Search This Blog

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Law And Order (1953)

The Marshal (Ronald Reagan) of Tombstone turns his badge in after the town shows their true colors and demands vigilante justice rather than law and order. This is just fine with his fiancee (Dorothy Malone) who wants him out of the law business. But when he buys a ranch in a different town, he tries to stay out of the lawless town and mind his own business. But can he? Based on the novel SAINT JOHNSON by W.R. Burnett and directed by Nathan Juran (7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD). This is actually the third version of the Burnett novel, it was previously filmed in 1932 and 1940. I've not seen the prior versions so I can't comment on them but this one isn't half bad at all. It's tight and economical in its hour and 20 minute running time until it runs out of steam at the very end. Reagan is decent enough but Malone is wasted. Only Preston Foster as the town's most corrupt citizen manages to create a memorable character. With Alex Nicol, Dennis Weaver, Russell Johnson, Jack Kelly, Don Gordon, Barry Kelley and Ruth Hampton.  

Roar (1981)

An American man (Noel Marshall) is a caretaker of a tribal area in Tanzania and lives with free roaming lions, tigers, leopards and panthers who come and go and do as they please in the house and surrounding area. When his wife (Tippi Hedren), daughter (Melanie Griffith) and sons (John Marshall, Jerry Marshall) arrive for a visit, they are overwhelmed by the animals ... literally. Written, produced and directed by Noel Marshall (Hedren's husband at the time). Over 10 years in the making, the film is often referred to as the most expensive home movie ever made and just as frequently as the most dangerous shoot in movie history. Melanie Griffith almost lost an eye when she was mauled and cinematographer Jan De Bont (DIE HARD) had a lion lift his scalp and required over 200 stitches. The story behind the making of ROAR could make a movie all by itself. This nearly plotless film has the most truly amazing footage of big cats doing what big cats do. When you see them bite or scratch one of the actors, that's not fake, it's real blood! If you're an animal lover, this is a fascinating watch. Most of the acting is by non professionals and you can tell the amateurs from the pros. Noel Marshall in particular is just awful in his line readings and his two sons are right there next to him. Only Hedren, Griffith and Zakes Mokae (in a small role) give indications that they know what they're doing. The film was actually shot in Acton, California though you'd never know it wasn't Africa. A truly one of a kind movie! 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

When Worlds Collide (1951)

When a noted scientist (Larry Keating) announces that Earth is in the direct path of a rogue star and an inevitable collusion will destroy the planet, other scientists and the government are skeptical. To this end, he accepts private funding from a selfish but wealthy industrialist (John Hoyt) to build a spaceship that will take a small group of people to a new planet and rebuild civilization. Based on the novel by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, produced by George Pal and directed by Rudolph Mate. This ambitious sci-fi classic was intended to have a bigger budget and a more A list cast but it is what it is and what Pal has given us is pretty impressive except for a lackluster finale. The special effects are first rate, certainly for its day but they hold up pretty well. It's not the kind of film where the acting matters much so we're stuck with two dull leading men (Richard Derr, Peter Hansen) though the object of their affection Barbara Rush lends a pleasant presence that would continue to make her one of the more appealing actresses of 1950s cinema. The best performance comes from Hoyt, who makes a perfectly despicable "villain". Some of the religious undertone is annoying however. With Hayden Rorke, Stuart Whitman and Kasey Rogers. 

Babes On Broadway (1941)

After struggling to get himself cast in a Broadway show, a young actor (Mickey Rooney) decides to put on a show for orphaned children and raise enough money to send them to the country. His intentions aren't entirely altruistic however. He hopes to use the show as a way of being seen and discovered by a Broadway producer. Directed by Busby Berkeley, this was the third Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland "hey gang, let's put on a show" musical following BABES IN ARMS (1939) and STRIKE UP THE BAND (1940). The recycled plot (if you can even call it a plot) is merely a shell for the many musical numbers. The two highlights are Mickey and Judy introducing How About You? which quickly became a popular standard and the lively Hoe Down production number. The film's big finale is a minstrel show with everybody in blackface which is uncomfortable to watch and made even worse by being an overly long dull production number. But there's no denying the chemistry of Rooney and Garland and you can see why audiences wanted to see more of them together. The U.S. hadn't entered WWII yet but the British were at war and there's a painfully sentimental number with teary eyed British war orphans I could have done without. Also in the cast: Fay Bainter, James Gleason, Margaret O'Brien, Virginia Weidler, Donald Meek, Ray McDonald and Richard Quine who would soon turn to directing films like BELL BOOK AND CANDLE.   

Monday, May 28, 2018

Come Into The Garden, Maud (1982)

A wealthy American businessman (Paul Scofield) is traveling through Europe with his social climbing wife (Toby Robins). An encounter with a widowed Sicilian princess (Geraldine McEwan) suddenly provides a way out of his unhappy marriage. Based on the one act play by Noel Coward (part of his SUITE IN THREE KEYS trilogy) and directed by Cedric Messina. Not Noel Coward at his finest but its brief running time makes it watchable. As great an actor as Scofield is, he doesn't come across as believable as a mid-West American and Robins as his shrewish wife comes across as a misogynistic cliche. Not her fault, it appears inherent in the source material. Since she doesn't have to play American or a harridan, McEwan's performance seems effortless compared to the two others. It's an unsubstantial piece that's dependent on the actors to put it across since the writing offers little in the way of wit or insight. With Bruce Lidington as a hotel waiter, the only other character in the play. 

Night Train To Paris (1964)

A former American OSS officer (Leslie Nielsen) now living in London is approached by a beautiful woman (Alizia Gur) who says she's a friend of another OSS officer (Hugh Latimore) who served with him during WWII. There is a top secret tape that must be smuggled into Paris and the only available means of transportation (it's New Year's Eve) is a night train taking skiers across the channel. But even before the train leaves London, there are two murders and they won't be the last. Directed by the actor turned director Robert Douglas (he was the villain in FLAME AND THE ARROW). Although shot in London, this B movie was clearly intended as a second feature on a double bill. I suppose as a warm up to the main feature, it's tolerable but it feels like a TV episode from THE MAN FROM UNCLE or I SPY. I'm a pushover for thrillers and mysteries set on trains so it held my interest but I doubt others would be so accepting. With Eric Pohlmann as the most inept assassin I've ever seen outside of a comedy, Dorinda Stevens, Edina Ronay and Andre Maranne.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Nancy Drew And The Hidden Staircase (1939)

Two elderly sisters (Vera Lewis, Louise Carter) are about to inherit a mansion that they plan on donating for a children's hospital. But someone is trying to stop them from inheriting the mansion and will stop at nothing including murder! Enter Nancy Drew (Bonita Granville), teenage amateur detective to solve the mystery! Loosely based on the Nancy Drew book of the same name (the book is much better) by Carolyn Keene (a pseudonym for Mildred Wirt Benson) and directed by William Clemens. Bonita Granville isn't quite the Nancy Drew of the Keene books but she's so plucky and eager that you don't mind. She has a nice rapport with Frankie Thomas who plays her put upon boyfriend for lack of a better word, there's no obvious romantic relationship. I wish the four Granville Nancy Drew movies had stuck closer to the books as their mystery elements are shoved aside in the films for more comedic situations. But this is still a fun piece of nostalgia. With John Litel, Frank Orth and William Gould.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Last Word (2017)

A wealthy woman (Shirley MacLaine), who's also a bit of a control freak, engages the young obituary writer (Amanda Seyfried) of the local newspaper to write her obituary while she's still alive. But while interviewing friends and family of the woman, the obit writer discovers that everybody can't stand her and no one has a good word to say about her! Directed by Mark Pellington. It's always a pleasant surprise when a movie you went in expecting mediocrity turns out to be a pretty decent movie. In spite of a weak third act (weak but still effective), MacLaine shines in a role that seems tailor made for her and she has a nice chemistry with Seyfried. Seyfried is fine but make no mistake about it, this movie belongs to MacLaine. Instead of going somewhere daring or at least fresh, the film retreats to the safety of what we've seen before which is a pity. But it's still a nice trip. With Anne Heche, Phillip Baker Hall, Tom Everett Scott and AnnJewel Lee Dixon. 

L'Africain (1983)

A travel agent (Catherine Deneuve) travels to a remote section of Africa with the intention of starting an upscale resort for tourists. When she arrives, she is surprised to find her estranged husband (Philippe Noiret) in the isolated outpost, now a conservationist and animal activist. Directed by Philippe De Broca (KING OF HEARTS), this is an uneasy combination of romance between two disparate individuals forced together by circumstances (think THE AFRICAN QUEEN) and a social message picture about the destruction of Africa's natural habitat and its indigenous humans and creatures by civilization and poachers. The film benefits greatly from Jean Penzer's stunning wide screen (Panavision) lensing of the Kenya locations and the appealing performances by Deneuve and Noiret. I liked how De Broca avoided a predicatble romantic ending and left us with something more ambiguous and poignant. There's a lovely underscore by Georges Delerue (JULES AND JIM). With Jean Francois Balmer, Jean Benguigui and Vivian Reed. 

Lost Continent (1951)

When an atomic powered rocket is fired from a missile base in New Mexico disappears somewhere in the South Pacific, a military expedition is dispatched to find it. But when their plane crashes on an uncharted island, what they find there will astonish them. Directed by Sam Newfield, this super low budget scifi/fantasy film was shot in 11 days and looks it. If you've seen either the 1925 or 1960 film versions of THE LOST WORLD, you've pretty much seen it all before. It's a pretty tedious affair and the crude stop motion dinosaurs lack the Harryhausen magic to put it mildly. When the expedition arrives at the island's "land before time" plateau, all of a sudden everything is tinted green. I thought the film's finale of the island's earthquake was very well done and the film has a nice underscore by Paul Dunlap (THE NAKED KISS) that belies the film's B movie status. The cast includes Cesar Romero, Hugh Beaumont, John Hoyt, Whit Bissell, Sid Melton, Chick Chandler and two actresses who each have one scene apiece, Hillary Brooke and Acquanetta. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Zaza (1923)

A music hall performer (Gloria Swanson) has all the men falling for her. All except the man she wants, a reserved diplomat (H.B. Warner, KING OF KINGS). However, a near fatal fall changes all that but the road to love is littered with heartbreak. Based on the 1899 French play by Pierre Berton and Charles Simon and directed by Allan Dwan. Previously filmed in 1919 and George Cukor would direct Claudette Colbert in yet another version in 1939. It's a pity that Gloria Swanson's career now seems defined by her Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD. As excellent as she was in that, it seems to have eclipsed her reigning years in silent cinema where she was a vibrant and fascinating presence. She's the reason to see ZAZA. As cinema, it's rather hackneyed. Yet another variation of BACK STREET but this time with a happy ending. But Swanson tears up the screen whether engaged in a catfight with another music hall performer, suffering in pain in the hospital or raging at her lover. With Lucille La Verne, Mary Thurman and Ferdinand Gottschalk.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Second Woman (1950)

Set in the Big Sur coastline of California, a young woman (Betsy Drake) falls in love with an architect (Robert Young) whose fiancee (Shirley Ballard) died in a car crash a year ago. However, his mysterious behavior suggests that he might be suffering from paranoia as a series of destructive acts and bad luck in his life suggests that he might actually be the perpetrator of these actions. Directed by James V. Kern, this atmospheric noir-ish mystery is very Hitchcockian in its narrative. A touch of REBECCA, a little bit of SUSPICION, a drop of SPELLBOUND etc. But its execution is so very good that one doesn't mind the derivation. It's a minor thriller to be sure and Kern's name isn't exactly a well known moniker among film auteurs but the direction is solid and Young is very good playing against type. In a way, it's a pastiche of a movie and seems on the verge of being something very special but ends up being better than average. I don't want to oversell it but fans of noir and moody thrillers might want to check it out. With Florence Bates, John Sutton, Morris Carnovsky, Steven Geray, Jean Rogers and Henry O'Neill. 

Neighbors (1971)

A liberal upper class white married couple (Jane Wyatt, Andrew Duggan) are selling their home in an upper class all white suburban community. A black couple (Cicely Tyson, Raymond St. Jacques) are interested in buying the house. The white couple invite the black couple over to show them the house. But what transpires, none of them are prepared for. Based on a play by Arkady Leokum and directed by Fielder Cook (A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY). This is a potent drama about race relations and how we (both black and white) perceive other races. The white couple are rather smug in their own liberalism and self congratulatory about being not being prejudiced and welcoming a black family into the community. But not only are the black couple not "grateful" for the gesture, the husband's black rage against the white race begs the question, why would he want to move into an all white neighborhood if he's not interested in assimilating? The failure of both sides to understand the other can only lead to disaster. The acting is excellent by the four leads, each character unique in their mindset. Topical in 1971, it's not dated at all.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

McQ (1974)

After his good friend and fellow cop (William Bryant) is killed, a Seattle cop (John Wayne) ignores all the rules in his quest to find his friend's murderer. But what he uncovers, isn't what he expected. Directed by John Sturges (MAGNIFICENT SEVEN), this was an attempt for Wayne to move beyond westerns and branch into DIRTY HARRY (a role he reputedly turned down) territory. It's an uneasy mix. The film's use of long haired hippie "radicals" and "cool" black pimps dates the movie. Physically, Wayne looks tired as if all the action exhausts him. Of course, Wayne's potent screen presence eclipses just about everyone else on the screen though Colleen Dewhurst (in the film's best performance) as a cocaine addict holds her own in her scenes with Wayne. For Wayne fans only. The derivative score is by Elmer Bernstein. With Eddie Albert, Diana Muldaur, Julie Adams, Clu Gulager, Al Lettieri, Roger E. Mosley and David Huddleston.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Man From Cairo (1953)

The French government is investigating the disappearance of some gold bullion stolen during WWII in North Africa. When an American tourist (George Raft) arrives in Algeria, suspicion falls on him as either an American agent assisting the French or as an adventurer out to find the gold for himself. Directed by Ray Enright (THE SPOILERS), the best thing about the film are the authentic Italian and Algerian locations. The story itself is rather muddled and the stiff performance by George Raft doesn't help. He plays his love scenes with all the passion of a clam and when you've got a beauty like Gianna Maria Canale as your leading lady, if you can't muster up any enthusiasm, something's wrong. While one can give Canale a pass on her often awkward line readings as English isn't her first language but what is Raft's excuse? He recites his lines as if he learned them phonetically. It's not the kind of film that sticks with you and if I watch it again in a couple of years, I'm sure it will seem like the first time. With Irene Papas, Massimo Serato, Alfredo Varelli and Mino Doro.  

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Ebony Tower (1984)

A young artist (Roger Rees) is commissioned to write a study of an elderly but revered painter (Laurence Olivier) who lives in seclusion in France. When he arrives, he finds that the older man has two very young female companions (Greta Scacchi, Toyah Willcox) and he finds himself drawn to one of them even though he's married. Based on the novella by John Fowles (THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN) and directed by Robert Knights. This is one of those films where nothing much seems to happen but much of what is interesting about it is what is left unsaid. The movie is really about Rees' character but it's Olivier who steals the show. His portrayal of an aging artist, afraid of losing his vitality and relevance in a changing world, is played close to the vest. Rees seems rather sad and colorless next to him. Scacchi gives a lovely enigmatic performance while Willcox is brassy and all surface. The subtle underscore is by Richard Rodney Bennett (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS). With Georgina Melville and Denise Bailly.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Legalese (1998)

When a TV actress (Gina Gershon) is accused of murdering her sister's (Jill Sayre) husband (Julian Stone), she attempts to hire a famous celebrity attorney (James Garner). But the attorney decides to use an inexperienced lawyer (Edward Kerr) as a front and work behind the scenes. Directed by Glenn Jordan (ONLY WHEN I LAUGH), this is an entertaining if highly cynical look at celebrity attorneys, the media and how justice is often irrelevant when high profile cases become judged in the media rather than the courtroom. Garner's character is morally bankrupt but Garner's such a likable presence that you can't help but like him even while you're appalled at his lack of ethics. Kerr (looking like Ryan Reynolds' twin brother) is appealing and he has an easy chemistry with Mary Louise Parker as Garner's assistant. The film's jaundiced eye on the legal profession is rather refreshing actually and it spares us the ethics lecture and leaving it to us to come to our own conclusions. With Kathleen Turner as a tabloid TV journalist, Brian Doyle Murray and Keene Curtis.

Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970)

An astronaut (James Franciscus) sent on a mission to discover what happened to the previous astronaut (Charlton Heston) and his crew who went missing crash lands on a planet in the year 3955. Not only will he discover the city of apes that astounded the prior astronaut, he will discover something even more horrible. Directed by Ted Post (HANG 'EM HIGH), this was the second of the original PLANET OF THE APES franchise which consisted of five films in total. While it lacks the freshness and surprise value of the original 1968 film, it's commendable that it doesn't give us more of the same but goes in a different direction. It's relentlessly downbeat and has one of the most nihilistic conclusions in all cinema. Franciscus is the focus of the film's narrative with Heston appearing only at the beginning and the end of the film. Franciscus lacks Heston's strong screen presence which is the film's loss. Maurice Evans and Kim Hunter in ape form and Linda Harrison in human form return from the 1968 film. With James Gregory, Victor Buono, Paul Richards, Natalie Trundy, Jeff Corey and Don Pedro Colley.  

Charlie Chan At Monte Carlo (1937)

World famous detective Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) and his son (Keye Luke) are on vacation in Monte Carlo when the murder of a casino messenger interrupts their holiday. With an over abundance of suspects, it won't be easy to track down the killer! Based on the Earl Derr Biggers' character and directed by Eugene Forde. This was Oland's last turn as Chan before Sidney Toler took over the role in the franchise. It's entertaining enough and with all the suspects having a motive, it's not so easy to identify the murderer. There's a nice amount of humor in the film, most of it coming from Luke's butchering of the French language that gets them into hot water more than once. If you're a fan of the Chan franchise, this is one of the better ones. With Sidney Blackmer, Virginia Field, Kay Linaker, Harold Huber and Robert Kent.  

I'll Never Forget You (aka The House In The Square) (1951)

An atomic scientist (Tyrone Power) working in London is transported to the London of 1784! Because of his knowledge of future events that have transpired between 1784 and his own mid 20th century time, he is looked upon as mad or even worse, a demon. The one bright spot is a lovely girl (Ann Blyth) who believes in him. Based on the play BERKELEY SQUARE by John L. Balderston which was previously made into a film in 1933 and directed by Roy Ward Baker (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT). A precursor to the popular 1980 romantic fantasy SOMEWHERE IN TIME, the present day footage is shot in B&W and resorts to Technicolor for the 1784 London section. Power and Blyth make for a beautiful couple but Power, who usually is a dashing romantic hero, seems too gloomy here which puts a damper on the romantic aspect of the movie. It easily holds one's interest but isn't gripping enough to invest any emotionality in the proceedings. I wanted to be swept up in the romanticism of it all but instead, I found myself an impartial observer. With Michael Rennie, Kathleen Byron, Beatrice Campbell, Dennis Price, Irene Browne and Felix Aylmer.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Book Club (2018)

Four lifelong friends (Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen) have formed a book club where they meet once a month to discuss a selected book they've all read. Bored with the current selection, Cheryl Strayed's WILD, Fonda suggest the sexual FIFTY SHADES OF GREY to stimulate their stagnant lives. Co-written and directed by Bill Holderman in his directorial debut. If you've seen the trailer, the film offers no surprises, it's all as clear as the label on the can. While the cast is excellent and it's thrilling to see what these four actresses can do with subpar material and turn the most innocuous of lines into spun gold more often than not, there's also an underlying sadness to the film in that these actresses deserve better. It's refreshing to see a film whose leads are over 65 years old but aren't portrayed as doddering seniors planning a heist. Instead, the film's emphasis is on how society marginalizes and patronizes older people as if their lives are over. The actresses are given strong leading men: Keaton gets Andy Garcia, Fonda gets Don Johnson, Bergen gets Richard Dreyfuss and Steenburgen gets Craig T. Nelson. Actors strong enough to stand head to toe with these wonder ladies. With Alicia Silverstone, Wallace Shawn and Ed Begley Jr.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Premature Burial (1962)

A man (Ray Milland) is obsessed with the thought of being buried alive and is convinced his father, a cataleptic, was buried alive and that will also be his fate. The concerted efforts of his wife (Hazel Court), sister (Heather Angel) and physician (Richard Ney) to persuade him otherwise fall on deaf ears. Based on the 1884 Edgar Allan Poe short story and directed by Roger Corman. This was the third entry in Corman's eight films based loosely on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. So how does it measure up to the others? I'd say it was one of the weaker ones. Ray Milland, who was around 55 at the time of filming, is way too mature to pass himself off as a medical student and it's all too obvious the character is that of a much younger man. While the Gothic atmosphere is as effective as ever (thanks to cinematographer Floyd Crosby and art director Daniel Haller), the film itself is rather sluggish and overextended with only the film's last 20 minutes or so creating any genuine suspense. With Alan Napier and Dick Miller. 

Myra Breckinridge (1970)

After a sex change operation, Myron (Rex Reed) becomes Myra (Raquel Welch) and goes to Los Angeles where claiming to be Myron's widow, she intends to get money from her Uncle Buck (John Huston) as part of an inheritance. Based on the novel by Gore Vidal and directed by Michael Sarne. One of the most notorious films of its era. It was one of the few films from a major studio to get an X rating, the making of the film was rife with personality clashes, the film went wildly over budget, the director would disappear for hours at a time, Vidal hated the final product as well as the director, etc. Vidal's novel was a clever satire written as a diary but director Sarne rewrote the David Giler screenplay (which Vidal liked) and the film became an unfocused mess, meandering all over the place with no clear structure. The stunt casting of Mae West as the sexually voracious talent agent (totally unlike the character of the novel) screwed up the film's chances of ever being taken seriously and as for the atrocity of Rex Reed's "acting", the less said the better. The film's saving grace is Welch who seems to be the only one taking the project seriously and "gets" it. An unholy mess it may be but it's still one of the most entertaining messes ever filmed. The large cast includes Farrah Fawcett, Tom Selleck, Andy Devine, Kathleen Freeman, Calvin Lockhart, Jim Backus, William Hopper, George Furth and Genevieve Waite.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Muse (1999)

A Hollywood screenwriter (Albert Brooks) finds his career hitting a wall. His very successful friend (Jeff Bridges) suggests he use the services of a real life Muse (Sharon Stone) to help inspire his creativity. Co-written (with Monica Johnson) and directed by Albert Brooks, this is a witty satire on Hollywood that didn't fare very well when it originally opened (reviews were mixed and it fared poorly at the box office). I thought it faltered only once toward the end with the doctors' visit but other than that, it's a satisfying comedy with one of Sharon Stone's best performances. I suppose it might have been too much of an "insiders" movie for mainstream audiences because I don't understand the film's fate considering Brooks' prior films were modest commercial successes. The underscore is by Elton John. With Andie MacDowell as Brooks' wife, Cybill Shepherd, Jennifer Tilly, Lorenzo Lamas, Bradley Whitford, Mark Feuerstein, James Cameron, Rob Reiner and Martin Scorsese.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Night And Day (1946)

The life of composer Cole Porter (Cary Grant) from his days at Yale University and his journey to becoming one of Broadway's and popular music's great composers with some tragedy along the way. Directed by Michael Curtiz, this is all too typical of 1940s movie musical biographies (WORDS AND MUSIC, TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY etc.) in that it's so highly fabricated that it's pure fiction with very little accuracy to the composer's real life. Situations and characters are created that never happened in real life for so called "dramatic license" but they're merely a bunch of the usual cliches strung together. In 2004, a somewhat more accurate account of Porter's life was made with Kevin Kline as Porter called DE-LOVELY. But if you can swallow the Technicolor fantasy, you're rewarded with those glorious Cole Porter songs like I've Got You Under My Skin, Night And Day, In The Still Of The Night, My Heart Belongs To Daddy, You're The Top, Begin The Beguine and so many others. The large cast includes Jane Wyman, Mary Martin, Dorothy Malone, Alexis Smith, Monty Woolley, Eve Arden, Ginny Simms, Donald Woods and Selena Royle.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1965)

When a young man (Frankie Avalon) is off in the Navy serving in the South Pacific, he enlists the help of a witch doctor (Buster Keaton) to keep tabs on his girlfriend (Annette Funicello) back in Malibu. It won't be easy as a wealthy playboy (Dwayne Hickman) sets his sights on her. Directed by William Asher, this was the sixth entry in the BEACH PARTY franchise. The franchise was running out of steam at this point and movie tastes were changing and this may be the worst of the BEACH PARTY movies. Everyone just seems to be going through the motions and the plot is barely there. There are much more songs and musical numbers than the usual BEACH PARTY movie and the unmemorable (I'm being kind) songs just seem like padding to keep the movie feature length. The most original and creative part of the movie are the colorful opening credits. Funicello was pregnant during the filming so not only is she never in a bathing suit, she's costumed in baggy clothes to hide the baby bump. With Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Montgomery, Brian Donlevy, Beverly Adams, John Ashley, Michele Carey and Michael Nader.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Five Steps To Danger (1957)

When his car breaks down in the California desert, a man (Sterling Hayden) accepts a ride form a mysterious woman (Ruth Roman) who needs to get to New Mexico in a hurry and asks him to help her drive. But soon he finds himself involved in cold war political intrigue and murder! Based on the novel THE STEEL MIRROR by Donald Hamilton (THE SILENCERS) and produced and directed by Henry S. Kesler. This low budget crime thriller is compact but fast moving so you never have time to get bored. It's not the kind of film that will hold up under intense scrutiny but it's an entertaining noir-ish diversion for its brief hour and 20 minute running time. The film benefits by the appealing presence of Ruth Roman and Sterling Hayden in the leads who have a nice rapport and there's a neat little unexpected twist near the end. With Werner Klemperer (HOGAN'S HEROES), Jeanne Cooper and Richard Gaines. 

Firecreek (1968)

A mild mannered farmer (James Stewart) is the titular sheriff of a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere. When a group of thugs headed by an outlaw (Henry Fonda) terrorize the town, everyone seems to sit back and let it happen. Directed by Vincent McEveety (HERBIE GOES TO MONTE CARLO), this western is not without interest but is it ever predictable. As a western, it offers no surprises, it's more or less a riff on HIGH NOON. I even guessed way in advance which character would fire the last shot in the movie. Stewart is a bit long in the tooth for his character and while Fonda is a couple of years older, his character could fit the age. This was the second western villain Fonda played in 1968, the other one was the superior ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. However, the "romance" (although it's really a one night stand) between Fonda and a young widow (Inger Stevens) isn't remotely believable and comes across as contrived. The nondescript score is by Alfred Newman. With Dean Jagger, Gary Lockwood, Ed Begley, Barbara Luna, Louise Latham, Jack Elam, Jay C. Flippen and Jacqueline Scott.

La Proprieta Non E Piu Un Furto (aka Property Is No Longer A Theft) (1973)

After a young bank clerk (Flavio Bucci) is denied a bank loan by his employer, he decides to exact his revenge on the bank's best customer, a rich property owner and butcher (Ugo Tognazzi). Directed by Elio Petri (INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION), this movie is a socialist anti-capitalist black comedy. Nothing wrong with that but even if you're in sympathy with the director's political ideals, the film is as didactic as one of those socially conscious Stanley Kramer films where we're lectured to as if we're backward children unable to grasp the simplest idea without it being hammered into us. It doesn't help that Bucci's bizarre performance (he seems to be playing a vampire in a horror movie) robs his character of any empathy. Indeed, all it ends up doing is making his victim, who is a capitalist pig, sympathetic in comparison. Petri's brutalization of the film's female characters (including Daria Nicolodi, DEEP RED) gives off an unpleasant misogynistic vibe. I get what Petri is trying to do but he's sabotaged his own movie. The score is by Ennio Morricone. With Mario Scaccia and Orazio Orlando. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Yoake Tsugeru Ru No Uta (aka Lu Over The Wall) (2018)

In a small Japanese fishing village, a sullen boy (Shota Shimoda) lives with his father and grandfather. He has a passion for music which his father and grandfather disapprove of. The village is also superstitious and fearful about the "merfolk" reputedly living in the coastal waters. Allegedly they eat people but when the boy meets a friendly mermaid (Kanon Tani), he finds out that she wants to be friends. She loves music and when she hears it, she not only grows legs but when she sings, people suddenly start dancing even if they don't want to! Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, this charming piece of Japanese anime is a product of Toho and not Studio Ghibli. The animation lacks the imagination and color of the best of the Ghibli vehicles. It's rather flat and simplistic actually but the loopy narrative compensates for any deficiency in the animation department. It has a family friendly fairy tale quality that might appeal to youngsters (it's also being released in an English dub) but there's an adult smartness to it that makes it more than a kiddies movie. Released last year in Japan and Europe and finally getting a U.S. release this month. Not a particularly showcase example of Japanese anime but quite enjoyable nevertheless.

Grease Live! (2016)

It's 1959 and a wholesome girl (Julianne Hough) from Utah is a new student at Rydell high school where she runs into her summer romance (Aaron Tveit) who she discovers isn't really the clean cut lifeguard she thought he was. He's a greaser! Based on the hit Broadway musical by way of the smash 1978 film and directed by Thomas Kail and Alex Rudzinski. Overall, this is a sensational production that captures the excitement of a live performance (it rained that day and the opening number incorporates the wet streets and umbrellas) while retaining elements from both the original stage production and the beloved film. Zachary Woodlee's choreography is wonderful and the camera work is a marvel as it whizzes and swirls all around the action. The opening number, a terrific rendition of Grease by Jesse J,  is done in a long uninterrupted single take that's as dazzling as TOUCH OF EVIL! Alas, Hough and Tveit are rather weak and the legacy of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John are safe. But the rest of the cast is good and sometimes better than that especially Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo. Her father died the day before but you'd never know it from performance (the production is dedicated to him). I liked the use of the live audience who at times are part of the musical itself. For fans of musicals, this is a must! With Carly Rae Jepsen (her rendition of All I Need Is An Angel is a highlight), Keke Palmer, Kether Donohue, Mario Lopez, Ana Gasteyer, Carlos Penavega, Eve Plumb, and from the film's cast (but in different roles): Didi Conn and Barry Pearl.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Power, Passion And Murder (1987)

Set in 1930s Hollywood, two stories run parallel to each other: a rising young actress (Michelle Pfeiffer) begins an affair with a married man (Brian Kerwin) that could destroy her career and the head (Darren McGavin) of a major studio is fighting to keep his position while his wife (Lois Chiles) is having a fling with one of the studio's stars (Steven Bauer). Originally produced for public television separately, the two stories were edited together to make a longer film. NATICA JACKSON (the Pfeiffer story) is based on a short story by John O'Hara (BUTTERFIELD 8) and directed by Paul Bogart while A TABLE AT CIRO'S (the McGavin story) is based on a story by Budd Schulberg (WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN?) and directed by Leon Ichaso. Both stories are similar in tone, the machinations of behind the scenes Hollywood where underneath the false glamour, we find a lot of heartbreak and pain. The O'Hara story is held together by an impressive performance by Pfeiffer while the Schulberg tale is more of an ensemble piece. Both well done although the editing allows the Schulberg piece to peak early and lets the O'Hara story take over. Also in the cast: Stella Stevens, Hector Elizondo, Kenneth McMillan, Holland Taylor, Donna Murphy, Sherilyn Fenn, Neva Patterson and Kim Myers.

North Sea Hijack (aka ffolkes) (1980)

A ship carrying supplies to oil rig platforms in the North Sea is hijacked by terrorists, who demand 25 million pounds from the British government or they will blow up the oil rig and all crew on it. The Prime Minister (Faith Brook) approves a plan to hire a cat loving misanthrope (Roger Moore), who's also a counter terrorism consultant, to thwart the terrorist's plan. Based on the novel ESTHER, RUTH AND JENNIFER by Jack Davies (who adapts his novel for the screen) and directed by Andrew V. McLaglen (SHENANDOAH). Surprisingly entertaining action film with an against type performance by Roger Moore, who seems to be relishing his role. Unusual for an action film, there aren't any major set pieces but McLaglen manages to keep the tension quotient tight and the film's finale generates some genuine suspense. A commercial disappointment when it opened, it deserves a bigger audience. The cast includes Anthony Perkins as the terrorist leader, James Mason, Michael Parks, David Hedison, George Baker, Jack Watson, Jennifer Hilary and Lea Brodie.  

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1976)

A handsome but narcissistic young aristocrat (Peter Firth) has his portrait painted by a friend and artist (Jeremy Brett). He is disturbed that his physical beauty is captured forever but he must age. His morally bankrupt mentor (John Gielgud) encourages his cynicism. Based on the 1890 novel by Oscar Wilde (his only novel) and directed by John Gorrie. This adaptation by John Osborne (LOOK BACK IN ANGER) stays more faithful to the Wilde source material than the famous 1945 film version. Osborne's most significant change is that he plays up the gay subtext only hinted at in the Wilde book. It's a straightforward affair with Gielgud stealing the show but then, he does have all the best lines. Firth's casting is problematic in that he doesn't possess the magnetism that would seem to draw people to Dorian Gray and he's not all that good looking either. Watered down though it is, the 1945 MGM film still remains the best of many versions (over 20 TV and film adaptations alone). With Judi Bowker as the tragic Sybil Vane, Nicholas Clay and Nicholas Ball.   

Up The Down Staircase (1967)

An idealistic new teacher (Sandy Dennis) gets a dose of reality when she gets a teaching post in an overcrowded and underfunded inner city school in New York. Burdened with the bureaucracy of paper work and unruly students who don't seem to want to learn, she begins to have second thoughts about teaching. Based on the novel by Bel Kaufman and directed by Robert Mulligan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD). Riddled with good intentions, the movie suffers from all the cliches of the "inspirational teacher" genre which is not a particular favorite of mine. If you've seen GOODBYE MR. CHIPS, THE CORN IS GREEN, TO SIR WITH LOVE etc., you've been down this path before. The movie overdoes it. I mean it's the school from Hell with all the students resembling a convention of neanderthals and the incompetent teachers and staff (save Dennis and Ruth White) in desperate need of psychological analyzing themselves. Everything is telegraphed, the student who is going to attempt suicide, the student who is going to sexually assault the teacher, etc. Fortunately, there is Sandy Dennis who manages to rise above all the stereotypes and cliches to keep us interested in the narrative. With Eileen Heckart, Jean Stapleton, Frances Sternhagen, Patrick Bedford, Sorrell Booke, Vinette Carroll and two performances that stand out: Florence Stanley as a guidance counselor and Jeff Howard as a problematic student. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Omega Man (1971)

After biological warfare has decimated the Earth's population in 1975, an Army doctor (Charlton Heston) appears to be the only survivor thanks to a vaccine. Two years later, he struggles to survive as the mutant survivors (who only come out at night) led by a former TV newsman (Anthony Zerbe) mark him for death. Based on the novel I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson and directed by Boris Sagal. This is the second adaptation of Matheson's novel. In 1964, Vincent Price starred in a film version called LAST MAN ON EARTH and in 2007, Will Smith starred in a third adaptation under the original novel's title. I suspect it will not be the last. This version is very good and the Panavision wide screen lensing by the great Russell Metty (TOUCH OF EVIL) captures the isolation and loneliness of being the last man on Earth. Heston's performance is solid and the only thing that really dates the film is Rosalind Cash's character, who is right out of a 70s blaxploitation film although she's very good. The movie borders on pretentiousness at times as when it suggests Heston is a Christ figure. The score by Ron Grainer is quite nice. With Paul Koslo, Lincoln Kilpatrick and Eric Laneuville. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Abilene Town (1946)

It's 1870 Kansas and homesteaders are moving in which angers the cattlemen considerably. But the town's U.S. Marshal (Randolph Scott) sees that the homesteaders would bring civilization to the wild West and when the cattlemen terrorize the homesteaders, he takes a stand. Based on the novel TRAIL TOWN by Ernest Haycox and directed by Edwin L. Marin (TALL IN THE SADDLE). This modest B western doesn't distinguish itself from the pack and it's very formulaic but that doesn't prevent it from being entertaining if you're not too demanding. Scott is the staunch clean cut hero, Edgar Buchanan provides the humor (such as it is), Ann Dvorak is the "bad" saloon girl and Rhonda Fleming is the "good" church going shopkeeper's daughter. If you're not a westerns buff, there's not much for you here. If you are, you should have a decent time. With Lloyd Bridges, Richard Hale and Helen Boyce. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Play Misty For Me (1971)

A disc jockey (Clint Eastwood) picks up a fan (Jessica Walter) at a bar and takes her home where they have sex. But what was intended to be a one night stand turns into a nightmare when she proves mentally unstable and stalks him until the situation eventually turns lethal. Directed by Eastwood in his directorial film debut, this psychological thriller signaled the emergence of one of the most important film directors in the coming decades. The film and role were a departure for Eastwood, who had found screen stardom in westerns and as an action hero. MISTY is Hitchcockian in tone and Eastwood's character an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. Also, the violence is quite graphic for its day although Eastwood doesn't dwell on it. Eastwood also shows his ability of getting great performances from actors (over 10 actors have received Oscar nominations under his direction) and Jessica Walter gives a chilling portrait of an obsessive psychopath. In 1987, FATAL ATTRACTION was a massive hit using basically the same narrative although Eastwood's womanizer in less sympathetic than Michael Douglas's philandering husband. The only downside are the scenes with Donna Mills which tend to slow the movie down. Not Mills' fault, it's just the least interesting part of the film. With John Larch, Irene Hervey and Don Siegel.

Gun Belt (1953)

A reformed gunslinger (George Montgomery) now owns a ranch and is soon to be married to his fiancee (Helen Westcott). But when his brother (John Dehner) breaks out of prison and frames him for a bank robbery, he must use his wits to prove his innocence. Directed by Ray Nazarro, this B western is a decent oater if you don't make too many demands on it. The screenplay (credited to Jack DeWitt and Richard Schayer) stuffs enough twists and turns to hold one's interest but it never rises above what it is and was always intended to be. Montgomery was never much of an actor and Tab Hunter as his hot tempered nephew is still pretty callow at this stage of his career so it allows Wiiliam Bishop as the film's bad guy to steal the acting honors. Among the supporting cast: Jack Elam, Douglas Kennedy and Willis Bouchey. 

The Scarlet Claw (1944)

While attending a conference on the occult in Quebec, Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and his assistant Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) are drawn into investigating a series of gruesome murders which the locals attribute to a legendary phantom monster. Holmes, however, suspects the "monster" has a very human form. Directed by Roy William Neill, this is an original screenplay not based on any of the Arthur Conan Doyle mysteries. Its place in the Holmes franchise is somewhere in the middle. Its similarities to HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES gives the movie an also ran quality and unlike BASKERVILLES, it's not a period film. Holmes even mentions Churchill and the film makers make Holmes more physical than usual as when he flips the killer over. As usual, the atmosphere provided is first rate and Rathbone and Bruce go through their paces like the good soldiers they are but I wouldn't have minded a bit more freshness. With Ian Wolfe, Paul Cavanagh, Kay Harding, Miles Mander and Gerald Hamer.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Richard III (1955)

The Duke of Gloucester (Laurence Olivier) resents his brother's (Cedric Hardwicke) ascension to the throne of England and plots to usurp the throne by eliminating those who stand in his way including his brother (John Gielgud). Based on the Shakespeare play and directed by Laurence Olivier. This is my favorite of Olivier's four filmed Shakespeare adaptations (the others were 1944's HENRY V, 1948's HAMLET, 1965'S OTHELLO) and in no small part to Olivier's brilliant performance. Even at its 2 1/2 plus hour running time, the Shakespeare play is cut to keep the movie focused on Richard's rancorous rise to power. It's not very cinematic until the film's final 20 minutes but the power of Olivier's performance infuses the film with a fascinating portrait of pure malevolence. The acting is first rate although save one, none of them equals Olivier's potency. An underplaying Claire Bloom as Lady Anne gives a fragile tenuous performance in her three scenes, both repelled yet fascinated by Richard as she eventually succumbs. Once again, William Walton provides a perfect underscore. The large cast includes Ralph Richardson, Stanley Baker, Pamela Brown, Helen Haye, Laurence Naismith and Michael Gough.  

Overboard (2018)

A single mother (Anna Faris) is working two jobs to support her kids and trying to pass her medical exams so she can get her nurse's license. When cleaning the yacht of a wealthy Mexican playboy (Eugenio Derbez), he refuses to pay her and pushes her overboard along with her cleaning equipment. When he washes up on shore with amnesia, her best pal (Eva Longoria) sees a way for her friend to get even. Directed by Rob Greenberg in his feature film debut, this remake of the 1987 Goldie Hawn comedy is a winner! As much as I loved the 1987 movie, I dare say this version is even better. In addition to the gender reversal (Hawn was the rich bitch and Kurt Russell the single father in the 1987 film), the movie takes the time to show the gradual growth of Derbez from a prick to a decent human being which wasn't the case earlier. There's an addition of a wealth of supporting characters to breathe some life and believability to the far fetched situation. Derbez is a terrific comic actor and Faris is so likable that you can overlook the film's overly sappy ending. I had a wonderful time at it and be sure and stay for the end credits which are hilarious and a highlight of the movie. With John Hannah, Swoosie Kurtz, Cecilia Suarez (very good) and Mel Rodriguez. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Cinema Verite (2011)

In 1971, a documentary film maker (James Gandolfini) approaches a Santa Barbara homemaker (Diane Lane) about filming her family's day to day life in a 10 hour series for public television. The family accepts and "reality" TV is born. Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the film attempts to take a behind the scenes look at how the groundbreaking documentary AN AMERICAN FAMILY came to be born and how it ended up being more than what it was intended to be.  But even then, "reality" television wasn't pure (it's gotten so much worse today) as its creator crossed lines and boundaries that manipulated what we ended up seeing. Although CINEMA VERITE provides an insightful look at both the so called "reality" of documentary film making when it has an agenda and what appears a typical American family on the surface unravels when the camera's eye turns on them, I wouldn't accept what we see here as fact either. The film provides another opportunity for the undervalued Diane Lane to shine, she's truly spectacular here. With Tim Robbins, Kathleen Quinlan, Patrick Fugit, Lolita Davidovich, Shanna Collins and Thomas Dekker.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Grease 2 (1982)

It's 1961 and the first day of the new school year at Rydell high school. A new student (Maxwell Caulfield) from England has his eye on the leader (Michelle Pfeiffer) of the school's Pink Laides but he's too square for her. So he decides to change his image. Directed and choreographed by Patricia Birch, this sequel to the 1978 massive hit GREASE has none of its predecessor's sincerity and innocence. It's basically a remake of the first film but with the genders switched. None of the songs are as good and Birch's choreography (she choreographed the first movie) is often ungainly. Pfeiffer is something else, a star waiting for the right vehicle (which would come the next year with SCARFACE) and her rendition of  Cool Rider is a musical highlight. Of course, all the students look like the world's oldest teenagers! It's really not as bad as its reputation would lead you to believe (who can resist a song called Rock A Hula Luau) but it's far from good. Also in the cast: Tab Hunter, Connie Stevens, Eve Arden, Adrian Zmed (awful!), Dody Goodman, Sid Caesar, Lorna Luft, Maureen Teefy, Christopher McDonald, Peter Frechette, Janet Jones and Didi Conn. 

5 Bambole Per La Luna D'agosto (aka 5 Dolls For An August Moon) (1970)

A wealthy industrialist (Teodor Corra) hosts a private weekend party at a private island. But when a houseboy (Mauro Bosco) is found murdered, it is only the beginning of the body count. And of course, all communication with the outside is cut off and there's no way to get off the island. Directed by Mario Bava in the style of TEN LITTLE INDIANS, this is Agatha Christie meets Eurotrash. Not one of Bava's strongest vehicles, it's a fun giallo if extremely far fetched. Definitely a case of style over substance. The oddest character is a young teen girl (Justine Gall) who drifts around the edges of the film. You're not sure if she's one of the guests or some odd waif who lives somewhere on the island. Never released in the United States, it remains one of Bava's most divisive films (Bava himself dismisses it) while some of his admirers defend it. There's a nice 70s easy listening score by Mario Umilani. With Ira Von Furstenberg, William Berger, Edwige Fenech, Maurice Poli, Renato Rossini and Helena Ronee. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A Woman's Devotion (1956)

A decorated WWII veteran (Ralph Meeker), now a rather well known painter, and his his new wife (Janice Rule) are honeymooning in Acapulco. But the vet is suffering from what we now call PTS disorder and has bouts of amnesia. When two local women turn up murdered, the local head of police (Paul Henreid, who also directed) believes the artist is responsible. The film's title suggests a movie romance but, in fact, this is a psychological thriller. The dialog is often clunky but Meeker and Rule (who had starred in PICNIC on Broadway 3 years earlier) are good enough actors to smooth over the bumps. No so for Henreid as the Mexican police officer who doesn't even bother to hide his Austrian accent. He's the only non Mexican playing a Mexican and perhaps he should have cast another actor in the part. The film benefits enormously from the beautiful Acapulco locations handsomely lensed in Trucolor by Jorge Stahl Jr. (GARDEN OF EVIL). The most interesting aspect of the film is that the policeman is interested in the wife so one can't help but wonder if he's persecuting the husband out of jealousy. The score is by Les Baxter. With Jose Torvay and Rosenda Monteros (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN).