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Friday, August 31, 2012

Talk Of The Town (1942)

A radical social activist (Cary Grant) is accused of arson and manslaughter but escapes from prison before sentence is passed. He hides out at the summer cottage where a famous judge (Ronald Colman) is vacationing by passing himself off as the gardener. He's assisted in this duplicity by the landlady (Jean Arthur) who protects his real identity. This rather confused dramedy attempts to balance screwball comedy with social commentary. The uncomfortable mix never blends into a cohesive whole, it's neither fish nor fowl. For about three quarters of the film's running time, the affable leads manage to hold the picture together but the last fourth is rather pedantic and the good will built up evaporates pretty fast when the civics lessons start coming. Still, it was apparently highly thought of in its day as it garnered seven Oscar nominations including one for best picture. Directed by George Stevens. With Lloyd Bridges, Glenda Farrell, Rex Ingram, Edgar Buchanan, Leonid Kinskey and Charles Dingle.

Fortune Is A Woman (aka She Played With Fire) (1957)

An insurance investigator (Jack Hawkins) responds to a routine call regarding a small fire that destroyed an expensive painting. Arriving at the mansion, he's astounded to discover that the claimant's (Dennis Price, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS) wife (Arlene Dahl) is an old flame. But when another house fire kills the husband and leaves the wife a very rich widow, suspicion and blackmail enter the picture. An unexceptional programmer directed by Sidney Gilliat (GREEN FOR DANGER) but to the film's credit it does keep you guessing till the very end and I was stumped until the final revelation. Nicely shot in black and white though the film would have benefited by color with Dahl in the lead. With Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Ian Hunter, Violet Farebrother, Bernard Miles and in the film's best performance, the plummy voiced Greta Gynt as a playgirl Hawkins encounters during his investigation.

Lonesome (1928)

Two lonely single people, a telephone operator (Barbara Kent) and a factory worker (Glenn Tryon), meet at Coney Island during the fourth of July weekend. They immediately fall in love but true love's path is hindered by a couple of thorns. Perhaps the ultimate "boy meets girl" movie, the Hungarian director Paul Fejos dresses up the film with plenty of visual means. Plenty of super imposition shots, tracking shots, tinted filters and added crowd noises. Though shot as a silent film, several talking sequences were added to the film which was probably a mistake. They're awkwardly inserted and the dialog is pretty flat though visually they're in better shape than the silent narrative. Comparisons to SUNRISE and THE CROWD are inevitable but truthfully, the film simply isn't as good as those two masterworks. It's a lovely film though, it captures the wistful pain of being alone in a crowded city, of not having that someone in your life to share with while everyone around you is partnered. Though their acting is a bit broad, Kent and Tryon make a likable pair.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Competition (1980)

Set during an international classical piano competition in San Francisco, out of twelve contestants, six finalists compete against each other for $20,000 and a two year concert contract traveling around the world. But for one of them, an ambitious but aging prodigy (Richard Dreyfuss), it's his last chance at a professional career. But when he becomes emotionally involved with one of his competitors (Amy Irving), it may prove destructive for the both of them. I don't know why I love this movie and have since I first saw it almost 32 years ago. Some of the dialog is groan inducing and Dreyfuss' performance is miscalculated and he's overly made up (you can actually see the make up on his face) and his self absorbed character is awfully hard to warm up to. But there's a certain verve to the film that's consuming and the uniqueness of building some suspense during a classical piano competition is rather winning. Still, I realize others may not take kindly to it. Directed by Joel Oliansky, a TV director whose only feature film this is. There's a haunting Oscar nominated theme song People Alone sung by Randy Crawford at the end credits. With Lee Remick as Irving's glamorous teacher, Sam Wanamaker in a showy performance as the competition's conductor, Joseph Cali, Ty Henderson, Vicki Kriegler, Priscilla Pointer, James Sikking and Adam Stern.

The Internecine Project (1974)

A former secret agent (James Coburn) is offered a position as an adviser to the President Of The United States. However, before he takes on that position, there are four people (Harry Andrews, Ian Hendry, Michael Jayston, Christiane Kruger) who know too much about his past that he will have to eliminate. In a complex, timed to the last minute plan; all four will be murdered on the same night ..... if the plan works. This clever political thriller, part of those 1970s paranoid "don't trust the government" flicks like THE PARALLAX VIEW, is a diabolical piece of cinematic chicanery when it sticks to the narrative. But it's mired down by a tiresome romantic subplot involving Lee Grant (SHAMPOO) as a political journalist. Directed by Ken Hughes (CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG) from a script by Barry Levinson (no, not the director of RAIN MAN) and Jonathan Lynn (CLUE). Cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth. With Keenan Wynn and Julian Glover.

A Royal Scandal (1945)

As her military leaders plot a coup to overthrow her throne, Catherine The Great (Tallulah Bankhead) of Russia dallies with a handsome young Lieutenant (William Eythe, SONG OF BERNADETTE). Ernst Lubtisch supervised the film and was all set to direct but when illness forced him to drop out, he was replaced by Otto Preminger. Which explains why this often witty, if forced, farce seems set to sparkle but never quite blossoms. It's still more a Lubitsch film than a Preminger film, Otto never had as light a touch and one can trace all the good things about the film to Lubitsch. One hesitates to imagine the film without Bankhead. She gets the most out of every line whether a subtle sexual innuendo or barking an insult, when she snaps "You swine!" she makes it sound witty rather than vulgar. Surprisingly, rather than dominating their scenes together, the young Eythe keeps up with her and proves a formidable partner. With Anne Baxter, Charles Coburn, Vincent Price (with a terrible French accent), Mischa Auer, Sig Ruman and Vladimir Sokoloff.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bellissima (1951)

A fierce and determined stage struck mother (Anna Magnani) enters her daughter (Tina Apicella) in a studio contest looking for a little girl to star in their next movie, even if it means destroying her marriage. While not a comedy as such, there are some devastating dramatic moments, one doesn't normally associate Luchino Visconti with wit and humor. This is perhaps his most sentimental (in a good way) film. Visconti turns an agile eye on the lure of the movies and how it grips those who want to be a part of it. When Magnani watches an outdoor screening of Hawks' RED RIVER, we can see how she's transformed by cinema and all its promises. Magnani is, of course, the driving force of the film (Bette Davis called her performance brilliant). She's spectacular and perhaps no other actress defines force of nature more than Magnani. With Walter Chiari, Gastone Renzelli, Tecla Scarano and the director Alessandro Blasetti playing himself.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Only Game In Town (1970)

A Las Vegas showgirl (Elizabeth Taylor) involved with a married man gets involved with a musician (Warren Beatty) with an addiction to gambling. Based on Frank D. Gilroy's (THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES) Broadway flop which ran for 16 performances (Fox bought the film rights before the play opened), this was director George Stevens final film. While not as bad as his THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (what could be?), the film feels inauthentic on almost every level. The film doesn't capture the pulse and vibe of Las Vegas which, since the film was shot in France, is understandable. Gilroy's dialog is trite and both Taylor and Beatty are miscast. Beatty is too young for the part and while Taylor looks stunning, physically her 5' 2" zaftig figure is all wrong for a leggy Las Vegas showgirl. When Taylor asks Beatty to carry her into the bedroom, you fear for his back but fortunately the scene is never shown. Still, Taylor and Beatty aren't bona fide Stars for nothing and they're eminently watchable even while mired down with inferior material. There's a killer jazz score by Maurice Jarre though. With Charles Braswell.

Soft Targets (1982)

A soviet journalist (Ian Holm) stationed in London is paranoid that the British Secret Service thinks he's a spy and is following him around. But is his paranoia justified ... or is he a Soviet agent? Things get complicated when he meets a disaffected young Brit (Helen Mirren) and forms an attachment to her. An efficacious screenplay by Stephen Poliakoff and deft direction by Charles Sturridge (TV's BRIDESHEAD REVISITED) combined with two excellent central performances by Holm and Mirren make for an intriguing production. The Cold War was waning but it's an interesting look at how Soviets were (often) misperceived by western society. The irony is that Holm's character is a foreigner in an alien country yet in her own way, Mirren is a foreigner in her own country. A nice understated score by Geoffrey Burgon. With Nigel Havers, Celia Gregory, Julian Sands, Rupert Everett and Desmond Llewelyn.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Down Three Dark Streets (1954)

When an FBI agent (Kenneth Tobey, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD) is killed while investigating a case, the fellow agent (Broderick Crawford) who is assigned the three cases the murdered agent was working on attempts to discover which of the three cases involves his killer. All three cases involve three women: single mother Ruth Roman is being extorted for her late husband's insurance money, good time gal Martha Hyer is protecting the whereabouts of her homicidal lover (Joe Bassett), blind Marisa Pavan's husband (Gene Reynolds) is sent to prison for refusing to talk about a car theft ring. This is a modest but very well made gripping noir-ish thriller shot faux documentary style (by Joseph Biroc, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE) on the streets of L.A. The screenplay is by Mildred and Gordon Gordon (sic) based on their novel CASE FILE: FBI and the similarities to their later screenplay for EXPERIMENT IN TERROR are quite evident. While perhaps not as stylish as the later Blake Edwards film, this is a solid recommended effort. Directed by Arnold Laven. With Claude Akins, Jay Adler, Casey Adams and William Schallert.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sabrina (1995)

A young chauffeur's daughter (Julia Ormond) has been nurturing a life long crush on the youngest son (Greg Kinnear) of the wealthy family her father (John Wood) drives for. He's never noticed her but when she returns from a year in Paris, he's suddenly interested but his older brother (Harrison Ford) and mother (Nancy Marchand, delightful) plan to nip it in the bud. Based on the Samuel Taylor (VERTIGO) play by way of the 1954 Billy Wilder film, the film inevitably suffers when compared to the Wilder film. Not that the 1954 film was any great shakes as cinema, it wasn't but because that film's success was immeasurably helped by the star power of Bogart, William Holden and, of course, Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina. There's nothing wrong with Ormond's work here. She's lovely and quite good but she's not Hepburn. Hepburn made us fall in love with her merely by being Hepburn and Ormond doesn't have that kind of Star magnetism. The one improvement is John Williams' Oscar nominated gleaming underscore. Directed by Sydney Pollack. With Angie Dickinson, Richard Crenna, Fanny Ardant, Paul Giamatti, Dana Ivey, Miriam Colon and Lauren Holly.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Journey (1959)

At the outbreak of the 1956 Hungarian revolution, a disparate group of international travelers find themselves stranded when the airport is shut down. A subsequent attempt to cross the Austrian-Hungarian border by bus is prevented when the Russians hold the travelers against their will for interrogation. A bit overlong at slightly over the two hour mark, nevertheless the film remains a compelling microcosm of pressure, fear, choices and one's ability to do the right thing regardless of the cost. The film is held together by Yul Brynner's wonderful performance, one of his very best, as a Russian major who begins to doubt his life choices especially after finding himself attracted to one of the travelers, an Englishwoman (Deborah Kerr). The sexual tension that played into their performances three years earlier in THE KING AND I remains and is used to good effect here. The film veers toward the melodramatic and is often quite talky so that I was surprised to see it wasn't based on a play but an original screenplay by George Tabori. Directed by Anatole Litvak (ANASTASIA). With Jason Robards (in his film debut), Anouk Aimee, Robert Morley, E.G. Marshall, Anne Jackson, Kurt Kasznar, Gerard Oury and little Ron Howard.

The Rage Of Paris (1938)

An impoverished French emigre (Danielle Darrieux in her Hollywood film debut) assisted by her best friend (Helen Broderick) and a maitre d' (Mischa Auer, MY MAN GODFREY) moves into a posh New York hotel. Their aim is for her to catch a rich husband and share the profits. Darrieux, one of the treasures of French cinema, deserved more than inheriting this screwball farce retread. Couldn't Universal borrow Ginger Rogers from RKO? It's genial enough in fits and spurts and while Darrieux is charming, she's no Jean Arthur. The film was a failure and Darrieux returned to France and didn't return to Hollywood for 13 years. But it's harmless and Henry Koster (THREE SMART GIRLS) directs with the efficiency of a traffic cop. With Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Louis Hayward as the two marrying candidates and Harry Davenport.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Psyche 59 (1964)

After a traumatic experience that she can't remember, a woman (Patricia Neal) loses her eyesight. But there is no natural cause, it's psychosomatic. When her self absorbed younger sister (Samantha Eggar) returns home from America and moves in with her sister and her husband (Curt Jurgens), the domestic situation becomes very intense and the woman tries to unravel the dark secret that caused her blindness. Based on the novel by Francoise Des Ligneris and directed by Alexander Singer (A COLD WIND IN AUGUST). This is an odd little film that seems to be a thriller on the verge of turning into one of those "slutty sister and brother in law plot to murder the wife" scenarios but it never comes to fruition. Instead, what we get is not a thriller at all but a domestic drama with a pinch of psychological pepper to spice things up. Pity it never develops into something more substantial because the performances are all quite good. Kenneth V. Jones did the jazzy score. With Ian Bannen and Beatrix Lehmann.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Jazz Singer (1959)

A rift between a fifth generation Rabbi (Eduard Franz) and his son (Jerry Lewis) occurs when the son decides to abandon the religious life for show business as a stand up comedian. Very loosely based on the Samuel Raphaelson play which is better known for its 1927 film version with Al Jolson. The story was pretty antiquated even in 1927 and by 1959, the cobwebs were really showing. The director Ralph Nelson (LILIES OF THE FIELD) does his best to move things along and Lewis gives it a game try but his performance seems rushed and not thought out. It's basically a full on dramatic role with the comedy limited to his on stage act. With Anna Maria Alberghetti as the actress who gives Lewis his big break, Molly Picon (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF) as his mother, Alan Reed and Del Moore.

Tobacco Road (1941)

Set in rural Georgia during the Great Depression, a dirt poor tenant farmer (Charley Grapewin, WIZARD OF OZ) tries to hold on to his dying farm as the bank threatens to repossess it. Rather than being based on the Erskine Caldwell novel, the film is based on the hit Broadway play of Caldwell's novel. At the time the film was made, it was the longest running play in Broadway history (over 3,000 performance and an eight year run). The film differs considerably from both the novel and the play. For some reason, the director John Ford decided to play it for laughs and the film plays out like a skewered episode of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. Caldwell showed an insight and an empathy for his poor white trash characters, here screenwriter Nunnally Johnson and Ford give us outrageous cornpone hillbilly stereotypes and with the exception of Elizabeth Patterson who gives a touching performance as Grapewin's wife, the acting is broad and buffoonish. And whose idea was it to cast the lovely and elegant Gene Tierney as a barefoot, dirt covered hillbilly nymph? With Dana Andrews, Marjorie Rambeau as psalm singing Sister Bessie, William Tracy, Grant Mitchell and Ward Bond, married to a 12 year old in the book but the movie ups her age to 13.

Warlords Of Atlantis (1978)

At the end of the 19th century, a group of adventurers headed by an archaeologist (Donald Bisset) and including his son (Peter Gilmore) and the engineer (Doug McClure) of the diving bell they will use, plumb the sea depths in search of the lost city of Atlantis. They find it but the Atlanteans are anything but friendly, could it be the hideous wigs they're forced to wear? This rather silly underwater adventure is strictly matinee fare for the kids. The cast are in constant danger by a barrage of rubber monsters right out of a Japanese Toho movie which are more endearing than frightening. My favorite was the rubber flying fish leaping out of the waters and sinking their teeth, piranha like, into the humans. The film could have used Ray Harryhausen to work some of his magic. Directed by Kevin Connor. With Cyd Charisse, showing that at age 57 she still had the best gams in the business, Daniel Massey and Shane Rimmer.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Solaris (1972)

A psychologist (Donatas Banionis) is sent to a space station to evaluate the strange occurrences taking place. The mission's aim is to study an ocean on the planet Solaris but the ocean seems to have an intelligence of its own. Alien life forms appear to the few remaining scientists born from their consciousness and their memories. This engrossing and complex but unnecessarily overlong science fiction is more cerebral than most sci-fi films. Closer to 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY than STAR WARS. But Andrei Tarkovsky's slow methodical takes and traveling shots challenges (not necessarily in a good way) the viewer but if you stick with it, there are rewards to be had as it dissects man's inability to connect with himself. Provocative without being pretentious. Stunningly shot by Vadim Yusov. Based on the book by the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, who reputedly disliked what Tarkovsky did to his novel. The funereal score is by Eduard Artemiev. With Natalya Bondarchuk, Juri Jarvet and Anatoliy Solonitsyn.

Look In Any Window (1961)

An affluent suburb is victimized by a Peeping Tom terrorizing housewives. But the Peeping Tom is actually a troubled teen (pop singer Paul Anka) with an unhappy home life which includes a promiscuous mother (Ruth Roman) and a drunk for a father (Alex Nicol). Adultery and alcoholism in the suburbs about sums it up. If a neighbor isn't actually sleeping with his neighbor's wife, he's coveting her. In one scene, the married Ruth Roman is watering her lawn when married Jack Cassidy (in his film debut) drives by in his Mercedes and before you can shake a stick, she drops the hose and jumps in the car and they're off to Las Vegas! Talk about your desperate housewives. Even the policemen are freaks, one cop thinks women are sluts for wearing shorts and gets his kicks bitch slapping homosexuals walking their poodles. It's not a good movie but it's a fascinating watch. The only film directed by film producer William Alland (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THIS ISLAND EARTH). With Carole Mathews, Gigi Perreau and George Dolenz.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Phantom Of The Opera (1925)

An unseen menace "haunts" the Paris Opera House. In actuality, he's a man (Lon Chaney) with a disfigured face who wears a mask and lives in the underground tombs beneath the opera house. He's become obsessed with a young singer (Mary Philbin) in the opera and with his assistance, she rises from the chorus to a leading lady. But eventually demands her love in return for the stardom he has given her. The first of many film adaptations of the Gaston Leroux novel, this remains perhaps the most famous, most notably for Lon Chaney's performance. Considering his reputation as the man of a thousand faces, he spends most of the film covered with a mask and when his face is revealed, the make up renders his face immobile. Still, he's quite effective, mostly through the sheer physicality of his performance. As written, the role of the ingenue (Philbin) doesn't seem worthy of his obsession, she's shallow and quite unsympathetic. Visually, other than the first revelation of Chaney's disfigured face, the highlight of the film is the two strip Technicolor masked ball. I don't anyone who's seen it has forgotten Chaney's walk down the stairs, dressed in bright scarlet. The version I saw had a rousing if unoriginal score by Carl Davis. Directed by Rupert Julian. With Norman Kerry.

Smith! (1969)

When a young Native American (Frank Ramirez) is accused of murder and hides out on his property, a rancher (Glenn Ford) with a reputation as a friend of the Indians encourages him to give himself up and stand trial. The rancher's continual involvement with the Indian community doesn't sit well his wife (Nancy Olson SUNSET BOULEVARD) who is more concerned with saving their hay crop. Though it was a theatrical film, this Walt Disney effort has the flat ugly look of a TV production. While its intentions regarding Native Americans are honorable, the film itself does no service to the Indian population with its portrayal of the Indians as undependable, backward children in need of the white man (in this case, Ford's character) to save them. While most of the Indian cast are authentic Native Americans (like Chief Dan George and Jay Silverheels), Warren Oates was inexplicably cast as a rather shiftless Indian interpreter exploiting his own people. And, of course, what's a film like this without a nasty racist sheriff (Keenan Wynn). Olson's feisty wife was the only character I had any feeling for. Directed by Michael O'Herlihy (ONE AND ONLY, GENUINE ORIGINAL FAMILY BAND). With Dean Jagger and John Randolph.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Scapegoat (1959)

A rather dejected Englishman (Alec Guinness), a French teacher, meets his doppelganger, a French aristocrat (also Guinness), on a trip to Paris. The morning after, the Englishman finds himself mistaken for the vanished French aristocrat and slowly finds himself seduced by and involved with the man's life. But it's only a matter of time until the aristocrat comes to reclaim his life. Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier (REBECCA) and adapted for the screen by Gore Vidal with the director Robert Hamer (KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS) doing the screenplay. It's an intriguing mystery and if a bit farfetched, engaging enough to hook you and keep you anticipating every twist and turn. As always the consummate actor, Guinness subtly and with the tiniest of strokes, makes the two men different enough to be convincing. The shimmering score is by Bronislau Kaper. With Bette Davis as Guinness's morphine addicted mother, Nicole Maurey (DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST) as his mistress, Irene Worth as his wife, Pamela Brown as his sister, Geoffrey Keen as the chauffeur, Alan Webb as a policeman and as his daughter, a captivating performance by Annabel Bartlett in her only screen credit.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

One Touch Of Venus (1948)

An intoxicated department store window dresser (Robert Walker) kisses an expensive life size statue of the goddess Venus. The kiss brings her (in the form of Ava Gardner) to life and complications ensue when he is charged with stealing the statue. Based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name, the film has bowdlerized almost the entire Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash score and retained only three of its songs. Of course, they kept the haunting love ballad Speak Low which was the show's breakout hit. With the songs cut, one could hardly call it a musical but a comical farce with a few songs thrown in. As such, it's modestly entertaining but hardly memorable. Physically, Gardner is perfect casting as Venus and she goes through her paces like a well trained seal but she lacks a comedienne's comic timing. Everyone does their own singing except Gardner who's dubbed by Eileen Wilson. Directed by William A. Seiter. With Dick Haymes, Olga San Juan, Tom Conway, Sara Allgood and Eve Arden doing her patented wise cracking spinster number.

No Man Of Her Own (1932)

A crooked gambler (Clark Gable) hiding out in a small town finds himself attracted to the local librarian (Carole Lombard). She rebuffs his attempts at seduction and insists on marriage. They marry and return to New York but he doesn't tell her of his true vocation. Most notable for being the only on screen pairing of Gable and Lombard (though they were still married to others at the time), what's surprising is how little sparks they generate together. Granted, this rather dreary romantic drama isn't the most scintillating of vehicles but it's a pity that the one pairing of one of Hollywood's most famous couples is more milk than champagne. Still it's not a bad film, just indifferently made. Very loosely based on a novel by Val Lewton and directed by Wesley Ruggles (I'M NO ANGEL). With Dorothy Mackaill, Grant Mitchell and Elizabeth Patterson.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Story On Page One (1959)

An unhappily married woman (a deglamorized Rita Hayworth) and her lover (Gig Young) are arrested and put on trial for the murder of her husband (Alfred Ryder). The woman's mother (Katherine Squire) hires the lawyer son (Anthony Franciosa) of a former employer to defend her daughter despite his reservations about her innocence. Written and directed by the playwright Clifford Odets (this was his second and last film as a director), this is a compelling if often cumbrous courtroom drama. Hayworth is surprisingly good as is Young but Odets can't resist exaggerating some of the supporting characters or at least encouraging the supporting players to make the most of their screen time. For example, when I saw the name of the great acting teacher Sanford Meisner in the opening credits, I had no idea what he looked like so I was worried I might not know who he played. But when an actor playing the prosecuting attorney started hamming it up big time, I just knew that must be Meisner. It was. If you like courtroom dramas, you should be quite pleased with this effort. A nice Elmer Bernstein score moves things along nicely. With Mildred Dunnock (very good) as Young's manipulative mother, Hugh Griffith, Myrna Fahey, Valerie French, William Challee (another shameless scenery chewer) and Leo Penn (Sean's father).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Moby Dick (2010)

A young sailor (Charlie Cox), along with his newly acquired Polynesian friend (Raoul Trujillo), sign on to a New England whaling vessel out of Nantucket. Once aboard, they discover their Captain (William Hurt) is determined to seek out the white whale known as Moby Dick, who bit off his leg, and get his revenge. While on its own terms, this is a well done sea yarn, make no mistake about it. This is not Melville's MOBY DICK! Understandably, it lacks the complexities of the Melville novel but enough liberties have been taken with the plot that would make admirers of the novel spit! For example, Captain is given a hand wringing "Please don't go to sea, dear!" wife in the form of Gillian Anderson. The novel's good natured second mate Stubb (Eddie Marsan) is inexplicably made a rather cruel and petty character. Hurt's wan performance is all wrong for Ahab. It lacks the relentless obsession necessary for the character, there's no demon in his soul. Some of the other performances aren't bad. Ethan Hawke makes for an effective Starbuck, Trujillo's Queequeg is very good but Cox's Ishmael is a cipher and Donald Sutherland makes for dull Father Mapple. The film itself turns Moby Dick into something resembling the shark from JAWS rather than the enigmatic symbol of the Melville novel. Directed by Mike Barker and handsomely shot by Richard Greatrex (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE).

The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973)

A woman (Sarah Miles) running away from her husband (George Hamilton) and an unhappy marriage stumbles across a train robbery in progress and is kidnapped by their leader (Burt Reynolds). With her husband and a lawman (Lee J. Cobb) in pursuit, the two are slowly drawn to each other. Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Marilyn Durham (which I've not read), apparently the book's admired tone and style were re-written (Eleanor Perry did the original screenplay before others got their hands on it) into a more conventional Western romance. Certainly, there's nothing unique about the film that elevates it above the standard Western. Which isn't to say it's bad, just routine. Reynolds seems miscast, too Movie Star handsome when he should be more grizzled and worn and poor Sarah Miles spends most of the movie either getting raped or fighting off rapists. Even the John Williams underscore is off, it's quite pretty but also inappropriate. It needed to be darker (the original score by Michel Legrand was darker but rejected by the producers). The striking Utah and Arizona locations are handsomely shot by in Panavision by Harry Stradling Jr. (THE WAY WE WERE). Directed by Richard C. Sarafian. With Jack Warden, Nancy Malone, Bo Hopkins and Jay Silverheels.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Artists And Models (1955)

A Greenwich Village artist (Dean Martin) and his comic book obsessed room mate (Jerry Lewis) are struggling to make ends meet. But when Martin pitches a comic book based on Lewis's nightmares to a publisher (Eddie Mayehoff), they're in the money! But Lewis's dreams unintentionally contain a genuine secret rocket formula which has both the Secret Service and foreign spies after them. Quite possibly the best of the Martin and Lewis vehicles, the film profits from having Frank Tashlin at the helm. The former cartoonist translates the animated lunacy of comics and cartoons into the live action hijinks and the result is some of the best gags in the Martin & Lewis canon. A visit by Lewis to a message therapist is a scream as he's literally bent and twisted like a pretzel. Shirley MacLaine and Dorothy Malone provide the romantic interest for the guys while Anita Ekberg and Eva Gabor provide eye candy. There are enough songs for the film to qualify it as a musical but with one exception, a lovely ballad called Innamorata, the songs are pretty forgettable. Edith Head did the inventive costumes. With Jack Elam, Steven Geray and Kathleen Freeman.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Loving You (1957)

An ambitious press agent (Lizabeth Scott) discovers a troubled young man (Elvis Presley) with singing talent and manipulates him into stardom. But his insecurities threaten to derail his promising career. Directed by Hal Kanter, this was Pesley's second film but the first to exploit his Elvis persona. His first film LOVE ME TENDER, set during the Civil War, used him as a dramatic actor. Here, he shakes, rattles and rolls as audiences of swooning teenage girls scream. The hoary plot line doesn't amount to much, this is the first of what became known as Elvis movies. He gets to sing some of his best songs like Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear, Lonesome Cowboy and, of course, the title song. Scott looks great but her inadequacies as an actress are at the forefront and Wendell Corey as a country and western musician seems painfully aware how miscast he is. With Dolores Hart, James Gleason, Jana Lund, Madge Blake, Irene Tedrow and Yvonne Lime.

Faster Pussycat... Kill! Kill! (1965)

Three sensation seeking go-go dancers: the tough homicidal big bad mama Varla (the marvelous Tura Satana), the good time gal Billie (Lori Mitchell) and the moody Rosie (Haji) kidnap a teenager (Sue Bernard) after killing her boyfriend (Ray Barlow). But when they end up at an isolated ranch owned by an old crippled lech (Stuart Lancaster), who lives with his muscle bound but mentally backward son (Dennis Busch) and a quiet book reading son (Paul Trinka), they may have met their match! While not quite the wonky masterpiece of his BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, this Russ Meyer exploitation flick comes pretty close. Wickedly funny, Meyer's cartoonish undertaking is like the darker side of Frank Tashlin's Jayne Mansfield movies. Mammaries are either coming at you or female posteriors are walking away. Curiously given Meyer's reputation, there's no actual sex or nudity but profuse drams of violence. Like DeMille who seemed to enjoy showing us the pleasurable excesses of the wicked before giving them their just desserts, Meyer seems a Puritan at heart as he takes glee in these three tough babes causing havoc before the wrath of God comes down on them. But there's no doubt Meyer and his cameraman Walter Schenk have an eye for composition, the B&W images almost approach art.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

King Solomon's Mines (1937)

In late 19th century South Africa, an Irishman (Arthur Sinclair) goes off into the desert in search of the legendary King Solomon's mines. When his daughter (Anna Lee, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY), accompanied by a native (Paul Robeson) who seems to have an ulterior motive, goes after her father, a hunter (Cedric Hardwicke) along with two adventurers (Roland Young, John Loder) go off in search of her with the intention of bringing her back. The first film adaptation of the famous H. Rider Haggard novel, this is an enjoyable if simplistic action adventure which seems to successfully avoid the often unfortunate racist elements inherent in such fare. The top billed Robeson is given three songs to sing which pads out the running time but the battle scenes and the volcano sequence are very nicely done. Directed by Robert Stevenson (THE LOVE BUG) with the African exterior scenes directed by Geoffrey Barkas.

Zazie Dans Le Metro (1960)

When she comes to Paris to visit her lover, a woman (Odette Piquet) leaves her precocious and impudent 10 year old daughter (Catherine Demongeot) in the care of her uncle (Philippe Noiret, CINEMA PARADISO), a drag performer in a nightclub. Louis Malle's cheeky comedy is both a one of a kind farce (certainly I've never seen anything quite like it) and a homage to the great silent comedies. The film creates its own unique frantic rhythm and if one doesn't get on board, you're likely to get disoriented. Characters morph into other characters, ethnicities are changed for a second and back again, sets are changed before our very eyes as the actors continue, eyeglasses fall off someone's face at the top of the Eiffel Tower and smoothly land on the face of someone below, etc. If one attempts to make literal sense of it, you'll go crazy! Possibly the film may be a fantasy of the child Zazie's imagination but more than likely, Malle is skewering the foibles of contemporary (well, 1960 contemporary) society via his own twist on ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Based on the novel by Raymond Queneau. With Vittorio Caprioli, Yvonne Clech and Carla Marlier.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Forever Amber (1947)

Set in 1660 England during the Restoration era of Charles II (George Sanders, no surprise stealing the movie), a young country girl (Linda Darnell) feeling repressed by the rural country life as well as by her adoptive father (Leo G. Carroll) flees to London to make her fortune. Though  in love with one man (Cornel Wilde), a profiteer on the seas for the King, she sleeps her way to the top of court society until she becomes the King's mistress. Based on the scandalous best seller (it was banned in fourteen states and condemned by the Catholic church) by Kathleen Windsor and directed by Otto Preminger. It's difficult to see what all the fuss was about based on the resultant and considerably cleaned up (courtesy of the Hays code and the Catholic Legion Of Decency) film. What we end up with is a colorful costumer about an ambitious vixen and while the heroine is a "wicked" slut, as played by the appealing Darnell, you can't help but like her. Still, all in all it's too tasteful when it should be a bit more naughty or, yes, even vulgar. I mean when you have a sexy wench manipulating those around her and sleeping her way to the top, it should be more fun, no? And Darnell could have used a livelier leading man than Wilde who seems too enervated here. The plague and great fire of London sequences are handled very nicely. The Oscar nominated underscore by David Raksin is a thing of beauty. Alas, the film's original bittersweet final moments have been cut and the film ends abruptly. With Jessica Tandy, Richard Greene, Anne Revere, Glenn Langan, Richard Hayden, Robert Coote, Margaret Wycherly (very good as a murderous nurse), John Russell, Norma Varden and Alan Napier.

Bridge To The Sun (1961)

In the Washington D.C. OF 1939, a young girl (Carroll Baker) from Tennessee meets a young Japanese diplomat (James Shigeta) and they fall in love despite their cultural differences. But when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, she is voluntarily deported with her husband and daughter to Japan where she lives through WWII. Based on the autobiographical novel by Gwendolen Terasaki, the film takes liberties with the actual facts in order to heighten the drama. The film’s topic is compelling so it’s a pity the film isn’t better. For a film that is actually based on real events, the film seems contrived. Baker and Shigeta don’t have much chemistry and Baker overplays her “hillbilly” roots. But the subject matter is singular enough to guide us over the film’s shortcomings. It works best as a simple love story as opposed to an examination of culture clash and divided loyalties. Directed by Etienne Perier (WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL). The underscore is by Georges Auric (THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION). With Tetsuro Tanba and Sean Garrison.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dark Horse (2012)

A maladjusted, self pitying, immature 30 something man (Jordan Gelber) still lives at home with his parents (Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken) while working at his father's company. When he meets a manic depressive failed writer (Selma Blair, LEGALLY BLONDE) who's moved back in with her parents, he asks her to marry him in a last bid to get a life. Bouncing around the film festival circuit in late 2011, Todd Solondz's DARK HORSE is finally getting a theatrical (albeit limited) release. It's a dark and twisted, at times near offensive, black comedy and I quite liked it. "Losers" are rarely the leading character in films and if they are at all, by the final reel they've got their act together so audiences can go home happy. Solondz doesn't play that game. This is a quirky, witty perverse film but make no mistake about it. You'll laugh but it's still a total downer. Gelber's spiteful, rude whiner is such a repugnant character that it's hard to embrace him and I suspect some moviegoers will be so off-put by his character that they'll throw the baby out with the bath water. With Donna Murphy (in an award worthy performance), Zachary Booth and Justin Bartha.

Sun Valley Serenade (1941)

For a publicity stunt, the piano player (John Payne) in a big band suggests the band adopt a foreign refugee. Instead of a child, the refugee arrives in the form of a young Norwegian blonde hustler (Sonja Henie). The deceitful blonde then lies and manipulates every one around her in her attempt to break up the romance between Payne and his girlfriend (Lynn Bari) and get him for herself. No, this isn't a film noir, this is a "wholesome" Fox musical! Somehow we're supposed to find this duplicitous ice skating bitch adorable! In the movies, what Esther Williams was to the swimming pool, Sonja Henie was to the ice rink. I'll fess up that this is the only Sonja Henie film I've seen and it doesn't encourage me to seek out any more. Fox had a thing for bland blondes (Grable, Faye, Haver) and Henie fits right in. It's not all bad, however. We get some swell Glenn Miller music and a killer Oscar winning song Chattanooga Choo Choo performed by Miller, The Modernaires and The Nicholas Brothers with Dorothy Dandridge which alone justifies the film's existence. Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. With Milton Berle, Joan Davis (whose part seems to have been cut) and Ann Doran.

Madchen In Uniform (1958)

In 1910 Prussia, a young shy schoolgirl (Romy Schneider) whose parents have died is sent to a very strict all girls school. Once there, she falls in love with one of the teachers (Lilli Palmer, who wouldn't fall in love with her?) and her indiscretion will have ramifications for her, the teacher and the school. Based on a novel by Christa Winsloe and a remake of the famous 1931 German film of the same name, possibly the first openly lesbian film, the film pushes the envelope even further by making Schneider's character less naive and more sexual than the young innocent of the 1931 film. It's a poignant coming of age story with strong delineated characters that manages to be honest without being the least bit exploitative and being a European film, we don't have to put up with the coy spin an American film would have given it. There's no ambiguity about that kiss! Schneider coming off the success of her popular (and wholesome) SISSI films, takes her first steps into becoming one of the best European actresses of the 1960s. Directed by Geza Von Radvanyi. With Therese Giehse as the martinet headmistress, Paulette Dubost and Christine Kaufmann.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Pirates Of Blood River (1962)

After escaping from a penal colony, a prisoner (Kerwin Mathews, 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) is captured by pirates and forced by the pirate leader (Christopher Lee) to lead them to his small village where the pirates believe there is hidden treasure. By anyone's standards, this feeble swashbuckler is a bust. Visually, it's quite handsome in the usual Hammer colorful manner with plenty of bosomy wenches and neatly shot in "MegaScope" by Arthur Grant (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) with Buckinghamshire, England subbing for the Caribbean. But the two dull American leads (besides Mathews, there's Glenn Corbett) don't bring anything to the party which leaves Lee to effortlessly steal the film as the cold blooded pirate king. A piranha infested river gives the film its title but for a pirate movie, it's literally landlocked. Directed by John Gilling (THE MUMMY'S SHROUD). With Oliver Reed, Andrew Keir, Marla Landi, and Peter Arne.

Joan Of Arc (1948)

In 15th century France, an uneducated peasant girl (Ingrid Bergman) hears voices that proclaim she must rid France of its English invaders during the Hundred Years War and place the crown on the head of the rightful King of France, Charles VII. But after accomplishing her goals, she is betrayed by her King and delivered into the hands of the Burgundians and put on trial as a heretic. The story of the Maid Of Orleans has held a fascination for many artists and her story has been frequently told on film (most memorably Carl Theodor Dreyer's PASSION DE JEANNE D'ARC), stage (notably the George Bernard Shaw play), television and even opera. This stagnant film version is based on the Maxwell Anderson (who co-wrote the screenplay) play JOAN OF LORRAINE which also starred Bergman. Bergman looks magnificent astride a horse in full armor, you can believe she could lead an army to victory, but it's a stodgy epic with very little concession to cinema. For example, the battle sequences are a bust. They're almost all shot in quick close ups to disguise that we're obviously on a soundstage. Anderson's declamatory dialog does the bulk of the damage and Victor Fleming's lifeless direction does the rest. Bergman's Joan borders on masochistic and almost two and a half hours of it gets tiresome very quickly. The 2 1/2 hour film was cut to 1 hour and 40 minutes shortly after its release and for decades, the rumor was that the uncut version was a revelation. I've seen both and the uncut version isn't better, just longer. The film's cinematography Oscar was well earned and there's a beauty of an underscore by Hugo Friedhofer. The massive cast includes Jose Ferrer (less hammy than usual), Francis L. Sullivan, J. Carrol Naish, Ward Bond, John Ireland, Shepperd Strudwick, Gene Lockhart, John Emery, Cecil Kellaway, Leif Erickson, Selena Royle, George Coulouris and Hurd Hatfield.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Night People (1954)

In Berlin during the height of the "Cold War", a young American G.I. (Ted Avery) is abducted by the Soviets in West Berlin and taken to the Russian controlled East sector. Why he was kidnapped and what the Russians want for his return is only the beginning of an intense cat and mouse espionage thriller. It's a swift moving race against time nail biter. Gregory Peck effortlessly plays the Army investigator in charge of the case and trying to simultaneously juggle delicate dealings with the Soviets and the kidnapped boy's father (Broderick Crawford), a bull in a China shop determined to get his son back. One of the earliest CinemaScope efforts, the film was entirely filmed in Berlin with Charles G. Clarke (MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET) behind the camera. Nunally Johnson (THREE FACES OF EVE) directs the Oscar nominated script which manages to avoid the anti-Red propaganda which might have marred the film. With Anita Bjork (MISS JULIE), Rita Gam, Buddy Ebsen, Peter Van Eyck, Walter Abel, Marianne Koch and Jill Esmond.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

All Quiet On The Western Front (1979)

Set in WWI Germany, encouraged by their teacher (Donald Pleasence) to fight for the Fatherland, a group of young boys enlist in the war. I've never shared the admiration for the highly revered Oscar winning 1930 Lewis Milestone film. I found it clumsy and over emphatic and its points made long before the film was over. But as I said, it's a minority opinion. This remake shares some of the awkwardness and over emphasis, perhaps it's inherent in the original source material, I don't know as I've never read the Erich Maria Remarque novel. But on the whole, I was much more receptive to it. There are many strong images and scenes as good as anything in the 1930 version: the suffering and wounded horses, the rats feasting on corpses in the trenches, a French soldier dying a long and lingering death, Richard Thomas (in the Lew Ayres role) lying to a mother about the circumstances regarding her son's death. Thomas gives it a good try but it's difficult shedding the WALTONS John Boy image. The best work is done by Ernest Borgnine as the veteran soldier into whose hands the new recruits are placed. Directed by Delbert Mann (MARTY). Shot in the Czech Republic and a fine score by Allyn Ferguson (sounding suspiciously like John Barry at times). With Patricia Neal and Ian Holm.

But Not For Me (1959)

A Broadway producer/director (Clark Gable) is in desperate straits in getting backing for his new play written by a has been alcoholic (Lee J. Cobb). But his young secretary (Carroll Baker) provides the impetus to revitalize both the play and the producer/director. Based on the 1934 Broadway comedy ACCENT ON YOUTH by Samuel Raphaelson, this is actually the third film version. Previously made in 1935 and 1950 (under the title MR. MUSIC), this incarnation is an amiable enough hodgepodge that never quite catches fire but it doesn't sink either. At this stage of his career, the 57 year old Gable could no longer romance pretty young things without it looking awkward. Most of the humor in the film specifically comes from the age difference between Gable and Baker as his love smitten secretary turned actress. When Gable is presented with a birthday cake, his ex-wife (Lilli Palmer) purrs, "I'm sorry but 51 candles are all I could find!". The always welcome Palmer, in fact, walks away with the film. Directed by Walter Lang (THE KING AND I). With Barry Coe, Thomas Gomez and Joi Lansing. Ella Fitzgerald sings the Gershwins' title song.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Invisible Man (1933)

A scientist (Claude Rains) has discovered a serum that renders him invisible. Unfortunately, he not only doesn't have an antidote but the serum contains a drug that brings on madness. Based on the 1897 H.G. Wells novel, this is wonderful mixture of science fiction, horror and comedy. The director James Whale seemed to have an affinity for dark material laced with wit and he's working from a sharply written economic screenplay here. Rains is really marvelous and all the more so in that it's voice acting since we don't actually see him (he's covered in bandages) till the very end of the film. That scene stealer Una O'Connor upstages Rains though when they share screen time. When she screams, she doesn't just scream, she gurgles it out from her diaphragm before letting it spew out! In recent times, I've heard a lot of talk about subtext, mostly in regards to Whale's sexuality, but really, it's just a good well made yarn. With Gloria Stuart (50 years before TITANIC), Henry Travers and even Walter Brennan, John Carradine and Dwight Frye pop up.

Drums Across The River (1954)

When a crooked scoundrel (Lyle Bettger) attempts to start an Indian war for profit, a young man (Audie Murphy) whose mother was killed by Indians reluctantly finds himself in the role of peackeeper. Directed by Nathan Juran (ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN), this minor western has a script that edges it past the usual second feature programmer. Which is a good thing since there's no character development but the usual western stock figures. But its strong pro-Indian stance is unique enough to carry it through its brief 80 minute running time. It's handsomely shot by Harold Lipstein (DAMN YANKEES) in vivid Technicolor. With Walter Brennan (as Murphy's level headed father) giving a fine performance that deserved a stronger movie and good enough here to remind us what a wonderful actor he was. Also with Hugh O'Brian overdoing the villainy, Lisa Gaye (looking a ringer for her sister, Debra Paget), Mara Corday, Regis Toomey and Emile Meyer.