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Saturday, August 31, 2019

That Uncertain Feeling (1941)

A Park Avenue socialite (Merle Oberon) feels ignored by her husband (Melvyn Douglas). When she meets a neurotic musician (Burgess Meredith) in her psychoanalyst's (Alan Mowbray) office, she finds herself attracted to him as he offers an alternative to the rut her marriage is in. Based on the 1880 play DIVORCONS by Victorien Sardou and Emile De Najac and directed by Ernest Lubitsch (NINOTCHKA). Lubitsch had previously used the same source material for his 1925 silent film KISS ME AGAIN. Perhaps the film might have worked better as a pre-code film and its theme of mixed partners and adultery allowed to be more daring. It's not a bad film and if a name other than Lubitsch were attached to it, it might be considered a pleasant diversion. But it is a Lubitsch film and the sparkle and wit just isn't there. Oberon is lovely but comedy is not her forte and even a Rosalind Russell or Carole Lombard would be let down by the script. With Eve Arden, Sig Ruman, Harry Davenport and Olive Blakeney. 

After The Wedding (2019)

The co-founder (Michelle Williams) of an orphanage in India, which is in dire need of funds, travels to New York to meet with the wealthy CEO (Julianne Moore) of a major company with the hopes she will make a sizable donation to the orphanage. While the benefactor won't commit right away, she invites the visitor to be a guest at her daughter's wedding. It is there that she meets the woman's husband (Billy Crudup) whom she had known in her youth and with whom she shares a dark secret. A remake of the 2006 Oscar nominated Danish film which was nominated for a foreign language film Oscar and directed by Bart Freundlich. The film makes a gender switch for the three leads. In the Danish films, the Moore and Williams roles were male and the Crudup role was female. I haven't seen the Danish original but despite some good acting, this film seems contrived and overly convoluted. It's so obvious where the movie is going and I was hoping I was wrong but it goes exactly where you think it's going. Normally, I have zero problems with downer movies but this one can't seem to find a heartbeat. Crudup is fine but he can't match the dynamic duo of Williams and Moore. With Abby Quinn and Will Chase.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Water (1985)

A sleepy island in the Caribbean under British rule becomes a hotbed of political and economic chaos when a unique and flavorful mineral water is discovered underneath the surface of the island. Suddenly an island no one cared about is thrust into the world view. Directed by Dick Clement (A SEVERED HEAD), this satire on colonialism, capitalism and revolutions is a mixed bag. Much of it is unfunny and there are a couple of awful performances. Specifically, Brenda Vaccaro as a hotheaded and oversexed Guatemalan wife whose accent is godawful and the irritating Billy Connolly as a biracial revolutionary (his Scottish accent is never explained). But the film's aims are well intentioned and the movie slowly (very slowly) wins you over in spite of all its major shortcomings. The gorgeous island of St. Lucia is lovingly photographed by Douglas Slocombe (THE LION IN WINTER). The large ensemble cast includes Michael Caine as the island's governor, Valerie Perrine, George Harrison, Jimmie Walker, Leonard Rossiter, Dick Shawn, Fred Gwynne, Ringo Starr, Dennis Dugan, Eric Clapton and Maureen Lipman as Margaret Thatcher.    

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Psycho II (1983)

22 years after he was declared not guilty by reason of insanity in a series of murders, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is released from a mental institution as "cured". The sister (Vera Miles) of his last victim (Janet Leigh) objects to his release but to no avail. Returning to the Bates mansion and motel which was the scene of his crimes, he has a difficult time putting his past behind him. Directed by Richard Franklin (ROAD GAMES), this sequel to the Hitchcock classic is surprisingly good. While nowhere near the level of artistry of the iconic 1960 film, the film smartly goes in a different direction. There's a poignancy to it and one almost feels an empathy for poor Norman as we're never quite sure if he's being driven mad or if he was never cured in the first place. Jerry Goldsmith's excellent score sets the tone as his main title theme is melancholy as opposed to Bernard Herrmann's racing strings theme. Vera Miles returning as Lila Crane (now Loomis) gives an aggressive performance in an interesting contrast to her more subdued performance in the 1960 movie. It's more grisly than PSYCHO. The slasher film (FRIDAY THE 13TH had come out 3 years earlier) was now a staple at cinemas so the film makers upped the ante. But it's a well made and intelligent film. I think Hitchcock would have approved. With Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz (the film's only sour note) and Claudia Bryar.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Ugly American (1963)

The new U.S. Ambassador (Marlon Brando) to Sarkhan (a fictional Southeast Asian country) is a longtime friend to a Sarkhanese revolutionary (Eiji Okada, HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR) who fears U.S. intervention that would make his country a puppet for U.S. interests. Based on the novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer and directed by George Englund. An overtly political film about U.S. interference in Southeast Asia was a rarity in 1963. The few films dealing with the subject usually made Americans the heroes and the communists the bad guys. Although Okada's revolutionary is duped by the communists, the onus falls the indifferent "ugly" Americans who don't even attempt to understand the country and its people that they are trying to "help". This indifference and naivete contributes to the disastrous tragedy that befalls everyone. It's not one of Brando's best performances but he's decent. The film is prescient in its look at U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Curiously, the film received unexceptional reviews and its political message dismissed when it was originally released. It's one of those films posterity has been kind to. The effective underscore is by Frank Skinner (WRITTEN ON THE WIND). With Arthur Hill, Pat Hingle, Sandra Church, Jocelyn Brando, Reiko Sato and Carl Benton Reid. 

Madchenjahre Einer Konigin (aka Victoria In Dover) (1954)

After she discovers that she expected to marry and that three royal suitors have been invited to her birthday celebration, the young Queen Victoria (Romy Schneider) flees London with the intention of going to Paris. However, a severe thunderstorm causes her and her companion (Magda Schneider) and driver (Rudolf Vogel) to seek shelter at a small inn on the way. It is there that she meets a handsome young German (Adrian Hoven) and falls in love. Based on the 1932 play by Sil Vara (previously made into a film in 1936) and directed by Ernst Marischka. Just 16 years old and in only her third film, Romy Schneider's breakout role would come the following years in SISSI which made her a popular star in Germany (her international stardom wouldn't come until the 1960s). But MADCHENJAHRE EINER KONIGIN contains much of what would make her a star in SISSI. In both films, she plays naive young girls thrust into the world of royal restraint and expectations. Though historically it's nonsense, it makes for a lovely almost fairy tale like romance. So much so, that I didn't mind its predictability at all. With Karl Ludwig Diehl and Christi Mardayn.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

With Six You Get Eggroll (1968)

A widow (Doris Day) with three sons (John Findlater, Richard Steele, Jimmy Bracken) and a widower (Brian Keith) with a daughter (Barbara Hershey) fall in love. But their children have a hard time adjusting to the idea of combining households much less adjusting to a new "parent". Directed by Howard Morris, this was Day's final feature film before going into television. Perhaps not so ironically, the G rated movie plays out like an extended TV sitcom. It came out the same year as a similar film about combined families, YOURS MINE AND OURS but this one is actually better. While not on the level of her chemistry with Rock Hudson or James Garner, Day and Keith work very well off each other. But the dynamics of tension between a combined household gives way to utter nonsense in the film's last 15 minutes what with stoned hippies, car crashes and Keith falling out of a moving camper in his boxer shorts and a teddy bear. And whoever thought Doris Day and George Carlin would end up in a movie together? With Pat Carroll, Alice Ghostley, Elaine Devry and Vic Tayback.   

Monday, August 26, 2019

Mother Wore Tights (1947)

A young girl (Betty Grable) fresh out of high school is supposed to attend business college but she ends up in the chorus of a vaudeville show. The show's headliner (Dan Dailey) takes a shine to her and invites her to partner with him. Based on the novel by Miriam Young and directed by Walter Lang (THE KING AND I). While I love musicals, I'm not fond of Fox's period musicals usually starring Grable, Alice Faye or June Haver. This one starts off better than most but once Grable and Dailey get married and start a family, the film takes a nosedive into corn and sentimentality. The movie was a huge hit in 1947 and many consider it Grable's best film. She's appealing as ever but if the film belongs to anybody it belongs to Dailey. Still, what can you say about a film whose highlight is a performance by Senor Wences (a ventriloquist who uses his left hand as a talking puppet)? Anne Baxter does the narration and the rest of the cast includes Mona Freeman, Connie Marshall, Lee Patrick, Sara Allgood, Robert Arthur, Ruth Nelson, Sig Ruman and Lottie Stein. 

Peter Pan (1924)

A young boy (Betty Bronson), who refuses to grow up, returns to the children's bedroom of the Darling household where he lost his shadow. He suggests to the children, Wendy (Mary Brian), John (Jack Murphy) and Michael (Philippe De Lacy) that they accompany him to Never Never Land which they do. Based on the beloved classic by J.M. Barrie and directed by Herbert Brenon. This silent film follows Barrie's original narrative (based on his play) very closely. The film is quite charming and some of the visuals are imposing. Following in the tradition of the original 1904 stage production where Peter was played by a woman (Nina Boucicault), the androgynous (at least here) Betty Bronson plays Peter. There's an unintentional element of homoeroticism in the kissing scenes between Peter and Wendy because of this. Personally, I've never been a big fan of the idea behind Peter Pan. I find the idea of someone never wanting to grow up and remain a child forever kind of icky. That being said, this is an imaginative and often exciting version of the tale. With Ernest Torrence as Captain Hook, Anna May Wong as Tiger Lily, Virginia Brown Faire as Tinkerbell, Esther Ralston, Cyril Chadwick and stealing scenes as Nana the dog, George Ali.  

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Mudlark (1950)

A young street urchin (Andrew Ray) steals a cameo with the face of Queen Victoria (Irene Dunne) off a dead body. He has no idea who she is but he is fixated on her as a mother figure. When he hears she resides at Windsor Castle, he sneaks in in the hopes of seeing her in person. Based on the novel By Theodore Bonnet and directed by Jean Negulesco (THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN). This is a dull film that is supposed to be heartwarming (I think) but I found its title character annoying. A crude little thing reeking of body odor, who breaks into Windsor Castle, steals fruit and nonchalantly spits seeds all over the floor. Dunne isn't remotely believable as Queen Victoria. If that was an English accent she was using, it just sounded like an affected American. The rest of the cast is comprised of real Brits including Alec Guinness as her prime minister Disraeli in a quite ordinary performance. You'd never guess he was one of the world's great actors. With Finlay Currie as Mr. Brown, Anthony Steel, Constance Smith, Beatrice Campbell, Wildrid Hyde White and Patricia Hitchcock (Alfred's daughter). 

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Uncanny (1977)

In Montreal, a writer (Peter Cushing) with a paranoid fear of cats tries to convince his publisher (Ray Milland) to publish his book which espouses the theory that cats are supernatural creatures with Satanic leanings with the intent to control mankind. To this end, he tells three "true" stories: 1) after a maid (Susan Penhaligon) murders their mistress (Joan Greenwood), her cats attack the maid and trap her in the pantry and a waiting game begins. 2) an orphaned girl (Katrina Holden Bronson) is sent to live with her cat hating Aunt (Alexandra Stewart) and bratty cousin (Chloe Franks). 3) a horror film icon (Donald Pleasence) kills his wife and drowns her cat's kittens but Hell hath no fury like a mother cat! I've a fondness for these anthology horror film like TALES FROM THE CRYPT, ASYLUM etc. and this one presents three engrossing horror vignettes. The best of the three is the first one with a truly grisly finale. As a cat lover, I do find these ailurophobic horror films with "evil" cats a bit irritating (but usually their victims are bad people who deserve to die) but as a film lover, they're a great deal of fun. With Samantha Eggar, John Vernon, Roland Culver and Simon Williams.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Courage Fuyons (1979)

A man (Jean Rochefort) has been a coward since birth, a trait he has inherited from previous generations of his male lineage. He is married to a woman (Dominique Lavanant) who has decided his career path (pharmacist) and how many children they will have (2). But during the May 1968 student revolt in France, he suddenly decides to leave his life behind and pursue a blonde singer (Catherine Deneuve) to Amsterdam. Directed by Yves Robert (TALL BLONDE MAN WITH ONE BLACK SHOE). This rather listless romantic comedy was popular in France and Rochefort and Lavanant received Cesar nominations (France's Oscar equivalent) but was never released in the U.S. One can see why. Perhaps something was lost in the translation but I found it more tedious than amusing. Rochefort's character is unappealing. He's a worm who abandons his family then lies to Deneuve about who he is in order to hold her interest and we're supposed to be sympathetic to him? One has to suspend belief quite a bit to swallow that Deneuve would be interested in this loser at all! For Catherine Deneuve fans only. With Robert Webber, Michel Aumont and Philippe Leroy.

Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)

During the Civil War, a small Ozark border town on the state lines of Missouri (which is Union) and Arkansas (which is Confederate) declares neutrality. But when the renegade Quantrill (Brian Donlevy) and his trigger happy wife (Audrey Totter) ride into town, they ignite a fire that threatens to destroy that neutrality. Directed by Allan Dwan (SLIGHTLY SCARLET). A year before Nicholas Ray's great feminist western JOHNNY GUITAR, this female centric western tested the waters. It's the women who control the border town. Its mayor (Nina Varela) and her all female committee are a tough group who don't put up with any nonsense. But the center of the film and its title character is a newcomer (Joan Leslie), who grows from genteel lady to gunslinging saloon owner and becomes Totter's nemesis. They even have a gunfight that presages the Crawford/McCambridge gunfight in JOHNNY GUITAR. It's nowhere near as great as GUITAR but it's entertaining. But I had trouble figuring out how seriously I was supposed to take it as it almost seems a tongue in cheek parody of a male driven western. But its aims are modest and its quasi-feminist dynamics are titillating. With John Lund, Ben Cooper, Jim Davis, James Brown, Reed Hadley, Ann Savage, Richard Crane and Virginia Christine.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Black Hole (1979)

Returning to Earth, a spacecraft discovers a seemingly abandoned spaceship hovering near the edges of a black hole. Boarding the ship, they discover a survivor (Maximilian Schell) of a space expedition thought destroyed 20 years ago. But they soon find that the spaceship and its unhinged captain harbor a horrifying secret. Directed by Gary Nelson (FREAKY FRIDAY), the film is a riff on Jules Verne's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA but set in space with Schell standing in as Captain Nemo. Visually, the massive Cygnus (the name of the craft) is stunning and worthy of Verne. The storyline is simplistic (to put it mildly), scientifically inaccurate and the acting (except for Schell) marginal but the depth of its visuals are striking and it received Oscar nominations for its cinematography and visual effects. The actual entry into the black hole could never live up to anyone's expectations of what it might actually be like so the film makers use distinctive images (like the dead Schell and the robot he feared embracing like lovers) conjuring both Heaven and Hell accompanied by John Barry's darkly elegant score. With Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Forster, Roddy McDowall, Slim Pickens and Joseph Bottoms.  

Bedknobs And Broomsticks (1971)

Set in WWII England, an apprentice witch (Angela Lansbury) reluctantly takes in three orphan children (Ian Weighill, Roy Snart, Cindy O'Callaghan) displaced from London. The amateur witch plans on using her powers of sorcery to help defeat the Germans from invading England. Based on the novel THE MAGIC BEDKNOB by Mary Norton and directed by Robert Stevenson (MARY POPPINS). This is a thoroughly enchanting blend of fantasy and music (songs by Richard M. And Robert B. Sherman). While still family friendly, it still manages not to dumb it down beyond an adult's enjoyment. Perhaps best of all, the three child actors are wonderful. They seem like real kids as opposed to those usual phony "adorable" moppets that populate movies like these. This is the only film credit for the two boys (Weighill, Snart) and only O'Callaghan continued acting. The film was cut by some 20 minutes prior to its initial release but I watched the original version with the 20 minutes restored. The highlights of the film are the Portobello Road production number (a victim of the editing shears prior to release) and a hilarious animated soccer game with exotic animals. With David Tomlinson, Roddy McDowall, Sam Jaffe, John Ericson, Reginald Gardiner and Tessie O'Shea. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996)

In 15th century Paris, the minister of justice (Tony Jay) kills a Gypsy woman (Mary Kay Bergman) on the steps of the Notre Dame cathedral. He also attempts to kill the woman's deformed infant before he is stopped by the Notre Dame's Archdeacon (David Ogden Stiers). To atone for his sin, he agrees to raise the child as his own but confined to the towers of Notre Dame. The child is given the name Quasimodo and grows up to be the Notre Dame's bell ringer (Tom Hulce). Based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo and directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. This animated Disney musical doesn't get much love but I adore it. The songs are terrific and as good as anything you'll find on Broadway. The film is much darker than usual for a Disney animated film. Tony Jay's aria of repressed sexual longing sizzles with lust and horror. This being a Disney film however, there are singing and dancing stone gargoyles (Jason Alexander, Mary Wickes, Charles Kimbrough) and a cute goat for the kiddies. Also being Disney, we're given a more uplifting ending than the original novel (the 1939 adaptation did the same thing) but it's still a thrilling piece of animated musical cinema. With Demi Moore as Esmeralda (the only cast member whose singing voice is dubbed), Kevin Kline and Paul Kandel.

Witchcraft (1964)

A building developer (Jack Hedley) unknowingly overturns headstones and churns up hundreds of years old graves with a bulldozer. The graveyard belonged to a family whose matriarch (Yvette Rees) was buried alive as a witch and whose descendants still practice witchcraft. This desecration of the graves resurrects the ancient witch who seeks revenge on the family responsible for her death. Directed by Don Sharp (BRIDES OF FU MANCHU), this rather tame horror movie could have been written by a 12 year old based on the simplicity of its connecting the dots screenplay. It follows the path of almost every witchcraft movie ever made without any style or tension and definitely without any real sense of horror or dread. Even horror icon Lon Chaney Jr. as the head of a coven witches seems to be going through the motions. With Jill Dixon, Viola Keats, Marie Ney, David Weston, Diane Clare and Marianne Stone.  

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Luce (2019)

A young black student (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) has been raised by white parents (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth) who adopted him when he was 7 years old from a war torn African country. Excelling in academics and athletics, he's the poster boy for the American dream. But when his teacher (Octavia Spencer) brings something to the attention of his parents, it appears that everything is not as smooth as it seems. Directed by Julius Onah, this is an unsettling film. The kind where you get a queasy feeling in your gut at the beginning of the movie that this isn't going to turn out well and it doesn't. The film addresses major issues head on: maintaining a black identity when raised in a well meaning Caucasian household, holding the family unit together whatever the sacrifice, the manipulation of the truth and the destruction of others to save yourself. It's not an easy film to sit through and kudos to Harrison who gives a fierce performance, presenting a smiling face to the world while waiting to explode underneath. He's matched by Octavia Spencer (in what may be her best performance yet) as a woman trying to do the right thing against impossible odds. The film addresses the issues but smartly realizes that they are too complex to present a solution. With Andrea Bang, Marsha Stephanie Blake and Norbert Leo Butz. 

Tonight At 8:30 (1991)

Eight plays by Noel Coward ranging from dramas (THE ASTONISHED HEART), comedies (HANDS ACROSS THE SEA) to musical (RED PEPPERS). In the theatre, the plays were presented in rotation with three of the original ten plays performed each evening. This production just uses eight of the ten plays. It's a vehicle that serves as a showcase for Joan Collins who is the only actor in every play while a repertory of actors fill out the various roles for the other playlets. The production allows Collins a variety of roles rather than the usual glamour parts she plays. She plays spinsters (FAMILY ALBUM), aging shop owners (STILL LIFE) and shrews (FUMED OAK) as well as glam parts (SHADOW PLAY). The quality of the plays vary. Some are quite witty while others don't hold up well with mores that go against the grain in contemporary society. Other cast members include Anthony Newley, Sian Phillips, Jane Asher, Miriam Margolyes, Denis Quilley, Tony Slattery, Moyra Fraser and John  Standing.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Fragment Of Fear (1970)

A recovering ex-drug addict (David Hemmings) is in Italy with his Aunt (Flora Robson), a kind and charitable woman who is part of an organization to rehabilitate young criminals and give them a second chance in society. When she turns up strangled in the ruins of Pompeii, the Italian police don't seem overly concerned so he takes the matter into his own hands to find out who killed her. But someone or some people don't want him sticking his nose into her past. Based on the novel by John Bingham and directed by Richard C. Sarafian (THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING). This stylish thriller is all about technique rather than structure. It begins like a typical thriller but soon descends into a paranoid "is this real or is he bonkers" scenario. I didn't find the outcome satisfactory but I appreciated the journey to get there. I could have done without the jazzy underscore by Johnny Harris which doesn't give us any tension which the film could have used. With Gayle Hunnicutt, Daniel Massey, Mona Washbourne, Wilfrid Hyde White, Adolfo Celi, Roland Culver, Yootha Joyce and Patricia Hayes.   

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Silver Whip (1953)

An inexperienced youth (Robert Wagner) is hired to drive a stagecoach but he's accompanied by a more experienced driver (Dale Robertson) for his first trip. When a group of bandits hold up the stage for the gold it is carrying, the boy does everything wrong which results in the death of two passengers (Lola Albright, Burt Mustin) and the loss of the gold. Based on the novel FIRST BLOOD by Jack Scahefer and directed by Harmon Jones (GORILLA AT LARGE). This minor western programmer is a decent entry with solid performances and a tight script. In a sense, it's a coming of age western with Wagner's callow youth entering into manhood the hard way by redeeming himself after his disastrous first attempt at a grown man's job. The distinctive B&W lensing by Lloyd Ahern (MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET) takes full advantage of the scenic Sonora locations but while I can understand the decision to shoot in B&W to keep the focus on the drama, it would have looked glorious in Technicolor. Unfortunately, there's no original score, just stock music cues and the film could have benefited from a good underscore. With Rory Calhoun, Kathleen Crowley and James Millican.   

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)

After they break up, a man (Jim Carrey) discovers that his ex-girlfriend (Kate Winslet) has had a medical procedure that has erased the memory of their relationship from her mind. In desperation, he decides to undergo the same procedure but during the process, he changes his mind. But he's unconscious, so how can he prevent it. Directed by Michel Gondry, this unique blend of romance and science fiction is intelligent and complicated thanks to Charlie Kaufman's Oscar winning screenplay. There's never been anything quite like it. It's as romantic as any romcom but it skips over the cliches and never falls into the sentimental trap that is often inherent in the genre. The acting is very good with Carrey giving what might be a career best performance. The dream like cinematography by Ellen Kuras (SUMMER OF SAM) is amazing and there's a sensational underscore by Jon Brion (MAGNOLIA). With Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood and Jane Adams.  

The House Of The Seven Gables (1940)

The sudden death of the family patriarch (Gilbert Emery) provides the opportunity for a devious son (George Sanders) to accuse his brother (Vincent Price) of murdering his father in order to inherit the family fortune after his brother is sent to prison. Based on the 1851 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne and directed by Joe May (THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS). While the screenplay is altered from Hawthorne's novel in many ways (the brother and sister of the novel are now lovers and a leftist political tone is added), it is faithful in spirit to Hawthorne's book. While purists may object, I found this version a solid Gothic revenge thriller. Although the intimidating presence of Sanders and Price add weight to the film, the stand out performance comes from Margaret Lindsay. A workhorse at Warners during the 1930s (usually cast as the other woman), her performance from young ingenue in love to a lonely aging woman is good enough to suggest that Warners didn't take full advantage of her talents. With Dick Foran, Nan Grey, Cecil Kellaway and Alan Napier.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Critical Care (1997)

An overworked intern (James Spader) thinks with his penis rather than his head when he is seduced by the daughter (Kyra Sedgwick) of a comatose patient. Soon, he finds himself caught in a lawsuit between her and her older sister (Margo Martindale) over keeping the patient alive and his medical career is on the line. Based on the novel by Richard Dooling and directed by Sidney Lumet. Lumet directed NETWORK and it's no coincidence that the movie tries to do with the medical system what it did to television in NETWORK. Fortunately, the film isn't as strident as NETWORK since Paddy Chayefsky didn't write this but Lumet's direction is still heavy handed. A film on the corruption of the medical system as it becomes more concerned with making substantial profits than helping the sick would be most welcome. Alas, this isn't it. The film's "satire" attempts to be biting but it just ends up hitting you over the head. We have fantasy sequences with Wallace Shawn as Satan and Anne Bancroft as an angel and worst of all, a 40ish Albert Brooks playing a senile old geezer (what they couldn't have hired a 70-ish actor?). A huge misfire. With Helen Mirren, Jeffrey Wright, Edward Herrmann, Philip Bosco and Colm Feore. 

Teresa (1951)

An immature mama's boy (John Ericson) goes away from home for the first time when he serves in WWII. While serving in Italy, he falls in love with an Italian girl (Pier Angeli) and marries her. But when the war is over and he's back home with his controlling mother (Patricia Collinge, THE LITTLE FOXES), he finds he's ill equipped to be a husband. Directed by Fred Zinnemann (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY), I found it hard to empathize with Ericson's protagonist. The film places the blame for his problems squarely on his mother's shoulders but I think the screenplay is being unfair to her. Sure, she's every wife's nightmare for a mother in law but her wimpy son needs to get a pair of balls! In her American film debut, the lovely Pier Angeli positively blooms on the screen. You can see why she quickly became one of MGM's most popular young stars during the 1950s and if there's a reason to see this film, it's her! With Rod Steiger, Ralph Meeker, Peggy Ann Garner, Edward Binns, Edith Atwater and Franco Interlenghi (De Sica's SHOESHINE).

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Midas Run (1969)

A British secret service agent (Fred Astaire) is near retirement. But before he leaves the service, he devises an elaborate heist of 15 million in gold. For this, he recruits two accomplices: an American writer (Richard Crenna) and a beautiful woman (Anne Heywood). Directed by Alf Kjellin, this is a rather dreary example of the international heist caper which was quite popular in the 1960s (THE ITALIAN JOB, BIGGEST BUNDLE OF THEM ALL, TOPKAPI etc.). Putting aside the fact that Astaire doesn't come across as remotely British (he doesn't even attempt an accent), there's very little glamour or excitement. The Italian locations (particularly Venice) are striking but that's about it. There's a particularly ghastly sex scene between Crenna and Heywood with lush music courtesy of Elmer Bernstein superimposed with images of ocean waves and red flowers as Heywood has an orgasm. Heywood gained quite a bit of notoriety with a sex scene in THE FOX the previous year so I suppose the film makers thought it was de rigeur. I had a particular problem with the double crossing of some of the other accomplices in the robbery who were doing their stealing in good faith. With Ralph Richardson, Roddy McDowall, Adolfo Celi and Jacques Sernas.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Kitchen (2019)

In 1978 Hell's Kitchen (a neighborhood in midtown Manhattan), three powerful members of the Irish mob are arrested by FBI agents. Although the mob promises to take care of their wives while their husbands are in jail, the money provided is insufficient. They decide to take matters into their own hands. Based on a comic book series (or is it graphic novel?) and directed by Andrea Berloff. This film is remarkably similar to last year's WIDOWS but not as good. Still, considering the horrible reviews it has received, I was surprised at how entertaining it was. Which doesn't mean it's a good movie, just an enjoyable watch. The film's three leads (Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss) are at their career peaks and probably can have their pick of roles right now. Why they chose this second hand feminist manifesto about women taking power is anybody's guess though I suppose it might have looked great on paper. The actresses acquit themselves admirably and there's a nice turn by Margo Martindale as bitch of a "Godmother" who runs the Irish mob. It's not a must see but if you go in with lowered expectations, you just might be pleasantly surprised. With Domhnall Gleeson, Brian D'Arcy James, James Badge Dale, Annabella Sciorra (nice to see her back) and Common.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Mr. Moto's Gamble (1938)

During a prizefight, a boxer (Russ Clark) is knocked out by his opponent (Dick Baldwin). But when it's discovered that it wasn't a simple knockout but murder when the boxer dies from poison on his rival's boxing glove, the champion is arrested and charged with homicide. Enter the celebrated sleuth Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre) to solve the case! Directed by James Tinling, this was originally supposed to be a Charlie Chan mystery but when Warner Oland became ill and unable to do the film, it was switched at the last minute as a Mr. Moto mystery. The film still has Keye Luke as Chan's son who attempts to assist Moto on the case in the same comedic way he assisted his father in the Chan franchise. I could have done without the comedy relief of Maxie Rosenbloom as a kleptomaniac which isn't funny and just pads out the film. It's one of the weaker entries in the Moto series which I enjoy. The boxing milieu is a tiresome cliche and the mystery really isn't all that interesting and the method of the murder is far fetched. With Lynn Bari, Lon Chaney Jr., Ward Bond, Douglas Fowley, John Hamilton and Jayne Regan.

Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975)

In 1900 Australia, a group of schoolgirls and two of their schoolmistresses go on a picnic to a secluded place called Hanging Rock on Valentine's Day. Three of the schoolgirls and one of the schoolmistresses disappear and the mystery of what happened to them and the search for them comprise the bulk of the film. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay and directed by Peter Weir (DEAD POETS SOCIETY). When it opened in the U.S., it was a critical success although audiences were hostile that the film's mystery was never solved. It's a beauty of a complex mystery with supernatural trimmings and stunning imagery shot by Russell Boyd (STARSTRUCK). Weir does a remarkable job of conjuring up an unsettling atmosphere and giving Hanging Rock an ominous yet sensual milieu. One can feel the enigma of the setting yet feel the pull of the place. We understand what compels the girls to venture where they shouldn't. Truly, a film that can be accurately described as haunting. With Rachel Roberts, Helen Morse, Jacki Weaver, Anne Louise Lambert, Dominic Guard, John Jarratt and Margaret Nelson. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Man From Laramie (1955)

A man (James Stewart) delivers a wagon load of supplies to the proprietor (Cathy O'Donnell) of a general store in an isolated town. But he has an ulterior motive ... to find the man who's been selling repeating rifles to the Apaches. Based on a serial by Thomas T. Flynn that was published in the Saturday Evening Post and directed by Anthony Mann. As an actor, Stewart almost always did his finest work in the five westerns he did with Mann and this was their final western collaboration. Stewart is excellent here but the film's strongest point of interest is the relationship between a land baron (Donald Crisp) with a mean spirited weakling son (Alex Nicol) and his foreman (Arthur Kennedy) who loves the old man and views him as a father figure and the near operatic tragedy that unfolds. Beautifully shot in CinemaScope by Charles Lang (CHARADE) who takes full advantage of the New Mexico landscapes. Even if you're not into westerns, this remains a riveting drama. With Aline MacMahon, Wallace Ford, Jack Elam and Frank DeKova.

Le Scandale (aka The Champagne Murders) (1967)

Taking a prostitute to a park, a man (Maurice Ronet) is brutally attacked by unknown assailants causing severe head injuries and the prostitute is strangled. After shock treatment therapy in an institution, he is released. But he begins having blackouts and waking up to find his female companions strangled. Is he a killer or is he himself a victim? Directed by Claude Chabrol (LE BOUCHER), this is one of several Hitchcockian thrillers directed by Chabrol who was a great admirer of Hitchcock. The viewer may think he knows in what direction Chabrol is going but he has several twists and turns which catch us off guard (at least, it did me). With Anthony Perkins, the star of Hitchcock's PSYCHO playing Ronet's best friend, the Hitchcock connection is solidified. It may be case of style over substance but what style! The film's "ending" is incomplete in that we really don't know how it ends but it's ambiguous enough that an alternate "explanation" is possible. There's an excellent score by Pierre Jansen. With Yvonne Furneaux, Stephane Audran, Henry Jones, Suzanne Lloyd (very good) and Christa Lang (Mrs. Sam Fuller).

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)

After being resurrected from his grave, the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) seeks out a gypsy (Maria Ouspenskaya) in the hopes she can help him end his eternal damnation. She suggests they visit Dr. Frankenstein but when they arrive in his village, they find out he's been long dead. But when the Wolf Man visits the ruins of Frankenstein's castle, he discovers Frankenstein's monstrous creation (Bela Lugosi) frozen in ice. Directed by Roy William Neill, this is a rather silly but enjoyable entry in the Universal monsters franchise. The meeting of Frankenstein and the Wolf Man is really rather innocuous and doesn't come until almost the film's halfway mark. The film's rushed ending is pretty spectacular however. There is a bizarre moment when the film suddenly turns into an operetta with the villagers in lederhosen and dirndls singing and dancing! The film is a great favorite among the Universal horror buffs but I thought it could have used a little more atmosphere. With Ilona Massey (top billed but she doesn't come in until the halfway mark), Patric Knowles, Lionel Atwill and Dennis Hoey. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Woman Between (1931)

A young man (Lester Vail) returns home after living in Europe and Africa for several years due to his estrangement from his father (O.P. Heggie) because of his disapproval of his father's remarriage. When he meets his father's second wife (Lili Damita), he is shocked to discover she is the woman he had a shipboard romance with on his voyage home. Directed by Victor Schertzinger (ROAD TO SINGAPORE), this early pre-code talkie sets up a daring premise that is rife with possibilities then proceeds to let it drag around. Characters wring their hands and suffer so when you just want them to get on with it. Though not based on a play, the film feels like a stage adaptation but that might be due to the stagnant camera and talky nature of the movie. It's not very visual. The acting is rather primitive but it's in keeping with the ultra melodramatics of the situation. I don't mean to be too hard on it, there are some effective moments. Also in the cast: Anita Louise, Miriam Seegar and Ruth Weston.

Voodoo Island (1957)

A wealthy property developer (Owen Cunningham) has plans to build a luxury resort on a remote South Pacific island. But when three of his employees disappear while doing some scouting and a fourth (Glenn Dixon) returns as a zombie, he sends a small expedition for further investigation. Directed by Reginald Le Borg, this minor horror entry is a rather mundane affair. There's very little actual horror unless you're terrified of voodoo dolls and the zombies are of a benign nature. They don't do much other than just stare at you. The titular star is Boris Karloff who plays a hoax buster rather than a monster or villain. The film doesn't so much end as peter out. By far the most interesting character is the lesbian played by Jean Engstrom, who spends most of the movie trying to seduce Beverly Tyler or fending off Rhodes Reason's sexual advances. Of course, being a lesbian in a 1957 Hollywood movie means she has to die but not before taking a nude swim. The film was shot on the lush island of Kauai in Hawaii but unfortunately was shot in B&W. The movie could have benefited from some color. With Adam West, Elisha Cook Jr. and Murvyn Vye. 

Cross Creek (1983)

In 1928, a frustrated journalist (Mary Steenburgen) buys an orange grove in the Florida  bayou and moves there in the hopes that the new setting will allow her creativity to bloom and write a novel that can get published. Based on the memoir by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (THE YEARLING) and directed by Martin Ritt (HUD). As with most movie biographies, artistic license is taken and some of the situations in the film didn't actually happen. But it feels authentic (it helps that it was filmed near the area where the story actually took place) and there's an emotional and truthful core to it. Ritt and the screenwriter Dalene Young don't condescend to the film's rustic provincials. Steenburgen is wonderful but she receives first rate support from Rip Torn and Alfre Woodard (both Oscar nominated for their performances) who transcend their stereotypes. A lovely film. With Malcom McDowell, Peter Coyote, Dana Hill (SHOOT THE MOON), Joanna Miles and Jay O. Sanders.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

St. Ives (1998)

During the Napoleonic wars, a French soldier (Jean Marc Barr) is captured by the British and held prisoner in Scotland. By coincidence, it turns out he is the heir to St. Ives fortunes and estates upon his Uncle's (Michael Gough) death, the Uncle having fled to Scotland at the dawn of the French Revolution. Based on the unfinished novel ST. IVES: BEING THE ADVENTURES OF A FRENCH PRISONER IN ENGLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson and directed by Harry Hook. While Stevenson's novel was unfinished by him, it was later completed by Arthur Quiller Couch. This swashbuckler is disadvantaged by an infusion of too much comedy in the film. Not having read the source material, I have no idea whether the humor is in Stevenson's novel. So we have Richard E. Grant's inept Major for comedy relief and it's a poor fit. It would have played somewhat better if done "straight". Barr lacks the charisma and panache that a true swashbuckling hero requires. Two performances stand out: Miranda Richardson whose droll performance works within the context of the film's humor and Jason Isaacs as Barr's villainous brother. Visually, it looks quite lush with location filming in Ireland, France and Germany. With Anna Friels and Vernon Dobtcheff.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Half Breed (1916)

The illegitimate son of a white man (Sam De Grasse) who abandoned his Indian mother, a "half breed" (Douglas Fairbanks) is ostracized by white society because of his race. Directed by the prolific Allan Dwan (SLIGHTLY SCARLET), this is a rather daring (for its day) look at racism toward Native Americans by the Caucasian citizens of a Northern California town. The film exposes the hypocrisy of supposed do gooder Christians like the pastor (Frank Brownlee) who preaches tolerance while aghast when his daughter (Jewel Carmen) shows a possible romantic interest in an Indian. The daughter is no better as she teases the bi-racial protagonist with their "forbidden" relationship in secret while having no real romantic intentions toward him. The film's other woman, a fiery Mexican (Alma Rubens) doesn't take crap from any man is a much worthier romantic interest than the coquettish kitten. By the film's end, the "half breed" and the Latina are still societal outcasts but have been shown to be morally superior to their exploitative Caucasian counterparts. With Tom Wilson and George Beranger.

Battement De Coeur (1940)

A young girl (Danielle Darrieux) who has run away from a reformatory gets herself involved with a Fagin like thief (Saturnin Fabre) who teaches young people the art of pickpocketing. She is caught during her first attempt and the victim (Andre Luguet) blackmails her into doing a theft for him. Directed by Henri Decoin, this lightweight romantic comedy benefits from an appealing performance by Darrieux in the leading role. The movie is a piece of fluff and its rather silly plot serves as an amiable way of passing the time. It's an airy French pastry that was badly remade as an over baked bagel by Hollywood in 1946 almost scene for scene as HEARTBEAT with Ginger Rogers in Darrieux's part. This one is the real deal. With Claude Dauphin, Junie Astor and Charles Dechamps.  

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Rage At Dawn (1955)

In 1866 Indiana, the Reno brothers (Forrest Tucker, J. Carrol Naish, Myron Healey) gang rob and terrorize the Southern Indiana territory where they are protected by a corrupt trio of lawmen and public officials (Edgar Buchanan, Ray Teal, Howard Petrie) who receive a portion of the Reno gang's takings. A detective agency sends a mole (Randolph Scott) to infiltrate the gang and get information that will lead to them being arrested. This is an unexceptional western although it has some impressive personnel behind the camera including director Tim Whelan (THE THIEF OF BAGDAD), cinematographer Ray Rennahan (GONE WITH THE WIND) and a screenplay by Horace McCoy (THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY?). Scott doesn't show up until 25 minutes into the film and it's under 90 minutes! The film's ending is surprisingly dark which took me by surprise. Western buffs should enjoy this but I don't know about anyone else. For myself, I was entertained. The next year (1956), there would be yet another film about the Reno brothers LOVE ME TENDER with Elvis Presley. With Mala Powers, Kenneth Tobey and Denver Pyle.

Devils Of Darkness (1965)

While on vacation in Brittany, a man (William Sylvester) witnesses a local ritual on All Souls Night when an old gypsy woman (Marie Burke) prophecies death and shortly after, two of his friends are dead. But it's more than just black magic, a satanic cult led by a 500 year old vampire (Hubert Noel) is behind it all and he's not finished with his evil doings yet. Directed by Lance Comfort, this British horror film didn't come from Hammer studios but it has all the earmarks of a Hammer production (including babes spilling out of their dresses). It's smart and doesn't dumb down until its rather silly finale. There is a sequence that's a hoot in its depiction of a swinging 60s decadent party. William Sylvester makes for a suitably somber hero but you need someone like that to ground all the supernatural nonsense flying about. Curiously the film has four veterans of Kubrick classics in the cast. In addition to Sylvester (2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY), there's Tracy Reed (DR. STRANGELOVE) plus Diana Decker and Marianne Stone from LOLITA. If you're into vampire movies, you should have some fun with this one. With Eddie Byrne, Rona Anderson and Peter Illing. 

A Little Night Music (1977)

Set in Vienna, an older lawyer (Len Cariou) has not yet consummated his marriage to his 18 year old wife (Lesley Anne Down), who is still a virgin. When his old flame, a well known actress (Elizabeth Taylor) arrives in town in a play, they briefly resume their affair. But this will lead to complications of farcical proportions. Based on the musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (by way of Bergman's SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT) and directed by Harold Prince. A dim recreation of the Broadway show, this was only Harold Prince's second and last film and one can see why. He may have been an icon in the musical theatre but he had no sense of cinema. The movie cries out for a Vincente Minnelli or a George Cukor. The film has a rich look to it thanks to the lensing of Arthur Ibbetson (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY), the art and set direction of Hertha Hareiter and Hans Ziegelwagner and the Oscar nominated costumes of Florence Klotz. But the film lacks wit and sparkle and Prince's direction is plodding. The casting is okay but again Prince can't seem to get them to give decent performances. Only Diana Rigg as the wife of Taylor's lover (Laurence Guittard) gives us a sense of how the film should have played out. A missed opportunity and perhaps one day, it will get a proper cinematic treatment. With Hermione Gingold, Lesley Dunlop, Christopher Guard and Chloe Franks.