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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn (1960)

In the pre-Civil War South, a young boy (Eddie Hodges) and a slave (Archie Moore) run away and take a raft down the Mississippi River. Each is escaping: the boy is running away from his drunken abusive father (Neville Brand) and the black man escaping slavery and seeking freedom. Based on the classic novel by Mark Twain and directed by Michael Curtiz (CASABLANCA). This film adaptation eliminates several key characters and sequences from the novel. But it keeps the spirit of the book intact and I think it's a decent and often charming adaptation. Being made in 1960, the film stays faithful to the novel without any PC concerns that a contemporary adaptation would have. Hodges seems a bit too urban for Huck Finn and boxing champ Moore isn't an actor and his readings are often stiff. Fortunately, they have a good rapport and both are likable enough to keep us rooting for them. There's a lovely Americana score by Jerome Moross (THE BIG COUNTRY). With Tony Randall, Buster Keaton, Patty McCormack, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Sherry Jackson, Mickey Shaughnessy, Josephine Hutchinson, Harry Dean Santon, Finlay Currie and Judy Canova.

Young Catherine (1991)

In 1744, a young Prussian princess (Julia Ormond) is sent to Russia for an arranged marriage to the heir (Reece Dinsdale) to the Russian throne. But first she must get the approval of the Empress Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave). Directed by Michael Anderson (AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS), this is a highly fictionalized version of Catherine The Great's early years that plays out like a Harlequin romance novel. It's full of court intrigue, secret romantic assignations and a demure heroine who grows into a strong woman. What it isn't is factual so I certainly hope no one watches this expecting an accurate depiction of the early years of Catherine The Great. For what it is, it's handsomely shot  by Ernest Day (A PASSAGE TO INDIA) with eye popping costumes courtesy of Larisa Konnikova. Ormond makes for an acceptable Catherine but the film belongs to Vanessa Redgrave who livens up every scene she's in which is no small feat when a costumer is this tired. The glee with which she watches a baby's birth (she even applauds) while the mother is screaming in pain justifies the entire three hours. With Christopher Plummer, Maximilian Schell, Marthe Keller, Franco Nero and Laurie Holden.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Seduction Of Joe Tynan (1979)

A liberal and married Democratic Senator (Alan Alda, who also wrote the screenplay) from New York is faced with blocking the nomination of a supreme court justice (Maurice Copeland) despite pressure from a senior Senator (Melvyn Douglas) not to do so. Matters are further complicated when he begins an affair with a political activist (Meryl Streep) although still in love with his wife (Barbara Harris). Directed by Jerry Schatzberg, I wish Alda had let someone else play the title role. His screenplay is good but as an actor, Alda just isn't very interesting. So our focus goes toward the two women, Streep and Harris, who are engaging actresses and give solid performances. In Harris's case, more than solid, she's marvelous. I'm not sure how Alda wants us to take the character of Joe Tynan. He's not particularly likable but I suspect Alda sees him as a "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" everyman hero. That being said, the film is bracing in its depiction of the political terrain of Washington DC and how even "good" people become seduced by dreams of power. The cheesy score is by Bill Conti. With Melvyn Douglas (excellent), Rip Torn, Blanche Baker, Charles Kimbrough, Carrie Nye and Marian Hailey.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Le Streghe (aka The Witches) (1967)

Five short films by five different directors, all showcasing the beautiful Silvana Mangano: 1) a famous actress (Mangano) attends a dinner party hoping to escape her fame for a little while. Directed by Luchino Visconti and with Annie Girardot, Helmut Berger, Marilu Tolo, Massimo Girotti, Francisco Rabal and Veronique Vendell. 2) a woman (Mangano) offers to take an injured motorist (Alberto Sordi) to the hospital. Directed by Mauro Bolognini. 3) a widower (Toto) and his son (Ninetto Davoli) search for a new wife and mother. Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. 4) a father (Pietro Tordi) takes revenge on the man who molested his daughter (Mangano). Directed by Franco Rossi. 5) a wife (Mangano) is frustrated by her husband's (Clint Eastwood) lack of interest in her. Directed by Vittorio De Sica. Being a portmanteau film by five different directors, the result is uneven. My two favorites were the opening Visconti and the closing De Sica. None were bad although the Pasolini segment though amusing wore out its welcome quickly. There's an excellent underscore credited to Ennio Morricone and Piero Piccioni. Stylish and fun.

Till The Clouds Roll By (1946)

In 1927, the great American composer Jerome Kern (Robert Walker) attends the opening night of his masterpiece SHOW BOAT. After the show, he reflects on his life and the journey to where he is now. Directed by Richard Whorf (with assistance from Vincente Minnelli), this is a fictionalized version of Kern's life which is used as a showcase for his songs. Kern's life apparently not interesting enough to sustain a two hour plus movie, the writers created fictional characters and made up situations to pad the film between all those glorious songs performed by a top notch cast. I don't know if 1940s audiences bought this film as fact but it plays out like just about every other movie musical biography. Shot in gorgeous three strip Technicolor, the musical numbers justify the film. We get Judy Garland singing Look For The Silver Lining, Lena Horne sings Can't Help Lovin' That Man, Dinah Shore sings The Last Time I Saw Paris, Van Johnson and Lucille Bremer sing and dance to I Won't Dance and Cyd Charisse and Gower Champion dance to Smoke Gets In Your Eyes among them. With June Allyson, Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams, Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury, Kathryn Grayson, Virginia O'Brien, Tony Martin and Dorothy Patrick. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Wind Cannot Read (1958)

Set in 1943 India during WWII, a British officer (Dirk Bogarde) falls in love with the Japanese translator (Yoko Tani) who is teaching Japanese to British soldiers. But it is WWII and the British and the Japanese are "enemies" and their relationship is frowned upon. Based on the novel by Richard Mason (who adapted his book for the screen) and directed by Ralph Thomas (THE CLOUDED YELLOW). For most of its running time, this is an intriguing interracial romance but as soon as the heroine started complaining about headaches, I groaned because I knew where it was going to end up. The film hits a wall in its last 35 minutes when it becomes a standard WWII programmer sundae with a tearjerker cherry on top. I was never a fan of Dirk Bogarde but I must admit, he's very appealing here and Yoko Tani is charming. I love B&W movies but I wish they had increased the budget so they could have shot it in color to take advantage of Ernest Steward's lensing of the stunning India locations. With Donald Pleasence, John Fraser, Ronald Howard and Anthony Bushell. 

Annihilation (2018)

The husband (Oscar Isaac) of a cellular biologist (Natalie Portman) returns home after after being presumed missing for a year. His behavior is strange and when he starts bleeding from the mouth, before they can reach the hospital they are abducted by a secret government organization. It is there that she learns what happened to her husband and about "The Shimmer". Based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer and directed by Alex Garland (EX MACHINA). I've not read the source material which I hear in its literary form is allegedly unfilmable. But I'm glad I'm unfamiliar with VanderMeer's book because I can assess the film on its own merits. This is easily the most stimulating piece of sci-fi since ARRIVAL. It's intelligent and articulate and doesn't dumb down to an audience expecting a conventional sci-fi actioner. It doesn't attempt to give us answers or solutions and when it's over, we're likely to repeat the heroine's frequent "I don't know." But with its female centered protagonists (Isaac has the only male role of note) and audacious visuals (it's got the best light show since 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY), it's a refreshing change of pace from the usual multiplex lowest common denominator. Paramount thought the film was too intellectual and when Garland refused to alter it, they sold overseas rights to Netflix! With Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez (JANE THE VIRGIN), Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny.  

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Simple Plan (1998)

An accountant (Bill Paxton) and two dumb white trash hicks (Billy Bob Thornton, Brent Briscoe) come across a crashed plane in the snow with a dead pilot. Looking into the plane, they discover a bag containing over four million dollars! They plot to steal the money figuring no one will be looking for it and divide it up later on. But of course, there would be no movie if everything went right, would there? Based on the novel by Scott B. Smith (who adapted his book for the screen) and directed by Sam Raimi (SPIDER MAN). It's the kind of movie where the three conspirators may as well have "We're dumb and we're going to screw this up big time" tattooed on their foreheads! Since we know what's going to happen, there's no tension and the film follows the dots as we check them off. The characters are poorly drawn. Bridget Fonda as Paxton's wife goes from moral conscience to Lady MacBeth in about 60 seconds! Thornton (in an Oscar nominated performance) and Fonda are actually quite good, we can't hold them responsible for the cliched stereotypes. Paxton and Briscoe are just plain bad! The cinematography by Alar Kivilo is superb. It's not a bad movie, it's decently done but also incredibly overrated. With Gary Cole and Chelcie Ross. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Murderers' Row (1966)

A secret agent (Dean Martin) is sent undercover to Monte Carlo to locate a missing scientist (Richard Eastham) who has been kidnapped by a secret organization intent on world domination. The scientist is the key to a powerful weapon that uses the sun as a weapon of mass destruction. Very loosely based on the novel by Donald Hamilton and directed by Henry Levin (WHERE THE BOYS ARE). This was the follow up to THE SILENCERS which had been a popular hit earlier in the year. Martin's Matt Helm is sort of a lazy James Bond, more concerned with sex than spy work. The Matt Helm films (there were a total of four of them) doesn't sit well with 21st century mores in its regard toward women. In these films, women are scantily clad sex objects lusting after Martin's boozed up secret agent. Granted, even in 1966 it was just a joke but it's just not funny in 2018. That aside, this is a very sloppily made (and edited) film. Ann-Margret gets to dance a lot and Karl Malden and Camilla Sparv make for a persuasive pair of villains. The energetic score is by Lalo Schifrin. With James Gregory, Beverly Adams, Tom Reese and Corinne Cole. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Yeoman Of The Guard (1957)

Set in 16th century London, a maiden (Celeste Holm) is in love with a prisoner (Bill Hayes) who is condemned to death. Her father (Norman Atkins) concocts a plan to free the prisoner. However, another friend (Robert Wright) of the prisoner concocts another plan that will prevent the prisoner's wicked cousin from inheriting his estates. Alas, the two plans work against each other. Based on the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and directed by George Schafer. This charming confection is breezy and witty and the Gilbert and Sullivan songs are delightful. This production softens the play's more bittersweet ending somewhat emphasizing the comedic aspects. The cast is strong vocally except for Holm but she makes up for it with spirit. Operetta (and Gilbert and Sullivan in general) seems an acquired taste but this is hard to resist. With the great Barbara Cook in glorious voice, Alfred Drake, Henry Calvin, Norman Barrs and Muriel O'Malley.

Der Letzte Mann (aka The Last Laugh) (1924)

An aging doorman (Emil Jannings) at a posh hotel takes pride in his work and is proud of his standing in his community because of the "prestige" of his job. But when he is relieved of his duties and assigned to be an attendant in the hotel's men's room, he falls into a depression and begins to go downhill. Directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, the film omits any intertitle cards of spoken dialog which is rare for a silent film. Instead, it lets the visuals flow and the narrative as filmed is so precise that title cards aren't needed. It features yet another remarkable performance from Jannings although his decline from prideful to decrepit seems too rapid. While its narrative is simple, it is far from simplistic and Murnau touches on the complex relationship between a man and his work and how his work defines him. When that work is taken away, who is he? The film has a lengthy epilogue that is rather touching and sweet and makes for a "happy" ending although I would have preferred the somberness of the reality of the actual situation. With Maly Delschaft and Emilie Kurz. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Night They Took Miss Beautiful (1977)

Terrorists hijack an airplane flying from Miami to the Bahamas that contain the finalists of a beauty pageant and demand five million dollars in ransom. Directed by Robert Michael Lewis and perfectly appalling! Not only poorly written but poorly directed and acted. With a title like THE NIGHT THEY TOOK MISS BEAUTIFUL and a premise like that, one would think this would be a trashy hoot but it's just plain bad. The terrorists are cartoonish rather than terrifying, the "evil" government agents are cliches and the nominal hero (Chuck Connors), an airport security man, is incompetent. The acting is dreadful right down the line except for Stella Stevens and that's only because she's given nothing to do. The most amusing performance comes from Sheree North as a strung out junkie lesbian terrorist. Oh, she's as godawful as everyone else but at least she's amusing in a kind of bad acting way. I felt bad for the actors but I suppose they have bills to pay too. With Phil Silvers, Victoria Principal, Gary Collins, Henry Gibson, Peter Haskell and Karen Lamm.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Mob (1951)

A police detective (Broderick Crawford) goes undercover as a dock worker to investigate the killing of the chief investigator and a witness on a waterfront crime case. Based on the novel WATERFRONT by Ferguson Findley and stylishly directed by Robert Parrish (CRY DANGER). This is a better than average mix of film noir and gangster movie. It's a compact film with some twists and turns, some easy to guess and others no so easy. The film is focused on the narrative with very little padding (like romance or comic bits) and has a nice texture to it that reflects the grittiness of police work and life on the docks. Crawford is very good here and he gets some good support from Richard Kiley as a fellow dock hand. It may not be anything special but it's a good solid example of a crime/noir film. The striking B&W lensing is by Joseph Walker (HIS GIRL FRIDAY). With Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Neville Brand, Betty Buehler, Frank DeKova and Matt Crowley.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A New Kind Of Love (1963)

A young woman (Joanne Woodward), who has no time for romance, flies to Paris where she intends to copycat haute couture fashion designs and sell them retail at a much lower price. On the plane, she meets a playboy journalist (Paul Newman) who mistakes her for a man. Once in Paris, she has a glamorous make over and gets her revenge. But the revenge backfires when she falls in love with him. Directed by Melville Shavelson (HOUSEBOAT), this is an unoriginal romantic comedy that suffers from the miscasting of its male lead. Paul Newman has shown a comedic sense in some of his dramatic roles but in a full out comedy, he's unable to deliver the goods. Woodward does marginally better, she seems to have a sense of the absurdity of the situation. Even with top notch farceurs like Doris Day and Rock Hudson, the script would have cobwebs on it  but at least they would infuse the movie with timing and much needed charm. The supporting cast helps some. With Maurice Chevalier, Thelma Ritter, Eva Gabor, George Tobias, Marvin Kaplan, Robert Clary and Joan Staley.  

Abbott And Costello In Hollywood (1945)

Two barbers (Bud Abbott, Lou Costello) figure they'll make more money as Hollywood agents instead of barbers. To this end, they take a struggling singer (Bob Haymes) under their wing and try to sell him to a major Hollywood director (Donald MacBride). Directed by S. Sylvan Simon (THE FULLER BRUSH MAN), Abbott and Costello were loaned out to MGM by Universal who had them under contract. Being MGM, the film has a distinctly bigger budget look to it and a musical finale that seems right at place in the home of Hollywood's greatest musicals. It's an enjoyable romp with two hilarious comic pieces that stand out. The first when Costello is mistaken for a stunt dummy while shooting a western and the second, when he uses a recording to help cure his insomnia. For fans of the comic duo, this is a real treat but even if you're not a fan, I suspect you won't be able to suppress a grin at least. With Lucille Ball, Preston Foster, Mike Mazurki, Rags Ragland, Karin Booth, Jean Porter, Marion Martin, Warner Anderson and the appealing Frances Rafferty who should have had a bigger career.

A Caribbean Mystery (1989)

While vacationing on a Caribbean island recovering from an illness, an elderly woman (Joan Hickson) from a small English village finds herself involved in murder when an elderly retired Major (Frank Middlemass) is poisoned. But it won't be the last murder. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie and directed by Christopher Petit. While Hickson remains the definitive Miss Marple of the Christie novels and the Barbados locations provide an attractive backdrop, this is a rather mundane adaptation. There have been some minor changes from Christie's book and a few additions but none of the changes or additions improve on Christie's original story. The 1983 adaptation with Helen Hayes as Miss Marple stuck to Christie's novel and remains a much more pleasant rendering. Outside of Hickson and Donald Pleasence as a wealthy invalid, the acting is mediocre especially by Robert Swann and Sue Lloyd, two Brits playing Americans and with awful American accents. With Sophie Ward and T.P. McKenna.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

L'Enfer D'Henri Georges Clouzot (Henri Georges Clouzot's Inferno) (2009)

In 1964, the famed French director Henri Georges Clouzot (WAGES OF FEAR, DIABOLIQUE) attempted his most ambitious film yet. A film about a husband (Serge Reggiani) insanely jealous of his young wife (Romy Schneider). The film would venture into cinematic territory that Clouzot had never attempted before. The shooting was a disaster and the film abandoned after three weeks of shooting. Piecing together surviving footage from the film as well as new footage with Berenice Bejo (THE ARTIST) and Jacques Gamblin in Schneider's and Reggiani's roles (for scenes never shot) and interviewing the surviving cast and crew, Serge Bromberg's documentary examines the history of the film and its collapse. The footage that survives is stunning and while we'll never know, it has all the earmarks of an innovative masterpiece. The documentary shows Clouzot as a director with an amazing vision but unable to translate it to his satisfaction, his pushing the actors beyond limits that any actor has to suffer and three entire camera crews often waiting around while Clouzot waits for inspiration. This documentary is de rigeur for anyone remotely interested in Clouzot or cinema. With Dany Carrel, Jean Claude Bercq and Catherine Allegret.

Una Mujer Fantastica (aka A Fantastic Woman) (2017)

After her much older lover (Francisco Reyes) suddenly dies, a young transgender woman (Daniela Vega) finds the safety of her world shattered. Without his protection, she must now face the hostility of a culture not receptive to transgender persons. Directed by Sebastian Lelio (GLORIA), this film is one of this year's Oscar nominees for foreign language film (it's from Chile). There's a lot to admire here. Notably, despite the discrimination she faces, the film does not portray Vega as a victim. We see the discrimination she has to put up with (and some of it is pretty horrific), but there's absolutely no self pity in her. Instead, we a woman finding her own voice and fighting back for the dignity owed her. Vega's expressive performance allows her a wide range of emotions and I admired the subtlety with which she let them filter out. My only quibble is ..... just what was in locker 181? I think I can guess but it would have been nice if Lelio let us in on it. There's an excellent underscore by Matthew Herbert. With Luis Gnecco, Aline Kuppenheim and Nicolas Saavedra.

Friday, February 16, 2018

High Noon (1952)

On his last day in office, a U.S. Marshal (Gary Cooper) has just gotten married. But when he hears that a man (Ian MacDonald) who has vowed to kill him has just been given parole from a state prison, he is torn between staying and doing his duty and leaving with his Quaker bride (Grace Kelly), who abhors violence. Based on the short story THE TIN STAR by John W. Cunningham and directed by Fred Zinnemann (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY). This is one of the great westerns! With the assistance of a superb editor (Elmo Williams), Zinnemann has given us a tight and compact western played out in real time. For years since its release, its political subtext has been hotly debated but whether or not Carl Foreman intended the film as an allegory on the current (at the time) HUAC witch hunts, it works either with such a subtext or as a straight western. Dimitri Tiomkin's superb Oscar winning underscore is one of those rare film scores that are such a very part of the film's fabric that it's impossible to imagine the film's impact without it. The large cast includes Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Thomas Mitchell, Lee Van Cleef, Lon Chaney Jr., Otto Kruger and Robert J. Wilke. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The North Avenue Irregulars (1979)

When the new Presbyterian minister (Edward Herrmann) arrives to start his pastor duties in a small suburban church, he discovers the town is corrupted by organized gambling and the local police are paid to look the other way. With the assistance of six of his female parishioners, he sets out to expose the corruption. Based on the book by Albert Fay Hill and directed by Bruce Bilson. This family friendly Disney film is surprisingly entertaining and helped by an expert cast of comic actors who punch up some routine material. Bilson keeps up a frantic pace so we don't have time to think how silly it really is and the film's car crashing finale is quite well done, both funny and exciting. The film's animated title sequence seems to have been lifted from the Pink Panther movies right up to Robert F. Brunner aping Henry Mancini's underscore. The large ensemble cast includes Cloris Leachman (who has the movie's funniest gag), Barbara Harris, Susan Clark, Karen Valentine, Patsy Kelly, Ruth Buzzi, Virginia Capers, Michael Consantine, Steven Franken, Douglas Fowley and Alan Hale Jr.   

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Night The World Exploded (1957)

A seismologist (William Leslie) has developed a machine that can predict earthquakes. As earthquakes suddenly continue to rock not only the U.S. but the world, the doctor discovers that the world will explode in four weeks! Directed by Fred T. Sears (EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS) and produced by Sam Katzman, the King of low budget 1950s sci-fi. This being a Katzman production, the special effects are minimal, mostly styrofoam rocks falling down. The "big" special effects consist of stock footage and newsreel footage, some of it borderline exploitation as we're seeing actual tragedies rather than special effects. Of course, much of the film's brief running time (1 hour, 4 minutes) is devoted to the unrequited love of Leslie's scientist by his loyal assistant (a feisty Kathryn Grant). Katzman actually sprung for some location shooting in the famed Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. With Tristram Coffin and Raymond Greenleaf.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Tourist (2010)

A mysterious Englishwoman (Angelina Jolie) befriends an American tourist (Johnny Depp) on a train going from Paris to Venice. She has ulterior motives for befriending him and it isn't long before the tourist finds himself caught up in an international web of intrigue. Directed by Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, one can see what he's trying for and how it fails. I wasn't a fan of Von Donnersmarck's Oscar winning THE LIVES OF OTHERS (best foreign film) and while this is marginally more enjoyable, he doesn't have the style to do a Hitchcock type thriller. The biggest problem is that Jolie and Depp have zero chemistry! When you're casting two big stars in a glamorous international thriller, if the chemistry isn't there, you're stumped. Jolie comes off better than Depp because she realizes she's playing a "type", she's playing Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn and she carries herself appropriately. Depp is all wrong for a movie like this. He's just not a romantic leading man and he plays the role too seriously without any elegance or wit. I kept on thinking how much better George Clooney would have been in the role. The film is supposed to have a surprise twist at the end but I figured it out in the film's first 15 minutes and if I could, you probably will too. Kudoes to John Seale's (THE ENGLISH PATIENT) elegant lensing of the Venice location. With Timothy Dalton, Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell and Steven Berkoff. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Inside Daisy Clover (1965)

A tough 15 year old girl (Natalie Wood) lives on a beach boardwalk with her eccentric mother (Ruth Gordon in an Oscar nominated performance). But when it's discovered she can sing, she's soon whisked off to Hollywood where she's built into America's Musical Sweetheart and becomes a star. But she rebels against the constraints of the studio system as personified by its head (Christopher Plummer) much to their consternation. Based on the novel by Gavin Lambert, who also wrote the screenplay and directed by Robert Mulligan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD). The film's biggest problem is that Wood is about 10 years too old for the character she's playing. In spite of the miscasting, she's fine in most scenes except when she's required to act all little girlish adolescent and it's just embarrassing. There is one killer sequence however when Wood has a breakdown while dubbing a song in a booth. The superb score is by Andre Previn. With Robert Redford as a bisexual movie star, Roddy McDowall, Katharine Bard (very good) and Gertrude Flynn.   

The Sea Wolf (1941)

A writer (Alexander Knox) and an escaped convict (Ida Lupino) are aboard a boat when it collides with another ship and they are cast adrift. They are rescued by a seal hunting ship whose captain (Edward G. Robinson) is a sadistic brute who takes great pleasure is humiliating his crew and playing them against each other. Based on the novel by Jack London and directed by Michael Curtiz. This is a wonderful movie with a solid adaptation from Robert Rossen (ALL THE KING'S MEN) and a terrific performance by Edward G. Robinson. Robinson's Wolf Larsen is such a monster of a man that the film is practically a horror movie. After being pushed overboard, Curtiz films his climb back on board like an ominous creature emerging from the depths of the sea. One can't ignore the political subtext of the film as Robinson's fascist Captain is all too reminiscent of what was going on in Europe at the time. Although Robinson, Lupino and John Garfield are all top billed, the second billed Knox equals Robinson in importance to the story's narrative. There's also a wonderful underscore by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. With Barry Fitzgerald, Gene Lockhart and Howard Da Silva.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Glass Cage (1955)

For old times sake, a struggling carnival barker (John Ireland) agrees to help an old friend (Sidney James) by seeing the girl (Tonia Bern) who is bleeding his friend for money in the hope he can persuade her to stop. But when the girl turns up murdered, he becomes a suspect. Based on the novel THE OUTSIDERS by A.E. Martin and directed by Montgomery Tully. This is a rather dreary thriller. We know who the killer is right from the onset, so it's not a whodunit but a when will he be found out and caught. The carnival/circus milieu adds a touch of interest to the proceedings but on the whole, it's a dispensable piece of melodramatics. It seems it was intended for the lower half of double bills as it runs an hour long which is short for a feature film. Retitled THE GLASS TOMB for the U.S. The cast is good and includes Honor Blackman as Ireland's wife, Geoffrey Keen, Eric Pohlmann, Ferdy Mayne and Liam Redmond.

Topper Takes A Trip (1938)

When Topper (Roland Young) gets into trouble and his wife (Billie Burke) leaves him, Marion Kerby (Constance Bennett) returns from the after life to help him set his affairs in order. Based on the novel TOPPER TAKES A TRIP by Thorne Smith and directed by Norman Z. McLeod (HORSE FEATHERS). A sequel to the previous year's hit screwball comedy TOPPER but this time without Cary Grant and he is missed. It takes a good forty minutes for the laughs to kick in and even when they do, they're sporadic. Most of the beginning of the movie is devoted to the back story using clips from the first film in order to explain what's going for those who missed it. Cary Grant even gets a thank you credit for allowing the use of his image. Frankly, not only is it not as good as the first one, it's not as good as the third one (TOPPER RETURNS) either. Roland Young gets another chance to show how adept he is at physical comedy and Constance Bennett spends half the movie as invisible but she's a charmer anyway. With Alan Mowbray, Franklin Pangborn, Verree Teasdale and Alexander D'Arcy who has the film's funniest bit when he loses his swimming trunks. 

Da Hong Deng Long Gao Gao Gua (aka Raise The Red Lantern) (1991)

Set in 1920s China, a 19 year old girl (Gong Li) agrees to be the fourth wife of a wealthy nobleman (Ma Jingwu). But it isn't long before she finds herself engaging in petty behavior as the wives "compete" for their master's favor. Based on the novel WIVES AND CONCUBINES by Su Tong and directed by Zhang Yimou. This is a breathtaking film, both in its visual beauty (lensing credited to Zhao Fei and Yang Lun) and its powerful narrative. The film looks at a patriarchal culture where women have no options and the four wives, ironically referring to each other as "sister", are ensnared in a system that forces them to play against each other. The fourth wife finds herself trapped in a situation that turns her into a self destructive demon that causes tragedy to others and eventually turns on her into madness. One of the most critically acclaimed films of the 1990s, it remains both fascinating and haunting. With He Saifei, very good as the third wife, Caro Cuifen, Jin Shuyuan and Kong Lin.  

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Big Jake (1971)

When her grandson (Ethan Wayne) is kidnapped by a gang of outlaws for a million dollar ransom, his grandmother (Maureen O'Hara) calls in her estranged husband (John Wayne), who's never seen his grandson, to take the money to Mexico where the gang is holding the boy. Directed by George Sherman (AGAINST ALL FLAGS), this is one of Wayne's better post TRUE GRIT vehicles. Westerns had changed and the westerns of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone had introduced a more brutal and violent West than westerns Wayne was comfortable with. The violent opening of this film as well as its bloody finale reflects this change. Wayne is more Wayne than ever and not surprisingly doesn't seem out of place in this "new" West. Filmed in Mexico, William H. Clothier (THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE) takes advantage of the panoramic locations and there's a suitable if derivative Elmer Bernstein underscore to move things along. The large cast includes Richard Boone, Patrick Wayne (wooden as ever), Glenn Corbett, Bruce Cabot, Christopher Mitchum, John Agar, Virginia Capers and Harry Carey Jr. 

Only When I Laugh (1981)

An actress (Marsha Mason) returns home after spending some months at a rehab due to chronic alcoholism. She's clean and sober but the pressures of dealing with her teenage daughter (Kristy McNichol), working with an ex-lover (David Dukes) and dealing with her neurotic best friends, a vain woman (Joan Hackett) and a struggling gay actor (James Coco) start her unraveling. Based on the play THE GINGERBREAD LADY by Neil Simon and directed by Glenn Jordan. Simon's play has been overhauled for its screen adaptation to make it more movie audience friendly. Simon's screenplay is rather simplistic and leaning toward cliche. Certainly Coco's gay best friend of the heroine is borderline offensive and a scene between him and a Puerto Rican delivery boy (John Vargas with a dreadful accent) is ghastly. As a writer, Marsha Mason is the best thing that ever happened to Neil Simon (they made a total of 5 films together). Miraculously, she manages to make his comic patter sound wittier than it is and his more dramatic moments actually poignant. Joan Hackett as Mason's fragile best friend also brings a pathos to the role that makes it more interesting than it does on paper. With Kevin Bacon and Guy Boyd. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Crooked House (2017)

After her wealthy Greek grandfather (Gino Picciano) dies, his granddaughter (Stefanie Martini) asks an old flame (Max Irons), now working as a private detective, to investigate his death as she believes he was murdered. What worries her now is that she believes the murderer is a family member living in the household. Based on the 1949 novel by Agatha Christie and directed by Gilles Paquet Brenner. CROOKED HOUSE is one of Christie's best novels. It probably isn't better known because it doesn't contain either of her beloved sleuths, Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. It's one of her darker tales and one of her more shocking finales. The screenplay (credited to three writers including GOSFORD PARK's Julian Fellowes) is faithful to the novel and the changes are minor. Paquet-Brenner keeps the focus on the nest of vipers that is the Leonides family, all of them prime suspects with a motive. The period detail is excellent (it takes place in the mid 1950s) thanks to Simon Bowles production design and Colleen Kelsall's costumes. The acting is uniformly good and the cast includes Glenn Close as the spinster aunt, Terence Stamp, Gillian Anderson, Christina Hendricks as the murdered man's wife (her performance is expert), Julian Sands, Amanda Abbington, Honor Kneafsey and Christian McKay.

The Homecoming (1973)

An Englishman (Michael Jayston) returns from America where he has lived the last six years with his wife (Vivien Merchant) to his home to introduce her to his father (Paul Rogers), two brothers (Ian Holm, Terence Rigby) and Uncle (Cyril Cusack). Harold Pinter adapts his 1965 play for the screen which is directed by Peter Hall. Pinter's enigmatic play is greatly admired (it won the 1967 Tony award for best play) but it doesn't work as cinema, if you can even call it a movie. I suspect it works best on stage because on film, it feels forced and dare I say it, grotesque. I'd be tempted to call Pinter's play misogynistic except that it's misanthropic which would include misogyny. The play's theatrical conceit doesn't work on celluloid and all the close ups just render the actors' performances misproportioned. Jayston's passivity and acceptance regarding his wife's sudden promiscuity doesn't seem logical. However, perhaps I took it too seriously when I shouldn't have taken it as a stylized black comedy of the absurd.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Bay Coven (1987)

A young married couple working in Boston move to the seemingly idyllic island community of Bay Cove. But it isn't long before she (Pamela Sue Martin) discovers that something very strange is going on in the closed community. But her husband (Tim Matheson) not only doesn't share her fears but he seems positively enthralled with the island community. Directed by Carl Schenkel, this spawn of ROSEMARY'S BABY is the kind of movie where everyone is so overtly creepy that any normal person would immediately get out but, of course, if the heroine did just that, there wouldn't be any movie! Other than one genuine jump scare at the film's end, it's a pretty lackluster effort. There is a bit of humor in the casting of Barbara Billingsley, best known as June Cleaver in LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, as the leader of a witches coven but that's about the only piece of wit in the film. The film's title later dropped the "N" from its title. With a young Woody Harrelson, Inga Swenson, Jeff Conaway (GREASE) and James Sikking.  

Adam's Rib (1949)

A pair of married attorneys find themselves on opposite sides in the courtroom as he (Spencer Tracy) prosecutes a woman (Judy Holliday) for attempted murder while she (Katharine Hepburn) is her defense lawyer. Directed by George Cukor, this may well be the best of the Tracy-Hepburn vehicles though I have a personal preference for THE DESK SET (1957). The screenplay by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin is clever (perhaps too clever sometimes) and the two leads go at it with considerable gusto. As a director (the film is static), Cukor doesn't seem to do much other than stay out of the way of his actors. But as good as Tracy and Hepburn are, the supporting cast gives them a run for their money. Judy Holliday and David Wayne as a Cole Porter type songwriter steal whole scenes from the leads. The film features a rare comedy score from Miklos Rozsa. With Tom Ewell, Jean Hagen, Hope Emerson, Marvin Kaplan and Paula Raymond.    

Monday, February 5, 2018

Go West Young Man (1936)

When her limousine breaks down in a rural area, a movie actress (Mae West) is forced to stay in a local farmhouse until her car is repaired. But when she spots a hunky mechanic (Randolph Scott), she's not so eager to leave. Based on the play PERSONAL APPEARANCE by Lawrence Riley and directed by Henry Hathaway (TRUE GRIT). This is one of West's better vehicles. Although the production code had pretty much gutted her risque innuendos at this point in her career, the script allows her to parody her image and gives her a chance to act a little rather than just play "Mae West". The farcical elements also add a different sort of comedy than usually found in her films. There's even a movie within the movie as a rapturous audience watches their favorite movie star. The supporting cast is also excellent and includes Warren William, Alice Brady, Lyle Talbot, Isabel Jewell and Elizabeth Patterson. 

The Man With The Golden Arm (1955)

Set in Chicago, a recovering junkie (Frank Sinatra) returns home from a stint in prison where he kicked his drug habit. But once back in the old environment, the lure of a quick fix hovers over his fight to stay clean. Based on the Nelson Algren (WALK ON THE WILD SIDE) novel, although there are so many changes from the book that Algren said the film had nothing to do with him. Directed by Otto Preminger, this was a watershed film in its graphic depiction of drug addiction in its day and surprisingly, it still retains its power. It also contains Sinatra's best film performance, a remarkable piece of acting. Alas, Eleanor Parker as Sinatra's wheel chair bound wife overplays her hand. She's over the top and so shrill, busy, busy, busy that you want scream "Sit still!" at her. In contrast, Kim Novak's underplaying is a relief from Parker's exhausting performance. The Oscar nominated landmark jazz underscore is by Elmer Bernstein. With Darren McGavin, Arnold Stang, Robert Strauss, Emile Meyer, Doro Merande and John Conte.   

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Three On A Couch (1966)

An artist (Jerry Lewis, who also directs) gets offered a prestigious commission in Paris and wants his fiancee (Janet Leigh) to come with him so they can be married in Paris. But she's a psychiatrist and reluctant to go because of three female patients (Mary Ann Mobley, Leslie Parrish, Gila Golan) who are having hostile feelings toward men. So the artist takes it upon himself to impersonate the ideal man to each of the women. Of course, this is bound to backfire. With Lewis at the helm, one would think this should be a sure fire farce but it mostly misses. It's not so much the script as most of the players aren't as adept in farcical comedy as they should be. Notably James Best (who curiously gets "and introducing" billing after being in films for 16 years and over 40 movies) as Lewis' best friend who doesn't appear to have a comic bone in his body. There are a couple of laugh out loud sight gags and one genuinely hilarious sequence with Lewis playing both a Southern matron and her nerdy brother that puts the rest of the movie to shame. With Kathleen Freeman and Fritz Feld.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Turning Point (1977)

Two young ballet dancers took different paths. One (Shirley MacLaine) chose motherhood and marriage and the other (Anne Bancroft) became an internationally acclaimed ballerina. Years later, they meet again and reflect on their life choices and what might have been. Directed by Herbert Ross, this acclaimed film received a total of 11 Oscar nominations. But at its core, it's pure soap opera, first rate soap opera but soap opera nonetheless. Which is not to take away from its enjoyment and entertainment value and the excellent performances of Bancroft and MacLaine. Not to mention the superb dancing from the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Suzanne Farrell, Antoinette Sibley among others. Arthur Laurents' screenplay is on the obvious side and never really rises above TV movie quality but the film is elevated by the acting and dancing that transforms it into something more than the sum of its parts. With Tom Skerritt (very good as MacLaine's husband), Martha Scott, Marshall Thompson, James Mitchell, Anthony Zerbe and a delightful performance by Alexandra Danilova, a famed ballerina from the Ballet Russe in the 1930s.

Winchester (2018)

In 1906, the widow (Helen Mirren) of the famed gun maker William Winchester secludes herself in her San Jose, California mansion. Overcome with guilt and remorse for the thousands of people who were killed by Winchester guns, she keeps adding rooms to the mansion for the spirits of the Winchester victims. A doctor (Jason Clarke) is assigned to determine her sanity and capability. "Inspired" by the legend of Sarah Winchester and her reputedly haunted house that is still standing and now known as the Winchester Mystery House which is open to the public. Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig (they're brothers), I wasn't expecting much going in and got even less as the film played out. I honestly don't need scares when I go to a horror film but I do need a sense of dread, an atmosphere of menace to permeate the film and there's none of that here. The "scares" are of the usual jump when something appears out of nowhere and there's a big bang on the soundtrack. Music is also important in horror films in giving the movie a sense of foreboding or fear and the underscore by Peter Spierig is just overbearing noise. I hope Mirren was paid well because if this is the kind of project she accepts, how bad are the things she says no to? With Sarah Snook and Laura Brent.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Magic Voyage Of Sinbad (aka Sadko) (1953/1962)

Sinbad (Sergei Stolyarov) returns to his homeland only to find the wealthy merchants have become richer and exploited the poor peasants. He decides to go on a journey to find the bird of happiness to bring joy to his downfallen people. A Russian film that was based on a Rimsky-Korsakov opera and lauded in its day (it won the Silver Lion award at the 1953 Venice film festival), in 1962 it was dubbed into English and the lead character given the name of Sinbad to cash in on the 1958 Ray Harryhausen classic. The narrative remains essentially the same though the Russian version had songs that were eliminated although one remains in the dubbed movie. Reputedly a very young Francis Coppola was involved in the dubbed version. Also, the print I saw was dreadful looking so I suppose it's not fair to judge a film's value under such conditions. It is what it is and I can say the dubbed version is a bore and rather silly. I'm more than willing to see the original Russian SADKO in a superior transfer. Directed by Aleksandr Ptushko.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

One Day In September (1999)

A documentary on the events of September 5, 1972 when a group of Palestinian terrorists invaded the Israeli athletes quarters at the 1972 Olympic games at Munich and held them hostage. Directed by Kevin Macdonald, this Oscar winning documentary is compelling and disturbing in its detailed revelations. The lone surviving terrorist (still proud of what he did) then hiding out in Africa provides the terrorist background while relatives of the murdered Israeli athletes and various German authorities provide insight into the tragic and disastrous event. In retrospect, one can only shake one's head in disbelief at the lax security measures and the incompetence of the German authorities in handing the entire affair that might have prevented the tragic outcome. Even more shocking is the evidence that the German government was complicit in arranging the escape of the Palestinian terrorists to Libya! The documentary is fairly "just the facts" straight forward in its execution but the appalling and inappropriate "rock" score demeans the images. The film is narrated by Michael Douglas.

Eye Of The Cat (1969)

The nephew (Michael Sarrazin) of a wealthy cat lover (Eleanor Parker) conspires with a woman (Gayle Hunnicutt) to murder his Aunt after she changes her will in his favor. A major impediment is that the nephew has ailurophobia (a fear of cats) and those cats are very loyal to the Aunt. Directed by David Lowell Rich (MADAME X) from an original screenplay by Joseph Stefano (PSYCHO). This piece of horror pulp is sort of like WILLARD (1971) except with cats instead of rats. Stefano's screenplay plays into myths and fears that cat haters have about cats and if you dislike cats, chances are this movie will creep you out. For cat lovers, you might find yourself leaning to the being offended side. I mean we've all read about dogs killing their owners or eating babies but when's the last time you heard about a homicidal cat? That aside, it's rather fun actually and for once, Universal didn't film it on the back lot but went to San Francisco and did location shooting. There's a suitably ominous underscore by Lalo Schifrin. With Tim Henry, Laurence Naismith and Linden Chiles.