Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Golden Earrings (1947)

Shortly before war breaks out in Europe, two Englishmen (Ray Milland, Bruce Lester) held prisoner in Germany escape. They separate but have a designated meeting place. The film concentrates on Milland's character, who joins a gypsy woman (Marlene Dietrich) as a cover. Based on the novel by Jolan Foldes and directed by Mitchell Leisen (HOLD BACK HE DAWN). The film combines a romance between people from two different worlds and a typical WWII espionage flick. I preferred the espionage half to the romance. I'm not a big fan of Milland but he's quite charming here. I wish I could say the same for Dietrich who's really bad. Granted, I don't like her much as an actress anyway but she's a Hollywood idea of a gypsy. In fact, the gypsies in the film are so broadly played that it veers dangerously close to parody. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy the film on some level, I just wish another actress had been cast in the lead. Anyway, it's not essential cinema but there are far worse movies to spend 90 minutes on. The Victor Young score is lovely. With Murvyn Vye and Ivan Triesault.  

Phaedra (1962)

A wealthy Greek shipping tycoon (Raf Vallone) asks his second wife (Melina Mercouri) to contact his estranged son (Anthony Perkins) in London and return home to Greece to see his father. Instead, what is set in motion is a doomed love affair between the wife and son that can only bring tragedy. Very loosely based on Euripides' HIPPOLYTUS and updated to modern Greece and directed by the American expatriate Jules Dassin (BRUTE FORCE). An ill conceived effort by all concerned. The film aspires to Greek tragedy but only ends up being kitsch at best. When Mercouri and Perkins make love for the first time, the camera goes all soft focus as rain beats on the window panes and we see various body parts while Mikis Theodorakis's score crashes away! Mercouri and Perkins have no chemistry and without that passion, it all seems so over baked. Still, one can't help wonder what Mercouri sees in Perkins when she has Raf Vallone in her bed! The film could have benefited from color which would have enhanced the Paris and Greece locales instead of the stark B&W lensing of Jacques Natteau. With Elizabeth Ercy and Olympia Papadouka.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Secret Of Dr. Kildare (1939)

A young doctor (Lew Ayres) is in overdrive as he attempts to help his mentor (Lionel Barrymore), who's seriously ill, discover a cure for pneumonia while at the same time attempting to discover why a patient (Helen Gilbert) has undergone a severe personality change. Directed by Harold S. Bucquet, this was the third in the MGM Dr. Kildare series with Ayres. This one really loads up the drama for a less than 90 minute movie. In addition, Kildare's father (Samuel S. Hinds) has a potentially fatal heart condition and Kildare is romancing a nurse (Laraine Day). Some of the medical information disseminated seems dubious by 21st century medical knowledge and we even have Barrymore's doctor smoking cigarettes! All that aside, it's an okay effort for fans of the franchise but I doubt anyone else would have much tolerance for it. One thing that hasn't changed in the movie's over 78 years: if you have money, you get the best medical attention quicker than anybody else. With Lionel Atwill, Alma Kruger, Nat Pendleton, Martha O'Driscoll and Sara Haden.  

The Long Dark Hall (1951)

When his mistress (Patricia Cutts) is murdered, a married man (Rex Harrison) becomes the chief suspect in her killing as circumstantial evidence all points to him. His wife (Lilli Palmer) stands by his side through it all. Based on the novel A CASE TO ANSWER by Edgar Lustgarten and directed by Reginald Beck and Anthony Bushell. Despite the presence of Harrison and Palmer in the leads, this is a disappointment. Since we know who the real killer is from the very beginning, there's no mystery. It's all will he or will he not be convicted for a crime he didn't commit. What irritated me the most about the film are unexplained inconsistencies. Example: after finding her body, Harrison holds the body while sobbing and then goes home, he doesn't call the police! Why? It's never explained. When the police question him, he denies knowing the girl although he had an argument with the girl's landlady (Brenda De Banzie) moments before finding her body. Didn't he think the landlady would identify him? I won't even go in Palmer's unquestioned loyalty toward him after he admits the affair, not even a moment of anger at being betrayed. The most interesting character is the murderer (Anthony Dawson, DR. NO) who sees himself as some sort of moral avenger. In the end, the film seems an anti-capital punishment plea. With Dennis O'Dea and Jill Bennett.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Grass Harp (1995)

In 1935 Alabama, after his parents die, a young boy (Grayson Fricke who morphs into Edward Furlong) moves in with his two spinster cousins (Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie) and their black housekeeper (Nell Carter). Based on the celebrated Truman Capote novel and directed by Charles Matthau (Walter's son). By the time this film was released, Capote's novel had already been adapted for a stage play, a Broadway musical and twice for TV. Although it was critically well received, the film was a failure at the box office which is a real pity because it's a lovely rendition of the Capote novella. Matthau manages to provide an almost ethereal climate in which the memory piece plays out. Yet although delicate, it's never fragile. Indeed, it's made of a firm cinematic fabric. The ensemble cast is impeccable. Both Spacek as the domineering insensitive sister and Laurie as the gentle shy sister are cast against type. Normally, they would have been cast in opposite parts but they both prove what versatile actresses can do when they break away from type casting. A truly lovely little film. With Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Mary Steenburgen, Roddy McDowall, Charles Durning, Scott Wilson, Joe Don Baker, Doris Roberts, Sean Patrick Flanery and Mia Kirshner.   

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Enter Madame! (1935)

While in Europe, a man (Cary Grant) falls in love with an Italian opera singer (Elissa Landi). However, after they marry, he finds it difficult to adjust to coming second to her international career. Based on the 1920 Broadway play which had previously been filmed in 1922 and directed by Elliott Nugent (UP IN ARMS). It's a screwball comedy that never gets off the ground despite a promising beginning. Landi is delightful and she tries but Grant isn't quite Cary Grant yet and this is one of his most charmless performances. This being 1935, it's one of those films where a failing marriage is once again blamed on the woman's career ambitions and it's the woman who must compromise herself for the happy ending, not the man. Everyone tries hard, too hard and there's no lightness or playfulness but rather a determined push which is hardly what is needed for a farce like this. With Lynne Overman, Sharon Lynn, Frank Albertson and Cecilia Parker (Mickey Rooney's sister in the Andy Hardy movies).

Baywatch (2017)

The head (Dwayne Johnson) of an elite lifeguard unit in an exclusive section of the beach in Florida finds himself saddled with a washed up ex-Olympic swimming champion (Zac Efron) assigned to do community service. Things get worse when he discovers drug smuggling is going on at the beach and it points to a wealthy businesswoman (Priyanka Chopra). Big, loud and mindless! That's not necessarily a condemnation, I mean that's why people go to see this kind of movie, isn't it? However, it's also cheesy and takes mindlessness to the point of losing brain cells. The film wavers between a raunchy dumb comedy and an action flick but it's so incompetent that even the serious moments comes across as parody. Dwayne Johnson is such a likable screen presence that he usually is able to overcome weak material but he's defeated here. I felt embarrassed for both he and Efron. The only cast member who doesn't embarrass herself is Chopra's villainess who seems to have walked in from a better movie. David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson of the original BAYWATCH show make cameo appearances. With Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Rob Huebel and Jon Bass, who's just awful! 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Snow Angels (2008)

In a small town in the winter, several broken lives interconnect with each other. Separated from her mentally unstable husband (Sam Rockwell), a woman (Kate Beckinsale) betrays her best friend (Amy Sedaris) by sleeping with her husband (Nicky Katt). A young boy (Michael Angarano) finds his first love (Olivia Thirlby) while his parents (Jeanetta Arnette, Griffin Dunne) struggle in an unhappy marriage. Based on the novel by Stewart O'Nan and adapted for the screen and directed by David Gordon Green. Green has a fine visual sense and is able to elicit some first rate performances from his cast. But it doesn't take long to figure out where this is going and how it's going to end up so it's the journey rather than the destination where the interest lies. Still, when it's over, it ultimately just seems so pointless. If we're going to be led down a depressing path, we should at least find some kind of understanding when we reach the end of the road. I don't want to sound negative about the film, it's really very good. It's just not good enough. 

Woman Times Seven (1967)

Seven short stories with Shirley MacLaine playing seven different women: Funeral Procession - at her husband's funeral, a widow (MacLaine) is propositioned by her late husband's best friend (Peter Sellers). Amateur Night - after catching her husband (Rossano Brazzi) in bed with another woman, a wife (MacLaine) turns to prostitution. Two Against One - two men (Vittorio Gassman, Clinton Greyn) vie for the affections of a woman (MacLaine) trying to stay faithful to her absent lover. Super Simone - a wife (MacLaine) is envious of the women her writer husband (Lex Barker) writes about. At The Opera - a shallow socialite (MacLaine) is furious when she discovers her nemesis (Adrienne Corri) is going to wear the same couture dress to the opening of the opera. The Suicides - a married woman (MacLaine) and her married lover (Alan Arkin) share a suicide pact. Snow - a married woman (MacLaine) is stalked by a handsome stranger (Michael Caine). Written by Cesare Zavattini (BICYCLE THIEVES) and directed by Vittorio De Sica. Like all anthology films, it's a mixed bag and only three are decent. The opera sequence is genuinely amusing, the suicide segment benefits from Arkin's comic timing and best of all, the lovely and poignant snow sequence. MacLaine gets to show her versatility (as if we needed proof) but considering the talent involved, it should be way better. With Anita Ekberg, Robert Morley, Philippe Noiret, Elsa Martinelli and Patrick Wymark.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Mummy's Curse (1944)

Despite the objections of an engineer (Addison Richards) in charge of draining the swamps, two representatives (Dennis Moore, Peter Coe) from a museum arrive in Louisiana bayou country with the intention of locating some mummies that are allegedly buried in that area. Directed by Leslie Goodwins, this was the last entry in the Universal Mummy franchise until Abbott and Costello would meet him 11 years later. At about an hour long, it's practically over before it has a chance to start! Fortunately, little time is spent on the uncharismatic nominal romantic leads (Moore and Kay Harding). The Louisiana swamp lands seems an odd place for an Egyptian mummy so the movie always seems a bit off kilter. The high point of the film is the emergence of Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine) from the mud as the sun breathes life into her. There's something magical about that sequence but it occurs early in the film and it's business as usual after that. There's a lot of unexplained questions but it's not the kind of film where much attention is paid to logic. With Lon Chaney Jr. as the mummy, Martin Kosleck and Hollywood's resident Frenchwoman, Ann Codee.   

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Loophole (1981)

After a successful American architect (Martin Sheen) living in England sees his company go bankrupt, he is approached by a businessman (Albert Finney) about a construction job. But it isn't long before he begins to get suspicious that all is not right with this new "job". Based on the novel by Robert Pollock and directed by John Quested. This is a straightforward heist movie and while not particularly fresh, it's decent enough to hold your interest right through to the end. Actually, the end is the biggest problem I had with the movie. The movie jumps from a crucial point in the narrative to about 24 hours later without  ever filling us in on what transpired. Being left out of a crucial part of the storytelling feels like a cheat! Other than that, it's well acted and moves along nicely generating just enough suspense that our attention doesn't drift. If you're partial to the genre, it's a pleasant 1 3/4 hours. Surprisingly, Lalo Schifrin (BULLITT) would seem the ideal composer for a project like this but his underscore is blah. With Susannah York in the dreaded "wife" role, Robert Morley, Jonathan Pryce, Colin Blakely and Alfred Lynch.

Women and Men (1990)

Three short stories by celebrated authors presented in anthology form. Frederic Raphael (TWO FOR THE ROAD) directs Mary McCarthy's MAN IN THE BROOKS BROTHERS SHIRT: a young Bohemian leftist (Elizabeth McGovern) encounters a married salesman (Beau Bridges) on a train and against her better judgment allows herself to be seduced by him. Ken Russell (WOMEN IN LOVE) directs Dorothy Parker's DUSK BEFORE FIREWORKS: a 1920s flapper (Molly Ringwald) finds her date with a playboy (Peter Weller) constantly interrupted by phone calls from his other women. Tony Richardson (TOM JONES) directs Ernest Hemingway's HILLS LIKE WHITE ELEPHANTS: a writer (James Woods) and his mistress (Melanie Griffith) traveling through Spain come to an impasse in their relationship. As with almost all portmanteau films, it's a mixed batch. The Raphael film benefits from an excellent Elizabeth McGovern performance but the material leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. The Russell offering comes off as a one joke premise that wears out its welcome quickly. The most successful of the three is the final Richardson film of Hemingway's short story. It's a lovely if sad mood piece with fine work by Woods and especially Griffith. The underscore is by Marvin Hamlisch. 

Shinkansen Daibakuha (aka The Bullet Train) (1975)

A bomber (Ken Takakura) plants a device on a high speed train that is programmed to detonate if the train drops below 80 kilometers per hour. He demands a hefty ransom for himself and his two colleagues in crime (Kei Yamamoto, Akira Oda) before he will reveal the location and how to dismantle the bomb. Directed by Junya Sato, this is the film that "inspired" the 1994 American hit SPEED. While Sato's film is a solid effort with much to commend, in this case Hollywood comes out ahead. At over 2 1/2 hours, it's hard to keep the tension level and Sato spends a lot of excessive time giving us background. Unlike SPEED, Takakura's bomber is the hero of the film, an ordinary Joe driven to the brink by bankruptcy and an unsympathetic wife who abandons him and takes his son. He's the only character who gets a detailed background and how he came to this point in time. In the American release, his backstory was removed which caused the running time to drop under 2 hours. The passengers on the train are portrayed as hysterical buffoons and the police are incompetent to the point of eye rolling. The 1994 Hollywood film may be more cliched but it was a tight economical thriller with very little flab. With Sonny Chiba as the train's conductor.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Don't Give Up The Ship (1959)

A newly wed naval officer (Jerry Lewis) is whisked away from his bride (Diana Spencer) on their honeymoon by a senate committee investigating the disappearance of a WWII battleship that was under his command. Directed by Norman Taurog (BLUE HAWAII), this is a lesser Jerry Lewis vehicle. While not as inspired as his best work (usually directed by either Frank Tashlin or himself), there are still some hilarious bits scattered through out the movie like Lewis's attempt to walk through a hurricane. The honeymoon gag (he's whisked away before the marriage is consummated) gets tiresome very quickly and it doesn't help that Diana Spencer isn't much of a comedienne. I doubt non Jerry fans would be won over by it but for the Lewis fanboys, there's enough to keep us grinning. With Dina Merrill, Robert Middleton, Gale Gordon, Mabel Albertson, Claude Akins and Mickey Shaughnessy. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mutiny On The Bounty (1962)

In 1787, the HMAV Bounty sets sail from Britain to Tahiti with a mission to gather breadfruit from the island and transport it to Jamaica. The cold blooded cruelty of the ship's Captain (Trevor Howard) pushes his men to their limits and after a respite on Tahiti, the men won't tolerate his inhumanity any longer. Based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall which was previously filmed in 1935. Though the film is officially credited to Lewis Milestone, the film was started with Carol Reed (THIRD MAN) who eventually left the project. Scourged by the critics at the time of its release, I consider it the best of the three film versions (the third is 1984's THE BOUNTY). Visually, the film is more appealing thanks to Robert L. Surtees eye catching cinematography and there's a knock out underscore by Bronislau Kaper. Marlon Brando gives us a more layered Fletcher Christian than Gable: more wit, more complexity and a British accent which Gable didn't even try. Charles Laughton was a brilliant Captain Bligh in the 1935 film but Trevor Howard's Bligh isn't so black and white. The massive cast includes Richard Harris, Hugh Griffith, Richard Haydn, Frank Silvera, Henry Daniell, Percy Herbert, Gordon Jackson, Antoinette Bower and Tarita. 

Alien: Covenant (2017)

In 2104, a colonization ship bound for a remote planet seven years away collides with a neutrino (don't ask!) causing severe damage and killing some crew and colonists in hibernation. When they discover a previously unknown planet that seems susceptible to human life, they take a chance to explore it in the hopes of colonization. Big mistake! I approached this movie with some trepidation. Outside of the Bond movies, the Alien movies are probably my favorite movie franchise. Also, I loathed PROMETHEUS to the point of refusing to acknowledge its existence! Ridley Scott hasn't been in top form in years either. So I'm happy to report this is a marvelous entry in the ALIEN franchise! Scott takes a slow methodical approach to the film and it takes awhile before we get to action but the set up is crucial to the effectiveness of the film. The film seems on the verge of moving beyond the "Boo!" aspects of the franchise into something deeper and challenging but it only hints at the possibilities. After all, the Alien fans want their thrills! The ending is a downer which won't make the thrill seekers happy but I look forward to the next installment. The cast includes Michael Fassbender (in dual roles), Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Carmen Ejogo, Danny McBride and Jussie Smollett. 

Ophelia (1963)

When his father dies suddenly and his mother (Alida Valli) marries her brother in law (Claude Cerval), a young man (Andre Jocelyn) becomes obsessed with Shakespeare's HAMLET and its parallel to his life and is determined to prove they murdered his father. As directed by Claude Chabrol (LES BICHES), this is a highly stylized film. Beautifully rendered in artful B&W by Jacques and Jean Rabier, it strays easily from Shakespeare's play. Jocelyn's troubled son isn't as sympathetic as Hamlet, indeed he's a troublesome pain in the ass! Jocelyn's performance is also a bit of a mystery. Everyone else in the film acts in a naturalistic style while Jocelyn seems brittle and artificial. Not having seen Jocelyn perform before, I don't know if it's the actor or the performance. The title is a misnomer. Although called Ophelia, as played by Juliette Mayniel, she's an almost peripheral character often hovering around the edges (not unlike Shakespeare's play) and unlike Shakespeare's heroine, she isn't fragile. Actually, she's the strongest character in the film. An interesting experiment but not wholly successful. With Robert Burnier.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Aspen (1977)

After the body of a 15 year old girl is found brutally beaten and mutilated in the resort town of Aspen, a drifter (Perry King) is arrested for her rape and murder. A rising young lawyer (Sam Elliott) takes on his case but everything seems to be working against him and it will take nearly 8 years for justice to be served. Directed by Douglas Heyes, the film is ostensibly adapted from the novel ASPEN by Bert Hirschfield but in actuality it uses only the title. The film is based THE ADVERSARY by Bart Spicer although both books are credited as the source material. At 4 1/2 hours, this is an overlong soap opera. If it had stuck with the actual murder case and the trial and the years of appeals, it would have made for a compelling piece of drama. Unfortunately, it's padded out with subplots about land developers as well as an uninteresting romantic triangle involving Elliott, Jessica Harper and Roger Davis that only serve to detract. Also, is there a duller piece of white bread actor than Perry King? Fortunately, Elliott who is at the center of the story is a strong presence. The acting ranges from good to barely adequate. The large cast includes Anthony Franciosa, Gene Barry, Michelle Phillips, Joseph Cotten, John Houseman, Martine Beswick, Bo Hopkins and William Prince. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Prapancha Pash (aka A Throw Of Dice) (1929)

Set in India, two royal cousins rule in adjoining kingdoms. But one (Himansu Rai) plots the death of the other (Charu Roy) in order to inherit his kingdom. There is also the matter of the beautiful country girl (Seta Devi), they both love. Directed by Franz Osten, this is one of the unsung jewels of silent cinema. Inspired by the MAHABHARATA, it's a genuine romantic epic with shimmering visuals and an impressive sense of extravagance. The film is an Indian (Rai who plays Sohan was the producer) and German (Osten is German) co-production. Unfortunately, Osten (who lived in India) was also a member of the Nazi party which effectively put an end to his career when the British authorities interned him during WWII. But the film remains a superb combination of melodrama and exoticism with naturalistic performances by its cast that provide a richly cinematic experience. The transfer I saw has the 2008 score specially composed by Nitin Sawhney for the film's restoration and it's a beautiful piece of work that elevates the film onto another level. If you have any interest in silent cinema at all, this is a must see.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973)

When prominent members of the British government and aristocracy are suspected of being in a secret cult, British Intelligence assigns two men (Michael Coles, William Franklyn) to investigate the matter. But when they discover it involves the occult, they ask the help of Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) who suspects his family's old nemesis Dracula (Christopher Lee) may be behind it all. Directed by Alan Gibson, Hammer brings Dracula into the 20th century. Here, instead of skulking in castles, he is a wealthy property developer living in a high rise! It's a weak effort. Cushing and Lee bring their welcome gravitas to their respective roles but the film plays out like a routine action doomsday thriller rather than a horror movie and one senses Cushing and Lee's discomfort. The film might have worked better as a parody and indeed, when first announced, it was going to be a comedy before they changed their minds after Lee protested. With Joanna Lumley (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS) and Freddie Jones.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949)

An aging U.S. Cavalry Captain (John Wayne) is just days away from his retirement. But when word of the defeat of Custer at the battle of Little Big Horn reaches the fort, he is given a final assignment. To deal with a group of Indians who have left their reservations and are grouping together to attack the Fort. Visually, this is one of director John Ford's most beautiful films although he and his cinematographer Winston Hoch clashed several times during the filming. Hoch's compositions and images of Ford's beloved Monument Valley are simply breathtaking in three strip Technicolor and Hoch justifiably won an Oscar for his efforts. The story is simplicity itself (possibly too simple) and the film plays better as a mood piece observing the weight of duty. Although about 20 years too young for his role, this is one of Wayne's best performances, bringing a quiet dignity and strength to his character. The film is severely compromised by several factors however. Richard Hageman's trite score aside, I can't decide who gives the film's worst performance: Victor McLaglen or John Agar. McLaglen overdoes the Irish whimsy bit and when he enters a saloon as an Irish jig plays on the soundtrack, I groaned, "Oh no, not a barroom brawl!" and sure enough, it happens. Agar is astonishingly bad! With Joanne Dru, Mildred Natwick, Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. 

Someone's Watching Me (1978)

Relocating from New York to Los Angeles, a TV director (Lauren Hutton) moves into a luxury high rise apartment complex. But she's barely moved in when she starts getting anonymous calls and gifts from a stalker. Things get progressively worse until she realizes that not only is he watching her, he intends to kill her. Written and directed by John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN), this is a homage to Alfred Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW with a nod to NORTH BY NORTHWEST's main titles with Harry Sukman's Herrmannesque underscore. Carpenter gives us a strong heroine rather than the usual hysterical lady in distress heroines of the genre (think MIDNIGHT LACE). Although terrorized and driven to the brink, she doesn't scream once and she fights back with everything at her disposal and it's not a man that saves her. The film's only downside is the supremely uninteresting David Birney as Hutton's love interest. Their scenes together drag the movie down. A minor thriller to be sure but Carpenter keeps it tight. With Adrienne Barbeau and Charles Cyphers. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Holiday (1938)

A freethinking financier (Cary Grant) has plans to retire while he's still young and find himself. His wealthy fiancee (Doris Nolan) and her father (Henry Kolker) have other ideas however. But his fiancee's rebellious sister (Katharine Hepburn) encourages him. Based on the Philip Barry (PHILADELPHIA STORY) play and directed by George Cukor. This is actually the second film version of the Barry play which was previously filmed in 1930. But this is the one with the dream cast and directed by Cukor with a deft hand. Rejected by audiences at the time, it's a witty and sparkling comedy with some bite to it that has its share of seriousness and poignancy. Everyone is in peak form and the supporting cast is a treat including Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon as an unconventional couple who find themselves fish out of water in posh Manhattan social circles. But the best performance in the film comes from Lew Ayres as Hepburn's brother so miserable that his dreams have been crushed by his father that he's given up and drowns himself in alcohol, too weak to fight back anymore. With Binnie Barnes and Henry Daniell as a pair of smarmy insincere relatives.   

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Desert Hawk (1950)

A lowly blacksmith (Richard Greene) by day but at night he is known as The Desert Hawk, the savior of his people as he steals from the wealthy to help his people from the brutalities of their cruel ruler Prince Murad (George Macready). But when the Hawk marries the ruler's intended bride (Yvonne De Carlo) by masquerading as the Prince, crosses and double crosses follow. The Arabian Nights fantasy adventure was a staple (along with westerns) from Universal during the early fifties. Greene does the hero duties here but would soon be usurped by the likes of Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson (who has a supporting role as a captain of the guard here). It's all hokey nonsense of course, especially when you have Jackie Gleason as Aladdin and Joe Besser (of the 3 Stooges) as Sinbad! But at a brief 75 minutes that's full of action, it's a harmless piece of kitsch shot on the Universal back lot and looking it! Directed by Frederick De Cordova with a light hand. With Marc Lawrence and Carl Esmond.   

An Early Frost (1985)

A successful lawyer (Aidan Quinn) in Chicago is diagnosed with AIDS during the early years of the epidemic. He is closeted and his parents (Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara) don't know about his sexual orientation though his married sister (Sydney Walsh) does. Directed by John Erman, this was a landmark film in that it was the first film to address the topic of AIDS. 1985 was still the "dark ages" where fear and ignorance about the disease caused AIDS patients to be shunned and discriminated against. Although the film is not without some inherent flaws, it remains a powerful look at the early days of the "gay plague" when having the disease was still a death sentence before the so called "AIDS cocktail" therapy extended the life expectancy for HIV patients to something resembling normalcy. The film is a showcase for Rowlands and Quinn who give superb performances as the mother and son coming to terms with his illness. My main complaint is that like other such films (LONGTIME COMPANION, PHILADELPHIA), the gay characters are affluent and attractive white collar types as if lower income blue collar gays didn't exist (it took BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN to break the stereotype). The AIDS subject aside, it still remains a potent look at homophobia as Ben Gazzara's father can't seem to accept his son's sexuality. With Sylvia Sidney (excellent!), Bill Paxton, Terry O'Quinn and D.W. Moffett.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Snatched (2017)

After her boyfriend (Randall Park) dumps her on the eve of a vacation in Ecuador, a young woman (Amy Schumer) cons her mother (Goldie Hawn) into going with her out of desperation. The vacation turns into a nightmare when they are kidnapped. Directed by Jonathan Levine, the comedy may be uneven but I found more than enough laughs to entertain me in the quickly moving 90 minute movie. It's silly, it's raunchy and actually darkly irreverent in spots (one of the biggest laughs comes when a man dying of cancer falls to his death from a cliff). In short, I had a good time at it. This marks Hawn's first movie in 15 years and it's great to see her back on the screen and she and Schumer make for a great mother-daughter team. But the film is nearly stolen by Ike Barinholtz as Hawn's agoraphobic nerd son. So the material isn't up to the talents of its two leading ladies and its barely serviceable plot merely an excuse for some obvious gags but it's good enough. With Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack, Christopher Meloni, Bashir Salahuddin and Tom Bateman. 

Sweet Smell Of Success (1957)

An ambitious amoral press agent (Tony Curtis) kowtows to a venomous but powerful New York newspaper columnist (Burt Lancaster) in order to get items on his clients in the paper. They're both rotten birds of a feather but a romance between the columnist's sister (Susan Harrison) and a musician (Martin Milner) will prove fateful to both men. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick (MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT) from a screenplay by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman based on Lehman's short novel. Simply put, this is a great movie! The razor sharp screenplay with Odets' pungent dialog, James Wong Howe's beautiful B&W cinematography, Elmer Bernstein's pulsating underscore and an impeccable cast all the way down the line make this one of the seminal New York films. The film was not a success when first released but it has since attained the status of a classic. In 1957, audiences must have been taken aback by tight wound up acidic performance by Lancaster who usually played kinetic physical characters and fans of then heartthrob Curtis must have been taken for a loop by the reprehensible sleazy character he betrayed. Both actors are in brilliant form here but even the minor characters are etched with detail. Lancaster refers to Curtis as a "cookie full of arsenic" and that might be an appropriate description of the film. With Barbara Nichols, Jeff Donnell, Sam Levene, Emile Meyer, Lurene Tuttle and Edith Atwater.   

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Belle Of The Nineties (1934)

A nightclub entertainer (Mae West) leaves St. Louis for New Orleans after her boxer boyfriend (Roger Pryor) is tricked into believing she was unfaithful by his manager (James Conlan). But their paths will cross again but this time, she wants revenge! Directed by Leo McCarey (THE AWFUL TRUTH) from the story IT AIN'T NO SIN which was written by West. Until the rushed ending in which everything is quickly tied up in a matter of seconds, this is one of West's best films. She gets to do more than just drop double entendres and quips although there are enough West zingers to satisfy. Example: when her maid asks her, "What kind of husband do you think I should I get?", West responds, "Why don't you try a single man and leave the husbands alone". The songs West is given to sing are a strong lot too and she's accompanied by the great Duke Ellington and his orchestra on most of them. My favorites were the raunchy When A St. Louis Woman Goes Down To New Orleans and Troubled Waters which she sings from a balcony while intercut with a black revival meeting gospel version of the song. With Johnny Mack Brown, John Miljan, Katherine DeMille and Edward Gargan.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Knight Of Cups (2015)

A screenwriter (Christian Bale) in Los Angeles finds his existence empty and to that end, he attempts to connect with another human being in romantic relationships with several women including an ex-wife (Cate Blanchett), a married actress (Natalie Portman), a fashion model (Freida Pinto), a stripper (Teresa Palmer) and a non conformist (Imogen Poots). Written and directed by Terrence Malick. Ever since TREE OF LIFE, Malick has been moving away from the conventional narratives of his earlier films like BADLANDS and DAYS OF HEAVEN. With this film, he seems to be moving even further away from linear story telling toward an almost exclusively abstract visual and aural style which can be extremely frustrating unless you (the viewer) can make a firm commitment to the experience. While I am favorably disposed to the film, I can see that Malick is painting himself into a corner and frankly, he's in a rut. Visually, this is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Almost any random shot by the great Emmanuel Lubezki could be taken and hung in a museum or an art gallery. With the possible exception of Portman, this isn't a film where the acting matters much, they're all pieces for Malick to move around on his cinematic chessboard. In the end, it worked for me and the fragmented piecemeal nature of the film coalesced. With Antonio Banderas, Brian Dennehy, West Bentley, Ryan O'Neal, Michael Wincott, Armin Mueller Stahl (whose big speech I found offensive) and Cherry Jones.  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Les Plus Belles Escroqueries Du Monde (1964)

Four stories by four directors, each set in a different international location. In Tokyo: Directed by Hiromichi Horikawa. A bar girl (Mie Hama, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) sets her sight on an elderly miser (Ken Mitsuda) who's so afraid to lose his fortune, he carries it around in a brief case. In Naples: Directed by Ugo Gregoretti. A young man (Guido Giuseppone) is infatuated with a prostitute (Gabriella Giorgelli) but she only has eyes for the pimp (Giuseppe Mannajuolo) who treats her badly. In Paris: Directed by Claude Chabrol. A group of swindlers (Jean Pierre Cassel, Catherine Deneuve, Sacha Briquet) sell the Eiffel Tower to an unsuspecting dupe (Francis Blanche). In Marrakesh: Directed by Jean Luc Godard. A TV reporter (Jean Seberg) interviews a counterfeiter (Charles Denner) who makes money and gives it to the poor. In the original theatrical release, there was a 5th segment set in the Netherlands directed by Roman Polanski but on the transfer I saw, the segment was removed at Polanski's request with no explanation. Curiously, the Godard sequence was deleted from the theatrical release but it has been re-instated in the transfer I saw. The first three are entertainments with some amusement value but the Godard segment, not surprisingly, has an enigmatic political bent that doesn't fit in with the first three so one can see why it was removed initially. Each segment is roughly 25 minutes in length so they don't have a chance to wear out their welcome. The Japanese sequence was my favorite and my least favorite was the Paris sequence. It was a one joke premise that wasn't that funny to begin with.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Lilies Of The Field (1963)

An itinerant handyman (Sidney Poitier in his Oscar winning role) is passing through the Arizona desert when he comes across a group of East German nuns. The Mother Superior (Lilia Skala) sees him as a gift from God sent to help them build their chapel. He has other ideas. Based on the book by William Edmund Barrett and directed by Ralph Nelson (REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT). This is a lovely film. Heartwarming in the best sense of the word. On paper, a movie about a black man helping a group of nuns build a church sounds hopelessly saccharine. But James Poe's screenplay never crosses over into sentimentality. For instance, Skala's mother superior is a martinet for who even saying "Thank you" seems an act of weakness while Poitier's handyman is no Uncle Remus but a kind hearted man who won't be disrespected. A discerning and thoughtful film. The exquisite B&W cinematography is by Ernest Haller (GONE WITH THE WIND) with a marvelous Jerry Goldsmith underscore. With Stanley Adams, Dan Frazer and Ralph Nelson himself as a building contractor.   

A Doll's House (1992)

In 1879 Norway, a young wife and mother (Juliet Stevenson) has been harboring a dark secret from her husband (Trevor Eve). She forged her dead father's signature on a loan in order to get money to take her husband to Italy for medical reasons. When the man (David Calder) she borrowed the money from is fired from his job by her husband, he blackmails her into securing his job back. Based on the great play by Henrik Ibsen and directed by David Thacker. Although he never intended it as such, Ibsen's play is a landmark feminist piece that is still relevant today. A devastating examination of women as the chattel of their husbands and fathers in a patriarchal society and the smallest cracks in that society that will eventually bloom into an entire movement. But Ibsen wasn't concerned so much with women as much as the individual discovering who they are and striving to be that person. The role of Nora is a great part for an actress and Stevenson is wonderful in the role though she occasionally goes overboard with chirpiness early on but her great speech at the end is impeccably done. With Geraldine James and Patrick Malahide.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Guest In The House (1944)

A young doctor (Scott McKay) brings his fiancee (Anne Baxter), who is an invalid, to his brother's (Ralph Bellamy) home to recover. But the frail young woman turns out to be a devious psychotic who plots to destroy the family that took her in. Based on a play by Hagar Wilde and Dale Eunson which had a brief five month run on Broadway and directed by John Brahm (HANGOVER SQUARE). Baxter's manipulative liar seems like a dry run for her Eve Harrington in ALL ABOUT EVE six years later. The main problem with these type of movies is that too often the whack job is played so broadly that one can't help but wonder why nobody else in the movie can see through the schemer. Baxter is in full "dragon lady" mode and one gets frustrated when everyone coos over the poor darling when you're screaming at the screen, "Kick the bitch out!". But, of course, if they did, there would be no movie. Still, for what it is, it gets the job done and I wasn't bored for a minute. The Oscar nominated score is by Werner Janssen. With Ruth Warrick, Marie McDonald, Aline MacMahon, Jerome Cowan, Margaret Hamilton and Percy Kilbride.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Storm Over The Nile (1955)

When his regiment in the Royal North Surrey are given orders to deploy to the Sudan, a young soldier (Anthony Steel) resigns his commission. His three friends and fellow soldiers (Laurence Harvey, Ronald Lewis, Ian Carmichael) and his fiancee (Mary Ure in her film debut) each give him a white feather which is a sign of cowardice. Based on the novel THE FOUR FEATHERS by A.E.W. Mason which had already been filmed been filmed four times before and would be again. Zoltan Korda had directed the 1939 film of which this is a near shot by shot remake and is co-credited as director along with Terence Young (DR. NO). In fact, although shot in CinemaScope, stock footage from the 1939 film is incorporated into the movie. If you're partial to the story, this is a respectable if unimaginative version. It's decently acted and even the wooden Laurence Harvey manages to show signs of life in his performance. The film benefits greatly from Benjamin Frankel's regal underscore. With James Robertson Justice, Christopher Lee, Michael Hordern, Geoffrey Keen and Ferdy Mayne.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

What The Peeper Saw (1972)

The sexy young wife (Britt Ekland) of a wealthy writer (Hardy Kruger) meets her 12 year old stepson (Mark Lester, OLIVER!) for the first time when her husband is away on a business trip. When she finds out he was expelled from school and the reasons for it, she begins to suspect that something isn't right. For instance, the truth behind his mother's (Collette Jack) "accidental" death. Directed by James Kelley (BEAST IN THE CELLAR), this is a very twisted thriller that borders on just plain sick. Never mind that Britt Ekland is undressed at every opportunity but the sex scenes between Ekland and the 12 year old boy (Lester was actually 14) are disturbing though it's clear from the way they were shot that a body double for Lester was used. I'm not overly sentimental about children and I love a good "bad seed" thriller with evil children and on that level, this one is a corker. The film's last 20 minutes are a bit muddled and confusing but I loved the perverse ending which I wasn't expecting! I wish they had cast a stronger actress than Britt Ekland. She's lovely and sexy but she doesn't have the acting chops that a melodramatic role like this requires and she has a drunk scene that's dreadful. For fans of sexploitation Eurotrash and "bad seed" thrillers, this is well worth seeking out. With Lilli Palmer and Harry Andrews.  

Madame Sans Gene (1961)

A laundress (Sophia Loren) during the French Revolution befriends a destitute Corporal by the name of Napoleon (Julian Bertheau) and washes and irons his shirts. As he rises to become the Emperor of France, she also rises as the wife of a soldier (Robert Hossein) into the ranks of the aristocracy. But she can't hide her common roots or her outspoken manner. Based on the life of Catherine Hubscher, a laundress who eventually became a Duchess in Napoleon's court, her story has seen many incarnations including a popular 1893 play, an opera and two previous films with Gloria Swanson in 1924 and Arletty in 1941 playing the laundress. This version, directed by Christian Jaque (FANFAN LA TULIPE), is a rather innocuous affair. Fortunately with Loren in the lead, she manages to bring some verve and vivacity to what otherwise might have been a mild concoction. The first part of the film is the best since it dwells on the battles between the revolutionaries and King Louis XVI's armies and there's always something going on while the second part slows down considerably. With Marina Berti and Renaud Mary.  

The Dinner (2017)

Two brothers and their wives have dinner at an ultra upscale restaurant, the kind where the waiter spends 5 minutes telling you about the dish you've just been served. One is a politician (Richard Gere) running for Governor and his second, much younger wife (Rebecca Hall). The other is an academic (Steve Coogan) with a history of mental illness and his wife (Laura Linney), a cancer survivor. Based on the Dutch novel by Herman Koch and directed by Oren Moverman. Actually, this is the third film version of the novel. It was previously filmed in the Netherlands in 2013 and in Italy in 2014. I've not read Koch's book nor have I seen either of the previous films but this is one depressing and disturbing film and I suspect a polarizing one. First impressions of its characters are eventually turned upside down. Gere's smarmy and obsessed politician turns out to be the only character with a moral backbone while Linney's loving wife and mother and cancer survivor turns into a morally bankrupt Lady MacBeth! Unfortunately, Moverman can't seem to stay focused on the core of the film and we get too many random flashbacks which dilute the potency of the material, at least until the last half hour when he lets it rip! An unsettling peek into "white privilege" and the monsters they spawn. With Chloe Sevigny, Adepero Oduye, Michael Chernus and Charlie Plummer.  

Saturday, May 6, 2017

To Be Or Not To Be (1983)

When the Nazis invade Poland, a theatrical troupe finds itself inadvertently involved in helping a Polish fighter pilot (Tim Matheson) in obtaining a list of the names in the Polish underground from a Polish traitor (Jose Ferrer) working for the Nazis before he turns it over to the Gestapo. Although the directorial credit goes to Alan Johnson and the screenplay credit goes to Ronny Graham and Thomas Meehan, the film was produced by Mel Brooks and it feels like a Mel Brooks directed comedy. I'm not a fan of Nazi comedies in general whether it's HOGAN'S HEROES, Chaplin's THE GREAT DICTATOR or the original 1942 Ernest Lubitsch movie this film is based on. I simply don't find Nazis remotely funny. That being said, I quite like this film. It never lets its zany humor get in the way of the essential seriousness of what the Nazis did or represent. All the performers are in top notch form here. Brooks does what he does best (play Mel Brooks) but Anne Bancroft is a pure delight exercising her comedy chops as his wife. But perhaps the film is stolen by Charles Durning (Oscar nominated for his performance here) as the S.S. Colonel who is always one step away from destroying his career. With Christopher Lloyd, George Gaynes, Lewis J. Stadlen, Estelle Reiner, Ronny Graham and James Haake. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Three Days Of The Condor (1975)

An analyst (Robert Redford) for a clandestine CIA agency returns from lunch to find his entire office assassinated. He contacts his superior (Cliff Robertson) about being brought in but something doesn't feel right about the situation and he goes on the run instead. Based on the novel SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR by James Grady and directed by Sydney Pollack. The 1970s were the decade of the paranoid thrillers, conspiracies and distrust of the government. Films like WINTER KILLS, PARALLAX VIEW, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and this tight little thriller which is my own personal favorite. Even though the film pushes the two hour mark, Pollack keeps the tension taut and lean. The script by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel is intelligent and the dialog pungent and most importantly, believable rather than far fetched. The quality of the screenplay allows Faye Dunaway to invest her character with complexity and detail while in the hands of a lesser script, she would just be "the girl". Redford is excellent, never overplaying his hand at conveying his terror and confusion. The neat underscore is by Dave Grusin. With Max Von Sydow, quite chilly as a hit man, John Houseman, Tina Chen and Carlin Glynn.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Dearest Enemy (1955)

In 1776, a troop of British soldiers lead by General Howe (Cyril Ritchard) lands in the bay near the home of a widow (Cornelia Otis Skinner) who uses her kitchen to make ammunition for the American troops. An American soldier (Evan Wright) asks the widow's niece (Anne Jeffreys) to keep the British troops there as long as they can and thus giving advantage to General Washington's troops. Based on the 1925 Broadway musical by Rodgers & Hart which is rarely performed today and one can see why. The play seems more like a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta than a Rodgers & Hart musical. The songs simply aren't on the same level as their scores to PAL JOEY or BABES IN ARMS. There's also a disturbing element in the plot. Namely, collaboration between American women and enemy British soldiers which the musical takes lightly. I'm all for love but is this plot line any different than if it had been a musical comedy about Frenchwomen collaborating with German soldiers during WWII? There is one amusing scene where the women torture a starving British soldier by tempting him with food. Anne Jeffreys, who has the best singing voice among the four leads, is very good. Neil Simon co-adapted the musical for live TV which is directed by Max Lieberman. With Robert Sterling as the British soldier wooing Jeffreys.

Back Page (1934)

A young female reporter (Peggy Shannon) is fired from a big city newspaper after she refuses to kill a story concerning an influential man. She accepts a job from a small hick town newspaper as an editor but the owner (Claude Gillingwater) wasn't expecting a woman and tries to talk her out of the job. But she persists until he gives in. She soon finds out however that corruption isn't restricted to just big cities. If you're a fan of newspaper movies like THE FRONT PAGE, this little seen programmer should be right up your alley. It's barely over an hour long but it's fast paced and its emphasis on sexism and feminism was ahead of its time. Shannon was a real charmer and it's a pity she didn't become a bigger star (alcoholism derailed her career and she was dead by 34). She was attractive, could act and had real spunk. The rest of the cast isn't up to her level unfortunately. Her leading man Russell Hopton is a bit of a stiff and she (and her character) are too good for him. Directed by Anton Lorenze. With Sterling Holloway, Edwin Maxwell and David Callis. 

Miracle Of The White Stallions (1963)

During the waning days of WWII, the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna and its prized Lipizzan stallions are threatened by bombing raids and indifferent Nazi commanders. The school's director (Robert Taylor) attempts a daring plan to remove the horses from the ravages of war. Based on the non fiction book DANCING WHITE HORSES OF VIENNA by Alois Podhajsky (played in the film by Taylor) and directed by Arthur Hiller (OUT OF TOWNERS). This is a live action Walt Disney film from the 1960s so that might be a red flag to some who aren't particularly attached to THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR or THE LOVE BUG. But actually, it's very good and if you're a horse lover, even better. The film faithfully recreates the anxiety of saving these Austrian national treasures, keeping them safe and restoring their place at the Spanish Riding School (it took 10 years). It avoids the schmaltz that often comes hand in hand with a Disney film and it's a film any adult can easily enjoy. The acting is decent and in the case of Curt Jurgens as a war weary German General, more than decent. He's excellent. Also in the cast Lilli Palmer, Eddie Albert, James Franciscus, Brigitte Horney, Philip Abbott and John Larch as George S. Patton. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Paris Underground (1945)

When the Nazis occupy Paris during WWII, an American woman (Constance Bennett) separated from her French husband (George Rigaud) and an Englishwoman (Gracie Fields in her final film role) find themselves trapped in German occupied France. But the women organize an underground organization to smuggle Allied troops out of the country. Based on the non fiction book by Etta Shiber describing how she and a colleague helped British pilots escape from Nazi Germany. The film version (produced by Bennett herself) takes "artistic license" from the book to make a typical WWII adventure. It would have fared better with a more documentary like approach rather than the often sentimental scenario presented here. Fields' character is irritatingly inconsistent. In one scene, she's a no nonsense Brit who takes matters into her own hands and in another scene, she's suddenly weak and confused. The film apparently was shot in Hollywood but it does manage to convey what feels like an authentic atmosphere of the chaos of Paris during the waning days of WWII. The Oscar nominated score was composed by Alexandre Tansman. With Kurt Kreuger, Vladimir Sokoloff, Eily Malyon and Jay Novello.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Splitting Heirs (1993)

An Englishman (Eric Idle), who was adopted and raised by Pakistani immigrants, discovers that he is actually the 15th Duke Of Bournemouth and the current Duke (Rick Moranis) is, in fact, the son of a cook (Brenda Bruce) who switched the infants shortly after birth. Directed by Robert Young and written by Idle of Monty Python fame. The film is an update of those popular (though I've never been much of a fan of them) British Ealing comedies. In this case, the film referenced is KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS. In that 1949 film, a man attempts to murder the eight people who stand in the line to his   Dukedom. Here, it's Idle who attempts to get rid of Moranis. It's fitfully amusing but never coalesces into much beyond a quick (it runs less than 90 minutes) and quickly forgettable romp. Moranis, Idle and John Cleese (who plays an attorney) may be the comedy veterans in the cast but the film is stolen by Barbara Hershey as the nymphomaniac Duchess mother. She seems to be having a blast and her spunk is infectious. With Catherine Zeta Jones, Eric Sykes and Sadie Frost.

Raw Edge (1956)

It's 1842 Oregon and there's no law and order except that of a power mad land baron (Herbert Rudley) whose barbaric rule of law is that since men outnumber women by a substantial amount that the women are chattel and can be forced into marriage by the first man to claim her. When a rancher (John Gavin) is wrongfully accused of attempting to rape the land baron's wife (Yvonne De Carlo), he is lynched. But the dead man's brother (Rory Calhoun) arrives in town bent on revenge for his brother. Directed by John Sherwood, this programmer is an odd little western but odd in a good way. It's unsettling right from the start where women are victims of a savage patriarchal community. Poor Yvonne De Carlo spends the entire movie fending off potential rapists. Men are more than willing to kill husbands in order to get at their wives. Add to that, Indians preparing to attack to avenge their own slaughtered by townspeople to get an Indian woman (Mara Corday) for a wife. By no means is this a particularly good western but it's different enough in theme and execution to rise above the usual Universal "B" westerns. With Neville Brand, Rex Reason, Emile Meyer, Robert J. Wilke and Ed Fury, who would go on to be a sword and sandal star in 1960s Italy.