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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Me And The Colonel (1958)

After fleeing the Nazis from Poland then Vienna then Czechoslovakia, a Jewish refugee (Danny Kaye) in Paris finds he must flee once again as the Nazis approach the French capital. Circumstances force him to flee accompanied by a Polish colonel (Curt Jurgens) wanted by the Nazis and who has strong anti-Semitic feelings. Based on a play by Franz Werfel (SONG OF BERNADETTE), the film is a drama laced with subtle portions of humor. It's probably the most dramatic role Kaye had and he's quite good. So restrained, in fact, that this might be the perfect film for those who dislike his usual frenetic acting. Kaye has a wonderful scene with Nicole Maurey as Jurgens' lover that's beautifully played out. His performance is in sharp contrast to the cartoonish one note performance of Curt Jurgens, normally a fine actor in his own right. The director Peter Glenville (BECKET) neatly balances the humorous aspects of the story without short changing its serious situation, the underscore by George Duning (PICNIC) is a great help in this respect. With Akim Tamiroff, Francoise Rosay, Liliane Montevecchi, Martita Hunt, Alexander Scourby and Celia Lovsky.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Short Cuts (1993)

Set in Los Angeles, the three hour film begins with a pesticide spraying over Los Angeles to kill Mediterranean fruit flies (which are infecting fruit crops) and ends with an earthquake. In between, we meet 22 characters whose lives criss cross and involve murder, suicide, molestation, adultery, alcoholism among other things. The great Robert Altman (watching this film again made me realize how much he's missed) returns to NASHVILLE territory with a superb ensemble cast (with one irritating exception) in a fascinating journey. Based on a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver which Altman changed from the Pacific Northwest to LA., he offers up a rich tapestry of human links whose experience range from the tragic to the perverse. Of the storylines, especially notable are Bruce Davison and Andie MacDowell as parents whose child's life is hanging by a thread, Matthew Modine and Julianne Moore as a doctor and his artist wife whose marriage begins to crack under suspicion of infidelity. The one awful performance is courtesy of Jack Lemmon who at this stage of his career was recycling his SAVE THE TIGER schtick. The minimalist jazz infused score by Mark Isham is perfect. If it weren't for MAGNOLIA (which is definitely influenced by Altman), I'd call this the best American film of the 1990s. The massive cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Lily Tomlin, Tim Robbins, Frances McDormand, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Peter Gallagher, Madeleine Stowe, Fred Ward, Anne Archer, Lili Taylor, Chris Penn, Lori Singer, Buck Henry, Huey Lewis, Annie Ross and Tom Waits.

Isle Of Forgotten Sins (1943)

Set in the South Pacific, two deep sea divers (John Carradine, Frank Fenton) plot to steal the treasure chest of gold from a sunken ship. Unbeknownst to them, two other men (Sidney Toler, Rick Vallin) plan to take the gold away from them once it's brought up. Throw in the madam of a brothel (Gale Sondergaard) and her working girls and an approaching hurricane and what you end up with is ..... a tedious poverty row (it was filmed in a week) imitation of John Ford's THE HURRICANE. The cult director Edgar G. Ulmer (DETOUR, THE BLACK CAT) was often able to overcome severe budget limitations, uneven screenplays and weak actors with his sharp and droll direction. This film isn't one of them. When the anticipated monsoon hits, it's pretty tacky, a mixture of unimpressive miniatures with close ups of the actors inserted in. Possibly the most notable thing about the film is the casting of character actors John Carradine and Gale Sondergaard, usually playing villains, as the romantic leads! The villain here is Sidney Toler, who was playing Charlie Chan during this time. There's also the odd casting of "B" movie tough broad Veda Ann Borg as a Dorothy Lamour native girl clone. The less said about atrocious score by Leo Erdody the better.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Battle Circus (1953)

Set during the Korean war, a young nurse (June Allyson) is assigned to a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (yes, M.A.S.H.) where she attracts the attention of the chief surgeon (Humphrey Bogart), a womanizer. He wants a non-committal relationship while she prefers a more traditional romantic liaison. But their personal problems dwindle next to the constant shelling by the North Koreans and masses of casualties they must attend to on a daily basis. On the plus side, the film is a more realistic look at MASH units during the Korean war rather than the anachronistic hippies and wacky antics of Robert Altman's 1970 film (I've never been able to sit through the TV series). On the down side, the teaming of Bogart and Allyson doesn't work. On their own, they're both appealing actors but they have an uncomfortably awkward on screen chemistry and the tepid love story seems to be always getting in the way of the more compelling situation of a mobile hospital constantly under siege. A couple of scenes stand out: a helicopter pilot (William Campbell) being guided to a safe landing during a storm and Allyson confronting a POW (Philip Ahn) holding a live grenade. Directed by Richard Brooks (ELMER GANTRY). With Keenan Wynn, Robert Keith, Steve Forrest, Jeff Richards and Sarah Selby.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Topaz (1969)

After a high ranking KGB official (Per Axel Arosenius) defects to the U.S., he provides information that there is a high ranking French government official who is leaking top secret information to the Soviets. A CIA agent (John Forsythe) asks a French diplomat (Frederick Stafford) to help ferret out the traitor. Based on the novel by Leon Uris (EXODUS), this is one of director Alfred Hitchcock's worst films. One of Hitchcock's longest films (it pushes the 2 1/2 hour mark), this spy thriller is one long dull affair. This one could have used some razor sharp editing shears but even then I'm not sure the film could have been salvaged. Reputedly, Hitchcock wasn't much interested in the source material but Universal urged it on him and he acquiesced. It shows. At the heart of the film is the wooden Stafford who's playing a not particularly likable character and the actor should be likable to make the part work. If a more appealing actor had been cast it might have helped but on the whole the acting is indifferent. Some exceptions: Philippe Noiret, Roscoe Lee Browne and Karin Dor. The headache inducing score which just won't shut up is by Maurice Jarre. With Michel Piccoli, Dany Robin, John Vernon, Claude Jade (STOLEN KISSES), John Van Dreelen, Carlos Rivas (THE KING AND I), John Dehner and Ann Doran.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

L'Animal (aka Stuntwoman) (1977)

A stunt man (Jean Paul Belmondo) is a bit of a klutz and the cause of many a disaster on a film set. When one stunt goes horribly wrong, he and his stunt woman girlfriend (Raquel Welch, looking drop dead gorgeous) end up in the hospital. This is the last straw in the relationship and she leaves him but he won't be deterred. When he doubles as a stunt man for a mincing gay actor (also played by Belmondo), he sets a plan in motion to get her back. This good natured action comedy should have been better and mostly coasts on the star power of Belmondo and Welch. There is one amusing sequence when the gay Belmondo chases the straight Belmondo who chases Welch who thinks the gay Belmondo is the straight Belmondo and attempts to seduce him. I'm not sure Belmondo's swishy gay wouldn't offend some in the gay community but I found it harmless if a stereotype. Directed by Claude Zidi with Claude Renoir (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) in charge of the cinematography. With Claude Chabrol, Jane Birkin, Johnny Hallyday and Dany Saval.

Narayama Bushiko (aka The Ballad Of Narayama) (1958)

In a small Japanese mountain village, it is the tradition that once a person turns 70 years of age that they are taken to the top of a mountain called Narayama and left to die. As one woman (Kinuyo Tanaka) approaches her time, she embraces it while her son (Teiji Takahasi) and new daughter in law (Yuko Mochizuki) have great difficulty with the savage tradition. Keisuke Kinoshita's film is an extremely stylized work. It is presented Kabuki style (there's even a curtain raising before the film proper begins) and the dramatic studio bound sets only emphasis the formality of the piece. This is a blessing. It's hard for the Western mind to wrap itself around the concept of abandoning its elders to the elements so a more realistic style would be extremely uncomfortable. I haven't seen the Shohei Imamura remake which apparently presents the story naturally and I don't think I want to. But this is visually a stunning film. The production design of Kisaku Ito and the art direction of Chiyoo Umeda are amazing. Even if one disliked the film, I can't imagine not taking pleasure in each ravishing wide screen composition by Hiroyuki Kusuda. With Danko Ichikawa as the ungrateful grandson, Keiko Ogasawara and Eijiro Tono.

Octaman (1971)

A group of scientists in Mexico discover a curious hybrid, a mutated baby octopus. It's only a matter of time before its father, a half man and half octopus creature comes to retrieve him. Surely a candidate for the most inept sci-fi horror film ever made. The director and writer Harry Essex wrote the screenplay to CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (as well as the undervalued noirs KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL and KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK) and this is merely a cheesy retread of that film. This was the famous make up artist Rick Baker's (THE EXORCIST) first feature film, he designed the tacky rubber Octaman costume. There's absolutely no sense of terror as the rubber Octaman flaps his rubber tentacles. The editing is appalling, a group of people set out but when they reach their destination, one of them is missing. Did he get lost? Go back to camp? We never see him again. The film might have been more cheesy fun if it wasn't so painful to see actors like Pier Angeli (SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME) whose last film this was, Kerwin Mathews (7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) and Jeff Morrow (THE ROBE), who'd all seen better days, reduced to stuff like this.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cheri (2009)

In the Paris of 1900, an aging courtesan (Michelle Pfeiffer) embarks on a casual affair with the 19 year old son (Rupert Friend) of a another aging courtesan (Kathy Bates). But the casual affair turns into six years whereupon the boy's mother arranges a fixed marriage for the boy with the daughter (Felicity Jones) of yet another aging courtesan (Iben Hjejle). Based on two novels by Colette (it was previously done as a play with Kim Stanley and Horst Buchholz), the director Stephen Frears and the writer Christopher Hampton of DANGEROUS LIAISONS (which also starred Pfeiffer) have fashioned an elegant and witty film that somehow misses its mark. Physically, it's a very handsome film what with Alan MacDonald's exquisite production design and Consolata Boyle's gorgeous costumes and Pfeiffer gives a wonderfully textured performance. But Rupert Friend, who I liked in MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT, is such a nonentity here that Pfeiffer seems to be acting in a vacuum. When she pines for him, you wonder why bother? Without the heat, Friend's cipher like presence capsizes what should have been a marvelous film. Still, there's more than enough that's worthwhile to recommend it. The peerless score is by Alexandre Desplat. With Anita Pallenberg and Frances Tomelty.

Royal Wedding (1951)

A brother (Fred Astaire) and sister (Jane Powell) act take their hit Broadway show to London during the preparations of the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. While both are career driven with little interest in a committed relationship, she finds herself falling in love with a handsome English Lord (Peter Lawford) and he finds himself attracted to a dancer (Sarah Churchill, Winston's daughter) in the show. The lightweight storyline is practically irrelevant here because most of the musical numbers are wonderful. It contains two of Astaire's most justifiably famous dances: the dance with a hat rack (Sunday Jumps) and the dance on the ceiling (You're All The World To Me). Plus there's the vigorous vaudeville number with Powell, How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life in which Powell shows that she doesn't always have to trill when she sings and the exotic percussive I Left My Hat In Haiti also with Powell. Directed by Stanley Donen. With Keenan Wynn and Albert Sharpe (DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hot Stuff (1979)

The Miami police department sets up a massive sting operation by having four cops (Dom DeLuise, Suzanne Pleshette, Jerry Reed, Luis Avalos) act as fences for stolen goods. I have an inexplicable affection for this amiable if disposable 70s comedy. The improbable plot benefits from the bright Miami setting as well as a screenplay with some grit or at least as gritty as a silly comedy can be. I suspect this is most likely the work of the co-screenwriter Donald E. Westlake whose novels spawned such films as Boorman's POINT BLANK and Godard's MADE IN U.S.A.. The film is helped immeasurably by Dom DeLuise (who also directed), who's the funniest roly poly comic since Lou Costello and makes the most inane punchline hilarious. With Ossie Davis, Marc Lawrence, Pat McCormick (who has the film's funniest line) and Richard Davalos (whose weight gain makes him almost unrecognizable as the young actor who played James Dean's brother in EAST OF EDEN).

Night Song (1947)

A wealthy San Francisco heiress (Merle Oberon) becomes interested in a blind musician (Dana Andrews) but his bitterness about his blindness puts up a wall between them. So she feigns blindness in order to break through his facade. Films about composers seemed to be all the rage in the 1940s (THE CONSTANT NYMPH, A SONG TO REMEMBER, RHAPSODY IN BLUE etc.) and this one has a mawkish romance at its soft core. The most interesting aspect of the film is that when the hero regains his sight, he develops a rather shameful attitude toward the "blind" Oberon as if he were ashamed. A better script would have focused more on this unusual angle, that of a once blind man who once he can see desires to divorce himself from his past "blind" life even if it means cutting off the girl he's was in love with. Instead, the film seems to dance around it before coming to its insipid happy ending. Oberon was always a rather affected actress and without the proper setting (like WUTHERING HEIGHTS), her acting comes across as remote as it does here. Directed by John Cromwell (THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE). With Ethel Barrymore, Hoagy Carmichael, Arthur Rubenstein, Eugene Ormandy, Jacqueline White and Donald Curtis.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Return To Peyton Place (1961)

A young girl (Carol Lynley) writes a novel using the unsavory aspects of her small hometown as the source of the material. When the novel is published, the town is outraged and bans the book but the novel also has touches the lives of the people she wrote about and not always in a positive way. After the huge commercial and critical success of the 1957 film of PEYTON PLACE, a sequel (also penned by Grace Metalious) was inevitable. The film makes many changes from the novel and the film's structure seems haphazard and fragmented which might make the film incoherent unless one had seen the original film. For the 1957 film, the director Mark Robson and the screenwriter John Michael Hayes pulled a wizard's trick and turned Metalious' lurid and trashy best seller into an insightful look at the double standards and hypocrisy of a small American town. Here, director Jose Ferrer (yes, the actor) and his screenwriter Ronald Alexander are defeated by the material. With the exception of Mary Astor as the mother in law from Hell who turns in a fierce performance, all the other actors flounder. Even Franz Waxman, whose score for the 1957 original is one of the all time great film scores, provides a tired retread here. With Jeff Chandler, Eleanor Parker, Tuesday Weld, Luciana Paluzzi, Robert Sterling, Brett Halsey and Gunnar Hellstrom.

Princess Tam Tam (1935)

After a rift with his society climbing wife (Germaine Aussey), a writer (Albert Prejean, AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT) goes to Africa for inspiration. When he meets a native girl (Josephine Baker), he gets it in his mind to civilize her and present her to Parisian society as the Princess Tam-Tam to get revenge on his wife's snobbish companions. Yet another re-hash of George Bernard Shaw's PYGMALION, this vehicle serves as a setting for the wonderful Josephine Baker in one of her few film roles. She has two songs and two dance numbers but they only whet our appetite for more of her. There's a mild discomfort at unintended racism when the "civilized" Baker hears the sound of African drums and abandons all pretense of civility as she goes into a wild abandoned dance. The African sequences are more winning than the Paris settings. Directed by Edmond T. Greville. With Vivian Romance, Robert Arnoux, Georges Peclet and Jean Galland.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Gypsy And The Gentleman (1958)

A titled member of the English aristocracy (Keith Michell) is heavily in debt so he agrees to a loveless marriage to a girl (Clare Austin) with a plentiful dowry. But when he meets a devious gypsy (Melina Mercouri), he abandons all propriety as she drags him to the depths of degradation and moral rot. The title sounds like a Harlequin romance novel but there's no romance in this tale of how passion (it's certainly not love) can drive men or women to evil actions. Mercouri coldly manipulates Michell who is obsessed with her but she herself is enslaved by her gypsy lover (Patrick McGoohan, showing more sex appeal than before or since) who keeps her hanging on as long as she is useful to him. But the aristocrats (which include June Laverick as Michell's sister) are so arrogantly stupid that I took a perverse pleasure in cheering the evil gypsies on. Directed by Joseph Losey from a screenplay by Janet Green (VICTIM), the film is bathed in vibrant colors that echo the Hammer films as does the film's final minutes which would have fit right in with one of their Dracula or Frankenstein movies. The cinematography is by Jack Hildyard (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI). With Flora Robson, Nigel Green, Laurence Naismith, Mervyn Johns and Helen Haye.

Only The Lonely (1991)

Set in Chicago, a 38 year old Irish cop (John Candy) still lives at home with his mother (Maureen O'Hara), who's very possessive of him. But when he falls in love with a cosmetician (Ally Sheedy) in a funeral home, he begins to hope for a new life. But what to do about mother? Despite the comedic Candy's presence in the lead role, the film isn't an all out comedy. It treads MARTY territory balancing some genuinely poignant aspects with the milder comic moments. The film could have used some toughening up. It dances around the darker aspects of the story while eventually giving in to a pat romcom ending. As an actress, there was always something darkly unconventional about Sheedy which is a blessing for a film like this, her abstruse quality paired with the cuddly Candy prevents the film from getting too mawkish. It's a treat to see O'Hara in a major role though her frumpy clothes and ugly hats can't disguise her movie star beauty. Her old co-star Anthony Quinn (they made 5 films together) pops up as the lusty Greek neighbor with eyes for her. Directed by Chris Columbus (GREMLINS). With James Belushi, Milo O'Shea, Kevin Dunn and Macaulay Culkin.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Les Dimanches De Ville D'Avray (aka Sundays And Cybele) (1962)

An ex-pilot (Hardy Kruger) suffers from what we call today post traumatic stress disorder after his plane crashes in Vietnam killing a little girl. Emotionally disturbed, he's now child like and lives with his girlfriend (Nicole Courcel) in what appears to be a platonic relationship though she would like to take it to the next level. He begins to come alive however when he meets an orphan (Patricia Gozzi) and spends his Sundays with her in their own special little world. Winner of the 1962 best foreign language film Oscar, director Serge Bourguignon does wonderfully balancing a very tricky plotline. Though the relationship between the disturbed vet and the orphan girl is a pure one, Gozzi comes across as more child/woman (not unlike Elizabeth Taylor in NATIONAL VELVET) than child which give some of the dialog and situations a reading not intended. It's clear from the beginning that this is a film that's not going to end well which makes the journey a nervous one but at least when the end comes, we've been more than prepared. Kruger is excellent in a career best performance. Impossibly tragic yet with a delicate beauty which permeates almost every frame. The superb B&W cinematography is by Henri Decae and the minimalist score by Maurice Jarre. With Daniel Ivernel.

Dial 1119 (1950)

A psychotic and homicidal mental patient (Marshall Thompson) escapes from his asylum and returns to the the city, the scene of the crime he committed three years earlier. He enters a bar and after killing the bartender (William Conrad, TV's CANNON), holds the remaining six people in the bar hostage and demands the psychiatrist (Sam Levene, CROSSFIRE) who originally diagnosed him come to see him. This low budget "B" noir-ish thriller starts off with some promising potential but it loses steam about the halfway mark and can't sustain itself to the end, in itself surprising since it's only an hour and 15 minutes long. Directed without distinction by Gerald Mayer (Louis B.'s nephew), the film is hampered by Thompson's inadequate performance. In the hands of a stronger actor, the quietly deranged killer might have brought some needed tension to the project but Thompson can't shake off his clean cut boy next door persona. It doesn't help that the hostages are written as a stock bunch without much originality. There's no underscore but Andre Previn composed a strong main title and end title. With Virginia Field, Leon Ames, Andrea King, Keefe Brasselle and Richard Rober.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ulzana's Raid (1972)

When an Apache by the name of Ulzana (Joaquin Martinez) escapes from an Indian reservation with a small raiding party, a young and inexperienced cavalry Lieutenant (Bruce Davison) is assigned the task of finding him. A superior if brutal western, the director Robert Aldrich is in his element here. During this period, most Hollywood westerns were concentrating on the unfair treatment and atrocities of the white man against the Indian in films like LITTLE BIG MAN, SOLDIER BLUE and TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE. Aldrich goes against the prevailing revisionism. His Apaches are barbaric, cruel savages who kill, rape, mutilate ... the white man's worst nightmare. Yet there's a respect of the Apache and his mysterious ways, even if it's beyond the ken of understanding to the white man (who aren't portrayed as noble either). Burt Lancaster is in fine form as the weary Indian scout just doing his job and Jorge Luke is impressive as the Apache scout working for the cavalry. The cinematographer Joseph Biroc (BLAZING SADDLES) makes splendid use of the Arizona locations but Frank De Vol gets the blame for the worthless score. With Richard Jaeckel, Lloyd Bochner, Karl Swenson and Dran Hamilton.

Goodbye My Fancy (1951)

A U.S. congresswoman (Joan Crawford) is due to receive an honorary degree from the college where she was expelled from some 20 years earlier. What should be an uneventful weekend turns complicated when she renews her relationship with the professor (Robert Young) who was the cause of her being expelled as well as the presence of an old beau (Frank Lovejoy). Then there's the controversial film she made which is getting the conservatives on the university's trustee board all in a dither. Based on the 1947 play by Fay Kanin, the film needed more political heat to make it crackle. I've not read Ms. Kanin's play but I suspect some of the play's politics were toned down for the film version. As it stands, it's an innocuous well intentioned romantic comedy with minor political overtones. It's amusing to see Crawford of all people spouting about education, political oppression and war. I think my favorite moment is when she, with her eyes literally popping out of her head, delivers the line with a straight face, "My eyes are wide open!". Fortunately there's the acidic Eve Arden dropping wisecracks to deflate Crawford's pompousness. Directed by Vincent Sherman. With Janice Rule (in her film debut), Lurene Tuttle, John Qualen, Ellen Corby, Ann Robinson, Virginia Gibson and Morgan Farley.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Night Visitor (1971)

A man (Max Von Sydow) confined to an asylum for the insane for the axe murder of a drunk cleverly discovers a way to sneak out of the asylum during the night. His plan is to get revenge on the people who sent him there. Is he an insane killer? Or an innocent man framed? Or perhaps ... both? This little seen psychological thriller is almost too clever for its own good. It's effective, there's no denying that, but the minute details tend to slow the film down a bit when it needs to keep us on edge. There's certainly a lot of talent involved. The director is Laslo Benedek (who directed Brando in THE WILD ONE), the evocative score is by Henry Mancini and in addition to Von Sydow, the cast includes Liv Ullmann, Trevor Howard and Per Oscarsson. Ullmann, usually the most vulnerable and open of actresses, gets to play against type as a selfish, cold and manipulative, tight faced liar. The atmospheric cinematography (filmed on location in Denmark) is by Henning Kristiansen (BABETTE'S FEAST). With Andrew Keir and Rupert Davies.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Il Figlio Di Spartacus (aka The Slave) (1962)

A Roman centurion (Steve Reeves) is sent by Julius Caesar (Ivo Garrani) as an emissary to Crassus (Claudio Gora) because Caesar suspects him of planning a coup to overthrow him. It is during this very trip however, that the centurion discovers he is the son of Spartacus, the slave that led a revolt that almost caused the fall of Rome. Directed by Sergio Corbucci (the original DJANGO), this sword and sandal epic is fairly intelligent compared to its often tacky brethren. But who watches peplum for good taste? Filmed in Egypt, the CinemaScope photography by Enzo Barboni is nicely done but it's a dull affair. The movie requires Reeves to use his acting ability (never his strong point) rather than his muscles and the fun of his Hercules and Goliath movies is missing. There's a nice score by Piero Piccioni however. With Jacques Sernas, Gianna Maria Canale (who makes for an interesting villainess) and Ombretta Colli.

The Constant Nymph (1943)

A young girl (Joan Fontaine in an Oscar nominated performance) barely in her teens falls possessively in love with an arrogant and pretentious composer (Charles Boyer). When he marries her more worldly cousin (Alexis Smith), she is devastated. After running away from school, she moves in with the couple ... not a good idea. What a disgusting, nasty piece of film. A pompous jerk (Boyer) treats his wife (Smith) like crap while leching after the Lolita (Fontaine done up in pigtails and pinafores) under his roof! The irony of this horror is that we are somehow supposed to find this den of perversity romantic! Eh? I wonder how 1943 audiences would have taken to this swill if the little girl had been played by the 15 year old Shirley Temple instead of the 26 year old Fontaine? The film had been out of circulation for almost 70 years, they should have kept it locked up for another 70. Creepy and repulsive! Directed by Edmund Goulding. The best thing about it is the superb Erich Wolfgang Korngold score. With Peter Lorre, Charles Coburn, Brenda Marshall, Dame May Whitty, Jean Muir, Joyce Reynolds and Eduardo Ciannelli.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Une Vie De Chat (aka A Cat In Paris) (2010)

A Parisian housecat leads a double life. During the day, he is the pet of a mute girl traumatized by the murder of her father. At night, he assists a burglar by casing homes and businesses for the burglar to rob. But when the cat gives the little girl a stolen bracelet as a gift, her mother (who is a police officer) asks her second in command to see if there is a connection between the stolen bracelet and a recent string of robberies. An Oscar nominee in 2011 for best animated film, this brief (it's barely over an hour) hand drawn film is a real delight. What a pleasure to see the beauty hand drawn animation can bring to a film as opposed to the Pixar computer animation. The story itself is slight and the film makers (Jean Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol) are wise not to drag it out and are content to let it play out in its own time. There's a nice Saul Bass like title sequence and a really excellent underscore by Serge Besset. The film is in French but there is an English language track skillfully spoken by Anjelica Huston, Marcia Gay Harden, Matthew Modine and Steve Blum.

Lili (1953)

A young country orphan (Leslie Caron) arrives in a small village looking for work. She develops a crush on a magician (Jean Pierre Aumont) in a traveling carnival and eventually becomes part of the circus assisting a puppeteer (Mel Ferrer). This saccharine piece of flimsy whimsy is more appealing than it has any right to be, most of it due to Caron's gamin charms. I suppose one could call it a semi-musical. There's only one song, Hi Lili Hi Lo which was a hit, and two dance numbers. Based on a short story by Paul Gallico (THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE) that's somewhat darker than the film, it's the kind of family film that appeals to both children and adults but for different reasons. The material was recycled again as a Broadway music called CARNIVAL which is actually superior to the film. Despite being a hit, the song Hi Lili Hi Lo was ineligible for a best song Oscar (its lyrics had previously been published) so the Academy gave the best score award to Bronislau Kaper's slight score which weaves the song in its underscore. Directed and choreographed by Charles Walters. With Zsa Zsa Gabor (who even gets to dance), Kurt Kasznar and Amanda Blake.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Three On A Match (1932)

Three schoolgirls meet again by chance years later as adults: Joan Blondell is now a showgirl with a prison record, Bette Davis is a secretary and Ann Dvorak is a socialite married to a wealthy lawyer. At a reunion lunch, they light their cigarettes on one match, ignoring the superstition that the third one to light the cigarette will be the first to die. This economical (it's barely over an hour long) pre-code is modestly entertaining. The pre-stardom Davis is wasted and the sassy Blondell is always welcome but it's Ann Dvorak's movie. As a respectable but restless blueblood, she abandons her husband to become the mistress of a gambling thug (Lyle Talbot), neglects her child and become a cocaine addict! Directed by Mervyn LeRoy during his tough period at Warners before he went all soft at MGM in the 1940s. With Warren William, Humphrey Bogart, Edward Arnold, Anne Shirley, Allen Jenkins and Jack La Rue.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Murder On Flight 502 (1975)

The head of security (George Maharis) at Kennedy airport receives an anonymous letter that a series of murders will occur on flight 502 from New York to London in first class which is already halfway to its destination. The pilot (Robert Stack) and a New York policeman (Hugh O'Brian) on board attempt to discover the murderer before the killings begin. This standard "passengers in peril" airline thriller is strictly by the numbers as are the stereotypical passengers and their situations and the trite dialogue they are required to spout. The cast reads like an episode of THE LOVE BOAT: Farrah Fawcett, Walter Pidgeon, Fernando Lamas, Polly Bergen, Ralph Bellamy, Sonny Bono, Dane Clark, Laraine Day (reunited with Stack as pilot and passenger from THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY), Theodore Bikel, Molly Picon, Brooke Adams (DAYS OF HEAVEN), Danny Bonaduce (TV's PARTRIDGE FAMILY) and Rosemarie Bowe Stack. Outside of a neat and unexpected twist at the end, it's all so predictable. For fans of cheesy 1970s TV movies, you'll be in hog heaven. Others might be forewarned. Directed by George McCowan.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Madame Sousatzka (1988)

A 15 year old Indian piano prodigy (Navin Chowdhry) is taken under the wing of the great piano teacher Madame Sousatzka (Shirley MacLaine). It's not long before Sousatzka clashes with the lad's mother (Shabana Azmi) who is eager for the boy to start playing concerts before the teacher thinks he's ready. It doesn't help when a promoter (Leigh Lawson) attempts to lure the young man away from his teacher and enter the commercial world. While the story (based on the novel by Bernice Rubens) isn't particularly original, the screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (HOWARDS END) provides a solid framework for MacLaine's terrific performance, one of her very best. MacLaine's Sousatzka is one of those brilliant monsters for whom Art (in this case, music) takes precedence over everything, investing her very heart and soul into the "children" she creates even as her heart gets broken every time. She's surrounded by a colorful company of assorted characters played by Peggy Ashcroft, Twiggy, Geoffrey Bayldon and Sam Howard. The capable direction is by John Schlesinger and while the film is far removed from his superb work in the 1960s and 1970s, it's still a solid example of good craftsmanship.

London Suite (1996)

Four intertwined stories set at a posh London hotel: A wife (Julia Louis Dreyfus) loses her husband (Jonathan Silverman) on their honeymoon. A daughter (Margot Steinberg) urges her widowed mother (Madeline Kahn) to go on a date with a Scotsman (Richard Mulligan). An American couple (Michael Richards, Julie Hagerty) plan to attend Wimbledon but she loses the tickets and his back goes out. An English actress (Patricia Clarkson), now living in America, visits with her gay ex-husband (Kelsey Grammer). Neil Simon had Broadway hits with PLAZA SUITE and CALIFORNIA SUITE (both made into successful films) so I suppose it was inevitable he'd try the formula for a third time. Oddly, it opened off-Broadway (where it ran 9 months) rather than on Broadway. Alas, by this time, the formula was overworked and Simon's one liners are tired. In fact, Simon ditched one of the original play's four stories and substituted the honeymoon episode. It's disheartening to see a mostly talented cast trying so hard for laughs that never come. I mean if the great Madeline Kahn can't bring at least a smile to your face, something is seriously wrong. Clarkson and Grammar (who's awful!) play the same characters played by Maggie Smith and Michael Caine in CALIFORNIA SUITE but with much less success. Directed by Jay Sandrich. With Kristen Johnston (TV's THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN), Jane Carr (PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) and Paxton Whitehead (the only actor to repeat his stage role).

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Three For The Show (1955)

A musical comedy star (Betty Grable) and her actor/writer husband (Gower Champion) are closing their hit show after three years and taking a long needed vacation. But without warning, her first husband (Jack Lemmon) who was reported killed in action by the Air Force shows up. It seems it was all a mistake. But what's a girl to do with two husbands? Based on the play HOME AND BEAUTY by W. Somerset Maugham (which was previously filmed in 1940 as TOO MANY HUSBANDS), this version is glossed up in Technicolor and CinemaScope with songs by George and Ira Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson (GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES) among others and dances by Jack Cole. It's actually one of Grable's better movies, certainly an improvement over the mindless piffle she churned out in the 1940s at Fox. Lemmon is out of his element here. He's a barely adequate singer and a weak dancer which leaves Gower Champion to take over leading man duties. Directed by H.C. Potter (MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE). With Marge Champion and Myron McCormick.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Key Largo (1948)

An ex-GI (Humphrey Bogart) passing through Florida stops to see the family, who own a hotel in the Florida keys, of a deceased soldier he served with in WWII. When he arrives he finds the hotel taken over by a gangster (Edward G. Robinson) and his thugs. Based on a play by Maxwell Anderson, the director John Huston along with his co-screenwriter Richard Brooks pretty much dump Anderson's pretentious play written in blank verse and whipped up a tense and atmospheric thriller with the extra added suspense of a powerful hurricane approaching. It's a well crafted example of what the well oiled Warners machine could churn out at its best. It helps that the film is heavy on Star power and Robinson steals the picture from Bogart, he positively makes your skin crawl. Alas, Lauren Bacall was already starting to show her limitations as an actress. As a slinky femme fatale she was fine but when playing regular women, she's dull. Fortunately there's Claire Trevor in one of those showy performances that win Oscars (and she did) as Robinson's boozed up mistress. With Lionel Barrymore (hammy as usual but it works here), Thomas Gomez, Marc Lawrence and Jay Silverheels.

Bloomer Girl (1956)

As rumors of an approaching Civil War between the States rumble in the background, the unmarried daughter (Barbara Cook) of a Northern hoop skirt manufacturer (Paul Ford) fights for women's rights and the abolition of slavery. When she falls in love with a Southerner (Keith Andes) with more traditional views, complications develop. Based on the 1944 hit Broadway musical (it ran for 657 performances), it's seldom revived which is too bad because it's a charming musical. The songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg are very good and one of them Right As The Rain became a popular standard. Pretty and likable, Cook is in fine voice and one can't help but feel frustrated that she didn't have a bigger film and TV career. The choreography is, unmistakably, by Agnes DeMille. Directed by Alex Segal. With Carmen Mathews, James Mitchell, Frank Overton, Brock Peters, Virginia Bosler and Rawn Spearman.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The White Buffalo (1977)

Afflicted by dreams of a white buffalo, Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson) travels through the West in search of the beast with the intention to kill it and thus end his nightmares. Meanwhile, Chief Crazy Horse (Will Sampson, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST) also pursues the white buffalo that killed his daughter in the belief that her spirit will not rest until the buffalo is slaughtered. This is a rather odd mixture of western and horror with the white buffalo given a certain supernatural presence. However, the buffalo itself is rather cheesy looking and obviously fake. But the film's problems go beyond the tacky looking buffalo. The film's low budget gives it a schizophrenic look, bouncing between authentic New Mexico locales with obvious studio exterior sets. The screenplay by Richard Sale (who also wrote the source novel) can't make up its mind whether it wants to be JAWS out west or some mystical western. Well, it's not boring. I'll give it that. The John Barry score gives it some needed class. Directed by J. Lee Thompson. With Kim Novak, Clint Walker, Jack Warden, Stuart Whitman, Cara Williams, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Ed Lauter and Eve Brent.

Jules Et Jim (1962)

Shortly before WWI, two best friends, the German Jules (Oskar Werner) and the French Jim (Henri Serre) fall under the influence of the enigmatic Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). It's Jules that marries her and though they fight on different sides during WWI, after the war they are reunited. But it's clear that Jules is not enough for Catherine and Jim becomes her lover. The word masterpiece is tossed around so often when describing films ("a comic masterpiece", "a masterpiece of political intrigue", "a masterpiece for the ages" etc.) so that when a genuine masterpiece comes along, it seems almost a waste of time to call it thus. But JULES ET JIM is a bonafide cinematic masterpiece. Francois Truffaut's elegiac film is pure cinematic poetry. Moreau's ambiguous, infuriating Catherine is one of the great performances by an actress in film. So often in movies, we're told how fascinating a character is even though the actor (or his performance) isn't fascinating at all. But we can see what draws Jules and Jim to Catherine because we, the audience, are drawn to her too. Truffaut catches all the messiness and complexities of a love that should never have happened in the first place. The music by Georges Delerue is one of the greatest film scores ever written. An exquisite film. With Marie Dubois, Vanna Urbino and Sabine Haudepin.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Flying Down To Rio (1933)

In Miami, a bandleader (Gene Raymond) falls for a Brazilian beauty (Dolores Del Rio) and pursues her to Rio De Janeiro even though she is engaged to be married to another man (Raul Roulien). It's the flimsiest of plots but it's a great looking movie with a fairly clever screenplay. Del Rio was one of the great beauties of the screen and that's enough to engage us but Raymond is too vapid to hold our interest. But the film's ace in the hole are the film's second couple, the fourth and fifth billed Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in their first screen pairing. They're just so much more fun and charismatic than the film's leads that it's easy to see why they shot to fame in the next few years. Musically, the film's musical highlight is the 12 minute Carioca production number which is marvelous but there's also the absurd but entertaining musical finale with girls dancing on the wings of planes as they soar over Rio. Polished and elegant entertainment. Directed by Thornton Freeland. The songs are by Vincent Youmans (music) and Gus Kahn and Edward Eliscu (lyrics). With Eric Blore, Franklin Pangborn and Blanche Friderici.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Uninvited (1944)

A music critic (Ray Milland) and his sister (Ruth Hussey, PHILADELPHIA STORY) come across a large house on the seaside cliffs of Cornwall. They fall in love with the house and buy it but shortly thereafter mysterious things begin to happen and they begin to explore the history of the house and the tragedy that occurred there. One of the great ghost movies to come out of Hollywood, the film makers take the supernatural seriously and avoid, for the most part, the comedic aspects that usually accompanied movies dealing with the supernatural. Taking a page from Val Lewton's RKO films of the period, director Lewis Allen goes heavy on the spooky atmosphere without showing too much of the ghostly apparitions. The film is helped by the lovely presence of the doe eyed Gail Russell in her film debut as the young girl the house wants and by Victor Young's strong score. His love theme under the title Stella By Starlight became a popular hit of the day. With a rare film appearance by the stage actress Cornelia Otis Skinner as well as Donald Crisp, Dorothy Stickney and Alan Napier.

Monday, February 4, 2013

I Thank A Fool (1962)

After a doctor (Susan Hayward) is released from prison for manslaughter, she is hired by the very man who sent her to prison. The attorney (Peter Finch) who prosecuted her case. He wants her to watch over his mentally disturbed wife (Diane Cilento), who is a danger to herself. But there's a more complicated backstory that will soon be unraveled. Based on the novel by Audrey Erskine-Lindop, this is what used to be called a "woman's picture". It's essentially a melodrama with psychological undertones. Perhaps surprisingly, Hayward's role is very low key here. It's a rather passive, reactive role and it's not till the last ten minutes of the film, that Hayward has a real Susan Hayward moment. The film belongs to Diane Cilento as the schizophrenic wife, she gets all the big dramatic moments and poor Finch hasn't a chance between the two actresses facing off. It's a somewhat entertaining piece of pulp though the director Robert Stevens can't sustain the suspense and the weak conclusion seems rather hastily thrown together. There's a decent score by Ron Goodwin though. With Kieron Moore, Cyril Cusack, Brenda De Banzie, Athene Seyler, Joan Hickson and Laurence Naismith.

Simba (1955)

When an Englishman (Dirk Bogarde) returns to Kenya to visit his brother, he finds his brother has been brutally murdered by the Mau Mau terrorists. Instead of returning to England, he stays on and takes over his brother's farm. Several films were made around this time dealing with the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya (SOMETHING OF VALUE, SAFARI) but this film, though well intentioned, is rather tiresome. While the murderous activities of the Mau Mau are reprehensible, the whites (at least as portrayed in this film) are a rather racist and stupid lot. It's the kind of film where black characters are on the fringe of everything while the concentration is on the Caucasians, who fret "Oh dear, what are we going to do with these blacks who want independence?". The message is brotherhood but with the exception of one educated black doctor (Earl Cameron, SAPPHIRE), the blacks are portrayed as simple or vengeful. Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst (the 1951 SCROOGE). With Virginia McKenna, Donald Sinden, Basil Sydney and Marie Ney.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

It's The Rage (1999)

A woman (Joan Allen) leaves her husband (Jeff Daniels) because of his obsessive jealousy. The personal assistant (Josh Brolin) to a paranoid computer wizard (Gary Sinise) quits his job to work in a video store. A closeted gay lawyer (Andre Braugher) is unhappy with his relationship to an unstable lover (David Schwimmer). A manipulative street tramp (Anna Paquin) provokes her psychotic brother (Giovanni Ribisi) with her lies. Two cops (Robert Forster, Bokeem Woodbine) are tired of criminals getting off. These divergent storylines criss cross until by the film's end, all the characters have met their fates either as a victim or a shooter by handguns. After last year's Aurora, Colorado and Newton, Connecticut shootings, this film is more timely than ever. Lest one think this is just a proselytizing anti-gun rant, think again. That the film is anti-gun is a given but it doesn't sacrifice a compelling, well written story to its political agenda. All the performances are uniformly excellent across the board and the screenplay by Keith Reddin (based on his play THE ALARMIST) is a detailed and precise character studies. Directed by James D. Stern, whose only feature film this is.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Kon Tiki (2012)

In 1947, the explorer and anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl (Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen) is determined to prove that Polynesian culture emigrated, not from Asia as supposed, but from South America. To this end, he attempts to faithfully recreate the journey taken 1500 years earlier from Peru to the South Pacific islands on a raft made of balsa wood. Although Heyerdahl himself documented his journey with a 16 millimeter camera and the resulting film won the 1950 best documentary Oscar, this stunning dramatic recreation of his voyage is one of the best films of 2012. The Norwegian entry in this year's best foreign language Oscar derby, the film provides more of a background of Heyerdahl than the documentary, notably in his relationship with his wife (Agnes Kittelsen) as well as his crew members. It's a visually grand (Geir Hartly Andreassen's lensing is among the year's best), emotionally rich satisfying cinematic experience. Directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg and the superb score by Johan Soderqvist. With fine work by Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Gustaf Skarsgard, Odd Magnus Williamson, Tobias Santelmann and Jakob Oftebro.

Rebelle (aka War Witch) (2012)

In an unnamed African country at war, a 12 year old girl (Rachel Mwanza, who won the best actress award at his year's Berlin film festival) is forced to kill her parents by anti-government rebels and coerced against her will into joining them as a child soldier. Thus the brutality of war robs her of her childhood while her innate goodness attempts to fend off the inevitable dehumanization process. Canada's entry in this year's foreign language film (it's in French) Oscar category is a powerful and unsettling look at a very real situation in many war torn African countries. Children conscripted by rebel forces into killing machines. Filmed in the Congo, the director Kim Nguyen is fairly (and thankfully) restrained in the more graphic atrocities of war and instead concentrates on the effects it places on a child not emotionally or mentally prepared for its horrors. Mwanza, an unprofessional, gives a remarkable performance going from an unaffected child to a survivor of war and rape. With Serge Kanyinda, Mizinga Mwinga and Alain Lino Mic Bastien.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Back From Eternity (1956)

A disparate group of passengers are headed for a small South American village by airplane: a bar girl (Anita Ekberg), an engaged couple (Phyllis Kirk, Gene Barry), an elderly couple (Beulah Bondi, Cameron Prud'Homme) on vacation, a convicted criminal (Rod Steiger) and his jailer (Fred Clark), a mobster (Jesse White) and a little boy (Jon Provost). The crew: a pilot (Robert Ryan), co-pilot (Keith Andes) and flight attendant (Adele Mara). A freak storm causes the plane to veer off course and crash in an uncharted South American jungle populated by hostile headhunters. In a rare case of a director remaking his own film, John Farrow directs this remake of his 1939 film FIVE CAME BACK. As remakes go, it's probably a bit better than the original. Certainly the intensity level is upped considerably and the acting is generally better. Steiger, in particular, is admirably restrained in a role that could easily have brought out the ham in him. One of the better entries in the "airline disaster" movie genre. The nicely rendered B&W cinematography is courtesy of William C. Mellor (A PLACE IN THE SUN) and there's a nice score by Franz Waxman. With Barbara Eden, in her film debut, as a college student.