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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Doomsday Machine (1972)

Red China has a doomsday machine capable of destroying the Earth that is set to be detonated in 72 hours. The U.S. hurriedly sends up a spaceship going to Venus and replaces three members of the male crew with women. In case Earth is destroyed, they want the human race to repopulate. Directed by Harry Hope and Lee Sholem. This low budget piece of cheesy science fiction is incredibly bad. The special effects are jaw dropping awful and the production values are cheap. It should be more fun than it is but you can't help but be embarrassed for the actors. It's the kind of film where when one of the female scientists (Ruta Lee) removes her glasses, the hero (Denny Miller) says, "You look beautiful!"! The film makes no sense whatsoever. Why would Red China set off an atomic device that would destroy the entire world including itself? The ship's meteorologist (Lorri Scott) looks 16 years old and walks around in a bath towel. Who wrote this stuff? The film began in 1967 but ran out of money and was finished 5 years later without the original cast. The new scenes are obvious when the film's finale is shot in darkness and not only do we never see the actors' faces, their voices belong to different people! For connoisseurs of bad movies, this is a favorite. With Mala Powers, Grant Williams (in the film's worst performance which is saying something), James Craig, Bobby Van, Henry Wilcoxon and Mike Farrell. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Remontons Les Champs Elysees (1938)

A school teacher (Sacha Guitry) tells his class the history of the Champs Elysees which involves several historical personages including Louis XV (Sacha Guitry), Napoleon (Emile Drain) and Richard Wagner (Robert Pizani) among others. Written and directed by Sacha Guitry, this is an odd little film. There's no real point to it, not really and if there is, I missed it. It's a series of vignettes which while fictional interpolate actual historical characters into the narrative. It's often amusing as the segment in which King Louis XV (Guitry) is told by a fortune teller that he will die six months after his best friend (Lucien Baroux) dies and forces his friend to live a healthy life without excess while he does the exact opposite. The movie attempts to cram a lot of history in under two hours but does so with charm but I hope no one takes this as an actual history lesson as the film isn't really concerned with accuracy. The large cast has many actors playing more than one role. With Jean Davy, Jeanne Boitel, Lisette Lanvin and Raymond Galle.   

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Fall Of The Roman Empire (1964)

In 180 A.D., the benevolent Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness) dies and the succession falls to his son Commodus (Christopher Plummer) who does not have the best interest of Rome at heart. Thus begins the slow but inevitable decline of the Roman Empire. Directed by Anthony Mann, this is one of the most intelligent and literate of the Hollywood spectaculars along with SPARTACUS and the 1963 CLEOPATRA. The look of the film is simply astounding. Ancient Rome was literally rebuilt in Spain (reputedly the largest outdoor set in film history) and it literally has a cast of thousands (ten thousands would be more accurate). The film is pre-CGI so when thousands of people gather among the massive structures, they are humans and not computer generated images. The Roman Forum sequence is jaw dropping with the production and set design of Veniero Colasanti  and John Moore, thousands of costumed background and Dimitri Tiomkin's superb underscore pounding away! Stephen Boyd is on the weak side as commander of the Roman army in a role that would have been perfect for Charlton Heston. But there are strong performances by Guinness, James Mason and especially Plummer. With Sophia Loren as Lucilla, the daughter of Marcus Aurelius, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, Mel Ferrer and John Ireland.  

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Festival In Cannes (2001)

At the 1999 Cannes film festival, a group of film makers and aspiring film makers wheel and deal, scheme and backstab and play games in love, art and the movie business: an actress (Greta Scacchi) wants to direct a script she's written, an aging French actress (Anouk Aimee) is torn between two film projects, an "artistic" director (Maximilian Schell) attempts to bag a big budget Hollywood film, a producer (Ron Silver) is in danger of losing Tom Hanks as the star of his movie if he doesn't get the right actress, a newcomer (Jenny Gabrielle) has a hit film at the festival but she doesn't know if she wants to become a movie star and a hustler (Zack Norman) plays everybody against each other. Written and directed by Henry Jaglom, this is an often amusing behind the scenes satire of the international film business. But it's still not very good. The film has an improvisational quality to it and I'm sure Jaglom thought it would give the film a naturalism rather than a scripted feel. Unfortunately, what it does is make the whole thing seem amateurish. It doesn't help that outside of Aimee, Schell, Scacchi and Silver the rest of the cast are pretty awful from the supremely untalented Jenny Gabrielle to godawful Zack Norman. The glamorous Cannes setting (actually filmed during the 1999 festival) helps a lot in enjoying the film. With Faye Dunaway, William Shatner and Peter Bogdanovich. 

Blindspotting (2018)

Set in Oakland, California, a convicted African American felon (Daveed Diggs) has three days to go on his probation. But the reckless behavior of his volatile white best friend (Rafael Casal) just might get him back in prison. Written by Diggs and Casal and directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada. This potent film seems fresh and original with its own perspective. You keep expecting the cliches and you think you know where it's going but it surprises you at almost every turn. Which is not to say I didn't have any problems with it. Sadly, like too many recent good films it botches the ending so badly that it near ruins the film. HEREDITARY and FIRST REFORMED also come to mind. This is a pity because what comes before it is terrific stuff. But it's not just the ending, a rap speech in a contrived situation that comes off as phony when everything before it seems raw and real. Casal's performance doesn't always ring true either. I don't think it's the script, another actor might have blended the performance more naturally with the same script. The film makes sharp observations on gentrification and indirectly on white privilege. Diggs is excellent as is Janina Gavankar as his ex-girlfriend. With Wayne Knight, Tisha Campbell Martin (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) and Jasmine Cephas Jones. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Strange Woman (1946)

In 1834 Maine, a cruel young girl (Hedy Lamarr) with ambitious dreams of wealth marries a rich older man (Gene Lockhart) she doesn't love. She does love his son (Louis Hayward) however. But her lies and manipulations to get what she wants destroys everything around her. Based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams (LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN) and directed by Edgar G. Ulmer (DETOUR). Normally thought of as a beauty rather than an actress, this vehicle provides Lamarr's with one of her best roles and best performances.  The similarities between the amoral (or evil depending on your point of view) Lamarr here and Gene Tierney in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN are obvious. It's not as polished as HEAVEN but Ulmer gives the film a feverish ferocity. The elegant George Sanders is miscast as a lumberjack who falls under Lamarr's spell. Sanders is usually the one who sees through everybody else but here, he's a dupe and it doesn't play. They would be better paired three years in SAMSON AND DELILAH.  With Hillary Brooke, Rhys Williams, Alan Napier, Ray Teal and Edith Evanson.

Jack Of Diamonds (1967)

Against the advice of his mentor (Joseph Cotten), a cat burglar (George Hamilton) continues to risk exposure not only by his daring robberies but his carelessness. However, he agrees to join forces with his mentor and a rival (Marie Laforet) and her mentor (Maurice Evans) in the most daring robbery yet! Directed by Don Taylor (ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES). Gentleman thieves have been a staple of movie going all the way back to RAFFLES (1930). Perhaps the benchmark for these films is Hitchcock's TO CATCH A THIEF. But George Hamilton is no Cary Grant or even a David Niven. Where charm needs to be, we get arrogance. The big jewel heist isn't particularly thrilling nor is it executed with any technique. The European locations are nice to look at but what the film is missing is style. Whatever merits the film may have had are undermined by a cheesy underscore by Peter Thomas. With Carroll Baker, Lilli Palmer, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Wolfgang Preiss.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Dead Zone (1983)

When a school teacher (Christopher Walken) wakes up from a coma after five years, he discovers he has the power to see into the future. This gift (or curse) will play itself out for high stakes. Based on the novel by Stephen King and directed by David Cronenberg (DEAD RINGERS). One of the better film adaptations of King's horror novels. The details of the narrative are often sloppy. Surely even in 1983, security for political candidates wasn't so lax and after an attempt at a political assassination, everybody vanishes. Where are the police, ambulances, reporters or gawkers? The actors are left to play out the scene alone. That aside, Cronenberg keeps a firm rein on the proceedings and the film is graced with a strong performance by Walken which gives credence to some of the far fetched plot. There's a beauty of an underscore by Michael Kamen. With Martin Sheen in an eerily prescient performance as a thuggish Trump like politician, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Colleen Dewhurst, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Nicholas Campbell and Jackie Burroughs. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Girl With Green Eyes (1964)

A young Irish country girl (Rita Tushingham) moves to the city of Dublin after her convent school education. When she meets a much older man (Peter Finch), she falls in love with him but she isn't mature enough to handle the realities of love versus the romanticism of it. Based on the novel THE LONELY GIRL by Edna O'Brien (who adapted her book for the screen) and directed by Desmond Davis (CLASH OF THE TITANS). I don't think I've seen a more adept film that examines the immaturity of someone too young to understand the machinations of love, especially when dealing with the relationship of a naive youngster and a more mature adult who knows too well the messiness of love. For those of us who've been there, it's almost painful watching poor Rita Tushingham making such obvious missteps and you just want to cry out, "Oh, honey don't!". It's a compassionate and affecting drama wonderfully acted by Tushingham and Finch. I could have done without the film's last few seconds which seem tacked on but other than that, it's a lovely piece of cinema. With Lynn Redgrave, Marie Kean and Julian Glover.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Legend Of Lizzie Borden (1975)

In August 1892 in the town of Fall River, Massachusetts, a spinster (Elizabeth Montgomery) is the prime suspect in the brutal hatchet murders of her father (Fritz Weaver) and stepmother (Helen Craig). Directed by Paul Wendkos (THE MEPHISTO WALTZ), this film faithfully follows the facts in the telling of the notorious Lizzie Borden murders though the movie takes the tack that she was guilty although she was, in fact, acquitted for the killings which were never solved. Elizabeth Montgomery gives a splendid performance, always keeping us in doubt of her guilt or innocence but with just enough suspicion to tip the hat. The European theatrical cut (which I've not seen) is slightly longer by four minutes and more graphic in Montgomery's nude scene. Montgomery's excellent work aside, the film itself is a solid courtroom drama. The large supporting cast includes Fionnula Flanagan, Katherine Helmond, Ed Flanders, Don Porter, Bonnie Bartlett, Gail Kobe, Gloria Stuart and John Beal.

Man Of The World (1931)

An American (William Powell) who fled the country to avoid the law now lives in Paris where along with his two cohorts (Wynne Gibson, George Chandler), they bilk rich American tourists. When he meets a wealthy American heiress (Carole Lombard), his plans to extort her give him second thoughts when he falls in love with her. Directed by Richard Wallace (FALLEN SPARROW), this pre-code movie romance is unusual in that instead of a conventionally happy ending, it gives us a somber downbeat finale. Powell is very good in a role light years away from the light hearted witty Nick Charles of THE THIN MAN movies. We're as conflicted about him as he is about himself. Lombard is charming, not yet the Queen of screwball comedy. It's bittersweet ending adds some weight that the film might not otherwise have. With Guy Kibbee and Lawrence Gray.  

Island Of Lost Women (1959)

A radio journalist (Jeff Richards) and his pilot (John Smith) are forced to crash land on an uncharted island in the Pacific. To their surprise, they find the island is inhabited by a missing nuclear scientist (Alan Napier) and his three beautiful daughters (Venetia Stevenson, June Blair, Diane Jergens). But the scientist is not pleased by his domain being invaded and he views the men as a threat. Directed by Frank Tuttle (THIS GUN FOR HIRE), this rather silly but amusing (but perhaps not intentionally so) nonsense comes across as a low budget rip off of FORBIDDEN PLANET (itself a riff on Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST) but only this time, its "mad" scientist has three daughters instead of one. You probably already know if schlock like this appeals to you or not. As long as you don't take it seriously, it's fun in its naive sort of way. The cinematography is by John Seitz and a long way from his stellar work on DOUBLE INDEMNITY and SUNSET BOULEVARD.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

After the death of her mother (Meryl Streep), a young woman (Amanda Seyfried) attempts to carry on with the hotel that her mother owned. With her fiance (Dominic Cooper) away in New York, she must deal with the process alone. Intercut with her story, is the story of her mother's (Lily James) first visit to Greece and her own romantic tribulations as she maps out her life. By all rights, this sequel to the massive 2008 international hit should be godawful. Miraculously, dare I say it, it's pure joy and better than the first installment! Directed by Ol Parker (BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL), I was optimistic after the opening number with Lily James tearing up WHEN I KISSED THE TEACHER and by the time of the second number, Seyfried and Cooper dueting on ONE OF US, I breathed a sigh of relief. The movie was in good hands. Everyone from the first film returns along with some newbies like Cher as Seyfried's grandmother. The ABBA songs are as irresistible as ever and even though their lesser known songs take precedence, it worked for me as they were less familiar and thus more surprising. The end credits of the entire cast performing SUPER TROUPER kept the audience from leaving and even applauding. Oh yes, I'll definitely be revisiting it. With Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Christine Baranski, Andy Garcia, Julie Walters, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, Celia Imrie and Maria Vacratsis who steals every scene she's in.

The Admiral Was A Lady (1950)

A young woman (Wanda Hendrix) is jilted by her boyfriend and ready to take the bus back home when she is taken under the wing of an ex-WWII airman (Edmond O'Brien) and his friends. What she doesn't know is that the airman is being blackmailed by a millionaire (Rudy Vallee) to keep the girl from going home. The reason? The millionaire's ex-wife (Hillary Brooke) has run off with the girl's fiance and he wants to rejoin the couple so his ex will come back to him. Directed by Albert S. Rogell, this is a listless attempt at screwball comedy. O'Brien is a fine dramatic actor but comedy is not his forte and he's really a character actor, not a romantic leading man. Thin material like this needs charismatic Stars to overcome its weaknesses, not second tier players. It's not bad really but neither the cast nor the director seem to have a grip on comedy technique. Chalk it up as a miss. With Steve Brodie, Richard Erdman, Lurene Tuttle and Johnny Sands. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Look Back In Anger (1959)

A disillusioned angry working class but educated young man (Richard Burton) rails against the establishment. The brunt of his rage often falls on his wife (Mary Ure). When an actress friend (Claire Bloom) of his wife visits them for a few weeks, everything comes to a head. Based on the play by John Osborne and directed by Tony Richardson (TOM JONES). This film was the first of its kind in the so called "kitchen sink" realism or "angry young man" films that would soon revolutionize British cinema in the 1960s. British cinema had been devoted to the upper class for so long that this revealing look at working class Brits was startling and long overdue. The writing is first rate and Burton is excellent. He restrains his tendency to chew scenery for the most part and when he lets it out, it's appropriate. The downside is that to modern audiences, his character often comes across as boorish and cruel and even self pitying. Not a particularly sympathetic character even if you understand his anger. The performances are uniformly good including Gary Raymond as Burton's best pal and there's a lovely turn by Edith Evans as a cockney mother figure. With Donald Pleasence, Glenn Byam Shaw, Nigel Davenport and George Devine.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Dentist In The Chair (1960)

Two dental students (Bob Monkhouse, Ronnie Stevens) purchase dental equipment from a man (Kenneth Connor) purporting to be a salesman. It turns out, he is a thief who stole the instruments. Once they realize they've purchased stolen property, the race is on to restore the instruments to the proper place before the police arrest them. Based on the book by Matthew Finch and directed by Don Chaffey (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS). I've never been much of a fan of British comedy especially British low comedy and this unfunny offering is a perfect example of why. However, the Brits lapped it up and the film was popular enough to spawn a sequel, DENTIST ON THE JOB the following year. The cast goes into overdrive flapping their wings in an attempt to convince us that it's fuuny but only Kenneth Connor seems to have comedic timing in his veins. Coincidentally, the same year as this laborious effort, there was a film which had some amusing dentist sequences, Corman's LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. With Peggy Cummins (GUN CRAZY), Eric Barker and Eleanor Summerfield. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

To Live And Die In L.A. (1985)

After his partner (Michael Greene) of seven years is brutally murdered by a counterfeiter (Willem Dafoe), a Secret Service agent (William Petersen) will go to any lengths to avenge him even if it means breaking the law. But this path to vengeance turns into a journey into hell. Based on the novel by Gerald Petievich and directed by William Friedkin (THE EXORCIST), who co-wrote the screenplay along with Petievich, a former Secret Service agent. This intense kinetic action thriller is an astounding rollercoaster ride. It's sort of Friedkin's L.A. take on his previous THE FRENCH CONNECTION including a breathtaking car chase through the streets and freeways. To his credit, Friedkin keeps the film's dark descent right to the very end with each and every character either morally bankrupt or at least complicit. With the exception of John Pankow, very weak and never quite believable, as Petersen's new partner, the acting is excellent right down the line. Robby Muller's (BREAKING THE WAVES) cinematography is simply awesome. The underscore is by Wang Chung. With Dean Stockwell, John Turturro, Debra Feuer and Darlanne Fluegel.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Having Wonderful Crime (1945)

When a lawyer (Pat O'Brien) accompanies his newlywed friends (George Murphy, Carole Landis) on their honeymoon to a mountain resort, they find themselves thrust into the roles of sleuths when a dead body turns up in a trunk in their hotel room. Based on the novel by Craig Rice and directed by A. Edward Sutherland. I'm a huge fan of murder mysteries and comedic murder mysteries are a welcome bonus. Unfortunately, this blend of screwball comedy and whodunit is muddled and its humor juvenile. The three leading players are game and act as if they are playing in a riotous comedy but one can't help but notice the air of desperation as if they knew they were floundering. It's not unwatchable by any means but it's pretty disposable. Mercifully at a running time of one hour and ten minutes, it's over quickly. With George Zucco, Lenore Aubert and Anje Berens.  

The Master Builder (1988)

A successful architect (Leo McKern) in a small Norwegian town is visited by a young woman (Miranda Richardson) who he had met ten years previously as a teenage girl. They had had a momentary dalliance and he romantically promised her he would give her a kingdom and now, she is here to claim it. Based on the 1892 play by Henrik Ibsen and directed by Michael Darlow. This complex and multi layered work is challenging to the intellect and if done poorly, a challenge to get through. I've seen several productions (including the Jonathan Demme 2014 modernized film version) and this production is the best I've seen. This is due in no small part to the three superb central performances (the third is Jane Lapotaire as the wife) who seem to understand their characters only too well and delve deeply into them which provides an intense experience. If you've never seen THE MASTER BUILDER, this is the production to go with. The subdued underscore is by Francis Shaw. With David Markham, Sebastian Shaw and Natalie Ogle.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Showdown (1963)

A cowboy (Audie Murphy) and his best pal (Charles Drake) drift into a small town. When the friend gets drunk and attacks the sheriff, both men are put in iron collars and chained to a notorious gang headed by a killer (Harold J. Stone). But when the gang escapes, the two cowpokes are forced to go with them. Directed by R.G. Springsteen, this minor western surprises by offering up more than just the usual shoot 'em up action of B westerns. Notably in its characterizations and the moral choices they have made and must make. Murphy is decent enough but the two most interesting characters are Drake's weak willed gambler and drunk who's only half a man without his partner and Kathleen Crowley as a bruised and bitter hard hearted saloon girl. For a Universal western from the 1960s, the movie doesn't have that Universal back lot feel. The exteriors were shot in Lone Pine, California and  Ellis W. Carter's (THE DEADLY MANTIS) B&W lensing does him proud. With Skip Homeier, Strother Martin, Dabbs Greer and L.Q. Jones.

L'Avventura (1960)

A group of upper class Romans are on a leisurely cruise on the Mediterranean when one of them, a young girl (Lea Massari), goes missing on a barren island. Her fiance (Gabriele Ferzetti) and her best friend (Monica Vitti) look for her. At first, in earnest then half heartedly as they give in to their mutual attraction to each other. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, this is one of the greatest as well as influential films in cinema. Its examination of contemporary alienation is subtle and devastating. The missing girl becomes irrelevant as the spiritually bankrupt group of people randomly reach out to each other in the hope of some emotional contact, usually in the form of sex, but finding only more emptiness. There had been nothing like it before and unfortunately, its spawn of imitators never equaled its artistry. Visually, the film is a feast and Aldo Scavarda's B&W images and compositions are stunning. Indeed, the film's final shot may be my favorite last shot ever! It's an often difficult and challenging film. I've had friends I've recommended the film to complain that nothing's happening. Of course, a lot is happening when you look beyond the surface. One of the genuine masterpieces of 20th century cinema.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1941)

Dr. Jekyll (Spencer Tracy) is doing research and experimentation on the duality of man's nature, his good and his evil inhabiting the same soul. To this end, he invents a serum to facilitate this change. He names his evil side Mr. Hyde. But soon his experiment goes out of control and he no longer can contain it. Based on the book by Robert Louis Stevenson and directed by Victor Fleming (GONE WITH THE WIND). There have been countless versions of Stevenson's novella on stage, film and TV. I like this version best. MGM during its "golden age" wasn't much on horror films (that was Universal's domain). This has the usual lush MGM trappings but it remains an intense descent into horror. Unlike Fredric March in 1932 version, Tracy doesn't overdo the make up and depends on his acting to transition into Mr. Hyde and shows us what a sadistic brute can be. But the acting honors go to Ingrid Bergman who is superb as the cockney barmaid who has the misfortune to encounter Mr. Hyde and becomes his abused (both psychologically and physically) mistress. Your heart breaks for her, trapped and unable to escape his clutches. There's a wonderful score by Franz Waxman. With Lana Turner as Jekyll's peaches and cream fiancee, Donald Crisp, Ian Hunter, C. Aubrey Smith, Sara Allgood, Barton MacLane and Frances Robinson.

Skyscraper (2018)

An ex-FBI agent (Dwayne Johnson) is in Hong Kong with his wife (Neve Campbell) and kids (McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell) where he works as a security expert for the world's tallest skyscraper over 225 stories high. When a group of terrorists invade the building and proceed to wreak havoc, he risks everything to save his wife and children. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (WE'RE THE MILLERS), this mixture of DIE HARD and TOWERING INFERNO is a mindless movie that even the film makers don't take seriously. Forget logic, the abundant loopholes and preposterous action pieces. Even Johnson before he does one of his absurd stunts quips, "This is stupid!". The film makes Johnson's character an amputee with one leg but that doesn't stop him from climbing a massive crane above the skyscraper's fire line, running down the crane and make a flying leap into the air and onto the skyscraper! Neve Campbell as his wife is equally plucky. When she has to walk a thin catwalk high above a burning inferno, she does it in high heels! As the chief villain, ex-con turned actor Roland Moller's Danish accent is so think it renders his dialog unintelligible. I got my $8 worth of entertainment and I wasn't bored but it's not something I'd care to sit through again. With Chin Han, Noah Taylor and Pablo Schreiber.    

Friday, July 13, 2018

Sandokan, La Tigre Di Mompracem (aka Sandokan The Great) (1963)

When British forces murder his family in British ruled Malaya, a surviving son (Steve Reeves) turns revolutionary in an attempt to overthrow the cruel British oppressors. Directed by Umberto Lenzi (CANNIBAL FEROX), this is a change of pace for Steve Reeves. It's not a peplum movie and Reeves trades in his loin cloth and sandals for silk and brocade. It's a decent piece of Italian made hokum but it lacks the kitsch factor of his more entertaining sword and sandal epics. It's just not as fun. Filmed in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in Techniscope, it looks nice and features an underscore by Giovanni Fusco (L'AVVENTURA). It probably plays best to young boys (and big boys) for whom the film's earnestness overcomes any lack of intelligence in the narrative. With Genevieve Grad as the movie's romantic interest, Andrea Bosic, Rik Battaglia and Leo Anchoriz.  

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thunder Bay (1953)

Set in 1946 Louisiana, an engineer (James Stewart) and his partner (Dan Duryea) have come up with a plan for off shore drilling for oil that could make them very rich. However the local fishermen who make a living from the shrimp in the gulf are distrustful of the oil men. Directed by Anthony Mann (WINCHESTER 73), this film plays out differently than it probably did in 1953. The off shore oil drillers are the heroes of the film while the villagers are portrayed as ignorant and distrustful and impeding progress. Today, I doubt there would be much sympathy for big oil. That aside, it's a rather trite action film overall with the standard fist fights and romance. The film is notable in that it was Universal's first wide screen film and first stereo film. The fourth of the eight films James Stewart and Anthony Mann made together and I'd say their least interesting collaboration if it weren't for THE GLENN MILLER STORY. There's a nice hurricane sequence in the middle of the movie. With Joanne Dru, Gilbert Roland, Marcia Henderson, Jay C. Flippen and Fortunio Bonanova. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Topaze (1933)

A corrupt and powerful but wealthy businessman (Reginald Mason) hires a meek and naive academic (John Barrymore) to front his latest product ... a supposed health tonic which is nothing but water. Based on the play by Marcel Pagnol and directed by D'Abbadie D'Arrast. John Barrymore has a reputation as a great stage actor, one of the greatest of his generation. But his film performances often tend to be generous slices of ham. In TOPAZE, his acting is quite understated and we can see why he earned his reputation as a great actor. The screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (THE FRONT PAGE) is intelligent and effective and as one of the last films of the pre-code era, it's quite adult. The relationship between the married Mason and his mistress (Myrna Loy) isn't just suggested, it's out in the open. There's a lot of charm and bite here as the film examines morality facing an uphill climb in a corrupt society. With Jackie Searl and Jobyna Howland.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

40 Carats (1973)

When her car breaks down while vacationing in Greece, a middle aged woman (Liv Ullmann) spends the night on a beach with a much younger man (Edward Albert). When back in Manhattan, she is shocked when her teenage daughter (Deborah Raffin) is picked up by a date ... who turns out to be the young man she spent the night with on the beach! Based on the Broadway play by Jay Presson Allen and directed by Milton Katselas (BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE). The film version changes the play's less positive ending (which I'm glad about). It's not a particularly good play and the film version is hampered by Liv Ullmann in the central role. Ullmann is one of the world's great actresses but a comedienne she's not and the majority of the film is a light comedy. Ullmann has problems delivering a quip that Doris Day would have slam dunked! She's much more comfortable in the film's final moments which are more dramatic and it's clear she's on familiar territory. With Gene Kelly, Binnie Barnes, Nancy Walker, Natalie Schafer, Rosemary Murphy (in the film's best performance), Don Porter and Billy Green Bush. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Moonrise (1948)

A tortured young man (Dane Clark) is stigmatized because of his father who was convicted and hanged for murder. In a fit of rage, he kills one (Lloyd Bridges) of his tormentors and attempts to hide the body. But as the law slowly closes in around him, he attempts to come to terms with his legacy. Based on the novel by Theodore Strauss and directed by Frank Borzage (7TH HEAVEN). This noir-ish crime film is atypical of Borzage's filmography. Indeed, unlike most film noirs, its ending isn't fatalistic, there are no femme fatales and a positive future seems to lie ahead for its protagonists. The entire movie is filmed in the studio and the film uses sound stage exteriors, even the woods and swamps as well as an "outdoor" carnival. This, along with John L. Russell's (PSYCHO) B&W cinematography gives the film an expressionistic, almost surreal look. Dane Clark doesn't quite have the acting chops (John Garfield was originally penciled in when William Wellman was on board to direct) to inhabit the complexities of his character. I'm not as enamored of it as its critical reputation would suggest, but definitely worth checking out. With the lovely sad eyed Gail Russell, Ethel Barrymore (third billed but only shows up in the last 10 minutes), Allyn Joslyn (excellent), Rex Ingram and Selena Royle.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris (1975)

In 1968, an off Broadway revue consisting of four singers entitled JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS opened to great success and ran for four years and spawned countless international and regional productions. Directed by Denis Heroux, this was an attempt to put the stage revue in cinematic form. Unfortunately, it's a cluttered mess. The Brel songs remain, as ever, marvelous but Heroux directs with a sledgehammer. It's just too busy. We yearn to see the talented singers just sing the songs but Heroux illustrates the songs with visual accompaniment as if our imagination isn't up to the task of letting the lyrics tell us the story. There's a band of hippies wandering through out the movie at regular intervals which looks like a bad high school production of GODSPELL. Only once do the visuals help the song rather than hurt it and that's with Elly Stone's rendition of CAROUSEL. The film's most powerful moment is when Brel himself sits at a table with a cigarette and a glass of beer and sings NE ME QUITTE PAS with no visuals, no fancy camera work, no cutaways, just the man and the song. In addition to Elly Stone, the two other singers are Mort Shuman and Joe Masiell.

Six Bridges To Cross (1955)

After he shoots a teenager (Sal Mineo) running away after robbing a store, a cop (George Nader) attempts to mentor the kid so that he will turn into a good citizen. But as he (now Tony Curtis) grows up, the lure of crime proves to be too much and the relationship between the two men is strained. Based on THEY STOLE $25,000,000 AND GOT AWAY WITH IT by Joseph Dinneen and directed by Joseph Pevney. Using the the famous 1950 Great Brinks Robbery in Boston as a template, the story is fictional. Universal did send the film crew to Boston rather than shooting it on the Universal backlot to insure more realism. Handsomely shot in B&W by William Daniels (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF), the film has a grittier look than a studio bound movie. Curtis was already showing the burgeoning talent that would blossom two years later in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS but the often overlooked Nader gives a solid performance too. Sammy Davis Jr. sings the title song which was composed by Henry Mancini and Jeff Chandler (yes, the actor). With Julie Adams, Jay C. Flippen, Jan Merlin and Don Keefer.

Kiss Me Kill Me (1976)

When a quiet respectable school teacher (Tisha Sterling) is brutally stabbed to death, the police detective (Stella Stevens) working on the case discovers that the teacher was actually leading a double life. At night, she was cruising bars and picking up men of every persuasion until one night, she brought the wrong man home. If the scenario sounds familiar, it should. The novel LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR was published in 1975 and a film version came out in 1977. In between, this TV movie ripped off the premise. Actually, the movie was intended as a pilot for a proposed TV series with Stella Stevens as a detective along the lines of POLICE WOMAN with Angie Dickinson but it wasn't picked up. As a telefilm, it's decent enough and Stevens is very good but it's quite ordinary although quite "adult" for a TV movie at that time. It may have been the first time the word "semen" was used in prime time TV and the gay bar scene in L.A. is explored. Directed by Michael O'Herlihy. The cast includes Robert Vaughn, Dabney Coleman, Pat O'Brien, Claude Akins, Bruce Boxleitner, Bruce Glover and Michael Anderson Jr.

The Out Of Towners (1970)

A small town Ohio businessman (Jack Lemmon) accompanied by his wife (Sandy Dennis) goes on a business trip to New York where he is a candidate for a prestigious position at corporate headquarters. However, they're not even off the plane before the New York visit turns into a nightmare of epic proportions. As in Murphy's law, everything that could go wrong does go wrong. Written by Neil Simon and directed by Arthur Hiller (AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY). This cornucopia of laughter may be Neil Simon's finest cinematic hour. Lemmon and Dennis have mannerisms that are problematic in that they can often be annoying however it's those very mannerisms that often infuse their work (in the right roles) to acting heights. Here, Lemmon's exhausting high strung act fits in perfectly and this is my favorite Sandy Dennis performance (some of her line readings are priceless). Manhattan doesn't come across very nice (it's okay, it can take it) but it's all in good fun. Remade in 1999 with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn but they monkeyed around with it and lost their way. With Anne Meara, Billy Dee Williams, Paul Dooley, Sandy Baron, Ron Carey, Ann Prentiss and Anthony Holland. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Lonely Hearts (2007)

Set in the late 1940s, a con man (Jared Leto) bilks lonely women by romancing them and absconding with their money. But when he meets a woman (Salma Hayek) who puts her mark on him, they join forces and she masquerades as his sister. Only this time, it's not just taking money from widows and spinsters, it's a killing spree. Directed by Todd Robinson and based on the serial killers Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck (previously the basis of a fictionalized movie called HONEYMOON KILLERS), who murdered twenty women between 1947 and 1949. The film slipped under the radar when it had an all too quick theatrical release and went straight to VOD. It deserved a better fate. The film is riveting when concentrating on the Fernandez/Beck relationship and murders. But half the film is devoted to the two detectives (John Travolta, James Gandolfini) attempting to track down the killers and that portion is prosaic. Travolta is actually quite good but Gandolfini gives a rare bad performance. If you come across it, give it a chance, you'll be surprised. With Laura Dern, Scott Caan and a nice performance by Alice Krige (STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT) as one of the murder victims.    

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Corki Dancingu (aka The Lure) (2015)

Set in 1980s Poland, two mermaids are discovered by a rock band and brought back to the nightclub where the band performs. Soon, the mermaids have their own singing act and become a popular attraction. But while one (Marta Mazurek) falls in love with the bass player (Jakub Gierszal) and yearns to become human, the other (Michalina Olszanska) gives in to her thirst for human blood. Directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska, this musical horror fairy tale is quite unlike anything I've ever seen. The genre melding isn't as smooth as it should be, it often feels quite piecemeal and choppy. But the film is admirable in its audacity to push the envelope. It's like SPLASH on acid. Is it a good film? Honestly, I don't know. But it's the kind of lunatic film making (NEON DEMON comes to mind) that makes conventional film making seem colorless. I don't know if I'd like a steady diet of it (that's highly unlikely anyway) but it's always exciting to see outside of the box film making even if it's often crude. It's a film I look forward to experiencing again. With Magdalena Cielecka and Andrzej Konopka.  

Stage Struck (1925)

A drab waitress (Gloria Swanson) in a factory town has daydreams about being a great actress. But it's not because she has any real desire to be an actress but because the pancake cook (Lawrence Gray) she's in love with is fascinated by actresses. Directed by Allan Dwan, the film is in sepia with the fantasy sequences and the last scene shot in two strip Technicolor. The story is okay if a little overlong but it affords Swanson an opportunity to show what a good physical comedienne she is. Dressed in frumpy clothes for most of the film, she's not dependent on her glamour but comic talents. This was the sixth of the seven films Swanson and director Dwan made together. If you're into silent cinema, you should find much to enjoy here. With Gertrude Astor and Ford Sterling.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Lady In Red (1979)

A young farm girl (Pamela Sue Martin) runs away from her abusive religious fanatic father and goes to Chicago. From there, she works as a seamstress then a taxi dancer then a prostitute then a waitress in a diner which is where she meets the notorious gangster John Dillinger (Robert Conrad). Written by John Sayles and directed by Lewis Teague (CUJO). This is a highly fictionalized account of the life of Polly Hamilton (called Polly Franklin in the film), the woman who was on Dillinger's arm the night he was gunned down by the FBI in front of the Biograph theatre. The film has the feel of one of those socially conscious gangster movies churned out by Warner Brothers in the 1930s. It touches on prison conditions, exploitation of workers, racism among other subjects. Curiously, the film portrays Dillinger as a rather likable nice guy and we never see him performing any criminal activities. In actuality, the "lady in red" was not Martin's character as portrayed in the film but the ex-madam (Louise Fletcher) who doesn't wear red in the film at all. Conrad is rather bland and should have switched roles with Robert Forster, also playing a gangster, who has far more charisma and is a better actor. The film features the first film score by James Horner (TITANIC). With Christopher Lloyd, Mary Woronov, Dick Miller and Peter Hobbs.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Killing (1956)

Just out of a five year stretch in prison, a career criminal (Sterling Hayden) plans a racetrack heist of two million dollars. He's assisted by four cohorts: a cop (Ted De Corsia), a bartender (Joe Sawyer), a teller (Elisha Cook Jr.) and a banker (Jay C. Flippen) who funds the plans. Based on the novel CLEAN BREAK by Lionel White and directed by Stanley Kubrick who wrote the screenplay with Jim Thompson. This is a terrific thriller done in semi-documentary style. Although he had done two films previously, this is the real start of Kubrick's film odyssey. The tight film editing (credited to Betty Steinberg), the detailed B&W cinematography courtesy of Lucien Ballard and a wonderfully tense underscore by Gerald Fried all contribute to the film's nervously exciting atmosphere but Kubrick's hands are all over it. The acting is marvelous with the supporting roles all filled with familiar faces. Hayden's world weary countenance is almost existential and Elisha Cook Jr. and Marie Windsor as his trampy wife are fantastic in the quintessential Cook and Windsor roles. One of the great noirs. With Vince Edwards, Coleen Gray, Timothy Carey, James Edwards, Dorothy Adams,  Jay Adler and Kola Kwariani.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Pretty Poison (1968)

A young man (Anthony Perkins) is released from a mental hospital after being incarcerated for arson (which killed his Aunt) from the age of 15. He is prone to fantasies and making up things. In the small Massachusetts town where he is working, he meets a teenage girl (Tuesday Weld) and tries to impress her. He will soon find out how lethal she is. Based on the book SHE LET HIM CONTINUE by Stephen Geller and directed by Noel Black. This stunning neo noir tanked when it was first released. Having no faith in the movie, 20th Century Fox pretty much dumped it on the market without any screenings for critics. Today, it is recognized for the mini-masterpiece it is. Much of it is due to Lorenzo Semple Jr.'s exact screenplay which rightly won the New York Film Critics award. Perkins and Weld inhabit their characters so precisely that you don't even think of their "acting" until the film is over and realize how magnificent they are. Kudos also to "scream queen" Beverly Garland, who gives a career best performance as Weld's bitchy mother. One would think a major career would have happened for Noel Black after this film but his star quickly crashed. With John Randolph and Joe Bova.  

King Of Jazz (1930)

Filmed in the two strip Technicolor process, this is a musical revue made in the early days of sound movies featuring song, dance, animation and comic blackouts with no cohesive plot. The famed band leader Paul Whiteman was known as the King Of Jazz although his form of jazz isn't pure but jazz influenced dance music mostly. As with all revue films, it's hit and miss. Some of the film positively creaks (usually the comic bits) and frankly, I lot of it is bizarre: like the Chaplinesque violinist (who looks like Robert Mitchum) who plays a song on a bicycle pump! But the production numbers are vivid and colorful and the dancing is first rate. Still, I imagine to 1930 audiences it was pretty spectacular. Curiously, for a film about jazz the lack of black faces is uncomfortable. There is one "black" dance number (actually very good) but the dancer is white and painted head to toe in black. However, for those interested in early sound cinema, it's a must see. Among the familiar faces that pop up: Bing Crosby, Walter Brennan, John Boles, Laura La Plante and Slim Summerville.