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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Vault Of Horror (1973)

Five strangers on an elevator find themselves in the sub-basement of an office building. It is there that they each share their recurrent nightmares: a brother (Daniel Massey) searches for his sister (Anna Massey), a neat freak (Terry Thomas) drives his wife (Glynis Johns) to the brink, a magician (Curt Jurgens) must learn the secret of a rope trick at any cost, a man (Michael Craig) schemes with his friend (Edward Judd) to defraud the insurance company and an artist (Tom Baker) seeks revenge on those who ruined his career. A follow up to Amicus's popular TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972), this wasn't as well received. I don't know why as it's a more than decent horror anthology film. As with all omnibus movies, the quality is uneven but none of them are terrible and there's a thread of black humor in several of the tales. My own favorites were the brother and sister story with real life brother and sister Daniel and Anna Massey and the marriage anecdote with Glynis Johns and Terry Thomas. Horror fans should find something to their taste in one of the stories. With Denholm Elliott, Dawn Addams and Marianne Stone.  

Monday, October 29, 2018

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)

In 1840 Japan, a samurai (Tsuiyuki Sasaki) returns home to find his wife (Mako Hattori) with another man (Toshiya Maruyama) and kills them both before killing himself. Jump 142 years later and an American family moves into the house which is haunted by the ghosts of  the samurai, his wife and her lover. Based on the novel by James Hardiman and directed by Kevin Connor (THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT). One would think it would be difficult to make a story about ghosts haunting the living tedious but this one accomplishes it. There is absolutely no sense of tension or dread or fear in the entire movie. The film culminates in the silliest of finales with an exorcism that's dull (the ghosts run away like spinsters being chased by mice) and then the ghosts enter the bodies of their American counterparts: the husband (Edward Albert), the wife (Susan George) and her lover (Doug McClure) and suddenly the two male protagonists are wielding samurai swords and doing judo while the wife eggs them on. It actually sounds more fun than it is. There's a lousy underscore by Ken Thorne which doesn't give the film the horror underpinings it needs. 

Man Friday (1975)

An Englishman (Peter O'Toole) has been stranded on a desert island for years. When a group of natives arrive on the island, he kills them all except for one (Richard Roundtree), who he keeps as a slave. Based on a play by Adrian Mitchell (who also did the screenplay) which in turn was based on ROBINSON CRUSOE by Daniel Defoe and directed by Jack Gold. It's an interesting if ill conceived re-imagining of the Defoe book. The story is seen through Friday's eyes and it becomes clear as the story progresses that it is the white man, not the native who is the savage. Detail is often rushed. For example, Friday speaks no English when he arrives but before you know it, he's speaking perfect English. When Crusoe visits Friday's island, he speaks English to the natives and they understand perfectly (or are we to assume Friday has taught Crusoe his native tongue?). The film has a certain charm and O'Toole and Roundtree (who's quite good here) play off each other wonderfully. Curiously, there are several songs in the film that make it feel like a borderline musical! But they sound more "pop" than indigenous. The lush cinematography (filmed in Mexico) is by Alex Phillips Jr. 

An Ideal Husband (1969)

At a dinner party during the London social season, a distinguished and admired member (Keith Michell) of the House Of Commons with an impeccable reputation is approached by a woman (Margaret Leighton). She holds in her possession a letter from his indiscreet youth that could ruin his career and marriage. Her price in exchange for the letter is his support of a fraudulent scheme. Based on the play by Oscar Wilde and directed by Rudolph Cartier. Second only to THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST in popularity among Wilde's plays, this production is serviceable with everyone dutifully going through their paces without ever going that extra mile that would elevate it over just another BBC production of a classic play. The one exception is Margaret Leighton whose manipulative Mrs. Cheveley weaves her spider's web to ensnare victims as she attempts to climb her way into acceptable British society. She's easily the most fascinating (at least as Leighton plays her) character in the piece. With Susan Hampshire, Jeremy Brett, Dinah Sheridan and Charles Carson.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Destroyer (2018)

A burned out Los Angeles police officer (Nicole Kidman) , who's estranged from her teenage daughter (Jade Pettyjohn), must confront the demons from her past when as a young police officer, an undercover assignment she was working on went deadly and horribly wrong. Directed by Karyn Kusama (THE INVITATION), this raw and gritty police thriller (shot on the streets of L.A.) is reminiscent of those 70s police films like THE FRENCH CONNECTION and SERPICO but also with Kidman in a complex and fierce performance, KLUTE comes to mind too. I don't think I've seen an actress go this far with a role since Charlize Theron in MONSTER fifteen years ago. Kidman's performance dominates the film (she's onscreen 98%) and propels it forward and Karyn Kusama takes care of the rest! It's a film rich in textured layers yet sadly, perhaps too painful and dark for mainstream success. One of the best films I've seen this year and Kidman's performance should put her in the front of the line in the upcoming awards season. The stellar cast includes Sebastian Stan, Bradley Whitford, Tatiana Maslany, Scoot McNairy and Toby Kebbell.  

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Horrors Of The Black Museum (1959)

Set in London, a series of brutal murders of young women baffles Scotland Yard. A columnist (Michael Gough) who specializes in murder and crime taunts the police on their ineffectiveness. There's a reason he's so smug about it ..... he's behind the killings! Directed by Arthur Crabtree, this starts off promisingly and for most of its running time, it's quite intriguing but eventually it descends into silliness. Fortunately, the silliness is rather fun so it's still entertaining, you just don't take it seriously anymore. As the madman behind the crimes, Gough chews the scenery like a carnivore who's been on a veggie diet for months eating his first steak! Vividly shot in CinemaScope by Desmond Dickinson (Olivier's 1948 HAMLET), it's a quick watch at 1 hour and 18 minutes. Horror fans should be pleased. With Shirley Anne Field, Geoffrey Keen, sexy June Cunningham (who steals the movie) and Graham Curnow.  

Le Beau Serge (1958)

A sophisticated man (Jean Claude Brialy) from Paris returns to the country village of his youth to recuperate from a debilitating illness. He reconnects with his childhood friend (Gerard Blain), who has turned into a bitter and brutal alcoholic. Directed by Claude Chabrol, this was his first film and often cited as (one of) the first film of the French New Wave which would soon be followed by the likes of Francois Truffaut, Jean Luc Godard and Alain Resnais among others. This is a bleak film with only a glimmer of hope at the very end. The lives of these village people are wretched and has turned them into uncaring and unfeeling brutes whose only outlets seem to be sex and alcohol. Even the town's doctor and priest are ineffectual. Chabrol's view of country life seems authentic (he grew up in the village where it was filmed) and there's an almost documentary like texture to the movie. A very impressive directorial film debut though I don't know that I'd rank it among my favorite Chabrol films. With Bernadette Lafont, Michele Meritz (as Blain's wife, the only really sympathetic character in the film), Claude Cerval, Jeanne Perez and Edmond Beauchamp.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Alligator (1980)

In a pique of anger, a surly father (Robert Doyle) flushes his young daughter's (Leslie Brown) pet baby alligator down the toilet. Jump 12 years later and the alligator which has lived in the sewer system eating animal carcasses from an unethical lab doing secret hormonal experiments has mutated into a giant creature. Written by John Sayles and directed by Lewis Teague (CUJO). This homage to B giant mutation sci-fi/horror flicks from the 50s (TARANTULA, DEADLY MANTIS etc.) is more fun than frightening. Sayles doesn't take himself seriously and his screenplay is frequently amusing. I much prefer Sayles B movie screenplays like PIRANHA, THE HOWLING and this to his more "serious" stuff. The film recycles horror/sci-fi cliches but it knows it and even winks at us. But it also takes delight in surprising us.  When a child is put in danger, you think, "Oh, they're not going to dare kill the kid" so when the kid gets gobbled up, you're taken off guard. The film's highlight is a lawn wedding which turns into a feeding frenzy for the gator. The large cast includes Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Henry Silva, Sue Lyon (her final film role), Dean Jagger, Michael V. Gazzo, Jack Carter, Perry Lang, Bart Braverman and Angel Tompkins.

Sangaree (1953)

After the Revolutionary War, a dying General (Lester Matthews) bequeaths his Georgia plantation to the man (Fernando Lamas) he raised as his own. But the General's daughter (Arlene Dahl) won't accept this without a fight, even if she has to take it to the courts. Based on the best selling novel by Frank G. Slaughter and directed by Edward Ludwig. Nobody remembers Slaughter much these days but he was a doctor turned writer whose novels were popular best sellers through out the 40s, 50s and 60s. It was shot in the 3D process so naturally we get things tossed at us from knives to barrels. As a 2D film, it's still fairly entertaining. Lamas is a bit of a dullard (pity Ricardo Montalban wasn't cast) but the film has two Technicolor assets: the flame haired Arlene Dahl and the raven haired Patricia Medina who both look spectacular. The film has pirates and the plague to spice up the proceedings. With John Sutton, Francis L. Sullivan, Tom Drake, Willard Parker and Charles Korvin.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Ghost Of Sierra De Cobre (1964)

At the behest of her blind husband (Tom Simcox), a woman (Diane Baker) contacts a paranormal investigator (Martin Landau) to investigate phone calls her husband is getting from his mother ... who's buried in the family crypt! Written and directed by Joseph Stefano (PSYCHO), this was originally intended as a pilot for a TV series called THE HAUNTED with Landau as a sort of "ghostbuster". The pilot didn't sell (reputedly too frightening) so additional footage was shot, the ending changed and turned into a feature length movie which has developed a cult reputation of sorts. While you can feel it's padded out, for most of its running time, it's an above average ghost story. The crisp B&W cinematography by Conrad Hall (IN COLD BLOOD) is superb and doesn't have that flat look that most films shot for TV in the 60s had. This looks like a feature. There's a neat score by Dominic Frontiere (HANG 'EM HIGH). With Judith Anderson in Mrs. Danvers mode, Nellie Burt and Leonard Stone.

House Of Frankenstein (1944)

A deranged scientist (Boris Karloff) escapes from prison along with his hunchbacked companion (J. Carrol Naish). He travels to the old Frankenstein castle where he hopes to find Dr. Frankenstein's records and thus continue his experiments. Directed by Erle C. Kenton, this is a rather silly entry in the Universal monsters franchise but diverting nonetheless. Not content with just one "monster", the film gives us three: Dracula (John Carradine), the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) and the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange). If they had thrown in The Mummy, they could have padded out the film's running time to a full 90 minutes. The Dracula sequence almost feels like a prologue rather than an integral part of the narrative (just as well as Carradine is no Bela Lugosi) which focuses more on the Wolf Man and Frankenstein monster. For fanboys of the Universal monsters only. With Elena Verdugo, Lionel Atwill, George Zucco, Sig Ruman and Anne Gwynne.

Suspiria (2018)

Set in 1977 Berlin, a young American dancer (Dakota Johnson) arrives to study at a prestigious dance school run by a mysterious group of women led by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). After one of the dancers (Chloe Grace Moretz) disappears, strange occurrences begin to happen that suggest the school may be more than what it is. Loosely based on the 1977 Dario Argento film and directed by Luca Guadagnino (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME). Those expecting a remake of Argento's classic giallo are bound to be disappointed. Guadagnino's film actually owes very little to the Argento film. Guadagnino goes in an entirely different direction and is a re-imagination of the Argento film, not a remake. Indeed, it's closer to ROSEMARY'S BABY than the original 1977 film. I expect the film will be as polarizing as Aronofsky's MOTHER. You'll love it or hate it. I loved it. I love Argento's film too but comparisons are futile as they are different creations. This is "art house" horror done in six acts (literally) and an epilogue and already I have read reviews throwing the word pretentious at it. God forbid a horror film has more ambitions than fright. Tilda Swinton takes on three roles. In addition to the ballet school owner, she plays a male psychiatrist and a decaying witch. The film's original lead, Jessica Harper, has a small role as the psychiatrist's wife. Radiohead's Thom Yorke did the underscore. With Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Elena Fokina and Renee Soutendijk.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

L'Infermiera (aka The Sensuous Nurse) (1975)

After an aging but lecherous widower (Mario Pisu) has a heart attack, his greedy relatives hire a sexy nurse (Ursula Andress) to seduce him and hopefully give him a second and fatal heart attack. Co-written and directed by Nello Rossati. A lascivious male servant (Lino Toffolo) refers to the household's sexy maid (Carla Romanelli) as "all nude and naughty" and that pretty much sums up this Italian sex comedy. All the males from the aging patriarch to the teen age nephew (Stefano Sabelli) are horny and all the women save one (Marina Confalone, the only actress who keeps her clothes on) are obliging. For fans of Ursula Undress (sic), this film is a boon as she drops her clothes at almost every opportunity and showing us all. Indeed, if one referred to this sex farce as softcore porn, you wouldn't be far off. Is it any good? Well, humor being subjective and all, I found it rather broad and juvenile in its comedy but I did admire its unabashed bawdiness. With Luciana Paluzzi, Duilio Del Prete (AT LONG LAST LOVE), Daniele Vargas and Jack Palance as an American businessman.  

Monday, October 22, 2018

My Son John (1952)

A young man (Robert Walker) returns from Washington D.C. where he works and lives to visit his aging parents (Helen Hayes, Dean Jagger). They are a conservative religious pair and are appalled when he begins spouting liberal rhetoric. When an FBI agent (Van Heflin) turns up at their door, they suspect the worst about their son ..... he's a commie! Co-written, produced and directed by Leo McCarey (GOING MY WAY), this mind blowing film needs to be seen to be believed! It's in your face anti "Red" propaganda, pro church (how dare you put man above God) and the American flag and portrayal of commies as pure evil (they give away free dope to hook you) and assassins if you want to leave the party would be laughable if it weren't so badly done. The acting is way over the top (Jagger's performance is a career low point) and Walker seems to be playing Bruno from STRANGERS ON A TRAIN again. That its screenplay was nominated for an Oscar is a bad joke. The film is also anti-intellectualism. Walker's wholesome brothers are football playing soldiers while Walker went to college and warped his mind! It's an artifact from the height of the HUAC reign of terror. With Richard Jaeckel and Frank McHugh.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Cat People (1982)

A young girl (Nastassja Kinski) arrives in New Orleans to reconnect with her brother (Malcolm McDowell) who she hasn't seen since they were children. After their parents death, they were separated and placed in foster homes and institutions. But now that they are reunited, the brother must tell his sister of their dark heritage and the tortured existence they will have to deal with. Loosely based on the classic 1942 horror film and directed by Paul Schrader (AMERICAN GIGOLO). Schrader and his screenwriter (Alan Ormsby) have taken on what was only hinted at in the 1942 film and placed it center stage and turned it into a piece of erotic horror. Namely, the connection between sexual "animal" urges that literally turn one into an animal. The film has a spectacular look to it courtesy of Ferdinando Scarfiotti (Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST), here billed as a visual consultant. The film was done pre-CGI yet the special effects are first rate and give the film a more natural look than computer generated images could provide. The underscore is by Giorgio Moroder and features a killer song by David Bowie played over the end credits. With John Heard, Annette O'Toole, Ruby Dee (excellent), Frankie Faison, John Laroquette, Berry Berenson and Ed Begley Jr. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Empire Of The Ants (1977)

A real estate developer (Joan Collins) takes a group of prospective buyers on a tour of an island where plots are being sold in anticipation of a beachfront community. Instead, they are welcomed by giant killer ants, the result of a toxic radiation spill. Very loosely based on the short story by H.G. Wells and directed by Bert I. Gordon. Incompetent about says it all but it's the kind of film that actually becomes grandly entertaining in its ineptitude. If you hadn't seen competent actors like Joan Collins, Robert Lansing or Albert Salmi in other things, you would assume they were the dregs of their profession based on their work here. But to be fair, the dialog is dreadful and there's probably nothing they could have done to make the screenplay other than what it is. It's the kind of dumb movie where the cast is surrounded by giant killer ants and one character says to another, "Have a piece of candy. It will make you feel better." Yeah, nothing like a piece of chocolate to make you forget you're about to be an ant's lunch. The special effects are shoddy. Obviously the actors had to pretend there were giant ants but in one attack scene John David Carson keeps swinging his oar into the empty air. Clearly, someone had forgot to put in a giant ant in front of him. With Jacqueline Scott, Robert Pine, Irene Tedrow, Pamela Susan Shoop and Edward Power.

Pardon My Sarong (1942)

After taking a bus without permission to go from Chicago to Los Angeles, two bus drivers (Bud Abbott, Lou Costello) are hunted down by a detective (William Demarest). In order to escape the law, they hire on as deckhands on the yacht of a playboy (Robert Paige). Directed by Erle C. Kenton (GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN), this is one of the comedy duo's weakest vehicles. Indeed, it's a candidate for one of their worst. There are a couple of laughs in the film which is hardly enough to justify its sleep inducing tedium and this comes from a huge Abbott & Costello fan. The film's high points aren't even related to comedy but come from choreographer Katherine Dunham's dance numbers which showcase her Afro-Cuban dance style and briefly liven up the proceedings. Hard to believe but this piece of silliness was the second highest grossing film of 1942! With Virginia Bruce, Lionel Atwill, Leif Erickson, Marie McDonald and Nan Wynn. 

Last Call (2002)

In ill health and struggling with sobriety, F. Scott Fitzgerald (Jeremy Irons) attempts to write a new novel with the help of a young secretary (Neve Campbell). Based on the memoir AGAINST THE CURRENT: AS I REMEMBER F. SCOTT FITZGERALD by Frances Kroll (played here by Neve Campbell) and directed by Henry Bromell. Very well done with one of Jeremy Irons' very best performances. The film manages to avoid most of the cliches of movie biographies of great writers, mostly by concentrating on a specific period of Fitzgerald's life rather than a full bio. The movie thankfully avoids sensationalism as the last couple of years of Fitzgerald's life provides more than enough drama. The period detail (the late 1930s/early 40s) is exceptional and the lensing by Jeff Jur is quite striking. There's a fine underscore by Brian Tyler. The only minor flaw is the unnecessary addition of Zelda Fitzgerald (Sissy Spacek who is wasted) as a ghostly presence in Fitzgerald's imagination which only seems to hinder the narrative. Oddly enough, Spacek was the only actor to receive an Emmy nomination. With Natalie Radford, Paul Hecht and Shannon Lawson. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Halloween (2018)

40 years after she was the lone survivor of a slaughter on Halloween night by a masked killer (who has been kept locked up in a high security asylum), a woman (Jamie Lee Curtis) finally gets an opportunity for closure while she awaits to face the "man" who destroyed her life when he escapes. Directed by David Gordon Green, the film ignores the nine HALLOWEEN films that came out between the 1978 original and this one as if they never existed. Personally, I quite liked the 1998 HALLOWEEN H20 but the others didn't bring anything to the franchise. While I liked this one, it was a bit of a disappointment. On the plus side, there's a fierce Jamie Lee Curtis performance whose Laurie Strode has been pushed to the brink of insanity in the 40 years since the murders which has alienated her from her adult daughter (Judy Greer). David Gordon Green does bring some intense action scenes to the fore and he does, for the most part, provide the requisite frights. On the downside, the film has some annoying and lame characters like the two British journalists. So irritating that I literally had to restrain myself from applauding when Michael Myers bashes the head in of the male journalist (Jefferson Hall). Not a good idea to make the victims so unappealing (there are several others) that you side with the killer! The final confrontation is superbly done and yes, the film does let it self open for a sequel. With Will Patton, Andi Matichak, Virginia Gardner and Haluk Bliginer as the film's ill conceived replacement for the Donald Pleasence character.  

The House Of The Seven Gables (1960)

In the mid 19th century, a young woman (Shirley Temple) comes to stay with a poverty stricken distant relative (Agnes Moorehead) in a rundown mansion. The mansion is reputed to be haunted and the family has a history of witchcraft, corruption and mysterious deaths. Based on the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne and directed by Arthur Hiller (LOVE STORY). Originally done for television, this is a stripped down Readers Digest version of the rich and complex Hawthorne source material. But at least it remains relatively true to the Hawthorne novel as opposed to the 1940 film adaptation which made unacceptable changes. As the young country girl, Temple shows why she never made a smooth transition from child star to adult actress ... she's a terrible actress. But to be fair, the limited adaptation doesn't offer any of the actors an opportunity to flesh out a character. With Robert Culp, Martin Landau, Jonathan Harris (LOST IN SPACE) and John Abbott. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Terror Train (1980)

A group of frat boys hire a private train to throw a New Years Eve costume party. As the trains speeds through the snowy mountains, brutally murdered bodies start turning up. Could these killings be tied in to a mean spirited prank that went horribly wrong three years ago? Directed by Roger Spottiswoode (UNDER FIRE), this is a rather simplistic slasher movie. The identity of the killer is never in question. The mystery comes from where could he be and in what guise. It's a perfectly serviceable slasher best suited to fans of the genre. Jamie Lee Curtis at the height of her "scream queen" fame is the engaging and plucky heroine. But it's hard to care much for the other victims, drunken frat boys and their airhead girlfriends. More frightening than anything in the film is that these drunken party animals are pre-med students and the thought of them practicing medicine is scary. The cinematography is quite striking and courtesy of John Alcott (BARRY LYNDON). With Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, Vanity, Timothy Webber and Derek MacKinnon.   

My Gal Sal (1942)

Set in the Gay Nineties, a young man (Victor Mature) rejects his father's (Stanley Andrews) plans for him to become a pastor and instead runs off to seek his fortune as a musician and composer. When he meets a Broadway star (Rita Hayworth), their contentious relationship eventually gives way to romance. Directed by Irving Cummings, this musical is based on the life of songwriter Paul Dresser (the older brother of novelist Theodore Dreiser on whose story this is based). It's the kind of musical that give musicals a bad name. Poor 20th Century Fox never had the sheen of the great MGM musicals that came out during the 1940s. MGM had Garland, Kelly, Astaire and the Arthur Freed unit. Fox had to settle for the likes of Alice Faye and Betty Grable. Frankly, Dresser's songs aren't my cup of tea. They're the kind of songs favored by barbershop quartets and if that's your bag, you may well enjoy this. On the plus side, there's the glorious Hayworth in Technicolor and she gets to dance to Hermes Pan's choreography. Pretty to look at but not much else but 1942 audiences lapped it up. With Phil Silvers, Carole Landis (in the film's best performance), John Sutton, James Gleason and Mona Maris. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Changeling (1980)

Following the death of his wife (Jean Marsh) and daughter (Michelle Martin), a composer (George C. Scott) relocates from New York to Seattle, Washington. But the old house he's moved into seems to be haunted and as the composer investigates the unexplained phenomena, a horrible history is uncovered. Directed by Peter Medak (THE RULING CLASS), this is a first rate ghost story. Based on events that reputedly occurred at the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in Denver, Colorado. Medak and his screenwriters have concocted with the most minimal of special effects, a crackerjack psychological horror movie that feels possible rather than fantastic. Its genuine sense of horror comes not from jumps and scares but a sense of dread. It's almost old fashioned in its storytelling, rich in suggestion and atmosphere. The film didn't exactly rock the box office or critics when first released but in the ensuing years, it's developed into a true cult classic. With Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Madeleine Sherwood, John Colicos, Roberta Maxwell and Barry Morse.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Le Bonheur (1934)

An anarchist (Charles Boyer) attempts to assassinate a film star (Gaby Morlay) as a political act. But during his trial, she pleads for his life and thus begins an obsession with each other on both sides. Based on the play by Henri Bernstein (which Boyer had performed on the Paris stage) and directed by Marcel L'Herbier. This very strange love story is like the darker side of something like NOTTING HILL. It takes awhile before you're aware of what direction the film is taking but by the time it reaches its conclusion, it's made the far fetched believable. Morlay (who reminds me of Gloria Swanson) is wonderful as a vain movie star and gives an ambiguous performance so that you're never quite sure of her sincerity and Boyer is also excellent. In spite of its darkness, it remains an incredibly romantic movie. The film is quite bold in its depiction of a gay man (Michel Simon as Morlay's manager) and his boyfriend (Robert Colette), something you would never see in a Hollywood film in 1934. With Paulette Dubost and Jaque Catelain.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Shiraz (1928)

A humble potter (Himansu Rai) follows his childhood sweetheart (Enakshi Rama Rau) when she is sold by slave traders to the future Emperor of India (Charu Roy). Based on the stage play by Niranjan Pal and directed by Franz Osten (A THROW OF THE DICE). A co-production of Great Britain, Germany and India, this lavish romantic epic was filmed entirely in India with a cast of native Indian actors as part of a trilogy (the other two being LIGHT OF ASIA and THROW OF THE DICE). Visually, with its authentic Indian landmarks and lavish costumes, this is a treat for the eyes. But it's also a marvelous romantic melodrama with its heroine beloved by two men and sharing an affection for both. The film is immeasurably aided by a new score composed by Anoushka Shankar expressly for the film's 2017 restoration by the British Film Institute. With Seeta Devi and Maya Devi.

The Neanderthal Man (1953)

Set in the California High Sierra mountain range, a deranged scientist (Robert Shayne) experiments on animals and humans with a serum that turns back the clock and reproduces creatures and homo sapiens from 40,000 years ago. Directed by Ewald Andre Dupont (VARIETE), who'd seen better days as a director, this crudely made B cheapie horror flick is tedious to the extreme. With one exception, the acting is appalling though to be fair there's not much any actor could do with the trite dialog. The film might just as well have been another Wolf Man movie for the originality the plot gives off. The budget is so cheap that we're not even allowed to see a cat turn into a saber tooth tiger though the time lapse cinematography by Stanley Cortez (MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS) does show the human to Neanderthal transformation. The one scene that stands out in an otherwise mundane film is a scene where Beverly Garland (the only actor in the film who suggests talent) describes being kidnapped by the Neanderthal man that suggests she'd been raped. With Richard Crane, Robert Bray, Joyce Terry and Doris Merrick.  

Thirteen At Dinner (1985)

An American film star (Faye Dunaway) asks the renowned detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) to intercede on her behalf in getting her husband Lord Edgware (John Barron) to agree to a divorce. Shortly after Poirot's meeting with the husband, he is found murdered! The principal suspect is his wife. Based on LORD EDGWARE DIES by Agatha Christie and directed by Lou Antonio (who also has a small part in the film). This is one of Christie's least satisfying mysteries as the solution to the murder is almost painfully obvious and comes as no surprise. Indeed, I hate it when screenwriters decide they know better than Christie and change her novels but in this case, I would have been quite happy if they had come up with a more clever solution to the crime. It doesn't help that Dunaway is miscast as a Monroe like "dumb" blonde. The film features David Suchet as the Scotland Yard detective Japp and he would later play Poirot in a series of Christie adaptation for British television. With Lee Horsley, Allan Cuthbertson, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Cecil, Amanda Pays and Lesley Dunlop.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

First Man (2018)

From 1961 to 1969, the story of astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his long and personal journey to become part of the 1969 moon landing and the first man to walk on the moon. Based on the non fiction book by James R. Hansen and directed by Damien Chazelle. I suppose THE RIGHT STUFF (1983) is the benchmark for this kind of film. But Chazelle's film isn't about the space program as much as the story of one man and both his fortitude and heartbreak culminating in a catharsis (that may or may not have actually happened). It's a fine film though I have to confess after the glowing reviews, I couldn't help but feel let down. It's good but not that good. Covering eight years in 2 1/2 hours could be daunting but Chazelle rushes from highlight to highlight without missing a beat and still manages to keep this a personal story rather than a space epic. Gosling is exceptional but I was more impressed by Claire Foy as his wife. This isn't your typical "wife" role. She's not the little woman behind the man wringing her hands while he's whizzing around in space. She's a roll up your sleeves and "get it done" kind of woman and doesn't take a backseat to her famous hubby. Technical aspects are impressive and while Justin Hurwitz's score is strong, there were still the occasional themes that had me thinking, "Didn't he use that melody in LA LA LAND?". With Jason Clarke, Patrick Fugit, Corey Stoll, Lukas Haas, Shea Wigham and Olivia Hamilton.

City That Never Sleeps (1953)

Set during one night in Chicago, a married cop (Gig Young) struggles with the pressure of being a policeman while having an affair with a stripper (Mala Powers). Meanwhile, a crooked attorney (Edward Arnold) plots to have his blackmailing accomplice (William Talman) run out of town. But before the night is over, several of its characters will be killed. Directed by John H. Auer (HELL'S HALF ACRE), this is a fairly interesting crime melodrama that never quite coalesces into anything more than a routine B thriller. Young's cop really isn't all that interesting and the film is irritating in its sexism and inconsistencies. Young's wife (Paula Raymond) makes more money than him so she blames herself for the marriage problems and quits her job to bolster his ego. Really? Powers as Young's mistress is portrayed as a hard hearted broad but suddenly at the film's end, she does a 360 degree turnaround and becomes noble! The film also dabbles in mysticism. Does the character Chill Wills plays exist or was he a fantasy of Young's? The cinematography by John L. Russell (PSYCHO) is excellent, very atmospheric and full of noir-ish shadings. With Marie Windsor, Tom Poston, Wally Cassell (who steals the movie) and Bunny Kacher. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967)

A young girl (Katharine Houghton) returns from Hawaii with her fiance (Sidney Poitier) in tow to introduce him to her parents, a prominent newspaper publisher (Spencer Tracy, who died two weeks after filming the movie) and an art gallery owner (Katharine Hepburn). She's convinced her liberal parents will have no objections to her marrying a black man. But it's not as simple as all that. Directed by Stanley Kramer, the King of 1950s and 1960s "message" movies. At the movies, nothing dates faster than topicality but GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER creaked even in 1967. While its message was certainly relevant (miscegenation laws had only been struck down by the Supreme Court six months before the film opened), its execution is too pat. Poitier is handsome, educated, a gentleman and a doctor to boot. Who wouldn't want to marry him? As the film progresses, you wonder what he sees in the chirpy air headed Houghton! What if she had brought home a black plumber instead of a prestigious doctor working with the World Health Organization? Would her liberal parents have felt differently? It's all just too glossy (the twilight sunset on the terrace overlooking San Francisco bay, the art gallery, the Monsignor family friend etc.). Isabel Sanford's family maid doesn't play well at all in 2018! Good intentions do not a good movie make. There is one performance that cuts through the contrivance of it all: a lovely heartfelt performance by Beah Richards as Poitier's mother. Hepburn's best actress Oscar win is inexplicable (she doesn't do much). With Cecil Kellaway, Roy Glenn, Virginia Christine and Alexandra Hay. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Haunting (1999)

A psychologist (Liam Neeson) gathers a handful of people (Catherine Zeta Jones, Lili Taylor, Owen Wilson) for a study on insomnia. But in reality, what he's really studying is fear and to this end, he gathers them in a secluded manor with a malevolent history. Based on the novel THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson (previously made into a film in  1963) and directed by Jan De Bont (SPEED). Robert Wise's modest 1963 B&W film of THE HAUNTING is a classic horror film that is subtle and has subtext. The budget has increased by leaps and bounds for this update and has elaborate special effects but it's lacks the genuine horror of the 1963 film. The special effects are abundant and first rate but you are too conscious of them being just that, special effects. De Bont has lost the horror and replaced it with CGI. This is a production designer's movie. Eugenio Zanetti's haunted mansion is stunning and a thing of beauty. But there's no movie to inhabit it. The screenplay unwisely doesn't let well enough alone and instead of an ambiguous unexplained haunting, everything is spelled out and Taylor's character is given a mission to free the spirits of abused children instead of the neurotic spinster of the novel. The acting, particularly Neeson and Wilson, is pretty bad. Even Jerry Goldsmith's score is forgettable. With Bruce Dern, Virginia Madsen and Marian Seldes. 

Assignment Paris (1952)

An American reporter (Dana Andrews) stationed in Paris is sent to Budapest by his editor (George Sanders) to investigate a plot to overthrow the Communist regime. Based on TRIAL OF TERROR by Paul Gallico (THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE) and directed by Robert Parrish. Filmed on location in Paris and Budapest by Burnett Guffey (BONNIE AND CLYDE), this is your standard "Red" paranoia film of the 1950s. As a Cold War thriller, it's okay but watered down by an uninteresting romantic subplot involving Andrews and Marta Toren as a fellow reporter. The commie villains, no surprise, are portrayed as one dimensional inhuman automatons. It's not really worth checking out but it's the kind of movie that you might run across in the wee hours of the morning when you have insomnia and it makes a perfectly acceptable way of killing time. The score is by George Duning (PICNIC). With Audrey Totter (wasted), Sandro Giglio, Herbert Berghof and Willis Bouchey.    

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Werewolf Of London (1935)

A botanist (Henry Hull) travels to Tibet in search of a rare flower that only blooms in moonlight. But while in Tibet, he is attacked by a lycanthrope. Back in London, during the full moon, he suddenly starts growing hair all over his body. Directed by Stuart Walker, this was actually the first Hollywood werewolf movie. It preceded the better known THE WOLF MAN by some six years. While quite entertaining, it doesn't have the mythological qualities that made THE WOLF MAN intriguing. Despite its brief running time (1 hour, 15 minutes), it wears out its welcome pretty quickly. In a rare leading role, the character actor Henry Hull displays none of the qualities needed in a leading man which is why he never became one. As his wife, poor Valerie Hobson doesn't have much to do but fret and let out some blood curdling screams. The most enjoyable portion of the film for me was the interplay between two cockney lushes (Ethel Griffies, Zeffie Tilbury) which provides some much need comic relief. With Warner Oland (once again playing Asian), Spring Byington and Lester Matthews.

Boy Erased (2018)

When he is outed for being gay, a young boy (Lucas Hedges) is sent by his pastor father (Russell Crowe) and his mother (Nicole Kidman) to a conversion camp where through "therapy", he will revert to heterosexuality. Based on the memoir by Garrard Conley and directed by Joel Edgerton (who also plays the conversion counselor). This could almost be called a horror film because the cruelty, suffering (there's a rape scene that's the most shattering I've seen since THE ACCUSED) and insanity shown defines horrific. As the film's end credits tell us, there are still over 30 states that allow these "therapy" programs to exist and all in the name of God! As cinema, BOY ERASED isn't "art", it's definitely a message movie but a superior one that doesn't go all Stanley Kramer on us. It simply shows us what exists and lets us decipher the lunacy of it all. Hedges (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA) is rapidly becoming one of the best young actors working and the film belongs to him. But the supporting performances are terrific, notably Nicole Kidman as his mother who begins to have doubts about the path they've set for her son. This is powerful stuff and highly recommended. The sensational underscore is by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. With Cherry Jones, Britton Sear (who'll break your heart) and Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers).   

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Doctor And The Girl (1949)

After graduating from Harvard, an arrogant and aloof young doctor (Glenn Ford) from a prestigious family begins his internship at a busy hospital. His snobbery and lack of a bedside manner makes him an unpopular physician. But when he meets a young working class girl (Janet Leigh), a patient in the hospital, he begins to thaw. Based on BODIES AND SOULS by Maxence Van Der Meersch and directed by Curtis Bernhardt (A STOLEN LIFE). The generic title belies a rather intriguing storyline. It's both a family drama about a demanding patriarch (Charles Coburn) trying to control the lives of his adult children and a story about doctors needing to be more than medically proficient when dealing with patients and treat them with dignity as well as understanding their fears and feelings. The film is ahead of its time in addressing the issues of abortion and lack of medical care in poverty stricken neighborhoods. A good example of the level of craftsmanship at the MGM dream factory. With Janet Leigh, Gloria DeHaven, Bruce Bennett, Nancy Davis (later Reagan), Arthur Franz and Warner Anderson. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Circus Of Horrors (1960)

After he botches the face of a patient (Colette Wilde), a plastic surgeon (Anton Diffring) goes on the run and assumes a new identity. He becomes a partner in a run down circus and soon transforms it into a profitable money making venture. However, mysterious "accidents" seem to happen to those performers who choose to leave his circus. Directed by Sidney Hayers (BURN WITCH BURN). what makes this a horror film is the constant threat of mutilation to beautiful young girls. Otherwise, it fits into the mold of thriller or mystery movies. It's an effective piece of pulp with Diffring (Truffaut's FAHRENHEIT 451) perfectly cast as a sadistic megalomaniac. It's compromised by having some of the circus animals like bears and gorillas obviously people in costume. While it stretches credibility (how long could you keep killing off your performers before the police uncovered you), there's something oddly compelling about it which makes it eminently watchable. The film spawned a hit song, Look For A Star which reached #16 on the record charts. With Donald Pleasence, Erika Remberg, Yvonne Monlaur, Jane Hylton, Kenneth Griffith, Conrad Phillips and Yvonne Romain.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Parent Trap (1998)

At a summer camp for girls in Maine, two look alike girls (11 year old Lindsay Lohan in her film debut) discover they are twin sisters. They were separated shortly after their birth when the parents broke up and one went to live in England with her mother (Natasha Richardson) and the other to California with the father (Dennis Quaid). Directed by Nancy Meyers (SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE), this is a remake of the beloved 1961 Walt Disney classic which in turn was based on a German book DAS DOPPELTE LOTTCHEN by Erich Kastner. It's one of those rare remakes which retains most of the charm from the original which it sticks close to, so much so that the 1961 film's original screenwriter David Swift is credited with co-writing the screenplay. There are some changes with some of the characters. The grandmother is eliminated and we're given a butler (Simon Kunz) instead which was a mistaken attempt at being "cute". Lohan is adorable and actually manages to create two distinct characters which her predecessor Hayley Mills had trouble doing. Meanwhile, Quaid and Richardson provide suitable romantic leads. Joanna Barnes, who played the gold digging fiancee in the 1961 original here plays the mother of the gold digging fiancee (Elaine Hendrix). With Lisa Ann Walter and Ronnie Stevens.   

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Perfect Host (2010)

A career criminal (Clayne Crawford) on the run from the law after robbing a bank seeks somewhere to hide out. To this end, he talks his way into the home of a prissy gentleman (David Hyde Pierce) who just happens to be throwing an intimate dinner party in a few hours. It isn't long before the thief discovers he's gone from the frying pan into the fire! Directed and co-written by Nick Tomnay, this very black comedy takes awhile to get its rhythm going but when it does, it's a diabolical piece of entertainment. Not great mind you but clever enough to keep you watching its bizarre far fetched plot with a smile on your face. David Hyde Pierce seems to be having a ball as the psychotic "host" but unfortunately we're saddled with Clayne Crawford, an untalented Ray Liotta clone, as the crook. He brings nothing to the party (no pun intended). The film gives him a backstory in an attempt to make him more sympathetic but it doesn't work, he's still a creep. At least, Pierce's whack job is amusing. There's a "twist" toward the end that I didn't see coming. With Helen Reddy (rather good), Nathaniel Parker, Megahn Perry and Tyrees Allen.

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Star Is Born (2018)

A country rock star (Bradley Cooper) has a drinking problem which he manages to hide from his public. One night, he wanders into a gay bar and discovers a young singer (Lady Gaga) and his belief in her talent will give her the strength to follow her dream. But their personal relationship will suffer because of his demons and drug and alcohol abuse. Directed by Bradley Cooper, this is the fourth remake (1937, 1954, 1976) of A STAR IS BORN. The fifth if you count WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? (1932) which many consider its source. Do we really need a fourth remake of A STAR IS BORN? Of course not! But it's surprising how very good this version is (especially compared to the heinous 1976 Streisand version). To those of us who've seen Lady Gaga's performance in AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL, that she can act is no surprise. She brings a wonderful naturalness as well as heartbreak to her performance. I'm no Bradley Cooper fan but he gives a career best performance here and their chemistry is on fire. It's not the definitive STAR IS BORN (that's still the 1954 version) but I'd easily rank it as second out of the four. The songs are actually pretty good too. With Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle (just wonderful), Andrew Dice Clay and Anthony Ramos.

Ride Vaquero! (1953)

Set in post Civil War Texas, an outlaw (Anthony Quinn) terrorizes ranchers by burning their homes in an effort to drive them out. He is aided in his reign of terror by his right hand man (Robert Taylor). But when a homesteader (Howard Keel) stands up to the outlaw, it starts an inexorable tide that will break their bond. Directed by John Farrow (THE BIG CLOCK), the main interest in this western is the focus on its four main characters (Ava Gardner as Keel's wife is the fourth) and their conflicting relations with each other rather than your usual good guys vs. the bad guys shoot 'em ups. Which isn't to say this is a particularly good western because it isn't. It's rather weak. Still, it's an interesting piece with its unapologetic downbeat ending. It just needed a stronger screenplay. The acting isn't much either in spite of the star power involved. There's a decent score by Bronislau Kaper (LILI). With Kurt Kasznar, Ted De Corsia and Jack Elam. 

The Return Of The Vampire (1943)

A 200 year old vampire (Bela Lugosi) prowls the English countryside until his reign of terror is stopped by a pair of scientists (Frieda Inescort, Gilbert Emery) when a stake is put through his heart. But two decades later, the impact of a Nazi bomb during WWII accidentally resurrects him. Directed by Lew Landers, this is a middling vampire tale but not without its compensations. This film was produced by Columbia but the atmosphere is pure Universal horror as it purloins both the Dracula and Wolf Man characters but without naming them as such. For all intents and purposes and especially with Lugosi as the vampire, it feels like a Dracula movie. The film is notable in the casting of a woman, Frieda Inescort as the vampire hunter instead of a male protagonist. Fans of classic horror should be pleasantly entertained. With Nina Foch, Roland Varno, Miles Mander and Matt Willis, very sympathetic as the vampire's wolf like minion.  

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Eye Of The Storm (2011)

Set in 1972 in the suburbs of Sydney in Australia, the son (Geoffrey Rush) and daughter (Judy Davis) of a wealthy matriarch visit their dying mother (Charlotte Rampling). Suffering from the lingering effects of a stroke, the mother drifts in and out of the present and revisits her past. Based on the novel by Patrick White and directed by Fred Schepisi (SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION). Barely released in the U.S., this film should have received a better fate (though it did well in its Australian homeland). Parents (especially mothers) and children and the messiness that our lives become when there's a tear in the fabric of parental comfort and support which feels like a betrayal. None of the characters are really likable but there's an empathy for their pathetic desperation as they clutch to the remnants of a maternal bond. As the matriarch, Rampling is quite moving even in her controlling arrogance while Davis and Rush hold their own without making their siblings whiny victims. There's a lovely underscore by Paul Grabowsky. With Helen Morse, Colin Friels, Alexandra Schepisi and John Gaden.   

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

All The King's Men (1949)

A rough around the edges rural country hick (Broderick Crawford) slowly rises in political circles until he becomes the governor of his state. He also becomes a very dangerous man. Based on the Pulitzer prize winning novel by Robert Penn Warren and directed by Robert Rossen (THE HUSTLER). A thinly disguised version of the notorious 1930s Louisiana governor Huey Long, this kind of movie never loses its topicality. Alas, corruption in government never goes away. I've not read the source material so I don't know how it plays out in the book but the film is ambiguous towards Crawford's politician in the beginning. Was he an honest man corrupted by his political ambitions or was he always a bad egg. Crawford's Willie Stark and his manipulation of a blind adoring cult for whom he can do no wrong resonates in today's political climate. Crawford (in an Oscar winning performance) is terrific but he never again got such a plum of a role. This is hard hitting stuff, blunt but mesmerizing. The entire cast is excellent (even John Derek) and includes John Ireland, Joanne Dru, Mercedes McCambridge (also winning an Oscar for her work here), Shepperd Strudwick, Anne Seymour, Raymond Greenleaf, Walter Burke and Katherine Warren. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Phantom Of The Opera (1962)

Set in turn of the 20th century Paris, after the leading lady (Liane Aukin) walks out after strange things (including a murder) happen, a Paris opera house replaces her with an unknown singer (Heather Sears, ROOM AT THE TOP). But a mysterious "phantom" (Herbert Lom) makes it his business to train her. Based on the oft filmed novel by Gaston Leroux and directed by the Hammer veteran, Terence Fisher. As played by Herbert Lom, this Hammer horror features a kinder and less insane Phantom. Indeed, by Hammer standards, this family friendly version is far less lurid and gory than their usual fare such as the DRACULA or MUMMY films. Which is a pity because Michael Gough's despicable Lord D'Arcy deserves a horrible fate! Normally, young lovers are the dreariest part of horror films but the lovely Sears and Edward De Souza are appealing enough that you don't mind them at all. As usual for Hammer, the period settings and costumes are quite handsome for a small budget. The film's short running time caused Universal (who distributed the film) to film new scenes for the TV version to pad out the running time. With Renee Houston and Ian Wilson.  

Monday, October 1, 2018

My Dear Secretary (1948)

An aspiring writer (Laraine Day) takes a job as a secretary to a best selling novelist (Kirk Douglas) in the hopes of learning more about the craft of writing. Instead, she finds he'd rather go to the races, go to Vegas, go to the beach etc., in fact anything but write! Directed by Charles Martin, this romantic comedy is hampered by uncomfortable dated sexist attitudes and two lead actors who aren't particularly good in comedy. I mean when you think of romcoms, is Kirk Douglas the first actor that comes to mind? Laraine Day has proved effective in dramas like THE LOCKET but a comedienne she's not. The movie's attitude of secretaries as sex playthings is so outmoded and no longer amusing. Fortunately, the supporting players are proficient in comedy and Keenan Wynn, Rudy Vallee, Florence Bates, Helen Walker, Alan Mowbray, Grady Sutton and Irene Ryan pick up the slack but not enough to save the movie. With Gale Robbins and Helene Stanley.

The Girl In White (1952)

Set in the early 20th century, a young woman doctor (June Allyson) struggles to gain access to the male dominated medical world when prejudice toward female doctors governs. Based on the autobiography BOWERY TO BELLEVUE by the pioneering female surgeon Emily Dunning Barringer and directed by John Sturges (THE GREAT ESCAPE). This low keyed feminist drama is an interesting look at how women doctors were perceived (as freaks) in the early 20th century. We've come a long way but I still know a few people who won't go to women doctors! The film isn't preachy on the subject and the screenplay tells Dunning's story in a straight forward and engrossing manner. As the film's ending approached, I was nervous that it would go all 1940s on us (where career women finally realized their place was at home) but the film stands firm and doesn't cave in. Allyson as the determined trailblazer is excellent in one of her strongest performances. The score is by the great David Raksin (LAURA). With Arthur Kennedy, Gary Merrill, Mildred Dunnock (just wonderful), Marilyn Erskine and Don Keefer.