Search This Blog

Monday, August 31, 2020

Genevieve (1953)

A young barrister (John Gregson) and his best friend (Kenneth More) are classic car buffs. Every year they participate in a London to Brighton auto race expressly for classic car owners. But the friends are very competitive which irritates their traveling companions, the barrister's wife (Dinash Sheridan) and the friend's latest girl, a trumpet playing model ((Kay Kendall). Written by William Rose (GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER) and directed by Henry Cornelius (I AM A CAMERA). I'm not much of a fan of British comedies of this era (the Ealing comedies leave me cold) but I find this one quite charming and irresistible. Rose also wrote one of my favorite all time comedies IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD and one can see the seeds of that film here. It helps that the four leads are all immensely likable (even when their characters irritating) but the scene stealer here is Kay Kendall in a winning combination of beautiful and funny. The film was a huge hit (and received 2 Oscar nominations) and Hollywood would soon beckon Kendall. With Joyce Grenfell, Geoffrey Keen and Michael Medwin.

If These Walls Could Talk (1996)

Three short films with abortion as their central theme: 1952 - abortion is still illegal in the U.S. and a recently widowed nurse (Demi Moore) finds herself unexpectedly pregnant and no one to turn to. 1974 - a woman (Sissy Spacek) with four kids has returned to school to get a college degree when she finds out she's pregnant again. 1996 - a doctor (Cher) in an abortion clinic must deal with pro-life protesters outside the clinic and a college student (Anne Heche) must make a decision on terminating her pregnancy. The first two stories are directed by Nancy Savoca and the third is directed by Cher. It's been almost 25 years since this film debuted on HBO and sadly, it's still relevant and perhaps it always will be as women's productive rights continue to come under attack. The first story is graphic and harrowing as it doesn't spare us the horror of "back alley" abortions and the third exposes the hypocrisy of the pro-life movement which condemns abortion as "murder" yet have no problem with killing living people. Since each segment is about 30 minutes in length, the actresses don't have much time to develop their characters yet they still manage to infuse them with tangible human emotions and conflict. The large cast includes Shirley Knight, Jada Pinkett Smith, Eileen Brennan, Catherine Keener, Lindsay Crouse, Rita Wilson, Diana Scarwid, CCH Pounder, Joanna Gleason, Craig T. Nelson, Harris Yulin, Matthew Lillard and Xander Berkeley.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1916)

The United States sends a naval ship to investigate rumors of a giant sea monster running amok in the ocean. When the ship is rammed by the monster, it turns out to be a submarine captained by the mysterious Captain Nemo (Allen Holubar), who rescues a handful of survivors and takes them prisoner on his submarine, the Nautilus. Very loosely based on the novel by Jules Verne and directed by Stuart Paton. Although the film takes the central premise of Verne's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, there's very little else of the book in the film's narrative. It also incorporates bits and pieces from other Verne novels like THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (the Union soldiers in a runaway balloon crashing on the island) and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (the Indian girl). The film was quite innovative. It was the first movie to be filmed underwater (remarkable in that underwater cameras hadn't been invented yet), exotic location shooting, the construction of a full size submarine and two years in the making at a budget of $500,000 (around 12 million in 2020 dollars). As to the film itself, it's surprisingly entertaining although it slows down during some of the underwater sequences (suddenly you feel like you're at an aquarium) which must have seemed quite startling to 1916 audiences but has since been surpassed in other films due to technology. Still, it's a must for fans of silent cinema. With Jane Gail, William Welsh, Matt Moore, Curtis Benson and Edna Pendleton.

The Climax (1944)

A jealous physician (Boris Karloff) murders the opera singer (June Vincent) he loves when she refuses to give up her career. Ten years later, a budding opera singer (Susanna Foster) with a similar voice becomes the target of his obsession. Very loosely based on the play by Edward Locke and directed by George Waggner (THE WOLF MAN). Horror and opera are an uneasy mix but Universal's Technicolor version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA had been a big hit the year before so they decided to try it again using the same sets and the same actress (Foster). It didn't repeat the success of its predecessor. There's not much horror here and not even opera, it's more like an operetta gaudily channeled through Florenz Ziegfeld. It's a handsome film to look at (the art direction received an Oscar nomination) in vivid three strip Technicolor but the musical sequences are a chore to sit through. With Turhan Bey, Gale Sondergaard (wasted), Thomas Gomez, Scotty Beckett, Jane Farrar and George Dolenz.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Shadow Of The Vampire (2000)

After the Bram Stoker estate refuses permission for F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) to film the novel DRACULA, he changes the names of the characters and films an unauthorized adaptation called NOSFERATU. To play Dracula, he hires a mysterious "method" actor by the name of Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) who lives his part a little too realistically. Directed by E. Elias Merhige, this sly black comedy manages to be both funny and scary at the same time. Long before Quentin Tarantino rewrote history in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, Merhige and screenwriter Steven Katz concocted this intriguing premise that the actor Max Schrecck was a real vampire. Like the Tarantino films, one hopes moviegoers don't take the film as fact because none of the characters who die in the film died in real life and went on with their careers and the characterization of Murnau as an obsessed director willing to sacrifice his crew and actors for his art is blatantly false. Dafoe (Oscar nominated for his work here) gives a wicked and witty performance and seems to be having a great time. The fact that most of the other actors play it straight only makes Dafoe's performance more delicious. The wonderful atmospheric score is by Dan Jones. With Cary Elwes, Udo Kier, Eddie Izzard, John Aden Gillet and Catherine McCormack. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Third Man (1949)

An American writer (Joseph Cotten) of western novels arrives in post war Vienna at the invitation of his best friend. When he arrives, he is told that his friend has been killed in an accident. But the conflicting stories about his friend's death convinces him that his death was a murder. As he investigates, he finds himself immersed in an underworld of deception, racketeering and murder. Written by Graham Greene and directed by Carol Reed (OLIVER!), this film noir is one of the jewels of British cinema. Rich in atmosphere thanks to the justifiably lauded B&W lensing of Robert Krasker (FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE), this is one of the most stunning looking B&W films ever made and earned Krasker an Oscar. Reed's direction is precise and impeccable. It's a pity that unfounded rumors allege that Orson Welles directed large portions of the film (which the often self promoting Welles did nothing to deny) undermine Reed's achievement. Cotten is very good here as the naive and arrogant American who gets his eyes opened in the worst possible way and Welles may not have much screen time (although he's third billed) but he can't help but steal every scene he's in and, of course, he has that great scene on the Ferris wheel. The only downside was that annoying zither underscore by Anton Karas which is inexplicably adored by the film's admirers but had me climbing the walls! With Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Ernst Deutsch, Paul Horbiger, Wilfrid Hyde White and Bernard Lee.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Break Up (1998)

After her abusive husband (Hart Bochner) has pushed her down the stairs, a battered wife (Bridget Fonda) ends up in a hospital. When her husband's body turns up burnt to a crisp in a crash, she becomes the primary suspect. But she suspects her husband is alive and faked his own death and it becomes a race against time to prove it while the police hunt her down. Directed by Paul Marcus, the film is very reminiscent of another battered wife on the run thriller, SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY (1991) but it's not as good. It's the kind of movie where we're always one step ahead of the characters which encourages talking back to the movie: "If you get out of that car, he's going to run you over, bitch!", "Don't trust her, she's screwing your husband!", etc. On the plus side, there's a solid performance by Bridget Fonda at the center and some of the supporting performances are good too including Tippi Hedren, who has a nice turn as Fonda's addled religious fanatic mother. I also liked the film's final coda. With Kiefer Sutherland as the caring cop who believes in her innocence, Steven Weber, Penelope Ann Miller and Leslie Stefanson.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

5 Tombe Per Un Medium (aka Terror Creatures From The Grave) (1965)

An attorney (Walter Brandi, credited as Brandt in the U.S. cut) is summoned by a scientist regarding his will but when he arrives, he is told by his widow (Barbara Steele) that her husband has been dead for a year. So who sent the letter requesting the lawyer? As a raging thunderstorm prevents him from leaving, he spends the night and learns that the villagers fear the household because the deceased dabbled in the occult. Directed by Domenico Massimo Pupillo (with an assist by Ralph Zucker for the U.S. version). The film states it's based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe but perhaps inspired is closer to it. It's a decent Gothic horror tale with all the trimmings: huge mansion, stormy nights, spirits roaming, gory deaths etc. The atmospheric B&W cinematography is by Carlo Di Palma who would go on to work with Michelangelo Antonioni (RED DESERT) and Woody Allen (HANNAH AND HER SISTERS). With Mirella Maravidi (the U.S. cut credits her as Marilyn Mitchell), Alfredo Rizzo and Riccardo Garrone. 

Road To Morocco (1942)

After the ship they were stowaways on sinks, two survivors (Bing Crosby, Bob Hope) manage to drift to North Africa. It's there that  Crosby sells Hope into slavery but the jokes on him when his owner turns out to be a beautiful Princess (Dorothy Lamour). Directed by David Butler (PRINCESS AND THE PIRATE), this was the third entry in the seven ROAD TO ..... movie franchise all starring Crosby, Hope and Lamour (though her presence is minimal in the final ROAD movie, ROAD TO HONG KONG). This is probably the most amiable and consistent of the Road movies. Hope's comedic timing is as impeccable as always, Crosby makes for a tolerable straight man and Lamour is, well ...... fetching. Part of the fun of these Road films is how relaxed Crosby and Hope are and how they don't take it seriously as they consistently break the fourth wall, quipping on current events and seem to be enjoying themselves enormously and it becomes infectious. There's one moment where a camel spits in Hope's face and Crosby laughs so heartily that it seems a sudden improvisation on the camel's part. With Anthony Quinn and Dona Drake.

L'Ete Meurtrier (aka One Deadly Summer) (1983)

When a young French girl (Isabelle Adjani) arrives in a small French village, she suddenly becomes the object of speculation because of her blatant sexuality and aloof manner. A mechanic (Alain Souchon) is attracted to her and pursues her but the girl is emotionally unstable and her arrival at the village isn't random. A tale of revenge goes horribly wrong and a domino effect brings tragic consequences to innocent people. Based on the novel by Sebastien Japrisot (who adapted his novel for the screen along with the film's director) and directed by Jean Becker. A huge box office hit and critical success in France (not replicated in the U.S.), the film is on the longish side but it's a riveting tragedy of near operatic proportions. Anchored by a superb performance by Adjani, who won the Cesar (the French Oscar) for best actress for her work here, the film goes through a series of twists and turns and we're never quite sure where it's going to end. The movie's abrupt downbeat ending may turn off those who want some kind of release but anything less would have compromised the film. An often disturbing (a graphic rape sequence is difficult to watch) film but worth seeking out. With Suzanne Flon (who won the supporting actress Cesar for her performance), Francois Cluzet, Michel Galabru, Jean Gaven, Maria Machado, Manuel Gelin and Edith Scob.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Long Ships (1965)

A Moorish king (Sidney Poitier) is obsessed with a legend of a giant bell made of gold and believes it is more than a legend, that it exists. When a shipwrecked Viking (Richard Widmark) implies he knows of the bell's location, the king is more determined than ever to find it. Very loosely based on the novel by Frans G. Bengtsson and directed by Jack Cardiff (SONS AND LOVERS). As a simple adventure film, the film is nicely done for the most part except for some embarrassing comedic moments like a mass rape in a harem (yes, it's played for laughs) and the abuse of a eunuch (also played for laughs). There's also the unsavory racist implications that might not have been so obvious in 1965. Am I really supposed to root for some smelly savages because they have blonde hair as opposed to the more cultured and civilized Moors because their skin is darker? I'm a big Richard Widmark fan but at age 50, he was a bit too mature shall we say for the young Viking adventurer he plays here (the 30ish George Peppard claims he turned the role down). Perhaps I'm just reading too much into it, if you put your mind on cruise control there's actually a lot to enjoy here. Particularly, Poitier's performance and the handsome cinematography (filmed in what was then Yugoslavia) of Christopher Challis (ARABESQUE). With Russ Tamblyn, Oscar Homolka, Rosanna Schiaffino, Colin Blakely, Lionel Jeffries, Edward Judd and Beba Loncar. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Long Gray Line (1955)

A young Irish immigrant (Tyrone Power) arrives at West Point in 1898 as a waiter in the enlisted men's mess hall. He eventually enlists in the U.S. Army and although he never sees battle, he remains at West Point for over 50 years as a non commissioned officer and athletic instructor. Based on the autobiography BRINGING UP THE BRASS by Martin Maher and directed by John Ford. If it weren't for the awful MARY OF SCOTLAND, I'd call this John Ford's worst film. Almost of two and a half hours of Irish blarney with Power doing a Barry Fitzgerald imitation. It's as if Ford gathered all his faults as a film maker and put it in one movie. It's like over two hours of Power, Maureen O'Hara (as his wife) and Donald Crisp (as his father) screaming, "We're Irish! We're Irish!" and you want to yell back, "Okay, we get it. Can we move on now?". The film does something I wouldn't think possible. It renders Maureen O'Hara (who I normally find irresistible) unappealing. As usual with movie bios, the screenplay fudges on the facts to make the story more dramatic. On the plus side, for a wide screen novice (this was Ford's first CinemaScope film) he does some impressive work in the format though to be fair that might be because of Charles Lawton Jr. (3:10 TO YUMA), the cinematographer. It's advised you take an insulin shot before watching, the sentimentality in this makes THE SOUND OF MUSIC look like porn! With Betsy Palmer, Ward Bond, Philip Carey, Peter Graves, Patrick Wayne, William Leslie, Erin O'Brien Moore, Harry Carey Jr. and the ill fated Robert Francis whose last film this was (he was only 25 when he died).

Sunday, August 23, 2020

I Met My Love Again (1938)

The film opens in 1927 when a nerdy student (Henry Fonda) and a willful girl (Joan Bennett) get engaged. But she jilts him for a sophisticated writer (Alan Marshal) and they marry and go to live in Paris. Some 10 years later, she returns to the small town as a widow with a young daughter. Can their romance be reignited or has time changed them too much? Based on the novel SUMMER LIGHTNING by Allene Corliss and directed by Joshua Logan (PICNIC) and Arthur Ripley (THUNDER ROAD). Alas, this is a dreary romancer without a spark of passion. If you're going to have a love story about two old lovers reuniting, we need to see what pulls them together and keeps that bond connected. We can see why Bennett jilted Fonda, he's a dull professor who's no fun at all. What we don't see is why she's still attracted to him after she's grown up. As a dull professor, Fonda is just, well ..... dull. If the role had been played by, say, Gary Cooper or Cary Grant, we might have got the connection. With Dame May Whitty, Tim Holt, Dorothy Stickney, Henry Brandon and Louise Platt.   

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Miss You Already (2015)

A publicist (Toni Collette) and an environmentalist (Drew Barrymore) have been best friends since childhood. When one of them gets breast cancer, their friendship is put to the test. Based on the novel GOODBYE by Morwenna Banks and directed by Catherine Hardwicke (TWILIGHT). This is a surprisingly effective drama that manages to bypass the pitfalls of a "chick flick" turning mawkish. BEACHES, this is not. It's probably due to having a female director and writer that the film focuses on the reality of breast cancer and a lot of the movie is pretty graphic in that area and it's not always an easy watch. Collette's cancer victim isn't some poor thing, Barrymore even calls her a "cancer bully". Collette and Barrymore have a nice chemistry together and you can believe that they are really friends. If your eyes tear up at the film's ending, it's not because you've been manipulated by the film makers but because you've seen the devastation of how cancer can almost destroy a family and how resilience and true friendship can make that bridge easier to cross. To counteract any possible sentimentality, the film is laced with some sardonic humor and every time it seems the movie is veering that way, the actresses pull it back. There's a nice turn by Jacqueline Bisset as Collette's vain actress mother, the film could have used more of her. With Dominic Cooper, Frances De La Tour and Paddy Considine.

Zangiku Monogatari (aka The Story Of The Last Chrysanthemum) (1939)

Set in 19th century Japan, a young Kabuki actor (Shotaro Hanayagi) lives in the shadow of his adopted father (Gonjuro Kawarazaki), a famous and well respected Kabuki actor. A wet nurse (Kakuko Mori) employed by the household encourages him and becomes his muse to the consternation of the family. When his mother (Benkei Shiganoya) dismisses the girl, he abandons the family to seek her out and eventually makes her his wife. Based on the novel by Shofu Muramatsu and directed by Kenji Mizoguchi (UGETSU). The film is greatly admired but I just had a difficult time getting into it. I realize the film is set in 19th century Japan but films about female sacrifice for men grate against my 21st century feminist sensibilities. Fortunately, Mizoguchi seems sincere rather than manipulative so the sentimentality is tolerable but the tearjerking finale left me feeling distanced and dry eyed. Technically, the film is impressive with its long takes and authentic atmosphere of the Kabuki theater and Hanayagi is splendid as the struggling actor although I hungered for some close ups. And unless I missed something, the film's title perplexes me since chrysanthemums are never mentioned in the film unless it refers to the sacrificing heroine. To be fair, the transfer I saw was pretty poor in spite of Criterion's claim that it's a restored 4K digital transfer, one can only imagine what it looked like prior to being restored (I've seen better looking public domain prints) so perhaps I would have enjoyed it more in a better print.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Cowboys (1972)

After his ranch hands abandon him to investigate a gold rush, an aging rancher (John Wayne) is reduced to using inexperienced boys (ages 9 to 15) to help get his cattle to market 400 miles away with only a black cook (Roscoe Lee Browne), the only other adult. Based on the novel by William Dale Jennings and directed by Mark Rydell (THE ROSE). This is a solid western until the end when it becomes problematic with baby faced killers avenging their father figure's murder. While this serves as a catharsis for the audience (which accounts for the film being a big hit), thematically I found it disturbing in much the same way I found STRAW DOGS disturbing the year before. But Mark Rydell is no Sam Peckinpah so there isn't any artistry to redeem the dubious implications that manhood is achieved through violence (Hoffman's milquetoast in STRAW DOGS, the callow boys here). That being said, Wayne gives one of his strongest performances here. It's not the typical Wayne hero. He's flawed and questions his abilities and rare for a Wayne western, he's mortal. As the chuck wagon cook, Roscoe Lee Browne brings an actor's gravitas and shadings that aren't in the script. As for the young boys, they're all pretty much ciphers here. The film's worst performance comes from Bruce Dern's villain, who seems right out of a DIRTY HARRY movie. The score by John Williams brings some flair to the film. With Colleen Dewhurst, Slim Pickens, Allyn Ann McLerie, David Carradine, Sarah Cunningham and A. Martinez. 

The Good Die Young (1954)

Four men in desperate financial straits band together to commit a robbery: an ex-war hero (Laurence Harvey) living off his wealthy wife (Margaret Leighton), an AWOL soldier (John Ireland) with an adulteress wife (Gloria Grahame), an unemployed American (Richard Basehart) whose pregnant wife (Joan Collins) is dominated by her mother (Freda Jackson) and an ex-boxer (Stanley Baker) whose wife (Rene Ray) has used their savings to bail out her brother (James Kenney). Based on the novel by Richard Macauley and directed by Lewis Gilbert (ALFIE). This British film noir concentrates on the men and their wives and the reasons for their eventual involvement in a post office robbery, the actual heist section comes toward the end of the film. Considering the amateur status of the fledgling naive thieves, the film's nihilistic ending is expected. If the film has any major fault, it's that if we can see the heist is doomed from the start then why can't the men? There's always been something oily about Laurence Harvey as an actor that's off putting but here, it works perfectly. His character is a real snake. There's not much Joan Collins can do with the demure wife part but everyone else is good. With Robert Morley, Patricia Owens, Lee Patterson and Marianne Stone.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Kiss The Blood Off My Hands (1948)

Set in post WWII London, a former POW (Burt Lancaster) is unstable with violent tendencies. When he accidentally kills a man in a rage, he flees and breaks into the flat of a young woman (Joan Fontaine) to hide out. Thus begins the most unlikely of romances. Based on the novel by Gerard Butler (ON DANGEROUS GROUND) and directed by Norman Foster (WOMAN ON THE RUN). This slice of film noir is most unusual for the genre. There's no detective, no femme fatale, no mystery to solve and no "hero". Lancaster's angry ex-soldier had a lousy upbringing and has a chip on his shoulder the size of the Grand Canyon. He blames everybody else for his current state. Fontaine is a rather mousey medical assistant who is lonely. It takes awhile to get to warm up to Lancaster's character as his self pity and rage is off putting but slowly you begin to feel some empathy for him as Fontaine's gentle affection begins to redeem him. The shadowy B&W lensing of the great Russell Metty contributes to the noir-ish atmosphere and the art direction converts the Universal backlot into a credible London. With Robert Newton and Jay Novello.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Take Me To Town (1953)

On the run from the law, a saloon entertainer (Ann Sheridan) finds herself in a small rural town up in mountain country. It seems the perfect place to hide but when she's tracked down by a U.S. Marshal (Larry Gates), she escapes to a mountain cabin where a widower (Sterling Hayden) and his three children (Lee Aaker, Harvey Grant, Dustey Henley) live where she offers to take care of the children while their father is away working as a lumberjack. Directed by Douglas Sirk, this is a charming Western romantic comedy. Thanks to Richard Morris's screenplay, Sirk's assured direction, Sheridan's sassiness and three solid performances by the adolescents that eschew the usual attack of the cutes that mar most child performances of the era, this bit of rustic whimsy goes down like honey. It avoids the usual sentimentality inherent in such a set up. A pleasant surprise! With Fess Parker, Lee Patrick, Guy Williams, Phillip Reed, Ann Tyrrell and Alice Kelley.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Man Against The Mob: The Chinatown Murders (1989)

Set in 1940s Los Angeles, two down on their luck winos (Charles Haid, Joe Tornatore) witness a gangland murder. When one of them (Tornatore) is killed, the other is put under police protection by the head of the mob squad (George Peppard). What follows is a tale of police corruption, sex trafficking and several retaliation killings. Directed by Michael Pressman (who also plays a tailor in the film), this is a pretty good crime drama with noir-ish overtones and a marvelous authentic 1940s atmosphere. Originally made for television, the version I watched was probably intended for theatrical showings overseas as there was graphic nudity which would never have been allowed on an NBC movie of the week in 1989! Peppard, looking wonderfully paunchy and seedy, brings an appropriately weary authority to his police detective. Peppard is reunited with his BLUE MAX co-star Ursula Andress playing a sex trafficker while using a posh nightclub as a front. With Richard Bradford, Jason Beghe, Julia Nickson and Norman Alden. 

Dishonored (1931)

Set in the war torn Austria of WWI, a prostitute (Marlene Dietrich) is recruited by the head of the Austrian Secret Service (Gustav von Seyfferitz) into spying for them. She's very good at her job until she meets a Russian spy (Victor McLaglen) she's supposed to entrap and finds herself attracted to him. Directed by Josef von Sternberg, the film appears to have been intended as a serious anti war film but today, it works as kitsch (or possibly "camp") and not much else. For example, as she faces a firing squad, Dietrich puts on some lipstick and adjusts her stockings. And what kind of spy drags a pet cat with her on all her assignments and, of course, it's the cat that exposes her. Considering the material, Dietrich is very good here but Victor McLaglen is a total wash out as a romantic leading man. Who could believe a woman would betray her country for McLaglen? Clark Gable yes, Cary Grant yes but Victor McLaglen? With Warner Oland and Barry Norton.

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Scarlet Blade (aka The Crimson Blade) (1963)

Set in 17th century England, King Charles I (Robert Rietti) is held prisoner by the forces of the Cromwell government. A band of Royalists led by an adventurer (Jack Hedley) known as the Scarlet Blade attempt to free him. The daughter (June Thorburn) of the tyrannical head (Lionel Jeffries) of the Cromwell loyal Roundhead forces works in secret with the rebellious Royalists. Written and directed by John Gilling (PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES), this is a well made and enjoyable swashbuckler that doesn't quite reach its potential. Most of it is due to the casting of the puny looking Hedley, who makes for a rather wan swashbuckler. It might have been better if he had switched parts with the dashing Oliver Reed who plays the Captain in the Roundhead forces who is in love with the Colonel's daughter. Reed's obsessed with love Captain is by far the most interesting  character in the film. So in love that he's willing to switch loyalties to gain her favor, alas with tragic results. I thought she treated him rather shabbily myself. It's no ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD to put it mildly but if you've a taste for this sort of thing, there's a lot here to enjoy. With Michael Ripper, Duncan Lamont and Suzan Farmer.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

ll Coltello Di Ghiaccio (aka Knife Of Ice) (1972)

Set in Spain, a young mute woman (Carroll Baker) who lost her voice in a traumatic incident during her childhood lives with her seriously ill Uncle (George Rigaud) and a couple of servants. When a series of murders targets local women in the area, it might be the work of a satanic cult and the mute may be their next victim. Directed by Umberto Lenzi, this was the last of the four giallo films he made with Carroll Baker. A mute girl living alone in a large house taking care of an older invalid and a series of killings of young women with her a likely target. Sound familiar? Yes, this plays out like a giallo version of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE. To the film's credit, it's unlikely you'll figure out the film's "twist" ending, it sure took me by surprise. It's a very well done thriller with only a modicum of violence. Indeed, the most graphically violent scene in the film is a bullfight done under the film's credits which is repugnant and serves no purpose in the film's narrative. The film's title is courtesy of Edgar Allan Poe, "Fear is like a knife of ice". With Franco Fantasia, Eduardo Fajardo and Silvia Monelli.

The Ring (1927)

An amateur fairground boxer (Carl Brisson) is defeated in the ring by an Australian heavyweight champion (Ian Hunter) but the champ's manager offers him the job of sparring partner to the professional boxer. Things get complicated when the champ takes a fancy to the young boxer's wife (Lilian Hall Davis) and she doesn't resist. Written and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this is not a "Hitchcockian" film as we know the  term. Apparently a fan of boxing in his early years, Hitchcock's story is thin. It's the usual romantic triangle set in the boxing world. The movie also lacks the editing skills (in the sense that there's a lot of flab that needs to be pared down) that would later be a trademark of Hitchcock's later films. But it's Hitchcock's technical expertise that takes center stage here. His camera work is fluid and visually, the film is never less than interesting and often more than that and the movie is crammed with little visual flourishes that stand out. In contrast to Hunter's beefy body, Brisson's swimmer's build lacks a boxer's physique and doesn't quite convince as a boxer (though there's nothing wrong with his acting). With Forrester Harvey and Harry Terry.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Until The End Of The World (1991)

In 1999, a nuclear satellite is out of control with indications that it will crash on earth and the possible destruction of mankind. Meanwhile, a French girl (Solveig Dommartin) becomes obsessed with a mysterious hitch hiker (William Hurt) on the run from the authorities. Her obsession with him has her pursuing him to Berlin, Moscow, China, Japan, San Francisco and eventually Australia. Directed by Wim Wenders, the film pushes the five hour mark (reputedly the original cut was 20 hours!). That it is self indulgent is a given (hey, it's Wim Wenders!). The first half of the film is rather tiresome with far fetched coincidences and an illogical narrative. It somewhat improves during the second half (or at least, more interesting) when they stop the globe trotting and settle down in Australia and the film focuses on Hurt's scientist father (Max Von Sydow) and his experiments. The film was edited down to three hours for its original theatrical run and I can see why. I've not seen that cut but there's so much from the first half that could have easily been eliminated without hurting the story which is really the Australian section. The acting varies from very good (Jeanne Moreau as Hurt's blind mother) to laughably bad (Chick Ortega who stinks in both French and English). Often the film feels like an extended music video to Wenders' favorite music artists. If there's a compensation, it's Robby Muller's breathtaking cinematography which is simply stunning! It almost redeems the film. With Sam Neill, Lois Chiles, Chishu Ryu, Allen Garfield, David Gulpilil (WALKABOUT), Rudiger Vogler, Ernie Dingo and Kuniko Miyake. 

Morning Glory (1993)

Set in the Depression of the 1930s, an ex-convict (Christopher Reeve) answers a newspaper advertisement for a husband by a young widow (Deborah Raffin) with two children and one on the way. Based on the novel by LaVyrle Spencer and directed by Steven Hilliard Stern. This is a rather sweet and touching drama until the film's last half hour when it focuses on a murder trial that renders the film trite. It's a pity because up until then, the movie had a rich atmosphere that replicated a small rural town in the Depression quite well. The slowly burgeoning romance between two disparate and lonely individuals is also handled delicately and believably. Then the murder comes out of the blue and suddenly we're in Perry Mason territory. It's wonderfully acted by Reeve and Raffin in the central roles but the supporting cast is good except for Helen Shaver, who overdoes the town tramp. The synthesizer underscore by Jonathan Elias is weak, it sounds like warmed over Vangelis. With Nina Foch, Lloyd Bochner and J.T. Walsh.  

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Yankee Pasha (1954)

Set in 1800, a trapper (Jeff Chandler) returns from the wild to Salem, Massachusetts to sell his beaver pelts. It is there he falls in love with a spirited redhead (Rhonda Fleming) even though she is engaged to another man (Tudor Owen). Based on the best selling historical novel by Edison Marshall and directed by Joseph Pevney (MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES). What begins as a period romance set in Massachusetts soon turns into an exotic adventure with Barbary pirates and white slavery set in Morocco. It's all colorful nonsense but entertainingly so. It's best to let your brain rest and just go along with it. There are horse races, shooting matches, harem girls (played by beauty pageant winners), Rhonda Fleming in skimpy costumes and a rousing storming of the palace finale. With Lee J. Cobb, Mamie Van Doren, Rex Reason, Hal March, Arthur Space and Rosalind Hayes. 

Shadow On The Wall (1950)

After finding out her sister (Kristine Miller) is having an affair with her fiance (Tom Helmore), a woman (Ann Sothern) shoots her sister out of anger. Her brother in law (Zachary Scott) is convicted of his wife's murder and sentenced to death. But there was a witness, her six year old niece (Gigi Perreau), who has blocked the incident out of her mind. But when a psychiatrist (Nancy Davis, later Reagan) works with the child, it's only a matter of time before her guilt is revealed ..... unless she murders the child. Based on the novel DEATH IN THE DOLL'S HOUSE by Lawrence Bachmann and Hannah Lees and directed by the British director Patrick Jackson (his only American film). This is a nifty little thriller that treads on some unsavory territory. Harm to children has always been a touchy subject in movies and that's actually the focus of this film so it's hard to avoid. Still, the film minimizes it as much as it can and one murder attempt is done off screen to spare the audience. The film's psychological therapy seems rather primitive by today's standards and it could be argued do more harm than good. Ann Sothern's character goes from being the most sympathetic character in the film to the film's villainess and she does a good job of showing the desperation of a murderess as she slowly unravels. The effective score is by Andre Previn. With John McIntire and Barbara Billingsley. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Tartuffe (1926)

 A film within a film. The young grandson (Andre Mattoni) of a prosperous but elderly gentleman (Hermann Picha) has been written out of the old man's will under the influence of his housekeeper (Rosa Valetti), who coerces the old gentleman into leaving her his estate. Disguised as the operator of a traveling cinema, the grandson shows them a film about a wealthy gentleman (Werner Krauss) who is under the influence of a pious hypocrite (Emil Jannings) much to the consternation of the rich man's wife (Lil Dagover). Based on the classic 1664 comedy by Moliere and directed by F.W. Murnau (NOSFERATU). The film is a very stripped down version of the Moliere play and eliminates several important characters. It's certainly not the best representation of Moliere's play so the purists need not bother. For cinema goers, it's another matter. It affords them another opportunity to appreciate the film making skills of Murnau and the acting talent of Emil Jannings. A pleasant and pleasing film. With Lucie Hoflich. 

Someone Is Watching (2000)

After a traumatic experience in their former home, a single mother (Stefanie Powers) and her six year old son (Mickey Toft) have moved into a new home. What she doesn't know is that a woman was brutally murdered in that house the year before. Her son also becomes dependent on his "imaginary" friend who lives in his closet, who he insists is real in spite of the adults dismissing his claims. Directed by Douglas Jackson, this Canadian thriller never rises above its pulpy roots but given that, it does a decent job and holds our interest for most of its running time. Alas, it can't sustain itself and the film's last half hour turns into your standard "woman in peril fights back" plotline except that Powers' character is such a ninny that you become exasperated. It's the kind of movie where the heroine holds a gun on the villain and you're screaming, "Shoot him!" while the bad guy talks and talks while waiting to overpower her so he can terrorize her for an additional 15 minutes. Margot Kidder provides some amusement as a next door neighbor although the first time you see her, you just know she's going to be toast before the movie's over. With Stewart Bick and Martin Neufeld, overacting shamelessly.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Independence Day (1983)

An aspiring photographer (Kathleen Quinlan) in a small New Mexico town works as a waitress in her father's (Josef Sommer) diner and cares for her cancer stricken mother (Frances Sternhagen) while she awaits word if she's been accepted to a prestigious school in Los Angeles to study photography. Directed by Robert Mandel (F/X), this small indie film slipped under the radar and disappeared until it was discovered on cable a few years later. It's well made if nothing special (except for one thing), Mandel creates the atmosphere of a dead end town carefully and the actors are good. But we've seen too many of these movies where small town dreamers have big dreams and with a few exceptions, it doesn't diverge from the tried and true path. At first, I thought Kathleen Quinlan's performance was off but it wasn't until later that I realized, it was her character that was "off" and intentionally so, a mask she wore to hide her frustrations. The one thing that is special is a dynamite performance by Dianne Wiest as a battered wife. It's the kind of performance that lifts the movie onto another plateau. If the film had been wider seen, it's the kind of performance that wins Oscars. With David Keith, Cliff DeYoung, Richard Farnsworth and Bert Remsen.

House Of Horrors (1946)

An unstable struggling sculptor (Martin Kosleck) is on the verge of suicide when he saves a drowning man (Rondo Hatton). He takes the disfigured man into his home and uses him as a model for his next sculpture. What he doesn't know is that the man is The Creeper, a serial killer that breaks the spines of his victims. Directed by Jean Yarbrough, this is a pretty decent B Universal horror. I have to confess I feel uncomfortable watching Rondo Hatton in these horror roles because there's an implicit exploitation of the man because of his unfortunate features, the result of a disorder of the pituitary gland (acromegaly). Sadly, he died about two weeks before this picture was released from the disease. That aside, it's a solid horror yarn and well acted. I especially liked the always welcome Virginia Grey as a feisty, wisecracking art critic. Sadly, this being 1946, all that sass goes out the window when she trades it in for a wedding ring at the movie's end. Others in the cast: Bill Goodwin, Robert Lowery, Alan Napier (channeling Clifton Webb) and Joan Shawlee.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Seven Angry Men (1955)

In 1856 prior to the war between the States, the notorious abolitionist John Brown (Raymond Massey) believes in action rather than talk and in armed insurrection. Directed by Charles Marquis Warren, the film is interesting as long as it sticks to Brown and his often unethical actions for a noble cause. Alas, too much of the film is devoted to a dreary romance between Jeffrey Hunter as one of Brown's sons and Debra Paget which weighs the movie down. Frankly, I don't know how historically accurate the film is but this being Hollywood 1955, I'd venture to say not much. John Brown was a fascinating historical figure and the entire disastrous raid on Harpers Ferry could make for an entire feature film all by itself. But here, it's saved for the end and seems rushed. The film can't seem to get a grip on Brown. Was he a religious fanatic and a madman? Or was he a heroic figure fighting against the degradation of slavery. It's an adequate movie at most. With Dennis Weaver, Guy Williams, Leo Gordon, John Smith, John Lupton, Larry Pennell, James Edwards and Ann Tyrrell.

Special Agent (1935)

Posing as a newspaper reporter, a U.S. Treasury agent (George Brent) woos the pretty bookkeeper (Bette Davis) of a notorious racketeer (Ricardo Cortez). He gets her to give him access to the gangster's ledgers so the government can prosecute him for tax evasion. But with informants in the police department and his own personal goon squad, the mobster won't be so easy to take down. Directed by William Keighley (THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER), the movie is loosely based on the Treasury department's take down of Al Capone. G-MEN with James Cagney had been released earlier in the year and was a big hit so Warners hoped this one could ride on its coattails. As a B programmer, it's okay. Its plot line is pretty unbelievable and the Feds come across as incompetent most of the time but it's fast moving and its leads are likable although Brent's character loses points for deliberately putting the woman he loves in harm's way. Davis had earned rave reviews the year before in OF HUMAN BONDAGE (an RKO film) signaling the coming of a major actress. But this fell on Warners' deaf ears and they continued putting her in programmers like this! With Jack La Rue, J. Carrol Naish and Irving Pichel, who would soon become a director with films like DESTINATION MOON.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael (2018)

A documentary on the influential and often controversial film critic Pauline Kael. Directed by Rob Garver, the film gathers together friends, family, colleagues, writers, film makers, actors who discuss Kael, the woman and the critic. This isn't a puff piece, her naysayers (Peter Bogdanovich, David Lean) get their say in but I've always thought the way to know Kael is through her writing which is often self revelatory. That being said, I enjoyed the photos and home movies and the contribution of her daughter, Gina James who gives insight on being the daughter of such a formidable woman. I found the film clips used which often had nothing to do with the narration being spoken distracting. I would have preferred stills. The best moments are the footage of Kael herself in her filmed interviews where her incisive wit and passion for cinema takes center stage. In one telling film clip, Jerry Lewis states how Kael has never said anything nice about him (which isn't true) but that film criticism needs film critics like her, who have a love and passion for cinema. I doubt the movie will change the opinion of the Kael haters but the film lets us see how stagnant film criticism (at least in the U.S.) was until Kael burst on the scene. This wasn't some gushing studio lackey or some snooty academic pontificating about "art" but a real moviegoer who said things we were thinking but had never seen in print before. She turned film criticism into an art form and there was no going back. You didn't have to agree with her (she hated some of my favorite movies) to appreciate what she brought to the table. Sarah Jessica Parker provides Kael's "voice" when needed. Others interviewed include Quentin Tarantino, Alec Baldwin, Paul Schrader, John Guare, Molly Haskell, Christopher Durange, Camille Paglia and my friend, Daryl Chin.

The Cat From Outer Space (1978)

An extraterrestrial feline is forced to crash land his spaceship on Earth. He enlists the aid of a government research physicist (Ken Berry) to help him repair his spacecraft and he only has 36 hours to do it or he may be stuck on Earth forever. Directed by Norman Tokar (THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG), this is typical live action family friendly Disney fare of the era. It can't compete with the more ambitious science fiction films of the era like STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND but younger children (say, 10 and under) should be more than entertained. The special effects are primitive but effective and during the film's finale, the aerial stunt work is very good although it's often obvious that they're using stuffed cats instead of live ones or the SPCA would have a fit! Lalo Schifrin provides the generic score. Other humans in the cast include Sandy Duncan, Roddy McDowall, Alan Young, MacLean Stevenson, Harry Morgan, Jesse White, William Prince and Ronnie Schell, who in addition to playing a soldier provides the voice of the alien feline.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Odishon (aka Audition) (1999)

 A middle aged widower (Ryo Ishibashi) is encouraged by his son (Tetsu Sawaki) to get married again. With the help of a film producer friend (Jun Kunimura), he stages an audition for actresses for a film but what he's really looking for is a wife. He becomes obsessed with one of the contenders (Eihi Shiina) and romances her even though his producer friend says there's something "not right" about her. Based on the novel by Ryu Murakami and directed by Takashi Miike, this acclaimed horror film left me split. I found the first half intriguing and was anticipating the payoff but the second half was a major disappointment. There are several ways one could interpret the film, either as a misogynistic male fantasy or a feminist attack on the domination and objectification of women by men. Whatever view one takes, it doesn't make it a better movie. I couldn't find myself sympathizing with Isibashi's protagonist. He is exploiting these women and even when he is warned  by his friend about Shiina (even we can see there's something off about her), his ego thinks he can "handle" her. Yet I couldn't sympathize with Shiina's avenging angel either as she's clearly a highly disturbed individual (apparently a victim of child abuse). Thought provoking horror films are rare and I had high hopes for this one. I won't soon forget it however and perhaps a second viewing will make me more receptive.

Till The End Of Time (1946)

At the end of WWII, a marine (Guy Madison) returns to his hometown to find things very different. He feels displaced and isn't sure what he wants to do with his life. When he meets an attractive war widow (Dorothy McGuire), he focuses on her but she isn't sure she's ready for another relationship just yet. Based on the novel THEY DREAM OF HOME by Niven Busch (DUEL IN THE SUN) and directed by Edward Dmytryk (CROSSFIRE). Released the same year as the epic THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES which dealt with the same subject matter (returning war veterans attempting to reabsorb into civilian lives), the film isn't as good which is why it isn't remembered as much. It's not a bad film by any means but it's not as rich or as complex as BEST YEARS. It's too simplistic and wrapped up in a neat little package. It also suffers with a weak leading man, Guy Madison is so handsome to the point of being beautiful but he's not a good enough actor to inhabit such a complicated protagonist and show us what he's going through. He tells us (courtesy of the screenplay) but he doesn't show us. On the other hand, Dorothy McGuire as the widow does reveal to us a wounded woman struggling to put her life back together while guarding her emotions. She's wonderful but in Madison, she has no one to play off of. With Robert Mitchum, Bill Williams, Tom Tully, William Gargan, Jean Porter and Selena Royle.

Fantomas Se Dechaine (aka Fantomas Unleashed) (1965)

The notorious arch villain Fantomas (Jean Marais) kidnaps a distinguished scientist (Albert Dagnant) with the aim of developing a weapon that will allow him to control minds and thus the world. When a second scientist (Jean Marais) is kidnapped, a journalist (Jean Marais) concocts a plan that will trap Fantomas before he can carry out his plan. Directed by Andre Hunebelle, this was the second in the Fantomas trilogy (trading in on the popularity of and spoofing the Bond films) which was popular in France in the 1960s. I rather enjoyed the first Fantomas film but this one doesn't kick in until the film's last half hour. The first part tries too hard to be funny and Louis De Funes, who was funny in the 1964 FANTOMAS is annoying rather than amusing. I did laugh out loud at two sight gags which is something I suppose and the train sequence works well. The film looks great and Fantomas' lair which is set in a submerged volcano is a marvel of design. Marais seems to be having a great time playing three different characters. With the lovely Mylene Demongeot providing the eye candy.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Choices (1986)

 A newly retired attorney (George C. Scott) with a much younger second wife (Jacqueline Bisset) finds himself in an ethical dilemma. His teenage daughter (Melissa Gilbert) from his first marriage is pregnant and his wife finds herself pregnant although he clearly told her he didn't want any more children before they married. Since he is "pro life", he wants his daughter to have the baby yet doesn't want his wife to carry their baby to term. Directed by David Lowell Rich (MADAME X), this is the kind of movie that deals with a divisive issue by trying to make both sides happy which it can't, of course. It's also the kind of social issue film where the characters argue their opinions back and forth so that we begin to feel that we're at a debate rather than a movie. As a drama, there's no ..... well, drama! We pretty much know after all the debating and lecturing how this is going to play out. The performances are uniformly fine considering the strait jacket the film's screenplay has the actors in. With Laurie Kennedy and Steven Flynn.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Orfeu Negro (aka Black Orpheus) (1959)

Set in Rio de Janeiro during carnival time, a young girl named Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) fleeing a stalker (Adhemar Da Silva) seeks out her cousin (Lea Garcia), who lives in a favela district in the hills of Rio. It is there she falls in love with a streetcar conductor fittingly named Orpheus (Bruno Mello). Based on ORFEU DA CONCEICAO by Vinicius De Moraes and directed by Marcel Camus. Winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival as well as the Academy Award for foreign language film, its reputation has dimmed somewhat in the ensuing years but it remains an often exhilarating mixture of color, music and romantic fantasy. It was a huge art house hit and it's easy to see why. Rio has always had a certain fascination for U.S. film goers going all the way back to the 1930s and movies like FLYING DOWN TO RIO, CHARLIE CHAN IN RIO, ROAD TO RIO etc., not to mention the popularity of Carmen Miranda. It had connotations of exoticism, primitive rhythms and a certain glamour. Camus' film eschews all that and gives us the flip side, the poverty ridden favela district. Granted, it's a rather romanticized view of poverty (everyone seems happy and content in their poverty) but this is not intended as a realistic view of poverty and its effects (it's not PIXOTE) but a romantic retelling of the Greek legend set in the slums of Rio. It captures the feverish atmosphere of carnival time and the music is exquisite and partly responsible for the bossa nova craze which erupted in the 1960s.

An Unremarkable Life (1989)

An old maid schoolteacher (Patricia Neal) lives with her widowed sister (Shelley Winters) in the home left to them by their father. The two sisters couldn't be more different. The spinster is warm and friendly while the widow is bigoted and suspicious. When the spinster falls in love with a Chinese widower (Mako), it causes a rift in the sisters' relationship. Directed by Amin Q. Chaudhri, this modest little low budget movie provides an opportunity for Neal and Winters (both in their 60s) to take center stage and shine in leading roles. One wishes the material were better so they could soar but within the limits of the nondescript screenplay, the two actresses show what talent can do to compensate for inferior substance. Still, it's refreshing to see an interracial romance between two older people that doesn't condescend to either their age or race. With Madeleine Sherwood and Charles S. Dutton.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters (1985)

On November 25, 1970, the acclaimed Japanese writer Yukio Mishima (Ken Ogata) sets out with four members of his private army to a garrison of the Japanese Armed Forces and takes a General hostage with the hope of encouraging the soldiers to join him in his mission to reinstate the Emperor as the nation's sovereign. It will be the last day of his life. Co-written and directed by Paul Schrader (AMERICAN GIGOLO), this film is a unique examination of the life and work of the celebrated author Yukio Mishima, perhaps best known to western audiences for THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA. Schrader divides the film in three parts: the present, the past which is told in B&W flashbacks and three dramatizations of Mishima's books (TEMPLE OF THE GOLDEN PAVILLION, KYOKO'S HOUSE, RUNAWAY HORSES). The film focuses on Mishima's obsession with male beauty and perfection and his increasing right wing nationalism. The visuals courtesy of John Bailey (ORDINARY PEOPLE) are breathtaking especially the vivid hues of the stylized Mishima stories and there's a terrific underscore by Philip Glass (THE HOURS). It's an imaginative and audacious film examining a very complex and controversial figure. Reputedly, the film has never been shown theatrically in Japan to this day, mostly because of the homosexual inference to Mishima's sexual orientation (denied by his widow despite evidence to the contrary). A must see film. With Yasosuke Bando, Kenji Sawada, Toshiyuki Nagashima and Reisen Lee. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Blood And Sand (1922)

A young Spaniard (Rudolph Valentino) achieves his childhood ambition of becoming a bullfighter. But as his fame spreads, he has difficulty dealing with the temptations of his livelihood. Based on the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibanez (FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE) and directed by Fred Niblo (the 1925 BEN-HUR). This acclaimed film is considered one of Valentino's best but honestly, I didn't much care for it. There was an underlying implication of masochism and misogyny that I found unpleasant. We're meant to be sympathetic to Valentino's toreador when a femme fatale (Nita Naldi) lures him away from his faithful wife (Lila Lee) but while Naldi is seen as a "snake", Valentino's weak willed philanderer gets a pass. To the film's credit, like the novel it's based on, it sees bullfighting as a savage and barbaric "sport" (something ignored in Mamoulian's 1941 remake which is more romanticized) and there's a parallel between Valentino's toreador who kills bulls and the murderous bandit (Walter Long) who kills people (this character is eliminated in the 1941 remake). With Rosa Rosanova, Leo White and Charles Belcher.

Escape Me Never (1947)

A struggling composer (Errol Flynn) finds himself torn between two women: a penniless single mother (Ida Lupino) and a wealthy aristocrat (Eleanor Parker). It doesn't help matters that the rich society girl is engaged to his brother (Gig Young). Based on the novel by Margaret Kennedy (THE CONSTANT NYMPH) and directed by Peter Godfrey (CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT). This is the second film version of Kennedy's novel. It was previously filmed in 1935 with Elisabeth Bergner (who received an Oscar nomination for her performance) in Ida Lupino's role. It's a rather convoluted plot for a simple romance and not entirely believable although the actors do the best they can. I suppose it helps if you can buy Errol Flynn as a ballet composer which I couldn't quite do. He's more believable with a sword in his hand than feverishly running his fingers over a piano and chastising prima ballerinas. The film is notable as Erich Wolfgang Korngold's last film score. With Isobel Elsom, Reginald Denny and Albert Bassermann.  

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Painted Veil (1934)

Feeling lonely and desiring a life beyond her native Austria, a young woman (Greta Garbo) impulsively marries a doctor (Herbert Marshall) even though she doesn't love him. She accompanies him to China where she falls in love with a British diplomat (George Brent). Loosely based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham and directed by Richard Boleslawski (THEODORA GOES WILD). MGM coughed up a lavish million dollar budget for this exotic romance and it paid off, the movie was one of Garbo's biggest hits. The film itself is uneven but it's well made and above all, there's the divine Garbo. This is one of my favorite performances by her. It's not acclaimed like her work in CAMILLE, QUEEN CHRISTINA or NINOTCHKA but she seems so vibrant here and she plays as close to an "ordinary" woman as she ever played, not a dying courtesan, a Swedish Queen or a Russian envoy. Considering Garbo was anything but ordinary, she brings a touching sense of an ordinary woman placed in extraordinary circumstance and (eventually) rising to it. Remade with Eleanor Parker in 1957 and Naomi Watts in 2006. With Warner Oland (again playing Asian), Jean Hersholt, Cecilia Parker and Keye Luke.

The Strange Case Of Doctor Rx (1942)

A private detective (Patric Knowles) has plans to retire but he is lured into taking one last case. A series of strangulation murders by an anonymous Doctor Rx, a self professed avenger who murders guilty people who are acquitted by juries. Directed by William Nigh, this mystery/horror film is near incomprehensible to follow and makes no logical sense. No surprise since apparently there was no finished script when filming started and the actors had to ad lib their way through the shooting. When the motive for the killings is revealed, it's preposterous. There's a generous amount of comic relief in the film, most of it provided by Shemp Howard and Mantan Moreland in yet another stereotyped black character but to his credit Moreland makes the most of it unlike Howard who is just tedious. I like most of Universal's B horrors of the 1940s but this one had me scratching my head. With Lionel Atwill, Anne Gwynne, Samuel S. Hinds, Mona Barrie, John Cavanagh, Mary Gordon and Jan Wiley.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Great Caruso (1951)

The story of the famed opera tenor Enrico Caruso from child (Peter Edward Price) to man (Mario Lanza). Directed by Richard Thorpe (IVANHOE), this is a highly fictionalized movie biography on Caruso's life. In fact, it gets more things wrong than right but the film was a huge success for MGM, solidified Lanza's standing as movie star and inspired several opera singers (including Placido Domingo) in pursuing a career in opera. Although made in 1951, it could have been made in 1931, that's how much it creaks! Every movie bio cliche is there and you could tick the boxes off as you watched it. Lanza wasn't much of an actor but who watches a Lanza movie for his acting? You watch it to hear him sing and the film is filled with over 20 musical sequences in which he sings. The film did spawn a hit song The Loveliest Night Of The Year but it's sung by Ann Blyth (as Mrs. Caruso), not Lanza. Although the film was a hit at the box office, the Caruso family sued for damages because it was more fiction than fact and they won! Example: the film has him dying on stage at the Metropolitan Opera when in reality, he died in a hotel room in Naples, Italy. With the famed Metropolitan soprano Dorothy Kirsten, Carl Benton Reid, Eduard Franz, Alan Napier, Sherry Jackson, Angela Clarke, Ludwig Donath, Ian Wolfe and Yvette Duguay.

Sex, Lies And Videotape (1989)

Set in Louisiana, a young housewife (Andie MacDowell) is in therapy where she discusses her less than happy marriage. When an old school friend (James Spader) of her husband's (Peter Gallagher) returns to town, he becomes their house guest and his presence will be a pivotal moment in their lives including that of her sister (Laura San Giacomo). Written and directed by Steven Soderbergh (in his feature film debbut), a good argument could be made that it was the film that fueled the independent film movement of the 1990s. A critical sensation (it won the Cannes film festival Palme d'Or), it remains a riveting examination of intimacy, both sexual and emotional, and treachery in relationships. Soderbergh makes you feel like a fly on the wall, a voyeur to these characters' most private moments. It's a perfect ensemble drama with just four protagonists and only two other supporting characters. All the performances shine but the film is owned by Andie MacDowell, who brings an unexpected depth to her Southern belle turned housewife. This is movie making for grown ups at its best. With Steven Brill and Ron Vawter.