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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Captain Nemo And The Underwater City (1969)

In the 1860s, a ship sinks in a storm but five passengers are rescued and brought to a magnificent city at the bottom of the sea which is governed by Captain Nemo (Robert Ryan). The survivors are told they must live out the rest of their lives in the undersea kingdom and cannot return to the surface. "Inspired" by Jules Verne and utilizing his Captain Nemo from 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, this undersea adventure should play well to youngsters but adults might have a harder time as the film never quite captures the imagination the way Verne and some of the films based on his novels did. The real star of the film is the art director William C. Andrews (Kubrick's LOLITA) whose futuristic underwater city is a stunning creation. There is a lot of underwater footage which allows composer Angela Morley (writing here as Walter Stott) an opportunity to compose what almost amounts to an underwater ballet. Directed by James Hill (BORN FREE) and with Chuck Connors, Luciana Paluzzi, Nanette Newman, Allan Cuthbertson and providing what I imagine is supposed to be comedy relief, Bill Fraser and Kenneth Connor as a pair of gold hungry brothers.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Group (1966)

Based on the Mary McCarthy 1963 best selling novel, the film follows eight young female graduates of an East Coast exclusive women's college in 1933 through 1940 and the outbreak of war in Europe. Solidly directed by Sidney Lumet, the film is bolstered by the fine work by the eight actresses whose characters cover a broad spectrum across the political, cultural and social scale. Some like Joanna Pettet as the neurotic doomed Kay, Shirley Knight as the fragile Polly and Jessica Walter as the frigid, unfeeling bitch of the group are prominent through out the story while others like Candice Bergen (in her film debut) as the group's lesbian and Mary Robin Redd as the chubby rich girl have limited screen time. The other girls are played by Joan Hackett, Elizabeth Hartman and Kathleen Widdoes. The men, with one exception (James Broderick as a caring doctor), represent the worst case scenarios of the male species from wife beaters (Larry Hagman) to wimpy, indecisive weaklings (Hal Holbrook). Gene Callahan's production design and Anna Hill Johnstone's costumes do an excellent job of conveying the 1930s. The cinematography is by Boris Kaufman (ON THE WATERFRONT). With Robert Emhardt, Richard Mulligan, Leora Dana, Carrie Nye and James Congdon.

Libeled Lady (1936)

When an heiress (Myrna Loy) sues a newspaper for libel, the paper's editor (Spencer Tracy) hires an ex-reporter (William Powell) to romance the heiress and compromise her position so she will be forced to drop the lawsuit. To this end, Tracy cons his fiancee (Jean Harlow) to marry Powell and act as the wronged wife. Directed by the veteran Jack Conway (A TALE OF TWO CITIES), the screenplay is a flimsy concoction on which to hang a cornucopia of one liners and zingers. Fortunately, they come regularly and fast and more to the point, hit their target. Powell even takes some time off from the wisecracks to do a nice bit of physical comedy while attempting to fish for trout. It is, in fact, the expert quartet of farceurs that (with Conway's help) that keep this screwball comedy afloat. The film has that glossy B&W look that defined MGM's style in the 30s and 40s reinforced here by Cedric Gibbons art direction the cinematography of Norbert Brodine (KISS OF DEATH). With Walter Connolly as Loy's father, Cora Witherspoon and Charley Grapewin. Only ten years later, MGM would remake the film under the title EASY TO WED.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rock A Bye Baby (1958)

After a quickie secret marriage to a bullfighter in Mexico which finds her a widow within 24 hours, a movie actress (Marilyn Maxwell) finds herself pregnant. With the biggest movie role of her career before her, she drops out and secretly has the babies and asks an old boyfriend (Jerry Lewis) to take care of the babies while she goes off to Egypt to make her movie. Very loosely based on Preston Sturges' screenplay to MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK, director Frank Tashlin does what he can with the erratic material. The laughs are sporadic and all in all this is one of Lewis's weakest efforts. Still, as always, there are laughs to be had like when Lewis plays multiple characters as he pretends he's on television or Ida Moore as an old lady obsessed with TV commercials (probably the most Tashlinian moment in the film). Unfortunately, though not a musical as such, the film is saddled with several truly awful songs by Sammy Cahn and Harry Warren though the White Virgin Of The Nile production number with Maxwell is intentionally cheesy and amusing. The cast includes Connie Stevens who gets "and introducing" billing, Hope Emerson, Reginald Gardiner, Isobel Elsom, James Gleason, Hans Conreid and the Italian opera star, Salvatore Baccaloni.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Klute (1971)

When a businessman turns up missing, a private detective (Donald Sutherland), who was also a good friend of the missing man, goes to New York to see a call girl (Jane Fonda) who may be able to provide some clues to the man's disappearance. As a thriller, this Alan Pakula film is a wash out. It's sloppily made with zero thrills and more than enough loopholes to be disconcerting. To call the film Hitchcockian is an insult to Hitchcock! However, as a character piece examining the anima of a call girl, it's superb! Fonda's performance is brilliant, a performance that ranks with Leigh in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and Falconetti in PASSION DE JEANNE D'ARC. From her physicality to her body language right down to the range of emotions displayed, Fonda sinks so far down into her character that you can't see anybody but Bree Daniels (Fonda). Who cares if it's a flop as a thriller when what you get is so much more than a proper thriller could ever give you. Gordon Willis provides the striking Panavision cinematography and Michael Small gives support with an effective score (even though it owes much to Ennio Morricone). The large and talented cast includes Roy Scheider, Rita Gam, Jean Stapleton, Charles Cioffi, Shirley Stoler, Jane White, Vivian Nathan and in a scene stealing turn as a junkie, Dorothy Tristan.

Tarawa Beachhead (1958)

At Guadalcanal, a marine (Kerwin Mathews) sees his superior (Ray Danton) deliberately shoot and kill another soldier (John Baer). But feeling that no one will believe a Sergeant's word over a Lieutenant's, he keeps silent but vows to bring justice. Complications ensue when Mathews falls in love with the murdered soldier's widow (Julie Adams) while Danton romances her sister (Karen Sharpe, HIGH AND THE MIGHTY). A tight, economical WWII drama that focuses on human relations rather than the battles. The film doesn't glamorize war but rather takes a look, albeit somewhat superficial, on the psyche of an ambitious (and possibly psychopathic) soldier who'll sacrifice lives so he can be a hero. It's a minor footnote in pantheon of WWII movies but it's very adult and doesn't bother to disguise that the two couples are freely engaging in sex without benefit of marriage. Mathews (7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD), usually very stiff, is surprisingly good here as is Sharpe who brings a knowingness to the happy go lucky sister. Directed by Paul Wendkos and with Peggy Maley and Morris Ankrum.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Last Days Of Pompeii (1959)

A Roman legionnaire (Steve Reeves) returns from the Holy Lands to Pompeii and finds his father murdered, supposedly by renegade Christians but in actuality by a group of soldiers following orders from someone high up in the ruling government. Though the film is credited to Mario Bonnard, the bulk of the film is actually directed by Sergio Leone who took over the directorial reins from Bonnard. This may explain why the film looks so sumptuous and elegant rather than cheesy feel of most of the sword and sandal movies churned out by Italy during the late 50s and early 60s. Only (very) loosely based on the Edward George Bulwer-Lytton novel, the Vesuvius volcano eruption seems like a deus ex machina seemingly coming out of nowhere with no foreshadowing and a convenient way of wrapping up the story which seems to have painted itself into a corner. Shot in the Super TotalScope wide screen format by Antonio Ballesteros, Leone shows his talent for wide screen compositions that would bloom his the 60s "spaghetti" westerns. The music is by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. With Christine Kaufmann, Fernando Rey, Anne Marie Baumann and Angel Aranda.

4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days (aka 4 Luni, 3 Saptamani Si 2 Zile)

Set in 1987 Romania when abortion was still illegal, a student (Anamaria Marinca) assists her college room mate (Laura Vasiliu) in securing an abortion. That simple sentence doesn't begin to describe the deep impact this film has, which won the Golden Palm at the 2007 Cannes film festival. The director Cristian Mungiu strips away almost everything that would be considered cinematic so as to not distract from the powerful simplicity of the story which is played out in a 24 hour time period. Mungiu lets his camera sit while it records extremely long takes with no cutting away and there's no film score. The performances are natural and low key, never calling attention to themselves. It's only after the film is over that you appreciate the subtlety of their work especially Marinca who gives a finely detailed performance. The film makes no overtly political statement on the subject of abortion either pro or con but simply lays out the events (which are pretty dire) which enables us to focus on the situation and ramifications thereof rather than the morality or politics of it. A terrific piece of film making.

Jamaica Inn (1939)

A young Irish lass (Maureen O'Hara) arrives at Jamaica Inn on the Cornish coast of England to stay with her aunt (Marie Ney) and her husband (Leslie Banks). But she soon finds out that the inn is a cover for smuggling and murder. Often considered one of Alfred Hitchcock's worst films, I wouldn't go that far but it is certainly one of his least interesting. It seems thrown together without much thought and Hitchcock's heart doesn't seem to be in it. Rumors are that Charles Laughton, who plays the duplicitous landowner and brain behind the smugglers, interfered with Hitchcock's direction which may account for it. It's a minor potboiler and mildly diverting but it doesn't stick with you. Laughton's wonderfully hammy performance may not have pleased Hitchcock but it's the most memorable thing about the film today. Ney's character is rather annoying as one of those wives loyal to their abusive husbands that irritate contemporary sensibilities. Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier (better served by Hitchcock the following year when he filmed her REBECCA). With Robert Newton, Emlyn Williams, Mervyn Johns and Basil Radford.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Executioner (1970)

After a disastrous covert operation in Vienna, a British agent (George Peppard) suspects a security leak at the very top. To this end, he does his own investigation by using his girlfriend (Judy Geeson) to procure top secret documents. The evidence points to a colleague (Keith Michell), the husband of his ex lover (Joan Collins), as being a double agent and Peppard sets out to unmask him but things aren't always what they seem. Directed by actor turned director Sam Wanamaker, this is, for the most part, a fairly taut if overlong spy thriller that bounces from Vienna to Istanbul to Greece. There's even a nice twist toward the end which reveals cracks in our hero's flawed personality but, alas, the final scene in the film negates it as if the film makers feared we would withhold our sympathy. Peppard gives a rather chilly performance which appears to be the actor rather than the character but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. It's not particularly memorable but it's a pleasant time waster. The noisy, mediocre score is by Ron Goodwin and the wide screen Panavision cinematography by Denys Coop (BILLY LIAR). With Oscar Homolka, Charles Gray, Alexander Scourby and George Baker.

Into The Night (1985)

An ordinary guy (Jeff Goldblum) leading a quiet existence is burdened with chronic insomnia and an unfaithful wife. During one of his insomnia bouts, he drives to the airport to hang out where he encounters a pretty blonde (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is being chased by four Iranian thugs who have just killed her male companion. From that point on, Goldblum's quiet life is turned upside down as he takes a nightmarish journey with many twists and turns, killers and smugglers, until he reaches its violent destination. Directed by John Landis, there's an almost surreal dreamlike quality to the film that I almost expected one of those "It was all a dream" endings. Landis races all over L.A. from the Marina to Hollywood to Malibu to Beverly Hills and Century City while maintaining a solid grip on his audience's rollercoaster ride. Goldblum (in one of his best performances) and Pfeiffer have a nice chemistry together. B.B. King performs the film's excellent title song. The massive cast includes Dan Aykroyd, Vera Miles, David Bowie, Irene Papas, Richard Farnsworth, Clu Gulager, Kathryn Harrold, Carl Perkins, Bruce McGill and many well known directors in small roles including Don Siegel, David Cronenberg, Jonathan Demme, Roger Vadim, Paul Mazursky, Jack Arnold, Colin Higgins, Lawrence Kasdan, Amy Heckerling, Daniel Petrie and Richard Franklin.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sign Of The Pagan (1954)

A Roman centurion (Jeff Chandler) on his way to Constantinople with a message from Rome is taken prisoner by the notorious Atilla the Hun (Jack Palance), who is plotting with the Emperor of Constantinople (George Dolenz) to destroy Rome. This colorful sword and sandal epic was the first film director Douglas Sirk shot in the CinemaScope format (along with his frequent cinematographer Russell Metty) and he takes to the format like a duck to water. Sirk, best known for his lush melodramas, isn't the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of Atilla the Hun but he does a more than credible job in keeping things quickly moving on this enjoyable piece of hokum so we don't have time to dwell on the absurdness of turning a film about Atilla's attack on Rome into a "biblical" epic with frequent references to Christ watching over Rome. The film not only has the Pope coming to negotiate with Atilla but even has Atilla's daughter (Rita Gam) finding God and becoming Christian. Palance is quite good here, dirty and greasy among all the cleanliness. The Universal backlot masquerades as Rome and the rousing score is by Frank Skinner and Hans J. Salter. The large cast includes Ludmilla Tcherina (THE RED SHOES), Jeff Morrow, Allison Hayes, Alexander Scourby, Michael Ansara, Leo Gordon and Sara Shane.

The 27th Day (1957)

Five people from five different countries; America (Gene Barry), England (Valerie French), Germany (George Voskovec), Russia (Azemat Janti) and China (Marie Tsien) are captured by an alien (Arnold Moss) and taken aboard a space ship. He gives each of them a small box which contains the power to annihilate all human life within a 9,000 mile radius and returns them to Earth. Directed by William Asher (BEACH PARTY), this is a rather hokey piece of red paranoia masquerading as science fiction. The film may have the thematic structure of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL but none of its imagination and power. That doesn't mean that it isn't fun in that 1950s "it came from outer space" way, just that it isn't very good sci-fi. It's a rather talky piece with little in the way of excitement and very little screen time given to the Chinese (Tsien) and Russian (Janti) characters while too much time is expended on the tedious romance between Barry and French.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Dandy In Aspic (1968)

In this cold war thriller, a Russian double agent (Laurence Harvey) working for British intelligence is tired of the spy game and desires to return to the Soviet Union but his request is denied by the KGB. Things become complicated when the Brits hand him his next assignment ... kill the Soviet agent Krasnevin. The problem? Harvey is Krasnevin. This was the final film of Anthony Mann who died before the film was completed. Harvey took over the directorial reins and finished the film. It's hard to tell how much is Mann and how much is Harvey as the film isn't typical of Mann's filmography. As a spy thriller, it's very good despite the lifeless performance by Harvey. When he snaps at Tom Courtenay, "You haven't an ounce of emotion in you!", I couldn't help but chuckle. Courtenay makes up for Harvey's ennui and while any opportunity to see Mia Farrow (who looks wonderful in her Pierre Cardin costumes) on screen is a treat, she's wasted here in the "girl" role with nothing to do but climb into bed with Harvey. The bleak view of a bankrupt espionage world presages Huston's THE KREMLIN LETTER. The effective score is by Quincy Jones. With Peter Cook, Per Oscarsson, Harry Andrews, Lionel Stander and in a particularly bad performance, Calvin Lockhart.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

National Velvet (1944)

A young 12 year old girl (Elizabeth Taylor) with a passion for horses wins a horse in a lottery. With the help of a drifter (Mickey Rooney), she begins training the horse for the Grand National steeplechase. Directed by Clarence Brown, this is perhaps the greatest child and animal movie ever made with the possible exception of THE YEARLING (also directed by Brown). Few films capture that unique relationship children have with their pets and animals and this one does it marvelously with the mush kept to a minimum. It's that rarity, a "family" film that adults can genuinely enjoy as much as the children. Some claim that Taylor was never better than she is here and watching her touching, beautifully rendered performance, it's hard to put up an argument that it's not. Timeless isn't a word I use lightly but it seems apt for this wonderful film which I watched today as a tribute to Taylor who died this morning. The lovely score is by Herbert Stothart. With Angela Lansbury, Donald Crisp, Reginald Owen, Norma Varden, Butch Jenkins and in her well deserved Oscar winning performance, Anne Revere as Velvet's mother.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Interns (1962)

A year in the life of a group of interns at a county hospital in a major city. Based on the novel by Richard Frede and directed by David Swift (THE PARENT TRAP). This medical soap opera was quite daring for its time in dealing with such provocative issues as abortion, euthanasia, substance abuse and the emergence of women as doctors. But in the ensuing years, countless television programs from DR. KILDARE and BEN CASEY through GRAY'S ANATOMY and PRIVATE PRACTICE have minimized its effectiveness as drama and today it plays like several TV episodes strung together from a standard medical TV melodrama. The film seems to want to have its cake and eat it too. On one hand, it shows the prejudice toward female doctors by the patriarchal medical establishment yet it asks one of its characters, a nurse (Stefanie Powers) to give up her dreams to become a housewife and mother. Still, it remains an effective melodrama with several powerful moments. The B&W cinematography is by the great Russell Metty and the subtle score by Leith Stevens. The film was a big enough hit to spawn a sequel two years later, THE NEW INTERNS. The large cast includes Cliff Robertson, James MacArthur, Telly Savalas, Suzy Parker, Nick Adams, Michael Callan, Buddy Ebsen, Anne Helm, Connie Gilchrist, Angela Clarke, Katharine Bard and Haya Harareet (BEN-HUR).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Australia (2008)

In 1939 Australia, a prim English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) arrives in Darwin to force her husband to sell his cattle ranch in Northern Australia. When she arrives at the ranch only to find her husband has been killed, instead of selling the ranch she begins to round up the cattle (which have escaped) to take to Darwin to sell and slowly but surely comes to love, not only Australia, but the bi-racial aborigine child (Brandon Walters) and the independent drover (Hugh Jackman) who agrees to help her. Baz Luhrmann directs this big (almost 3 hours in length) scale, old fashioned epic. There's nothing particularly original about it but there's clearly an affection for the historical romance genre and the film is grandly entertaining. Luhrmann's use of soundstage exterior sets, whether by intention or budgetary restraints, actually help the illusion of watching an old movie from the 1940s. Fortunately, Kidman and Jackman (mercifully Russell Crowe bowed out) have a marvelous chemistry which makes the romance unforced. The child, Brandon Walters, is an amazing child actor. I don't know if he's a natural or Luhrmann had to coax the performance out of him but it's probably the best performance by a child actor I've seen since Anna Paquin in THE PIANO. The score by David Hirschfelder makes the best use of the song Over The Rainbow since the 1939 film. With Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson and David Gulpilil.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Potiche (2010)

Set in the spring of 1977, a bourgeois housewife (Catherine Deneuve) suddenly and unwillingly finds herself thrust into the position of taking over her husband's factory and negotiating with its workers to prevent a strike after her husband (Fabrice Luchini) is hospitalized. Based on a play by Pierre Barillet and Jean Pierre Gredy and directed by Francois Ozon, this is a rather charming comedy reminiscent of Preston Sturges' social comedies of the 1940s. Ozon has the look and feel of the 70s down pat (even the music is accurate) that if someone told you the film was made in 1977, you'd believe it. Ozon's look at the emergence of a trophy wife (which is what the title POTICHE means) budding into a feminist avoids the preachiness of so many actual 1970s films on the subject and uses a droll comedic approach instead. Gerard Depardieu. as the communist mediator between the factory and the union, seems to have gained so much weight that he looks like a grizzly bear. There were gasps in the audience at his first appearance. With the delightful Karin Viard as Luchini's secretary mistress (who almost steals the movie), Jeremie Renier and Judith Godreche. Quite a delight!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Doctors' Wives (1971)

Set in the posh country club world of wealthy doctors and their pampered wives, the nymphomaniac wife (Dyan Cannon) of one of the doctors (John Colicos) announces to a group of other doctors' wives that she plans to sleep with all their husbands but she only gets to one of them before her husband shoots her dead. Her death has a domino effect on the personal lives of the surviving doctors and their wives. Trash! But it isn't even fun Harold Robbins trash, just solemn trash. The film is both lurid and silly and even exploitative in its graphic scenes of medical surgery which pads out the film between the sexcapades. Cannon is wickedly amusing in her couple of scenes before she's killed off and the fun goes with her and we're left with the likes of Richard Crenna torn between his morphine addicted wife (Janice Rule) and his black mistress (Diana Sands), Carroll O'Connor and his alcoholic wife (Cara Williams), Gene Hackman and his angry bitch of a wife (Rachel Roberts) all acting up a storm to no avail. No one is at their best here and to see such genuinely gifted actors like Hackman and Roberts reciting godawful dialogue just about kills you. I won't even go into the ridiculous subplot with a grad student (Kristina Holland) and a sex crazy intern (Anthony Costello). Even the normally reliable Elmer Bernstein furnishes a lacklustre score. Directed by George Schaefer and with Ralph Bellamy, Scott Brady, Richard Anderson, Marian McCargo and George Gaynes.

Heroes For Sale (1933)

During WWI, a soldier (Richard Barthelmess) captures a German but is shot. His cowardly friend (Gordon Westcott) leaves him for dead and gets a medal for bravery for capturing the German while Barthelmess gets addicted to morphine in a German hospital and returns home a drug addict. Thus begins Barthelmess's nightmarish journey in an unforgiving America where the good suffer while the bad profit. This William Wellman film has a lot in common with another depression era drama, I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG from the year before. While both are bleak and neither have conventional happy endings, there is still a glimmer of hope in HEROES that is lacking in FUGITIVE. The film takes an interesting if ironic look at the role of communism as well as fear of "reds" in the depression era, most notably in the radical anti-capitalist played by Robert Barrat who betrays his beliefs when he becomes rich. With Loretta Young, Aline MacMahon and Grant Mitchell.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Victors (1963)

The film follows a small platoon of American soldiers during WWII and its aftermath from 1942 to 1946 as they work their way through England, France, Italy and Germany. The film is fragmented, a series of episodes complete unto themselves, not surprising since the film is based on a collection of short stories THE HUMAN KIND by Alexander Baron though the book's soldiers have been changed from British to American. Directed by Carl Foreman, the film is a highly uneven, rather unsubtle, ponderous anti-war tract. Example: The execution of a deserter in the snow as Frank Sinatra croons Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas on the soundtrack. Slogging in at 2 1/2 hours, the original cut was closer to the 3 hour mark. In this case, be thankful for the cutting shears. Not that it isn't worth watching because there are some affecting as well as strong moments among the heavy handedness like the Sergeant (Eli Wallach) and a French widow (Jeanne Moreau) in a bombed out country house, an episode featuring Peter Fonda and a stray mutt (as soon as you see the pup, you know he's going to be toast shortly) and a sequence about two German sisters (Elke Sommer, Senta Berger) living off Russians and Americans in the Berlin Zone. Foreman intercuts his stories with actual WWII newsreels. The large cast includes Albert Finney, George Peppard, Romy Schneider, Melina Mercouri, George Hamilton, Vince Edwards, Maurice Ronet, Rosanna Schiaffino and Michael Callan.

Storm Center (1956)

In a small New England town, a librarian (Bette Davis) is pressured into removing a book on communism from its shelves. When on principle she refuses, she is fired. But it doesn't end there as the situation spirals out of control when not only is she accused of being a communist but a right wing politician (Brian Keith) attempts to ride the coattails of the controversy and a small boy (Kevin Coughlin) is brainwashed by his father (Joe Mantell) into denouncing her. The only film directed by the Oscar winning screenwriter Daniel Taradash (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY), the film should have been a lit firecracker of a movie considering its topical and controversial subject matter. Instead, its heavy handed approach resembles those Stanley Kramer "it's good for you" civics lesson movies. Not a surprise since Kramer was originally attached to produced the film as a comeback vehicle for Mary Pickford before both dropped out. Davis isn't at her best here either. The "sweet librarian who loves children" role fits her like a strait jacket though there's one startling Davis moment when she loses control and starts mercilessly slapping a child. The child, Kevin Coughlin, compromises the film severely as he's one of those awful child actors who reads lines without seeming comprehension of what he's saying. With Kim Hunter (herself only recently removed from the blacklist), Paul Kelly, Kathryn Grant and Edward Platt.

The Kremlin Letter (1970)

At the height of the Cold War, a compromising letter from the United States promising assistance to the Soviet Union as an ally against China falls into the wrong hands and is put up for sale to the highest bidder. A covert government agency sends a crew to Russia to obtain the potentially lethal letter. Directed by John Huston, this is a dark and chilly look at the ugliness of international espionage. It doesn't glamorize the spy business but rather exposes its nastiness and corruption. The downside is that the film's plot is so complex (or convoluted if you prefer) as to be near indecipherable. You're never quite sure who's who, who's good, who's bad and why they're doing what they're doing which leaves one with a sense of disorientation. Huston's direction is tight and pulls you in immediately. Which is not say there aren't some glaring faults like Richard Boone speaking with a Texas accent but he's supposedly passing himself off as an authentic Russian native when he's in the Soviet Union. In 2011 though, the film's take on homosexuality is positively quaint! The film was greatly admired by Jean Pierre Melville and it's easy to see why as Huston's eye on the spy world isn't very far from Melville's eye on gangsters. The large cast includes Max Von Sydow, Orson Welles, Bibi Andersson, George Sanders (in drag yet!), Patrick O'Neal, Lila Kedrova, Dean Jagger, Barbara Parkins, Michael MacLiammoir and Raf Vallone.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986)

A young woman (Whoopi Goldberg), who works in transferring international funds for a bank, intercepts a message from a British intelligence agent (Jonathan Pryce), whose code name is Jumpin' Jack Flash trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Unwillingly, she finds herself swept up in the dangerous world of espionage and spies in her attempt to secure Jack an exit strategy as it seems there are people who don't want him alive. Directed by Penny Marshall (A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN). I'm an unabashed fan of this comedy and have been ever since I first saw it. It has the spontaneous silliness and feel of a 1940s Bob Hope comedy (like THEY GOT ME COVERED or MY FAVORITE SPY), but updated and with Goldberg in Hope's part. Marshall's direction is uninspired but thankfully Whoopi Goldberg is inspired. She's like a whirling dervish whether sassily tossing off one liners or screaming in terror, her timing is impeccable and a reminder of how funny she can be, even if the material doesn't deserve her. The cast is crammed with familiar faces: Stephen Collins, Tracey Ullman, Carol Kane, Jon Lovitz, Annie Potts, James Belushi, John Wood, Roscoe Lee Browne, Jeroen Krabbe, Garry Marshall and Michael McKean.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Screaming Mimi (1958)

While taking a shower, a dancer (Anita Ekberg) is attacked with a knife by a madman but saved when her stepbrother (Romney Brent) shoots him. The experience, however, traumatizes her to the extent that she's sent to a mental hospital where a psychiatrist (Harry Townes) becomes obsessed with her to the point of taking over her life. When she's released, she changes her identity but when a series of knife killings begin, she begins to unravel. Based on the novel by Fredric Brown (which Dario Argento would later use as the basis of his BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) and directed by Gerd Oswald, the film is a minor pulp gem. By turns tawdry and affecting, the film can't help but recall the Sam Fuller masterpieces that would follow like SHOCK CORRIDOR and NAKED KISS. No, not in their class but the same "brothers under the skin" feeling. Ekberg, in her best performance until LA DOLCE VITA, is surprisingly good but she doesn't have much to play off in her scenes with the generic Philip Carey as the newspaperman attempting to solve the knife killings. There's no credit for the score since it's been adapted without credit from Leonard Bernstein's Oscar nominated score to ON THE WATERFRONT. With Gypsy Rose Lee as a lesbian stripper running a dive called The Madhouse, Vaughn Taylor and Betsy Jones Moreland.

Daughter Of Darkness (1948)

In a small Irish village, a young girl (Siobhan McKenna) is ostracized by the women of the community for no good reason other than she's like catnip to the male populace. The parish priest (Liam Redmond), who seems to be repressing his own sexual attraction to her, arranges for her to be sent to England to work for an English family. And it is here that she undergoes a transformation from a victim to a homicidal psychotic. The film is ambiguous toward McKenna. Is she a victim of circumstance as her homicidal behavior doesn't exhibit itself until after she is raped or does the maleficence go back further to her childhood of which we know nothing about other than a doll which may be her "Rosebud". As a character, she's much more sympathetic than the so called "good" people like her employer Anne Crawford who takes an immediate dislike to her for no good reason. The wonderful Irish actress McKenna, probably best known as Mary in Nick Ray's KING OF KINGS, has very few films to her credit (she was mainly a stage actress) which is a pity because she's excellent here. It's a strange film, part Gothic horror, part country noir. Directed by Lance Comfort from a play by Max Catto. With Honor Blackman, Barry Morse and Maxwell Reed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Surprise Package (1960)

A gambling mobster (Yul Brynner) is deported to Greece where he was born by the U.S. government. He leaves his money back in the States for safekeeping but when he sends for it, it's been absconded by his so called friends and associates. With the help of his ditzy blonde moll (Mitzi Gaynor), he plans a jewel heist in the lavish home of an exiled King (Noel Coward). Based on the novel A GIFT FROM THE BOYS by Art Buchwald and directed by Stanley Donen (CHARADE). Normally, Donen has the light touch such material requires but the laughs are sporadic and far between. Never the lightest of actors, Brynner's idea of comedic timing is saying his lines as fast as he can and his nastiness toward Gaynor (who seems to be trying too hard) borders on verbal abuse. Coward barely tries though he and Gaynor appear to be having an amusing time singing the film's title song. The film is in B&W which is a pity because the beautiful Greek locations cry out for color. It's in the colorful supporting characters where the film comes alive: Eric Pohlmann, George Coulouris and especially Guy Deghy who steals the film as an inept Hungarian spy. The clever main titles are by that wizard, Maurice Binder.

Inn Of The Sixth Happiness (1958)

A maid (Ingrid Bergman) with a strong Christian fervor is determined to go to China as a missionary but she is rejected because of her lack of education. By saving her money and with the assistance of a benefactor (Ronald Squire), she finally makes it to China to become the assistant of a elderly missionary (Athene Seyler) and that's where her real story begins. Based on the remarkable true story of Gladys Aylward, the film takes liberties with many of the facts in order to bolster up the drama like a love interest in the form of Curt Jurgens as a Eurasian colonel. Directed by Mark Robson, the film is a lengthy two and a half hours but the story is so engrossing that one isn't cognizant of the running time. Isobel Lennart's script provides enough humor to relax the film's more intense situations. The highlight of the film is Bergman's three week march through the mountains with 100 children to escape Japanese soldiers and bring the children to safety. Robert Donat is quite good as the Mandarin ruler in his final film role (he passed on before the film was released). The film abounds in sentiment but, for the most part, it's an honest sentiment rather than that of the manipulative kind. Freddie Young did the cinematography and the glorious score is by Malcolm Arnold. With Tsai Chin and Burt Kwouk.

Destination Tokyo (1943)

Delmer Daves' DESTINATION TOKYO is an overlong, fairly typical WWII propaganda film with heavy doses of anti-Japanese sentiment. Granted, it was filmed it was filmed at the height of WWII but be prepared for the worst. The film is over long. The first 30 minutes or so feel like padding, filled with exposition that introduces us to the characters with flashbacks to their other lives on the shore. Debonair Cary Grant is miscast as the stoic submarine captain in a part that cries out for a John Wayne. When a sweaty Grant has his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows and his shirt open to his navel, you'll be longing for the days he was mixing martinis for Irene Dunne in a penthouse. The film's highpoint is a genuinely suspenseful and tense journey by the submarine into Tokyo underneath a Japanese ship and navigates itself through a mine filled sea. The film is populated with familiar faces but only John Garfield (wasted) and Dane Clark make much of an impression. Too much time is spent on Robert Hutton who has zero screen presence and registers very little acting ability. With John Forsythe, Faye Emerson, Alan Hale, Tom Tully, William Prince and Warner Anderson.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Theater Of War (2008)

In the summer of 2006, a production of Bertolt Brecht's 1939 anti war play MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN with a new translation by playwright Tony Kushner (ANGELS IN AMERICA) was performed in New York's Central Park. This documentary by John Walter documents the creative process of putting on the play interspersed with a look at Brecht's life, Karl Marx and the nature of war. The film is fragmented and is at its best when staying with the staging of the play, Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline star, and the life of Brecht. When it strays into the political nature of war and Marxian theory, it bogs down into a dull college classroom lecture. It's wonderful to hear and see Streep in the process of creation and for that alone, it's a must for anyone interested in the art of acting from one of America's greatest. But we want more of that so when we get diverted to the other stuff, we're irritated and if you're watching at home, you have to resist hitting the fast forward button. What we see of the stage production, directed by George C. Wolfe, is so good that one wishes they had made the completed production available and not just its back story.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

A rising young politician (Matt Damon) running for the senate has his political hopes dashed when a youthful prank comes to light which causes him to lose the race although his ambitions for public office continue. However, when by chance he meets a young dancer (Emily Blunt) and falls in love, a mysterious organization that controls man's fate moves in to break up the romance. Directed, written (based on a Philip K. Dick short story) and produced by one George Nolfi, there's only one person to place the blame for this abysmal romantic fantasy/sci-fi hybrid. The plot is so ludicrous that one has to not only suspend disbelief but jump up and down on it and crush it! Even so, one could be willing if only the film makers offered some semblance of coherent intelligence outside of the spiritual romantic slop offered up here. Fortunately, Damon and Blunt are such likeable presences that they hold our attention until the sheer tediousness of the project causes such inertia that I just waited for the movie to end. I don't know what kind of audience the film makers intended this movie for except for possibly the "conspiracy theory" crowd because action fans will be disappointed as will those looking for a good love story. With Terence Stamp, Anthony Mackie and John Slattery.

North West Mounted Police (1940)

Set in the 1880s during the Saskatchewan rebellion when the Metis (French-Indian) people rebelled against the dominance of Great Britain, a Texas ranger (Gary Cooper) comes to Canada to bring back a man (George Bancroft), active in the rebellion, who is wanted for murder in Texas. But the Canadian North West Mounted Police want Bancroft, too. Based on the novel by R.C. Fetherstonhaugh and directed by Cecil B. DeMille. This vivid Technicolor adventure is overlong and DeMille's stodgy direction in addition to his slow pacing make the film a chore to sit through rather than an exciting outdoor adventure. The irony is that the film's sluggish pacing won an Oscar for film editing! DeMille appears to want to make an epic but the plot doesn't lend itself to it and the comic relief provided by Akim Tamiroff and Lynne Overman is unnecessary since it slows down the action. Cooper is at his most charmless here and the lovely Madeleine Carroll (THE 39 STEPS) makes for a wan heroine. Paulette Goddard as a fiery "half breed" is much more enticing but her acting is so bad that it dilutes whatever appeal she may have had. Robert Preston as Goddard's love interest and Preston Foster as Cooper's romantic rival come across much better though, to be fair, they have the more interesting roles. In fact, if it weren't for the gorgeous three strip Technicolor, it would be most tedious indeed. With Robert Ryan, Richard Denning, Regis Toomey, Rod Cameron and Lon Chaney Jr.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Red Riding Hood (2011)

A small village has been terrorized by a werewolf for several generations. The prettiest girl (Amanda Seyfried) in the village is in love with one boy (Shiloh Fernandez) but betrothed to another (Max Irons) under pressure from her mother (Virginia Madsen) but all that becomes secondary when her sister (Alexandra Maillot) becomes a victim of the wolf. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke (TWILIGHT, THIRTEEN), the film begins promisingly. There's a stylized Gothic horror atmosphere and sense of foreboding that would have done the Brothers Grimm proud and the wolf itself is wonderful. Hardwicke shows a sense of humor too as with the arrival of Gary Oldman as a wolf killing priest whose entrance befits a rock star and furnished a groupie (Lukas Haas). Then in a betrayal of her audience, Hardwicke goes all TWILIGHT on us with the bland pretty boys Fernandez and Irons mooning over Seyfried as anachronistic synthesizer pop plays on the soundtrack and it becomes clear that what started out as a Freudian contemporary take on Red Riding Hood tale is intended as more fodder for the TWILIGHT fanboys. A real pity as the film had potential. With Julie Christie (very good) as Red Riding Hood's grandmother and Billy Burke.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Um Filme Falado (aka A Talking Picture) (2003)

Divided into three parts beginning with a history professor (Leonor Silveira) and her small daughter (Filipa De Almeida) traveling from Portugal to India via ship to meet the husband for a vacation. Along the way, there are stops at France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt where the mother teaches her daughter about the history of civilization and each country's contribution to it. The second part is at the Captain's table, where the Captain (John Malkovich) entertains three famous women as they all speak their native language but have no problem understanding each other as Catherine Deneuve speaks French, Irene Papas speaks Greek, Stefania Sandrelli (THE CONFORMIST) speaks Italian and Malkovich English as they discus politics, philosophy and gender. The last part has the professor and daughter joining the Captain and his guests. Directed by Manoel De Oliveira, who in his 90s is the world's oldest active director, this film is both amusing and charming, part travelogue, part educational that the film's capricious, somewhat arbitrary, disturbing ending seems like a mean spirited prank. But when I say arbitrary I mean that it feels arbitrary though it's no coincidence that the film is set two months before 9/11.

Alice Through The Looking Glass (1966)

Instead of going down the rabbit hole, this time Lewis Carroll's Alice (Judi Rolin) steps through the looking glass and discovers a parallel world where the evil Jabberwock (Jack Palance) terrifies the populace. I've seen many version of the popular Lewis Carroll tale and this one easily ranks near the bottom. The entire production comes across as an amateurish community theatre production with cheesy production values. Since this is a musical version of Alice, we have to endure unlistenable bad imitations of Broadway show tunes, composed by Moose Charlap and Elsie Simmons and the young Miss Rolin who is annoying to the extreme. In fact, the entire cast seems to playing to an audience of five year olds. Palance does seem to be having a bit of fun as the Jabberwock and Agnes Moorehead as the Red Queen manages to keep her dignity intact but the others like Ricardo Montalban, Nanette Fabray, Jimmy Durante (as Humpty Dumpty), Dick and Tom Smothers (Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, of course), Robert Coote, Richard Denning, Iris Adrian and Jackie Joseph aren't so fortunate.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Man Who Watched Trains Go By (1952)

In the Netherlands, after he catches his boss (Herbert Lom) embezzling the company's funds and running off to Paris to be with his mistress (Marta Toren), the factory's drab, colorless and very much married bookkeeper (Claude Rains) confronts him and Lom is accidentally killed. With the police in pursuit, Rains absconds with the money and runs off to Paris and seeks out Toren with whom he's become infatuated. Based on the novel by mystery writer Georges Simenon, it's the oldest story in the world, that of the mousy married man leading a respectable but dull life and the money hungry femme fatale who gets her clutches in him. I suppose Lang's SCARLET STREET is the most memorable of the lot. However, unlike Robinson, it's hard to sympathize with Rains as he's rather dim witted and too willing a dupe and Toren's femme fatale is blatantly obvious and doesn't bother to hide it and he whimpers after her. The ending is pretty obvious as there's nowhere for the story to go. The film has a velvety Technicolor palette courtesy of Otto Heller (PEEPING TOM) and there's a wonderful score by Benjamin Frankel. With a young Anouk Aimee, Marius Goring, Ferdy Mayne, Eric Pohlmann and Felix Aylmer.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

High School Confidential (1958)

A brash, new transfer (Russ Tamblyn) to a middle class high school attempts to muscle his way into the local drug scene by challenging the ringleader (John Drew Barrymore) of the school's hipsters and stealing away his pothead girlfriend (Diane Jergens). Directed by Jack Arnold (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON), this is one of those naive (simple minded?) cautionary tales of those crazy marijuana smokin' teen-aged hopheads who go from pot to heroin in a micro second. The film is pure kitsch with scenes to savor like Jergens having the shakes because she needs some weed or Mamie Van Doren as Tamblyn's "aunt" slinking around the house in tight sweaters biting out of apples as she tries to seduce him and best of all, Phillipa Fallon as a beatnik poetess reciting Tomorrow Is A Drag which has to be heard to be believed. The film is a hoot and genuinely outrageous and there's nothing like it except maybe BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS to compare it to. It transcends mere "camp" into ..... well, I don't think a word has been invented for it yet. Jerry Lee Lewis sings the rockin' title song and the cast includes Jan Sterling as a sexy high school teacher, Michael Landon, Jackie Coogan, Ray Anthony and Robin Raymond.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Private Lives Of Pippa Lee (2009)

A woman (Robin Wright) married to an insensitive, much older man (Alan Arkin) reaches a crisis in her life when they move to a planned community for older people where she begins to feel stifled. Directed by Rebecca Miller (Arthur's daughter and Mrs. Daniel Day Lewis) from her novel, the film jumps back and forth at different times in Pippa's life with Blake Lively playing the younger incarnation of Pippa. Films about women going thru a personal journey of discovery and "finding themselves" were very popular in the 1970s (think DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE or AN UNMARRIED WOMAN or ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE) and this film would fit snugly in that era but it's the 2010s, not the 1970s, so there isn't anything really fresh here though the May-December marriage makes for an intriguing twist. Wright Penn (has she dropped the Penn?), one of the undervalued talents, is excellent but it's really a shared performance as Lively portrays Pippa for long stretches of time. Fortunately, Miller has assembled a strong supporting cast including Julianne Moore (playing yet another lesbian), Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Monica Bellucci (in the film's one shocking scene), Shirley Knight and Maria Bello.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Secret Of Convict Lake (1951)

In the 1870s, five convicts escape from a Nevada prison through a blizzard and the snowbound mountains into California where they find a small settlement populated entirely by women. But these women are no shrinking violets and they keep the convicts at bay but for how long? The film becomes a stand off between the lonely women and conniving convicts eventually ending in a violent finale. Directed by Michael Gordon (PILLOW TALK) and based on a legend (though the film's narrator claims it's based on fact). this is no 7 BRIDES FOR 7 BROTHERS! The sexual tension has a high profile here, notably in a psychotic loose cannon (Richard Hylton), a rapist and murderer and in the film's best performance, Ann Dvorak (SCARFACE) as a high strung sexually repressed spinster. The film's title is a clever ruse as we keep waiting for the "secret" to be revealed but, in fact, there is no secret until the very end of the film. The film stars Glenn Ford as the convict hell bent on revenge and Gene Tierney as the most fetching of the ladies. Wonderful score by the underrated Sol Kaplan. With Ethel Barrymore as the settlement's matriarch, Zachary Scott as Ford's malevolent nemesis, Barbara Bates, Cyril Cusack, Helen Westcott, Jeanette Nolan and Ruth Donnelly. If the opportunity to see it comes your way, don't pass it up.

Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939)

A retired school teacher (Robert Donat), in his 80s, at an English boys school reflects back on his first day as a new teacher at the school and his life from that point on. Directed by Sam Wood and based on the James Hilton novel, this is perhaps the definitive "teacher that inspired me" movie that spawned the likes of TO SIR WITH LOVE and their ilk. Wood and the three contributing screenwriters squeeze the tear ducts for all the tears they can get and damn if they don't succeed. The film is genuinely touching, if overly sentimental, and there's a sincere respect for the teaching profession. Donat won the Oscar for best actor for his performance here and it's a widely admired performance but I found his performance problematic. He overdoes the old and aging Chips in a way that so many younger actors do when playing much older than their actual years. But he's wonderful as the younger Chips as is Greer Garson playing the love of his life. She's a delight and you can see why MGM spirited her away to Hollywood. There's a solid score by Richard Addinsell. The cast includes Paul Henreid, John Mills, Martita Hunt and Judith Furse (Sister Briony in BLACK NARCISSUS).

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Touch Of Love (aka Thank You All Very Much) (1969)

After a one night stand with a television newsman (Ian McKellen), a rather withdrawn young woman (Sandy Dennis) finds herself pregnant. After first attempting a self induced abortion, she later becomes determined to have the child and raise it alone. Directed by Waris Hussein and with a screen play by Margaret Drabble (based on her novel THE MILLSTONE), this hearkens back a bit to those "kitchen sink" British dramas of the late 50s and early 60s, most notably in plot to the superior THE L SHAPED ROOM. But however derivative, I quite liked the film's simplicity and the earnest manner in which its near plotless scenario played out. If you can get past Dennis's very weak English accent, her performance here is very good, keeping in check the mannerisms which often mar her work. The film's portrayal of the National Health is very unflattering, at least from an American perspective and the film even has a bit of suspense in whether Dennis will tell McKellen he's the father of her baby and their final scene together is beautifully played out. With Eleanor Bron as Dennis's friend and flatmate, Michael Coles, John Standing, Maurice Denham, Rachel Kempson and Margaret Tyzack.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Blue Angel (aka Der Blaue Engel) (1930)

When a prudish professor (Emil Jannings) at a college preparatory school discovers that his students are spending nights at the local cabaret, The Blue Angel, in order to see the sexy star attraction Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich), he goes there in the hopes of catching the boys but instead becomes bewitched with Lola and thus begins his downfall and humiliation. Directed by Josef von Sternberg, this is the film that made an international Star of Marlene Dietrich, who would soon go to Hollywood to begin her iconic career. I'm not an admirer of the actress but she's superb here. Coarse, common, aimless in her sexuality, you can see why a middle aged, lonely man could fall under her spell. Dietrich may be on the plump side here but I prefer her engaging naturalness to the soulless glamorous persona she would perfect in Hollywood. But the film is not all about Dietrich. Jannings is also heartbreaking (his breakdown on stage is disturbingly well done) but the film is a startling examination of a man's fibre and pride unraveling and the film remained the benchmark for films on compulsive, sexual obsession, at least until Kubrick's LOLITA came along. Made concurrently in English in a somewhat shorter version.

The Bride Wore Boots (1946)

Set in the horsey social set in Virginia, a nerdy writer (Robert Cummings) of Civil War history and a horse mad heiress (Barbara Stanwyck) are married but find their interests and lifestyles don't coincide. When a devious and catty Southern belle (Diana Lynn, channeling Gloria Grahame) sets her sights on Cummings, the marriage falls apart. This is a tepid attempt at screwball comedy. Stanwyck has proven her comedic chops in THE LADY EVE and BALL OF FIRE, but here she's defeated by the lame script though she goes into overdrive in an attempt to put some life into it. It doesn't help that she has no chemistry with that cipher known as Robert Cummings but to be fair, even Cary Grant would be defeated by the material. There's a dubious scene in which two children are deliberately made ill in order to attempt a reconciliation between the couple, which shows how desperate the comedy is. Directed by Irving Pichel and with Patric Knowles, Peggy Wood (THE SOUND OF MUSIC), Robert Benchley, Willie Best in one of his rare good roles and an 8 year old Natalie Wood.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cold Sweat (1970)

An American expatriate (Charles Bronson) living in the south of France with his wife (Liv Ullmann) and stepdaughter (Yannick Delulle) runs a small excursion boat for rich tourists. But his past catches up with him when some drug smuggling ex-convicts lead by James Mason invade his home and turns his new life upside down. Based on the novel RIDE THE NIGHTMARE by Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND) and directed by Terence Young (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE), this is a fairly energetic thriller which requires some suspension of belief in order to fully enjoy it. It's a good looking film thanks to its Nice, Alpes Maritimes locations and some genuinely tense and exciting moments like a marvelous auto chase in the mountains (and I'm no fan of car chases) and when Ullmann and Delulle attempt an escape in the mountains with the psychotic Jean Topart pursuing them with a machine gun. The usually reliable Mason is miscast here as an American southerner, he overdoes the unconvincing accent and Jill Ireland as a stoned out hippie out for thrills is likewise unconvincing. Not quite a sleeper but surprisingly entertaining.

Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

After receiving a gold bullet with 007 imprinted on it, James Bond (Roger Moore) goes to the Far East in search of the professional assassin Scaramonga (Christopher Lee), the notorious "man with the golden gun", who Bond believes has targeted him. The ninth entry in the James Bond franchise is one of the 3 or 4 weakest entry in the series. Moore still hasn't shaken off the ghost of Connery and made Bond his own which he would do in the next entry, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. The overly complicated plot (dealing with a solar device that can harness the sun's energy) is pedestrian and the film makes the mistake of bringing back Clifton James as a racist, redneck sheriff who was so annoying in the previous entry LIVE AND LET DIE, who is doubly so here. Lee, however, makes for a fine villain and his island getaway in the China sea is a small marvel, thanks to Peter Murton's production design. The film, understandably, doesn't seem to have inspired John Barry who gives the film a routine score with a poor title song by a shrieking Lulu. Britt Ekland and Maud Adams are the Bond girls, Herve Villechaize is Lee's malicious handy man. Directed by Guy Hamilton and with Marc Lawrence, Soon Tek Oh, Richard Loo, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

New Mexico (1951)

A Captain in the U.S. Cavalry (Lew Ayres) negotiates a peace treaty between an Indian chief (Ted De Corsia) and President Lincoln (Hans Conreid). But after Lincoln's assassination, the treaty is broken and the Indians are mistreated until they rebel. A final confrontation between the Cavalry and the Indians occurs in a plateau high in the New Mexico mountains where a small group of soldiers and civilians are surrounded by Indians. This is a minor western that is perhaps notable for its unusual (for the time) downbeat, near apocalyptic "nobody wins" ending. Since it is the Indians who were wronged and the white characters with one exception (Andy Devine) are an unpleasant bunch, we can't care too much about what happens to them. Ayres tries hard but he's not very convincing as the tough as nails Captain. The film was shot in Ansco color but the print I saw was in black and white. Directed by Irving Reis (THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBYSOXER) and with Marilyn Maxwell as a saloon singer, Raymond Burr (so overweight that he's near unrecognizable), John Hoyt, Jeff Corey and Verna Felton.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

From The Terrace (1960)

Set in 1946 Philadelphia, the son (Paul Newman) of a cold and distant steel magnate (Leon Ames) and an alcoholic mother (Myrna Loy) returns home from WWII and the seeds of resentment and conflict between he and his father resume. But he escapes to New York to seek his fortune in business and marries a society debutante (Joanne Woodward, the most glamorous she's ever been). As he climbs the ladder of success in the corporate world, he finds little happiness until ...... Based on the sprawling best seller by John O'Hara, Mark Robson (PEYTON PLACE) whips up a juicy, glossy melodrama bearing little resemblance to the source material. He's aided by Ernest Lehman's (NORTH BY NORTHWEST) bedroom dialogue replacing O'Hara's prose and Elmer Bernstein's lush string score. The film seems to want to say something about being true to oneself and selling out but, in reality, there's very little substance to it. Newman seems like a fish out of water but Woodward looks like she's having a ball! Loy disappears early in the film but she's good enough that she's missed. With Ina Balin, Barbara Eden, Patrick O'Neal, George Grizzard, Elizabeth Allen, Felix Aylmer, Ted De Corsia, Dorothy Adams and Kathryn Givney.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Charlie Bubbles (1967)

A popular and well known but disaffected writer (Albert Finney, who also directed) from a working class background leaves London for a weekend in Manchester in Northern England to visit his estranged wife (Billie Whitelaw, who won the BAFTA supporting actress for her work here) and young son (Timothy Garland). From a screenplay by Shelagh Delaney (A TASTE OF HONEY), this offbeat movie remains the only feature film directed by Finney which is a pity because he has a real director's eye. There's a wonderful sequence played out through multiple B&W screens simultaneously from a security camera watching all the rooms in a house as the characters enter and exit from different rooms as well as a bravado sequence at an all night cafe. Not all of it works. There's a silly scene in a posh first class restaurant with Finney and Colin Blakely dumping food on each other that seems to come from another movie. The film is also notable for the film debut (excluding her cameo in IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME) of Liza Minnelli as Finney's American secretary. It's a plotless film, almost surreal in execution but engaging nevertheless. The superbly bleak photography is by Peter Suschitsky. With Yootha Joyce.