Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pollyanna (1960)

A 12 year old orphan (Hayley Mills) comes to live with her rich Aunt (Jane Wyman) at the turn of the century. The Aunt owns or runs most of the town and exerts great pressure to the community to accommodate her wishes. Although she is met with great resistance at first, the eternally optimistic young child slowly begins to exert a positive influence on the town. Based on the 1913 novel by Eleanor Porter, a previous film had been made in 1920 with a 27 year old Mary Pickford in the title role which was one of her biggest hits. The Disney film has made a great many changes from the novel. The word "Pollyanna" has unfortunately become synonymous with saccharine which the movie is definitely not. The director David Swift (THE PARENT TRAP) also wrote the screenplay and he's careful to avoid any excessive sentimentality. He is aided in this by an excellent cast of actors who bring some vinegar and levity to their performances and the young Miss Mills manages to avoid the "cutes" that so many child actors mistake for being adorable. The girl is a real actress.  This is a wonderful family film in the best sense of the word. The large cast includes Richard Egan, Karl Malden, Adolphe Menjou, Agnes Moorehead, Nancy Olson, Donald Crisp, Leora Dana, James Drury, Reta Shaw, Edward Platt, Anne Seymour and Kevin Corcoran.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cafe Metropole (1937)

After writing a bad check, a penniless American (Tyrone Power) is blackmailed by a conniving restaurant owner (Adolphe Menjou) into posing as a Russian prince and wooing a rich American heiress (Loretta Young) for her money. Romantic comedies were quite plentiful in the 1930s and this charming confection is a one of the better ones. Comedy was never Power's forte and he's a little unsure of himself here but he's a winning presence and he and Young make for a fetching couple. But it's the supporting cast that gives the movie its extra edge. Menjou makes for a perfect scoundrel playing one person against the other and always coming out smelling like a rose. Plus there's Gregory Ratoff's penniless but still imperious Russian aristocrat, Charles Winninger's befuddled millionaire and Helen Westley as his wise cracking sister. If you have a penchant for 30s screwball comedies, this should be right up your alley. Directed by Edward H. Griffith. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sky Riders (1976)

The wife (Susannah York) and children (Simon Harrison, Stephany Mathews) of a wealthy industrialist (Robert Culp) are kidnapped by terrorists who demand money and weapons in exchange for their safe return. The wife's ex-husband (James Coburn) plots a daring rescue on his own however. This is a "guilty" pleasure, a thrilling action rescue film with plot loopholes that cannot be ignored yet ignoring them is the only way to keep your sanity.  The dialog is mundane, the terrorists inept, the characters cardboard but the air rescue from a Greek monastery is so spectacular that everything else is forgiven. Well, almost. And unless my eyes are terribly mistaken, it looks like James Coburn did a lot of the breathtaking stunt work himself. Three directors of cinematography (Jim Freeman, Greg MacGillivray, Ousama Rawi) are credited so I don't know who is responsible for the stunning aerial shots or gorgeous Greek landscapes. Directed by Douglas Hickox. With Charles Aznavour, John Beck, Zouzou and Ernie Orsatti.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2015)

A mentally unstable young Japanese woman (Rinko Kikuchi, an Oscar nominee for BABEL) is obsessed with the American film FARGO. With a minimal command of the English language and a stolen credit card, she journeys to Minnesota in search of the buried money shown in the film which she believes is a true story. KUMIKO debuted at the 2014 Sundance film festival and spent the rest of 2014 making the film festival circuit. It is only now that it is being released in the U.S. and elsewhere. The title sounds like an animated Japanese feature from the Studio Ghibli but it's based on the suicide of Takako Konishi, a Japanese office worker who was found dead in a field in Minnesota, which has blossomed into a sort of urban legend that she died looking for money Steve Buscemi buried in the film FARGO. As directed by David Zellner (who plays a kindly policeman in the film), it's relentlessly grim. One can pretty much sense where the film is going and once it leaves Japan and gets to Minnesota, you're sure of it ..... and it does. I don't know if I can say I "enjoyed" it but I did like it. I could have done without the faux coda however which seems out of place. With Nobuyuki Katsube and Shirley Venard.

Il Bidone (1955)

An aging con man (Broderick Crawford) makes his living by swindling poor and gullible peasants. He has two partners: a weak willed aspiring artist (Richard Basehart) with a wife (Giulietta Masina) and child to support and a self deluded playboy (Franco Fabrizi). But he begins to realize that his time is running out and the future looks grim. Made between two of his most acclaimed films (LA STRADA and NIGHTS OF CABIRIA), this is a minor offering by Federico Fellini that is made up of a series of fragmented scenes that as a whole never quite matches up to the sum of its parts. The film's best scene is a cocktail party that gives hints of LA DOLCE VITA to come. With the exception of Masina, the film's characters are unsympathetic so it's hard to invest in their fates. But the acting, especially from Crawford, is very good and the film's distressing ending has an impact. The score by Nino Rota isn't particularly memorable. Still, I enjoyed it more than some of Fellini's more acclaimed films.

Manuela (1957)

A 42 year old captain (Trevor Howard) of a cargo ship is disillusioned with his life and drinks heavily. But when he discovers a 17 year old stowaway (Elsa Martinelli) on board, he falls in love and becomes oblivious to his duties as captain of the ship. Realistically, is there a future for them? Based on the novel by William Woods (who also did the screenplay), this is an early directorial effort by Guy Hamilton (GOLDFINGER). It's an interesting film that seems to have slipped under the radar (it currently has only 36 votes on its IMDb page) of most filmgoers. While not quite LOLITA, its tale of an aging alcoholic sea captain and a young underage girl is handled tastefully and honestly. The film's ending is ambiguous thus leaving us to give it the ending we want to imagine which I preferred to an alternate ending that was shot but not used which was more bleak. Howard, one of the best British actors (who still hasn't been given his due), is excellent here and Martinelli (obviously older than 17) is charming. They make up for Pedro Armendariz, who as the boat's chief engineer can't resist the chance to overact. With Donald Pleasence and Jack MacGowran.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fedora (1978)

A film producer (William Holden) who has seen better days attends the funeral of the legendary film actress Fedora (Marthe Keller). At the funeral, he reflects how only two weeks earlier he went to Greece in an attempt to lure the actress out of retirement to star in his film. But what he discovers there is a more startling story than anything she played out on the screen. Based on a novella by actor turned writer Thomas Tryon (THE OTHER), this is a rather silly film. It's been decades since I've read Tryon's book but I don't recall his story being so foolish. If one didn't know that Billy Wilder was one of Hollywood's greatest film directors, from this film you'd assume he was a hack. I can't help but compare it to Aldrich's LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE since both films are very similar thematically. Aldrich's film isn't very good either but it has a sense of the absurd and it's much livelier. And it takes a star to play a star and Marthe Keller isn't a star. You can't believe she was a Hollywood legend. At least in LYLAH CLARE, they had a real star (Kim Novak) playing a Hollywood legend. No one is at there best here, even Miklos Rozsa's score sounds warmed over. With Hildegard Knef, Jose Ferrer, Frances Sternhagen, Arlene Francis, Stephen Collins, Mario Adorf and as themselves, Henry Fonda and Michael York.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Trial (1955)

In a small California beach town, a Mexican youth (Rafael Campos) is arrested for the murder of a 16 year old girl. A law professor (Glenn Ford) attempting to get some criminal trial experience is given the case to handle by the head (Arthur Kennedy in an Oscar nominated performance) of a small law firm. But the trial lawyer finds himself not only fighting the town's racism but the intentional exploitation of his client by his employer for his own political agenda. Earlier in the year, MGM had a critical and box office hit with BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK which dealt with racism against Japanese-Americans during WWII. But it was filmed in Eastman color and CinemaScope and employed some action sequences. TRIAL is a grittier film, shot in B&W and eschewing any thriller aspects. The film fully takes on racism (the judge in the case is black) and both the communist party and House Of Un-American Activities Committee. A lot on its plate, perhaps too much because the ending is unsatisfactory. But the intent is appreciated and for the most part executed admirably. Directed by Mark Robson (PEYTON PLACE). With Dorothy McGuire, John Hodiak, Katy Jurado, Robert Middleton, Elisha Cook, Barry Kelley and John Hoyt. 

Hands Across The Table (1935)

A gold digging manicurist (Carole Lombard) and a penniless playboy (Fred MacMurray) hook up with the understanding that they're both looking to marry for wealth, not love. But as Cupid works his magic, they have a hard time sticking to the agenda. Directed by Mitchell Leisen (HOLD BACK THE DAWN), this amiable comedy is boosted by the presence of Lombard and MacMurray who make for a great romantic team. If one is only familiar with the Disneyfied MacMurray of the 1960s, it can come as surprise to see how much charm he had and yes, sex appeal. And Lombard is lovely without that shrillness that mars her performances in her more acclaimed films like MY MAN GODFREY and TWENTIETH CENTURY. It's a piffle of a movie really but so effortless that one doesn't have to work very hard to enjoy it. Ralph Bellamy is again the third wheel but it's a relief to see him not played as a doofus and the butt of jokes as he was in THE AWFUL TRUTH and HIS GIRL FRIDAY. With William Demarest, Ruth Donnelly and Astrid Allwyn.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

A pair of bank robbing brothers (George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino) force a pastor (Harvey Keitel), traveling with his daughter (Juliette Lewis) and adopted Chinese son (Ernest Liu), into taking them across the border to Mexico. But what they find in Mexico is infinitely more horrifying than the law that's after them. Directed by Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY) from a rather silly screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, this vampire comedy lacks the playfulness of LOVE AT FIRST BITE. The first part of the film, before they get to Mexico, is poorly done. Tarantino's awful performance just pulls one out of the movie. Clooney seems embarrassed (why do I suspect he'd love to wipe this film from his resume), Lewis seems to be having fun and one has to admire Keitel for saying a line like "I'll be a lap dog of Satan" with a straight face. The first vampire attack in the Mexican bar is a spectacular piece of pulp horror cinema, beautifully done. It's not a film to be taken remotely seriously. In fact, I've met some people who don't think/know it's a comedy. Also in the cast: Salma Hayek, John Saxon, Michael Parks, Fred Williamson (I can't tell if his acting is bad or it's the putrid dialog he's given), Kelly Preston, Cheech Marin, Marc Lawrence and John Hawkes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Magic Christian (1969)

One of the world's wealthiest men (Peter Sellers) legally adopts a young homeless vagrant (Ringo Starr). He then proceeds to show the boy that every man has his price and if the money is large enough, they will do anything for money. Based on the novel by Terry Southern, who co-wrote the screenplay with the director Joseph McGrath, the film has no real plot to speak of but it's a series of comedy sketches. The humor is very hit and miss (more of the latter than the former) and if one isn't especially attuned to English humor, perhaps even less than that. McGrath was one of the directors of the 1967 CASINO ROYALE which, like MAGIC CHRISTIAN, was a bit of a mess but at least it was more consistent in its tone. After awhile, watching people humiliating themselves for the almighty dollar (or pound in this case) isn't funny anymore. Even if one shares the film's cynicism regarding humankind, the film has made its point and then it's just repetition. The large cast includes Laurence Harvey, Raquel Welch, Yul Brynner, Richard Attenborough, John Cleese, Christopher Lee, Roman Polanski, Dennis Price, Wilfrid Hyde White, Isabel Jeans and Hattie Jacques.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Other Love (1947)

A world famous concert pianist (Barbara Stanwyck) is diagnosed with a possibly terminal illness and sent to a Swiss sanitarium for rest and treatment. She falls in love with her doctor (David Niven) but confronted with her own mortality, she leaves the sanitarium and runs off to Monte Carlo with a handsome race car driver (Richard Conte). Based on the short story BEYOND by Erich Maria Remarque, this is a decent 1940s soap opera with Stanwyck wasting away in a stylish Edith Head wardrobe while Miklos Rozsa's violins play on the soundtrack. It's what used to (still?) be called a weepie and for what it is, it's predictably entertaining. Stanwyck is one of those actresses who is eminently watchable regardless of the quality of the script and she manages to bring some genuine pathos to her part. Still, it's the kind of thing Douglas Sirk did so much better at Universal (think MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION). Directed by Andre De Toth. With Gilbert Roland, Joan Lorring, Natalie Schafer, Lenore Aubert and Ann Codee.

The Screaming Skull (1958)

A widower (John Hudson) brings his new bride (Peggy Webber) to the large mansion with lush garden grounds that he inherited from his first wife. But soon she starts hearing screams in the night as well as seeing a mysterious skull that may belong to the deceased first wife. This badly written, poorly acted low budget horror flick is enjoyable in a cheesy way but it's predictable from the first few minutes. It's all rather silly really though when I first saw it as a child, it scared the pants off me! The film opens with a disclaimer that if you die of fright during the film, the film company will bury you free of charge ... ah, the days of hyperbolic showmanship! The film's most notable feature is its attractive setting, the Huntington Hartford estate in San Marino, California. The film does have some superior talent involved, notably Floyd Crosby (HIGH NOON) who did the cinematography and Ernest Gold (EXODUS) who did the score. The film is directed by the actor Alex Nicol, who plays the child like gardener in the film. With Russ Conway and Toni Johnson.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

When popular rock 'n roll star Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) is drafted into the Army, the longtime girlfriend (Janet Leigh) of an unsuccessful songwriter (Dick Van Dyke, recreating his stage role) arranges to have the rock star to sing one of her boyfriend's songs on the Ed Sullivan (who plays himself) Show. A typical teen age girl (Ann-Margret) is selected to represent Birdie's fan to receive a kiss from him on the show. But everything soon snowballs into a potential disaster. Based on the 1960 hit Broadway musical, no one who saw the 1963 film when it opened will ever forget the image of that pouting sex kitten in the yellow dress rushing toward the camera on a treadmill as she gyrated to the title song. We all knew we were seeing a star being born before our very eyes. The film itself is a delightful good natured musical satire with hummable songs by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, wonderful dances by Onna White (OLIVER!) and an ingratiating cast. Leigh is lovely though miscast, even with a black wig she doesn't come across believably as a Latina and her role has been downscaled from the Broadway show in order to build up Ann-Margret's part. Her Shriner's dance remains a highlight, however. Directed by George Sidney. With Maureen Stapleton, Paul Lynde, Bobby Rydell, Mary LaRoche and Frank Albertson.

Elsa & Fred (2014)

Set in New Orleans, a recently widowed elderly curmudgeon (Christopher Plummer) moves into an apartment because his daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) wants him living closer to her. But the woman next door (Shirley MacLaine), who happens to be a chronic liar, decides to bring him out of his shell and enjoy life. Based on the 2005 Argentinean film ELSA Y FRED, this is the kind of movie that thinks it's cute to have senior citizens behaving like jerks. MacLaine's character is irresponsible and manipulative but we're supposed to find her adorable. She skips out of restaurants without paying the bill, tells lies about grandchildren that don't exist to get money but she listens to rap music so she's cool and full of life! HAROLD AND MAUDE has a lot to answer for! The movie has barely started when you get the feeling that one of them is going to kick the bucket before the movie is over. But before that happens, you know they're going to live, live, live! These aren't real senior citizens, these types only exist in the movies. HAROLD AND MAUDE has a lot to answer for and yes, I know I said that already. The LA DOLCE VITA sequence at the film's end is handled quite nicely, I'll give it that. Directed by Michael Radford (IL POSTINO). With George Segal, James Brolin, Scott Bakula, Chris Noth and Erika Alexander.

La Peau Douce (aka The Soft Skin) (1964)

A middle aged unprepossessing married businessman (Jean Desailly) becomes obsessed with a flight attendant (Francoise Dorleac, who could blame him?) on a business trip to Lisbon. They embark on an affair that seems to go wrong from the very start and no good will come of it. Francois Truffaut's follow up to his extremely successful JULES AND JIM was not well received critically or at the box office when first released, at least in the U.S. Posterity has shown however that it is one of Truffaut's strongest films. Its portrayal of the complexities of adultery is given a depth of intricacy one doesn't usually find in the often cliched triangles of Hollywood films. Truffaut is not judgmental and points no fingers at anyone and in spite of their flaws, the three protagonists prove to be sympathetic figures ..... eventually. The wife (superbly played by Nelly Benedetti) appears at first to be a cipher, the negligible "wife" but in the second half of the film, she comes into her own. This is perhaps the first film where the Hitchcock (Truffaut's idol) influence shows its impact. Haunting, disturbing and yet quite beautiful. The effective underscore is by Georges Delerue.   

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Two Of A Kind (1983)

Disgusted by the state of the world, God (Gene Hackman) decides to destroy mankind and start over. But four angels (Charles Durning, Beatrice Straight, Scatman Crothers, Castulo Guerra) plead with him to spare mankind. He agrees but only if a bank robber (John Travolta) and the bank teller (Olivia Newton John) who scams him can both redeem themselves within 24 hours. But the Devil (Oliver Reed) has a few plans of his own. After the massive success of GREASE, I suppose it was inevitable that Travolta and Newton John would be teamed up again but the magic didn't happen a second time. This isn't a musical but a romantic comedy/fantasy along the lines of HERE COMES MR. JORDAN. Travolta and Newton John are as appealing as ever but the paper thin script and unimaginative direction by John Herzfeld leave them stranded and left to fend for themselves, they can't overcome the weak material. The soundtrack does contain the song Twist Of Fate which was a top 10 hit for Newton John. With Kathy Bates, Ernie Hudson, Vincent Bufano and Toni Kalem.

Macbeth (1948)

Three witches tell Macbeth (Orson Welles) that he will be a King. Not content to let their prophecy play out, he and his power hungry wife (Jeanette Nolan) decide to murder any possible competition in their quest for power. The first of Welles' Shakespearean film adaptations is remarkably effective considering its poverty row budget (this was a Republic production) and shot in 23 days with rented costumes on leftover sets. Welles' decision to have the actors speak in Scottish brogues was criticized at the time of release and though it makes the dialog difficult to comprehend at times, it gives the film a veneer of authenticity. Welles has taken a film maker's license to cut much from Shakespeare's play and has given it a few cinematic flourishes. But what stands out are the two central performances of Welles as Macbeth and Nolan as his Lady Macbeth. Nolan never again had a film role as good as this one and quickly became a familiar character actress in film and TV. The intrusive score is by Jacques Ibert. With Roddy McDowall, Dan O'Herlihy, Alan Napier, Lurene Tuttle, Erskine Sanford and Peggy Webber. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Of Human Bondage (1964)

A medical student (Laurence Harvey) becomes obsessed with a sluttish Cockney waitress (Kim Novak). In spite of her constant lying and manipulation of him, he's so smitten with her that he accepts her abuse until he just can't take it anymore. But even then, only death will break the ties permanently. The third film version of the W. Somerset Maugham novel with a screenplay by Bryan Forbes, the film was started by director Henry Hathaway (TRUE GRIT) who left the project and was replaced by Ken Hughes (CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG). Both men receive a director's credit. The character of Philip Carey (played by Harvey) is an unappealing one. He's essentially an emotional masochist and it's not pleasant to watch his mooning and whining over the mean spirited Mildred. Kim Novak is one of those stars who just needs to be and that's often quite enough. When she tries to "act", she can be terrible and she's acting here. Egregiously miscast, the role is beyond the grasp of her abilities as an actress. I didn't expect anything from the dull Harvey and he didn't disappoint. The annoyingly repetitive score is by Ron Goodwin.  With Siobhan McKenna, Robert Morley, Roger Livesey, Nanette Newman and Jack Hedley.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997)

Two shallow airheads (Mira Sorvino, Lisa Kudrow) who have been best friends since high school back in Tucson, Arizona are now living in Los Angeles. One is unemployed and the other is a cashier and they spend their nights clubbing. But when their 10 year high school reunion comes up, they fabricate successful careers (they invented post-its) for themselves to impress the "A" group that made life miserable for them in high school. Directed by David Mirkin and based on the play THE LADIES ROOM by Robin Schiff (who also did the screenplay), this is a fairly funny comedy as long as it avoids getting all soppy on us. Sorvino and especially Kudrow are crackerjack comediennes and make their clueless dingbats almost charming rather than annoying. The film manages to maintain the often amusing ("I'm the Mary, you're the Rhoda") dialog and situations for most of the film but the last fifteen minutes are dead weight. It would have been much better for the film if the flaky ladies weren't redeemed and remained as clueless as ever. With Alan Cumming, Janeane Garofalo, Justin Theroux, Camryn Manheim, Jacob Vargas and Elaine Hendrix.  

Mad Love (1935)

A famous and skilled surgeon (Peter Lorre) is obsessed with an actress (Frances Drake) who performs in a Grand Guignol style theater of horror. But she's married and rejects his advances. But when her pianist husband (Colin Clive, FRANKENSTEIN) is seriously injured in a train wreck, she appeals to the surgeon to save her husband's hands rather than amputate them. He saves the husband's hands but he doesn't tell them that he's actually grafted the hands of an executed murderer to the husband. Soon, the hands seem to have a life of their own. A remake of the 1924 German silent film THE HANDS OF ORLAC, I found this economical little horror more effective than its predecessor. Until he goes completely round the bend at the end of the film, one can't help but feel pity for Lorre's lonely misfit who's never known the love of a woman. The director Karl Freund was a renowned cinematographer, he shot Lang's METROPOLIS, who only occasionally directed (his most famous film is the 1932 THE MUMMY) and he brings a nice mood to this twisted tale. With Sara Haden, Keye Luke and Edward Brophy.

McLintock! (1963)

A prosperous rancher (John Wayne) gets a visit from his estranged wife (Maureen O'Hara) when their daughter (Stefanie Powers) is returning home after receiving an Eastern education. The wife wants to take their daughter to live with her so she can meet the right people and live a cultured lifestyle. This rambunctious western is an updated version of Shakespeare's TAMING OF THE SHREW and like Shakespeare's comedy, its attitude toward women is often uncomfortable. Even in 1963, was spanking grown women considered amusing? In the 1950s and 1960s, John Wayne was about the biggest star in the world. People went to a John Wayne movie because it was John Wayne. The plot or who else was in it wasn't of much importance, they knew what they were getting with a John Wayne movie and he (usually) delivered. MCLINTOCK is a John Wayne movie and he delivers. But if you're not a fan of the Duke, you might have very little tolerance for this kind of shenanigans. Even as a huge Wayne fan, I know this is far from one of his best films but it's lively and he and O'Hara have an indisputable chemistry (they made five films together). Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen. With Yvonne De Carlo, Stefanie Powers, Chill Wills, Patrick Wayne, Bruce Cabot, Perry Lopez, Mari Blanchard and Jerry Van Dyke.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Il Diavolo A Sette Facce (aka The Devil Has Seven Faces) (1971)

A woman (Carroll Baker) is being threatened by several sources who seem to think she is holding something of value. Two men, an attorney (Stephen Boyd) and a race car driver (George Hilton), set out to find out who are making the threats and just what is it that they want. But perhaps the woman isn't telling all she knows. This was one of the many Italian films that Baker made after she left Hollywood in the mid 1960s and went to live and work in Italy though this film was shot in The Netherlands. It has the style of a giallo but it's really a crime thriller. The narrative is confusing and highly improbable and the characters don't always act logically. None of this would matter much if the film had some style or atmosphere but it's lacking in both departments. Still, if you're a connoisseur of Miss Baker's Italian period, it should find favor with you. Directed by Osvaldo Civirani with a faux Morricone score courtesy of Stelvio Cipriani. With Lucretia Love and Franco Ressel. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Casanova's Big Night (1954)

It's 18th century Italy and when the notorious lover Casanova (Vincent Price) skips town to avoid his creditors, his tailor (Bob Hope) is pressed into service to impersonate him. It seems a mother (Hope Emerson) is willing to pay "Casanova" 10,000 ducats to seduce her son's (Robert Hutton) bride to be (Audrey Dalton). This lively anachronistic costume comedy is one of Hope's best vehicles. The jokes and puns are low (Hope dips his fingers into the Venice canal and dabs behind his ears and quips "Canal No. 5") but Hope's expert comedic timing gets the laughs anyway. Indeed, Joan Fontaine (taking over for Bing Crosby) can barely keep a straight face in her scenes with Hope. It's colorful with a few swashbuckles tossed in and the handsome art direction and elegant costumes (courtesy of Edith Head) make it a winner. Directed by Norman Z. McLeod (TOPPER). Hope's partners in crime include Basil Rathbone, Raymond Burr, Hugh Marlowe, John Carradine, Arnold Moss, Natalie Schafer, Frieda Inescort, Joan Shawlee, John Hoyt and Lon Chaney Jr.

Murder My Sweet (1944)

A private detective (Dick Powell) is hired by a hulking not too bright ex-convict (Mike Mazurki) to find his old girlfriend who has disappeared. Soon after, the private eye is hired by an effete gigolo (Douglas Walton) to act as an intermediary in returning a piece of stolen jewelry to its owner. But when the bodies start piling up, it's the detective that the police suspect. This is the second film version (the first was made only two years earlier as THE FALCON TAKES OVER) of Raymond Chandler's novel FAREWELL MY LOVELY which would be remade a third time in 1975. Reputedly, Chandler was very pleased with this film version although there have been substantial changes from his novel. It's a good tight little piece of film noir solidly directed by Edward Dmytryk. The film was a career changer for Powell who up to this point was a lightweight leading man working in musicals and comedies. It also provided Mazurki with the best role he ever had in movies. Claire Trevor makes for a fine femme fatale but I could have done without Anne Shirley whose character has been changed from the reporter in the book to Trevor's stepdaughter in the film. With Otto Kruger, Miles Mander and Esther Howard.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Gunsight Ridge (1957)

An agent (Joel McCrea) for a stagecoach line is sent to a small town in Arizona in an attempt to track and apprehend a bandit (Mark Stevens) who has staged a series of daring robberies on their stagecoaches. An odd little western that always seems on the verge of being better than it is. The script is fine, perhaps it needed a stronger director than Francis D. Lyon (CULT OF THE COBRA). It's one of those westerns where the bad guy is far more interesting and complex than the hero. In this case, McCrea's dull and somewhat incompetent lawman versus Stevens' bitter music prodigy whose failure to fulfill his artistic promise appears to have turned him into a cold emotionless killer. At times, the film seems hopelessly routine then you get a quirky scene like Stevens' outlaw dalliance with a Lolita-ish teen (Carolyn Craig) while on the run that seems rather different for a western. The film has a couple of heavyweights behind the camera. The B&W cinematography is by Ernest Laszlo (IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD) with a score by David Raksin (LAURA). With Joan Weldon, Dan Blocker, Slim Pickens, Addison Richards, Jody McCrea, George Chandler and Cindy Robbins. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Yume (aka Dreams) (1990)

Eight "dreams" of the director Akira Kurosawa form the basis for this film anthology: 1. A child watches a fox wedding though he was warned against it 2. A boy weeps for the loss of a peach orchard. 3. A group of climbers lose their way during a snowstorm. 4. A returning soldier encounters the ghosts of the men under his command. 5. An art student enters the world of Vincent Van Gogh. 6. A nuclear power plant explodes near Mt. Fuji. 7. A traveler encounters a mutation, a man with horns. 8. A hiker engages a 103 year old man in conversation at a lovely village by a river. Visually, this is one of Kurosawa's most beautiful films especially the last "dream" which is so gorgeous you want to step into it yourself. The stories themselves are a mixed lot. Some don't work like the blizzard dream which goes on way too long and while the Van Gogh sequence is lovely, once Martin Scorsese (as Van Gogh) opens his mouth, the impact goes flat. There seems to be a unifying theme: environmentalism. Unfortunately, this gives the film a rather preachy feel to it as some of the characters lecture us on mankind's destructive behavior toward nature. But it's Kurosawa so it's easy to tune out the pontification and enjoy the stylized narrative.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Divine Madness (1980)

Coming right after her triumphant performance in THE ROSE, this is Bette Midler ("The Divine Miss M") in a live performance (actually filmed over four nights and edited together) and captured on film by the director Michael Ritchie (DOWNHILL RACER). Midler refers to it as the "time capsule" version of her act and it includes most of her big songs and best comedic bits. I've had the pleasure of seeing Midler in concert twice and she's an amazing dynamo on stage and the film only hints at her magnetic stage presence. Still, as an archival record of her in concert, it's a more than decent presentation. Whether channeling Sophie Tucker and telling bawdy jokes or paying tribute to 60s girl groups or rockin' the auditorium, Midler is a dervish! Her physicality assists the raw emotion she puts into her songs. It was a major mistake however for her to do the bag lady bit. It's poorly staged, creepily sentimental, stops the show cold and she never quite recovers though she ends the concert with a walloping version of I Shall Be Released. With the sensational Harlettes (Jocelyn Brown, Ula Hedwig, Diva Gray).

Exodus (1960)

An American widow (Eva Marie Saint) is visiting the island of Cyprus in 1947 when she becomes involved with Jewish refugees being detained by the British which refuse to allow them to enter Palestine (then under British "protection"). When she falls in love with a Zionist rebel (Paul Newman), she further becomes involved in what ultimately will become the new state of Israel. Based on Leon Uris' massive best selling novel (reputedly the biggest seller since GONE WITH THE WIND), its length notwithstanding (Mort Sahl joked "Otto, let my people go!") Otto Preminger's three and a half our epic remains a compelling look at the birth of Israel. The film is decidely pro-Israel but I realize there are two sides to every story (the Arabs are minimized in the film) but that's another movie yet to be made. With two exceptions, the film is crammed with strong performances notably Sal Mineo (Oscar nominated). The two exceptions are Gregory Ratoff who couldn't resist hamming it up and Peter Lawford who embraces a stereotype rather than give us a real human being. Beautifully shot in 70 millimeter by Sam Leavitt (1954's A STAR IS BORN) with a famous Oscar winning score by Ernest Gold. With Ralph Richardson, Lee J. Cobb, John Derek, Hugh Griffith, George Maharis, Jill Haworth, David Opatoshu, Felix Aylmer, Marius Goring and Alexandra Stewart.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Francis In The Navy (1955)

An Army officer (Donald O'Connor) on leave gets mistaken for his double (also O'Connor) who's in the Navy ...... and AWOL. Despite his protestations, the military police take him and he's placed under psychiatric care. This was O'Connor's sixth and final participation in the Francis The Talking Mule series, Mickey Rooney would take over for the last entry FRANCIS IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE. Mistaken identity comedies are almost a sure thing but this one is more annoying than amusing. A novelty in 1951, the talking mule jokes had worn pretty thin by 1955. O'Connor gives it the old college try but you can't resuscitate a dying franchise. You pretty much know what you're getting if you start watching. Directed by Arthur Lubin. The supporting cast has a couple of rising stars (Clint Eastwood and David Janssen) and a fading star (Virginia O'Brien, so delightful in her MGM musicals and comedies). Also in the cast: Martha Hyer, Paul Burke, Martin Milner, Jim Backus, Leigh Snowden and Myrna Hansen.

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993)

After he gets into trouble with the Hong Kong police, a father (Ric Young) sends his son (Jason Scott Lee) to America to live. He starts out as a dishwasher but is encouraged by his employer (Nancy Kwan) to get an education. His college sweetheart (Lauren Holly) and later wife pushes him to open a martial arts school. The school is successful and he is approached by a TV producer (Robert Wagner) about an acting career. Although it's based on Linda Lee Cadwell's (his widow) book, this movie bio on the legendary Bruce Lee comes off as inauthentic. The film makers have turned Lee's life into, well ..... a Bruce Lee movie. For example: very early in the film Lee fights five Australian sailors singlehandedly and while in the middle of the fight takes a flying leap onto a banquet table, takes a bite of a piece of cake then throws himself back into the fight. Of course, one of the Aussies rips off Lee's shirt in the fight to display his muscled torso. It's a sort of Chinese ROCKY only this one doesn't end so well. Comparing certain factual information on Lee's life with the film shows that a lot of "artistic license" was taken. Luckily, Lee is played by the wonderful Jason Scott Lee (a better actor than Bruce Lee ever was) who brings a depth of feeling that keeps you invested in the film. Directed by Rob Cohen (THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS) with Michael Learned (THE WALTONS) as Holly's mother.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mata Hari (1931)

During WWI in France, the head (C. Henry Gordon) of the French spy service is determined to expose the exotic dancer Mata Hari (Greta Garbo) as a spy but he needs proof. To this end, he keeps tabs on a Russian General (Lionel Barrymore) who is having an affair with the dancer. But it's a romantic alliance with a handsome pilot (Ramon Novarro) that will be her undoing. There was a real Mata Hari who was executed for espionage in WWI but don't expect any authenticity here. This is pure romanticized hokum. The film is entertaining when it stays with political intrigue but lack of chemistry between Garbo and the wooden Novarro kills any chance of any real passion. A pity since this is a pre-code film and some of the sexual situations are quite blatant. Garbo, however, has never been more movie star goddess-y and she's relaxed and sexy and fun.  A nice change of pace from the intensity of her work in films like CAMILLE, ANNA CHRISTIE or GRAND HOTEL. The film was one of Garbo's biggest hits. Directed by George Fitzmaurice. With Lewis Stone and Karen Morley. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Broken Lance (1954)

An iron fisted rancher (Spencer Tracy) has alienated his three sons (Richard Widmark, Hugh O'Brian, Earl Holliman) from his first marriage by treating them as ranch hands rather than sons. He's more kindly disposed to his son (Robert Wagner) from his second marriage to an Indian woman (Katy Jurado in an Oscar nominated performance). The hostility between sons and the father will lead to tragedy for the family. This is a loose remake of the 1949 film HOUSE OF STRANGERS with the story transplanted from lower East Side New York to the American West. The story itself owes a lot to Shakespeare's KING LEAR. Curiously, the writer Philip Yordan who wrote the 1949 film won an Oscar for this remake when the original was never nominated. That aside, I love this western. It's one of the best westerns of the 1950s which still hasn't received the respect it deserves. Tracy dominates the film with his bold performance as the hard headed patriarch. But the other actors hold their own. Solidly directed by Edward Dmytryk. Leigh Harline composed the killer score. With Jean Peters, E.G. Marshall, Carl Benton Reid and Eduard Franz. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Angel Angel Down We Go (1969)

The sheltered overweight daughter (Holly Near) of a millionaire (Charles Aidman) and an ex-porn star (Jennifer Jones) falls in with a whacked out rock star (Jordan Christopher, who's awful) and his group of zonked out followers. The 1960s and 1970s were a difficult time for actresses of a certain age, those who were big stars in the 30s and 40s. Some like Davis and Crawford revitalized their careers by doing horror films, some like Stanwyck turned to television while others like Loretta Young simply retired.  Some like Jones tried to be part of the "with it" counter culture films becoming popular at the time. But when you hear Jones utter a line like "I've made 30 stag films and I never once faked an orgasm", it's a long way from THE SONG OF BERNADETTE! The writer/director Robert Thom had a success the previous year with his clever satire WILD IN THE STREETS but this one is dreadful. The dialog is cringe inducing and its portrait of the "hippie" lifestyle seems a satire (or perhaps a satire in spite of itself). The film's "wit" is juvenile and often vulgar as when Thom intercuts images of Christopher's crotch with Near biting into a cream puff and it squirting on her face! With Roddy McDowall, Lou Rawls and Davey Davison.

The Little Foxes (1941)

In the 1900 South, a willful aristocrat (Bette Davis) watches while her two brothers (Charles Dingle, Carl Benton Reid recreating their stage performances) acquire great wealth due to the money left them by their father. But when a business deal with a Northern manufacturer (Russell Hicks) offers her a chance to acquire substantial wealth for herself, her sickly husband (Herbert Marshall) proves an impediment. Based on the stage play by Lillian Hellman (who wrote the screenplay), William Wyler whips up a tart taste of high drama impeccably directed and acted (except for Richard Carlson and Teresa Wright). It's no coincidence that Wyler directed some of Davis' best work (JEZEBEL, THE LETTER) but apparently there was so much friction between them here that they never worked again. Hellman's acidic melodrama has a grisly and destructive heroine in Regina Giddens and Davis' inhabits the role with a malignancy. I'm no fan of Teresa Wright who over does the girlishness and naivete but she's good in her final confrontational scene with Davis. The underscore is by Meredith Willson who would go on to write THE MUSIC MAN some 16 years later. With Dan Duryea, Jessica Grayson and Patricia Collinge, so touching as the fragile Birdie.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

A doctor (James Stewart) from the mid-West and his wife (Doris Day), a former actress, are vacationing in Morocco with their small son (Christopher Olsen). During a visit to an outdoor market, a man (Daniel Gelin) is stabbed to death but before he dies, he whispers some information to the doctor that will place him and his family in danger if he reveals it. But if he doesn't, important international repercussions will occur. Alfred Hitchcock pretty much summed it up himself when comparing this film which is a remake of his 1934 film of the same name. "The first film", he is reputed to have said, "is the work of a talented amateur. The second that of a professional". I like Hitch's 1934 version but the 1956 film is much more complex and layered and better acted. Indeed, Day's breakdown scene upon hearing her son has been kidnapped may be the best things she's ever done (as an actress). As with most Hitchcock films, there is a cinematic highpoint and here it's the classic Albert Hall sequence culminating in Day's scream. The film also has one of Hitchcock's most amusing codas. The film features the Oscar winning song Que Sera Sera which became Day's signature tune. With Brenda De Banzie, Carolyn Jones, Hillary Brooke, Alan Mowbray, Alix Talton and Bernard Miles.

Relatos Salvajes (aka Wild Tales) (2014)

Six individual stories:  1) A disparate group of passengers on a flight discover they all have something in common. 2) A waitress discovers her customer is the man who caused her father's suicide. 3) Two motorists engage in a ruthless game of road rage. 4) A man feels his car was towed away unfairly by the city. 5) A young man kills a pregnant woman with his car and leaves the scene of the crime. 6) Jealousy turns a wedding into a war zone. Did I mention this was a comedy? The common bond that links all six stories is revenge! One of this year's five nominees for the best foreign language film Oscar (it's from Argentina), Pedro Almodovar is one of the producers and the film has the feel of an Almodovar movie. As with all portmanteau films, not all of the stories are equal but there's not a dud among them. The film is at turns outrageous, shocking and laugh out loud funny and may have the best pre-title sequence I've ever seen (the audience applauded). Still, the underlying thematic mean spiritedness may put some people off. I had a great time at it. Written and directed by Damian Szifron. With Ricardo Darin, Oscar Martinez, Erica Rivas, Julieta Zylberberg and Diego Gentile.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Little Mermaid (1989)

A young mermaid princess (Jodi Benson) is fascinated with all things human despite her father's (Kenneth Mars) orders to stay away from them. But when she saves the life of a man (Christopher Daniel Barnes) and falls in love with him, she unwisely strikes a deal with the evil sea witch (Pat Carroll) to become human. Starting in 1937 and SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, Walt Disney had a great run of classic animated feature films through the 1960s. They pretty much had the market to themselves. They stumbled in the 1970s but this 1989 entry revitalized their animation reputation. Structured like a Broadway musical with tuneful songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) and a simple but vibrant colorful animation palette, this is a lovely telling of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Imaginative and resourceful with a strong role model that many a young girl child identified with. Written and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. Other characters voiced by Buddy Hackett, Rene Auberjonois, Edie McClurg and Samuel E. Wright who sings the Oscar winning Under The Sea.  

It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

Just released from prison, an ex-convict (Jimmy Durante) accidentally drives his car off a cliff. Five motorists (Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Mickey Rooney, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett) come to his aid. Just before he dies, he tells them of the $350,000 he buried under a "Big W" before he went to prison. Greed sets in and the five men make a mad dash to see who can get to the money first as even more people join in the chase. This is a rather polarizing comedy. The film has die hard fans who swear by it and others that find it loud, long and unfunny. It's one of my all time favorite comedies. The director Stanley Kramer is one of my least favorite directors but he got this one right. When you have an ensemble of comic geniuses like Winters, Caesar, Berle, Phil Silvers etc. who can turn a routine quip into a laugh out loud line, there's bound to be laughs galore. And Kramer has used Ethel Merman (as Caesar's battleaxe mother in law) more effectively on film than any other director. The incredible stunt work is as impressive as ever. I saw the restored (the film was severely cut soon after its opening) three hour and 17 minute roadshow cut and it plays much smoother than the edited general release cut. The massive cast includes Spencer Tracy, Terry Thomas, Dick Shawn, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine, Peter Falk, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Paul Ford, Jim Backus, Barrie Chase, Charles McGraw, William Demarest, Madlyn Rhue, Zasu Pitts and cameos by Jerry Lewis, Buster Keaton, Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Andy Devine, Don Knotts and the Three Stooges.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Memoirs Of A Survivor (1981)

In an unspecified future, England has been decimated by war. The streets are littered with garbage, food is scarce (dogs and horses are eaten if they can be found), bands of homeless adolescents roam the streets, people huddle frightened in their homes. A woman (Julie Christie) is given a ward (Leonie Mellinger, minimally talented) by the government to take in. The woman also has the ability to walk through a wall in her home to another dimension or reality. I've not read the Doris Lessing novel this film is based on but I have to surmise it was more successful in combining the sci-fi aspects of the story. The film is oblique and dense with some obvious symbolism (eggs) that seems heavy handed. We're shown scenes from the past but they seem to be from the Victorian era, too far back to be someone's memory. Is what we're seeing Christie's fantasies or reality? One can only wonder what drew Julie Christie to the project as her talent is barely tapped and her character seems to drift aimlessly through out the film. Directed by David Gladwell. With Nigel Hawthorne and Christopher Guard.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Barbarella (1968)

A female cosmonaut (Jane Fonda) is given an assignment by the President Of Earth (Claude Dauphin) to locate a scientist who has invented a weapon (though the universe has been at peace for centuries) that may have the power to start warfare again. All indications are that he has fled to an uncharted part of the galaxy. BARBARELLA is one of those films that didn't do well either critically or at the box office on its initial release but in the ensuing years has attracted a huge cult following and its influence on pop culture from the pop group Duran Duran to fashion (Jean Paul Gaultier) to name just two has been significant. I've been a fan of it since day one. It's a sci-fi Alice In Wonderland with Fonda's sensual yet innocent "Alice" taking an odyssey through a kinky and evil Wonderland. Though seven writers are credited for the script I'm assuming most of the film's wit is courtesy of Terry Southern (CANDY). Mario Garbuglia's clever production design, Paco Rabanne's costumes and Charles Fox's pop underscore all contribute to the film's kitschy fun but it's Fonda's first rate comedic timing that keeps the movie floating. Directed with an assured hand by Roger Vadim. With David Hemmings, John Phillip Law, Milo O'Shea, Marcel Marceau, Ugo Tognazzi and Anita Pallenberg (dubbed by Joan Greenwood).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Guest Wife (1945)

A foreign correspondent (Don Ameche) creates a fictional wife for himself to appease his boss (Charles Dingle). But when the boss insists on meeting the non existent wife, he borrows the wife (Claudette Colbert) of his best friend (Dick Foran) to pass off as his own. The premise of having a fake husband or wife has been used many times in film. Most recently, the Sandra Bullock comedy THE PROPOSAL comes to mind. This is an acceptable if middling comedy but it doesn't quite work because of the unpleasant implications. What kind of man loans his wife to his best friend? It doesn't help that Foran's character seems more concerned with the welfare of his best friend than he is with his wife or their marriage. She eventually gets her comedic revenge on them both but one can't help but wonder why she doesn't just leave both of the jerks as neither are worthy of her. Foran doesn't have a funny bone in his body which doesn't assist matters. Thank heavens for Colbert's expert timing and she plays the substandard material as if she were playing Noel Coward. Directed by Sam Wood (FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS). With Grant Mitchell and Wilma Francis. 

Apollo 13 (1995)

In 1970, NASA's third moon landing mission Apollo 13 is on its way to the moon when an explosion on the spacecraft destroys the oxygen supply and electrical power. Instead of a moon landing, the mission turns into a mission to get the astronauts home safely. I'm not a fan of director Ron Howard but this is probably his best film. It's no small feat to take a true story of which we all know the outcome yet keep the suspense quotient high enough so that we're on the edge of our seats. Based on the book LOST MOON: THE PERILOUS VOYAGE OF APOLLO 13 which was co-written by astronaut Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks in the film), Howard manages to keep the human element center stage while still keeping it scientifically accurate most of the time (I guess Howard didn't get the "there's no sound in space" memo). He's fortunate enough to have a stellar cast of actors who flesh out the often thinly written roles. In addition to Hanks (the most likable of actors), there's Ed Harris (Oscar nominated), Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Bill Paxton and Kathleen Quinlan (also Oscar nominated) who does miracles with that most dreary of roles, the waiting wife. Howard is not without some manipulation but there's no excuse for James Horner's shameless score. With Roger Corman and Xander Berkeley.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The 39 Steps (1935)

A Canadian visitor (Robert Donat) takes in a frightened woman (Lucie Mannheim) who claims to be a spy who has uncovered a plot to steal important military secrets. When she is murdered, he takes it upon himself to warn the proper authorities but it backfires on him and he finds himself on the run from the law. Based on the novel by John Buchan and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this smooth and affable spy thriller showcases the often impudent humor and suspense that define the term Hitchcockian. This was the film that began all those "wrong man on the run with an unwilling female" movies culminating perhaps with Hitchcock's own 1959 NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Donat is no Cary Grant but he's charming and has a nice chemistry with Madeleine Carroll, the archetypal Hitchcock blonde. It's not a film that should be scrutinized or the film's lack of logic will drive you batty but just enjoy the ride. With Peggy Ashcroft, John Laurie, Helen Haye, Elizabeth Inglis (Sigourney Weaver's mother) and Godfrey Tearle as the film's villain.

The River's Edge (1957)

A grifter (Ray Milland) on the run from the law travels to New Mexico and seeks out his old girlfriend (Debra Paget), now married to a rancher (Anthony Quinn). The con man coerces the rancher to guide him across the border to Mexico but the trek will prove deadly. The film career of the director Allan Dwan goes all the way back to 1911 (he directed the 1922 ROBIN HOOD with Douglas Fairbanks). In the 1950s, he directed some good to excellent low budget films produced by Benedict Bogeaus at RKO. This one (also produced by Bogeaus) is a 20th Century Fox film filmed in CinemaScope and it's a tight (it runs less than 90 minutes) crime adventure with noir-ish shading though it was filmed in color. Visually, Dwan nicely uses the colorful majestic Mexican landscape (shot by Harold Lipstein, HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS) as a contrast to the sordid triangle of the three protagonists. Milland, as he proved in DIAL M FOR MURDER, makes for a coldly calculated villain, Quinn is solid and Paget looks stunning in Technicolor. Her bright red hair can't help but conjure up images of Dwan's SLIGHTLY SCARLET which came out the year before and starred two redheads. There's a nice score by Louis Forbes. With Harry Carey Jr. and Chubby Johnson.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Force 10 From Navarone (1978)

After the success of their mission on the Greek island of Navarone, two survivors (Robert Shaw, Edward Fox) are sent on a mission to Yugoslavia to assassinate a traitor (Franco Nero) who has infiltrated the Yugoslavian partisans. 17 years after THE GUNS OF NAVARONE lit up the box office and got nominated for a best picture Oscar, this "sequel" emerged. I'm a huge fan of the 1961 film and this follow up is a betrayal of everything that the original was. GUNS is one of the best WWII action adventure movies and it had a point to make (how while war often brings out the braveness of men, it uses up courage that could be put to better use elsewhere). FORCE 10 is a routine WWII actioner that brings in some trite and anachronistic humor in an attempt to curry favor with a more cynical 70s mentality. The film even tosses in a black soldier (Carl Weathers) who is clearly 1978 rather than 1944. Sluggishly directed by Guy Hamilton. With Harrison Ford, Barbara Bach (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME), Alan Badel and Richard Kiel.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Girl Hunters (1963)

Since his girl Friday Velda went missing, the hard boiled detective Mike Hammer (Mickey Spillane) went on a drinking binge and is now a recovering alcoholic. His longtime friend (Scott Peters) on the police force asks him for his help on a case. Coincidentally, the case may lead him to discovering Velma's fate. In a rare case of a book's author playing his own creation, the writer Mickey Spillane plays Mike Hammer. Mike Hammer had been adapted for the screen several times (notably Aldrich's KISS ME DEADLY) and on TV where Darren McGavin played him. Spillane is no actor and his performance is rather amateurish but physically he looks the part. But as directed by Roy Rowland (HIT THE DECK), the film feels like a parody of hard boiled pulp fiction in spite of itself. The kind of writing that was spoofed in The Girl Hunt Ballet in Minnelli's THE BAND WAGON. The plot is confusing and never comes together and there's (no surprise) just the teeniest bit of misogyny ("I don't hit women, I kick them") in the narrative. With Lloyd Nolan, Shirley Eaton (GOLDFINGER) and Hy Gardner. 

Maps To The Stars (2014)

A young burn victim (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in L.A. from Florida. An aspiring actor/writer (Robert Pattinson) drives limos. A mean spirited teen star (Evan Bird) risks his career by doing drugs. A self help guru (John Cusack) doesn't practice what he preaches. An aging actress (Julianne Moore) is desperate to remake one of her mother's old movies. And the sins of the fathers (and mothers) are visited upon their children. Julianne Moore won the best actress award for MAPS at last year's Cannes film festival and it has already played the rest of the world but is only now opening in the U.S. If you're a fan of director David Cronenberg (and I am), this is pure Cronenberg. If you're not, you're probably going to have problems with it. This is a horror movie but its monsters are of the recognizable human kind. It's not an audience friendly film, it's the kind of "life is shit, then you die" movie that I love. A film about dysfunctional homicidal incest isn't going to play well at the mall. Julianne Moore gives an awesome kick ass performance mercifully free of the "Oscar bait" that marred her work in STILL ALICE. With Carrie Fisher, Olivia Williams, Dawn Greenhaigh, Jonathan Watton and Sarah Gadon.