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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Guys And Dolls (1955)

In order to raise $1,000 dollars to secure a spot for a high stakes crap game, a gambler (Frank Sinatra) bets another gambler (Marlon Brando) $1,000 that he can't get a mission worker (Jean Simmons) to fly off with him to Havana for the night. Based on the hit 1950 Broadway musical (by way of two Damon Runyon short stories) and written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (ALL ABOUT EVE). Reaction to this film version is mixed. Some say it doesn't capture the quirkiness and charm of the Broadway show while others just adore it. I'm terribly fond of it myself. Mankiewicz wisely keeps it stage bound and shot entirely on a sound stage with a stylized look to it. The Runyonesque world of Broadway gamblers and their dolls wouldn't set right in a more "realistic" mode. The Frank Loesser songs are terrific with every song hitting it out of the park and Michael Kidd's ebullient choreography only adding to the sparkle. For non singers, Brando and Simmons do very well, Sinatra is a marvelous Nathan Detroit and perhaps best of all, Vivian Blaine gets to recreate her original Broadway role. With Stubby Kaye, Robert Keith, Regis Toomey, Veda Ann Borg and Kathryn Givney. 

La Minute De Verite (1952)

On the eve of his anniversary, a doctor (Jean Gabin) is called away on an emergency when a man (Daniel Gelin) attempts suicide. It is then he discovers that the suicide victim is his wife's (Michele Morgan) lover. As the man hovers between life and death in the hospital, the doctor confronts his wife and through a long night and flashbacks, we learn of the complex infidelity. Directed by Jean Delannoy, this is in many ways an unsettling film. One's loyalties shift to each of the three protagonists and back again. One can't condemn the adulterous wife and she is a sympathetic character, the cuckold husband is no saint but in some ways ..... he is but in some ways, he's a cold monster. The lover is by turns irritating and heartbreaking. Delannoy's eye on infidelity isn't black and white and when the film ends, we're still conflicted. The film reunites the two icons of French cinema (Gabin and Morgan) 14 years later from PORT OF SHADOWS and how vastly different their roles from the Marcel Carne classic. With Lia De Leo and Simone Paris.  

Monday, January 29, 2018

Action In The North Atlantic (1943)

Set during WWII, a Merchant Marine (Humphrey Bogart) survives a German U boat attack and 11 days of being adrift on a raft along with other crew members including the Captain (Raymond Massey). Back home after a quick wedding to a singer (Julie Bishop), he's back on the high seas as part of a convoy carrying supplies to Russia. Directed by Lloyd Bacon (42ND STREET), the film opens with a spectacular nearly 20 minute sequence of the torpedoing of a ship and the subsequent evacuation attempt. After such a killer opening, where can the film go? The answer is ... it doesn't. The film reverts to the usual WWII propaganda action movie. While I appreciate why these films were made and their support of the war effort and our troops, as cinema, they are tedious. The film run 7 minutes past the two hour mark and if the jingoism had been minimized, it could have come in under two hours. The underscore by Adolph Deutsch (THE APARTMENT) is surprisingly good. With a young Ruth Gordon as Massey's wife and very little to do. Also with Dane Clark, Alan Hale, Sam Levene, Peter Whitney, Iris Adrian and Dick Hogan.

Journey To The Seventh Planet (1962)

It's the year 2001 and the planet is governed by the United Nations who send an international team of scientists to explore the planet Uranus. What they discover is a charming Danish village populated by sexy women. But there's a devious motive behind it all. Co-written, produced and directed by Sidney Pink so we know where to lay the blame! While there's actually a halfway decent concept behind all this, its execution is silly and badly acted. It plays like an extended episode of THE OUTER LIMITS (though I daresay the acting would be better) which would have done the work in a shorter time. The film was shot in Denmark for under a $100,000 with John Agar (dreadful as usual) imported from the U.S. for box office.  The special effects are poor and it's not even bad enough to qualify as "camp". There's even a cheesy love song called JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET that plays over the end credits ("somewhere on the seventh planet, out in space, you and I will find a magic place"). With Greta Thyssen, Carl Ottosen, Peter Monch, Ove Sprogoe and Ann Smyrner.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Gran Bollito (aka Black Journal) (1977)

In 1938 pre-war Italy, a wife and mother (Shelley Winters) who is so obsessive of her only son (Antonio Marsina) that she makes a pact with Death to offer human sacrifices to keep him safe. Directed by Mauro Bolognini (IL BELL'ANTONIO), the film is inspired by Leonarda Cianciulli, an Italian serial killer known as the "Soap Maker Of Correggio". While the film can be looked at as a Grand Guignol piece of horror, it's clear that's not what Bolognini is principally interested in. The fact that it's set in pre-WWII Italy as war looms and fascism rises and that death on a grander scale than one serial killer's crimes is on the horizon hovers over the narrative. Winters is excellent here in one of her very best performances. However, the film is in Italian and she's dubbed, so it helps that her shrill voice isn't in evidence. Curiously, the female victims of Winters' meat cleaver are all played by men including Max Von Sydow. At first I thought they were transvestites until the dialog made it clear they were actually women. Again, Bolognini making a point? With Rita Tushingham, Adriana Asti, Laura Antonelli, Alberto Lionello, Renato Pozzetto and Milena Vukotic.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

No Sad Songs For Me (1950)

A wife (Margaret Sullavan) learns she has terminal cancer with a diagnosis of ten months to live. She keeps the news from her husband (Wendell Corey) and daughter (Natalie Wood) as she comes to terms with her own mortality and securing a future for them without her. When her husband has a flirtation with a co-worker (Viveca Lindfors), instead putting an end to it, she sees that this might actually be a positive thing. Based on the novel by Ruth Southard and directed by Rudolph Mate (WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE). While the plot sounds like a typical tearjerker, it's surprisingly unsentimental and this is mostly due to Sullavan's (in her last film role) performance which is without self pity and based on a more reflective attitude. She doesn't even get a death scene, she dies off screen. Neither does the film condemn her husband's affair, it's all surprisingly so "adult". The lovely Oscar nominated score is by George Duning. With John McIntire, Jeanette Nolan, Ann Doran and Myron Healey.

The Little Mermaid (1961)

A young mermaid (Shirley Temple) rescues a Prince (Donald Harron, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING) from drowning. She falls hopelessly in love with him and makes a deal with the evil merwitch (Nina Foch) to give her legs so she can live on land and be near her Prince. But she only has 100 days to make him marry her or she will die. Based on the beloved 1837 fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen and directed by Roger Kay. Perhaps its most famous incarnation is the 1989 animated Walt Disney musical. However although it ends differently from the Disney film neither version stays true to the spiritual nature of Andersen's original ending. The acting is rather stiff and Temple's talent as a child actress didn't transition well to her adult years. Only Nina Foch and Ray Walston (as a sting ray) who get to overdo the evil get an opportunity to move beyond the drab if sincere acting of the other players. There's a lovely underscore by Walter Scharf. With Cathleen Nesbitt, Torin Thatcher, Nancy Kulp, Francine York and J. Pat O'Malley.  

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Opposite Of Sex (1998)

A 16 year old (Christina Ricci) runs away from her white trash mother in Louisiana to her gay half brother (Martin Donovan) in Indiana. Once there, she proceeds to wreak havoc with everyone's life. Written and directed by Don Roos, this is a deliciously wicked black comedy. One of the things that's so good about it is how it toys with our expectations, sometimes going along with it, sometimes turning it on its ear. Ricci's toxic teenage bitch should appall us but she's the most alive and interesting character in the film, so much so that you can't dislike her. The only other character remotely as interesting is Lisa Kudrow (with crack comic timing) as an angry spinster but at least she has common sense. The men are either weak (Martin Donovan), stupid (Ivan Sergei) or malicious (Johnny Galecki). They are also all gay with the only sensible male being Lyle Lovett as a sheriff and, of course, he's straight. Make of that what you will. That aside, this is a jewel of a sardonic entertainment. With William Lee Scott and Colin Ferguson.     

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Obsessions (aka Bezeten - Het Gat In De Muur) (1969)

When a painting falls off the wall in his apartment, a medical student (Dieter Geissler) discovers a small hole in the wall. Peeking through it into his neighbor's apartment, he witnesses what appears to be a sex  and torture crime. But instead of calling the police, he finds himself pulled into the sordidness of it all. Directed by Pim De La Parra, this exploitation film doesn't make a lick of sense. People behave in illogical ways and there are an abundance of loopholes that are frustrating. For an exploitation film, it has some talented people behind the camera. A young Martin Scorsese gets credit as one of the three screenwriters, the film editor is Henri Rust who edited CHILDREN OF PARADISE and WAGES OF FEAR and the underscore is by the great Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann's score infuses the film with a needed sense of dread and mystery. The film's gory finale is telegraphed and I looked away just in time. The acting is stiff and that may be because English is not the native language for the majority of the cast. It's a Dutch film in the English language. Only Alexandra Stewart (DAY FOR NIGHT) as Geissler's girlfriend manages to give something resembling a performance. With Tom Van Beek, Donald Jones, Elisabeth Versluys and Marijke Boonstra. 

I Love Trouble (1994)

After a train derails in Chicago, two rival reporters (Julia Roberts, Nick Nolte) from two different Chicago newspapers discover that the train derailment may not have been an accident but intentional. As each works on the story, they put their heads together in the hope of solving the mystery but how much can they really trust each other? Written by Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer and directed by Shyer (BABY BOOM), this is a rather sloppily written romcom thriller. Shyer's talent seems to lie in domestic comedies like the 1991 FATHER OF THE BRIDE remake or the charming BABY BOOM but he has no talent for the thriller aspect of the story which is pretty flabby. More importantly, Roberts and Nolte have zero chemistry (reputedly they couldn't stand each other) and Nolte is all wrong for something like this which requires a certain leading man charm and charm is the last thing Nolte has. They say all directors have one Hitchcock movie in them but as Shyer clearly proves, that's not always so. There appears to have been some last minute tinkering as Elmer Bernstein's score was replaced by David Newman and Marsha Mason and Olympia Dukakis are in it so briefly, they're not mentioned in the opening credits. With Robert Loggia, Saul Rubinek, Eugene Levy, James Rebhorn, Charles Martin Smith and Lisa Lu. 

Behave Yourself (1951)

A young married man (Farley Granger) is followed home by a friendly Welsh Terrier that his wife (Shelley Winters) mistakes for an anniversary present. Little do they know that the dog is part of a lethal smuggling ring and soon the bodies start piling up! Co-written and directed by George Beck, this fluffy farce may be silly at times but I found it rather charming and there's a terrific cast of familiar character actors doing what they do best. Shelley Winters and Farley Granger are hardly the first names one thinks of when it comes to farce but Granger makes for an amusing straight man and Winters does an amusing lightweight version of the later shrews that would mark her later career. It's a piffle really and not a laugh out loud comedy (though I did laugh out loud twice) but the kind of comedy where there's a constant grin on your face. The wonderful supporting cast includes Elisha Cook Jr., Lon Chaney Jr., William Demarest, Sheldon Leonard, Allen Jenkins, Glenn Anders (LADY FROM SHANGHAI), Marvin Kaplan, Francis L. Sullivan, Margalo Gillmore and Archie stealing scenes as the dog.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Cherry Orchard (1981)

In early 20th century Russia, an impoverished aristocrat (Judi Dench) and her entourage return from Paris to her family estate shortly before it is set to be auctioned off to pay the mortgage. Based on the 1904 play by Anton Chekhov and directed by Richard Eyre. Of all Chekhov's major works, I find this one the most difficult to enjoy. It's beautifully written for sure but there's such a despair in watching the effete aristocracy flounder because of its own ineptitude and inability or unwillingness to adapt themselves to the new world. One shouldn't feel such sadness for an outdated class system especially one that exploited the lower classes (the serfs were emancipated in 1861) I suppose nor is there much sympathy for the new bourgeois embracing materialism. The acting is very good for the most part though Bill Paterson's Scottish accent as Lopakhin seems out place when everyone is playing Russian and using standard English. With Anna Massey, Timothy Spall, Anton Lesser and Harriet Walter.   

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Nevada Smith (1966)

Set in the 1890s West, a young boy (Steve McQueen) sets out to avenge the death of his father (Gene Evans) and Indian mother (Isabel Boniface) at the hands of three killers (Karl Malden, Arthur Kennedy, Martin Landau). Based on a character's backstory from THE CARPETBAGGERS by Harold Robbins (played by Alan Ladd in the 1964 film version) whose back story was eliminated from the film version and directed by Henry Hathaway. The film is a standard revenge western in three sections as he pursues the three killers. The most interesting section is the Louisiana swamp prison section and the least interesting is the sequence with McQueen and a Catholic priest (Raf Vallone) who insufferably preaches (or nags if you prefer) to him about right and wrong. At age 35, McQueen is way too old to play the young innocent boy who is still in his teens as the story begins and probably in his mid to late 20s as the story ends. Watching him playing boyish is painful at times but he remains a strong screen presence and eminently watchable if not entirely believable. With Suzanne Pleshette, Brian Keith, Janet Margolin, Pat Hingle, Howard Da Silva, Lyle Bettger and Joanna Moore.  

On Approval (1944)

Two members of the British upper class, a Duke (Clive Brook) and his friend (Roland Culver), have breeding but no money. A wealthy widow (Beatrice Lillie) and an American heiress (Googie Withers) plot to spend a month with them on a secluded island to determine their suitability as husband material. Based on the 1926 play by Frederick Lonsdale and co-written and directed by the film's star, Clive Brook. There is a great affection for this sophisticated drawing room comedy but I was slightly underwhelmed. The dialog is witty and droll enough but the film's biggest problem is its star/director/ writer, Clive Brook. Of the four leads, he is the weakest. To make his part work, the actor who plays it (a rather narcissistic ne'er do well) needs a lot of charm and the charmless Brook is the most unappealing of the quartet. I'd love to have seen what a Cary Grant would have done with the part. The remaining three are fine and in the case of Beatrice Lillie, a lot more than fine. The costumes are by Cecil Beaton. With Marjorie Rhodes. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Hotel Sahara (1951)

When WWII breaks out, a hotel in North Africa finds itself occupied in turn by various forces and changes sides with each new arrival. First, the Italians then the British then the Germans then the French and Americans. The hotel owner (Peter Ustinov) is upset than his fiancee (Yvonne De Carlo) shamelessly flirts with each occupying force. Directed by Ken Annakin (BATTLE OF THE BULGE), this comedic farce is moderately amusing but truth to tell, while I love farces I'm not all that partial to war comedies. Though not a musical, De Carlo has two songs and a dance number and gets to use her underused talent for comedy while Ustinov underplays and frets nicely. The film could have used a little more madness and one can't help but wonder what an expert farceur like Peter Sellers might have done with it. At its best, it remains a pleasant diversion. With David Tomlinson (MARY POPPINS), Roland Culver, Ferdy Mayne and Mireille Perrey.  

The Time Of Their Lives (2017)

By chance, a washed up Hollywood actress (Joan Collins), now in a senior retirement home and a British housewife (Pauline Collins) encounter each other on a bus trip. The actress talks the housewife into running off to France with her where she plans on attending an old flame's funeral. But she really has an ulterior motive. Directed by Roger Goldby, this comedy comes across as an ill advised senior citizen version of ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS (the British TV series). It's the kind of comedy where seniors getting stoned on pot is supposed to be hysterically funny. On the plus side, the Collins girls (not related) give it their best shot and pretty much hold the picture together in spite of the thin material. Also a plus are the handsome French locations beautifully shot by James Aspinall. Plus a shout out to Franco Nero for doing a full frontal at age 75, that takes guts! With Joely Richardson, Ronald Pickup and an unrecognizable Michael Brandon (LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS). 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Margaret (2012)

A typical teenage girl (Anna Paquin) witnesses a bus accident that kills a pedestrian (Allison Janney) and the woman dies in her arms. So traumatized by the incident that it affects her profoundly and she finds herself in a moral dilemma that will that will change her forever. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (who also plays Paquin's father in the movie), the film has a troubled history. Originally scheduled for release in 2007, Lonergan continued to work on the film for several years before it was released in 2011 doing the film festival circuit before receiving a limited release in 2012. For such an intimate story, the film's 3 hour running time seems excessive but it's an ambitious film with a lot of ground to cover. While parts of it do seem slightly self indulgent, on the whole I found it a moving experience. Anna Paquin gives a tremendous performance in a rich, complex and layered role. It's not an easy film to sit through but the rewards are great and while there's a lot to criticize, its assets outweigh its liabilities. The excellent cast includes Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Jeannie Berlin, Kieran Culkin, Rosemarie DeWitt and an especially notable performance by J. Smith Cameron as Paquin's actress mother.   

Thursday, January 18, 2018

La Morte Ha Fatto L'uovo (aka Death Laid An Egg) (1968)

A businessman (Jean Louis Trintignant), who may be a serial killer, and his wife (Gina Lollobrigida) operate a farm that breeds chickens. Currently, they are trying to breed a strain of chicken that has no bones. They are also involved in a menage a trois with the wife's nubile young cousin (Ewa Aulin, CANDY). Co-written and directed by Giulio Questi, this is one twisted movie. Although marketed as a giallo and there are aspects of the film that fit firmly in the genre, the film seems to have a political subtext regarding technology replacing workers, the amorality of the bourgeoisie and the power of sexual dynamics etc. As a giallo, the film isn't successful but the film is so bizarre that you can't take your eyes off it. Indeed, you may never eat another piece of chicken again after watching it. It's one of those films that probably sounded exciting on paper but too scattered in the actual execution. If Jean Luc Godard made a giallo, it would probably resemble something like this. With Jean Sobieski.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Dangerous Crossing (1953)

A new bride (Jeanne Crain) and her husband (Carl Betz)  set sail on an ocean liner for a transatlantic honeymoon. But when her husband disappears aboard ship, no one claims to have seen him and any evidence of his existence has evaporated. Is she mentally unstable or are there more sinister forces at work? Based on the 1943 radio play CABIN B-13 by mystery writer John Dickson Carr and directed by Joseph M. Newman (THIS ISLAND EARTH). It may be a low budget programmer but director Newman does wonders with limited production values and confined spaces and Crain and Michael Rennie as the ship's doctor prove persuasive leads. While the "husband/mother/companion disappears and no proof of their existence" plot is hardly fresh, the movie provides a menacing and paranoid atmosphere (I don't think any movie has made foghorns sound so threatening) and the fetching Crain plays hysteria nicely. With Mary Anderson, Max Showalter, Willis Bouchey and Marjorie Hoshelle. 

Deliverance (1972)

Four city dwellers (Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox) decide to take a weekend canoe journey down a remote Georgia river that is scheduled to be flooded for the construction of a dam. What was supposed to be a "fun" weekend turns into a weekend of terror. Based on the novel by James Dickey (who has a small role as the sheriff in the film) and directed by John Boorman (POINT BLANK). At the time of its release, the film seemed to be saying something significant about man and nature, civilized man vs. primal man, etc. In that respect, it hasn't held up well. What still works is a taut and tense outdoor action thriller and on that level, Boorman and company have a lot to be proud of. Voight and Reynolds are just fine though in Reynolds' case, it seems more of a case of screen presence than actual acting ability. The two standout performances belong to Beatty and Cox in smaller roles. Beatty's rape scene has lost none of its horror and indeed, on some level the film itself might be considered a horror film. A huge plus is the cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond wide screen Panavision lensing which captures both the stunning beauty and terrifying nature of the Northeastern Georgia wild. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Houston Story (1956)

An unscrupulous driller (Gene Barry) concocts a plan to steal oil from Houston oil fields. To this end, he enlists the aid of a mobster (Edward Arnold) to help him pull off the scam. Directed by William Castle (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL), this inexpensive noir is undercooked and needed a stronger script. The lead role was originally intended for Lee J. Cobb who suffered a heart attack while filming and was replaced by Gene Barry. Cobb might have given the part some needed authority as Barry comes across as a sleazebag way over his head. The most interesting character is the mobster moll played by Barbara Hale in a rare against type hard-bitten glamour girl usually played by the likes of Lizabeth Scott or Gloria Grahame. At a brief running time of one hour and 21 minutes, the film moves quickly. Perhaps too quickly as it could have used some more detailing. Still, for what it is, it's a passable piece of cinematic pulp. With Paul Richards, Jeanne Cooper and John Zaremba. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

What Mad Pursuit? (1985)

Set in the 1930s, a well known British author (Paul Daneman) on a tour of America is invited by a Manhattan socialite (Carroll Baker) to her Long Island mansion for a weekend of rest and quiet. However, it turns out that rest and quiet are the last things he gets as the weekend turns out to be a disaster. Based on the short story by Noel Coward and directed by Tony Smith. This amusing if lightweight piece of fluff is practically a throwaway. The characters are typical Noel Coward characters, tossing off witty and bitchy one liners but who would exhaust you in real life and in this story, they exhaust the writer who just wants to rest and sleep but is prevented at every opportunity by rather shallow and self centered social butterflies. With Neil Cunningham, Jacqueline Pearce, Jane Carr and Phillip Joseph.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Tomorrow Is Forever (1946)

At the end of WWI, a pregnant wife (Claudette Colbert) receives a telegram that her soldier husband (Orson Welles) has been killed in Europe. Jump 20 years later and she has remarried and her second husband (George Brent) is raising her son (Richard Long) as his own. But when an Austrian refugee (Orson Welles) comes to work for her husband, she begins to slowly suspect that he might be her first husband. Based on the novel by Gwen Bristow and directed by Irving Pichel (DESTINATION MOON). This is one corker of a tearjerker! Shamelessly intent on milking every tear it can from your ducts, you should resent it but when it's this determined, it's best to just give in! A suspension of belief is necessary to make the narrative work. When Orson Welles returns 20 years later, he is indubitably Orson Welles yet Colbert shows no signs of immediate recognition. That aside, it's a well done piece of melodrama. Max Steiner contributes one of his more restrained scores. With Richard Long, Lucile Watson, Joyce MacKenzie, Ian Wolfe and an adorable 7 year old Natalie Wood. 

Die 3 Groschen Oper (aka The Threepenny Opera) (1931)

In late Victorian London, the leader (Rudolf Forster) of a criminal gang impulsively marries the daughter (Carola Neher) of the self proclaimed King of beggars (Fritz Rasp). This infuriates both the beggar King and the gangster's mistress (Lotte Lenya) and trouble brews. Based on the acclaimed musical by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill (itself adapted from the 18th century John Gay English ballad opera) and directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst (who also directed a simultaneous French language version). Despite the direction of the respected Pabst and the presence of Lotte Lenya in the cast, this is far from the definitive version of the Brecht/Weill musical. Musically, the film has excised most of the songs to the point that I would call this version a semi-musical. The plot is re-arranged and the remaining songs are not in the order they were in the play. Pirate Jenny sung by Polly in the play is now given to Jenny to sing. Alas, the wonderful Jealousy Duet is one of the songs jettisoned. Still, it remains the most "authentic" of the film versions and its wonderful to have an archival record of the great Lenya singing Pirate Jenny. With Reinhold Schunzel, Valeska Gert and Ernst Busch. 

Mudbound (2017)

Set in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s, a dirt poor white farmer (Jason Clarke) and his family and his black sharecropper tenant (Rob Morgan) and his family must deal with the physical elements that determine their fate and for the black family, there's the deep rooted racism. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan and directed by Dee Rees. Although the pacing of the film often feels too methodical (or slow if you prefer), ultimately it proves to be a powerful if disturbing experience. This being set in the racist Jim Crow South, you just know where it's heading and sure enough, it does. But director Rees infuses the film with a reality and a truth that elevates it above the usual films of its ilk. Rees doesn't have to hammer us as if we were unable to grasp it, she simply shows it as it is. And when she ends the film on a note of hope, it's not of the "we are all brothers, Kumbaya" kind but a glimmer and that's enough. I found myself more interested in the black family's story and slightly annoyed whenever we had to go back to the white family's although I had a great empathy for Carey Mulligan's unhappy wife. With Mary J. Blige (excellent), Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell and Jonathan Banks.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

September (1996)

Set in the Scottish highlands, as the town's leading citizens prepare for a ball given by one of the village's social butterflies (Judy Parfitt), long buried secrets come to the fore when a woman (Jacqueline Bisset) who had fled the town 20 years before returns for reasons of her own. Based on the best selling novel by Rosamunde Pilcher and directed by Colin Bucksey. At a running time of slightly over three hours, the film plays out like a nice juicy read. It opens with the discovery of a body but we have to wait until the end to discover whose body it is. It's pure soap opera of course but done very well and there are some nice performances. Notably that of Jacqueline Bisset, an actress usually cast for her beauty rather than her acting ability. No need to seek it out but if you run across it, don't be surprised if it hooks you in. In addition to the performances, a shout out goes to Peter Sinclair's cinematography that makes the Irish locations (standing in for Scotland) look gorgeous. With Michael York, Mariel Hemingway, Edward Fox, Jenny Agutter, Virginia McKenna (just wonderful), Paul Guilfoyle and Angela Pleasence in a really creepy performance.

Sissi: Die Junge Kaiserin (aka Sissi: The Young Empress) (1956)

As the new Empress of Austria, a young girl (Romy Schneider) finds it difficult to adjust to palace life especially when confronted by her daunting mother in law (Vilma Degischer) who attempts to control her. Directed by Ernest Marischka, this is the second entry in the hugely popular (in Germany) SISSI trilogy which began in 1955 with SISSI and ended in 1957 with SISSI: FATEFUL YEARS OF AN EMPRESS. It's a highly romanticized version of the actual Elizabeth of Austria early years as Empress and certainly not to be taken as historically accurate. One can see why the film became so popular. This was the film that made Romy Schneider a star in Germany and while she's still in Sandra Dee mode rather than the international actress she would become in the 1960s, she's absolutely charming. The film benefits from the sumptuous production design of Fritz Juptner-Jonstorff and detailed costume design of Leo Bei and Franz Szivats as well as Bruno Mondi's lush cinematography which takes full advantage of the beautiful Austrian landscapes. I could have done without Josef Meinrad's unfunny comic relief and the film's last 10 minutes which seem to drag on forever. With Karlheinz Bohm (PEEPING TOM) as Franz Joseph I, Magda Schneider and Erich Nikowitz.   

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Un Carnet De Bal (1937)

A wealthy recent widow (Marie Bell) finds herself lonely and cut off. When she discovers an old dance program from a ball 20 years earlier, she decides to track down her young suitors to see how life has treated them. Directed by Julien Duvivier (PEPE LE MOKO), this is a charming yet often poignant rumination on how our memories are not always reliable and how a single incident can often determine what path our lives will take. Bell's journey through her past is both comedic and tragic and encompasses suicide, murder, card tricks, avalanches and the priesthood. The film tends to dwell a bit too long on some of the episodes, notably the mayor's (Raimu) wedding. The performances are fine right down the line with Louis Jouvet as the former law student now turned mob boss standing out. The film should have ended when Bell returns to the scene of the crime, where the ball took place but we get an unnecessary coda. With Fernandel, Francoise Rosay, Harry Baur, Sylvie, Pierre Blanchar and Pierre Richard Willm.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Cape Fear (1962)

After being released from prison for eight years, a sadistic psychopath (Robert Mitchum) begins terrorizing the family of the lawyer (Gregory Peck) he considers responsible for sending him to prison. While the police are helpless to do anything, the attorney takes matters into his own hands. Based on the novel THE EXECUTIONERS by John D. MacDonald and directed by J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE). This is a killer of a thriller! Thompson's film is one of those movies where Hitchcock's influence hovers over the entire project. Perhaps not coincidentally many of Hitchcock's collaborators participated in the film: art director Robert F. Boyle (THE BIRDS), editor George Tomasini (VERTIGO) and composer Bernard Herrmann (PSYCHO). Thompson keeps a tight rein on the suspense and cinematographer Sam Leavitt's (EXODUS) evocative B&W lensing is rich with shadows and mood. But perhaps the most important element of CAPE FEAR is Mitchum's bone chilling performance. Using the less is more method, all Mitchum has to do is lower the lids over his cobra eyes and your blood runs cold. You just know the unspeakable horrors this monster is capable of!  Remade in 1991 by Martin Scorsese. With Polly Bergen, Telly Savalas, Martin Balsam, Lori Martin, Jack Kruschen, Joan Staley and a terrific performance by Barrie Chase as one of Mitchum's victims.

The Tunnel Of Love (1958)

As their fifth anniversary approaches, a Connecticut couple (Doris Day, Richard Widmark) that have trouble conceiving apply to adopt a child. But after passing out after a night on the town with a beautiful social worker (Gia Scala), the husband discovers that he might have conceived without his wife! Based on the Broadway play by Peter De Vries and Joseph Fields by way of the novel by De Vries and directed by Gene Kelly. This racy sex comedy is one of the better examples of its genre. Despite being top billed (and singing the title song), the film belongs more to Widmark than to Doris Day. It's a treat to see Widmark playing against type and treading into Jack Lemmon/Rock Hudson territory. Widmark brings an actor's gravitas to the part and underplays the comedic hijinks which makes his character more believable than if he were just going for the laughs. Unfortunately, the public at that time weren't taken with Widmark stepping outside his comfort zone and the film wasn't a success. With Gig Young, Elisabeth Fraser and Elizabeth Wilson.      

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Family Pictures (1993)

In 1983, a photographer (Kyra Sedgwick) returns home to visit her now divorced parents (Anjelica Huston, Sam Neill) and as she looks at photos of her family (which included 5 brothers and sisters), she reflects on how her severely autistic brother's (Jamie Harrold) existence shaped the fortunes of her family. Based on the novel by Sue Miller (THE GOOD MOTHER) and directed by Philip Saville. The film encompasses a large chunk of time, 1948 through 1983. Certainly autism in the 1950s and 1960s was looked at differently than in the 2000s and the film unblinkingly looks at the difficulties of taking care of a severely autistic child and later an autistic adult and how it drives his parents apart. The mother focuses on the child at the expense of her other children who feel left out and the husband can never bring himself to fully embrace the child. The questions arises is how different would the family's life have been without the boy and did his existence serve as a match that lit a fire that would have happened anyway? I've not read Miller's novel but I suspect it might have read better than it plays out here which tends to be soap opera-ish. But there are two performances that hold the film together: Huston's powerful mama lion who seems to live for drama in her life and Neill's dispassionate father who just wants everything "normal". With Dermot Mulroney and Janet Laine Green.  

Monday, January 8, 2018

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1976)

As a Mississippi family celebrates the birthday of Big Daddy (Laurence Olivier), a wealthy cotton tycoon, secrets and lies slowly give way to truth as the night wears on. At the core of this feuding dynasty is Big Daddy's alcoholic son (Robert Wagner) and his wife, Maggie the Cat (Natalie Wood). Directed by Robert Moore (MURDER BY DEATH), unlike the 1958 film, this is not an adaptation of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize winning play, it is the original text. Williams play which many consider his best (I'd give that honor to A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE) is an examination of how lives inundated by secrets and lies are destructive to a healthy and honest relationship(s). Director Moore does nicely by Williams play which is so perfectly constructed that it seems almost indestructible (though I'm sure there have been terrible productions of it). A lot of the play's effectiveness however is dependent on the performances. Wood's Maggie the Cat is uneven. Sometimes she just seems to be reciting lines, other times she nails it perfectly. Olivier seems miscast. Wagner is surprisingly good and Maureen Stapleton as Big Mama hits it every time. An uneven production to be sure but worth checking out. With Mary Peach as Mae and Jack Hedley as Gooper.  

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Iron Man (2008)

A high tech industrialist inventor (Robert Downey Jr.) is kidnapped by Afghanistan terrorists. In order to facilitate an escape, he builds a high tech suit of armor which he will later perfect and he will become known as Iron Man. Directed by Jon Favreau, this is good example of a superhero comic book movie. You can leave your brain on cruise control because you won't need it. I definitely wouldn't want a steady diet of this junk (and I call it junk affectionately) anymore than I would want a steady diet of cotton candy but every once in awhile, that sweet tooth must be satisfied. The script is pretty shallow but luckily, we have Robert Downey Jr., an excellent actor, who is able bring enough gravitas to the part so that it becomes easy to suspend disbelief. The same can be said of Jeff Bridges as the heavy and Gwyneth Paltrow as Downey's personal secretary. It's good enough that even non Marvel addicts can appreciate its style and wit and the action sequences are wonderfully done. Two years later, IRON MAN 2 would arrive and while it was fine too, it just wasn't as good. With Terrence Howard, Shaun Taub, Leslie Bibb, Clark Gregg, Faran Tahir and Samuel L. Jackson.  

Beyond The Time Barrier (1960)

A U.S. Air Force pilot (Robert Clarke) accidentally crashes through the time barrier 107 years into the future, the year 2024 to be exact. When he lands on Earth, he finds that it is inhabited by a handful of survivors of a 1971 plague that rendered the population mute and sterile that live in an underground city. Directed by cult director Edgar G. Ulmer (THE BLACK CAT), a favorite of the auteur crowd, who is known for bringing style and an unconventional eye to often subpar material. Alas, this cheap throwaway shot in 10 days on a Texas fairground is a tedious affair. The most interesting thing about it is its production design by Ernst Fegte (FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO) which seems inspired by FORBIDDEN PLANET. Even Boyd "Red" Morgan is made up to look like Walter Pidgeon from that film. The patched together screenplay by Arthur C. Pierce doesn't make much sense and simply put, Ulmer isn't able to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear in this case. The acting is pretty crappy across the board. With Vladimir Sokoloff, John Van Dreelan, Stephen Bekassy, Darlene Tompkins and Arianne Ulmer (Edgar's daughter). 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Happy End (2017)

A family headed by a matriarch (Isabelle Huppert) struggles to keep their construction business afloat while their family is beset by a series of tragic events. The movie starts out with an act of animal cruelty followed by a spoiled brat (Fantine Harduin) murdering her mother. Yes, Michael Haneke is at it again and while never say never, this may very well be my last Haneke film. I'm pretty much burnt out on his sour attitude and misanthropic eye. The man has talent, that's not to be denied and he uses excellent actors like Huppert and Jean Louis Tringtignant (repeating their roles from Haneke's AMOUR) but how much more masochistic do we have to be to voluntarily submit to Haneke's cinematic sadism? The film is unnecessarily sluggish and self indulgent. There's a scene with Trintignant rolling himself down the street in a wheelchair and I dozed off for a minute and when I woke up, he was still rolling himself down the street! Everyone is unlikable and most of them are self destructive and I suppose if I were part of that family, I'd want out to! In addition to fine work by Huppert and Trintignant, I liked Mathieu Kassovitz as Huppert's doctor brother. With Toby Jones and Laura Verlinden.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Hell On Frisco Bay (1955)

A cop (Alan Ladd) is released from prison after five years for a crime he did not commit. He has one thing on his mind and that's to find out who framed him. Based on the novel THE DARKEST HOUR by William McGivern and directed by Frank Tuttle (THIS GUN FOR HIRE). This borderline film noir is a mixed bag. It's saddled with an uninteresting domestic narrative as Ladd has trouble forgiving his nightclub singer wife (Joanne Dru) who had an affair while he was incarcerated. Their scenes together slow down the film. Also, the great cinematographer John F. Seitz (DOUBLE INDEMNITY) doesn't use the CinemaScope frame very well, too many empty spaces. The film belongs to Edward G. Robinson at his very best as a cold blooded thug without an ounce of human compassion in his body. There's a subplot involving Robinson's right hand henchman (Paul Stewart) and his relationship with a washed up actress (Fay Wray) that's far more interesting than the Ladd/Dru domestic troubles and could have made for an entire movie itself. The film picks up steam as it rolls along but it ends with a whimper, not a bang. With Rod Taylor, Jayne Mansfield, William Demarest, Perry Lopez, Stanley Adams, Anthony Caruso and Tina Carver.

No Mercy (1986)

After his partner (Gary Basaraba) is brutally murdered, a Chicago cop (Richard Gere) goes to New Orleans to track down the man (Jeroen Krabbe) responsible for the killing. Directed by Richard Pearce (COUNTRY), this is the kind of overwritten bad movie that you can't help but get sucked into and enjoying it even though you know it's bad. And by bad, I don't mean "camp". The plot is ludicrous, the dialogue is poor, the characters are cliches, the acting is mostly lousy but you're hooked anyway. Richard Gere is still at his pretty boy stage here and his touch cop act is hard to buy. In the movies, Bogart and Mitchum would have eaten him alive and in real life, he'd get bitch slapped by the bad guys. But Krabbe makes for a chilling villain and Kim Basinger brings a genuine pathos to her role as Krabbe's unwilling mistress. It's a testament to her talent as an actress because it sure isn't in the writing. The fiery ending is never in doubt but it takes forever in coming. The cinematography by the French Canadian Michel Brault is full of local New Orleans color and the one note score is by Alan Silvestri. With William Atherton, Ray Sharkey, Terry Kinney and George Dzundza.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Niente Rose Per OSS 117 (aka OSS 117 Double Agent) (1968)

When a series of political assassinations occur, a secret agent (John Gavin) known as OSS 117 has plastic surgery and goes undercover as a notorious hit man. He is hired by the head (Curt Jurgens) of an assassination organization to kill a United Nations peacemaker (Piero Lulli). Based on the novel PAS DE ROSES POUR OSS 117 by Jean Bruce, this was the last of the five OSS 117 movies done in the 1960s between 1963 and 1968. Directed by Andre Hunebelle with assistance from Jean Pierre Desagnat and Renzo Cerrato, this entry tries to inject more humor into the screenplay but unfortunately John Gavin doesn't seem to have a comic bone in his body. The outlandish plot needed more style and panache to succeed but it was clear that the franchise was running out of steam. The film was only a modest success at the French box office (it was not released in the U.S.). Outside of Gavin, Jurgens makes for an elegant villain (sort of a test run for his Bond villain in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) and Bond bad girl Luciana Paluzzi (THUNDERBALL) is wasted but is as sexy as ever. With Robert Hossein and Margaret Lee.  

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Story Of Ruth (1960)

When a Moabite priestess (Elana Eden) in the service of a pagan god called Chemosh, who demands human sacrifice, meets a Jewish artisan (Tom Tryon), she begins to question her faith. Directed by Henry Koster (THE ROBE), this biblical epic is of the tasteful variety. Personally, I prefer a little vulgarity in my biblical epics, usually of the DeMille kind. Which is a roundabout way of saying, this is a slow moving movie with lots of sincerity. The film picks up somewhat in its second hour when the romance between Elana Eden and Stuart Whitman heats up. The beautiful Eden isn't much of an actress or perhaps it's her difficulty with the English language but she's doesn't have much to offer other than her beauty and sincerity which isn't enough to elevate this to anything other than your standard Sunday school bible fare. My favorite performance came from Viveca Lindfors as the high priestess, haughtily barking at everyone and the movie could have used more of her rather than the few minutes allotted. Surprisingly, the critics were very kind to the film. With Peggy Wood (THE SOUND OF MUSIC) as Naomi, Jeff Morrow, Thayer David, Les Tremayne and Ziva Rodann.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Riff-Raff (1947)

An American private eye (Pat O'Brien) in Panama is hired as a bodyguard by a mysterious man (Marc Krah) who has just killed a man to obtain a map that holds the key to billions of dollars of crude oil. But when the mystery man turns up murdered, everyone wants to know where the map is! Directed by Ted Tetzlaff (THE WINDOW), this is a minor entry in the film noir lexicon but it's a nifty fast moving winner. The screenplay by Martin Rackin cleverly allows us to know where the map is as we sit back and watch everybody else scramble to find it. Pat O'Brien may be a bit portly to be a noir hero and there are too many unfortunate shots of his ample backside as he runs but he knows how to deliver a tough line and sarcasm with the best of them. Anne Jeffreys makes for a lovely femme fatale (you're never quite sure where she stands) and Walter Slezak is perfect as the sleazy villain. One thing that has always irritated me is when the bad guy(s) starts beating up the good guy, the girl sits back and watches for the outcome. Here, I could have cheered when Jeffreys jumps into the fray rather than wring her hands on the fringes. I don't want to oversell it but noir fans should seek it out. With Percy Kilbride and Jerome Cowan.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Philanthropist (1974)

In a small university town, a young professor (Ronald Pickup) and his fiancee (Helen Mirren) give an intimate dinner party for four guests. In spite of the political upheaval around them, they seem rather indifferent and as the evening progresses, personal relationships are about to uncouple and couple. Based on the 1971 play by Christopher Hampton (DANGEROUS LIAISONS) and directed by Stuart Burge. It begins with an unexpected suicide which is never referenced again and for the remaining 90 minutes, we get lots of dialogue which I found rather tedious and without a clear cut focus. I assume I'm in the minority because the play received three Tony nominations including best play and it was even revived on Broadway in 2009 with Matthew Broderick in Pickup's role. Its lead character is a rather indecisive bore (even his fiancee thinks so) and he's our main protagonist! A play about a bore has every chance of being a bore and this one gets dangerously close! Three performances save it from crashing: Mirren, Charles Gray (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) as a cynical right wing author and Jacqueline Pearce as a promiscuous vixen. With James Bolam, Colin Higgins and Amanda Knott.