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Saturday, December 31, 2011

El Orfanato (aka The Orphanage) (2007)

A young wife and mother (Belen Rueda, THE SEA INSIDE) returns to the orphanage where she was raised. Now shut down, she plans to re-open the orphanage as a haven for disabled children. But when her young adopted son (Roger Princep) disappears without a trace, she must delve into the dark secrets of the orphanage's past in order to find him. Stylishly and intensely directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and co-produced by Guillermo Del Toro, this is a wonderfully atmospheric "horror" film that, in the end, you're likely to find more poignant than frightening. But if you're looking for cheap scares and gore, you can pass on it. This elegant ghost story is in the style of ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE INNOCENTS with its emphasis on mood and style rather than providing "jump at you" scares. The evocative score is by Fernando Velazquez. With Geraldine Chaplin as a medium who helps unlock the orphanage's dark past. Let's hope Hollywood resists an attempt to remake it for the English language market.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Rainmaker (1956)

In a drought ridden small western town, an "old maid" (Katharine Hepburn) must come to terms with her spinsterhood and the possibility of being alone for the rest of her life. But when a charlatan (Burt Lancaster) who claims he can make it rain rides into town, her life is changed. Based on the stage play by N. Richard Nash and directed by Joseph Anthony (who directed the original Broadway production), the film is opened up a little bit but wisely retains most of its theatrical origins which allows the actors to take center stage. The role of the con man Starbuck fits Lancaster like a second skin, if there was a role he was born to play, this is it. Hepburn is often cited for being miscast in this but I think it's her best performance of the 1950s (yep, that includes AFRICAN QUEEN and SUMMERTIME). She's funny, heartbreaking and poignant. Her beautifully played scene with Cameron Prud'Homme, who plays her father, where she realizes she's doomed to be an old maid is as fine a piece of acting as she's ever done. The excellent Oscar nominated score is by Alex North. With Wendell Corey, Lloyd Bridges, Earl Holliman, Wallace Ford and Yvonne Lime.

Summer Holiday (1948)

Set in the turn of the 
century small town Connecticut, a young boy (Mickey Rooney) graduating from high school struggles with puppy love and Marxist philosophies during the summer. This musical version of the Eugene O'Neill play AH, WILDERNESS! is quite charming in its depiction of small town Americana. For some reason, it's not a very well liked musical but I found its nostalgic simplicity endearing. Certainly it's not a great musical. The songs by Harry Warren and Ralph Blane aren't very memorable but they work quite well in the context of the film. The director, Rouben Mamoulian, handles the musical numbers ably enough and there's a marvelous sequence where Rooney picks up a floozy (Marilyn Maxwell) and takes her to a bar and as he gets drunker, she becomes more attractive. With the exception of Gloria DeHaven as Rooney's romantic interest and Maxwell, the rest of the cast aren't singers but they do very well with their talking songs in a style later perfected by Rex Harrison in MY FAIR LADY. The cast includes Walter Huston, Agnes Moorehead, Frank Morgan, Selena Royle, Butch Jenkins and Anne Francis.

Death Of A Scoundrel (1956)

After a wealthy financial genius (George Sanders) is found murdered, his rise and fall from a Czech emigre to ruthless businessman is recounted in flashback by the woman (Yvonne De Carlo) who knew him best. This very black comedy (though I'm not sure it was intended as such) is quite entertaining. No one was better at playing a cad than George Sanders and this is surely his ultimate cad role. Lying, swindling, stealing, blackmailing and climbing his way to the top on the backs of several women and relishing it every step of the way without a conscience. The film gets all pious toward the end with its sermonizing but the journey there is wicked fun. Written and directed by Charles Martin. The handsome B&W cinematography is by the great James Wong Howe (PICNIC) with a lazy, generic score by Max Steiner. The cast includes Zsa Zsa Gabor (the ex-Mrs. George Sanders), Coleen Gray, Nancy Gates, Victor Jory, John Hoyt, Werner Klemperer, Tom Conway (Sanders' real life brother playing his brother), Lisa Ferraday, Celia Lovsky, John Sutton, Morris Ankrum and George Brent whose part has been eliminated to the point of being a background player.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Life At The Top (1965)

After marrying the boss's daughter (Jean Simmons) in his climb up the ladder of success, a man (Laurence Harvey) finds that life at the top isn't what he wants after all. Based on the novel by John Braine and directed by Ted Kotcheff (WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S). Six years after ROOM AT THE TOP, this sequel shows the protagonist's disillusionment and disgust with the hypocrisy and emptiness of his chosen life. Harvey recreates his Joe Lampton from the earlier film but Jean Simmons replaces Heather Sears. As far as sequels go, this one is very good and Harvey manages to rouse himself out of his usual wooden stupor and actually give a performance. But his character's self pitying and whining hypocrisy, he has contempt for his upper class associates but he's reluctant to give up his comfortable lifestyle, begin to grate after awhile. When Simmons has an affair with another man (Michael Craig), our sympathies are entirely with her. There's a fine subtle score by Richard Addinsell. With Honor Blackman (who steals the movie) as a TV commentator who has an affair with Harvey, Donald Wolfit (who has the remarkable ability to overact while standing perfectly still), Robert Morley, Nigel Davenport, Margaret Johnston, Edward Fox, Allan Cuthbertson, Denis Quilley and Geoffrey Bayldon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bombay Talkie (1970)

A self centered, neurotic British writer (Jennifer Kendal) while visiting India has an affair with a married Bollywood star (Shashi Kapoor, married to Kendal in real life) who is equally vapid and selfish. Directed by James Ivory (and his usual team, producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala), this is a rather tedious film with two unappealing characters getting together, breaking up, getting together again etc. for almost two hours until we no longer give a damn. They're so unlikable that they deserve each other but almost all of the characters in the film, including Kapoor's cuckolded wife (Aparna Sen), are so insipid that one can't feel any empathy for any of them. There is one exception: An aging Bollywood actress with a penchant for younger men played by Nadira who has more life in her than anyone else in the film. The film's opening credit sequence is clever with billboards around the city listing the film's credits along with drawings of its actors and crew. With Zia Mohyeddin, Utpal Dutt and the ubiquitous Helen, known as the Queen Of The Nautch Girls (she's appeared in over 500 films), in the film's amusing giant typewriter dance sequence.

Serenade (1956)

An aspiring opera singer (Mario Lanza, looking bloated) is discovered singing in a cafe in San Francisco. A predatory and manipulative society maven (Joan Fontaine), with a penchant for discarding men when she gets bored with them, helps build his career only to destroy him. Based on the 1937 novel by James M. Cain, the film bears very little resemblance to the book. In the film, Lanza falls in love with a matador's daughter (Sarita Montiel) but in the book, her character is a prostitute and Fontaine's character is a gay male. Too sizzling for 1956 audiences hence the whitewashing. The director, Anthony Mann, doesn't seem much interested in the proceedings nor the extended musicals sequences for Lanza's comeback vehicle (this was his first film in four years). The part, even if seemingly tailored for Lanza here, makes demands on Lanza as an actor that he is ill equipped to fulfill satisfactorily. Even in his singing, he seems to be trying too hard though his rendition of Puccini's Nessun Dorma is lovely. With Vincent Price, Vince Edwards, Joseph Calleia, Edward Platt, Harry Bellaver and Lucia Albanese who plays Desdemona to Lanza's OTELLO.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Magnificent Obsession (1935)

When a wealthy playboy's (Robert Taylor) life is saved by the hospital's only pulmotor (a resuscitator), a beloved and respected doctor dies because of the lack of the pulmotor. The doctor's widow (Irene Dunne) and daughter (Betty Furness) resent him but he falls in love with the widow. When she is blinded in an accident, he feels responsible and is determined to redeem himself. Based on the Lloyd C. Douglas (THE ROBE) best seller, the John M. Stahl film was remade with much more resonance and artistry in 1954 by Douglas Sirk. This version has an overly generous amount of humor (much of it provided by the annoying Charles Butterworth) which only dilutes the drama. The humor also provides an inconsistency in Dunne's character. One scene has her bitter and hating Taylor's character because he is alive while her husband died then in the next scene, they're all romcom cute in a car. Taylor is fine when he doesn't try to act but when he does, it's wincing and he's especially terrible when he tries to act drunk. The religious references and imagery are also much more overt than in the 1954 film. The undistinguished score is by Franz Waxman. With Sara Haden and Ralph Morgan.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Chase (1966)

A small Texas town bubbles over with a mixture of fear, anger and excitement when news reaches the town that an escaped prisoner (Robert Redford) is on his way home. Several of the townspeople are particularly affected including his wife (Jane Fonda) who is having an affair with her husband's best friend (James Fox), his mother (Miriam Hopkins) who has a sense of guilt of how he turned out, the bank vice president (Robert Duvall) who stole some money but let Redford take the fall and the sheriff (Marlon Brando) who must try to keep law and order as racism and vigilantism rear their ugly heads. This underrated film was poorly received both critically and financially upon its initial release but the passage of time has been kind to the film and slowly, but surely, the film's reputation is growing and justifiably so. Directed by Arthur Penn with a screenplay by Lillian Hellman (THE LITTLE FOXES) from a play by Horton Foote, it's Tennessee Williams territory with its portrait of a Southern sexual and violent hothouse. The film doesn't temper either its sexuality (wife swapping seems the town's favorite sport) or violence (a scene of Brando being brutally beaten was quite graphic for its day). The score is by John Barry. The huge cast includes Angie Dickinson, Martha Hyer, E.G. Marshall, Janice Rule, Henry Hull, Diana Hyland, Richard Bradford, Bruce Cabot, Jocelyn Brando, Eduardo Ciannelli, Lori Martin, Pamela Curran, Malcolm Atterbury and Clifton James.

Mrs. Santa Claus (1996)

Feeling neglected, Mrs. Santa Claus (Angela Lansbury) decides to take the reindeer for a ride but has a breakdown over 1910 New York City in which Cupid the reindeer is injured. Waiting for Cupid to recuperate, she has an opportunity to interact with the working class citizens of Avenue A and plays matchmaker between a Jewish immigrant (Debra Wiseman) and an Italian immigrant (David Norona) and starts a worker's strike at a children's sweat shop. The Disneyesque musical seems a cross between NEWSIES and OLIVER! at times. The forgettable disposable score by Jerry Herman (MAME) feels like rejects he pulled out of his trunk. There is one catchy and lively musical number Avenue A choreographed by Rob Marshall (who would later go on to direct the film versions of CHICAGO and NINE). The acting is uncomfortably broad (in particular Terrence Mann's cartoonish villain) as if the director (Terry Hughes) thought we or most probably the child audience wouldn't respond to subtlety. But its heart is in the right place and Lansbury gives it her all, the lady's a trouper! With Charles Durning as Santa Claus, Lynsey Bartilson, Rosalind Harris (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF) and Michael Jeter.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It Started With A Kiss (1959)

An Air Force sergeant (Glenn Ford) has a whirlwind romance with a dancer (Debbie Reynolds) in New York and they marry within 48 hours of knowing each other. But when he's shipped off to Spain and she joins him there, she realizes how little they really know each other and insists on a platonic marriage until they do. Directed by George Marshall (HOW THE WEST WAS WON), this bubbly adult comedy is quite open and frank about sex for its day (1959) and while not very original (one sequence is wholly lifted from Hawks' BRINGING UP BABY), it manages to be consistently amusing and Ford and Reynolds (who has a terrific scream) play off each other very well. Handsomely shot in CinemaScope by Robert Bronner (IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER) on location in Spain. One of the film's key "characters" is a hideous one-of-a-kind red automobile especially designed for the film which was later painted black and used for the Batmobile in the BATMAN TV show. With Eva Gabor, Gustavo Rojo, Fred Clark, Harry Morgan, Edgar Buchanan, Carmen Phillips, Joi Lansing, Richard Deacon and Frances Bavier.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Homecoming (1971)

Set on Christmas Eve during the 1933 depression, a poor Virginia mountain woman (Patricia Neal) and her children await the arrival of the father (Andrew Duggan) who, because of a lack of jobs, works 50 miles away and must make his way home for Christmas through terrible weather conditions. But as the evening falls, he still isn't home and she begins to worry. Loosely based on the Earl Hamner Jr. novel SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN (previously filmed in 1963) and later adapted into the popular television series THE WALTONS. I never watched THE WALTONS but I certainly hope the show was better than this. It's all sentimentally country folksy and doesn't come across as real at all. In addition, the film is saddled with a roster of horrid child actors playing artificial children, the kind of youngsters that exist in only in the movies and not real life. The best part of the film is a visit by Richard Thomas and Cleavon Little on Christmas Eve to a pair of eccentric spinsters beautifully played by Josephine Hutchinson and Dorothy Stickney. Directed by Fiedler Cook and there's a lovely muted score by Jerry Goldsmith. With Edgar Bergen, Ellen Corby (who like Richard Thomas would go on to do THE WALTONS) and William Windom.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Saskatchewan (1954)

In Northern Canada in the 1870s, the native Cree in the Saskatchewan territory are in talks with the Sioux from across the U.S. border to join up against the North West Mounted Police. A Mountie (Alan Ladd) comes into conflict with his new commanding officer (Robert Douglas) regarding not only his handling of the Indian situation but his commanding skills in general. Beautifully shot in Technicolor (by John Seitz, DOUBLE INDEMNITY) on location in the state of Alberta in Canada, veteran director Raoul Walsh isn't able to patch together anything more than a routine western (or should I say Northern?). Shelley Winters, looking very zaftig, as a prisoner being extradited back to the U.S. on murder charges is Ladd's romantic interest but shrill as a Brooklyn hausfrau, she's like a fish out of water in a western. With Hugh O'Brian, J. Carrol Naish, Richard Long, Anthony Caruso and Jay Silverheels.

The International (2009)

A rogue Interpol agent (Clive Owen) and a Manhattan district attorney (Naomi Watts in a thankless role) join forces to investigate an international bank which funds terrorism and arms trading among other things. But the deeper they get into the case, the more they realize they are in over their heads. Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN) directed this disposable thriller. It's actually quite enjoyable as Tykwer plays into our negative feelings and paranoia about the banking industry but it's the kind of movie you won't remember the following week. There's nothing terribly wrong with it but while Tykwer manages to whip up some exciting scenes, it's style over substance. Nothing wrong with that but in this case the style isn't sufficient enough to override the film's routine plot line. The film's highpoint is an exciting, if far fetched, shoot out in the Guggenheim Museum in New York. As expected in a Tykwer (who also wrote the film's score) film, it's handsomely shot (by Frank Griebe, PARIS, JE T'AIME). With Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen, Brian F. O'Byrne and James Rebhorn.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)

At the end of WWII in Paris, a G.I. (Van Johnson) meets an attractive American (Donna Reed) in a bar but when he meets her sister (Elizabeth Taylor), it's love at first sight. Based on the short story BABYLON REVISITED by F. Scott Fitzgerald and directed by Richard Brooks (ELMER GANTRY). The film has been updated from its 1920s "lost generation" setting to post WWII Paris. Yet the setting seems wrong because the characters themselves still feel like they walked out of his TENDER IS THE NIGHT. That aside, the film remains a glossy and lush melodrama of a free spirit (Taylor) mismatched with a buttoned down newsman (Johnson, the film's only weak link). Taylor is at her most movie goddess beautiful here and looks terrific in her Helen Rose gowns. In contrast, Reed overdoes the bottled up, resentful sister. The Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein song The Last Time I Saw Paris is lovely but overused in the underscore to the point of distraction. It could use a remake but this time utilizing the original 1920s setting. With Walter Pidgeon, Roger Moore, Eva Gabor, George Dolenz, Kurt Kasznar, Sandy Descher, Celia Lovsky, John Doucette and Ann Codee.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

War Horse (2011)

At the outbreak of WWI, the horse of a young English lad (Jeremy Irvine) is conscripted by the Army. The lad vows that he will do whatever it takes to make sure the horse returns home safely. Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo and the acclaimed Tony winning play based on his novel by Nick Stafford, this is a middling effort by Steven Spielberg that was so rich in potential. At his best with such films as CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL or even WAR OF THE WORLDS, Spielberg can transport us to a whole other level. WAR HORSE isn't as bad as SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (what could be?) but its flaws are much too egregious to dismiss. As far as Spielberg's filmography goes, it's on a par with EMPIRE OF THE SUN. One is too cognizant of Spielberg's manipulation through out the film and sure, it works. I got all choked up at the film's final act too but I wouldn't have resented it so much if it weren't so calculated for just such an effect. And the manipulation doesn't just extend to the tears but the obvious humor which demeans some of the scenes. The horse itself (or rather the 8 horses used for the title role) is magnificent but the humans are a sorry lot. Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup and Tom Hiddleston (the F. Scott Fitzgerald of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS) all do what they can but the others flounder. Even John Williams fails to deliver the goods with his generic score. A major disappointment.

Green Dolphin Street (1947)

On the island of St. Pierre in the English channel, two sisters (Lana Turner, Donna Reed) with similar names, Marianne and Marguerite, fall in love with the same restless young man (Richard Hart). He favors the gentle Reed over the headstrong Turner but when drunk in New Zealand, he sends a letter proposing marriage to Reed but mistakenly writes Turner's name instead and when she shows up, his best friend (Van Heflin) insists he marry Turner and make the best of it. This romantic epic based on the best seller GREEN DOLPHIN COUNTRY by Elizabeth Goudge is given the full glossy MGM treatment with no expenses spared. It's the epitome of the kind of movies Hollywood did so well during the so called "Golden Age". Earthquakes, tidal waves, Maori tribal wars, shanghaied sailors, unrequited love and nuns, who could ask for anything more? When the film is over, you know you've seen a movie! Directed by Victor Saville with a gorgeous score by Bronislau Kaper whose main theme became a jazz staple recorded by the likes of Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald among others. The special effects won an Oscar. With Gladys Cooper, Edmund Gwenn, Frank Morgan, Linda Christian, Gigi Perreau and Reginald Owen.

Nothing But The Night (1973)

A woman in a car goes crashing over a cliff, a man is pushed over a balcony, a woman shot in the head is made to look like suicide. What do these deaths have in common with a bus accident carrying a load of children in which the bus driver is killed? The nightmares of a child (Gwyneth Strong) that survived the accident may provide the clue that a police detective (Christopher Lee) and a forensic pathologist (Peter Cushing) need to piece together in order to solve the mystery. This dark thriller combines elements of sci-fi and horror and has the same vibe and a certain similarity to the cult classic THE WICKER MAN which actually came out almost a year later but it isn't as successful. The narrative is often incoherent and motivations unclear. Directed by Peter Sasdy (TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA). The impressive supporting cast includes Diana Dors as the mother of the surviving child who knows the dark secret but isn't telling, Georgia Brown as an investigative reporter determined to unlock the secrecy, Michael Gambon, Kathleen Byron (BLACK NARCISSUS) and Keith Barron as the well meaning doctor who discovers no good deed goes unpunished.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Picnic (1955)

In a small Kansas town on Labor Day, a drifter (William Holden) arrives in search of his old college roommate (Cliff Robertson). His brief 24 hour stay will forever change the lives of several of its citizens, predominantly its women. Based on the hit play of the same name by William Inge, this is one of the best films portraying small town Americana. Lovingly (and accurately) recreated by director Joshua Logan and memorably photographed in CinemaScope by James Wong Howe whose images (colored lanterns reflecting on a lake, Kim Novak shot through a screen door, the final helicopter shot of a train, etc.) have stayed with me for years. Holden is about 10 years too old for the aging jock but his genuinely touching and perceptive performance redeems the miscasting. Surprisingly, the 32 year old Robertson comes across as less convincing, partly because of the high "Golly gee!" voice he uses which doesn't emanate naturally from the actor. The rest of the cast are in peak form. The set-piece of the film, the actual picnic, is superbly done as anyone who's ever attended an organized picnic can attest to and, of course, there's that memorable Moonglow/Picnic dance sequence with Holden and Novak, one of the most sensually romantic moments in move history. The great score is by George Duning. The expert cast also includes Rosalind Russell, Susan Strasberg, Betty Field, Arthur O'Connell, Verna Felton, Nick Adams, Elizabeth Wilson, Phyllis Newman, Reta Shaw and Raymond Bailey.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Man Som Hatar Kvinnor (aka Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) (2009)

After losing a libel case, the publisher (Michael Nyqvist) of a magazine is asked by a wealthy, retired CEO (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate the disappearance over 40 years ago of his great niece. The publisher is assisted in this investigation by an anti social hacker (Noomi Rapace). Shakespeare's quote from MACBETH pretty much sums it up, "Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". What should have been a tight, economical thriller is an inflated 2 1/2 hour nasty piece of goods sprinkled with gratuitous rape and sex. The time consuming back story of Rapace's character isn't particularly original or compelling and it diverts attention from the central serial killer investigation. Fortunately, the two lead performances by Nyqvist and Rapace are solid and keep our attention but the movie could have lost about a half hour easily. Based on the international posthumous best seller by Stieg Larsson and directed by Niels Arden Oplev. As far as serial killer movies go, it's better than SE7EN but it's no SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964)

After their probe narrowly averts a collusion with a meteor, two astronauts (Paul Mantee, Adam West) find their ship caught in Mars' gravity pull and must eject. The only survivors are Mantee and a monkey called Mona (played by a monkey called Barney). While he manages to eke out survival, his is overcome by loneliness until he meets an escaped slave (Victor Lundin) from an alien civilization who he dubs Friday in honor of Robinson Crusoe. Long a cult favorite, this Byron Haskin (1953's WAR OF THE WORLDS) film is a visually arresting re-imagination of the classic Daniel Defoe novel. The art direction seems inspired somewhat by 1959's JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH's color palette and Winton C. Hoch's (THE SEARCHERS) eye popping wide screen Techniscope images are a beauty to behold. The film's special effects are fairly primitive by today's standards. It's a pity a stronger ending couldn't have been provided but most of what we're given is so good that it seems churlish to complain. The film retains the homo-eroticism that seems almost inherent in the Defoe tale.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It Happened On Fifth Avenue (1947)

Each winter, a transient (Victor Moore) moves into the boarded up mansion of a billionaire (Charles Ruggles) along with his dog. He vacates in the spring when the billionaire returns. However, this winter, several other homeless families move in with him. Little does he know that one of them are the billionaire and his daughter (Gale Storm). Originally set to be directed by Frank Capra before director Roy Del Ruth took over, this is a heartwarming film. Normally, when I hear a film described as heartwarming, it chills my blood because I just know it's going to be some hideous and sentimental schmaltz like IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Sentimental this film may be but one would be a Scrooge indeed not to get watery eyed. The film is a tad overlong and has far too many musical segments and a good 20 minutes could easily have been shorn and not missed. It's not really a Christmas movie but it gets shown a lot around the Christmas season but the film does invoke the true Christmas spirit without the overly obvious calculation of many of its brethren like THE BISHOP'S WIFE. With Don DeFore, Ann Harding, Gale Storm and Alan Hale Jr.

Night Watch (1973)

Looking out the window on a rainy night, a woman (Elizabeth Taylor) recovering from a nervous breakdown witnesses a murder. But the police find no body nor any evidence of a murder. Her husband (Laurence Harvey) and her best friend (Billie Whitelaw, THE OMEN) are concerned for her sanity especially when she sees another non-existent dead body through her window. Based on a play by Lucille Fletcher (SORRY WRONG NUMBER), this hoary old plot should be familiar to anyone who's seen GASLIGHT or MIDNIGHT LACE. The director Brian G. Hutton (WHERE EAGLES DARE) can't seem to drum up the necessary suspense to keep us interested though the bloody denouement is fairly well done. Taylor is required to maintain a high level of hysteria through most of the film which doesn't sit well with her high pitched voice. Harvey, as usual, is a dullard which Whitelaw to give the film's most watchable performance. Valentino did Taylor's wardrobe, Billy Williams (an Oscar winner for GANDHI) did the cinematography and John Cameron, the unmemorable score. With Robert Lang, Tony Britton and Linda Hayden.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

China Girl (1942)

In the month before the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, a photographer (George Montgomery) and a soldier of fortune (Victor McLaglen) escape from a Japanese prison in China. The Japanese are eager to recapture the photographer as he mistakenly took a notebook with information on the impending Pearl Harbor attack. Directed by Henry Hathaway (TRUE GRIT) from a screenplay by Ben Hecht (NOTORIOUS), this is an unexceptional WWII propaganda piece gussied up with a romance between Montgomery and a Eurasian girl (Gene Tierney). I think she's Eurasian because she has a Chinese father (Philip Ahn) but no attempt is made to make her look Asian. The film casually features some unpleasant racial aspersions, one character complains "What's wrong with these buck toothed babes, they always play hard to get!". That's one of the milder smears. While Tierney is always a welcome presence, Montgomery's brash performance becomes tedious after awhile. The score is an early effort by Hugo Friedhofer (BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES). With Lynn Bari as the "bad" girl who turns good for the hero, Myron McCormick, Sig Ruman and a young Robert Blake (IN COLD BLOOD) as the Hindu boy Montgomery takes under his wing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Agatha (1979)

In 1926, after her husband (Timothy Dalton, wound tight as a clock) asks her for a divorce to marry his secretary (Celia Gregory), the famous mystery writer Agatha Christie (Vanessa Redgrave) disappears for 11 days. A totally fictionalized account of what might have transpired during those 11 days, the film attempts to concoct a mystery as complex as an Agatha Christie novel. Only this time, with Christie a character in the mystery rather than its author. This "what might have been" scenario stretches credibility and the Agatha Christie of the film doesn't resemble the real Christie and I'm not talking physically. Redgrave, looking breathtaking in her 1920s chemises (which got Shirley Russell an Oscar nomination for costume design) and hair styles, looks radiant. Dustin Hoffman as an American journalist investigating her disappearance lacks Redgrave's effortless luminosity. We're too cognizant that he's trying too hard to not be Dustin Hoffman to take any pleasure in his performance. The film does, however, contain one of the great movie kisses of all time. The tall goddessy Redgrave reaching down to kiss the height challenged Hoffman is a terrific romantic movie moment. Directed by Michael Apted (COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER). Vittorio Storaro is responsible for the rich looking cinematography and Johnny Mandel did the lovely score. With Helen Morse, Timothy West, Alan Badel and Paul Brooke.

White Witch Doctor (1953)

A nurse (Susan Hayward) arrives in the Congo of 1907 to work as a missionary doctor's assistant. A hunter (Robert Mitchum) reluctantly guides her through treacherous and hostile country to reach her destination. But his motives aren't entirely pure. He and his partner (Walter Slezak) plan on robbing the natives of their gold. Directed by the veteran Henry Hathaway, this is a par for the course 1950s African adventure, indistinguishable from so many others of the era like SAFARI or ODONGO. There's some handsome African location footage (the cinematography is by Leon Shamroy, SOUTH PACIFIC) but it's doubtful either Mitchum or Hayward set foot in Africa as all their scenes are set on an obvious sound stage at 20th Century Fox or in front of rear projections of the African landscape. Hayward and Mitchum make for an appealing couple and that's enough for a while but eventually even their star power fails to hold your attention. There's a marvelous underscore by Bernard Herrmann, one of his great unsung scores.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Carnage (2011)

After an 11 year old strikes another 11 year old across the face, knocking out two teeth, their parents (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) get together to discuss the situation. What starts off as a cordial meeting descends into drinking, vomiting, accusations and revelations. Based on the award winning play GOD OF CARNAGE by Yasmina Reza who co-wrote the screenplay with director Roman Polanski, there are only four characters in the film. Dialog is paramount in a film like this and fortunately for us, the dialog is rich and pungent and more often than not, amusing. The template for this kind of film is Edward Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and to the film's credit after it's 80 minute running time, you still want more! All four actors are excellent and Polanski makes no attempt whatsoever to cinematize the film. You're pretty much watching a filmed play but as I said, when the dialog is this good, who cares? The brief score is by Alexandre Desplat with a brief cameo by Polanski as Foster and Reilly's neighbor.

The Iron Lady (2011)

In her dotage, Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) recalls her illustrious and often volatile years as England's first female Prime Minister. Okay, let's cut to the chase. Streep is superb, sheer perfection. She is the reason to see the film and even if she gets the Oscar, she damn well deserves it. As to the film itself, it's average at best. When the film is over, we still don't know anything about Margaret Thatcher, not really, she remains an enigma. The film attempts to cram too much information about her career with very little about the woman. There's precious little time expended on the young Thatcher (Alexandra Roach). We're told why she wants to enter a life of public service but we're not shown, we're not privy to it. The film is framed with an annoying device of the elderly Thatcher talking to her deceased husband (Jim Broadbent, who's a bit much) and splattered through out the film between scenes of Thatcher's climb to the 10 Downing Street and her fall. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd (MAMMA MIA) who doesn't do too badly with her daunting subject. The film takes no stance on Thatcher. It doesn't glorify her yet neither does it demonize her. It pretty much leaves it up to us to make up our minds. With Richard E. Grant, Harry Lloyd, Anthony Head and John Sessions.

One, Two, Three (1961)

Set in Berlin just before the wall separating East and West Berlin was put up, the head executive (James Cagney) of Coca Cola in Berlin is saddled with watching over his American boss's daughter (Pamela Tiffin giving the best performance in the film as a ditzy Southern belle) during her stay in Berlin. But when she runs off and gets married to an East German communist (Horst Buchholz), he must act quickly to do some control damage. Director Billy Wilder's frantic farce is an exhausting movie to sit through and at times feels like a two hour commercial for Coca-Cola. Still, Wilder manages to deftly shoot some arrows at both communism and capitalism. Cagney delivers a blustery performance, spitting out his rat-a-tat-tat dialog without taking a breath until you simply give in out of fatigue. The film shows the dangers of topicality in cinema. No doubt the Kruschev or the Huntley and Brinkley references drew guffaws in 1961 but they're more likely to receive silence today. Andre Previn fills the soundtrack with blasts of Wagner and Khachaturian while Daniel Fapp does the wide screen Panavision lensing. With Arlene Francis as Cagney's wisecracking wife, Liselotte Pulver (Sirk's A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE) as a sexy secretary, Red Buttons, Leon Askin and Hanns Lothar, very funny as Cagney's put upon assistant.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Haunted (1977)

In 1860s Arizona, an Indian maiden (Ann Michelle) is framed and sent to the desert to die but not before she vows revenge on the descendants of her accusers. Jump a 100 years later and when a young woman (also Michelle) arrives at an Arizona ghost town, all hell breaks loose. To describe this "horror" movie as laughably inept is an understatement of epic proportions. To call the acting amateur is an insult to community theater. To be fair, the appalling dialog and incompetent direction would defeat the most accomplished of actors. This is the kind of incomprehensible movie where the Indian maiden has an unexplained English accent and there's a telephone booth in a cemetery! What's not funny however is the unpleasant sight of seeing the top billed former stars Aldo Ray (PAT AND MIKE) and Virginia Mayo (BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES), both obviously fallen on hard times if they had to do crap like this. Mayo as an addled blind lady somehow manages not to embarrass herself which can't be said for a bloated and puffy faced Ray who shot the entire film drunk as a skunk (according to one of his co-stars). The title song is sung by Billy Vera who would later go on to some pop fame. Directed or should I say misdirected by Michael De Gaetano.

Notorious (1946)

A government agent (Cary Grant) enlists the playgirl daughter (Ingrid Bergman) of a convicted Nazi traitor to work on behalf of the U.S. government. Her assignment is to seduce one of the leaders (Claude Rains) of a group of Nazis currently residing in Brazil. What the agent doesn't count on is that he, as well as Rains, will fall in love with her. This is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most irresistibly entertaining films. If any of his films could be called flawless, this may be the one. The Oscar nominated screenplay by Ben Hecht is expert and has some of the best dialogue in a Hitchcock film. Hitchcock is also blessed by four superb central performances. Grant manages to subdue his charm somewhat in his portrayal of the cynical and sometimes cruel Devlin while Bergman glows in what may be her best film performance. Rains (also Oscar nominated) as the smitten Nazi and Leopoldine Konstantin as his sharp eyed mother contribute adroit performances also. The film contains two of Hitchcock's most memorable scenes: the extended kiss between Grant and Bergman and the great tracking shot from a high balcony to Bergman's hand. The score is by Roy Webb and Bergman's clothes by Edith Head. With Louis Calhern, Ivan Triesault, Wally Brown and Reinhold Schunzel.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Le Bambole (1965)

Four comedic vignettes dealing with sex. Directed by Nino Risi, a husband (Nino Manfredi) desirous of sex with his wife (Virna Lisi) must wait while she has an endless discussion on the phone with her mother. Directed by Luigi Comencini, a student (Elke Sommer) of eugenics attempts to track down the perfect Italian male to father her child. Directed by Franco Rossi, an unhappy housewife (Monica Vitti) tries to hire somebody to kill her husband without much success. Based on a story by Boccaccio and directed by Mauro Bolognini, a married woman (Gina Lollobrigida) lusts after the virginal nephew (Jean Sorel) of a Catholic priest (Akim Tamiroff) and uses the priest in an attempt to seduce the nephew. Ah, the Italian sex comedy. Quite naughty in their day but after years of graphic sexuality, today their mischievousness seems almost innocent. The first two are negligible but the last two are fairly amusing with both Vitti and Lollobrigida displaying their farcical talents. The melodic score is by Armando Trovajoli.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Meet Me In Las Vegas (1956)

Set in Las Vegas, a rancher (Dan Dailey) with a gambling addiction finds that by holding on to the hand of a ballerina (Cyd Charisse) appearing at the hotel, he's lucky. Romance follows. The serviceable if lightweight plot serves to pass the time between the wonderful musical numbers which are the reason to see this film. The glossy MGM patina gleams in CinemaScope and Eastman color with Robert Bronner (7 FACES OF DR. LAO) behind the camera and Charisse looking smashing in her Helen Rose gowns. The highlight of the film is a spectacular production number based on the song Frankie And Johnny as sung by Sammy Davis Jr. Directed by Roy Rowland. The star filled cast includes Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds, Lena Horne, Vic Damone, Pier Angeli, Agnes Moorehead, Peter Lorre, George Chakiris, Paul Henreid, Frankie Laine, Tony Martin, Cara Williams, Elaine Stewart, Jeff Richards, Liliane Montevecchi, Jim Backus and Lili Darvas.

A Mom For Christmas (1990)

A motherless child (Juliet Sorcey), whose father (Doug Sheehan, who looks a bit like Rock Hudson) is a workaholic, wishes for a mom. A department store mannequin (Olivia Newton-John) comes to life to fulfill her wish ..... but only for Christmas. Since this is a Disney movie aimed at the 7-12 demographic, it's obvious and simplistic and not very magical. The film has none of the irony or the creepy fantasy of such similar plots like EVENING PRIMROSE or the famous After Hours episode from THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Newton-John sings two songs, neither of which is memorable. The film coasts for the most part on Newton-John's charm but if you're not a fan, you may find it sticky going. Directed by George Miller (MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER). With Doris Roberts and Carmen Argenziano.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

That Woman Opposite (1957)

At a seaside town on the French coast, a series of robberies occurs. An English lord (Wilfrid Hyde White) thinks he recognizes the man who committed the robberies but he is murdered before he can make a positive identification. When his son's (Jack Watling) fiancee, a wealthy American (Phyllis Kirk), is accused of the murder, an insurance investigator (Dan O'Herlihy) sets out to prove her innocence. Based on the mystery writer John Dickson Carr's THE EMPEROR'S SNUFF BOX, the plot is too contrived and full of too many coincidences to make for a fully satisfactory murder mystery and despite the intentional red herrings, it's not all that difficult to figure out whodunit. Directed by Compton Bennett (1950's KING SOLOMON'S MINES). With Petula Clark in a non singing role as the murder victim's daughter, William Franklyn and Margaret Withers. Released in the U.S.A. under the title CITY AFTER MIDNIGHT.

Ansiktet (aka The Magician) (1958)

When a ragtag magic act travels through a small village, they are stopped by the town's officials and ordered to perform their act in order to determine whether they are charlatans or actually have supernatural powers. This atmospheric piece on illusion versus science is probably as close to a horror film as the director Ingmar Bergman ever got. Bergman isn't, however, interested in scaring his audience but exploring the themes of belief versus cynicism and artistry versus pedagogy. But it's Bergman lite. I don't think there are any depths to plunge in order to decipher its story. It's pretty much what you see is what you get or as one of the film's most memorable characters, Naima Wifstrand in a marvelous performance as an ancient witch, says, "I see what I see and I know what I know". The startling black and white images are courtesy of Gunnar Fischer and the spare score by Erik Nordgren. The superb cast consists of the usual Bergman stock company: Max Von Sydow as intense as ever as the magician of the title, the stunning Ingrid Thulin as his wife, Gunnar Bjornstrand as the man of science determined to expose the magician, Erland Josephson and the lovely Bibi Andersson.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Legend Of Lylah Clare (1968)

A washed up director (Peter Finch) takes a naive young girl (Kim Novak) and attempts to turn her into the image of the legendary screen goddess Lylah Clare (also Novak), who died under mysterious circumstances. Impressed, a studio head (Ernest Borgnine) gives the go ahead for the director to film the Lylah Clare story with his new star. Disaster follows. This isn't director Robert Aldrich's first attempt at showing the dark side of Hollywood. Previous entries included THE BIG KNIFE and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? but this is the most insane. It's Aldrich's view of the "dog eat dog" mentality of Hollywood but judging from the film's last shot, he took it literally! Did anyone actually know what they were doing? It's the kind of movie that looks like it was conceived in a feverish hallucination. Still, it's the type of fascinating mess that's often more compelling than better constructed "tasteful" movies. And any movie that contains dialog like, "Tell them Lylah is coming once she gets her harness on!" is not easily dismissed. Novak tries and she's not bad though someone thought it was a good idea to dub her Lylah with a deep Teutonic voice that makes her sound like Regan in THE EXORCIST! With Ernest Borgnine, Rossella Falk, Valentina Cortese, George Kennedy, Michael Murphy, Gabriele Tinti, Ellen Corby, Lee Meriwether, Milton Selzer, Jean Carroll and Coral Browne as a bitchy Hollywood columnist.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lions For Lambs (2007)

A political science professor (Robert Redford, who also directed) at a Southern California university attempts to engage an apathetic student (Andrew Garfield, SOCIAL NETWORK) into being an active participant in his life. In Washington DC, television journalist (Meryl Streep) interviews a U.S. senator (Tom Cruise, looking like John Edwards) who tells her of a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Two soldiers (Michael Pena, Derek Luke) stranded on a snow covered plateau in Afghanistan are surrounded by enemy forces. The film bounces back and forth between the three storylines with mixed results. Still, credit must be given to Redford for attempting a film that deals with ideas rather than action. The California and DC storylines are essentially talking head pieces, a dialogue between the two characters bouncing opposing political and social views off each other. This doesn't make for scintillating cinema and the dialogue would have to sparkle in order to engage us and it doesn't, it just comes across as wordy. But at least it's about something and if not a success then a noble failure. The striking underscore is by Mark Isham. With Peter Berg.

Tarzan's Savage Fury (1952)

Two con men (Charles Korvin, Patric Knowles) looking for an obscure tribe called the Wazuri that harbor millions worth of diamonds deceive Tarzan (Lex Barker) into helping them locate the tribe. A couple of things make this average entry stand apart from the other Lex Barker Tarzan movies. It uses the Greystoke connection from the original Edgar Rice Burroughs stories as Knowles pretends to be a cousin to Tarzan. Less interesting is the addition of a jungle boy (Tommy Carlton) to the plot. Fortunately, the kid was dropped from the remaining RKO Tarzan films to come. Other than that, it's just the usual routine and predictable jungle adventure stuff. Lovely Dorothy Hart (NAKED CITY) is Jane in this one. Directed by Cy Endfield who would go on to do a better and one of the best African adventures, ZULU in 1964.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

A woman (Tilda Swinton) must deal with the aftermath of a high school massacre committed by her 16 year old son (Ezra Miller). Flashbacks show that he was a malicious, nasty child and that she was an unloving mother who resented him for making her life miserable. Was she partly responsible for the monster he became? Or was he simply an evil seed? In its way, this is a superior intellectual cousin to THE BAD SEED with the poppycock genetics nonsense thrown out on its ear and a thought provoking examination of the profile of a mass murderer in its place. And the film's deeply disturbed Kevin is far more frightening because he's more realistic than the silly and phony Rhoda Penmark! Swinton is pretty awesome here. A rich faceted performance, slowly and almost unwillingly peeling away the layers to a complex woman who may share in the guilt of the monstrous acts her son committed. Easily one of the most disturbing, unpleasant films I've ever seen. The film is not without flaws. I hated the top 40 pop song soundtrack which was not only atrocious but obvious and lazy. Directed by Lynne Ramsay. There is a short, minimalist underscore by Jonny Greenwood (THERE WILL BE BLOOD). With John C. Reilly as the father, Ashley Gerasimovich as the sister and Jasper Newell as the young Kevin.

The Venetian Affair (1967)

An ex-CIA agent (Robert Vaughn), now working for a news service, is sent ostensibly to cover the bombing of an international peace conference in Venice. In reality, the CIA wants him to ferret out his ex-wife (Elke Sommer), a communist agent who has information on the bombing. Based on the novel by Helen MacInnes (ABOVE SUSPICION) and directed by Jerry Thorpe (son of director Richard). This spy thriller is a rather tedious affair. The director doesn't provide the style or technique that would make the film's premise work effectively. It lacks the fun and panache of a James Bond adventure nor does it have the engrossing tedium of an IPCRESS FILE. The casting of Robert Vaughn in the lead is problematic. He can't shake off the image of Napoleon Solo, the television spy he played in THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and while he did fine on TV, he lacks the presence to hold the big screen. Indeed, the film comes across as a bigger budgeted episode of that show, filmed in location in Venice rather than the MGM soundstages and in wide screen. The mono-thematic score by Lalo Schifrin becomes tiresome after awhile. Co-starring Felicia Farr (Mrs. Jack Lemmon), Luciana Paluzzi (shamefully wasted), Edward Asner, Karlheinz Bohm (PEEPING TOM) as the film's master villain, Roger C. Carmel, Argentina Brunetti and in a rare non-horror role, Boris Karloff as the head of an international security agency.

Ballada O Soldate (aka Ballad Of A Soldier) (1959)

As a reward for destroying two German tanks, a 19 year old soldier (Vladimir Ivashov) is given six days leave to visit his mother. On his journey to his small village, he sees the chaos of war's effects as well as falling in love with a girl (Zhanna Prokhorenko) he meets on a train. This aptly titled film is one of the most lyrical movies I've ever seen. The director Grigori Chukhrai (who, amazingly, only directed nine films in a 45 year career) instills heart and poignancy as well as some humor into his simple tale. Simple it may be but it packs an emotional wallop. The two young leads, both in their film debuts, are fresh and natural. Prokhorenko is as lovely as any Hollywood starlet and the open faced Ivashov is superb. It would be unfair to Chukhrai's film to merely label it a war film since the emphasis is not on war but on the tragedy that war inflicts on its citizens trying to survive and live their lives when the normalcy of their everyday lives has been forever altered. A wonderful, subtle score by Mikhail Ziv and the excellent black and white lesning by Vladimir Nikolayev and Era Savelyeva.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Light In The Piazza (1962)

While vacationing in Florence, Italy with her daughter (Yvette Mimieux), an American woman (Olivia De Havilland) attempts to foil a growing romance between the girl and a young Italian (George Hamilton). Because of an accident when she was a child, the 26 year old girl has the mentality of a 10 year old. Based on the Elizabeth Spencer novel, the film is sensitively directed by Guy Green (A PATCH OF BLUE) who manages to keep the film from turning mawkish and keeps the film on an honest path. Perhaps it's not entirely devoid of sentiment but it's of the honest kind rather than the manipulative. The film is finely acted by all (including Hamilton who sports a decent Italian accent) and the lovely Mimieux doesn't overdo the backwardness of her character but the real star of the film is Florence which is lovingly photographed in CinemaScope by Otto Heller (PEEPING TOM). The melodic score is by Mario Nascimbene. With Rossano Brazzi and Barry Sullivan.

End Of The Game (aka Der Richter Und Sein Henker) (1975)

In 1948, a man (Robert Shaw) bets another man (Martin Ritt) that he could murder someone before his eyes and get away with it and does just that by murdering the girl (Rita Calderoni) they both love. Jump some 20 years later and the murder of a policeman (Donald Sutherland) becomes a pawn in the unfinished game between the two men, one (Ritt) a police commissioner and the other a powerful and rich man (Shaw). Based on the novella by Friedrich Durrenmatt (THE VISIT) and directed by the Oscar winning actor Maximilian Schell, this strange black comedy would seem to have been better played as a straight psychological thriller. I'm not sure audiences understood that it was a comedy (the actors play it quite straight) in 1975. While it's oddly compelling, it's still a failure in the sense that it doesn't accomplish what it set out to do. Ritt, best known as the director of such films as HUD and THE LONG HOT SUMMER, isn't much of an actor and seems to be giving an Oscar Homolka imitation. Jon Voight as a policeman investigating Sutherland's murder doesn't have the style for this kind of subtle comedy. The film seems strangely displaced, a German film with American stars filmed in Switzerland. The score is by Ennio Morricone at his laziest. With Jacqueline Bisset and Gabriele Ferzetti.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

A megalomaniac media magnate (Jonathan Pryce) foments a war between China and Great Britain. But Her Majesty's Secret Service sends in their best man, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan in his sophomore outing as 007) to investigate and foil the media giant's dastardly plans. The 18th entry in the 007 franchise is middling Bond. The plot is innocuous, the humor is weak and Pryce makes for a dull villain. But some of the stunts (in particular, a motorcycle flying over a helicopter's spinning blades) and action sequences are very good. The film's big action finale is a bit muddled, one is never quite sure what is going on amid the explosions and machine guns. The wonderful Michelle Yeoh (CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON) makes for a strong Bond girl, quite possibly the best since GOLDFINGER's Pussy Galore. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode (TURNER AND HOOCH). The score by David Arnold is nice but the title song sung by Sheryl Crow is lackluster though the end credit song sung by K.D. Lang is terrific. With Judi Dench, Teri Hatcher, Joe Don Baker, Vincent Schiavelli and Desmond Llewelyn.

The Lost World (1925)

A small group of adventurers headed by Professor Challenger (Wallace Beery) head into the depths of the Amazon jungles where they discover a plateau seeming untouched by time where dinosaurs roam. Based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who makes a brief on camera cameo introducing the film), this is a wonderful film. While its somewhat crude stop motion work may suffer in comparison to the CGI creations of JURASSIC PARK, there's a certain historical charm and wonder to Willis O'Brien's (KING KONG) pioneering special effects. The brontosaurus loose in London sequence is superbly done and O'Brien gives his dinosaurs a bit of character (they have marvelous sneers). Directed by Harry O. Hoyt. With Bessie Love, Lewis Stone and Lloyd Hughes. Alas, much of the film's original footage is lost and the 93 minute version (possibly longer depending on how many frames per second are projected) is about as complete a version we're likely to see unless the lost footage is uncovered.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Because They're Young (1960)

A new school teacher (Dick Clark) not only clashes with the rigid policies of the high school principal (Wendell Holmes) regarding students but must deal with raising his adolescent nephew all alone. Unlike the nightmarish out of control high school of BLACKBOARD JUNGLE of five years earlier, the film focuses on a relatively "nice" school and the typical situations and emotions teenagers of the era were going through and for the most part, does a decent job of it. Still, the characters are pretty much stereotypes: The well intentioned teacher (Clark), the principal's pretty secretary (Victoria Shaw, EDDY DUCHIN STORY), the bad boy (Michael Callan), the good girl gone "bad" (Tuesday Weld), the jock (Doug McClure), the wholesome cheerleader (Roberta Shore) and the troubled teen (Warren Berlinger). Clark's limited acting ability holds the film back. The nondescript score is by a young John Williams but the film's title theme was written by Don Costa and was a big top 40 hit of the day. Directed by Paul Wendkos. With James Darren, Duane Eddy, Rudy Bond, Marlyn Mason and Linda Watkins (THE PARENT TRAP) as Berlinger's trampy mother.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lost Horizon (1973)

A plane escaping from a war torn Asian country carries 5 disparate passengers but the plane is hijacked and crashes in the Himalayas. They are rescued and taken to a hidden valley called Shangri La where no one seems to age and peace and contentment reigns. Vilified upon its initial 1973 release, LOST HORIZON has the last laugh as it plays very well today. The 1937 Frank Capra version was a pretty silly but ponderous piece that took itself so seriously as if it actually had something profound to say. The addition of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs and dances by Hermes Pan diffuses the nonsense and heightens the fantasy aspect of it all. Some of the casting is problematic. Olivia Hussey (in the full flush of pregnancy) is cast as a dancer but she can't dance and the neurotic journalist played by Sally Kellerman is ill conceived. Ironically, they have the movie's best song, The Things I Will Not Miss. Then there's the infamous fertility dance sequence with male dancers in orange diapers which seems fresh out of a gay disco. The lush wide screen Panavision cinematography is by Robert Surtees (LAST PICTURE SHOW), costumes by Jean Louis and production design by Preston Ames (AN AMERICAN IN PARIS). Directed by Charles Jarrott from a screenplay by Larry Kramer (WOMEN IN LOVE). With Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, Charles Boyer, Michael York, George Kennedy, John Gielgud, Bobby Van, James Shigeta, Kent Smith, John Van Dreelen and Miiko Taka.

Odongo (1956)

Set in Kenya, a hunter (Macdonald Carey) and a veterinarian (Rhonda Fleming) clash over the welfare of animals as well as a young boy called Odongo (Juma, who appears to be Arabic or Indian), who loves animals and hates seeing them caged. This wholesome family film benefits from not getting all cutesy like most family films about animals. Still, it's pretty routine stuff though the African locations and wild animals in their native habitat profit from the handsome CinemaScope lensing of Ted Moore (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE). There's romance for the grown ups, exotic and cute animals for the kids and one would have to work awfully hard to resist the adventurous atmosphere. There's an amusing sequence with a visiting family (Francis De Wolf, Eleanor Summerville, Michael Caridia) and Summerville particularly entertaining as a "fish out of water" amongst the baboons and wild cats. Directed by John Gilling (THE MUMMY'S SHROUD). With Errol John and Earl Cameron.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kings Row (1942)

At the turn of the 20th century, life in a small American town (the entrance to the town reads, "A good town and a good place to raise your children") is put under a microscope. What we find under the wholesome veneer, however, is sadism, insanity and larceny. Due to the censorship of the times, the novel's incest angle has been eliminated entirely. Directed by Sam Wood (A NIGHT AT THE OPERA) from the best seller by Henry Bellamann, this was a forerunner to films like PEYTON PLACE which examined small town hypocrisy. It's a tantalizing, juicy piece of melodrama. Alas, the film is horribly compromised by the two male leads, Robert Cummings and Ronald Reagan, two of the blandest actors of Hollywood's so called Golden Age. Reagan actually rises to the occasion several times but Cummings' performance is appalling! The film's last ten minutes are dreadful, the kind that give classic movies a bad name. Fortunately, the slack is picked up by three of the film's actresses. Betty Field as the doomed Cassandra who dominates the first hour, Ann Sheridan as the feisty girl from the wrong side of the tracks who dominates the second hour and Nancy Coleman as the daughter of a sadistic surgeon (Charles Coburn) who is driven to the brink of madness. The terrific score (whose main theme influenced John Williams' STAR WARS) theme is by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. With Claude Rains, Judith Anderson, Kaaren Verne, Maria Ouspenskaya, Harry Davenport and Scotty Beckett.