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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Modern Times (1936)

Set in the Great Depression of the 1930s, a factory worker (Charlie Chaplin) has a nervous breakdown and after being released from a hospital stay, he is mistaken for a communist rabble rouser and sent to jail. Once out of jail, he meets a young orphan (Paulette Goddard) and a romantic attachment follows and they dream of having their own home. I'll say upfront that I'm not Chaplin's biggest fan but I adore this movie and it's my second favorite Chaplin after CITY LIGHTS. One of the great physical comedy actors of all time, Chaplin's "little tramp" character is at his most beguiling here. Whether sailing on roller skates in a department store or singing a French ditty in a restaurant, his body language shows why he didn't need dialog. Apparently Chaplin had originally planned for MODERN TIMES to be his first talkie but he abandoned the idea once shooting started and only uses music and sound effects. The film has a "message" (how industrialization dehumanizes) but Chaplin doesn't moralize, he lets humor lead the way. Chaplin also did the score which contains his most famous theme, Smile. With Chester Conklin, Henry Bergman and in her film debut, Gloria DeHaven as Goddard's kid sister.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Silverado (1985)

Two brothers (Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner) and two strangers (Kevin Kline, Danny Glover) find themselves working together to defeat a ruthless rancher (Ray Baker) and the corrupt sheriff (Brian Dennehy) who does his bidding in the burgeoning western town of Silverado. This faux western with large dollops of humor is quite enjoyable as long as you realize that as a western, it's about as authentic as chop suey. As directed by Lawrence Kasdan (THE BIG CHILL), who also co-wrote the screenplay, the film comes across as a bunch of actors playing dress up cowboys and not even bothering to hide their contemporary sensibilities. With the exception of Scott Glenn (who looks as if he were born to the saddle), the other actors feel like fish out of water. Most notably Brian Dennehy whose acting tricks would seem more at home at the Actors Studio than the 1880s American west. Two of the actresses, Linda Hunt and Rosanna Arquette, manage to give the illusion that they're actually in a real western but Costner's loose cannon cowboy would fit in nicely in a John Hughes film. I don't want to sound like I didn't like it, I did. But this was in spite of the film's infatuation with its own cleverness. John Bailey's (MISHIMA) razor sharp cinematography and Bruce Broughton's rousing Oscar nominated underscore help considerably. With Jeff Goldblum, John Cleese, Jeff Fahey, Lynn Whitfield and James Gammon.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The She Creature (1956)

A sleazy hypnotist (Chester Morris) at a carnival side show claims to regress his beautiful subject (Marla English) to her past lives. He also predicts when a mysterious killer will will come forth and murder. Could the two be connected? This low budget ($104,000) American International "B" horror film is notable for its cast of actors who had all seen better days in better films. It's rather hokey, sometimes downright silly, though its modest aims are accomplished and serves its purpose. How does one critique a movie like this? It was never intended to be anything other than part of a horror double feature, something "to do" for the adolescent Saturday matinee and teenage date night crowd and then disappear into oblivion. The director Edward L. Cahn (IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE) doesn't have the artistry to give it any sort of style or atmosphere or deeper subtext. Also in the cast: Tom Conway, Lance Fuller (quite dull as the nominal hero), Cathy Downs (the Clementine of Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE), Ron Randell, Frieda Inescort and William Hudson.

Bronenosets Potemkin (aka Battleship Potemkin) (1925)

In 1905, the crew of a battleship in the Imperial Russian Navy mutinies when the first officer attempts to execute some sailors for insubordination. Their insubordination? Refusal to eat the borscht served to them. Based on an actual incident of mutiny when sailors rebelled against their superior officers, Sergei Eisenstein's masterpiece is one of the most influential films in cinema. The film is clearly a product of the communist Soviet regime with an obvious socialist agenda but like a few other political propaganda films with questionable or reprehensible ethics (Riefenstahl's TRIUMPH OF THE WILL), its Art transcends its politics. The film's use of montage and editing is justifiably praised and the stunning Odessa staircase sequence remains one of the great set pieces in all cinema. Eisenstein takes dramatic license (the Odessa sequence never happened) to achieve a visceral emotional response. Whatever one's feelings regarding its politics, this is a film worthy of its accolades. Edward Meisel's original score has been newly recorded in stereo for the transfer I saw and it adds to the film's strength. It's not a film where the acting matters much but the cast includes Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barsky and I. Bobrov.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Alfie (1966)

A footloose and fancy free womanizer (Michael Caine in an Oscar nominated performance) has no interest in a committed long term relationship. Instead, he goes from woman to woman (who he refers to as "birds"), loving them and leaving them. But as time passes, he begins to have regrets and what goes round comes round. Based on the play and novel by Bill Naughton (who also did the screenplay) and directed by Lewis Gilbert, ALIFE was startling in its sexual frankness in 1966. Seen in hindsight, the film's "moral" backbone seems a bit more preachy perhaps than it did then but it's still a strong and unfavorable look at a narcissistic individual leading a hedonistic lifestyle. The character of Alfie is reprehensible in many ways and one can see why many established actors turned the role down. Luckily, Michael Caine (in his star making part) has a roguish charm that goes a long way in making Alfie if not charming, then more than tolerable. The much admired jazz score though it did nothing for me is by Sonny Rollins. Remade unsuccessfully in 2004. With Shelley Winters, Denholm Elliott, Jane Asher, Millicent Martin, Shirley Anne Field, Eleanor Bron, Julia Foster, Murray Melvin, Graham Stark, Alfie Bass and in a heartbreaking performance, Vivien Merchant also Oscar nominated.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

At the christening of their newborn daughter, the King (Taylor Holmes) and Queen (Rosa Crosby) are startled when the uninvited evil fairy Maleficent (Eleanor Audley) arrives and displeased that she received no invitation, she places a curse on the child. She prophecises that when the Princess turns 16, she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. Unable to completely undo the curse, another fairy (Barbara Luddy) arranges it so that instead of dying, she will fall into a deep sleep and can only be awakened by her true love. Walt Disney went all out with his animated production of SLEEPING BEAUTY. Filmed in 70 millimeter (which would give the animation a clarity that 35 millimeter lacked), 6 track stereophonic sound, underscore and songs based on Tchaikovsky's ballet and a huge (for the time) budget of six million dollars. Surprisingly, the film didn't make its money back during its initial engagements. Subsequent releases have pushed it into the profit column. The film itself is a slight fable, even at one hour and 15 minutes, it still seems a bit padded. In particular, the comic interlude between the King and the Prince's father. But visually, it's a feast! Rich and vibrant colors and razor sharp detail and in Maleficent as voiced by Eleanor Audley, one of the greatest Disney villains. Directed by (or at least supervised by) Clyde Geronimi. With Mary Costa as the grown up princess, Bill Shirley as the Prince and Verna Felton and Barbara Jo Allen as the first and second fairies.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Her Husband's Affairs (1947)

A recently married advertising man (Franchot Tone) tends to invest in outlandish schemes and it is up to his smart and more practical wife (Lucille Ball) to save him from himself. This irritates him no end as he wishes she would keep her nose out of his business. But an invention that backfires could land him in jail! This comedy tries hard but it has two major disadvantages. The first is Franchot Tone who just doesn't have the sense of ridiculousness that the part requires. The part requires a Danny Kaye or a Red Skelton and even then I'm not sure it would have fully worked. The second disadvantage is the sexism, a man who expects his smarter wife to dumb down and shut up for him. To the film's credit, Ball's wife knows she's smarter and more practical than her dreamer spouse and resists his attempts though she would like to be the "little woman" he wants. Scattered moments of hilarity but overall, a rather mundane comedy. Directed by S. Sylvan Simon (THE FULLER BRUSH MAN). With Larry Parks, Edward Everett Horton, Gene Lockhart and Mikhail Rasumny.

Home At Seven (1952)

A banker (Ralph Richardson) returns home from work promptly at seven as usual to find his wife (Margaret Leighton) hysterical and demanding to know where he was. Mystified, he tells her he was at work as usual but she tells him he's been gone for 24 hours. He insists it was a usual Monday work day but she points out that, in fact, it's Tuesday. He can't remember the 24 hours after leaving work the day before and arriving home. So when an acquaintance of his turns up murdered, what's he going to do for an alibi? The only film directed by Sir Ralph Richardson is based on a 1950 play of the same title. It's a neat black and white mystery (whose ultimate solution is a wee bit disappointing) with a juicy lead role which is I assume is why Richardson was attracted to it, both as an actor and a director. Richardson's character begins to doubt himself until he eventually assumes the burden of guilt even though the evidence is purely circumstantial. Offering solid support are Leighton as his loyal wife and Jack Hawkins as the family doctor. If you're a fan of English mysteries, this should please you. With Campbell Singer, Michael Shepley and Meriel Forbes.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

La Regle Du Jeu (aka Rules Of The Game) (1939)

At a house party in the French countryside just before WWII, a group of aristocrats barely maintain the illusion of civility while passions and hypocrisy simmer below the surface. But soon it all boils over as their pretense can no longer be contained. A comedy of manners that ends in tragedy and its quaintly charming characters (including the servants) no longer seem appealing at all. Jean Renoir's masterpiece caused a storm of controversy in its country of origin, so shocking its audience (possibly because of the sting of recognition) and government that it got cut by its distributors and later banned by the Vichy government as "unpatriotic". It wasn't until the 1950s when it was restored and the acclaim started rolling in and today, it is justifiably considered one of the greatest films ever made. For a certified classic, it's great fun and you never get the feeling that you're supposed to like it as opposed to simply bathing in its pleasures. One sequence though is disturbing to contemporary sensibilities. The hunting sequence with its mass slaughter of birds and rabbits is downright unpleasant to watch. The superb cast includes Marcel Dalio, Nora Gregor, Paulette Dubost, Roland Toutain, Mila Parely, Gaston Modot and Renoir himself.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Contact (1997)

An astronomer (Jodie Foster) devotes her career to the possibility of extraterrestrial life in the universe. Receiving private funding, she and a small group of similarly inclined cohorts scan the universe for signs of life. One day, they receive an encrypted response and a giant leap for mankind begins. Based on the novel by Carl Sagan, this is an ambitious piece of science fiction cinema. The ideas are there but unfortunately, Robert Zemeckis' (the most prosaic of directors) direction lacks something. It doesn't have the sense of awe and wonder that Spielberg brought to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS or Cuaron to GRAVITY. Its screenplay is intelligent but it never takes off, it remains earthbound which is not what seeks in a science fiction film dealing with the cosmos. Alas, a missed opportunity. The film is lucky to have Foster in the lead role. She's one of the few major actresses who project an innate sense of intelligence, she sounds like she knows what she's talking about when she spouts off that scientific jargon. With Matthew McConaughey (in an underwritten role), Tom Skerritt, James Woods, John Hurt, Angela Bassett, Rob Lowe, William Fichtner, Jena Malone and Jake Busey.

Auntie Mame (1958)

In 1928, a young orphan (Jan Handzlik) finds himself entrusted to the care of his unconventional high living Aunt (Rosalind Russell). Life is never dull as she takes him on a adventurous journey filled with all sorts of eclectic types of people. However, the boy's strait laced conservative trustee (Fred Clark) is determined to mold the child into a "normal" boy. Based on the faux autobiographical novel by Patrick Dennis by way of the smash Broadway hit, the film remains a bubbly paean to a liberal Bohemian lifestyle and one of the most enjoyable comedies of the 1950s. Due in no small part to Russell (recreating her stage role) as the Aunt every kid would love to have had and who creates a larger than life character that once seen you'll never forget. It's the role of a lifetime and Russell picks it up and runs with it. The director Morton DaCosta (THE MUSIC MAN) gives the film lush trappings, the film drips with glamour and Russell looks stunning in her Orry Kelly costumes (amazingly the costumes were not among the film's 6 Oscar nominations). The lovely melodic score is by Bronislau Kaper. Also in the cast: Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne (stealing scenes), Peggy Cass (Oscar nominated), Patric Knowles, Joanna Barnes, Pippa Scott, Lee Patrick, Connie Gilchrist, Yuki Shimoda and Henry Brandon.

Friday, January 23, 2015

El Coleccionista De Cadavres (aka Cauldron Of Blood) (1970)

A journalist (Jean Pierre Aumont) arrives in a small coastal village in Spain to do an article on a renowned but reclusive blind sculptor (Boris Karloff). However, the sculptor is under the firm control of his mercenary wife (Viveca Lindfors). This low budget Spanish horror flick was filmed in 1967 but not released until 1970 after Karloff's death. It's easy to see why it remained on the shelf for three years. The narrative isn't the most coherent and it looks like it was edited with a hatchet. Poor Karloff doesn't have much to do while Lindfors and Aumont do most of the work. The film's plot is a ripoff of the 1953 HOUSE OF WAX with some brief nudity and more violence tossed in. Lindfors' character (some synopsis refer to her as Karloff's daughter rather than his wife) has some sort of S&M fetish (she likes to whip little girls while dressed as Maria Von Trapp) that may have a basis in her past but the film is vague on this point. The film zigzags all over the place and the director Santos Alcocer (though the English language cut is credited to Edward Mann) can't seem to get a grasp on it. With Rosenda Monteros (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN).

Hang 'Em High (1968)

After surviving a lynching in 1880's Oklahoma territory when a group of vigilantes mistake him for a killer, a man (Clint Eastwood) accepts a job as U.S. Marshal with the intent of finding the men who attempted to hang him and bring them to justice. However, he clashes with the federal judge (Pat Hingle in a terrible performance) who has his own ideas of black and white justice. Clint Eastwood had to go to Europe to become an international star which he accomplished by doing Sergio Leone's "man with no name" trilogy. Returning to the U.S., this was his first film as a leading man and he was smart enough not to stray from the formula that made him so popular. There are similarities in style and tone to the Leone films (even Dominic Frontiere's score mimics Ennio Morricone) but the unimaginative direction by Ted Post harms the film and never allows it to soar. Still, it's a tough little western with one marvelous set piece. A lengthy hanging day sequence which the townspeople treat as entertainment that ends with a violent conclusion. With Inger Stevens, Ed Begley, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, Ben Johnson, James MacArthur, Charles McGraw, Ruth White and Arlene Golonka.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Boyhood (2014)

Beginning in 2002 and ending in 2013, the narrative follows a single mother (Patricia Arquette) raising a daughter (Lorelei Linklater) and son (Ellar Coltrane) with the emphasis on the boy and his growth to young manhood. Richard Linklater's landmark film shot chronologically through a 12 year filming period allowing its actors to literally grow into their characters is probably the most highly praised film of 2014. Does it live up to the hype? Mostly. I loved how Linklater defied my expectations, every time I thought I knew what was coming next, it didn't happen. There are no profound revelations, no melodramatic incidents (well, perhaps the abusive second marriage), no set pieces. Rather Linklater is content to let the story quietly unfold in its own time yet his exact gaze draws us in and we're hooked and we've become invested in this family's tale and can't wait to see what happens next. The scope of the film is amazing and most likely will never be attempted again. But Linklater has shown what a visionary can do if he sets his mind to it. Is it a masterpiece? I'm not so sure but that's for posterity to decide.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1931)

An English doctor (Fredric March) has a theory that good and evil is inherent in every man. He is working on a potion that will separate the good and evil in man and thereby allow man to rid himself of his evil impulses. That's the theory but when he attempts to put his theory to the test by using himself as a guinea pig for the drug, it releases a second personality whose evil will not be contained. There have been over 100 film adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 book. This is considered one of the best if not the best though I'm personally partial to the 1941 Victor Fleming version. Rouben Mamoulian directed this pre-code adaptation and it's intensely imposing. Not many years into the sound era yet Mamoulian's camera is fluid and the film opens with some impressive tracking POV shots and he even makes use of split screen. This being a pre code film, the level of violence and sensuality is stronger than most films of the 1930s. Miriam Hopkins as a bar singer shows extreme decolletage and in one scene is obviously quite naked, barely covering herself up with a blanket. March, who won a best actor Oscar for his performance here, is very good. More so as Hyde where his simian appearance must have startled audiences of the day. With Rose Hobart, Holmes Herbert and Halliwell Hobbes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Return Of The Soldier (1982)

During WWI, a shell shocked soldier (Alan Bates) loses the last 20 years of his memory and after a brief hospital stay returns home. Three women in his life will help procure a cure: his self centered wife (Julie Christie), his loving cousin (Ann-Margret) and his first love (Glenda Jackson). But the cure may be worse than the amnesia. Based on the novel by Rebecca West, this is a delicate and lovely period piece. Though set in an elegant English country home with exquisite detail to setting and costume, this is mercifully free of that BBC Masterpiece Theater mustiness (where the period detail takes precedence over the narrative) that too often kills off a potentially good film. The director Alan Bridges (THE HIRELING) keeps the focus on the characters and the four principals all bring nuance and specificity to their roles. Jackson, cast against type, brings an appropriate melancholy and gentleness to her country wife while Christie nicely brings an almost comical mean spiritedness to her spoiled aristocrat. The psychology put forth may be a bit creaky but it's a nicely etched study. The discreet score is by Richard Rodney Bennett. With Ian Holm, Frank Finlay and Jeremy Kemp.

Venere Imperiale (aka Imperial Venus) (1962)

The young sister (Gina Lollobrigida) of the rising soldier and statesman Napoleon Bonaparte (Raymond Pellegrin) is a flirtatious and headstrong woman which causes her brother much concern. When he forbids her to marry the man she loves and arranges a marriage of convenience with one of his generals (Massimo Girotti), she continues to defy and shock both him and society with her scandalous behavior and series of adulterous affairs. Directed by Jean Delannoy, this is an ambitious romantic epic which recalls the 1954 film DESIREE with Marlon Brando as Napoleon. Though she won the David Di Donatello (the Italian Oscar) award for best actress for her performance here, Lollobrigida was never much of an actress (though often an adept comedienne) and isn't quite able to make her Paulette Bonaparte very compelling. The central romance with Stephen Boyd (as a soldier) doesn't have any tactile passion to it and without that, much of the film is flat. On a technical level, the film is quite accomplished what with the gorgeous period costumes (courtesy of Giancarlo Bartolini Salimbeni), art direction and the superior score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. I must confess that the print I saw was quite ragged and faded displaying none of the clarity it must have had during its 70 millimeter first run engagements. With Micheline Presle as Josephine and Gabrielle Ferzetti.

Road To Zanzibar (1941)

A pair of con men (Bing Crosby, Bob Hope) stranded in North Africa are talked into putting together a safari by a hustler (Dorothy Lamour) and her pal (Una Merkel) to take them through the jungles in order to see her dying father. Actually, there is no dying father but there is a rich boyfriend at the end of the journey. The follow up to the successful ROAD TO SINGAPORE with the same trio is a hit and miss affair. The songs by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke are a dull lot and the gags never quite reach the hilarity one expects of the ROAD series. It doesn't help that in the latter part of the film we're stuck with "ooga booga" cannibal natives and obvious men in gorilla suits though a scene with a gorilla stomping Hope had me giggling like a schoolboy. As usual, the actors breaking down the fourth wall offers up some amusement as when Lamour questions where the music comes from when Crosby serenades in the middle of the jungle. Still, not one of the better franchise efforts. Directed by Victor Schertzinger. With Eric Blore, Douglass Dumbrille and Iris Adrian.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hell And High Water (1954)

In 1953, an atomic bomb of unknown origin has been exploded in the North Pacific ocean near the Arctic Circle. A private group of prominent international scientists, statesmen and businessmen concerned with world peace obtain an old WWII Japanese submarine and hire an ex-submarine commander (Richard Widmark) to go on an exploratory mission to the area. He will be accompanied by a world renowned scientist (Victor Francen) and his assistant (Bella Darvi). A rather run of the mill submarine adventure made all the more disappointing in that it was directed by the great Samuel Fuller. Fuller had no real interest in the film (and it shows) but did it as a favor to studio head Daryl F. Zanuck. It was Fuller's first film in CinemaScope and he handles the format quite well for a newbie, using the process's wide frame to effectively give a claustrophobic effect to the film's underwater submarine scenes. The film is saddled with Zanuck's then girlfriend Bella Darvi as the heroine. Personally, I thought she was effectively cast in THE EGYPTIAN where her performance received a lot of flak. Her inadequacies here justify the bad rap she unfairly got for the second film. Perhaps if someone else other than Fuller were the credited director, one could dismiss it as an innocuous cold war action flick but when you know how much more capable he is, its flaws are all the more glaring. Alfred Newman's score is not up to par. With Cameron Mitchell, David Wayne, Gene Evans and Richard Loo.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cake (2014)

A woman (Jennifer Aniston) suffers from chronic pain due to an automobile accident that killed her child and left her face and body scarred. It has also left her angry, bitter and sarcastic. Neither the support group she is a part of nor the physical therapy seems to be helping. But the suicide of a fellow support group member (Anna Kendrick) sends her on journey that may save her. This low budget independent film directed by Daniel Barnz and written by Patrick Tobin is relatively plotless. That in itself isn't a bad thing but the film needs a stronger focus, it meanders too much. But it offers a plum part for Aniston who, fully committed, gives a mercifully unsentimental performance. This is a woman in great pain (physical, psychological, emotional) and Aniston never lets us forget it. Yet she never asks for our pity or sympathy. I's a performance strong enough and good enough that you just wish it were a better film. The episodic nature of the narrative is unsatisfying because even a non linear film needs to be cohesive and CAKE has some interesting ideas but ultimately it's too vague. The large cast includes William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Chris Messina, Lucy Punch, Misty Upham and Adriana Barraza (BABEL) giving a strong performance as Aniston's put upon housekeeper.

Deux Jours, Une Nuit (aka Two Days, One Night) (2014)

In a small industrial town in Belgium, a fragile wife and mother (Marion Cotillard) recovering from a bout of depression finds herself the sacrificial lamb at her place of work. The management tells the 16 other employees they must vote to keep their pay bonuses or let her go. If they elect to keep her on, they forfeit their pay bonus. The film follows her during the weekend as she makes her plea to her fellow employees to forfeit their bonus and keep her on. As cinema, this isn't a particularly compelling narrative and the burden is placed on the actress in the central role to carry the film. In this case, Cotillard does an astonishing job and I do mean astonishing! It's not an actressy role with any "big" scenes and "Oscar bait" moments. It's an interior performance and Cotillard inhabits Sandra thoroughly in her body language, the way she walks, the way she picks up a phone, the way she drinks her water etc. that she makes the film near riveting. The film makers, Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne, don't give the ending we want but they allow Sandra her righteous dignity. The film makes as good an argument as any for unions though that is not the film's intent. With Fabrizio Rongione as Cotillard's husband.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Day The World Ended (1955)

After a nuclear war has seemingly wiped out most of mankind, seven survivors find their way to a valley whose mountains are filled with lead which protects them from the radiation. They are a geologist (Richard Denning), an ex-military man (Paul Birch) and his daughter (Lori Nelson), a thug (Mike Connors) and his stripper girlfriend (Adele Jergens), a radiation infected stranger (Paul Dubov), a prospector (Raymond Hatton) and his mule. This super low budget quickie (it was shot in 10 days and looks it) produced and directed by Roger Corman is a typical post apocalyptic 1950s piece of science fiction. Its amateurish script could have been written by a 14 year old and with one exception, the actors may as well be reading their lines off cue cards for all the feeling they bring to their line readings. The one exception is Jergens as the aging stripper who brings some much needed juice to her part even though it remains a cliche, but at least she knows how to punch out her lines. It remains what it was intended to be, a rather ludicrous if enjoyable piece of "B" sci-fi. With Jonathan Haze (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS).

The Lusty Men (1952)

After being injured by a bull, a rodeo cowboy (Robert Mitchum) hooks up with a ranch foreman (Arthur Kennedy) and his wife (Susan Hayward) when he is hired to work on the ranch. But rodeo fever soon possesses the ranch foreman and against his wife's wishes, the cowboy mentors the wannabe rodeo rider into entering the competitive rodeo circuit. Based on the novel by Claude Stanush with a screenplay by Horace McCoy (THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY?) and David Dotort (TV's BONANZA), director Nicholas Ray brings a layered intricacy to the seemingly simple narrative. Mitchum's ambiguous motives, the sexual tension beneath the antagonism between Mitchum and Hayward, the egotism that engulfs Kennedy's simple cowboy, the entire mindset behind a lifestyle where one purposely puts oneself in harm's way. I'm not a fan of rodeos (the cows and bulls sure don't seem to enjoy it) but Ray brings all the febrile excitement of the event to the screen even if you're not into the rodeo. This is one of Hayward's best performances, she brings just the right balance of confidence and vulnerability to a woman who came from nothing trying to make her place in this world. If I find fault with anything, it's the conventional ending which seems too safe and predictable and not quite true. With Arthur Hunnicutt, Lorna Thayer, Frank Faylen, Sheb Wooley and Robert Bray.

Gaslight (1944)

A young girl (Ingrid Bergman) has a whirlwind romance with an impoverished pianist (Charles Boyer) in Italy and they are soon married. They return to her home in London where her Aunt was murdered several years ago, a murder which remained unsolved. Soon, the young bride begins showing signs of mental instability, forgetting things, losing things, hearing things. Based on Patrick Hamilton's play ANGEL STREET, it had been filmed four years earlier in England when MGM decided to remake the film for American audiences. One normally doesn't think of George Cukor and thrillers in the same sentence but it's a really well done Victorian suspense movie, elegant and claustrophobic with an intense performance by Bergman. Bergman is really amazing here, in the first of her three Oscar winning roles. She disappears into her part so deeply that you begin to fear for her sanity. While Boyer is very good, one wishes he had been a little more subtle in his performance, he's a bit too obvious and easy to see through (not unlike Anne Baxter's Eve Harrington). The suitably effective underscore is by Bronislau Kaper. With Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty, Barbara Everest and in her film debut, 17 year old Angela Lansbury as a cheeky maid.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962)

A small family owned circus is in debt due to the gambling of its owner (Jimmy Durante). His daughter (Doris Day) struggles to keep the circus afloat and curb her father's gambling addiction. When a handsome stranger (Stephen Boyd) shows up looking for a job with the circus, a romance develops with the daughter but he has a secret that could doom the circus. Based on the 1935 Rodgers and Hart musical, to call the film's plot slight is an understatement. I'm so not a fan of circus movies but in compensation, there are those tuneful Rodgers & Hart songs including such standards as This Can't Be Love, My Romance and Little Girl Blue and Durante and Martha Raye show what show biz veterans can do with such thin material. Busby Berkeley supervised the production numbers though nothing could redeem the awful musical finale, Sawdust And Spangles And Dreams and I cringed for poor Stephen Boyd (BEN-HUR) who looks so out of place in sequins and pink tights. Directed by Charles Walters (EASTER PARADE), this was Day's last film musical. With Dean Jagger.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Le Boucher (1970)

In a small French village, a schoolteacher (Stephane Audran) begins a platonic relationship with the local butcher (Jean Yanne) though it's clear he wants more than a casual relationship. Meanwhile, a series of brutal murders in the surrounding countryside sets the town on edge. The thrillers of Claude Chabrol are often compared to Hitchcock but while thematically they may share a common element, in execution, they are quite different. With one exception (blood dripping down on a child's piece of bread), there aren't any Hitchcockian touches or set pieces. This is a controlled, perhaps overly so, concise thriller that blurs the line of empathy and disturbing suggestions of responsibility. Essentially a two character piece with the elegant Audran cast against type as an emotionally repressed spinster and Yanne as a clumsy, slightly Neanderthal, brute who just wants to love and be loved. Chabrol gives us a lot to work with here including the possible effects of war and its damage to the human psyche. A thinking man's thriller with some handsome lensing by Jean Rabier (UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG). With Mario Beccara.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Forbidden Planet (1956)

In the 23rd century, a spaceship from Earth arrives on the planet Altair IV to check up on the survivors of a previous settlement of colonists that arrived 20 years earlier. What they find are only two survivors: a scientist (Walter Pidgeon) and his young daughter (Anne Francis) and their robot servant. But there is something else on the planet, a destructive force whose power is unimaginable. One of the great, perhaps the greatest, and influential science fiction films of the 1950s. Using Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST as a template, Cyril Hume's screenplay is clever and inventive while the MGM art department provides a unique and imaginative world, both beguiling and frightening. While Pidgeon and the lovely Francis as well as Robby The Robot are winning presences, the space crew all appear to have walked in from an average STAR TREK episode. The unsettling all electronic score, the first of its kind for a feature film, is by Louis and Bebe Barron. With Leslie Nielsen, Earl Holliman, Jack Kelly, Warren Stevens, Richard Anderson and James Drury.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

City Girl (1930)

A Minnesota farmer's son (Charles Farrell) is entrusted to go to Chicago to sell the farm's wheat harvest. While there, he meets a sassy waitress (Mary Duncan) and falls in love. After a whirlwind marriage, they arrive on the farm but the boy's mean spirited father (David Torrence) is determined to undermine the marriage and send the girl packing back to the city. F.W. Murnau's best known works are the vampire horror NOSFERATU and the idyllic romance SUNRISE, both acknowledged as among the greatest films ever made. Based on Elliott Lester's play THE MUD TURTLE, Murnau's CITY GIRL sheds its theatrical roots and presents a stunning visual rumination on the rural existence as a street smart city girl attempts to blend in to the stark simplicity of her new country life. While its reputation is nowhere near that of Murnau's more celebrated films, CITY GIRL's influence can be seen from Vidor's OUR DAILY BREAD to Malick's DAYS OF HEAVEN. Both passionate and tenacious, it's a lovely film anyway you look at it. With Anne Shirley, Edith Yorke and Richard Alexander.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Night Of The Following Day (1969)

Set in France, the daughter (Pamela Franklin, PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) of a wealthy businessman (Huques Wanner) is kidnapped and held hostage until a ransom is paid. The kidnappers consist of a man (Marlon Brando) who begins to have second thoughts about the kidnapping, a sadist (Richard Boone), an unstable junkie (Rita Moreno) and her brother (Jess Hahn). Unfairly dismissed by the critics when it opened (or rather dumped by Universal), it's something of a cult film today. As directed by Hubert Cornfield (who also co-wrote the script), it's a rather taut little thriller with a nasty bent. Its rather European in atmosphere and style, like something Rene Clement might have directed. It's rather aloof and "artsy" approach to a kidnapping for ransom film doomed it for mainstream audiences. My only quibble is the ending which is "oh no, they didn't!" infuriating. Brando was still acting rather than slumming and brings his usual intensity to his character, Boone's sadistic pervert makes your skin crawl but the film's best performance belongs to a blonde haired Rita Moreno as the nervous coke addict. There's a nice jazz score by Stanley Myers. With Al Lettieri, Jacques Marin and Gerard Buhr.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Inherent Vice (2014)

It's 1970 and a pot smoking "hippie" private investigator (Joaquin Phoenix) is visited by his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston, daughter of Sam) who wants him to help prevent her current lover (Eric Roberts) from being sent to an asylum by his wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and her lover (Andrew Simpson). This is just the beginning of a comical drug hazed journey through a maze of complicated twists and turns. Is there a more exciting and original director working in American film today than Paul Thomas Anderson? He's the heir apparent to the late great Robert Altman and this film has that dizzying mile a minute style that Altman perfected. After the intense somber creations of THERE WILL BE BLOOD and THE MASTER, Anderson is in a playful mood and his game cast seem more than happy to be in for the ride. Joaquin Phoenix makes for a perfect stoner, cluelessly funny yet not quite a caricature. On the downside, at 2 1/2 hours the film begins to wear out its welcome and it starts to seem so pointless. It's best not to dwell on the narrative as it's the most confusing and muddled mystery since Hawks' THE BIG SLEEP. Kudoes to cinematographer Robert Elswit and composer Jonny Greenwood for their contributions: The huge cast includes Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph, Jeannie Berlin, Martin Donovan, Jena Malone and singer Joanna Newsom in her feature film acting debut.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Il Medaglione Insanguinato (aka Night Child) (1975)

A documentary film maker (Richard Johnson) for the BBC travels to Italy with his daughter (Nicoletta Elmi, Argento's DEEP RED) and the child's governess (Ida Galli) to do a documentary on the devil in art. However, his daughter begins having visions and behaving in a most psychotic manner. This Italian entry (it was called NIGHT CHILD in the U.S.) in the "demon child" horror genre is a disappointment. No revolving heads, no spouting obscenities, no vomiting, the child merely comes across as a spoiled brat. If the director Massimo Dallamano had provided a sense of dread or a disturbing atmosphere even, then that would have compensated for the lack of genuine horror. As the hero, Johnson's character is pretty dense. With everything crazy going on around him, he seems oblivious to it all, refusing to even consider that supernatural forces may be in play. At best, we get some nice shots of the Spoleto and Umbria regions of Italy and there's a valiant try by Lila Kedrova (ZORBA THE GREEK) as a Countess with the ability to see into the future to bring some gravitas to the outlandish proceedings. The often intrusive score is by Stelvio Cipriani. With Joanna Cassidy and Edmund Purdom.

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

An attractive upscale New England widow (Jane Wyman) falls in love with her gardener (Rock Hudson), who is much younger than her. Their romance must overcome the malicious gossip of her country club set as well her adult children (William Reynolds, Gloria Talbott) who don't hesitate to make their disapproval of the relationship known. One of the seminal films of the 1950s, Douglas Sirk's ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS uses the melodrama to explore the small mindedness of 1950s society and its hypocrisy. Tongues wag with innuendo at the older Wyman's relationship with the hunky Hudson but the relationship between an older man (Tol Avery) and his young blonde trophy fiancee (Leigh Snowden) is so accepted it's barely even commented on. Her daughter espouses her feminist rant about women being forced into a metaphorical grave along with their deceased husbands but she can't practice what she preaches and caves in when her mother attempts to rebuild her life with another man. Even the country club widow's way of life is challenged by the Thoreau inspired gardener for whom money is unimportant and wants nothing more than a peaceful nature loving life. Aided by his sorcerer of a cameraman Russell Metty, Sirk creates a visually stunning display of light and shadow, vivid colors and reflective surfaces. This film influenced homages by Todd Haynes, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Francois Ozon to name just three. The lush score is by Frank Skinner. With Agnes Moorehead, Virginia Grey, David Janssen, Gia Scala, Charles Drake, Merry Anders, Conrad Nagel, Eleanor Audley and in a biting performance as the mean spirited community gossip, Jacqueline DeWit.

The Great Train Robbery (1979)

In 1855 Victorian England, a master thief (Sean Connery) plots to steal a gold shipment from a moving train. His accomplices include his mistress (Lesley Anne Down) and a safecracker (Donald Sutherland). Directed by Michael Crichton (JURASSIC PARK), who also wrote the screenplay based on his novel, this is a leisurely heist film and Crichton takes pleasure in the details of the planning. This does tend to bog the film down a bit (a good 10 to 15 minutes could have been cut) but the meticulous detail of the Victorian setting from Maurice Carter's production design and Bert Davey's art direction to Anthony Mendleson's striking costumes compensates for the sometimes lackluster pacing. As a film director, Crichton lacks style. He's an efficient craftsman, nothing more. With the always affable Connery in the lead, Sutherland to add a bit of contrast and Down providing some eye candy, there's always something to watch. The lively score is by Jerry Goldsmith. Not memorable but good enough I suppose. With Alan Webb, Andre Morell and Michael Elphick.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Awful Truth (1937)

A husband (Cary Grant) arrives home from a trip to Florida (where he really wasn't) and finds his wife (Irene Dunne) not at home. When she arrives in the morning in an evening gown with her music teacher (Alexander D'Arcy) and states his car broke down and they were forced to spend the night in the country. Neither believes the other and the result is divorce. But there's an impediment to the divorce ... they still love each other. I'll make no bones about it, this is my all time favorite screwball comedy! Everything falls into place and it's one of those rare films that are just about perfect. Grant had come into his own earlier in the year with TOPPER but this is the first where he's the Cary Grant that made him one of Hollywood's legendary Stars. Dunne is one of the screen's crackerjack comediennes and she gets the opportunity to put aside her innate elegance and do a hilarious spin as Grant's tawdry "sister". Throw in Ralph Bellamy (in an Oscar nominated performance) as Dunne's Oklahoma yokel boyfriend and that prince of canine thespians, Asta and you've got sheer bliss. Directed by Leo McCarey, who won the best director Oscar for his work here. Also in the cast: Cecil Cunningham, Esther Dale and Joyce Compton as a Southern belle who does a nightclub act with a wind machine under her skirt.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Beyond Rangoon (1995)

In 1988, a grieving young widow (Patricia Arquette) whose husband and son were murdered accompanies her sister (Frances McDormand) to Burma (now Myanmar) in the hopes of finding some peace. Unfortunately, she finds herself in the country as its military government turns on its citizens who are fighting for a democratic government. As the country's soldiers massacre students and other protesters, she finds herself on the run with an ex-professor (U Aung Ko) on the government's subversive list who is now reduced to acting as a tour guide. With its fictional story using real events as a background, the film attempts to call attention to the gross injustices done to its people by their own government. As such, the film often comes across as heavy handed and "preachy" at times and the slightly contrived script by Alex Lasker and Bill Rubenstein feels clunky. As written, the screenwriters do Arquette's character no favors. She's the heroine of the piece but she is reminiscent of those naive Americans who visit dangerous third world countries yet feel they are immune to any of the country's problems and rules because they are U.S. citizens. I probably sound like I'm down on the film and I don't mean to be because it's very well done and very effective. If "message" movies like these are going to be made, this is the way to do them. Directed by John Boorman (DELIVERANCE). With Spalding Gray.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Big Land (1957)

After the Civil War, a former Confederate (Alan Ladd) leads a cattle drive into Missouri with the hope of a big sale for he and his partners. But a corrupt cattle buyer (Anthony Caruso) has terrorized other potential bidders away so he can buy the cattle at dirt cheap prices. Undeterred, he joins forces with an alcoholic architect (Edmond O'Brien) to build a town with the help of the local ranchers. Based on the novel THE BIG GRASS by Frank Gruber, this is a generic western that makes for passable entertainment. The most interesting thing about it is the character portrayed by O'Brien, an alcoholic wreck of a man who overcomes his addiction to become a positive force in the building of a new town, only to meet his Waterloo at the hands of a ruthless cattleman. The narrative suffers a bit because of Ladd's character who doesn't come across as very bright. His inability to foresee disaster ahead when we the audience can clearly see what's coming doesn't make him any the more likable. Directed by Gordon Douglas. With Virginia Mayo as the love interest, John Qualen, Julie Bishop, James Anderson, John Doucette and David Ladd (who would team up with his father the following year in THE PROUD REBEL).

Captain Kidd (1945)

In 17th century England, the pirate William Kidd (Charles Laughton) manages to finagle funding from the English court to meet a ship in Madagascar and escort her safely back to Great Britain. In reality, he intends to steal the ship's riches, blow the ship up and return to England in the hopes of being made a Lord by the King (Henry Daniell). There was a real pirate by the name of William Kidd of course but this film bears no resemblance to the historical facts. It's a rather routine pirate movie, serviceable but innocuous. One would think that Laughton would sink his chops into a part like the notorious Captain Kidd but he's rather reserved here. Also, the 46 year old Randolph Scott as the ship's gunner is a wee bit long in the tooth for the film's nominal swashbuckling hero. A distinctly minor effort in the pirate genre. The film's underscore by Werner Janssen isn't particularly memorable but it received the film's sole Oscar nomination. Directed by Rowland V. Lee. With Gilbert Roland, John Carradine, Reginald Owen, John Qualen and as the film's demure romantic interest, Barbara Britton.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Dead Ringer (1964)

A financially struggling woman (Bette Davis) attends the funeral of her wealthy twin sister's (Bette Davis) husband. Though they have been estranged for many years, the woman has never forgiven her twin for stealing the man she loved. She kills her sister and switches identities with her. But she soon discovers she may have walked into a trap she can't get out of. This enjoyable potboiler was Davis' follow up to her comeback film WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?. Davis had previously played good/bad twins in the 1946 A STOLEN LIFE which was coincidentally also shot by Ernest Haller who does the lensing honors here. Directed by her NOW VOYAGER co-star Paul Henreid, DEAD RINGER had previously been made as LA OTRA with Dolores Del Rio in Mexico in the 1940s. Davis seems to be having a field day playing the twin sisters and she's never less than mesmerizing to watch. It's a B&W film with a modest budget and has that early 1960s Warners TV look which isn't very appealing visually but somehow it adds to the "B" movie (in a good way) atmosphere. There's a knockout score by Andre Previn. With Karl Malden, Peter Lawford, Jean Hagen, Philip Carey, Estelle Winwood, George Macready and Cyril Delevanti.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Theory Of Everything (2014)

A remarkably bright Cambridge student (Eddie Redmayne) falls in love with a pretty literature student (Felicity Jones). But when he is diagnosed with a motor neuron disease and a life expectancy of two years, he attempts to end the relationship. Her persistence wins him over and they are married but she doesn't realize what she is letting herself in for. This wasn't a film that held any interest for me and if it wasn't for a SAG screener, I most likely would have skipped it. That being said, it's pretty much what I expected. There's only so much you can do with the movie biography genre and the film goes through its predictable paces. After about 45 minutes, it became an endurance test. It's no one's fault. The director James Marsh does about as good enough a job as anyone could expect. The performances of Redmayne and especially Jones are flawless. Indeed, if it hadn't been for their peerless work I might have bailed at the halfway mark. Fortunately, the film focuses on their relationship rather than Hawking the physicist which is fine by me. Is there anything more dull than a scientist movie biography? It's effective, I'll give it that. The striking underscore by Johann Johannsson makes it go down easier. With Emily Watson, Charlie Cox, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis and Maxine Peake.

Metropolis (1927)

Set in the future, the privileged classes live above the ground in a huge metropolis of skyscrapers while the workers reside in an underground city. When the son (Gustav Frohlich) of the brain and ruler (Alfred Abel) of Metropolis becomes entranced with a young woman (Brigitte Helm) of the working class, he follows her down to the workers city and becomes horrified at what he sees and determined to change it. Fritz Lang's science fiction epic is legendary in its reputation and justifiably so. Not only is it one of the most influential films ever made, it remains a landmark in the science fiction genre. The art direction by Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut and Karl Vollbrecht is breathtaking while the cinematography by Karl Freund, Gunther Rittau and Walter Ruttman is as fresh as if it were filmed yesterday. The flooding and destruction of the workers' city sequence is stunning and the equal (if not superior) to any disaster flick from the 1970s. It's an ambitious epic that could have been Lang's folly (indeed contemporary reviews were mixed) but he succeeded in every way. With Brigitte Helm playing two roles: the saintly Maria who attempts to sooth the workers to wait for a mediator instead of rebellion and the false Maria, an evil clone who usurps the real Maria to inflame the workers to rebellion. The rich original 1927 underscore is by Gottfried Huppertz.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Drowning Mona (2000)

When a much hated shrew (Bette Midler) in a small town dies under mysterious circumstances, the police chief (Danny DeVito) investigating the case discovers there's no shortage of suspects. Even the woman's husband (William Fichtner) and son (Marcus Thomas) show no grief over her death. This is a perfect example of black comedy. It's uneven in its execution but for the most part, it's on the nose. The screenplay by Peter Steinfeld is often subtle enough that something might slip by you that you catch the next time round. The direction by Nick Gomez lets the characters get all frantic while keeping the hysterics under his tight control. No one does a comic bitch better than Bette Midler and she's in fine form here, you can see why everyone hates her and if there's ever such a thing as justifiable homicide, she's it. But the one showing the most expertise in comedic timing and delivery is Jamie Lee Curtis as a chain smoking waitress. The comedy is capacious but the film can only work if its played that way. Also in the cast: Neve Campbell, Casey Affleck, Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy, Kathleen Wilhoite and Tracey Walter.

Love Me Tender (1956)

Unaware that the war between the States is over, a group of Confederate soliders led by Vance Reno (Richard Egan) and his brothers (William Campbell, James Drury) rob a train and get away with a Federal payroll and divide the money among themselves. When they return home, they find out that they were thought killed in the war and Vance's fiancee (Debra Paget) has married his young brother (Elvis Presley). Notable as the film debut of the new rock and roll sensation Elvis Presley, it's a rather middling western but pleasant enough. Presley's acting is still rather crude (he wouldn't come into his own as an actor until KING CREOLE) and he sings four songs but his anachronistic hip swiveling and pelvic thrusts only serve to remind us, this is Elvis, not an 1865 farm boy. But playing his mother, Mildred Dunnock's reactions to his hip shaking are priceless. This would be the last and only time that Presley wasn't topbilled in his movies. The Reno Brothers were a real band of Civil War robbers and the film is highly fictionalized and the brothers' criminal activities are downplayed. Directed by Robert D. Webb (BENEATH THE 12 MILE REEF). With Bruce Bennett, Robert Middleton, Neville Brand and Barry Coe.

Friday, January 2, 2015

High Barbaree (1947)

In WWII, a Navy pilot (Van Johnson) flying an amphibious airplane is shot down by the Japanese over the Pacific. Only one other crew member (Cameron Mitchell) survives. As they await rescue, the pilot recalls growing up with the love of his life, his childhood sweetheart (June Allyson). Based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall (MUTINY AND THE BOUNTY), the wartime romance spends way too much time on flashbacks of the adolescent Johnson and Allyson characters (played by Claude Jarman Jr. of THE YEARLING and Joan Wells). Allyson and Johnson go together like bread and butter but their child counterparts are just plain annoying. The film differs from the novel in that it has a happy ending (in the book, both lead characters die) though apparently the darker ending was filmed but later re-shot to send movie patrons out happily. As 1940s wartime movie romances go, this goes down nicely even if the sentiment is laid on pretty thick. Herbert Stothart's beautiful underscore makes you think you're watching something special. Still, if Allyson and Johnson aren't your cuppa tea, you might do well to skip it. Directed by Jack Conway (LIBELED LADY). With Thomas Mitchell, Marilyn Maxwell, Henry Hull and Geraldine Wall.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

On New Year's Eve, the luxury cruise ship S.S. Poseidon is capsized by an enormous tidal wave and turned upside down. A small group of passengers led by a pastor (Gene Hackman) decide to climb up to the ship's hull where any likely rescue attempt would happen rather than sit and wait for help. Based on the Paul Gallico novel of the same name, the film retains the plot of the book but changes a lot of the characters and eliminates some of the more unpleasant aspects of the novel (a brutal rape, an unhappy marriage, a darker ending). The film remains one of the better examples of the disaster genre so prevalent in the 1970s. The screenplay by Sterling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes never rises above serviceable but the director Ronald Neame (PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) keeps the action moving with just enough time given to the characters so that we get to know them before moving on again. With the exception of Hackman, who seems uncomfortable in his role as if sensing he's miscast, the cast fit their parts nicely and a couple of the actors (Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters) manage to exceed what is required of them. It holds up quite well and remains as entertaining as ever. The excellent underscore is by John Williams. With Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall, Carol Lynley, Red Buttons, Leslie Nielsen, Arthur O'Connell, Jack Albertson and Pamela Sue Martin.