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Monday, June 30, 2014

Daughters Of Darkness (1971)

A young couple (John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet) on their honeymoon stop over in a coastal Belgian town that is out of season for tourists. It's at the hotel they're staying at that they comes across a mysterious Countess (Delphine Seyrig) and her companion (Andrea Rau). Meanwhile, a series of bloody killings involving young girls occurs during their stay at the hotel. Although shot in English, this Belgian horror film is thoroughly European in feel and execution. I suppose one could call it an exploitation film but that just paints it with a brush that's doesn't seem justified (well, maybe that S&M scene). Not that there's anything wrong with exploitation or pulp cinema, I'm quite fond of them myself but there's a haunting and elegant beauty threaded through out the film that elevates it over something like, say, Mario Bava's TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE. The great Seyrig brings classic lesbian vampire chic to a new level! I've no doubt this film was influential in both content and tone to Tony Scott's THE HUNGER (1983). The atmosphere so thick with fatalism hovering over every scene compensates for the rather ordinary presences of Karlen (best known as Tyne Daly's husband in CAGNEY AND LACEY) and Ouimet though I'm willing to chalk it up to English not being her native language. Languidly directed by Harry Kumel. With Paul Esser and Fons Rademakers.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

La Ronde (1964)

In 1913 Paris, an encounter between a prostitute (Marie Dubois, JULES AND JIM) and a soldier (Claude Giraud) begins a roundelay of lovers that continues until it ends where it began ..... with the prostitute. The soldier seduces a housemaid (Anna Karina) who is seduced by her employer's son (Jean Claude Brialy) who has a dalliance with a married woman (Jane Fonda) whose husband (Maurice Ronet) takes a mistress (Catherine Spaak) who leaves him for a playwright (Bernard Noel) in love with an actress (Francine Berge) who takes a soldier (Jean Sorel) for a lover who wakes up in bed with a prostitute (Dubois) after a night of revelry! The source material, the 1897 play by Arthur Schnitzier, had been done by Max Ophuls in his elegant 1950 film. Here, the director Roger Vadim lacks Ophuls' unabashed romanticism and his attempts to duplicate the elegance is hampered by an often listless execution not helped by Jean Anouilh's (MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT) adaptation. The movie manages some good will starting with the handsome main titles by the great Maurice Binder until the Ronet and Spaak sequence which stumbles and it rapidly slides downhill from there until one sighs from relief that it's finally over. The performances are stylized with only Fonda's kittenish wife standing out. Even the lackluster material can't dim her comedic talent. The graceful lensing is by Henri Decae (THE 400 BLOWS).

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day-Time Wife (1939)

A stay at home wife (Linda Darnell) suspects her husband (Tyrone Power) of having an affair with his secretary (Wendy Barrie). In order to find out what secretaries have that wives don't, without telling her husband, she takes a job as a secretary. Complications arise when she discovers not only is her boss (Warren William) a married wolf but also that her husband is doing business with him. What a pleasant surprise! This little known low-keyed comedy is a charmer in the manner of those Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies. No one thinks of Power and Darnell when the subject of romantic comedy comes up but they both display a deft comic touch. Their chemistry would carry on to three more films together. What's astonishing is that Darnell was a mere 17 years old when she did this film but you'd never know it as she carries herself with the aplomb of a much more mature woman. I certainly don't want to oversell it but if you come across it, you should find it quite appealing. Directed by Gregory Ratoff (INTERMEZZO). With Binnie Barnes, Joan Davis, Mildred Gover and Leonid Kinskey.

The Horror At 37,000 Feet (1973)

A London to New York flight carrying an ancient Druid sacrificial stone in its cargo unleashes a demon that terrorizes the passengers and crew. One's tolerance for this sort of thing depends on one's appetite for schlock ..... mine's insatiable! It's AIRPORT meets THE HAUNTING. The passengers are an inane group played by a LOVE BOAT type "B" cast. There's William Shatner as a defrocked priest, Tammy Grimes as a whacked out witch, Buddy Ebsen as a billionaire, Chuck Connors at the pilot, Paul Winfield as a doctor, France Nuyen as a model etc. The characters do the most ludicrous things and a scene where the passengers dress up a little girl's doll and try to pass it on to the demon for a human sacrifice has to be seen to be believed. The acting is dreadful (especially Ebsen and Shatner) though Grimes' hysteric is amusing. It's the kind of movie that, if you're game, can be fun in a bad movie way. Directed by David Lowell Rich (THE CONCORDE AIRPORT 1979). With Roy Thinnes, Jane Merrow (THE LION IN WINTER), Russell Johnson (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND), Lynn Loring (doing an imitation of Mia Farrow), Will Hutchins, Darleen Carr and Brenda Benet.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Baby Doll (1956)

In Mississippi, a sexually frustrated cotton gin owner (Karl Malden) is married to a 19 year old girl (Carroll Baker). He promised her father he would not consummate the marriage until her 20th birthday. But when he burns down the cotton gin of a Sicilian rival (Eli Wallach), the child bride becomes a pawn in a game of revenge between the two men. Tennessee Williams' wickedly sly black comedy was considered so scandalous when it opened in 1956 that it was condemned by the Catholic church as obscene and denounced from the pulpit of St. Patrick's cathedral by Cardinal Spellman. Seen today, that response all seems silly and Puritan though no American film had ever been so blatantly sexual since the pre-code era. The steamy atmosphere just exudes sex (in one quick shot, it appears even the dogs are aroused). So it's hard to not to forget that it's a comedy and an excellent one. No one writes more gorgeously poetic dialog than Tennessee Williams but he's also a master of droll humor. The three principal actors are superb (Baker received a best actress Oscar nomination) and Wallach who passed away this week, in his film deubt has never been better. Expertly directed by Elia Kazan. With Mildred Dunnock, both touching and hilarious as Baker's half wit aunt, Rip Torn, Madeleine Sherwood and Lonny Chapman.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

We're Not Dressing (1934)

There's an undeniable sexual tension between a spoiled heiress (Carole Lombard) and a sailor (Bing Crosby) on her crew as her yacht sails the South Pacific. When the yacht sinks, they are stranded on a desert island along with several of her guests from the yacht. The sexual tension only intensifies as the sailor refuses to take orders from the wealthy guests. As they are helpless to survive without him, he turns the tables on them and puts them to work. The 1902 James M. Barrie play THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON (about an English servant who turns the table on his masters when they are stranded on an island) has been usurped by film makers for years, often without credit. Notable riffs include the Cecil B. DeMille silent MALE AND FEMALE to Lina Wertmuller's SWEPT AWAY... who used the story to examine both sexual politics and an unfair class system. This one is a musical piffle which takes awhile to get its rhythm going. The first 20 minutes are wasted with Crosby singing songs to a Lombard's pet bear cub but once they hit the island, things pick up considerably. The songs by Harry Revel and Mack Gordon aren't up to snuff though the young Ethel Merman (who hadn't yet developed her bulldozing persona) does a bang up job on It's Just A New Spanish Custom. Directed by Norman Taurog. With Ray Milland, George Burns, Gracie Allen and Leon Errol.

The Court Jester (1956)

In order to restore the true heir (an infant) to the throne of England, a rebel (Edward Ashley) orders two of his underlings, a minstrel (Danny Kaye) and a maiden (Glynis Johns) to infiltrate the King's (Cecil Parker) castle. I love this movie which may well be Danny Kaye's best film. It's a witty satire on swashbucklers yet the film manages to both parody the genre and yet still provide the thrills of a genuine swashbuckler. Kaye is a polarizing comic actor yet I find even his detractors are won over by this comic gem. The laughs are abundant and there are several classic comedy sequences: Kaye changing personalities literally at the snap of a finger, the hurried knighting of the jester, the now classic "vessel with the pestle" exchange to name a few. Surprisingly a failure in its first release, the film's reputation has grown through the ensuing years. Colorful and fun. Written, produced and directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama. With Angela Lansbury, Mildred Natwick, John Carradine, Michael Pate, Herbert Rudley, Robert Middleton, Alan Napier and as the film's villain, Basil Rathbone in perfect form and at age 63, still wielding a sword with panache.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Train (1964)

In 1944 as the Allied forces approach Paris, a Nazi Colonel (Paul Scofield) orders all the art treasures of a museum to be packed and loaded onto a train bound for Germany. The museum's curator (Suzanne Flon, MOULIN ROUGE) asks the French Resistance for help in stalling the train until the Allied forces arrive. John Frankenheimer's WWII action-adventure film is a splendid thriller. It may be overlong (did we really need the dalliance with Jeanne Moreau?) but Frankenheimer manages to get his message across, is art worth the cost of the lives it took to save it, without hitting us over the head with it. Burt Lancaster as the railway inspector who reluctantly becomes part of the heroics is so good that you can forgive the fact that he's hopelessly American, made even more obvious when most of the cast (Moreau, Flon, Michel Simon, Albert Remy, Jacques Marin) are really French. The intelligent and realistic Oscar nominated screenplay by Franklin Coen and Frank Davis is based on the non-fiction book LE FRONT DE L'ART by Rose Valland, itself based on an actual incident. The winning B&W cinematography is courtesy of Jean Tournier and Walter Wottitz and the blame for the obtrusive score goes to Maurice Jarre. With Wolfgang Preiss and Charles Millot.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rebecca (1940)

In Monte Carlo, a rather colorless paid companion (Joan Fontaine) encounters a British aristocrat (Laurence Olivier) and they fall in love. But when he brings her to Manderley, his showplace family home, she discovers a troubled history regarding his deceased first wife, the beautiful Rebecca. Based on the best seller by Daphne Du Maurier, this was Alfred Hitchock's American directorial film debut. There have been attempts in recent years to dismiss the film as more of a David O. Selznick film than a true Hitchcock but the film features wit, ingenuity and a stylish suspense, none of which are Selznick trademarks. It's a perfectly crafted piece of entertainment that shows the Hollywood studio system's clockwork precision at its best. This features Fontaine's star making role and she's terrific. Her mousy, timid plain Jane is such a ninny at times that in the hands of a lesser actress, her character could have been irritating. Instead, we're rooting for her (the character and the actress) right from the beginning and she justifies our faith in her. Nearly stealing the film is Judith Anderson as the formidable Mrs. Danvers, imposing and ominous in her stillness even. Her scene with Fontaine in Rebecca's bedroom as she describes Rebecca is amazing. One of those films that I can't resist visiting every couple of years or so. The strong underscore is by Franz Waxman. With George Sanders, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, Leo G. Carroll, C. Aubrey Smith, Melville Cooper and in a marvelous turn, Florence Bates as Fontaine's snobby employer. When she finds out Fontaine is going to marry Olivier, Bates eyes her coldly and asks, "Tell me, dear. Have you been doing something you shouldn't?"

Monday, June 23, 2014

Three Secrets (1950)

When a private plane carrying a 6 year old boy and his parents crashes in the California mountains, only the child survives. As climbers make their way to the top of the mountain to rescue the child, three women wait to see if it is the child they gave up for adoption: a married woman (Eleanor Parker) who had a baby out of wedlock before she married her husband (Leif Erickson), a journalist (Patricia Neal) who gave up her baby after her husband (Frank Lovejoy) left her for another woman and a dancer (Ruth Roman) who served time in prison for murdering the father (John Dehner) of the child she gave up for adoption. For an unabashed weepie, the film manages to overcome the possible maudlin nature of its story line thanks to the no nonsense direction of Robert Wise (WEST SIDE STORY) and its three leading actresses who act the Hell out of it. Parker's loving wife is the least interesting of the three but Neal and Roman bring some vinegar to their roles. The stigma of unwed mothers is (almost) non-existent today so there's a certain quaintness to the subject matter that distances us. But it does serve to remind us how lucky we are that there are more options today than then. The score by David Buttolph is nice though the use of Cole Porter's I Get A Kick Out Of You as a recurring theme is a bit annoying. With Arthur Franz, Larry Keating, Katherine Warren, Edmond Ryan and Eleanor Audley.

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

A defecting Russian scientist (Jean Del Val) with crucial information is injured in an assassination attempt that leaves him in a coma and a blood clot on his brain. In an attempt to save his life, a submarine is miniaturized with a crew consisting of a security agent (Stephen Boyd), a surgeon (Arthur Kennedy), a doctor (Donald Pleasence), a pilot (William Redfield) for the sub and a surgical assistant (Raquel Welch) to perform the delicate surgery of removing the clot. It's a race against time since the miniaturization will only last one hour before they and the sub will revert to their normal size. One of the most inventive and original premises in sci-fi film, FANTASTIC VOYAGE still retains its hold on our imagination. It's groundbreaking Oscar winning special effects were startling in 1966 but today, they seem rather crude and obvious. While it doesn't impinge on our enjoyment of the film, this is one movie I can see being remade effectively using the new technologies to update to a more realistic look. Speaking of realism, the film (as with most sci-fi movies) has some plot holes involving logic that I won't go into here. Who goes to a movie like this for accuracy anyway? Directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA). With Edmond O'Brien, Arthur O'Connell, James Brolin, Barry Coe and Ken Scott.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The File On Thelma Jordon (1950)

An unhappily married assistant District Attorney (Wendell Corey) begins an illicit affair with a woman (Barbara Stanwyck). When the woman's elderly aunt (Gertrude W. Hoffman) is killed during a home robbery, she is arrested for murder. But guess who the prosecuting attorney in her murder trial is? Yep ... her married lover! The director Robert Siodmak is responsible for several stylish film noir classics like THE KILLERS (1946) and CRISS CROSS (1949) so this is a guy who knows what he's doing. That being said, THELMA JORDAN isn't on a par with those films. It starts off rather sluggishly and right away there's a problem by the name of Wendell Corey. Often a fine supporting actor in character roles, he's a flop as a leading man. Even if he didn't bungle his drunk scene (the undoing of many an actor) at the beginning of the movie, his character is such a dumb cluck that you can't get invested in his character. The picture picks up around the time of the murder and through the trial before it goes all flabby at the very end. Stanwyck is marvelous at playing these types of hardened femme fatales and she's wonderful as usual even if the film has her go all soft at the very end. So nix on the dull first half hour and lame ending but what's in between is quit enthralling. With Joan Tetzel as Corey's needy whiny wife, Paul Kelly, Barry Kelley, Kasey Rogers and Stanley Ridges.

Jersey Boys (2014)

A young Italian kid (38 year old John Lloyd Young recreating his stage role) works as a hairdresser by day while trying to spark a music career at night. He's taken under the wing of a petty hustler (Vincent Piazza) and together they form a musical group that eventually becomes The Four Seasons fronted by Frankie Valli. D.O.A.! This may well be the most stillborn musical biography since Keven Spacey's heinous BEYOND THE SEA. As a genre, there's not a whole lot one can do with the cliche ridden (and all the cliches are here) rags to riches to heartache to triumph scenarios inherent in the genre. The success of these musical autobiographies are wholly dependent on the songs and central performance that elevates the hackneyed material: Diana Ross in LADY SINGS THE BLUES, Barbra Streisand in FUNNY GIRL, Jamie Foxx in RAY, Joaquin Phoenix in WALK THE LINE or Marion Cotillard in LA VIE EN ROSE, for example. There's no such central performance here and while I'm not a Four Seasons fan, their songs get short shrift here. The director Clint Eastwood doesn't seem interested in a musical so unlike the stage musical, the songs seem like an afterthought. So what are we left with? A string of cliches with Italian "goomba" seasoning. There is one production number where you suddenly feel you're in a real musical but Eastwood places it under the end credits! What was he thinking? With Christopher Walken, Michael Lomenda, Billy Gardell and in the film's three best performances: Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, Mike Doyle as Bob Crewe and Renee Marino as Valli's wife.

The Badge (2002)

In a small Louisiana backwater parish, a young woman (Cyd Casados) is found shot to death in the woods. After the coroner confirms she was, in fact, transgender, the town's leading politicos suggest to the sheriff (Billy Bob Thornton) that he close the case immediately. But when the murder victim's wife (Patricia Arquette) arrives from New Orleans demanding an investigation, the layers are peeled away and a complicated structure of corruption rising to the top of the political totem pole is revealed. Made for cinemas (although GLAAD nominated it as best TV movie), when the production company went bankrupt and the film couldn't find a distributor, it debuted on cable (Starz) rather than cinemas. Perhaps it's just as well but considering its topic, I can't see it doing very well in cinemas at least in 2002, it's just not unique enough. That being said, the film doesn't whitewash Thornton's sheriff. He's not interested in solving the case (he refers to the victim as a "freak"). It's not justice or fair play that motivates him to solve the case, it's political ambition and a chance to get back at the men who are trying to sell him out. And while he never gets that "see the light" moment, he must acknowledge his own prejudice and move past it. When I call it a potboiler, it's not a put down. For what it is, it's not bad at all. Directed by Robby Henson. With Sela Ward, William Devane, Julie Hagerty, Jena Malone and Thomas Haden Church.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

La Grande Strada Azzurra (aka The Wide Blue Road) (1957)

In a small poor fishing village off the coast of Italy, a fisherman (Yves Montand) unethically uses dynamite to catch fish thus assuring his family a reasonably comfortable lifestyle not shared by his fellow fisherman who resent his dishonorable tactics. But his arrogance and his justification continue despite an increasing series of tragic events that can only lead to disaster. The debut film of Gillo Pontecorvo doesn't carry the weight nor the overt political ramifications of his big two, BATTLE OF ALGIERS and BURN!, but it's a beautifully assembled human tragedy. Though the neo-realist movement of post war Italian cinema was no longer in vogue in 1957, its influence on Pontecorvo's debut film is strongly apparent. Pontecorvo clearly has an affection and sympathy for his working class characters and here, he's especially good in his depiction of family life. The loyalty and affection of the fisherman's two sons (Giancarlo Soblone, Ronaldo Bonacchi) even though they question his strategy and his pride in his sons is quite touching. Montand gives one of his very best performances (right up there with WAGES OF FEAR) and 7 year old Rolando Bonacchi gives one of the best performances I've seen from a child actor. A gem of a film. With Alida Valli as the wife and mother, Terence Hill, Francisco Rabal (VIRIDIANA), Federica Ranchi and Peter Carsten.

Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933)

In 1921 London, a sculptor (Lionel Atwill) does remarkable work recreating historical figures in realistic fashion using wax. But his business partner (Edwin Maxwell) torches the place to get the insurance money, destroying not only the wax figures but burning the sculptor so severely that his hands are rendered useless. Jump to 1933 New York and the doctor is opening another wax museum but its remarkable how some of the sculptures look like recent murder victims. Perhaps not as well known as its 1953 remake HOUSE OF WAX, this Michael Curtiz film is still frightful fun. It's shot in the early two strip Technicolor process which lends the film a ghoulish ambience. The film's leading ladies, Glenda Farrell as a feisty reporter and Fay Wray as her pretty roommate, both get a chance to show their lung power in true scream queen fashion. Anton Grot's art direction is quite marvelous, notably Wray's descent into the bowels of the museum's depths where its German expressionist design comes to the forefront. This being a pre-code film, it gets away with showing a junkie (Arthur Edmund Carewe) going into withdrawal fits. With Frank McHugh, Gavin Gordon and Allen Vincent.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Shalako (1968)

In the American West of the 1880s, an ex-soldier (Sean Connery) comes across a group of European aristocrats on a hunting party. When he informs them that they have trespassed onto Apache territory protected by a treaty, they're rather arrogant and unconcerned about the "savages". But when the Apaches attack their camp at dawn, they realize the seriousness of their situation. Based on the novel by Louis L'Amour, this was one of many westerns shot in Europe (usually in Spain) in the 1960s. While it doesn't have the feel of a "spaghetti" western, the mostly European cast gives it an international flavor. The film opens with a disturbing hunt for a mountain lion that makes you wish all hunters could be prey for a day to know what it feels like. When we meet the privileged and arrogant titled aristocrats, they're so unlikable that you can't summon much sympathy for them and, in fact, almost feel like cheering when they get an arrow into them. Still, the fate of Honor Blackman (GOLDFINGER) is so hideous that it's almost unwatchable. Unfortunately, for a film that stars two of the biggest sex symbols of the 60s, Connery and Brigitte Bardot as a countess, it's shocking that they have zero chemistry together. I found it rather entertaining though. There's a nice underscore by Robert Farnon that's marred by an odious title song. Directed by Edward Dmytryk (THE CAINE MUTINY). With Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Peter Van Eyck, Woody Strode, Alexander Knox, Valerie French, Eric Sykes, Julian Mateos and Donald Barry.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Anatomy Of A Murder (1959)

A small town Michigan lawyer (James Stewart) takes on a controversial murder case. A Lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) in the U.S. Army killed a tavern owner after his wife (Lee Remick) claimed the bar owner raped her. A ground breaking film in its day (words like rape, sperm and panties were not the norm for movie dialog), Otto Preminger's film remains a superior example of the courtroom drama. Based on the novel by Robert Travers, the book was based on an actual case in which the novel's author was the defense attorney. The author's legal expertise lends an authenticity to the film which is often sorely lacking in films of this type. The defense lawyer played by Stewart is often unethical and his behavior in the courtroom inappropriate but his job is to get his client off anyway he can and the film shows this, warts and all. It's one of Stewart's better performances but the film is graced with several excellent performances including Remick and George C. Scott who received his first Oscar nomination for his work here. It's a long film (2 hours, 40 minutes) and perhaps Preminger could have trimmed some of the unnecessary fat but you won't be bored. The score is by Duke Ellington and the imaginative titles by Saul Bass. With Eve Arden, Arthur O'Connell, Kathryn Grant, Murray Hamilton, Orson Bean and as the Judge, Joseph N. Welch (an attorney during the McCarthy era HUAC hearings) whose lack of acting experience is apparent.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wake Of The Red Witch (1948)

The captain (John Wayne) of a ship named the Red Witch which is carrying five million in gold bars intentionally scuttles his ship. It's all part of a greater plan involving the ship's owner (Luther Adler) and it is through flashbacks where we learn of the deadly rivalry between the two men and what was the cause of it. Based on a popular best seller by Garland Roark, the film bears similarities to another sea going movie, DeMille's REAP THE WILD WIND which also featured Wayne. While not without some entertainment value, it's saddled with a plodding romance featuring Wayne and Gail Russell who fortunately have a nice chemistry (as they did in ANGEL AND THE BADMAN). But the director Edward Ludwig (BIG JIM MCLAIN) never musters up the necessary excitement that a sea yarn like this requires. Wayne actually has one of the more complex parts of his career but the inert screenplay doesn't allow him to flesh out his character while not much is required of Russell except look lovely which she does effortlessly. With Gig Young, Adele Mara, Jeff Corey, Henry Daniell, Eduard Franz and Paul Fix.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Somewhere In Time (1980)

A college student (Christopher Reeve) is approached by an elderly woman (Susan French) that he's never seen before and who places a watch in his hand and says, "Come back to me!" and leaves. 7 years later, he's a successful playwright and sees her photograph and discovers that she was a famous actress who went into recluse. It is then he ponders if it is possible to travel back in time to 1912 and meet her as a young woman. A critical and box office disappointment when it opened, the film's popularity began with cable TV (still somewhat in its infancy back then) until it became the cult classic (it even has its own fan club) it is today. Despite it's sci-fi time travel trappings, at heart it's an old fashioned love story. I suppose THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR would be its 1940s equivalent. It's easy to be cynical about it as were most of the critics of the day were toward it. But it's such a lush, dreamy and perfectly crafted piece of romanticism that one's heart overrules one's critical faculties. So I unapologetically let it do its work on me. Reeve's slightly nervous charm is appealing and Jane Seymour as the younger version of the elderly actress is drop dead gorgeous and little else is asked of her. The achingly beautiful score is by John Barry, once heard, never forgotten. Directed by Jeannot Swarc (JAWS 2). With Christopher Plummer, Teresa Wright, George Voskovec, Bill Erwin, Eddra Gale and a quick or you'll miss him, William H. Macy.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bella Addormentata (aka Dormant Beauty) (2012)

Based on an actual incident in 2009 Italy, a woman named Eluana Englaro who has been in a vegetative coma for almost 17 years is allowed to die after years of her father fighting the courts (in a very Catholic country like Italy, euthanasia is not legal) to let her die. Emotions run high on both sides as the right to life contingent and the death with dignity groups clash both on the street and in the Italian parliament. It's taken awhile for Marco Bellocchio's (FISTS IN THE POCKET) award winning 2012 film to arrive in the U.S. It's an ensemble film as Bellocchio follows several characters back and forth as the Englaro case plays out in the government, media and court of public opinion. A senator (Toni Servillo, THE GREAT BEAUTY), who must vote on the case, in favor of the right to die clashes with his pro-life daughter (Alba Rohrwacher). A famous actress (Isabelle Huppert) who has abandoned her career to watch over her own comatose daughter (Carlotta Cimador) has become a religious fanatic and watches the Englaro case carefully. A doctor (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio) keeps vigil over a suicidal drug addict (Maya Sansa, who won the Italian Oscar for supporting actress for her work here). Make no mistake about it, this is an in your face political film on a polarizing subject but Bellocchio doesn't pontificate and all sides get their chance to be heard. And when it's over, you still won't know what side Bellocchio comes down on. Perhaps its theme is as simple as when a character says, "you look at things differently when you're in love". Powerful stuff and well done.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Another Time, Another Place (1958)

At the end of WWII in London, a journalist (Lana Turner) has a nervous breakdown after her married lover (Sean Connery) is killed in a plane crash. After being released from the hospital, she decides to spend the day in Cornwall on the coast of England where he grew up and lived. It's there that she meets his wife (Glynis Johns) and child (Martin Stephens, THE INNOCENTS) and without telling them who she is, spends a few weeks with them. A typical Lana Turner 1950s vehicle, it stands out from the rest of her 50s filmography for several reasons. It's in B&W instead of lush Technicolor, she has no glamorous costumes (no costume designer is credited) and the film "introduces" the pre-Bond Connery in a prominent role. Your tolerance for this sort of romantic weepie may depend on your affection or disaffection for Ms. Turner. The film's most interesting scenes are the ones with Turner and Johns due to the contrast in their abilities. Turner holds the screen as only a true Star can but Johns takes it away from her by the sheer power of her acting, letting us see her character's uncertainty, kindness, pain and humiliation. The Cornwall locations are picturesque (though apparently Italy stood in for a few shots) that one almost wishes it were shot in color and there's a romantic underscore by Douglas Gamley. Directed by Lewis Allen (THE UNINVITED) and with Barry Sullivan, Terence Longdon and Sidney James.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tale Of The Mummy (1998)

A group of archaeologists return to an ancient Egyptian tomb some 50 years after it was first discovered by the grandfather (Christopher Lee) of one (Louise Lombard) of the archaeological team. When they return to London with the tomb's artifacts, a series of serial killings begin to occur. The detective (Jason Scott Lee, DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY) assigned to the case suspects the killings may be tied to the discovery of the tomb. For a mummy horror film, this "B" movie has no atmosphere and very little tension. I mean how scary is a bunch of gauze bandages floating around London and strangling people? Granted I saw the American cut which is some 20 minutes shorter than the international cut but I doubt those 20 minutes would add much terror to the proceedings. There is one effective moment when a spiritualist (Shelley Duvall) brings a corpse to life but overall, those kind of moments are few and far between and the final shot is laughable. Directed by Russell Mulcahy (HIGHLANDER). With Gerard Butler, Honor Blackman (wasted), Lysette Anthony, Michael Lerner and Sean Pertwee.

Spellbound (1945)

When the new head administrator (Gregory Peck) of a mental institution arrives, he is attracted to one of the psychiatrists (Ingrid Bergman) on the staff. But it soon becomes clear to the psychiatrist that the new director of the asylum not only isn't who he claims to be but is as mentally and emotionally disturbed as the rest of the patients there. She begins to probe his mind. "Will he kiss me or kill me?" cried the original movie posters for SPELLBOUND. A mystery thriller set in the world of psychiatry must have tickled Alfred Hitchcock's fancy and I can imagine his glee at the possibilities but the film only partially delivers on that count. Its psychology is rather simplistic (if not dubious) but the film is rather witty both visually (when Bergman and Peck first kiss, a series of doors open) and verbally ("A woman in love is the lowest form of the intellect mind"). An important contributor is or was supposed to be Salvador Dali but a lot of his visual designs weren't filmed or ended on the cutting room floor, which is a pity because the film could have used more of his visual flair. Peck's awkwardness is effective though I'm not so sure if its the character's or Peck's. Ben Hecht did the screenplay based on THE HOUSE OF DR. EDWARDES by Francis Breeding (a pseudonym). The Oscar winning score is by Miklos Rozsa. With Rhonda Fleming, Leo G. Carroll, John Emery, Norman Lloyd, Wallace Ford, Regis Toomey, Jacqueline DeWit and Michael Chekhov in an Oscar nominated performance.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sunrise At Campobello (1960)

In the summer of 1921 at his family's summer home on the island of Campobello, future President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Ralph Bellamy, reprising his Tony award winning stage role) is struck with paralysis and loses the use of his legs. With the support of his wife Eleanor (Greer Garson, Oscar nominated for her work here), he begins the long struggle to recovery. Like many movies, some stage plays are of their time and don't age well. Dore Schary's critically acclaimed play SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO ran for over a year and won four Tonys including best play. Unlike many other Tony award winning plays, CAMPOBELLO has never had a Broadway revival and it's easy to see why. It's a stiff! It's the theatrical equivalent of Oscar bait. Certainly good drama could have been made of Roosevelt's initial struggles with polio (if that's what it was) and the HBO film WARM SPRINGS with Kenneth Branagh as Roosevelt did just that. Bellamy seems to be authentically recreating his stage performance to the point of playing to the balcony and despite her awards attention, Garson (hampered by fake teeth) seems to be doing a poor imitation of Eleanor Roosevelt. Hume Cronyn as a chain smoking asthmatic is disliked by Roosevelt's mother (Ann Shoemaker in the film's best performance) and children and he's such an annoying character, you can't blame them. Franz Waxman contributes a nice underscore. Directed by Vincent J. Donehue, who directed the stage play and maybe it wasn't a good idea to let him to the movie. With Jean Hagen, Zina Bethune and Tim Considine.

Rattle Of A Simple Man (1964)

A group of working class men from Manchester take a bus to London for the Football Association Cup Final. After the big game, one of the men (Michael Medwin) in the group bets a shy and naive man (Harry H. Corbett), who at 39 still lives at home with his mother, that he can't pick up a prostitute (Diane Cilento) at the bar and go home with her. Based on a three character play (the girl's brother is the third character) by Charles Dyer that was a success in London's West End but didn't replicate its success in New York. The film is opened up with many more characters that takes us away from the two protagonists in the girl's apartment but the play's intimacy would appear to have been lost. I'm fond of filmed plays myself so I wouldn't have minded being confined to a one set film. I'm not familiar with Harry H. Corbett's work but apparently he was a popular British actor, best known for his work on the TV show STEPTOE AND SON which was Americanized as SANFORD AND SON for U.S. TV. He's very good though it's Cilento's fabricating hooker who is the more interesting character. You just know there's a backstory there and there is. Directed by Muriel Box, an Oscar winner for her SEVENTH VEIL script. With Thora Hird, Alexander Davion, Carole Gray and Marianne Stone.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994)

Two professional drag queens (Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce) and a transsexual woman (Terence Stamp) travel on a rundown bus through the Australian outback to a casino resort where they are booked to perform their cabaret act. One of the sleeper hits of 1994, PRISCILLA is an outrageous if advisedly so comedy that flirts dangerously with stereotypes (and not just their gay characters) but still manages to be full of heart and affection toward its band of misfits. Stamp, Weaving and especially Pearce are totally convincing and bring both sass and poignancy to their roles. While we get bits and pieces of their musical act, there's only one full on production number CeCe Peniston's Finally and it's a knockout, so much so that one almost wishes director Stephan Elliott had made a full blown musical out of it (which it eventually was on Broadway). Tim Chappel's and Lizzy Gardiner's insanely fantastic and colorful costumes justifiably won an Oscar. One can nitpick but why bother? It's assets so far outweigh its liabilities that it would seem churlish. With Bill Hunter, Sarah Chadwick and Julia Cortez.

Arrowsmith (1931)

An idealistic young doctor (Ronald Colman) turns down an opportunity at research to become a small town doctor in order to appease his wife (Helen Hayes). Dissatisfied with the narrow mindedness of small town life, he eventually accepts an invitation to join a prestigious medical research laboratory in New York. Though directed by the great John Ford, Ford is a director for hire here (his boss was Samuel Goldwyn) and the film is not one of Ford's more notable efforts. I've not read the Sinclair Lewis source material which won the Pulitzer Prize, but on film, it's yet another "idealistic doctor sells out only to be humbled and return to his ideals" scenario. THE CITADEL is another popular example of the genre. The West Indies plague sequence which occupies a large portion of the movie is very well done however and redeems the film. Outside of A TALE OF TWO CITIES, I'm not a fan of Colman. Yes, he has a beautiful speaking voice but there never seems to be anybody at home. He's like a singer with a great technical voice but with very little interpretive prowess when it comes to lyrics. Hayes is stuck with the little wife role, waiting at home and wringing her hands. A pre-stardom Myrna Loy pops up in the West Indies but her role seems to have been severely cut or edited. There's the tiniest suggestion of an illicit affair between her and Colman which one gets from her furtive glances but little else. With Richard Bennett (father of Joan and Constance), John Qualen and Clarence Brooks.

Picture Mommy Dead (1966)

A young girl (Susan Gordon, looking like a pubescent Joey Heatherton) is released from a mental institution into the care of her father (Don Ameche) and stepmother (Martha Hyer). The girl went into shock over the death of her mother (Zsa Zsa Gabor) who died in a fire but who she believes was murdered. Depending on your point of view, either a horror film or a thriller but inept on every level either way. Poor Susan Gordon is so incompetent that I began to have a perverse sympathy for her. After all, she was put in the picture by her father Bert I. Gordon, the film's producer/director, surely some form of child abuse. One can forgive the poor child's lack of ability but can one forgive Wendell Corey in a cringe inducing cameo or Maxwell Reed whose death scene has you smirking? The lovely Martha Hyer (who passed away recently) is the only one who appears not to realize she's in a stinker and tries (she fails) to give a performance. It's one of those films so amateurish in its execution that one watches it with a sort of fascination, unable to tear your eyes away. Among the others in the cast: Signe Hasso and Anna Lee.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

High Plains Drifter (1973)

A stranger (Clint Eastwood) rides into a small isolated and unfriendly town set aside a big lake. The people are afraid of strangers because it's a corrupt town with a collective murderous secret. But when the stranger proves his prowess with a gun, the town promises him anything if he will protect them from three men, just out of prison, who are coming to exact their revenge on the town. Eastwood's second film as a director (his first was the thriller PLAY MISTY FOR ME) is influenced by his mentor Sergio Leone, his character a variation of the "Man With No Name" he played in Leone's trilogy. It's a metaphysical allegory which is a heavy load for a western to carry and Eastwood's touch isn't as assured as Leone's or even his own later directorial efforts. So it's rough around its edges and some of the handling of the action is crude (including a rape as punishment sequence) but it's a strangely compelling western. It's hold on you is almost spellbinding. Eastwood had the entire town built on Mono Lake (just outside Yosemite National Park if I recall) and Bruce Surtees' wide screen cinematography is quite handsome. With Verna Bloom, Mariana Hill, Jack Ging, Mitch Ryan, Paul Brinegar, Geoffrey Lewis, Billy Curtis, Ted Hartley and John Hillerman among the townsfolk.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ruthless People (1986)

The shrewish wife (Bette Midler) of a wealthy clothing manufacturer (Danny DeVito) is kidnapped by a young married couple (Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater) who want revenge on the manufacturer for stealing the wife's fashion designs and making millions off them. Their intention is to ransom the kidnapped wife for $500,000 or they'll kill her. Imagine their shock when the husband doesn't want the wife back and wants them to bump her off! Bette Midler had a hot streak in the late 1980s with a series of comedies that were big box office hits like DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, BIG BUSINESS, OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE and this one. While often crude and obvious, the crack timing of Midler and DeVito is a marvel to watch and it's amazing the laughs Midler can get from a double take or a sly smirk. Two supporting characters threaten to steal the movie at any moment, Anita Morris as DeVito's sexy duplicitous mistress and Bill Pullman (in his film debut) as Morris's dumb as they come boy toy. Like their AIRPLANE, the trio of directors (Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry Zucker) move at lightning speed, throwing so many gags at you that if you don't laugh at one, you're bound to laugh at the next one. Funny enough that you don't mind that the ending is soft. With William G. Schilling as a police captain whose sexual peccadilloes provide some of the biggest laughs in the film.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Portrait D'un Assassin (1949)

A carnival daredevil (Pierre Brasseur, CHILDREN OF PARADISE) is unhappy with his wife (Arletty) but an attempt to kill her is botched when he accidentally shoots the wrong woman (Maria Montez). The woman survives and turns out to be a rich bitch with a kinky taste for men who take dangerous risks and she sets her claws on the man who accidentally shot her. But she may have met her match! This little known film, directed by Bernard-Roland, is an interesting almost noir like exercise in how sordid love can be, a force for evil as well as good. Love drives Brasseur and Montez to do horrible things while Arletty and Eric von Stroheim (as Montez' paralyzed ex-lover) suffer nobly and sacrifice themselves on love's altar. It's interesting to see Montez outside her Technicolor Universal epics in a contemporary setting in a part that requires more of her than just looking exotic. She'd left Hollywood by this time and moved to Europe in hope of better roles and she got one here. But the acting honors belong to Arletty who's touching yet one can see why Brasseur could feel stifled in their marriage. While not an undiscovered gem by any means, the film's deserves (certainly with that cast) a better reputation and a larger audience (it has only 83 votes on the IMDb). With Marcel Dalio, Jules Berry and Marcel Dieudonne.

Words And Pictures (2014)

An admired published author (Clive Owen) and an internationally renowned painter (Juliette Binoche) teach at an exclusive prep school. Both of them plagued by problems which hamper their ability to do their Art. He is an alcoholic and she has a crippling case of rheumatoid arthritis. When she tells her class that "words are lies", he declares war, challenging her to prove images are more powerful than words. First off, I was relieved that the film backpedals the inspirational teacher bit and concentrates on its two protagonists. It's quite unusual to find a film about two people attracted to each other intellectually and the film is best when it concentrates on the exploratory relationship between these two, their challenging each other on ideas and art. Owen hasn't been this good since CLOSER and he and Binoche have the ability to project intelligence. When Owen spouts off about the greatness of John Updike or Binoche talks about the power of images, they actually sound like they know what they're talking about! Despite their fierce performances, the film can't sustain a narrative worthy of its characters. The students are a bunch of classroom cliches and by the time the two bed each other and the love song plays over them sipping wine, the movie is lost. It's a real pity because Owens' and Binoche's performances deserve better. Still, I'm not about to throw out the baby with the bathwater because the movie takes a wrong turn. Directed by Fred Schepisi (ROXANNE). With Bruce Davison and Amy Brenneman.

The Misfits (1961)

A fragile and sensitive woman (Marilyn Monroe) is in Reno to obtain a divorce. She and her friend (Thelma Ritter) hook up with an aging cowboy (Clark Gable) and an ex-WWII pilot (Eli Wallach). They are later joined by a rodeo rider (Montgomery Clift). Has a film ever been more aptly titled? One of the most difficult shoots of its day (Monroe's breakdown, the director John Huston's heavy drinking), it's near remarkable how such a good film came out of that chaos and turmoil. Of course, it's impossible to watch the film today without being influenced by the knowledge that this was to be the final film of both Gable (who died before the film opened) and Monroe. Because of that, the film has a poignant resonance that it might not have if both had lived and worked longer. Gable and Monroe give what may possibly be career best performances but the rest of the cast are all at the top of their game. Clift brings a deep sadness to his simple cowpoke while Wallach puts forth a likable face on a deeply troubled character. Even Thelma Ritter steps up to the plate ditching her usual wisecrack a minute persona. Arthur Miller's literate script details each of his characters with such structure and specificity that must have been of enormous aid to the cast. The crisp B&W lensing is by the great Russell Metty (TOUCH OF EVIL) and the effective underscore by Alex North. With Kevin McCarthy, Estelle Winwood and James Barton.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Orphans Of The Storm (1921)

In late 18th century France, a young woman (Lillian Gish) brings her blind sister (Dorothy Gish) to Paris in the hopes of having her sight restored. They are separated when one of them is kidnapped but they soon find themselves caught up in the turmoil of the French Revolution where both aristocrat and commoners are at risk. D.W. Griffith's sprawling epic is a mixture of shameless sentimentality and reactionary politics. Yet there's no denying it's a forceful piece of cinema. At times, the French Revolution seems a mere backdrop to the story of two sisters trying to find each other among the chaos. At other times, the Revolution seems a stand in for any authoritarian government, a cautionary plea against fascism/communism/socialism (take your pick or all three). Whatever ..... it's still an outstanding achievement. Not that it's perfect, mind you. Griffith shamelessly milks the Lillian Gish guillotine scene for every moment he can squeeze, dragging it on and on endlessly till one almost has to smile (in fact, I think I did). The film is somewhat demeaned by its cheesy score by Louis F. Gottchalk and William Frederick Peters, the kind of Mickey Mouse scoring that give silent movies a bad name. The large cast includes Joseph Schildkraut (DIARY OF ANNE FRANK), Monte Blue as Danton, Sidney Herbert as Robespierre, Frank Puglia, Creighton Hale and the mustached Lucille La Verne (the voice of the wicked Queen in Disney's SNOW WHITE) who is perhaps most famous for her role as The Vengeance in the 1935 A TALE OF TWO CITIES.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

After his death, a lifelong womanizer (Don Ameche) enters Hell where he meets the Devil (Laird Cregar) who asks him to tell his life story. Greatly admired in some quarters, this droll romantic comedy by the great Ernst Lubitsch has its minor charms but for the most part, I found it hard going. Shot in luscious three strip Technicolor (Lubitsch's first color film) by Edward Cronjager (1931's CIMARRON), whose work here received an Oscar nomination, I found the material too thin. Lubitsch's best films were pre-code which allowed him to address sexual impropriety head on. Here, he has to dance around it and the film suffers. It doesn't help that the charmless Don Ameche is in the lead role. Gene Tierney as Ameche's wife makes restitution and brings a grace and melancholy to her part. Of Lubitsch's 1940s work, I much prefer CLUNY BROWN or SHOP AROUND THE CORNER. The supporting cast, however, is perfect: Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Eugene Pallette, Louis Calhern, Signe Hasso, Spring Byington, Allyn Joslyn, Florence Bates, Helene Reynolds (who only has one scene but it's a charmer) and in a bit part, Dane Clark. While it shares the same title as the 1978 Warren Beatty film, the two films are unrelated.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Noises Off (1992)

A stage director (Michael Caine) is frantically trying to get his Americanized English farce up to snuff but during the play's tech rehearsal, it's clear the play just isn't jelling. Peter Bogdanovich has one bona fide masterpiece to his credit, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, but the rest of his output is all over the place from good (MASK) to awful (THEY ALL LAUGHED). Bogdanovich doesn't have the knack for broad comedy. His screwball farce WHAT'S UP DOC? is pretty much a dud. That NOISES OFF works as well as it does is a credit to the premise and its expert cast of farceurs. Essentially, we're seeing the same act done three times in three different cities but each time with a new perspective as the play's cast change liaisons and alliances. I love farce myself but I'm not sure Bogdanovich does. Still, anyone who has ever appeared in a play will either smile or shudder at the shock of recognition of how the backstage rivalries, shenanigans and last minute changes play out here. But if you're not a fan of farce, material like this may well wear you down before it gets to the end. Kudoes to the wonderful cast: Carol Burnett, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Denholm Elliott (in his final film role), Marilu Henner, Julie Hagerty, Nicollette Sheridan and Mark Linn Baker (MY FAVORITE YEAR).

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

55 Days At Peking (1963)

A domestic sect called Boxers take it upon themselves to terrorize the foreign element in 1900 China. The Dowager Empress (Flora Robson) unofficially supports their attempts to ouster the foreigners (colonialism was still very much part of the landscape) who all reside in a guarded compound. But the league of nations under the leadership of a British diplomat (David Niven) stands its ground. It's just a matter of time before a full out rebellion begins. One of the last of the great movie epics, this is the kind of movie making that we'll never see the likes of again. The producer Samuel Bronston actually built the entire city of Peking in Spain and there are no CGI effects. When you see see a thousand Chinese attacking the compound, those are a thousand humans not 100 people multiplied via CGI to look like a thousand. Though the film's sympathies lie with the foreign legations, the screenplay allows us to see the Chinese point of view and their frustration at how foreign powers are dividing up China like a pie. The romantic narrative between a U.S. Marine (Charlton Heston) and a Russian baroness (Ava Gardner) isn't very compelling but the action set pieces are first rate. I'm not sure how much of the film can be called a Nicholas Ray film. Though he is the only credited director, there are allegations the film was finished by other hands when he had a breakdown. Whatever ... it remains an enjoyable picture of its kind. A marvelous score by Dimitri Tiomkin. With John Ireland, Leo Genn, Paul Lukas, Harry Andrews, Kurt Kasznar, Elizabeth Sellars, Robert Helpmann and Jacques Sernas.

Lifeforce (1985)

A space shuttle sent to investigate Halley's Comet is found to be destroyed by fire and all (save one) of its crew dead. However, the bodies of three aliens (in human form) are found perfectly preserved and they are brought back to Earth to be studied. Eventually, a space pod returns to Earth containing a U.S. Air Force Colonel (Steve Railsback, THE STUNT MAN), the sole human survivor of the manned expedition. In the meantime, the aliens are discovered to have the ability to shape shift and literally suck the life out of humans. While a box office disappointment when first released, the film has since become something of a cult favorite and it's easy to see why. While the story line is often muddled and the dialogue pedestrian, its execution is quite spectacular. Based on SPACE VAMPIRES by Colin Wilson (who disliked the film), the director Tobe Hooper (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) has given us a colorful combination of sci-fi/horror that predates the current fascination with all things zombie. The influence of Ridley Scott's ALIEN on Hooper's film is not lost. Apparently, there's a 15 minute difference between the U.S. and international cuts. There's a knockout of a score by Henry Mancini. With Peter Firth (EQUUS), Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart and Mathilda May.

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

An internationally famous big game hunter (Joel McCrea), the only surviving passenger of a shipwreck, washes up on the shore of a mysterious island. A Russian count (Leslie Banks, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH), who owns a fortress on the secluded island, offers him the hospitality of his castle. But the Count's other guest, a pretty waif (Fay Wray) who was also shipwrecked warns the hunter that something is terribly wrong about the Count. The classic 1924 Richard Connell short story has been adapted many times for film and TV but often without crediting the original source material but this tight (it runs a little over an hour) adventure remains the definitive version. With its lush island set, the Max Steiner score and Wray as the terrified damsel in distress, the movie almost seems a dry run for the next year's KING KONG. The directors Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack zip the action along and Banks' affected yet batty villain is quite entertaining. With Robert Armstrong (also in KING KONG) as Wray's brother and Noble Johnson.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Period Of Adjustment (1962)

A newlywed couple, a nurse (Jane Fonda) and a shell shocked Korean war vet (Jim Hutton), who are having trouble adjusting to each other are traveling by car to Miami for their honeymoon. On their way, they stop to visit a war buddy (Anthony Franciosa) of the husband who is having his own marital problems with his wife (Lois Nettleton). Based on an unsuccessful play by Tennessee Williams, this is a rare foray into the comedy field for him. You can see why the play wasn't a success. It's not very funny and what insights into relationships Williams brings to the piece aren't very penetrating. This was the first movie directed by George Roy Hill (THE STING) who also directed the original stage version. The play (screenplay adapted by Isobel Lennart) is opened up somewhat from its living room set but it's still not very cinematic. If there's a reason to see this movie (and there is), it's Jane Fonda! Channeling Marilyn Monroe, using all the comedic gifts at her disposal, Fonda makes the ditzy bride both appealing and poignant. But even in the film's dross, there's a bright spot or two and there's a beautifully played out scene between Franciosa and Nettleton as they drive home from a police station. With Jack Albertson, John McGiver, John Astin and Mabel Albertson.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Knights Of The Round Table (1953)

A French knight (Robert Taylor) travels to England to join forces with the future King (Mel Ferrer). What he didn't count on was falling in love with its Queen (Ava Gardner). A love that will topple the throne. Sir Thomas Malory's LE MORTE D'ARTHUR has inspired countless versions of the King Arthur tale on film, the stage, television and even opera and ballet. It's such a fascinating and durable story that it would almost take a deliberate effort to bungle it. This CinemaScope feature (MGM's first foray in the format) manages to muck it up. Oh, it looks majestic and no expense was spared but boy, is it dull. The previous year's medieval costuma drama IVANHOE was a great success and no doubt MGM thought lightning could strike twice. Using much of the same crew: leading man (Taylor), director (Richard Thorpe), cinematographer (Freddie Young), composer (Miklos Rozsa) etc., it just goes all wrong. Taylor, quite effective in IVANHOE, seems awkward here as if realizing he's far too old for the role and lovely Ava Gardner recites her lines as if English was not her native language. Even Rozsa's score sounds like a retread. The battle scenes are done nicely though and the two villains, Stanley Baker as Modred and Anne Crawford as Morgan Le Fay liven up the proceedings with their wickedness. With Felix Aylmer, Maureen Swanson, Niall MacGinnis, Patricia Owens, Desmond Llewelyn and Dana Wynter.