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Thursday, February 25, 2021

For Heaven's Sake (1950)

A playwright (Robert Cummings) and his actress wife (Joan Bennett) are too busy with their careers to start a family. Their unborn child (Gigi Perreau) is tired of waiting to be born so she asks the help of two angels (Clifton Webb, Edmund Gwenn) to assist her in getting born. Based on the play MAY WE COME IN? by Harry Segall and directed by George Seaton (THE COUNTRY GIRL). This cloying bit of iron whimsy is hard to swallow. Even Webb's usual dose of acidity is defeated by the saccharine level. Webb's channeling of Gary Cooper is amusing at first but even that gets old after awhile. The movie has the unpleasant 1950s mentality that people who don't want children are somehow unnatural though one can't blame Joan Bennett. Who'd want to have a baby by Robert Cummings! The syrupy score (heavenly choir and all) is by Alfred Newman. With Joan Blondell, Jack La Rue (parodying George Raft) and Tommy Rettig.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Kawaita Hana (aka Pale Flower) (1964)

A Yakuza assassin (Ryo Ikebe) is released from prison after serving three years for killing a man. He becomes attracted to a mysterious gambling addict (Mariko Kaga) who is looking for dangerous thrills. Based on the novel by Shintaro Ishihara and directed by Masahiro Shinoda (DEMON POND). The film was part of the so called Japanese New Wave which came to prominence in the 1960s. It's a mesmerizing film combining the Yakuza film, doomed romance and the fatalism of film noir. Shot in stunning B&W Grandscope by Masao Kosugi, the film fills in enough of Ikebe's background to give us an idea of who he is while giving us nothing about Kaga's character which makes her even more tantalizing of an enigma. Even at the film's dark end, he never knows her. A film rich in mood and atmosphere while taking us down the dark underworld of the Yakuza. The effective score is by Toru Takemitsu. With Takashi Fujiki, Chisako Hara and Eijiro Tono.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Big Store (1941)

When the heir (Tony Martin) to a major department store is attacked, his Aunt (Margaret Dumont) hires a private detective (Groucho Marx) to act as his bodyguard. Directed by Charles Reisner (STEAMBOAT BILL JR.), this was the last film for the Marx Brothers under their MGM contract and there wouldn't be another Marx Brothers movie for 5 years. THE BIG STORE isn't much admired but I'm actually rather fond of it in spite of not really being a fan of the brothers. I'm a huge fan of Groucho but have little tolerance for Chico and Harpo. With one exception, the musical numbers in the film stop the movie cold. We have to put up with Tony Martin's bellowing two songs including the hideous Tenement Symphony as well as the usual Chico playing on the piano and Harpo's interlude on the harp. The one exception is a delightful novelty swing number with Groucho and Virginia O'Brien. As long as Groucho is around, the laughs are dependable. The film was actually the Marx Brothers highest grossing film at MGM. With Virginia Grey, Douglass Dumbrille, Marion Martin and Henry Armetta.

Islands In The Stream (1977)

Set in the Bahamas in 1940, an artist (George C. Scott) lives a quiet life of isolation. The film is divided into three sections. 1) his three estranged sons (Hart Bochner, Brad Savage, Michael James Wixted) come to spend the summer with him. 2) his ex-wife (Claire Bloom) unexpectedly turns up for a visit with some bad news. 3) he rescues some Jews adrift at sea and attempts to take them to Cuba. Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (PATTON). I'm an admirer of Hemingway's work but I've not read the source material so I don't know how faithful it is to the novel (or even if the book is any good). But I suspect the sentimental veneer is an invention of the film makers rather than Hemingway. The first part is very Hemingway-esque, so much so that the brief interlude that follows with Scott and Bloom is a breath of fresh air with the macho facade dropped and the third part is 1940s Warner Brothers. This is one of Scott's very best performances with the mannerisms which sometimes mar his work nowhere in sight. It's a reflective well thought out performance. Fred J. Koenekamp's Oscar nominated cinematography is picture perfect, perhaps too perfect, you could put it on a postcard. With David Hemmings, Gilbert Roland, Susan Tyrrell, Julius Harris and Hildy Parks.  

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Stooge (1953)

Set in 1930, a singer (Dean Martin) who is part of an act breaks up with his partner (Richard Erdman) to go solo. When his single act flops, he takes on an awkward kid (Jerry Lewis) as a stooge and his act suddenly becomes a smash. But his ego prevents him from giving the kid any billing or recognition. Directed by Norman Taurog (GIRL CRAZY), this is the most serious of the 16 movies Martin and Lewis made together. Oh, it's definitely a comedy but there's a darker undercurrent with Lewis (who appears to be a case of arrested development) being exploited by Martin and then there's Martin's alcoholism which threatens to sabotage the act. In fact, the movie was held back from release by Paramount for over a year because they were uncertain how audiences would react to Martin's treatment of Lewis. With Polly Bergen, Eddie Mayehoff, Marion Marshall and Frances Bavier.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Bye Bye Birdie (1995)

When a rock and roll star by the name of Conrad Birdie (Marc Kudisch) is drafted into the Army, the secretary (Vanessa Williams) of his manager and songwriter (Jason Alexander) suggests he write a song and arrange for Birdie to sing it on The Ed Sullivan Show while bestowing a kiss on a randomly selected member of his fan club. Based on the hit Broadway musical and directed by Gene Saks (BAREFOOT IN THE PARK). This is not a remake of the 1963 film but a recreation of the original 1960 stage musical with all of the songs (written by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams) from the stage version eliminated from the 1963 movie reinstated into the film (except for the How To Kill A Man ballet). This production does add the title song written specifically for the 1963 movie into the mix. There has been a lot of criticism of the 1963 film version for altering it to focus on Ann-Margret (it worked, it made her a star) but as this production shows, the stage show had its share of things that didn't work like the Gloria Rasputin character who was eliminated from the movie. Jason Alexander is unbearable here, his continual "aren't I cute" expression had me wishing someone would punch him in the face. Vanessa Williams as Rosie is okay with her Shriners dance a highlight although Ann Reinking's choreography is otherwise uninspired. Overall, it's just pretty flat and doesn't have the sparkle of the film. With Tyne Daly, Chynna Phillips (of Wilson Phillips), George Wendt and Sally Mayes. 

Love, Weddings & Other Disasters (2020)

An ensemble romantic comedy set in Boston revolving around a wedding includes a caterer (Jeremy Irons), a blind woman (Diane Keaton), a wedding planner (Maggie Grace), a bus tour guide (Andrew Bachelor), a mayoral candidate (Dennis Staroselsky) and his fiancee (Caroline Portu), a gambler (Andy Goldenberg), a Russian stripper (Melinda Hill) and a rock singer (Diego Boneta). Written and directed by Dennis Dugan (HAPPY GILMORE) so we all know who to blame for this train wreck. I suppose LOVE ACTUALLY is the template for ensemble romantic comedies such as this but this film is the kind of movie that gives romcoms a bad rep. At this stage of her career, Diane Keaton seems to be the poster girl for geriatric romcoms and even though she's just part of an ensemble as opposed to the "star" of the film, she continues the trend. She and Irons have no chemistry but then again, none of the other members of the cast do either which is disaster for a romcom. Trite and predictable, the script looks to have been written by a committee who've seen too many romcoms. With Todd Stashwick, Elle King, Jesse McCartney, Chandra West and Veronica Ferres.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Schusse Im 3/4 Takt (aka Shots In 3/4 Time) (1965)

A strictly guarded NATO missile controller is stolen and falls into unknown enemy hands. The NATO commanding officer (Gustav Knuth) in Paris is given just eight days to find it so he sends his best agent (Pierre Brice) to Vienna to try and recover it. Directed by Alfred Weidenmann, this German spy caper is typical of the 1960s spy frenzy began by the Bond films in 1962. It's rather preposterous and seems a satire on the spy genre in spite of itself. Released in the English speaking markets as SPY HUNT IN VIENNA, the transfer I saw was mostly dubbed into English but with (too) many sequences in German without English subtitles that I suspect were cut from the English version. Annoying but no matter as I was easily able to follow the plot without any problems. It's not a film that one needs to seek out even if you're into 1960s spy movies but it's a pleasant enough diversion if you don't demand too much. With Terence Hill, Senta Berger, Daliah Lavi, Anton Diffring, Walter Giller and Jana Brejchova. 

Mister Roberts (1955)

Set in the waning days of WWII in the Pacific, the executive officer (Henry Fonda) of a cargo ship is frustrated because his requests for a transfer to a fighting ship are continually disapproved by the ship's Captain (James Cagney). Based on the hit play by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan (by way of Heggen's novel) and directed by John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy and Joshua Logan. Ford began the film but antagonism between Ford and both Fonda and Cagney had him replaced by LeRoy. Logan came in to reshoot scenes at Fonda's request. I'm not a fan of military comedies in general but this is a pretty decent one. The film was a huge box office success and was Oscar nominated for best picture and Jack Lemmon won his first Oscar as Ensign Pulver. The dour Fonda makes for a mundane "hero" and he can't even laugh naturally but Cagney is terrific as the petty tyrant of a Captain and William Powell (in his final screen performance) makes for an elegant ship's doctor. I don't think the film holds up all that well. Contemporary audiences would most likely be appalled at the lecherous sailors spying on nurses taking their showers or their drunken attacks on private property while on liberty. The large cast includes Betsy Palmer, Ward Bond, Nick Adams, Philip Carey, Martin Milner, Patrick Wayne, Ken Curtis, Perry Lopez and Harry Carey Jr.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Le Mani Sulla Citta (aka Hands Across The City) (1963)

Set in Naples, a scheming land developer (Rod Steiger) buys city land and builds low income housing for profit. But when a disastrous building collapse occurs, an investigation into his possible responsibility is brought into the spotlight. Directed by Francesco Rosi (CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI), this examination of political corruption and collusion between land development and city politicians is extremely timely. Ignoring the crisis of their citizens living in near poverty in hovels, politicians volley for political power and vote for what is advantageous to their political party rather than what is beneficial to their constituents. How can they vote their conscience when they have no conscience? The film is almost 60 years old and it's dismaying how some things never change. Steiger's performance is problematic because he's dubbed into Italian. Steiger has a distinctive voice and it's disorienting when this totally different voice comes out of his mouth but it has the edge of making his performance less volatile. With Salvo Randone, Guido Alberti and Carlo Fermariello.