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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter Parade (1948)

When his dancing partner (Ann Miller) deserts him to strike out on her own, a dancer (Fred Astaire) vows he can make any girl as good a dancer as she was. To this end, he plucks a girl (Judy Garland) out of the chorus line and builds her up. With songs by the great Irving Berlin and directed by Charles Walters (GOOD NEWS). The story line is pretty creaky so it's a good thing it's set in 1912. But this is one of those glossy Technicolor MGM musicals where the narrative is merely a hook to cram in some melodic Irving Berlin tunes and some marvelous dance numbers. Dressed as hobos, Astaire and Garland perform the charming A Couple Of Swells, Ann Miller taps out the torrid Shakin' The Blues Away and Astaire kills it with Steppin' Out With My Baby. The film was a huge hit for MGM and one can see why. It may be an Easter perennial but you don't have to wait until Easter to enjoy its allure. With Peter Lawford, Jules Munshin (who has an amusing scene making an invisible salad), Clinton Sundberg, Jeni Le Gon and making early career appearances as models, Lola Albright and Joi Lansing.    

The Third Secret (1964)

When an eminent psychoanalyst (Peter Copley) is found dead in his office, the police rule it a suicide. But the man's young daughter (Pamela Franklin) doesn't believe it was suicide but murder. To this end, she enlists the aid of a prominent broadcast journalist (Stephen Boyd), who coincidentally was also a patient of the deceased doctor. Directed by Charles Crichton (A FISH CALLED WANDA), this is an intelligent and absorbing psychological thriller. That it is also borderline pretentious is easily overlooked. Like other films of its ilk (SPELLBOUND for one), its superficial Freudian-isms are just seasoning to spice up the proceedings. The protagonist is an interesting role or would be if a stronger actor than Stephen Boyd had played it. Boyd's lack of weight is more than compensated by young Pamela Franklin whose performance is remarkably assured for an actress who's only 13 years old. The cast includes Richard Attenborough, Jack Hawkins, Diane Cilento, Alan Webb, Rachel Kempson and in her film debut, Judi Dench.  

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Mighty Joe Young (1998)

A young woman (Charlize Theron) has raised a young gorilla since he was orphaned. Both the girl's mother (Linda Purl) and the ape's mother killed by the same poacher (Rade Serbedzija). But the gorilla has grown abnormally large and his natural habitat becomes less safe for him. To protect him, the girl accepts an offer from a wildlife refuge director (Bill Paxton) to house the ape in Southern California. Based on the 1949 film of the same name and directed by Ron Underwood. This remake is a mixed bag. On the positive side, this Joe Young is an expressive marvel. He may lack the wonder of the 1949 Joe (Ray Harryhausen was among his co-creators) but he's immensely likable. Charlize Theron does a wonderful job, you can really believe that her love and concern for Joe is genuine. On the downside, there's the unappealing Bill Paxton, two cardboard villains (in addition to Serbedzija, there's Peter Firth) and an excess of dumb humor. The film tries too hard to be "now". When Joe goes on a rampage and everyone else is fleeing in terror, we get teens watching on the sidelines and saying, "How cool!" and "Go, Joe!". As if ..... With Terry Moore (the star of the original 1949 film), Dina Merrill (the producer's wife), David Paymer, Regina King, Lawrence Pressman and Naveen Andrews. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Wild Affair (1965)

As her wedding approaches, a young woman (Nancy Kwan) uses her last day at work (which coincides with the office Christmas party) to enjoy her last chance at being "me" before she becomes a wife. It doesn't help that her alter ego encourages her to bring out her "wild" side. Based on the novel THE LAST HOURS OF SANDRA LEE by William Sansom and directed by John Krish. The affair of the title refers to the Christmas party which practically turns into an orgy but I found the movie rather charming myself. Despite being set in the "swinging" London of the 1960s, the film turns out to be rather conservative in its outlook about "good" girls and marriage. Costumed by the "Queen of Mod" Mary Quant and coiffed by Vidal Sassoon, Kwan looks sensational. In an early piece of color blind casting, no mention is made of Kwan's ethnicity (she's half Chinese, half English) and both her parents are played by Caucasians. I can't honestly recommend seeking it out but if you come across it, you might be pleasantly surprised. With Terry Thomas, Frank Finlay, Bessie Love, Victor Spinetti and Donald Churchill.

Mr. Lucky (1943)

A hustler and con man (Cary Grant) takes on a dead man's identity and charms his way into the confidence of an attractive society woman (Laraine Day) who is the head of a war relief charity. His plan is to host a gambling party for the war relief effort but absconding with all the proceeds. Directed by H.C. Potter, the movie is extremely fortunate in having Grant playing the film's protagonist. The character is extremely unlikable and it takes all of Grant's innate charm to keep us engaged. This being 1940s Hollywood however, he goes into a church, suddenly he hears a heavenly choir and mends his caddish ways. I would have preferred the film ended about three minutes before it does but the film makers can't leave well enough alone. Grant does have a nice lowkey chemistry with the lovely Laraine Day. With Gladys Cooper, Charles Bickford, Paul Stewart, Henry Stephenson, Florence Bates and Alan Carney.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad (1974)

Thrown off course by a storm, Sinbad (John Phillip Law) and his ship arrive at the coast of Marabia. The Grand Vizier (Douglas Wilmer) of the country recognizes the amulet on Sinbad's neck as one third of a map and he has the second third which leads to the fabled Fountain of Destiny. To obtain the third piece, they must go on a dangerous voyage. Directed by Gordon Hessler, this is the second of the three Ray Harryhausen SINBAD movies. It's a grand entertainment with John Phillip Law making for an immensely likable Sinbad matched by Tom Baker (NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA) as the film's villain. Harryhausen's creations are quite wonderful notably the multi-armed goddess Kali whose duel with Sinbad provides the film's highpoint. There's not much depth in Brian Clemens' screenplay but that's not why we go to these kind of movies, is it? There's a spectacular underscore by the great Miklos Rozsa and Ted Moore is responsible for the impressive cinematography. With Caroline Munro providing the eye candy, Martin Shaw, Gregoire Aslan, Kurt Christian and Robert Shaw providing the voice of the Oracle.   

Monday, March 26, 2018

Highway Dragnet (1954)

An ex-Marine (Richard Conte) fresh off the Korean war meets a boozy barfly (Mary Beth Hughes) in Las Vegas. When she turns up murdered, he becomes the principal suspect and goes on the run. He hitches a ride with a magazine photographer (Joan Bennett) and her model (Wanda Hendrix). Co-written by Roger Corman and directed by Nathan Juran (7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD), this is an enjoyable if modest "B" crime film with noir-ish elements. The movie hints at the real murderer very early in the film so it's no surprise when the big reveal comes. It's a tight little film but I wish they weren't so sloppy. Example: at gunpoint, Conte has a trucker move his truck in the middle of the road and shoots the tires to stop the police from following him. It does stop the police but it's painfully obvious that there's a wide shoulder they could clearly have driven around. Still, it's not the kind of film that one should think too hard about. Bennett gives a nice edgy performance, Hendrix is sweet and Conte gives an appropriately energized performance. The landscape cinematography by John J. Martin is quite good. With Reed Hadley (a great voice but painfully wooden) and Iris Adrian.  

Moonstruck (1987)

When a late 30ish widow (Cher) agrees to marry a 40ish mama's boy (Danny Aiello) shortly before he flies off to Sicily to see his dying mother, she promises to contact his estranged brother (Nicolas Cage) and invite him to the wedding. What happens next is the last thing she expected. Directed by Norman Jewison (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF) from an original screenplay by John Patrick Shanley. This contemporary screwball comedy is also one of the great movie romantic comedies of all time. Everything is perfectly in place yet it feels refreshingly dizzy and spontaneous. Shanley's dialog is sharp yet with the ring of a loopy romanticism. The biggest compliment I can give it is that it makes you want to fall in love! And the cast! Everyone at the top of their game. Cher is winning, Cage has never been more appealing and Olympia Dukakis as her mother gets as close to stealing the movie as anybody. It puts the calculated mechanics of romcoms like WHEN HARRY MET SALLY to shame. Lovingly shot by David Watkin (OUT OF AFRICA). With Vincent Gardenia, John Mahoney, Julie Bovasso, Louis Guss, Feodor Chaliapin and Anita Gillette.   

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Dodge City (1939)

It's 1872 Kansas and the cattle town of Dodge City is a corrupt and lawless town run by a thug (Bruce Cabot) and his gang which has its decent citizens living in fear. But when a trail boss (Errol Flynn) reluctantly takes over as the new sheriff, the gang won't take it lying down. Directed by Michael Curtiz, this was Flynn's first western and the seventh teaming of Flynn and Olivia De Havilland (they would go on to do four more). It's an agreeable and efficient western, handsomely shot in three strip Technicolor by Sol Polito (SERGEANT YORK) and once again, the Flynn/De Havilland chemistry is strong. It's unlikely to make anyone's great westerns list however. But there's a certain comfort in the familiarity of the genre's cliches as it dutifully goes through its paces. The bland score is by Max Steiner. With Ann Sheridan (underutilized), Alan Hale, Victor Jory, Gloria Holden, Frank McHugh and Henry Travers.

Isle Of Dogs (2018)

In a futuristic Japan, the mayor (Kunichi Nomura) of an island nation bans all dogs, ostensibly because of a canine "flu", to an abandoned island called Trash Island. A young boy (Koyu Rankin) steals a plane and flies to the island to locate his beloved dog (Liev Schreiber). Written and directed by Wes Anderson (GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL). I was a great fan of Anderson's previous stop motion animated film THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX so I was really looking forward to this one. I was not disappointed. This is a wonderful movie. Anderson's film works on two levels. Purely as an animated family film, it's vivid and colorful and full of charm and humor. But it also works as a fable about corrupt governments intentionally manufacturing fear and discrimination to suit their own agenda. This isn't Pixar, it's pretty dark but also poignant and yes, rather sweet. The film is propelled by a fantastic percussion score by Alexander Desplat, who should pick up another Oscar for this. The only thing that bugged me was that all the bad guys were cat lovers ..... hmmm. The prestigious voice cast includes Bill Murray, Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Greta Gerwig, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono, Ken Watanabe and Courtney B. Vance who does the narration.    

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side (1992)

A famous Hollywood star (Claire Bloom) and her director husband (Barry Newman) have taken residence in a small English village while they make a film about Elisabeth of Austria. But at a reception in the star's home, a gabby resident (Judy Cornwell) dies and later it turns out she has been poisoned. But was she the intended victim? Based on the novel by Agatha Christie (previously filmed in 1980) and directed by Norman Stone. Like the 1980 film, there are a few changes from the novel including the elimination of a major character. On the whole, this is a decent and straightforward adaptation of the source material and closer to Christie's intent in that it eliminates the bitchy humor that infused the 1980 film. I don't think it's one of Christie's best books and I'm queasy about using a real life tragedy (the actress Gene Tierney) and exploiting it for a murder mystery. Joan Hickson remains the definitive Miss Marple, almost stepping out of the pages of Christie's books. Claire Bloom gives a strong performance which gives the material some substance. With John Castle, Norman Rodway and Margaret Courtenay, who was also in the 1980 film version.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wanted (2008)

A nondescript accounts manager (James McAvoy) finds his routine life thrown out of whack when he's approached by an assassin (Angelina Jolie) and recruited into a thousand year old secret organization that performs assassinations to "stabilize" society. Based on a comic book series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones and directed by Timur Bekmambetov (the 2016 BEN-HUR remake). While the film starts off poorly but slowly improves to the extent that it turns entertaining as it chugs along, it remains a dumb movie to the very end. Overdosed with CGI, it's the kind of illogical fantasy world where bullets curve and turn in slow motion after being fired and cars flip in mid air while hit men shoot the target below them. If you can accept the inanity of the plot and relentless violence (after awhile you become inured to it), you can have a mindless good time. McAvoy makes for a perfect loser but his transition to master assassin takes a huge suspension of belief. The overqualified cast includes Morgan Freeman, Chris Pratt, Terence Stamp, Common and Thomas Kretschmann. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Mummy's Hand (1940)

An archaeologist (Dick Foran) discovers a broken vase in a Cairo bazaar that he believes to be an authentic relic and that the hieroglyphics written on the vase may lead him to the location of the hidden tomb of the Princess Ananka. Directed by Christy Cabanne, this was the first of four films made by Universal in the 1940s utilizing the title character from the 1932 THE MUMMY although none of them are sequels to the 1932 film. It's a straight forward and unimaginative plot with the usual Mummy resurrected from the dead and running amok and terrorizing the folks who dared raid the tomb of the Princess. Foran and Peggy Moran make for a vapid couple and Wallace Ford as hero's best pal and comic relief wears out his welcome very quickly. It's George Zucco and Eduardo Ciannelli as the Egyptian villains that spice up the proceedings. Serviceable but for fans of the Mummy genre only. With Cecil Kellaway and Charles Trowbridge.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India (2001)

In 1893, a small Indian village suffering from severe drought is devastated when their taxes to the British Raj is doubled. When a young villager (Aamir Khan) leads his village and protests, the commanding officer (Paul Blackthorne) of the British cantonment offers him a wager in the form of a game of cricket. If the villagers win, no taxation for three years but if they lose, they pay triple taxes! Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, this is a wonderful piece of entertainment. Combining the musical with a sports movie, the film manages to fuse colorful and melodic singing and dancing with a real nail biter of who will win sports film. It's such an exhilarating film that its near four hour (with intermission) running time zips by. The song score is by A.R. Rahman who seven years later would win two Oscars for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. It's unique in that it seems familiar to those of us who grew up on Hollywood musicals and sports films yet extremely fresh in its telling at the same time. The cast is enormously appealing and if Blackthorne overdoes the British villainy, Rachel Shelley as his sister brings a gentle comeliness as the lass attracted to to Khan. With the charming Gracy Singh as the romantic interest, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Raghubir Yadav, Rajesh Vivek, Yashpal Sharma and Amin Hajee.  

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Fourteen Hours (1951)

A disturbed young man (Richard Basehart) teeters on the ledge of a 15th floor window deciding whether to jump or not. A traffic cop (Paul Douglas) gets his confidence and attempts to talk him through the incident while police attempt to contact those closest to him. Directed by Henry Hathaway (NIAGARA), this is a well made and extremely intense film noir (but I use that term loosely) that also focuses on the effect the potential jumper has on the lives of some of the onlookers below as well as the callousness of some of the crowd. While it digresses from the the film's strength and some would consider it padding, it gives us some time to catch our breath and relax a bit so I didn't mind a bit. The movie was filmed with two different endings and although Hathaway preferred the darker ending, I'm glad the more positive ending was used. The performances are very good especially Basehart and Douglas. Others in the impressive cast include Grace Kelly, Jeffrey Hunter, Debra Paget, Barbara Bel Geddes, Agnes Moorehead, Robert Keith, Howard Da Silva, Martin Gabel, Ossie Davis, Joyce Van Patten, Brad Dexter, Frank Faylen and Alix Talton.  

The Hallelujah Trail (1965)

In 1867 Colorado, a small mining town fearing a cold winter without whiskey arranges to have a shipment of 40 wagons of whiskey to be delivered. But it's not that easy as a group of temperance crusaders plot to destroy the cargo and a group of Sioux Indians attempt to obtain the whiskey for themselves. Based on the novel by Bill Gulick and directed by John Sturges (BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK). This is one of those "epic" comedies along the lines of IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD and THE GREAT RACE, two hours and 40 minutes worth including an overture, intermission and entr'acte. However, unlike those two films, it's not remotely funny. The film has a stellar group of actors but none of them are known for their comedic talents except for Jim Hutton and there's not much he can do with the material. It may be Lee Remick's worst performance, it's certainly Brian Keith's! It's not comfortable watching such talented actors yelling and floundering in a desperate attempt at being funny. I could carp about the offensive racial stereotyping of the Indians but truth to tell, everybody comes off looking badly and the film is just as sexist as it is racist. The large cast includes Burt Lancaster, Pamela Tiffin, Donald Pleasence, Martin Landau, John Anderson, Robert J. Wilke and Dub Taylor. 

Gringo (2018)

A Nigerian businessman (David Oyelowo) works for a company that has developed a marijuana pill. He accompanies his boss (Joel Edgerton), who he considers his friend, and his boss's mistress (Charlize Theron) to Mexico where a drug cartel wants the "recipe" for the pill. From that point on, all Hell breaks loose and he finds himself on the run with both the cartel and a hit man (Sharlto Copley) after him. Directed by Nash Edgerton (Joel's brother) with Theron on board as one of the producers. Given its poor reception, mediocre reviews and it didn't even make the top ten opening week, not to mention a lousy trailer, I was surprised at how entertaining it was. It's hardly fresh, if you've seen AFTER HOURS or INTO THE NIGHT, you've a pretty good idea of what you're in for. In this case, it's the cast that help it out a lot. Oyelowo is immensely appealing and has a good comedic timing and Theron makes for a wickedly entertaining cold hearted bitch. Some of the violence doesn't quite jibe with its humorous elements but it's a diverting piece of amusement. The cast includes Amanda Seyfried, Thandie Newton and Alan Ruck. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Ulysses (1954)

At the end of the Trojan War, the Greek hero Ulysses (Kirk Douglas) attempts to return home to the kingdom of Ithaca. But his pride and arrogance causes the god Neptune to place a curse on him that prevents him from returning home for years. Based on the epic poem by Homer and directed by Mario Camerini. This fantasy is a precursor to both Harryhausen's SINBAD and JASON films as well as the Italian peplum that would soon proliferate in the late 50s and early 60s. With actors like Douglas, Anthony Quinn and Silvana Mangano (who plays both Penelope and Circe), the film has a solid star power that the peplum and Harryhausen films lacked. While there isn't much in the way of impressive special effects, there's an appealing simplicity and sincerity about it that makes up for that. Seven writers are credited for the screenplay including Ben Hecht and Irwin Shaw (RICH MAN POOR MAN) as the film was shot in both English and Italian. Perhaps a bit short on magic, it still remains a potent adventure. With Rossana Podesta (HELEN OF TROY), Franco Interlenghi (De Sica's SHOE SHINE), Daniel Ivernel and Sylvie.

The Spider's Web (1960)

The wife (Glynis Johns) of a Foreign Office diplomat (John Justin, THIEF OF BAGDAD) has an overactive imagination. Shortly before her husband is due home with some very important foreign dignitaries, she discovers a dead body in the parlor and she enlists the aid of three friends (Jack Hulbert, Ronald Howard, Basil Dignam) to hide the body before her spouse arrives. Alas, someone has tipped off the police that a murder has taken place! Based on an original stage play by Agatha Christie (not based on any of her books) and directed by Godfrey Grayson. This is a rather odd effort on Christie's part in that it's a farcical murder mystery rather than a typical Christie mystery. The closest I can compare it to is Hitchcock's THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY although it's nowhere near as witty. It's based on a play and it shows it. The action all takes place in a country house and most of it takes place in the parlor and it's almost a half hour before the body shows up! I enjoyed it but I suspect that non Christie fans might find it tedious with all the talk. The possible suspects are rather limited which makes it easier to guess whodunit. With Cicely Courtneidge, Ferdy Mayne, Peter Butterworth, David Nixon and Anton Rodgers.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger (1977)

After the Prince of Charak (Damien Thomas) is turned into a baboon by a sorceress (Margaret Whiting) in order for her son (Kurt Christian) to inherit the throne, his friend Sinbad (Patrick Wayne) takes the baboon to a legendary hermit (Patrick Troughton) whose magic powers may be able to transform him back into his human form. Directed by Sam Wanamaker, this was the third and final Sinbad adventure utilizing the wizardry of the legendary Ray Harryhausen. While his stop motion creations are wondrous, the film lacks the thrills of 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (arguably Harryhausen's masterpiece). There are no exhilarating set pieces like the duel with skeleton in 7TH VOYAGE or the bronze Talos from JASON. Patrick Wayne makes for a rather mundane Sinbad and he doesn't seem as pivotal to the story as the previous Sinbads were. But I'm carping. For fantasy fans, it's still a treat. With Jane Seymour, Taryn Power (Tyrone's daughter) and Nadim Sawalha.

The Big Sleep (1978)

Set in London, a private detective (Robert Mitchum) is asked by a seriously ill millionaire (James Stewart) to find out who is blackmailing him. But the case turns out to be far more complex and deadly than the initial impression. Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler and directed by Michael Winner, this is the second film adaptation of the novel which was made by Howard Hawks in 1946 with Humphrey Bogart. Not nearly as bad as its reputation would lead you to believe but not very good either. Mitchum had played Philip Marlowe three years earlier in FAREWELL MY LOVELY and he brings a genuine noir-ish authority to the role but almost everything else is off. As Stewart's two daughters, Sarah Miles and Candy Clark give bizarre performances. Miles seems to be acting with her tongue and breasts while Clark acts out her character as if in a constant epileptic fit until finally, she literally has a fit! Not a patch on the 1946 version but more entertaining than it has a right to be. The cast includes Oliver Reed, Joan Collins, Richard Boone, John Mills, Richard Todd, Edward Fox, Colin Blakely, Harry Andrews, James Donald, John Justin and Diana Quick.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Up In Arms (1944)

A hypochondriac (Danny Kaye) is drafted into the U.S. Army during WWII along with his best friend (Dana Andrews). But what he doesn't know is that the girl (Constance Dowling) he wants to marry is in love with his best friend, not him. Directed by Elliott Nugent (THE CAT AND THE CANARY), this was Danny Kaye's feature film debut and it's one of his weaker vehicles. The romantic subplots, which includes Dinah Shore as a nurse in love with Kaye, are rather tedious and drag the film down. Still, there are frequent episodes of hilarity as when George Mathews mistakes Danny for Veronica Lake. The film also contains several musical numbers which allow Kaye to do his amusing patter specialties but the musical highlight of the movie is a jive duet with Kaye and Dinah Shore! But the film served its purpose in introducing Kaye to movies where he rapidly became an international favorite. With Louis Calhern, Virginia Mayo (who would become Kaye's leading lady in his next film), Elisha Cook Jr, Margaret Dumont and Lyle Talbot.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Spencer's Mountain (1963)

Set in the Grand Teton mountains of Wyoming, the patriarch (Henry Fonda) of a clan that consists of wife (Maureen O'Hara) and nine children is determined his eldest son (James MacArthur) will go to college rather than breaking his back working at the local quarry like he and his eight brothers do. Based on the novel by Earl Hamner Jr. and directed by Delmer Daves (3:10 TO YUMA). This homespun yarn is the film (and its book source) that inspired the popular 70s TV series, THE WALTONS. However, this is a Hollywoodized version of poverty. The log cabin the family lives in is quite handsome and pristine, the kind of cabin that would be the perfect weekend getaway for a higher income family. And Maureen O'Hara as the matriarch is impossibly glamorous to be believable as a poverty stricken mountain wife. The book's setting was switched from Virginia to Wyoming which allows the breathtaking vistas so beautifully preserved by Charles Lawton Jr. (LADY FROM SHANGHAI) on celluloid. Max Steiner is responsible for the dreary score. With Donald Crisp (in his final film), Wally Cox, Veronica Cartwright, Barbara McNair, Virginia Gregg, Hayden Rorke and Mimsy Farmer (FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET). 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)

Dr. Forbin (Eric Braeden) is the architect of a super computer with a massive knowledge that has the capacity to control nuclear weapon systems rather than leave it in the hands of man. The idea is that as an emotionless logical thinker, it would not be prone to "human" error. But the computer has been designed too well, it has a mind of its own and its own ideas of how mankind needs to be controlled. Based on the novel by Dennis Feltham Jones and directed by Joseph Sargent (TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE). This prescient science fiction thriller is intense, intelligent and provocative and has a great look to it (kudos to the art direction of Alexander Golitzen and John J. Lloyd). Almost 50 years later, it still cuts to the bone and I tip my hat to the film makers for its chilling conclusion rather than giving us a conventional ending. It's not the kind of film where the acting matters much but the cast is efficient. There's also a terrific underscore by Michel Colombier. With Susan Clark, Gordon Pinsent, William Schallert, Marion Ross and Georg Stanford Brown.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Trail Of The Pink Panther (1982)

When a plane carrying Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) disappears on its way to a Middle Eastern country, a television reporter (Joanna Lumley) interviews those who knew him to determine if he is alive or dead. Directed by Blake Edwards, the seventh film in the PINK PANTHER franchise was made after Sellers' death. The first half of the film consists of deleted scenes shot for the previous Panther movies and the second half of the film is a "greatest hits" compilation of scenes from the previous Panther films (principally THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN). This makes for a rather disjointed film as the cobbled together footage seems arbitrary. Of course, this makes for a hit and miss approach and many of those deleted scenes were deleted for a reason, they're not funny. Several of the actors from the previous entries return including David Niven (ill and unable to speak, his voice was dubbed by mimic Rich Little), Capucine, Robert Loggia, Robert Mulligan, Burt Kwouk, Graham stark and, of course, Herbert Lom as Inspector Dreyfuss. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Ballad Of Lefty Brown (2017)

After his best friend (Peter Fonda) is murdered, an aging cowpoke (Bill Pullman) is bound and determined to seek out his killer (Joseph Lee Anderson) and avenge him. But the fact is, he's incompetent and not very bright. Written and directed by Jared Moshe, this western did the film festival circuit in 2017 but slipped under the radar when it was released (briefly) theatrically last year. It deserved a better fate. Beautifully shot in Montana by David McFarland, this is gritty and often violent western with a strong central performance by Pullman in the title role. As good as he is however, he's too young for the part of a grizzled cowpoke. Other characters refer to him as "old man" but it's clear he's younger than he's playing. Outside of the violence, the film doesn't cater much to contemporary sensibilities. Its western "justice" may be anathema to today's audience but it makes perfect sense in the film. Not a great western by any means but a strong one and if you're a fan of westerns, there's a lot to like here. Excellent underscore by H. Scott Salinas. With Jim Caviezel (PASSION OF THE CHRIST), Kathy Baker, Tommy Flanagan and Diego Josef.

Als Ich Tot War (aka Wo Ist Mein Schatz?) (1916)

After he is kicked out of his house by his disapproving mother in law (Lanchen Voss), a man (Ernst Lubitsch, who also directed) returns to the household disguised as a servant. Billed as a comedy in three acts, this is director Lubitsch's earliest known surviving film. It's an amusing piffle with clear indications of the famed Lubitsch "touch" although the comedy is much broader than the lighter touch he would apply to his Hollywood career. As an actor, Lubitsch is a good physical comedian and he is well matched with Voss and his scenes with her are the film's best. Not a mandatory film in the Lubitsch canon but for fans of the director, it serves as an archival reminder of a budding comedic genius. With Louise Schenrich and Julius Falkenstein.   

The Night Walker (1964)

Following the death of her rich husband (Hayden Rorke), a widow (Barbara Stanwyck) starts having dreams about a lover (Lloyd Bochner) who comes to her at night. But are they dreams? Based on an original screenplay by Robert Bloch (PSYCHO) and directed by William Castle (THE TINGLER). No surprises here. It's the usual damsel being driven crazy by someone but who scenario and the who here is fairly obvious. Although a theatrical film, it plays out like a 1960s TV movie of the week. The star power of Stanwyck and Robert Taylor (who were married for 12 years from 1939 to 1951) as her late husband's attorney elevate the film somewhat. Your enjoyment of the film depends heavily on the appeal Stanwyck and Taylor have for you. I'm a huge Stanwyck and I've found she makes the most mediocre films eminently watchable. There's nice creepy score by Vic Mizzy. With Judi Meredith, Rochelle Hudson and Marjorie Bennett. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Nobody Runs Forever (aka The High Commissioner) (1968)

An Australian detective (Rod Taylor) is sent to England to arrest a high level Australian commissioner (Christopher Plummer) for the 15 year old murder of his first wife. But when he arrives, he finds that someone wants to eliminate the commissioner to prevent the peace negotiations he's involved in. Based on the novel by Jon Cleary and directed by Ralph Thomas (DEADLIER THAN THE MALE). As a political thriller, it's an okay film if rather conventional. It could have used some panache but the director admitted he was nothing more than a hired hand as apparently Taylor was the force behind the film. It was his production company making it. There's not much you can say about a film like this. It dutifully goes through its paces, modestly enjoyable but if you want more than "modestly", check elsewhere. The acting is good and there's an effective underscore by Georges Delerue. With Lilli Palmer, Camilla Sparv, Daliah Lavi, Leo McKern, Clive Revill, Calvin Lockhart, Burt Kwouk and in his final film role, Franchot Tone. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Practical Magic (1998)

Two sisters (Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock) are born into a family of witches dating back to Puritan Massachusetts. In spite of being brought up by spell casting Aunts (Stockard Channing, Dianne Wiest), they reject their witchy heritage. But sometimes if you've got it ..... use it! Based on the best selling novel by Alice Hoffman and directed by Griffin Dunne. This romcom romp with supernatural elements is heavily dependent on the charms of its leading ladies. Fortunately, Bullock and Kidman have it in spades and it doesn't hurt to have Channing and Wiest in key supporting roles. I haven't read the Alice Hoffman source material but I understand it's a bit more serious than its film adaptation. The film's odd mix of romance and horror/supernatural isn't always a smooth fit but Dunne's deft direction and the appealing actresses manage to push it forward. With Aidan Quinn, Margo Martindale, Goran Visnjic, Chloe Webb, Evan Rachel Wood and Martha Gehman.

The Mikado (1939)

When confronted with marriage to an older unpleasant lady (Constance Willis) of the court, the young son (Kenny Baker) of the Emperor of Japan (John Barclay) flees. Disguised as a wandering minstrel, he falls in love with a young maid (Jean Colin) who is betrothed to the Lord High Executioner (Martyn Green). Based on the operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan and directed by Victor Schertzinger (ROAD TO SINGAPORE). The operetta has been adapted with some cuts and edits from the original show which might displease the G&S purists. With the exception of the American singer Kenny Baker (perhaps a sop to the U.S. box office), the rest of the cast are Brits and include many performers from the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company who are renowned for their expert G&S productions. As cinema, it's on the dull side although the gorgeous three strip Technicolor cinematography by William V. Skall is stunning and received an Oscar nomination. Marcel Vertes' production and costume design are also lushly handsome. If you're not a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan or operetta in general, this will probably prove tough going. It's a rather uninspired production but it has its moments. With Sydney Granville and Elizabeth Paynter.

Le Fatiche Di Ercole (aka Hercules) (1958)

King Pelias (Ivor Garrani) has become King by murdering his brother. To protect his throne, he demands Jason (Fabrizio Mioni) bring back the stolen Golden Fleece as proof he is the rightful heir to the throne. Loosely adapted from the Greek myths of both Hercules and Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece and directed by Pietro Francisci. This highly entertaining peplum began the sword and sandal invasion of the U.S. and made bodybuilder Steve Reeves an international star. To a certain generation, he will always be the Hercules. Its low budget limitations are severely obvious especially the special effects and one can't help but wish Ray Harryhausen had been involved to elevate the film into something special. But it is what it is and there's a sincerity and charm to the project. Its lack of sophistication may be a problem for contemporary audiencs but adolescents adored it when it first came out. It was popular enough to spawn a sequel HERCULES UNCHAINED the following year. The film is aided by Mario Bava's cinematography and Enzo Masetti's lovely underscore. With Sylva Koscina, Gianna Maria Canale and Luciana Paluzzi.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Driftwood (1947)

A young child (Natalie Wood) lives in a ghost town with her religious fanatic great grandfather (H.B. Warner). When he dies, she is found wandering in the desert by a doctor (Dean Jagger) who brings her home. It's supposed to be temporary but the child, who has no filter when it comes to telling the truth, begins touching the lives of everyone around her. Directed by Allan Dwan (SLIGHTLY SCARLET), this is a charming tale. I liked the first part of the movie more than the second half when it turns into a predictable melodrama as a medical epidemic endangers the community. Dwan keeps the movie neatly balanced between a social conscience and character development. Natalie Wood doesn't overdo the adorableness that turns me off most child actors, it seems innate with her. The excellent cast includes Walter Brennan, Ruth Warrick, Charlotte Greenwood, Jerome Cowan, Margaret Hamilton and Alan Napier.  

Maigret Et L'Affaire Saint Fiacre (1959)

A police inspector (Jean Gabin) returns to his countryside hometown when an old friend, the Countess of Saint Fiacre (Valentine Tessier), receives an an anonymous note predicting her death. The prediction comes true when she suddenly dies of a heart attack. But the inspector believes that someone intentionally caused that heart attack so in his view, it's murder! Based on the novel by Georges Simenon and directed by Jean Delannoy. This is an unusual and clever murder mystery in that a person dies of natural causes, if one can call a heart attack natural, rather than being poisoned, shot or stabbed. There are a multitude of suspects, none of them particularly likable and in a sense, they are all guilty of driving her to her death. Like a good Agatha Christie mystery, all the suspects are rounded up for dinner and the "killer" is exposed. Since Gabin's inspector had a close relationship with the victim, it's personal and because of that, Gabin gets an opportunity to show a wider range of emotions than a Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple would show. A must for murder mystery fans. With Michel Auclair, Paul Frankeur, Camille Guerini, Michel Vitold and Serge Rousseau.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Hook, Line And Sinker (1969)

An insurance salesman (Jerry Lewis) is told by his doctor (Peter Lawford) that he has a terminal illness and only months to live. His wife (Anne Francis) urges him to spend his last days enjoying what he loves most ..... fishing. So he goes on an international tour to the best fishing spots racking up a huge debt. But it's not long before he finds out that he's a pawn in a darker scenario. Directed by George Marshall (HOW THE WEST WAS WON) whose final film this was. The film's scenario suggests a good black comedy might have been made out of it but instead it gets a broader and typical Jerry Lewis treatment. I'm a huge Lewis fan but this is one of his weaker movies with none of the outrageous hilarity that makes his films so special. I don't know how much input Lewis had (I assume a lot) but he doesn't deliver on this one and even his die hard fans will be disappointed. With Kathleen Freeman, Eleanor Audley, Barbara Pepper and Phillip Pine. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Hot Touch (1981)

An art forger (Wayne Rogers) is blackmailed into recreating a long lost painting by El Greco. But this only the beginning of a web of deception, double crosses and murder among the players. Directed by Roger Vadim (AND GOD CREATED WOMAN), this is a rather uninspired caper. It just sits there sputtering through its paces until it reaches its conclusion. I don't know if Vadim is the director for a film like this. He showed a sense of humor in BARBARELLA but this required the lighter touch of a Stanley Donen or even Norman Jewison. The talented cast who have all proven themselves elsewhere give it their best shot so they can't be blamed for Vadim's lackluster direction. I mean even if you're just doing it for the paycheck, give them their money's worth! I did feel bad for Marie France Pisier who Vadim exploits by undressing her at every opportunity. It's not horrible but it just sits there. With Melvyn Douglas (in his final film role), Samantha Eggar, Patrick Macnee, Lloyd Bochner and Allan Kolman. 

Red Sparrow (2018)

After a ballerina (Jennifer Lawrence) is injured in an "accident", she is recruited by Russian intelligence and asked to seduce an American CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) in order to find out who the mole (passing secrets to the U.S.) is in the Russian intelligence. Based on the novel by Jason Matthews and directed by Francis Lawrence (HUNGER GAMES). The "cold war" may be over but the climate is perfect for this intense spy thriller what with Putin's Russia in the headlines. This isn't your typical action Bondian spy thriller and the focus is on Lawrence's character and her journey from a vulnerable ballet dancer to cold blooded killer. Lawrence has never looked more glamorous on screen but it's her commitment to the role that makes her (and the film) so compelling. It's certainly one of the most violent films I've seen recently and I had to turn my face away more than once during some of the graphic torture scenes. What happened to the NC-17 rating? While it's Lawrence's film all the way, a couple of supporting performances stand out, notably Mary Louise Parker as Senator's assistant being blackmailed by the Soviets and Charlotte Rampling as the headmistress of a school for spies. Also in the cast: Jeremy Irons, Matthias Schoenaerts, Joely Richardson and Ciaran Hinds. 

The Quiet Man (1952)

An American boxer (John Wayne) returns to the small Irish village where he was born. After purchasing his childhood home, he courts a fiery colleen (Maureen O'Hara) whose brother (Victor McLaglen) is dead set against their relationship. Based on a short story by Maurice Walsh and directed by John Ford (who won an Oscar for his direction). While I'm a great admirer of Ford, I've always had to work hard at liking this film. It positively drips with an overabundance of Irishness (Barry Fitzgerald and McLaglen being the worst offenders). But though I've never been to Ireland, it still seems a Hollywoodized version of the Irish. But there are many assets to the film. There's no denying its charm, the Oscar winning cinematography by Winton C. Hoch (THE SEARCHERS) is a thing of beauty, there's a lovely underscore by Victor Young and best of all, Wayne and O'Hara giving marvelous performances. The last 20 minutes or so are pretty excruciating however. Wayne dragging O'Hara across the Irish countryside while pushing and kicking her doesn't play well in 2018 and being a Ford film with McLaglen, it was inevitable there would be a brawl and this runs forever. With Mildred Natwick, Ward Bond, Jack MacGowran, Sean McClory and Arthur Shields. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Hard Rain (1998)

As a small Indiana town is flooded during a horrendous rainstorm with the water constantly rising, most of its citizens have been evacuated. An armored car truck driver (Christian Slater) and his partner (Edward Asner) are attacked by a group of thieves who demand the three million dollars they are carrying. But when the thieves open the armored car, the money is gone! Directed by cinematographer turned director Mikael Salomon (THE ABYSS), this hybrid action/thriller/disaster film may be far fetched but it's a hell of a rollercoaster ride! It's probably the most waterlogged film since THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Salomon and his editing team (3 editors are credited) have done a sensational job of keeping the pulse pounding action smashing forward with nary a chance to catch your breath. Sure there are loopholes and a lot of it doesn't make logical sense but when you're watching it, you're having too good a time to think about such things. The stunt work is terrific and one can't help but feel sorry for the actors who spend most of the movie submerged in water. Surprisingly, the film was a flop! With Morgan Freeman as the head of the heist gang, Minnie Driver, Betty White and Randy Quaid. 

Marie Octobre (1959)

15 years after WWII, a woman (Danielle Darrieux) who had been part of the underground resistance movement in France gathers the nine surviving members and a housekeeper (Jeanne Fusier Gir) who were all present the night the Gestapo invaded their gathering which resulted in the killing of the group's leader. It appears one of them was a traitor who informed on them. But who? Based on the novel by Jacques Robert and directed by Julien Duvivier (PEPE LE MOKO). Although based on a novel, the movie feels like a filmed play. The entire dialog driven film takes place on one set and Duvivier and his cinematographer Robert Lefebvre (CASQUE D'OR) often frame the action in long shot as if we're watching a play. In style, it reminds me of an Agatha Christie mystery with all the suspects in one room and suspicion falling on all of them as it plays out. Curiously, there's a TV playing in the background with a wrestling match on that Duvivier cuts to often. Why I can't guess! I enjoyed it though I suspect many would find it too talky and not cinematic enough. With Serge Reggiani, Lino Ventura, Bernard Blier, Paul Frankeur, Paul Meurisse, Daniel Ivernel, Paul Guers, Robert Dalban and Noel Roquevert.