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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lost Horizon (1973)

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

Odongo (1956)

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kings Row (1942)

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Reservation Road (2007)

After his son (Sean Curley) is killed in a hit and run accident in which the driver (Mark Ruffalo) fled the scene, a man (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes obsessed with finding the driver and getting justice for his son. This obsession takes a toll on his marriage. Based on the novel by John Burnham Schwartz who co-wrote the screenplay with the director Terry George (HOTEL RWANDA), the film starts out promisingly with a carefully detailed look on the unimaginable tragedy of losing one's child and dealing not only with the grieving process but the pain that the child's killer is still out there and its effect on the family and as well as the driver dealing with his guilt. It might have helped if Phoenix and Ruffalo had switched parts. Phoenix has such an off kilter presence that when his mental health deteriorates, it's almost expected. Seeing Ruffalo with his everyman persona unravel would have been less expected. The film's final act just doesn't work at all when it strays into the usual revenge territory of less accomplished films. Pity! The delicate score is by Mark Isham. With a strong performance by Jennifer Connelly as Phoenix's wife, Mira Sorvino, Antoni Corone, John Slattery and Elle Fanning.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Close To My Heart (1951)

A childless couple (Ray Milland, Gene Tierney) adopt a newborn baby but the father becomes obsessed with finding out about the child's birth parents. This obsession causes a disruption in the marriage. This rather unique film is a fairly absorbing if glossy look at the restrictive adoption process (circa 1951) and how an adoptive parent's fears about "bad blood" birth parents can possibly prevent him from truly bonding with a child. The scene when Milland finally meets the birth father (James Seay) plays as brutally today as it played in 1951. Directed by William Keighley (MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER). The musical mush is by Max Steiner. With Fay Bainter, Howard St. John and Mary Beth Hughes, very good as the brassy blonde who gives Milland the clues that will lead him to the truth about his adopted son.

Stick (1985)

When an ex-con (Burt Reynolds, who also directed) accompanies an old friend on an illegal drug deal in the Everglades, it goes horribly wrong and his friend is killed. As a point of honor, he is determined not only to avenge his friend's death but get the man (Charles Durning) who set them up. Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard (GET SHORTY) who co-wrote the screenplay, this is a slickly made action thriller, one of the better late entries in Burt Reynolds' then fading career. The famed stunt man Dar Robinson has his one and only acting role as an albino killer and performs one of the most memorable stunts in movie history, falling off the balcony of a high rise backward while shooting a gun at Reynolds on his way down. Sadly, he was killed the next year while doing a movie stunt on a motorcycle. The steamy, tropical Miami setting is nicely caught by Nick McLean's (THE GOONIES) camera and the typical 80s synthesizer score is by Barry De Vorzon and Joseph Conlan. With Candice Bergen, George Segal (who overplays his crass, loud mouthed millionaire), Richard Lawson, Alex Rocco, Tricia Leigh Fisher, Monica Lewis and Sachi Parker (Shirley MacLaine's daughter).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Dybbuk (1960)

In Jewish folklore, a dybbuk is a malevolent spirit, a displaced soul of a dead person who can only find purification by inhabiting the body of a living person. Not unlike the exorcisms of the Catholic church, there is a ceremony performed by a Rabbi to cast the dybbuk out. In this seminal play of Yiddish theater written in 1914 by Shloyme Ansky, a young girl (Carol Lawrence) is possessed by the spirit of her dead lover (Michael Tolan) on her wedding day. Sidney Lumet (DOG DAY AFTERNOON) directed this version and while it wobbles a bit in the beginning (though to be fair, this may be inherent in the writing), he does an excellent job in the latter half during the sequence leading up to the exorcism as well as the exorcism itself. The dialog is often awkward and doesn't roll off the tongues of the actors easily. Music plays an important part in this production and the role of Leah, the possessed bride, requires an actress who moves well so it's fortunate that Lawrence is a dancer (she was the original Maria in the Broadway WEST SIDE STORY). With Theodore Bikel as the bride's father, Ludwig Donath, Vincent Gardenia, Gene Saks and Milton Selzer.

Summer Storm (1944)

Set in 1912 pre-revolutionary Russia, a calculating vixen (Linda Darnell) uses several men in her climb from a drunken peasant's (Sig Ruman) barefoot daughter to becoming the bride to be of a nobleman (Edward Everett Horton). Based on the playwright Anton Chekhov's only novel THE SHOOTING PARTY, the director Douglas Sirk (this was only his second American film) does a credible job of creating a Russian like atmosphere if not quite Chekhovian and though the cast is a mixed blessing, he manages to get solid performances from his cast. Darnell as the wicked seductress is perfect and one can readily believe it when all the males become obsessed with her. Though he was actually born in Russia, George Sanders seems ill at ease as the magistrate whose life is ruined by Darnell. Obsession doesn't sit easily on Sanders' shoulders and the part would have been better served by smarter casting. Horton brings some comedic touches that I'm not sure were intended but Hugo Haas is convincing as Darnell's ill used, lovelorn husband. The Oscar nominated score is by Karl Hajos. With Anna Lee, John Abbott, Elizabeth Russell (CAT PEOPLE) and Laurie Lane, quite good as the simple minded servant girl.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jaws (1975)

On a small New England island summer resort, a young girl is killed by a shark while swimming. The town's mayor and council refuse to close down the beaches and fearing that it will keep tourists away, keep a lid on the shark attack. But when a child is killed by a shark in full view of a beach crowd, it can't be hidden any longer and an eccentric fisherman (Robert Shaw) is hired to bring the shark in. One of the greatest thrillers ever made, Steven Spielberg's JAWS is a milestone in film making. Spielberg's first feature SUGARLAND EXPRESS indicated a major talent and JAWS fulfilled that promise. Spielberg expertly laces the intense film with humor (it might have been too intense if not) so that you're gasping one moment and laughing the next. This might be one of the most flawless casts ever assembled down to the smallest bit player. An unknown actress by name of Lee Fierro (who has only 2 credits, this film and the 1987 JAWS: THE REVENGE) has a beauty of a scene as the mother of one of the shark's victims. Spielberg wisely avoided too many close ups of the shark until the second half of the film but despite its artificial appearance in close up, it's still preferable to a CGI shark image. Then, of course, there's that justifiably iconic John Williams score. With Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary and Murray Hamilton.

No Highway In The Sky (1951)

An eccentric if absent minded scientist (James Stewart) is obsessed with proving that a certain model of plane will crash after a certain amount of flying hours. While on a flight to investigate a plane crash that may prove his theory, he discovers that the very plane he's on is about to reach those hours over the ocean. Based on the novel by Nevil Shute (ON THE BEACH) and directed by Henry Koster (THE ROBE). This intelligent "disaster" film has an American star (Stewart) and an American director (Koster) but this is a British film in every other sense. The film is very well constructed, making its possibly dubious plot entirely believable. Perhaps for the best, the book's supernatural elements were jettisoned. The film is helped by Stewart's excellent, intense performance. The movie is bolstered by two appealing performances, Marlene Dietrich as the glamorous film star and fellow passenger on Stewart's doomed plane and Glynis Johns as the flight attendant who falls in love with him. The effective uncredited score is by Malcolm Arnold. Also with Jack Hawkins, Kenneth More, Janette Scott, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Elizabeth Allan, Niall MacGinnis and Maurice Denham.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Paper (1994)

24 hours in the day of a New York tabloid newspaper! After two young African-Americans are arrested for the racial killing of two white businessmen, the news editor (Michael Keaton) gets a tip that the boys are innocent and the cops know it. The next 24 hours are spent trying to get an inside police source to confirm this and break the story before the other papers get it. Apparently, the director Ron Howard did a lot of research before shooting the film but you'd never know it from the trite dialog or the nonsensical situations the characters find themselves in. Keaton's not a strong enough actor to make his glib newspaper man believable though to be fair, he seems to be playing it strictly as a comedy while some of the other actors like Robert Duvall and Glenn Close manage to balance both the comedic and dramatic elements in their characters and story elements. The film's fast pacing and rapid fire overlapping dialog indicate Howard was highly influenced by Howard Hawks' classic 1940 newspaper comedy HIS GIRL FRIDAY. Randy Newman did the spare score. With Jason Robards, Marisa Tomei, Randy Quaid, Jason Alexander, Catherine O'Hara, Spalding Gray, Lynne Thigpen, Jill Hennessy and William Prince.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I Could Go On Singing (1963)

A famous American singer (Judy Garland) performing in London seeks out her ex-lover (Dirk Bogarde), now a successful physician. Many years ago, they had a child out of wedlock which she turned over to the father and his new wife to raise. But now she wants to see the child (Gregory Phillips) and bring the boy back into her life against his father's wishes. This minor soap opera was directed by Ronald Neame (PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) but what elevates it into something special is Garland's tour de force performance. Selfish, vulnerable, neurotic, lonely, an emotional train wreck. All the trademarks of how the real Garland is perceived by the public, almost bordering on a parody of herself but never crossing the line. Her scene with Bogarde at a hospital emergency room packs a wallop and shows that if she had never sung a note (and thank God she did!), she still would have been a great actress. She also performs three thrilling numbers in her inimitable style. It would be her final film and it's an apt tribute to the great lady herself. The Panavision lensing is by Arthur Ibbetson (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCHOLATE FACTORY) and Edith Head doing Garland's wardrobe. The cast includes Jack Klugman and Aline MacMahon.

No Time For Love (1943)

When a sophisticated magazine photographer (Claudette Colbert) unwittingly causes a burly construction worker (Fred MacMurray) to lose his job, she hires him to be her assistant out of guilt but also because she finds herself attracted to him. The film adheres to the standard screwball comedy formula and Colbert and MacMurray breezily waltz through it as if they didn't notice that the material just isn't there. The differences between the elegant Colbert and her effete cocktail crowd versus the coarse cockiness of MacMurray's hard hat "corned beef and cabbage" crowd are played up for laughs but they're few and far between. There is a wonderful tunnel cave in during the film's last twenty minutes or so (this is where Victor Young's score really kicks in) that stands out and Colbert never looked so fetching as when covered in mud. Directed by Mitchell Leisen. The Oscar nominated art direction is by Hans Dreier, Robert Usher and Sam Comer. With June Havoc, Richard Haydn, Ilka Chase, Rhys Williams, Rod Cameron and Lillian Randolph.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Man Without A Star (1955)

A drifter (Kirk Douglas) hooks up with a young cowpoke (William Campbell, THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY) while riding the rails. When they both get hired as cattle ranch hands, trouble brews when the new and ruthless ranch owner (Jeanne Crain) decides to usurp the grazing lands for herself. This nifty western directed by King Vidor (DUEL IN THE SUN) is a superior effort that needs a wider audience to solidify its reputation. This was Vidor's first wide screen film and he was lucky to have that wizard Russell Metty (WRITTEN ON THE WIND) behind the camera. The film foreshadows the westerns that were to come (particularly in the 1960s) dealing with the transition of the Old West and how emerging civilization would change it forever. The casting of Crain, usually the sweet natured ingenue, as the hard and calculating ranch owner was inspired. With Claire Trevor, Richard Boone as the villain, Jay C. Flippen, Mara Corday, Sheb Wooley, Myrna Hansen, Jack Elam and Malcolm Atterbury.

Un Conte De Noel (aka A Christmas Tale) (2008)

A dysfunctional (with a capital D) family gathers together for the Christmas holidays. The mother (Catherine Deneuve) is suffering from a blood cancer and needs a matching donor for a bone marrow transplant. The only matches are her mentally ill grandson (Emile Berling) and her emotionally disturbed and much disliked middle son (Mathieu Amalric, DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY). There's not a single likable character in the entire movie and one can't even drum up some sympathy for Deneuve's dying matriarch. I'm not familiar with the director Arnaud Desplechin's previous work but it takes a genuine artist to make us care for truly unlovable characters and he doesn't succeed here. I was as repulsed by this family at the end of the films 2 1/2 hour running time as I was from the first few scenes. I don't have to necessarily like the characters to enjoy or admire a film (actually I'm quite fond of films about dysfunctional families) but spending a couple of hours with this family offers up no real reason to see it except for some decent acting. With Jean Paul Roussillon, Anne Consgny, Melvil Poupaud, Chiara Mastroianni, Emmanuelle Devos and Laurent Capelluto.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Catered Affair (1956)

When the daughter (Debbie Reynolds) of a hard working but poor taxi driver (Ernest Borgnine) and his shrewish wife (Bette Davis) announces her impending marriage, what starts out as a small but simple and uncomplicated wedding grows into a monstrous expensive affair. Based on the teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky and adapted for the screen by Gore Vidal (MYRA BRECKINRIDGE) and sensitively directed by Richard Brooks. This is a modest "kitchen sink" drama that still resonates, certainly in the present economy. The film respects its lower income protagonists and doesn't condescend to them as too many pretentious films about the "common man" do. The role of the frumpy Bronx housewife would seem to be unlikely casting for the dynamic Davis but she reins herself in and has some beautifully affecting moments. Borgnine is quite good, especially in his big scene toward the end of the film and Reynolds is excellent, losing the MGM ingenue and fully inhabiting the sensitive Bronx bride. A lovely, little gem of a movie. The moving score is by Andre Previn. With Barry Fitzgerald, Rod Taylor, Dorothy Stickney, Robert F. Simon and Madge Kennedy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Dangerous Method (2011)

A young woman's (Keira Knightley) nervous breakdown in the early part of the 20th century and her treatment and recovery triggers a schism in the relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). This fascinating look at what essentially is the birth of modern psychoanalysis is based on a true story but obviously with much speculation rather than fact. Based on a play by Christopher Hampton (who did the screenplay) and a non fiction book A MOST DANGEROUS METHOD, director David Cronenberg is relatively restrained from his usual excesses (even the sadomasochism elements seem perfunctory) but he invests the story with a solid base from which he explores the essential split between Freudian and Jungian psychology and the personal dynamics of the world's most famous psychoanalysts. But if the film belongs to anyone, it's Keira Knightley in a fierce performance as young Russian Jewess who goes from a near hopeless madwoman but emerged into one of the first female psychologists. Handsomely shot by Peter Suchitzky (MARS ATTACKS) with an effective score by Howard Shore. With Vincent Cassel and Sarah Gadon.

Half Moon Street (1986)

A smart, PhD from Harvard, woman (Sigourney Weaver) is doing research at a British institute involved in Middle East affairs. Since her salary is minuscule, she moonlights with an escort service which pays handsomely. When she becomes romantically involved with one of her clients (Michael Caine), a politician in the House Of Lords, she finds herself unwittingly involved in international intrigues. Based on the novel DR. SLAUGHTER by Paul Theroux (who also wrote THE MOSQUITO COAST), this erotic political thriller stretches believability but is fortunate enough to have two lead actors who make it believable. The idea of an intellectual call girl is a bit far fetched but when she's played by Sigourney Weaver (one of the few actresses who can make intelligence sexy), you buy it. It's a minor film in both their careers but eminently watchable. Directed, perhaps over directed, by Bob Swaim. I'm not a fan of synthesizer scores but this one by Richard Harvey is quite good. With Nadim Sawalha, Maria Aitken and Patrick Kavanagh.

The Student Prince (1954)

An arrogant and haughty young Prince (Edmund Purdom, flat as ever) is sent to a university at Heidelberg in the hopes that living with the common people, he will become more human. At the inn where he is staying as a student, he falls in love with a barmaid (Ann Blyth) even though he is betrothed to a Princess (Betta St. John). This musty old operetta by Sigmund Romberg has been dusted off and gussied up in CinemaScope, stereophonic sound and Ansco color but it still creaks. While it might have worked in the 1930s with the likes of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, was there still a market for this in 1954? Blyth is in fine voice but Purdom is dubbed by Mario Lanza. Lanza had been cast in the part and recorded his songs before leaving MGM in a dispute and since they had the rights to the vocal tracks, MGM simply recast the part using Lanza's vocals. The film is rather saccharine though the ending is effectively bittersweet. Musically, it's a crashing bore with all those Romberg songs about drinking beer but the loveliest song in the movie, Beloved, isn't even written by Romberg but was written especially for the film by Paul Francis Webster and Nicholas Brodszky. Directed by Richard Thorpe. With Louis Calhern, Edmund Gwenn, John Ericson, Evelyn Varden, John Williams, S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, John Hoyt, Richard Anderson and John Qualen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Goodbye Columbus (1969)

A middle class Jew (Richard Benjamin) from the Bronx enters a summer romance with the spoiled daughter (Ali MacGraw), a Radcliffe student, of an affluent Jewish family who've risen in the world. Based on the award winning novella by Philip Roth and directed by Larry Peerce, this is a sharp eyed look at class differences, cultural assimilation and the generation gap. Though the film appears to be contemporary (circa 1969 contemporary), the film feels like the 1950s, the era Roth's novel was written. Though the inside look into middle class Jewish life is fascinating to a goyim, if the film weren't written and directed by Jews, some of the more stereotypical portrayals border on anti-Semitic, particularly a rather mean spirited wedding sequence. But for its portrayal of the emerging of the 60s generation, it holds up much better than THE GRADUATE. The two leads are terrific, Benjamin perfectly inhabits the conflicted Neil, unable to relate to either the social climbing middle class nouveau riche or the emerging alternate lifestyles. MacGraw is near spectacular here, a case of the right actress in the right part, she embodies the Jewish American Princess so effortlessly that one can almost forgive the mediocrity of the career that followed. The tuneful score is by Charles Fox with songs by the pop group, The Association. With Jack Klugman and Nan Martin.

The Gazebo (1959)

When a television writer (Glenn Ford) is contacted by a sleazy blackmailer (Stanley Adams) threatening to sell nude photos of the writer's actress wife (Debbie Reynolds) to the tabloids unless he's paid $25,000, instead of paying him off, the writer decides to kill him instead and bury him in the garden's gazebo. But everything that could go wrong, goes wrong. Based on a minor Broadway comedy by Alec Coppel, it just isn't very funny. Coppel had written the screenplay to VERTIGO the year before and includes a running in joke on Hitchcock in the film's script. Ford has a talent for understated comedy but a farceur he isn't and it's pretty sad seeing Ford running breathlessly around like a chicken with its head cut off desperately trying to get laughs. Reynolds, on the other hand, can do farce but with the occasional exception (like dialing a phone with her nose), the comedy falls on Ford's shoulders. She looks great however especially in her Oscar nominated Helen Rose costumes. Directed by George Marshall. With Martin Landau, Carl Reiner, Bert Freed, Mabel Albertson and John McGiver.

Young Winston (1972)

The early years of the young Winston Churchill (Simon Ward) are played out in two parts. The first is his school years with Churchill played by Russell Lewis and then later by Michael Audreson before Ward takes over and also deals with his father's (Robert Shaw) slow death from syphilis. After the intermission, the film concentrates on his years as a war correspondent in India and South Africa whose Boer war sequence is the film's highpoint. After that, it's an anticlimax. The truth of the matter is that outside of his war experiences, the young Churchill's life isn't all that interesting and much of it is a bit of a slog to get through. Directed by Richard Attenborough (who would go on do make a much superior bio ten years later with GANDHI) and based on Churchill's memoirs, the film isn't helped by the annoying voice overs by Ward in Churchill's (elderly) vocal mannerisms which he doesn't attempt as a young man. Attenborough also uses three faux interview segments with an unseen interviewer in an attempt to help us see Churchill, his father and mother (played by Anne Bancroft in a grande dame manner) which clash with the otherwise naturalistic elements. The Alfred Ralston score with large doses of Edward Elgar is pretentious. The large roster of supporting players include Anthony Hopkins, John Mills, Ian Holm, Jane Seymour, Jack Hawkins, Patrick Magee, Edward Woodward, Laurence Naismith and Pat Heywood.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Separate Tables (1958)

At an English seaside hotel during the off season, the stories of several disparate characters plays out. They include an aging fashion model (Rita Hayworth), her alcoholic ex (Burt Lancaster), a spinster (Deborah Kerr) dominated by her mother (Gladys Cooper), an ex-military man (David Niven in his Oscar winning performance) with some dark secrets and the lonely hotel manager (Wendy Hiller, also an Oscar winner for her performance). Based on the London and Broadway hit by Terence Rattigan which consisted of two one act plays with two actors playing the leads in both, the film wisely combines the stories into one cohesive whole. While director Delbert Mann (MARTY) hasn't shaken the theatrical origins (the film was entirely shot on a sound stage and has a deliberate artificial look), the drama is engrossing enough and the acting is so superb so that it doesn't matter. A solid, well crafted drama of the kind they rarely write or make anymore. The excellent Oscar nominated score is by David Raksin. With Rod Taylor, Audrey Dalton, Felix Aylmer, Cathleen Nesbitt and May Hallatt (the only cast member who starred in the London, Broadway and film).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fiddler On The Roof (1971)

In Czarist Russia in the early 20th century, a poor Jewish milkman (Topol) must contend with the growing anti-Semitic fervor (resulting in sanctioned pogroms) of the government but also finding husbands for his five daughters, three of which are of marrying age. He must also deal with the changes in the world which challenge his faith and his traditions. Based on the Broadway musical, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is not only one of the best (and faithful) adaptations of a stage musical but one of the greatest film musicals ... period. Director Norman Jewison (despite his name, he's a gentile) miraculously manages to be faithful to the original show while shattering the proscenium and bring forth a real movie, not a dusty archival stagebound representation. Jewison wisely decided against casting the show's original Tevye, Zero Mostel (too big for the camera), and cast the Israeli actor Topol instead, who brings the necessary largeness to the part without chewing the scenery. The wonderful Bock and Harnick score is beautifully adapted by John Williams. It's a powerful musical rich in humor, heart and poignancy. I can't think of a more heartbreaking moment in any musical than the lovely Chava Ballet Sequence and Tevye's shattering rejection of his youngest daughter. With Norma Crane, Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, Paul Mann, Rosalind Harris, Michele Marsh, Raymond Lovelock and Paul Michael Glaser.

No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948)

A wealthy heiress by the name of Miss Blandish (Linden Travers, THE LADY VANISHES) is kidnapped but her kidnapping is botched up and her abductors killed and she is taken instead by the Grissom gang. However, she and the head (Jack La Rue) of the Grissom gang fall in love and she becomes his mistress, much to the chagrin of the rest of the gang who want to hold her for ransom. Based on the much admired novel of the same name by James Hadley Chase, this is quite an oddity. It's a British film but it takes place in the U.S. (but filmed in England) and with the exception of La Rue (who's American), the rest of the cast consists of Brits playing Americans and with two exceptions (MacDonald Parke, Richard Nielson), not very well. They all sneer and talk tough but remain unconvincing, as if children dressing up and playing gangsters. For its day, it was quite a shocker with its graphic violence and kinky sexual relationships although the U.S. originally saw it in a severely edited version. It's still a fascinating watch though it's not very good. Robert Aldrich remade it more effectively (though not necessarily better) in 1971 under the title THE GRISSOM GANG. Directed by St. John Legh Clowes with a wonderful score by George Melachrino. With Hugh McDermott and Lilli Molnar. The definitive version of the novel has yet to be made.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rob Roy, The Highland Rogue (1953)

In early 18th century Scotland, a rebel leader called Rob Roy McGregor (Richard Todd) leads the clans in revolt against English authority. Since this is a Walt Disney family film, I wouldn't look to it for historical accuracy but rather as a myth of a legendary hero. As such, while it lacks the intensity of the 1995 film version titled ROB ROY (no highland rogue), it's a lively adventure and the great Guy Green's camera work makes great use of the authentic Scotland landscapes. Harold French directed. With a feisty Glynis Johns as McGregor's wife, James Robertson Justice, Michael Gough, Finlay Currie, Geoffrey Keen, Eric Pohlmann as King George I and May Hallatt (BLACK NARCISSUS).

Korkarlen (aka The Phantom Carriage) (1921)

According to a Swedish legend, the last person to die before the New Year must drive the phantom carriage that retrieves the souls of the dead for the next year. A despicable reprobate (Victor Sjostrom, who also directed) is the last one to die in the year and relives his miserable life and the circumstances that brought him to death's door. A huge influence on Ingmar Bergman (especially THE SEVENTH SEAL) and reputedly one of his favorite films, the film features ground breaking special effects for its day. The film itself is an often uneasy but superb blend of horror, poignancy and a morality tale. The main protagonist, the spiteful David Holm (Sjostrom), is impossible to like and seemingly irredeemable yet by the film's end, director Sjostrom succeeds in, however grudgingly to the audience, making his redemption believable. Dark, moody and evocative, I suspect it will soon find its place as one of the great pieces of silent cinema as more discover it. The version I saw had a beautifully effective score by the Swedish composer Matti Bye. With Hilda Borgstrom,Tore Svennberg, Astrid Holm (who bears a slight resemblance to Lillian Gish) and Concordia Selander.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tarzan's Peril (1951)

A gun runner (George Macready) escapes from captivity and with native bearers and two companions (Glenn Anders, Douglas Fowley) goes deep into the jungle to sell guns to the natives. This Tarzan adventure is notable in that some of it (second unit stuff) was actually shot in Africa rather than the RKO sound stages. But the authenticity of the actual African locations is undercut by some of the cheesy stage bound effects like a laughable rubber python that threatens Cheetah or a paper mache man eating plant that attacks Tarzan (Lex Barker). At an amiably brief 79 minutes, it passes quickly. Glenn Anders gives a weird performance, almost as weird as his freak in Welles' LADY FROM SHANGHAI. The film features two black actresses who would go on to receive Oscar nominations. Dorothy Dandridge (CARMEN JONES) as the Queen of the Ashubas and Juanita Moore (IMITATION OF LIFE) as a native woman with a haircut that rivals Maria Ouspenskaya's in THE SHANGHAI GESTURE. Directed by Byron Haskin. With Virginia Huston (OUT OF THE PAST) as Jane, Frederick O'Neal and Alan Napier.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Week With Marilyn (2011)

A movie struck fan (Eddie Redmayne) desperately wants to work in the movies and gets his opportunity when he's hired as the third assistant on THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL starring Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) and Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). Based on the diaries of Colin Clark, this "true" story comes across as artificial or, as I suspect, certainly exaggerated on the facts. The film is thoroughly enjoyable but it's probably not best to take its claims to accuracy to heart. The film doesn't reveal anything new about Marilyn that we didn't already know. But a brilliant, near astonishing performance by Williams as Monroe justifies the film's existence. Williams nails Monroe's vulnerability, her persona and wisely chose to eschew an imitation of Monroe. What she does is inhabit Monroe and beautifully so. Alas, what she can't do is duplicate Monroe's iconic screen presence. Branagh makes for an effective Olivier. Directed by Simon Curtis. The supporting cast includes Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh, Dougray Scott as Arthur Miller, Zoe Wanamaker as Paula Strasberg as well as Dominic Cooper, Derek Jacobi, Michael Kitchen and Emma Watson of HARRY POTTER fame.

Keeper Of The Flame (1942)

After a great patriotic American leader is killed in an accident, a journalist (Spencer Tracy) attempts to get the great man's widow (Katharine Hepburn) to assist him in writing a complete and authoritative biography of her husband. She cooperates with him but he slowly becomes suspicious about the facts surrounding his death but also of the man himself. The film has a fascinating premise that propels the first portion of the film forward before it collapses on itself in the second half. In the 1940s, with very few exceptions, Hollywood wasn't very good with overtly political films and the hysterical revelations and its playing out are borderline silly. Tracy's underplaying is pretty good while poor Hepburn is stuck with all the "Acting" which turns her complex character into a mess. With a decent rewrite (the film's script is by Donald Ogden Stewart from the novel by Ida Wylie), this is one film that could be remade into a superior film. Hedda Hopper called the film, "CITIZEN KANE without the Art" and one can't disagree with her. Directed by George Cukor who couldn't lick the script's major problems. With Margaret Wycherly, Stephen McNally, Richard Whorf, Forrest Tucker, Audrey Christie, Howard Da Silva, Donald Meek, Percy Kilbride and Darryl Hickman in one of those dreadful professional Hollywood child actor performances.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Waterloo (1970)

After being banished to Elba, Napoleon Bonaparte (Rod Steiger) returns in triumph to Paris to reclaim his Emperor's throne while King Louis XVIII (a mountainous Orson Welles) flees the city. But his glory is short lived as he meets the armies of Wellington (Christopher Plummer) at the battle of Waterloo. This handsome epic, directed by Sergei Bondarchuk (1967's WAR AND PEACE), is a mixed bag. With the exception of a well done ball sequence, the dramatic portions tend to be stagnant. But the battle scenes, which occupy the second half of the film, are pretty awesome. More so because it's not CGI the way it would be today. Filmed in the Soviet Union, the Russians not only helped fund the film but provided some 16,000 soldiers to act as background in the battle scenes. When you see some of the incredible aerial shots or the charging armies, you know it's real people on the screen, not computer generated images. Steiger, while an odd choice for Napoleon, is effective in his restrained scenes while his eye popping acting is distracting in others. The Nino Rota score is a dud but Armando Nannuzzi gives the film a nice sheen whether the rich looking interiors or the vast exteriors. With Jack Hawkins, Virginia McKenna, Dan O'Herlihy, Michael Wilding and Philippe Forquet.

Il Gladiatore Invincibile (aka Invincible Gladiator) (1962)

After a gladiator (Richard Harrison) is given his freedom and a position as the ruling prime minister's (Leo Anchoriz) bodyguard, a beautiful princess (Luisella Boni) opens his eyes as to how evil and cruel the tyrant really is. This piece of Italian/Spanish peplum directed by Alberto De Martino and Antonio Momplet is the usual sword and sandal fare. Harrison, an American supporting player imported to Italy where he became a star, is a bit on the scrawny side compared to the likes of Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott. Still, it doesn't stop him from toppling pillars. Boni is lovely, Anchoriz makes for a slimy villain and there's a suspenseful bit toward the end where we don't know if it's Harrison or his gladiator friend (Jose Marco) who's fighting to the death in the arena. If you're into this kind of stuff, there should be enough action to entertain you. If you're not, it's unlikely you'd check it out anyway.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Enchanted April (1992)

In 1920s England, four disparate women (previously unknown to each other) agree to share a villa on the coast of Italy for the month of April. Two (the comedienne Josie Lawrence, Miranda Richardson) are unhappy housewives, the third a society beauty (Polly Walker) and the fourth a lonely widow (Joan Plowright in an Oscar nominated performance). There's something irresistible about the fantasy of a peaceful villa on the Mediterranean surrounded by flowers and fauna and nothing to do but explore and lie in the sun and the film plays on those daydreams. By the end of the film, all four women who came to the villa with their problems have solved them and the future appears fresh and hopeful. The film has a similar effect on the viewer. Mike Newell (FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL) directed this second film adaptation (the first was 1935) of the Elizabeth van Arnim's 1922 novel. Richard Rodney Bennett did the muted score. With Jim Broadbent (the film's one weak performance), Alfred Molina and Michael Kitchen.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Frankenstein 1970 (1958)

Baron Frankenstein (Boris Karloff), the descendant of the original and infamous Baron Frankenstein who created a man out of body parts, rents out his castle to a TV crew to make a horror film about the famous Frankenstein monster. Little do they know, that the current Baron Frankenstein has dug up the original monster and plans to bring him back to life. This rather silly low budget horror recycles the basic Frankenstein plot of those old Universal flix with a nod to (then) contemporary audiences. Instead of a bolt of lightning, Frankenstein needs nuclear power to bring his creature to life. It's rather carelessly plotted and characters behave illogically because if they behaved logically, the story would stop dead in its tracks. Karloff's performance here is almost self parodying but that may have been intentional but at least he's trying, the same can't be said of the rest of the cast. Shot in CinemaScope by Carl Guthrie (CAGED) and directed by Howard W. Koch (who retired from directing to produce movies like AIRPLANE and MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE). With Donald Barry, Jana Lund, Tom Duggan and Charlotte Austin.

Madeleine (1950)

The unmarried daughter (Ann Todd, SEVENTH VEIL) of a wealthy family in 1850's Scotland is carrying on an illicit affair with her penniless French lover (Ivan Desny). But when she attempts to break off the affair, he threatens her with blackmail by revealing her compromising love letters to her father. When the lover dies of arsenic poisoning, she is arrested for his murder. Based on a true story and the sensational murder trial of Madeleine Smith, David Lean doesn't appear to have the talent for suspense or mystery. Perhaps that's not what he was interested in but the film remains vaguely unsatisfying. The Smith verdict was "not proven", apparently a verdict indigenous only to Scottish law, and Todd's enigmatic performance doesn't reveal anything regarding her guilt or innocence. Todd (who was Lean's wife at the time) at 40 is rather matronly to be playing the young Madeleine who was only 22 at the time of the murder trial. Guy Green did the cinematography, William Alwyn the score and Todd's handsome frocks by Margaret Furse. With Elizabeth Sellars, Norman Wooland, Leslie Banks, Barry Jones, Andre Morell and Anthony Newley.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Descendants (2011)

After his wife (Patricia Hastie) is seriously injured in a boating accident, a business man (George Clooney) who had been ignoring both his wife and daughters (Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller) must deal with his dying wife and reconnecting to his daughters. The latest offering from Alexander Payne (SIDEWAYS) is a trumped up piece of offensive contrivance. Once the film gets its rhythm going, it's fairly predictable. Cheap laughs, tears, cheap laughs, tears, cheap laughs, tears and so on and so on until the film's tied in a warm and fuzzy ribbon conclusion so the audience can go home happy. One can practically hear the screenwriters at their table, "Oh my God, we have two cheap laughs in a row. Quick, somebody think of something sad we can stick in between the laughs!". One of the characters, a neanderthal played by Nick Krause, is so unrecognizable as an actual human being that he seems to have walked in from another movie. It's a pity because the cast is excellent, all at the top of their game. Clooney, no surprise, hits another home run and even if he gets the inevitable Oscar nomination, he rises above the material that you can't begrudge his nomination. Judy Greer as a cuckolded wife also is better than the material she's given. The film score consists of Hawaiian music, probably my least favorite music on the planet. Phedon Papamichael's (WALK THE LINE) cinematography does justice to the Hawaiian locations. With Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Michael Ontkean and Robert Forster.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Artist (2011)

In 1927 Hollywood, a matinee idol (Jean Dujardin, winner of the 2011 Cannes film festival best actor award for his work here) and a bit player (Berenice Bejo) share an attraction to each other. But as silent cinema makes the transition to talking pictures, his career declines while she rises to stardom. 2011 has been a wonderful year for the movies but I can honestly say that no other film I've seen this year has given me such pure, unadulterated pleasure. Director Michel Hazanavicius has given a gift to cineastes everywhere. In his loving homage to silent cinema, Hazanavicius has actually given us a true silent film sans dialogue and shooting it in black and white and the old Academy 1.33 aspect ratio and the film's score is in monaural sound. The film has genuine wit as well as moments of pure poignancy and pathos. Dujardin is superb, looking and acting as if he stepped right out of a 1927 film. The film is immeasurably aided by Ludovic Bource's stunning wall to wall score which, if there's any justice, should get the 2011 Oscar for best film score. One scene that is scored with Bernard Herrmann's Scene d'Amour from VERTIGO just about breaks your heart. With John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Ed Lauter, Beth Grant and Uggie, a Jack Russell terrier that should (seriously) get a best supporting actor nomination. Go!

Terror Of The Tongs (1961)

In 1910 Hong Kong, a secret sect called the Red Dragon Tongs terrorizes the Chinese populace by fear. But they make the fatal mistake of killing the daughter (Barbara Brown) of an English sea captain (Geoffrey Toone, THE KING AND I) who is determined to avenge the death of his daughter. This handsome looking Hammer action piece wastes no time as it whizzes its way through its brief (76 minutes) running time with lots of color and action. Christopher Lee in full Fu Manchu mode plays the proverb spouting head of the Tongs. With one or two exceptions (like Burt Kwouk MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE), the majority of the Chinese characters are played by occidentals. Directed by Anthony Bushell. Hammer veteran James Bernard composed the effective score and Arthur Grant's rich looking cinematography belies the film's modest budget. With Yvonne Monlaur, Marne Maitland, Brian Worth and Marie Burke.

Make Way For Tomorrow (1937)

When the bank forecloses on the home of an elderly couple (Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi), they are forced to separate with each one living with one of their five adult children. The children resent having been placed in the position of taking care of their parents. This contrived (even Shakespeare gave Lear one good hearted daughter) tearjerker is much revered but even if one gives in to the sappy finale and gets all misty eyed, one can't help but resent the calculated manipulation of director Leo McCarey. McCarey is no stranger to calculated tearjerking, his other films include LOVE AFFAIR, GOING MY WAY and AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, but McCarey forgets to make the parents worthy of our sentiment. The mother is a meddling, inconsiderate woman and the father is rude and whining. Indeed, when the father gets an opportunity to reunite with his wife and work as a caretaker, he turns the offer down, preferring to be taken care of by his kids. And just who raised those selfish kids anyway? Just perhaps, they all deserve each other. With Thomas Mitchell, Fay Bainter, Minna Gombell, Elisabeth Risdon, Louise Beavers and Porter Hall.

D.O.A. (1950)

A man (Edmond O'Brien) stumbles into a Los Angeles police station and states that he wants to report a murder. When queried what murder, he responds "Mine". The film then flashbacks to O'Brien's San Francisco holiday when after a night of revelry, he falls ill and goes to a hospital where he is told he's been terminally poisoned. Determined, he spends his final hours trying to find out who murdered him and why. Barely noticed in its original release, this fast paced little noir has acquired a sterling reputation in the ensuing years. Directed by Rudolph Mate from a tight little screenplay by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, its compelling premise goes a long way in forgiving some of the film's more florid moments. Principally, the character of O'Brien's secretary (Pamela Britton, TV's MY FAVORITE MARTIAN) who comes across as an annoying clinging vine and has the brunt of the film's most mawkish dialogue ("I've never known love until I met you"). Her scenes with O'Brien aside, this is a frenetically paced noir. Dimitri Tiomkin provided the relatively subdued (for him) score. With Beverly Garland, Luther Adler, William Ching, Neville Brand (who overdoes his psycho henchman) and Laurette Luez.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hugo (2011)

A young orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) living in a Paris train station, where he takes care of the clocks, spends his spare time repairing an automaton in the hope it will give him a clue to his destiny. But it opens the door to a future he could never have imagined. This utterly magical film, shot in 3D by Martin Scorsese (his first film in the format), is surely a must for every lover of cinema. Scorsese's passion for film (and film preservation) is well known and the film is infused with that passion. I love the symmetry of a film about the inception of cinema and its crude beginnings coming full circle and shot in razor sharp 3D and directional stereophonic sound. Here, Scorsese pays homage to the days of early film from the Lumiere brothers to Harold Lloyd and you can feel his affection for cinema and, indeed, the magic that early film audiences must have felt upon encountering movies for the first time. Kudos to Dante Ferretti's stunning train station set and Robert Richardson (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) elegant cinematography. The score is by Howard Shore. The fine cast includes Ben Kingsley as George Melies, Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Frances De La Tour and Helen McCrory.

Stachka (aka Strike) (1925)

In pre-revolutionary Russia, after a factory worker hangs himself after being unjustly accused of theft, the workers go on strike in protest while demanding better wages and hours. The director and shareholders of the factory turn a deaf ear to the demands. Violence and bloodshed ensues. This first feature film by the great Sergei Eisenstein is most noteworthy for the superb cinematography and editing, images that are as powerful and striking today as they were in 1925. Unfortunately, the story itself is a rather heavy handed affair lacking all subtlety and with very primitive acting. Apparently not trusting the audience to comprehend the weight of what we are watching, Eisenstein crosses over into obvious and crude imagery. For example, when the state police begin massacring the workers, Eisenstein intercuts with the brutal imagery of a cow being slaughtered and gutted. Or when the police raid a strikers' march, it's intercut with one of the shareholders squeezing a lemon. We get it, Sergei, we get it! Eisenstein also treats us to the sight of the police tossing babies off of three story landings. Ah well, who said propaganda was subtle. Still, this is one of the most audacious film debuts in movie history. Eisenstein springs forth in full bloom and his next film BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN would cement his reputation as one of the great film directors.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cry Terror! (1958)

A family of three (father James Mason, mother Inger Stevens, daughter Terry Ann Ross) are kidnapped and held hostage by a band of unbalanced psychopaths headed by Rod Steiger and forced to assist in a plot blackmailing an airline for $500,000 or a bomb will be detonated in one of their planes. This taut and economical B&W thriller, directed by Andrew L. Stone, is a nifty and intense white knuckle suspenser. Shot on location rather than on studio sets, the film has a gritty NAKED CITY feel to it as the FBI races against the clock to save the family and nab the crooks. Fortunately, the husband and wife are anything but pushovers. Steiger makes for a wonderfully repulsive villain and is ably assisted by a gang consisting of Neville Brand as a creepy Benzedrine addicted rapist and Angie Dickinson as a cold blooded, stiletto wielding babe and Jack Klugman, the one "nice" baddie. Some of the overwrought narration by Mason and Stevens could have safely been eliminated, we can see what's happening, we don't need to be told. With Kenneth Tobey, Jack Kruschen, Marjorie Bennett and William Schallert.

GoldenEye (1995)

James Bond 007 (Pierce Brosnan) is assigned to investigate an attack on a Soviet installation where, after the staff is massacred, the control disk for a dual satellite weapon called GoldenEye is stolen. Suspicions fall on the Janus crime syndicate. After a 6 year hiatus from the last Bond, the disastrous LICENCE TO KILL, the 17th installment in the Bond franchise returns fresh and invigorated with a new Bond. Brosnan makes for a wonderful compromise between the dark intensity of Sean Connery and the lighthearted playfulness of Roger Moore. Outside of the clumsy tank chase through the streets of St. Petersburg (did someone really think that was a good idea?), the action is solid and the film has an elegant look to it thanks to cinematographer Phil Meheux (2006's CASINO ROYALE). Directed by Martin Campbell. The trite score is by Eric Serra and the fierce title song by Bono of U2 and sung by Tina Turner. Judi Dench makes her first appearance as M. Izabella Scorupco is the Bond girl and Sean Bean, the villain. But the film is stolen by Famke Janssen, the best Bond villainess since THUNDERBALL's Fiona Volpe as the sadomasochistic Xenia Onnatopp. With Alan Cumming, Robbie Coltrane, Minnie Driver, Joe Don Baker, Tcheky Karyo and Desmond Llewelyn.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Julie (1956)

On her honeymoon, a bride (Doris Day) discovers that her jealous and possessive husband (Louis Jourdan) murdered her first husband and threatens to kill her if she ever leaves him. When she does just that, he attempts to track her down and carry out his threat. Day had a talent for hysteria as she superbly demonstrated in Hitchcock's MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH which was released the same year and she employs it well here, too. Despite its Oscar nominated screenplay by Andrew L. Stone (THE LAST VOYAGE) however, the writing is too often slipshod. Stone's direction is pretty good though and he manages to create some genuine suspense during the film's tense finale with Day flying an airline of full of passengers to safety after the pilots are injured, certainly more believable than when Karen Black attempted the same thing in AIRPORT 1975. Leith Stevens' score is fairly lackluster though the Oscar nominated title song (sung by Day) is lovely. With Barry Sullivan, Frank Lovejoy, Jack Kelly, Ann Robinson (WAR OF THE WORLDS), Jack Kruschen, Pamela Duncan and Mae Marsh.

Carefree (1938)

When his fiancee (Ginger Rogers) seems unable to commit to marriage, her beau (Ralph Bellamy) asks his psychiatrist friend (Fred Astaire) to get to the root of her fear of commitment. In the process, however, Rogers falls for Astaire instead. Generally considered one of the lesser Astaire & Rogers vehicles, CAREFREE is a surprisingly enjoyable if minor screwball comedy. Parts of it are marred by Rogers' tiresome acting like a little child act that she pushed to annoying heights in MAJOR AND THE MINOR and MONKEY BUSINESS but it works moderately well even without the songs and dances. This is, however, an Astaire & Rogers musical and in that respect, it is disappointing. The Irving Berlin songs (save the lovely Change Partners) are a humdrum lot though The Yam production number is spirited and fun. Needless to say, when Astaire and Rogers dance together, magic happens. Directed by Mark Sandrich. With Jack Carson, Luella Gear, Franklin Pangborn and Hattie McDaniel, whose reading of the line "Mayonnaise!" is priceless. The film is most memorable in the Astaire & Rogers canon because it's the only film in which they have a long, passionate kiss as opposed to the usual pecks.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rogues Of Sherwood Forest (1950)

King John (George Macready) enforces unfair taxation upon his subjects in order to pay an army of Flemish mercenaries, headed by the Count of Flanders (Lowell Gilmore), to keep him in power. But Robin, the Earl of Huntington (John Derek) and his band of merrie men foil his plans by guerrilla tactics while they hide in the forests of Sherwood. Directed by that most generic of film directors, Gordon Douglas (who would direct ROBIN AND THE 7 HOODS 14 years later), this is a by the numbers rendition of the Robin Hood tale. This time it's tied in to the historical signing of the Magna Carta. It's fairly humorless and without much wit or panache. The Technicolor cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr. (LADY FROM SHANGHAI) is vivid and velvety and the costumes are handsome especially the gowns Jean Louis designed for Diana Lynn as Lady Marianne. For a swashbuckler, there's precious little swashbuckling though their is a nice duel at the end between Derek and Gilmore. With Alan Hale recreating Little John for the last time (he played the same role in 1922 opposite Douglas Fairbanks and 1938 opposite Errol Flynn), Paul Cavanagh and John Dehner.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Beginning in 1898 New Mexico, a rather misanthropic oilman (Daniel Day Lewis) begins building an empire through out the West by using, deceiving and manipulating people until as the film ends in 1927, he has become a wealthy oil baron. Based on Upton Sinclair's novel OIL, Paul Thomas Anderson's powerhouse film is a dynamic treatise on greed, religion, family and the American dream all anchored by an astonishing Oscar winning performance by Daniel Day Lewis. Day Lewis's monstrous Daniel Plainview is one of the great, original movie characters in recent memory. Channeling John Huston, Day Lewis creates an aberrant, emotionally isolated individual who is lacking the most basic of human needs. The film's insane finale takes the film's title to the most literal definition. While Day Lewis dominates, the film is fortunate to be aided by Robert Elswit's Oscar winning wide screen cinematography and a unique score by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. Fine supporting performances by Paul Dano, Kevin J. O'Connor and Ciaran Hinds.