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Friday, May 31, 2013

Madonna Of The Seven Moons (1945)

After being traumatized due to being raped as a convent schoolgirl, a woman (Phyllis Calvert) leads a proper sheltered life as a respectable wife and mother except for a period in her life when she disappeared and which she has no recollection of. When her daughter (Patricia Roc) returns home after being away to school for five years, it triggers a breakdown and she disappears .... again. This feverish rather ludicrous Gainsborough melodrama has to be seen to be believed. It's so off the charts crazy that it makes for a grand entertainment. Could 1945 audiences really have taken this cup of spiked punch so seriously? Whatever, it was a great hit and one can see why, all that's missing is the garish Technicolor. The film's portrayal of gypsies (all of them lying thieves and rotten to the core) is ethnically questionable and the casting of the stalwart Stewart Granger as a hot blooded wild gypsy lover is loopy but Calvert manages to summon up a semblance of passion. Directed by Arthur Crabtree (HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM). With Peter Glenville (who would later become better known as a director for films like BECKET), Jean Kent and Helen Haye.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Seems Like Old Times (1980)

An L.A. district attorney (Charles Grodin) is backed by the state's governor (George Grizzard) in his bid to become state attorney general. But when his wife's (Goldie Hawn) ex-husband (Chevy Chase) is sought by the police for robbing a bank, things look bad. Especially when the fugitive shows up at the district attorney's home and hidden by his wife. Neil Simon's original screenplay is an attempt at an 80s take on the classic screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s (clearly influenced by George Stevens' TALK OF THE TOWN). As such, it's not half bad and its three leads prove excellent farceurs. Chase admirably manages to restrain his innate smugness, Hawn is a radiant treasure and Grodin is perfect. Simon's lines tend to be more smile than laugh out loud but a calamitous dinner party scene displays Simon's writing talent at his best. Directed by Jay Sandrich. The breezy underscore is by Marvin Hamlisch. With Robert Guillaume, Harold Gould, T.K. Carter and Yvonne Wilder.

Follow The Sun (1951)

An aspiring golfer (Glenn Ford) and his new bride (Anne Baxter) take the plunge and go on the golf tournament circuit in the hopes that he can make a name for himself in the golf world. After a very slow start, he becomes a champion golfer but because of his chilly persona, he's not liked in the golf world. Then, a horrible accident threatens to end his golf career forever. Based on the life of golf legend Ben Hogan, the film follows the formulaic path of sports bios: failure, success, tragedy, triumph and the little wife who stands by her man through it all. Is there a less cinematic sport than golf? Even pool (THE HUSTLER) and poker (THE CINCINNATI KID) have proved more thrilling than golf on film. Of course, I must confess I'm not a golfer and I suppose to someone who golfs the film might have an excitement that eluded me. Still, I don't play baseball either but baseball movies have proven pretty thrilling on occasion. The film does contain cameos by famed golf champions like Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret. Directed by Sidney Lanfield. With Dennis O'Keefe in the film's best performance as a hard drinking golfer who clowns around to mask his insecurities. Also with June Havoc, Warren Stevens, Larry Keating and Nana Bryant.

The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone (1961)

After the death of her husband (John Phillips), an aging actress (Vivien Leigh) retires from the stage and lives in seclusion in her Rome apartment. But when a procuress (Lotte Lenya) who specializes in providing handsome gigolos to wealthy widows and divorcees introduces her to a handsome young man (Warren Beatty), her fate is sealed. Based on the novella by Tennessee Williams, the film provides one last great role for Leigh (she did only one more movie) whose casting is inspired. Karen Stone is a heartier and harder version of Blanche DuBois and a barely disguised stand in for Williams himself. The only film by the famed stage director Jose Quintero, Gavin Lambert's screenplay has a keen ear. Beatty certainly looks the part but he's all wrong for it. He tries very hard and one can admire his effort but he's so inauthentic that it takes a leap of faith to accept him as an Italian hustler and it's not just his wonky accent either. Lenya in an Oscar nominated performance about steals the film. The ambiguous ending (will she be murdered?) can be interpreted two ways and perhaps I'm being naive but I always opt for the "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers" version. With Jill St. John, Coral Browne, Cleo Laine, Bessie Love, Jeremy Spenser, Ernest Thesiger and Jean Marsh.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sign 'O' The Times (1987)

SIGN 'O' THE TIMES was Prince's ninth album and originally filmed over 3 different performances at a concert in The Netherlands but subsequently almost totally reshot (at least 75%) at studios in Minnesota when the concert footage was deemed unusable. Since the concert consisted almost entirely of the album SIGN 'O' THE TIMES, unfortunately many of Prince's signature hits are eliminated including When Doves Cry, 1999, Kiss and Let's Go Crazy though Little Red Corvette gets the shortest passing nod. But what remains is the man himself ... Prince, one of the most charismatic, creative and exciting pop/rock performers of the latter half of the 20th century and he doesn't disappoint. He also directed the film and as long as he sticks to the concert, it's first rate but he's added little scenes, the briefest of faux dramas that are intrusive to the flow of the film. Some of the musical highlights include Hot Thing and I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man. With the drummer Sheila E. and Sheena Easton who duets with Prince on U Got The Look.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Picking Up The Pieces (2000)

A Texas butcher (Woody Allen) married to the town tramp (Sharon Stone) is tired of her infidelities. So he murders her, dismembers her body and crosses the state line to New Mexico to bury the pieces except he drops her hand along the way not far from a small poverty stricken desert village. When a blind woman (Lupe Ontiveros) stumbles upon the hand, her sight is restored and when the hand begins curing everything from Palsy to pimples, representatives of the Roman Catholic church are sent to determine if the miracles are a result of the hand belonging to the Virgin Mary. Directed by Alfonso Arau (LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE), this outrageous black comedy is pretty much a one joke pony but it gets every bit of mileage out of that joke. Granted, a lot of it falls flat but a lot of the zingers hit their mark, too. The screenplay by Bill Wilson has a wicked sense of humor and rather than a moral fable, he allows greed, killing and mob vigilantism to not only go cheerfully unpunished but triumph! The cinematography is courtesy of three time Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro (APOCALYPSE NOW). With Joseph Gordon Levitt, Kiefer Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Fran Drescher (as a nun!), David Schwimmer, Lou Diamond Phillips, Andy Dick, Eddie Griffin, Cheech Marin, Kathy Kinney and Maria Grazia Cucinotta (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH).

Follow The Fleet (1936)

Two sailors on shore leave in San Francisco get involved with two women with different intentions and results. One (Fred Astaire) wants to reunite with the dance partner (Ginger Rogers) who turned his offer of marriage down, the other (Randolph Scott) catches the eye of a school teacher (Harriet Hilliard, later known as Harriet Nelson) but he doesn't want to be tied down. Based on the 1922 play SHORE LEAVE by Hubert Osborne and directed by Mark Sandrich (who did five of the Astaire & Rogers musicals). Though its plot is derivative, this is one of the most thoroughly enjoyable of the Astaire & Rogers vehicles. The big bonus is the melodic and clever Irving Berlin score which includes such gems as Let Yourself Go, I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket and one of their signature numbers, Let's Face The Music And Dance. The rather dull romantic plot with Scott and Hilliard makes us appreciate the sass and verve of the Astaire & Rogers pairing all the more. Hilliard, unfortunately, is saddled with one of those annoying clinging vine roles chasing after a man who's not only not interested but treats her like crap. With Lucille Ball, Betty Grable and Astrid Allwyn.

Escape From San Quentin (1957)

Three convicts break out of San Quentin prison and two of them (Johnny Desmond, Richard Devon) escape in a stolen plane, the third (Roy Engel) is left behind for dead (though he's still alive). While every once in awhile you discover a little gem among obscure "B" movies, most of the time they are exactly what they are ... forgettable second rate movies. ESCAPE FROM SAN QUENTIN is one of the latter. Produced by the King of Columbia studios' "B" films Sam Katzman and directed by Fred F. Sears (EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS), this low budget throwaway was understandably relegated to the lower half of double bills. All the characters, even the police, are dumb and the preposterous plot grows more ridiculous with each passing scene. Desmond was a pop singer with a few hits in the 1950s but he's a terrible actor and poor Devon, normally a capable actor, gets dragged down by Desmond's poor acting and uninspired script. Even the normally appealing Merry Anders is rendered charmless. The only notable thing about the film is the underscore, which consists of only a solo guitar, composed by the famed Brazilian jazz guitarist Laurindo Almeida.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Out To Sea (1997)

A geriatric gambler and con man (Walter Matthau) tricks his widowed brother in law (Jack Lemmon) into joining him on a luxury cruise. Once aboard ship, the brother in law discovers that the gambler has signed them on as dance "hosts" in the hopes of capturing a rich old widow. Instead of a third GRUMPY OLD MEN movie, Lemmon and Matthau give us this variation on a theme. Unfortunately, their characters are more obnoxious than amusing and sadly, both are rather, dare I say it, decrepit looking even though they're only in their 70s (they'd both be dead within 5 years). Contrast them with co-stars Donald O'Connor and Elaine Stritch, also in their 70s, but as they demonstrate on the dance floor, full of spark and agility. Directed by Martha Coolidge (RAMBLING ROSE), the film comes across as a big budget screen version of THE LOVE BOAT. There are compensations to be had. Nobody delivers a put down like Stritch, O'Connor gets to tap a bit, Dyan Cannon gets to let loose with that irresistible laugh of hers, Brent Spiner has a nice turn as a smarmy cruise director and it was nice to see Gloria DeHaven (looking great) back in action again. With Hal Linden, Rue McClanahan and Edward Mulhare.

A Woman's Secret (1949)

When a popular singer and Broadway musical star (Gloria Grahame) is shot, her vocal coach and companion (Maureen O'Hara) confesses to the shooting. As the singer hovers between life and death in a hospital, through a series of flashbacks, we see the events which lead up to the shooting. Based on the novel MORTGAGE ON LIFE by Vicki Baum (GRAND HOTEL) with a screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz (CITIZEN KANE) and directed by Nicholas Ray (who would marry Grahame after the movie was completed), one would expect something more than a routine programmer. It's not bad but you know where the film is going and how it's going to conclude almost from the beginning. There's no mystery, no tension, no color (I don't mean that in the literal sense, it's in B&W). Grahame, no surprise, makes for a sexy little minx but since almost all the characters are rather unlikable, one can't really care too much. The exception is a police inspector (Jay C. Flippen) and his amateur sleuthing wife (Mary Philips, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN) who provide much of the film's humor. Their domestic relationship is reminiscent of the relationship between the police inspector and his wife in Hitchcock's FRENZY, so much so that one wonders if that film's screenwriter Anthony Shaffer had seen the Ray film. With Melvyn Douglas, Bill Williams, Victor Jory, Ann Shoemaker and Ellen Corby.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Silk Stockings (1957)

Set in Paris, a film producer (Fred Astaire) hires a famous Russian composer (Wim Sonneveld) to write the score for his next film. This immediately causes the Soviet government to sent three envoys (Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, Joseph Buloff) to bring the composer back to Russia. When the three envoys become seduced by the opulent lifestyle of Paris, a harsher and dedicated "no nonsense" agent (Cyd Charisse) is sent to bring all four of them back. Based on the hit 1955 Broadway show which was Cole Porter's last Broadway musical, the show and film are a musical adaptation of the 1939 Lubitsch film, NINOTCHKA. This elegant and clever musical is too often disparaged as inferior to the 1939 Lubitsch film though I suppose it depends on your affection for the Garbo film. It's one of my least favorite Lubitsch works but I adore Rouben Mamoulian's vibrant musical re-imagining. It was Astaire's musical swan song (until FINIAN'S RAINBOW 11 years later) and it contains Cyd Charisse's best performance. In addition to Astaire & Charisse and the melodic Porter score, there's Janis Paige doing a hilarious send up of Esther Williams and Peter Lorre in a rare (his only?) musical performance. The terrific musical numbers are choreographed by Hermes Pans and Eugene Loring, the eye popping costumes are by Helen Rose. With George Tobias and Barrie Chase.

Pote Tin Kyriaki (aka Never On Sunday) (1960)

An American tourist (Jules Dassin, who also directed) from Connecticut arrives in Greece in the hopes of studying why the Greek empire fell. When he finds a free spirited prostitute (Melina Mercouri, who won the Cannes film festival best actress award for her work here), he looks upon her as a symbol of the decline of Greek civilization and attempts to re-educate her to a more enlightened path. This comedic combination of Shaw's PYGMALION and Maugham's SADIE THOMPSON was a breakout art house hit in 1960 and the ubiquitous title song was on everyone's lips. It still manages to retain much of its charm today, mostly due to that lifeforce by the name of Melina Mercouri. It was a mistake though for Dassin to cast himself as the nerdy American. He's not a very good actor and it's a particularly charmless performance, it doesn't help that he looks like Harpo Marx without his curly wig. Jacques Natteau's B&W camera work doesn't take full advantage of the Greek locations but Manos Hadjidakis' tuneful score is Greek to its core. With Giorgos Foundas, Titos Vandis and Despo Diamantidou.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Letter (2012)

A playwright (Winona Ryder) is directing a workshop production of her new play. When a new actor (James Franco) joins the company, he acts as a catalyst to her mental and emotional breakdown when she begins to have dreams, hallucinations and feelings of paranoia. But is her paranoia justified? This is one of those films that tries to continually keep you off balance regarding reality and delusions so that you're never sure which is which. It's an honorable attempt but it comes off as a pretentious imitation of a David Lynch or Terence Malick film. It can't even remain faithful to its concept so when at the end we get a "logical" explanation of the events, it's as condescending as the psychiatrist's explanation at the end of PSYCHO. Still, it's nice to see Winona Ryder in a leading role even if she can't overcome the film's shortcomings. Directed by Jay Anania, who apparently was one of James Franco's teachers at New York University which explains his presence. With Josh Hamilton and Marin Ireland.

Murder Is Easy (1982)

A mathematician and computer expert (Bill Bixby, MY FAVORITE MARTIAN) is traveling by train to London when he meets an elderly spinster (Helen Hayes). She confides to him that she suspects there is a cold blooded serial killer in her village masking the killings as accidents and she is on her way to Scotland Yard. But before she can reach Scotland Yard, she is killed in a hit and run accident ... coincidence or not? Based on the 1939 Agatha Christie novel, the film updates the Christie novel for the 1980s but not for the better. The period charm is lost and the computer expert angle (in the novel, he's a retired policeman) is contrived. As directed by Claude Whatham, it becomes fairly obvious who the killer is early in the game. Everyone is seemed to be made a possible suspect except one character which leads one to conclude that that must be the murderer! The acting is adequate. Hayes had perfected these old biddies by this stage of her career and Olivia De Havilland has a nice turn as another old maid. There is an above average underscore by Gerald Fried (PATHS OF GLORY). With Lesley Anne Down as Bixby's romantic interest, Jonathan Pryce, Leigh Lawson, Timothy West and Freddie Jones.

Legend Of The Lost (1957)

In Timbuktu, a Frenchman (Rossano Brazzi) hires a guide (John Wayne) to take him out to the Sahara desert where he believes there is a lost city with hidden treasure. A prostitute (Sophia Loren) emotionally indebted to the Frenchman chases after them. Two men, one woman, a King's treasure, the hot Sahara desert ... it can't end well. It all sounds like great fun, doesn't it? Well, it should be but it isn't. Despite the intriguing prospect of a Wayne/Loren pairing, the film never manages to summon up enough excitement to take us through the end of the film. I mean how exciting is it to watch three people wandering through the heat of the desert looking for water? The great cinematographer Jack Cardiff (THE RED SHOES) makes the Libyan desert locations look as regal as Freddie Young's images in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and there's an exotic score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino but the director Henry Hathaway (who would later direct Wayne to an Oscar in TRUE GRIT) can't overcome a rather talky screenplay (co-written by Ben Hecht who wrote NOTORIOUS and SCARFACE). With Kurt Kasznar.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Divorcee (1930)

Set among the Manhattan cafe society "in" crowd, a liberated woman (Norma Shearer in her Oscar winning role) marries a man (Chester Morris) with the intent to live her life and her marriage as her husband's equal. But she's devastated when she discovers her husband's infidelity despite his entreaties that it didn't mean a thing and he loves only her. But when she has a one night stand with his best friend (Robert Montgomery), he can't forgive her and moves out. This pre-code film is a provocative look at not only adultery but the hypocrisy of the male's double standard ("please forgive me my trespasses but I can never forgive yours"). I only wish the film had made more of a focal point of the husband's lip service rather than place the burden of the adultery on Shearer's wife. Shearer hadn't quite settled into her "great lady" roles at MGM yet so she's quite lively and yes, even has a bit of sex appeal, here. Based on the novel EX-WIFE by Ursula Parrott and directed by Robert Z. Leonard. With Florence Eldridge, Conrad Nagel and Zelda Sears.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Turn The Key Softly (1953)

Taking place all in one day, the film follows three women who are released from prison on the same morning. A woman (Yvonne Mitchell) who took the rap for a crime her lover (Terence Morgan) committed, a young prostitute (Joan Collins) and an elderly grandmother (Kathleen Harrison) arrested for shoplifting. Each will spend their day in a different way before meeting up for dinner that evening after which fate gives some of them a second chance ... or not. Unlike most films of this type, this isn't a cautionary tale but a fairly realistic look about three essentially decent women who find themselves torn between destructive impulses they can't seem to help and an innate knowledge to do the right thing. Harrison's story is the most poignant and the most heartbreaking and it's interesting to see the young Collins showing much promise as an actress (a promise never quite fulfilled). Mitchell's character is the most frustrating because she's the most intelligent of the three women yet can't seem to see the obvious trap waiting for her. A neat little piece of social commentary that gets its message across without the preaching. Directed by Jack Lee from the novel by John Brophy. With Dorothy Alison, Thora Hird, Geoffrey Keen and Simone Silva.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Killers (1964)

Two professional hit men (Lee Marvin, Clu Gulager) barge into a school for the blind and in cold blood kill an instructor (John Cassavetes). One of the hit men (Marvin) is disturbed that he made no attempt to flee or plead for his life, he simply stood there waiting to be shot. He becomes determined to find out why and attempts to track down the victim's story. The second film adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway short story, this film is actually a remake of the 1946 film version rather than an accurate adaptation of the short story. It was intended as a movie for television but Universal thought it too violent so it was released theatrically instead. Unfortunately, it has the feel of and the flat look of a TV movie (the rear projection work is shoddy), a Universal backlot job with a generic tossed off score by John Williams (you'd never guess the extent of his talent by his nondescript work here). There's no atmosphere, no tension, no style, nothing that would elevate it to anything beyond a disposable movie of the week. Directed without much conviction by Don Siegel (who has a cameo as a short order cook). With Angie Dickinson as the duplicitous femme fatale, Ronald Reagan (not bad at all in his last film role) as the film's villain, Claude Akins, Norman Fell, Virginia Christine (who also appeared in the 1946 version) and the jazz singer Nancy Wilson in her film debut.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Passage To Marseille (1944)

Told in flashback during WWII, in 1940 five escapees from Devil's Island are picked up by a tramp steamer just before France surrenders to Nazi Germany. Then in a flashback (within the flashback). we find out the backstory of one particular convict, a journalist (Humphrey Bogart) who was falsely convicted of murder and sent to Devil's Island. It seems during WWII that almost every male Star was doing his bit for the war effort by either fighting in the actual war (like Clark Gable, James Stewart or Tyrone Power) or fighting it on celluloid (like Cary Grant, John Wayne or Dana Andrews). Humphrey Bogart did his share and as wartime propaganda, PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE is pretty generic though its flashback within a flashback structure and some violent scenes (Bogart shoots down some German survivors in cold blood) make it a bit more memorable than most of its brethren. Still, its casting is pretty loopy as we're supposed to believe that the American Bogart, the British Claude Rains, the Hungarian Peter Lorre, the Russian Vladimir Sokoloff and the Austrian Helmut Dantine are all Frenchmen. Directed by the prolific Michael Curtiz with Max Steiner, at his worst, doing the score. With the exquisite Michele Morgan (wasted as Bogart's wife), Sydney Greenstreet, John Loder, Philip Dorn and George Tobias.

(500) Days Of Summer (2009)

A young man (Joseph Gordon Levitt), who writes prose for greeting cards for a living, falls head over heels in love with a co-worker by the name of Summer (Zooey Deschanel, so who can blame him?). But she warns him that she has no interest in a committed relationship ... which signals heartbreak ahead. One of the most unique and charming of recent romantic comedies, (500) DAYS OF SUMMER is unusual not only in its fragmented structure, the film's nonlinear narrative bounces back and forth haphazardly through the 500 days it takes to tell the story but its emphasis on the often messy pain of love rather than its joys. Anyone who's been hopelessly in love, only to be dumped, can relate to the invigoratingly authentic and inventive manner in which director Marc Webb's romance maze takes us. It prickles with spirit and wit accompanied by a terrific batch of perfectly selected pop songs with two leads that define cute (in a good way!).

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Et Si On Vivait Tous Ensemble? (aka All Together) (2011)

Aging presents a group of five life long friends with a host of problems. A woman (Jane Fonda) dying of cancer must deal with a husband (Pierre Richard) in the early stages of dementia, an old lech (Claude Rich) with a penchant for prostitutes has a dangerous heart condition and an aging radical (Guy Bedos) and his wife (Geraldine Chaplin) feel abandoned by their children. Their solution: move in together! The aging population with their longer life spans and society's tendency to view them as non-entities is a topic ripe for exploration but when films are made about the elderly, they tend to treat them as objects of humor (the Jim Broadbent sequence in CLOUD ATLAS, the worst part of the film, was an example of this) so we get Don Ameche break dancing in COCOON or wacky Ruth Gordon riding on a motorcycle in HAROLD AND MAUDE. Maybe because it's French rather than Hollywood, this film treats the subject with a bit more dignity than usual and it's appreciated. Oh, there's still the cringe inducing "elderly cutsie" humor (like the lech on Viagra sequence) but for the most part, it's an often incisive look at the problems of aging in a society that just wants to shut them up in an old folks home and forget about them. Directed by Stephane Robelin. With Daniel Bruhl (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) as the young caregiver who moves in with them.

Julius Caesar (1970)

Fearful that Julius Caesar (John Gielgud) will turn Rome into a monarchy with himself as dictator, a group of political conspirators lead by Brutus (Jason Robards) plot and carry out his assassination. JULIUS CAESAR is quite possibly the most accessible of Shakespeare's plays and with its Roman setting and its potential for spectacle and action (the battle at Philippi), I'm surprised there haven't been more film versions. The most famous one is the 1953 Joseph L. Mankiewicz B&W film (in which Gielgud played Cassius rather than Caesar). This one is in color and wide screen but it can't disguise its low budget which hinders any attempt at spectacle though it is more cinematic than the 1953 movie. The performances are a mixed lot. Charlton Heston as Marc Antony, Gielgud, Richard Johnson (very good) as Cassius and Diana Rigg as Portia all have Shakespearean training and experience and do quite well. Less so Richard Chamberlain as Octavius Caesar, Robert Vaughn as Casca and in the film's worst performance, Robards who doesn't seem to have a clue as to what he's doing! His monotone line readings are so deliberate that it's almost as if wanted to sabotage the film. Dispassionately directed by Stuart Burge. With Christopher Lee, Jill Bennett, Michael Gough and Alba.

Ride Out For Revenge (1957)

A cowardly Indian hating Cavalry officer (Lloyd Bridges) is attempting to move an indigenous Cheyenne tribe to a government reservation but they refuse to go. When the tribe's chief (Frank DeKova) is murdered in cold blood, it seems an Indian war can't be averted. Set against this background, a romance between a white man (Rory Calhoun) and an Indian maiden (Joanne Gilbert, RED GARTERS) seems doomed to failure. On one level, this is a frustrating western because the potential is there for a strong edgy western that wants to make a bold statement but it can't seem to fully commit. Yet in the film's final scene, it still manages to make an ironic statement regarding the white man's usurping of Indian lands. Directed by Bernard Girard. Floyd Crosby (HIGH NOON) did the well defined B&W images and there's an admirably restrained score by Leith Stevens. With Gloria Grahame, very good as a lonely landlady (though her "just out of the beauty parlor" hair-do is anachronistic), Vince Edwards and Cyril Delevanti.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I Cover The Waterfront (1933)

An investigative reporter (Ben Lyon, HELL'S ANGELS) assigned to covering waterfront news (the city is never mentioned but it appears to be San Francisco) romances a young woman (Claudette Colbert) in order to get information on her father (Ernest Torrence) who is suspected of smuggling Chinese immigrants into the United States. One of the last of the pre-code films before the MPAA (Motion Picture Association Of America) clamped down on sex in the movies, it was movies like I COVER THE WATERFRONT that brought down the MPAA's wrath: Colbert (or her body double) goes swimming in the nude while a voyeur watches her through a telescope, later Colbert dances in a brothel while waiting for her father to finish his "business" with one of the ladies, then Colbert goes to Lyon's apartment late at night, fade to black, the next shot is them having breakfast together after her clearly having spent the night. All in all, it's an unpretentious "ripped from the headlines" programmer with a sassy Colbert showing what she could do with even the most mundane of dialogue. One can't sympathize with her loyalty to her father, however. When the Coast Guard approaches, he wraps the Chinese immigrants in chains so they'll sink and dumps them overboard. Directed by James Cruze.

Framed (1947)

A waitress (Janis Carter) and her married lover (Barry Sullivan) plot to embezzle money from the bank he works at and run off together after faking his death in an automobile crash. But they need a body, who won't be missed, that will be mistaken for the bank manager once they push his car off a cliff. Enter a drifter (Glenn Ford) who fits the requirements to a "T". Simple, yes? Simple ... no! This entertaining nifty low budget noir programmer has a few tricks up its sleeve to make it stand out of the crowd. Ford makes for a nice not so dumb dupe but if the film belongs to anyone, it's Janis Carter's bargain basement femme fatale. Carter plays her so ambiguously (even when she's telling the truth, it sounds like she's lying) that you're never quite sure what's she's up to until the very end. Directed by Richard Wallace with Burnett Guffey responsible for the crisp B&W lensing. With Karen Morley (MASK OF FU MANCHU) and Edgar Buchanan.

Friday, May 17, 2013

By Love Possessed (1961)

A small town attorney (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) must deal with several important issues during approximately a 3 day period: his wife (Barbara Bel Geddes) who is unhappy in their marriage, his son (George Hamilton) who is arrested for raping the town tramp (Yvonne Craig), the failing mental faculties of his law partner (Thomas Mitchell) and engaging in an affair with his other law partner's (Jason Robards) wife (Lana Turner). A huge best seller and critically acclaimed upon its publication in 1957, no one reads BY LOVE POSSESSED today nor does (I stand to be corrected) James Gould Cozzens' reputation (he made the cover of Time magazine) enjoy the literary position he had in the 50s and 60s. You'd never know from the film that it was based on anything other than a trashy potboiler. To be fair, the film mutilates the book. Turner's adulterous wife, for example, is a minor character in the book but given prominence in the film. Hamilton's character, who is deceased in the book, is resurrected and combined with another character whose sister is rewritten as his girlfriend (Susan Kohner, in the film's best performance). What's left is a lush imitation of a melodrama that cries out for Douglas Sirk (Sirk's regular cinematographer, Russell Metty, is the film's DP) to come in and rescue it. Instead, it's directed by John Sturges whose best films (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GREAT ESCAPE, BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK) are testosterone fueled "guy" films that give no indication that he has a talent for glossy melodramas. Elmer Bernstein provides the ripe underscore. With Everett Sloane, Carroll O'Connor and Jean Willes.

Strange Cargo (1940)

In a French penal colony in the tropics, a group of dangerous prisoners make a break through the jungles toward the sea where a boat is waiting for them. Along the way, the most cocky of the escapees (Clark Gable) picks up a cafe entertainer (Joan Crawford in one of her best performances) who has been ordered to leave the island by the authorities. What should have been a fast moving adventure with lots of star wattage via Gable and Crawford is anything but. Based on the novel NOT TOO NARROW, NOT TOO DEEP by Richard Sale (THE OSCAR), it's a rather pious parable with an all seeing Christ figure (Ian Hunter) who lectures all the characters on the error of their ways. It's like something the Trinity Broadcasting Network would finance and there's not a worse moment in the film than when Gable realizes he's in the presence of "God" and is redeemed. Crawford is excellent here, still able to deliver a delicately detailed performance before she went to Warners and became its resident Iron Maiden and Peter Lorre is creepily effective as a sad eyed squealer called Pig. Directed by Frank Borzage. With Paul Lukas, Albert Dekker (doing what I think is a Cockney accent) and Eduardo Cianelli.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Happiest Millionaire (1967)

In 1916 Philadelphia, an Irish immigrant (Tommy Steele) begins a new job as butler to the wealthy but eccentric Drexel-Biddle family. The father (Fred MacMurray), in particular, keeps pet alligators in the mansion and teaches boxing to his Bible study while pushing the White House to join the war in Europe. His motto is "I believe in God and the United States!". However, when his daughter (Lesley Ann Warren) becomes engaged to the scion (John Davidson) of one of the blue bloods (Geraldine Page) of New York society, that's when the trouble starts. This old fashioned Walt Disney musical was already hopelessly out of date when it opened in 1967. It opened as a prestigious Roadshow but when it flopped, the studio cut it by 28 minutes and sheared off another 26 minutes for its general run. It's still not very good but it plays better in 2013 because it now has a sort of quaint "antique" charm to it which was just corny in 1967. The songs by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman (MARY POPPINS) are a mediocre lot though there's a deliciously catty duet between Page and Gladys Cooper and the boisterous choreography (by Marc Breaux and DeeDee Wood) is nicely done. A glamorous Geraldine Page, in fact, manages to bring a reality to her doyenne that stands out in the artificiality among the other performances. In his American film debut, Steele's toothy smile and hyperactivity, which apparently caused the British to swoon, got the cold shoulder from American audiences. Bill Thomas' stunning costumes justifiably got an Oscar nomination. Directed by Norman Tokar. With Greer Garson, Hermione Baddeley, Paul Petersen, Eddie Hodges, Joyce Bulifant and Sean McClory.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Ambassador (1985)

The U.S. ambassador (Robert Mitchum) to Israel secretly attempts to open peace negotiations in the Middle East by reaching out to the Palestinian Liberation Organization without telling the Israeli government. But what he doesn't know is that his wife (Ellen Burstyn) is having an affair with a PLO leader (Fabio Testi, GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINIS) until he's blackmailed with a piece of film showing his wife and her Palestinian lover having sex. Very loosely based on Elmore Leonard's novel 52 PICK-UP, this film switches the genders of the book's protagonists. In the book, it's the husband who's having the affair and it takes place in Detroit, not Israel. Curiously, only one year later John Frankenheimer made a more faithful adaptation of Leonard's book under its original title. But this misguided dud weighs down the film with its political message of peace in the Middle East, a noble and admirable sentiment but ultimately the film seems to be exploiting the Middle East situation rather than an honest plea for peace. Directed by J. Lee Thompson (CAPE FEAR). With Rock Hudson (in his last film role) and Donald Pleasence.

Georgy Girl (1966)

A slightly overweight, somewhat homely girl (Lynn Redgrave in an Oscar nominated performance) has no boyfriend, is still a virgin and lives with a self centered icy beauty (Charlotte Rampling) for a room mate. Her father's (Bill Owen) aging married employer (James Mason, also Oscar nominated) attempts to make her his mistress but she finds herself attracted to her flatmate's boyfriend (Alan Bates). A popular hit in 1966, the black and white film is a winning combination of heart and humor, keeping the treacle in check yet not without sentiment. It also has a nice feel for the swinging London scene of the 1960s. Redgrave is both adorable and poignant in the title role but the rest of the cast are good too. Especially Rampling who plays the bitchy room mate to perfection yet somehow you can't hate her open honesty, she knows who she is. The film slips into the cutesies occasionally such as when Bates chases Redgrave around London shouting "I love you!" but for the most part, it resists the typical romcom inclinations. I could have done without the annoying title song which defines chirpy, however. Directed by Silvio Narizzano. With Rachel Kempson, Clare Kelly, Dandy Nichols and Dorothy Alison.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Breaking Point (1950)

The captain (John Garfield) of a small charter boat in Southern California struggles to keep his debtors at bay. Because of his financial situation, he makes a couple of disastrous choices: first, an attempt at smuggling Chinese from Mexico to California which goes horribly wrong and later, helping a gang of robbers escape which ends in a storm of death and violence. The second of the three film versions of Ernest Hemingway's 1937 novel TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, this one is the most faithful to the book (though apparently Hemingway didn't think much of the book, calling it "a bunch of junk"). The 1944 Howard Hawks film was highly romanticized and this version, directed by Michael Curtiz, keeps it fairly real. Garfield is effective as the everyman who finds himself overwhelmed by the unlucky turns his life has taken and his appealing presence helps overcome the animosity one feels toward his character's mistakes (one of the villains tells him, "I thought you were too smart to take this job"). Patricia Neal as a good time girl is merely window dressing but she makes the most of her screen time and Phyllis Thaxter is saddled with the nagging wife role and it's a credit to her talent that you like her instead of being turned off. In the film's heartbreaking final shot, Curtiz makes it clear where his real sympathies lie. With Juano Hernandez, Wallace Ford, William Campbell, Edmon Ryan, Sherry Jackson and John Doucette.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Last Of The Fast Guns (1958)

A gunfighter (Jock Mahoney) accepts $25,000 to track down the brother of a wealthy but dying man (Carl Benton Reid). The only clue to his whereabouts is a letter from Mexico. Eventually, the gunfighter finds what he's looking for but he also finds something more important ... his salvation. As a westerns buff, there's nothing more I love than to find some obscure western that has merit and this one is different enough to stand out from the large pack of 1950s westerns. There's enough gunplay to keep the westerns fan satisfied but the film also works quite nicely as a detective story. Neatly shot in CinemaScope by Alex Phillips Jr. (BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA) on location in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Directed by George Sherman. With Gilbert Roland, Lorne Greene, Linda Cristal, Eduard Franz and Edward Platt.

Adventures Of Don Juan (1948)

Away from Spain for over ten years, the legendary lover Don Juan (Errol Flynn) returns to Spain in disgrace over a scandal that caused a rift in diplomatic talks between England and Spain. The Spanish ambassador (Robert Warwick) makes a request to the Queen (Viveca Lindfors) to help Don Juan by proving himself of service to the court of Spain. Treachery and intrigue follows. By this stage of his career, Flynn was rather ragged looking and that dashing ember which sparked his performances in such entertaining swashbucklers as ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and THE SEA HAWK was pretty much burned out and he seems to be going through the motions. The film looks quite handsome in Technicolor showcasing the imposing art direction and gorgeous Oscar winning costumes (by Marjorie Best, Leah Rhodes and Travilla) but sorely lacking in panache. Even the direction by Vincent Sherman seems tired. There is a robust score by Max Steiner which helps. With Alan Hale, Raymond Burr, Ann Rutherford, Una O'Connor, Helen Westcott, Fortunio Bonanova, Barbara Bates and as the film's villain, Robert Douglas as the Duke De Lorca.

Funny Face (1957)

A fashion magazine editor (Kay Thompson) and her photographer (Fred Astaire playing at Richard Avedon) take a Bohemian girl (Audrey Hepburn) that they find in Greenwich Village and whisk her off to Paris to become a top model. Ostensibly based on the 1927 George and Ira Gershwin musical which also starred Astaire, in fact, it uses only the title (the plot is completely different) and four of the songs from the original production. The film, a real delight, remains one of the highpoints of movie musicals from the 1950s. Astaire, as usual, is marvelous but Hepburn displays her dancing skills and her plaintive rendition of How Long Has This Been Going On? is poignant and lovely and no one wears high fashion like Hepburn. The wonderful Kay Thompson, a staple of the MGM musicals as a vocal arranger, steps in front of the camera and just about steals the movie. The only sour note and it's a minor one is the film's slightly anti-intellectual bent toward alternative philosophies whose movement it satirizes as well as the fashion industry. Expertly directed by Stanley Donen. With Suzy Parker in her film debut, Ruta Lee, Robert Flemyng, Michel Auclair, Virginia Gibson and Sue England.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013)

In the 1920s, a young near penniless bond broker (Tobey Maguire) lives next to the mansion of a mysterious millionaire (Leonardo DiCaprio) who throws obscenely lavish parties. The millionaire befriends the bond broker because it's really his cousin (Carey Mulligan) that the enigmatic stranger is interested in and the young broker finds himself in a world of incredible wealth and privilege where a different set of rules apply. This fourth film version of the great F. Scott Fitzgerald novel once again proves that it's a book that seems to continually defeat any attempts to translate Fitzgerald's vivid portrait of a dreamer whose tragic downfall is set against the jazz age to celluloid. Baz Luhrmann's film is shot in 3D and the 3D is stunning, throwing us right in the thick of things almost immediately. For one brief moment, I thought someone had stood up in the audience before I realized it was a 3D image! The production design by Catherine Martin (who also did the costumes) is awesome. It's a visual feast. But it's also overwhelming, so overwhelming that it dwarfs the intimate story it's trying to tell. The spectacle that should be background becomes the foreground! The casting is a mixed bag. On the plus side, DiCaprio makes an excellent Gatsby right out of Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Debicki is so good as Jordan Baker that you wish she had more to do. On the downside, Maguire is a weak Nick Carraway, so weak he drags down almost every scene he's in. As Daisy, Mulligan is to put it bluntly ... common, something Daisy definitely isn't (where's Keira Knightley when you need her?) and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan plays him like a thug rather than rather than a man born to wealth and position. The much talked about rap soundtrack is negligible and sporadic, a traditional underscore (by Craig Armstrong) as well as period tunes are used more. With Isla Fisher as Myrtle.

Electra (1962)

When Agamemnon (Theodoros Dimitriou) returns home from the Trojan Wars, he is murdered in his bath by his wife (Aleka Katselli) and her lover (Fivos Razi). The son (Giannis Fertis) and daughter (Irene Papas) of Agamemnon are exiled but both are determined to wreak vengeance on their mother and her lover for the killing of their father. Based on the Greek tragedy by Euripides, the director Michael Cacoyannis manages to turn Euripides' great play into a fluid film. Greek tragedy is very difficult to translate to cinema since even stage productions are very often unimaginatively staged with the burden of the piece placed on the actors' ability to convey the power of Euripides' words to the audience. Cacoyannis, ably assisted by Walter Lassally's (TOM JONES) stark B&W camera work, sets his ELECTRA outdoors in the desolate Greek countryside which, not unlike the traditional Greek amphitheaters, frees the play from proscenium effect of so many plays turned movies. The Greek chorus is there but their lines are spoken individually rather than as a unit which comes off as more natural though their movements are intentionally theatrical. Papas is, of course, the linchpin of the film and she's magnificent. The score is by Mikis Theodorakis.

Friday, May 10, 2013

And Now Tomorrow (1944)

A wealthy, slightly spoiled heiress (Loretta Young) finds herself deaf due to meningitis. Her family physician (Cecil Kellaway) arranges for her to be treated by his protege, a young doctor (Alan Ladd) from the wrong side of the tracks who has been successful in developing a serum that has had some success in curing deafness. Based on a best selling novel by Rachel Field, this is a typical 1940s "women's picture" whose outcome is never in doubt. It has no particular style, point of view or agenda ... it just is. It's harmless but unmemorable. Amusingly, Ladd plays the young doctor as if he were a private eye and Young was a femme fatale. Young plays it straight, all wide eyed sincerity in her Edith Head creations. Susan Hayward provides some spunk as Young's bitchy younger sister. If you want to wallow in soap suds, this is as good as any I suppose. Directed by Irving Pichel (THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME). With Barry Sullivan, Beulah Bondi, Grant Mitchell and Anthony Caruso.

Liliom (1930)

A carnival barker (Charles Farrell) in Budapest marries a servant girl (Rose Hobart, 1932's DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE) but he treats her abominably, both physically and emotionally. After he commits suicide rather than go to jail, he's given an opportunity by the heavenly powers that be to return to Earth and redeem himself. Based on the 1909 play by Ferenc Molnar, this was also made in France in 1934 by Fritz Lang and, of course, the 1956 film version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's CAROUSEL which is based on Molnar's play. For me, the source material has always been problematic with the character of Julie basically being a doormat to an abusive brute and the film/play's cringe inducing lines: "He hit me but it felt like a kiss" and "Someone can beat you and beat you and you don't feel a thing". This being an early sound film, it's rather stilted and the actors (with the exception of Lee Tracy as a slimey thug) are pretty stiff. But the entire lengthy train to Heaven and Hell sequence is very impressive. Directed by Frank Borzage. With Walter Abel, H.B. Warner, Estelle Taylor, Guinn Williams and a young Anne Shirley.

East Of Eden (1981)

An epic tale of the Trask family beginning with a wounded Union soldier (Warren Oates), the son (Timothy Bottoms) from his first wife and another (Bruce Boxleitner) from his second wife, the morally twisted woman (Jane Seymour) who marries the first son, their sons (Sam Bottoms, Hart Bochner). Based on the novel by John Steinbeck (who considered it his best work), its acclaimed 1955 film version by Elia Kazan was based on the book's last third and eliminated a major character (the Chinese servant Lee). Kazan did a masterful job with his film and by concentrating on just one section of the book, he was able to focus on details and characterization. This six hour adaptation does an admirable job distilling Steinbeck's novel but it's hampered by several things. The worst is Timothy Bottoms in the central and important role of Adam Trask (played by Raymond Massey in the 1955 film) whose acting is so awful I don't think words exist that can properly describe it and he severely compromises this version. Other performances are weak: Sam Bottoms as Cal, Karen Allen as Abra. But one performance towers: Jane Seymour in a sensational performance (in the role that won Jo Van Fleet her Oscar) aging from 16 to her 50s. As if realizing she may never get a part as juicy as this, Seymour gives it everything she's got and she's triumphant. Her performance makes this worth seeking out. Directed by Harvey Hart. With Anne Baxter, Lloyd Bridges, Howard Duff, Richard Masur, Nicholas Pryor, Wendell Burton, Grace Zabriske, Timothy Carey (who was in the 1955 film) and Soon Tek Oh as Lee.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964)

A medium (Kim Stanley in an Oscar nominated performance) convinces her weak willed husband (Richard Attenborough) to kidnap the child (Judith Donner) of a wealthy young couple (Nanette Newman, Mark Eden). The idea being that her psychic powers would help "find" the missing child and she would become a well known medium for helping the police crack the case. Based on the novel by Mark McShane and directed by Bryan Forbes (THE WHISPERERS). A low key thriller more dependent on psychology and atmosphere rather than excitement and shock, the film is notable for one of the rare film roles of the great stage actress Kim Stanley. Unlike most actresses more comfortable in the theater rather than film (and a far cry from her actressy performance in THE GODDESS), Stanley delivers a subtle and affecting portrait of a woman slowly, almost imperceptibly falling apart. Her performance alone would be reason enough to see the film but director Bryan Forbes has given us an astute and fascinating thinking man's thriller. There's a nice muted score by John Barry. With Patrick Magee and Gerald Sim.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958)

Returning home to Baghdad from one of his adventures, Sinbad the Sailor (Kerwin Mathews) stops at an island for food and water and rescues a magician (Torin Thatcher) fleeing from a giant Cyclops. The magician insists Sinbad return to the island to retrieve a lamp containing a genie but he refuses as he is eager to return home to marry a Princess (Kathryn Grant). But the evil magician, who has ulterior motives, uses his diabolical powers to shrink the Princess to the size of a doll. Directed by Nathan Juranthis Arabian Nights adventure is one of Ray Harryhausen's best fantasy films and his stop motion creations are as magical today as they were in 1958. This one features two of his best creations, the dancing half woman/half snake and the duel between Sinbad and the skeleton. It's not the kind of film where the acting matters much but Mathews is dashing if dull and Grant makes for a fetching Princess. The one sticking point is the child actor Richard Eyer as the genie who pulls one out of the Arabian Nights and straight into Nebraska whenever he appears ("I puddit in the cabin fer ya"). There's a sensational score by Bernard Herrmann, one of his best. With Alec Mango and Nana DeHerrera.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dead Again (1991)

In 1948 Los Angeles, a German expatriate composer (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed) is put to death for the murder of his wife (Emma Thompson). But before he is executed, he tells a reporter (Andy Garcia) that "it's not over". Jumping some 40 years later, a private detective (Kenneth Branagh) is asked by a priest (Richard Easton) to help a young woman (Emma Thompson) who has lost her memory. When a hypnotist (Derek Jacobi) puts the woman under hypnosis and regresses her in the hope of finding the cause of her amnesia, what they find out is that not only is it indeed not over but the long fingers of a past murder reach into the present. Branagh's follow up to his critically acclaimed directorial debut HENRY V is a crackerjack thriller! If HENRY V brought up talk of Welles, DEAD AGAIN conjures up the term Hitchcockian though in reality it's closer to Polanski or De Palma than Hitchcockian. What it is is a rip roaring rollercoaster ride that makes you want to get right back on and ride it again! The original script by Scott Frank (GET SHORTY) is strong but Branagh's greatest ally is Patrick Doyle's stunning Herrmannesque score. With Robin Williams, Hanna Schygulla, Campbell Scott, Christine Ebersole and Wayne Knight.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

To Please A Lady (1950)

A ruthless racing car driver (Clark Gable) and a tabloid reporter (Barbara Stanwyck) are at odds when her column accuses his reckless driving of causing two race track deaths. The end result being that he becomes persona non grata in racing circles. Out of this unlikely beginning, a romance develops. This forgettable programmer is notable chiefly because of the only star pairing of heavyweights Gable and Stanwyck (Gable had a small role in Stanwyck's NIGHT NURSE in 1931). The surprise is how little chemistry there is between the two leads. Without any sparks being ignited, what we're stuck with is a rather dull racing car melodrama though the film toys tangentially with journalistic ethics. Still, I suppose if you're into the racing scene that the authentic footage would be of interest. For everyone else ... meh! Strictly for the Gable and Stanwyck completists. Directed by Clarence Brown (THE YEARLING). With Adolphe Menjou, Will Geer and Roland Withers.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

I Love You Philip Morris (2010)

A policeman (Jim Carrey) leads a double life. A church going Christian and married man with a wife and child and his other closeted life as a gay man. After an auto accident that almost kills him, he leaves his wife (Leslie Mann, THIS IS 40) to live openly as a gay man. He supports his luxurious Miami Beach lifestyle by fraud as a con man. Caught and sent to prison, he meets the love of his life (Ewan McGregor) and that's when the craziness really starts. The old adage of truth is stranger than fiction applies here for incredibly, this is a true story. Adapted from the book I LOVE YOU PHILIP MORRIS: A TRUE STORY OF LIFE, LOVE AND PRISON BREAKS, the film is by turns funny, tragic and always audacious with Carrey in a career best performance. The film did the film festival circuit in 2009 but barely got a theatrical release in late 2010. It's easy to see why the distributor hedged its bets. Unlike the unrequited "tasteful" romanticism of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN where audiences could swoon between bites of their popcorn, I LOVE YOU PHILIP MORRIS's outright sexually explicit depiction of gay sex, though much apparently has been excised from the final product, is both jocular and unsettling. A film that should have gotten more attention though its reviews were very good. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (CRAZY STUPID LOVE). With Rodrigo Santoro and Annie Golden.

The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (1959)

In Pennsylvania at the turn of the 20th century, a businessman (Clifton Webb) has successfully kept his two marriages and two families (with a total of 17 children) separate and a secret from each other. But when his Philadelphia son (Ray Stricklyn) unexpectedly visits the Harrisburg family looking for his father, the secret comes out and threatens to prevent the marriage of his daughter (Jill St. John) to the minister's (Larry Gates) son (Ron Ely, TV's TARZAN). Based on the play by Liam O'Brien and directed by Henry Levin (JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH). This wasn't quite the wholesome CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN knock off I was expecting. Although in the end it espouses traditional societal family values, it's a look at a so called unconventional "free thinker" and non-conformist who gets hoisted on his own petard with some laugh out loud moments. Webb, as expected, is able to deliver a quip with a razor like precision but Dorothy McGuire as the first wife proves a feisty opponent. With Charles Coburn (as Webb's father although he's only 12 years older), Dorothy Stickney, David Nelson (TV's OZZIE AND HARRIET), Richard Deacon, Doro Merande and Joan Freeman.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Le Mepris (aka Contempt) (1963)

A novelist (Michel Piccoli) is hired by a crass American film producer (Jack Palance) to rewrite the script of his production of Homer's THE ODYSSEY being directed by Fritz Lang (playing himself). This job unexpectedly causes a marital crisis when his young wife (Brigitte Bardot) inexplicably rejects him, telling him she no longer loves him and has only contempt for him. Adapted from Alberto Morovia's novel IL DISPREZZO, Jean Luc Godard's most accessible film is also one of his greatest. Using the relationship between Ulysses and Penelope in THE ODYSSEY to parallel the rift in Piccoli's and Bardot's marriage, Godard also manages to examine the rift between art and commercialism in film making as exemplified by Palance's vulgar American and Lang's cultured European. Raoul Coutard's use of the CinemaScope (called Franscope here) frame is stunning and one of the best uses of the wide screen I have ever seen. A lengthy argument between Bardot and Piccoli in their apartment (which constitutes a good portion of the film) is superbly composed and framed with objects and colors carefully placed and utilized. Georges Delerue composed the potent underscore. With Giorgia Moll as Palance's girl Friday.

Inherit The Wind (1988)

In an unnamed 1920's Southern town, a science teacher (Kyle Secor, who's dreadful!) is arrested for teaching evolution which is against a state law. For the prosecution is Matthew Brady (Kirk Douglas), a three time presidential nominee and an expert on the Bible as well as an attorney and for the defense, Henry Drummond (Jason Robards), another nationally renowned attorney. Based on the popular 1955 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee that has seen several film versions (as well as countless theatrical revivals), this is loosely based on the notorious Scopes "Monkey" trial which took place in 1925 Tennessee. Directed by David Greene (RICH MAN POOR MAN), this is a by the book workmanlike production. Adequate at best but with very little resonance. Douglas, cast against type (one would think Drummond more up his alley), is very good. He plays Brady as less a fool than Fredric March did in the 1960 Stanley Kramer film. Robards is also up to snuff as is Jean Simmons as Brady's wife. The supporting cast varies from nondescript (Megan Follows as Secor's bland romantic interest) to bad (Darren McGavin off his game as the cynical Philadelphia newsman).

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Magic Box (1951)

The "true" story of William Friese Greene (Robert Donat) opens in 1921 and through a series of flashbacks, we see his struggle to bring recognition to his invention, the motion picture camera, but no one seems interested. After the credit goes to other men, notably Thomas Edison, he continues to perfect the instrument, working on the development of color film till the day of his death. It's not a particularly interesting film and it doesn't help any that Friese Greene is so obsessed with his work that he ignores his family, social and business responsibilities which makes it difficult to sympathize with him. Indeed, his selfishness is the indirect cause of his first wife's (Maria Schell) death and causes his second wife (Margaret Johnston, NIGHT OF THE EAGLE) to finally end their marriage. Surely the real Friese Greene's life couldn't have been this tedious. The Technicolor work of Jack Cardiff (BLACK NARCISSUS) is a treat though. Unexceptionally directed by John Boulting. The massive supporting cast includes Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Richard Attenborough, Glynis Johns, Margaret Rutherford, Peter Ustinov, Leo Genn, Kay Walsh, Robert Beatty, Stanley Holloway, Dennis Price, Emlyn Williams, David Tomlinson, Michael Hordern, Marius Goring, Barry Jones, Bernard Miles and Joan Hickson.

Broken Blossoms (1919)

A young Chinese man (Richard Barthelmess) arrives in England to spread the message of Buddha. But his good intentions eventually vanish when faced with the remorseless and cruel atmosphere of the Limehouse ghetto. When he meets a young girl (Lillian Gish), still a child really, abused by her brute of a father (Donald Crisp), they respond to each other's kindness. But it's not long before the callous world rears its ugly head. After the elaborate complicated great epic INTOLERANCE, the director D.W. Griffith down scaled to this heartbreaking intimate melodrama of two broken spirits who briefly find solace in each other. Gish is really amazing here, showing why she was the greatest actress of the silent era. Her fear of her thuggish father is palpable, it leaps out at you and one can never forget her frightened animal terror in the closet to escape her father's murderous rage. If Crisp overdoes the brute at times (he acts with his lower teeth), there's no negating the terror his gorilla like presence evokes. With Arthur Howard, George Beranger and Edward Peil Sr.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938)

In the San Francisco of the 1910's, a musician (Tyrone Power) whose aunt (Helen Westley) has plans for a concert hall career for him has plans of his own. He prefers jazz to classical music and forms his own jazz band. The band is a local success but when his band singer (Alice Faye), who's also his girl, gets an offer to headline on Broadway all by herself ... things start to go wrong for him. Perhaps the prototypical 30's Fox musical, the film has a terrific batch of Irving Berlin tunes, every one a winner so you can't go wrong there. The plot is the usual hackneyed stuff that you know exactly where it's going. Faye is appealing at her most brassy Harlow self but she loses her charm quickly when she starts to get refined and ladylike. Fortunately, Ethel Merman (who knew she had such great gams?) perks things up when she enters the picture. Pretty lively in the beginning but it begins to sag terribly around the middle section, coming back to life only when another Berlin tune gets sung. Directed by Walter Lang. With Don Ameche, Jack Haley (THE WIZARD OF OZ), Jean Hersholt and John Carradine, who's so creepy as a taxi driver that when he takes Alice Faye for a ride through Central Park, you think he's going to murder her!