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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day Of The Wolves (1971)

A criminal mastermind (Jan Murray) gathers together a crew of criminals who've never met and assigns them a number (1 through 7) and tells them not to discuss themselves with the others. They wear beards (so they won't be able to recognize each other) and gloves as they train for a grand heist on a small Arizona town. Meanwhile, in the town, the sheriff (Richard Egan, looking tired and overweight) is asked to resign because the local council thinks he's harsh in his methods. But when the criminals enact their plan, only one man can stand up to them. Guess who? While the premise is quite clever if derivative of the 1955 VIOLENT SATURDAY (also co-starring Egan), the film is horribly amateurish almost to the point of hilarity. No one seems to show any signs of fear or terror once the town starts getting shot up. When the gunmen barge into a lumber company and demand the payroll, the secretary reacts as if they were asking for directions! Sloppily directed by Ferde Grofe Jr., poorly written (Grofe again) and indifferently acted. Still, that premise is ripe for a remake. The hideously tacky "swingin' 70s" score is by one Sean Bonniwell. With Martha Hyer, wasted in one of those hand-wringing wife roles, Rick Jason, John Lupton, Sean McClory, Percy Helton and Herb Vigran.

Gomorrah (2008)

Set in the Naples region of Italy, the film follows five separate stories about people whose lives are part of or affected by the "Camorra", a powerful crime syndicate with legitimate ties. A 13 year old delivery boy (Salvatore Abruzzese) is adopted by a gang and forced to betray innocent people. Two whacked out punks (Marco Macor, Ciro Petrone) obsessed with De Palma's SCARFACE act out their mob fantasies with dire consequences. A tailor's (Salvatore Cantalupo) attempt to earn extra pocket money costs him dearly. A courier (Gianfelice Imparato) who delivers mob money finds himself in the middle of a gang war and an uncertain future. A young man (Carmine Paternoster) must face his own conscience while working under a corrupt businessman (Toni Servillo). Winner of the Grand Prix at the 2008 Cannes film festival, Matteo Garrone's film is unsettling and disturbing. Unlike the gangster films of Scorsese and Coppola, the film doesn't seem to have an attraction to its subject but rather a cold and clinical eye at the horror of the long arm of organized crime whose fingers are dipped in our every day life from the clothes we wear to our garbage dumps. The film is overly long and the storyline about the idiot punks could have been eliminated entirely. It's trite and we know exactly how it will end up and it does. Other than that, highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mars Attacks! (1996)

A fleet of flying saucers from Mars surround the Earth. The President of the United States (Jack Nicholson) sends one of his Generals (Paul Winfield) as an ambassador to greet the Martians but instead of a peaceful reception, the hostile Martians begin to annihilate the population. This wacky and often witty comedic homage to 1950s sci-fi such as DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS inexplicably received a hostile reception when it was first released. It had the misfortune to follow INDEPENDENCE DAY which had a similar premise but took matters far more seriously. But time has validated Tim Burton's wonky but affectionate send up and it holds up better than INDEPENDENCE DAY. Based on a series of trading cards (is that a first for a movie?), the film is abetted by Danny Elfman's energetic score which pays tribute to Bernard Herrmann's score to DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. The massive cast includes Natalie Portman, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan (doing a spot on Fred MacMurray impersonation), Annette Bening, Rod Steiger, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jim Brown, Michael J. Fox, Jack Black, Pam Grier, Lukas Haas, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sylvia Sidney, Tom Jones, Joe Don Baker and Christina Applegate.

Oliver Twist (1948)

A young boy (John Howard Davies) given the name of Oliver Twist is born and raised in a workhouse. He is apprenticed to a coffin maker at the age of 8 but escapes to London where he is lured into working for Fagin (Alec Guinness), who employs a gang of adolescent pickpockets and thieves. Following the success of his 1946 adaptation of Dickens' GREAT EXPECTATIONS, David Lean directed this superb adaptation of the celebrated Dickens' novel. It's quite faithful to the novel with a few minor exceptions, the most notable one being the absence of any relationship between Oliver and Nancy (Kay Walsh, who's wonderful) which was remedied in the 1968 musical adaptation. And it's Walsh's shocking murder that stays with you long after the film is over. At the time, Guinness's brilliant Fagin was viewed as anti-Semitic which is why the film wasn't released in America (in a cut form) until 1951. Today, he comes across more like a sleazy pedophile. The excellent B&W cinematography is courtesy of Guy Green. Lean's dream cast includes Robert Newton, Anthony Newley, Francis L. Sullivan, Kathleen Harrison, Diana Dors, Maurice Denham and a scene stealing performance by the bull terrier who plays Bill Sikes' dog.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Wichita (1955)

Wyatt Earp (Joel McCrea) arrives in Wichita, Kansas with the intention of setting up a small business. But he discovers Wichita is a wide open, lawless town where anything goes. When offered the job of town marshal he declines ... at first. Directed by Jacques Tourneur of CAT PEOPLE fame, this is an efficient, economical western with modest aims. The film feeds off the legend of Wyatt Earp while paying little heed to the actual facts. At 50, McCrea is a bit mature to be playing Wyatt at this stage of Earp's life and his romancing of the 26 year old Vera Miles seems awkward, especially when he's closer in age to the 45 year old Mae Clarke who plays Miles' mother. The film was shot in CinemaScope but Harold Lipstein (HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS) doesn't utilize the format to its full advantage though the film has a nice clean look to it. The colorless score is by Hans Salter. With Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, John Smith, Keith Larsen (as Bat Masterson), Edgar Buchanan, Carl Benton Reid, Jack Elam, Robert J. Wilke and as a bank teller in a hold up, future director Sam Peckinpah.

Lady Of Burlesque (1943)

Set in a burlesque house, the performers all fall under suspicion after one, then another, stripper is strangled by a G string. Can the killer be unmasked before there's a third murder? William A. Wellman directs this atmospheric look at burlesque folk that's based on the novel THE G STRING MURDERS by the famed stripp ... uh, ecdysiast Gypsy Rose Lee. Censorship restrictions at the time preclude any real stripping and Wellman does it by suggestive shots of Barbara Stanwyck from the shoulders up but from the expressions on her face, you know what's going on below the shoulders. As a mystery, it's pretty routine stuff and when the murderer is finally revealed, it's no surprise. But the quips are plentiful and fast and it has an authentic feel to it. Stanwyck's pretty terrific here. It's fun to see her singing and in her own voice too (her performance of Take It Off The E String, Put It On The G String is delightful), doing the jitterbug, even doing cartwheels and, of course, she knows her way around a wisecrack. Unfortunately, she's saddled with the irritating Michael O'Shea for a leading man. The cast includes Iris Adrian, Marion Martin, Janis Carter, Gerald Mohr, Pinky Lee, Charles Dingle, George Chandler and J. Edward Bromberg.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yao A Yao Yao Dao Waipo Qiao (aka Shanghai Triad) (1995)

In 1930s Shanghai, a backward 14 year old peasant boy (Wang Xiaoxiao) is brought from the country by his uncle to serve the selfish mistress (Gong Li) of a Shanghai crime lord (Li Baotian). But when the crime lord brings all of them to a secluded island in order to hide out from a rival gang, the boy begins to see a different side to the mistress. This is a lovely film with a marvelous central performance by Gong Li. Directed by Zhang Yimou, the film is bolstered considerably by the shimmering, golden hued cinematography of Lu Yue who received an Oscar nomination for his splendid work here. But it's more than just a gorgeous to look at film. Zhang doesn't glamorous his gangsters the way Hollywood often does. It's a disturbing film as we watch two children (a girl child played by Yang Qianguan may suffer an even worse fate than Xiaoxiao) infected and corrupted by the gangland triad. At first, Gong Li's performance appears to be one dimensional, a spoiled bitch snapping at everyone and demanding her way but her shift is subtle as she slowly drops each veil until we can see the innocent country girl before she, too, became corrupted by the Shanghai influence. A haunting, elegiac film.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Twelfth Night (1969)

After being shipwrecked on a foreign shore, a young woman (Joan Plowright) disguises herself as a male and enters the service of a Duke (Gary Raymond), who sends her to plead his case as a suitor to the grieving Olivia (Adrienne Corri). Things become complicated when Plowright in her male trappings falls for the Duke while Olivia falls for Plowright in her male guise. Arguably the greatest of Shakespeare's comedies, this production as directed by John Sichel receives a robust treatment albeit stagebound. The mistaken identities and confusion between Viola (as Cesario) and Sebastian has always required a suspension of belief as they are normally played by two different actors. Here, Joan Plowright plays both sister and brother (and very well) so no suspension of belief is required. If Alec Guinness as Malvolio is too restrained to get the laughs he should, there's no such timidity from Ralph Richardson who milks Sir Toby Belch for every chuckle. John Moffat makes for a splendid dolt as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Sheila Reid is a spunky Maria. Understandably, Tommy Steele seems a mite uncomfortable as Feste, the fool. There has been some minor editing of the Shakespeare text, however.

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (2011)

A little girl (Bailee Madison) is sent by her mother to live with her father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes). They are restoring the large mansion they live in in the hopes of upping the resale value. Little do they know that century old goblins, who snack on children's teeth, live in a pit below a furnace and are delighted to hear a little girl is moving in. Based on the cult 1973 telefilm and co-written and produced by horror meister Guillermo Del Toro (PAN'S LABYRINTH), this remake goes wrong in just about every way. Changing the protagonist from an adult woman to a little girl and not a normal child but a dysfunctional child was a major mistake. As played by Madison, instead of being sympathetic, she's just annoying. With the exception of one jump in your seat moment, there's almost no feeling or sense of dread and the characters don't behave with any sense of logic or common sense. The movie just plods along to the rather silly finale (done much better in the 1973 TV movie). Neither Pearce or Holmes (looking rather haggard) can do much with their roles. Directed by Troy Nixey. The opening credits, accompanied by Marco Beltrami's punchy score, are quite clever though. With Jack Thompson and Julia Blake.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Margaret's Museum (1995)

Set in a mining town in 1940's Nova Scotia, a young girl (Helena Bonham Carter, who carries the film on her acting shoulders) falls in love with a gangly miner (Clive Russell) against her mother's (Kate Nelligan) wishes. Having lost both her husband and a son to the mines, she wants something better for her daughter. This critically acclaimed film won six Genie (the Canadian Oscars) awards including acting awards for Bonham Carter for actress, Nelligan for supporting actress and Kenneth Welsh (he plays an uncle) for supporting actor but its reputation seems to not have traveled much farther than its Canadian borders. It's too bad because although it's a grim film, it's not depressing and one can't help but be reminded of John Ford's HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. It's realistic without any of the usual Hollywood cliches and filler material and has a feeling for its simple but fierce mining community without being condescending. The windswept Nova Scotia locations are lovingly shot by Vic Sarin and the muted score is by Milan Kymlicka. Directed by Mort Ransen and based on the novel by Sheldon Currie.

The Knack ...And How To Get It (1965)

A sexually frustrated school teacher (Michael Crawford) asks his womanizing lodger (Ray Brooks) to teach him how to get "the knack" for getting girls. A quirky young man (Donal Donnelly) with a penchant for painting walls moves in without being asked and a girl (Rita Tushingham) newly arrived in London and looking for the YWCA completes the foursome. Definitely a relic of the swinging 60s London scene and while it may seem dated (a comedic rape scene may have been amusing in 1965 but it plays uncomfortably in 2011), the puns and visual gags of director Richard Lester are still humorous. Lester's only sin is that he's clearly trying too hard which gives the film the an unnecessary air of desperation which takes away from the film's intended breezy nature. The players are quite good. Crawford has a knack (pun intended) for physical comedy which he displays here, Tushingham has a wonderful open face and Brooks and Donnelly perfectly cast. The crisp B&W lensing is courtesy of Oscar winner David Watkin (OUT OF AFRICA) and the marvelous score by John Barry. The film took the Palme D'Or at the 1965 Cannes film festival. Look carefully and you'll find Jacqueline Bisset, Charlotte Rampling and Jane Birkin among the many lovelies populating the screen.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lives Of A Bengal Lancer (1935)

Set in the northwest frontier of British Colonial India, three Lancers (Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, Richard Cromwell) with very different personalities must work together to save India from native rebels. If you can get past the nostalgia for the good old days of the British Raj teaching those naughty brown savages a thing or do for having the audacity to want them out of their country, it's a passable entertainment. But it's like GUNGA DIN but without the wit or the fun or the 1936 CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE without the romanticism. And in the movie's sappy ending, the film has the dubious distinction of placing honor above truth. I don't want to be too hard on it because I enjoyed it in spite of myself. Cooper is at his most likable as the rough-hewn Canadian but Cromwell shows no signs of talent which makes things difficult as he has the most complex character to play. Reputedly the film was a great favorite of Hitler's (it's easy to see why) and mandatory viewing for the S.S. Directed by the veteran Henry Hathaway, who received a best director nomination for this. With C. Aubrey Smith, Sir Guy Standing, Douglass Dumbrille, Kathleen Burke, Akim Tamiroff and J. Carrol Naish.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Jerk (1979)

The backward adopted white son (Steve Martin) of black sharecroppers sets off to find his fortune in the world. He rises from a gas station attendant to a millionaire inventor but as dumb and tasteless as ever. Co-written by Martin (in his first feature film lead) and directed by Carl Reiner, the film is inventively silly with Martin displaying a remarkable talent for physical comedy. He seems to take such joy in the nonsensical shenanigans that his enthusiasm becomes contagious. Alas, the film runs out of steam eventually which is a pity but what precedes it is often hilarious and Martin's frantic search for cover as a sniper (M. Emmet Walsh) attempts to assassinate him or the wicked cat juggling sequence will stay with me forever. With the peaches and cream Bernadette Peters as Martin's love interest, Catlin Adams as a sex crazy carnival daredevil who deflowers Martin, Jackie Mason, Bill Macy, Mabel King, Richard Ward and Maurice Evans as Martin's butler.

Captive Wild Woman (1943)

An endocrinologist (John Carradine) kidnaps a female circus gorilla and experiments on her, eventually turning her human in the form of the statuesque Acquanetta (TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD WOMAN). An early directorial effort of Edward Dmytryk (THE CAINE MUTINY), this is a rather ludicrous minor horror effort from Universal. The film is barely over an hour long yet it still feels padded out with tiresome lion taming footage which I suppose 1943 audiences found thrilling. But the lion taming footage looks pretty tacky by today's standards principally because it is so obviously not the leading man Milburn Stone (best remembered as the doctor on TV's GUNSMOKE) doing the whip snapping but the famed Clyde Beatty. It also doesn't help that most of the process shots interpolating the actors with the wild animals are poorly done. With Universal's resident scream Queen, Evelyn Ankers (THE WOLF MAN) as Stone's love interest, Martha Vickers, Lloyd Corrigan and Paul Fix.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Powder Blue (2009)

Christmas week in Los Angeles. Four lost souls. A man (Ray Liotta) just released from prison after 25 years finds out he's terminally ill. A mortician (the ineffectual Eddie Redmayne) finds himself hopelessly in debt and his only friend a lost dog. A heartbroken widower (Forest Whitaker) rides through Los Angeles trying to find someone to kill him and put him out of his misery. A stripper (Jessica Biel) has a child in a coma in a hospital and is unable to maintain a relationship. Co-written and directed by Timothy Linh Bui, the film is a real downer, ineptly made, without any salvaging graces. It's like someone saw Paul Thomas Anderson's superb MAGNOLIA and thought, "Gee, I could do that!" without understanding what Anderson was trying to do, without the artistry, complexities and ironies that made that film such a standout and what Linh Bui ends up giving us is the shell and nothing more. Both Biel and Liotta do some fine work but ultimately they're both defeated by the poor material. The film co-stars Patrick Swayze in his final film role and it's a sad swan song. It's a ridiculous role and Swayze (in a long blonde wig) is embarrassing. The film's best performance comes from Alejandro Romero as a drug addled transsexual hooker. With Lisa Kudrow (wasted), Kris Kristofferson and Sanaa Lathan.

Fantomas (1913-1914)

A master criminal by the name of Fantomas (Rene Navarre) scandalizes Paris with his daring robberies. But he is also a sociopath, who would kill in cold blood anyone who got in his way. The police detective Juve (Edmund Breon) who has been duped by Fantomas on several occasions vows to capture the elusive criminal, which may prove difficult as Fantomas is a chameleon and master of disguise. This five part serial (which runs about 5 1/2 hours) directed by Louis Feuillade (LES VAMPIRES) is based on the popular series of novels by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre and has been filmed many times. Feuillade's serial is entertaining and a wonderful watch. Predominantly for its clever, if far fetched, narrative because as cinema it's pretty stilted. With a few exceptions, the camera is fairly stilted and just records the story which, fortunately, is engrossing enough to keep one glued. It would have helped a bit if the film didn't make the police so stupid at times, practically assisting Fantomas in his escapes from the clutches of the law. The version I saw had a very effective score by the Catalogue Sonimage which propels the storyline nicely. With Georges Melchior and Renee Carl. Great fun!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Paris Holiday (1958)

An American comedian (Bob Hope) travels to France in the hopes of persuading a playwright (director Preston Sturges, MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK in a rare acting role) to sell him the American rights to his play. But when the playwright is murdered, he becomes the chief suspect. As a Bob Hope vehicle, the film is diluted by the presence of the popular French comic Fernandel who shares equal co-star billing and whose appeal I don't understand. The laughs are few and far between with only a handful of sight gags and Hope's one line zingers that actually work (when Ekberg coos, "Je t'adore" to Hope, he eyes the door and quips, "I just did!"). More often though, one is more inclined to roll one's eyes than chuckle. Visually, it's more opulent than most of Hope's film comedies. Handsomely shot in Technirama wide screen by Roger Hubert (CHILDREN OF PARADISE), the film serves as a travelogue of the Paris sights and the French countryside. Directed by Gerd Oswald (SCREAMING MIMI). With Anita Ekberg who's used mostly as eye candy in her Pierre Balmain wardrobe, Martha Hyer and Andre Morell.

I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can (1982)

An Emmy award winning documentary filmmaker (Jill Clayburgh) is addicted to Valium which masks her anxieties. While filming a documentary on a terminally ill poet (Geraldine Page), she attempts to get off her Valium cold turkey. This is a mistake as she spirals into an emotional and mental depression which causes her sadistic, controlling lover (Nicol Williamson) to control her with verbal and physical abuse. Based on the memoir of Emmy award winning documentarian Barbara Gordon, the film never manages to get to the causes of Clayburgh's psychosis but it nevertheless is a harrowing descent into Hell with a tour de force performance by Clayburgh, quite possibly her best. Clayburgh manages to chillingly take us with her as she spirals into her madness but without the ridiculous actressy histrionics of Ellen Burstyn's performance in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM which covered similar terrain. In briefer roles, Page and Dianne Wiest (as Clayburgh's therapist) make strong impressions. Directed by Jack Hoffsis. The simple (a string quartet and a piano) but strong score is by Stanley Silverman. The large cast is littered with talent including John Lithgow, Joe Pesci, Ellen Greene, Albert Salmi, Daniel Stern, CCH Pounder, Dan Hedaya, Richard Masur, Jeffrey DeMunn, Kathleen Widdoes, Margaret Ladd, Toni Kalem, Anne De Salvo, Robert DoQui and David Margulies.

Le Combat Dans L'ile (1962)

A bourgeois housewife (Romy Schneider) discovers that her husband (Jean Louis Trintignant) is a right wing terrorist and a political assassin. After a bungled assassination attempt, he must leave the country but he refuses to take her which leaves her vulnerable to the attentions of her husband's childhood friend (Henri Serre, JULES ET JIM). Directed by Alain Cavalier but "supervised" by Louis Malle, this is a perfectly silly film, not to mention slipshod. Most problematic is Schneider's character who comes across as a cipher that defines herself through the men in her life. After discovering that her husband is a fascist and a murderer, does she leave him? No, she pleads to be taken along with him when he escapes the country. Only when she finds herself another man (Serre) is she able to heal herself. I won't even go into the archaic finale which could have come right out of a 19th century potboiler. Still, the acting is quite good. In particular, Trintignant whose intensity is a perfect match for the near psychopathic assassin. I don't believe the film ever got a U.S. release and it's easy to see why. With Diane Lepvrier who gives a charming performance as a country housekeeper.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tombstone (1993)

Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), now retired as a lawman, arrives in the growing mining town of Tombstone in the hopes of making his fortune. He is accompanied by his two brothers (Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton) and their wives as well as his common law wife (Dana Wheeler Nicholson). However, the law in Tombstone is ineffectual and overrun by outlaw activity. Directed by George Pan Cosmatos (RAMBO), this is a moderately entertaining if not very fresh western. Historically, it plays like dubious history but who goes to the cowboy movies for facts, right? In a western, it's the myth we want. The script by Kevin Jarre (who was fired as the film's director) is riddled with anachronistic dialogue while the acting goes from good (Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday) to adequate (Russell) to bad (Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo). The busy score by Bruce Broughton isn't as effective as his western score to SILVERADO while the vivid wide screen lensing is by the great William Fraker (BULLITT). The huge cast includes Powers Boothe, Billy Bob Thornton, Dana Delany, Joanna Pacula, Jason Priestley, Terry O'Quinn, Thomas Haden Church, Stephen Lang, Michael Rooker, John Corbett, Billy Zane, Jon Tenney, Harry Carey Jr. and Charlton Heston, who has nothing to do but lend his iconic presence.

The Haunted Palace (1963)

In 18th century New England, a warlock (Vincent Price) is burned at the stake by the town's citizens. But not before he puts a curse on them and their ancestors and vows to return. A hundred years later, his ancestor (also Price) returns with his new bride (Debra Paget) to take possession of the warlock's palace. Although titularly based on the poem of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe, the film itself is based on H.P. Lovecraft's novella, THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD. But there's very little difference between this film and the Poe films director Roger Corman was making around this time. It's heavy on style and atmosphere but not much else. Price is quite good playing the nice Ward attempting to stave off possession of his evil ancestor but not succeeding. But the real star of the film is art director Daniel Haller whose dark, many chambered palace is a real doozy as well as his fog shrouded village. Ronald Stein did the score and Floyd Crosby the evocative wide screen Panavision lensing. With Leo Gordon, Elisha Cook and Lon Chaney Jr.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Menschen Am Sonntag (aka People On Sunday) (1930)

Four young people in pre-Hitler Berlin spend an aimless, leisurely Sunday together before returning to work on Monday. A taxi driver (Erwin Splettstober), a wine salesman (Wolfgang von Waltershausen), a background actress (Christl Ehlers) and a shop girl (Brigitte Borchert). The four players (as well as a fifth, Annie Schreyer as Splettstober's model girlfriend) are all non-professionals essentially playing themselves. Their professions, for example, are actually their real life jobs before and after the film was made. Nothing much happens in the film as the cameras follow them around having a picnic on the river's bank, dallying in the woods, listening to a gramophone, floating down the river (the film's highlight), etc. As cinema, it doesn't offer up much but the real interest are twofold. The images of life in pre-Nazi Berlin and the creative personnel which was made up of some artists that would later come to America. The film's directors were Robert Siodmak (THE KILLERS) and Edgar G. Ulmer (DETOUR), the writers were Billy Wilder (SOME LIKE IT HOT) and Curt Siodmak (THE WOLF MAN), the cinematography by Eugene Schufftan (THE HUSTLER) and his camera assistant, Fred Zinnemann (HIGH NOON). The print I saw had a nice score (the film is a silent) by Elena Kats-Chernin.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Gone With The Wind (1939)

A willful, spoiled Southern belle (Vivien Leigh) finds her way of life destroyed when the Civil War reduces her family's wealth and home to rubble. When the war is over, she is determined to become rich again at whatever the cost. There's not much one can say about this great American epic, in which the war between the States serves as a backdrop to the love/hate romance between Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and the rogue Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). O'Hara is one of the great film heroines and Leigh's performance is sheer perfection and matched every step of the way by Gable who was born to play Rhett. It's a romanticized view of the Old South that never existed except in myth and if one is looking for a historical examination of the Civil War and the Reconstruction, this isn't it. But it's an irresistible movie. Victor Fleming gets the directorial credit though a couple of other directors (George Cukor among them) are said to have directed pieces of the film. The superb cast includes Leslie Howard (a bit wan), Olivia De Havilland (who makes niceness attractive), Hattie McDaniel (simply magnificent, her speech on the staircase will break your heart), Thomas Mitchell, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford, Barbara O'Neil, Victor Jory, Isabel Jewell, Jane Darwell, Ward Bond, Butterfly McQueen, George Reeves, Harry Davenport, Ona Munson and Laura Hope Crews. The only disappointment is Max Steiner's nondescript score.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Two Weeks In Another Town (1962)

A washed up, alcoholic movie star (Kirk Douglas) recovering from a nervous breakdown is summoned to Rome by a director (Edward G. Robinson) who had collaborated with the actor on their best films. But when he arrives, he discovers not only does the director have ulterior motives but that his toxic, promiscuous ex-wife (Cyd Charisse), who precipitated his breakdown, is also in Rome. Comparison to the 1952 film THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is inevitable. Not only because of the same director Vincente Minnelli but the same leading man (Douglas), producer (John Houseman), screenwriter (Charles Schnee) and composer (David Raksin). With the Rome setting and la dolce vita in full bloom, Minnelli uses the exotic backdrop to go beyond the typical "dog eat dog" Hollywood tableau and a portrait of how poisonous an atmosphere pervades the art vs. business dilemma (an Italian producer has no interest in the film he's making beyond profit). The film is not without its flaws. George Hamilton is seriously miscast as a James Dean type and Minnelli recycles the hysterical Lana Turner car out of control scene from the 1952 film and that's what it looks like ... recycled though the poor rear projection shots don't help any. Still, despite its flaws, its Minnelli's last near great film. The cast includes Claire Trevor as Robinson's shrewish wife, Daliah Lavi, James Gregory, Rosanna Schiaffino, George Macready, Leslie Uggams and Vito Scotti.

Thrill Of A Romance (1945)

A young bride (Esther Williams) is abandoned on her honeymoon when her husband (Carleton G. Young) rushes off to Washington D.C. on a business trip. When a handsome war hero (Van Johnson) shows up, she finds herself very attracted to him. What can one say about a lightweight, fluffy romance like this? Williams and Johnson have appealing presences and a nice chemistry together (they made four films together at MGM) and, of course, she swims. The gorgeous Yosemite settings (supplemented by Lake Arrowhead) look marvelous in three strip Technicolor as shot by Harry Stradling (MY FAIR LADY). Unfortunately, the film is padded out and we're subjected to Metropolitan opera's Lauritz Melchior bellowing and Tommy Dorsey's teenage daughter (played by Helene Stanley) playing the piano to kill time. Still, audiences of the time ate it up and it went on to become the highest grossing film of 1945. It's old fashioned but eminently likable. One can't help but notice its similarity with Neil Simon's THE HEARTBREAK KID which came 27 year later. With Spring Byington and Henry Travers as Williams' absent minded aunt and uncle, Frances Gifford as a predatory heiress, Ethel Griffies, Donald Curtis, Virginia Brissac and Thurston Hall.

Things We Lost In The Fire (2007)

After her husband (David Duchovny) is murdered, his wife (Halle Berry) finds herself unable to grieve and invites her husband's best friend (Benicio Del Toro), a recovering heroin addict, to move in. But instead of the peace she had hoped to find, she resents his intrusion into her family's life. Directed by the Oscar winning Danish director Susanne Bier, this is a low key effective two character drama. There are other characters, of course, but the relationship between Berry's character, who uses this brittle veneer to hold herself together, with the almost child like Del Toro is the film's focus and strength. For the most part, Bier does a skillful job of retaining a sense of loss and the inner struggle to retain composure as one's world collapses. Del Toro and Berry both give delicate, exemplary performances. Bier isn't as fortunate with the child actors (Micah Berry and Alexis Llewellyn) who play the offspring of Berry and Duchovny and give unimaginative "movie kid" performances. With Alison Lohman, John Carroll Lynch and Omar Benson Miller.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Saratoga Trunk (1946)

After being banished to Paris with her mother, who was the mistress of the scion of a prominent New Orleans family, their illegitimate daughter (Ingrid Bergman) returns to New Orleans intent on getting revenge on the family who ruined her mother's life and also to catch herself a wealthy husband. She meets a tall Texan (Gary Cooper) who is also out for revenge against the railroad barons who ruined his father. Their attraction is immediate but neither will give an inch. Based on the Edna Ferber novel, director Sam Wood reunites with his FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS stars and the result is this irrepressible battle of the sexes with both Copper and Bergman at their sexiest and most magnetic. Bergman, in particular, seems to be having the time of her life as the calculating Creole minx. The film runs over the 2 hour mark but you're never aware of the time as Wood keeps things smoothly on track though the last few minutes of the film are far more treacly than necessary. Flora Robson, in blackface, as Bergman's maid received an Oscar nomination. Max Steiner provided the score. With Florence Bates, Ethel Griffies, Jacqueline DeWit, John Warburton as the millionaire Bergman sets her eyes on and Jerry Austin as Bergman's dwarf companion (she sets a tray of Jambalaya on his head as she eats).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)

A scientist (James Franco) has been attempting to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease in the hopes of helping his father (John Lithgow) who is suffering from the illness. Using a retrovirus on chimpanzees, the results are impressive but when a female chimpanzee goes berserk and is hot dead, the project is shut down. But Franco brings the dead chimp's baby home to raise. As he grows, the ape (Andy Serkis) shows amazing intelligence. Both a prequel and a reboot of the classic 1968 film PLANET OF THE APES, the film suffers from a slow moving first hour that's full of exposition and some fat that should have been excised. The father/son relationship slows down the film's rhythm rather than adding to it and the love story between Franco and lovely Freida Pinto (wasted) is an unnecessary nuisance. There's also a lot of the usual cliches, the greedy corporation more concerned with big profits rather than human lives, the nasty animal abusers who tease and torture the caged simians, etc. The second half of the film (starting with the cookie sequence) kicks the film into high gear and it's a real thrill ride from that point on. It's difficult to disguise that the apes are CGI creations rather than real but Andy Serkis as Caesar, the ape's revolt leader gives a terrific performance. The disappointing score is by Patrick Doyle. Directed by Rupert Wyatt and with Brian Cox and David Oyelowo.

The Help (2011)

Set in the early 1960s in Mississippi, a young college graduate (Emma Stone) returns home to find the family's longtime maid (Cicely Tyson) gone. After getting a job on the local newspaper, Stone decides to write a book on "the help", the black maids who clean the homes, cook the meals and raise the children of town's white citizens. Based on a best seller by Kathryn Stockett and directed by actor (WINTER'S BONE) turned director Tate Taylor, the film's heart is in the right place and its intentions are good. But this is yet another film which utilizes a white protagonist to tell the story of African-American struggles. The stories of the black women are so compelling that it seems a waste of time to focus on Stone's romantic life, however brief. The film is not above some unsubtle manipulation to squeeze as many tears as it can from our ducts. And surely not everyone in town was a slobbering racist! Where the film soars is in its impeccable ensemble cast. I can't remember when I've seen such a perfectly cast, well acted film in years. Viola Davis (DOUBT), and I see another Oscar nomination in her future, and Octavia Spencer shine but the real scene stealer is Jessica Chastain as a Marilyn Monroe-ish newlywed. With Malick's TREE OF LIFE (she was Brad Pitt's wife) and now this, Chastain has had an impressive year. The wonderful cast includes Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Allison Janney, David Oyelowo and Brian Kerwin.

Sergeant Ryker (1968)

During the Korean war, an Army sergeant by the name of Ryker (Lee Marvin) has been court martialed and found guilty of treason for deserting and going over to the Red Chinese. However, he insists he was under a secret assignment by a high ranking Colonel that no one knew about. The only problem is that the Colonel is now dead and cannot corroborate his story. Originally made for television some five years earlier when Marvin wasn't yet a Star but released to cinemas as a feature film after his Oscar win made him a box office leading man. It looks like a TV movie and its limited budget didn't allow location shooting so the Universal back lot subs for Japan and Korea with obvious stock footage inserted into the film for an air attack by North Korea as well as the landscape. That aside, the film works as a decent if unmemorable courtroom suspenser even though Ryker's guilt or innocence is purposely left ambiguous. Directed by Buzz Kulik with an early score by John Williams. With Vera Miles as Ryker's wife, Bradford Dillman as his defense attorney, Lloyd Nolan, Peter Graves, Murray Hamilton and Norman Fell.

Cosh Boy (aka The Slasher) (1953)

A 16 year old brat ... er, I mean juvenile delinquent (James Kenney) and his gang beat up little old ladies and aging hookers and steal their purses. His wimpy mother (Betty Ann Davies) lets him walk all over her. When he meets a teen-aged ninny (Joan Collins) at a dance, he forces himself on her, knocks her up and dumps her but, of course, she loves him through it all. Abysmal pretty much sums it up. Before the U.S. explored the juvenile delinquent crisis with such films as THE WILD ONE and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, the British tried their hand at it and if this wretched film is any example, Yanks: 2, Brits: 0. Kenney in a role that would probably have made anyone else a star is so awful that his bad acting becomes almost fascinating to study. The film concludes that all the kid needed was a spanking to straighten him out. If I hadn't known director Lewis Gilbert for his better later work like ALFIE and THE GREENGAGE SUMMER, I would have thought he was one of the dregs of his profession. With Hermione Gingold as aging tart, Hermione Baddeley as Collins' mum and Laurence Naismith. Retitled THE SLASHER in the U.S. presumably because it was figured Americans wouldn't be able to figure out what a "cosh boy" was.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dark Of The Sun (1968)

Set in the Congo during the turmoil following independence from Belgium, a mercenary (Rod Taylor) leads a group of soldiers (both mercenaries and rebels fighting for their country) into the heart of treacherous Simba country to retrieve civilians in a trapped village and fifty million worth of diamonds. Directed by Oscar winning cinematographer (BLACK NARCISSUS) turned director Jack Cardiff, this is an unflinchingly brutal and bloody film. Absolutely shocking in its 1968 release but even today, still hard to take. Little children cold bloodedly machine gunned by ex-Nazis, nuns and soldiers raped, chainsaw attacks, people set on fire and other assorted tortures. The film is a favorite of Quentin Tarantino and it's easy to see why. Not only is it an influence on his INGLORIOUS BASTERDS but he even cast DARK's star Rod Taylor in the film and used portions of the film's score by Jacques Loussier. It's an exciting and visceral film, no doubt about it, but one can't help feeling queasy about it. If it were anyone but Cardiff at the helm, one might question the film maker's motives. Cinematography by Edward Scaife (KHARTOUM) with Jamaica subbing for the Congo. With Yvette Mimieux, Jim Brown, Kenneth More, Calvin Lockhart and as the unabashed ex-Nazi, Peter Carsten playing one of the most hateful of screen bad guys.

Les Femmes (1969)

A writer (Maurice Ronet) is so obsessed with the female sex that it becomes a distraction from his work. So his publisher (Jean Pierre Marielle) hires a secretary (Brigitte Bardot), who will do double duty as secretary and sex object. The idea of a French sex comedy with Bardot and Ronet sounds delicieux, oui? A resounding non! Bardot has very little to do here except tease and pout and show her delectable bottom and Ronet, normally an attractive screen presence, plays a thoroughly irredeemable jerk. Scads of lovelies (Anny Duperey, Christina Holme and Tanya Lopert among them) throw themselves at him despite his inability to commit and his manipulation of them and the bulk of the film has Ronet reminiscing about his past conquests while Bardot gets turned on. There's even a train thru a tunnel sequence that director Jean Aurel lifts from Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST. The film's idea of funny is a mad chase through the length of a Paris to Rome train, bumping into people and knocking things over. If that's your idea of hilarious, you may find it amusing.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Buffalo Bill And The Indians (1976)

Buffalo Bill Cody (Paul Newman) imports Sitting Bull (Frank Kaquitts, not much of an actor but what a face!) to perform in his traveling Wild West show. But the chief is neither as savage as expected nor as docile as he would like. Very loosely based on Arthur Kopit's play INDIANS, what appears on the surface is a typical Robert Altman film with its multi-character, fragmented structure. But Altman can't get it together and the film meanders aimlessly, soft and flabby at its core, and unable to form into a cohesive whole. There's an underlying smugness to the film as if Altman didn't realize his obvious truths about the Old West weren't already old hat. In the title role, Paul Newman is a disaster. Paul Newman is a superb actor and a genuine Movie Star but he's all wrong here. As the anti-heroes of THE HUSTLER or HUD no one can touch him but Newman as a bigger than life Western mythological hero? Altman has the right actor for the role in the film but instead of casting Burt Lancaster as Buffalo Bill, Lancaster is subdued in a minor role as the behind the scenes man who set Buffalo Bill up as a legend. The massive cast includes Harvey Keitel, Joel Grey, Kevin McCarthy, Will Sampson, Shelley Duvall, Robert DoQui and in the film's two best performances, Geraldine Chaplin and John Considine as Annie Oakley and her husband Frank Butler.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Such Good Friends (1971)

The upscale Manhattan wife (Dyan Cannon) of an author of children's books and magazine art director (Laurence Luckinbill) thinks she has the perfect marriage. But when her husband goes into a coma after a minor operation, she discovers the double life he'd been leading and she begins to unravel. Based on the best seller by Lois Gould (with a screenplay by Elaine May writing under a pseudonym), this Otto Preminger film never finds the right tone that could make it all work. This kind of comedy of life among the upper East Side Manhattan creative elite would be perfected at the end of the decade by Woody Allen, who soared with it while Preminger just stumbles. A couple of scenes which should be funny come across as crude and awkward. An unpleasant sexual encounter between Cannon and James Coco, for example, is just tasteless and did we really need to see a nude Burgess Meredith? I may not recover for months. Cannon is very good here though by all accounts she and Preminger loathed working with each other. The score by Thomas Z. Shepard (more famous as a record producer) is near non existent though the end credit song Suddenly It's All Tomorrow is lovely. The large cast includes Ken Howard, Jennifer O'Neill, Nina Foch, Rita Gam, Doris Roberts, Sam Levene, Nancy Guild, Lawrence Tierney, William Redfield, Clarice Taylor, Virginia Vestoff, Louise Lasser and Elaine Joyce.

Nippon Konchuki (aka The Insect Woman) (1963)

A peasant girl (Sachiko Hidari) is exploited by her promiscuous mother (Sumie Sasaki) and possibly molested by her father (Kazuo Kitamura), if he is her biological father (the film is ambiguous on this point). She leaves for Tokyo where in her struggle to survive, she climbs from a cleaning woman to the madam of a brothel. Shohei Imamura's (BLACK RAIN) breakthrough film (in the international sense) is a complicated examination of the survival instinct of the human species and Imamura, quite obviously, uses the insect (the literal translation of the Japanese title is JAPANESE ENTOMOLOGY) as a metaphor for that struggle. Hidari's (in a fine performance, by the way) character is almost impossible to like as she becomes as manipulative and exploitative as the mother and men who have exploited her. The irony is there but she doesn't seem to see it though the film suggests that her own daughter (Jitsuko Yoshimura) will break the cycle despite her own bit of manipulations. I did find it odd that two of the prominent male characters were mentally and/or emotionally stunted though what Imamura was trying to say is unclear. While not as seamless as it could have been, it's a satisfying piece of social study. Shinsaku Himeda did the excellent NikkatsuScope images and Toshiro Mayuzumi did the minimal score.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark (1988)

The trashy and tacky Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) hosts a TV show that runs bad sci-fi and horror films. She needs money to finance her Las Vegas act. When her great aunt from New England dies and leaves Elvira an inheritance in her will, she finds all she has inherited is a dilapidated old house, a poodle and a recipe book (which is really a book of spells). Worse, the uptight and puritanical townspeople treat her like a pariah. This horror comedy manages to be both cheesy and legitimately funny and near irresistible. The closest equivalent that I can think of would be ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. It's silly yet there's an eagerness to please that makes the silliness work. The comedic highlights include Elvira's FLASHDANCE parody, her "casserole" dinner and a picnic in which she casts a sex spell on the town's puritans. Peterson squeezes all the double entendres she can out of her ditzy, cheap dingbat and everyone is pretty much a straight man to her though Edie McClurg as Chastity Pariah, the town's moral arbiter, manages to steal a few scenes. Directed by James Signorelli. With Daniel Greene and Susan Kellerman.

Rope Of Sand (1949)

Set in South Africa, a former hunting guide (Burt Lancaster), who was falsely accused of stealing diamonds from a diamond mining corporation and tortured by a corrupt police captain (Paul Henreid), returns to get revenge ..... and the diamonds. This neat and nasty cat and mouse thriller is quite enjoyable. Lancaster's hero has more brawn than brains, it was his own stupidity that got him in trouble in the first place! But Claude Rains as the cool and duplicitous owner of the diamond mine is marvelous as he plots, crosses and double crosses and gleefully pits everyone against each other. Henreid is in peak form as the sadistic ex-Nazi and sexy Corinne Calvet (tightly wrapped up in Edith Head's costumes) makes a perfect seductress. Only Peter Lorre in a minor role is wasted. Imperial County in California substitutes for the South African desert and Oscar winning cinematographer Charles Lang gives the B&W film lots of noir-ish shading and texture. All in all, nicely done. Directed by William Dieterle with an unexceptional score by Franz Waxman. With John Bromfield, Mike Mazurki and Hayden Rorke.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The George Raft Story (1961)

An ambitious nightclub dancer (Ray Danton) becomes involved with bootleggers and the mob but when the heat gets turned on, he goes off to Hollywood where he becomes a big Movie Star. A highly fictionalized accounting of the actor George Raft, who became a star in Howard Hawks' SCARFACE. Riddled with cliches, half truths and exaggerations to beef up the story, I suppose one could say that the film has taken artistic license with facts but there's nothing artistic about this potboiler. Danton, who never became a Star in his career, doesn't have it in him to show us what made Raft a star. He's just not individual enough and lacks Raft's genuine screen presence. The film is almost a musical with all the musical numbers thrown in. Julie London as one of Danton's early conquests gets to sing a song as does Barbara Nichols (dubbed) as Texas Guinan and Barrie Chase gets to dance the bolero with Danton. After chronicling Raft's personal and professional ups and downs, the film ends with Raft's "comeback" in Billy Wilder's SOME LIKE IT HOT. Directed by Joseph M. Newman. The large cast includes Jayne Mansfield (apparently playing Raft's NIGHT AFTER NIGHT co-star Mae West), Frank Gorshin, Margo Moore, Wally Brown, Herschel Bernardi, Jack Albertson, Brad Dexter, Robert Strauss, Argentina Brunetti and Neville Brand as Al Capone.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Made In U.S.A. (1966)

A female detective (Anna Karina) is investigating the death of her ex-lover. The complicated case takes various twists and turns until the murderer is exposed. Jean-Luc Godard dedicates his film to Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller "who taught me to respect image and sound". And that's all his MADE IN U.S.A. is about really, image and sound. Its incoherent plot makes Hawks' THE BIG SLEEP seem crystal clear! Loosely, very loosely, based on an unauthorized (which accounts for the film not being available in the U.S. for many years) adaptation of Donald Westlake's novel THE JUGGER, the film is shot in bright Technicolor hues of vivid reds, pastel blues and deep yellows and crammed with cinematic, literary and political references. Characters have names like Nixon and Robert McNamara, Mizoguchi (as in Kenji), Aldrich (as in Robert) and Widmark (as in Richard), ladies are called Daisy Kenyon (a Joan Crawford film) and Ruby Gentry (a Jennifer Jones film) and there are streets called Preminger (as in Otto) or Ben Hecht (the screenwriter). It's more about Godard's love of cinema as anything else though there are political references liberally peppered through out the film but it's mostly crackpot politics having to do with Godard's disillusionment with Communism. But made during Godard's most fertile period, it demands to be seen. With Jean Pierre Leaud and Marianne Faithfull.

Fighting Prince Of Donegal (1966)

Set in 16th century Ireland when the British occupied it under the guise of protecting England from an invasion from Spain, the film centers around an actual historical figure, Hugh "Red" O'Donnell played by Peter McEnery. When he attempts to gather all the Irish clans to band against the English invaders, he is captured and put into prison. For a swashbuckler, it's a pretty chatty piece. This being a Disney production aimed at families, I can't see the youngsters staying still for such an inactive adventure movie. Over half the film's running time takes place in a Dublin prison with escape attempts, both successful and unsuccessful. Things get pretty lively in the last 15 minutes with the storming of the Donegal castle which partially makes up for the slow parts. There's an amusing sequence with McEnery and Tom Adams dallying in the countryside with Marie Kean (BARRY LYNDON) and her three daughters that provides a respite from the prison scenes. The film has a rich and authentic look to it (England subbing for the Irish countryside) which I'll credit the cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson for. Swashbucklers usually afford an opportunity for composers but George Bruns churns out a lifeless score. Oddly, he has bagpipes accompanying the castle storming (did he think they were Scots?). Directed by Michael O'Herlihy. With lovely Susan Hampshire, Gordon Jackson (who makes for a marvelously slimey villain) and Andrew Keir.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Little Fockers (2010)

After suffering a heart attack, a former CIA agent (Robert De Niro) prods his son in law (Ben Stiller) to prepare to take over as the head of the family. That's about it. The FOCKERS franchise has gone to the well once too often. It's dry as a bone. You can see where the jokes are supposed to be and that you're supposed to laugh but the situations are so lame that even a smile is asking too much. When the funniest bit is saved for the end credits, you know something has gone terribly awry. The first entry MEET THE PARENTS was first rate and the second MEET THE FOCKERS was a reasonably successful sequel. The third time trips them up. For some reason Owen Wilson, who was the most annoying character in MEET THE PARENTS, has been resurrected as if he were a highlight of the first installment! He gets strong competition in the annoying sweepstakes from Jessica Alba as the perky rep of a major drug company (Wilson wins). One cringes for the poor actors, surely they must have realized what poor material they were working with. Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman are also back as Stiller's parents but they're wasted. Directed by Paul Weitz. With Laura Dern, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo and Harvey Keitel (one winces at his scenes with De Niro, a far fall from their glory days in TAXI DRIVER). I trust this has killed the franchise for good.

Rocky Mountain (1950)

Under secret orders by General Robert E. Lee, a Captain (Errol Flynn) leads a small group of Confederate soldiers into California with the intention of recruiting some renegades to fight on the side of the South. However, after rescuing a young woman (Patrice Wymore) and a stagecoach driver (Chubby Johnson) from an Indian attack, they find themselves trapped on a rocky mountain by Shoshone Indians. This neat little western, directed by William Keighley (MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER), defies the expected cliches. Flynn, for example, is used strictly as a determined soldier, leaving the romance to Wymore and Scott Forbes as her Cavalry lieutenant fiance. And the somber finale (a shot of a small dog looking among the dead for its master is heartbreaking) leaves the usual western heroics behind. Keighley manages to keep the tension quotient high and doesn't waste much. Handsomely shot in New Mexico in black and white by Ted McCord (TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE), one can't help but wish they had shot it in Technicolor instead. Max Steiner whips up one of his better scores. With Sheb Wooley and Slim Pickens. If you're a westerns buff, you can't afford to miss this one.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Merchant Of Venice (1972)

In 14th century Venice, a young but poor noble (Christopher Gable) asks his anti-Semitic friend (Charles Gray) for a loan. Since he is cash poor until his ships come in, the friend agrees to loan the money but only if the young man is able to find a lender. A Jewish moneylender (Frank Finlay) agrees to provide the funds but demands a pound of Gray's flesh, literally, if the loan is forfeited. Of all Shakespeare's plays, I've always found THE MERCHANT OF VENICE the most disturbing because of its underlying anti-semitism. Though productions in recent decades have attempted to turn Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, into a sympathetic character, the text is still problematic. Though the other characters heap verbal abuse (including spitting on him) for his religion, he's the one who's humiliated and forced by law to convert to Christianity and all this with no irony! Meanwhile, the Gentiles all live happily ever after. All that aside, this is a decent production highlighted by Juanita Waterson's elegant costuming and by two strong performances, Finlay as Shylock who manages to makes us understand his need for revenge and Maggie Smith as Portia, the object of Gable's affection. Directed by Cedric Messina.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

An Alligator Named Daisy (1955)

Against his will, an Englishman (Donald Sinden, MOGAMBO) finds himself the guardian of an abandoned alligator named Daisy. The alligator takes a shine to him and they bond but Daisy causes havoc among his household, his place of work and at a posh ball thrown by his fiancee's (Diana Dors) father (James Robertson Justice). When one thinks of director J. Lee Thompson, one thinks of films like GUNS OF NAVARONE or CAPE FEAR, not cute animal comedies with songs. Nevertheless, it's hard to resist the likable reptile or the innocuous comedy that's built around her. Sinden is a rather pleasant presence but his leading ladies, the statuesque Dors and the auburn haired Jeannie Carson, brighten up the film. With Margaret Rutherford as a dotty pet shop owner who talks to animals, Stephen Boyd, Frankie Howerd, Stanley Holloway, Roland Culver, Joan Hickson (whose indignant piano customer is one of the film's comedic highlights) and Ernest Thesiger.

La Dolce Vita (1960)

To describe the "plot" of Federico Fellini's masterpiece LA DOLCE VITA as a series of anecdotes in the life of a tabloid journalist (Marcello Mastroianni) does it an injustice. One of the landmark films in cinema history, it marked a transition for Fellini from his modest "realistic" films like LA STRADA and NIGHTS OF CABIRIA to a more ambitious non-linear, even extravagant, style of film making. Many of Fellini's admirers prefer CABIRIA, LA STRADA or even his later AMARCORD and it's understandable. There's an underlying sentiment in those films which make it easier to digest. It doesn't exist in nor has a place in the bleak universe of LA DOLCE VITA which focuses on sterile artists and intellectuals, aimless bourgeoisie and an increasingly soulless society. It's that rare film that justifies its lengthy running time (3 hours) yet there's not a bit of padding to it. The wide screen TotalScope (Fellini's first in the wide screen format) images by Otello Martelli is among the greatest B&W cinematography I've seen and praise must be given to Nino Rota's superb score. I've seen LA DOLCE VITA several times before and each time I'm near astonished at the depth and breadth of it. To discuss it properly requires more space than I have here. The amazing cast includes Anouk Aimee, Anita Ekberg, Yvonne Furneaux, Magali Noel, Nadia Gray, Alain Cuny, Jacques Sernas, Lex Barker, Annibale Ninchi, Audrey McDonald and Nico.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

City Of Bad Men (1953)

In Carson City, Nevada during a world championship prize fight between Bob Fitzsimmons (Gil Perkins) and "Gentleman Jim" Corbett (John Daheim), a gang rides into town with the intention of robbing the proceeds of the fight. Unfortunately, their leader (Dale Robertson) finds that two other rival gangs have the same idea. Directed by Harmon Jones (GORILLA AT LARGE), the film's plot sounds interesting enough to expect an intriguing western and while it holds our attention, the execution is limp though the actual robbery during the fight is handled very well. As usual, Richard Boone makes for a compelling villain but the film's subplot featuring the usual good girl and bad girl vying for the hero slows the action down. Jeanne Crain as the good girl looks ravishing in Technicolor but despite being top billed, there's isn't anything for her to do but fret. Carole Mathews (SWAMP WOMEN) as the bad girl fares somewhat better. With the exception of a rousing main title, Cyril J. Mockridge's score is forgettable. With Lloyd Bridges, Carl Betz, James Best, Leo Gordon, Rodolfo Acosta, Don Haggerty and John Doucette.

Together Again (1944)

A prim and proper New England mayor (Irene Dunne) goes to New York to interview a free spirited sculptor (Charles Boyer) about a sculpture of her deceased husband for the town square but she finds him unacceptable. However, when a nightclub is raided, she's mistaken for a stripper and put in jail. The sculptor, who's fallen for her, blackmails her into hiring him lest he reveal the scandal. As displayed in LOVE AFFAIR, Dunne (looking quite lovely here) and Boyer have a nice rapport and I've always preferred Dunne in her romantic and screwball comedies to her tearjerkers where she's just insufferable. Alas, as romantic comedies go, this is a pretty pallid affair. Everyone dutifully goes through their paces but there's no sparks. It's watchable but when it's over, you have to struggle to remember it. Directed by Charles Vidor (GILDA). With Mona Freeman as Dunne's precocious daughter, Charles Coburn, Janis Carter, Charles Dingle, Elizabeth Patterson and the gangling Jerome Courtland, who would quit acting for a directing career on such prime time soaps as DYNASTY, FALCON CREST and KNOT'S LANDING.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Calamity Jane (1953)

Calamity Jane (Doris Day) goes to Chicago to bring the actress Adelaid Adams (Gale Robbins) back to Deadwood, South Dakota. Instead, she mistakes Adams' maid (the always welcome Allyn Ann McLerie) for Adams and takes her back instead. Problems arise when both Day and McLerie fall for the same man (Philip Carey). Comparison to Irving Berlin's ANNIE GET YOUR GUN are inevitable. Day's Calamity Jane and Berlin's Annie Oakley are sisters under the skin and both films share the same leading man, Howard Keel. Even the score can't shake off the Berlin tinge, I Can Do Without You sounds suspiciously like Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better from ANNIE. That being said, I find CALAMITY JANE much more enjoyable than the film version of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. The likable Day doesn't grate on your nerves after awhile like Betty Hutton does in ANNIE. The catchy songs by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster includes the Oscar winning Secret Love. One of the musical delights of the 1950s and a highlight in Day's career. Directed by David Butler. With Dick Wesson.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A View To A Kill (1985)

James Bond (Roger Moore in his final outing as 007) is assigned to investigate the wealthy and mysterious head (Christopher Walken) of Zorin industries in order to discover who is responsible for leaking government technologies to the Russians. The 14th entry in the Bond franchise seems bloated and tired. The excessive running seems padded with irrelevant scenes (like Moore's tiresome dalliance with Fiona Fullerton which could easily have been excised) as if the producers felt that they were giving us more for our money when it just slows down the pacing. It doesn't help that Moore can't hide his ennui or that the Bond girl, pretty but vacuous Tanya Roberts, doesn't bring anything to the party. Even the normally reliable John Barry can't seem to bring his score to life though there's an infectious title song by Duran Duran. On the plus side, there's a pair of marvelous Bond villains. Walken seems to be having a great time as the psychotic Zorin, even when he faces death he giggles and that Amazon Grace Jones makes for a delicious "bad girl". The exciting airship on the Golden Gate bridge finale is very well known however. Directed by John Glen. With Patrick Macnee, Patrick Bauchau, Alison Doody, Geoffrey Keen, Desmond Llewelyn, Walter Gotell, Dolph Lundgren and in her swan song as Miss Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell.