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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Glass Key (1942)

A coarse and corrupt political boss (Brian Donlevy) falls in love with the daughter (Veronica Lake) of a wealthy politician (Moroni Olsen) and proceeds to woo the daughter and back the politician against the advice of his right hand henchman (Alan Ladd). When the politician's son (Richard Denning) turns up dead, Donlevy becomes the chief suspect. The second film version of the Dashiell Hammett novel (the first was filmed in 1935 with George Raft in Ladd's part) and sluggishly directed by Stuart Heisler. It clocks in at a brief 81 minutes but is seems like a full two hours. The political corruption is toned down from the original Hammett novel and the film plays out like a conventional film noir. Ladd is pretty good and his chemistry with the expressionless Lake remains solid but the acting honors, such as they are, belong to the roughly hewn Donlevy. With William Bendix as a sadistic thug, Dane Clark, Bonita Granville, Joseph Calleia, Frances Gifford, Donald MacBride and in a small but scene stealing part, Margaret Hayes (BLACKBOARD JUNGLE) as a nymphomaniac who seduces Ladd and drives her husband to suicide.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Once You Kiss A Stranger (1969)

A psychotic young woman (Carol Lynley) has a one night stand with a famous but married pro golfer (Paul Burke). During their encounter, she proposes she kills his rival (Philip Carey) in the golf tournament and in return, he kills her psychiatrist (Whit Bissell) who plans on having her committed. He treats it as a joke but when his rival turns up murdered, she demands he fulfill his part of the bargain. If this sound familiar, it's because it uses the same source material (the Patricia Highsmith novel) that Hitchcock used for STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Needless to say, it's no where near the level of the Hitchcock classic. In the Hitchcock film, the dupe (played by Farley Granger) was sympathetic whereas Burke's character is a jerk. In fact, the only sympathetic character is Martha Hyer who plays Burke's wife. The film lacks the tension and tautness of the 1951 film. There's no equivalent of the tennis match or the cigarette lighter sequence or the daring carousel finale in this one. The film is pretty tawdry to look at. It's overly bright (nary a shadow in the film) with decor and costumes in garish colors. Lynley is actually quite good, so it's a pity she didn't have a better vehicle. With Stephen McNally, Peter Lind Hayes, Ann Doran, Kathryn Givney and Elaine Devry.

Man With A Cloak (1951)

In the New York of 1848, a young girl (Leslie Caron) arrives from Paris in search of the uncle (Louis Calhern) of her fiance. She hopes the uncle will give her money which is needed by his nephew to support the revolution. What she finds is a debauched reprobate under the thumb of his mistress (Barbara Stanwyck) and two servants (Joe De Santis, Margaret Wycherly) who are waiting for him to die so they can inherit his fortune. But Caron finds an unlikely ally in her quest in a mysterious alcoholic poet (Joseph Cotten). Based on a short story The Gentleman From Paris by mystery writer John Dickson Carr, the film is excessively talky for a Victorian thriller. The identity of Cotten's character is kept under wraps until the very end for a "twist" but even the most backward of children should be able to guess who he is. Cotten lacks the sodden depravity the role requires and the normally restrained Calhern overacts shamelessly here. Directed Fletcher Markle (THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY) with a good score by the reliable David Raksin. With Jim Backus and Roy Roberts.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Tiger Walks (1964)

When a small traveling circus comes through a small town, a tiger escapes from its abusive handler. While hysteria builds up among the adults in the town, the state's governor (Edward Andrews) uses it a political opportunity while the sheriff's (Brian Keith) daughter (Pamela Franklin) starts a campaign to have the tiger taken alive rather than shot and placed in a zoo. For a family friendly Disney film, it's a little darker and there's a bit more cynicism than the usual wholesome atmosphere. In addition to Andrews' opportunistic politician, there's a greedy innkeeper (Una Merkel) more than happy to take advantage of media's presence by bilking them for her rooms, a farmer (Arthur Hunnicutt) is accidentally shot by trigger happy soldiers and a trainer is mauled to death. Physically, it's a rather ungainly looking film (cinematography by William E. Snyder). It was made for cinemas but it has that flat TV movie look. The large cast includes Vera Miles (wasted) as the sheriff's wife, Sabu in his final film (he died before the film was released), Jack Albertson, Merry Anders, Connie Gilchrist, Kevin Corcoran and Peter Brown.

The Sea Chase (1955)

On the eve of WWII, a German captain (John Wayne), who is unsympathetic to the new Third Reich, slips out of Sydney harbor in Australia to avoid internment for he and his crew and a desperate bid to return to the homeland. In a cat and mouse game, he is pursued by British and Australian naval ships. In addition to the crew, there is a beautiful German spy (Lana Turner). If one can get past the absurd casting of Wayne and Turner as German nationals (fortunately, neither attempts an accent), this John Farrow directed high sea adventure is great fun. Some of the dialogue can make you groan at times (Wayne actually says to Turner, "Did anyone ever tell you you're beautiful when you're angry?") but Farrow keeps the narrative in a tight rein focusing on the chase rather than the romance and makes good use of the CinemaScope frame (William Clothier is the cinematographer). The plotline itself is loosely based on fact. In 1939, a German freighter called the Erlangen managed to sneak out of New Zealand to avoid internment and evaded two British craft searching for her as it made its way to South America. With David Farrar, Tab Hunter, Lyle Bettger, James Arness, Claude Akins, Richard Davalos, John Qualen and Paul Fix.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dr. Crippen (1962)

A meek doctor (Donald Pleasence) married to a virago of a wife (Coral Browne, AUNTIE MAME) with a voracious sexual appetite, falls in love with a pretty secretary (Samantha Eggar). The wife refuses to give him a divorce so he begins to contemplate murder. Directed by Robert Lynn, this is based on the true story of the murder case of Hawley Harvey Crippen (the wife's body was dismembered and buried in the cellar) who proclaimed his innocence to the end. The movie is a fairly straightforward telling of the case done through flashbacks during the murder trial. It's such a sensationalistic, morbid "true crime" tale that it can't help but hold your interest but as cinema, there's nothing exceptional about it. The film is quite sympathetic to Crippen. His wife is portrayed as an unbearable shrew that who wouldn't want to kill her? Pleasence is very good though it's never quite clear what the youthful and pretty Eggar sees in the middle aged fish eyed mild mannered Pleasence. The detailed B&W cinematography is by Nicholas Roeg who would soon go on to be a director of repute himself. With James Robertson Justice and the hammy Donald Wolfit.

Twelve Angry Men (1954)

Twelve jurors, all male, must decide the fate of a young boy, a product of the slums, accused of murdering his father ... beyond a reasonable doubt. This teleplay was quite popular winning three Emmys and turned into a film in 1957 directed by Sidney Lumet which has an inexplicable following. The plot is terribly contrived and each character is a stereotype: the loud mouthed racist, the immigrant praising the American way of justice, the dithery senior citizen, the nice young man who overcame his slum upbringing, the meek bank clerk, etc. They pontificate and squabble, each wearing their particular idiosyncrasy like a badge. Every thing is tied up at the end in a neat little ribbon which, I suppose, may account for its popularity. This live production, directed by Franklin Schaffner, has a few assets over the 1957 film. At one hour, it's mercifully 36 minutes shorter than the insufferable Lumet film, Franchot Tone doesn't chew up the scenery the way Lee J. Cobb does and while Robert Cummings is as bad as Henry Fonda was, it's in a different way. He seems to confuse making faces and twitching with acting (poor Cummings never did get the hang of it) while Fonda was a pillar of inertia. With Edward Arnold, Norman Fell, Lee Philips, Walter Abel and George Voskovec and Joseph Sweeney who were the only actors to repeat their roles in the 1957 film.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Fort Dobbs (1958)

On the run from the law, a man (Clint Walker) changes clothes with a man killed by Indians to put the sheriff off his trail. When he happens upon a small ranch with a woman (Virginia Mayo) and her son (Richard Eyer, 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) that is destroyed by Comanches, he takes it upon himself to escort them through treacherous Comanche territory to the safety of Fort Dobbs. Directed by Gordon Douglas, for the most part, this is an engrossing if minor western with much to recommend. Walker may be a hunk but his screen presence is debatable and his acting ability limited but fortunately the role accommodates his limitations but the undervalued Mayo, who carries the burden of the acting, is quite good. The film seems to building towards something but all we get is a disappointing attack on the fort. Still, I liked the way the film didn't force a romance between Walker and Mayo, instead opting for a tentative bonding with possibilities. The austere B&W cinematography is courtesy of William Clothier and the excellent score is by Max Steiner. It's amazing how good he could be when he put some effort into it though at this stage of his career, he wasn't composing a dozen or more scores per year. With Brian Keith and Michael Dante.

Midnight Mary (1933)

While awaiting the verdict in her murder trial, a woman (Loretta Young) reflects back on her life, from her days as a nine year old orphan, jailed for a crime she never committed, the mistress of a mobster (Ricardo Cortez), the millionaire (Franchot Tone) who became the love of her life and eventually to the events that lead to the killing. William Wellman directs this pre-code melodrama so it's quite adult in its themes and frank in its depiction of sex. Wellman's technique has almost always been to let the story take front and center and it's no different here. He allows the narrative to swiftly move along with the actors adroitly slipping into their characters. If the ending comes across as sentimental and unrealistic, it can be forgiven since the journey has been fulfilling. With Una Merkel and Andy Devine at his most annoying.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Black Narcissus (1947)

A group of English nuns are sent to a remote deteriorating palace, which was formerly the home of the Rajah's concubines high in the Himalayan mountains in an attempt to educate the local populace especially its children. But the exotic and sensual atmosphere with its winds and native drums causes the nuns to breakdown emotionally, psychologically and sexually until its violent climax. Based on the novel by Rumer Godden and adapted for the screen and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. This remarkable film is Powell and Pressburger's masterpiece. Stunningly photographed in rich, velvety, three strip Technicolor by ace cinematographer Jack Cardiff whose visuals won the 1947 Oscar and superb art direction (it was filmed entirely in England though you'd never know it) by Alfred Junge who also won the 1947 Oscar in his category. Its lushness and sensuality never overpowers its intense psychical eye. In one of her best performances Deborah Kerr is the sister superior who desperately strains to keep her wits about her as everything is falling apart. In an unforgettable performance that knocks it out of the ballpark, Kathleen Byron is the fragile Sister Ruth pushed beyond all endurance to insanity. With David Farrar as the studly British agent who unintentionally contributes to the hysteria that develops in the nunnery. With Jean Simmons, Sabu, Flora Robson, Edmond Knight and a scene stealing May Hallatt. 

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

After a bank loan officer (Alison Lohman, WHITE OLEANDER) refuses a loan to an elderly gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) in an attempt to impress her boss (David Paymer), the woman places a curse on her. In three days time, she will go to Hell. Sam Raimi (SPIDERMAN), who also wrote the screenplay (along with Ivan Raimi) in addition to directing, expertly manages to balance genuine horror with generous doses of humor. We can't help but laugh while being horrified, appalled or grossed out. Raimi has a gleeful sense of the macabre and he spins us around breathlessly while we desperately try to keep up with his slyly wicked teasing. The seance sequence is a near textbook example of blending horror and comedy. A minor horror classic. With Justin Long.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

That Forsyte Woman (1949)

In Victorian England, an unconventional woman (Greer Garson) eventually succumbs to the marriage proposals of a stuffy, proper member (Errol Flynn) of the Forsyte clan despite the fact she doesn't love him. It is to be a marriage of convenience and he considers her his "property". When she meets the Bohemian architect (Robert Young) who is engaged to her niece (Janet Leigh), a love affair begins that will affect them all. Based on THE MAN OF PROPERTY by John Galsworthy and directed by Compton Bennett (THE SEVENTH VEIL), the film receives the typical lavish MGM treatment in decor and costumes (Walter Plunkett's gowns received an Oscar nomination) but fortunately, it's a solid piece of well done Victorian drama. Both the prim Garson as the bold and strong willed Irene and the cheeky Flynn as the dour chauvinist husband are cast against type and for the most part it works. Alas, not so for the colorless and aging Robert Young as the unorthodox free spirited architect. The strong score is by Bronislau Kaper. With Walter Pidgeon as Leigh's estranged father and Harry Davenport as the patriarch of the Forsyte clan.

Rise Of Catherine The Great (1934)

A German princess (Elisabeth Bergner) arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to the heir to the throne, the narcissistic, unstable Grand Duke Peter (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Although she loves him, after their marriage it becomes clear that he is unfit to rule Russia and she must take her (and Russia's) fate into her own hands. Produced by Alexander Korda and directed by Paul Czinner (also Bergner's husband), this lavish historical drama stays close to the historical "facts", such as they are, but puts forth an elaborate scenario that favors Catherine in a way that may not correspond with the real Catherine. But as a movie, it's quite entertaining and the wide eyed Bergner gives a strong performance as the shy young German princess who has the mantle of greatness thrust upon her. The best performance comes from Flora Robson as the raunchy Empress Elisabeth, who realizes her son would be a disaster for Russia but sees the bud of greatness that would bloom in the young Catherine. The admirable art direction is courtesy of Vincent Korda and A. Hallam.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Swan (1956)

Set in 1910 in a country described as in "middle Europe", a princess (Jessie Royce Landis) who is ambitious for her daughter (Grace Kelly) to marry a distant cousin (Alec Guinness) who is the heir to the throne attempts to parlay his visit into a marriage proposal. When Guinness appears indifferent, Landis suggests to her daughter to use a tutor (Louis Jourdan) to arouse some jealousy from him. But no one is prepared for what happens. Directed by Charles Vidor (GILDA) and based on the 1914 play by Ferenc Molnar (previously filmed in 1930 with Lillian Gish in Kelly's role), THE SWAN only really comes alive in its second half, not coincidentally it's when its protagonists come alive, too. Visually, the film is a sumptuous treat. Both elegant eye candy and handsomely composed for the CinemaScope screen. Kelly seems born to the part of the icy princess but there's wonderful work from the supporting cast particularly Landis as the anxious snobby mother, Agnes Moorehead as the no nonsense dowager Queen and Estelle Winwood as a ditzy aunt. With Brian Aherne, Leo G. Carroll, Robert Coote and Van Dyke Parks (yes, that Van Dyke Parks) as Kelly's younger brother. The lovely score is by Bronislau Kaper. Since Kelly was shortly to become a real life princess, MGM held up the release to coincide with Kelly's marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

The Best Man (1964)

Set during the convention of an unspecified political party which will elect its presidential candidate, two different candidates face off for the party's nomination. A cerebral pundit (Henry Fonda) and a "man of the people" (Cliff Robertson). They loathe each other and each has something they can use against the other in order to get the presidential bid. Directed by Oscar winner Franklin Schaffner (PATTON) with a screenplay by Gore Vidal (based on his play), the plot is contrived with each character a straw man for Vidal's agenda rather than any recognizable human being. They stand and they prattle on, pontificating on this and that. That being said, fifty years later and it still stings with truth, politics as dirty now as it was then. The performances vary. Cliff Robertson, Edie Adams are very good and Lee Tracy (in an Oscar nominated performance) something more than that. Alas Fonda is dull as usual, poor Margaret Leighton as his wife hasn't much to do but Shelley Berman as a snitch from Robertson's past is appallingly awful. His performance is shocking in its ineptitude. With Ann Sothern, Kevin McCarthy, Gene Raymond, Richard Arlen and Anne Newman.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Susan Slept Here (1954)

On Christmas Eve, a couple of policeman (Horace McMahon, Herb Vigran) bring a 17 year old juvenile delinquent (Debbie Reynolds) to the posh apartment of an Oscar winning screenwriter (Dick Powell), ostensibly to keep her out of jail during Christmas, under the pretext of Powell doing research on juvenile delinquents for a new movie. Directed by Frank Tashlin (THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT), the film is actually a rather pleasing well written comedy if you can get past the unsavory notion of a 40ish Hollywood bachelor hooking up romantically with an underage teenage girl. Most of the laughs come courtesy of Glenda Farrell as Powell's wise cracking boozy secretary (what a pleasure to see somebody else beside Thelma "here comes another wisecrack" Ritter get a crack at these parts). Tashlin's visual comedic sense keeps the talky screenplay lively so that its theatrical origins aren't too apparent. With Red Skelton, Anne Francis as Powell's Pasadena wealthy, bitchy fiancee, Alvy Moore as his best pal, Rita Johnson, Les Tremayne, Ellen Corby and Maidie Norman.

Three Men In A Boat (1956)

Set in the 1880s, a carefree bachelor (Laurence Harvey), a married man (David Tomlinson), a gentleman (Jimmy Edwards) being pushed into marriage by his girlfriend's mother (Martita Hunt) and his dog take two weeks vacation boating down the Thames river in order to get away from their women troubles. Based on the popular novel by Jerome K. Jerome and directed by Ken Annakin (THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES), it's a rather labored farce with lots of pratfalls and slapstick but very little genuine laughter. The men are portrayed as addled oafs which makes them unappealing rather than endearing. There is one amusing sequence in which Edwards attempts to lead a group of people out of a maze but gets lost instead but other than that it's sluggish. Harvey shows little talent for farce (the pity is, he shows little talent for anything else). Three lovelies brighten up the film for awhile: Shirley Eaton (GOLDFINGER), Jill Ireland and Lisa Gastoni. Shot in CinemaScope. With Adrienne Corri and Ernest Thesiger.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Colt Wa Ore No Passport (aka A Colt Is My Passport) (1967)

A professional hit man (the chipmunk faced Joe Shishido) and his less experienced sidekick (Jerry Fujio) find themselves betrayed by the very mobsters that hired Shishido to assassinate the head of a rival gang when the son of the slain man agrees to a uniting of both gangs under the condition that the man who killed his father is himself killed. Takashi Nomura's compact action film is most often referred to as Japanese noir but it seems more like a western transposed to contemporary Japan. For example, Harumi Ibe's terrific score cleverly incorporates jazz along with a homage to the spaghetti western scores of Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai and the final gunfight is set up like a showdown at the O.K. corral. The film's finale is something of a washout, not the least because the bad guys couldn't hit a target if it were right in front of their nose. Still, up to then, it's very well done and Shigeyoshi Mine's crisp B&W wide screen images are impressive. With the sad eyed Chitose Kobayoshi as the unlucky barmaid who falls for Shishido.

A Christmas Romance (1994)

A widow (Olivia Newton-John) with two daughters (Chloe Lattanzi, Stephanie Sawyer), who has fallen on hard times, loses her job just before Christmas. When the bank's mortgage collector (Gregory Harrison) drives up to her cabin in the mountains to serve her with an eviction notice, he becomes snowbound and forced to spend Christmas with her and the kids. It's typical Christmas schmaltz. You know right away from the antagonistic relationship (not to mention the film's title) between Newton-John and Harrison where it's all going to end up and it does. Harrison chops down a tree for Christmas, Christmas carols are sung, even a baby lamb gets born. How does one critique a venture like this. Newton-John isn't a strong enough actress to redeem the obviousness of it all and Harrison lacks the charm that might have brought it off. It's successful in what it set out to do but was what it set out to do worth setting out to do? Well, it keeps the spirit of Christmas anyway.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

True Grit (2010)

A 14 year old Arkansas girl (Hailee Steinfeld) engages an aging, alcoholic, one eyed U.S. marshal named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her catch the killer (Josh Brolin) of her father. Based on the novel by Charles Portis and previously filmed in 1969 to great acclaim and with an iconic performance by John Wayne (whose presence is missed) as Rooster Cogburn. The Coen Brothers stay closer to the tone and details of the novel but truth to tell, they're not all that unsimilar. The biggest boost is in the casting of Hailee Steinfeld as the girl, not only because she's closer in age to Mattie Ross than Kim Darby in the 1969 film but gives a wonderfully believable performance that single handedly makes the film worth watching. Bridges has some big shoes to fill and he's good but the biggest problem is that you're constantly aware that it's a well thought out performance rather than being organic. Matt Damon as Le Boeuf, the Texas ranger is an improvement over Glen Campbell (who wouldn't be?). Roger Deakins wide screen cinematography (shot in New Mexico and Texas) is impressive while Carter Burwell's score is not. Nicely done but still a disappointment. With Barry Pepper.

Plymouth Adventure (1952)

A fictionalized version of the voyage of the Mayflower and its cargo of Pilgrims in 1620. A cynical and disillusioned Captain (Spencer Tracy) can barely conceal his contempt for the ship's passengers making the long trek across the Atlantic ocean in the hope for a new freedom. His lust for the wife (Gene Tierney) of one of the Pilgrim leaders (Leo Genn) will end in tragedy. Directed by Clarence Brown (THE YEARLING), the film doesn't romanticize the hardships of the perilous voyage. It's a pretty grim journey and the film's visual centerpiece is a corker of a storm at sea (it won the Oscar for special effects) that wasn't equaled until the Poseidon took sail in 1972 and met a tidal wave. It feels fairly realistic to the period, even the actress's make up has been toned down, and addresses everything from illness to hunger to body odor from lack of washing facilities. Miklos Rozsa whips up an exciting score. With Van Johnson as John Alden and Dawn Addams as Priscilla, Lloyd Bridges, John Dehner and Murray Matheson.

Beloved Rogue (1927)

Francois Villon (John Barrymore), the most beloved poet in 15th century France, is also both a notorious womanizer, lover of fine wine and a patriot. When the weak King Louis XI (Conrad Veidt, CASABLANCA) allows the Duke of Burgundy (W. Lawson Butt) to take the King's beautiful ward Charlotte (Marceline Day) for his bride against her will (and also nearer to the throne of France), Villon attempts to save France from the ambitious Duke's plans for taking the throne while romancing Charlotte himself. Barrymore is wonderfully charming here in this entertaining swashbuckler. Since he lacks the physical grace of Douglas Fairbanks, the swashbuckler of the silent era, Barrymore wisely concentrates on his comedic skills and roguish charms rather than duels though he does his share of jumping off parapets and leaping off roofs. Veidt's impersonation of Louis XI is a bit odd. He looks like he's auditioning for RICHARD III! Directed by Alan Crosland (who directed Barrymore in DON JUAN) and with Slim Summerville, Angelo Rossitto and Henry Victor.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bloodline (1979)

After her father is killed in a mountain climbing accident, his daughter (Audrey Hepburn) inherits control of his multi million dollar empire. Despite her inexperience, she refuses to listen to the other family members (who also own stock in the company) to sell shares on the open market. Shortly after a police detective (Gert Frobe, GOLDFINGER) informs her that her father was actually murdered, attempts on her life begin. Based on the Sidney Sheldon best selling potboiler and directed by Terence Young, who had previously directed Hepburn in the superior thriller WAIT UNTIL DARK, this feeble attempt at an international thriller arrives D.O.A. There's not an iota of genuine suspense in the film. Hepburn looks lovely, she aged very well and there's a strong supporting cast but to no avail. No amount of talent seems able to breathe life into it, not even with normally reliable cinematographer Freddie Young behind the camera and it doesn't help that the tired score by Ennio Morricone is just a re-hash of previous material. There's also a snuff movie subplot that makes no sense in the finished film (it's explained in the novel). The large supporting cast includes James Mason, Omar Sharif, Romy Schneider, Ben Gazzara, Irene Papas, Maurice Ronet, Beatrice Straight, Michelle Phillips and Marcel Bozzuffi.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Pink Panther (1964)

A gentleman thief (David Niven) known as "The Phantom" has committed a series of incredible robberies for years while the bumbling Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) has been unable to capture and unmask him. Little does Clouseau know that his wife (Capucine) is The Phantom's mistress. Meanwhile, The Phantom sets his eyes on the fabulous "Pink Panther" diamond owned by a Middle Eastern princess (Claudia Cardinale). The passing of the great Blake Edwards today had me seeking out his classic stylish and sparkling farce. It's filled to the brim with clever sight gags and witty puns anchored by an inspired comedic tour de force by Peter Sellers. Niven does this sort of thing effortlessly but who knew Capucine's forte was deadpan comedy? It's difficult to choose the film's comedic highlight since there are so many of them but surely the Feydeau-ish bedroom set-piece with doors slamming, hiding under beds etc. remains an example of perfect farce. Capucine and Cardinale are elegantly dressed by Yves St. Laurent while Henry Mancini's score is both amusing, romantic and melodic. The snowy Italian landscapes have never looked so inviting. With Robert Wagner, Brenda De Banzie and Fran Jeffries.

Hotel (1967)

Based on the best selling novel by Arthur Hailey (AIRPORT), the film focuses on a disparate group of characters working or residing in a plush, old school New Orleans hotel in financial trouble. There's the general manager (Rod Taylor), the elderly owner (Melvyn Douglas) who can't seem to adjust to the modern ways of the world, the wealthy but gauche businessman (Kevin McCarthy) who wants to buy the hotel and streamline it and do away with the elegance, the businessman's French mistress (Catherine Spaak), a professional hotel burglar (Karl Malden in a rare bad performance), a sleazy house detective (Richard Conte) and a Duke (Michael Rennie) and Duchess (Merle Oberon in the film's best performance) attempting to hide a crime. Directed by Richard Quine (BELL BOOK AND CANDLE), the movie is very entertaining, the equivalent of a juicy "what's going to happen next?" page turner with involving characters. The film later became the basis of a popular TV series with James Brolin in the Taylor role. The handsome cinematography is by Oscar winner Charles Lang (SOME LIKE IT HOT), the gowns by Edith Head and a terrific score (a personal favorite) by Johnny Keating. With Carmen McRae, Clinton Sundberg and Roy Roberts.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Met Him In Paris (1937)

Bored with her dull fiance (Lee Bowman), a young woman (Claudette Colbert) goes to Paris for a vacation and have an adventure. When she meets two other Americans (Melvyn Douglas, Robert Young), an unusual sort of menage a trois begins. It's moderately entertaining with some nice moments, like the lovely ice skating sequence with Douglas and Colbert or the amusing bobsled sequence with all three but the main problem is that the three men are quite unlikable. Bowman is a pompous dullard, Young is deceitful and immature and Douglas is smug and unethical. Why should we care who Colbert chooses? The Switzerland (actually shot in Idaho) sequences are gorgeous to look at and the film at a short 87 minutes doesn't wear out its welcome. With Mona Barrie and a scene stealing Fritz Feld as the desk clerk at their Swiss chalet.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Deadly Companions (1961)

A saloon dance hall girl (Maureen O'Hara) who is looked down upon by the townspeople is determined to make the dangerous trek through Apache territory to bury her son next to her husband (the town believed she was an unwed mother) in the deserted town where he's buried. She's accompanied, unwillingly, by the man (Brian Keith) who accidentally killed her son and two unsavory bank robbers (Steve Cochran, Chill Wills). Based on the novel by A.S. Fleischman (he also wrote the screenplay) and directed by Sam Peckinpah. The first feature film by the great Peckinpah, this bleak western still hasn't received its due. Peckinpah wasn't fond of it much because he had no control over the final product and while it's no where near his best work like THE WILD BUNCH or STRAW DOGS, it's a modest but strong, effective western. With only four major characters in the film, the emphasis is on character as they pass through the bleak Arizona landscape with distrust their only companion. It's a pretty stripped down western, even the guitar and accordion score by Marlin Skiles is sparse and the unsentimental Peckinpah minimizes the romantic elements, such as they are. The cinematographer William Clothier (MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE) makes excellent use of the Panavision wide screen. If you've seen this film only in pan and scan, you haven't seen it. With Strother Martin.

Eye Of The Devil (1966)

A marquis and vineyard owner (David Niven) is called back to his estate because of a drought which brings another dry season. His wife (Deborah Kerr) shortly follows but to her horror what she finds is a witches coven and a family history of paganism and human sacrifice. Directed by J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE), the film is rather sluggish for a horror flick. What it needs to work is a growing sense of terror but what we get is a constant barrage of Deborah Kerr's hysterics. It doesn't help that the normally lovely Kerr looks rather frumpy (her hideous Julie Harris costumes don't help either) and her tremulous voice begins to grate after awhile. Poor Niven isn't given much to do but look gloomy. The supporting cast is more effective. Flora Robson as Niven's suffering aunt, Donald Pleasence as a demonic priest and lovely Sharon Tate (who appears to be dubbed) as a sorceress. The cinematography by Erwin Hiller (I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING, CANTERBURY TALE) is particularly ungainly but there's an effective score by the jazz musician Gary McFarland (alas, poisoned at the young age of 38) though the score itself isn't jazz. With David Hemmings, Emlyn Williams and Edward Mulhare.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The River Wild (1994)

A Boston family (Meryl Streep, David Strathairn, Joseph Mazzello) on vacation in Idaho are whitewater rafting when they encounter two strangers (Kevin Bacon, John C. Reilly) in need of help. What they don't know is that the strangers are bank robbers, who have also killed a bank guard, escaping down the river which is both treacherous and lethal. Meryl Streep, action heroine? Believe it! Directed by Curtis Hanson (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL), even though she did her own stunts, Streep doesn't overdo the heroics but rather cuts a more believable thinking action heroine rather than the kick ass variety. It's nothing particularly original but Hanson keeps the action tight and the river rafting sequences are genuinely exciting and exhausting. There's a thrilling Jerry Goldsmith score that accentuates the nervous tension. With Benjamin Bratt and a scene stealing dog called Maggie (played by Buffy). Montana stands in for Idaho.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bundle Of Joy (1956)

A young, unmarried salesgirl (Debbie Reynolds) at an upscale department store finds an abandoned infant on a doorstep. Despite her protestations, everyone assumes she is the mother which causes a series of misunderstandings. A remake of the 1939 Ginger Rogers screwball comedy BACHELOR MOTHER but this time as a musical. It worked perfectly well as a straight comedy and the sub par songs here are not only unnecessary but drag the movie down. Directed by Oscar winning director Norman Taurog, the film is also saddled with that lumpen presence known as Eddie Fisher as its leading man. The only time I laughed was at a brief scene where Fisher's father's (Adolphe Menjou) butler (Melville Cooper) kept replacing his spoon. I'm not sure if I laughed because it was genuinely funny or out of desperation. Still, everybody (as if compensating for Fisher's inability) pushes hard. With Tommy Noonan, Una Merkel and Nita Talbot.

Les Grandes Manoeuvres (1955)

Set in a small military town in France in 1914, a dashing, young cavalry officer (Gerard Philipe) who is known for his seductive powers over women makes a wager that he can seduce any woman in town. He picks her out by chance and the woman turns out to be a newly arrived divorcee (Michele Morgan) from Paris, anxious to protect her reputation. What begins as a lark turns into something quite different that will cause heartbreak to both individuals. Directed by Rene Clair. When one thinks of Clair, it's most likely one of his delightful and witty farces like AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT or LE MILLION but he's venturing into Max Ophuls territory here. LES GRANDES MANOEUVRES has more in common with Ophuls' EARRINGS OF MADAME DE ... and LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN than Clair's farces. Its mixture of romantic farce and bittersweet romance is somewhat unsettling and often alienates its audience. Visually, it's one of the most gorgeous films I've seen thanks to Robert Lefebvre's cinematography, Leon Barsacq's and Maurice Barnathan's sumptuous art direction and Rosine Delamare's exquisite costumes. The film looks like it was shot in a pastel colored candy box! With Brigitte Bardot, Magali Noel and Jean Desailly.

A Christmas Memory (1997)

In the 1930s South, a lonely young boy (Eric Lloyd) sent to live with relatives by his mother, bonds with his elderly cousin (Patty Duke) who has an annual Christmas ritual of making fruitcakes for friends and public figures (Franklin Roosevelt, Jean Harlow) they admire. The film focuses on their last Christmas together before he is sent to military school against his wishes. Based on Truman Capote's short story and directed by Glenn Jordan (ONLY WHEN I LAUGH), this is a lovely rendition of Capote's memories and his affectionate valentine to the elderly woman who loved him and was his friend. Particularly notable is the underrated Duke's wonderful performance which only calls attention to how Hollywood wasted her talents. A perfect movie for the seasonal Holiday viewing which eschews the usual sentimentality of such fare as IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE or MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. With Piper Laurie, Anita Gillette, Jeffrey DeMunn and Esther Scott.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Rabbit Hole (2010)

Eight months into the death of their four year old son, a couple (Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart) still haven't come to terms with both his death and their grieving. Based on the Pulitzer and Tony winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire (who also did the screenplay adaptation) and directed by John Cameron Mitchell (HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH), the film is both simplicity itself in its execution yet complex and layered at its emotional core with some dynamic performances. Nicole Kidman gives a stunning performance as the mother who can't seem to move forward and once again proves she's one of the best actresses of her generation. She's evenly matched with Eckhart (in his best work to date) and a jewel of a performance by Dianne Wiest as Kidman's mother. Mitchell is smart enough to let the material speak for itself and doesn't get in the way of either the story or his actors. The film could have been a major downer but for all its pain, it's a story of hope without exploiting sentiment. With Miles Teller, excellent, as the teen-aged boy responsible for their child's death, Sandra Oh and Tammy Blanchard.

The Awakening (1980)

In 1962, an archaeologist (Charlton Heston) discovers the tomb of an evil Queen of ancient Egypt. Her tomb is opened up at the exact moment his wife (Jill Townsend) gives birth to a baby girl. 18 years later, his daughter (Stephanie Zimbalist) shows signs of being possessed by the spirit of the evil Queen. Adapted from the 1903 Bram Stoker novel JEWEL OF THE SEVEN STARS (and previously made in 1971 under the title BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB) which has been influential in just about every Mummy movie ever made, this was the first theatrical feature of director Mike Newell, best known for FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL. For a horror film, THE AWAKENING lacks any real sense of horror. The film seems to have used the popular 1976 film THE OMEN as a blueprint even down to some of the gory death scenes as when poor Susannah York inherits Lee Remick's plunging fall. That sanest of American actors, Heston can't quite convey the madness necessary for his final scenes and the uncharismatic Zimbalist is only able to summon up some genuine sense of evil in her very final scene. The cinematography (lensed in Egypt and England) is by the legendary Jack Cardiff and there's an appropriately mysterious score by the jazz composer, Claude Bolling. With Miriam Margolyes, Nadim Sawalha, Ian McDiarmid and Patrick Drury.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Boys' Night Out (1962)

Three married suburbanites (Tony Randall, Howard Duff, Howard Morris) talk their unmarried friend (James Garner) into renting a plush bachelor pad where they can share a blonde (Kim Novak), each of them one night a week. What they don't know is that Novak is a sociology student doing a thesis on "Adolescent Fantasies Of The Adult Suburban Male" and using them as guinea pigs. Directed by Michael Gordon (PILLOW TALK), this is a typical 60s sex comedy but instead of Doris Day/Rock Hudson/Tony Randall, we get Kim Novak/James Garner/Tony Randall. It's all handled deftly and amusingly and remains a superior example of the genre. The lovely Novak is a bit stiff but Garner is in his element. The cinematographer Arthur E. Arling (an Oscar winner for THE YEARLING) makes excellent use of the CinemaScope frame. I can only imagine how terribly awkward it would look in a pan and scan format. The large cast includes Janet Blair, Patti Page, Anne Jeffreys as the wives, William Bendix, Jessie Royce Landis, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Fred Clark, Jim Backus, Larry Keating and Oscar Homolka.

List Of Adrian Messenger (1963)

A series of apparently random accidents over several years are actually planned murders. A retired British intelligence agent (George C. Scott) begins to investigate the killings after given a list by Adrian Messenger (John Merivale) of the victims but, alas, Messenger himself becomes a victim. This B&W mystery shot in Ireland finds John Huston in a playful mood, apparently enjoying himself dipping into Agatha Christie territory. The film is burdened by an annoying gimmick however. Several well known actors are heavily disguised through out the film and part of the supposed fun is for the audience to decipher who they are playing. The film is a cheat in this regard however. While some actors (Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum, for example) are instantly recognizable even under the heavy make up others have their voice dubbed (like Frank Sinatra) to throw us off the scent and some (like Burt Lancaster) obviously didn't play the character they're credited with. But, Scott's lousy English accent aside, the other actors do quite well and the mystery is quite clever and there's a spirited Jerry Goldsmith score. The large cast includes Tony Curtis, Dana Wynter, Herbert Marshall, Gladys Cooper, Clive Brook, Marcel Dalio and the unappealing dullard, Jacques Roux.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Green Slime (1968)

When an asteroid is headed on a collusion course with Earth, a team of astronauts is sent on a mission to detonate explosions on the asteroid which would break it up before it has a chance to reach Earth. However, a piece of green slime from the asteroid attaches itself to one of the astronauts and when they return to the space station, the slime multiplies into living murderous creatures. Made in Japan and directed by Kinji Fukasaku (who co-directed the Japanese sequences in TORA TORA TORA) with American actors but Japanese personnel behind the camera, this is a marvelously cheesy creature feature with tacky special effects and miniatures that are almost adorable in their cheesiness. The "green slime" creatures look like avocados with tentacles and there's a hilarious title song (sample lyrics: "Is it something in your head, will you believe it when you're dead, green slime, green slime, green slime"). The square jawed hero is Robert Horton, luscious Luciana Paluzzi is the space station doctor and Richard Jaeckel is the incompetent commander of the space station.

In Love And War (1958)

As its title indicates, the film, which takes place during WWII, is divided into two parts. The first takes place in 1944 San Francisco with three marines on 48 hour leave. There's the idealistic marine (Bradford Dillman) torn between an Asian nurse (France Nuyen) and his self destructive nymphomaniac fiancee (Dana Wynter), ironically the film's most tragic character. The marine (Robert Wagner) who lacks courage and the girl (Sheree North) who doesn't respect him because of it and the Greek marine (Jeffrey Hunter) who finds his girlfriend (Hope Lange) is pregnant. The second half of the film focuses on the three marines in the battlefields of the South Pacific. This isn't your typical WWII action movie. The film is surprisingly frank and adult in both sex and language (at one point Wagner says, "I've got the runs" while later Nuyen snaps, "Goddamn war!") for the 1950s. The dialogue is literate and all of the film's characters fully fleshed out. The film eschews sentimentality but neither is it cynical and don't be surprised if the poignant finale brings some moisture to your eyes. Philip Dunne, known more as a writer (HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY), directs. With Veronica Cartwright, Mort Sahl (who answers the phone, "Hello, WWII!"), Nina Shipman and Murvyn Vye.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Opposite Sex (1956)

Set in the theatrical world of 1950s Manhattan, an ex-band singer (June Allyson, never more glamorous) discovers that her husband (Leslie Nielsen) has been having an affair with a devious showgirl (Joan Collins). Her female friends all have different opinions on what course of action she should take. This glossy CinemaScope remake of the 1939 THE WOMEN (based on the play by Clare Boothe Luce) is often maligned as inferior to its overrated predecessor but I find it much more fun. The original eschewed any male cast members but the David Miller (LONELY ARE THE BRAVE) film not only adds men to the cast but musical numbers. Allyson has the best of the lot and the others are pretty awful especially the splashy production number with Dick Shawn singing the title tune. Helen Rose did the eye popping costumes. The large cast includes Dolores Gray as the catty Sylvia, Ann Sheridan, Ann Miller, Joan Blondell, Agnes Moorehead, Carolyn Jones, Sam Levene, Jeff Richards, Dean Jones, Barrie Chase, Charlotte Greenwood, Alice Pearce, Alan Marshal, Jim Backus, Harry James (who does Young Man With A Horn with Allyson), Barbara Jo Allen, Juanita Moore and that marvelous child actress Sandy Descher.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Determined to get the head of SPECTRE, Ernst Blofeld (Telly Savalas), James Bond (George Lazenby) enlists the aid of a mafioso head (Gabriele Ferzetti, L'AVVENTURA) while also romancing his daughter (Diana Rigg). He goes undercover as a genealogist to Blofeld's hideaway in the Swiss alps. This most elegant of all the Bond films is a benchmark in the series as far as quality goes, not surprisingly it is also the most faithful adaptation of the Ian Fleming novels. If Sean Connery had played Bond instead of Lazenby, it would have the greatest of the Bond films. The much maligned Lazenby is adequate but he lacks the screen presence, not to mention the acting chops, of Connery. Directed by Peter Hunt, who was the editor on the previous Bond films, he keeps a firm rein on the storyline despite the two hour plus running time. The ski and bobsled chases are spectacular, among the best of their kind and Rigg brings a strength, intelligence and a strong actress's skills that elevates her above the typical "Bond girl". John Barry's score is simply stunning. The large cast includes Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, George Baker, Angela Scoular, Joanna Lumley, Catherine Schell, Desmond Llewelyn and Ilse Steppat who almost steals the film as Blofeld's butch henchwoman.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Quicksand (1950)

An auto mechanic (Mickey Rooney) falls for a gold digging, hard as nails blonde (Jeanne Cagney, James's sister). In order to get the money to keep her, he begins descending into a life of petty crime at first then theft and murder. It's interesting to see Rooney play against his Andy Hardy image but his character is unlikable. He's cocky and treats the decent girl (Barbara Bates, ALL ABOUT EVE) who loves him like dirt (though her acceptance of his walking all over her as she keeps coming back more eventually becomes a turn off) and it's obvious the blonde is taking him for a ride. In fact, the gold digger is smarter than anyone else in the movie and without anyone else to latch on to, I actually began rooting for her. The deus ex machina finale is practically insulting to the audience what with the friendly lawyer who, despite being kidnapped at gunpoint, is more than willing to help them out. The direction by Irving Pichel (DESTINATION MOON) is efficient but there's not much he can do with the lame script. With Peter Lorre and Minerva Urecal.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tough Guys (1986)

After 30 years in prison for robbing a train in the 1950s, two gangsters (Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas) now find themselves elderly men in the new world of the 1980s where they don't fit in. Lancaster feels confined by the rules and over regulation of the retirement home he's been sent to and Douglas tries to recapture his youth by going out with a hot, young gym instructor (Darlanne Fluegel) to discos and rock clubs but her sexual energy drains him. Directed by Jeff Kanew (REVENGE OF THE NERDS), the film attempts to find humor in the cliched and stereotypical treatment of senior citizens, almost to the point of offensiveness. Still, it's wonderful to see Lancaster and Douglas in their last spurt of bravura, playing off their old screen personas, as both would shortly be severely affected by strokes in the following years. These guys weren't Stars for nothing. The highlight of the film is a hilarious Eli Wallach as an incompetent near sighted hit man. The movie has one of those tiresome and annoying 80s synthesizer/drum machine score scores but there is a lovely ballad over the main credits by Burt Bacharach and sung by Kenny Rogers. With Alexis Smith, Charles Durning, Dana Carvey, Billy Barty and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The Tempest (2010)

After her husband's death, the Duchess of Milan (Helen Mirren) is set adrift on the open sea by her treacherous brother (Chris Cooper) along with her daughter so that he can usurp her title. Cast ashore on an island off the coast of Africa, she raises her daughter (Felicity Jones) and perfects her powers of black magic and sorcery which enables her to get her revenge when a ship harboring her enemies passes by the island. William Shakespeare's play (whose plot was the basis for the 1950s sci-fi classic FORBIDDEN PLANET) receives a visually dazzling re-imagining by director Julie Taymor who did similar duties on his TITUS ANDRONICUS in 1999. Not only in the gender reversal (in Shakespeare, Mirren's Prospera is Prospero, a male sorcerer) but in the somewhat daring casting of the black actor Djimon Hounsou (in the film's best performance) as Caliban. The first rate cast includes David Strathairn, Alfred Molina, Russell Brand, Tom Conti, Reeve Carney and Ben Whishaw as Ariel, the sprite. The one sour note is Elliot Goldenthal's busy score.

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

When a navy officer (Alan Ladd) returns home after the war with his two buddies (William Bendix, Hugh Beaumont), he finds his wife (Doris Dowling, LOST WEEKEND) has turned into an unfaithful, high living party girl during his absence. When she is found murdered, he becomes the key suspect. Directed by George Marshall and with an original Oscar nominated screenplay by the great Raymond Chandler, one wishes BLUE DAHLIA could have been stronger than it is. As it stands, it's an enjoyable mystery but there's nothing remotely special about it. The most interesting aspect of the film are the portrayal of the shell shocked war veteran played by Bendix who has an hysterical aversion to jazz music (he calls it "monkey music", perhaps it's best not to think about that too hard) and the disdainful adulterous wife played by Dowling. Ladd has a nice chemistry with his frequent leading lady Veronica Lake (lovely but low-keyed to the point of ennui) and I suppose I should be grateful for what we get but the pedigree suggests there should be so much more. With Howard Da Silva, Frank Faylen and Will Wright in a nice turn as a slimy house detective.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Peking Blonde (aka La Blonde De Pekin) (1967)

After a beautiful blonde (Mireille Darc, Godard's WEEK END) with connections to a Red Chinese political figure is found with amnesia, the CIA, in the form of Edward G. Robinson, hires an actor (Claudio Brook, Bunuel's EXTERMINATING ANGEL) to impersonate her husband in the hopes he can obtain information that would prove useful to the West. This cheesy, lazy cold war thriller lacks any credibility even if taken as a spoof. It attempts to be breezy when it's actually sloppy to the point of amateurism. The CIA are hideously incompetent resulting in the deaths of several innocent people including the lovely Giorgia Moll (Godard's CONTEMPT) who is killed off far too early. Directed by Nicolas Gessner, probably best known for LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE and based on a novel by James Hadley Chase (NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH).

Tight Spot (1955)

After their key witness against a racketeer is murdered, the U.S. Attorney (Edward G. Robinson, on the side of the law this time) springs an ex-model (Ginger Rogers), who is his last chance to get the mobster (Lorne Greene), from prison but will she testify knowing her life is at risk? This nifty little thriller, directed by Phil Karlson (KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL), is based on a play and, indeed, most of the film takes place in a hotel room where the Feds are hiding Rogers from Greene and for a thriller, it's pretty heavy on dialogue. Rogers is miscast. She's a bit long in the tooth for the part but worse, her tough little cookie, street waif act is so calculated that you're always conscious of her acting. The part screams for a Shirley MacLaine or Joanne Woodward. The film's neat little twist towards the end isn't much of a surprise but rather predictable. Still, for all its obviousness, it's fairly well done pulp. With Brian Keith as the cop assigned to protect Rogers, Katherine Anderson, Lucy Marlow and Kathryn Grant.

Black Swan (2010)

A reserved, inhibited ballerina (Natalie Portman), still living at home and treated as a little girl by her ex-ballerina mother (Barbara Hershey), finds herself thrust into the spotlight when cast as The Swan Queen in Tchaikovsky's SWAN LAKE. But she finds herself not only pushed beyond endurance by the choreographer (Vincent Cassel) but under the watchful eyes of a ballerina (Winona Ryder) on her way down and a ballerina (Mila Kunis) on her way up. This is one freaky movie and I loved every minute of it. It's as if THE RED SHOES had a one night stand with Polanski's REPULSION and this was the bastard child they produced with David Lynch acting as midwife! This is the career defining role that Portman has been waiting for and she attacks the part like a carnivore after a vegetarian diet. Darren Aronofsky, who showed us the grueling and cruel world of wrestling in THE WRESTLER, now shows us the graphic intensity of the ballet artist. There are several moments not for the squeamish, THE TURNING POINT it ain't. I had to look at my lap during all the moments of cutting, open sores, stabbing and self mutilation! I'm not sure mainstream audiences will accept what Aronofsky has given us but it's a hell of a ride as well as a portrait of an artist's descent into perfection to the point of insanity.

No Regrets For Our Youth (aka Waga Seishun Ni Kuinashi) (1946)

Covering the years 1933 when radical student activists protest Japan's invasion of Manchuria though the end of WWII in 1945, the film follows the lives of three protagonists. A rather immature self centered girl (Setsuko Hara) and her two leftist student suitors (Susumu Fujita, Akitake Kono) whose three lives will change dramatically in the course of the story. This was the first film by Akira Kurosawa after the end of the war. Viewing the film, I couldn't help but see the parallels of America during the 1960s and student protest against the Vietnamese war. Kurosawa succeeds admirably during the first two thirds of the film presenting the complexities of changing allegiances (for better or worse) either by necessity or choice as these three mature. It's unfortunate that the last third, when Hara comes to live with Fujita's family, that the film becomes not only utterly conventional but proselytizes too. Still, there are some marvelous visual flourishes that indicate how Kurosawa would bloom in the 1950s. With the wonderful Haruko Sugimura, almost unrecognizable, playing the Fujita's elderly mother at the age of 37.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ordeal By Innocence (1985)

When a paleontologist (Donald Sutherland) returns to England after a two year expedition, he attempts to return an address book to a hitchhiker (Billy McColl) that was left in his car after giving the boy a lift. What he finds, however, is that the boy has been executed for the murder of his mother (Faye Dunaway) after his alibi (that he was with Sutherland at the time of the killing) could not be proved. Sutherland's guilt causes him to try and expose the real killer but the surviving family doesn't seem much interested in whether McColl was innocent or not. Based on an Agatha Christie novel, director Desmond Davis (CLASH OF THE TITANS) doesn't seem to have a knack for suspense or atmosphere (despite the picturesque Dartmouth coast location) and the film meanders to its pallid conclusion. It doesn't help that the film has one of the most inappropriate film scores ever. An improvised "cool" jazz score by Dave Brubeck that has no tension or mystery whatsoever. It might sound okay in a jazz club but it severely hampers the film. The gratuitous nudity also seems at odds with the Christie universe. With Christopher Plummer, Sarah Miles, Ian McShane, Diana Quick, Annette Crosbie and Michael Elphick.

Caesar And Claretta (1975)

Fleeing toward the Swiss border as the Allies make their way to Rome, the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini (Robert Hardy) and his mistress (Helen Mirren) are captured and spend their last night together in a small peasant cottage where they ruminate on their lives and their fate as well as their place in history. Based on a short play by Jack Russell (whose title is an amusing play on Shaw's CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA), it's an ambiguous piece as we're never quite sure what Russell's take on Mussolini is. It's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to conjure up much sympathy for Il Duce as he prattles on about what a visionary he is and how he's misunderstood. Is Russell showing us the delusions of a notorious despot or is he actually trying to show what a poor tortured soul he was? It doesn't help that Hardy as Mussolini overacts pitifully though, to be fair, the script encourages such ham. The young Mirren looks quite striking as a brunette and the most honest moment in the film amongst Russell's blathering is when Hardy asks Mirren to see her breasts.