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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Histoires Extraordinaires (aka Spirits of The Dead) (1968)

An anthology of three short films by three different directors based on the tales of Edgar Allan Poe: In the first story, a debauched Countess (Jane Fonda) is rejected by a Baron (Peter Fonda) so she burns down his stables in revenge. The baron is killed but a mysterious black stallion survives. In the second story, a sadistic bully (Alain Delon) is followed by his doppelganger (also Delon) who seems to have the conscience he lacks. In the third, a washed up movie actor (Terence Stamp) agrees to do a movie in Italy but he is seemingly followed by a little girl (Marina Yaru) who may or may not be the Devil. As with all portmanteau films, the quality of the three films vary. The first by Roger Vadim is interesting and atmospheric but Vadim doesn't have the dark vision necessary to make the narrative satisfactory. Instead of ending with something Wagnerian as it should, it simply fizzles out. The second story directed by Louis Malle seems quite impersonal and the segment suffers because of it. Malle doesn't seem to have the taste for either violence or sadism that a Dario Argento would have brought to the project. But the third, directed by Federico Fellini, is spectacular! Fellini works on his own playing field here (even utilizing his in house composer, Nino Rota) and it's a hypnagogic journey filled with indelible imagery and a gratifying climax. With Brigitte Bardot (the Malle segment) and James Robertson Justice (the Vadim segment).

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Moon Over Miami (1941)

A waitress (Betty Grable), her sister (Carole Landis) and their aunt (Charlotte Greenwood) take their $4,000 inheritance and go to Miami where they pose as heiress, secretary and maid respectively. Their mission: to catch a rich husband. The scenario of three women banding together and plotting to snag a wealthy husband goes back to the early 1930s, notably Zoe Akins' play THE GREEKS HAD A WORD FOR IT. 20th Century Fox milked the formula successfully multiple times through the 1940s to 1960s. This Technicolor Grable musical is a pleasant diversion but not very memorable. The three leads (Don Ameche and Robert Cummings are the leading men) are on the bland side but it's hard to dislike Grable. She's an adequate singer and dancer, says her lines with a modicum of believability but she's eminently likable and tries hard and you find yourself pulling for her. The wooden Cummings makes the enervated Ameche seem positively virile! Fortunately, Greenwood and Jack Haley (THE WIZARD OF OZ) make for an amusing and lively secondary pair. The songs by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger are a dull lot though The Condos Brothers as tap dancing Indians is, um ... interesting. Directed by Walter Lang. With Cobina Wright and Fortunio Bonanova.

Velvet Goldmine (1998)

A journalist (Christian Bale) is assigned a story about whatever happened to a famous 70s glam bi-sexual pop star (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who faked his own death on stage and then mysteriously vanished from public life. The journalist's own life history is tied to the star, who he emulated as a youth. As he interviews those who knew the pop star, he reflects on his own coming out. It takes a bit of chutzpah to use CITIZEN KANE as a template for one's own film but director Todd Haynes whose innovative films include SAFE, I'M NOT THERE and FAR FROM HEAVEN has never been one to shy away from audacity. Haynes uses the 1970s glam rock scene to take us like Alice into surreal Wonderland, where we're overwhelmed and heady with the assault to our senses, our equilibrium unsteady. It's one of those films which flopped, both critically and financially, when it opened but has since found a cult audience and a growing reputation. Haynes could have given the film a simpler structure to follow but there's more than story to this. The eye popping costumes by Sandy Powell received an Oscar nomination. With Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette, Eddie Izzard and Emily Woof.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cat And Mouse (aka Mousey) (1974)

After his wife (Jean Seberg) leaves him and takes their son (Stuart Chandler), though he isn't the biological father, a timid man (Kirk Douglas) begins to unravel to the point where he is a danger to himself ... and others. Indeed, he calls the police to inform them that he will kill someone before midnight! Debuting on television in the U.S. but playing theatrically in Europe, it takes awhile for the thriller aspect to kick in but when it does, it's pretty intense. In fact, one of the film's key scenes was used in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS five years later but it steals a little bit from the earlier WAIT UNTIL DARK too. Up till then it's a rather unexceptional thriller. One wouldn't normally think of Douglas as a milquetoast type but lest we forget he started out in the 1940s playing such types in films like A LETTER TO THREE WIVES and STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS. He's actually a sympathetic figure at first and one can't help but feel Seberg did him wrong but that all goes by the wayside once the senseless killings start. Directed by Daniel Petrie (FORT APACHE THE BRONX). With Sam Wanamaker, John Vernon and Bessie Love.

Salome (1923)

The stepdaughter/niece (Alla Nazimova) of the Judean governor (Mitchell Lewis) lusts after the prophet (Nigel De Brulier) imprisoned by her stepfather. When he refuses her advances, she exacts a terrible revenge. Based on the Oscar Wilde play, this is one of the most visually dazzling film of the silent era. The production design and especially the costumes by Natacha Rambova (Mrs. Rudolph Valentino) are startling still. That plus the avant garde staging give the film an eerie timelessness. Indeed, one can imagine the production intact done at some off-off Broadway theater. The Wilde source material is a bit outre to be taken seriously today perhaps but it provides a mesmerizing film experience. It's not a good film in the sense that it never quite coalesces the memorable imagery to an organic narrative or in plain English, (to turn a phrase around) the sum of its parts is greater than the whole. The transfer I saw had an atonal score by Marc Olivier Dupin which works quite nicely. Directed by Charles Bryant. With Rose Dione and Earl Schenck.

Amanti D'Oltretomba (aka Nightmare Castle) (1965)

After catching his wife (Barbara Steele) with her lover (Rik Battaglia), a husband (Paul Muller) tortures them to death. When he finds out his wife left all her money and estate to her sister (also Steele), he marries the sister but plans to have her committed to a mental asylum. Essentially GASLIGHT re-imagined as a Gothic horror film, Mario Caiano's movie is a B&W routine faux Edgar Allan Poe that if shot by Roger Corman and American International would have been in color which would have benefited the film. The movie needs the punch that some vivid color would bring to accommodate the rather lurid proceedings. To the film's advantage, the iconic "Scream Queen" Barbara Steele dominates the proceedings and brings a certain gravitas needed to ground the film in a dual role of good sister/bad sister. Ennio Morricone's provides one of his more annoying scores. It's in the public domain, so be cautious about what transfer you go with. With Helga Line and Marino Mase.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Moon Spinners (1964)

Two English women, a musicologist (Joan Greenwood) and her niece (Hayley Mills), are visiting the Greek island of Crete. But something strange is going at the inn they are staying at. The inn owner's (Irene Papas) brother (Eli Wallach) doesn't want them there for some reason and a mysterious stranger (Peter McEnery) doesn't appear to be an ordinary tourist. Many of Walt Disney's live action films of the 60s and early 70s don't hold up well, mostly because as a society we've moved beyond the wholesome somewhat naive values the films espouse. Fortunately, THE MOON SPINNERS is based on a mystery novel by Mary Stewart and the emphasis is on adventure and action. No longer a child, it was Hayley Mills' first young adult role and though there are no kisses, her first romantic-ish part. The Crete locations are gorgeous and one wishes that Paul Beeson's (TO SIR WITH LOVE) photography took more advantage of them. A pleasant diversion. Directed by James Neilson. With John Le Mesurier, Sheila Hancock, Andre Morell and in her final film appearance, the silent screen siren Pola Negri.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

Set in Hamburg, Germany; the head (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of a secret anti-terrorist group sets his sights on a young Chechen refugee (Grigoriy Dobrygin) who he suspects will lead him to bigger fish, notably a well respected and internationally known Islamic philanthropist (Homayoun Ershadi) he believes channels monies to Islamic terrorists. Based on the novel by John Le Carre (THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE OLD), this is an intense espionage thriller anchored by a strong performance by Hoffman in the central role. This was his last completed film (he died while filming the next HUNGER GAMES installment) and the film stands as a testament to his standing as one of the best actors of his generation. In Le Carre's "don't trust anyone" spy world, there are no heroes and any attempt to be one is doomed to failure. This is a movie for grown ups. Layered and complex with lots of gray and not much black and white. You can't guess the ending but you know won't be leaving the theater feeling good. Directed by Anton Corbijn. The wonderful supporting cast is chock full of good performances including Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Daniel Bruhl and Nina Hoss.

The Bride Wore Red (1937)

In an experiment to prove that there's no real difference between the aristocracy and the common folk, a Count (George Zucco) sends a down on her luck cabaret singer (Joan Crawford) to a plush Alps resort and pass herself off as a wealthy society woman for two weeks. Once there, she plots to snag herself a rich husband (Robert Young) though her heart is susceptible to the charms of a local postman (Franchot Tone). Based on a play by Ferenc Molnar (LILIOM), this was considered one of the mediocre films that soured MGM on Crawford. So it was a surprise to discover how charming it was. Though it lacks the feminist subtext that the director Dorothy Arzner brought to films like DANCE GIRL DANCE and CHRISTOPHER STRONG, it's a polished piece of a fairy tale romcom with Crawford at her most appealing. A minor irritant is Lynne Carver (though no fault of the actress) as Young's all forgiving doormat fiancee which is an unfortunate product of the time. The trite underscore is by Franz Waxman. With Billie Burke, Reginald Owen and Mary Philips (LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN).

The Long Good Friday (1980)

A crude British gangster (Bob Hoskins) has ambitions of legitimizing his organization by investing in property that will home the future Olympic games. To this end, he seeks the support of an American syndicate whose representative (Eddie Constantine, ALPHAVILLE) has arrived in London. However, a series of killings and bombings of the gangster's cohorts threaten to derail the deal and he is determined to find the culprits. But he doesn't realize just how over his head he is. Directed by John MacKenzie (THE FOURTH PROTOCOL), this is a terrific and nasty portrait of a street thug who rose from the gutter to a crime kingpin yet doesn't seem to realize that he can't control everything around him and that his violent tactics often make matters worse. This was Hoskins' breakthrough film and he gives a superb performance. He's both frightening and attractive at the same time, you can see why a looker like Helen Mirren (as his mistress) would be drawn to him. It's a tough little gangster film that spares us nothing, no glamorizing the life here. Really first rate stuff! I could have done without Francis Monkman's overcooked score though. With Derek Thompson, Dave King, Bryan Marshall, Paul Freeman and in his feature film debut, Pierce Brosnan.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Kansas City Bomber (1972)

A single mother (Raquel Welch) turns to skating in the roller derby as a way of supporting her two children who live with her mother (Martine Bartlett) while she travels with the Kansas City team. Things get complicated when she is traded to Portland, Oregon where's she's seen as a threat by the "star" (Helena Kallianiotes, FIVE EASY PIECES) of the Portland team. It doesn't help that the team's owner (Kevin McCarthy) thinks he owns her outside the skating rink too. While the film can't seem to decide whether it's an out and out exploitation film or a serious study of a woman trying to find her place in a world that exploits her both professionally and personally (something Welch knows something about), it's a tight little film with a surprisingly effective performance by Welch. Two supporting performances stand out: Kallianiotes who wears her simmering rage on her sleeve and Norman Alden as a sensitive big gorilla of guy who's not too bright but exploited also. The skating sequences seem authentic though it's clear Welch is using a double for the more physical portions. Directed by Jerrold Freedman with a nice jazz infused score by Don Ellis (THE FRENCH CONNECTION). With Jeanne Cooper, Cornelia Sharpe and 10 year old Jodie Foster as Welch's daughter.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Nikutai No Mon (aka Gate Of Flesh) (1964)

In the burnt out squalor of postwar Tokyo, a recent rape victim (Yumiko Nogawa) joins up with four prostitutes who ply their trade and keep a strict code (no sleeping with American G.I.s, no sex for free). But when an ex-soldier (Joe Shishido, he of the chipmunk cheeks) moves in with the women, their carefully knit "family" begins to unravel. If you're familiar with director Seijun Suzuki's notable work in the Yakuza genre for which he's known, this film may come as something of a revelation. Before anything else, the film's stunning production design by Takeo Kimura must be addressed. Kimura is just as much responsible for the film's artistry as Suzuki. The Tokyo slums are totally fabricated on the Nikkatsu backlot which gives the film an often surreal and intentionally stylized look with no attempt to conceal that they are sets. Combined with the vivid color scheme (the prostitutes are identified by the color of their dresses) which would do Douglas Sirk proud, Suzuki truly creates a hellish atmosphere. As for the narrative, though it comes almost 20 years after the end of WWII, there's a bitterness toward the American occupation of Japan and the loss of the war running through the film. Tellingly, as a character describes the Hell on earth, the last shot of the film is of an American flag. I'm not suggesting that the film is anti-American by any means but rather the film is about the hopelessness of defeat and the animal existence the survivors of war and an occupied country must resort to. Startlingly, some of the brutality is actually quite erotic and intended so but I could have done without the graphic slaughter of a cow. Based on a novel by Taijiro Tamura. With Satoko Kasai, Tomiko Ishii and Misako Tominaga.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Right Cross (1950)

Despite being in love with the WASP daughter (June Allyson) of his fight promoter (Lionel Barrymore), a Mexican-American boxer (Ricardo Montalban) feels paranoid that "gringos" have it out for him. When his right hand becomes damaged and his fighting days seem numbered, he plots to get out of his contract with his promoter and sign with another promoter (Barry Kelley) who can do more for him financially. Directed by John Sturges (BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK), this is a well done programmer with three appealing leads (Dick Powell as a sports reporter is the third) and a solid screenplay by Charles Schnee. The race angle is handled well without the Krameresque heavy handedness. Allyson may be top billed but the film really belongs to Powell and Montalban who establish a believable bond of friendship, a genuine "bromance". The film's big boxing sequence toward the end is excellent though this is coming from someone who is not a fan of the sport. There's no real underscore to speak of but David Raksin composed a corker of a main title. With Kenneth Tobey, Larry Keating and in a bit part as a model Powell tries to pick up ... Marilyn Monroe.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

A massive gambling house in Shanghai run by the notorious Mother Gin Sling (Ona Munson, Belle Watling in GONE WITH THE WIND) attracts a mix from all walks of life: society types, government officials down to con men and prostitutes. When a rich spoiled playgirl (Gene Tierney) and a down on her luck chorus girl (Phyllis Brooks) enter the establishment, they will both provide Mother Gin Sling with the means for revenge against the man (Walter Huston) who did her wrong. This is one insane movie! Directed by Josef von Sternberg (though the film has no connection to his SHANGHAI EXPRESS), one has to wonder what hallucinogens he was taking when he made it. Considering the censorship restrictions of the time eviscerated the source material, it's still amazing what the film gets away with. In the original play, Mother Gin Sling is Mother Goddam and she runs a brothel rather than a gambling establishment. Is it a "good" film? No ... but it's much more enjoyable and fun than so many "good" films that we know we are supposed to like. Boris Leven's Oscar nominated set, a circular multi-leveled casino with a huge chandelier viewing the gambling tables on the bottom floor, is pretty awesome. A surreal experience that should be seen at least once. With Victor Mature, Eric Blore, Albert Basserman, Mike Mazurki and Maria Ouspenskaya whose role seems to have been cut, she has no lines.

June Moon (1974)

A naive young man (Tom Fitzsimmons) from Schenectady moves to New York City in the hopes of becoming a songwriter. He collaborates with an older songwriter (Jack Cassidy) but he falls into the clutches of the older man's devious sister in law (Susan Sarandon) who uses him to make her lover (Kevin McCarthy) jealous. What will it take for him to wake up and smell the coffee? Based on the 1929 Broadway show by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner, this was filmed twice in the 1930s, once under the original title in 1931 then as BLONDE TROUBLE in 1937. This version filmed for public television retains the original play's modest charms while putting a darker spin on the money hungry bitchy sisters (Sarandon and Estelle Parsons) which borders on misogyny at times. The satire on Tin Pan Alley holds up well and fortunately for this production, at its core is Fitzsimmons who plays innocent naivete beautifully which is not always as easy as it looks. Too often it comes across as forced and phony but Fitzsimmons aces it. Directed by Burt Shevelove and Kirk Browning. With Barbara Dana, Austin Pendleton, Lee Meredith and Stephen Sondheim in a rare acting role.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Hanging Tree (1959)

During the gold rush in the latter part of the 1800s, a doctor (Gary Cooper) with a mysterious past arrives in a Montana mining camp. He blackmails a young man (Ben Piazza) into becoming his indentured servant. But when a woman (Maria Schell) is found with severe sunburn, dehydration and temporary blindness from exposure, she will affect both their lives. The director Delmer Daves has directed several of the best westerns of the 1950s: the great 3:10 TO YUMA, THE LAST WAGON and JUBAL. You can add this one to the list. It's a complicated western that puts the emphasis on character development and psychology rather than gunfights or cowboys vs. Indians. The acting is uniformly good and the film provides that rarity in westerns, a strong and complex part for a woman. But ... and it's a big but ... the film seemed like it was on its way toward something dark and horrible and then, all of a sudden there's this what the ancient Greeks called deus ex machina. Out of nowhere, a quick and pat resolution. It's a serious enough flaw that prevents me from calling it a great western. But it's still one of the best westerns of the era, good enough to inspire Max Steiner to give it a fresh score rather than one of his retreads. With Karl Malden, George C. Scott (in his film debut), Karl Swenson and Virginia Gregg (aptly referred to by Piazza as a female snake, not good enough to crawl).

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)

A transient (Jack Nicholson) hitchhiking his way to Los Angeles stops at a small roadside cafe and gas station run by an older Greek man (John Colicos) who offers him a job as a car mechanic. He's reluctant to accept until he sets his eyes on the Greek's sexy young wife (Jessica Lange). After they become lovers, it's only a matter of time before they conspire to kill him. The second American film version (it's also been made in France, Germany and Italy) of the James M. Cain novel, this is more accurate to Cain's novel than the 1946 Lana Turner/John Garfield MGM film. Restricted by the censorship dictates of the era, the Tay Garnett film could only suggest the sexual heat the two protagonists had for each other. I'm not trying to denigrate the 1946 film which is excellent and one of the important noir films of the 1940s, but the sexual aspect is key to the Cain novel. Handsomely shot by the great Bergman collaborater Sven Nykvist, the period detail is exquisite. I've never been a fan of David Mamet either as a playwright or screenwriter and his adaptation is troublesome. He seems to want to gut Cain's style which, despite it being cleaned up, the 1946 film managed to suggest. But if the 1976 KING KONG suggested that Lange was a star in the making, this film fulfills that promise. Disheveled and tense, Lange lets us see this woman's desperation and longing to break out. The film editor is Graeme Clifford who would direct Lange to an Oscar nomination in FRANCES the next year. Gracefully directed (perhaps too graceful) by Bob Rafelson with a beauty of a score by Michael Small. With Anjelica Huston, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd and John P. Ryan.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cash McCall (1960)

The owner (Dean Jagger) of a plastics company decides to sell his business to a corporate raider (James Garner, who passed away this week) for two million dollars. But he doesn't tell the buyer of the possible loss of the company's biggest customer. Meanwhile the buyer has plans of his own to turn a profit with the company while romancing the owner's daughter (Natalie Wood). Based upon the novel by Cameron Hawley whose first book EXECUTIVE SUITE was turned into a successful motion picture at MGM. Although both books and films deal with the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing in the corporate business world, CASH MCCALL is more of a lightweight. It's central love story is unconvincing, possibly because Garner and Wood transmit no heat and the film's portrayal of the machinations of buying and selling are often confusing to the layman. Some of the supporting performances are good especially Henry Jones as Garner's somewhat befuddled right hand man and Nina Foch as a conniving man trap. Directed by Joseph Pevney (MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES). With E.G. Marshall, Otto Kruger, Linda Watkins, Parley Baer and Edward Platt.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Vertigo (1958)

No longer able to perform his job as a policeman due to his fear of heights and the ensuing vertigo which resulted in the death of a fellow cop, a man (James Stewart) agrees to work as a private investigator following the wife (Kim Novak) of a wealthy friend (Tom Helmore). The man is worried about his wife's blackouts and suicidal tendencies. What no one counted on was the detective and the wife falling in love and the destructive aftermath. So much has already been written and analyzed about Alfred Hitchcock's greatest film, that there's precious little I can add or say. Is it a masterpiece? Indisputably! Misunderstood when it was first released, its reputation has bloomed considerably in the ensuing 50 plus years till it eventually toppled CITIZEN KANE from its perch in the Sight And Sound poll as the best film of "all time". Those looking for a typical Hitchcockian suspense film are usually disappointed since Hitchcock pushes suspense back in place of a film that is so intricate and layered in its structure that it easily holds up to repeated viewings. Stewart and Novak in career best performances inhabit their complex roles beautifully: a man in love with an ideal that doesn't exist, so obsessesed with that ideal that he wants, like Dr. Frankenstein, to create her out of dead parts and a woman so in love that she risks everything in a game that neither can win. Everyone from cinematographer Robert Burks to costume designer Edith Head is at the peak of their game. But special mention must be made of Bernard Herrmann's great score which becomes a very fabric of the film's existence. Based on the novel D'ENTRE LES MORTS by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (DIABOLIQUE). With Barbara Bel Geddes, Henry Jones, Raymond Bailey, Ellen Corby and Lee Patrick.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014)

Set in San Francisco, a "simian" virus (though it was created by man) has wiped out most of the human population and the apes have retreated to the forests. The ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis), a victim of unethical laboratory experimentation, distrusts the humans. But when a small group of humans invade their area, it eventually precipitates a battle of power over who will dominate. Superior to its predecessor RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, director Matt Reeves (CLOVERFIELD) has created a thrilling and provocative action piece that is a perfect example of the intelligent summer blockbuster. It builds such good will that one can forgive it running out of steam by the time it reaches its conclusion. The film's biggest flaw is that, unlike the engrossing ape characters, it can't do much with its human characters. A duller more insipid bunch you won't find anywhere and they bog the movie down whenever they're on screen which is a lot. But Andy Serkis is terrific here, a really strong physical as well as emotional performance. Of course, the film is laden with CGI but it's well done CGI or as well as can be expected making something unreal look real. It's one overcast film though in the visual sense, browns and grays dominate and I couldn't help but wish for a splash of yellow or red! With Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell as the film's simian villain and Gary Oldman as his human counterpart.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cult Of The Cobra (1955)

In 1945, six American soldiers in Asia (possibly India) view a forbidden snake ceremony where a woman morphs into a cobra. When one of them attempts to take a photo, chaos ensues and the high priest vows the men will all die. One does die there from a snake bite but when they get home to the states, other deaths imply the curse is upon them! I had a good time with this kitschy potboiler. You know exactly what it is going in and I wasn't disappointed. How can you not like a movie with a woman dancing in a cobra outfit that looks like it came right out of season one of AMERICAN HORROR STORY. I couldn't help but grin how when anyone mentioned snakes or curses, ominous music would play and the cameraman (the great Russell Metty) would highlight the area around Faith Domergue's eyes. As a horror film, it's not very scary unless rubber cobras frighten you. Actually, I developed a sympathy for Domergue's snake girl and her mission to wipe out the G.I.s. After all, they were told not to make their presence known during the ceremony. It's not the kind of film where the acting matters much but Marshall Thompson delivers a little more than the role requires so he was the only character I didn't want to see become a victim. Directed by Francis D. Lyon. With Richard Long, David Janssen, Jack Kelly and Kathleen Hughes who I was hoping would get bit!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Smultronstallet (aka Wild Strawberries) (1957)

A rather cold and self absorbed aged academic (Victor Sjostrom) is being honored with a special doctorate degree by a university. As he travels the long auto ride with his daughter in law (Ingrid Thulin) to receive the honor, he reflects on his life through dreams and flashbacks. This is a lovely and poignant rumination and self examination of one's life, the mistakes we've made, the wrongs we've done others and perhaps the opportunity to set some of it right and free ourselves in the process. One of Ingmar Bergman's more accessible films, it features a beautiful performance by the famed actor/director Sjostrom in his final film role. It contains some of the most unforgettable sequences in Bergman's career: Sjostrom's first dream on the deserted streets, his visit to his old mother, the bickering couple they pick up on the road. Thulin is also wonderful though it's often difficult to get past her great beauty to appreciate her performance. A genuine example of cinema as an art form. With Bibi Andersson (playing two roles), Gunnar Bjornstrand, Max Von Sydow, Gunnel Lindblom, Naima Wifstrand, Folke Sundquist and Bjorn Bjelfvenstam.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kona Coast (1968)

When his estranged daughter (Gloria Nakea) is found drowned with needle tracks on her arms, her father (Richard Boone) attempts to track down her killers and avenge his daughter's death. Very loosely based on a John D. MacDonald (CAPE FEAR) short story, this is a pretty lame movie. Outside of the colorful and lush Hawaiian locales, it feels like a standard TV movie of the week or an episode of MAGNUM PI. The aging Boone makes for a questionable chick magnet and watching the lovely Vera Miles as a recovering alcoholic and ex-flame of his pining and lusting over him is disconcerting. The poor Miles is also saddled with the worst of the film's pedestrian dialog. Thankfully, the movie cuts away when Boone starts doing the hula! Directed by Lamont Johnson, a solid television director who didn't have much luck with his film efforts (he directed LIPSTICK). With Joan Blondell, Chips Rafferty, Kent Smith and as the film's gay villain Steve Ihnat, a solid character actor who died at age 37.

Good Sam (1948)

A good Samaritan (Gary Cooper) overextends his kind acts by loaning money, his car, even his home to others. This frustrates his practical wife (Ann Sheridan) who feels they'll never get ahead as long as he sticks to his belief of doing good for others over his own family. The first hour of this Leo McCarey (THE AWFUL TRUTH) comedy is quite enjoyable. Sheridan's sarcastic spouse proves a perfect foil for the gullible do-gooder husband. The breakfast scene where a garage mechanic (Clinton Sundberg) takes advantage of Cooper's hospitality is priceless. Unfortunately, the second hour goes all mawkish and sentimental on us (think Frank Capra!) and turns Sheridan's character into a harridan. Projecting intelligence was never Cooper's strong suit so his good Samaritan comes across as thick skulled and obstinate when I don't think that's what McCarey intended. It ends up being half a good movie. With Ruth Roman, Joan Lorring, Edmund Lowe, Ray Collins, Minerva Urecal and Louise Beavers.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Innocent (1993)

In 1990 as the Berlin Wall falls making way for a united Germany, an Englishman (Campbell Scott) recalls his involvement in the early 1950s in working for the Americans, lead by a brash American (Anthony Hopkins), by tapping lines into the Russian sector. But his involvement with a mysterious German woman (Isabella Rossellini) leads to a heinous crime that will mark their lives forever. Based on the novel by Ian McEwan (who also wrote the screenplay), this John Schlesinger (SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY) film was unceremoniously discarded by Miramax, its American distributor. It slipped under the movie radar of just about everybody when it opened in the U.S. in 1995 although it opened in Europe in 1993. It's a pity because it didn't deserve that fate. Part cold war thriller, part romance, part Hitchcock, Schlesinger takes his time in building the film for its payoff and when it comes, the film intensifies. Sadly, the film is severely compromised by the casting of the two male leads. The British Hopkins' American accent is dreadful and I'd venture to say the same about the American Scott's English accent ... if he attempted one. As they cancel each other out, it allows Rossellini to take center stage by default. The film has dashes of black humor (as did the novel I presume) that it could have used more of. Not essential cinema but if it comes across your path, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. With Hart Bochner, James Grant and Ronald Nitschke whose killing recalls TORN CURTAIN.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

WarGames (1983)

A high school computer geek (Matthew Broderick) unintentionally accesses a NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) computer and sets off a nuclear war simulation that is believed to be the real thing. Generally, this is a superior cold war thriller with science fiction elements. The director John Badham (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER) keeps things fast and fun with just enough seriousness to make us care. The Oscar nominated (original) screenplay by Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes is clever though it sacrifices a semblance of reality by making all the adults in the film save one (John Wood's scientist) stupid and its teenaged protagonists (Ally Sheedy is Broderick's girlfriend) smarter and more sensitive than the movie's grownups. Annoying yes but it doesn't dampen the film's high spirits and adventure. The film benefits from the highly likable Matthew Broderick in the central role who comes across as a real teen and not a smarmy movie teen. The production design (via Angelo P. Graham) of the NORAD compound is impressive and Arthur B. Rubenstein contributes an effective underscore. With Dabney Coleman, Barry Corbin, Michael Madsen, Maury Chaykin and Eddie Deezen.

Cry Danger (1951)

Released after five years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, a man (Dick Powell) sets out to find those actually responsible for the crime. The directorial debut of Robert Parrish (IN THE FRENCH STYLE), this is a nifty little film noir rich with tension and anticipation. Powell is almost always at his hard boiled best in these noirs (MURDER MY SWEET, PITFALL) and he gets good support from the rest of the cast particularly Richard Erdman as an alcoholic war vet with a wooden leg. It's tight, fast paced and economical and if we're not entirely surprised when the big revelation comes, it's still a captivating slice of entertainment. Shot entirely on the streets of Los Angeles and not the most attractive parts either, Oscar winner Joseph F. Biroc's (TOWERING INFERNO) crisp black and white cinematography gives the film legitimacy. With Rhonda Fleming as Powell's ex-flame, William Conrad, Regis Toomey (as a detective, what else?), Kathleen Freeman and a showy performance by Jean Porter as a pickpocketing tart.

High Time (1960)

Against the wishes of his grown children, a self made millionaire (Bing Crosby) who owns a chain of restaurants decides to get the college education he never had. At first, he feels a little out of place but with the help of his young dormitory room mates, he soon fits in. Today, adults returning to colleges and universities to get or complete an education is pretty commonplace. But in 1960, it was still an unusual concept and in this lightweight Blake Edwards (THE PINK PANTHER) concoction, it's played for laughs. It's an amiable if mindless entertainment without much to recommend it unless you're a Bing Crosby fan which I'm not. The rest of the cast don't have much to do including Tuesday Weld whose screen time is minimal (even Fabian gets billed above her!). Nicole Maurey (DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST) in a role turned down by Simone Signoret provides the laid back love interest as the French teacher. The score is by Edwards' frequent collaborator Henry Mancini but the musical highlight is the Oscar nominated song The Second Time Around (sung by Crosby) which became a frequently performed standard. Also in the cast: Richard Beymer, Gavin MacLeod, Yvonne Craig, Patrick Adiarte, Nina Shipman and Douglass Dumbrille.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

Faced with being exposed as an embezzler, a widower (Edmund Gwenn) and his daughter (Katharine Hepburn) residing in France escape to England. The girl disguises herself as a boy in order to avoid detection. Once in England, they join forces with a Cockney con man (Cary Grant). A notorious box office flop in its day, the film's reputation has grown through the ensuing years. Hepburn's gender bending performance probably confused audiences of the day or perhaps the film was ahead of its time but it signaled a downturn in Hepburn's career that would eventually get her labeled box office poison by the end of the decade. Directed by George Cukor, this is actually a rather charming little movie with Hepburn displaying a discreet sex appeal as the androgynous "Sylvester" Scarlett. Grant was beginning to show signs of his actor's screen presence though it would be a few more years before he became the Cary Grant we know and love. It's a lovely looking film with Joseph August's lensing doing an excellent job of turning the California coastline into the Cornwall coast. From the novel by Compton MacKenzie (WHISKY GALORE). With Brian Aherne, Dennie Moore and Natalie Paley.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Le Quai Des Brumes (aka Port Of Shadows) (1938)

A deserter (Jean Gabin) from the Army arrives at a small port town of Le Havre with no clear plans for his future. He meets a young girl (the radiant Michele Morgan) and they fall in love. But the girl's lecherous guardian (Michel Simon, who can make your flesh crawl) and a small time thug (Pierre Brasseur) stand in their way of happiness. Marcel Carne's (LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS) fatalistic romance signals its intentions early on yet one can't help but hope against hope that there's a place for these lovers somewhere but the ending when it comes is heartbreaking. The film is both lyrical and harsh, permeated by a sense of hopelessness yet an emotionalism that cuts through the despair. Is there a more powerful screen presence than Jean Gabin? Perhaps Bogart but he was nowhere near the actor Gabin was and he lacked those liquid eyes of Gabin that can either make your blood run cold or melt your heart. One of the great treasures of French cinema. The wonderful score is by Maurice Jaubert.

La Venus A La Fourrure (aka Venus In Fur) (2013)

A theater director (Mathieu Amalric, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY) is frustrated that he can't find the right actress for his new play, an adaptation of von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 S&M novel VENUS IN FUR. In walks in a rag doll of a ditzy actress (Emmanuelle Seigner) late for her audition and it's not long before the cat and mouse game begins and the tables turn. As he proved with DEATH AND THE MAIDEN and CARNAGE, Roman Polanski knows how to do filmed theater the right way! Based on the 2010 David Ives play, Polanski takes the thin material (the writing isn't very good, not having seen the play I can only assume it was a bore) and injects a mischievous playfulness to the proceedings. One can't take the play's underdeveloped ideas too seriously (and I don't think Polanski did either) but as a sly battle of the sexes, there's much fun to be had. Amalric looks so much like a younger Polanski that sometimes one forgets that it isn't Polanski! Seigner is marvelous here, teasing the audience as much as she's teasing Amalric and seducing both him and us all the while. The nicely subtle score is by Alexandre Desplat.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

One Touch Of Venus (1955)

A recently uncovered statue of the Roman goddess Venus (Janet Blair, BURN WITCH BURN) arrives at a New York museum after being purchased by a millionaire (George Gaynes). But when a barber (Russell Nype) places a ring intended for his fiancee (Mildred Trares), the statue comes to life and causes havoc. The 1948 film version with Ava Gardner gutted all the charming Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash songs save about three songs including the show's breakout hit, Speak Low. This production restores all the cut songs and is more faithful to the original 1943 Broadway show. As a Venus, Janet Blair is no Ava Gardner but she sings (Gardner was dubbed) and dances and gives a delightful performance. S.J. Perelman's and Ogden Nash's book retains the wit and appeal that was misguidedly revamped for the 1948 film. As an archival record of the original stage production, this is a keeper. Directed by George Schaefer. With Laurel Shelby, Iggie Wolfington and Louis Nye.

Breakfast Of Champions (1999)

The owner (Bruce Willis) of a huge car dealership and a local celebrity because of his TV commercials is having a midlife crisis. As his world falls apart around him, a relatively obscure writer (Albert Finney) hitchhikes his way to the same city where he is to be honored. The two men will eventually meet and precipitate a violent rampage due to a misunderstanding. Based on the Kurt Vonnegut novel and directed by the maverick Alan Rudolph (CHOOSE ME) who also did the screenplay, the film's first half hour or so is near incomprehensible until it gets its rhythm going and even then it takes the patience of Job to follow the narrative. I've not read the Vonnegut novel but I understand it's one of those novels whose unique writing style makes it difficult to translate to film and Rudolph isn't entirely successful in his efforts. The film's fragmented surrealism is often confusing and incoherent. Vonnegut himself (no surprise) wasn't pleased with the film. The film's ultimate message of "Until death, it's life so make the best of it" seems rather cliched and trite. Still, there are some minor pleasures to be had thanks principally to some of the actors. Notably Nick Nolte who I wouldn't have thought had a funny bone in his entire body but manages to steal the film with a marvelous performance as a paranoid cross dressing car salesman. Also in the cast: Barbara Hershey, Owen Wilson, Glenne Headly, Lukas Haas, Michael Clarke Duncan, Omar Epps, Buck Henry, Will Patton, Chip Zien, Shawnee Smith and Alison Eastwood.

How Awful About Allan (1970)

A young man (Anthony Perkins) returns home from a hospital following the death of his father (Kent Smith) in a fire which also disfigured his sister's (Julie Harris) face. The trauma causes a psychosomatic blindness in the young man. But when a mysterious college student rents a room in the house, he becomes paranoid that the boarder wants to do him harm. Based on the novel by Henry Farrell (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?), this is a neatly done thriller if rather obvious. Since we only see the student through the protagonist's blurry vision, we know the film makers don't want us to see the boarder for a reason. The director Curtis Harrington specialized in these horror melodramas like WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? and GAMES and he keeps the creepy ambience moving along nicely with solid performances by Perkins and Harris though Perkins at this point in his career could do this kinds of parts blindfolded. The weak underscore is by Laurence Rosenthal (THE MIRACLE WORKER). With Joan Hackett and Robert H. Harris.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Sometimes A Great Notion (1971)

A group of Oregon loggers go on strike demanding the same pay for shorter hours. They are backed up by their union. But the independent Stamper family lead by its cantankerous patriarch (Henry Fonda) and his eldest son (Paul Newman, who also directed) refuse to honor the strike and continue to supply the mill owners with logs. Based on the Ken Kesey (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST) novel, the film is a paean to the rugged individualist. But the Stamper family are a rather arrogant and unlikable bunch so its hard to drum up much empathy for the tragedies and hardships that befall them. I suppose it's to the film's credit that it doesn't attempt to soften them up in order to make them more sympathetic but when the eldest son's wife (Lee Remick) finally decides she's had enough and leaves him, you totally understand why. Fonda seems rather miscast as a rugged womanizing right wing lumberjack (John Wayne would have been perfect) but Newman manages overcome his miscasting with an effective performance. The scene stealer in the movie is Richard Jaeckel who has one of those once in a lifetime roles (like Ben Johnson's Sam in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) that veteran actors who have been toiling in the business for years that finally gets them recognition. He earned a well deserved Oscar nomination but lost to Johnson for TLPS. The often majestic cinematography by Richard Moore (THE REIVERS) takes full advantage of the ripe Oregon landscapes. I'm less enthusiastic over Henry Mancini's ill advised country and western underscore, it's Oregon not Tennessee or Texas. With Michael Sarrazin, Linda Lawson and Joe Maross.

Darling (1965)

As she's being interviewed for a woman's magazine about her life, a woman (Julie Christie in her Oscar winning performance) chronicles her "glamorous" life from model to Princess and is not above distorting the facts to favor her. For the film's first hour, the film does a compelling job of documenting a shallow and aimless soul, a "celebrity" without any actual gift or talent. Remarkably, Christie does the near impossible, she makes an empty headed waif interesting. It's the dark side of Holly Golightly. Part of it is her performance and part of it is her, she's the real thing and her screen presence is potent. But as magnetic as she is, even she can't sustain the superficial character for an entire film. The film is populated with superficial characters and even those that aren't supposed to be, like Dirk Bogarde, come across as empty. So after awhile we realize no one is going to change or have an epiphany and the movie will end with everyone as trifling as they were at the beginning. Edgy in its day, some of the film's view of "decadence" today looks rather silly or quaint. Still, it was one of the seminal films of the 1960s. Directed by John Schlesinger, who himself was critical of the film in his later years. With Laurence Harvey, Jose Luis De Vilallonga and Roland Curram.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Monsieur Beaucaire (1946)

King Louis XV of France (Reginald Owen) orders a member of his court, a Duke (Patric Knowles) who is the King's rival for the hand of Madame Pompadour (Hillary Brooke), to marry a Spanish Princess (Marjorie Reynolds) thus not only getting rid of him but the royal marriage between France and Spain will avoid a war. However, on the way to Spain the Duke switches places with his barber (Bob Hope) who must masquerade as the Duke at the Spanish court. Very loosely based on the 1900 novel by Booth Tarkington (MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS) which was previously made as a swashbuckling silent with Rudolph Valentino, this is broad comedy with Hope dueling with wisecracks and quips rather than swords. He's in top form here whether setting up trysts with ladies of the court or trying to avoid a poisonous glass of wine during a toast to the King. The production values are impressive, so much so that it's a pity that the film was shot in B&W rather than Technicolor. It's silly but the script is good and Hope takes full advantage of the material. Directed by George Marshall. With Joan Caulfield, Joseph Schildkraut, Cecil Kellaway and Constance Collier.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Grand Prix (1966)

During the Formula One racing season, four drivers are determined to become the world champion by the season's end. An American (James Garner), a Frenchman (Yves Montand), a Brit (Brian Bedford) and an Italian (Antonio Sabato). The film follows their wins and their setbacks, both professional and personal. Possible documentaries aside, this really is the greatest auto racing movie ever made. Oh sure, the film is littered with stock characters but the actors are good enough (it's amazing what Eva Marie Saint does with a nothing part) to compensate. The racing footage is stunning! The director John Frankenheimer puts us right into the seats and we can feel the rush of adrenaline while racing at a 100 plus miles per hour. The thrill of racing without actually having to do it! How he got some of that footage I don't know but no other racing movie before or since has equaled it. Lionel Lindon (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) gets the bravos for the awesome cinematography and giving credit where credit is due, the movie's film editors (Henry Berman, Stu Linder, Frank Santillo) did an awesome job. If it were made today, no doubt it would be filmed in 3D. With Toshiro Mifune, Jessica Walter, Genevieve Page, Francoise Hardy, Claude Dauphin, Adolfo Celi and Rachel Kempson.

Portrait Of Jennie (1948)

A struggling painter (Joseph Cotten) meets a precocious child (Jennifer Jones) in the park and becomes inspired to paint her. Curiously, each time he meets her, whether it's weeks or months, she becomes noticeably older by several years. This sort of loopy mystical fantasy material practically begs to be laughed at yet somehow as nonsensical as the whole thing is, it holds your interest and you don't laugh. Which doesn't mean it's any good, just that its film makers (producer David O. Selznick, director William Dieterle) are skilled enough to make us take the whole enterprise as seriously as intended (more or less). The film's prologue sets us up with with psychobabble about infinity and truth and quotes from Euripides and Keats before plunging into the other worldly romance. Surprisingly, Jones is relatively convincing in each aspect of her aging though Cotten appears as dour in the romantic sequences as he was at the film's beginning. Curiously, for the film's big finish, a raging storm, the film goes from B&W to green then red tints. Dimitri Tiomkin adapts the music of Claude Debussy for his score while Bernard Herrmann wrote the melody for Jones's haunting song. Based on the novel by Robert Nathan. With Ethel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, David Wayne, Anne Francis, Nancy Olson, Florence Bates, Albert Sharpe and Cecil Kellaway.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fire Maidens From Outer Space (1956)

Scientists discover a 13th moon belonging to the planet Jupiter which appears to have the same atmospheric qualities as Earth. An expedition is sent (utilizing only 3 days travel time!) to explore the moon. Imagine their surprise when they find the moon populated by sexy babes! One of the most notorious (infamous?) examples of bad sci-fi films, the ineptitude on every level earns it a special place in the Bad Movies Hall Of Fame. It's just not the shoddy special effects (a cardboard spaceship placed in front of a starry backdrop), everything screams out, "What were they thinking?". The "fire maidens" entertain their Earthly guests by dancing to Stranger In Paradise and later have two more dance numbers (maybe it should have been called DANCE MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE), the "monster" runs around with a rubber mask so ridiculous that in one scene one of the actors can barely keep a straight face. When one of the crew throws a grenade at the "monster", he seems to forget that the heroine is right beside him (she survives with nary a hair out of place). And why does the moon look suspiciously like the English countryside? If you've an affection for bad movies, this is for you. Directed by Cy Roth. With Anthony Dexter, Susan Shaw, Paul Carpenter and Jacqueline Curtis.

Snowpiercer (2013)

An experiment to halt global warming goes terribly wrong and instead a new Ice Age overtakes the planet freezing all life. The only survivors inhabit a massive train that circles the globe with its own sustained ecosystem. The downside is that the train has a rigid class structure with the suppressed "rabble" at the tail of the train and the oppressive privileged classes at the front of the train. A huge hit last year in his native South Korea, director Bong Joon-Ho's (MOTHER, THE HOST) latest film took awhile to reach the U.S. due to a power struggle with its U.S. distributor, Harvey Weinstein who wanted to cut some 20 minutes out of the film. Bong Joon-Ho won the battle and the director's cut is being released here. One needn't know it's based on a graphic novel (LE TRANSPERCENEIGE) going in as it becomes obvious early on as much as recognizing a film is based on a stage play. It's cleverly constructed and maximized for high octane action and set pieces. I enjoyed it and was entertained but its pretensions began to weigh it down after awhile, it's about as profound as LOGAN'S RUN! It doesn't help that the film has a cipher by the name of Chris Evans as its hero and I began to wonder if the world would be better off with a dolt like him running things. Fortunately the rest of the cast is more interesting especially Tilda Swinton in a juicy over the top performance as one of the oppressors. Marco Beltrami's score is so low keyed as to be non existent though he composed a corker of an end title. With Ed Harris, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Kang Ho Song, Jamie Bell, Ah Sung Ko, Alison Pill and Vlad Ivanov.

Du Skal Aere Din Hustru (aka Master Of The House) (1925)

A chauvinist husband (Johannes Meyer) is verbally and emotionally abusive to his wife (Astrid Holm). She leaves him but this causes a nervous breakdown and she is sent to recuperate at a country sanitarium. Meanwhile, the husband's old nanny (Mathilde Nielsen) decides to teach him a lesson. Directed by the great Carl Theodor Dreyer, this rather plodding lesson on how to treat our wives better makes for a rather arduous viewing. While I gather that this film is much admired in his own country, I can understand why its reputation outside Denmark is not as stellar. I'm hard put to connect this ho-hum dramedy to the genius who would shortly give us masterpieces like THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC or VAMPYR. While its intentions are honorable, Dreyer spends too much time on the rather mundane domestic scenes. We get how hard the life of a housewife is, we understand that the husband must go through this domestic ritual in order to appreciate his wife but there is a difference between showing us monotony and being monotonous. That being said, the film features a nice performance by Nielsen as spirited nanny turned feminist avenger. The transfer I saw had a dreadful tinkling piano score that I replaced with two scores, one by Alexandre Desplat and a second one by Ray Cook. With Clara Schonfeld and Karin Nellemose.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)

An upper middle class Southern California couple, a documentary film maker (Robert Culp) and his wife (Natalie Wood), return from a retreat focusing on personal growth determined to engage in open and honest communication. Their best friends, an attorney (Elliott Gould) and his uptight wife (Dyan Cannon), have problems dealing with their friends' new Laissez-faire attitude. The directorial film debut of Paul Mazursky (who passed away last week), this is one of the funniest satirical comedies of the 1960s. Unlike some other popular films of the era (think EASY RIDER), B&C&T&A remains relevant. Whether it's the Esalen movement of the 1960s, Scientology, new age gurus like Deepak Chopra of good ole' Dr. Phil; we're still looking for the big fix, that someone or that philosophy that will serve as a life preserver in a topsy turvy world. We're bound to be disillusioned but that doesn't stop us from looking. But I digress. Why so many of sixties comedies don't play well today is that they resemble the sitcoms that we grew up with and have moved away from. B&C&T&A, on the other hand, presages the the looser improvisatory style of shows like SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Wood (looking drop dead gorgeous) and Culp are fine but it's Gould and especially Cannon (whose laugh is a gift from God) that take over the film. The once much despised Fellini-esque ending, at the time considered a "cop out", today is a thing of beauty. With Lee Bergere, Lynn Borden and Donald F. Muhich.

The Fast And The Furious (1955)

A man (John Ireland) falsely accused of murder breaks out of jail and kidnaps a beautiful woman (Dorothy Malone) driving a Jaguar. He then plots to enter her car in an international auto race from Southern California to Mexico in order to escape undetected. Though it shares its title with the Vin Diesel/Paul Walker franchise of the same name, the resemblance ends there. This early Roger Corman (he produced and co-wrote it) "B" effort is a quickie (shot in ten days) and it looks it. The film benefits from being shot in real locations and not a studio though the close ups of the actors "driving" are clearly in front of a rear projection screen. But the actual racing sequences are done very well and appear to be from an actual race rather than stunt drivers which lends an authenticity to the film. The film's narrative is yet another in a long line of riffs on Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS, that of a falsely accused innocent forcing a lovely woman into fleeing with him against her will and, of course, romance develops. Malone and Ireland make for an attractive couple and Ireland does double duty here. In addition to being the movie's leading man, he also co-directed the film along with Edward Sampson. With Iris Adrian doing her usual brassy number, this time as a waitress.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

In 1943, the Nazis hatch a plot to kidnap Winston Churchill and bring him to Germany. To this end, the task is assigned to a German Colonel (Robert Duvall), who recruits an Irishman (Donald Sutherland) who is a member of the IRA and a German paratrooper (Michael Caine) to execute the plan and they are smuggled into England along with a small contingent of men. Based on the best selling novel by Jack Higgins, the movie manages to whip up an amazing amount of suspense considering we already know the story's outcome ... the mission was a failure since Churchill was never kidnapped. The suspense comes from the interaction of the Germans (posing as free Polish army) with the Brits in the small coastal village and how close their plan will come to fruition as well as how they will be caught. The director John Sturges (whose final film this was) worked in the genre before with his THE GREAT ESCAPE and brings his assured hand to the project though he can't save the film's final half hour, the film runs well over the two hour mark. The film loses steam and becomes a rather conventional WWII actioner. But until it goes flat, it's an engrossing solid piece of action cinema. Lalo Schifrin does a nice job of scoring. With Donald Pleasence, Treat Williams, Jenny Agutter, Anthony Quayle, Judy Geeson, Sven Bertil Taube, John Standing and two notable performances but for two different reasons: Jean Marsh as a Nazi mole in the film's best performance and in the film's worst performance, Larry Hagman as an inept American Colonel whose cartoonish caricature is out of step with the naturalistic performances of the rest of the cast.

Song Of The Thin Man (1947)

At a charity event aboard a gambling ship, a band leader (Phillip Reed) is shot to death. When the new bridegroom (Bruce Cowling) of a family friend (Jayne Meadows) is accused of the murder, detective Nick Charles (William Powell) investigates the killing. The last entry of THE THIN MAN series, this is a rather lackluster effort. Naturally, the pleasure of seeing Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles again goes a long way in making this a highly watchable brew but one can't help but be disappointed that the film lacks the sparkle of (most of) the previous entries in the franchise. The abundant murder suspects aren't an interesting lot and frankly, neither is the mundane murder. The less said about the PERRY MASON finale (the accused stands up and readily confesses) the better. I don't mean to be too hard on it because, as I said, it's rather enjoyable. Directed by Edward Buzzell (NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER). Among the murder suspects: Gloria Grahame, Keenan Wynn, Marie Windsor, Leon Ames, Patricia Morison, Don Taylor, Ralph Morgan, William Hudson and with Dean Stockwell as young Nick Jr., Warner Anderson, Connie Gilchrist and Bess Flowers who actually has a few lines here as Meadows' mother.

Le Clan Des Siciliens (aka The Sicilian Clan) (1969)

A minor Sicilian Mafia head (Jean Gabin) operates a legitimate business as a cover for his illegal activities. He helps spring a ruthless cop killer (Alain Delon) from prison because he is needed in order to rob a diamond collection worth millions. But the head of the clan finds the young man reckless and hard to control. I love a good heist thriller and this French gem courtesy of Henri Verneuil is first rate. From the detailed plotting of the heist to the various subplots involving the police detective (Lino Ventura) stalking the cop killer (when he announces at the beginning of the film that he's stopped smoking, you know he'll start again before the film ends) and an affair between the killer and one of the clan wives (Irina Demick), Verneuil's film is as precise as a tightly wound watch. Gabin is such an iconic presence that he doesn't need to do much more than just be. But being the actor that he is, he gives an expert performance showing us both the patriarch who loves his family and the cold blooded head of a clan that does what he must do. Henri Decae's exact wide screen lensing and Ennio Morricone's pulsating underscore both contribute to the film's success. With Sydney Chaplin, Amedeo Nazzari and Danielle Volle.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Night, Mother (1986)

A woman (Sissy Spacek) who's had an unhappy life lives with her mother (Anne Bancroft) who she takes care of. One night, she calmly organizes her mother's things like which medicine to take and when, folds the laundry, fills the candy dishes with her mother's favorite candies, writes down all the important phone numbers etc. and then tells her mother she's committing suicide. Based on Marsha Norman's (who also did the screenplay) 1983 Pulitzer Prize winning play, this is an unsentimental look at someone in such emotional pain that there are no other options for her and her determined choice to get off the merry go round of her empty life. Only Louis Malle's powerful LE FEU FOLLET exceeds it in its observation of a suicidal personality. Mercifully, Norman and the director Tom Moore (who also directed the play) don't attempt to dilute its strength by opening it up to make it more cinematic. Like WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, it all takes place in one night in one set, a house. The parts are equal and both actresses are excellent with Spacek edging a bit past the sometimes actress-y Bancroft with a heartbreaking performance. Spacek shows us every detail of this woman's tormented soul. It's one of her very best performances. The last 20 minutes or so will likely have you in tears but they're not manipulative tears, they come by honestly. Yeah, I guess you could call it a downer but I'd prefer to call it real. David Shire's score may be brief (there's probably less than 10 minutes in the whole film) but what's there is choice.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fire Over England (1937)

In 1588, relations between England and Spain are strained. As Spain prepares for an attack against England by building a fleet of warships known as the Spanish Armada, Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) sends an undercover spy (Laurence Olivier) to Spain to ferret out their plans for an attack on England. With war clouds hovering over Europe in the mid 1930s, FIRE OVER ENGLAND comes across as a pre-WWII propaganda film with the Spanish standing in for the looming Nazi threat. It's too darn serious to be called a swashbuckler though the film attempts to dress up its message with romance, swordplay and battles amid the patriotic pleas. Olivier seems a bit uncomfortable in a part that Errol Flynn could play with ease but then again until WUTHERING HEIGHTS, his screen performances tended to be on the stiff side. The young Vivien Leigh (looking drop dead gorgeous) doesn't have much to do other than pout but Robson makes for a feisty Elizabeth, a role she would play three years later in THE SEA HAWK, a film with a similar narrative. Directed by William K. Howard. With Raymond Massey as King Philip II of Spain, James Mason, Robert Newton, Leslie Banks, Tamara Desni and Norma Varden who has the film's best line ("A Spanish lady may retire, but she never goes to bed!")

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Witness For The Prosecution (1982)

Just released from the hospital after suffering a heart attack, a famed barrister (Ralph Richardson) is advised by his doctors to not take on any strenuous cases. But when a young man (Beau Bridges) is accused of murdering an older woman (Patricia Leslie), he is sufficiently intrigued by the case to take it on. The Agatha Christie short story WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION was published in 1925 in Great Britain and 1948 in the U.S. and adapted by her into the hit play in 1953 (in which Christie changed the ending). The 1957 film version of that play directed by Billy Wilder was both a critically admired film and a box office hit. I'll say right up front that although I'm a huge Christie fan, I've never cared for the 1957 film. Principally because of its two leads, Tyrone Power and especially Marlene Dietrich whose limitations as an actress curtails much of the film's "surprise". Here, with the marvelous Diana Rigg in the role, we get a real actress in the part and the difference is amazing. It's still a rather stage bound talky courtroom thriller (though more faithful to the Christie play than Wilder's film) but there's no way of getting around that without diluting the mystery. Deborah Kerr is always a welcome presence but she's rather wasted here in a minor role as Richardson's nurse. Directed by Alan Gibson (A WOMAN CALLED GOLDA). With Wendy Hiller, Donald Pleasence and Michael Gough.