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Sunday, March 31, 2013

King Kong (1976)

A paleontologist (Jeff Bridges) stowaways on a ship owned by a major oil company that is headed to a mysterious island in the Indian ocean where it is believed massive deposits of untapped oil reside. The avaricious oil executive (Charles Grodin) in charge of the expedition is paranoid about keeping his discovery a secret but what they find instead staggers the imagination. This unfairly maligned update of the 1933 film isn't as stolid as the '33 film. The screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. (PRETTY POISON), working from the original script, infuses the film with more wit and poignancy than its predecessor, mixing topicality (the greed of oil companies) with a love story that can never be fulfilled. When the giant Kong lovingly blow dries the luscious Jessica Lange with his breath, you laugh out loud but you're touched by the gesture nevertheless. Lange, in her film debut, already displays ample signs that we're watching a star being born and Grodin as the environmental rapist takes such amoral joy in his actions that you can't really dislike him. Of course, today there's the added pathos of Kong's climb up the World Trade Center (replacing the Empire State Building in the original). Carlo Rimbaldi and Rick Baker are responsible for Kong's expressive face. Directed by John Guillermin and there's a beauty of an underscore by John Barry. With Rene Auberjonois, Ed Lauter, John Randolph, John Agar, John Lone and Julius Harris.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Value For Money (1955)

A young man (John Gregson) has inherited his father's rag business as well as his late father's "thrift" when it comes to spending money. His fiancee (Susan Stephen) refuses to commit to a wedding until he learns to loosen up, enjoy life and not be so tight fisted with his money. To this end, he goes to London where he meets a gold digging showgirl (Diana Dors) and falls in love. The sweet natured little comedy is a real charmer. I'm not fond of English comedies in general, especially 1950s British comedies but this one is hard to resist. The director Ken Annakin is perhaps better known for his big budget adventure films like Disney's SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON or BATTLE OF THE BULGE but he shows an unassuming talent for the genre. He never pushes too hard for the laughs, instead letting us just get the gag before quickly moving on. Dors, an underrated comedienne, looks spectacular. With Donald Pleasence, Joan Hickson, Ernest Thesiger and Ferdy Mayne.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Mill And The Cross (2011)

The Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Rutger Hauer) uses the procession to Mt. Calvary for the crucifixion of Christ as a metaphor for the religious persecution by the Spanish in mid-16th century Flanders in his painting THE PROCESSION TO CALVARY. This ascetic film, co-written and directed by the Polish film maker Lech Majewski (who also shared cinematography duties as well as co-writing the film score), is unique in its attempt to recreate an art form from another medium into cinematic terms without condescending to its audience. Alas, this also limits its audience for that very reason. It's a film that requires a certain amount of patience which will ultimately prove rewarding. It's a film meant for the eyes more than anything else and in that regard, the film can't be faulted. It's not a film where the acting matters a bit and Majewski could have used amateurs with the same results but in addition to Hauer, the cast includes Charlotte Rampling and Michael York.

Jigsaw (1949)

When a print shop owner is murdered, it's deemed a suicide. But a journalist (Myron McCormick, THE HUSTLER) believes the man was killed by a fascist racist organization. But when he is killed investigating into the matter, his best friend, an assistant D.A. (Franchot Tone), is determined to break the case wide open. This noir-ish thriller, like CROSSFIRE before it, attempts to meld a socially conscious statement with a hard boiled crime movie but is nowhere near as successful as that 1947 film. Directed by Fletcher Markle (Disney's THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY), it's rather heavy handed in its message and rather obvious in its narrative. It's main asset is that it's economical in its story telling and gets it done in 73 minutes! Somehow the film's honorable intentions were enough to rope several big names into doing cameos: Henry Fonda as a snippy waiter, Burgess Meredith as a bartender, John Garfield as a smart aleck pedestrian, Marsha Hunt as a secretary and in an in joke, Marlene Dietrich in the audience of a nightclub called The Blue Angel. With Doe Avedon (THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY) as the good girl, Jean Wallace as the femme fatale, Marc Lawrence and Robert Gist.

La Passante Du Sans Souci (1982)

A self made millionaire (Michel Piccoli) with a beautiful wife (Romy Schneider) is also the respected leader of an international organization for human rights (similar to Amnesty International). During an interview with the Paraguayan ambassador (Mathieu Carriere) regarding a political prisoner, he pulls out a gun and kills the ambassador. Once on trial, the events leading up to the murder which begins with his childhood in Nazi Germany unfolds. Based on the 1936 novel by Joseph Kessel (BELLE DE JOUR), director Jacques Rouffio's (he also co-wrote the script) film examines the correlation between Nazism in the 1930s and the rise of neo-Nazism in Europe in the late 70s. This is done by cutting back and forth between the modern day story and trial and 1930s events in Berlin and Paris and with Schneider playing two roles: Piccoli's wife in the contemporary segment and the woman who raised him in the 1930s story. It's a potent narrative to be sure but Rouffio bungles it with the extremities of his detail which seem over the top. This was Schneider's last film (she died a month after it opened and was nominated posthumously for a best actress Cesar award) and she doesn't look well. One can't be sure if it's simply aging or ill health. But her performance is very good. The subtle score is by Georges Delerue. With Maria Schell, Helmut Griem (CABARET), Gerard Klein, Dominique Labourier and as the young Piccoli, Wendelin Werner (whose only film this is, he went on to become a mathematical wizard).

Thursday, March 28, 2013

South Sea Woman (1953)

A U.S. Marine (Burt Lancaster) is being court martialed for desertion, destruction and theft during time of war. He refuses to defend himself and will not enter a plea. So it's up to a long legged showgirl (Virginia Mayo) to tell "his" side of the story on the witness stand. Loosely based on the play GENERAL COURT MARTIAL by William Rankin, this film would seem to have something for everybody: action, romance, comedy, patriotism, exotic locales etc. but by spreading itself too thin, it ends up unfocused. At first, it looks like a ROAD TO ..... clone with Lancaster, Mayo and Chuck Connors standing in for Crosby, Lamour and Hope. Then it gets all jingoistic on us as the trio attempts to sink a Japanese submarine from a stolen yacht. It's the kind of movie where when in the heat of battle a character attempts to hoist the American flag, you know there's a bullet waiting for him when he does it. The three leads give it their best and they're all fine but it's hardly worth the effort. Directed by Arthur Lubin (BUCK PRIVATES). With Paul Burke, Barry Kelley, Arthur Shields, Hayden Rorke and Bob Sweeney.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Walking Stick (1970)

A withdrawn young woman (Samantha Eggar), who walks with a pronounced limp due to childhood polio, meets a struggling artist (David Hemmings) at a party. He pursues her and a romance blossoms. But does he have ulterior motives? This is one of those little films that slipped through the cracks that deserved a better response from critics and audiences. For the small cult of us that have seen it, it's a little gem. A bittersweet romance where love, once damaged by betrayal, can no longer flourish. That fine actress Samantha Eggar is terrific here in a performance totally without vanity. Based on a novel by Winston Graham (MARNIE). Discreetly directed by Eric Till. With Phyllis Calvert, Emlyn Williams, Francesca Annis, Ferdy Mayne and Dudley Sutton.

In Dreams (1999)

In 1965, a small town is evacuated and then flooded completely to make a reservoir and lake. Some 30 years later, a housewife (Annette Bening) has her mind invaded via dreams by a psychotic serial killer (Robert Downey Jr.) with gender issues, the dreams becoming a reality and literally driving her bonkers and sending her to a mental asylum. There is a connection between the flooded town and her dreams. Based on the novel DOLL'S EYES by Bari Wood, this is a mess of a film. Serial killer movies, however far fetched, need to have at least one foot in reality. I don't know if it's the fault of the original source material or the film makers but this one is contrived to the point of absurdity and sloppily written to boot. Bening, for example, escapes a psychiatric hospital by merely opening the window and running out. But if there's any reason to watch the film, it's for Bening's fierce performance that manages to rise above the follies of the plot. Everyone else is flat with Downey more ridiculous than frightening. Directed by Neil Jordan (THE CRYING GAME). With Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea and Margo Martindale.

Evelyn Prentice (1934)

The wife (Myrna Loy) of a prominent attorney (William Powell) feels neglected when her husband devotes too much time to his law practice. After she receives evidence that her spouse may have had an affair with a client (Rosalind Russell in her film debut), she becomes vulnerable to a flattering gigolo (Harvey Stephens) and blackmail and murder follow. Based on a novel by W.E. Woodward, this is different from the usual Powell & Loy pairings in that it's a hoary courtroom melodrama rather than a zippy screwball comedy. As such, it's a rather stolid effort with the two stars not at their best. There is some humor in the film but it's provided by Una Merkel as Loy's quipping confidante. The inert direction by William K. Howard is of no help. Still, there's a nice little performance by Isabel Jewell who has a strong scene on the witness stand. With Jessie Ralph and Edward Brophy.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Welcome To Hard Times (1967)

A barbaric brute of a man (Aldo Ray) comes to a small ramshackle town and proceeds to rape, pillage, murder and set fire to the town and killing the two men who dare stand up to him. The "mayor" of the town (Henry Fonda), who refused to stand up to him and ran, attempts to build the town up again. But even he knows it's a matter of time before the evil beast returns. Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow (RAGTIME), this is a transitional western. Perhaps influenced by the spaghetti western, it contains some of the most violent images seen in an American western up to that time and it wouldn't be long before Sam Peckinpah opened up the floodgates with THE WILD BUNCH. It's a downbeat western with no one to root for for as repugnant as Ray's mindless killing machine is, Fonda's weak ostrich with his head in the sand is just as repugnant in his own way. When it's over, there are no winners. A near nihilistic western without any catharsis. Directed by Burt Kennedy (SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF) who also did the screenplay. With Janice Rule as the rape victim bent on vengeance, Keenan Wynn, Janis Paige, Warren Oates, Fay Spain, Lon Chaney Jr., John Anderson, Royal Dano, Paul Fix, Elisha Cook and Arlene Golonka.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Two Weeks With Love (1950)

In the early 1900s, a middle class New York family takes their annual summer vacation in the Catskills mountains. This summer, however, the eldest daughter (Jane Powell) is on the verge of womanhood and resents being treated as a child by her parents. When a sophisticated Cuban (Ricardo Montalban) pays her some attention, she feels more misunderstood by her parents (Louis Calhern, Ann Harding) than ever. This piece of musical fluff is a genuine delight. While not on the level of a MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, the film still has its charms, bathed in nostalgia and old fashioned family values. Powell is at her most likable here and while she does her usual classic light arias, she gets a chance to sing the jazzy ragtime Oceana Roll and wear a rosebud pink corset in a dream sequence. While Powell is the star though, it's the 7th billed young Debbie Reynolds that steals the movie. As Powell's sassy kid sister, she sings Abba Dabba Honeymoon and MGM realized she was no ordinary starlet and took notice and started putting her in leads. Powell stated this was her favorite of all her films at MGM and it's easy to see why. It would take a curmudgeon to resist it. Directed by Roy Rowland. With Phyllis Kirk (as a teen age vamp), Carleton Carpenter, Clinton Sundberg and Tommy Rettig.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

OSS 117: Rio Ne Repond Plus (aka OSS 117: Lost In Rio) (2009)

Set in 1967, a French secret agent (Jean Dujardin, THE ARTIST) is sent to Rio De Janeiro to retrieve a piece of microfilm from a Nazi (Rudiger Vogler) who escaped to Brazil after WWII. The microfilm is a list of French collaborators with the Nazis. Once in Rio, however, he is approached by the Israeli Mossad who aren't interested in the microfilm but want the Nazi to put on trial. Despite the serious synopsis, this is a comedy, a spoof of the international spy genre. A sequel to OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES, this one is only fitfully funny (Dujardin roasting a crocodile on a spit for dinner, an amusing nod to Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST) and lacks the inspired hilarity of the first installment. Dujardin remains a real charmer, even if his character is a borderline chauvinist racist. The director Michel Hazanavicius gets the period look right, it looks like a 1967 film and Ludovic Bource's retro score is a delight. With Louise Monot, Alex Lutz, Ken Samuels and Reem Kherici.

The Sin Of Madelon Claudet (1931)

A young French farm girl (Helen Hayes in the first of her two Oscar wins) runs off with her American lover (Neil Hamilton) to Paris. After he abandons her, she finds herself pregnant. In order to support her child, she becomes the mistress of a wealthy older man (Lewis Stone) and from there descends to prostitution and thievery. Films about mothers who sacrifice their lives out of love for their children at whatever the costs were quite popular in the 1930s, STELLA DALLAS and MADAME X being the most notable examples. This one isn't as solid as the others but it benefits from a strong, if uneven, performance by Helen Hayes. Some of her performance is very actressy with lots of indicating as if she were doing a silent movie or theatrical as if she were on a stage rather than a soundstage. But she has many affecting moments too, mostly as the thieving harlot but also as the old Madelon. Directed by Edgar Selwyn. With Robert Young as the grown up son, Jean Hersholt, Karen Morley, Cliff Edwards, Alan Hale, Marie Prevost and Charles Winninger.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Human Voice (1966)

A middle aged woman (Ingrid Bergman) is distraught when her lover of several years breaks off their relationship to marry a younger woman. During a long telephone call late night, she tries to assure him that she is fine though it is clear that she is on the verge of a breakdown. Based on the 1930 play by Jean Cocteau, which had been filmed previously in 1948 by Roberto Rossellini with Anna Magnani as the woman, this is a tour de force in the hands of the right actress. It's a solo performance piece, an extended monologue, as the woman laughs, cries, lies, pleads and rages as she talks to her ex-lover (we never hear his end of the conversation). Without the right actress, it could easily become a tedious exercise. No surprise, Bergman is terrific, pushing it to the limit but never crossing over to bathos. A must for Bergman fans. Directed by Ted Kotcheff (FUN WITH DICK AND JANE).

Lightning Strikes Twice (1951)

After being released from prison on murder charges due to a hung jury, a man (Richard Todd) returns to the small Texas town where the murder of his wife took place. Despite the town's suspicions still hanging over him, a young actress (Ruth Roman) falls in love with him. But the not knowing for sure factor places a great strain on the romance. Will she ever find out the truth? If the director King Vidor's later career never quite had the shine of his early success with such genuine classics like THE BIG PARADE and THE CROWD, he nevertheless remained a solid craftsman and this "woman in peril" thriller is quite absorbing. So much so that one can forgive the tedious "bad guy must be punished" cliche ending. Roman makes for a fetching damsel in distress but Todd is a bit of a stiff, his voice shows the proper emotions but his face remains a mask. Sid Hickox (THE BIG SLEEP) gives the B&W lensing some noir-ish style, too bad Max Steiner couldn't summon up anything as effective. With Mercedes McCambridge in one of those jumping out of her skin performances she did so well, Zachary Scott, Kathryn Givney, Darryl Hickman and Rhys Williams.

Admission (2013)

An admissions officer (Tina Fey) at Princeton University lives a stable and uneventful life including a live in boyfriend (Michael Sheen, THE QUEEN). But her world starts unraveling, not only when her boyfriend leaves her for another woman (Sonya Walger) but when an eager Princeton applicant (Nat Wolff) may be the child she gave up for adoption years ago. ADMISSION took me off guard. I was expecting a typical romantic comedy with Fey and Paul Rudd (as a former classmate, now running an alternative high school) sparring off until the inevitable clinch and happy ending but it turned out to be more serious than that. Oh the comedy is there all right but it's not ha-ha funny. Instead it balances more serious issues like the political maneuvering of ivy league university admissions and the selfishness of parental decisions and the mark it leaves on their children. Not a great film by any means but I liked it well enough. Fey and Rudd are likable and play well off each other but it's Lily Tomlin, as Fey's uber feminist mother without any maternal feelings, who steals the movie. Directed by Paul Weitz. With Wallace Shawn, Gloria Reuben, Sarita Choudhury and Olek Krupa.

Friday, March 22, 2013

La Guerre Est Finie (aka The War Is Over) (1966)

A long time "professional" Communist revolutionary (Yves Montand), an exiled Spaniard living in Paris, regularly travels between France and Spain on secret missions for the party. He is worn down by the years and futility of idealism not coalescing. In other words, he's tired, somewhat cynical yet still goes through the motions like a good party member. Alain Resnais' film is affecting in spite of itself. There's a certain irritating pretentiousness hovering over the film. For example, not just one but two love scenes are shot via body parts: hands, thighs, arms, backs etc. while a heavenly chorus plays on the soundtrack! But that irritating "artiness" aside, the film perfectly captures the day to day monotony of professional revolutionaries. Of course, it helps that Yves Montand embodies the very nature of weary character. Resnais wisely eschews the melodramatic possibilites as the film heads to its open ended conclusion. With Genevieve Bujold, Ingrid Thulin, Michel Piccoli and Bernard Fresson.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Brass Target (1978)

General George S. Patton (George Kennedy) orders $250 million dollars worth of Nazi gold to be sent to Frankfurt, Germany for safe keeping. It never reaches its destination as the shipment is stolen. Determined to find the gold, Patton orders an investigation and as a former OSS officer (John Cassavetes) gets closer to the truth, the corrupt group of American officers responsible for the theft hire an expert hit man (Max Von Sydow) to assassinate Patton. Based on the novel THE ALGONQUIN PROJECT by Frederick Nolan, this is a far fetched but unassuming post-war conspiracy thriller that's passable entertainment if you don't ask too much. The director John Hough makes the most of the German and Swiss locations and plows through the implausibilities as if they weren't there. The actors are decent with Von Sydow coming off best. Top billed Sophia Loren as Cassavetes' love interest is wasted in a role any starlet could have played. There's a nice score by Laurence Rosenthal. With Patrick McGoohan, Robert Vaughn, Bruce Davison and Edward Herrmann.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Samson And Delilah (1949)

A Hebrew (Victor Mature) becomes enamored of a Philistine woman (Angela Lansbury) to the disapproval of both their people as the Hebrew population are suppressed by the Philistines. When she betrays him on their wedding night, he destroys the both the grounds and the wedding party and in revenge engages in a one man vendetta against the Philistines. Meanwhile, the bride's sister (Hedy Lamarr) vows that she will destroy him. This is my favorite of Cecil B. DeMille's epics, not because it's a great film but it's simply more fun than his other films including THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. DeMille's direction is pompous but the seriousness of his heavy hand only adds to the kitsch of the whole enterprise and the purple dialogue by Jesse Lasky Jr. and Fredric M. Frank only kicks it to another level. As Samson, Mature doesn't seem to be taking it too seriously (how could he wrestling a lion rug) and the purring Lamarr, slinking around half dressed has never looked more gorgeous actually does some of her best acting (the scene where she realizes Samson is blind is quite good). The stirring score is one of Victor Young's best. With George Sanders doing what he does best as the jaded Saran of Gaza, Henry Wilcoxon, Russ Tamblyn, Olive Deering, George Reeves, Kasey Rogers and Dorothy Adams.

Gentleman Jim (1942)

In 1887 San Francisco, a brash young bank teller (Errol Flynn) has higher career and social ambitions and inveigles his way to an invitation to join the prestigious Olympic club. His uncouth and arrogant behavior have the social set resenting him but his athletic prowess sets him on a career as a professional boxer. A highly romanticized version of the life of the world heavyweight boxing champion James L. Corbett, this is nevertheless a grandly entertaining movie. Raoul Walsh's vigorous direction keeps the film lively going from one highlight to the other with very little down time. No one would ever argue that Errol Flynn was a great actor but at his best, he had a likable impudence that was nigh irresistible. His cheeky charm goes along way in making his Corbett attractive. He's well match with the haughtiness of Alexis Smith as a society debutante that provides a nice contrast to Flynn's affability. I could have done without Corbett's Irish brawling family right out of a John Ford movie and just as irritating. With Jack Carson, Alan Hale (hammy as ever), Madeleine LeBeau, Rhys Williams and Ward Bond as John L. Sullivan, whose final scene is quite poignant.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

From Hell To Texas (1958)

A cowpoke (Don Murray) is on the run from a land baron (R.G. Armstrong) for having killed his son although the cowboy is innocent. The death was accidental but there were no witnesses. Directed by the veteran director Henry Hathaway, this is a superior if modest western. What lifts it out of the ordinary are the gray complexities rather than the simplicity of a black and white situation. Even the "bad" guy (Armstrong) despite being poisoned with revenge has his code of ethics, limited as they are and the protagonist hero loathes every killing he has to do. The uneasy ending leaves one with a sigh of relief that these men can put it behind them though both men are marked for life. If the name of the character actor R.G. Armstrong doesn't ring a bell, you'd recognize the face as he's been in dozens of films and TV show and this is probably the best film role he ever had. Despite the title, the movie was filmed in California though you'd never know it as handsomely shot in CinemaScope by Wilfred M. Cline. The above average score is by Daniele Amfitheatrof. With Diane Varsi (very good) as a tomboy, Dennis Hopper, Chill Wills, Jay C. Flippen, John Larch, Ken Scott and Margo.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Fine Romance (1992)

When their respective spouses run off with each other, an Italian husband (Marcello Mastroianni) and an English wife (Julie Andrews) plot to get their spouses back ... but instead find themselves attracted to each other. Based on the 1959 French play TCHIN TCHIN by Francois Billetdoux by way of the 1962 Broadway production, this mildly amusing (emphasis on mildly) romantic comedy is enhanced by the unlikely chemistry of the strait laced Andrews and the hangdog lech of Mastroianni. The material itself rarely rises above adequate but it's such a pleasure to see the unlikely duo play off each other with such commitment that you'd think they were playing Noel Coward and one shudders to think what the film would be like without them. The Paris location work shot by Franco Di Giacomo (NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STARS) doesn't hurt any and there's a delightful score by Pino Donaggio. The phlegmatic direction is by Gene Saks (THE ODD COUPLE). With Jonathan Cecil as Andrews' adult son.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Out Of Season (1975)

On the English coast, a mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and daughter (Susan George, STRAW DOGS) run a seaside hotel. They have an antagonistic love-hate relationship which is exacerbated by the arrival of an American (Cliff Robertson) who had been the mother's lover many years ago. Though it's an original screenplay (by Eric Bercovici and Reuben Bercovitch) written for the screen, this rather tedious talkfest comes across as a film version of a play. There are only three characters in the film with two very minor characters who could have been eliminated altogether. The obvious plot might have worked if the dialogue had been more stimulating but it's just yak yak yak and it doesn't go anywhere. Even the great Vanessa Redgrave is defeated, prove positive that not even the greatest actors can't always transform mediocre material into movie gold. The location (it was shot on the Dorset coast) is smartly shot by Arthur Ibbetson (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) and there's a nice score by John Cameron. Directed by Alan Bridges.

Elmer Gantry (1960)

A coarse fast talking salesman (Burt Lancaster) cons his way into the company of a traveling evangelist (Jean Simmons) and together they are on their way to fulfilling her ambition of a permanent tabernacle where she will preach. Based on the 1927 Sinclair Lewis novel, this is a fascinating look at traveling revival road shows in the 1920s and its portrait of the ethics (or lack of it) behind a certain type of evangelism. Religion as a business as it were, a topic still very relevant today. The director Richard Brooks (who also wrote the screenplay) turns Lewis' novel into a showy spectacle of religion and sex but without the sanctimonious hypocrisy of DeMille's biblical efforts. It's tricky to suggest that certain actors are "born" to play a role but in Lancaster's case, I doubt anyone would argue to the contrary. Elmer Gantry fits him like a glove and as if realizing it, Lancaster bites into the role like a starving man into a steak. He's not the whole show, however. He's matched by Simmons, whose role isn't nearly as flashy but she brings a sincerity to an ambiguously drawn character. The potent score is by Andre Previn. With Shirley Jones in her Oscar winning role, Arthur Kennedy, Dean Jagger, Patti Page, Edward Andrews, Hugh Marlowe, John McIntire and Barry Kelley.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Call (2013)

A 911 operator (Halle Berry) becomes traumatized when she fails to prevent the murder of a teen age girl when a prowler breaks into her home. Unsure of herself, she becomes a teacher for 911 trainees rather than an operator. But when a trainee is unable to handle the call of a teen age girl (Abigail Breslin, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) abducted by a psychopath and locked in a car trunk, it becomes a race against time as Berry attempts to help the girl before the psychopath reaches his destination. The idea of Halle Berry in yet another routine thriller no doubt sounds unappealing but surprise surprise ..... until it's last third, this is an intense exciting edge of your seat thriller. The director Brad Anderson puts the screws on and doesn't let up for a minute and plays the audience like an expert. Alas, it can't sustain itself and when the last third descends into SILENCE OF THE LAMBS territory, it becomes a been there, done that finale. Which doesn't mean it's not effective, it is but it's disappointing that they couldn't keep up the momentum. Still, it's not enough to ruin a perfectly decent thriller. And where have I been when Abigail Breslin grew up? With Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, Michael Imperioli and Roma Maffia.

Friday, March 15, 2013

She Devil (1957)

A chemist (Jack Kelly, FORBIDDEN PLANET) is working under the premise that all living organisms can heal themselves by adapting to harmful things in their environment. He has developed a serum that works on lab animals but it has never been tried on humans. When his colleague (Albert Dekker) informs him of a terminal case, they give the serum to the dying woman (Mari Blanchard). The result is miraculous and she is cured. But ... she has also been transformed into an evil femme fatale who will stop at nothing, including murder, to get what she wants. Based on the 1935 sci-fi short story THE ADAPTIVE ULTIMATE, this is a delicious slice of 1950s "B" movie pulp. Directed by Kurt Neumann (1958's THE FLY) and starring one of the best of the "B" movie brassy broads, Mari Blanchard, this is great fun. For a "B" movie, it's given the deluxe treatment, handsomely shot in B&W CinemaScope by Karl Struss (Murnau's SUNRISE). Alas, none of the rest of the bland cast is up to Blanchard's sassy histrionics. With John Archer, Fay Baker and Marie Blake (TV's THE ADDAMS FAMILY).

The Three Sisters (1970)

At the turn of the 20th century in a small Russian village, three sisters and a brother find themselves stifled by the dreary existence of country life and long to return to Moscow, their birthplace: Olga (Eileen Atkins) is an aging spinster who finds her options dwindling, Masha (Janet Suzman NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA) is married to a man (Richard Pearson) she doesn't love, Irina (Michele Dotrice) dreams that everything will be all right if she could only get to Moscow and Andrei (Anthony Hopkins) has intellectual aspirations. Based on the Anton Chekhov play, it covers five years in their life in which their dreams evaporate. Chekhov can be difficult to pull off because the ennui his characters feel can often infect the audience which is not a good thing. Its playing needs an amplified subtext which can pull its audience in rather than turning them off. Of course, compelling performances can compensate too. Fortunately, this filmed production is blessed with strong performances. The boredom of the privileged class may be hard to relate to but the actors are able to make them sympathetic. Directed by Cedric Messina. With Sarah Badel as the heartless Natasha, Michael Bryant, Ronald Hines, Donald Pickering and Joss Ackland, who overacts appallingly.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Duel At Diablo (1966)

A frontier scout (James Garner) finds a woman (Bibi Andersson, PERSONA) on the run in the desert and rescues her from a band of Apaches. But when he returns her to her husband (Dennis Weaver), he seems less than pleased as she has been living as an Apache squaw for several years. Things get worse when all three of them accompany an Army cavalry unit through hostile Apache country on their way to deliver horses to a fort. Directed by Ralph Nelson (LILIES OF THE FIELD), this is a gripping above average western that moves beyond the standard oater. Besides the white squaw narrative, there's Garner's vengeance storyline as he looks for the man who killed his Indian wife, there's the black cowboy (Sidney Poitier) though there's no mention of race and the ambitious Lieutenant (Bill Travers, BORN FREE) struggling to keep a grip on an impossible situation. Tough and brutal, it should please the most demanding of western fans. The striking Utah locations were shot by Charles F. Wheeler and the score by Neal Hefti is a mixed bag, the main title is terrific but some of the score is so anachronistic as to be jarring. With William Redfield and John Hoyt.

Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1957)

A psychiatrist (David Niven) about to get married in a few days finds his world turned upside down when two different patients make a startling revelation: a neurotic patient (Tony Randall) confesses he is obsessed with his ex-girlfriend and a married woman (Ginger Rogers) mentions a fling her husband (Dan Dailey) had with an actress ..... both women are one and the same, the psychiatrist's fiancee (Barbara Rush). Based on the comedy by Edward Chodorov which ran for a year on Broadway, this is one of those stage to screen adaptations that are transposed to the screen pretty much intact but what, I assume, was sparkling on Broadway fizzles on the screen. I doubt it's the film's fault, I suspect the play would fizzle with contemporary audiences too. It's never been revived and considering its attitude toward the two female characters who are needy and demanding, I doubt it ever will be. All the actors give it their best shot and Dailey has a very nice speech about Ibsen's A DOLL'S HOUSE but it still remains a filmed play in the literal sense. The wide CinemaScope screen allows the camera to sit still while the actors do their crosses all within our view as if we were watching a play. Directed by Nunnally Johnson. With Natalie Schafer and Franklin Pangborn.

Le Corbeau (1943)

In a small provincial French village, a series of poison pen letters accusing various townspeople of moral and ethical crimes infects the entire town to the point of hysteria. The director Henri Georges Clouzot, as he proved with WAGES OF FEAR and DIABOLIQUE, has a talent for whipping up suspense while providing a strong story structure as well as tension. Since the film was made during the Nazi occupation of France, it's an obvious allegory of betrayal and collaboration but the film offended just about everybody and Clouzot's reputation was tarnished for several years after WWII. But the film, like Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE, is an excellent example of how false accusations and unsubstantiated gossip are truly evil in their ability to destroy lives. What's near remarkable is that Clouzot does this with a gallery of unsympathetic characters! With Pierre Fresnay, Ginette Leclerc, Micheline Francey, Pierre Larquey, Helena Manson and Sylvie.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Born To Dance (1936)

A sailor (James Stewart) on leave from submarine duty meets a dancer (Eleanor Powell) looking for a break on Broadway. They fall in love but a Broadway diva (Virginia Bruce) causes problems and misunderstandings in their budding romance. The sailors on leave hooking up with girls and romantic complications plot has been recycled so many times that it's practically a genre all its own. As with most musicals, the thread bare plot is merely there to kill time between the musical numbers. But parts of the film are so surreal that I couldn't help but be taken in: a manic policeman (Reginald Gardiner) conducts an imaginary orchestra in Central park with all sorts of facial contortions or when Bruce sings to the Navy that if they love her they must love her Pekingese too shortly before the dog is tossed into the Atlantic ocean! With the exception of Powell whose vocals are dubbed and Frances Langford, the rest of the cast are non singers and their flat singing becomes charming after awhile even Stewart's awkward dancing (sensing how bad he is, he looks like he's suppressing laughter). Cole Porter did the songs which include the great I've Got You Under My Skin. Directed by Roy Del Ruth and with Una Merkel (who steals the movie) Buddy Ebsen (has there ever been a creepier dancer in movies?), Sid Silvers and Raymond Walburn.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tip On A Dead Jockey (1957)

When a husband (Robert Taylor), a decorated WWII and Korean War pilot now living in Spain asks his wife (Dorothy Malone) for a divorce, she flies to Madrid to confront him. She finds him a changed man, gambling and drinking heavily but perhaps most importantly, terrified of flying again. Based on a novel by Irwin Shaw ( RICH MAN POOR MAN), this B&W melodrama begins as an examination of how war has destroyed a man's belief in himself (which are the best parts of the film) and ends up as a routine smuggling thriller. It's not a bad film, it's decent enough to hold one's interest but the film makers inability to marry the two disparate storylines makes for an uneven movie. Robert Taylor, never much of an actor, grew more interesting as an actor as he got older and gave some effective performances (like THE LAST HUNT and PARTY GIRL) but the role of the crumbling war vet proves too taxing for him but none of the other roles are developed enough for their actors to do anything with them though Malone (looking great) tries. Directed by Richard Thorpe. With Gia Scala, Jack Lord, Marcel Dalio, Joyce Jameson and Martin Gabel.

Don Quixote (2000)

Deeply influenced by his reading of books on chivalrous knights and damsels in distress, a retired country gentleman (John Lithgow) imagines himself as Don Quixote of La Mancha and sets forth on a series of adventures. To this venture, he is accompanied by his poor neighbor Sancho (Bob Hoskins). An ambitious attempt to present a fairly faithful adaptation of the Miguel Cervantes classic, it's a pretty flat film, a sort of a celluloid CliffsNotes version of the book. It looks great thanks to the authentic Spanish locations handsomely shot by David Connell but like so many classic novels (MOBY DICK, THE GREAT GATSBY), I suspect DON QUIXOTE is unfilmable though many attempts from Orson Welles to Terry Gilliam have been tried. In the title role, Lithgow (who got a SAG nomination for his work here) is surprisingly good but Hoskins' cockney Sancho Panza seems glaringly out of place. Dutifully if unimaginatively directed by Peter Yates (BULLITT) with a solid score by Richard Hartley. With Isabella Rossellini and Vanessa Williams, who's more effective as Aldonza than Dulcinea.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Oz: The Great And Powerful (2013)

In 1905 Kansas, a magician and con man (James Franco) in a traveling circus is sucked into a tornado while in a hot air balloon. He finds himself in the strange land of Oz where he is mistaken for a wizard foretold in a prophecy. He must also contend with three beautiful witches: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams). A prequel to the beloved MGM THE WIZARD OF OZ and also based on the writings of L. Frank Baum, this bloated fantasy is an uneven gift. Franco never quite gets hold of the role, possibly because of miscasting, the part cries out for a young Gene Wilder. The opening Kansas sequence is shot in B&W in the old 1.33 Academy aspect ratio and when Franco finds himself in Oz, the film opens up to 2.35 wide screen in vivid colors. This is probably the most impressive sequence in the film. But every time the film starts to bog down, director Sam Raimi seems to whip up another bit of exciting business. But it lacks the genuine magic of the 1939 film. I'm not a fan of excessive CGI work because it almost always looks unreal but in this case, the CGI is most effective precisely because it does look unreal, giving the film the storybook look of the 1939 film which didn't look "real" either. I was sporadically entertained. With Zach Braff and Joey King.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Ben-Hur (1959)

When his childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) returns to Jerusalem as a tribune of Rome, Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston in his Oscar winning role) is thrilled to see him again. But their differences as Roman and Jew tear them apart and Messala arranges for his friend to be sent to the galleys as a slave and his sister (Cathy O'Donnell) and mother (Martha Scott) consigned permanently to a dungeon. Based on the Lew Wallace novel BEN-HUR: A TALE OF THE CHRIST (has anyone actually read it?), this is one of the better biblical epics of the 1950s. Actually, the weakest parts of the film are the pious religious segments. It works much better as a tale of a wronged man hell bent on vengeance who is eventually redeemed. The director William Wyler seems to respect the material and doesn't condescend to it which allows the film to avoid the kitschy aspects of the DeMille biblical films but his faithfulness to the material also drags the movie down in spots. Specifically, after the stunning chariot race (one of the greatest action set pieces in film history), the film moves at a snail's pace. The acting is uniformly excellent though some of the actors like Haya Harareet seem strait jacketed by the limitations of their roles. Miklos Rozsa's underscore is potent (except for the Jesus sequences where he's shameless) and Robert Surtees' 65 millimeter lensing is impeccable. The large cast includes Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith (an Oscar winner for his work here), Sam Jaffe, Finlay Currie, Frank Thring and Marina Berti.

Un Dimanche A La Campagne (aka A Sunday in The Country) (1984)

An aging painter (Louis Ducreux) in the twilight of his life is visited on a Sunday by his children and grandchildren. Though he was successful as an artist, as a contemporary of Cezanne and Van Gogh among others, he lacked their originality preferring instead the formalism of tradition. This lovely and elegant film courtesy of Bertrand Tavernier (who won the Cannes film festival best director award for his work here) is a poignant rumination on family and dreams unfulfilled. The seeming simplicity of Tavernier's direction is deceptive for every frame seems purposeful and Bruno De Keyzer's (ROUND MIDNIGHT) artful cinematography conjures up images of Georges Seurat and Frederic Bazille. A lovely elegiac piece. The excellent cast includes Sabine Azema, who almost steals the film as Ducreux's seemingly independent daughter, Michel Aumont, Genevieve Mnich and Monique Chaumette.

The Case Against Brooklyn (1958)

An ex-Marine (Darren McGavin) recently graduated from the police academy is assigned undercover work due to his military intelligence experience. His mission is to uncover police corruption and find out what cops are on the take of a gambling syndicate. However, his arrogance and ruthless ambition cause him to make deadly mistakes resulting in two deaths. Based on a magazine article detailing police corruption in Brooklyn, this tight crime thriller is a combination of faux documentary (like Dassin's THE NAKED CITY) but with a marked similarity to Lang's THE BIG HEAT. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is its "hero", who doesn't seem to care who gets hurt (physically or emotionally) in his determination to impress his bosses. Although he's happily married, he's even willing to bed a woman (Margaret Hayes, BLACKBOARD JUNGLE) who has information that might help him break the case. Even at the film's end, we're not sure he's learned anything. Directed by Paul Wendkos (GIDGET). With Warren Stevens, Peggy McCay, Emile Meyer, Joe De Santis and as McGavin's ill fated partner, Brian G. Hutton who went on directing films like WHERE EAGLES DARE and KELLY'S HEROES.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Annie Hall (1977)

A neurotic New York centric comedian (Woody Allen) reflects on his relationship and eventual break up of the love of his life, Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) in an attempt to find out why the relationship didn't work out. This Oscar winning film was a turning point for Woody Allen's career as it signaled the birth of a major American film maker. Seen today, some 35 years later, some of the edge has been taken off by the repetition of his signature style (and persona) in his other films but it remains a classic look at a bittersweet romance between a mismatched couple. The laughs are still there (though a joke about sex with 16 year old girls seems uncomfortable knowing what we now do) but the film's cultural references, so witty and topical at the time, seem rather pretentiously intellectual today which is not out of character with Allen's anti-intellectual intellectual persona. Keaton's best actress win seems based on her winning charm rather than any remarkable acting (she seemed mystified at the win herself). Still, personal preferences for his later work aside, it's a gratifying film. With Christopher Walken, Shelley Duvall, Colleen Dewhurst, Tony Roberts, Paul Simon, Carol Kane, Jeff Goldblum, Janet Margolin, Beverly D'Angelo, Shelley Hack and in her film debut, Sigourney Weaver.

They Live By Night (1948)

Three men escape from a prison work farm and take refuge at a gas station owned by the brother (Will Wright) of one of the escaped men (Howard Da Silva). While Da Silva and the second prisoner (Jay C. Flippen) plan a robbery, the third escapee (Farley Granger) finds himself falling for the gas station owner's daughter (Cathy O'Donnell, BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES). Nicholas Ray made his impressive directorial film debut with this "lovers on the run from the law" noir which presages BONNIE AND CLYDE with which it shares similarities. The emphasis is more on the romantic relationship of the naive young kids rather than the crime elements of the story. Granger and O'Donnell bring a touching innocence to their doomed pair while the rest of the cast bring a suitable sense of cynicism and/or weariness to their characters. The cinematographer George E. Diskant's expressive B&W images and Leigh Harline's musical shadings contribute to the film's apprehensive ambience. Based on Edward Anderson's novel THIEVES LIKE US which was filmed again in 1974 by Robert Altman. With Helen Craig and Ian Wolfe.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Golden Hawk (1952)

A 17th century French privateer (Sterling Hayden) sails the Caribbean seas in search of Spanish and English ships to plunder. On one such ship, he rescues a feisty maiden (Rhonda Fleming) who he underestimates. She is, in fact, a notorious lady pirate. An intense love/hate relationship ensues. Based on a novel by Frank Yerby (FOXES OF HARROW), this low budget Technicolor pirate adventure has enough twists to hold our interest but it never rises above routine swashbuckler fare. It's the kind of glossy potboiler where Hayden is French, Fleming is British and John Sutton (whose performance I'd take more seriously if he didn't remind me of Harvey Korman) is Spanish ... and no one has an accent! Perhaps the most interesting character is Helena Carter (INVADERS FROM MARS) as Sutton's spoiled bride, who finds her sexual and emotional allegiances shifting but she's not developed fully. But who watches pirate movies for character studies anyway? Directed by Sidney Salkow. With Michael Ansara and Donna Martell.

Lucky Star (1929)

Returning home from WWI with the loss of his legs, a veteran (Charles Farrell) befriends a rural farm girl (Janet Gaynor) with a penchant for dishonesty. Slowly, without realizing it, they find themselves falling in love. But there are two impediments. The girl's mother (Hedwiga Reicher) who doesn't want her daughter to marry a "cripple" and a deceitful womanizer (Guinn Williams, whose acting is unsubtle to put it mildly) who has plans of his own for the girl. The third collaboration of director Frank Borzage and actors Gaynor and Farrell starts off charmingly before it descends into hokey sentimentality in its final act. It's a pity because, not surprisingly, Gaynor and Farrell have a lovely chemistry and one roots for the two of them during the initial stage of the tender romance and they have some lovely moments like when he's washing her hair. But the film doesn't need the overly melodramatic sentimentalism we're spoon fed. Still, it's almost 2/3 of a good movie. With Paul Fix.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Matter Of Time (1976)

In the 1950s (at least it looks like the 1950s), a young country girl (Liza Minnelli) moves to Rome to work as a maid in a hotel that has seen better days. It is there that she meets an aging Contessa (Ingrid Bergman), once a great beauty and a former courtesan, who lives in the past. The final film of the great Vincente Minnelli is a disjointed, awkward film which feels very old fashioned and not in a good way. To be fair, the film was taken away from him by the studio heads who did the final edit and Minnelli disowned the film. Honestly, I'm not sure there's a good movie in there but we'll never know but at least I would have liked the opportunity to see Minnelli's cut. So it's kind of hard to know where to place the blame. Proud papa Minnelli has Geoffrey Unsworth (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS) light and shoot his daughter exquisitely, she's never looked more beautiful on the screen. But the film belongs to Bergman who manages to retain vestiges of a possibly great performance. The lovely score is by Nino Oliviero and the mediocre songs by Fred Kander and John Ebb. With Charles Boyer in his final film role, Isabella Rossellini in her first film role, Gabriele Ferzetti, Fernando Rey, Tina Aumont and Spiros Andros.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

You Can Thank Me Later (1998)

In a Catholic hospital, a dysfunctional (with a capital D) Jewish family gathers together during the patriarch's major life threatening surgery. Accusations, anger, tears, deceit, secrets and sex rear their collective heads. If one didn't already know this was based on a play (HYPER ALLERGENIC by Oren Safdie), it's pretty easy to guess that it was. Almost the entire film is set in a hospital room and its corridors with B&W flashbacks with various family members in psychiatric therapy. It's a dramedy though it's more successful with the dramatic aspects than the comedic ones. The family's Jewishness is constantly emphasized (there's even a documentary on the Nazis playing in the background on the TV) and the family brings it up a lot, not to mention the Hebrew song over the end credits. This is in contrast to the Catholic hospital with priests (one of the sons sneaks into a confessional to talk to a priest) and nuns hovering, it's a world where Protestants don't exist! The characters are archetypes and stereotypes which limits the actors and Ellen Burstyn is no more convincing as a Jewish mother here than she was in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. Two actresses manage to break through though. Genevieve Bujold as the dying man's mistress masquerading as a nun and especially Amanda Plummer (an actress who deserved a better career) who brings an authentic sensitivity and quirky likability as the patronized daughter. The film doesn't work but you can't look away. Directed by Shimon Dotan. With Mary McDonnell, Ted Levine (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), Mark Blum, Jacob Tierney and Roc LaFortune.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Babes In Arms (1939)

The son (Mickey Rooney) of ex-vaudevillians has show business in his blood. He decides to round up the kids of other ex-vaudevillians and put on a show in a rented barn where they can all be discovered and sent to Broadway. Based on the Rodgers and Hart musical, the film version tossed out all of the score except Babes In Arms and Where Or When. Missing in action are such hits as My Funny Valentine, The Lady Is A Tramp, Johnny One Note and I Wish I Were In Love Again. This hokey bit of piffle has its charms, mainly because of the kinetic Rooney (though his Oscar nomination for this film is puzzling) who gets a chance to show his talent for mimicry and bubbly Judy Garland, but parts of it positively creak. And while I understand times were different, it's hard to watch the minstrel number with Rooney and Garland in blackface and I could have done without the big flag waving patriotic finale. The energetic direction is by Busby Berkeley. With Charles Winninger, Guy Kibbee, Margaret Hamilton, Henry Hull, Ann Shoemaker, Betty Jaynes, Douglas McPhail and the rubber limbed June Preisser.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Stoker (2013)

After the sudden death of her father (Dermot Mulroney), a young girl (Mia Wasikowska) is perturbed when an uncle (Matthew Goode) she never knew she had moves in. She is even more disturbed when her mother (Nicole Kidman), barely grieving over the death of her husband, doesn't bother to hide her attraction to Uncle Charlie. That the character is named Uncle Charlie tips us off early on that this is a homage to Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT. But whereas the niece in Hitchcock's film was a wholesome innocent who welcomed her uncle until she discovered his sinister secret, the niece here is no innocent but a loner who resents her uncle's presence until to her horror she discovers, she is indeed her uncle's niece. The first English language film by the Korean director Chan-wook Park (OLDBOY), is a darkly disturbing mixture of sexual discovery and violence (too bad the title THERE WILL BE BLOOD was already taken). There are hints of other influences like De Palma's CARRIE and vampire novels (the film's title is borrowed from Bram) yet the film remains original taking us down a corridor while familiar, we've never walked down before. Goode manages to make Uncle Charlie both repulsive yet fascinating, the lure of unadulterated evil and I continue to be in awe of Kidman's career choices. She batted it out of the ballpark as the Southern white trash prison groupie in last year's THE PAPERBOY and in a radically different performance as the upper crust matron of the manor who can barely disguise her dislike for her daughter, she is no less perfect. Written by the actor turned screenwriter Wentworth Miller (TV's PRISON BREAK), it's the first entry on my 2013 top ten and I suspect it will remain there. With Jacki Weaver (very good) and Phyllis Somerville.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Watcher In The Woods (1980)

A family consisting of a husband (David McCallum), wife (Carroll Baker) and two daughters (Lynn Holly Johnson, Kyle Richards) move into a secluded mansion near a vast forest. Something terrible happened almost thirty years ago that no one wants to talk about, the disappearance of a young girl (Katharine Levy) whose mother (Bette Davis) is the owner of the mansion the family has moved into. The oldest girl (Johnson) resembles the old woman's daughter and will prove key to solving the mystery of what happened 30 years ago. Based on the novel by Florence Engel Randall, the film starts out promisingly as a good old fashioned ghost story or mystery and it almost holds your interest for its first hour. But the film makers couldn't come up with a satisfactory ending and what they've provided is silly. Two alternate endings were shot and they are no more satisfactory, one with a more horror feel (an alien looking creature) and the other one with a more elaborate sci-fi ending. The original cut was around one hour and 45 minutes but the surviving print clocks in at a much shorter one hour and 23 minutes. Johnson (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY) is a pretty but vapid actress and not good enough to carry the lead. The others don't have much to do (Baker is eliminated in the current ending though featured prominently in the two alternates). Directed by John Hough (LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) who intended a much darker film but was fought all the way by the studio (this is a Disney film) who didn't want to go there. With Ian Bannen, Georgina Hale and Dominic Guard (THE GO BETWEEN).

Neptune's Daughter (1949)

When her sister (Betty Garrett) becomes besotted with an Argentinean polo player, a swimsuit designer (Esther Williams) tries to break it up but finds her self attracted to the polo player (Ricardo Montalban) herself. What she doesn't know is that the sister is in love with a masseur (Red Skelton) pretending to be the polo player. Comedic complications ensue. One of the better Esther Williams vehicles, she actually spends very little time in the water here with only one underwater ballet at the very end of the film. So while Williams and Montalban provide the glamour and romance, Garrett and Skelton provide the laughs and Frank Loesser (GUYS AND DOLLS) provides the songs which include the Oscar winning hit, the delightful Baby, It's Cold Outside. But the musical highlight is the spectacular, frenetic Jungle Rhumba choreographed by Jack Donohue. It's all wrapped up in lush MGM Technicolor and pleasant all around. Directed by Edward Buzzell. With Keenan Wynn, Xavier Cugat, Ted De Corsia, Mike Mazurki, Joi Lansing, Theresa Harris, Sara Shane and Mel Blanc.

Jungfrukallan (aka The Virgin Spring) (1960)

In medieval Sweden, the spoiled if naive daughter (Birgitta Pettersson) of a prosperous farmer (Max Von Sydow) sets out to bring candles to her village's church. During her journey through the forest, she is accosted by two men (Axel Duberg, Tor Isedal) and a boy (Ove Porath) and raped and beaten to death. That evening, the rapists unknowingly seek shelter at the farmer's house. This disturbing and violent revenge piece is anomalous in director Ingmar Bergman's output. It has an almost Kurosawan feel to it and indeed I could see it as a Kurosawa film set in medieval Japan. But it still deals with Bergmanian themes like God, faith, guilt and the destruction of innocence. The winner of the 1960 Academy Award for foreign language film, the film has been influential in the horror genre in such films as LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS, something I suspect Bergman may not have been thrilled about. As cinema, it's second tier Bergman but it is Bergman and demands attention. With Birgitta Valberg in the film's best performance as the victim's mother and Gunnel Lindblom.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Zulu Dawn (1979)

In January 1879 South Africa, British forces invade the Zulu empire in an attempt to crush their nation which is seen as a threat to the expansion of British colonialism. A prequel to the excellent 1964 film ZULU which documented the battle of Rorke's Drift which occurred after the massacre at Isandlwana which this film portrays, it's simply not as good. The 1964 film was able to concentrate on a very specific aspect which kept the anxiety factor high and its characters were better delineated. But the lengthy battle of Isandlwana is superbly done. In addition, it's difficult to sympathize with the arrogant, naive (or stupid if you prefer) Brits. Whatever one's thoughts on colonialism, you admired the courage of the British soldiers in ZULU. Here, they seem determined to muck everything up. Directed by Douglas Hickox (THEATRE OF BLOOD) and a stirring score by Elmer Bernstein. It's not the kind of film where the acting matters much but that's still no excuse for the awfulness of Ronald Lacey's performance. The large cast includes Burt Lancaster, Peter O'Toole, John Mills, Bob Hoskins, Simon Ward, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Davenport, Michael Jayston, Nicholas Clay, Freddie Jones, Simon Sabela, Christopher Cazenove and Phil Daniels (QUADROPHENIA).

Satan Met A Lady (1936)

A private detective (Warren William) is hired by a pretty blonde (Bette Davis) to find the man that jilted her. But when his partner (Porter Hall) is killed while following her, it becomes apparent that there's more to this case than meets the eye. Perfectly awful! This was the second of the three films made from Dashiell Hammett's THE MALTESE FALCON and it's been altered considerably. Rather than the hardboiled detective novel, it's been turned into a semi-screwball comedy, almost as if it were a parody skit of the original source material. At this stage in her career, Davis already had her breakthrough role with OF HUMAN BONDAGE and won an Academy Award for DANGEROUS yet clueless Warners was still casting her in drivel like this. No wonder she bolted the studio and fled to England. Directed by William Dieterle (1939's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME)), who doesn't even seem to be trying. With Marie Wilson, Alison Skipworth (in a gender reversal, she plays the Kasper Gutman role), Arthur Treacher and Wini Shaw.