On his wedding day, a racing car driver (Ronald Lewis) and his Italian wife (Diane Cilento) are in a fatal car crash which kills the other driver. After recuperating for many months at a hospital, he and his wife go to the South of France for a holiday. But he is plagued with unreasonable bouts of suspicion and violence as well as a homicidal urge to kill his wife. The Hammer thriller is far fetched and convoluted to the point of silliness. Nothing makes sense and even the so called "sane" characters behave illogically. Based on the novel by Ronald Scott Thom, one hopes the book read better than it plays out here. After a tedious first hour, the film is overlong for such a slight conceit, it goes into high gear but so predictable that it feels a cheat. The handsome black and white cinematography is by Gilbert Taylor (A HARD DAY'S NIGHT) who really knows how to format for the (MegaScope) wide screen. Directed by Val Guest (THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE), who's done better. With Claude Dauphin and Francoise Rosay, who's terribly wasted.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Outlaw Women (1952)

A town called Las Mujeres is run by women led by a tough broad called Iron Mae (Marie Windsor, who else?) who runs the town with an iron fist. But when two different men, one an outlaw (Richard Avonde) and the other an ex-boyfriend (Richard Rober) challenge her autonomy, something's got to give. Inspired by the Greek myth of the Amazon women, this "B" western gets by on its less than modest poverty row intentions. Filmed in an inferior color process called Cinecolor and with a hideously inappropriate score by Walter Greene (the main title sounds like circus music and a robbery sequence sounds like a Broadway musical's overture), the film is more enjoyable than it has a right to be. At times, it seems a satire in spite of itself. This being 1952 however, Windsor's character is treated like a freak and inevitably, she sees the light that it's a man's world though the film's last shot indicates a twinkle in that concept. Directed by Sam Newfield. With Jackie Coogan and Maria Hart, quite amusing as an attractive yet butch lady bouncer who lights matches by striking them across her teeth.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Baby Boom (1987)

Climbing the corporate ladder, a successful career woman (Diane Keaton) has no plans for marriage or children. But when a cousin is killed in an accident, as the only living relative, she is the recipient of the cousin's infant daughter (Kristina and Michelle Kennedy). Not only does it throw a monkey wrench into her career plans but her live in boyfriend (Harold Ramis) doesn't want children in his life. This rather sweet and endearing comedy is nothing special and it pretty much follows a predictable pattern. But Diane Keaton elevates it into something almost special. There's a reason she (along with Goldie Hawn) was the premiere comedienne in the 70s and 80s and she demonstrates why here. As an actress, she can take the most mundane of lines and chew on it, shake it around and bat it out with the expertise of a Joe DiMaggio. Her work here almost won her the 1987 National Society of Film Critics best actress award (she ran second to Emily Lloyd). Directed by Charles Shyer (1991's FATHER OF THE BRIDE). William Fraker (BULLITT) is responsible for the cinematography and the melodic score is by Bill Conti (THE RIGHT STUFF). With Sam Shepard as the veterinarian who romances Keaton, James Spader, Pat Hingle, Sam Wanamaker, Chris Noth, Annie Golden, Victoria Jackson and Robin Bartlett.

Who's Minding The Store? (1963)

When a wealthy department store heiress (Agnes Moorehead) discovers to her horror that her daughter (Jill St. John) is in love with a dog walker (Jerry Lewis), she plots to discredit him by hiring him for her department store and giving him the worst jobs possible. Right after directing and starring in his masterful THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, Lewis turned the directorial reins back to Frank Tashlin and the result is this infectious piece of silliness that ranks with the best of Lewis and Tashlin. Plot wise, the idea of having Lewis working in various departments of the store allows for all sorts of hilarious mayhem whether it's fitting shoes on a lady wrestler, selling an elephant gun to a great white hunter (Nancy Kulp), eating toasted ants in the gourmet shop or a vacuum cleaner running amok and sucking up everything from wigs off heads to Chihuahuas! It's Lewis' show all the way but a glam looking Moorehead is quite amusing doing a Bette Davis act. With Ray Walston, John McGiver, Isobel Elsom, Kathleen Freeman, Richard Deacon and Francesca Bellini.

Affair In Trinidad (1952)

After her husband is mysteriously killed, a nightclub performer (Rita Hayworth) in Trinidad is asked by the police to assist them in getting information concerning a family friend (Alexander Scourby) who is the chief suspect in the murder. For Hayworth's first film in four years (she had "retired" when she married Prince Aly Khan), Columbia attempted to recreate another GILDA for her by reuniting her for the fourth time with her GILDA co-star Glenn Ford. It didn't work for several reasons. Most obviously, the screenplay simply isn't as good but Hayworth, no longer the love goddess of GILDA, was starting to look a little rough around the edges. In an attempt to revive the image, they've even given her a number, I've Been Kissed Before that is a carbon copy of Put The Blame On Mame but the magic just isn't there this time. It's still enjoyable in a minor 1950s Caribbean potboiler kind of way. Directed by Vincent Sherman (MR. SKEFFINGTON) and Hayworth's Oscar nominated gowns are by Jean Louis. With Torin Thatcher, Juanita Moore, George Voskovec, Steven Geray, Mort Mills and Valerie Bettis, who also choreographed Hayworth's dance numbers.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rio Conchos (1964)

A disparate assortment of characters: an Apache hating ex-Confederate soldier (Richard Boone), an Army captain (Stuart Whitman), a Mexican outlaw (Anthony Franciosa), a black Buffalo soldier (Jim Brown in his film debut) and an Apache woman (Wende Wagner, ROSEMARY'S BABY) find themselves thrown together in a perilous journey to Mexico. Their ultimate goal is to find the camp of a renegade former Confederate (an unconvincing Edmond O'Brien) who is selling repeating rifles to the Apaches. This tough and unsentimental western delivers the goods. There's no depth to it but it's a splendid diversion. It's surprisingly brutal, foreshadowing the path the western would soon take with Leone and Peckinpah on the horizon and the inferno climax doesn't leave you cheering but slightly disheartened. The stereotypical portrayal of the Mexican characters varies from offensive (Franciosa's sneaky opportunistic con man) to hilarious (Timothy Carey miscast as a Mexican) to amusing (Vito Scotti channeling J. Carrol Naish). The score, one of the very best written for a western, is by Jerry Goldsmith. Directed by Gordon Douglas and with Warner Anderson, Barry Kelley and Rodolfo Acosta.

La Mort En Ce Jardin (aka Death In The Garden) (1956)

In an unidentified South American country, the corrupt government confiscates all diamond mines from private ownership which causes a revolution. A small band of fugitives: an adventurer (Georges Marchal), a prostitute (Simone Signoret), a priest (Michel Piccoli), a miner (Charles Vanel) and his deaf mute daughter (Michele Girardon) escape down the river and into the jungle where they struggle to survive. One of the least seen and discussed of Luis Bunuel's films, it's easy to see why. Not that it's bad, quite the contrary, it's very good but it doesn't fit easily into the Bunuel canon. On the surface, it's a colorful (shot in Eastman color) jungle adventure seemingly not all that different from its Hollywood brethren. Quite different from the irreverently playful Bunuel that would dominate the 1960s art houses. But it's characters are all highly flawed, some physically and some morally and some psychologically. Bunuel's bleak ending and possible symbolism (I'm not sure but Piccoli's priest seems to be some kind of Christ figure) separate it from the glossy jungle adventures Hollywood was grinding out in the 1950s. A warning: there's actual animal cruelty (not simulated) in the film so be prepared.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Young And Innocent (1937)

When the body of a strangled actress (Pamela Carme) is washed up on a beach, evidence points to the young man (Derrick De Marney) seen leaving the scene and who just happens to be in the dead woman's will. He manages to escape the police and goes on the lam taking the police chief's teen-aged daughter (Nova Pilbeam) with him. Made by Alfred Hitchcock between the better known THE 39 STEPS and THE LADY VANISHES, nevertheless it's prime Hitchcock if on the light side. Hitchcock borrows from THE 39 STEPS with the innocent man on the run with a woman initially reluctant to believe his innocence and if young De Marney and Pilbeam lack the strong screen presence of Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll in that film, they're an immensely likable duo. Hitchcock has a dry run for two of his most famous sequences. An accident in an abandoned mine foreshadows the Cary Grant/Eva Marie Saint Mount Rushmore sequence in NORTH BY NORTHWEST and an impressive tracking shot that would be improved on in NOTORIOUS. His dry wit is in full display in the amusing children's birthday party sequence. With Torin Thatcher and Basil Radford.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Let's Do It Again (1953)

After a marital misunderstanding, a musical comedy composer (Ray Milland) and his wife (Jane Wyman) file for a divorce even though they still love each other. When she gets a new beau (Aldo Ray) and he gets a new girlfriend (Karin Booth), they each try to break up the other's relationship. In the 1950s, Columbia decided to add Technicolor and remake several of their classic screwball comedies into semi-musicals. Thus IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT became YOU CAN'T RUN AWAY FROM IT, TOO MANY HUSBANDS became THREE FOR THE SHOW and the Oscar winning THE AWFUL TRUTH ended up as LET'S DO IT AGAIN. They needn't have bothered. The songs are a dull lot, the sparkle is gone and while both Milland and Wyman have displayed comedic gifts in the past, they're on auto pilot here. Oddly, some of the best bits from the 1937 film have been eliminated and nothing worthwhile put in their place. The casting of Aldo Ray in the Ralph Bellamy role backfires. Who wouldn't choose Cary Grant over Bellamy but Milland comes off as smarmy next to the Aldo Ray's likable, hunky doofus. Directed by Alexander Hall (MY SISTER EILEEN). With Leon Ames, Tom Helmore, Kathryn Givney and the dancer Valerie Bettis, who has the one good number in the film.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Wind And The Lion (1975)

In 1904 Morocco, an American widow (Candice Bergen) and her two children (Simon Harrison, Polly Gottesman) are kidnapped by a desert Berber leader (Sean Connery). Ostensibly for gold but in reality, the Berber pirate hopes to humiliate the Sultan (Marc Zuber) who he believes is a tool of the Europeans. While the director and writer John Milius has given the film the trimmings of a political allegory about imperialism, at heart, the film is a reworking of the Rudolph Valentino THE SHEIK with Connery as the handsome and exotic desert pirate and Bergen as prim and proper westerner who falls hopelessly under his spell. Some of the film is surprisingly prophetic as to the rise of Islam in the contemporary world but it works best as a swashbuckler. Still, some of the casting is questionable. Couldn't Milius have put something in the screenplay along the lines of "My nanny was from Edinburgh" to explain Connery's Scottish accent? Bergen has the requisite haughtiness the part requires but some of her line readings are incredibly stilted. But the film isn't a cheat. It has the look of a genuine epic and the desert hasn't looked this good since LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (though it was filmed in Spain) thanks to cinematographer Billy Williams (GANDHI). The spectacular score, one of his best, is by Jerry Goldsmith. With John Huston, Brian Keith as Teddy Roosevelt, Geoffrey Lewis and Vladek Sheybal.

Mike's Murder (1984)

A bank teller (Debra Winger) has an on again/off again relationship over a two year time period with an undependable tennis bum (Mark Keyloun). When she gets a phone call that he's been murdered, she realizes how little she knew him and attempts to find out more about him and what led to his killing. This leads her to the L.A. drug scene and eventually, she finds herself in danger, too. The film has a checkered history. Originally, the director James Bridges edited the film to play out in reverse chronological order. The studio insisted on the film being re-edited in a chronological order and replaced Joe Jackson's score with a more dramatic underscore by John Barry (a very good one, too). But backwards or forwards, the film doesn't work. Principally because of the character of Mike. Not only is Winger's character besotted by him but so it seems is everybody else. But why? He's a shiftless pretty boy hustler who peddles drugs to pay for his lifestyle. As played by the rather innocuous Keyloun, there's nothing charismatic about Mike either. In order for the film to work, we need to see what attracts people to him. The film manages to whip up a bit of tension in the last twenty minutes but it's undercut by Darrell Larson's career killing performance. But the film is lucky to have Winger in the lead role because she brings a genuine humanity to the whole overheated mess. If only the film were up to her level. Winger is matched by a splendid Paul Winfield as one of Mike's conquests.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

On a small island off the coast of New England in 1965, two perceived "troubled" adolescents (Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward) fall in love and run away. As a deadly storm of hurricane proportions approaches the island, the town mobilizes to find the two children. An absolute joy! Wes Anderson has made a genuinely magical film, not only artistically but literally. He's created a world unique unto itself. The look of the film goes beyond mere stylization. The stunning production design and art direction (kudos to Adam Stockhausen, Gerald Sullivan and Kris Moran) creates an off kilter reality. Real life smashing head on to a fairy tale. The screenplay by Anderson and Roman Coppola is humorously quirky yet captures the angst of the adolescent misfit trying to fit into like a square peg into a societal circle. The two adolescent actors, Gilman and Hayward, give marvelous performances. The film belongs to them but the adults all get a chance to shine too: Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban. The underscore is mostly adaptations by Benjamin Britten including, appropriately, the opera NOYE'S FLUDDE supplemented by a sterling original score by Alexandre Desplat.

La Vie De Chateau (1966)

Along the coast of 1944 Normandy just before an allied landing, a flighty and bored wife (Catherine Deneuve) of a landowner (Philippe Noiret) catches the fancy of both a resistance fighter (the rather charmless Henri Garcin) and a Nazi commanding officer (Carlos Thompson). One has to hand it to the director and writer Jean Paul Rappeneau for his audacity in doing a screwball comedy with wild and crazy comic Nazis and a menage a quatre against the backdrop of the D-Day landing. It only partly works. Peacetime military comedies like OPERATION MAD BALL or wartime black comedies like CATCH 22 tend to work better than films that take a light hearted approach to wartime activities. Deneuve's slightly airheaded heroine seems more concerned with kicking up her heels and seeing the Paris nightlife than the occupation of her country by the Third Reich. But the players, particularly Noiret, bring some much needed levity to the proceedings. The melodic and lush score is by Michel Legrand. With Pierre Brasseur (CHILDREN OF PARADISE) and stealing scenes, Mary Marquet as Noiret's sharp tongued German hating mother.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Power Of The Press (1943)

When the owner (Minor Watson) of a major New York newspaper discovers his publisher (Otto Kruger) has turned the paper into a right wing sensationalist tabloid with isolationist leanings, he attempts to regain control of the paper. But before he can do that, he's murdered by a hit man hired by Kruger. In his will, he leaves control of the paper to a small town newsman (Guy Kibbee) but Kruger will stop at nothing to retain control of the paper ... including more killing. The most notable aspect of this brief (it's barely over an hour) propaganda piece is that it's based on a story by the great Sam Fuller. Alas, Fuller didn't actually write the screenplay which could have used a strong rewrite and soft pedaled the clunky propaganda ridden dialog. The film is slightly prophetic in that it foresees journalism that has an agenda (Rupert Murdoch and Fox news?) rather than report unbiased news showing both sides of the story. Still, the film is incredibly naive. Tightly directed by Lew Landers. With Larry Parks (THE JOLSON STORY), very good as a political radical framed for murder, Lee Tracy, Victor Jory and Gloria Dickson.

Under The Volcano (1984)

Set in 1938 Mexico on the Day Of The Dead festivities, an alcoholic British ex-counsel (Albert Finney) drinks himself to death. Perhaps not in the literal sense but his wanton self destructiveness certainly is a factor. Based on the critically admired Malcolm Lowry novel (Time magazine called it one of the 100 greatest novels in the English language) published in 1947, it's the kind of novel that defies a successful transition to film. What makes the novel great is its descriptive analytical prose which is impossible to duplicate for the screen. The director John Huston and his screenwriter Guy Gallo (his only filmed screenplay) have done an adequate adaptation but it's too literal and at times feels like just another movie about a drunk like LOST WEEKEND or DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES. That being said, there are compensations such as Finney's fine performance which though too studied at times brings a necessary gravitas to the film. Gabriel Figueroa (Bunuel's EXTERMINATING ANGEL) did the clean cinematography and the excellent underscore is by Alex North. With Jacqueline Bisset as Finney's ex-wife, Anthony Andrews as his half brother, Katy Jurado, James Villiers and Emilio Fernandez.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Raid (1954)

During the Civil War, a group of Confederate prisoners escape from a Union prison in upstate New York and cross the border into Canada. Once there, they plot to invade the sleepy town of St. Albans in Vermont and pillage and burn the town in revenge. Very loosely based on an actual incident known as the St. Albans raid (historically, the Northernmost action in the Civil War), the film concocts an unlikely narrative that is at odds with the actual facts. The changes actually work in the film's favor as on the day of the planned raid, something happens that turns the film into more of a thriller than a traditional western and the film portrays the raid's leader (Van Heflin) far more sympathetically than the actual raiders deserved. It's a minor effort but so well done that it deserves a better reputation that the film currently has. Directed by Hugo Fregonese (HARRY BLACK AND THE TIGER). With Anne Bancroft as the young widow who complicates matters for Heflin, Richard Boone playing against type as a one armed Union soldier, Lee Marvin as hotheaded Reb who can't seem to follow orders, Peter Graves, Claude Akins, James Best, William Schallert and young Tommy Rettig and Richard Eyer.

Playing For Time (1980)

A French Jewish cabaret performer (Vanessa Redgrave) is sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. Her musical abilities get her assigned to the camp's female orchestra which performs for Josef Mengele (Max Wright) and other Nazis in addition to playing music to accompany Jews to the gas chambers. Based on the autobiography by Fania Fenelon, THE MUSICIANS OF AUSCHWITZ, Arthur Miller (DEATH OF A SALESMAN) has fashioned a well constructed screenplay which concentrates on the struggle to retain one's humanity in the face of such horror and how the compromises to survive in such a situation comes at a terribly high price. Rather than try to encapsulate the abomination of the entire Holocaust in a 2 1/2 hour film, Miller concentrates on small moments and incidents which allows us to feel the conflict and humiliation. For example, there's a marvelous silent sequence lasting a couple of minutes with Redgrave, tired and hungry, attempting to resist a piece of sausage gained at too high a price but slowly giving in out of hunger but not without guilt. Directed by Daniel Mann (COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA). With superlative work by an excellent ensemble of actresses including Jane Alexander in an Emmy winning performance, Shirley Knight, Viveca Lindfors, Marisa Berenson, Christine Baranski, Maud Adams, Verna Bloom, Melanie Mayron, Anna Levine and Robin Bartlett (in the film's one weak performance).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Doll's House (1973)

Without telling her husband (David Warner), a young wife (Jane Fonda) forges her dead father's signature on a loan in order to finance a trip to Italy that is required for her husband's health. But one Christmas, things come to a head when her husband, the head of a bank, dismisses an employee (Edward Fox) from his job. The very man who loaned the wife the money and now he demands she influence her husband to give him his job back or he will reveal her indiscretion to her husband. This film adaptation of the landmark Henrik Ibsen play, one of two released in 1973, is imperfect. Mainly because in an attempt to make the film more cinematic, the director/producer Joseph Losey and screenwriter David Mercer (Resnais' PROVIDENCE) have opened up the play and added unnecessary scenes that were never part of Ibsen's intent and which bring nothing relevant to the narrative. The structure of Ibsen's play is perfect and needs no embellishment or creative additions. In the film's favor, the Norwegian locations provide an authentic atmosphere and the film is very well acted. As expected, Fonda brings both a girlish naivete and neurotic intensity to the character of Nora. As for Losey's direction, it's barely adequate. Michel Legrand did the dull underscore and Edith Head did Fonda's striking costumes. With Delphine Seyrig and Trevor Howard.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Man On The Eiffel Tower (1949)

A brilliant but mentally unbalanced medical student (Franchot Tone) is the brains behind the murder of an elderly and wealthy woman and her maid. When an innocent man (Burgess Meredith) is arrested for the murder, Tone taunts and teases the police inspector (Charles Laughton) in charge of the case by practically confessing to the murder fully aware that they have no evidence to arrest him. Based on the novel A MAN'S HEAD by Belgian mystery writer Georges Simenon, this was the feature film directorial debut of Burgess Meredith. The plot is rather convoluted and often doesn't make much logical sense but the cat and mouse relationship between Laughton and Tone forms the backbone of the film and it's strong enough to carry the film through to its well executed finale, a chase atop the Eiffel Tower. Filmed in Paris, Meredith and his cinematographer Stanley Cortez (NIGHT OF THE HUNTER) make excellent use of the Paris locations. Unfortunately, it was filmed in the dreaded Ansco color process and the film has fallen into the public domain and the two remaining 35 millimeter prints have faded color and are badly scratched. I watched the UCLA "restored" print and while it's the best available print to date, it's still in mediocre shape. With Jean Wallace (THE BIG COMBO), Patricia Roc, Robert Hutton, Belita and Wilfrid Hyde White.

The Gambler From Natchez (1954)

A soldier (Dale Robertson) returning home to New Orleans after a four year stint in the Texas Army finds his father has been killed. He makes a promise to revenge himself on the three men (Kevin McCarthy, Douglas Dick, John Wengraf) who conspired to murder his father and cover it up. Why the film has Natchez in the title when the film's protagonist is from New Orleans is strange but that's neither here nor there. Directed by Henry Levin (WHERE THE BOYS ARE)), this diverting adventure with a touch of swashbuckle is quite entertaining. It never aspires to be more than a modest low budget time waster and it's better made than many an "A" picture. The film manages to have an authentic Mississippi river feel although it was made in Hollywood in large part to Leland Fuller's art direction. Lionel Newman did the underscore though his main title seems to have been "borrowed" from Sol Kaplan's theme to KANGAROO which came out two years earlier. With Debra Paget as a riverboat beauty, Lisa Daniels (looking and sounding like one of the Gabor sisters) as her aristocratic rival, Thomas Gomez, Woody Strode and Juanita Moore.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949)

Set in 1908, when a baseball team finds out its new owner is a woman (Esther Williams), two of its players (Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly) have different reactions. Sinatra gets a crush on her but Kelly finds her irritating. This uninspired musical was directed by Busby Berkeley without much enthusiasm. Given the material (based on an idea by Kelly and Stanley Donen) he was given, one can hardly blame him. Musically, it's a rather dull affair with only two numbers that stand out, a cute duet It's Fate Baby, It's Fate sung by Betty Garrett and Sinatra and the rousing Strictly U.S.A. performed by the cast. Sinatra and Garrett work well together but there's zero chemistry between Kelly (particularly charmless here) and Williams. According to Williams, Kelly hated working with her and their one romantic dance number, Baby Doll, was cut because the strapping Williams made Kelly look smaller. Williams' swimming is limited to one brief scene. With Jules Munshin and Edward Arnold.

Lucky Lady (1975)

Set in the prohibition era of 1930, a widow (Liza Minnelli) who owns and sings in a Tijuana bar joins forces with two men (Burt Reynolds, Gene Hackman) to run alcohol from Mexico to the United States. In addition to running afoul of a large mobster syndicate, the three enter a menage a trois relationship. This film doesn't work at any level. Very often Star Power is strong enough to carry a bad movie but despite the presence of the three major stars, it's a massive failure. The film seems to be trying for a light touch, a throwback to 1930s fast paced comedy and one can see Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow in this at MGM in the mid 1930s but the director Stanley Donen has his hands tied with the lackluster pastiche of a script by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (just coming off AMERICAN GRAFITTI). There's not a trace of style or wit in the entire movie and one can practically feel how much Hackman wishes he were somewhere else. The cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth inexplicably gives the film a soft look as if filmed thru gauze. John Kander and Fred Ebb (CHICAGO) wrote two mediocre songs for Minnelli to sing in the film. With Robby Benson, John Hillerman, Geoffrey Lewis, Val Avery, Emilio Fernandez and Michael Hordern.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Falstaff - Chimes At Midnight (1965)

King Henry IV (John Gielgud) is deeply concerned with his son's (Keith Baxter) lack of interest in his Princely duties. The young Prince seems content to carouse and drink at taverns and brothels with the debauched and lazy knight Falstaff (Orson Welles, who also directed). But the time is coming when young Hal must choose between duty and a life of indulgence. Reputedly Welles' favorite among his own films, this audacious adaptation of segments from four of Shakespeare's plays (MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, RICHARD II, HENRY IV and HENRY V) easily ranks with Welles' CITIZEN KANE and MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. Its flaws are technical rather than artistic. The multi international cast required dubbing, mostly with minor characters and the dubbing is obvious. In fact, one can clearly recognize Welles' own voice dubbing other characters and the narrative is sometimes vague. But those are insignificant quibbles. Visually, this is the most stunning of all Welles' films with Edmond Richard (DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE) responsible for the exquisite images. The battle scenes which are probably the most admired aspect of the film are superb, one would have to go back to Eisenstein's battle on the ice in ALEXANDER NEVSKY to find something comparable. Welles the actor does right by Falstaff, he's impeccable. The outstanding score is by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. With Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford, Alan Webb, Fernando Rey, Norman Rodway, Marina Vlady, Beckley, Beatrice Welles and narration by Ralph Richardson.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dark Shadows (2012)

In 18th century Maine, a witch (Eva Green, CASINO ROYALE) puts a curse on the lover (Johnny Depp) who spurned her in favor of another woman (Bella Heathcote). That curse turns him into a vampire and she has him buried alive. But 200 years later, he is accidentally dug up by construction workers. After massacring them and drinking their blood, he returns to his family home and acquaints himself with the surviving family dynasty. Director Tim Burton's reworking of the cult daytime soap opera isn't done with reverence for its source material so die hard fans of the show ... beware! What Burton has done, along with his screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER), has concocted a black comedy that is just as sophomoric and juvenile as it is witty. Depp's 18th century "fish out of water" vampire in the 20th century provides a few laughs as does Burton's arrows at the 1970s cultural landscape. But as spottily enjoyable as it all is, Burton doesn't go far enough. I mean if you're going to diss the 70s and trash the show, go all the way! He runs out of steam by the time of the special effects extravaganza that ends the film. Still, it's a major improvement over the ghastly ALICE IN WONDERLAND where he trashed Lewis Carroll. With Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz (has there ever been a major film with so many three name actors?), Christopher Lee, Alice Cooper and as the family matriarch, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Flame In The Streets (1961)

A union leader and factory foreman (John Mills) at a furniture company fights for the right of a black employee (Earl Cameron) to get promoted. But when his daughter (Sylvia Syms, THE QUEEN) announces her intention to marry a West Indian (Johnny Sekka), he must confront not only his wife's (Brenda De Banzie, THE PINK PANTHER) blatant racism but his own discomfort at the idea. Six years before GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER? opened in America with its genteel upper class racism, this gritty in your face look at racism and interracial marriage didn't pull any punches. Directed by Roy Ward Baker (A NIGHT TO REMEMBER), this is the anti-GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER? movie and far more realistic. Instead of the wealthy professional newspaper publisher and his art gallery owner wife in their posh San Francisco digs removed from it all, these characters live in a downscale working class neighborhood where racism and violence aren't strangers and the film's title is quite literal. Mills even has a terrific monologue that equals Tracy's famous GWCTD? speech and the ending isn't wrapped up in a ribbon either. All the characters face an uphill battle in a cloudy future. Handsomely shot in CinemaScope by Christopher Challis (TWO FOR THE ROAD). With Ann Lynn, Barbara Windsor and Wilfrid Brambell.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Killer Is Loose (1956)

A mild mannered bank clerk (Wendell Corey) with psychological problems is the inside man in the hold up of his bank. When the police attempt to arrest him, the bank clerk's wife (Martha Crawford) is accidentally killed. While in prison, he plots an eye for an eye revenge against the policeman (Joseph Cotten) who shot his wife by plotting to kill the cop's wife (Rhonda Fleming). When he escapes from a prison farm by killing a guard, the clock is ticking as he gets closer and closer to his intended target. This pulpy potboiler is directed by the great Budd Boetticher who directed some genuinely great westerns. But while the direction is taut, Boetticher can't do anything with the weak screenplay. The police in this movie have got to be one of the most incompetent police departments I've seen in films. Corey does very well with the psychotic killer on the loose but he comes across as too dim witted to be able to outwit the police. It's a pity because the film had the potential to be a terrific "B" sleeper rather than an erratically entertaining piece of pulp. With Alan Hale Jr., Michael Pate, John Larch, Lawrence Dobkin and Virginia Christine.

Sacco And Vanzetti (1971)

The story of Nicola Sacco (Riccardo Cucciolla, whose performance won the best actor prize at the Cannes film festival) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (Gian Maria Volonte), two anarchists who were executed for the killing of two men during a robbery in 1920 Massachusetts. As a propaganda piece, it's superb. As factual history, it leaves much to be desired. The film's premise that Sacco and Vanzetti were 100% innocent of the charges is dubious at best and not borne out by the facts. What is a fact, is that the evidence was inconclusive and certainly not solid enough for a conviction of any kind, that they were essentially executed for their political beliefs as xenophobia and the fear of radical movements gripped the country. The director Giuliano Montaldo stops at nothing to pull the audience into his political agenda, whether it's Sacco's wife (Rosanna Fratello) wiping the tears of their son in the courtroom or the performance of Geoffrey Keen as the snarling trial judge which wouldn't be out of place as Simon Legree in UNCLE TOM'S CABIN. It's crude propaganda but on its own terms, quite powerful and yes, very effective. Still, the story of Sacco and Vanzetti is a shameful period in American history and deserves a more complex film than this. The film suffers from being filmed outside the U.S. with many Italian actors portraying Americans and that hollow indifferent dubbing. The excellent underscore is by Ennio Morricone with lyrics to Morricone's score by Joan Baez. With Milo O'Shea and William Prince.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Great Lover (1949)

On an ocean voyage from France to America, a private detective (Jim Backus) is in pursuit of a card shark and murderer (Roland Young, TOPPER). The con man dupes a naive scoutmaster (Bob Hope) traveling with his troupe into unknowingly acting as his accomplice. One of the weaker Hope vehicles, the one liners are substandard and I think I only laughed out loud once, when Hope acted as a ventriloquist for a Russian wolfhound. Rhonda Fleming makes for a comely heroine and it's a pity the film wasn't shot in Technicolor to take advantage of her particular brand of beauty. Though the film isn't a musical, she and Hope have a charming duet Lucky Us by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans who had written the Oscar winning Buttons And Bows from Hope's THE PALEFACE the previous year. Directed by Alexander Hall (HERE COMES MR. JORDAN). With Jack Benny, Roland Culver, George Reeves and Richard Lyon.

The Rebel Son (1938)

The 16th century Cossack leader Taras Bulba (Harry Baur) has two sons. One, an educated peaceful boy (Anthony Bushell, looking like a young John Wayne) and the other (Roger Livesey, LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP) who thrives on fighting. When the elder Bulba declares war on the Prince of the Tartars (Frederick Culley), the educated son must choose between his people and the woman (Patricia Roc in her film debut) he loves, the daughter of the Prince. Based on the Nikolai Gogol novel, perhaps best known for the 1962 American film version, this is a rather crude and simplistic Romeo and Juliet take on the story. It's short on spectacle but at a brief running time of 1 hour and 13 minutes (almost an hour less than the 1962 film), it doesn't wear out its welcome. The downside is that there isn't enough time for any of the characters to get fleshed out, especially Baur's Taras Bulba who the film seems to take as a tragic hero. Though to be fair the original running time was fifteen minutes longer. Directed by Adrian Brunel. The cinematography, which is quite decent, is shared by Bernard Browne (THE SPY IN BLACK) and Franz Planer (ROMAN HOLIDAY) and the lively underscore by Paul Dessau.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Razor's Edge (1946)

In 1919 Chicago, a young man (Tyrone Power), who is part of the country club set, is struggling to find his place in the world. His ambitious fiancee (Gene Tierney) doesn't share his need to find spiritual enlightenment which eventually leads to their parting ways. But a journey to India and the Himalayan mountains where he becomes a student of an Indian mystic changes his life forever. Based on the Somerset Maugham novel, the film often threatens to collapse under the weight of the mystical ponderousness that pushes the narrative. But if one is tempted to break down in giggles over Tyrone Power meditating on a Himalayan mountain top and discussing mystic philosophy while big blasts of Alfred Newman's score accompany the sun's rays breaking through the clouds, structurally the film is so well made that you can't take your eyes off it. At least, it's trying to say something and if the message is heavy handed, Edmund Goulding's direction is solid and there are some wonderful moments like the montage of Power and Tierney's last night in Paris. As the doomed Sophie, Anne Baxter won the supporting actress Oscar and she's very good but it's the kind of juicy role that any decent actress could have a home run with. With Clifton Webb stealing the film as Tierney's bitchy snob uncle, John Payne, Lucile Watson, Elsa Lanchester and Herbert Marshall playing the author, Somerset Maugham.

A Woman Called Golda (1982)

On a 1977 visit to the Milwaukee school she graduated from, Golda Meir (Ingrid Bergman in her final role) reflects on her life from a Russian emigrant to Wisconsin, her marriage and immigration to Palestine in the 1920s in the hopes of being part in the building of a Jewish homeland to becoming the most powerful woman in Israel. Biopics are often problematic in that they seem to cram too much into too little a time period to tell the story properly and tend to come across as highlights of a person's life with very little insight into the subject. A WOMAN CALLED GOLDA somehow manages to avoid the pitfalls of the genre. The script by Harold Gast and Steve Gethers offers a detailed and layered look at a complex woman. The three hour running time and a superb performance by Bergman in the title role allows a meticulous look at Meir's strengths and flaws, her political successes often at the expense of personal failures. The young Golda is played by Judy Davis, a couple of years before her breakthrough performance in A PASSAGE TO INDIA. Directed by Alan Gibson. The meager underscore is by Michel Legrand. With Leonard Nimoy as Meir's husband, Robert Loggia as Anwar Sadat, Ned Beatty, Anne Jackson, Nigel Hawthorne, Jack Thompson and Barry Foster.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Treasure Of Ruby Hills (1955)

Between the two of them, two ruthless and feuding cattle ranchers (Barton MacLane, Charles Fredericks) have driven off the small homesteaders from the Ruby Hills. In rides a stranger (Zachary Scott), who unbeknownst to them has purchased the deed to all the water rights for the area and won't be bought out or forced off. The battle for the Ruby Hills begins! The plot is rather convoluted for a minor and rather disposable "B" western. You're never quite sure who's who and on what side they're on and I suppose in the end, it doesn't really matter. There's just not much meat on these western bones. Usually cast as the suave villain, Scott seems rather out of his element as a cowboy hero especially when his gun twirling opponents include the lean and mean Lee Van Cleef. Directed by Frank McDonald from a short story by the western novelist Louis L'Amour. A truly ugly underscore by one Edward J. Kay. With Lola Albright, Carole Mathews (SWAMP WOMEN) and Dick Foran.

Monday, May 7, 2012

To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey (2010)

With just two films, WORLD OF SUZIE WONG and FLOWER DRUM SONG, today perhaps the name Nancy Kwan seems an exotic footnote to sixties cinema, "Oh yes, that Chinese actress". But this riveting and touching documentary on Ka Shen Kwan, better known as Nancy Kwan, is an engrossing document chronicling a near remarkable life. The film opens with Kwan attending a new ballet of SUZIE WONG in Hong Kong and as she watches the performance, her story is told. Born of an interracial (Chinese father, English mother) marriage in the 1930s when such unions were frowned upon, abandoned by her mother who went back to England, a flight to China when the Japanese invade Hong Kong to avoid her father's execution, trained as a ballet dancer, plucked out of obscurity and given the leading role opposite William Holden in a major Hollywood film becoming the first Asian leading lady and Hollywood star, a floundering career when Hollywood was unable to continue to provide roles for Asian actresses, a failed marriage and the birth of a son, her only child. The film is divided into three parts: her childhood and early life in Hong Kong and England, the Hollywood years and breaking racial barriers and the problems of Asian actresses working in Hollywood (France Nuyen, Joan Chen and Vivian Wu are interviewed) and the final and most heartbreaking segment, losing her only child to AIDS. A testament to the perseverance, courage and commitment and an extraordinary journey of one Ka Shen. If you get an opportunity to watch this documentary, don't miss it. You'll not regret it.

Die Another Day (2002)

After over a year in captivity in North Korea, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan in his fourth and final outing as 007) is released in a prisoner exchange with a Korean terrorist (Rick Yune). Bond is determined to track down the terrorist and eliminate him as well as find out who betrayed his mission in Korea. The 20th entry in the 007 franchise is a very mixed bag. It simply tries to be too much to the point of outlandishness. More explosions, bigger sets, gadgets everywhere. So much so that when the franchise was rebooted with 2006's CASINO ROYALE it went in the opposite direction with more realism, more detail on character and less emphasis on special effects and gadgets and lame puns. The film is heavily laden with obvious CGI work which gives the film an often rather cheesy look despite its massive budget. Halle Berry is wasted as the Bond girl and she has the film's worst lines. Directed by Lee Tamahori (ONCE WERE WARRIORS. The techno pop title song is sung by Madonna who also has a cameo as a lesbian fencing instructor. With Judi Dench, Michael Madsen, Toby Stephens, John Cleese and Rosamund Pike.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Last Of The Mohicans (1920)

In 1757 during the French and Indian War, the daughters (Barbara Bedford, Lillian Hall) of a Colonel (James Gordon) in the British army are traveling from Fort Edward to Fort William Henry to join their father when they are betrayed by their Indian guide (Wallace Beery). They are rescued by an Indian scout (Harry Lorraine) and his Mohican friend (Alan Roscoe) but their danger is far from over as the treacherous Magua (Beery) won't stop in either his desire for the lovely Bedford or the destruction of the British. Based on the James Fenimore Cooper novel, this is the second film version of the novel. The first was filmed in 1911 and would be filmed at least another three times after this film. Co-directed by Clarence Brown (NATIONAL VELVET) and Maurice Tourneur (the father of Jacques), it's a solid and absorbing condensation of the novel. However, unlike the other film versions, the character of Hawkeye is reduced to a minor role with the emphasis on the elder daughter and her "romance" with the Mohican chief's son (Roscoe). As such, it certainly can't be seen as a faithful version of the Fenimore Cooper novel but it's so good on its own terms that one would have to be churlish to complain. The Huron attack on the English is very well done and, for its day, quite brutal. One scene has an Indian grabbing an infant out of its mother's arms and tossing it away in the air! The transfer I saw had an excellent score by R.J. Miller.

Past Midnight (1991)

After serving 15 years in prison for the murder of his pregnant wife, a man (Rutger Hauer) is paroled. At first, his probation officer (Natasha Richardson) is wary of him but not only does she begin to think he was innocent of the crime, she finds herself attracted to him. However, after they become lovers, she begins to have second thoughts about his innocence. This thriller has precedents in films like Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND and JAGGED EDGE which had similar situations about professional women flirting dangerously with possible killers. But the intriguing premise which promises intense thrills is sabotaged by an inept screenplay (an uncredited Quentin Tarantino, still a year away from RESERVOIR DOGS, re-wrote Frank Norwood's original script) laced with pedestrian dialog. The screenplay is laced with a few obvious red herrings but it never amounts to much as mystery. It's the kind of movie where the killer has ample opportunity to kill the heroine but instead he talks, talks, talks. Why? So that she can survive long enough to be rescued! Hauer's casting is problematic. Not only do he and Richardson lack chemistry but his performance is so creepy that you wonder why she doesn't run in the other direction instead of climbing into bed with him. Directed by Jan Eliasberg. With Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown and Guy Boyd.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Gift Of Love (1958)

When she discovers she has a terminal illness, a young wife (Lauren Bacall) withholds the information from her husband (Robert Stack). But she persuades him into adopting a child (Evelyn Rudie) in the hopes that the child will take her place when she is gone. Based on the story THE LITTLE HORSE by Nelia Gardner White which filmed previously in 1946 as SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY, this remake gets the lush CinemaScope treatment from 20th Century Fox with their resident melodrama master Jean Negulesco (THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN) at the helm and the cinematographer Milton Krasner (AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER) taking full advantage of beautiful Monterey locations. The inherent sentimentality in the story is tempered somewhat by the three leads, three of the least sappy actors around. Stack, in particular is very good and the 10 year old Rudie, a refreshing change of pace from the typical child actor, has all the assurance and gravitas of a 40 year old actress. Still, I could have done without the ghostly Bacall beaming over the proceedings at the film's conclusion. Vic Damone sings the title song. With Lorne Greene, Anne Seymour, Edward Platt, Steven Geray and Scatman Crothers.

En Passion (aka The Passion Of Anna) (1969)

An examination of isolation about four isolated people on an isolated island. What differs it somewhat from the rest of director Ingmar Bergman's filmography is its violence. When one thinks of movie violence one thinks of Tarantino or Peckinpah, not Bergman. Yet the film is full of, as a letter to Anna (Liv Ullmann) that Bergman repeatedly refers to states, psychological and physical violence. The film is full of violent imagery: a small puppy hung by the neck, mutilated sheep, a horse set on fire, a filmed execution, dead bodies after an auto accident, Max Von Sydow attacking Ullmann with an axe and then beating her. Yet the psychological violence perpetrated by its characters against each other is no less disturbing. They struggle to make contact with each other yet the kinks (and hypocrisies) in their psychological make-up prevent them from breaking through their walls. It's a compelling piece but Bergman undercuts the momentum by inserting short interviews with his four actors (Bibi Andersson and Erland Josephson are the other two actors) that pull us out of the movie. The acting, as expected, is superb with Ullmann once again demonstrating that she's one of a handful of the greatest film actresses. A long monologue where she delusionally describes her marriage and the car accident that killed her husband child is a beautiful, sustained piece of acting.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Master Of The World (1961)

In the 1880s, an inventor (Vincent Price) of a flying airship takes it upon himself to rid the world of war by demanding governments abandon all vessels and instruments of war. He plans to accomplish this by dropping bombs from the air on the vessels and weapons below. On his maiden voyage however, he finds himself saddled with four unwilling passengers. Richard Matheson did the screenplays which is very loosely based on two Jules Verne novels, ROBUR THE CONQUEROR and MASTER OF THE WORLD, this ambitious adventure film by the low budget American International pictures attempts to emulate prior and highly successful film versions of Verne novels, notably AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS in its visuals and 20,000 LEAGUES UDNER THE SEA in Price's character, a stand in for Captain Nemo. It's a handsome looking film and the ship itself (the production designer and art director is Daniel Haller) is a beauty. But the film also uses a lot of stock footage which doesn't match very well with the rest of the film and some of the special effects are pretty cheesy. Still, the film doesn't demand too much from the viewer and it's simplistically entertaining. The best thing about it is a sensational underscore by Les Baxter. Directed by William Witney. With Charles Bronson, Henry Hull, Mary Webster (THE TIN STAR), David Frankham and Richard Harrison who would shortly go to Italy where he became a big sword and sandal star.

The Brothers Karamazov (1958)

In 1870 Czarist Russia, the hedonistic but selfish Karamazov (Lee J. Cobb) sires four sons from two marriages and an outside affair, none of whom he has much interest in. Dmitri (Yul Brynner) is a gambler and a womanizer, Ivan (Richard Basehart) is a philosophical atheist, Alexi (William Shatner) a pious monk and the bastard son (the porcine faced Albert Salmi, so perfectly cast that your flesh crawls at his every appearance) is bitterly resentful. Two women have major roles in the story. The spiteful Katya (Claire Bloom) and the sensual Grushenka (Maria Schell, GERVAISE) who is the lover of both the elder Karamazov and Dmitri. The complex 800 page novel by Dostoyevsky is given a Readers Digest version in Richard Brooks' (THE PROFESSIONALS) film. The first two thirds are very good actually but the film's last third opts for a conventional courtroom drama and a comprised ending with only lip service given to Dostoyevsky's treatise on God, moral ethics, right and wrong. With the exception of a miscast Brynner, the acting is superlative all the way down the line. Cobb, in an Oscar nominated performance, seems to have found a role where his outsized acting seems natural. The potent score is by Bronislau Kaper. With Judith Evelyn, Harry Townes, David Opatoshu, Simon Oakland, Edgar Stehli, Frank DeKova and Ziva Rodann.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tiger And The Pussycat (1967)

When he becomes a grandfather for the first time, a middle aged married Italian businessman (Vittorio Gassman) begins to feel life is passing him by. He embarks on an affair with an 18 year old vixen (Ann-Margret) but what started out as a fling becomes complicated when the affair turns serious and she insists he make a choice. It's either her or his wife (Eleanor Parker) and family. This tedious Italian sex comedy becomes quite annoying after awhile. Not only does Gassman's character sleep with Ann-Margret but he sleeps with her mother too! Meanwhile, Parker is so desperate to keep her husband that she looks the other way and pretends nothing is going on, better to have an unfaithful husband than no husband at all. Are we supposed to have empathy for these people? It must be an Italian thing. Gassman even won the David Di Donatello best actor award (the Italian Oscar) for his performance here. Ann-Margret takes time out from the adultery frolics to bump and grind to 60s Italian pop and body paint a dress on herself. Directed by Nino Risi. With Eleonora Brown (the daughter in De Sica's TWO WOMEN) and Giambattista Salerno.

Of Mice And Men (1939)

Two migrant workers, a sharp witted young man (Burgess Meredith) and his dim witted giant of a companion (Lon Chaney Jr.), find work on a farm. They day dream of having a ranch of their own but the reality is that the backward hulk is dangerous and needs his friend to watch over him to stop him from doing "bad things". This is an excellent adaptation of the John Steinbeck novella via a stage adaptation by George S. Kaufman and Sam Harris. The strong direction by Lewis Milestone is deft and persuasive and he keeps the narrative from veering into the unwelcome possibility of sentiment. But there are powerfully emotional scenes like the killing of Candy's dog which is almost too heartbreaking to bear though one can see why Steinbeck put it in. The burly Lennie who loves bunnies and whose dull mind can't comprehend the brutality of his own strength is Chaney Jr.'s greatest screen part but even still, he's not very good. He overplays his hand, he's too precise, too calculated. The rest of the cast compensates though. The screenplay fleshes out the only major female role, that of Curly's wife, from the novel. In Steinbeck's book, she doesn't even have a name, the movie gives her one and makes her frustrated farm wife relatable and Betty Field plays her impeccably. Strong support too from Roman Bohnen as the one armed Candy and Leigh Whipper as the bitter segregated black farm worker. The superb Oscar nominated score is by Aaron Copland, his first for a feature film. With Charles Bickford, Bob Steele and Barbara Pepper.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Father Was A Fullback (1949)

A football coach (Fred MacMurray) at a small local college is in danger of losing his job because of the disastrous team losses. Meanwhile, on the home front he must deal with family issues including a teenage daughter (Betty Lynn, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW) with an inferiority complex when it comes to the male sex. The title is a misnomer, the film isn't really about football at all. It's the kind of domestic comedy churned out with regularity by Hollywood until TV sitcoms like FATHER KNOWS BEST and LEAVE IT TO BEAVER took the genre over. As such, it's surprisingly amusing and well done. MacMurray is quite amiable in what looks like a run through for the countless Disney roles he would do in the 60s as well as his own TV sitcom, MY THREE SONS. Similarly, Maureen O'Hara (only 29 here but already playing the mother of a grown daughter) is doing the kind of age appropriate roles she would take on in the early 60s like THE PARENT TRAP and MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION. Directed by John M. Stahl (LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN). With Thelma Ritter as the requisite wisecracking family maid, Natalie Wood (adorable as the younger precocious daughter), Jim Backus, Rudy Vallee and Richard Tyler.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Nutty Professor (1963)

A college professor (Jerry Lewis, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay) who teaches chemistry at a local college is a mild mannered, geeky nerd. He concocts a formula that, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, will transform him into the abrasive swinging ladies man, Buddy Love (also Lewis). One of the best of the 1960s comedies, Lewis clearly learned a thing or two from the director Frank Tashlin who directed Lewis in six films by the time Lewis directed this film. Not only does Lewis show what a master of physical comedy he is but the film is littered with some inspired sight gags that rank with the best comedies of all time. The scenes at the gym are priceless and Lewis doesn't have to do much but sit meekly in silence in the college president's (Del Moore) office to get laughs. Lewis has consistently denied that the professor's alter ego, the narcissistic lounge lizard Buddy Love, is based on his ex-partner Dean Martin. That luscious comedienne, buttery Stella Stevens makes for a perfect contrast to both Lewis's extreme characters and Edith Head's form fitting costumes accents every curve. With Kathleen Freeman, Howard Morris, Norman Alden, Elvia Allman, Skip Ward and Henry Gibson.