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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Notte D'Estate Con Profilo Greco (aka Summer Night) (1986)

A wealthy tycoon (Mariangela Melato) is interested in ecological preservation as long as she can make a profit on it. But she's had enough of the terrorists who kidnap the rich for huge ransoms. To that end, she hires a former CIA agent (Roberto Herlitzka) to kidnap the most notorious of these terrorists (Michele Placido) and she turns the tables on him. Written and directed by Lina Wertmuller. Here, Wertmuller returns to familiar territory as she does a gender reversal on her most famous film, SWEPT AWAY but the end result is the same. Much of the dialogue (and it's a dialogue driven film) is amusing but the deja vu aspect prevents it from becoming something fresh or memorable. As she proved in SWEPT AWAY, Melato is a marvel at playing rich bitches but as the terrorist, Placido lacks the appeal of Giancarlo Gianni in the previous movie, not to mention lacking chemistry with Melato. The film is gorgeous looking with cinematographer Camillo Bazzoni making the most of the lush Sardinia location and Melato's mansion is a beauty! With Massimo Wertmuller and John Steiner.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Three Young Texans (1954)

When his gambler father (Harvey Stephens) falls in with a gang of thieves who plot to rob a train, his son (Jeffrey Hunter) singlehandedly robs the train before the gang can rob it. He intends to return the money but before he can, his best friend (Keefe Brasselle) finds the money and takes it. Directed by Henry Levin (JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH), this western is a routine programmer that's amiable enough but with nothing out of the ordinary to recommend it. It's fast moving which is good but it has a rushed feeling to it as if wanted to get it over with in a hurry. The three young Texans (Mitzi Gaynor is the third one) of the title behave behave rather stupidly I thought and with each irrational action get deeper into trouble. Inoffensive and forgettable, the most notable thing about it is Gaynor's anachronistic Italian bob cut. Tres chic but so out of place. With Michael Ansara, Morris Ankrum and Aaron Spelling.

Bad Education (2020)

Set in 2002, the superintendent (Hugh Jackman) and his assistant (Allison Janney) of an upper middle class school district are highly respected educators and pillars of the community. But they have a dirty little secret ..... they're embezzling millions of dollars from the school district. Based on a true story by way of a New York magazine article called THE BAD SUPERINTENDENT by Robert Kolker and directed by Cory Finley (THOROUGHBREDS). Most films based on true stories tend to be either too dry or too exaggerated but this one is, for the most part, riveting in the telling. I was hooked almost immediately. It's a fascinating and infuriating story. Finley keeps a tight rein on the narrative, letting it digress only when necessary but there's a rich vein of humor, too. The film's success is due in no small part to the performances of Jackman (who really kills it here) and Janney. How did two decent people who cared about education go flying off the tracks? Alas, the film doesn't answer that question but Jackman and Janney lets us see the mortals, not just the criminal scumbags. While the film's coda may be enraging (Jackman's character collects a $173,000 pension from the school district while in prison), the film is a terrific morality tale. With Ray Romano, Stephen Spinella and Geraldine Viswanathan as the high school reporter who broke the story.

Living On Velvet (1935)

After a plane crash which killed his parents and sister, the pilot (George Brent) descends into a reckless life where convention and authority have no place. When he meets a society woman (Kay Francis) and falls in love, she feels she can change him and put him on the right path. Directed by Frank Borzage (A FAREWELL TO ARMS), this is a limp noodle of a movie. Perhaps I'm mistaken but it seems the film wants us to find Brent's arrogant and irresponsible character adorable or lovable instead of the asshole he is. I like Kay Francis but I have little patience for masochistic wives who wring their hands waiting for their jerk husbands to change for the better. She went into the marriage with her eyes wide open, sorry no sympathy from me. Of course, rather than going into the darker direction that realistically the story is heading, everything is tied up in a trite if neat little ribbon by the movie's end. With Warren William, Helen Lowell and an adorable dachshund that gives the film's best performance.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Eva (1962)

 Set in Venice, a roughly hewn Welsh novelist (Stanley Baker) is attracted to a manipulative French femma fatale (Jeanne Moreau). But that attraction will destroy him as she humiliates him and robs him of his manhood. Based on the novel EVE by James Hadley Chase (NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH) and directed by Joseph Losey (ACCIDENT). What a history Losey's film has had. His original cut was 2 hours and 35 minutes but the movie's distributor cut it down to one hour and 49 minutes and in the process destroyed some of the film's negative which made it impossible to see the 2 hour and 35 minute cut Losey intended. Using footage found in Sweden and Finland, the film has been restored to a length of two hours and 7 minutes which represents the most complete cut of the film. It's a much more coherent film than the edited version (yes, I've seen it). At heart, the film is a variation of Prosper Merimee's CARMEN, a man destroyed by his obsession with a manipulative vixen. As an actress, Moreau had been down this road before with characters like Juliette in LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES and Catherine in JULES AND JIM. It's a difficult film to watch but it's superbly acted, not only by Moreau but by Baker in an atypical role. Seeing this rough and tumble Welshman humiliate himself is quite disconcerting. It's a compelling melodrama that is finally (or at least partially) seen the way it was meant to. The excellent underscore is by Michel Legrand (a lot of score was removed from the shorter versions). With Virna Lisi, James Villiers, Giorgio Albertazzi and Lisa Gastoni.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Tom Sawyer (1973)

A young orphaned boy (the charmless Johnny Whitaker) is being raised by his Aunt (Celeste Holm). But he's a wild child who plays hooky from school and hangs out with a drunk (Warren Oates) and the irresponsible Huckleberry Finn (Jeff East). A musical adaptation of the classic novel by Mark Twain and directed by Don Taylor (DAMIEN: OMEN II). I've never been a big fan of Twain's book so I suppose that was already a mark against it before I even watched it. Still, I love musicals so I was prepared to give it some slack. Alas, the songs by Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman (MARY POPPINS) are a dreary bunch, not a winner in the whole pack. It's not a Disney film but it has that wholesome family friendly Disney feel to it. But for a family musical there are some unsettling moments like Injun Joe's (Kunu Hank) cold blooded killing of the doctor (Richard Eastham) and the chase in the cave when Injun Joe pursues Tom and Becky Thatcher (Jodie Foster) that might give the little ones some nightmares! Outside of Warren Oates (who gives the best performance in the movie), the acting is negligible. With Henry Jones, Lucille Benson and Noah Keen.

Drifting (1923)

A young American woman (Priscilla Dean) is involved in the opium smuggling racket in Shanghai. She travels to a small village where the opium is created but she falls in love with a man (Matt Moore) who is intent on destroying the opium industry there. Based on the play by John Colton and directed by Tod Browning (DRACULA). I found the film to be just okay without much style or artistry. In the end, it comes across as just another morality play, "Opium is bad". Dean is an appealing actress but I found her character's shifts rather abrupt which lessened their believability. The film has a fiery finale but it was confusing especially in relation to Anna May Wong's (as an opium dealer's daughter) fate. Was she raped? Where did she get her wound? This is one silent movie that could have used an orchestral underscore instead of the anemic piano score that accompanied it. With Wallace Beery and J. Farrell MacDonald.  

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Road Show (1941)

When he realizes his fiancee (Polly Ann Young) is a gold digger on their wedding day, a wealthy playboy (John Hubbard) feigns insanity and is committed to a mental asylum. But he escapes with an eccentric businessman (Adolphe Menjou) and they join a traveling carnival headed by a beautiful blonde (Carole Landis). Based on the novel by Eric Hatch and directed by Hal Roach (ONE MILLION B.C.). Pretty much a stinker! The film is aiming for screwball comedy but it's a strident affair with everyone running around braying at each other. Even taking into account that the film was made in 1941, the racial stereotyping is disturbing (one gag involving blacks and watermelon will have your jaw dropping). Everyone seems to be pushing too hard and it's exhausting. There are a couple of tuneful songs by Hoagy Carmichael but it's not a musical though turning it into a musical might have alleviated some of the harshness. The cast includes Patsy Kelly, Florence Bates (the film could have used more of her), Charles Butterworth and Willie Best.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

No Name On The Bullet (1959)

A professional gunfighter and assassin for hire (Audie Murphy) arrives in a small western town. His reputation precedes him and the terrified town wonders who the person is that he's going to kill. But it seems a lot of the townspeople have secrets and suspect they might be the assassin's target. Tensions simmer as each person desperately tries to avoid the gunman's bullet. Directed by Jack Arnold (INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN), this is a nifty little western thriller. It has a short running time (one hour and 17 minutes) but it could have expanded the narrative even more. In a way, the movie is sort of a western PEYTON PLACE: a seemingly quiet little western town hiding the rot of its citizens. Perhaps not the most expressive of actors, Audie Murphy is wonderful here. His tight lipped mask coolly hiding his reasons for being in town while the townspeople whip themselves into hysteria. It's a unique western more concerned with the psychological underpinnings of its narrative than a traditional shoot 'em up. Its reputation has grown in the years since its release and I suspect will continue to grow in the decades to come. If you like westerns, you can't miss this one. With Joan Evans, Charles Drake, Virginia Grey, Warren Stevens, Edgar Stehli, Jerry Paris and R.G. Armstrong.  

The Ipcress File (1965)

It's the height of the Cold War and a reluctant secret agent (Michael Caine) is assigned to find the man (Frank Gatliff) considered responsible for the kidnapping of the country's leading scientists. They return but are brainwashed and useless. Based on the novel by Len Deighton and directed by Sidney J. Furie (LADY SINGS THE BLUES). Considered the antithesis of the international spy capers as personified by the Bond films. There are no exotic locales, no big action set pieces and the protagonist is a myopic spy who wears glasses and likes to cook gourmet meals! It's not even a colorful movie, the film's tones are dingy browns and greens. Yet the minutiae of the realistic daily life of a government agent is a refreshing contrast to the more glamorous spy thrillers. Even the film's nominal "femme fatale" as played by Sue Lloyd is a no nonsense career agent. This was Michael Caine's breakthrough role though some might give ALFIE that honor. He holds the screen like a true star and it was obvious this actor was the real thing. Two sequels followed (FUNERAL IN BERLIN, BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN) but this remains the best of the trio. With Nigel Green, Guy Doleman and Gordon Jackson.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Hairspray (2007)

Set in 1962 Baltimore, a heavyset teenager (Nikki Blonsky) doesn't let her weight get in the way of auditioning for the local bandstand TV dance show. When she gets on the show, her popularity soars but her commitment to getting the segregated show integrated gets her into hot water. Based on the Tony award winning Broadway musical which in turn was based on the 1988 John Waters film and choreographed and directed by Adam Shankman. Although perhaps not technically a musical (no one sang), the 1988 film had enough dance sequences to qualify so a Broadway musical version seemed an inevitability. I don't think it's fair to compare it to the 1988 film. To transition to a full blown musical, a lot of changes have to be made. Nobody compares the 1946 ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM to the 1956 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical (nor should they), so why compare the 1988 and 2007 films? The songs are tuneful, the choreography lively and the cast energetic. As the mother, John Travolta won't erase memories of the divine Divine but he does an ace job as the agoraphobic Edna. Musical highlights include the bouncy Welcome To The 60s, Queen Latifah's anthem I Know Where I've Been and the rousing You Can't Stop The Beat. A pure delight. With Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, James Marsden, Zac Efron, Amanda Bynes, Allison Janney, Elijah Kelly, Paul Dooley, Brittany Snow Jerry Stiller and Ricki Lake.

Black Christmas (1974)

It's a few days before Christmas and a sorority house is plagued by obscene phone calls. But it soon descends into terror when a madman goes on a killing spree. Directed by Bob Clark (MURDER BY DECREE), this is one of the earliest examples of the "slasher" film coming some four years before John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1978) and clearly an influence on WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. It's an efficient little horror movie whose premise of setting up a horror movie set during the Christmas season now seems somewhat inspired. Others have followed in its wake but none of them are as good. The film cleverly leads us to believe we know who the killer is but it's just a red herring and the ambiguous ending is a bit of tease. The film's initial reviews were decidedly mixed but the film has gone on to become a cult classic (reputedly it's one of Steve Martin's all time favorite movies). The performances are decent and in two cases, better than that: Margot Kidder as a foul mouthed sorority sister and Marian Waldman as the drunken housemother. With Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Andrea Martin and Art Hindle.  

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Madchen In Uniform (1931)

Set in a repressive all girls school in Germany, a motherless young girl (Hertha Thiele) develops a crush on one of her teachers (Dorothea Wieck) that will lead to a school scandal and a near tragedy. Based on the play GESTERN UND HEUTE by Christa Winsloe and directed by Leontine Sagan. A landmark film in gay friendly film making, the film is sympathetic to the young girl's emerging realization of her sexual orientation. The film was initially banned in the U.S. but Eleanor Roosevelt was a fan of the movie so it was released in a heavily edited version. Later declared a "decadent" film by the Nazis (no doubt because many of the cast and crew were Jewish) and they attempted to burn all existing copies of the film. It's not a great film but it touches on areas other than its lesbian angle, the unyielding rigidity of the Prussian education system and the bonding of young girls in an oppressive atmosphere. The similarity between the girls rebelling against an authoritarian system amidst the growing popularity of the Nazi party can't be overlooked. A sensitive piece of film making. With Emilia Unda, Ellen Schwanneke and Annemarie Von Rochhausen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Planet Of The Apes (1968)

Set in the year 3978, a U.S. spaceship crashes on a desolate planet with three survivors. After traveling across a desert, they come across some primitive humans but the biggest shock comes when they discover that the planet is dominated by primates and man is an inferior beast. Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (PATTON). Quite simply, this is one of greatest science fiction movies ever made! Clever and often witty (Rod Serling was one of the co-scripters), imaginative and exciting. A major portion of the film's success is John Chambers' innovative prosthetic make up which allows the actors playing apes to be expressive and give performances. Indeed, Kim Hunter as a chimpanzee psychologist gives her best screen performance after A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. Every once in awhile, an actor becomes so much a part of the film's fabric that you can't imagine anyone else in the part and so it is with Charlton Heston. Perfect casting! When he roars the film's most quoted line, "Take your filthy paws off me, you damn dirty ape!", you want to applaud. Other major contributions include Leon Shamroy's (LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN) pristine wide screen imagery and Jerry Goldsmith's serial underscore. It holds up beautifully. With Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly and Linda Harrison. 

Spione (aka Spies) (1928)

A respectable bank director (Rudolf Klein Rogge) is secretly a criminal mastermind and the head of a large spy organization. He assigns one of his beautiful agents (Gerda Maurus) to seduce a government agent (Willy Fritsch) in order to find out what he knows. But the mastermind finds his plans compromised when the two fall in love. Based on a novel by Thea Von Harbou and directed by Fritz Lang (METROPOLIS). Once again, Fritz Lang enters the criminal underworld of his Dr. Mabuse films with this fast paced espionage thriller. Even though it rushes along, it's still overlong at 2 1/2 hours and the plot is often confusing with several subplots, notably the Japanese security man (Lupu Pick) which take away from the main narrative. Lang's acute visual eye keeps surprising us with expressive imagery like an overhead shot of a boxing ring which morphs into a nightclub dance floor. The film plays out like a mixture of a conspiracy thriller and a James Bond movie! With Lien Deyers, Craighall Sherry, Fritz Rasp and Hertha Von Walther.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Seven Sinners (1940)

After she's been deported yet again from another South Pacific island, a notorious cabaret singer (Marlene Dietrich) finds romance with a young Navy Lieutenant (John Wayne) on her newest island. But the Navy frowns on their romance. Can their true love survive it? Directed by Tay Garnett (POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE), this potboiler is a pastiche of several other Dietrich vehicles, only this time set in the South Pacific instead of Morocco or the American West. Dietrich even dons a Navy officer's uniform to sing in instead of the man's tuxedo she sang in in MOROCCO. If you're a Dietrich fan, that should be enough to get you through the movie. She's actually quite appealing here (and I'm not a big Dietrich fan). I could have done without the big bar brawl near the end of the movie that seems to go on forever and which I found tiresome. I did like how they ended the movie in a way that I wasn't expecting. Not a happy ending but not a downer ending either. Remade in 1950 as SOUTH SEA SINNER with Shelley Winters in Dietrich's role. With Broderick Crawford, Oscar Homolka, Anna Lee, Mischa Auer, Albert Dekker and Billy Gilbert. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Lincoln (1988)

A look at the Abraham Lincoln (Sam Waterston) presidency from his inauguration in 1861 to his assassination in 1865. Based on the novel by Gore Vidal and directed by Lamont Johnson (CATTLE ANNIE AND LITTLE BRITCHES). Vidal's novel is historical fiction. While adhering to the facts of the Lincoln White House years, Vidal's novel looked at Lincoln from the eyes of other historical characters. Vidal didn't give us the usual "Honest Abe" freeing the slaves scenario but instead presents Lincoln as a calculating and savvy politician whose aim was to save the Union, not free the slaves. This three hour adaptation of Vidal's book stays close to that narrative. The novel was over 600 pages so some of the book's characters like John Wilkes Booth (Glenn Faigen) are barely in the telefilm. The film's battle scenes appear to be mostly stock footage from other Civil War movies which gives the movie a slightly cheesy look. Waterston is very good as Lincoln, even though we never quite get the strength and magnetism the man must have had. But it's Mary Tyler Moore who gives a tour de force performance as Mary Todd Lincoln. Struggling with mental illness yet intelligent enough to see through the pretense of Washington politics. With Richard Mulligan, John Houseman, Ruby Dee, Deborah Adair, John McMartin, Thomas Gibson, Jeffrey DeMunn and James Gammon.

Le Cave Se Rebiffe (1961)

A crooked second hand car dealer (Franck Villard) is having an affair with a woman (Martine Carol) whose unemployed husband (Maurice Biraud) is a skilled engraver. With two friends (Bernard Blier, Antoine Balpetre), he suggests using the engraver in a plan to print counterfeit money. But first, they'll need an experienced counterfeiter and they import a retired expert (Jean Gabin) living in South America. Based on the novel by Albert Simonin and directed by Gilles Grangier. This delightful crime caper may not seem as fresh as it probably did in 1961 but it still has enough charm to captivate the viewer. Its "twist" ending has been used and reused so often in crime movies since then (and even before) that it's no longer a surprise but obvious. But none of this gets in the way of the film's clever screenplay and the excellent performances. With Francoise Rosay, Ginette Leclerc, Jacques Marin and Clara Gansard. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Neither The Sea Nor The Sand (1972)

While vacationing on the Isle Of Jersey, an unhappily married woman (Susan Hampshire) meets a lighthouse keeper (Michael Petrovitch) and they fall in love. She doesn't return home to her husband but moves in with her lover. But when he dies suddenly, she is devastated ..... until he returns to her. Based on the novel by Gordon Honeycombe (who adapted his book for the screen) and directed by Paul Burnley. If ever a movie screamed out for a remake, this is it! The premise is fascinating but the execution of it is awkward and a major casting error spoils any possibility of success. This is a tale where the passion between the two lovers is paramount. We need an intense WUTHERING HEIGHTS kind of romance. But there's zero chemistry between Hampshire and Petrovitch, whose performance is non-existent. He's dead before he even dies! They talk about their "great" love but we don't see it. All we see is long walks on the sea shore with mawkish music or sex scenes with mawkish music. With Frank Finlay and Michael Craze. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Garment Jungle (1957)

A returning Korean War veteran (Kerwin Mathews) comes home to New York to join his father's (Lee J. Cobb) garment business. He is shocked to find his father is paying protection money to a mobster (Richard Boone) to keep the unions out of his company. The mobster is not above murder to keep the unions out. Based on the non fiction magazine story GANGSTERS IN THE DRESS BUSINESS (what a movie title that would have made) by Lester Velie and directed by Vincent Sherman (MR. SKEFFINGTON), who took over directing the movie after Robert Aldrich was fired. Aldrich clashed with studio head Harry Cohn over the tone of the film. Aldrich wanted a gritty filmed on the streets of New York look to the film whereas Cohn wanted it filmed on the Columbia soundstages which gave it a slicker look. The behind the scenes drama might have made a better picture than we got here. The end result is is a decent enough noir-ish crime film but it never rises above its B movie status. The characters don't behave logically but rather behave in a manner suited to the contrivances of the screenplay. Normally, Kerwin Mathews isn't the most interesting of actors but his lowkey performance is a breath of fresh air next to the heavy overacting by Cobb and Boone. With Gia Scala, Valerie French, Robert Loggia, Joseph Wiseman, Harold J. Stone, Wesley Addy and Joanna Barnes.

Schwarzer Kies (aka Black Gravel) (1961)

Tensions simmer in a small German village between the locals and the U.S. military base located right next to it. While its men struggle to survive in the black market, the town's women serve as "entertainment" for the GIs. The film focuses on a cold hearted black marketeer (Helmut Wildt) and his ex-girlfriend (Ingmar Zeisberg) who is now married to an American soldier (Hans Cossy). Directed by Helmut Kautner (PORT OF FREEDOM), the film begins with the cruel killing of a dog and ends with the pointless death of one of the main characters with no relief in between. This is one grim film. One can't really like any of the characters, they all want something and are only looking out for themselves. Still, the movie is a harsh look at post war Germany with zero sentimentality and although it's often hard to watch, it's honest and real and reality isn't always pretty. No one comes out looking good, not the Germans, not the Americans. The film even addresses the residual anti-Semitism some Germans felt. Curiously, that scene was cut from the film when a Jewish group protested. That scene has since been restored to the movie (I watched the uncut version). A fascinating and disturbing look that should be more widely seen. With Wolfgang Buttner, Anita Hofer, Peter Nestler and Edeltraud Elsner.

Mr. And Mrs. Bridge (1990)

Set in Missouri during the 1930s and 1940s, the film examines the marriage of an upper middle class couple. The husband (Paul Newman) is an uptight attorney with a rigid value system and his wife (Joanne Woodward) is a Pollyanna type who sees the world through rose colored glasses. Based on the novels MR. BRIDGE and MRS. BRIDGE (two separate books) by Evan S. Connell and directed by James Ivory (HOWARDS END). In an atypical role, Newman is surprisingly good playing against type but the film belongs to Joanne Woodward (in an Oscar nominated performance). As a housewife and mother in the pre-feminist era, Woodward doesn't condescend to her character. Rather she lets us see the eager to please wife and mother who has more to offer but is condescended to by her husband and children. Her attempts at improving herself are quashed by her husband, who loves her but insists on playing the head of the household rather than sharing. The film shows the frustration of women who resent being forced into certain roles and not allowed to express themselves, notably in the character of Woodward's best friend played by Blythe Danner (in a terrific performance), who literally goes crazy out of frustration. With Kyra Sedgwick, Robert Sean Leonard, Simon Callow, Austin Pendleton, Gale Garnett, Saundra McClain and Robert Westenberg. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Last Train From Gun Hill (1959)

After his wife (Ziva Rodann) is raped and murdered, her husband (Kirk Douglas) seeks out her killers. His only clue is a saddle which he tracks down to an old friend (Anthony Quinn), a land baron who has control of the town. But when he discovers his friend's son (Earl Holliman) is his wife's murderer and his father won't turn him over, he realizes he is alone but nothing will deter him from bringing the son to justice. Based on the story SHOWDOWN by Les Crutchfield and directed by John Sturges (THE GREAT ESCAPE). Producer Hal Wallis had a big hit with GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL two years earlier and here he uses many of the same cast and crew from that film including stars Kirk Douglas and Earl Holliman, director John Sturges, cinematographer Charles B. Lang, composer Dimitri Tiomkin (but no Frankie Laine!) and costume designer Edith Head. This is a marvelous western and Sturges whips up a good deal of tension as circumstances pile up against Douglas and time is running out. The film has no padding and every moment counts. Douglas and Quinn have justifiable reputations as scenery chewers but here they give intense performances but without ever crossing over to overacting. With Carolyn Jones (very good as Quinn's embittered mistress), Brad Dexter and Brian G. Hutton (who would go on to be a film director).

Paisa (1946)

Set during the waning days of WWII in Italy as the Allies push their way through Italy as the Germans retreat. Directed by Roberto Rossellini, the film is divided into six unrelated episodes, each showing a different facet of war. The film is greatly admired and while I liked it, I found it disappointing. The acting, which consists mostly of non professionals, is generally awful especially the stilted performances of the monochromatic English speaking "actors". As with all episodic films, the tone is uneven. My two favorites were the third and fourth segments: in the third episode, an American soldier (Gar Moore) and a young Italian girl (Maria Michi) meet briefly and connect with each other. But many months later when they meet again, the war has changed them so much that they don't recognize each other. It's simple and direct and poignant. The fourth episode has an American nurse (Harriet Medin) and an Italian man (Renzo Avanzo) going through the German held area of Florence for their own personal reasons. It's tense and has a tragic payoff. My least favorite was the second segment involving a black soldier (Dots Johnson) and an Italian street waif (Alfonsino Pasca) which I found too obvious. The fifth episode set in a Catholic monastery puzzled me. Were we supposed to find the bigoted and anti-Semitic monks sympathetic? This was second of Rossellini's war trilogy and I found it the least of the three films.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Mad Money (2008)

When her husband (Ted Danson) loses his job and sinks into debt,  an upper middle class suburban housewife (Diane Keaton) is forced to go to work. Having no job experience, she is forced to work as a janitor at the Federal Reserve Bank. She soon concocts a scheme to steal some money from the FRB but she can't do it alone. To this end, she lures two other employees into her plot: a single mother (Queen Latifah) who works in the shredding room and a ditzy dame (Katie Holmes) who transports money from floor to floor. Loosely based on the British film HOT MONEY and directed by Callie Khouri (the Oscar winning writer of THELMA AND LOUISE). The film begins promisingly as a smart heist caper but it isn't long before it descends into far fetched silliness that abuses your intelligence. If you can put up with that, the film is still enjoyable because of its three leading ladies who give the movie better than it deserves. There's so much that is wrong with the film but the cast isn't one of them. With Roger Cross, Adam Rothenberg and Christopher McDonald.  

Kid Galahad (1937)

A racketeer and fight promoter (Edward G. Robinson) discovers a bellhop (Wayne Morris) fresh off the farm with a knock out punch and decides to turn him into a professional prizefighter. Complications ensue when the promoter's girl (Bette Davis) and his sister (Jane Bryan) both fall for the upcoming boxer. Based on a magazine story by Francis Wallace and directed by Michael Curtiz. A superior example of Warner Brothers 1930s gritty style with top notch performances and solid direction by Curtiz. I'm not a fan of boxing movies but boxing takes a backseat to romance, betrayal and corruption which results in a tight engrossing drama. Robinson is terrific and Morris brings a sweet sincerity to his farm boy turned fighter but the movie belongs to Bette Davis. In the hands of a lesser actress, this could have been a generic "the girl" role but Davis infuses the part with nuance and clarity. Tellingly, the film's last shot is of Davis rather than Robinson or Morris. Remade in 1962 with Elvis Presley. With Humphrey Bogart, Harry Carey and Veda Ann Borg.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (1976)

A 13 year old girl (Jodie Foster) with a poet father who is often absent stirs the suspicions of the small community where they have recently moved. Among the most suspicious are the landlady (Alexis Smith) and her son (Martin Sheen), who may be a pedophile. Based on the novel by Laird Koenig and directed by Nicolas Gessner. This is a hard film to categorize as it has elements of the mystery, thriller and horror genres without actually being one. Foster's character is quite mature for a 13 year old and shows the judgement of an adult which makes her a formidable match against the adults who attempt to intrude on her peaceful life. With the exception of the kindly cop played by Mort Shuman, the adults are a nasty bunch. Alexis Smith is a bitchy anti-Semite and Sheen has a history of going for underage girls. Still, Foster's character could be construed as a malevolent adolescent along the lines of THE INNOCENTS or THE BAD SEED if one read it that way. Initially the film's reviews were mixed but it has become a cult film in the ensuing years. I found it just okay, it seemed unsure of just what kind of film it was supposed to be and what it was saying. But the assured performance of Foster carries the film and establishing herself as one of best child actresses, not only of her generation but all time. The effective jazz score is by Christian Gaubert. With Scott Jacoby as the teenage boy who becomes Foster's confidant and lover.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Outside The Law (1920)

When her father (Ralph Lewis) is framed for the killing of a policeman and sent to prison, a bitter young woman (Priscilla Dean) joins forces with a safecracker (Wheeler Oakman) to double cross the thug (Lon Chaney) who set her father up. Directed by Tod Browning. Although Browning's reputation todays rests primarily on his horror films like FREAKS, DRACULA, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE etc., this tough little crime thriller features a strong female lead who sets the plot in motion and remains in control rather than deferring to any of the male characters. In addition to the criminal mastermind, Chaney also plays a Chinese servant. There is a bit of sentiment in the movie when a young child (Stanley Goethals) softens Dean's hardened heart and is the impetus to turn her life around. The transfer I saw had an excellent score by Anton Sanko which contributed immensely to my enjoyment of the film. Browning remade the film in 1930 with Edward G. Robinson. With E. Alyn Warren, Melbourne MacDowell and Anna May Wong.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

If I'm Lucky (1946)

A swing band performs at a gubernatorial candidate's (Edgar Buchanan) rallies across the state and becomes very popular. So popular that when the candidate disappears, the band's crooner (Perry Como) is lured by a corrupt political machine into replacing him. A remake of the 1935 film THANKS A MILLION and directed by Lewis Seiler (GUADALCANAL DIARY). This innocuous musical doesn't have much going for it and it appears 20th Century Fox didn't have much faith in it either. It was the last film on both Carmen Miranda and Perry Como's Fox contracts and they didn't even bother to shoot it in Technicolor which was almost de rigeur for post WWII musicals and went with the less costly B&W lensing. The songs by Leo Robin and Harry Warren aren't much though the title song is a pleasant enough ballad and Carmen Miranda in B&W diminishes her outrageousness. With Vivian Blaine, Harry James and Reed Hadley.   

Ritual Of Evil (1970)

When a wealthy young heiress (Carla Borelli) is found dead on the beach from an overdose, the psychiatrist (Louis Jourdan) who had been treating her is concerned about the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death. Directed by Robert Day (THE HAUNTED STRANGLER), this is a sequel to the previous year's FEAR NO EVIL. It's a lackluster piece of occult horror about resurrecting ancient demons. It's not bad enough to be kitsch, it just plods away like a sloth to the inevitable conclusion without any surprises. Professional that she is, Anne Baxter tries as the alcoholic ex-actress Aunt of the dead girl but she needn't have bothered. Everyone else dutifully recite their lines to collect their paycheck. With Diana Hyland, Wilfrid Hyde White, John McMartin and Belinda Montgomery.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Klansman (1974)

Set in a rural Alabama town dominated by the Ku Klux Klan, tensions ride high after a white woman (Linda Evans) is raped by a black man and a group of outside protestors come to town to march for civil rights. Based on the novel by William Bradford Huie (REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER) and directed by Terence Young (DR. NO). To call this movie awful is a major understatement. How did so many talented people get involved in this piece of salacious trash? I've not read the Huie novel but surely it couldn't have been as crude as its film adaptation. Nothing in the movie gets it right. The original screenplay was written by Samuel Fuller and he was set to direct it before leaving the project and the script was reworked by Millard Kaufman. The movie seems to be intended as an indictment of the KKK and racism but it uses the "N" word more times than a Tarantino movie and one has to wonder about its possibly racist exploitation of rape. When the white Evans is raped, it's shown in darkness and it's quickly over but when Lola Falana (who's black) gets raped, the camera lingers over the rape and exposing her body with what one could almost call glee! And who thought it was a good idea to cast the Italian beauty Luciana Paluzzi as a Southerner? Her voice is dubbed by Joanna Moore which begs the question, why didn't they just cast Joanna Moore? With Richard Burton (doing a dreadful Southern accent), Lee Marvin (who seems to be walking thru the movie), Cameron Mitchell and O.J. Simpson in his film debut.

Shukujo Wa Nani Wo Wasureta (aka What Did The Lady Forget?) (1937)

A professor (Tatsuo Saito) of medicine at a Tokyo university and his wife (Sumiko Kurishima) are visited by his niece (Michiko Kuwano). The niece is a modern liberated girl who smokes and drinks and resents her Aunt's interference and doesn't approve of the shrewish way she treats her Uncle. Directed by Yasujiru Ozu, the movie bears a slight resemblance to the battle of the sexes Tracy and Hepburn comedies that ends happily when the male of the species asserts his dominance over the female. The mild mannered professor gives his bossy wife a smack in the face and voila! Suddenly she's the good wife. Well, there's more to it than that of course but I wouldn't classify this as one of Ozu's best. He would rework the material many years later into THE FLAVOR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE somewhat more successfully. The film has its compensations, notably Kuwano's feisty performance and a brief running time (one hour and 11 minutes) which doesn't outstay its welcome. With Shuji Sano and Choko Iida. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Great Moment (1944)

A 19th century dentist by the name of William Thomas Morton (Joel McCrea) pioneers the use of ether as a general anesthesia but not without the ramifications of greed, lawsuits and professional jealousy. Based on the non fiction book TRIUMP OVER PAIN by Rene Fulop Miller and directed by Preston Sturges (THE LADY EVE). This film oddity is considered one of Sturges' weaker films (only THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND has received more negativity among Sturges' films). I must say I agree with that assessment though to be fair, the film as released was heavily re-edited without Sturges' approval which cause some incoherency in the narrative. The film is an uneasy mixture of serious biography and comedy (with pratfalls and everything) and it just doesn't work at all. A movie about the invention of ether and painless surgery doesn't exactly sound like the most scintillating of subjects and the dull domestic scenes between McCrea and Betty Field as his wife only add to the tedium. The film presents Morton as a hero but historically, there are doubts about his contributions since he wasn't the first to suggest or use ether as an anesthesia. The failure of the film caused Sturges' career to go into decline. With William Demarest (who provides most of the comedy), Harry Carey, Julius Tannen, Louis Jean Heydt and Franklin Pangborn.    

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Flash Gordon (1980)

A football player (Sam J. Jones), a travel agent (Melody Anderson) and a scientist (Topol) take a rocket into outer space where they land on the planet Mongo which is ruled by an evil Emperor (Max Von Sydow). The merciless Emperor has plans to destroy the planet Earth. Can the planet Earth be saved in time? Based on the 1934 comic strip created by Alex Raymond and directed by Mike Hodges (GET CARTER). A box office failure when first released, it has since acquired a cult following. Intentional camp is a slippery slope and this movie slips but I'm not sure it would have worked if played straight either. It doesn't help that you have two bland ciphers (Jones and Anderson) in the leads. It's not a film where the acting matters much but a little charisma wouldn't have hurt. Fortunately, the drab leads are offset by the two marvelous villains. Max von Sydow as Ming The Merciless seems to be having fun being deliciously evil and he's matched by Ornella Muti as his nymphomaniac daughter. But the real star of the film is Danilo Donati whose stunning production design and costumes dominate the movie so when you get bored, there's still plenty to look at. A missed opportunity. With Timothy Dalton, Mariangela Melato, Peter Wyngarde and Brian Blessed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Eastern Promises (2007)

When a 14 year old Russian immigrant (Sarah Jeanne Labrosse) who's has been forced into prostitution and turned into a heroin addict dies in childbirth, a British midwife (Naomi Watts) of Russian heritage finds herself embroiled in the workings of the Russian Mafia and sex trafficking. Directed by David Cronenberg (DEAD RINGERS), this is strong stuff. Strong enough that Cronenberg doesn't need to linger over the graphic scenes of violence and rub our faces in it. We've had scads of movies about the Mafia (thank you, Scorsese and Coppola) but only rarely has the Russian mafia been used as a subject. It's as frightening as a film can be without crossing over into horror movie territory. I can't praise Mortensen's Oscar nominated performance enough, it's electric. He immerses himself in the character and commands the screen every time he's on the screen. Armin Mueller Stahl as a mafia kingpin provides a chilling portrayal of a ruthless criminal with the facade of a kindly grandfather. With Vincent Cassel as Mueller Stahl's repressed homosexual son, Sinead Cusack, Jerzy Skolimowski and Mina E. Mina.

Rivelazioni Di Un Maniaco Sessuale Al Capo Della Squadra Mobile (aka So Sweet So Dead) (1972)

A serial killer targets unfaithful wives. After brutally slashing their bodies, he leaves photographs of the women with their lovers but disfigures the faces of the men in the photos so they are unrecognizable. The police detective (Farley Granger) assigned to the case finds no shortage of suspects. Directed by Roberto Bianchi Montero, this Italian giallo is weak and short of suspense and especially style, two mandatory elements for a successful giallo. The film gets really interesting during the last 20 minutes going down a road I didn't expect but not enough to redeem the previous hour and 20 minutes. The movie is a little more misogynistic than usual for the genre (and just a touch of homophobia). When the killer is finally exposed, we're never given his motive. Why was he killing unfaithful wives? Was his own wife unfaithful which sent him over the edge? If it was a morality thing, why not kill unfaithful husbands too? The female nudity is plentiful and the murders graphic but the often incoherent plot is frustrating. The faux Morricone score is by Giorgio Gaslini. With the lovely Sylva Koscina (wasted), Silvano Tranquilli, Angela Covello and Chris Avram.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Demon Seed (1977)

A computer called Proteus (voiced by Robert Vaughn) is an extremely advanced and autonomous artificial intelligence program. So much so that the scientist (Fritz Weaver) who helped invent and design him is disturbed by the computer's questions and demands. When the computer spots the scientist's estranged wife (Julie Christie), he makes plans to extend his mortality. Based on the novel by Dean Koontz and directed by Donald Cammell (PERFORMANCE). This science fiction oddity plays like a cousin of ROSEMARY'S BABY (though nowhere near the brilliance of the Polanski film) except with a computer instead of Satan. It should be profoundly silly but somehow on a B movie level, it works. What Julie Christie is doing in a movie like this is a puzzlement, she's overqualified for a potboiler (however well done) like this. The film doesn't tap into her talent at all and she seems confused (the actress, not her character). One can't blame her, how does one react to being raped by a computer? Still, on its own whacky level, it's quite watchable and the birth of the "child" is genuinely creepy. With Gerrit Graham, Lisa Lu and Barry Kroeger.

La Chamade (1969)

A beautiful young girl (Catherine Deneuve) is the mistress of a wealthy older man (Michel Piccoli). But when she meets a young man (Roger Van Hool) closer to her own age, she leaves her lover. But her lifestyle clashes with the young man's values. She has no desire to work, has no ambition, no goal in life but to love and be loved. Based on the novel by Francoise Sagan (BONJOUR TRISTESSE) and directed by Alain Cavalier. What is one to make of Sagan's heroine? On one hand, one can look at her as an egoist, as shallow, only concerned with being loved totally. On the other hand, she's true to her values (even though we may not share them) and refuses to change to please others. The rich older man accepts her for what she is and doesn't want to change her while the young lover doesn't understand her needs and wants a more conventional life for them. Cavalier's film ideally captures the feel of a Sagan novel something other film adaptations have struggled with (A CERTAIN SMILE, GOODBYE AGAIN). Looking almost inhumanly beautiful, one can forgive Deneuve's character anything. As the film points out, she may be all alone when she's old and her looks have deserted her but it's her life and she'll accept the consequences. With Irene Tunc (the film's most sympathetic character) and Jacques Sereys.  

Sunday, December 6, 2020

All Of Me (1984)

A struggling attorney (Steve Martin), who really wants to be a jazz musician, is assigned to a wealthy spinster (Lily Tomlin) as a client by his law firm. When she realizes she is dying, she arranges to have a mystic (Richard Libertini) transfer her soul into the beautiful body of her stable hand's daughter (Victoria Tennant). But an accident causes her soul to enter the attorney's body thus having two people in one body. Based on the novel ME TWO by Edwin Davis and directed by Carl Reiner (THE JERK). This comedic gem serves as a showcase for Steve Martin's talents and he's never been better. It's the kind of performance that should have won awards if there weren't such a prejudice against comic actors. It's okay to praise a dramatic actor like Dustin Hoffman for a comedic performance in TOOTSIE to show his versatility but when an actor known for comedy gives a superlative performance, they get overlooked in Hollywood. Martin and Lily Tomlin have a wonderful comedic chemistry that helps make the far fetched plot if not believable then more than good enough so that we don't care. Blissful nuttiness! With Dana Elcar, Selma Diamond, Neva Patterson, Jason Bernard, Peggy Feury (the famed acting teacher) and Madolyn Smith.

Wild Palms (1993)

Set in a futuristic Los Angeles (filmed in 1993 but set in 2007), a patent attorney (James Belushi) finds himself seduced by a right wing media mogul (Robert Loggia) into working for him. The mogul has plans for creating a TV network that will bring virtual reality programming into U.S. homes but it won't end there. He has more sinister plans. With a near five hour running time (originally shown over several nights on ABC) and four different directors (Kathryn Bigelow, Keith Gordon, Phil Janou, Peter Hewitt), this science fiction mixture of paranoia and conspiracy theory (Oliver Stone is an executive producer) is amazingly compelling in spite of flaws in its narrative. The movie's surreal tone and Japanese influence can't help but recall Lynch's TWIN PEAKS and BLADE RUNNER. Its storyline is often confusing (you're sometimes not sure where you are) but it's engrossing enough for you remain riveted until the very end. Alas, it concludes with a whimper rather than a bang. But if the final destination is disappointing, the journey isn't. Its eerie parallels to the last four years didn't go unnoticed. The large cast are all very good including Angie Dickinson (pure evil), Kim Cattrall, David Warner, Robert Morse, Brad Dourif, Dana Delany, Bebe Neuwirth, Ernie Hudson, Bob Gunton, Nick Mancuso, Ben Savage and Kathryn Bigelow.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise (1940)

When the famous Chinese detective Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) is approached by a Scotland Yard colleague (C. Montague Shaw) for help in solving the case of a serial strangler, he is more than happy to help. But when the colleague is murdered by the strangler, Chan takes it upon himself to find the killer. Based on CHARLIE CHAN CARRIES ON by Earl Derr Biggers and directed by Eugene Forde. The premise of Charlie Chan traveling on a cruise ship from Honolulu to San Francisco with a host of murder suspects is intriguing. Unfortunately, the result is rather lackluster. The Biggers source material had been filmed previously under its original title in 1931 but is now  considered a lost film. There's an overdose of unnecessary comic relief and while humor has always been part and parcel of the Chan films, here it merely gets in the way of the actual mystery. There's also a sloppiness in the writing that's irritating. For example, with a murderer on board surely Chan would take the simple precaution of locking a door when dealing with a crucial piece of evidence but no, the killer walks in, bops Chan on the head and walks off with the evidence. With Lionel Atwill, Leo G. Carrroll, Victor Sen Yung, Marjorie Weaver, Robert Lowery, Cora Witherspoon, Don Beddoe and Kay Linaker. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Undertaking Betty (aka Plots With A View) (2002)

Set in a small village in Wales, the local undertaker (Alfred Molina) and the wife (Brenda Blethyn) of a local politician (Robert Pugh) fall in love and plot to fake her death so they can run off together. Alas, their plan doesn't quite go according to plan and they have to improvise much of it. Directed by Nick Hurran, one can see what the film makers were trying for ... an outrageous black comedy with a touch of romance. But for it to succeed, something like this needs a movie madman like Mel Brooks at the helm. Instead, they play it safe so we end up with intended laughs falling flat. The actors try hard but to no avail and one can't help but wonder if they knew the ship was sinking. There is one genuine touching moment in the film however, when a small boy (Padrig Owen Jones) thanks the "dead" Blethyn for being kind to him when she was alive. One can't be too harsh to it though, its eagerness to please is almost endearing. With Naomi Watts, Christopher Walken and Lee Evans.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Les Choses De La Vie (aka The Things Of Life) (1969)

On a summer morning in the countryside, an architect (Michel Piccoli) loses control of his car as he attempts to avoid crashing into a stalled lorry. As he lies injured, he drifts in and out of consciousness as he reflects on his mistress (Romy Schneider), wife (Lea Massari), son (Gerard Lartigau) and the choices he's made in his life. Based on the novel by Paul Guimard and directed by Claude Sautet (CESAR AND ROSALIE). One of the most undervalued of French film directors, Sautet gives us an observant reflection on the fragility of life and how our choices aren't always dictated by sense but by our hearts. It's not a complicated piece so Sautet uses a fragmented non chronological structure which gives the movie a gripping edge to its narrative. The film is driven by a wonderful performance by Piccoli, subtle yet intense and once again, Schneider serves as Sautet's muse. The excellent underscore is by Philippe Sarde. Misguidedly remade in 1994 with Richard Gere in Piccoli's role. With Jean Bouise, Dominique Zardi and Betty Beckers.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Major And The Minor (1942)

Frustrated with her life in New York, a young woman (Ginger Rogers) decides to return home to Iowa. But she can't afford the full train fare, so she poses as a 12 year old to get a half price ticket. Traveling alone, a Major (Ray Milland) in the Army takes it upon himself to be her protector. Problems ensue when the "12 year old" falls in love with the Major. Based on the play CONNIE GOES HOME by Edward Childs Carpenter and directed by Billy Wilder in his American directorial debut. This comedy is well loved (though not by me) and has a high reputation. Some of the dialogue is witty ("Why don't you step out of that wet coat and into a dry martini") and a sight gag had me laughing out loud (a group of adolescent girls all with Veronica Lake hairdos) but the main premise toys uncomfortably with the Lolita syndrome as Milland's character doesn't know she's a grown woman (or does he?). What sinks the movie for me is Rogers' (looking quite matronly) annoying acting as a child. Did 12 year olds in 1942 really baby talk? I doubt it. Her Baby Snooks act gets old very quickly. Is there anything more ridiculous than an adult not acting their age? Rogers would continue to mine this field in HEARTBEAT (1946) and MONKEY BUSINESS (1952). Remade as YOU'RE NEVER TOO YOUNG (1955) with Jerry Lewis. With Diana Lynn (the best thing in the movie), Robert Benchley, Rita Johnson, Frankie Thomas and Norma Varden.  

Requiem For A Heavyweight (1962)

An aging punch drunk boxer (Anthony Quinn) has had it in the ring, his body so damaged that if he continues to fight it could blind or even kill him. But his manager (Jackie Gleason) owes a lot of money to some thugs and continues to press the fighter in an attempt at recovering his losses. Based on the 1956 teleplay by Rod Sterling (who adapted it for the screen) and directed by Ralph Nelson (LILIES OF THE FIELD). What a wonderful film! In expanding it for the screen, Serling wisely doesn't pad it out and diffuse its power so the movie remains with a compact under 90 minute running time. Quinn, in one of his best performances, restrains his tendency to overact (which marred Jack Palance's work in the 1956 TV version) and is quite touching, going big when its just the right time. His scenes with Julie Harris are beautifully and quietly played. The film is also a bit edgier than its TV predecessor and which fleshes out Gleason's character a bit more. The film benefits from the atmospheric B&W lensing of Arthur J. Ornitz (SERPICO) and a marvelous underscore by Laurence Rosenthal. With Mickey Rooney (superb!), Stanley Adams, Madame Spivy and Muhammad Ali as himself.    

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Sixteen Candles (1984)

A high school sophomore (Molly Ringwald) is stunned when her family forgets her 16th birthday. But they are involved in the wedding plans for her older sister (Blanche Baker). It doesn't help that the boy (Michael Schoeffling) she has a crush on doesn't know she exists ..... or does he? Written and directed by John Hughes, this was one of the seminal teen comedies of the 1980s. It's still a good movie with an eye for the particular teen angst that each generation seems to go through. But time hasn't been kind to the film. Notably in two aspects: the racial stereotyping of an Asian exchange student (Gedde Watanabe) whose ethnicity is played for cheap laughs and while perhaps not quite date rape, the taking advantage sexually of an inebriated girl (Haviland Morris). Those scenes leave a bad taste in the mouth of 2020 audiences (at least the enlightened ones). That aside, the film is a showcase for Molly Ringwald who quickly became America's sweetheart in the 1980s. She's refreshingly natural, not actress-y and doesn't over do the typical teenage girl bit. But the movie is almost stolen by Anthony Michael Hall whose "geek" crosses over to appealing eventually. With Paul Dooley, Carlin Glynn, Edward Andrews, Carole Cook, Justin Henry, John Kapelos, Max Showalter, Billie Bird and two youngsters in small roles who would go to major careers, John Cusack and Joan Cusack.  

The Skin Game (1931)

Set in the English countryside, two families are at war with each other. The Hillcrists are British aristocracy who seek to preserve their way of life against the encroaching urbanization represented by the nouveau riche Hornblower family who are buying up land to build factories. This class warfare will lead to tragedy. Based on the play by John Galsworthy (THE FORSYTE SAGA) and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This early sound film by Hitchcock is surprisingly strong in the dramatic department. One can empathize with both family's point of view and yet be repelled by the actions they take to emerge the victor. When the dust settles, there are no winners. It may be a victory for one family but it is a Pyrrhic victory for what they've lost can never compensate for what they've "won". It follows the play quite closely except for a major change in the ending. A major character is killed off whereas they survived in the play. The performances are quite good. Notably Helen Haye as the snobbish matriarch who'll do anything and go as low as she has to to defeat the "intruders" and Phyllis Konstam as the daughter in law whose secret past is used as a weapon to destroy the family. With Edmund Gwenn, C.V. France, Jill Esmond, John Longden and Edward Chapman.

Monday, November 30, 2020

7 Faces Of Dr. Lao (1964)

A mysterious elderly Chinese gentleman (Tony Randall) comes to a small rural town in Arizona. He brings with him his small circus of mythological creatures. His visit will change the lives of the townsfolk. Based on THE CIRCUS OF DR. LAO by Charles G. Finney and directed by George Pal (THE TIME MACHINE). This good natured family friendly fantasy film serves as a showcase for Randall who plays six different roles. Although credited to him, the seventh creature of the abominable snowman is actually played by the director's son, Peter Pal. Although not as well known as Ray Harryhausen, the stop motion animator Jim Danforth provided the Oscar nominated visual effects. It's perhaps a bit heavy handed when it should be magical but overall, it's a solid entry in the fantasy genre. With Barbara Eden whose sexual awakening briefly threatens to take the film out of family friendly viewing, John Ericson, Arthur O'Connell, Lee Patrick, Royal Dano, John Doucette and Minerva Urecal.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Gigi (1949)

A naive young girl called Gigi (Danielle Delorme) being raised by her grandmother (Yvonne De Bray) is quite fond of the dashing playboy (Frank Villard) who visits them regularly. But the girls' great Aunt (Gaby Morlay), who is training the young girl in the ways of a courtesan (the family "business"), sees the visitor as an opportunity to make a profitable alliance for the girl. Based on the novella by Colette and directed by Jacqueline Audry, one of France's first female directors to have a successful career in film. The 1949 film (the Colette novella had also been adapted for the stage in 1951 starring an unknown Audrey Hepburn) has been eclipsed by the Oscar winning 1958 musical which is too bad for this B&W version is quite charming if less elaborate. Audry balances the story's comical aspect with its tender budding romance and without the songs of the 1958 film, the movie is allowed to move along swiftly and finish under 90 minutes without losing a thing. With Jean Tissier and Madeleine Rousset. 

Awake And Sing (1972)

Set in The Bronx during the depression years, the matriarch (Ruth Storey) of a Jewish family attempts to hold her family together. But her constant manipulation chafes her elderly father (Leo Fuchs) who has Socialist leanings, her daughter (Felicia Farr) and son (Robert Lipton). Based on the 1935 play by Clifford Odets (originally produced by the Group Theatre) and directed by Norman Lloyd and Robert Hopkins. Considered one of the major playwrights of his generation, Odets' plays don't have the timeliness of a Eugene O'Neill or Tennessee Williams. His political viewpoints permeate his works which tends to render his plays of their time. The family in the play suffer from being victims of a "capitalist" society where money is the goal and the dreamers in the family are chastised by the mother who is concerned with security and respectability, two things that can be bought with money. Although the play creaks a bit, it holds up fairly well. There may not be a depression but poverty is still with us and people still have money problems which may account for it being one of Odets most revived plays (its Broadway revival won a Tony in 2006). The ensemble acting is quite good. With Walter Matthau, Martin Ritt (yes, the director), Ron Rifkin and Milton Selzer.