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Monday, January 30, 2012

The McConnell Story (1955)

A rebellious medic (Alan Ladd) in the U.S. Army is obsessed with flying and wants to transfer to the Air Force. Meanwhile, he marries a girl (June Allyson) but as soon as she gets pregnant, he gets his opportunity to become the flyer he always wanted to be and becomes a hero during the Korean war. This film is practically a recruitment for the Air Force that I wouldn't be surprised if Warner Brothers billed the Department Of Defense for the making of the film! The film is even "introduced" by an actual Air Force General. Though based on the true story of Captain Joseph McConnell, America's top ace in the Korean war downing 16 enemy jets, it's a tired cliched story at least as served up here. It doesn't help that the 41 year old Ladd (the real McConnell died at the age of 32) and 37 year old Allyson are too old for the characters they're portraying. Poor Allyson hasn't much to do but wait for her man, have babies and smile through her tears while Ladd flies the wild blue yonder. McConnell died during the making of the film necessitating a rewrite for the film's finale. Directed by Gordon Douglas. The CinemaScope photography is by John F. Seitz (SUNSET BOULEVARD) and the dreadful score is by Max Steiner at his worst. With James Whitmore, Frank Faylen, Sarah Selby, Willis Bouchey, Perry Lopez, Frank Ferguson, Edward Platt and Kasey Rogers.

Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe? (1978)

While in Europe, the owner (George Segal) of a chain of fast food franchises tries to convince his ex-wife (Jacqueline Bisset), a gourmet pastry chef, to lend her name to his newest enterprise. But they become involved in a series of murders of the greatest European chefs and she fears she may be one of the killer's next victims. This scrumptious and witty piece of fluff, directed by Ted Kotcheff (FUN WITH DICK AND JANE), is elevated by a marvelous performance by Robert Morley as the editor of a gourmet food magazine. Monstrously overweight (when he walks, he seems to lead with his belly), bellowing insults at underlings, his eyes glowing like diamonds at the thought of an epicurean meal, Morley dominates the film. Bisset is lovely as usual but Donfeld, who did her wardrobe, should be publicly whipped for the hideous garb he inflicted on her. The elegant lensing by John Alcott (an Oscar winner for BARRY LYNDON) show off the London, Paris and Venice locations and the Henry Mancini score gently nudges the film along. With Philippe Noiret, Jean Pierre Cassel, Jean Rochefort, Joss Ackland, Jacques Marin and Madge Ryan.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Actors And Sin (1952)

Two short films combined under the title of ACTORS AND SIN written by Ben Hecht (THE FRONT PAGE) who co-directs along with the cinematographer Lee Garmes (LAND OF THE PHARAOHS), both dealing with the world of film and theater. The first, ACTOR'S BLOOD, is a melodrama about a self centered actress (Marsha Hunt) and her rise to the top and her fall. After she is murdered, her father (Edward G. Robinson) invites all the suspects to a dinner party where he intends to unmask her killer. The script isn't too bad but the acting is so awful that this portion of the film turns into a comedy in spite of itself. Robinson as a bad, hammy actor is one thing but he turns in a bad, hammy performance even when he's not "acting". Much better is the second story, a satire on Hollywood called WOMAN OF SIN about an agent (Eddie Albert) who sells an unsolicited lurid script called WOMAN OF SIN to a major studio which plans to make it an epic on the scale of GONE WITH THE WIND. It's only after the sale, that he finds out the writer is a precocious 9 year old brat (Jenny Hecht, the director's daughter). A veteran like Hecht knows where all the bodies are buried and his creations are wickedly drawn. With Dan O'Herlihy, Alan Reed and Tracey Roberts.

Albert Nobbs (2011)

A timid and lonely woman (Glenn Close), working as a waiter at a hotel, has been living as a male under the name of Albert Nobbs since the age of 14. When she meets another woman (Janet McTeer), who not only has been living her life as a man but is married to a woman (Bronagh Gallagher), "Albert" begins to question his solitary and lonely existence. After playing Albert in a 1983 stage production, this became a dream project for Close who was determined to bring it to the screen. On one hand, I think it was good that it took so long for Close to bring it to the screen because there's more pathos to the character of an older Albert Nobbs living a sad lonely life for so long as opposed to a fairly young Albert. As for the film itself, it's a decent film with a compelling storyline and enough detail to the characters that one has an interest in their outcome. While Close's make up is excellent in the sense that it doesn't look like make up, the prosthetics make her face immobile to the point of distraction. Still, she gives Nobbs a quiet sadness that is quite poignant. But it's Janet McTeer who steals Close's thunder. Tall and strapping, walking with a swagger and a bemused lopsided grin, she's the real thing. Directed by the underrated Rodrigo Garcia (THINGS YOU CAN TELL JUST BY LOOKING AT HER). With Mia Wasikowska, Pauline Collins, Brenda Fricker, Brendan Gleeson, Aaron Johnson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Zulu (1964)

After a rousing victory in defeating British forces in Isandlwana in January 1879, the Zulu tribes turns its attention to the British hospital and supply dump at Rorke's Drift in Natal, South Africa. An absolutely thrilling adventure film dealing with courage under fire, the film is a well balanced entry in the "colonial imperialists vs. the native populace" genre. The natives are not demonized as vicious savages and the British aren't portrayed as noble whites who know better than their black brothers. Indeed, the Caucasians are quite flawed whether it's the drunken missionary of Jack Hawkins, the thief turned goldbricking soldier of James Booth or the supercilious Lieutenant of Michael Caine (in his star making role). The film is riddled with historical inaccuracies but none that deter from the film's essential thematic elements. Directed by Cy Endfield and beautifully shot in Super Technirama by Stephen Dade (KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE) with a terrific score by John Barry. The on screen narration is by Richard Burton. With Stanley Baker (who also produced), Ulla Jacobsson (SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT), Nigel Green, Patrick Magee and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi playing his own great grandfather.

Armored Car Robbery (1950)

A criminal mastermind (William Talman) plans an armored car robbery outside a sports stadium down to the tiniest detail. But, of course, something goes wrong and when a policeman is killed, a tough L.A. cop (Charles McGraw) will stop at nothing until Talman and his gang are brought to justice. This nifty, economical (it runs seven minutes over an hour) "B" heist noir/thriller is quite effective. Talman's cold blooded cop killer isn't as bright as he thinks he is, he's as apt to think with his gun rather than his brains and he's matched by Adele Jergens as the tough as nails burlesque queen mistress of Talman. Even McGraw's gruff cop is pretty chilly. In the scene of him comforting the widow of the slain cop, he has all the sympathy and warmth of a snowman. Ably directed by the often maligned Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA), the film eschews the RKO sound stages opting for a grittier on the streets of L.A. semi documentary ambience. With Gene Evans, Steve Brodie, Don McGuire and Douglas Fowley (the put upon director of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Seven Per Cent Solution (1976)

After indulging in a cocaine binge, Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson) is tricked by his loyal friend Dr. Watson (Robert Duvall, whose English accent is inadequate) into a meeting with the renowned psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) in Vienna in the hopes that Holmes can be cured of his addiction. While undergoing the cure, Holmes becomes involved in the kidnapping case of an actress (a red haired Vanessa Redgrave). This clever conceit of Sherlock Holmes meets Freud is an inspired idea. Herbert Ross directs the film version of Nicholas Meyer's (who also did the screenplay) novel with panache and wit ... just. If one could wish it were just a little bit better, what we have is clever enough, a classy and elegant entertainment. Williamson's Holmes is a bit too hyper. There's not much difference between the cocaine addled Holmes and the cured Holmes. Ken Adam's detailed production design is grand as are Alan Barrett's Oscar nominated costumes. The grating score is by John Addison and Stephen Sondheim wrote an original song for the film, I Never Do Anything Twice (The Madame's Song) performed by Regine. With Samantha Eggar, Joel Grey, Georgia Brown, Jeremy Kemp, Anna Quayle, Charles Gray and as Holmes' nemesis Dr. Moriarty, a delightful cameo by Laurence Olivier.

One Minute To Zero (1952)

At the onset of the invasion of South Korea by North Korea, an Army Colonel (Robert Mitchum) and a U.N. worker (Ann Blyth) clash. But when the Colonel is wounded in battle and sent to Japan to recuperate, he and she renew their relationship but this time romantically rather than hostile. Surprisingly, Mitchum and Blyth have a very nice on screen chemistry. While the film itself is decent enough, it's really not more than a WWII propaganda war film but this time with the "Commies" substituting for the Nazis. The aerial sequences are quite good (which is no surprise since aerial enthusiast Howard Hughes was a co-producer) but where the film is really strong is in its almost throwaway portrait of the waiting wives and the emotional stress they go through. The film utilizes documentary footage interspersed with filmed footage without much effect. Directed by Tay Garnett (THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE). The score is by Victor Young and his love theme for the film became a hit song once words were added, When I Fall In Love became a pop standard. With Richard Egan, William Talman, Margaret Sheridan (THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD), Roy Roberts, Eduard Franz and Charles McGraw.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Romantics (2010)

A group of college friends reunite at the wedding of two (Anna Paquin, Josh Duhamel) of their old crowd. But in the next 24 hours before the wedding, loyalties, friendships and romantic attachments are tested. Written (and based on her novel) and directed by Galt Niederhoffer, this is a shallow and trite dramedy that thinks it actually has something to say. What it is, is a cliched, poorly acted (with one exception), badly photographed, clumsily directed piece of poppycock! These are supposed to be sophisticated late 20 something Yale graduates but they act like high school kids partying with no adults to supervise them. We're actually supposed to buy Josh Duhamel as a Keats spouting Yale graduate? Yeah, right. Katie Holmes (unflatteringly photographed) as the bride's maid of honor is supposed to be a published New York writer but her behavior is so idiotic that one wonders what she could possibly write about. It's the kind of film that telegraphs everything. When someone tries on the bride's gown, you groan because you just know she's going to tear and sure enough ... she does. One's inclination to call the bland cast the dregs of their profession is tempered by the fact that they're stymied by the inept script. Paquin's in denial bride was the only character I had any feeling for and she somehow manages, unlike the rest of the cast, not to embarrass herself. With Candice Bergen (who has a couple of good scenes as Paquin's mom), Elijah Wood, Adam Brody, Malin Akerman, Rebecca Lawrence, Jeremy Strong, Rosemary Murphy and Will Hutchins.

Doc (1971)

John "Doc" Holliday (Stacy Keach) picks up a prostitute (Faye Dunaway) on his way to Tombstone, Arizona to find his friend, Wyatt Earp (Harris Yulin). Once there, he becomes involved in Earp's ambitions to become the new sheriff of Tombstone. DOC was the first screenplay written by the journalist Pete Hamill and is an attempt to deconstruct the myth of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the incidents leading up to the legendary gunfight at the O.K. corral. Earp is portrayed as an aggressive power hungry man who was not above bending the law to suit his own purpose and the relationship between Holliday and Kate Elder is heavily romanticized. But Hamill plays fast and loose with the facts and his attempt to decompose the legends is every bit as false as the various Hollywood versions of the story from MY DARLING CLEMENTINE to GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL. As a western, it seems weak and pointless. The film isn't helped by its two leading men, neither of whom are very interesting as actors. Dunaway gets by on her strong screen presence and that's it. As good an actress as she is, she can't do much with the vacuous script. The near non existent score is by the songwriter Jimmy Webb. Directed by Frank Perry. With Penelope Allen and Denver John Collins.

Yours, Mine And Ours (1968)

A widow (Lucille Ball) with eight children meets a widower and Naval officer (Henry Fonda) with ten children. Love happens! Very loosely based on the true story of Frank and Helen Beardsley (also the inspiration for the TV sitcom THE BRADY BUNCH), the film rearranges the facts to accommodate a more traditional family friendly comedy. In other words, fiction is more interesting than the truth. It's a rather dull affair really though Ball has several scenes that allow her to show off her talents as a physical comedienne. Her drunk scene at the dinner table is priceless! With 18 scene stealing kids and Lucille Ball in full swing, Fonda has to show a little more life than usual if he doesn't want to get lost in the proceedings. Directed by Melville Shavelson (HOUSEBOAT). With Van Johnson, Louise Troy (very funny as a nymphomaniac caught in the crossfire between Ball and Fonda), Tom Bosley, Tim Matheson, Morgan Brittany, Eve Bruce and the terrible child actor Eric Shea (THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE).

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Julia Misbehaves (1948)

An aging showgirl (Greer Garson) receives an invitation to the marriage of the daughter (Elizabeth Taylor) that she hasn't seen since she was a baby. She and her husband (Walter Pidgeon) were never divorced and when she shows up for the wedding, she's told by her mother in law (Lucile Watson) that the invitation was in error. This slight romantic farce seems an attempt to change Garson's image. Usually cast as the refined and noble heroine, Garson gets an opportunity to sing, show off her legs and engage in physical comedy. She's game alright but she's no Lucille Ball and it's a bit disconcerting seeing the normally prim Garson hustling men for money and then skipping out on them! There is, however, a lovely scene when Garson and Taylor meet for the first time and reminisce over the lost years that's quite touching. Directed by Jack Conway (LIBELED LADY) from a novel by Margery Sharp (CLUNY BROWN). With Peter Lawford, Cesar Romero (who can't quite master his English accent), Nigel Bruce (very good as an aging rake with an eye for redheads), Mary Boland, Henry Stephenson, Ian Wolfe, Reginald Owen and Veda Ann Borg.

Monday, January 23, 2012

No Country For Old Men (2007)

In 1980 West Texas, a local hick (Josh Brolin) stumbles across two million dollars in a drug deal gone horribly bad that has left everybody dead or dying. He takes the money but a cold blooded psychopathic killer (Javier Bardem in an Oscar winning performance) will not let anyone or anything get in his way to retrieve the money. This violent black comedy written (based on the Cormac McCarthy novel) and directed by the Ethan and Joel Coen fits perfectly in the Coen brothers nihilistic universe where man's fate is predestined however hard he struggles to change it. One can't get too involved in it because the characters keep us at a distance and we're detached observers as they wriggle and squirm and die. At times, the film seems too clever for its own good but there's no doubt that it's superbly done. I doubt even Sam Peckinpah, whose influence seems distinct, could have done better though I doubt he would have been as discreet with the violence. With Tommy Lee Jones as the aging sheriff attempting to track down Brolin before Bardem gets to him, Kelly MacDonald, Woody Harrelson, Tess Harper, Barry Corbin and Beth Grant.

Soldier In The Rain (1963)

A brash if not too bright soldier (Steve McQueen) can't wait to get out of the Army. He attempts to convince his best buddy, a savvy career soldier (Jackie Gleason), to join him but the overweight friend doesn't feel comfortable outside the military life. An often awkward mix of comedy and drama, SOLDIER works best when it leaves the broad comedy behind and concentrates on the quieter moments. A couple of the actors in their attempt to be funny, McQueen and Tony Bill, are so over animated that they no longer seem human. By contrast, the great comic Gleason's finespun work is a breath of fresh air. The film's peak is the wonderful interplaying between Gleason and Tuesday Weld as a teen-aged airhead who form an unexpected alliance especially in their first date at a carnival. Director Ralph Nelson (LILIES OF THE FIELD) doesn't seem to have the knack that the comedic sequences require and one can't help but wish that Blake Edwards had directed his own script (co-written by Maurice Richlin and based on the novel by William Goldman). Still, the bond of friendship between the scheming McQueen and the acute Gleason tends to overcome the film's multiple flaws. The score is by Henry Mancini. With Tom Poston, Ed Nelson and Chris Noel.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Night Unto Night (1949)

A scientist (Ronald Reagan, and very good too) suffering from epilepsy comes to the east coast of Florida to bury himself away from society. But when he meets a young widow (Viveca Lindfors) who is unable to tear herself away from the memory of her late husband, they fall in love. But he doesn't tell her about his illness. The second feature film directed by Don Siegel (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) is based on the novel by Philip Wylie (WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE). It explores the how the differences between the atheism of the scientist who believes death is the end and the widow who believes in life after death, especially since her deceased husband has been "communicating" with her. There's also the artist (Broderick Crawford) who represents, if not religion, the spiritual aspect of man's place in the universe. This being a 1940s Warner Brothers film, it's no great surprise to find out what side the film falls in. It's a terrific looking film with a wonderful hulking old mansion right amid the lush palms and fauna on the beach (though it was filmed entirely on a soundstage). Siegel provides a great atmosphere for the story to play out so that the inherent sentiment doesn't drag the story down much. Franz Waxman's moody score is reminiscent of his REBECCA. With Rosemary DeCamp, Craig Stevens, Erskine Sanford, Lillian Yarbo and Osa Massen, who almost steals the movie as Lindfors' bitchy sister.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Le Salaire De La Peur (aka The Wages Of Fear) (1953)

In a poverty stricken South American village that is dependant on a major American oil company for its meager source of income, four desperate men volunteer for a treacherous 300 mile trek across rough terrain driving trucks carrying nitroglycerin needed to put out an out of control oil fire. Based on the novel by Georges Arnaud, Henri Georges Clouzot's meticulous existential thriller is one of the great "white knuckle" rollercoaster rides of cinema. Of course, it's more than a cinematic joyride which is why it continues to fascinate through the decades. Clouzot takes his time in setting up the exposition so we can feel the oppressiveness of the town. A full hour passes before the trek even starts. Clouzot doesn't shy away from portraying the American oil companies exploitation of third world countries and, indeed, when the film was first released in America, almost 30 minutes were cut that were perceived to be anti-American (as well as some implied homosexuality). The four leads: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter Van Eyck and Folco Lulli all give finely fleshed out performances and since Montand and Vanel play rather unlikable characters, to their credit that we are still invested in what happens to them. The B&W cinematography by Armand Thirard (AND GOD CREATED WOMAN) is perfection. With Vera Clouzot, William Tubbs and in a brief but touching performance, Luis De Lima.

Don't Make Waves (1967)

When a New Yorker (Tony Curtis) relocates to California, his car crashes over a Malibu hillside and is accidentally set on fire by an Italian bombshell (Claudia Cardinale). That's just the beginning of the complications of his California adventure as he becomes involved not only with Cardinale but the married man (Robert Webber) who's "keeping" her, his wife (Joanna Barnes), a sky diver (Sharon Tate) and her bodybuilder boyfriend (David Draper). The director Alexander Mackendrick directed Curtis in one of his best films, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS but they're not so lucky here. This satire on the Malibu beach lifestyle can't even cough up a grin much less an actual laugh. It's aimless and haphazardly shoots satirical barbs all over the place, hoping to eventually hit an intended target. The movie only remotely comes to life toward the very end as one of those Malibu beach houses perched on the edge of a cliff begins a slow stop-and-start descent down the hillside during a mudslide. Perhaps worst of all, the film manages to make the breathtaking Cardinale, much too shrill here and poorly directed, unappealing! The dreadful score by Vic Mizzy is one of those Mickey Mouse jobs. The title song is sung by The Byrds. With Jim Backus, Mort Sahl and Sarah Selby.

The Hireling (1973)

Released from a rest home after recovering from a nervous breakdown following the death of her husband, a young aristocratic widow (Sarah Miles) is pulled out of her grief by the friendship of her chauffeur (Robert Shaw). But when the chauffeur falls in love with her and crosses class lines, tragedy is inevitable. The film shares a similar theme with THE GO-BETWEEN, another film which dealt with a romance that crossed class lines between a young woman of the aristocracy and a tenant farmer that had disastrous results. Perhaps it's not surprising since both films are based on novels by L.P. Hartley. But THE HIRELING comes across as a stronger indictment of the British class system. Shaw, in quite possibly his greatest film performance, gives a moving performance as a lonely ex-military man who knows his place in the class system but dares to cross it. Miles gives a delicate, nuanced performance as the frail, unsure widow who eventually recovers her confidence. Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 1973 Cannes film festival Directed by Alan Bridges (RETURN OF THE SOLDIER). The subtle but powerful underscore is by Marc Wilkinson. With Peter Egan and Elizabeth Sellars.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Man Made Monster (1941)

After he survives a bus accident in which everyone else was electrocuted by a power line, a man (Lon Chaney Jr.) is invited by a famous scientist (Samuel S. Hinds) to recuperate at his home. But the scientist's mentally unstable partner (Lionel Atwill) has other plans for Chaney Jr. This rather hokey "B" horror flick from the Universal factory is barely an hour long but it seems to go on much longer. Although it's directed by George Waggner who directed Chaney in the classic THE WOLF MAN, this is a predictable rather dreary entry in the Universal monster catalog. For such a renowned scientist, Hinds' character seem rather naive. When Atwill, practically frothing at the mouth, starts spouting Nazi gibberish about a super race of strong physical specimens being controlled by a superior intellectual race, surely that's a tip off that he's a "mad" scientist but Hinds just lets it pass. With Frank Albertson (PSYCHO), Anne Nagel and Russell Hicks.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Trapeze (1956)

A crippled aerialist (Burt Lancaster), now a rigger in a Paris circus, becomes a mentor to an aspiring trapeze artist (Tony Curtis) and together they form an act in which Curtis will do a triple somersault. But when a calculating beauty (Gina Lollobrigida) forces her way into the act, her presence threatens to destroy the partnership. I'm not a fan of circus movies but unlike films such as GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH or THE BIG CIRCUS, director Carol Reed doesn't pad the film with tedious circus acts in between the dramatic storyline. The circus setting is merely a backdrop for the three protagonists to act out their tale. The aerial sequences are quite well done and handsomely shot in CinemaScope by Robert Krasker (EL CID). Lancaster, who was a circus acrobat before turning to acting, does most of his own aerial stunts and co-stars Curtis and Lollobrigida do their fair share too. In the air, the film soars but on the ground, director Reed does his best to make the over familiar engrossing and for the most part he succeeds. Based on the novel by Max Catto (DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK) with an unmemorable score by Malcolm Arnold. With Katy Jurado and Thomas Gomez.

Waterloo Bridge (1940)

During WWI, a ballet dancer (Vivien Leigh) and a solider (Robert Taylor) meet during an air raid and fall immediately in love But before they can be married, he is called away to the front and when his death is reported, she drifts into prostitution. Previously made in the pre-code days of 1931, this Mervyn LeRoy remake is still surprisingly frank regarding prostitution for 1940. It's hard not to like this tearjerker because it's so well done in the glossy grand MGM style of its day. Taylor, the only American in the cast, doesn't even attempt a British accent but he's quite engaging and reputedly it was his favorite role. The film belongs to Leigh, however, in her first film since GONE WITH THE WIND and who gives an excellent performance redeeming the often cliched script (based on the Robert E. Sherwood play). The pastiche score by Herbert Stothart incorporates Swan Lake and Auld Lang Syne as major themes in his underscore. With Virginia Field, very good as Leigh's best friend and Maria Ouspenskaya, Lucile Watson, C. Aubrey Smith, Norma Varden and Ethel Griffies, who was in the 1931 film version.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crossed Over (2002)

A writer (Diane Keaton) is unable to come to terms with the death of her son (Nick Roth) in a hit and run accident. Strangely enough, she forms an unlikely bond with a death row murderess (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who becomes a born again Christian but her attachment to the woman places a strain on her marriage. Based on a true story, Jennifer Jason Leigh portrays Karla Faye Tucker sentenced to death for a pick-axe murder and executed in Texas in 1998 despite pleas for clemency from such people as Pope John Paul II, Newt Gingrich and the victim's own brother. Unfortunately, the film isn't very well made and has all the earmarks of a Lifetime movie. Keaton's weepy histrionics become irritating after a while. But two things elevate it beyond the typical TV movie. One, the brutal murder flashbacks are quite disturbing, not unlike the murder flashbacks in IN COLD BLOOD. Two, Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance. I don't think she is capable of giving a false performance. Her low keyed and restrained work is pitch perfect and her final moments before she's executed are touching. Directed by Bobby Roth. With Maury Chaykin as Keaton's husband Patrick Galligan as the prison chaplain who became Tucker's husband shortly before her execution.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Horizons West (1952)

At the end of the Civil War, two brothers return to their Texas home. But they take wildly divergent paths. One brother (Rock Hudson) is content to work the family farm and settle down. The other (Robert Ryan) has been disillusioned by the war and becomes determined to become wealthy and build an empire, even if it means breaking the law and hurting his own family. It's a decent effectively made horse opera but it lacks the resonance of the great and layered westerns that the director Budd Boetticher made in collaboration with Randolph Scott. Not unusual perhaps but the good characters are a rather nondescript dull lot while the film's two most interesting characters are the bitter, amoral Ryan who'll let nothing get in his way and Julie Adams as the ambitious belle who married for money but finds herself trapped in an unhappy marriage to a cruel tyrant (Raymond Burr). With Dennis Weaver, James Arness, John McIntire, Frances Bavier, Mae Clarke and Rodolfo Acosta.

Miranda (1948)

While on a fishing holiday in Cornwall, a doctor (Griffith Jones) is rescued by a mermaid (Glynis Johns). Taken with her, he brings her home to his wife (Googie Withers) and passes her off as an invalid patient unable to walk. A wheelchair and long dresses disguise her fishtail. Long before Ron Howard's 1984 film SPLASH found favor with audiences, this whimsical fantasy was a big enough hit (at least in England) to spawn a sequel, MAD ABOUT MEN. Director Ken Annakin (THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES) doesn't push the quaintness too hard, preferring instead that the audience let itself be seduced voluntarily. The pert Glynis Johns is real charmer in the title role so it's easy though the irrepressible Margaret Rutherford as Miranda's eccentric nurse gets as close to stealing the film from Johns as anyone. The film itself is quite a racy thing for its day and the film's final shot quite an eye opener. With David Tomlinson (MARY POPPINS), John McCallum, Maurice Denham and Zena Marshall.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Estate Violenta (aka Violent Summer) (1959)

In 1943 Italy, the young son (Jean Louis Trintignant) of a prominent Fascist (Enrico Maria Salerno), who has intentionally managed to avoid the draft, falls in love with an older woman (Eleonora Rossi Drago). The second feature of director Valerio Zurlini (DESERT OF THE TARTARS) is a May/December romance set against the backdrop of the collapse of the Fascist government. The young Trintignant brings an interesting ambivalence to his character. We're never quite sure if he's a simple draft dodger out of cowardice or because of political beliefs. The lovely Rossi Drago (she was Lot's wife in John Huston's THE BIBLE) brings both an attractive mature sexuality and a poignancy to her love starved matron tired of playing the respectable widow. There's a marvelous lengthy sequence played to the pop song Temptation as the sexual attraction between Trintignant and Rossi Drago builds until it becomes too much to be contained in the confines of the small informal party they are a part of. But the film's kinetic highlight is the bombing of a passenger train which captures all the hysteria and panic of such an event with expertise. The first rate score is by Mario Nascimbene (THE VIKINGS). With Jacqueline Sassard (Losey's ACCIDENT) and Lilla Brignone.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Big Bluff (1955)

A fortune hunter (John Bromfield) marries a wealthy woman (Martha Vickers, THE BIG SLEEP) knowing she has only a year to live. But when he becomes impatient and decides to help speed her death along, her best friend (Eve Miller) becomes suspicious. This minor noir like potboiler directed by W. Lee Wilder (Billy's brother) is actually quite entertaining. It more resembles an extended, well done Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode than a feature film but its low budget lack of pretensions and brief 71 minute running time renders the predictability (you see the "twist" coming from a mile away) inoffensive. With Robert Hutton and the lovely Rosemarie Bowe (who would retire from acting and become Mrs. Robert Stack) as Bromfield's mistress.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Country Wife (1977)

A 17th century rake (Anthony Andrews) feigns impotence in order to seduce his friends' wives without suspicion from their husbands. However, a saucy country wench (Helen Mirren) married to a much older man (Bernard Cribbins), unfamiliar with London society's duplicitous ways, cuts through the pretenses when she falls in love with the rake. William Wycherley's bawdy restoration comedy was considered shocking enough to be kept off stages between 1760 and 1920 (that a 160 years!) and even today, it's still fairly raunchy. The "China" scene is still quite hilarious. The play gets a fairly lively production here though it takes a while to get its cadence flowing. Andrews as the main protagonist leaves a lot to be desired but Mirren is both sexy and impudent as the title character and underplays while most of the cast performs broadly. Directed by Donald McWhinnie. With Adrienne Corri, Ciaran Madden, Amanda Barrie, John Nettleton and Phil Daniels.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Streetcar Named Desire (1984)

An aging and high strung Southern belle (Ann-Margret), near the end of her nerves, comes to stay in New Orleans with her pregnant sister (Beverly D'Angelo) and her brutish husband (Treat Williams). She and her brother in law immediately clash as she slowly unravels. Based on the classic play by Tennessee Williams and directed by John Erman (THE TWO MRS. GRENVILLES). While Shakespeare's Hamlet remains the one role every actor must conquer at some point in order to challenge himself as an actor and prove his mettle, Tennessee Williams' Blanche DuBois is the female equivalent. Perhaps, the greatest role ever written for a woman. This version may not do the Williams play justice (the 1951 Elia Kazan film, despite the censor's restrictions of the era, remains the definitive film version) but Ann-Margret's Blanche is a glorious triumph. She seems to have a tougher hide than Vivien Leigh's Blanche but it makes her final breakdown all the more horrifying. Randy Quaid is also very good as Mitch but Treat Williams' Stanley is inadequate and D'Angelo as Stella is passable. Unlike the 1951 film, Williams' play is untouched and Oscar Saul's adaptation is faithful to the play. The trite Marvin Hamlisch score seems to have no affinity for the material.

Affairs Of Dobie Gillis (1953)

A college student (Bobby Van) has little interest in education, uppermost in his mind is having fun and girls, especially one co-ed (Debbie Reynolds). This minor B&W programmer from MGM was aimed at the youth market and while not a musical exactly, there are a handful of songs and dance numbers. It's amiable if forgettable fluff and the fact that MGM filmed it in B&W instead of Technicolor shows how disposable they thought the film was and they're not wrong. The film's strong point is its dancing and Bobby Van was a wonderful dancer. A sort of poor man's Donald O'Connor though he resembles the young Ray Bolger. His best friend is played by a young Bob Fosse and though the choreography is credited to Alex Romero, once Fosse starts dancing it's obvious his moves are pure Fosse! The film has Reynolds reprise All I Do Is Dream Of You which she had sung the previous year in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. The film became the basis of the 1959 TV sitcom THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS. Directed by Don Weis (ADVENTURES OF HAJJI BABA). With Barbara Ruick (CAROUSEL), Lurene Tuttle, Hans Conreid, Lawrence Dobkin and Kathleen Freeman.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Medea (1969)

On his quest to secure the Golden Fleece, Jason (Giuseppe Gentile) is assisted in his mission by the priestess Medea (the legendary Maria Callas) who, after slaughtering her brother, accompanies Jason to his homeland. But when he tires of her and is betrothed to a princess (Margareth Clementi), she exacts a terrible revenge. If you're looking for a film adaptation of Euripides' classic Greek tragedy, this isn't it. This is Piero Paolo Pasolini's Medea! Pasolini has removed the proceedings from ancient Greece to an undisclosed North African location. After an often incoherent and languid (about 30 minutes worth) introduction that has nothing to do with Euripides or Greek mythology, the familiar tale of Medea kicks in. Pasolini doesn't bring anything particularly vital to the classic tragedy. In the film's favor are two things. Maria Callas, not because she's a great actress, she isn't (though she was in opera) but because she provides a strong screen presence that compensates for a lack of character detail. The other is the striking visuals. This is one ravishing looking film from Ennio Guarnieri's (GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINIS) impeccable lensing to Dante Ferretti's production design and Piero Tosi's costuming. With Massimo Girotti.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Vikings (1958)

A barbaric Viking leader (Ernest Borgnine) sends his son (a blonde Kirk Douglas) to kidnap the Welsh princess (Janet Leigh) betrothed to an English king (Frank Thring) and then hold her for ransom. But the son and a slave (Tony Curtis) both fall in love with the Princess, unaware of the strong bond they share that could have far reaching effects. This rousing Viking saga directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA) is a grand adventure that benefits greatly from its authenticity. No studio sound stages here. From the stunning Norwegian locales (gorgeously shot by Jack Cardiff), the sets and the costumes, you feel like you've had a peek at history. Of course, the four leads are pure Hollywood but with the exception of Curtis, as out of his element here as in SPARTACUS, they do very well. Douglas's brashness is perfectly at home here. The action sequences are well handled, especially the final duel on a castle's precipice between Douglas and Curtis. The score by Mario Nascimbene is effective if a tad heavy handed. Unusual for its day, the film's credits come after the film rather than preceding it. Orson Welles does the narration. With James Donald, Alexander Knox, Maxine Audley and Dandy Nichols.

Take Her, She's Mine (1963)

After he packs off his wholesome daughter (Sandra Dee) to college, her father (James Stewart) must deal with her budding sexuality, artistic pretensions and radical beliefs. The 1960s weren't very good to Stewart, having to deal with sub-par westerns like FIRECREEK and CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB and mediocre sitcoms like DEAR BRIGITTE and this one. He's at his stuttering worst here in this adaptation of the hit Broadway comedy by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (parents of Nora). This is the kind stuff that is TV sitcom fodder today that people paid money to see in CinemaScope in the 1960s. The film is very condescending to youth, patronizing their lifestyles but today, Stewart's patriarch figure comes across as very interfering and limited in his understanding. Dee is adorable as usual but she's the most wholesome looking beatnik you'll ever see. As a comedy, the laughs are practically nil though there is an amusing bit with Dee made up to look like Simone Signoret. Directed by Henry Koster (HARVEY). The forgettable score is by Jerry Goldsmith. With Audrey Meadows (wasted), Robert Morley, James Brolin, Bob Denver, John McGiver, Jenny Maxwell, Irene Tsu, Francesca Bellini and Philippe Forquet.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sins (1986)

The powerful head (Joan Collins) of a fashion magazine empire has amassed many enemies in her rise to the top. Four of them (Lauren Hutton, Giancarlo Giannini, Steven Berkoff, Neil Dickson) band together to bring about her downfall. When she is presented with evidence that her four enemies have banded together, she reflects back on her life which began in Nazi occupied France when she was 13 years old and her first enemy, a Nazi commandant (Berkoff). Based on the lurid Judith Gould best seller, it's trash but the kind of trash you can't take your eyes off of. It has Nazis, murder, rape, suicide, killer dogs, embezzlement, blackmail, torture, adultery, sado-masochism crammed into a six hour running time and set in Paris, Venice, Vienna and New York City while Collins makes over 80 costume changes, all designed by Valentino. It's all rather ludicrous especially the murderous finale but eminently enjoyable in a guilty pleasure way. Dickson's performance is particularly bad but the character is so ill conceived that there's not an actor who could have played the part decently. Directed by Douglas Hickox (THEATER OF BLOOD). The massive cast includes Gene Kelly, Capucine, Timothy Dalton, Jean Pierre Aumont, Marisa Berenson, James Farentino, Allen Garfield, Joseph Bologna, Judi Bowker, Paul Freeman, Arielle Dombasle, Alexandra Stewart, John McEnery, Peter Vaughan, Regine, Faith Brook and Catherine Mary Stewart who plays Collins' younger self from 13 to early 30s.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Secret Beyond The Door (1948)

A New York socialite (Joan Bennett) falls in love with and marries a man (Michael Redgrave) in Mexico that she's only known for a few days. But it doesn't take long for her to realize he has some deep rooted psychological problems. This noir-ish Freudian thriller (with ties to the Bluebeard story) benefits greatly from Fritz Lang's stimulating direction and Stanley Cortez's (MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS) atmospheric black and white lensing. Lang maintains an intense, almost claustrophobic mood and with Redgrave's off kilter performance, it's enough to propel the mystery forward. But if Lang doesn't quite cop out at the end like Hitchcock's SUSPICION or Siodmak's STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY, the last fifteen minutes are pretty wobbly and disappointing. This was Bennett's fifth and final film with Lang and as she proved in her prior four films with him, she did her best work for him. If her distressed heroine isn't as good as the sluts she played in Lang's SCARLET STREET or WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, it's just not as interesting a character. Music by Miklos Rozsa. With Anne Revere, Natalie Schafer, Barbara O'Neil and James Seay.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Les Parapluies Du Cherbourg (aka Umbrellas Of Cherbourg) (1964)

In 1957 in the coastal town of Cherbourg, a 17 year old girl (Catherine Deneuve) and a young garage mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo) fall in love against the wishes of her mother (Anne Vernon). He is drafted and goes off to serve in Algeria when she finds herself with child. This operetta (there is no spoken dialog, every word is sung) directed by Jacques Demy is a visual and aural treasure. Bernard Evein's stunning production design along with Jacqueline Moreau's costumes are in vivid reds, pastel blues, hot pinks, rich greens and bright oranges giving the film the rich look of those three strip Technicolor (though the film was actually shot in Eastman stock) MGM musicals. Michel Legrand's exquisite score, both the songs and background underscore, is varied and melodic as well as giving the film it's emotional underpinnings. It's the simplest and most basic of love stories yet Demy infuses it with a sensitive yet almost thrilling core. I doubt anyone will be able to hold back the tears at the film's bittersweet finale. Jean Rabier did the graceful cinematography.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blue Valentine (2010)

A young working class couple (Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams who received an Oscar nomination for her work here) with a small daughter (Faith Wladyka) find their marriage crumbling in what, perhaps, was a relationship doomed from the start. Intense, disturbing and ultimately doleful, the film jumps around in time from their first meeting through the destructive marriage to its painful conclusion leaving our bearings askew. As a romantic film, it's a difficult watch but it's one of a kind though it's far from traditional even though they meet "cute", WHEN HARRY MET SALLY this ain't. Still, it is a romance and a heartbreaking and all too real one at that. Is there a more natural actress than Michelle Williams working today? One is never cognizant of her performance, she just is! Gosling, too, brings a likability to his character which is necessary since his character is a bit of jerk. Directed by Derek Cianfrance, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne. With Mike Vogel, Ben Shenkman and Jen Jones.

Three Plays By Tennessee Williams (1958)

In MOONY'S KID DON'T CRY, a dreamer (Ben Gazzara) and his more realistic wife (Lee Grant) fight over their crumbling marriage. In THE LAST OF MY SOLID GOLD WATCHES, a traveling salesman (Thomas Chalmers) reflects how changing times have destroyed what was good about life. In THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED, a young girl (Zina Bethune) recalls the tragic life of her dead sister to a young boy (Martin Huston). These early Tennessee Williams one acts, all written before his breakthrough with THE GLASS MENAGERIE, are mixed lot. The first two aren't very good, merely the indications of a promising writer and MOONY'S is hampered by a poor performance by Gazzara who seems unaware he's acting in front of a camera and not a proscenium. The best of the lot and the one that seems vintage Williams is the poignant PROPERTY which was made into a feature film by Sydney Pollack with Natalie Wood. Williams' dialog contains the rhythmic flow which we've come to associate with America's greatest playwright. All three were directed, indifferently, by Sidney Lumet who never had much luck with his films of Williams' plays like THE FUGITIVE KIND and LAST OF THE MOBILE HOT SHOTS.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Towering Inferno (1974)

During the opening night dedication party of the world's highest (138 stories) skyscraper in San Francisco, an electrical short starts a small fire in a storage room on the 81st floor which goes undetected. By the time the fire is discovered, the party goers in the penthouse are trapped. Possibly the best of the 1970s cycle of disaster movies, it's in the small details (which push the movie near the three hour mark) that sets it apart from many of its cinematic brethren. The film takes its time in both setting up the exposition, introducing the characters so we know enough about them for us to invest in them, and the minutiae of the fireman's dilemma and specific aspects in their attempts to put out the fire. For the most part, the writing is fairly intelligent though sentiment rears its ugly head. Why do movies like this always have young children in peril? Do they think worrying about the adult population isn't enough? Paul Newman brings what he can to the part of the architect which is more than can be said of Steve McQueen as the fire chief who seems to be walking through his role. Fred Koenekamp's cinematography won an Oscar and the fine score by John Williams. The large cast includes Faye Dunaway (looking all movie goddess-y), William Holden, Fred Astaire (who received his only Oscar nomination for his work here), Jennifer Jones (in her last film role), Robert Wagner, Richard Chamberlain (so over the top as the "villain" that if had a moustache, he'd twirl them), Robert Vaughn, Susan Blakely, Susan Flannery, Dabney Coleman, Maureen McGovern (who sings the Oscar winning song We May Never Love Like This Again), Don Gordon and O.J. Simpson.

A Walk With Love And Death (1969)

During the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) between France and England, a young student (Assi Dayan) and a young noblewoman (17 year old Anjelica Huston, still a novice at acting but looking quite lovely) attempt to escape the slaughter by fleeing to the sea and, hopefully, a ship to freedom. Along the way, they find destruction, vengeance, cruelty even from the Church itself while keeping their love alive. Based on the novel by Hans Koningsberger and directed by John Huston. While absolutely an anti-war film, director John Huston doesn't preach to us the insanity of war, he shows us. As these two young lovers, almost still children, walk through the nightmarish existence and images of carnage and havoc, your heart breaks for them realizing it's only a matter of time before they become victims of its apocalypse. The acting is rather primitive (contemporary reviews were particularly unkind to Ms. Huston) but this isn't a film where the acting is all that important. Huston's direction keeps the storyline compelling enough to hold our interest. The virile cinematography is by Edward Scaife (DIRTY DOZEN) and there's an eloquent score by Georges Delerue to accompany it. With John Huston as Anjelica's uncle, Michael Gough, Robert Lang and Anthony Higgins.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Moonfleet (1955)

Set in the mid 18th century on the coast of Dorset in Great Britain, a young boy (Jon Whiteley) arrives in search of a protector (Stewart Granger) that his deceased mother has entrusted him to. While quite the elegant gentleman on the surface, it's just a cover for the protector's smuggling activities and he has ambivalent feelings about the boy's arrival. Based on a novel by J. Meade Falkner, the film has the feel of a Robert Louis Stevenson boys' adventure like KIDNAPPED or TREASURE ISLAND. It's an old fashioned but modestly enjoyable effort from the great Fritz Lang, who hated shooting it in the CinemaScope process (it's his only true wide screen film) which necessitated his famous remark regarding the format that "it wasn't meant for human beings. Just snakes and funerals". Nonetheless, cinematographer Robert Planck's wide screen lensing is quite effective despite obviously being shot on soundstages rather than authentic English coast locations. The film suffers from a deadly performance by young master Whiteley who can't even seem to smile naturally. There's a marvelously atmospheric score by Miklos Rozsa. With George Sanders, Viveca Lindfors, Joan Greenwood, Liliane Montevecchi, Melville Cooper, Sean McClory, Alan Napier, John Hoyt, Jack Elam, Frank Feguson, Donna Corcoran, Ian Wolfe and Peggy Maley.

L'Heure Zero (aka Towards Zero) (2007)

An uneasy assortment of guests gather at the sea coast mansion of a wealthy but rigid matriarch (Danielle Darrieux). But when a dinner guest discreetly recalls a murder that happened many years and how the killer got away with it, he dies under mysterious circumstances. But when the matriarch gets her head bashed in, it's clear that murder most foul is afoot and there are no shortage of suspects. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie, director Pascal Thomas has deftly turned Christie's very British characters into a hothouse of passionate French. He (and one of the four screenwriters I presume) has added generous dollops of humor that weren't in Christie's original novel and it works for the most part though it seems strained during the denouement. The typical Christie red herrings, twists and turns should satisfy the most demanding of mystery lovers. The handsome Brittany and Cotes-d'Armor locations are exquisitely shot by Renan Polles and the Herrmannesque score is by Reinhardt Wagner. With Chiara Mastroianni, Francois Morel, Melvil Poupad, Laura Smet (who overdoes the wacko wife bit), Alessandra Martines, Clement Thomas and Xavier Thiam.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

San Francisco (1936)

Set in the Barbary Coast of 1906 San Francisco, an aspiring opera singer (Jeanette MacDonald) from Colorado accepts a job in a rambunctious nightclub run by Clark Gable. A romance ensues but their different perspectives on life eventually pull them apart. For most of its running time, this is a lively well crafted piece of entertainment until it goes all sanctimonious at the very end. MacDonald is less arch than usual and at her most likable and Gable is brash and charismatic. Unfortunately, there's the smug and judgmental priest played by Spencer Tracy, who inexplicably received a best actor Oscar nomination for his work here. The film's two memorable highpoints are the anthem song San Francisco which became hugely popular and here sung by MacDonald. The other highlight is the recreation of the 1906 earthquake which is superbly done and still impresses today. Still, after letting us enjoy all the bawdiness and boozing, in true DeMille style, the film punishes us at the end with MacDonald singing Nearer My God To Thee and the entire cast including the background serenading us with The Battle Hymn Of The Republic. With Jessie Ralph, Shirley Ross and Ted Healy.

Athena (1954)

A strait laced attorney (Edmund Purdom) running for public office gets involved with a girl (Jane Powell) who lives an alternative health conscious "back to nature" lifestyle that emphasizes exercise, vegetarianism and astrology. The premise for this lightweight MGM musical promises more than it can deliver. Its plot seems pregnant with humorous possibilities but the pedestrian script doesn't take advantage of them. The songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane (they penned the songs for MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and Vic Damone even sings a song from that film) are an undistinguished bunch and the musical numbers (Valerie Bettis did the choreography) are awkwardly staged. Reputedly, the director Richard Thorpe (IVANHOE) disliked the script intensely and it shows. He doesn't even try. Powell overdoes the perky bit and by the time she chirps Donizetti's Chacun Le Sait, you've already lost interest. With Debbie Reynolds, Louis Calhern, Linda Christian, Evelyn Varden, Ray Collins, Virginia Gibson, Kathleen Freeman, Henry Nakamura and a young pre-HERCULES Steve Reeves as one of Powell's suitors.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan in his third outing as 007) is assigned to protect the daughter (Sophie Marceau) of a deceased oil tycoon (David Calder) after M (Judi Dench) suspects she may be the next target of a terrorist (Robert Carlyle). Ably directed by Michael Apted (GORILLAS IN THE MIST), this is probably the best of the Brosnan Bonds. Despite some truly bad punning, there's a strong plausible storyline rather than some of the improbable elements that too often populate the 007 franchise. Marceau's Bond "girl" is also one of the more complex, interesting female characters in the series and she plays it very well. On the other hand, Denise Richards as a 20 something nuclear physicist stretches believability. The pre credit sequence runs 14 minutes which makes it the longest pre-credit sequences in all the Bonds. The serviceable score is by David Arnold who also wrote the title song which is sung by the alternative rock band, Garbage. With John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Samantha Bond, Michael Kitchen and in his final appearance as Q, a frail Desmond Llewelyn.

Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse (1962)

In 1938 Argentina as WWII looms on the horizon, a family is torn apart by divided loyalties. A patriarch's (Lee J. Cobb) two daughters (Harriet MacGibbon, Kathryn Givney) have married a Frenchman (Charles Boyer) and a German (Paul Lukas) respectively. After the patriarch's death, the divided families move to Europe where they find themselves on opposite sides as Hitler marches through Europe. Dismissed when first released, the film's reputation is slowly turning around and getting recognized (especially in Europe) as a major work in the Vincente Minnelli canon. And some egregious casting decisions aside, it deserves the re-evaluation. It's really quite a good film, a sprawling epic examining how one family is destroyed by circumstances bigger than themselves. A 45 year old Glenn Ford is way too old to play the young playboy (the 51 year old Cobb plays Ford's grandfather!) in the role that made the young Rudolph Valentino a Star in 1921. But Minnelli's stylish direction, the compelling storyline more than compensate for the miscasting. There's a great score by Andre Previn, probably his best. With the Swedish actress Ingrid Thulin (her voice is dubbed by Angela Lansbury) looking every inch a Movie Star, Paul Henreid, Yvette Mimieux, Karlheinz Bohm and George Dolenz.

Nora Prentiss (1947)

A doctor (Kent Smith) leads a rather dull life with a wife (Rosemary DeCamp) and two children (Wanda Hendrix, Robert Arthur). When he meets a nightclub singer (Ann Sheridan), it begins a love affair that spirals into deceit, violence and eventually, a murder trial. Despite the film's title (Sheridan's character), the film's protagonist is the doctor. The film has all the elements of a film noir but Sheridan's Nora Prentiss isn't a typical femme fatale. Instead, she's a rather decent woman who does everything in her power to stop the doctor from going off the deep end but he's hooked and his life falls apart around him. Unfortunately, he does everything wrong and bungles it all so we can't drum up much sympathy for him. Indeed, it's more of a case of "you made your bed, now lie in it". In spite of that (and the bland Kent Smith who plays him), the film remains an engrossing femme noir with a sympathetic "fatale" and enough twists and turns to keep you glued to the screen. Directed by Vincent Sherman (MR. SKEFFINGTON). The B&W cinematography by James Wong Howe (THE ROSE TATTOO) and an effective if minor score by Franz Waxman. With Robert Alda, Bruce Bennett, Douglas Kennedy and John Ridgely.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Tarzan And The She Devil (1953)

An unsavory group of ivory poachers (Monique Van Vooren, Raymond Burr, Tom Conway) are hampered in their attempts to harvest the ivory by Tarzan (Lex Barker). So they decide to kidnap Jane (Joyce MacKenzie) in order to control Tarzan. Barker's final appearance as Edgar Rice Burroughs' ape man is a painless if unmemorable affair. It's the trio of villains who hold our attention here, especially Burr's sadistic and brutal white hunter. Van Vooren as the "bad" girl isn't really a "she devil" at all, just a greedy hard as a rock babe. Barker as Tarzan doesn't have much to do but mope and look sad. Directed by Kurt Neumann (SON OF ALI BABA). With Henry Brandon and Mara Corday.