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Monday, December 31, 2018

Maigret Tend Un Piege (aka Maigret Sets A Trap) (1958)

A serial killer has killed four women so far in a particular section of Paris. With no suspects in sight, Inspector Maigret (Jean Gabin) concocts an elaborate plan to ferret out the killer. Based on the novel by Georges Simenon and directed by Jean Delannoy. It's a nifty police thriller with a rather complicated plot. Halfway through the film, it becomes pretty clear who the serial killer is and most of the film's last quarter is the constant grilling to get the murderer to confess. But there's more background information that isn't revealed until the very end. The film isn't particularly favorable to women as two of the important females in the narrative are monsters themselves. The overload of psychological verbiage almost makes one wish for the simplification of the psychiatrist's trite explanation at the end of Hitchcock's PSYCHO. But for mystery fans, it's pure nectar. Gabin's weary Maigret fits him like a comfortable slipper and the film would be less with any other actor in the part. There's an excellent score by Paul Misraki. With Annie Girardot, Jean Desailly, Lucienne Bogaert, Lino Ventura, Olivier Hussenot and Gerard Sety.    

Vice Raid (1959)

A police sergeant (Richard Coogan) has personal reasons for working the vice squad and taking down a major prostitution ring posing as a modeling agency run by the syndicate. The mobster (Brad Dexter) running the agencies has a plan of his own. He sends one of his models (Mamie Van Doren) to frame the cop! Directed by Edward L. Cahn (ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU), this "B" exploitation crime drama is shot in a semi-documentary style with a somber voiced John Dehner doing the narration to let us know this is serious stuff! It's quite entertaining actually though not in the way the film makers probably intended. With one exception, the acting is pretty bad. The bad guys all snarl and the good guys are stiff. The one exception is Mamie Van Doren doing her usual tough sexpot act, she's perfected it so she can (and probably does) do it in her sleep. I watched most of it with a smile on my face. If you've a taste for these exploitation B crime movies, this one will satisfy your craving. The crisp B&W cinematography is by the great Stanley Cortez (MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER). With Barry Atwater, Frank Gerstle and Carol Nugent.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Come Live With Me (1941)

The mistress (Hedy Lamarr) of a wealthy married man (Ian Hunter) is threatened with deportation after her temporary visa expires. To remain in the country, she proposes marriage to a penniless writer (James Stewart) but it is a marriage in name only. The marriage allows her to remain in the country and she will provide funds for him to live on while he writes his novel. Directed by Clarence Brown (NATIONAL VELVET), this is a low key romantic comedy that you know where it will end but it's the complicated journey that is our main interest. It's rather charming in an anemic way. The film is lucky to have Stewart and Lamarr as its stars as it is their "Movie Star" screen presence that holds our attention and overrides the film's often predictable screenplay. As expected from a 1940s MGM film, the production values are first rate including a lovely underscore by Herbert Stothart. With Verree Teasdale, Donald Meek, Barton MacLane, Ann Codee, Frank Faylen, Horace MacMahon and Adeline De Walt Reynolds. 

Rich And Famous (1981)

The film follows two very different best friends, the intellectually bent and independent Liz (Jacqueline Bisset) and the ditzy and needy Southern belle Merry (Candice Bergen) from 1959 to 1981 as their lives take divergent paths with ups and downs (only to merge again) but their bond unbroken. Based on the play OLD ACQUAINTANCE by John Van Druten and directed by George Cukor in his final film. Van Druten's play had previously been filmed in 1943 with Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins in the Bisset and Bergen roles. The film has been updated with 1980s sexual mores which only serves to derail the film. Pauline Kael was lambasted when she suggested the sexual situations had a homosexual subtext but I'll have to agree with her. The film seems to be obsessed with male bottoms either in the nude or in tight jeans. The men are in various states of undress through out the film while the women are, if not fully clothed, partially clothed. The scene where Bisset picks up a male prostitute (Matt Lattanzi) and has sex with him seems off and unnatural where it wouldn't if Bisset were a gay male. Cukor was one of the best of the "old school" directors but he doesn't seem comfortable with the "new" sexuality of 80s cinema. Bisset seems stiff but Bergen appears to be having fun. An awkward film but entertaining nonetheless. With Meg Ryan, David Selby, Hart Bochner, Steven Hill and Nina Foch.      

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Tall Story (1960)

A tall young girl (Jane Fonda) goes to a college that has the best basketball team so that she can find a tall husband. She sets her cap on the team's star player (Anthony Perkins). Based on the Broadway play by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse which in turn was based on the novel THE HOMECOMING GAME by Howard Nemerov and directed by Joshua Logan (SOUTH PACIFIC). This rather lame comedy is so innocuous that one can't even get disturbed by its central plot point of a girl going to college strictly to find a husband rather than an education. The irony of a young Jane Fonda (in her film debut) playing the eager beaver dying to be a housewife isn't lost on the viewer. One can see where the laughs are supposed to when the lines tumble out flatly and you think, "Oh, I'm supposed to laugh here." Perkins and Fonda (even at this stage of her career) eke by on charisma but the other cast members aren't so lucky. With Ray Walston, Anne Jackson, Tom Laughlin, Marc Connelly, Barbara Darrow and Van Williams.   

Friday, December 21, 2018

Scrooged (1988)

A cold hearted television network executive (Bill Murray) has little love for the Christmas season although he is producing a live version of Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL on Christmas Eve. But his long deceased boss (John Forsythe) arrives from the hereafter and tells him that he will be visited by three ghosts from the past (David Johansen), the present (Carol Kane) and the future (Robert Hammond). Directed by Richard Donner (THE OMEN), this modern retelling of the perennial Charles Dickens classic reputation has increased over the years to the point that, perhaps ironically, it's also a perennial Christmas favorite. It's an alternative to the usual sentimental Christmas fare although it succumbs to sentimentality itself in the film's last 15 minutes or so. Murray, a master at cynicism, is perfectly cast as a modern day Scooge and the film has a high rate of wicked (and often non PC) laughs. It could have been better (even Murray felt that) but it's good enough. The huge cast includes Robert Mitchum, Karen Allen, Alfre Woodard, Lee Majors, Buddy Hackett, Michael J. Pollard, Bobcat Goldthwait, John Glover and Wendie Malick. 

The Nevadan (1950)

An outlaw (Forrest Tucker) escapes from his guards and heads out to get the hidden $250,000 in gold that he stole in a stagecoach robbery. He meets up with a man (Randolph Scott) that he coerces into accompanying him and they form a tenuous "friendship". Directed by Gordon Douglas (TONY ROME), this minor "B" horse opera is pretty solid. Handsomely shot in Cinecolor by Charles Lawton Jr. (LADY FROM SHANGHAI) which does justice to the effective Lone Pine locations, the film's characters are more delineated  than usual. Each character is given just enough depth that we know them better than we would if they were just stock figures in a western (good guys, bad guys, the girl etc.). The film is a bit more explicitly violent than most western of the era: a character is shot in the face, people bleed when they are shot, animals are killed in cold blood. Even the "romance" is subdued. The relationship between Scott and Dorothy Malone as a rancher's daughter is suggested rather than played out. With George Macready, Frank Faylen and Jeff Corey. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Panama Hattie (1942)

Set in Panama during WWII, a brassy and street smart nightclub singer named Hattie (Ann Sothern) falls in love with a pedigreed Naval officer (Dan Dailey). Meanwhile, three sailor friends (Red Skelton, Rags Ragland, Ben Blue) of Hattie are obsessed with finding spies. Based on the hit Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter and directed by Norman Z. McLeod (HORSE FEATHERS). With Hollywood's usual lack of acumen, MGM jettisoned the majority of Porter's songs and retained only three songs from the show while padding it out with songs by other songwriters. The comedy shtick provided by Skelton, Ragland and Blue is pretty lowbrow which wouldn't be a problem if it was funny. Unfortunately, too much screen time is spent on them leaving the title character's dilemma almost in the shadows. Some of the musical numbers are very well done (under the supervision of an uncredited Vincente Minnelli) and they include Lena Horne's rendition of Just One Of Those Things and Virginia O'Brien kills Did I Get Stinkin' At The Savoy. MGM has also turned the musical into a jingoistic WWII propaganda film which is something I'm sure Cole Porter never intended. With Marsha Hunt, Alan Mowbray and the Berry Brothers.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Grumpy Old Men (1993)

It's Christmas but two elderly curmudgeons (Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau), who are next door neighbors, continue their decades old squabble over one of them "stealing" a girlfriend during their youth. Directed by Donald Petrie (MYSTIC PIZZA), this movie just wouldn't be the same without the pairing of Lemmon and Matthau (in their sixth film together) whose chemistry elevates a routine comedy into an amusing romp. Audiences agreed and this was a surprise box office hit that spawned a sequel two years later. The comedic timing of these two old pros is as sharp as Abbott and Costello (though better actors than A&C) and they play off each other like a well seasoned pair of vaudevillians. A better script would have nice but there's something to be said about the pure pleasure of watching veteran actors strutting their stuff. Ann-Margret provides just the right amount of feminine pulchritude as the new woman in town. With Daryl Hannah, Burgess Meredith (quite funny), Ossie Davis, Kevin Pollak, Buck Henry and Christopher McDonald. 

Foxfire (1955)

While vacationing in Arizona, a wealthy East Coast socialite (Jane Russell) meets an engineer (Jeff Chandler) who works in a local copper mine. The attraction is immediate and the marriage rushed. But their cultural differences and values threaten to derail the marriage before it even begins. Based on the best selling novel by Anya Seton (DRAGONWYCK) and directed by Joseph Pevney (TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR). The film has a bit more bite to it than the average soap opera and while it does so only superficially, it does attempt to explore the cultural differences (Chandler's character is half Apache) which impact their marriage, specifically the place of women in the Apache culture which clashes with Russell's modern woman. Chandler gives one of his best performances here but the earthy and sensual Russell seems miscast as a Manhattan society blue blood (the role cries out for a Grace Kelly type). But it's an enjoyable melodrama if you don't demand too much. The film looks great as photographed by William H. Daniels (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF) and it was the very last film to be photographed in the three strip Technicolor process. With Dan Duryea, Mara Corday, Barton MacLane, Frieda Inescort, Celia Lovsky and Robert F. Simon.   

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Michael (1924)

A famous painter (Benjamin Christensen) takes on an aspiring young artist called Michael (Walter Slezak) as a model and falls in love with him. They are happy for several years until a Russian countess (Nora Gregor) enters the picture and seduces the young man. But in spite of the unfaithfulness, the painter remains obsessively devoted to him. Based on the novel MIKAEL by Herman Bang and directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer (PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC). Considered a landmark in gay silent cinema, MICHAEL is a subdued reflection on obsessive love or true love if you prefer, the film's final line is the oft quoted "Now I can die in peace, for I have seen true love". Absolutely, nothing Michael does (lies, betrayal, theft) can damage the painter's feelings toward him. But is that true love? Or is it a form of masochism? It's a fine line anyway you look at it. There's no hesitation that this is a beautifully rendered piece of cinema and I much prefer it to Dreyer's later cinematic treatise on the same subject, GERTRUD with which it has much in common. The young almost pretty Slezak bears no resemblance to the portly character actor he would become in 1940s Hollywood in films like LIFEBOAT. With Max Auzinger, Robert Garrison and Grete Mosheim.     

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Woman In Red (1935)

When a professional equestrienne (Barbara Stanwyck) marries a wealthy playboy (Gene Raymond), she finds herself confronted with a snobbish upper crust family who disapprove of the marriage. When circumstances beyond her control find her aboard a yacht when a chorus girl falls overboard and drowns under mysterious circumstances, she knows it's just the excuse her husband's family needs to renounce her. Based on the novel NORTH SHORE by Wallace Irwin and directed by Robert Florey (1932's MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE). There's nothing particularly special about the film, it's a routine melodrama that doesn't disgrace itself. But what is special is the great Barbara Stanwyck and it's almost remarkable what she can bring to a routine role as an actress. Watching her go through her paces, she treats the role as if it were something special instead of a typical programmer. While many other actresses would just walk through the part, she invests so much in in her character that you're with her all the way. With Genevieve Tobin (effective as a society bitch), John Eldredge, Ann Shoemaker, Arthur Treacher, Doris Lloyd and George Chandler.

Burton And Taylor (2013)

In 1983, after being married and divorced twice, Elizabeth Taylor (Helena Bonham Carter) and Richard Burton (Dominic West) prepare to star in a Broadway production of Noel Coward's PRIVATE LIVES. Directed by Richard Laxton, this is a surprisingly effective rendition of the (apparently) toxic relationship of the screen's legendary couple. Although based on a "true" story, I take what we see with a grain of salt. Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West do quite well (and in Carter's case more than well) as Taylor and Burton. They don't resort to caricatures or imitations and give enough suggestion of their real life counterparts to be believable. What we get is an intimate portrait of two people who love each other but will destroy each other if they stay together. Carter gives her Taylor just the right touch of diva toughness and vulnerability. With Lenora Crichlow, William Hope and Kathryn Walker.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Romance Of Rosy Ridge (1947)

In the aftermath of the Civil War, a small mountain community is still bitterly divided by allegiance to either the North or the South. The tension is so thick that it's only a matter of time before violence erupts. Enter a schoolteacher (Van Johnson) with a secret that he withholds as long as possible. Based on the novel by MacKinlay Kantor and directed by Roy Rowland. This is a rather touching story of romance and reconciliation. Although fairly predictable (I guessed the schoolteacher's "secret" almost immediately), there was still a twist I wasn't prepared for and my eyes couldn't help but water up. As the young farm girl who falls in love with Johnson, Janet Leigh makes her film debut and it was clear from the beginning that this was no ordinary starlet. The film is slightly overlong and that could have been remedied by eliminating some of the songs Van Johnson sings. The lovely score is by George Bassman. I can't say to seek it out but if it comes your way, definitely give it a chance. With Thomas Mitchell, Dean Stockwell, Selena Royle, Marshall Thompson, Jim Davis, Elisabeth Risdon and Charles Dingle.

Born Yesterday (1956)

A loutish and vulgar but rich junk dealer (Paul Douglas recreating his stage role) brings his ditzy mistress (Mary Martin) with him on a business trip to Washington D.C. Feeling her ignorance will be a liability, he hires a journalist (Arthur Hill) to educate her and give her manners. This plan works only too well. Based on the play by Garson Kanin and directed by its author. Kanin's play made a star out of Judy Holliday who owned the role of Billie Dawn. The big surprise here is how good Mary Martin is in the part. Oh, Holliday still owns the role but Martin is probably the last actress you'd think of when casting the part but she pulls it off beautifully. The play holds up reasonably well although it gets less interesting the smarter Martin's character gets. Douglas does just fine although it's a one dimensional part and Hill is adequate though of the three leads, it's the least absorbing role. With Otto Hulett and Larry Oliver. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Bel Canto (2018)

Set in an unspecified country in South America, a famous opera singer (Julianne Moore) is performing at a private concert in honor of a wealthy Japanese businessman (Ken Watanabe). The country's president is scheduled to attend but he cancels. But the concert is interrupted when a group of terrorist guerrillas invade the home and hold the guests hostage in exchange for their demands which includes the release of all political prisoners. Based on the prize winning novel by Ann Patchett and directed by Paul Weitz (ABOUT A BOY). Though not specifically addressed, the film (and novel) is obviously based on the 1996 Japanese embassy crisis in Lima, Peru where revolutionaries invaded the Japanese ambassador's residence and held hostages for 126 days until commandos rushed the residence and killed all the guerrillas. In the aftermath, there was strong evidence that the revolutionaries were systematically executed after surrendering which caused an outcry from human rights organizations. The film is fiction but it portrays the guerrillas sympathetically and suggests that the hostages and guerrillas bonded and became "family" and even seemed to accept the status quo. After awhile, we can feel it's going to end badly. No doubt there will be those who feel the "terrorists" deserved what they got but no one deserves to be murdered after surrendering or given a chance to surrender. While elements of the film seem far fetched (the added romantic elements), it casts an ambiguous eye on the thin line between revolution and terrorism. Moore's singing voice is dubbed by Renee Fleming. With Sebastian Koch, Christopher Lambert, Ryo Kase, Maria Mercedes Coroy and Tenoch Huerta. 

The Honeymoon Machine (1961)

A Navy Lieutenant (Steve McQueen) joins forces with a computer programmer (Jim Hutton) to use his ship's new supercomputer to predict where a ball on a roulette wheel will land in a Venice casino! Based on the 1959 Broadway play by Lorenzo Semple Jr. (PRETTY POISON) and directed by Richard Thorpe (IVANHOE). On Broadway, the show (Suzanne Pleshette and Tom Poston were the leads) was a flop but someone at MGM apparently thought it would make for a sparkling comedy. They were wrong. The play took place entirely in a hotel suite but the film opens it up to include a casino but it still feels stage bound. The romantic leads, McQueen and Brigid Bazlen (KING OF KINGS), have no comedic skills though their chemistry is a tad better. The rest of players do have comic skills including Hutton, Paula Prentiss, Jack Weston and Jack Mullaney but their effort hardly seems worth it. Still, it's a nice looking movie thanks to the art direction by Preston Ames and George W. Davis and Bazlen and Prentiss look quite glam in their Helen Rose frocks. With Dean Jagger, Ken Lynch and Barbara Morrison.

Mary Queen Of Scots (2018)

After her husband's death, the Catholic Mary (Saoirse Ronan) returns to her homeland of Scotland which is predominantly Protestant. Her ascent to the Scottish throne presents a danger to Elizabeth I's (Margot Robbie) reign as the Queen of England. Based on the biography QUEEN OF SCOTS: THE TRUE LIFE OF MARY STUART by John Guy and directed by Josie Rourke in her film directorial debut. The story of these two Queens is fascinating and has been a frequent source of films, plays, TV dramas, opera etc. In 1936, John Ford directed Katharine Hepburn and Florence Eldridge as Mary and Elizabeth and in 1971, Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson played Mary and Elizabeth on film. Alas, this version is bloated and dull and I had a hard time staying awake. The film perpetuates several historical inaccuracies and speculations including have the two Queens meet when there is no evidence whatsoever that they ever did. When Redgrave and Jackson met in MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, the scene crackled. When Ronan and Robbie meet the scene fizzles. It's a revisionist film with Mary and Elizabeth played as strong feminist icons while the 16th century Scottish and English courts are populated with black and Asian actors. Whether this is progress or PC tokenism, I leave to you. Is there any reason to see this torpid drama? Yes, two reasons: Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. Both actresses giving fierce performances that deserve a better movie. With Guy Pearce, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, Ismael Cruz Cordova and Gemma Chan.  

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Last Run (1971)

Leading a quiet life of retirement in Portugal, a former getaway driver (George C. Scott) reluctantly agrees to do one more job. He has to drive a thug (Tony Musante) just escaped from prison from Spain across the border to France. But the job isn't as simple as it seems and slowly turns into a disaster. Directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA), the film was poorly received by the critics when it opened and it also failed at the box office. Despite its flaws, it holds up surprisingly well today. The script by Alan Sharp is very good and though Scott's performance is uneven, it seems a role he's well suited for. Fleischer's direction seems flabby however as if he couldn't quite get a grasp of the material. Tony Musante manages to restrain his tendency to overact and Trish Van Devere (soon to be the next Mrs. Scott) as his girl is good though slightly mature for her character. Sven Nykvist (FANNY AND ALEXANDER) is responsible for shooting the atmospheric Spanish locations and the score by Jerry Goldsmith is very good. It's a film that could have been so much better if everyone tried a bit harder. With Colleen Dewhurst (soon to be the ex-Mrs. Scott) in a rare poor performance and Aldo Sambrell.  

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Knock On Wood (1954)

A neurotic ventriloquist (Danny Kaye) has trouble controlling his dummy which results in a near nervous breakdown. While he's under the care of a beautiful doctor (Mai Zetterling), little does he know that his dummy is carrying the plans for a new secret weapon and he will soon find himself embroiled in espionage and murder! Written and directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama. Though quite popular at the time of its release, this is one of Kaye's less satisfying vehicles. While there is frequent hilarity (like the Russian ballet sequence), sometimes the movie just stops cold in its tracks as with Irish pub sequence. The Swedish actress Mai Zetterling doesn't seem to have any comic timing and is an unsatisfactory straight (wo)man to Kaye's antics. Fans of Kaye (like me) will probably overlook the dim spots but if you're not a fan, you may find it tough going. The songs by Sylvia Fine (Mrs. Kaye) are unmemorable but Michael Kidd's choreography is lively. With Torin Thatcher, Virginia Huston, David Burns, Gavin Gordon, Leon Askin and Henry Brandon.   

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Reckoning (1970)

A working class Irishman (Nicol Williamson) has worked himself up through the ranks until he is a successful but ruthless businessman with a major corporation and married to an aristocratic wife (Ann Bell). But when his father dies, he returns to his hometown of Liverpool and finds he hasn't quite shaken off his working class roots after all. Based on the novel by Patrick Hall and directed by Jack Gold (THE MEDUSA TOUCH). For the most part, this is a strong drama with hints of those "angry young man" kitchen sink films like LOOK BACK IN ANGER, SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, THIS SPORTING LIFE etc. which were so prevalent in the late 50s and early 60s in British cinema. But the approach is different in that it examines someone who has ostensibly made the transition from working class to upper class, who has become the very thing he railed against in his youth. Williamson's character isn't very likable or sympathetic which keeps us at a distance until the film's conclusion when he's downright despicable. The effective score is by Malcolm Arnold (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI). With Rachel Roberts, Zena Walker, Paul Rogers and Tom Kempinski. 

The Meg (2018)

An underwater research facility is exploring the deepest portion of the Mariana trench when a submersible is attacked by an unknown creature. There is only one man (Jason Statham) who has the ability to save them because he's the only one who's encountered the creature before. Based on the novel MEG: A NOVEL OF DEEP TERROR by Steve Alten and directed by Jon Turteltaub (WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING). This is the kind of movie that you know is crap but you enjoy it anyway. The film doesn't really kick into high gear until about 45 minutes into the movie and then it's pretty intense although still as dumb as a rock. It's not the kind of movie where the acting matters which is good since it's badly acted although it's a toss up to which is worse, the acting or the trite (and I'm being nice here) screenplay. The dialog is pretty lame ("A living fossil ate my friend") whether it's being serious or attempting humor. The characters are ciphers so you don't care who's gobbled up and the movie sets it up so you can tell who's next. It focuses unnaturally on a character for a bit too long and you think, "Uh-oh! He's gonna get it next" and sure enough, the thought is barely out when they get gobbled up. The film rights were acquired in 1996 but the project was dropped when they couldn't come up with a decent screenplay. The mind shudders how bad those scripts must have been if this screenplay was deemed acceptable. With Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson (dreadful), Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Jessica McNamee and Page Kennedy.    

Monday, December 10, 2018

Impulse (1984)

Following a minor earthquake, an entire small town starts behaving strangely. Civility ceases to exist and people speak their mind and act out hostile thoughts and emotions. Into this madness, a dancer (Meg Tilly) and her doctor boyfriend (Tim Matheson) enter when her mother (Lorinne Vozoff) attempts suicide. Directed by Graham Baker (ALIEN NATION), this is a good idea poorly handled. The film should have the paranoid immediacy of something like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS but instead, it moves forward in a jerky and often confusing fashion. It needs to be tighter rather than taking side trips which contribute nothing to the narrative and only diffuse the necessary tension. Matheson is a rather nondescript "hero" but Meg Tilly generates enough good will that she's the only character you really care about. With Hume Cronyn, Bill Paxton, John Karlen and Anne Haney.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Farmer's Daughter (1947)

Fresh off the farm, a young woman (Loretta Young in her Oscar winning performance) finds employment as a maid in the household of a Congressman (Joseph Cotten) from a family of career politicians. Loosely based on the play JUURAKON HULDA by Hella Wuolijoki and directed by H.C. Potter (MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE). Political comedies weren't all that common in Hollywood but Frank Capra and Preston Sturges made their mark doing exactly that. Sometimes they were pungent (Sturges) and sometimes they were unbearably corny (Capra) but THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER straddles the line between both. Loretta Young is one of my least favorite actresses but she's quite charming here (though her Oscar win remains inexplicable). The film takes aim at fascism in politics (which makes it relevant to today) but without hokey pablum of Capra. What's rather sad is that politics and political landscape in America haven't changed all that much since 1947. I'm probably making the movie sound more complex than it is. It's an entertainment with a point of view. With Ethel Barrymore, Charles Bickford, Lex Barker, James Arness, Keith Andes, Rhys Williams and Rose Hobart. 

Ten Little Indians (1959)

An assortment of disparate people are gathered together in a lone mansion on an island. All were invited but none of them know their "host". Soon, one by one, they are being killed off. Based on the classic Agatha Christie novel, better known as AND THEN THERE WERE NONE and directed by Paul Bogart (TORCH SONG TRILOGY). This is a condensed version of the Christie novel and as such, it feels rushed. Instead of the murders being paced out, they seem hurried coming quickly one after another. Which means that the tension aspect goes out the window. It also means that very few of the actors are around long enough to make an impression. Luckily, three of them (Nina Foch, Kenneth Haigh, Barry Jones) are first rate actors who seize the opportunity to make their presence known. Not so for the rest of the unfortunate cast including Valerie French, Romney Brent, Chandler Cowles and Peter Bathurst.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

9 To 5 (1980)

An office supervisor (Lily Tomlin), a secretary (Dolly Parton) and a new hire (Jane Fonda) work for an extreme male chauvinist (Dabney Coleman) who makes their lives miserable. But an accident offers them an opportunity to get their revenge. Directed by Colin Higgins (FOUL PLAY), this is one of the most enjoyable comedies from the 1980s. The film definitely has a feminist message but instead of a heavy handed didactic approach, the message is served up with laughs. The sparkling trio of Fonda, Tomlin and Parton is pure bliss, so much so that fans have been begging for a sequel for decades. The film has the flavor of those 1940s screwball comedies and the film's comic centerpiece, the three women stealing a dead body from a hospital remains as funny today as it did in 1980. In addition to the three stars, two other comic performances stand out: Dabney Coleman as the chauvinistic boss is perfection and Elizabeth Wilson as his obsequious assistant shines. With Sterling Hayden, Henry Jones, Lawrence Pressman and Marian Mercer.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Bat (1960)

On a dark and stormy night in an old dark country house, the household is terrorized by a mysterious criminal known as The Bat. Could it be the reputed stolen money hidden in the house that brings him there? Based on the 1920 hit Broadway play by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood based on Rinehart's novel THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE and directed by Paul Nickell. The play was a huge hit and spawned three film versions (1926, 1930, 1959) before this version debuted on television. Helen Hayes plays the lady of the house and Jason Robards plays the investigating detective. The acting is fairly broad and although filmed, it has the feel of a radio play. If you're looking for a first rate thriller, you won't find it here but if, like I am, you're a sucker for these "old dark house" mysteries, this is quite enjoyable in its hokey way. With Margaret Hamilton, Bethel Leslie, Shepperd Strudwick and Martin E. Brooks.    

Cross Of Iron (1977)

Set in 1943 WWII, a war weary German sergeant (James Coburn) leads a group of soldiers on the Russian front. But when a new commandant (Maximilian Schell) takes over, they clash over the sergeant's independent will and inability to strictly follow orders. Based on the novel by THE WILLING FLESH by Willi Heinrich and directed by Sam Peckinpah. I have mixed feelings about this one. The first half is very good but the second half tends to be ham fisted. Eight years had passed since Peckinpah's startling and innovative THE WILD BUNCH and his slow motion violence comes across as so been there, done that. The movie's anti war stance doesn't really say anything new about war and its handling of its theme is erratic. The film's shrill ending reeks of obviousness and the film could have lost about 15 minutes. That being said, the first half is still good enough to compensate for the deficiencies of the latter half. With James Mason, David Warner, Senta Berger, Klaus Lowitsch and Vadim Glowna. 

Shakespeare's Women (1999)

The actress Claire Bloom takes us on a journey of Shakespeare's female characters. She discusses the characters as well as giving us historical background. This is accompanied by either solo readings from the plays or film clips from film and television productions (RICHARD III, HAMLET) that she has appeared in. Directed by Phillip Schopper, for lovers of Shakespeare, this documentary is a must. Bloom knows her Shakespeare inside and out and as for acting Shakespeare, she knows what she's talking about. Bloom delivers readings as Juliet, Portia (MERCHANT OF VENICE), Rosalind (AS YOU LIKE IT), Lady Constance (KING JOHN), Emilia (OTHELLO), Imogen (CYMBELINE), Catherine Of Aragon (HENRY VIII) among others. A real treat!  

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Lifeboat (1944)

After their ship is sunk in the Atlantic by a German U boat, a disparate group of eight passengers struggle to survive while waiting to be rescued. But soon there will be a ninth passenger, the Nazi captain (Walter Slezak) of the U boat that torpedoed them. Based on a story by John Steinbeck and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The entire film is set on the lifeboat and Hitchcock still manages to make the movie a gripping experience. Sure, the film is essentially a WWII propaganda film but far more creative and intense than the usual bunch. At the time of its release, the film received criticism over its depiction of Slezak's Nazi as being too favorable and also toward the African American Canada Lee's ship's steward as being too "stereotypical". I don't think either criticism holds up under scrutiny. Slezak's Nazi is clearly the strongest of the bunch but it's more of a warning to not underestimate the cunning of the enemy. Lee's character is clearly intelligent and with more of a moral backbone than the Caucasian characters (when the others engage in a group killing, he's the only one who refuses to participate), not to mention a heroic turn at the film's end. The film also gives the legendary Tallulah Bankhead a rare opportunity to shine on film (she won the New York film critics best actress award for her work here). With John Hodiak, William Bendix, Hume Cronyn, Henry Hull, Mary Anderson and Heather Angel.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Royal Flash (1975)

A rather lazy and irresponsible cad (Malcolm McDowell) has duped the military into thinking he is a war hero when, in fact, he's a coward. He is coerced by a Prussian statesman (Oliver Reed) into impersonating a Danish prince (also McDowell) at his marriage to a German princess (Britt Ekland) for political reasons. Based on the novel by George MacDonald Fraser (who adapted his book into a screenplay) and directed by Richard Lester. Fraser had adapted Dumas' THREE MUSKETEERS for Lester previously and the irreverent slapstick tone of that film carries over into ROYAL FLASH but not as successfully. While moderately enjoyable, the gags are rather stale and it's often easy spot a sight gag even before it happens. But the production values courtesy of Terence Marsh and Alan Tomkins are impressive and MacDowell has just the right touch of impudence to carry off the shenanigans. Still, there are large pockets of tedium. With Alan Bates, Florinda Bolkan, Bob Hoskins, Lionel Jeffries, Joss Ackland and Christopher Cazenove.  

Last Of The Blonde Bombshells (2000)

A recent widow (Judi Dench) starts to reflect on her teen years during WWII when she was part of an all girl band called The Blonde Bombshells. When she meets up with the band's one male member (Ian Holm) who performed in drag, she gets it into her head to reunite the band at least once. Directed by Gillies MacKinnon, this is a slight piffle of a movie. Its enjoyment comes from the seeing the talented cast going through their paces. Dench and Holm have the bulk of screen time and their rapport is lovely. But the remaining actresses playing the band members each have their moment even if some of those moments are minimal. Poor Leslie Caron is barely in it! It's pleasant enough but a little more originality (it's pretty predictable) and substance would have gone a long way in making it something more than okay. Still, those actors do shine! With Olympia Dukakis, Cleo Laine (in great voice), Billie Whitelaw, Joan Sims, June Whitfield (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS) and Romola Garai. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Baba Yaga (1973)

Walking home in the early hours of the morning after a late night out, a Milanese photographer (Isabelle De Funes) encounters a mysterious woman (Carroll Baker). The enigmatic woman says their meeting was preordained and soon after, strange occurrences begin to happen in the photographer's life. Based the long running Italian comic strip Valentina (1965 to 1996) by Guido Crepax and directed by Corrado Farina. Filled with Nazi and S&M imagery, the film seems an attempt at balancing horror with eroticism and failing at both. In the late 60s and early 70s, Carroll Baker appeared in a lot of Eurotrash but unlike this movie, those were often surprisngly entertaining. This one doesn't seem to have a point of view or focus. The lovely Isabelle De Funes has a great face for movies but little else (well, there is that body). To be fair to Farina, his film was cut (apparently all the socio-political elements) by almost 30 minutes without his permission but we can only judge the end result. With George Eastman and Ely Galleani.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Twinky (aka Lola) (1969)

A precocious 16 year old (which is the age of consent in England) schoolgirl (Susan George) begins an affair with a 38 year old writer (Charles Bronson) that leads to a quick marriage. But their age difference and level of maturity makes marital life fraught with tension. Directed by Richard Donner (THE OMEN), this relic of the swinging 60s freedom doesn't play well today. For one thing, the film's humor is borderline offensive but more importantly, what does Bronson's older man see in this childish immature girl? The treatment of the situation is superficial (this is no LOLITA) and the script leaves all the complexities out. The girl's parents (Honor Blackman, Michael Craig) are dropped from the scenario before they even get married. Surely they would have objected to the marriage and taken legal steps to have it annulled or something but instead they're discarded because it would have challenged the dubious romanticism of the situation, at least as the film makers present it to us. The whole thing just leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. A lot of talent is wasted here including Trevor Howard, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, Kay Medford, Paul Ford, Orson Bean, Lionel Jeffries and Sue Lloyd.

Roma (2018)

Set in Mexico City in 1970, a young maid (Yalitza Aparicio) works in the home of a doctor (Fernando Grediaga), his wife (Marina De Tavira) and their four children. The marriage is clearly strained but soon the maid will have her own crisis to deal with. Written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron (GRAVITY), this slice of life unfolds at a leisurely pace, perhaps too leisurely at times (a scene parking a car seems to go on forever) but the film is deceptively simple. Beautifully shot in B&W by Cuaron, the film is a series of moments that when compiled provide us with a stunning tableau of a brief moment in time and travails of a woman's (actually, two women if you count the wife) growth into her own skin. The contrast between the privileged life of the wife and the poor working class life of the maid is highlighted yet they bond in their sisterhood when they realize that they can't depend on men to define their lives. Aparicio gives a marvelous performance which seems even more awesome when you discover she's never acted before! The film has already been hailed as a masterpiece. I don't know if it is but there's greatness in it. With Jorge Antonio and Nancy Garcia.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Christmas Carol (2004)

It's Christmas Eve in 1843 England and the misanthropic miser Scrooge (Kelsey Grammer) shows no compassion toward the less fortunate and calls Christmas humbug. Based on the 1994 stage musical by way of the classic novella by Charles Dickens and directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman. The musical itself was performed annually every Christmas between 1994 through 2003 at Madison Square Garden. The songs by Alan Menken (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) who did the music and Lynn Ahrens who wrote the lyrics are first rate, the special effects are very good, production values are excellent and the Dan Siretta choreography is lively. There are a handful of fool proof stories that almost never get old and Dickens' Christmas classic is one of them. Grammer makes for an excellent Scrooge, keeping it natural and never overdoing it and with the exception of Jason Alexander as Jacob Marley, the rest of the cast follows suit. If you've not seen it, it should make a nice Christmas treat this year. With Geraldine Chaplin, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jane Krakowski, Brian Bedford, Jesse L. Martin and Ruthie Henshall.  

The Favourite (2018)

It's early 18th century England and a frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) rules though she is under the influence of her lover, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Enter a poor but ambitious cousin (Emma Stone) of the Duchess and let the backstabbing, manipulation and court intrigue begin! Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (THE LOBSTER), this was a major disappointment. I'm sure the film thinks it's saying something about female empowerment (and maybe it is) but it comes across as ALL ABOUT EVE in an 18th century royal court rather than the Broadway theater but without the wit. The praise for Colman's tedious performance mystifies me but Weisz and Stone are marvelous as they size each other up and go at it with tooth and claw. It's a rather ugly looking movie which I suppose is a concession to realism but frankly, it's about as "real" as THE LION IN WINTER. I didn't think that was much of a film either other than the two marvelous performances (Hepburn, O'Toole) which justified its existence. Weisz and Stone perform the same function here. With Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn.