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Friday, April 30, 2021

Dead Man's Island (1996)

An investigating journalist (Barbara Eden) gets a phone call from a very rich, old flame (William Shatner) that she hasn't seen in 20 years. When she arrives at his secluded island home, he tells her that someone is trying to kill him and, of course, all the suspects are his guests for the weekend. Meanwhile, a catastrophic storm is heading toward the island. Based on the novel by Carolyn G. Hart and directed by Peter Roger Hunt. Who doesn't love a good whodunit and this Agatha Christie style murder mystery is rich in atmosphere and clever twists. It may not rank with the best of Christie but this minor whodunit delivers without insulting our intelligence. Fans of the genre should find much to enjoy. The solid score is by Arthur B. Rubenstein. Among the suspects: Roddy McDowall, Olivia Hussey, Morgan Fairchild, Christopher Atkins, Traci Lords, Christopher Cazenove, Jameson Parker and Don Most.

I Died A Thousand Times (1955)

Just released from prison, a notorious bank robber (Jack Palance) heads to the High Sierra mountains of California to meet two small time thugs (Lee Marvin, Earl Holliman) who will assist him in the heist of a luxury resort hotel. Based on the novel HIGH SIERRA by William R. Burnett and directed by Stuart Heisler (THE GLASS KEY). Burnett's novel had been filmed twice before in 1941 under its original title and 1949 as a western under the title COLORADO TERRITORY, both films directed by Raoul Walsh. Those were both excellent films so this one has a lot to live up to. It follows the 1941 film so closely, Burnett is given credit for the screenplay. Given the Warnercolor and wide screen treatment, it looks great thanks to Ted McCord's (THE SOUND OF MUSIC) excellent use of the CinemaScope format. If the Walsh pictures hadn't existed, this would probably have a better reputation. But it does exist and as good as it is, it can't help but suffer in comparison. Keeping their mannerisms in check, Palance and Winters both give fine performances and the emotional finale still works. The beauty of a score is by David Buttolph. With Lori Nelson, Dennis Hopper, Nick Adams, Perry Lopez, Olive Carey and Lon Chaney Jr.

Quick Let's Get Married (aka The Confession) (1964)

Set in a small village in Italy, the madam (Ginger Rogers) of the local brothel conspires with a con man (Ray Milland) to make the villagers think a miracle has occurred when a statue of St. Joseph spoke to a pregnant prostitute (Barbara Eden). In reality, it was the con man who spoke to the girl. Directed by William Dieterle (PORTRAIT OF JENNIE), this is an often incoherent mess of a movie. Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland as Italians? Their acting is remarkably crude, you'd never guess they were Oscar winning actors. It doesn't help that "Italy" looks very tropical but that's probably because the movie was shot in Jamaica! The film's only grace is its cynicism yet by the film's end, even that is given up when faith rather than cynicism is affirmed. How did so many talented actors get roped into this? Well, Rogers was married to the film's producer so that accounts for her involvement. With Elliott Gould (in his film debut), Michael Ansara (married to Eden at the time), Pippa Scott, Cecil Kellaway and Carl Schell (Maximilian's brother).

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Charlie Chan At The Opera (1936)

For seven years, an opera singer (Boris Karloff) with amnesia has languished in an insane asylum. But when a photo in a newspaper triggers his memory, he's off to get his revenge on those that tried to kill him. Based on the character created by Earl Derr Biggers and directed by H. Bruce Humberstone (I WAKE UP SCREAMING). Considered by many to be the best of the Fox Charlie Chan franchise and I'm inclined to agree with them. In this movie, Warner Oland as Chan is not the whole show and he shares both top billing and much of the screen time with Boris Karloff. The solution to the mystery isn't obvious and the opera house setting (clearly influenced by PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) gives the film a unique atmosphere for murder. The film's faux opera was composed by Oscar Levant. Good fun! With William Demarest, Keye Luke, Charlotte Henry, Margaret Irving, Gregory Gaye and Nedda Harrigan.   

The Hucksters (1947)

A cynical advertising executive (Clark Gable) doesn't have much in the way of principles as he caters to a tyrant of a client (Sydney Greenstreet). He plays the game to his advantage. But when he falls in love with a war widow (Deborah Kerr in her American film debut), he can't help but start to question his values. Based on the best selling novel by Frederic Wakeman and directed by Jack Conway (LIBELED LADY). The novel had to be cleaned up for its film version with all the sex taken out, Kerr made a widow instead of a married woman and a character's Jewishness eliminated among other things. What's left is still a glossy entertainment, MGM style. The critics didn't like it but the public flocked to it. Gable and Kerr have a nice chemistry though curiously MGM never paired them together again. Ava Gardner as a chanteuse and an old flame of Gable's had just come off her breakthrough role in THE KILLERS and MGM still hadn't quite decided to do with her so she's relegated to the second female lead. With Adolphe Menjou, Keenan Wynn, Edward Arnold, Clinton Sundberg, Gloria Holden, Connie Gilchrist and Marie Windsor.  

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Black Cauldron (1985)

In the land of Prydain, a teenaged boy (Grant Bardsley) working on a small farm owned by a sorcerer (Freddie Jones) daydreams of becoming a famous warrior. The boy is assigned the task of protecting an oracular pig from the clutches of the evil Horned King (John Hurt) but when he fails at that and the pig is kidnapped, he is determined to recover the pig at any cost. Based on THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN by Lloyd Alexander and directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich. This slender fantasy of bravery and adventure was Walt Disney's most expensive animated project at the time and its box office failure nearly put its animation department in jeopardy. Although family friendly, the film was considered darker than most Disney animated films and was cut by 12 minutes before its release. Still, a scene of long dead warriors returning to life could be very disturbing to the under 7 set. Curiously, a sequence where a man (Nigel Hawthorne) turned into a frog hides in the cleavage of a witch's ample bosom was deemed innocent enough for the kiddies! I could have done without the furry creature Gurgi (John Byner) who suffers from an overabundance of adorability. There's a fine score by Elmer Bernstein. With Susan Sheridan, Billie Hayes and Phil Fondacaro.

Le Notti Di Cabiria (aka Nights Of Cabiria) (1957)

After her live in lover (Franco Fabrizi) pushes her into the river and steals her purse, a prostitute (Giulietta Masina) becomes bitter and hostile to those around her. But her innate innocence and idealism prevents her from giving up on life. Directed by Federico Fellini (LA DOLCE VITA), this is a heartbreaking tale of a lonely woman who is a victim of her own romantic dreams and a desire to live a "normal" life. The film's final shot (a close up of Masina) is something burned in the cinematic memory of anyone who's ever seen it. I was never a fan of the acclaimed LA STRADA nor Masina's performance in it. The abused Chaplinesque waif bit got to be too much for me. But her performance here (she won the Cannes film festival best actress award) is one of the dozen or so greatest performances by an actress you'll ever see. It's not a plot heavy film but drifting along with its heroine with many memorable moments on the journey: the man with the sack feeding the homeless, Cabiria on stage with the hypnotist, an evening with a movie star (Amedeo Nazzari). The score is by Nino Rota. With Francois Perier, Franca Marzi and Dorian Gray.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Chicago (1927)

When her lover (Eugene Pallette) dumps her, a married woman (Phyllis Haver) shoots him to death. Initially, her husband (Victor Varconi) confesses to the crime but when the police trick her into admitting she killed him and she is sent to prison, her notoriety makes her a celebrity. Based on the 1926 play by Maurine Dallas Watkins and directed by Frank Urson. This is the first of the play's many incarnations. It was made into a movie comedy in 1942 called ROXIE HART and subsequently turned into a Broadway musical in 1975 which was revived in 1996 (the revival became the second longest running musical in Broadway history) and eventually the Oscar winning 2002 film version of the musical. This version was produced by Cecil B. DeMille so it's a little darker and definitely more moralistic than the subsequent versions. Frankly, I was a disappointed. It's an interesting film but all of the adaptations that followed were superior and more fun. The shyster lawyer Billy Flynn (Robert Edeson) is more of a douchebag here than in the other versions. The characters of Velma Kelly and Mama Morton are mere cameos. The most striking change is the character of the husband whose importance to the story is stronger and he's more sympathetic and likable. The cynicism and humor of the subsequent adaptations is sorely missed and this being a DeMille film, the murderess may have been acquitted but she's punished by life. With May Robson and Julia Faye.

Holiday In Mexico (1946)

The teenage daughter (Jane Powell in her MGM film debut) of the U.S. ambassador (Walter Pidgeon) to Mexico considers herself much more mature than her contemporaries and feels she's indispensable to her father's life. But when her father renews his romantic relationship with an old flame (Ilona Massey), she ignores the romantic overtures of the boy (Roddy McDowall in his first "grown up" role) her own age and flings herself at an older man (Jose Iturbi). Directed by George Sidney (BYE BYE BIRDIE), this slight MGM musical is a product of the Joe Pasternak unit rather than the more sophisticated Arthur Freed unit which means it lacks artistry and style but it's a pleasing if hollow Technicolor confection. Unusual for a minor musical, the film runs over the two hour mark because of the overdose of music. We're treated to Iturbi conducting classical music and playing boogie woogie on the piano, Jane Powell trilling away and Xavier Cugat serving us Latin American rhythms. If you can put up with that, the story is sweet and rather amusing. With Linda Christian, Hugo Haas, Helene Stanley and Ann Codee.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Sword And The Rose (1953)

The sister to King Henry VIII (James Robertson Justice), the Princess Mary Tudor (Glynis Johns) falls in love with a commoner (Richard Todd). But the King has promised her in marriage to King Louis XII (Jean Mercure) of France. Based on the novel WHEN KNIGHTHOOD WAS IN FLOWER by Charles Major (previously filmed in 1908 and 1922) and directed by Ken Annakin (SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON). This is a swashbuckler Disney style so it's family friendly. Although based on actual historical characters, the film is for the most part, historically inaccurate. But one doesn't watch these Technicolor swashbucklers for historical accuracy. We watch them for the duels, the chases, the villains (in this case, Michael Gough as the Duke of Buckingham forcing himself on the heroine against her will), the costumes and the pageantry. In that aspect, the film delivers ..... barely. Todd is dashing (but no Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power), Johns is feisty and fetching and Gough is suitably slimy. With Rosalie Crutchley, Gerard Oury and Peter Copley.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

One Night In Miami (2020)

Set in Miami in February 1964, after the victory of Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) over Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander). In a motel room, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), football hero turned actor Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) get together with Clay for a celebration. Based on the play by Kemp Powers (who adapted his play for the screen) and directed by Oscar winning actress Regina King. Powers' play had only six characters and the entire play took place in the motel room but he opens the movie up by adding other minor characters and scenes outside the motel room that were not in the play. These were the weakest parts of the film. The film opens with some unnecessary exposition but only catches fire when it gets to the motel room and the actors are free to expound on the struggles of the African American experience of that time and the clash of personalities and diverse views. It's a piece of fiction, a theatrical conceit that never happened but it makes for a riveting piece of cinema even if its proscenium roots are obvious. Leslie Odom Jr. has gotten all the awards attention but the ensemble acting is flawless and Ben-Adir and Hodges are every bit as good. King's direction is fine but it's the writing that carries the movie and the actors who inhabit it. With Lance Reddick, Joaquina Kalukango and Beau Bridges. 

The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985)

Set in Depression era New Jersey in 1935, a waitress (Mia Farrow) stuck in an unhappy marriage goes to the movies to escape her dismal life. But when one (Jeff Daniels) of the characters in the movie walks off the screen and into her life, things change and she's off on an adventure. Written and directed by Woody Allen. This is easily one of Allen's 2 or 3 best films. A gleaming mixture of fantasy and realism done with style and wit, the movie shows us how movies can create false expectations in our lives yet it also shows us the healing power of movies, however temporary. At the picture's core is Mia Farrow and she has as much to do with the film's success as its screenplay and direction. Farrow has a waifish quality that fits in perfectly with the 1930s (if it were made in 1935, I could see Janet Gaynor in the part). Dressed down as a Depression era drudge, the film still can't disguise her delicate beauty. In the film's final shot, your heart aches for her to the point that it almost seems an abuse of the audience. At under 90 minutes, Allen knows that less is more. The impeccable cast includes Danny Aiello, Dianne Wiest, Van Johnson, Zoe Caldwell, Glenne Headly, Edward Herrmann, Milo O'Shea, John Wood, Karen Akers and Deborah Rush. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Rich, Young And Pretty (1951)

A Texas rancher (Wendell Corey) is hesitant about taking his daughter (Jane Powell) to Paris on a business trip. The girl thinks her mother (Danielle Darrieux) died when she was two but in reality, she's a nightclub chanteuse living in Paris. Directed by Norman Taurog (BOYS TOWN). Danielle Darrieux is one of the great stars of French cinema but she didn't have much luck with her rare forays to Hollywood. They kept putting her in fluff like THE RAGE OF PARIS and this charmless musical (she had better luck the following year with a good role in 20th Century Fox's 5 FINGERS). Perhaps she liked the idea of being in an MGM musical. The songs by Nicholas Brodszky and Sammy Cahn aren't much though one of them, Wonder Why got a best song Oscar nomination. It's nice to look at in all its candy colored Technicolor glory and it does try to sparkle but it has all the fizz of a glass of champagne that has been sitting too long. We know how it's going to end long before the final fadeout. With Fernando Lamas, Vic Damone, Una Merkel, Marcel Dalio and Richard Anderson.

Children Of The Damned (1964)

Set in London, six children from six different nations (China, India, Nigeria, Soviet Union, England, USA) are identified by a team of UNESCO researchers as having an extraordinary intellectual capacity. A psychologist (Ian Hendry) and a geneticist (Alan Badel) focus on the British child (Clive Powell) who seems to be their leader. Directed by Anton Leader, a prolific television director who only directed one other film. This sequel to VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) isn't a patch on the original movie but it's absorbing for most of its running time. Unfortunately, the film makers paint themselves into a corner and there's nowhere for it to go so the last twenty minutes or so are pretty pointless. The children here aren't purely malevolent as the children were in the 1960 film, they retaliate only when they are threatened. But we never find out the origin or reason of their existence. As science fiction movies go, this one is alright but never lives up to its possibilities. With Barbara Ferris, Albert Burke and Patrick Wymark.

Show Boat (2015)

Set in 1887 Mississippi, a show boat arrives in Natchez with a troupe of actors ready to perform. The boat's owner (Bill Irwin) has a sharp tongued wife (Harriet Sansom Harris) and a daughter (Heidi Stober) who dreams of going on the stage. But the troupe's arrival is plagued with trouble when the state's racist anti-miscegenation laws threatens to prevent the show from going on. Based on the classic 1927 musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein by way of the novel by Edna Ferber and directed by Francesca Zambello. SHOW BOAT the musical has seen two film versions in 1936 and 1951 including a mini version of the show in the 1946 film TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY. I'm not including the 1929 version because it was not a musical but based on the Edna Ferber source material. None of the film versions have done justice to acclaimed musical. This production was done by the San Francisco Opera so the singing parts are cast with opera singers with limited acting experience though some of the roles are cast with actors who have Broadway experience like Irwin and Harris as well as John Bolton and Kirsten Wyatt who play Frank and Ellie. This makes some of the acting by the opera singers uneven though some performances stand out like Patricia Racette who makes an impression as Julie, Angela Renee Simpson as Queenie. As Joe, Morris Robinson is fine in the acting department and his vocal chops are strong but his delivery of OL' MAN RIVER has no passion, no soul. On the plus side, the beautiful Kern and Hammerstein score is intact (prior film versions have cut songs as well as characters), Michele Lynch's choreography is wonderful and Paul Tazewell's costumes are superb. I enjoyed it immensely. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

A Month In The Country (1987)

Set in the summer of 1920 in rural Yorkshire, a destitute WWI veteran (Colin Firth), who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, is employed to carry out restoration work on a Medieval mural in a country church. Coincidentally also working at the church is another vet, an archaeologist (Kenneth Branagh in his film debut) also suffering from PTSD. Based on the novel by J.L. Carr and directed by Pat O'Connor (DANCING AT LUGHNASA). Considering it was shot in 30 days, the film has a leisurely and almost lyrical pacing as it looks at a broken and bitter man who finds redemption in his work and the simplicity of the country people around him. While there's no romance as such in the movie, the scenes between Firth and Natasha Richardson as a minister's wife ache with yearning and futility as a palpable attraction must go unconsumed. In its execution, I couldn't help but be reminded of THE GO BETWEEN. The movie's only drawback is that the thick rural accents of the townspeople are often unintelligible, I could have used subtitles! A lovely, sad little film. With Patrick Malahide and Jim Carter.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Mr. Wong, Detective (1938)

The co-founder (John Hamilton) of a chemical company fears his life is in danger. To this end, he seeks out a well known Chinese detective (Boris Karloff) to protect him. But on the morning of the day they are to meet, the businessman is killed. Based on a character from a magazine serial by Hugh Wiley and directed by William Nigh. Asian detectives were fashionable in the 1930s with Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto at 20th Century Fox being the most popular. Boris Karloff cast his hat into the ring at the poverty row Monogram Pictures and the Mr. Wong franchise which saw him do five films between 1938 and 1940 before Keye Luke took over the role. This was the first film in the franchise and while Karloff brings a gracious dignity to the part, quite simply the series isn't as fun as the Chan or Moto movies. The writing isn't as good and the bargain basement cast (Karloff and Evelyn Brent being exceptions) can't disguise its poverty row origins. With Grant Withers, Maxine Jennings and George Lloyd. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Eyes Of Charles Sand (1972)

A fledgling psychic (Peter Haskell) uses his newfound powers to help a disturbed young woman (Sharon Farrell, overacting shamelessly), who insists her brother has been murdered even though he's alive and well in London. Co-written by Henry Farrell (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?) and directed by Reza Badiyi. A formulaic thriller that was a feature length pilot for a potential television series that was never picked up. Haskell is as bland a leading man as one could find and he's a cipher while almost everyone else is acting up a storm around him. Joan Bennett as Haskell's aunt is subdued but her very presence dwarfs him. The solution to the movie's "mystery" is obvious to anyone who has ever watched mysteries on a regular basis. The film has no credited score but they've recycled Henry Mancini's underscore to WAIT UNTIL DARK and its use is adequate. With Barbara Rush, Bradford Dillman and Adam West.

Tirez Sur Le Pianiste (aka Shoot The Piano Player) (1960)

A former concert pianist (Charles Aznavour) now plays piano in a neighborhood dive. A complex past history has him retreating into himself but the waitress (Marie Dubois) at the bar begins to bring him out of his shell. Based on the novel DOWN THERE by David Goodis and directed by Francois Truffaut. This follow up to Truffaut's acclaimed THE 400 BLOWS is a totally different cinematic experience. It's a pastiche (unlike the novel which is straightforward) of film styles: film noir, comedy, romance, thriller, tragedy yet somehow it all fits together. It's Truffaut's valentine to American pulp film making. Aznavour's protagonist is weak and held together by the women in his life. When his attempt at rejoining the world backfires terribly, the film's haunting final shot pretty much makes it clear that he's emotionally dead. The underscore is Georges Delerue at his finest. With Nicole Berger, Michele Mercier, Daniel Boulanger and Albert Remy.

Monday, April 19, 2021

My Boys Are Good Boys (1979)

A group of incarcerated juvenile delinquents (Sean Roche, Ron Lake, Robert Cokjlat) with the help of a teenage girl (Kerry Lynn) on the outside plan the daring robbery of an armored car. The driver (Ralph Meeker, who's also one of the movie's producers) of the armored car is the father of one of the boys (Roche). Directed by Bethel Buckalew, previously known for directing such classics as THE DIRTY MIND OF YOUNG SALLY, COUNTRY CUZZINS, MIDNITE PLOWBOY and THE PIG KEEPER'S DAUGHTER. Bloody awful doesn't begin to describe it! Although top billed, Meeker, Ida Lupino and Lloyd Nolan play second fiddle to the juvenile leads whose acting is atrocious. Three of the four never acted again and one gave up acting to beccome a writer which says it all. The film is yet another movie in which juvenile delinquents are portrayed as misunderstood and it's all the grown ups' fault for not understanding them and giving them enough love! There's also an unpleasant misogynist undercurrent to the film as the only two women in the movie, Lupino and Lynn, are portrayed as rotten to the core. Stunt drivers got a lot of work on this one. With David Doyle and Brice Coefield.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Shop Around The Corner (1940)

Set in Budapest, two sales clerks in a quality leather goods shop get off on the wrong foot and have an antagonistic relationship. Meanwhile, he (James Stewart) is engaged in a through the mail relationship with a young woman who he hopes to meet soon. What he and she (Margaret Sullavan)  don't know is that she is the woman he has been corresponding with. Based on the play PARFUMERIE by Miklos Lazslo and directed by Ernest Lubitsch (NINOTCHKA). This delightful confection is one of cinema's greatest romantic comedies. The screenplay by Samson Raphaelson is sharp and droll, the chemistry between Sullavan and Stewart is palpable and Lubitsch's "touch" evident in almost every frame. It's rare to get a romcom so artfully intelligent, this is a real treasure. Remade as a musical in 1949 (IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME), a Broadway musical in 1963 (SHE LOVES ME) and an updated version in 1998 (YOU'VE GOT MAIL) but never equaled. With Frank Morgan (perhaps his best performance), Joseph Schildkraut, Felix Bressart, Sara Haden, William Tracy and Inez Courtney.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Promising Young Woman (2020)

A 30 year old woman (Carey Mulligan) has a dead end job at a coffee shop and still lives at home with her parents (Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge). But she was once a promising medical student who dropped out of medical school when her best friend now deceased, also a medical student, was raped while intoxicated while others stood by and watched. Written and directed by Emerald Fennell in her feature film directorial debut. There's nothing more thrilling than watching an actor give a totally unexpected performance that seems to come out of nowhere. As an actress, Carey Mulligan's career has been uneven, ranging from excellence (AN EDUCATION) to weak (her Daisy in THE GREAT GATSBY). But nothing prepared me for this fierce performance simmering with rage. I only wish the film equaled her performance which is a career best. Don't get me wrong, it's a very good film but there are weaknesses like yet another pop song playing over a montage of cute romantic moments between Mulligan and Bo Burnham. There's a satisfying clever (perhaps too clever) finale which somewhat offsets the downbeat ending but Fennell never lets up on the attack on a male dominated society which marginalizes women and sides with men. With Alison Brie, Laverne Cox, Chris Lowell, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Alfred Molina and Max Greenfield.

La Grande Illusion (1937)

Set during WWI, two French aviators, an aristocratic Captain (Pierre Fresnay) and a working class Lieutenant (Jean Gabin) are shot down over Germany. In the prisoner of war camp they're assigned to, they meet a disparate group of French and English prisoners. Directed by Jean Renoir (RULES OF THE GAME). As film lovers, we all have blind spots when it comes to certain revered classic films and I must confess GRAND ILLUSION is one of mine. I don't dislike it, far from it but I can't drum up much enthusiasm for it either. There were moments watching the film where I wished I was watching THE GREAT ESCAPE instead. If that makes me a Philistine, so be it. But Renoir's movie inevitably shows up on any list of the greatest films ever made. Renoir's emphasis isn't on the POW escape but on how war breaks down social classes and weakens it to the point that it can never be the same after the war is over. The aristocratic officers of Fresnay and Erich von Stroheim as the German commandant are a dying breed and it's the working class like Gabin's mechanic that will survive the war. My favorite sequence in the film is the interlude with the farm widow (Dita Parlo) which brings an elegiac close to the film. The acting is impeccable. I just wish I liked it better. With Marcel Dalio, Julien Carette and Jean Daste.

Secret Weapons (1985)

Set in the Soviet Union, a young girl (Linda Hamilton) from a small village is recruited by the KGB as an English translator. However, when she reports for training, it soon becomes clear that she is being groomed to be a spy for the KGB and expected to seduce American officials and businessmen to obtain information. Loosely based on the non fiction book  SEXPIONAGE: THE EXPLOITATION OF SEX BY SOVIET INTELLIGENCE by David Lewis and directed by Don Taylor (DAMIEN: OMEN II). This tawdry exploitation film was made for television so it doesn't get the chance to to go all the way so it's not as much lurid fun as it should be. It wants to titillate us without going softcore. It takes itself much too seriously to be "camp". The actors acquit themselves nicely with Sally Kellerman as the hard nosed head of the spy school standing above the pack. The cast includes Geena Davis (whose character suddenly disappears without any explanation), Viveca Lindfors, James Franciscus, Christopher Atkins, Barrie Ingham and Hunt Block.  

Friday, April 16, 2021

Le Professionel (1981)

After escaping from an African country where he spent two years in prison for attempting to assassinate its President (Pierre Saintons), a French secret service agent (Jean Paul Belmondo) returns to France with revenge on his mind as he seeks to get the men who sold him out. Based on the novel DEATH OF A THIN SKINNED ANIMAL by Patrick Alexander and directed by Georges Lautner (ROAD TO SALINA). This is a solid if not very credible action thriller with the always charismatic Belmondo commanding the screen. We can't help but be complicit in his vengeance gone amok even if Belmondo's character is less than noble but to the film's credit, its downbeat ending is more realistic than the usual Hollywood heroics. The film is sloppy in some areas. Belmondo's rogue agent would surely be recognizable with his picture in the newspapers and most certainly with law enforcement yet he seems to move throughout the city with ease. By now, a car chase in a movie of this sort is a given and they're usually of the standard variety but there's a corker of a car chase in this one. The underscore is by Ennio Morricone. With Robert Hossein, Bernard Pierre Donnadieu, Jean Desailly, Elisabeth Margoni, Cyrielle Clair, Michel Beaune and a nice turn by Marie Christine Descouard as a call girl.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Original Cast Album: Company (1971)

On the first Sunday in May, the cast and musicians of the just opened Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical COMPANY gather to record the cast album. The exhausting marathon session goes into the wee hours of the following Monday. Directed by D.A. Pennebaker, this superb documentary serves as a record of not only a groundbreaking musical but of what it was like to record these albums in the era before musicals began using pre-recorded tracks. For lovers of the Broadway musical, this documentary is indispensable. The behind the scenes tension and drama, the exhausted performers struggling to perform as their tired voices are on the verge of failing them are all on display. The film's highlight is Elaine Stritch's performance of The Ladies Who Lunch just before dawn and try as she might, her voice gives out and she just can't do it so she is forced to return a couple of days later when her voice is refreshed and she knocks it out of the ballpark. In addition to Stritch, the COMPANY cast includes Dean Jones (who would leave the show 30 days after it opened), Barbara Barrie, Donna McKechnie, Charles Kimbrough, George Coe, Beth Howland, Teri Ralston, Charles Braswell as well as its creators: composer Stephen Sondheim, director Harold Prince and the book's author George Furth.

Monte Carlo (1930)

On the day of her wedding to a Duke (Claud Allister), the bride (Jeanette MacDonald) leaves him at the altar and flees to Monte Carlo. Penniless, she meets a Count (Jack Buchanan) who poses as a hairdresser while he woos her. Based on the play THE BLUE COAST by Hans Muller Einigen and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Another of the saucy and witty musical innovations that Lubitsch did in the early pre-code 1930s. The stage star Jack Buchanan (some 23 years before his triumph in THE BAND WAGON) steps in for Maurice Chevalier and he's charming. Jeanette MacDonald is in top form and sexy in her satin slips and form fitting negligees. When she went to MGM and they paired her with the stolid Nelson Eddy in those cloying operettas, that sex appeal disappeared and she atrophied. The songs by Richard Whiting and W. Franke Harling are clever and even spawned a hit song, Beyond The Blue Horizon. A sterling example of what is referred to as the Lubitsch touch. With Zasu Pitts and Tyler Brooke.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tap Roots (1948)

When Mississippi secedes from the Union and the Civil War begins, a land baron (Ward Bond) declares his property neutral and independent of the state of Mississippi. Naturally, this does not sit well with the Confederacy. Based on the novel by James H. Street and directed by George Marshall (DESTRY RIDES AGAIN). Susan Hayward was one of many actresses that were tested for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). She didn't get the part but as Bond's daughter, this movie is as close as she ever got to her own Scarlett O'Hara. The most refreshing thing about the film is the absence of nostalgia for the Old South which permeated so many of the films of its era. The film's plot is loosely based on the true story of a farmer who attempted to secede from Mississippi which was made into a film called THE FREE STATE OF JONES in 2016. Shot in luminous three strip Technicolor, it's an enjoyable entertainment although the film's final battle between the Confederacy and the land owners goes on too long. With Van Heflin, Boris Karloff, Julie London, Richard Long, Ruby Dandridge and Whitfield Connor.

The Greatest Show On Earth (1952)

The general manager (Charlton Heston) of a large circus struggles to keep the wolves at bay. To this end, he hires a world class trapeze artist (Cornel Wilde) which antagonizes the current trapeze headliner (Betty Hutton) who must surrender the center ring to the newcomer. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, this Oscar winning (best picture) movie is a valentine to the circus. The only problem is that not everyone is as enamored of the circus as DeMille. The film runs over 2 1/2 hours but if you eliminated all the circus acts, it would easily be under two hours. The storyline is simplistic but it's colorful and unlike the circus sequences, the dramatic portions are watchable. DeMille's narration reeks of pomposity, you'd think he was reading out loud from the bible! The film does have one (literally) smashing sequence, a train crash that's pretty spectacular. As cinema, it doesn't hold up well today and its best picture Oscar win is inexplicable. The large cast includes James Stewart, Gloria Grahame, Dorothy Lamour, Mona Freeman, Edmond O'Brien, Lyle Bettger, Lawrence Tierney, Nancy Gates, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Rear Window (1998)

After an auto accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down, an architect (Christopher Reeve) applies his trade from his loft flat but he begins observing his neighbors across the way from his wheelchair. When a sculptor (Ritchie Coster) and his wife (Allison Mackie) have a violent argument and she suddenly disappears, the architect suspects the sculptor has done away with his wife. Based on the short story IT HAD TO BE MURDER (previously filmed in 1954 by Alfred Hitchcock) by Cornell Woolrich and directed by Jeff Bleckner. If the 1954 classic Hitchcock had never existed, this would be a better than average TV movie but the Hitchcock film does exist so it's almost impossible not to compare the two films. This production eliminates all of the stories involving the neighbors which gave texture to the 1954 film and instead focuses just on the wife killer. There's also an absence of humor here. I never thought I'd say it but Thelma Ritter's wisecracking nurse is sorely missed and she's replaced by a Jamaican male nurse (Ruben Santiago Hudson) who's not as amusing. The film's strength is Christopher Reeve, here returning to acting for the first time since the riding accident that left him permanently paralyzed. His performance, not surprisingly, has the ring of authenticity and there's genuine anxiety as he's terrorized by the villain. David Shire's score keeps the suspense quotient high. With Daryl Hannah (in the Grace Kelly role), Robert Forster (in the Wendell Corey part) and Anne Twomey.

Stilettto (1969)

A jet setting playboy (Alex Cord) has a secret life. He's also an assassin for the Mafia. But when he decides to retire, the mob won't let him. Based on the novel by Harold Robbins (THE CARPETBAGGERS) and directed by Bernard L. Kowalski (KRAKATOA EAST OF JAVA). Who else but Robbins would make a hero out of a rapist and assassin? The film is a crime/action movie set among the beautiful people without a protagonist to root for. Cord's nemesis is a Manhattan federal prosecutor (Patrick O'Neal) but his tactics are highly unethical and ultimately renders him no better than Cord's hitman. The film benefits from Jack Priestley's attractive lensing of the Puerto Rican locations and the eye candy provided by Britt Ekland and Barbara McNair as Cord's romantic interests. As a piece of pulp cinema, it goes down easily enough but one would be hard pressed to remember it a few months later. The huge cast is crammed with familiar faces including Roy Scheider, Raul Julia, Olympia Dukakis, Joseph Wiseman, Charles Durning, Eduardo Ciannelli, John Dehner and M. Emmet Walsh.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Secret War Of Harry Frigg (1968)

Set in WWII Italy, a lazy private (Paul Newman) is constantly escaping from army stockades before he eventually gets caught and sent back to the guardhouse. With his talent for escaping, the Army decides to use his particular talent to help five Allied generals escape from an Italian villa where they are being held as POWs. So they temporarily promote him to General and let him get caught by the Italian military and sent to the very same Italian villa. Directed by Jack Smight (HARPER), I'm not a fan of war comedies (is war ever funny?) in general and this tepid comedy plays out like a TV sitcom. It's not as bad as HOGAN'S HEROES (what could be?) and the Nazis are not portrayed as comic buffoons, they're real Nazis. This may be Paul Newman's worst performance. Let's face it, comedy is not his forte. This is the kind of role that a James Garner could do effortlessly. Here, you can't help but be conscious of Newman trying hard to be funny. But even Garner couldn't make this a better movie, just more tolerable. This being a Universal film, "Italy" is the Universal backlot with a Southern California villa standing in for the Italian villa. With the lovely Sylva Koscina, James Gregory, John Williams, Andrew Duggan, Tom Bosley, Charles Gray, Buck Henry and Vito Scotti. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Ghost Breakers (1940)

A radio crime reporter (Bob Hope) mistakenly thinks he's shot a man and hides in the trunk of a an attractive girl (Paulette Goddard) who's going to Havana on a ship. The girl has inherited a supposedly haunted castle off the coast of Cuba. Based on the play by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard and directed by George Marshall (HOW THE WEST WAS WON). One of the classic examples of the horror comedy, it may not be as hilarious as ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN but it's still a great deal of fun. It's not a Bob Hope vehicle as such since much of the focus is on Goddard's character and Hope is off screen frequently. As Hope's valet, Willie Best has his best screen role but it's still a stereotypical portrayal and the racial humor uncomfortable to contemporary audiences. In another case of a director remaking his own film, Marshall directed a remake of GHOST BREAKERS retitled SCARED STIFF in 1953 with Dean Martin in the Bob Hope role and Jerry Lewis in the Willie Best role. With Anthony Quinn, Paul Lukas, Richard Carlson and Paul Fix.

The Father (2021)

An elderly man (Anthony Hopkins) suffering from dementia lives in a state of constant confusion and paranoia as his daughter (Olivia Colman) attempts to balance her personal life with taking care of him. Based on the play LE PERE by Florian Zeller who adapted his play for the screen (along with Christopher Hampton) and directed it. Frankly, I wasn't looking forward to watching this. There have been many films already dealing with the subject of dementia and Alzheimer's like AWAY FROM HER (which I liked) and STILL ALICE (which I didn't). But I was riveted to the screen from the very start. Unlike other films on the subject, Zeller throws us right into Hopkins' world so we can feel the confusion and panic of losing one's memory and worst of all, the record of our life receding away. When Hopkins asked, "Who am I?", I couldn't hold back tears. Hopkins is nothing short of sensational here and he gets good support from Oliva Colman (not an actress I'm particularly fond of) as his daughter. This isn't a sentimental tearjerker, it's a powerful experience and if the tears come, they're honest tears, not manipulated. With Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots and Mark Gatiss.

Romeo And Juliet (1968)

Set in the Italian city of Verona, two warring families are warned by the city's Prince (Robert Stephens) that any future violence will have harsh consequences. When the son (Leonard Whiting) and the daughter (Olivia Hussey) from opposing families fall in love, it will lead to tragedy. Based on the play by William Shakespeare and directed by Franco Zeffirelli (TEA WITH MUSSOLINI). Quite possibly the most popular Shakespeare film adaptation (at least in terms of box office success), the movie is lush and rich thanks to Pasqualino De Santis' cinematography, Danilo Donati's costumes, Nino Rota's lovely score and Zeffirelli's staging of the ball where Romeo and Juliet meet and the swordfights are excellent. When an actress lamented that she never played Juliet and was now too old, Dame Sybil Thorndike once said, "You can never be too old to play Juliet, just too young" and that's the problem here. Quite simply, although they are the perfect ages (Whiting was 17, Hussey was 16), they are inadequate in the acting department. This is a Shakespearean tragedy but they read their lines without seeming to comprehend the intensity of passion and the poetry of the language. This isn't a tragedy, it's Shakespeare puppy love. With Michael York, John McEnery (in the film's best performance), Milo O'Shea, Pat Heywood, Natasha Parry and Paul Hardwick.  

Friday, April 9, 2021

Young Man With A Horn (1950)

With a second hand trumpet and the mentoring of a brilliant bluesman (Juano Hernandez), a young boy (Orley Lindgren) grows up into a great trumpet player (Kirk Douglas). But personal demons prevent him from enjoying his success. Based on the novel by Dorothy Baker (itself inspired by the life of Cornet great Bix Beiderbecke) and directed by Michael Curtiz (CASABLANCA). As far as movie bios go, this one is a bit better than average but once again, the usual cliches rear their head. The film even eschews the book's downbeat ending for the typical Hollywood happy ending. The most interesting character in the film is Douglas's bitter bisexual wife (Lauren Bacall) whose unhappiness with her own life causes her to destroy other people's lives. Both Douglas who brings his usual intensity and Bacall are perfectly cast. The third lead, Doris Day's band vocalist doesn't have much to do as an actress but we're treated to several songs sung in her inimitable style. With Hoagy Carmichael, Mary Beth Hughes and Jerome Cowan.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Mikko Zero Rain (aka Smashing The O Line) (1960)

Two newspaper reporters are writing stories about drug trafficking in Japan but while one (Kodaka Yuji) is content to report the news, the other (Nagato Hiroyuki) becomes part of the story when he unethically mixes in with the underworld. Directed by Seijun Suzuki (GATE OF FLESH). I'm a fan of Suzuki's work but even the greatest directors come up with a dud or two in their filmographies and this is the case here. It's watchable but the whole thing seemed for a lack of a better word ..... amateurish. Hiroyuki's character is ill defined. He's no better really than the drug smugglers he's trying to expose. Just one example: when his sister (Shimizu Mayumi) is kidnapped and subjected to rape because drug smugglers want some information from him, he refuses to aid her rather than talk. Yet by the film's end, we're expected to respect him for doing it "his way". At least, that's the way I read it. Suzuki's visuals are lacking here and while many of his movies lack argumentation and are more focused on style, it doesn't work here. With Nakahara Sanae and Takashina Kaku. 

The Feminine Touch (1941)

A college professor (Don Ameche) has written a book on jealousy which he believes has no place in modern marriages. This upsets his wife (Rosalind Russell) because she feels jealousy shows that she is loved. When the publisher (Van Heflin) of the professor's book shows a romantic interest in her, she attempts to make her husband jealous. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke (THE THIN MAN), this rather dire comedy espouses the dubious theory that jealousy in a relationship is healthy. Rosalind Russell is one of the great screen comediennes but she's off course here. She's best at playing strong, smart confident women and here she's playing an unconfident (and often whiny) wife who needs her husband to punch any man who flirts with her to prove he loves her. She's even delighted when her husband drags her through the forest (think THE QUIET MAN) like a caveman. It's embarrassing! If there were some wit to the proceedings, we could excuse the outdated sexual politics but there's none to be found. With Kay Francis, Sidney Blackmer, Henry Daniell and Donald Meek.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Walker (2007)

A middle aged gay man (Woody Harrelson) is known in Washington D.C. circles as a "walker". A single man who escorts married ladies to social events. He's a confidante to several political wives and they play cards once a week at an exclusive private club. But when a murder turns into a political scandal, he finds himself adrift and on his own. Written and directed by Paul Schrader (AMERICAN GIGOLO). If you enjoy a good conspiracy political thriller then this minor entry in the subgenre should please you. While the film received good reviews in Europe, it was barely released in the U.S. which is a pity. Harrelson is very good and a trio of actresses (Kristin Scott Thomas, Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin) are also fine as his social circle. It works just fine as a political thriller but it also works as a character study of a marginalized gay man who becomes a social pariah and discovers that in Washington D.C., when friends have used up their usefulness that doors start closing. There's a nice score by Anne Dudley. With Willem Dafoe, Mary Beth Hurt, Ned Beatty and Moritz Bleibtreu.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

A Yank At Oxford (1938)

A brash and arrogant American athlete (Robert Taylor) receives a scholarship to attend the University of Oxford in England. His cocky Yank manner turns off his fellow British students and he starts to make more enemies than friends. Directed by Jack Conway (LIBELED LADY), this MGM production actually went to Great Britain to film it rather than shoot it on the studio backlot. It's an agreeable clash of cultures romantic comedy with an appealing cast. It's really no more than another college comedy but the British setting gives it a unique atmosphere. There's a scene stealer in the film and that would be the cat eyed Vivien Leigh as a married woman having an affair with an Oxford student (Griffith Jones). The very next year she would be cast as a Southern belle in a Civil War epic and become a screen icon. With Maureen O'Sullivan, Lionel Barrymore, Edmund Gwenn, Robert Coote and Edward Rigby.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Silent Movie (1976)

A down on his luck Hollywood director (Mel Brooks) is trying to make a comeback by making a silent movie but no movie studio is interested except a studio in danger of being taken over an evil conglomerate. The failing studio's head (Sid Caesar) says he will back the film if the director can cast it with big movie stars. Directed by Mel Brooks, this affectionate parody of silent comedies is so eager that you're rooting for it to succeed and it does although it wobbles near the end. Ironically, some 36 years later there would be a silent film (THE ARTIST) released that would go on to win a best picture Oscar. Brooks' movie is filled with sight gags, pratfalls and a congenial zaniness. It's not the kind of movie with hysterical laughs but there's bound to be a continuous grin on your face throughout. The film has some cameos by Paul Newman, Burt Reynolds, Anne Bancroft, Liza Minnelli, James Caan and Marcel Marceau and they all appear to be having a ball at the chance of being silly. John Morris provides an effective underscore to accompany the hijinks. With Bernadette Peters, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, Harold Gould, Ron Carey and Yvonne Wilder.

Agency (1980)

After the questionable suicide of a co-worker (Saul Rubinek), a Madison Avenue advertising executive (Lee Majors) becomes suspicious of the new boss (Robert Mitchum) who has recently acquired the company. Based on the novel by Paul Gottlieb and directed by George Kaczender. A rather wan conspiracy thriller with an intriguing storyline but the screenplay is a botch. A good conspiracy thriller (think THE PARALLAX VIEW or THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR) should keep you unsettled and on the edge of your seat. But the inadequacies in this movie draw attention to the loopholes and silly dialogue. Lee Majors is one of those actors who seems just fine in TV roles but lackluster when he's on the big screen and quite simply, he's just not believable as a Madison Avenue hotshot. Mitchum coasts along in the movie (it's a paycheck job) but he's Robert Mitchum and he can afford to do that. I've not read Gottlieb's novel but I suspect this could use a remake with stronger talent involved. With Valerie Perrine and Jonathan Welsh.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Her Kind Of Man (1946)

A nightclub singer (Janis Paige) falls in love with a no good gambler (Zachary Scott). When he kills a fellow gambler (Sheldon Leonard), he goes on the lam to Florida while she goes to New York. It's there she meets a newspaper reporter (Dane Clark) and they begin a romantic relationship ..... until the gambler reenters her life. Directed by Frederick De Cordova (BEDTIME FOR BONZO), I was turned off by all the film's major characters. All of them either corrupt, enabling corruption or looking the other way. I don't have much sympathy for women (or men) like Paige's character who fall for scumbags and ignore their crimes or wimpy men like Dane Clark's character who follow a woman around like a pet poodle when she's clearly in love with another man. Even the film's most sympathetic characters, Scott's sister (Faye Emerson) and brother in law (George Tobias) while not criminal are complicit. It would need a better script and stronger direction to lift it out of the routine. The most interesting character is Harry Lewis' (possibly gay) thug who seems to have a crush on Scott which proves to be his undoing.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Fa Yeung Nin Wah (aka In The Mood For Love) (2000)

Set in 1962 Hong Kong, a journalist (Tony Leung) and a secretary (Maggie Cheung) who live next door to each other discover their spouses are having an affair. Often left alone by their spouses, they begin spending time with each other. Written and directed by Wong Kar Wai (2046). Like David Lean's BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945), this is a bittersweet romance that is never consummated though much more luscious in its execution (immeasurably aided by the cinematography of Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping Bin). Much of the film's power comes from what remains unsaid but the beautifully subtle and excellent performances of Leung (who won the Cannes film festival's best actor award) and Cheung (looking exquisite in her gorgeous William Chang costumes) allow us to see the emotional arc their characters are living through. Wong's understated direction never pushes but lets the simplicity (but not simple) of its narrative carry us to its poignant conclusion. A one of a kind movie romance. With Rebecca Pan, Kelly Lai Chen and Joe Cheung.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

After 14 years of forced labor in a prison camp, a Kazakhstan journalist (Sacha Baron Cohen) is released to go to America with a gift of a monkey porn actor for then vice president Michael Pence. But when the monkey's crate arrives in the U.S., the monkey is dead and instead the journalist's daughter (Maria Bakalova) in in the crate. Directed by Jason Woliner, this is a sequel to the 2006 BORAT. As a mockumentary, the film is uneven. Cohen frequently crosses the line from outrageous humor to bad taste but I confess, I laughed. Normally, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of filming people who don't know they're being made fun of or ridiculed but in this case, they deserved to be. It's a political satire on reactionary American culture and some scenes although funny are infuriating to watch like the pastor of a pregnancy crisis center more concerned with preventing an abortion than the fact that a father impregnated his teenage daughter. The film allows the humanity of two of its filmed "victims" to shine through: a Holocaust survivor who attempts to educate Borat on his anti Semitic views and a black babysitter who takes Borat's daughter under her wing and encourages her to stand on her own two feet. In addition to its biting satire on conservative American culture, the film focuses on the daughter's emergence from a destructive patriarchal culture to a feminist leader. As the daughter, Maria Bakalova received sterling reviews and justifiably so, she's a real find.

June Bride (1948)

The publisher (Jerome Cowan) of a woman's magazine forces a writer (Robert Montgomery) on the editor (Bette Davis) of the magazine. The two have a romantic past that didn't end well and she fends off his renewed advances when the two travel to Indiana to do a story on a small town wedding. Based on the play FEATURE FOR JUNE by Eileen Tighe and Graeme Lorimar and directed by Bretaigne Windust, a theatre director (FINIAN'S RAINBOW, STATE OF THE UNION) who only did a handful of films. When one thinks of 1940s romantic comedy, one doesn't think of Bette Davis. Her previous two films, DECEPTION and WINTER MEETING, didn't do well at the box office so Warners thought putting her in a romcom might up her ante and they were right, the movie was a modest hit. But the wit isn't there and Davis looks uncomfortable in the part though to be honest I don't think a Jean Arthur or Rosalind Russell would have made it a better movie. Being a 1940s film, of course Davis tosses her career aside for being a good little wife and following her man around the world while he's doing his job. With Fay Bainter, Barbara Bates, Tom Tully, Betty Lynn, Marjorie Bennett, Mary Wickes (who manages the few laughs available) and in her film debut, an uncredited Debbie Reynolds though you'd be hard pressed to find her.

Friday, April 2, 2021

After Office Hours (1935)

A rough talking newspaper editor (Clark Gable) fires the snooty society dame (Constance Bennett) working as the paper's music critic. But he rehires her when he sees she can be useful to the paper in opening the door to New York society. They can't stand each other so naturally they fall in love. Written by Herman Mankiewicz (CITIZEN KANE) and directed by Robert Z. Leonard (ZIEGFELD GIRL). Newspaper settings with rapid fire talking editors and wisecracking reporters were a staple of 1930s cinema. This minor entry in the subgenre has its charms, notably the pairing of Gable and Bennett who show how important star power can be to a trifling romantic comedy. There's an added murder mystery element although since we know who the murderer is, it's not so much a mystery as waiting to see when and how he's caught. Audiences liked it enough to make a profit for MGM and it remains a good example of solid film making in the studio system. With Billie Burke doing her patented ditzy act as Bennett's mother, Harvey Stephens, Katharine Alexander, Henry Travers and William Demarest.      

Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius Of Gwen Verdon (2019)

A documentary on the life and career of dancer Gwen Verdon, often considered the greatest dancer of her generation on the Broadway stage. Directed by Ken Bloom and Chris Johnson, the movie follows her journey from a childhood suffering from rickets and wearing orthopaedic boots to a four time Tony winning Broadway legend. The rare footage of home movies and clips of her Broadway, film (she made her dancing film debut in 1936) and TV appearances including interviews with those worked with her like Chita Rivera, Tab Hunter and Helen Gallagher as well as her daughter (Nicole Fosse) and son (James Henagan) all make for an engrossing trek. Of course, Bob Fosse is heavily included but make no mistake about it, this is all about Verdon. I was fortunate enough to see Verdon in the original company of CHICAGO and words to describe her dancing are inadequate, you have to see it and in this respect alone, this documentary is worth a viewing.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Diary Of A Mad Housewife (1970)

An upper class housewife (Carrie Snodgress in an Oscar nominated performance) is stuck in a marriage to a self centered social climbing attorney (Richard Benjamin) and has two undisciplined brats (Lorraine Cullen, Frannie Michel) for daughters. So she embarks on a casual affair with a narcissistic and sadistic writer (Frank Langella). Based on the novel by Sue Kaufman and directed by Frank Perry (MOMMIE DEAREST). Oy! What a specimen of its era this is! The film is a satire, at least on some level, it has to be. Benjamin's husband from Hell isn't a recognizable human being, he's a monstrous cartoon. And what are we to make of a woman who goes from that into the bed of Langella's bitchy mean spirited narcissist? When it was released, the film was acclaimed as a feminist breakthrough in cinema but today, what holds it together is a superb central performance by Snodgress. While everyone else around her is a caricature, Snodgress remains real and her character is one we latch onto like a life preserver. After this film, Snodgress was on the verge of a major career but alas, not unlike Diane Varsi, she walked away from Hollywood and when she decided to come back, the momentum was gone and that promise unfulfilled. With Peter Boyle, Katherine Meskill and the Alice Cooper band.

Mon Pere Avait Raison (aka My Father Was Right) (1936)

A rather self absorbed father (Sacha Guitry) is rather indifferent to his 10 year old son (Serge Grave). But after his wife (Betty Daussmond) abandons him and their child, he becomes a more loving parent. Jump 20 years and he and his now grown son (Paul Bernard) have a good relationship but the effects of his mother's abandonment are beginning to show. Based on the 1919 play by Sacha Guitry and adapted for the screen and directed by Guitry. It took quite awhile for me to warm up to this comedy of manners and it was only when the narrative jumped 20 years that I began to enjoy the movie. Guitry doesn't bother to hide the film's theatrical origins. The entire film takes place on one set, the father's study. It's a talky piece with some genuine wit though the film's attitude toward women range from dated to downright misogynistic. With Gaston Dubosc and Jacqueline Delubac.