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Friday, October 30, 2020

Swimsuit (1989)

The head (Cyd Charisse) of a major swimsuit company and her assistant (William Katt) are on the lookout for new models for their swimsuit company. To that end, they launch a competition for fresh faces (and bodies) and pare it down to six finalists of which only three will be chosen. Directed by Chris Thomson, this cheesy telefilm reeks of the 1980s! Ugly fashions and hideous hair on both genders abound and a disco score to accompany it all. Its shallow script could have been written by a 12 year old and telegraphs every cliche that will soon happen. The acting is amateurish but honestly, it's the kind of acting something like this deserves. Cyd Charisse is elegant and manages to hold on to her dignity in her few scenes but everyone else is inadequate. I have to confess I sort of enjoyed it in the way that so many trashy bad movies can be. With Catherine Oxenberg, Jack Wagner, Nia Peeples, Tom Villard and Cheryl Pollak.

The Strange Door (1951)

An evil French nobleman (Charles Laughton) concocts a plan to marry his niece (Sally Forrest) off to a worthless drunken cad (Richard Stapley) in revenge for the girl's deceased mother choosing his brother (Paul Cavanagh) over him. Based on the novel THE SIRE DE MALETROIT'S DOOR by Robert Louis Stevenson and directed by Joseph Pevney (TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR). This odd little Gothic horror movie seems to presage the Roger Corman adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe that arrived in the 1960s. As the sadistic aristocrat, Laughton goes deliciously over the top while in a supporting role, horror icon Boris Karloff as an abused servant gives a relatively reserved performance. Like the Corman films, we're stuck with a bland leading man (in this case Stapley) who can't compete with the more interesting lead villain (in this case Laughton). As the virginal niece, Sally Forrest is lovely but that's it. Pevney drags out the film's finale by having Karloff, after being shot and stabbed multiple times, attempting to save the young lovers. But instead of suspense, it just made me restless for the movie to end. It's not boring thanks to Laughton but it's not a very skillful movie either. With Michael Pate and Alan Napier.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The High Bright Sun (1965)

Set in 1957 during the EOKA uprising, a young American archaeologist (Susan Strasberg) is visiting the island of Cyprus and staying with Greek relatives. The family has ties with a national guerrilla organization that is fighting the British for independence. When she falls in love with a British intelligence officer (Dirk Bogarde), she finds her loyalties divided between the officer and her family. Based on the novel by Ian Stuart Black and directed by Ralph Thomas (DOCTOR AT SEA). The film can't hide its pro British leanings. While the Greek family Strasberg is staying with is portrayed sympathetically, the other Greek rebels are portrayed as terrorists. To be fair however, I didn't detect any traces of colonialism nostalgia. The romance between Bogarde and Strasberg doesn't come across as believable and Strasberg's character seems just a little too naive when it comes to understanding the predicament she's in. Otherwise, it's an agreeable political thriller although the film sidesteps any real political commentary. With George Chakiris, Denholm Elliott, Joseph Furst, Katherine Kath and Gregoire Aslan. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Europeans (1979)

A Baroness (Lee Remick) and her younger brother (Tim Woodward) leave Europe to visit their prosperous, distant American cousins in Massachusetts. The woman sets her sights on finding a wealthy American husband while her younger brother falls in love with his cousin (Lisa Eichhorn). Based on the short novel by Henry James and directed by James Ivory (HOWARDS END). One of the least successful of the many literary adaptations done by the Merchant Ivory duo. The film's screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is faithful to the James novel so the problem doesn't lie there, it lies in the execution. It's too dry as Ivory treats the source material as sacrosanct and any sign of life would be disrespectful. The soundtrack is laden with snippets of Schubert, Schumann, Verdi and Stephen Foster to show how tasteful the whole enterprise is. The performances are weak, the actors are stiff and many seem just plain wrong for their roles. Not even the usually reliable Remick is able to muster up much allure which is regretful because that's what the part needs. Only Wesley Addy as the New England family's patriarch manages to give an acceptable performance. On the plus side, the film has a luscious look thanks to Larry Pizer's (ISADORA) cinematography which turns Massachusetts and New Hampshire into an autumn paradise and Judy Moorcroft's Oscar nominated costume design is impeccable. With Robin Ellis, Kristin Griffith, Tim Choate, Nancy New and Norman Snow.      

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Dear Mr. Prohack (1949)

A civil servant (Cecil Parker) at the Treasury is thrifty and frugal at both the office and in his personal life. But when he suddenly inherits a large sum of money, his life is upended when his wife (Hermione Baddeley) and son (Dirk Bogarde) both take advantage of the situation. Based on the novel MR. PROHACK by Arnold Bennett and directed by Thornton Freeland (FLYING DOWN TO RIO). I've not much of a fan of British comedies but I found this British version of a screwball comedy charming for the most part. It's a pity that the ending they came up with is pretty lame. The original source material was written in 1922 so it's a bit creaky and the material would have been better served if set in its original time period. Cecil Parker had played this role on the stage so he's letter perfect here but he gets first rate assistance from the supporting cast, particularly Glynis Johns as his private secretary. Fans of British comedies should enjoy this one. Also in the cast: Sheila Sim, Heather Thatcher and Denholm Elliott.

Flame Of Araby (1951)

After her father (Richard Hale) is poisoned by her treacherous cousin (Maxwell Reed) so he can inherit the throne, a Tunisian Princess (Maureen O'Hara) discovers that her cousin has promised her hand in marriage to a pair of Corsican brutes (Buddy Baer, Lon Chaney Jr.). Her only salvation rests in the hands of a Bedouin chief (Jeff Chandler) and a black stallion. Directed by Charles Lamont (MA AND PA KETTLE), this slice of Arabian Nights hokum may be silly but it's harmless fun. It's rather amusing watching the poor actors uncomfortably twist the pseudo Arabic phrases off their tongue (poor Dewey Martin is the worst offender) and kudos to O'Hara and Chandler for not only delivering their lines with a straight face but occasionally convincingly. If you've an appetite for this sort of romantic Technicolor nonsense, this is passable entertainment and if you're a fan of either O'Hara or Chandler, it helps. With Richard Egan, Susan Cabot, Royal Dano, Henry Brandon and Dorothy Ford.

Monday, October 26, 2020

S.O.S. Titanic (1979)

On the 10th of April 1912, the "unsinkable" luxury liner R.M.S. Titanic leaves Southhampton, England on her maiden voyage to New York. Directed by William Hale, this was shown in the U.S. in a 2 1/2 hour cut on television and released overseas in a theatrical cut running one hour and 43 minutes. I watched the longer cut. There have been countless film and TV (and even a Tony award winning musical) versions of the Titanic tragedy and they all vary in quality. This is one of the better adaptations as it tries to stick to the actual facts rather than place fictional characters (like the 1997 Cameron film) at the center of the story. Unusual from other adaptations, the film focuses on the class system of the passengers as a microcosm of the British class system. The main problem with the film is that trying to cram so many characters' (most of them real passengers on the Titanic) stories into a 2 1/2 hour time slot is that they are just sketches of human beings rather than fully fleshed out. We never really get to know them. There is one exception however, two schoolteachers (David Warner, Susan Saint James) who begin a tentative relationship on the voyage. The script allows more characterization so we get to know them and they make more of an impression than any of the other characters and Warner and Saint James are quite good in the roles. The film does a nice job of covering the fear and hysteria (and bravery) during the ship's final hours. The large cast includes Helen Mirren, David Janssen, Ian Holm, Cloris Leachman, Harry Andrews, Anna Quayle, Lise Hilboldt and Beverly Ross.   

The Manxman (1929)

Friends since boyhood, their lives take divergent paths. Philip (Malcolm Keen) becomes a well regarded lawyer and Pete (Carl Brisson) takes to the sea as a fisherman. When Pete falls in love with a pub owner's daughter (Anny Ondra), her father (Randle Ayrton) refuses to let a marriage take place because he has no prospects. He leaves to seek his fortune and makes his best friend promise to look out for the woman he loves during his absence. But the inevitable happens, when the friend and the girl fall in love. Based on the best selling 1894 novel by Hall Caine (previously filmed in 1916) and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, his last silent film. Not a thriller but a tragedy, the tale has no winners as lives and careers are destroyed by attempting to right a wrong but instead, only compounds the wrong. It's strong stuff and Hitchcock does right by the material though once again, it needs some editing. The film could have been pruned down by 10 minutes to pick up the pacing. Quite possibly Hitchcock's best silent film after THE LODGER. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

P.J. (aka New Face In Hell) (1968)

A down and out New York City private eye (George Peppard) takes a job as a bodyguard to the mistress (Gayle Hunnicutt) of a sadistic millionaire (Raymond Burr). She has been receiving death threats as well as an attempt on her life. The millionaire's greedy relatives would like nothing better than to have her eliminated and out of the millionaire's will. Directed by John Guillermin (THE BLUE MAX), this contemporary film noir (or is it neo-noir?) is quite well done with Peppard doing nicely as a tough gumshoe who's not especially bright (we're always just a step ahead of him) but has an ethical core that makes him see the case to the end, even after he's relieved of his duties. In his own way, he's the only good apple in a rotten barrel. The film moves fast, it's well acted (Hunnicutt was made for noir) and it looks good thanks to Oscar winning cinematographer Loyal Griggs (SHANE) who makes the Universal backlot look a lot better than it usually does although there was some location shooting in New York City and Santa Catalina subs for the Caribbean. Unfortunately, there's an unpleasant homophobic undercurrent in the movie that culminates in a ridiculous scene in a gay bar where some ominous bejeweled homosexuals with long fingernails all attack Peppard en masse that would be highly offensive if it weren't so silly. The film was renamed NEW FACE IN HELL for its British release. With Coleen Gray, Susan Saint James, Brock Peters, Wilfrid Hyde White, Jason Evers, Severn Darden, Barbara Dana and John Qualen. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Proposal (2009)

A Canadian citizen (Sandra Bullock) working in the U.S. as an editor for a major publishing house is threatened with deportation due to an expired visa. She coerces her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) with the promise of a promotion if he'll marry her and thus make her eligible for U.S. citizenship. He agrees and they set off to Alaska to meet his family. Directed by Anne Fletcher, this is a slick mainstream romantic comedy that works nicely until it crashes and burns in its last 20 minutes. The calculated screenplay doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is and until it suddenly turns all serious at the end, it's fun. But oy vey! Those awful final minutes, which almost destroys the goodwill engendered by what came previously, are the kind that give romcoms a bad reputation. Bullock and Reynolds have a playful chemistry and adept comedic skills which goes a long way in winning us over. The handsome locations in Massachusetts (Rockford, Manchester By The Sea) do a perfect job of subbing for Alaska. With Mary Steenburgen, Betty White, Craig T. Nelson, Denis O'Hare and Michael Nouri.   

Crime In The Streets (1955)

The leader (John Cassavetes) of a delinquent gang plans a revenge killing on a neighborhood man. A social worker (Robert Preston) attempts to step in and rehabilitate the young man. Written by Reginald Rose (12 ANGRY MEN) and directed by Sidney Lumet (DOG DAY AFTERNOON). Juvenile delinquency was a high profile social issue in 1955 and Hollywood was quick to take notice with films like REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and THE BLACKBAORD JUNGLE. So did television and this acclaimed drama was performed live and the following year, it was adapted for a feature film with John Cassavetes and Mark Rydell (not yet a director) recreating their roles in the film version. It doesn't hold up well, it's simplistic (juvenile delinquency solved in an hour) and Rose's didactic script only accentuates its social message by ramming it down our throats. It's well intentioned but it doesn't make for great drama. Similarly, Lumet's direction already reveal his flaws as a director which would only be exacerbated in films like 12 ANGRY MEN and NETWORK. With Glenda Farrell, Will Kuluva and Van Dyke Parks.

La Tarantola Dal Ventre Nero (aka Black Belly Of The Tarantula) (1971)

A mysterious gloved serial killer is murdering women by injecting them with a fluid that paralyzes their body but does not render them unconscious thus allowing them to feel the pain as they are mutilated but unable to resist or scream. Directed by Paolo Cavara, this is a superior giallo with a fine cast. While when revealed, the killer's motives are psychologically dubious (who watches a giallo for logic, anyway?), the film remains stylish and atmospheric with the murders graphic but never crossing over into an exploitative zone though it does with the nudity. As the detective investigating the case, Giancarlo Giannini is given a lot of leeway with his character allowing him more complexities than is usual for the genre. We can see how the horrors of the case are affecting him personally and causing him to doubt his chosen profession. Ennio Morricone provides the suitably unnerving score. With Stefania Sandrelli (THE CONFORMIST), Barbara Bach, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet, Rossella Falk and Silvano Tranquilli.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Mr. Topaze (1961)

An honest and incorruptible schoolteacher (Peter Sellers) at a private school is fired from his position when he refuses to alter a student's grade at the behest of the head (Leo McKern) of the school. A corrupt government official (Herbert Lom) and his mistress (Nadia Gray) then seduce the naive schoolmaster into unknowingly fronting their crooked business. Based on the play by Marcel Pagnol and directed by Peter Sellers in his only feature film as a director. Pagnol's play had been filmed twice before in 1933 in both an American (with John Barrymore) and French (with Louis Jouvet) versions. It's a rather cynical piece on an honest man in a corrupt society who eventually gives in to it rather than fight it. Sellers' direction doesn't display much flair but instead dutifully goes through the paces which leaves the film on the dry side. As an actor, Sellers is very restrained here which is appropriate for his character but his selling out happens too quickly. We don't get an opportunity to see the conflict within himself when he comes to his realization that nice guys finish last. With Billie Whitelaw (who has a subtle comic touch), Michael Gough, John Neville, Martita Hunt and John Le Mesurier. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Jungle Woman (1944)

At an inquest for the murder of a woman (Acquanetta), her doctor (J. Carrol Naish) confesses to the killing. But in flashback, through various witnesses, we are told of the events leading up to her death. Directed by Reginald LeBorg, this was a sequel to CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943) with Acquanetta reprising her character. Yet another variation on the classic CAT PEOPLE (1942) but without the psychological underpinnings and stylish direction, not to mention that the dreadful Acquanetta is no Simone Simon. The film gets off to a shaky start and never recovers but at barely over an hour long, the tedium is soon over. Although top billed, Universal's resident scream queen Evelyn Ankers hasn't much to do and soon disappears from the plot. With Milburn Stone, Lois Collier, Douglass Dumbrille, Nana Bryant and Richard Davis. 

Raggedy Man (1981)

Set in 1944 Texas, a divorced woman (Sissy Spacek) raising two young sons (Henry Thomas, Carey Hollis) in a small town finds herself the object of gossip when she befriends a sailor (Eric Roberts) on a three day leave. Based on the novel by William D. Witliff and Sara Clark and directed by Jack Fisk. This lovely tale of a single mother struggling to raise her children on a paltry salary as a phone operator gets it right. Jack Fisk is primarily known as a production designer on films like BADLANDS, CARRIE, THE MASTER among many others and RAGGEDY MAN was his first film as a director (he would go on to direct only three other films). He is also the husband of Sissy Spacek. Fisk perfectly captures small town rural life and the period atmosphere is spot on. No surprise, Spacek easily embodies the frustration of a woman who feels trapped in an unforgiving town with no future in it for her or her boys. As the sailor, Roberts is both tender and charming and his performance reminds us what a subtle actor he was before he got typecast as extreme whack jobs (STAR 80, POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE). The film's shift in tone in the last 15 minutes from rural drama to lady in peril thriller is rather disorienting. Even Jerry Goldsmith's score goes from Americana to ALIEN like scoring but it does have a payoff. With Sam Shepard, R.G. Armstrong, William Sanderson and Tracey Walter. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Death On The Nile (2004)

After her wealthy best friend (Emily Blunt) steals her boyfriend (JJ Feild) away and marries him, a young woman (Emma Griffiths Malin) stalks the couple during their Egyptian honeymoon aboard a cruise ship traveling down the Nile. Also on board is the renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) which proves fortuitous. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie and directed by Andy Wilson. Why do film makers think they need to improve or update Agatha Christie? The 1978 film version eliminated a few minor characters but other than that, it's a faithful adaptation of the Christie novel and the definitive version. I knew this one was headed for trouble when it began with two naked people in bed going at it like rabbits and a few moments later, Emily Blunt is snorting cocaine! There are also suggestions of incest and homosexuality, none of which are in Christie's source novel. At least the film makers retained the 1930s setting. I suppose if you'd never read Christie's novel or seen the 1978 version, this entry might seem perfectly acceptable. And again, I find the admiration for Suchet's Poirot inexplicable. He's no more Christie's Poirot than Margaret Rutherford was Christie's Miss Marple. Also in the cast: James Fox, Frances De La Tour, David Soul, Judy Parfitt and Daisy Donovan.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Angel (1937)

The neglected wife (Marlene Dietrich) of a British diplomat (Herbert Marshall) has a brief affair in Paris with a man (Melvyn Douglas). They don't exchange names or identities but several weeks later, her husband meets the man at a diplomatic function and invites him to lunch at his home. Based on the play by Melchior Lengyel and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The only collaboration between Dietrich and Lubitsch doesn't enjoy a very high reputation among his movies. It lacks the famous Lubitsch "touch" and there's not much wit about it. It's not without its merits, particularly Lubitsch's handling of the servants which he would later perfect in CLUNY BROWN. But the central story is a bit of a drag and seems to go in circles. Marshall is his usual stolid self and Douglas can't seem to pull himself out of his lethargy. As for Dietrich, she's lovely and a bit more animated than usual. Not unworthy by any means, it's Lubitsch but not essential Lubitsch. With Edward Everett Horton, Laura Hope Crews and Ernest Cossart, who has the funniest line in the film.  

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Sword Of Ali Baba (1965)

In the year 1258, the Mongols invade Baghdad but the Caliph (Moroni Olsen) and his young son (Scotty Beckett) escape and evade capture. But the Caliph is betrayed by his friend Prince Cassim (Frank Puglia) and killed. However, the young boy escapes into the desert where he is raised by a group of bandits and as a young man (Peter Mann), he is known as Ali Baba, a champion of the repressed people. Directed by Virgil Vogel (THE MOLE PEOPLE), the film is a scene for scene remake of the 1944 ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES with Frank Puglia playing the same part he played in 1944. Not only that but the film's first 17 minutes (excluding the credits) is lifted intact from the 1944 film. After that, copious amounts of footage from the 1944 movie are generously used. As for the film itself, the acting is shockingly bad. After watching the wooden Peter Mann in the Jon Hall role and the pouting Jocelyn Lane in the Maria Montez role, you'll never badmouth Hall or Montez's acting ability again. The only real "acting" comes from Gavin McLeod (THE LOVE BOAT) who gives an enjoyably campy (whether intentional, I can't say) performance in brownface as the villainous Mongol leader. With Greg Morris (MISSION IMPOSSIBLE), Frank DeKova, Peter Whitney, Frank McGrath and Irene Tsu.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

L'Amore (1948)

Two short stories on the subject of love starring Anna Magnani and directed by Roberto Rossellini: 1) THE HUMAN VOICE by Jean Cocteau. A woman (Magnani) all alone in her apartment talks to her ex-lover on the telephone on the eve of his marriage to another woman. 2) THE MIRACLE. A simple minded peasant woman (Magnani) is seduced by a stranger (Federico Fellini) who she believes is Saint Joseph and when she later finds out she is carrying his child, she believes it is a miraculous holy birth. The two short films are a showcase for the talents of Anna Magnani who Rossellini greatly admired. Italy's greatest actress and one of the world's greatest actresses, Magnani is legendary for the emotional rawness of her performances. Nothing is held back and she could be all exposed nerves which gave her characters a consistent honesty that "Method" actors could only hope to achieve. This ability is on display in HUMAN VOICE. Who hasn't gone all to pieces after a break up and Magnani delivers all the desperation and pain of trying to keep your dignity while your emotional core is fractured. THE MIRACLE has a controversial history. It was considered sacrilegious and banned in the U.S. and went all the way to the Supreme Court which declared it a form of artistic expression and protected by the First Amendment.

The Castaway Cowboy (1974)

A Texas cowboy (James Garner) is shanghaied and when he jumps ship, he finds himself washed ashore on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. A widow (Vera Miles) with a small son (Eric Shea, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE) running a failing potato farm nurses him back to health. Directed by Vincent McEveety, the novelty of a Hawaiian western quickly wears off once the tedium sets in. This being a Walt Disney production, it's family friendly but it's sloppily written with cardboard characters. The film portrays the indigenous Hawaiians as shiftless superstitious savages till the Caucasian cowboy whips them into shape. The training of the Hawaiians to become cowboys is supposed to provide the film's humor but the comedy is lame. To the film's credit, at least it casts actual Hawaiian actors rather than putting white actors in brownface. This being Kauai, known as the garden island, the scenery is lush and handsome, so's there's that. With Robert Culp as the villain hoping to marry Vera Miles, Gregory Sierra and Manu Tupou.    

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Backstabbing For Beginners (2018)

An idealistic and perhaps naive aspiring diplomat (Theo James) gets a dream job working as an assistant to the Under Secretary General (Ben Kingsley) at the United Nations. His boss is in charge of operating the Oil For Food program which is designed to help Iraqi citizens without allowing the oil sale to aid Saddam Hussein and his regime. But he soon finds himself involved in a system of greed, corruption, betrayal and murder under the guise of helping humanity. Based on the non fiction memoir by Michael Soussan and directed by Per Fly Plejdrup. I love a good political thriller (Z, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, 3 DAYS OF THE CONDOR etc.) and while this one doesn't reach the heights of those movies, it deserved a better fate than slipping under the radar into oblivion. Based on a true story yet with the usual dramatic license to spice things up like a romance (Theo James and Belcim Bilgin as a Kurdish interpreter). Why do film makers think a movie must have a romance to keep us involved? Do they think we'll think the protagonist is gay if he doesn't bed down the pretty girl at his side? That aside, this is an extremely well made documentary style political thriller that leaves one with a sense of sadness (and cynicism) that corruption infiltrates everything, even the do gooders. Definitely worth checking out. With Jacqueline Bisset and Brian Markinson.

The Iron Horse (1924)

Abraham Lincoln (Charles Edward Bull) authorizes the ambitious construction of a railway system that will connect the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railways. But the historic project is fraught with peril from deception and betrayal to hostile Cheyenne Indians. Directed by John Ford (his first major film), this is a genuine epic western that displays Ford's affection for the American West as well as his propensity to mythologize it, his eye for landscapes (filmed in California and Nevada) as well as his flaws. Notably, his tendency toward inserting inane humor into what is essentially a dramatic story which slows the movie up. Ford whips up an exciting attack by Cheyenne Indians on the railway workers that's quite thrilling. The leading protagonist is played the immensely appealing George O'Brien (SUNRISE). Unfortunately, he's saddled with a leading lady (Madge Bellamy) whose prissy character is unpleasant. I much preferred the secondary leading lady (Gladys Hulette) whose feisty saloon gal is more appealing. There does seem to be a slight (unintended) xenophobic attitude toward the "foreign" railroad workers (Italians and Chinese) who are referred to as troublemakers. The transfer I saw had a wonderful underscore by Christopher Caliendo. With Cyril Chadwick, Fred Kohler and George Waggner (who would go on direct horror films at Universal) as Buffalo Bill. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Comedy Of Terrors (1963)

In late 19th century New England, an alcoholic undertaker (Vincent Price) with a diminishing clientele assists his fading business by murdering potential clients with the help of his assistant (Peter Lorre). Written by Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND) and directed by Jacques Tourneur (I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE). I rather like horror comedies (GHOSTBUSTERS, the 1939 CAT AND THE CANARY etc.) but this one is a bit of a stinker. You don't so much sit through it as endure it. I only laughed twice and both times was at Joyce Jameson's (as Price's abused wife) attempts at singing opera. Certainly the talented cast is up to it and they all give it their best but the screenplay lets them down. With a brief running time of an hour and 23 minutes, it still drags. Boris Karloff is spottily amusing as Price's senile father in law and Basil Rathbone hams it up nicely. With Joe E. Brown, Beverly Powers and Rhubarb the cat stealing scenes as Cleopatra. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Ecologia Del Delitto (aka Bay Of Blood) (1971)

A sleepy bay is surrounded by acres owned by a Countess (Isa Miranda), who rebuffs a realtor (Chris Avram) when he attempts to get her to sell the land which he plans to redevelop into a profitable tourist spot. When she is later found brutally murdered, it has a domino effect as a series of violent killings follow. Directed by Mario Bava (LISA AND THE DEVIL), who was also the cinematographer. Although greatly admired by horror buffs, this influential giallo is my least favorite of Bava's output. It's essentially a mindless slasher movie in the same vein of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise. Oh, it has an ecological theme, it's better acted (some notable Italian actors) and directed with much more panache than the 13TH movies but still. While a few of the actors are able to create characters (like Laura Betti's Tarot reader, Leopoldo Trieste's insect fancier and Claudine Auger's Lady MacBeth), most of the characters are ciphers being set up to get killed for our delectation. Almost all of the ensemble cast are dead by the end of the film and I found the ending more silly than clever. With Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Volonte, Brigitte Skay and Anna Maria Rosati.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Blackmail (1929)

After an argument with her Scotland Yard detective boyfriend (John Longden), a young girl (Anny Ondra) takes up with a struggling artist (Cyril Ritchard), who invites her to his apartment. When he tries to rape her, she stabs him to death with a knife. Racked with guilt, things get worse when a blackmailer (Donald Calthrop) enters the picture. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this was his first sound feature film and it was filmed simultaneously with a silent version for theatres not yet equipped for sound. Apparently, it's greatly admired but I found it on the sluggish and crude side. Still, there are some marvelous moments that are pure Hitchcock like the breakfast scene with the knife and the pursuit through the British Museum. Anny Ondra's thick Czech accent wasn't suitable for the sound version so she was dubbed by Joan Barry. The film is hampered by the unappealing leading characters. Ondra's character is a stuipd twit and Longden's detective boyfriend is a dunderhead of a bully. There are a couple of good supporting performances. Notably Phyllis Monkman as a gossip and Hannah Jones as the murdered man's landlady. Also with Sara Allgood and Charles Paton.

Bullet For A Badman (1964)

A farmer (Audie Murphy) pursues a former friend (Darren McGavin) after he commits a bank robbery. He is accompanied by a posse that is as larcenous as the outlaw. But will any of them survive the Apaches on the warpath? Based on the novel RENEGADE POSSE by Marvin H. Albert (TONY ROME) and directed by R.G. Springsteen. With the exception of John Huston's THE UNFORGIVEN (1960), most of Audie Murphy's movie output in the 1960s weren't very good. This minor western is one of the better ones. Handsomely shot in Zion National and Snow Canyon state parks in Utah by Oscar winning cinematographer Joseph Biroc (TOWERING INFERNO), the film keeps the degree of suspense high and while it never crosses over to a superior western, it's quite good for what it accomplishes. One needn't seek it out but don't pass up a chance if it comes your way. With Ruta Lee, Skip Homeier, George Tobias, Edward Platt, Cece Whitney, Beverley Owen (THE MUNSTERS) and Alan Hale Jr. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Conversation (1974)

Set in San Francisco, a surveillance expert (Gene Hackman) is working on a case for a client (Robert Duvall) that involves recording the conversation of a couple (Cindy Williams, Frederic Forrest) casually walking around a public square. The surveillance expert becomes increasingly disturbed by this particular job, mainly because of his own guilt of a prior surveillance job that ended in three murders. Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, quite simply this is the best film ever made about paranoia (not that there have been a whole lot of others). Playing an emotionally detached person limits the amount of emotions an actor can tap into which often translates into a dull performance. Here, Gene Hackman (shockingly not nominated for a best actor Oscar) gives a career best performance. He manages to give us glimpses of his character's  deeply buried feelings and his disconnected responses as well as his own frustrations at his stunted emotional skills. He emerges as a tragic figure. Coppola creates an intense atmosphere of a society where privacy no longer exists. As resonant today as it was 45 years ago! The cast includes Harrison Ford, John Cazale, Teri Garr, Allen Garfield and Elizabeth MacRae.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Fatto Di Sangue Fra Due Uomini Per Causa Di Una Vedova (aka Blood Feud) (1978)

Set in the fascist Sicily of 1920, the widow (Sophia Loren) of a man murdered by the local fascist leader (Turi Ferro) becomes involved with two men: an anarchist (Marcello Mastroianni) who has forsaken his landed gentry roots for political socialism and her late husband's American cousin (Giancarlo Giannini), who is a bootlegger and gangster. Written and directed by Lina Wertmuller (SWEPT AWAY), at first glance the film appears to be more mainstream (with superstars like Loren and Mastroianni in the leads) with romance in the forefront than her more political films like LOVE AND ANARCHY or SEVEN BEAUTIES. But the political themes are there, just less didactic than usual. Unfortunately, without a stronger structure of reflexivity that usually permeated her more political films, what we end up with is a rather tepid effort that doesn't quite work as either a political statement or as a romance. Still, Loren is a force of nature and one of the screen's most compelling actresses and I quite liked Giannini's performance and found his character more appealing than Mastroianni's who seemed too naive for a man his age. The film takes its title ("made of blood") literally in its bloodbath finale. 

The Mountain (1956)

An airplane crashes in the French Alps high atop Mount Blanc. The younger brother (Robert Wagner) of a well known mountain climber (Spencer Tracy) pushes his older brother to help him climb the treacherous snow covered mountain where he plans to rob the plane and its dead passengers of their valuables. Based on the novel LE NEIGE EN DEUIL by Henri Troyat and directed by Edward Dmytryk (THE CARPETBAGGERS). Dramatically, the film suffers from the usually reliable Tracy in a weak performance. Tracy and Wagner had played father and son two years before in BROKEN LANCE and here they play brothers. There's a 30 year age difference between the actors that one can't ignore. Their mother must have had Tracy at age 16 and Wagner at age 46! I only bring it up because the age difference is so glaring that it can't help but permeate the movie. A major portion of the film is devoted to the dangerous climb up the mountain by the two men. Although the exteriors were shot in the French Alps, most of the mountain climbing sequences were done on a Paramount soundstage. The ending may cause some eye rolling but actually, I enjoyed it more than not in spite of its conspicuous flaws. The lovely score is by Daniele Amfitheatrof. With Claire Trevor, E.G. Marshall, William Demarest, Harry Townes, Anna Kashfi, Barbara Darrow and Richard Arlen. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Man In The Vault (1956)

A locksmith (William Campbell) is coerced by a sleazy criminal (Berry Kroeger) into breaking into the safety deposit box of a crooked businessman (James Seay). If he doesn't comply, the thug threatens to harm the girl (Karen Sharpe) the locksmith is in love with. Based on the novel THE LOCK AND THE KEY by Frank Gruber and adapted for the screen by future director Burt Kennedy and directed by Andrew V. McLaglen (SHENANDOAH) in his feature film debut. It's a quick and efficient programmer that doesn't insult your intelligence but it doesn't do much else either. I liked the on location cinematography by William H. Clothier (MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE) which lends the film a grittier texture than it might otherwise have and it was nice seeing the Hollywood locations circa 1956. With Anita Ekberg providing the eye candy, Mike Mazurki, Paul Fix, Gonzales Gonzales and Nancy Duke.

War And Remembrance (1988)

A massive (it runs over 26 hours!) look at WWII from America's entry into the war on December 7, 1941 to the day after the bombing of Hiroshima on August 7, 1945 through the eyes of multiple characters including a Navy captain (Robert Mitchum), his adulterous wife (Polly Bergen), his two sons (Hart Bochner, Michael Woods), a Jewish writer (John Gielgud), his niece (Jane Seymour), a British journalist (Robert Morley) and his niece (Victoria Tennant), Adolf Hitler (Steven Berkoff), Edwin Rommel (Hardy Kruger), Franklin D. Roosevelt (Ralph Bellamy), a Jewish inmate (Topol) in a concentration camp among many, many others. Although it occasionally feels sluggish due to the mammoth amount of multiple characters criss crossing over several continents (at least ten countries) and oceans, in the end it remains a gripping look at a defining moment in 20th century history. A sequel to THE WINDS OF WAR (1983) which covered the events that led to America's entry into WWII, it manages to balance both personal stories and the historic moments of WWII, both the heroic and horrific. The huge cast includes Sharon Stone, Eddie Albert, E.G. Marshall, Barbara Steele (who also produced it), Jeremy Kemp, Nina Foch, Ian McShane, Howard Duff, Pat Hingle, John Rhys Davies, Peter Graves, Mike Connors, Sami Frey, David Dukes, Brian Blessed and Robert Stephens. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Reader (2008)

Set in Germany, a sexually inexperienced 15 year old student (David Kross) engages in an affair with a 38 year old woman (Kate Winslet in an Oscar winning performance) over the course of a summer in 1958. She disappears without a trace after that summer but that relationship has emotional and psychological effects as he (morphing into Ralph Fiennes) grows into adulthood and is confronted with her Nazi past. Based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink and directed by Stephen Daldry (THE HOURS). A powerful and complex film that seems to split reaction into two halves. Most of the negative reaction stems from those who feel that the movie attempts to gloss over Winslet's character's past as Nazi guard at Auschwitz and her complicity in the death of the Jews she was in charge of and uses her illiteracy as a tool to make her more sympathetic. This is in addition to those who view her as a sexual predator who uses a 15 year old boy. I personally don't feel that way. There can be no justification for her actions as a Nazi prison guard so the film doesn't dwell on it and instead focuses on the character played by Kross and later Fiennes and the traumatic effect the relationship had on them, stunting their emotional growth as it were. We know her relationship with the adolescent boy is ethically and morally wrong, does anybody really need to be lectured that it is? The film assumes we are adults and can reason for ourselves without being hit over the head Stanley Kramer style to point us in the right direction. The score by Nico Muhly is a beauty. With Lena Olin playing both a mother and her daughter (her last scene is superb) and Bruno Ganz.