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Monday, March 31, 2014

Slightly Scarlet (1956)

The secretary (Rhonda Fleming) of a mayoral candidate (Kent Taylor) in a crime ridden city takes her sister (Arlene Dahl) in after she is released from prison for theft. Meanwhile, the right hand man (John Payne) of the city's crime kingpin (Ted De Corsia) has plans of his own to take over. Loosely based on the James M. Cain novel LOVE'S LOVELY COUNTERFEIT, if Douglas Sirk had directed a Technicolor noir, this lurid crime thriller is what it would probably look like. The film is actually directed by the prolific Allan Dwan who directed his first feature film in 1914! The casting of two of cinema's most famous redheads is inspired. Dahl, in particular, gives her best screen performance as the kinky and amoral kleptomaniac/nymphomaniac. This is one sick kitten! Payne's ambiguous protagonist with shifting allegiances makes for a problematic "hero" which leaves Fleming as the film's moral center despite implications she may have ignored her sister's illness in her ambitious climb to success. It's a messy, crazy film and all the more fascinating because of its loopiness. The great John Alton (ELMER GANTRY) does wonders within the film's low budget giving the film a lush expensive look that belies its cost. With Ellen Corby, Lance Fuller, Frank Gerstle and Myron Healey.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Le Charme Discret De La Bourgeoisie (aka The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie) (1972)

A group of six upper class bourgeois are constantly meeting for lunch or dinner but having their meals interrupted due to bizarre circumstances. The Theatre Of The Absurd is well known because of such playwrights as Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet among others. But has anyone ever coined the phrase, the Cinema Of The Absurd? If they did, surely its leading proponent would be Luis Bunuel. His delirious DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE is my favorite Bunuel film. Bunuel's surreal film has priests working for wealthy people as gardeners for free, strangers walking up to tables in restaurants to recite their dreams, guests invited to dinner who find themselves characters in a play and Bunuel's repeated image of the film's protagonists walking down a country road with no idea where they're going. The film itself is ripe for various interpretations and I'm not sure that Bunuel wasn't just simply tugging at our legs. Whatever the motivations, the film is a joy! The excellent cast consists of Fernando Rey, Stephane Audran, Delphine Seyrig, Jean Pierre Cassel, Bulle Ogier, Paul Frankeur and Julian Bertheau.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

China Gate (1957)

During the Indochina (in what is now Vietnam) war in 1954, a Eurasian woman (Angie Dickinson) uses whatever means necessary to support herself and her five year old son (Warren Hsieh). She and the boy were abandoned by her American husband (Gene Barry) because, unlike his mother, he looked too Chinese. But when she agrees to guide a demolition team of international mercenaries into China to blow up a munitions dump, she comes face to face with the husband who abandoned her who is part of the team. This often forced piece of anti-communist propaganda was written and directed by Samuel Fuller. But the red paranoia takes a backseat to the anti-racism theme provided by Barry's ugly American. As a movie, it's quite entertaining and uncomplicated but nowhere near Fuller's best work. Dickinson is attractive in an early leading role but Barry is a dud as a leading man. There's a reason he became a star in TV (BAT MASTERSON, BURKE'S LAW) but never in the movies. The lovely score is by Victor Young who died before he could complete it and his credit reads, "Music by Victor Young - extended by his old friend Max steiner". With Nat King Cole in a rare acting role, Lee Van Cleef (also playing Eurasian), Marcel Dalio, James Hong and Paul Dubov.

The Good Fairy (1935)

A naive young girl (Margaret Sullavan) leaves her orphanage to work as an usherette in a movie theater. But before she left, she promised the head of the orphanage (Beulah Bondi) that she would do one good deed a day. Alas, her first good deed involves a little white lie that causes all kinds of misunderstanding and trouble in the lives of three men (Herbert Marshall, Frank Morgan, Reginald Owen). Based on a little known play by Ferenc Molnar (THE SWAN), this is a delightful confection that displays the comedic talent of the wonderful Margaret Sullavan to full advantage. It's a whimsical piece of cotton candy but with Preston Sturges responsible for the screenplay and William Wyler at the helm, there's no danger of it turning sickly sweet. Everyone is at the top of their game (Marshall has never been so warm) and one would have to be hard pressed not to fall under its spell. Certainly Wyler fell under Sullavan's spell as he married her while making the movie. With Cesar Romero and Eric Blore.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Noah (2014)

Noah (Russell Crowe), the last of the line of the children of Seth (one of the three sons of Adam and Eve), has a vision from The Creator that the world will be destroyed. He builds an ark to save the "innocents", the animals of the world as his vision commanded. But there is animosity, not only from the outside forces but from within his own family that threaten to undermine the project. If you're expecting a DeMille biblical extravaganza or a literal interpretation of the Genesis story, forget it. This is a film, after all, by Darren Aronofsky, the man who gave us REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and BLACK SWAN! This is a somber and grim telling of the tale. This isn't a sweet natured Noah, this Noah is a real bastard. This is a movie about a Creator (the film never mentions the word God) who makes mistakes, a film supporting evolutionary creation, a film where man and not God makes decisions about the future of mankind. It's an ambitious film but highly flawed yet one has to give Aronofsky some perks for attempting to do something unique and different rather than give us yet another pious Biblical retelling. Parts of the film irked the Hell out of me yet I suspect will also stay with me for some time. With Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone and Nick Nolte and Frank Langella giving voice to the Watchers (fallen angels).

The Whales Of August (1987)

Two sisters spend their summers on an island in Maine in the home they've shared for years. Sarah (Lillian Gish) has a gentle nature and a positive outlook while Libby (Bette Davis) is cantankerous and bitter. Based on a play by David Berry (who also wrote the screenplay), the film offers up the opportunity to see the greatest actress of the silent era (Gish) and, arguably, the greatest actress of the sound era (Davis) act together. The term legend is criminally overused but not in the case of these actresses, authentic legends both. It's a slight piece, there's no real plot to speak of but the cast infuses the material with a genuine poignancy that's not necessarily in the writing. Gish had one of the most expressive faces in silent cinema and one can read her frustration with her sister or the memory of her lost love on her face without benefit of dialogue. Davis, ravaged from a real life stroke, still has the fire that made her the preeminent actress of her generation. Even though the film deals with the aging process with the Grim Reaper hovering around, it's not a depressing or sad film yet it's not sentimental either. The director Lindsay Anderson (THIS SPORTING LIFE) keeps the film focused while the cinematographer Mike Fash takes full advantage of the stunning Maine locale. With Ann Sothern (in an Oscar nominated performance), Vincent Price, Mary Steenburgen as the young Gish, Tisha Sterling (Sothern's daughter) as the young Sothern, Margaret Ladd as the young Davis and Harry Carey Jr.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cry Vengeance (1954)

After being released from prison, an ex-cop (Mark Stevens, who also directed) sets out to find the man (Douglas Kennedy) he believes is responsible for the death of his wife and child in a car bomb explosion, an explosion which left the right side of his face badly scarred. The journey takes him to a small town in Alaska where the man is living under a new identity. I don't know if Stevens and his screenwriters Warren Douglas and George Bricker had seen Fritz Lang's THE BIG HEAT which came out the year before but the storylines are uncomfortably similar. Even Gloria Grahame's boiling coffee scarred face is transposed to Stevens here though Joan Vohs gets the Grahame floozy part. It's a "B' film which is not without interest and I wish I liked it more but it's poorly acted and features one of the most inept killers, (Skip Homeier in a variation of BIG HEAT's Lee Marvin role). He's the kind of killer that calls the victim's name out before he shoots them thus giving them time to duck rather than just shooting them. I don't want to be too hard on the film. I actually rather enjoyed it. With Martha Hyer, John Doucette, Richard Deacon and Mort Mills.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Voyage Of The Damned (1976)

In 1939, a ship carrying 937 Jews from Germany to Cuba leaves Hamburg. But when it reaches its destination, the Cuban government refuses to honor their visas and after the U.S. government refuses them permission to dock, they have no choice but to return to Germany. Based on an actual incident, that of the MS St. Louis' fateful 1939 voyage, one would have to have a heart of stone not to be affected by its compelling story and the fate of its passengers. But the lengthy (it runs over 2 1/2 hours) film is compromised by one of its key attractions: an all star cast. All the star spotting ("oh, there's Wendy Hiller! Is that Jose Ferrer?"), most of them in small roles, is a distraction that too often yanks us out of the story rather than pulling us in. Some of the dramatic license, like a romance between a German steward (Malcolm McDowell) and a young Jewish girl (Lynne Frederick), feels contrived and takes up too much time when other character's lives are barely addressed (like Julie Harris) and underwritten. Still, there's no denying there are some incredibly affecting moments laced through out the film like Sam Wanamaker's attempted suicide, Lee Grant's (in an Oscar nominated performance) breakdown or Katharine Ross's brief reunion with her parents (Maria Schell, Nehemiah Persoff). Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. Others in the massive cast include Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Oskar Werner, James Mason, Orson Welles, Ben Gazzara, Jonathan Pryce, Fernando Rey, Denholm Elliott, Janet Suzman, Luther Adler, Helmut Griem, Michael Constantine, Victor Spinetti, Paul Koslo and Georgina Hale.

The Fuller Brush Man (1948)

A young man (Red Skelton) can't seem to hold on to a job for more than a few weeks. His girlfriend (Janet Blair) refuses to marry him unless he can prove he's reliable and can hold down a job. His last chance comes when he has an opportunity as a Fuller Brush salesman. Does anyone even remember the Fuller Brush salesmen anymore? They've long gone the way of the "Avon Calling" salesladies and the door to door encyclopedia salesman. Still, the film works even if one's clueless about what a Fuller Brush salesmen was/is. When I say works, I mean that in a generic sense. The film itself is only sporadically amusing and much of it depends on your tolerance for Red Skelton. As a comic, Skelton lacks Bob Hope's comedic timing with a quip or Jerry Lewis' manic ability to pull a laugh out of nowhere. At heart, Skelton is a clown without the make up. This is one of his better star vehicles and it's still not very good. The film's comic highpoint is that old standby of everyone squeezed into a confined space (think the cabin room scene in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA). In this case, a small apartment kitchen where a bunch of murder suspects are hiding out from the police. The film's big warehouse destruction finale overstays its welcome and seems to go on forever. Directed by S. Sylvan Simon. With Hillary Brooke, Adele Jergens, Donald Curtis and Verna Felton.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Time After Time (1979)

Jack The Ripper is terrorizing 1893 London. Soon after the writer/visionary H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) displays his newest invention, an untested time machine, to his dinner guests, the police arrive to report another Ripper killing. They find a medical bag with blood stained gloves and surgical instruments belonging to one of the guests (David Warner), who can't be found. When Wells determines that Jack The Ripper has used the time machine to escape the police, he follows him into the future ..... 1979 San Francisco! This clever conceit of a thriller directed by Nicholas Meyer (STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN) is an exciting and imaginative piece of romantic science fiction with generous doses of comedy provided by McDowell's fish out of water. As usual for the genre, there are loopholes and lapses in logic but when something is this spellbinding, who cares? McDowell makes for a charming if befuddled H.G. Wells and he and the delightful Mary Steenburgen as the present day bank employee he falls in love with have a wonderful chemistry (they had it in real life too and were married shortly after). The spectacular score is by Miklos Rozsa. With Charles Cioffi, Patti D'Arbanville, Corey Feldman and Shelley Hack.

Jupiter's Darling (1955)

In ancient Rome, the Carthaginian conqueror Hannibal (Howard Keel) and his army are camped on the outskirts of The Eternal City. The fiancee (Esther Williams) of Rome's dictator (George Sanders) and her slave (Marge Champion) sneak off to get a peek at the notorious military commander but are caught by Hannibal's soldiers and taken prisoner. Based on Robert Sherwood's 1927 anti-war play THE ROAD TO ROME, it has been dusted off and given the full MGM CinemaScope and Eastmancolor treatment. This was Esther Williams' swan song at MGM after 13 years at the studio and one of her rare flops. Perhaps sensing the public was getting tired of her swimming extravaganzas, there's only one swimming production number and the rest of the film uses her primarily as an actress. For the first time though, her swimming is used for dramatic purposes as when she escapes from Hannibal's camp by jumping off a cliff into the ocean and an underwater chase ensues as three of Hannibal's soldiers rapidly swim after her. While Keel makes for a virile Hannibal, Williams' limitations as an actress prevent her from getting the most out of the material. The songs by Burton Lane and Harold Adamson are a dreadful lot (an exception being the misogynistic Never Trust A Woman sung by Keel) and the unimpressive choreography by Hermes Pan. Directed by George Sidney. With Gower Champion, William Demarest and Michael Ansara.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Serial (1980)

It's the 1970s and life in trendy Marin County (across the bay from San Francisco) finds its upper class gentry engaged in new age conscious raising, health foods, getting stoned on pot, feminist brunches and sexual freedom among other things. Based on Cyra McFadden's THE SERIAL: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF MARIN COUNTY, I don't know if it helps to have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area or know Marin County during this time to appreciate how spot on the film is in its attitudes of the Marin lifestyle. I did and oh so many memories come flooding back. Can I be objective in discussing the film? I think so. It tries to do for Northern California what BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE did so acutely for L.A. in the 1960s. It's simply not as good as Paul Mazursky's sharply observed satire but if the film feels like a sitcom at times, it still manages to hit its intended targets most of the time. Its cast is rich with comic talent from Martin Mull's sexually frustrated husband to Christopher Lee's weekend gay biker to Nita Talbot's high strung wife though the biggest laugh came when Mull complained about gas being over a dollar! Directed by Bill Persky. With Tuesday Weld, Sally Kellerman, Tom Smothers, Barbara Rhoades, Bill Macy and Pamela Bellwood (TV's DYNASTY).

Indagine Su Un Cittadino Al DI Sopra Di Ogni Sospetto (aka Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion) (1970)

The former chief of homicide (Gian Maria Volonte), now installed in the political crimes division, murders his kinky mistress (Florinda Bolkan) in cold blood. Moreover, he deliberately leaves clues and fingerprints all over her apartment which could identify him as her murderer. His purpose is to show that he is a person above suspicion because of his rank ... and above the law? Almost 35 years later, Elio Petri's brilliant political allegorical thriller has lost none of its dynamic power. Volonte's far right wing policeman is paranoid about left wing "subversives" and their destructive effect on the status of the police state which "protects" citizens from themselves. The film implies that his beliefs have driven him to the madness which perpetuated his crime. More disturbing is the implication that the police state is so corrupt that they would possibly cover up his crime rather than let one of their own be subjected to justice (which is for mere mortals). Petri's script (co-written with Ugo Pirro) is excessive and exaggerated to the point of satire. The memorably jagged score is by Ennio Morricone. Winner of the 1971 best foreign language film Oscar as well as the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes film festival. With Sergio Tramonti, Gianni Santuccio and Orazio Orlando.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

A writer (Tom Wilkinson) recollects when as a young man (Jude Law) he spent time at the once glorious Grand Budapest Hotel. It was there when its owner (F. Murray Abraham) gave him the account of when he was a young man (Tony Revolori) working as the hotel's lobby boy and the eccentric concierge (Ralph Fiennes) who mentored him. I'm all over the place with director Wes Anderson's films. My feelings toward his films range from outright loathing (THE DARJEELING LIMITED) to modest enjoyment (THE LIFE AQUATIC) to major love (THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS). I adored his last movie, the charming MOONRISE KINGDOM and if BUDAPEST doesn't quite match it, it's pretty damn close. Like MOONRISE, it's a fable about a world that doesn't quite exist anywhere outside of Anderson's head. It's quirky with off the wall humor and if the film has any primary faults, it's that it's possibly too pleased with itself but not to the point of smugness. There's lots to admire here from Adam Stockhausen's stylish production design to the myriad of idiosyncratic performances. Anderson and his cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman shot the film in three different ratios: 1.85 for the present, 2.35 for the first flashback and 1.33 for the second flashback. The massive cast includes Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Mathieu Amalric, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban and Lea Seydoux (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Cynthia (1947)

A young couple meet in college and find they have the same dream ... to go to Vienna. She (Mary Astor) to study music and he (George Murphy) to study medicine. But after they get married, she immediately gets pregnant and their dreams are put on the back burner when their child is born sickly and susceptible to illnesses and allergies. Jump 15 years later and their daughter (Elizabeth Taylor) is still a sickly young thing. On the surface, CYNTHIA appears to be a typical tale of coming of age angst about a girl who wants to fit in with the rest of the crowd and worries about being asked to the prom. But there's a darker underbelly to the film that is the most interesting thing about it: How parents sacrifice their own dreams for the sake of their children, is the child an invalid because she's really ill or because she's treated as an invalid, a husband without a backbone who lets his brother in law make important decisions in his life, a wife who's finally had enough and wants her life back. The film isn't always successful in balancing the teenage hijinks with the more serious stuff but it gives you more to chew on than your typical ANDY HARDY or A DATE WITH JUDY aimed by MGM at the teen market. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. With S.Z. Sakall, Spring Byington, Gene Lockhart, Scotty Beckett, Kathleen Howard and Jimmy Lydon.

Rear Window (1954)

Recuperating from a broken leg which is now in a cast, a photographer (James Stewart) is housebound in his apartment. To pass the time, he looks into the windows of his courtyard neighbors, all of whom have distinct personalities and quirks. But when the wife (Irene Winston) of one of his neighbors (Raymond Burr) goes missing, he suspects foul play on the husband's part. One of Alfred Hitchcock's most admired films, the film features one of the greatest pieces of art direction in all cinema. The "star" of the film is an amazing multi leveled courtyard set where we, along with Stewart, can see into all the apartments. Inexplicably, J. McMillan Johnson and Hal Pereira's art direction wasn't even nominated for an Oscar. Based on the short story IT HAD TO BE MURDER by Cornell Woolrich, the screenplay by John Michael Hayes is concise and to the point. I know this is a terrific movie yet somehow I've never been able to fully embrace it and I think it's because of James Stewart's character. Not only is he a voyeur and a busybody but he's a real jerk toward his lovely girlfriend (Grace Kelly). There were times I just wished that his policeman friend (Wendell Corey) or his masseuse (Thelma Ritter) would just slap him into next week. Still, in the scheme of things I suppose it's a minor irritant. With Judith Evelyn, Ross Bagdasarian, Georgine Darcy, Marla English and Kathryn Grant.

Once More With Feeling (1960)

When the wife (Kay Kendall) of a narcissistic and high strung orchestra conductor (Yul Brynner) catches him with a young girl (Shirley Anne Field), she leaves him. When she wants to get married again, she asks for a divorce but there's one small problem ..... they were never married in the first place! So they must secretly get married and then divorced (this is 1960 after all) so she'll be free to marry again. But the conductor, who's still in love with her, has other plans. Based on an only modestly successful Broadway farce by Harry Kurnitz (who also wrote the screenplay), material like this needs to sparkle like champagne. What we get is a drink of tepid water. Watching the actors flapping around in an attempt to induce laughter, one calmly listens to the dull dialog thinking, "Oh, there's supposed to be a laugh here" as you sit there stone faced. Brynner is all wrong for this kind of farce that cries out for a Rex Harrison or even a Danny Kaye. He just doesn't have the comic timing needed. Kendall (who died at 33 before the film opened) looks stunning in her Givenchy outfits, fares better but nothing is going to help. It's a static film that lazily doesn't even bother to hide its stage bound roots. Directed by Stanley Donen (SINGIN' IN THE RAIN), who usually has a better touch for material like this. With Gregory Ratoff, rechanneling his Max Fabian from ALL ABOUT EVE and Martin Benson.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Plainsman (1936)

Wild Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper) discovers that a man (Charles Bickford) is selling repeating rifles to hostile Cheyenne. After passing the information on to General Custer (John Miljan), Hickok goes to Cheyenne country to find out why they have gone to war. But he is captured, along with Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur) by the Indians. I don't know what Cecil B. DeMille thought he was doing, he seems to think he was making something more than a mere western. What he made was a surprisingly routine historically inaccurate western. Only the strong screen presence of Cooper and Arthur holds the pieces together. If their parts had been played by, say Warner Baxter and Frances Dee, it would have been another run of the mill oater. As it is, it's a rather sluggish affair. The film's portrayal of the Indians as savage brutes is rather irritating. There's a scene where a group of menacing Cheyenne corner Jean Arthur alone in a cabin and the scene fades to black. The next scene shows her dress ripped (a suggestion she'd been raped?) and a prisoner of the Indians dragging her with a rope to their camp. The forgettable score is by the usually reliable George Antheil. With James Ellison (I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE) as Buffalo Bill, Anthony Quinn, Frank Albertson, Helen Burgess and Porter Hall.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Holocaust (1978)

Beginning in the mid 1930s and ending shortly after the end of WWII, a Jewish family finds themselves torn apart by the systematic genocide by the Nazi party as they struggle to survive. Their story is contrasted to that of an ambitious young Nazi (Michael Moriarty) who rises to the very top of the chain of command. The greatest crime against humanity in the 20th century reduced to an overwrought seven hour soap opera! While its intentions may be honorable (I hope), the film feels overwritten and the characters simply don't ring true. With one exception, the actors don't stand a chance and that includes Meryl Streep in an Emmy winning performance as James Woods' gentile wife, so colorless that you'd never guess she'd turn out to be an acting icon. Only Rosemary Harris as the matriarch of the Weiss family is able to surmount the script and bring a believability and quiet dignity to her character. Perhaps faring worst is Moriarty who gives a robotic performance and a character, who as written, makes no logical sense. Dully directed by Marvin J. Chomsky. The large cast includes Fritz Weaver, Robert Stephens, Ian Holm, David Warner, Tovah Feldshuh, Joseph Bottoms, Charles Korvin, Michael Beck, Blanche Baker and Sam Wanamaker.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

You're Never Too Young (1955)

An aspiring barber (Jerry Lewis) is on the run from a killer (Raymond Burr) who planted a priceless diamond on him without his knowing it. In order to disguise himself to escape detection, he pretends to be a 14 year old kid. A loose remake of the Billy Wilder classic THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR, I much prefer it to the more admired 1942 film. For one thing, I could never abide (or believe) Ginger Rogers' baby act, Lewis as a juvenile is far less of a stretch. Dean Martin is around of course to sing a couple of songs and romance the leading lady, here Diana Lynn who played the little sister in the original THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR. But it's Lewis' film all the way and he has a few inspired moments and sight gags here as when he's literally yanked out of his shoes by Burr or accidentally forced to water ski! Directed by Norman Taurog (BLUE HAWAII). With Nina Foch as Lynn's romantic rival, Mitzi McCall, Veda Ann Borg, Nancy Kulp and in a gender reversal of the 1942 film, Whitey Haupt in Diana Lynn's old part and very good as Foch's kid brother.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Obsession (1976)

In 1959 New Orleans, when his wife (Genevieve Bujold) and daughter (Wanda Blackman) are kidnapped and held for a $500,000 ransom, a successful land developer (Cliff Robertson) calls in the police. But everything goes wrong and the wife and daughter are killed along with the kidnappers for which he can never forgive himself. Jump 16 years later to Florence, Italy where he walks into a church and sees a young Italian girl (Genevieve Bujold) who is a dead ringer for his dead wife! Using Hitchcock's masterpiece VERTIGO as a template, director Brian De Palma deliberately and intricately usurps VERTIGO's focus on obsession and how it destroys the very thing you treasure and turns into his own darkly romantic web of obsession. I've seen the film several times since its original 1976 release and each time, I swear it gets better. Two reasons that push the film's attributes to a higher plateau: Bujold's superb performance, perhaps her best, which one appreciates even more the second time around and Bernard Herrmann's stunning Oscar nominated score, one of his very best. With John Lithgow, Sylvia Kuumba Williams and J. Patrick McNamara.

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2014)

In this documentary, cameras follow actress Elaine Stritch around as she reflects on her life, her career and her mortality as she approaches age 87. Is there any more to know about Elaine Stritch that we didn't see or find out in her Tony and Emmy winning one woman show ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY? Not much. But the ever fascinating Stritch is a marvelous canvas for any camera and this is a small jewel of a movie. While her film and TV career has never amounted to much (TV watchers most likely remember her as Alec Baldwin's mother in 30 ROCK), in the Broadway theater she is a near legend. As diabetes and arthritis and the natural aging process threaten to derail her at any moment, she keeps coming back with fists swinging. This is one woman who's not going down quietly. Her acerbic wit (often aimed at herself) and her unique way of selling a song make her a compelling performer and she doesn't disappoint. If you're a Stritch fan, it's a given that you'll want to seek this out. If you're only vaguely familiar with the woman, do yourself a favor and check it out. Directed by Chiemi Karasawa. With appearances by Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, Nathan Lane, John Turturro and Cherry Jones.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

I Cannibali (aka Year Of The Cannibals) (1970)

In an unspecified Italian city, the fascist government in power assassinates rebels or enemies of the state and lets their bodies lie where they were killed. Wanting the bodies to set an example to those who question the government's authority, citizens are forbidden from removing or burying the bodies under penalty of prison or even death. If the narrative sounds familiar, Liliana Cavani (THE NIGHT PORTER) has updated Sophocles' ANTIGONE into a political fable about a new generation's revolt against the repressive bourgeois government state. Cavani lacks nuance in her approach however and while the film is interesting (mostly in its visuals), it's a bit oppressive and obvious in her execution. The film looks great with its slightly futuristic feel (it was filmed in Milan) and Giulio Albonico's images of everyday citizens shopping or going to work on sidewalks and streets littered with corpses are impressive. Britt Ekland (THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) as Antigone gets a role that uses her as an actress (she's good) rather than decoration. The score is typical Ennio Morriocne, meaning both original yet often annoying. With Pierre Clementi as a Christ like figure, Tomas Milian, Delia Boccardo and Francesco Leonetti.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bell, Book And Candle (1958)

A beautiful witch (Kim Novak) in Greenwich Village is bored and on a whim decides to cast a spell on a man (James Stewart) to fall in love with her. Complications arise when her brother (Jack Lemmon) reveals all to a writer (Ernie Kovacs) doing a book on witchcraft in Manhattan. Based on the hit play of the same name by John Van Druten, this is a charming romantic comedy with an amusing "witchy" twist. Never a great actress, Novak is perfectly cast here. There was always a slightly spaced out, ethereal quality to her which complements the character she's playing. Stewart, of course, displays perfect comedic timing. The very funny scene where he is forced to drink a disgusting witches poison served by Hermione Gingold shows what marvelous comic skills he had. The novelty of the film's narrative has dimmed somewhat (especially if seen after) with the success of the 60's TV show BEWITCHED which in some respects it resembles. Expertly directed by Richard Quine and with a smooth jazz score by George Duning. With Janice Rule (when Stewart calls Novak a witch, Rule retorts, "You never could spell"), Elsa Lanchester and a scene stealing Siamese called Pyewacket.

Mr. Wong In Chinatown (1939)

A Chinese princess (Lotus Long) is in San Francisco to acquire airplane materials for her government. But when she shows up in desperate straits at the home of famed detective Mr. Wong (Boris Karloff), she is murdered before she can even see him. Apparently Asian detectives were the rage in the 1930s. Most notably Charlie Chan and later Mr. Moto, both from 20th Century Fox. The Mr. Wong series was the child of poverty row studio Monogram. MR. WONG IN CHINATOWN is the third entry in the franchise. Clocking at a brief running time of one hours and twelve minutes, it still seems sluggish and drawn out. Karloff's Mr. Wong has no eccentricities, personal quirks nor an amusing wit. In fact, he's pretty blah. If the murder mystery were stronger, perhaps it wouldn't matter much that the central detective is devoid of any personality. As it is, even the most hardcore mystery buff would very little of interest in it. Directed by William Nigh. With Marjorie Reynolds as an annoying perky reporter, Grant Withers as a lunkhead of a police detective, Huntley Gordon and Richard Loo.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The War Lord (1965)

In 11th century Medieval Europe, a Duke sends his trusted knight (Charlton Heston) to a small Druid village to protect it from Frisian invaders led by their Prince (Henry Wilcoxon). But it is at this village where the knight meets his downfall, not by Frisian soldiers but a young village girl (Rosemary Forsyth) who captures his fancy then his heart. Based on an unsuccessful play THE LOVERS by Leslie Stevens, Franklin J. Schaffner's (PATTON) film is essentially an intimate love story trimmed with movie epic pretensions. Unfortunately these elements seem to be fighting each other rather than meshing together. It doesn't help that the supposed 11th century European topography is clearly Southern California. It doesn't have the look or feel of an Epic and it's not just the obviousness of the Universal backlot. Its scale just seems small and that wizard of the camera Russell Metty (SPARTACUS) can't do much to punch it up especially when required to use rear projections. Heston provides the necessary gravitas material like this requires but he's playing with a second string cast of mostly Universal contract players like Forsyth, Guy Stockwell and James Farentino who don't measure up. With Richard Boone, Maurice Evans and Niall MacGinnis.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Li'l Abner (1959)

In the town of Dogpatch U.S.A., a hillbilly haven in the mountains, the muscle bound but dim witted Li'l Abner (Peter Palmer) is pursued by pretty Daisy Mae (Leslie Parrish). She hopes to catch him on Sadie Hawkins Day, an annual race where the women chase the men they want to marry and if caught, they're obligated to wed. But if the government's plans to use Dogpatch as an A-bomb test site goes through, there won't be any Sadie Hawkins Day! Based on the 1956 hit Broadway musical (which in turn is based on the Al Capp comic strip), this is a pleasant if unmemorable musical (lyrics by the great Johnny Mercer, music by Gene De Paul). The songs are passable, the choreography (by Dee Dee Wood from Michael Kidd's original staging) is energetic and the stylized production design is in vivid Technicolor. There's no attempt to make the film's setting look realistic, we're clearly on a sound stage with fake trees and a fake mountain backdrop but since the film is based on a comic strip, it actually helps give the film a comic strip look and feel to it. If you're not into musicals, you might find the film a bit gauche and tiresome. For musical buffs however, it's a pleasant diversion. Directed by Melvin Frank. The supporting cast includes Stella Stevens, Julie Newmar, Stubby Kaye, Valerie Harper, Donna Douglas, Hope Holiday, Carmen Alvarez, Robert Strauss, Howard St. John, Beth Howland, Billie Hayes and Jerry Lewis as Itchy McRabbit.

The King Of Comedy (1983)

A would be stand up comic (Robert De Niro) works as a messenger during the day but he has fantasies of stardom. He attempts to infiltrate himself into the life of his idol, a popular late night talk show host (Jerry Lewis), in a bid to get his break. The problem is ... he's psychotic! Normally, I'm not bothered with films that are populated entirely by unsympathetic characters but this is one unpleasant movie. De Niro's Rupert Pupkin is Travis Bickle light. He's not as explosively dangerous as TAXI DRIVER's protagonist but they're both whack jobs. One wonders where Martin Scorsese is going with this and he doesn't, go anywhere I mean. I'm tempted to call De Niro's performance soulless but since I'm not sure Pupkin has a soul, perhaps De Niro is on the right track after all. Still, there are a small handful of things to treasure, principally Jerry Lewis's performance which is rock solid. Even the Lewis haters seem to like it though I suspect it's because they feel they are seeing the "real" Jerry Lewis. Not unusual, Scorsese's female characters come off poorly. Sandra Bernhard's freaky fan is made nuttier than De Niro and even Diahnne Abbott's character is undermined by a petty act of thievery. With Tony Randall, Shelley Hack, Marta Heflin, Victor Borge and Dr. Joyce Brothers.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Great Sinner (1949)

A writer (Gregory Peck) traveling from Moscow to Paris meets a beautiful woman (Ava Gardner) on the train. When she gets off in Germany, he impulsively gets off too and pursues her. But like her father (Walter Huston), she is addicted to gambling and instead of saving her, the writer finds himself caught by the addiction which will take him to the depths of despair. Loosely based on the novel THE GAMBLER by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the film has the usual elegant MGM production values befitting such a prestige project. But the film only superficially captures both the highs and the degradation of a gambler's addiction. There have been good films made about gamblers and gambling, THE CINCINNATI KID and the 1949 QUEEN OF SPADES come to mind, but despite its ambitions, the film bites off more than it could chew. Robert Siodmak's (THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE) direction is decent enough but Peck is miscast. He's a fine actor but not here. He just doesn't have a gambler's risk taking soul and never once conveys the thrill of winning nor do we get a sense of obsession. With Melvyn Douglas, Agnes Moorehead and in the film's two best performances, Frank Morgan as an ill fated gambler and Ethel Barrymore as a matriarch whose doom is sealed by the gambling bug.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

A busload of "hippies" travel to the desert to re-enact the story of Christ's last days in song and dance. In the early 1970s, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR was the coolest, most radical musical ever. But like another "rock" musical of the era HAIR, viewed today it seems rather kitschy and self indulgent. Lyrics (by Tim Rice) like "What's the buzz, tell me what's a happening" now seem as quaint as "Beat me daddy, eight to the bar"! It doesn't help that with three exceptions, the performances are right out of community theater. The exceptions being Carl Anderson as Judas, Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene and Barry Dennen as Pontius Pilate. All the director Norman Jewison could do was keep it simple and move it along which he does. As portrayed in the film, Jesus and his apostles come across as stoners living in a commune and Ted Neeley's high pitched Jesus seems so sanctimonious that one begins to have a perverse sympathy for Judas! I remember loving it when it opened in 1973 ..... sometimes, you just can't go home again. The music is by Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Las Vegas style choreography is by Robert Iscove. With Bob Bingham, Josh Mostel and Larry Marshall, quite dreadful as Simon Zealotes.

Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro (aka Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell) (1968)

Leaving Tokyo for an Osaka destination, a Japanese airliner flies through mysterious flame red skies. When birds suddenly fly into the plane killing themselves, clearly something is not normal. When a hijacker (Hideo Ko) pulls a gun and demands the plane fly to Okinawa, a strange bright light causes the plane to crash. For the survivors, the horror is just beginning. As one passenger quips, "I have a feeling that something is going to happen that will blow our minds!". While not quite the mind blower we're promised, it's still a heady trip. This Japanese horror flick has more on its mind than the usual scary movie tricks. An alien force has plans to destroy Earth but from the frequently inserted images of war atrocities and political assassinations and passengers turning on each other, it's clear that mankind is doing a perfectly good job of destroying itself without any alien help. Bathed in lurid Fujicolor and shot in Grandscope, if you're a fan of Japanese horror (apparently the film is a favorite of Quentin Tarantino), you should check it out. Directed by Hajime Sato. With Teruo Yoshida, Tomomi Sato, Eizo Kitamura and the film's token Caucasian, Kathy Horan.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Indian Fighter (1955)

Despite a peace treaty being signed, tensions between whites and Indians are high. A former Confederate soldier and Indian scout (Kirk Douglas) is assigned to accompany a wagon train of settlers headed for Oregon through Sioux country. But two underhanded varmints (Walter Matthau, Lon Chaney Jr.) riding in the wagon train plot to steal the gold on the Indian's land. A run of the mill western with handsome Oregon landscapes shot in CinemaScope by Wilfred M. Cline (CALAMITY JANE). It comes off as a vanity project for Kirk Douglas which is not surprising as his production company produced the film. No other men in the film are as brave, rugged or as principled as Kirk. For western lovers only. Still, with one exception, its depiction of Native Americans are free of the stereotypes perpetuated by many westerns. The one exception is Hank Wordern (THE SEARCHERS) who sells out his own people for "fire water". Directed by Andre De Toth (HOUSE OF WAX). With Elsa Martinelli (HATARI!) in her American film debut, Walter Abel, Elisha Cook Jr., Alan Hale, Ray Teal and Diana Douglas (Kirk's ex, Michael's mother) as a husband hunting frontierswoman.

Pope Joan (1972)

In the 9th century, a young girl (Liv Ullmann) must struggle to make her way in the world after her father, an English monk (Jeremy Kemp), dies. Her intentions to devote herself to Christ and join a nunnery are often in conflict with her desires as a woman. But later, when masquerading as a male monk to protect her from pillaging wartime armies, she finds her destiny. The mythical legend of a female Pope has been around for hundreds of years though there is no basis in fact for it. A legend it was and a legend it remains. But I suppose the subject matter is too tempting for film makers to pass up. Alas, what looks interesting on paper looks quite ludicrous on film. At turns, poor Liv Ullman finds herself raped, masturbating with a cross in her hand, getting it on with a handsome monk (Maximilian Schell) and bedding an Emperor (Franco Nero). What madman thought there was an audience for this outside of exploitation houses? The film takes itself too seriously to be any fun like the nunsploitation (yes, I know that's not a word) films of the 70s. But perhaps the film makers would have been better served by casting Ursula Andress or Britt Ekland as Pope Joan instead of Ullmann. The film feels choppy as if parts were left out (indeed, apparently a contemporary framing device featuring Keir Dullea ended up on the cutting room floor). Directed by Michael Anderson (AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS). The insistent score is by Maurice Jarre. Also in the cast: Olivia De Havilland, Trevor Howard, Lesley Anne Down, Patrick Magee, Andre Morell, Nigel Havers and Martin Benson.

Non-Stop (2014)

A burnt out alcoholic U.S. air marshal (Liam Neeson) is on a flight from New York to London when he receives a text message from an unknown source telling him someone will be killed every 20 minutes until $150 million dollars is transferred to an account. From that point on, things get really out of control. I've never quite accepted the term "guilty pleasure" in my vocabulary. Why should I feel guilt out of anything that gives me pleasure? Well, after seeing NON-STOP, it just may be my first guilty pleasure. I should feel guilty about enjoying it. It's poorly written, crammed with cardboard character stereotypes, pedestrian dialog and preposterous unrealistic eye rolling situations yet I loved every tense filled moment of it (I hadn't chewed my fingernails this close in years). Of course, in nonsense like this it helps to have actors the caliber of Neeson and Julianne Moore (as his seatmate) in the central roles. They miraculously manage to ground the absurdity of it all into something that passes for believability. It's all slambang excitement and action but check your mind at the door, you won't need it. Well directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. With Michelle Dockery (DOWNTON ABBEY), Scoot McNairy, Linus Roache and recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o who hopefully will avoid such inconsequential parts in the future.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Horse's Mouth (1958)

Upon being released from jail, a non-conformist and penniless painter (Alec Guinness) attempts to harass friends and acquaintances for money to live on. But despite his genuine talent as a painter, he's also a bit of a con artist and a user which makes others reluctant to help him. Gulley Jimson is one of Guinness's great creations, an eccentric artist cum con man who's both irritating and charming at the same time. The film is relatively plotless as Guinness's Gulley goes on his merry way swindling wealthy art patrons and bilking struggling art students under the guise of teaching them while in reality, they're executing his paintings for him! He's really an appalling rascal yet we can't dislike him. I'm not a fan of British comedies as a rule but its Oscar nominated screenplay written by Guinness (based on the Joyce Cary novel) is engaging and director Ronald Neame (THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE) gives it his cinched touch. The underscore is adapted from Prokofiev's LIEUTENANT KIJE. With Kay Walsh, Renee Houston, Robert Coote, Veronica Turleigh, Michael Gough, Ernest Thesiger, Clive Revill and the delightful Mike Morgan as Guinness's protege (who sadly passed away before the film came out at age 29).

Friday, March 7, 2014

La Ragazza Con La Valigia (aka Girl With A Suitcase) (1961)

After being abandoned by her latest lover (Corrado Pani), a young woman (Claudia Cardinale, looking delectable) tracks him down to his home. He's not there but she meets his 16 year old brother (Jacques Perrin), who develops a serious schoolboy crush on her. Like his previous film VIOLENT SUMMER, director Valerio Zurlini explores the emotional conplexities of an older woman/younger man (or in this case, boy) relationship. Cardinale's Aida is not unlike Fellini's Cabiria as played by Giulietta Masina. She's not the brightest bulb but all she wants is a little slice of happiness. But she's destined to be a born victim and by the film's end, you're taken enough with her to be concerned with what will happen to her. Perrin perfectly catches both the moony jealousy and the shattered innocence of an adolescent's first love. A bittesweet romance that should touch anyone who had their heart broken when encountering love for the first time. With Gian Maria Volonte, Romolo Valli and Luciana Angiolillo.

Plunder Road (1957)

Five men participate in a daring robbery of a train carrying gold headed for the San Francisco mint. After the heist, they split into three different directions in an attempt to throw the police off their trail. This is a dandy, compact "B" noir which packs a lot of tension in one hour and twelve minutes. Like most good noir, the film is permeated with a sense of fatalism so that even though you don't know what's going to happen, you know there aren't going to be any winners by the time "The End" flashes on the screen. It's slightly reminiscent of Kubrick's THE KILLING (though, of course, no where near as great) in feel and that film's Elisha Cook Jr. turns up here too as one of the robbers. It's got a second string cast but the performances are pretty solid including Gene Raymond, Wayne Morris and Jeanne Cooper. Definitely worth seeking out. Directed by Hubert Cornfield (NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY) and the sturdy B&W CinemaScope lensing is by Ernest Haller (GONE WITH THE WIND). With Naura Hayden, Stafford Repp and Steven Ritch, who wrote the tight screenplay.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Flesh And The Devil (1926)

Two lifelong friends (John Gilbert, Lars Hanson) on leave from from military service return to their Austrian home. Gilbert becomes obsessed with a beautiful married woman (Greta Garbo) and kills her husband in a duel. As punishment, the Army sends him to Africa but not before he asks Hanson to look after Garbo. When he returns after three years, he finds them married. Based on the novel THE UNDYING PAST by Hermann Sudermann, this keyed up romantic melodrama is pretty hoary. Gilbert (way too much make-up), in particular, is ill served by the material. You'd never know this was the same guy who headlined Vidor's THE BIG PARADE so effortlessly. But the reason to see this film is Garbo! She's magnetic, there was no one like her. She's beautifully shot by William Daniels and not surprisingly, Garbo insisted he work on most of her films. One can overlook the film's slightly misogynistic attitude because of her. The purity of the friendship between the two men is tainted by this seductress, so naturally she's going to come to a bad end. Directed by Clarence Brown. With Barbara Ken and Eugenie Besserer.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Walk In The Spring Rain (1970)

Two New Yorkers, a professor (Fritz Weaver) and his wife (Ingrid Bergman), move to rural Tennessee for a year so the husband can write a book. While he seems frustrated, she flourishes ... especially when their neighbor (Anthony Quinn) pays attention to her. Based on the novel by Rachel Maddux, this is a sort of precursor to THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Ever since BRIEF ENCOUNTER showed there was a market for middle aged romances, they continue to pop up every so often. This isn't one of the better ones. Outside of a beautifully played kitchen scene between Bergman and Katharine Crawford as her adult daughter, there aren't any surprises and it plays out as expected. I'd call it a tearjerker but but it's a passionless endeavor though one has to admire Bergman's tenacity in plugging away. The film has it set up so that the adultery is inevitable. Her husband is an ardorless intellectual and his wife (Virginia Gregg) is an uncouth frump (when she drinks her coffee, she puts a lump of sugar between her teeth and slurps). The lovely Elmer Bernstein score does its best to conjure up some fervor while Charles Lang's wide screen shooting of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee is breathtaking. Directed by Guy Green (A PATCH OF BLUE). With Tom Fielding as Quinn's ill fated son.

Woman Of The Town (1943)

A saloon singer (Claire Trevor) in Dodge City finds herself looked down upon by some of the more "proper" people of the town. But this doesn't stop her from doing good deeds and going to church. But when the new sheriff Bat Masterson (Albert Dekker) and a brash cattleman (Barry Sullivan) on opposite sides of the law find themselves rivals for her affection, only trouble can come of it. This little seen (only 70 votes on the IMDb) routine western has all the virtues of a "B" western. It's brief, moves quickly, doesn't take itself too seriously and holds our interest. Of course, at this point in her career, Trevor could play the floozie with a heart of gold in her sleep. Still, she brings a quiet intelligence to her role that's appreciated. If you're into westerns, there's every possibility this might find some favor with you. The Oscar nominated score is by Miklos Rozsa, one of his rare forays into the movie western. Directed by Jean Archainbaud. With Henry Hull, Percy Kilbride, Marion Martin and Charley Foy playing his real life father, Eddie Foy.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Finian's Rainbow (1968)

An Irishman (Fred Astaire) and his daughter (Petula Clark) emigrate to America. What she doesn't know is that her father has stolen a pot of gold from the leprechauns and plans to bury it near Fort Knox where he believes it will multiply. What he doesn't know is that he's been followed by a leprechaun (Tommy Steele) who is rapidly turning mortal unless he can return the gold to its Irish roots. This bit of folksy Irish whimsy with a social commentary must have seemed rather old fashioned even in 1947 when it became a hit Broadway musical. Twenty years later, the cobwebs have been dusted off and it's brought to the screen pretty much intact. It's creakiness doomed it in 1968, the year of more innovative fare like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, ROSEMARY'S BABY, PETULIA and FACES. Seen some 35 years later, its antiquated scenario now seems rather sweet and naive. But its the glorious songs by E.Y. Harburg and Burton Lane that make this a perennial favorite of musical lovers: Old Devil Moon (the sensual duet by Clark and Don Francks is the film's highpoint), How Are Things In Glocca Mora, When I'm Not Near The Girl I Love, Look To The Rainbow, If This Isn't Love among others. Astaire's musical swan song. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. With Keenan Wynn (one of the last major actors required to do blackface), Roy Glenn and Al Freeman Jr. (one of the last black actors required to shuffle and say "massah").

Hell's Half Acre (1954)

When a man (Wendell Corey) attempts to break free of his criminal past, his former partner (Robert Costa) attempts to blackmail him but is killed by the man's fiancee (Nancy Gates in Asian make-up). From there things go from bad to worse and only intensify when the man's first wife (Evelyn Keyes) show up to look for him. Set in Hawaii, this minor Republic noir effort makes good use of its Hawaiian locations but it's not the usual Technicolor exotic tourist Honolulu. Instead, we get the B&W seedy underbelly that the tourists never see, wonderfully shot with lots of shadows and dingy atmosphere by John L. Russell (PSYCHO). That's about the best that you can say about director John H. Auer's (who also produced) improbable scenario. Even its cast has seen better days, notably Evelyn Keyes who looks rather blowsy. The film gives two reliable supporting players, Philip Ahn (who gets to romance Marie Windsor) and Jesse White, some juicy roles for a change rather than the usual uninteresting parts they end up with. With a wasted Elsa Lanchester as a lady taxi driver, Keye Luke and Leonard Strong.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Everybody Wins (1990)

A private detective (Nick Nolte) is hired by a prostitute (Debra Winger) to gather evidence that would get a new trial for a convicted murderer (Frank Military). While investigating the case, he becomes emotionally involved with her but it becomes clear that she's unstable. Is she the key to a case that could blow the roof off a politically corrupt city that goes right to the top ... or is she a paranoid whack job? Based on one of his minor plays, this is one of only three screenplays Arthur Miller (DEATH OF A SALESMAN) has written for the screen. While the mystery portion is obvious (I doubt Miller was interested in a conventional thriller), the narrative is fairly solid. Unfortunately, Miller's characters aren't believable and don't ring true. Winger, normally a gifted actress, is defeated by the zig-zagging of her character or perhaps as written, it's just unplayable. Or possibly she's just plain miscast, whatever, it's probably her weakest performance (though possibly LEGAL EAGLES might be worse). Miller's gift for dialog eludes him here and if his name wasn't on the credits, you'd never guess he had anything to do with it. The direction by Karel Reisz (FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN) can' be faulted. It's in the writing and to a lesser extent, the acting. The classy Mark Isham score rises above the mire. With Jack Warden, Will Patton, Judith Ivey, Frank Converse and Kathleen Wilhoite.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Guns Of Darkness (1962)

In a South American country, a high ranking employee (David Niven) of a sugar company finds his marriage disintegrating to the point where his wife (Leslie Caron) wants to leave him. But when a revolution breaks out and the military takes over the country, the couple find that a simple act of humanity has political repercussions that make them enemies of the state. A potentially intriguing political thriller gets bogged down in domestic issues to the point that it seems the film is encouraging political revolution as an alternative sort of marriage counseling or therapy! The characters' behavior is questionable and poor Leslie Caron is treated as a ninny though considering some of her actions, perhaps it's not unjustified. It's not a bad movie by any means but its potential is barely tapped which makes it a frustrating film. Luckily, Niven and Caron are such strong screen presences that they cover up a lot of the movie's problems. The normally reliable Benjamin Frankel's score is no help but Robert Krasker's (EL CID) neat black and white cinematography is nicely rendered. Directed by Anthony Asquith (THE VIPS). With James Robertson Justice, David Opatoshu and Ian Hunter.

Dancing Lady (1933)

A struggling dancer (Joan Crawford) is reduced to dancing in a burlesque show. But after the show is raided by the police for indecency, she decides to go legit and gets an audition for a Broadway show arranged for her by a wealthy playboy (Franchot Tone), who has ulterior motives. Standard backstage musical where a girl is plucked from the chorus and given her shot at stardom. This sort of stuff was usually the realm of Warners and Busby Berkeley. Crawford is at her most plucky and attractive here, you can see why the public adored her. Unfortunately, as a dancer, she's lead footed and clunky and when she dances with Fred Astaire (in his film debut), you wince. The film was a huge hit but MGM wisely kept her out of musicals for the rest of her tenure there. On the plus side, Clark Gable (as the show's director) is her leading man and as always, they had a terrific chemistry together. It's piffle but entertaining nonetheless. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard (ZIEGFELD GIRL). With Nelson Eddy, Eve Arden, May Robson, Robert Benchley and Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard, collectively known as the Three Stooges.