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Monday, July 26, 2021

Orpheus (1950)

A famous popular poet (Jean Marais) witnesses the injury of a fellow poet (Edouard Dermit) when he is hit by two motorcycle riders outside of a cafe. A mysterious woman (Maria Casares) takes his wounded body in her limousine, ostensibly to take him to the hospital and she asks the poet to accompany her as a witness. Written and directed by Jean Cocteau, this reimagining of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice reflects Cocteau's unique vision of art, death and immortality in a surrealistic dream like allegory. He eschews the conventional romanticism of the myth itself and instead brings his own inky tragic romanticism. While Marais' Orpheus may love Eurydice (Marie Dea), his obsession/love for Death (in the form of a woman) has a stronger pull. It's a complex and unique film, a one of a kind that should excite anyone who loves cinema. I suspect many may not have the patience for it but if you stick with it, you will be amply rewarded. There's a marvelous underscore by Georges Auric. With Francois Perier and Juliette Greco.  

Sunday, July 25, 2021

An American In Paris (2018)

After the end of WWII, an American G.I. (Robert Fairchild) decides to remain in Paris and become a painter. He becomes friends with another American expatriate (David Seadon Young) and an aspiring French singer (Haydn Oakley) and they all fall in love with the same girl (Leanne Cope). A revised stage version of the Oscar winning film musical directed by Christopher Wheeldon (who also did the choreography) and Ross MacGibbon. The 1951 Vincente Minnelli film is one of the landmarks of the American film musical so it's near impossible to put it out of your mind while watching this production. It suffers in the comparison in so many ways. The joie de vivre is gone and replaced with a darker vision. As the title character, Fairchild is a cipher. He's a good dancer but he lacks presence and more importantly, the sex appeal which Gene Kelly had (it's what set him apart from Astaire). The dancing is good but the choreography isn't fresh, it seems recycled (and not from the 1951 movie). The songs are still by George & Ira Gershwin but some of the new additions seem arbitrary like Fidgety Feet which comes out of nowhere. What's stunning about this production is the Tony winning set design by Bob Crowley which is truly awesome and creative but ultimately (to borrow from another musical), it's just "razzle dazzle" (thank you, Kander & Ebb) to hide the mediocrity of the production. With Jane Asher as Oakley's mother giving the best performance in the show and Zoe Rainey.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Georgetown (2020)

Set in the political and social circles of Washington D.C., an eccentric and smooth talking social climber (Christoph Waltz) is married to a much older woman (Vanessa Redgrave), who is wealthy and has social connections. But when his wife is found dead in her home in the early hours of the morning, her daughter (Annette Bening) suspects he might be complicit in her death and a police investigation uncovers a larger deception. Based on the New York Times article THE WORST MARRIAGE IN GEORGETOWN by Franklin Foer and directed by Christoph Waltz. Foer's article documented the murder of Washington socialite, Viola Herms Drath and the movie fictionalizes the events so rather than "this is a true story" at the film's beginning, we get "inspired by a true story". First shown in 2019 at the Tribeca film festival, the film was picked up by Paramount which gave it a limited release theatrically this year before heading to video on demand. It's a pity it seemed to get lost in the shuffle because it's a very good film. For anyone interested in murder mysteries or true crime stories, this is manna. I was riveted right from the beginning and what a joy to see Vanessa Redgrave in a leading role (though she's killed off in the beginning, she's prominent in the flashbacks) after playing so many small supporting roles in recent years. Naturally, she's excellent and Waltz is marvelous oozing graciousness while hiding his real self. In a smaller part, Annette Bening is quite good as the suspicious daughter. With Corey Hawkins and Laura De Carteret.

Mackenna's Gold (1969)

An old legend about a fortune in gold in a hidden canyon guarded by Apache spirits stirs gold fever in a group of people including a Mexican outlaw (Omar Sharif) and a sheriff (Gregory Peck) who has a map memorized in his head after he burned the original map he took from a dying Apache (Eduardo Ciannelli). Based on the novel by Heck Allen and adapted for the screen by Carl Foreman (HIGH NOON) and directed by J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE). There isn't much love for this film, not when it was first released and not now but I'm quite fond of it myself despite its shortcomings. Shot in Super Panavision 70 millimeter, it was intended to be a prestigious roadshow production (including overture and intermission) running around three hours. But it ended up cut by almost an hour and released in standard 35 millimeter. A flop in the U.S., it did terrific business overseas including Russia and India, where it out grossed JAWS and STAR WARS. The cinematography by Joseph MacDonald (SAND PEBBLES) of the Utah and Oregon locations is quite impressive despite some appalling rear projection work. The rousing score is by Quincy Jones. The huge cast includes Edward G. Robinson, Eli Wallach, Telly Savalas, Keenan Wynn, Raymond Massey, Burgess Meredith, Julie Newmar, Lee J. Cobb, Camilla Sparv and Anthony Quayle.

Friday, July 23, 2021

O'Hara's Wife (1982)

A workaholic attorney (Edward Asner) is finally persuaded by his wife (Mariette Hartley) to take some time off for a vacation to Europe. But the evening before their trip, the wife has a cerebral hemorrhage that leaves her brain dead and eventually she is taken off of life support. But shortly after her funeral, she appears to her husband as a ghost (or hallucination) though no one else can see or hear her. Directed by William Bartman whose only directorial film credit this is. Although this was a theatrical film, it cries out TV movie. Not only Asner and Hartley but Tom Bosley and Ray Walston are in it too. Only Jodie Foster as Asner's daughter suggests otherwise. After its grim beginning, it turns comedic and while the presence of a being no one else can see or hear is usually foolproof material for laughs, this film can't even get that right. There are zero special effects, they won't even let Hartley walk through a wall or door. The film's score by Artie Butler reeks 1980s right down to the mawkish power ballad sung by Billy Preston that closes the movie. With Kelly Bishop and Perry Lang.

Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938)

When King Richard (Ian Hunter) is away on the Crusades in the Holy Land, his brother Prince John (Claude Rains) usurps his throne and begins a tyranny of terror against the Saxon citizens. A Saxon nobleman (Errol Flynn) takes it upon himself to fight against the Norman oppressors until the return of the King. Directed by Michael Curtiz who replaced the original director William Keighley (apparently Hal Wallis didn't care for his direction) though both men received directorial credit. The direction is seamless, you can't detect any change in tone by the switch in directors. What can one say about the most beloved and enduring adventure film of its era other than sheer perfection? The stunning three strip Technicolor images of Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito (shockingly not even Oscar nominated), the glorious score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the Oscar winning art direction of Carl Jules Weyl, the vivid costumes by Milo Anderson and Ralph Dawson's razor sharp editing are all flawless! And what a cast! Though not the first actor to play the character, Errol Flynn is the definitive Robin Hood and every actor who came after suffered in comparison. No lovelier Maid Marian than Olivia De Havilland, superb villainy in Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone and the supporting cast of character actors are the best! Am I gushing too much? Sorry but I can't find anything to nitpick! With Patric Knowles, Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale, Una O'Connor, Montagu Love, Herbert Mundin and Melville Cooper.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Yearling (1946)

Set in 1878 Florida, an ex-confederate soldier (Gregory Peck) and his wife (Jane Wyman) live in the backwoods and struggle to support themselves with their meager crops. Their 11 year old son (Claude Jarman Jr.) has a passion for animals and when his father is forced to kill a doe, the boy adopts the doe's orphaned fawn. Based on the Pulitzer prize winning novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and directed by Clarence Brown (THE RAINS CAME). I love this movie! It's a beautifully crafted family film in the best sense of the word. This isn't a Disneyfied look at pioneer life but a hard look at the struggles of surviving in the wilderness while also sharing an emotional observation of children and their love of animals. The underrated Brown had already shown his uncanny ability of looking at the bond of children and animals in NATIONAL VELVET two years earlier, so he seemed an obvious choice. Cast against type, Peck and Wyman (in Oscar nominated performances) are surprisingly effective, shedding their movie star auras as the rustic parents. In young Jarman, Brown brings out a natural performance without the usual forced acting in so many child actors of the era and not just Jarman but a lovely performance by Donn Gifft as his tragic friend. The haunting score is by Herbert Stothart (borrowing from Delius). Be sure you have plenty of Kleenex on hand. With Forrest Tucker, Margaret Wycherly, Chill Wills, June Lockhart, Henry Travers and Jeff York.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Lo Sceicco Bianco (aka The White Sheik) (1952)

A provincial couple arrive in Rome for their honeymoon. While the groom (Leopoldo Trieste) plans a big day including a papal visit with his relatives, his wife (Brunella Bovo) sneaks off to find the dashing soap opera hero (Alberto Sordi) of her fantasies. Directed by Federico Fellini in his solo directorial debut (he co-directed VARIETY LIGHTS). This charming romantic comedy is a rare foray into the genre by Fellini. His later work would never again display such a whimsical light touch. He is able to satirize (but with affection, not condescendingly) the romantic fantasies of the bourgeois young girls and housewives who devoured the then popular photo strip magazines (a forerunner of the graphic novel?). In a small role, Giulietta Masina plays the prostitute Cabiria who Fellini would later expand into a full length film as NIGHTS OF CABIRIA. The plot was "borrowed" by Woody Allen for TO ROME WITH LOVE. With Lilia Landi, Ernesto Almirante and Ugo Attanasio. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Der Hund Von Baskerville (1914)

After murdering his uncle, his nephew (Friedrich Kuhne) plots to kill the heir (Erwin Fichter) to the Baskerville fortune so that he, as the last surviving heir, will inherit the Baskerville castle and lands. Loosely based on the classic novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and directed by Rudolf Meinert. Conan Doyle's novel has seen countless adaptations for the stage, film and television. This one is one of the weakest. There's no mystery because at the very beginning of the movie, we see the nephew using a dog to perpetuate the myth of the Baskerville curse so he can inherit the fortune. As for the "ferocious" hound, he's rather a playful sweetie. So it's rather disappointing when Sherlock Holmes (Alwin Neub) enters the story because we know more than he does. The film benefits from the expressionistic cinematography of Werner Brandes and Karl Freund which gives the film a visual style like the human eyes staring out of a statue or when Holmes slides down a long curved tube like waste being discharged by the human body. The character of Doctor Watson is a mere walk on, so much so that the actor playing him doesn't even get a film credit. Of archival interest to Sherlock Holmes completists. With Hanni Weisse and Andres Von Horn.

Five Golden Dragons (1967)

An American playboy (Robert Cummings) on vacation in Hong Kong inadvertently finds himself involved in international intrigue when a mysterious note is sent to him by a murder victim. Directed by Jeremy Summers, this is a rather inept action comedy with an aged and tired looking Cummings giving a charmless performance. It needed the kind of performance that Roger Moore was effortlessly giving on a regular basis during his tenure as James Bond but which defeats Cummings. The action sequences are weak like a foot chase across Chinese junks which goes nowhere and a ridiculous sequence with Cummings being chased by the most inept ninjas imaginable. Then the movie stops cold while three songs are sung, two by the film's femme fatale Margaret Lee (dubbed by a singer called Domino) and one by Yukari Ito. On the upside, the wide screen Techniscope images of Hong Kong courtesy of John Von Kotze are quite handsome. With George Raft, Christopher Lee, Dan Duryea, Brian Donlevy, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm, Rupert Davies, Roy Chiao and Maria Perschy.   

Sunday, July 18, 2021

What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1991)

In a decaying mansion, an alcoholic and mentally unstable ex-child star (Lynn Redgrave) takes care of her wheelchair bound sister (Vanessa Redgrave), a famous film actress until an accident paralyzed her. Based on the novel by Henry Farrell (previously filmed in 1962) and directed by David Greene (GRAY LADY DOWN). This misguided remake alters both the 1960 novel and 1962 movie by updating it and not for the better. Lynn Redgrave's Jane Hudson isn't the monster Bette Davis was in the 1962 film, she's more pathetic and sympathetic. Victor Buono's mama's boy in the 1962 film is now a seedy drag queen played by John Glover. Rather than set the story in the 1960s, it's brought up to date to the 90s so Baby Jane isn't an ex-vaudeville star but an ex-child movie star. Part of the dynamics of the 62 film was the potent pairing of two iconic stars of the Golden Age, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford with a well known dislike of each other. That's gone and what we have are two famous actresses from an acting dynasty with a rare opportunity to act opposite each other. There's nothing to fault in their performances, they're quite good but the material lets them down. The film lacks the cruel wit of the Robert Aldrich film as when Crawford complains that Davis wouldn't abuse her if she weren't confined to a wheelchair and Davis responds with glee, "But you are, Blanche. You are in a wheelchair". This production could have used some of that. It takes itself too seriously. For fans of the Redgrave sisters only. With Barry Dennen and Amy Steel. 

Everybody Does It (1949)

The wife (Celeste Holm) of a salvage contractor (Paul Douglas) has ambitions to become an opera singer but her talent is mediocre. Meanwhile, the contractor discovers he has a legitimate classical voice and an opera diva (Linda Darnell) encourages him to pursue a professional career. Based on the short story TWO CAN SING by James M. Cain (MILDRED PIERCE) which was previously filmed in 1939 and directed by Edmund Goulding (GRAND HOTEL). This was Paul Douglas's first time at bat in a leading role after supporting roles in two films. While he certainly can hold the screen in a leading role, it's a pity he didn't get a better vehicle than this rather lame comedy. While it starts off promisingly, it soon descends into an uncomfortably anti-opera mechanism. The kind of stuff that would get laughs from someone who attends the opera but doesn't really like it and falls asleep. The film's humor gets its laughs at the idea of a "Neanderthal" wrecking contractor singing in grand opera. Naturally, after trashing the opera stage of its pretensions, the brute returns to his happily chastised wife ..... fade out. With Charles Coburn, George Tobias, John Hoyt, Lucile Watson and Millard Mitchell. 

French Exit (2021)

When an eccentric and self absorbed Manhattan heiress (Michelle Pfeiffer) finds out her money is depleted, she and her son (Lucas Hedges) move to Paris with the remaining funds she has left. Based on the novel by Patrick De Witt (who adapted his book for the screen) and directed by Azazel Jacobs. For most of its running time, this is an engaging quirky black comedy with a touch of the absurd and supernatural (a pet cat is possessed). One can see why Pfeiffer was attracted to the role, it's a terrific part and she gives it everything she's got. While one can admire the way she lives her life on her own terms, she's not a particularly likable character. In fact, there are no likable characters in the film. One can't even like the damn cat! After awhile, it all starts wearing thin and you want to yell at the characters, "Get a bloody grip!". But its vision is unique and the performances excellent with Pfeiffer reminding us what a hell of an actress she can be. But it's an elusive film with nothing for us to grab on to. Still, it should be seen for Pfeiffer's "go to hell" performance. With Valerie Mahaffey, Imogen Poots, Danielle MacDonald and Tracy Letts as the possessed cat.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Drums Along The Mohawk (1939)

Set in 1776, a girl (Claudette Colbert) from a wealthy family marries a farmer (Henry Fonda) and they move to to a small farm near the Mohawk Valley. But their peaceful lives are interrupted when the valley is attacked by Mohawk Indians led by a British loyalist (John Carradine). Based on the novel by Walter D. Edmonds and directed by John Ford. Shot in gorgeous three strip Technicolor by Bert Glennon and Ray Renahan with Utah substituting for upstate New York, the film may not be one of Ford's worst but it's far from his best! As usual for Hollywood in this era, historical accuracy is put aside in favor of the filmmakers' agenda. It uses every cliche in the book so we have to wade through another interminable "boil some hot water" baby delivery while the father nervously awaits the birth and then there's the German parson (Arthur Shields) with an Irish accent (hey, it's a Ford movie) pontificating and talking to God in the midst of all the slaughter and of course, when we meet the film's most likable character, a feisty widow (Edna May Oliver in an Oscar nominated performance), we know she'll be toast before the movie is over. I gave up after awhile and just waited for the damn thing to end. With Ward Bond, Jessie Ralph, Robert Lowery and Kay Linaker.  

The Diamond Trap (1988)

When he gets the word on the street that a big diamond heist at an auction gallery is in the planning stages, a New York City detective (Howard Hesseman) coerces a gallery employee (Brooke Shields) into helping him thwart the robbery. But everything is not as it seems and it all goes horribly wrong! Based on the novel THE GREAT DIAMOND ROBBERY by John Minahan and directed by Don Taylor (DAMIEN: OMEN II). It's a pity that the movie's lead is the charmless uncharismatic Hesseman because his dreary presence aside, it's an entirely watchable if predictable heist caper. The first half is set in New York (though mostly shot in L.A.) but the second half takes place in England. The film's lame attempts at humor only hinder the movie and it would have been better if they had kept it straight down the line. I've not read the book the film is based upon but I suspect it's grittier and the humor has been (misguidedly) added here. With Twiggy, Darren McGavin, Ed Marinaro, Nicholas Pryor and Dick O'Neill.

Les Diaboliques (aka Diabolique) (1955)

Set at a lower tier boarding school for boys in Paris, the mistress (Simone Signoret) and the wife (Vera Clouzot) of a sadistic womanizer (Paul Meurisse) plot to murder him. Based on the novel CELLE QUI N'ETAIT PLUS by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac and directed by Henri Georges Clouzot (WAGES OF FEAR). This cleverly crafted thriller is one of those influential films that have been so endlessly imitated since its debut that audiences new to the film may not get why it is considered a classic in the genre but its impact on generations of film and film makers cannot be ignored. It was one of the first films with a "twist" ending (unless you count those "it was all a dream" movies from the 1940s). Clouzot imbues the film with a strained atmosphere that only increases as the plot progresses. As the mistress and abusive husband, Signoret and Meurisse are perfect and if the film has a weakness, it's the director's wife who can't quite hold her own with her acting partners. The film was a sensation with arthouse audiences and critics in the U.S. but the British critics were rather prissy toward it. With Charles Vanel, Michel Serrault and Pierre Larquey.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Straight Story (1999)

After his brother (Harry Dean Stanton) has a stroke, his elderly estranged brother (Richard Farnsworth) makes up his mind to visit him and make their peace. But his brother lives in Wisconsin and he lives in Iowa and he can't drive a car because of his fading eyesight and weak legs. So he decides to drive his lawn mower from Iowa to Wisconsin. Directed by David Lynch (BLUE VELVET), this is inspired by the true story of Alvin Straight. The unlikely pairing of Lynch and Walt Disney brings us this lovely episodic piece of of cinematic Americana. The film isn't so much about the destination as his journey. Lynch doesn't condescend to the film's rural characters, they aren't stereotypes to be laughed at (well, maybe the twin brothers), Lynch is respectful and admiring. Perhaps too respectful. Everyone's so nice, surely there was one jerk Straight met on his journey. Farnsworth (who was already dying of cancer while making the movie) gives a wonderful performance in his final film role. As his mentally challenged daughter with a heartbreaking backstory, Sissy Spacek brings a great deal of pathos to her character. The expert cinematography is by the great Freddie Francis and the gentle score is by Angelo Badalamenti. With Everett McGill and Anastasia Webb. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

High Anxiety (1977)

A renowned Harvard psychiatrist (Mel Brooks), who has a paralyzing fear of heights, has become the head of a psychiatric institute whose previous head died under mysterious circumstances. Written and directed by Mel Brooks, this comedy homage to the films of Alfred Hitchcock is often quite funny ..... if you're familiar with Hitchcock's films. If you're not attuned or intimate with Hitchcock's filmography, it's quite likely the movie will go over your head so there's a limited audience for this film. When a character says "Mr. MacGuffin called" it may bring a smile to the lips of the film buff but it's meaningless to everybody else. Among the Hitchcock films referenced here are PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, SPELLBOUND, DIAL M FOR MURDER, VERTIGO, SABOTEUR and film geeks will recognize references to Antotioni's BLOW UP and Minnelli's THE COBWEB as well. Actually, two of the film's high points aren't related to Hitchcock at all: Brooks singing the movie's title song a la Sinatra and Brooks and Madeline Kahn impersonating a battling Jewish couple at the airport. With Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, Ron Carey, Howard Morris and Dick Van Patten, whose death scene (locked in a car with loud rock music blaring) is more disturbing than amusing.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Der Mann, Der Sherlock Holmes War (aka The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes) (1937)

Two con men pass themselves off as Sherlock Holmes (Hans Albers) and Dr. Watson (Heinz Ruhmann) and a gullible public are more than happy to swallow the deceit. But they do have deductive skills and soon find themselves aiding the police in breaking a massive forgery ring. Directed by Karl Hartl, this wacky comedy is quite amusing for most of its running time but it can't sustain its one joke premise and it runs out of steam way before its dull courtroom conclusion. Albers and Ruhmann (two of the most popular German film actors in history, they worked right through the Nazi era without their popularity suffering) have an easy going chemistry and play off each other quite well. They even have a musical number as they sing to each other while taking separate baths. It's all very silly but endearing. With Marieluise Claudius, Hansi Knoteck and Hilde Weissner.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

Set in rural Pennsylvania, a returning space probe from Venus is responsible for the sudden resurrection of dead bodies that need human flesh to sustain themselves. Barricaded in a farm house, seven people fight for their lives against the marauding zombies. Directed by George Romero in his feature film debut. It's a crudely made low budget film (but that crudeness works in the film's favor) and the acting is frequently cringe inducing but there's no denying its effectiveness nor its influence on a generation of movies and film makers. Its graphic violence was quite controversial at the time (Variety in its review called it an "unrelieved orgy of sadism") though subsequent horror films have long since gone even further. Whatever one's reaction to it and I'm not the film's biggest fan, it remains an important piece of genre cinema and should be seen at least once by anyone remotely interested in film. With Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman.

Monday, July 12, 2021

The Ghosts Of Buxley Hall (1980)

When a 100 year old military academy goes co-ed in an attempt to stave off foreclosure, the resident ghosts (Dick O'Neill, Victor French, Louise Latham) are appalled and attempt to disrupt the  cohabitation. But they have a bigger enemy when a wicked wealthy matron (Ruta Lee) plots to buy the school and then raze it to the ground. Directed by Bruce Bilson (NORTH AVENUE IRREGULARS), this is the kind of inane family comedy that gives live action Disney movies a bad name though I suspect it might appeal to the 10 and under set. The two child actor leads (Rad Daly, Tricia Cast) are generic but the adult supporting cast try hard but the material just isn't there. It resurrects every ghost comedy cliche since the 1920s! With John Ericson, Monte Markham, Don Porter, Steve Franken and Vito Scotti.

A Woman's Face (1941)

A bitter young woman (Joan Crawford) with a disfigured face due to a fire when she was a child despises everyone around her. When a plastic surgeon (Melvyn Douglas) corrects the disfigurement, she is torn between her loathsome criminal lover (Conrad Veidt) and starting a new life. Based on the play IL ETAIT UNE FOIS by Francis De Croisset which was previously filmed in Sweden in 1938 with Ingrid Bergman. Directed by George Cukor, this MGM remake keeps the Swedish setting. This is one of Joan Crawford's very best performances. It's a restrained and nuanced performance without the mannerisms that would infect her acting when she went to Warner Brothers. George Cukor had a reputation of being a "woman's director" because he brought out the best in his actresses including Garbo in CAMILLE, Ingrid Bergman in GASLIGHT, Katharine Hepburn in PHILADELPHIA STORY and Judy Garland in A STAR IS BORN to name but a handful so I suspect he might have had a lot to do with Crawford's superior work here. The film itself is a solid melodrama incorporating a flashback structure as Crawford is on trial for murder. With Marjorie Main, Osa Massen, Albert Bassermann, Reginald Owen, Connie Gilchrist, George Zucco, Donald Meek and Henry Daniell.  

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Set in 1929 Chicago, a saxophone player (Tony Curtis) and a double bass player (Jack Lemmon) witness the massacre of several men by a gangster (George Raft) and his henchman. In order to escape retribution from the gangsters, they disguise themselves as women in an all girl band heading to Florida. Directed by Billy Wilder, this classic is almost always hailed as one of the greatest comedies of all time. It's a reputation that's hard to live up to and while there are moments in the movie that are pure comedy genius, I find its humor erratic. For example, the whole yacht sequence with Curtis (doing Cary Grant) seducing Marilyn Monroe wears out its welcome very quickly but it goes on and on or at least seems to. For me, the sum of its parts are greater than the whole. Fortunately for us, the cast is beyond marvelous with Lemmon stealing the show and Monroe and Curtis showing us what star power can do. With Joe E. Brown (hilarious), Nehemiah Persoff, Joan Shawlee and Pat O'Brien.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Dragged Across Concrete (2019)

Two cops (Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn) are suspended from the force when a video showing them using excessive force on a Hispanic drug dealer (Noel G) while arresting him is released. At the same time, a young black man (Tory Kittles) is released from prison to find his mother (Vanessa Bell Calloway) has turned hooker to support his younger wheelchair bound brother (Myles Truitt). The two storylines will merge in a bloody clash of violence. Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler (BONE TOMAHAWK), a two and a half hour cop movie starring Gibson and Vaughn was the last thing I would be interested in but someone whose opinion I trust recommended it highly and I'm glad I listened. It's a riveting and dark noir-ish crime thriller that knows the movie is in the details so Zahler takes his time setting up his characters so we know them. Even a minor character like the new mother (Jennifer Carpenter) with anxieties about leaving her infant to return to work gets her moment when most directors would probably eliminate the character all together because she slowed down the action but Zahler knows that her character's fate brings some much needed humanity to the film. Carpenter's character is one of the film's few innocents as almost everybody else is crooked from the cops to the drug dealers whose bank heist leads to a bloody showdown. This is no cop buddies movie so don't expect LETHAL WEAPON. There are no car chases, no explosions but the film is very violent including a graphic (and I do mean graphic) disembowelment. With Don Johnson, Udo Keir, Michael Jai White, Laurie Holden and Thomas Kretschmann.

Irma Vep (1996)

A Hong Kong action star (Maggie Cheung), who doesn't speak any French, arrives in Paris to make an updated version of Louis Feuillade's silent serial LES VAMPIRES. But things go wrong from the very start of production and eventual chaos ensues. Directed by Olivier Assayas (CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA), this experimental film questions the contemporary state of French cinema as art and commercialism clash while the camera's eye lovingly caresses Maggie Cheung playing Maggie Cheung or at least a version of herself. But as wonderful as she is (which is pretty wonderful), Cheung is not the whole movie. Nathalie Richard as a lesbian costume designer provides some of the film's best moments while Jean Pierre Leaud as an admired but complicated director frustrated with the film and Lou Castel as the hack who eventually replaces him furnish two contrasting views of film makers. Its freewheeling improvisatory feel (though the film is scripted) may be off putting to some but the dividends are worth it. With Bulle Ogier, Nathalie Boutefeu, Dominique Faysse and Antoine Bassier.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Sette Scialli Di Seta Gialla (aka Crimes of the Black Cat) (1972)

After a young model (Isabelle Marchall) seemingly dies of a heart attack, her lover (Anthony Steffen) and his butler (Umberto Raho) begin their own investigation into the death and soon find an intertwined series of serial murders, all involving a black cat and a yellow shawl. Directed by Sergio Pastore, this is an above average giallo clearly influenced by Dario Argento's BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE but it also has much in common with the 1956 thriller 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET. So much so that I'd be surprised if the screenwriters hadn't seen it as a couple of scenes are lifted from it. It's stylish and atmospheric although a graphically brutal murder in the shower is so detailed that I thought it went too far and I had to close my eyes until it was over. I watched it in Italian but in the English language version, Steffen is dubbed by Edmund Purdom. The effective score is by Manuel De Sica (GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINIS). With Sylva Koscina, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Shirley Corrigan, Renato De Carmine and Susan Leclerc.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

It Happens Every Spring (1949)

A university college professor (Ray Milland) discovers a compound that causes baseballs to curve. He uses this knowledge to become a pitching phenomenon with a St. Louis baseball team. Directed by Lloyd Bacon (MARKED WOMAN), this baseball fantasy is agreeable enough if on the pedestrian side. The question of the unethical use of scientific enhancement rather than skill to win baseball games is never questioned. Of course if this actually happened, the team would be eliminated from the major leagues or at least fined. But this is a movie fantasy after all so it's best not to dwell on it. I'm not a fan of sports movies but the humor keeps it watchable and there's a nice performance by Paul Douglas as the team's catcher. With Jean Peters, Ed Begley, Debra Paget, Jessie Royce Landis, Ray Collins and Ted De Corsia. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Madame X (1937)

When her furious husband (Warren William) discovers she has been having an affair, a wife (Gladys George) begs for a second chance but her husband throws her out of the house and swears she will never see their son again. As the years pass, she turns to alcohol and leads a life of degradation. Based on the play by Alexandre Bisson and directed by Sam Wood (GOODBYE MR. CHIPS). Bisson's play has been filmed over ten times through out the world and in America alone it has been filmed six times. In addition to Gladys George here, the role has been played by Dorothy Donnelly (1916), Pauline Frederick (1920), Ruth Chatterton (1929), Lana Turner (1966) and Tuesday Weld (1972). It's a hoary old melodrama about mother love with a twist. On trial for murder, she is defended by the son (John Beals) she abandoned who doesn't know she's his mother! The success of this oft told tale falls on the shoulder of the actress playing Madame X and here Gladys George triumphs. She was fresh off a best actress Oscar nomination the year before and her knock their socks off performance here (you won't forget her big courtroom scene) suggested a major career ahead but it never happened, she was relegated to supporting work. With Ruth Hussey, Reginald Owen, Henry Daniell and Emma Dunn.

La Vie Devant Soi (aka Madame Rosa) (1977)

An elderly woman (Simone Signoret), who is a Holocaust survivor and former prostitute, takes care of children to support herself. Some are abandoned, some are the children of working prostitutes. But her favorite is an Algerian boy (Samy Ben Youb) left by his pimp father and prostitute mother some 11 years earlier. Based on the novel by Romain Gary and directed by Moshe Mizrahi. Winner of the best foreign language film Oscar, this is a bittersweet tale of aging, life and death, survival and the necessity of love if one is to exist. Viewed in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its message of the great warmth and affection between an old Jewish woman and a young Arab boy is still relevant today. More than forty years have passed since the movie and sadly, nothing has changed. Signoret is magnificent, she brings over three decades of experience to her role and invests it with the stature only a great actress can bring to it. With Claude Dauphin, Gabriel Jabbour, Michal Bat Adam, Stella Annicette and Costa-Gavras (yes, the director). 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Fear And Desire (1953)

Set in an unnamed country during an unnamed war, four soldiers (Frank Silvera, Paul Mazursky, Kenneth Harp, Steve Coit) find themselves behind enemy lines after their plane has crashed. Lost in a forest, they build a raft to take them down the river and wait till nightfall. Shot, edited, produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick in his feature film debut. While clearly the work of a talented film maker, the film is pretentious, amateurish and badly acted. Of the actors, Virginia Leith as the only female in the cast comes off best but that's probably because her role is silent and she's not required to deliver Howard Sackler's (who would go on to write THE GREAT WHITE HOPE) awful dialogue. On the plus side, Kubrick's stark B&W cinematography is stunning and Gerald Fried's underscore gives the film a professional sheen. Of interest to see a major film maker at the very beginning of his career but only the most diehard Kubrick fanboy would call it a great or even good film. Everything would fall into place for Kubrick three years later and THE KILLING (1956). 

Passions (1984)

A prominent businessman (Richard Crenna) leads a double life. He has a wife (Joanne Woodward) and 20 year old daughter (Heather Langenkamp) in Beverly Hills and a mistress (Lindsay Wagner) and six year old son (R.J. Williams) in a Malibu beach home. But when he has a stroke, the two worlds meet. Directed by Sandor Stern, this trashy soap opera is a ripoff of BACK STREET (made three times) and offers no surprises or insight and it's too deadly serious to rival the kitschy glam of the 1961 film version of BACK STREET. At first, the movie seems like an exercise to excuse adultery but by the mawkish ending, it seems to acknowledge that both women were victims of a man who wanted his cake and eat it too. The only remotely believable character in the whole thing is Joanne Woodward's enraged wife, furious at the man who betrayed her and put her in this position and that's in her performance, not the writing. With Viveca Lindfors and Mason Adams.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans (1927)

A farmer (George O'Brien) in a coastal town is having an affair with a woman (Margaret Livingston) vacationing from the city. She urges him to murder his wife (Janet Gaynor in an Oscar winning performance) and then come with her back to the city. Based on the short story THE EXCURSION TO TILSIT by Hermann Sudermann and directed by the German director F.W. Murnau (NOSFERATU) in his American film debut. Not only on every list of the greatest films of the silent era but the greatest films ever made, period. While its plot is simple (but not simplistic), its execution is brilliant. Visually, it doesn't look like any other American film made in the silent era. Murnau, who had complete artistic control, brings his strong expressionistic style to the bearing of the movie. It didn't win the best picture Oscar (that went to WINGS) but even back then, they knew this was something special and it received its own Oscar for being "unique and artistic". Murnau's death at 42 was a tragedy. Who knows how many other masterpieces he had in him. With J. Farrell MacDonald, Ralph Sipperly and Jane Winton.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Taming Of The Shrew (1967)

Set in 16th century Italy, the father (Michael Hordern) of two daughters refuses to let his younger daughter (Natasha Pyne) be married until her older sister (Elizabeth Taylor) is married off. But the elder sister is a foul tempered shrew and finding her a husband will prove difficult. Enter a coarse lout (Richard Burton) looking to marry for money. Based on the play by William Shakespeare and directed by Franco Zeffirelli (ROMEO AND JULIET). One of Shakespeare's more accessible plays, Zeffirelli has trimmed the text considerably to focus on Kate and Petruchio, the characters played by Taylor and Burton. It's a handsome production with detailed art direction and lush costumes perfectly captured by Oswald Morris (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF). Taylor and Burton throw themselves into their roles with abandon and they seem to be having a rip roaring good time at it, too. While Taylor has proven she can play a contemporary shrew (WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?) quite well, she lacks a classical actress's training which makes her stick out in the cast. She manages to get through it on sheer star power but her inadequacy shows. As to the film, there's no getting around its uncomfortable attitude and treatment of women which rankles contemporary sensibilities. The only way to make the "I am ashamed that women are so simple" speech which closes the play work for a modern audience is to make it ironic or insincere but Taylor delivers it sincerely. That aside, the production is feisty and fun. The lively score is by Nino Rota. With Michael York, Cyril Cusack, Alan Webb and Alfred Lynch.

Love Before Breakfast (1936)

A wealthy businessman (Preston Foster) is madly in love with a dizzy socialite (Carole Lombard) who is engaged to another man (Cesar Romero). He buys the company her fiance works for and packs him off to Japan so he can have a clear field with the socialite. Based on the short story SPINSTER DINNER by Faith Baldwin and directed by Walter Lang (THE KING AND I). This is one annoying screwball comedy! Yapping away at a mile a minute, Lombard is at her most irritating but even if she had been at her best, she's stuck with Preston Foster who doesn't appear to have a comedic bone in his body so there's no one for her to play off of. Foster's character is a manipulating bully who won't take no for an answer yet they're both so self centered, they clearly deserve each other. A gross miscalculation! With Janet Beecher, Betty Lawford and Joyce Compton.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Uncut Gems (2019)

Set in New York's Diamond District, a Jewish jeweler and gambling addict (Adam Sandler) must recover an expensive gem that he purchased to pay off his debts. To say everything goes wrong is an understatement. Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, the film starts out with an intensity level of 10 and never lets up for the next two hours. Within the first 15 minutes of the film, you get the sense that this will all end badly and in that respect, the film accomplishes its goal. It's just a matter of how far will it go before it all comes crashing down on our protagonist. Sandler is just fantastic here, going all the way with his loser character. But that's also problematic because we don't care about what happens to him. He's a total dickwad, a jerk so addicted to gambling that he'd sell his own kids if he thought he could get away with it. When his soon to be ex-wife (Idina Menzel) says "You're the most annoying person I know", you feel her pain. He's a pathetic a-hole so it's a compliment to Sandler's performance that he can still hold your attention while engaging in the most moronic actions. Taut and tough, it's a gem (pun intended) of a crime thriller. With Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch, Abel Tesfaye and John Amos.

Friday, July 2, 2021

A Matter Of Life And Death (aka Stairway To Heaven) (1946)

During the waning days of WWII, a British bomber pilot (David Niven) flying over the English channel is scheduled to die when he jumps out of his plane (his parachute has been destroyed) but through an error, he survives. When the "guide" (Marius Goring) comes to escort him to the "other world", the pilot refuses to go because he has fallen in love with an American radio operator (Kim Hunter). A heavenly trial will decide his fate. Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (although his contribution was more toward the producing and writing end). Shot in vivid three strip Technicolor with the color being removed from the heavenly sequences, this romantic fantasy is beloved by many. I quite enjoyed myself but honestly, I found the whole trial sequence which closes the movie quite tedious. The great cinematographer Jack Cardiff's contribution can not be underestimated and not only in the color portions of the film. Alfred Junge's production design (that stairway to heaven!) and Allan Gray's score are also important. I wished I liked it more but quite frankly, I infinitely prefer their darker and more complex BLACK NARCISSUS and THE RED SHOES to this piece of romantic whimsy. With Raymond Massey, Roger Livesey, Robert Coote, Kathleen Byron, Richard Attenborough and Abraham Sofaer.

A Doll's House (1973)

Set in 1879 Norway, a young housewife (Claire Bloom) seems content to be a mother to three children and the wife of an authoritarian husband (Anthony Hopkins). But she has borrowed money without her husband's knowledge from a lender (Denholm Elliott) who is threatening to expose her unless she uses her influence on her spouse to the lender's advantage. Based on the classic play by Henrik Ibsen and directed by Patrick Garland. Ibsen's play has (sadly) never dated, its portrait of a woman in a patriarch dominated society as relevant today as in 1879. The play sent shock waves throughout the theatre world and beyond when originally performed. The very idea of a woman abandoning her husband and children to "find herself" was unheard of. The play itself is Ibsen's most popular and continues to be performed on a regular basis through out the world. In addition to Bloom, the role of Nora has been performed by Jane Fonda, Liv Ullmann, Vera Miles, Ruth Gordon and Gillian Anderson among many others. Bloom had performed the play on Broadway in 1971 with Garland at the helm and its success led to this filmization. The success of A DOLL'S HOUSE rests on the shoulders of the actress playing Nora and Bloom carries the mantle beautifully. Her delicate and desperate Nora subtly giving way to a realization that her entire marriage is a fraud. With Ralph Richardson, Edith Evans and Anna Massey. 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

An ichthyologist (Richard Carlson) persuades his boss (Richard Denning) to fund an expedition to the Amazon to look for fossil remains that would link sea creatures to land animals. Directed by Jack Arnold (IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE), this sci-fi/horror classic introduced the last of the great Universal monsters. Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy were from the 1930s with the Wolf Man debuting in the 1940s. The Creature was popular enough to spawn two sequels (1955, 1956). The film owes much to KING KONG as it parallels that narrative of an excursion to an exotic location where a creature (the giant ape in KING KONG, the gill man here) is smitten with a beautiful girl (Fay Wray in KK, Julie Adams here) which brings his downfall. The underwater photography is excellent and cinematographer William E. Snyder's underwater "ballet" with the gill man lovingly stalking Julie Adams underwater while she swims on the surface remains one of the indelible images of horror cinema. The inspiration for Guillermo Del Toro's Oscar winning THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017). With Perry Lopez, Antonio Moreno, Whit Bissell and Nestor Paiva.

The Duke Of West Point (1938)

A brash American (Louis Hayward) raised in England is sent by his father (Jonathan Hale) to West Point. With his arrogant manner and tendency to disregard tradition, he's not very popular with his fellow cadets. Directed by Alfred E. Green (THE JOLSON STORY), Hayward's character is difficult to warm to with his smug superiority and a continual smirk on his face. You know it's just a matter of time before he gets his comeuppance and it's a doozy. The film is overlong and the lengthy ice hockey game that dominates the film's conclusion seems an anti-climax. On the other hand, I'm not an ice hockey fan but if you are then there's every chance you might find it thrilling. Still, as far as West Point movies go, it's better than Ford's THE LONG GRAY LINE. With Joan Fontaine still in the ingenue phase of her career (REBECCA was two years away), Richard Carlson, Tom Brown, Alan Curtis, Emma Dunn and Donald Barry. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

In 18th century France, a calculating aristocrat (Glenn Close) asks her former lover (John Malkovich) for his help in revenge against her latest lover who has abandoned her. She wants him to seduce the man's intended bride (Uma Thurman), who is a virgin. Based on the play by Christopher Hampton (who adapts his play for the screen) by way of the oft filmed novel LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES by Choderlos De Laclos and directed by Stephen Frears (MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE). A juicy screenplay, vital direction by Frears and generally superb performances (save one) elevates this above the usual dull and prissy "tasteful" BBC Masterpiece Theatre vibe so many period costume dramas have. In her best screen performance, Glenn Close displays just the right subtle balance of corruption and faux sincerity. This is not a woman you want to mess with. Alas, while he has many good moments, Malkovich can't restrain himself. If he had a mustache, I'm sure he'd twirl it. His corruption is so obvious that it renders Michele Pfeiffer's hapless victim as a backward twit for believing anything he might say. Fortunately, Pfeiffer's performance is good enough to overcome that fault. The Oscar winning production design and art direction by Stuart Craig and Gerard James is amazing as is James Acheson's breathtaking costume design. With Keanu Reeves, Mildred Natwick and Swoosie Kurtz.  

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

That Night In Rio (1941)

A womanizing American nightclub entertainer (Don Ameche) performing in Rio de Janeiro does an impeccable impersonation of a local celebrity, a Brazilian Baron (Don Ameche). When the Baron must leave Rio immediately to secure a business deal, his two aides (S.Z. Sakall, Curt Bois) arrange to have the American impersonate the Baron at a business function as well as a party the Baroness (Alice Faye) is giving for Rio society. Based on the play THE RED CAT by Rudolph Lothar and Hans Adler and directed by Irving Cummings (DOWN ARGENTINE WAY). This Technicolor musical romp is intermittently amusing with the daffy Carmen Miranda doing her usual "chicka chicka boom" shtick. The affable Ameche is surprisingly good in a dual role, nicely delineating the differences in character while Alice Faye is stuck in the dreary wife part. Remade (but not necessarily better) in 1951 as ON THE RIVIERA with Danny Kaye. With Maria Montez, J. Carrol Naish and Leonid Kinskey.

Der Mann, Der Seinen Mörder Sucht (aka The Man In Search Of His Murderer) (1931)

A young man (Heinz Ruhmann) is depressed with his life and plans on killing himself. When a professional burglar (Raimund Janitschek) breaks into his apartment with a gun, he offers the burglar money to kill him in 12 hours. The burglar agrees but when the man falls in love with a pretty blonde (Lien Deyers) that night, he changes his mind about dying and the race is on to find the assassin to tell him the deal is off but will he find him in time? Based on the play by Ernst Neubach and directed by Robert Siodmak (THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE). Despite the grimness of the plot synopsis and film noir master Siodmak at the helm, the movie itself is a black comedy. It plays out like a live action cartoon with the assassin a sort of Wile E. Coyote to the victim's Road Runner. I couldn't help but think this might have worked even better as a silent movie comedy. Sadly, the film doesn't exist in complete form. About a half hour is missing and considered lost. The film is notable for not only Siodmak's direction but others who would also emigrate to the U.S. and find fame like Billy Wilder (who co-wrote the screenplay) and Franz Waxman (who conducted the score). With Hermann Speelmans and Greta Keller.  

Monday, June 28, 2021

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Just out of prison, a criminal mastermind (Sam Jaffe) plots a detailed jewelry heist that could net over half a million dollars. A shyster attorney (Louis Calhern) funds the heist and a crew consisting of a safecracker (Anthony Caruso), a driver (James Whitmore) and a hooligan (Sterling Hayden) is assembled. But everything that could go wrong goes wrong. Based on the novel by W.R. Burnett (HIGH SIERRA) and directed by John Huston. An undisputed classic of the noir genre, it's a sharp and unsentimental look at the seamy underbelly of a midwestern city where corruption isn't restricted to the typical thugs and hoods but extending to police and socially prominent lawyers. No one is untouched and one can't even like the pompous police commissioner (John McIntire). The cast is excellent right down the line and Harold Rosson's stark B&W cinematography is superb. Outside of the opening credits and the last three minutes of the film (effectively composed by Miklos Rozsa), there's no score during the film. With Jean Hagen, Marc Lawrence, Barry Kelley, Brad Dexter, Helene Stanley and as Calhern's mistress, Marilyn Monroe already showing signs of star quality though it would be another three years before she hit the jackpot.   

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Menace On The Mountain (1970)

Set in Georgia in the waning days of the Civil War, a mother (Pat Crowley) struggles to hold her family together while her husband (Charles Aidman) is away at war. This includes fending off the unwanted attention from a brutal bushwhacker (Albert Salmi). Based on the novel by Mary Alice Hancock and directed by Vincent McEveety (FIRECREEK). Surprisingly decent effort from Disney that manages to avoid being cloying and providing some genuine tension. This being Disney however, the sexual threat of Salmi's thuggish bully against Crowley is downplayed even though he's upfront in his desire for her. A lot of the film falls on the shoulders of 14 year old Mitch Vogel as Crowley's son attempting to be the man of the house while his father is gone. Unfortunately, he's not a very strong actor so the movie suffers. With 7 year old Jodie Foster, Richard Anderson, Eric Shea, Dub Taylor and a scene stealing pig named Blossom.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Cristo Si E Fermato A Eboli (aka Christ Stopped At Eboli) (1979)

Set in 1935 fascist Italy, a painter and writer (Gian Maria Volonte) is arrested by Mussolini's regime and sent and confined to a small rural town in Southern Italy. An intellectual with a medical degree, he finds the dire poverty appalling and the ignorance and superstition of the townspeople difficult to deal with. Based on the memoir by Carlo Levi (played here by Volonte) and directed by Francesco Rosi (HANDS OVER THE CITY). A remarkable political film that exists in two versions. The 2 1/2 hour theatrical cut and the 3 hours and 45 minutes television cut (which is the version I saw). The film examines the forgotten peasants living away from the metropolis of Rome and other urban Italian cities. Their situation dismissed as an unsolvable problem by the Fascist powers, Volonte's political prisoner becomes empathetic to their problems and while the villagers are at first suspicious of him, eventually they accept him as one of their own. Excellent as his performance is, Volonte doesn't dominate the film but serves as a reactor and observes. Gritty and real, it's an affecting film on several levels both intellectually and emotionally. With Irene Papas, Lea Massari, Alain Cuny and Francois Simon.

Friday, June 25, 2021

The Crystal Ball (1943)

A beauty contest winner (Paulette Goddard) finds herself penniless in New York City. In desperate straits, she  takes a job shilling at a shooting gallery. She finds herself attracted to a handsome attorney (Ray Milland) who already has a girlfriend (Virginia Field) but by posing as a fortune teller, she hopes to break up the romance. Directed by Elliott Nugent (UP IN ARMS), this star driven hybrid fluff of screwball comedy and romcom goes down pleasantly if one doesn't ask too much (like a stronger script). Milland and Goddard have a nice chemistry (they made four films together) and William Bendix provides some nice comic support as Milland's valet with Ernest Truex and Iris Adrian quite amusing as a battling married couple. Curiously, the film was a Paramount production (Milland and Goddard were Paramount contract players) but the studio sold the film to United Artists which released it. If you're in a nostalgic mood, this might fit the bill. With Gladys George, Cecil Kellaway and Hillary Brooke.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Escapade In Florence (1962)

An obnoxious American student (Tommy Kirk) studying architecture on a scholarship in Italy falls for another American student (Annette Funicello) who is studying art. But when they discover a priceless masterpiece is hidden beneath her painting of a bridge, they find themselves plunged into an adventure involving art forgery. Based on the novel THE GOLDEN DOORS by Edward Fenton and directed by Steve Previn (Andre's brother). This is typical of the often mundane family friendly live action fluff Disney was churning out in the 1960s. Being Disney, there's no sex and the "violence" is of the comedic sort. Even when they're kidnapped and held prisoners, we're not worried. Who's going to shoot Annette in a Disney movie? It's crammed with the usual cliches. When we see a wagonful of hay crossing the road, we just know a car is going to crash into it and when Kirk on his Vespa races through an open air market, we know it's a matter of seconds before the fruits and vegetables go flying. The film is padded out with several songs by the Sherman Brothers (MARY POPPINS) sung by Funicello and Nino Castelnuovo. As a travelogue of the city of Florence, I give it points. With Ivan Desny, Ivan Triesault and Helen Stirling.

Спутник (aka Sputnik) (2020)

Set in 1983, a young female doctor (Oksana Akinshina) is recruited by the military to assess a cosmonaut (Pyotr Fyodorov) who has recently returned from space but not alone. Apparently, he returned with a dangerous organism inside him. Directed by Egor Abramenko, this is one of the best sci-fi horror films I've seen in years! There have been attempts to compare the film to ALIEN (1979) but other than the creature living inside of a human, there's very little to connect the two. This intelligent piece of science fiction/horror stands on its own. While it definitely falls into the horror category, the film makers are obviously not interested in "Boo!" moments. There was only one scene where I "jumped". Like the best horror movies, the film has underlying themes like the moral choices one is forced to make and the immorality of a soulless military. The film benefits from the performances of Akinshina and Fyodorov whose characters' strong bond give the movie a backbone. The creature design is a marvel of CGI and Oleg Karpachev's score is sensational. An absolute must for fans of sci-fi horror. With Fyodor Bondarchuk and Anton Vasiliev.  

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Secret Of The Sahara (1988)

Set in 1925, an American archaeologist (Michael York) comes to Africa with the intention of locating and unlocking the secret of the "speaking mountain" which is in the Sahara desert. Some believe it contains great treasure while others say it contains the secret of mankind's existence. Based on the novel by Emilio Salgari and directed by Alberto Negrin. This silly piece of desert adventure takes itself too seriously. There were times that I wished Maria Montez and Sabu would come along and put some fun into it. To the best of my knowledge this has never been seen in the U.S. It was made for Italian television with a running time 7 1/2 hours and later shortened considerably for a theatrical release. It's overlong and never have I seen so many shots of riders crossing the desert in one film, sometimes leisurely and sometimes galloping. A whole half hour could have been cut out if those shots had been eliminated. The acting is bad with James Farentino as an Arab caliph (that accent!) and David Soul as a sadistic legionnaire being the most embarrassing offenders. And whose idea was it to cast Andie MacDowell as an Arab warrior princess? The score is unmistakably Ennio Morricone and it's one of his weaker ones. With Ben Kingsley, Jean Pierre Cassel, Miguel Bose, Delia Boccardo, William McNamara, Mathilda May, Daniel Olbrychski and Diego Abatantuono.

The Blackboard Jungle (1955)

A new teacher (Glenn Ford) at an interracial inner city school finds his students hostile and anti-social and show no interest in education. In an attempt to reach them, he reaches out to one student (Sidney Poitier) who the other kids respect. Based on the novel by Evan Hunter and directed by Richard Brooks (ELMER GANTRY). In 1955, this movie caused quite the ruckus. The film was banned in Tennessee and Georgia, there was violence in theatres and Great Britain insisted on major cuts in the film before it could be released there. It was also the first film that used rock 'n roll on its soundtrack. Alas, nothing dates faster than topicality and the film doesn't hold up. It's so contrived that it comes across as phony and sometimes unintentionally funny. If the film is to be believed, the entire student body is comprised of thugs and bullies. Surely there must have been a handful of good kids. And since this is a public school and not a private school, where are the female students in the film? There's not a single female student to be seen! The students are as believable as the high school students in GREASE. Poitier was 28, Vic Morrow was 26. As cinema, it can't touch REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, still the best film about "juvenile delinquents" ever made. It's of interest today solely because of its historical impact. With Anne Francis, Louis Calhern, Richard Kiley, Margaret Hayes, John Hoyt, Paul Mazursky and Rafael Campos.