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Saturday, September 30, 2017

L'etrange Monsieur Steve (1957)

A naive bank clerk (Philippe Lemaire) struggling with money problems strikes up a friendship with an elegant con man (Armand Mestral) named Steve. Soon he finds himself seduced by Steve's wife (Jeanne Moreau), blackmailed by Steve's partner (Lino Ventura) and way over his head in a life of crime. Based on the novel by LA REVANCHE DES MEDIOCRES by Marcel Pretre and adapted for the screen and directed by Raymond Bailly. This is a slice of French noir with doses of black humor (the butler polishes guns instead of silver) and all the usual noir trimmings. This film came out the year before Moreau's international breakthrough with Malle's ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS and she's perfectly cast here as the requisite femme fatale. But truthfully, Hollywood did this stuff so much better. One feels sorry for Lemaire's dupe at first but when he doesn't wise up, you stop caring about him. I mean how many times does one need to get kicked in the teeth before he opens his eyes? Still, it's quite enjoyable and I wouldn't mind seeing a remake done with a little more finesse. The dreadful underscore by Philippe Gerard undermines the film. With Anouk Ferjac and Jacques Varennes. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

To The Devil A Daughter (1976)

18 years after making a pact with a satanic cult and giving them his baby daughter, a man (Denholm Elliott) reneges and asks an expert (Richard Widmark) on the occult to hide his daughter (Nastassja Kinski). The dubious expert agrees but he doesn't know what he's letting himself in for. The cult's leader (Christopher Lee) will stop at nothing to get the girl back. Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley and directed by Peter Sykes. This entry in the devil cinema canon is no ROSEMARY'S BABY or THE OMEN. Surprisingly, the film is almost devoid of any genuine sense of horror. The "devil baby" when revealed isn't shocking at all since it looks like a red rubber doll with some kind of skin disease. A more atmospheric underscore might have helped as Paul Glass's atonal score provides no sense of terror. As expected, horror icon Christopher Lee provides a nice sense of menace but the other actors have all been better elsewhere. Wheatley himself was unhappy with the film. It's not bad, just blah! With Honor Blackman, Anthony Valentine, Frances De La Tour and Michael Goodliffe (hist last film before his suicide).

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Stud (1978)

The bored wife (Joan Collins) of a wealthy businessman (Walter Gotell) owns a trendy and hot nightclub in London. She uses the club's manager (Oliver Tobias) as her "stud" but he's losing interest in her and he plots to start his own club. Based on the novel by Jackie Collins and directed by Quentin Masters. 1977's SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER took the disco craze to new heights and this film rode its coattails. Made on a shoestring budget, it was a massive international success and grossed almost 20 times its budget. The disco soundtrack album was also a huge best seller. You know what kind of film this is going to be as soon as you hear the title song over the credits, "What's his name, what's his name? Stud! What's his game, what's his game, Stud!". As for the film itself, it's as close to softcore porn as a movie with a name actress (Collins) can get. However, the sex is surprisingly unerotic and often ludicrous. If you have an appetite for trash, this can be fun. If you don't, skip it. The sequel called THE BITCH was also a big hit. With Sue Lloyd, Mark Burns and Emma Jacobs.  

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

After two years, a young girl (Elizabeth Olsen) escapes from an abusive cult and goes to live with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and her husband (Hugh Dancy). But adjusting to a "normal" life proves difficult. Written and directed by Sean Durkin, who expanded his award winning short film MARY LAST SEEN to feature length into MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE. This is one of those disturbing films that you realize are special and superbly done but can take no genuine pleasure in watching. It's a painful watch and, of course, it was meant to be. In her breakthrough role, Elizabeth Olsen is stunning. She gets thoroughly under her character's skin and we can readily see her conflicting emotions and confusion and pain. Sarah Paulson as her estranged sister is also very, very good. As the cult leader, John Hawkes is fine although not charismatic enough that we can see why these young people would follow him unquestioningly. In fact, he comes off as rather creepy but then so did Charles Manson. The ambiguous ending disturbed me, I just wished there was at least a glimmer of hope. With Brady Corbet and Maria Dizzia.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Never Say Die (1939)

A wealthy hypochondriac (Bob Hope) is trapped into marrying a much married gold digging widow (Gale Sondergaard) with a reputation of doing away with her husbands. When he's misdiagnosed as having only a few weeks to live, he hastily marries a Texas heiress (Martha Raye) to stop her from being forced to marry a titled Prince (Alan Mowbray) by her status seeking father (Paul Harvey). Based on the play by William H. Post and William Collier and directed by Elliott Nugent. I don't think Hope really blossomed as a film comic until the 1940s but this is one of his better vehicles from the 1930s. Martha Raye makes a great foil for him and the laughs are plentiful and there's a wonderful supporting cast of players to prop them up. Preston Sturges had a hand in the screenplay and there's a humorous tongue twisting bit that was perfected to better effect in THE COURT JESTER (1956). With Monty Woolley, Sig Ruman, Ernest Cossart, Hans Conreid and Albert Dekker.    

House Of The Damned (1963)

An architect (Ron Foster) and his wife (Merry Anders) are hired to survey an old empty mansion set in a secluded California hillside. But mysterious things happen during the night and when the architect's employer (Richard Crane) and his wife (Erika Peters) join them the following day, the wife disappears! Written and directed by Maury Dexter, this B&W thriller may have been shot in CinemaScope but it's a "B" low budget programmer which borrows from the Tod Browning classic FREAKS. I love these old decaying mansion where things go bump in the night horror flicks but this one has an ending that cheats its audience. It's not as bad as one of those "it was all a dream" endings but it's pretty close. The movie was filmed at the Greystone mansion in Beverly Hills and it's one corker of an "old dark house". Countless movies have been filmed there including WITCHES OF EASTWICK, DEATH BECOMES HER, GHOSTBUSTERS II and THE BIG LEBOWSKI among many others. It's the kind of movie that might play well at 2 o'clock in the morning when you have insomnia. With Richard Kiel (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) and Ayllene Gibbons.

Casablanca (1942)

In 1941 Casablanca in French Morocco, refugees from the Nazis hoping to get visas to Lisbon in neutral Portugal and from there to America. In Rick's (Humphrey Bogart) popular cafe and bar, intrigue and bartering in human lives are the order of the day. Loosely based on the play EVERYBODY COMES TO RICK'S by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison (which was never produced) and directed by Michael Curtiz. What can anyone say about CASABLANCA that hasn't already been said a hundred times over? The film is perfection. No, it's not "Art" but it's a sterling example of the Hollywood studio system at its best. A witty layered screenplay although reputedly the script was constantly being rewritten during the shooting with oodles of quotable dialog and incandescent performances by the charismatic legends in the two leads, the glowing Ingrid Bergman is the female lead. One of those rare films that seems to be universally loved (though of course, there are always naysayers). And that supporting cast! Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.Z. Sakall for starters. Paul Henreid gets a lot of flak as the third wheel as being "dull" but I think he's just right for the role. Also with Marcel Dalio, Leonid Kinskey, Madeleine LeBeau, Joy Page, Norma Varden and John Qualen.     

Monday, September 25, 2017

Blue Thunder (1983)

A helicopter pilot (Roy Scheider) who does air surveillance for the Los Angeles Police Department is chosen to test a new high tech chopper for the federal government. But it isn't long before he discovers the true sinister intentions that the chopper will be put to use. Directed by John Badham (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER), this is an implausible action/thriller. To enjoy it requires an enormous suspension of disbelief and I do mean enormous. The aerial sequences are top notch and the action is intense but the script leaves precious little devoted to characterization. One has to wonder what the film makers were thinking with the wholesale destruction of property and casual attitude toward the loss of innocent lives. I mean the entire side of a skyscraper is blown away and my first thought was how many people were in that building but to the movie, it was just a "wow" moment. Times have changed since 1983 and I don't think audiences today would think it's funny when Scheider and Daniel Stern (as his sidekick) use the surveillance to peek into people's homes or listen in to hear sexual activity! A big yes to the action sequences, no to just about everything else. With Warren Oates, Malcolm McDowell, Candy Clark and Jason Bernard. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

All I Desire (1953)

In the early 1900s, a woman (Barbara Stanwyck) who abandoned her husband (Richard Carlson) and children 10 years before and ran off to go on the stage returns to the small town after she gets a letter from her now grown daughter (Lori Nelson). Nothing seems to have changed and the small town gossips are abuzz about the return of the "scarlet" woman! Based on the novel STOPOVER by Carol Ryrie Brink and directed by Douglas Sirk. This has all the trademarks of Sirk's Universal period melodramas. The mean spirited small town hypocrisy (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS), motherhood (IMITATION OF LIFE) and an attempt to remedy the past (THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW). This is minor Sirk but still worth visiting. Unfortunately, the ending doesn't seem right and sure enough, the producer Ross Hunter had Sirk reshoot the original downbeat ending and substitute a happy one. Stanwyck is in her element here with a lovely performance but with the exception of Maureen O'Sullivan as a teacher in love with Carlson, there's no one in the cast on her level. Who wouldn't jump town being married to Richard Carlson? With Lyle Bettger, Marcia Henderson, Richard Long, Stuart Whitman, Brett Halsey and Lottie Stein.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Alligator People (1959)

A young bride (Beverly Garland) is abandoned by her husband (Richard Crane) on their wedding night. She manages to trace him back to his ancestral home in the Louisiana bayous where she discovers a terrible secret. Directed by Roy Del Ruth, this is an enjoyable if not particularly original low budget programmer. It's a pity that the alligator "people" look wasn't perfected because all we get is a man in what is essentially an alligator mask that looks like a Halloween costume. Fortunately he isn't revealed until the very end but until then, Del Ruth provides a nice atmosphere that keeps us in anticipation. Beverly Garland wasn't called the original Scream Queen for nothing and she puts her lungs to good use here several times. With George Macready, Bruce Bennett, Douglas Kennedy, Frieda Inescort and Lon Chaney Jr. as a lecherous thug who's more frightening than any alligator or alligator people.   

Les Sorcieres De Salem (1957)

Salem, Massachusetts in the year 1692. After being spurned from his wife's (Simone Signoret) bed, a Puritan farmer (Yves Montand) beds down with a teenage girl (Mylene Demongeot). When he later rejects her, she and a group of other girls feign possession and accuse fellow villagers of witchcraft. Her intention is to have his wife executed for witchcraft and thus leaving the husband to her. Based on the 1953 play by Arthur Miller and adapted for the screen by Jean Paul Sartre and directed by Raymond Rouleau. Miller's play was an allegory on the "witch hunts" by the House Un-American Activities Committee from that period. It wasn't until 1996 that Hollywood made a film version of Miller's play. But almost 40 years earlier, the French had no compunctions about making a movie out of Miller's controversial piece. It seems odd at first to see such an American story played out in French but one soon gets over it. Sartre's screenplay is faithful to the play and well acted by all and forthright in a way that would not have been possible for Hollywood in 1957. Still powerful stuff some 40 years later. With Michel Piccoli, Alfred Adam, Pascale Petit and Jean Debucourt.  

Friday, September 22, 2017

Battle Of The Sexes (2017)

The (in)famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) that had America riveted as it dealt with its own male chauvinism and the rise of feminism. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) from a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE). As long as the film is dealing with tennis and gender equality, the film is very good but when it deals with King's sexuality, it's a big yawn. The film makers can't get a handle on how to deal with it so they give us movie cliches like sunsets, silhouette kisses and lines like "This can't happen again!". It doesn't help that Andrea Riseborough as King's lover isn't a very interesting actress. As expected, Stone and Carell are excellent as the rising tennis star and the hustling has been. Carell, in particular, shows us the human behind the loud mouth buffoon. Remarkably, Dayton and Faris manage to drum up a great deal of excitement and tension during the big tennis match considering we already know the outcome going in. One minor complaint: couldn't they have gotten Carell a better tennis double? The double looks nothing like him. Other than Riseborough, the supporting cast is excellent especially Elisabeth Shue and Austin Stowell as Briggs and King's spouses respectively. With Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming and Natalie Morales.  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Viaggio Con Anita (aka Lovers And Liars) (1979)

Set in Italy, a married businessman (Giancarlo Giannini) wants to take his girlfriend (Lorraine De Selle) with him on his auto trip to see his dying father. When she refuses, he spontaneously takes the girlfriend's visiting American friend (Goldie Hawn) instead. Directed by Mario Monicelli (BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET). First off, I watched the English language version which is some 20 minutes shorter than the Italian cut. No doubt that is to the film's disadvantage. That being said, I can't imagine my opinion being vastly different unless the English language version eliminated all the positive qualities of its characters. Giannini's character seems more interested in getting laid than seeing his dying father (when he finally gets there, the father is dead). Hawn is on the rebound from the lover she left when she finds out he was married. So what does she do? Gets involved with another married man! Who can care about people like these two? Hawn and Giannini are very appealing actors but while Hawn manages to hold onto her charms, Giannini is so irritating that when he gets punched out in a bar I could have cheered. The underscore is by Ennio Morricone. With Claudine Auger (THUNDERBALL), Laura Betti, Aurore Clement and Andrea Ferreol.

Beggars Of Life (1928)

After killing her adopted father, a young girl (Louise Brooks) runs off with a drifter (Richard Arlen). Dressed as a boy, she and the drifter attempt to escape to Canada via the rails with the police in hot pursuit. Loosely based on the non fiction book by Jim Tully which Maxwell Anderson adapted into the play OUTSIDE LOOKING IN and directed by William A. Wellman (THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY). This is a lovely film for the most part although it gets needlessly sentimental toward the film's end. Although Wallace Beery as a hobo thug gets top billing, the film belongs to Brooks and Arlen. Beery is very good though his character's change of heart toward the end seems arbitrary and out of character. But the film has an authentic feel to it, indeed many of the hobos and rail riders in the film were played by real hobos. There's a nicely done train crash at the end which was done without any special effects, they crashed a real train. After the filming was done, some minimal dialog and  sound effects were added post production without Wellman's blessing but the transfer I saw was the silent version Wellman preferred. With Roscoe Karns and Blue Washington.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Warning Shot (1967)

When staking out an apartment building, a policeman (David Janssen) tells a man (Donald Curtis) to stop but the man pulls a gun on him and the cop shoots him dead. But the man's gun mysteriously disappears and the dead man turns out to be a pillar of the community. How can he prove he's not just a trigger happy cop? Based on the novel 711 OFFICER NEEDS HELP by Whit Masterson and directed by Buzz Kulik. It's a well done if messy police drama. I liked it that Janssen's cop is a bit of a screw up rather than a typical above board hero type cop out to prove his innocence. Still, I think it might have been more interesting if we hadn't been shown the man actually pulling the gun so that we couldn't be sure of the cop's innocence until the very end. It could have used some tightening up and Joan Collins as Janssen's ex-wife could have easily have been eliminated from the film without any loss. Her scenes just drag the movie down. My favorite performance came from Eleanor Parker as the victim's boozed up nymphomaniac widow! With Walter Pidgeon, George Sanders, Lillian Gish, Stefanie Powers, Keenan Wynn, Ed Begley, Carroll O'Connor, George Grizzard, Sam Wanamaker and Jean Carson.

Tycoon (1947)

Set in Peru, an American engineer (John Wayne) is hired by a wealthy industrialist (Cedric Hardwicke) to build a tunnel through the Andes mountains. The two men are in conflict over the methods of building the tunnel which creates tension. That tension is increased when the engineer falls in love with the industrialist's daughter (Laraine Day). Based on the 1934 novel by C.E. Scoggins and directed by Richard Wallace. At over a two hours running time, the film can't sustain either the drama or the tension necessary to keep the viewer involved. Handsomely shot in three strip Techinicolor with Lone Pine and Arcadia, both in California, standing in for Peru. For a change, Wayne has a role where he isn't the "hero". In fact, for a large portion of the film, he's a stubborn jerk. The supporting cast doesn't amount to much, even a great actress like Judith Anderson is saddled with a nothing role. This is for Wayne fans only! With Anthony Quinn, James Gleason, Paul Fix and Ann Codee.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A.D. (1985)

This 8 hour film traces the rise of Christianity in Jerusalem and Rome while concurrently examining the corruption of Rome through four of its emperors: the paranoid Tiberius (James Mason), the mad Caligula (John McEnery), the timid Claudius (Richard Kiley) and the devious Nero (Anthony Andrews). Based on the novel KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Anthony Burgess (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) who co-wrote the screenplay and directed by Stuart Cooper. As long as the film concentrates on the machinations of Roman politics, it remains an engrossing tale but the Christian sequences are insufferable especially those involving Peter (Denis Quilley) and Paul (Philip Sayer). The acting varies from awful (Neil Dickson) to very good (Chris Humphreys). The massive cast includes Ava Gardner, Susan Sarandon, Ian McShane, John Houseman, Colleen Dewhurst, Jack Warden, Richard Roundtree, Fernando Rey, Millie Perkins, Jennifer O'Neill, Ben Vereen, Anthony Zerbe, David Hedison, Amanda Pays, Diane Venora, Akosua Busia and Michael Wilding Jr. as Jesus.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Apache Drums (1951)

Set in a scarcely populated Arizona desert town, a gambler (Stephen McNally) with an itchy gun finger and the town's mayor (Willard Parker) are both in love with the same girl (Coleen Gray). But that all takes a backseat when a group of renegade Indians attack the town. Based on STAND AT SPANISH BOOT by Harry Brown and directed by Hugo Fregonese. This was also the last film produced by Val Lewton, most famous for his RKO horror films of the 1940s like CAT PEOPLE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. It's a "B" western but very well done. The film's big set piece or high point if you prefer is the almost 30 minute assault by the Apaches on the townspeople trapped in a church. This is where the Lewton touch is evident. Like his horror films which suggested more than they showed, we're constantly reminded of the Apache's presence without actually seeing them by their constant drums and war cries and when they attack it's unexpected and startling. The acting is decent though I found Arthur Shields as the town preacher constantly bringing up God and constantly referring to the Apaches as heathen and devils irritating. With James Best, Clarence Muse and James Griffith. 

The Return Of The Pink Panther (1975)

When the legendary Pink Panther diamond is stolen from a Middle Eastern museum, suspicion falls on the now retired Lord Lytton (Christopher Plummer) who police have long suspected of being The Phantom. Assigned to the case against the will of his superior (Herbert Lom), Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) attempts to link The Phantom to the theft. There were 11 years between the last Pink Panther film (A SHOT IN THE DARK) from 1964 to 1975. Directed once again by Blake Edwards, the film takes a long time in getting its rhythm going. Laughs are sporadic and often weak. Things pick up in the second half especially with a hilarious set piece when Clouseau gets caught in Lady Lytton's (Catherine Schell) hotel room. The film is worth seeing for that sequence alone with everyone involved in the scene showing an expertise in physical comedy. Henry Mancini again supplies the suitable underscore. With Burt Kwouk, Peter Arne, Gregoire Aslan and Graham Stark. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Mother! (2017)

A writer (Javier Bardem) is struggling with writer's block while his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) is renovating their home. When a stranger (Ed Harris) shows up at their door one night, the writer invites him to stay the night. The next day, the stranger's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and moves in and then their sons (Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson) show up and then ....... things get ugly! Directed by Darren Aronofsky (BLACK SWAN), this audacious apocalyptic horror film doesn't coddle or pander to its audience. In fact, it shoves their faces in the shit and judging by the reported rampant hostility being thrown at the film, they're pissed off! Personally, I lapped it up like a chocolate sundae with extra cherries! A far from perfect film, there's no denying Aronofsky used a hammer in his direction but in his defense, he had to use a hammer. I've long thought God made a mistake when he created mankind and it seems Aronofsky feels the same way. I wouldn't call it anti-Christian (as some have complained) but it certainly shows the insanity of Christianity. For all its flaws (and the film is rife with them), it's at least trying to shake us out of our apathy but it seems some people like their apathy just fine. With Kristen Wiig.  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I Girasoli (aka Sunflower) (1970)

In WWII Italy, a recently married soldier (Marcello Mastroianni) is sent to the Russian front. When he doesn't return after the war is over, his wife (Sophia Loren) goes to Russia to track him down. Directed by Vittorio De Sica (BICYCLE THIEVES), this deceptively simple melodrama might seem another movie romance with a tearjerker finale on the surface but it's a heartbreaking look on the effect war has on both the soldier and the civilian. It's no startling revelation that war leaves its scars but by using a romantic relationship as its core, De Sica reveals the specificity of those wounds. The chemistry between Loren and Mastroianni is potent (they made 17 films together) and Loren did her best work as an actress when she worked with De Sica (he directed her in 8 films) and she gives a lovely performance here. I've seen this several times and film's final minutes get my tear ducts flowing every time. This was the first western film to be filmed in the Soviet Union. The Oscar nominated score is by Henry Mancini. With Lyudmila Saveleva (WAR AND PEACE) and Anna Carena as Mastroianni's mother.  

Prizzi's Honor (1985)

An heir to and a hit man (Jack Nicholson) for a Brooklyn based Italian crime family falls in love with a woman (Kathleen Turner) who's not Italian that he meets at a wedding. When he discovers that she is, in fact, a hit woman hired by the family to get rid of an enemy of the family, it doesn't deter him. Based on the novel by Richard Condon (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) who co-wrote the screenplay and directed by John Huston. This deliciously devious black comedy is a satire of THE GODFATHER. This family of immoral thieves and murderers are so blithely assured in the righteousness of their own iniquitous behavior that you can help liking them in spite of yourself. Quite possibly because they're instantly recognizable in our own familial behavior. And what a cast, all working at the top of their form though I felt William Hickey as the family's Don seemed a bit too calculated. He wasn't as fresh as the others. In one of his best performances, Nicholson is spectacular as the slightly dim witted assassin while Turner is perfectly crafty, a dame you just can't trust. But the scene stealer is Anjelica Huston in her Oscar winning performance as a Lucretia Borgia like Mafia princess. From her body language to her Brooklynese jabbering, she dominates every scene she's in. With Robert Loggia, Lee Richardson, John Randolph, Lawrence Tierney and C.C.H. Pounder. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Tower Of London (1962)

When the ambitious Richard Of Gloucester (Vincent Price) is passed over by his dying brother King Edward IV (Justice Watson) as Protector to his young heirs in favor of the third brother (Charles Macaulay), he goes on a murderous rampage to ensure that he will be the next King of England. Directed by Roger Corman, this is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's RICHARD III re-imagined as a Gothic horror film along the lines of Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. Shot in 15 days, the film's low budget forced Corman to shoot the film in B&W when his preference was color. Still, cinematographer Archie R. Dalzell does a solid job in making Daniel Haller's art direction look detailed. As a horror film, if it doesn't compare to Corman's AIP (this one was done for United Artists) Poe movies, it's still a more than decent film. Corman does a nice job of creating genuine suspense during the Queen's (Sarah Selby) escape with her children. The film's biggest liability is that the budget didn't let Corman film extensive exterior battle scenes so what we get is a quick montage of the Battle at Bosworth Field shot on a studio sound stage. With Joan Freeman, Michael Pate, Bruce Gordon, Robert Brown and Sandra Knight. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Love Is All There Is (1996)

In a small Bronx community, two rival Italian families who own restaurants compete with each other. One family (Joseph Bologna, Lainie Kazan) is gaudy and loud while they other (Paul Sorvino, Barbara Carrera) are snobbish but elegant. But when the gaudy family's son (Nathaniel Marston) and the elegant family's daughter (Angelina Jolie) fall in love, all hell breaks loose. Written and directed by the husband and wife Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna. Taylor and Bologna wrote LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS which had a similar wedding background. The material in this movie while not on a par with LOVERS isn't bad at all but the first film wasn't directed by Bologna or Taylor and I think that might explain why the first film is a better movie. LOVE IS ALL THERE IS might have worked better with a different director who showed a little restraint. Here, the Italian stereotypes are in full blown display and the directors let their actors go all over the place. Kazan and Taylor (who plays a psychic) are the worst offenders while Sorvino and Carrera manage to show some restraint. Angelina Jolie in only her 4th movie gets "and introducing" billing. She's lovely but there's no indication of the major talent that would come later. The large ensemble cast includes Connie Stevens, Abe Vigoda, Dick Van Patten, William Hickey and Joy Behar. 

Hell Drivers (1957)

An ex-convict (Stanley Baker) signs up as a driver with a trucking company with dubious ethics. They encourage driving at reckless high speeds and reward the men with bonuses for the more trips they make. The ex-con faces his nasty rival (Patrick McGoohan) who won't tolerate anyone driving faster than him. Directed by Cy Endfield (MYSTERIOUS ISLAND), the movie is a tightly skilled piece of action cinema. Its characters aren't particularly fresh and indeed when we first meet Herbert Lom's character, within minutes we can guess what his fate is going to be. The film is notable for its cast including some young actors who would go on to major careers like Sean Connery, David McCallum, Jill Ireland and McGoohan. It's McGoohan who delivers the film's only bad performance. If I hadn't seen him giving better performances, based on his work here I'd assume he was one of the dregs of the acting profession. In his scenes with Baker, McGoohan goes into overdrive while Baker underplays and McGoohan just ends up looking ridiculous. The crisp B&W cinematography is courtesy of the great Geoffrey Unsworth (2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY). With Peggy Cummins, Wilfrid Lawson, Sidney James, Marjorie Rhodes, Gordon Jackson and Marianne Stone.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Shriek In The Night (1933)

A newspaper reporter (Ginger Rogers) is working undercover as a secretary to a millionaire. But when the millionaire plunges to his death from his penthouse, she and a rival reporter (Lyle Talbot) attempt to find out the motives behind his death ... suicide or murder? Directed by Albert Ray, this pre-code film is a low budget programmer that looks sloppily put together. The film's humor doesn't hold up well like the dumb maid (Lillian Harmer) who's supposed to be funny but just has you groaning instead. There's a wee bit of genuine suspense near the very end but it doesn't make up for the monotony that preceded it. Normally I love these 1930s murder mystery programmers but this one doesn't cut it. With Harvey Clark, Louise Beavers and Purnell Pratt.

Seven Thieves (1960)

Recently released from prison, a man (Rod Steiger) is recruited by an older ex-convict (Edward G. Robinson) to join him and five others in a heist of $4 million dollars from a Monte Carlo casino. Based on the novel LIONS AT THE KILL by Max Catto (DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK) and directed by film veteran Henry Hathaway. Everybody loves a good heist film, right and this tight crime caper is a solid effort. There's something to be said about workmanlike directors like Hathaway who may not have a particular style that attracts the "auteur" crowd yet direct with an assured and steady hand. It helps to have first rate actors like Robinson, Steiger and Eli Wallach in the leads and Steiger (in a very subdued performance) in particular brings a little extra to his character that sets him off from the others. Although the entire movie takes place on the French Riviera, it was shot on a Fox sound stage with rear projection shots filling in for Monte Carlo. There's a nice underscore by Dominic Frontiere. If you like heist films, this one should satisfy your craving. With Joan Collins, Alexander Scourby, Michael Dante, Sebastian Cabot and Berry Kroeger.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

After his family is killed by Union militants, a Missouri farmer (Clint Eastwood) joins a band of guerrilla Confederates. After the war, when he sees his companions slaughtered by Union soldiers after they were promised amnesty, he becomes the outlaw Josey Wales and is pursued by bounty hunters and Union soldiers. Based on the novel GONE TO TEXAS by Forrest Carter and directed by Eastwood (who replaced Philip Kaufman), this is a fine western and contains one of Eastwood's 2 or 3 best performances. Although the Union soldiers are the "bad" guys, this isn't a nostalgic revisionist Confederacy sympathizing film. Eastwood's Josey Wales is a man who's had the humanity driven out of him because of the war and what happened to his family. The film chronicles his journey to regain that humanity. I can't say enough about Bruce Surtees' cinematography which shockingly never received an Oscar nomination, it's simply stunning. But Jerry Fielding's superior score did receive an Oscar nomination and justifiably so. With Sondra Locke, Chief Dan George, John Vernon, Will Sampson, Paula Trueman, Joyce Jameson, Geraldine Keams and Sam Bottoms.    

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Murder Over New York (1940)

On a flight to New York, Honolulu detective Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) runs into a Scotland Yard acquaintance (Frederick Worlock) who's hot on the trail of a sabotage ring. When the British detective turns up murdered during a dinner party, there's no shortage of suspects. Directed by Harry Lachman, this is a decent entry in the Chan franchise but it's definitely not one of the series' stronger entries. These Chan movies were programmers so their running time rarely exceeded 90 minutes and this one is a pleasantly brief hour and five minutes. The film is racially insensitive, not to the Chinese but when a group of Hindu suspects are rounded up, the police detective (Donald MacBride) in charge of the case snaps, "How many more of these Ali Babas are there?". Ouch! That aside, the only other (minor) problem I had was when Chan requested all the guests at the dinner party be present at an airport so he can reveal the murderer. Except that not all of the party guests are there and no explanation is given. With John Sutton, Robert Lowery, Victor Sen Yung, Melville Cooper, Marjorie Weaver and Clarence Muse. 

Marjorie Prime (2017)

Set sometime in an unspecified future, an 85 year old woman (Lois Smith) suffering from dementia sits in her living room talking to a hologram of her deceased husband (Jon Hamm). The holograms are called primes and they are used to deal with the loss of a loved one as well as keeping the living connected to their past through memories. Written and directed by Michael Almereyda and based on the play by Jordan Harrison. Memories are strange things. How dependable are they? Watered down through the years, we remember what we want, we're selective about the things we remember and forget or hide, as the song The Way We Were says, the painful things. Almereyda does very little to disguise the film's theatrical origins. It's a dialogue driven piece with most of the film having two characters (sometimes three) just talk to each other. But the dialogue is important and requires close attention and frankly, I was a bit overwhelmed that I suspect I missed a lot. It's a small gem of a film, not cinematic in the least but the kind of movie you can't easily shake off. Lois Smith (FIVE EASY PIECES, NEXT STOP GREENWICH VILLAGE) is one of those terrific actresses who never attained stardom but this performance should be her legacy. It was great to see Geena Davis (as Smith's daughter) back on the big screen again and she has a beautiful scene that touches your heart without having any dialogue. With Tim Robbins. 

Othello (1922)

When the Venetian general Othello (Emil Jannings), also known as The Moor, chooses another man (Theodor Loos) as his lieutenant instead of him, the villainous Iago (Werner Krauss) plants seeds of jealousy by suggesting the lieutenant is Othello's bride's (Ica Von Lenkeffy) lover. Based on the Shakespeare play and directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki. Shakespeare in silent cinema seems almost senseless since the beauty of Shakespeare's language is lost except for the occasional intertitle. Still, there are the performances I suppose and the acting here is good except for Krauss's Iago who is almost comically bad. The trite piano underscore doesn't help matters any. More of a curiosity for Shakespeare completists but fans of silent film should enjoy Jannings' performance. With Lya De Putti as Emilia and Ferdinand Von Alten as Rodrigo.  

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Gay Purr-ee (1962)

Set in turn of the 20th century in France, a country cat (Judy Garland) is tired of living on a farm and dreams of the glamorous high life in Paris. When the opportunity presents itself, she runs off to Paris while the tomcat (Robert Goulet) who loves her and his kitten pal (Red Buttons) chase after her. Co-written by Chuck Jones and directed by Abe Levitow, this animated musical has songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg who wrote the songs for THE WIZARD OF OZ and FINIANS' RAINBOW. The songs are serviceable but three stand out but oddly enough two of them, The Money Cat and The Horses Won't Talk are sung by Paul Frees rather than Garland or Goulet. Garland does have one good torch song, Paris Is A Lonely Town. The whole enterprise is rather charming and the animation is very colorful, often mimicking the style of the impressionists. The highlight may be Mewsette (Garland) having her portrait painted by Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Seurat, Toulouse Lautrec, Gauguin, Degas among others. This was the animation giant UPA's final film. Other voice talent includes Hermione Gingold and Morey Amsterdam.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Lord Love A Duck (1966)

From a psychiatric hospital (or it might be prison), a high school student (37 year old Roddy McDowall) recalls the events that brought him to this point in time. Namely, his obsession with a Lolita like nymphet (Tuesday Weld). Based on the novel by Al Hine and co-written and directed by George Axelrod (THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH). This black comedy which is a satire of everything from teenagers, psychoanalysis, education, motherhood and beach party movies was topical in 1966 but comes off today as too broad and unsubtle. McDowall's teen age hero was no doubt supposed to be seen as a non conformist rebel back in the day but in 2017, he's just another obnoxious bitter nerd. But mindless materialistic teenage girls still exist and so we have Tuesday Weld to savor playing a teenage Bardot sex kitten, who wants what she wants immediately without actually earning it. Two other actresses save the picture: Lola Albright who's terrific as Weld's aging cocktail waitress mother and Ruth Gordon as Weld's mother in law from hell. With Harvey Korman (surprisingly unfunny), Martin Gabel, Max Showalter, Martine Bartlett and Sarah Marshall.

10 Rillington Place (1971)

A British serial killer (Richard Attenborough) renders his victims unconscious, strangles them and rapes them. When a young married couple (John Hurt, Judy Geeson) move into the third floor flat along with their baby daughter, he selects her as his next victim. But that murder will eventually lead to a terrible miscarriage of justice which in turn will end capital punishment in the United Kingdom. Based on the non fiction book by Clive Exton and directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA). This is a rather unpleasant sordid "thriller" but considering its subject matter, how could it not be? It's extremely well done although I had major problems with the film. Attenborough is excellent but perhaps too good as he's so creepy that you wonder how anyone would rent an apartment from him and not automatically get out as fast as they can. Hurt's character is dumb as a rock and so complicit in his own fatal end that it's hard to drum up much sympathy even if he is innocent. The only character I felt sorry for was Geeson's downtrodden wife. Its reviews were mixed when it opened but its reputation has grown in the ensuing years. It's a very good movie. I just wish I could have liked it more. With Pat Heywood and Andre Morell. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Colonel Effingham's Raid (1946)

Returning to the small Georgia hometown of his birth, a retired military man (Charles Coburn) starts a crusade against the town's corrupt government. Based on the novel by Berry Fleming and directed by Irving Pichel. I'm not fond of these precious little man against the government films, at least not in their Capracorn incarnations. Capra didn't direct this one but it's the spawn of the same sentimental sap of movies like MEET JOHN DOE and MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN. Coincidentally, it's timely because the big brouhaha starts over renaming the Confederate Monument Square by another name that causes the local protest. I seriously doubt a movie like this could get greenlighted today without major changes. Normally I like the actors involved but Coburn is at his most irritating and poor Joan Bennett is wasted as "the girl". Even at its brief running time of 71 minutes, it outstays its welcome pretty quickly. With William Eythe, Allyn Joslyn, Donald Meek, Elizabeth Patterson and Cora Witherspoon.   

Blink (1993)

After having been blind since she was 8 years old, a violinist (Madeleine Stowe) has her sight restored after receiving eyes from a donor. But she hasn't had her sight very long when she becomes the only witness to a murder suspect (Paul Dillon) and she may be his next target. Directed by Michael Apted (COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER), this is a solid thriller that never quite reaches its potential. On the plus side, its heroine isn't the typical damsel in distress that usually populate these thrillers. She's flawed and complex and often not quite likable. She's willful to the extreme, often ignoring common sense and putting herself (and others) in harm's way. It's a good part and Stowe takes it on admirably. On the other hand, Aidan Quinn as the detective investigating the case is miscast. He's too delicate and his character is kind of a jerk and Quinn isn't a charismatic enough actor to overcome the miscasting. The movie needed a Michael Douglas type. The killer's motive is far fetched but by the time we get to it, the movie's just about over so it doesn't matter much. With Laurie Metcalf, Peter Friedman, James Remar and Bruce A. Young.  

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Abbott & Costello Go To Mars (1953)

Two guys (Bud Abbott, Lou Costello) are loading supplies on to a spaceship destined for Mars when one of them (Costello, of course) accidentally hits the ignite button. First, they land in Louisiana which they mistake for Mars before picking up two unwanted passengers (Horace McMahon, Jack Kruschen) who've escaped from prison. Then on to Venus, an all female planet ruled by a Queen (Mari Blanchard). Directed by Charles Lamont, this is one of the weaker A&C comedies. Which is not to say it's not without laughs. The Mardi Gras sequence is quite funny and if the rest of the film had been on that level, this might have been one of their best vehicles. One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that scientifically, the film is incredibly inaccurate and makes no logical sense but hey, it was 1953 and this is a lowbrow comedy. Abbott & Costello fans should have an enjoyable outing but for non-fans, it's probably going to be tough going. With Martha Hyer, Jean Willes, Robert Paige, Jackie Loughery and Anita Ekberg, who gets prominent billing but I couldn't spot her! 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Lizzie (1957)

A withdrawn repressed young woman (Eleanor Parker) is receiving letters threatening her life. What she doesn't realize is that she has a split personality and that her "other" self is writing those letters. Based on the novel THE BIRD'S NEST by Shirley Jackson and directed by Hugo Haas, who plays Parker's neighbor in the film. Although often described as an inferior THREE FACES OF EVE, this movie actually opened first by several months but didn't receive the acclaim EVE did. I don't think EVE is a particularly great film (although Joanne Woodward's performance is) but LIZZIE is poorly written, too simplistic with the a slightly "B" movie exploitation vibe to it. Parker is fine, good in fact but she can't turn the weak material around. I found the reasons for Parker's character's multiple personalities (there's a third one, the "normal" one) more compelling than the reasons for Eve's trauma. Still, to be fair, it's engrossing in its own garish way. With Richard Boone, Joan Blondell, Johnny Mathis (who introduces the standard It's Not For Me To Say), Marion Ross and Ric Roman.  

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Salem Witch Trials (2002)

In the Massachusetts town of Salem in 1692 colonial America, a group of young girls claimed they were afflicted by witchcraft. Thus began one of the darkest periods in American history when mass hysteria took over which resulted in many innocent people accused of witchcraft and 19 executed before the madness was stopped. Directed by Joseph Sargent (TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE), the film's three hour running time allows it to go beyond the mass hysteria but to the other motives behind the accusations like petty revenge and property disputes. It certainly shows the danger of having a religious faith based entity in a governing position rather than an objective legal system. The acting is decent with a few stand outs including Shirley MacLaine as God fearing Puritan who suddenly finds herself accused of being a witch, Rebecca De Mornay as a Reverend's wife who can no longer take the hysteria and Alan Bates as the newly appointed by the crown governor. It's an often upsetting piece as we see rampant ignorance and people so easily swayed by the lies of children, all in the name of God. With Kirstie Alley, Peter Ustinov, Jay O. Sanders, Henry Czerny, Gloria Reuben and Kristin Booth.   

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Adoration (aka Adore) (2013)

In New South Wales, two young girls (Sarah Henderson, Skye Sutherland) are inseparable friends which continues into adulthood. As adults, one is a widow (Naomi Watts) while the other (Robin Wright) is married and they both have sons (Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville). But when each begins an affair with the other's son, it opens the door to a complex situation that will have dreadful consequences. Based on the novel THE GRANDMOTHERS by Doris Lessing and and adapted for the screen by Christopher Hampton (DANGEROUS LIAISONS) and directed by Anne Fontaine. Anyone expecting the usual older woman/younger man saga should be surprised at the depth and detail in Hampton's screenplay. It's a line that never should have been crossed but once it is, the film doesn't shy away from the messiness, guilt, pain and even ugliness that transpires. What's the expression? "The heart wants what the heart wants"? The film offers Watts and Wright juicy roles and it's great seeing them delving into their parts wholeheartedly and fleshing them out with genuine emotional honesty. With Ben Mendelsohn, Jessica Tovey, Sophie Lowe and Gary Sweet. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Stepford Wives (1975)

An aspiring photographer (Katharine Ross) and her attorney husband (Peter Masterson) and their two kids move from Manhattan to the suburb town of Stepford in Connecticut. To her horror, she finds almost all the women there are focused on housekeeping and keeping their husbands happy. But she soon realizes that something very sinister is going on. Based on the novel by Ira Levin (ROSEMARY'S BABY)  and directed by Bryan Forbes (SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON). A modest hit when it was first released, the film's stature has grown through the years until it's become an admired cult film. The term "Stepford wife" has even become a part of our vocabulary when describing an almost robotic submissive wife with no ambition beyond being a wife and mother. Forbes isn't a director noted for thrillers but he does a neat job of creating a slowly growing sense of dread and paranoia. The final scene in the supermarket is bone chilling! The near perfect cast includes Paula Prentiss, Tina Louise, Nanette Newman, Patrick O'Neal, William Prince, Dee Wallace, Josef Sommer, Kenneth McMillan and in her film debut, Mary Stuart Masterson.    

Honeysuckle Rose (1980)

A married country and western singer (Willie Nelson) is struggling to break into the big leagues although he has a strong cult following. When his best friend and lead guitarist (Slim Pickens) retires, his friend's daughter (Amy Irving) temporarily takes his place. Their attraction to each other will cause much pain to their loved ones. Directed by Jerry Schatzberg (PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK), this is an amiable film with a threadbare plot derived from INTERMEZZO, an Ingrid Bergman film made twice, in Swedish in 1936 and in English in 1939. But its predictability doesn't work against it much. Nelson isn't much of an actor but he's affable and charming in his own way. The film really belongs to the two actresses, Irving and Dyan Cannon who's a powerhouse as Nelson's wife. Irving is saddled with a rather unlikable character but Cannon is magnificent here. This isn't a woman you take lightly or for granted! The songs are good and one of them, On The Road Again, received a best song Oscar nomination. The imposing cinematography is by Robby Muller (BREAKING THE WAVES). With Diana Scarwid, Emmylou Hariss, Joey Floyd and Priscilla Pointer.