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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sabotage (1936)

A quietly unobtrusive cinema owner (Oscar Homolka) lives quietly behind the theater with his younger wife (Sylvia Sidney) and her kid brother (Desmond Tester). What his young wife doesn't know however is that her husband is involved with terrorists. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock in his British period, this film doesn't seem to get the love that LADY VANISHES or THE 39 STEPS get but it's every bit as good. Loosely based on THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad, this is a superbly paced thriller. The two central performances by Homolka and Sidney are excellent and as in most of Hitchcock's classic films, there is a terrific set piece and this one has two. The suspenseful bus ride with a bomb ticking away and the dinner scene with Sidney and the knife. The film has always been somewhat controversial because of using the death of a child as a focal point and Hitchcock himself has said if he could do it over, he would change that sequence but it's in Conrad's book and it remains in the 1996 film version of Conrad's novel too. The film was not a success during its original run but the ensuing years have solidified its reputation. With John Loder, Martita Hunt, Peter Bull and Torin Thatcher. 

Marie Antoinette (1956)

The Queen of France (Michele Morgan) embarks on a (mostly) platonic romance with a Swedish Count (Richard Todd) while married to King Louis XVI (Jacques Morel). Incredibly dull. At its two hour running time, it seems more bloated than the 1938 MGM 2 1/2 roadshow with Norma Shearer as the Queen and Tyrone Power as her Swedish lover. It looks quite handsome with Pierre Montazel's Technicolor cinematography, Rene Renoux's luxurious production design and George K. Benda's sumptuous costume design but it's a tedious affair. Morgan still had her looks but she's far too old at this stage of her career to have played the young Queen. To the film's credit, it doesn't attempt a revisionist portrait of Marie Antoinette. She's more or less portrayed as a self centered, pleasure loving aristocrat more interested in new gowns than the welfare of her citizens. But how are we to sympathize with such a creature? The romance between the Queen and the Swede doesn't give off any sparks so we don't even get the pleasure of an old fashioned movie romance. Directed by Jean Delannoy. With Michel Piccoli, Jacques Bergerac and Marina Berti.  

Monday, January 30, 2017

Support Your Local Sheriff (1969)

A small town in Colorado thrives overnight when gold is found but the lawlessness is so bad that they can't keep a sheriff. He's either killed or runs away. Enter a drifter (James Garner) on his way to Australia and things are about to change. Directed by Burt Kennedy, this is an absolutely delightful western spoof. Maybe not as laugh out loud ridiculous as BLAZING SADDLES but sweetly good natured as it ribs the genre. By 1969, Sergio Leone had reinvented the western and Sam Peckinpah would soon turn it on its ear with THE WILD BUNCH so what was left but to parody it? But SUPPORT does so with affection rather than condescension. While its box office legs were wobbly at first, word of mouth made it a hit and eventually there was a sequel 2 years later, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER. The cast is impeccable with everyone in on the joke but thankfully no one over tips their hand. Joan Hackett is adorable as the feisty but clumsy heroine, Walter Brennan parodies the role he played in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE and western veteran Jack Elam just about walks off with the picture as the unwilling deputy (his double takes are hilarious). Also with Bruce Dern, Henry Jones, Harry Morgan, Kathleen Freeman, Gene Evans and Willis Bouchey.  

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Paterson (2016)

A week in the life of a bus driver (Adam Driver) in Paterson, New Jersey. He drives his bus, writes poetry, walks his English bulldog (Nellie), visits the local bar while encouraging his Indian girlfriend (Golshifteh Farahani) in her creative efforts. Directed by Jim Jarmusch, this plotless film may be trying for those who keep waiting for something to "happen" but if you're disposed to quiet movies about ordinary people living their lives, this is a lovely film. I'm not much of a Jarmusch fan but this movie slowly, very slowly, crept up on me and I ended up liking it a lot. Driver gives a wonderfully understated performance in contrast to Farahani's actressy performance as his ditzy girlfriend who can't decide if she wants to be a cupcake entrepreneur or a country and western singer. Indeed, I have to give kudos to casting directors Ellen Lewis and Meghan Rafferty who've filled every part with actors who look like real people as opposed to 8x10 glossy actor types. As Marvin, the late Nellie gives a scene stealing performance and the film dedicates the film in her memory.  

La Ciociara (aka Two Women) (1960)

Set in the last days of WWII, a young widow (Sophia Loren) and the daughter (Eleonora Brown) she dotes on leave Rome to escape the Allied bombing. They leave for the rural mountain province where the mother has family. But they can't escape the horrors of war, no matter where they go. Based on the novel by Alberto Moravia and directed by Vittorio De Sica. War movies that aim to show the horror that is war usually focus on the battlefield where we're treated to soldiers killing and being killed, stuff like ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. De Sica's film is about the innocents caught in the morass of a war they most likely didn't want in the first place and the mother and daughter's story packs a punch and brings it all painfully home. Loren, who won the best actress Oscar for her performance, was around 26 and younger than the character she's playing (Anna Magnani was originally cast) but she once and for all proved that she was more than just an international sex symbol. A poignant and devastating film experience. With Jean Paul Belmondo, Raf Vallone and Renato Salvatori. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

7th Cavalry (1956)

A Captain (Randolph Scott) in the 7th Cavalry returns with his fiancee (Barbara Hale) to Fort Abraham Lincoln only to find it near deserted. It is then he finds out about the massacre at the Battle Of The Little Big Horn in which General George Custer and his 700 men were defeated in battle. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis (THE BIG COMBO), this is a routine western with little of interest outside of die hard western buffs. Most notable is the film's attempt to whitewash Custer's actions leading up to and during Little Big Horn's face off. The film portrays him as a hero and any attempt to cast aspersions on his reputation are quickly shot down. The film does have one startling moment when an Indian dismisses Christianity as superstition, I wonder how well that went down with 1956 audiences. Very little action really and a mostly talky western. With Jeanette Nolan, Jay C. Flippen, Frank Faylen, Russell Hicks, Michael Pate and Harry Carey Jr.  

Dave (1993)

When the President of the U.S. (Kevin Kline) has a massive stroke during a sexual encounter with his mistress (Laura Linney), the Chief of Staff (Frank Langella) arranges for a lookalike (Kevin Kline) to take his place and continue to implement his policies. But things don't quite turn out that way. Directed by Ivan Reitman (GHOSTBUSTERS), this is a lovely fantasy about the "little man" who finds himself placed in extraordinary circumstances by cynical and manipulative forces and turns against them. It's a very Capraesque scenario, think MEET JOHN DOE,  but although I'm no fan of Capra, I liked DAVE. Yes, it's an incredibly far fetched and unlikely story line but it taps into a caprice all Americans have about actually having a voice in a corrupt government. I do wish the film makers hadn't made Kline's Dave so simple minded. I'm not a fan of the "childlike fools have better insight" school of film making. But that's nitpicking. This is a real charmer of a movie and would make a great double bill with THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT. The large cast includes Sigourney Weaver as the first lady, Ben Kingsley, Charles Grodin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ving Rhames, Faith Prince, Kevin Dunn, Bonnie Hunt, Sarah Marshall and Anna Deavere Smith.   

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Bad Girl (1931)

A model (Sally Eilers) who thinks all men are on the make finds herself attracted to a man (James Dunn, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN) who won't giver her a tumble. They eventually marry but a series of misunderstandings threaten to derail the marriage. Based on the novel and play by Vina Delmar, director Frank Borzage won his second Oscar for BAD GIRL (it also got a best picture nomination) but it's really not one of his best films. The title is a misnomer. Eilers isn't a bad girl at all and the film's provocative poster suggests a far more salacious movie than it is. The majority of the film's running time is devoted to misunderstandings between Eilers and Dunn about what each wants out of the relationship. Watching it, all one can think is that if they would only just talk to each other, the air would be cleared and everything would take care of itself. But then, of course, there would be no movie, would there? The movie may be a pre-code production but the film itself is considerably cleaned up from the book (dealing with pre-marital sex and pregnancy) which was considered so risque that it was banned in Boston. With Minna Gombell as the wisecracking best friend.

Suddenly (1954)

In a small California town, the President of the United States is scheduled to make a quick stop before moving on to Los Angeles. A hired assassin (Frank Sinatra) and his gang (Christopher Dark, Paul Frees) invade a small hilltop home and hold the family hostage while awaiting the President's arrival. The assassin's target is the President and the home provides the perfect view to a kill. Directed by Lewis Allen (THE UNINVITED), this tight "B" thriller has grown into quite the cult film in the ensuing years since its release, almost to the point of being overrated. It's a gripping and economical (it runs 1 hour, 17 minutes) noir-ish suspense film that keeps you on the edge. As the hit man, Sinatra delivers a solid performance that keeps the focal point where it belongs. I'm a bit ambiguous about the film's attitude toward guns. The mother (Nancy Gates, SOME CAME RUNNING) is anti-guns and refuses to let her little boy (Kim Charney) play with guns but in the end, it's guns that save the day. I suspect it's a film the NRA would approve of. Other than that, a sturdy piece of entertainment. With Sterling Hayden, James Gleason and Willis Bouchey.    

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Change Of Habit (1969)

Three nuns (Mary Tyler Moore, Barbara McNair, Jane Elliot) are involved in an experimental community outreach program by a diocese of the Catholic church. However, they choose to wear secular clothing so their vocation won't impede them. But this causes misunderstanding, especially when a young doctor (Elvis Presley) falls for one of the nuns (Moore). Directed by William A. Graham, this is an updated version of those awful Bing Crosby priest movies from the 1940s. Only this time, the crooner is Elvis and Mary Tyler Moore (who passed away this week) dons Ingrid Bergman's habit. It's updated, of course, though I remain perplexed  that a film featuring an attempted rape of a nun got a "G" rating! This was Presley's last film as an actor but really, he'd just stopped caring at this point and his "performance" consists of expressionless reciting of lines. The most interesting character and story line are Barbara McNair's as the black nun who must question using her habit to hide from the realities of where she came from and her place in an emerging world of black power. Moore was trying to transition from TV to films at this stage of her career but with material like this, it was never going to happen. With Edward Asner, Leora Dana, Richard Carlson, Ruth McDevitt, Regis Toomey, Robert Emhardt and Darlene Love.

The Wild One (1953)

A motorcycle gang rides into a small California town and it isn't long before the bikers and the citizens clash. But the charismatic biker leader (Marlon Brando) finds himself drawn to the small town girl (Mary Murphy) working in the local diner. Based on THE CYCLISTS' RAID, a short story by Frank Rooney which was in turn based on an actual incident. In 1947, thousands of bikers descended into a small California town called Hollister and riots and destruction ensued. Directed by Laslo Benedek but produced by Stanley Kramer, so we get the cautionary moralizing that's typical of his product. Like most topical films, THE WILD ONE hasn't aged well and its "juvenile delinquents" come across as almost a satire (Gene Kelly did parody the film in LES GIRLS). But the film does have its moments, there's the iconic line: "What are you rebelling against?" "What have you got?". But there's a reason the film is highly watchable even today and that's Marlon Brando. It's as much an iconic performance of misunderstood youth as James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Brando's tough bravado masking the boy looking for affection underneath. Brando turned film acting on its ear and it's all on display here. I seriously doubt if we would be talking about the film today if Robert Wagner or Jeffrey Hunter played the lead. With Lee Marvin, Robert Keith, Jay C. Flippen, Peggy Maley, Timothy Carey, Ray Teal and Yvonne Doughty.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Maybe I'll Come Home In The Spring (1971)

A disillusioned young runaway teen (Sally Field) returns to her middle class home after spending a year away at a "hippie" commune. But things haven't changed at all and she finds herself between a rock and a hard place. Directed by Joseph Sargent (TAKING OF PELHAM 123), this made for TV film is one tough little cookie of a movie and takes no prisoners. The film doesn't see the alternative lifestyle of the hippie community as an answer and it portrays them as lazy thieving parasites eating out of garbage cans, promiscuous sex and drug taking. But the "squares" are portrayed as uptight monsters, boozing and wife swapping and refusing to even understand their kids. See what I mean by between a rock and a hard place? The telefilm doesn't give us any pat answers or any hope for that matter. Everyone points to SYBIL as the beginning of Field's maturity as an actress but really, she already shows her acting chops here. Perhaps not fully developed but clearly ready. The cinematography by Russell Metty (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS) is a far cry from his work with Sirk. Plain and rather ugly but I take that as an intentional reflection of the conventional and restrictive lifestyle it portrays. With Eleanor Parker and Jackie Cooper as the parents, David Carradine and Lane Bradford.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Easy Living (1949)

The star halfback (Victor Mature) of a New York football team discovers that he has a heart condition and it could be fatal if he continues to play professional football. But his social climbing wife (Lizabeth Scott) likes being married to a football hero and she's not ready to become Mrs. Nobody. Directed by Jacques Tourneur (CAT PEOPLE). I'm not a big fan of sports movies but the film focuses on the dark side of professional football, the politics and the money rather than the cheering crowds. Pauline Kael once referred to Jane Russell as a female Victor Mature and said that one would have to work hard to dislike them. They're not great actors (and they know it) but they're pros and so unpretentious in their "acting" that we don't really care. Which is a roundabout way of saying that Mature not so much gives a performance as takes space up on the screen and that's okay with me. He gives the movie what it needs and who can ask for more. Granted, Lizabeth Scott is playing a self centered bitch but I still think the film makers are rather cruel in her "comeuppance". With Lucille Ball as the team secretary secretly in love with Mature, Lloyd Nolan, Sonny Tufts, Jeff Donnell, Paul Stewart and Audrey Young (who would soon become Mrs. Billy Wilder) who sings the title song.

I'll Take Sweden (1965)

When his teenage daughter (Tuesday Weld) falls for a high school dropout (Frankie Avalon), a single father (Bob Hope) accepts a position in Sweden and takes his daughter with him in the hopes she'll forget the boy. But the sexually free atmosphere of Sweden makes him realize his daughter's in more danger than she ever was in the States. After a strong run of movie comedies in the 40s and 50s; in the 1960s, Bob Hope found himself struggling to remain relevant. This anemic comedy flirts with pre-marital sex and those sex hungry Swedes but in the end, it opts for the wholesome American moral values. No one had better comic timing than Hope but even he can't turn the weak quips into anything resembling wit. In the kind of part that even Sandra Dee had outgrown, Weld is wasted and Avalon just does another riff on his BEACH PARTY roles. "Sweden" looks suspiciously like Southern California so we don't even get the benefit of on location Swedish landscapes. For Hope completists only. Directed by Frederick De Cordova. With Dina Merrill, Jeremy Slate, Rosemarie Franland, Eleanor Audley and John Qualen.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Julieta (2016)

A woman (Emma Suarez) is estranged from her daughter for almost 12 years. A chance encounter on the street with the daughter's one time best friend (Michelle Jenner) sets her to reflect on how she met the child's father (Daniel Grao) and the circumstances leading to the estrangement. After the slightly amusing but highly forgettable I'M SO EXCITED (2013), director Pedro Almodovar is in top form again! Very loosely based on some short stories from RUNAWAY by Alice Munro, Almodovar's film touches on a variety of subjects: pain, loss, mourning, guilt, lonlieness, communication and misunderstanding among them. The Sirk influence is still there but very muted, melodrama desaturated. The performances of the two lead actresses, Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte playing a younger version of Suarez, are excellent and so seamless that for a few minutes I didn't notice the transition of one actress to the other. Rich in detail, splendidly lensed by Jean Claude Larrieu and a fine underscore by Alberto Iglesias, you won't find any of Almodovar's humor, subtle or otherwise here. It's a rather somber affair but Almodovar retains his position as one of international cinema's premier filmmakers. With Rossy De Palma, Inma Cuesta and Dario Grandinetti.

Taxi Driver (1976)

A lonely and depressed 26 year old ex-Marine (Robert De Niro) with chronic insomnia takes a job driving a cab all night. When his attempts to reach out to a pretty political campaign worker (Cybill Shepherd) is a failure, he decides to rescue a 12 year old prostitute (Jodie Foster). It's difficult to describe the powerful impact certain films had when they opened to people who weren't there. PSYCHO (1960) comes to mind, LAST TANGO IN PARIS of course and absolutely Martin Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER is another. Certainly the graphic violent content (Scorsese had to desaturate the color of the bloodbath that ends the film in order to get an R rating) pushed the envelope, the relationship of the child prostitute and her pimp would have a hard time making it to the screen today. And no one was prepared for De Niro's stunning performance, so raw and visceral that he made his character of Travis Bickle into an iconic figure of 70s cinema. Amazingly, nearly 40 years later, the film has lost none of its power and Bickle's genuinely frightening skewered mindset seems as topical today as ever! The word masterpiece is overused and thrown around so much at good but hardly masterpiece movies that it hardly seems relevant anymore. That being said, TAXI DRIVER is a masterpiece. And mention must be made of Bernard Herrmann's brilliant score. With Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, Diahnne Abbott and Leonard Harris.   

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Teckman Mystery (1954)

A crime novelist (John Justin) is commissioned by his publisher (Raymond Huntley) to write the biography of a test pilot (Michael Medwin) who died while testing a new plane. But when he suddenly receives a job offer that would make him postpone the book, his apartment is ransacked and people involved in Teckman's story start turning up dead ... he begins to suspect someone doesn't want this book written! Directed by Wendy Toye, one of Britain's rare woman directors. This cold war thriller may be second tier but if you're a sucker for mysteries (as I am), it proves to be a diverting puzzle. The mystery's resolution is a bit muddled and the final confrontation rings false but I suspect the film makers painted themselves into a corner and wanted to go out with a splash (literally). John Justin (1940's THIEF OF BAGDAD) is a rather dull leading man but fortunately there's Margaret Leighton as the pilot's sister who brings a quiet authority and necessary ambiguity to her role. With Roland Culver and George Coulouris.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Damien: Omen II (1978)

Since the death of his parents, a 12 year old boy (Jonathan Scott Taylor) has been in the care of his uncle (William Holden) and his second wife (Lee Grant). The circumstances regarding his parents' deaths were suspicious and as he approaches his teen years, he will soon discover who he really is. This sequel to the huge hit THE OMEN (1976) is, like most sequels, a pale imitation of the original. The original may not have been a great film but it was focused on its tight narrative and didn't have time for any distractions and it provided a genuine sense of horror and doom. DAMIEN spreads itself too thin with unnecessary characters and its grisly deaths are just that ..... grisly without any sense of true horror. The leads (Holden, Grant) are underwritten and just aren't as interesting as Gregory Peck and Lee Remick were in the first movie. It doesn't help that Scott-Taylor as Damien is about as malevolent as a tepid drink of water. Even Jerry Goldsmith's score (the first won got him an Oscar) seems tired. There is is one compelling sequence with Lew Ayres trapped under a frozen river and the film could have used more moments like that. With Sylvia Sidney, Leo McKern, Robert Foxworth, Lance Henriksen, Ian Hendry, Nicolas Pryor and Elizabeth Shepherd (TOMB OF LIGEIA). 

El Amor Brujo (1986)

A man (Antonio Gades) is wrongfully sent to prison for killing the husband (Juan Antonio Jimenez) of the woman (Cristina Hoyos) he's loved all his life. When he returns, he attempts to rekindle that love and she's willing but the ghost of the husband literally stands in their way. Based on the 1915 ballet by Manuel de Falla and directed by Carlos Saura. This is my favorite of the three flamenco musicals directed by Saura. Saura and Gades have added dialog to the ballet to give it a more cinematic narrative but dance (choreographed by Gades) is always at the forefront. The film is highly stylized and Saura sets the film on an obvious sound stage with makeshift shacks where the dance drama is played out. The film's musical highlight is the spellbinding Ritual Fire Dance beautifully danced by Hoyos and company. Special note must be made of Gerardo Vera's colorful art direction and costumes which only add to the mystic quality of the whole enterprise. With Laura Del Sol (THE HIT).  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Our Man In Marrakesh (1966)

Six passengers board an airport bus from Casablanca to Marrakesh. One of them is a diplomatic courier carrying $2 million to a local man (Herbert Lom) who has some secret documents for sale. No one, not even the documents seller, knows who the courier is. But when one of the passengers (Tony Randall) finds a dead body in his hotel room, it's just the beginning of a cat and mouse game and chase as he and a beautiful journalist (Senta Berger) go on the run. Directed by Don Sharp (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE), this is one of the more enjoyable 1960s international spy spoofs although the film's last 10 minutes are positively lame. As the innocent American who finds himself in the middle of a spy caper, Randall is efficient but one wishes he had more chemistry with the lovely Berger. A more unlikely romance is hard to imagine but then, Randall was never at his best as a leading man, he was a character actor at heart. But there's no getting around that Hitchcock did this kind of thing better (THE 39 STEPS, NORTH BY NORTHWEST). On the plus side, the Moroccan locations are nicely lensed by Michael Reed (ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE). With Terry Thomas, Wilfrid Hyde White, Klaus Kinski, Gregoire Aslan, Margaret Lee, Burt Kwouk and John Le Mesurier.

The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)

A mathematics professor (Jeff Bridges) has been burned too often in relationships and he blames that on the sex. So he seeks a relationship based on friendship and respect and no sex. Enter an English literature professor (Barbra Streisand) and they're off to the races. But how long can a loveless, sexless relationship work? Loosely based on the 1958 Andre Cayatte film LE MIROIR A DEUX FACES and directed by Streisand. The premise is intriguing and the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese (THE FISHER KING) isn't bad at all but I wish Streisand had just directed and cast another actress in the lead role so it didn't come across as such a vanity project. Streisand's Rose is supposed to be a lovable quirky character but when her mother (Lauren Bacall in an Oscar nominated performance) says, "You need a therapist", I'm inclined to agree. Amazingly, Bridges manages to not let Streisand hog the show and it's rather nice to see him as a romantic leading man instead of the recent grizzled rural types he's concentrated on lately. Streisand also miscalculates her character's "makeover". Sure there's a new hairdo and she wears high heels but there isn't a hell of a difference between the before and after. I suppose it sounds like disliked the film but I didn't. I just wish it weren't so Cinderella formulaic. There's a wonderful underscore by Marvin Hamlisch and Streisand. With Pierce Brosnan, George Segal, Brenda Vaccaro, Mimi Rogers, Elle Macpherson, Austin Pendleton, Taina Elg and Leslie Stefanson. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

The life and times of Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell), the great American showman, and the women in his life and the stars he made. Its Oscar win as the best picture of 1936 is a real head-scratcher today. At an over 3 hour running time (including an overture and intermission), the film is quite bloated and I suppose the Academy and audiences of the the day were intimidated by all the spectacle. It's an art director's and costume designer's movie. But man, is it ever a slog to get through. This movie just drags! Like most biopics of the era, there's very little truth in the telling. The production numbers are lavish but does anyone want to see a ballet featuring trained dogs and horses with the dancers hopping over the dutiful pooches? There are some compensations. We get to see the great Fanny Brice sing My Man, there's Luise Rainer in a lovely Oscar winning performance as the first Mrs. Ziegfeld and there's a clever production number with chorus girls dancing on moving beds. But for the most part, it's a lumbering movie that eventually topples over under the weight of all that spectacle. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. With Myrna Loy as the actress Billie Burke, the second Mrs. Ziegfeld, although she doesn't come in until the movie's last 45 minutes. Also with Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Virginia Bruce, Nat Pendleton and A.A. Trimble doing a spot on Will Rogers. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Sleeping Tiger (1954)

After a petty criminal (Dirk Bogarde) attempts to rob a renowned psychiatrist (Alexander Knox) and fails, he's given the option of going to jail or submitting to a rehabilitation experiment at the psychiatrist's hands. This necessitates moving into the doctor's home. But the doctor didn't count on his wife (Alexis Smith) and the thug falling in love. Directed by Joseph Losey in Great Britain, who used a pseudonym since he'd just been blacklisted in America. I found the film to be disturbing in its attitude and borderline misogynistic. Bogarde's thug is a bully, a liar and a thief and Knox's psychiatrist comes across as an enabler who excuses his bad behavior because the criminal had a bad childhood. Meanwhile, he ignores his wife to devote his time to the young man. In the end, the men emerge unscathed while Smith's (going all Joan Crawford on us!) wife is turned into a "hell hath no fury" shrew. Having expended all their empathy for the two men, the film makers have none left and make her the villain. It just left a bad aftertaste in my mouth. With Billie Whitelaw, Hugh Griffith and Maxine Audley.   

The Boatniks (1970)

A bumbling ensign (Robert Morse) takes command of a U.S. Coast Guard vessel in San Diego, California. Three equally bumbling jewel thieves (Phil Silvers, Norman Fell, Mickey Shaughnessy) plot to use a boat that will get them and their stolen loot to Mexico. But a pretty local girl (Stefanie Powers) working at the docks is very suspicious of the three men. Directed by Norman Tokar, the film screams out "1970s live action Disney family comedy!". Instead of Dean Jones, we get Morse but they're interchangeable. The film's idea of laughs are people falling overboard, cans of paint spilling on people, boats colliding and Wally Cox as a chick magnet. The most amusing thing about the film remains the title's play on beatniks. When Don Ameche as a Coast Guard commander says, "It's the old Conrad Veidt trick!", one has to wonder if the parents in the audience, much less the 11 year olds, knew who Veidt was. Morse and Silvers give it the old college try and they're professionals and this was the bland kind of roles Powers was stuck with until HART TO HART rescued her. Still, the film was enough of a hit that Disney rereleased theatrically 7 years later. With Vito Scotti, Al Lewis and Florence Halop.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Another Part Of The Forest (1948)

Set in post Civil War Alabama, the tyrannical patriarch (Fredric March) of the Hubbard family rules his household with an iron fist. But his spawn, two sons (Edmond O'Brien, Dan Duryea) and a daughter (Ann Blyth), plot behind his back to wrest control away from their father. Based on the play by Lillian Hellman, this is actually a prequel to her earlier stage success THE LITTLE FOXES and the play and film gives us the backstory of the conniving vipers of FOXES in their youth. While it lacks the richness and structure of Hellman's earlier play, FOREST proves to be entertaining in its own right. It's interesting to see the young Regina (Bette Davis in the 1941 film, Ann Blyth here) start off as a spoiled brat and slowly emerge into a cold money hungry manipulator that would reach its apotheosis in FOXES. But while Regina may be the focus of FOXES, in FOREST it's the battle of wills between father (March) and son (O'Brien) for control that takes center stage. Directed by Michael Gordon (PILLOW TALK), it's a compelling companion to FOXES. With Betsy Blair as Birdie, which is inspired casting as I can easily see her morphing into Patricia Collinge in FOXES. Also with John Dall, Dona Drake and as the mother horrified by her offspring, Florence Eldridge. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Neon Signs (1996)

Abandoned by his mother (Carrie Pagano) at a motel as a child (Tom Ashley), an 18 year old boy (Matt Dotson) has been raised by the motel owner (Vivienne Maloy). When the motel owner dies, the naive boy accidentally falls in with two aging, gun toting party girls (Carol Lynley, Barbara McNair) and their partner in crime (William Smith). Directed by Marc Kolbe, this low budget "B" movie has an interesting narrative but the screenplay by Lazar Saric is unable to provide the necessary finesse that would elevate it to anything beyond a straight to video package. Dotson's young boy is meant to resemble Voltaire's Candide, a naive innocent in a corrupt world but the way Dotson plays him, he comes across as mentally challenged. The three old pros (Lynley, McNair, Smith) may look rough and may have seen better days but they bring an inner life to their characters not necessarily in the script. There's a weary acceptance to Smith's performance while Lynley and McNair are quite amusing as delusional broads who think they still "have it". Given a rewrite by a good script doctor, a remake might not be a bad thing especially since I doubt anyone has seen this movie anyway. 

Passengers (2016)

A starship is transporting 5,000 colonists to a new planet. As the journey will take 120 years, the passengers are placed in hibernation chambers. However, something goes wrong and one of the passengers (Chris Pratt) is awakened from hibernation 90 years too soon. With only an android (Michael Sheen) for company, he debates doing a highly unethical (in fact, immoral) act and thus the stage is set. Directed by Morten Tyldum (THE IMITATION GAME), near the halfway mark I began thinking about GRAVITY (2013) and wishing I was watching it, not a good sign when you're watching another movie. I bring up GRAVITY because there are some similarities except that GRAVITY is a contemporary sci-fi masterwork. PASSENGERS is not. At best, it's a space romance with a little action thrown in to wake us up at the end. Pratt's character lost all my respect by an unconscionable act and all my empathy went toward Jennifer Lawrence as another passenger. Lawrence and Pratt are such likable actors with a real presence that they make the film's rough spots easier to endure. With Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Suna No Onna (aka Woman In The Dunes) (1964)

A school teacher (Eiji Okada, HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR) spends his time off exploring the sand dunes near the sea. When he misses the last bus, the local villagers find lodgings for him with a young widow (Kyoko Kishida) who lives at the bottom of a sand dune. But the morning after, he finds himself a prisoner trapped at the bottom with the woman and no way out. Based on the book by Kobo Abe (who adapts his novel for the screen) and directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara (who received an Oscar nomination for his work here), this is the kind of bold and provocative avant garde film making that stimulated art house audiences in the 1960s.  20 minutes were cut from the U.S. release at the time which have since been restored. The film does seem overly long but an argument can be made that the film's excess length only helps the audience feel the tedium of the protagonists monotonous day to day existence. As an allegory, some of the symbolism may be a bit too obvious. Like Okada's hobby of collecting insects and putting them in jars for observation, only to find himself in a similar position. The atonal score by Toru Takemitsu contributes immeasurably to the unsettling situation.

Carnal Knowledge (1971)

Beginning in the late 1940s and going through the 1960s, two friends' (Jack Nicholson, Art Garfunkel) lives are played out through their relationship with women. Directed by Mike Nichols from an original screenplay (though originally written as a play) by Jules Feiffer, this was a controversial and startlingly frank film when it opened in 1971. In 1972, it was seized from a theater in Georgia and its manager jailed for distributing "obscene material" and the case went all the way up the Supreme Court where it was declared not obscene and Georgia had overstepped its bounds. While its frankness has lost some of its edge in 2017, it still remains a potent examination of male misogyny as its two protagonists simply don't get it and view women through hostile sexual attitudes. Although Garfunkel's character is somewhat more enlightened, he remains essentially a sexist. The acting is impeccable. Nicholson was on a streak in the 1970s and this remains one of his 4 or 5 all time best performances though if anyone steals the film, it's Ann-Margret as the pathetic model who finds her life going down the drain during her toxic relationship with Nicholson. With Candice Bergen (finally showing her acting chops), Rita Moreno, Carol Kane and Cynthia O'Neal.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Steaming (1985)

A disparate group of women from different classes in society gather together at a rather shabby rundown Turkish bathhouse. They include a well off divorcee (Vanessa Redgrave), a high powered attorney (Sarah Miles), a topless dancer (Patti Love), a sheltered girl (Felicity Dean) and her mother (Brenda Bruce) as well as the bathhouse manager (Diana Dors). When they hear the news that the bathhouse is being shut down, they decide to do something about it. Based on the play by Nell Dunn that was a hit in London but flopped on Broadway, this was the final film of both the director Joseph Losey (THE SERVANT) and Diana Dors. I've not read the play but based on the movie version, I can understand why it tanked on Broadway. It's a dialog driven piece with the actresses in various states of undress but not even nudity can help when the dialog is this trivial. I don't think I've seen the great Vanessa Redgrave give a worse performance though she's not as bad as Patti Love's cacophonous character. By the time I was finally getting into it, the film only had 20 minutes to go before the end. Losey's direction seems limp so along with Redgrave's performance, I'll chalk it up to their lack of enthusiasm for the material though Dors manages to emerge unscathed in a rather touching performance.

Three Hours To Kill (1954)

A cowboy (Dana Andrews) is accused of murder and a lynch mob attempts to hang him. He escapes but the rope has left an indelible scar on his neck as well as his psyche. Three years later, he returns to town to confront the lynch mob's leaders, find the real killer and seek out the woman (Donna Reed) he loved. The 1950s were truly the "golden age" of westerns. While many notable directors (John Ford, William Wyler, Elia Kazan, Fred Zinnemann etc.) and stars made major films in the genre, minor western programmers proliferated and audiences ate them up. Most of the programmers are forgettable but many are better than some of the "A" efforts and this tale of revenge is very good. Directed by Alfred L. Werker (HE LIVED BY NIGHT), this is a fast paced and lean (its running time is 1 hour, 17 minutes) oater that doesn't outstay its welcome. As far as revenge westerns go, it's above average and the real killer's identity took me by surprise. Western buffs should seek it out but even non western film fans should find it modest entertainment. With the undervalued Dianne Foster (my favorite character in the film), Carolyn Jones, Richard Webb, Stephen Elliott, James Westerfield, Richard Coogan and Whit Bissell.   

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Rape Of Richard Beck (1985)

An arrogant and insensitive cop (Richard Crenna) often ignores procedure and acts on his own. Victims of violent crime take a backseat to his own "rules". But when he's off duty and decides to bust two thugs (Nicolas Worth, M.C. Gainey), the tables are turned when they take his revolver away from him and beat and rape him. With his world turned upside down, he must re-evaluate his mindset. The subject of male rape is rarely, if ever, the focus of a film. Usually, it's incidental as in DELIVERANCE or I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD. Unfortunately, this was made for TV and it plays out like a TV movie. It's weakly written and certainly its portrayal of police is one dimensional. All the cops in the movie are neanderthal, crude types. If they had only balanced it with at least one sensitive and normal policeman, it might have gone a long way in at least appearing to be realistic. As a movie, it might do some good as mandated viewing for sensitivity training for police. But what is genuinely good, better than good actually, is Richard Crenna's performance. Crenna is one of those generic TV actors (like David Janssen, John Forsythe or James Franciscus) who seemed to thrive on TV but never quite seeming to belong on the big screen. Here, Crenna gives a beautifully modulated performance far above the material he's given and gives an indication that he's a far better actor than he's credited with. Directed by Karen Arthur. With Meredith Baxter, Pat Hingle, George Dzundza, Frances Lee McCain and Joanna Kerns.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Doctor X (1932)

A mad murderer known as the "full moon killer", who eats the flesh of his victims, terrorizes a metropolitan city. The suspects are narrowed down to the staff of a medical research facility. The head (Lionel Atwill) of the institute decides to conduct experiments among his staff to expose the killer but this puts his daughter (Fay Wray) in danger. Directed by Michael Curtiz in the early two strip Technicolor process. This pre-code (cannibalism and there's a scene in a brothel) mixture of horror and science fiction more than creaks a bit but that only increases its charm. The second half of the film takes place in one of those huge secluded cliff side mansions on a dark and stormy night, a perfect setting for the hysteria that follows. Wray can lay claim to being the original "scream queen" though she only gets to exercise her lungs once or twice here. Unfortunately, the killer is pretty obvious which takes away from any possible suspense the movie may have but luckily the cast of stock types emote as if their lives depended on it including Lee Tracy doing his patented fast talking reporter bit. With Preston Foster, Harry Beresford, John Wray, Arthur Edmund Carewe and Leila Bennett. 

The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

While touring Spain with a film director (Humphrey Bogart) and a public relations man (Edmond O'Brien in an Oscar winning performance), a wealthy millionaire (Warren Stevens) dabbling in the movie business discovers a flamenco dancer (Ava Gardner). With the help of the director, she will soon become a world famous movie star. But it's not fame and fortune she's seeking. Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, this roman a clef (Rita Hayworth is the template) doesn't have the acidic wit of Mankiewicz's other show business movie ALL ABOUT EVE. It's darker in tone and while it skewers Hollywood and the film industry, there's not much affection shown for that world as there was for Broadway in EVE. But in perhaps her most iconic role, Gardner dazzles as she inhabits the free living independent actress constantly searching for that elusive thing called love. Unfortunately when she finds it, it's anything but happily ever after. If you know someone who doesn't "get" Ava Gardner, this is the movie to show them. Handsomely shot by the great Jack Cardiff (THE RED SHOES) in Italy (even the Hollywood sequences) who does the exterior locations justice as well as Gardner, looking stunning in her Fontana frocks. With Rossano Brazzi, Valentina Cortese, Marius Goring, Elizabeth Sellars, Mari Aldon, Bessie Love, Gertrude Flynn and Franco Interlenghi (SHOESHINE).  

The 3 Worlds Of Gulliver (1960)

A poor English doctor (Kerwin Mathews) is at odds with his fiancee (June Thorburn). He wants to travel the world and seek his fortune while she wants him to stay and enjoy the comforts of home. He accepts the job of a ship's physician but during a storm, he falls overboard and finds himself washed on the shores of Lilliput, a land of tiny human beings where he is a giant! Loosely based on the classic satire GULLIVER'S TRAVELS by Jonathan Swift and adapted for the screen and directed by Jack Sher. While fans of Swift's novel may be irritated by the "dumbing down" of the book to a fantasy adventure, the novel is treated with dignity and enough of Swift's ideas are still retained to make the film work for grown ups while youngsters can enjoy the fantasy element. Special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen doesn't get to do anything as fantastic as the skeleton fight in 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD or the Hydra in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, his work here is mostly limited to the alligator and squirrel stop motion models. I much prefer it to the animated 1939 Max Fleischer feature film. The masterful score is by Bernard Herrmann. With Jo Morrow, Lee Patterson, Gregoire Aslan, Martin Benson and Basil Sydney.  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Sitting Pretty (1948)

When a young mother (Maureen O'Hara) has trouble keeping a nanny because of her three rambunctious boys, she advertises in a national magazine. When she accepts an application, she is shocked when the new nanny arrives ..... he's a guy (Clifton Webb)! Based on the novel BELVEDERE by Gwen Davenport and directed by Walter Lang (THE KING AND I), this proved to be a turning point in Webb's career. Prior to this film, Webb had been in darker dramas like LAURA and THE RAZOR'S EDGE and his acerbic tongue was used more venomously. This was his first movie comedy and his deadpan delivery still had a sting but it wasn't as mean spirited and proved the perfect antidote to the wholesomeness surrounding him. Not only did he receive his only Oscar nomination but he became a bona fide box office star. His character was popular enough to spawn two more films with him playing the character of Belvedere. It's a comedy but it still has something to say about mindless small town gossip and its damaging effects. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a classic comedy but it's quite fun! With Robert Young as the husband, Richard Haydn as the neighborhood gossip, Ed Begley, Louise Allbritton, John Russell and Cara Williams.  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Murder Of Sherlock Holmes (1984)

A recent small town widow (Angela Lansbury) writes a murder mystery to pass the time. Without her knowledge, her nephew (Michael Horton) submits the novel to a publishing house. To her surprise, the book becomes a huge best seller and she finds herself an instant celebrity. When her publisher (Arthur Hill) invites her to his posh country estate for a costume party, things turn ugly when a murdered body turns up in the pool and she finds that writing about murder and confronting a real murder is a very different thing. Back in the "old days", TV networks would make full length movies as either a pilot (if it got ratings, it got greenlighted) or a way of introducing a forthcoming TV series. THE MURDER OF SHERLOCK HOLMES heralded the introduction of Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher and the show that followed MURDER SHE WROTE ran for 11 years! As expected, the telefilm plays out like an extended episode of the show but the extra length allows time for a little more character developments like the mutual attraction between the author and her publisher that appears headed for a romantic involvement. As for the mystery itself, it's cleverly done and Lansbury's Fletcher is such an ingratiating presence (like a more sophisticated Miss Marple) that it's quite easy to see why viewers were entranced for 11 years. Directed by Corey Allen (he played James Dean's rival in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE). With Andy Garcia, Anne Francis, Brian Keith, Ned Beatty, Raymond St. Jacques, Richard Erdman and Billie Hayes.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Courtship Of Eddie's Father (1963)

A recently widowed father (Glenn Ford) finds that his young son (Ron Howard) isn't adjusting well to the death of his mother. When he begins courting a socialite (Dina Merrill), the boy's resentment takes center stage. Based on the novel by Mark Toby and directed by Vincente Minnelli. For the most part, this is a charming and amusing family film (in the best sense of the term). One of the great visual stylists of the medium, Minnelli gives the film a bright and vivid palette from the decor to the Helen Rose costumes on the film's three leading ladies (Shirley Jones and Stella Stevens are the other two). What's troubling about the film is the child's interference in his father's life and how it plays out. His dislike of Merrill's character is irrational, she has "skinny eyes" and while a child should take precedence in a parent's life, the film seems to just accept his senseless prejudice rather than make an attempt to correct it. The fact that Merrill's character (who doesn't really have skinny eyes) is brunette whiles Shirley Jones' character is blonde brings an unintentional undertone of racism (her hair is dark and "skinny eyes" can be seen as an Asian trait). The film's bright spot is Stella Stevens whose drum solo is a highpoint of the film. Made into a popular TV series in 1969. With Roberta Sherwood, Jerry Van Dyke and Lee Meriwether.

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)

The mysterious and reclusive chocolate manufacturer Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) hides five golden tickets in his candy bars. The five children who find them will be allowed inside his chocolate factory and experience the magic and wonder. Directed by Mel Stuart with Roald Dahl adapting his book CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY for the screen (with a little help from David Seltzer). This charming and delightful musical fantasy is witty enough to retain its hold on adults who saw it as children without nostalgia entering the picture. I'm not a big fan of THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) but I would imagine that WONKA has some of the same pull that OZ has for its legion of admirers. Beautiful to look at courtesy of Harper Goff's art direction and gorgeously shot by Arthur Ibbetson (ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS) in what could pass for the gorgeous three strip Technicolor process used prior to 1954. But it's almost impossible to imagine what this movie would be like without Wilder's sterling performance. An inspired piece of casting because Wonka is essentially unlikable but there's a twinkle in Wilder's performance that clues us in that he's not really as "bad" as he'd like us to think he is. The lovely songs are by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. With Jack Albertson, Roy Kinnear, Leonard Stone, Julie Dawn Cole, Denise Nickerson and Peter Ostrum as Charlie. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Suspect (1987)

When a woman (Katie O'Hare) is murdered in Washington D.C., a homeless deaf mute (Liam Neeson) is arrested for her murder. An overworked public defender (Cher) is assigned to defend him. But what looks like a simple murder case soon turns out to have a motive that reaches the highest levels of the federal government. Directed by Peter Yates (BULLITT) from an original screenplay by Eric Roth and Roth's screenplay is the culprit here. It's so sloppily written and preposterous that it's amazing how entertaining the movie is anyway. If you can get past Cher as an oveworked public defender and the film's appalling premise: Cher's attorney and a jurist (Dennis Quaid) on her case unethically colluding to solve the murder, the script's coincidences and plot holes shouldn't bother you though I couldn't help wondering if anybody in D.C. locks their car doors. 1987 was a busy year for Cher and she fared better with MOONSTRUCK and WITCHES OF EASTWICK but if there's ever a true guilty pleasure, this film defines it. Still, despite the red herring provided, the film's reveal of the killer is a real eye roller. The Herrmannesque score is by Michael Kamen. With John Mahoney, Joe Mantegna, Philip Bosco and E. Katherine Kerr.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Beachhead (1954)

Set in 1943 WWII on a Japanese held Pacific island, four marines (Tony Curtis, Frank Lovejoy, Skip Homier, Alan Wells) embark on a mission to verify a report about a secret Japanese minefield which came from a French planter (Eduard Franz). But after verifying the report, there is still the arduous and dangerous trek through the jungle for the survivors to rendezvous with U.S. forces if they are to be rescued. Directed by Stuart Heisler (THE GLASS KEY), this is a standard WWII actioner whose chief attraction is the lush island of Kauai which stands in for Bougainville Island, nicely shot by Gordon Avil (THE CHAMP). Drawbacks include the ingenue played by Mary Murphy (THE WILD ONE). Not that she's bad but as "the girl", she provides the usual romantic conflict as Curtis and Lovejoy fight over her and, of course, while fleeing the Japanese she sprains her ankle thus slowing them down. For a moment, the film seems like it might surprise us and have the girl end up with the older Lovejoy but it follows the usual path. There is a disturbing sequence involving a Japanese prisoner of war (Akira Fukunaga) that raises questions that are never addressed. With John Doucette.

Place Vendome (1998)

After her husband (Bernard Fresson) commits suicide, his widow (Catherine Deneuve) is left to pick up the pieces of his prestigious but floundering jewel business. As she is a recovering alcoholic, it puts an additional strain on her  and only increases as shadows from her past return to haunt her. Directed by Nicole Garcia, the film provides a look into the world of international jewelry brokerage which is fascinating on one level but complex enough that I'm sure much of it went right over my head. The film features a wonderful lead performance by Deneuve who won the best actress award at the Venice film festival as well as a Cesar (the French Oscar) nomination for her work here. My main problem with the film is that every character is more or less unlikable, even Deneuve's. I wasn't invested in any of them and frankly, didn't give a damn about what happened to them. That being said, it's engrossing enough to keep you glued to the story even if you're a detached viewer. There's a nice underscore by Richard Robbins (REMAINS OF THE DAY). With Emmanuelle Seigner, Jacques Dutronc and Jean Pierre Bacri. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Moby Dick (1956)

In 19th century New England, a wandering adventurer (Richard Basehart) signs on to the crew of the Pequod, a whaling ship. Its Captain (Gregory Peck) is near crazy to avenge himself on the whale called Moby Dick whose previous encounter with the whale cost him a leg. This film adaptation of the classic Herman Melville novel (some call it the Great American novel) is often unfairly maligned. The screenplay by Ray Bradbury (FAHRENHEIT 451) with an assist from the director John Huston is very good and faithful to Melville's book. No, it's not Melville's MOBY DICK, that would be a 4 hour plus movie but Huston (along with his cinematographer Oswald Morris) brings not only a remarkable visual style to the film, the Technicolor print has been desaturated, but a tight directorial hand that keeps the focus on its firm path. The bone of contention in the negativity toward the film has always been the casting of Peck as Ahab. Personally, I think he does a very good job and I think posterity bears me out. In 1956, Peck was one of the most popular movie stars in Hollywood but noted for his nicety in films like ROMAN HOLIDAY and GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT. So, he brought a lot of pre-conceived baggage to the part. Today, someone unfamiliar with Peck doesn't have that baggage to contend with and can judge him accordingly and more and more contemporary reviews have been favorable. An excellent underscore by Philip Sainton. With Leo Genn, James Robertson Justice, Harry Andrews, Royal Dano and Orson Welles as Father Mapple.

Safe In Hell (1931)

A prostitute (Dorothy Mackaill) accidentally kills her ex-lover (Ralf Harolde), who was the man responsible for her fall from grace. With the help of her sailor boyfriend (Donald Cook), she escapes to an island in the Caribbean where there are no extradition laws. But the island turns out to be merely going from the frying pan into the fire. Based on a play by Houston Ranch and directed by William A. Wellman, this is an example of how far films of the pre-code era could push the envelope. The film doesn't bother to disguise or use euphemisms for what Mackaill is and when she reaches the island, a bigger bunch of sleazebags and lowlifes only accentuate the film's apt title. There's perhaps an unintentional feminist tone to the film. Mackaill is doomed but she chooses her doomed fate rather than acquiesce to more degradation at the hands of a male dominated hell. Essentially, the Hollywood stereotype of the whore with the heart of gold, Mackaill brings a fierce rage to her character for most of the proceedings. Also unusual for 30s cinema, the two black characters (the wonderful Nina Mae McKinney and Clarence Muse) manage to avoid the usual kowtowing servitude stereotypes. Startling and downbeat and a real pre-code find. With Morgan Wallace, Victor Varconi and Gustav von Seyffertitz.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

In Search Of America (1971)

When a college student (Jeff Bridges) announces to his family that he's dropping out of college to "find himself", he convinces his family to accompany him on a cross country journey in a bus to discover his generation and their unconventional lifestyle. Directed by Paul Bogart, this film is the perfect example of how topical movies that are "now" and "relevant" become irrelevant in the ensuing decades. It's almost impossible to take the film seriously with dialog like "That sure is a groovy looking pad", "Can you dig it?", "Coming and going are the same thing, it just depends where you are in the circle" and this beaut "We don't really exist. We're just stream particles in the great cosmic jellyfish" which is said in dead earnestness. The telefilm even gives us a "hip" granny (Ruth McDevitt) who says things like "Right on!". To the movie's credit, the older generation aren't all portrayed as "squares" though the mother (Vera Miles) is pretty uptight and the hippies are shown to be as rude and self involved as anyone else. As an archival curiosity of a certain time in our culture and how Hollywood viewed that culture, I suppose it has its place. Bu oh, that ghastly "folk pop" underscore which is about as hip as Three Dog Night. With Sal Mineo, Kim Hunter, Carl Betz, Howard Duff, Tyne Daly, Michael Anderson Jr. and Glynn Turman.

The Bridge Of San Luis Rey (1944)

Set in Peru in 1774, five people are crossing a ravine on an old foot bridge near the chapel of San Luis Rey that collapses, killing all five people. A monk (Donald Woods) is deeply disturbed by the incident and investigates the lives of the victims to make some sense of why these five people. Based on the 1927 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Thornton Wilder and directed by Rowland V. Lee. The film is a very loose adaptation of Wilder's novel with significant changes from the book. The character of Micaela (Lynn Bari) is given far more prominence in the film than in the book and indeed, some of the victims who are killed on the bridge are changed from the novel. What remains is pure melodrama, in style, a forerunner of the "disaster" films that would come to fruition in the 1970s with disparate characters united by a horrific disaster. The performances are uneven with only Akim Tamiroff as a theatrical impresario and Louis Calhern as the Peruvian Viceroy showing any consistency. Previously made in 1929 and again in 2004. The score is by Dimitri Tiomkin. With Francis Lederer playing twins, Alla Nazimova, Joan Lorring, Blanche Yurka and Abner Biberman.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Guns Of The Timberland (1960)

A logger (Alan Ladd) has a government grant to cut down timber in the high country mountains. But the townspeople resist the loggers' attempt to cut down the trees because the clear cutting means when the rains come, there is no protection as the mudslides ruin their grass and their town. Based on the Louis L'Amour novel, directed by Robert D. Webb (BENEATH THE 12 MILE REEF) and produced and co-written by Aaron Spelling. This is a routine western programmer with nothing to recommend it. It's disconcerting to see the aging Ladd as he looks bloated and puffy and you can't take your eyes off him but for all the wrong reasons! Meanwhile, his leading lady Jeanne Crain still looks drop dead gorgeous! Teen idol Frankie Avalon makes his film acting debut here and sings two anachronistic pop songs which only adds to the patchy quality of an already mediocre western. The film does touch on an important subject but it doesn't do anything with it. Namely, the destruction of the natural environment without any checks and balances. The best thing about the film is Crain as the feisty rancher lady, small compensation but you take what you can get. But oh that ending is a real groaner! With Gilbert Roland, Lyle Bettger, Verna Felton, Johnny Seven and Regis Toomey.  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)

At the dawn of man, a group of apes discover a giant monolith. Millions of years later, the same monolith is discovered buried beneath the surface of the moon. Shortly thereafter, a spacecraft is on its way to the planet Jupiter with its true mission only known by the ship's computer HAL 9000. Nearly 50 years after its original release, it's difficult to convey the enormous impact Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi masterpiece had on 1968 audiences. Sadly, I don't think a film like this would ever get greenlighted today. It's too cerebral and Kubrick's precise pacing is too methodical for today's audiences swooning over the latest Marvel action adventure. The movie's special effects while cutting edge for its day, now seem rather simplistic. Yet for some of us, it hasn't lost its power to captivate with its still unanswered questions about where we came from and where we're going. It's not the kind of movie where the acting matters at all. While the bland Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood are nominally the movie's "stars", the true star of the film is Stanley Kubrick himself. This is a director's film all the way. The computer HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain) is a wonderfully scary creation and his dismantling by Dullea is both tense and touching. A true masterwork of the sci-fi genre. With William Sylvester, Robert Beatty, Leonard Rossiter and Margaret Tyzack.