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Friday, January 31, 2014

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

In 1927 Louisiana, a married man (Bruce Dern) tells his lover Charlotte (Bette Davis) that he won't be running away with her. After his body is found hacked to death, it is assumed that she murdered him though she is never convicted. Jump to 37 years later and Charlotte is a crazy old spinster taken care of by her loyal housekeeper (Agnes Moorehead). But when her cousin (Olivia De Havilland) comes to stay with her, bizarre things start to happen. The follow up to the box office sleeper of 1962 WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? was intended to reunite the director Robert Aldrich with the two stars of BABY JANE, Davis and Joan Crawford. Rather than be upstaged by Davis once again, Crawford walked off the film and was replaced by De Havilland. In some ways, it's a better film than the 1962 success. While Davis dominated BABY JANE, here she has an equally strong co-star in De Havilland who gives an equally strong performance. There's also Agnes Moorehead in an Oscar nominated scene stealing role as the slovenly housekeeper. The length is excessive but it never feels padded out. It remains an excellent example of cinematic Grand Guignol. The effective score is by Frank De Vol. With Joseph Cotten, Mary Astor, Cecil Kellaway, George Kennedy, Victor Buono, William Campbell, Ellen Corby and Wesley Addy.

Man's Castle (1933)

An independent, tough minded but poor guy (Spencer Tracy) takes pity on a homeless waif (Loretta Young) and brings her home to his shack in a shanty town by the river. She falls hopelessly in love with him while he resists the call of domesticity. This pre-code depression era drama has much in common with some of director Frank Borzage's silent films with Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, notably SEVENTH HEAVEN and one could see this as a silent with those two in the leads. Curiously, Borzage presents both a rather romanticized view of poverty (if you're in love, who cares if you live in a ramshackle shack a strong wind could blow down) yet the depression era trappings are bluntly on view and Borzage has a feeling for the down and out ragamuffins struggling to survive by whatever means available. Tracy is a little rough around the edges with a genuine sexiness that would be neutered once MGM got a hold of him and made him one of their biggest stars and Young is lovely and never more appealing, an appeal she would lose once, like Tracy, she became a Movie Star. Romanticized or not, it's near irresistible. Sadly, the pre-code film was cut by some nine minutes when it was re-issued in the late thirties removing nudity and racy dialogue and this is the only print that survives. Still, there was no way they could disguise that the two lead characters openly cohabit without benefit of marriage. With Marjorie Rambeau (quite good), Glenda Farrell and Walter Connolly.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Gamble (1988)

In late 18th century Venice, a young man (Matthew Modine) returns from a year in exile to find his father (Ian Bannen) has squandered the family fortune by gambling. A ruthless German countess (Faye Dunaway) has not only obtained the family wealth but its properties too. She offers the son an opportunity to win everything back if he wins at the gambling table. If he loses ... she will own him body and soul. Based on the novel LA PARTITA by Alberto Ongaro (which I've not read), the film's narrative would seem to have infinite possibilities but the film is a mess. Directed by Carlo Vanzina, this is an Italian film and the script is credited to three Italian screenwriters. I assume that the script was then translated into English but whoever did the translation didn't seem to notice how flat and awkward the dialogue sounds in English. It doesn't help at all that wholesome faced, freshly scrubbed all-American Modine is hopelessly miscast as an 18th century Italian nobleman who's also a babe magnet. His monotone line delivery screams Southern California rather than the Mediterranean. Jennifer Beals, also playing a member of the Italian aristocracy, doesn't fare much better but at least she looks Italian. In general, the acting is amateurish. Only Dunaway as the film's dragon lady villainess seems to know what she's doing. The film's authentic locations (Venice, Verona, Lombarda) and the handsome period costumes by Roberta GuidiDi Bagno are a plus. With Corinne Clery (MOONRAKER) and Feodor Chaliapin (MOONSTRUCK).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Untamed Frontier (1952)

When the reckless heir (Scott Brady) to the Denbow empire shoots an unarmed man (Richard Garland), he marries the only witness (Shelley Winters) to keep her from testifying against him as a wife can't testify against her husband in a court of law. An effective western that focuses on the human element rather than the usual western trappings like barroom brawls and gunfights. Oh sure, there's a subplot about homesteaders vs. cattle ranchers that's prominent but it takes a backseat to the saga of a hard nosed cattle baron (Minor Watson) whose only son (Brady) refuses to accept his responsibilities and the nephew (Joseph Cotten) who takes them on and the woman (Winters) who comes between them. Winters is good but she's one of those actors who have such a contemporary sensibility that they seem out of place in a western despite their talent. A minor entry in the genre but one that should appeal to even non-western fans. Directed by Hugo Fregonese. With Lee Van Cleef, Suzan Ball, David Janssen, Fess Parker and Katherine Emery.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1966)

In first century Rome, a wily slave (Zero Mostel) attempts to procure a virgin (Annette Andre) from the brothel next door for his young master (Michael Crawford). The fact that she has been sold to Rome's most famous soldier (Leon Greene) won't stop him since his master has promised him his freedom if he accomplishes the task. Based on the hit Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim, the director Richard Lester has put the emphasis on the comedy rather than the music. The majority of Sondheim's score has been gutted which is anathema to Broadway purists (and unfortunate as it's a delightful score) but for fans of frantic farce, Lester has provided some inspired gags, both verbal and visual. Mostel's brand of comedy is usually too big for the screen (I'm not a fan of his work in THE PRODUCERS) but here it matches the material perfectly and he's marvelous. Fortunately two other farceurs, Phil Silvers as a procurer and Jack Gilford as a slave, are in top notch form and provide just as many laughs. Buster Keaton is around too and sadly, he's not given enough to do but he shows that his comedy chops haven't dimmed one bit. Ken Thorne won an Oscar for adapting Sondheim's score and the cinematography is by future director Nicholas Roeg. With Michael Hordern, Pamela Brown, Roy Kinnear, Patricia Jessel, Inga Neilsen and John Bluthal.

Monday, January 27, 2014

China (1943)

In 1941 China, an American profiteer (Alan Ladd) sells oil to both China and its Japanese invaders. But when he hooks up with an American schoolteacher (Loretta Young) and her female Chinese students on the run from the impending Japanese, his "neutrality" will soon evaporate. A combination of wartime propaganda and action movie, John Farrow's CHINA starts off tough and unsentimental but as it approaches the end, it becomes just another jingoistic movie designed to boost the moral of American wartime moviegoers. Ladd has a speech where he tells off the Japanese on why they'll never conquer America that will most likely set your teeth on edge. But with the exception of the three leads (William Bendix as Ladd's sidekick is the third star) and Tala Birell in briefly as a Russian blonde, the rest of the cast are Asian and the Chinese actors are allowed some decent roles instead of the usual stereotypes (the Japanese characters excepted). There's the cold blooded murder of a baby (Irene Tso) and the brutal gang rape of a Chinese girl (Marianne Quon) by the Japanese which must have shocked 1943 audiences. As far as WWII propaganda films go, this is one of the better ones. Arizona subs for China. With Philip Ahn, Victor Sen Yung (THE LETTER), Richard Loo, Iris Wong and Chester Gan.

El Cid (1961)

Spain in the year 1080 is under siege by the Moor chieftain Ibn Yusuf (Herbert Lom). When a knight (Charlton Heston) allows two Moor emirs (Douglas Wilmer, Frank Thring) to be released rather than executed, he is branded a traitor. But this will not stop him from uniting a peaceful Spain at any cost. Martin Scorsese declared EL CID "one of the greatest epic films ever made" and I'm not about to give him an argument. This is the real deal. Unlike many epics of the era that pushed spectacle over acumen, EL CID is an intelligent and literate epic perhaps only matched by Kubrick's SPARTACUS in the genre. Anthony Mann does a bang up job keeping the narrative in focus rather than getting lost in the pageant. The Spanish locations go a long way in providing authenticity with its actual castles and landscapes especially the siege of Valencia sequence shot on the Costa Del Azahar coast of Spain. The film's battles, jousts and swordplay ring with credibility. Heston, of course, is one of the few actors who seem perfectly at home in "ancient" times. As for the film's historical accuracy, the film is about the legend, not the real man. Miklos Rozsa surpasses himself with his great underscore. With Sophia Loren as Chimene, Raf Vallone, Genevieve Page, Hurd Hatfield, Gary Raymond, John Fraser, Massimo Serato, Michael Hordern and Barbara Everest.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Le Passe (aka The Past) (2013)

An Iranian man (Ali Mosaffa) returns to France to finalize the divorce from his French wife (Berenice Bejo). But it's going to take more than divorce papers to cut their ties to the past. For the past must be dealt with before, not only these two, but all the characters can move forward. Asghar Farhadi's (the Oscar winning A SEPARATION) new film examines the damage non-closure and misunderstanding has on us and how, to some extent, we are never free of the past. It's a meticulous film and Farhadi finely details each character, letting us see all sides. Bejo won this year's Cannes film festival best actress for her work here and her performance comes as a bit of a revelation if one has seen only her work as a comedienne in films like THE ARTIST and OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES. But the performances of Mosaffa and Tahar Rahim are equally strong. The film's final image keeps you holding your breath waiting but Farhadi keeps us guessing as it fades to black. Life's answers aren't that easy, so why should movies' be? A lovely, powerful piece of cinema. With Pauline Burlet, Jeanne Jestin, Sabrina Ouazani and young Elyes Aguis, whose performance is remarkable for one so young. I don't think I've been this impressed with a child actor since Anna Paquin in THE PIANO.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Designated Mourner (1997)

A bourgeois academic (Mike Nichols) is estranged from his wife (Miranda Richardson), the daughter of a respected poet (David De Keyser) in literary circles. As a political revolution occurs with a seeming anti-intellectual agenda and intellectuals and artists seem to be arbitrarily executed, the three focus on their personal tribulations. Based on the play by Wallace Shawn and like his MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, the film has only three characters who sit and talk for an hour and a half. If MY DINNER WITH ANDRE was not your thing, it's best to avoid this adaptation. The focus is on Shawn's dialog and the three central performers who, for the most part, play to the camera with a rare interaction among themselves. There are no concessions to cinema (unless you consider Richard Hartley's minimal underscoring). But Shawn's dialog is rich and descriptive and more often than not, amusing. Personally, I loved it but I can see why it wouldn't be every one's cup of tea as nothing "happens" though, of course, something is happening but it's cerebral rather than visual. Directed by the playwright David Hare (PLENTY).

Compulsion (1959)

In 1924 Chicago, two college students (Bradford Dillman, Dean Stockwell) influenced by Nietzche believe that they are superior intellectually and therefore above the laws of other men. To this end, they carefully plot to commit the perfect crime and get away with it. In this case, the kidnapping and murder of a young child. Based on the notorious Leopold and Loeb murder in 1924, this is a fictionalized account of that case. Hitchcock had used the case as the basis of his 1948 film ROPE but this version attempts to stay closer to the facts. It manages to be compelling for the most part though saddled with two unnecessary characters (who have no equivalent in the real L&L case) who drag the film down played by Diane Varsi (PEYTON PLACE) and Martin Milner. Orson Welles plays Clarence Darrow, called Jonathan Wilk in the movie, and more low-key than usual. His long monologue against capital punishment is a fancy bit of acting footwork (if it were a play, there would be sustained applause after he finished) but he's far better in the previous year's TOUCH OF EVIL and THE LONG HOT SUMMER. Stockwell is okay but it's Dillman's chilly unrepentent murderer that stands out. Directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA). With E.G. Marshall (very good), Richard Anderson, Robert F. Simon, Edward Binns, Gavin MacLeod and Nina Shipman.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Way...Way Out (1966)

The U.S. decides to send a married couple to man a space station on the moon. When they can't find an appropriate couple they tell the astronaut (Jerry Lewis) to select a wife between two qualified candidates and he chooses the more attractive one (Connie Stevens). The couple decide it will be a marriage in name only however. This dated cold war comedy is so 1960s! It's pretty flat for most of the running time but things perk up when a statuesque Russian cosmonaut (Anita Ekberg) and her lover (Dick Shawn) enter the picture. Their wild vodka foursome party is the film's highlight but when it's over, it's back to flat. Curiously, Lewis is rather subdued here, the role could just as easily have been played by Tony Curtis or Jack Lemmon. This is, of course, disappointing for fans of Lewis's inimitable brand of zany physical comedy. Hilyard Brown and Jack Martin Smith's futuristic set design is quite clever and Lalo Schifrin's ugly "swinging" score is typical of the era. Directed without any style by Gordon Douglas (where's Frank Tashlin when you need him?). With Robert Morley, Brian Keith, James Brolin, Dennis Weaver, Howard Morris, Linda Harrison (PLANET OF THE APES) and Sig Ruman.

Bad Day At Black Rock (1955)

At the end of WWII in 1945, a one armed stranger (Spencer Tracy) gets off the train at a whistle stop of a town in the Southwest. The town is strangely hostile because it is distrustful of strangers but when they find out the stranger is looking for a Japanese farmer, their hostility turns dangerous. Not surprising considering the dirty little secret they're trying to hide. This is a wonderful movie! It has a message but the director John Sturges (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN), working from a first rate script by Millard Kaufman, avoids the Stanley Kramer preaching and gives us a corker of a mystery thriller. He knows you have to entertain us first otherwise its message, however well intentioned, would be wasted on us. Sturges amps up the suspense quotient, keeping us as off kilter as Tracy's character. With the exception of Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine who are saddled with the usual brainless thug roles, the cast gives us their very best. Though Tracy may be a tad too old for the part, his work here earned him the best actor award at the Cannes film festival as well as an Oscar nomination. William C. Mellor (GIANT) uses the CinemaScope frame superbly and Andre Previn provides an evocative underscore. With Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Walter Brennan, John Ericson, Dean Jagger and Russell Collins.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Nothing Sacred (1937)

A New York reporter (Fredric March) goes to Vermont to investigate a story about a local girl (Carole Lombard) dying of radium poisoning. He arranges for the girl to be feted in New York with lots of publicity for the last weeks of her life. The problem is, she's not dying and took the trip because she wanted to get out of the dull small town. One of the best examples of 1930s screwball comedy, NOTHING SACRED is a tart look at both the gullibility of the public and the cynicism of the media that exploits tragedy while making a profit on it. Things haven't changed much, eh? Shot in vivid Technicolor and languidly directed by William A. Wellman, the film has Lombard and March in fine form. I've always preferred March's comedy work (DESIGN FOR LIVING, I MARRIED A WITCH) to his over mannered dramatic performances and his deft performance here shows why. Remade as LIVING IT UP in 1954 with Jerry Lewis in Lombard's role while Janet Leigh got the March part. The impeccable supporting cast includes Walter Connolly, Charles Winninger, Sig Ruman, Max Rosenbloom (whose phone conversation with his brother is a comedic highlight), Troy Brown, Margaret Hamilton, Hattie McDaniel, Hedda Hopper and John Qualen.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tarzan's Hidden Jungle (1955)

Two hunters (Jack Elam, Charles E. Fredericks) pose as photographers and talk a doctor (Peter Van Eyck) into taking them to the Sukulu country which is taboo to white men except for the doctor. When his nurse (Vera Miles) discovers their disguise, she and Tarzan (Gordon Scott) follow to warn him. The Tarzan films can be called many things. Racist? Perhaps. Silly? Most definitely. But dull? This entry in the series certainly comes close. Filmed in Los Angeles with inserts of stock footage (showing much wear and tear) of jungle animal life, this was Scott's debut as Tarzan taking over from Lex Barker. His physique may be magnificent but he has all the presence of a cup of lukewarm tea. He apparently appealed to Miles as they married after the film was shot. It's the usual jungle stuff. Miles sinking in quicksand, natives shouting "Oomgawa!", charging lions, elephant stampedes, cute chimps etc though I could have done without the French kissing chimpanzees. Directed by Harold D. Schuster (MY FRIEND FLICKA). With Rex Ingram (THIEF OF BAGDAD), Richard Reeves, Maidie Norman and Don Beddoe.

Absolute Power (1997)

A career thief (Clint Eastwood, who also directed) is in the middle of a robbery when the woman (Melora Hardin) of the house comes in with a man (Gene Hackman) who is not her husband. He watches as the man starts slapping the woman around during sex and when she attempts to defend herself with a paper knife, she is shot to death by two men ... members of the Secret Service because the woman's lover is the President Of The United States! Based on the best selling novel by David Baldacci, there are considerable changes from the book. The book's main character is totally eliminated and the focus of the film is on Eastwood's character who is killed off in the book but now becomes the film's hero. Despite its improbably far fetched plot, this is a crackerjack thriller. My only real complaint is the ridiculousness of the way some characters come and go in places they should not be (like the hospital room of a key witness) with ease. But, of course, hospital security is inconvenient and would only gum up the suspense. But Eastwood's first rate direction overcomes some of the sloppier aspects of hack screenwriter William Goldman's script. With Laura Linney, Ed Harris, Judy Davis, Scott Glenn, Dennis Haysbert and in his final film role, E.G. Marshall.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Girl From Jones Beach (1949)

A commercial artist (Ronald Reagan) and an agent (Eddie Bracken) discover a beautiful girl (Virginia Mayo) on a beach that they think would make the perfect "Randolph" girl, a popular model that is actually comprised of body parts from twelve different girls. However, the girl is a school teacher who would rather be admired for her mind, not her body. This piece of mindless fluff is only sporadically amusing. Even then some of the humor is dubious as when a glass of champagne doused with sleeping pills and intended for suicide is picked up by the wrong person. But some of the humor is refreshingly ribald: when Mayo in a bathing suit is referred to as exhibit A, the judge (Henry Travers) retorts, "Make that double A!". Reagan's "Czech" accent is intentionally all over the place and makes for a few grins also. But overall, its pretty routine. Directed by Peter Godfrey (CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT). With Lola Albright, Helen Westcott, Florence Bates, Jerome Cowan and the silent film star Lois Wilson (THE COVERED WAGON) as Mayo's mother.

Monday, January 20, 2014

To Teleftaio Psema (aka A Matter Of Dignity) (1958)

A young girl (Ellie Lambeti) is a member of Greece's upper class. But when her family faces bankruptcy, her mother (Athena Michaelidou) pushes her toward a marriage of convenience with a wealthy man (Minas Christidis) in the hopes he will help the family out of their financial woes. Directed by Michael Cacoyannis (ZORBA THE GREEK), this is an insightful look at a young girl lost in the privileges of the wealthy classes without a strong moral center, who finds herself questioning their/her values at a heavy price. The film casually takes its time setting up her "glamorous" if empty lifestyle of club hopping, expensive clothes, yacht parties (one might assume we're in Antonioni territory here) before it rapidly turns the table on us. The lovely Lambeti, who starred in Cacoyannis' earlier A GIRL IN BLACK, gives a strong performance that is good enough that one wishes she had a more prominent film career (she only did two more movies). Handsomely shot in B&W by Walter Lassally (TOM JONES). With Eleni Zafeiriou who gives film's other strong performance as the put upon housekeeper, Giorgos Pappas and Michalis Nikolinakos.

The Night Of The Grizzly (1966)

An ex-lawman (Clint Walker) and his family arrive in Wyoming to take over a ranch left to him by his late uncle. The house and land are in pretty bad shape but he and his wife (Martha Hyer) make plans to build the place up. But when a monstrous grizzly bear known as Satan ravages the countryside killing both animal and beast, their dream is placed in jeopardy. A standard western that stands out because of its horror movie trimmings. That killer bear is as much a "monster" as the shark in JAWS or the dog in CUJO. But it's only average, it lacks the intensity of those films and much of the film is dragged down by domestic scenes with Hyer as the little woman wringing her hands and asking her man to stay home and please don't go out and get yourself killed. There's the usual fist fights, two villains (Keenan Wynn who wants Walker's ranch and Leo Gordon as the man Walker sent to prison) and wholesome comedy, this time provided by Nancy Kulp (BEVERLY HILLBILLIES) as an old maid who sets her cap on a grizzled cowpoke (Don Haggerty). The picture picks up some steam when Walker and Gordon become rivals to get the reward for killing the grizzly but even that is dissipated because of the predictable script. Directed by veteran Joseph Pevney (MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES) with a nice underscore by Leith Stevens. With Ellen Corby, Jack Elam, Ron Ely, Sammy Jackson and Regis Toomey.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The World Of Henry Orient (1964)

Two precocious 14 year old girls (Merrie Spaeth, Tippy Walker) attending a prestigious private school in Manhattan become friends. When one of them develops a crush on a mediocre concert pianist (Peter Sellers), the girls begin to stalk him. Based on the novel by Nora Johnson, who co-wrote the screenplay with her father Nunnally Johnson (THE DIRTY DOZEN), this is a rather placid look at two rather privileged schoolgirls going through typical adolescent crushes and disappointments. It's rather charming up to a point, the point being when their activities become more annoying than cute. Fortunately, the adults provide a bit more levity to the proceedings. Surprisingly, a lot of people who saw the movie when it was first released seem to have a great affection for this movie. I did too until this recent rewatch and was rather underwhelmed except for Angela Lansbury as Walker's predatory mother in a top notch performance. Directed by George Roy Hill (THE STING). With an underused Paula Prentiss, Phyllis Thaxter, Tom Bosley, Bibi Osterwald and Peter Duchin (Eddy's son).

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fruitvale Station (2013)

An ex-convict (Michael B. Jordan) is trying to get his life back together. Fired from his job, he starts off 2009 with some hope that things will get better and plans to spend New Year's Eve with his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and friends in San Francisco. But 2009 will never happen for him. Based on the killing of Oscar Grant in the early hours of New Year's Day 2009 by police officers of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, Ryan Coogler's powerful first feature film is an auspicious debut. Though as with most films "based on a true story", dramatic license is taken but Coogler has perfectly encapsulated the last day of a human being's life and the chaotic end that never should have happened. I don't know what took me so long to get around to watching this film. I'm from the Bay Area and have ridden the very train and gotten off at Fruitvale Station when I lived there and my nephew knows the director (also from the Bay Area) slightly. Anyone who's ever been in Oakland, California can vouch that Coogler nailed the city and its atmosphere. Jordan gives a first rate performance as does Octavia Spencer (THE HELP) as his mother. Coogler shows enormous potential and I hope he doesn't end up being a one shot wonder like John Singleton (BOYZ N THE HOOD). With Ariana Neal, Ahna O'Reilly, Chad Michael Murray and Kevin Durand.

The Three Musketeers (1973)

A young man (Michael York) arrives in 17th century Paris with the hopes of becoming part of the King's Musketeers. It doesn't take long before he becomes involved in royal politics and scandals when the ambitious Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston) attempts to use the illicit love affair between Queen Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) and the Duke Of Buckingham (Simon Ward) as an excuse for war against England. One of the most filmed books, this is at least the 12th adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel and dare I say it, the best? The screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser and the director Richard Lester are faithful to the novel but infuse the film with generous amounts of humor. The film easily works on two levels, a rollicking comedy as well as a dashing adventure. The humor is often subtle to the point of throwaways that might easily slip by. Example: a background actor might mumble something quite amusing but its not the focus of the scene. And what a dream cast! Oliver Reed as Athos, Faye Dunaway as the wicked Miady, Richard Chamberlain as Aramis, Raquel Welch as Constance, Christopher Lee as De Rochefort, Jean Pierre Cassel as Louis XIII. Since they filmed the entire novel, they split it into two films. This one ends with D'Artagnan becoming a musketeer and the second half of the novel was released a year later as THE FOUR MUSKETEERS. The beauty of a score, a personal favorite, is by Michel Legrand. With Frank Finlay, Roy Kinnear, Spike Milligan and Sybil Danning.

Loophole (1954)

At the end of his Friday workday, a bank teller (Barry Sullivan) finds himself short almost 50,000 dollars. An error in judgment causes him not to report the shortage until the following Monday morning. That error in judgment makes him a prime suspect in embezzling the money and when the bonding company refuses to bond him, he is fired. Convinced he stole the money, an insurance investigator (Charles McGraw) begins stalking and harassing him. Though the plot may sound like an updating of LES MISERABLES, this "B" crime film is more akin to Chandler than Victor Hugo. Its story of an innocent man who finds his life turned upside down because of a lapse in judgment is strong enough to keep one engrossed though the protagonist's own stupidity renders him somewhat unsympathetic in the end. Thankfully, bank security is now sophisticated enough to prevent such an occurrence today. Its low budget B&W, shot on location look gives it a raw realism it would have lacked with a more polished studio finish. Sadly, the final 20 minutes are rather messy and deflate the tension that the film's first hour carefully built up. Directed by Harold D. Schuster. With Dorothy Malone, wasted as Sullivan's wife, but Mary Beth Hughes makes for an excellent hard as nails femme fatale and Don Haggerty, Don Beddoe, Joanne Jordan and Richard Reeves.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Det Sjunde Inseglet (aka The Seventh Seal) (1957)

Returning home from the Crusades, a disillusioned knight (Max Von Sydow) and his servant (Gunnar Bjornstrand) find their homeland riddled with the plague. When death (Bengt Ekerot) comes to claim him, the knight challenges him to a game of chess thus holding death at bay until the outcome of the chess game. There's that old expression about not being able to define what Art is but "I know it when I see it". One doesn't have to be a scholar but one would have to be backward not to feel you're in the presence of a genuine piece of cinematic Art while watching Ingmar Bergman's landmark film. One doesn't have to embrace it or even like it but the film is a perfect example of film as an Art form. One can discuss the film's several themes like reason vs. faith or enjoy it simply as Woody Allen called it, "a brilliant, sinister fairy tale". Von Sydow's probing for an explanation, an assurance of God's existence pervades the film but the film is filled with rich imagery and scenes that once seen are not easily forgotten: the march of the flagellators, the peaceful respite of milk and strawberries, the poor child "witch" and the iconic finale, the dance of death. One of a handful of cinematic masterpieces that deserve each and every accolade given it. With Bibi Andersson, Nils Poppe, Gunnel Lindblom, Ake Fridell, Inga Gill and Inga Landgre.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bureau Of Missing Persons (1933)

A tough cop (Pat O'Brien) with rather thuggish methods is transferred to the missing persons bureau. When a pert blonde (Bette Davis) comes in looking for her missing husband, he decides to handle the case himself. But there's something suspicious about that blonde ... just what is she up to? This is a fast talking snappy little "B" that Warners churned out on a regular basis in the early 1930s. Amusing, colorful characters with just the right amount of mystery to keep you hooked. It's also as disposable as Kleenex. But that's okay because the movie was never designed to be anything but a quick Saturday night programmer, in for a week and out. The Warners stock company of character actors are all here: Glenda Farrell, Allen Jenkins, Ruth Donnelly among them. It's kind of frightening to think what might have happened to Davis's career if OF HUMAN BONDAGE hadn't rescued her the following year. But she and O'Brien have a nice chemistry and their bantering is amiable. Directed by Roy Del Ruth (BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936). With Lewis Stone (borrowed from MGM), Hugh Herbert and George Chandler.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Richard's Things (1980)

After her husband Richard (Mark Eden) dies suddenly from a heart attack, his wife (Liv Ullmann) discovers he was having an affair. She confronts his mistress (Amanda Redman) but after the initial hurt and anger, they slowly form an attachment to each other as a way of keeping Richard alive. The film would seem to have everything going for it: one of the world's greatest actresses in Ullmann, directed by an award winning director Anthony Harvey (THE LION IN WINTER), shot by a master cinematographer Freddie Young (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA), a screenplay by an Oscar winning screenwriter Frederic Raphael (DARLING), a score by the great Georges Delerue (JULES AND JIM). So what went wrong? The film seems to think it's more profound than its mediocrity reveals. The film is past the halfway mark before it gets remotely interesting but by then its squandered whatever good will it might have built up. The rather trite dialogue defeats the great Ullmann but positively demolishes poor Redman who can do no better than a one dimensional performance. To the film's credit, its depiction of a Lesbian relationship between the wife and the mistress is treated without sensation and rather affectionately. Still, for all the talent involved, shouldn't we get more than just another love story? With Tim Pigott-Smith, Elizabeth Spriggs, David Markham and Ian McDiarmid.

The Mad Room (1969)

A young woman (Stella Stevens) works as a companion to her fiance's (Skip Ward) disapproving stepmother (Shelley Winters). When her brother (Michael Burns) and sister (Barbara Sammeth) are released from a mental institution, she brings them to live in the house. What she doesn't tell her fiance and stepmother is that they were incarcerated for murdering their parents at the ages of 4 and 6. Very loosely based on the 1941 film LADIES IN RETIREMENT, this is a middling effort at best. Its "surprise" ending is no surprise at all as it's fairly obvious and the film is hampered by poor performances by Burns and Sammeth. The director Bernard Girard can't seem to create a sense of suspense which a film like this demands if it's going to work at all. While Winters is surprisingly restrained, poor Stevens is sabotaged by Moss Mabry's hideous ruffles and bows costumes and the ugly more is less hairstyles of Virginia Jones. The score by Dave Grusin (ON GOLDEN POND) is a mixed blessing, some nice pastoral moments but some generic thriller cues. With Beverly Garland, Severn Darden and Carole Cole.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Romance On The High Seas (1948)

When her husband (Don DeFore) bows out of their South American vacation because of business, his wife (Janis Paige) suspects he's having an affair. So she stays behind and sends a proxy (Doris Day) in her place on the cruise ship to pose as her and stays behind to spy on her husband. Meanwhile, the equally suspicious husband hires a private detective (Jack Carson) to go on the cruise and spy on his wife. Oh, what a tangled web they weave as mix-ups galore take place. Warners didn't have much luck with female musical stars in the 1940s. MGM had Judy Garland, Fox had Betty Grable, Universal had Deanna Durbin and Paramount had Betty Hutton. This was Doris Day's feature film debut and she became one of Warners' biggest stars right out of the gate. By the time Day gets around to singing the Oscar nominated It's Magic, you realize you've just seen a star being born. This is the closest Warners got to the look of an MGM musical in style and quality. Its script is clever, its leads attractive and the songs first rate. Day would have to wait another five years before she got another musical as good (CALAMITY JANE). That jack of all trades ("What couldn't he direct?") Michael Curtiz keeps the farce moving quickly along. With Oscar Levant, S.Z. Sakall, Eric Blore, Franklin Pangborn, Fortunio Bonanova and Avon Long.

Days Of Wine And Roses (1958)

A public relations executive (Cliff Robertson) and a secretary (Piper Laurie) meet at a rooftop office party. They are immediately attracted to each other but their avid social drinking will soon escalate into full tilt alcoholism which will take them through a Hellish journey and from which only one will survive. Most everyone has seen or is at least aware of the 1962 Blake Edwards film version but not many have seen the original 1958 production which is a pity. A pity because it's superior to the 1962 film (which isn't bad at all) in most ways. Fifty-five years later, it still packs a wallop! The sheer jumping out of their skin desperation of Robertson and Laurie as they panic for another drink in a grungy flat is palpable and heartbreaking even as you're repulsed. Robertson is wonderful here but it's Piper Laurie who's the revelation and one can't help but wonder what Universal was thinking when it wasted her in minor westerns and Arabian nights adventure flicks. The direction by John Frankenheimer is strong and one can see why the movies quickly snapped him up. With Charles Bickford who would go on to play the same role in the 1962 film, Malcolm Atterbury and Marc Lawrence.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Great Gatsby (1949)

In the 1920s, a man (Alan Ladd) with recently acquired wealth and a mysterious past buys an enormous mansion on Long Island. His aim is to win back the love (Betty Field) of his youth, who is now married to a member (Barry Sullivan) of Long Island's social set and lives across the bay from his new mansion. The second film adaptation (the first was in 1924) of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald book has some good things about it but it is hopelessly compromised by 1940s morality which changes important aspects of the Fitzgerald novel. No more so that the film's ending which erases Tom Buchanan's complicity in Gatsby's death and Daisy's insistence on turning herself in to the police. For some inexplicable reason, the screenwriters have made Jordan Baker (Ruth Hussey) rather self centered and not above blackmail to get what she thinks she deserves. Films of the 1940s and 1950s were notorious for being lackadaisical when it came to accuracy for films set in the 20s where everyone and everything looked 40s or 50s. That's not the case here, especially so in Edith Head's costumes. Surprisingly, Ladd does some of his best work here and his scene with Daisy when he shows her his new clothes may be the best piece of acting he's done and with a stronger director and better script, you can see that he might have been a perfect Gatsby. Gatsby's death is quite graphic for its day (blood and bullet holes). Directed by Elliott Nugent. With Macdonal Carey as Nick (weak), Shelley Winters as Myrtle (good), Howard Da Silva (who would also star in the 1974 film version), Ed Begley, Henry Hull, Elisha Cook Jr. and Carole Mathews.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

An Artist's Story (1974)

In late 19th century Russia, an artist (Patrick Stewart) living in the country becomes involved with two sisters. One (Meg Wynn Owen) does good deeds for the poor and has a slight contempt for the artist while her younger sister (Emma Williams) hopes to learn from him. Based on a short story by Anton Chekhov, this is a slight piece that pits the artist whose search for truth he considers more important than anything against the older sister who feels his search for truth is merely a justification for doing nothing in helping the poor and oppressed. Will the search for truth free the peasants and thus release them from hard labor and poverty or must we do what we can to alleviate their suffering even if only temporary. Chekhov seems to be slightly disposed to the artist's argument but the story's ambivalence never lets us know sure. Directed by David Jones. With Brenda Bruce and Philip Locke.

Psycho (1998)

A secretary (Anne Heche) steals $400,000 from her employer (Rance Howard) and runs off to join her lover (Viggo Mortensen) in another state. On the way, she stops at a desolate motel run by an odd young man (Vince Vaughn) with a sick mother ... the worst mistake of her life. Gus Van Sant's shot for shot remake of the landmark 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film (even to using Joseph Stefano's original script) has been much maligned. I'm not about to defend it (well, not much) but although it is a failure, it's an ambitious failure. Most remakes find ways to change the original (or why else do it?), update them, add to them, subtract from them, etc. But Van Sant follows what theater has been doing for centuries, simply presenting the piece as originally written (more or less). The film is in color which detracts from the darkly moody atmosphere of the 1960 film and the color scheme is rather garish, bright greens and oranges (even the blood in the shower scene has an orange tinge). Only one scene is eliminated from the original (a visit to the sheriff at the church service) while Van Sant inserts some strange intercuts and a misguided shot of Vaughn playing with himself. Vaughn is disastrous as Norman Bates and Heche totally lacks the vulnerability that Janet Leigh brought to Marion Crane. On the plus side, Julianne Moore and Mortensen are better actors than their 1960 counterparts (Vera Miles, John Gavin) and bring more depth to their sketchily written roles. Alas, the film was such a critical and financial disaster that it's unlikely anyone will do a shot for shot remake based on the original script again but it was an noble experiment. Danny Elfman reuses Bernard Herrmann's original score. With William H. Macy, Robert Forster, Philip Baker Hall, Rita Wilson, Chad Everett, James LeGros, James Remar and Flea.

Never Let Me Go (1953)

An American journalist (Clark Gable) marries a Russian ballerina (Gene Tierney) but when he leaves for the United States, the Soviets refuse to let his wife accompany him and refuse him entry back to the Soviet Union. He then conceives a daring plan to sneak back into Russia and help his wife escape. Directed by Delmer Daves (A SUMMER PLACE), this is a rather lackluster romance which isn't helped by the lack of chemistry between Gable and Tierney. The film does whip up some tension during its last twenty minutes during the escape with much of the dialogue in Russian with no English subtitles thus leaving us unsure of what is going on. Gable is, well, Gable but Tierney is quite touching and she does a credible Russian accent though it's obvious she has a dance double for the ballet sequences. Not surprisingly considering the time in which it was filmed, the Russians are portrayed unfavorably. Filmed in Great Britain, the movie takes advantage of the Cornwall coast during its English section. With Kenneth More, Richard Haydn, Bernard Miles, Theodore Bikel, Belita, Karel Stepanek, Anna Valentina and Anton Diffring.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Owl And The Pussycat (1970)

When a part time hooker (Barbra Streisand) gets kicked out of her apartment in the middle of the night because her neighbor (George Segal), a nerdy failed writer complained about her activities, she barges into his apartment and demands that he put her up for the night. Thus begins an unlikely romantic relationship. Based on the two character play by Bill Manhoff, the screenplay by Buck Henry opens up the film a bit but not by much. Despite the minor characters hovering around the fringe of the film, it's still essentially a two character piece. Quite daring for its day, it seems almost quaint today though inexplicably Streisand (who had her nude scene eliminated from the film) uttering the "F" word was cut from the film shortly after it was released and has never been reinstated. The film is dialogue heavy and the writing is uneven though fortunately Streisand and Segal have such a smooth chemistry that it's a pity they didn't work again in their prime (Segal had a small part in her THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES). The easy listening pop/jazz score is by Richard Halligan of Blodd, Sweat & Tears and is performed by the band. Directed by Herbert Ross. With Robert Klein, Allen Garfield, Roz Kelly and porn actress Marilyn Chambers (BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR).

Deputy Marshal (1949)

A U.S. deputy marshal (Jon Hall, THE HURRICANE) is given a piece of paper by a man (Wheaton Chambers) before he is shot to death. The marshal keeps the content of the paper to himself as he investigates not only who killed the man and why. Undistinguished low budget fodder tossed off for the lower half of a western double bill. So generic that I was shocked to see it was based on a novel by Charles Heckelmann. It's the kind of time filler that often popped up on TV in the 50s and 60s for a Saturday matinee. For old movie buffs, it has some minor interest like seeing Hall and his then wife the singer Frances Langford (the movie stops cold when she sings two songs) in their only film together. The film's "B" status is further ensured by what appears to be an awful cobbled together (and uncredited) underscore of stock music, I certainly hope no one was actually paid for writing that junk. Directed by William Berke. With Dick Foran, Julie Bishop, Joe Sawyer, Mary Gordon and the rubber faced Clem Bevans, who gives the film its only life.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Naked Lunch (1991)

A bug exterminator (Peter Weller, ROBOCOP) gets high by shooting up with his own bug poison. When he accidentally kills his wife (Judy Davis), he flees to the "Interzone" which is in the Middle East and where the "black meat", the dried intestines of giant sea centipedes, are ground into powder and distributed as a hallucinatory. Based on William S. Burroughs controversial 1959 novel, this is a hard film to describe easily as its narrative is essentially one long surreal hallucination while on drugs. It's certainly a film to be avoided if one is in any way entomophobic! If the director David Cronenberg's THE FLY freaked you out, he goes even further here. Typewriters turn into roach like creatures and talk to you (through what looks like a rectum), insect like creatures are ripped apart exposing their innards and giant insects get sexually aroused and join humans for sex. Yes, definitely not for the squeamish. It's a fascinating abstract journey into the mind of a junkie with a precise eye for the 1950s "Beat" generation. The expressive jazz score is by Howard Shore. With Roy Scheider, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Nicholas Campbell, Michele Mercure and Joseph Scoren.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sex Kittens Go To College (1960)

When the new head of the science department arrives at a small college, the administration is shocked to find she's a sexy blonde (Mamie Van Doren) with a dynamite figure. Unfortunately, her looks prevent everyone from taking her seriously. From the man who gave us Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL and Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND, Albert Zugmsith not only produced but wrote the story and directed. It's a dumb and obvious exploitation movie that should be more fun than it is. Still, there are nuggets of amusement here and there like Van Doren speaking German and quoting Freud or John Carradine dancing the Charleston. I saw the European cut which is about nine minutes longer and features copious amounts of nudity which was obviously too raw for U.S. audiences in 1960. In addition to Van Doren, the "sex kittens" include Tuesday Weld and Mijanou Bardot, Brigitte's sister, whose stilted performance is difficult to assess. Is she a bad actress or defeated by her ineptitude in the English language. The large cast includes an odd mixture of Martin Milner, Louis Nye, Vampira, Pamela Mason (James' then wife), Mickey Shaughnessy, former child star Jackie Coogan and rockabilly singer Conway Twitty.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Mortal Storm (1940)

In 1933 Germany as Hitler begins his rise to power, a family quickly finds itself taking sides: father against son, brother against sister, friend against friend, lover against lover as the dark clouds of the coming holocaust grow. With the sanctimonious voice over at the beginning of the film, I feared the worst. I needn't have. After that's quickly over, what we get is a powerful film about a family being swept up in the chaos of a poisonous political tract that overwhelms even its early followers. The film avoids the zealous excesses of the propaganda of most WWII films as the U.S. hadn't even entered the war when the film was made. Curiously, the film makers hedge about using the word Jew, using the word non-Aryan instead. The acting is quite good though it takes a huge leap to accept James Stewart as a young German farmer yet Robert Young is chillingly convincing as a fervent Nazi supporter. Directed with a firm hand by Frank Borzage all the way to its bleak ending. With the appealing Margaret Sullavan, Robert Stack, Dan Dailey, Maria Ouspenskaya, Bonita Granville, Ward Bond, Frank Morgan as the Jewish patriarch and Irene Rich as his gentile wife.

Un Homme Et Une Femme (aka A Man And A Woman) (1966)

A widow (Anouk Aimee), who works as a script supervisor in films, and a widower (Jean Louis Trintignant), who is a race car driver, meet because their small children attend the same boarding school. A tentative romance begins. Winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival as well as the best foreign language film Oscar, it's somewhat difficult today to describe what a breath of fresh air cinematically Claude Lelouch's romance was in 1966. Its influence on other films (not to mention television commercials) resonated for decades. Its narrative is paper thin ... a man and a woman meet and fall in love. But it's how Lelouch presents his story that's exceptional. It's done visually with long stretches without dialog, often accompanied by Francis Lai's seductive underscore: a car driving as dawn breaks, an old man and his dog walking on the beach, the protagonists going about their work and daily lives, etc. Lelouch bounces back between color, B&W and sepia though apparently it had more to do with economic reasons rather than artistic choices. Lelouch is blessed with Aimee and Trintignant as his leads, not only because they're attractive but their expressive faces say more than reams of dialogue could. In the end, it's about as much about love of cinema as romantic love. The love story between Aimee and Trintignant is presented realistically yet it's more swoony movie romance than ever. It was the date movie of 1966/67. With Pierre Barouh and Valerie Lagrange.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Disembodied (1957)

When a man (Robert Christopher) is attacked by a lion while on a photo shoot in the African jungle, his colleagues (Paul Burke, Joel Marston) take him to the nearest doctor (John Wengraf). The doctor is a misanthrope with a sexy Voodoo priestess (Allison Hayes, ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN) for a wife. This preposterous slice of horror pulp is catnip to fans of kitschy 1950s "B" horror films. Its slapdash script seems thrown together without much thought. It's supposedly set in Africa but the atmosphere seems more Caribbean, just where do you find a chicken to sacrifice in the heart of Africa anyway? But it's not the kind of movie that holds up if you dwell on its improbabilities. Better to enjoy Hayes' bump and grind voodoo dance or the non reaction of the stone faced Burke to all the silliness swirling around him. He can't even be bothered to raise an eyebrow when a character gets stabbed in front of him. Directed by Walter Grauman (LADY IN A CAGE). With Eugenia Paul and Dean Fredericks.

The Last Days Of Pompeii (1935)

After his wife (Gloria Shea) and child die because of poverty, a blacksmith (Preston Foster) becomes a gladiator and later as a slave dealer which makes him one of the wealthiest men in Pompeii. While a gladiator, he killed the father of a small child (David Holt as a boy, John Wood as a man) and he raises him as his own son. Throughout the story, the presence of Mount Vesuvius hovers ominously over the city. The film takes its title from the 1834 novel by Edward Bulwer Lytton but nothing else, the film's plot has nothing to do with the book. The Ernest B. Schoedsack (MIGHTY JOE YOUNG) film is a rather crude example of the early biblical epic. It's a pretty dull affair until the film's last twenty minutes or so when Vesuvius erupts and the film's superb (for its day) special effects kick in. But up to that point, the film needs not its sincere "good taste" and pious Christianity but a little DeMille vulgarity to liven things up. There's an effective underscore by Roy Webb. With Basil Rathbone as Pontius Pilate, Louis Calhern and Dorothy Wilson.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Bird Of Paradise (1951)

In the late 19th century, a Frenchman (Louis Jourdan) accompanies his Polynesian school friend (Jeff Chandler) to his native island. There, the Frenchman has trouble adapting to their native customs which are alien to him but he falls in love with the chief's daughter (Debra Paget). But there's trouble in paradise when the Kahuna (Maurice Schwartz) prophesies that the white man will bring bad luck to the island. Based on the creaky 1912 play by Richard Walton Tully which King Vidor previously made in 1932, this is a kitschy piece of tropical nonsense that makes for a diverting afternoon of mindless movie watching. The director Delmer Daves' previous film had been the excellent BROKEN ARROW which was one of the first films openly sympathetic to the Native Americans. Perhaps Daves thought he could do something similar with the Polynesian culture. Daves' BROKEN ARROW stars, Chandler and Paget change their Indian buckskins for sarongs here but the film has about as much depth as a wading pool. Though filmed on the islands of Hawaii, Oahu and Kauai, Winton C. Hoch's cinematography doesn't take full advantage of the islands' magnificent vistas. With Everett Sloane and Jack Elam.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (2013)

A mild mannered employee of Life magazine (Ben Stiller, who also directed) leads a rather lackluster life but has daydreams of leading an adventurous existence. His timidness prevents him from letting a fellow employee (Kristen Wiig) know that he's interested in her. But soon, he will begin a real adventure that will change his life forever. A remake of a 1947 Danny Kaye film based on a James Thurber short story doesn't exactly get your hopes up. So what a pleasant surprise this turned out to be. As the film began, it was like unwrapping a rather plain package and finding something wonderful inside. It has very little to do with the actual Thurber tale but the 1947 film didn't either. This is a more ambitious (and need I say better?) film but with a generous amount of laughs. Steve Conrad's screenplay touches the dreamer in all of us but still has enough wit to poke fun at the popular superhero Marvel movies that clean up at the box office. Stuart Dryburgh's (THE PIANO) lensing of the Iceland locations are breathtaking and it's nice to see Wiig in a traditional romantic lead, letting us see that she can do more than play the wacky funny ladies. And if anyone needed reminding what a great song David Bowie's Space Oddity is, this is the film to do it. With Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Conan O'Brien, Kathryn Hahn, Patton Oswalt and Adam Scott, suitably slimey (but isn't he always?) as the new transition manager.

The Lonely Passion Of Judith Hearne (1987)

Set in 1950 Dublin, an aging spinster (Maggie Smith) with a secret drinking problem arrives at a shabby boarding house hoping for a new start. When she meets the landlady's (Marie Kean, BARRY LYNDON) unrefined brother (Bob Hoskins), she fancies he's attracted to her and thinks that she has finally met the man she's been waiting for all her life. But fate has other things in store for her. If asked, most people would probably say THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE is Smith's best performance. It's not. It's THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE. All the actress-y mannerisms that her fans love are absent here. Smith's performance is open and raw and ultimately heartbreaking, a devastating portrait of a desperate woman at the end of her tether, a woman whose illusions and beliefs have been torn from her and who now sees the abyss. Based on the novel by Brian Moore and directed by Jack Clayton. Clayton is a director who understands women and several actresses have done some of their very best work under his direction (Simone Signoret, Anne Bancroft, Deborah Kerr) and under his guidance, Smith gives a blistering performance. The subtle score is by Georges Delerue. George Harrison and Elton John are among the producers. With Wendy Hiller and Ian McNiece.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Wonder Man (1945)

A brash nightclub comic (Danny Kaye) is killed by gangsters because he is about to testify before the District Attorney (Otto Kruger) about witnessing a mobster (Steve Cochran) murdering a woman. So he returns as a ghost and possesses the body of his prim and nerdy brother (Danny Kaye) to get his revenge. One of Kaye's funniest films! Kaye seems to alienate a lot of film lovers but comedy being subjective and all that, I usually find him a laugh riot. Only once is the film marred by Kaye's excesses, when he does one of his "look at me!" show offish tongue twisting Russian numbers which stops the movie cold. The film gets its laughs easily enough. Mainly by the tried and sure method of having Kaye talk to his brother's ghost, who no one else can see, and the frustrated and confused reaction of the person who thinks Kaye is talking to them. That scene stealer S.Z. Sakall comes pretty close to upstaging Kaye in their scenes together, not an easy feat. Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone (I WAKE UP SCREAMING) and John Wray did the choreography. With Virginia Mayo, Vera-Ellen, Donald Woods, Natalie Schafer, Allen Jenkins and Edward Brophy.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Nous La Liberte (1931)

Two prisoners (Raymond Cordy, Henri Marchand) in a French jail plot an escape but only Cordy makes it, Marchand is apprehended by the prison guards. Cordy then becomes a wealthy industrialist but when Marchand finally escapes from jail and runs into his old friend while working at his factory, Cordy suspects blackmail. This whimsical bit of social satire is a congenial film though I never quite warmed up to it the way I would have wanted to. Rene Clair's film seems a bridge between silent cinema and the talking film. The film is very much a visual piece (the formidable art direction by Lazare Meerson was Oscar nominated) yet Clair fluidly incorporates music and song into his venture. Indeed, George Auric's excellent score, which seems inspired by Kurt Weill, permeates the film to the extent that it becomes part of the film's texture. It's influence on Charlie Chaplin's MODERN TIMES is quite obvious but Clair stayed out of the lawsuit the film's producers brought against Chaplin. With Rolla France, Paul Ollivier and Germaine Aussey.

Jason And The Argonauts (1963)

Jason (Todd Armstrong) arrives in Thessaly to reclaim the throne which is rightfully his but was usurped by its present ruler (Douglas Wilmer) after he slew Jason's father. But first, he must claim the legendary Golden Fleece on the island of Colchis which is on the other side of the world. To this end, he has a powerful ship built called the Argo and those who sail on it, the Argonauts. One of the two or three best fantasy films ever (perhaps only THE THIEF OF BAGDAD surpasses it), the film is remembered with great affection by those who saw it as adolescents and thankfully, the film holds up impeccably as adults. That wizard of stop motion Ray Harryhausen does some of his very best work here: the bronze giant Talos, the malicious harpies, the nine headed Hydra and the skeletal army. It's not a film where the acting matters much and the two leads, Armstrong as Jason and Nancy Kovack as Medea, are cast for their looks more than anything else. Directed by Don Chaffey (PETE'S DRAGON) with a potent underscore by Bernard Herrmann. A classic adventure for the ages. With Honor Blackman as Hera, Nigel Green as Hercules, Niall MacGinnis as Zeus, Gary Raymond, Laurence Naismith and Jack Gwillim.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Interiors (1978)

After 30 years of marriage, a lawyer (E.G. Marshall) announces that he wants a separation from his wife (Geraldine Page in an Oscar nominated performance), a fragile perfectionist. While he moves on with his life, she begins unraveling and becomes suicidal. Woody Allen's first dramatic feature film, perhaps his most formal film, is often (and not unfairly) referred to as faux Bergman. If asked what's Allen's best film of the 1970s, most likely people would respond with ANNIE HALL or MANHATTAN, but I would select INTERIORS. It's less perfect than the other two and hardly flawless but Allen manages to infiltrate the Bergmanesque mystique without imitating him. Allen's dialogue can often comes across as self conscious and stilted but the actors, save one, are able to master it. Diane Keaton as the eldest daughter however is defeated. Alone among the cast, her line readings sound artificial but considering the borderline pretentiousness of her character, perhaps it's an acceptable trait. To be fair, the dialogue in Ingmar Bergman's films also read as self conscious but it sounds better spoken in Swedish rather than English. With Maureen Stapleton as Marshall's new wife (one can see why after years with the wound up Page, the "vulgarian" would be a breath of fresh air), Sam Waterston, Richard Jordan, Kristin Griffith and Mary Beth Hurt.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Miracle Of The Bells (1948)

A press agent (Fred MacMurray) accompanies the body of an actress (Alida Valli) to the small Pennsylvania coal town she was born in and where she requested to be buried. Because she was an unknown, the studio head (Lee J. Cobb) refuses to release her one and only film (a film on Joan Of Arc) because he doesn't think anyone will come to see a film with an unknown deceased actress. But the press agent has a plan that he hopes will force the studio's hand. This faith based fable is quite an oddity. I suppose audiences in the 1940s were more susceptible to this sort of twaddle (though maybe not, the film was a failure) but its far fetched premise is hard to swallow and the gullibility the film imposes on its small town characters as well as its audience is highly improbable. Alida Valli didn't have much luck with her brief Hollywood sojourn and films like this didn't do her any favors. The film does show the greedy side of the funeral industry, however. Directed by Irving Pichel (MOST DANGEROUS GAME) with a nice score by Leigh Harline. With Frank Sinatra as a poor parish priest, Harold Vermilyea, Philip Ahn and Veronica Pataky.