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Sunday, February 28, 2021

So Proudly We Hail (1943)

Set in the early days of WWII, a group of Army nurses are sent to the Philippines to serve in Bataan and Corregidor which would eventually surrender to the Japanese forces. Directed by Mark Sandrich (TOP HAT), this is yet another of many propaganda films made during WWII to boost the morale of U.S. movie audiences. For what it is, it's well done and quite effective. Though there's the usual speechifying and flag waving sentiment, there's also many touching moments and grim reminders of the hardships these women went through. Paulette Goddard got an Oscar nomination for her performance but it's Veronica Lake as a bitter Japanese hating nurse that gives the film's best performance. I did like the affable romance between Goddard and a big lug of a soldier played by Sonny Tufts. Miklos Rozsa did the underscore. Claudette Colbert heads a cast that includes George Reeves, Walter Abel, Barbara Britton, John Litel, Mary Treen, Ann Doran and Dorothy Adams.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Little Things (2021)

Set in 1990 Los Angeles, a girl (Sofia Vassilieva) driving on the highway is terrorized by an unseen motorist but she manages to escape by flagging down a truck. Jump several months later and a deputy (Denzel Washington) is sent to L.A. to recover evidence. He accompanies a police detective (Rami Malek) to the scene of a brutal killing of a young girl and he notices the similarities between her murder and an old serial murder case that he wasn't able to solve and which destroyed his life. Written and directed by John Lee Hancock (THE BLIND SIDE), we're on all too familiar territory here with echoes of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and SE7EN. The movie benefits from the quality of the performances and the dark mood Hancock sustains throughout. But the film goes off the rails in the last half hour when Malek's detective, an educated and smart cop does something so out of character and so jaw dropping stupid that any semblance of believability goes out the window. Jared Leto as the primary suspect in the murders is getting a lot of award buzz (he's nominated for both a SAG and Golden Globe) and while he's fine, I didn't find his performance particularly special but rather obvious. The film's ultimate moral ambiguity may leave a bad taste for some. Thomas Newman contributed the moody underscore. With Natalie Morales, Michael Hyatt, Terry Kinney and Isabel Arraiza. 

The Mark Of Zorro (1940)

Following his military education in Spain, a young man (Tyrone Power) returns to early 19th century California to find Los Angeles ruled by a corrupt Alcalde (J. Edward Bromberg) and his manipulative henchman (Basil Rathbone). He masquerades as a fop while assuming the guise of the masked Zorro to defend the abused and overtaxed populace. Based on THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO by Johnston McCulley and directed by Rouben Mamoulian (BLOOD AND SAND). One of best of the movie swashbucklers, this carefree adventure has a twinkle in its cinematic eye. Power is surprisingly good providing his dual character with the necessary panache and wit. It's a pity the film wasn't shot in Technicolor, not that Arthur C. Miller's (HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY) B&W lensing isn't detailed and handsome. It's just that color would have added another layer of vibrancy. The swordfight between Power and Rathbone is marvelous (Rathbone said Power was better at it than Flynn). The Oscar nominated score is by Alfred Newman. With Linda Darnell (looking breathtakingly beautiful), Gale Sondergaard, Eugene Pallette, Montagu Love and Janet Beecher. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Indochine (1992)

Covering the years 1930 to 1954 in French Indochina, a French plantation owner (Catherine Deneuve in an Oscar nominated performance) adopts the daughter (Ba Hoang as a child, Linh Dan Pham as a young girl) of her Indochinese friends after they are killed in a plane crash and raises her as her own. But as the years pass, the country rebels against French colonialism and fights for its independence. Directed by Regis Wargnier, the film won the Oscar for best foreign language film. It's an ambitious epic (over 2 1/2 hours) which sets a romantic triangle between mother and daughter with a sailor (Vincent Perez) against the backdrop of French colonialism and the eventual birth of Vietnam. The film doesn't lecture us on the inherent racism of colonialism, it simply shows it to us and assumes we'll get it. In many ways, it's an old fashioned film (GONE WITH THE WIND in Vietnam) but with modern sensibilities instead of the white washing of colonialism with its exploitation of both the country and its people or the condemnation of communist rebels as devils. I had a minor problem with the uncharismatic Perez. It was hard to swallow that both mother and daughter would obsess over this bland toy boy. There's a marvelous score by Patrick Doyle which really heightens the picture. With Jean Yanne, Dominique Blanc and Henri Marteau.  

On Golden Pond (2001)

An aging couple spend their summers in Maine on a lake. The husband (Christopher Plummer) is a crotchety man obsessed with dying while his wife (Julie Andrews) attempts to push him toward being more active. This summer is complicated by a visit by their estranged daughter (Glenne Headly) who arrives with her new boyfriend (Sam Robards) and his 14 year old son (Will Rothhaar). Based on the play by Ernest Thompson and directed by Martin Pasetta and Thompson. I wasn't a fan of the popular 1981 film adaptation which garnered Oscars for Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda as the aging couple. Although I liked this production better overall, I've come to the conclusion that it's just not a very good play. This isn't a remake of the film version but a live presentation of the original play with some changes by Thompson. The character of Charlie (played here by Brett Cullen) who was pretty much eliminated from the film version is restored. This version is minimally less sentimental than the film, we're spared Hepburn's quivering "You're my knight in shining armor!". Andrews brings a nice crisp no nonsense approach to the wife while Plummer puts some bite into his cranky geezer and neither actor feeds off their iconic images like Hepburn and Fonda did. In the film, our "affection" was for the actors while here, our feelings are connected to the characters. As the daughter, Headly is less actressy than Jane Fonda. But alas, I fear the material is hopeless regardless of the talent involved.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

For Heaven's Sake (1950)

A playwright (Robert Cummings) and his actress wife (Joan Bennett) are too busy with their careers to start a family. Their unborn child (Gigi Perreau) is tired of waiting to be born so she asks the help of two angels (Clifton Webb, Edmund Gwenn) to assist her in getting born. Based on the play MAY WE COME IN? by Harry Segall and directed by George Seaton (THE COUNTRY GIRL). This cloying bit of iron whimsy is hard to swallow. Even Webb's usual dose of acidity is defeated by the saccharine level. Webb's channeling of Gary Cooper is amusing at first but even that gets old after awhile. The movie has the unpleasant 1950s mentality that people who don't want children are somehow unnatural though one can't blame Joan Bennett. Who'd want to have a baby by Robert Cummings! The syrupy score (heavenly choir and all) is by Alfred Newman. With Joan Blondell, Jack La Rue (parodying George Raft) and Tommy Rettig.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Kawaita Hana (aka Pale Flower) (1964)

A Yakuza assassin (Ryo Ikebe) is released from prison after serving three years for killing a man. He becomes attracted to a mysterious gambling addict (Mariko Kaga) who is looking for dangerous thrills. Based on the novel by Shintaro Ishihara and directed by Masahiro Shinoda (DEMON POND). The film was part of the so called Japanese New Wave which came to prominence in the 1960s. It's a mesmerizing film combining the Yakuza film, doomed romance and the fatalism of film noir. Shot in stunning B&W Grandscope by Masao Kosugi, the film fills in enough of Ikebe's background to give us an idea of who he is while giving us nothing about Kaga's character which makes her even more tantalizing of an enigma. Even at the film's dark end, he never knows her. A film rich in mood and atmosphere while taking us down the dark underworld of the Yakuza. The effective score is by Toru Takemitsu. With Takashi Fujiki, Chisako Hara and Eijiro Tono.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Big Store (1941)

When the heir (Tony Martin) to a major department store is attacked, his Aunt (Margaret Dumont) hires a private detective (Groucho Marx) to act as his bodyguard. Directed by Charles Reisner (STEAMBOAT BILL JR.), this was the last film for the Marx Brothers under their MGM contract and there wouldn't be another Marx Brothers movie for 5 years. THE BIG STORE isn't much admired but I'm actually rather fond of it in spite of not really being a fan of the brothers. I'm a huge fan of Groucho but have little tolerance for Chico and Harpo. With one exception, the musical numbers in the film stop the movie cold. We have to put up with Tony Martin's bellowing two songs including the hideous Tenement Symphony as well as the usual Chico playing on the piano and Harpo's interlude on the harp. The one exception is a delightful novelty swing number with Groucho and Virginia O'Brien. As long as Groucho is around, the laughs are dependable. The film was actually the Marx Brothers highest grossing film at MGM. With Virginia Grey, Douglass Dumbrille, Marion Martin and Henry Armetta.

Islands In The Stream (1977)

Set in the Bahamas in 1940, an artist (George C. Scott) lives a quiet life of isolation. The film is divided into three sections. 1) his three estranged sons (Hart Bochner, Brad Savage, Michael James Wixted) come to spend the summer with him. 2) his ex-wife (Claire Bloom) unexpectedly turns up for a visit with some bad news. 3) he rescues some Jews adrift at sea and attempts to take them to Cuba. Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (PATTON). I'm an admirer of Hemingway's work but I've not read the source material so I don't know how faithful it is to the novel (or even if the book is any good). But I suspect the sentimental veneer is an invention of the film makers rather than Hemingway. The first part is very Hemingway-esque, so much so that the brief interlude that follows with Scott and Bloom is a breath of fresh air with the macho facade dropped and the third part is 1940s Warner Brothers. This is one of Scott's very best performances with the mannerisms which sometimes mar his work nowhere in sight. It's a reflective well thought out performance. Fred J. Koenekamp's Oscar nominated cinematography is picture perfect, perhaps too perfect, you could put it on a postcard. With David Hemmings, Gilbert Roland, Susan Tyrrell, Julius Harris and Hildy Parks.  

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Stooge (1953)

Set in 1930, a singer (Dean Martin) who is part of an act breaks up with his partner (Richard Erdman) to go solo. When his single act flops, he takes on an awkward kid (Jerry Lewis) as a stooge and his act suddenly becomes a smash. But his ego prevents him from giving the kid any billing or recognition. Directed by Norman Taurog (GIRL CRAZY), this is the most serious of the 16 movies Martin and Lewis made together. Oh, it's definitely a comedy but there's a darker undercurrent with Lewis (who appears to be a case of arrested development) being exploited by Martin and then there's Martin's alcoholism which threatens to sabotage the act. In fact, the movie was held back from release by Paramount for over a year because they were uncertain how audiences would react to Martin's treatment of Lewis. With Polly Bergen, Eddie Mayehoff, Marion Marshall and Frances Bavier.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Bye Bye Birdie (1995)

When a rock and roll star by the name of Conrad Birdie (Marc Kudisch) is drafted into the Army, the secretary (Vanessa Williams) of his manager and songwriter (Jason Alexander) suggests he write a song and arrange for Birdie to sing it on The Ed Sullivan Show while bestowing a kiss on a randomly selected member of his fan club. Based on the hit Broadway musical and directed by Gene Saks (BAREFOOT IN THE PARK). This is not a remake of the 1963 film but a recreation of the original 1960 stage musical with all of the songs (written by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams) from the stage version eliminated from the 1963 movie reinstated into the film (except for the How To Kill A Man ballet). This production does add the title song written specifically for the 1963 movie into the mix. There has been a lot of criticism of the 1963 film version for altering it to focus on Ann-Margret (it worked, it made her a star) but as this production shows, the stage show had its share of things that didn't work like the Gloria Rasputin character who was eliminated from the movie. Jason Alexander is unbearable here, his continual "aren't I cute" expression had me wishing someone would punch him in the face. Vanessa Williams as Rosie is okay with her Shriners dance a highlight although Ann Reinking's choreography is otherwise uninspired. Overall, it's just pretty flat and doesn't have the sparkle of the film. With Tyne Daly, Chynna Phillips (of Wilson Phillips), George Wendt and Sally Mayes. 

Love, Weddings & Other Disasters (2020)

An ensemble romantic comedy set in Boston revolving around a wedding includes a caterer (Jeremy Irons), a blind woman (Diane Keaton), a wedding planner (Maggie Grace), a bus tour guide (Andrew Bachelor), a mayoral candidate (Dennis Staroselsky) and his fiancee (Caroline Portu), a gambler (Andy Goldenberg), a Russian stripper (Melinda Hill) and a rock singer (Diego Boneta). Written and directed by Dennis Dugan (HAPPY GILMORE) so we all know who to blame for this train wreck. I suppose LOVE ACTUALLY is the template for ensemble romantic comedies such as this but this film is the kind of movie that gives romcoms a bad rep. At this stage of her career, Diane Keaton seems to be the poster girl for geriatric romcoms and even though she's just part of an ensemble as opposed to the "star" of the film, she continues the trend. She and Irons have no chemistry but then again, none of the other members of the cast do either which is disaster for a romcom. Trite and predictable, the script looks to have been written by a committee who've seen too many romcoms. With Todd Stashwick, Elle King, Jesse McCartney, Chandra West and Veronica Ferres.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Schusse Im 3/4 Takt (aka Shots In 3/4 Time) (1965)

A strictly guarded NATO missile controller is stolen and falls into unknown enemy hands. The NATO commanding officer (Gustav Knuth) in Paris is given just eight days to find it so he sends his best agent (Pierre Brice) to Vienna to try and recover it. Directed by Alfred Weidenmann, this German spy caper is typical of the 1960s spy frenzy began by the Bond films in 1962. It's rather preposterous and seems a satire on the spy genre in spite of itself. Released in the English speaking markets as SPY HUNT IN VIENNA, the transfer I saw was mostly dubbed into English but with (too) many sequences in German without English subtitles that I suspect were cut from the English version. Annoying but no matter as I was easily able to follow the plot without any problems. It's not a film that one needs to seek out even if you're into 1960s spy movies but it's a pleasant enough diversion if you don't demand too much. With Terence Hill, Senta Berger, Daliah Lavi, Anton Diffring, Walter Giller and Jana Brejchova. 

Mister Roberts (1955)

Set in the waning days of WWII in the Pacific, the executive officer (Henry Fonda) of a cargo ship is frustrated because his requests for a transfer to a fighting ship are continually disapproved by the ship's Captain (James Cagney). Based on the hit play by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan (by way of Heggen's novel) and directed by John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy and Joshua Logan. Ford began the film but antagonism between Ford and both Fonda and Cagney had him replaced by LeRoy. Logan came in to reshoot scenes at Fonda's request. I'm not a fan of military comedies in general but this is a pretty decent one. The film was a huge box office success and was Oscar nominated for best picture and Jack Lemmon won his first Oscar as Ensign Pulver. The dour Fonda makes for a mundane "hero" and he can't even laugh naturally but Cagney is terrific as the petty tyrant of a Captain and William Powell (in his final screen performance) makes for an elegant ship's doctor. I don't think the film holds up all that well. Contemporary audiences would most likely be appalled at the lecherous sailors spying on nurses taking their showers or their drunken attacks on private property while on liberty. The large cast includes Betsy Palmer, Ward Bond, Nick Adams, Philip Carey, Martin Milner, Patrick Wayne, Ken Curtis, Perry Lopez and Harry Carey Jr.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Le Mani Sulla Citta (aka Hands Across The City) (1963)

Set in Naples, a scheming land developer (Rod Steiger) buys city land and builds low income housing for profit. But when a disastrous building collapse occurs, an investigation into his possible responsibility is brought into the spotlight. Directed by Francesco Rosi (CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI), this examination of political corruption and collusion between land development and city politicians is extremely timely. Ignoring the crisis of their citizens living in near poverty in hovels, politicians volley for political power and vote for what is advantageous to their political party rather than what is beneficial to their constituents. How can they vote their conscience when they have no conscience? The film is almost 60 years old and it's dismaying how some things never change. Steiger's performance is problematic because he's dubbed into Italian. Steiger has a distinctive voice and it's disorienting when this totally different voice comes out of his mouth but it has the edge of making his performance less volatile. With Salvo Randone, Guido Alberti and Carlo Fermariello. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

A pregnant bride (Uma Thurman), along with the groom and wedding guests, is shot on her wedding day and left for dead. Four years later, as the only survivor, she wakes up from a coma and plots her revenge on the squad of assassins (Daryl Hannah, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen) and their leader (David Carradine) responsible for the wedding massacre. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. I love this movie! Tarantino's love for cinema, especially pulp cinema, is visible in every frame and loving shot in this film. It may not be his best film (that would be JACKIE BROWN) but it's a giddy high of a rollercoaster ride. The film is incredibly violent but it doesn't have the sting of something like THE WILD BUNCH. The violence is so ludicrously over the top that one can't take it seriously. When someone gets decapitated, you may gasp but then you chuckle. Tarantino's eclectic use of music serves him well here. The pastiche score borrows from Bernard Herrmann to Ennio Morricone to Quincy Jones and who else but Tarantino would score a fight in the snow in Japan with flamenco music? With Sonny Chiba, Michael Parks and Julie Dreyfus. 

Invisible Stripes (1939)

Just released from prison, an ex-convict (George Raft) intends to go straight. But he finds it difficult to hold a job once employers find out he's on parole with a prison record. He's also worried about his bitter kid brother (William Holden) who shows signs that he might follow in his big brother's footsteps. Based on the novel by Lewis E. Lawes and directed by Lloyd Bacon (MARKED WOMAN). This is your standard "ex-con trying to make good but society won't let him" movie. On those terms, it's decent enough although the lack of originality or freshness makes it utterly predictable. Raft gives his usual stoic performance which leaves Humphrey Bogart as Raft's fellow ex-con and Holden to steal the picture. By this time, it was clear Bogart was special and just needed the right vehicle to push him into major stardom and that would come two years later with the double punch of HIGH SIERRA and MALTESE FALCON. Holden had already made an impression earlier in the year with GOLDEN BOY but he'd have to wait until SUNSET BOULEVARD to reach mega star status. With Flora Robson as Raft's mother (even though she was 7 years younger than him), Jane Bryan, Lee Patrick, Marc Lawrence and Frank Faylen.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Murder Once Removed (1971)

A doctor (John Forsythe) is having an affair with the wife (Barbara Bain) of one of his patients (Richard Kiley). The patient suspects the doctor may kill him and fix it so it looks like a natural death. To this end, he takes precautions to protect himself but the diabolical doctor proves too smart for him. Directed by Charles S. Dubin, this murder mystery is well done including a twist of an ending that I didn't see coming. But there's no getting around how contrived the whole thing is which lessens one's enjoyment. It was interesting to watch John Forsythe in an atypical role instead of the usual stolid generic types he normally plays and his casting helps give the film a bit of an uncertainty to the proceedings it otherwise may not have had. But as a murder mystery, it's no Agatha Christie. With Joseph Campanella, Wendell Burton and Reta Shaw.

The Big Street (1942)

A busboy (Henry Fonda) in a nightclub is infatuated with a selfish gold digging nightclub singer (Lucille Ball). When she is seriously injured in a fall that leaves her unable to walk and in a wheelchair, he takes her in. But this doesn't change her rude self centered ways and she treats him poorly but he still adores her. Based on the story LITTLE PINKS by Damon Runyon and directed by Irving Reis (BACHELOR AND THE BOBBYSOXER). Runyon produced the film so it keeps the Runyonesque atmosphere quite well. The film is populated with characters named Willie The Weeper and Horsethief and Nicely Nicely (who shows up in GUYS AND DOLLS). Henry Fonda is too good looking and confident for the adoring busboy but this is Ball's best screen performance. She manages to be brassy and hard bitten yet still show her fear and vulnerability at what will happen to her when she's crippled. Ball and Fonda's walking trip from New York to Florida for her health conjures up MIDNIGHT COWBOY and one can't help but wonder if its author James Leo Herlihy had seen the movie. I found the tearjerker ending a bit much but the whole thing rang of implausibility. Definitely worth seeing for Ball's performance however. With Agnes Moorehead, Eugene Pallette, Sam Levene, Barton MacLane, Ray Collins and Marion Martin. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

My House In Umbria (2003)

An Englishwoman (Maggie Smith) living in Italy writes romance novels. On an excursion to Milan via train, a terrorist bomb explodes killing most of the passengers in her crowded car. After recovering in the hospital, she invites the three other survivors: a little girl (Emmy Clarke), a young German (Benno Furmann) and a retired military man (Ronnie Barker) to continue to recover at her villa in Umbria. Based on the novella by William Trevor and directed by Richard Loncraine (RICHARD III). While the narrative includes some dark back history like child sexual abuse and prostitution, the movie still gives us a more optimistic view than the graveness of the book. Beautifully shot on location in Italy by Marco Pontecorvo (LETTERS TO JULIET), the setting becomes part of the film's pull. One begins to fantasize about living in Smith's gorgeous home set in the lush Tuscan hills. Smith gives a lovely performance that is free of the usual mannerisms that mark much of her work. With Chris Cooper, Timothy Spall and Giancarlo Giannini. 

Apartment For Peggy (1948)

A retired professor (Edmund Gwenn) is depressed and suffers from suicidal thoughts. But his life is upended and for the better when an ex-GI (William Holden) and his cheerful chatterbox of a wife (Jeanne Crain) move into his attic. Based on the novella AN APARTMENT FOR JENNY by Faith Baldwin and directed by George Seaton (AIRPORT). A piffle of a movie, this bubbly dramedy is so good natured that it's hard to resist. Crain is at her loveliest and most appealing here so it's easy to see why she was such a fan favorite in the 1940s. She has the ability to be sweet without being saccharine. The film is predictable and you know every step of the way where this will all end up but it's harmless and the trip is pleasant. The film was shot in the three strip Technicolor process but unfortunately, the print I saw was faded. With Gene Lockhart, Randy Stuart and Gene Nelson. 

Wild Mountain Thyme (2020)

An aging Irish farmer (Christopher Walken) makes plans to leave his farm to his American nephew (Jon Hamm) rather than his own son (Jamie Dornan). This causes a rift not only between father and son but also the girl (Emily Blunt) on the neighboring farm who has loved the son since childhood. Based on the play OUTSIDE MULLINGAR by John Patrick Shanley (an Oscar winner for his MOONSTRUCK screenplay) who also directed the film. Considering my aversion to Irish whimsey (you can thank John Ford for that!), I was surprised how much I enjoyed this romantic drama though it is far from perfect. Even though he's Irish himself, Shanley seemed to have more of an affinity for the Italian family in MOONSTRUCK than he does with the Irish clan here, who often come across as more FINIAN'S RAINBOW than Sean O'Casey. Their slipshod Irish accents aside, the actors do quite well especially Emily Blunt who would do Maureen O'Hara proud. It's a slight piece that can't quite hold up under the heaviness that Shanley burdens it with. With Dearbhla Molloy in the film's one authentic performance as Blunt's mother and Danielle Ryan. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Hell Below Zero (1954)

When the Captain of a Norwegian whaling vessel in Arctic waters goes overboard, it is deemed a suicide but his daughter (Joan Tetzel) vehemently disagrees and suspects foul play. She travels to Antarctica to investigate with the help of the ship's first mate (Alan Ladd). Based on the novel THE WHITE SOUTH by Hammond Innes and directed by Mark Robson (PEYTON PLACE). This is quite a pleasurable action/adventure for the most part. It stumbles a bit when the mystery aspects are temporarily dropped and we're treated to a semi documentary style look at whaling ships in action before going back to the mystery portion again. Ladd was doing several films in England during this period (THE BLACK KNIGHT, RED BERET) and this utilizes a British cast and was shot in Pinewood studios with a second unit doing location work in Anarctica. Ladd has a nice rapport with Tetzel (Mrs. Oscar Homolka) but the film has a rare bad performance by Stanley Baker as the villain. He's so over the top obvious that he may as well have "villain" tattooed on his forehead. With Basil Sydney, Niall MacGinnis and Jill Bennett in a charming performance as the female Captain of a whaling ship.

Jungle Captive (1945)

A renowned biochemist (Otto Kruger) is working on a project of restoring life after death. He had been experimenting on animals and after the successful resuscitation of a rabbit, he decides to experiment on human life or in this case half human. He has his assistant (Rondo Hatton) steal the body of the notorious Ape Woman (Vicky Lane) from the morgue. Directed by Harold Young (THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL), this was the third and final entry in the Ape Woman trilogy (the other two were CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN and JUNGLE WOMAN). Like the others, it's pretty silly and poorly acted but I actually found it the most entertaining of the three. Which doesn't mean it's any good, it isn't. It's just that I found its "sincerity" easier to swallow. Thankfully, unlike the other Universal "monster" franchises, no one has ever decided to revive it. It's generally considered the worst of the Universal monster series and I doubt you'll find anyone to come to its defense. With Amelita Ward, Phil Brown and Jerome Cowan.

Friday, February 12, 2021

La Bete Humaine (1938)

A psychologically disturbed railroad engineer (Jean Gabin) falls in love with the wife (Simone Simon) of an insanely jealous man (Fernand Ledoux). The husband's jealousy has even driven him to murder his wife's ex-lover (Jacques Berlioz), a secret that binds the unhappily married couple together. Loosely based on the 1890 novel by Emile Zola and directed by Jean Renoir (RULES OF THE GAME). While the term film noir normally refers to the Hollywood output of the 1940s and early 1950s, the French were already doing it and this film is an example. While both fascinating and compelling, this sordid drama leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. The film's opening quote suggests Gabin's character's emotional problems and subsequent actions are the result of "bad blood" but that seems psychologically inadequate. Simone Simon's character is ambiguous. Is she a victim (the film insinuates she was a victim of childhood sexual abuse) or is she the Lilith that drives men to their doom? Still, it's superior to the sanitized American remake Fritz Lang did in 1954. With Blanchette Brunoy and Gerard Landry.  

The Importance Of Being Earnest (1952)

In 1895 England, a country gentleman (Michael Redgrave) uses a different identity when in London and it is under this identity that he falls in love with a young lady (Joan Greenwood). Meanwhile, his best friend (Michael Denison) usurps this identity when visiting his friend's pretty ward (Dorothy Tutin) in the country. It's just a matter of time before their deceit is exposed. Based on the classic play by Oscar Wilde and directed by Anthony Asquith (PYGMALION). A faithful adaptation of Wilde's play, Asquith is blessed with a near perfect cast. Wilde's witty farce requires actors that can casually maneuver their tongues over his verbal acuity without punching the dialogue. This isn't Neil Simon. With one exception, the actors here glide (seemingly) effortlessly through Wilde's dry repartee. Edith Evans' performance as Lady Bracknell is near legendary and the benchmark for other actresses taking on the role. The one exception is Denison, who relies too heavily on smugness as his chief form of expression. With Margaret Rutherford and Miles Malleson.     

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Madame Bovary (2015)

A young convent educated girl (Mia Wasikowska) leaves the convent to marry a country doctor (Henry Lloyd Hughes) she has never met. But she finds herself bored with provincial life and disappointed in her husband and soon begins spending money on extravagances and engaging in a series of illicit affairs. Based on the classic novel by Gustave Flaubert and directed by Sophie Barthes. This is at least the seventh film version of the Flaubert novel and it's been done on television a couple of times, too. While all versions have been variable in quality, none of them have ever quite captured the novel faithfully. Barthes' dour version is a failure on several levels. There's a way to suggest boredom and dullness in a character's life without making the film boring and dull. Some of the casting is egregious. Wasikowska is a good actress but you'd never know it here. Her line readings are flat as if she learned them phonetically. As an actress, she doesn't suggest an unconsumed passion for romance, she seems too practical. The most ineffective piece of casting is Ezra Miller as Leon who comes across as an androgynous 12 year old, hardly the type to inspire passion in a (normal) grown woman. The screenplay makes some changes from the book. It eliminates Emma's child, possibly in a bid to make her more sympathetic as well as the ball sequence and Charles Bovary is no longer the simple bumpkin of the novel. I found the most impressive thing about the film to be the superb costume design of Christian Gasc and Valerie Ranchoux. With Paul Giamatti, Rhys Ifans and Logan Marshall Green.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Hot Rods To Hell (1967)

Recovering from his severe injuries in a car accident, a father (Dana Andrews) is moving his wife (Jeanne Crain) and children (Laurie Mock, Jeffrey Bryon) from Boston to the California desert. But nearing their destination, they are terrorized by a gang of drag racers who drive them off the road. But it won't end there as the thugs continue to harass them in their new residence. Based on the short story 52 MILES TO TERROR by Alex Gaby and directed by John Brahm. A dreadful piece of junk! Brahm (whose final film this was) had directed some stylish films in the 1940s like HANGOVER SQUARE, THE LODGER and THE LOCKET but the movie is so terribly written that there's nothing a veteran director like him could do to salvage it. It's not even fun enough to qualify as camp! Similarly, Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain were two of the most popular stars at 20th Century Fox in the 1940s (they co-starred in STATE FAIR) and appeared in such Fox classics as LAURA and A LETTER TO THREE WIVES so it's particularly sad to see them reduced to rubbish like this. They're both awful here but I don't blame it on them, Brando and Streep couldn't have made sense of the trite dialogue. Originally intended for TV but switched to a theatrical release at the last minute. With Mimsy Farmer and Paul Bertoya.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Road House (1948)

The owner (Richard Widmark) of a road house near the Canadian border hires a singer (Ida Lupino) to perform at his place but he clearly has more on his mind than business. But when she falls for his partner (Cornel Wilde) instead, things turn ugly. Directed by Jean Negulesco (THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN), this is a wonderfully atmospheric slice of film noir starring two icons of the genre (Widmark and Lupino). The screenplay features razor edged dialogue and marvelously moody B&W cinematography courtesy of Joseph LaShelle (LAURA) as it slowly builds to its intense climax. Widmark does his trademark giggly psychopath act and Lupino gets to sing the classic One For My Baby in her smoky voice. The underrated Wilde brings a solid anchor to the proceedings while Holm does what she can in a thankless role. With O.Z. Whitehead and Ian MacDonald.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

The Power And The Prize (1956)

Engaged to the niece (Niki Dantine) of his ruthless mentor and boss (Burl Ives), a vice chairman (Robert Taylor) is sent to London on business with the intention to trick a firm into a merger. But when he meets an Austrian refugee (Elisabeth Mueller) and falls in love, he begins questioning the moral integrity of the hard lined methods he's been taught. Based on the novel by Howard Swiggett and directed by Henry Koster (THE ROBE). I rather enjoyed the film when it concentrated on the ruthless and backhanded corporate world, less so when it dwelled on the romance between Taylor and Mueller. Since both storylines are integral to the narrative, I suppose you could say I half liked the movie. Handsomely shot in CinemaScope (it was the first B&W film to be shot in the CinemaScope format) by George J. Folsey (THE HARVEY GIRLS), it's given the lush MGM treatment so Mueller's struggling refugee is given a closet of Helen Rose gowns (which earned Rose an Oscar nomination for her costume design). An uneven but not without interest melodrama. With Mary Astor, Charles Coburn, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Richard Erdman. 

I'd Climb The Highest Mountain (1951)

Set in rural Georgia in the early 20th century, a city girl (Susan Hayward) marries a country parson (William Lundigan) and must adjust to the poverty and isolation so different from the life she was brought up in. Based on the novel by Corra Harris and directed by Henry King (SONG OF BERNADETTE). The film is episodic in nature as it covers three years in the life of a minister and his wife and the good times and bad times they endure. The film has an obvious religious agenda and by the time a heavenly choir was singing The Lord's Prayer as "The End" appeared on the screen, I'd had just about enough of this sanctimonious pudding. It's the kind of film where when we first meet the local atheist (Alexander Knox), we know he'll start to come around by the end of the movie. I was also taken aback at the behavior of these Christian characters. When a child dies under his watch that he promised to look after, Lundigan's minister doesn't appear to have any twinge of guilt that he might be even a little culpable in the child's death. And Hayward's bitchy behavior toward a female churchgoer (Lynn Bari) seems excessively out of line for a minister's wife. With Rory Calhoun, Barbara Bates, Gene Lockhart, Ruth Donnelly and Jean Inness.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Ammonite (2020)

Set in 19th century England, an acclaimed paleontologist (Kate Winslet) lives in self isolation with her ill mother (Gemma Jones). Living in near poverty, she collects common fossils and sells them to tourists to support themselves. When a wealthy visitor (James McArdle) entrusts her with the care of his delicate wife (Saoirse Ronan) for 5 weeks, she is in no position to turn down the money. Directed by Francis Lee, the film is inspired by the life of Mary Anning, a 19th century paleontologist but is highly fictionalized. There is no historical evidence of Anning's sexual orientation but the film portrays her as a lesbian. While not quite the same as portraying Cole Porter as heterosexual in NIGHT AND DAY since we know his sexual orientation, hopefully viewers won't view the film as a factual account. That aside, the film has a lot of similarity to the critically acclaimed PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019) but I much preferred this one. I appreciated the detail the film went into (I didn't even know what an ammonite was until I saw the movie) and how Lee didn't eroticize the graphic love scenes between Winslet and Ronan but lets us see their loneliness and hunger. Normally I love ambiguous endings but I sort of wished some sort of closure on this one. The main reason for seeing the film is the acting! Winslet and Ronan are two of the best actresses working in film today and they don't disappoint. A worthy effort. With Fiona Shaw and Alec Secareanu. 

Elopement (1951)

A father (Clifton Webb) has big plans for his daughter (Anne Francis) when she graduates from college. But when she suddenly elopes with her college professor (William Lundigan), he and his wife (Margalo Gillmore) and the parents (Charles Bickford, Evelyn Varden) of the groom run off after them to stop the marriage. Directed by Henry Koster (FLOWER DRUM SONG), the film has a rather archaic view of marriage. The film is fine as long as it stays with the outraged parents but turns icky and sentimental when focusing on the young lovers. As always, Webb is wonderfully acidic whether stealing a little boy's sandwich because he's hungry or surreptitiously tossing a passenger's pipe out of the car because the smoke bothers him. No one else in the cast matches him (not that they try). The film's last 20 minutes or so are particularly exasperating as the treacle settles in although Webb's final punchline (an "in" joke) is quite funny. With Reginald Gardiner and Tommy Rettig.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Roma Citta Aperta (aka Rome, Open City) (1945)

Set in 1944 occupied Rome, a resistance leader (Marcello Pagliero) wanted by the Nazi Gestapo hides in a rooming house while waiting to get counterfeit papers to get out of the city. Directed by Roberto Rossellini, this was the first entry in his so called war trilogy. A critically lauded neorealist drama (it won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival), it must have felt like a punch in the gut to U.S. audiences fed on jingoistic war films like SERGEANT YORK and BATAAN. Rossellini doesn't hold back on the brutality and suffering of a people living under a fascist siege. There's no denying the film's power even if much of it feels a bit manipulative. It's certainly the best acted of the three films because Rossellini uses professional actors rather than the non professional actors of the other two films (PAISAN, GERMANY YEAR ZERO) yet it still feels raw enough that it seems we're watching real people, not actors. The two exceptions are Harry Feist as the Gestapo leader and Giovanna Galletti as a predatory lesbian who are too obvious in their performances. With Anna Magnani, Francesco Grandjacquet, Maria Michi and in the film's best performance, Aldo Fabrizi as the priest. 

The Impostors (1998)

Set in 1930s New York, two out of work actors (Stanley Tucci, Oliver Platt) escape from the police by stowing away on a luxury liner on its way to Paris. Once on board, they discover a shipload of eccentric passengers, two murder plots and a terrorist who plans on blowing the ship up! Written and directed by Stanley Tucci (BIG NIGHT), this loving homage to the screwball comedies of the 30s starts off shakily but soon finds its wings and provides a delightful farcical journey. Too bad the title SHIP OF FOOLS had already been taken for it would have been the perfect title for this piece of zaniness. Most contemporary attempts at screwball comedy try too hard (WHAT'S UP DOC? anyone?) and call attention to themselves but this one remains light and Tucci keeps the buoyancy bouncing right through to the end. There's a charming dance number by the entire ensemble cast at the end of the movie but unfortunately, it's played under the end credits which makes it difficult to see. The excellent ensemble cast of farceurs include Woody Allen, Allison Janney, Lili Taylor, Steve Buscemi, Tony Shalhoub, Alfred Molina, Isabella Rossellini, Hope Davis, Billy Connolly, Campbell Scott, Richard Jenkins, Dana Ivey and Matt McGrath. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Driving Miss Daisy (2014)

Set in Georgia and starting in 1948 and going through the late 1960s, a Jewish woman (Angela Lansbury) reluctantly agrees to have a chauffeur (James Earl Jones) drive her at the insistence of her son (Boyd Gaines) after her driving skills prove to be diminished. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Alfred Uhry and directed by Peter Ots. Literally a filmed play before a live audience in Australia, this is the same production that was done on Broadway in 2010 but Lansbury replaces Vanessa Redgrave in her Tony award winning performance. The 1989 film version was very popular (including a best picture Oscar win) but in opening the play up to be more cinematic and bringing in characters only talked about in the play (like Daisy's daughter in law), Uhry's play loses its intimacy and the portrayal of the relationship between Daisy and her black chauffeur is diminished. The play is a series of vignettes that slowly establishes their growing if reluctant bond and its easier to do that with just three characters rather than all the distractions of adding other characters and incidents. Lansbury is just fine but it's James Earl Jones who brings all the power of a master actor to the fore and he's just brilliant. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Shepherd Of The Hills (1941)

Set in the Ozarks, a young hillbilly moonshiner (John Wayne) is consumed with revenge for his deceased mother who was abandoned by his uncaring father. The arrival of a stranger (Harry Carey) into their superstitious community sets off a change of events that lifts the veil off their dark past. Loosely based on the novel by Harold Bell Wright (previously filmed in 1928) and directed by Henry Hathaway (TRUE GRIT). The film is most notable for its use of the three strip Technicolor process and Charles Lang's and W. Howard Greene's stunning lensing of the mountain location (shot in Big Bear Lake in California). The story itself is an uncomplicated mixture of mysticism and vengeance among credulous hillbillies that borders on condescension. John Wayne had not yet settled into his John Wayne persona that would solidify by the 1950s so he's able to give a more relaxed performance. Taking all of that into account, I was still entertained. With Betty Field, Beulah Bondi, Marjorie Main, Ward Bond, Marc Lawrence, John Qualen and Dorothy Adams.

The Cape Town Affair (1967)

Set in South Africa, a pickpocket (James Brolin) steals the wallet of a female bus passenger (Jacqueline Bisset). What he doesn't know is that the wallet contains a piece of microfilm containing secrets vital to the Cold War and the Russians have paid a lot of money for it. Produced and directed by Robert D. Webb (BENEATH THE 12 MILE REEF), this is a remake of the 1953 Samuel Fuller film PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET. It follows the 1953 close enough that Fuller is still credited as one of the screenplay's writers. As a film, it's inept in just about every way and transposing the story to South Africa doesn't work. By 1967, the "red scare" wasn't as predominant as it was in 1953 so the hysterical reaction to the "Commies" seems rather retro. The acting (outside of the three leads, they're all South African actors) is generally poor. Brolin has that indifferent quality as a leading man that TV actors on the big screen sometimes have and Bisset is gorgeous but she hasn't found her acting legs yet. That leaves Claire Trevor as a hustler of neck ties and criminal contacts to provide the one professional performance though she's not a patch on Thelma Ritter who played the part in the 1953 movie. With John Whiteley and Bob Courtney.

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Girl From Missouri (1934)

Escaping the confines of small town Missouri, an ambitious young woman (Jean Harlow) and her companion (Patsy Kelly) go to the big city to bag a millionaire for a husband while still holding on to her virtue. Directed by Jack Conway (LIBELED LADY), this inconsequential romantic comedy stands out for one reason and one reason only: Jean Harlow! She brings the full force of her appealing persona and star presence to the film. That it's not one of her better vehicles is beside the point. The plot of a small town girl trying to remain decent while the rich men she meets attempt to bed her with no marital bliss in mind is enough to incorporate suicide, false imprisonment and deception into its narrative yet sadly, as if realizing they were running out of time, the film makers suddenly give us a phony and rushed happy ending that isn't organic. Still, who watches movies like this for realism? If you're not a Harlow fan, you may find this all hard to take. Except for that rushed deus ex machina ending, I enjoyed it. With Franchot Tone, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, Alan Mowbray and Clara Blandick.