As a small coastal California town prepares for its 100th anniversary, an ominous fog rolls in and strange occurrences come to pass including the slaughter of three men on a fishing trawler. The victims of a 100 year old murder conspiracy have come back for revenge! My one movie concession for this Halloween is John Carpenter's follow up to his 1978 smash, HALLOWEEN. It's an atmospheric, eerie ghost story with just the right amount of scares without the violence taking center stage. A slasher movie it's not and that's fine with me. I still think it's Carpenter's best film. The director of cinematography Dean Cundey's (APOLLO 13) wide screen lensing has given it a much richer look than its $1,000,000 budget would suggest, the Point Reyes locations in California look terrific and Carpenter's edgy synthesizer score contributes to the film's tension. A neat, efficient gem of a horror film. The strong cast includes Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, John Houseman, Tom Atkins and Nancy Loomis.
A nerdy anthropologist (Robert Cummings) is studying the sex lives of the California teen beach culture by spying on them and recording their conversations. But he inadvertently becomes involved when one of the beach kids (Annette Funicello) uses him to make her boyfriend (Frankie Avalon) jealous. The success of WHERE THE BOYS ARE three years earlier paved the way for this shallow sand and surf franchise. It was a teen age fantasy, no parents to bug you and surf all day and dance all night. It was all wholesome fun, however. These were squeaky clean kids and even when they cohabitate, it's boys on one side, girls on the other. Even the leather clad motorcycle gang is harmless. Soon, of course, the sixties counterculture would change all that and the BEACH PARTY movies made way for stuff like THE TRIP and PSYCH OUT. It's all silly fun in the sun and one either has a taste (usually based on nostalgia) for it or one doesn't. Directed by William Asher. With Dorothy Malone (wasted) as Cummings' girl Friday, Vincent Price, Morey Amsterdam, Harvey Lembeck, Eva Six, John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Yvette Vickers and that twisting whirling dervish, Candy Johnson.
Two boys, one (Mickey Rooney) with a penchant for getting into trouble and the other (Jimmy Butler) more studious, are best friends. When their parents perish in a boating disaster, they are taken in by a Jewish gentleman (George Sidney, uncle of the director of the same name) who has lost his son in the same accident. As adults (Rooney morphs into Clark Gable, Butler into William Powell), they find themselves on the opposite sides of the law. Gable is a gangster and Powell is a district attorney with plans to run for the Governor of New York but their bond is still strong. This film was the closest that MGM got to the grittier, edgier socially conscious style that was the domain of Warners. One can easily see this made at Warners with Cagney in Gable's place and Pat O'Brien in the Powell part. Being MGM however, there's a gloss to it. Gable was already a Star when this was made but Powell and Myrna Loy, as the woman they both love, would reunite later in the year for THE THIN MAN and become first rank stars themselves. It's a perfect example of the quality product the studio system could crank out in the so called Golden Age. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke and produced by David O. Selznick, the film became a part of history when the notorious John Dillinger was shot by federal agents leaving a theater showing the film. With Isabel Jewell, Leo Carrillo and Nat Pendleton.
An innocent black man (Raymond St. Jacques) wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of a white girl (Susan Seaforth) escapes from prison. He is picked up on a country road by a man (Kevin McCarthy) who recognizes him and offers him $10,000 to murder his wife (Dana Wynter). It has the same title as the Chester Himes (COTTON COMES TO HARLEM) novel but other than the title, they have nothing in common though some sources indicate that the film is "based" on the novel but there's no screen credit for the Himes source material. Written, produced and directed by Charles Martin, this was one of the first wave of "blaxploitation" films that would soon prove very popular in the early 1970s. This effort is a passable entertainment stuffed with the usual cliches of bigoted redneck Southerners more than happy to shoot a black man on sight even if the film's ultimate message, unlike most blaxploitation films, is "we are all brothers under the skin". St. Jacques was a handsome and talented actor who deserved a better career but back in the day, there was only room for one black star at a time and that was Sidney Poitier. It's amusing to see Wynter and McCarthy reunited 12 years after INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS in quite different roles. With the lovely Barbara McNair (who got a lot of publicity over her nude scenes here), Arthur O'Connell, James Craig, Royal Dano, John Russell and Ann Prentiss.
A wealthy businessman (Jason Robards) has a mistress (Jane Fonda) in Manhattan that he sees every Wednesday and a wife (Rosemary Murphy, recreating her stage role) in the suburbs. When a client (Dean Jones) of Robards' firm is accidentally given the key to Fonda's apartment, comedic complications ensue. In the 1950s and 1960s, innocuous Broadway sex comedies like THE MOON IS BLUE, MARY MARY, CACTUS FLOWER and this one usually had long Broadway runs before they made the trek to Hollywood. Today, most of them seem like tedious stage bound vehicles with three or four characters chattering ostensibly witty dialogue incessantly for two hours. The TV sitcom has pretty well depleted the popularity of the genre. This one is rather grating and one cringes for poor Jane Fonda as she pouts, cries and flaps her arms in an attempt to be adorable. On the stage, the role was played by Sandy Dennis (who won a Tony for the role) and her quirky persona might have brought something to the part. The art director (Alfred Sweeney) and set decorator (Claude Carpenter) have created a charming garden apartment setting and George Duning did the melodic cocktail lounge underscore. Directed by Robert Ellis Miller. With Ann Prentiss.
The story of Lillian Roth (Susan Hayward), who became a Broadway and film star in her teens because of her ambitious stage mother (Jo Van Fleet, EAST OF EDEN). After the death of her fiance (Ray Danton), she descends in alcoholism and her life and career spirals downward. MGM had a banner year in female singer movie bios in 1955. In addition to Lillian Roth, MGM presented the lives of Ruth Etting and Marjorie Lawrence too. Based on Roth's autobiography, the film is fairly gritty by 1955 standards but there's a desperation to Hayward's pull out all the stops "I want that Oscar, dammit!" performance (she lost to Anna Magnani) that's uncomfortable. Not that she doesn't have some good moments, she does, but for someone playing an alcoholic, her drunk scenes are pretty embarrassing. I could have done without the "inspiring" ending too. Two performers stand out: Jo Van Fleet fleshes out a tangible person rather than a movie cliche and Richard Conte is impressive as Roth's passive/aggressive sadistic husband. Hayward does her own singing and she ain't bad. Ironically, directed by Daniel Mann who directed Magnani's Oscar performance, THE ROSE TATTOO. A strong underscore by Alex North. With Eddie Albert, Don Taylor, Margo, Virginia Gregg and Donald Barry.
In the mid 19th century kingdom of Bergamo, the Countess (Betty Grable) who rules the kingdom has her honeymoon night interrupted by the invasion of Hungarian forces lead by a dashing hussar (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Her groom (Cesar Romero) flees the castle and leaves her to deal with the invaders. Credited to Ernest Lubitsch, who died after a week's filming, the film was actually directed by Otto Preminger. One can see the hands of Lubitsch on the material (he also produced it) and it bears the mark of those early 30s Lubtisch musicals like THE LOVE PARADE and THE SMILING LIEUTENANT but it's a flat rather than bubbly and the censors have removed the risque adulterous content of the original script. Even if Lubitsch had lived, it seems unlikely that he would have been able to transform the material. The casting of Grable is all wrong for one thing. Grable's appeal was always that of the all American girl next door, not a sophisticated European countess and she lacks the skills of a good comedienne to pull it off. The songs by Frederick Hollander and Leo Robin are an undistinguished bunch though This Is The Moment got a best song Oscar nomination. With Walter Abel, Harry Davenport, Reginald Gardiner and Whit Bissell.
After a recent auto accident (which may have been intentional), a middle class housewife (Monica Vitti) finds herself increasingly isolated and walking a fine line between normalcy and a complete breakdown. The final entry in Antonioni's quadrilogy on bourgeois alienation (following L'AVVENTURA, LA NOTTE, L'ECLISSE) and his first film in color. Visually, IL DESERTO ROSSO stands out as one of the most ravishingly beautiful films ever made. By beautiful, I don't mean pretty pictures but in its compositions, images, colors and textures. Even the ugliest factories and polluted rivers have a startling beauty. Antonioni's (and his ace cinematographer, Carlo Di Palma) use of color is inspired and thankfully so because as the narrative goes, he's gone to the well once too often. Eventually, the heroine's ennui wears out the audience and as the film nears its end, we're in as much of a stupor as she is! Ironically, it took being dubbed into Italian for Richard Harris, as a visiting businessman, to give the most restrained performance of his career.
Fallen on hard times, a Broadway producer/director (James Cagney) agrees to stage an annual musical show put on by West Point cadets. After some disagreements, the military academy insists Cagney live as a cadet and abide by West Point rules in order to direct the show. If the songs (by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne) were more memorable, this rather inane and far fetched plot wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb! Further proof that all was not "golden" in the so called Golden Age of Hollywood. That being said, no one's ever imitated Cagney's unique dancing style (leaning forward with his buttocks pushed out) and Doris Day makes the colorless songs sound better than they are, a testament to her qualities as a singer. Add Virginia Mayo, showing how underrated a dancer she was, and Gene Nelson tapping who compensate for the bellowing of Gordon MacRae. Directed by Roy Del Ruth with the choreography by Leroy Prinz. With Jerome Cowan, Roland Winters and Alan Hale Jr.
When a banker (Martin Sheen) relocates to Paris from Wall Street, he falls in love at first sight when he sees an attractive woman (Jacqueline Bisset). When he shows up at her door, she mistakes him for the new maid and nanny to her obnoxious daughter (Victoria Shalet). Smitten, he continues the charade as he works for her as a maid but little does she know that he is actually her new colleague at the investment firm she works for. When one thinks of romantic comedy leading men, Martin Sheen is far from the top of the list and this film proves why. He's a fine dramatic actor but short on charm and though he gives it the old college try, his performance is awkward and he looks uncomfortable. Granted the wan material gives him no help at all but Bisset seems to have no problem fitting in. There aren't any surprises and the film dutifully goes through its paces till its predictable conclusion. Directed by Ian Toynton. With Jean Pierre Cassel and James Faulkner.
An outlaw (Dean Martin) and his gang need a Gatling gun in order to rob the treasure of an infamous Mexican bandit (Jose Angel Espinosa). To this end, he makes a deal with a grungy and lonely bandit (Albert Salmi) to get him a woman (women are scarce in the territory) in exchange for the gun. Martin holds up a stagecoach and kidnaps a woman (Honor Blackman, GOLDFINGER) for the lonely outlaw. The problem is ... she's the wife of a Colonel (Brian Keith) in command of the regional cavalry. Comedy westerns are hard to pull off unless they are of the satire/parody kind like THE PALEFACE and BLAZING SADDLES so it's a pleasant surprise to discover this engaging sleeper. It manages to balance its subtle humor without making a shambles of the genre. I don't want to overpraise it, it's rather modest in its aims and execution but I can't deny I was quite taken with it. Martin, playing it fairly straight, is at his most appealing and Keith brings his own brand of solid magnetism while the leading ladies (Blackman, Carol White) are charming. There's a terrific title song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David that the film's composer Marvin Hamlisch incorporates generously into his underscore. With Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Denver Pyle, Paul Fix and Joyce Van Patten and Judi Meredith are hilarious as a pair of dangerous, man hungry sisters.
A small ship discovers what appears to be an abandoned freighter called the Mary Deare in the English Channel. But when one of the crew (Charlton Heston) boards the vehicle, he finds one man (Gary Cooper in his second to last film) still on board. A court of inquiry is held and the mystery of why the Mary Deare was abandoned and her secret will eventually come out. At one time scheduled to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock with a screenplay by Ernest Lehman, they bolted the project to do NORTH BY NORTHWEST when Hitchcock felt the story was turning into a rather dull courtroom drama. I'm not going to argue with Hitchcock's assessment but the first two thirds of the film is a pretty decent mystery until falling apart in the last third. Directed by Michael Anderson (LOGAN'S RUN), the film manages to hold one's curiosity and both Cooper and Heston have enough star power to own the screen. With Richard Harris, Michael Redgrave, Virginia McKenna, Alexander Knox, Terence De Marney, Emlyn Williams and Cecil Parker.
As the American Civil War rages on into its fourth year, President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) is determined that the 13th amendment abolishing slavery be ratified and he's willing to do anything necessary to push it through. Rather than focusing on Lincoln's entire life or entire presidency, Steven Spielberg and his writer Tony Kushner (ANGELS IN AMERICA) concentrate on the four month period from January to April 1865 when the House Of Representatives debated the issue as Lincoln's team attempted to collect enough votes to pass the amendment. But when a film starts with soldiers reciting the Gettysburg address to Lincoln on the battlefield, you know you're in trouble. It's Spielberg at his most manipulative. You can feel him pulling the strings, "this is where you tear up", "this is where you cheer", "this is where you gasp" etc. It's a well intentioned bore of a history lesson (I've had college professors who made American history more interesting) redeemed by two first rate performances by Daniel Day Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones and a very good one by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln and their acting is enough to pull you through the sluggishness of the movie. Even John Williams' underscore is a snooze. The massive cast includes Joseph Gordon Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, David Strathairn, David Oyelowo, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, S. Epatha Merkerson and Gloria Rueben.
The producer (Groucho Marx) of a play has no backers while running a hotel bill up for housing his 22 actors and himself. When the management (Donald MacBride) denies him further credit and insists he vacate the rooms, he has the play's author (Frank Albertson, PSYCHO) pretend to be ill in order to evade eviction. Based on the hit Broadway farce by Allen Boretz and John Murray, it has been reconstructed as a Marx Brothers vehicle. The result is a mixed bag, neither the best of the Marx Brothers nor a fully realized farce because it's been compromised to fit the comedy team. Unfortunately, Groucho seems relatively restrained by the constraints of the material yet on the other hand, Harpo is also restrained which is a good thing (he made me laugh a couple of times, something he rarely does). As the two leading ladies, the film features two young actresses, Lucille Ball and Ann Miller (she doesn't dance), neither of whom gives any indication of their potential. It's not a bad film by any means but the laughs are sporadic at best. Directed by William A. Seiter.
After the battle of Pharsalus, Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) goes to Alexandria to settle a dispute between Ptolemy (Richard O'Sullivan) and his sister Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) over the throne of Egypt. From that point on, the film follows Caesar and Cleopatra's romance and political plans, Caesar's assassination, Cleopatra's liaison with Marc Antony (Richard Burton) and their eventual defeat at the hands of Rome. One of the most expensive movies in film history (adjusted for inflation, a budget of $320 million dollars) and a scandal rocked filming (Taylor's near death, the Burton/Taylor affair), it seemed the critics were lining up to dump on it before it even opened. But posterity has been kind to the film. An intelligent, literate Epic with spectacular production values (Cleopatra's entry into Rome still leaves one gasping). You can see where every cent was spent. The film is decidedly uneven however. The first part (prior to the intermission) on Caesar and Cleopatra is best, greatly helped by an excellent Oscar nominated performance by Harrison. The second half is more problematic. In addition to Burton at his histrionic worst (he doesn't say his lines, he barks them), the film falters considerably after the battle of Actium and the rest of the film drags. As Cleopatra, Taylor certainly looks the part and she has some of her best moments as an actress, her humiliation of Antony when returns after his marriage to Octavia (Jean Marsh) is wonderful. But even she is defeated during some of the film's more florid passages. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The massive cast includes Roddy McDowall, Martin Landau, Hume Cronyn, Carroll O'Connor, Robert Stephens, Cesare Danova, Francesca Annis, Kenneth Haigh, Pamela Brown, John Hoyt, Michael Hordern, Andrew Keir, Gregoire Aslan, Martin Benson, Isabelle Cooley, John Doucette and Herbert Berghof.
Six stories run parallel with each other, each taking place during a different era: the South Pacific in the 1860s, England in the 1930s, San Francisco in the 1970s, Great Britain in 2012, Korea in the year 2144 and a post apocalyptic world in an unspecified future. A sprawling ambitious genuine epic with directing duties split between Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN) and the Wachowski siblings (Andy and Lana) that pushes the three hour mark. While each individual narrative on its own is flawed (the 2012 sequence fares the worst), the total sum of the parts is impressive. This isn't safe movie making and if I give the film a lot of slack it's because it's attempting something challenging and provocative that uses all of cinema's resources to challenge its audience to connect the dots instead of doing it for us (leaving the theater, I overheard a woman whining, "I couldn't follow it!"). It's massive cast all play several parts that extend beyond racial and gender lines, for example Halle Berry plays an Asian male doctor while that terrific Korean actress Doona Bae (in an impressive English language debut) plays a Mexican woman. And it's not a gimmick as thematically, all the characters are tied together on some level so it actually makes sense. A one of a kind film that demands to be seen. The huge cast includes Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, James D'Arcy, Hugo Weaving, Keith David and Jim Sturgess.
Discharged dishonorably from the Army, Antoine Doinel (Jean Pierre Leaud) randomly tries a series of jobs unsuccessfully while half heartedly attempting to reconnect with his old sweetheart (Claude Jade). The movie loving 12 year old misfit of Francois Truffaut's THE 400 BLOWS is still trying to find his place in the world but Truffaut has left the poignant bitterness of the 1959 film and his tone here is more romantic. The messiness of love has always been a major component in Truffaut's cinematic landscape whether the dark obsessions of JULES ET JIM and STORY OF ADELE H or the more whimsical diversions of DAY FOR NIGHT or this film and its follow up, BED AND BOARD. As a film maker, he is sorely missed. The film is both amusing and poignant even as Antoine's idealized fantasies of love are given both credence and doubt by several minor subplots like the stranger stalking Jade or the young man who falls apart when he discovers his male ex-lover is now married with children. With Delphine Seyrig, Michael Lonsdale, Marie France Pisier and Harry Max.
After a young couple defects from communist Poland, they emigrate to America in the hopes of a better life. But things don't go as planned. As the husband's (Jurgen Prochnow, DAS BOOT) career fails to take off, his wife's (Candice Bergen) becomes increasingly successful and he begins to resent her as she becomes more independent and Americanized. As his mental state deteriorates, she fears for her life and divorces him and that's when her nightmare really begins. Based on a true story of a 1979 murder that should never have happened except for the failure of the legal and mental health care systems, this is a very disturbing film. You know right from the beginning how it's going to end and it's no pleasure waiting for the inevitable. The tragedy of Ewa Berwid's murder caused New York to change several laws which gave more protection to potential victims, little solace to her two small children. A very deglamourized Bergen, using a very subtle Polish accent, does some of her very best work here. Directed by Anthony Page. With Eli Wallach and Hector Elizondo.
A musical film star (Fred Astaire) whose career is on the skids returns to New York to do a Broadway show. His writer friends (Nanette Fabray, Oscar Levant) wrote a light and airy musical comedy but the show's director (Jack Buchanan) sees a more dramatic "relevant" musical based on the Faust tale. Everyone, including the show's leading lady (Cyd Charisse) clashes and the project seems headed for disaster. One of the highpoints of the American film musical, perhaps only SINGIN' IN THE RAIN has melded all the elements so perfectly. The screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (the basis for the Fabray and Levant characters) is topical and witty, the songs by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz are all winners, not a dud among them and Michael Kidd's choreography highlighted by the sensational Girl Hunt Ballet is sensational. All the performers are very good and in Buchanan's case, more than that, he's brilliant. That sorcerer Vincente Minnelli whips it all together and what you get is a vibrant, intelligent, terrific looking movie. Who could ask for anything more? With Ava Gardner, Steve Forrest, Julie Newmar, James Mitchell, Barbara Ruick and Robert Gist.
When a naive young country girl (Lillian Gish) goes to visit her rich city relatives, she is seduced and tricked into a fake marriage by a wealthy playboy (Lowell Sherman). When she becomes pregnant, he abandons her and when the baby dies, she finds work on the farm of a pious squire (Burr McIntosh) and catches the eye of the squire's son (Richard Barthelmess). But it is only a matter of time before her past catches up with her. Based on a popular late 19th century melodrama that was already outdated in 1920, the director D.W. Griffith transforms it into a quasi-feminist tale of double standards and redemption that suggests Thomas Hardy's TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES. The great Lillian Gish gives a full tilt performance going from guileless maiden to devastated mother to outraged victim. The film's thrilling finale is legendary. Reputedly without a stuntwoman, Gish floats on a piece of ice as it rushes towards a waterfall to be rescued only seconds before the piece of ice she was on goes over the edge. With Creighton Hale, Mary Hay and Vivia Ogden, impressive as the town's simian faced gossip.
The notorious female bandit Belle Starr (Jane Russell) is rescued from the hangman's noose by Bob Dalton (Scott Brady) of the Dalton gang. But when a posse almost catches up with her, Starr assumes the Dalton gang have double crossed her and with two partners (Forrest Tucker, Jack Lambert) lay low and play respectable while planning to heist a casino run by Bradfield (George Brent). But when Cupid shoots his arrow, things don't go as planned. At this stage of the game, Belle Starr seemed to be a brand name, a generic moniker for a woman outlaw and thus the fictionalized film bears no resemblance whatsoever to the real Belle Starr. Shockingly routine considered it was directed by Allan Dwan who directed some solid if minor westerns in the 1950s like SILVER LODE and TENNESSEE'S PARTNER, the film was actually made in 1948 but didn't see a theatrical release until four years later. At first, the film seems headed to an unusually bleak ending until a romanticized finish botches it. The film was shot in in a garish process called TruColor, the same process Nick Ray's JOHNNY GUITAR was shot in but it looks nowhere as good. With Andy Devine, Ray Teal and John Litel.
The story of the Van Gogh brothers, Vincent (Tim Roth) and Theo (Paul Rhys), and the close but complicated relationship between them, one incessantly flirting with madness through out his life and the other eventually driven mad by a syphilis brain infection. Unfortunately as a character, at least as presented here, Theo isn't very interesting (it doesn't help that Rhys is a cipher) which leaves the focus on Vincent's character. Roth tries and he has some fine moments but his Vincent doesn't have the soul of an artist. I can't say whether his Van Gogh is any more or less accurate than Kirk Douglas's Van Gogh in LUST FOR LIFE but at least Douglas gave us the passion of an artist. Roth's performance at times seems as misguided as Tom Hulce's Mozart in AMADEUS. Apparently conceived as a mini series for the BBC, the script was cut to 2 1/2 hours and re-conceived for cinemas. Robert Altman creates a visual tableaux that accentuates the Van Gogh connection which is the most engaging aspect of the film. And as an Altman film, it deserves to be seen as even his flawed works are not without substance. Two performances worth mentioning: Wladimir Yordanoff brings a quiet arrogance as Paul Gauguin and Jip Wijngaarden as a selfish prostitute. Also with Jean Pierre Cassel and Johanna Ter Steege (THE VANISHING).
After his wife (Fay Wray) dies and his fortune is lost in the stock market crash, a man (Warner Baxter) sends his sons to boarding school and dismisses the governess (Ingrid Bergman) who has become a part of the family. When his fortunes reverse, his sons are all grown and he sends for the governess to return and once again be part of the family. But when the second son (Johnny Downs) returns with a bride (Susan Hayward), who turns out to be the serpent in the garden, her sluttish behavior threatens to destroy the family and turn brother against brother. This pleasing soap opera was directed by Gregory Ratoff (perhaps better known as Max Fabian in ALL ABOUT EVE), who had directed Bergman in her American debut INTERMEZZO. While Bergman nobly suffers in silence, Hayward pulls all the stops out as the bitchy, trouble making viper and is there anything more pleasurable in a movie than seeing a bitch get her comeuppance? Based on the novel LEGACY by Charles Bonner. With Richard Denning, June Lockhart and Helen Westley.
A popular radio personality (Claude Rains) specializing in murder stories kills his secretary (Barbara Wooddell) and makes it look like a suicide. But when a stranger (Ted North) turns up claiming to be the husband of Rains' dead niece, things take a dangerous turn ... especially when the niece (Joan Caulfield) turns up alive and doesn't recognize her alleged husband. And how are these events connected with the secretary's murder? Michael Curtiz directs this stylish noir-ish mystery based on the Charlotte Armstrong novel and if the ghost of LAURA seems to hover over it, it stands admirably on its own. Since we know immediately who the killer is, it's not a whodunit, the suspense comes from when and how he'll be found out. The film's only flaw is in the casting of the dull Ted North (billed as Michael North here) in a central role in what would turn out to be his last film. The moody score is by Franz Waxman. The sterling supporting cast includes Constance Bennett as Rains' wisecracking secretary, Audrey Totter, Hurd Hatfield (PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY), Fred Clark and Jack Lambert.
In 5th century Persia B.C., King Ahasuerus (Richard Egan) chooses a new Queen (Joan Collins) not knowing she is a Jew. Despite the evil machinations of his minister (Sergio Fantoni) who plots to claim the throne for himself, the young Queen urges the King on to rule in wisdom and tolerance. Co-written, produced and directed by Raoul Walsh (WHITE HEAT) in Italy with an Italian crew, the film is an odd mixture of a typical Hollywood biblical epic and an Italian sword and sandal saga with the peplum aspect taking center stage. The casting of the sexy Collins as the demure Jewish maiden would ordinarily have been a mistake but her miscasting only adds to the foreignness of the whole production. As far as biblical films go, it's pretty low on the totem pole but it remains an above average sword and sandal effort. Mario Bava served as the director of cinematography (and often co-credited as director) as his first (credited) feature film LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO/BLACK SUNDAY also made its presence known. The uneven score is by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. With Denis O'Dea, Rik Battaglia and Daniela Rocca.
When a major corporation wants to build on a piece of land, the wealthy dowager (Joan Crawford) who owns the property refuses to sell. The corporation's attorney (Paul Burke, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) is determined that the deal will go through but when he finally meets the reclusive woman to persuade her, it's her strange daughter (Diane Baker) who catches his eye. Made the same year as STRAIT JACKET which also starred Crawford and Baker as a disturbing mother and daughter pair, this one is a lot less fun. The glamorously gowned and coiffed Crawford looks terrific though, the best she looked in any of her 1960s films. The film's mystery (Crawford's "hold" on her daughter) is no real mystery at all and Burke's character looks like a dolt for not noticing the obvious. Originally a pilot for a proposed TV series ROYAL BAY that never sold and was released theatrically instead. Directed by Robert Gist (AN AMERICAN DREAM). With Charles Bickford, Richard Carlson, Otto Kruger and Jan Shepard.
A railroad surveyor (the likable Audie Murphy) returns home upon hearing his father and kid brother have been killed by cattle rustlers. The sheriff (Paul Birch) makes him a deputy and sends him off to bring back a wanted killer (Dan Duryea) who may have information on who killed his father but the murderers may be closer than Murphy thinks. A minor programmer among many such westerns churned out by Universal in the 1950s but it's pretty solid if standard stuff that should please western buffs. Duryea as a laughing gunman seems to be channeling Richard Widmark from KISS OF DEATH but he provides most of the movie's humor and the one character who seems fresh among the western stereotypes. Directed by Jesse Hibbs, who directed Murphy in six of his films. With Susan Cabot as the "good" sheriff's daughter, Abbe Lane as the "bad" saloon girl (who gets to sing two songs), Jack Elam, Paul Birch and Russell Johnson.
Based on an actual incident during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis when Islamic militants invaded the U.S. Embassy and took 52 American hostages. But unbeknownst to them, six Americans escaped and took sanctuary at the Canadian embassy. This film is about a daring plan by the CIA to rescue those six and get them out of the country. With his third feature film, actor/director Ben Affleck has fulfilled the promise shown with GONE BABY GONE and THE TOWN. As accomplished a political thriller as anything by Costa-Gavras or Alan Pakula, ARGO is a tight, fascinating political thriller balanced with a satirically comic eye at Hollywood film making. As a director, Affleck (who plays CIA operative Tony Mendez) uses his artistic license to intensify the film's third act by compacting time and embellishing the escape sequence yet still staying truthful to the core facts of the story. He's aided by a taut script by Chris Terrio, the razor editing of William Goldenberg, the precise underscore of Alexandre Desplat and a massive but perfect cast including John Goodman as Oscar winning make up artist John Chambers, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, Clea DuVall, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek, Adrienne Barbeau and Richard Kind.
Set in 16th century Japan during the civil wars, two peasants have ambitions beyond their paltry existence. One, a farmer (Masayuki Mori) with a talent for pottery dreams of wealth and the other (Eitaro Ozawa) has dreams of becoming a great samurai warrior. Both men attain their dreams but at a terrible price. Based on two short stories from Akinari Ueda's TALES OF MOONLIGHT AND RAIN, Kenji Mizoguchi's film is one of the great treasures of Japanese cinema. I don't know that any verbiage can do it justice. Suffice to say, that Mizoguchi's fluid direction combined with Kazuo Miyagawa's striking images transcends the film's simple morality tale narrative. Balancing both realism and supernatural elements, Mizoguchi has spun a magical yet emotionally rich tapestry that you can't shake off ... and why would you want to? With Kinuyo Tanaka and Mitsuko Mito as the ill fated wives of the two men and the elegant Machiko Kyo as the ghostly Lady Wakasa.
A researcher (Andrew Duggan) and his assistant (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) arrive in Los Angeles to conduct interviews with middle class women on their sex lives. The film focuses on four of the female subjects: an adulterous housewife (Shelley Winters), a frigid widow (Jane Fonda), a self destructive nymphomaniac (Claire Bloom) and a kooky artist (Glynis Johns). Based on the best seller by Irving Wallace, itself a barely disguised steal from the (then) controversial Kinsey reports, the director George Cukor has his hands tied due to studio interference and the early 1960s morality which prevents any honest examination of suburban sex. The film wants to be "daring" but is reticent to call a spade a spade. What we get is a glossy soap opera redeemed by two performances. Jane Fonda, looking Movie Star glamorous in her Orry Kelly wardrobe, has the worst written of the roles and goes down fast. Glynis Johns does her best but her character is too precious and underwritten. But Shelley Winters brings a genuine pathos to her unhappy housewife and best of all, Claire Bloom takes the mediocre material and slams through it with a terrific performance so honest and real that she shows up the rest of the film for the ineffectual effort it is. With Cloris Leachman, Ray Danton, Ty Hardin, Henry Daniell, Chad Everett, John Dehner, Roy Roberts, Corey Allen and Harold J. Stone.
Set in the 1940s, an elderly woman (Geraldine Page in an Oscar winning performance) lives in a small two room apartment in Houston with her son (John Heard) and shrewish daughter in law (Carlin Glynn). She's homesick for the small town of Bountiful which she left over 20 years ago when the land gave out and she is determined, despite the efforts of her son and daughter in law, to return home one last time. Based on the television play originally shown in 1953 by Horton Foote, it's a sliver of an idea that evokes a gentler and kinder Tennessee Williams piece though thankfully it doesn't push for the tear ducts. The actor turned director Peter Masterson, whose first film this was, wisely senses that this is an actor's piece and doesn't attempt to make the film cinematic but stays out of his actors' way and let's them do their job. Page's performance is all actress-y which can be dangerous when it doesn't work (think Hepburn in ON GOLDEN POND) but there's a reason she was considered one of the great actresses of her generation and she's superb here. The rest of the cast is top notch including Rebecca De Mornay and Richard Bradford. Glynn's character of the bossy daughter in law is a bit of a cliche but it's no fault of her own, it's the writing.
In the mid 1600s, a French Canadian fur trapper (Paul Muni) convinces King Charles II (Vincent Price) of England to back an expedition to not only gather thousands of fur pelts with the full cooperation of the Indian populace but to colonize Hudson's Bay. Based on the life of Pierre Esprit Radisson (yes, the very same who has a chain of hotels named after him in the U.S.), whose idea was it that the formation of the Hudson Bay company would make for an interesting film? Well, it doesn't so, of course, the film is highly fictionalized with incidents that never happened to hold one's interest (to no avail). Adjectives don't exist that could fully describe the awfulness of Muni's hammy, eye rolling performance with his awful Pepe Le Pew French accent. To say painful is an understatement and Laird Cregar as his trapping partner isn't far behind. Which leaves us with John Sutton and a horribly wasted Gene Tierney to provide the pallid romantic interest. Directed by Irving Pichel (THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME). With Nigel Bruce, Virginia Field, Morton Lowry and Ian Wolfe.
While Israel enjoys prosperity and peace under the rule of King Solomon (Yul Brynner), the Queen Of Sheba (Gina Lollobrigida) conspires with the Egyptian Pharaoh (David Farrar) to destroy him. A below average Biblical epic and a poor swan song for the director King Vidor (THE CROWD). Three screenwriters and no one could come up with anything but the standard "Biblical" stilted dialogue. It's nowhere near as fun as DeMille's SAMSON AND DELILAH which managed to be quite entertaining amid all the kitsch and purple dialogue. The film does reach one moment of delirious kitsch, however. When the Sheban Queen hosts a fertility festival and Lollobrigida bumps and grinds while all the male dancers do pelvic thrusts to pagan drums, you're in guilty pleasure heaven. If only the rest of the film matched that demented sequence, we might have had something instead of the piousness. The score by Mario Nascimbene isn't bad though and the Freddie Young's (LUST FOR LIFE) 70 millimeter Technirama lensing is quite elegant. With George Sanders (in a rare bad performance), Marisa Pavan, Harry Andrews, Finlay Currie, Jean Anderson and Laurence Naismith.
In a small California hamlet, there is a division between the white middle class town and the Mexican farm workers who pick fruit and live in an adjacent less affluent community. After a fight breaks out at a dance in the Hispanic part of town when Caucasian youths invade the festivities, a Latino youth (Lalo Rios) hits a police officer and steals a car. From there it spirals into full scale hysteria, half truths and vigilantism as the town boils over in hate. If this sounds like a socially conscious Stanley Kramer film, rest assured that the film avoids the civics lesson and black and white stereotypes of the dreaded Kramer syndrome. The film it resembles most is Arthur Penn's underrated THE CHASE. Directed by Joseph Losey, the film provides an even handed balanced look at all the protagonists and participants. The Caucasian characters aren't all portrayed as blathering racists and the Mexicans aren't portrayed as saints. The film's biggest flaw isn't in the script but the casting of the bland Macdonald Carey in the lead role of the crusading editor of a small newspaper. Fortunately, there's the sad eyed Gail Russell as the Latina reporter of a small Mexican newspaper who compensates. With Martha Hyer, Tab Hunter (in his film debut), John Hoyt (in a rare sympathetic role), Lee Patrick, Argentina Brunetti and Frank Ferguson.
A feminist journalist (Susannah York), who's also a pacifist, arrives in Belgium to cover some NATO war games. She begins a love/hate relationship with her next door neighbor (Roger Moore) that intensifies when she discovers he's an arms dealer. I'm tempted to call this a romantic comedy in spite of the fact that there's a sparse supply of both romance and laughs. A TOUCH OF CLASS (1973) seems the template for this kind of film and Moore and York huff and puff but the movie never manages to get going. Still, they're both attractive performers and the Belgian locations are handsome and Lee J. Cobb and Shelley Winters (making the most of every scene she's in) as a U.S. General and his wife are amusing. Directed by Christopher Miles (PRIEST OF LOVE). With Jean Pierre Cassel, Raf Vallone, Donald Sinden and Sydne Rome.
A group of musicians and their bandleader (Fred Astaire) are stranded in Paris when Astaire's football playing buddy (Randolph Scott) goes to his aunt (Helen Westley), a famous Paris couturiere, for help. Based on Jerome Kern's hit Broadway musical, this was the third film pairing of Astaire and Ginger Rogers though it's Irene Dunne who's top billed. Dunne gets to trill some good songs like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Yesterdays though any pleasure you may derive depends on how you react to her singing voice (I don't like it). Dunne's also saddled with the stiff Randolph Scott, at his most unappealing, as her romantic pairing. Fortunately, we have the affable Astaire and the sassy Rogers (at her most likable) as a phony Russian countess to pick up the slack and though they only have three dance numbers, when they dance the film becomes something special and they're lucky enough to get two of the film's best songs, I'll Be Hard To Handle and the catchy I Won't Dance. It makes the negligible plot less painful. Directed by William A. Seiter. With Claire Dodd, Victor Varconi and briefly glimpsed as a model, a young Lucille Ball.
As if examining a diamond, director Todd Haynes takes the myth of Bob Dylan, the artist and the man, and looks at different facets of the legend. Six different actors play six different aspects and phases of Dylan's life. Dylan is never referenced, all six characters have different names. What we get is a fascinating puzzle that we piece together as the film (which is non linear and the six stories are intercut) unfolds. We get Dylan the child, Dylan the husband, Dylan the born again Christian, Dylan the outlaw, Dylan the iconoclast but the kicker is that Dylan remains as much of an enigma at the film's end that he was at the beginning. But perhaps most importantly, what we also have is Dylan the musician and those glorious songs which overshadow everything else. The six actors portraying Dylan are Cate Blanchett (who justifiably received an Oscar nomination for her work here), Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Ben Whishaw and Carl Marcus Franklin. I suspect if you're not an admirer of Dylan's work, the film might be tough going though. With Julianne Moore (the Joan Baez stand in), Michelle Williams, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Friedman, Don Francks and narration by Kris Kristofferson.
After her husband passes away, a widow (Maureen Stapleton) struggles to find her way in life alone. Despite two grown children and grandchildren, she is lonely. When a friend (Jacquelyn Hyde, THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY?) suggests she join her at the Stardust Ballroom, she meets a mailman (Charles Durning) and a tentative relationship blooms. Directed by the renowned film editor (ROSEMARY'S BABY, COOL HAND LUKE) and occasional director (SPARKLE) Sam O'Steen, this is a lovely and moving late in life romance whose spell sneaks up on you. While there are some songs, I wouldn't call this a musical but a drama with music. The lovely score is by Billy Goldenberg, the lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman and Marge Champion was responsible for the dances. While Stapleton is not a singer (to put it mildly), she talk/sings her songs with an actress's authority so whether she can actually sing becomes irrelevant. Some thematic elements resemble Sirk's ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS with the grown children resenting their mother's middle aged romance, Stapleton's shocked daughter cries, "You're a grandmother!". With Michael Brandon, Charlotte Rae, Martha Tilton and Nora Marlowe.
Set in the late 60s in a small Florida parish, a reporter (Matthew McConaughey) returns to his hometown to gather information that might help free a convicted death row inmate (John Cusack). His kid brother (Zac Efron) tags along and falls in love with the older white trash convict groupie (Nicole Kidman) who's attached herself to the killer. I suppose you could call Lee Daniels first film after his Oscar winning PRECIOUS a coming of age story but trust me, you've never seen a coming of age story like this! While not as powerful as PRECIOUS, I'd venture to say it's a more daring film and yes, maybe even a better film. It's certainly one of the most brutally sexual and graphic (both hetero and homosexual) mainstream films I've seen. When's the last time you've seen a movie where the leading lady urinates on the leading man? Most of the film's reviews have used the word lurid and it's an apt description. It's a Southern Gothic hothouse of a film that Daniels almost pushes to the point of over the top melodrama but never crosses the line, even to its horror movie finale. Kidman gives the best performance by an actress I've seen this year that ranks with her work in DOGVILLE and BIRTH. I suspect this might be a polarizing film for many but I loved it. With Macy Gray, David Oyelowo, Scott Glenn and Nealla Gordon.
A petty bank robber called Machine-Gun Kelly (Charles Bronson in his first starring role) because of his fixation on the weapon turns to bigger things when he decides to kidnap the child (Lori Martin, CAPE FEAR) of a millionaire (Robert Griffin) for ransom. Roger Corman directs this low budget, energetic and tawdry gangster flick and it's not bad at all. Bronson's performance is a little wobbly and unsure of itself but already showing signs of the household name he would later become. Bronson's uneven performance allows Susan Cabot as Kelly's heartless, tough as nails mistress to take center stage. While the film references Kelly's name, all the other characters though loosely based on real people and situations are made up. Corman's direction is tight but overall the film resembles a good episode of the TV show, THE UNTOUCHABLES. The crisp black and white photography is by Oscar winner Floyd Crosby (Murnau's TABU) and the jazz score by Gerald Fried. With the comic Morey Amsterdam (THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW) in a rare dramatic role, Connie Gilchrist, Richard Devon, Barboura Morris and Mitzi McCall.
When her boyfriend (Jacques Riberolles) leaves her for a wealthy American woman (Josephine James), a model (Brigitte Bardot) plots to win him back by making him jealous over another man (Michel Subor, Hitchcock's TOPAZ) and if that fails, murder the American lady. This puerile comedy looks like an attempt to do a Doris Day comedy with Bardot and though she's sexier than Ms. Day, as a comedienne Bardot is no Doris Day! As if realizing, there's not enough titillation in the movie, the director Roger Vadim inserts a dream sequence with Bardot dancing topless to liven up the undertaking though curiously the sequence is so gauzy that one can't quite be sure it's Bardot we're seeing. Despite the deficiencies of the script and the irritability of her character, Bardot manages to be charming as usual though one wishes she had stronger co-stars. The black and white CinemaScope photography could have benefited from being shot in color to take advantage of the French alps location shoot. Jean Aurel is often given co-credit as the film's director.
A young attorney (Van Johnson) has a serious allergic reaction to alcohol. That about sums up this anemic comedy in a nutshell. It's a one joke pony and not a very funny joke at that. We're expected to laugh at Johnson embarrassing himself when he talks to hat racks or hears his dog talking to him while under the influence. Worse than that, we're expected to laugh when his mean spirited colleagues intentionally put brandy in his soup just to see him get drunk and make a fool of himself! If there was some wit to the proceedings perhaps it wouldn't seem so banal. Buried in his wan laugh fest, there's a far more interesting subplot involving racial discrimination when a Chinese doctor (Philip Ahn) attempts to move in to a "Caucasian only" apartment complex and Johnson's law firm plots legal machinations to keep him out. Written and directed by Norman Krasna (WHITE CHRISTMAS). Co-starring a lovely Elizabeth Taylor as Johnson's love interest, an amateur psychologist who attempts to cure him. With Leon Ames, Rosemary DeCamp, Gene Lockhart, Edgar Buchanan and Selena Royle.
A young American couple (John Malkovich, Andie MacDowell), shallow and narcissistic, are living beyond their means in a posh London hotel. In the same hotel, a young deaf mute (Rudi Davies) is working as a maid to support her younger brother (Ricci Hartnett, 28 DAYS LATER). The object of beauty of the title refers to a small bronze sculpture that will affect all four characters and change the course of their lives. A modest effort written and directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg (LET IT BE), it's a rather chilly piece though very well acted (especially by MacDowell and Davies) that never quite pulls us in probably because the Malkovich and MacDowell (both impeccably dressed by Giorgio Armani) characters are so self centered that it's hard to empathize with them or their situation which is brought upon by themselves. But it has a well written screenplay that keeps its focus and gets the job done though one wishes Lindsay-Hogg's direction was as strong as his script. There's a nice unobtrusive jazz score by Tom Bahler and the cinematographer David Watkin's (OUT OF AFRICA) eye ably recreates both the elegance of an upscale lifestyle and the squalor of poverty. With Lolita Davidovich, Joss Ackland and Peter Riegert.
Prior to America's entry into WWII, a Jewish policeman (Milton Berle) is assigned to act as the bodyguard to the German consulate (Otto Preminger), who has been using monies sent to him from Nazi Germany intended for sabotage for his own personal use. The consulate must also deal with a wife (Joan Bennett) who despises him. Based on a Broadway play by Clare Boothe Luce (THE WOMEN) with Preminger recreating his stage role, Preminger also directed. Originally staged prior to America's entry into WWII, by the time the film was made and released, the war was on and the film had lost whatever bite the play may have had. The end result is a simplistic bit of propaganda that wears out its welcome before its end especially Preminger's annoying caricature. I'm not a fan of Nazi comedies like Lubtisch's TO BE OR NOT TO BE or Chaplin's THE GREAT DICTATOR and this film doesn't do anything to persuade me differently. None of the biting wit of Luce's THE WOMEN is evident here and it could have used it. With Carl Esmond, Howard Freeman and Poldi Dur.
When a feisty young nurse (Barbara Stanwyck) gets assigned night duty to watch over two ailing children, she begins to get suspicious when instead of getting better under their doctor's (Ralf Harolde) care, they're getting worse. This gritty pre-code melodrama could only have come out of Warner Brothers in the 1930s. The director William Wellman pulls out all the stops: there's a young pre-stardom Clark Gable as a sadistic chauffeur who likes to beat up on women, Stanwyck and Joan Blondell in sexy lingerie, corrupt doctors, boozed up mothers, attempted rape and bootleggers. At a brief 72 minute running time, Wellman has trimmed all the fat and it's a tight, nifty and nasty piece. Stanwyck, in particular, is really terrific here, already in full command of her actress's prowess. Based on the novel by Dora Macy. With the likable Ben Lyon (HELL'S ANGELS) as Stanwyck's bootlegger admirer, Charles Winninger, Blanche Friderici and Charlotte Merriam, who's at the receiving end of Stanywck's famous line, "You, mother!".
A race car driver (Leonard Nimoy) has visions of an English manor house and a screaming woman (Vera Miles) during a race which causes him to crash. An expert on psychic phenomenon and the occult (Susan Hampshire) believes that he has seen something that will happen in the future and together they track down the English manor to investigate. This rather absurd piece of horror pulp was originally shot as a movie pilot for a proposed television series (Nimoy as a psychic detective with Hampshire as his romantic sidekick psychically solving a new case each week) that never sold. Despite dealing with witchcraft, there's very little suspense at all though there is one neat surprise twist at the end that I didn't see coming though it's a bit of a cheat. Directed by Philip Leacock with a cheesy 70s score by Richard Hill. With Rachel Roberts (SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING) in a nice turn as a landlady who mysteriously looks younger each day, Angharad Rees, Jewel Blanch and Ray Brooks.
After discovering her new husband (Stephen McNally) murdered her father (John Litel), a newlywed (Ida Lupino) evades an attempt by her spouse to kill her and fakes her own suicide. But the husband not only doesn't believe she's dead, he's determined to find her and finish the job. An efficiently made "woman in peril" thriller with noir-ish overtones, the film is eerily reminiscent of SUDDEN FEAR which was made two years later. It's not as well written though Lupino delivers a better performance in the central role than Crawford and Peggy Dow, as McNally's mistress, is excellent. Still, it's a bit annoying to a 21st century sensibility to see how women were often portrayed as weak, helpless things unable to take care of themselves or control their own lives and it takes a man (in this case, Howard Duff) to save the day. Directed by Michael Gordon (PILLOW TALK). With Taylor Holmes, Peggie Castle, Jerry Paris and Angela Clarke.