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Friday, October 31, 2014

Cesar Et Rosalie (1972)

A divorced woman (Romy Schneider) with a young daughter is involved in a relationship with a blustery self made businessman (Yves Montand) and they are happy in their relationship. But when her ex-lover (Sami Frey) re-enters the picture, things change and bring discontent to all three of them. While romance in films often provide what we want to see and dream about, this is a film about the reality of love. The messiness and pain and circumstances beyond our control. There have been films about two people in love with the same person and the strain of sharing and no one getting 100% of what they want before. JULES AND JIM and SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY come to mind. But the director Claude Sautet (LES CHOSES DE LA VIE) relieves the sobriety of the situation with dashes of humor. One can't help but like Montand's coarse peasant who made something of himself and his pain is the most palpable of its three protagonists. He reacts emotionally, he doesn't think or analyze, he acts impulsively even if it's the wrong thing for him to do. Anyway, who wouldn't be in love with the glorious Romy Schneider? A film that looks at love in the cold light of the morning rather than warm honeysuckle soaked evening. With Isabelle Huppert and Bernard Le Coq.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hurricane (1979)

In 1920s American Samoa, an American girl (Mia Farrow) comes to visit her father (Jason Robards) who is the appointed Governor of the island. The father is obsessive about his daughter, possibly harboring incestuous feelings toward her. When she becomes attracted to one of the young natives (Dayton Ka'ne) of the island, he becomes vindictive. A loose remake of the 1937 John Ford film, the film has some impressive people involved in the film: director Jan Troell (THE EMIGRANTS), cinematographer Sven Nykvist (FANNY AND ALEXANDER), composer Nino Rota (whose last film score this was), screenwriter Lorenzo Semple (PRETTY POISON), production designer Danilo Donati (AMARCORD), film editor Sam O'Steen (THE GRADUATE). So where did it all go wrong? There was an innocence to the 1937 film that wouldn't play well to contemporary audiences but the film makers haven't given us anything better other than a hackneyed tale of "forbidden" interracial love. Even the hurricane sequence using (then) state of the art special effects doesn't have the thrill of the stunning hurricane sequence in Ford's earlier film. Rota's theme music sounds like a rehash of his GODFATHER motif and the film is indicative of where Farrow's career was at before Woody Allen rescued her. With Max Von Sydow, Trevor Howard, Timothy Bottoms, James Keach and Manu Tupou (HAWAII).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Midnight (1939)

A penniless showgirl (Claudette Colbert) arrives in Paris looking for her fortune. A Hungarian taxi driver (Don Ameche) is smitten by her but he's too poor for her plans. But when a wealthy gentleman (John Barrymore) offers her a generous amount of money to seduce the gigolo (Francis Lederer) that his wife (Mary Astor) is infatuated with ... she sees her chance and grabs it. This delightful screwball comedy was written by Billy Wilder (not yet a director) and Charles Brackett and directed by Mitchell Leisen. Colbert was always at her best in comedies and this is one of her finest performances. The charmless Ameche isn't bad but his character is a rather obnoxious jerk and Ameche isn't able to overcome that in the way a Cary Grant or James Stewart, actors with a stronger persona might have. The supporting cast is perfect especially John Barrymore (reputedly doing the part off cue cards) who just about steals the film. Euphoric amusement! Also in the cast: Monty Woolley, Hedda Hopper and Rex O'Malley.

The Lieutenant Wore Skirts (1956)

When the wife (Sheree North) of a TV writer (Tom Ewell) believes her husband is about to be recalled into the Air Force, she enlists in the Air Force too so they can be together. Unfortunately, her husband fails his physical but she is now a WAF! The director Frank Tashlin has a genuine knack for visual and physical comedy but the formulaic screenplay he has to work from doesn't give him much opportunity to do what he does best. The film is dated in its attitude of male and female relationships. The hook here is a gender reversal with North in the Air Force and Ewell as the househusband in the flower apron taking care of the home. It's 1956 and the idea of the man staying home while the wife works was still considered unnatural. The image of Ewell in an apron doing laundry must have been hilarious to 1956 audiences but it's more of a reality in 2014. The lovely and talented Sheree North was placed under contract at Fox as replacement for their top star Marilyn Monroe if she gave them a hard time. Ironically, the Monroe sexpot role here isn't played by North but by Rita Moreno as the "girl upstairs" referencing Monroe's role in SEVEN YEAR ITCH which also co-starred Ewell. Also in the cast: Rick Jason, Jean Willes, Les Tremayne, Edward Platt and Leslie Parrish.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Mystery Of Marie Roget (1942)

In Paris, a famous musical comedy actress (Maria Montez) goes missing and a mutilated body recovered from a river is identified as hers. However, shortly after she reappears refusing to comment where she had been for 10 days. Several days later during a party where she performed, she goes missing again and shortly after another mutilated body is found in the river. But is it her or someone else? Very loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story, the film is barely an hour long which is just as well. I enjoyed it because I'm a pushover for murder mysteries but after awhile it seemed to go round in circles. And I'm still not sure of the killer's motive for the second murder! Definitely a minor Universal programmer directed by Philip Rosen, director of such "classics" as SPOOKS RUN WILD and THE CISCO KID IN OLD NEW MEXICO with Montez seeming like a fish out of water without the exotic trappings of ARABIAN NIGHTS and COBRA WOMAN! With Patric Knowles, Maria Ouspenskaya, Lloyd Corrigan and John Litel.

The Mummy (1959)

In 1895 Egypt, an archaeologist (Felix Aylmer) and his brother (Raymond Huntley) discover and enter the tomb of an ancient Egyptian princess. But the princess's tomb is protected by the mummy (Christopher Lee) of a high priest who will exact revenge on those who desecrated the tomb including the archaeologist's son (Peter Cushing). Hammer films had already dipped into the Universal waters of Frankenstein and Dracula and now it was The Mummy's turn at bat. As directed by Hammer's resident horror director Terence Fisher, it's a bit heavy on exposition (including flashbacks) but that's always been the curse of these Mummy movies. On the plus side, it's rich in atmosphere even if it is entirely shot on a sound stage Egypt and studio bound English countryside swamps. Cushing is in his element of course but poor Christopher Lee swathed in bandages and no dialogue doesn't have much to do but minimally act with his eyes. If you're a fan of Hammer horror, it won't disappoint you. With Yvonne Furneaux (LA DOLCE VITA) doing double duty as Cushing's wife and the high priestess Ananka in the flashbacks. Also in the cast: Eddie Byrne and George Pastell.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Witches (1966)

After recovering from a nervous breakdown she suffered in Africa, a schoolteacher (Joan Fontaine) looks forward to the quiet and idyllic life of the English countryside where she has a new position. It isn't long however that she senses that something is seriously wrong under the facade of the seemingly peaceful village. Based on the novel THE DEVIL'S OWN (which was its U.S. title) by Norah Lofts, this low key Hammer horror manages to resist sensationalism until the very end when it goes over the top and borders on silliness. But until then, it's a quietly effective piece of horror with an unsettling atmosphere and a nice central performance by Fontaine (in her last film role). Directed by Cyril Frankel with a persuasive underscore by Richard Rodney Bennett (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS). With Alec McCowen (TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT), Kay Walsh, Ingrid Boulting and Martin Stephens.

The End Of Violence (1997)

Shortly after his wife (Andie MacDowell) announces she intends to leave him, a wealthy film producer (Bill Pullman) is kidnapped. Meanwhile, a computer scientist (Gabriel Byrne), who's working for a secret government agency, uses his surveillance equipment to randomly watch the city of Los Angeles. Wim Wenders' (WINGS OF DESIRE) film is a gross miscalculation. One can see what he's trying to do and it's rather ambitious in its scope but the execution is too vague and pretentious. The dialogue is virtually unplayable and one cringes for the poor actors as they struggle to make sense of it. Everything seems so arbitrary rather than organic and in the end, the film comes out looking like nothing more than an ill advised (and dull) conspiracy thriller with artistic trappings. On the plus side, it's a great looking film with Pascal Rabaud's wide screen cinematography capturing the Los Angeles landscape with a fresh eye. Still, it's a pity that the film itself is a jumbled mess. With the director Samuel Fuller as Byrne's father, Daniel Benzali, Frederic Forrest, Loren Dean, Rosalind Chao, Henry Silva, Traci Lind, Udo Kier, Peter Horton and in the film's worst performance, K. Todd Freeman.

St. Vincent (2014)

A recently divorced mother (Melissa McCarthy) and her young son (Jaeden Lieberher) move next door to an old misanthropic, alcoholic curmudgeon (Bill Murray). But soon the curmudgeon and the boy bond albeit reluctantly on the grouchy old man's part. One knows that any film focusing on an old curmudgeon and a kid bonding is eventually going the tearjerking route and ST. VINCENT is no exception. I tried to resist, I really did, but finally just caved in and went with it. The film seems tailor made for Murray's particular talents though while watching I couldn't shake the feeling it was a film written with Jack Nicholson in mind but turned down. It's easily Murray's best performance since LOST IN TRANSLATION and fortunately the young lad Lieberher is a decent actor who gives a real performance rather than one of those annoying "child actor" performances. McCarthy gets a chance to show she can do more than just be abrasive and vulgar and she's quite touching here. Naomi Watts is delightful as a pregnant Russian hooker, a role that showcases her more than the recent BIRDMAN. Written and directed by Theodore Melfi. With Chris O'Dowd, Terrence Howard, Ann Dowd and Donna Mitchell.

Travolti Da Un Insolito Destino Nell 'Azzurro Mare D'Agosto (aka Swept Away) (1974)

Vacationing on a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean, a wealthy right wing blonde (Mariangela Melato) makes life hell for the crew. In particular, an avowed communist and male chauvinist (Giancarlo Giannini) who she belittles at every opportunity. But when they are shipwrecked on a small desert island, their roles are reversed as he gets his revenge. But fate has something more cruel in mind for the both of them. Lina Wertmuller's acclaimed film is a film of both social and sexual politics with a smidgen of romantic comedy. But it's also a divisive film in that many see the film as a misogynist attack. True, Melato's character is raped, beaten and humiliated and falls in love with her abuser but calling it misogynist is too simplistic. It's also a film about class distinction and warfare and Giannini's character abuses her as a representative of the repressive capitalist class. Eventually, Wertmuller (who also wrote the screenplay) shows how they move beyond labels, no longer worker and oppressor, rich and poor, but merely two human beings. Remade (badly) by Guy Ritchie in 2002.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

George Washington Slept Here (1942)

A city dweller (Jack Benny) moves to the country against his wishes when his wife (Ann Sheridan) impulsively buys a run down Colonial house with the intention of restoring it to its former glory. It quickly turns into a disaster as the house eats away into their savings and legal troubles may lose them the property. The "house that eats its owners" plot has been a popular subject for films and TV shows. In addition to this film, MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE and THE MONEY PIT are two other notable examples. This one is moderately amusing, mostly because of the gamesmanship of its cast. Jack Benny isn't an actor, he's a comedian with a very definable and recognizable persona which is well used here. But it limited him and his film career never took off the way Bob Hope's did. Benny and Sheridan do have a nice relaxed chemistry though. Throw in some reliable character actors like Charles Coburn, Hattie McDaniel, Franklin Pangborn, Percy Kilbride (from the original stage production), Lee Patrick and John Emery and you have a show! Based on the 1940 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart and directed by William Keighley. With Joyce Reynolds and Charles Dingle.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Zorro: The Gay Blade (1981)

Returning from Spain to his birthplace of California (still part of Mexico), a ladies man (George Hamilton) finds his father has passed on. When he finds out his father's secret identity was that of Zorro, who protected the poor and underprivileged from the greed and brutality of the police state, he decides to carry on the family tradition. In 1979, George Hamilton's Dracula spoof LOVE AT FIRST BITE was one of the sleeper hits of the year. Hamilton's comedic ability surprised everyone and he got some of the best reviews of his career. So it's understandable that he would go to the well one more time and this is an attempt to do to Zorro what he did to Dracula in the first film. Alas, this ZORRO is no where near as clever and amusing as the 1979 Dracula comedy. Which is not to say there aren't moments of hilarity but they're only intermittent. Things pick up briefly when Hamilton appears as Bunny Wigglesworth, Zorro's gay brother but the joke soon wears thin. Only Ron Liebman as the cruel alcalde manages to be consistently amusing in his performance. The underscore consists mostly of an adaptation of Max Steiner's score to the 1948 ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN. Directed by Peter Medak (THE RULING CLASS. With Lauren Hutton, Brenda Vaccaro, James Booth, Clive Revill, Carolyn Seymour and Donovan Scott.

The Fly (1958)

The wife (Patricia Owens) of a research scientist (David Hedison) confesses to his murder (his head crushed beneath a hydraulic press) but refuses to give a motive for the killing. The only clue to her motive is in her obsession with finding a particular fly! One of the seminal science fiction films of the 1950s, THE FLY is still an impressive example of of taking a potentially "B" film and with a vigorous screenplay, strong acting and solid production values coming out as an "A" film. The film veers dangerously close to "camp" but never crosses the line. Much of the movie's success can be attributed to its cast who never once condescend to the material. To veterans like Vincent Price and Herbert Marshall, who play Hedison's brother and a police chief respectively, it's second nature but the dramatic burden falls on the lovely Patricia Owens who's put through the cinematic wringer here and emerges victoriously. The accomplished direction is by Kurt Neumann. With Katleen Freeman, Charles Herbert and Betty Lou Gerson (the voice of Cruella De Vil in Disney's 101 DALMATIANS).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Working (1982)

Based on the non fiction Studs Terkel book WORKING: PEOPLE TALK ABOUT WHAT THEY DO ALL DAY AND HOW THEY FEEL ABOUT WHAT THEY DO adapted into a musical. It's a series of monologues with workers ranging from steel worker, waitress and cleaning woman to corporate executive, schoolteacher and call girl. Some are straight monologues while others are done through song and some a combination of both. This is a straight adaptation of the stage musical and viewed as such it doesn't travel well to another medium. Both the writing and the songs are hit and miss. Some are tedious but once in awhile (but not often enough), touching and very effective. The songs are by a multitude of composers including James Taylor, Stephen Schwartz and Mary Rodgers. Among the the highlights: Barbara Hershey's call girl (no song), Rita Moreno's waitress (It's An Art), Eileen Brennan's mill worker (Mill Work sung by Jennifer Warnes), Charles Durning's retiree (Joe) and the rousing Something To Point To sung by the entire cast. Directed by Kirk Browning and Stephen Schwartz. With Patti LaBelle, Barry Bostwick, Barbara Barrie, Charles Haid, Beth Howland, Lynne Thigpen, James Taylor, Scatman Crothers, Didi Conn and Edie McClurg.

Pygmalion (1938)

A phonologist (Leslie Howard, who also co-directed the film) makes a bet with an acquaintance (Scott Sunderland) that he can pass off a Cockney flower girl (Wendy Hiller) as a genteel lady in a matter of months by teaching her to speak properly. What he doesn't count on is the attachment that will form between them during the ensuing months. George Bernard Shaw's play is perhaps better known (and unfairly so) as the source material of the musical MY FAIR LADY. This film version directed by Anthony Asquith and Howard remains the definitive version with a screenplay by Shaw himself (for which he won an Oscar). Howard has never been more charming or as lively on screen and the lovely Hiller makes for a delightful Eliza! I'd been underwhelmed by her "transformation" from guttersnipe to butterfly in past viewings but I've come around. She may not make you gasp (like Audrey Hepburn did in MY FAIR LADY) but it's a more believable and natural transformation. The story itself, based loosely on the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, is irresistible which is why variations of it (like PRETTY WOMAN) continue to proliferate to this day. Arthur Honegger provided the underscore. With Wilfrid Lawson, Marie Lohr, David Tree, Jean Cadell, Anthony Quayle and Cathleen Nesbitt, who would play Henry Higgins' mother in the original MY FAIR LADY.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

C'era Una Volta (aka More Than A Miracle) (1967)

Annoyed when his mother (Dolores Del Rio) nags him about taking a wife, a rather arrogant Prince (Omar Sharif) flees the palace to the countryside where he is thrown from his horse. It is then that he encounters a poor village maiden (Sophia Loren) and a very complicated relationship ensues. A change of pace for the director Francesco Rosi (HANDS OVER THE CITY), there is much that is charming in this quirky adult fairy tale: flying monks, witches fighting over proper spells, a dish washing contest for Princesses etc. but the film needed a lighter touch which Rosi doesn't provide. Jacques Demy fared much better when he attempted a similar effort, PEAU D'ANE a few years later. But for what Rosi provides us with, it's quite watchable if lacking in genuine magic. Loren, as always, is a delightful comedienne and quite luscious. Sharif's Prince is a bit of a mean spirited jerk so one has to wonder what Loren's character would see in him, Prince or no Prince. Piero Piccioni's underscore, a personal favorite, is one of the best film scores I've ever heard. Also in the cast: Leslie French and Georges Wilson.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Yellow Sky (1948)

A band of bank robbers led by a tough no nonsense gunfighter (Gregory Peck) trek several days through a scorching desert to escape the pursuing cavalry. Near death due to thirst and heat, they arrive at a ghost town inhabited by an old coot (James Barton) and his feisty granddaughter (Anne Baxter). This is one of the best westerns to come out of the 1940s. As directed by William A. Wellman, it's a tough and unsentimental (well, maybe a wee bit sentimental toward the end) adult western, intelligently written and executed. The gang of thieves, including Peck, are a bunch of cold hearted bastards and Baxter is no demure heroine, she's a hellcat! Wellman smartly lets the tension slowly build up before he lets all Hell break loose. It's a refreshing change of pace from the standard western where everything goes by the numbers while the minimal cast allows for more character development than usual. With Baxter as the only woman in the film, Lamar Trotti's screenplay emphasizes the potential possibility of rape at almost every opportunity and indeed, she fights off several attempts. Joseph MacDonald (MY DARLING CLEMENTINE) does a superb job of shooting the Death Valley and Lone Pine locations in crisp black and white. The rest of the gang are played by Richard Widmark, John Russell, Henry Morgan, Robert Arthur and Charles Kemper.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Prom Night (1980)

When a 10 year old girl (Tammy Bourne) is accidentally killed by falling out of a second story window, four other children who were terrorizing her vow to never mention the incident. Jump to six years later and it's prom night and someone is stalking the four (who are now teenagers) and heads will roll ..... literally! This generic slasher flick was enormously popular when it came out but it's really just a routine and predictable slasher film with a dash of disco. That's not necessarily meant as a negative criticism as the film gives its audience what it wants and it is what it is. The question is ... do you want it? The film seems longer than its running time because it's padded out with red herrings that never pay off. There's also a lame CARRIE subplot ripoff that almost seems like an afterthought. This was at the height of Jamie Lee Curtis's "Scream Queen" career but she really doesn't have all that much to do and she's unflatteringly coiffed and costumed. Even the topbilled Leslie Nielsen (as Curtis' father and the high school principal) is barely in the movie. Among the other actors, only Anne-Marie Martin as the school bitch makes much of an impression. Directed by Paul Lynch. With Antoinette Bower, Casey Stevens, Michael Tough and Joy Thompson.

Birdman (2014)

A washed up actor (Michael Keaton), most famous for playing the superhero Birdman in the movies, attempts a comeback by writing, directing and acting in an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story for the Broadway stage. As the show approaches its opening night, his personal demons threaten to derail the show as much as his co-star (Edward Norton), a loose cannon who can't seem to control himself. For most of its running time, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's BIRDMAN (subtitled THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) is an exhilarating and imaginative piece of cinema. Seemingly shot in one long uninterrupted take (though obviously there are unseen cuts), Inarritu and his ace cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (GRAVITY) have fun with the possibilities of cinema but too often it seems showy but not necessarily in a good way. Inarritu and his co-scripters (there were three others) balance the film with both humor as well as pungent commentary but they can't seem to have found an acceptable ending for the film and so they fumble badly on the finish line. But at heart, this is an actor's film and there it glows. Keaton, in a career best performance, deserves all the accolades he's been getting and Norton and Emma Stone (as Keaton's daughter) are pretty awesome too. I didn't care much for Antonio Sanchez's drum underscore. I love drums as much as the next guy but it became annoying after awhile and called attention to itself. With Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan, Andrea Riseborough and Lindsay Duncan who shares one of the film's best scenes with Keaton.

The Prodigal (1955)

A young Hebrew man (Edmund Purdom, THE EGYPTIAN) becomes obsessed with a pagan high priestess (Lana Turner) after seeing her in Damascus. He abandons his betrothed (Audrey Dalton) and leaves his father's (Walter Hampden) home taking his inheritance and squandering it in an attempt to possess the priestess. Very loosely (emphasis on very) based on the Biblical parable of the prodigal son, this is one of the duller and more absurd of the big budget Biblical spectacles of the 1950s. It looks like a million bucks but one could wish that they had spent as much time on the script as they expended on the impressive art direction and lavish costumes. It's not a film where the acting matters much but even so, Turner's posing and Purdom's stiff line readings are a poor substitute for performances. Still, to be fair, Brando and Streep couldn't have done any better with material like this. What's surprising is how compelling all this awfulness is to watch. It's too sluggish to be "camp" yet it's hard to pull your eyes away. As with most heavy handed epics of the era, many of these films contain superb underscores far superior to the films they're composed for and it's no different here. Bronislau Kaper's score is glorious. Directed by Richard Thorpe. With Louis Calhern, Joseph Wiseman, Taina Elg, Francis L. Sullivan, Neville Brand, James Mitchell, Cecil Kellaway, John Dehner, Jarma Lewis and the wonderful child actress, Sandy Descher.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Bedroom Window (1987)

A young man (Steve Guttenberg) is having an affair with his boss's wife (Isabelle Huppert). While looking out of his bedroom window one night, she sees a man (Brad Greenquist) attacking a woman (Elizabeth McGovern). If she goes to the police to tell them what she saw, it would uncover their affair. So he goes to the police stating he saw the attack but he wasn't as well prepared as he thought he was and the consequences are dire. Based on the novel THE WITNESSES by Anne Holden, Curtis Hanson (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) directed and wrote the screenplay. This pseudo Hitchcock thriller is entertaining enough but it would be so much better if Hanson had made his hero smarter. The protagonist's actions aren't well thought out and in some cases, downright stupid and lethal causing the death of others! Some of this might be due to the casting of the dim Guttenberg but a lot of it is inherent in the screenplay. That's what's so frustrating about a film like this, the potential is there for a crackerjack thriller but the film makers let us down. Huppert's acting seems inhibited by speaking her lines in English and McGovern seems just too cheery for an attempted rape victim. The film's best performance is by Greenquist as the killer who gives off a disturbing vibe without even saying anything. Also in the cast: Paul Shenar, Wallace Shawn, Maury Chaykin and Carl Lumbly.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cleopatra (1934)

When Julius Caesar (Warren William) arrives in Egypt to settle a dispute over the throne of Egypt between Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) and her brother, she charms him into becoming her lover. After his assassination, she also charms Marc Antony (Henry Wilcoxon), who has come to take her in chains to Rome, into becoming her lover too. Cecil B. DeMille's take on the Cleopatra/Caesar/Marc Antony story is a lavish spectacle that lives up to the DeMille tradition of more is better. While the film does away with inconvenient facts (like the son Cleopatra had by Caesar), it's an entertaining if at times absurd telling of the tale. It can't possibly complete with the superior 1963 Joseph L. Mankiewicz production. Among other things, it lacks the literacy of that film's screenplay and better performances and in spectacle, nothing in the 1934 movie is as jawdropping as Cleopatra's entry into Rome in the later film. When Antony arrives on Cleo's barge where she seduces him, the orgy looks like a Las Vegas floor show and Colbert plays Cleo as a coquettish schoolgirl. The dialog is pedestrian and we're cheated on the battle scenes which are done in a quick montage. Still, for what it is, it's eminently watchable. With Gertrude Michael, Joseph Schildkraut, Ian Keith, C. Aubrey Smith and Irving Pichel.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Killer Shrews (1959)

A skipper (James Best) arrives on his boat at an isolated island with supplies for a team of research scientists. Once there, he discovers that an experiment gone awry has produced a mutant breed of large shrews that are terrorizing the island's inhabitants. Perfectly dreadful piece of cheesy sci-fi horror. The killer shrews are, to quote a pal, "poor doggies in mangy costumes" though for close ups, dog puppet heads are used. They are so painfully obvious that unintentional laughter results though if those fake fangs were actually put on the dog's snouts, it borders on animal cruelty. The acting is horrendous. Gordon McLendon (whose acting consists of taking his glasses on and off) as a research scientist reads his lines as if he were a fifth grader reciting in front of his class. And how a Polish Jew (Baruch Lumet, Sidney's father) by way of New York produced a daughter (Ingrid Goude) with a thick Swedish accent is never explained. I suppose it might be amusing if you view it as "camp". The blame for the direction goes to Ray Kellogg, who co-directed THE GREEN BERETS with John Wayne. Also in the cast: Ken Curtis (who produced as well), Alfredo DeSoto and Judge Henry Dupree.

What A Way To Go! (1964)

A wealthy four times a widow (Shirley MacLaine) feels she is a jinx as each of her four marriages has ended disastrously. She started out as a simple country girl with no interest in money and fame yet her all husbands ended up as millionaires even if they didn't start out that way. This big budget comedy is a satire on movie conventions while playing into those conventions so completely that it seems that the film makers lost their way and have become the very thing they're parodying. As a comedy, it's very hit and miss and never as funny as it tries to be which is disappointing because its screenwriters, Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the ultimate movie satire SINGIN' IN THE RAIN! MacLaine imagines each of her marriages as a film genre: Her marriage to Dick Van Dyke is seen as a silent movie, her marriage to Paul Newman is seen as a B&W foreign film, her marriage to Robert Mitchum as a lush Sirk like Technicolor drama and her marriage to Gene Kelly as a big budget MGM musical. Some of the stuff works, some of it doesn't. The film's real star is Edith Head whose exaggerated eye popping costumes are among her best and most imaginative work. Directed by J. Lee Thompson whose filmography (GUNS OF NAVARONE, CAPE FEAR, TARAS BULBA) doesn't suggest he has the requisite touch for a comedy like this. With Dean Martin, Robert Cummings, Margaret Dumont (in her final film), Reginald Gardiner, Fifi D'Orsay and Barbara Bouchet.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

South Of St. Louis (1949)

After guerilla raiders burn down their ranch, three friends go their separate ways. Two of them (Joel McCrea, Zachary Scott) run guns for the Confederacy from Mexico while the third (Douglas Kennedy) joins the Confederate army. But the two gun runners find themselves at odds with each other when one of them becomes greedy for power and money. An average western whose appeal is heightened by some gorgeous Technicolor scenery and a couple of minor divergences from the expected cliches. Notably Zachary Scott and Dorothy Malone (as McCrea's fiancee) who have character arcs that allow them a little more leeway in their performances. Other than that, it's your standard oater and once again with Confederate sympathizers as heroes fighting against the Union. Directed by Ray Enright (THE SPOILERS) with Max Steiner nudging the film along with one of his generic scores. With Alexis Smith as the standard "bad" saloon girl with the heart of gold (what western would be complete without her?), Victor Jory, Bob Steele and Alan Hale.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Saga Of The Viking Women And Their Voyage To The Waters Of The Great Sea Serpent (1957)

Three years after their men have left for an expedition and not returned, a group of Viking women set out to sea in search of their men. After their ship is overturned by a massive sea serpent, they find themselves washed on the shores of Malibu Beach where a group of Barbarians enslave them. This rather ludicrously named (it was cut down on marquees to the slimmer VIKING WOMEN AND THE SEA SERPENT) piece of low budget American-International pulp courtesy of writer/director Roger Corman is grandly entertaining in the way so many bad movies can be. The Viking women sail the seas against a rear projection backdrop with a Godzilla like rubber monster roaring at them while off screen prop men toss buckets of water on them. Confronted by one of the Barbarians, Jonathan Haze anachronistically yells at him, "You big slob!". You get the picture! If you've a taste for this kind of low budget ham and cheese, you'll be in hog heaven. The cast includes Abby Dalton (TV's FALCON CREST), Susan Cabot, Betsy Jones Moreland, Richard Devon and Bradford Jackson.

Tokyo Monogatari (aka Tokyo Story) (1953)

An elderly husband (Chishu Ryu) and wife (Chieko Higashiyama) travel to Tokyo to visit their adult son (So Yamamura), daughter (Haruko Sugimura) and widowed daughter in law (Setsuko Hara). Their trip is dampened by the seeming disinterest of their adult children who are too wrapped up in their own lives to take much interest in entertaining their parents as well as the churlish behavior of the grandchildren. Only the daughter in law expresses genuine pleasure in their arrival. Often cited (justifiably) as one of the greatest films ever made, this is Yasujiro Ozu's crowning achievement. It's a beautifully rendered portrait of traditional family life at the crossroads, when the growth of an urban society caused families to fracture and move apart and grow apart. Ozu doesn't judge the adult children too harshly, it is what it is. After seeing this, I don't think anyone will ever look at their parents in the same way again. Ozu's pacing and camera work may not be very fluid but his intense yet almost lyrical gaze allows the poetry to creep into our consciousness before we're even aware of it. Truly, a landmark piece of cinema! With Kyoko Kagawa and Nobuo Nakamura.

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

A writer (Woody Allen) uses his own life albeit thinly disguised as the basis for his novels. This disturbs the people in his life who object to his not only revealing secrets and breaking confidences but his often inaccurate and one sided portrayals. Eventually, even the characters in his novels turn against him. Although his screenplay received an Oscar nomination, DECONSTRUCTING HARRY is perceived as minor Woody Allen which is unfair. While it may be second tier Allen, the film contains some of Allen's very best writing. The structure of the film's narrative is wonderfully layered with different actors playing real life characters and their literary counterparts: for example Judy Davis plays Allen's sister in law but Julia Louis Dreyfus plays her literary counterpart as the film goes back and forth until the literary characters invade his real life. There are some inspired Allen comedy bits that rank with his best of his output: the out of focus actor (Robin Williams), the psychiatrist (Kirstie Alley) who has an emotional meltdown while with a patient, etc. The film is influenced by Allen's cinematic gods (Bergman, Fellini) but undeniably Woody Allen all the way. The large cast includes Billy Crystal, Tobey Maguire, Demi Moore, Richard Benjamin, Elisabeth Shue, Stanley Tucci, Amy Irving, Mariel Hemingway, Hazelle Goodman, Julie Kavner, Bob Balaban, Eric Bogosian, Caroline Aaron, Philip Bosco, Paul Giamatti and Jennifer Garner.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hocus Pocus (1993)

In 17th century Salem, three witches (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy) known as the Sanderson sisters are hung for witchcraft but not before Midler casts a spell that they will return when a virgin lights their black flame candle. 300 years later, a young teen boy (Omri Katz) relocated from L.A. to Salem does just that! This Disney family friendly film has a cult following and I can see forming a nostalgic affection for it if you first saw it when you were 10 years old. But it's a rather trite effort. It's just too wholesome for its subject matter. A movie about vengeful witches returning from the dead to suck the life out of children to restore their youth designed for the under 12 crowd? It might have played better if the film makers had played it straight up as a horror movie and gone for an R rating. The movie really only comes alive once, when Bette Midler (in her element) sings I Put A Spell On You with Parker and Najimy as her back up singers. Other than that, it could easily have been an episode from SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH right down to the talking black cat. Directed by choreographer turned director Kenny Ortega (NEWSIES). With Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw, Stephanie Faracy, Kathleen Freeman and Garry Marshall and Penny Marshall who the witches mistake for Satan and his wife.

Rampo (1994)

In 1930s pre-war Japan, a renowned mystery writer (Naoto Takenaka) has his newest novel banned from being published by the government because it is deemed too disturbing. He then comes across a newspaper article about a woman (Michiko Hada) accused of murdering her husband under the exact circumstances of his unpublished novel. Fascinated with the woman after meeting her, he uses her as the heroine of his new novel. But is she using him for her own nefarious reasons or is he fantasizing her very existence? But then the characters in his novel take on a life of their own, beyond his control. Kazuyoshi Okuyama's (and an uncredited Yuhei Enoki) startlingly imaginative film combines animation, music, B&W, sound effects to takes us on a surreal journey of the creative mind. It's not a film where trying to analyze what is real and what isn't bears any fruit. When the sexually kinky Duke (Mikijiro Hira) says to Takenaka's writer "I like to control people" (though he finds in the end, he can't), it's not unlike the writer's mind that attempts to "control" his creations only to find that he must go where they take him. A unique vision that really should be better known. The underscore by Akira Senju is a thing of beauty.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Strange Days (1995)

It's 1999 and the eve of the new millennium in Los Angeles. The city appears to be a police state rife with simmering racial tension. A sleazy ex-cop (Ralph Fiennes) is now dealing in illegal discs which record the actual physical sensations and memories of the person wearing the recording device (apparently designed for use by the Federal government and intended to replace body wire taps). But a disc comes into his hands that could be a time bomb for the city of L.A. and turn it into a bloody war zone. This paranoid sci-fi thriller courtesy of Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow (HURT LOCKER) is a terrific piece of pulp cinema. It's over complicated narrative may stretch credibility even for sci-fi but Bigelow does a bang up job of keeping us on the edge and it's a case of style over substance. But it's a sensational rollercoaster ride. Bigelow whips up an intense atmosphere of an L.A. both contemporary yet futuristic, not unlike BLADE RUNNER but considerably less pretentious. On technical levels, it's an impressive achievement but the actors are still able to flesh out layered and interesting characters. With Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Josef Sommer, Brigitte Bako and Michael Wincott.

Unfaithfully Yours (1984)

A world famous composer and conductor (Dudley Moore) is married to a much younger Italian actress (Nastassja Kinski). When he suspects his wife of having an affair with the orchestra's guest violinist (Armand Assante), he concocts a complicated plan to murder his wife and have the murder pinned on the violinist. But things, as usual, never seem to go as planned. A remake of the 1948 Preston Sturges film of the same name, director Howard Zieff's (PRIVATE BENJAMIN) updated film is misguided. The possibilities of a decent remake are there but what Zieff and his screenwriters (there's three of them) have done is substituted the clever wit of Sturges' film with slapstick! There's nothing wrong with slapstick, it's a legitimate form of comedy but if you're going to remake a film, why throw away what was good about it and replace it with something that is inherently alien to it? Sturges' film was also a surprisingly dark comedy which might account for its box office failure in 1948. Perhaps in order to avoid the same fate, this version attempts to make it "cuter" and more audience friendly. With Albert Brooks, Cassie Yates, Richard Libertini and Richard B. Shull.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Magic Carpet (1951)

When the Caliph (Leonard Penn) is assassinated during a political coup by the henchman (Raymond Burr) of his rival (Gregory Gaye), he makes sure his infant son is taken to safety. When he grows into manhood, the young man (John Agar) is unaware of his birthright and becomes a doctor. But he is also secretly the Scarlet Falcon, a revolutionary who leads a group of rebels in an attempt to end the reign of the wicked false Caliph. This low budget Arabian Nights potboiler is shot in a hideous color process called Supercinecolor that lacks the vivid palette of Technicolor. Saddled with the supremely bland and uncharismatic John Agar as its hero guarantees that it's not going to be much fun. Topbilled Lucille Ball is the film's femme fatale, the Caliph's sexually brazen sister. Reputedly Columbia head Harry Cohn gave Ball the script as her next assignment (she owed Columbia one more film under her contract) fully expecting her to turn it down but Ball, eager to end the contract, called his bluff. It was her last film before she turned to television and I LOVE LUCY made her one of the icons of TV comedy. It's a rather silly fantasy (the flying carpet effects are rather cheesy) but it might appeal to very young children and Ball completists. Directed by Lew Landers (1935's THE RAVEN). With Patricia Medina as the feisty heroine and George Tobias.

The Three Faces Of Eve (1957)

A timid housewife (Joanne Woodward) is referred to a psychiatrist (Lee J. Cobb) because of her memory lapses. During a session with the doctor, a new personality emerges, that of a fun loving party girl. The psychiatrist attempts to probe the reasons for the split personality but soon a third person will emerge. Based on a true story (the real Eve was one Chis Costner Sizemore) that was published in book form by the psychiatrists involved in the case, the film was one of the first films to deal with multiple personality disorder. It's been done several times since (most notably SYBIL) but the 1957 film remains a compelling story if somewhat psychologically simplistic (at least in the film). In only her third film and first starring role, Joanne Woodward emerged as one of the major film actresses of her generation. Her performance is a tour de force and her Oscar win entirely justified. Her final scene in the psychiatrist's office when her three personalities are together for the last time is a beautifully rendered moment and she's just heartbreaking. Directed by Nunally Johnson, who also did the screenplay. With David Wayne, Vince Edwards, Ken Scott and Nancy Kulp.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Day Of The Triffids (1963)

A remarkable shower of meteorites causes blindness to anyone who gazes upon them. This leaves most of the world's population unable to see. An officer (Howard Keel) in the merchant navy is in the hospital with his eyes bandaged so he escapes the blindness. The meteorite shower has also spawned an alien plant life called Triffids that are able to move about and attack and feed on human flesh. Based on the sci-fi novel by John Wyndham (VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED) and directed by Steve Sekely, the film differs from its source material but it's still an effective piece of pulp science fiction. Most of the special effects are rather primitive by today's standards but it can be easily overlooked because of the entertainment value though the film's simplistic solution is disappointing. Keel's journey to escape the Triffids and the little girl (Janina Faye) and the Frenchwoman (Nicole Maurey) he meets along the way to form a sort of family runs parallel to another story line involving a marine scientist (Kieron Moore) and his wife (Janette Scott) racing against time to find a way to destroy the carnivorous plants. With Mervyn Johns and Alison Leggatt.

Thunder Birds (1942)

During WWII at an Arizona training base for Army pilots, a flying instructor (Preston Foster) and a British RAF cadet (John Sutton) are in love with the same girl (Gene Tierney). Not all war propaganda films made during WWII dealt with combat, some were set on the homefront. The cadets at the air base are Americans, English and even Chinese all learning to fly so they can do their bit for their respective countries. Despite having the often inventive William A. Wellman at the helm, this is a decidedly minor effort notable for the gorgeous three strip Technicolor lensing of Ernest Palmer (BROKEN ARROW) and the excellent aerial sequences. The two leading men are definitely "B" listers and Tierney (looking stunning in Technicolor) is stuck in the "girl" role. Wellman was under contract to Fox at this time and this was clearly an assignment he had no interest in. There's a rather amusing scene set in a Red Cross training center that brightens the movie briefly but generally, the film borders on tedium. With Dame May Whitty, Richard Haydn, Reginald Denny and Joyce Compton.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Queen Christina (1933)

Queen Christina (Greta Garbo) of Sweden is under great pressure to marry and produce an heir to the throne of Sweden. Disguised as a man, she travels outside the royal palace incognito to escape the strain of her duties. At an inn, she meets the envoy (John Gilbert) from Spain and they fall in love. When her country loudly protests at the idea of a Spaniard sitting on the throne, she must make a life changing decision. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, the film is a highly romanticized (and fictional) version of the circumstances surrounding the real Christina's abdication. No matter as the film contains one of Garbo's very best performances. This was a pre-code film so the film isn't coy about Christina and her lover sleeping in the same bed and obviously having made love. The sequence where she walks around the room touching objects to imprint the memory of that night is quite sensual still. Then there is the justifiably famous close up of Garbo that ends the film with the camera lovingly lingering over her face as if it realized it may never again have so glorious a subject. So who needs historical accuracy when Mamoulian and Garbo together whip up some real movie magic that transcends mere factual history. Gilbert, one of the big male stars of silent cinema is quite good but he would only make one more movie before dying young at the age of 38. With Lewis Stone, Ian Keith, Akim Tamiroff, C. Aubrey Smith and Reginald Owen.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

This Must Be The Place (2011)

An aging former rock star (Sean Penn) has been out of the limelight for twenty years, ever since two of his young fans committed suicide because of his dark music. Living in Ireland, he returns home to America for his father's funeral although he hadn't seen him for almost thirty years. After the funeral, he decides to search for the Nazi (Heinz Lieven) who persecuted his father at Auschwitz. Directed and co-written by Paolo Sorrentino (THE GREAT BEAUTY), this is a strange little film. It's not realistic in the least but rather an almost surrealistic road movie. Penn's performance is divisive. Depending on your point of view, yet another piece of ham from Penn or another fine performance by one of the best American actors. I'm leaning toward the latter though his performance is somewhat problematic. On one level, it's a perfectly tuned meticulous performance. Maybe too meticulous as there are no surprises as he hits every note as if he planned it that way. His character and that of his wife (Frances McDormand) seems to be loosely based on Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne. I didn't love the film but I liked the relaxed unconstrained way the story unraveled with the occasional surprises along the journey. There's a wonderful score by David Byrne, who plays himself in the film. With Judd Hirsch, Harry Dean Stanton, Joyce Van Patten and Eve Hewson.

La Morte Negli Occhi Del Gatto (aka Seven Deaths In the Cat's Eye) (1973)

When a young girl (Jane Birkin, EVIL UNDER THE SUN) returns home to the family castle in Scotland, suddenly a series of grisly murders occur. Antonio Margheriti (CASTLE OF BLOOD) directed this mixture of Gothic horror and giallo slasher. Adapted from the novel by Peter Bryan, the film has a dream like quality which is good since nothing makes much sense. After finding her mother's (Dana Ghia) coffin opened and the body gone, what does Birkin's "sensitive" character do moments later? Get it on in bed with her cousin (Hiram Keller, FELLINI SATYRICON)! The titular cat of the title is a rather passive creature, quite cuddly in fact, observing the killings and skulking around the castle. The movie actually feels more like a lesser Hammer horror or even a faux Corman Poe adaptation than an Italian giallo. It's just not stylish enough or outrageous enough like the best giallos and the film's red herrings (like the gorilla) just don't work. The ineffective underscore is by Riz Ortolani. With Anton Diffring, Serge Gainsbourg and Francoise Cristophe.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Biggest Bundle Of Them All (1968)

Under the impression he has money, a group of amateur crooks kidnap a retired mobster (Vittorio De Sica). When their leader (Robert Wagner) attempts to ransom the former gangster, no one wants to pay the money. Infuriated, the ex-mobster talks the inept gang into the five million dollar heist of a train carrying platinum ingots! I enjoy a good heist caper as much as the next guy but the BUNDLE script is as inept as its crew of motley thieves. As directed by Ken Annakin (THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES), the film is rather flaccid in its execution. There's no wit, no sense of excitement, no style. One sequence is amusing, when Francesco Mule as a dieting chef goes in to rob a restaurant but ends up going off his diet and pigging out on dinner but that's the only time I laughed although I grinned when Edward G. Robinson was doing the Watusi (hey, it's the 60s) with Raquel Welch at a disco. Other than those brief moments, the lush Italian locations as shot by Piero Portalupi (Visconti's BELLISSIMA) is very nice but the annoying Riz Ortolani score threatened to give me a headache at any moment. With Godfrey Cambridge, Victor Spinetti and Davy Kaye.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Le Magnifique (1973)

A financially strapped writer (Jean Paul Belmondo) of pulp spy novels is having trouble meeting the deadline for his new book. As he frantically tries to finish his newest book, he imagines himself and the girl (Jacqueline Bisset) upstairs as the book's two lead characters. Spy spoofs were almost as prolific as serious spy films in the 1960s and Philippe De Broca's THAT MAN FROM RIO (also with Belmondo) was one of the better entries. But by the 1970s, spy films were spoofing themselves (think Roger Moore as James Bond) so spy spoofs seemed almost redundant. De Broca's LE MAGNIFIQUE tries hard and even hits its mark a few times but most of it feels been there and done that. Not that it wasn't possible to instill some fresh life into the spy spoof genre (the very funny OSS 117 CAIRO NEST OF SPIES comes to mind) but De Broca and company can't seem to balance the laughs with the action. They go into Tarantino territory with way over the top bloodletting and violence but someone literally getting their brains shot out just isn't funny, it's gross! Fortunately, Belmondo seems to have a true clown's gift for silliness, something Bisset lacks but she makes for some delicious eye candy. The striking Mexican locations are handsomely shot by Rene Mathelin while composer Claude Bolling is less succcesful with his score. With Vittorio Caprioli, Hans Meyer and Monique Tarbes.

Gone Girl (2014)

When a husband (Ben Affleck) comes home on the day of his fifth anniversary, he finds his wife (Rosamund Pike) missing and there are signs of foul play. He contacts the police who begin an investigation but there's more, a lot more going on than meets the eye. As a film maker, David Fincher has always been a bit erratic ranging from lousy (THE GAME) to juvenile (THE FIGHT CLUB) to good (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) and excellent (ZODIAC). This is his best film. Razor sharp and incisive, a dark and complex look into a nightmare marriage gussied up in the guise of a thriller. It's a nasty piece of goods but it's dealing with some unhealthy people to put it mildly. Affleck is spot on perfect as the somewhat befuddled and not always honest husband but it's Rosamund Pike's performance that took me by surprise. I've seen this lovely young actress before (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, DIE ANOTHER DAY) but nothing prepared me for her knock you to the ground performance. Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn who also did the screenplay, there are a couple of "twists" that I suppose are meant to take you by surprise but (and I haven't read the book) they were so obvious to me that I was always one step ahead of the film. That being said, it's a terrific film and one that I expect will be high on my ten best film list at the year's end. With Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Carrie Coon, David Clennon, Missi Pyle and Sela Ward.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Anna And The King Of Siam (1946)

An Englishwoman (Irene Dunne) and her son (Richard Lyon) arrive in Siam (now Thailand) in 1862. She has been employed as a governess to the King's (Rex Harrison) 67 children and also to educate his multiple wives. They immediately clash over his promise to give her a house to live in which he has reneged on. This is the first of many conflicts between her Western and his Eastern ideas. Based on the best selling book by Margaret Landon which, in turn, was based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens. It has been proven that both Mrs. Leonowens diaries and Landon's book took great liberties with the actual facts so one shouldn't take this film as a factual account. That being said, it's a compelling story nevertheless and the "artistic" liberties serve to enhance the drama. The casting of Caucasians as Asians is often problematic and no where more so than Harrison's King. He's inauthentic and not remotely believable and his slightly high pitched sing-song delivery seems rather affected. Still, he's Rex Harrison which means his strong screen presence helps to overlook his rather silly performance. On the other hand, Gale Sondergaard (also Oscar nominated) as his head wife is quite good in the film's best performance. Dunne is properly starchy and Linda Darnell makes for a luscious concubine. Tastefully directed by John Cromwell. The Oscar nominated score is by Bernard Herrmann. It was, of course, turned into the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical THE KING AND I and I must confess, it plays much better with songs. With Lee J. Cobb (also good), Tito Renaldo and Mikhail Rasumny.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

At a small university, a strange young man (Dean Stockwell) attempts to procure a copy of the Necronomicom. It's a book supposedly containing spells to conjure up the "old ones", a race from another dimension but a professor (Ed Begley) refuses him access to the book outside of the library. Instead, the young man lures a student (Sandra Dee) to his home in the small village of Dunwich where he has plans to use her in his attempt to open the gate that will release the "old ones". Based on the classic H.P. Lovecraft short story, the film takes great liberties with the original source material but it's still recognizable as Lovecraft's work although it seems an attempt to ride on the coattails of ROSEMARY'S BABY's success. As directed by Daniel Haller, the movie is handicapped by its low budget which precludes the necessary special effects to make the film effective. Instead, we're treated to colorful psychedelic camera tricks when the Dunwich "horror" appears. As a horror film, there's an effective unsettling ambience which is enough to guide us through the film's erratic maze. There's a superb credit sequence designed by Sandy Dvore accompanied by Les Baxter's effective underscore. With Sam Jaffe, Talia Shire, Lloyd Bochner, Barboura Morris and Joanne Moore Jordan.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Shadows And Fog (1992)

In an unnamed middle European city, a serial killer (Michael Kirby) randomly stalks the the foggy streets during the night looking for victims. A nervous timid man (Woody Allen) is coerced into joining a vigilante mob to hunt down the killer but he doesn't know what his responsibilities are. As he becomes detached from the mob, he must stand on his own during the long night ahead. Based on his one act play DEATH, this is one of Woody Allen's most undervalued films. Dismissed by critics upon its initial release and ignored by audiences, Allen's Kafkaesque B&W film is a tribute visually to the German expressionist films of the silent and early talkie era. The film's emphasis is less on comedy than an exercise in style and theme of a nightmarish world where an ordinary citizen is compelled to perform his societal duties but without being told what they are. Not all of it works but if you're willing to hang in there, there's much to appreciate. The massive cast includes Mia Farrow, Jodie Foster, Madonna, Lily Tomlin, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Kathy Bates, Julie Kavner, William H. Macy, Donald Pleasence, Kate Nelligan, John C. Reilly, Fred Gwynne, Kenneth Mars and Philip Bosco.

Born To Be Bad (1934)

A "model" (Loretta Young) is a cold and tough little cookie with only one soft spot. Her kid (Jackie Kelk), the result of being an unmarried mother at age 15. She's raising him without any morals however, teaching him to be tenacious rather than ethical. When the boy is hit by a milk truck he's not seriously injured but she attempts to make money off it by suing the company. When her scam is exposed, she loses the boy when the court places him in a home for wayward boys. Directed by Lowell Sherman (SHE DONE HIM WRONG), the movie crams as much melodrama as it can in its brief running time, 1 hour and 2 minutes. The young Loretta Young is quite striking and hadn't yet atrophied into the steel like wholesomeness of her later roles. This being the early 30s, it appears that "model" is a euphemism for call girl and Young certainly drips with a resilient sex appeal until she goes all noble by the film's end. As a paean to mother love, this is no STELLA DALLAS or MADAME X. The film's male lead is Cary Grant, also in the early stage of his career and he's a bit of a stiff here with none of the charisma he would display later in the decade. It doesn't help that his character is unbelievably gullible and naive. With Henry Travers and Marion Burns as Grant's too good to be true wife.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

House On Haunted Hill (1959)

An eccentric millionaire (Vincent Price) entices an eclectic group of five strangers to spend the night in a haunted mansion. If they survive the night, they walk away with $10,000! If they don't survive (which is quite possible), the money will go to their next of kin. This piece of horror hokum courtesy of William Castle is rather entertaining. It has a large cult fan base and while it's not really scary (well, there was one jump moment for me), Castle works so hard to create a suitable atmoshpere (successfully) and frighten us (less successful) that one can't help but smile. Theatrically, it was one of Castle's "gimmick" films. In this case, a skeleton flew above the audience's heads at the opportune moment for maximum screams. The film is fortunate in having Price in the lead, his elegantly sinister presence alone leaves one waiting in anticipation. Creepy fun! A truly terrible remake lacking style came out in 1999. I could have done without Von Dexter's tacky underscore. The cast includes Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Elisha Cook, Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig and Julie Mitchum.