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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Shrek The Musical (2013)

When a bunch of fairy tale characters are expelled to his swamp, a green ogre (Brian D'Arcy James) and a talking donkey (Daniel Breaker) go to the Lord (Christopher Sieber in the show's best performance) responsible and demands his swamp back. The Lord agrees if the ogre will rescue the Princess Fiona (Sutton Foster), who is guarded by a dragon and bring her to him. Disney had great success in bringing some of their animated musicals to the Broadway stage using actors, notably THE LION KING and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. So no doubt DreamWorks animation thought it might be a good idea to do the same with their mega hit SHREK ..... it wasn't. THE LION KING and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST had the advantage of actually being musicals before they made the Broadway trek so in that respect, part of the work was already done. SHREK was not a musical so it had to have a song score written for it. For the most part, it's a decent score (written by David Lindsay Abaire and Jeanine Tesori) in a generic "belt it out" Broadway show tunes kind of way. But with two exceptions (and one not in a good way), the songs are forgettable and one would be hard pressed to recall them after it's over. There's a winner in the second act I Got You Beat but Freak Flag is so awful that only someone who hates musicals could appreciate it. The choreography by Josh Prince isn't bad and provides one of the highlights, a number with Princess Fiona and tap dancing rats. But the show also shows how important voice acting is. Particularly in the case of Breaker as the donkey who doesn't have Eddie Murphy's comedic timing and whose line readings just fall flat. Directed by Jason Moore.

Stromboli (1950)

At the end of WWII, a young woman (Ingrid Bergman) in an internment camp finds herself with nowhere to go. So she marries a simple, uneducated Sicilian fisherman (Mario Vitale) and goes with him to his home, the bleak island of Stromboli where an ominous active volcano hovers over its residents. Considered a failure (at least in America) upon its initial release, this is a dynamic piece of film making. Yet another example of a film unappreciated in its time that the ensuing years reveal to be a compelling specimen of cinema. Near documentary in its style, Bergman gives an excellent performance as a lost soul reaching for something ... but what? She doesn't know and director Roberto Rossellini doesn't give us any easy answers though its emotional ending suggests that a faith in God will help her deal with her demons. The film has two disturbing sequences, disturbing to me anyway, that involve brutality toward animals (one involving tuna fishing seems to go on forever) but if you can make it through those moments, you'll find a rich mural of life at its most austere where tradition and faith are all. There's also a stunning sequence of a very realistic volcanic eruption that is more terrifying that any big budget disaster movie ever gave us. With Renzo Cesana and Mario Sponzo.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)

In the early 1920s, a young woman (Julie Andrews) transforms herself into a "modern" flapper. Staying at a hotel for young ladies, she befriends a wealthy but innocent girl (Mary Tyler Moore) who lives across the hall and wants to be an actress. What they don't know is that the hotel manager (Beatrice Lillie) uses the hotel as a front for a white slavery ring. This musical satire of 1920s conventions retains its charm for most of the film but ultimately descends into silliness. It tries too hard and nudges you to appreciate its cleverness. None of the film's flaws can be blamed on the committed cast who overact perfectly. The film's main asset is a spunky Julie Andrews (giving us a glimpse of what she might have been like in THE BOY FRIEND). She looks great in Jean Louis' 20s attire and is fine voice singing several numbers including the Oscar nominated title tune. Carol Channing (Oscar nominated for her work here) gets a part that perfectly matches her outsized personality and since it's a supporting role, one doesn't tire of her as one might if she were playing a leading part. The Asian stereotypes are problematic but not overtly offensive. Curiously, Elmer Bernstein's forgettable incidental music won him his only Oscar. Directed by George Roy Hill. With James Fox, that handsome piece of wood John Gavin aptly cast as a handsome piece of wood, Pat Morita, Jack Soo, Philip Ahn, Anthony Dexter and Lisabeth Hush.

Charade (1963)

When a wife (Audrey Hepburn) returns home from vacation, she finds her apartment empty and her husband a murder victim. Apparently her husband was killed because of the $250,000 in gold he stole during WWII after double crossing his partners. But the money is still missing and her husband's killers threaten to kill her unless she tells them where the money is hidden. But she doesn't know! Stanley Donen's first rate romantic thriller is often referred to as the best Hitchcock film not directed by Hitchcock. It's chic and glamorous with a clever and amusing screenplay by Peter Stone and genuine Star power with Hepburn and Cary Grant in the leads and a trio of uniquely eccentric villains (James Coburn, George Kennedy, Ned Glass). It's a perfect blend of screwball comedy and high octane thrills and as shot by Charles Lang, Paris has never looked more appetizing. It's movies like this that made us fall in love with the movies in the first place. The elegant score is by Henry Mancini. With Walter Matthau and Jacques Marin.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

All Night Long (1962)

A party intended to celebrate the first year anniversary of a jazz musician (Paul Harris) and his wife (the cabaret singer Marti Stevens), a retired jazz singer, unravels into a disaster when a drummer (Patrick McGoohan) manipulates the musician into thinking his wife is unfaithful. A contemporary take on Shakespeare's OTHELLO, director Basil Dearden creates an authentic jazz atmosphere that replicates the jazz scene in early 1960s London. The interracial relationships are presented matter-of-factly and, in fact, aren't addressed at all! It helps that he has the real thing in jazz greats like Dave Brubeck, Charlie Mingus and Johnny Dankworth who perform as well as populate the milieu. It's rather clever in its transformation of 17th century Venice to the London jazz scene and one can't help but admire the dexterity of Nel King's and Paul Jarrico's script. But if one is familiar enough with the original Shakespeare, after awhile one also becomes aware of the contrivance of the screenplay in setting everything up. Shakespeare's play took place over a period of months while the film takes place all in one night so it seems forced rather than a natural outcome of a slowly subtle build up. Overall, the performances are good. With Richard Attenborough, Betsy Blair, Keith Michell and Maria Velasco.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Kid From Brooklyn (1946)

A mild mannered milkman (Danny Kaye) is mistakenly thought to have knocked out the middleweight champion (Steve Cochran) in a street fight. On the basis of that error, a boxing promoter (Walter Abel) builds him up as the next champion by paying off his opponents to lose while planning to bet against him when he matches up with the middleweight champion in the ring. Harold Lloyd had previously filmed this as THE MILKY WAY in 1936. This time around we get eye popping Technicolor, songs by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, dancing and costumes by Jean Louis. One's enjoyment of all this might hinge on how Danny Kaye appeals to you. I'm a big fan myself though his vanity number Pavlova shows why he's a turn off to some. It's one thing for us to appreciate his talent, quite another for him to show off. But there are enough genuine laughs to make for a congenial diversion. Directed by Norman Z. McLeod TOPPER. With Virginia Mayo (whose peaches and cream complexion was made for Technicolor), Vera-Ellen (who has two dance numbers), Eve Arden letting loose with the wise cracks ("If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have minded"), Lionel Stander and Fay Bainter.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

She Done Him Wrong (1933)

Set in the Bowery district of 1890s New York, a man hungry and diamond loving barroom singer (Mae West) becomes unwittingly involved with a counterfeiting and prostitution ring run by her current lover (Noah Beery Sr.). In only her second film and her first starring role, Mae West became a major star and reputedly saved Paramount studios from bankruptcy. Though uncredited, the film is based on her play DIAMOND LIL. West was an unlikely candidate for mega movie stardom. Pushing 40, slightly overweight with a brittle edge, not much of an actress per se, she created a one of a kind persona that hadn't existed before or since. West treated sex as a laugh, delivering double entendres with a wry delivery and a straight face. It's amazing what she got away with until the production code essentially shut her down. As for the vehicle itself, it's pretty hoary piece when West isn't around but thankfully when she's on screen, she's a powerhouse performer and she delivers some of her best one liners here. Directed by Lowell Sherman. With a young "wet behind the ears" Cary Grant as a Salvation Army worker, Gilbert Roland, Rochelle Hudson, Louise Beavers and Rafaela Ottiano.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Day Will Dawn (1942)

In 1939 as Hitler's invasion of neighboring countries continue, a British journalist (Hugh Williams) is sent to Norway (a neutral country) as a foreign correspondent. While on a fishing boat with its owner (Finlay Currie) and his daughter (Deborah Kerr), they are fired upon by a German U boat. Evidence points to an imminent invasion of Norway but no one will take his warning seriously. America wasn't the only country churning out cinematic propaganda for morale purposes during WWII. While not as prolific, Great Britain did their part for the war effort and THE DAY WILL DAWN (retitled THE AVENGERS in the U.S.) is one of those projects. It starts off promisingly, not unlike Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, and promises to be an engrossing spy thriller. But after the film's first half hour or so that prospect is quickly put to rest. The remainder of the film is an often incoherent, predictable piece of patriotic hype. Directed by Harold French with Terence Rattigan contributing to the screenplay. With Ralph Richardson, Patricia Medina, Francis L. Sullivan, Roland Culver and Griffith Jones.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Toast Of New Orleans (1950)

In 1905 Louisiana, a bayou fisherman (Mario Lanza) with a magnificent voice is discovered by an opera impresario (David Niven) and urged to come to New Orleans to study opera. Lanza's MGM debut THAT MIDNIGHT KISS with Metro's resident soprano Kathryn Grayson had been a big hit so the studio was eager to re-team them and THE TOAST OF NEW ORLEANS was the result. It's a marginally better film than the first one but it's still the standard formula. Lanza is appealing and Grayson of the heart shaped mouth is quite attractive (until she begins trilling) but the large doses of unimaginatively staged opera sequences slow down the film. Much better are the musical numbers like Be My Love and the dances staged by Eugene Loring. One can't complain about the Technicolor eye candy either and the technical aspects are okay but the "fish out of water" indignities played out by Lanza and J. Carrol Naish as his uncle become annoying after awhile. Directed by Norman Taurog. With Rita Moreno (who gets to show off her dancing skills), James Mitchell, Clinton Sundberg and Richard Hageman.

Richard III (1912)

The Duke of Gloucester (Frederick Warde) desires the throne of England now held by his brother Edward IV (Robert Gemp) and embarks on a path of murder and deceit to accomplish his goal. Directed by Andre Calmettes and James Keane, the debatable concept of doing Shakespeare as silent cinema aside (you're robbing him of his words!), the film is of interest as an artifact of the dawn of American film. It's quite primitive, the camera doesn't move and the actors still enter and exit as if performing in a play. Even the "opening up" of the play is stagnant. For example, the camera is placed at the end of a road as we see men on horseback galloping forward and eventually riding past the dormant camera. The lack of movement neuters the battle of Bosworth Field. The acting is archaic with lots of indicating and breast beating. There's no visual equivalent to compensate for the lack of Shakespeare's poetry. But the evocative score by Ennio Morricone goes a long way in making up for the film's deficiencies. That being said, for anyone interested in silent cinema or cinema at all, the film has value. With James Keane and Violet Stuart.

Philomena (2013)

An elderly Irishwoman (Judi Dench) still wonders about the child forcibly taken away from her by the Catholic church when she was an unwed teenage mother 50 years ago. When a journalist (Steve Coogan) suggests a human interest story about finding her son, the journey takes them to Washington D.C. but a longer journey for her to find closure. Based on a true story, Coogan also co-produced and co-wrote the screenplay in addition to co-starring so thanks be to Coogan. The screenplay's achievement is how it manages to subvert your expectations by avoiding the possible tearjerking sentiments. The film is gently laced with humor while still allowing Dench's pain and guilt to stay firmly in the forefront. And it doesn't need to jerk the tears, they come naturally and readily. The director Stephen Frears (THE QUEEN) has a deft touch with actresses as his track record proves. Helen Mirren, Glenn Close, Julia Roberts, Anjelica Huston, Vanessa Redgrave and Annette Bening have done some of their very best work under Frears' direction so no surprise that Judi Dench gives a powerful and moving performance here. A lovely film though Catholic "charity" doesn't come off looking very well at all. With Sean Mahon, Mare Winningham, Anna Maxwell Martin, Barbara Jefford, Peter Hermann and Sophie Kennedy Clark as the young Judi Dench.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Torn Between Two Lovers (1979)

When a married woman (Lee Remick) is stranded at a snowbound airport, she meets an architect (George Peppard) and while there's an undeniable attraction, she prevents it from going further. But when he seeks her out, a seed is planted that will hurt everybody. Movies based on hit records have been done several times (HARPER VALLEY PTA and ODE TO BILLIE JOE come to mind) and, perhaps inevitably, they're never very good. TORN BETWEEN TWO LOVERS was a huge hit in 1977 going to no. 1 on the charts but it's a pretty sappy song. Films about adultery are tricky, if there's to be any sympathy for its characters, the adultery needs to be justified in some way. An unhappy marriage, an irresistible attraction between two people ... something. There's no sympathy for Remick's dilemma. She's got a good marriage to a great guy (Joseph Bologna) and while Remick and Peppard are certainly attractive, there's no sense of a passion so great that it can't be denied. Instead, what we get is the usual man with the nice little wife at home with a mistress on the side and each only getting 50% of him plot. Only this time, the genders are reversed. It's an unremarkable TV movie of week, only with a higher caliber of actors and director (Delbert Mann, MARTY). With Giorgio Tozzi and Andrea Martin.

Persona (1966)

When an actress (Liv Ullmann) has a breakdown and refuses to talk, literally, a young nurse (Bibi Andersson) accompanies her to a summer cottage by the sea where she is to recover. But there in the island's solitude, the two women find themselves feeding off each other. One of Ingmar Bergman's greatest films (some say his greatest), this is a fascinating film full of deceptively simple imagery yet often obvious symbolism. It's not Bergman at his most subtle (has he ever been?) but the man is a genuine Artist and when you're in the hands of a master at his very best, subtlety be damned! The secrets of PERSONA remain secrets to this day which is part of the reason the film resonates so powerfully still. One can guess, but only guess, at what Bergman is telling us. His film is open to so many interpretations that each new viewing reveals another nugget or two to ponder over and as sure as we may be about our own analysis, in the end, it's just that, our own ... not definitive. Andersson's performance is superb (her monologue on a sexual encounter on the beach is a tour de force) but Ullmann's equally dynamic performance may be overlooked because Andersson has all the dialogue. One of the great works of cinema.

On Our Merry Way (1948)

A roving reporter (Burgess Meredith) canvasses the city with his question of the day, "How has a small child influenced your life?". What we get is three stories. The first is about two down and out musicians (James Stewart, Henry Fonda) who rig a talent contest expecting a big pay off but get the table turned on them instead. The second is about a film star (Dorothy Lamour) who specializes in exotic Polynesian heroines. The third (a steal from O. Henry's RANSOM OF RED CHIEF) is about two con men (Fred MacMurray, William Demarest) who encounter the kid from Hell (David Whorf) and plot to get money from his rich relatives. Co-directed by King Vidor and Leslie Fenton, this anthology comedy film is practically a footnote in the careers of everyone involved. While not exactly a jewel awaiting rediscovery, the film is a great deal of fun. Among the amusing highlights: James Stewart sucking a lemon, Henry Fonda getting drenched while playing a trumpet, Dorothy Lamour sending up her sarong image and MacMurray and Demarest mistaking a rope for a snake. All the actors so seem to be having a good time that it's infectious. The wrap around story involving Meredith and wife Paulette Goddard (in the film and real life) is the weakest segment. A decidedly minor but appreciated effort. With Harry James, Victor Moore, Eduardo Ciannelli, Carl Switzer and Dorothy Ford.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976)

In 1953, an aspiring actor (Lenny Baker, looking like a young Jerry Lewis) moves out of his parents' (Shelley Winters, Mike Kellin) Brooklyn home and moves to Greenwich Village to experience life. Director Paul Mazursky's autobiographical comedy is a valentine to Greenwich Village in the 1950s, to his Jewish parents, to the idiosyncratic artistic characters who populated his circle. Mazursky tweaks and skewers them but he's affectionate rather than condescending or mean spirited and we're swept up in his nostalgia, too. A rich tapestry of a place and time with bold strokes. And what performances! Shelley Winters as the quintessential Jewish mother gives one of her 2 or 3 best performances. She's a force of nature, barging in where she's not wanted and hysterically unraveling at what she perceives as a breach against decency. But you can't dislike her, she may be a monster but she's a loving monster. The undervalued Ellen Greene gives the film's most complex performance, a girl who wants to break out but only plays at being the Bohemian. The unobtrusive score is by Bill Conti. With Christopher Walken as a self centered "poet", Lois Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Antonio Fargas, Lou Jacobi, Dori Brenner and a young Bill Murray.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Code Two (1953)

Three police cadets (Ralph Meeker, Robert Horton, Jeff Richards) become friends during their training period at the Los Angeles Police Academy. All three end up as motorcycle cops but when one of them is murdered, the remaining two vow to find his killers. This low budget 70 minute quickie tossed out by MGM is tight and efficient though it plays out like a big screen version of the 1950s TV show HIGHWAY PATROL. It has a couple of shocking moments that stand out (a policeman's cold blooded killing, an acid bath for a criminal) that are pretty raw for a 1950s movie and it benefits from the L.A. location filming which gives it some realism. But overall, it's a "B" movie that does its job but nothing that pushes it out of the ordinary either. Still, you'll be entertained. Directed by Fred M. Wilcox (FORBIDDEN PLANET). With Keenan Wynn as the young cops' mentor, Sally Forrest, Elaine Stewart, Chuck Connors and William Campbell.

On An Island With You (1948)

Assigned as a technical adviser on a movie shooting in the South Pacific, a Navy Lieutenant (Peter Lawford) pursues the film's leading lady (Esther Williams) despite the fact that she's engaged to her leading man (Ricardo Montalban). How does one critique an Esther Williams movie? By the quality of her swimming numbers? This flimsy piece of Technicolor cotton candy is an amiable way of squandering a couple of hours but it offers nothing beyond the usual romantic mix-ups and Williams gracefully gliding through swimming tanks disguised as tropical lagoons. Cyd Charisse gets to do two dance numbers and Jimmy Durante milks the corniest jokes and, God bless him, still manages to make you laugh. Since this a 1940s MGM musical, of course, there's Xavier Cugat and his orchestra pounding out those Latin American rhythms. Oddly, the movie is inconsistent with the darker toned make-up sported by Williams' and Charisse when they play native island girls in the movie within the movie. In some scenes it's there and in other scenes, it's their natural skin tone. Florida substitutes for the South Pacific. Directed by Richard Thorpe. With Leon Ames, Marie Windsor, Dick Simmons and Betty Reilly.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Woman In A Dressing Gown (1957)

A rather slovenly working class housewife (Yvonne Mitchell) is content with her lot in life. In love with her husband (Anthony Quayle) and proud of her son (Andrew Ray), everything seems good. What she can't see is that her husband is unhappy in their marriage and in love with a younger woman (Sylvia Syms). Unless you're a Streep or a Nicholson, most working actors work to pay the bills and are lucky if they get that one role "of a lifetime" as it were. You may never get another great part again but you have that one performance and no one can ever take that away from you. The role of Amy Preston is Yvonne Mitchell's one great role and she is amazing! It's a part that some actresses would have done and gone all actress-y on us but Mitchell hits all the right notes (she won the best actress award at the Berlin film festival for her work here). She's touching, she's funny, she's annoying, she's real. The forerunner of all those British kitchen sink dramas like LOOK BACK IN ANGER and SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, the director J. Lee Thompson (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE) gives us a gritty look at a working class marriage and how when our dreams never materialize, we still hope. I'm not sure how I feel about the film's ending. On one level, it seems like a total cop out but given the nature of its characters, it seems inevitable. With Carole Lesley and Marianne Stone.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mr. North (1988)

In 1926 Newport, Rhode Island, a young man (Anthony Edwards) is hired to read the Bible to an ailing millionaire (Robert Mitchum) by his eccentric daughter (Tammy Grimes). But when the young man's ability to "shock" people by his touch due to the static electricity his body harnesses, rumors begin that he is able to heal by touch. Loosely based on the novel THEOPHILUS NORTH by Thornton Wilder (OUR TOWN), this should have been a whimsical fable but under Danny Huston's direction, it's like a souffle that keeps trying to rise and not succeeding. The character of Theophilus North should be charismatic enough to draw people toward him and Anthony Edwards exhibits no charm at all. In fact, he's the least interesting character in the film which is disastrous when the film is about him. The supporting characters are much more interesting. Robert Mitchum (in a role intended for John Huston till illness forced him to drop out) looks far too robust for a man in failing health but his presence is sorely needed in a movie like this. The delicate score is by David McHugh. The large cast includes Anjelica Huston, Lauren Bacall, Harry Dean Stanton, Mary Stuart Masterson, David Warner, Virginia Madsen, Katharine Houghton (GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER?), Mark Metcalf and Christopher Durang.

Shack Out On 101 (1955)

At a small remote seaside diner off the 101 freeway in Southern California, suspicious activity is going on. Could it be ..... commies! This wacky B&W piece of anti-Red propaganda is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. Eschewing the heavy handed jingoism of films like BIG JIM MCLAIN, it works purely as a "B" thriller with some bizarre scenes like a homoerotic working out scene with a shirtless Lee Marvin and Keenan Wynn critiquing each other's bodies and the furious flag waving is saved for the very end. The director Edward Dein (THE LEECH WOMAN) co-wrote the screenplay with his wife Mildred and keeps the pleasing nonsense to a compact 80 minutes. The action is often pretty brutal as when Marvin slaps Terry Moore, as a sexy waitress, all around his room. Paul Dunlap did the jazz score. With Frank Lovejoy as the stalwart leading man, Frank DeKova and Whit Bissell as a man nauseated by violence so you just know before the movie is over, what he's going to be called upon to do.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)

An ex-Army man (James Griffith) helps an inmate (Douglas Kennedy) escape from prison. His intention is have the escaped convict made invisible and steal the nuclear material needed to create and invisible Army to take over the world. Poor Edgar G. Ulmer! In the 1930s and 1940s, he was able to fashion some provocative "B" films on minimal budgets (THE BLACK CAT, DETOUR, THE STRANGE WOMAN) which gained him some stature among the auteurists. But by the 1950s, he was reduced to primarily to horribly inept low budget sci-fi schlock of which THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN is a prime example. Clocking in at under an hour, it's essentially a piece of anti-Red propaganda disguised as science fiction. Sloppily put together, there's nothing of interest to recommend other than a fiery finale which presages KISS ME DEADLY. With Marguerite Chapman and Ivan Triesault.

Nebraska (2013)

When his aged alcoholic father (Bruce Dern) insists on going from Montana to Nebraska to collect his million dollar prize winnings from a contest, his wife (June Squibb) and son (Will Forte) attempt to explain to him that it's a scam. But when the befuddled old man demands to go, his son reluctantly accompanies him on the road trip. In many respects, this is a lovely film. Unlike his previous film THE DESCENDANTS (which I disliked intensely), director Alexander Payne doesn't ladle on the sentiment and the humor is restrained. It's only flaw is Payne's tendency to condescend to some of his rural characters. Other than that, it's a heartfelt yet keen look at a man nearing the end of a life filled with disappointments, the son who loves him and a gaggle of friends and family that suddenly get dollar signs in their eyes at the prospect of money. In many ways, it's like a male version of TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL and Bruce Dern (who won this year's best actor award at the Cannes film festival) gives a beautifully modulated performance. Will Forte, best known for his comedic work on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, also gives a dimensional performance and June Squibb as Dern's wife is a real scene stealer and provides the film's biggest laugh and applause moment. Handsomely shot in black and white widescreen by Phedon Papamichael. With Stacy Keach and Bob Odenkirk.

As I Lay Dying (2013)

When a Mississippi farm woman (Beth Grant) dies, her family honors her request to be buried in her people's town located several days away. As they undertake the journey of carrying her coffin by buckboard, everyone (including the deceased) reflects on their own aspirations, desires and feelings. William Faulkner's AS I LAY DYING is one of the great American novels. It is also among those literary works that defy being translated to film, unfilmable as it were. What makes Faulkner's book great is not necessarily its narrative but his technique, his style. The entire novel is a series of chapters, each complete chapter a stream of consciousness narrated by one character. That being said, director James Franco's (he also plays the second of the sons) film is probably as good a film of the Faulkner novel as we'll ever see. While his use of split screen as a visual device to approximate Faulkner's technique only partially works, there are still some impressive scenes (Beth Grant's monologue recalling her unhappy marriage and adulterous affair that spawned a son) that suggest the greatness of the novel. It bodes well for Franco's future as a director. The cast is perfect, they look like 1920s Mississippi farm people, not Hollywood actors and several of the actors deliver flawless performances: Grant, Tim Blake Nelson as her husband and Logan Marshall Green as the spawn of her affair. But it isn't Faulkner's novel, not really. The underscore by Tim O'Keefe is imposing. With Jim Parrack, Ahna O'Reilly, Brady Permenter and Danny McBride..

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Decks Ran Red (1958)

The first mate (James Mason) on a luxury liner leaves his position to take command, his first as a Captain, of a New Zealand freighter. But his first command turns disastrous when a psychopathic crew member (Broderick Crawford) and his cohort (Stuart Whitman) start killing everyone on board. Allegedly based on an actual incident, the film's plot seems rather far fetched but that doesn't stop director Andrew L. Stone from creating a tension filled nail biter not unlike his THE LAST VOYAGE also set on an ill fated ship. It's not as good as THE LAST VOYAGE for several reasons, most notably because its ending is rather anti-climatic but the film benefits from a rather unpolished look to it. Mason seems a bit ill at ease as an action hero though Crawford is easily convincing as the murderous crewman. Dorothy Dandridge (CARMEN JONES) as the cook's sexy wife doesn't have much to do as a conventional heroine in distress but she looks fantastic. There's no film score but this is one film that could have used one to add a little needed flavor to the doings. With Jack Kruschen, Katharine Bard and Joel Fluellen.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Love Me Tonight (1932)

While attempting to collect monies owed by a deadbeat client with a title (Charles Ruggles), a Parisian tailor (Maurice Chevalier) meets a haughty Princess (Jeanette MacDonald) and promptly falls in love. When the deadbeat client introduces the tailor as a Count to the Princess, he reluctantly goes along with the deceit. This sparkling musical comedy is a pure delight. If one hadn't seen Rouben Mamoulian's name as the director, you would swear it was an Ernst Lubitsch film, it's that good. I don't mean to take anything away from Mamoulian who has more than proven himself as an ace in the musical genre. The song score by Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart is witty and charming and includes some of their best work, songs like Isn't It Romantic?, Lover and Mimi. The film's use of music is quite clever as shown in the Isn't It Romantic? number: Chevalier begins the song which is picked up by different characters and the song travels the country until we see MacDonald singing the song (and this is before they've met) and the dialog is often sung rather than spoken by even the most minor of characters from the maid to the cook. So breezy and brilliant that the film overcomes my intolerance for Maurice Chevalier. MacDonald shows how amusing and sexy she could be (she's half undressed a lot) before MGM got a hold of her and turned her into the Norma Shearer of operetta. Mamoulian's use of sound is also quite innovative for an early sound film. With Myrna Loy as a nymphomaniac (when asked if she thinks of anything besides men, she retorts, "Yes, schoolboys"), C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Butterworth, Ethel Griffies and Elizabeth Patterson.

Les Maudits (aka The Damned) (1947)

In 1945 Oslo, just before the fall of Berlin, a group of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers board a submarine headed for South America where they plan to continue to carry on the work of the Third Reich. But the voyage will not be as smooth as anticipated, indeed, to steal the title of another film (from 1976), this is a voyage of the damned. Rene Clement's post-war thriller has been compared to Wolfgang Petersen's DAS BOOT but I don't think it's a fair comparison. They're both films about Nazis in a submarine but that's about it. Clement's film isn't favorably disposed to the Nazis as its 1981 counterpart is ("they're just like you and me"). Clement captures the claustrophobia and the tension of disparate characters, who don't always see eye to eye, crammed into a confined space with no escape. Clement's film allows multi dimensional characters rather than stock stereotypes and some suggestive situations that would never have been allowed in an American film of that time. Technically, it's impressive especially a shot that follows Henri Vidal (as a kidnapped French doctor) the length of the submarine without a cut. it was shot by Henri Alekan (WINGS OF DESIRE) and the effective score is by Yves Baudrier. The cast is very good. In addition to Vidal; there's Marcel Dalio, Jo Dest, Michel Auclair, Fosco Giachetti, Anne Campion, Paul Bernard and Florence Marly.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The King And Four Queens (1956)

A less than ethical confidence man (Clark Gable) arrives in a small deserted town populated by an old woman (Jo Van Fleet) and her four daughter in laws: the clever Sabina (Eleanor Parker), the dangerous Ruby (Jean Willes), the gentle Oralie (Sara Shane) and the sexy Birdie (Barbara Nichols). His intention? To swindle them out of a $100,000 in gold that is hidden on the property. This robust western directed by Raoul Walsh is an entertaining if minor entry in the western canon. There's not much one can say about it. Its aspirations are pretty slight but it accomplishes them easily. In his mid 50s, Gable is every bit as virile and commanding as he was in the 1930s and his sex appeal still intact. His interactions with the five actresses are playful and charming and both he and Parker manage to keep us attracted to their characters even if they are essentially amoral rascals. The hearty score is by Alex North and Lucien Ballard's (THE WILD BUNCH) CinemaScope lensing takes full advantage of the Utah scenery. With Roy Roberts and Jay C. Flippen.

Underworld U.S.A. (1961)

After he sees his father being killed by four thugs, a young boy (David Kent, later Cliff Robertson as an adult) sets himself on a path of revenge that will take almost twenty years to see fruition. Subtlety was never director Samuel Fuller's stock-in-trade. This is tabloid film making at its most conspicuous. It's crude, blatant, artificial ... and undeniably effective. It feels like an episode of the 60s TV show, THE UNTOUCHABLES with Larry Gates' District Attorney standing in for Elliot Ness. Fuller keeps punching at you so that you can't help but be pulled in while part of your brain tells you "Resist!" but you can't. Fuller's jackhammer tactics compensates for the generally poor performances especially a miscast Cliff Robertson whose idea of acting tough is to have his lower lip move to the far right or to the far left as he says his lines. As the chippie who falls in love with him, Dolores Dorn is erratically effective but eventually defeated by some of the dialog she's required to say. Only Richard Rust as a mob thug and Beatrice Kay as an aging moll manage to consistently hit the right notes. Still, you have to admire Fuller's cinematic symmetry. I love Sam Fuller but this simply doesn't rank with his best work though it has an inexplicable core of admirers. With Robert Emhardt, Paul Dubov and Gerald Milton.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)

After the end of WWII, a former OSS officer (Alan Ladd) returns to Italy to find the traitor responsible for betraying his hiding place and causing the death of his partner (Paul Lees) and the woman he loved (Wanda Hendrix). But when he arrives in the small village, he finds the girl alive and well and married. Based on the novel NO SURRENDER by Martha Albrand and directed by Mitchell Leisen, the film never progresses beyond commonplace. Ladd, dim as ever, walks through the film with that cold denseness that passes as a performance and Hendrix is hopelessly miscast as an Italian though she gives it the old college try. The film manages to hold your interest for awhile (just who is the traitor?) but the tediousness overcomes the mystery. The film is perhaps most famous for the love song Mona Lisa which was a big hit and won the Oscar for best song. Funnily enough, the song isn't used romantically in the film but used as a warning that the Fascists are approaching. With some more magnetic stars, it might have worked as a poor man's CASABLANCA. As it is, it's watchable ... just. With Francis Lederer, Joseph Calleia, Russ Tamblyn, Celia Lovsky, Angela Clarke and Jane Nigh.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Big Parade (1925)

When WWI breaks out, the frivolous son (John Gilbert) of a millionaire (Hobart Bosworth) joins the Army on a whim. Sent to France, he bonds with two fellow soldiers, a construction worker (Karl Dane) and a bartender (Tom O'Brien). At the village where he is billeted, he falls in love with a young French farm girl (Renee Adoree) but is soon called away to the front and the horrors of war. This is a great film! The director King Vidor takes his time with the exposition and the first half of the film is amusing and charming as we get to know the characters. The second half which concentrates on the war is stunning and potent. The scenes of the soldiers marching through the woods filled with snipers is brimming with tension and the battle scenes are impeccable. Vidor doesn't glorify war but he does give equal time to the courage as well as the damage that accompanies war. I saw the version with the superb Carl Davis score which was especially composed for its British Thames silents project done in the 1980s. I'm not a fan of war films in general but this one can't afford to be missed. I much prefer it to the similar but overrated ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT.

Jane Eyre (1944)

Sent away to school by her mean spirited aunt (Agnes Moorehead), a spirited young girl (Peggy Ann Garner) survives the oppressive and harsh atmosphere of the school to become a governess. In charge of a precocious young child (Margaret O'Brien), she (Joan Fontaine as the adult Jane) finds herself attracted to the brooding head of the household (Orson Welles). Charlotte Bronte's Gothic romance (though, of course, the great novel is much more than that) has been filmed countless times going all the way back to 1910! Though it eliminates some key portions of the novel, this is a fairly faithful adaptation (Aldous Huxley was one of the screenwriters) of the novel and one of the best. The director Robert Stevenson, abetted by his ace cinematographer George Barnes (an Oscar winner for REBECCA), gives the film the requisite Gothic atmosphere and guides his cast to some marvelous performances. Fontaine, one of the great beauties of the screen, would seem to be miscast as the plain Jane but she's a good enough actress to suggest the plainness of the character and no one does brood better than the young Welles. Bernard Herrmann provides one of his most evocative scores. With Henry Daniell, John Sutton, Sara Allgood, Hillary Brooke, Ethel Griffies, Edith Barrett and young Elizabeth Taylor, already a startling beauty at age 11.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)

After his fiancee (Virginia Leith, Kubrick's FEAR AND DESIRE) is decapitated in an auto accident due to his reckless driving, a research surgeon (Jason Evers) keeps her head alive and has 72 hours to find a new body to attach to her head. Every bit as silly as it sounds. This distasteful and sordid sci-fi/horror flick is so ludicrous that one can't take offense at its bad taste. Made in 1959 but not released until three years later, the film has a cult following among the bad movie/camp crowd but I just found it dumb. What's really sad is seeing the lovely Virginia Leith, who had leading roles in some good films like VIOLENT SATURDAY and A KISS BEFORE DYING reduced to playing a talking decapitated head! To her credit, she manages to give a semblance of a performance unlike the other actors. Directed by Joseph Green. It's screaming to be remade as a comedy but I suppose the Steve Martin comedy THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS is about as close to a comedy "remake" that's likely.

Street Angel (1928)

After she is arrested for theft and prostitution in Naples, a young girl (Janet Gaynor) escapes and joins a carnival. There, she meets a young artist (Charles Farrell) and they fall in love. Not knowing about her past, he insists they go to Naples where he can further his career. Bliss is theirs but how soon before her past catches up with her? Directed by Frank Borzage, this is one of three performances (the other two are SUNRISE and SEVENTH HEAVEN) that garnered Gaynor the first Oscar for best actress. I've enjoyed some of the previous Borzage/Gaynor collaborations I've seen but this one is sentimental to the point of treacle. I had problems with SEVENTH HEAVEN too but at least that had several scenes which redeemed the maudlin scenario. The pacing is way too slow. There's a scene where Gaynor is granted an hour with her lover before being carted off to prison. The scene takes all of ten minutes but damn if Borzage doesn't make it feel like an hour. I'm not sure that's a compliment! The Oscar nominated cinematography by Ernest Palmer is quite good (an image of Farrell against a wall looking for Gaynor while shadows of pedestrians cross him is quite wonderful) though the sappy score by Erno Rapee is inexcusable. With Natalie Kingston and Henry Armetta.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Kandukondain Kandukondain (aka I Have Found It) (2000)

The two daughters of an old and revered family take different romantic paths. One (Tabu) has been unlucky in love (her fiance committed suicide over another woman) and feeling herself to be a jinx is reluctant to get involved even while being pursued by an aspiring film director (Ajith Kumar). The other (Aishwarya Rai) dreams of an exciting passionate lover, she dismisses the older gentleman (Mammootty) who attempts to woo her in favor of an unethical but handsome entrepreneur (Abbas). Jane Austen meets Bollywood! This is an adaptation of Austen's SENSE AND SENSIBILITY transposed to contemporary India. Updating Jane Austen is nothing new, EMMA morphing into CLUELESS is probably the most well known example. But this lively all singing, all dancing adaptation is hard to resist and the transition from 1811 Southwest England to 1990's India is seamless. Rajiv Menon's direction is strong and the cast is very attractive. The songs and score are by Oscar winner A.R. Rahman (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) and the choreography is lively and spirited. A good example of the charms of the Bollywood musical.

For Love Or Money (1963)

When her three daughters threaten to challenge the conditions of their father's will, a wealthy woman (Thelma Ritter) hires an attorney (Kirk Douglas) to arrange marriages for her three daughters. Two of the daughters, a health nut (Julie Newmar) and a patroness of the arts (Leslie Parrish, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) prove easy but it's the third daughter (Mitzi Gaynor) who proves to be the stumbling block. This romantic comedy gets the full on Ross Hunter, even though he had nothing to do with the film, glamour treatment (sets, costumes, jewels and furs etc.) and director Michael Gordon who had a big hit with PILLOW TALK is the director. One can see what the picture was supposed to be and everyone tries hard but ... no soap. The screenplay might (and that's a very iffy might) have worked with, say, Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds in the leads. But Kirk Douglas doesn't have the light touch required for material like this and Gaynor, who's cute and a terrific dancer, has an artificiality about her acting that often renders her charmless. It's slack when it should be fizzy. With Gig Young giving his patented "best friend who loses the girl" performance, William Bendix, William Windom, Elizabeth MacRae, Dick Sargent and Edy Williams.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Hope And Glory (1987)

As WWII encroaches on a small English town, a young lad (Sebastian Rice-Edwards) looks upon it as a great adventure. A break from the monotonous routine of everyday existence. An absolute joy, this may be director John Boorman's best film. War is a horrible thing, we all know that but as politically incorrect as it sounds, it can be an adventure and as seen through the eyes of a child, it's both exhilarating and horrible. Bombed out homes become club houses, children search through the rubble for pieces of shrapnel and other souvenirs, bombs bursting are looked upon with awe rather than terror and when schoolhouses are bombed, children cheer because it means more holiday time. But it's not all frivolity. Boorman, sometimes in a single shot, shows up both the tragedy and the comical. While most WWII films about the homefront (like MRS. MINIVER or SINCE YOU WENT AWAY) focus on how those who wait also endure, this is not MRS. MINIVER. The film is fortunate in young Rice-Edwards and also young Geraldine Muir, two child actors who give fresh and natural performances rather than the usual parroting performances given by child actors. Two other performers stand out. Ian Bannen as a cranky grandfather and the adorable Sammi Davis as a 15 year old girl who grows up in a hurry (when asked about her going out with soldiers, she replies "I'm just doing my bit for the war!"). The rest of the cast includes Sarah Miles, David Hayman, Derek O'Connor, Jean Marc Barr and Susan Wooldridge.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Gaslight (1940)

The house where an elderly woman (Marie Wright) was murdered has not been lived in for many years when a man (Anton Walbrook, THE RED SHOES) and his new wife (Diana Wynyard) move in. She is recovering from a recent breakdown but when strange things start happening she fears she is losing her mind and oddly enough, she is encouraged in that train of thought by her husband. Based on the play ANGEL STREET by Patrick Hamilton, this British film has long been buried in the shadow of its more famous 1944 American remake with Ingrid Bergman. For many years, it was suppressed from showing in the U.S. which led to the belief that it was actually superior to the 1944 MGM film. It's not. Oh, it's very good mind you but not only is the acting better in the MGM version (only Walbrook's devilish sadist stands out in the 1940 film), but it also has more of an atmosphere, a sense of dread. I suspect Anglophiles may prefer this version but they're both good enough to stand on their own merits. Directed by Thorold Dickinson. With Robert Newton, Cathleen Cordell, Frank Pettingell and Jimmy Hanley.

Diane (1956)

In 16th century France, a noblewoman (Lana Turner) rises to power through her political associations. First, a marriage to a Count (Torin Thatcher), then as confidante to King Francis I (Pedro Armendariz) and later as mistress to his son King Henry II (Roger Moore). But when Henry makes a political marriage to Catherine de Medici (Marisa Pavan, THE ROSE TATTOO) of Italy, the Countess may have met her match. Loosely based on the life of Diane de Poitiers, the film is a typically glossy Hollywoodized view of French history and one is apt to find oneself looking at the art direction or costumes rather than paying strict attention to the narrative. It's hard to believe the screenplay is by Christopher Isherwood (BERLIN STORIES). The dialog is florid and affected and Turner and Moore aren't strong enough actors in the best of circumstances to overcome the ornate lines they're given to say. The acting honors go to Marisa Pavan, who goes from naive young bride to a steel fisted Queen. Her final confrontation with Turner is the highlight of the film. There's a terrific score by Miklos Rozsa, one of his best. Directed by David Miller (LONELY ARE THE BRAVE). With Cedric Hardwicke, Taina Elg, Henry Daniell, Michael Ansara, Sean McClory and Melville Cooper.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

An incompetent vampire hunter (Jack MacGowran) and his timid assistant (Roman Polanski) find lodgings at a small inn in Transylvania. Noticing the garlands of garlic hanging about the inn, they suspect vampires are at hand and when the innkeeper's daughter (Sharon Tate) is kidnapped, they trace her to a mysterious Count's (Ferdy Mayne) castle. In most horror comedies like THE GHOST BREAKERS or ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, the emphasis is on the comedy. The director Roman Polanski's often witty farce balances the comedy and the horror with equal aplomb. The film, beautifully shot by Douglas Slocombe (THE LION IN WINTER), has the look and feel of a Hammer horror and despite the silliness never let's you forget this is also a horror film, too. The actors are all attuned to the style of the material and give appropriate performances. Polanski and co-writer Gerard Brach's screenplay score some trenchant digs amid the madness as when the coffin of a Jewish vampire is not allowed to rest aside the coffins of the gentile vampires. The clever score is by Christopher Komeda. With Alfie Bass, Fiona Lewis and Jessie Robins.

Hornets' Nest (1970)

In 1944 Italy, an American paratrooper (Rock Hudson) is the sole survivor of a Nazi massacre. He is rescued by a band of child partisans led by a boy (Mark Colleano) whose only thought is revenge on the Nazis who killed his parents. They agree to help each other. The American will teach the boys how to kill and the boys will help the American complete his mission ..... blowing up a dam. This is one bad movie! Inept in almost every way. For example, there's a scene with Hudson jumping into a river to escape the Nazis, cut to another shot, then we see Hudson jumping into the river again! There are several distasteful scenes like an attempted rape of Sylva Koscina by the children and later an actual rape of Koscina by Hudson and he's the movie's hero!! It doesn't help that all the Germans in the movie are played by Italians with Italian accents, it takes more than dying their hair blonde to make them convincing Germans. The film appears to have an actual message which seems to be how war turns children into killers but it's so bungled that the message is lost. Last year's WAR WITCH did a much better job of showing the horror of child soldiers. As for the acting, Colleano gives a performance that is stupendous in its awfulness. On the plus side, there's a decent score by Ennio Morricone and the vivid cinematography is by Gabor Pogany (De Sica's TWO WOMEN). Directed by Phil Karlson (THE SILENCERS). With Sergio Fantoni, Jacques Sernas and Giacomo Rossi Stuart.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Elena Et Les Hommes (1956)

An impoverished Polish countess (Ingrid Bergman), now living in Paris, accepts a marriage proposal by a wealthy shoe manufacturer (Pierre Bertin) out of financial necessity. But before the marriage can take place, she catches the eye of both a general (Jean Marais) and a count (Mel Ferrer) who eagerly pursue her. Directed by the great Jean Renoir, this colorful French farce with political overtones should be bubbly and animated. It's certainly not from lack of trying but there's an air of desperation about the whole affair as the actors go through their paces, dashing about with mock indignation. Bergman is delectable, like a ripe peach ready to be devoured but her timing seems off and Marais and Ferrer lack fizz. Some of the supporting players fare better, notably Pierre Richard as the general's orderly and Magali Noel as a sexy maid. Renoir is certainly capable of doing a witty comedy of manners, after all this is the man who directed RULES OF THE GAME but only once does he hit a high note: when a supposedly secret rendezvous at an inn turns into the most public of affairs. The candy coated cinematography by Claude Renoir (Jean's nephew) looks delectable as does the costume designs of Rosine Delamare and Monique Plotin. With Juliette Greco, Dora Doll, Elina Labourdette and Jacques Jouanneau.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Desperate Search (1952)

After an airliner crashes in the mountains of British Columbia, the father (Howard Keel in a non singing role) of two children (Lee Aaker, Linda Lowell) on the flight joins an air search of the area for survivors. There's further conflict when his ex-wife (Patricia Medina) and the mother of his children shows up which causes friction with his current wife (Jane Greer, OUT OF THE PAST). This "B" programmer directed by Joseph H. Lewis (GUN CRAZY) is pretty tight and economical and clocks in at a brief hour and 12 minutes. Unfortunately, this allows for almost no characterization at all and as written, the actors have no room to breath, much less act. Which is probably just as well given the cardboard characters and uninspired dialog. Poor Patricia Medina fares worst as the "dragon lady" ex-wife. As for the children, Aaker is decent enough but Lowell's shrieking brat gets on one's nerves though Lewis whips up some tension involving the kids being terrorized by a mountain lion. With Keenan Wynn, Elaine Stewart and Jeff Richards.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

La Vie D'Adele (aka Blue Is The Warmest Color) (2013)

A young high school student (Adele Exarchopoulos) meets an older woman (Lea Seydoux) and thus begins an intense romantic relationship that will last several years. The winner of this years Palme D'Or at the Cannes film festival as well as best director (Abdellatif Kechiche) and best actress for both its leading ladies, if not the masterpiece it's been hyped up to be, it's still a remarkable achievement. Unfortunately much of the film's notoriety (it's rated NC-17) is based on its graphic lesbian sex scenes. But anyone going in expecting an erotic chick on chick flick is going to be disappointed. The sex scenes total about ten minutes out of a three hour running time and they're not exploitative but a necessary function of the film's narrative. This is a film about love. About finding it, finding your soul mate and the messiness of romantic relationships, of loss and the slow painful rebuilding. It's anchored by an extraordinary (and I don't use that word lightly) performance by Exarchopoulos that's so raw and visceral that it seems to transcend acting. Never for a moment do you feel you're watching an actress but only the character, an achievement rarely accomplished by even the greatest actresses like Streep, Hepburn and Davis. It's three hour running time may seem excessive for such an intimate story and Kechiche's languid pacing occasionally feels self indulgent but in the end, it's justified.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Take A Hard Ride (1975)

When his cattle rancher boss (Dana Andrews) dies of a heart attack, his right hand man (Jim Brown) promises the dying man to deliver $86,000 to his wife in Mexico. But when word gets out what he's carrying, suddenly a lot of people with an eye on the money attempt to prevent him from keeping his promise. This peculiar mixture of blaxploitation and spaghetti western with a dash of kung-fu oddly works for its first hour but I had trouble sustaining interest during its second half when it turns into a rather routine western. Directed by Antonio Margheriti (YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE), the movie was shot in the Canary Islands which make for a very convincing substitute for the American and Mexican west. Only Jerry Goldsmith's zippy score which cries out big budget Hollywood western hurts the spaghetti western like atmosphere. The stoic Brown has a strong screen presence but not much else so Fred Williamson (BLACK CAESAR) contributes a more lively performance while Jim Kelly (ENTER THE DRAGON) as a mute Indian provides the martial arts. With Lee Van Cleef as the squint eyed bounty hunter tracking the men, Catherine Spaak, Barry Sullivan and Harry Carey Jr.

Prudence And The Pill (1968)

Though they live under the same roof, a wealthy banker (David Niven) and his wife (Deborah Kerr) live separate lives. He has a mistress (Irina Demick), she has a lover (Keith Michell). But when his young niece (Judy Geeson) switches her mother's (Joyce Redman, TOM JONES) birth control pills with aspirin, it leads to a chain reaction of unexpected pregnancies for almost everyone. Based on the book by Hugh Mills and directed by Fielder Cook (A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY). Oh those swinging 60s have a lot to answer for and PRUDENCE AND THE PILL is one of them. It's garish looking (it's all orange and blue rooms and pink and purple dresses) with the requisite "swinging" underscore and taking advantage of the screen's new sexual freedom. I suppose a comedy about the birth control pill was inevitable but couldn't it have been funnier? Mercifully, they avoided putting Edith Evans in a mini skirt but no one comes out looking very good. Hugh Mills adapted his book for the screen so so I suppose we can lay the blame at his feet. With Robert Coote, David Dundas and Moyra Fraser.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Diana (2013)

Focusing on the last two years in the life of Princess Diana (Naomi Watts looking like a young Helen Mirren), post Prince Charles and pre Dodi Fayed, and her romance with a Pakistani heart surgeon (Naveen Andrews, THE ENGLISH PATIENT). Not surprisingly, the film opened to scathing reviews in Great Britain. The surprise is that while it's not good, it's not totally bad either. Never rising above, and I'm being generous here, adequate; it nevertheless presents a well balanced look at Diana. She's not portrayed as Saint Diana by a long shot but neither is she portrayed as mindless tabloid fashion icon/publicity hound. More importantly the central performance by Naomi Watts is excellent! Acknowledged that she can't overcome the script's inherent weakness (critics who've compared it to a Lifetime movie aren't far off) but Watts brings a genuine naivete (she wasn't the brightest) and humanity to her Diana. Recommended if you love good acting but if acting isn't that important to you, it can be skipped. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel with a very good underscore by David Holmes and Keefus Ciancia. With Juliet Stevenson, Geraldine James, Art Malik, Charles Edwards and Michael Byrne.