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Friday, November 30, 2012

The Liquidator (1965)

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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Faces (1954)

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Two Rode Together (1961)

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Man Of La Mancha (1972)

Miguel De Cervantes (Peter O'Toole) and his servant (James Coco, simply awful) are arrested by the Spanish Inquisition. While awaiting his trial, he tells his fellow prisoners the tale of the aged Don Quixote (also O'Toole), not in his right mind, and his mission to be a knight errant. Based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name by Dale Wasserman (by way of his television play I, DON QUIXOTE, the film was greeted with negative notices (musicals were rapidly falling out of favor) when it opened but like many musicals of that era, posterity has been kind. Which is not to say, it's a good movie, it isn't, just not the "bomb" its reputation would suggest. Its pacing is rather listless and the heavy handed songs by Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh don't help much (the original director Peter Glenville wanted to toss out the songs altogether) but there are some bright spots. Dulcinea is lovely and schmaltzy as it is, The Impossible Dream is undeniably effective. His singing voice dubbed by Simon Gilbert, O'Toole brings a wispy sweetness to his Don Quixote. But it's Sophia Loren, who dominates the film. When her Aldonza spits out her guttural rage in a song like Aldonza, this is real woman who has been abused, a wounded animal in pain, not some Broadway diva hitting the high notes. Directed by Arthur Hiller. With Harry Andrews, John Castle, Brian Blessed, Rosalie Crutchley, Ian Richardson, Gino Conforti and Julie Gregg.

The Big Steal (1949)

An Army Lieutenant (Robert Mitchum) runs off to Mexico to find the man (Patric Knowles) who robbed him of the $300,000 payroll he was in charge of. While there he meets a woman (Jane Greer) who's after the same man for swindling her. They team up and the chase is on but they're being pursued by his superior officer (William Bendix) who suspects Mitchum was complicit in the robbery. This fast paced noir-ish thriller, an early directorial effort by Don Siegel (this was his third feature film), blitzes at a galloping pace cramming as much as it can into its brief 71 minute running time. Reunited after the classic noir OUT OF THE PAST, good naturedly bantering their lines back and forth, Mitchum and Greer's chemistry makes the screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring and Gerald Drayson Adams seem better than it is. But there are enough twists and turns to keep you glued to the screen. Filmed in Tehuacan, Mexico. With John Qualen and silent film idol Ramon Novarro.

The Song Of Songs (1933)

A rather naive young country girl (Marlene Dietrich) moves to Berlin to live with her miserly aunt (Alison Skipworth, DANGEROUS). There, she falls in love with a sculptor (Brian Aherne), she poses nude for him, who abandons her thus leaving her in the hands of the crude and decadent Baron (Lionel Atwill) who will transform her. This excessive gaudy melodrama, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, is entertaining in its own flamboyant way but its artistic pretensions are not to be taken seriously. The film is divided into three parts: Dietrich the country girl, Dietrich the bruised Baroness, Dietrich the slut. Curiously, Dietrich is most effective as the trusting country maid though there's nothing rustic about her! Surprisingly, her performance seems to get progressively worse as her character becomes more sophisticated. Innocence, betrayal, suffering, decadence: all the things fans of 30s kitsch could ask for in one movie though one may wonder that this came from the same director who gave us the elegant LOVE ME TONIGHT the year before. With Helen Freeman and Hardie Albright.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

In 2003, two years after the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a fiercely determined CIA officer (Jessica Chastain) focuses only on one thing ... the capture or death of Osama Bin Laden. The film chronicles her eight year journey to achieve just that. Kathryn Bigelow's first film since her Oscar winning THE HURT LOCKER again ventures into U.S. involvement in the Middle East but this time with a female protagonist. Can lightning strike twice? Yes. As in HURT LOCKER, Bigelow takes no political sides. ZERO DARK THIRTY takes a clinical, objective look at the behind the scenes machinations that led to Bin Laden's death. From the very beginning with scenes of graphic torture of Arab detainees to the raid on Bin Laden's fortress, Bigelow avoids political commentary and leaves that up to us. What we get is an intense cinematic experience that's so compelling you barely notice the two hours and forty minutes running time. Chastain proves that her phenomenal 2011 year was no fluke and her performance here is as relentless as her character. Mark Boal's screenplay is tight if a bit overwhelming at times. The sparse score by the great Alexandre Desplat is muted for most of the film but goes into high gear during the preparation for and during the raid sequence. The excellent ensemble cast includes Jason Clarke, Edgar Ramirez, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle (just wonderful) and James Gandolfini.

All Through The Night (1941)

When a German baker (Ludwig Stossel) is found murdered, a popular Broadway gambler (Humphrey Bogart) finds himself involved in a conspiracy by fifth columnist Nazis who have big plans to destroy an American battleship. But the authorities don't believe him and he's on his own. A very odd film, a comedic propaganda piece directed by Vincent Sherman (MR. SKEFFINGTON) that's off key. To its credit, the Nazis aren't portrayed as fools but I still find it hard to laugh at comedies involving Nazis. It's quite watchable mainly because of its familiar cast of character actors but it still had me squirming. The large cast includes Conrad Veidt (who else?) as the head Nazi with Judith Anderson and Peter Lorre as his disciples and Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, William Demarest, Frank McHugh, Jane Darwell, Wallace Ford, Barton MacLane and Kaaren Verne (KINGS ROW) as the heroine who sings the title song by Johnny Mercer and Arthur Schwartz.

La Francaise Et L'Amour (aka Love And The Frenchwoman) (1960)

A portmanteau film consisting of seven vignettes regarding aspects of the French female, each with a different director and cast: Childhood directed by Henri Decoin, Adolescence directed by Jean Delannoy, Virginity directed by Michel Boisrond, Marriage directed by Rene Clair, Adultery directed by Henri Verneuil, Divorce directed by Christian-Jacque and Single Women directed by Jean Paul Le Chanois. They vary from tedious (Marriage) to mildly amusing (Divorce) with only one stand out, the final tale Single Women in which a gigolo (Robert Lamoureux) attempts to juggle two women (Martine Carol, Silvia Monfort) at the same time with disastrous results. The rest of the players include Jean Paul Belmondo, Annie Girardot, the lovely Dany Robin (TOPAZ), Francois Perrier, Michel Serrault, Paul Meurisse and Jacques Marin.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Keys To Tulsa (1997)

Despite coming from a wealthy background, a shiftless loser (Eric Stoltz) can barely hold on to a job and pay his bills. When his drug dealer pal (James Spader) concocts a dangerous plan to blackmail the son (Marco Perella) of a local millionaire (James Coburn), he wants no part of it but he finds himself suckered into it anyway. File this under "it seemed a good idea at the time". Based on the novel by Brian Fair Berkey, this ill thought out project tries to be dark and edgy but ends up an implausible mess. There isn't a single likable character in the whole movie and the actors all seem to be playing archetypes. Spader is channeling Elvis, Deborah Kara Unger seems to be doing Kathleen Turner, Michael Rooker apes William Bendix and Stoltz ... well, has there ever been a leading man so totally lacking in screen presence of any kind? Directed by Leslie Greif whose only other film is the Chevy Chase flop, FUNNY MONEY. With Mary Tyler Moore, ill used as Stoltz' selfish mother, Cameron Diaz, Joanna Going, Randy Graff and Peter Strauss.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Company (2011)

On his 35th birthday, a confirmed bachelor (Neil Patrick Harris) finds himself feted by his friends, five married couples. Reflecting on his mutual friendships with the couples as well as three young ladies, he examines his inability to commit to a relationship and hopefully, a breakthrough that will allow him to commit to that one special person. Barely released in 2011 to a very limited amount of movie theaters, this filmed version of a live performance is probably as close as we'll ever get of a movie of Stephen Sondheim's musical COMPANY. The fragmented concept of a series of vignettes as conceived is such a theatrical piece that of all Sondheim's shows, it proves the most difficult to translate in cinematic terms. Still, if this is all we'll ever get, I'm eternally grateful because it's terrific "film". Though sole writer's credit is given to the original author George Furth, I've seen two professional productions of COMPANY (including the original cast) and I stand to be corrected but Furth's book seems to have been tweaked and honed and for the better. This production is every bit as good as and dare I say it, perhaps better than the original? It was a real pleasure to see Tick Tock restored to its place as most revivals eliminate the dance number. Directed by Lonny Price. Harris is excellent and you couldn't ask for a better ensemble cast: Patti LuPone (who gives a real depth to The Ladies Who Lunch), Martha Plimpton, Jon Cryer, Stephen Colbert, Craig Bierko, Anika Noni Rose, Katie Finneran, Chryssie Whitehead and Christina Hendricks (MAD MEN) who comes as close to stealing the movie as anyone.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Macomber Affair (1947)

A hunting guide (Gregory Peck) takes rich adventurers on safari in Kenya. When he takes an unhappily married couple (Joan Bennett, Robert Preston) into the wilds, it's quite possible they may be more dangerous than the wild animals they hunt. Based on the Ernest Hemingway short story THE SHORT HAPPY LIFE OF FRANCIS MACOMBER, this is one of the few Hemingway adaptations that do him justice. I suppose it helps that it's based on a short story rather than a novel but the screenplay by Casey Robinson (NOW VOYAGER) and Seymour Bennett is a compact and lean vision that approximates the lean writing style of Hemingway. Though Peck is top billed and he's just fine, it's Bennett and Preston as the battling couple (right out of an Albee play) who grab our attention. It's certainly Preston's finest pre-MUSIC MAN hour on film, his Francis Macomber is both poignant and repulsive and Preston keeps you properly ambivalent toward his character. Neatly directed by Zoltan Korda (1942's THE JUNGLE BOOK) with a potent Miklos Rozsa score. With Reginald Denny and Jean Gillie, so memorable in DECOY.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Skirts Ahoy! (1952)

Three women (Esther Williams, Vivian Blaine, Joan Evans) coming from various walks of life join the WAVEs for different reasons, all concerning men. An attempt to do a distaff version of those three sailors on the town movies, this is that rare musical that is actually hampered by the musical numbers than helped. It's like PRIVATE BENJAMIN with songs but not as funny. The nondescript songs by Harry Warren and Ralph Blane are a rather sorry lot though two numbers manage to nudge you: the rather sexist sounding What Good Is A Girl Without A Guy and Debbie Reynolds and Bobby Van perform an energetic version of Oh, By Jingo. The film would have worked better and cut the running time by almost half an hour if the songs had been jettisoned. Even Williams' swimming sequences are rather lackluster. On the film's side, the film accentuates the strength of the women of standing on their own and not depending on men. Directed by Sidney Lanfield (1939's HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES). With Barry Sullivan, Keefe Brasselle, Keenan Wynn, Margalo Gillmore, Jeff Donnell, Kathleen Freeman, Billy Eckstine and the DeMarco Sisters.

Deep End (1971)

A fifteen year old boy (John Moulder Brown) takes a job at a local bath house where he becomes infatuated with a pretty but older girl (Jane Asher, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH) who also works there. But soon the infatuation turns into an unhealthy obsession as he stalks not only her but the men in her life. Directed and co-written by Jerzy Skolimowksi (he co-wrote Polanski's KNIFE IN THE WATER), this is one of the very best films of the 1970s. Although set in an English environment, it feels closer to the French nouvelle vague cinema rather than the British realism cinema of Reisz, Schlesinger and Richardson. Abetted by the detailed camera work of Charly Steinberger, Skolimowski's film is a unique mixture of feverish dream imagery (it's no surprise the film is a favorite of David Lynch) and stark perception. Moulder-Brown brings the right amount of innocence and perverseness while nothing in Asher's career, before or after, prepares us for her expertly delineated work here. With Diana Dors, who kicks her one scene out of the ballpark, Karl Michael Vogler (PATTON), Burt Kwouk and Christopher Sandford.

The Age Of Innocence (1934)

Set in 1870s Manhattan, the impending New York society nuptials of a young lawyer (John Boles) and his fiancee (Julie Haydon, Laura in the original GLASS MENAGERIE) are interrupted by the arrival of the fiancee's cousin (Irene Dunne), a worldly Countess from Europe. The lawyer finds himself fascinated with the sophisticate and his imminent marriage no longer seems desirable. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Edith Wharton by way of a Broadway adaptation by Margaret Ayer Barnes, the film examines the adamant social code of the period and how a simple divorce would have social ramifications on an entire family. Not without interest, the movie is a shell of the Wharton novel, turning it into a rather stuffy period melodrama. I'm not a fan of Irene Dunne's dramatic roles, much preferring her as a comedienne, but she's very good here. Her earnestness compensates for the inadequacy of Boles' ineffectual performance. Directed by Philip Moeller, this is one of only two movies he directed. Martin Scorsese would direct a more elaborate version in 1993. With Lionel Atwill, Helen Westley and Laura Hope Crews.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How Sweet It Is (1968)

When a photographer (James Garner) gets an assignment to shoot a group of teenage girls on a European tour (Mexico subs for the French Riviera), he brings along his wife (Debbie Reynolds) and teenage son (Donald Losby). But when a Frenchman (Maurice Ronet), notorious for his reputation as a lothario, plots to seduce the wife, complications ensue. If there's such a thing as a wholesome sex comedy for the whole family, this is it. The film comes across as an attempt to turn Reynolds' wholesome image around: see Debbie naked in bed with James Garner, see Debbie in a skimpy bikini, see Debbie mistaken for a prostitute, etc. while never being offensive. Garner and Reynolds are exceedingly appealing performers and match well together so it's a pity that this tarted up sitcom was their only on screen pairing. Sensing that the material won't hold up under close scrutiny, the director Jerry Paris zips things amiably along. The songs are by Jimmy Webb. Based on the novel THE GIRL IN THE TURQUOISE BIKINI by Muriel Resnick (ANY WEDNESDAY). With Terry Thomas, Paul Lynde, Elena Verdugo, Alexandra Hay, Marcel Dalio, Ann Morgan Guilbert and Penny Marshall.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The King's Thief (1955)

A duplicitous Duke (David Niven) in the confidence of King Charles II (George Sanders) has targeted the wealthy loyal subjects to the King by accusing them of treason against the King and confiscating their lands after their executions. The daughter (Ann Blyth) of such a victim strives to expose the Duke to the King but how? This routine swashbuckler cranked out by the MGM dream factory seems almost an afterthought for all the lack of enthusiasm displayed on the screen. Physically, it's got the lush and elegant MGM gloss (even MGM's programmers got the full treatment) but the moth eaten narrative seems dug out and dusted off from somebody's script bin. MGM had been trying to make the uncharismatic Edmund Purdom, the king's thief of the title, a viable leading man in such fare as THE STUDENT PRINCE and THE PRODIGAL but they gave up after this last try. The film has one of the dullest prison escapes I've seen in a movie though the swordplay is decent enough. Walter Plunkett's costumes are eye candy and Miklos Rozsa tries to whip up some excitement with his frantic score. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. With Roger Moore, John Dehner, Isobel Elsom, Sean McClory, Alan Mowbray, Rhys Williams and Melville Cooper.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Life Of Pi (2012)

A young boy (Suraj Sharma) survives a disastrous shipwreck and finds himself alone in a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with only a Bengal tiger for a companion. And thus begins a spiritual journey that will eventually let him come to terms with the existence of a supreme being. Based on the popular Yann Martel novel that was deemed unfilmable, director Ang Lee and his screenwriter David Magee frame Pi's story with an older Pi (Irrfan Khan) reflecting back on the events and use the stunning 3D imagery to aid in the film's development. Like Hemingway's OLD MAN AND THE SEA, the majority of the story is between the boy, the tiger and the elements and dialog is at a minimum hence the helpful narration. It's an incisive and eloquent voyage that never becomes tedious despite the long stretches of non verbal activity. The film is laden with CGI but instead of being offputting, it works for the film, giving it the other world quality of a fable. About 15% real tiger and 85% animatronic tiger, you can't tell the difference. Quite easily the most emotionally satisfying film of the year. The fine score is by Mychael Danna. With Gerard Depardieu, Adil Hussain, Tabu and Rafe Spall.

Anna Karenina (2012)

In late 19th century Russia, a married woman (Keira Knightley) of the aristocracy shocks society when she abandons her husband (Jude Law) and child for a lover (Aaron Taylor Johnson). It's one thing to engage in discreet adultery, quite another to flaunt your passions openly. Does cinema need yet another adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy novel which has already been filmed multiple times? Working from a perceptive Tom Stoppard (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) screenplay, the director Joe Wright takes an audacious leap and frames the story as a theatrical piece performed on stage. No, not as a filmed play but by making the entire "world" a stage. For example, a business office becomes a restaurant in a matter of seconds as the office staff turn into waiters and moves scenery or when a door onstage is opened and a character walks onto a massive snowbound field. The theatricality is over emphasized and it takes awhile to get used to but when you accept it, it works wonderfully. Stoppard's screenplay retains a bit more of the novel than most previous adaptations. While Taylor-Johnson makes for an effete Vronsky, as she proved in last year's A DANGEROUS METHOD, Knightley's growth as an actress is impressive. With Kelly MacDonald, Emily Watson, Matthew Macfadyen, Olivia Williams, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Ruth Wilson.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

After being released from a state mental institution, a bipolar man (Bradley Cooper) attempts to put his life back in order. But it isn't easy when he has a restraining order against him from the wife (Brea Bree) he still loves and moving in with his parents when his father (Robert De Niro) has his own obsessive compulsive disorder to deal with. But he's helped by a young widow (Jennifer Lawrence) also suffering from emotional problems. Prior to its opening this month, the film did the film festival circuit where it won "audience favorite" awards at the Toronto and Austin film festivals and it's easy to see why. It's a slick and polished romantic comedy between two mentally and emotionally unstable people (who we'd run away from in real life but are wacky and adorable from the distance of a movie screen) that assures us love conquers all ... awww! The director David O. Russell gives the film a real edge for a good portion of its running time but it can't sustain it and eventually collapses and goes all mushy at the end with an underdog Dancing With The Stars finale. It's the kind of movie usually advertised as "audiences stand up and cheer!". The superb cast works miracles, however. Bradley Cooper's performance is a near revelation and once again, Jennifer Lawrence proves herself a formidable talent. With Jacki Weaver, Julia Stiles, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham and a restrained Chris Tucker.

Sapphire (1959)

After the body of a brutally stabbed girl (Yvonne Buckingham) is discovered in a park, the investigation reveals that the victim, assumed to be Caucasian, was in fact, black. The two detectives (Nigel Patrick, Michael Craig) assigned to the case then find themselves dealing with racism of the English working class as well as prejudice in the black community in their attempt to find the killer. Ironically, in the same month (April) in 1959 that Sirk's melodramatic masterpiece IMITATION OF LIFE examined the tragic consequences of a black girl passing for white in the U.S., SAPPHIRE opened in Britain and looked at the deadly results of a black girl passing for white in England. Crudely effective, director Basil Dearden and screenwriter Janet Green shaped their analysis as a murder mystery and it's riveting. There's no delicacy in the film, the racism is shown full on without any whitewashing. The film itself is a near perfect example of combining a socially conscious film with a solid story that stands on its own as cinema. With Yvonne Mitchell, Paul Massie, Bernard Miles, Earl Cameron and Barbara Steele.

The Fox (1967)

Two women, the girlish Jill (Sandy Dennis) and the quiet but strong March (Anne Heywood), struggle to support themselves on an isolated chicken farm. When a man (Keir Dullea, 2001) comes into their lives, it upsets the status quo and unspoken feelings rise to the surface. Based on the 1923 D.H. Lawrence novella, this is one of the most overtly sexually symbol laden films I've ever seen. As if not trusting its audience to "get it", the film makers included the tag line "THE FOX ... the symbol of the male" and the subtlety of Lawrence's work is made more explicit. Perhaps most importantly, the relatively inexperienced boy of the novel is turned into Dullea's merchant marine stud. Still, despite Lewis John Carlino's excessive screenplay, the director Mark Rydell (this was his first feature film) imparts an urgency to the proceedings that's quite persuasive. There's something off about Dullea's performance but to be fair, it can't have been easy to play a "symbol" and Dennis gives one of her most mannered performances, full of lip licking and hesitant line readings but she brings an affecting sadness to her character. The expert Oscar nominated score is by Lalo Schifrin.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Pirate (1948)

Living in a small Caribbean mountain village, a young maiden (Judy Garland) has fantasies of being carried off by the notorious Macoco the pirate. Instead, she finds herself betrothed to the dull mayor (Walter Slezak, excellent) of the town. But when she meets a traveling troupe of players led by the handsome Serafin (Gene Kelly), everything will change. Perhaps a bit ahead of its time, the film was a flop on its initial release. The screenplay is witty, the sets and costumes colorful and Vincente Minnelli's direction is stylish and the Cole Porter songs a delight. Garland and Kelly are in prime form and have a terrific rapport together, as expert in their comedic timing as their singing and dancing. Kelly's brash and often arrogant style which can often be a turn off is perfectly in harmony with his character and he's never been more dashing or sexier. His Pirate ballet is a marvel and the Be A Clown number with the Nicholas Brothers is full of panache. Based on a 1942 stage farce which was a vehicle for Lunt and Fontanne. With Gladys Cooper, George Zucco, Reginald Owen and Lola Albright.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

King Richard And The Crusaders (1954)

Set in the late 12th century during the third crusade to the Holy Land to "recover" Jerusalem form Islamic rule, King Richard the Lion Hearted (George Sanders) must deal with treachery within his own camp as well as negotiating with The Saladin (Rex Harrison), leader of the Moslems. Based on the Sir Walter Scott novel THE TALISMAN, the film has the ambitions of an Epic (it was Warners first film in the new CinemaScope process) but the execution of a routine costume potboiler. Who's idea was it to hand over the reins of a big scale epic to David Butler, better known for Bob Hope comedies and Doris Day musicals? Ostensibly set in Jerusalem, the topography screams Southern California. But it's nowhere near as bad as it reputation suggests. In fact, it's rather amusing to see Harrison and Laurence Harvey's on screen contest to see who can give the worst performance (Harvey wins, easily). There's a strong score by Max Steiner. With lovely Virginia Mayo, Robert Douglas, Paula Raymond, Michael Pate and Nick Cravat.

The Dark Mirror (1946)

After a doctor is found murdered, the chief suspect is a woman (Olivia De Havilland) identified by several witnesses at the scene. But the detective (Thomas Mitchell) assigned to the case discovers that she has an identical twin sister (also De Havilland) which begs the question ..... which one is the murderess? The director Robert Siodmak (THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE) and De Havilland tip their hand fairly early in the film so that we know who the murderer is so the suspense comes from how will they find out and will they find out before she commits another killing. Siodmak provides the requisite moody atmosphere and De Havilland does an excellent job of differentiating between the two sisters, it's really one of her best performances. Lew Ayres is the psychiatrist who attempts to find out which is the twisted sister through psychological means and ends up falling in love with one of them. The screenplay is by Nunnally Johnson who would return to the subject again nine years later with THREE FACES OF EVE. The effective underscore is by Dimitri Tiomkin. With Richard Long and Ida Moore.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

L'Opera De Quat'Sous (aka The Threepenny Opera) (1931)

In Victorian London, the master criminal MacHeath (Albert Prejean, AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT) marries the daughter (Florelle) of a man (Gaston Modot) who controls the beggars of London. Furious at the match, he threatens to disrupt the Queen's coronation with his beggars unless the chief of police (Jacques Henley), a friend of MacHeath, has him imprisoned. In the early 1930s, it was not uncommon for films to be shot simultaneously in different languages. The director G.W. Pabst shot this French language version alongside his better known German version. It's been awhile since I've seen the German version but it appears to be an exact shot for shot replica, the only difference is a French cast. But, sadly, both films are bowdlerized version of the Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill musical political satire. Much of the wonderful score is cut and Pabst's direction seems plodding when it needs spark. While we may miss the thrill of seeing the young Lotte Lenya singing Pirate Jenny, Prejean makes for a much sexier MacHeath than Rudolf Forster did in the German version. You can see why he's a magnet to women. The definitive film version of THREEPENNY OPERA has yet to be done. With Margo Lion as Jenny.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Last Married Couple In America (1980)

A happily married couple (George Segal, Natalie Wood) with three kids find themselves increasingly isolated as the marriages of their circle of friends begin to break up amid the sexual revolution. Is their marriage next? The premise of suburban couple seduced by the lure of "free love" and wife swapping as a comedy is ripe for exploitation but it was already done superbly in BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (also with Wood) and this weak wannabe only shows what a good film that was. Directed by Gilbert Cates (I NEVER SANG FOR MY FATHER), the film is often in poor taste (maybe it's just me but I don't find giving your wife gonorrhea very funny) and tries to hard to be hip. Both Segal and Wood (looking terrific) work hard but it's uphill all the way. Proof positive that nothing dates faster than topicality. It's not until the film's last twenty minutes when a porn star (Dom DeLuise) throws a party at Segal's house and porn stars and suburbanites mix together that there's some genuine amusement, however mild. With Richard Benjamin, Valerie Harper, Bob Dishy, Priscilla Barnes, Arlene Golonka and Marilyn Sokol.

Jesse James (1939)

After his mother (Jane Darwell) dies when a railroad man (Brian Donlevy) sets their cabin on fire, young Jesse James (Tyrone Power, looking impossibly handsome) gets his revenge by killing the railroad man and begins a notorious rampage of killing and robbing ..... but he's really a good guy at heart. This flagrantly inaccurate take on the outlaw Jesse James is highly romanticized and sentimental but 1939 audiences lapped it up making it the fourth highest grossing film of the year. It's particularly hard to take seriously after Andrew Dominik superb THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD from 2007. The film might have been better served if shot in black and white as the bright Technicolor hues only emphasize the unreality of the whole thing. It doesn't help that the film's three leading men (besides Power, there's Henry Fonda and Randolph Scott) collectively act like exhibits from the Redwood National Forest. Still, the director Henry King manages to whip up some excitement here and there. One of the film's more dubious credits is that after they ran a horse off a cliff and killed it, animal safety on film sets became monitored by the American Humane Association. With Nancy Kelly (THE BAD SEED), Henry Hull, John Carradine and Donald Meek.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skyfall (2012)

When a computer hard drive with a list of undercover NATO agents in terrorist cells is stolen, M (Judi Dench) finds her capability questioned and her job on the line. Enter 007 (Daniel Craig) who has orders to track down the man behind it all. The 23rd entry in the James Bond franchise is one of its very best offerings. Directed by Sam Mendes (AMERICAN BEAUTY), it superbly balances subtle humor with the darkest of Freudian plots in an intelligent script. The stunning pre-credit opening sequence (real stunts, not CGI) sets the pace and the film never lets up. This is Dench's final Bond film and as a farewell gift, the screenwriters have given her her juiciest role in the series and she gives a sterling performance. Javier Bardem makes for one of the most memorable Bond villains (it looks like Bardem studied Hopkin's Hannibal Lecter) and it's not improbable that he may be the first actor to score an Oscar nomination for a Bond film. Thomas Newman's generic action score is a disappointment, the most memorable cues when uses Barry's James Bond theme or the title song (not written by him) in the underscore. All in all, they've raised the bar with this one so one hopes they can maintain the quality with Bond 24. With Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Naomie Harris, Berenice Lim Marlohe, Helen McCrory and Ben Whishaw.

Hitchcock (2012)

After the enormous critical and box office success of NORTH BY NORTHWEST, director Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is determined to film PSYCHO as his next movie. But everyone around him sees the material as tawdry and beneath him, not to mention the sex and violence are more than the censors have ever allowed in an American film. How will and will he get away with it? Based on the nonfiction book ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE MAKING OF PSYCHO by Stephen Rebello, for the most part the movie plays out like a film buff's dream. But it's compromised by two things. The first is that Universal owns the rights to PSYCHO (this is a Fox film) and will not allow recreations of scenes from PSYCHO so that severely limits the actual filming sequences, notably the shower scene with Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson). The other thing is that the film makers, perhaps justifiably, seems to have reasoned that mainstream audiences would be bored with a movie about making a movie so they've added a subplot involving Alma Reville, Mrs. Hitchcock (Helen Mirren) and her relationship with a screenwriter (Danny Huston) that Hitchcock suspects is an affair. This segment drags the film down. Other than that, it's quite entertaining with generous doses of dark humor (as any film about Hitchcock should be). Directed by Sacha Gervasi with Danny Elfman's score channeling Bernard Herrmann. With Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins, Toni Collette, Ralph Macchio and Michael Wincott as serial killer Ed Gein, the inspiration for PSYCHO.

Outcast Of The Islands (1951)

Set on an unnamed island in the northern Indian ocean, when a scandal causes a man (Trevor Howard) filled with moral rot to be shunned, he's taken by a benefactor (Ralph Richardson) to a hidden village on another island. But his lust for a native beauty (Kerima) not only destroys whatever decency was left in him but his treachery reaches beyond his own ken. Based on the novel by Joseph Conrad, this is a superior piece of film making. Watching it you feel the exhilaration that you get when you know you're watching a great film. From 1947 to 1951, director Carol Reed had an incredible run of first rate films: ODD MAN OUT, THE THIRD MAN, FALLEN IDOL and this jewel. The film subtly examines the colonial mindset of the white man and his questionable sense of superiority (a native asks, "Does the white man think he knows what's best for us") but like Conrad's LORD JIM, Howard's Peter Willems is a man who must redeem himself but unlike that Conrad novel, the results are different. Is there anyone who still doubts that Trevor Howard is one of the great English actors? He may not have the Shakespearean pedigree of an Olivier, Gielgud or Richardson but anyone who can give a performance like this one or in SONS AND LOVERS, HEART OF THE MATTER or ROOTS OF HEAVEN is an actor to be reckoned with. The impeccable supporting cast includes Wendy Hiller (who displays a lifetime of invisibility in minimal screen time), Robert Morley, Wilfrid Hyde White and George Coulouris.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Catlow (1971)

A sheriff (Richard Crenna) is tracking down an old friend Catlow (Yul Brynner) who is accused of rustling cattle. Going back under arrest on a stagecoach, the accused Catlow is freed by his men and heads for Mexico and the chase is on. Based on a novel by the prolific western writer Louis L'Amour, this is a rather formulaic western with large doses of humor that I suspect weren't in the novel. The film, directed by the actor Sam Wanamaker (DEATH ON THE NILE), seems caught between two styles. On one hand, it tries to be a typical Hollywood western but filmed in Spain, it feels oddly foreign without the spirit of the spaghetti westerns of the day. Brynner and Crenna are ingratiating enough while displaying a nice camaraderie and Leonard Nimoy playing against type makes for a suitably cold hearted villain. What dates the film is the inappropriate 70s "pop" score by Roy Budd, example: when Crenna and Jo Ann Pflug (MASH) go riding a bossa nova plays. More indifferent than bad. With Daliah Lavi (THE SILENCERS), Jeff Corey, David Ladd (Alan's son), Julian Mateos and Bessie Love.

Friday, November 9, 2012

It's My Party (1996)

At the height of the AIDS crisis, an HIV positive architect (Eric Roberts) is diagnosed with PML (lesions on the brain which will eventually cause blindness and dementia) and decides to throw a two day farewell party to say goodbye to friends and family before committing suicide. Based on director Randal Kleiser's (GREASE) ex-lover's actual decision to end his life and throw a party for his friends (Kleiser's film equivalent is played by Gregory Harrison), the film veers dangerously close to sentimentality and I haven't seen this many gay stereotypes since THE BOYS IN THE BAND. But it's an honest sentiment and Roberts' excellent, truthful performance keeps the film grounded. Watching Roberts nuanced performance is a reminder of what a terrific actor he was before his career crashed and burned. Kleiser builds the film slowly until you can't help but be invested in its two main characters (Roberts and Harrison). The huge cast includes some other fine performances, notably Lee Grant as Roberts' Greek mother and Margaret Cho as his best friend. With George Segal, Olivia Newton John, Roddy McDowall, Marlee Matlin (who actually speaks all her lines), Bruce Davison, Sally Kellerman, Nina Foch, Christopher Atkins, Dimitra Arliss and in the film's worst performance, Bronson Pinchot.

The First Texan (1956)

The ex-governor of Tennessee, Sam Houston (Joel McCrea), travels to Texas to start anew. But no sooner does he arrive then he finds himself embroiled in the free Texas from Mexican rule movement. This drab wren of a western programmer doesn't amount to much. Wilfred Cline's (CALAMITY JANE) sturdy CinemaScope lensing is an asset but Byron Haskin's lackluster direction and the aging McCrea's "going through the motions" performance drag the movie down. The film is over before it even gets going and even the film's big battle finale is a snooze. With the lovely Felicia Farr (3:10 TO YUMA), Jeff Morrow, Wallace Ford, Abraham Sofaer, William Hopper, Roy Roberts and Joel's son, Jody McCrea (BEACH PARTY).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Red Headed Woman (1932)

A girl (Jean Harlow) from the wrong side of the tracks is determined to climb the ladder to wealth and success no matter how or who it hurts. She breaks up a happy marriage and steals a husband (Chester Morris), blackmails a wealthy businessman (Henry Stephenson), has multiple illicit affairs while married and even attempts murder. One of the most blatant films of the pre-code era, unlike other films which punish their immoral heroines at the end by either giving her a comeuppance or even killing her off, this tart gets away with it and lives happily ever after! Harlow is very brittle in this one with very little chance to show her skills as a comedienne, that falls to Una Merkel as her wisecracking best friend. Actually, it's not a very pleasant (or even very good) movie but Harlow commands the screen like few actresses of her era and part of the film's fascination is watching how much they got away with. Directed by Jack Conway (THE HUCKSTERS). With Leila Hyams, May Robson and a pre-stardom Charles Boyer as Harlow's chauffeur lover.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Kismet (1955)

In old Bagdad, a poet (Howard Keel) is mistaken for a beggar. After a murderous brigand (Jay C. Flippen) pays him a hundred gold pieces for lifting a curse, he is taken to the royal palace where he passes himself off as a wizard. Meanwhile, his daughter (Ann Blyth) falls in love with a gardener (Vic Damone) who is really the Caliph. The most maligned of Vincente Minnelli's musicals (with the possible exception of ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER), I'm quite disposed towards its Arabian Nights kitsch and derive much pleasure from it, so sue me! Minnelli himself practically disowned it but there are some enchanting moments like the Night Of My Nights number that are pure Minnelli. Add the robust baritone of Howard Keel, the great Dolores Gray (her Not Since Ninevah number is terrific), the exotic jazz choreography of Jack Cole and catchy songs (based on Alexander Borodin's music) like Baubles, Bangles And Beads and Stranger In Paradise by Robert Wright and Chet Forrest and who ... well, I couldn't ask for anything more. With Monty Woolley, Sebastian Cabot, Mike Mazurki, Ted De Corsia, Jamie Farr, Reiko Sato (FLOWER DRUM SONG) and Julie Robinson (Mrs. Harry Belafonte).

Heaven Can Wait (1978)

When a football player (Warren Beatty) is hit by an oncoming auto, an angel (Buck Henry) removes him from his body before his "death". But the angel jumped the gun and the football player would have survived so he must be returned to his body but unfortunately it has already been cremated. The temporary solution until a proper body is found is placing him in the body of a millionaire murdered by his wife (Dyan Cannon) and her lover (Charles Grodin). A remake of the popular 1941 comedy HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, the film seemed rather retro even in 1978 and today, it seems as old fashioned as its 1941 progenitor. Which doesn't mean it doesn't have its charms, it does principally due to Elaine May who co-wrote the screenplay along with Beatty. Her touch is clearly evident in the Cannon/Grodin scenes which have a Mike Nichols/Elaine May feel to them. Beatty overestimates his charm and Julie Christie seems overqualified in "the girl" role. Thankfully, Cannon (justifiably Oscar nominated), Grodin and Jack Warden (also Oscar nominated) are expert farceurs and provide the majority of the film's laughs. The monothematic score is by Dave Grusin. With James Mason, Vincent Gardenia (his role is poorly written), Joseph Maher, John Randolph and R.G. Armstrong.

I Compagni (aka The Organizer) (1963)

In late 19th century Turin, the exploited workers of a factory go on strike for better working conditions. To this end, they are aided by a mild mannered professor (Marcello Mastroianni) on the run from authorities for his Marxist activism. A potent combination of late neorealism and period drama, director Mario Monicelli (BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET) who co-wrote the Oscar nominated screenplay and his wizard of a cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno (Visconti's THE LEOPARD) bring a sense of authenticity to this stirring epic of downtrodden laborers fighting for a decent existence. Rotunno's stunning B&W imagery is like looking through an old photograph album of daguerreotype pictures. In the current often anti-union political climate, the film reminds us just why they exist in the first place. But I don't want to make it sound like the film is merely a pro-union political tract. The film is rich in humor as well as amity and while Mastroianni's work with Fellini and De Sica seems to be what he is most remembered for, his work here reminds us that he gave wonderful performances under other directors too. Monicelli's disturbing final shot sums up in seconds what the film is all about. With Annie Girardot, Renato Salvatori, Bernard Blier, Francois Perier and Rafaella Carra.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Great Lie (1941)

When a pilot (George Brent) discovers his quick elopement to a high living concert pianist (Mary Astor) isn't legal, he has second thoughts and marries his old flame (Bette Davis). Shortly after he disappears during a flight through the Brazilian jungles. When the pianist discovers she's pregnant with his child, his wife proposes she take the child and raise him and pass the child off as her own. But how long can this "great lie" last? A restrained Davis was never interesting in these suffering Irene Dunne type roles and cast against type as the nice wife, she practically hands the movie over to Astor's condescending bitch. It's a muddled soap opera and not very good but Davis and Astor make their scenes together crackle! Astor won an Oscar for her work here but I suspect it was her terrific unnominated performance in the same year's THE MALTESE FALCON that helped her win. The director Edmund Goulding (GRAND HOTEL) can't do much but stay out of his leading ladies' way and let them do their stuff. The male lead, George Brent, hardly seems worth fighting over. With Hattie McDaniel, Lucile Watson and Jerome Cowan.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

De Rouille Et D'Os (aka Rust And Bone) (2012)

A somewhat irresponsible unemployed ex-boxer (Matthias Schoenaerts) and his five year old son (Armand Verdure) move in with his married sister (Corinne Masiero). He finds himself attracted to a killer whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) who he meets while working as a bouncer in a nightclub. But when a tragic accident causes her to become a double amputee, a strong if uneasy bond grows between them. Fluidly directed by Jacques Audiard (A PROPHET), this is an unsentimental look at two broken individuals and how their mutual pain eventually forms a common ground that will allow them to heal. The two leads give immaculate and nuanced performances, it's certainly Cotillard's best work since LA VIE EN ROSE and Schoenaerts allows us to see the humanity struggling to get out of a tortured brute. There are many emotional highpoints that it's difficult to choose just one but I think my favorite is the moment when Cotillard returns to visit the whales she loved ... and the cause of her tragedy. Not to be missed.

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

When it becomes clear that Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent, SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE) is unable to produce a male heir, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morissey) plots to install his niece Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) as the King's mistress. But when Henry VIII (Eric Bana) falls in love with Anne's married sister (Scarlett Johansson), the ambitions of the Duke and the Bolelyn family will have tragic consequences for all concerned. Based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, the film is a highly fictionalized and romanticized look at the Tudor/Boleyn saga. Don't go looking for historical accuracy because it's not there but as a period soap opera, it's a fairly compelling story. Portman and Johansson are both fine once you get past their near non-existent British accents but since the film plays fast and loose with the historical facts anyway, it seems cantankerous to make it an issue. The picture looks spectacular and the art direction and costumes are superb. Directed by Justin Chadwick. With Kristin Scott Thomas, very good as the Boleyn mother who's against the political machinations, Eddie Redmayne, Jim Sturgess, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juno Temple and Mark Rylance.

Man Trap (1961)

Stuck in an unhappy marriage to a shrewish, boozed up nymphomaniac (Stella Stevens), a housing developer (Jeffrey Hunter) receives a visit from an old Korean war buddy (David Janssen) who lures him into helping rob a South American dictator of three million dollars. But they're both amateurs, dangerously out of their element and, of course, everything goes horribly wrong. Directed by the actor Edmond O'Brien (THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA), this should be better than it is. It has all the elements of a classic film noir but O'Brien can't seem to combine all the ingredients into a satisfying whole. It has an almost surreal quality to it like Hunter's neighborhood which seems populated entirely of alcoholic wife swappers. The film has a killer twist Hitchcockian ending just waiting to happen that I saw coming but it doesn't!!! To be fair, some of the problems may be inherent in the source material by John D. MacDonald (CAPE FEAR) but I haven't read the novel it's based on, TAINT OF THE TIGER. It doesn't help that potentially complex characters are played by such uninteresting actors as Hunter (who's weaker than usual) and Janssen which leaves Stevens' slut to take center stage. The film is nicely shot in wide screen B&W by Loyal Griggs (SHANE). With Elaine Devry, Bob Crane, Virginia Gregg, Frank Albertson, Perry Lopez and Dorothy Green.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Prisoner Of Zenda (1952)

On the eve of his coronation as King of Ruritania, Prince Rudolf (Stewart Granger) is drugged unconscious from a bottle of wine supplied by his half brother (Robert Douglas) who has designs on the throne. The King's aide (Louis Calhern) persuades the King's identical cousin (also Granger) to impersonate the King until the real King can be found and freed. Based on the 1894 Anthony Hope novel which had already been filmed four times, this film faithfully recreates near shot by shot of John Cromwell's 1937 film version, even utilizing the 1937 Alfred Newman score. Handsomely shot in Technicolor by Joseph Ruttenburg (MRS. MINIVER), the film is an above average entertainment but it still lacks the dash and wit of the best swashbucklers. Try as they might, MGM never could quite turn the nondescript Granger into an Errol Flynn. As the Princess, Deborah Kerr's considerable talents are underused but she has never looked more beautiful on film. But the best performance comes from James Mason, wickedly suave as the treacherous Rupert. Directed by Richard Thorpe. With Jane Greer, Lewis Stone (who played the lead in the 1922 film version), Robert Coote and Kathleen Freeman.

The Fountainhead (1949)

An idealistic architect (Gary Cooper) who rejects traditional architecture refuses to compromise his integrity in any way. He takes work as a manual laborer rather than compromise his individualism by designing mediocre buildings for the masses. But his life will soon change when he's given carte blanche to design a building by an admirer (Ray Collins) and he meets his match in a willful woman (Patricia Neal) who shares his ideology. Based on the best seller by Ayn Rand (who did the screenplay), the director King Vidor manages to balance Rand's dubiously wonky ideas about "the individual versus the collective" with the slick sheen of a Hollywood melodrama with a touch of the deliriousness he brought to his DUEL IN THE SUN. Practicing her own philosophy, Rand had it in her contract that her screenplay was not to be changed and despite some interference, it wasn't. At 47, Cooper was too old for the ambitious young architect of Rand's novel but he brings a sadistic sexuality to his scenes with Neal. There's genuine heat to their performances (why wouldn't there be? They became lovers during the filming) and it's Cooper's last sexually charged performance before turning into the sexless leading man he became in the 1950s. Neal is pretty spectacular here. One of the few naturally carnal actresses in cinema. The stunning underscore, one of his very best is by Max Steiner. With Raymond Massey, Kent Smith, Robert Douglas, Henry Hull, Jerome Cowan, John Doucette and Ann Doran.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Les Visiteurs Du Soir (aka The Devil's Envoys) (1942)

In medieval France of 1485, two of Satan's emissaries disguised as a traveling brother (Alain Cuny, LA DOLCE VITA) and sister (Arletty, LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS) minstrel team, arrive at the castle of the Baron Hugues (Fernand Ledox). Their intention is to spread suffering and heartbreak and leave when their mission is accomplished. But when the brother falls in love with the Baron's daughter (Marie Dea), their assignment begins to unravel. This elegant fantasy on love and survival was shot by Marcel Carne under the Nazi occupation of France. It's so rich and luxurious that it's hard to believe it was shot under wartime conditions. Since it was shot under the Nazi occupation, it's easy to read into the film's romanticism as a parable for France's indomitability to survive Hitler as represented by Jules Berry's Satan in the film though Carne denied such intentions. Whether one takes the political climate into account or not, the film is a moving love story imbued with dark humor (most of it when Berry's devil enters the story). Most curious though is that in a film about Satan, there's not a single mention of God! The majestic score is by Maurice Thiriet. With Marcel Herrand as Dea's crude fiance.

Executive Suite (1954)

After the president of a major Philadelphia corporation dies suddenly, the company's board of directors immediately begin to clash, plot and even blackmail in an attempt to secure the top position. You wouldn't think a film about corporate power and the behind the scenes machinations could turn out to be such an intense thriller but director Robert Wise, along with a solid screenplay by Ernest Lehman (NORTH BY NORTHWEST) based on the Cameron Hawley novel and a strong ensemble cast do exactly that. Starkly shot in black and white by George Folsey (FORBIDDEN PLANET) and without any music score, the film plays out in a relatively muted realism until William Holden gives his big speech toward the end which feels phony and suddenly we're aware we're in a glossy MGM movie and not watching a faux documentary. Still, up to then, it's a wonderfully crafted piece of melodrama. In addition to Holden, the excellent cast includes June Allyson, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, Shelley Winters, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Dean Jagger, Edgar Stehli and amazingly Nina Foch, in an Oscar nominated performance, brings a quiet depth to an underwritten role.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Deceiver (1997)

Following the grisly murder (she's dismembered) of a prostitute (Renee Zellweger), the chief suspect is a rich and arrogant pampered heir (Tim Roth) to a textile fortune. The two detectives (Michael Rooker, Chris Penn) assigned to the case play a cat and mouse game, matching wits with the suspect but the crafty (his IQ is 151) psychopath turns the tables on them. The film's title refers not only to the expert prevaricator but the two detectives, who aren't honest with themselves nor with the outer images they present. Directed by Jonas and Josh Pate, the film's premise is stimulating and the film doesn't lack style but it's sloppily executed and the absence of believability eventually compromises any credibility the film might have had. Never once does Roth ask for an attorney during the week long grilling and when he turns the tables on them, they seem surprisingly nonresistant. The film does save a terrific twist for the last scene. With Ellen Burstyn, Rosanna Arquette, Michael Parks and Mark Damon.