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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Funny Bones (1995)

In Las Vegas, when a young comic (Oliver Platt) attempts to follow in the footsteps of his legendary comedian father (Jerry Lewis), his act bombs terribly and he flees to Blackpool, England where he spent his early childhood years. It is there that he discovers some unexpected facts about his family background. Directed by Peter Chelsom (SHALL WE DANCE?), the film is often referred to as a comedy/drama which is misleading. It's more of a drama with some comedy but the emphasis is on the drama which is about two families torn apart by past indiscretions and tragedies. The film's opening is confusing and I'm still not sure what happened but once the film finds its rhythm, it slowly builds to a satisfying conclusion even if the fate of the characters are left open. Jerry Lewis is used here (as he was in KING OF COMEDY) strictly as an actor, you won't find the zany Lewis of his comedy classics. If the film belongs to anyone, it belongs to Lee Evans (THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY) as the troubled young comic haunted by a tragic event that ruined his life. Certainly not a great film but a solid one that could use a little more attention. With Leslie Caron, Oliver Reed, Ruta Lee and Ian McNeice.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Tall T (1957)

After losing his horse, a struggling rancher (Randolph Scott) hitches a ride on a stagecoach carrying a newly married couple (Maureen O'Sullivan, John Hubbard). But soon after, they all find themselves at the mercy of a cold blooded outlaw (Richard Boone), who holds the woman for ransom after he discovers how wealthy her father is. Based on THE CAPTIVES by Elmore Leonard and directed by Budd Boetticher (RIDE LONESOME). This is a wonderful western and a perfect example of tight, economical film making. It's also an early example of the more realistic violent westerns that would come in the 1960s like THE WILD BUNCH and the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. Although the violence is discreet, it's quite brutal like the cold blooded murder of a child or someone getting their face blown off. The characters are all allowed some layers and human contradictions so that the cold blooded villain that could kill a child gently covers a sleeping woman with a blanket and Maureen O'Sullivan gets a more fleshed out female character than most westerns usually allow. With Henry Silva, Skip Homeier, Arthur Hunnicutt and Christopher Olsen (THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH).  

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Chairman (1969)

A Nobel Prize winning scientist (Gregory Peck) is lured into going to Red China by the U.S. government in order to secure an agricultural enzyme created by the Chinese that can help defeat world hunger. But what he doesn't know is that a chip placed inside him is an explosive device. Based on the novel by Jay Richard Kennedy and directed by J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE). This is a well done espionage thriller with a rather far fetched premise that belongs in a James Bond movie instead of a more "realistic" spy movie. There's not much depth to it, it's strictly an entertainment and on that level, the film delivers. Thompson whips up some intense moments during the film's last twenty minutes or so. I'm a huge Gregory Peck fan so his presence in the movie was a big bonus for me. Despite her top billing alongside Peck, Anne Heywood (THE FOX) has less than five minutes of screen time. There's a terrific score by Jerry Goldsmith that elevates the film. With Arthur Hill, Conrad Yama, Keye Luke, Alan Dobie, Helen Horton and Francesca Tu.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Callaway Went Thataway (1951)

A washed up cowboy star (Howard Keel) becomes famous again when his old movies show up on television. But he disappeared ten years ago and no one knows where he is! So the head (Fred MacMurray) of the advertising agency that promoted the idea of resurrecting the old cowboy movies discovers a lookalike (Howard Keel) and trains him to pass as the faded cowboy star. But it's only a matter of time until the real cowboy shows up. Written and directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama (THE COURT JESTER), this spoof of TV cowboys starts off promisingly before it runs out of steam around its last quarter. Keel gets a chance to show off his acting chops instead of his bass baritone playing a dual role. The nasty drunken Callaway and the wholesome sweet natured Calloway and does it well. Dorothy McGuire as MacMurray's advertising partner and Keel's romantic interest brings a bit of class to the proceedings. With Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, Esther Williams, Natalie Schafer and Jesse White.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Lost Lady (1934)

When her fiance (Phillip Reed) is shot to death on the eve of their wedding, a young woman (Barbara Stanwyck) vows to never love again. So she enters a platonic marriage with a much older man (Frank Morgan). But when a handsome aviator (Ricardo Cortez) enters her life, she finds that her vow will be impossible to keep. Based on the novel by Willa Cather (previously filmed in 1924) and directed by Alfred E. Green (THE JOLSON STORY). The film bears very little resemblance to Cather's novel which is about the erosion of the American West. On its own terms, it's an agreeable programmer. The wonderful thing about so many 1930s programmers is how compact they often are in their storytelling with running times between one hour and one hour and 20 minutes. This one is one hour and one minute and not an ounce of fat. As always, Stanwyck is wonderful (I would be hard pressed to think of a bad Stanwyck performance), one of the most natural of the 1930s actresses. With Lyle Talbot and Raffaela Ottiano.

Song Of Norway (1970)

The young Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (Toralv Maurstad) struggles to not only have his compositions performed and published but to give Norway a musical identity. Based on the 1944 operetta with Robert Wright and George Forrest (KISMET) providing lyrics to Grieg's music and directed by Andrew L. Stone (THE LAST VOYAGE). When the film premiered in 1970, the reviews were terrible and it was a box office flop. But honestly, I don't think it's any worse than those awful Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy operettas from the 1930s which some people adore. But this was 1970, the year of movies like FIVE EASY PIECES, MASH and WOODSTOCK and something like SONG OF NORWAY was straight out of 1930s MGM. Of course, it was updated with 70 millimeter wide screen and stereophonic sound but other than that, there was no concession to contemporary times. Norway's ministry of tourism (if it has one) couldn't have had a better advertisement for Norway. Davis Boulton's Super Panavision 70 lensing makes Norway look like a paradise. Stone's direction is heavy handed. With a deft touch for thrillers like CRY TERROR, JULIE or THE LAST VOYAGE, I don't know why he thought he could direct a huge musical. With Florence Henderson (in her only major film role), Edward G. Robinson, Robert Morley, Oscar Homolka, Frank Porretta, Harry Secombe and Christina Schollin.  

Shiawase No Kiiroi Hankachi (aka The Yellow Handkerchief) (1977)

A geeky young man (Tetsuya Takeda) lacking in social skills meets a shy young girl (Kaori Momoi) and they hook up. They offer a quiet spoken stranger (Ken Takakura) a lift and the three end up going on a road trip to the small town where the stranger once lived. Loosely based on a series of magazine articles by Pete Hamill and directed by Yoji Yamada. Who would think a Japanese movie would be "inspired" by an American pop song (Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree)? While popular in Japan, the film didn't even make a ripple in the U.S. It's a fairly standard road trip movie that comes into its own during the second half when we get the full backstory of Takakura's character. The ending is clearly designed to elicit buckets of tears but I was left dry eyed, perhaps because I knew exactly where it was going. Takeda's character is rather annoying and when someone beat him up, I was rather pleased! All in all, a decent entertainment but unmemorable. With Chieko Baishho as Takakura's wife. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Last Warning (1929)

When the lead actor (D'Arcy Corrigan) dies under mysterious circumstances during the performance of a Broadway play, the police are called in. But his dead body suddenly disappears. Several years later, a producer (Montagu Love) assembles the original cast with the intention of doing the play again. But death threats and "accidents" indicate someone does not want the play revived. Based on the play by Thomas F. Fallon which was based on the novel HOUSE OF FEAR by Wadsworth Camp and directed by Paul Leni (THE CAT AND THE CANARY) in his final film. If you're a big murder mystery fan (as I am), you should have a good time here. Its plot is often incoherent but Leni's stylish direction with a strong assist from his cinematographer Hal Mohr (RANCHO NOTORIOUS) overcomes the minor quibbles. Remade in 1939 under the original novel's title. With Laura La Plante, John Boles, Slim Summerville, Margaret Livingston, Burr McIntosh and Carrie Daumery.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Gold For The Caesars (1963)

Set in Spain in the year 96 A.D., a slave (Jeffrey Hunter) proves highly useful to his Roman master (Massimo Girotti) when his architectural skills help to build bridges for Rome. But when the slave falls in love with his master's mistress (Mylene Demongeot), he suddenly becomes expendable to his master. Based on the novel by Florence A. Sward and directed by Andre De Toth (HOUSE OF WAX). This sword and sandal adventure suffers from its ambitions. The script is a step above the usual Italian peplum and with a bigger budget and a director who was able to put more thought into the project (there's a strong indication that the film was, in fact, mostly directed by the second unit director Riccardo Freda), it might have been more of an A picture. It's just good enough to fail as a hokey but fun peplum but not good enough to qualify as anything more than a piece of pulp, enjoyable if you're not too demanding. With Ron Randell and Ettore Manni.  

Thursday, April 23, 2020

This Land Is Mine (1943)

Set in an unspecified European country, a timid school teacher (Charles Laughton) lives with his clinging jealous mother (Una O'Connor) while secretly in love with the girl (Maureen O'Hara) next door. When the Nazis invade his town, he will be forced to take a stand. Directed by Jean Renoir (RULES OF THE GAME). The term propaganda movie in reference to WWII cinema is generally seen as a negative. Most of them, done to boost morale or support the war effort, are of their era and not especially good movies. But to use a blanket term like "WWII propaganda movie" does a disservice to some of the very good movies (however rare) made during the war years. THIS LAND IS MINE is one of the very good examples. The screenplay by Dudley Nichols (STAGECOACH) doesn't make the Germans (here in the form of Walter Slezak's cultured Nazi) loutish thugs or the collaborators slimy snakes nor are the heroes without human frailties either. The film is anchored by Laughton's excellent performance. He has a couple of monologues that if he were on stage would receive an ovation when he finished. With George Sanders, Nancy Gates, Kent Smith and George Coulouris. 

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

When his wife (Nicole Kidman) confesses an erotic fantasy about a naval officer she briefly met, a society doctor (Tom Cruise) becomes deeply disturbed by her confession. He embarks on a long night's journey that culminates at the orgy of a secret society. Loosely based on the 1926 novel TRAUMNOVELLE by Arthur Schnitzler and directed by Stanley Kubrick in his final film. Not surprisingly, Kubrick uses the Schnitzler novel as a jumping off point for his vision and thematically, there's not much resemblance. Curiously, the film is frequently described as erotic but the film is anything but. The orgy sequence is very formal and somber, not erotic. The film's pacing is slack which is problematic when a film pushes the three hour mark. Outside of Cruise and Kidman, the characters are sketchy and peripheral. Kidman is excellent here, her monologue about the naval officer a high point of the film. Cruise is good enough. I kept waiting for a significant payoff but the conclusion was banal. Still, this is a Kubrick film and flaws and all, I much prefer it to some of his acclaimed work like CLOCKWORK ORANGE and DR. STRANGELOVE. With Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Leelee Sobieski, Todd Field, Thomas Gibson, Rade Serbedzija, Alan Cumming and Vinessa Shaw.

Maisie (1939)

A chorus girl (Ann Sothern) gets stranded in a small Wyoming town without a dime to her name. She inveigles her way into working as a maid at a ranch where she finds herself attracted to the ranch's manager (Robert Young) whose bitter experience with women causes him to resist her. Loosely based on the novel DARK DAME by Wilson Collison and directed by Edwin L. Marin. Originally a vehicle for Jean Harlow who died before production began, the film was a popular success which lead MGM to make nine more MAISIE films all starring Ann Sothern. Sothern had been at RKO but was never an "A" star as Ginger Rogers got first crack at all the major comedies. MAISIE finally made Sothern a bankable star and MGM started putting her into some A pictures. As to the film itself, it's a modestly enjoyable programmer heavily dependent on Sothern's brassy sassy performance which makes it a pleasure to watch. With Ruth Hussey, Ian Hunter, George Tobias and Cliff Edwards.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

An 18 year old Indian Muslim (Dev Patel) from the slums of Mumbai is a contestant on the Indian version of the quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? When he is accused of cheating he relates his life story and how his experience enabled him to know the answers. Based on the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup and directed by Danny Boyle (STEVE JOBS). Everybody loves a good underdog story and this is one of the best underdog movies made. Throw in childhood sweethearts separated as children trying to find each other when they grow up and you've got the Oscar winning sleeper hit of 2008. If in retrospect, its critical acclaim seems a bit overboard, it remains a hugely enjoyable and intelligent "feel good" movie and young Patel gives a pleasing performance unencumbered by excessive acting. The film has been criticized (mostly in the Indian press) about its lack of realism as regards India but the film is a fantasy, not a Dickensian probe. With the lovely Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal and Anil Kapoor.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Big City Blues (1932)

A naive kid (Eric Linden) from a small town in Indiana travels to New York City in the hopes of starting a new and exciting life. It isn't long before he's exploited by his slick cousin (Walter Catlett) for his savings and things take a turn for the worse when a chorus girl (Josephine Dunn) is killed in his hotel room. Based on the play NEW YORK TOWN by Ward Morehouse and directed by Mervyn LeRoy (QUO VADIS). This pre-code drama is really a moral tale about a decent small town boy who goes to the wicked city and gets fleeced and mixed up with no good party types and goes home with his tail between his legs. Of course, so not to offend New Yorkers, the kid makes a speech about how he wasn't ready for New York and one day he'll go back and conquer it. It's an okay movie but a little preachy. For me, the highlight of the movie was Linden's encounter with a much older woman (Jobyna Howland) who's seen it all and takes the lad under her wing. A spunky Joan Blondell is Linden's romantic interest. Also in the cast: Humphrey Bogart, J. Carrol Naish, Lyle Talbot, Inez Courtney, Guy Kibbee, Clarence Muse and Grant Mitchell. 

Operation Crossbow (1965)

During WWII, the British government hears rumors that the Germans are developing a rocket technology that can cause mass damage to London. So they drop three undercover agents (George Peppard, Tom Courtenay, Jeremy Kemp) into Germany to infiltrate the factory building the rockets. Directed by Michael Anderson (LOGAN'S RUN), on the surface this may seem like a typical WWII adventure that were popular in the 60s like WHERE EAGLES DARE, THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE, THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN etc. but it's a very well crafted and intelligent WWII thriller (Emeric Pressburger was one of its writers). To give it a sense of realism, all the actors speak German in the scenes in Germany when appropriate. There was an actual Operation Crossbow during WWII but the movie is a highly fictionalized depiction of that event. It's a gritty look with no concession to movie sentiment and two of its lead actors are shockingly killed. The film could have used some slight trimming but that's nitpicking. This is a thinking man's war adventure. The impressive cast includes Trevor Howard, John Mills, Lilli Palmer, Richard Todd, Richard Johnson, Paul Henreid, Anthony Quayle, Sylvia Syms, Helmut Dantine and John Fraser.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Dancer In The Dark (2000)

Set in 1964 Washington state, a Czech immigrant (Bjork) is going blind and her son (Vladica Kostic) will eventually succumb to the same fate unless he has an operation. Written and directed by Lars von Trier, the film won the Palme d'Or and Bjork won the best actress award at the Cannes film festival. In the movie, Bjork's character says, "Nothing dreadful ever happens in musicals". Well, obviously they do in a Lars von Trier musical. If you've seen von Trier's films like BREAKING THE WAVES or DOGVILLE (to name just two), you know his heroines are victims and he sadistically likes to put them through the worst suffering and pain and boy, does he drag it out. DANCER IN THE DARK is no different. It's an excellent film with a powerful central performance by Bjork (amazing considering she and von Trier didn't get along) and some beautiful moments scattered throughout the film. But more than once during the movie, I couldn't help but wonder "Why?" or "Enough already!" when it came to his constant torturing of the film's heroine. It's a divisive film that I would be hesitant about recommending unless I knew the person really well. Bjork wrote the songs for the film and the choreography was done by Vincent Paterson, who plays a community theater director in the film. The song I've Seen It All (nominated for a best song Oscar) is one of the best musical sequences I've ever seen! With Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare, Joel Grey, Stellan Skarsgard, Cara Seymour, Siobhan Fallon, Jean Marc Barr, Udo Keir and Zeljko Ivanek.

The True Story Of Jesse James (1957)

After the disastrous failure of a bank raid in Northfield, Minnesota, Jesse James (Robert Wagner) and his brother Frank (Jeffrey Hunter) hide out in the mountains. Through a series of flashbacks, we find out the "true" story of Jesse James and how he came to be the most notorious bank and train robber in the West. A remake of of the 1939 film JESSE JAMES that's close enough that its screenwriter Nunnally Johnson is credited along with the new screenwriter Walter Newman and directed by Nicholas Ray. I wouldn't take that true in the title literally but with a grain of salt. A perfectly decent if unexceptional western on its own terms, it's still a major letdown because you expect more from Nicholas Ray especially coming off such recent films as JOHNNY GUITAR, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and BIGGER THAN LIFE, great movies all and PARTY GIRL yet to come. Ray doesn't seem invested in the material, I can only guess it was a paycheck job. Wagner seems ill equipped at this stage of his career to carry such a heavy role, he wouldn't come into his own until the 1960s. The actual Northfield raid is handled very well and is the highlight of the film. With Hope Lange, Agnes Moorehead, Frank Gorshin, Frank Overton, Marian Seldes and Alan Hale Jr.  

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Inspector General (1949)

The corrupt mayor (Gene Lockhart) of a small village in an unspecified country under French rule hears that an Inspector General from Paris is investigating corruption through out the empire and that he is most likely in disguise. Enter an illiterate shill (Danny Kaye) working with a traveling Gypsy (Walter Slezak) and the mayor mistakes him for the Inspector General. Loosely based on the play by Nikolai Gogol and directed by Henry Koster (THE ROBE). One of Danny Kaye's better vehicles, it moves quickly with the laughs consistent and frequent. Of course, there's the usual amount of musical numbers written by Kaye's wife Sylvia Fine that allow Kaye to show off his talent for mimicry and patter songs. Even if you're not a Kaye fan (I adore him but I understand he rubs some people the wrong way), there's a good chance you'll be entertained. The movie benefits from a slew of fine character actors who shine. In addition to Slezak and Lockhart, there's Elsa Lanchester, Alan Hale, Walter Catlett and Rhys Williams with Barbara Bates (ALL ABOUT EVE) providing the romantic interest. 

Triple Echo (1972)

Set in WWII England, a woman (Glenda Jackson), whose husband is a prisoner of war in Japan, runs her farm all by herself. She begins an affair with a soldier (Brian Deacon) who is AWOL. In order to avoid suspicion, he dresses as a woman and passes himself off as her sister. But things go sour very quickly when a rough Sergeant (Oliver Reed) takes a fancy to the young "girl". Based on the novella by H.E. Bates and directed by Michael Apted (COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER) in his feature film debut. This odd little film is hampered by the fact that Brian Deacon simply isn't believable as a woman. In cross dressing comedies like TOOTSIE or THE BIRDCAGE, a suspension of belief is possible but it's not so simple for a dramatic story. Add to the fact that Deacon's character isn't very sympathetic, one can't get too wrapped up in his fate. There is the ambiguity over Deacon's character's motives. After awhile, he seems to enjoy dressing up and as Jackson's character points out behaves like a peevish woman but there's no suggestion he has homosexual tendencies. Other than that, it's a solid film with nice performances from Jackson and Reed (reuniting 3 years after WOMEN IN LOVE). With Gavin Richards and Jenny Lee Wright.

Uncle Vanya (1957)

Set in the rural Russian countryside of the late 19th century, an elderly professor (Clarence Derwent) and his much younger wife (Dolores Dorn) visit their estate where his daughter (Peggy McCay) resides. Tension arises when a country doctor (Franchot Tone) and the professor's brother in law (George Voskovec) from his first marriage both fall under the spell of the beautiful young wife. Based on the classic play by Anton Chekhov and directed by John Goetz. Franchot Tone was performing in an off Broadway production of UNCLE VANYA and decided to produce a film version of that production and this was the result. With one exception, the entire stage cast reprise their stage roles. The exception is Dolores Dorn, who was Tone's wife at the time, who takes over from Signe Hasso who played the role in the stage production. Unfortunately, with a couple of exceptions, the actors give their stage performances playing to the balcony and with grand gestures (Derwent is the worst offender). One can't tell from this film if the stage production was any good but as cinema, it's stagnant. When doing a filmed play, it helps if you have great performances that overrides the proscenium effect and that's not the case here. With Gerald Hiken, Shirley Gale and Mary Perry.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

After his wife (Catherine Keener) leaves him and moves to Berlin with their daughter (Sadie Goldstein), a theater director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) receives a grant. He rents a massive warehouse in Manhattan's theater district where he will spend years creating a theater piece that is both personal and epic. Meanwhile, his body deteriorates with a mysterious medical condition. Written and directed by writer Charlie Kaufman in his directorial debut. It's an ambitious, perplexing film that is overwhelming. When it was over, I thought, "interesting" but I'm not quite sure if I got all of it. While words like pretentious and self indulgent come to mind, I'm not sure it's fair to the film. It's not a realistic film. If you've seen Kaufman's films as a writer (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH), you know they exist in an alternate universe that has nothing to do with the "real" world and here, Hoffman exists in a surreal world (someone buys a house that's perpetually on fire, etc.). It's themes are challenging and while I don't think it totally succeeds, I appreciate the attempt. The large cast includes Michelle Williams, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dianne Wiest, Emily Watson, Hope Davis, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Rosemary Murphy, Amy Wright, Alice Drummond and Peter Friedman.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Action Of The Tiger (1957)

A mercenary sea captain (Van Johnson) will do anything for money so when a beautiful adventuress (Martine Carol)  pays him a heap of money to infiltrate a communist country and help smuggle her brother (Gustavo Rojo) out, he goes but getting out proves far more difficult than he had anticipated. Based on the novel by James Willard and directed by Terence Young (WAIT UNTIL DARK). This standard action film is modestly entertaining albeit not particularly inventive. Van Johnson seems an unusual choice for the cynical macho sea captain but the movie was produced by Johnson's production company which explains it. This was the first American film (outside of a cameo in AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS) for the French film star Martine Carol but a career in English language films was not in the cards for her. Further down the cast list is a young Sean Connery as Johnson's hard drinking first mate and five years later, he would work with director Young again in DR. NO. Although it takes place in Greece and Albania, the movie was shot in Spain with Desmond Dickinson doing the cinematography. I saw the European cut which features a topless Martine Carol which would never have been shown in U.S. cinemas in 1957. With Herbert Lom, Helen Haye, Yvonne Romain, Jose Nieto and Anthony Dawson. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Strange Confession (1945)

A chemist (Lon Chaney Jr.) working on a vaccine for the influenza is exploited by his employer (J. Carrol Naish), who is more interested in profits than integrity. When he meets the chemist's wife (Brenda Joyce), he concocts a plan to send her husband to South America for research. Directed by John Hoffman, this was the fifth of the six films marketed under the Inner Sanctum franchise. This is one of the better offerings of the series. Although it does have a morbid "twist" at the end, it's not really a horror movie but a revenge melodrama. At an hour and two minutes, it seems more like an episode of the ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR rather than a feature length movie. But it's a neat little B mystery melodrama with a nice performance by Naish as the unethical businessman who puts an untested drug on the market resulting in tragedy. Nothing to seek out but a watchable piece of pulp. With Lloyd Bridges, Milburn Stone, Mary Gordon and Addison Richards.

The Tall Men (1955)

An ex-Confederate soldier (Clark Gable) and his brother (Cameron Mitchell) enter an uneasy alliance with a shady businessman (Robert Ryan) on a perilous cattle drive across 1,500 miles of hostile Indian territory. Along for the ride is a woman (Jane Russell) that both men are interested in. Based on the novel by Heck Allen (using the pseudonym of Clay Fisher) and directed by the veteran Raoul Walsh. Walsh had directed one of the first attempts at wide screen in 1930 with THE BIG TRAIL. Wide screen movies didn't take off at that time but with the introduction of CinemaScope in 1953, wide screen movies became the norm. Walsh uses the CinemaScope format impeccably and along with his cinematographer Leo Tover (DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL), they make formidable use of the Sierra De Organos National Park location in Mexico. The plot isn't very fresh but the three leads lend a certain amount of Star power and the wide screen visuals take care of the rest. The solid score is by Victor Young. With Juan Garcia and Emile Meyer.

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Changeling (1974)

When her father (Alan Webb) attempts to force her into a marriage to a man (Malcolm Reynolds) she doesn't love, a young woman (Helen Mirren) coerces a servant (Stanley Baker) into murdering the groom. But when she discovers that it isn't money he wants for payment but her, it spirals downward into tragedy. Based on the 1622 play by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley and directed by Anthony Page. Jacobean tragedy is an acquired taste and it's not for everyone but THE CHANGELING is a good place to start if you're unfamiliar with the genre. While its outlook on morality and sin may seem too black and white for contemporary audiences, as a theatrical piece it can be riveting if done right. This production is quite well done although Stanley Baker seems miscast. His character is supposed to be physically repugnant and thus unattractive which the ruggedly handsome Baker is not. No "ugly" make up has been applied to Baker so you wonder why Mirren's character finds him repulsive. Other than that, it plays well. There is another parallel story, which could be called a subplot I suppose, set in an insane asylum that doesn't work for me and I found myself annoyed whenever the narrative changed to that setting. With Brian Cox, Frances Tomelty, Susan Penhaligon and T.P. McKenna.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

When Ladies Meet (1933)

A writer (Myrna Loy) is having an affair with her married publisher (Frank Morgan). The young man (Robert Montgomery) who loves her arranges for her to meet the publisher's wife (Ann Harding) without either woman knowing who the other is. Based on the play by Rachel Crothers and directed by Harry Beaumont. I've been a fan of the 1941 remake for many years but this first version has eluded me until now. They're strikingly similar in execution, even the sets look the same! The ending to the 1933 version seems less ambiguous than the 1941 remake and being a pre-code film, there's a greater amount of sexual suggestion. Then there are the performances, all good with Myrna Loy giving out a bit more vulnerability than Joan Crawford did in the remake. If I say I slightly prefer the 1941 version, that's most likely because it's the version I saw first and I'm used to it but this one is a winner too. With Alice Brady, Martin Burton, Sterling Hollway and Luis Alberni.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

My Foolish Heart (1949)

When her husband (Kent Smith) asks her for a divorce as well as custody of their daughter (Gigi Perreau), a bitter and unhappy alcoholic (Susan Hayward) reflects back on the one true love (Dana Andrews) of her life. Based on the short story UNCLE WIGGILY IN CONNECTICUT by J.D. Salinger and directed by Mark Robson (VALLEY OF THE DOLLS). When people wonder why J.D. Salinger's classic novel CATCHER IN THE RYE has never been adapted into a film, this movie is the reason. Salinger so hated what they did to his story that he refused to have any movies made from his books. The movie bears little resemblance to Salinger's dark story and instead it has been turned into a sentimental tearjerker. On its own terms, the movie accomplishes what it sets out to do but I wish its touch had been a little more deft instead of so heavy handed. I'm not adverse to tearjerkers, far from it, but this one left me dry eyed. Hayward is fine though her Oscar nomination for her work here is inexplicable. But there is one bright spot, the lovely title ballad (also Oscar nominated for best song) by Victor Young and Ned Washington which became a popular standard. With Lois Wheeler, Jessie Royce Landis, Robert Keith, Karin Booth, Martha Mears and Jerry Paris. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Suddenly Last Summer (1959)

Set in 1937 New Orleans, a wealthy woman (Katharine Hepburn) urges a young doctor (Montgomery Clift) to perform a lobotomy on her niece (Elizabeth Taylor), who she insists is mad and babbling slander about her recently deceased son. Based on the one act play by Tennessee Williams and adapted for the screen by Gore Vidal and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (ALL ABOUT EVE). Williams' one act play was part of an off Broadway production called GARDEN DISTRICT and was performed with another Williams one act play called SOMETHING UNSPOKEN. Vidal extends the one act play to feature length and much of the original criticism of the movie was that padding out the film diluted much of the one act's strengths. Much of the criticism was also directed toward the film's unsavory aspects: homosexuality, incest and cannibalism were heady stuff in 1959. What's surprising is how much of those unsavory aspects were retained (albeit somewhat watered down) for the film considering how films of Williams' A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF were stripped of their "unsavory" aspects. While Clift's performance is mostly reactive, both Taylor and Hepburn go full throttle with their roles and do some of their best work (in Taylor's case, I think it is her best work). There's a lyrical beauty to Williams' dialog and Vidal is smart enough to retain that lyricism and not rewrite it. Perhaps it is overlong but it still packs a punch. With Mercedes McCambridge, Albert Dekker and Gary Raymond. 

Cabin In The Cotton (1932)

After his father (David Landau) dies, a sharecropper's son (Richard Barthelmess) is educated by the plantation owner (Berton Churchill) who hires him to work for him. The young man is torn between loyalty to the employer who educated him and the sharecroppers who are being exploited by the plantation owner. This extends to the two women in his life: the poor cotton picking good girl (Dorothy Jordan) and the plantation owner's flamboyant daughter (Bette Davis). Based on the novel by Harry Harrison Kroll and directed by Michael Curtiz (CASABLANCA). In the 1930s, Warners was the studio that wasn't afraid to tackle social issues and here, it focuses on the disparity between the wealthy plantation owners and the poor "white trash" sharecroppers. Unfortunately, Barthelmess can't seem to ignite any sparks and he comes across as a wimpy protagonist which I'm sure wasn't intended. Still a few years away from stardom, this is the first movie where Bette Davis gave signs that she was no ordinary starlet and that there was something special simmering there. With John Marston and Russell Simpson.  

13 Ghosts (1960)

When an impoverished family inherits a ramshackle mansion from an occultist uncle, they find they've also inherited the house's ghosts and a housekeeper (Margaret Hamilton) who may be a witch. Directed by schlockmeister William Castle (STRAIT JACKET), this is an old fashioned family friendly ghost movie that could easily have come out of the 1940s. Castle gussied it up for its theatrical release with a gimmick of special glasses that would allow the audiences to see the ghosts (the process was called Illusion-O). The movie doesn't need the gimmick and works perfectly well without it. Being a wholesome ghost movie has it drawbacks however. It means that it's not very scary and outside of a gruesome death for the film's bad guy, this is a movie you could show to your kids. Poorly remade in 2001. With Donald Woods, Rosemary DeCamp, John Van Dreelen, the fetching Jo Morrow and that annoying child actor, Charles Herbert.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Manon (1949)

Set in France during the last days of WWII, a former resistance fighter (Michel Auclair) falls in love with a promiscuous young girl (Cecile Aubry), who may have collaborated with the Nazis. They run off together to Paris but her penchant for luxury and the finer things in life, things he cannot give her proves toxic to their relationship. Based on the (then) controversial 1731 novel MANON LESCAUT by Abbe Prevost and directed by Henri Georges Clouzot (DIABOLIQUE). MANON LESCAUT is probably best known for the popular Puccini opera which retains its period setting. This is a fine film highlighted by the striking B&W images of cinematographer Armand Thirard (AND GOD CREATED WOMAN) and Clouzot keeps the intensity of the lovers' impassioned relationship at the forefront for a fascinating journey. But I was still distanced from the film throughout. There's something unsavory about a masochistic romance where one treats the other cruelly with continual lying, humiliation and abuse while the other keeps crawling back to take more debasement because he loves her. It takes a murder for her to clear her head. Are we supposed to cheer the lovers on because they "love" each other? It works in opera because in opera, emotions are bigger than life. It might have worked in, say, a plush Douglas Sirk melodrama where everything is a heightened reality. But Clouzot plays it realistically and its natural ambiance clashes with the excessive melodramatics. This is not meant to negate the film's strong qualities and indeed, others may not have the same problem with the material (as seen here) that I did. With Serge Reggiani and Dora Doll.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Cannon For Cordoba (1970)

Set during the 1912 Mexican Revolution, an Army Captain (George Peppard) leads a small group of misfits into Mexican territory to destroy six cannons high on a secluded mountaintop that are held by a rebel leader (Raf Vallone). Directed by Paul Wendkos (THE MEPHISTO WALTZ), this action adventure owes a lot to THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961) and THE PROFESSIONALS (1966). It's nowhere as good as those two movies but it's a decent programmer with enough action to keep one entertained. Although set in Mexico, the film itself was filmed in Europe which might account for predominance of Italian actors playing Mexicans. It's not the kind of movie where the acting matters much but still there's no excuse for Peter Duel's (ALIAS SMITH AND JONES) bad performance. There's a creepy moment where Duel puts a gun to his head as if to pull the trigger, a year later he would do that in real life killing himself. The busy score is by Elmer Bernstein. With Giovanna Ralli, Don Gordon, John Larch and Gabriele Tinti. 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Louisiana Purchase (1941)

A U.S. senator (Bob Hope) discovers that he was used by a corporation that misused federal funds and they intend to make him the fall guy when hearings are conducted on their corruption by the Senate. Based on the Broadway musical and directed by Irving Cummings (DOWN ARGENTINE WAY). The musical had songs composed by Irving Berlin but over half of the show's songs are ditched in this film version. It's not a musical now but just a comedy with songs. Never having seen the original stage version in any form, I don't know how good a musical it was. But the movie seems compromised, neither a full blown musical nor a good example of a Bob Hope comedy. The stage version was a political satire while the movie makes Republican jokes that don't hold up today. I only laughed once and that was a sight gag when Hope squeezed a lemon. It's chief asset is the vivid Technicolor and Raoul Pene Du Bois' production and costume design. Victor Moore, Vera Zorina and Irene Bordoni recreate their stage roles. With Frank Albertson, Dona Drake, Maxie Rosenbloom and Raymond Walburn.

Body Double (1984)

A struggling actor (Craig Wasson) is house sitting an ultra modern secluded home in the Hollywood Hills. Looking through a telescope, he becomes obsessed with a woman (Deborah Shelton) across the way and when he suspects she may be in danger, he begins to follow her. Directed by Brian De Palma, this is yet another stylish Hitchcock homage. Stylish being the operative word because the film is all style and very little else. Fortunately, the style is so rich that it sustains the film through some very rocky territory. The cuckoo plot depends too much on coincidence and everything falls into place too neatly. You either swallow De Palma's loopy narrative or you don't. If you don't, the film won't work for you on any level. With his ace cinematographer Stephen H. Burum (THE UNTOUCHABLES) and his composer Pino Donaggio (CARRIE) as co-conspirators, he gets the job done. Where he fails big time (with one marvelous exception) is with his actors. De Palma has drawn performances from Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Angie Dickinson to name just three that rank with their best work. The male leads here (Wasson, Gregg Henry) are just awful and Shelton is used merely for her looks (even her voice is dubbed by another actress). The exception is Melanie Griffith as a porn actress who walks off with the picture and won the supporting actress award from the National Society of Film Critics. With Guy Boyd, Dennis Franz and Barbara Crampton.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Ercole Al Centro Della Terra (aka Hercules In The Haunted World) (1961)

In order to save the life of the woman (Leonora Ruffo) he loves, Hercules (Reg Park) must descend into the underworld of Hades and retrieve a stone with magical powers. Photographed and directed by Mario Bava (LISA AND THE DEVIL), this slice of peplum wasn't released in the U.S. until 1964. The storyline is a typical sword and sandal narrative. What distinguishes it from most of the Italian Hercules/Samson/Goliath movies is its visual look and style. Bava disguises the usual cheesy look of the genre with vivid colors and filters, shadows and fog. This gives the film a magical aura (or mythological if you prefer) and atmosphere to the movie to make it (seem) out of the ordinary. I watched an Italian language transfer of the film (with subtitles). I imagine watching an English dub would be quite a different experience. With Christopher Lee as the blood drinking villain, George Ardisson, Marisa Belli, Ida Galli and Franco Giacobini, who provides some ill conceived comic relief. 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

St. Benny The Dip (1951)

On the run from the police, three con men (Dick Haymes, Roland Young, Lionel Stander) pose as ministers to elude the cops. But they find that their new identities bring unforeseen consequences. Directed by cult director Edgar G. Ulmer ((DETOUR), this tepid comedy takes a premise that might have been silly fun and flattens all attempts at humor. Young and Stander have comedic credentials so they do what they can with the material at hand but the callow Dick Haymes and Nina Foch as his romantic interest lack the chops to overcome the inferior material. Mercifully short at an hour and 21 minutes, the movie still drags. It was interesting to see former child star Freddie Bartholomew (in his last movie role) as a nerdy minister. You'd never have recognized him if you hadn't seen his name in the credits. The bouncy score by Robert W. Stringer isn't half bad. With Dick Gordon, Jean Casto and John Lupton. 

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937)

When a vain Queen (Lucille La Verne) is told by her mirror (Moroni Olsen) that her young stepdaughter (Adriana Caselotti) is more beautiful than she is, in retaliation she orders her huntsman (Stuart Buchanan) to take her out deep into the forest and kill her. Based on the classic fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm and directed by David Hand, William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce and Ben Sharpsteen. This Walt Disney confection was the first animated feature film and while its hand animation may seem primitive by 2020 standards, it actually gives the movie a sort of antique charm like reading an illustrated 19th century collection of fairy tales. My problems with the film are minor, like Caselotti's shrill Kathryn Grayson like soprano or shouldn't Snow White's dead body be decomposing by now (yes, I know it's a fairy tale). But the animation is often stunning and yes, artistic and the dwarfs are an adorable bunch. And for anyone who saw the film for the first time as a child, that Queen still has the ability to give us the shivers. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of Disney's early animated classics (no thank you to PINOCCHIO and BAMBI) but this one's a keeper.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Serial Mom (1994)

A mother and homemaker (Kathleen Turner) appears to be the epitome of the typical suburban housewife with the perfect family consisting of a dentist husband (Sam Waterston), a daughter (Ricki Lake) attending college and son (Matthew Lillard) who manages a video store. She's also a psychopathic serial killer. Written and directed by John Waters (PINK FLAMINGOS), the film is borderline offensive and frequently gross. But it's also a very funny satire and you know going in that it's John Waters so you're forewarned. It's essentially a one joke premise but Waters is smart enough to move it along quickly and wrap it up in 90 minutes so it doesn't wear out its welcome. Turner wisely plays her performance seriously rather than for laughs which makes it all the more amusing (and frightening). Basil Poledouris's pastiche score is often witty with strains of Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith and Howard Shore (his Cronenberg scores). With Suzanne Somers, Mink Stole, Bess Armstrong, Patricia Hearst, Mary Jo Catlett, Traci Lords and Joan Rivers.

Night Passage (1957)

When the local railroad becomes the constant target of a group of bandits robbing the trains of its payroll contents, the railroad officials rehire an ex-employee (James Stewart) to guard the next payroll shipment. This is in spite of his intentionally letting a member (Audie Murphy) of that gang escape a few years earlier. Based on the novel by Norman A. Fox and directed by James Neilson (THE MOON SPINNERS) who replaced Anthony Mann before filming started. The first movie shot in the new wide screen Technirama format (sharper image and less grain) and the film looks great with cinematographer William H. Daniels (SOME CAME RUNNING) making the Colorado landscapes pop on the screen. I wish I could say the same for the film which is average at best. Stewart's performance seems to be on cruise control but Murphy is surprisingly effective in a rare bad guy role and Dan Duryea overacts terribly as the head of the gang. The film hints at going into the darker places but ends up going for the safe and predictable. Too bad. With Dianne Foster, Elaine Stewart, Brandon De Wilde, Jay C. Flippen, Olive Carey, Hugh Beaumont, Paul Fix and Ellen Corby.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Anthony Adverse (1936)

A young girl (Anita Louise) married to a much older man (Claude Rains) has a child from an illicit affair with her lover (Louis Hayward). After the birth of the male child, the husband gives the baby to an orphanage to be raised by nuns. The child grows up to be Anthony Adverse (Fredric March), the hero of our story. Based on the novel by Hervey Allen and directed by Mervyn LeRoy (QUO VADIS). The sprawling novel was over 1,200 pages so the film uses just the first half of the novel from Anthony's birth to his eventual sailing to America and eliminates his days as a plantation owner in New Orleans and his imprisonment and death in Mexico. I suspect the novel might be a more enjoyable read than the resulting film adaptation. I'm partial to historical epics but this one is only fitfully successful and feels choppy in its execution as if sections were left out. A miscast Fredric March probably doomed the project from the start (wasn't Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks Jr. available?). He just doesn't have the panache of a swashbuckling hero and it doesn't help that for a good portion of the film, he's a slave trader which doesn't endear him to us. All in all, it might work better as a PBS mini series. With Olivia De Havilland, Edmund Gwenn, Akim Tamiroff, Gale Sondergaard (in an Oscar winning performance), Donald Woods and Scotty Beckett.