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Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Cyclops (1957)

A young woman (Gloria Talbott) organizes an expedition into the wild of Mexico searching for her fiance whose plane crashed three years previous. Coming along with her are a pilot (Tom Drake), her fiance's best friend (James Craig) and a uranium hunter (Lon Chaney Jr.). Instead, what they find are giant lizards, snakes, hawks and a disfigured cyclops! Directed by schlockmeister Bert I. Gordon (EMPIRE OF THE ANTS), this low budget (or should it be no budget?) piece of B&W sci-fi horror might be awesome to 7 year olds. I know I was impressed as an adolescent when it played on my local station's afternoon creature feature movie. Adulthood has revealed a cheaply made piece of nonsense with nostalgia value but not much else to offer. It's actually amusing when the characters encounter these giant beasts and their reaction is nonchalant as if it's no big deal instead of running away screaming in terror. For a change, Lon Chaney Jr.'s overacting is actually welcome. Even fans of schlocky 1950s B sci-fi films may have a hard time with this one. But I have a big soft spot for lovely Gloria Talbott who I'll watch in anything.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Seagull (2018)

An aging actress (Annette Bening) spends her summers at the family's country estate where her son (Billy Howle) and her brother (Brian Dennehy) reside year round. This summer, she brings her latest lover (Corey Stoll) and his presence will trigger an eventual tragedy. Based on the classic play by Anton Chekhov and directed by Michael Mayer. The film attempts to make Chekhov's 1896 classic more cinematic rather than a filmed play and I'm not sure that was a good idea. The film opens with the play's ending as a prologue before the main titles before jumping to the beginning after the credits are finished. It's considerably opened up and Matthew J. Lloyd's gorgeous cinematography of the lush Monroe, New York location is a real treat as is the lovely Nico Muhly (THE READER) underscore. But it doesn't feel like Chekhov and although it's been years since I've read the play, much of the dialog doesn't sound Chekhovian. The actresses fare better than the actors. Annette Bening makes for a wonderful Arkadina showing us her narcissism and vanity, Saoirse Ronan encapsulates Nina's innocence and eventual tragic countenance and Elisabeth Moss brings an unexpected strength to the depressed Masha. But Corey Stoll's Trigorin has no pull and Billy Howle's Konstantin is superficial with none of the melancholy inherent in the character. See it for the actresses and the cinematography but it's a weak rendition of Chekhov. With Mare Winningham, Jon Tenney and Glenn Fleshler.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Passion (1954)

Set in old California of the 1800s when it was still under Mexico's rule. A rancher (Cornel Wilde) seeks revenge on the men who killed his wife (Yvonne De Carlo) and her family. After he kills one of the murderers (Lon Chaney Jr.), his lawman friend (Raymond Burr) lets him escape in the hopes he will go away and never come back. But his vengeance will not be sated until all the killers are punished. Directed by Allan Dwan, who made several fine films in the 1950s with the producer Benedict Bogeaus for RKO including SLIGHTLY SCARLET, SILVER LODE and TENNESSEE'S PARTNER. This one is one of the lesser achievements. It's modestly entertaining enough until the film's last 20 minutes or so when it becomes downright tedious. For a movie called PASSION, there's very little evident in the film. John Alton's (FATHER OF THE BRIDE) Technicolor location photography is very handsome and aids the film quite a bit. Yvonne De Carlo does double duty here playing both the dead wife and her twin sister. With Stuart Whitman, Frank De Kova, John Qualen, Anthony Caruso and Rodolfo Acosta.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Do Not Disturb (1965)

A housewife (Doris Day) finds herself in England when her husband (Rod Taylor) is relocated there by his company. But when work takes up all his time and keeps him away from home, she decides to redecorate with the assistance of an Italian antiques dealer (Sergio Fantoni) which entails a trip to Paris to shop but her husband suspects her of having an affair. Based on the play SOME OTHER LOVE by William Fairchild and directed by Ralph Levy (BEDTIME STORY). While this is considered one of Day's weakest films and was not a success at the box office at the time when she was the biggest female star in America, I love it. It's glamorous, colorful and funny and Day is at her most adorable and looks smashing in her Ray Aghayan costumes. She also has a drunk scene which is delightful. It's no PILLOW TALK or LOVER COME BACK but I still can't see why it's so disliked but I find it to be one of her films that I return most often to. With Hermione Baddeley, Reginald Gardiner, Leon Askin and Maura McGiveney.

Uchu Daikaiju Girara (aka The X From Outer Space) (1967)

A spaceship returns from an expedition to Mars with a sample of space spores that contaminanted their craft. While the spore is being analyzed in a laboratory, it escapes and soon turns into a giant beaked beast terrorizing Japan. Directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu, this rather silly "rubber monster terrorizes Tokyo" creature feature is an entertaining piece of Japanese cheese. The movie begins with a pop song over the credits which immediately alerts us "Don't take us seriously. Sit back and have some fun!'. Taku Izumi's rhythmic pop score continues through out the film and we get a monster called Guilala instead of Godzilla who is able to transform itself into a bouncing ball of energy and there's also a flying saucer that looks like an apple pie. I find these Japanese creature features near irresistible and though this one takes awhile to get its rhythm going (too much time spent on comedy relief and romantic entanglements), it's a hoot without quite crossing over into camp. With Eiji Okada (HIROSHIMA ON AMOUR), Shunya Wazaki, Itoko Harada, Peggy Neal, Shinichi Yanagisawa and Mike Daneen.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Mrs. Delafield Wants To Marry (1986)

After she survives a critical illness, an elderly but wealthy widow (Katharine Hepburn) falls in love with her Jewish doctor (Harold Gould). When the question of marriage comes into play, the adult children from both sides conspire to break up the relationship due to greed, bigotry and societal conventions. Directed by George Schaefer (DOCTORS WIVES), this tale of late in life love yields up no surprises. You pretty much know where it's going and it's really rather simplistic. After vehemently opposing the marriage, the adult children seem to capitulate rather easily. I mean if only one had at least refused to attend the wedding but everybody falls into line for the happy ending. By this stage of her career, Katharine Hepburn had become rather insufferable as an actress in her post LION IN WINTER career (LOVE AMONG THE RUINS being an exception) and it's only our good will toward her cinematic history that allows us to give her a pass. Hepburn fans will eat it up however. With Denholm Elliott, David Ogden Stiers and Bibi Besch.  

You Never Know Women (1926)

A Russian performer (Florence Vidor) in a vaudeville revue finds herself in the middle of a love triangle with a magician (Clive Brook) and a wealthy playboy (Lowell Sherman). Based on the short story THE GREAT ILLUSION by Ernest Vajda and directed by William A. Wellman (THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY). I'm rather fond of Wellman as a director so this simplistic slice of romantic melodrama was a disappointment. A lot of the film's brief running time is devoted to the vaudeville acts which aren't very interesting and while Vidor is lovely, her two leading men are a bust for different reasons. The melancholy Brook is a cipher while Sherman overdoes the oily playboy to the point that you wonder what Vidor could possibly see in him. If you're going to base an entire movie on who the heroine will end up with, you'd better make us care enough to invest in it. The movie is also rather sexist as it suggests women don't know what they want. With El Brendel who has the best moment in the movie when he kisses a bespectacled goose on the beak.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Murder By Decree (1979)

As the serial killer known as Jack The Ripper terrorizes the Whitechapel district of London, Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) is approached by a group of citizens to help solve the killings as the police seem unable or uninterested in finding the killer. But what Holmes discovers is a complicated conspiracy that leads all the way to the throne of England. Loosely based on JACK THE RIPPER: THE FINAL SOLUTION by Stephen Knight and directed by Bob Clark (BLACK CHRISTMAS). The premise behind the Ripper murders somehow being tied into the British monarchy has been around for decades and a couple of other films (STUDY IN TERROR, FROM HELL) have used it. MURDER BY DECREE is the best of those films. The Holmes and Watson (James Mason) here are different than their counterparts in the Arthur Conan Doyle stories and Basil Rathbone movies. Plummer is a warmer, more humorous and flawed Holmes while Mason doesn't play the bumbler of Nigel Bruce's Watson. I thought the screenplay went a bit too far by having Holmes more physical and running around and engaged in fist fights like an action hero. But other than that, it's respectful of its source material. The acting is quite good especially Genevieve Bujold's fragile waif being pushed toward insanity. With Donald Sutherland, John Gielgud, Anthony Quayle, Susan Clark, David Hemmings and Frank Finlay.   

Monday, March 25, 2019

Trial By Combat (aka Choice Of Weapons) (1976)

An organization going by the name of the Knights Of Avalon have taken it upon themselves to capture and execute criminals. When the founder (Peter Cushing) of the organization, who is unaware of these activities, stumbles upon one of the executions, he is killed. His son (David Birney) returns from America to find his father's murderer. Directed by Kevin Connor (THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT), the film suffers from its silly premise and its poor execution (no pun intended). The film wants to be an adventurous comedy but it's not remotely funny and there aren't any thrills. Birney in the central role is a charmless and unappealing actor and the chemistry between him and his leading lady (Barbara Hershey) is zilch. There are some fine actors involved like John Mills, Donald Pleasence and Margaret Leighton and you wonder how they got roped into this mess. It couldn't have been the script! Hopefully, they all got nice big paychecks. The film's best performance comes from Brian Glover as a cockney gangster and the movie perks up whenever he's on screen.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

I, Jane Doe (1948)

A woman (Vera Ralston) kills the lover (John Carroll) who betrayed her. But when she is put on trial for his murder, her lawyer is the wife (Ruth Hussey) of the man she killed. Directed by John H. Auer (CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS), this soap opera gives an unusual spin in that there's a kind of feminist angle about it or as much as a 1948 film can be feminist. It's also unusual that it is the murder victim who is, in a sense, put on trial as well for it was his very own unscrupulous actions that precipitated his own murder. We can agree for instance that a rape victim's sexual history is irrelevant when prosecuting her rapist but is a murder victim's history also irrelevant when his killer is on trial? I don't mean to make it sound more important than it is because it's really no more than a melodramatic potboiler but it has ideas that question the black and white morality of the legal system. It's a slippery slope. A B movie from Republic pictures but an interesting one. With Gene Lockhart, Adele Mara, John Howard, John Litel and Benay Venuta. 

Capricorn One (1978)

On the day it is due for lift off, it is discovered that the first manned mission to Mars designated Capricorn One has a faulty life support system. Instead of canceling the flight, the astronauts (James Brolin, Sam Waterston, O.J. Simpson) are removed and the unmanned flight leaves as planned. With the lives of their families threatened, the astronauts reluctantly consent to recreate a Mars landing in a government controlled studio. But it doesn't end there. Written and directed by Peter Hyams (OUTLAND), this exciting if far fetched thriller is one of the best conspiracy thrillers of the paranoid 1970s decade. But unlike the more serious conspiracy thrillers like ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR and THE PARALLAX VIEW etc., foremost the film is a lighter cousin and pure entertainment. The film contains a spectacular helicopters/airplane chase through desert canyons that's breathtaking and without CGI too! There's a nice amiable performance by Elliott Gould as the journalist tracking down the story, Hal Holbrook makes for a wonderfully unctuous NASA villain and a lovely quiet performance by Brenda Vaccaro as Brolin's wife. Top it off with one of Jerry Goldsmith's best scores and you have a winner. With Karen Black, Telly Savalas, David Doyle, James Karen, Nancy Malone and David Huddleston. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Behind The Candelabra (2013)

The film opens in 1977 when a young teenaged animal trainer (Matt Damon) is taken to meet the famous entertainer Liberace (Michael Douglas) by a friend (Scott Bakula). Liberace takes a fancy to the young boy and they soon become lovers. But it is a tempestuous relationship. Based on the non fiction book by Scott Thorson (played in the film by Damon) and directed by Steven Soderbergh (SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE). It's an engrossing movie bio with a slightly different perspective that casts an unflinching eye on the gay lifestyle in the late 70s and early 80s (BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY could have used some of CANDELABRA's rawness). The film doesn't try to whitewash either Liberace or Scott Thorson and neither are unsympathetic as the warts and all film lets us see the loneliness of each that binds them together. I admire Douglas' performance more than I like it. I give him props for his willingness to go all the way but he can never quite manage to shake off the sense that he's giving an imitation of Liberace rather than inhabiting him. Which allows Damon to take over the film and he's very good. With Debbie Reynolds, unrecognizable as Liberace's mother, Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe, Paul Reiser and Cheyenne Jackson.

Us (2019)

A young wife (Lupita Nyong'o) is on vacation with her husband (Winston Duke) and two children (Shahadi Wright, Evan Alex) at a lakeside home near Santa Cruz, California where she grew up. But she has held back a horrific memory that occurred when she was a child and now that memory will come to the surface when her home is invaded by and the family is attacked by a family that is remarkably just like them. Directed by Jordan Peele (GET OUT), this sophomore effort proves that GET OUT was no fluke and we are in the hands of a major talent. Stylish and terrifying, US is more of an out and out horror movie than GET OUT but Peele still clearly has more on his mind than just scares. While GET OUT dealt with the race issues still plaguing our society, US broadens that by dealing with the oppressed regardless of color, the disenfranchised and exploited under classes under the feet of the privileged, literally in this case. The cast all play their character and their doppelganger which allows them even more range. The acting is excellent, all anchored by Nyong'o's potent performance. This is thinking man's horror but one can still see the influences of other works, notably Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and the TWILIGHT ZONE episode MIRROR IMAGE with Vera Miles. The underscore by Michael Abels is sensational. With Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker as family friends and the movie could have used more of them. Definitely recommended.

Move Over Darling (1963)

After being stranded on an island in the Pacific for 5 years, a wife (Doris Day) and mother returns home only to find out she's been declared legally dead and her husband (James Garner) has remarried! She must deal with his new wife (Polly Bergen) while he must deal with the hunk (Chuck Connors) she was stranded with. A remake of the 1940 screwball comedy MY FAVORITE WIFE and directed by Michael Gordon (PILLOW TALK). Originally, it was set to be Marilyn Monroe's final movie under the title SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE but after her death, it was recast with Day and given a new title. This is one of Day's best vehicles. As they proved in THE THRILL OF IT ALL, Day and Garner have a terrific chemistry together. It's not especially fresh as it's pretty much a scene for scene remake of the 1940 film but it's glamorous and its players seem to relish their roles and know how to deliver their lines with the right amount of spark. Light and breezy entertainment at it's best. With Thelma Ritter, Don Knotts, Elliott Reid, Edgar Buchanan, John Astin and Fred Clark.  

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Last Days Of Disco (1998)

It's the early 1980s and two young women with different personalities and values (Chloe Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale) who work at a publishing company and room together spend their nights at discos. Written and directed by Whit Stillman, this is chronicle of the disco scene in Manhattan in the early 80s and the upwardly mobile (and living beyond their means) Ivy League graduates falling in and out of love is a jewel of a movie. Whitman's dialog is sharp and precise and expertly delineates the pretensions and aspirations of its protagonists. Beckinsale and Sevigny are wonderful, each one a contrast both physically and in character. But the entire acting ensemble is excellent. Whitman's dialog could sound affected espoused by less skilled actors but the cast here makes it all sound quite natural. And, of course, there's a killer soundtrack of classic disco tunes. With Mackenzie Astin, Matt Ross, Robert Sean Leonard, Chris Eigeman, Matt Keeslar, Tara Subkoff and Jennifer Beals. 

Terrore Nello Spazio (aka Planet Of The Vampires) (1965)

A spaceship receives a distress call from an unexplored planet. But once within the atmosphere of this planet, the crew members react violently toward each other. It will only get worse when their dead become alive again. Based on the short story ONE NIGHT OF 21 HOURS by Renato Pestriniero and directed by Mario Bava (LISA AND THE DEVIL). The film suffers somewhat from its obvious low budget but Bava and his cinematographer Antonio Rinaldi have done an amazing job of disguising the cheapness of the production as much as they can. The film is yet another case of style over substance although the hideous costumes the actors are required to wear are damn ugly. The plot offers infinite possibilities that aren't taken advantage of. It's a film that could use a remake. The actors are American, Italian, Spanish and Brazilian and everybody speaks in their own language and post dubbed into English (the version I saw) so it has that flat delivery so frequent in those 1960s Italian dubbed into English films. The film has a developed a cult reputation and is greatly admired in certain quarters. With Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Angel Aranda, Evi Marandi and Franco Andrei.   

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Sleuth (1972)

A famous author (Laurence Olivier) of murder mysteries invites his wife's (Joanne Woodward) lover (Michael Caine) to his country house to discuss the situation. But when the writer suggests a plan for the lover to rob the safe of jewels so he can claim the insurance money while the lover keeps the jewelry, it is only the beginning of a diabolical plan with twists and turns that neither saw coming. Based on the play by Anthony Shaffer who adapted it for the screen and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (ALL ABOUT EVE) in his final film. It's basically a filmed play with some half hearted concessions to cinema by tossing in a few exterior scenes. The success of an essentially two character talk fest like this depends on the actors to breathe life into it and both Olivier and Cain acquit themselves proudly. But despite the good acting, it starts to wear out its welcome. Unfortunately, a big "reveal" doesn't work because it's so obvious (not unlike a similar reveal in WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION). I can see it easily working on stage where the audience is distanced but the camera's eye can't hide something that's right in your face. Worth seeing for the excellent acting but the film's not really as clever as it thinks it is. At least in it's cinematic incarnation.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Killer's Kiss (1955)

A once promising boxer (Jamie Smith) at the end of his career finds himself attracted to the blonde taxi dancer (Irene Kane) who lives across the courtyard in his apartment building. But she is being threatened and harassed by her violent boss (Frank Silvera). Shot, edited and directed by Stanley Kubrick in his second feature film. To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, it is the work of a talented amateur. Visually, the film is dazzling and Kubrick's B&W cinematography is both creative and atmospheric. But the screenplay is dreadful and the acting amateurish. It doesn't help that the entire film was looped during post production and the actors deliver their lines in that hollow monotone delivery that very often comes with post dubbing. Even the normally reliable Frank Silvera (the only "name" in the cast) comes off poorly. Apparently the film's happy ending (which feels phony) was forced on Kubrick by the film's distributor. But even its shoestring budget can't hide that young Kubrick was someone to watch and he fulfilled that promise with his next film, THE KILLING. With Jerry Jarrett and Felice Orlandi.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Two delivery men deliver a pair of crates to a wax museum of horrors. While unpacking them, one (Lou Costello) discovers that they contain the coffin of Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the body of Frankenstein (Glenn Strange) but his partner (Bud Abbott) doesn't believe him. Thus begins a wild adventure that also includes the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.). Directed by Charles Barton, this is one of the great horror comedies of all time. Even if you're not a fan of Abbott and Costello, there's a rich mine of laughs here. Like all good horror comedies, it balances the laughs with genuine chills and there are even a few shocking moments like Lenore Aubert's demise. The laughs and the thrills never lag for a moment whether it's the snappy patter of Abbott and Costello or the trio of Universal's classic monsters. This outlandish but affectionate pastiche doesn't condescend to its predecessors and if it weren't for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, I'd call it the best horror comedy ever made. With Jane Randolph (CAT PEOPLE), Frank Ferguson, Charles Bradstreet and Vincent Price as the Invisible Man.  

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Blowing Wild (1953)

Set in South America. After bandits destroy his wildcat oil well, a driller (Gary Cooper) takes a job with an old friend (Anthony Quinn) who owns eighteen oil wells. But his friend's wife (Barbara Stanwyck), who is an ex-lover of the oilman, makes things difficult when she makes it clear she intends to have him as her lover again. Directed by Hugo Fregonese (MAN IN THE ATTIC), this is a juicy slice of dramatic entanglements with a generous amount of action. There's a lot of star power at work here and they make the movie seem better than it is. Stanwyck is wonderful here doing a less subtle version of her Phyllis Dietrichson from DOUBLE INDEMNITY. When she isn't poisoning everything around her, we have to contend with the lethal bandit (Juan Garcia) who seems to have wandered in straight out of TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. There's a nice underscore by Dimitri Tiomkin with Frankie Laine singing the title tune (shades of HIGH NOON). With Ruth Roman, Ward Bond and Ian MacDonald.

The Slipper And The Rose (1976)

The King of Euphrania (Michael Hordern) is growing increasingly frustrated that his son (Richard Chamberlain) has not taken a wife. So he approves a plan to hold a royal ball and invite every princess in the realm. Meanwhile, a recently orphaned young girl (Gemma Craven) is forced by her wicked stepmother (Margaret Lockwood) to act as a servant to her and her nasty daughters. Directed by Bryan Forbes (L SHAPED ROOM), this musical take on the Cinderella fairy tale has its share of admirers but I'm not one of them. The film is way too long and where the Cinderella story normally ends, the film goes on for another half hour! The songs By Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman (MARY POPPINS) are unmemorable and all sound the same. Craven as Cinderella lacks any screen presence and Chamberlain's Prince is not charming. Curiously, the focus of the film is thrown to the Prince, hardly a character of interest, while Cinderella gets short shrift. On the plus side, the production values are superb. The costumes by Julie Harris are real eye candy (shamefully not nominated for an Oscar) and the production design and art direction by Ray Simm and Bert Davey is stunning. Cinematographer Tony Imi's camera makes full use of the beautiful Austrian locations. With Edith Evans, Kenneth More, Annette Crosbie in the film's best performance as the fairy godmother, Christopher Gable and Rosalind Ayres. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Heartbreak House (1977)

Set during WWI, a young girl (Lesley Anne Down) along with her father (Richard Pearson) and her older businessman fiance (David Waller) are invited to the country estate of her eccentric friend (Sian Phillips). But things go awry when she discovers the man (Daniel Massey) she loves is her friend's husband! Based on the play by George Bernard Shaw and directed by Cedric Messina. I'm rather fond of this Shaw piece though I know others find it too "talky" but hey, it is Shaw after all and his strength (as with most playwrights) is in his dialog. The play could be construed as dated because the allegorical aspect showing how the British society were apathetic and seemed impervious to the changes in society that WWI would bring. Shaw wraps this all up in a Chekhovian (his own words, not mine) style. All the characters represent different aspects of British society from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie to the lower classes. They're all aimless dreamers in their own way and unable to navigate their lives and it's clear that soon they will be extinct. It's wonderfully acted. Notably John Gielgud as the aged and dotty family patriarch. With Barbara Murray, Donald Pickering, Joyce Grant and Barry Jackson.    

Nancy Drew And The Hidden Staircase (2019)

A young teenager Nancy Drew (Sophia Lillis) finds life boring in a small town after living in Chicago. Excitement comes when an elderly woman (Linda Lavin) claims her house is haunted by long dead ghosts. Nancy decides to spend the night in the haunted house but what she finds may be far deadlier than ghosts. Based on the book by Carolyn Keene (aka Mildred Wirt Benson) and directed by Katt Shea (POISON IVY). I'm a huge mystery fan and Agatha Christie and the Nancy Drew books were part of my adolescence. In the late 1930s, there were several Nancy Drew mysteries filmed with Bonita Granville as Nancy including NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE. This new version (Ellen DeGeneres is an executive producer) brings Nancy Drew into the 21st century. She travels on a skateboard, fights cyber bullying and is a role model for female empowerment. But in updating Nancy, the film has lost the charm and innocence of the Nancy Drew books and Bonita Granville's Nancy Drew movies of the 1930s. The film ends suggesting more adventures to come but I doubt the film will make enough profits to translate into a franchise. With Sam Trammell, very good as Nancy's father and Laura Slade Wiggins, Mackenzie Graham, Zoe Renee, Andrea Anders and Andrew Matthew Welch, who looks like a high school kid but plays a deputy sheriff!   

Friday, March 15, 2019

Wild Women (1970)

A scout (Hugh O'Brian) is hired by the Army to accompany a group of Army engineers through hostile Apache territory to transport arms in anticipation of Mexico's declaring war over the Texas territory. To disguise the situation, a group of female prisoners are promised pardons if they pretend to be the wives of the Army engineers disguised as settlers heading West. Based on the novel by Vincent Fotre and directed by Don Taylor (THE FINAL COUNTDOWN). This amiable female centric western is quite engaging if predictable in its outcome. Unusual for a western, it's the women who are important. They're the interesting characters with backstories while the males are rather unremarkable. And luckily for us, the five actresses are wonderful. There's Anne Francis as an old flame of O'Brian, Marie Windsor as bank robber, Marilyn Maxwell as a  madam, Sherry Jackson as a Southern belle and Cynthia Hull as an Apache woman. The film is infused with humor to offset the usual western cliches and we're never meant to take it too seriously anyway. With Richard Kelton and Robert F. Simon.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

La Belle Equipe (aka They Were Five) (1936)

Five friends (Jean Gabin, Charles Vanel, Raymond Aimos, Charles Morat, Raphael Medina) are down and out and unemployed. Their luck changes when they win the national lottery. Deciding they would be economically better off pooling their resources, they buy a small piece of land near a river and plan to build a garden restaurant and dance hall. But when the ex-wife (Viviane Romance) of one of the men shows up, it's only a matter of time before their dream is shattered. Directed by Julien Duvivier, this film about male bonding and friendship offsets the destructive Viviane Romance character with a sweet girl (Micheline Cheirel) to offset any charges of misogyny. Still, even Cheirel's good girl is partly responsible (though no fault of her own) of the men's dream eroding away. One can't help but be sad when a beautiful dream comes crashing down on the dreamers. After the film's original French release did poorly, a new "happy" ending was shot and for decades was the only available version. In 2015, it was restored with the darker ending which is the version I saw. With Marcelle Geniat and Fernand Charpin.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Groom Wore Spurs (1951)

A cowboy movie star (Jack Carson) and an attorney (Ginger Rogers) have a whirlwind romance and a quick wedding in Las Vegas. But after she finds out her bridegroom had ulterior motives other than romance on his mind when he hired her as his attorney, she leaves him. But not for long as a murder brings them back together. Based on the short story LEGAL WIFE by Robert Carson and directed by Richard Whorf (TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY). A lame romantic comedy that even drags in an unpleasant murder to try and bolster itself to no effect. Ginger Rogers and Jack Carson are expert farceurs but they flounder as the screenplay leaves them high and dry. Comedienne Joan Davis tries too but she's a poor substitute for Eve Arden. The premise of a romcom about a woman lawyer marrying a singing cowboy star who hates horses, has his singing voice dubbed and all his stunts done by a double has possibilities (or at least it did in 1951) but this one is as flat as a pancake. With Stanley Ridges, John Litel, Victor Sen Yung and Ross Hunter (who would later find success as a film producer). 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Great Bank Hoax (1978)

The officers (Richard Basehart, Ned Beatty, Burgess Meredith) of a small town bank discover that money has been embezzled shortly before an audit is to be performed. They devise a scheme to have a fake robbery to explain the missing money. But instead of ending the situation, it only serves to throw a wide net of corruption involving other bank employees and citizens. Directed by Joseph Jacoby, this is an anemic slow moving heist comedy that has been done better elsewhere. It offers up nothing new but I wouldn't have minded if it had only had some style or wit. Although released theatrically, it feels like a TV movie. There is a nice performance by Burgess Meredith who gives his bank vice president a nice reptilian quality that I enjoyed but the other actors seem to be walking through their parts. With Paul Sand, Michael Murphy, Arthur Godfrey, Constance Forslund, Charlene Dallas and Bibi Osterwald.   

Le Roi De Coeur (aka King Of Hearts) (1966)

Set in 1918 WWI, a Scottish soldier (Alan Bates) is sent on a solo mission to disarm a bomb in a small French village. He finds that the villagers have all deserted it and the inmates of an asylum have escaped and are living out their fantasies and greet him as their King Of Hearts. Directed by Philipe De Broca, this winsome layered comedy is a real charmer. Surprisingly, it wasn't a success in France but when it opened in the U.S., it became an art house hit and eventually grew into a cult film (it played for three years in one cinema). It's anti-war message is still relevant today (when will an anti-war film ever be irrelevant?) but luckily, it's done ever so delicately and it's not heavy handed at all. I've always disliked movies where either children or the mentally impaired possess wisdom that eludes "normal" people but there exceptions to every rule and I adore this film. The cast is the cream of French actors and there's a lovely underscore by Georges Delerue. With Genevieve Bujold, Pierre Brasseur, Micheline Presle, Jean Claude Brialy, Michel Serrault, Francoise Christophe, Adolfo Celi, Daniel Boulanger and Julien Guiomar.

Monday, March 11, 2019

They Met In The Dark (1943)

After being discharged for treason, a former Navy Commander (James Mason) sets out to expose the spy ring that destroyed his career. But when his first contact (Patricia Medina) turns up dead and he is seen running from the scene of the crime, a witness (Joyce Howard) is convinced he murdered her. Directed by Karel Lamac, this is a rather stodgy faux Hitchcock WWII espionage thriller (think FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT or SABOTEUR) with a soupcon of uninspired romance slipped in. It's very much of its day but without any artistry or style that makes it stand out. It does have a young and appealing James Mason in the lead which helps but Joyce Howard makes for a wearisome heroine. The Anglophiles may lap it up but others may not be so tolerant. The underscore is by Benjamin Frankel. With David Farrar, Tom Walls, Phyllis Stanley and Finlay Currie. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Shoot The Moon (1982)

A successful writer (Albert Finney) and his wife (Diane Keaton) appear on the surface to have it all. But when their marriage falls apart because of his infidelity, it opens wounds that seem impossible to heal. Directed by Alan Parker (MIDNIGHT EXPRESS), this is one of the most dynamic films about a marriage gone bad ever made. I'm not an admirer of Alan Parker as a director. His films vary from okay to bad but he's never impressed me except for this gem. He has a great script by Bo Goldman (MELVIN AND HOWARD) and as a director, he stays out of its way and allow Finney and Keaton to suck up every bit of juice they can get out of their roles. While Keaton is absolutely terrific, the film belongs to Finney who gives one of those searing performances that has you holding your breath lest he make a wrong move. He doesn't. The film eschews the manipulative sentiment of something like KRAMER VS. KRAMER. This one doesn't aim for the tear ducts, it aims for the jugular and it's a visceral and raw rollercoaster. The only scene I had some problems with was the restaurant scene which seemed somewhat contrived. With some excellent work by Dana Hill as their emotionally conflicted daughter and Peter Weller as Keaton's new squeeze. With Karen Allen, Leora Dana, George Murdock and Tracey Gold.

Francis In The Haunted House (1956)

When Francis the talking mule witnesses a murder, he seeks the help of a reporter (Mickey Rooney) to prevent further murders from occurring. The killings revolve around an ancient Scottish castle with a ghost. Directed by Charles Lamont, this was the seventh and final entry in Universal's FRANCIS the talking mule franchise. It killed off the series. The star (Donald O'Connor) of the previous six films had bailed and was replaced by Rooney and even the original voice of Francis (Chill Wills) is replaced by Paul Frees. But even if O'Connor and Wills had returned, the series had already run out of steam. A talking mule is a one joke premise that had been milked for all its possible humor and it was time to wrap it up. For fans of the franchise only. With Virginia Welles, David Janssen, Richard Deacon and Timothy Carey.   

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Cabinet Of Caligari (1962)

When a young woman's (Glynis Johns) car breaks down, she makes her way to a large mansion and asks to use the phone to get assistance. Instead, she soon finds herself in a bizarre situation where she is held as a "guest" against her will by her host (Dan O'Herlihy). The household also has other guests whose behavior is odd. Directed by Roger Day, the film has only a nominal connection to the classic 1920 silent classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. The screenplay is by Robert Bloch, the author of PSYCHO and coincidentally, the B&W CinemaScope lensing is by John L. Russell, who shot Hitchcock's PSYCHO. The film's psychoanalytical observations and medical treatments are somewhat dubious by contemporary standards. But the film has some rather bold moments for a 1962 movie involving impotency and incest. But in the end, it plays out like an extended episode of the TWILIGHT ZONE that goes on about 20 minutes too long. Interesting but not entirely successful. With Constance Ford, Richard Davalos, Estelle Winwood, Lawrence Dobkin, Vicki Trickett, J. Pat O'Malley and Doreen Lang. 

Climax (2018)

Set in the 1990s, a dance troupe are completing three days of intense rehearsal in a remote location under the guidance of the troupe's leader (Claude Gajan Maull). She then makes a bowl of sangria for the party to celebrate the end of the three day rehearsals. But when the dancers start getting hostile and confused, it turns out the sangria has been spiked with LSD. From then on, the party descends into an orgy of sex, violence, drugs and death. Directed by Gaspar Noe (IRREVERSIBLE), this was shown at last year's Cannes film festival and released in Europe but is only now making its U.S. theatrical debut. This is the kind of film (like MOTHER or NEON DEMON) that you're either going to hate or just give yourself over to it and like it. Elsewhere, I've seen it described as a horror dance film and it's an apt description. The horror, of course, is of the psychological kind where humans descend to their basest instincts and it's not pretty. There are two stunning dance numbers which are thrilling to watch as the dancers bend and twist their bodies in the most amazing ways. Noe shoots the second dance number entirely from above which gives the dancers the quality of insects scattering and moving. The film's non stop score is all club music and the pounding techno beat might still be ringing in your ears after you leave the theatre. And yes, I liked it ... a lot but it's not for everyone. With Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Giselle Palmer and Taylor Kastle.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Man Of The Forest (1933)

A corrupt land baron (Noah Beery) desires the river property of a wrongly accused ex-convict (Harry Carey). When he hears that the ex-con is turning over his property to his niece (Verna Hillie), he plots to have the niece kidnapped. Based on the novel by Zane Grey and directed by Henry Hathaway (TRUE GRIT). This pre-code western is just a B western programmer but it's just different enough to stand out a bit. Being a pre-code, it's more adult than the family friendly westerns of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry that would follow. The implied sexual relationship between Beery and his longtime housekeeper (Blanche Friderici) comes to a bitter conclusion in an act of a woman scorned and there's no assumption that she'll be punished! But perhaps most notably, it's an opportunity to see a young pre-stardom Randolph Scott at a very early stage of his career as the film's hero. Unfortunately, his character doesn't come off as very bright as he lacks the foresight to see what is obviously coming like we do. With Buster Crabbe, Barton MacLane and Guinn Williams. 

Blindness (2008)

Set in an unnamed country, out of nowhere the population slowly starts going blind. But instead of seeing darkness, it's more a bright white. When her doctor husband (Mark Ruffalo) goes blind, his sighted wife (Julianne Moore) feigns blindness in order to accompany him to an internment camp. The camps are set up because the blindness is contagious. Based on the novel by Jose Saramago and directed by Fernando Meirelles (THE CONSTANT GARDENER). This is an intense and disturbing allegory and quite frankly, a thoroughly unpleasant film to sit through. Which is why a lot of the critical reception was negative (audiences were hostile to it too) which is unfortunate. Although ultimately the film ends on a note of hope, we've been put through the ringer. But it's as difficult as it is, it's a cinematic journey well worth taking. Meirelles' direction and the screenplay by Don McKellar (who plays the thief) walks a fine line that could have fallen into heavy handed pretentiousness in the wrong hands. Moore gives a first rate performance and carries the film. With Danny Glover, Gael Bernal Garcia, Alice Braga, Sandra Oh and Maury Chaykin. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)

A team of scientists headed by an unstable researcher (Jeff Morrow) travel through the Florida Everglades in search of the gill man who had escaped from an oceanarium. The third and final entry in the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) franchise following 1955's REVENGE OF THE CREATURE although, unlike the other two, it was not filmed in 3D. Although a horror film, there's no horror in it unless you count the mistreatment of the gill man who is quite a sympathetic creature here. The real "monster" is the cold hearted and abusive doctor played by Jeff Morrow, who even his wife (Leigh Snowden) can't love. Also notable for the genre, there are no romantic leads. The scientist hunk (Rex Reason) is sympathetic to the wife and yes, perhaps attracted to her but that's it. But it's a solid piece of horror/sci-fi and a fitting end (although the ending suggests a possible sequel that never came) to the CREATURE trilogy. Directed by Jack Arnold's (who directed the first two films) assistant John Sherwood in his directorial debut. With Gregg Palmer and Maurice Manson.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Moonlighting (1985)

After she discovers that her accountant has embezzled all her liquid assets, a former high fashion model (Cybill Shepherd) attempts to shut down a detective agency that was a tax write off. But the agency's head (Bruce Willis) tries to convince her to keep the agency open. Complications ensue when they find themselves accidentally embroiled in a murder case and a watch that seems to have no value yet several people are willing to kill for it. Directed by Robert Butler (THE BLUE KNIGHT), this two hour movie served as the pilot for the series MOONLIGHTING that would go on to have a four year run. I never watched the series myself and this telefilm isn't particularly well written so I don't know if the writing improved during its run. Based on the evidence on display here, I suspect what made the show a success was the terrific chemistry between Shepherd and Willis. They're hardly Tracy and Hepburn or even a Rock Hudson and Doris Day but they're both sexy, have a strong screen presence and the sexual tension between them is palpable though reputedly, they didn't always get along. With James Karen, Robert Ellenstein, Allyce Beasley and Dennis Lipscomb who's perfectly dreadful as one of the villains in a performance I still don't know if we're supposed to take seriously.

Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation (1962)

When a banker (James Stewart) suggests to his wife (Maureen O'Hara) that they take a vacation, he didn't expect that she would include all the children including the adult children and grandkids! The family reunion gets off a bad start when their rented beach house looks like something out of Edgar Allan Poe! Based on the novel MR. HOBBS' VACATION by Edward Streeter (FATHER OF THE BRIDE) and directed by Henry Koster (THE ROBE). This film is not unlike those family friendly live action comedies Disney was churning out in the 1960s with Fred MacMurray as the put upon dad. This time it's 20th Century Fox and James Stewart as the dad. It's a painless sit but I've always preferred the dark James Stewart of the Anthony Mann westerns and Hitchcock films to the "oh gosh" Stewart of the Capra films and his comedies. This one has only one truly funny sequence when Stewart gets locked in the bathroom while Marie Wilson (as a house guest) is taking a shower. Other than that, it may as well be a TV sitcom. The Henry Mancini score helps a bit. With Fabian, John Saxon, Natalie Trundy, Lauri Peters, Reginald Gardiner, Michael Burns and Lili Gentle.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Die Unsichtbaren Krallen Des Dr. Mabuse (aka The Invisible Dr. Mabuse) (1962)

After his colleague (Alain Dijon) is murdered, an FBI agent (Lex Barker) attempts to track down his killer. His only clue is a dancer (Karin Dor) in a Grand Guignol stage production that his colleague was attending the night of his murder. Directed by Harald Reinl, this was one of five Dr. Mabuse films in the 1960s that followed Fritz Lang's return to the Mabuse films with THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR. MABUSE in 1960. This is rather silly fun, actually. Nothing to be taken seriously but the kind of B programmer they don't make anymore. It has the feeling of a chapter in a Saturday matinee serial that ends on a cliffhanger that you have to return next week to see the next installment. Dr. Mabuse seems impossible to kill off and he keeps returning. If you go in expecting something intelligent and artfully made, you'll be sorely disappointed but you probably already know if you're in the demographic for something like this. With Werner Peters and Wolfgang Preiss.

King Kong (1933)

A film maker (Robert Armstrong) takes a young woman (Fay Wray) who's fallen on hard times under his wing and plans to use her in his new film. But the circumstances of this film and the unknown destination somewhere in unchartered territory are kept shrouded in secrecy. It is only when they arrive at their destination Skull Island that the enormity of their adventure is unveiled. Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. I've never been as enamored of this beloved classic fantasy/horror film as most people. Which doesn't mean I don't like it (I actually prefer the 1976 remake for several reasons), just that I can't get as involved in it as others although I can see what others see in it. There's no denying the power of its mythic creation and the film is a landmark film in many ways. The stop motion animation work by Willis O'Brien is as amazing today as it was back then. What struck me this go round was how incredibly violent it was for a 1933 film, I mean it's brutal! One can't really be afraid of Kong, he's an innocent primitive really as he drags his human doll (Wray literally cinema's first scream queen, what a pair of lungs) around. The underscore by Max Steiner is the first truly great original film score written for cinema. With Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher and Victor Wong. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Starlift (1951)

Set during the Korean War, two Air Force pilots (Ron Hagerthy, Dick Wesson) talk their way into meeting a Hollywood actress (Janice Rule) by pretending they're shipping out to the Korean front when they are really only flying to Honolulu. Things really get out of hand when the newspapers whip up a fictitious romance between the actress and one of the pilots (Hagerthy). Directed by Roy Del Ruth, the plot is is just a thin excuse to line up a bevy of Warners contract stars playing themselves and have most of them perform in musical numbers. Doris Day and Gordon MacRae sing together and apart, Gary Cooper and Frank Lovejoy do a comedy sketch, Randolph Scott does emcee duties, Virginia Mayo does a tropical dance, James Cagney does a Cagney imitation, Jane Wyman sings, Phil Harris gambles and Ruth Roman plays matchmaker. Most of it is fun but we still have to sit through a painfully unfunny sketch with Tommy Noonan and Peter Marshall and Dick Wesson is just plain irritating instead of funny. It's the kind of movie you watch to see all the movie star cameos rather than the threadbare plot. The Leroy Prinz choreography is very good. With Patrice Wymore, Gene Nelson, Virginia Gibson, Louella Parsons, Eleanor Audley and Hayden Rorke.       

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Pajama Party (1964)

A teenage Martian (Tommy Kirk) is sent to Earth to prepare for a Martian invasion in the next 48 hours. But when he falls in love with an Earthling (Annette Funicello), he decides that life on Earth isn't too bad. Directed by Don Weis (LOOKING FOR LOVE), this was the fourth entry in the American International BEACH PARTY franchise. How does one critique these mindless BEACH PARTY concoctions? They're silly and dumb but there's an innocent charm to them but outside of those who were there in the 1960s for whom there is the nostalgia factor, it might prove slow going. The songs are unmemorable but the David Winters (WEST SIDE STORY) choreography is lively but one would have to work awfully hard to dislike it. Which doesn't mean it's good, like the rest of the franchise, it just is. Buster Keaton's Indian stereotype is hopelessly politically incorrect but hey, it was made in 1964! The supporting cast is all over the place: Dorothy Lamour, Elsa Lanchester, Don Rickles, Frankie Avalon, Teri Garr, Harvey Lembeck, Donna Loren, Toni Basil, Jesse White and even Dorothy Kilgallen (WHAT'S MY LINE?) gets tossed in (literally). 

Greta (2019)

A young woman (Chloe Grace Moretz) working as a waitress in Manhattan discovers a handbag on the subway. When she returns it to its owner (Isabelle Huppert), the older woman takes a liking to her and to the young girl, the older woman is a mother figure. But it isn't long before she discovers the woman is bat shit crazy! Directed by Neil Jordan (THE CRYING GAME), this is a bungled mess. It starts off well even though it's derivative of other genre films that came before it like WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, FATAL ATTRACTION to name just three. But it doesn't take long for it to go flying off the rails. I can see what might have attracted an actress of Huppert's stature to the material. It's the kind of juicy role actresses love to sink their teeth into but the screenplay is a dud. It all feels recycled and though both of the lead actresses try resuscitation, the film is DOA. The film can't seem to make up its mind whether it wants to be a serious thriller or kitschy slice of camp and therefore ends up neither fish or fowl. With Maika Monroe (bland), Stephen Rea and Colm Feore.

Mrs. Capper's Birthday (1985)

A cleaning woman (Patricia Hayes) wakes up on the morning of her birthday and deals with the adultery of her employers (Kathryn Pogson, Nicholas Gecks), her snobby landlady (Avis Bunnage), an aged Lothario (Max Wall) and her daughter Paula (Wilcox) and son in law's (Gary Waldhorn) troubled marriage. Based on a short story by Noel Coward and directed by Mike Ockrent. This is a rather sweet telefilm which features a lovely performance by Patricia Hayes. It's ever so slight and not much of a plot but as a character piece, it's perfect. It's nice to see a film about a senior citizen that isn't about dying or stereotyping the aged or using them for cheap laughs at their expense. Rather it's about surviving and appreciating your little corner of the world as you watch the merry-go-round of the players that surround you. With Hugh Laurie and Paddie O'Neil.  

The Glenn Miller Story (1954)

The story of band leader Glenn Miller (James Stewart) starting in 1929 and his struggle to form his own band with his own sound to the 1940s when he was the best selling recording artist in the U.S. and his premature death in 1944. Directed by Anthony Mann (WINCHESTER 73), this was the fifth of the eight films he made with James Stewart. It's a generic by the number cornball biopic (struggling, success, sad ending) with none of the strengths of their western collaborations. Unless you're a fan of Miller's big band sound, this will be tough going. But if you are a fan, then it should be tolerable because the movie is crammed with his glorious music, just about all his hits. Certainly don't watch it expecting a serious cinematic biography of Miller as I doubt there's much accuracy in the telling. 1954 audiences ate it up and it was a huge box office hit. The mawkish ending is redeemed by some good acting by June Allyson as Miller's wife (nobody does holding back the tears like Allyson). With Charles Drake, Henry Morgan, Frances Langford (whose Chattanooga Choo Choo is a highlight), George Tobias, Louis Armstrong, Sig Ruman and Katherine Warren.  

Friday, March 1, 2019

Elvis Has Left The Building (2004)

A traveling cosmetics saleswoman (Kim Basinger) accidentally sets an Elvis impersonator (Richard Kind) on fire and he is burned to death. But that's only the beginning as she inadvertently leaves a trail of dead Elvis impersonators in her wake. Two FBI agents (Mike Starr, Phill Lewis) are on the case trying to track down the Elvis impersonator serial killer! Directed by Joel Zwick (MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING), this black comedy has a marvelous premise. Who doesn't want the Earth rid of the scourge of Elvis impersonators? But this is a botched opportunity. It's not the game cast who all work overtime at giving it their damnedest. I'm not even sure if it's the uneven script. I'm laying the blame right at the feet of Joel Zwick's lackluster direction and who can't seem to get a rhythm going and his pacing is way off. This should have been a frantic farce along the lines of IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD or THE RUSSIAN ARE COMING. Still, it's hard to begrudge a film with such an outrageous premise. The large supporting cast includes Tom Hanks, Angie Dickinson, John Corbett, Annie Potts, Sean Astin, Denise Richards, Wayne Newton, Pat Morita and Billy Ray Cyrus.