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Sunday, May 31, 2020

Syncopation (1942)

Starting in 1906 New Orleans and moving through WWI and into the 1920s, the film follows the lives of three people for whom jazz music is a passion: a pianist (Bonita Granville), a white trumpet player (Jackie Cooper) and a black trumpet player (Todd Duncan). Directed by William Dieterle (LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA), the film attempts a history of the evolution of jazz music in a 90 minute running time. If this were a documentary that could be possible but the movie has a plot (sketchy as it is) as well as several musical numbers so the best it could hope for is a series of superficial highlights. To the film's credit, it doesn't whitewash that jazz was a product of the African American community like BIRTH OF THE BLUES (1941) where Bing Crosby brings jazz to the masses. The film's musical sequences are the reason to watch the movie. Clearly, the film makers love jazz and at least try to give it its due without embarrassing themselves. So you can put up with the film's traditional and predictable storyline, the intentions are good and the music is sublime. With Adolphe Menjou, George Bancroft, Jessie Grayson, Ted North and musical appearances by Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Harry James, Charlie Barnet and Connie Boswell.

Something For The Birds (1952)

Set in the McCarthy era Washington DC, an engraver (Edmund Gwenn) uses invitations made by the firm he works for to crash exclusive Washington parties where he passes himself off as a retired Navy Admiral. But when a lobbyist (Victor Mature) and a young environmentalist (Patricia Neal) trying to preserve the habitat of the California condor enter his life, his little secret faces exposure. Directed by Robert Wise (THE SOUND OF MUSIC), this political romantic comedy has shades of Capra. Fortunately it avoids the corn prevalent in Capra at his worst but it's on the dullish side. Its barbs and arrows at Washington's political scene are mild (so as not to offend anybody?). The film could have used a lighter leading man like Dana Andrews who Victor Mature replaced. Mature is a good sport but while he might be amusing satirizing himself (as in AFTER THE FOX), he doesn't have a comic actor's touch. With Larry Keating, Joan Shawlee, Madge Blake, Archer MacDonald and Norma Varden. 

The Challenge (1960)

A femme fatale (Jayne Mansfield), who heads a crime ring, lures a dupe (Anthony Quayle) into joining her gang for a major robbery. What he doesn't know is that he's the fall guy. When he's released from prison five years later, both the police and the gang are after him to find out where he hid the loot. Directed by John Gilling (THE MUMMY'S SHROUD). Although set in London, this noir-ish crime thriller hearkens back to the B&W Hollywood film noirs of the 1940s and early 50s. One can easily see Robert Mitchum and Gloria Grahame in the Quayle and Mansfield roles. Unfortunately with the exception of Quayle, it feels like the British cast (Mansfield is the only American) is play acting at it. Mansfield isn't bad at all. She's still a sexpot but gone is the trademark high pitched girlish and breathy voice. Her voice drops to a lower and more natural pitch and she's tougher and stronger than her usual baby doll roles. But it's still a fairly routine crime film and much of its suspense derives from harm coming to a child. With Edward Judd, Carl Mohner and Peter Reynolds.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (2017)

Out of guilt, a heart surgeon (Colin Farrell) forms a bond with a teenage boy (Barry Keoghan) whose father died on the operating table under the surgeon's care. But the boy's behavior becomes increasingly erratic until it becomes clear that he has something sinister on his mind. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (THE LOBSTER). If it's possible to have a love/hate relationship with a movie, I have one with this one. Not even Lars von Trier has inflicted as much torture on his characters as Lanthimos does here and the film's last half hour goes bonkers! I found much of the film revolting. Yet there's no denying how compelling it is, how creative Lanthimos is with the story's arc, there's much brilliance here. You know you're watching a unique talent as the film progresses. Yet when it was over, I couldn't but be a little angry with Lanthimos. What's the point other than an exercise in seeing how much your audience can take? I hated it. I loved it. You decide for yourself. With Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone, Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Whole Town's Talking (1935)

A timid milquetoast of a man (Edward G. Robinson) works in an advertising department where he has a crush on a co-worker (Jean Arthur). But he bears an uncanny resemblance to a notorious bank robber and killer (Edward G. Robinson) and is arrested by the police when he is fingered by a fellow diner (Donald Meek) at a restaurant as the notorious gangster. Directed by John Ford, this is as close as he ever got to doing a screwball comedy. It's a comedy but there are still a couple of unexpected shocking moments. The movie gives Robinson one of his very best parts. Here he gets to satirize his Little Caesar image while giving a charming performance as the faint hearted accountant and he and Jean Arthur make a delightful coupling. I might even call it a perfect entertainment if it weren't for Ford dragging it out a bit. The excellent supporting cast includes Wallace Ford, Edward Brophy, Etienne Girardot and Paul Harvey.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Skjelvet (aka The Quake) (2018)

Three years after becoming a national hero for saving lives during a geological disaster, a geologist (Kristoffer Joner) is now a broken man separated from his wife and alienated from his children. But while investigating a colleague's death, he becomes certain that a catastrophic earthquake is imminent. Directed by John Andreas Andersen, this is a follow up the 2015 Norwegian hit THE WAVE. Like that film, the movie moves in the opposite direction of the Hollywood disaster genre by focusing on a minimal set of characters rather than an all star cast. In this case, the geologist and his family. Like its predecessor, it has (for the most part) an intelligent screenplay and first rate special effects. But it's just not as good as the first installment. For one, Joner's character who was a strong and determined protagonist in the first film is now a puddle of neuroticism and self pity. Secondly, it irritates me when stupid decisions put people in jeopardy. For example, surely Joner's geologist would know you do not take an elevator during an earthquake, you take the stairs. Then there's the child who doesn't listen thus putting adults in harm's way trying to save the child. Still, I enjoyed it overall but hopefully the film makers won't go to the well for a third time. With Ane Dahl Torp, Kathrine Thorborg, Edith Haagenrud Sande and Jonas Hoff Oftebro.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

I Soliti Ignoti (aka Big Deal On Madonna Street) (1958)

A boxer (Vittorio Gassman) steals the plans to rob a safe from a man (Memmo Carotenuto) he served time with in prison. He even gathers together the same crooks and thieves the man was planning to use in the heist. But these are petty small time crooks out of their depth. Direccted by Mario Monicelli, this heist caper is quite amusing. Sort of like Dassin's RIFIFI which came out three years earlier, only this time with bungling crooks and for laughs. But it's not a broad comedy, it's understated in its delivery. The film's movie posters played up the beloved Italian comic actor Toto although his participation is brief (two scenes) but it's the other actors who make the film so delightful, several of them (like Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale) in the early stages of their careers. The breezy jazz score is by Piero Umiliani. Remade in 1984 by Louis Malle and turned into a Broadway musical in 1986 by Bob Fosse. With Renato Salvatori, Carla Gravina, Rossana Rory, Carlo Pisacane and Tiberio Murgia. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Bitter Moon (1992)

After seven years of marriage, an Englishman (Hugh Grant) and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) are taking a second honeymoon to Istanbul by way of India. On the voyage, they meet a cynical and jaded American (Peter Coyote), who's in a wheelchair and his sexy younger wife (Emmanuelle Seigner) and it is their story told in flashback that comprises the bulk of the film. Based on the novel LUNES DE FIEL by Pascal Bruckner and directed by Roman Polanski. The film is a nasty piece of goods but in this case, that's not a condemnation. On one hand, it's a fascinating mess of a movie but fascinating is the operative word. I was riveted at this examination of a twisted "romantic" relationship steeped in emotional sado-masochism. If this were directed by a woman instead of a man (particularly Polanski), it might have been looked at as a feminist film. Its female characters worthy of better than the two pricks they're married to. Even if you dislike the film, I assure you, you wont' find it boring. With Stockard Channing and Victor Banerjee. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

No Right To Kill (1956)

A frustrated, failed writer (John Cassavetes) murders an old woman (Augusta Ciolli) who runs a pawn shop in a fit of rage. Loosely based on CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Fyodor Dostoevsky and directed by Buzz Kulik (BRIAN'S SONG). I'm a big fan of those live television productions during the so called Golden Age of television in the 1950s. Unfortunately, the times they've adapted a great literary work, it's almost always doomed to fail. This production (updated to present day New York) is no exception. It reduces Dostoevsky's great novel to the most simplistic level. Three years later, a big screen adaptation (CRIME AND PUNISHMENT U.S.A.) set in Los Angeles did a much better job of bringing the novel into a contemporary 1950s setting. But that era had wonderful actors and directors (many of them going on to major careers) doing live television and that's where this production shines, in its performances. With Terry Moore, Joe Mantell, Robert H. Harris and Penny Santon.    

Savage Intruder (aka Hollywood Horror House) (1970)

A psychopathic serial killer (David Garfield) preys on middle aged women in Hollywood. He manipulates himself into the mansion of an aged movie actress (Miriam Hopkins) and slowly begins to take over the household. This SUNSET BOULEVARD meets the psychedelic age melding was written, produced and directed by Donald Wolfe (so there's no one else to blame). Horror films with aging actresses from Hollywood's "Golden Age" were quite the norm in the 1960s and early 1970s. Davis, Crawford, Bankhead among them and this film represents Miriam Hopkins' entry in the "hag horror" genre and she's supported by Gale Sondergaard as her secretary/companion. This slasher wasn't as bad as I expected it to be but it's not very good either. Hopkins and Sondergaard are professionals and they both deliver solid performances given the sordid material. Garfield on the other hand is pretty bad. Its violence is pretty grisly but I've seen worse. If you're into giallo movies, you might enjoy it. With Virginia Wing, Florence Lake and in his final film role, Joe Besser of The Three Stooges.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

My Dream Is Yours (1949)

After his most famous client (Lee Bowman), a popular  but arrogant singer, deserts him, a manager (Jack Carson) flies to New York from Los Angeles to look for a newcomer to replace him. When he finds a struggling songstress (Doris Day), he takes her back to Hollywood to make her a singing star. Directed by Michael Curtiz, this was the follow up to Day's successful film debut in ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS. It's not as good because its slight (that's an understatement) rehashed plot is practically nonexistent. But it seems apt as the film parallels Day's own life in some ways. They even give her a young son which Day had while struggling in the early days of her own career. If you're a Day fan, you don't need an excuse to watch a movie like this because Day is the reason for its existence. Fortunately, she's given some good songs to sing and her appealing personality is enough to coast us over the cliches. With Eve Arden, Adolphe Menjou, S.Z. Sakall, Sheldon Leonard, Franklin Pangborn and Selena Royle. 

Comanche Station (1960)

A man (Randolph Scott) with a history of freeing white prisoners captured by Indians trades with the Comanches for a white woman (Nancy Gates). But before they can safely arrive at their destination, they must survive the trek through hostile Indian country as well as the three outlaws (Claude Akins, Skip Homeier, Richard Rust) who join them. Directed by Budd Boetticher, this was the last of the six westerns he made in collaboration with actor Randolph Scott and it's one of his best. The screenplay by Burt Kennedy contains some fine writing. There's really only five characters in the whole movie (other roles are limited to single scenes and then only briefly) and Kennedy's script etches their characters quickly and with enough detail so that we really get to know them. These aren't simplistic characterizations either. Even the "bad guy" played by Akins has shadings rather than the black and white characters that too many westerns indulge in. The film also gives the undervalued Nancy Gates the best movie role she ever had. The ending remains as affecting as ever. Kudos to Charles Lawton Jr.'s CinemaScope cinematography which handsomely captures the Lone Pine locations.

Murders In The Zoo (1933)

A big game hunter and zoologist (Lionel Atwill) is insanely jealous of his beautiful wife (Kathleen Burke) and will stop at nothing including murder to keep her. When he suspects his wife of having a lover (John Lodge), he concocts a devious plan to dispose of him. Directed by A. Edward Sutherland (THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE). Unlike most other pre-code films of the era, this horror film is notable not for sex or sexual innuendos but for its shocking  (for its day) violence. If you have a fear of snakes, this is definitely not a film for you! If I was shocked, I imagine 1933 audiences were doubly so. Atwill creates one of his most villainous characters in a role he seems to fit like a glove. My only carp is the amount of time given to Charles Ruggles whose role is pure comedy relief. What a pity Atwill didn't do him in. With Randolph Scott, Gail Patrick and Harry Beresford.

Just Cause (1995)

A Harvard law professor (Sean Connery) pushes to reopen a murder case based on a police detective (Laurence Fishburne) coercing a confession from the prisoner (Blair Underwood) by beating and threatening him. But what at first seems a simple case of miscarried justice soon turns into something more sinister. Based on the novel by John Katzenbach and directed by Arne Glimcher (THE MAMBO KINGS). It's an efficient but unsavory thriller with some good performances particularly Fishburne and Ed Harris as a psychopathic serial killer. As with many thrillers, there's a "surprise" twist at the end but it's so obvious to anyone who's seen these courtroom thrillers (although there's very little time spent in the courtroom) that it takes the shock value out of the movie. So what we're left with is an another overwrought movie  about brutal Southern law officers challenged by the smart Northerner for justice. Oh, I was entertained enough and I suppose that should be sufficient but its shortcomings were glaring even as I watched it. The large supporting cast includes Scarlett Johansson, Kate Capshaw, Ned Beatty, Chris Sarandon, Ruby Dee, Hope Lange, Kevin McCarthy, Lynne Thigpen and Christopher Murray. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Between Midnight And Dawn (1950)

Two cops (Edmond O'Brien, Mark Stevens) are on night duty patrolling in prowl cars. They're after a racketeer (Donald Buka in a dreadful performance) but they can't pin anything on him. When he kills a rival gangster (Roland Winters), they finally get him but he won't go down easy. Directed by Gordon Douglas (TONY ROME), this noir programmer never moves beyond its B movie roots. Gordon Douglas isn't a director known for his style and the generic plot as written offers no new perspectives. In fact, the cop protagonists are pretty annoying so they never win us over. Douglas manages to whip up a fairly intense finale but even there, the child (Lora Lee Michel) that the racketeer uses as a shield is so irritating that you can't get too concerned about her either. Fortunately, the good girl (Gale Storm) and the bad girl (Gale Robbins) are appealing and provide a nice contrast. With Anthony Ross and Madge Blake. 

Incendiary (2008)

Set in London, an unhappily married woman (Michelle Williams) is having an affair with a journalist (Ewan McGregor) while her husband (Nicholas Gleaves) and son (Sidney Johnston) are attending a football match. But when a set of terrorist bombs explode killing thousands (including her husband and child) and destroying the stadium, she must deal with the aftermath of loss, grief and guilt. Based on the novel by Chris Cleave and directed by Sharon Maguire (BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY). This yet another case of a weak film elevated by a strong performance, in this case Michelle Williams' stellar work. The film is an uneasy mixture of a thriller about terrorism and a study of a woman dealing with her own grief and guilt. As cinema, it's an unsuccessful attempt at both and I absolutely hated that sappy ending. But Williams is often pretty awesome here. She gives a genuine sense of pain and anger and all the emotions and questions that follow such a tragedy so it's a real pity that the movie isn't worthy of her performance. With Matthew Macfadyen, Usman Khokhar and Sasha Behar. 

A Double Life (1947)

A famous actor (Ronald Colman) has a tendency to live his roles offstage. But when he plays the title role in Shakespeare's OTHELLO, it proves deadly when he becomes insanely jealous of his co-star and ex wife's (Signe Hasso) relationship with a press agent (Edmond O'Brien). Written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin and directed by George Cukor. It's got a terrific premise and Cukor's direction is solid. But despite his winning an Oscar for best actor for his work here, Ronald Colman's performance simply isn't good enough to carry the film. His performance is erratic. He's very good in some scenes yet in other scenes, he can't seem to resist the urge to overact. Worst of all, he's a lousy and passionless Othello. It's hard to imagine his OTHELLO lasting two weeks, much less the two years in the movie. It's a pity because there's much that's good about the film. I've seen the film referred to as noir (maybe because of Milton R. Krasner's B&W lensing) but I think it's actually closer to a horror movie, a variation on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Miklos Rozsa's score also won an Oscar. With Shelley Winters (very good as a waitress who becomes Colman's victim), Betsy Blair, Ray Collins and Millard Mitchell.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Los Olvidados (1950)

Set in Mexico City, a teenage delinquent (Roberto Cobo) escapes from jail and reunites with his street gang which consists of poverty stricken adolescents. He wants revenge on the guy (Javier Amezcua) he thinks ratted him out to the police. Directed by Luis Bunuel, this is a graphic and unflinching look at poverty and how it shapes its young people. For the most part, Bunuel doesn't lecture us on what poverty has done to these young lives. He saves that for the very end when a work farm principal (Francisco Jambrina) goes a bit Stanley Kramer on us stating the obvious. We can see what poverty has created, Bunuel has shown us. Do we really need to told it as if we were too thick headed to grasp what we're seeing? Other than that, it's a powerful and raw film crafted without sentiment about misunderstood youth. This isn't REBEL WITHOUT  A CAUSE, it's closer to THE 400 BLOWS. There's a surrealistic sequence (well, it is Bunuel after all) that's jarring in a film so steeped in realism. As disturbing today as it was 70 years ago! A happy ending was filmed which fortunately was never used although some transfers of the film offer the happy ending as a bonus. With Stella Inda, Alfonso Mejia and Mario Ramirez.  

Thursday, May 21, 2020

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1945)

Set in 1912 Brooklyn, an impoverished Irish American family struggles to make ends meet. The father (James Dunn in an Oscar winning performance) is a dreamer and an alcoholic and being the responsible parent has made the mother (Dorothy McGuire) hard and unfeeling. The story is seen through the eyes of their young daughter (Peggy Ann Garner). Based on the novel by Betty Smith and directed by Elia Kazan in his directorial debut. This is a lovely, lovely film. A tender portrait of a girl who adores her father although he might be considered a failure in society's eyes. Kazan's tough direction keeps the film from slipping into the sentimentality it might have in the hands of a less skilled director. Garner is pretty amazing as the young Francie. It's a tender and sympathetic performance by a real actress with none of the phony behavior too often foisted on us by Hollywood child actors. The film goes past the two hour running mark but it doesn't feel long at all. With Joan Blondell, marvelous as the Aunt, Lloyd Nolan, James Gleason, Ruth Nelson and Ted Donaldson.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Die 1000 Augen Des Dr. Mabuse (aka The Thousand Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse) (1960)

A police inspector (Gert Frobe) is contacted by a blind clairvoyant (Lupo Prezzo) who claims he had a vision of a murder. Shortly thereafter, a TV anchorman thought to have died of a heart attack is discovered to actually have been murdered. This is just a beginning of some strange occurrences and coincidences that indicate the notorious master criminal Doctor Mabuse is back! Based on the novel MR. TOT BUYS A THOUSAND EYES by Jan Fethke and directed by Fritz Lang as his final film. Lang had made two previous Mabuse films, a silent in 1922 and a talkie in 1933 so it was fitting his swan song saw him return to the franchise. The movie itself is good fun and far superior to the several sequels it spawned in the 1960s (though some were entertaining). It's far fetched plot is a bit wacky but aren't most films about megalomaniacs obsessed with dominating the world? The characters are well delineated and Lang keeps the excitement hopped up. With Peter Van Eyck, Dawn Addams, Werner Peters and Wolfgang Preiss. 

Pandora And The Flying Dutchman (1951)

Set in 1930s Spain (although no attempt is made to resemble the period), an American playgirl (Ava Gardner) drifts from one affair to another, breaking hearts along the way. But when she meets a mysterious yachtsman (James Mason), she falls in love for the first time and willing to sacrifice everything for love. Written and directed by Albert Lewin (PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY), this is a rather silly romantic fantasy based on the legend of the flying Dutchman, a sailor condemned to wander the seas eternally until he finds a woman willing to die for him. The film takes itself incredibly seriously and we get over two hours of it. I'm a sucker for a good love story but this one crawls at a snail's pace. Not much is required of Mason other than to brood which he does skillfully but Ava Gardner (looking incredibly gorgeous) isn't a strong enough actress (at this stage of her career) to make her loopy dialogue sound believable. Visually, the film is sumptuous looking thank to Jack Cardiff's (THE RED SHOES) luscious cinematography. With Nigel Patrick, Marius Goring, Abraham Sofaer, Sheila Sim, Mario Cabre and Harold Warrender.    

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Scalphunters (1968)

A fur trapper (Burt Lancaster) is ambushed by a group of Kiowa Indians who steal all his furs. As compensation, they leave him a runaway slave (Ossie Davis) that they have captured. Determined to retrieve his furs, the trapper hunts the Kiowas down but a scalphunter (Telly Savalas) gets to them first. If he wants his furs back, he'll have to outsmart the scalphunter. Directed by Sydney Pollack, this affable comedy western is hard to resist. Lancaster is a wonderful physical actor and here he seems to be having a ball. Lancaster and his co-stars Telly Savalas and Shelley Winters have been known to go overboard with their acting so I'm assuming director Pollack (THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY?) is responsible for reining them in. Oh, they're still broad performances but in just the right way. But if the film belongs to anyone, it's Ossie Davis who brings both wit and dignity as well as a wink to his runaway slave. The rousing film score is by Elmer Bernstein. With Dabney Coleman, Paul Picerni and Armando Silvestre. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Miracle At Midnight (1998)

Set in German occupied Denmark in 1943 during WWII, a gentile doctor (Sam Waterston) finds out that the Nazis plan to round up all the Jews in Copenhagen beginning at midnight at the start of Rosh Hashannah. Fearing for her family, his wife (Mia Farrow) is reluctant to cooperate but the doctor conceives a plan for hiding Jews and transporting them to the coast where they can be put on boats and taken to Sweden which has agreed to take them. This is a fictionalized drama inspired by actual events. Over 90% of Danish Jews are estimated to have survived the Holocaust because of the Danish intervention. It's rather conventional in its storytelling but Farrow and Waterston are very good and it was interesting to see how (unlike the German people who looked the other way for the most part) the Danish people banded together to save their fellow citizens. A different but fascinating look at the horror of the Holocaust. Actually filmed in Ireland rather than Denmark. With Justin Whalin, Patrick Malahide and Nicola Mycroft.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

New Orleans Uncensored (1955)

A freshly discharged Navy man (Arthur Franz) gets a job as a longshoreman on the New Orleans docks. It's not long before he discovers that the docks have been infiltrated by mobsters and corruption is rampant. Directed by William Castle (HOMICIDAL), this noir-ish crime film tries for an authentic semi documentary approach but the script is so tired and predictable that it feels amateurish. Franz is a generic leading man type and this is a role that could use a Star to hold our attention. Also, Franz looks pretty scrawny to play a Navy boxing champ. Fortunately for us, the film clocks in at an hour and 15 minutes which means it moves quickly. I appreciated the B&W New Orleans location shooting by Henry Freulich (IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT).  It's not terrible by any means but to say it's no ON THE WATERFRONT is a whopping understatement. With Beverly Garland, Michael Ansara and Helene Stanton.

Hannie Caulder (1971)

After a failed attempt to rob a bank, three brothers (Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, Strother Martin) on the run kill a station master and then rape his wife (Raquel Welch). She is determined to avenge her husband's murder and the rape. To this end, she is assisted by a bounty hunter (Robert Culp) who teaches her how to become a gunfighter. Written (under the pseudonym Z.X. Jones) and directed by Burt Kennedy (SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF). MS. 45 (1981) is generally regarded at the film that began the "rape revenge" subgenre. But ten years before, this western ventured into that territory. In spite of its American cast, this is a British film but it plays out like a spaghetti western as the genre's influence is clearly evident. It's a crude film but highly effective. Welch is surprisingly good in the title role but I wish the screenplay didn't make the brutish villains so comical. It leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. They're cold blood killers and rapists, what's so funny about that? A favorite of Quentin Tarantino and its influence on his KILL BILL films is obvious. With Stephen Boyd, Christopher Lee and Diana Dors. 

The Animal Kingdom (1932)

A publisher (Leslie Howard) has remained friends with his former mistress (Ann Harding) but when she hears he is engaged to be married to a socialite (Myrna Loy), she realizes she loves him and sends him away. After his marriage, they reconnect and she finds him a changed man due to his wife's influence. Based on the play by Philip Barry (THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) and directed by Edward H. Griffith (though it's rumored that the film was finished by George Cukor). Thematically, this pre-code comedy of manners bears some similarity to Barry's HOLIDAY. It doesn't bother to hide its theatrical roots and it's quite talky but when the dialogue is this good and works well, you don't mind it. Leslie Howard along with William Gargan as his ex-boxer butler and Ilka Chase as Loy's snooty pal recreate their roles from the original Broadway cast. Remade in 1946. With Neil Hamilton and Henry Stephenson.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Far Country (1954)

Set in 1896 Alaska, a loner (James Stewart) with little use for other people has his cattle seized by a crooked Judge (John McIntire). He steals his cattle back and takes them across the border to Canada but he finds that it's not so easy to escape the long arms of a bad Judge. Directed by Anthony Mann, this is a fine western. As usual in his collaboration with Mann, Stewart gives a marvelous performance. In the Mann westerns, Stewart plays darker and more complex characters which are so much more interesting than his comedies like THE PHILADELPHIA STORY or Capra corn like MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. The excellence of his work with Mann is only rivaled by his work with Hitchcock. Stewart is given a sensational villain in McIntire to play off of. He's also given two romantic interests, a saloon owner (Ruth Roman) and a French Canadian waif (Corinne Calvet). I much preferred Roman's more worldly woman but of course, being the "bad" girl, she comes to an untimely end. Handsomely shot on location in Alberta, Canada by William H. Daniels (QUEEN CHRISTINA), I watched it in the 1.85 aspect ratio although it was shown in some cinemas in the 2.1 ratio. With Walter Brennan, Jay C. Flippen, Connie Gilchrist, Kathleen Freeman and Steve Brodie.

The Lost Continent (1968)

The Captain (Eric Porter) of an old freighter is carrying a disparate group of passengers from Africa to South America. The freighter is also carrying an illegal cargo of dangerous explosives that will explode if contact is made with water and with a hurricane on the way, this is a potential disaster waiting to happen. Based on the novel UNCHARTED SEAS by Dennis Wheatley and directed by Michael Carreras (CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB). A more apt title for this Hammer production would be SHIP OF FOOLS. With their lives in peril, the passengers seem indifferent to their fate so it's difficult to care what happens to them. That's pretty much the first half of the movie. The second half after they're adrift on the open sea is considerably less interesting as it turns into a ludicrous tale of man killing seaweed and a group of Spaniards lost in time on an uncharted island. I watched an extended transfer about 10 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. It's not boring but it's not very good either. With Hildegard Knef, Suzanna Leigh, Tony Beckley, Nigel Stock and Dana Gillespie.

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Invisible Ray (1936)

An astronomer (Boris Karloff) with controversial theories travels to Africa with two other scientists (Bela Lugosi, Walter Kingsford) to locate a meteorite that crashed to Earth a billion years ago. He discovers the meteorite's location and conducts experiments in secret but when he begins to glow in the dark, he realizes the deadly power of his discovery which he call Radium X. Directed by Lambert Hillyer (DRACULA'S DAUGHTER), this is an okay addition to the Universal classic horror library. While I can't get too enthusiastic about it, it's well made with some solid performances by horror icons Karloff and Lugosi. Lugosi has one of his rare good guy roles and the film allows Karloff some leeway with his character. He's not purely evil, he has a conscience even if it is cloudy. The film is actually more science fiction than horror but since it's a mixture I suppose that's a moot point. With Beulah Bondi, Frank Lawton, Violet Kemble Coooper and Frank Reicher. 

Mrs. Palfrey At The Claremont (2005)

Living alone in a retirement hotel, a lonely widow (Joan Plowright) strikes up a relationship with a struggling writer (Rupert Friend), who she passes off as her grandson to the other hotel guests. Based on the novel by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not the actress) and directed by Dan Ireland. Whenever I see the word heartwarming used to describe a film, I know it's a movie I want to avoid. Yet I can't think of a better word to describe this charming and lovely film. It focuses on the marginalization of the aged in our society yet it isn't full of self pity but instead offers the strength that the elderly need to have to survive in a society which ignores them. This is a life affirming film When it's over, you may have shed a few tears but there should be a smile on your face too. The role seems tailor made for Plowright who (I LOVE YOU TO DEATH excepted) rarely got good film roles that allowed her to shine like MRS. CLAREMONT does. There's an appealing score by Stephen Barton. With Anna Massey (excellent), Millicent Martin, Georgina Hale and Robert Lang.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Saturday The 14th (1981)

A husband (Richard Benjamin) and his wife (Paula Prentiss) inherit an Uncle's old house which is in a state of disarray. But the house's library contains an ancient book that is much desired by a pair of vampires (Jeffrey Tambor, Nancy Lee Andrews) among others. Directed by Howard R. Cohen, this is a painfully unfunny spoof of horror movies. Almost nothing in it works. You can't ask for better comic actors than Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss but when you have material this anemic, they're not able to rescue it. The director (and/or his editor) has no comedic sensibility. Occasionally, there's a glimmer of wit as in the parody of the bird attack on Tippi Hedren from THE BIRDS, only this time it's Paula Prentiss and bats. But more typical is a lame JAWS sight gag that the director repeats several times when it wasn't funny the first time. Only Severn Darden as a vampire hunter seems to know what he's doing. Inexplicably, there was actually a sequel seven years later! With Rosemary DeCamp, Kari Michaelsen and Kevin Brando. 

About Sarah (1998)

A young girl (Kellie Martin) has her heart set on medical school. But when her grandmother (Marion Ross) suddenly dies and she must take responsibility for her mentally challenged mother (Mary Steenburgen), she must decide whether to commit her mother to a home or give up medical school and take care of her at home. Directed by Susan Rohrer, this is your standard made for TV movie about the handicapped though it has a couple of twists and turns that make for some interesting drama. The film's strongest asset are the performances especially Steenburgen, who doesn't overplay the mental handicap that can often turn into scenery chewing by lesser actors. She's matched by Diane Baker as the Aunt who takes matters into her own hands by attempting to wrest control of the situation from the daughter, even if it means taking her to court. The weakest portion of the movie are scenes with Kellie Martin and her boyfriend (Chad Christ) which are stagnant. With Nick Searcy and Steven Gilborn.
 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Mickey One (1965)

A stand up comic (Warren Beatty) is in hot water with the Detroit mob so he flees to Chicago to hide out. But his increasing paranoia convinces him that he's been followed and everyone is suspect. Directed by Arthur Penn (BONNIE AND CLYDE), this is an interesting failure that has since become a cult film. Influenced by the French New Wave, it has the feel of a French film adapted from an American pulp novel (think Truffaut's SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER). It did well in Europe but not surprisingly, American critics were less enthusiastic with charges of pretentiousness leveled against its surrealism (and not unjustifiably). But if it's a failure, it's an ambitious and fascinating one. The biggest problem I had with it is that Beatty doesn't have the bearing or timing of a stand up comic. In the movie, audiences laugh and applaud but we know he's just not funny. But there are things to savor like Ghislain Cloquet's (THE FIRE WITHIN) crisp B&W lensing, Aram Avakian's editing and the jazz score by Eddie Sauter (with a little help from Stan Getz). With Hurd Hatfield, Franchot Tone and Alexandra Stewart.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Max Et Les Ferrailleurs (1971)

A rather cold hearted obsessive police detective (Michel Piccoli) is obsessed with bringing criminals to justice whatever the cost. He concocts a complicated plan to lure a group of amateur thieves into robbing a bank just so he can arrest them. He uses a prostitute (Romy Schneider) in his plan by telling her he's a banker but all this leads to a tragic end steeped in irony. Based on the novel by Claude Neron and directed by Claude Sautet. Sautet doesn't seem to get much attention when discussing French directors but he's consistently good with films like CESAR AND ROSALIE, LES CHOSES DE LA VIE and UNE HISTOIRE SIMPLE among others and working often with Romy Schneider. The film starts off appearing to be a police procedural until the relationship between Piccoli's cop and Schneider's hooker comes into play and you understand this is going somewhere but it won't end well. Lovers of film noir should find a lot to like here. Inexplicably the film never got a U.S. release until 40 years later. With Bernard Fresson, Francois Perier and Georges Wilson.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Something For The Boys (1944)

Three cousins (Carmen Miranda, Phil Silvers, Vivian Blaine) who have never met each other inherit a dilapidated mansion in Georgia. They decide to turn the mansion into a rooming house for Army wives so they can be near their husbands stationed at a nearby Army base. Very loosely based on the Broadway musical and directed by Lewis Seiler (GUADALCANAL DIARY). As usual, Hollywood thinks it knows best and they tossed out almost the entire Cole Porter songs from the Broadway show and substituted new songs written for especially for the movie version. The songs are a dire lot and we have to wait until the end of the movie for a decent production number. The usually always fun Carmen Miranda seems restrained here and the rest of the cast isn't sufficiently charged to provide any sparks though Phil Silvers tries. With Judy Holliday, Perry Como, Cara Williams, Sheila Ryan, Glenn Langan and Michael O'Shea.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Blob (1988)

A meteorite crashes in a small California town. When it cracks open, a reddish gelatinous blob is released and it increases rapidly in size as it begins devouring every human in its path. A remake of the 1958 horror cult film and directed by Chuck Russell (ERASER). A rare case of the remake being superior to the original source material but that's not saying much. Although taking place in the present day, the film is still steeped in the conventions of 1950s B horror movies (teens making out in cars are punished for being sexual, annoying child characters etc.). The film is saddled by an irritating teenage punk (Kevin Dillon) as its "hero".  Where the film advances on the 1958 film is better special effects and a quicker pacing. The film makers were anticipating a success gauged by the film's ending which screams out "Sequel coming soon!" but the film tanked at the box office so it never happened. Its popularity has increased in the ensuing years to the point that it's now a cult film. The awful synthesizer score is credited to Michael Hoenig. With Shawnee Smith, Jeffrey DeMunn, Paul McCrane, Joe Seneca and Candy Clark (AMERICAN GRAFFITI). 

Ride Lonesome (1959)

A bounty hunter (Randolph Scott) and his prisoner (James Best), two outlaws (Pernell Roberts, James Coburn) and a woman (Karen Steele) are traveling together through hostile Indian territory. But it isn't just the Indians that may prevent them from reaching their destination. The prisoner's brother (Lee Van Cleef) and his gang are after them to get the prisoner back. Written by Burt Kennedy and directed by Budd Boetticher. What I love about these Scott/Boetticher collaborations is how economical and tight they are. They're lean films without any unnecessary excess. No extraneous romances, comedy relief or pontificating. What you see is what you get. This may be my favorite of the Boetticher/Scott films. This is a flawless film. It slowly accumulates to a powerful conclusion and an unforgettable image. Boetticher's use of the CinemaScope format, aided impeccably by his cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr. (LADY FROM SHANGHAI), is superb. A great western and a must for all true film lovers!

Cry Of The Hunted (1953)

A police Lieutenant (Barry Sullivan) travels to Louisiana to pursue an escaped convict (Vittorio Gassman) in the Louisiana bayous. The Cajun culture protect their own which makes it difficult for the cop and his partner (William Conrad) to locate him. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis. With films like GUN CRAZY and MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS on his resume, Lewis is a cult favorite of the film noir crowd but I can't share their enthusiasm for this film. There's not much empathy for Gassman's fugitive (even his wife is a bitch) and Sullivan's character is too gullible. A manhunt through the swamps of Louisiana sounds like it could be exciting but this one is on the sluggish side. The most interesting aspect of the movie is the homoerotic relationship (during a wrestling scene you almost expect them to kiss each other) between the hunter and the hunted. It's there but it's a pity the restrictions of its decade didn't allow for a more in depth exploration. With Polly Bergen and Mary Zavian as the nominal females in the cast. 

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Johnny O'Clock (1947)

A partner (Dick Powell) in a swanky casino finds himself embroiled in a murder case when a crooked cop (Jim Bannon) tries to muscle in on his partnership. A suspicious suicide and a mobster's (Thomas Gomez) wife (Ellen Drew) only serve to pull down his once peaceful existence. Written and directed by Robert Rossen (THE HUSTLER), the film is prevented from being a first rate film noir by wasting too much time on a central dull romance that stops the movie cold. It's no fault of the actress Evelyn Keyes, it's the role as written. Far more interesting are the two supporting female roles: Ellen Drew (who knew she could be so sexy?) as Gomez's trampy wife and Nina Foch as a doomed lovesick hat check girl. Powell is very good as he usually is in these tough guy roles but even he can't make those scenes with Keyes work. If you can get past that romance (which I found hard to do), there's some good stuff here. With Lee J. Cobb, John Kellog and Jeff Chandler, so young that he still has dark hair.  

Friday, May 8, 2020

Papa's Delicate Condition (1963)

A gregarious railroad man (Jackie Gleason) loves two things in life, his family and the bottle. His drinking (the "delicate condition" of the film's title) which causes irresponsible actions (like buying a failing circus) causes a rift in his marriage. It frustrates his wife (Glynis Johns) but his youngest daughter (Linda Bruhl) adores him unconditionally. Based on a memoir by Corinne Griffith (a well known actress in the silent film era) and directed by George Marshall (DESTRY RIDES AGAIN). For a brief period following his success in THE HUSTLER, Jackie Gleason was a movie star but this film comes off as TV sitcom material. Indeed, there's no plot as such and the movie feels like watching three episodes in a row of a sitcom. On the plus side, the small town milieu feels authentic and Edith Head's costumes are striking. The film won the best song Oscar for Call Me Irresponsible which went on to become a popular standard. With Charlie Ruggles, Murray Hamilton, Laurel Goodwin, Ned Glass and Elisha Cook Jr. 

Connecting Rooms (1970)

Set in London, an old maid (Bette Davis) who plays the cello and a schoolmaster (Michael Redgrave) forced to leave his job because of a sex scandal live in adjoining rooms in a shabby boarding house. Based on the play THE CELLIST by Marion Hart and directed by Franklin Gollings. The excitement of seeing two great actors play opposite each other is undermined by the flaccid direction and erratic screenplay by Gollings whose only feature film this is. I'm not familiar with the source material (so I stand to be corrected) but I suspect a subplot has been added which destroys the intimacy of the narrative. The subplot involves an untalented songwriter (Alexis Kanner) and a French pop singer (Olga Georges Picot). When the movie focuses on the two lonely protagonists, the film is at its strongest. Redgrave does some beautiful work here and while Davis seems miscast (the garish bright lipstick she wears is often distracting), she has a couple of moments where her talent is in full force. The inferior underscore by John Shakespeare is distracting. With Leo Genn and Kay Walsh. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Living Idol (1957)

Set in Mexico, after a young girl (Liliane Montevecchi) enters an ancient Mayan tomb along with an archaeologist (James Robertson Justice) and a reporter (Steve Forrest), she becomes unhinged when she sees a stone statue of a Jaguar "god". The archaeologist suspects she may have roots to the ancient Mayans, perhaps even reincarnated. Written and directed by Albert Lewin, this is one cockamamie movie and not in a good way. In his best known films like THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY or PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, there's a distinct layer of mysticism and the supernatural. It's here too but it's poorly constructed and comes across as a poor imitation of THE CAT PEOPLE. The film stops cold when Justice gives a classroom lecture on the history of human sacrifice that seems endless. Montevecchi, a French dancer, didn't have much luck during her brief Hollywood career (did Hollywood need another French ballerina when Leslie Caron was still working?). After working with Marlon Brando (THE YOUNG LIONS) and Elvis Presley (KING CREOLE), Montevecchi went to Broadway where she had better luck, winning a Tony for NINE. The film is fortunate in having Jack Hildyard (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) as its cinematographer and he takes full advantage of the Mexican locations which look quite handsome in CinemaScope. With Sara Garcia and Eduardo Noriega. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Burning Hills (1956)

When a group of gunmen kill his brother under orders of a land baron (Ray Teal), a young man (Tab Hunter) vows to bring justice to his brother's murderers. But first, he will have to survive the posse of the rancher's henchman out to kill him. Based on a novel by the western author Louis L'Amour (HONDO) and directed by Stuart Heisler (STORM WARNING). This is an average revenge western and occasionally more than that. The movie holds one's interest because there's enough of a "what's going to happen next?" factor until the film's last 15 minutes when it turns into just another western. Although she has an awful Mexican accent (she improved by the time of WEST SIDE STORY), I liked Natalie Wood's feisty heroine with more guts than most of the men around her. Shot in CinemaScope, Ted McCord (THE SOUND OF MUSIC) does a decent job of making the Warners ranch look like it was shot on location. With Earl Holliman, Skip Homeier, Eduard Franz and Claude Akins.

Mermaids (1990)

Set in 1963, a young teenager (Winona Ryder) and her kid sister (Christina Ricci) have an unconventional  and restless mother (Cher) who insists on moving frequently which means their childhood is anything but "normal". When they move to Massachusetts, the girl finds love with for the first time and a sense of normalcy. But how long before mama packs their bags and moves on? Based on the novel by Patty Dann and directed by Richard Benjamin (MY FAVORITE YEAR). In spite of being overly long, this is a charming and heartfelt coming of age story. The story itself isn't especially complicated and Benjamin's direction isn't particularly notable but the what the actors bring to the movie is pure gold! Cher is fine doing what Cher does best but Ryder brings a real sense of teen angst to her role, Bob Hoskins as Cher's "boyfriend" is irresistible and Ricci (in her film debut) is adorable. I liked it a lot. With Michael Schoeffling and Jan Miner. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Hell's Highway (1932)

A career criminal (Richard Dix) is working on a chain gang work crew building a road. He's surprised when his kid brother (Tom Brown) shows up following in his footsteps. The older brother is determined that the young boy won't follow his same fate. Directed by Rowland Brown, this is a tough and gritty social message movie for the most part that is hampered by some excessive sentimentality. Did the film makers think we wouldn't be sympathetic to the inhumane and brutal treatment of the convicts unless they were made sympathetic? So we get the gray haired mother (Louise Carter) tearfully visiting her boys in the work camp, the deaf mute crying for his mother as he dies, etc. Scenes like that soften the film's harshness which doesn't work in its favor. That aside, the film is sort of the COOL HAND LUKE of its day in its graphic portrayal of prison camp brutality and corruption. With Rochelle Hudson, Louise Beavers, Fuzzy Knight, Clarence Muse and Stanley Fields.

Quai Des Orfevres (1947)

Set during the Christmas season, an ambitious singer (Suzy Delair) married to a jealous husband (Bernard Blier) has an assignation with a lecherous businessman (Charles Dullin) who can help her career. The husband goes to the businessman's home with a gun and the intention to kill him but he finds the man already dead. He attempts to cover up his tracks but that only makes him suspicious to the police detective (Louis Jouvet) assigned to the case. Based on the novel LEGITIME DEFENSE by Stanislas Andre Steeman and directed by Henri Georges Clouzot (LE CORBEAU). Clouzot combines an intriguing police procedural murder mystery with an observant eye on the messiness of love as the odd pairing of the lovesick husband and the flirtatious wife takes center stage. Delair's Jenny Lamour may act like a tart but she truly loves her husband which is her saving grace. The police don't come off very well. Jouvet is excellent as the police detective but his character is thuggish even though the film tries to redeem him. With Simone Renant, who appears to be in love with both Blier and Delair but the film doesn't explore that possibility. 

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Mister 880 (1950)

An elderly gentleman (Edmund Gwenn in an Oscar nominated performance) lives in near poverty. So he counterfeits dollar bills as he needs them to survive while eluding the authorities for ten years. A secret service man (Burt Lancaster) assigned to the case becomes romantically involved with a young woman (Dorothy McGuire), who is a friend of the counterfeiter. Inspired by a true story (which was published in the New Yorker magazine) and directed by Edmund Goulding (NIGHTMARE ALLEY). This is a charming human interest story, the kind of movie that makes you feel good when it's over even if you know it's fluff. Lancaster is somewhat overqualified for something like this and the intensity he usually brings to his roles is missing. It's a conventional leading man role that someone like Dana Andrews could have easily handled. McGuire is likable and Gwenn is wonderful. It's a sweet little movie which sounds like faint praise but it's an achievement of sorts nevertheless. With Millard Mitchell and Larry Keating.

More Dead Than Alive (1969)

A notorious gunfighter (Clint Walker) is released from prison after 18 years. He tries to make a new life for himself but he is stymied by his reputation which prevents him getting honest work. So he joins a traveling shooting show run by a showman (Vincent Price). Directed by Robert Sparr (ONCE YOU KISS A STRANGER), this has a good script that would have been better served by a stronger director. It's not only the direction that prevents the movie from fulfilling its potential. Two other things prevent the movie from being anything other than an interesting failure. The film has an awful underscore and worst of all, a hideous uncontrolled performance by Paul Hampton as a punk gunslinger that is downright laughable (and I did laugh at his death scene). It's a pity because Walker gives a nice low key performance and Price brings some panache to his hustling showman. I'll admit the film's ending was a shocker! With Anne Francis and Mike Henry.

Billion Dollar Brain (1967)

An ex-secret agent (Michael Caine) is blackmailed into working for MI5 again. His mission: go to Poland to retrieve some stolen eggs which contain a virus that can potentially destroy millions of people. Based on the novel by Len Deighton and directed by Ken Russell (WOMEN IN LOVE). This was Caine's third film playing secret agent Harry Palmer (the antithesis of James Bond) following the success of THE IPCRESS FILE and FUNERAL IN BERLIN. I found the film rather confusing in the beginning and for a moment, I thought possibly the reels got mixed up but it finally starts to make sense. This was strictly a paycheck job for Ken Russell and there's none of the loopy craziness that would show up in some of his later films where he had more control. Visually, it's a great looking film thanks to Billy Williams' (GANDHI) cinematography but as a spy thriller, it's flat. There's a marvelous score by Richard Rodney Bennett that helps the film considerably. With Karl Malden, Oscar Homolka, Ed Begley (ludicrously overacting), Donald Sutherland, Susan George, Guy Doleman and in her final film role, Francoise Dorleac.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Too Young To Kiss (1951)

When a 20-ish year old pianist (June Allyson) can't get an audition with a concert promoter (Van Johnson), she disguises herself as a 14 year old child prodigy which is exactly what the promoter has been looking for. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard (THE BRIBE), this romantic comedy is another one of those movies where adults either masquerade as a child (THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR) or magically inhabit a child's body (BIG). I've never been fond of the genre which is plentiful and this one is no exception. Fortunately, Allyson (who won a Golden Globe for her work here) isn't as annoying as Ginger Rogers is when doing this shtick (MAJOR AND THE MINOR, MONKEY BUSINESS) but it's still a one joke movie which rapidly runs out of steam. Allyson and Johnson were a popular team (they made a total of five movies together) but chemistry can only take you so far. With Gig Young, Paula Corday, Kathryn Givney, Larry Keating and Esther Dale.