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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Tower Of London (1939)

The Duke of Gloucester (Basil Rathbone) lusts after the throne sat on by his brother King Edward IV (Ian Hunter) and plots to eliminate those standing in the way of his ascent to the throne of England. Directed by Rowland V. Lee (THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY), this is like RICHARD III but without the poetry of Shakespeare's language. It's rather graceless and lumbering in its execution but more entertaining than not. The performances are good with Rathbone making for a marvelously malevolent usurper and Vincent Price in one of his early film roles already showing a talent for effete aristocrats. The pageantry is impressive but the battle scenes are weak. For some inexplicable reason, the movie is often labeled a horror film rather than an historical drama. True, torture and murder are horrific but using that as a benchmark I suppose we could call CLOCKWORK ORANGE or MARATHON MAN "horror" films. With Boris Karloff, John Sutton, Barbara O'Neil, Nan Grey, Leo G. Carroll and Rose Hobart.

Sudden Terror (aka Eyewitness) (1970)

Set on an unidentified Mediterranean island (it was filmed on Malta), a young boy (Mark Lester) has a history of making up stories and elaborate fantasies. So when he witnesses the assassination of a visiting African dignitary (Tom Eytle) by a policeman (Peter Vaughan), no one believes him ..... except for the assassin who pursues the boy. Based on the novel by John Harris (under the pseudonym of Mark Hebden) and directed by John Hough (LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE). Yet another variation on the "boy who cried wolf" fable. What should have been a crackerjack thriller turns into a messy movie. Every time the tension should be mounting, the film cuts to a tepid romance between Susan George (as Lester's older sister) and a good looking visitor (Tony Bonner) to the island. The film also features two of the worst movie assassins I've ever seen. Clumsy and incompetent, they almost seem like they want to be caught. However, the film's chase finale is well done. With Lionel Jeffries, Jeremy Kemp and Betty Marsden.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Man Hunt (1941)

Prior to WWII, a big game hunter (Walter Pidgeon) visiting Germany has a high powered rifle aimed at Adolf Hitler but he is captured by the Gestapo. He is tortured while being coerced into signing a confession that he was working at the behest of the British government. He escapes but his Nazi pursuers lead by the Gestapo leader (George Sanders) follow him to England. Based on the novel ROGUE MALE by Geoffrey Household and directed by Fritz Lang. One of several anti-Nazi films Lang made during his tenure in Hollywood, this is my favorite of the bunch. It's a propaganda film to be sure but made with such skill and grandly entertaining (it's a first rate thriller). It manages to avoid preachiness until the very end. Pidgeon isn't the most compelling of actors but he's quite affable here. Bennett playing a Cockney prostitute is both charming and touching, quite a departure from the treacherous tarts she played in her two most famous films with Lang. With Roddy McDowall, Heather Thatcher, Frederick Worlock, Eily Malyon and John Carradine (who has a spectacular death).  

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Sons Of Katie Elder (1965)

The four adult sons (John Wayne, Dean Martin, Earl Holliman, Michael Anderson Jr.) of Katie Elder reunite at their mother's funeral. Although their mother was beloved by the townspeople, the four sons are not. Especially the eldest who are a gunfighter (Wayne) and a gambler (Martin) with unsavory reputations. Very loosely based on LIFE OF THE MARLOWS by Glenn Shirley and directed by Henry Hathaway (NORTH TO ALASKA), this is standard western fare. It's a perfectly decent western which never manages to be more than average in spite of the presence of the iconic Wayne. The film is overlong which causes it to drag here and there and there is one brawl that's reminiscent of the worst of John Ford (Elmer Bernstein even scores it with an Irish jig). There's also the suspension of belief when you accept Wayne and Martin as brothers! Maybe if they had different fathers but that's not the case here. Michael Anderson Jr. as the youngest member of the clan is annoying, not the actor but the character he plays. It looks nice but why wouldn't it, it was shot by Lucien Ballard (THE WILD BUNCH) who makes the Mexican location look like Texas. With Martha Hyer (wasted), Dennis Hopper, George Kennedy, James Gregory, Jeremy Slate, Paul Fix and Strother Martin. 

The Munsters' Revenge (1981)

Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) and Grandpa Munster (Al Lewis) are arrested for a string of nighttime robberies. Determined to prove their innocence, they break out of jail to find the real culprits. Could the answer be the newly renovated wax museum? Directed by Don Weis (LOOKING FOR LOVE), this telefilm came some 15 years after the TV series had ended. Gwynne, Lewis and Yvonne De Carlo return but Jo McDonnell and K.C. Martel replace the original Marilyn and Eddie Munster. As to the film itself, its one joke act is tired and the movie is a bit of a slog to sit through. Again, I was never a fan of the TV show but if you were, then the nostalgia factor may be enough for you to tolerate it. Like the 1966 theatrical feature MUNSTERS GO HOME, seeing the Munster family in color is interesting for awhile but it does seem more suited to B&W. Universal upped the ante by adding some of their popular monsters to the mix including Phantom Of The Opera, Creature From The Black Lagoon, Bride Of Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. With Sid Caesar, Howard Morris, Bob Hastings and Peter Fox.   

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Fathers And Daughters (2015)

After his wife (Jenny Vos) is killed in an automobile accident, a writer (Russell Crowe) struggles to raise his daughter (Kylie Rogers) while handicapped by brain damage which causes severe seizures as well as guilt over the accident. 25 years later, his grown up daughter (Amanda Seyfried) struggles with the emotional baggage she carries with her over her childhood. The film alternates between the father's story and  the grown up daughter's story. Directed by Gabriele Muccino, this is an imperfect film but it wasn't worthy of the dismissive reviews when it originally came out. It's a solid film which captures the struggle of a single father attempting to raise a daughter while dealing with illness and financial loss and of a young woman unable to deal with commitment because of a robbed childhood. The film has touches of KRAMER VS. KRAMER (a court battle to take his child from him) and LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (the daughter's casual promiscuity and one night stands). It may not be fresh but it gets a lot of things right. Crowe is well cast but it's Seyfried who offers up an insightful performance of a self destructive woman struggling to save herself. With Jane Fonda, Octavia Spencer, Quvenzhane Wallis, Diane Kruger, Bruce Greenwood (suitably slimy) and Aaron Paul. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Messalina (1960)

After the death of Caligula, Claudius (Mino Doro) is crowned the new Emperor. He takes for his wife a vestal virgin (Belinda Lee) who isn't as innocent as she looks. It isn't long before she starts exerting her power as the woman behind the throne. Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi, this is an enjoyable slice of Italian peplum. It looks quite handsome and has an elegant look courtesy of Marco Scarpelli's cinematography. But the fun comes from Belinda Lee's performance as the wicked Messalina, who goes from vestal virgin to nymphomaniac in record time. When she isn't seducing soldiers and would be assassins, she's poisoning ex-lovers, having her enemies murdered and driving Christians off their land so she can sell the land to the highest bidder. Alas, this was one of Belinda Lee's last films. She would die a year later in a car crash at the age of 25. The score is by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. With Spiros Focas, Giulio Donnini, Ida Galli and Giuliano Gemma.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Never Steal Anything Small (1959)

An unethical longshoreman (James Cagney) connives his way to the presidency of the stevedore's union through illegal activities. When he sets his eye on the pretty wife (Shirley Jones) of his new lawyer (Roger Smith), he plots to break up the marriage and go after the wife. Based on the play THE DEVIL'S HORNPIPE by Maxwell Anderson and Rouben Mamoulian and directed by screenwriter Charles Lederer (GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES). This is a rather odd little film. With only four musical numbers, I'd call it a semi musical rather than a full blown musical. The emphasis isn't on singing and dancing but union politics. One could call it a satire of union politics but it's lightweight. It's no ON THE WATERFRONT. Cagney's character is supposed to be corrupt but charming but he's such a vile person that his "charm" didn't work for me. Shot in CinemaScope by Harold Lipstein (THE CHAPMAN REPORT), the film is bright and colorful. Of the four musical numbers, only one really stands out. I'm Sorry, I Want A Ferrari, a duet sung by Cagney and Cara Williams. The choreography is by Hermes Pan. With Nehemiah Persoff, Anthony Caruso, Horace McMahon, Virginia Vincent and Jack Albertson.

The Art Of Love (1965)

Set in Paris, a struggling painter (Dick Van Dyke) jumps into the Seine to save a girl (Elke Sommer). It is assumed he committed suicide and suddenly his paintings begin to sell like hotcakes. When he shows up alive, his best friend (James Garner) convinces him to play dead and paint more pictures to sell and pocket the money. Written by Carl Reiner and directed by Norman Jewison (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF). I'm very partial to these glossy 1960s comedies and Reiner wrote and Jewison directed one of the best, THE THRILL OF IT ALL (also starring Garner) two years earlier. But this one owes something to Blake Edwards and his PINK PANTHER films. The title credits are designed by DePatie-Freleng who did the PANTHER credits, Cy Coleman's score is faux Henry Mancini and a police detective (Pierre Olaf) says to Garner, "I think you've been watching too many Peter Sellers movies". The Paris of this film is pure Universal backlot but other than a Madame Defarge gag that is repeated more than necessary (I got it the first time and laughed, it's not funny the next three times) I had a pleasant time with the film and its glamorous silliness. Your tolerance may depend on your affection for these 60s comedies. With Angie Dickinson (looking ultra glam in her Ray Aghayan frocks), Ethel Merman, Roger C. Carmel, Naomi Stevens, Jay Novello and Miiko Taka.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Songwriter (1984)

Although he's one of country music's most beloved stars, a singer/songwriter (Willie Nelson) finds his life in a mess! He's ripped off financially by a contract with a gangster entrepreneur (Richard C. Sarafian), his two wives (Melinda Dillon, Shannon Wilcox) have left him and he's broken up with his singing partner (Kris Kristofferson). Directed by Alan Rudolph (CHOOSE ME), this is a grand free wheeling satire of the music business. In this instance, country music but really it could have easily been rock or something else. It has the thinnest of scenarios but it's not about the plot as much as the pleasure of being tossed into a crazy mix of characters and music and for a little while being that fly on the wall with the knowledge that you'll be able to escape after a bit. As actors, Kristofferson and Nelson are very limited but they're in their comfort zone here and have never been more likable. But it's Lesley Ann Warren who owns the film. Fragile and neurotic, her budding country star finds herself overwhelmed and unsure of the quick success thrust upon her. Rip Torn does his specialty, that devilish hustler that you can't help liking even as he picks your pocket. With Mickey Raphael and Rhonda Dotson.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

House Of Usher (aka The Fall Of The House Of Usher) (1960)

A young man (Mark Damon) from Boston comes to the isolated Usher mansion to see his fiancee (Myrna Fahey). He is informed by her brother (Vincent Price) that she is seriously ill and he dissuades the young man from staying and urges him to leave which he refuses to do. Based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe and directed by Roger Corman. The first of the eight Poe adaptations that Corman would make for the screen, this one sets the tone for the Poe films that would follow: Floyd Crosby's rich cinematography, Daniel Haller's vivid production design, Les Baxter's redolent underscores and, of course, Vincent Price. It's also one of the more faithful adaptations of the Poe stories. Many that came after used the Poe titles but not much else. Lavish in atmosphere, USHER maintains a sense of hopeless dread throughout and Price's foreboding performance helps accomplish the awareness of the pending doom. If the film has a weak link, it's Damon, who while quite handsome seems out of place in Poe's claustrophobic 19th century mansion. With Harry Ellerbe as a household servant, the only other person in the film. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Son Of The Sheik (1926)

The son of a desert sheik (Rudolph Valentino), a young man (Rudolph Valentino) becomes infatuated with a dancer (Vilma Banky) even though his father has already chosen a bride for him. This disobedience causes him to fall into the hands of a band of thieves. Based on the novel by Edith Maude Hull and directed by George Fitzmaurice (MATA HARI). Valentino caused a sensation in THE SHEIK in 1921 and it made him a star. Jump five years later and his last couple of pictures have lost money. So why not do the obvious? Make a sequel to the movie that made you a star? It's a decent piece of romantic nonsense but as an actor, Valentino had moved beyond these exotic romances and displayed his acting chops in films like BLOOD AND SAND and THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE. Sadly, the film was his swan song as he died at the age of 31 about six weeks after this movie was released. As to the film itself, it remains an archival testament to Valentino's screen presence and it's a tolerable watch. With Agnes Ayres recreating her role in the original THE SHEIK, only this time as Valentino's mother. Also in the cast: Montagu Love and George Fawcett. 

The Light In The Forest (1958)

Set in 1764 in Ohio and Pennsylvania, a peace treaty is signed between the Delaware Indians and the British forces (this is pre-Revolutionary War) and part of the treaty is that all white prisoners held by the Delawares are to be returned. Among them is a teen age boy (James MacArthur) who has lived with the Indians so long he considers himself Indian and the tribe's chief (Joseph Calleia) as his father. He is resistant to acclimating to the white way of life. Based on the novel by Conrad Richter and directed by Herschel Daugherty. This being a Walt Disney production the film has been somewhat sanitized from its source material. For example, a fight between MacArthur and his nemesis is changed from the scalping in the book to a fistfight in the movie. A love interest in the form of Carol Lynley is added to the film which was not in the book. The film is well intentioned and while it tries to be fair to both the white settlers and the Native Americans, there is still a slight residue of racism as the white way of life is presented (perhaps unintentionally) as superior and the boy must be cleansed of his Indian habits and thoughts before he is acceptable to the community. With Fess Parker, Wendell Corey, Joanne Dru, Jessica Tandy, John McIntire, Marian Seldes, Rafael Campos, Stephen Bekassy and Myrna Fahey.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Money, Women And Guns (1958)

After a goldminer (Edwin Jerome) is murdered, a detective (Jock Mahoney) is hired to find the five heirs to the man's goldmine but also to find his killer. Directed by Richard Bartlett, this western was a nice surprise. It doesn't have much of a reputation (if any at all) so my expectations were low. But it's a well crafted mixture of western and murder mystery, a marriage of Zane Grey and Agatha Christie so to speak. There are several suspects and the movie doesn't overplay its hand so we're never quite sure until the big reveal although the film gives us a major clue early in the film that I could have kicked myself for overlooking. Its lurid title is misleading, suggesting a typical western of gunfights, saloon girls and bank or stagecoach robberies. Instead, we get an engaging oater about second chances with an interesting cast of characters. If you're into westerns, this one is definitely worth checking out. With Kim Hunter, Tom Drake, Gene Evans, Tim Hovey, James Gleason, William Campbell, Judi Meredith, Richard Devon, Jeffrey Stone and Lon Chaney Jr.

Recoil (1962)

After a young punk (Paul Carr) is arrested for assault and battery and suspicion of being involved in the numbers racket, a police detective (Robert Taylor) takes a personal interest in the case when he meets the punk's married sister (Vera Miles). But the case soon becomes a murder case when the boy disappears and his brother in law (Harold J. Stone) is suspected of his murder. Directed by Paul Wendkos (GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN), this was originally a two part episode of the TV series THE DETECTIVES which was combined into a feature film for release in Europe. It wasn't an uncommon occurrence in the 1960s. Many of the two part episodes of THE MAN FROM UNCLE were released as feature films here in the U.S. as well as Europe. This effort is actually quite entertaining and well acted although it never rises above a good episode of a TV cop show. However, some of it doesn't play well today. The abuse of power by police and harassing of witnesses may have been overlooked in 1962 (as in "they're crooks, who cares?") but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth in 2020. With Adam West, Mark Goddard, Marc Lawrence and Philip Bourneuf.   

Night Key (1937)

When the head (Samuel S. Hinds) of a major security company buys the revolutionary alarm system of an inventor (Boris Karloff) to keep it off the market, the inventor gets his revenge by rendering the company's alarm system ineffective. This action attracts the attention of a mobster (Alan Baxter) who's the head of a major crime ring. Directed by Lloyd Corrigan, this rather silly blend of science fiction and crime film is fairly entertaining if you don't take it too seriously. It's just the usual B programmer that Universal was grinding out back then. The most interesting aspect of the movie is the relationship between the nearly blind Karloff and a loser of a petty criminal played by Hobart Cavanaugh which ends up being rather touching. As usual, the film is padded out by young lovers whose romantic antics do nothing for the film. In this case, Jean Rogers as Karloff's daughter and Warren Hull as a security guard. With Ward Bond and Frank Reicher.

Cronaca Di Un Amore (aka Story Of A Love Affair) (1950)

A jealous husband (Ferdinando Sarmi) hires a private investigator (Gino Rossi) to investigate his wife's past. The investigation causes the man's wife (Lucia Bose) and her ex-lover (Massimo Girotti) to reunite after seven years when the lover becomes suspicious that it might be the police looking into the mysterious death of his ex-fiancee where both were present. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (L'AVVENTURA) in his feature film debut. This is an impressive film debut and directed with all the confidence of a veteran yet still startlingly fresh in its execution. The film has the trimmings of film noir but it transcends the inherent pulpiness of the genre as it places its two protagonists under scrutiny as their long buried guilt comes to the forefront and effectively dooms any future they might have had. Antonioni's tactile visuals add an intensity to what might have been a standard noir. Amazingly, Lucia Bose was only 19 at the time of filming but you'd never know it. She brings the self assurance of an experienced actress to her part. With Marika Rowsky and Rubi D'Alma. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Josephine And Men (1955)

An impetuous young girl (Glynis Johns) has a weakness for underdogs. She's engaged to a successful businessman (Donald Sinden) but when she meets his old school chum (Peter Finch), a struggling writer who's penniless, she jilts her 
fiancĂ© and marries the writer. Directed by Roy Boulting (THE FAMILY WAY), this is a tepid comedy with some talented players who do what they can to prop up the often dreary activities. I mean what can you say about a comedy which results in a happy ending when someone commits suicide by shooting himself? Johns is an expert comedienne and does flighty very well and Finch and Sinden do okay huffing and puffing about. But it's Jack Buchanan (THE BAND WAGON) as Glynis Johns' confirmed bachelor Uncle whose wry underplaying adds a bit of class to the proceedings. With Lisa Gastoni, Ronald Squire, William Hartnell and Victor Maddern.

Rebecca (1997)

A young English girl (Emilia Fox) works as a companion to a wealthy American widow (Faye Dunaway). While they are vacationing in Monte Carlo, she meets the enigmatic widower Max de Winter (Charles Dance) and falls in love with him. They marry but she is ill prepared to become the mistress of the fabled Manderley estate or replace the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca. Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier and directed by Jim O'Brien. Du Maurier's novel has been adapted for film (notably Hitchcock's Oscar winning 1940 film), television, the stage and even an opera. At three hours, this adaptation takes a leisurely pace but not necessarily any more faithful to Du Maurier's source material than the Hitchcock adaptation. The production makes the mistake of having a flashback scene where we actually get to see and hear Rebecca (Lucy Cohu) whereas in the novel and other adaptations, Rebecca is always talked about but never seen. As Max de Winter, Charles Dance is rather surly and unpleasant without the charismatic charm that would compensate for his bad tempered behavior. Fortunately, there's Diana Rigg who gives a terrific performance as Mrs. Danvers. She makes Danvers her own, owing nothing to Judith Anderson's iconic performance in the 1940 film. With Geraldine James, Dennis Lill, Tom Chadbon, Timothy West and Jonathan Cake who overacts terribly!

Friday, September 18, 2020

State And Main (2000)

A group of Hollywood film makers invade a sleepy Vermont town to make a film called THE OLD MILL. This wreaks havoc on its citizens as the movie company takes over the town while the town itself is divided over the presence of the film company. Written and directed by David Mamet (GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS). Although he's a much admired playwright, I've never been a fan of Mamet's work. I'll concede that maybe I just don't "get" him but there's a smugness about his work that puts me off. For example, he's very condescending to the townspeople in the movie with the exception of the bookstore owner (perhaps not coincidentally played by Mamet's wife, Rebecca Pidgeon). So we're left with a movie filled with shallow narcissistic film people and gullible country bumpkins. It may be satire but its complacent attitude turns it sour. On the plus side, Mamet has assembled a mostly strong cast of actors though William H. Macy (is it me or is he  overrated?) goes over the top. The rest of the cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin as an actor with a predilection for underage girls, Sarah Jessica Parker, Charles Durning, Patti LuPone, Julia Stiles, David Paymer and Clark Gregg.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Enchanted Cottage (1945)

Set during WWII, an Air Force pilot (Robert Young) is maimed and has his face disfigured when his plane crashes. He seeks isolation away from friends and family at a secluded seaside cottage where he meets a homely girl (Dorothy McGuire) who helps him want to live again. Based on the play by Arthur Wing Pinero (which was previously filmed in 1924) and directed by John Cromwell. In other hands, this could have been a sickly sentimental piece but as he did with SINCE YOU WENT AWAY, Cromwell guides the film with a firm directorial hand that avoids the soppy traps that might have derailed the movie into a morass of mawkishness. In this effort, he's helped enormously by Dorothy McGuire, a no nonsense actress who gives us pathos without excessive sentimentality and Robert Young who hits just the right notes of self pity and sensitivity. The public ate it up and the film has continued to win fans over the years. One of the cinema's great romantic treasures. With Mildred Natwick (whose character was a witch in the original play), Herbert Marshall, Spring Byington and Hillary Brooke.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Cattle Annie And Little Britches (1981)

Two adolescent girls (Amanda Plummer, Diane Lane) have romanticized western outlaws due to the dime novels they've read. They seek out and join the remnants of the Doolin-Dalton gang led by Bill Doolin (Burt Lancaster). Based on the novel by Robert Ward and directed by Lamont Johnson (LIPSTICK). This affable western with a bit of charm is based on real characters (Cattle Annie and Little Britches did exist) but the film is fictionalized. The movie turns a reflective eye on the fading West but without the unsettling violence of something like THE WILD BUNCH. It's more nostalgic and with a slight sense of regret. Plummer (in her film debut) and Lane are wonderful but as good as they are, they can't steal the movie away from Lancaster whose iconic presence is too strong but his performance is a beauty. As Lancaster's nemesis, Rod Steiger is surprisingly restrained and once again proves what a marvelous actor he can be. Hats off to Larry Pizer's evocative cinematography. With John Savage, Scott Glenn and Buck Taylor. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Young Stranger (1957)

The son (James MacArthur) of a wealthy film producer (James Daly) lives in a beautiful home in Beverly Hills but his father is a cold man. Not only to his son but to his wife (Kim Hunter). When the boy gets into a fight with the manager (Whit Bissell) of a movie theatre and is arrested by the police, it only makes the gulf between father and son wider. Written by Robert Dozier (who adapted his 1955 teleplay for the screen) and directed by John Frankenheimer (MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE). Frankenheimer had been acquiring a reputation directing live television in the 1950s including DEAL A BLOW in 1955 so when it was adapted for a film two years later under the title THE YOUNG STRANGER, Frankenheimer made his feature film debut. MacArthur and Bissell recreate their roles in the film with James Daly and Kim Hunter stepping in for Macdonald Carey and Phyllis Thaxter. The benchmark for these juvenile delinquent movies is REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. STRANGER even has a score by Leonard Rosenman who scored REBEL. But whereas REBEL had an ambiguous ending in that we didn't know what would happen next, this film ties it up in a neat little ribbon of reconciliation as son, father and mother walk off into the sunset arm in arm. It also bears some resemblance to ORDINARY PEOPLE which would come years later, only this time it's the father who's the icy one. MacArthur's "misunderstood" kid is pretty obnoxious but the film makers seem to want us to overlook that because he's not getting any love at home. It's okay but no surprises (kids behaving badly because adults don't care). With James Gregory, Marian Seldes and Jeffrey Silver (perhaps the most likable character in the cast).

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Farmer's Wife (1928)

After a decent time of mourning after the death of his wife, a farmer (Jameson Thomas) decides to remarry and draws up a list of prospective wives. The only problem is that his ego doesn't take into account that those women may not be interested. Based on the play by Eden Phillpots and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This overlong comedy has some merit but it's obvious from the very beginning who the farmer will end up with. Thomas's farmer is such a rude lout that one can't blame the women for rejecting him. Indeed, why the woman he ends up with wants him at all is a mystery. Hitchcock dwells too long on some of the scenes that you want to cry out, "Get on with it!". Still, I suppose if you find country bumpkins with bad table manners funny, you may well find this amusing. With Lillian Hall Davis, Gordon Harker, Maud Gill, Louie Pounds and Olga Slade, who seems to have some comedy chops. 

Red Canyon (1949)

A saddle tramp (Howard Duff) attempts to distance himself from his outlaw family by changing his name. The headstrong daughter (Ann Blyth) of a horse breeder (George Brent) defies her father when she attempts to tame a wild stallion. The two stories merge when the drifter and the girl meet. Based on the novel WILDFIRE by Zane Grey and directed by George Sherman (COUNT THREE AND PRAY). This is a slightly above average oater, beautifully photographed in three stip Technicolor by Irving Glassberg (TARNISHED ANGELS). For awhile, it seems slightly schizophrenic as the Duff storyline and the Blyth storyline play out separately until they merge. There's not much one can say about a standard western like this other than it does what it set out to do and did it well. Even if you're not a westerns buff, you should find it entertaining. With Lloyd Bridges, John McIntire, Chill Wills, Jane Darwell and Denver Pyle.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

Grieving over the death of his younger brother, a young doctor (Leonard Whiting) joins forces with another doctor (David McCallum) in creating a "new man" from the parts of various corpses. Loosely based on the classic novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and directed by Jack Smight (HARPER). I wouldn't put too much stock into the "true story" in the film's title. It falsely suggests that it is somehow more faithful to Shelley's novel than other versions when it isn't. Which isn't to say it isn't good because it's very well done, it just isn't all that faithful to the book. The screenplay is by Christopher Isherwood and his longtime partner Don Bachardy (their relationship documented in the excellent 2007 documentary, CHRIS & DON: A LOVE STORY) which may be why many see a gay subtext in the film. I don't but perhaps I'm too obtuse. But it's a well written and well crafted film (originally shown in two parts on NBC). Handsomely shot on location and at Pinewood studios by Arthur Ibbetson (ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS), the movie is most sympathetic to the so called "creature" (Michael Sarrazin) who is an innocent used and abused by his creators. He's a contrast to the decidedly wicked female creature (Jane Seymour) later created by Whiting's Frankenstein and his new collaborator (James Mason). A worthy entry in the Frankenstein film archives. The impressive cast includes John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Agnes Moorehead, Margaret Leighton, Nicola Pagett, Tom Baker, Michael Wilding and Clarissa Kaye ((Mrs. James Mason).

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Monster In Law (2005)

An aspiring fashion designer (Jennifer Lopez) falls in love with a handsome young doctor (Michael Vartan). Everything seems to be on track to wedded bliss until she meets his neurotic mother (Jane Fonda), who'll stop at nothing to prevent the marriage from taking place. Directed by Robert Luketic, this was Fonda's return to movies after a 15 year absence. Obviously, she didn't choose this vehicle for its artistic merit. She thought it would be a moneymaker and it was. The film itself is a ghastly by the numbers romcom with all the cliches of the genre including the gay best friend (Adam Scott). Without Fonda, the film would be intolerable. Fonda doesn't make the movie better (she's an actress, not a magician) but she does make it more enjoyable. She jumps into her role with glee and one can't help but feel sorry for poor Lopez. She doesn't stand a chance in her scenes with Fonda. Fonda devours her. With Wanda Sykes (who provides a few laughs), Elaine Stritch and Will Arnett.

The Millionairess (1960)

After shedding a husband (Gary Raymond), a spoiled heiress (Sophia Loren) turns her attention to an impoverished Indian doctor (Peter Sellers) in a poverty stricken area of London. But he has no interest in her or her money but she is determined that he is to be her next husband and what she wants, she gets. Based on the play by George Bernard Shaw and directed by Anthony Asquith. Asquith would seem the ideal director for a film version of THE MILLIONAIRESS as he directed one of the best adaptations of a Shaw play into film, PYGMALION (1938). But the movie is a travesty of the Shaw play. Sophia Loren looks fantastic in her haute couture Pierre Balmain wardrobe but she's miscast here. She's too passionate for Shaw's haughty ice queen. Peter Sellers is supposed to be Egyptian but he plays it as an Indian so he can do his patented Indian schtick (he'd return to it eight years later with more success in THE PARTY). All the wit from Shaw's play is gone and replaced with dull comedic bits and characterizations. Not even's Loren's considerable star presence can hold our interest after awhile. With Vittorio De Sica, Alistair Sim, Dennis Price, Alfie Bass, Miriam Karlin, Eleanor Summerfield and Noel Purcell.  

Friday, September 11, 2020

An Act Of Murder (1948)

A strict and unyielding judge (Fredric March) sees the law in terms of black and white with no leeway. When his wife (Florence Eldridge) becomes terminally ill and suffers unbearable pain, his thoughts lead to the unthinkable. Based on the novel by Ernst Lothar and directed by Michael Gordon (PILLOW TALK). This is a provocative well done drama. It's often referred to as a film noir but I don't see it that way. It's a fairly gripping tale of a man painted into a corner where the very core of his moral values are challenged. I had some ethical problems with the movie and yes, I realize it's unwise to judge a 72 year old movie by 2020 sensibilities. But I bristled when a seriously ill patient is not told of her illness, surely it's her right to know and it's quite possible the shock of finding out the diagnosis on her own contributed to the eventual tragedy. Then there's a scene where a dog is struck by a car. Do they rush it to the vet? No, a cop decides to shoot it to put it out of its misery! If you can get past that, you'll find an engrossing legal drama even if you don't agree with where it comes down. With Edmond O'Brien, Geraldine Brooks, John McIntire, Stanley Ridges and Virginia Brissac.

Hedda Gabler (1981)

Returning from an extended honeymoon, the wife (Diana Rigg) of an academic (Dennis Lill) feels bored and trapped in a stifling marriage with a man she doesn't love. When an ex-lover (Philip Bond) shows up after writing a best selling book, she seizes on an opportunity to not only manipulate the outcome of his relationship with a married woman (Elizabeth Bell) but his very fate. Based on the classic play by Henrik Ibsen and directed by David Cunliffe. Hedda Gabler is one of the greatest parts ever written for an actress in the theater (perhaps only equaled by Blanche in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE) so it has attracted many great actresses. Among them Ingrid Bergman, Glenda Jackson, Maggie Smith, Eleonora Duse, Claire Bloom, Isabelle Huppert. Here, the great Diana Rigg takes on the challenge and acts the hell out of it. Rigg has a splendid voice and she uses it to perfection here. Just the slightest intonation or lowering of pitch can reveal so much about this complex, neurotic woman. A woman so unhappy that she can't stand the thought of others being happy so she must destroy it. A woman who would rather die than not be free. One can see why she married her husband, she can control him but the idea of being under someone's thumb is anathema to her. It's not the best production I've seen of HEDDA GABLER but Rigg's performance should be seen. With Kathleen Byron and Alan Dobie. 

Bend Of The River (1952)

A reformed outlaw (James Stewart) guides a group of settlers from Missouri to the Pacific Northwest in what would later become the state of Washington. But when the settlers are cheated out of the supplies they need for the coming winter, he takes it upon himself to ensure those supplies reach the settlers even when others are determined to stop him. Based on the novel BEND OF THE SNAKE by Bill Gulick and directed by Anthony Mann (THE NAKED SPUR). This was the second of the five westerns that Mann and Stewart collaborated on. The initial reviews when the movie was released were weak (though it did very well at the box office) but the film has since been acclaimed as one of the best westerns of the 1950s. As usual, Stewart does some of his best work under Mann's direction and this one is no exception. As another outlaw but one who hasn't reformed, Arthur Kennedy makes an excellent nemesis for Stewart. Handsomely shot by Irving Glassberg (TARNISHED ANGELS) who makes the most of the beautiful Oregon landscape. With Rock Hudson, Julie Adams, Lori Nelson, Jay C. Flippen, Harry Morgan, Stepin Fetchit and Frances Bavier. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Regina (aka Regina Roma) (1983)

A shrewish wife (Ava Gardner) and her henpecked husband (Anthony Quinn) anxiously await the arrival of their son (Ray Sharkey) who has been away from home for a long time. When he shows up, he is not alone. He has brought his fiancee (Anna Karina) who his parents didn't know about. This causes the domineering mother to have a meltdown and family secrets are exposed. Based on the play LA MIENNE S'APPELAIT REGINE by Pierre Rey (who adapted his play for the screen) and directed by Jean Yves Prate (his only film as a director). This is essentially a filmed play. It all takes place on one set (a living room and dining room) and there are only four characters in the whole movie. It's the barely disguised spawn of Edward Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? but the dialogue is trite. It's an Italian film written and adapted by a French playwright and performed in English so it might be a case of artistic culture shock. I can see why an aging beauty like Gardner might have been attracted to the project, a chance to show she could really act so it's a pity the script and direction let her down at every opportunity. The film vaguely hints at a past incestuous relationship between the mother and son (who may be autistic) and Anna Karina spends most of the film mute until the movie's last 20 minutes. All four actors are talented but they drown in the ineptitude of the film makers.

The Night My Number Came Up (1955)

At a dinner party in Hong Kong, a naval commander (Michael Hordern) relates a dream he had. An airplane with 8 passengers (7 men and a woman) and 3 crew members that gets lost and crashes. By coincidence, two of the men (Michael Redgrave, Alexander Knox) at the party are flying to Japan the next day. They find out they are two of eight passengers, one of who is a woman (Sheila Sim). Slowly but surely the details of the dream turn into reality. Based on the story by Sir Victor Goddard and directed by Leslie Norman. This is a first rate suspense thriller with an excellent cast of British actors and a carefully constructed screenplay by R.C. Sheriff that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Some may dismiss it as an extended TWILIGHT ZONE episode but with apologies to Rod Serling, no TZ episode was this well written and it has to sustain the suspense for over 90 minutes, not just a half hour. Malcolm Arnold (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) did the fine undersccore. With Denholm Elliott, Alexander Knox, Ursula Jeans, Victor Maddern, Alfie Bass and George Rose.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Victim Of The Haunt (aka The Uninvited) (1996)

After having given birth to a stillborn baby, a woman (Sharon Lawrence) suffers from depression. She and her husband (Beau Bridges) and two children (Alex D. Linz, Emily Bridges) move to a new home in the suburbs to start a new life. But when bizarre supernatural occurrences happen, no one believes her and her husband suspects she's having a breakdown. Directed by Larry Shaw, this is such a blatant ripoff of POLTERGEIST (1982), I'm shocked that it wasn't slapped with a plagiarism lawsuit. If POLTERGEIST had never existed, this might have been a decent telefilm instead of an inferior uncredited remake. The writing is weak and the characters are burdened with mundane dialogue: for example, when Bridges hears his son screaming for help behind a locked door, he asks "Are you alright, is everything okay?". The special effects are very good so the film doesn't skimp in that department. With Shirley Knight (who has been inexplicably saddled with a horrible black wig) as a psychic who comes to the aid of the family, Lawrence Pressman and Kathleen Lloyd.

Rock Rock Rock! (1956)

A teenage girl (13 year old Tuesday Weld in her film debut) wants a strapless blue gown for the prom but the exorbitant price of $30 is out of her price range and she's maxed out her allowance. What's a girl to do? Directed by Will Price, the movie plays out like an episode from a sitcom like FATHER KNOWS BEST. What makes the film of archival interest are the rock 'n roll musical acts crammed into the film. Rock 'n roll was the craze among teenagers around the nation and sensing this, its film makers figured why not make a movie with a simplistic storyline and fill it up with rock acts and watch the kids pack the seats. It worked, the movie was a sleeper hit. Among the popular rock 'n roll acts of the day performing in the film: Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon, Johnny Burnette, Teddy Randazzo, The Flamingos, LaVern Baker and the rock disc jockey, Alan Freed. Tuesday Weld's singing is dubbed by Connie Francis (who would become a major star 2 years later) and gets a screen credit all her own. If you're a fan of 50s rock 'n roll, you may find it tolerable. With Jack Collins, Fran Manfred and Jacqueline Kerr.

The Scarlet Empress (1934)

A young Prussian princess (Marlene Dietrich) is summoned to Russia by the Empress Elizabeth (Louise Dresser) to marry her half witted nephew (Sam Jaffe), the Grand Duke Peter and the heir to the Russian throne. Directed by Josef von Sternberg, this isn't so much about Russian history (accuracy is sacrificed for grandeur) as an exercise in style. The film is as cuckoo as the dimwitted Peter! Of course, it's not a serious overview of the woman who would become known to the world as Catherine The Great. It's an opportunity for von Sternberg and his cinematographer Bert Clennon (HOUSE OF WAX) to play with light and shadow and fawn over Dietrich as a camera subject. Dietrich isn't very good in the early portions of the film as the wide eyed, gaping mouth virgin. She comes into to her own later in the film as the ambitious and sexual Tsarina. Louise Dresser as the coarse hard as nails dowager Empress gives the best performance in the film even if she comes across as more Hoosier than Russian. It may not be "Art" but it's one of a kind and grandly entertaining. The film got out right before the Hays Code crackdown so it's still pretty racy. With John Davis Lodge, C. Aubrey Smith, Gavin Gordon and Ruthelma Stevens.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

La Ligne De Demarcation (aka Line Of Demarcation) (1966)

Set during WWII in a small French village that is split by a river with Nazi forces occupying one side of the river and the other side being a free zone. Naturally, the Germans refuse to let the French citizens cross over to the free zone. Based on MEMOIRES D'UN AGENT SECCRET DE LA FRANCE LIBRE ET LA LIGNE DE DEMARCATION by Gilbert Renault and directed by Claude Chabrol. The film gives us a tension filled look at an occupied village where Nazis, the resistance, spies (from both sides), war profiteers and traitors all volley for advancement. It's an ensemble piece with several storylines: a disillusioned aristocrat (Maurice Ronet) who doesn't care if the Germans are victorious while unknown to him, his wife (Jean Seberg) aids the resistance. A doctor (Daniel Gelin) works for the resistance while keeping his wife (Stephane Audran) in the dark. A wounded soldier (Jacques Perrin) attempting to get to the free zone, an interpreter (Rene Havard) spying for the Germans, a parish priest (Pierre Gualdi) who uses the confessional to relay messages. The film plays out like a thriller and Chabrol keeps the tension taut like a stretched out rubber band ready to snap at any minute. With Jean Yanne, Reinhard Kolldehoff and Roger Dumas.  

Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Monster And The Girl (1941)

A naive small town girl (Ellen Drew) goes to the big city where she finds herself forced into prostitution. When her brother (Philip Terry) goes to the city to find her, he is framed by the gangster (Paul Lukas) who forced the girl into prostitution for murder. Directed by Stuart Heisler (THE GLASS KEY), this odd combination of crime and horror is neither fish nor fowl. The title is a misnomer, there is no monster. Just a homicidal gorilla bent on revenge. It's complicated far fetched plot burdens whatever (unlikely) promise it may have had. We're to accept that a giant ape is able to freely roam the streets of a major urban city without detection? This isn't a pre code film but I'm surprised at what was allowed to sneak through. It's very discreet but the implication of white slavery prostitution is very much there as well as the suggestion that Drew's character had a very satisfying night of sex when she wakes up in the bed she shared with Robert Paige. I'm making it sound more titillating than it is. Actually, I kind of enjoyed it even though I could tell it was a bit of a mess. With George Zucco (again playing another unethical doctor conducting dubious experiments), Joseph Calleia, Rod Cameron, Gerald Mohr and Marc Lawrence.

The Story Of Temple Drake (1933)

A socially prominent Southern belle (Miriam Hopkins) is a flirt and the granddaughter of a Judge (Guy Standing). On a stormy night while out joy riding with a drunken boy (William Collier Jr.), the car crashes and they are "rescued" by a group of bootleggers. It is there that her nightmare begins after she is raped by a gangster (Jack La Rue) and becomes his mistress after he places her in a brothel (it's supposed to be a boarding house but we know better). Based on the novel SANCTUARY by William Faulkner and directed by Stephen Roberts. One of the most controversial of the pre-code films and one of the reasons the Hays Code came into play. While nowhere near salacious as its source material, the film makers had to edit several scenes in the movie but this is still pretty raw stuff for the era. So much so that the film wasn't seen for years after its release except for bootleg copies. The film is anchored by a sensational performance by the too often undervalued Miriam Hopkins in a complex role and far different from the two Lubitsch films (SMILING LIEUTENANT, TROUBLE IN PARADISE) she'd done. The film is confidently directed by Roberts and it's a pity he died only three years later (he was just 40) because he might have fulfilled the promise he showed here. Ironically, Jack La Rue would play a similar role in NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH (1948) which usurps the basic premise of the Faulkner novel. With William Gargan, Irving Pichel, Florence Eldridge, Jobyna Howland and Louise Beavers.

Friday, September 4, 2020

A Rainy Day In New York (2019)

A young college student (Timothee Chalamet) in upstate New York accompanies his girlfriend (Elle Fanning) to Manhattan (where he grew up) when she's assigned to interview a famous film director (Liev Schreiber) for the school newspaper. Written and directed by Woody Allen, the film never saw a U.S. release but was released theatrically in Europe, Asia and South America. I was a big fan of Allen's previous film WONDER WHEEL which was pretty much ignored which is a pity as it was very good. Alas, Allen seems to have lost touch with this one. It's yet another ode to his beloved New York but it's no ANNIE HALL or HANNAH AND HER SISTERS. His two protagonists are 21 year old college students but they don't act or speak like real college kids, they talk and act like 40ish characters in a Woody Allen movie. I mean how many college students stay at the Pierre Hotel and then go to the Carlyle to listen to Irving Berlin ballads? The film has the usual Allen attitude regarding non New Yorkers: Selena Gomez says to Chalamet, "You're dating someone from Arizona? What do you talk about ... cactus?". If you're familiar with Allen's filmography then you've seen this all before and better. Bathed in gold and amber hues, the film looks gorgeous and why wouldn't it when Vittorio Storaro did the cinematography. Of course, there's the requisite jazz records underscore. For the Allen completists only. With Jude Law, Diego Luna, Kelly Rohrbach, Rebecca Hall and Cherry Jones as Chalamet's mother who has one terrific scene.

Abandoned (1949)

A young woman (Gale Storm) arrives in Los Angeles looking for her missing sister. When she discovers her sister is dead and supposedly committed suicide, she refuses to believe she took her own life. Teaming with a newspaper reporter (Dennis O'Keefe), their journey leads them to the unsavory world of black market baby brokers. Directed by Joseph M. Newman (THIS ISLAND EARTH), this is a skillful B programmer that follows the traditional film noir path with ace results. It benefits from a semi documentary approach (it even has a narrator) and authentic L.A. locations. I didn't detect any studio scenes. That underrated cinematographer William H. Daniels (SOME CAME RUNNING) is responsible for the evocative B&W atmosphere, almost the entire film takes place at night with only a couple of daytime scenes. The acting is fine (though O'Keefe's character is annoying at times) but two performances stand out. Raymond Burr as a slimy private dick and Marjorie Rambeau as the cold blooded baby broker. The underscore is comprised of stock music but the main title is recognizable as the work of Miklos Rozsa. With Jeff Chandler (who also does the voice over narration), Jeanette Nolan, Will Kuluva, Mike Mazurki and Meg Randall. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Carolina (2003)

A young woman (Julia Stiles) is trying to lead a "normal" life and escape the unconventional lifestyle of her family. The matriarch is her eccentric grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) who raised her and her two sisters (Azura Skye, Mika Boorem) while their father (Randy Quaid) only occasionally popped in. Directed by Marleen Gorris (ANTONIA'S LINE), the film is formulaic and although it zig zags along the way, there's never any doubt where it will end up. For a brief moment, I thought we'd get a bittersweet ending but no, at the last minute we're given a happy ending out of the blue. Of course, one of the main characters has to die so that we can get our tears jerked. Considering the predictability of the whole enterprise, the actors all bring their game and give better than the material deserves. MacLaine has been down this road before (think TERMS OF ENDEARMENT) so she's pretty much coasting but Stiles, Sky and Boorem are good. The film was released in Europe in 2003 but never got a U.S. theatrical release. With Alessandro Nivola, Barbara Eden, Jennifer Coolidge, Edward Atterton and Alan Thicke. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Les Parents Terrible (1948)

A diabetic woman (Yvonne De Bray) lives her life around her immature son (Jean Marais) and holds him to her with a tight grip. When he announces he's fallen in love, she becomes hysterical. The news is also a shock to his father (Marcel Andre) because the girl (Josette Day) is his ex-mistress. The parents are determined to break up the relationship. Based a play by and directed by Jean Cocteau. The film shows its theatrical roots as it's played out in three distinct acts and the entire film takes place on two sets. But this allows the ensemble of actors (Gabrielle Dorziat as an Aunt is the fifth character) to take center stage and we're rewarded with five superb performances. I would imagine 1948 audiences might have been shocked by the overt incestuous interplay between the mother and son (they're constantly kissing, he climbs into bed with her and offers to do her hair and make-up) but Marais' child like innocence manages to temper our squeamishness. The film is quite funny most of the time but there's always an underlying sense that this won't end well. It's also nice to see Marais and Day reunited in very different roles from their turn in Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Riding Shotgun (1954)

A stagecoach guard (Randolph Scott) is bushwhacked by a gang of outlaws that he's been trailing for a few years. When the outlaws shoot up and rob a stagecoach, the townspeople are under the impression that the guard was part of the gang. In reality, the stagecoach robbery was a ruse to detract the law into forming a posse and hunting them down while they backtrack and and rob the town which is left without protection. Based on the short story RIDING SOLO by Kenneth Taylor Perkins and directed by Andre De Toth (HOUSE OF WAX). The film has none of the complexity or subtext of the superior Boetticher westerns that Scott would begin making in a couple of years but it's much better than a lot of the westerns Scott was making around this time. My only problem with the movie is how stupid everybody is including our hero. Scott deliberately falls into a trap in order to catch the outlaw (James Millican) he's been chasing and thus is responsible for the mess he later finds himself in. His stupidity and arrogance got him there. The outlaws are bunglers and the townspeople are idiots too, blindly accusing a man as guilty based on hearsay so one has no sympathy for them either. That aside, this is a more than decent western and De Toth manages  to keep the tension quotient tight. There's a good underscore by David Buttolph. With Charles Bronson, Wayne Morris, Joan Weldon and Paul Picerni.