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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Against All Flags (1952)

A British naval officer (Errol Flynn) volunteers to infiltrate a pirate base on the coast of Madagascar. Once there, he must deal with a fiery pirate queen (Maureen O'Hara) who is attracted to him and the ruthless pirate (Anthony Quinn) who desires her for his own. Directed by George Sherman (with a little assistance from Douglas Sirk). This is a typical Universal 1950s B programmer that is notable for the pairing and star power of swashbuckler stars Flynn and O'Hara in their only film together. If it had starred, say Lex Barker and Patricia Medina, I doubt we'd be paying much attention to it. It's a far cry from Flynn's Warners heyday and for a pirate adventure, it's curiously landlocked for most its running time. But on its own terms, it's enjoyable and even O'Hara gets a chance to display her sword skills. Remade in 1967 as THE KING'S PIRATE. With Mildred Natwick and Alice Kelley. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Mummy's Tomb (1942)

Thirty years after a group of archaeologists discovered and entered the tomb of an Egyptian princess, a mummy (Lon Chaney Jr.) is revived and sent to the U.S. along with his protector (Turhan Bey) to seek vengeance on the surviving expedition members and their spawn. The third film in the Universal Mummy franchise following THE MUMMY (1932) and THE MUMMY'S HAND (1940) and directed by Harold Young. Watching this, I kept thinking "Haven't I seen this already?" and yes because its plot has been more or less recycled in just about every Mummy movie. This one is only an hour long yet ten minutes are spent on flashbacks of THE MUMMY'S HAND for exposition. Although HAND was released only two years before TOMB, this entry begins thirty years later so we get the stars of HAND (Dick Foran, Wallace Ford, George Zucco) in old age make up. The movie is slapdash without much thought going into it. For example, when the mummy kidnaps Elyse Knox and is cornered on a balcony, the townspeople start throwing lit torches at him to set him and/or his surrounding on fire. Excuse me but what about the girl, don't the townspeople want to save her or do they care if she burns in the fire too? But this is the kind of mindless horror where it's best not to actually think about what's going on. With John Hubbard, Mary Gordon, Cliff Clark and Virginia Brissac. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Rover (aka L'Avventuriero) (1967)

In the aftermath of the French revolution, a notorious pirate (Anthony Quinn) returns to France to seek a life of peace. But he finds himself a wanted man and flees to an isolated seacoast village for sanctuary. But it is there that he finds an emotionally fragile and disturbed young woman (Rosanna Schiaffino), who lives with her Aunt (Rita Hayworth), and he wonders if this girl might be his salvation. Based on the novel by Joseph Conrad and directed by Terence Young (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE). I've not read the Conrad source material so I don't know how close the film follows the book but I suspect not very much. The film's narrative is often confusing. I still don't quite understand the cause of Schiaffino's breakdown even after we're shown a flashback that is supposed to explain everything. What we're left with is a muddled adventure with a love triangle (Richard Johnson is the third) that is unsatisfactory. The attractive Italian coastal exteriors are handsomely shot by Leonida Barboni (DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE) and there's an effective score by Ennio Morricone. With Luciano Rossi, Anthony Dawson (DIAL M FOR MURDER) and Ivo Garrani. 

Tonari No Totoro (aka My Neighbor Totoro) (1988)

A university professor (Shigesato Itoi) and his two daughters (Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto) move to a rural area outside Tokyo to be closer to their mother (Sumi Shimamoto) who is in the hospital recovering from a long term illness. One day in the nearby forest, the youngest daughter (Sakamoto) discovers a huge furry creature she names Totoro. Written and directed by the masterful Hayao Miyazaki, this is an absolutely adorable piece of animated fantasy. As one expects from a Miyazaki film, the animation is gorgeous. Vivid and vibrant with both fantastical and realistic elements effortlessly coexisting. The child Mei (Sakamoto) is the most precious of Miyazaki's child characters. It's a touching slice of tenderness that celebrates the innocence of childhood as well as the bond between siblings. Apparently in Japan, the character of Totoro is well known so it plays differently to western audiences. I watched the original Japanese language version but there is an English dub with the Fanning sisters, Dakota and Elle voicing the two young sisters. As usual, a lovely underscore by Joe Hisaishi.     

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Lair Of The White Worm (1988)

Set in the English midlands, an archaeology student (Peter Capaldi) unearths the skull of a strange unidentifiable creature. Shortly after, the mysterious Lady Marsh (Amanda Donohoe) returns to her stately manor and suddenly strange things begin to occur. Very loosely based on the novel by Bram Stoker (DRACULA) and directed by Ken Russell (THE DEVILS). Ken Russell is cinema's most notable enfant terrible and this outrageous horror comedy couldn't have come from anybody else. Like all good horror comedies, Russell balances the laughs with the chills. Most of the cast play it straight which leaves Donohoe's snake priestess to provide the camp humor. The reviews were mixed when it opened and I'm not sure that the critics understood that this was a comedy. The snake monster is laughably fake (which I'm sure was Russell's intention) and Russell's outrageous sense of humor pops up in the most unexpected places like when Catherine Oxenberg's virgin is stripped down to her underwear for a human sacrifice yet she's wearing the ugliest grandma panties imaginable. If you like your horror movies dead serious, skip this but if like laughs along with your scares, you should find much to enjoy here. With Hugh Grant, Sammi Davis, Paul Brooke and Stratford Johns.   

The Limping Man (1953)

An American (Lloyd Bridges) flies to London to reunite with the woman (Moira Lister) he fell in love with when stationed in London during WWII. But as he disembarks from the plane, a fellow passenger next to him is shot by a sniper. Is it just a coincidence that the dead man was involved with the woman he's going to meet? Based on the novel DEATH ON THE TIDEWAY by Anthony Verney and directed by Cy Endfield (ZULU). This is a minor thriller with heavy noir-ish elements that's a serviceable entertainment. However, the whole thing is spoiled by the cheat of an ending which renders everything that came before it a joke. I suppose in 1953 it was considered clever (although the device had already been used more than once) but now, it's just irritating. It was nice seeing Rachel Roberts (SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING) as a barmaid and Jean Marsh (UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS) as the landlady's daughter so early in their careers before each moved to bigger and better things. If only the film's last minute were eliminated! With Alan Wheatley, Leslie Phillips and Helene Cordet.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Duets (2000)

A group of disparate characters with an interest in karaoke ultimately find themselves in an Omaha, Nebraska karaoke tournament with a $5,000 prize. Among them: a hustler (Huey Lewis) who's just connected with the daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow) he never knew he had, a salesman (Paul Giamatti) who has a nervous breakdown and is high on meds, an ex-convict (Andre Braugher) just out of prison, a cab driver (Scott Speedman) and a promiscuous drifter (Maria Bello) who depends on karaoke winnings to survive. Directed by Bruce Paltrow (Gwyneth's father). I almost never use the term guilty pleasure because I feel no guilt about enjoying any kind of movie but if I did, DUETS would definitely be a guilty pleasure. I know it's not a good movie and I really should have some contempt for it but it's irresistible in its pull. With one exception, the performances are all solid and the musical sequences are very good too. Notably, a lovely duet on Smokey Robinson's Cruisin' by Paltrow and Lewis. The one poor performance is by Giamatti who can't seem to stop Acting all over the place. In his scenes with Braugher, Braugher blows him out of the water by giving a natural performance while Giamatti is Overacting with a capital O. All the actors do their own singing (and very well too) except for Braugher who is dubbed. With Angie Dickinson, Maya Rudolph, Michael Buble, Marian Seldes and John Pinette.  

Le Crime De Monsieur Lange (1936)

The crude owner (Jules Berry) of a publishing company owes a great deal of creditors. When the opportunity presents itself, he fakes his own death to avoid them. However, when his struggling publishing company is taken over by his employees after his "death", it becomes an enormous success, mostly due to the Arizona Jim stories written by Monsieur Lange (Rene Lefevre). His greed gets the better of him and he decides to return and claim the profits. Directed by Jean Renoir, this is one of his lesser known but no less excellent films. Obviously the film has a leftist leaning to it with the magazine's employees banding together as a collective to make the magazine a success and share in the profits. But in spite of the film's deadly outcome, there's a great deal of grace and wit in it. It's a film that could never have been made in Hollywood at the time, not only because of its leftist leanings but the film's protagonist would have to be punished for his "crime" according to the production code in power in 1936. With Florelle, Nadia Sibirskaia, Maurice Baquet, Sylvia Bataille and Marcel Levesque. 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Bride (1985)

A scientist (Sting) creates a woman (Jennifer Beals) for the male creature (Clancy Brown) he has made from various body parts from corpses. But when his female creation turns out to be perfect and beautiful, he has second thoughts about giving her to the creature and decides to create a "new" woman, one who will be the equal of men. Directed by Franc Roddam (QUADROPHENIA), this reimagining of the 1935 BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was a failure upon its initial release but plays far better today than it did then. I think audiences and critics were expecting a horror film and while the horror trappings are definitely there, the film has more of a feminist dynamic. The patriarchal father figure as exemplified by Sting's Frankenstein and the woman he has literally created who simply will not be ruled or owned. But the film's heart is actually elsewhere in the relationship between the clever dwarf (David Rappaport) and the childlike hulk that is Brown's creature (he's definitely not a monster in the sense of the Universal Frankensteins). An imperfect movie but an engrossing one. There's a beautiful underscore by Maurice Jarre. With Geraldine Page, Anthony Higgins, Cary Elwes, Phil Daniels, Timothy Spall, Alexei Sayle and Veruschka Von Lehndorff.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Broadway Bound (1992)

Set in 1948, an aspiring writer (Corey Parker) and his brother (Jonathan Silverman) use their family as fodder for their writing. Based on the Broadway play by Neil Simon (who also wrote the screenplay) and directed by Paul Bogart (TORCH SONG TRILOGY). What's surprising about Simon's play is how almost nominal the laughs are. There are the typical rapidly fired Neil Simon quips and wisecracks but at the film's core is a rather poignant story of a family disintegrating. The father (Jerry Orbach) leaves the mother (Anne Bancroft), the grandfather (Hume Cronyn) finally stops resisting and moves to Florida and the boys move out and go on with their own lives. The "laughs" almost seem to be there to mask the pain. At times, the acting seems very broad and reminiscent of stage acting. But the film has two powerful moments, both courtesy of its actresses. Bancroft has a beautifully played scene where she recalls the night she danced with George Raft and you're reminded of why she was considered one of the best actresses of her generation. The other performance comes from Michele Lee as Bancroft's sister who confronts her father (Cronyn) about his lack of affection and coldness toward her. It's not one of Simon's best efforts but Bancroft and Lee make it seem special.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Mr. Ace (1946)

An ambitious congresswoman (Sylvia Sidney) connives to lure a political boss (George Raft) into giving his help to get her elected. But he's not convinced a woman can be elected governor or should even be in politics. Directed by Edwin L. Marin (TALL IN THE SADDLE), the film is terribly dated in its sexist attitude toward women in politics. Sylvia Sidney's political ambition is deemed unnatural for a woman and Raft even says she's too beautiful for politics. The film's barely subtle subtext seems to be that only when she surrenders to love will she become a "real" woman. Of course, if her character were a male, her ambitions would be admirable. If one can put that all aside, it's actually a fairly entertaining movie with a look at societal attitudes toward female politicians. Raft gives his usual enervated performance which puts the burden on Sidney to carry the picture which she does nicely. With Stanley Ridges, Sara Haden and Jerome Cowan.  

Violent City (aka Citta Violenta) (1970)

After a bloody double cross leaves him for dead, a professional assassin (Charles Bronson) tracks down the shooter and his mistress (Jill Ireland) and takes his revenge and the woman. But it doesn't end there. A powerful crime boss (Telly Savalas) wants the assassin to join his mob and it turns out he's married to the duplicitous femme fatale and former mistress of the hitman's shooter! Co-written (along with Lina Wertmuller) and directed by Sergio Sollima (THE BIG GUNDOWN), the violent city of the title is New Orleans. The film had some eight minutes cut for the U.S. market in its initial release but I watched the uncut European version. Even in the uncut version, the film is often incoherent so I can only imagine how confusing the U.S. cut must have been. It's a bloody film with no one to cheer on unless professional assassins are heroes to you and by the time the film is over, there is no last man standing. If the film belongs to anyone, it belongs to Jill Ireland who plays one of the most calculating and duplicitous power hungry bitches I've ever seen in movies. I just wish the film's timeline wasn't so confusing and made more sense but I suppose this isn't the kind of movie where the plot matters much. Ennio Morricone provides one of his very best scores. With Umberto Orsini and Michel Constantin.   

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Diamonds For Breakfast (1968)

A Russian playboy (Marcello Mastroianni), a descendent of the Romanov dynasty that was overthrown in the 1917 Russian Revolution, concocts a daring plot to steal the Romanov crown jewels from a London museum. To help him carry out the plan, he gathers together a crew of beautiful women. Directed by Christopher Morahan. Is there anything worse than a comedy that just is not funny? DIAMONDS wants to be a swinging 60s British comedy heist movie but the laughs aren't there (though you can see where they're supposed to be) and as a heist movie, it's a bust. I realize we're not supposed to take it that seriously but when you have security men protecting the Russian crown jewels in a museum and they ignore their jobs and the cameras focused on the exhibition whenever a sexy girl walks in, gimme a break! Does no one get suspicious? Mastroianni is one of cinema's greatest actors but not in his few English language films. Even in 1968, they must have known something was wrong as the movie was never released in the U.S.  With Rita Tushingham, Margaret Blye, Francesca Tu, Leonard Rossiter and Bryan Pringle.

Mon Oncle Benjamin (1969)

Set in 1750 France, an impoverished country doctor (Jacques Brel) seems more interested in bedding as many beautiful women as he can rather than practicing medicine. However, the one maiden (Claude Jade, STOLEN KISSES) he desires the most is a virgin who refuses his advances unless he marries her. Based on the 1842 novel by Claude Tillier and directed by Edouard Molinaro (LA CAGES AUX FOLLES). This rather ribald romp has a touch of Henry Fielding and Alexandre Dumas to it as it mixes sex (think TOM JONES) and a semi-swashbuckler of a tale to much amusement. Jacques Brel is no Errol Flynn in either the looks or swashbuckling department but he brings a certain insouciance to his amorous doctor that allows him a lot of leeway. The lovely Claude Jade is wasted in a part that calls her to be fetching and not much else. But Molinaro whips up a light and saucy comedic adventure that's hard to resist and I didn't even try after awhile. With Bernard Alane, Robert Dalban, Paul Frankeur, Rosy Varte and Bernard Blier. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

High Life (2018)

A group of death row and life criminals are sent on a space mission to extract energy from a black hole ... or so they are told. In reality, they are treated as guinea pigs by a doctor (Juliette Binoche) who is experimenting with reproduction and they can never return to Earth. Directed by Claire Denis, this is her first film in the English language. It's science fiction but it's a darker cerebral piece of sci-fi as opposed to the mainstream sci-fi of Christopher Nolan (INTERSTELLAR) and Ridley Scott (THE MARTIAN). The film isn't always told in a linear fashion and the pacing is methodical, perhaps too methodical for the multiplex crowd. I liked it but it's the kind of film that requires something from the viewer rather than being a passive participant. The film is anchored by a strong performance by Robert Pattinson as the film's chief protagonist, the sole member of the space travelers who refuses to participate in the sexual experiments. It didn't knock my socks off, I don't think it's a great film but it's provocative and attempts something different. With Mia Goth, Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000 of Outkast), Ewan Mitchell, Jessie Ross and Victor Banerjee. 

Heat Wave (aka The House Across The Lake) (1954)

A down on his luck American writer (Alex Nicol) in England meets the wealthy couple across the lake. While he likes the husband (Sidney James) well enough, it's the wife (Hillary Brooke) that he's attracted to even though he knows she's a gold digger and no good. Based on the novel HIGH WRAY by Ken Hughes (CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG) who also directed the film. This B film noir is predictable even if you haven't seen movies like DOUBLE INDEMNITY and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. The doomed husband played by Sid James is quite likable and Brooke makes for a formidable cold hearted femme fatale but Nicol is a dud as the dupe. It was nice seeing Brooke in a leading role for a change but unless you're a fan of either her (as I am) or Nicol, chances are you'll find this a waste of time. With Susan Stephen, Paul Carpenter and Joan Hickson.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Curse Of La Llorona (2019)

When two children are mysteriously drowned, a social worker (Linda Cardellini) in Los Angeles finds herself involved in a 17th century Mexican myth about a ghost who murders children. It isn't long before she must acknowledge to herself that it isn't just a myth but a reality. Directed by Michael Chaves (his feature film debut), this is a surprisingly effective horror potboiler if you go in with lowered expectations. It brings nothing new or innovative to the horror genre but it creates a nice bit of tension with a generous amount of "Boo!" moments. We've seen it all before in movies like THE EXORCIST and POLTERGEIST but the movie does like to tease us. I hate people who talk at movies but I have to admit I was rather amused by a woman in my row who talked to the screen and said things like, "Don't open that door!", "Run, run you fool!" and "Oh no, she isn't". Not a memorable film but it works in its most basic ways. The film breaks taboos about killing children and putting children in harms way which sets it apart. With Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez, Jaynee Lynne Kinchen, Roman Christou and Marisol Ramirez.   

Becky Sharp (1935)

A young orphan girl (Miriam Hopkins in an Oscar nominated performance) cleverly schemes and manipulates herself into the British aristocracy and social circles by whatever means possible. This means using whatever wealthy or socially prominent man that is available as a step ladder. Based on VANITY FAIR by William Makepeace Thackery and directed by Rouben Mamoulian (QUEEN CHRISTINA). Historically, the film is notable for being the first feature film in the full three strip Technicolor process and the film's color palette is its main focus of interest. The Technicolor is gorgeous but unreal in its richness and luster. The process would be toned down somewhat in future films but this was the first and they wanted to impress and Ray Rennahan's (DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK) lensing and Robert Edmond Jones's eye popping costumes and production design do just that. Hopkins is quite good here and her Becky seems to take such devilish delight in her sly ways and machinations that you can't dislike her and as most of the upper class she interacts with are pompous snobs or seducers, you can't feel too sorry for them. The film's visual highlight is a fancy dress ball on the eve of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. With Frances Dee, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Billie Burke, Alan Mowbray, Nigel Bruce, Alison Skipworth and Doris Lloyd. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Dominique (1978)

A husband (Cliff Robertson) concocts a plot to drive his wife (Jean Simmons) to either insanity or suicide so he can get his hands on her money. His plan succeeds when she hangs herself. However, she gets her revenge from beyond the grave! Based on the short story WHAT BECKONING GHOST? by Harold Lawlor and directed by Michael Anderson (LOGAN'S RUN). Films about husbands trying to make their wives think they're crazy or driving them to suicide have been movie staples for decades. GASLIGHT (1944) perhaps being the most famous example. It's such a "been there, done that" scenario that a movie needs to go outside the box to make it fresh. Alas, DOMINIQUE is fairly predictable and drags out a story that might have made a nice half hour episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. As a "ghost" story, there's no horror so it ends up being a standard mystery that Agatha Christie might have whipped out effortlessly (think ENDLESS NIGHT). Maybe if it had a first rate score that whips up some tension but David Whitaker's underscore is just noise in the background. There's a lot of big talent involved but they're all done in by the script. In addition to Simmons and Robertson, there's Flora Robson, Jenny Agutter, Judy Geeson, Ron Moody, Simon Ward, Michael Jayston and David Tomlinson.  

The Million Pound Note (aka Man With A Million) (1954)

In 1903 England, an American seaman (Gregory Peck) is stranded in Great Britain without any funds when two brothers (Wilfrid Hyde White, Ronald Squire) make a bet. They present the American with a genuine million pound note with the stipulation that he must hold on to it for an entire month without cashing it. Based on the short story by Mark Twain and directed by Ronald Neame (THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE). I'm not normally a fan of those 1950s British comedies (usually from Ealing) but this satire has a bit of bite as well as charm to it. It doesn't show mankind at its best but that's the movie's point. How impressed we are with wealth and often make fools of ourselves with the very idea of it. Of course, Peck's character isn't entirely without blemish either. What kind of man takes advantage of what he knows to be a lie? But to be fair, people are so eager to believe the lie that he's almost overwhelmed by it. As the "man with a million", Peck is at his most appealing but the supporting cast of Brits are pretty wonderful too. Among them Joyce Grenfell, Maurice Denham, Bryan Forbes (before he turned director), Reginald Beckwith, Hugh Griffith, May Hallatt and Jane Griffiths.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Laissez Bronzer Les Cadavres (aka Let The Corpses Tan) (2017)

After killing some cops and stealing a truckload of gold bars, a gang of thieves head for the remote Mediterranean villa of a misanthropic artist (Elina Lowensohn) where they plan to hide out. But when the police unexpectedly arrive, it results in a 24 hour bloodbath. Based on the novel by Jean Patrick Manchette and Jean Pierre Bastid and directed by Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani. A homage to the 1970s Italian crime thrillers and spaghetti westerns, I haven't seen a film this pretentious in years! It's not a matter of style over substance, it's style and no substance. The film makers take what could have been a stylish but exciting Tarantino-esque thriller and sabotage it with their artsy pretensions. The film is obsessed with close ups of body parts: lips, eyes, ears, tongues, breasts and close ups of cigarettes, sweat, festering wounds, rotting animal corpses. I love movies with style but that style has to be used toward something however minimal. Here the style calls attention to itself as if the film makers are afraid you won't notice their cleverness. Forget about characterizations, the people here are ciphers, straw dogs to be discarded once they've served their purpose. But I'll say this, it may be borderline incoherent but you won't be bored. With Stephane Ferrara, Michelangelo Marchese, Pierre Nisse and Herve Sogne.  

The Walking Hills (1949)

During a poker game in a Mexican border town, a group of strangers decide to band together to search for some gold worth five million dollars said to be lost in the California desert in an area referred to as the walking hills. But greed, suspicion and bad blood as well as an approaching sandstorm will tear the band apart. Written by Alan Le May (THE SEARCHERS) and directed by John Sturges (THE GREAT ESCAPE), this contemporary western with noir-ish trimmings is a solid effort. It's an unpretentious minor western that moves swiftly and with enough interesting characters to hold you in its grip until the film's end. A group of people falling out over gold isn't a particularly fresh cinematic concept but Charles Lawton Jr.'s (LADY FROM SHANGHAI) evocative B&W images and Sturges' firm directorial hand bring a strong sense of creativity to the project. As always, Randolph Scott as a horse breeder brings a quiet authority to his role and underplays beautifully and Ella Raines (the only woman in the movie) makes more of "the girl" role than the script suggests. The movie boasts a rare film score composed by Arthur Morton, one of the great orchestrators (he orchestrated most of Jerry Goldsmith's scores) in film. The strong cast includes Arthur Kennedy, John Ireland, Edgar Buchanan, Jerome Courtland, Russell Collins and Josh White. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (1965)

In 1910, a British newspaper magnate (Robert Morley) sponsors an international air race from London to Paris with the winner to receive 10,000 pounds! Flyers from all over the world enter the race including France (Jean Pierre Cassel), Germany (Gert Frobe), Italy (Alberto Sordi), Japan (Yujiro Ishihara), the U.S. (Stuart Whitman) and of course, England (James Fox, Terry Thomas). Directed by Ken Annakin (SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON), I'm quite fond of this large scale comedy and prefer it to the other 1965 race comedy, Blake Edwards' THE GREAT RACE. Although I like that one too, this one is more consistent and less bloated. The flying sequences are wonderful and masterfully shot in 65 millimeter Todd AO by Christopher Challis (THE DEEP). The attention to period detail is top notch which includes the handsome costumes by Osbert Lancaster as well as the aircraft themselves. The film is full of sight gags and amusing lines as when Robert Morley haughtily complains that "One of the problems with these international affairs is that they attract foreigners".  Good fun. The large cast includes Sarah Miles, Red Skelton, Irina Demick, Flora Robson, Benny Hill, Sam Wanamaker, Karl Michael Vogler, Maurice Denham and Millicent Martin.   

Star Quality (1985)

A fading but brilliant stage actress (Susannah York) with a penchant for manipulating her theatrical endeavors to her advantage meets her match in the equally willful stage director (Ian Richardson) of her new play. Based on the play by Noel Coward (his last) and directed by Alan Dossor. Until it gets to its sticky ending, this is a rather amusing and oh so accurate behind the scenes look at putting on a play. The egos, the tempers, the camaraderie and phoniness of it all. At the center of it is the poor playwright (Peter Chelsom) who sees his play taken from him and used as a weapon between two headstrong artists each determined to get their way. Anyone who's ever been involved in the production of a play whether professionally or amateur should enjoy it. It's minor Noel Coward but quite enjoyable. I just wish the ending was a little edgier. With David Yelland (almost stealing the film), David Swift and Pam Ferris. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden (1977)

A young teenage girl (Kathleen Quinlan) has her own fantasy world which has its secret language. After a suicide attempt, she is sent to an institution for the insane where she is diagnosed as schizophrenic. But with the help of her therapist (Bibi Andersson), she makes a slow recovery to reality. Based on the novel by Joanne Greenberg and directed by Anthony Page (THE MISSILES OF OCTOBER). Movies about mental illness and mental asylums rarely seem authentic and cram their films with raving lunatics. In movies, there are no quiet lunatics. THE SNAKE PIT (1948) may have been simplistic by today's standards in its psychology but films like THE CARETAKERS (1963) and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975) haven't progressed much. This one doesn't work either. Quinlan is ill through most of the film but suddenly 15 minutes before the movie ends, she's cured! Just like that! Greenerg (the novel's author) disowned the film and one can see why. Its mental patients are caricatures. Andersson's doctor comes off best because she's an oasis of calmness in the movie's snake pit and a relief from the hysteria. The film is highly watchable because of the acting. Actors love to play crazy people and the actresses here have a field day. The huge cast includes Dennis Quaid, Sylvia Sidney, Diane Varsi, Signe Hasso, Susan Tyrell, Martine Bartlett, Jeff Conaway, Lorraine Gary, Ben Piazza, Norman Alden, Reni Santoni and Darlene Craviotto.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Autopsy Of Jane Doe (2016)

The corpse of an unidentified woman (Olwen Catherine Kelly) is discovered in the cellar of a house where there was an apparent multiple homicide. When her body is brought to a small town father (Brian Cox) and son (Emile Hirsch) coroner team, what should have been an ordinary autopsy turns into a night of horror. Directed by Andre Ovredal, this is a tight and intense horror film that restricts most of its story to one set (the morgue) and with only two characters (Cox and Hirsch) at its center. There are a couple of minor characters but the father and son are at the forefront. The film walks a fine tightrope between exploitation surgical porn (the autopsy is extremely graphic) and a moody horror piece. Even at its relatively brief running time (86 minutes), the film can't sustain its unsettling macabre and morbid structure and the ending is a major letdown. Still, with all its faults, it's a strong piece of minor horror cinema. With Ophelia Lovibond and Michael McElhatton.

Les Portes De La Nuit (aka Gates Of The Night) (1946)

Set in post WWII Paris soon after the liberation, during one very long night a disparate group of people have their paths and lives criss cross as Fate in the form of a man (Jean Vilar) attempts to warn them but to no avail. Lovers unite, lovers are parted, the good die while the bad live on and when the cold light of morning arrives, tragedy has left its mark. Directed by Marcel Carne, this was the follow up film to his acclaimed CHILDREN OF PARADISE. It was not the success that CHILDREN was and it didn't even screen in the U.S. until four years after its French release. The film's structure is Altmanesque (think NASHVILLE, SHORT CUTS, PRET A PORTER) long before Altman made his first film. The movie is near plotless but the specter of romantic French fatalism hangs over the film so you're prepared for the worst. Carne crafts a rich mise en scene as his characters march to their inevitable destiny. Among them: a wealthy man (Pierre Brasseur) and his estranged wife (Nathalie Nattier), a selfish miser (Saturnin Fabre) and his collaborator son (Serge Reggiani), two survivors of the Nazi gestapo (Yves Montand, Raymond Bussieres) and a pair of young lovers (Dany Robin, Jean Maxime). Joseph Kosma's underscore is famous for introducing the song Autumn Leaves which became a pop standard. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Nell (1994)

When the body of a female hermit is discovered in the wilds of the North Carolina mountains, they also find a frightened young woman (Jodie Foster), apparently the woman's daughter that the townsfolk knew nothing about. The hermit suffered from a stroke which limited her speech which she passed on to her daughter (who was conceived in a rape) as well as a fear of man. A local doctor (Liam Neesom) takes it upon himself to help her so she won't be confined to an asylum. Based on the play IDIOGLOSSIA by Mark Handley (who co-wrote the screenplay) and directed by Michael Apted. Apted displayed a feel for Appalachia in his film of COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER and he and his cinematographer Dante Spinotti (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) have created a palpable texture to the film's exteriors. Foster's commitment to the title role is total and her fierce performance justifies the film's existence. Unfortunately, the script is weak and this kind of material has been handled much more deftly in films like Truffaut's WILD CHILD and THE MIRACLE WORKER to name just two. A subplot featuring Neeson and an autism specialist (Natasha Richardson) is pedestrian and only diffuses the film's potential. Not the fault of the actors who are both good. There's a fine score by Mark Isham. Foster's performance won her praise including a SAG best actress award and the Italian Oscar (David Di Donatello award). With Richard Libertini and Nick Searcy.   

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Thing From Another World (1951)

When a huge UFO crashes in the Arctic, its sole survivor (James Arness, GUNSMOKE), who is frozen in ice, is taken to a scientific research center. But when he revives, he proves a deadly creature who needs blood to survive. Based on the novella WHO GOES THERE? by John W. Campbell and directed by Christian Nyby. To this day, there is an argument whether the film's producer Howard Hawks was the actual director. Evidence suggests it was directed by Nyby but with major input from Hawks. It was remade by John Carpenter in 1982 which stayed closer to the original Campbell book. The film is one of the best sci-fi classics of the 1950s. Tight and economical (it runs less than 90 minutes) but with doses of humor to balance the horror elements. It's not the kind of movie where the acting mattes much but everyone is decent enough. I just wish the characters were more intelligent and that film's scientific representative, Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), wasn't portrayed as such a whack job. Even after the creature has proved a murderous beast, the doc proclaims that "we owe it to our species to stand here and die" rather than harm the dear little monster! The score is by Dimitri Tionkin. With Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Dewey Martin, Eduard Franz and Douglas Spencer.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Hired Hand (1971)

A man (Peter Fonda) who deserted his wife (Verna Bloom) and daughter (Megan Denver) for the freedom of the wide open spaces is tired of that life and returns home with his saddle pal (Warren Oates) hoping to begin again. Directed by Peter Fonda (his directorial debut), this elegiac western found little love when it opened in 1971. Universal effectively buried it and when it made its TV debut, large chunks of important story information was cut out and footage Fonda deleted was put back in. But many who saw it when it opened realized what a gem it was and a small cult formed and in the ensuing years, its place in the pantheon of great westerns started climbing. It's a languidly paced simple tale (some action scenes were shot but not used because it destroyed the mood) of a man trying to return to a simpler life when the years have destroyed any chance of that. It's definitely an "art" western and the film is very conscious of it and I think that (along with its downer ending) put off a lot of people who preferred a more traditional approach to the western. Certainly the superb lensing by Vilmos Zsigmond, the atmospheric score of Bruce Langhorne and Frank Mazzola's editing all deserve mention. The excellent performances by Bloom (it's really her film) and Oates are top notch. With Ann Doran and Severn Darden.

The Sea Hawk (1940)

While King Philip II (Montagu Love) of Spain plots to invade England by building a mighty armada, he sends an ambassador (Claude Rains) into duping Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) into believing his intentions are peaceful. Meanwhile, the Queen allows a privateer (Errol Flynn) to undertake a plan to seize Spanish gold in Panama. Directed by Michael Curtiz (CASABLANCA), this thrilling swashbuckler is a high point in the genre. Although it shares the title of Rafael Sabatini's 1915 novel (filmed in 1924), the plot is entirely changed. Made during the war in Europe before America became involved, the film can be seen as an allegory of what was going on in Europe at the time with 16th century Spain representing Germany and serving as a warning to the U.S. about Hitler's intentions. But that aside, this a rousing sea adventure with action, intrigue and romance. While the movie would have benefited by being filmed in Technicolor, Sol Polito's crisp B&W cinematography is first rate and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's invigorating underscore aids the film immeasurably. With lovely Brenda Marshall, Henry Daniell, Gilbert Roland, Una O'Connor, Donald Crisp, Alan Hale, James Stephenson and William Lundigan.  

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Swarm (1978)

A swarm of deadly African killer bees invade a small Texas town and after destroying the town and killing countless people, they proceed to larger prey like Houston. In the meantime, a scientist (Michael Caine) sets up headquarters at a local missile base and attempts to find a solution to end the bees reign of terror. Based on the novel by Arthur Herzog and directed by Irwin Allen. So bad that it effectively killed off the disaster movie as a genre. It's not even fun the way a bad disaster movie like AIRPORT 1975 can be, it's dull and turgid and just lies there like a deflated balloon. In his previous disaster movies, Allen was smart enough to hand over the director reins to good directors like Ronald Neame (POSEIDON ADVENTURE) and John Guillermin (TOWERING INFERNO). Here, he takes over the directorial duties and it's a disaster (no pun intended). I squirmed in my seat seeing so many talented actors give dreadful performances. Caine comes off the worst, either barking his lines or reading them with a flat monotone. One expects bad performances from Henry Fonda and Jose Ferrer but if I hadn't seen Olivia De Havilland, Richard Widmark, Katharine Ross, Patty Duke, Lee Grant, Richard Chamberlain, Ben Johnson and Fred MacMurray in other films, I'd assume they were the dregs of their profession. Jerry Goldsmith tries to whip up some excitement with his score but to no avail. With Bradford Dillman, Slim Pickens, Cameron Mitchell and Alejandro Rey.   

The Richest Girl In The World (1934)

The wealthiest debutante (Miriam Hopkins) in the world has lived a life of secrecy since birth. Her whereabouts and her appearance are a closely guarded secret and the few times she is required to make a public appearance, she has her secretary (Fay Wray) pose as her. But when she falls in love with a young man (Joel McCrea), she concocts a plan to push him into the arms of her secretary who he thinks is the rich debutante to see if he will choose the poor "her" over the richest girl in the world. Directed by William A. Seiter (ROOM SERVICE), the film tends to be more overly complicated than it should be for a romantic comedy. Hopkins' character almost seems self destructive in her attempt to sabotage McCrea's romantic interest in her. Plus, we're cheated of a pay off when the film ends before she has a chance to tell him who she really is. That being said, it's not a bad little 30s style romcom and if you're a fan of Hopkins (as I am), you should find it enjoyable. I do wish McCrea's character had been better delineated as you're never quite sure if he's shallow or sincere. Remade in 1946 as BRIDE BY MISTAKE. With Reginald Denny and Henry Stephenson.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959)

When a peaceful village is raided by white diamond hunters disguised as African natives and several people killed, it is up to Tarzan (Gordon Scott in a surprisingly effective performance) to track them down and bring them to jungle justice. Directed by John Guillermin (THE TOWERING INFERNO), this is a candidate for the best Tarzan movie ever made. Beautifully shot on location in Kenya (instead of the usual studio sound stages) by Ted Scaife (THE DIRTY DOZEN), this is a Tarzan movie with grown up tastes. Scott's Tarzan doesn't speak broken English but is intelligent and articulate (not unlike the Tarzan of the Edgar Rice Burroghs novels). The film has a strong if often violent narrative. There is no Jane but the film's leading woman Sara Shane (THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS) is an independent and feisty professional pilot and her relationship with Tarzan isn't simplistic and when they part at the end, there's genuine regret on both sides. The quality of the acting is superior than most Tarzan movies. The trio of villains are played by fine actors like Sean Connery, Anthony Quayle and Niall MacGinnis who bring shading and life to their characters. It's not dumbed down and the African American natives are not reduced to stereotypes. The final battle to the death between Scott and Quayle generates genuine tension and excitement. With Scilla Gabel and Al Mulock.

That Darn Cat (1965)

Two bank robbers (Neville Brand, Frank Gorshin) take a bank teller (Grayson Hall) as a hostage and hide out in a suburban neighborhood. But an adventurous Siamese cat called DC who's had contact with the kidnappers may prove to be their undoing when the FBI goes on the cat's trail. Based on the novel UNDERCOVER CAT by Gordon and Mildred Gordon (EXPERIMENT IN TERROR) and directed by Robert Stevenson (MARY POPPINS). This charming live action offering from Disney is a winner! You don't have to be a cat lover to be taken by the scene stealing Siamese or actually several Seal Point Siamese playing DC, who may be the best feline actor since Orangey in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. The poor human actors don't stand a chance. They include Hayley Mills and Dorothy Provine as the sisters who own the cat, Dean Jones as an FBI agent and Roddy McDowall as Provine's stiff suitor. It may be Disney fluff but it's quite entertaining and doesn't overdo the "cuteness". Bobby Darin sings the title song. With Elsa Lanchester, Ed Wynn, William Demarest, Tom Lowell and Iris Adrian. 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Best Of Enemies (2019)

Set in 1971 North Carolina, a civil rights activist (Taraji P. Henson) faces off with the head (Sam Rockwell) of the local Ku Klux Klan over school integration. Based on the non fiction book BEST OF ENEMIES: RACE AND REDEMPTION IN THE NEW SOUTH by Osha Gray Davidson and directed by Robin Bissell. A movie with good intentions does not guarantee a good movie and while this movie's heart is in the right place, as cinema, it's a pretty flat piece of film making. Coming after last years BLACKKKLANSMAN, it seems like an also ran but even if Spike Lee's film hadn't come out last year, it's still weak. It's not a bad movie, far from it, in fact, it has the feel of a good TV movie made in the mid 1970s. Sam Rockwell is excellent but we've seen him give this performance before in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI. To this film's credit, his conversion from racist to good guy takes longer and is more realistic than his instant change in BILLBOARDS. Henson isn't bad at all considering she's miscast. Isn't it about time we had a moratorium on thin actors in "fat" body suits? Wouldn't it be easier to cast larger actors? That aside, it really is such a powerful story that one can't help but be emotionally affected. I just wish it were a better film. With Anne Heche, Wes Bentley, Babou Ceesay and Bruce McGill. 

Beoning (aka Burning) (2018)

A socially awkward young man (Yoo Ah In) reunites with an attractive young woman (Jeon Jong Seo) who lived in his rural village when they were children. He's attracted to her but when she returns from a trip to Africa with a handsome, socially skilled and financially set young man (Steven Yeun), he becomes more aware than ever of his lack of social standing and skills. Based on the short story BARN BURNING by Haruki Murakami and directed by Lee Chang Dong (POETRY). This is a riveting psychological examination of an alienated youth that slowly unravels its narrative so that you're never quite sure where you're going to end up but with a slowly encroaching sense of dread that you know it won't end up agreeably. The latter half of the film has the trappings of a mystery but it's a mystery without any answers. As in L'AVVENTURA, one of the main characters goes missing but we're never privy to what happened to them. It's an enigmatic film whose richness lies in its ability to navigate its protagonists emotional and psychological terrain. With Lee Bong Ryun and Moon Sung Keun.      

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Jivaro (1954)

An American woman (Rhonda Fleming) arrives at a small trading outpost in the jungles of Brazil looking for her fiance (Richard Denning). But's he off in headhunter country searching for gold and it's up to a trader (Fernando Lamas) to watch out for her until or if he returns. Directed by Edward Ludwig (WAKE OF THE RED WITCH), this movie was originally shot in 3D but by the time it was ready for release, the 3D fad was over with so it was released flat. I watched it in 2D but I didn't not notice any 3D effects until the film's last half hour. For what it is, it's a minor entertainment which for most of its running time is a romantic drama with "will they or won't they?" sexual tension between Lamas and Fleming. They don't actually head out into Jivaro country until the film's last half hour or so and that's when all the action starts. With Brian Keith, Rita Moreno, Lon Chaney Jr. and Nestor Paiva.

Teacher's Pet (1958)

A hard boiled newspaper editor (Clark Gable) despises educated journalists. After meeting an attractive college journalism professor (Doris Day), he goes undercover masquerading as a student. His initial intention is to expose the shortcomings of an "egghead" journalist but when he finds himself attracted to her, his game plan changes. Directed by George Seaton (AIRPORT), the film is overlong by about fifteen minutes. For most of its running time, the film has the feel of a first rate Tracy and Hepburn comedy and yes, Gable and Day have that kind of chemistry. But it stumbles in the film's last twenty minutes. Not enough to ruin the film but enough to take the air out of it which is a pity. But until then, it's a superior romantic comedy with a sharp Oscar nominated screenplay. Shot in crisp B&W, it also seems grittier than most of Day's Technicolor romcoms. With Gig Young in an Oscar nominated performance, Mamie Van Doren (who sings The Girl Who Invented Rock And Roll), Jack Albertson, Nick Adams, Vivian Nathan and Marion Ross. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Bluff (aka The Con Artists) (1976)

Set in France in the 1920s, a notorious con artist (Anthony Quinn) is sprung from prison by his ex-lover (Capucine) who is still bitter about his running off with her jewels. But with the help of his daughter (Corinne Clery, MOONRAKER) and another escaped convict (Adriano Celentano), he plans another big con job. Directed by Sergio Corbucci (DJANGO), this is a lackluster swindle caper that seems influenced by THE STING. While not as bad as THE STING (what could be?), it's a dumb and uninspired caper. Anthony Quinn has never been known for his comic touch but we're also saddled with Adriano Celentano, an irritating and hideous Italian comic actor who makes Roberto Benigni seem like Cary Grant. Incredibly, he won the Italian Oscar (David Di Donatello award) for his appalling performance here! To be fair, the transfer I saw was dubbed into English and my anathema toward Celentano's (a popular star in Italy for his low comedies) performance might possibly be due to his dubbed voice. Capucine proved herself a stylish comedienne in PINK PANTHER and WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT? and she's the only performer who doesn't disgrace herself here.

The Return Of Mr. Moto (1965)

An Interpol operative (Henry Silva) is assigned to assist in a case involving the destruction of oil wells in the Middle East which threatens the status quo of the major Western oil companies. Based on the character created by John P. Marquand in six novels (including STOPOVER TOKYO made into a 1957 movie in which Moto's character was eliminated entirely) and a series of Mr. Moto films starring Peter Lorre in the 1930s. Directed by Ernest Morris, this ill advised attempt to resurrect the character is a dull affair that could easily have been a TV movie pilot for a Moto TV series rather than a theatrical feature. The Mr. Moto of 1965 is younger, handsome and speaks perfect English and more of a Bond type rather than the demure Japanese gentlemen as Lorre played him. The Moto movies of the 30s were murder mysteries rather than the international spy adventure on display here. It's so lackluster that one can't even really complain about the sloppily written script. With the lovely Suzanne Lloyd, Terence Longdon, Marne Maitland and Stanley Morgan.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend (1949)

After shooting a judge (Porter Hall) twice in the buttocks, a saloon singer (Betty Grable) goes on the lam with her friend (Olga San Juan). She arrives in a small town where they think she is the new schoolteacher. Written, produced and directed by Preston Sturges. If Sturges' name wasn't attached to it, this western satire wouldn't be such a disappointment especially coming off one of his best films, UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948). It's a harmless rather silly film with Grable giving a bit more in the acting department than her usual musical fluff. But from the man who directed THE PALM BEACH STORY and SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, you expect more. It was Sturges' first film in Technicolor and his last film made in the U.S. As a whole, it's misguided but there are some genuinely funny moments which do not include Sterling Holloway and Dan Jackson as a pair of idiot hillbilly brothers who are simply irritating in their juvenile unfunniness. With Cesar Romero, Rudy Vallee, Marie Windsor, Margaret Hamilton, Hugh Herbert and El Brendel.

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Family That Preys (2008)

A working class black woman (Alfre Woodard) and a wealthy white woman (Kathy Bates) are best friends and have supported each other through the years. But their adult children didn't quite turn out the way they wanted and will bring heartbreak to them. Written and directed by Tyler Perry (who's also in the film), this is a surprisingly decent movie elevated by the key performances of Woodard and Bates, two of the best actresses in the business. Perry's script is a little too black and white (no, this is not a reference to race) when it could have used a little more gray. For example, the film's two "villains", Sanaa Lathan as Woodard's selfish corporate climbing daughter and Cole Hauser as Bates' two faced son are painted in very broad strokes with very little shading to makes their characters very interesting. They're stock villains set up for the fall by the movie's end. Perry's religious bent is front and center and feels shoehorned into the movie. But Woodard and Bates show what great actresses can do with routine material and through the sheer power of their acting talent make their characters human instead of caricatures. With Taraji P. Henson, Robin Givens, Rockmond Dunbar, KaDee Strickland and Sebastian Siegel.     

Confession (1937)

A cabaret singer (Kay Francis) shoots and kills a man (Basil Rathbone) in cold blood in front of a crowd of witnesses including the young schoolgirl (Jane Bryan) the man has seduced. During the murder trial, the woman remains silent and refuses to defend herself. A remake of the 1935 German film MAZURKA starring Pola Negri and directed by Joe May, who was an early pioneer in German cinema before emigrating to the U.S. and directing movies like THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS. Though not credited, the film also seems indebted to the 1908 play MADAME X which had previously been made into films in 1916, 1920, 1929 and in 1937, the same year of the release of CONFESSION. It's the typical Kay Francis formula. She suffers exquisitely as she goes from a celebrated opera singer to a dyed blonde drifting from cabaret to cabaret. Rathbone is suitably slimy as the roue who is the cause of her downfall. It's all rather musty and for Kay Francis fans only. With Ian Hunter, Donald Crisp, Laura Hope Crews and Veda Ann Borg.