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Monday, September 30, 2013

The World, The Flesh And The Devil (1959)

A Pennsylvanian miner (Harry Belafonte), who is black, is trapped underground for over a week due to a cave in. When he finally manages to break free and escape, he finds a completely deserted city. Old newspaper headlines announce the cause ..... a nuclear war! He heads to New York City, which is also deserted, where he nearly goes crazy out of loneliness. Then he discovers a girl (Inger Stevens), who is white, and they bond but their obvious attraction to each other is hampered by the unspoken racial tension (this is 1959). But when a third survivor (Mel Ferrer) enters the picture, it can no longer be ignored. Based on the novel THE PURPLE CLOUD by M.P. Shiel, the well intentioned film feels like a padded out TWILIGHT ZONE episode. Despite being shot in CinemaScope, the B&W film has that flat TV look about it. Belafonte is noble, Stevens is neurotic and Ferrer is dastardly and their characterizations don't (or aren't allowed to) go much further. The film's ambiguous ending is unsatisfying, we're not sure if it's signifying a "we are all brothers under the skin" ending or a "menage a trois ending. Directed by Ranald MacDougall (QUEEN BEE) with Miklos Rozsa's score whipping up a frenzy.

Night Train To Munich (1940)

A young Czech girl (Margaret Lockwood) escapes from a German concentration camp and joins her scientist father (James Harcourt), now a refugee, in England. But when they are kidnapped by German agents and sent back to Germany, a British agent (Rex Harrison) volunteers to go undercover in Germany and retrieve them. Comparisons to Hitchcock's THE LADY VANISHES from two years earlier are inevitable. In addition to sharing the same leading lady (Lockwood), Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne play the same characters they played in the Hitchcock film though they're nowhere near as amusing this time around. Add to that that both films have train settings and Brits attempting to foil Nazi plans, well..... If one doesn't dwell on the somewhat improbable plot too much, it's a first rate thriller. The director Carol Reed keeps pushing his movie faster and faster (with splashes of humor along the way) until the nail biting chase and cable car finale. The young Harrison is enormously appealing and Paul Henreid makes for a credible double crossing Gestapo agent. With Felix Aylmer and Roland Culver.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny (2007)

When three fugitives on the run from the law find themselves stranded in a desolate area, their leader (Patti LuPone) suggests building a city devoted to vice and pleasure on the site. The word gets out and the new city attracts many including a prostitute (Audra McDonald) and an Alaskan lumberjack (Anthony Dean Griffey) but the city doesn't deliver what it promises. After the town survives a hurricane threat, it thrives but only because of corruption. This anti-capitalist 1930 opera with libretto and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill is a very theatrical piece and this Los Angeles City Opera production was tepidly received (though a recording of it won two Grammys) and it's flaws are only embellished on film. It's a stripped down production with nil production values so the weight of the show falls on the shoulders of its performers though they seem strait jacketed by Gary Halvorson's inflexible direction. On the stage, a superb singing voice may be sufficient to overcome a lack of presence but poor Griffey suffers the most by the camera's eye. Overweight, pasty faced and sweating, he hardly conjures up the image of a lumberjack. Where's Nathan Gunn when you need him? With Donnie Ray Albert, Robert Worle and Mel Ulrich.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Moulin Rouge (1952)

It's Paris in 1890 and the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Jose Ferrer) spends his nights drowning himself in Cognac and drawing the dancers at the slightly disreputable but exciting Moulin Rouge nightclub. A childhood accident prevented his legs from healing properly leaving him with the torso of an adult but the legs of a small child, so he is very self conscious about his misshapen appearance. John Huston's film of Toulouse-Lautrec's life is one of the highpoints in the use of color in cinema. Beautifully shot in three strip Technicolor by Oswald Morris (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF), the Moulin Rouge sequences with its eye popping color design and costumes, the exciting smoky atmosphere and superb dance sequences (equaled only by Jean Renoir's FRENCH CAN-CAN) make the film worthwhile. Sadly, the highly fictionalized narrative is pretty conventional and uninteresting focusing more on Toulouse-Lautrec's alleged love life than on his Art. Ferrer's dour performance doesn't help either. The film's acting honors go to Colette Marchand (a dancer/choreographer who made only three feature films) as a duplicitous prostitute who uses him, a performance impressive enough to have gotten her a supporting actress Oscar nomination. Shockingly, not one of its seven Oscar nominations were for Morris's striking cinematography. With Zsa Zsa Gabor, who's not bad though her dubbed singing voice seems all wrong emanating from her, Suzanne Flon, Theodore Bikel, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Jill Bennett, Muriel Smith and Katharine Kath as La Goulue.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Carnival In Costa Rica (1947)

As an arranged marriage is prepared between two Costa Rican families, the intended groom (Cesar Romero) arrives home with an American girlfriend (Celeste Holm) while the intended bride (Vera-Ellen) finds herself attracted to an American coffee buyer (Dick Haymes). With the exception of Rodgers and Hammerstein's STATE FAIR (1945), 20th Century Fox never had much luck with their forties musicals. They were usually colorful, often gaudy, Technicolor musicals set in Argentina, Rio or Havana; this time it was Costa Rica's turn. Not a memorable song in the bunch (music by Ernesto Lecuona, lyrics by Harry Ruby), not even a decent dance number unless you count Vera-Ellen's twirling and bouncing. Just the usual romantic mix ups and misunderstandings till the "they all lived happily ever after" wrap up. The appeal of the crooner Haymes, so popular at the time, is lost on me and Holm is miscast as a ditzy blonde. Directed by Gregory Ratoff (1939's INTERMEZZO). With Anne Revere (wasted), J. Carrol Naish, Barbara Whiting and Nestor Paiva.

Don Jon (2013)

A young Lothario (Joseph Gordon Levitt, who also wrote and directed) has no problems scoring with the ladies. But the real thing doesn't satisfy him as much as watching the pornography he's addicted to. Even after making love to a beautiful woman, he'll slip out of bed and go to his laptop to get off on porn. Then he falls in love with Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and tries to change .... but can he? Whether starring in big summer blockbusters or quirky indie films, Joseph Gordon Levitt has consistently been one of the most intriguing and appealing young actors on the film scene for the past several years. As a working class Italian-American (the family Sunday dinner scenes are priceless!), Gordon Levitt doesn't condescend to his "Guido", winking at us how much smarter and better he is than the character. He invests Jon with a sort of guileless innocence, a stud muffin who goes with all sincerity to confession every week to be absolved of his porn addiction ... only to do it all over again. Unlike most romantic comedies, nothing is tied up in a neat little ribbon and at the end its characters still struggling a day at a time, even as some of them can't see their own flaws. Johansson is sensational here, is there a sexier young actress working in movies right now? You can see why Gordon Levitt pursues her when she refuses to be another conquest. The sadness is that her expectations are just as unrealistic as his are. The cast is wonderful: Julianne Moore as the bruised older woman who attempts to mentor the protagonist, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly (where has she been?) as his perfectly matched mismatched parents and also Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Apres Lui (2007)

After her son (Adrien Jolivet) is killed in an automobile accident, a woman (Catherine Deneuve) becomes obsessed with his best friend (Thomas Dumerchez) who was driving the car on the fatal night. Her behavior gets more irrational as she attempts to control his life. Directed by Gael Morel (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Christophe Honore), this is a rather unpleasant film. As Deneuve's character begins to fall apart, it's acknowledged by the other characters around her but no one seems to care enough or have sense enough to do something about it. An attorney (Penelope Puymirat) suggests psychiatric intervention but it's never acted upon. So what we're left with is a portrait of a woman spinning out of control and while Deneuve's performance is just fine, ultimately it becomes an exercise in tedium as we're left without any insight into her breakdown. Perhaps a little more background on her relationship with her son may have helped but there's only one scene with him before his death. Still, as I said, Deneuve does some fine work here and fans of the actress should certainly check it out for her performance. With Guy Marchand and Elodie Bouchez.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Last Voyage (1960)

An explosion in a boiler room aboard a luxury liner sailing for Japan eventually causes the ship to begin to sink. While the ship's Captain (George Sanders) ponders his options, the ship's surviving engineer (Edmond O'Brien) attempts to save what's left of his crew and a husband (Robert Stack) desperately tries to free his wife (Dorothy Malone) who's trapped under a steel beam ... and time is running out for all of them. This almost unbearably intense adventure is a forerunner of those star studded "disaster" movies of the 1970s. However, unlike many of those inflated multi character films, this is a lean and taut piece of cinema that concentrates on a few as characters as possible with much attention paid to the mechanics of the sinking ship. No CGI, minimal special effects, the film has a quasi documentary feel to it. Except for very brief music cues at the beginning and end of the film, there's no underscore. Adding to the realism is that it's not a set, it's a real ship (the Isle De France) that's being sunk and the cameras are close enough so that we can see it's the actors, not stuntmen, who are undergoing the trauma. Produced by the husband and wife team of Virginia and Andrew L. Stone with Andrew directing his own original script while Virginia did the film editing. With Jack Kruschen and Woody Strode, who's a real standout here.

The King Of Kings (1927)

The man known as Jesus Christ (H.B. Warner) is a threat to the power ..... well, why go any further. You all know the story. Cecil B. DeMille's epic tale of the last weeks of Christ's life before his crucifixion is an over reverent, crudely made but dramatically effective rendering. Using mainly quotations from the Bible as intertitles, DeMille manages to be both tiresomely pompous and extravagantly entertaining. While the basic story itself is so overly familiar that there's not much one can do with it or to it, DeMille spruces it up with a little technique. There are two eye opening two strip Technicolor sequences, the opening at luxurious apartments of Mary Magdalene (Jacqueline Logan) and the Easter resurrection. Some nicely done touches like the casting off of the seven deadly sins from Mary Magdalene or the dropping of the thirty pieces of silver as payment to Judas (Joseph Schildkraut, DIARY OF ANNE FRANK) keep the film from slipping over to tedium (which it only does so at the very end). Still, it is a DeMille epic and the massive earthquake on Mount Calvary during the crucifixion is so over the top that one can't help but chortle. I saw the original 2 hours and 37 minutes roadshow cut but there's also a shorter version (by 45 minutes) that may appeal more to the less patient. With Dorothy Cumming as Mary, Rudolph Schildkraut as Caiaphas and Ernest Torrence as Peter.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Get Smart (2008)

An analyst (Steve Carell) in a secret government agency is promoted to a field agent. He is sent to Russia along with a female agent (Anne Hathaway) to track down an unknown terrorist group's procurement of nuclear material. By the time this big screen adaptation of the popular 1960s Mel Brooks/Buck Henry television series GET SMART hit cinemas, some forty years had passed. Since the younger movie going demographics had probably never heard of the show, much less seen it, the producers have hyped up the film with lots of action like a typical summer blockbuster in addition to the laughs. It worked. The film was a big hit and it's an enjoyable if disposable romp that doesn't dwell on nostalgia for its entertainment values. Carell does an admirable job of channeling Don Adams (the original Max Smart) and is considerably more appealing. If the film contains the usual blockbuster bloat, it nevertheless delivers enough chuckles that you don't mind. The comedy highlight is an amusing dance off between Carell and Lindsay Hollister against Hathaway and David S. Lee. I will confess however that I found the original TV show unfunny. Directed by Peter Segal (50 FIRST DATES). Dwayne Johnson and Alan Arkin provide strong support with other roles going to Bill Murray, James Caan and Terence Stamp.

Jane Austen In Manhattan (1980)

A famous acting teacher (Anne Baxter) competes with her former student and ex-lover (Robert Powell, JESUS OF NAZARETH)) for the theatrical rights to a play written by Jane Austen as an adolescent. His theatrical troupe borders on a cult as he manipulates his company's personal lives and takes their money. This is one of the lesser known films from the team of producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory and justifiably so. Pretentious twaddle about sums it up! Powell's avant garde production of the Austen play is awful, it's part of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's original script, yet not content to let us see just enough of it to comprehend the sheer awfulness of it, we're continually treated to scenes of the terrible performance of the Austen play. Baxter's production of the play as an opera is pretty dire, too. In between the rivalry, we're exposed to the banal personal lives of Powell's acting class including Sean Young in her film debut who falls under the spell of Powell's Svengali. Normally, this would be a bad thing but considering the creepy husband (Kurt Johnson) she's married to, Svengali makes a welcome alternative. With Katrina Hodiak (Baxter's real life daughter), Tim Choate, Nancy New and Michael Wager.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Black Knight (1954)

A blacksmith (Alan Ladd) in the service of the Earl of Yeonil (Harry Andrews) is in love with the Earl's daughter (Patricia Medina). When Cornish men disguised as Vikings attack and burn the Earl's castle, the blacksmith adopts the identity of The Black Knight and attempts to foil a plan by a traitorous pagan (Patrick Troughton) and a Saracen (Peter Cushing) to usurp King Arthur's (Anthony Bushell) throne. This rather stodgy tale of knights in shining armor and damsels in distress can't stand on its own and when placed against a superior example of the genre like IVANHOE or even the lesser BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH, its inadequacies are glaring. Poor Alan Ladd is not only too old but he looks terrible, tired and pudgy, and he isn't helped by a disfiguring wig (at least I hope it's a wig!). As the only American in the all British cast, he's terribly out of place as a medieval knight. The only moment of real fun is a kitschy Hammeresque sequence with pagan maidens bumping and grinding around stone phallic symbols during a virgin sacrifice while friars are burned in baskets. Other than that respite, it's a rather plodding affair. Directed by Tay Garnett. With Andre Morell, Laurence Naismith and Ronald Adam.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Night To Remember (1942)

A writer (Brian Aherne) of murder mysteries and his wife (Loretta Young) move into a Greenwich Village basement apartment. When the naked dead body of a man (Cy Kendall) the writer got into a fight with the night before is found in their garden, he becomes a suspect and decides to solve the murder himself. I have a soft spot for murder mystery comedies (the marvelous FOUL PLAY is a perfect example) and while this one gets a trifle silly at times and its plot unnecessarily complicated, it's enjoyable in an unassuming way if you don't make any demands on it. Loretta Young goes a little too girlish in her attempt as a screwball comedienne but Jean Arthur, she's not. Aherne is better at striking the right tone but it's the wonderful supporting cast that props the picture up: Gale Sondergaard, Sidney Toler, Donald MacBride, Lee Patrick, Jeff Donnell, Blanche Yurka and Richard Gaines. Directed by Richard Wallace (SINBAD THE SAILOR).

The House Of Yes (1997)

It's Thanksgiving 1983 and a young man (Josh Hamilton) is bringing his fiancee (Tori Spelling) home to meet his family. His psychotic sister (Parker Posey) has just been released from a mental hospital, his delusional brother (Freddie Prinze Jr.) has dropped out of school and his wacky mother (Genevieve Bujold) might be the deadliest of them all! Doing a comedy about mental illness, even a black comedy, can be very tricky. There are those comedies, of course, where the mentally ill (or mentally challenged) are somehow deemed more perceptive about the human condition than the rest of normal society which is a dubious supposition at best. The deranged family here, however, is venal. An incestuous brother and sister who act out the JFK assassination before having sex, a brother who lies about a brain tumor in order to lure a girl to bed, a possibly homicidal mother who not only enables the craziness but, in fact, may be the cause of it. One's ability to laugh may depend on one's familiarity with the real thing, in which case you might find your laughter getting caught in your throat. Based on the play by Wendy MacLeod which was adapted for the screen by the director Mark Waters (MEAN GIRLS), only Prinze Jr. and Bujold manage to make the insanity believable while the others (including Spelling) seem adrift. With Rachel Leigh Cook.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Innocent Bystanders (1972)

A burnt out British secret agent (Stanley Baker) is assigned to track down the whereabouts of a Russian defector (Vladek Sheybal, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE). It won't be easy because in addition to being double crossed by the head of the department (Donald Pleasence, the very model of soullessness), he must find the defector before the Americans and Russians do. This ultra violent (for 1972) pulpy spy thriller is based on a novel by James Mitchell, who also wrote the screenplay, that echoes the James Bond movies of the era though it's more like a Harry Palmer movie on amphetamines. Outside of a confusing prologue (an escape from a Soviet prison camp) and an awkward romantic scene between Baker and Geraldine Chaplin, it moves along as efficiently as a well oiled piece of machinery. I suppose that's a compliment of sorts but who enjoys watching machinery at work? There are a few "twists" along the ride though most of them are predictable. The typical 1970s pop/jazz fusion score is by Johnny Keating. Directed by Peter Collinson (THE ITALIAN JOB). With Dana Andrews, Sue Lloyd (quite the most likable character in the film), Derren Nesbitt, Ferdy Mayne and Warren Mitchell.

Perfect Understanding (1933)

Prior to their marriage, a husband (Laurence Olivier) and wife (Gloria Swanson) draw up an informal agreement that they will not allow disagreements or jealousy to interfere with their marriage. But the honeymoon is barely over when the husband has a one night stand with an old flame (Nora Swinburne) but while the husband confesses his indiscretion, the wife finds she can't overlook the betrayal after all. A crashing bore! The film's running time is less than an hour and a half but it feels an eternity. Aristocrats prattling on and on, Swanson (really poor here) wringing her hands until you fear they'll fall off and Olivier, while looking quite handsome, is so inadequate that you'd never guess that he'd grow into one of the world's great actors. Add to all that, the zero chemistry between Swanson and Olivier, and you've got a stiff of a movie. Actually, considering the direction of the film's feeble plot, perhaps PERFECT MISUNDERSTANDING might have been a better title. Directed by Cyril Gardner. With John Halliday, Genevieve Tobin and Michael Farmer.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Garden Of Evil (1954)

Three adventurers (Gary Cooper, Richard Widmark, Cameron Mitchell) on route to California to prospect for gold find themselves stranded in a seaside Mexican village when their ship breaks down. But when a desperate woman (Susan Hayward) pleas for help to free her injured husband (Hugh Marlowe) who's trapped in a gold mine several days' ride away, they agree to help her for a price. Getting there is relatively easy, getting out will be harder as Apaches pick them off one by one. This is a wonderful western! Though it's not particularly original or insightful, it's got a fairly intelligent screenplay, a generous dose of star power, terrific locations (shot in the more verdant regions of Mexico), handsome CinemaScope lensing by Milton Krasner and Jorge Stahl Jr., an excellent directional stereo sound mix and a killer score by Bernard Herrmann (his only film score for a western) that elevates the picture. Even if you not a fan of westerns, there's much to enjoy. Directed by Henry Hathaway, an old hand at westerns. With Rita Moreno and Victor Madariaga.

Thanks For Sharing (2013)

Three sex addicts at various stages of their addiction struggle with the help of a 12 step program: after five years of celibacy, one (Mark Ruffalo) begins dating a woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) but withholds info about his addiction from her. Another (Tim Robbins) must deal with his son (Patrick Fugit, ALMOST FAMOUS) whose abuse at the hands of his father turned him into an addict and thief. The third (Josh Gad) is an overweight doctor whose inappropriate sexual behavior gets him fired from his hospital job. While there have been countless films about alcoholism and drug addiction, if there has ever been a film focused on sex addiction, it slipped under my radar. The film is 2/3 of a really good movie, the Josh Gad storyline doesn't work though Gad himself is quite good. The directorial debut of screenwriter Stuart Blumberg (an Oscar nominee for THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT), the film walks a fine tightrope between comedy (mostly the Gad segment) and heavy duty drama. The Ruffalo/Paltrow storyline comes off best, starting off as a charming romantic interlude before it spins into a dark spiral downward. Strong stuff with a few laughs along the way but even with its flaws, it gives us an honest glimpse into an addiction that many people still don't take very seriously. With Joely Richardson, Carol Kane and in the film's best performance Alecia Moore, better known as the singer Pink, as a female sex addict who bonds with Gad.

Riso Amaro (aka Bitter Rice) (1949)

A petty thief (Vittorio Gassman) and his accomplice (Doris Dowling) escape the police by hiding among the seasonal workers headed to Northern Italy to work in the rice fields. While she comes to respect the hard working women and begins to question her previous way of life, he attracts the attention of a pretty peasant (Silvana Mangano) who is drawn to what she perceives as the "glamour" of his way of life. Directed by Giuseppe De Santis whose most notable film this is (he only made 13 movies), this neo-realist effort was a huge hit in the U.S. at the art houses, even nabbing an Oscar nomination for its screenplay. It was also the film that made Silvana Mangano a star though the earthy and sexy minx here bears little resemblance to the elegant patrician of her later Visconti and Pasolini films. It's also the best film role the American actress Doris Dowling had (THE LOST WEEKEND, BLUE DAHLIA), suggesting that Hollywood wasted her talents. But its melodramatic story aside, it's the almost documentary look at the women workers who leave their jobs and families each year to work in the rice fields doing back breaking work for little pay that holds the most interest. With Raf Vallone as the soldier infatuated with Mangano while it's Dowling who falls for him.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Oklahoman (1957)

After his wife dies in childbirth on their way to California, a doctor (Joel McCrea) opts to stay in a small Oklahoma town with his daughter (Mimi Gibson) and practice medicine. But his relatively peaceful existence is interrupted when gossip about the Indian maiden (Gloria Talbott) living in his home as his daughter's nanny suggests an affair and the girl's father (Michael Pate) is arrested for shooting a trespasser (Douglas Dick) on his land in self defense. This standard western offers nothing new or particularly interesting in the genre but it's not a bad little oater either. McCrea is his usual stoic self but Brad Dexter (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) makes for a hissable villain and the lovely Talbott could turn a blind man's eye! The film gives a balanced view of the town's racial discrimination against the Native American populace. It's there without the frothing at the mouth Indian haters showing that racism is often more "discreet". Directed by Francis D. Lyon (CULT OF THE COBRA). With Barbara Hale, Diane Brewster, Verna Felton, Sheb Wooley, Ray Teal and Adam Williams.

The Fallen Idol (1948)

The young son (Bobby Henrey) of the French ambassador (Gerard Heinz) to England adores the embassy's butler (Ralph Richardson), who takes the time to give the boy attention by regaling him with stories and taking him for walks. But when the butler falls under suspicion of killing his wife (Sonia Dresdel), the boy's attempt to protect him do him more harm than good. Based on the short story THE BASEMENT ROOM by Graham Greene (who also wrote the screenplay), this is one of Carol Reed's best films though it doesn't have the reputation of their collaboration on THE THIRD MAN which is unfortunate. While it works perfectly as a first rate thriller, it also shows us how young children confronted with situations beyond their ken of understanding see things differently and misconstrue the facts. The film also shows how lies, however well intentioned, trap us into a corner that can be deadly. Richardson and the lovely Michele Morgan as the object of his affections are very good but it's young Henrey and Dresdel as the malevolent wife that capture our attention. With Jack Hawkins, Torin Thatcher, Dora Bryan, Bernard Lee, Geoffrey Keen and Karel Stepanek.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

That Cold Day In The Park (1969)

A wealthy sexually repressed spinster (Sandy Dennis) invites a young mute (Michael Burns) out of the rain one day. She keeps him locked in his room but he gets out through a window each night and returns the next morning. Of course, it's just a matter of time until she discovers his ruse and he's clearly underestimated her. This was the film Robert Altman made just before hitting it big with MASH the following year. There's nothing in this odd little movie that would suggest it was the work of Altman if you hadn't seen his name in the credits. Based on the novel by Peter Miles, there aren't any surprises. You know exactly where the film is headed from the moment she invites the boy into her luxury apartment. Since Burns is mute for long stretches of the film, most of the movie is a Sandy Dennis monologue but as good an actress as she is, the material can't sustain the monotony. The film is not without interest by any means but I suspect outside of the Altman completists and the Sandy Dennis fans, there aren't many who'll find it worthwhile. Filmed in Vancouver, Laszlo Kovacs (NEW YORK, NEW YORK) did the cinematography and the underscore is typical Johnny Mandel (THE SANDPIPER). With Luana Anders, Michael Murphy and Suzanne Benton.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Elephant Walk (1954)

A tea grower (Peter Finch) brings his new English bride (Elizabeth Taylor) home to his plantation in Ceylon. But it's not long before, she realizes the man she married is different from the man who courted her in England. He seems morbidly obsessed with the memory of his dead father and more interested in partying with his fellow plantation owners than her. The attentions of the handsome plantation manager (Dana Andrews) become more welcome. Based upon the novel by Digby George Gerahty, this handsome Technicolor production shot in lush Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) locations with interiors shot on the Paramount lot is a diverting entertainment. If movie romances aren't your thing, in addition to the exotic locations, there's a Cholera epidemic and a knockout of an elephant stampede. Taylor, a substitute for Vivien Leigh (who can clearly be seen in some of the film's long shots), is at her most movie goddess beautiful and looks stunning in her Edith Head creations. Standing at the center of the action is an awesome dream house and gardens (courtesy of art directors Hal Pereira and J. McMillan Johnson) that anyone would kill for. Directed by William Dieterle (HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME). With Abraham Sofaer, Abner Biberman and Norma Varden.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Georgia O'Keeffe (2009)

In 1916, the budding painter Georgia O'Keeffe (Joan Allen) arrives in New York where her paintings are being shown without her permission in an art gallery owned by Alfred Stieglitz (Jeremy Irons). They become lovers (though he is married) and eventually marry after he obtains a divorce. He promotes her career and she becomes a success but she finds it increasingly difficult to deal with his blatant infidelities. Unsatisfying and frustrating. Ostensibly a biopic of O'Keeffe, it should have been called O'KEEFFE AND STIEGLITZ. In a voice over at the film's beginning, O'Keeffe states that her life is her business and that her Art reveals everything people need to know about her. But that's just what this movie doesn't give us ... her Art. What we get is an annoying portrait of a psychologically and emotionally abusive husband and the wife who can't seem to break away and always comes back! The best parts of the film are the Taos, New Mexico sequences when O'Keeffe is away from Stieglitz and an all too brief glimpse of O'Keeffe actually creating, painting a mural, which the film could have used more of. It's frustrating how the film treats O'Keeffe as an appendage of Stieglitz, a woman unable function without his presence, at least, till the very end of the film. Directed by the actor Bob Balaban. With Tyne Daly, Ed Begley Jr. and Kathleen Chalfont.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Killing Kind (1973)

Released from prison after two years for rape, an unbalanced psychopath (John Savage) returns home to live with his mother (Ann Sothern) who has turned her home into a boarding house to support herself. It isn't long before his unhinged mind seeks revenge against those he holds responsible for his incarceration including the rape victim (Sue Bernard, FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL) and his lawyer (Ruth Roman). This little seen effort from Curtis Harrington (WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?) is quite disturbing, especially in its images. While it never quite rises above its low budget exploitation status, clearly there's some artistic intent going into the effort. The relationship between Sothern and Savage emphasizes the Oedipal aspects: they call each other by their first names, he walks around in his underwear in front of her, they kiss on the lips etc. But the film's portrayal of its female characters borders on misogyny. The young boarder (Cindy Williams, who deserves a prize for the things done to her here) sexually teases him constantly as if asking him to attack her, the sexually repressed spinster (the underrated Luana Anders) next door wants him to rape her and, of course, Sothern acts more like a lover than a mother. If there's a reason to see the movie, it's for Sothern's all out blowsy cat loving mother ("Girls today are tacky whores"). Monster that she is, she's the only character in the film one can have empathy for. The cinematography is by Mario Tosi (CARRIE) with a decent score by Andrew Belling.

The Desk Set (1957)

The research department at the Federal Broadcasting Network becomes intimidated when the inventor (Spencer Tracy) of a computer begins investigating the department during the Christmas season. They, including the department supervisor (Katharine Hepburn), begin to suspect that his computer is designed to replace them. Though it's not considered one of the best of the Tracy and Hepburn collaborations, this is my personal favorite of their teamings together, probably because Hepburn isn't treated as some kind of freak for wanting to be Tracy's equal and she's not chastised for it as she is in WOMAN OF THE YEAR and ADAM'S RIB. It's a pleasant romantic comedy with Tracy and Hepburn doing fine work though Hepburn's drunk scene leaves a lot to be desired (what is it about drunk scenes that bring out the worst in actors?). Based on the play by William Marchant, the film's paranoid suspicions about computers have proven prophetic but considering how computers have now infiltrated our daily lives (what would we do without them?), the film's phobia now seems rather quaint. Directed by Walter Lang. With Gig Young, Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill, Merry Anders, Diane Jergens and Neva Patterson.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Havana Widows (1933)

Two conniving chorus girls (Joan Blondell, Glenda Farrell) borrow $1,500 from a soft touch (Allen Jenkins) and go to Havana in the hopes of snagging some millionaires. Not to marry them, just compromise them and get some hush money. But things don't quite turn out the way they planned. This is one of those breezy pre-code Warner Brothers films with sassy, wise cracking broads with hearts of gold that exist only in the movies. Outside of film buff circles, Blondell and Farrell aren't remembered much today but they are a perfect combination with a "duck soup" style in delivering their snappy patter. Would that the males were so memorable. Frank McHugh's drunken lawyer outwears his welcome pretty quickly and Jenkins' dumb act is hard to swallow after awhile. But its rapid pacing and light touch (and short running time) make it a pleasant diversion. Directed by Ray Enright. With Lyle Talbot, Ruth Donnelly and Guy Kibbee.

Blancanieves (2012)

In 1920s Spain, after his wife (Macarena Garcia) dies in childbirth, a renowned toreador (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) marries a beautiful but evil beauty (Maribel Verdu, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN), who treats his daughter (Sofia Ora as a child, Macarena Garcia as a woman) as a servant. When the evil stepmother orders her chauffeur (Pere Ponce) to take the girl into the woods and kill her, she is rescued by a band of bullfighting dwarfs who take her in. 2012 seemed the year for Snow White reboots (MIRROR MIRROR, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN) but this Spanish offering is "inspired" by the Brothers Grimm tale rather than a literal retelling. Like THE ARTIST, this is a B&W silent film shot in the old Academy ratio (1.33). But unlike THE ARTIST, it's not shot in the style of silent cinema. The editing, shooting style and sexuality define it as a contemporary film. There's no fairy tale ending. Instead of Prince Charming, Snow White gets a lovesick dwarf (Sergio Dorado, probably the handsomest dwarf you'll ever see) for a lover and a creepy necrophilic ending. After all the glowing reviews that greeted it, I have to confess I was somewhat disappointed. As with all silent cinema, the music score is paramount and Alfonso De Vilallonga provides a varied and rich underscore. Directed by Pablo Berger. With Angela Molina (THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE).

Friday, September 13, 2013

Call Me Madam (1953)

Without any previous diplomatic experience, a popular Washington D.C. society hostess (Ethel Merman) is appointed U.S. Ambassador to the small European country of Lichtenburg. Once there, she must deal with the loan hungry representatives of the country as well as romantic involvements between her and a General (George Sanders) and her press attache (Donald O'Connor) with the country's Princess (Vera-Ellen). The 1950 Broadway show was a personal triumph for Merman (winning her a Tony) and she recreates her role here. Normally Merman's outsized personality and broad acting style didn't come across well on film though she was rather charming in her few film roles in the 1930s. But the role of Sally Adams fits Merman like a glove and her performance here gives an indication of what made her such a spectacular Broadway legend. As for the film itself, it played better in 1953. Nothing ages a film faster than topicality and scenes such as Merman talking with Harry Truman on the phone that must have had them rolling in the aisles then (the Margaret Truman jokes) don't play well anymore. The songs by Irving Berlin vary from good to great (the irresistible You're Just In Love) and Sanders, in a rare romantic lead, is a surprise with his full bodied baritone. Vera-Ellen, however, looks dangerously thin in some scenes and the ugly Irene Sharaff costumes she wears don't help any. Directed by Walter Lang. With Walter Slezak, Billy De Wolfe, Helmut Dantine, Lilia Skala (LILIES OF THE FIELD) and Steven Geray.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sherlock Holmes In New York (1976)

Set in 1901, fearing an ex-flame (Charlotte Rampling) may be in danger, Sherlock Holmes (Roger Moore) and his companion Dr. Watson (Patrick Macnee) rush from London to New York. As he feared, her son has been kidnapped, only a part of a larger devious plan by Holmes' archenemy Professor Moriarty (John Huston in a lazy performance). While the production values are first rate and the atmosphere thick with peril, this is a rather weak entry in the Sherlock Holmes franchise. It's not based on any of Arthur Conan Doyle's Homes adventures but an original screenplay by Alvin Sapinsley. The mystery is relatively simple rather than complex but worse, if the audience can spot things that the great Sherlock Holmes can't, what's the point? While MacNee makes for an admirable Dr. Watson, most of the acting is artificial as if they were trying for a stylized approach. Roger Moore is way too soft for Holmes and even Rampling, normally the most natural of actresses, comes across as counterfeit. For the Holmes completists only. Directed by Boris Sagal (THE OMEGA MAN) with a light attractive score by Richard Rodney Bennett. With Gig Young, Signe Hasso, Jackie Coogan, Leon Ames, David Huddleston and Marjorie Bennett.

The Big Country (1958)

A former sea captain (Gregory Peck) from the East arrives in the West to marry the daughter (Carroll Baker) of a cattle baron (Charles Bickford). The peaceful Eastern "dude" finds himself at odds with the ways of this often violent new country where being a man is defined by his willingness to use his fists or a gun. It doesn't help that he finds himself in the middle of a range war between his fiancee's father and a rival rancher (Burl Ives in an Oscar winning performance) over water rights. William Wyler's first western in 18 years (I don't count FRIENDLY PERSUASION as a western) is a sprawling three hour epic that quickly lets you know this is no ordinary western ... it's big! From Saul Bass's adept titles with Jerome Moross's thundering main theme and Franz Planer's stately wide screen (it was shot in Technirama) cinematography but Wyler obviously isn't interested in a conventional western. For example, the fistfight between Peck and Charlton Heston is shot mainly in long shots with no music and edited in such a way that we don't see the fight from start to finish. In any other western, this would have been a big highlight but Wyler wants to get to the point ("What did we prove?") quickly, not focus on the fight. The lengthy running time actually allows for deeper and more complex characterizations than is the norm for most westerns from Baker's spoiled daughter with an Electra complex to Heston's brooding ranch foreman whose loyalty to his surrogate father makes him neglect his own conscience. Not a great western but a very fine one. With Jean Simmons, Chuck Connors, Alfonso Bedoya and Dorothy Adams.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

When an attractive woman (Mary Astor) asks for assistance from a detective (Humphrey Bogart) in locating her missing sister by following the man she ran off with, the detective's partner (Jerome Cowan) volunteers to follow the man. But when the detective is shot and minutes later, the man he was shadowing is also killed, it is only the beginning of a complicated tale of greed, deceit, honor and the "stuff dreams are made of". Based on the Dashiell Hammett novel, the directorial film debut of John Huston is one of the treasures of American cinema. Tight and to the bone, there's not a single wasted moment or shot in the entire film. It is also, quite possibly, the most impeccably cast film in Hollywood history. It's a testament to its actors (and Huston) that these are career defining performances. So much so that whenever one hears their name, it's THE MALTESE FALCON that one immediately thinks of. Astor's aging femme fatale with her air of desperation and inability to tell the truth, Peter Lorre's gardenia scented homosexual, Sydney Greenstreet's jovial but avaricious "fat man" all make indelible impressions but it's Bogart in his star making role that holds the film together. One of those rare films that seems to capture you over and over again, no matter how many times you've seen it. With Gladys George, Elisha Cook Jr., Ward Bond, Lee Patrick and Barton MacLane.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sea Fury (1958)

Set in a small coastal village in Spain, an aging tugboat captain (Victor McLaglen in his final film role) falls in love with a much younger local girl (Luciana Paluzzi). But her heart belongs to the first mate (Stanley Baker) on the captain's ship. Directed by Cy Endfield (ZULU), this colorful (though it's actually shot in B&W) romantic adventure is the usual love triangle with a May/December twist. As such, it's moderately entertaining. But where it really shines is in the film's tension packed finale as Baker attempts to dump some explosives aboard a salvaged ship into the sea before they blow up. The film has a nice feel for the competitive, and often dangerous, life of tugboat operators racing to get to the salvage before the competition. McLaglen acquits himself well in his final role though he looks quite tired while the charming Paluzzi and rugged Baker make for an attractive teaming. With Robert Shaw, Gregoire Aslan, Percy Herbert and Barry Foster.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Labor Day (2013)

During the Labor Day weekend of 1987, a young boy (Gattlin Griffith) and his agoraphobic mother (Kate Winslet) make their monthly trip to the grocery store. But a stranger (Josh Brolin), bleeding from a wound, coerces them into giving him a lift and he forces them to take him to their home where he can hide while the police are looking for him. It will be a Labor Day weekend that will change all their lives forever. The latest film from Jason Reitman (UP IN THE AIR) is an emotionally stirring piece of work. While it starts off a bit wobbly, it soon coalesces into an affecting coming of age story that slowly gives you glimpses of the complete tapestry before all the pieces are revealed and by the time of its heartrending conclusion, don't be surprised if you're fighting back the tears. But it's definitely not soppy or sentimental. Reitman doesn't manipulate us, the emotions come by honestly and accurately. As I wiped my own tears away, the woman sitting next to me, also crying, tapped me on the should and hugged me. It's that kind of movie. Winslet, in yet another performance that shows her to be one of the best actresses working today, is a lock for a best actress nomination and I'm the first to admit Josh Brolin doesn't appeal to me as an actor. Yet he connects to his role here in a way he's never done before. It's his best performance to date. With Tobey Maguire as the older Griffith (he also narrates the film), J.K. Simmons, James Van Der Beek, Brooke Smith and Maika Monroe and Clark Gregg.

The Time Travelers (1964)

A group of scientists are developing a monitor that will see into the future. What they get instead is an actual portal 107 years into the future! When they enter the portal, they find an Earth decimated by nuclear war with mutants living on the surface and the few surviving "normal" humans inhabiting underground caves. This hybrid between WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE and QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE is a rather earnest but dull affair with a cast of mature actors whose careers were pretty much over. Cheesy it might be but it has none of the fun of those silly but entertaining "B" sci-fi films. For a sci-fi film, it's hopelessly unimaginative where the future is concerned, the women still wear the same bouffant hair-dos they wore in 1964! The characters are the usual bunch of sci-fi cliches. The old and wise scientist (Preston Foster), the young and adventurous scientist (Philip Carey), the pretty lab assistant (Merry Anders), the comic relief (Steve Franken), the wise ruler (John Hoyt) who welcomes the travelers, the younger council member (Dennis Patrick) who distrusts them, etc. Reputedly the influence for the TV series THE TIME TUNNEL. Directed by Ib Melchior (THE ANGRY RED PLANET). With Joan Woodbury and Delores Wells.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Anniversary Party (2001)

After coming back together following a separation, a Hollywood couple, she (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is an actress, he (Alan Cumming) is a writer/director, throw themselves a sixth anniversary party inviting their closest friends. What would you call a film produced, directed and starring two actors with a supporting cast of friends and family? How about a vanity project? To be fair, that's not quite fair. While much of the film does seem self indulgent as the actors ramble tritely on (let's face much of what we say in real life is trite) in a seemingly improvisatory fashion, as writers Leigh and Cumming also manage some searing moments such as their fight in the Hollywood Hills as they search for their dog or a phone call bearing horrible news. But scenes like the charade game or two children's attempts at entertaining are unbearable to sit through. Actors, of course, love this sort of "let it all hang out" thing and more often than not, Leigh/Cumming indulge their friends rather than reining it in. But you won't be bored. The massive cast includes Kevin Kline, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Beals, Phoebe Cates (Mrs. Kline in a one return to acting), John Benjamin Hickey, Dennis O'Hare, Parker Posey, Jane Adams and Michael Panes and Mina Badie (Leigh's sister) in the film's best performance and most relatable character.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wetherby (1985)

At a small dinner party she's giving for some friends, two married couples, an unmarried teacher (Vanessa Redgrave) assumes that the young man (Tim McInnerny) who shows up with one couple (Judi Dench, Ian Holm) is a friend of theirs. They assume he's a friend of the spinster. The next day he shows up at her cottage and as she prepares tea ..... he blows his brains out! Why? And why in her presence? A series of flashbacks in the teacher's past (Redgrave's daughter, Joely Richardson, plays her as a young girl), the young man's past and the night of the dinner party will bring it all into focus. Written and directed by David Hare (THE READER), this is an uneven but often fascinating look at how our basic need for human contact, if denied, can prove destructive whether psychologically or fatally. Hare's dialog is viable and perceptive for the most part though he slips into romance novel prose ("Hold me tight!") on occasion. He also drags Richard Nixon and Margaret Thatcher (both ridiculed or chastised by the characters) into the proceedings which doesn't make sense to me (maybe it went over my head?) and the result is that it makes the film seem slightly dated. Redgrave is, as usual, remarkable. Very few actresses can make lines that read ersatz on paper sound natural when spoken. With Tom Wilkinson, Stuart Wilson (very good), Suzanna Hamilton and Robert Hines.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Fair Wind To Java (1953)

In 1883, the captain (Fred MacMurray) of an American merchant ship sailing the Dutch East Indies is told of a dancing girl (Vera Ralston) sold into slavery that knows the location of a cache of diamonds. He buys her and brings her on board but pirates are aware of his plans and pursue his ship to retrieve the girl. Based on a novel by Garland Roark (WAKE OF THE RED WITCH), this is a diverting if mindless adventure film. We've seen it all before so there are no surprises and if the stoic MacMurray is no Errol Flynn or John Wayne, he tries hard though the best you can say about him is that he's robust. The less said about Ralston's (a former ice skater) acting skills the better. Malibu stands in for Indonesia and the paltry special effects don't do the legendary eruption of the Krakatoa volcano justice. If this kind of Saturday matinee adventure is to your taste, you should have a good time. Directed by Joseph Kane. With Victor McLaglen doing his usual gruff Irishman bit again, Robert Douglas, John Russell, a grown up Claude Jarman Jr. (THE YEARLING) and Paul Fix, channeling Walter Brennan.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Siege Of Pinchgut (1959)

Set in Australia, four men (Aldo Ray, Neil McCallum, Victor Maddern, Carlo Giustini) escape from prison intending on getting away by boat. But when their boat breaks down before they can get out of Sydney harbor, they take refuge on a small island with an old deserted fort. The island is occupied by a caretaker (Gerry Duggan, a BAFTA nominee for his work here), his wife (Barbara Mullen) and daughter (Heather Sears) who are taken hostage by the men, who then point a huge gun sitting on the parapet toward a munitions boat thus holding the city hostage. A solid minor thriller that manages to build some legitimate tension despite some dubious scenes. The town, for example, is evacuated in record time without any problems. Oddly enough, Aldo Ray as the leader of the escapees is, at first, the most stable of the men then begins to rapidly fall apart without much conviction. Director Harry Watt (who started out in documentaries) keeps the action consistent and well paced but the ending seems too reminiscent of WHITE HEAT. There's not much of Kenneth V. Jones underscore in the film but what there is, is choice. With Alan Tilvern as the Javert like policeman.

Mrs. Parkington (1944)

When the wealthy, if dysfunctional, Parkington dynasty gathers for Christmas dinner, the 84 year old Parkington matriarch (Greer Garson in an Oscar nominated performance) reflects upon her past. From her humble beginnings as a maid in her mother's boarding house in a mining town to her rise to the top of New York society as the wife of an adventurous, if somewhat vulgar, tycoon (Walter Pidgeon). If Norma Shearer was the great lady of MGM in the thirties, Greer Garson took over in the 1940s. Whether playing Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennett, Mrs. Miniver, Madame Curie and here, Mrs. Parkington, Garson reeked of "class" even when playing feisty small town maids as she does here. In an amusing sequence, Agnes Moorehead as a French countess takes Garson under her wing and teaches her how to be a lady and when she's done, we still can't tell the difference! Pidgeon is somewhat miscast as a rough and tumble, self centered adventurer. The role cries out for a Gary Cooper or a Joel McCrea. The film also glosses over the nature of Pidgeon's character. At the beginning of the film, his greed and ruthlessness causes a mining accident that kills many yet the film seems to dismiss his culpability. In a bit of prescience, there's a Bernie Madoff plotline but the film's pro capitalist bent allows for a "happy" ending. Based on the novel by Louis Bromfield and directed by Tay Garnett. With Gladys Cooper playing against type as Garson's alcoholic daughter, Peter Lawford, Edward Arnold, Dan Duryea, Hugh Marlowe, Lee Patrick, Cecil Kellaway, Tom Drake, Rod Cameron, Selena Royle and Frances Rafferty.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Village Of The Damned (1960)

In a small English town, the entire village passes out for several hours before waking up. Shortly after, it is discovered that all women of child bearing age are pregnant. All the children are born on the same day but it quickly becomes apparent as they grow up that they are not normal. Neither in the way they look, think and act. One of the best science fiction films of the 1960s, its modest budget and inspired low keyed narrative contains an eerily clever but intelligent horror film. Based on the novel THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS by John Wyndham, it's an economical (1 hour, 17 minutes) chiller that wastes no time in capturing you undivided attention and holds it. In a rare sympathetic role, George Sanders plays a teacher, and also the "father" of one of the children, who tries to reach the children rather than living in fear of them like the rest of the townspeople. Remade poorly in 1995 by John Carpenter who softened the outlook and thus weakened the horror aspect. Written and directed by Wolf Rilla. With Barbara Shelley, Michael Gwynn, Laurence Naismith and as the leader of the children, Martin Stephens (THE INNOCENTS).

Le Passager De La Pluie (aka Rider On The Rain) (1970)

After she is raped by a stranger (Marc Mazza), a young woman (Marlene Jobert) shoots him and disposes of his body into the sea. That would seem to be the end of it until another stranger (Charles Bronson) arrives in town and suggests he knows what happened. A cat and mouse game begins as they each attempt to find out what the other really knows. While the term Hitchcockian seems to be thrown at every suspense thriller released, the director Rene Clement clearly invites it, even go so far as referring to one of the characters as "MacGuffin" (a term used by Hitchcock to describe something of seeming importance that really isn't important at all). One of the great directors in French cinema, Clement lost his way in the mid 1960s and this meandering thriller is typical of the weak work he was churning out. Not only is it overly talky for a thriller but it's also sloppy. Would an Army Colonel conducting an undercover investigation really leave a revealing letter in a typewriter for anyone to walk in and see? Despite Bronson being top billed, the film really belongs to the charming Jobert though her character isn't consistent. She seems determined and willful yet she's submissive to her chauvinistic husband (Gabriele Tinti). Still, it's intriguing enough to hold your interest. I watched the French language version which is the longer cut (5 minutes). The quietly effective score is by Francis Lai. With Jill Ireland, Corinne Marchand and Annie Cordy.