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Monday, January 31, 2011

Son Of Cleopatra (aka Il Figlio De Cleopatra) (1964)

A corrupt governor (Livio Lorenzon) to Egypt appointed by Rome suppresses the Egyptian people and fills his coffers up with their tributes and taxes rather than pass them on to Rome. A young tribesman of the desert called El Kabir (Mark Damon, FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER), the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, begins a revolt against the tyranny of Rome. This rather ludicrous Italian sword and sandal adventure comes across as a low rent hodge podge of CLEOPATRA (the palace sequences) and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (the desert sequences). The film looks to actually have been filmed in Egypt but even then, when we see the pyramids, they're the worn down pyramids of 1964 rather than the still whole pyramids of 22 B.C. It doesn't help that the up-swept hairdo with its myriad of curls of leading lady Scilla Gabel (MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN) screams out the 1960s! As lazy entertainment, it's okay but its a long way from the pulpy fun of the Steve Reeves S&S spaghetti epics. With Alberto Lupo as Octavian Caesar.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Harry Black And The Tiger (1958)

Hired by the British home office to hunt down and kill a man eating tiger that has been raiding villages in an Indian province, Harry Black (Stewart Granger) must not only contend with his failing courage but the reappearance of a wartime friend (Anthony Steel) and his wife (Barbara Rush) who he fell in love with while Steel was a prisoner in a POW camp in Germany. Directed by Hugo Fregonese and based on the novel HARRY BLACK by David Walker, the film is about courage and fear in their various forms. Granger's fear of the tiger, Steel's fear of escape from the POW camp (which causes Harry to lose his leg) and Rush's fear of leaving her husband for Granger and even the tiger's own fear of death. Granted, the tiger is a man eater and must be destroyed but he's such a beautiful creature and one develops a perverse sympathy for him, wounded and struggling to survive in the jungle as the vultures hover over him ... waiting. Granger, never the most stimulating of actors, is quite good here in possibly his best performance. The authentic India locations give the film an atmospheric feel. John Wilcox (EXPRESSO BONGO) is responsible for the CinemaScope lensing and Clifton Parker the score (his scoring for the goodbye in the rain is particularly lovely). With I.S. Johar (DEATH ON THE NILE) in a BAFTA nominated performance and Kamala Devi (soon to be Mrs. Chuck Connors).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Z (1969)

After giving a speech advocating nuclear disarmament, a political activist (Yves Montand) is struck by a car leaving the lecture hall. But what is constructed to look like an accident is revealed to be a deliberate attack that involves the complicity and corruption of an entire Fascistic government. This stunning political thriller, directed by Costa-Gavras, is based on the Vasilis Vasilikos novel which is a thinly veiled account of the killing of Grigoris Lambrakis and the cover up by the Greek government. It's as intense a thriller as any mainstream Hollywood product as its best, but Costa-Gavras ups the ante by rapidly putting the audience in a vise and never letting go until we're near giddy from the intensity with only the film's downbeat coda to bring us back to earth. The remarkable editing is by Francoise Bonnot who justifiably won an Oscar and the excellent score is by Mikis Theodorakis. While there are no leading roles, the film is very much an ensemble piece, the sterling cast includes superb work by Irene Papas, Jean Louis Trintignant, Charles Denner, Renato Salvatori, Marcel Bozzuffi, Jacques Perrin, Georges Geret and Magali Noel.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Night Of The Generals (1967)

In 1942 Nazi occupied Poland, a prostitute is mutilated and murdered. The investigating officer (Omar Sharif) narrows down the investigation to three Generals (Peter O'Toole, Donald Pleasence, Charles Gray) but he is transferred to Paris before he can complete his investigation. In 1944 Nazi occupied Paris, all four men are once again simultaneously in the city at the same time and there is a second mutilation and murder of a prostitute. But it will take 20 years and two more killings before justice is done. Directed by Anatole Litvak (ANASTASIA) and produced by Sam Spiegel (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA), this sprawling thriller takes its time in unraveling its story which gives us not only time to know these characters but also allowing a subplot involving the plot to kill Hitler. It's a fascinating look into the psyche of the Aryan arrogance which formed the backbone of Nazism, chillingly personified by Peter O'Toole in peak form here. That great cinematographer Henri Decae makes excellent use of the Panavision screen and the overbaked score is by Maurice Jarre. The large and exceptional cast also includes Tom Courtenay, Philippe Noiret, Joanna Pettet, Christopher Plummer, Coral Browne, Harry Andrews, John Gregson, Veronique Vendell and Juliette Greco.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Girl Of The Night (1960)

After being brutally beaten up by a "John", a call girl (Anne Francis) begins analysis with a psychologist (Lloyd Nolan) in an attempt to understand the journey that brought her to her unhappy lot. Made the same year as the big budgeted BUTTERFIELD 8 in which the call girl of the John O'Hara novel was changed to a "model", this small B&W film dares to call a spade a spade and nothing is glossed over. Her humiliation by her sadistic pimp (John Kerr in a switch from his usual nice guy parts), her exploitation by her boozed up madam (Kay Medford, FUNNY GIRL), her molestation by a pedophile as a child, etc. Directed by Joseph Cates, the film is based on a non fiction book, a case study written by a psychotherapist, Dr. Harold Greenwald. The potential for exploitation has been eliminated by an intelligent script by Ted Berkman and Raphael Blau. There's no happy ending, just a glimmer of hope. At the center of it all is a marvelous nuanced, complicated performance by Anne Francis in the kind of part and performance actresses get Oscar nominations for. With Eileen Fulton (soon to become the long running star of the soap opera, AS THE WORLD TURNS for the next 50 years) as a first time call girl Francis takes under her wing.

Variety Lights (aka Luci Del Varieta) (1950)

A shabby traveling troupe of variety performers tour Italy, eking out an a meager existence. When an ambitious young girl (Carla Del Poggio) pushes her way into the troupe, she bewitches the beleaguered Lothario and head of the company (Peppino Del Filippo) who eventually abandons his long time love (Giulietta Masina) to further the career of the girl. Although co-directed by Alberto Lattuada, this is clearly Federico Fellini's film. Imagery, style and content are there that he would return to again and again. There's a fascination as well as an affection by Fellini for these ragtag performers, who love show business so much that they're perfectly content with the second rate theaters, rude audiences and performing with only the promise of money. There's a marvelous sequence where the troupe, who are hungry and have been doing without, are invited to a villa for dinner. We see them in the kitchen in their fine clothes as they prepare the banquet and the banquet itself as the only sound is the gobbling of their mouths as Fellini pans the camera as we watch them relishing their meal. Later, in the cold dawn, we see them leaving the villa walking down the road in imagery that would resurface memorably in the LA DOLCE VITA finale. Charming and memorable.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Power (1968)

A group of scientists in a space laboratory discover that there is among them, someone with psychic powers and a superior intelligence. When one by one, they are mysteriously killed off, one of them (George Hamilton) becomes the chief suspect. As he evades the police, he attempts to uncover the identity of the true psychic killer. Produced by fantasy/sci-fi specialist George Pal (TIME MACHINE, WAR OF THE WORLDS) and directed by Byron Haskin, the intriguing premise of a superhuman intelligence psychically killing those off who can unmask him is poorly handled here. The film feels padded out with scenes that don't contribute to the story though they may be of interest cinematically. For instance, there's a scene where Hamilton goes to a funhouse and hallucinates. It's a very well done scene and very interesting visually. But for Hamilton (granted he's not the first person you'd think of as a space scientist) to go to that funhouse is so arbitrary. There's no reason for it and his character doesn't seem the type. It's the film makers who want to go there because it makes for a good scene, that's why it's there! There's an intense score by Miklos Rozsa and the large cast includes Suzanne Pleshette, Michael Rennie, Aldo Ray, Yvonne De Carlo, Gary Merrill, Barbara Nichols, Nehemiah Persoff, Richard Carlson, Earl Holliman, Arthur O'Connell and Miiko Taka.

Tomahawk (1951)

A terrific jewel of a western. In 1866 Wyoming, gold is discovered and the U.S. government once again breaks a treaty, this time with the Sioux nation, and builds a fort on ceded Sioux lands. An Indian scout (Van Heflin) acts as an intermediary between the Sioux and the U.S. Cavalry in an attempt to prevent an Indian war. What's near remarkable about TOMAHAWK is how, for its era, it doesn't even attempt to disguise its pro-Indian sympathies. This was long before films like DANCES WITH WOLVES and LITTLE BIG MAN which came much later. Sure there was BROKEN ARROW the year before, but no other film (at least that I've seen) made up to that time documents the systematic betrayal of the Indian nations by the U.S. government. With one exception (Susan Cabot as an Indian maiden), the Sioux are played by real Native Americans rather than Caucasians which lends an authenticity to the film. The Indians are shown to be better fighters than the white man and ultimately defeated by technology, not superiority. The film ends on an ironic note. A pyrrhic victory for the Indians because we know it's temporary and the genocide will continue. The film manages, for the most part, to avoid cliches. Yvonne De Carlo (who must confront her own racism) is the leading lady and one waits for a romance between her and Heflin that never comes to fruition. With Rock Hudson, Preston Foster, Alex Nicol, Jack Oakie, Tom Tully and Ann Doran. A must for western fans!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fireflies In The Garden (2008)

At his mother's (Julia Roberts) funeral, her son (Ryan Reynolds) must confront the ghosts of the past that have prevented him from growing into a healthy and complete human being, namely the sadistic tyranny of his thuggish father (Willem Dafoe). The irony is that both are broken men, the son as emotionally cracked as the father. Written and directed by Chinese-American film maker Dennis Lee, the film delicately weaves the present day with the past until it becomes apparent that yet a third generation may be tainted by the sins of the father(s). To the film's credit, there is no catharsis. At the end, everything isn't tied up in a neat little ribbon. The scars are still there and they're not healed but maybe, just maybe, a truce. The film's biggest handicap is the bland Ryan Reynolds who is simply not a strong enough actor to handle the complexities of the part. In his scenes with Dafoe (if the film belongs to anyone, it's Dafoe), Reynolds recedes. Strangely enough, the film shys away from addressing the mother's possible complicity in the child's (Cayden Boyd as the young Reynolds) destruction by standing by and allowing it to happen. With Emily Watson (wonderful as always as Roberts' sister), Hayden Panettiere as the young Watson, Ioan Gruffudd and Carrie-Anne Moss.

Young Billy Young (1969)

A lawman (Robert Mitchum) takes a young gunfighter (Robert Walker Jr.) under his wing as he approaches his new assignment as sheriff in the town where his nemesis is the man (John Anderson) who killed his son. This undistinguished western, directed by Burt Kennedy (SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF), is as routine as a TV episode of GUNSMOKE or RAWHIDE. Though the film is called YOUNG BILLY YOUNG, the film is about Mitchum's character but the film lacks a core. Mitchum seems rather lackadaisical about his revenge. What the film needs is the kind of intensive, repressed fire that James Stewart brought to his Anthony Mann westerns. Angie Dickinson as the saloon girl who falls for Mitchum doesn't have much to do except show off her legs and the film's finale is either a ripoff or homage to RIVER OF NO RETURN which starred Mitchum and with Dickinson subbing for Marilyn Monroe. The incongruous score is by the jazz drummer Shelly Manne and the title song is sung, quite nicely too, by Mitchum. With David Carradine, Jack Kelly, Paul Fix, Parley Baer and Deana Martin (Dean's daughter and pretty lousy) as Walker's romantic interest.

It Had To Be You (1947)

After jilting three grooms at the altar on the wedding day, a young woman (Ginger Rogers) is contemplating a fourth (Ron Randell) when her future father in law (Thurston Hall) suggests she go away by herself to think it over. On the trip home, a man (Cornel Wilde) dressed as an Indian literally steps out of her dreams and proceeds to disrupt her life. Then she meets Wilde's doppelganger and the situations reverse. Co-directed by the film's producer Don Hartman and the film's cinematographer Rudolph Mate. The film is hampered by an unusually wan screenplay by the normally reliable Melvin Frank and Norman Panama (THE COURT JESTER) and sloppily co-directed. Examples: Wilde smashes a window at the train station to escape but no one reacts or seems to notice and Rogers bolts out of a cab without paying and the taxi driver just looks on! Rogers gives an irritating performance, looking quite matronly at age 36 but using a breathy baby voice inappropriate to her age. Wilde shows no talent for comedy as the dream man and does much better playing it straight as the doppelganger. With Spring Byington and Percy Waram as Rogers' befuddled parents.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Attack Of The Crab Monsters (1957)

A small group of scientists arrive on a small Pacific island in the hopes of determining what happened to the previous group of scientists who have disappeared as well as do research on the effects of radiation from recent A-bomb tests. Meanwhile, a series of earthquakes threaten the island as members of their group disappear. Roger Corman directs this sci-fi creature feature that's barely over an hour long. Its low budget is only too obvious and the film shoves logic down the tubes. Corman compensates by economizing the tension but it doesn't override the film's innate silliness. Still, it retains that nostalgic charm that those 1950s low budget sci-fi programmers have for so many baby boomers. The cast includes Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan, Russell Johnson (later to reach TV fame as the professor in GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) and Ed Nelson.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cats And Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore (2010)

An evil hairless cat (Bette Midler) going by the name of Kitty Galore hatches a plan for world domination that would have dogs turn on their owners thus allowing for a world of cat domination with her as dictator. To this end, two dogs (James Marsden, Nick Nolte), a cat (Christina Applegate) and a pigeon (Katt Williams) reluctantly join forces to stop the evil Kitty Galore! A long belated sequel to the 2001 CATS AND DOGS, this family friendly, heavily CGI'd comedy is harmless enough but never manages to establish a comedic rhythm, instead it's all over the place. If it shoots enough cat and dog jokes at you, it's bound to hit a mark once in awhile. But the film reaches inspiration only twice. The opening credits are a witty parody of and homage to Maurice Binder's title credits to the James Bond films, with leaping felines instead of nude female silhouettes, dogs on bones instead of nudes on gun barrels and there's even a Shirley Bassey song accompanying it. The other is an amusing parody of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS with Sean Hayes (Mr. Tinkles of the 2001 film) as a Hannibal Lecter like cat. The cast includes Roger Moore, Michael Clarke Duncan and Wallace Shawn as felines and Neil Patrick Harris and Joe Pantoliano as dogs with Chris O'Donnell representing the human species.

Boom! (1968)

An outrageously wealthy but terminally ill woman (Elizabeth Taylor) is vacationing in her summer home on a secluded island in the Mediterranean when a poet (Richard Burton) trespasses on her island. He is known as the "Angel Of Death" because whenever he visits, someone dies. On paper, this film would seem to have everything going for it. Directed by Joseph Losey (THE GO BETWEEN), a screenplay by Tennessee Williams, cinematography by Douglas Slocombe (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), a score by John Barry and two of the biggest stars (at that time) in the leads. How to explain the mess that stumbles across the screen? Well, for starters, the source material. It's based on a Williams play THE MILK TRAIN DOESN'T STOP HERE ANYMORE that flopped, not once, but twice on Broadway. It's just not a good play. Despite its gorgeous Sardinia setting (a sprawling white villa on the cliffs overlooking the sea), it's not cinematic at all. Ordinarily, it wouldn't be a problem if the dialogue were sufficiently compelling but the film lacks even a hint of Williams' beautiful prose. Burton is way too old for a role that was conceived for a beautiful young man (Tab Hunter played it on Broadway) and the role of the Witch Of Capri (played by Mildred Dunnock in the original cast) is given to a gnome like Noel Coward. All we're left with are the stunning scenery and some occasionally amusing line readings from Taylor. With Joanna Shimkus (soon to retire and marry Sidney Poitier), Michael Dunn and Romolo Valli.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Salome (1953)

After being spurned by her Roman lover (Rex Reason), the Princess Salome (Rita Hayworth) returns home to Galilee where she finds one John The Baptist (Alan Badel) preaching against her mother, the Queen Herodias (Judith Anderson). Trapped in a loveless marriage to Herod (Charles Laughton), the Queen plots to use Salome to get her revenge on the Baptist. Based on the novel THE GOOD TIDINGS by William Sidney and directed by William Dieterle (PORTRAIT OF JENNIE). Perhaps the silliest of the Hollywood biblical epics, like most biblical movies it has very little to do with the actual biblical texts and contains lots of padded fabrication. Even taking that into account, the film's portrayal of Salome as a good hearted girl gone wrong and saved by love and Christianity comes across as quite ludicrous. The film is too earnest in its telling and lacks the vulgarity that often make these types of films great fun. Hayworth, at age 35, is far too mature for the young Salome. Laughton doesn't have much to feast on but Anderson makes for a marvelously malevolent Queen. The film's highpoint is Hayworth's Dance Of The Seven Veils (choreographed by Valerie Bettis) which alone makes the film a must see  for the Hayworth completist. The normally inoffensive Stewart Granger is actually quite deadly here and he and Hayworth have zero chemistry. But the film's worst performance comes from Badel whose performance as the Baptist is all bulging eyes with his head tilted upward to Heavven. George Duning did the score proper with Daniele Amfitheattrof doing the music for Hayworth's dance. With Cedric Hardwicke, Arnold Moss and Basily Sydney. 

Le Souffle Au Coeur (aka Murmur Of The Heart) (1971)

A precocious, jazz loving 14 year old (Benoit Ferreux), the son of a bourgeois uptight father (Daniel Gelin, MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) and a free spirited Italian emigrant mother (Lea Massari, L'AVVENTURA) who spoils him, comes of age in in 1954 France. Director Louis Malle looks back at his adolescence through a buoyant haze of irreverent comedic anecdotes, some amusing, some poignant, some irritating but all invigorating. Ferreux's older than his years adolescent face is the perfect blank page for Malle's molding. The film's controversial ending seems more uncomfortable today than it did in the free wheeling 70s. Given the current atmosphere, I seriously doubt the film could be made today and be as widely embraced by both critics and public the way it was in 1971. Massari is outstanding as the unconditionally loving and nurturing, unrestrained mother. Malle laces the film with the jazz sounds of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. With Michael Lonsdale as a possibly pedophile priest.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Prince Who Was A Thief (1951)

An assassin (Everett Sloane) hired to kill a royal infant in order for his uncle to usurp the throne has second thoughts and raises the child as his own. The boy (Tony Curtis) grows up to be a master thief and plans his biggest robbery yet ..... the royal treasury! This Technicolor Arabian nights fantasy is pure hokum but one would have to be quite the movie snob to resist its Saturday matinee innocence that draws out the eight year old in you. This is the film that made Curtis a star and though he's as handsome as Valentino, his acting skills are anemic to say the least but he can scale walls and jump from parapets very nicely. Contrary to urban legend, Curtis does not say, "Yonder lies da castle of my fodder"! The young Piper Laurie doesn't have much to do as a street rat with the ability to contort her body which enables her to get in and out of tight spots. Directed by Rudolph Mate (D.O.A.), based on a story by Theodore Dreiser no less and with Irving Glassberg (BEND OF THE RIVER) whose cinematography attempts to turn the Universal backlot into old Bagdad. With Betty Garde, Jeff Corey, Peggie Castle as the duplicitous Princess Yasmin, Marvin Miller and Hayden Rorke.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Heroes Of Telemark (1965)

In 1944 Norway which is under Nazi occupation, a group of resistance fighters attempt to sabotage a factory which is producing heavy water which will be used in the development for the first atomic bomb. Based on a true story, Anthony Mann directs this WWII diverting action adventure but with none of the distinction that earmarks his best films. A few years later, this kind of thing would be done better with WHERE EAGLES DARE. It's kind of hard to accept Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris as Norwegians, not surprisingly the Swedish Ulla Jacobsson (Bergman's SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT) is more convincing. The snowbound landscapes are handsomely photographed in wide screen Panavision courtesy of Robert Krasker (EL CID) and Malcolm Arnold keeps things stirred up with his regal score and the film's last ten minutes are filled with genuine nail biting tension but mostly it feels generic, lacking a strong sense of focus. With Michael Redgrave, Anton Diffring, Barry Jones, Geoffrey Keen, Mervyn Johns and Faith Brook.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

SOS Pacific (1959)

A small sea plane carrying a few passengers is forced down over the Pacific ocean during a thunder storm. They manage to get their lifeboats to a small uninhabited island. But, to their horror, they discover the island is a test site for an atomic bomb in a matter of hours. This minor entry in the airline disaster genre has a bit of pedigree behind it. The director is Guy Green (A PATCH OF BLUE), dialogue by Bryan Forbes (SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON), cinematography by Wilkie Cooper (7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) and a score by Georges Auric (Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) so it's surprising how pedestrian it all is. Oh, it's eminently watchable in a 2 A.M. late show sort of way but if one has seen the 1953 SPLIT SECOND, which covered similar territory, then it loses points. Particularly dire is Forbes' dialogue but Green, to his credit, manages to sustain tension. The cast includes Richard Attenborough at his most sniveling, Eddie Constantine (ALPHAVILLE), Pier Angeli, Eva Bartok (who has the brunt of the bad lines), John Gregson and Jean Anderson.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Pumpkin Eater (1964)

A woman (Anne Bancroft) who has five children leaves her second husband (Richard Johnson) to marry a struggling screenwriter (Peter Finch). After having a sixth child by him, their marriage begins to unravel, in part, due to his infidelities. Based on the novel by Penelope Mortimer (Harold Pinter adapted it for the screen) and directed by Jack Clayton (ROOM AT THE TOP). This is an incisive character study of a woman obsessed with having children which may have more to do with a distaste for sex and using children as the justification for it rather than a passion for motherhood. After her third marriage, she sends two of her oldest boys to boarding school and seems to forget about them. Bancroft is sensational here in what may be her best performance (she won the Cannes film festival best actress award). A character who seems to have no direction in life other than being wrapped up in her husband and breeding children isn't very interesting yet whether wound up or passive, Bancroft inhabits this complicated woman with all her nuances and contradictions. It's a fierce performance although I felt betrayed by the innocuous ending which just seems to stop because it has nowhere else to go. The delicate score is by Georges Delerue. The excellent supporting cast includes James Mason (superb as always), Maggie Smith, Cedric Hardwicke, Janine Gray and Yootha Joyce in an unsettling portrait of a woman undone. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Case 39 (2009)

An overworked, stressed out social worker (Renee Zellweger) is assigned the case of a 10 year old girl (Jodelle Ferland) who is terrified of her parents (Callum Keith Rennie, Kerry O'Malley), who she says want to send her to Hell. After a shocking and brutal murder attempt on her life by her parents who are declared insane, Zellweger takes the girl into her home. That's when the real horror begins as the social worker discovers things aren't always what they seem. Originally shot in 2006, the film sat on the shelf until it was released in 2009 internationally and late 2010 in the U.S. Is it that bad? No, but it's poorly written and some of the dialogue is cringe inducing. Example: after stopping a murder attempt, a police detective (Ian McShane) angrily snaps, "What kind of people are you?" Duh! Child abuse and any harm to a child are deeply disturbing but what if that child is literally the spawn of Satan? Well, it doesn't make it any less unpleasant. If one has a fondness for demon child movies like BAD SEED and THE OMEN then you might find it tolerable and there's no denying some of the film's horror set pieces have some pull. Zellweger expresses hysteria and terror very nicely, it's a pity her character weren't sharper. With Bradley Cooper in one of the film's unfortunate CGI sequences.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ultimate Warrior (1975)

Set in New York City in the year 2012 after a plague has wiped out most of the populace, the leader of a small band of survivors known as The Baron (Max Von Sydow) recruits a "warrior" (Yul Brynner) to protect them but his real motivation is to have the warrior take his pregnant daughter (Joanna Miles), along with some plant seeds that are immune to the plague virus, out of the city and to an island off the coast of North Carolina for a better life. Written and directed by Robert Clouse, this film comes only four years after the similarly themed but far superior THE OMEGA MAN which was also released by the same studio, Warners. It's a rather unpleasant tale with a lot of people behaving stupidly. Whether their stupid behavior is a result of the plague is never made clear but it's difficult to have much empathy for their unpleasant fates when they brought it on themselves. The cheesy 70s score is courtesy of Gil Melle (THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN). With the "B" movie cult actor William Smith as the leader of the roving band of marauders that threaten Von Sydow's dwindling community.

Hurlevent (aka Wuthering Heights) (1985)

Jacques Rivette takes the Emily Bronte classic WUTHERING HEIGHTS and takes almost all the Bronte out of it. Updated from the mid 19th century Yorkshire moors to the 1930s French countryside, Rivette keeps the skeleton of the plot and goes through the motions but it's curiously absent of passion, surely a fatal mistake if one is doing WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Rivette's Catherine (Fabienne Babe) is a bitch, something she never was in the Bronte novel. Isabella (Alice De Poncheville), called Isabel here, the novel's unwitting innocent here becomes complicit in her own masochistic victimization. The venal Hindley (Olivier Cruveiller), called Guillaume here, of the novel becomes quite sympathetic and an almost tragic figure under Rivette. It becomes an interesting and at times engrossing experiment in taking a novel and stripping it down and then rebuilding it but rarely more than that. Only in the film's final scene, beautifully rendered, is there a touch of Bronte. The acclaimed 1939 Wyler should have ended this way. With Lucas Belvaux as a most insipid Heathcliff (called Roch in the film) and in the film's most appealing performance, Sandra Montaigu as the housekeeper Helene (the Ellen of the novel) who utters, "You're all mad. I'm the only one with common sense". I don't think anyone will argue with her.

An Ideal Husband (1947)

An adventuress (Paulette Goddard) of dubious ethics attempts to blackmail a prominent member (Hugh Williams) of the House of Commons into supporting a fraudulent scheme to build a canal in Argentina by revealing a youthful indiscretion of his that would taint his unblemished reputation. His wife (Diana Wynyard) has very strict moral views on right and wrong and any unethical behavior on his part would cause a rift in their marriage. The Oscar Wilde play on honor and its shades of gray gets the lavish Technicolor treatment from director Alexander Korda (THAT HAMILTON WOMAN), costumes by Cecil Beaton (MY FAIR LADY), sets by Vincent Korda (THIEF OF BAGDAD) and music by Arthur Benjamin. It's not very cinematic and makes very few, if any, concessions to cinema but the lively acting prevents it from coming across as a musty museum piece and it stays faithful to Wilde's construct. There's a touch of the common in Goddard's blackmailing Mrs. Cheveley which contrasts nicely to the slightly stiff English aristocracy. With Glynis Johns, Michael Wilding, C. Aubrey Smith and Constance Collier.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Fan (1949)

An old woman (Madeleine Carroll) wants to reclaim a fan up for auction but is unable to prove the fan belonged to her. She seeks out an elderly man (George Sanders) who knew her back when she owned the fan but he doesn't remember her. She then proceeds to tell him her story of the fan and how it came into her possession. Otto Preminger is probably the least likely director (he also produced the film) one would think of to direct this biting Oscar Wilde comedy, Ernst Lubitsch yes, but Preminger? The script (Dorothy Parker was one of the three screenwriters who had a hand) bookends the film with an unnecessary present day (London 1949) sequence before going to the Oscar Wilde material but the film is bowdlerized to the point that only its plot is retained and even that makes some misguided changes to the Wilde material. That being said, if one can accept that it isn't Wilde's LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN but some curious hybrid then it's an acceptable piece of costume melodrama. The cast includes Jeanne Crain (charming as Lady Windermere), Richard Greene, Martita Hunt, John Sutton and Richard Ney.

The Constant Husband (1955)

A man (Rex Harrison) wakes up in an inn in Wales with no memory. He is diagnosed by the local doctor (Cecil Parker) as a victim of amnesia. As he and the doctor attempt to investigate his past in an attempt to discover his true identity, what they discover is a deceitful bigamist, a man with many identities and just as many wives! Directed by Sidney Gilliat, best known as the writer of such British classic movie thrillers as THE LADY VANISHES and GREEN FOR DANGER, the film is moderately amusing and expertly played by Harrison at his most charming but it never fulfills its comedic potential. There's no payoff. It just sort of runs out of steam and ends in an unsatisfying conclusion. The score is by Malcolm Arnold (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI). The large and gifted supporting cast includes Margaret Leighton as Harrison's solicitor, Kay Kendall, Nicole Maurey, Valerie French as three of his wives, Robert Coote and Michael Hordern.

Friday, January 14, 2011

You Were Never Lovelier (1942)

An American dancer (Fred Astaire), who finds himself penniless in Argentina because of gambling, reluctantly agrees to woo the daughter (Rita Hayworth) of a Buenos Aires businessman (Adolphe Menjou) then dump her in exchange for an engagement at the father's nightclub. But fate plays funny tricks. This sliver of a musical benefits greatly by the chemistry between Astaire and Hayworth, who dance superbly together. The songs by Jerome Kern (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics) are lovely and include two winners, the Oscar nominated Dearly Beloved and I'm Old Fashioned (whose duet by Astaire and Hayworth is the film's musical highlight). The screenplay (Delmer Daves was one of the co-scripters) is amusing enough to engage us and there are some clever comedic performances particularly Menjou as the acid tongued papa and Gus Schilling providing comic relief as Menjou's put upon secretary. Directed by William A. Seiter and with Isobel Elsom, Adele Mara, Leslie Brooks, Mary Field, Lina Romay and the bandleader Xavier Cugat playing himself and very well, too.

In The Beginning (2000)

Nearing the three hour mark, this follows the stories of Abraham (Martin Landau) and Sarah (Jacqueline Bisset) through to Moses (an ineffectual Bill Campbell) and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. It's an dull, unimaginative effort of straight forward telling, the filmed equivalent of one of those "great stories from the Bible" picture books. It lacks the artistry and vision of something like John Huston's THE BIBLE (1966) whose film took a similar path but provided the imagination, mystery and moral conundrums that took the stories to another level. Only once is there is there any display out of the ordinary when Moses turns his staff into a cobra at the court of Rameses II (Art Malik) which is very well done. As for the rest of the film, too much is crammed into too little time so all we seem to get is highlights and some of the performances are truly dire, Eddie Cibrian as Joseph is particularly embarrassing, as if they were acting in a contemporary action movie. Kevin Connor gets the blame for the direction and the large cast includes Diana Rigg (very good as Rebeccah), Alan Bates, Christopher Lee, Geraldine Chaplin, David Warner, Amanda Donohoe, Steve Berkoff, Victor Spinetti, Frederick Weller and Terri Seymour as Eve.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Naked Edge (1961)

An American businessman (Gary Cooper) in London is the sole witness to the robbery and murder of his employer. It's upon his testimony that a clerk (Ray McAnally) is convicted and sent to prison for life. But after intercepting a blackmail letter, Cooper's wife (Deborah Kerr) begins to suspect that her husband is the killer and that it was the robbery money that set him up in a successful business. As she investigates, she becomes more and more convinced of her suspicions. Based on the novel FIRST TRAIN TO BABYLON by Max Ehrlich, adapted for the screen by Joseph Stefano (PSYCHO) and directed by Michael Anderson (AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS). The film recalls Hitchock's SUSPICION, the 1941 thriller in which Joan Fontaine suspects hubby Cary Grant is a murderer and she, his next victim. Like the Hitchcock film which titillated us with the idea of Cary Grant as a murderer, EDGE plays with us, using Cooper's stalwart honest all American persona as the mask of a possible cold blooded killer. Alas, it's to no avail. The film is extremely talky with very little suspense until the very end but even that is diluted as we know the real killer's identity by then. Marlon Brando's father was one of the film's producers. With Diane Cilento, Hermione Gingold, Michael Wilding, Eric Portman and Peter Cushing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Perfect (1985)

A journalist (John Travolta) for Rolling Stone magazine works on two stories simultaneously. One, the case of a businessman (Kenneth Welsh) busted for drugs by the federal government and two, on the Los Angeles health club phenomenon which have turned into the singles bars of the 1980s. Based on an actual series of articles from Rolling Stone, PERFECT was much maligned when released and not undeservedly so, I doubt if anyone who has not lived through the L.A. gymrat obsession of turning working out into a social life in their quest for the body beautiful, will appreciate the film's ironies and wit (which granted, are few and far between). The film is weakened by splitting its focus into the two plot lines, both suffering and adding an already unnecessary length to the film. There's an amusing sequence with Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis (in sensational shape) as an aerobic instructor simulating sex while working out but the sequence goes on for far too long eventually wearing out its welcome. A little goes a long way. Directed by James Bridges (THE CHINA SYNDROME) and with Laraine Newman (who steals the film), Marilu Henner, Anne De Salvo, Jann Wenner, Lauren Hutton and Mathew Reed.

Detective (2005)

An ex-priest turned police detective (Tom Berenger) has left his wife (Cybill Shepherd) and is having an affair with a fellow police officer (Annabeth Gish). When a series of grisly torture serial killings by a religious fanatic terrorize the ocean side town, it leads him down a dark and shocking path. Based on the novel by Arthur Hailey (AIRPORT, HOTEL), when the film focuses on the hunt for the serial killer and the murders, it's pretty riveting. Unfortunately, the film is padded with scenes of domestic turmoil which, while they payoff at the very end, dilutes the tension and drags down the story. The film pushes near the three hour mark when it should have been a tight and taut two hours at the most. The acting is pretty poor (even such reliable ones as Charles Durning) and the characters so irritating that when one of the major characters becomes a victim of the serial killer, you're almost relieved. Directed by Davis S. Cass Sr. With Rick Gomez, Wanda De Jesus, Lee Garlington and Rutanya Alda.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lady Windermere's Fan (1916)

A woman (Irene Rooke), who abandoned her husband and infant daughter years ago for a lover (and whose lover eventually abandoned her), living in Paris decides to return to London to ask for financial assistance from the husband (Milton Rosmer) of her grown up daughter (Netta Westcott). The husband agrees on the condition she never reveal her true identity to her daughter. Meanwhile, when the wife discovers the sums her husband is paying the woman, she assumes her husband is having an affair. Directed by Fred Paul, this silent film based on the 1892 play by Oscar Wilde lacks the wit of the play. This is to be expected, of course, as the absence of Wilde's verbal banter leaves only the shell of the play, not unlike the silent films based on Shakespeare. Still, it's modestly captivating in a curio sort of way with decent acting. The version I saw had an excellent newly composed score by Nicholas Brown which was composed in 2001.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Barbarian And The Geisha (1958)

The story of Townsend Harris (John Wayne), the first U.S. Consul General to the Japan of 1856, sent by President Franklin Pierce and whose presence was unwelcome and how he overcame Japanese resistance to opening its shores to foreigners. Directed by John Huston, who disowned the film after 20th Century Fox severely edited the film without his input, the film is a romanticized and fabricated view of the actual events though there is apparently some basis in fact to the titillating title. Japan is beautifully photographed in CinemaScope by Charles G. Clarke (CAROUSEL) and for the most part the Japanese speak Japanese instead of English (Sam Jaffe plays Wayne's interpreter) for some authenticity. While one can't help but admire Wayne for trying to stretch himself, he can't hide his awkwardness in the role. I kept thinking how good Gregory Peck would have been in the role. There are some nice moments though like the six foot plus Wayne being bounced around by a five foot Japanese performing Jiu-Jitsu on him or the husky Wayne joining in with some Japanese dancers. The lovely Eiko Ando, in her only film role, plays the geisha of the title. The shimmering score is by Hugo Friedhofer.

Winter's Bone (2010)

Set in one of the closed, inbred communities (this one specializes in making "crank" aka methamphetamine) in the Ozarks where everyone is distantly related and which has their own rules and laws that protect their own, the film follows a 17 year old girl's (Jennifer Lawrence) journey to find her father after he fails to show up for his court date and she finds out that the family home was put up as collateral. If she can't find her father, she (and her mother and two siblings) lose the family home which is all they have. Director Debra Granik does an amazing job of taking us into this strange backwoods world that doesn't live by ordinary rules. Whoever was responsible for the casting did an incredible job. With the exception of the two leads, Jennifer Lawrence (it doesn't help that Lawrence has blonde highlights, was there an upscale beauty parlor nearby?) and John Hawkes, who come across as actors (which doesn't negate their fine work), the authenticity of the rest of the cast is startling. You can believe these are real mountain people, not actors. The movie doesn't condescend to these people like so many Hollywood films do. It respects them even when it bares their dirty secrets.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

La Parisienne (1957)

An immature young girl (Brigitte Bardot) marries a philanderer (Henri Vidal, whose character is named Michel Legrand) and when she suspects he's still seeing his ex-mistress (Madeleine Lebeau), she concocts a plot to make him jealous by having an affair with a visiting Prince (Charles Boyer). Directed by Michel Boisrond, this rather silly sex farce is enlivened by the pert presence of the sexy Bardot at the peak of her nubile beauty. Why anyone marrried to the vixenish Bardot would even think of cheating is beyond understanding but for plot purposes, (try to) suspend disbelief. Comedies like this need to be a cinematic souffle but what we end up with is bread and butter. But oh that Brigitte ..... viva Bardot! With Nadia Gray and Andre Luguet. 

Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Based on the Booth Tarkington novel, Orson Welles second film (his follow up to CITIZEN KANE) follows the fall of an arrogant, upper middle class prig (Tim Holt) who sees his birthright as an excuse to ignore or dismiss anything that doesn't fit into his narrow world and the tragedy that befalls his family because of that arrogance. What's amazing about Welles' masterpiece is that, despite its mutilation by RKO and with almost an hour of Welles' footage cut and an unforgivable happy ending tacked on, it still is one of the high points of American cinema. While we'll never be able to know what we've lost, what we have is superb film making. If what we have is this good, is it possible that AMBERSONS might have triumphed KANE? With Joseph Cotten, Anne Baxter, Dolores Costello, Ray Collins, Richard Bennett and in the film's best performance, Agnes Moorehead as the spinster aunt in the kind of performance that leaves you holding your breath, like watching someone walking a tightrope. It's hard to judge which is her great scene, the second scene on the stairs or the one by the hot water heater. The delicate sombre score is by Bernard Herrmann whose scoring for the sleigh ride in the snow ranks with his very best work.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wait Until Dark (1967)

A psychopath (Alan Arkin) enlists the aid of two petty criminals (Richard Crenna, Jack Weston) to help him retrieve a doll, which contains heroin, from a blind woman (Audrey Hepburn) who is unaware of the doll's contents. Directed by Terence Young and based on the hit Broadway play by Frederick Knott (DIAL M FOR MURDER), the film is a cleverly conceived, if over plotted, thriller that slowly builds its tension to the near breaking point and then lets loose with a doozy of a "scream" moment that while it may lack its original shock (it's been done to death dozens of times since), still retains its intensity. Hepburn is simply sensational here and along with THE NUN'S STORY, this may be her finest moment as an actress. She's matched superbly by Arkin whose Harry Roat is one of the nastiest screen villains in movie history. The film retains much of its theatrical origins but it only aids in keeping an appropriate claustrophobic atmosphere. The marvelously unsettling score is by Henry Mancini. With Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Samantha Jones and Julie Herrod.

Young Caruso (aka Enrico Caruso: Leggenda Di Una Voce) (1951)

The same year (1951) as MGM's lavish Technicolor THE GREAT CARUSO with Mario Lanza, this Italian feature dwells on Caruso's younger years. It's hopelessly over sentimental and fabricated. It's one asset is that it was filmed in Naples in B&W which is about the only bit of authentic feel to the film. The rest is as cliched as any Hollywood bio of the period. Two actors play Caruso. Maurizio Di Nardo plays Caruso as a boy and Ermanno Randi plays him as a young man with Mario Del Monaco dubbing Randi's singing voice. Curiously, the actors who play Caruso's friends are played by the same actors through out the film. Thus you have a 23 year old Gina Lollobrigida playing a peer of 12 year old Di Nardo with 26 year old Carlo Sposito as his best friend! Randi doesn't have the strong presence of Lanza in the MGM film and unlike Lanza, he's dubbed so there's no one to hold the film together. Directed by Giacomo Gentilomo. This was the American version I viewed which is some 14 minutes shorter than the Italian version. I suppose I should be grateful that it wasn't the "uncut" version.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wuthering Heights (1939)

William Wyler has compacted the classic Emily Bronte novel into a one hour and forty minutes movie, jettisoning the novel's second act and tacking on a rather dubious ethereal ending. All in all though, he's done an ace job of Gothic romanticism and it's one of the great romances of the cinema. The brooding Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff is impossibly handsome and he can't disguise his innate elegance so while he's not quite convincing as an ex dirty stable boy, he brings power and stature to the role. Less successful is Merle Oberon as Cathy. She's as impossibly beautiful as Olivier is handsome but her passion comes across as pique rather than an intense ardor. The handsome B&W photography is by the great Gregg Toland (CITIZEN KANE) and Alfred Newman composed one of his most beautiful scores. The excellent supporting cast includes David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald (in the film's best performance as Isabella), Flora Robson, Donald Crisp, Leo G. Carroll and Cecil Kellaway.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Valley Of The Dolls (1967)

Three young women (Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Sharon Tate) become close friends in New York City as each pursues a career and romance. Their paths will continue to cross as they climb the heights of show business ... and their fall. Based on the sensational best selling potboiler by Jacqueline Susann (who has a cameo as a reporter), Mark Robson would seem to be the ideal director for the project. After all, he was the one who turned Grace Metalious's lurid and trashy PEYTON PLACE into a insightful and sensitive look into small town hypocrisy in its 1957 film incarnation. Alas, lightning doesn't strike twice in this scenario. The film is crudely written and directed (Harlan Ellison who wrote the first draft of the screenplay kept the darker tones and downbeat ending) and some serious casting issues only add to the mess. The miscast Duke, the uncharismatic Paul Burke, the untalented Tony Scotti but the luminous Tate gives the only honest performance in the film. Still, despite everything, there's a grim germ of truth in the film's depiction the way women are (still) used, abused, chewed up and spat out in Hollywood though the film's "camp" followers aren't interested. Dionne Warwick sings the haunting title song written by Dory and Andre Previn which John Williams adapted into a lovely underscore. With Lee Grant, Martin Milner, Richard Dreyfuss, Joey Bishop, Charles Drake, Alexander Davion and Susan Hayward.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Heart Of The Matter (1953)

Set in West Africa during WWII, an unhappily married police inspector (Trevor Howard) in the British colony of Sierra Leone, who is a devout Catholic, struggles with his conscience when he has an affair with a recently widowed young woman (Maria Schell). This situation is only exacerbated when he is blackmailed by a diamond smuggler (Gerard Oury) into compromising himself. Based on the highly acclaimed novel (Time named it one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century) by Graham Greene and directed by George More O'Ferrell (THE HOLLY AND THE IVY). The film stays remarkably close to the novel (except for the ending) and is anchored by a compelling performance by Howard, who gets under the very skin of a man torn apart by his betrayal of his wife, his mistress, his job and his God. The change of ending from the novel is odd only in that the film's ending is just as bleak as the novel's, so why bother to change it? The film keeps the spirit of Greene's work while compacting it. The excellent supporting cast includes Elizabeth Allan (an English import at MGM in the 1930s) as Howard's wife, Peter Finch, Michael Hordern, George Coulouris and Denholm Elliott as an insufferable snitch in love with Allan.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

In an effort to find out what has become of large quantities of vanishing diamonds that the British government feels pay be stockpiled in order to depress the diamond market, James Bond (Sean Connery) infiltrates a diamond smuggling ring. This leads him to Las Vegas, a reclusive billionaire (Jimmy Dean) and his old nemesis Ernst Blofeld (Charles Gray) and discovers a more nefarious use of the diamonds than stockpiling. This was Connery's last outing as 007 and directed by Guy Hamilton who helmed GOLDFINGER. The film lacks the polish and glamour of the previous entries, partly due to the Las Vegas locales which lack the allure of the Swiss alps, the Caribbean, Istanbul or Japan. The Bond girls, Jill St. John and Lana Wood, are rather commonplace though St. John has one great moment shooting a machine gun in a bikini and high heels as the force of the gun propels her backward into the sea. Still, it's a solid effort in the Bond franchise with several highlights like the Bambi and Thumper confrontation and Bond confronted with two Blofelds though the two gay villains (Bruce Glover, Putter Smith) are overplayed stereotypes. John Barry provides the lovely score which includes one of the very best Bond songs, the title tune sung by Shirley Bassey. With Bruce Cabot, Laurence Naismith, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn and Valerie Perrine.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Mother (aka Madeo) (2009)

When her simple minded son (Won-Bin) is arrested for the murder of a young girl, his mother (Kim Hye-ja) sets out to prove his innocence against all odds and against all costs. The journey will take her into the very (to borrow from Joseph Conrad) heart of darkness. As a film it suffers from the same problems that plagued Bong Joon-ho's popular and critically acclaimed THE HOST, the clumsy juxtaposition of broad comedy and melodrama which seems prevalent to several Korean films I've seen. Whereas THE HOST had a terrific beginning before stumbling its way toward the end, MOTHER opens awkwardly and has an uncomfortable first hour. It redeems itself in the second hour though ... and how, when Bong tightens it up considerably and concentrates on the background of and the circumstances leading up to the girl's murder. Hye-ja's performance has been lauded and justifiably so. It's the kind of roles actresses dream about playing and Hye-ja runs with it triumphantly. She's magnificent! In a smaller role, Jin Goo is impressive as the son's dubious friend.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Stolen Life (1946)

A rather inhibited New England painter (Bette Davis) falls in love with the lighthouse keeper (Glenn Ford) on an island off the coast where she and her predatory twin sister (also played by Davis) have a vacation home. When the scheming sister meets Ford, she decides to steal him away from her timid twin and she succeeds in marrying him. But a sailing accident will turn everything around. Directed by Curtis Bernhardt, this was the first of the two "good twin, bad twin" films Davis did (the other came in 1964, DEAD RINGER) and it isn't as fun as the second one. It begins promisingly enough and Davis is very good at delineating the character differences between the two sisters. Too good in fact so that when she attempts to pass herself off as the "bad" sister, you wonder why no one can see that, the physical similarities aside, she's a totally different person. The most interesting character is the "chip on his shoulder, mad at the world" starving artist played by Dane Clark who seems a better choice for the good sister rather than Ford. The regurgitated score is by Max Steiner. With Walter Brennan, Charles Ruggles, Bruce Bennett and Peggy Knudsen.

Tammy And The Bachelor (1957)

An unworldly young girl (Debbie Reynolds) living in the Louisiana bayou with her grandfather (Walter Brennan) rescues a young man (Leslie Nielsen) after his plane crashes in the bayou and nurses him back to health. After the grandfather is sent to jail for making moonshine liquor, she goes to live with Nielsen's eccentric family in their mansion where she dispenses homespun homilies and common sense. A departure from the lush melodramas he usually produced, producer Ross Hunter and director Joseph Pevney whipped up a fluffy slice of movie cornbread and depending on your appetite for corn, you may or may not find it tasty. Reynolds is near irresistible in the title role and her rendering of the title song (an Oscar nominated song and a big chart hit for her) is lovely. The Universal backlot stands in for the Louisiana bayous but cinematographer Arthur E. Arling somehow manages to almost make it real. The delicate score is by Frank Skinner. With Fay Wray, Mala Powers, Mildred Natwick, Sidney Blackmer and Louise Beavers.