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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wuthering Heights (1950)

No more than a Cliffs Notes live television version of the Emily Bronte novel that can never hope to approximate the beloved 1939 William Wyler film (which itself used only a portion of the Bronte book). Still, the two strong central performances contain enough vinegar to question the authenticity of the 1939's Heathcliff and Cathy. A young, still unpolished Charlton Heston as Heathcliff suggests the dirty stable boy who turns into the brutish and cruel master of Wuthering Heights in a way that the innate elegance of the impossibly handsome Laurence Olivier couldn't and as Cathy, Mary Sinclair displays a sexual passion that the ladylike Merle Oberon couldn't muster up. There's a sexual tension and a heat in this Heathcliff and Cathy that conjures up the crazy, unrestrained fire of Jennifer Jones and Gregory Peck in DUEL IN THE SUN. With Una O'Connor as Nellie, June Dayton (very good) as Isabella, Lloyd Bochner as Edgar and Richard Waring as Hindley.

Marnie (1964)

Alfred Hitchcock's last authentic masterpiece. A disturbed young woman (Tippi Hedren) who is sexually frigid, a pathological liar and a thief finds her match in a wealthy widower (Sean Connery) who becomes obsessed with her despite her robbing his company. He attempts to decipher the causes of her psychosis. Poorly received upon its initial release (at least here in America) and made during Hitchcock's most fertile creative period beginning with REAR WINDOW in 1954 and culminating in MARNIE ten years later, only VERTIGO offers the complex riches and layers that MARNIE contains. Visually, with its roots in German expressionism beautifully rendered by Robert Burks, the excellent Jay Presson Allen script (not a line is wasted) and the stunning Bernard Herrmann score (one of his greatest) culminate in a powerful and intricate cinematic puzzles that yields movie gold with each subsequent viewing. Hedren's performance is even more remarkable when you realize this was only her second acting role. The range of emotions would have been, under the best of circumstances, exhausting for the most trained actresses. With Diane Baker, Louise Latham, Martin Gabel, Bruce Dern, Mariette Hartley, Alan Napier and Carmen Phillips.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kanzashi (aka Ornamental Hairpin) (1941)

During an extended stay at a mountain resort, a young man (Chishu Ryu) cuts his foot on a hairpin while soaking in the springs. He romanticizes the incident as well as the owner of the hairpin. When the young lady (Kinuyo Tanaka) comes from Tokyo to apologize for her carelessness with the hairpin, a tentative romance begins. Hiroshi Shimizu's graceful but bittersweet romance is a delicate piece with both comedic, even satirical, and painful layers. Ryu is a bit naive, a born romantic while Tanaka is fleeing the harsh realities of an unhappy relationship with her lover in Tokyo. It's a bid disconcerting seeing Ryu as a young man in a romantic role in contrast to his older character roles in some of the most famous Japanese films like TOKYO STORY and RED BEARD but he's immensely likable. The film's other characters provide a family nest for the blossoming lovebirds and as well as providing a reacting board. With Tatsuo Saito as the film's cynical curmudgeon, Shinichi Himori, Hideko Mimura and Hiroko Kawasaki.

One Spy Too Many (1966)

An egocentric super criminal (Rip Torn) has ambitions of becoming a contemporary Alexander The Great and ruling the world. With the assistance of his ex-wife (Dorothy Provine), two secret agents (Robert Vaughn, David McCallum) attempt to bring his empire down. Cobbled together from a couple of episodes of the television series THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. into a feature film by deleting footage (Torn's parents, for example, are eliminated from the film) and padding it out with newly filmed footage including Yvonne Craig as a Miss Moneypenny like character engaged in bantering with Vaughn. The film's low budget restrictions and television look hardly help for a smooth transition from the small screen to the big screen. Vaughn, in particular, seems to confuse charm with smarm. With David Opatoshu, James Hong and Leo G. Carroll.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Where Love Has Gone (1964)

Directed by Edward Dmytryk and based on the trashy potboiler by Harold Robbins (THE CARPETBAGGERS) which shamelessly exploited the Lana Turner/Johnny Stompanato scandal. When a 15 year old girl (Joey Heatherton) kills the lover of her promiscuous socialite mother (Susan Hayward), the girl's father (Mike Connors) returns to try and pick up the pieces of the dysfunctional family, which includes a domineering matriarch (Bette Davis), in an attempt to save his daughter. The film moves forth in a deadly earnest, stolid manner with none of the lurid fun of Dmytrk's film of Robbins' THE CARPETBAGGERS. Davis brings some much needed elegance and class to the project while the other actors (Heatherton in particular) flounder in the morass of John Michael Hayes' delirious dialogue. Edith Head did the stylish costumes, Jack Jones croons the Oscar nominated title song while Walter Scharf gets the blame for the anemic score. With Jane Greer, DeForest Kelley, George Macready, Anne Seymour, Whit Bissell, Anthony Caruso and Ann Doran.

Anne Of The Indies (1951)

Fast moving pirate adventure with a twist directed by Jacques Tourneur (OUT OF THE PAST). The pirate is a lady! A protege of Blackbeard The Pirate (Thomas Gomez), Captain Anne Providence (Jean Peters) ruthlessly pillages the British fleet in the Caribbean. On one such ship, she discovers a Frenchman (Louis Jourdan) in chains and cautiously takes him under her wing despite the misgivings of her right hand man (James Robertson Justice). There's a revelation mid film however that makes Jourdan rather unsympathetic. The screenplay by Philip Dunne and Arthur Caesar allows Peters to flesh out a fully realized character rather than just a pirate gender switch. Her drive to get her revenge on British, her determination to receive the respect she feels she deserves conflict with her very human emotions, both romantic and psychological. The rousing score is by Franz Waxman. With Debra Paget, Herbert Marshall and Sean McClory.

Goodbye Again (1961)

Based on the novel AIMEZ VOUS BRAHMS? by Francoise Sagan (BONJOUR TRISTESSE), Anatole Litvak directs this story of a May-December romance set in Paris. A 40ish interior decorator (Ingrid Bergman) has been in a five year relationship with a businessman (Yves Montand) who not only doesn't want to commit but continues to have girls on the side. When she meets the young son (Anthony Perkins) of a client (Jessie Royce Landis), he pursues her romantically until she succumbs. Not well received, at least in America, when it was first released, it plays very well today. Litvak directed Bergman to a best actress Oscar win with ANASTASIA and she does very well under his direction here as the conflicted Paula, unfulfilled in her relationship with the roving Montand yet unable to get what she needs from the boyish, irresponsible Perkins. Perkins (who won the Cannes film festival best actor award for his performance here) is a problem. He overdoes the immaturity of the character, so much so that it's hard to believe Bergman would capitulate to such a childish youth. The film doesn't romanticize the age difference and the film's cynically downbeat ending leaves its mark. With Diahann Carroll, Jocelyn Lane, Lee Patrick and Michele Mercier.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Taza, Son Of Cochise (1954)

A highly fabricated account of Taza (Rock Hudson), the eldest son of the famed Apache known as Cochise. After his father Cochise (Jeff Chandler) dies, his son attempts to fulfill his father's commitment to peace between the white men and the Apache. However, this peace is sabotaged by the renegade Geronimo (Ian MacDonald). Not surprisingly, the Douglas Sirk film is sympathetic to the plight of the Native Americans who attempt to retain their dignity while still being subjugated by the encroaching white men. Originally shot in 3D, Sirk gives only the slightest concession to the format by the occasional arrow coming at you or the tree branches in the foreground. The gorgeous landscapes as shot by Russell Metty on location in Utah's Arches National Park are as beautiful as any landscape in John Ford's western canon. The film has a nice lyrical feel for Indian life and Sirk's use of actual Indians (outside of the white actors playing Indians) in non speaking roles gives an authenticity that many a similar western lacks. Acting isn't a strong point for the film but with the exception of MacDonald's Geronimo, none of it is bad. The score by the undervalued Frank Skinner is not without interest. With Barbara Rush (who has precious little to do), Rex Reason, Gregg Palmer, Morris Ankrum and Joe Sawyer.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Doctor Takes A Wife (1940)

Routine "screwball" comedy that's more tedious than funny. A feminist author (Loretta Young) and a chauvinist doctor (Ray Milland), who are antagonistic to each other, through several misunderstandings are thought to be married. The couple decide to keep up the pretense because it advantages both of them, he gets a sought after teaching post over an unmarried man and she writes a best selling book on marriage. The humor, such as it is, comes from them living under the same roof (not in the same bedroom, of course), bickering while presenting a happily married front to everyone. There is one genuinely amusing sequence when Milland invites his girlfriend (Gail Patrick) to his bachelor apartment while hosting a cocktail party with his wife simultaneously as he climbs out the kitchen window between both apartments trying to keep both Ms. Patrick and the party guests happy. There's never any doubt about the inevitable Hollywood happy ending of course but at least the film doesn't humiliate Ms. Young's feminism as several like minded films starring Kate Hepburn and Roz Russell did. With Edmund Gwenn and Reginald Gardiner.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Appointment With Death (1988)

Another all star Agatha Christie whodunit set in an exotic or glamorous location, this time Italy and Israel (subbing for 1937 Palestine) but the film lacks the elegance of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, DEATH ON THE NILE and EVIL UNDER THE SUN. With the erratic Michael Winner at the helm, it's not very well directed either. Luckily, there's Peter Ustinov on board again as the definitive Hercule Poirot (you can have David Suchet), fussy and prying as always. This time, a rich, spiteful American widow (Piper Laurie) is the victim and there are plenty of suspects including her brood of stepchildren. It's actually one of Christie's more clever concoctions (three screenwriters involved including Anthony Shaffer) but Winner seems to be going through the motions, either lacking any real interest in creating suspense or simply unable to piece it together in a convincing way (he did the flabby editing under a pseudonym). The pedestrian score by Pino Donaggio doesn't help much either. With Lauren Bacall, Hayley Mills, John Gielgud, Carrie Fisher, Michael Craig, David Soul, Jenny Seagrove and Nicholas Guest.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Harlow (1965)

The role that seemed tailor made for Carroll Baker and the botched job it became. Baker would seem the ideal choice for the famed platinum blonde 1930s superstar, Jean Harlow. While not possessing Harlow's magnetic screen personality, Baker is as beautiful and a better actress. Yet the film makers: producer Joseph E. Levine, director Gordon Douglas and screenwriter John Michael Hayes apparently didn't think Harlow's actual tragic life dramatic enough for the screen so most of it is fabricated. Two husbands are omitted from the scenario, one husband Paul Bern (Peter Lawford) commits suicide the day after their wedding eliminating their actual two months of marriage and even her death is a falsified. The movie has her dying of pneumonia after an all night drinking binge and passing out on a beach when in actuality she died in a hospital of kidney failure. Baker is good, good enough to regret that she didn't have a better vehicle rather than having to espouse such cringing lines as "A bedroom with only one person in it is the loneliest place in the world". Edith Head did the 30s costumes and Neal Hefti contributes a terrific score. With Angela Lansbury, Raf Vallone, Red Buttons, Mike Connors, Leslie Nielsen, Martin Balsam, Mary Murphy and Kipp Hamilton.

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1920)

Robert Louis Stevenson's novella THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE has spawned nearly 100 film adaptations in various forms. This silent version directed by John S. Robertson is one of the most famous, principally because of the highly praised, tour de force performance of John Barrymore in the lead role. Barrymore eschewed make up for much of his performance, preferring instead to rely on his facial expressions. His Hyde is a marvel of debauchery and cruelty and the film includes the notorious child stomping sequence often omitted from most film versions. Stevenson's novella lacked any female protagonists and Robertson's film introduced two, the pure Millicent (Martha Mansfield) and the music hall tart (Nita Naldi), that have found their way into subsequent film adaptations, notably the 1931 Rouben Mamoulian and the 1941 Victor Fleming versions. As a horror film, it's of interest more historically than as a classic piece of cinema as the story has been better served cinematically elsewhere. For acting buffs, it's de rigueur for Barrymore's performance. With Louis Wolheim and Brandon Hurst.

Lolita (1962)

The Stanley Kubrick adaptation of the famous Vladimir Nabokov novel is a beautifully realized black comedy that keeps the spirit and intent of the Nabokov novel while differing from Nabokov's source material. Nabokov receives sole credit for the screenplay (though apparently very little of it survived the script to screen process) but it's Kubrick's handiwork behind the what see on the screen. The inspired use of bookending the film with the killing of Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers), a device not in the Nabokov novel, gives the film an almost film noir atmosphere which is only intensified by the performances of James Mason as the doomed Humbert and Sue Lyon as the nymphet femme fatale. Sellers is astonishing as the many faces of the perverse and perverted Clare Quilty, hilariously sly yet creepily threatening. Mason makes Humbert a tragic figure, letting us see his pain as well as his perversion. Even Shelley Winters as Lyon's mother, while a howling caricature, is given moments that let us see into her very real loneliness. The dialogue, full of innuendo, is witty and while this is Kubrick's LOLITA rather than Nabokov's LOLITA, the censorship restrictions of the day notwithstanding, this is the definitive cinematic LOLITA. With Lois Maxwell, Diana Decker, Marianne Stone and Roberta Shore.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Red (2010)

More fun than a silly and stupid movie has any right to be! A retired CIA agent (Bruce Willis) finds himself embroiled in a massive government cover up which threatens not only his life but several of his retired colleagues from the past. Based on a D.C. comics graphic novel, RED (which stands for Retired: Extremely Dangerous) throws all sense and caution to the winds, instead dwelling on amusing situations, dialogue and characters to captivate us rather than any remote sense of the real world. For example, when a house in a middle class neighborhood is decimated by bullets and explosions, no one even looks to see what is going on and in a gunfight on a New Orleans street, the street is conveniently deserted (no cars, no pedestrians) in the middle of the day! Director Robert Schwentke directs in the style of a Tarantino wannabe though not as astutely, even to the use of pop songs on the soundtrack though the use of heavy metal during the action sequences has grown into such a cliche. Still, there's no denying there was a good time to be had in all the silliness. With Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich (just about stealing the film as a paranoid, LSD burnt out ex-CIA agent), Mary Louise Parker, Richard Dreyfuss, Ernest Borgnine, Brian Cox, Karl Urban and Rebecca Pidgeon.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Conviction (2010)

Calling a major theatrical release a "TV Movie" is seen as a derogatory term. But actually there are some excellent films made for television. However, CONVICTION accentuates the worst excesses of those "based on a true story" Lifetime movies. Based on the real life case of a man (Sam Rockwell) sentenced to life imprisonment for a brutal murder and how his sister (Hilary Swank) convinced of his innocence devotes her life to proving him innocent including getting a law degree to act as his attorney. Swank excels at these white trash types (good enough to have won two best actress Oscars for playing such characters) but she'd be more impressive if we hadn't seen her do it all before. Rockwell gives a wonderful performance of a boozing troublemaker with attitude who begins to crumble after years of imprisonment. I must say the film boasts some of the best aging make-up (the film follows a 20 year period in which the characters age believably) I've seen. The film could have done without the mawkish score by Paul Cantelon which renders what could have been strong emotional moments to pabulum With Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Peter Gallagher, Loren Dean, Karen Young, Clea DuVall and in one of those flashy if brief (2 scenes) "knock it out of the ballpark" performances that get Oscar nominations, Juliette Lewis.

Secretariat (2010)

Calling the film SECRETARIAT is a bit misleading but I don't suppose a title like CHENERY would mean as much. The film isn't so much about the famed thoroughbred whose speed record is still unequaled to this day as about Penny Chenery. As played by Diane Lane, the film focuses on the trials and tribulations a housewife goes through in a boys club world to save the family farm and follow her instincts, despite her lack of experience, in training a champion racehorse. Lane does a terrific job here considering the unevenness of the movie. The direction by Randall Wallace (WE WERE SOLDIERS) is incredibly lazy and trots out the cliches of just about every racing film (and even some non racing ones) ever made. On one hand, his handling of the Kentucky Derby sequence is impeccable and he wisely plays down the Preakness race in anticipation of the Belmont finale but then he botches that! When a gospel hymn plays over the Belmont race, I cringed! There's a showy performance by John Malkovich as Secretariat's grouchy trainer and a more subtle one by Margo Martindale who brings some homespun flair. With James Cromwell, Scott Glenn, Fred Dalton Thompson, Dylan Walsh, Dylan Baker and Otto Thorwath.

La Ragazza Del Lago (aka The Girl By The Lake) (2007)

Winner of 10 David Di Donatello (the Italian Oscar) awards including best picture, Andrea Molaioli's marvelous little film goes beyond a mere detective story. When the nude body of a young girl is found by a lake in a small Italian mountain village, a detective's (Toni Servillo) investigation into her murder begins to peel layers off the seemingly average small town to reveal darker secrets that cause him to look at his own messy life with a more honest eye. Like many good films, the film works on two levels. As a detective story, it's taut and engrossing and there's a multitude of suspect and motivations. As a portrait of human relationships, most specifically between parents and children but not entirely limited to that, it explores our guilt at feeling things we have no control over and how that guilt can lead to something as heinous as murder. The film is well acted but inexplicably Servillo, who gives the film's most routine performance, won the best actor award at the Donatellos. He serves as a good reacting board to the other more interesting characters and performances. With Valeria Golino, Denis Fasolo, Nello Mascia, Fabrizio Gifuni, Heidi Caldart and Giulia Michelini. Highly recommended.

Silver Bears (1978)

An international crime caper full of crosses and double crosses set in Las Vegas, Switzerland and Iran. A mafia boss (Martin Balsam) hires a front man (Michael Caine) to purchase a bank in Switzerland to house mafia money. Caine invests in a silver mine in Iran owned by a brother and sister (Stephane Audran, David Warner). Meanwhile, a large American bank becomes interested in purchasing the bank and sends its agent, a conservative banker (Tom Smothers) to buy it. How all three story threads intertwine form the crux of the story. Based on the novel by Paul Erdman and directed by Ivan Passer (LOVES OF A BLONDE). Passer doesn't have the light touch needed to successfully pull a glamorous international caper like this off. The screenwriter Peter Stone is certainly capable of writing witty, glamorous affairs like this as he has previously shown in his scripts for CHARADE and ARABESQUE but Passer is no Stanley Donen. A film like this needs sparkle and fizz but instead of champagne, we get a dry sherry. Still, it's easy to get caught up in the clever and complicated machinations of the corporate banking world and the cast is appealing. With Cybill Shepherd, Louis Jourdan, Joss Ackland, Charles Gray and a very young Jay Leno as Balsam's clueless son.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Walking Dead (1936)

An innocent man (Boris Karloff) is set up to take the fall by a group of gangsters for the murder of a judge. He is executed but restored to life by a scientist (Edmund Gwenn, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET) who hopes to learn the secrets of what lies beyond death from him. Despite the horror movie title and the presence of Karloff, this really isn't a horror film. It's more of a science fiction film with mildly spiritual leanings. Karloff, in one of his best roles, is quite sympathetic here. Poignant in his resignation and uncertainty and alone in his pain with only Gwenn's sympathetic assistant (Marguerite Churchill) to provide a sincere concern. Even Gwenn's doctor seems bent on exploiting him and willing to perform an almost fatal operation if it will get him the answers to his questions. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the silliness of some of the loopy plotting is balanced out by the sincerity of its execution. With Ricardo Cortez, Warren Hull and Barton MacLane.

While The City Sleeps (1956)

SCARLET STREET aside, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS may well be Fritz Lang's best American film. Inheriting a media empire after his father dies, his son (Vincent Price) announces his intention to turn over the directorial reins to whoever breaks the story of the notorious "Lipstick Killer", a homicidal, woman hating maniac (John Drew Barrymore Jr., Drew's daddy) still at large. The film's characters, save one, are a nest of vipers. Each looking out for his or her own interests, ethics be damned. George Sanders sends his mistress (Ida Lupino) to pump information from a reporter (Dana Andrews) even if it means bedding him, James Craig engaged in an affair with Price's duplicitous wife (Rhonda Fleming) uses her to advance his chances while Dana Andrews uses his unwilling fiancee (Sally Forrest) as a decoy for the killer. Only Forrest and possibly Thomas Mitchell as the chief editor seem to have any recognizable ethics. Lang keeps the potential for a bombastic thriller by shooting it in a semi-documentary style using Oscar winner Ernest Laszlo's noir-ish B&W cinematography to give it a more subdued look. With Howard Duff, Mae Marsh and Vladimir Sokoloff.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Cake Eaters (2007)

In (what appears to be) an economically deprived small town, two families whose lives have been intertwined by prior generations sees the new generation continue the ties. The feature film directing debut of actress Mary Stuart Masterson (FRIED GREEN TOMATOES) had been floating around the film festival circuit for a couple of years with no success in finding a film distributor and the lack of interest is understandable. It's the kind of movie where all the characters talk in platitudes and cliches and where pop folk songs on the soundtrack reiterate what we see on the screen lest we're unable to comprehend the obvious. The performances are good enough to sustain our interest so it's regretful that it isn't better. Kristen Stewart as a 15 year old with a neuromuscular disorder and Aaron Stanford as the 20 year old high school cafeteria worker who becomes her lover, in particular, are very good though the film doesn't seem to be overly concerned that she's still a minor. With Bruce Dern, Elizabeth Ashley, Melissa Leo (FROZEN RIVER, whose part has been cut down to a matter of seconds), Jesse L. Martin and Jayce Bartok who also wrote and produced the film. I'm still in the dark about what the title is supposed to mean.

Tender Is The Night (1962)

A psychiatrist (Jason Robards) in a Swiss clinic on the verge of a brilliant career falls in love with one of his patients, an heiress (Jennifer Jones) with schizophrenic tendencies. Against his better judgement, he marries her and it proves his undoing. Directed by Henry King and based on the celebrated novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the film only glosses over the complexities and layers of Fitzgerald's work. Actually, if there had been no Fitzgerald's TENDER IS THE NIGHT, the film might have been more impressive. To the film's credit, it doesn't shy away from the incest theme which may have seemed too provocative for 1962 audiences. Indeed, the film is quite frank including a sequence of a father taking his gay son to Robards' psychiatrist to be "cured" of his homosexuality. The fragile Nicole seems like the role Jennifer Jones was born to play, so it's a pity that it happened about 15 years too late. Jones looks smashing in her 1920s garb and bobbed hair but she's clearly a matron and not the girl of the Fitzgerald novel. Jason Robards still seems uncomfortable in front of the camera (this was only his third film). The glamorous European locations (the French Riviera, Switzerland, Rome) provide some eye candy. With Joan Fontaine (in the film's best performance) as Jones's shallow jet setting sister, Tom Ewell (in the film's worst performance), Jill St. John, Cesare Danova, Paul Lukas, Carole Mathews, Alan Napier and the famed acting teacher Stanford Meisner as Robards' mercenary peer. The music is by Bernard Herrmann and the beautiful gowns by Pierre Balmain.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bengal Brigade (1954)

A British officer (Rock Hudson) is dismissed from his rank for disobeying orders when he leads a rescue to aid the Indian soldiers fighting under his command when they are ambushed by mutineers. Based on the novel by Hall Hunter and directed by Laslo Benedek (THE WILD ONE). This colorful programmer is enjoyable enough though it comes across as an American western dressed up in the exotic cloak of 1856 India and instead of the cavalry fighting Indians in the East, it's the British fighting Indian insurgents in the East. If you can get over the discomfort of cheering on colonial imperialists that are fighting rebels who merely want the British out of their own country, it's a rousing Saturday matinee boys adventure. The Universal backlot does a decent job of impersonating India. With Arlene Dahl (as always, breathtaking in Technicolor), Ursula Thiess (who would shortly retire to marry Robert Taylor), Dan O'Herlihy, Michael Ansara, Torin Thatcher and Arnold Moss.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Other Man (2008)

Unable to get past the grieving process after the death of his wife (Laura Linney), her husband (Liam Neeson) discovers that she had a lover (Antonio Banderas) that he didn't know about. Obsessed with the idea that his seemingly ideal marriage wasn't the perfect marriage he thought it was, Neeson sets out to find the lover and without telling him who he is, get to know him. One would think that the heartbreak of finding out his wife's double life while still grieving would make us sympathetic to Neeson but the character is such a jerk that he doesn't hold us. Banderas as the lover is rather smarmy so we're put off by him, too. Only Linney (though her screen time is brief) as the wife is able to flesh out a character that engages us. The premise holds great promise and for awhile it looks like it might pull it off but the film makers, it was directed by Richard Eyre (NOTES ON A SCANDAL), avoids the messiness that such a complication would bring and gives us a phony "tied up in a nice ribbon" ending. The Italian locations (Milan, Lake Como) are handsome though. The discreet score is by Oscar winner Stephen Warbeck (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE). With Romola Garai and Craig Parkinson.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Maroc 7 (1967)

An engaging international caper about jewel smugglers. The head of a top fashion magazine (Cyd Charisse) uses her position as a cover for smuggling jewels as she travels the world. Enter a fellow thief (Gene Barry) who wants to cut himself in for some of the action. Directed by Gerry O'Hara and shot on location in Morocco in wide screen Panavision, it combines high fashion glamour with cat and mouse adventure as you're never quite sure if anyone is who they seem to be. The movie is perhaps too clever for its own good and far-fetched in its plotting but it's not the kind of film where realism matters much. It's a pity the film didn't have a more magnetic leading man. Gene Barry is amiable enough and he can carry a television series but he's not leading man material, not for the big screen anyway. Charisse, not known for her acting ability, surprisingly give the film's best performance. She's perfect as the cool and calculated villainess who'll let nothing get in her way. With Elsa Martinelli, Leslie Phillips, Denholm Elliott and Alexandra Stewart.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The King And I (1956)

An English woman by the name of Anna Leonowens (Deborah Kerr) arrives in 1860s Siam, along with her son (Rex Thompson) to teach the children of the royal household. She finds herself in constant conflict with the domineering King (Yul Brynner) of Siam. Based on the novel by Margaret Landon (which also served as the basis of the 1946 ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM as well as the 1999 ANNA AND THE KING) and directed by Walter Lang. Unlike many of its Broadway brethren, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical made a smooth transition from the stage to the screen. There actually was an Anna Leonowens though her accounts of her life in Siam and in the palace of the the King were highly fictionalized. The film makers were wise to have Yul Brynner recreate his stage role. It's almost unfathomable to imagine the film without him. Though her singing is dubbed (by Marni Nixon), Kerr makes a formidable Anna. The superb Oscar winning art and set direction is eyepopping in its richness and color. The real star of the film is Alfred Newman who supervised the musical adaptation (and expertly weaves the R&H songs into a lovely underscore) as well as conducting the score. Jerome Robbins did the choreography, the highlight of which is the stunning Small House Of Uncle Thomas ballet. With Rita Moreno as Tuptim, Martin Benson, Carlos Rivas, Alan Mowbray and Terry Saunders.

Above Suspicion (1943)

Set in 1939 on the eve of Hitler's invasion of Poland. While on their honeymoon, a pair of American newlyweds (Joan Crawford, Fred MacMurray) living in England are asked by the foreign office to do sleuthing while in Germany in an attempt to retrieve some vital secret information and return it to Great Britain. Disparaged upon its initial release, time has been kind to ABOVE SUSPICION. Today, it plays like an entertaining spy caper and while Joan Crawford, never one with a light touch, can't seem to get a grasp on it (the part cries out for a Rosalind Russell), MacMurray breezes along perfectly, balancing the lightweight romantic touches with the adventure aspects. The plot is too convoluted for its own good and if you get lost, don't worry about it because it doesn't matter much, not really. Unmemorable but diverting viewing. Directed by Richard Thorpe and with Basil Rathbone, Conrad Veidt, Ann Shoemaker, Reginald Owen, Felix Bressart and Sara Haden.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Paris Blues (1961)

Set in the racially relaxed jazz scene in Paris in the early 1960s, this bittersweet Martin Ritt film focuses on two American Jazz musicians (Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier) living and working in Paris who encounter two American girls (Joanne Woodward, Diahann Carroll) on vacation. Romance ensues but with complications. Shot in handsome black and white by the great French cinematographer Christian Matras (EARRINGS OF MADAME DE ..., GRAND ILLUSION), director Ritt does a good job of recreating the feverish, smoky environs of the jazz scene as well as the carefree yet intense existence of the creative expatriate. The actual romantic entanglements aren't nearly as colorful. Newman is an old hand at this kind of role, the nonconformist with a touch of the heel (HUD, THE HUSTLER) but Poitier makes for a fine contrast as the decent black man living in Europe to avoid the racism of America. The score, by Duke Ellington, is authentic. With Serge Reggiani, Barbara Laage, Marie Versini and in a rare acting role, the great Louis Armstrong whose jam session is the highlight of the film.

Within The Law (1923)

A poor shopgirl (Norma Talmadge), falsely accused of a theft, is sent to prison for three years. But before she's sent off, she makes a promise to get her revenge when she gets out of prison on the wealthy man (Joseph Kilgour) who was responsible for sending her there. Directed by Frank Lloyd (MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY), this melodrama takes a cynical and unflattering but not unjustified view of the law and how it is designed to accommodate the privileged while the working class takes the consequences. The film wears out its welcome with its convoluted and extended last act which adds unnecessary complications to the simplicity that preceded it. Talmadge was a major films star of the silent era but she isn't very much remembered today and it's easy to see why. Her screen presence is minimal and as an actress, she's no more than adequate. With Lew Cody, Jack Mulhall and Eileen Percy. Remade seven years later at MGM with Joan Crawford in Talmadge's part and retitled PAID.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chase A Crooked Shadow (1958)

An heiress (Anne Baxter) vacationing at her villa in Spain has an unexpected visitor. A man (Richard Todd) claiming to be her brother except that her brother has been dead for a year and she ought to know as she identified the body! She appeals to a police captain (Herbert Lom), her uncle (Alexander Knox) but they all insist he is her brother. Why is Todd pretending to be her brother and who is the mysterious woman (Faith Brook) her "brother" brought with him. Is he her brother and is she losing her mind or is there a more diabolical plan behind it all? Directed by Michael Anderson (AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS), who's no Hitchcock and that's exactly what a thriller like this needs. The film manages some genuine nail biting tension in the last half hour and there's a marvelous twist that I never saw coming but the first hour is more irritating than anything else as Baxter's actions are questionable. Curiously, it's filmed in black and white when the sun drenched Spanish seaside locations cries out for Technicolor and the use of color may have carried the film through its problematic first hour. Produced by Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Okuribito (aka Departures) (2008)

When the orchestra he plays in disbands, a cellist (the appealing Masahiro Motoki, MYSTERY OF RAMPO) moves to his home town and in need of a job becomes a "Nokanshi", a funeral assistant who helps clean, dress and make up the deceased in a ceremony prior to the burial. Directed by Yojiro Takita, the winner of the 2009 best foreign language film Oscar (as well as 10 Japanese Academy awards) sneaks up on you. You're watching it and it's moving along nicely and before you know it, you realize how almost overwhelming it all is and how involved you've become. Death and dead bodies are something we are often squeamish about, often preferring not to discuss or think about. Motoki's realization of this, and perhaps his own shame, causes him to keep his work secret from his wife (Ryoko Hirosue). Takita and his screenwriter Kundo Koyama tackles this human foible straight on while creating a powerful movie treatise on how too often what we fear and what we expend our anger on becomes inconsequential in the end. The movie's last forty minutes or so are an emotional rollercoaster. Joe Hisaishi left the animated world of Hayao Miyazaki long enough to create the wonderful cello infused score. With Tsutomu Yamazaki and Kimiko Yo.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ballad Of Josie (1967)

After being acquitted for killing her husband, a woman (Doris Day) has her son taken away from her by his paternal grandfather (Paul Fix). Struggling to find a way to support herself so she can get her son back, she decides to raise sheep in cattle country thus sparking a range war. Andrew V. McLaglen is an old hand at directing westerns and Day starred in CALAMITY JANE, a marvelous western musical. Maybe if this had been turned into a musical too it might have worked but as it stands, it's about ten years too late. Day looks tired and its pseudo feminist message is lost amongst the silly shenanigans and tired gags and it could have used a few musical numbers to liven things up. It's probably the weakest film in Day's filmography but her screen presence is strong enough to hold up her end, the rest of the cast isn't so lucky. With Peter Graves, George Kennedy, Audrey Christie, William Talman, Andy Devine, Don Stroud, Robert Lowery and Elisabeth Fraser. For Doris Day completists only.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Johnny Guitar (1954)

Vienna (Joan Crawford) is the strong willed owner of a saloon who hires a former gunfighter and ex-lover called Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden) to help her in her dealings with the hostile townspeople, in particular a jealous and vengeful nemesis (Mercedes McCambridge). In a poll of French film critics on the greatest westerns, JOHNNY GUITAR was voted the top slot. They'll get no argument from me. Nicholas Ray's bold, expressionistic (especially in its use of the color red) Freudian western is a fascinating, heady concoction. Rich in detail and imagery, the film is often said to be an allegory on the witch hunts by the House Of UnAmerican Activities Committee and Ray's use of red drenches the screen from the flaming red rock wall in Vienna's saloon to the red sunsets, red flames and red costuming only seems to give weight to the theory. The film is also notable for its female protagonists which dominate the film, unusual for a male dominated genre like the western. McCambridge gives a stunning unrestrained performance, near jumping out of her skin with both hate and repressed sexuality. The screenplay by Philip Yordan has some of the best writing in any western. A late night encounter between Crawford and Hayden where accusations and regrets are brought forth, beautifully acted by both, is a gem. The haunting score is by Victor Young, cinematography courtesy of Harry Stradling Jr. With Scott Brady, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Cooper, Ward Bond, John Carradine, Paul Fix, Royal Dano and Frank Ferguson.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thunderball (1965)

The fourth of the James Bond films and one of the best! In this one, Bond (Sean Connery) heads to the Bahamas in search of two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE. Once there, he has to contend with not one but two of SPECTRE's villains, Adolfo Celi and Luciana Paluzzi. Paluzzi is sensational here, an excellent performance and the best of all the Bond bad girls. It was also the first Bond film shot in 2.35 wide screen Panavision. About a quarter of the film takes place underwater and that underwater wizard Ricou Browning (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) directed the undersea sequences while Terence Young did the land sequences. Unfortunately, the underwater sequences lack the mystery and beauty of something like THE DEEP and the film's big action sequence, a lengthy underwater battle becomes tedious rather quickly. But other than that, the film is just about as perfect as any of the Bond films and features what may, arguably, the best of the John Barry scores for the Bond films. Tom Jones sings the punchy title song. With Claudine Auger, Rik Van Nutter, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Martine Beswick, Roland Culver and Desmond Llewelyn. Remade in 1983 and poorly as NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.

Run For The Sun (1956)

Roy Boulting directs this better than average adventure caper, one of several films that uses the famous Richard Connell story THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME as source material, the most famous version being the 1932 Joel McCrea film. Set in Mexico, a disillusioned novelist (Richard Widmark) and a journalist (Jane Greer) flying in his private plane crash in the Mexican jungle. They are found by a suspiciously secretive Brit (Trevor Howard) and his German companion (Peter Van Eyck) whose explanations for living buried in the jungle (in a handsome hacienda with Indian servants) don't quite add up and soon Widmark suspects they may be permanent prisoners. The steamy jungle locations, shot by Joseph LaShelle (THE APARTMENT), provide an exotic backdrop for this man hunts man thriller. While the outcome is never in doubt, Boulting keeps the tension tight as a drum and Widmark is always a welcome screen presence and the lovely Greer (OUT OF THE PAST) holds up her end too. Produced by actress Jane Russell and her then husband, Robert Waterfield.

The Deadly Affair (1966)

After investigating an agent of the Foreign Office on past communist affiliations and clearing him, a secret agent (James Mason) learns that the man has committed suicide. But when the government dissuades him from investigating further, he suspects it may have been murder. Based on the novel CALL FOR THE DEAD by John Le Carre and directed by Sidney Lumet (NETWORK). John Le Carre was the anti-Ian Fleming. His spy novels (and the films made from them) detail the dull meticulousness of espionage rather than the fanciful excitement of the Fleming spy novels. The film is based on one of Le Carre's George Smilely books though, like the novel's title, the character is give a different name. I'm not a Sidney Lumet fan but he seems the perfect choice for such a slow, dry film with only Quincy Jones's light jazz score to soften the aridity. The film is unnecessarily cluttered by scenes on Mason's domestic strife with his nymphomaniac wife (Harriet Andersson, CRIES AND WHISPERS) which only peripherally adds to the plot. As an antidote to James Bond though, it's actually not bad at all. With Simone Signoret, Maximilian Schell, Lynn Redgrave, Harry Andrews, Kenneth Haigh and Roy Kinnear. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Go For Broke (1951)

The premise is ripe for a strong WWII adventure with a twist. During WWII, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team is comprised of Japanese-American soldiers fighting in Europe (while many of their families are still in internment camps) but also fighting the racial prejudice from other American soldiers. But what we get under the direction of Robert Pirosh is a standard WWII war movie that only deals with the race issue superficially rather than digging deep. There had to be one box office name so Van Johnson is the nominal star but the film belongs to the Japanese-American actors. Most of them are played by actual members of the 442nd brigade but the downside is that since they're not actors, their performances are amateurish. The one exception is Henry Nakamura who gives the film its most heartfelt performance. Instead of the actual Italian and French locations, it was filmed in Southern California and it looks it. With Gianna Maria Canale (the Amazon Queen in the Steve Reeves HERCULES), Warner Anderson, Hugh Beaumont, Ann Codee and Richard Anderson.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sweet Body Of Deborah (aka Il Dolce Corpo Di Deborah) (1968)

An American (Carroll Baker) on her honeymoon in Europe with her newly acquired French husband (Jean Sorel) discovers that her husband's ex-girlfriend (Ida Galli) committed suicide and now the dead girl's brother (Luigi Pistilli) wants revenge on them. This representative of 60s Euro-Trash should be a lot more fun than it is. Part of whatever charm it may have comes from the period, Baker's funky costumes (by Gaia Romanini) and piled up hair-dos as well as the typically Italian 60s pop score courtesy of Nora Orlandi. As a thriller, it's rather flabby and predictable and the injected bits and pieces of erotic love making and nudity seem rather quaint by today's standards. The handsome Nice (France) and Geneva (Switzerland) locations give the film a minor elegance. Fans of 60s Euro-Trash should enjoy themselves, others may not be so forgiving. With George Hilton and Michel Bardinet.

Revolt Of Mamie Stover (1956)

Based on the novel by William Bradford Huie about a prostitute who becomes wealthy speculating in real estate in wartime Honolulu. This film adaptation directed by Raoul Walsh is, like many other Hollywood films of the period, bowdlerized. Mamie Stover (Jane Russell) is no longer a hooker but a "dance hostess" (not unlike the change in Donna Reed's character from page to screen in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY). Given that it's cleaned up as not to offend the impressionable 1950s minds, Walsh does an admirable job in keeping the proceedings engrossing while cinematographer Leo Tover (THE HEIRESS) turns his eye to the lush Hawaiian locations and taking full advantage of the entire CinemaScope frame. Russell looks the part though she doesn't bring many layers to her character that a stronger actress would. Agnes Moorehead as the brassy, blonde "proprietor" who looks after her girls with an iron glove steals what acting honors the film may have. With Richard Egan, Joan Leslie (her final film role), Michael Pate, Jorja Curtright, Jean Willes and Alan Reed. The jazz tinged score by Hugo Friedhofer is one of the film's strongest assets.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Machine Gun McCain (aka Gli Intoccabili) (1969)

The Italian director Giuliano Montaldo has directed two of my favorite films, the gem of a heist caper called GRAND SLAM and an excellent film on the alleged anarchists, SACCO AND VANZETTI. This odd kettle of fish is an Italian film (everyone behind the camera is Italian) but set in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles with mostly American actors in the leads. It feels odd because it doesn't feel American but it doesn't feel Italian either, neither fish nor fowl. A hoodlum (John Cassavetes) just released from prison is talked into a plan of breaking into a Las Vegas casino and robbing it but when the plan is called off at the last minute, he proceeds on his own. The actual casino robbery is handled well if rather ludicrous and unbelievable (a one man robbery of a major Las Vegas casino?). But most of it is awkward and the dialogue is stilted. The cast is great though. In addition to Cassavetes, there's Peter Falk, Gena Rowlands, Britt Ekland, Gabriele Ferzetti and Florinda Bolkan. The recycled score (and a rather silly title ballad) is by Ennio Morricone.

Captain Lightfoot (1955)

The first American film shot entirely in Ireland (only THE QUIET MAN's exteriors were shot in Ireland) was this rousing swashbuckler set in the early 19th century. It might seem an atypical film for Douglas Sirk but it's breezy, well done fun. A hot headed Irish rebel (Rock Hudson) flees his small village for Dublin after being recognized during a robbery. On his way, he's rescued by the notorious revolutionary known as Captain Thunderbolt (Jeff Morrow) who takes him under his wing and serves as his mentor and christens him, Captain Lightfoot. The strapping Hudson is so likable that you overlook his awkwardness (and his even worse Irish accent). The opulent sets and costumes are near breathtaking as photographed by Irving Glassberg in CinemaScope and Ireland has never looked more inviting or beautiful (I was ready to pack my bags!). It may lack the panache of some of the early Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power swashbucklers but it's hard to resist its ingratiating charms. With Barbara Rush (whose beauty is disfigured by a hideous black wig) as the love interest, Kathleen Ryan, Finlay Currie and Dennis O'Dea. The lively uncredited score is by Heinz Roemheld and Herman Stein

Tread Softly Stranger (1958)

Not a particularly original heist/noir combo from Great Britain but quite enjoyable if your expectations are modest. A down on his luck gambler (George Baker, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE) decides to visit his timid accountant brother (Terence Morgan in a grating hysterical performance) who's gotten himself involved with a gold digging tart (Diana Dors). Dors eggs Morgan on to rob the safe at his place of business but when Baker attempts to stop him, everything goes wrong. None of the characters are likable so you can't really have anyone to side with which lessens the suspense. You actually want them to get caught! Still, that magnificent overinflated structure called Diana Dors is something to watch and she gives the best performance in the movie, too! Directed by Gordon Parry, cinematography by Douglas Slocombe (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) which captures the grim and grimy working class factory town in evocative B&W. With a score by Tristam Cary that occasionally sounds like Bernard Herrmann.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thunder On The Hill (1951)

Long before Umberto Eco's much admired 1980 novel THE NAME OF THE ROSE with its clever conceit of setting a murder mystery in a monastery became a film, Douglas Sirk made the first of his films under a Universal contract that would yield several important films of the 1950s decade THUNDER ON THE HILL, a murder mystery set in a convent. A flood in a small village causes the villagers to seek sanctuary in a convent on a hill above the waters. The floods also prevent a convicted murderess (Ann Blyth) from being transported to a prison where she is to be hanged. A nun (Claudette Colbert) takes an interest in the girl and, convinced of her innocence, attempts to unravel some secrets and expose the real murderer before the water goes down and the girl can be taken to her fate. It's fairly easy to detect the real killer so it's more a matter of how they will be caught and exposed rather than who the killer is that propels the storyline. As its title suggests, the atmosphere is perfect for a thriller: a group of people trapped by flood, unable to get away, thunder and rain, a cold and dark convent and a finale that anticipates VERTIGO's bell tower last act. With Gladys Cooper, Connie Gilchrist, Anne Crawford, Robert Douglas, Norma Varden and Michael Pate.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Secret Ceremony (1968)

Based on an award winning short story by the Argentinean writer Marco Denevi and directed by Joseph Losey, this is one bizarre arty flick. An aging, blowsy prostitute (Elizabeth Taylor) still grieving over her dead daughter meets up with a whacked out case of arrested development (Mia Farrow) still grieving over her dead mother. Together, they begin playing house acting out as mother and daughter. Enter Farrow's sexually abusive stepfather (Robert Mitchum). The movie is a disaster and yet it can't be so easily written off. The film is oddly compelling and one keeps hoping it will all coalesce but it never does. The performances are first rate though the actors are unflatteringly made up. Taylor is as beautiful as ever but her tawdry, cheap finery does her a disservice, Farrow (nominated for a best actress BAFTA for her work here) looks like a Morticia Addams wannabe with her long black wig which doesn't sit well with her pale features and Robert Mitchum sports a half beard. There are long stretches of silence which seem self indulgent but Losey does provide an effective gothic atmosphere. The score by Richard Rodney Bennett is disappointingly trite. With Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown.

Five Graves To Cairo (1943)

Set in Egypt, an English soldier (Franchot Tone) is the sole survivor of a battle between British soldiers and Rommel's Afrika Corps. He stumbles upon a small hotel where the Germans are setting up temporary quarters. With the help of the hotel owner (Akim Tamiroff) and the maid (Anne Baxter), he usurps the identity of the hotel's recently deceased waiter. When the Germans arrive, he discovers he's adopted the identity of a German spy! Loosely based on the play HOTEL IMPERIAL by Lajos Biro and directed by Billy Wilder (SOME LIKE IT HOT). The majority of WWII propaganda films don't hold up well, this vehicle is an exception. Not surprisingly, rather than a heavy handed propaganda piece, Wilder and co-writer Charles Brackett's screenplay turns out to be devilishly clever and generously laced with humor while still taking its subject dead serious. The film is stolen by Erich von Stroheim who gives a sly performance as an eccentric , over confident Field Marshal Rommel but Baxter is also very good too as a bitter French maid while Tamiroff's dizzy innkeeper provides the majority of the laughs. It's not till the very end that Wilder saves the proselytizing propaganda but it's very brief and softened by the poignancy of the scene. With Peter Van Eyck and Fortunio Bonanova as an opera singing Italian general.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Handful Of Dust (1988)

Based on a novel by Evelyn Waugh (BRIDESHEAD REVISITED), this film starts out seemingly like yet another Masterpiece theatre effort focusing on the effete and bland English upper classes. A bored and restless wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) married to a wealthy aristocrat (James Wilby) begins an affair with a shiftless n'er do well (Rupert Graves). We think we know where it's going but then, suddenly, tragedy strikes and everything goes topsy turvy. The first portion of the film is devoted to Scott Thomas's character and the second half focuses on Wilby's character. None of them are very likable so it takes a lot for the film to drag out our empathy but eventually it does. Director Charles Sturridge and co-scripters Derek Granger and Tim Sullivan don't eliminate Waugh's satire entirely but they severely neuter much of it. Two supporting turns are impressive, Anjelica Huston as a family friend's enigmatic mistress and Alec Guinness as Wilby's diabolical guardian angel. The delicate score is by George Fenton. With Judi Dench and Stephen Fry.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Twisted Nerve (1968)

A homicidal sociopath (Hywel Bennett), the product of an over doting mother (Phyllis Calvert), has a brother with Down's syndrome (called mongolism in the film). Attracted to a young girl (Hayley Mills), Bennett pretends to be a mentally challenged young boy and worms his way into the boarding house run by Mills' mother (Billie Whitelaw), herself a lonely widow with strong sexual desires which prove to be her undoing. Directed by Roy Boulting, this is an unsavory psychological thriller with a dubious medical premise. The film opens with a disclaimer that there is no proven link between "mongolism" and homicidal behavior. However, the film itself, none too subtly, seems to suggest that it does. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth but if you can overcome that, it's a decent enough suspense vehicle and the final moments are suitably intense. Alas, Bennett isn't very good. His simpleton act couldn't fool a five year old yet everyone around him has no problem buying into it. Boulting's direction is solid. There's a lovely Bernard Herrmann score whose main theme was appropriated by Quentin Tarantino for KILL BILL VOL. 1. With Frank Finlay, Barry Foster and Timothy West.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Meet Danny Wilson (1951)

A struggling singer, Danny Wilson (Frank Sinatra) and his manager (Alex Nicol) get signed to a personal contract by a gangster (Raymond Burr). As his star skyrockets, Wilson begins to resent the hold Burr has on his career. It doesn't help that both Wilson and the mobster boss are in love with the same woman (Shelley Winters), who loves neither. Directed by Joseph Pevney (TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR), it's a middling minor movie but the character of Danny Wilson: brash, arrogant, pushy and perhaps to compensate for his skinny frame acts tougher than he really is, fits Sinatra to a T. Part of the fascination of watching the film is that the myth, the legend of Sinatra seems not all that different from this Danny Wilson. A bonus is that Sinatra gets a chance to sing some terrific songs as only he can sing them ... That Old Black Magic, All Of Me, I've Got A Crush On You among them. One of the musical highlights is duet between Sinatra and Winters (in a rare musical performance) on A Good Man Is Hard To Find. With Jeff Chandler, Tony Curtis and Vaughn Taylor.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

You Again (2010)

A young and successful public relations executive (Kristen Bell) who was bullied in high school returns home for her brother's (James Wolk) wedding. To her horror, she finds that her sister in law to be (Odette Yustman) was her principal torturer in high school! When Yustman's aunt (Sigourney Weaver), a successful hotel entrepreneur, arrives for the wedding, Bell's mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) discovers to her horror that Weaver was her high school rival. What can one say about a generic comedy like YOU AGAIN? It's sporadically amusing in fits and spurts chugging along to its predictable conclusion. It's not a good movie but neither is it a bad movie, it runs its course harmlessly and amiably but you're still hungry at its conclusion. Fortunately, the film is blessed with an energetic cast, many of whom are able to turn the most routine of situations into a clever of piece of funny business. Not surprisingly those pros Curtis and Weaver milk every line for whatever laugh they can get (and they get them). Some of it fails like Yustman's neurotic ex (Kyle Bornheimer) who is painfully unfunny and can't someone find something else for Betty White to do other than raunchy grannies? With Dwayne Johnson, Kristen Chenoweth, Victor Garber, Cloris Leachman, Patrick Duffy, Daryl Hall and John Oates.

Viva Zapata! (1952)

A Mexican peasant (Marlon Brando) becomes a revolutionary when the country's president (Fay Roope) and then his successor (Harold Gordon) keep the status quo and continue the suppression of the peasants while the country's elite have control of the land. Very loosely based on ZAPATA THE UNCONQUERABLE by Edgcomb Pinchon and adapted for the screen by John Steinbeck and directed by Elia Kazan. The film is hampered with Steinbeck's flawed screenplay that drags out the "we the people" cliches (though their placement here is not nearly as deadly as in Ford's film of Steinbeck's GRAPES OF WRATH but strong direction and excellent performances push the film through. Fittingly, that young rebel and revolutionary (in acting terms) Marlon Brando is Zapata and while he has no "big" scenes, he has some wonderful moments and touches that only a great actor can bring to a part. The film's biggest flaw is is in the obviousness of the character played by Joseph Wiseman, a cold and calculating Judas Iscariot with no identifiable human feelings. He's such an obvious symbol and cliche that he almost throws the movie out of whack. The beauty of a score is by Alex North. The fine cast includes Anthony Quinn in an Oscar winning performance as Zapata's brother, Jean Peters, Mildred Dunnock, Frank Silvera, Margo, Alan Reed and Henry Silva.