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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Lord Of Illusions (1995)

A New York private detective (Scott Bakula) visiting Los Angeles on an insurance fraud case is hired by the wife (Famke Janssen) of a renowned illusionist (Kevin O'Connor) to find out what has put her spouse into a depression. What he finds leads back to an incredible incident that occurred 13 years previously that is now coming back to destroy them all. Based on the short story THE LAST ILLUSION by Clive Barker and adapted for the screen and directed by him. I've never read any of Barker's books but I simply don't get him as a horror film maker. I don't find his films remotely frightening. His idea of horror seems to be gross outs (his films seem to love showing flesh being ripped open) and repulsion (pulling glass shards out of open wounds) rather than creating a genuine atmosphere of fear or a sense of dread like THE HAUNTING or ROSEMARY'S BABY or any Val Lewton 1940s horror. This concoction is pretty ludicrous and by the time it gets to its silly finale, you're like to be giggling rather than shivering. I felt embarrassed for Bakula and Janssen who are decent actors but O'Connor and Daniel Von Bargen (as a cult leader) are pretty sucky actors generally so I wasn't sorry for them. Thankfully, Barker hasn't directed a film since one made over 20 years ago and let's hope he keeps it that way.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Woman Accused (1933)

After a woman's ex-lover (Louis Calhern) threatens to have her fiance (Cary Grant) killed, she (Nancy Carroll) kills him in the heat of the moment. The dead man's business partner (John Halliday) is determined to prove her guilt, even after she denies having been in his apartment. Perfectly dreadful! This pre-code film runs a brief hour and 13 minutes but it seemed like 3 hours! The film is based on a magazine serial attributed to 8 of the "world's greatest writers" with each writer writing one chapter though only Zane Grey and Vicki Baum (GRAND HOTEL) are probably remembered today. It's clearly a case of too many cooks as the ludicrous plot is all over the place. The screenplay's cringe inducing dialog is only matched by the ghastly bad acting. Cary Grant is such a bland piece of white bread that you'd never guess that he would eventually become one of Hollywood's best and most iconic actors. Unless you're a Grant completist, there's no reason to see this though I suppose if you're a connoisseur of bad movies (the whip lashing scene is hysterical), you might want to take a peek. Directed by Paul Sloane. With Irving Pichel, Jack La Rue and Norma Mitchell.   

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Helen Morgan Story (1957)

Set in the roaring 20s, the story of Helen Morgan (Ann Blyth) and her rise to fame from a carnival hula dancer to Broadway star. Along the way, there's her on and off again affair with a bootlegger (Paul Newman) as well as a married attorney (Richard Carlson) and a battle with alcohol. Directed by Michael Curtiz, this movie biography is more fiction than fact. The bootlegger played by Newman and the married attorney played by Carlson were created for the film. It's pretty familiar territory if you seen other movie bios on female singers like LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (Ruth Etting), I'LL CRY TOMORROW (Lillian Roth) and LADY SINGS THE BLUES (Billie Holliday). It's a pity the script is a string of cliches because Ann Blyth is good, very good although why they dubbed her (pop singer Gogi Grant dubs her) when Blyth had already proven her vocal talents in musicals like KISMET and ROSE MARIE is perplexing. To boot, Blyth's own singing voice is much closer to Morgan's than Grant's is. With Cara Williams, Alan King, Rudy Vallee, Gene Evans, Virginia Vincent, Dorothy Green, Leonid Kinskey, Iris Adrian and Juanita Moore.   

Chamber Of Horrors (1966)

Two amateur sleuths (Cesare Danova, Wilfrid Hyde White) operate a wax museum. They help the police find an insane murderer (Patrick O'Neal) who is convicted. But he later escapes and begins killing those responsible for putting him behind bars. Directed by Hy Averback (I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOKLAS), this is often erroneously referred to as a remake of the 1953 film HOUSE OF WAX. While there are decided similarities, it is not a remake. It was originally made for TV with the intention of turning it into a TV series where the amateur sleuths would solve a murder each week. Instead, it was released to theaters. Since, as a horror film, it's rather routine, the film was given a gimmick. Whenever a murder was about to occur, a red flash and a horn warning would appear on the screen so that the more delicate could close their eyes or look away from the screen. It was a silly gimmick, especially considering the murders are not graphic at all (this was made for TV after all). Still, it's surprisingly entertaining for something so mild that it could have been made in the 1930s. With Tony Curtis, Suzy Parker, Laura Devon, Marie Windsor, Wayne Rogers, Patrice Wymore, Jeanette Nolan and Barry Kroeger. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Passion (1996)

In 19th century Italy, a soldier (Jere Shea) has a married mistress (Marin Mazzie). But when he's transferred from Milan to a remote military outpost, he comes into contact with a sickly, plain woman (Donna Murphy) who becomes obsessed with him. Based on the 1994 Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim which was based on Ettore Scola's 1983 film PASSIONE D'AMORE which in turn was based on the 19th century novel FOSCA by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. I'm a huge fan of Sondheim but this is easily the weakest of his musicals. At heart, it's a rather unhealthy tale of a psychologically disturbed woman who stalks a soldier who in the end turns out to be a masochist and as sick as she is and yet the whole thing romanticized by Sondheim and director and book writer James Lapine. It's just too creepy! It's that rare Sondheim show devoid of any humor whatsoever. It's a relentless downer. I kept wanting to like it but its characters are unappealing and Sondheim's score tends to be monotonous. With Tom Aldredge and Gregg Edelman.

Running Mates (2000)

As a Michigan Governor (Tom Selleck) makes his bid for the Democratic nomination for President, several women in his life, both past and present, put pressure on him: his campaign manager (Laura Linney), his wife (Nancy Travis), a Hollywood fundraiser (Teri Hatcher) and a Washington socialite (Faye Dunaway) who wants her husband (Robert Culp) to be the VP on the ticket. Directed by Ron Lagomarsino, this film starts off promisingly with a cynical look at the behind the scenes machinations of compromises and political backscratching and deal making. But by the time we get to the end of the journey, it's thinned out to a shallow version of a Frank Capra MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON "we the people" feel good ending that screams out "Fake!" If it only it had played out to its more honest cynicism. The acting is decent with Faye Dunaway especially good as an ambitious political wife far too good for her womanizing husband. Also in the cast: Bob Gunton, Bruce McGill, Stephen Lang and Caroline Aaron.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

Lured (1947)

A serial killer known as the poet killer lures his victims by placing personal ads in the newspaper. After her friend (Tanis Chandler) disappears after placing an ad in the personals, a dancer (Lucille Ball) is recruited by Scotland Yard as bait to ferret out the murderer. Directed by Douglas Sirk (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS), this is a terrific thriller. It's said every director has one Hitchcock movie in him and this is Sirk's. Sirk takes his time in setting up the plot with a major red herring but when the red herring is this good, who cares? Guessing the killer's identity isn't that difficult really but I love the way Sirk teases us with bits of distracting humor. A sequence with Boris Karloff as a deranged fashion designer is both amusing and frightening. Everyone recognizes Ball as one of the great comedy actresses but here she proves a strong dramatic actress as well. The B&W cinematography by William H. Daniels (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF) drenches the film with atmosphere. With George Sanders, Charles Coburn, Cedric Hardwicke, Joseph Calleia, Alan Mowbray, Ann Codee and George Zucco, who just about steals the movie. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

4 Mosche Di Velluto Grigio (aka Four Flies On Grey Velvet) (1971)

A drummer (Michael Brandon) in a rock band is being stalked by a mysterious stranger (Calisto Calisti). When he eventually confronts the stranger, they fight and the stranger is accidentally killed. But someone photographed the killing and is now taunting him. Just what do they want and why? Written and directed by Dario Argento, this is the final entry in his "animal" trilogy coming after BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and CAT O'NINE TAILS. It's easily the weakest of the three gialli and indeed, one of Argento's weakest films. With one exception, the suspense factor is feeble and the two leads, Brandon and Mimsy Farmer as his wife, are uninteresting actors. The one scene that stands out is Francine Racette hiding in a closet from the killer and her eventual murder. But aside from that, the narrative is disjointed and when everything is explained to us at the very end, it doesn't make up for the lack of structure. I get it that Argento's films are defined by his style but here it's just not enough to carry the film. Ennio Morricone's score is a mixed bag. With Bud Spencer and Jean Pierrre Marielle as a gay private detective. I like the idea of a gay private eye but it's a pity that Argento goes for the stereotype.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Loot (1970)

Two young bank robbers (Hywel Bennett, Roy Holder) have pulled off a successful heist. They hide the money in the casket of Holder's recently deceased mother intending to later remove the money and put mother back in her casket. However, everything that could go wrong does. Based on the farce by Joe Orton (ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE) and directed by Silvio Narizzano (GEORGY GIRL). This diabolical black comedy does little to hide its theatrical origins and indeed, I suspect it might play better on stage than on screen. Which is not to say, it's not amusing in its celluloid incarnation but the broad play acting and stylized frenzy may put some people off. Acting wise, the film belongs to two actors not normally associated with comedy. Lee Remick is hilarious as a gold digging nurse who's been married 7 times ("I can't marry you. You're the wrong faith and income bracket!") and Richard Attenborough as a corrupt and sadistic police detective ("Anything you say may be taken down, twisted round, altered and used in evidence against you"). With Milo O'Shea and Dick Emery.

Cyborg 2087 (1966)

In the year 2087, the fascist state controls the population through something called "radio telepathy". A group of anti-fascist revolutionaries send a cyborg (Michael Rennie) back in time to the year 1966 to find the inventor (Eduard Franz) and stop the discovery of "radio telepathy". Directed by Franklin Adreon, this low budget slice of science fiction isn't outrageous enough to qualify as "camp" but its cheesy ineptness provides an eminently watchable "B" movie experience. Actually intended as a TV movie, it was released into cinemas instead. With Rennie as the cyborg of the title, one can't help but be reminded of the similarities of his Klaatu in the classic THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. But plot wise, the film resembles and anticipates Cameron's THE TERMINATOR (1984) more than anything else. The film is very much of its time (1966), the film has a flat TV look and shot in bright colors and there's even a sequence where the movie stops so we can watch some teenagers do The Jerk! With Wendell Corey, Karen Steele, Warren Stevens, Jo Ann Pflug, John Beck and Adam Roarke.    

L'Amour D'une Femme (1953)

A young female doctor (Micheline Presle) arrives at a desolate French island in the English Channel to take the place of the 70 year old doctor (Robert Naly) who is retiring. She has to overcome prejudice toward women doctors from the island's male population but she quickly finds romance with an Italian engineer (Massimo Girotti), who also has old fashioned ideas about women. Directed by Jean Gremillon. Although it would be perhaps stretching it to call this a feminist drama, the film is remarkably prescient in its observations regarding the pressure women have of choosing between a husband and family and a career. Presle's character is a dedicated doctor yet to the "macho" Italian who wants to marry her, a career is something a woman has until she gets married and doesn't have to work anymore. The film and Presle are very good at showing the complexities on all sides and avoids the strict black and white lines that a more contemporary film would most likely have on the subject. The film's final close up of Presle displays the pain of a decision which may be "right" but doesn't make it any easier. With Gaby Morlay and Paolo Stoppa.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Scream 2 (1997)

When a new movie opens based on a true story about a pair of serial killers, the survivor (Neve Campbell) of that event finds herself once again thrust into the unwelcome media limelight. Things go from bad to horrible, when a copycat killer begins terrorizing the small college town. Directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, the men behind the original SCREAM (1996). This is that rarity, a sequel that surpasses the original. This is one hell of a rollercoaster ride! Craven and Williamson jack up the body count and increase the intensity, all the while savoring every bit of black humor they can squeeze out. Williamson's script is smart and full of surprises and Craven doesn't let go of his grip and delivers a terrific finish. The film's killer (no pun intended) opening says a lot about horror movies and horror movie fans! Which isn't to say that the film doesn't have its flaws. There's a lame sequence of Jerry O'Connell serenading Campbell in the school cafeteria that could have easily been excised with no harm to the film. The performances are fine except for Timothy Olyphant, who's pretty embarrassing. The rest of the large cast includes David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Liev Schreiber, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jada Pinkett, Heather Graham, Luke Wilson, David Warner, Laurie Metcalf, Jamie Kennedy, Portia De Rossi, Tori Spelling and Omar Epps.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Last Unicorn (1982)

A unicorn (Mia Farrow) lives in a magical forest where she is the protector of the forest's animals. But she leaves the forest in order to find others of her own kind ..... or is she the last unicorn? Along her journey, she finds two human companions: an inept magician (Alan Arkin) and a cook (Tammy Grimes). Based on the popular 1968 fantasy novel by Peter S. Beagle who adapts his novel for the screen and directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. (FROSTY THE SNOWMAN). The animation, which has a lovely simplicity, was done in Japan by a group of animation designers that would later be a creative force behind Studio Ghibli and indeed, the film does have the rough feel of a Miyazaki anime. Although not a musical per se, the songs by Jimmy Webb (who also did the underscore) are very good and performed by America with Mia Farrow and Jeff Bridges (as a Prince) each having a solo number. The voice talent is of an unusually high caliber and Beagle was very enthusiastic about the voice work. Young children should love this and there's enough texture that adults can fully enjoy it too. With Angela Lansbury as an old witch, Christopher Lee as a King, Keenan Wynn as a bandit, Robert Klein as a butterfly and Rene Auberjonois who's hilarious as a wine loving skeleton.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) (2017)

An eccentric artist (Dustin Hoffman)  and his fourth wife (Emma Thompson), who is an alcoholic, welcome his adult children from his prior marriages who all have a strained relationship with their father: the unemployed and recently divorced oldest son (Adam Sandler), the quiet recessive daughter (Elizabeth Marvel) and the only successful member of the family, the son (Ben Stiller) who lives out in L.A. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, this is the kind of movie he does best. Like his THE SQUID AND THE WHALE and MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, he explores a dysfunctional family with acidic insight as well as generous doses of humor. The film is divided into chapters focusing on the adult children's conflicted relationship with their egocentric father. The rich dialog is often rapid fire reminding one of the films of both Robert Altman and Woody Allen. The fragmented nature of the film allows Baumbach to address the specificities of dysfunction in the family rather than generics. The acting is first rate with Hoffman giving his best performance in years as well as a career best performance by Sandler (he'll be surprising a lot of people). The score is by Randy Newman. With Candice Bergen, Adam Driver, Sigourney Weaver, Judd Hirsch, Rebecca Miller and Grace Van Patten, who is someone to watch.  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

True Confession (1937)

A pathological liar (Carole Lombard) is married to a struggling lawyer (Fred MacMurray) who hates liars! She confesses to a murder she didn't commit so her husband can defend her and make a name for himself after he acquits her. But she gets more than she bargained for! Based on the play MON CRIME by Georges Berr and Louis Verneuil and directed by Wesley Ruggles (I'M NO ANGEL). This screwball comedy with with a macabre sense of wit is fairly enjoyable. Lombard is still manic but somehow the mannerisms which are insufferable in comedies like TWENTIETH CENTURY and MY MAN GODFREY work for her character here. Frequent co-star MacMurray once again proves a perfect foil for her. Add John Barrymore in a flashy performance that threatens to venture into ham territory at any minute and you've got yourself a pleasant slice of entertainment. Remade in 1946 with Betty Hutton in Lombard's old role. With Una Merkel, Porter Hall, Hattie McDaniel and Edgar Kennedy.  

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

After escaping from an insane asylum, former Chief Inspector (Herbert Lom) of the Paris Surete kidnaps a scientist (Richard Vernon) and his daughter (Briony McRoberts). He blackmails the scientist into building a doomsday weapon that he will use against the world ..... unless they turn over Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) to him. Directed by Blake Edwards, this was the 4th entry in the Pink Panther franchise. It has a threadbare plot (if you could call it that) that is really just an excuse for slapstick and gags galore. Fortunately, most of the gags are quite funny and if in the end, the film is uneven, it works more often than it does not. The first two PANTHER films are still my favorites because they have a stronger narrative and structure to hold the humor together. This slapdash approach is more hit and miss but I laughed often so I can't really complain. The title credits are hilarious and once again, Henry Mancini provides a slick underscore. With Omar Sharif, Lesley Anne Down, Leonard Rossiter, Colin Blakely and Burt Kwouk. 

Cave Of Outlaws (1951)

A young boy (Russ Tamblyn) is the only survivor of a gang of outlaws that robbed a train. Although the money is never recovered, he is sent to prison. 15 years later, he (now Macdonald Carey) returns to the town near the caves where the money is hidden. The townspeople even advance him credit in anticipation of his recovering the stolen money. But a Wells Fargo detective (Edgar Buchanan) is determined to get the money back. Directed by William Castle (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL), this western programmer's main distinction are the stunning Carlsbad Caverns caves in New Mexico which serves as the background for much of the film and handsomely shot in Technicolor by Irving Glassberg (THE TARNISHED ANGELS). The film is a rather slow moving effort with not much action until the film's last 20 minutes or so. It's a film about greed and while better films (like TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE) have been done on the subject, this one is modestly adept. I wouldn't go out of my way but if you're a westerns buff, it's an unassuming diversion. With Alexis Smith, Hugh O'Brian and Victor Jory. 

The Seventh Victim (1943)

When a young schoolgirl (Kim Hunter) is informed that her older sister (Jean Brooks) is missing, she heads for Manhattan to try and locate her. It soon becomes clear that certain people don't want her sister found. Directed by Mark Robson (PEYTON PLACE) in his first directorial effort. This may be my favorite of the classic Val Lewton RKO horror films, sort of the ROSEMARY'S BABY of its day. It still blows me away that something so bleak and nihilistic could come out of 1940s Hollywood. Most films would probably end after the Lord's Prayer being recited by Tom Conway (playing the same character he played in Lewton's CAT PEOPLE) and Orford Gage or perhaps on the two lovers (Hunter and LEAVE IT TO BEAVER's Hugh Beaumont). But instead, it ends on a startling morbid moment! Needless to say, audiences stayed away in 1943. Critics weren't very kind either but its stature has grown significantly since then to the point where it's now recognized as a psychological horror classic. The excellent shadowy lensing is by Nicholas Musuraca (OUT OF THE PAST). With Evelyn Brent, Isabel Jewell, Lou Lubin and Barbara Hale.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Victoria And Abdul (2017)

A young Muslim (Ali Fazal) is sent from India to England to present Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) with a gift for her golden jubilee. The Queen unexpectedly takes a liking to him and soon they become very close which disturbs the inner circle of politicians and family. Based on a book by Shrabani Basu and directed by Stephen Frears (PHILOMENA). First, the good: Judi Dench. A first rate and award worthy performance. Then, the bad: everything else! I walked out of Dench's previous effort as Victoria, MRS. BROWN and I probably should have bolted this one as well. It's worth seeing for Dench's performance but she can't redeem something as shameless as this. The film states at its beginning "based on real events" instead of "this is a true story" and they were smart to do so as everything that follows rings false. The film has a slight revisionist tone to it that I found disturbing and I was cringing by the film's sappy finale. There were some sniffles around me but all I kept thinking was, "Oh God, will this movie never end?". It finally did and I leapt from my seat without staying for the end credits like I normally do. With Eddie Izzard, Michael Gambon, Tim Piggott Smith, Olivia Williams and Simon Callow.   

Saturday, October 7, 2017

They Came To Cordura (1959)

In 1916 Mexico as the U.S. Army wages an attack on the forces of Pancho Villa, a Major (Gary Cooper) is assigned the task of leading five Medal Of Honor candidates (Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Richard Conte, Michael Callan, Dick York) and a female prisoner (Rita Hayworth) accused of aiding and abetting the enemy to the military base of Cordura. First on horseback, then on foot. The Major is determined to find out what causes men to engage in heroic behavior at the risk of their lives. Based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout (WHERE THE BOYS ARE) and directed by Robert Rossen (ALL THE KING'S MEN). This potent look at the thin line between bravery and cowardice still hasn't received its proper due. Not surprisingly, the film failed at the box office when first released. 1959 audiences didn't want to see Gary Cooper as a coward and masochist, an aging and deglamorized Rita Hayworth as a traitor, teen heartthrob Tab Hunter go crazy or Van Heflin and Richard Conte as rapists. The film raises some provocative questions and the answers aren't always what we want to hear or see. It's not a great film by any means but definitely worth seeking out if you haven't seen it. The excellent underscore is by the classical composer Elie Siegmeister, the only film score he ever wrote. With Robert Keith and Edward Platt.   

Friday, October 6, 2017

Dishonored Lady (1947)

A fashion editor (Hedy Lamarr) for a magazine leads two lives. A professional by day but a playgirl with a reputation living life in the fast lane at night. Unhappy with the way her life is going, she attempts suicide but a psychiatrist (Morris Carnovsky) urges her to rethink her life. She leaves her job and takes on a new identity to start a new life but her past will come back to haunt her. Directed by Robert Stevenson (MARY POPPINS) and based on a 1930 play by Margaret Ayer Barnes and Edward Sheldon with Katharine Cornell playing the title role. The film version has been "cleaned up" considerably from the play to appease the 1947 censors and what we're left with is a routine potboiler. The transfer I saw had been cut by about five minutes and I suppose those five minutes could have provided a more consistent narrative rather than the choppy edit I saw but I doubt it would have made for a better film. Lamarr is breathtakingly gorgeous but her acting isn't strong enough (at least not here) to make us care much about her character's fate. With Dennis O'Keefe, William Lundigan, John Loder, Margaret Hamilton and Natalie Schafer.  

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Masque Of The Red Death (1964)

As a plague called the Red Death ravages the Italian countryside, a Satan worshiping Prince (Vincent Price) and his debauched guests are safe behind his castle walls ..... seemingly. Based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe and directed by Roger Corman. This is easily the best of Corman's Poe films and in its own way, as powerful as Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL. Everyone is working at their highest level here. From Daniel Haller's sumptuous production design, Robert Jones's stunning art direction, Laura Nightingale's colorful costume supervision (there is no "costume designer" credit) and Nicholas Roeg's vivid cinematography (the film's color palette is exquisite). The film has a richer look and creative level than his other Poe films. Perhaps it was shooting in England for the first time rather than Hollywood but this doesn't have the feel of a low budget American International film. Vincent Price too gives his best performance in his Poe canon. With Hazel Court, Jane Asher, Patrick Magee (whose face and voice reeks of decadence and corruption) and Nigel Green.    

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

A Manhattan housewife (Diane Keaton) becomes convinced her next door neighbor (Jerry Adler) has murdered his wife (Lynn Cohen). She enlists the help of her reluctant husband (Woody Allen), who doesn't believe her, in solving the case. But it soon becomes apparent that they are way over their heads as things go from bad to worse. Co-written (along with Marshall Brickman) and directed by Woody Allen. I'm a huge fan of comedy mysteries and Allen's film isn't unlike something Bob Hope might have done with Dorothy Lamour in the 1940s. But it takes awhile for the movie to get its rhythm going and I fear many might have given up by the time the movie finds its groove. Anjelica Huston in a low key performance as a writer who helps the couple crack the case makes a wonderful contrast to the excessive neuroticism of Allen, Keaton and Alan Alda as the fourth collaborator in solving the mystery. The film's finale, a homage to Orson Welles' LADY FROM SHANGHAI should delight film buffs. With Joy Behar, Zach Braff, Marge Redmond, Ron Rifkin and Melanie Norris. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

House Of Dark Shadows (1970)

A handyman (John Karlen) accidentally frees a 175 year old vampire (Jonathan Frid) from the crypt of the Collins family mausoleum. He then goes on a blood sucking rampage until a doctor (Grayson Hall) isolates the vampire "gene" and tries to cure him of his vampirism. Based on the 1966 cult horror soap opera that had a 5 year run and directed by the show's creator Dan Curtis. I'll be upfront and say I never watched the TV version so I don't have any attachment to it and am judging the film on its own merits (or lack of them). It's a pretty generic vampire movie with a nice Hammer like atmosphere and a few unique components (like the doctor's attempt to cure the vampire of his "disease"). The body count is pretty high and the acting is adequate though Nancy Barrett's performance is more than adequate, it's quite good. I didn't find Frid a particularly charismatic vampire, he's rather ordinary really and I wish Joan Bennett as the family matriarch had more to do. With Kathryn Leigh Scott, Thayer David, Roger Davis and Louis Edmonds.

The Angel Wore Red (1960)

Set in 1936 Spain during the Civil War, a disillusioned priest (Dirk Bogarde at his dullest) abandons his calling. However, the Loyalists believe he has a holy relic that they want so he is put on a wanted list. Based on the novel THE FAIR BRIDE by Bruce Marshall and adapted for the screen and directed by Nunnally Johnson (THREE FACES OF EVE). A mess of a movie! I've not read the source material but surely it must have been clearer than Johnson's muddled screenplay. The narrative makes little sense and the actions of the characters seem so arbitrary. And surely, the Loyalists would do a body search of someone they suspect may be carrying the relic they're looking for but no! The B&W lensing by Giuseppe Rotunno (AMARCORD) is quite nice but the film would have benefited from being shot in color. Although she's top billed, Ava Gardner as the "angel" of the title is really a supporting role and it's Bogarde's movie all the way but his pinched up face gets wearisome very quickly. Bronislau Kaper did the underscore. For Ava fans only! With Joseph Cotten (wasted), Vittorio De Sica (badly dubbed), Finlay Currie, Enrico Maria Salerno, Nino Castelnuovo and Rossana Rory.  

Variete (1925)

An ex-trapeze aerialist (Emil Jannings) currently works as a carnival barker to support his wife (Maly Delschaft) and baby. When a young foreign beauty (Lya De Puti) enters the picture, he abandons his wife and baby and they run off together. Success arrives when they unite with a third aerialist (Warwick Ward) and their act becomes a popular success. But infidelity and jealousy will destroy them all. Directed by E.A. Dupont, the film's artistry lies not in its routine story of a love triangle but in its execution and its here that Dupont and his master cinematographer Karl Freund (METROPOLIS) excel. From its heady trapeze shots to its spectacular crowd and group scenes, it's a visual treat. But what really holds the film together is Emil Jannings' performance and this may be my favorite performance by him. This is an excellent example of why he was considered one of the premier actors of his era. For fans of silent cinema, this is a must!

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Last Wagon (1956)

After the Apaches wipe out a wagon train, a condemned prisoner (Richard Widmark) must lead the 6 survivors through Apache territory and hopefully make it to safety. Even if it means there's a noose waiting for him at the end of the journey. Delmer Daves is responsible for some of the best westerns of the 1950s decade. 3:10 TO YUMA and JUBAL are probably the most admired of these but THE LAST WAGON is an (way) above average western that can stand proudly among the best westerns of that decade. Beautifully shot in CinemaScope by Wilfrid M. Cline (1953's CALAMITY JANE) in Sedona, Arizona. The film is strong with limited sentimentality until the very end when it's acceptable. Racism is examined as well as the nature of taking the "law" into your own hands when there is no law but your own sense of justice. Widmark gives a marvelous performance and as the survivors: that underrated lovely Felicia Farr (3:10 TO YUMA), Susan Kohner, Nick Adams, Tommy Rettig, Ray Stricklyn and Stephanie Griffin are all first rate. Also with James Drury, Carl Benton Reid, Timothy Carey and Douglas Kennedy.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The House On Skull Mountain (1974)

Set in Georgia, an elderly black woman (Mary J. Todd McKenzie) of Haitian descent is dying. But before she dies, she request her four remaining relatives be sent for. Directed by Ron Honthaner, this horror potboiler with a predominantly black cast is more entertaining than it has any right to be considering it's mostly terrible. The acting is mostly amateurish to the point that it looks like the actors are reading their lines off cue cards. But it's precisely that amateurishness that gives the film a certain a fascination. Honthaner manages to give off a nice atmosphere and if you're a fan of old mansions on a stormy night movies, it should be easy to overlook the film's transgressions. For example, during a voodoo ceremony where there will be a human sacrifice, Victor French (the only white actor with a major role) sneaks into the ceremony and doesn't bother to hide and nobody notices him! Mike Evans as the jive talking hipster relative is so annoying that one hopes he's the first to get offed! It's not remotely scary but there's pleasure to be had in its amateurish silliness. With Janee Michelle, Jean Durand, Ella Woods and Xernona Clayton. 

La Fille Inconnue (aka The Unknown Girl) (2016)

A young doctor (Adele Haenel) is working overtime with an intern (Olivier Bonnaud) in her office late at night. When a young girl (Ange Deborah Goulehi) rings the bell to be let in, she doesn't open the door. The next day, she discovers the girl has been found dead without any identification as to her identity, possibly a murder victim. Stricken with guilt, the doctor becomes obsessed with finding out who the girl was and why she was killed. Released in Europe last year, the latest film from Luc and Jean Pierre Dardenne is only now getting a low key U.S. release. It's a let down following their TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT from 2014. Although Adele Hanenel is getting positive reviews for her performance, I thought the acting in the film was weak in general. TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT was anchored by a spectacular performance by Marion Cotillard and this film could have used a strong performance as Haenel is in just about every scene in the movie. Characters behave illogically and seem contrived by the Dardennes to behave the way they do so the film makers can have their point made. Those expecting a whodunit type of mystery will be disappointed. The film is about guilt. Not only the guilt of the doctor but the guilt of the person responsible for the girl's death and the guilt of a society that looks the other way and says, "That has nothing to do with me". I appreciate the message and it's a good one. I wish the execution weren't so awkward.  

Saturday, September 30, 2017

L'etrange Monsieur Steve (1957)

A naive bank clerk (Philippe Lemaire) struggling with money problems strikes up a friendship with an elegant con man (Armand Mestral) named Steve. Soon he finds himself seduced by Steve's wife (Jeanne Moreau), blackmailed by Steve's partner (Lino Ventura) and way over his head in a life of crime. Based on the novel by LA REVANCHE DES MEDIOCRES by Marcel Pretre and adapted for the screen and directed by Raymond Bailly. This is a slice of French noir with doses of black humor (the butler polishes guns instead of silver) and all the usual noir trimmings. This film came out the year before Moreau's international breakthrough with Malle's ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS and she's perfectly cast here as the requisite femme fatale. But truthfully, Hollywood did this stuff so much better. One feels sorry for Lemaire's dupe at first but when he doesn't wise up, you stop caring about him. I mean how many times does one need to get kicked in the teeth before he opens his eyes? Still, it's quite enjoyable and I wouldn't mind seeing a remake done with a little more finesse. The dreadful underscore by Philippe Gerard undermines the film. With Anouk Ferjac and Jacques Varennes. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

To The Devil A Daughter (1976)

18 years after making a pact with a satanic cult and giving them his baby daughter, a man (Denholm Elliott) reneges and asks an expert (Richard Widmark) on the occult to hide his daughter (Nastassja Kinski). The dubious expert agrees but he doesn't know what he's letting himself in for. The cult's leader (Christopher Lee) will stop at nothing to get the girl back. Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley and directed by Peter Sykes. This entry in the devil cinema canon is no ROSEMARY'S BABY or THE OMEN. Surprisingly, the film is almost devoid of any genuine sense of horror. The "devil baby" when revealed isn't shocking at all since it looks like a red rubber doll with some kind of skin disease. A more atmospheric underscore might have helped as Paul Glass's atonal score provides no sense of terror. As expected, horror icon Christopher Lee provides a nice sense of menace but the other actors have all been better elsewhere. Wheatley himself was unhappy with the film. It's not bad, just blah! With Honor Blackman, Anthony Valentine, Frances De La Tour and Michael Goodliffe (hist last film before his suicide).

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Stud (1978)

The bored wife (Joan Collins) of a wealthy businessman (Walter Gotell) owns a trendy and hot nightclub in London. She uses the club's manager (Oliver Tobias) as her "stud" but he's losing interest in her and he plots to start his own club. Based on the novel by Jackie Collins and directed by Quentin Masters. 1977's SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER took the disco craze to new heights and this film rode its coattails. Made on a shoestring budget, it was a massive international success and grossed almost 20 times its budget. The disco soundtrack album was also a huge best seller. You know what kind of film this is going to be as soon as you hear the title song over the credits, "What's his name, what's his name? Stud! What's his game, what's his game, Stud!". As for the film itself, it's as close to softcore porn as a movie with a name actress (Collins) can get. However, the sex is surprisingly unerotic and often ludicrous. If you have an appetite for trash, this can be fun. If you don't, skip it. The sequel called THE BITCH was also a big hit. With Sue Lloyd, Mark Burns and Emma Jacobs.  

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

After two years, a young girl (Elizabeth Olsen) escapes from an abusive cult and goes to live with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and her husband (Hugh Dancy). But adjusting to a "normal" life proves difficult. Written and directed by Sean Durkin, who expanded his award winning short film MARY LAST SEEN to feature length into MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE. This is one of those disturbing films that you realize are special and superbly done but can take no genuine pleasure in watching. It's a painful watch and, of course, it was meant to be. In her breakthrough role, Elizabeth Olsen is stunning. She gets thoroughly under her character's skin and we can readily see her conflicting emotions and confusion and pain. Sarah Paulson as her estranged sister is also very, very good. As the cult leader, John Hawkes is fine although not charismatic enough that we can see why these young people would follow him unquestioningly. In fact, he comes off as rather creepy but then so did Charles Manson. The ambiguous ending disturbed me, I just wished there was at least a glimmer of hope. With Brady Corbet and Maria Dizzia.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Never Say Die (1939)

A wealthy hypochondriac (Bob Hope) is trapped into marrying a much married gold digging widow (Gale Sondergaard) with a reputation of doing away with her husbands. When he's misdiagnosed as having only a few weeks to live, he hastily marries a Texas heiress (Martha Raye) to stop her from being forced to marry a titled Prince (Alan Mowbray) by her status seeking father (Paul Harvey). Based on the play by William H. Post and William Collier and directed by Elliott Nugent. I don't think Hope really blossomed as a film comic until the 1940s but this is one of his better vehicles from the 1930s. Martha Raye makes a great foil for him and the laughs are plentiful and there's a wonderful supporting cast of players to prop them up. Preston Sturges had a hand in the screenplay and there's a humorous tongue twisting bit that was perfected to better effect in THE COURT JESTER (1956). With Monty Woolley, Sig Ruman, Ernest Cossart, Hans Conreid and Albert Dekker.    

House Of The Damned (1963)

An architect (Ron Foster) and his wife (Merry Anders) are hired to survey an old empty mansion set in a secluded California hillside. But mysterious things happen during the night and when the architect's employer (Richard Crane) and his wife (Erika Peters) join them the following day, the wife disappears! Written and directed by Maury Dexter, this B&W thriller may have been shot in CinemaScope but it's a "B" low budget programmer which borrows from the Tod Browning classic FREAKS. I love these old decaying mansion where things go bump in the night horror flicks but this one has an ending that cheats its audience. It's not as bad as one of those "it was all a dream" endings but it's pretty close. The movie was filmed at the Greystone mansion in Beverly Hills and it's one corker of an "old dark house". Countless movies have been filmed there including WITCHES OF EASTWICK, DEATH BECOMES HER, GHOSTBUSTERS II and THE BIG LEBOWSKI among many others. It's the kind of movie that might play well at 2 o'clock in the morning when you have insomnia. With Richard Kiel (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) and Ayllene Gibbons.

Casablanca (1942)

In 1941 Casablanca in French Morocco, refugees from the Nazis hoping to get visas to Lisbon in neutral Portugal and from there to America. In Rick's (Humphrey Bogart) popular cafe and bar, intrigue and bartering in human lives are the order of the day. Loosely based on the play EVERYBODY COMES TO RICK'S by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison (which was never produced) and directed by Michael Curtiz. What can anyone say about CASABLANCA that hasn't already been said a hundred times over? The film is perfection. No, it's not "Art" but it's a sterling example of the Hollywood studio system at its best. A witty layered screenplay although reputedly the script was constantly being rewritten during the shooting with oodles of quotable dialog and incandescent performances by the charismatic legends in the two leads, the glowing Ingrid Bergman is the female lead. One of those rare films that seems to be universally loved (though of course, there are always naysayers). And that supporting cast! Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.Z. Sakall for starters. Paul Henreid gets a lot of flak as the third wheel as being "dull" but I think he's just right for the role. Also with Marcel Dalio, Leonid Kinskey, Madeleine LeBeau, Joy Page, Norma Varden and John Qualen.     

Monday, September 25, 2017

Blue Thunder (1983)

A helicopter pilot (Roy Scheider) who does air surveillance for the Los Angeles Police Department is chosen to test a new high tech chopper for the federal government. But it isn't long before he discovers the true sinister intentions that the chopper will be put to use. Directed by John Badham (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER), this is an implausible action/thriller. To enjoy it requires an enormous suspension of disbelief and I do mean enormous. The aerial sequences are top notch and the action is intense but the script leaves precious little devoted to characterization. One has to wonder what the film makers were thinking with the wholesale destruction of property and casual attitude toward the loss of innocent lives. I mean the entire side of a skyscraper is blown away and my first thought was how many people were in that building but to the movie, it was just a "wow" moment. Times have changed since 1983 and I don't think audiences today would think it's funny when Scheider and Daniel Stern (as his sidekick) use the surveillance to peek into people's homes or listen in to hear sexual activity! A big yes to the action sequences, no to just about everything else. With Warren Oates, Malcolm McDowell and Jason Bernard. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

All I Desire (1953)

In the early 1900s, a woman (Barbara Stanwyck) who abandoned her husband (Richard Carlson) and children 10 years before and ran off to go on the stage returns to the small town after she gets a letter from her now grown daughter (Lori Nelson). Nothing seems to have changed and the small town gossips are abuzz about the return of the "scarlet" woman! Based on the novel STOPOVER by Carol Ryrie Brink and directed by Douglas Sirk. This has all the trademarks of Sirk's Universal period melodramas. The mean spirited small town hypocrisy (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS), motherhood (IMITATION OF LIFE) and an attempt to remedy the past (THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW). This is minor Sirk but still worth visiting. Unfortunately, the ending doesn't seem right and sure enough, the producer Ross Hunter had Sirk reshoot the original downbeat ending and substitute a happy one. Stanwyck is in her element here with a lovely performance but with the exception of Maureen O'Sullivan as a teacher in love with Carlson, there's no one in the cast on her level. Who wouldn't jump town being married to Richard Carlson? With Lyle Bettger, Marcia Henderson, Richard Long, Stuart Whitman, Brett Halsey and Lottie Stein.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Alligator People (1959)

A young bride (Beverly Garland) is abandoned by her husband (Richard Crane) on their wedding night. She manages to trace him back to his ancestral home in the Louisiana bayous where she discovers a terrible secret. Directed by Roy Del Ruth, this is an enjoyable if not particularly original low budget programmer. It's a pity that the alligator "people" look wasn't perfected because all we get is a man in what is essentially an alligator mask that looks like a Halloween costume. Fortunately he isn't revealed until the very end but until then, Del Ruth provides a nice atmosphere that keeps us in anticipation. Beverly Garland wasn't called the original Scream Queen for nothing and she puts her lungs to good use here several times. With George Macready, Bruce Bennett, Douglas Kennedy, Frieda Inescort and Lon Chaney Jr. as a lecherous thug who's more frightening than any alligator or alligator people.   

Les Sorcieres De Salem (1957)

Salem, Massachusetts in the year 1692. After being spurned from his wife's (Simone Signoret) bed, a Puritan farmer (Yves Montand) beds down with a teenage girl (Mylene Demongeot). When he later rejects her, she and a group of other girls feign possession and accuse fellow villagers of witchcraft. Her intention is to have his wife executed for witchcraft and thus leaving the husband to her. Based on the 1953 play by Arthur Miller and adapted for the screen by Jean Paul Sartre and directed by Raymond Rouleau. Miller's play was an allegory on the "witch hunts" by the House Un-American Activities Committee from that period. It wasn't until 1996 that Hollywood made a film version of Miller's play. But almost 40 years earlier, the French had no compunctions about making a movie out of Miller's controversial piece. It seems odd at first to see such an American story played out in French but one soon gets over it. Sartre's screenplay is faithful to the play and well acted by all and forthright in a way that would not have been possible for Hollywood in 1957. Still powerful stuff some 40 years later. With Michel Piccoli, Alfred Adam, Pascale Petit and Jean Debucourt.  

Friday, September 22, 2017

Battle Of The Sexes (2017)

The (in)famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) that had America riveted as it dealt with its own male chauvinism and the rise of feminism. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) from a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE). As long as the film is dealing with tennis and gender equality, the film is very good but when it deals with King's sexuality, it's a big yawn. The film makers can't get a handle on how to deal with it so they give us movie cliches like sunsets, silhouette kisses and lines like "This can't happen again!". It doesn't help that Andrea Riseborough as King's lover isn't a very interesting actress. As expected, Stone and Carell are excellent as the rising tennis star and the hustling has been. Carell, in particular, shows us the human behind the loud mouth buffoon. Remarkably, Dayton and Faris manage to drum up a great deal of excitement and tension during the big tennis match considering we already know the outcome going in. One minor complaint: couldn't they have gotten Carell a better tennis double? The double looks nothing like him. Other than Riseborough, the supporting cast is excellent especially Elisabeth Shue and Austin Stowell as Briggs and King's spouses respectively. With Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming and Natalie Morales.  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Viaggio Con Anita (aka Lovers And Liars) (1979)

Set in Italy, a married businessman (Giancarlo Giannini) wants to take his girlfriend (Lorraine De Selle) with him on his auto trip to see his dying father. When she refuses, he spontaneously takes the girlfriend's visiting American friend (Goldie Hawn) instead. Directed by Mario Monicelli (BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET). First off, I watched the English language version which is some 20 minutes shorter than the Italian cut. No doubt that is to the film's disadvantage. That being said, I can't imagine my opinion being vastly different unless the English language version eliminated all the positive qualities of its characters. Giannini's character seems more interested in getting laid than seeing his dying father (when he finally gets there, the father is dead). Hawn is on the rebound from the lover she left when she finds out he was married. So what does she do? Gets involved with another married man! Who can care about people like these two? Hawn and Giannini are very appealing actors but while Hawn manages to hold onto her charms, Giannini is so irritating that when he gets punched out in a bar I could have cheered. The underscore is by Ennio Morricone. With Claudine Auger (THUNDERBALL), Laura Betti, Aurore Clement and Andrea Ferreol.

Beggars Of Life (1928)

After killing her adopted father, a young girl (Louise Brooks) runs off with a drifter (Richard Arlen). Dressed as a boy, she and the drifter attempt to escape to Canada via the rails with the police in hot pursuit. Loosely based on the non fiction book by Jim Tully which Maxwell Anderson adapted into the play OUTSIDE LOOKING IN and directed by William A. Wellman (THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY). This is a lovely film for the most part although it gets needlessly sentimental toward the film's end. Although Wallace Beery as a hobo thug gets top billing, the film belongs to Brooks and Arlen. Beery is very good though his character's change of heart toward the end seems arbitrary and out of character. But the film has an authentic feel to it, indeed many of the hobos and rail riders in the film were played by real hobos. There's a nicely done train crash at the end which was done without any special effects, they crashed a real train. After the filming was done, some minimal dialog and  sound effects were added post production without Wellman's blessing but the transfer I saw was the silent version Wellman preferred. With Roscoe Karns and Blue Washington.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Warning Shot (1967)

When staking out an apartment building, a policeman (David Janssen) tells a man (Donald Curtis) to stop but the man pulls a gun on him and the cop shoots him dead. But the man's gun mysteriously disappears and the dead man turns out to be a pillar of the community. How can he prove he's not just a trigger happy cop? Based on the novel 711 OFFICER NEEDS HELP by Whit Masterson and directed by Buzz Kulik. It's a well done if messy police drama. I liked it that Janssen's cop is a bit of a screw up rather than a typical above board hero type cop out to prove his innocence. Still, I think it might have been more interesting if we hadn't been shown the man actually pulling the gun so that we couldn't be sure of the cop's innocence until the very end. It could have used some tightening up and Joan Collins as Janssen's ex-wife could have easily have been eliminated from the film without any loss. Her scenes just drag the movie down. My favorite performance came from Eleanor Parker as the victim's boozed up nymphomaniac widow! With Walter Pidgeon, George Sanders, Lillian Gish, Stefanie Powers, Keenan Wynn, Ed Begley, Carroll O'Connor, George Grizzard, Sam Wanamaker and Jean Carson.

Tycoon (1947)

Set in Peru, an American engineer (John Wayne) is hired by a wealthy industrialist (Cedric Hardwicke) to build a tunnel through the Andes mountains. The two men are in conflict over the methods of building the tunnel which creates tension. That tension is increased when the engineer falls in love with the industrialist's daughter (Laraine Day). Based on the 1934 novel by C.E. Scoggins and directed by Richard Wallace. At over a two hours running time, the film can't sustain either the drama or the tension necessary to keep the viewer involved. Handsomely shot in three strip Techinicolor with Lone Pine and Arcadia, both in California, standing in for Peru. For a change, Wayne has a role where he isn't the "hero". In fact, for a large portion of the film, he's a stubborn jerk. The supporting cast doesn't amount to much, even a great actress like Judith Anderson is saddled with a nothing role. This is for Wayne fans only! With Anthony Quinn, James Gleason, Paul Fix and Ann Codee.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A.D. (1985)

This 8 hour film traces the rise of Christianity in Jerusalem and Rome while concurrently examining the corruption of Rome through four of its emperors: the paranoid Tiberius (James Mason), the mad Caligula (John McEnery), the timid Claudius (Richard Kiley) and the devious Nero (Anthony Andrews). Based on the novel KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Anthony Burgess (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) who co-wrote the screenplay and directed by Stuart Cooper. As long as the film concentrates on the machinations of Roman politics, it remains an engrossing tale but the Christian sequences are insufferable especially those involving Peter (Denis Quilley) and Paul (Philip Sayer). The acting varies from awful (Neil Dickson) to very good (Chris Humphreys). The massive cast includes Ava Gardner, Susan Sarandon, Ian McShane, John Houseman, Colleen Dewhurst, Jack Warden, Richard Roundtree, Fernando Rey, Millie Perkins, Jennifer O'Neill, Ben Vereen, Anthony Zerbe, David Hedison, Amanda Pays, Diane Venora, Akosua Busia and Michael Wilding Jr. as Jesus.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Apache Drums (1951)

Set in a scarcely populated Arizona desert town, a gambler (Stephen McNally) with an itchy gun finger and the town's mayor (Willard Parker) are both in love with the same girl (Coleen Gray). But that all takes a backseat when a group of renegade Indians attack the town. Based on STAND AT SPANISH BOOT by Harry Brown and directed by Hugo Fregonese. This was also the last film produced by Val Lewton, most famous for his RKO horror films of the 1940s like CAT PEOPLE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. It's a "B" western but very well done. The film's big set piece or high point if you prefer is the almost 30 minute assault by the Apaches on the townspeople trapped in a church. This is where the Lewton touch is evident. Like his horror films which suggested more than they showed, we're constantly reminded of the Apache's presence without actually seeing them by their constant drums and war cries and when they attack it's unexpected and startling. The acting is decent though I found Arthur Shields as the town preacher constantly bringing up God and constantly referring to the Apaches as heathen and devils irritating. With James Best, Clarence Muse and James Griffith. 

The Return Of The Pink Panther (1975)

When the legendary Pink Panther diamond is stolen from a Middle Eastern museum, suspicion falls on the now retired Lord Lytton (Christopher Plummer) who police have long suspected of being The Phantom. Assigned to the case against the will of his superior (Herbert Lom), Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) attempts to link The Phantom to the theft. There were 11 years between the last Pink Panther film (A SHOT IN THE DARK) from 1964 to 1975. Directed once again by Blake Edwards, the film takes a long time in getting its rhythm going. Laughs are sporadic and often weak. Things pick up in the second half especially with a hilarious set piece when Clouseau gets caught in Lady Lytton's (Catherine Schell) hotel room. The film is worth seeing for that sequence alone with everyone involved in the scene showing an expertise in physical comedy. Henry Mancini again supplies the suitable underscore. With Burt Kwouk, Peter Arne, Gregoire Aslan and Graham Stark. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Mother! (2017)

A writer (Javier Bardem) is struggling with writer's block while his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) is renovating their home. When a stranger (Ed Harris) shows up at their door one night, the writer invites him to stay the night. The next day, the stranger's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and moves in and then their sons (Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson) show up and then ....... things get ugly! Directed by Darren Aronofsky (BLACK SWAN), this audacious apocalyptic horror film doesn't coddle or pander to its audience. In fact, it shoves their faces in the shit and judging by the reported rampant hostility being thrown at the film, they're pissed off! Personally, I lapped it up like a chocolate sundae with extra cherries! A far from perfect film, there's no denying Aronofsky used a hammer in his direction but in his defense, he had to use a hammer. I've long thought God made a mistake when he created mankind and it seems Aronofsky feels the same way. I wouldn't call it anti-Christian (as some have complained) but it certainly shows the insanity of Christianity. For all its flaws (and the film is rife with them), it's at least trying to shake us out of our apathy but it seems some people like their apathy just fine. With Kristen Wiig.  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I Girasoli (aka Sunflower) (1970)

In WWII Italy, a recently married soldier (Marcello Mastroianni) is sent to the Russian front. When he doesn't return after the war is over, his wife (Sophia Loren) goes to Russia to track him down. Directed by Vittorio De Sica (BICYCLE THIEVES), this deceptively simple melodrama might seem another movie romance with a tearjerker finale on the surface but it's a heartbreaking look on the effect war has on both the soldier and the civilian. It's no startling revelation that war leaves its scars but by using a romantic relationship as its core, De Sica reveals the specificity of those wounds. The chemistry between Loren and Mastroianni is potent (they made 17 films together) and Loren did her best work as an actress when she worked with De Sica (he directed her in 8 films) and she gives a lovely performance here. I've seen this several times and film's final minutes get my tear ducts flowing every time. This was the first western film to be filmed in the Soviet Union. The Oscar nominated score is by Henry Mancini. With Lyudmila Saveleva (WAR AND PEACE) and Anna Carena as Mastroianni's mother.