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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell (1968)

For almost twenty years, an Italian woman (Gina Lollobrigida) and her daughter (Janet Margolin) have been supported by the monthly checks of three American men (Phil Silvers, Telly Savalas, Peter Lawford). Though none of the men know about the other, each of them believes he is the father of the girl since all three men were intimate with the mother during a ten day period during WWII. But when a twenty year reunion occurs, all three men return to Italy (along with their wives) hoping to see their daughter. That's when the fun starts! This giddy farce is reminiscent of the classic screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s. While it may lack the elegance and wit of an AWFUL TRUTH or reach the madcap hysterics of BRINGING UP BABY, it's close enough so that any quibbling is minor. Lollobrigida is gorgeous but it's the supporting players who shine. In particular, the inspired casting of Shelley Winters and Silvers as a perfectly match married couple, each of them doing impeccable double takes. Savalas as a loud American and Lee Grant as his brassy wife keep it up too. The film's plot was unofficially usurped for the musical MAMMA MIA!. Directed by Melvin Frank. With Phillippe Leroy, Marian McCargo and Naomi Stevens.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hit The Deck (1955)

Three sailors (Tony Martin, Vic Damone, Russ Tamblyn) on a 48 hour shore leave in San Francisco hook up with three girls (Ann Miller, Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds). But, of course, a lot happens during that two day period. Between the fourteen musical numbers, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl and the shore patrol chases the sailors all over San Francisco. ON THE TOWN, this ain't. By 1955, musicals like HIT THE DECK seemed old fashioned and of another era. The sophistication of musicals like SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and THE BAND WAGON or the creative energy of a 7 BRIDES FOR 7 BROTHERS only accented how out of date musicals like HIT THE DECK were. Based on the 1927 stage musical by Vincent Youmans, the film is bolstered by an energetic cast, CinemaScope and stereophonic sound. Some of the songs are as creaky as the plot but Ann Miller has a sizzling song and dance number, The Lady From The Bayou and Reynolds and Tamblyn have a delightful athletic production number set in an amusement park funhouse. Directed by Roy Rowland. With Walter Pidgeon, Gene Raymond, J. Carrol Naish (very funny), Kay Armen, Alan King, Jane Darwell and Richard Anderson.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Upstairs And Downstairs (1959)

Setting up housekeeping, a newlywed couple (Michael Craig, Anne Heywood) have the most difficult time finding a suitable domestic. After going through several disasters including a hot tempered Italian tart (Claudia Cardinale) who doesn't speak English to a secretly boozing spinster (a hilarious Joan Hickson), they settle on a Swedish au pair girl (Mylene Demongeot, BONJOUR TRISTESSE) and that's when the trouble really starts. For most of its running time, this is a delightful comedy with plentiful laughs. For some reason, it gets all serious and sentimental toward the end but it's a small price to pay for the breezy fun to be had up to then. The dinner party sequence with a drunken Joan Hickson serving dinner ranks up there with the Hattie McDaniel sequence in ALICE ADAMS. Ralph Thomas directs. The polished supporting cast includes Daniel Massey, Barbara Steele, James Robertson Justice, Shirley Anne Field, Margalo Gillmore, Irene Handl and Eric Pohlmann.

How To Steal A Million (1966)

A world class forger (Hugh Griffith) loans a priceless Cellini statue of Venus to a Paris museum. But when the museum insists on an authentication of the piece for insurance purposes, his daughter (Audrey Hepburn) enlists the aid of a burglar (Peter O'Toole) to help steal the statue before the authentication reveals the statue to be a fake. William Wyler is the last director one would think of for a romantic piece of heist fluff. This is Blake Edwards or Stanley Donen territory here. Still, if not light and bubbly, at least Wyler doesn't muck it up. My only complaint is that the film is overlong and just at the point of wearing out its welcome. Wyler's got the good fortune of having Hepburn and O'Toole in the leads who override any concerns with the improbable plot. Hepburn could do this stuff in her sleep but who knew the normally intense O'Toole had the light touch and could be so charming? The delightful score is by John Williams. With Charles Boyer, Eli Wallach, Marcel Dalio and Jacques Marin.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Puppet On A Chain (1971)

A narcotics agent (Sven-Bertil Taube) from the U.S. arrives in Holland to find the source of heroin smuggling from Amsterdam to the U.S. But as soon as gets off the plane, his Dutch contact (Drewe Henley) is killed at the airport. Based on the novel by Alastair MacLean (GUNS OF NAVARONE), who also wrote the screenplay, it's a rather routine 70s action thriller. Not quite as clever as it thinks it is, the audience is (or should be) one step ahead of its hero and I had the "twist" figured out about a third into the film. On the plus side is some nice location shooting of the Netherlands and a slam bang motorboat chase through the Amsterdam canals that I suspect influenced the Bayou boat chases that showed up in LIVE AND LET DIE two years later. Directed by Geoffrey Reeve with the boat chase sequence directed by Don Sharp. The pure 70s score is by Piero Piccioni. With Barbara Parkins, Alexander Knox, Patrick Allen and Vladek Sheybal.

The Golden Coach (aka Le Carrosse D'Or) (1952)

In 18th century Peru, a small troupe of Italian actors (commedia dell'arte) arrive to perform in the town's first theater. The troupe's leading actress (Anna Magnani) captures the fancy of the country's Viceroy (Duncan Lamont) who gives her the gift of a golden coach, the result of which plays havoc with her personal life and may be his downfall. Based on a play by Prosper Merimee (perhaps best known for his novel CARMEN which Bizet adapted into an opera), the great director Jean Renoir has whipped up a gorgeous mannered comedy photographed in vibrant three strip Technicolor by Claude Renoir, the director's nephew. Looking at the carefully composed images, one can see the apples didn't fall far from the tree (the director being the son of the famed impressionist Pierre Auguste Renoir). The film ruminates on the actor's life and the fine line between the stage and real life. Of course, one can't imagine the film without the potent presence of Anna Magnani who has the ability to switch from comedienne to tragedienne effortlessly and often in the same scene. The movie was filmed in English, French and Italian but the English version was Renoir's preference. The underscore is an adaptation of Antonio Vivaldi's works. With Paul Campbell and Riccardo Rioli.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Murder A La Mod (1968)

Set in the world of New York indie film making in the 1960s, a young girl (Margo Norton) is involved with a unsavory film maker (Jared Martin) who is currently making screen tests of hopeful actresses taking off their clothes. But a mentally unstable assistant (William Finley, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE) on the production just may be a psychotic killer. This black comedy was the feature film debut of director Brian De Palma. It comes across as a clever student film by a talented amateur film maker. Accent on "student film" and "talented amateur". But already De Palma's emphasis on style over substance is in the forefront of his film making. The template for this film is clearly Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM with a dash of PSYCHO tossed in but there a few De Palma touches that would again show up in his more mature works like CARRIE and BLOW OUT. Some of the acting is very amateurish especially Margo Norton, whose only film credit this is. Unless you're a fan of De Palma (as I am), you can safely skip this as its interest is only in the formative early work of De Palma. With Andra Akers and Jennifer Salt, who would later co-star in De Palma's SISTERS.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Belle Starr (1941)

Immediately following the end of the Civil War, a young Southern belle (Gene Tierney) joins forces with an ex-Confederate soldier (Randolph Scott) in waging a guerilla war against all Yankees and Yankee sympathizers. Historically inaccurate in almost every way regarding the real Belle Starr, a notorious thrice married outlaw killed in her 40s, it's one of those films in which we're supposed to sympathize with Southerners who refuse to accept the end of the Civil War and continue fighting against the North. But it's hard to cheer when Scott's white vigilantes chase a family of black "carpetbaggers" out of Missouri or laugh when Scott calls Louise Beavers (as Tierney's mammy) "an Ethiopian elephant". To the film's credit, it does show Tierney's disillusionment with Scott as he becomes more of an ordinary criminal killing and robbing as opposed to a man standing up for his ideals. But anyway you look at it, it leaves a bad taste in one's mouth. Shot in Technicolor by Ernest Palmer and Ray Rennahan with one of Alfred Newman's weakest scores (one theme sounds like Frosty The Snowman. Directed by Irving Cummings (DOWN ARGENTINE WAY). With Dana Andrews, Shepperd Strudwick, Chill Wills and Elizabeth Patterson.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fanny (1961)

Set in Marseilles, France; a romance between a fishmonger's daughter (Leslie Caron) and a barkeeper's son (Horst Buchholz) is impeded by the boy's desire to escape his dull existence and go to sea. Rather than insisting he stay, the girl allows the boy to make the choice whether to go or stay. He chooses the sea and finding herself pregnant, she marries an elderly man (Maurice Chevalier) to give her child a name. Eventually, of course, the boy returns. This film comes to the screen in a roundabout way. Based on a trio of plays by Marcel Pagnol which he later made into films in the early 1930s. In 1954, it was turned into a Broadway musical directed by Joshua Logan, who directs the 1961 film. The film, however, dumped all the songs and made the film into a non musical. If you've heard the original Broadway cast album by composer Harold Rome, you'll understand why the songs aren't missed. What remains is a rather sappy tearjerker with clumsy spots of comedy redeemed by excellent performances save one. Charles Boyer as Buchholz father received a best actor Oscar nomination but it's Chevalier who gives the film's best and most poignant performance though Buchholz and especially Caron are very good too. Fortunately the film was shot on location in Marseilles which is lovingly photographed by the great Jack Cardiff. The underscore consists of Rome's stage score minus the lyrics. With Lionel Jeffries, Georgette Anys and in the film's one bad performance, Raymond Brussieres who seems to be acting in a horror film.

Little Giant (1946)

A not too bright country bumpkin (Lou Costello) goes to Los Angeles to make his fortune ..... as a vacuum cleaner salesman! The corrupt district manager of the company (Bud Abbott) has been skimming profits from the company into his own personal account. When the manager fires the inept salesman, his uncle (George Cleveland) who works for the company secretly sends him to a branch in Northern California run by the manager's cousin (also played by Bud Abbott). Perhaps the most unusual film in Abbott & Costello's filmography in that they both actually play separate characters rather than their usual vaudeville comedy team antics. Their roles are sufficiently removed from their usual persona that they have a chance to act and Costello has a few touching moments as the self doubting hick. Alas, the result is that it's just not as funny as their best vehicles. In fact, it's often rather dull. Directed by William A. Seiter (1935's ROBERTA). With Margaret Dumont, Brenda Joyce, Elena Verdugo, Jacqueline DeWit, Mary Gordon and Donald MacBride.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bitter Tea Of General Yen (1933)

A young American girl (Barbara Stanwyck) comes to war torn China, in the midst of a civil war, to marry a missionary (Gavin Gordon). When she is abducted by the Chinese war lord General Yen (the Swedish actor Nils Asther) and taken to his summer palace, she finds herself attracted to him. Both will learn from each other and their lives changed forever. For me, this is Frank Capra's best film. I've never been a fan of his CapraCorn brand of film products like MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and this dark adult examination of interracial sexual tension seems an anomaly in his career when matched against his best known films. Capra doesn't shy away in portraying the Christian "do gooders" as hypocrites. Ostensibly to save them but barely concealing their contempt for their race. Similarly, in a startling erotic dream sequence, Stanwyck finds herself both repulsed (she sees Asther as a stereotypical sexual barbarian) and attracted (her Caucasian rescuer morphs into Yen) by the Chinese general. The miscegenation angle proved too potent for the film was a failure upon its first release. The lovely discreet score is by W. Franke Harling. With Walter Connolly, Richard Loo and Toshia Mori.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Eyes Of Laura Mars (1978)

A high fashion photographer (Faye Dunaway) has visions of murders as they are happening. But the murder victims are her friends and colleagues and it's only a matter of time until she is the final victim. This glamorous and stylish thriller based on an original story by John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN) and who co-wrote the screenplay is a striking mood piece when it sticks to the thriller aspect but is less successful in the romance department. The romance between Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones as the police detective investigating the case is sabotaged by some very awkward dialog. Dunaway's wound up neuroticism has never been used to better advantage on the screen. Directed by Irvin Kershner (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) with a nervous verve which give the film its tension. Dunaway's photographs in the film are by Helmut Newton. The jumpy score by Artie Kane is quite good which can't be said for the awful title song sung by Barbra Streisand. With Raul Julia (he's terrible!), Brad Dourif (excellent), Rene Auberjonois, Darlanne Fluegel, Meg Mundy and Rose Gregorio.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Red Lights (2012)

A paranormal phenomenon scientific investigator (Sigourney Weaver) and her assistant (Cillian Murphy, BATMAN BEGINS) have made it a crusade to disprove frauds and fakes. But their biggest challenge is a world famous blind psychic (Robert De Niro) with telekinetic powers. Is he a fraud? Or is he the real thing? Directed by the Spanish film maker Rodrigo Cortes (the film was shot in Spain and Toronto), this is a clever and intense thriller that takes a realistic approach at the phenomenon of paranormal activity rather than accepting it as a given. For most of its running time, the film gives us a fascinating inside look at the behind the scenes machinations and methods that paranormal scientists and psychologists use to debunk or disprove the supernatural. But it leaves the tiniest room for doubt that it might, in fact, exist. For the majority of its running time, it's a real edge of your seater but Cortes doesn't come up with a satisfactory finale and the film's final moments could have been cut by five minutes. Still, I was held spellbound for most of it. A big shout out to the excellent multi directional sound design by James Munoz which was very effective. With Elizabeth Olsen, Joely Richardson and Toby Jones.

Onibaba (1964)

Set around the fourteenth century in Japan while feudal wars rage, a woman (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter in law (Jitsuko Yoshimura) struggle to survive by killing samurai and selling their armor while awaiting the return of the son and husband. When a neighbor (Kei Sato) returns home after abandoning the war, he tells them the son and husband is dead but sets his eyes on the man's widow. Beautifully shot in black and white scope by Kiyomi Kuroda with strong direction from Kaneto Shindo, Shindo provides a sinister ambience throughout with tall and wavering grass used to great effect as well as wind and shadows and Hikaru Hayashi's unsettling underscore. I'm not sure one could accurately call it a horror film but it certainly feels like one as the film progresses to its grim conclusion. The film has images that stay with you long after the film is over.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

Recently located to New York, a widowed journalist (Gregory Peck) is assigned a story on anti-Semitism by his magazine publisher (Albert Dekker). After struggling with a fresh approach to the story, he comes up with the idea of passing himself as a Jew in order to feel the effects of anti-Semitism first hand. Though quite daring and brave for its time, today GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT comes across as a didactic treatise on anti-Semitism with talking heads crossing every T and dotting every I as if we were unable to grasp the concept of anti-Semitism. Noble intentions indeed but it makes for a very preachy movie. Dorothy McGuire as the New York liberal socialite, who serves as a romantic liaison for Peck, seems created for the sole purpose of showing the hypocrisy of the left who condemn the unfairness of anti-Semitism without actually doing anything about it. Based on the best selling novel by Laura Z. Hobson and directed by Elia Kazan. With John Garfield, Celeste Holm (inexplicably winning an undeserved Oscar for her work here), Anne Revere, Dean Stockwell, Jane Wyatt, Sam Jaffe, June Havoc and Gene Nelson.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

When an imposing terrorist (Tom Hardy, INCEPTION) makes plans to destroy Gotham City, reclusive millionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is forced to revive his Batman persona after eight years. The final entry in director Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is a bloated, ear splitting, often incoherent action extravaganza. While there's no denying parts of it are very effective like the stunning opening sequence which could have been lifted right out of one of the better James Bond films or the impressive destruction of Gotham City by Hardy's character during a football game, the film still feels padded out turning what should have been a whizzy action piece into an inflated epic. It's so ponderous as if every piece of dialog or moment reeked of importance. I didn't hate it (like I did BATMAN BEGINS) and I'm glad I saw it but I doubt it will resonate much beyond its fanatic fanbase. The large cast is largely wasted except for some nice work by Anne Hathaway (never referred to as Catwoman) and Joseph Gordon Levitt (the real movie's "hero"). With Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard (very weak), Matthew Modine, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Tom Conti, Nestor Carbonell, Juno Temple and William Devane.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Three days in the structured life of a widow (Delphine Seyrig) and single mother raising her son (Jan Decorte). Running three and a half hours with long stagnant takes and minimal dialogue, there's never been a film quite like it. In meticulous detail and most of the sequences in real time, director Chantal Ackerman documents the mundane daily activities of a housewife. For example, when Seyrig washes dishes, the stationary camera focuses on her back until she washes every dish, when she sits down to eat her supper, Seyrig eats her supper till her plate is clean without the camera cutting away (I hope she didn't have to do more than one take!), she makes veal cutlets and meat loaf before our very eyes, makes beds, knits, takes a bath etc. As the film begins, the tendency is to suspect self indulgence on the part of the film maker but slowly and before you realize it, it becomes compelling cinema. It's a testament to Seyrig's commanding screen presence that she's able to hold the camera for three and a half hours. I suppose some see a profundity of sorts in the film. I'm not sure I do and I'm not sure I'd care to see other film makers usurp this style but there's no denying this is a unique and pioneering film. The film's biggest mystery: Just what is that outside light that strobes the dining room?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Carry On Admiral (aka The Ship Was Loaded) (1957)

After a boozy night in which two old friends, a government minister (David Tomlinson, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS) and a Navy officer (Brian Reece) get drunk and change clothes, a case of mistaken identities threaten to destroy their careers the following morning. This frantic farce, despite its title, is not part of the popular CARRY ON series but based on a 1947 farcical play. It's hard to go wrong with mistaken identity comedies but this one is spotty and saddled with rather charmless male leads. The material appears to be there but the director Val Guest's (THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT) pacing is off. Still, there are laughs to be had, however infrequent. Shot in scope 2.35 but alas, the transfer I saw was pan and scanned while the wide screen format might have added something to the lunacy. With Peggy Cummins, Eunice Gayson (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE), Joan Hickson and a nicely played befuddled performance by A.E. Matthews.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

You're A Big Boy Now (1966)

A young man (the appealing Peter Kastner) leaves home to escape his smothering and domineering mother (Geraldine Page in an Oscar nominated role) but falls into the clutches of a manipulative, man hating go-go dancer (Elizabeth Hartman). The breakthrough film of Francis Ford Coppola who directed and also wrote (from the novel by David Benedictus) the screenplay, this is one of the earliest examples of the youth comedy that anticipates films like THE GRADUATE and HAROLD AND MAUDE. It's a quirky, free spirited piece that's not above inserting cliches like flying kites in Central Park or running through New York streets to show how carefree you are. Pity that Coppola couldn't come up with a better finale than a wild chase with all the cast members chasing Kastner all over Manhattan. On the plus side, Ernest Laszlo's edgy camera work nicely captures the New York of the mid sixties and there's a terrific song score by John Sebastian and The Lovin' Spoonful. With Julie Harris, Karen Black, Rip Torn, Tony Bill, Michael Dunn and Dolph Sweet.

A Day At The Races (1937)

With her sanitarium in deep financial trouble, the young owner (Maureen O'Sullivan) hires a medical quack (Groucho Marx) in the hopes that her richest patient (Margaret Dumont) will help her out. The Marx Brothers follow up to their A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, also directed by Sam Wood, is more amusing than not. Still, like OPERA, we have to put up with Allan Jones's bellowing as well as ballet production numbers and Chico Marx's piano concertos which serves to pad out the film to an almost two hour running time. Some of the comedy routines are milked till there isn't a drop left. An elongated routine at the race track with Chico tricking Groucho into buying race track tips is funny the first two times but by the fifth time, it's worn out it's welcome. There is an amusing medical examination of Margaret Dumont though. As always, thank heaven for Groucho whose comic timing is impeccable and compensates for the often annoying "cuteness" of Chico and Harpo. With Douglass Dumbrille, Sig Ruman and Esther Muir.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Goodbye Gemini (1970)

It's London in the swinging sixties and a pair of kinky and amoral twins (Martin Potter of FELLINI SATYRICON, Judy Geeson) with incestuous leanings live in their own world, shutting out everyone else. But when a sleazy pimp (Alexis Kanner in the film's best performance) invades their world, it starts spinning out of control. The film is a curio of its time and on that level, it's highly watchable. As anything else, it's a messy homicidal variant of LES ENFANTS TERRIBLE and no, that's not a recommendation. Based on the novel ASK AGAMEMNON by Jenni Hall, the twins are too creepy to invest any empathy in and they're not interesting enough to make us care. Directed by Alan Gibson. There's a nice enough score by Christopher Gunning (LA VIE EN ROSE) peppered with 60s pop and Geoffrey Unsworth (CABARET) did the cinematography. With Michael Redgrave and Freddie Jones.

Camille (1921)

After first resisting his romantic advances, a high living courtesan (Alla Nazimova) succumbs to the charms of a young law student (Rudolph Valentino). Their bliss is short lived however as her growing illness and objections from his father threaten to destroy their relationship. Alexandre Dumas' 1848 novel has had many screen incarnations, the most famous being George Cukor's 1936 film with Garbo. This one switches the original period setting for the roaring twenties and it actually works quite well. Alla Nazimova isn't much talked about today but she was an excellent actress and quite respected in her day, mostly for her stage work. Here, she makes for a lovely Lady Of The Camelias, almost as good as Garbo. Valentino had just made a sensation in 4 HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE and if he seems rather stiff here, one can see why he was a Star. The art direction and costumes by Natacha Rambova (Mrs. Valentino) are quite unique and eye catching. The version I saw had an excellent underscore by Peter Vantine which contributed much to the film. With Patsy Ruth Miller and Rex Cherryman.

Shake Hands With The Devil (1959)

In the Dublin of 1921, an American medical student (Don Murray) with Irish roots is drawn into the battle between the "black and tans" (British soldiers) and the Irish Republican Army. A violent and gritty film based on the novel by Reardon Connor, the director Michael Anderson (AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS) takes us right into the heart of the turbulent struggle of the Irish rebels against the repressive British forces. Playing no favorites, he eschews sentiment and the brutality is very much in our faces. James Cagney, even more cold and hateful than his Cody Jarrett of WHITE HEAT, gives one of his very best performances as an IRA leader whose taste for killing has made him forget why he's fighting. Erwin Hillier is responsible for the stark images shot on location in Ireland and William Alwyn did the busy underscore. With Glynis Johns, who gives a wonderful performance as a promiscuous barmaid. Also Dana Wynter, Michael Redgrave, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Cyril Cusack, Allan Cuthbertson, Niall MacGinnis, Ray McAnally and Richard Harris, still early in his career but already overacting.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Lady Vanishes (1979)

Set in 1939 Austria during the rise of Nazism, a madcap American heiress (Cybill Shepherd) befriends an English nanny (Angela Lansbury) on a train going to England. When she wakes up after a nap however, the nanny is gone and everyone insists the woman never existed. She joins forces with an American journalist (Elliott Gould) in an attempt to discover what happened to the missing woman. This remake of the 1938 Alfred Hitchcock classic has, understandably, a bad reputation. Of course, standing next to the original, it can't hold a candle, very few films could. But on its own, if you're able to stifle memories of the original, it's a modestly entertaining adventure. The remake follows the original narrative very closely. The major change is in the two lead characters which are re-imagined from the genteel Brits of the original into rather loud and pushy Americans. Shepherd, who looks gorgeous in her Emma Porteous satin gown, is rather grating as she channels Carole Lombard and Gould displays very little charm. Lansbury, as always, elevates the film. Strikingly shot in Panavision and color by Douglas Slocombe (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK). Directed by Anthony Page from a screenplay by George Axelrod (SEVEN YEAR ITCH). With Herbert Lom, Ian Carmichael, Arthur Lowe and Jenny Runacre.

Born To Be Bad (1950)

Set in San Francisco, a scheming young woman (Joan Fontaine) gives the appearance of an angel while plotting to break up the impending nuptials of her room mate (Joan Leslie) to a wealthy man (Zachary Scott) in order to get the millionaire for herself. A couple of months before ALL ABOUT EVE made its debut, Fontaine's Christabel Caine gives the notorious schemer Eve Harrington a run for her money. It lacks the stylish wit and dialogue of EVE though Robert Ryan as a rugged novelist does have one great line, he tells Fontaine "I love you so much that I wish I liked you". But it's not very inventive. It's just a matter of watching Fontaine ruin lives until she gets her comeuppance but it's tawdry fun watching Fontaine, normally the fragile and demure heroine of films like REBECCA and LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, taking a stab as a femme fatale. Directed without much enthusiasm by Nicholas Ray from the novel ALL KNEELING by Anne Parrish. With Mel Ferrer and Kathleen Howard.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Katy Perry: Part Of Me (2012)

Part biography, part concert movie, the film follows pop singer Katy Perry on her 2011 Teenage Dream world tour which proves a massive success playing to sold out arenas ... meanwhile her personal life deteriorates as her marriage to Russell Brand falls apart. One's enjoyment of the film is based on one's like of Katy Perry. If you're not a fan, you're probably not even reading this, much less interested in the movie itself. As for me, I'm a fan of Perry's irresistible catchy pop tunes like I Kissed A Girl, Hot N Cold and Firework, appealing personality and legitimate pop voice (the gal could do Broadway without a problem) so I had a fun time at it. Once again, 3D is foisted upon us when it adds nothing to the project except in some of the concert footage. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the documentary portion is Perry's upbringing as a Pentecostal Christian and early career as a gospel singer and her breaking away from the restrictions of that life. Directed by Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz.

Sommarlek (aka Summer Interlude) (1951)

A successful ballerina (Maj-Britt Nilsson) receives a diary during final dress rehearsals for SWAN LAKE. The diary is from the young boy who was her first love 13 years earlier. As she takes a trip to the island where they first met, she reflects back on that fateful summer. Ingmar Bergman had been directing films for about five years when he came to SOMMARLEK, not yet the Ingmar Bergman. While SOMMARLEK is a lovely memory piece, I somehow doubt we'd be much concerned with it today if it weren't directed by Bergman. It's main interest lies in the seeds the Artist is planting which would be harvested at the decade's end. As a romantic melodrama, is it that much different than what Sirk was doing at Universal or Negulesco doing at Fox in the 1950s? There's a potent central performance by Nilsson as the ballerina who does a superb job as the emotionally closed ballerina in her late 20s and the giddy teenager in the flashbacks. One can't help but notice how the island in SOMMARLEK is warm and inviting in direct contrast to the later bleak islands of his THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY or PASSION OF ANNA. I guess that about sums up the difference between the young Bergman and the mature Bergman. With Alf Kjellin (Minnelli's MADAME BOVARY).

The Clouded Yellow (1950)

After being forced out of the British Secret Service, an ex-agent (Trevor Howard) accepts a position cataloging butterflies at a country estate. There, he falls in love with a strange girl (Jean Simmons). When the girl is accused of murdering a gamekeeper (Maxwell Reed), the ex-agent and the girl go on the run with the police and secret service in full pursuit. The term Hitchcockian is overused and often applied to almost any routine thriller. In this particular case however, the appellation is justified. Directed by Ralph Thomas from an original screenplay by Janet Green (Ford's 7 WOMEN), this is a well crafted thriller in the style of THE 39 STEPS with a marvelous red herring in the plot to point you in the wrong direction. The score is by Benjamin Frankel (NIGHT OF THE IGUANA). With Kenneth More, Barry Jones, Sonia Dresdel, Geoffrey Keen, Marianne Stone and Eric Pohlmann.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Il Viaggio (aka The Voyage) (1974)

Two brothers (Richard Burton, Ian Bannen) are in love with the same woman (Sophia Loren). But in his will, their father insists that it is the younger brother (Bannen) that marry the girl even though it is the older brother that she loves. Years pass before they can find happiness together but it is brief as tragedy follows. This period costume drama, based on a novel by Luigi Pirandello (SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR), was the swan song of the great neo-realist director Vittorio De Sica. Sadly, it's a weak film and not indicative of his great talents. It's a romance and as all great movie romances can attest to, chemistry is key. Alas, Burton and Loren have zero chemistry together. Taylor and Burton, yes, Loren and Mastroianni, yes but Burton and Loren, none. I suppose it doesn't help that this is an Italian film with an all Italian cast except for the British Burton and Bannen as Italian brothers. Burton especially looks burnt out. On the other hand, Loren is gorgeous and vital so when everyone comes up to her and tells her she looks pale and should see a doctor (she gets out of breath and coughs when she climbs the stairs, we all know what that means), it doesn't make much sense. Visually, the movie is splendid, worthy of Visconti and lovingly shot by Ennio Guarnieri (GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINIS). The subtle, lovely score is by Manuel De Sica. With Barbara Pilavin, Paolo Lena and Annabella Incontrera.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Baby The Rain Must Fall (1965)

A young mother (Lee Remick) and her six year old daughter (Kimberly Block) journey to a small Texas town where the husband and father (Steve McQueen) has just been released from prison, in the hope of starting over. But he doesn't seem to have mended his ways, he's just as hot headed and violent as ever. Based on a failed Broadway play by Horton Foote (who also did the screenplay) called THE TRAVELING LADY, if the film is any indication, it's easy to see why the play was a failure. It's a simple character piece but the characters aren't fleshed out. We never find out what makes them tick, why they behave the way they do. Remick gives a lovely delicate performance, you can read on her face the hardships she's endured the years her husband was in prison. What we don't understand is why she puts up with such erratic and dangerous behavior from her husband, especially with a six year old child in tow. McQueen isn't convincing as a country singer, the dubbed singing voice he's given doesn't sound like it would emanate from him and McQueen doesn't have the stance or bearing of a singer. To be fair, the film has apparently been severely edited, Josephine Hutchinson gets fifth billing as the wife of the sheriff (Paul Fix) but she's only seen for a couple of seconds at a funeral. The stark B&W cinematography is by Ernest Laszlo (JUDGMENT AT NUREMBURG) and the score by Elmer Bernstein. Directed by Robert Mulligan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD). With Don Murray and Ruth White.

If Winter Comes (1947)

In a pre-WWII small English village, a writer (Walter Pidgeon) stuck in an unhappy marriage to a cold unloving wife (Angela Lansbury) becomes embroiled in a scandal when he befriends a young unwed and pregnant girl (Janet Leigh) and takes her into his home. Suspicion falls on him as the father when, in fact, he's in love with a married woman (Deborah Kerr). A tragedy brings the nastiness of the small town mentality to the forefront. It's a sort of PEYTON PLACE or KINGS ROW set in a small English village. Based on the novel by A.S.M. Hutchinson (previously made as a 1923 silent) and directed by Victor Saville (GREEN DOLPHIN STREET), the film never takes flight despite its juicy melodramatic aspects. It takes the high minded approach rather than a lurid one which might have given the film the necessary punch. It doesn't help that Pidgeon is an uninteresting actor who's completely miscast. Oh, he's fine as Mr. Greer Garson but it's difficult to see him as the kind of man who's a chick magnet and his character seems terribly naive in some respects. Poor Angela Lansbury only two years older than Janet Leigh's unwed teen mother and already playing spiteful middle aged wives. With Binnie Barnes as the village gossip, Dame May Whitty, Rhys Williams and Reginald Owen.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Crucifer Of Blood (1991)

When a lovely young woman (Susannah Harker) arrives at Baker Street to plead with Sherlock Holmes (Charlton Heston) to discover the source of her father's (John Castle, THE LION IN WINTER) terror and disappearance, it leads to a pact in blood with a curse on it dating back to the 1857 rebellion in India. Based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's THE SIGN OF THE FOUR which served as the basis for Paul Giovanni's 1978 play, THE CRUCIFER OF BLOOD. Heston had played the role in the Los Angeles production and after the success of TREASURE ISLAND, he chose this for his next project utilizing some of the same cast from ISLAND. As far as Sherlock Holmes movies go, this is well done though Heston is all wrong for Holmes. The quintessential American actor can't disguise his Yankee origins. Other than that, he does well enough. It's fun though it's not terribly difficult to discover the real culprit though the journey is enjoyable. Nicely directed by Fraser Heston. The underscore is by Carl Davis. With Richard Johnson as Dr. Watson, Simon Callow as Inspector Lestrade, Clive Wood and Edward Fox.

Flareup (1969)

After witnessing her friend (Sandra Giles) shot to death by her psychotic husband (Luke Askew), a Las Vegas go-go dancer (Raquel Welch) flees Las Vegas for Los Angeles with the psycho killer in hot pursuit. Fans of cheesy low budget 60s movies will have a ball with this one. The opening credits sequence with fluorescent go-go dancers shaking their tail feathers to Les Baxter's vintage disco beat promises a "guilty pleasure" treat that never quite happens but FLAREUP is one of those bad movies where one can revel in its badness and have a good time. This is probably Welch's worst performance, we're talking Joan Crawford territory here, and her hilarious eyebrow acting when on the phone with Askew's killer has to be seen to be believed. There's a romantic subplot involving James Stacy that's a drag and slows down the film considerably. With Ron Rifkin and Jean Byron (THE PATTY DUKE SHOW).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Drum Beat (1954)

In 1872, President Ulysses Grant (Hayden Rorke) orders Indian fighter Jim MacKay (Alan Ladd) to negotiate a peace treaty with the Modoc tribes. This will prove difficult as their renegade leader (Charles Bronson) has no interest in peace. Delmar Daves directed a string of excellent westerns in the 1950s: BROKEN ARROW, 3:10 TO YUMA and THE LAST WAGON among them. This offering is not on their level but it has its compensations. Robustly shot in CinemaScope in Arizona by J. Peverell Marley (HOUSE OF WAX), the film has an impressive early performance by Bronson that would take several more years to fulfill its promise. Alas, Ladd looks quite tired next to the vigorous Bronson. The film itself, loosely based on an actual historical incident, seems somewhat schizophrenic toward the Indians in its attempt to balance the "good" Indians as personified by a peace loving Indian maiden (Marisa Pavan, THE ROSE TATTOO) and her brother (Anthony Caruso) and the blood thirsty "bad" Indians as embodied by Bronson. The score is by Victor Young. With Audrey Dalton, Robert Keith, Warner Anderson, Perry Lopez, Isabel Jewell, Frank Ferguson, Frank DeKova, Edgar Stehli and Elisha Cook Jr.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Anna Christie (1930)

A young girl (Greta Garbo), recovering from an undisclosed illness, reunites with the sea going father (George F. Marion, recreating his original stage role) she hasn't seen in 15 years. A burly sailor (Charles Bickford) falls for her. But she keeps her secret past as a prostitute from both men. Based on the Eugene O'Neill play, this was Garbo's first talking picture. She has one of the great film introductions of all time, "Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side and don't be stingy, baby!". Alas, nothing that follows equals that iconic moment. Directed by the usually adept Clarence Brown (NATIONAL VELVET), it's a stilted piece of movie making barely disguising its theatrical roots. I'm not even sure it's one of O'Neill's best plays. Even Garbo seems unsure though she becomes vibrantly alive in her big scene where tells off her father and her lover. With the great Marie Dressler as a boozy waterfront tramp, stealing whole scenes effortlessly.

The Young Land (1959)

Set in the California of 1848 as it attempts to make a transition to statehood, a young punk (Dennis Hopper) kills a Mexican in cold blood. As a jury deliberates his fate, tensions mount between the Mexican population awaiting to see if "American" justice includes Mexicans and the Caucasian posse of the killer who plan on blowing the town wide open if he's convicted. Produced by Patrick Ford, John's son, and starring Patrick Wayne, John's son, as the green and callow sheriff, one can't help but think of the superior westerns made by their fathers. While the concept is interesting and there is some genuine tension as to the outcome of the verdict and its repercussions, it comes across as a "I was a teen age sheriff" B western. Young Wayne's acting skills are primitive to put it kindly and Hopper's creepily smug killer erases him off the screen. It's crudely directed by Ted Tetzlaff, probably best known as the director of the noir THE WINDOW. The noisy score is by Dimitri Tiomkin who received the film's only Oscar nomination for the title song, Strange Are The Ways Of Love. With Dan O'Herlihy, Yvonne Craig, Ken Curtis, Pedro Gonzales-Gonzzales and Cliff Ketchum.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Lineup (1958)

Set in San Francisco, a drug smuggling ring plants heroin on unsuspecting tourists coming into the country. Two cold blooded homicidal bag men, one a young hothead (Eli Wallach) and the other an older refined type (Robert Keith, WRITTEN ON THE WIND), then pick up the dope and eliminating the tourist if they have to. Based on the TV show THE LINEUP which was still running when the film was made, only Warner Anderson as a police lieutenant remains from the TV show. His TV partner Tom Tully is replaced for the film by Emile Meyer. Tautly directed by Don Siegel, this is a terrific piece of film noir though oddly enough, the entire film takes place during the day. The first half hour is spent on police procedure but once the trio (Richard Jaeckel as the "wheel man" is the third) of thugs come into the picture, the film races concluding with a marvelous high speed car chase that wouldn't be equaled until BULLITT. There's a potent homoerotic subtext (just what is Wallach and Keith's relationship?) and a scene in a bath house that doesn't even bother to hide it. With Mary LaRoche (BYE BYE BIRDIE), Raymond Bailey, Vaughn Taylor (who has a spectacular death) and William Leslie.

Papirosnitsa Ot Mosselproma (aka Cigarette Girl From Mosselprom) (1924)

A young cigarette vendor (the lovely Yuliya Solntseva) on the streets of Moscow has attracted the attention of three men. A bookkeeper (the homely Igor Ilynsky), a rich American (M. Tsybulsky) visiting Moscow on business and an aspiring film director (Nikolai Tsereteli). When she's taken off the Moscow streets and put into the movies as an actress, pandemonium follows. This romantic comedy with generous doses of slapstick suffers from too much going on which inflates it to a disadvantage. There's too much of Ilynsky's character for one thing, It doesn't help that Ilynsky's acting style seems to consist of an open mouth with his tongue hanging out and judging from his performance, he has seen too many Chaplin films and he comes off a very poor second. But there's a certain charm in the proceedings that manages to get out every once in awhile. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is that it was almost 100% shot on location and thus we get a detailed look at mid 1920s Moscow from its streets and parks to its movie theaters and race tracks. Unusual for its time in that its devoid of any political statement. Directed by Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky. With Anna Dmokhovskaya, a delightful comedienne.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Master Of The Game (1984)

At her 90th birthday party, a woman (Dyan Cannon) reflects back on her family history which began in 1883 in South Africa with her father's (Ian Charleson, CHARIOTS OF FIRE) quest for diamonds and revenge and eventually built into a dynasty by her as she manipulates those around her, both family and business associates. Spanning a 100 years and crammed with enough plots and subplots to fill a dozen novels, this ridiculously lurid potboiler based on the best selling Sidney Sheldon (THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT) defines page turner trash. The first two hours are slow and meticulous, turtle slow. Once Cannon shows up (as a 16 year old!), the next two hours accelerate so fast that it seems you're watching a preview of coming attractions or clips of highlights. It slows down again for the last two hours which is a hilarious identical evil twin-good twin (both Liane Langland) that turns into a parody in spite of itself. It's a real "chocolate bon-bon" wallow if you're into that kind of thing. Alas, for every decent actor in the piece like Cannon and Charleson, you get mediocrities like David Birney, Cliff De Young, Harry Hamlin and in the film's worst performance, Fernando Allende as a sadistic Greek lounge lizard. Kevin Connor and Harvey Hart share the directing duties. With Leslie Caron, Donald Pleasence, David Suchet, Jean Marsh, Cherie Lunghi, Jay Thomas, Johnny Sekka and Maryam D'Abo (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS).

Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

The head doctor (Donald Pleasence) in a modern asylum for the insane takes a colleague (Jack Hawkins) on a tour. Of specific interest are four patients: a child (Russell Lewis) with an imaginary tiger for a friend which distresses his parents (Georgia Brown, Donald Houston). An antiques dealer (Peter McEnery) who inherits a unicycle that time travels to the past. A man (Michael Jayston, NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA) who falls in love with a tree much to the consternation of his jealous wife (Joan Collins). A literary agent (Kim Novak) who throws a Hawaiian luau that results in a gruesome payoff. This horror film was one of several portmanteau films popular in the 60s and 70s, usually produced by Amicus. Directed by the Oscar winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, this is one of the better horror anthology films of the era. While the first two episodes are rather predictable, the last two (the Jayston and Novak episodes) are quite magnetic. With Suzy Kendall, Mary Tamm (THE ODESSSA FILE) and Michael Petrovitch.

The Witches Of Eastwick (1987)

In the New England town of Eastwick, three women: a widow (Cher), a divorcee (Susan Sarandon) and a single mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) with six children, are dissatisfied with their humdrum single lives. When a mysterious stranger (Jack Nicholson) arrives in town and buys an historical mansion, he makes the women aware of their magical prowess. While those attached to the John Updike novel that served as the source material will be understandably resentful, the film takes a different tact. It's an impudently entertaining, especially the film's first two thirds, dark comedy. At his best, there always seemed to be a bit of the devil in Nicholson's characters and performances. Here, finally, he can let it all loose as the Devil. Talk about born to play a certain role, Nicholson seems to know it and having a devilishly good time doing it. Fortunately, the three lead actresses are strong enough not to let Nicholson completely take over. If the film's last act seems rather desperate, it's not enough to dampen one's overall impression. There's a fourth witch, a neurotic Puritan, played by Veronica Cartwright that comes pretty close to stealing the film. The Oscar nominated underscore is by John Williams and it's a beauty. Directed by George Miller (THE ROAD WARRIOR). With Richard Jenkins, Keith Jochim and Carel Struycken.

Friday, July 6, 2012

El Secreto De Sus Ojos (aka The Secret In Their Eyes) (2009)

A former and now retired legal counselor (Ricardo Darin) attempts to write a novel based on a brutal rape and murder case that he was involved in 25 years ago, a case where justice was never fully completed. He assists the help of a judge (Soledad Villamil), who he's always been in love with, for her advice. But the writing of the novel brings back painful memories of love, political corruption and eventually ... a promise fulfilled. The winner of the 2009 best foreign language Oscar (it's from Argentina), this is an impressive film. It sneaks up on you because it starts off as a mystery as authorities attempt to track down a killer but slowly reveals itself to be more than a thriller as it imparts an almost melancholy characteristic as the protagonist's search goes beyond finding a murderer. It's title is apt and that "secret" in the eyes provides more than just one clue. Directed by Juan Jose Campanella who co-wrote the screenplay with Eduardo Sacheri, who wrote the novel the film is based on. With fine supporting work from Pablo Rago as the murder victim's husband and Guillermo Francella as Darin's alcoholic confidante.

Sea Of Grass (1947)

In the 1880s, a young St. Louis woman (Katharine Hepburn) travels West to marry a cattle baron (Spencer Tracy). But after their marriage, she has trouble adjusting to his way of life and his love of the land which she feels takes precedence over her. The idea of Tracy and Hepburn directed in a western by the great director Elia Kazan sounds intriguingly full of promise. Who would have thought that we would end up with this soggy piece of claptrap? We can see as soon as she arrives in New Mexico, they’ll eventually clash and the film offers no surprises. Based on the novel by Conrad Richter (though there have been major changes in its transition to screen), the film has the ambitions of an Edna Ferber generational epic along the lines of a GIANT or CIMARRON but Kazan‘s lack of interest is obvious. He needs the melodramatic punch he brought to EAST OF EDEN. No one is at their best here and I think most everyone would agree that it‘s the weakest of the Tracy/Hepburn collaborations. Kazan, on the other hand, has done worse. There‘s a rich underscore by Herbert Stothart. With Robert Walker (third billed but he doesn‘t show up till the film‘s last half hour), Melvyn Douglas, Phyllis Thaxter, Edgar Buchanan, Robert Armstrong and Harry Carey.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cul De Sac (1966)

After a failed robbery, two wounded gangsters (Lionel Stander, Jack MacGowran) find themselves stranded near an island that becomes inaccessible by road once the evening tide washes over the roadway. The small island houses a castle where a neurotic (Donald Pleasence) lives in remote seclusion with his nubile young wife (Francoise Dorleac, YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT). This black comedy is vintage Roman Polanski. Forget about any logical narrative, it's all about mood and atmosphere as its odd assortment of characters heatedly flail at each other in direct contrast to the chilly and bleak landscape as Polanski adjusts the balance between the comedic elements and a feeling of intense trepidation. It's useless to attempt and find motivation behind their actions because it's not that kind of a movie. Just enjoy the rollercoaster ride. Stander gets the best role of his career and the rest of the cast is wonderful too. The stark black and white camera work is by Gilbert Taylor (STAR WARS). With Jacqueline Bisset, Marie Kean, Renee Houston and William Franklyn.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Victor Victoria (1982)

In 1934 Paris, an impoverished young soprano (Julie Andrews in an Oscar nominated performance) is talked into passing herself off as a man, who is a female impersonator, by a gay nightclub performer (Robert Preston). When she becomes the toast of Paris as "Victor", complications arise when she finds herself attracted to an American mobster (James Garner). This Blake Edwards directed sophisticated, elegant and witty musical farce is a jewel that can stand next to the cream of Lubitsch or Wilder. Everyone seems to be working at the top of their game, whether it be the impressive production design, art and set direction, costumes, the handsome Panavision lensing by Dick Bush (TOMMY) or the near perfect songs of Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse. Andrews has never been better, Garner has but two supporting performances dominate the film. Preston's casual aging cabaret performer and Lesley Ann Warren's (whose performance owes a lot to Judy Holliday's Billie Dawn) shrill gangster moll, both Oscar nominated. Based on the 1933 German film, VIKTOR UND VIKTORIA. With Alex Karras, John Rhys Davies and Graham Stark whose deadpan waiter steals scenes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Treasure Island (1990)

A young boy (Christian Bale, quite decent) discovers a much sought after treasure map after its owner (Oliver Reed) is killed by pirates. He sails on as a cabin boy, along with the two men (Richard Johnson, Julian Glover) who hope to reap the treasure when they arrive at the unknown island. However, little do they know the ship's cook is none other than the notorious pirate, Long John Silver (Charlton Heston) who has some ideas of his own. There have been several (at least five) other film adaptations of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson coming of age adventure novel, most notably the 1934 MGM film with Wallace Beery and the 1950 Disney film with Robert Newton. But this is the one most faithful to the Stevenson source material. Written and directed by Fraser Heston (Charlton's son) and beautifully filmed in Jamaica by Robert Steadman, the fidelity to the Stevenson novel pays off. Heston's Long John Silver is no rascally "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" movie pirate. As Heston beautifully plays him, he's a cold and calculating butcher whose only soft spot is for gold and silver and God help you if you get in his way. There's an authenticity in the atmosphere, place and the acting. The lively score is by Paddy Moloney and The Chieftains. With Christopher Lee, Pete Postlethwaite, Clive Wood, Nicolas Amer and Isla Blair, who makes the most of her minimal screen time as Bale's mother.

The Unfaithful (1947)

Arriving home late one night after coming home from a party, a young wife (Ann Sheridan) is attacked by an intruder and she stabs him in self defense. But as her attorney (Lew Ayres) delves further into the case, it becomes clear that she isn't quite truthful about the circumstances surrounding the incident. A loose uncredited remake of W. Somerset Maugham's THE LETTER which had been filmed only seven years earlier under its original title by William Wyler. It's no where near as artful or well layered, of course. It's a well done little noir-ish domestic thriller that doesn't quite make it to the finish line. The film's conclusion is an anti-divorce and "stay together no matter what" lecture that could have come straight from The Vatican. Directed by Vincent Sherman, the film benefits from some sharp location shooting in 1940s L.A. courtesy of Ernest Haller (MILDRED PIERCE) and an unusually strong score by Max Steiner. The screenplay was co-written by David Goodis (whose novel DOWN THERE was made by Truffaut as SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER). With Zachary Scott as the husband, Eve Arden whose wisecracking bitch is allowed more depth than usual, Jerome Cowan, Peggy Knudsen, John Hoyt and Steven Geray.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012)

A six year old girl (the captivating Quvenzhane Wallis) lives in the Delta region of Louisiana with her unstable and ill (both physically and mentally) father (Dwight Henry, a baker making his acting debut). He insists on toughening her up in preparation for the time he'll no longer be there and have to take care of herself. As a disastrous storm approaches, both will be tested. Based on a play by Lucy Albar, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Benh Zeitlin, this is a fable not to be taken literally. It's a small, lovely film that already appears to be in danger of being overpraised. Its won prizes at both the Cannes and Sundance film festivals. For most of its running time, it feels fresh and original but as good as Wallis is (and she's very good), it's still one of those wise child beyond their years characters that, of course, almost never exist in real life. But, as I said, it's a fable and as long as one doesn't mistake the film's low budget realism for grit and accepts the fantasy and inventive aspects, it works. Still, Zeitlin packs a lot of weight on the film's well intentioned shoulders. I suppose that the film doesn't crack under all the pretense is a testament to the sincerity involved. Though Hurricane Katrina is never mentioned, its existence is transparent.

The Good Night (2007)

A former pop star (Martin Freeman, HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY), now writing music for commercials, is stuck in an unhappy relationship with his live in girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow). In his dreams, he pursues his ideal woman (Penelope Cruz) and becomes obsessed with sleeping and dreaming in order to maintain this fantasy relationship. Written and directed by Jake Paltrow (Gwyneth's brother), the movie seems aimless. Not very likable characters argue, philosophize, whine and when the film is over, nothing has been resolved. In real life, there have been no changes though the dreams provide the happy ending that real life cannot. Perhaps that was the point of the film, if so it's execution is ineffective. Still, to be fair, at least Paltrow is attempting something unusual and though he doesn't succeed, the attempt is appreciated. As the dream girl, Cruz hasn't much to do but is much more interesting as the real life girl who inspires Freeman's fantasies. With Simon Pegg, Danny DeVito and Michael Gambon.