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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Crime Wave (1954)

An ex-convict (Gene Nelson) is trying to reform with a steady job and a wife (Phyllis Kirk) who keeps him on the straight and narrow path. But when a couple of escaped prisoners (Ted De Corsia, Charles Bronson) kill a cop in a bungled robbery, they head to the ex-con's place and blackmail him into joining them in a bank heist. Based on the short story CRIMINAL'S MARK by John and Ward Hawkins and directed by Andre De Toth (HOUSE OF WAX). This B programmer sat on the shelf for a couple of years before Warners released it but in the ensuing years, it's become a much admired film among the noir crowd. The screenplay is very routine and the dialogue is poor and the normally reliable Sterling Hayden gives an awful performance. Bad enough to give credence held in certain quarters that he couldn't actually act. But the film looks fantastic courtesy of Bert Glennon's (STAGECOACH) B&W cinematography all shot on location on the streets of L.A. and De Toth gives the film a thick slice of energy that keeps it moving nicely. The film belongs to Gene Nelson, a hoofer known for musicals like OKLAHOMA! (he played Will) and TEA FOR TWO but gives a standout dramatic performance here. With Jay Novello, Iris Adrian and Timothy Carey. 

Floods Of Fear (1959)

As massive floods wash over a small town, a young woman (Anne Heywood) finds herself trapped in an isolated house with two escaped convicts (Howard Keel, Cyril Cusack) and a prison guard (Harry H. Corbett). As the waters rise, so does the tension between the four. Based on the novel by John and Ward Hawkins and directed by Charles Crichton (LAVENDER HILL MOB). Although set in the U.S., the film was filmed entirely in England and the flood scenes were filmed on a large sound stage in Pinewood studios. Keel was the only American in the cast. It's an effective programmer with above average special effects and Crichton (known mostly for his comedies) whips up a suitable amount of suspense. Keel, at this point in his career, was known for his bass baritone in MGM musicals but he makes for a surprisingly strong action hero here. I don't want to oversell it but I was thoroughly entertained. With John Crawford and Eddie Byrne. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

And The Band Played On (1993)

In 1981, an epidemiologist (Matthew Modine) working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention becomes aware of a disease that is plaguing gay men and undertakes a detailed investigation to find the cause. Based on the non fiction book by Randy Shilts and directed by Roger Spottiswoode (TOMORROW NEVER DIES). Over 25 years since its release, this remains a spellbinding and compelling film on many levels. It works as a detective story and a race against time to find the killer but the killer is not a human but a virus. It reveals the behind the scenes politicization of the disease as an egotistical American researcher (Alan Alda) attempts to squash his French counterparts from getting credit for discovering the virus rather than him. It details the apathy of bureaucracies like blood banks and even the gay community itself in fighting against bathhouse closures which allowed the disease to continue to spread. It's not a documentary but filmed as if it were a documentary. The only section that felt weak was the Ian McKellen and B.D. Wong storyline which seemed contrived and out of place. Doing a dramatization of Shilts' massive research opus was a formidable task and Arnold Schulman's screenplay does it justice. The enormous cast includes Anjelica Huston, Richard Gere, Lily Tomlin, Steve Martin, Phil Collins, Richard Jenkins, Glenne Headly, Swoosie Kurtz, Richard Masur, Saul Rubinek, Rosemary Murphy, Charles Martin Smith, Tcheky Karyo, Patrick Bauchau and Nathalie Baye. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

This Island Earth (1955)

An atomic scientist (Rex Reason) is chosen to take part in a top secret research experiment in a remote area in Georgia. But he soon becomes suspicious of the motives of the people behind the experiments, a suspicion shared by his beautiful colleague (Faith Domergue). Based on the novel by Raymond F. Jones and directed by Joseph M. Newman (THE BIG CIRCUS) and an uncredited Jack Arnold (IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE). One of the seminal science fiction movies of the 1950s features an intriguing screenplay and state of the art (for its era) special effects. For the majority of its running time, it manages to remain relatively sane so one can forgive the things that don't work like the silly looking bug creature who makes an appearance near the film's end. The film's intentions are closer to THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL than, say, EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS. Alas, the film's budget restricted the Metaluna sequences were intended to be more detailed. It's not the kind of film where the acting matters much but Jeff Morrow brings a certain gravitas in his portrayal of the alien scientist in control of the experimental laboratory. With Russell Johnson and Lance Fuller.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Once A Thief (1965)

An ex-convict (Alain Delon) out of prison for six years is keeping his nose clean. He has a job, a wife (Ann-Margret) and a daughter (Tammy Locke). But when a woman (Toy Mar) is killed in a liquor store hold up, all evidence points to him as the killer. Did he do it or is he being framed? Based on the novel SCRATCH A THIEF by Zekial Marko (who adapted his book for the screen) and directed by Ralph Nelson (LILIES OF THE FIELD). Zekial Marko who also has a small part in the film (his voice dubbed by Paul Frees) was an ex-con himself. This is a mediocre gangster heist gone wrong film, the kind of which we've all seen before. Delon's doomed protagonist isn't all that different from others in the genre like Sterling Hayden in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE for instance. Only Hayden was in a much better film. There's no one to like here, not the criminals, not the police, not even the hysterical whiny wife played by Ann-Margret in a terrible performance. The only impressive thing about the film is the striking B&W Panavision lensing by Robert Burks (VERTIGO) filmed on location in San Francisco. With Van Heflin, Jack Palance, Tony Musante, Yuki Shimoda and John David Chandler, quite creepy as a possible pedophile.    

Matrimonio All'Italiana (aka Marriage Italian Style) (1964)

A self centered but successful businessman (Marcello Mastroianni) meets a young prostitute (Sophia Loren) in a brothel during WWII. He takes her as his mistress but never marries her and she is treated more or less like an employee or servant. But after 22 years, when he decides to marry a young girl (Marilu Tolo), she takes matters into her own hands to get what's rightfully due her. Based on the play FILUMENA MARTURANO by Eduardo De Filippo and directed by Vittorio De Sica. This warm and human comedy is a great showpiece for Sophia Loren, who almost always did her best work for De Sica. Loren goes from age 17 to her 40s and her physical changes are remarkable. It's not just aging make up but her body grows and moves appropriately for the ages she's playing. Of course, the chemistry between her and Mastroianni is pure magic (they did 13 films together). The lovely score is by Armando Trovajoli. With Aldo Puglisi, Tecla Scarano, Gianni Ridolfi, Generoso Cortini and Vito Moricone. 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

It's Hollywood in 1969 and a washed TV action hero (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt man (Brad Pitt), who is also his best buddy, are struggling with their glory days behind them. Meanwhile, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is riding high on a big career and married to director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha). Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, this is a love letter to the 1960s era Hollywood. For those of us who were around at the time, we can share in his affectionate look at 60s pop culture and its celebrities. While I had problems with the film, for the most part I thought was marvelous. The film is overlong with scenes that go on too long and Tarantino uses real life people cruelly. There is a scene with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) where Lee is made to look like a fool. What was the point of the scene other than to get a cheap laugh? Other real life characters include Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis), Joanna Pettet (Rumer Willis), Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond) and Michelle Phillips (Rebecca Rittenhouse). The film is a revisionist (as was INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) fairy tale so the title is apt. We know from the beginning that it will eventually lead to the Charles Manson murders but this is a fairy tale and Tarantino gives us the ending we would want in real life. But the ending is no less graphically violent (it creeped me out as some audience members gleefully applauded the bloodshed). With Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning as Squeaky Fromme, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Lena Dunham, Emile Hirsch, Luke Perry (his final role), Timothy Olyphant and Michael Madsen.

A Private Matter (1992)

Set in 1962 Arizona, a popular hostess (Sissy Spacek) of a local children's TV show is pregnant with her fifth child. But when she discovers that the sedative she had been taking during her pregnancy called thalidomide has been proven to cause severe deformation of the fetus, she seeks out an abortion which was still illegal in the early 1960s unless the mother's life was in danger. Based on the true story of Sherri Finkbine and directed by Joan Micklin Silver (HESTER STREET). Social issue movies like this are often problematic. While they serve a purpose in dramatizing important issues like abortion, racial discrimination, women's rights, etc., they are often too didactic in nature and even if you're on the side of the issue, it can be as dry as a professor's lecture. Silver does a decent job of getting the work done but it's the performances that keep you watching. Spacek does wonders with her part in going beyond the polemics of the dialogue and infusing her character with a complicated emotional life. Strong performances by Aidan Quinn and Estelle Parsons as her husband and mother respectively. With William H. Macy, Carla Gugino, Xander Berkeley and Sheila McCarthy.  

Friday, July 26, 2019

Coquette (1929)

A Southern belle (Mary Pickford) is an incorrigible flirt but when she falls in love with a young man (Johnny Mack Brown) below her station by her father's standards, her father (John St. Polis) insists she never sees him again. When he finds out she has been seeing the boy behind his back, he takes matters into his own hands with tragic results. Based on the play by George Abbott and Ann Preston Bridgers which starred Helen Hayes and directed by Sam Taylor. This is a perfectly ridiculous melodrama and as one of the very early sound films, it creaks. Although a pre-code film, the plot was still considered too shocking for cinema audiences so extensive changes were made. Pickford won a best actress Oscar for her performance (her first all talking movie) here and she's barely adequate. But audiences ate it up and the film was a box office hit. I found the premise somewhat immoral as Pickford perjures herself on the stand by throwing the innocent man her father murdered under the bus in order to save her father from hanging. The film is interesting as a curio of early sound cinema and one of Pickford's few talkies but that's about it. With Matt Moore and Louise Beavers.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Mame (1974)

Set in the 1920s, a young orphaned boy (Kirby Furlong) is left in the care of his free thinking and high living aunt (Lucille Ball).  Based on the Broadway musical by way of the novel AUNTIE MAME by Patrick Dennis (filmed in 1958 as a non musical) and directed by Gene Saks. This movie is off in so many ways, where does one start? There's the egregious miscasting of Lucille Ball in the title role, for one. The role of Mame doesn't require a great singer, just someone who can keep in tune but Ball's off key flat hoarse vocals have no life in them. The 1958 film sparkled like champagne but this elephant has no fizz. Gene Saks has directed some good films like BAREFOOT IN THE PARK and CACTUS FLOWER but what made them good were the scripts and the performances, not his nondescript direction. Even the wonderful choreographer Onna White (OLIVER!, BYE BYE BIRDIE) seems defeated by the lackadaisical atmosphere. And frankly, Jerry Herman's score is okay and nowhere near inspired as his songs for HELLO DOLLY! Even if Angela Lansbury had been asked to recreate her stage Mame for this film version, it would still be a mediocre movie. The only actor who shines is Bea Arthur who brings some deliciously acid deliveries as Mame's actress sidekick. With Robert Preston, Bruce Davison, Jane Connell, Don Porter, Audrey Christie, John McGiver, Ruth McDevitt and Joyce Van Patten.  

Alimony (1949)

A young girl (Martha Vickers) from a small town moves to New York City to seek her fortune. She sets her eyes on a struggling composer (John Beal), who's just about to hit it big when his musical is set for Broadway. The fact that he's engaged to another woman (Hillary Brooke) doesn't bother her at all. Directed by Alfred Zeisler, this is a strange little movie. A cautionary tale with a sexist bent that leaves an unpleasant aftertaste in 2019. All the blame is put on Vickers' character with Brooke as the woman who puts her pride aside and stands by her man no matter what. Meanwhile, Beal who treats Brooke abominably and is putty in the hands of Vickers gets off scot-free! We're actually supposed to sympathize with this weakling of a man whose destiny is controlled by these two women. The most interesting character was Vickers' scheming friend played by Laurie Lind, an attractive actress whose only film credit this is. With Douglass Dumbrille and Leonid Kinskey.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

In The Cold Of The Night (1990)

A fashion photographer (Jeff Lester) suffers from nightmares in which he is killing a beautiful girl (Adrianne Sachs). When he meets the girl, they begin a torrid affair but the nightmares don't stop. Directed by Nico Mastorakis, a director whose work I'm not familiar with but apparently he specializes in these so called "erotic" thrillers. Personally, I found this about as erotic as a dose of herpes. If the plot sounds familiar, it's because it's a ripoff of EYES OF LAURA MARS. Lester has all the charisma of a Craig Wasson and as an actor he's a cipher and he's just about in every frame of the movie. This is the kind of movie Brian De Palma can do effortlessly (think BODY DOUBLE) and Mastorakis is no De Palma. When we finally find out what's behind all these nightmares, the explanation is ludicrous. It's a great looking film, I'll give it that. The cinematographer Andreas Bellis knows how to frame a movie. The dialog is cringe inducing, so much so that I began wondering if the film was meant to be a parody of erotic thrillers but it's not witty enough for that. With Tippi Hedren (the only one in the cast who doesn't embarrass herself), Marc Singer, David Soul, John Beck and Shannon Tweed. 

The Trouble With Angels (1966)

Two young rebellious teenage girls (Hayley Mills, June Harding) become fast friends at a private all girls Catholic school during their three years of tenure. But their rebellious ways prove a headache to the Mother Superior (Rosalind Russell). Based on the memoir LIFE WITH MOTHER SUPERIOR by Jane Trahey and directed by Ida Lupino. Although this isn't a Disney live action film, with Hayley Mills in the lead role and the family friendly narrative, it feels like one. Perhaps it's slightly edgier than the other Disney films of the era but it is a warm and charming film that doesn't make wholesome a dirty word. It was popular enough at the box office to warrant a sequel two years later, WHERE ANGELS GO TROUBLE FOLLOWS. With Camilla Sparv, Jim Hutton, Mary Wickes, Kent Smith, Marge Redmond, Margalo Gillmore, Portia Nelson and Binnie Barnes.   

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Golden Arrow (1962)

A desert bandit (Tab Hunter) kidnaps a Princess (Rossana Podesta, HELEN OF TROY) of Damascus with plans to hold her for ransom. But when he unexpectedly falls in love with her, he returns her unharmed to her city. But her tyrant father (Mario Feliciani) takes him for a prisoner. Fortunately, three genies (Giustino Durano, Umberto Melnati, Franco Scandurra) are watching over him and help him with a plan to win the Princess and take over the throne of Damascus. Directed by Antonio Margheriti, this Arabian Nights fantasy looks spectacular thanks to the wide screen Technirama lensing by Gabor Pogany (IMPERIAL VENUS). But despite looking like an expensive A production, its script is strictly a B movie. Its blend of swashbuckling "cast of thousands" adventure with comedy (the three genies are comedy relief) isn't a comfortable fit. The blonde haired Hunter is an odd choice for an Arabian hero (perhaps his father was a visiting Swede). But under 10 youngsters might have fun with it. With Renato Baldini, Rosario Borelli and Dominique Boschero.

The Evil Of Frankenstein (1964)

When Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is discovered by the authorities grave robbing in order to obtain a human heart, he escapes along with his assistant (Sandor Eles) and returns to his hometown in secret. When he discovers the Creature (Kiwi Kingston) he had created but thought destroyed preserved in a block of ice, he thaws him out. Directed by Freddie Francis, this is basically a rehash of many of the Frankenstein films that preceded it. Of all the famous movie "monsters" (Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, Invisible Man, etc.), Frankenstein has always been my least favorite. He's not really frightening, more to be pitied than anything and he's so slow moving that it would be easy to outrun him though of course, in these movies the people just freeze which allows him to throttle them to death. That being said, as usual for a Hammer film, it's a handsome looking movie with a nice atmosphere. Cushing remains the definitive Frankenstein but the Creature here seems more Peter Boyle than Karloff. With Peter Woodthorpe, Katy Wild and David Hutcheson. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

College Swing (1938)

A dim witted heiress (Gracie Allen) has been attending college for nine years without graduating. So she hires a private tutor (Bob Hope) to help her pass her exams. Directed by Raoul Walsh (WHITE HEAT) of all people, this feathery concoction uses its nonsensical plot as a hook to hang some wonderful comic routines and gags, swing music and college hijinks. For example, Gracie Allen will sing a love song to Edward Everett Horton and then break into an Irish jig that has nothing to do with the song she just sang. My favorite musical moment was a comic rumba danced by Martha Raye and the rubbery Ben Blue. It's all downright silly but one can't help but laugh and the musical numbers are mostly pretty good. The energetic cast includes Betty Grable, John Payne, George Burns, Robert Cummings, Richard Denning, Jackie Coogan, Florence George, Jerry Colonna and Cecil Cunningham. 

The Farewell (2019)

When the matriarch (Zhao Shuzhen) of a Chinese family that is splintered (some live in China, some in America, some in Japan) is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, the family decides not to tell her. When her grandson (Chen Han) is getting married, the family chooses to use the wedding as an excuse for the entire family to reunite in China with the grandmother for the last time. Directed by Lulu Wang, this is a lovely film. A dramedy about family, death, cultural differences and hope. Wang finds humor in the darkest of places and never for a moment does she go the sentimental route. Still, don't be surprised if your eyes dampen by the end of the movie. The box office success of CRAZY RICH ASIANS showed there is a market for films with Asian casts and I was happy to see many non-Asian faces scattered among the audience. The movie was filmed in China and New York and Wang keeps it real by having English spoken only when it would be spoken. The film offers the opportunity for Awkwafina, usually cast as the wild and crazy Asian girl in films like OCEAN'S EIGHT and CRAZY RICH ASIANS to show some dramatic acting chops as the Chinese-American girl revisiting her roots. In the current xenophobic climate in the U.S., a film like this is greatly appreciated. With Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Lu Hong and Jiang Yongbo.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Panique (1946)

A social recluse (Michel Simon) isn't liked by the residents of the Paris neighborhood where he resides. He's anti-social and keeps to himself. But when an elderly old maid is murdered, he seems like an easy target to pin the murder on. When a beautiful ex-convict (Viviane Romance) moves into the neighborhood, it will prove his undoing. Based on the novel LES FIANCAILLES DE M. HIRE by Georges Simenon and directed by Julian Duvivier. This superb film noir is as good as any of the noirs Hollywood was churning out in the 1940s. Simon's Hire is creepy and unlikable which makes it hard for us to empathize with him but the furious mob mentality of the townspeople forces us overcome our loathing of of Hire and outrage over the kind of unreasonable actions of a rabble that takes the law into their own hands. There is some argument that the film reflects the collaboration of the French with the Germans during the war but I didn't see it that way. But the film's subtext aside, it remains a riveting thriller. Remade in 1989 by Patrick Leconte as MONSIEUR HIRE. With Paul Bernard, Max Dalban, Emile Drain and Lita Recio.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Seven Thunders (aka The Beasts Of Marseilles) (1957)

Set in German occupied France in 1943, two escaped British prisoners of war (Stephen Boyd, Tony Wright) hide out in the seaport city of Marseilles where they wait for an opportunity to escape to England. Based on the novel by Rupert Croft Cooke and directed by Hugo Fregonese (MAN IN THE ATTIC). Although I suppose one could categorize this as a war film, there are no battles and the film is a drama with several interesting characters in addition to the two prisoners of war. They include a street urchin (Anna Gaylor), an Englishwoman (Kathleen Harrison) married to a local, a man (Eugene Deckers) who helps fugitives escape and a serial killer (James Robertson Justice). As the story moves among its characters, you can't help but become involved in their fates. The script provides a bit humor (mostly supplied by Harrison) to contrast with the darker aspects of the story like the serial killer and the Nazi evacuation and destruction of the town. I quite liked it although some of the rear projection work toward the film's finale is pretty bad. There's a solid underscore by Antony Hopkins. With Rosalie Crutchley, Katherine Kath, Anton Diffring, James Kenny, George Coulouris and Martin Miller. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Terror Street (aka 36 Hours) (1953)

A U.S. Air Force pilot (Dan Duryea) flies into London to find out why he hasn't heard from his wife (Elsie Albin) lately. Instead, he's knocked out and when he wakes up he finds her dead ..... and he becomes the chief suspect! It's a race against time to prove he didn't do it. Directed by Montgomery Tully, there's not much of interest here. It's a Hammer programmer with a miscast Dan Duryea, an actor more suited to sleazy villains than tough talking heroes. Robert Mitchum, he's not! It's pretty sloppy film-making with flaws that could have easily been corrected by giving the screenplay a tighter look. Which isn't to say I wasn't modestly entertained but it's not the kind of movie that sticks with you and I'm sure if I watch the film again in, say 3 or 4 years, I'll completely have forgotten the plot. With Gudrun Ure, Lee Patterson, Marianne Stone, John Chandos, Eric Pohlmann and Harold Lang.

The Morning After (1986)

A washed up alcoholic actress (Jane Fonda) wakes up in a man's loft apartment with his dead body next to her ..... stabbed in the chest. She has no memory of the night before as she blacked out. Did she kill him ... or is she being set up? Directed by Sidney Lumet, this is a bust as a murder mystery or thriller but the film justifies itself with a smashing performance by Jane Fonda who received an Oscar nomination for her work here. The rather far fetched screenplay isn't helped by the lackluster direction of Lumet, who has no feel for the genre. There are very few characters in the movie so it's fairly easy to put together who the murderer is. There's a romantic subplot between Fonda and Jeff Bridges as down on his luck ex-cop that doesn't ring true although Bridges is fine in the part. But it's Fonda's raw "let it all hang out" performance that makes this an absorbing experience in spite of the inept writing and direction. With Kathy Bates, Raul Julia (weak), Diane Salinger, Kathleen Wilhoite, Richard Foronjy and Frances Bergen. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Noose Hangs High (1948)

Two window washers (Bud Abbott, Lou Costello) are mistaken for couriers and given $50,000 to deliver to a bookie (Joseph Calleia). By accident, they have the money sent to an overworked secretary (Cathy Downs, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE) and the bookie gives them 24 hours to recover the money. But there's a problem ..... the girl has spent all but $2,000 of the money. A remake of the 1939 film FOR LOVE OR MONEY and directed by Charles Barton (THE SHAGGY DOG). While not one of the best of the Abbott and Costello vehicles, this is a solid entry with some wonderful A&C routines, most of which were variations of routines they'd used in previous movies. The film also features a performance by Leon Errol as a gambler which comes pretty close to stealing the movie away from Lou Costello. With Fritz Feld, Mike Mazurki and Ellen Corby.

Copper Canyon (1950)

Following the Civil War, a vaudeville sharpshooter (Ray Milland) with a mysterious past is coerced into helping a group of Southern miners who are being prevented from selling their ore by a corrupt group of rebel haters. He's also smitten with a beautiful gambler (Hedy Lamarr) but can he trust her? Directed by John Farrow (THE BIG CLOCK), this is standard western fare enhanced by the star power of Milland and Lamarr and the impressive Technicolor lensing of the Sedona, Arizona locations by Charles Lang (SOME LIKE IT HOT). Milland's character is a bit irritating in that he never seems to trust the right people or foresee the obvious. There was a subplot featuring a romance between a young Confederate widow (Mona Freeman) and a Union soldier (Harry Carey Jr.) that I wouldn't have minded seeing more of. Western fans could do worse. The large supporting cast includes Macdonald Carey, Hope Emerson, Frank Faylen, Peggy Knudsen and Ian Wolfe.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Casanova 70 (1965)

A NATO officer (Marcello Mastroianni) can only get sexually aroused when he is in a dangerous situation. Like sex in public or when a husband might be home any minute. This sexual peccadillo will eventually see him in a courtroom charged with murder! Directed by Mario Monicelli (BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET), this chaotic (and I don't mean that in a good way) comedy inexplicably received an Oscar nomination for its screenplay. It's a slight sex comedy, very much of its day and the movie's depiction of the film's women as sex objects doesn't play well today. More to the point, it's not very funny. The movie only comes to life toward the end of the film when Mastroianni gets involved with the wife (Marisa Mell) of a deaf count (Marco Ferreri) and they plot to murder him. Fortunately, Mastroianni remains of the screen's most expert comedic actors and his presence smooths out some of the movie's rougher spots. With Virna Lisi, Michele Mercier, Enrico Maria Salerno and Rosemary Dexter.  

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Chicago (2002)

Set in 1924 Chicago, a stage struck housewife (Renee Zellweger) stuck in an unhappy marriage is having an affair with a furniture salesman (Dominic West). But when he gets tired of her, she kills him with a gun. But in prison, she finds the celebrity denied her on the outside. Based on the 1975 Broadway musical which was revived again in 1996 and went on to become one of the longest running musicals in Broadway history (still running with almost 7,500 performances as I write this) and directed by Rob Marshall. This cynical and dark musical went on to win the Oscar for best film. The original production was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse and Fosse's stamp is all over the film's choreography. Director Marshall, who also did the choreography, was smart enough not to mess with perfection. The John Kander and Fred Ebb songs are a joy and Marshall's staging of them is very good. That is, when he doesn't get carried away with his editing shears but his stylized staging works wonderfully for the most part. With Catherine Zeta Jones in her Oscar winning performance, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Christine Baranski, Taye Diggs, Lucy Liu, Colm Feore and Chita Rivera. 

The Quiet American (1958)

Set in 1952 Saigon (still under French rule), a seemingly naive American (Audie Murphy) working for an international organization attempts to aid a third force that is neither Communist nor Nationalist for the "betterment" of the Vietnamese people. He finds himself at odds with a cynical British journalist (Michael Redgrave in a marvelous performance) over the Vietnamese situation and more importantly, the journalist's Vietnamese mistress (Giorgia Moll) who he has fallen in love with. Based on the novel by Graham Greene and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. In spite of severely compromising the Greene novel by making the book's undercover CIA agent working for his government into a well meaning if naive American with no government ties, the film remains an effective look at involvement in Vietnam by outside forces attempting to control its fate. Greene disowned the film because it took his anti-American viewpoint and not only made the American more heroic but the movie focused on the romantic triangle more than the novel. The 2002 remake stayed closer to the source material. While I agree it's a pity that Mankiewicz excised the CIA involvement, I disagree that it makes the film "pro-American". With Claude Dauphin, Kerima, Yoko Tani, Bruce Cabot, Richard Loo and Fred Sadoff.  

Crawl (2019)

A category 5 hurricane is headed for the Florida coast and most of the towns have been evacuated. When a competitive swimmer (Kaya Scodelario) hasn't heard from her father (Barry Pepper) who is in the path of the hurricane, she drives down to see if he's okay. But she finds him unconscious and injured in the cellar. But the hurricane is the least of their problems as alligators have infested the area because of the flooding. Directed by Alexandre Aja, this is an intense edge of your seat creature vs. man horror thriller. Predatory animals/insects/fish vs. man have been a staple of the genre for decades and they range from the sublime (JAWS) to the ridiculous (EMPIRE OF THE ANTS). This minor thriller is no JAWS but it delivers on its promises and does what is sets out to do. This is a lean and tight horror feature (it runs under 90 minutes) that eschews romantic interests, character backstories, "cute" kids (though it does have a dog I was waiting to get devoured by the gators) and concentrates on action. I found myself literally biting my nails. The appealing Scodelario gives a feisty performance which anchors the film. Horror aficionados should find much to like here. 

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Set in a dystopian future, fireman start fires by burning books rather than put them out. The totalitarian government has banned all books because they make people think which makes them harder to control. A fireman (Oskar Werner) has never questioned his line of work but when he meets a young teacher (Julie Christie), he begins to question it and begins reading books although they are forbidden. Based on the novel by Ray Bradbury and directed by Francois Truffaut in his only English language film. The film received mixed reviews when it premiered but in the subsequent years, its reputation has grown and justifiably so. It probably plays better today than it did to 1966 audiences. It has a terrific look thanks to the production design and art direction of Tony Walton (who also did costumes) and Syd Cain and immeasurably aided by the cinematography of Nicholas Roeg (before he turned director) and there's a shimmering score by Bernard Herrmann. My only quibble and it's a minor one is the casting of Christie in dual roles. She also plays Werner's wife and the "two sides of the same woman" idea is a bit too obvious. Other than that, a haunting and compelling film. With Cyril Cusack, Anton Diffring and Mark Lester (OLIVER!). 

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Devil's Daughter (1974)

Attending the funeral of her estranged mother (Diane Ladd), a young woman (Belinda J. Montgomery) meets a wealthy woman (Shelley Winters) who was an old friend of her mother. The woman invites the girl to stay at her home for awhile. But the strange behavior of the people around her indicate something's not right. Not right indeed for her dark fate is sealed. Written by Colin Higgins (9 TO 5) and directed by Jeannot Szwarc (SOMEWHERE IN TIME). This horror movie is rather silly but not without entertainment value. Montgomery is a deadly dull ingenue but Winters' delicious over the top acting compensates. No real surprises here but I liked the fatalistic ending. Fans of B horror fodder should enjoy. With Joseph Cotten, Robert Foxworth, Martha Scott, Jonathan Frid and Abe Vigoda.  

Captain Clegg (aka Night Creatures) (1962)

Set in 1792 on the English coastal village of Dymchurch, the marshes are said to be inhabited by phantoms on horseback which terrorize those bold enough to enter the marsh territory. When a British naval officer (Patrick Allen) arrives to search the town for alcohol smuggled from France, he dismisses the phantoms as myth. But the town holds a secret far more interesting than contraband alcohol. Directed by Peter Graham Scott. While the film is from Hammer studios (known for their horror output in the 1960s) and marketed as a horror film with Peter Cushing (along with Christopher Lee, the kings of Hammer horror), it is only nominally a horror movie and frankly, I wouldn't even attach the label horror to it. The film is a period adventure piece about a bad man and his redemption. It's quite good and one of the best Hammer films of the era. But horror? I don't think so. The film is atmospheric, handsomely shot by Hammer regular Arthur Grant (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) and contains some of Cushing's best work. If you go in not expecting a typical "horror" film, you should be rewarded with a solid adventure yarn with pirates, smugglers and soldiers. With Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Jack MacGowran and Michael Ripper.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Beauty Shop (2005)

The star stylist (Queen Latifah) at a posh beauty salon is tired of being harassed by her pretentious employer (Kevin Bacon) so she quits. Determined to make her dream of owning her own beauty salon come true, she borrows money and opens her shop in a downscale neighborhood. Directed by Bille Woodruff, this is the usual underdog story but the cast and especially Queen Latifah are so likable that you can forgive the cliches and root for her all the way. The supporting characters are colorful and unique and the movie is a pleasant diversion. I had some minor problems with the drippy character played by Alicia Silverstone as the beauty shop's sole white employee but it might have more to do with the actress's playing of the character than the character herself. The large ensemble includes Andie MacDowell, Alfre Woodard, Djimon Hounsou, Della Reese, Mena Suvari, Sherri Shepherd, Sheryl Underwood, Octavia Spencer, Golden Brooks and Bryce Wilson.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

A drifter (John Garfield) hitches a ride and gets off at a roadside diner just outside Los Angeles. He takes a job offered by the cafe's owner (Cecil Kellaway) but what he's really interested in is the owner's beautiful blonde wife (Lana Turner). Their relationship is antagonistic at first but it isn't long before the sexual tension gives way to passion ..... and murder! Based on the novel by James M. Cain and directed by Tay Garnett. The book came out in 1934 but its subject matter was considered too racy for a film adaptation so it wasn't until 1946 that the film finally got made (two unauthorized previous versions were made in France and Italy under different titles). The film is surprisingly effective considering that the screenplay goes out of its way to make the protagonists more sympathetic than they are in the novel. I wasn't happy with the film's resolution which attempts to redeem Garfield and Turner somewhat (something the novel doesn't). Turner and Garfield have a strong chemistry here, something they apparently didn't have in real life. But the contrast between the cool Turner dressed in white and Garfield's bad boy drifter makes for a sizzling combination. One of the best film noirs of the 1940s. With Hume Cronyn in one of his very best performances, Audrey Totter, Leon Ames and Jeff York.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Victor Victoria (1995)

Set in 1930s Paris, a penniless English soprano (Julie Andrews) is taken under the wing of a gay nightclub performer (Tony Roberts). He comes up with the idea to have her masquerade as a male female impersonator. The idea works and she becomes the toast of Paris but problems arise when she finds herself attracted to a visiting American gangster (Michael Nouri) from Chicago. Based on the 1982 film of the same name (itself based on the 1933 German film VIKTOR UND VIKTORIA) and directed by Blake Edwards, Matthew Diamond and Goro Kobayashi. With the exception of Shady Dame From Seville, all the film's songs were retained and eight new songs added. Henry Mancini passed away the year before it opened on Broadway so Frank Wildhorn finished the score. It's easier to adapt a stage play to film but when a film (which is a visual medium) is adapted for the stage, it loses much of its fluidity. Most of the new songs aren't much but there are three musical moments not from the film that shine: a tango between Andrews and Rachel York as Nouri's moll, a duet between Nouri and Andrews called Almost A Love Song and a new song for Andrews, Living In The Shadows. While a faithful adaptation of the film (perhaps too faithful), it's lacks the film's elegance and charm. The choreography is by Rob Marshall who would later turn film director (CHICAGO, INTO THE WOODS). With Gregory Jbara as Nouri's bodyguard (who steals the show) and Richard B. Shull.

All The Kind Strangers (1974)

A photographer (Stacy Keach) traveling from New York to California by car is going through rural Tennessee when he gives a 7 year old boy (Tim Parkison) a lift home. But when he arrives there, he finds the children have no parents except "mother" (Samantha Eggar), who like him gave a child a ride home only to find herself a prisoner. Will the two adults be able to escape from this diabolical hillbilly family? Directed by Burt Kennedy (SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF), the premise of this borderline horror film has infinite possibilities. Alas, the film seems to want to downplay the horror possibilities in favor of a more social message if the snoozer of an ending is any indication. This is a film that could use a remake with an edgier script and an ending that provides more of a kick. Keach is saddled with a rather boneheaded character that can't seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation but Eggar provides a nice contrast as a woman biding her time and keeping her wits about her. There's a nice score by Ronald Frangipane. With John Savage and Robby Benson.

The Running Man (1963)

An English pilot (Laurence Harvey) devises a plan to fake his own death so his American wife (Lee Remick) can get the insurance money. Everything seems to have worked out beautifully when they reunite in a Spanish coastal town. But when the insurance investigator (Alan Bates) on their case shows up on holiday, is it just coincidence ..... or does he suspect something? Based on the novel BALLAD OF THE RUNNING MAN by Shelley Smith and directed by Carol Reed. For the most part, this is a wonderful thriller in the Hitchcockian style. In a change of pace from his B&W dark suspense films like THE THIRD MAN, ODD MAN OUT and THE MAN BETWEEN, Reed and his director of cinematography Robert Krasker (ODD MAN OUT) shot this in wide screen scope (Panavision) and bright Eastman color accenting the handsome Spanish locations. But the ambiguous ending is very much in line with those movies as we don't get the usual happy ending. I've never cared for Harvey as an actor which makes his performance all the more believable (for a change) as his character is quite unlikable. Remick is quite effective as the conflicted wife who finds her husband's change after his "death" disturbing and Bates has a reserved charm as the bloke who falls in love with Remick and sets off a chain of events. With Fernando Rey, Eleanor Summerfield, Felix Aylmer and Allan Cuthbertson. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Informer (1929)

In the Ireland of 1922, when a member (Carl Harbord) of the Irish Republican Army kills a policeman, he goes on the run. But when his best friend Gypo (Lars Hanson, SAGA OF GOSTA BERLING) thinks he has been having an affair with girlfriend (Lya De Putti), he betrays him by turning him into the police. Although he didn't do it for the money reward, he accepts it but his guilt will eventually drive him to a tragic end. Based on the novel by Liam O'Flaherty (famously filmed by John Ford in 1935) and directed by Arthur Robison. Originally conceived as a silent film, it was made during the transition years to sound film so a talking version was made simultaneously. I watched the original silent version. I'm not a major fan of Ford's 1935 film, mostly because of Victor McLaglen's somewhat overbearing performance. This version focuses a lot on the personal relationship between Hanson and De Putti where betrayal, unlike Gypo's betrayal of his friend which is real, is imagined or assumed. That, in turn, results in an actual betrayal which will prove fatal. Hanson is very good here in an internal performance quite different from McLaglen's external performance. While there's much to admire in Ford's film, I found this ultimately more affecting. With Warwick Ward, Janice Adair and Daisy Campbell.    

Thursday, July 4, 2019

A Matter Of Humanities (1969)

After suffering a heart attack, a doctor (Robert Young) is reluctantly coerced into taking a younger doctor (James Brolin) into his general practice to relieve some of the work burden. While they clash over ideas, one particular case stands out: a young wife (Susan Strasberg) seems unable to handle the trauma of her husband's (Peter Duel) aphasia and wants to have him committed. Directed by David Lowell Rich (MADAME X), this telefilm was the basis for the TV series MARCUS WELBY MD which went on to have a seven year run. It's not very interesting and from the movie, I can't see why anyone would think it would make for a compelling TV series and indeed, the film itself plays out like an extended TV episode. The most interesting aspect was seeing a romantic relationship including love scenes between two very mature characters: Young and Anne Baxter as a real estate agent. It's very rare to see such scenes with "elderly" people. There would be some changes in the TV show from the movie. The character of Young's daughter (Sheila Larken) was eliminated entirely from the series while Welby's nurse played by Penny Santon was replaced by the more attractive Elena Verdugo. With Lew Ayres, Tom Bosley and Richard Loo.  

F.B.I. Girl (1951)

A prominent state governor (Raymond Greenleaf) has a criminal record under another name. When he is on the verge of being exposed, his ruthless right hand man (Raymond Burr) arranges for his fingerprints to go missing with the help of an FBI employee (Margia Dean). But when things go wrong and the girl is killed, two FBI agents (Cesar Romero, George Brent)  are hot on the case. Directed by William A. Berke, this B noir-ish crime movie is somewhat overly complicated and its villains seem more inclined to bungle everything rather than think things carefully out. But a movie like this wasn't made with much care, it's a quickie designed to play at the bottom of a double feature and move in and out of theaters in a week. It's a painless watch and the cast is good. With Audrey Totter in the title role, Tom Drake, Joi Lansing, Tommy Noonan, Peter Marshall and O.Z. Whitehead.    

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)

In 1868, a Navy expedition in the South Pacific is attacked and three people escape by going overboard: a harpooner (Kirk Douglas), a Professor (Paul Lukas) and his assistant (Peter Lorre). After drifting awhile, they come across the submarine that attacked their vessel. It is the Nautilus and the martinet Captain Nemo (James Mason) holds them prisoners. Based on the novel by Jules Verne and directed by Richard Fleischer (THE VIKINGS). Notable for its production design (Nemo's dwelling is a Victorian beauty) and special effects (the battle with the giant squid is still pretty impressive). Franz Planer's (BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S) cinematography makes good use of the Jamaica and Bahamas locations in the CinemaScope frame but still, at over two hours it can seem a bit long. In 1954, I'm sure the CinemaScope underwater images were awesome but today the amount of time spent on them make the movie sluggish in spots. But it's still one of the very best Jules Verne adaptations. In one of his best performances, James Mason makes for a charismatic moody Nemo and he dominates the film. With Robert J. Wilke and Ted De Corsia.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

In The Heat Of The Night (1967)

While passing through a small racist town in Mississippi, a black police detective (Sidney Poitier) from the North finds himself unwillingly embroiled in solving a murder. The redneck sheriff (Rod Steiger) resents his intrusion but realizes his expertise may be his only hope of getting the murder solved. Based on the novel by John Ball and directed by Norman Jewison (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF). The 1967 Oscar winner for best picture remains an engrossing murder mystery while it also examines small town racism. The compelling performances of Poitier and Steiger go a long way in providing a human context against the background of unbridled racism and hatred. By the film's end, there's a mutual respect between the two men but the film keeps it real, Steiger's bigot sheriff hasn't seen the light, he's still a racist but perhaps for the first time, he's seen a black man as a human being and not the enemy. The strong supporting cast includes Lee Grant, Warren Oates, Scott Wilson, Larry Gates, Peter Whitney, William Schallert and Beah Richards.

Nightmare (1964)

A 17 year old girl (Jennie Linden, WOMEN IN LOVE) at a girls school is having nightmares about her mother (Isla Cameron) who is in a mental asylum for the murder of her father. When she returns home although she is in the care of a nurse (Moira Redmond), the nightmares intensify. Directed by cinematographer turned director Freddie Francis (TALES FROM THE CRYPT), this movie is split into two parts. The first is about the young girl losing her mind over her nightmare visions. The second focuses the aftermath and the perpetrators who drove her out of her mind. The first one is an obvious set up and at first, I dreaded spending an entire movie on another damsel being driven crazy movie but when the film switches gears in the middle of the movie, it becomes more interesting. The B&W Hammerscope lensing by John Wilcox (THE LAST VALLEY) is quite handsome particularly the exteriors. Its plot may be hackneyed but the "twist" (although obvious) compensates for the film's overall lack of originality. With David Knight, Brenda Bruce, George A. Cooper and Irene Richmond. 

Ball Of Fire (1941)

A nightclub showgirl (Barbara Stanwyck) is wanted by the D.A.'s office to testify against her mobster boyfriend (Dana Andrews). To avoid their subpoena, she hides out at a mansion occupied by eight sheltered academics who are compiling a new encyclopedia from a grant. The youngest of them (Gary Cooper) finds himself falling for her. Directed by Howard Hawks, this delightful updating of Snow White and the seven dwarfs is one of the treasures of screwball comedy. Stanwyck's Oscar nominated performance is one of her very best but Cooper is also terrific here. After HIGH NOON, this may be my favorite Cooper performance. Enough can't be said about the wonderful character actors playing the other seven academics who give the movie its pinnings. The script by Billy Wilder and Charles Bracket is a gem of comedy writing. Stanwyck (dubbed by Martha Tilton) does a terrific musical number Drum Boogie accompanied by the great Gene Krupa. With Dan Duryea, Oscar Homolka, S.Z. Sakalls, Richard Haydn, Henry Travers, Leonid Kinsky and Kathleen Howard.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Pay-Off (1930)

A young couple (William Janney, Marian Nixon) are robbed in the park of their savings by a thug (Hugh Trevor). When the crime boss (Lowell Sherman, who also directed) of the thug's gang finds out, he returns the money to the young couple and takes them under his wing. But the thug carries a grudge which will get all of them close to the electric chair! Based on the play CRIME by Samuel Shipman and John B. Hymer. Lowell Sherman had been a popular leading man since 1914 and this was only his second feature film as a director. By the mid thirties, he'd already began to segue to directing full time directing Mae West in SHE DONE HIM WRONG and Katharine Hepburn to an Oscar in MORNING GLORY before he died at 46 while directing BECKY SHARP (1935). I liked this little pre-code crime drama for the most part until the last 20 minutes or so when the fun stops and it gets too sanctimonious. It's a pity because the premise of a gentleman criminal who takes a liking to two young kids in love and mentors them is intriguing. Remade in 1938. With Helene Millard and George F. Marion.  

Amorous Mis-Adventures Of Casanova (aka Casanova & Co.) (1977)

The legendary lover Casanova (Tony Curtis) is hiding from the Venetian authorities but a lookalike (Tony Curtis) is mistaken for him. When Casanova finds out the con man is taking advantage of the similarity in their looks, he comes out of hiding to seek him out and protect his reputation. Directed by Franz Antel, this sex comedy is the kind of bad movie that eventually becomes watchable as you revel in its awfulness and wonder, "What were these people thinking?". And when I say sex comedy, I do mean sex. One sequence with three nuns in girl on girl action crosses over to softcore porn territory. The humor is terrible too. Example: a soldier slips his hand down a woman's bodice and she asks, "Do you have a search warrant?". Yep, that's the level of "humor". The humor is also anachronistic as references to Disneyland and vibrators are tossed in a story that takes place in the 18th century. During its international release, the film had at least eight different titles. Probably a film its cast would love to leave off their resume. With Britt Ekland, Hugh Griffith, Marisa Berenson, Sylva Koscina, Victor Spinetti and Marisa Mell.