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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What's Love Got To Do With It (1993)

Abandoned by her parents, a young girl (Rae'ven Larrymore Kelly) is raised by her grandmother. She reunites with her mother (Jenifer Lewis) when she becomes of age. But when she meets Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne), he changes her name to Tina Turner (Angela Bassett) and sets her on the road to stardom. But it's a violent and abusive road until she can break free. Loosely based on Turner's autobiography I, TINA. With a sensational central performance by Bassett and an equally compelling performance by Fishburne and a terrific set of musical numbers, this is several notches above the usual entertainer movie biography. The director Brian Gibson, the cinematographer Jamie Anderson, the production designer Stephen Altman and the costume designer Ruth Carter have all created a handsome and authentic period look. The scenes of domestic violence are very difficult to sit through, Gibson doesn't pull any punches. But I wish Gibson had allowed Bassett to end the film instead of replacing her with the real Tina Turner during the What's Love Got To Do With It finale. With Vanessa Bell Calloway.

Killer Fish (1979)

Set in Brazil, the former employee (James Franciscus) of a mining company masterminds an elaborate heist of precious emeralds. The emeralds are hidden at the bottom of the lake with the intention of retrieving them in 60 days. But the deadly piranha fish in the lake may have other ideas. Yet another killer "creature attacks man" horror movie that blossomed in the 1970s. They ranged from excellent (JAWS) to silly (EMPIRE OF THE ANTS) and this one falls closer to the silly side. The year before Joe Dante had a hit with his low budget PIRANHA movie so this movie feels redundant. It benefits from the lush and tropical Brazilian locations and its cast of "B" list stars like Lee Majors, Margaux Hemingway and Karen Black pounding another nail into the coffin of her career. The film has one nice set piece when a dam breaks and the valley is flooded with tens of thousands of piranha but the film doesn't take advantage of it. The film has developed a cult following of sorts in the ensuing years and if you have a taste for cheesy bad movies, it's moderately enjoyable though one can't help but be embarrassed for its cast who have all seen better days. Directed by Antonio Margheriti. With Marisa Berenson (CABARET) and Gary Collins.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Men In War (1957)

During the Korean War, a small platoon of foot soldiers are cut off behind enemy lines. They are surrounded by the enemy and slowly make the six mile trek to a hill which is in American hands ... or so they hope. Based on the novel DAY WITHOUT END by Van Van Praag, the film is one of the best "war" movies ever made. Set in one day, director Anthony Mann (THE NAKED SPUR) does a remarkable job of creating a realistic atmosphere of tension and fear. This isn't one of those militaristic propaganda films about heroism in battle (though that is here) but about the ordinary G.I. coping with an almost insurmountable task of surviving an unseen and fierce enemy. These men are unraveling, struggling but pushing on. Mann is blessed with an excellent cast of actors, notably Robert Ryan as the platoon commander who's winging it and Aldo Ray as the Sergeant who's had enough of the war and is ready to go home. I have to also commend Ernest Haller's (GONE WITH THE WIND) superb B&W imagery and Elmer Bernstein's highly effective underscore. With Vic Morrow, Robert Keith, Nehemiah Persoff, Scott Marlowe, James Edwards and Philip Pine.   

The Black Camel (1931)

A film star (Dorothy Revier) is in Hawaii shooting a movie. When she is murdered, the detective Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) discovers that her murder is somehow connected to another murder that happened three years ago in Hollywood. Based on the novel by Earl Derr Biggers, the creator of the Charlie Chan mysteries. It's a very static and crude piece of film making. Almost like a filmed play although the film was actually shot on location in Honolulu, rare for a sound film at that time. The acting is also very stiff except for Oland and Robert Young (in his film debut). But if you're a murder mystery junkie like me, it works anyway. There's not much you can say about a film like this, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS it's not. It's a pity that three strip Technicolor hadn't been introduced yet because the Hawaiian locations would certainly have given the film a needed lushness. The plot was reused again in CHARLIE CHAN IN RIO (1941). Directed by Hamilton MacFadden. With Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye (who had memorably co-starred in DRACULA earlier in the year), Sally Eilers, Victor Varconi, Violet Dunn, William Post Jr. and Mary Gordon.

Suspicion (1941)

A rather conservative young woman (Joan Fontaine in an Oscar winning performance), who comes from a wealthy family, impulsively marries an irresponsible and penniless playboy (Cary Grant). But when she catches him in a series of lies, she begins to suspect the worst. Based on the novel BEFORE THE FACT by Francis Iles, the film is substantially different from the book. The novel is darker, a portrait of a murderer as seen through the eyes of his victim. Alfred Hitchcock's film is a film about unconditional love wrapped up in the guise of a thriller. The film appears to be going in one direction when suddenly we're left with a neat little phony ending. In spite of the almost disastrous ending, what leads up to it is very good and very well acted with Grant particularly good. Yet one can't help but wonder why we're supposed to be happy that the heroine ends up with a lazy, lying ne'er do well. Well, I did say it was about unconditional love, didn't I? Franz Waxman did the nice underscore. With Nigel Bruce, Cedric Hardwicke, Dame May Whitty, Leo G. Carroll, Heather Angel and Gavin Gordon.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Billie (1965)

A young tomboy (Patty Duke) shows a talent for track and the school's coach (Charles Lane) puts her on the track team. But as the only girl on the all male track team, she finds it causes problems when she gets a crush on one (Warren Berlinger) of her fellow team members. Based on the play TIME OUT FOR GINGER by Ronald Alexander, who also wrote the screenplay. The play was a flop on Broadway but hugely popular in regional and community theaters in the 1950s and 1960s. Even my high school put it on. This one adds some musical numbers, some truly awful songs (Duke's voice is flat) but David Winters' (VIVA LAS VEGAS) choreography is energetic. The film is mostly positive in its depiction of a young girl's determination to be judged as an equal rather than on her gender but the film wants its cake and to eat it too. The film makes its point but after making it, Duke gives up sports to concentrate on being a "girl". Directed by Don Weis. With Jane Greer, Jim Backus, Donna McKechnie, Dick Sargent, Billy De Wolfe, Susan Seaforth and Richard Deacon.

Venetian Bird (1952)

An English private detective (Richard Todd) goes to Venice in search of a missing man. But when he gets there, it seems someone doesn't want the man (John Gregson) found. A corpse pulled out of the canal is just the beginning of something much bigger than he ever anticipated. Based on the novel by Victor Canning (FAMILY PLOT), who also did the screenplay, this is a rather muddled thriller that needed a more nimble hand than the director Ralph Thomas is able to give it. The film seems to suggest Carol Reed's THE THIRD MAN with Venice standing in for Vienna. Like Welles in Reed's film, Gregson doesn't appear until the film's final third and Eva Bartok (THE CRIMSON PIRATE) is similar to Alida Valli's character from that movie. The Venice locations as shot by Ernest Steward are quite handsome. Still, for a wannabe, after a slow beginning, the pace picks up and it's moderately engaging. The perfectly mediocre score is by Nino Rota. With Margot Grahame, George Coulouris, Walter Rilla and Sidney James.  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pawn Sacrifice (2015)

It's the height of the Cold War and America's reigning chess champion Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) is being pushed to beat the Russian champion Boris Spassky (Liev Schrieber). But his mental deterioration and paranoia may prove to be his undoing. Based on the 1972 world chess championship that had the nation riveted, director Edward Zwick (GLORY) does an expert job of recreating the event and indeed, that period. It would seem quite difficult to make a thriller about such a cerebral game as chess and doubly difficult when we all know the outcome. But Zwick doesn't put all his eggs on the tournament but places the focus on Fischer's unraveling schizophrenia. I've always liked Tobey Maguire but he hasn't always had the best vehicles to show off his talent, he hasn't been this good in years. I had some problems with Michael Stuhlbarg as the "lawyer" with contacts in high places (like the government) whose performance seemed a caricature but the rest of the acting is first rate. The sparse underscore is by James Newton Howard. With Peter Sarsgaard, Lily Rabe, Conrad Pia and Robin Weigert.

Five Weeks In A Balloon (1962)

The British Prime Minister (Herbert Marshall) assigns a mission to an explorer (Cedric Hardwicke) who is surveying West Africa by balloon. Namely to plant the British flag on an uncharted area for the crown before the land can be claimed by slave traders. Loosely based on the Jules Verne novel, this is an undemanding comedy/adventure film for "the whole family" as they used to say. It's rather silly and the portrayal of the Arabs and African natives are cartoonish but there's an air of innocent fun. The narrative is often illogical. For example, Peter Lorre plays an unrepentant slave trader who is forced to travel with the explorer's group against his will but when he gets a chance to escape, he doesn't and not only that but helps them rather than turning them over to his cronies! But it's not the kind of film that holds up under analysis. There are some second unit shots of Africa in CinemaScope but the film itself was shot on the 20th Century Fox sound stages. Directed by Irwin Allen. With Red Buttons, Barbara Eden, Fabian, Barbara Luna, Richard Hayden, Henry Daniell, Mike Mazurki and Billy Gilbert.   

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Wicked Lady (1983)

A young bride (Glynis Barber) invites her best friend (Faye Dunaway) to be her maid of honor at her wedding. Instead, the scheming duplicitous friend steals the extremely rich groom (Denholm Elliott) for herself and marries him. But this is only the beginning of her wicked ways which will bring her own downfall. Based on the novel THE LIFE AND DEATH OF WICKED LADY SKELTON by Magdalen King Hall, this is  the second film version of the novel. It was made into a quite popular British film in 1945 with Margaret Lockwood in the title role. That film took itself very seriously. The director Michael Winner wisely reinvents the film as a comedy and an often bawdy comedy at that. People seem to fornicate at any given opportunity and in one scene Dunaway literally whips the dress off a woman. I found it much more fun than the 1945 film although the film inexplicably has a terrible reputation and is considered one of several movies that "ruined" Dunaway's career. Dunaway seems to relish every evil act she commits while John Gielgud is suitably amusing as her pious disapproving Bible quoting butler. The lively score is by Tony Banks of Genesis. With Alan Bates, Prunella Scales, Oliver Tobias, Joan Hickson and Celia Imrie.   

Friday, September 25, 2015

Treasure Of The Golden Condor (1953)

Though he is the rightful heir to the title of Marquis and the estate of his uncle (George Macready), a young Frenchman (Cornel Wilde) is in bondage as an indentured servant to his uncle since he cannot prove his birthright. He escapes to Guatemala in the hopes of finding a lost treasure and returning to take his rightful place. Based on the novel SON OF FURY (previously filmed under that title in 1942 with Tyrone Power), the emphasis here is on adventure and this swashbuckler is best during the Guatemala sequence which has a touch of Indiana Jones to it. It was actually filmed there and the authentic footage gives the film an added attraction. Other than that, it's your pretty standard costumed action movie. Constance Smith makes for a rather drab heroine and Anne Bancroft (in Frances Farmer's old role) is much more interesting as the Marquis' spoiled daughter. Sol Kaplan's underscore is suitably vigorous. Directed by Delmer Daves (3:10 TO YUMA). With Fay Wray, Leo G. Carroll, Finlay Currie, Konstantin Shayne and Walter Hampden.   

A Farewell To Arms (1932)

Set in Italy during WWI, an American (Gary Cooper) serving with the Italian Army as an ambulance driver falls in love with an English nurse (Helen Hayes). But his best friend (Adolphe Menjou) and her best friend (Mary Philips) as well as the war work against the relationship. Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway, the director Frank Borzage brings a needed fluency to the adaptation to work against the often staid dialog. The film is more maudlin than the novel with its emphasis on romance without Hemingway's sober prose. As a pre-code film however, it can be more direct than the 1957 film version. Hayes loses her virginity to Cooper in a cemetery and she sneaks into his hospital room at night to have sex. Cooper and Hayes don't have much of a chemistry. Cooper's acting is often awkward but he has a strong screen presence while Hayes' acting is more assured but she lacks a movie star's demeanor. Hemingway, no surprise, reputedly disliked the film.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Jean De Florette (1986)

In a small French village shortly after WWI, a dim witted peasant (Daniel Auteuil) returns home from military service. He has plans to grow carnations but he lacks the necessary water. Encouraged by his devious uncle (Yves Montand), they block the spring on a neighbor's land in the hopes that the new tenant's (Gerard Depardieu) crops will fail due to lack of water and move out. But not before selling the land to them. Based on the novel by Marcel Pagnol, Claude Berri's film was a massive critical and financial success when released and shortly followed by the second part of the narrative, MANON OF THE SPRING. It's a beautifully crafted film, stunningly shot by Bruno Nuytten, that evokes comparison to Greek tragedy. The performances of the three leads are excellent with Auteuil standing out in a difficult performance. Unlike his uncle, he seems a good person at heart but his lack of intelligence leads him to be manipulated. Auteuil lets us see the character's conflict, he knows he's doing wrong and feels bad about what he's doing but his lack of a moral center as well as his innate stupidity prevent him from acting on his conscience. With Elizabeth Depardieu and Ernestine Mazurowna.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Stanley And Iris (1990)

A widow (Jane Fonda) with two kids works in a factory. It's there that she meets a man (Robert De Niro) who comes to her aid when a thief steals her purse. When she discovers he's illiterate, she helps him to learn to read and write so he can improve his lot in life and a friendship develops. Based on the novel UNION STREET by Pat Barker, this was the final film of director Martin Ritt who passed on several months after the film was released. For about 3/4 of its running time, it's a lovely story about two lonely people who are able to move forward in their lives because of each other. But something went wrong in the film's last quarter and it just fades away rather than given a proper ending. Since there are issues the film brings up that are never fully addressed, I suspect a lot ended up on the cutting room floor. There's the important issue of Fonda's daughter (Martha Plimpton) dropping out of school to work in the factory that's never fully explored and her sister (Swoozie Kurtz) and brother in law (Jamey Sheridan) that live with her at the beginning of the film suddenly disappear. Where did they go? It's things like that that ultimately make the film unsatisfying. The two title performances are excellent. Fonda fully inhabits her role and for those who complain about De Niro's "overacting" should check out his restrained subtle work here. With Feodor Chaliapin Jr. as De Niro's father and Harley Cross.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pin Up Girl (1944)

During WWII, a stenographer (Betty Grable) in Washington D.C. has a habit of fabricating and while on a trip to New York passes herself off as a Broadway musical actress. A soldier (John Harvey) falls for her during that trip and when he shows up in Washington, she does double duty. Stenographer by day, showgirl by night! Not all WWII propaganda films were directly about the war. This lightweight musical comedy goes out of its way to remind us in both plot and song that there's a war raging in Europe and the Pacific. The film's big "musical" finale is Grable in a WAC uniform leading other WACS in a synchronized military drill. The story itself is routine fluff with the usual amount of misunderstandings, romance and musical numbers and a few (very few) laughs provided by Joe E. Brown and Martha Raye (who does some nice scat singing). The choreography is by Hermes Pan who partners with Grable in the Once Too Often number. Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. With Eugene Pallette, Dorothea Kent, Dave Willock and the tap dancing Condos Brothers.

Patton (1970)

It's 1943 in North Africa and General George S. Patton (George C. Scott) leads the American Army to victory and becomes one of the Army's most valued commanders. But the war hasn't been won yet and before it's over, he will become a controversial and polarizing figure but always marching to his own drum. One of the best movie biographies ever made. I'll be the first to admit that I don't know beans about Patton so I don't know how historically accurate the film is so I can only judge it on its own cinematic merits. Based on two books, a Patton biography and Omar Bradley's (played here by Karl Malden) memoirs, this is an "epic" movie bio (it runs 3 hours) but unlike say, GANDHI, the director Franklin Schaffner has given the film a stunning visual sheen (the cinematographer is Fred J. Koenkamp) that helps justify its epic status. The screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North allows for a richly layered and complex view of Patton. I suppose some will see him as a "war monger" but the script gives him an almost mythic warrior like status. We may be repelled at times yet can't help but admire him. And towering above everything is George C. Scott's brilliant performance, one of the best performances by an actor to grace the screen. It's impossible to imagine the film without him as his performance is a very part of the film's fabric. With Edward Binns, James Edwards, John Doucette, Tim Considine and Karl Michael Vogler.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Weak And The Wicked (1954)

A young woman (Glynis Johns) with a gambling problem is sent to prison for fraud. She is sentenced for one year and during that year she gets to know the other prisoners and their stories of how they got there. Based on the novel WHO LIE IN GAOL by Joan Henry and directed by J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE), it's a softer version of a film like CAGED. The women aren't mistreated and the conditions of the prison are reasonable. The backstories of the women are a varied lot, some amusing (Olive Sloane's shoplifter) and some are tragic (the dead infant) but the film avoids the trashy "women behind bars" syndrome. Naturally prison conditions have changed considerably in the last 60 years so the film has an almost quaint dated feel to it but it's strongly acted and until the phony ending, it manages to avoid sentimentality through out. The ensemble cast includes Diana Dors, Rachel Roberts, Anthony Newley, Dame Sybil Thorndike, John Gregson, Sidney James, Athene Seyler and Simone Silva.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Madigan (1968)

A New York City police detective (Richard Widmark) and his partner (Harry Guardino) bungle an arrest when the suspect (Steve Ihnat) turns the table on them and takes their guns. Since he's armed and dangerous, they are given 72 hours to get their man before discipline is imposed on them. Based on the novel THE COMMISSIONER by Richard Dougherty, the director Don Siegel does a good job of creating a realistically gritty atmosphere and keeping an urgent pulse to the hunt for the killer. But (and it's a very big but), the script is saddled with trite domestic scenes between Widmark and his wife (Inger Stevens, doing the best she can) and a dull subplot involving the police commissioner (Henry Fonda) and his married mistress (Susan Clark). Adding to the problem is that times have changed. What in 1968 came across as tough cops doing their duty comes across today as abuse of power and harassment. Indeed, corruption in the police department is treated with kid gloves as when a cop (James Whitmore) who should be fired is given a pass because he has friends in high places and we're supposed to be okay with that. With Sheree North, Michael Dunn, Don Stroud, Warren Stevens, Virginia Gregg and Raymond St. Jacques. 

Peccato Che Sia Una Canaglia (aka Too Bad She's Bad) (1954)

A taxi driver (Marcello Mastroianni) finds himself the victim of a scam to steal his cab by a beautiful thief (Sophia Loren) and her two accomplices. But her charms have its effect on him and as she and her father (Vittorio De Sica) continue to involve him in their petty larceny, he finds himself both furious with and attracted to her. This amusing Italian version of a screwball comedy is made to seem better than it is by the expert playing and comedic timing of its three leads. De Sica was an old hand at this by this time but even the newcomers Loren and Mastroianni shine as much as he. The director Alessandro Blasetti keeps things popping swiftly till we're near exhaustion. One might quibble why Mastroianni's character continually goes back to Loren after her unlawful ways are ruining his life but it's Sophia Loren ..... who wouldn't put up with a lot just to bask in her presence? Nothing memorable but a chance to see three of Italy's greatest talents together in one film, two of them very early in their career.  

Grandma (2015)

When her granddaughter (Julia Garner) asks her for the money for an abortion, her grandmother (Lily Tomlin) doesn't have the money. So she and her granddaughter make several visits to the grandmother's past acquaintances to try and raise the funds. It's a journey that will prove surprising and memorable. Films about senior citizens normally drive me up a wall. Usually, they're films about seniors acting like adolescents (think Don Ameche breakdancing in COCOON) or dealing with sickness and death (think Haneke's AMOUR) . GRANDMA is a breath of fresh air! As written and directed by Paul Weitz with a firebrand of a performance by Tomlin. Tomlin's Grandma is definitely not adorable. She's a vital,  intelligent but angry woman ..... she's also more than a bit of an a-hole. It's also the story of three generations of women in one family (Marcia Gay Harden is Tomlin's daughter and Garner's mother) where one sees the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Weitz doesn't tie it all up in a neat little ribbon and at the film's end, while its characters have looked at their imperfections right in the face, there's no guarantee of change. Tomlin is supported by a terrific cast including Sam Elliott (if there's any justice, he'll get an Oscar nomination), the late Elizabeth Pena, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, John Cho and even that 60s cutie Judy Geeson (TO SIR WITH LOVE) shows up as Greer's mother.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Still Of The Night (1982)

When one of his patients (Josef Sommer) is murdered, a psychiatrist (Roy Scheider) becomes involved with the man's mistress (Meryl Streep), who just happens to be the no. 1 suspect in the murder. Someone once said that every director has one Hitchcock film in him. This is Robert Benton's (KRAMER VS. KRAMER) effort and it's a failure on just about every level. The film overtly pays homage to several Hitchcock films: the psychiatrist using a dream to solve a murder is from SPELLBOUND, the auction sequence is right out of NORTH BY NORTHWEST and there are two falls (including one from a bell tower) which recall VERTIGO. But the film is totally devoid of suspense. It's as if Benton had never actually seen a Hitchcock film but had heard them described by someone else and used that as his starting point. Scheider's character seems uncommonly thick headed for a psychiatrist and Meryl Streep is totally miscast. Her tics and mannerisms are all wrong for the mysterious blonde, a role a lesser actress like Kim Novak or Tippi Hedren could have done effortlessly. There's also a dreadful melancholy score by John Kander (CABARET) that's all wrong for the film. With Jessica Tandy, Joe Grifasi and in the film's strongest performance, Sara Botsford.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Pied Piper Of Hamelin (1957)

Set in the Middle Ages, when the small village of Hamelin becomes infested with rats, the mayor (Claude Rains) and the city council agree to pay the piper (Van Johnson) who guarantees he will rid the city of the rat population. But when the duplicitous mayor and his council renege on the payment, the piper exacts a terrible revenge. This well known fable (from which the axiom "time to pay the piper" comes) has been told in many forms. Perhaps the most notable, aside from The Brothers Grimm version, being the poem by Robert Browning. Like SONG OF NORWAY, this musical uses the music of Edvard Grieg, this time with lyrics by Hal Stanley and Irving Taylor. The dialog is also spoken in rhyme. The songs are an unmemorable bunch though Kay Starr, the only real singer in the cast, brings a singer's phrasing and stance to her song A Mother's Lament. The acting is broad and I'm not sure even kids will be patient enough to sit through it. But if you always wanted to see Claude Rains sing and dance, this is your chance. Directed by Bretaigne Windust. With Lori Nelson and Jim Backus.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Comfort Of Strangers (1990)

An English couple (Natasha Richardson, Rupert Everett) are on vacation in Venice while they attempt to determine the future of their relationship. But when a mysterious stranger (Christopher Walken) in white takes them under his wing and invites them to his home, their fate is sealed and it's not a pretty one. Based on the novel by Ian McEwan (ATONEMENT), you have to wonder between this and DON'T LOOK NOW (1973), why anyone would ever want to visit Venice! The director Paul Schrader (he wrote TAXI DRIVER) and screenwriter Harold Pinter (THE SERVANT) are a perfect match for material like this. Unsettling and disturbing, you know something awful will happen but that dreaded anticipation is part of what keeps you compelled. The cinematographer Dante Spinotti (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) turns Venice into a sinister nightmare of a city, even in the daylight. Walken is one of those actors who doesn't have to do much but just stare at you to creep you out and Helen Mirren as his masochistic wife also brings a macabre sheen to her performance. Angelo Badalamenti did the appropriately somber score.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Beast Of Hollow Mountain (1956)

Set in rural Southern Mexico, an American cattle rancher (Guy Madison) finds himself the rival of a native Mexican rancher (Eduardo Noriega) in both business and in love. The woman (Patricia Medina) in contention is conflicted in her loyalties and emotions. Meanwhile, cattle and people are disappearing around the swamps below Hollow Mountain. Despite the title, the film focuses on the tense triangle of the three protagonists as well as a subplot involving a little boy (Mario Navarro) and his heavy drinking father (Pascual Garcia Pena). The beast doesn't arrive until the movie's final 20 minutes. An American-Mexican co-production with two directors, Edward Nassour and Ismael Rodriguez, the film was the brain child of stop motion animation pioneer Willis H. O'Brien (KING KONG). It's a rather slow moving western and disappointing given the limited time of the title creature. To the film's credit, I liked how Medina's heroine was feisty and instead of screaming like a ninny when confronted with the beast, she fights back. On the other hand, when Madison first spots the beast instead of being amazed, he has the look of "Oh, it's just another dinosaur". With Carlos Rivas (THE KING AND I) and Julio Villarreal. 

The Apartment (1960)

An employee (Jack Lemmon) in the lower ranks of a major insurance company loans his apartment out to company executives for extramarital assignations as a way of climbing the corporate ladder. But things backfire when he falls for the mistress (Shirley MacLaine) of the head (Fred MacMurray) of the personnel department. Billy Wilder's film is considered one of his very best films. Critically acclaimed when it opened and a hit at the box office, it also won the 1960 best picture Oscar. But try as I might, I just can't warm up to it. It's well made, the script (by Wilder and his collaborator I.A.L. Diamond) is sharp and the acting good but I can't put my finger on why it doesn't work for me. Well, maybe I can. The narrative is rather contrived. It would have us believe that all corporate executives are lecherous cheaters and the female staff are promiscuous sluts, at least that's all that we see and the "cute" Jewish couple (Jack Kruschen, Naomi Stevens)  are overcooked stereotypes. There's a smutty wink-wink quality to it. But hey, maybe it's just me! On the plus side, Lemmon and MacLaine are wonderful. Their work here ranks with their best and, of course, they have terrific chemistry. With Edie Adams, Ray Walston, Hope Holiday, Joan Shawlee, Joyce Jameson and Johnny Seven.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Front Page (1931)

On the eve of the execution of a convicted murderer (George E. Stone), rather than covering the story the editor (Adolphe Menjou) finds his top reporter (Pat O'Brien) quitting to get married. As the editor and the reporter's fiancee (Mary Brian) tug at him to each get their way, there's more to the convicted killer's story than meets the eye. Ben Hecht's and Charles MacArthur's 1928 Broadway play THE FRONT PAGE remains the benchmark of all newspaper plays/films. There have been no less than four film versions of it (1931, 1940, 1974, 1988) and while Howard Hawks' 1940 adaptation (retitled HIS GIRL FRIDAY) remains the one to beat, this first film adaptation is pretty robust. The rapid fire dialog as delivered by a stellar cast of character actors remains as funny today as it did back then. O'Brien tends to shout a bit too much but Menjou has the devious serpentine newsman with ink in his veins down pat. The film doesn't bother to hide its stage origins (why should it?) but the director Lewis Milestone is able to make things move around. Since this is a pre-code film, it's amazing what they get away with. With Edward Everett Horton, Walter Catlett, Mae Clarke and Frank McHugh.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Love Machine (1971)

A local New York City TV news anchor (John Philip Law) weasels his way to the top of a major television network until he's running things, bedding beautiful women along the way. Based on the sleazy Jacqueline Susann potboiler, this lacks the gloss and entertainment value that was the film version of VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, truly a trash masterpiece. This one is just plain tawdry, crammed with cliches, bad acting and even worse dialogue. One cringes for poor Jodi Wexler (this was her one and only movie) whose inadequacies as an actress are so horribly exposed that her casting borders on cruelty. Two actors manage to hold on to their dignity (such as it is) and actually give performances: Dyan Cannon as the wife of a network head (Robert Ryan) and Jackie Cooper as a crafty TV executive. As for the others, they've proven their ability in other movies so I'll leave it at that. Only once does the film rise to genuine "camp" in a hair pulling, dish throwing catfight between Cannon and two gay men (David Hemmings, Clinton Greyn) where an Oscar is used as a weapon. Directed (badly) by Jack Haley Jr. With Shecky Greene, Maureen Arthur, Gayle Hunnicutt, Edith Atwater, Alexandra Hay, Eve Bruce and Sharon Farrell (whose part was cut so severely that her character no longer makes any sense). 

The October Man (1947)

When a child (Juliet Mills) in his care is killed, a man (John Mills) has a nervous breakdown and attempts suicide. After a lengthy stay at a mental sanitarium, he is released. He is well on his way to a total recovery. But when a model (Kay Walsh, OLIVER TWIST) who lives next to him is murdered, he becomes the no. 1 suspect. Based on a novel by Eric Ambler, the film's premise is very Hitchcockian. An innocent man is suspected of murder and with time running out, he attempts  to prove his innocence. Ambler's screenplay is decent enough (though it could have used some sharpening) but its execution is poorly done. It lacks the wit and the suspense of the best of Hitchcock and the director Roy Ward Baker (A NIGHT TO REMEMBER) has no finesse with his cast with Mills faring the worst. He's our "hero" but his behavior is often that of a dimwit. Very good in parts but the whole is disappointing. With Joan Greenwood (wasted as the "girl"), Joyce Carey, Edward Chapman and Catherine Lacey.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

On The Riviera (1951)

A nightclub entertainer (Danny Kaye) is hired to impersonate an internationally famous aviator (Danny Kaye) when he's out of town since they look alike. But when the aviator returns home sooner than expected, the confusion over mistaken identities disorients the aviator's wife (Gene Tierney), the entertainer's girlfriend (Corinne Calvet) and everybody else! Based on the play THE RED CAT by Rudolph Lothar and Hans Adler, this is the third film version of the play. It was previously filmed in 1935 and 1941. With Danny Kaye in the lead, one would expect more zaniness but Kaye is surprisingly restrained here. The scenes at the aviator's party are wonderfully done but everything else seems tired as if the plot had been overused. The film is padded out with songs by Sylvia Fine (Kaye's wife) and they're an unmemorable lot and the cloying puppet number is Kaye at his worst. But Jack Cole's choreography is lively at least. Directed by Walter Lang. With Gwen Verdon, Mari Blanchard, Sig Ruman, Marcel Dalio, Joi Lansing, Clinton Sundberg, Ann Codee and Joyce Mackenzie.

Phoenix (2014)

A woman (Nina Hoss) has survived the Auschwitz concentration camp but she has been disfigured and needs plastic surgery. The results are less than ideal. She searches through the wreck that is post war Berlin for her husband (Ronald Zehrfeld) who believes her dead. When she finds him, he doesn't recognize her but since she "looks" like his dead wife, he concocts a plan where she will pretend to be the wife in order to collect her sizable inheritance and they will split the proceeds. Based on the novel LE RETOUR DES CENDRES by Hubert Monteihet which was previously filmed in 1965 with Maximilian Schell and Ingrid Thulin. I've not read the novel but I suspect the first film was closer to the source material. This is a marvelous film. Though reviews have used descriptions like noir and Hitchcockian (though there's a touch of VERTIGO present), I don't think either terms apply. It's a strong melodrama that explores a woman's attempt to come alive again by connecting with her past only to find that her past is as "dead" as she is. As the survivor, Nina Hoss gives a richly textured performance, the best by an actress I've seen so far this year (the film opened in Germany last year but is only now opening in the U.S. though it's done the film festival circuit). To discuss too much will rob it of its emotional core. Expertly directed by Christian Petzold. Go see it. With Nina Kunzendorf, also excellent. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Who Was That Lady? (1960)

A chemistry professor (Tony Curtis) is caught by his wife (Janet Leigh) kissing a student (Barbara Hines). When she makes plans to fly to Reno for a divorce, his best friend (Dean Martin) comes up with a wacky plan to save the marriage. Namely, pretend he is an undercover FBI agent and the student is a suspected spy. The wife swallows this but that little lie grows into a big lie until both the FBI and CIA get involved. Based on the Broadway play by Norman Krasna (who also wrote the screenplay) and directed by George Sidney (BYE BYE BIRDIE). For the most part, this is rather tedious and formulaic sitcom material. Fortunately, Curtis and Martin are adept at handling comedy but poor Janet Leigh is saddled with playing a ninny and try as she might, she can't save herself. The film does have one genuinely funny scene set in a Chinese restaurant where Curtis and Martin take two "dumb" sisters (Barbara Nichols, Joi Lansing) that coughs up a few laughs. If only the rest of the picture were on that level, it might have stood a chance. Andre Previn did the overly bubbly underscore. With Jack Benny, James Whitmore, John McIntire, Simon Oakland, Larry Storch and Larry Keating.

Bullitt (1968)

Set in San Francisco, a police lieutenant (Steve McQueen) is assigned the task of protecting a witness (Pat Renella) who's supposed to testify against the mob. But when the witness is assassinated before he can testify, the cop is determined to find the killers even though an ambitious politician (Robert Vaughn) insists on hampering his investigation. There's something to be said about technique. On paper, I suspect that BULLITT (based on the novel MUTE WITNESS by Robert L. Fish) didn't look like much but the British director Peter Yates (THE DEEP), his cinematographer William A. Fraker and his wizard of an editor Frank Keller (justifiably winning the editing Oscar for his work here) have whipped up a a tightly stylish crime thriller out of a routine script. As Bullitt, McQueen shows why he defined "cool" at the time and he lets his charisma carry his performance most of the time. The film contains, of course, a near legendary car chase that still has not been equaled. Shot entirely on location in San Francisco and if you've ever lived in the city (I have), you know Yates and company got the feel just right. With Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Duvall, Simon Oakland, Norman Fell and Don Gordon.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Un Maladetto Imbroglio (aka The Facts Of Murder) (1959)

A police inspector (Pietro Germi, who also directed) investigates what, at first, seems a routine robbery in an upscale Rome apartment building. But when questioning the reluctant victim (Ildebrando Santafe), he gets the feeling something isn't quite right. But a week later, the woman (Eleonora Rossi Drago, LE AMICHE) who lives next door to the robbery victim is brutally murdered. Coincidence? Or is there a connection? After his international breakthrough with DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE (1961) for which he won a screenplay Oscar, Pietro Germi specialized in satirical comedies like SEDUCED AND ABANDONED. But just before DIVORCE, he directed this dark noir-ish unsettling crime drama that ranks with the best of his work. Ironically, it wasn't released in the U.S. until 1965 after his comedies had given him a recognizable name ("from the director of DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE"). It's a sadly disturbing film yet absorbing. Except for the murder victim, you can't really like any of the characters, not even the police who engage in what we refer to today as harassment. The number of suspects is abundant and Germi keeps us guessing until the very end and when the murderer is revealed, we don't get catharsis, just more depressed. A really excellent film of its kind. With Claudia Cardinale, Nino Castelnuovo (UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG), Claudio Gora and Franco Fabrizi. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Rambling Rose (1991)

During the 1930s depression, a good hearted but wayward girl (Laura Dern) is taken in by a family as a domestic servant. She's accepted as one of the family but her wanton ways cause major problems for all concerned. This poignant film is framed as a memory piece as a young man (John Heard) reflects on the young girl he fell in love with when he was 13. Based on the novel by Calder Willingham (who also did the screenplay), director Martha Coolidge gives a solid look at how women's sexuality were perceived in the 1930s. There's a horrifying scene in a doctor's (Kevin Conway) office where he actually suggests removing her ovaries and womb to decrease her sexuality! There's also a scene between the 13 year old boy (Lukas Haas) and Dern in bed together that I don't think would survive the script today. Dern was (justifiably) Oscar nominated for her performance here and those of us who love her work were hoping that this would lead to a major career but though she's worked steadily, the "big" career never happened. A gorgeous underscore by Elmer Bernstein. With Robert Duvall and Diane Ladd (also Oscar nominated).

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Golden Salamander (1950)

An archaeologist (Trevor Howard) travels to Tunisia in North Africa to recover some rare art relics. But when he accidentally stumbles onto a gun smuggling syndicate, he finds himself torn between looking the other way and doing the right thing. It takes a murder to help him make up his mind. Based on the novel by Victor Canning (his FAMILY PLOT was filmed by Hitchcock), this is a surprisingly dull thriller. It can't help but be rich in atmosphere considering the exotic location which is handsomely shot by Oswald Morris (LOLITA) but the director Ronald Neame (PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) seems content to let the narrative meander while what it needs is some sharp editing. The unimaginative score by William Alwyn could also have been ditched. There is the novelty of seeing the lovely fresh faced Anouk Aimee (billed here simply as Anouk) as the romantic interest. With Herbert Lom, Jacques Sernas, Walter Rilla, Wilfrid Hyde White and Miles Malleson.

Svengali (1931)

A singing teacher (John Barrymore) with a disreputable reputation has hypnotic powers. He takes an ordinary girl (Marian Marsh) and by hypnotizing her is able to turn her into famous singer. But it devils him no end to know her heart belongs to another man (Bramwell Fletcher). Based on the 1894 novel TRILBY by George Du Maurier, this may be an uneven film (to put it mildly) but it contains one of Barrymore's best film performances. One can almost smell the stink coming off of him. He even manages to bring a a touch of pathos to his sinister maestro. As a stage actor, Barrymore was a legend but his film career is spotty and here, one can see a bit why he was considered one of the great actors of the American stage. As Trilby, Marian Marsh is lovely and charming but its Barrymore who fascinates us. As cinema, it's pretty hoary and the director Archie Mayo can't quite hold our interest when Barrymore isn't around (which fortunately isn't very often). With Donald Crisp and Luis Alberni. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Imitation Of Life (1959)

In 1947, a white mother (Lana Turner) and a black mother (Juanita Moore) join forces to raise their daughters and improve their lot in life. But the white mother sacrifices her daughter on the altar of ambition as she focuses on her rising career and leaves her daughter (Sandra Dee) to be raised by the other woman. But unlike her mother, the black daughter (Susan Kohner) refuses to accept her place in life in a racist society. Since she's fair skinned, she passes for white. One of the seminal films of the 1950s and a searing examination of both racism and mother "love". I could write paragraphs (and have) about the layers and complexities of Douglas Sirk's masterpiece but won't. Dismissed in 1959 as a glossy "woman's picture", it has more sting than other films on the subject (like Kramer's dreadful DEFIANT ONES) of the era. With its lavish trimmings (sets, costumes), Russell Metty's lush cinematography and Frank Skinner's glossy score, people tend to not look beyond the surface. Everything about it is perfect. Even Lana Turner. Her artificiality as an actress can often mar a film but when used appropriately as here where it fits her character (twice in the film she's told to "stop acting!"), the results are splendid. But if the film belongs to anyone, it's Moore and Kohner. If Moore's final goodbye to her daughter doesn't have you in tears, check your pulse! With John Gavin, Dan O'Herlihy, Troy Donahue, Robert Alda, Ann Robinson and Bess Flowers (who actually has lines!).

Monday, September 7, 2015

Angel On My Shoulder (1946)

After a gangster (Paul Muni) is killed by his partner (Hardie Albright), he's sent to Hell. But the Devil (Claude Rains) makes a deal with him to return to Earth and get revenge on his partner. But first, he must destroy a respectable judge's reputation by inhabiting his body. Movie fantasies about going to heaven or hell and getting a second chance have been done several times, the two most notable examples being HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1942), A GUY NAMED JOE (1943) and their remakes HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978) and ALWAYS (1989). Unfortunately, this entry is totally without charm and its humor flat. When Muni takes over the judge's body and starts acting totally out of character, no one seems overly concerned and just humor his "eccentricities". I could have done without the soppy platitudes the film drips on us in the movie's final minutes. To Muni's credit, he sets aside the ham and gives a restrained (for him) performance. This was Muni's last American film for 13 years (he did an Italian film in 1952). Directed by Archie Mayo. With Anne Baxter, Erskine Sanford and Marion Martin.

Adventures Of Captain Fabian (1951)

In 1860 New Orleans, a Creole maid (Micheline Presle) is determined to improve her position in life no matter what it takes. She sets her sights on an aristocrat (Vincent Price) already betrothed to another woman (Zanie Campan). But be careful what you wish for. The title is a misnomer. Not only is the film not about Captain Fabian (Errol Flynn) and his adventures but Flynn is absent from the film for large chunks of time. The film is about Presle's character and her ambitions which ultimately destroy her. Flynn wrote the screenplay himself and the director is producer William Marshall who was married to Presle at the time. It looks like a Hollywood studio back lot picture but it was actually filmed in France in a studio created New Orleans. Outside of a dreadful score by Rene Cloerec and the weak ending, the film isn't bad at all. The film is a period melodrama but I suppose though it really isn't a Flynn movie but with Flynn toplined that they felt they were obligated to give the movie an action finish so we get a flaming finale that demeans what what on before it. With Victor Francen and in a rare poor performance, Agnes Moorehead in brownface.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)

An Indiana lineman (Richard Dreyfuss) experiences a close encounter with a UFO while driving in the early hours of the morning. This alters his life when he becomes obsessed with the subject to the point of alienating his wife (Teri Garr). He bonds with a single mother (Melinda Dillon) whose child (Cary Guffey) has been kidnapped by a UFO. One of the greatest science fiction films ever made and a personal favorite. Steven Spielberg's second feature film is pure bliss. With the rare exception like DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, in the 1950s UFOs were portrayed as threats to humankind. Aliens wanted to invade and take over the planet. Spielberg's dreamy vision is more optimistic. There's magic in the making here and Spielberg plays on every nerd's fantasy of how we would like an actual encounter to be realized. Dreyfuss's family man is a kid who's never grown up, abandoning his family for the skies (something Spielberg has said he'd never do if making the film today). The film still retains its ability to fascinate. One of the most joyous films I've ever experienced, I can still remember the collective gasp of the audience when the mother ship was first shown in all its glory in a 70 millimeter blow up. I have to mention Melinda Dillon's Oscar nominated performance. It's amazing what she is able to do with so little to work from and John Williams' underscore gives me goosebumps. With Francois Truffaut, Bob Balaban, Roberts Blossom and Josef Sommer.  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Last Of Sheila (1973)

A film producer (James Coburn) invites several guests to spend a week on his yacht in the South of France: a screenwriter (Richard Benjamin) and his wife (Joan Hackett), an agent (Dyan Cannon), a director (James Mason), a rising young actress (Raquel Welch) and her husband (Ian McShane). But what was supposed to be a week of fun and games turns into murder. Written by composer Stephen Sondheim and actor Anthony Perkins, this is a corker of a whodunit, a bouquet of catnip to lovers of murder mysteries. The glamorous Mediterranean location is easy on the eye, the cast first rate and the mystery by turns,  clever, witty and diabolical. The narrative is crammed with so much that it's a genuine pleasure to revisit it a second (or third) time to appreciate how detailed and ingenious the script really is. Directed by Herbert Ross. With Yvonne Romain as Sheila.  

No Escape (2015)

An American family relocates to Southeast Asia when the father (Owen Wilson) gets a job with an engineering firm. But within 24 hours of arriving in the country (probably Laos), the family finds themselves in the midst of a bloody political coup and one with an anti-American bias. On the upside, the film perfectly captures the terror of finding oneself in a foreign country during political upheaval and suddenly finding out that you're the enemy! On the downside, the family at the core of the drama is a ghastly cliche of an American family right down to its two stereotypical movie kids whose whining ("I'm scared", "I'm hungry", "I need to go potty") constantly places the family in harms way. To the film's credit, it does acknowledge the foreign imperialism that is often the cause of such revolutions in the first place. In the end, despite a few superbly done sequences (the helicopter attack on the roof), the film is a misfire. I won't even go into the revolting sappy ending. Unevenly directed by John Erick Dowdle. With Pierce Brosnan, Lake Bell and Sahajak Boonthanakit.   

Le Plus Vieux Metier Du Monde (aka The Oldest Profession) (1967)

A portmanteau film in six parts by six different directors that looks at prostitution through the ages. In the prehistoric age, a woman (Michele Mercier) exchanges a shell necklace for sex thus becoming the first prostitute. Directed by Franco Indovina. In Ancient Rome, the Empress (Elsa Martinelli) moonlights as a prostitute in a brothel. Directed by Mauro Bolognini. During the French Revolution, a money hungry prostitute (Jeanne Moreau) gets scammed. Directed by Phillipe De Broca. In the 1890s, a prostitute (Raquel Welch) pretends not to know her client (Martin Held) is wealthy. Directed by Michael Pfleghar. In contemporary Paris, two prostitutes (Nadia Gray, France Anglade) have a sex on wheels trade. Directed by Claude Autant Lara. In the future, sex trade is controlled by the government but a prostitute (Anna Karina) is about to break the rules. Directed by Jean Luc Godard. As with most omnibus films, the sketches are hit and miss. Coming off best are the Raquel Welch (although she's dubbed into French) and Karina/Godard sequences. The Godard segment (in B&W) looks like an outtake from his ALPHAVILLE. Michel Legrand composed the charming score. With Jean Claude Brialy, Marcel Dalio, Marilu Tolo, Enrico Maria Salerno, Jacques Charrier and Gabriele Tinti.   

Friday, September 4, 2015

Invitation To A Gunfighter (1964)

In 1865 New Mexico following the end of the Civil War, a Confederate soldier (George Segal) returns home to the hostile Union town which was home to him only to find that his homestead has been usurped  and sold by the banker (Pat Hingle) who owns the town. To insure the town will be rid of him, the banker hires a gunfighter (Yul Brynner) to kill him. Based on a PLAYHOUSE 90 television episode directed by Arthur Penn with Gilbert Roland and Hugh O'Brian in the Brynner and Segal roles, this potent sleeper of a western deserved a better fate than being unceremoniously dumped by its studio (United Artists) onto the market. I originally saw it as the second half of a double bill when it "opened". It's Brynner's last really good detailed performance and he brings a touching pathos to his so called cold blooded killer. It was produced by Stanley Kramer's production company with some nice cinematography by Joseph MacDonald (THE SAND PEBBLES) and an effective score by David Raksin (LAURA) so it seems it was at least intended as a major release in the beginning. Directed by Richard Wilson. With Janice Rule, Brad Dexter, Strother Martin, Gertrude Flynn and Clifford David.

Saturday Night And Sunday Morning (1960)

A working class bloke (Albert Finney) in Nottingham works as a machinist in a factory. He has a contempt for the complacent acceptance of his parents' generation and his peers who give in to such institutions as marriage. He might end up being absorbed by convention but he's going to put up a fight on his way there. This sordid (that's not meant as a put down) and bleak look at working class life is one of the best "kitchen sink" dramas to emerge from Great Britain. The very late 50s and early 60s were a great period for British cinema. Exciting new directors like Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz and writers like John Osborne and Harold Pinter brought a much needed fresh eye to English cinema and away from the British nobility and upper classes to focus on Britain's working class. It also brought some raw unpolished talent to the forefront like Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Richard Harris and here, Albert Finney. While the film may not have the impact it had in 1960, it's still a beautifully crafted piece of work. Finney is superb and in the film's other great performance, Rachel Roberts as the married woman he's having an affair with. The film's evocative B&W lensing shows why Freddie Francis was one of the best cinematographers working in England at the time. With Shirley Anne Field, Bryan Pringle, Hylda Baker and Colin Blakely.  

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Novocaine (2001)

A buttoned down dentist (Steve Martin) would seem to have the ideal life. His own clinic, an adoring fiancee (Laura Dern), a nice house, plenty of money. But when an attractive drug addict (Helena Bonham Carter) scams him, instead of going to the police, he finds himself obsessed with her. But it's only the beginning of a downward spiral of sex, drugs and murder. This black comedy has so much going for it that it's a real pity that David Atkins, the director/screenwriter, didn't clean it up a lot more. It's hard to warm up to Martin's dentist when he's so foolish. He's the biggest dupe since Fred MacMurray in DOUBLE INDEMNITY. He just walks right in when all the signs are screaming "This is not a good idea!". Also the murderer, who's been very meticulous to cover their tracks, leaves a key piece of evidence in plain sight! Still, its mixture of sex and graphic violence seems at odds with a Steve Martin comedy which might explain why the film wasn't a hit. But most of the film is so good that it makes its ultimate failure frustrating. With Kevin Bacon, Scott Caan, Keith David and Lynne Thigpen. 

Dracula (1931)

Arriving in London from Transylvania, Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) sets his sights on the two lovely women (Helen Chandler, Frances Dade) residing in the mansion adjacent to the Abbey he has rented. But Doctor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) suspects Dracula's true nature ..... a vampire! While Tod Browning's horror classic retains its ominous unsettling atmosphere, the film itself is rather stagnant. Since Browning's FREAKS released the following year is more fluid, I'll chalk it up to the film being based on the 1924 stage play rather than directly derived from the Bram Stoker novel. With one exception, the acting is static with poor wooden David Manners being the most egregious offender. But Lugosi's iconic performance is perhaps beyond criticism as he remains the definitive Dracula. The one exception is Dwight Frye who adds a much needed jolt as the insect eating Renfield, his hysteria and creepy laugh being both amusing and ghoulish. The atmospheric B&W cinematography is courtesy of Karl Freund. With Herbert Bunston and Joan Standing.