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Monday, April 30, 2018

Freaky Friday (1976)

A mother (Barbara Harris) and her teenage daughter (Jodie Foster) casually (and separately) wish they could switch places with each other for a day. It's Friday the 13th and magically they get their wish. Based on the novel by Mary Rodgers (ONCE UPON A MATTRESS) who adapted her book for the screen and directed by Gary Nelson (THE BLACK HOLE). Disney silliness is immeasurably helped along by the two central performances of Harris and Foster, who both bring an actress's creativity and intelligence to their work here. In the hands of lesser actresses, there could have been a lot of mugging and phony play acting (think of Ginger Rogers' embarrassing attempts at acting juveniles in MONKEY BUSINESS and MAJOR AND THE MINOR) but clearly the actresses here took the time to deliberate on their characters. This film came several months after Foster's performances as the child prostitute in TAXI DRIVER, talk about range! Popular enough to spawn two remakes, a 1995 TV version with Shelley Long and a 2003 film with Jamie Lee Curtis. With John Astin, Kaye Ballard, Patsy Kelly, Marie Windsor, Marc McClure, Jack Sheldon and Brooke Mills.  

Unholy Partners (1941)

Returning home after WWI, a newspaperman (Edward G. Robinson) decides to start his own newspaper, a tabloid that sensationalizes the news and isn't above making the news rather then just reporting it. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, this doesn't feel like a movie from the MGM dream factory. Rather it has the feel of a gritty Warner Brothers topical feature. LeRoy (I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAING GANG) and his star Robinson both came from Warners so that only adds to the set up. It's an entertaining piece of pulp until it goes all saccharine on us at the very end. Now that feels like MGM. Warners wouldn't have gone soft or at least not that soft. Robinson is wonderful here and Edward Arnold as a corrupt racketeer who funds Robinson's tabloid is perfect. Laraine Day and Marsha Hunt provide the feminine requirement which translates to looking pretty with nothing much to do. Also in the cast: William T. Orr, Marcel Dalio, Charles Dingle and Frank Faylen.   

Assassination In Rome (1965)

A wealthy American woman (Cyd Charisse) is vacationing in Rome when her husband goes missing. An American journalist (Hugh O'Brian) attempts to help her locate her husband when the police don't seem interested. But when a man is found murdered with a packet of heroin in his pocket, suddenly the police are interested in her husband's whereabouts. Directed by Silvio Amadio, this is one of those international thrillers so prevalent in the 1960s with American stars in the leads and the rest of the cast native to their country. In this case, Italy. It's strictly a routine affair with the advantage of the Rome and Venice locations to lend the film some much needed glamour. O'Brian is stalwart and Charisse is elegant and lovely and that's about all their parts require. My favorite performance came from Eleonora Rossi Drago (Antonioni's LE AMICHE) as a three time divorcee colleague of O'Brian's. The score is by Armando Trovajoli. With Juliette Mayniel and Alberto Closas. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

L'Assassin Habite Au 21 (aka The Murderer Lives At Number 21) (1942)

A serial killer known by the name of Monsieur Durand leaves a calling card by the dead bodies of his victims. When a police detective (Pierre Fresnay) gets a tip that the killer lives at a small boarding house, he disguises himself as a clergyman in an attempt to ferret out the murderer. However, when his ditzy mistress (Suzy Delair) shows up and moves into the rooming house, she throws a monkey wrench into the proceedings. Based on the novel by Stanislas Andre Steeman and directed by Henri Georges Clouzot (DIABOLIQUE) in his feature film directorial debut. A screwball comedy about a serial killer sounds terribly politically incorrect. Even when the killer's identity is revealed, it's played for laughs. But if you can put your moral compunctions aside, you'll find a wacky but clever comedy thriller. The film drops a few red herrings along the way and they do their job because I seriously doubt you'll be able to guess the killer's identity. I thought I had but the denouement had me floored and loving that I'd been had. With Jean Tessier, Noel Roquevert, Pierre Larquey, Odette Talazac and Maximilienne.

Bedazzled (1967)

A short order cook (Dudley Moore) in a diner is infatuated with the restaurant's waitress (Eleanor Bron) but is too shy to ask her out. But when Satan (Peter Cook) appears and offers him seven wishes in exchange for his soul, he accepts and uses his wishes to obtain Margaret's love. But the devil is too clever for him. Written by Peter Cook and directed by Stanley Donen (SINGIN' IN THE RAIN), this is an often wickedly funny black comedy. Outside of an appalling comment on rape that is offensive to 2018 ears, Cook's screenplay is full of droll wit and often pointed commentary. Cook's dry devil and Moore's frustrated but lovable clod make for a pleasing comedy combination. The film also offers the opportunity for the talented Eleanor Bron to play a bevy of different incarnations from promiscuous wife to chaste nun. The underscore by Dudley Moore is quite attractive includes the witty Bedazzled performed by Peter Cook. With Raquel Welch as Lust in a scene stealing cameo, Michael Bates, Barry Humphries and Evelyn Moore.

A Woman's Vengeance (1948)

A 40-ish married man (Charles Boyer) is having an affair with an 18 year old girl (Ann Blyth). When his neurotic wife (Rachel Kempson) dies suddenly, he is free to marry the young woman. But soon after the second marriage, his wife's body is exhumed and discovered to have been poisoned and he is put on trial for her murder. Based on the short story THE GIOCONDA SMILE by Aldous Huxley (who also wrote the screenplay) and directed by Zoltan Korda (1942's THE JUNGLE BOOK). This noir-ish mystery is surprisingly adult for the 1940s. The protagonist played by Boyer is having an adulterous affair with a girl young enough to be his daughter and the film not only doesn't condemn him for it, it romanticizes it. But although Boyer is top billed, the film belongs to the third billed Jessica Tandy. In her films of the 1940s and 1950s, Tandy rarely had really good parts but here as the frustrated spinster desperately in love with the married Boyer, Tandy finally got a role worthy of her talent. What she does is horrible but you can't dislike her and indeed, right up to the end you can't help but feel empathy for her. The first rate B&W cinematography is by Russell Metty (SPARTACUS) and the strong score is by Miklos Rozsa. With Cedric Hardwicke, Mildred Natwick, John Williams and Cecil Humphreys. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Sunday In The Park With George (1986)

In 1884, the painter Georges Seurat (Mandy Patinkin) is fiercely committed to his Art at the expense of relationships with his mistress (Bernadette Peters) and his mother (Barbara Bryne) among others. Though his new technique (pointillism) is considered radical, he perseveres in the originality of his artistic vision rather than convention. Based on the musical play with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and directed by Terry Hughes. This is one of the great musicals of the American theater. Sondheim was never interested in simple hummable tunes (though he can write a great melody) and his score for SUNDAY IN THE PARK is a complex and layered thing of beauty. As George(s), Patinkin gives an intense powerhouse performance that very often seems to be veering toward showing off but thankfully never quite crosses the line. This isn't a "movie" but a filmed production of the stage version with the original Broadway cast and director Hughes does a fine job of placing the camera in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, a wide angle for us to see the whole staging and sometimes a close up when necessary. Mention must be made of Michael Starobin's stunning orchestrations. With Dana Ivey, Charles Kimbrough, Brent Spiner and Robert Westenberg.   

The Maze (1953)

After inheriting a remote castle in the Scottish highlands as well as the title of Baronet, a young man (Richard Carlson) mysteriously breaks off his engagement. His fiancee (Veronica Hurst) and her Aunt (Katherine Emery) go to Scotland to confront him but what they find is beyond belief! Directed by William Cameron Menzies (INVADERS FROM MARS), this was originally in 3D. I watched it in 2D but the detail (it was shot by Harry Neumann) is excellent and I imagine it would look quite impressive in 3D. As to the film itself, it's quite entertaining with an appropriate atmosphere of foreboding and mystery until the film's last eight minutes when the big reveal encourages unintentional laughter. It's a pity because what came before wasn't half bad. If you prepare yourself for the movie's ridiculous finale so you won't be disappointed, there's every chance you might enjoy this slice of "B" horror. The cast includes Michael Pate, Hillary Brooke, Lilian Bond and John Dodsworth. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Hachijikan No Kyofu (aka 8 Hours Of Terror) (1957)

When all trains are canceled due to a typhoon, a group of disparate passengers decide to take a bus to their destination. Not only must the bus wend its way through treacherous mountain roads but there are two deadly bank robbers on the loose in the area. Directed by Seijun Suzuki, this is an uneven thriller that has a rocky start in the first half before redeeming itself with the second half. The film could just as easily have been called BUS OF FOOLS. The comedic elements are inane and the passengers are a selfish cowardly lot. Not ironically, only a convicted murderer (Kaneko Nubuo) and a prostitute (Harue Tone) turn out to be heroes. Tone is excellent and gives my favorite performance in the movie. This film could really use a remake, drop the comedy and up the tension quotient. I don't mean to sound too hard on it because I really enjoyed it. I just wish it were better. The film does feature one of the worst film scores I've ever heard (credited to Takio Niki). With Nitani Hideaki, Fukami Taizo, Minami Sumiko, Yamada Zenji, Keishichi Nakahara and Kazuki Minako. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

No Down Payment (1957)

In the 1950s, four young married couples on the way up attempt to take their slice of the American dream and move to burgeoning suburbia where modern homes are available in seemingly perfect neighborhoods (all white, of course). Based on the novel by John McPartland and directed by Martin Ritt (HUD). Like similar 1950s films such as PEYTON PLACE and SOME CAME RUNNING, NO DOWN PAYMENT lifts the covers of the American Dream only to discover the rot underneath: alcoholism, rape, religious hypocrisy, racism and greed among the upwardly mobile baby boomer generation. Shot in crisp B&W CinemaScope by Joseph LaShelle (THE APARTMENT), as directed by Ritt, it's a stark examination of the lure of obtaining the dream on installment but the price to pay can destroy you. The acting is superior right down the line with some of the cast giving career best performances like Cameron Mitchell as the war vet whose lack of education blocks his ambition and Tony Randall as an alcoholic weasel looking for the easy way. The others include Joanne Woodward, Barbara Rush, Jeffrey Hunter, Sheree North, Pat Hingle and Patricia Owens.

The Cat And The Canary (1978)

On a dark and stormy night, eight people meet in a secluded country mansion for the reading of the will of a man (Wilfrid Hyde White) who died 20 years earlier. Oh, and there's a homicidal maniac on the loose who's escaped from a mental asylum. Based on the 1922 Broadway play and directed by Radley Metzger (better known for his softcore porn like THERESE AND ISABELLE). This is the fourth film version which was previously filmed in 1927 (a silent film), 1930 (an early lost talkie) and 1939 (a Bob Hope comedy). There's not much style or suspense here but an attractive and talented cast gives it their all which helps hold your interest. I'm a sucker for these dark and stormy night/mansions with secret passageways horror thrillers so I'm probably more tolerant of stuff like this than most people. Also in the overqualified cast: Wendy Hiller, Carol Lynley, Edward Fox, Honor Blackman, Daniel Massey, Michael Callan, Olivia Hussey, Peter McEnery and Beatrix Lehmann.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Alice In Wonderland (1951)

A young girl (Kathryn Beaumont) spots a white rabbit (Bill Thompson) and follows him into a large rabbit hole. She falls a great distance and finds herself in a topsy turvy world where she shrinks and grows, cats disappear leaving only their smile, mad people have tea parties and a Queen (Verna Felton) has a penchant for cutting off people's heads. Based on the beloved classic by Lewis Carroll and directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske. This 1951 animated Walt Disney version of Carroll's oft filmed tale (I have 4 other versions myself) is delightful and surprisingly faithful to the source material even with the added (but unnecessary) songs. It's colorful, bright and keeps Carroll's nonsensical humor. Sadly, many of the book's characters were eliminated to keep the running time down so there's no Jabberwocky, Mock Turtle or Duchess. Purists will no doubt take offense at the "Disneyfication" of the Carroll books but a definitive version of the Carroll stories has yet to be made. Until then, this charmer will do nicely. The voice cast includes Ed Wynn, Heather Angel, Jerry Colonna, Sterling Holloway, Richard Haydn, Doris Lloyd and J. Pat O'Malley. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Hammerhead (1968)

An American spy (Vince Edwards) is working for British Intelligence to help prevent a criminal mastermind (Peter Vaughan) from obtaining nuclear secrets. Based on the novel by James Mayo and directed by David Miller (SUDDEN FEAR). Like the Matt Helm series, very much of its time. The swinging 60s in London have never looked more silly. It doesn't help that the mundane narrative is often incoherent and there's nothing fresh either in content or in style. The glamorous Portugal locations as lensed by Wilkie Cooper and Kenneth Talbot are easy on the eyes and the faux Bacharach underscore is quite nice. As the hero, Vince Edwards is humorless (even though he tries) and normally the female lead Judy Geeson is adorable but here her charm gives way to annoyance. But I can't blame either Edwards or Geeson, they've nothing to work with. With Diana Dors (who livens the film whenever she's on camera), Michael Bates, Beverly Adams, Kathleen Byron and Patrick Cargill. 

Rendezvous De Juillet (1949)

In post WWII Paris, a group of young Parisians work to make their dreams come true. An anthropologist (Daniel Gelin) hopes to film a documentary on pygmies along with a budding cinematographer (Maurice Ronet) but he has difficulties scraping the money together. In the meantime, they are both involved with aspiring actresses (Brigitte Auber, Nicole Courcel). Directed by Jacques Becker (CASQUE D'OR), the first half of the film is a breezy romantic comedy that had the feeling of Truffaut's later Antoine Doinel films (STOLEN KISSES, BED AND BOARD). But the second half turns dark rapidly and seems headed to an unhappy conclusion. Becker splits the difference by having both a happy and unhappy ending to each of the couples. I found it a compromise and a weak conclusion but that's at the very end and it doesn't ruin the movie. A charming and often incisive look at French youth exploring their new options denied them during WWII. The B&W cinematography is by Claude Renoir (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME). With Pierre Trabaud and Philippe Mareuil.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Master Builder (1958)

A well known middle aged architect (Donald Wolfit) is visited by a young woman (Mai Zetterling) he met ten years earlier when she was still an adolescent. She has come to claim the "kingdom" he promised her when she was 13 years old. But her presence will push him to a tragic end. Based on the classic play by Henrik Ibsen and directed by Max Faber. THE MASTER BUILDER is one of Ibsen's most complex and baffling works. I've seen several production of the play and it's always fascinating how it's interpreted by various adapters. This production is streamlined (it runs 90 minutes) but there's an intensity to it that works well with the play's innate ambiguity. The acting is quite good with Wolfit restraining his inclination to overact and Zetterling makes for a fine Hilda. But my favorite performance came from Catherine Lacey (THE LADY VANISHES) as Wolfit's wife. She brings a quiet authority to a role that is too often underplayed to the point of being a cipher. With David Markham and Elaine Usher.  

Sunday, April 22, 2018

DuBarry Was A Lady (1943)

The coatroom attendant (Red Skelton) at a posh Manhattan nightclub is in love with the show's star (Lucille Ball) but so is the club's master of ceremonies (Gene Kelly). She, however, has her sights on a wealthy snob (Douglass Dumbrille). Based on the hit Broadway musical and directed by Roy Del Ruth. Unfortunately, MGM tossed out most of the original Cole Porter show score (too racy) and the songs used with one exception are inferior. The plot has also been altered to be more family oriented. The comedy is broad (Skelton and Zero Mostel are straight out of vaudeville) and one of the musical acts, the Oxford Boys, is excruciating. Still, the production values are nice and the lengthy dream sequence in the second half where Skelton dreams he's King Louis XV and Ball is Madame DuBarry is modestly entertaining. At this stage in his career, Kelly hadn't yet acquired his stature as one of the great dancer/choreographers in film and he's rather negligible. The film does have the showstopping Frienship (written by Porter) and another highlight is Virginia O'Brien's rendition of Salome (not written by Porter). With Marilyn Maxwell, Jo Stafford, Dick Haymes, Rags Ragland, Louise Beavers, Donald Meek and a cameo by Lana Turner.  

Saturday, April 21, 2018

You Were Never Really Here (2018)

An ex-soldier and former law enforcement officer (Joaquin Phoenix) suffers from what appears to be a form of post traumatic syndrome going back to his childhood (abusive) and on through his years as both a soldier and law enforcement officer. He now works as sort of a vigilante for hire and his latest assignment is to rescue an underage girl (Ekaterina Samsonov) from sex trafficking. But what should have been a routine job for him turns into a living hell. Based on the novel by Jonathan Ames and directed by Lynne Ramsay (WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN). This is a stunning film! Similarities to TAXI DRIVER aside, this is a deeply disturbing film anchored by a brilliant and intense performance by Joaquin Phoenix, who won the Cannes film festival best actor award for his work here while Ramsay won for her screenplay. While it's a violent film, Ramsay doesn't exploit or dwell on the violence, indeed what we often see is the aftermath of the violence rather than the violence itself. But there are moments of beauty too such as the water burial of Judith Roberts as Phoenix's mother. Highly recommended and hopefully Phoenix's performance will be remembered at awards season at the end of the year. And there's the bonus of another great Jonny Greenwood score. With Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette and John Doman.   

Friday, April 20, 2018

Donovan's Reef (1963)

An uptight Boston heiress (Elizabeth Allen) travels to French Polynesia in search of the father (Jack Warden) she's never met in order to keep control of the shipping company which her father has inherited. What she doesn't know is that her father has three half Polynesian children from a second wife. Directed by John Ford, this film is more enjoyable than it has any right to be. Ford drags out the usual cliches and the film has not one but two barroom brawls to endure. Victor McLaglen had passed so Lee Marvin replaces him as the brawling Irishman but the "comedic" barroom brawls are still just as painful to sit through. As the Donovan of the title, John Wayne doesn't drag and push Allen across the countryside like he did to Maureen O'Hara in THE QUIET MAN, instead he just takes her over his knee and spanks her! Still, Wayne and Allen have a wonderful chemistry, the strongest he's had with an actress other than O'Hara. The lush lensing is by William H. Clothier who makes the island of Kauai (standing in for French Polynesia) look like paradise. With Dorothy Lamour, Cesar Romero, Dick Foran, Mike Mazurki, Patrick Wayne and Marcel Dalio.   

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

While dancing in an Ohio nightclub, two disparate dancers are attracted to the same man (Louis Hayward) for different reasons. One (Maureen O'Hara) likes him for himself while the other (Lucille Ball) likes him for his bank account. Directed by Dorothy Arzner, this quasi feminist film stands out among other films of its day because it doesn't cave in at the end. Katharine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell played strong career women but ultimately (or usually) realized it's a man's world and by the film's end, took their proper place and let the man call the shots. Here, O'Hara's focus is her career and she never loses sight of that, not even when involved in a romantic relationship. When she wishes on a star, it's not for love and marriage but for a dancing career. In a startling scene (for its time), O'Hara turns on a predominantly male audience leering and demeaning at half dressed girls and denounces their hypocrisy. O'Hara and Ball are excellent and if you only know Lucille Ball from her TV sitcom, she'll surprise you with her hard as nails gold digger. She's venal but you can't help like her. She may use a different method than O'Hara to get what she wants out of life but she's no less ambitious. With Ralph Bellamy, Maria Ouspenskaya, Sidney Blackmer, Virginia Field, Ernest Truex and Walter Abel.

Profondo Rosso (aka Deep Red) (1975)

An English musician (David Hemmings) is the only witness to the brutal murder of a psychic medium (Macha Meril). As he takes it upon himself to discover who the serial killer is, he finds that the killer knows his every move as the body count piles up. Directed by giallo maestro Dario Argento, I'd say this was his masterpiece if it weren't for SUSPIRIA. It's a tour de force of visuals, suspense, atmosphere, color, editing, music and style. The killings are more graphic, disturbingly so, than in Argento's previous films. He almost seems to be sadistically relishing our discomfort. The killer's motives are never addressed but I suppose a motive is irrelevant when the killer is "mad". Almost a half hour of footage was cut from the American release by Argento which made the relationship between Hemmings and a journalist played by Daria Nicolodi less coherent and more superficial. That footage has fortunately since been restored. I have to tip my hat to Argento for a major red herring near the film's end that could have spoiled the movie for me if it weren't a red herring. With Gabriele Lavia, Giuliana Calandra and Clara Calamai (Visconti's OSSESSIONE).  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Two Much (1995)

A struggling artist (Antonio Banderas) operating an art gallery that's losing money finds himself in a relationship with a wealthy, divorced heiress (Melanie Griffith). She wants to get married, he doesn't but he falls immediately for her sister (Daryl Hannah). To court both women, he invents a twin brother and divides his time between the two sisters. Loosely based on the novel by Donald E. Westlake (THE GRIFTERS) which had previously been made in France in 1984 and co-written and directed by Fernando Trueba. A critical and box office flop when released, I found the film pleasantly amusing. The film's main problem is that Banderas is miscast. He has no talent for farce and that's what the film is, a screwball comedy and Banderas tries but he's leaden. Fortunately, his two leading ladies are able to get by on charm and three supporting actors are able to pick up the comedy ball and run with it. Joan Cusack as his put upon secretary, Eli Wallach as his semi-senile father and Vincent Schiavelli as a haughty waiter. With Danny Aiello, Austin Pendleton and Phil Leeds.    

The Scorpio Letters (1967)

An American ex-cop (Alex Cord) is hired by one of England's Intelligence Services to track down an extortionist known as Scorpio who had been blackmailing a British spy who committed suicide. Based on the novel by Victor Canning (Hitchcock's FAMILY PLOT) and directed by Richard Thorpe (KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE). Released on American television here but shown theatrically overseas, this is a moderately enjoyable hybrid of James Bond espionage and Hitchcockian suspense. The narrative is often confusing but never crosses over to incoherence. Cord makes for a suitably rugged American hero and lovely Shirley Eaton (GOLDFINGER) does quite nicely as a seductive British agent. Well done for what it is and if it's not worth seeking out, if you come across it, it's agreeable enough. With Laurence Naismith, Antoinette Bower, Oscar Beregi, Danielle De Metz and Harry Raybould.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought The White House Down (2017)

After the death of J. Edgar Hoover, FBI agent Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) becomes the bureau's Associate Director from May 1972 through June 1973. It is during this interim that the Watergate break in occurs and the White House suppresses the FBI's investigation. Furious, Felt releases information to both Time and the Washington Post in secret and becomes known as "Deep Throat" for over 30 years until admitting his identity in 2005. Based on his autobiographies A G-MAN'S LIFE and THE FBI PYRAMID by Felt and directed by Peter Landesman. The 1976 film ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN pretty much covered this territory brilliantly (although Deep Throat's identity wasn't known at the time) so the movie has some big shoes to fill and it doesn't. Which isn't to say it's not worth watching because it is. It gives us a peek from the other side and an inside look at the complicated man who risked his position to whistleblow the attempted cover up. The film also focuses on his domestic life and usually these sequences drag a film down but in this case, thanks to an excellent complex performance by Diane Lane as Felt's wife, it only adds to the film's interest. Sadly, Lane's performance was severely cut from the release print and judging from what's left in the film, it's a real tragedy. The large supporting cast includes Tony Goldwyn, Tom Sizemore, Marton Csokas, Wendi McLendon Covey and Bruce Greenwood.

C.C. & Company (1970)

When her car breaks down, a fashion writer (Ann-Margret) is stranded in the California desert. When approached by three members of an outlaw biker gang, two of them attempt to rape her when the third one (Joe Namath) saves her. This does not put him in favor with the gang's ruthless leader (William Smith). Written and produced by Roger Smith for his wife (Ann-Margret) and directed by Seymour Robbie. Sleazy trash! This was the kind of stuff Ann-Margret was stuck in until Mike Nichols rescued her with CARNAL KNOWLEDGE. The real "star" of the film is the legendary football quarterback Joe Namath in his first lead role (he previously had a supporting role in NORWOOD). He recites his lines as dutifully as a trained parrot but he's no actor. He has a sort of blobby charm but that's not enough to pull him through. The film is pretty ludicrous and the biker gang comprised of a bevy of overacting "thespians" is pretty laughable. I'm not sure even Roger Corman could have done much with this. With Jennifer Billingsley and Bruce Glover.

Roughshod (1949)

A rancher (Robert Sterling) and his kid brother (Claude Jarman Jr., THE YEARLING) are heading back to their ranch when they hear a killer (John Ireland) has escaped from prison and is on his way to confront the rancher who is responsible for his capture. But on the way home, they stumble upon four stranded saloon girls (Gloria Grahame, Martha Hyer, Jeff Donnell, Myrna Dell) who have been kicked out of town. Directed by Mark Robson (BRIDGES AT TOKO RI), this is a rather unique western in its own way. The characters are fully fleshed out for the most part and the focus is on the shifting emotions and motives of the people involved. I quite liked it but I have to admit that I can't recall another western populated with such unlikable to annoying characters as this one with nary a decent human. Perhaps Martha Hyer but she's gotten rid of early in the movie before we get a chance to know her much. Joseph Biroc (HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE) is responsible for the nice B&W lensing while Roy Webb (NOTORIOUS) provides the suitable underscore. With Jeff Corey, Sara Haden and Sean McClory.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Otley (1969)

A rather aimless young drifter (Tom Courtenay) happens to be homeless when he asks to crash at a friend's (Edward Hardwicke) pad for the night. A day later, he wakes up in a field and discovers he's wanted by the police for questioning in his friend's murder! Based on the novel by Martin Waddell and directed by Dick Clement, this is a jaunty and cheery caper that could only have been made in the swinging 60s in London. Shot on location all over London by Austin Dempster (A TOUCH OF CLASS), I suspect if you weren't a part of the 1960s culture that the film won't hold much interest for you. It's amusing but so very much of its era that its rhythm might seem off putting to contemporary audiences. Courtenay makes for a charming and amiable protagonist but the lovely Romy Schneider seems overqualified for a generic role that a lesser "international" actress like Britt Ekland or Elke Sommer could just have easily done. The 60s score by Stanley Myers definitely dates the film. With Alan Badel, Freddie Jones, Fiona Lewis, Leonard Rossiter, Phyllida Law and James Villiers. 

Abbott & Costello In The Foreign Legion (1950)

Two wrestling promoters (Bud Abbott, Lou Costello) travel to Algeria in order to get back their star wrestler (Wee Willie Davis) who has deserted them to return to his native land. However, the two find themselves inadvertently joining the French Foreign Legion where they discover a nefarious plot that puts their lives in danger. Directed by Charles Lamont, this was the comedy duo's 26th film together. It's one of their better vehicles, full of sight gags and dumb but funny jokes. The most hilarious bit features a fish with false teeth that's milked for all it's worth that had me laughing more than I should have. The barely there plot isn't important, it's just a blueprint for Abbott and Costello to build up a collection of laughs. The supporting cast includes Patricia Medina, Walter Slezak, Douglass Dumbrille, Marc Lawrence and Tor Johnson.

The Secret Ways (1961)

At the height of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, a down on his luck American (Richard Widmark, who also produced the movie) is hired to smuggle a noted scholar and revolutionary (Walter Rilla) out of Communist Hungary. But first he needs to find the scholar's daughter (Sonia Ziemann) who resides in Vienna to find out where he is hiding in Hungary. But she insists if he goes, she goes with him. Based on the novel THE LAST FRONTIER by Alistair MacLean (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE) and adapted for the screen by Jean Hazlewood (Widmark's wife) and directed by Phil Karlson. This is a straightforward international thriller that had producer/star Widmark clashing with director Karlson over the film's style with Karlson eventually leaving Widmark to take over the direction toward the end of filming. It's a decent espionage adventure with some rather dull lapses. Outside of Widmark, most of the actors are German and it was often difficult to understand their thick German accents. The fine cinematography by Mutz Greenbaum is often reminiscent of THE THIRD MAN and there's a marvelous score by a young John Williams. With Senta Berger, Charles Regnier and Hubert Von Meyerinck.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Send Me No Flowers (1964)

When a hypochondriac (Rock Hudson) mistakenly thinks he's dying from a fatal heart condition, he attempts to find a new husband for his wife (Doris Day) before he passes on. Based on the 1960 Broadway play by Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore and directed by Norman Jewison (MOONSTRUCK). After plumbing the sophisticated Manhattan business and social circles in PILLOW TALK and LOVER COME BACK, Day and Hudson (along with their co-star Tony Randall) move to the suburbs here.While not as glamorous as their prior offerings, there's a pleasant laid back charm to the proceedings even if they're treading sitcom territory here. Hudson's deft performance, in particular, shows why he was the light comedy King during the 1960s. Jewison could have pushed the farcical elements a little further and there's some of that in some of the supporting performances, notably Paul Lynde as an eager beaver director of a funeral home. The catchy title song sung by Day was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David although Frank De Vol's underscore is the very definition of Mickey Mouse scoring. With Clint Walker, Patricia Barry, Edward Andrews and Hal March. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Shell Seekers (1989)

A widow (Angela Lansbury) has three adult children. Two of them (Anna Carteret, Christopher Bowen) are rather selfish and more interested in their inheritance, a series of paintings by their long deceased grandfather (Andrew Keir). She returns to the seashore where she was happy and attempts to take stock of her situation. Based on the best selling novel by Rosamunde Pilcher and directed by Waris Hussein (POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY). I've not read the source material but one can only hope it is superior to this sentimental Hallmark movie. Lansbury gives a lovely performance and, as always, is eminently watchable. Still, one can't help but wonder why she just doesn't give her ungrateful kids the boot but the treacly ending with everyone warm and fuzzy is almost too much to endure. It's a nice looking movie what with the Spanish and Cornwall locations but unless you're a Lansbury fan, this will be tough going. With Sam Wanamaker, Michael Gough, Patricia Hodge, Sophie Ward, Denis Quilley and Irene Worth.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

A woman (Kathy Bates) working as the housekeeper of an elderly woman (Judy Parfitt) suffering from bouts of dementia is accused of murdering her. The scandal causes her estranged daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to return home for the first time in 15 years. But their own personal demons will play out as well when a deeply buried secret comes to the surface. Based on the best selling novel by Stephen King and directed by Taylor Hackford. One of the very best adaptations of Stephen King's books with a superb performance by Kathy Bates in the title role. She may have gotten her Oscar for King's MISERY but DOLORES CLAIBORNE gives her a more layered character to play covering some 20 years. Victim roles are often a losing battle but Jennifer Jason Leigh manages to to balance both the anger and rage with the almost intolerable pain eating her insides. Add July Parfitt's excellent performance as a society woman not so shallow as she seems. While King is known for his horror novels, CLAIBORNE is more of a psychological thriller. With Christopher Plummer, David Strathairn and John C. Reilly. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Alphabet Murders (1965)

In London, the renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Tony Randall) is on the trail of a beautiful blonde (Anita Ekberg) who appears to be randomly murdering people by their initials. The first victim's initials are AA, the second BB and so forth. Based on THE ABC MURDERS by Agatha Christie and directed by Frank Tashlin (THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT). MGM's British studios had a great success with Christie's Miss Marple mysteries starring Margaret Rutherford (who has a cameo here) so I suppose it made sense to attempt and turn Christie's Hercule Poirot into a franchise too. Alas, it's a disaster right down the line. Ironically, Tony Randall might actually have made a suitable Poirot in a legitimate adaptation but Tashlin's film is not only a travesty of the source material but it displays none of Tashlin's comedic touch. Why they thought it necessary to rewrite Christie's book into a comedy I don't know unless they assumed the comedic elements in the Rutherford Marples films was the key to their success. For Christie fans, this borders on blasphemy though I suppose those not familiar with Christie's books might tolerate it. With Robert Morley, Julian Glover, Maurice Denham, Guy Rolfe and Sheila Allen. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Von Ryan's Express (1965)

As the war in Europe is turning in the Allied's favor, an American pilot (Frank Sinatra) is shot down in Italy. Placed in a POW camp, he masterminds a daring escape utilizing a train going from Italy to Switzerland with the Nazis in pursuit. Based on the novel by David Westheimer and directed by Mark Robson (VALLEY OF THE DOLLS). This is a first rate thrilling WWII adventure film along the lines of THE GREAT ESCAPE. Handsomely shot on Italian locations rather than the 20th Century Fox backlot by William H. Daniels (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF), this features Sinatra's last really fine acting job. The film is gripping and tough minded (jingoism is practically non existent) and the train escape through Nazi tendrils is pure adrenaline. Even if you dislike war films, this one is hard to resist. There's a fine underscore by Jerry Goldsmith. With Trevor Howard, James Brolin, Adolfo Celi, Brad Dexter, John Leyton, Edward Mulhare, Sergio Fantoni, Ivan Triesault, John Van Dreelen and the film's sole female, Raffaella Carra.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Smart Girls Don't Talk (1948)

A party girl (Virginia Mayo) with dollar signs in her eyes hooks up with a gangster (Bruce Bennett) who owns a nightclub. But when her younger brother (Robert Hutton), fresh out of medical school, chastises her for her shallow ways, she develops a conscience. But in this case, her conscience may be too late as tragedy follows. Directed by Richard L. Bare, this minor programmer is a more than passable entertainment if you don't press too hard. Mayo could move easily from the peaches and cream beauty of those Technicolor Danny Kaye comedies she did at Goldwyn to the tough broads of WHITE HEAT and BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES and here as the gold digging vixen who gets burnt, she's at her best. It's a pity the male leads are on the dull side. If you're a Mayo fan or a fan of those late Warners crime films, check it out. With Helen Westcott, Tom D'Andrea and Richard Rober.    

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Secret Of The Blue Room (1933)

On the occasion of a young woman's (Gloria Stuart, TITANIC) 21st birthday, her father (Lionel Atwill) tells her three suitors (Paul Lukas, Onslow Stevens, William Janney) about the locked blue room where three unsolved murders occurred 20 years ago. In order to prove their bravery, the three suitors each propose to spend a night in the room. Directed by Kurt Neumann (1958's THE FLY), this is one of those old dark house with a locked room on a stormy night murder mysteries. As such, it's quite effective and atmospheric in it s brief (one hour, 6 minutes) running time although the final revelation of the murderer's identity is a bit of a letdown. But I'm carping because for most of the film's brief running time, it's modestly enjoyable. It's a minor effort and you probably already know if this sort of thing interests you and if you're partial to "it was a dark and stormy night" mansion thrillers, you could do worse. With Elizabeth Patterson and Muriel Kirkland.

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

In September 1944, the Allies launch an operation known as Operation Market Garden. The intent is to go behind German lines and seize several bridges in occupied Holland which would (hopefully) effectively end the war in Europe by Christmas. Instead, what transpires is a horrible blunder and disaster. Based on the non fiction book by Cornelius Ryan and directed by Richard Attenborough (GANDHI). At three hours, it's a long movie but necessary for the painstaking detailed description of the fatal flaws that caused a well intended plan to horribly unravel due to both incompetence and circumstance. Which is not to say the film couldn't have used some editing shears (the hymn singing sequence could have easily been excised). It's not the kind of film where the acting matters much although the impressive all star cast give decent performances, save two. Poor Gene Hackman is settled with an inadequate Polish accent and Elliott Gould does his acting with his cigar. The rest of the cast includes Robert Redford, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, James Caan, Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Dirk Bogarde, Liv Ullmann, Ryan O'Neal, Maximilian Schell, Colin Farrell, Arthur Hill and Hardy Kruger. 

A Quiet Place (2018)

In the very near future, Earth has been invaded by by blind creatures who have acute sound capabilities which is how they hone in on their prey. The film focuses on a family that lives on a desolate wheat farm where they must live in total silence to avoid the deadly aliens. Directed by John Krasinski (who plays the father), this is a terrific horror film, an instant classic. But like most great horror films, it's not just about "Boo!" and giving us jolts (though there are a few of them). At its core, the film is about family. What is means to be a parent and stepping up to the plate, about guilt and the dynamics of parent/child relationships which even in a time of horror take center stage. I liked Krasinski's previous film (also about family), THE HOLLARS which too few people have seen. But that didn't prepare me for the staggering power of this movie. The performances are superb right down the line. Actors often use dialog as crutches but with their words taken from them, they are dependent on their physicality, their faces, their emotions to convey. They have to show us what they feel rather than tell us. In addition to Krasinski, there's Emily Blunt (his real life spouse) as the wife, the wonderful Millicent Simmonds (who is deaf) and that amazing child actor Noah Jupe (SUBURBICON, WONDER).

Friday, April 6, 2018

Protocol (1984)

A ditzy cocktail waitress (Goldie Hawn) in a Washington D.C. bar finds her life turned upside down when she stops an assassin from killing a visiting Emir (Richard Romanus) from the Middle East. Not only is she a sudden celebrity but she gets an invitation to work for the State Department which she accepts. But little does she know that she's a pawn in a more sinister plan of operation. Directed by Herbert Ross (THE GOODBYE GIRL) from a screenplay by Buck Henry (THE GRADUATE), this charming comedy moves along nicely scoring points until the very end when it turns mushy and goes all MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON "we the people" Capracorn on us. The bulk of the movie rests on the goodwill engendered by Hawn's persona. She's an expert comedienne and never overplays her appeal. It's pretty much all her show as all the supporting characters don't amount to much. With Chris Sarandon, Andre Gregory, Gail Strickland, Jean Smart, Kenneth McMillan, Kenneth Mars, Cliff DeYoung and Maria O'Brien.

Atilla (1954)

Set in 450 A.D., a Roman general (Henri Vidal) attempts to make a treaty with the Huns, a horde of barbarians sweeping toward Rome. The two brothers who lead the Huns differ on peace with Rome. Bleda (Ettore Manni) wants the peace while Atilla (Anthony Quinn) prefers to sack Rome. Atilla will stop at nothing to fulfill his destiny including fratricide. This early example of peplum was directed by Pietro Francisci, who four years later would direct Steve Reeves in HERCULES which would start the peplum era right through to the 1960s. The film was a big hit outside the U.S. market. However, the same year this was released, a far better film using a similar plot line, Douglas Sirk's SIGN OF THE PAGAN with Jack Palance as Attila was released in the U.S. While not one of Sirk's best, it's a far more accomplished film. This effort attempts to mix sword and sandal action with the Christianity of biblical movies and the movie even ends with a cross in the sky and a heavenly choir! In addition to Quinn, the overqualified cast includes Sophia Loren, Irene Papas, Christian Marquand, Eduardo Ciannelli and Claude Laydu (DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST). 

Una Lucertola Con La Pelle Di Donna (aka A Lizard In A Woman's Skin) (1971)

The wife (Florinda Bolkan) of a prominent British attorney (Jean Sorel) is having disturbing dreams that are violent and erotic in nature. The focus of her dreams is a promiscuous neighbor (Anita Strindberg). When the neighbor is found brutally stabbed to death, she is convinced she is the murderer. Directed by Lucio Fulci (DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING), this giallo is a case of style over substance because the film is batshit crazy! It's all over the place and makes no logical sense but then again the gialli genre is really all about style and atmosphere anyway, isn't it? For example, Bolkan opens a door and sees a bunch of vivisected dogs who appear still alive and faints. No explanation is given of why or what those vivisected dogs are doing in that room and no reference is made to them again. Well, of course, they are there for shock value, that's why they're there! It has nothing to do with the plot! But Fulci has given us a rollercoaster ride into a hallucinatory nightmare with images that are hard to shake off. One sequence with Bolkan being attacked by a flurry of bats appears to be a homage to Hitchcock's THE BIRDS. The underscore is unadulterated Ennior Morricone. With Stanley Baker, Leo Genn, Silvia Monti, Mike Kennedy and Penny Brown.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Angry Hills (1959)

In 1941 Greece, an American war correspondent (Robert Mitchum) is tricked into carrying a list of Allied spies to British Intelligence in London. But first, he has to get out of Greece alive as a German Gestapo chief (Stanley Baker, excellent) pursues him across the country while leaving a bloody trail. Based on the novel by Leon Uris (EXODUS) and directed by Robert Aldrich (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE). One of the pleasures of movie watching is coming across a movie you know nothing about and has no reputation so it has no baggage and you have no expectations and find something very good. Aldrich himself was unhappy with the film and disowned it claiming interference from the producer and perhaps he's right, it could have been better. But I'm happy with what we got. The film has some layers you usually don't find in WWII films like this. Handsomely shot on location in Greece in B&W CinemaScope by Stephen Dade (ZULU) and with an early score by Richard Rodney Bennett. With the appealing Elisabeth Muller, Gia Scala, Kieron Moore, Theodore Bikel, Sebastian Cabot, Donald Wolfit, Marius Goring and Jocelyn Lane. 

Africa Screams (1949)

A woman (Hillary Brooke) is seeking an out of print book that includes a map to an African diamond mine. When a department store clerk (Bud Abbott) hears that she's willing to pay $2,500 for that map, he tells her his friend (Lou Costello) can draw the map from memory. So off to Africa they go. Directed by Charles Barton (THE SHAGGY DOG), who had helmed seven other Abbott & Costello comedies. While fitfully amusing, this is not one of the better A&C comedies. The gags are telegraphed and the whole production looks cheap with its sound stage Africa, men inside gorilla suits and fake crocodiles. Typical of its time, it's also racially insensitive with its black cannibals wearing bones in their noses while grunting "Oomgawa!" and stirring a big cauldron to cook the comedy duo. With an amusing Joe Besser, Shemp Howard, Max Baer, Buddy Baer and Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck playing themselves. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

For Pete's Sake (1974)

A cab driver (Michael Sarrazin) is struggling to earn enough money to pay for his schooling. When he gets a hot tip on the stock market, his wife (Barbra Streisand) borrows $3,000 from a loan shark but tells him she got the money from a rich relative. As the stock tumbles, the interest rate climbs as she struggles to pay the money back. Directed by Peter Yates from an original screenplay by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin, the Oscar winning writers of PILLOW TALK. This screwball comedy is flat and heavy handed with none of the charm and lightness that Shapiro and Richlin brought to their Doris Day comedies. I place the blame at the feet of Yates. Whoever thought the director of films like BULLITT, FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE or THE DEEP was the right man to direct a screwball comedy? Streisand goes into overdrive trying to make it work but when the material isn't there, it isn't there. As an actress, Streisand is always at her best when she has a strong male co-star like Robert Redford, George Segal or Nick Nolte. I've liked Michael Sarrazin in other films but here he's weak, Streisand obliterates him. With Estelle Parsons as her shrewish sister in law, William Redfield, Molly Picon and Louis Zorich. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Anne Of Green Gables: A New Beginning (2008)

In 1945, a novelist and playwright (Barbara Hershey) reflects upon her troubled life after her mother's (Natalie Radford) death and her father's (Ben Carlson) abandonment. Produced, written and directed by Kevin Sullivan, this film is not based on any of the ANNE novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery but an original screenplay based on the several television adaptations of Montgomery's ANNE OF GREEN GABLES book done by Sullivan. This was the fourth entry. The 1945 wrap around story isn't very interesting and the childhood sequences echo just about every suffering orphan tale you've ever read including JANE EYRE, OLIVER TWIST, POLLYANNA and LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE. This Anne isn't very appealing and indeed, she's quite often annoying. I'm not a fan of the Montgomery books so I'm not as outraged by the apparent mutilation of the Anne Shirley story. Perhaps Mr. Sullivan went to the well once too often. It all just seems so contrived. Outside of Shirley MacLaine as the wealthy widow who takes Anne in, the acting is ineffectual. With Rachel Blanchard and Hannah Endicott Douglas.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The House Of Fear (1945)

When the members of a small private club are being murdered one by one, an insurance agent (Gavin Muir) asks the famous detective Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) to investigate. Loosely based on the THE FIVE ORANGE PIPS by Arthur Conan Doyle and directed by Roy William Neill. This is one of the better entries in the Universal Sherlock Holmes series. The Holmes films offer more humor than the original Conan Doyle novels though I wish Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) wasn't portrayed as such a bumbling idiot. The mystery here is fairly clever, it certainly stumped me and at a brief hour and 10 minutes, the movie is compact and without any padding. The film takes place in a secluded mansion on the Scottish sea coast which allows a rich atmosphere of rain, wind, lightning and an old stately manor with secret passages. With Aubrey Mather, Paul Cavanagh, Holmes Herbert, Cyril Delevanti, Doris Lloyd and Sally Shepherd.

C'era Una Volta Il West (aka Once Upon A Time In The West) (1968)

A young woman (Claudia Cardinale) arrives from New Orleans to her new home in a small town in the West. But upon her arrival, she discovers her new husband (Frank Wolff) and her stepchildren have all been murdered in cold blood. Directed by Sergio Leone from a story conceived by Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento. An incredibly crafted homage to the American western film, Leone's film stands on its own as one of the greatest western ever made. The pace is leisurely, the dialog minimal and to the point and the film is filled with an almost nostalgic melancholy. The cinematography of Tonino Delli Colli (THE NAME OF THE ROSE) is simply stunning (and unbelievably not Oscar nominated) and the superb underscore by Ennio Morricone is a thing of beauty. As the film's cold blooded gunslinger, one of my least favorite actors, Henry Fonda, turns in a terrific cast against type performance. The film's initial U.S. release was cut by 20 minutes but it has since given way to the full 176 minute original cut. With Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Gabriele Ferzetti, Keenan Wynn, Lionel Stander, Woody Strode, Jack Elam and Paolo Stoppa.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Suspiria (1977)

A young American girl (Jessica Harper) travels to Germany to study at a prestigious ballet school. On the eve of her arrival, one of the students (Eva Axen) is brutally murdered. In the ensuing days, she begins to sense that something is not quite right with the school. Directed by Dario Argento (BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE), this may well be the masterpiece of the giallo genre. Argento wastes no time and the film's first 15 minutes or so are among the most intense in horror cinema. Aided by his cinematographer Luciano Tovoli (Antonioni's THE PASSENGER), the film is shot and lighted in vivid colors and deep shadows. It's the closest a film of its era has looked like the Technicolor films of the 1930s and 1940s. There's also a unique underscore by The Goblins that contributes immeasurably to the unsettling atmosphere. The film eschews "realism" and you feel that you've been thrown smack into someone's nightmare. Nothing makes sense and you feel off kilter throughout the movie. With Joan Bennett, Alida Valli, Udo Keir, Stefania Casini and Barbara Magnolfi.