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Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)

Two brothers known as the fabulous Baker boys (Jeff Bridges, Beau Bridges) play piano in hotel cocktail lounges across the state. As their bookings dwindle, they hire a girl singer (Michelle Pfeiffer) in an attempt to make the act more appealing. It works ... but her presence causes an unspoken tension between the brothers to simmer to the surface. Fabulous is right! A superbly written character piece enhanced by its three central performances and a couple of musical numbers that stand out enough that you almost wish for a full blown musical. Although he broke out of the gate first, Beau Bridges' career seemed get lost in the shadow of little brother Jeff's career once it took off. But here, he goes toe to toe with his brother and proves he's his father's son (that's Lloyd to you). But the film belongs to Michelle Pfeiffer whose performance grabbed just about every best actress award that year (except the Oscar). It's not an actress-y performance by any means yet she gets under the skin of an "escort service" worker trying to make the transition to show business. Her scenes with Jeff Bridges crackle. The film's one weak spot is the audition scene: really, 37 girls and none of them can carry a tune? Inventively shot by Michael Ballhaus with a nicely moody score by Dave Grusin. Written and directed by Steve Kloves (one of only two movies he's directed). With Jennifer Tilly and Xander Berkeley.

Life Of Crime (2014)

A pair of petty criminals (John Hawkes, Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def) kidnap the trophy wife (Jennifer Aniston) of a small time crook and embezzler (Tim Robbins) and hold her hostage for a million dollars. A simple plan ... what could go wrong? Well, as anybody who's ever gone to the movies or read an Elmore Leonard novel (this is based on his novel THE SWITCH) knows, everything that could go wrong ... goes wrong. This black comedy needed to be darker, more edgy. As it plays out, it's an affable and clever piece of comedic noir with occasional shocking bursts of violence (a lit cigarette shoved in someone's eye!) with some excellent performances. This is Aniston's best performance yet, even better than THE GOOD GIRL, her character is the one the audience depends on to hold on to our sense of equilibrium. To the film's credit, we think we know where it's headed but it manages to keep us surprised at every turn and double cross. Directed by Daniel Schechter. With Will Forte as Aniston's nerdy wannabe lover, Isla Fisher as Robbins' two timing mistress and Mark Boone Junior as a Nazi loving white supremacist who throws his lot in with the kidnappers.

The Normal Heart (2014)

It's 1981 in New York City and gay men are enjoying a sexual freedom and openness that they've never had before. But then they start dying in large numbers from an unknown disease known as the "gay cancer". It's taken almost 30 years for Larry Kramer's incendiary play to reach the screen (Barbra Streisand tried unsuccessfully to make a film of it for years) and while one might say better late than never, in fact, perhaps it's just as well for we might not have gotten a production of it as good as this. Directed by Ryan Murphy from Kramer's own screenplay, it's a surprisingly fluid film which belies its theatrical origins. The film thoroughly captures the 80s gay scene in all its excess, it doesn't attempt to clean it up for mainstream consumption nor is it apologetic. The performances are superb across the board but it's Mark Ruffalo who anchors the film, perfectly embodying the seething anger, flaws and all (the film doesn't hide that he can be a major jerk and his own worst enemy) of a man screaming against the indifference of a complacent society and government. All the actors get their turn in the spotlight and do themselves proud: Matt Bomer as Ruffalo's boyfriend, Joe Mantello as a frightened NYC employee, Taylor Kitsch as an ex-Green Beret and Julia Roberts as a wheelchair bound doctor fighting to be heard in both the gay community and by government sources ... and getting a deaf ear from both. With Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Dennis O'Hare, BD Wong and Danielle Ferland.

Friday, August 29, 2014

State Fair (1962)

A wheat farmer (Tom Ewell) is taking his hog to the 1961 Texas state fair in the hopes of winning a blue ribbon for best in show. His wife (Alice Faye) is taking her mincemeat in the hopes of getting a blue ribbon. Their son (Pat Boone) is going to enter the fair's auto race and their daughter (Pamela Tiffin) is just going. This remake of the Oscar winning 1945 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical (the 1933 film version wasn't a musical) lacks the earnestness of the 1945 version which in itself was fairly hokey. But it did have those wonderful Rodgers & Hammerstein songs (including the sublime It Might As Well Be Spring) of which this version retains only five with Richard Rodgers penning five new ones (Hammerstein had passed on by this time), none of which are memorable. Alice Faye, in her first film in 17 years, looks rather glum as if she didn't want to be there and paired with Ewell, I wouldn't want to either. But Ann-Margret in only her second film sizzles, no wholesome family musical is going to water her down. The great Alfred Newman is responsible for the musical score's supervision as well as conducting so naturally the songs sound marvelous. Directed by Jose Ferrer (yes, the actor). With Bobby Darin as Tiffin's love interest and Wally Cox.

Uccellacci E Uccellini (aka Hawks And Sparrows) (1966)

An old man (Toto) and his young son (Ninetto Davoli) are walking down a road in the Rome countryside. They encounter a leftist intellectual talking raven who accompanies them on their journey. Pier Paolo Pasolini's comedic fantasy fable is an easy going satire. It's clear that the crow is Pasolini's spokesperson in the film but he's very cynical about mankind's future (though I'm not sure Pasolini himself would agree with my assessment). The travails of the father and son mirror Pasolini's acceptance that nothing will change while pointing out the cruelty of a capitalist based culture. Toto, a great physical comedian. and the adorable Davoli have a relaxed chemistry that goes far in giving an often fragmented film consistency. As a comedy, it's only moderately successful, it feels too self conscious to be truly funny. As a Marxist lecture on celluloid, it's too obvious. But it's an inventive film with a few inspired moments and Pasolini the most playful I've ever seen him. The film's opening title credits are amusingly sung (by Domenico Modugno) to Ennio Morricone's lively underscore.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Expresso Bongo (1959)

A seedy down on his luck promoter (Laurence Harvey) discovers a teen age singer (Cliff Richard) and signs him to a four year contract even though he is underage. He's exploiting the young boy but it's not long before an aging American singer (Yolande Donlan) and a record company executive (Meier Tzelniker) realize they can profit from the young boy, too. A shrewd and clever satire on the cutthroat music business, it's based on a hit West End musical but the film makers have pretty much eliminated most of the songs from the original show and made it more of a comedy with music rather than a musical. In the film, only Cliff Richard is given songs to sing. Even so, it remains a sharp and canny look at the music business. Harvey is as unconvincing as always but since he's playing a phony, it's not a problem. Donlan is very good, she's quite amusing while still letting us see her desperation as she realizes her career is on the downswing. The songs are a forgettable bunch but Cliff Richard has a crude charm. Directed by Val Guest (THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT). With Sylvia Syms, Hermione Baddeley, Eric Pohlmann and Burt Kwouk.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mr. Peabody And The Mermaid (1948)

While on vacation in the Caribbean with his wife (Irene Hervey, PLAY MISTY FOR ME), a man (William Powell) while out fishing catches a mermaid (Ann Blyth) by hooking her tail! Instead of tossing her back in the sea, he brings her back to his villa and places her in its deep pond. Of course, he falls in love with her. This is a rather sweetly romantic fantasy, often attributed as the inspiration for the 1984 hit SPLASH even though it wasn't a remake. The film focuses on Powell's obsession with the mermaid as a mid-life crisis (he's turning 50) and since he's married, the flirtation with adultery is quite daring for a 1940s film. Indeed, one of the funniest sequences in the film is when he attempts to buy only the top portion of a two piece bathing suit for the topless mermaid ("She won't need the bottom!") from a befuddled saleslady (Mary Field). Powell brings some pathos to his role but Blyth, whose character doesn't speak, doesn't have much to do but react. Even with its adult content in mind, I suspect it's children who would enjoy this fantasy more than adults would today. Directed by Irving Pichel. With Andrea King and Clinton Sundberg in the film's best performance.

Captain Blood (1935)

In 1685 England, a doctor (Errol Flynn) is arrested for treason against King James II simply because he was tending an injured man who participated in a revolt against the King. He is sent to the West Indies where he is sold into slavery but it won't be long until he escapes and becomes the notorious Captain Blood, a famed pirate! One of the greatest swashbucklers of all time, this is the film that made Errol Flynn a Star and it's easy to see why. His dashing good looks, strong screen presence and sincerity as an actor all but assured stardom. It helps that he has a lively script, solid direction by Michael Curtiz and a potent chemistry with his leading lady, Olivia De Havilland (they would go on to make seven more films together). It's a hard film to find flaws with, it's so perfectly crafted. Romance, pirates, battles, all with a dash of wit, what's not to like? Erich Wolfgang Korngold did the score. With Basil Rathbone, Lionel Atwill (suitably despicable), Henry Stephenson, Donald Meek, Ross Alexander and J. Carrol Naish.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Clambake (1967)

A millionaire's son (Elvis Presley) trades places with a water ski instructor (Will Hutchins) in Miami, Florida. He wants to find out if people, and more importantly girls, will accept him for who he is rather than for all his money. Presley's early films from 1956 to 1962 were fairly distinctive from each other for the most part and he worked with some good directors like Don Siegel, Michael Curtiz and Phil Karlson. But after 1962, with one exception (VIVA LAS VEGAS), his films became generic and it's difficult to tell them apart. The plots were simply variations of each other and only his leading lady changed and sometimes not even that. But I grew up on these Elvis movies and it's hard to let go of them in the nostalgic sense even though they're not very good, so a film like CLAMBAKE is for the Elvis completists. Visually, this is one gaudy looking film with bright oranges, hot pinks and vivid purples and I'm talking art direction and set decorations, not costumes! The songs are a dire bunch except for Presley's rendering of one great song, the Ray Charles hit You Don't Know Me. But Presley barely registers here, going through the motions as if realizing his film career was on its way down. Directed by one Arthur H. Nadel, an episodic TV director. With Shelley Fabares, Gary Merrill, Bill Bixby and James Gregory.

D.O.A. (1988)

When one of his students (Robert Knepper) commits suicide by jumping off a school building, his professor (Dennis Quaid) soon finds himself involved in a sordid tale of adultery, incest and murder ... including his own. But before he dies, he's determined to find out why he was a marked man. A loose remake of the 1950 noir classic D.O.A., the film holds on to the main premise, that of a man attempting to track down his own murderer but the narrative itself is substantially altered ... and not for the better. The film is branded an 80s film by several things including its rockish underscore by Chaz Jankel and trendy camera tricks courtesy of Yuri Neyman. As the protagonist, Quaid (in his mid 30s) is simply too young to play a burnt out writer clinging to his past glory. As the spunky heroine, Meg Ryan is cute as a button but hardly the femme fatale of film noir. The director(s) Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton add a Hitchcockian touch of the accused but innocent man bound to the protesting heroine (NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE 39 STEPS) but all it does is slow the film's stride and distracting us from the main plot line. It's slick, I'll give it that. With Daniel Stern, Jane Kaczmarek and Charlotte Rampling.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bandido (1956)

During the 1916 Mexican revolution, an American mercenary (Robert Mitchum) helps one of the revolutionary leaders (Gilbert Roland) into hijacking guns from a gun runner (Zachary Scott) selling guns to the Federales. This is an above average western with a terrific look to it courtesy of Ernest Laszlo's (JUDGMENT AT NUREMBURG) CinemaScope cinematography. Shot in and around the Acapulco area of Mexico, the film has a vibrant, lush tropical look to it. Mitchum (who was an executive producer on the movie) is perfectly cast the adventurer who doesn't really care about the revolution except how he can make some money out of it. It's quick paced and provides lots of action and the script by Earl Felton (THE NARROW MARGIN) is smart. The film avoids any overt romance with the film's leading lady Ursula Thiess as Scott's wife, just a suggestion of an attraction that may blossom into something else. Directed by Richard Fleischer (SOYLENT GREEN) with an energetic underscore by Max Steiner. With Henry Brandon and Rodolfo Acosta.

Rollercoaster (1977)

A young sociopath (Timothy Bottoms) is planting bombs in public amusement parks killing innocent people, his aim is to have the owners of those parks collectively pay him one million dollars. He insists on using a park inspector (George Segal) as the middle man in the negotiations. Thus begins the race against time to catch him before he sets off another bomb. The 1970s was the era of the disaster films and this is one of the less successful entries in the genre. Like EARTHQUAKE, this had a Sensurround soundtrack which caused walls to rumble and seats to vibrate during the roller coaster sequences. But with all that technology, they forgot the thrills! This is really stagnate film making of the first order and it's a bit of a cheat. There's a roller coaster disaster at the beginning of the film and that's it. Everything following is just the anticipation of another roller coaster disaster. There are long (and I mean long) stretches of Segal walking around the amusement park as he's being watched by the bomber and it's flabby. Directed by James Goldstone. With Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Helen Hunt, Susan Strasberg (shockingly wasted), Harry Guardino, Craig Wasson, William Prince and Monica Lewis.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Summer Of Sam (1999)

In the hot summer of 1977, New York City is in the grip of terror from the Son Of Sam (Michael Badalucco), an insane serial killer who murders randomly and sends bizarre letters to the media describing his incoherent state of mind. Against this backdrop, a small mostly Italian enclave in the Bronx is put under the microscope. DO THE RIGHT THING may be Spike Lee's masterpiece but this is a great film too. Lee uses the true life tale to look at how an aimless group of ignorant thugs turn to vigilantes, at a marriage destroyed by infidelity, at the fear of what's different or what we don't understand as the punk rock movement emerges. It's an ensemble piece with John Leguizamo and Adrien Brody at its center as a promiscuous hairdresser and a wannabe punk rock star respectively. Lee perfectly captures the hysteria and fear of a city in distress, the drugs-sex and rock and roll excesses of the 1970s. The film is both real and surreal (the Son Of Sam sequences) as Lee uses every bit of his talent to punch his narrative home. The acting is uniformly excellent with Leguizamo doing his best screen work. The potent underscore is by Terence Blanchard. The large cast includes Mira Sorvino, Ben Gazzara, Patti LuPone, Anthony LaPaglia, Bebe Neuwirth, John Savage, Jennifer Esposito, Michael Rispoli, Mike Starr and Spike Lee as a TV reporter.

Duel In The Jungle (1954)

When a man (David Farrar) with a two million dollar life insurance policy is washed overboard in a sea storm, an insurance investigator (Dana Andrews) has his suspicions since the body was never recovered. On a hunch, he follows the man's fiancee (Jeanne Crain) to Africa where she journeys deep into the jungle. In the 1950s, exotic African adventures (MOGAMBO, SAFARI, ODONGO etc.) were all the rage and were regular fodder for cinemas. This British entry (despite its American leads) is more of a mystery rather than jungle adventure, at least until the film's last 20 minutes or so. Though exteriors were filmed in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa, much of the film is compromised by the utilization of a sound stage jungle, rear projection and stock footage. It's a rather lackluster affair (though Crain looks stunning in Technicolor). Andrews was getting too old for these physical roles and the slender Andrews fighting with the robust Farrar and winning stretches credibility. Still, if you're a fan of the genre as I am, it's not an unpleasant way to while away 90 minutes. Directed by the veteran George Marshall (DESTRY RIDES AGAIN) and the lively score is by Mischa Spoliansky. With Wilfrid Hyde White, George Coulouris and Charles Goldner.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Bout De Souffle (aka Breathless) (1960)

A small time hood (Jean Paul Belmondo) steals a car and kills a policeman. While the police track him down, he pursues an American girl (Jean Seberg) living in Paris. Today, over 50 years since Jean Luc Godard's innovative masterpiece opened, perhaps it's difficult to remember what a blast of fresh air it was on the cinematic landscape but damn if it's not as fresh now as it was then. There's no real plot to speak of, it's just a series of moments. But what moments! Belmondo's aimless thug and Seberg's narcissistic mannequin drift through the film yet they're compelling. There's one terrific scene that defines their characters, a long scene in Seberg's bed. She wants to discuss Renoir and Faulkner, he just wants to get laid. It confirms her pretensions and his animal needs. They're not people one would be attracted to in real life, indeed we'd avoid them. But Godard's script (it's credited to Francois Truffaut but it's Godard all the way) lets us see the attraction of banal amorality. The film made a star out of Belmondo and it's easy to see why and he and Seberg have a playful chemistry. The inventive editing (it really broke new ground) is by Cecile Decugis and the free wheeling cinematography courtesy of Raoul Coutard (JULES AND JIM). With Daniel Boulanger and Jean Pierre Melville (yes, the director)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dear Heart (1964)

A small town postmistress (Geraldine Page) is attending a postmasters convention in New York City. She is a well intentioned and kindhearted woman but lonely. When she meets an executive (Glenn Ford) for a greeting card company, she's instantly attracted but not only is he a womanizer, he's engaged to be married to a widow (Angela Lansbury, making the most of her brief screen time). It's not much of a film but if one sticks with it, it's rather sweet and charming albeit predictable. Ford is always an amiable presence but the film belongs to Page. In the hands of a lesser actress, her character could be quite irritating but Page makes her touching and poignant. There's a reason Page is considered one of the greatest actresses of her generation and her skills help elevate an average romantic comedy into something almost special. Her character is something of a female MARTY, coincidentally also directed by Delbert Mann. The worst part of the film concern Ford and his "stepson" (the hopelessly bland Michael Anderson Jr.) and their scenes together are puerile. The screenplay is by Tad Mosel (UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE) and the score and Oscar nominated title song by Henry Mancini. The large supporting cast includes Patricia Barry, Charles Drake, Neva Patterson, Ruth McDevitt, Mary Wickes, Alice Pearce, Richard Deacon and Barbara Nichols who gets the film's biggest laugh when she enters a hotel as Ford's "wife".

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Captain's Paradise (1953)

The Captain (Alec Guinness) of a ship that travels between Gibraltar and North Africa is a most contented man. And why shouldn't he be? In Gibraltar, he's married to a domestic wife (Celia Johnson, BRIEF ENCOUNTER) who cooks, darns his socks and keeps his home. In North Africa, he has an exciting Latin lover (Yvonne De Carlo) and they're up all night dancing and drinking champagne! But he's so self centered that he can't see that the domestic wife wants some excitement in her life and the sexy mistress wants to stay home and cook for her man. This disarming sly comedy is a delight! Guinness's reputation as one of the great dramatic actors often obscures his stellar talents as a comic actor and this film serves as a reminder of his comedic abilities. But perhaps the biggest surprise is how well De Carlo holds her own with Guinness and Celia Johnson as an actress. Nothing she did in Hollywood made use of the comic talent she displays here. The story is told in flashback and the Oscar nominated screenplay by Alec Coppel (VERTIGO) and Nicholas Phipps is such a clever piece that one can forgive the rather unlikely finale. Malcolm Arnold provides the lively underscore. With Charles Goldner, Sebastian Cabot, Ferdy Mayne, Peter Bull and Miles Malleson.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Albino Alligator (1997)

Three small time New Orleans thieves, two brothers (Matt Dillon, Gary Sinise) and a psychopath (William Fichtner), are on the run from the law because of a bungled hold up. They hide out at a basement bar and take the owner (M. Emmet Walsh), barmaid (Faye Dunaway) and three customers (Viggo Mortensen, Skeet Ulrich, John Spencer) as hostages. But as they struggle to find a way out, everything falls apart around them. Actor Kevin Spacey's first directorial effort (far superior to his second, the misguided BEYOND THE SEA) is an intense thriller with a bleak view of mankind. Dunaway has a line at the film's end, "None of us are heroes" and boy, is she right! Those that survive the long night's siege will never be free of their guilt. Not surprisingly since he is an actor, Spacey elicits first rate performances from his entire cast notably Sinise and Dunaway. The restless score by Michael Brook keeps things on edge. With Joseph Mantegna and Frankie Faison.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

One More Train To Rob (1971)

A train robber (George Peppard) is betrayed by his partner (John Vernon) and ends up in prison for three years. When he gets out, his first task is to get even. But his partner is now a respectable citizen married to the woman (Diana Muldaur) he stole from his former cohort. A decent western is in here somewhere but the film is bogged down with lots of lame comedy. For example, a bit about a continuously fainting mother isn't funny the first time around yet the gag is repeated three more times! There is a major subplot featuring Chinese miners and it's refreshing to see that the stereotype is avoided and the characters are treated not only with dignity but have some resolve of their own. The cinematography by Alric Edens (MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ) can't quite overcome that Universal TV look that permeated their product in the mid 1960s to 1970s but it's sharp with vivid colors. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen. With France Nuyen and Soon Tek Oh as a pair of lovebirds and with a stellar cast of character actors including Marie Windsor, John Doucette, Harry Carey Jr., Richard Loo, Joan Shawlee, Donald Barry, George Chandler and Ben Cooper.

Dodsworth (1936)

A self made millionaire (Walter Huston) sells his automobile company and retires by going on an ocean voyage to Europe with his socially snobbish wife (Ruth Chatterton), who is afraid of aging. But instead of bringing them together as they had hoped, the trip divides them as they discover they each want different things. Based on the Sinclair Lewis novel via a stage adaptation by Sidney Howard (who did the screenplay), this is an adult film in the best sense of the word. Intelligent, well written, well acted, solidly directed (by William Wyler). I've not read read the Sinclair Lewis source material so I don't know how much of it he took from the book but Howard's dialogue is first rate. Sharp and incisive and Wyler shows what a wonderful craftsman he could be with great material (and actors) to work with. Chatterton's character is usually referred to as a bitch because of her behavior. She is but I totally understood her frustration and unhappiness and Chatterton makes her hard to completely dislike. With Mary Astor, John Payne, Spring Byington, Maria Ouspenskaya and a very young David Niven as a gigolo.

It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955)

After a nuclear submarine comes into contact with a large unknown object that disables it, portions of that object are studied by two renowned marine biologists (Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis) who come up with a startling revelation. It's a massive octopus! This sci-fi feature is one of a legion of giant creature movies (ants, tarantulas, crabs, locusts, leeches etc.) that permeated 1950s science fiction cinema. The superior model animation by the great Ray Harryhausen lifts this entry into a slightly above average genre piece but it's far from one of the best examples of this type of movie. Its pace is relaxed, perhaps too relaxed and coming after a well done destruction of the Golden Gate bridge and a rampage on the streets of San Francisco, the final destruction of the octopus is anti-climatic. The producer is the notoriously cheap Sam Katzman so that might explain some of slapdash quality of the film. Directed by Robert Gordon. With Kenneth Tobey (who else?) as the naval hero and Ian Keith.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Woman In The Window (1944)

With his wife (Dorothy Peterson) and children away on vacation, a college professor (Edward G. Robinson) accepts an invitation from a beautiful stranger (Joan Bennett) to come to her apartment to look at some art work. When her lover (Arthur Loft) barges in, he attacks the professor who in self defense stabs him to death with a pair of scissors. Instead of going to the police, they decide to dispose of the body and cover up the killing. Bad idea! Based on the novel ONCE OFF GUARD by J.H. Wallis, Fritz Lang's film noir is a strong, tense nailbiter with Robinson very effective as an ordinary man who finds himself caught up in a situation that he's losing control over. Bennett plays one of her more sympathetic femme fatales, certainly more sympathetic than the slut she would play in Lang's SCARLET STREET, again with Robinson, the next year. It has, unfortunately, one of the most cowardly endings ever in a film noir, clearly a sop to the Production Code, it's an embarrassment. Up till that point, it's first rate and compelling. The underscore by Arthur Lange and Hugo Friedhofer copped an Oscar nomination. With Dan Duryea (who would join Robinson and Bennett in Lang's SCARLET STREET), Raymond Massey and Iris Adrian.

The Best Of Everything (1959)

Four young women working for a publishing company in Manhattan and their ambitions both in career and romance are examined in Jean Negulesco's film of the best selling novel by Rona Jaffe. Caroline (Hope Lange) is fresh out of college but "unofficially" engaged, Gregg (Suzy Parker) is an aspiring actress biding time doing secretarial work, Barbara (Martha Hyer) is a single mother with a child recovering from an affair with a married man and April (Diane Baker) is a naive small town girl looking for romance. The film is different from the usual romantic three girls looking to catch a husband movies that Fox was doing around this time. This is a much darker, less glamorous take on the subject involving abortion, adultery, madness and deceit. Closer to PEYTON PLACE than THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN. It's a juicy melodrama that touches on a few kernels of truth amid the glossy CinemaScope sheen. Clocking in at two hours, Martha Hyer's role is a victim of the cutting room floor as her character's fate is left hanging. Not coincidentally, unlike the other three actresses, Hyer was not a Fox contract player. The film features Joan Crawford in a supporting role but it's probably her last really good performance (BABY JANE belonged to Davis). She really nails it as an aging woman grasping at her last chance for happiness but realizing it's come too late. The lovely title song sung by Johnny Mathis is by Sammy Cahn and Alfred Newman. With Stephen Boyd, Louis Jourdan, Brian Aherne, Robert Evans, Brett Halsey, Donald Harron and June Blair.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Magic In The Moonlight (2014)

In 1928, an internationally famous magician and cynic (Colin Firth) is asked by his childhood friend (Simon McBurney, FRIENDS WITH MONEY) to help expose a fake medium (Emma Stone). But on the French Riviera, he finds himself falling under her spell and reevaluating his misanthropic lifestyle. Woody Allen's latest film is a congenial piece of piffle but ultimately inconsequential. It's the kind of film that's pleasant enough while you're watching it but fades from memory within hours of leaving the theater. The first third is the best and has promise but then one quickly realizes that it's not going anywhere and the disappointment sets in. Allen has painted himself in a corner so that there is nowhere to go! Darius Khondji's (THE IMMIGRANT) lensing of the South of France is lush, Sonia Grande's period costumes are perfection, Emma Stone is adorable but the laughs are sporadic. Slight as it is, I found it preferable to Allen's horribly overpraised BLUE JASMINE. With Marcia Gay Harden, Eileen Atkins, Jacki Weaver, Catherine McCormack, Hamish Linklater and Ute Lemper.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

One Hour With You (1932)

In Paris, a happily married doctor (Maurice Chevalier) is faithful to his wife (Jeanette MacDonald) who he is madly in love with. But when her schoolgirl friend (Genevieve Tobin) enters the picture, his fidelity is tested. One of the treasures of early thirties musicals, Ernst Lubitsch's sly oh so French musical comedy is a pre-code film. So that means adultery is treated casually while everyone forgives each other for their dalliances, real or imagined while singing the charming Oscar Straus and Leo Robin witty ditties. For those used to the aging Chevalier of his GIGI days, it comes as quite a surprise to see how appealing he was in his early career. Similarly, MacDonald is delightful, a fluid sexy minx quite unrecognizable from the iron butterfly MGM turned her into when they paired her with Nelson Eddy. Apparently George Cukor had his finger in the finished product but it feels totally like a Lubitsch film. With Roland Young, Charles Ruggles and Josephine Dunn.

La Corta Notte Delle Bambole Di Vetro (aka Short Night Of Glass Dolls) (1971)

Set in Czechoslovakia, the corpse of a a foreign journalist (Jean Sorel, BELLE DE JOUR) is discovered and brought to the morgue and pronounced D.O.A. Except that he's alive and his brain feverishly trying to remember the series of events that brought him to this point. But will he be able to make them realize he's alive before his planned autopsy? Directed by Aldo Lado, this is unusual for an Italian giallo because the violence is remarkably restrained. Instead of the usual excessive gore inherent in the genre, Lado's film relies on suspense rather than bloodletting. So it's an exercise in style over substance and it works on that level which is good since the actual mystery itself when revealed is rather ludicrous. Still, I don't think I quite expected the grim conclusion that transpires. It's an odd polyglot of a cast with the French Sorel, the Swedish Ingrid Thulin playing Americans, the Italian Mario Adorf playing an Irishman and the American Barbara Bach (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) as a Czech but that's due more to the necessities of international production in the 60s and 70s than anything else. Ennio Morricone provides one of hims more subtle scores.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Conan The Barbarian (1982)

Set in a fictional age of barbarism thousands of years ago, a young slave turned gladiator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sets out to avenge the death of his parents at the hands of a wicked sorcerer (James Earl Jones). Accompanied by his friend (Gerry Lopez) and lover (Sandahl Bergman, ALL THAT JAZZ), he agrees to help a King (Max Von Sydow) recover his daughter (Valerie Quennessen, SUMMER LOVERS) from the clutches of a snake worshiping cult headed by the sorcerer. Co-written (along with Oliver Stone) and directed by John Milius (THE WIND AND THE LION), this is a first rate example of the sword and sorcery genre. Barbaric and primeval, Milius gives us a dark and violent fantasy world where killing is a fact of life and done without hesitation. Because of Milius' involvement, the film has been referred to as a fascist fantasy but I think that's unfair. Instead of the usual comic book adventure, Milius infuses his film with a bit of Nietzschean subtext but it's still essentially a big adventure movie, a fairy tale for guys. Schwarzenegger's Neanderthal, slightly simian screen presence has never been put to better use, not even in THE TERMINATOR. The underscore by Basil Poledouris is a thing of beauty. With William Smith, Ben Davidson and Cassandra Gava.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Zwei Leben (aka Two Lives) (2012)

In 1990 Norway, shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall and the unification of Germany, a woman (Juliane Kohler) is asked to testify against the Norwegian state on behalf of the Lebensborn war children of which she was one. They were the children of Norwegian mothers and German soldiers who were taken from their mothers by the Germans during WWII to be raised as wards of the Third Reich. Since she was one of the few to have escaped and reunited with her mother (Liv Ullmann), they feel she would be a strong witness. But she refuses to cooperate because of a dark secret that will have tremendous ramifications for her family as well as others if revealed. Based on the novel ICE AGES by Hannelore Hippe, this is a film rich with pathos and pain. It isn't hard to guess what the dark secret is, it's fairly easy so the film isn't so much about what the secret is but about how she will deal with it when it comes to light. It's an absorbing mystery that works both as a political thriller and a heartrending story of a family torn apart with a superb central performance by Kohler. Alas, the film's downbeat conclusion doesn't give us the catharsis we want. Directed by George Maas. With Sven Nordin, Ken Duken and Julia Bache Wiig.

Arabesque (1966)

An American professor (Gregory Peck) of hieroglyphics at Oxford university is hired by a wealthy Arab (Alan Badel) to decipher an important message written in ancient hieroglyphics. But there are others who are interested in what the message has to say and are willing to kill for it. Director Stanley Donen had a big hit with his elegant Hitchcockian thriller CHARADE. Knowing Hollywood (then as now) it was only natural that he would attempt to follow it up with something similar. If one insists on comparing it to CHARADE, of course it's going to come in second. But on its own terms, it's an enjoyable stylish mystery with perhaps a little less debt to Mr. Hitchcock. Instead of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, this time we get Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren, who have about the same amount of star wattage. Peck lacks Grant's assured comic deliveries but unlike Grant, he's not playing Cary Grant so he's fine. Loren doesn't have much to do other than look stunning in her Christian Dior wardrobe and it's enough just to gaze at this film goddess. Donen overdoes some of the "trippy" effects but it remains a solid piece of entertainment. Based on the novel THE CYPER by Gordon Cotler. Henry Mancini contributed the effective underscore and the BAFTA winning cinematography is by Christopher Challis. With Kieron Moore and George Coulouris.

White Feather (1955)

In 1877 Wyoming, the U.S. government attempts to persuade the Cheyenne tribe to relocate so that settlers can move in and mine for gold. When a surveyor (Robert Wagner) attempts to broker the peace treaty, his romance with the daughter (Debra Paget) of the Cheyenne chief (Eduard Franz) threatens to unravel the mission. Especially since the chief's son (Jeffrey Hunter) is against the treaty. Co-written by Delmer Daves (who directed some of the best westerns of the 1950s) and directed by Robert D. Webb (BENEATH THE 12 MILE REEF), this intelligent western should be better known. Its characters are not painted black and white stereotypes but the intricacies of the white settlers and the Native Americans relationship is shown fairly if somewhat simplified. Curiously, the film features an interesting subplot featuring a "soiled" young woman (Virginia Leith, A KISS BEFORE DYING), possibly a rape victim (this being the 50s, the film dances around the subject) and her abusive father (Emile Meyer). But unfortunately the film doesn't develop this story line fully. The great Lucien Ballard (THE WILD BUNCH) does a superb job utilizing the CinemaScope frame with Mexico handsomely standing in for Wyoming. A nice underscore by Hugo Friedhofer helps, too. With John Lund, Hugh O'Brian, Milburn Stone and Noah Beery Jr.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Lady From Shanghai (1948)

A drifter (Orson Welles, who also wrote and directed the film) meets a beautiful married blonde (Rita Hayworth) in Central Park. She talks her rich lawyer husband (Everett Sloane) into hiring him to work on their yacht as they travel from New York to San Francisco via the Panama Canal. He reluctantly agrees but it is a decision he will regret. Based on the novel IF I DIE BEFORE I WAKE by Sherwood King, Welles' film was interfered with by Columbia studio head Harry Cohn. But even in its present form, it remains a unique and dazzling contribution to the film noir canon. Welles and his cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr. (3:10 TO YMA) shot the film on location rather than studio sound stages and it pays off in spades. The stunning fun house and subsequent shoot out sequence finale is justifiably legendary. The film keeps one off kilter, nothing makes sense. Whether this is intentional or the result of Cohn's editing and reshoots (not done by Welles) is hard to tell. But it does give the film a sense of uneasiness, of being tossed in a vortex beyond one's control. The performances are uniformly fine but Glenn Anders as Sloane's business partner gives one of the strangest, bizarre performances I've ever seen. When I first saw the film, I just thought it was bad acting but I've since realized it's a perfectly crafted performance. Anders positively makes your skin crawl! With Ted De Corsia and Erskine Sanford.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Trollenberg Terror (aka The Crawling Eye) (1958)

In a resort village in the Switzerland mountains, several strange deaths occur when climbers attempt to climb up the town's mountain attraction. A mysterious cloud has the ability to move up and down the mountain's side and when it does, people die! When a telepathic girl (Janet Munro, SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON) arrives in the village, the "clouds" seem to sense she is there and view her as a threat. Based on a British television program, this modestly budgeted B&W sci-fi feature does quite well in creating a tense and mystifying atmosphere which is enough to keep one clued to the screen. Retitled THE CRAWLING EYE for U.S. audiences, as if sensing that actually showing the eye would be a bit of a letdown (it is), the film makers elect to keep it hidden until the film's finale which is a smart move as the eye itself is rather tacky looking and the movie drops down a few notches. Still, up to then the film tantalizingly teases us with decapitated heads and axe wielding zombies so we don't get too bored waiting for the eye to arrive. Directed by Quentin Lawrence (who also directed the TV version). With Forrest Tucker as the obligatory American, Jennifer Jayne, Basil Sydney and Laurence Payne recreating his TV role as an investigative reporter.

Popeye (1980)

Popeye the sailor (Robin Williams) comes to the waterfront town of Sweethaven looking for his father. The eccentric townspeople aren't very friendly but when he and Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall), the daughter of the boarding house owner (Roberta Maxwell) where he resides, find an abandoned baby (Wesley Ivan Hurt), a romance develops. Perceived as a flop when initially released, mostly due to lukewarm reviews, the film actually made money. Perhaps the expectations were too high, who knows but the film is a delightful concoction. The director Robert Altman gives us a highly stylized musical in the vein of the very early sound musicals of Clair and Lubitsch. The charming songs by Harry Nilsson aren't the usual calculated Broadway show goods but little moments of wistful musical reverie. Williams (who died this week) makes for an athletically graceful Popeye. Physically he's perfect and he gets Popeye's little quirks down pat but the film's ace is Duvall's Olive Oyl. Ripped from the funny pages, she's quite astonishing and her rendition of He Needs Me is sublime. The Jules Feiffer (CARNAL KNOWLEDGE) screenplay manages to replicate the idiosyncratic world of comics with little dashes that are so right (when Popeye compliments a woman on her black fox fur, the head rises and growls at him). Alas, the last half hour or so is pretty much a mess and conventional and well, blah. Wolf Kroeger's production design is marvelous as are Scott Bushnell's costume design. With Ray Walston, Linda Hunt, Paul Dooley, Paul L. Smith, Bill Irwin, Donovan Scott and Donald Moffat.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Race For The Yankee Zephyr (1981)

A deer hunter (Donald Pleasence) discovers the wreck of a WWII plane in the New Zealand mountains. He finds some booze and some medals which he pawns. He talks his partner (Ken Wahl) into going back to the wreckage to get more medals. What he doesn't know is that there are gold bars in the plane's wreckage but a gangster (George Peppard) does know and attempts to coerce the hunter into revealing the whereabouts of the plane. One would be tempted to call this action-adventure film a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK knock off if they hadn't come out in the same year. However, unlike RAIDERS, this film can't overcome its "B" movie roots. The only first class thing about it is the striking wide screen cinematography of Vincent Monton which makes New Zealand look like paradise on Earth. Directed by David Hemmings (yes, the actor), the first 20 minutes are muddled until the race between the bad guys and the good guys to get to the Yankee Zephyr wreckage kicks in and it starts to hold your attention. But it never rises above its routine screenplay and execution. With Lesley Ann Warren as the prim but spirited heroine that seems requisite in the genre.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)

An Indian family emigrates to Europe after their restaurant in Mumbai is set on fire by a mob. Settling in France, they open an Indian restaurant across the road from an elegant French restaurant owned by a vindictive woman (Helen Mirren) who resents their presence. The father (Om Puri) declares war but it is his son (Manish Dayal) whose culinary skills will bring peace. Based on the novel by Richard C. Morais, the film is produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg and the combination of those two names should alert you to the kind of film it is. It's a feel good movie in which food unites everybody so they can get all lovable and live happily ever after. That being said, it's more enjoyable than it has any right to be. You can see the mechanisms at work here just as clearly as if the face has been removed from a clock. The director Lasse Hallstrom (MY LIFE AS A DOG) is shameless in his manipulation but since it works for the most part, one can't begrudge him his methods. After all, he accomplished what he set out to do. It's the kind of film out to capture the BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (a film I've mercifully managed to avoid) crowd and apparently it worked ... the theater I saw it in was packed solid! It's heart is in the right place so I don't want to dump on it especially since I'd be a hypocrite because I enjoyed myself except for the more unforgivably sentimental moments. With Charlotte Le Bon and Michel Blanc.

Three Coins In The Fountain (1954)

Three American secretaries share a luxury apartment in Rome. Each falls in love but there are complications to overcome. The oldest (Dorothy McGuire) of the three is in love with her boss (Clifton Webb) of 15 years but he doesn't know it. The middle one (Jean Peters) falls in love with an impoverished law student (Rossano Brazzi) while the youngest (Maggie McNamara, THE MOON IS BLUE) sets her cap for a playboy Prince (Louis Jourdan). The CinemaScope process was still relatively new in 1954 and 20th Century Fox boasted that THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN was the first film in the process to be shot in Rome. The film works as a travelogue as Milton Krasner's Oscar winning cinematography explores Rome's sights as well as Venice and the hit Oscar winning title song (sung by Frank Sinatra at the start of the film) also helped lure moviegoers into making it a box office hit. As for the film itself, it's a glossy romantic melodramatic fantasy of finding love in an exotic locale and if you're in the mood for it, as romantic now as it was then. Directed by Jean Negulesco, Fox's go to man for this sort of thing (he directed Fox's THE BEST OF EVERYTHING and WOMAN'S WORLD too). With Cathleen Nesbitt, Howard St. John, Kathryn Givney and in her American film debut, Luciana Paluzzi as Brazzi's sister.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

In a WWII Japanese prison camp, a British Colonel (Alec Guinness in his Oscar winning role) insists that the Japanese commandant (Sessue Hayakawa) abide by the rules of the Geneva convention in regard to prisoners of war. This leads to a battle of wills between the two men with the Japanese commander finally acquiescing. The Colonel oversees the building of a bridge for the Japanese but his pride in his work interferes with his duty to his country during wartime. The winner of 7 Oscars including best picture, David Lean's film is an exploration of how courage and duty while admirable can lead to a misguided sense of right and wrong. I'm simplifying it of course, it's more complex than that but I think I'm on the right track. It's a wonderful film if directed by an ever so slightly heavy hand by Lean. I wish he'd trusted his audience more, the very ending with James Donald decrying "Madness! Madness!" seems a bit of overkill. Guinness is superb here as is Hayakawa and two of the film's more memorable scenes belong to them: Hayakawa trying to seduce Guinness into allowing his officers to do manual labor and a contemplative scene at sunset with the two actors after the bridge has been built. I could have done without Malcolm Arnold's hyperactive score which tin eared Academy voters awarded an Oscar to but Jack Hildyard's CinemaScope lensing takes full advantage of the lush Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) locations. With William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Geoffrey Horne, Andre Morell and Ann Sears.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Shade (2003)

Two scam artists (Gabriel Byrne, Thandie Newton) attempt to break into the big time world of high stakes poker. They lure a third partner, a card sharp (Stuart Townsend), into joining them. But they're in over their heads ..... or are they? A real sleeper, this taut little crime thriller is fairly clever, always entertaining and lots of fun. It's sort of a "Tarantino Meets The Cincinnati Kid". It helps if one knows poker but it's not necessary (I play occasionally but I'm certainly not a pro). The tension vibes the poker scenes give off are strong enough to to hold one's interest even if one is not familiar with the ins and outs of the game itself. The director/screenwriter Damian Nieman (whose only film this is) injects some dark humor into the proceedings which keeps the film moving along nicely and only the sequence with Hal Holbrook as an aging magician slows the film down. The film's final "sting" is pretty obvious but it doesn't hurt the film. There's a nice turn by a remarkably restrained Sylvester Stallone as a legendary poker player the scam artists try to take down. The rhythmic score by James Johnzen aids the film enormously. Curiously, the film begins with the RKO logo (updated for the 21st century). With Jamie Foxx, Melanie Griffith, Dina Merrill, Bo Hopkins and Ted Hartley.

The Texans (1938)

In 1865 Texas during the post Civil War reconstruction, a fiery Yankee hating lass (Joan Bennett) runs guns to her boyfriend (Robert Cummings) who brings them to Mexico in the hope that Emperor Maximilian of Mexico will aid them in getting rid of all Yankees in the South. But when an ex-Confederate soldier (Randolph Scott) with more practical ideas enters the picture, she embarks on a dangerous cattle drive to Abilene to sell her 10,000 head of cattle. An unanticipated ambitious western in its scope, the film never quite reaches epic status. There are several splendid sequences: a cattle drive across the river, a dust storm, a prairie fire, a stampede causing destruction in town but these are just moments in a rather conventional narrative. The film is also one of that odd breed which flourished in the films of the 1930s and 40s, a revisionist western in which the corrupt Northerners are the villains and the oppressed Southerners are the heroes. The Yankees as portrayed here are either drunks, greedy or bullies or sometimes all three! Bennett makes for a spirited heroine and Scott a stalwart hero but it's May Robson as Bennett's scrappy grandmother that takes the acting honors. Directed by James P. Hogan. With Walter Brennan, Harvey Stephens and John Qualen.

Europa '51 (1952)

After the death of her son (Sandro Franchina), a wealthy wife (Ingrid Bergman) undergoes a transformation that disturbs her husband (Alexander Knox). She changes from a self centered upper class wife to an unselfish woman attempting to do good deeds for the poor and underprivileged. Of course, in a materialistic and narcissistic society, everybody thinks she's literally lost her mind. The second collaboration between Ingrid Bergman and neo-realist director Robert Rossellini (the first was STROMBOLI) is an ambitious observation of how society has deteriorated to the point that a do gooder, someone who has empathy for the downtrodden and tries to help, is considered insane! Why would a woman who has "everything" abandon her plush life to care for a dying prostitute, help a poverty ridden family with their medical bills or work in a factory? At first, the film seems to be embracing a Marxist philosophy but it's rejected by Bergman's character and by the film's end, Rossellini suggests that this woman may indeed be a saint! But Bergman's "saint" is not a pious martyr, she's filled with doubt, conflict and despair. The ending is intentionally disturbing, the non conformist as if sensing hers is an impossible task surrendering to to the establishment. Strong stuff! With Giulietta Masina, Teresa Pellati and Ettore Giannini.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Revenge Of The Creature (1955)

A "gill man" is captured in the Amazon and transported to a Florida marineland where he is studied by scientists and put on display to a paying public. The sequel to the 1954 hit CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (a third one THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US would come the following year), this one is different in tone from the original film. Here, the creature is more sympathetic than the humans. If you were kidnapped from your natural habitat, chained to the bottom of a water tank and shocked with cattle prods, wouldn't you be pissed? In comparison, the humans are an uninteresting lot that seem to take up space and our time. Also, with the bland and wooden John Agar in the lead, the gill man even becomes more attractive than he should be! It's an adequate sequel without much of the freshness and ingenuity of the first installment but it's nothing to be ashamed of. Directed by Jack Arnold. With Lori Nelson, John Bromfield, Brett Halsey, Nestor Paiva, Ricou Browning returning as The Creature and in his film debut, Clint Eastwood as a lab technician.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Reap The Wild Wind (1942)

Set in the 1840s along the Florida Keys, a headstrong young woman (Paulette Goddard) runs a salvaging company. She becomes involved with two men who fall in love with her: a sea captain (John Wayne) whose ship was purposely wrecked by a ruthless salvager (Raymond Massey) who planned the wreck in order to get the precious cargo and an arrogant dandy (Ray Milland) who runs a shipping company. A robust Technicolor seagoing yarn, Cecil B. DeMille manages to keep his usual pomposity out of the picture so it's quite entertaining on a grand scale, probably his best non-biblical movie. The story is absorbing, the characters colorful and the atmosphere is vivid. Milland's character is a bit off putting for most of the film but Goddard makes for a feisty junior Scarlett O'Hara while Wayne, instead of playing the upright hero, gets a chance at playing a morally ambivalent character. The cast also includes Susan Hayward, Robert Preston, Raymond Massey, Charles Bickford, Louise Beavers, Barbara Britton and Martha O'Driscoll.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Crossed Swords (1977)

A young pauper (Mark Lester, OLIVER!) on the run after being caught stealing hides in the palace of King Henry VIII (Charlton Heston) and encounters Prince Edward (also Lester). Noticing their physical similarity, they switch clothes but they become separated and the real Prince is tossed out of the palace while the pauper becomes heir to the throne of England. After the international success of their witty take on the THREE MUSKETEERS (1973), the producers understandably thought why not do it again with another classic novel. Thus, Mark Twain's THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER gets the treatment. However, the MUSKETEERS movies had Richard Lester at the helm directing a George MacDonald Fraser screenplay (Fraser is one several credited writers on SWORDS). Richard Fleischer is a solid craftsman but as a director, nothing in his filmography would suggest he's the director for a comedic revisionist version of a classic novel. He lacks the impudence and wit that Lester brought to the MUSKETEERS project. The emphasis on comedy worked in the Dumas filmization but seems strained and out of place here. The production values are top notch and it's a handsome looking picture and it's watchable if rather clunky in execution. The cacophony is by Maurice Jarre though he does come up with a lovely end title. With Rex Harrison, Oliver Reed, George C. Scott, Raquel Welch, Ernest Borgnine, David Hemmings, Harry Andrews and Sybil Danning.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Cat People (1942)

A young Serbian woman (Simone Simon) falls in love with an engineer (Kent Smith) and they marry. But she refuses to consummate the marriage because she fears sexual stimulation will turn her into a murderous cat (no, not a pet cat, we're talking panthers and leopards here). One of the most innovative horror films of the 1940s, CAT PEOPLE not only touches on the Freudian implications of repressed sexuality but it eschews the usual horror trappings of the Universal horror classics. No monsters on the rampage except perhaps (to borrow from FORBIDDEN PLANET) the monsters of the Id. Everything is shown through suggestion and Nicholas Musuraca's superb B&W shadowy lensing. The most memorable set pieces are Jane Randolph's (as Simon's romantic rival) walk alone home with the feeling that someone is following her and later, her swim in a darkened pool area as she's being "watched". It's a superb piece of horror cinema and while I might personally prefer Val Lewton's (the producer) THE SEVENTH VICTIM or I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, there's no denying that this is a landmark film in the horror genre. Stylishly directed by Jacques Tourneur. With Tom Conway, Alan Napier, Theresa Harris and Elizabeth Russell in a memorable bit as Simon's sister under the skin.

Circus World (1964)

In the early 1900s, an American circus travels to Europe but a ship disaster leaves it stranded in Spain without funds or equipment. The owner (John Wayne) attempts to rebuild the circus. Meanwhile, the young girl (Claudia Cardinale) he raised as his own will soon be confronted with the mother (Rita Hayworth) who abandoned her as a child. I'm so not a fan of circus movies but this Samuel Bronston (EL CID) produced spectacular keeps the circus acts to a minimum and the ones he shows are, well ..... tolerable. In its attempt to be an Epic witn a capital E, the Henry Hathaway directed film carries a lot of bloat. Indeed, the film continues some 15 minutes longer than it should. Curiously, the film's major set piece occurs too early in the film and nothing else quite lives up to it: a spectacular capsizing of the circus ship in the days before CGI effects that wouldn't be equaled until the Poseidon set sail eight years later. It's the kind of film in which you can say, "they don't make them like that anymore" and not necessarily mean it as a compliment. That being said, I enjoyed it for the most part. The drab score is by Dimitri Tiomkin who clearly had little interest in the film. With Richard Conte, Lloyd Nolan, John Smith, Kay Walsh and Miles Malleson.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Get On Up (2014)

The legendary rhythm and blues singer, James Brown (Chadwick Boseman, Jackie Robinson in 42) and his rise from the backwoods of Georgia as an abandoned child to the Godfather Of Soul performing to sellout houses around the world. Quite possibly the best music movie biography since WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?. The director Tate Taylor (THE HELP) does some wonderful stuff here. While most movie biographies follow the tried and true formula of rags to riches to heartbreak to triumph with only a strong central performance to elevate it into something special, Taylor presents the story in a non linear fashion that jumps all over the place. Brown the Star then Brown the child then Brown the struggling singer, then back to the Star, back to the child etc. And every so often Brown turns to the camera and talks to us, the audience. Perhaps most important of all, Taylor respects and gives Brown's music its due (unlike Eastwood's treatment of Frankie Valli in JERSEY BOYS). While Boseman can't give us the same thrill that the real Brown did when performing (who could?), he approximates Brown's soulful sexual energy when performing (he lipsyncs to Brown's voice) and his acting in the film is impeccable. There's one unforgettable scene where the mother (Viola Davis) who abandoned him comes to see him backstage at the Apollo that will stay with you long after you've left the theater, as memorable as Davis's one big scene in DOUBT. If only all musical bios were this good! The excellent supporting cast includes Dan Aykroyd, Octavia Spencer, Nelsan Ellis, Jill Scott, Brandon Smith in a showy performance as Little Richard and as the child James Brown, Jamarion and Jordan Scott whose strong work belies their young age.

Carrington V.C. (1955)

A decorated war hero (David Niven), well liked by his men, is arrested for embezzling 125 pounds from his unit's safe. During his court martial, he insists on defending himself and is doing a good job of it. What he didn't count on was his unstable wife's (Margaret Leighton) testimony which threatens to destroy his case. Based on a play by Dorothy and Campbell Christie, the film makes no attempt to open up and remains a rather talky courtroom melodrama. It was a popular film at the time; Niven, Leighton and the film all received BAFTA nominations but today only Leighton's performance remains compelling. It's all veddy veddy British "stiff upper lip, old chap" and Niven's actions while honorable just make him look weak today. The film's comic relief in the form of Stuart Saunders' foot stomping Sergeant is more annoying than amusing and when the characters in the film are amused, it becomes downright irritating. The film has no underscore at all. Directed by Anthony Asquith (THE V.I.P.S). Released in the U.S. under the title COURT-MARTIAL. With Noelle Middleton, Geoffrey Keen, Laurence Naismith, Allan Cuthbertson, Victor Maddern and Maurice Denham.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Our Sons (1991)

When her son's (Hugh Grant) life partner (Zelijko Ivanek) is dying, a California businesswoman (Julie Andrews) flies to Arkansas to talk the mother (Ann-Marget) who rejected him because of his homosexuality into coming back with her and making peace with her son before he dies. While there were a flurry of dramas in the late 80s and early 90s, both on film and TV, addressing the issue of the AIDS epidemic (AND THE BAND PLAYED ON, LONGTIME COMPANION, AN EARLY FROST etc.), this one takes a different tact. The emphasis is not on the gay couple which is just as well as they are a pretty stereotypical Hollywood view: good looking, successful in their careers, upper middle class lifestyle etc. The story is really about the two mothers and how each comes to terms with how they cope with their sons' sexual orientation. The contrast between the cultured Englishwoman (Andrews) and the "white trash" redneck (Ann-Margret) is perhaps overly emphasized but the strong performances of the actresses overcomes the obviousness of their respective stereotypes. The film is savvy enough not to push the prospective overt emotionality of the situation (the death occurs off screen) and focuses on the fragile human element of the story. Directed by John Erman. With Tony Roberts.

Hell's House (1932)

After his mother (Mary Alden) is killed in a hit and run accident, a a 15 year old farm boy (Junior Durkin) goes to live with his aunt (Emma Dunn) in the city. He's taken under the wing of a bootlegger (Pat O' Brien) and his girlfriend (Bette Davis) but the bootlegger lets the boy take the rap for him when his warehouse is raided and he's sent to reform school. With Davis and O'Brien topbilled and its gritty expose of a corrupt and sadistic penal system, one would think this "social problem" film a product of Warner Brothers who tackled such subjects in films like I WAS A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG but it's not. It's an independent film and Davis and O'Brien weren't Warners contract players at this point in their careers. Most of the film is focused on young Durkin (who would be killed in an auto accident three years later at age 19) and the horrific conditions at the reform school. Though the film is not above laying on the sentiment (as soon as one kid says he has a weak heart, you know he's going to croak by the film's end), it's still a pretty disturbing film. O'Brien is pretty good as the heel whose conscience barely bothers him but Davis doesn't have much to do as "the girl". Directed by Howard Higgin. With Charley Grapewin and Frank Coghlan Jr.