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Friday, August 31, 2018

La Verite Sur Bebe Donge (1952)

As his life hangs in the balance in the hospital after being poisoned by his wife (Danielle Darrieux), a man (Jean Gabin) reflects on their marriage and what made a hopelessly romantic girl turn murderess. Based on the novel by Georges Simenon and directed by Henri Decoin. This is a fascinating portrait of a marriage gone sour when two people with different values and ideas get married. Gabin's husband is a philandering lout, often cold and cruel and a user of people. Darrieux's wife is a dreamy romantic whose idea of love borders on obsessiveness to the point that she becomes unappealing, a clinging vine suffocating her husband. While it's hard to dissect a ten year marriage in a two hour film, Decoin uses flashbacks to reveal a slowly festering rot. All the danger signs were there but ignored. The film's bleak finale is a real downer but it's honest. This is a film that deserves to be better known. As a film about marriage, it's right up there with SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE and TWO FOR THE ROAD but to the best of my knowledge, it was never released in the U.S. There's an excellent if brief underscore by Jean Jacques Grunenwald. With Daniel Lecourtois, Claude Genia and Madeleine Lambert. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Howling (1981)

An L.A. news anchor (Dee Wallace, E.T.) is attacked by a serial killer. He is shot by the police but she is so traumatized by the incident that she loses her memory of the actual attack. Her therapist (Patrick MacNee) suggests she go to his retreat in Northern California for treatment. But it's there at the retreat, that the horror not only continues but intensifies. Based on the novel by Gary Brandner and directed by Joe Dante (GREMLINS). While the film is an affectionate homage to old Universal werewolf movies, Dante's film balances humor and horror. Film buffs will be amused by the in jokes (MacNee's character is named George Waggner, the director of 1941's THE WOLF MAN) and non film geeks should find enough gore to satisfy their bloodthirsty appetites. Dante is able to create a genuine sense of horror even without the special effects and the finale is both poignant and slightly humorous. The supporting cast includes Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Kenneth Tobey, Christopher Stone, Dennis Dugan, Belinda Balaski, Elisabeth Brooks and John Sayles (the film's screenwriter) as a morgue attendant.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Murder In Three Acts (1986)

At a dinner party in Acapulco hosted by a film actor (Tony Curtis) and attended by the renowned detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov), a minister (Philip Guilmant) suddenly drops dead. It is assumed a natural death until at another dinner attended by most of the same people, a doctor (Dana Elcar) also suddenly dies. In fact, they were both poisoned and Poirot attempts to solve the case before the next murder for the killer is not done yet. Based on the novel THREE ACT TRAGEDY by Agatha Christie and directed by Gary Nelson (THE BLACK HOLE). This may be the worst film adaptation of a Christie book that I've seen (and I've seen plenty). The book was published in 1934 and the film makers have updated it by switching the location from upper class Brits in England to jet setters in Acapulco! There's a truly awful performance by Tony Curtis that puts a damper on the film. It's not one of Christie's best novels and indeed, derivative of her earlier work. When will these film people realize that Christie doesn't need updating or improving on? Among the cast: Diana Muldaur, Emma Samms, Lisa Eichhorn, Fernando Allende, Marian Mercer, Frances Lee McCain, Nicholas Pryor and Concetta Tomei.  

Monday, August 27, 2018

I Walk Alone (1947)

After serving 14 years in prison, an ex-bootlegger (Burt Lancaster) is released and goes to meet his ex-partner (Kirk Douglas). But he finds things have changed since he went to prison and the rough ways of the prohibition era no longer work in the more civilized world of crime. Based on the play BEGGARS ARE COMING TO TOWN by Theodore Reeves and directed by Byron Haskin (WAR OF THE WORLDS). This stylish slice of film noir is plentiful with atmosphere and nicely shot in B&W by Leo Tover (THE HEIRESS). This was the first of seven pairings for Lancaster and Douglas and their chemistry is rich in testosterone. As the film's femme fatale, Lizabeth Scott is less stiff than usual and looks gorgeous. The film's highlight is the scene where Lancaster finds out he can no longer push his way into taking over when crime hides behind legitimate businesses with boards of directors and multiple corporation ownership. It may be second tier noir but this is still good stuff. With Wendell Corey, Kristine Miller, George Rigaud, Mike Mazurki and Marc Lawrence. 

Merrily We Live (1938)

The scatterbrained wife (Billie Burke) of a wealthy businessman (Clarence Kolb) has a habit of taking in hobos and tramps into her household and attempt to reform them but they inevitably end up ripping the family off. When his car breaks down nearby, a man (Brian Aherne) attempts to use their phone but is mistaken for a tramp and pulled into the ditzy household by the wife. Loosely based on the book THE DARK CHAPTER by E.J. Rath (and its 1926 Broadway adaptation) and directed by Norman Z. McLeod (HORSE FEATHERS). The hobo and the heiress plot may sound like a rip off of MY MAN GODFREY but I find it infinitely funnier. Everyone is at the top of their game and Billie Burke who specializes in lightheaded characters takes ditzy to new heights and earned an Oscar nomination for it! The dialog is witty and fast paced and everyone seems to be having a grand old time. It may not have the reputation of better known screwballs like BRINGING UP BABY or THE AWFUL TRUTH but trust me, this one ranks right up there with them. With Constance Bennett, Ann Dvorak, Bonita Granville, Patsy Kelly, Alan Mowbray and Tom Brown.  

The Prisoner Of Second Avenue (1975)

After he loses his job, a middle aged businessman (Jack Lemmon) starts to unravel and eventually has a nervous breakdown. His wife (Anne Bancroft) returns to work to support them but as her husband progressively gets worse, she goes to his family for help. Based on the hit Broadway comedy by Neil Simon and directed by Melvin Frank (A TOUCH OF CLASS). This comedy is a bit darker than most of Simon's works. Nervous breakdowns aren't funny and though the film is rich with humor and Simon's famous one liners, it's painful to see a decent man desperately holding on to his sanity while he looks for answers as to why. Lemmon, who does hysteria like no one else, can often be annoying as he rants and raves and well, can we say it? Overacts. But this is a nice blend of normalcy and hysteria and his mannerisms have the perfect setting here. Bancroft has the less showy role as the wife but she's both funny and touching. Clearly, Simon has more on his mind than a laugh machine. There's a nice score by Marvin Hamlisch. With Sylvester Stallone, F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Wilson, M. Emmet Walsh, Ketty Lester, Patricia Marshall and in the film's best performance, director Gene Saks as Lemmon's older brother.  

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Irma La Douce (1963)

An honest policeman (Jack Lemmon) is assigned to a district where prostitutes ply their trade. Naively and on his own volition, he stages a vice raid which infuriates the police including the police captain (Herschel Bernardi) who are all accepting bribes to look the other way. After being fired, he is taken in by one (Shirley MacLaine) of the prostitutes and falls in love with her even though she refuses to give up streetwalking. Directed by Billy Wilder and based on the 1956 French stage musical which had a great success on Broadway in 1960 winning a best actress Tony award for Elizabeth Seal who played Irma. Inexplicably, the film version omits all the songs (Andre Previn adapts the musical's songs as the underscore) and the film remains a straight comedy. I've seen IRMA LA DOUCE on stage and it's an absolutely charming musical. But by eliminating all the songs, Wilder's film loses its charm and becomes rather sordid. In 1963, a brazen comedy about a hooker was shocking and "adult" but in 2018, it's no longer risque and what we get is an anemic comedy. It still has its moments, mostly with Lemmon who gives us a nice comic performance but MacLaine's best actress Oscar nomination is a real head scratcher. The real scene stealer is Shorty who plays MacLaine's champagne guzzling lapdog. Whenever he's in a scene, your eyes immediately go to him. With James Caan, Bill Bixby, Lou Jacobi, Joan Shawlee and Hope Holiday.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Jack The Giant Killer (1962)

An evil sorcerer (Torin Thatcher) kidnaps a beautiful princess (Judi Meredith) and holds her ransom until the King (Dayton Lummis) abdicates the throne which will allow the wicked wizard to rule the kingdom at the Princess's side. Directed by Nathan Juran, who directed the fantasy classic 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. In fact, the film uses 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD as a template. In addition to Juran, Kerwin Mathews who played Sinbad plays Jack and Thatcher repeats his SINBAD duties as an evil wizard. Meredith steps in for Kathryn Grant's princess and instead of Richard Eyer's genie, we get Don Beddoe's leprechaun. Instead of Ray Harryhausen doing the stop motion animation, it's done by Jim Danforth (7 FACES OF DR. LAO). It's a charming fantasy fairy tale and while perhaps the special effects aren't up to 7TH VOYAGE or JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (mostly likely due to the budget), they're good enough with the witch attack on the ship a highlight. It's bright, colorful and fun. In a bizarre twist, many years after its original release, JACK was reconfigured as a musical by dubbing the actors dialog with singers. To call this version dreadful is an understatement although the musical version's main title credits does have a lovely song playing over the titles. With Anna Lee, Robert Gist, Barry Kelley and Walter Burke.

A Bill Of Divorcement (1932)

After 15 years, a man (John Barrymore) returns unexpectedly from a mental asylum on Christmas day to his family. In the interim, his wife (Billie Burke) has divorced him and his daughter (Katharine Hepburn) barely remembers him. Based on the play by Clemence Dane and directed by George Cukor. After a fluid and cinematic opening shot, the play's creaky proscenium origins are very much in evidence. It's a masochistic film and its dubious theory that insanity is passed down through children no longer passes mustard. Barrymore is very good in a performance that is nicely restrained and when he "overacts", it fits in perfectly with his character's tendency to overexcite himself. Hepburn is fine but you'd never guess from her performance here that she would end up being one of cinema's greatest actresses for the next 50 years. While it holds one's interest for most of its mercifully brief running time (1 hour and 9 minutes), it's just an icky piece of self sacrificing melodrama. For Hepburn fans only. With David Manners, Elizabeth Patterson and Henry Stephenson.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Young Pope (2016)

The Papal Conclave elects the youthful Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) to become the first American pope. The leaders of the conclave assume because of his youth and inexperience they will be able to control him. Instead, to their horror, what they get is an arrogant and vain conservative reactionary, high on his new found power,  who wants to turn the clock back on the Church's "liberal" leanings and once again, shroud the church in secrecy. Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino (THE GREAT BEAUTY), this nine hour mini series is a compelling watch. Assisted by his cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, Sorrentino unleashes a tableau of ravishing, often surreal, imagery. Law's young Pope's journey is a complex and fascinating one. This is no GOING MY WAY, as Sorrentino lets us in the plotting and machinations within the Vatican and it's often quite sensual (as when a priest has a three way with a married woman and a young stud) but it's not anti-Catholic either. There is a lot of wit too as when LMAO's I'm Sexy And I Know It plays over Jude Law putting on his papal robes. Don't be surprised if your eyes water up during Law's big speech at the end though I wish I wasn't so aware of how calculated it was. The superb cast includes Diane Keaton as the Pope's nun confidante, James Cromwell, Silvio Orlando, Scott Shepherd, Ludivine Sagnier, Cecile De France, Andre Gregory and Javier Camara, who gives the film's best performance as an alcoholic Cardinal.     

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Touch Of Evil (1958)

In a small town on the U.S. Mexican border, a businessman (Jeffrey Green) and his stripper girlfriend (Joi Lansing) are killed when their car explodes on the U.S. side. It's observed by a Mexican drug enforcement official (Charlton Heston) and his new bride (Janet Leigh). When a corrupt cop (Orson Welles) takes charge of the case, the official finds himself drawn into the case. Based on novel BADGE OF EVIL by Whit Masterson and adapted for the screen and directed by Orson Welles. From the stunning long tracking shot running around three minutes that opens the film to the confrontation between Welles and Joseph Calleia as his faithful friend at the film's end, this is a terrific exercise in atmosphere and style. I'm not taking anything away from the film's solid plot which is more than serviceable but it's what Welles does to the material that raises it to Art. Welles and his cinematographer, the great Russell Metty (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS), use B&W with its light and shadows in such a way that the entire film becomes an almost Kafkaesque nightmare. The performances range from excellent to good. There has been some carping about Heston as a Mexican but I had no problem with it as presented within the narrative. The music is by Henry Mancini. The large cast includes Marlene Dietrich, Joseph Cotten, Akim Tamiroff, Mercedes McCambridge, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Joanna Moore, Ray Collins, Mort Mills and in the film's most bizarre performance, Dennis Weaver as a motel night clerk.

Lost In A Harem (1944)

After being stranded in the Middle East, a comedy act (Bud Abbott, Lou Costello) and a girl singer (Marilyn Maxwell) are working in a local nightclub hoping to earn enough money to get back to the U.S. But after a nightclub brawl, they are all thrown into jail. A sheik (John Conte) offers to help them escape if they will help him in his plot to regain his throne which has been usurped by his wicked uncle (Douglass Dumbrille). Directed by Charles Riesner, this was one of three films the duo did at MGM rather than their home base at Universal. It's not all that different from what they were churning out at Universal though it has a more expensive look to it (it was filmed on the leftover sets from 1944's KISMET). Its wobbly plot is padded out with musical numbers and comedy sketches (including A&C's famous "slowly I turned" routine). Not one of their best films but not one of their worst either. Costello provides several laugh out loud moments. With Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra, Murray Leonard and Lottie Harrison.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Promises! Promises! (1963)

Two couples go on an ocean cruise together. Couple one are a TV writer (Tommy Noonan) and his wife (Jayne Mansfield) who is desperate to get pregnant. Couple two are a muscle bound movie star (Mickey Hargitay) and his wife (Marie McDonald). After his wife gets pregnant, the writer begins to suspect that movie star may be the father of his wife's child, not him. Based on a play by Edna Sheklow and directed by the character actor King Donovan. This rather lame sex comedy was sold and advertised on Mansfield's nude scenes, the first time a major Hollywood actress had gone topless for a movie. The film gets to it right away with Jayne cavorting in the bath, Jayne rolling around in bed topless before getting down to the flimsy plot. Mansfield had proved herself an adept comedienne in films like THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT and WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER but those films were directed by the wonderful Frank Tashlin. This one feels like a softcore nudie movie. I suppose it has some interest as an artifact and for Mansfield fans but not much for anybody else. With Imogene Coca, Fritz Feld, Marjorie Bennett and T.C. Jones. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

L'Affaire Maurizius (1954)

18 years after a man (Daniel Gelin) has been convicted of the murder of his wife (Madeleine Robinson), the 16 year old son (Jacques Chabassol) of the prosecuting attorney (Charles Vanel) who helped convict him is determined to prove the man's innocence. Based on the 1928 novel by Jakob Wassermann and directed by Julien Duvivier (PEPE LE MOKO). This startlingly bleak film is structured in the form of a mystery. But even after we discover the truth of what happened the night of the murder, we get no satisfaction. Its characters, both guilty and innocent, have all suffered and been punished in some way or other. There is no catharsis. If this film were made today, I've no doubt a "happy" ending would have been tacked on, its cynicism almost too much to bear. It's the ultimate "no one wins" movie. The acting is quite good with an odd performance by Anton Walbrook (THE RED SHOES) as a witness who may or may not have perjured himself. There's a strong underscore by Georges Van Parys. With Eleonora Rossi Drago, Berthe Bovy and Denis D'Ines. 

Dead Man's Folly (1986)

At an English country fete, a young girl (Pippa Hinchley) is found murdered. Fortunately, the renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) is attending the function and along with his companion Hastings (Jonathan Cecil) immediately plunges into solving the crime. There's no shortage of suspects: an American mystery writer (Jean Stapleton), the manor's former owner (Constance Cummings), the Lord of the manor (Tim Piggott Smith) and his flighty wife (Nicollette Sheridan), the Lord's secretary (Susan Woolridge), a visiting American (Jeff Yagher), an architect (Ralph Arliss) and a married couple (Caroline Langrishe, Christopher Guard). Based on the 1956 Agatha Christie novel and directed by Clive Donner (WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?). There have been some minor changes to the Christie novel, mainly some updating to the 1980s, but it's essentially faithful to the source material. It could have been better but honestly, it's not one of Christie's best books and this is reflected in this production. The lackluster cast (though I did like Woolridge's uptight secretary) can't quite seem to bring the characters to life. Ustinov helps but he can do only so much. For Christie fans only. With Kenneth Cranham and Sandra Dickinson.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Third Miracle (1999)

A priest (Ed Harris) has a crisis of faith and temporarily leaves the church. But he is asked to return to investigate a possible miracle. A statue at a convent appears to cry tears of blood and he investigates the woman (Barbara Sukowa, Fassbinder's LOLA) who died seven years prior who is believed to be responsible for the tears which have the power to cure as a candidate for possible sainthood. Based on the novel by Richard Vetere (who co-wrote the screenplay) and directed by Agnieszka Holland (EUROPA EUROPA). The film spares us the sanctimonious proselytizing of "religious" films. In fact, I wouldn't call this a religious film although its probing of faith and commitment to one's belief are at the forefront of the movie's narrative. One doesn't have to be a religious person to appreciate the qualities of Holland's scrutinizing of the inner workings of what constitutes a saint. These are the most interesting aspects of the film, not the complicated attraction of Harris's priest and Anne Heche (excellent) as the dead woman's abandoned daughter. Different but in a good way. With Armin Mueller Stahl and Charles Haid.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreams House (1948)

Fed up with his cramped Manhattan apartment, an advertising executive (Cary Grant)  decides to move to the country with his wife (Myrna Loy) and daughters (Connie Marshall, Sharyn Moffett). But he soon discovers building a house from the ground up can be a very costly nightmare. Based on the novel by Eric Hodgins and directed by H.C. Potter. This popular comedy is a template for all the "house hell" comedies that followed like THE MONEY PIT (1986). Grant and Loy are expert farceurs as is Melvyn Douglas as Grant's best friend so all H.C. Potter has to do is stay out of their way. But he appears to have a skillful touch with the supporting cast. The jealousy triangle (Loy is an old flame of Douglas) seems overkill as there is enough amusement to hold our attention and Grant's jealousy seems out of place. Good fun. With Lex Barker, Louise Beavers, Ian Wolfe, Reginald Denny and Lurene Tuttle.

The Mummy's Shroud (1967)

In 1920, a team of archaeologists discover the lost tomb of a boy pharaoh (Toolsie Persaud) but by entering it, they bring a centuries old death curse on their heads. Directed by John Gilling, this was the third of the four Hammer mummy films they produced. It's a rather silly affair but no more silly than the mummy films Universal turned out in the 1940s. As with those films, this is an unpretentious effort whose hokey entertainment value is easy to digest. The acting is decent and the killings are well done. A little freshness would have been welcome but its recycled plot doesn't detract from the minimal diversion. There's a nice underscore by Don Banks. With Andre Morell, Elizabeth Sellars, David Buck, John Phillips, Maggie Kimberly and Catherine Lacey.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

A young Russian physician (Omar Sharif) has his life irreversibly changed by the Russian Revolution and subsequent Civil War. This includes the two women in his life: his wife (Geraldine Chaplin) and his mistress (Julie Christie). Based on the acclaimed novel by Boris Pasternak and directed by David Lean. Critics were cool when the film originally opened in 1965 although audiences lined up and made the film one of the highest grossing movies of all time. In the ensuing years, its reputation has been critically evaluated for the better. One of the great movie romances, it is also one of the most visually beautiful films ever made. Almost every frame of Freddie Young's immaculate cinematography ready to be hung on a museum wall. Despite its almost 3 1/2 hours length, it is able to capture your attention to the very end. Sharif's performance is probably adequate, no more but his dreamy eyed countenance set many a heart aflutter during the picture's lengthy run. The acting honors go to Rod Steiger's opportunist and Tom Courtenay's Bolshevik revolutionary. There have been some criticisms of the film's "trivialization" of the events of the Russian revolution but the film is no more about the Russian revolution than GONE WITH THE WIND was about the U.S. Civil War. Maurice Jarre's underscore is marvelous although he goes overboard with Lara's Theme at times. With Ralph Richardson, Rita Tushingham, Klaus Kinski, Siobhan McKenna, Adrienne Corri and Geoffrey Keen. 

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

An economics professor (Constance Wu) at NYU is invited by her boyfriend (Henry Golding) to come with him to Singapore to meet his family. Once there however, she is stunned to discover that he comes from a filthy rich family whose matriarch (Michelle Yeoh, TOMORROW NEVER DIES) immediately disapproves of her. Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan and directed by John M. Chu (G.I. JOE: RETALIATION). This is easily the best romcom since MY FRIEND'S WEDDING (1997) (I don't consider THE BIG SICK a romcom though it certainly has elements). As a romantic comedy, it's not particularly original as it follows the usual romcom path (including a makeover of its heroine) but there's a vitality to it and the all Asian cast is more than just a novelty, it's about time we saw Asian actors in the forefront of mainstream Hollywood movies and their ethnicity is a factor in the narrative. There's enough of a bite to the film's often wry eye on Asian stereotypes and generational conflicts but first and foremost, it's an entertainment and it never forgets that. Big kudos to Nelson Coates' stunning production design and Leslie Ewe's art direction. The excellent cast includes Lisa Lu, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina (OCEAN'S EIGHT), Ken Jeong, Tan Kheng Hua, Nick Santos and Pierre Png.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Game For Vultures (1979)

Set during the Rhodesian Bush Wars in the late 1970s, the film focuses on two men: a white Rhodesian arms dealer (Richard Harris) and a black freedom fighter (Richard Roundtree) or terrorist depending on your point of view. The white arms dealer is trying to keep the Rhodesian status quo and the black freedom fighter to take back his country (which would eventually be renamed Zimbabwe). Based on the novel by Michael Hartmann and directed by James Fargo (EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE). The film is a muddled affair and often hard to keep track of. One certainly can't cheer on the arms dealer who represents the racially oppressive Rhodesia but the freedom fighter represents a ruthless killing force that in the name of freedom kills and tortures innocent people. I suppose the point of the film is that in war nobody wins and there are no victors but that has been done before and in better films. With one exception, the acting is indifferent and curiously Roundtree's American accent is never explained. The one exception is Ray Milland who gives a solid performance as an international financier. With Joan Collins, Denholm Elliott, Sven Bertil Taube and Ken Gampu.

Darling Lili (1970)

Set during WWI, a popular singing star (Julie Andrews) is also a German spy. When she is assigned to seduce an American pilot (Rock Hudson) to obtain military secrets from him, the inevitable happens. She falls in love and is torn between her love and her allegiance to Germany. Directed by Blake Edwards (THE PINK PANTHER). This is a case of a film all over the place and never quite able to find its tone. It's a WWI war movie, it's a musical, it's a slapstick comedy, it's a spy movie, it's a romance etc. Add to that that Andrews and Hudson have absolutely zero chemistry with each other and it adds up to an unsatisfactory mash up. To be fair, Paramount constantly interfered and eventually edited the film without Edwards' input and the film was barely released in the U.S. What remains is some superb aerial photography and the songs are good especially the lovely Oscar nominated Whistling In The Dark. With Jeremy Kemp, Gloria Paul, Vernon Dobtcheff and in the film's two worst performances, Lance Percival and Michael Witney. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Seven Little Foys (1955)

A vaudeville comedy song and dance man (Bob Hope) falls in love with an Italian girl (Milly Vitale, WAR AND PEACE) and they promptly have seven children after they are married. But when his wife dies, he must cope with raising the kids on his own while his sister in law (Angela Clarke) protests the way he is raising them. Based on the story of vaudeville star Eddie Foy and directed by Melville Shavelson (YOURS MINE AND OURS). In the mid 1950s, Bob Hope attempted a few relatively serious roles in an attempt to stretch his acting chops beyond his one line quip persona. BEAU JAMES (1957) and this film were the fruit of that venture. This one is hopelessly sentimental (he fared better with BEAU JAMES) and any movie with this many kids is bound to score high on the treacle meter. The second half of the film after the wife dies is much better than its first half and Hope gets to do some serious acting. But it remains a pretty listless affair. The movie does come alive briefly when Hope and James Cagney as George M. Cohan exchange put downs and do some dancing and it's pure movie happiness watching these two pros go at it. With George Tobias, Billy Gray, Dabbs Greer and King Donovan.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Wicker Man (1973)

When a young girl is reported missing, a police sergeant (Edward Woodward) travels to a remote Scottish island to investigate. As a devout conservative Christian, he is appalled by the pagan rituals practiced by the locals and the evasiveness of the island community suggests something sinister is going on. Written by Anthony Shaffer (SLEUTH) and directed by Robin Hardy. This is really one of the great horror films of the 1970s and it does so without excessive gore and blood. It's restrained and although the film's generous sensuality and sex and Christian mockery could never have been done in the 1940s, one can't help but think of those wonderful Val Lewton RKO horror classics. Smart and understated with a killer (literally) finale, its reputation (it's been referred to as the CITIZEN KANE of horror films) is well deserved. The use of music and songs in the film are liberal almost to the point of being a borderline musical! With Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland and Ingrid Pitt. 

Little Women (2017)

Set in Massachusetts during the Civil War, the March sisters: Jo (Maya Hawke, daughter of Ethan and Uma Thurman), Meg (Willa Fitzgerald), Amy (Kathryn Newton) and Beth (Annes Elwy) and their mother (Emily Watson) struggle in genteel poverty while Mr. March (Dylan Baker) serves as a pastor in the Civil War. Based on the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott and directed by Vanessa Caswill. Do we really need yet another version of LITLE WOMEN? There have been at least eight film versions that I know of done for both film and TV and Greta Gerwig is directing a new version due out in 2019. This one attempts to give it a contemporary feel and though I haven't read the novel in decades, it seems they've fiddled with it somewhat (I may be wrong but I don't remember Meg's near drowning in the book). Hawke's Jo seems out of time, too modern for the 19th century, not as a character but her performance. The rest of the cast all look and act like they could have lived in the 19th century. The film looks great (Piers McGrail did the cinematography) but the score by Stuart Earl often seems anachronistic. It's a decent presentation but it doesn't feel like Alcott, something's off. With Angela Lansbury, Michael Gambon, Mark Stanley and Jonah Hauer King, very good as Laurie.

Monday, August 13, 2018

A High Wind In Jamaica (1965)

In the year 1870, a British ship headed to England with a group of children traveling without their parents is attacked by a group of pirates. Unbeknownst to the pirates, the children climb aboard the pirate ship to play and are locked in. When they are found, the plan is to turn them over to a brothel owner (Lila Kedrova) until they can be returned to their parents. But fate has a way of screwing up best laid plans. Based on the novel by Richard Hughes and directed by Alexander Mackendrick (SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS). The film makes some changes from the novel including removing suggestions of child molestation, the character of Margaret (Viviane Ventura) is severely marginalized and makes the children made more sympathetic. The 1929 novel wasn't well regarded when published but is greatly admired today and similarly, the film's reputation has grown thru the years and now it's a cult film. Frankly, while I enjoyed many aspects of it I was underwhelmed. I'm not much on movies with children at its core and the children here are not only weak actors but as characters, they seem backward. I also had no sympathy for the child Emily (Deborah Baxter) whose addled mind causes innocent men to be hanged. Thumbs up to Douglas Slocombe's CinemaScope lensing and thumbs down to Larry Adler's dreadful score. With Anthony Quinn, James Coburn, Nigel Davenport, Gert Frobe and Isabel Dean.    

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hay Fever (1984)

Set in 1920s England, an eccentric actress (Penelope Keith) and her novelist husband (Paul Eddington) and their spoiled grown up children (Phoebe Nicholls, Michael Siberry) each invite a guest down for the weekend. Chaos ensues. Based on the 1925 play by Noel Coward and directed by Cedric Messina. The family at the core of Coward's play are a collection of rather self absorbed shallow upper class "artistic" Brits. The humor in the play, if done correctly, comes in their obliviousness that they're quite obnoxious. If not done properly, they come across as charmless snobs. The problem here is not with Coward's play but the actors (save one) who seem to be content just twittering away "clever" dialog and bon mots and let the dialog do the work for them. Particularly egregious is Penelope Keith who babbles away with such artificiality (however intended) that what should be an amusing performance comes across as posing. It's the kind of role that Maggie Smith could slip in her pocket and walk away with. The one actress who gets it right is Patricia Hodge whose droll deliveries indicate the direction it should have gone. With Benjamin Whitrow, Joan Sims, Susan Woolridge and Michael Cochrane. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Miracle Worker (1962)

A blind and deaf child (Patty Duke) seems uncontrollable in her behavior and is indulged by her parents (Victor Jory, Inga Swenson). They send away for a teacher (Anne Bancroft) in the hope she will be able to give her structure. But the teacher must battle not only the stubborn child but her indulgent parents. Based on the play by William Gibson and directed by Arthur Penn (BONNIE AND CLYDE) with Bancroft and Duke repeating their stage roles. It's hard not to be affected by Helen Keller's story. It's an inspirational movie but in this case inspirational is not a dirty word. There's no sugar here, it's a pretty tough minded film. The performances by Bancroft and especially Duke are superb although why wouldn't they be considering how many times they'd done it on stage. It's a stark straightforward film and the striking B&W cinematography by the Cuban Ernesto Caparros (who remarkably only shot 5 films) lends a muted elegance to the film. With Andrew Prine and Beah Richards.  

Blackkklansman (2018)

In the early 1970s, the first black police officer (John David Washington) on the Colorado Springs police force contacts the Ku Klux Klan on the phone. Pretending to be white, he gets an invitation to join the Klan. To this end, a white police officer (Adam Driver) takes over the black police officer's identity in order to infiltrate the Klan. Based on the autobiographical book by Ron Stallworth and directed by Spike Lee. The core of the film is, amazingly, factual. Lee has taken dramatic license with some facts. For example, Driver's character in real life was not Jewish and the female black activist (wonderfully played by Laura Harrier) that Washington falls in love with is a fabrication. But understandably, Lee adds these elements to the story to make points and tie in with contemporary America. This is a powerful film and Lee doesn't hesitate to to take justified jabs at Trump's America. I could have done without the absurd Alec Baldwin prologue and there's an awful scene of the Klan watching the 1915 BIRTH OF A NATION and guffawing and cheering on the Klan while in real life, they would have been bored stiff by a 60 year old B&W silent movie. Still, I can see why Lee put such a scene in because it does contrast beautifully and horrifyingly with a scene with Harry Belafonte chilling description of 1916 killing of Jesse Washington.  The excellent underscore is by the great Terence Blanchard. With Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins and Jasper Paakkonen.  

Friday, August 10, 2018

Allegheny Uprising (1939)

In Pennsylvania (pre-American Revolution), a small group of men in Indian country takes matters into their own hands when the British provincial command is ineffective in stopping the trade of weapons to Indian tribes. Based on the novel THE FIRST REBEL by Neil H. Swanson and directed by William A. Seiter (YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER). Loosely based on fact, namely the Black Boys Rebellion of 1765 that came after the conclusion of the French and Indian War. It's a rather simplistic "western" (yes, I know it takes place in Pennsylvania) with savage Indians slaughtering and kidnapping children and despite the impressive cast (John Wayne and Claire Trevor reuniting after the success of STAGECOACH), it's rather unremarkable. The workmanlike if uninspired direction by Seiter holds the picture together but there's a lack of urgency to the proceedings which might have helped intensify it. The acting is decent except for Wilfrid Lawson's annoying Scotsman, who's meant to provide comic relief but all he does is make you want to kick his face in. With George Sanders, Brian Donlevy, Chill Wills, Ian Wolfe and Robert Barrat. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Pick Up Artist (1987)

A compulsive womanizer (Robert Downey Jr.) finally meets his match when he encounters a smart, independent museum tour guide (Molly Ringwald). When he finds out she's struggling to pay off her father's (Dennis Hopper) gambling debts, he takes matters into his own hands. Written and directed by James Toback. In the era of the #MeToo movement, Downey's character who is meant to be charming/quirky comes across as a sexual predator. Ringwald and Downey meet "cute" and the film attempts to balance a screwball comedy with a romcom. The film is slight and dependent on the charisma of Ringwald and Downey, which fortunately is ample. Toback seems to understand that his movie is a piece of fluff that won't withstand a lengthy journey so he keeps it to a tight hour and 21 minutes. The large supporting cast includes Harvey Keitel, Vanessa Williams, Danny Aiello, Mildred Dunnock, Christine Baranski, Lorraine Bracco, Bob Gunton, Rene Santoni and Victoria Jackson.

Mutiny (1952)

During the war of 1812, a sea captain (Mark Stevens) and his first mate (Patric Knowles) run the British blockade to France where they are to pick up ten million in gold to assist the war effort. However, the return trip proves dangerous as the crew plots a mutiny to steal the gold and there's the first mate's treacherous ex-flame (Angela Lansbury), who wants her cut of the gold. This minor "B" seafaring adventure has some impressive talent behind the camera: director Edward Dmytryk (who would direct THE CAINE MUTINY two years later), Oscar winning composer Dimitri Tiomkin (HIGH NOON) and cinematographer Ernest Laszlo (IT'S A MAD MAD MAD WORLD). But it remains a diverting potboiler, nothing more with stock characters and situations. With more impressive production values and more charismatic male leads than Stevens and Knowles, this might have been more fun than it is. With Gene Evans, Rhys Williams, Morris Ankrum and Denver Pyle. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Pursuit To Algiers (1945)

After the assassination of the King of Ravenia, Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and his companion Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) are pressed into service to protect the heir to the throne. This entails a sea voyage with a ship overpopulated with suspicious passengers. Directed by Roy William Neill, this is one of the most entertaining of the Universal Sherlock Holmes franchise. The screenplay affords Bruce more screen time without Holmes than is usual in the series and the supporting cast of characters are wonderfully unique and diverting. Which is a good thing because the mystery itself isn't particularly intriguing though I have to confess the little twist at the end had me fooled. Rathbone and Bruce inhabit Holmes and Watson so idiosyncratically that you no longer think of them as Rathbone and Bruce but Holmes and Watson. The shining supporting cast includes Martin Kosleck, Rosalind Ivan, John Abbott, Morton Lowry, Leslie Vincent and Marjorie Riordan.

Monday, August 6, 2018

September (1987)

After a nervous breakdown and a failed suicide attempt, a young woman (Mia Farrow) recuperates at her childhood home in Vermont. But when a group of family and friends converge at the end of the summer, it sends her spiraling into another depression. Written and directed by Woody Allen, this is one of his weakest films. Chekovian in structure, Allen's often trivial dialog is no match for Chekhov's often incisive insight into his troubled characters. What we get is a group of self absorbed upper class types throwing a pity party for themselves. Boo hoo! A more unpleasant group of people to spend time with would be hard to find. Allen is unable to make us care about these people and our lack of empathy is on him, not us. With the exception of Farrow, the actors stumble and even a good actress like Dianne Wiest as Farrow's best friend is defeated by the trite dialog. Allen's exploitation of the 1950s Lana Turner/Johnny Stompanato scandal is contemptible. Allen seems oblivious to this even as he has Farrow exclaim, "You're exploiting a very ugly situation in my life!". Allen has done worse but this one is pretty low on the totem pole. With Elaine Stritch, Sam Waterston, Jack Warden, Denholm Elliott and Rosemary Murphy.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Napoleon (1927)

From a boy (Vladimir Roudenko) in a military school in 1783 through the horrors of the French Revolution to the 1796 Italian campaign, the early years of Napoleon Bonaparte (Albert Dieudonne) are traced in detail. Directed by Abel Gance, this 5 1/2 hour silent epic with two intermissions is one of the great epics of 20th century cinema. It's an astonishing piece of work incorporating techniques that advanced cinema. It's not stagnant at all, it's quite fluid and in spite of its length, one never feels antsy. I won't go into the details of its history and the near 20 years it took to restore it to Gance's original vision, you can google it. I first saw it in 1981 with a live 60 piece symphony orchestra at the massive Shrine auditorium in Los Angeles and it remains the most thrilling movie going experience I've ever had. Alas, no home video experience can replicate the majesty of seeing the film theatrically and certainly not the astonishing triple width screen finale! The film feels fresh and vital, not like a museum piece. The camera movements, the editing, the expert use of a massive cast of thousands, this is a visual feast. Dieudonne has a face made for the cinema and while I wouldn't call his performance great, he holds the camera as well as any Hollywood icon. De rigeur for anyone remotely interested in film. The cast includes Gina Manes as Josephine, Annabella, Antonin Artaud, Alexandre Koubitzky, Edmond Van Daele and Gance himself as Saint-Just.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Side Effects (2013)

After her husband (Channing Tatum) is released from prison, his wife (Rooney Mara) begins suffering from severe depression and becomes suicidal. When her psychiatrist (Jude Law) prescribes a new medication for her, its side effects are deadly. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (ERIN BROCKOVICH), this diabolical little thriller catches you off guard going in zig zags and keeping you guessing (though I pretty much figured it out at the halfway mark). It's clever alright but it suffers from have no likable characters. Pretty much everyone in it is a turn off with the exception of Ann Dowd as Tatum's mother. When it opened, its reviews were highly favorable but the film seems to have slipped through the cracks. It certainly deserves a bigger reputation. I was a bit disappointed that once again, the LGBT community gets the short end of the stick. But fans of tricky thrillers should have a good time. With Catherine Zeta Jones, Peter Friedman and Vinessa Shaw. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Blossoms In The Dust (1941)

A young Texas widow (Greer Garson in an Oscar nominated performance) who operates a private orphanage begins a campaign to have the term illegitimate removed from birth records. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy (QUO VADIS), this is the true story of Edna Gladney, an early advocate for the rights of illegitimate children, to stop an appalling practice that seems barbaric to 21st century minds. Of course, this being a major MGM movie, Gladney's story is highly fictionalized. This was the first teaming of Garson and Walter Pidgeon who would go on to make a total of seven films together. It was also the first of Garson's "great lady" roles that made her insufferable to a certain segment of film fans. Even though the film's intentions are in the right place, as cinema, it's not a very interesting film. One can admire its heart but it's still a rather manipulative and contrived heart. There is one disturbing aspect to the film which has nothing to do with the narrative. The light skinned African American actress Theresa Harris as Garson's maid appears to be in some sort of blackface make up to make her skin appear darker (the film is in Technicolor). With Marsha Hunt, Felix Bressart, Fay Holden and John Eldredge.  

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Battle Hymn (1957)

After a traumatic experience during WWII, a minister (Rock Hudson) struggles with his faith. When the war in Korea starts in 1950, he re-enlists but will his religious beliefs prove a barrier if called upon to kill the enemy? Based on the true story of Colonel Dean Hess who was a minister in his private life and directed by Douglas Sirk (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS). Of all Sirk's films made at Universal during the 1950s, this is the most routine. Not that it's without interest at times but most often, the cliches and stereotypes take the foreground. The next year, Sirk would return to war as his subject matter and make one of the best war films of the decade with A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE. This one is undistinguished with its predictable characters. When one of the characters says, "I fear I shall never see my home again", you know they're going to be toast by the end of the film. During a moment of crisis, the film's lone black character (James Edwards) sings Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Yeah, it's that kind of movie. By the time the movie ends with The Battle Hymn Of The Republic blaring on the soundtrack, you've had more than enough. With Martha Hyer, Dan Duryea, Don DeFore, Anna Kashfi, Jock Mahoney and Carl Benton Reid. 

Alien 3 (1992)

When a fire starts aboard a spaceship, an escape pod is discharged with four passengers in hyper-sleep but only one of them survives when it crash lands on a penal colony, a woman (Sigourney Weaver). Directed by David Fincher (THE SOCIAL NETWORK), this was the third installment in the ALIEN franchise following the 1979 original film and the 1986 sequel, ALIENS. It's pretty much an orphan as a film. Fincher has disowned the film citing interference from 20th Century Fox and the film received mixed reviews and mediocre box office in the U.S. (it performed better overseas). Personally, it's my second favorite in the franchise after the 1979 film. I watched an extended cut put out in 2003 which is over 30 minutes longer than the 1992 theatrical cut. In addition to being longer, there are also a few changes. I liked the leisurely pace and the emphasis on the prison life and the religious cult formed by the prisoners. The film also gives Sigourney Weaver an opportunity to show us a more reflective and pessimistic Ripley rather than just a bad ass heroine kicking Alien butt. Not as terrifying as the 1979 film nor as exciting as the 1986 movie, it remains an ambitious and complex attempt to move the franchise into a more cerebral area. There's also a fantastic score by Elliot Goldenthal. With Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Lance Henricksen and Pete Postlethwaite. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Lady Windermere's Fan (1985)

A young wife (Helena Little) suspects her husband (Tim Woodward) of having an affair with a notorious older woman (Stephanie Turner). When her husband insists the woman be invited to a party they are having, the wife deliberates on leaving her husband for an admirer (Kenneth Cranham, whose performance is godawful). Based on the 1892 play by Oscar Wilde and directed by Tony Smith. Wilde's play has been filmed numerous times including a silent version by Ernst Lubitsch in 1925 and a sound version in 1949 directed by Otto Preminger. Wilde's examination of British society and its hypocrisy toward a certain kind of woman while hiding behind a false respectability itself. The story's "good" woman reveals herself to be potentially capable of a bad act while the "bad" woman makes a sacrifice out of love. Unfortunately, the majority of this production is rather dull with the exception of Sara Kestelman's gossip mongering Duchess. But it comes alive in its final scene where Little and Turner rise to the occasion thus ending it on a satisfying conclusion. With Robert Lang and Amanda Royle.