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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Insomnia (1997)

A Swedish detective (Stellan Skarsgard) and his partner (Sverre Anker Ousdal) travel to Norway to assist a murder case, that of a 17 year old girl brutally beaten to death. A plan to trap the suspected killer (Bjorn Floberg) goes horribly wrong and the detective kills his partner instead. But was it an accident? The directorial feature film debut of Erik Skjoldbjaerg is a compelling thriller with a complex ambiguous protagonist at its core. Not only is he unlikable, he's downright disgusting! But Skjoldbjaerg isn't interested in a sympathetic portrait but rather the opaque moral culpability of a guilt consumed man. As Skarsgard impeccably plays him, we're never able to break through his glass wall while ironically, we're able to understand Floberg's equally vile murderer which renders his character more human. Unsettling on several levels, nonetheless a gripping suspense film that challenges you as it entertains you. An English language remake directed by Christopher Nolan came out in 2002. With Gisken Armand and Bjorn Moan.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Gosford Park (2001)

In 1932, a group of British aristocrats gather for a weekend in the country at an estate owned by a wealthy factory owner (Michael Gambon) and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas). But what should have been an ordinary weekend is interrupted by a murder. Robert Altman would be the last director one would think of for this both witty and incisive look at the British class system which suddenly turns into an Agatha Christie mystery in its last hour. This is Merchant/Ivory territory and the film is a hybrid of REMAINS OF THE DAY and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. But since this is Altman and not Merchant/Ivory, the film is fluid rather than stiff, open rather than stuffy. Julian Fellowes' Oscar winning screenplay glides between the downstairs servants and the upstairs aristocrats giving us a peek at their private lives and if the servants seem to be more interesting than the aristocrats, it's probably because they're more relatable to us. The murder mystery aspect is only interesting because of the motive. The victim is extremely unlikable so we don't really care who killed him and the incompetence of the police detective (Stephen Fry) investigating the case insures the murder will never be solved. The impeccable ensemble cast includes Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Alan Bates, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance, Ryan Phillippe, Eileen Atkins, Jeremy Northam, Richard E. Grant and Kelly Macdonald.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Mr. Moto Takes A Vacation (1939)

An American archaeologist (John Dusty King) discovers the crown of the Queen of Sheba during a dig. The famed Japanese detective Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre) takes it upon himself to guard the crown on its sea journey to a San Francisco museum. But a criminal mastermind has already set a plan in motion to steal the priceless crown. Directed by Norman Foster (WOMAN ON THE RUN), this was the seventh film in the Mr. Moto franchise. If you're a fan of the series (as I am) and mysteries in general, it's quite fun. At barely over an hour long, it gets its business done without dawdling though I could easily have done without the comic relief provided by G.P. Huntley as a bumbling British twit who is more annoying than amusing. It's not very difficult to figure out the villain. When you cast a younger actor and then cover him up with old age make up, it's practically a dead giveaway. All in all, one of the more enjoyable entries in the series. With Joseph Schildkraut, Virginia Field, Lionel Atwill, Victor Wong and Willie Best.   

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stazione Termini (1953)

An American woman (Jennifer Jones) on vacation in Italy begins an affair with an Italian teacher (Montgomery Clift). But she can't bring herself to leave her husband and child and decides to return home. Directed by Vittorio De Sica, the film had a troubled history. The producer of the film, David O. Selznick (Jones's husband at the time), saw a more traditional romance but De Sica saw a more complex end of the affair. Selznick edited De Sica's version and cut almost 24 minutes out of the film and retitled it INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE. The version I watched was De Sica's original 90 minute cut. Films about American women traveling to Europe and having brief encounters with foreign men have been done several times for the screen. Perhaps the most notable is David Lean's SUMMERTIME but there's also Douglas Sirk's INTERLUDE. De Sica sets his film in what feels like real time and the entire film plays out at a train station. Unlike the romanticized Technicolor SUMMERTIME, De Sica's film is a bleak B&W look at at a romance falling apart. Clift brings a great empathy to his Italian (he's no gigolo) while Jones uses her talent for suppressed neuroticism to great advantage. If you're looking for a glossy movie romance, this isn't it but it's still an involving film. With Richard Beymer (WEST SIDE STORY).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bluebeard (1972)

A young American (Joey Heatherton) touring as a showgirl in 1930s Europe is courted by a Hungarian aristocrat (Richard Burton), who has had multiple wives. They marry and he gives her a set of keys to the castle and tells her she must never use the gold one. Of course, her curiosity gets the better of her and what that key unlocks could be the death of her. Directed by Edward Dmytryk (CROSSFIRE) and based on the classic French folk tale which has "inspired" several previous films including the 1944 Edgar G. Ulmer film. This version is presented as a black comedy though it takes awhile before one realizes it is a comedy. Burton's last line in the film is, "This is ridiculous! This is absurd!" and that about sums up the movie. A bevy of international beauties are cast as his lovers and mistresses and the more amusing segments include Virna Lisi as the wife who drives him crazy because she won't stop singing pop songs all the time and Raquel Welch as an ex-nun who feels the need to confess her entire sexual history which is prolific! I could have done without the hunting montage with hunters shooting various animals which I found distasteful, however. The Ennio Morricone underscore is aces! With Nathalie Delon, Sybil Danning, Marilu Tolo, Agostina Belli and Karin Schubert.

Outpost In Morocco (1949)

Set in Morocco, a womanizing officer (George Raft) in the French army is assigned to lead a patrol escorting a local Emir's daughter (Marie Windsor), newly arrived from France, back to her father (Eduard Franz). Her father, however, is anti-colonial and wants the French out of his country. Directed by Robert Florey (THE COCOANUTS), this is a typical desert programmer with its French colonial heroes and the Arabs as the bad guys. An aging Raft is the "dashing" hero and it's rather amusing to see his sudden athleticism in the action scenes courtesy of a stunt double! The Foreign Legion actually cooperated with the film makers in this effort (no hyperbole, there's literally a cast of thousands) and Richard Rosson did the second unit location work which was reused in several 50s desert adventure movies. There is a rather touching moment in the film when the cavalry soldiers must abandon their horses to the desert after their water supply has been cut off, one of the few touches that elevate it out of the "B" movie territory plus an unusually downbeat ending. With Akim Tamiroff, John Litel, John Doucette and Erno Verebes whose comic relief wears out very quickly.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Wall Of Noise (1963)

An ambitious horse trainer (Ty Hardin) disregards the loyalty of his loving girlfriend (Dorothy Provine) in his pursuit to enter the winner's circle in the high stakes world of professional horse racing. When he's hired by a self made millionaire (Ralph Meeker) to manage his stables, the millionaire's wife (Suzanne Pleshette) sees him as a way out of an unhappy marriage. Based on the novel by Daniel Michael Stein and directed by Richard Wilson. The film never gets out of the gate due to the casting of Hardin in the male lead. The character is an arrogant and rather unlikable chap so you need a charismatic actor to make the film work, someone like Paul Newman who can play unlikable characters (think HUD) yet still draw you to him. Not only is Hardin not charismatic, he's not a good actor and the role is beyond his meager abilities. Not to mention that Pleshette and Provine are too good for him, both as actresses and their characters. Pleshette is comfortable as the femme fatale but Hardin's blandness renders Provine's loyal girlfriend as nothing more than a doormat. The racing sequences are done very well although the insider's look at horse racing doesn't flatter it.  With Simon Oakland, Murray Matheson and Jimmy Murphy.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Far And Away (1992)

In the Ireland of 1892, a poverty stricken Irishman (Tom Cruise) sets off to America with the headstrong runaway daughter (Nicole Kidman) of a wealthy Irish landowner (Robert Prosky). They  both have their dreams but everything seems against them. Directed by Ron Howard, this is an old fashioned movie but old fashioned in the good sense. It starts off weakly with Howard overdoing the movie Irish bit and one suspects he watched too many John Ford movies while preparing for this. I kept waiting for Victor McLaglen to show up! But once they get to America, things pick up nicely. Tom Cruise isn't remotely believable as an Irishman (his Irish accent is the pits), he's Tom Cruise, Movie Star. And that's just fine because that's what this kind of movie needs, a charismatic star at its center. The film's high point is a stunning recreation of the 1893 Oklahoma land rush, strikingly shot by Mikael Salomon (THE ABYSS) in 70 millimeter (12 cameras were used to film it) although few theaters actually showed it in the format and edited by Daniel Hanley and Mike Hill. With Thomas Gibson, Barbara Babcock, Colm Meaney, Jared Harris, Cyril Cusack and Brendan Gleeson.   

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

While the evil Galactic Empire continues to suppress any resistance to its rule, the rebel alliance headed by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) continues to fight against the tyranny. But the Empire has the upper hand and the resistance is met with a furious might. But the "hope" of the rebels, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) trains with the Jedi master Yoda (Frank Oz). Directed by Irvin Kershner (EYES OF LAURA MARS), this is considered the jewel of the original STAR WARS trilogy and justifiably so. This is a great epic in which everything falls perfectly into place. From the intelligent script by Leigh Brackett (RIO BRAVO) and Lawrence Kasdan (BODY HEAT) which allows for some detailed characterization to Kershner's concise direction (helped by Paul Hirsch's editing, of course). Of course, the trilogy's creator George Lucas' hand is all over this though uncredited for the most part. The film is the most operatic in scope of the trilogy and unlike the other two, it ends so many ends hanging (intentionally) unresolved. One of the genuinely great films of the 1980s decade. With Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker.   

Colossal (2017)

After being kicked out of their apartment by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens), an alcoholic (Anne Hathaway) returns to the small town she came from to try and get her life back together. Meanwhile, in South Korea, a reptilian like monster terrorizes the city. It isn't long before the woman realizes there's a connection between her and the creature. I'm not familiar with the work of Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo (who also wrote the screenplay) but I'm impressed with what I see here. In the 1956 FORBIDDEN PLANET, Walter Pidgeon's subconscious creates a monster and here Vigalondo takes that premise and expands it. However, those expecting a Godzilla like monster movie are going to be sorely disappointed. The film actually has more in common with Hathaway's RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. The film is about her and Jason Sudeikis (as a bar owner) and how their self destructive behavior physically manifests itself. In his comedies, Sudeikis has turned smarminess into an acting style and here (in his best performance yet) he elevates it to sociopathic proportions. The film's trailer does a poor job of selling the film emphasizing the film's few comedic moments when, in fact, it's a very dark film. While it's not a complete success, I applaud the attempt to move outside of the genre box. With Tim Blake Nelson. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Iron Petticoat (1956)

A Soviet military pilot (Katharine Hepburn) is furious when she is passed over for a promotion by an under qualified male so she flees Russia in a stolen jet but she is forced down over West Germany. An American Captain (Bob Hope) in the U.S. Army is assigned against his will to woo her over to the capitalism way of western life. Directed by Ralph Thomas, the movie owes a lot to the 1939 Lubitsch film NINOTCHKA in its basic premise. The film's reputation is that it's a stinker and while it's not as bad as its reputation suggests, it's simply not a funny film. Katharine Hepburn's spectacularly awful performance aside (she has been worse but I'll be a gentleman and not mention in what), the punchlines fall flat and the film can't seem to decide whether it wants to be a typical Bob Hope comedy or a witty satire on Cold War politics and so it fails on both counts. To be fair, Hepburn was on board first and pleased by Ben Hecht's script but once Hope came on board, he had his gag writers change the script to favor him rather than Hepburn. The result pleased nobody although surprisingly, the film was a modest hit at the box office. With James Robertson Justice, Robert Helpmann and Noelle Middleton.   

Ladies Should Listen (1934)

The switchboard operator (Frances Drake) in an apartment building takes it upon herself to stop a businessman (Cary Grant) from getting involved with a married woman (Rosita Moreno) who's plotting with her husband (Rafael Corio) to swindle him. This amusing farce has all the right elements including a witty script and a game cast up for the shenanigans. But it never quite sparkles and I'll lay that at the feet of the director Frank Tuttle (THIS GUN FOR HIRE). The pacing feels lethargic when the action should fizz and gallop. Perhaps Ernst Lubitsch could have made something of it all. That aside, it's still modestly entertaining and a couple of the performances, notably Nydia Westman's ditzy heiress and the ever dependable Edward Everett Horton, show a true farceur spirit. The film's one hour running time assures that it won't wear out its welcome. With Ann Sheridan, Charles Ray and George Barbier.   

L'Assassino (1961)

An antiques dealer (Marcello Mastroianni) is arrested on suspicion of murdering his mistress (Micheline Presle). The evidence against him is circumstantial but it begins a Kafkaesque nightmare of police harassment and abuse of power. Directed by Elio Petri (INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION), the film is interesting in that its protagonist isn't so much an "innocent" man as how he is judged by his lifestyle. He's duplicitous, a liar, an opportunist, no moral backbone and a rotten son. Clearly he's guilty of a great many things but does that make him a killer? And the film's ending may be the most ambiguous since BASIC INSTINCT! But it's not the character's guilt or innocence that interests Petri but rather the police state's and society's presumptions of guilt. Even if one is just accused, can one ever get rid of the "Oh yes, he's the one that was arrested for that murder" taint? Mastroianni gives a fine performance, deftly keeping the viewer unsure of his guilt but ready to convict him of his moral crimes. The jazzy score is by Piero Piccioni. With Andrea Checchi, Salvo Randone and Cristina Gaioni.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Alla Ricerca Del Piacere (aka Amuck) (1972)

A young American girl (Barbara Bouchet) is hired by a writer (Farley Granger) living in Venice, Italy. The writer and his mistress (Rosalba Neri) are part of a swinging sex party set. But the secretary is really there to discover what happened to her friend, the writer's last secretary who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. This Italian giallo directed by Silvio Amadio is heavy on the sex and light on the blood. We're treated to a couple of girl on girl sex scenes in slow motion while Bouchet seems to be taking off her clothes at the drop of a hat but the gore is fairly minimal (unless you count the cutting up of an eel). Still, unless you're a prude, it's a fairly entertaining thriller. Granger seems embarrassed being in the movie (in an orgy scene, he's the only one keeping his clothes on) but the fetching Bouchet and Neri throw themselves into the film with complete commitment. The cinematographer Aldo Giordani takes full advantage of the lovely Venetian locations and there's an excellent underscore by Teo Usuelli which sounds slightly Morricone-ish. With Umberto Raho, Nino Segurini and Petar Martinovitch. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Hoodlum (1919)

The granddaughter (Mary Pickford) of a wealthy but corrupt businessman is a spoiled brat used to getting her own way. When she spurns her grandfather's offer to travel to Europe and decides to live with her father instead, she finds it difficult to adjust as her father lives in the slums of lower New York City. Based on the novel BURKESES AMY by Julie Matilde Lippman and directed by Sidney Franklin (THE GOOD EARTH). I'm not a huge Mary Pickford fan so I don't know where this film ranks among her fans but I enjoyed it. Even though she starts off playing a self centered brat, we know it's only a matter of time until she sees the light and does the right thing, after all she's Mary Pickford, America's sweetheart! The humor isn't too broad and the movie has a good moral without being too treacly. The print I saw had a very nice orchestral score by Bonnie Ruth Janofsky that propels the movie along nicely. With Ralph Lewis, Kenneth Harlan and T.D. Crittenden.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Honky Tonk Freeway (1981)

Dependent on the tourist trade, the mayor (William Devane) of a small hick town in Florida finds his town in financial jeopardy when a newly built freeway bypasses their town without an exit. The townspeople take desperate measures to bring people back into their town. Directed by John Schlesinger (MIDNIGHT COWBOY), this movie is very much in the vein of those multi character comedies where everyone is running around hysterically. Movies like IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING and Spielberg's 1941 for example. It's a genre I'm quite partial too and I kept on waiting for this one to catch fire but it never quite does. Not all of the plot lines work. For instance, the Beau Bridges as an erring husband and Beverly D'Angelo as nymphomaniac story line just sits there! David Rasche as a greasy pimp is so unappealing that he pulled me out of the story and there was no payoff to Paul Jabara as a singing truck driver. On the upside, Hume Cronyn as a retired advertising executive and Jessica Tandy as his alcoholic wife are quite charming and Geraldine Page and Deborah Rush as two squabbling nuns on their way to Miami are amusing. I enjoyed it but it never quite grabbed me. The large cast includes Teri Garr, Daniel Stern, Howard Hesseman, George Dzundza, Celia Weston, Joe Grifasi and Frances Lee McCain.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Door With Seven Locks (aka Chamber Of Horrors) (1940)

A doctor (Leslie Banks) holds the seven keys to a crypt that contains the body of a Lord (Aubrey Mallalieu) who was buried with a fortune in jewels. But when one of the keys turns up missing, the girl (Lilli Palmer) who was given the stolen key by a murdered man (J.H. Roberts) is in terrible danger ..... but from whom? Based on the novel by Edgar Wallace and directed by Norman Lee. Even if you're a die hard fan of mysteries, this one creaks! It has an appealing heroine in the lovely Lilli Palmer and an oily villain in Banks (THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME) but it's saddled with an annoying pair of comedy relief in the form of Palmer's wisecracking Aunt (Gina Malo) in the kind of role Eve Arden excelled in and a sleep deprived policeman (Richard Bird) that aren't remotely amusing. But it does have a marvelous old mansion complete with a torture chamber and a creepy crypt courtesy of J. Charles Gilbert's art direction. The kind of movie that one might enjoy on a cold rainy afternoon. Unfortunately, it wasn't raining when I watched it. With Cathleen Nesbitt and as the romantic interest for Palmer, Romilly Lunge who retired from acting after this film at the age of 36.

Battle Of The Bulge (1965)

A military intelligence officer (Henry Fonda) suspects that the Germans are plotting an all out offensive but his superiors, a General (Robert Ryan) and a Colonel (Dana Andrews), dismiss his worries because of lack of evidence. But the Germans are, in fact, planning an all out offensive. This is one of the better war films of the 1960s but if you're expecting an accurate depiction of the actual Ardennes Counteroffensive, forget it. The major characters are all fictional, the circumstances surrounding the actual battle are rife with omissions and fabrications. But hopefully you're not someone who goes to the movies for a history lesson. Taking it strictly as a war movie, it's very good! Filmed in 70 millimeter by Jack Hildyard (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI), this is a handsome looking film. With the emphasis on action, there's very little time for developing character but a few actors manage give fleshed out performances, notably Robert Shaw as German Colonel who lives for war, Telly Savalas as a black marketeer and Hans Christian Blech as a disillusioned German soldier. The superb score is by Benjamin Frankel. The large cast includes Charles Bronson, Pier Angeli, James MacArthur, George Montgomery, Ty Hardin, Werner Peters and Barbara Werle.   

Monday, April 10, 2017

Another Man's Poison (1951)

A man (Gary Merrill) who has been double crossed by his partner in a bank robbery goes to the secluded home of the man's estranged wife (Bette Davis), a famous mystery writer, in an attempt to confront him. However, he finds the man dead and the wife admits she killed him. They form an uneasy alliance but is blackmail and murder ever a good basis for a partnership? Based on the play DEADLOCK by Leslie Sands and directed by Irving Rapper (NOW VOYAGER). The film never transcends its theatrical roots, it's a very verbose movie. Although the film is occasionally "opened up" with a few outdoor scenes, the film mostly takes place in the writer's home. Mystery fans will have no problem figuring everything out fairly easily. If one can get past the fact that the matronly looking Davis is about 10 years too old for the spider woman femme fatale role she plays here, she provides the catnip for the viewer. It's the kind of juicy role her fans lap up and she doesn't disappoint. But there's no denying the enterprise feels like an also ran. Emlyn Williams as a meddling neighbor is so irritating (any normal person would have kicked him out of their house) that one wishes he were the initial victim! With Anthony Steel and Barbara Murray providing the triangle subplot.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Month By The Lake (1995)

As the clouds of war hover over 1937 Italy, a vacationing English spinster (Vanessa Redgrave) sets her cap on an ex-Army Major (Edward Fox) and they get along quite well. But when a capricious young American girl (Uma Thurman) who works as a nanny for an Italian couple enters the picture, the Major's head is turned and the spinster finds she has competition. Based on the novel by H.E. Bates and directed by John Irvin (GHOST STORY). There's not much you can say about a film like this. Its charming, slightly whimsical with quirky characters and gorgeous scenery of the Lake Como region in Italy which is lovingly shot by Pasqualino De Santis (DEATH IN VENICE). It's perfectly cast with the film's principals giving their characters just the right shade of eccentricity which helps considering they're all essentially stereotypes. Definitely lightweight but when fluff is done this well, it's not to be dismissed so lightly. The lovely underscore is by Nicola Piovani. With Alida Valli and Alessandro Gassman.  

Kimi No Na Wa (aka Your Name) (2016)

As a comet approaches Earth, a girl in a small Japanese mountain village and a boy living in Tokyo suddenly find that they are switching bodies intermittently but with very little memory of the process. But this is only the beginning of a complex tale of connection. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, this piece of Japanese anime was a huge success in Japan last year and at this time is the 4th highest grossing film of all time in Japan. The film changes tone several times during its running time. It's starts out as a seemingly teen body switching comedy before turning into a disaster movie and ending as an emotional love story. The animation is drop dead stunning and that in itself is reason to seek out the movie but its narrative, balancing humor and an intricate emotional core, has a resonance that propels the film. The only downside is that Shinkai drags out the inevitable ending a bit longer than necessary. Alas, the theater I saw the matinee was showing the dubbed into English version during the day and the original Japanese language version (which I would have preferred) during the evening.   

Saturday, April 8, 2017

September Storm (1960)

A drifter (Mark Stevens) convinces a model (Joanne Dru) on vacation in Majorca to talk a young man (Asher Dann), who has access to a boat, into a treasure hunt for a sunken ship with gold doubloons. In spite of some heavyweights behind the camera like director Byron Haskin (WAR OF THE WORLDS), screenwriter W.R. Burnett (THE ASPHALT JUNGLE) and art director Boris Leven (WEST SIDE STORY), this is a rather lackluster action caper. Originally shot in 3D, the majority of theaters showed the "flat" CinemaScope version. The film could have used more of the striking Majorca locations but most of the film is shot on or under the water. I watched the 2D version so without the 3D effects, it's a routine adventure with shark attacks and the men fighting over the woman. For 3D addicts, I imagine the appeal is higher. In fact, the film was restored largely with the help of a kickstarter Go Fund Me account with 3D fans making contributions. With Robert Strauss and Jean Pierre Kerien. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Woman In White (1948)

A young artist (Gig Young) meets a mysterious woman (Eleanor Parker) in white while walking through the woods at night. The morning after he meets he meets a young heiress (Eleanor Parker) who is the exact double of the mysterious "woman in white". And so begins a tale of murder, insanity, switched identities and greed. Based on the classic 1859 novel by Wilkie Collins (considered the prototype of the 20th century mystery novel) and directed by Peter Godfrey (CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT). Collins' rather convoluted novel is given the streamlined treatment with some major changes (characters eliminated, different ending etc.) but it remains a good example of an old fashioned Gothic influenced romantic mystery. Godfrey manages to give the movie an appropriate atmosphere and with one exception, the performances are very nice. The one exception is Gig Young who seems like a fish out of water here but the others are just right. Sydney Greenstreet makes for a marvelously diabolical villain and Parker in her dual roles gets to go from A to Z with her acting. Even Max Steiner seems inspired and manages to give a better than average score. With Alexis Smith, Agnes Moorehead, John Emery and John Abbott. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Camelot (1967)

On the eve of a great battle, King Arthur (Richard Harris) reflects on his first meeting with his bride Guenevere (Vanessa Redgrave), his dreams of uniting all of England, the forming of the knights of the Round Table, of his friend Lancelot (Franco Nero) and how it all lead to the battlefield. Based on the Tony award winning hit 1960 Broadway Lerner & Loewe (MY FAIR LADY) musical and directed by Joshua Logan (PICNIC). I watched the 3 hour roadshow cut. The general release version was cut by almost 30 minutes including overture, intermission and entr'acte. Behind the camera, two contributions stand out. The production design and costumes of John Truscott and the musical supervision of the legendary Alfred Newman who makes the Lerner & Loewe score soar. Both men justifiably won Oscars for their work here. In front of the camera, the film belongs to Vanessa Redgrave who brings a great actress's authority to the underwritten role of Guenevere. Franco Nero's Lancelot is also a standout but while Richard Harris is on firm ground when singing, he can't seem to say the simplest line without acting it to death. After awhile, it becomes amusing to see how much he's going to squeeze out of a line and indeed, he overacts even when whispering! With David Hemmings, Lionel Jeffries, Laurence Naismith and Estelle Winwood.   

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

El Bruto (1953)

When his tenants protest their eviction, a ruthless landlord (Andres Soler) hires a muscular but simple minded slaughterhouse employee (Pedro Armendariz) to frighten the tenants into leaving. But when he accidentally kills one of the tenants, it will eventually prove his downfall. Directed by the great Luis Bunuel, this is not one of his masterpieces and if one calls it second tier Bunuel, it is not meant as derogatory. It's actually very good but somehow never quite reaches the operatic tragedy that it appears to be aiming toward. Armendariz' "El Bruto" with his brute strength and underdeveloped mind should be a tragic figure and he is to an extent. But Bunuel keeps it low keyed with its emphasis on gritty realism when a more melodramatic approach might have benefited the film more. The performances are excellent though and Armendariz manages to make his repulsive brute touching by the film's end and Katy Jurado as the landlord's sexy vengeful wife gives a spectacular performance. With Rosa Arenas and Paco Martinez.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

When Time Ran Out (1980)

A dormant volcano on a South Pacific island unexpectedly erupts and puts hundreds of guests at a luxury hotel in danger. They must make a choice of listening to the hotel owner (James Franciscus) who insists the hotel is like a fortress and they will be safe or follow the oil rigger (Paul Newman)  who will lead them to higher and safer ground on the other side of the island. Marginally based on the novel DAY THE WORLD ENDED by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts and directed by James Goldstone. This Irwin Allen (POSEIDON ADVENTURE) disaster film came at the end of the disaster genre's popularity. By 1980, audiences had seen earthquakes, burning skyscrapers, avalanches, capsized ships and killer bees and were pretty exhausted. This effort closely resembles the 1961 DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK in that it follows a group of people on a dangerous trek through tropical jungles to the sea where boats will be waiting for them. The characters are pretty stock and there's zero opportunities for the actors to develop anything resembling a layered human being. Still, for fans of the genre, it's more than watchable. The huge cast includes William Holden, Jacqueline Bisset, Ernest Borgnine, Burgess Meredith, Red Buttons, Valentina Cortese, Edward Albert, Alex Karras, Pat Morita, Barbara Carrera, Veronica Hamel, John Considine and Sheila Allen.

Man Proof (1938)

After the man (Walter Pidgeon) she loves jilts her for another woman (Rosalind Russell), a headstrong young woman (Myrna Loy) thinks she's over him and wants to be friends. But what the heart wants, the heart wants. Based on the novel THE FOUR MARYS by Fanny Heaslip Lea and directed by Richard Thorpe (JAILHOUSE ROCK). There's a jarring shift in tone in this film which appears to be a sophisticated romcom at the beginning before switching over to a melodramatic romantic triangle before quickly going back to breezy romcom for the fade out. In an unusual role for Loy who usually plays likable and sensible down to earth characters, here she's a neurotic woman who won't let go of her romantic fantasies. The four leading players (Franchot Tone is the 4th) are all engaging screen actors so that helps override the inconsistencies in the narrative. If the film belongs to anybody, it belongs to Rosalind Russell who's the most likable character in the movie and way too good for the man she's married to, indeed too good for everyone else either. She also has the best scene in the film when she realizes what a sad cad her husband is. With Nana Bryant and John Miljan.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Valdez Is Coming (1971)

After being forced to kill an innocent man because he was misidentified by a powerful rancher (Jon Cypher), a Mexican constable (Burt Lancaster) asks for $100 to help the slain man's wife (Juanita Penalosa). Not only does the rancher refuse but he has the Mexican tied to a cross and sent into the wilderness. Eventually he kidnaps the rancher's woman (Susan Clark) and the chase is on! Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard and directed by Edwin Sherin. It's difficult to get past the film's biggest flaw which is the miscasting of Lancaster. I'm all for casting an actor in any role that he can play convincingly but Lancaster is simply not convincing as a Mexican and the tepid accent he uses is worthless. It's a pity because if cast correctly, the script is full of possibilities but without a convincing central performance to hold the movie together, the film is just another chase western. Coming from the Broadway stage where he had a great success with THE GREAT WHITE HOPE, this was Sherin's directorial film debut and he doesn't appear to have an affinity for the western and it's a fairly mediocre film visually. With Richard Jordan, Hector Elizondo and Frank Silvera.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Maltese Bippy (1969)

Partners (Dan Rowan, Dick Martin) in a low budget porno movie company move into a creepy old old house next to a cemetery. When a mutilated and half eaten body is discovered in the cemetery, one of them (Martin) suspects he might be a werewolf. Flush off the success of their hit TV show LAUGH IN, it was inevitable that Rowan and Martin would try their hand at the movies. Directed by comedy veteran Norman Panama (THE COURT JESTER), this is a silly movie but silly in a good way. It's reminiscent of movies like THE GHOST BREAKERS or those Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein/The Invisible Man/The Mummy/Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde Universal comedies. The gags are thrown at us right and left in the hopes that some will click and while it misses more often than it hits, I enjoyed it and actually laughed out loud a few times. The film's multiple endings anticipates 1985's CLUE and the cast seems to be having a good time especially Mildred Natwick as the housekeeper. Comedy being subjective and all that, I don't know that as I can recommend it outright but the more adventurous might be pleasantly surprised. With Carol Lynley, Julie Newmar, Fritz Weaver, Robert Reed, Eddra Gale (8 1/2) and Dana Elcar.

The Zookeeper's Wife (2017)

As the Germans invade Poland in 1939, a zookeeper (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife (Jessica Chastain) are devastated as their zoo is destroyed by Nazi bombs and the surviving animals slaughtered by the Germans. But they devise an elaborate plan to sneak Jews out of the Warsaw ghetto and hide them until "safe houses" can be found for them. Based on a true story as documented in the non-fiction book by Diane Ackerman. After SCHINDLER'S LIST, where can movies like this go? As directed by Niki Caro (WHALE RIDER), the film dutifully goes through its paces without much surprises. Rescuing Jews from the Nazis was a brave and noble thing to do but as cinema, it's all too familiar. Of course, it's impossible not to react emotionally to what we're seeing (if you can, I'm not sure I want to know you) but the movie paints itself into a corner. And it's difficult for the film to top the early scene of the bombing of the zoo and the slaughter of the animals. Fortunately, there's a strong central performance by Jessica Chastain who luckily resists the urge to go all Streep's SOPHIE'S CHOICE (Polish accent and all) on us and Daniel Bruhl gives his Nazi a shade more subtlety than is usual in such stock parts. A more than decent film but so deja vu

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Psycho (1960)

Out of frustration, a young woman (Janet Leigh in an Oscar nominated performance) steals $40,000 from her employer (Vaughn Taylor) with the intent of going to her lover (John Gavin) who needs the money. But rain forces her to stop at a secluded motel for the night. What can one say about an iconic film like PSYCHO that hasn't already been said. Has any other film been more analyzed, dissected, poured over and picked over than Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece? 57 years later, it remains a compelling and complex piece of cinema. It's easy to overlook how revolutionary the film was in 1960! There hadn't been anything like the shocking violence of the shower murder in a mainstream Hollywood film up to that point, not to mention the killing of the film's naked leading lady (and the film's biggest star) halfway through the movie. Incredibly it's also the first movie to show a toilet in a bathroom which had never been done at that point. The film features a magnificent performance by Anthony Perkins, a performance so iconic that it typecast him forever. Hard to believe that although it was embraced by the public which made it a huge hit, it received mixed notices including one from the clueless Bosley Crowther of the New York Times. The legendary score is by Bernard Herrmann. With Vera Miles, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Simon Oakland, Frank Albertson and Patricia Hitchcock.

The Scavengers (1959)

An American smuggler (Vince Edwards) operating out of Hong Kong spots his missing wife (Carol Ohmart), who ran out on him five years earlier, on a boat leaving for Macao. Tracking her down and confronting her, he discovers she is involved in drugs and stolen government bonds. Directed by the Hollywood veteran John Cromwell (OF HUMAN BONDAGE) and filmed in Hong Kong and the Philippines. This is a poverty row attempt at film noir but the muddled script by Eddie Romero resists any coherence or originality and instead gives us tired cliches. I don't know who's to blame for the lackluster performances. Both Edwards and Ohmart have shown talent in past films but here they comes across as the rankest of amateurs. Felipe Sacdalan's cinematography doesn't take advantage of the exotic Hong Kong locale that it may as well have been shot in on a Hollywood sound stage! With Richard Loo, Vic Diaz and the dancer Tamar Benamy, who's lovely but has all the expressiveness of a mask. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Magnolia (1999)

A disparate group of people in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley all have one thing in common: they're in pain, emotional and psychological pain though in the case of one character, physical pain. They are a policeman (John C. Reilly), a man (Jason Robards) dying of cancer and his trophy wife (Julianne Moore), a game show host (Philip Baker Hall) and his wife (Melinda Dillon) and daughter (Melora Walters), an aging former quiz kid (William H. Macy), a young quiz kid (Jeremy Blackman), a misogynistic motivational speaker (Tom Cruise) and a male nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, this is as good as it gets. It runs past the 3 hour mark but its characters are so vivid, Robert Elswit's camera work is dazzling and fluid while Dylan Tichenor's razor editing and Jon Brion's underscore and Aimee Mann's songs all work together to create a true original work of art.  The kind of film making that is both intimate and yet epic in scale. Its audacity is pure American, you rarely see this kind of cinema outside U.S. shores (it's one of the few contemporary American films Ingmar Bergman had anything good to say about). The ensemble acting is impeccable and the film remains as thrilling as it was when I first saw it almost 18 years ago. With Alfred Molina, Michael Murphy, Felicity Huffman, Henry Gibson and April Grace.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988)

A Harvard anthropologist (Bill Pullman) is sent to Haiti in 1978 to retrieve a powder that is reputedly able to bring humans back from the dead. He is cynical about the prospects but soon finds himself involved with voodoo, ancient curses, blood rites and walking zombies which make him a reluctant believer. Very loosely based on a non fiction book by Wade Davis and directed by Wes Craven (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET). Unlike the zombie films and TV shows of today with the walking dead taking over an apocalyptic Earth, this is an old fashioned zombie voodo movie although more far more graphic than films like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) or ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957). Considering how far fetched the topic is, Craven creates a believable scenario and he's lucky to have such a no nonsense actor like Pullman to play it straight which helps maintain the illusion of reality. For a horror movie, it's not really scary but it effectively plays on our fear of the unknown. There's a very nice underscore by Brad Fiedel. With Cathy Tyson, Paul Winfield, Zakes Mokae, Michael Gough, Brent Jennings and Theresa Merritt.   

Deluge (1933)

A massive earthquake in the Pacific ocean causes equally massive tsunamis around the globe. In what was New York, a handful of survivors attempt to rebuild civilization but man's base instincts thwart the progress. Based on the novel by S. Fowler Wright and directed by Felix E. Feist. This early forerunner of what is now referred to as the "disaster" film has a lot more going on than special effects. The earthquakes and tsunamis (the special effects are very crude) occur at the beginning of the movie so there's no build up. The focus is on the aftermath. This is a pre-code film so much of it is quite raw for the period. The landscape is strewn with the bodies of raped and murdered women discarded by a roving gang of brutes, an unmarried couple sleep together, there's a graphic ax killing etc. The protagonists are a lawyer (Sidney Blackmer) who thinks his wife and children were killed in the tsunami so he begins an affair with a champion swimmer (the appealing Peggy Shannon) while elsewhere his wife (Lois Wilson) is being pressured to marry a man (Matt Moore) when a law is passed that all eligible women must be married. Not a great film by any stretch of the imagination but still better than you would imagine. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

No Trees In The Street (1959)

Set in the slums of pre-war London, a young boy (Melvyn Hayes) is encouraged by his mother (Joan Miller) to work for a local racketeer (Herbert Lom) who preys on the families in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, his older sister (Sylvia Syms) is ready to move out and leave the squalor but the racketeer has eyes for her. Based on the play by Ted Willis (who adapted his play for the screen) and directed by J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE) when he was still doing intimate British "kitchen sink" dramas instead of big budget Hollywood movies. It's one of those "forgive the baby faced killer, he had a bad childhood" kind of movies. In spite of being preachy in certain spots, overall it's an effective piece of social propaganda. What the screenplay lacks is made up for by the quality of the acting especially Syms as the sister trying to stay true to her ideals and Lom as a former slum street kid who transformed himself into a respected "businessman" but still a thug. There's a nice jazzy underscore by Laurie Johnson. With David Hemmings, Stanley Holloway and Ronald Howard.     

Monday, March 27, 2017

In This Our Life (1942)

Two sisters couldn't be more different. Stanley (Bette Davis) is self centered and amoral and doesn't care who she hurts but Roy (Olivia De Havilland) is conscientious with a moral backbone. When Stanley steals Roy's husband (Dennis Morgan), it's only the beginning of the heartbreak she will bring not only to her family but others as well. Based on the Pulitzer prize winning novel by Ellen Glasgow and directed by John Huston. The racial aspects of the novel as well as the Uncle's (Charles Coburn) incestuous desire for Stanley were toned down for the film and Glasgow disowned the film. What stands out today is a juicy melodrama with nice performances by Davis and De Havilland both, alas, stuck with dull leading men, the aforementioned Morgan (though to be fair, a bit livelier than usual) and George Brent. But the movie's most striking aspect is the portrayal of the young black man (Ernest Anderson) studying to be a lawyer who gets railroaded into a hit and run charge. He and the script play against the usual stereotypes black actors were usually required to play during this era. With Walter Huston, Hattie McDaniel, Billie Burke and Lee Patrick.

The French Atlantic Affair (1979)

A luxury liner going from New York to France is hijacked by a religious fanatic (Telly Savalas) and members of his cult for ransom. The owners of the liner are given 48 hours to meet their demands. The biggest problem is that the cult members are sprinkled in among the regular passengers and there's no way of identifying them. Based on the 1977 novel by screenwriter Ernest Lehman (NORTH BY NORTHWEST), who unfortunately did not adapt his book for the small screen. At a five hour running time, there's a lot of flab that could have been excised and the changes made from the book aren't such a good idea. Like turning two adult physicians in the book into kids here. The film is crammed with actors but very few have substantial roles and many are merely cameos and some like Carolyn Jones are shamefully wasted. The two most interesting characters aren't even on the ship! They are a German terrorist (Richard Jordan) and a French prostitute (Marie France Pisier) based in Paris. They're both far more engrossing than the bland lovers (Chad Everett, Michelle Phillips) on the ship who take up too much time. Directed by Douglas Heyes. The huge (and I mean huge) cast includes Shelley Winters, Louis Jourdan, Stella Stevens, Jose Ferrer, Ted Danson, Horst Buchholz, Donald Pleasence, James Coco, Jean Pierre Aumont, Corinne Calvet, Dane Clark, John Houseman, Patricia Barry, Nehemiah Persoff, John Rubinstein, Richard Anderson and Jacqueline Beer.   

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Hustler (1961)

A small time pool hustler (Paul Newman) aspires to bigger things. To this end, he thinks if he can beat the legendary Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) that will put him in the big leagues. But it isn't as easy as that, possibly because as a cold hearted gambler (George C. Scott) tells him, he's a born loser. Based on the 1959 novel by Walter Tevis and directed by Robert Rossen (ALL THE KING'S MEN). This one is a keeper, a genuine classic that remains as potent today as it did in 1961. One doesn't have to like pool or even have played the game because it's not about the game. Everything falls into place from Sidney Carroll's and Rossen's precise screenplay to the razor sharp B&W Cinemascope lensing by Eugene Schufftan. And the performances! Every actor at the height of his game and none ever better than here. Maybe as good but never better. Sometimes it's easy to forget what a terrific actor Newman was because he had such a power star presence but he was an actor! Mention has to be made of Piper Laurie's beautiful and heartbreaking performance as Sarah, emotionally broken and only wanting to be loved. A great film! With Murray Hamilton, Myron McCormick, Vincent Gardenia and Michael Constantine. 

Personal Shopper (2016)

A young American woman (Kristen Stewart) works in Paris as a personal shopper for a diva like socialite celebrity (Nora Von Waldstatten). She is also trying to communicate with her recently deceased brother since they shared an ability to communicate with the dead. When she starts to receive a series of mysterious texts on her phone, it will lead her further into the darkness. Stewart and director Olivier Assayas (who won the Cannes film festival award for best director for this film) had previously collaborated on CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA and the teaming proved a rewarding artistic collaboration for both and the quality of both their work is continued here. It's a difficult film to categorize. While it has elements of the supernatural and an intriguing mystery at its core, I'm hesitant to refer to it as a horror film or a thriller. It took awhile for the film to find its rhythm but when it did I was totally hooked. It's both elegant and unsettling in its fluctuations while remaining disturbing through out right up until its ambiguous ending. Stewart turns in a terrific performance. She gives us just enough to decipher the potential complexities that even her character may not be aware of. With Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz and Anders Danielsen.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Stranger Came Home (aka The Unholy Four) (1954)

A man (William Sylvester) returns home after 4 years of amnesia. He hopes to discover who left him for dead 4 years ago. The suspects include three friends (Patrick Holt, Paul Carpenter, David King Wood) who were with him and even his wife (Paulette Goddard) who may have been behind it. But when one of the four turns up murdered, he becomes a prime suspect in the murder. An early Hammer film directed by Hammer vet Terence Fisher. It's based on a novel by George Sanders (yes, the actor) but in actuality was ghost written by veteran screenwriter Leigh Brackett (THE BIG SLEEP). It's a weak rather muddled murder mystery. It's never clear enough (at least to me) about the actual motive of the murder and why the murderer continues to kill. Sylvester's protagonist is thoroughly unlikable and one can see why someone would like to murder him on his unpleasant personality alone. With Patricia Owens and Russell Napier.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Betrayed (1988)

An FBI agent (Debra Winger) goes undercover to infiltrate a right wing terrorist group suspected in the killing of a liberal Jewish radio talk show host (Richard Libertini). Lines and loyalties get blurred when she finds herself attracted to the leader (Tom Berenger) of a white supremacist group.  Directed by Costa-Gavras, who is an old hand at political thrillers with movies like MISSING and the Oscar winning Z on his resume. But the screenplay is by that hack Joe Eszterhas (SHOWGIRLS) and the combination of director and screenwriter is not a good fit. Eszterhas' script is heavy handed and Costa-Gavras isn't able to whip up much tension out of the unsubtle script. Are we to believe that the FBI would encourage an agent to kill innocent people and sleep with the enemy to get information? Perhaps I'm naive but I didn't buy it, at least as shown here. Ironically, the film is probably more timely today than it was in 1988. The present administration has all kinds of racists and right wing whack jobs coming out of the closet and what they're spouting isn't all that different from what's portrayed in the film. Highly uneven but worth watching. With Betsy Blair (MARTY), John Heard, John Mahoney, Ted Levine and Jeffrey DeMunn.

Duel In The Sun (1946)

After her father (Herbert Marshall) is executed for killing her mother (Tilly Losch) and her lover (Sidney Blackmer), a young girl (Jennifer Jones) is sent out West to live with her father's first love (Lillian Gish). As her mother's daughter, it's difficult for her to repress her sexual desires especially when the no good family son (a surprisingly sexy Gregory Peck) seduces her. Westerns are often referred to as horse operas but never has the term been more apt than in King Vidor's insane operatic epic western. Pauline Kael referred to it as Wagnerian and that about sums it up. Eveything is done on a massive scale. When in the opening scene we enter a saloon, it's the biggest saloon you've ever seen, the size of an airplane hangar. When Lionel Barrymore rides out to stop a train from crossing his property, he's accompanied by literally hundreds of galloping cowboys accompanied by Dimitri Tiomkin's thundering music. And the passions are operatic too. Love and hate mixed together as lovers declare their love for each other while killing each other. It's bonkers but so irresistibly compelling that you watch it giddy with excitement. Often referred to as "lust in the dust", there's never been a western like it. With Lionel Barrymore, Walter Huston, Charles Bickford, Joan Tetzel, Otto Kruger and Butterfly McQueen.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Grace Of Monaco (2014)

In 1962, the principality of Monaco finds itself under siege from France as De Gaulle's (Andre Penvern) government not only attempts to tax Monaco's citizens but threatens to take Monaco by force if necessary. Meanwhile, Monaco's Princess Grace (Nicole Kidman) receives an offer by Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton Griffiths) to return to the big screen. A misguided effort to turn a year in the life of Princess Grace into a political crisis thriller. When a film begins by telling you it's a fictional account based on actual events, you know that means it most likely has very little based on fact. Not that taking a real life framework and imposing a fictional text to fill it out can't result in a good film. It certainly can as last year's superb JACKIE proved. But nothing in GRACE OF MONACO rings true. One can't help but admire Kidman trying to flesh out a performance from a weakly constructed script but she can only do so much. The film opened in Europe but it went to cable TV in the U.S. It did get an Emmy nomination for best telefilm and Kidman got a SAG nomination for her work here but chalk this one up as an interesting failure. Directed by Olivier Dahan. With Tim Roth as Prince Rainier (it's not a flattering portrait), Frank Langella, Parker Posey (in the film's best performance), Derek Jacobi and Paz Vega as Maria Callas.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Furia A Bahia Pour OSS 117 (aka OSS 117 Mission For A Killer) (1965)

Under the guise of a journalist, a secret agent (Frederick Stafford, TOPAZ) is sent to Brazil to find out who is drugging innocent people and turning them into assassins. But when he arrives, he finds he's just in time to see his contact (Claude Carliez) murdered. Based on the novel DERNIER QUART D'HEURE by Jean Bruce (his 44th OSS 117 book), this was the third entry in the popular (at least in Europe) OSS 177 secret agent film series. This is a pretty straight forward spy caper, heavily influenced by the Bond series. The handsome but vacuous Stafford doesn't bring much to the role but he doesn't sink the movie either. The film benefits from Marcel Grignon's wide screen lensing of the stunning Brazilian locations, both Rio De Janeiro and the lush jungles. Its plot of a fascist mad man plotting world domination had already reached its apotheosis with DR. NO (1962) but the film is entertaining enough even as an also ran. Michel Magne's underscore could have used some punch. His samba music is fine but the action scenes remain unscored and they could have used some help. Directed by Andre Hunebelle. With the lovely Mylene Demongeot, Raymond Pellegrin and Francois Maistre.

Steambath (1973)

A disparate group of strangers including a writer (Bill Bixby), a party girl (Valerie Perrine), a seaman (Stephen Elliott), a gambler (Kenneth Mars), a Jew (Herb Edelman) and two homosexuals (Neil J. Schwartz, Patrick Spohn) find themselves in a steam bath. It isn't long before they realize they're all dead and that the Puerto Rican attendant (Jose Perez) is God. Based on the 1970 play by Bruce Jay Friedman and directed by Burt Brinckerhoff. When this debuted on public television, it was quite controversial, not only due to its subject matter but its nudity which was groundbreaking at the time. Indeed, many PBS outlets refused to carry the show. Friedman's play hasn't aged well. Its stereotypical depiction of gay men was done in a time when someone just playing a flaming homosexual was good for a cheap laugh. Jose Perez's one note performance as God is just plain awful. Friedman's idea of God as a magician doing tricks is rather mundane but perhaps that was his point, that God is mundane. What was provocative in 1970 now comes across as trite. The sexy Perrine's performance consists of grinning a lot but outside of Bixby playing against type, none of the performances are memorable. With Peter Kastner (YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW) and Biff Elliot.   

Monday, March 20, 2017

They Made Me A Criminal (1939)

When a not too bright boxer (John Garfield) gets framed for a murder committed by his manager, he goes on the run and ends up in Arizona. It's there that he becomes involved with a girl (Gloria Dickson) and her grandmother (May Robson) who are running a date farm where juvenile delinquents from New York are sent for rehabilitation. Based on a novel and play by Bertram Milhauser and Beulah Marie Dix and directed by Busby Berkeley (42ND STREET). The juvenile delinquents are played by the same actors who played the juvenile delinquents in DEAD END (1937) and went on to make several movies as The Dead End Kids. They were tolerable in DEAD END but they were a one joke act that was already beginning to wear thin by the time this movie came out. Some how we're supposed to find them amusing but I found them obnoxious and irritating and it didn't help that Garfield's character is kind of a sleazebag so that I didn't have much empathy for him either. Ann Sheridan as Garfield's good time girlfriend is killed off far too early in the movie and she's replaced by Gloria Dickson who's appealing in a generic sort of way. It's pretty maudlin in spots and I suppose one's affection for it depends on how Warners gritty 1930s output appeal to you. With Claude Rains playing against type as a tough talking detective.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Heller In Pink Tights (1960)

In the Old West of the 1880s, a traveling theatrical troupe has a nasty habit of skipping town without paying their bills! But when the company's lead actress (Sophia Loren) bets herself in a poker game and loses to a gunslinger (Steve Forrest), he's not the man to skip out on even if he has to go through hostile Indian territory to get his woman. Based on the novel by Louis L'Amour and directed by George Cukor (MY FAIR LADY). Cukor is just about the last director you'd think of to direct a western but he brings a stunning and elegant color palette to this comedic western. To this end, he brought in the famed Russian illustrator and photographer Hoyningen Huene to oversee the art and design of the film and the contributions of art directors Gene Allen and Hal Pereira and costume designer Edith Head do the movie proud in giving the film a painterly look. As to the film itself, it's not bad at all but Cukor doesn't have the feel for a real western and the film feels schizophrenic. Anthony Quinn is the male lead but the film is stolen by Eileen Heckart as an actress mother and Margaret O'Brien as the daughter she refuses to let grow up. With the silent film star Ramon Novarro and the director Edmund Lowe, Frank Silvera and Edward Binns.

Beauty And The Beast (2017)

In 18th century France, an enchantress (Hattie Morahan) casts a spell on a narcissistic prince (Dan Stevens) and turns him into a beast. The spell can only be broken if he can find someone to love him for who he is ... a beast. Enter a feisty peasant girl (Emma Watson), who offers herself as a prisoner instead of her father (Kevin Kline) who the beast has imprisoned. This live action remake of the beloved 1991 Disney animated film most likely won't please the die hard fans of the original but if you're not attached to the 1991 film, you may prefer it. I liked the 1991 film but I found this more satisfying for several reasons. For one, it just seemed more magical. In an animated film, when a candlestick talks and sings, you expect it, it's animated! But in a live action film, it's truly other worldly. I must confess that although I dislike 3D, the 3D here is superb and also gives the film an eerie supernatural fairy tale quality. And finally, the actors bring an emotional core to the film that cartoon characters, however skillfully drawn, just can't! One major difference between the 1991 animated film and this one is Luke Evan's Gaston. He was pompously amusing in the first one, here he's positively despicable. The film's ace here is Watson who brings some authority to Belle, no girlie princess she! The new songs are lovely and the production design is impeccable. With Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Josh Gad and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Raven (1935)

A genius medical surgeon (Bela Lugosi), who is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe, has sadistic tendencies and has a collection of torture devices in a secret chamber. When he is spurned by the woman (Irene Ware) he loves, his plots a diabolical revenge. Although Edgar Allan Poe is given credit as the source material, other than the title of his most famous poem, there's really nothing of Poe in the movie. Directed by Lew Landers, this is still a fun horror movie though it's more kitsch than genuinely scary. As the mad doctor, Lugosi can't resist hamming it up shamelessly but Boris Karloff as the poor deformed wretch blackmailed by Lugosi gives a sympathetic and subtle performance. Surprisingly, the film's torture and mutilation proved too gruesome for 1935 audiences and the film was not a success. It is a rather sick and twisted tale and even some 80 years later, it remains quite unpleasant in its sadism. But there's no denying how skillful Landers is at creating a creepy ambiance. Compared to Karloff and Lugosi, the rest of the cast are a dull lot. With Lester Matthews, Inez Courtney, Ian Wolfe and Samuel S. Hinds whose pompous judge may be even more unsympathetic than Lugosi.