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Friday, July 31, 2020

So Dark The Night (1946)

A police detective (Steven Geray, GILDA) from Paris takes a much needed vacation in a small country village. It is there he falls in love with the much younger daughter (Micheline Cheirel) of the innkeeper (Eugene Borden) even though she is betrothed to a young farmer (Paul Marion). But tragedy strikes when she is murdered. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis (GUN CRAZY), this is a combination Agatha Christie mystery and film noir. The identity of the murderer is fairly easy to figure out, at least it was for me. However, it's the psychological aspect of the detective that takes this crime film out of the pedestrian. The film may lack star power (Geray was a character actor) but a sympathetic performance by Geray, Newman's solid direction, a sharp screenplay, striking B&W cinematography courtesy of Burnett Guffey (BONNIE AND CLYDE) and an effective underscore by Hugo Friedhofer (BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES) all contribute to the movie's strengths. Although set in France, it was filmed in Hollywood but the casting of French actors lends it some authenticity. A minor entry in the noir canon but a fine one, a real sleeper. With Ann Codee and Helen Freeman.  

Welcome To Hard Times (1967)

A barbaric brute of a man (Aldo Ray) comes to a small ramshackle town and proceeds to rape, pillage, murder and set fire to the town and killing the two men who dare stand up to him. The "mayor" of the town (Henry Fonda), who refused to stand up to him and ran, attempts to build the town up again. But even he knows it's a matter of time before the evil beast returns. Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow (RAGTIME), this is a transitional western. Perhaps influenced by the spaghetti western, it contains some of the most violent images seen in an American western up to that time and it wouldn't be long before Sam Peckinpah opened up the floodgates with THE WILD BUNCH. It's a downbeat western with no one to root for for as repugnant as Ray's mindless killing machine is, Fonda's weak ostrich with his head in the sand is just as repugnant in his own way. When it's over, there are no winners. A near nihilistic western without any catharsis. Directed by Burt Kennedy (SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF) who also did the screenplay. With Janice Rule as the rape victim bent on vengeance, Keenan Wynn, Janis Paige, Warren Oates, Fay Spain, Lon Chaney Jr., John Anderson, Royal Dano, Paul Fix, Elisha Cook and Arlene Golonka.

Congo Maisie (1940)

Set in West Africa, a former doctor (John Carroll) turned rubber plantation owner finds himself stranded along with a showgirl (Ann Sothern) when the steamer they're traveling on breaks down. They take refuge at a medical station while the steamer undergoes lengthy repairs and it's there that he finds himself attracted to the wife (Rita Johnson) of the station's doctor (Shepperd Strudwick). Based on the novel CONGO LANDING by Wilson Collison and directed by H.C. Potter (THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER). The follow up to the surprise hit MAISIE (1939), Sothern's Maisie is almost peripheral to the story for most of the running time as the film concentrates on Carroll's ex-doctor and his attraction to Strudwick's wife. It's an MGM backlot jungle with the usual stereotyping of the natives as superstitious savages waiting to be educated by the white man. It's passable entertainment. Sothern would go on to do eight more Maisie movies for MGM. With J.M. Kerrigan and E.E. Clive. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Tokyo Orinpikku (aka Tokyo Olympiad) (1965)

A documentary on the 1964 summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Directed by Kon Ichikawa (FIRES ON THE PLAIN). I am not a sports fan and not particularly a big fan of documentaries but this is a beautiful motion picture. If its impact isn't as great as OLYMPIA, which chronicled the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, at least we're free of the unpleasant Nazi propaganda. Ichikawa doesn't concentrate on the victories so much as turn his eye to the humanity of the competitors and his visuals on the beauty of athleticism. These athletes push themselves to the very limit of what their bodies can stand. It focuses on the usual suspects but also on the more obscure Olympic categories like shooting and speed walking. The 1964 Olympics were the first games to be televised internationally and Ichikawa was hired to document the event. The Japanese Olympic committee was not happy with the result, they wanted a conventional documentation of the event, not the art film they got and they had Ichikawa edit it down to about 90 minutes. Ichikawa's theatrical cut pushed the three hour mark with an intermission which is the version I watched. If you're not a sports fan, don't let the subject matter put you off. This shows how a great film maker can make compelling Art out of something you (think you) have no interest in.

Holiday (1930)

A young man (Robert Ames) is engaged to a girl (Mary Astor) from a rich family. But he's not enamored of her wealthy lifestyle and prefers a more casual way of living including earning just enough to pursue other interests. This clashes with her preference for living the lifestyle she was brought up in. Based on the play by Philip Barry (PHILADELPHIA STORY) and directed by Edward H. Griffith. This drawing room romantic comedy was remade in 1938 with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn which is the better known version. There's nothing wrong with this version but the 1938 film had the benefit of the star power of Grant and Hepburn and strong direction by George Cukor who seems more receptive of the material. Neither Ames or the likable Ann Harding are able to command the screen like Grant and Hepburn though to be fair, very few actors can. A good example of how some remakes improve on the original. With Edward Everett Horton (who appears in the same part in the 1938 film), Hedda Hopper and Monroe Owsley.

Night Must Fall (1964)

Set in Wales, a psychologically disturbed young man (Albert Finney) gets a housemaid (Sheila Hancock) pregnant. Her employer (Mona Washbourne), who's in a wheelchair, demands to see him but unexpectedly becomes attached to him and invites him to live in the house. Based on the play by Emlyn Williams (previously filmed in 1937) and directed by Karel Reisz. Having successfully collaborated on the "kitchen sink" drama SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, Reisz and Finney co-produced this movie with Reisz directing and Finney starring. A thriller seems like an unusual follow up to such a critically acclaimed film but it doesn't appear they were interested in making a conventional thriller as the film differs from the play and original film considerably. In addition to being more violent and sexually explicit, the film's protagonist isn't as smooth as he is in the original. Here, he's clearly a psychopath and indeed, the first we see of him has him decapitating a woman before dumping her body in the lake. Finney obviously relished the part and he brings considerable underpinnings as well as a sense of menace to the role. In the end, I don't think it's as successful as the 1937 film but I liked how it catered the movie to a contemporary audience without betraying the source material. The striking B&W lensing is by the great Freddie Francis. With Susan Hampshire and Michael Medwin.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Me, Natalie (1969)

Still living at home in Brooklyn, a homely girl (Patty Duke) feels stifled by her parents (Nancy Marchand, Philip Sterling) who are eager for her to get married. So, she moves to Greenwich Village to "find herself". Directed by Fred Coe (A THOUSAND CLOWNS), this movie is a morass of cliches delivered by a (mostly) excellent cast. The biggest problem I had with the film is that Duke's character is a walking, talking pity party. She has a huge chip on her shoulder, just waiting for someone to try and be nice to her so she can bite their head off. Of course, she softens as the film progresses until the film's last 10 minutes when she "finds herself". Duke may not be a great beauty but homely she's not, so the film makers have given her an unflattering set of teeth. But there are some good things in the film especially the performances, notably Salome Jens (in the film's best performance) as a junkie stripper and Marchand as Duke's out of touch but caring mother. There's a nice score by Henry Mancini except when its accompanied by Rod McKuen's mawkish lyrics during two montage sequences. With James Farentino, Martin Balsam, Elsa Lanchester, Catherine Burns, Deborah Winters, Bob Balaban and a young Al Pacino.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Straight Shooting (1917)

As homesteaders move West to settle, a cattleman (Duke R. Lee) hires a notorious gunslinger (Harry Carey) to help him drive the settlers out of the territory. But as he becomes involved with a homesteader (George Burrell) and his pretty daughter (Molly Malone), the gunfighter begins to question his choices. Directed by John Ford (credited as Jack Ford) in his feature film debut. It was originally intended as a two reeler but Ford extended it into a feature length film. Its cattlemen vs. homesteaders plot may be standard western stuff but it's an effective western nevertheless. The line between "good" men and "bad" men is blurred as it's the "bad" guys who help protect the settlers from the tyranny of the cattlemen and although Carey's gunslinger finds redemption, the other bad guys remain bad guys. The transfer I saw had a very effective piano and guitar underscore by Michael Gatt. With Hoot Gibson and Vester Pegg.   

I Sell Anything (1934)

Set in Depression era New York, a con man (Pat O'Brien} works out of an auction shop on Second Avenue swindling suckers out of their money. But when a Fifth Avenue society dame (Claire Dodd) swindles him out of $5,000, he just might have met his match. Directed by Robert Florey (MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE), this pre-code film about con men and hustlers is fast entertainment. Pat O'Brien is an affable mug which makes it easier to like his swindler, maybe because we know he's a softie underneath. Pretty Ann Dvorak's loyal girl Friday provides the contrast to Dodd's snooty Fifth Avenue predator who captures O'Brien's fancy but we all know who he'll end up with. It's a modest and quick (one hour and 19 minutes) diversion. With Roscoe Karns and Hobart Cavanaugh.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Pasolini (2014)

Set in 1975, the film director Pier Paolo Pasolini (Willem Dafoe) has just completed his latest film SALO and is in the process of writing the screenplay for his next film. Directed by Abel Ferrera (MS. 45), the film examines the last days of Pasolini's life shortly before his brutal murder. In the film, Pasolini claims narrative art is dead and as if to echo that statement, Ferrera doesn't give us a conventional biopic but fragments containing Pasolini expounding his political views in interviews, images from the screenplay he is in the process of writing, picking up hustlers etc. It's an unorthodox approach to the biographical genre but done with such austerity that one almost wishes Ken Russell had gotten his hands on it and juiced it up with his often outrageous imagery and sensibility. Dafoe is fine as Pasolini but never quite believable. He's playing an Italian and surrounded with a cast of Italian actors yet he speaks standard English without a trace of an accent. It's nicely shot by Stefano Falivene (BEL AMI). Released in Italy in 2014 but not in the U.S. until 2019. With Adriana Asti, Ninetto Davoli, Ricardo Scamarcio as Ninetto Davoli and Maria De Medeiros (PULP FICTION) as Laura Betti.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Deadly Mantis (1957)

A 200 foot long praying mantis that has been trapped in ice for millions of years is freed due to seismic activity in the Pacific Ocean. When military personnel in Northern Canada begin disappearing under strange circumstances, a Colonel (Craig Stevens) is assigned to investigate. Directed by Nathan Juran ((7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD), this is yet another entry in the giant insect on the rampage so popular in 1950s sci-fi movies (TARANTULA, THEM, BEGINNING OF THE END etc.). As far as the genre goes, this one is just okay. The special effects are on the weak side except for the mantis which looks kind of cool but the characters are ciphers and there's only one genuine moment of suspense toward the very end of the film. I've a fondness for 1950s science fiction myself so I suppose I've built up a tolerance for these things but it's painless and occasionally entertaining at at one hour and 19 minutes, it doesn't wear out its welcome. With William Hopper, Alix Talton and Phil Harvey.

Edouard Et Caroline (1951)

A struggling pianist (Daniel Gelin) and his wife (Anne Vernon, UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG) are preparing to go to a posh party given by her Uncle (Jean Galland). He is high strung and she is high maintenance and by the time they attend the party, divorce is a real possibility. Can this marriage be saved? Directed by Jacques Becker (CASQUE D'OR), this comedy has a great deal of charm, no small part due to the appeal of Gelin and Vernon. It's an original screenplay but it almost seems like it's an adaptation of a play. It's heavily dialog driven and there are only two sets, the couple's apartment and the Uncle's reception room. The banter and bickering are amusing and the eccentric party guests are quite entertaining. It's like a French version of a screwball comedy. There's not much else I can say about it but if you've read this far, you should know if this stuff is your cup of tea. With Jacques Francois, Elina Labourdette, William Tubbs and Betty Stockfeld. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Shining (1980)

A recovering alcoholic (Jack Nicholson), his wife (Shelley Duvall) and son (Danny Lloyd) move into the historic but secluded Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains where he will work as the hotel's caretaker during the winter months when the hotel is closed and snowed in. His son has an imaginary friend who lives in his mouth and does a bad Linda Blair imitation. In the ensuing lonely months, the father begins to mentally unravel as the hotel's deadly past influences his behavior. Based on the novel by Stephen King (who dislikes the film) and directed by Stanley Kubrick. King's novel is one of the greatest horror novels ever written. Alas, Kubrick's film version is one of the great disappointments. Kubrick has no feel for horror, there isn't a genuine moment (well, maybe one) of horror or dread in the entire film. Kubrick goes through the motions mechanically, he may have gallons of blood sloshing its way through the hotel's corridors but it's bloodless horror film. The film was screwed by the casting of Nicholson in the lead. Instead of going from A and building up to Z in his descent into madness, Nicholson starts off at W and gets to Z before the film is halfway through and paints himself into a corner, he has nowhere else to go. Nicholson's devilish grin and arched eyebrows worked marvelously in WITCHES OF EASTWICK (one of his very best performances) but EASTWICK was a comedy. THE SHINING isn't (at least intentionally) and Nicholson induces giggles, not terror. Joe Turkel in a low keyed performance as a bartender evokes a genuine sense of menace that all of Nicholson's hysterics can't. I also found it disturbing that Kubrick felt it necessary to kill off the movie's only major black character (he survives in the book). Is there anything worthwhile here? Well, the art direction is gorgeous, the interiors of the hotel are a cinematographer's dream as the Steadicam glides it way around it. And then there's Shelley Duvall in a near amazing performance. There is no horror in the film for an audience but Duvall's performance lets us feel her terror and the only emotions the film drew from me was my concern for her safety. With Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Anne Jackson and Barry Dennen.

Stage Door Canteen (1943)

During WWII, the Stage Door Canteen is a recreational center for U.S. and Allied servicemen with pretty hostesses and celebrities doing their part for the war effort. In this setting, a young hostess (Cheryl Walker) and a soldier (William Terry) fall in love although fraternization is forbidden. Directed by Frank Borzage, this rather inane propaganda film was produced to boost morale and salute the troops which is to be applauded. But as cinema, it's dreadful. The reason to watch the film to today is the fun of star spotting as the film is crammed with famous faces, many known for their work in the theater as opposed to films. It's rather amusing how they're identified as if we might not know who they are so we get lines like, "Ed Wynn! I didn't expect to see you here", "Say, aren't you Ray Bolger?" and "Is that really Gypsy Rose Lee?". We get to see the legendary stage actress Katharine Cornell (in her only film appearance) recite from ROMEO AND JULIET though it doesn't give us a glimmer into why she was considered great. Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne show up too but they have a comedy bit rather than providing us with dramatic readings. We're treated to delights like Ethel Waters singing with the Count Basie band and Peggy Lee singing with the Benny Goodman orchestra which compensate for having to sit through Gracie Fields singing The Lord's Prayer. The film takes the time to acknowledge the service of African American and Asian soldiers. Other famous faces in the cast: Katharine Hepburn, Paul Muni, Tallulah Bankhead, Helen Hayes, Ethel Merman, Johnny Weissmuller, Judith Anderson, Merle Oberon, Ralph Bellamy, George Raft, Harpo Marx, Dame May Whitty, Martha Scott, Virginia Grey, Franklin Pangborn, William Demarest, Aline MacMahon, Lon McCallister, Virginia Field, Selena Royle, Kay Kyser and Jane Darwell.   

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Cosi Dolce, Cosi Perversa (aka So Sweet, So Perverse) (1969)

A wealthy married Parisian businessman (Jean Louis Trintignant) falls for a troubled blonde (Carroll Baker) who lives in the flat above his. He attempts to help her free herself from her sadistic lover (Horst Frank) but only succeeds in finding himself as part of a diabolical plot. Directed by Umberto Lenzi, this Italian giallo is the spawn of Clouzot's DIABOLIQUE (1955). As an imitation, it's actually one of the better ones. If you've seen DIABOLIQUE, it shouldn't take much for you to figure out who's who and who's doing what to who. It's the second of the four films Lenzi made with Baker and I found it more satisfying than their initial effort, ORGASMO. Baker does well playing two very different aspects of her character while Trintignant lends a likable dignity to his manipulated lover. With Erika Blanc, Helga Line and Beryl Cunningham.

Der Grosse Sprung (aka The Great Leap) (1927)

Set in the mountains of Northeast Italy, a young girl (Leni Riefenstahl) is courted by two men: a visitor (Hans Schneeberger) from Berlin and a local mountain climber (Luis Trenker). Directed by Arnold Fanck (THE HOLY MOUNTAIN), who was noted for his "mountain" films. This romantic comedy is a treat. It's a bit overlong for something so slight but the stunning (and I don't use that word lightly) cinematography is awesome as is the stunt work. Visually, this is a remarkable example of silent cinema and Fanck's technique (he also edited the film) feels so fresh that he puts many a contemporary film maker to shame. I've always found the term "German comedy" an oxymoron of sorts but this one is genuinely amusing. The pace is quick, the sight gags jocular but it always comes back to the images which would justify the film's existence even if it were a mediocre film. With Paul Graetz and a scene stealing goat (she even skis!).

Calcutta (1947)

When a cargo pilot (Alan Ladd) flying between China and India finds out his close friend (John Whitney) has been murdered, he takes it upon himself to find out who killed him. Directed by John Farrow (THE BIG CLOCK), this is a nifty piece of film noir with Alan Ladd returning to the tough guy mode that made him a star in THIS GUN FOR HIRE. He's not above ripping a necklace off a babe or slapping a dame around to get information. For that reason, it takes a bit of time to warm up to him. But he's really good here in a role that doesn't tax his acting ability but plays up to what he does best. I've always preferred the deep freeze Ladd of noir and crime movies to his good guy parts like SHANE. It's an absorbing movie and everyone is a suspect no matter how benign they seem. The doe eyed Gail Russell and the likable June Duprez (THIEF OF BAGDAD) make for lovely femme fatales and the art department does an excellent job of creating the bustling Calcutta on the Paramount backlot. With William Bendix, Lowell Gilmore, Paul Singh, Benson Fong and the marvelous Edith King (sort of a female Sydney Greenstreet), who only made 4 other movies and comes as close to stealing the movie as anyone.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Double Platinum (1999)

An aspiring singer (Brandy Norwood) discovers that a pop superstar (Diana Ross) is the mother that abandoned her and her father (Brian Stokes Mitchell) when she was a baby in order to pursue her career. The mother offers to help her daughter with her own music dreams but the pain caused by the abandonment remains and proves a hindrance to their relationship. Directed by Robert Allan Ackerman, this hoary melodrama could have been an old Joan Crawford vehicle dusted off for Ross, it's that creaky. There's not a fresh or original moment in the entire movie. It dutifully connects all the dots heading straight for the happy ending. Fortunately for us, as an actress Diana Ross is a natural and she doesn't lack star quality, she's the real thing so she keeps us watching. But no actress, no matter how good can make this movie (originally shot for TV) anything more than a dusty vehicle with the cobwebs barely wiped off. With Roger Rees, Harvey Fierstein, Allen Payne, Samantha Brown and Christine Ebersole.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Dr. Cyclops (1940)

A brilliant but unstable physicist (Albert Dekker) conducts secret experiments in the depths of the Peruvian jungle. Two biologists (Janice Logan, Charles Halton) are invited by the demented doctor for assistance and they bring along a mineralogist (Thomas Coley) and a mule guide (Victor Kilian). But the doctor's welcome is brief and the four, along with a Peruvian worker (Frank Yaconelli), find themselves guinea pigs in the doctor's diabolical experiments. Based on a short story by Henry Kuttner and directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack (MIGHTY JOE YOUNG). Long before THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), this bright Technicolor science fiction piece explored similar terrain albeit not so seriously. The miniature people are even terrorized by a "giant" pet cat. It's good fun if not particularly well thought out which leads to some nitpicking. For example, after they are shrunk, where did they get the little clothes we see them wearing. It certainly didn't come from the doctor whose shrinking of them was impromptu. And when one of the little people is shot by a regular size bullet, surely his body would have been splattered everywhere instead of just dropping. Well, obviously this is the kind of movie where it's best not to think too much. Curiously, this is one of the rare films of its era where the cast is not mentioned in the opening credits and it's not until the end card of "cast of characters" that we find out who played who. 

Beau Geste (1939)

When a valuable diamond is stolen, the shadow of its theft falls on three brothers (Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston)). To escape the suspicion, the three join the French Foreign Legion. Based on the novel by Percival Christopher Wren (previously made in 1926 with Ronald Colman) and directed by William A. Wellman. This piece of silly nonsense is inexplicably admired in certain quarters. It's well directed, I'll give it that. Wellman stages some impressive battle scenes and there's a fine Alfred Newman score but when you despise the "hero" (Cooper) and root for the sadistic villain (Brian Donlevy in an Oscar nominated performance), something's not right. The film is under two hours but it felt like three and I did something I almost never do when watching a film ... I hit the fast forward button several times. I don't mean to be too harsh to it because I enjoyed some of the earlier portions of the movie but it gets increasingly contrived as it moves forward and at 38, Cooper was a bit mature to play the boyish Brit (fortunately he doesn't bother with an English accent, the mind reels). With Susan Hayward, Donald O'Connor, Broderick Crawford, Albert Dekker, J. Carrol Naish and James Stephenson.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Romance And Cigarettes (2007)

A blue collar construction worker (James Gandolfini) is caught cheating by his wife (Susan Sarandon). He must then decide between his wife and his mistress (Kate Winslet). Written and directed by actor turned director John Turturro. For whatever reason, Turturro decided this dark romance about infidelity among the working class should be a musical. But not an ordinary musical. The actors lip sync to well known pop songs that are incorporated to comment on the action along with some clunky choreography by Tricia Brouk though to be fair, it appears she's working with non dancers. The narrative itself is simple enough and without the songs would make for an hour long movie. The numbers vary in quality but for the most part, they are the reason to see the movie. In spite of its weaknesses, I kind of enjoyed it although it too often seemed like a home movie where the director invited all his famous friends to participate. The large cast includes Christopher Walken, Mary Louise Parker, Elaine Stritch, Steve Buscemi, Bobby Cannavale, Tony Goldwyn, Mandy Moore, Amy Sedaris, Eddie Izzard and Barbara Sukowa. Among the singers used to dub the actors: Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Connie Francis, Cyndi Lauper and Engelbert Humperdinck, 

The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958)

In 1860, Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is sentenced to death but he escapes the guillotine and under a new identity, he practices medicine in a small village. But he still conducts his experiments in the hope of creating a man out of body parts and a living brain. Directed by Terence Fisher (BRIDES OF DRACULA), this is a sequel to Hammer's THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN which came out the year before. It's a somewhat fresher spin on the Frankenstein legacy in that Frankenstein's "monster" is a relatively attractive looking young man (Michael Gwynn) whose downfall is escaping before his body is physically ready. The film's first hour is the most interesting as it falls into familiar horror movie territory during the last half hour. It's one of the better Frankenstein films with an intelligent screenplay, impressive production values and solid performances. With Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson and Lionel Jeffries.  

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Scenes From The Class Struggle In Beverly Hills (1989)

A wealthy recent widow and former actress (Jacqueline Bisset) must deal with her husband's (Paul Mazursky) funeral while entertaining house guests for a weekend. What should have been a somber weekend turns into a roundelay of sex partners as even the servants get into the act. Written and directed by Paul Bartel (EATING RAOUL), this black comedy is inconsistent. It can't seem to find the right tone as it switches from broad comedy to more naturalistic scenes. For the most part, the comedy bits work but the "sincere" scenes are badly written and played. The same might be said of the cast, some of which are comedy challenged notably Robert Beltran who can't deliver a comedy line to save his life. Others like Wallace Shawn, Ed Begley Jr. and Arnetia Walker (who just about steals the film) know how to punch their lines. There's a slight sordidness to the whole endeavor like Ray Sharkey's bisexual predator forcing himself on people or Bartel's creepy much older man prepping a teenage girl (Rebecca Schaeffer) to be his mistress. But when it gets it right (like the brunch scene), there are chuckles to be had. With Mary Woronov, Barret Oliver, Michael Feinstein and Edith Diaz.

The Runner Stumbles (1979)

Set in the 1930s in a rural Michigan town, a priest (Dick Van Dyke) is awaiting trial for the murder of a young nun (Kathleen Quinlan). Visited by his attorney (Beau Bridges), the priest reflects on the day the nun arrived at his parish and their ensuing complicated relationship. Based on the play by Milan Stitt and directed by Stanley Kramer (GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER) in his final film. The play and film are based on an actual murder case that occurred in 1907 where a nun's body was discovered buried underneath a parish church, the nun was pregnant at the time of her death. Alas, a provocative narrative is poorly executed though to be fair, not having seen or read the play I don't know if the problems were inherent in the original source material. The film suffers from the casting of Dick Van Dyke in the lead role. In 1979, it must have seemed daring to cast an actor known for comedy in such a dark and complex role but it comes across as "stunt" casting. Van Dyke isn't believable for a minute and the depths required to inhabit the part seem beyond his ken as an actor. The film also doesn't address the issue of Van Dyke being a lousy priest. As the vivacious nun, Quinlan fares much better but she seems to be acting in a vacuum in her scenes with Van Dyke. It may be a failure as cinema but I actually enjoyed it more than some of Kramer's more celebrated films. At least, he isn't pounding us over the head with a hammer. On the plus side, Laszlo Kovacs provides some handsome images. With Maureen Stapleton, Tammy Grimes (in the film's best performance) and Ray Bolger.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Razzia Sur La Chnouf (1955)

Returning to France from a stint in the United States, a skilled criminal (Jean Gabin) in the narcotics market is recruited by the head (Marcel Dalio) of a major drug ring. As his cover, he is made the manager of a restaurant frequented by the drug world. Based on the novel by Auguste Le Breton and directed by Henri Decoin (LA VERITE SUR BEBE DONGE). The film explores the business of narcotics, the men who run the drug scene, their dealers and junkies. It's graphic about the seamy underbelly of drugs in a way that would never have been possible in an American film at the time, not even THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM went this far. There's also a sex act between a black man and white woman that never would have been allowed in a 1955 Hollywood movie. The end of the film, however, is surprisingly and disappointingly conventional. As usual, Jean Gabin's imposing screen presence holds your attention but there are some excellent supporting performances. Notably Lila Kedrova (ZORBA THE GREEK) as a pathetic junkie. If Marc Lanjean's jazz underscore sounds a bit like Michel Legrand, it could be because Legrand did the orchestrations. With Lino Ventura, Magali Noel, Paul Frankeur and Marcel Bozzuffi.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Hans Christian Andersen (1952)

Set in 19th century Denmark, a cobbler (Danny Kaye) in a small village ventures to Copenhagen along with his apprentice (Joseph Walsh). It's there he gets infatuated with a ballerina (Jeanmaire), who he believes is stuck in an unhappy marriage to her abusive choreographer husband (Farley Granger). Directed by Charles Vidor (GILDA) with songs by Frank Loesser (GUYS AND DOLLS). The film is upfront that this is not a factual biography of the famous Danish storyteller but rather an imaginative fantasy of his life. The film is colorful, the songs are good and the choreography by Roland Petit is lovely, highlighted by THE LITTLE MERMAID ballet. The film was a huge hit and received 6 Oscar nominations. Danny Kaye is surprisingly subdued in his performance rather than his usual manic persona. So much so that I'm tempted to call it a movie for people who dislike Danny Kaye. I'm a huge Kaye fan myself but I found the film too mawkish and sentimental. But clearly the film was aimed toward the wholesome family market. With John Qualen and John Brown.

The Mad Ghoul (1943)

A science professor (George Zucco) is obsessed with a nerve gas used by the ancient Mayans in their human sacrifice rituals. The professor is attracted to the girlfriend (Evelyn Ankers, Universal's resident scream queen) of one of his students so he decides to experiment on the student (David Bruce) which turns him into a zombie. Directed by James Hogan, who had just signed a contract with Universal studios but died before the movie was released. This is yet another of the prolific B horror movies ground out by Universal in the 1940s, all of them varying in quality. This one is middling. Zucco, no surprise, is suitably diabolical as the unethical doctor but David Bruce does very well as the student turned into the living dead. In fact, he's rather touching. Fans of the Universal horror catalog should be pleased. I enjoyed it but it's definitely a minor entry in the Universal canon. With Charles McGraw, Turhan Bey, Robert Armstrong, Rose Hobart and Milburn Stone.

Glorifying The American Girl (1929)

An ambitious singer and dancer (Mary Eaton) sacrifices the love of her childhood sweetheart (Edward Crandall) in her quest for fame as she tours in vaudeville houses before reaching her ultimate goal, Broadway. Directed by Millard Web, the production was supervised by Florenz Ziegfeld himself. This being a pre-code film, there are brief glimpses of nudity and the word "damn" is said five times some 10 years before the ruckus it caused in GONE WITH THE WIND. As for the movie itself, it's that creaky story of the girl trying to make good in show business and the sacrifices she makes climbing up the ladder of success. Fortunately, pretty Mary Eaton is appealing so you're rooting for her. Also, we get to see some famous entertainers of the period perform like Helen Morgan, Rudy Vallee and Eddie Cantor whose tailor shop comedy routine is a highlight. There are also some two strip Technicolor sequences toward the end showcasing the Ziegfeld showgirls. It's the kind of film that should appeal to fans of pre-code cinema and early sound musicals. If that's not you, you might find this tough going. With Gloria Shea, Sarah Edwards, Dan Healy, and Kaye Renard. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Orgasmo (1969)

A wealthy American widow (Carroll Baker) arrives in Italy where she secludes herself in a luxurious villa. But she's lonely which makes her a target for two decadent young people (Lou Castel, Colette Descombes) who seduce her into a lifestyle of nightclubs, alcohol and sex. Directed by Umberto Lenzi, this was the first of four films he would make with Carroll Baker who had left Hollywood and began a new phase of her career in Italian cinema. It's often mistakenly referred to as a giallo but it's really a Eurotrash (and I use that term with affection) thriller, a mixture of GASLIGHT and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? The U.S. release was cut by some 6 minutes but it still got an X rating. But what was cut eliminated an important twist perhaps to make Baker's character more sympathetic. Curiously, the film did poorly in Italy but was a hit everywhere else. Still, if its narrative seems deja vu, it's entertaining enough in its twisted way to keep you watching. Trivia: the film's assistant director was Bertrand Tavernier (COUP DE TORCHON), who would go on to become one of France's most respected directors. With Tino Carraro and Lilla Brignone. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

My Gun Is Quick (1957)

Set in Los Angeles, a private investigator (Robert Bray) takes pity on a young prostitute (Jan Chaney) and gives her money to go back home. But when she turns up murdered the next day, he vows to find her murderer and bring him to justice. Based on the novel by Mickey Spillane and directed by Victor Saville (GREEN DOLPHIN STREET). This was the third of the three Mickey Spillane movies featuring the character of Mike Hammer released by United Artists in the 1950s following I THE JURY (1953) and KISS ME DEADLY (1955). This one almost feels like a parody of the pulp detective genre in spite of itself. I couldn't help smiling during some of Hammer's tough guy pulp dialogue ("Get off my back, chick!") and was instantly reminded of the GIRL HUNT BALLET from musical THE BAND WAGON (1953) which satirized the genre. I even waited for the tough guy narration but that didn't happen. The mystery which involves stolen jewels isn't all that interesting but I liked the film's tart B movie style. It doesn't stay with you the way KISS ME DEADLY does but as a minor diversion, I quite enjoyed it. With Whitney Blake, Pamela Duncan, Patricia Donahue, Richard Garland, Claire Carleton and Terence De Marney.  

Monday, July 13, 2020

Grace Jones: Bloodlight And Bami (2017)

The influential and one of a kind androgynous singer/actress/model/performance artist Grace Jones returns to the place of her birth, Jamaica. There, she reconnects with her family roots recollecting the abusive childhood under the oppressive hand of her religious stepfather. The documentary also devotes time to her career including several live performances before an audience. Directed by Sophie Fiennes (Ralph's sister). For fans of Grace Jones (as I am), this film is a wonderful opportunity to peek into Jones's history as well as thrill to her electric stage presence when she performs. We get to see several aspects of Jones from abused child to diva (both onstage and off) to loving grandmother. The make up is off (both literally and metaphorically) and what we see is a survivor and uncanny force of nature as well as the startling contrast between the near poverty (perhaps simplicity is a better word) of her heritage and the glamorous life (champagne breakfasts in Paris). If you're unfamiliar with Jones, the film provides a chance to discover her for yourself. 

The Stand (1994)

An experimental deadly virus from a government laboratory is accidentally released which devastates the country killing everyone except for a chosen few who are immune (their immunity is never satisfactorily explained). However, the survivors find themselves choosing sides in what will be a stand between good and evil. Based on the novel by Stephen King (who adapted it for the mini series format) and directed by Mick Garris (SLEEPWALKERS). As a writer, the epic novel (800 pages plus) of THE STAND may be King's greatest achievement. When I first read the novel soon after its publication, I envisioned the first epic horror movie with a big budget, wide screen, A list stars and running around four hours with an intermission. Alas, what we got is a pale imitation of the book. It's not as bad as the film version of THE SHINING (what could be?) but it's a weak adaptation. It's 6 hours long but there's a lot of flab that could have been cut. The casting is also weak with a lot of bad performances. I could overlook Adam Storke's lousy pop singer but the casting of Jamey Sheridan as Flagg is disastrous. In the book, Flagg was a dark and intimidating presence, the personification of evil. Sheridan is about as scary as Don Knotts and sometimes unintentionally funny. Maybe someday someone will remake it and get it right. There are some good performances, notably Ruby Dee as a 106 year old visionary and Shawnee Smith as a crazy freak. The large cast includes Molly Ringwald, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe, Kathy Bates, Ossie Davis, Ray Walston, Laura San Giacomo, Miguel Ferrer

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Jubal (1956)

A drifter (Glenn Ford) is found in a weakened condition and nursed back to health at the ranch of a cattleman (Ernest Borgnine), who takes a liking to the the cowboy. He offers him a job and eventually makes him a ranch foreman to the resentment of another worker (Rod Steiger). But matters escalate when the cattleman's much younger wife (Valerie French) makes a play for the new foreman. Based on the novel JUBAL TROOP by Paul Wellman and directed by Delmer Daves (3:10 TO YUMA). The idea of Shakespeare's OTHELLO set in the West is intriguing and this CinemaScope western almost pulls it off. The emphasis shifts from Othello in the play to Cassio's (although important to the plot, he's a lesser character in Shakespeare's play) movie equivalent, the title character played by Ford. In its favor, it's not a traditional western but more of a melodrama (or Shakespearean tragedy, if you will) set in the West. It's hard to put a finger on why it almost succeeds instead of going the distance. Perhaps if OTHELLO's plot weren't so watered down. One aspect that doesn't work however is Rod Steiger's raging ranch hand (Iago's equivalent). Steiger goes all "actors studio" and feels out of place in the western setting and his acting style clashes with everyone else's. I wish Aldo Ray hadn't turned the role down because his low key naturalistic acting would have been perfect. David Raksin did the score. With Felicia Farr, Charles Bronson, Basil Ruysdael and Jack Elam.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Far From Heaven (2002)

Set in an upper class suburb in 1957 Connecticut, a housewife (Julianne Moore) seems to have the perfect life. Married to a successful advertising executive (Dennis Quaid), two children (Ryan Ward, Lindsay Andretta) and a lovely home. But everything begins to unravel beginning with her husband's repressed homosexuality and her friendship with a black man (Dennis Haysbert) which causes resentment in her white community. Written and directed by Todd Haynes (SAFE), this is exquisite in both style and execution. A homage to Douglas Sirk, specifically ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS and IMITATION OF LIFE, Haynes goes beyond mere imitation but makes a film that feels like Sirk could have made in 1957 but seen through a 2002 sensibility without the restrictions a 1957 culture would have imposed on it. In this, Haynes is aided by the stunning cinematography of Edward Lachman which recreates the vivid color palette of a Sirk film, the lush score by Elmer Bernstein which could have written in the 1950s (actually, it was. Bernstein adapts his main theme from 1955's VIEW FROM POMPEY'S HEAD as a major part of the underscore), the awesome costumes by Sandy Powell and the art direction of Peter Rogness. With Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, James Rebhorn and Celia Weston.  

Detour (1945)

A down on his luck nightclub pianist (Tom Neal) is hitchhiking his way from New York to Los Angeles to see his girl (Claudia Drake). But when he's picked up by a man (Edmund MacDonald) who accidentally dies during their ride, fearing he'll be accused of murder, he leaves the man's body in the desert and assumes his identity. Then he picks up a hitchhiking dame (Ann Savage) and finds himself on a direct descent into Hell. Based on the novel by Martin Goldsmith and directed by Edgar G. Ulmer (THE BLACK CAT). This poverty row film noir defines pulp and is an essential viewing in the noir canon. Ulmer's direction is taut, tight and inventive and the dialog is perfect (after picking Savage up, Neal describes her as "looking like she's been thrown off the crummiest  freight train in the world.") Ann Savage's hard as a rock, ice water in her veins Vera may be the deadliest femme fatale in noir filmdom. She makes Stanwyck's Phyllis Dietrichson look like the mother in THE BRADY BUNCH! The movie can't hide its low budget origins but its cheapness only adds to the sordid atmosphere. 

Superman (1978)

As the planet Krypton approaches destruction from its sun, a scientist (Marlon Brando) sends his infant son to the planet Earth in another galaxy. There, he will grow into a young man (Christopher Reeve) with super powers known as Superman. But he has an alternate identity, that of a mild mannered news reporter named Clark Kent. Based on the Action comic books first published in 1938 and created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and directed by Richard Donner (THE OMEN). This delightful family friendly superhero film remains the pinnacle of film adaptations of comic superheros (sorry,, Batman). The phrase "He was born to play this part" is a cliche but sorry, I have to say it. Christopher Reeve was born to play Superman. He perfectly encapsulates the stiff jawed all American purveyor of justice but with a twinkle in his eye. The plot dealing with master villain Lex Luthor's (Gene Hackman) attempts to destroy California in order to make his land holdings increase in value is simplistic (keeping true to its comic book roots) but Donner doesn't rush through action sequence to action sequence, instead taking the time to savor the characters and occasionally witty dialog. Performances are fine all around although I could have done without the painfully unfunny antics of Ned Beatty as Hackman's dumb henchman. The John Williams score is marvelous. The large cast includes Margot Kidder (as Lois Lane), Glenn Ford, Trevor Howard, Valerie Perrine, Terence Stamp, Maria Schell, Phyllis Thaxter, Harry Andrews and Jackie Cooper.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Pelican Brief (1993)

After two Supreme Court justices (Hume Cronyn, Ralph Cosham) are assassinated, at the urging of her law professor and lover (Sam Shepard), a law student (Julia Roberts) writes a theory (referred to as the pelican brief) on the possible motivations behind the assassinations as well as who is behind it. The professor passes it on to a friend (John Heard) who works for the FBI. But when the professor is murdered and other killings follow, it becomes clear that her theory hits too close to home. Based on the novel by John Grisham and directed by Alan J. Pakula (KLUTE). This is a first rate conspiracy thriller which is not surprising considering that Pakula (whose last film this was) directed one of the best in the genre, THE PARALLAX VIEW. If it doesn't quite measure up to that film, it's slicker and more polished than PARALLAX but if it doesn't require much thought, it still makes for an exciting thriller. In addition to the terrific chemistry between Roberts and Denzel Washington (as a Washington DC journalist) in a double shot of Star wattage, this is a stunning looking film thanks to Stephen Goldblatt's (PRINCE OF TIDES) cinematography. It's a bit on the long side (pushing 2 1/2 hours) but it's intense and it never lags. With John Lithgow, Stanley Tucci, Cynthia Nixon, Robert Culp, Tony Goldwyn, William Atherton and James Sikking.

Marco Polo (1956)

The famed Venetian traveler and explorer Marco Polo (Alfred Drake) travels from Italy to the court of Kublai Khan (Paul Ukena) in China. Co-written by Neil Simon (BAREFOOT IN THE PARK) and directed by Max Liebman. This exotic musical (performed live on television in 1956) reunites the stars of the Broadway hit KISMET where they played father and daughter. Here, they are the romantic leads. Like KISMET which adapted the music of Alexander Borodin with added lyrics for the songs, this production adapts the music of Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov with lyrics by Edward Eager. Alas, it's no KISMET. As a musical, it's rather humdrum and the songs aren't memorable although both Drake and Morrow are in excellent voice. The choreography by James Starbuck and Beatrice Kraft (which seems influenced by Jack Cole) is very good though. This being 1956 all the Asian roles are played by Caucasians though it appears very little attempt was made to make them look Asian via make up which I suppose is for the best in the long run. With Ross Martin and Arnold Moss. 

Stranded (1935)

Set in depression era San Francisco, an unlikely romance develops between a Travelers Aid worker (Kay Francis) and a rough and tumble construction engineer (George Brent). Based on LADY WITH A BADGE by Frank Wead and Ferdinand Reyher and directed by Frank Borzage (A FAREWELL TO ARMS). This romantic drama doesn't really come alive until the film's last half hour. At first, it seems like a meandering romance and I couldn't help but wonder what attracted Borzage to the material. But as the movie progresses to its finale, it turns into a combination feminist manifesto and gritty drama about racketeering in the construction business. Brent's macho construction worker belittles Francis's chosen profession and insists she give up her "silly" job helping losers when they get married which she refuses to do thus causing a rift in their relationship. Meanwhile, Brent must contend with thugs demanding protection money or they'll sabotage his construction work on a bridge. Kay Francis is all noble but Brent displays more life here than his later films where he's a generic leading man to Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Greta Garbo, Claudette Colbert and other grande dames of the screen. With Barton MacLane, Patricia Ellis, Frankie Darro and Donald Woods.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Critic's Choice (1963)

A New York theater critic (Bob Hope) is known for his delight in writing clever if negative reviews of plays. But when his wife (Lucille Ball) not only writes a play but gets it produced on Broadway, he finds himself in a dilemma. If he writes a bad review, it could impact his marriage. Based on the play by Ira Levin (ROSEMARY'S BABY) and directed by Don Weis (LOOKING FOR LOVE). The play (with Henry Fonda in Hope's role) was only a middling success running just over six months. The concept is interesting and I can see why the film makers thought they could make a successful film comedy with Hope and Ball. They didn't. They didn't solve the problem of the weak material but the casting is off. Hope is a comedian, not an actor and although the movie rewrites some of the play to allow for some broad comedy, it backfires. Hope has an extended drunk scene and he's just terrible (it's got to be a career lowpoint) and suddenly his smart character is turned into a buffoon. As an actress who does comedy rather than a comic (as she often pointed out), Ball fares better but she can't survive the material either. It has its moments but not enough to hold it together. With Rip Torn, Marilyn Maxwell, Marie Windsor, John Dehner, Soupy Sales, Jessie Royce Landis, Jim Backus, Dorothy Green and Joan Shawlee.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

While sunbathing on a boat, a man (Grant Williams) is enveloped by a strange mist which covers him with debris. It isn't long after that he finds his body slowly but inevitably shrinking. Based on the novel THE SHRINKING MAN by Richard Matheson and directed by Jack Arnold (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON). This is one of the seminal science fiction films of the 1950s. What makes it unique and sets it apart is its thought provoking narrative which arrives at a mystical and almost existential conclusion. Thankfully, director Arnold resisted studio pressure to give the film a more conventional "happy" ending. The central performance is crucial to a film like this and to that end, Grant Williams gives one of the best performances in a science fiction film. His commitment to the part is strong and because of that, unlike many sci-fi films of the decade, it never once crosses over into kitsch or "camp".  The film's special effects were top notch for its time and still hold up today. With Randy Stuart (ALL ABOUT EVE) as Williams' wife, April Kent, Paul Langton, Raymond Bailey and Orangey (BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S) as the house cat who terrorizes the miniature Williams.

Vaghe Stelle Dell'orsa (aka Sandra) (1965)

A young bride (Claudia Cardinale) and her new husband (Michael Craig) return to the decaying mansion that was her ancestral home. Unexpectedly she finds her brother (Jean Sorel) there and they begin to rekindle their unconsummated incestuous relationship under her naive husband's nose. Directed by Luchino Visconti, this take on the Greek tragedy of Electra is a dark and unsettling film. The mythological story of Electra and her brother and their revenge on their mother has long fascinated playwrights from Euripides and Sophocles to Eugene O'Neill and Jean Paul Sartre and even in operas by Strauss and Mozart. Here, Visconti uses the tale to examine the rot of a decadent and dying aristocracy. In this version, the mother's (Marie Bell) crime is denouncing her husband to the Nazis resulting in his death in a concentration camp. This was Cardinale's third film with Visconti (she would go on to do one more) and her best work under him (though I love her in THE LEOPARD). She displays the complexities of a woman both torn and repulsed by her desires. The only downside and it's a minor one, I could have done without the sour underscore which uses the compositions of Cesar Franck. With Renzo Ricci and Fred Williams (who's actually a German actor despite the name).

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Hour Of The Gun (1967)

After the violent gunfight with the Clanton gang at the O.K. Corral, Marshal Wyatt Earp (James Garner) must contend with Clanton's (Robert Ryan) attempts at revenge. Based on the non fiction TOMBSTONE'S EPITAPH by Douglas D. Martin and directed by John Sturges (THE GREAT ESCAPE). The legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral has provided fodder for many westerns prior to this one but they almost always ended with the gunfight. HOUR OF THE GUN begins with the gunfight and then explores the aftermath. It's a very good western and if it peters out at the very end, well ... that's what happens when you go for the facts and not the legend. Garner and Jason Robards (as Doc Holliday) give fine performances as they dominate the film. It's a testosterone driven film, there's only one female character and she has only two lines. Still, as good as it is I still prefer Sturges' earlier take on the story GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957) even if it strays from the facts. The Jerry Goldsmith score is a disappointment. With Jon Voight, Albert Salmi, Charles Aidman, William Windom, Steve Ihnat, Larry Gates, Monte Markham and Lonny Chapman.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Last Hurrah (1958)

Set in an unspecified New England town, the iron fisted mayor (Spencer Tracy) of the city is running for re-election. A man of the people as opposed to his conservative money backed opponent, he and his strategists do whatever it takes to win the election. Based on the novel by Edwin O'Connor and directed by John Ford. As a political film, it's not very interesting but its central character is and Tracy gives a wonderful performance as the son of Irish immigrants who hasn't forgotten his roots in the often mudslinging world of politics. It's his life and he's sacrificed everything for it and when it's taken away, it kills him (literally). I don't have the statistics to back me up but I'll wager Tracy's death scene is one of the longest ever put on film, it seemed like a half hour. The film is crammed with familiar character actors, many of them veterans of Ford's films. The large cast includes Jeffrey Hunter, Dianne Foster, Basil Rathbone, Donald Crisp, John Carradine, James Gleason, Jane Darwell, Anna Lee, Wallace Ford, Frank McHugh, Edward Brophy, Helen Westcott and Ricardo Cortez.

Munster Go Home! (1966)

A man who looks like Frankenstein by the name of Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) inherits an estate in Great Britain along with the title of Lord. He and his wife (Yvonne De Carlo), father in law (Al Lewis), son (Butch Patrick) and niece (Debbie Watson) all travel to England to see their new home. But the matriarch (Hermione Gingold) and her son (Terry Thomas) of the estate won't give up without a fight and a dirty fight at that. Directed by Earl Bellamy, this theatrical film was made after the TV series THE MUNSTERS ended its two year run. TV shows with their original cast turned into feature films was nothing new. To name just two, DRAGNET in 1954 and OUR MISS BROOKS in 1956 were turned into movies while their TV shows were still on the air. How is this film different from the TV show? It isn't. It's more of the same but it might have been different if the film had actually been shot on location in England but here "England" is the Universal backlot. If you found the TV series amusing, you should find the film to your liking. I wasn't a fan of the series but I did chuckle a couple of times during the film's running time at some sight gags and it was nice seeing the characters in color instead of B&W. With John Carradine, Richard Dawson Robert Pine and Jeanne Arnold.  

Friday, July 3, 2020

La Verite (aka The Truth) (2019)

With her actor husband (Ethan Hawke) and a small daughter (Clementine Grenier) in tow, a screenwriter (Juliette Binoche) living in America returns to France on the occasion of her mother (Catherine Deneuve), a famous film actress, publishing her memoirs. A vain and self absorbed woman, her memoirs are lacking in the truth including her relationship with her daughter. Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda (STILL WALKING), the film can't help but recollect another film with a similar storyline, Bergman's AUTUMN SONATA. But where Bergman was brutal, Kore-eda is gentler. You keep waiting for the big confrontation scene where mother and daughter bare their souls but it never happens. What LA VERITE provides is a terrific role for Deneuve and boy, does she sink her teeth into it. A woman so focused on her career that she plows through family, lovers and peers like a train; letting nothing stand in her path. Binoche's role is more reactive but she doesn't get in Deneuve's way. Thematically, it's not very fresh but Kore-eda imparts a perceptive sheen to the narrative. With Ludivine Sagnier and Manon Clavel.

The Land Unknown (1957)

A helicopter carrying a pilot (William Reynolds) and three passengers: a naval commander (Jock Mahoney), a journalist (Shirley Patterson, billed as Shawn Smith) and a machinist (Phil Harvey) is surveying Antarctica when the helicopter is forced down by bad weather. What they discover is a tropical landscape with creatures from the prehistoric era. Directed by Virgil Vogel (THE MOLE PEOPLE), this sci-fi adventure B movie is shot in B&W CinemaScope. It's a pity it was shot in B&W (due to budget constraints) because its production design and art direction are the real stars of the movie and in color, it would have looked spectacular. The acting is usually negligible in movies like this but even so, Mahoney's performance would make an oak tree look like Brando! It's not a terrible movie by any means but it's routine and predictable. Some of the special effects are quite decent but it still has men in dinosaur suits walking around. With Douglas Kennedy and in the film's best performance, Henry Brandon as the lone survivor of a previous expedition who has descended into a neanderthal. 

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Viktor Und Viktoria (1933)

A struggling singer (Renate Muller) is taken under the wing of an older but unsuccessful actor (Hermann Thimig). He concocts a plan where she will pass herself off as a male who is a female impersonator. "He" is successful beyond their wildest dreams. Directed by Reinhold Schunzel, who would emigrate to the U.S. as the Nazis rose to power and make films in Hollywood (ICE FOLLIES OF 1939 but don't hold that against him) as well as an actor (Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS). Impudent and stylish, this charming romantic musical comedy seems indebted to Rene Clair. It was remade in Great Britain (1935) and Argentina (1975) but its most famous remake is the 1982 Blake Edwards' VICTOR VICTORIA. However, the gay narrative was Edwards' invention, you'll find none of that in the German film. Muller is delightful in the title role and Thimig provides expert comedic timing. Sadly, Muller died only 4 years after this film after falling out a window, either a suicide or killed by the Gestapo (she had refused to appear in Nazi propaganda films). With Anton Walbrook (THE RED SHOES), Hilde Hildebrand and Friedel Pisetta.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Deceived (1991)

When her husband (John Heard) is killed in an auto accident, his wife (Goldie Hawn) discovers that her husband kept secrets from her and as she looks into his past, she discovers a labyrinth of betrayal and deceit. Directed by Damian Harris (BAD COMPANY), this thriller covers familiar territory and as the plot unwinds, I got a bit irritated by Hawn's character. She's so damn gullible that I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her and yell, "What are you doing? Can't you figure out what's going on?". Granted, we're privy to things she doesn't know but when people around you suddenly start dying, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to add two and two. Still, a director with a strong sense of style like Brian De Palma could have easily taken this script and if he couldn't turn it into gold, he would at least have given it some chic. To be fair, Mary Agnes Donoghue's screenplay was tampered with, so perhaps it's not her fault. With Kate Reid, Jan Rubes, Amy Wright, Tom Irwin and Beatrice Straight, whose role as Hawn's mother has been cut down to a "don't blink or you'll miss her" walk on.  

Nomads (1986)

An emergency room doctor (Lesley Anne Down) is bitten by a hysterical and bloodied patient (Pierce Brosnan). When the man dies, the doctor sees visions and becomes paranoid as the dead man's thoughts take over her mind. Written and directed by John McTiernan (DIE HARD), this supernatural horror film suffers from vagueness and an often incoherent screenplay. McTiernan attempts to go for style over substance but the style is lacking. The "nomads" of the film's titles are portrayed as quasi punk bikers and the film's relentless rock soundtrack only adds to the tedium. It doesn't help that the French anthropologist played by Brosnan and his wife (Anna Maria Monticelli) aren't French at all but Irish (Brosnan) and Australian (Monticelli) and their French accents are awful which often causes some of the film to be unintentionally funny. It would have helped with real French actors in the parts and reputedly McTiernan wanted Gerard Depardieu for the anthropologist. However, also cast against type, Down manages to give the best performance in the film (granted, that's not saying much). I did like the movie's effective final "twist", however as well as Stephen Ramsey's efficacious night shooting of L.A. With Nina Foch, Mary Woronov, Adam Ant and Frances Bay.