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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Blonde Venus (1932)

Traveling in Germany, an American student (Herbert Marshall) meets a cabaret performer (Marlene Dietrich) and they marry and live in the U.S. But they live in near poverty and when the husband gets seriously ill, she returns to work as a nightclub performer in order to get the money for him to travel to Germany where a successful cure for his illness has been found. But while the husband is away, she falls in love with a smooth talking politician (Cary Grant). Directed by Josef von Sternberg, this ode to mother love isn't his finest hour. King Vidor did it better with STELLA DALLAS (1937). But the film has a gay cult following, mostly because of the sensational Hot Voodoo performed by Dietrich who makes her entrance in a gorilla outfit which is the movie's highlight and her gender bending performing of I Couldn't Be Annoyed in a man's white tuxedo. Other than that, it's a rather mawkish tale of Dietrich's mother suffering and doing anything to keep her child from being taken away from her. It's hard to sympathize with her however. Her husband is fighting for his life in a clinic in Germany and she's screwing Cary Grant! But she's punished for it and we get our "happy" ending. With Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Toler, Sterling Holloway, Cecil Cunningham and young Dickie Moore as Dietrich's son.

Monday, June 29, 2020

They Came To A City (1944)

Nine disparate strangers from different walks (and class) of life find themselves lost when they come upon an imposing structure looking down far below to a city. Based on the play by J.B. Priestley and directed by Basil Dearden (KHARTOUM). This isn't a movie, it's a Marxist lecture accompanied by barely moving pictures! As if we're backward children unable to grasp the film's concept, it's verbally hammered into us. Best to watch it with a bottle of aspirin nearby. It's based on a play and outside of a newly added framing device featuring J.B. Priestley as himself, the actors wander around the massive but impressive set expounding their personal viewpoints and philosophies as if they were profound. While I'm more sympathetic than not to Priestley's ideology, as cinema this is a dry experience. While on one level, I can admire its ambitious undertaking (even though it seems like an extended TWILIGHT ZONE episode), its execution is irritatingly self important. The nine strangers are played by Googie Withers, John Clements, Raymond Huntley, Renee Gadd, A.E. Matthews, Mabel Terry Lewis, Frances Rowe, Norman Shelley and Ada Reeve.   

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Passport To China (aka Visa To Canton) (1960)

A former WWII pilot (Richard Basehart) runs a travel agency in Hong Kong. He is approached by the U.S. government to do some espionage work which he flatly refuses. But when he hears that a friend (Burt Kwouk, A SHOT IN THE DARK) who is also a pilot has been shot down by the Red Chinese, he takes it upon himself to rescue him. Directed by Michael Carreras (CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB), this Hammer spy adventure with touches of James Bond plays out like a pilot for a projected TV series that never sold. One can easily see Basehart's reluctant soldier of fortune getting involved in a new adventure every week, even the colorful supporting characters are already there. I don't mean to sound dismissive, I enjoyed it for what it is but it's a slight slice of routine adventure. The Hong Kong and Macao exteriors are colorful (the interiors were filmed back in England) and among the cast, Lisa Gastoni makes for an intriguing femme fatale. With Athene Seyler, Eric Pohlmann and Bernard Cribbins.

Un Posto Ideale Per Uccidere (aka An Ideal Place To Kill) (1971)

Two teenage drifters (Raymond Lovelock, Ornella Muti) are traveling through Europe and selling pornography to pay for their vacation. When they run out of gas in Italy, the nearest house is a secluded mansion inhabited by a wealthy woman (Irene Papas). At first she is hostile but then she invites them into her home. It soon evolves into a cat and mouse came of who is the victim and who is the predator. Directed by Umberto Lenzi, this giallo is heavier on the sex than the violence and quite graphic sex at that. However, it's clear that body doubles were used for the sex scenes. Ornella Muti was underage (16 or 17) so the producers would have been arrested if she did her own nudity and Irene Papas flatly refused to do any nude scenes so she got a body double too. In 1971, Lovelock and Muti must have seemed like free spirited "hippies" but in 2020, they're annoying leeches. So my sympathies went to Papas' scheming murderess though I don't think that's what Lenzi intended. It was a pleasure to see the usually dour and put upon Papas in a rare glamour role. I was worried they'd botch the ending but they didn't and it elevated the film a few notches for me. If you're into these Italian sex and murder gialli, this should please you and Irene Papas gives a wonderful performance, never tipping her hand. In a genre where the acting is usually negligible, it's an impressive accomplishment. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Hereafter (2010)

Three people in different parts of the world (San Francisco, London, Paris) have confronted death which has affected them deeply: a French journalist (Cecile de France), an American psychic (Matt Damon) and a British boy (George McLaren). The American psychic and the French journalist have both survived near death experiences and the English lad's twin brother (Frankie McLaren) was killed by a truck but their bond remains connected even after death. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film has an intriguing premise regarding the existence of an afterlife. Fortunately, he avoids any religious reading into the subject matter. The "hereafter" isn't Heaven but it remains a mystery. The film reaches its visual highpoint at the very beginning, a spectacular tsunami sequence in India and it's able to sustain itself for the first hour but then there's nowhere to go! The film doesn't so much end as collapse into a mire of slush and sentiment. The banal score was composed by Eastwood. With Bryce Dallas Howard, Derek Jacobi, Marthe Keller, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind and Jenifer Lewis. 

Die Liebe Der Jeanne Ney (aka The Love Of Jeanne Ney) (1927)

The daughter (Edith Jehanne) of a French diplomat (Eugen Jensen) serving in Russia is in love with a Bolshevik revolutionary (Uno Henning). After her father is killed, she flees to Paris with her lover promising to follow. Based on the book by the Russian novelist Ilya Ehrenburg and directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst (PANDORA'S BOX). It's an ambitious film that profits from Pabst's fluid technique without which it's mere soap opera. Since it's Pabst's artistry that carries the film, one doesn't mind the often leisurely style and the time spent on scenes that don't drive the narrative forward (like Jehanne and and Henning walking through an open air market). Edith Jehanne is a fresh and lovely screen presence with a natural acting style. Alas, she only has about seven film credits and apparently she died only a few years after JEANNE NEY was released. With Brigitte Helm (METROPOLIS), Fritz Rasp, Vladimir Sokoloff and Adolf E. Licho. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

7 Uomini E Un Cervello (aka Criminal Affair) (1968)

An Italian criminology professor (Rossano Brazzi) goes to Argentina to execute a daring heist during a performance of LA TRAVIATA at the Buenos Aires opera house. Co-written, produced and directed by Rossano Brazzi (who reputedly sunk his own money into this mess). International heist capers can be fun but this comedic effort is lame. Absolutely nothing about it works. Every cliche in these heist films from RIFIFI to OCEAN'S 11 is here. There's no suspense, no laughs and some talented people are wasted especially Ann-Margret who is simply used as eye candy here. To be fair, the transfer I saw was cut by about 16 minutes and the print was pretty ragged and while those 16 minutes might have added some needed coherency, there's no doubt in my mind that they would not have made it a better movie. With Roger Smith (Mr. Ann-Margret), Barbara Nichols (apparently a victim of the missing 16 minutes) and Helene Chanel.

L'Oeil Du Malin (aka The Third Lover) (1962)

A French journalist (Jacques Charrier) is working on an assignment in a small German village just outside Munich. When a famous German writer (Walter Reyer, THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR) and his French wife (Stephane Audran) take him under their wing and befriend him, he becomes envious of their life and love of each other and plots to destroy them. Directed by Claude Chabrol, this is an unsettling and disturbing film. Early on, it becomes clear that the film's protagonist is a psychologically disturbed young man and Pierre Jansen's dissonant score clues us in that this will not end happily. Chabrol was one of the earliest of the French New Wave directors along with Truffaut and Godard with films like LE BEAU SERGE and LES COUSINS. But in the 1960s, he began to focus on psychological thrillers in the style of Hitchcock, although distinctly his own and this film is one of the earliest examples. In many ways, it's a difficult film to watch. Why would anyone want to betray an act of kindness with treachery? Robbed of any sympathy for Charrier's self described loser (his failure in life accounts for his actions), one watches with dread as it spirals into a tragedy for all involved. With Daniel Boulanger and Erika Tweer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Three Faces East (1930)

Set during WWI, a German spy (Constance Bennett) is sent to infiltrate the household of a British Admiral (William Holden, no not that one) to work with the household's butler (Erich von Stroheim), who is also a German spy, to obtain vital secrets about American transport ships crossing the Atlantic. Based on a 1918 play by Anthony Paul Kelly and directed by Roy Del Ruth (DUBARRY WAS A LADY). This early pre-code (although the raciest it gets is when von Stroheim fondles Bennett's undwear) talkie isn't very cinematic and its stagebound origins are quite evident. Not only in the talkiness of the film but in the broad and often stiff acting. Bennett is quite lovely but the acting honors go to von Stroheim whose Teutonic furor brings life to an often stilted film. If you've a fondness for early sound films, you should enjoy this but there's not much here for everybody else. With Anthony Bushell and William Courtenay. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Nightmare At Bittercreek (1988)

Four women (Lindsay Wagner, Joanna Cassidy, Constance McCashin, Janne Mortil) accompanied by a guide (Tom Skerritt) are backpacking in the Sierra mountains when they stumble upon a white supremacist paramilitary group. As they are hunted by the terrorists, it becomes a battle to survive. Directed by the Australian director Tim Burstall (ELIZA FRASER), this plays out like a female driven DELIVERANCE with Wagner in the Jon Voight role and Skerritt in the Burt Reynolds role. It's a routine "women in peril" thriller with the novelty of the women taking on what is usually a masculine domain. Instead of man against nature, it's women against nature as they climb rocks, fall off mountains, go over waterfalls and fire machine guns. For what it is, it's serviceable although it still plays into cliches like the hysterical woman (in this case, Joanna Cassidy), who's a burden to everyone else. The wilderness of Vancouver, Canada stands in for the Sierra mountains and there's an effective score by Arthur B. Rubinstein. With Dwight McFee and J.C. Roberts.   

Blood On The Moon (1948)

An ex-cattleman (Robert Mitchum) finds himself caught in a range war between homesteaders and cattle ranchers after he accepts employment from an old friend (Robert Preston). It isn't long before he finds out the true nature of his friend and it isn't good. Based on the novel by GUNMAN'S CHANCE by Luke Short and directed by Robert Wise (WEST SIDE STORY). Often referred to as a noir western, this is a solid piece of film making by that master craftsman Robert Wise that should be better known. The screenplay is well written and gives Mitchum an opportunity to move beyond his usual screen tough guy persona and give his character a conscience that allows him to question his loyalties. The rest of the cast is good too including Barbara Bel Geddes, who sheds her usual demureness as a feisty gun toting tomboy. The rich B&W chiaroscuro cinematography of Nicholas Musuraca (CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE) adds to the noir-ish flavor. With Walter Brennan, Phyllis Thaxter, Tom Tully, Charles McGraw, Frank Faylen and Robert Bray.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Danger: Diabolik (1968)

A master criminal (John Phillip Law) going by the name of Diabolik and his lover (Marisa Mell) commit large scale heists and frustrate the police inspector (Michel Piccoli) who is unable to capture him. Fighting fire with fire, the police inspector blackmails a gangster (Adolfo Celi, THUNDERBALL) into capturing Diabolik for him. Based on the Italian comic series (called fumetti in Italy) and directed by Mario Bava (LISA AND THE DEVIL). This is a colorful and fun romp which catches just the right tone of the Italian pop art style in Italian cinema at the time (BARBARELLA and THE 10TH VICTIM are other examples). Bava doesn't condescend to the material and go the "camp" route and wink at the audience (like Losey's MODESTY BLAISE), he takes it seriously which makes it work. The film's ending cries out "Sequel!" but the film proved a financial and critical disappointment so it never happened. Posterity has been kinder to it and it now has a major cult following. The art direction and production design (inexplicably uncredited) are dazzling and Ennio Morricone's clever score highlight the film. With Terry Thomas and Claudio Gora.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Walk East On Beacon (1952)

An FBI agent (George Murphy) is assigned to discover the source of a major leak in a top secret program and find the top Communist agent (Karel Stepanek) behind the plot to steal U.S. secrets and transmit them to the Soviet Union. Inspired by an article in Readers Digest titled CRIME OF THE CENTURY and directed by Alfred L. Werker. The film was produced by Louis De Rochemont who specialized in "true" stories shot in semi-documentary style in their actual locations such as BOOMERANG and HOUSE ON 92ND STREET. This one is shot in the same style but I found it extremely dry and tedious. Maybe I've seen too many of these "red scare" docudramas recently but their portrayal of commie agents as snarling gun toting gangsters kidnapping American citizens and dragging them to Moscow is laughable. Surely real communist agents were much more cautious and discreet as to avoid discovery but the commies here are right out of 1930s Warner gangster movie. With the exception of George Murphy and Finlay Currie (as a scientist being blackmailed by the commies), the cast isn't well known and the unfamiliar faces lend some authenticity to the docu-atmosphere. With Virginia Gilmore and Louisa Horton.    

The Brigand Of Kandahar (1965)

Set in the North West Frontier of India in 1850, a half caste British officer (Ronald Lewis) is thrown out of his regiment after being court martialed for cowardice in action and sentenced to ten years in prison. He breaks out of prison and joins a band of anti-British brigands led by a vicious marauder (Oliver Reed) to get his revenge. Written and directed by John Gilling (PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES), this is a sound stage India shot in a studio with footage from the 1956 film ZARAK edited in for exteriors and battle scenes. There's no one to root for which handicaps an adventure film. You can't root for the racist British as personified by the cruel British Colonel (Duncan Lamont) nor can you root for Oliver Reed's sadistic rebel leader who makes no distinction between soldier and civilians. It doesn't help that both Lamont and Reed overact terribly. It's not compelling enough to hold your attention all the way through which allows one to notice things, like how Ronald Lewis's brownface make up isn't consistent. With Yvonne Romain, Katherine Woodville and Glyn Houston.  

Saturday, June 20, 2020

L'Amour En Fuite (aka Love On The Run) (1979)

In the process of divorcing his wife (Claude Jade), a man (Jean Pierre Leaud) pursues a new relationship with a young girl (Dorothee) who works in a record store. Directed by Francois Truffaut, this was the fifth and final entry in his films centered on the character of Antoine Doinel (Leaud), the previous four being THE 400 BLOWS, ANTOINE AND COLETTE, STOLEN KISSES and BED AND BOARD. While it's nice to have closure (though I didn't buy the happy ending), this is the least satisfying of the Doinel films. It's a patchwork film with much of the movie comprised of clips from the previous films. But the film is at least as much about Doinel's first love or should I say obsession, Colette (Marie France Pisier) as it is about Doinel, not surprising since the actress had a hand in the screenplay. For me, it proved the most satisfying aspect of the film. Of interest only if you're a fan of the previous Doinel films. With Julian Bertheau, Daniel Mesguich and Dani. 

Assignment Redhead (1956)

An international master criminal (Ronald Adam), who specializes in providing false documents seeks to get control of a trunk of counterfeit American dollars. But an American Army Major (Richard Denning) who is assigned to find and expose the criminal unknowing falls in love with one of the criminal's accomplices (Carole Mathews). Based on the novel REQUIEM FOR A REDHEAD by Lindsay Hardy and directed by Maclean Rogers. Retitled MILLION DOLLAR MANHUNT in the U.S., this British programmer suffers from a contrived screenplay and mediocre acting. I rather like Carole Mathews but why an English production felt the need to send away to the U.S. for a not very well known American actress to play an Austrian cabaret performer is perplexing. Surely there was no shortage of German or Austrian actresses available to them in 1956. It's the kind of crime thriller where you're always one jump ahead of the characters on the screen, so there's no tension, no surprises. With Brian Worth and Jan Holden. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

Frankie And Johnny (1991)

A middle aged ex-con (Al Pacino) by the name of Johnny answers an ad for a short order cook at a small diner. He's hired and begins romancing an emotionally scarred waitress (Michelle Pfeiffer) called Frankie. Based on the play FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE by Terrence McNally (who adapted it for the screen) and directed by Garry Marshall (PRETTY WOMAN). McNally may have adapted his play for the screen but it's still all wrong. The play had only two characters and took place in a one bedroom apartment. The movie adds a bunch of new characters, most of them cliches like the gay best friend (Nathan Lane) and the tough broad (Kate Nelligan) with a heart of gold. But McNally's play, unlike the film, wasn't a romantic comedy. It was about two lonely middle aged people. In the original play, they were played by Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham, fine actors but average looking. The film gives us bona fide movie stars in the parts which throws everything off kilter. They try to diminish Pfeiffer's porcelain beauty with little success but don't even bother to tone down Pacino's sexy bad boy. So what are we left with? With Garry Marshall at the helm, we get a slick well acted piece of commercial cinema with a not very convincing storyline. They may be miscast but you can't fault Pacino and Pfeiffer's performances. I suppose if one were not familiar with the source material (I've read it but never seen it performed), it might work better. With Hector Elizondo and Jane Morris.  

The War Of The Worlds (1953)

Doomed by diminishing oxygen and falling temperatures on their own planet, Martians turn their attention to Earth's fertile planet with plans to colonize it. The residents of a small California town see what appears to be a falling meteor or comet but in reality, it's a projectile from Mars and so the war begins. Based on the novel by H.G. Wells and directed by Byron Haskin. One of the most imaginative science fiction films ever made, at least until the film's end when it goes all religious (not part of Wells' novel). Shot in vivid three strip Technicolor by George Barnes (SAMSON AND DELILAH) that just pop off the screen. The Martian vehicles themselves are marvelous creations with the body of a stingray and the neck and head of a cobra, they float across the skies. As usual with sci-fi films, the humans aren't very interesting but Gene Barry and Ann Robinson make for an attractive pair and they don't drag the movie down. With Les Tremayne, Jack Kruschen, Ann Codee and the voice of Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who does the narration. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Champagne (1928)

A spoiled wealthy heiress (Betty Balfour) defies her father (Gordon Harker) and runs off to marry a young man (Jean Bradin), who her father is convinced is only after her money. But when the father loses all his money in the stock market, her young man disappears and she is forced to get a job to support her and her father. Co-written and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this lightweight comedy already shows a director in full control of the medium. The film's first shot is through a champagne glass and Hitchcock continues to demonstrate his visual acumen through out the movie. And honestly, it's Hitchcock's style and editing that's the most interesting thing about the film. The movie itself is a romcom cliche that goes on way past its expiration date. At a running time of one hour and 46 minutes, the thin plot can't sustain its length. The conventions of the era also seem rather absurd in 2020. When the father and the boyfriend find her working as a flower girl in a nightclub, they act like she's working as a hooker the way they're outraged and shocked. With an ambiguous performance by Ferdinand Von Alten, you're never sure if he's a lech with an ulterior motive or a misunderstood guy with a good heart.

The Caper Of The Golden Bulls (1967)

Now living in Spain, a retired bank robber (Stephen Boyd) is blackmailed by his former companion (Giovanna Ralli) into doing one more job. Breaking into a vault and stealing some precious jewels. Based on the novel by William P. McGivern and directed by Russell Rouse (NEW YORK CONFIDENTIAL). This is a congenial, low maintenance heist movie that almost hits all the right notes. The film is overloaded with minor characters but they all have their place in the scheme of things. Luckily the movie was entirely filmed in Spain so the cinematographer Harold E. Stine (THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE) takes full advantage of the attractive locales. As a leading man, Boyd is stoic as usual but Ralli makes for a wonderfully wicked femme fatale. The actual heist is well done as is the running with bulls in Pamplona sequences. The only real downside is Vic Mizzy's flat music which is a perfect example of what is referred to as Mickey Mousing in underscores. Yvette Mimieux provides some eye candy and the cast is full of familiar character actors including Walter Slezak, Vito Scotti, Jay Novello, Clifton James, Leon Askin and Henry Beckman.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Strange Bedfellows (1965)

After seven years of separation, an American business executive (Rock Hudson) and his Italian artist wife (Gina Lollobrigida) agree on a divorce. But when they meet again, the old passions come back and the divorce is forgotten. However, the reasons for their separation are still there. He's a conservative and she is a liberal and this continues to cause friction. Written and directed by Melvin Frank (THE COURT JESTER), this romantic comedy lacks the match that could ignite it. Time has not been kind to it. We've seen Hudson go through these paces many times before, in his pairings with Doris Day and even with Lollobrigida in the first (and better) film they did together, COME SEPTEMBER. It's just not fresh anymore. Some of the material doesn't hold up today like the smirky misunderstandings on Hudson's sexuality, i.e. thinking he's pregnant. He's even in bed with Edward Judd (playing Lollobrigida's boss) but, of course being 1965, they're both clothed in pajamas. As if sensing his romcom days were over, in the following years, Hudson concentrated on thrillers (BLINDFOLD), dramas (SECONDS), war movies (TOBRUK) and action films (ICE STATION ZEBRA). With Gig Young, Terry Thomas, Nancy Kulp, Howard St. John, Edith Atwater and Arthur Haynes.

Kemono No Nemuri (aka The Sleeping Beast Within) (1960)

When a trading company employee (Shinsuke Ashida) mysteriously vanishes after returning to Japan after two years in Hong Kong, the man's daughter (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) and her journalist boyfriend (Hiroyuki Nagato) search for him. But when he suddenly pops up again, he seems secretive and quick to anger. Directed by Seijun Suzuki, this gritty noir-ish thriller isn't as edgy as Suzuki's best work but makes for a perfectly enjoyable thriller. Shot in monochromatic B&W scope by Shigeyoshi Mine, Suzuki explores the loyalties and betrayals of both family and lovers. Nagato's reporter must decide if the story he is following which is detrimental to his girlfriend's father takes precedence over their relationship while the father expects his family not to question his choices even if those choices could blow up in their faces (which it literally does eventually). If you're a Suzuki fan, this is a no brainer but even if you're not, there's a lot to admire here.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Wuthering Heights (1970)

A brooding young man called Heathcliff (Timothy Dalton) has grown up with the daughter  named Cathy (Anna Calder Marshall) of the man (Harry Andrews) who brought him into the household as an orphan. Although the boy and girl fall passionately in love, the boy is bitterly resented by the man's son (Julian Glover) for usurping his place in his father's household. Based on the classic novel by Emily Bronte and directed by Robert Fuest (DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN). Bronte's novel has been adapted many times for film and television (there's even an opera composed by Bernard Herrmann), the most famous one being the 1939 film version. This one is misguided on several levels. Like the 1939 film, it only uses the first half of the novel. But it changes Bronte's scenario and not for the better. For example, there's an incest element not in the novel when it is suggested that Heathcliff and Cathy may be brother and sister (same father, different mothers). In addition, the maid (Judy Cornwell) has an unrequited love for the young Earnshaw (Julian Glover) which isn't Bronte and instead of dying by pining away for Cathy, Heathcliff is murdered. The leads are also problematic. Dalton is a bloodless actor (I disliked his James Bond) and Marshall is a rather generic actress and neither seem able to suggest an unbridled passion for each other. The only passion comes from Michel Legrand's sweeping underscore. I did like the bleak and gritty look of the film as opposed to the freshly scrubbed look of the 1939 movie. With Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Heath, Hugh Griffith and Pamela Brown. 

The Sleeping City (1950)

When a young doctor (Hugh Reilly) is shot dead outside a hospital, a police detective (Richard Conte) goes undercover as an intern in order to break the case. It isn't long before he discovers there's something very wrong going on in the hospital. Directed by George Sherman (AGAINST ALL FLAGS), this film noir was shot entirely on location at Bellevue Hospital and on the streets of New York in a semi documentary style. It even begins with Richard Conte as himself and not the character he plays addressing the audience. It's a taut little crime thriller that holds your attention. It's not perfect, some of the unsubtle performances are pretty bad. Richard Taber and Alex Nicol can't seem to restrain themselves and carry on as if they were in an old fashioned melodrama but Sherman gives strong support to the film's fervid narrative. Frank Skinner (WRITTEN ON THE WIND) did the underscore. With Coleen Gray, John Alexander and Peggy Dow.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Eagle (1925)

Set in 18th century Russia, a lieutenant (Rudolph Valentino) in the Imperial Guard becomes a fugitive after he rejects the sexual advances of Catherine The Great (Louise Dresser). Returning to the village of his youth, he becomes a masked defender of justice known as The Black Eagle. Loosely based on the novel DUBROVSKY by Alexander Pushkin and directed by Clarence Brown (FLESH AND THE DEVIL). This romantic adventure allows Valentino to take a reprieve from playing Latin lovers and sheiks and play a relatively ordinary man with a restrained libido. I mean he flees when the Czarina insists he bed her (an early form of sexual harassment?). It's a piffle of a movie really but moderately entertaining with a minor amount of plagiarizing from THE MARK OF ZORRO which had been a major success five years earlier. The movie was a big hit with 1925 audiences. I was disappointed that the act of vengeance (an evil nobleman usurps his father's lands causing his father to die in poverty) which caused the lieutenant to become The Eagle was never carried out. Louise Dresser who plays Catherine II played the Empress Elizabeth of Russia in THE SCARLET EMPRESS where Marlene Dietrich played Catherine in 1934. With Vilma Banky, Albert Conti, James A. Marcus and Carrie Clark Ward. 

Billy Liar (1963)

A young man (Tom Courtenay) lives at home with his working class parents (Mona Washbourne, Wilfred Pickles) and grandmother (Ethel Griffies) and works as a clerk at a funeral home. While apparently lacking ambition in his real life, he has an active fantasy life where he imagines himself as the ruler of a mythical country and a war hero. He is also a pathological liar. Based on the novel by Keith Waterhouse by way of a play based on the book (with Albert Finney in the title role) and directed by John Schlesinger (MIDNIGHT COWBOY). I couldn't get into this much admired film which seemed to me a warmed over version of THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY. Except Walter Mitty was a likable dreamer who didn't do anybody any harm but Billy Liar isn't likable and his lies cause distress to the people around him, not to mention he steals money from his work's petty cash. But two things stand out: Denys Coop's impressive B&W wide screen lensing and Julie Christie in her breakthrough role. Bouncing down the street, swinging her purse, she already screams out, "Watch out world, I'm going to be a star!". With Leonard Rossiter, Finlay Currie, Gwendolyn Watts, Leslie Randall and Helen Fraser. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Cassandra's Dream (2007)

Two working class brothers find themselves in financial trouble. One (Colin Farrell) is besieged by gambling debts and the other (Ewan McGregor) lives a lifestyle way beyond his means. They appeal to an Uncle (Tom Wilkinson) for financial assistance and he agrees but he demands a favor in return and that favor comes at a very high price and leads to tragedy. Written and directed by Woody Allen. This is probably Allen's most underrated film. His Dostoevskian take on two brothers who commit a crime is one of his darkest films. Each is affected differently, for one it is almost a high while the other unravels as his conscience eats away at his mental health. The film itself polarized critics when it opened, some praised it while others disliked it. I think it's one of his best films and although he has made films in a similar vein like CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS and MATCH POINT, this one is grittier and bleaker with echoes of Greek tragedy. For some that connotes pretension on Allen's part but I found it riveting. It is also one of the rare Woody Allen films that use an original underscore, in this case by Philip Glass (THE HOURS) and it aids the film immeasurably. With Sally Hawkins, Hayley Atwell, Clare Higgins and Phil Davis.  

La Course Du Lievre A Travers Les Champs (aka And Hope To Die) (1972)

Pursued by a band of gypsies bent on revenge, a Frenchman (Jean Louis Trintignant) on the run flees to Canada. There he stumbles upon a gang of criminals who are planning a complicated robbery. Rather than confront his gypsy pursuers, he joins the gang in their heist. Directed by Rene Clement (PURPLE NOON), the film runs close to 2 1/2 hours and was cut down to an hour and 40 minutes for the U.S. release. I saw the long version and I'm not so sure the U.S. distributor was wrong in editing it down. The film is way too long and the film's last 40 minutes or so are a mess. It's a gorgeous looking movie thanks to Edmond Richard's (DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE) cinematography which partially compensates for the often convoluted narrative. Heist films are best when a tight rein is kept on them but this one is flabby. The film has two American stars, Robert Ryan as the gang leader (his voice is dubbed into French) and Aldo Ray (who speaks French in his own voice) as a gang member. With Lea Massari (L'AVVENTURA), Jean Gaven, Daniel Breton and Tisa Farrow. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Danza Macabra (aka Castle Of Blood) (1964)

A journalist (Georges Riviere) is interviewing the author Edgar Allan Poe (Silvano Tranquilli) when a nobleman (Umberto Raho) challenges the journalist to spend the night in a castle which is supposedly haunted. The journalist accepts the wager and quickly discovers that the dead walk the night. Although credited as an adaptation of a Poe short story, it is in fact not based on any Poe work. Directed by Antonio Margheriti (SEVEN DEATHS IN A CAT'S EYE), this Gothic horror tale stars horror icon Barbara Steele but her screen time is limited. The film itself is slow to get going and only really jump starts at the halfway mark when we get the backstories on how all the ghosts met their deaths. Margheriti whips up a nice ghostly atmosphere but it's still too predictable in its execution and there are way too many stagnant scenes. But die hard fans of these Italian Gothic horrors should enjoy it. The score is by Riz Ortolani (THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE). With Margarete Robsahm and Arturo Dominici.

Destination Wedding (2018)

Two strangers (Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder) meet at the airport and take an instant dislike to each other. They find out they're on the same flight and both are attending the same wedding. He's the half brother of the groom and she's the groom's ex-girlfriend. Written and directed by Victor Levin. I was a bit surprised that this was an original screenplay because it feels like it's based on a play. Ryder and Reeves are the only two characters in the movie (some other characters are peripheral but they have no lines) and for 90 minutes argue and discuss with a brief interval for sex. Ryder and Reeves are likable, attractive and talented which helps but it's not enough when the romcom screenplay gives us pedestrian dialogue rather than scintillating conversation. It doesn't help that Levin's direction consists of making sure the camera is in the right place and that's about it. If you're not a fan of the two lead actors, there's a good chance you won't make it to the end of the film. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Prelude To A Kiss (1992)

On her wedding day, a creepy old man (Sydney Walker) desiring youth possesses the body of a nubile young bride (Meg Ryan). On the honeymoon, the bridegroom discovers to his horror that this creature is not really his wife. Based on the play by Craig Lucas and directed by Norman Rene (LONGTIME COMPANION). This horror film is a gender reversal of the much superior I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE. If that film had a gay subtext, this one doesn't bother to bury it. The film finds all kinds of excuses to keep Alec Baldwin in various stages of undress while Meg Ryan remains fully clothed. The whole film seems set up to have Baldwin make out with a man old enough to be his grandfather. In what may be her worst performance, the clueless Meg Ryan acts as if she were in another romcom rather than a horror movie. On the other hand, while Walker is every bit as creepy as Bela Lugosi, he lacks Lugosi's imposing presence. I'm not familiar with the stage play which was well received but the film comes across as a mediocre TWILIGHT ZONE episode. Best to stick with I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE or INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS for this kind of thing. With Kathy Bates, Patty Duke, Ned Beatty and Stanley Tucci. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Haunted House Of Horror (aka Horror House) (1969)

It's swinging London in the 1960s and a group of thrill seeking youths bolt a dull party and go to a decaying mansion in the country that is supposedly haunted. They get more than they bargained for when one of them (Mark Wynter) gets hacked to death by a mysterious stranger. Or was it a stranger? Could one of them be a killer? Written and directed by Michael Armstrong (MARK OF THE DEVIL), the film is a bit of a mess through no fault of Armstrong's. American International disliked the original cut and the picture was turned over to the line producer who proceeded to rewrite it including new characters and shoot it. The film's stars, Frankie Avalon and Jill Haworth (EXODUS) were unavailable for the additional scenes which caused their characters to be absent from much of the storyline. Would the original cut have been a better movie? I don't know but the schizophrenic nature of the present film does it in. It does seem a forerunner of the teen slasher films of the 80s like FRIDAY THE 13TH. With Dennis Price (in a role meant for Boris Karloff) as a police inspector, George Sewell, Gina Warwick, Richard O'Sullivan, Carol Dilworth and Veronica Doran.

Walk A Crooked Mile (1948)

When a communist spy ring infiltrates a U.S. nuclear laboratory and steals important information, an FBI agent (Dennis O'Keefe) and a British Scotland Yard detective (Louis Hayward) joins forces to expose the traitors. Directed by Gordon Douglas (TONY ROME), this film is a good example of those "red nightmare" films prevalent in the late 1940s and early 1950s during the McCarthy era. In that sense, it's interesting from a historical point of view but as cinema, it's rather tiresome. Inexplicably, it's often referred to as film noir but instead it's a crime film with an attempt at a documentary style to make it seem more immediate (Reed Hadley's stentorian voice does the narration). The film could have used some style but Douglas's straightforward direction plods along while Hadley barks on about patriotism and the American way of life. The commies are right out of a 1930s gangster movie. With Raymond Burr, Louise Allbritton, Frank Ferguson, Art Baker, Tamara Shayne and Ray Teal.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Gideon's Day (1958)

A day in the life of a Scotland Yard police inspector (Jack Hawkins) finds him dealing with police matters such as a serial sex murderer (Laurence Naismith), a payroll robbery, a policeman (Derek Bond) taking bribes, a stool pigeon (Cyril Cusack) on the run from thugs, the robbery of a safe deposit box and the killing of a night watchman as well as domestic issues such as buying a salmon for that night's dinner and attending his daughter's (Anna Massey) concert. Based on the novel by John Creasey and directed by John Ford. This police procedural seems an atypical piece for John Ford, it was sandwiched in between the more Fordian political drama THE LAST HURRAH and the western THE HORSE SOLDIERS. It's definitely minor Ford but that's not meant as a dismissal. It's a whimsical dramedy that balances humor (which Ford keeps in check rather than the broad comedy more typical in his films) and the requisite dramatic moments one expects in a police drama. Freddie Young (DOCTOR ZHIVAGO) did the cinematography. With Dianne Foster (top billed along with Hawkins although she doesn't come in until the film's last half hour), Anna Lee, Ronald Howard, Andrew Ray and Grizelda Harvey.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Passport To Shame (1959)

A young French girl (Odile Versois) is framed for a theft and the madam (Brenda De Banzie) of a brothel brings her over to London, ostensibly to work as a paid companion. In reality, she's being set up by the madam and a sinister pimp (Herbert Lom) to work as a high class call girl. Directed by Alvin Rakoff (DEATH SHIP), this exploitation movie would like you to think it has an important social message about prostitution and how pimps take innocent girls and turns them into hookers. But it's just a plain old exploitation picture that wants to titillate you while wagging a finger at the immorality. That aside, it's actually quite entertaining on its own exploitation terms. Odile Versois actually seems quite matronly (although she was only 28) for a young innocent. My favorite character in the film was Diana Dors as the experienced prostitute who takes Versois under her wing. I was a bit worried that something bad would happen to her but happily, the films suggests a happy ending for her. With Eddie Constantine (ALPHAVILLE), Robert Brown, Michael Caine (so young he's barely recognizable), Margaret Tyzack and Jackie Collins (yes, the novelist). 

Chelovek's Kino-Apparatom (aka Man With A Movie Camera) (1929)

A documentary on city life in the Soviet Union in 1929. Directed by Dziga Vertov, this is cinema in its purest form. No plot, no actors, not even intertitles commenting on or referring to the action. Just people at work and at play, giving birth and attending funerals, getting married and getting divorced, etc. In other words, life. The closest the film has to a "character" is the cameraman who is an omniscient presence. It may sound like a dry viewing experience but it's anything but. Cinema is a visual experience and the film is a dazzling parade of images and faces accompanied by Michael Nyman's superb underscore (other transfers have different underscores but I can't imagine a more satisfying one). Vertov uses every cinematic technique available to him: editing, freeze frames, slow motion, accelerated movement, split screens, tracking shots etc. One could get drunk on the imagery. Surprisingly the film wasn't greatly admired when first released as Vertov focused on form over content. Today, it's recognized as one of cinema's greatest achievements. Poetry in motion and de rigeur to anyone remotely interested in cinema as an art form.

Murder In Greenwich Village (1937)

An heiress (Fay Wray) fleeing the apartment of a photographer forcing himself on her is rescued by another photographer (Richard Arlen). But when the first photographer turns up murdered, the heiress becomes the primary suspect. Directed by Albert S. Rogell, this mixture of screwball comedy and a murder mystery should be a lot more fun that it is. The comedy is weak but the main flaw is that the murder and its solution just isn't that interesting. As if sensing this, the movie spends more time on the romantic hijinks between Wray and Arlen than on the actual murder mystery. It might have helped with more experienced farceurs in the leads, say Carole Lombard and Melvyn Douglas. But Wray and Arlen are sincere, perhaps too sincere when they should have a bit of the devil in them. Anyway, it's watchable but forgettable. With Leon Ames, Marjorie Reynolds, Marc Lawrence and Thurston Hall. 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Pack Of Lies (1987)

Set in 1961 England, an officer (Alan Bates) with the British counterintelligence asks a suburban couple (Ellen Burstyn, Ronald Hines) to allow him into their home and use their upstairs bedroom which looks out on a street as a surveillance post. To their horror, it appears their best friends across the street, an American couple (Teri Garr, Daniel Benzali) may be communist spies. Based on the award winning play by Hugh Whitemore and directed by Anthony Page. The play was a success in London's West End where Judi Dench played Burstyn's role and a lesser success on Broadway where Rosemary Harris played the part. It's a riveting piece of drama that asks a lot of questions. Does our "duty" to our country supersede our loyalty to our friends? In a relationship built on deceit on all sides (including the government), can we ever know what the right thing is? This isn't a political thriller (though there's quite a bit of suspense) but a human drama that has us questioning what side do we come down on. The acting is very good although Burstyn does a terrible job with her British accent. I've never seen the play it's based on or read the source material but I suspect this adaptation has been watered down somewhat. Still, what remains is thought provoking. With Sammi Davis (HOPE AND GLORY) and Clive Swift. 

Friday, June 5, 2020

Bande A Part (aka Band Of Outsiders) (1964)

Two aimless young men (Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey) have romantic designs on a naive young girl (Anna Karina). They talk her into helping them rob the household she works in as a maid. Based on the novel FOOL'S GOLD by Dolores Hitchens and directed by Jean Luc Godard in a playful mood. This absurdist black comedy is a bit nutty but in a likable way. Its unfocused trio seem influenced by American gangster movies. The males act like thugs but they're pure amateurs and way over their head. As usual with Godard, he tosses in a few quirky moments as when the actors sit in silence for a minute and then spontaneously break out into dancing the Madison. Considered by many to be Godard's most accessible film and it's a good film to introduce Godard to someone who's never seen a Godard movie. With Louisa Colpeyn and Ernest Menzer. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Man In The Iron Mask (1977)

A young man (Richard Chamberlain) is abducted and imprisoned by the corrupt superintendent of finances (Patrick McGoohan) to King Louis XIV (Richard Chamberlain) of France. He has no idea why he has been arrested and imprisoned as he is unaware that he is the older twin brother of Louis and the true heir to the French throne. Loosely based on part of THE VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE by Alexandre Dumas and directed by Mike Newell (HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE). This adaptation of the oft filmed Dumas work (as a silent in 1909 and most recently in 1998 with Leonard DiCaprio and some ten versions in between) was made for television but it has the rich look of a feature film thanks to the detailed cinematography of Freddie Young (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA). It's a respectable adaptation which benefits from the French locations and solid cast. This was Chamberlain's third foray into Dumas following THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (1975). With Louis Jourdan as D'Artagnan, Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm, Jenny Agutter and Vivien Merchant. 

Morituri (1965)

Set during during WWII, a German (Marlon Brando) living in India is blackmailed by a British Colonel (Trevor Howard) into going undercover on a German freighter carrying rubber from Japan and sabotaging it. Based on the novel by Werner Jorg Luddecke and directed by Bernhard Wicki (THE VISIT). Poorly received by critics and movie audiences during its initial release, the film has acquired a small but growing cult. While the movie seems weighted down by its overly convoluted narrative, it's a pleasure to watch Brando giving a sly and restrained performance, at turns both intense and playful. The role doesn't tax him as an actor, certainly not with his wealth of acting talent but unlike some of his later performances where he's clearly not interested in the role outside of its paycheck, here he invests the part with strength and integrity. I felt sorry for his co-star Yul Brynner who doesn't stand a chance in their scenes together. As for the film itself, director Wicki manages to keep the suspense at a peak level. Conrad Hall's stark B&W cinematography received an Oscar nomination. With Janet Margolin, the only female in the cast whose character gets the worst of it. Also with Wally Cox, William Redfield, Hans Christian Blech and Martin Benrath.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Afterglow (1997)

Two couples find their lives entangled with each other: an older couple, a handyman (Nick Nolte) and his ex-actress wife (Julie Christie in an Oscar nominated performance) and a younger couple, a rising executive (Jonny Lee Miller) and wife (Lara Flynn Boyle). Produced by Robert Altman and directed by Alan Rudolph (CHOOSE ME). I tend to like Rudolph's films but found this one pretentious and ultimately worthless except for one aspect of it. And that exception is Julie Christie, who gives a sensational performance. But it's not only her performance, it's that her character is the only really interesting character in the movie, the only one I could connect with. I certainly had little interest in Nolte's philandering oaf, Miller's constipated junior executive or Boyle's annoying twit. I understand it's a "comedy" drama but the comedy part is dead on arrival. Also, I hated the soft focus cinematography of Toyomichi Kurita which looks like it was shot through a nylon stocking. If you're performance oriented as I am, seek it out for Julie Christie. If you're not, you can safely avoid it. 

Bride And Prejudice (2004)

When a wealthy American (Martin Henderson) visits India with his friend (Naveen Andrews), he clashes with a local Indian beauty (Aishwarya Rai) despite their obvious attraction to each other. Adapted from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen and directed by Gurinder Chadha (BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM). Taking Austen's beloved classic and turning it into a modern day Bollywood musical may sound like heresy but who cares when the result is as charming a confection as this. Filmed in India, London and Los Angeles, this is a colorful and buoyant retelling that stands on its own even if you've never read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (or seen any of its film or TV adaptations). The wholesome all American Henderson and the exotic beauty Rai make for an attractive coupling and I can't help but think Jane Austen would approve. The large cast includes Marsha Mason, Anupam Kher, Nadira Babbar, Alexis Bledel, Nitin Ganatra and the stunning Indira Varma.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Mad Doctor Of Market Street (1942)

An unethical scientist (Lionel Atwill) does experiments on live humans. He puts them into a state of suspended animation with the intention of reviving them at a later date. But when one of his subjects (Hardie Albright) dies during the process, he flees the country and takes a ship to New Zealand but fate takes a hand when the ship sinks and he and five other passengers are stranded on a desert island. Directed by Joseph L. Lewis (GUN CRAZY), this economical Universal horror programmer is short enough (its running time barely over an hour) so that it doesn't have time to lose any steam and plows ahead for an entertaining B movie horror. As usual with these films, there's always someone around for comic relief and in this case, there are two of them. Fortunately, they are amusing rather than annoying. There's Una Merkel as a ditzy Aunt and Nat Pendelton as a muscle bound boxer. I enjoyed it. The rest of the cast includes Anne Nagel, Richard Davies, Claire Dodd and John Eldredge.