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Monday, November 30, 2020

7 Faces Of Dr. Lao (1964)

A mysterious elderly Chinese gentleman (Tony Randall) comes to a small rural town in Arizona. He brings with him his small circus of mythological creatures. His visit will change the lives of the townsfolk. Based on THE CIRCUS OF DR. LAO by Charles G. Finney and directed by George Pal (THE TIME MACHINE). This good natured family friendly fantasy film serves as a showcase for Randall who plays six different roles. Although credited to him, the seventh creature of the abominable snowman is actually played by the director's son, Peter Pal. Although not as well known as Ray Harryhausen, the stop motion animator Jim Danforth provided the Oscar nominated visual effects. It's perhaps a bit heavy handed when it should be magical but overall, it's a solid entry in the fantasy genre. With Barbara Eden whose sexual awakening briefly threatens to take the film out of family friendly viewing, John Ericson, Arthur O'Connell, Lee Patrick, Royal Dano, John Doucette and Minerva Urecal.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Gigi (1949)

A naive young girl called Gigi (Danielle Delorme) being raised by her grandmother (Yvonne De Bray) is quite fond of the dashing playboy (Frank Villard) who visits them regularly. But the girls' great Aunt (Gaby Morlay), who is training the young girl in the ways of a courtesan (the family "business"), sees the visitor as an opportunity to make a profitable alliance for the girl. Based on the novella by Colette and directed by Jacqueline Audry, one of France's first female directors to have a successful career in film. The 1949 film (the Colette novella had also been adapted for the stage in 1951 starring an unknown Audrey Hepburn) has been eclipsed by the Oscar winning 1958 musical which is too bad for this B&W version is quite charming if less elaborate. Audry balances the story's comical aspect with its tender budding romance and without the songs of the 1958 film, the movie is allowed to move along swiftly and finish under 90 minutes without losing a thing. With Jean Tissier and Madeleine Rousset. 

Awake And Sing (1972)

Set in The Bronx during the depression years, the matriarch (Ruth Storey) of a Jewish family attempts to hold her family together. But her constant manipulation chafes her elderly father (Leo Fuchs) who has Socialist leanings, her daughter (Felicia Farr) and son (Robert Lipton). Based on the 1935 play by Clifford Odets (originally produced by the Group Theatre) and directed by Norman Lloyd and Robert Hopkins. Considered one of the major playwrights of his generation, Odets' plays don't have the timeliness of a Eugene O'Neill or Tennessee Williams. His political viewpoints permeate his works which tends to render his plays of their time. The family in the play suffer from being victims of a "capitalist" society where money is the goal and the dreamers in the family are chastised by the mother who is concerned with security and respectability, two things that can be bought with money. Although the play creaks a bit, it holds up fairly well. There may not be a depression but poverty is still with us and people still have money problems which may account for it being one of Odets most revived plays (its Broadway revival won a Tony in 2006). The ensemble acting is quite good. With Walter Matthau, Martin Ritt (yes, the director), Ron Rifkin and Milton Selzer.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Reflecting Skin (1990)

Set in rural America in the 1950s, a disturbed young boy (Jeremy Cooper) believes the English widow (Lindsay Duncan) living across his family farm is a vampire. When his older brother (Viggo Mortensen) returns home from his military service and begins a romantic relationship with the widow, the boy tries to stop it. Written and directed by Philip Ridley, this Canadian surreal horror film on childhood throws in everything but the kitchen sink: vampirism, pedophilia, dead fetuses, radiation poisoning, animal cruelty, child abuse, sadism, suicide, religious fanaticism and serial killings. Hollywood has a tendency to sentimentalize childhood but Ridley's film shows how cruel and disturbed children can be. I found Jeremy Cooper (a terrible child actor) to be a little monster but as the film progressed, to my horror I discovered that we're supposed to be sympathetic to the little shit. Visually, the film is stunning thanks to Dick Pope's glowing cinematography and Ridley creates an unsettling atmosphere of dread and perversion. There's much to like here but in the end, the movie collapses under the weight of its own mythological pretensions. With Sheila Moore and Duncan Fraser.

Beyond The Rocks (1922)

In order to help her family out, a young girl (Gloria Swanson) marries a rich older man (Robert Bolder) even though she doesn't love him. While on her honeymoon in the Swiss Alps, she encounters a handsome playboy (Rudolph Valentino) and falls in love but she is torn between that love and loyalty to her husband. Based on the novel by Elinor Glyn and directed by Sam Wood (A NIGHT AT THE OPERA). Long thought as a lost film and only rediscovered in the Netherlands 17 years ago. Notable as the only teaming of two legendary stars of the silent screen, Swanson and Valentino. As to the film itself, it's a rather touching romance that manages to not to be saccharine and is even handed when dealing with the three protagonists. Bolder as the cuckolded husband isn't portrayed as a lecherous old fool lusting after a younger bride, he's portrayed as a decent man. Which makes it harder for Swanson's wife to betray him and her guilt is genuine. In a change of pace, Valentino doesn't play an exotic lover, he's a normal guy here. The print I saw had a lovely score by Henny Vrienten which was quite effective. With Mabel Van Buren, Alec B. Francis and Gertrude Astor. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Fifth Element (1997)

Set in the 23rd century, a former special forces Major (Bruce Willis) now working as a taxi driver has a strange young woman (Milla Jovovich) literally fall into his cab. This encounter will set off a mission to save the planet Earth from evil forces intent on its destruction. Co-written and directed by Luc Besson, this is an ambitious and dazzling piece of science fiction. The film belongs to its production design (Dan Wells), art direction and set decoration teams, Jean Paul Gaultier's costume designs and Thierry Arbogast's (LA FEMME NIKITA) wide screen cinematography. It's a punch drunk sci-fi movie with doses of comedy between its action scenes. It might even have been a classic of its genre if it had been a bit better than it is. This film is hampered by a truly mind blowing awful, shrill performance by Chris Tucker that is supposed to provide comedy relief but it wasn't funny in 1997 and even more embarrassing in 2020. Why Besson though it fitted in into his film is a head scratcher. The film won several Cesar awards (the French Oscar) and received mostly positive reviews but it had its detractors too. Not near perfect but good enough but oh that unbearable Tucker performance! With Gary Oldman (who hates the film), Ian Holm, Luke Perry, Brion James, John Neville and Maiwenn (whose operatic singing voice is dubbed by Inva Mula)

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Anna Boleyn (1920)

King Henry VIII (Emil Jannings) of England breaks with the Roman Catholic church when he annuls his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (Hedwig Pauly Winterstein) in order to marry Anne Boleyn (Henny Porten). Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, the film is a lavish recreation of the 16th century court of England. No expenses were spared and it all shows up on the screen. Alas, the film itself is a slog to get through. It's turgid and heavy handed. Clearly, historical drama was not Lubitsch's forte. As Anne Boleyn, Henny Porten overacts shamelessly with lots of hand wringing and fainting. Jannings is okay but not a patch on Charles Laughton's Henry VIII. I suspect I might have enjoyed it a bit more (but not much) if the movie didn't have one of those awful and inappropriate Mickey Mouse piano scores accompanying it. After one character (Ferdinand Von Alten) is horribly tortured for being one of Boleyn's alleged lovers, the trite piano tinklings would be more suitable for a Keystone Cops comedy. Every great director has a dog or two on his resume, this laborious effort is easily a contender for Lubitsch's worst. With Paul Hartmann and Aud Egede Nissen. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Duel At Silver Creek (1952)

A U.S. Marshal (Stephen McNally) is intent on capturing a gang of claim jumpers who force miners to turn their claims over to them at gunpoint before killing them. He enlists a quick draw gambler (Audie Murphy) as his deputy to watch his back. Directed by Don Siegel (THE BEGUILED), this is a decent economical if minor western which Siegel keeps moving along nicely. At a brief hour and 17 minutes, Siegel doesn't give the film time to breathe, he races it along to the finish line. Although third billed, the film belongs as much to Stephen McNally as Audie Murphy. But the most interesting character in the film is the manipulative femme fatale played by Faith Domergue, as cold blooded and calculating and unrepentant as any film noir babe. Western fans should enjoy this one. With Lee Marvin, Susan Cabot, Gerald Mohr, James Anderson and Eugene Iglesias. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Fanatic (aka Die Die My Darling) (1965)

A young American girl (Stefanie Powers) arrives in London with her fiance (Maurice Kaufmann). Before her marriage, she decides to visit the mother (Tallulah Bankhead) of her former fiance who is dead. It isn't long before she realizes the woman is a religious fanatic and mad as a hatter and intends to keep her a prisoner. Based on the novel NIGHTMARE by Anne Blaisdell and direccted by Silvio Narrizano (GEORGY GIRL). Yet another entry in the 1960s hag horror (or psycho biddie, if you prefer) horror genre. But this is one of the more effective ones. By this stage of her acting career, Tallulah Bankhead had become a caricature of herself so it's surprising how relatively restrained her performance is. She doesn't go over the top and while there's some subtle black comedy moments, it never descends into camp. It's not particularly fresh but the film delivers what's expected of it. The cinematography of Arthur Ibbetson (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) is stylish enough that you wonder if he was familiar with Mario Bava's films. With Donald Sutherland, Yootha Joyce and Peter Vaughn. 

In Praise Of Older Women (1978)

Set in post WWII Hungary (although filmed in Canada), a gangly teenage boy (Tom Berenger) has difficulty with girls his own age. But he discovers that older women are not only more receptive but he can learn from them. It follows his sexual adventures from 1951 to 1963 with four women: Karen Black in 1951, Susan Strasberg in 1956, Alexandra Stewart in 1959 and Helen Shaver in 1963. Based on the novel by Stephen Vizinczey and directed by George Kaczender. While the film was a hot ticket at the Toronto film festival and went on to win four Canadian Film awards, it's an awkward piece of film making. For one, it's hard to believe that Tom Berenger would have any trouble getting a girl despite his lame pick up lines and at times, it feels he's exploiting these women rather than genuinely caring for them. The 1951 sequence with Karen Black has the most resonance, the others seem arbitrary. I've not read the Vizinczey source material but surely there must be more substance than what has been adapted here. With Marilyn Lightstone and Alberta Watson.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Toni (1935)

An Italian migrant worker (Charles Blavette) goes to the South of France to work in a quarry. He becomes his landlady's (Jenny Helia) lover but plans to leave her when he falls in love with a Spanish migrant (Celia Montalvan). Instead, the Spanish girl marries another man (Max Dalban). Directed by Jean Renoir, the film uses a mixture of professional actors and non professionals. It's a film that I wanted to like more than I did. I'm partial to Renoir as a film maker but I was so put off by the characters that I couldn't invest much interest in their fate. The film's title protagonist is a bit of a weasel as a human and also an animal abuser yet we're supposed to care? The only character I could relate to was the landlady, who was a clinging shrew yet she was the most honest character in the whole movie. I didn't dislike it and I appreciated Renoir's naturalistic style which would influence both the French New Wave and the Italian neo-realism (reputedly Luchino Visconti was Renoir's assistant director on the film) that would follow. The ending should have been gut wrenching but when it was over, all I could say was "Hmmm". With Michel Kovachevitch and Andrex.  

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Fear No Evil (1969)

After her fiance (Bradford Dillman) dies in a car crash, a young woman (Lynda Day George) begins to have visions of him in an antique mirror beckoning her to join him. A psychiatrist (Louis Jourdan) specializing in the occult attempts to discover if it's mere hallucinations or something more sinister. Directed by Paul Wendkos (THE MEPHISTO WALTZ). It wasn't unusual during the 1960s and 1970s for studios to make TV movies as possible pilots for a TV series if the film played well. Universal did two telefilms, this one and a sequel (RITUAL OF EVIL) for a proposed TV series about a psychiatrist investigating the paranormal. The proposed series title was BEDEVILED but nobody bit so it never happened. It's easy to see why the networks passed. The narrative is confusing and not much suspense is generated until the film's last half hour. Granted, ROSEMARY'S BABY had been a huge box office success the year before but I'm not sure home audiences for ready for a TV series about Satanism and the occult. With Carroll O'Connor, Marsha Hunt, Wilfrid Hyde White and Katherine Woodville, who gives the film's best performance as an acolyte of the demonic cult.

Gilda (1946)

An American (Glenn Ford) adrift in Argentina is taken under the wing of a wealthy older man (George Macready). The older man owns a casino and makes the American the casino's manager. But when the man shows up with a new wife (Rita Hayworth), the tension between the three protagonists threatens to eat them up alive. Directed by Charles Vidor (LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME), this classic film noir is pure enjoyment on its surface level, one of the best of its genre. But it also has one of the most complicated and complex subtexts in 1940s cinema dealing with both sexual ambiguity and power playing. This is one of Glenn Ford's best performances and he's matched by Macready's manipulative egoist. Then, of course, there's Rita Hayworth at her most iconic and movie goddess-y, she positively sizzles! Mention should be made of Rudolph Mate's luscious B&W cinematography as well as Jean Louis's costumes for Hayworth. With Joseph Calleia, Steven Geray, Joe Sawyer, Mark Roberts and Gerald Mohr. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Il Rosso Segno Della Follia (aka Hatchet For The Honeymoon) (1970)

A psychotic serial killer (Stephen Forsyth) specializes in killing brides or women about to be married. That he owns a fashion house that specializes in bridal wear makes it easier to find victims. Directed by Mario Bava, this giallo is one of his least discussed films or at least it was for many years. The movie received limited distribution and was not a success. It's not among Bava's best work. It needed a more charismatic leading man than the bland Forsyth but fortunately there's Laura Betti as his unhappy wife to compensate in the acting department. The film doesn't feel very fresh. Forsyth's serial killer keeps on killing hoping to find the psychological motive for his need to kill but it's so obvious to us that when it's revealed, it's a big yawn. The movie's biggest hole is why Forsyth keeps killing his models. Does he think the police won't notice how his models keep disappearing? With Dagmar Lassander and Jesus Puente.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Viceroy's House (2017)

Set in 1947 India, the British are leaving after 300 years of colonial rule. Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), along with his wife (Gillian Anderson) and daughter (Lily Travers), arrives as the last Viceroy of India to oversee a peaceful transition of power. But civil unrest between Hindus and Muslims are tearing the nation apart as Muslims push for the partition of India and the creation of a Muslim state, Pakistan. Based on two non fiction books, FREEDOM AT MIDNIGHT by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre and THE SHADOW OF THE GREAT GAME by Narendra Singh Sarila and directed by Gurinder Chadha (BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM). It's a formidable challenge to cram a tumultuous historic period in a two hour film with any detailed accuracy and the film adds a fictional romance between a Hindu man (Manish Dayal) and a Muslim woman (Huma Qureshi) that takes up a good portion of the film's running time. That romance is the least satisfying part of the movie. The film does convey the clamorous atmosphere of fear and hope as a country is divided in two and literally millions of people displaced from their homes as a civil war between the two factions (Muslim and Hindu) threatens to derail the transition from British rule. Melodrama often takes center stage (that's not a putdown) but Chadha always keeps the focus where it should be. Still, nothing conveys the tragedy of the period more than the newsreel footage documenting the deaths, fighting and displacement. Those are real people, not actors. The film has a sumptuous look courtesy of Ben Smithard's (MY WEEK WITH MARILYN) location shooting. With Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Om Puri, Neeraj Kabi as Gandhi, Tanveer Ghani as Nehru and Denzil Smith as Muhammad Jinnah.  

La Mariee Est Trop Belle (1956)

A young country girl (Brigitte Bardot) is plucked out of obscurity by the editor (Micheline Presle) of a magazine to become a model. As she rises to success in the modeling world, she finds romance more difficult to maneuver. Directed by Pierre Gaspard Huit. This piece of fluff was typical of Bardot's ingenue period period before AND GOD CREATED WOMAN turned her into an international sex symbol. If this movie had been made in Hollywood (and they probably would have made it better), Bardot's role could easily have been played by Debbie Reynolds. The film wasn't released in the U.S. until two years after AND GOD CREATED WOMAN's release. It's a rather dull witted farce and one can't help but feel a bit sorry for the actors as they flap their wings and huff and puff trying to get the movie to take off but it sits there like a plane without fuel. Still, Bardot and Presle look quite fetching in their Pierre Balmain frocks. With Louis Jourdan, Jean Francois Calve, Roger Dumas and the pop singer Marcel Amont, who suddenly breaks into song at the dinner table. No, it's not a musical but I guess they figured since they had a pop star in the movie, why not give him a song.  

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Dead Of Night (1945)

An architect (Mervyn Johns) is invited to a country house where his host (Roland Culver) wants to consult him on renovations. But the architect is disturbed when he meets the other guests because he has dreamed of them although he's never met them and of this house which he has never seen before. One of the earliest examples of omnibus (or portmanteau if you prefer) horror films. The architect's visit is the framing story and the individual stories contain: 1) a racing car driver (Anthony Baird) has premonitions of his own death. Directed by Basil Dearden. 2) a young girl (Sally Ann Howes) encounters a ghost at a Christmas party. Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. 3) a woman (Googie Withers) buys her fiance (Ralph Michael) a mirror that sees into the past. Directed by Robert Hamer. 4) a golfer (Basil Radford) is haunted by the ghost of his golfing partner (Naunton Wayne), who committed suicide. Directed by Charles Crichton. 5) a ventriloquist's (Michael Redgrave) dummy takes on a life of its own. Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. Not unusual, the stories vary in effectiveness but the ventriloquist story is a classic on its own. Anchored by a superb performance by Michael Redgrave, the sequence is genuinely creepy. The film has lost some of its power because its stories have been pilfered and used in the ensuing years by other films and TV shows (notably, TWILIGHT ZONE). With Frederick Valk, Elisabeth Welch, Mary Merrall, Miles Malleson and Peggy Bryan.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Fast And Loose (1930)

A wealthy heiress (Miriam Hopkins) and her alcoholic brother (Henry Wadsworth) are the spoiled children of a Long Island millionaire (Frank Morgan). When she breaks off her engaged to a British aristocrat (David Hutcheson) to marry a penniless mechanic (Charles Starrett) and her brother becomes engaged to a chorus girl (Carole Lombard), the father decides to intervene. Based on the play THE BEST PEOPLE by David Gray and Avery Hopwood and directed by Fred C. Newmeyer. This pre code screwball comedy is an early talkie and quite static. The acting is all over the place from natural (Carole Lombard) to stiff (Charles Starrett) and the acting (Lombard excepted) cries out stage acting playing to the balcony. Affectation can be an amusing tool in drawing room comedies but here, it just seems archaic. Starrett is quite good looking but his awkward acting and his character's pronounced male chauvinism renders him unappealing. The film does manage to get some laughs going toward the end when all the major characters bump into each other at a fancy restaurant. With Ilka Chase (quite amusing) and Herbert Yost.   

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Masterson Of Kansas (1954)

Bat Masterson (George Montgomery), the sheriff of Dodge City, is asked by his friend Wyatt Earp (Bruce Cowling) to intercede for a man (John Maxwell) accused of murder. When the man is convicted by a court of law, it's a race against time to find proof of his innocence before his hanging. Directed by William Castle (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL), this routine B western is hampered by a lazy screenplay and a lackluster performance by Montgomery in the title role. Montgomery barks his way through the movie which leaves James Griffith as Doc Holliday to take over the movie. Griffith brings some layers of complexity (well, as much as one can to a poverty programmer like this) and is by far the most interesting character in the film. Otherwise, we're left with a wimpy Wyatt Earp and an inept cavalry that can't even protect a prisoner from vigilantes. With Nancy Gates, Jean Willes, David Bruce and Jay Silverheels.

Boom Town (1940)

Two down on their luck wildcatters (Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy) join forces and do what they have to (including stealing) in their quest to strike oil. Eventually they strike it rich but they fall out over Gable's wife (Claudette Colbert) who Tracy loves. Based on the short story A LADY COMES TO BURKBURNETT by James Edward Grant and directed by Jack Conway (LIBELED LADY). Wonderfully entertaining, this action packed movie is a prime example of no nonsense studio film making (in this case MGM) during the "Golden Age" of Hollywood. Snappy and fast with four major stars (Hedy Lamarr is the 4th lead) lending real star presence. The film's action highlight is a spectacular wild fire and explosion at an oil rig that's beautifully done. The film was a huge hit and following GONE WITH THE WIND made Gable just about the biggest male star in Hollywood. The film weakens a little (but not too much) when the action moves from the oil fields to Manhattan penthouses. With Frank Morgan, Lionel Atwill, Chill Wills, Sara Haden, Marion Martin and Minna Gombell.   

Monday, November 16, 2020

Fantomas Contre Scotland Yard (aka Fantomas Vs. Scotland Yard) (1967)

The master criminal known as Fantomas (Jean Marais) imposes a life tax on the rich and threatens to execute them if they don't pay up. A journalist (Jean Marais), his photographer girlfriend (Mylene Demongeot) and a police commissioner (Luis De Funes) travel to Scotland to investigate. Directed by Andre Hunebelle, this was the third and final entry in the Fantomas trilogy starring Marais, De Funes and Demongeot. I liked it better than the previous effort FANTOMAS UNLEASHED. Humor takes centerstage and it's rather silly but fun like an Abbott & Costello movie. De Funes, who tended to irritate me in the two previous films, and Jacques Dynam as his assistant make a fine comedy duo. Although it's supposed to take place in Scotland, the "haunted" castle is actually in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region in Southwest France. If you liked the first two installments, then you'll definitely find some favor for this one. With Francoise Christophe, Jean Roger Caussimon and Andre Dumas. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Caravans (1978)

Set in the Middle East in 1948, an American diplomat (Michael Sarrazin) is assigned to investigate the disappearance of the daughter (Jennifer O'Neill) of a United States Senator after her marriage to an Arabic Colonel (Behrouz Vossoughi). When he meets the Colonel, it turns out he's looking for her too. Based on the novel by James Michener and directed by James Fargo (EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE). Running past the two hour mark, it's clear the film had aspirations for an "epic" adventure movie. On the plus side, it looks marvelous thanks to Douglas Slocombe's (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) wide screen Todd-AO lensing. The film was shot in Iran and was a co-production between Iran and the U.S. On the downside, the pedestrian screenplay eliminates some of the more provocative aspects of the Michener novel (Michener disliked the film) and offers up nothing fresh in its place. The actors go through their paces and in the case of Anthony Quinn as an Afghanistan tribe leader, we've seen him do his Arab act too many times from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) to LION OF THE DESERT (1981) for his performance to hold any surprises. With Christopher Lee, Joseph Cotten, Barry Sullivan, Jeremy Kemp, Duncan Quinn and Parviz Gharib Afshar.    

It Happened One Night (1934)

In Miami, a wealthy heiress (Claudette Colbert) marries a man (Jameson Thomas) that her father (Walter Connolly) does not approve of and he seeks to get the marriage annulled. He attempts to keep her locked up aboard his yacht but she escapes and hiding her identity, she flees to New York aboard a bus. But a down on his luck journalist (Clark Gable) is aboard the bus and recognizes her and offers her his protection in order to get the scoop. Based on the short story NIGHT BUS by Samuel Hopkins Adams and directed by Frank Capra (LOST HORIZON). I'm not a fan of Capra but I concede this is one of the greatest romantic comedies to come out of Hollywood. It was one of the last of the pre-code films and released only months before it went into effect. Gable and Colbert have sensational chemistry and both won Oscars for their roles. Ironic in that both were reluctant to do the film and sensing their hesitancy, Capra found them difficult to work with. However, nothing succeeds like success and in the ensuing years, all three praised each other. But the dialogue (by Robert Riskin) is tart and spirited and the film captured the fancy of movie audiences and turned out to be Columbia's (considered a low end studio) biggest hit. Time has not diminished its charms and it remains a model of sophisticated romantic comedy. With Roscoe Karns and Alan Hale.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The System (aka The Girl Getters) (1964)

It's the summer and a group of British lads descend on a seaside town where tourists and girls gather for a bit of summer fun. The leader (Oliver Reed) of the group is a photographer who comes every summer to take the tourists and the "birds". But this summer will be different. Directed by Michael Winner (THE NIGHTCOMERS), this is quintessential swinging 60s British cinema. It's sort of the English equivalent of WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960), kids having fun on the beach but with a darker side too. Having come off a series of Hammer horror films, this movie was an important step in Oliver Reed's career. He gives a strong performance as a young man who sees his youth rapidly getting away from him and the future looking grim. Shot on location in Devon, the film has a rich B&W look courtesy of cinematographer Nicholas Roeg (soon to be a director himself in a few years). Aside from Reed, the rest of the male roles sort of diminish behind him which leaves the film's actresses to step forward. Each giving solid performances including Jane Merrow, Barbara Ferris, Julia Foster and Ann Lynn. Also in the cast: David Hemmings, Harry Andrews, Andrew Ray, Mark Burns and Derek Nimmo. 

The Story Lady (1991)

Forced to move in with her daughter (Tandy Cronyn), an elderly woman (Jessica Tandy) finds herself rendered useless. Taking matters into her own hands, she books herself on a public access cable show where she reads stories for children. She becomes a modest success and comes to the attention of a network programmer (Stephanie Zimbalist) who sees her as the next big thing in children's programming. Directed by Larry Elikann, this sweet natured tale isn't much different than those wholesome Hallmark cable Christmas movies targeted to families but it has one ace and that's Jessica Tandy. Tandy brings a great deal of warmth and sincerity to the role so that you tolerate each cliche. The film's heart is in the right place and it's not too excruciating. With Charles Durning, Richard Masur and Ed Begley Jr.  

Friday, November 13, 2020

Ochazuke No Aji (aka The Flavor Of Green Tea Over Rice) (1952)

A childless married couple (Shin Saburi, Michiyo Kogure) live comfortably in Tokyo but the wife is manipulative and condescending toward her husband. It was a traditional arranged marriage and observing their unhappy marriage, their young niece (Keiko Tsushima) fights against her parents plan of an arranged marriage for her. Directed by Yasujiro Ozu, the film is often riveting when it focuses its attention on the dynamics of the couple's strained relationship. But Ozu's languid pace often works against the narrative and there's a slight bias toward the film's female characters in the unappealing way they are portrayed in comparison to their male counterparts. The most difficult part for me to swallow was Kogure's quick conversion at the film's end which comes out of nowhere. The acting is very good and hey, it's Ozu so there's more to savor than not. With Koji Tsuruta and Chishu Ryu.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

I Am Woman (2020)

In 1966, a young Australian singer (Tilda Cobham Hervey) and her 3 year old daughter arrive in New York where she believes she has a recording contract, only to find out she doesn't. She struggles to make a career but it isn't until she meets a brash hustler (Evan Peters) and moves to Los Angeles that her career takes off. Based on the career of singer Helen Reddy and directed by Unjoo Moon (better known for her documentaries). As far as movie biopics go, this one stands up better than most. Reddy didn't hit the skids with alcohol and drugs (it was her second husband who went the cocaine route) only to make a comeback. The film aligns her career with the feminist movement, notably her hit song I Am Woman, and portrays her struggle as a woman in a male chauvinist business. The irony isn't lost that a feminist icon has her career sabotaged by voluntarily handing over her career and finances to a cocaine sniffing male. The film also focuses on her friendship with the rock critic and writer Lilian Roxon (Danielle MacDonald) who wrote the influential ROCK ENCYCLOPEDIA. Tilda Cobham Hervey does her own singing and she does a good job of approximating Reddy's vocal style. Alas, the film fell victim to the current pandemic so its theatrical release was scrapped and the film went direct to streaming. Reddy got an opportunity to see the film before her recent death. You don't have to be a Reddy fan to enjoy the film. With Chris Parnell and Molly Broadstock.

Madame Bovary (1949)

A young girl (Jennifer Jones) living a rural country life dreams of romance, glamour and passion. When she marries a village doctor (Van Heflin), her dreams are dashed in a life of frugality, motherhood and the mundane. But when she catches the eye of an aristocrat (Louis Jourdan), her old dreams are aroused. Based on the classic novel by Gustave Flaubert and directed by Vincente Minnelli. Like many great novels (think MOBY DICK or THE GREAT GATSBY), it is nigh impossible to capture all the complexities and nuances of a great piece of literature and so it is with MADAME BOVARY. That aside, Minnelli captures the essence of the novel and while this is surely Minnelli's MADAME BOVARY and not Flaubert's, I find it a greatly under appreciated film. To avoid pressure from the censors, the film is framed with James Mason as Flaubert defending his novel against moral charges in an obscenity trial (this is a fact, Flaubert's novel was put on trial). Between the framing device, Emma Bovary's story is told. As an actress, Jennifer Jones is not always appropriately cast. She has a neurotic quality about her acting (her dramatic roles, anyway) and you often feel she's ready to jump out of her skin. But it's this very quality that makes her Madame Bovary unique. You grasp her itching under the strains of a pedestrian life and her desperation to achieve her dreams is palpable. It's my favorite of her dramatic performances. The film's visual highlight and one of Minnelli's greatest set pieces is a stunning ball sequence where, for one night at least, her dreams become a reality. The score by Miklos Rozsa is one of his very best. With Gladys Cooper, Alf Kjellin, Gene Lockhart, Harry Morgan, Ellen Corby and Frank Allenby.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Follies (2013)

In a crumbling Broadway theatre set for demolition, the former stars of a 1940s musical revue performed at the theatre gather for one last time. For some, it's a joyous reunion but for two unhappily married couples, the past and present clash. Directed by Olivier Benezech, this is a filmed production of the Stephen Sondheim musical done at the Toulon Opera House in France. Sondheim's musical has never been filmed in its entirety (there was a concert version in 1985 that was filmed). This production remedies that and barring any feature film version, this remains the only one readily available (unless you have Amazon Prime which has a print of the National Theatre production). This production uses Jonathan Tunick's original orchestrations. Benezech uses cinematic techniques like split screen (perhaps too much) and while the performances are a mixed lot, this remains a solid effort. The best performance comes from Jerome Pradon as Buddy. His American accent is impeccable, you'd never guess he's French though it was probably a mistake to have him do The God Why Don't You Love Me Blues in his underwear. Liz Robertson as Phyllis can't seem to catch fire until the Story Of Lucy And Jesse. Julia Sutton nails Broadway Baby perfectly and if Nicole Croiselle doesn't have the vocal range for I'm Still Here, she makes up for it with acting the song and still makes it a showstopper. Inexplicably, one change from the original production, the part of Solange is played by a male (Denis D'Arcangelo) as a drag queen. Far from the definitive production of FOLLIES but a more than decent effort. The excellent choreography is by Caroline Roelands. With Graham Bickley, Charlotte Page and Sarah Ingram.

Born Reckless (1958)

A saloon singer and trick rider (Mamie Van Doren) sets her sights on a handsome rodeo star (Jeff Richards). But he has a roving eye and proves hard to catch. Directed by Howard W. Koch, I'll say this for the movie. It's one of a kind. How many other rock rodeo musicals can you think of? This isn't necessarily a recommendation. It's Mamie Van Doren in her prime in the 1950s so you know what kind of movie it's going to be. What can you say about drive in fodder like this? It's harmless enough. Its brief running time (one hour, 19 minutes) is so crammed with musical numbers and rodeo activities that it leaves very little time for a plot. With Carol Ohmart, Arthur Hunnicutt, Donald Barry and Asa Maynor. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

The West Side Waltz (1995)

An aging widowed pianist (Shirley MacLaine) lives a secluded life in a Manhattan apartment. Her only companion is an uptight virginal neighbor (Liza Minnelli). But she opens up her life to include a homeless woman (Kathy Bates) and an aspiring actress (Jennifer Grey). Based on the play by Ernest Thompson (ON GOLDEN POND) and directed by Thompson, who also has a small role as a Julliard drama teacher. The play, which starred Katharine Hepburn, was a flop and if this adaptation is any indication, it's easy to see why. The material is as thin as a wafer, there's no body to it and there's not much the actresses can do with it except inhabit the cliches which we've all seen before: the acerbic artist intimidating everyone, the needy friend, the tough talking chick and the wise all seeing homeless person and, of course, everything tied up with a neat little string by the end. With Robert Pastorelli, Hal Williams and Tsai Chin.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

R.P.M. (1970)

It's the 1960s and radical students have occupied the university's administration building with a list of twelve demands to be met by the school before they will vacate. The university's newly appointed President (Anthony Quinn) meets with the students to negotiate but they refuse to negotiate, instead demanding all of the demands be met. Directed by Stanley Kramer, this was just one of a spate of several similar films (STRAWBERRY STATEMENT, GETTING STRAIGHT) about the student revolutions of the era. Most of them weren't very good and this one is downright phony. The screenplay is by Erich Segal who wrote LOVE STORY which gives you some idea of the quality of writing. I was a college student in San Francisco during this time and part of that student movement and nothing about this film remotely resembles the realities. Kramer (who was about 56 when he directed this) is out of touch with the youth movement and this is a Hollywood version of it. Quinn is given a sexy graduate student in the form of Ann-Margret to bed and the film doesn't go into the ethics of sleeping with students and even suggests he has a history of it. Compare the film's finale with that of THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT, both dealing with police gassing students. STRAWBERRY's is done with skill and it's terrifying while R.P.M.'s is clumsy and awkward. With Gary Lockwood, Paul Winfield, Ramon Bieri, Donald Moffat and Gail Bonney. 

I'm No Angel (1933)

After her pickpocket boyfriend (Ralf Harolde) goes to prison, a sideshow performer (Mae West) in a carnival moves up in society when she hooks a wealthy playboy (Kent Taylor) even though he's engaged to someone else. But when her ex-con boyfriend gets out of jail, there's trouble ahead for her. Written by Mae West and directed by Wesley Ruggles (SEE HERE PRIVATE HARGROVE). This is one of West's best vehicles. The dialogue is suggestive and witty ("When I'm good, I'm very good but when I'm bad, I'm better", "Beulah, peel me a grape!") and she gets to sing They Call Me Sister Honky Tonk. The film was a huge hit and along with SHE DONE HIM WRONG which had come out earlier in the year made West Paramount's biggest female star. Some of West's later vehicles were uneven and by the end of the decade, her novelty had worn thin. But this film shows her at her best and why audiences flocked to her movies. With Cary Grant, Edward Arnold, Gregory Ratoff, Gertrude Michael, Gertrude Howard and Hattie McDaniel. 

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Yesterday's Enemy (1959)

Set in WWII Burma, a squad of British soldiers surrounded by the Japanese army are lost in the jungle as they attempt to reach brigade headquarters. They stumble upon a nearly deserted village where they will make a last stand. Based on a teleplay by Peter R. Newman (who later adapted it for the stage) and directed by Val Guest (DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE). This gritty WWII "war is hell" drama was an unusual departure for Hammer films, better known for their horror and sci-fi offerings. Shot in stark B&W wide screen by Arthur Grant (THE DEVIL RIDES OUT) and with no musical score, the film doesn't hold back on the brutality but it doesn't exploit it either. The movie has an almost surreal feel to it, most probably because the entire jungle is set on a studio soundstage. As the regiment's Captain, Stanley Baker gives an excellent performance as a soldier who'll defy all morality and ethics including the rules of the Geneva Convention if it means saving lives and getting information. He's a contrast to the more humanistic priest (Guy Rolfe) and war correspondent (Leo McKern) who decry his actions as murder. It's a pity that the film's last three minutes are pretty rank. After all that grit, the sentiment leaves a bad taste in one's mouth. With Gordon Jackson, Philip Ahn, Percy Herbert, Bryan Forbes and Edwina Carroll.  

The Public Eye (1992)

Set in 1942 New York, a freelance tabloid photographer (Joe Pesci) specializes in graphic crime photos but he considers himself an artist. Somehow, he manages to get the photos even before the cops get to the scene of the crime. When the beautiful owner (Barbara Hershey) of a posh nightclub asks him for a favor, he helps her out not knowing it will lead to murder and betrayal. Directed by Howard Franklin, this contemporary film noir is a real sleeper. Every once in awhile, a little gem of a movie doesn't get the attention it deserves and slips through the cracks. Its reviews were generally decent but the moviegoers shunned the film even though Pesci was hot off his Oscar win for GOODFELLAS. He gives a wonderful performance showing he can do more than just playing foul mouthed mobsters. His photographer is a lonely and isolated man whose one attempt at reaching out to a woman turns into a disaster. Equally good is Hershey who gives an ambiguous performance. Does this beautiful woman really have feelings for this schlub of a guy or is she using him? Even as the film ends, we're never quite sure. The exquisite score is by Mark Isham, who seems to be channeling Ennio Morricone. With Stanley Tucci, Jared Harris and Jerry Adler.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Traitement De Choc (aka Shock Treatment) (1973)

Recently dumped by her lover, an aging businesswoman (Annie Girardot) books herself into an expensive private clinic where a doctor (Alain Delon) is known for his rejuvenating process. The wealthy clientele are serviced by unskilled Portuguese workers who are healthy upon arrival but quickly turn sickly. She becomes suspicious and quietly investigates but what she finds out is incredible. Directed by Alain Jessua, this is a well done thriller with a slight satiric edge as it comments on the shallowness and narcissism of aging rich white people exploiting the poor to maintain their status quo. I was hoping for a cathartic ending but the film's downbeat finale seems more in tune with the film's theme. Girardot and Delon are fine and director Jessua keeps the paranoid atmosphere tight although I couldn't help wonder why, after sensing something is horribly wrong, Girardot doesn't get her ass out of there instead of sticking her nose where it can only be detrimental to her. Still, I suppose if she didn't, we wouldn't have a movie! With Robert Hirsch and Jean Francois Calve.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Our Town (1940)

Set in the typical American small town of Grover's Corners in New Hampshire. Beginning in 1901, we see life played out ..... birth, love, marriage, death with two families, the Gibbs and the Webbs. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Thornton Wilder and directed by Sam Wood (GOODBYE MR. CHIPS). Perhaps the quintessential American play, Wilder's OUR TOWN is stripped down (literally on stage, there are no sets) to its very core where both everything and nothing happens, where life passes by so quickly that it's too soon over. The film is faithful to the play except for the character of Emily (Martha Scott in an Oscar nominated performance) who dies in the play but lives in the film. This was not a whim of the movie people but requested by Wilder himself. Although both were still in their 20s, William Holden and Martha Scott seem too mature for the 17 year olds they're playing but their acting is solid. It's a classic play and the film manages to convey some of the play's poetry though its innocence seems a bit archaic. Only two years later, Wood directed another film about small town life, KINGS ROW but the innocence was gone and when the veil was lifted, we saw the rot. The much admired score is by Aaron Copland. With Thomas Mitchell, Fay Bainter, Beulah Bondi, Guy Kibbee, Stuart Erwin and Frank Craven as the "stage manager" repeating the role he played on stage.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Black Stallion (1979)

Set in 1946, a young boy (Kelly Reno) and his father (Hoyt Axton) are travelling by steamer off the coast of North Africa when a storm and a fire cause the boat to sink. The boy falls overboard but is rescued by a wild black stallion and they both end up on a desert island. Based on the novel by Walter Farley and directed by Carroll Ballard (who's only made six movies) in his feature film debut. This is a lovely piece of film making that is a little less than the sum of its parts. The first fifty minutes of the film are amazing and reminiscent of the 1953 short film WHITE MANE. Those fifty minutes are an eye popping masterpiece. Alas, the rest of the movie while very good is a gender reversal of NATIONAL VELVET and that is reinforced by the presence of Mickey Rooney's horse trainer who could be the adult version of the boy he played in VELVET. It's fine but after the magical desert island sequence, it just seems so ordinary. Perhaps the film makers feel it too because the end credits are played over the island sequence. A family film in the very best sense of the word as opposed to Disney's superficiality. The excellent score is by Carmine Coppola. With Teri Garr, Clarence Muse and Michael Higgins. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Spawn Of The North (1938)

Set in the Alaskan frontier, a seal hunter (George Raft) and a salmon fisherman (Henry Fonda) are best friends. But the friendship is put under a strain when the seal hunter falls in with a Russian poacher (Akim Tamiroff) who steals from fishing traps while the salmon fisherman falls on the side of law and order. Directed by Henry Hathaway (NORTH TO ALASKA), this is a solid piece of action entertainment. It's not particularly well written but Hathaway's direction propels the narrative forward with an assured hand and a relaxed Raft gives one of his more appealing performances. The unanimated Fonda plods away but among the supporting players, Tamiroff acquits himself nicely. The film's special effects (an iceberg avalanche) received an Oscar. Pulchritude is provided by Dorothy Lamour and Louise Platt (STAGECOACH) as Raft's and Fonda's romantic partners but the real scene stealer is a seal called Flicker who gives the film's best performance. Remade in 1954 as ALASKA SEAS. With John Barrymore, Vladimir Sokoloff and Fuzzy Knight.

Germania Anno Zero (aka Germany Year Zero) (1948)

Set in post WWII Berlin, a 12 year old boy (Edmund Moeschke) struggles to survive in a city devastated by war and now occupied by the Allied forces. He lives with his ill father (Ernst Pittschau), sister (Ingetraud Hinze) and older brother (Franz-Otto Kruger) in a flat with three other families. Directed by Roberto Rossellini. Having examined conditions in post WWII Italy in his previous films, Rossellini turns his eye to Germany. It's a disturbing and harrowing film that unflinchingly looks at how the aftermaths of war corrupt an innocent child. When released, it was a controversial film (it wasn't screened in Germany for four years) and divided critics but in the ensuing years, its reputation has only grown. Rossellini eschews sentiment and the film is gritty and honest and he keeps it close to the bone. The majority of the cast are unprofessionals (a practice I've never warmed to) but in this case, the absence of actual acting works. 

Ride The High Country (1962)

An aging ex-lawman (Joel McCrea) is hired to transport gold from a mining camp to a bank. It's too dangerous to go it alone so he hires an old sidekick (Randolph Scott) and his protege (Ron Starr) to help him, unaware the the two plot to steal the gold for themselves. Directed by Sam Peckinpah (THE WILD BUNCH), this is a stunning beauty of a western and Peckinpah's first masterwork. Poetic seems like such a pretentious adjective to describe a movie western but I can't think of another word that so accurately describes the movie in a nutshell. The film is simplicity itself yet it has the weight of complex thematics. By the time they did RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, McCrea and Scott (in his final film role) had over 60 years of experience between them and the history they bring to the film cannot be underestimated. As the young couple, Mariette Hartley and Ron Starr are impressive and while Hartley has had a long career, Starr only did 4 movies and quit acting in 1971. Mention must be made of the cinematography of Lucien Ballard who makes exquisite use of the wide screen format. A bona fide classic. With Warren Oates, James Drury, R.G. Armstrong and Carmen Phillips.    

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Monte Carlo (1986)

As WWII begins to rumble across Europe, Monte Carlo is a haven for a disparate group of people including a Russian cabaret singer (Joan Collins) spying for the British, an American writer (George Hamilton) living off wealthy women, an Irish mercenary (Malcolm McDowell) and an American tourist (Lisa Eilbacher). Based on the novel by Stephen Sheppard and directed by Anthony Page (I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN). A vanity project for Joan Collins (she and her then husband Peter Holm were the executive producers), this three hour telefilm seems a shallow excuse for Collins to change costumes every ten minutes (or so it seems). Collins cast herself as an internationally famous cabaret singer but when we finally hear her sing (the song is The Last Time I Saw Paris), she's flat and amateurish. WWII never looked so glamorous. Oh yes, the Nazis and the Jews are part of the plot but they seem pushed into the background to a dull romance between Collins and Hamilton. I shouldn't be too hard on it because clearly it was never intended to be a serious look at the horror of WWII but a glossy picture postcard version and on that level, I guess it works. With Lauren Hutton, Robert Carradine, Peter Vaughan and Jacques Marin. 

The Tingler (1959)

A pathologist (Vincent Price) discovers that fear can manifest itself physically in the form of a parasite in human beings. Unless the parasite is rendered harmless by releasing the fear in the form of screaming, it's possible for the parasite to kill the human. Directed by schlockmeister William Castle, who produced gimmicky B horror movies that were often crude in execution. But some of them weren't bad at all and THE TINGLER is one of Castle's better efforts (some say it's his best film). The premise is original, decently written and Price's performance has a quiet authority that encourages taking the events seriously, at least until Castle's typically over the top finale which veers toward "camp". In its original theatrical showings, Castle had a number of theatre seats rigged with vibration devices that would "shock" the viewer during certain scenes. A subplot dealing with Price and his adulterous wife (Patricia Cutts, very good) is handled well and doesn't feel like an intrusion to the film's horror elements. With Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Philip Coolidge and Pamela Lincoln.