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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gold (1974)

Fairly exciting adventure yarn filmed in South Africa during the apartheid regime. A syndicate headed by John Gielgud conspires with the son in law (Bradford Dillman) of a wealthy gold mine owner (Ray Milland) to destroy the mine thus enabling the syndicate to profit in share dealing. The general manager (Roger Moore) of the mine is unaware of this and is being used as a dupe by Dillman. In addition to Moore who was playing James Bond at the time, the film utilizes several other Bond personnel including its director Peter Hunt (ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE), film editor John Glen (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) and title designer Maurice Binder (DR. NO). Their combined particular talents give the film a polish it may not have had in other hands. Outside of the usual noble black man who sacrifices his life to save the white hero storyline, it's good solid action fare. Strong score by Elmer Bernstein which includes the Oscar nominated song Wherever Love Takes Me sung by Maureen McGovern. With Susannah York, Tony Beckley and Simon Sabela.

Fetish (2010)

Creepily amusing black comedy features an aging Hollywood diva (Joan Collins) whose life in the limelight has been a cliche of drugs, alcohol, multiple marriages and promiscuous sex and a television talk show host (Charles Casillo, who also wrote the screenplay) obsessed with movie star memorabilia and actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Casillo proposes writing her biography and to that end invites her up to his house which is a museum dedicated to dead iconic actresses like Marilyn Monroe. Director Matthew J. Pellowski creates a dark and disturbing, uncomfortable atmosphere of dread while still dispensing one line zingers. One can't help but sense where the movie is going but like Halloween, it can be both fun and scary. Collins is excellent as the delusional, at times vulnerable, movie queen who, unlike the audience, can't see what's coming.

Flesh And Fury (1952)

A solid, well done programmer directed by Joseph Pevney (MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES). A young deaf mute (Tony Curtis) who feels alienated because of his deafness in an era when deaf mutes were still cruelly called "dummies" channels his aggressiveness into the boxing ring. A manager (Wallace Ford) with ghosts in his past takes him under his wing as two women, a cold golddigger (Jan Sterling) who exploits him and a news reporter (Mona Freeman) each set their sights on him. Curtis is very effective so early in a career when he was known more for his looks than his talent. There are several disconcerting close ups though when it looks like he's wearing eye make-up! Sterling plays the bitch to perfection and makes a nice contrast to the vapidness of Freeman. The real "stars" of the film though might be Leslie I. Carey and Robert Pritchard, the sound team, who use sound very effectively in taking us into Curtis's soundless world. With Harry Guardino, Connie Gilchrist and Virginia Gregg.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Mark (1961)

A man (Stuart Whitman) is released from prison after serving three years for kidnapping a ten year old girl with intent to molest her. With the help of a caring psychiatrist (Rod Steiger), he attempts to rebuild a life but the real challenge comes when he falls in love with a widow (Maria Schell) with a young daughter. The film, directed by Guy Green, is filled with good intentions but it seems rather naive today especially with what we now know about pedophiles. The film seems to think it's daring in its subject matter and so it is but it cops out by having Whitman's character attracted to little girls but never actually acting on his impulses so it's easier to sympathize with his predicament. It would have been more of a challenge doing a film about a man who had actually committed the act but, of course, he would have lost all audience sympathy. Here, the cards are stacked against Whitman's character that he almost seems the underdog. Still, it's an intelligent, well written film. Whitman is surprisingly good and good enough to get an Oscar nomination for his performance. Rod Steiger is more subdued than usual, maybe it was that Scottish accent. An understated score by Richard Rodney Bennett. With Brenda De Banzie, Donald Wolfit, Maurice Denham and Donald Houston.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The High And The Mighty (1954)

An airline flight from Honolulu to San Francisco develops engine problems and as it has passed the point of no return, its crew isn't sure if it can make the west coast or if they have to ditch into the sea. The granddaddy of "disaster" pictures! In 2010 eyes, it may seem stocked with cliches and a regurgitated script but this is only because it has been copied, stolen from and parodied since 1954. This was the original, the blueprint for all the Airport movies and all the other airline in peril films that followed it. In most respects, it's even unfair to call it a disaster film since the film (unlike its cinematic spawn) is more interested in its characters and takes its time introducing us to them and giving them the necessary exposition so we get to know them and care about them rather than the shallow stick figures that usually populate the genre. This is probably due to the fact that it was based on a best selling novel by Ernest K. Gann who adapted his novel for the screen. The expert direction is by William Wellman. John Wayne as the aging co-pilot gives one of the very best performances of his career and Jan Sterling and Claire Trevor received well deserved Oscar nominations for best supporting actress. The large cast includes Robert Stack, Laraine Day, Robert Newton, David Brian, Phil Harris, Sidney Blackmer, Paul Kelly, Karen Sharpe, Doe Avedon, William Campbell, John Smith, John Qualen, Regis Toomey, Wally Brown, Joy Kim, Paul Fix, John Howard, Julie Bishop, Ann Doran and Julie Mitchum. The gorgeous Oscar winning score is a high mark in Dimitri Tiomkin's career.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Trail Of The Lonesome Pine (1936)

Perhaps more famous for being the first three strip Technicolor film shot completely on location rather than in the studio, this Henry Hathaway directed vehicle doesn't let the stunning outdoor vistas (shot at the Big Bear area of California) overtake the film's storyline. An engineer (Fred MacMurray) arrives in backwoods country to secure land rights for a railroad company and finds himself smack in the middle of a decades old blood feud between two rival families. Sure, it's a gorgeous looking film but the film's three players: MacMurray, Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney (never looking more beautiful) were still fresh at this early stage of their careers and give natural and appealing performances. There are several winning moments that stand out like Sidney's arrival home after her transformation and emotional peaks like a child's funeral or even Fuzzy Knight's lovely rendering of Twilight On The Trail. With Beulah Bondi, Nigel Bruce and Fred Stone.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Set In London, an older man (Anthony Hopkins) abandons his wife (Gemma Jones) of 40 years to recapture the vitality  of life, their daughter (Naomi Watts) is frustrated that her writer husband (Josh Brolin) can't seem to support them so they can begin a family. Then there are two women who change the men's lives, a nubile blonde (Lucy Punch whose performance generated Oscar buzz) who attaches herself to Hopkins and an exotic brunette (Freida Pinto, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) who Brolin becomes obsessed with. Written and directed by the prolific Woody Allen, the movie doesn't break any new ground but rather coasts on what he does best. Except in this case, it's not his best but it's far from his worst either. Superior to the dreadful WHATEVER WORKS (2009) but not as good as the witty VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (2008). As usual, Allen follows a handful of characters as they sift, ponder and ruminate on the complexities of life and more specifically romantic relationships. Allen is cynical as always and only allows the most delusional of the characters to find some semblance of happiness while everyone else drowns in their neurosis and anxieties. With Antonio Banderas, Pauline Collins, Anna Friel and Celia Imrie.

Hero Of Rome (aka Il Colosso Di Roma) (1964)

In ancient Rome, a deposed tyrant (Massimo Serato) attempts to regain his throne but not if a Roman general (Gordon Scott trading his Tarzan loin cloth for a toga) has anything to say about it. Tiresome sword and sandal feature isn't much fun as it takes itself far too seriously for something that lacks the stature of a genuine epic. Its earnestness is deadly. The sword fights are routine and the battle scenes lack any imagination. The plot is contrived and lacks logic. When a devious and duplicitous Serato demands ten hostages, all daughters from the Roman patricians, as proof of good faith during peace talks ... the senate agrees to his demand! With dumb decisions like that, no wonder Rome fell. With Gabriella Pallotta as Scott's love interest.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Seminole (1953)

A western set in Florida? Budd Boetticher is admired for the series of classic westerns he made with Randolph Scott from 1956 to 1960. Though not in that league, this minor western is not without interest. Once friends when they were boys, a cavalry lieutenant (Rock Hudson) and a Seminole Indian leader (Anthony Quinn) find themselves not only on opposite sides of a conflict between the U.S. Army and the Seminole tribe but in love with the same girl (Barbara Hale). Unusual for a western of this period, not only because of its clear sympathy for the Indians but the interracial romance in which the white woman prefers the Indian to Rock Hudson! The film's setpiece is a trek through the Florida everglades by the ill prepared cavalry where they are at a clear disadvantage. The film was shot at Everglades National Park in Florida and that superb cinematographer Russell Metty (TOUCH OF EVIL, WRITTEN ON THE WIND ) takes full advantage of the exotic hothouse locale. Hudson is very awkward and his line readings stiff and Richard Carlson as the film's cavalry commander overacts the villainy to the point where I almost expected him to twirl his moustache! With Lee Marvin, Hugh O'Brian, Russell Johnson and James Best.

A Guide For The Married Man (1967)

An hour and a half of comedy skits on adultery can get old pretty fast. Walter Matthau gets restless in his marriage and his thoughts turn to other women. Never mind that he's married to Inger Stevens who not only looks terrific in a bikini but can cook and do windows, too! His satyr of a neighbor (Robert Morse) acts as his mentor and takes him through a series of cautionary tales on the dos and don'ts of cheating on your wife. These tales are actually the best part of the film and performed by a series of cameos by the likes of Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Jayne Mansfield, Jeffrey Hunter, Phil Silvers, Sid Caesar, Polly Bergen and Terry Thomas among others. It's pretty much a time capsule of its era, the mid 1960s, in its morality and its leering attitude toward all things sexual. Gene Kelly acts as traffic cop ... I mean director and there's a swinging 60s score by a pre-John Johnny Williams. The large cast includes Sue Ane Langdon, Claire Kelly, Wally Cox, Joey Bishop, Linda Harrison, Carl Reiner, Sam Jaffe and Art Carney.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ore Wa Matteru Ze (aka I Am Waiting) (1957)

What begins as a tenuous romance about two broken souls, an ex boxer (Yujiro Ishihara) who accidentally beat a man to death and a failed opera singer (Mie Kitahara) reduced to singing in dives, who meet on the waterfront late at night and take comfort in each other turns into a tale of revenge. Director Koreyoshi Kurahara (in his directorial film debut) is best in the quiet scenes as these two lost psyches attempt to heal each other's souls. There's a sweetness to the tentative relationship that's lost when Kurahara gets to the action sequences which aren't particularly well done. Still, this odd little mixture of romanticism and violence is strangely compelling and genuinely touching.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Swamp Water (1941)

Looking for his dog, a young man (Dana Andrews, very good) ventures into the dreaded alligator and cottonmouth infested swamps where he encounters an escaped criminal (Walter Brennan) on the run from the law hiding out in the bog. The two form an unlikely bond. Based on the novel by Vereen Bell and directed by Jean Renoir. Like many European directors, Renoir fled Europe when the Nazis came to power and settled in Hollywood. With such classics as RULES OF THE GAME, GRAND ILLUSION and LE BETE HUMAINE on his resume, this strange little film set in the swamps of Georgia seemed like an unusual choice for a newly arrived expatriate's first American film. Shot on location in the Okefenokee swamps, the everglades scenes have an almost beautiful but spectral and spellbinding quality to them. It's certainly as good as anything else Renoir shot during his Hollywood stay (1940-1947). There's an unsettling subplot that Renoir doesn't fully exploit. Walter Huston as an older man married to a young woman (Mary Howard) who he suspects may have a lover played by a rather creepy John Carradine. With Anne Baxter as Brennan's daughter, Virginia Gilmore as Andrews' bitchy girlfriend, Ward Bond, Eugene Pallette and Mae Marsh. Fox remade the film in 1952 renamed LURE OF THE WILDERNESS with Brennan playing the same role. 

The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil's Bride) (1968)

A connoisseur (Christopher Lee) of black magic challenges an apostate (Charles Gray) of Satan when he attempts to baptize a young friend (Patrick Mower) into the cult of devil worshippers. The battle between the forces of good and evil rages as each attempts to hold on to the souls of the friend and a young girl (Nikki Arrighi) promised to Satan. Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley and adapted for the screen by science fiction writer Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND) and directed by Hammer horror veteran Terence Fisher (CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN). Thanks to a sturdy screenplay and solid direction, this Hammer horror manages to make the absurdities believable rather than silly. The film's actors play their roles with the utmost sincerity which is good as the film dangerously flirts with unintentional snickers. Lee's witchcraft cop is notoriously sloppy though as he continually lets characters needlessly endanger themselves when he should know better. But it's handsomely shot and provides some solid eerie moments. With Leon Greene and Sarah Lawson.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Rains Of Ranchipur (1955)

A lush and glamorous CinemaScope remake of the 1939 THE RAINS CAME based on the Louis Bromfield novel of the same name. A jaded American heiress (Lana Turner) married to an English lord (Michael Rennie) arrives in a small province in India where she becomes attracted to an unworldly Hindu doctor (Richard Burton) dedicated to helping the poor of his country. Their misguided romance is interrupted when earthquakes, flood and plague decimate the province. It's a superficial yarn but director Jean Negulesco (THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN) was in his element during his fertile CinemaScope years at Fox (though there are those who prefer his grittier years at Warners in the 1940s) and he gives the film a glossy sheen and a solid sense of melodrama though some might place it in the disaster genre because of the earthquake sequence. The special effects were good enough in their day to get an Oscar nomination. Turner looks sensational in her Helen Rose wardrobe and the Indian flavored score by Hugo Friedhofer is a gem. With Fred MacMurray, Joan Caulfield and in the film's best performance, Eugenie Leontovich as the Maharani who raised Burton as a son and challenges Turner's conquest of him.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Backlash (1956)

When you think director John Sturges and the western, you probably think of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN or GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL or possibly even HOUR OF THE GUN but this strong effort is seldom mentioned which is unfortunate as it's quite good. A man (Richard Widmark) is searching for the murderer of the father he never knew and a woman (Donna Reed) is searching for the gold left by the husband who abandoned her and they join up together when they suspect the man they're looking for may be the same person. The tight screenplay is by Borden Chase who wrote such western classics as RED RIVER and WINCHESTER 73. The film doesn't lack excitement what with gunfights, Apache attacks and cattle range wars but it's the personal stories and the relationship between Widmark and Reed that form the basis of the film's core. It's nice to see Reed in a strong, integral part rather than the "girl" that populates so many westerns. The wide screen SuperScope cinematography is handled well by Irving Glassberg (TARNISHED ANGELS) but the pedestrian score by Herman Stein adds little to the proceedings. With John McIntire, William Campbell, Barton MacLane, Harry Morgan and Roy Roberts.

Flower Drum Song (1961)

Rodgers and Hammerstein's charming musical about the clash between cultures and generations in a Chinese-American family became the first (unlike the Broadway show it's based on which had Caucasians playing Chinese) major film to have an all Asian cast. A young girl (Miyoshi Umeki) and her father (Kam Tong) enter the U.S. illegally so she can marry the Chinese gentleman (Jack Soo) who she has been promised to. Problems occur when Soo has his own plans which include the headliner (Nancy Kwan) of his nightclub, not Umeki. The film is colorful and richly photographed in Panavision by that wizard of the camera, Russell Metty who received an Oscar nomination for the film. The song score by Rodgers & Hammerstein, which has never sounded better, is filled with melody and beautifully adapted for the screen by the great Alfred Newman. Musically, the highlight is the aching love song Love Look Away sung by Marilyn Horne dubbing Reiko Sato and danced by Sato. Directed by Henry Koster, choreography by Hermes Pan and with James Shigeta, Juanita Hall, Benson Fong and Virginia Grey.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cet Obscur Objet Du Desir (aka That Obscure Object Of Desire) (1977)

Luis Bunuel goes all surrealistic once again but this time without the irreverence. An aging Frenchman (Fernando Rey) becomes obsessed with a young Spanish dancer (played by two different actresses, Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina). He smothers her with gifts, money, apartments in his attempt to possess her while she, ever clinging to her virginity, teases and leads him on to the point of a near meltdown. It's a one joke movie and the joke gets tedious very quickly. For some reason, Bunuel has set the story against the backdrop of a terrorist insurgency but it seems arbitrary and never becomes part of the film's fabric. Other surreal touches like a woman carrying a pig around in public like a baby seem there just for the hell of it. The film's admirers make claims for the film's gimmick casting of two different actresses for the same role as something to do with the duality of woman but neither Bouquet (who four years later would become the Bond girl of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY) or Molina give a performance that much different from the other. Still, it may be minor Bunuel but it's still Bunuel, master film maker and therefore never without interest.

Never Let Me Go (2010)

Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (which Time magazine called the best novel of 2005), the first third of the film focuses on three children (Izzy Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe, Ella Purnell) who are part of a program of clones, specifically bred for their organs. When they reach adulthood, they begin the process of donating their organs and are "completed" (a euphemism for death) by the age of 30. Some of them have the option of being caregivers to the donors which extends their lifespan but only temporarily until their donating time begins. As adults, the three children are played by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. If this sounds like a Ray Bradbury or George Orwell "brave new world" story, it isn't. The sci-fi setting is merely a background for the story of these three and of regrets, redemption, hope and although death comes to us all, at 30 or at 90 ... life is still too short. The film is relentlessly downbeat and I found myself unsettled and terribly sad (or was it depressed?) as I left the theatre which actually is to the film's credit. It makes no concessions to commercialism and I can't imagine anyone not being touched on the most basic level. Strongly directed by Mark Romanek who comes from a music video background but you'd never know it from the languid pace. Excellent score by Rachel Portman. With Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins and Nathalie Richard.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Town (2010)

Set in Charlestown, Massachusetts which according to the film is the bank robbery capitol of the U.S., four masked bank robbers take a hostage (Rebecca Hall VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA) but later release her. Later, one of the robbers (Ben Affleck who also directed) follows her and without intending to, becomes romantically involved. It can only lead to disaster ... and does. Could Affleck be the next Clint Eastwood? With his feature film directorial debut in 2007 GONE BABY GONE, he displayed an assured command of the material and with this film he's done a superlative job with a complex heist and character film that compares favorably with the likes of THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and THE KILLING. Posterity will tell. Like Eastwood, Affleck is a far better director than he ever was an actor. But unlike, say, Kevin Costner or Mel Gibson, he doesn't use his films as vanity projects. The film runs slightly over two hours but is so gripping that you won't notice the time. It's not a perfect film, there's one small loophole that bothers me but not enough to downgrade it. With Jeremy Renner (HURT LOCKER), Jon Hamm, Blake Lively (a real scene stealer), Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite. Along with GHOST WRITER, the best American film I've seen this year. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Song Of Scheherazade (1947)

Rather silly Technicolor musical fantasy "inspired" by the life of the famous Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov but with the actual facts tossed aside in favor of fabricated romanticism. When the Russian navy is docked in Morocco, sailor Rimsky-Korsakov (Jean Pierre Aumont) meets an exotic Spanish nightclub dancer (Yvonne De Carlo) who inspires him to compose Scheherazade. One's tolerance for the film may depend on your appetite for 40s Hollywood kitsch (I'm partial) and/or the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (very partial). Some of the musical interludes are tiresome like Metropolitan opera star Charles Kullman bellowing out Song Of India but there's a charming fandango danced by De Carlo and Eve Arden. Arden looks a tad young to be playing De Carlo's mother but she's the most steadily amusing thing about the film. De Carlo's dancing leaves a lot to be desired. While she's fine doing the fandango, she's inadequate during the ballet sequences. Miklos Rozsa performed the conducting and adaptation duties on Rimsky-Korsakov's music. Walter Reisch directs. With Brian Donlevy, Elena Verdugo, John Qualen and Phillip Reed.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

Nifty, tight and tense little "B" thriller has a quasi documentary flavor to it, mostly due to its narration and on the spot location filming in New York. A blonde (Evelyn Keyes) arrives from Cuba to New York with smuggled diamonds in her possession. But what she doesn't know is that she contracted smallpox in Cuba and is now slowly infecting the city of New York through all the people she comes in contact with. There's a noir-ish feel to it, not only in Joseph Biroc's night shooting but in the relentlessness of Keyes' performance and the fait accompli of her character's fate. The screenplay by Harry Essex is pedestrian but the director Earl McEvoy never lets it stand but keeps it moving. The large supporting cast includes Dorothy Malone, William Bishop, Lola Albright, Barry Kelley, Jim Backus, Richard Egan, Connie Gilchrist, Celia Lovsky and Whit Bissell.

Everyone Says I Love You (1996)

Typical Woody Allen directed vehicle is enhanced this time by the addition of song and dance. It's a conceit that works. Having cast actors rather than singers, they all (except for Drew Barrymore who is dubbed by Olivia Hayman) do their own singing. Most of them are charmingly off key, some can actually sing (like Goldie Hawn) and some display zero singing ability (like Julia Roberts). The plot is barely there, dealing with a wealthy New York couple (Alan Alda, Hawn) and their brood of kids (Barrymore, Natalie Portman, Natasha Lyonne, Gaby Hoffmann, Lukas Haas), Hawn's ex-husband (Allen) who lives in Paris and their various romantic entanglements. But the story is just there to hang the various musical moments in which the characters emotions are so intense that they have to sing about them rather just than talk about them. There are some truly lovely musical moments to savor like Allen and Hawn singing and dancing to I'm Through With Love along the Seine or the delightful Calypso number done at the grandfather's wake. There is one disturbing element in this musical fable, Allen using his daughter to eavesdrop on Julia Roberts' psychiatric sessions in order to use the information to seduce her. Alas, so insubstantial that it all fades from the memory rather quickly but that doesn't mean it isn't worth the view. With Tim Roth and Billy Crudup.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Androcles And The Lion (1952)

George Bernard Shaw's 1912 play is one of his lesser efforts and this film adaptation strays away from the Shaw text, placing an emphasis on broad comedy but nonetheless, still a talky piece rather than a cinematic one. A Christian tailor (Alan Young) with a virago wife (Elsa Lanchester) is captured by Roman soldiers and sent along with a group of fellow Christians to the Colosseum to be fed to the lions for the entertainment of the Romans. The film is set on the soundstages of RKO and shot in B&W rather than the Technicolor, which might have given the film some much needed sheen, can't seem to make up its mind if it wants to be a lavish big screen epic or an intimate treatise on Christianity. Young as Androcles is a little too precious but Robert Newton as a hulk of a Christian fighting his bad tempered impulses is very good. With Jean Simmons and Victor Mature as the dull lovers, Maurice Evans, Alan Mowbray, Jim Backus, Reginald Gardiner, Gene Lockhart and John Hoyt. Directed without much passion by Chester Erskine and produced by Gabriel Pascal who did better by Shaw with his film adaptations of PYGMALION and CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA.

The L Shaped Room (1962)

Alone in London, a pregnant French girl (Leslie Caron) moves into a shoddy flat and haltingly emerges from her self induced cocoon to interact with the other members of the boarding house. Based on the novel by Lynne Reid Banks and directed by Bryan Forbes (SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON). In the early 1960s, England produced a string of marvelous B&W gritty and naturalistic "kitchen sink" dramas which were a refreshing contrast to the glossy Technicolor confections still coming out of Hollywood. Films that were more interested in character than plot, insight rather than entertainment. Directors like Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, John Schlesinger, Jack Clayton and Bryan Forbes who directed this treasure. Forbes doesn't push but lets us discover for ourselves the need for human contact we all need and how the lack of it can slowly destroy the soul. Caron gives the performance of her career (and a justified Oscar nomination) but the film is filled with wonderful characters inhabited by Tom Bell, Brock Peters, Cicely Courtneidge, Bernard Lee, Emlyn Williams, Avis Bunnage, Nanette Newman and Diane Clare. I could have done without the refined Brahms mayonnaise on the soundtrack but John Barry composed some nice jazz.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Five Miles To Midnight (1962)

Shortly before he is to leave on a business trip to Casablanca, a wife (Sophia Loren) tells her emotionally unstable husband (Anthony Perkins) that she wants a divorce. But his plane crashes with no survivors. Until the husband suddenly turns up after his funeral and terrorizes her into collecting the insurance money on her "dead" husband and he'll disappear from her life forever ..... but will he? Directed by Anatole Litvak (THE SNAKE PIT). What a great title! Litvak is not Hitchcock and he never manages to get a rhythm going and he allows Perkins to overact shamelessly. At this stage of his career, Perkins' superb performance in PSYCHO had made him the go to actor for psychotic characters. Fortunately, Loren is appealing enough that we care what happens to her and that is enough to keep our interest sustained. Alas, the film's downbeat finale doesn't allow us the catharsis most thrillers provide which might explain why it wasn't a hit. Then there's that obtrusive Mikis Theodorakis score to contend with. With Gig Young, Jean Pierre Aumont and Yolande Turner. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Lovely Way To Die (1968)

When an arrogant, womanizing cop (Kirk Douglas) quits the police force, an attorney (Eli Wallach) hires him to act as a bodyguard to his client, a wealthy widow (Sylva Koscina) who along with her lover stands accused of murdering her husband. It's a forgettable routine 60s "Is she or is she not guilty?" thriller. The role of the ex-cop plays to the worst of Douglas's excesses as an actor and he's particularly charmless (though that was never his appeal) here. The motivation behind the murder is farfetched and clumsily cobbled together. It plays like an extended episode of a television cop show like STARSKY AND HUTCH or MAGNUM P.I. with an annoying pop jazz score by Kenyon Hopkins (BABY DOLL). The supporting cast is filled with recognizable faces like Doris Roberts, Sharon Farrell, Philip Bosco, Ruth White, Marianne McAndrew, Ralph Waite, John P. Ryan, Richard Castellano, Conrad Bain and in her film debut, Ali MacGraw.

San Qiang Pai An Jing Qi (aka A Woman, A Gun And A Noodle Shop) (2009)

Loosely, very loosely, based on the Coen Brothers faux noir BLOOD SIMPLE, Yimou Zhang (HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS) attempts a change of pace with this witty black comedy. Set in rural China in what appears to be the early 18th century, a miser (Ni Dahong) who abuses his young wife (Yan Ni) suspects she's having an affair with an employee (Xiao Shenyang) of their noodle shop. To this end, he hires a corrupt lawman to kill them both. The film balances broad comedy (much broader than the Coens did) interpolated with thriller aspects and it works beautifully. The widescreen vistas of the Gansu locations with their red dirt mountains and isolation can't help but evoke the westerns of Sergio Leone (who also poured plenty of humor into his films) and indeed, the film has the feel of a spaghetti western. Two hilarious highlights: a flashy noodle making session in the kitchen and an attempted burial by the wife's lover. Thoroughly delightful.

House Of Cards (1968)

A down on his luck American (George Peppard) in Paris finds himself hired as a "Nanny" to a rich 8 year old (Barnaby Shaw) being raised by the wealthy widow (Inger Stevens) of a slain officer in Algeria. But slowly he uncovers a nest of right wing fascist vipers in the household intent on overthrowing the French government. After they frame him for a murder, Peppard and Stevens go on the lam after the child, who has been kidnapped by the fascist organization, the only one who can prove Peppard's innocence. Most of the Universal films of this period have an ugly TV look to them, mainly because they were shot quickly (and obviously) on the Universal backlot. Here, the authentic Paris and Rome locations aided by Piero Portalupi's elegant wide screen lensing, the melodic Francis Lai score and Edith Head's stylish costumes give it a richer look than normal. Though the plot often borders on the outlandish, director John Guillermin (TOWERING INFERNO) keeps the action moving at a quick clip what with Peppard jumping out of windows, racing across rooftops, hanging from ledges etc. and it's quite entertaining. With Keith Michell, Rosemary Dexter and although third billed, Orson Welles is barely in the movie and when he is, he gives one of his lazy "I'm too good for this movie!" performances.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Deep (1977)

Beautifully photographed (by Christopher Challis) undersea adventure shot in Bermuda and the Virgin Islands. Directed by Peter Yates (BULLITT) and based on the novel by Peter Benchley (JAWS). A young vacationing couple (Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset) discover a shipwreck while scuba diving and find two incongruous items, an 18th century Spanish medallion and an ampoule of amber fluid that turns out to be morphine. This discovery leads them to an expert (Robert Shaw) on sunken treasure but all three of their lives are put in danger by a drug kingpin (Louis Gossett Jr.) who'll stop at nothing to obtain the vials of morphine. The plot itself is in service to the splendid underwater sequences, some of the best put on film but one can't help and feel uneasy at how Bisset is constantly exploited. The film seems to be undressing her at every chance and, of course, the film is probably more remembered for Bisset's infamous wet T-shirt than anything else. The long underwater sequences provide an opportunity for some excellent scoring by John Barry to come to the forefront. With Eli Wallach.

Ukikusa Monogatari (aka Story Of Floating Weeds) (1934)

A traveling troupe of actors arrive in a provincial town where the leader of the group (Takeshi Sakamoto) has an ex-mistress (Chouko Iida) who has raised their son (Koji Mitsui), now grown, without the son ever knowing who his father is. Matters become complicated when his current mistress (Rieko Yagumo) finds out and in a fit of spite urges another actress (Yoshiko Tsubouchi) from the troupe to seduce the son. Director Yasujiro Ozu edges his film dangerously close to soap opera but the sharp and careful attention to character prevents the film from sliding into bathos. Its characters aren't particularly likable but there's a genuine sweetness in the film's peek into the camaraderie of an acting troupe. Twenty five years later, Ozu remade the film in color and sound (this is a silent film) but with a somewhat lighter tone and dropped the "Story Of" from the title.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Carnival Story (1954)

An American carnival in Germany attracts a penniless German girl (Anne Baxter) who falls under the sexual spell of the no good barker (Steve Cochran). He gets her a job in the carnival and when the high dive act (Lyle Bettger) falls in love with her, she marries him after Cochran gives her the brush off. But can she break the spell he has over her? Directed by Kurt Neumann (1958's THE FLY), this is a rather tawdry story and it's played for all the melodrama it can squeeze out of the script. Director Kurt Neumann directed a German version simultaneously with Eva Bartok and Curt Jurgens. Baxter over emotes (as she is wont to), Cochran specialized in such heels to the point that it's not much of a stretch for him but it's nice to see Bettger who usually played villains as a nice guy. With George Nader, Jay C. Flippen, Helene Stanley and Ady Berber as Groppo, the mute strongman who figures prominently in the film's finale.

Mrs. Reinhardt (1981)

Based on a short story by the celebrated Irish writer Edna O'Brien, this film comes across as a pallid clone of Tennessee Williams' ROMAN SPRING OF MRS. STONE. After catching her husband (Ralph Bates) committing adultery, an English wife (Helen Mirren) flees Britain for the French countryside. There she hooks up with a young American (Brad Davis) and what starts out as a romantic fling turns ugly and humiliating. The Brittany setting is gorgeous, lush and green, lakes with ducks, millhouses turned into cottages and a quaint country inn with gourmet dining. But it's never a pleasure to see an intelligent and beautiful woman degraded and abused by a brute. Ironcially, later in her career Mirren would star in a remake of Williams' ROMAN SPRING OF MRS. STONE to better effect. Here, her actions seem silly and ill motivated. Oddly, Davis plays the American like a gay street hustler (perhaps it's best not to dwell on that).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bandolero! (1968)

A group of bank robbers make their way through the Mexican desert along with a female hostage and the law close on their heels. Andrew V. McLaglen has a filmography crammed with westerns like SHENANDOAH, MCLINTOCK, THE WAY WEST and THE UNDEFEATED among many others. This is one of his weakest. It looks fantastic thanks to William H. Clothier's Panavision lensing of the Utah desert locations but the script borders on the nonsensical and wants us to invest our time and empathy for the two male leads (James Stewart and Dean Martin as brothers) but they're thieves and killers! Martin has never seemed more out of his element, acting as if he were in a Las Vegas casino rather than the Texas west. Poor Raquel Welch is burdened with a terrible Mexican accent and with such lines as "I was a whore at 13 and my family never went hungry!". George Kennedy manages to emerge with his dignity intact. The score by Jerry Goldsmith is probably the most memorable thing about the film. The cast includes Will Geer, Andrew Prine, Sean McClory, Donald Barry, Jock Mahoney, Perry Lopez, Dub Taylor and Harry Carey Jr.

The Son Of Monte Cristo (1940)

An ambitious general (George Sanders) has plans to take over the throne of Lichtenberg and its Queen (Joan Bennett) along with it. But the Count of Monte Cristo or rather his son and heir (Louis Hayward) joins forces with the country's rebels to quash Sanders' dictatorial reign and gain the Queen's hand for himself. Directed by Rowland V. Lee (TOWER OF LONDON), this is an unassuming agreeable if warmed over B&W swashbuckler. Hayward is a rather phlegmatic hero, posing as a fop during the day and a masked avenger called The Torch at night but Sanders, sporting a close razor haircut, makes for an intimidating villain. Lee's direction is rather stolid but Bennett makes for a most enticing damsel in distress. Two supporting players are in top form, Ian Wolfe as the unctuous Judas spy and the marvelous Florence Bates as Bennett's lady in waiting. The film's elegant art direction by Edward Boyle and John DuCasse Schultze received an Oscar nomination. With Montagu Love and Clayton Moore.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lady Godiva Of Coventry (1955)

Inaccurate both historically and to the legend of Lady Godiva and her infamous nude ride through the streets of Coventry, this fictionalized version finds tensions high between the Saxons and Normans in 11th century England. A Saxon lord (George Nader) refuses the King's (Eduard Franz) wishes for a politically convenient marriage and instead opts to marry the sheriff's fiery daughter (Maureen O'Hara). But she becomes a militant Joan Of Arc heroine to the Saxon people, much to the disgruntlement of her husband. It's an innocuous film with very little to recommend it. Even the chance to see O'Hara au naturel is ruined by showing the ride in long shots with O'Hara's long flaming tresses discreetly covering her up. But it's modestly enjoyable in a Saturday afternoon matinee kind of way. Directed by Arthur Lubin and with Victor McLaglen (not instigated by John Ford, so he's rather restrained here), Torin Thatcher, Rex Reason, Kathryn Givney and keep a sharp lookout for a young Clint Eastwood as a Saxon solider.

An American In Paris (1951)

One of the great treasures of the American film musical, the story is slight. A struggling American painter (Gene Kelly) falls in love with a French miss (Leslie Caron in her film debut) who's betrothed to an older man (Georges Guetary). But the George and Ira Gershwin songs are irresistible and director Vincente Minnelli, choreographer and star Kelly, art director Preston Ames, cinematographer John Alton and costume designer Irene Sharaff have created a stunning collage of color, images, movement and style that elevate it far beyond the fragile narrative. Two highlights: Guetary belts out Stairway To Paradise and Kelly does a delightful I've Got Rhythm with a gaggle of kids. The piece de resistance however is the 17 minute American In Paris ballet done in the style of Impressionist painters. With Nina Foch, Oscar Levant, Madge Blake and Ann Codee.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Deadline At Dawn (1946)

A sailor (the bland Bill Williams) on leave finds himself with over a thousand dollars in his pocket and an hour the night before which he can't remember. When he and a dance hall hostess (Susan Hayward) return to the last place he remembers being, a woman's apartment, they find her dead body. From there, they attempt to find the killer but not without gathering a handful of suspects along the way. This film noir has quite a pedigree behind the camera. It's the only film directed by the legendary theatre director, teacher and critic Harold Clurman who along with Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg founded the Group Theatre in the 1930s. The screenplay is by Clifford Odets (GOLDEN BOY, WAITING FOR LEFTY) and based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich upon whose work sprung Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW and Truffaut's THE BRIDE WORE BLACK among many other films. With a legacy like that, you'd expect a corker of a thriller but it doesn't happen. The film is convoluted and contrived with odd little touches (like a cat dead from choking on a chicken bone) that have nothing to do with the narrative. Odets' dialogue too often seems ill at ease and doesn't come naturally from the actors. The hero (Williams) comes across as a simple minded child though the film offers a flimsy explanation: he was pronounced dead for two hours as a child which might have affected his brain but the film doesn't explore it any further. Even the mystery of whodunit is given away when one of the characters makes an offhanded statement that gives a major clue to the killer. With Paul Lukas, Osa Massen, Joseph Calleia, Lola Lane (as the murder victim), Jerome Cowan and Steven Geray.

Matthew Shepard Story (2002)

The horrific and senseless murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old gay college student, in 1998 made headlines and was directly responsible for the inclusion of homosexuals in the hate crimes act eventually signed by President Obama in 2009. It's an important and heartbreaking story that deserves better than the by the numbers rendering given in this film. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode (DIE ANOTHER DAY), this film is awkward in its execution and indifferently acted (except for Sam Waterston and Kristen Thomson). The film starts with the end of Shepard's murder trial and provides flashbacks on his life and the events leading up to his murder. The flashbacks are shot with a grainy veneer as if Spottiswoode didn't trust us to realize these were flashbacks. The film also suffers from a poor performance by Shane Meier as Matthew. The Denver sequences, however, are quite strong and if only the film had given the movie more backbone and less sentiment, this could have been a powerful film rather than just another TV movie about a victim. With Stockard Channing as Shepard's mother.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

More of a splashy glamorous drama in the MGM style with music rather than a musical. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard but with the overblown musical production numbers directed by Busby Berkeley. The film concentrates on three young girls (Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr) on their first year as Ziegfeld showgirls and the ups and downs of their personal lives. Despite being fourth billed, the film serves as a showcase for the young Lana Turner. As Sheila Regan, a Brooklyn girl pulled out of a department store elevator and transformed into an alluring Ziegfeld filly, Turner hit all the right notes and became a full fledged Star. The musical highlights include the standard You Stepped Out Of A Dream sung by Tony Martin and the tropical flavored Minnie From Trinidad performed by Garland. The large cast includes James Stewart, Jackie Cooper, Dan Dailey (a standout as a brutal boxer), Eve Arden, Paul Kelly, Ian Hunter, Edward Everett Horton, Felix Bressart, Philip Dorn, Charles Winninger, Fay Holden and Rose Hobart (only one scene but a good one).

Erik The Conqueror (aka Gli Invasori) (1961)

Although most associated with the horror genre and such films as BLACK SUNDAY and LISA AND THE DEVIL, Mario Bava did a handful of sword and sandal movies (often uncredited) but this is probably his best venture into the genre. Two brothers, heirs to the Viking throne, are separated as children after their father is killed in battle. One, Eron (Cameron Mitchell) is raised a Viking while the other, Erik (George Ardisson) is found and raised by the British Queen (Francoise Christophe) as her heir. Though on opposite sides, it's inevitable that they eventually find each other. Bava is one of a handful of film directors that act as their own cinematographer and his wide screen Dyaliscope images are often very striking, such as the Queen walking through a scarlet sunset. The final siege of a castle is rather a blah, however. With Alice and Ellen Kessler (real life identical twins) playing identical twin sisters, one for each of the brothers.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Goldfinger (1964)

The movie that kicked the James Bond franchise into the stratosphere and it's easy to see why. It successfully melded the action, the sly off handed humor and sexual innuendo that were to become hallmarks of the series. The outlandish, illogical plot can be forgiven though the film often makes no narrative sense. For example, the sequence where Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) attempts to get the American gangsters to join his outrageous plot to rob fort Knox. When they (except for one) agree to the plan, he gasses them all. If that was his intention, why why didn't he just gas them, why go through the whole description of the Fort Knox robbery (unless it was just exposition for the audience's sake). Honor Blackman as the infamous Pussy Galore makes one of the all time great Bond girls. Then, there's the fantastic John Barry score highlighted by the thrilling Shirley Bassey vocal on the title song. With Sean Connery as Bond, of course. Also with Shirley Eaton (literally the golden girl), Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Burt Kwouk, Tania Mallet, Martin Benson, Desmond Llewelyn and Harold Sakata as the memorable, bowler hat flinging Oddjob.

A Big Hand For The Little Lady (1966)

Originally written by Sidney Carroll for television in 1962 under the title BIG DEAL IN LAREDO with Walter Matthau and Teresa Wright and directed by Fielder Cook, this big screen adaptation reunites Cook and Carroll performing the same duties. A farmer (Henry Fonda) with a heart condition, his wife (Joanne Woodward) and child (Jean Michel Michenaud) on their way to San Antonio come into town to have their wagon fixed. But he has a gambling addiction and joins a high stakes poker game with professional players (Jason Robards, Kevin McCarthy, Charles Bickford, Robert Middleton, John Qualen) and finds himself dangerously out of his league and in danger of losing his life savings. It's an unbalanced film, part of it amusingly done and others too broadly played (at times I expected someone to break out into a musical number) and its "twist" is obvious around the 40 minute mark. There's a decent David Raksin score. With Burgess Meredith, Paul Ford, Virginia Gregg, Mae Clarke and Ned Glass.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Young Lions (1958)

Based on the best selling novel by Irwin Shaw (RICH MAN, POOR MAN) and adapted by Oscar winning screenwriter Edward Anhalt, this remains an absorbing wartime drama despite its excessive near three hour length. The film opens with a prologue set in 1938 Germany prior to WWII and introduces us to two of the characters, a German ski instructor (Marlon Brando) and an American tourist (Barbara Rush). He's apolitical and she's disturbed by the rise of Nazism. Jump four years later, Brando is in the German army, Rush is in the war department and we meet the rest of our characters. A young Jew (Montgomery Clift), a Broadway star (Dean Martin), a Vermont ingenue (Hope Lange), a politically ambitious Nazi captain (Maximilian Schell) and his glamorous wife (May Britt). For the remainder of the film, their eight lives criss cross as the war rages to its conclusion. Brando is uneven here but when he's on it, he's mesmerizing. Alas, Clift's part and situation are too similar to his Prewitt in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY for comfort. Edward Dmytryk tries to juggle everyone without any blunders and for the most part he succeeds. Also in the cast: Lee Van Cleef, Liliane Montevecchi, Arthur Franz, Vaughn Taylor, Dora Doll and Ann Codee and with a wonderful Oscar nominated score by Hugo Friedhofer. In B&W and CinemaScope.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Shubun (aka Scandal) (1950)

A lesser effort from master film maker Akira Kurosawa. The premise is interesting and especially timely in this era of tabloid journalism. An artist (Toshiro Mifune) meets a famous singer (Shirley Yamaguchi, who would later co-star in Fuller's HOUSE OF BAMBOO) while on vacation at a mountain spa. He gives her a lift on his motorcycle and they later share some tea in her room. That ordinarily would seem to be the end of it but a tabloid photographer takes a photo of them on her balcony and his magazine prints the photo along with a story insinuating they had a lovers rendezvous. Furious, Mifune files a libel suit against the magazine but unfortunately he hires a shyster of a lawyer (Takashi Shimura) of dubious legal ethics which compromises his case. What should have been a hard hitting film on yellow journalism is instead filled with maudlin sentiment like an interminable Christmas Eve sequence in a bar with everyone sobbing out Auld Lang Syne or a young girl (Yoko Katsuragi) dying of tuberculosis which affects the outcome of the trial.

Montana (1950)

Not a particularly memorable western but it's skillfully if routinely directed by Ray Enright. A sheepman (Errol Flynn) ventures into cattle country in Montana where sheepherders are shot on sight. He enters the town under the guise of being a peddler where he falls in love with a cattlewoman (Alexis Smith) who runs the town with an iron fist. With a little duplicity (like not telling her he's a sheepman), he gets into her graces. But it's only a matter of time before there's a showdown between the cattlemen and the sheepherders. The three strip Technicolor lensing is handsomely shot by Oscar winning Karl Freund with Calabasas, California subbing for Montana and the redhaired Smith looks as fetching in Technicolor as Maureen O'Hara or Rhonda Fleming. It's also notable for the strong female protagonist that Smith plays, rare in a western, though the film lets her down with its silly final clinch. With S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, Douglas Kennedy and Dorothy Adams.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tarot (aka Autopsy) (1973)

Filmed in Spain, an amoral young American girl (Sue Lyon) drifting through Europe on her motorcycle falls in love with the valet (Christian Hay) of a blind millionaire (Fernando Rey, VIRIDIANA). Though she's initially against the idea, Hay urges Lyon to marry the rich man while they continue to be lovers under his very nose. However, the suspicious housekeeper (Gloria Grahame) keeps a close watch on them. What follows is a twisted tale of greed, deceit, a double murder and the fickle finger of fate. Directed by Jose Maria Forque, this Euro potboiler is saved by some good acting and the unnerving atmosphere that Forque creates. In fact, Lyon (looking sensational) is good enough to wish a more original script had been provided. It's always a treat to see Grahame and the film could have used more of her. Still, it remains an entertaining thriller if your expectations remain modest. The music is by Michel Colombier.

Xanadu (1980)

A colorful fantasy musical that has been derided for years and unfairly so. It's a mindless piece of fluff and no worse than those Mickey & Judy "let's put on a show in the barn" MGM churned out regularly. Very loosely based on the 1947 Rita Hayworth musical DOWN TO EARTH where Hayworth played a muse who comes down to Earth to inspire the director of a Broadway musical. Here, Olivia Newton-John plays the muse who descends to inspire a painter (Michael Beck) and a retired clarinet player (Gene Kelly) to fulfill their dreams. In this case, their dream is a roller disco palace (hey, this was the 80s). The script is rather witless and mundane to say the least but the songs are irresistible pop confections courtesy of the Electric Light Orchestra and John Farrar (who wrote Newton-John's songs). The production design by John W. Corso and the costume design by Bobbie Mannix are in vivid bright, day-glo colors attempting to replicate the now non-existent three strip Technicolor of the 40s musicals. Kenny Ortega does the energetic choreography including the Xanadu finale which is an 80s pop homage to the likes of the 17 minute ballet from AN AMERICAN IN PARIS or the Broadway Melody sequence from SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. Gene Kelly shows at age 67, he's as nimble footed as ever. Directed by Robert Greenwald and with Sandahl Bergman and Dimitra Arliss.

Chandu The Magician (1932)

Pleasurably absurd hokum co-directed by the great art director William Cameron Menzies (which might explain the stylish look of the film) and handsomely shot by the great James Wong Howe. Edmund Lowe (DINNER AT EIGHT) is Chandu the magician, an occidental trained in the ways of the East Indian yogis and able to bend wills to his own. But he does it for the good of mankind as when he does battle with the diabolical madman (Bela Lugosi) who kidnaps an inventor (Henry B. Walthall) in order to steal his "death ray" machine which will allow him to conquer the world. It's all rather silly really but wonderful fun. Lugosi is shameless here, hamming it up to the rafters but so amusing that one can't take his eyes off him. Herbert Mundin provides the comic relief and the drab Irene Ware as a dull Eygptian princess provides the romantic relief.