|Hey, Did I Tell You About That MOVIE I Saw
There was a time, during my teen years,
I was absolutely obsessed with movies.
week, I'd scour the TV Guide to find
classic--and some not so classic--films
watch. Scheduling four or five flicks
take in on a rainy Sunday afternoon
unheard of in those days. But then,
of high school beckoned, followed by
and for several years, life lured me
from the television set altogether.
I did come back, episodic TV had improved
immensely, and my viewing interest
away from televised movies and towards
programs. That's pretty much the way
remained for the past few decades.
to the broadcast of commercial free
of legendary Hollywood fare on channels
American Movie Classics and Turner
Movies did little to change my viewing
Eventually, AMC began running commercials,
rendering it useless in my eyes, but
worst blow came when our cable provider
eliminated TCM from their roster (unless,
of course, we wanted to upgarde and
which, simply on principal, we did
I was left with only a handful of 8
videotapes I'd casually made of TCM
spotlighting performers I'd always
about, but not overly familiar with,
as Greta Garbo, Lon Chaney, and Harold
as evidence that we'd ever had the
at our disposal. I found myself watching
those tapes longingly in fits and starts
over the past couple of years.|
And then, last May, after the shift to digital TV had been nationwide, and dismayed at the way Cablevision yet again pared down the channels available to us, we made the switch to Verizon Fios--and suddenly, TCM was back in my life!! Man oh man, was it ever!!
Initially, I wrote brief reviews of what I was watching over on my Fred Sez blog (mixed in with current--or nearly current--films seen at out local second-run two dollar (one buck on Tuesdays!) theater), but after awhile, that became a bit of a chore--and more importantly, it cut into my movie-watching time!! The last such full out entry was back on August 8th of '09, and though I did review a random handful after that, for the most part, I was just inserting tape (yup, I'm STILL using my VCR), watching, not writing. But I WAS keeping a list. The hopes were always that I'd eventually go back over the list and add comments, but the thing got to be so, SOOOO long, soon any hope of THAT happening became unrealistic. But hey, I enjoy sharing my opinions, and always have SOME sorta thoughts after checking out a heretofore unseen flick (while occasionally I'll rewatch something I've seen before, mostly I'm trying to notch up first-time film experiences), so I came up with a compromise: short capsule comments, not full out reviews, no pictures or imdb/wikipedia links (I trust you folks know how to get thereabouts yourselves if so desired), starting at a certain point, and continuing on indefinitely. I decided to hold this back from the public for a bit while I amassed a decent sized backlog, and with just over seventy entries to start, I'd have to say I've met my goal!!
Please note that a LOT of these movies are pretty darn obscure. I'm particularly enamored with the films made in 1929--I'll watch ANYTHING TCM runs that has a 1929 date next to it in their listings--as I find the sometimes clumsy, sometimes inspired transition from silent to sound filmmaking fascinating to watch! Also, I find most anything made before the Production Code went into effect middway through 1934 of at least passing interest. Films from the sixties into the early seventies whose titles were floating around in my teen and pre-teen consciousness, unseen due to lack of transportation to the local picture palace, usually get a look-see as well. And any horror or sci-fi flick whose images were burned into my brain via mid-sixties monster magazines merit a viewing as well, no matter how dire their quality (though sometimes, that makes it all the more fun). And sometimes, I just plain discover new favorites--like Barbara Stanwyck and Chester Morris--and I begin seeking out anything they're in.
A word of advice: though these entries were meant to function as stand alone comments, it might be best, if this is your first visit to this page, to scroll down to where they begin, and read upwards, as the page is formatted to include the latest review on top. That way, you might best appreciate how the work of certain folks--be it Stanwyck, Morris, or even Elvis Presley--grew on me over a period of time.
Underneath the very first bold-faced review, you'll find the movies viewed but listed sans commentary. A "2" nest it means I'd seen it before, a "T" meaning that first time was in a theater.
Yeah, quite a list--over 175 titles! I DO have a tendency to become obsessed, no doubt about it (and yes, currently I have over a dozen VHS tapes full of films just waiting to be watched, so there's likely no end in sight )!! Guess this DOES explain away my distinct lack of blogging of late, huh?
Well, there's your intro--dive in, folks!! And come back often--there's sure to be plenty of updates!!...
"The Fuller Brush Girl" (1950, 85 min) Though directed by veteran Lloyd Bacon, writer Frank Tashlin is clearly the driving force behind this live-action cartoon. Broad but clever gags abound in this Lucille Ball headliner. Engaged to a timid Eddie Albert, she loses her job as shifty Jerome Cowan's switchboard operator and subsequently takes to the streets selling cosmetics. Albert, meanwhile, is being set up as a fall guy by Cowan--but before you know it, several dead bodies turn up, with Ball the prime (though erroneous) suspect. Soon, Lucy and Eddie are running from cops and crooks alike. Fast-paced, and full of familiar faces (I recognized at least four vets from the "Adventures of Superman" program, as well as the wife of TV's "Topper", Rob Petrie's mom, and even Red Skelton himself, the Fuller Brush Man!...), this movie was a lot funnier than I expected it to be. It's silly-funny, true, but it worked for me (I haven't found very many comedies from the forties and fifties all that amusing, including several of Ball's other flicks, making my positive reaction "The Fuller Brush Girl" all that more unusual). Lucy performs a mock burlesque number that's both hilarious AND sexy, certainly more so than anything she was allowed to do on the small screen. My favorite visual gag concerns the pair hanging onto two large bunches of bananas while hiding from the bad guys. Plus, you've got Mel Blanc providing the voice of a wise-cracking parrot! C'mon--give it a look! Recommended!
"Merton Of The Movies" (1947, 82 min) This third filmed version of a book written in 1919 by Harry Leon Wilson (and turned into a stage play by George S. Kaufman shortly thereafter) finds Red Skelton as an inept actor trying to break into silent movies--and succeeding, but only after filmmakers decide to make a comedy out of what Red believes to be a drama. Skelton is fine, as is Leon Ames, portraying a big star given to disappearing for boozing binges lasting for weeks, but the real surprise here is Virgina O'Brien, stunt-woman for studio bombshell Gloria Grahame and Skelton's eventual love interest. With a distinctively low pitched voice and an offbeat girl-next-door beauty, she invests her role with an appealing sincerity far beyond what is generally expected supporting a comedy headliner in a silly little film like this. Afterwards, I went directly to her imdb page and discovered that I'd actually encountered her once before, in the mediocre wartime musical "Meet The People" (1944), where I recall her featured number being one of the film's few highlights. Sadly, she had few leads in her short career, and only appeared in small roles in two subsequent flicks after "Merton", electing instead to focus her energies on the stage. Too bad--based on her work here, I was gonna add her to my short list of must watch performers. (She was also married to Kirk "Superman" Ayln from 1942 up until they later divorced in 1955.) Overall, this "Merton Of The Movies" has its moments, but also fails to take full advantage of it's silent movie era milieu, including a rather silly, forced ending featuring an illogically trumped up chase sequence. But worth seeing for O' Brien alone
"Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (1941, 95 min) Alfred Hitchcock directed his only screwball comedy at the behest of ill-fated star Carole Lombard, appearing here opposite Robert Montgomery in her next to last picture. No dark humor in sight--just a half dozen situations that would serve as templates for an equal number of "I Love Lucy" episodes a decade later (and I don't mean that as put-down). Playing a stormy, highly emotional couple who suddenly find out, after three years of ostensible marriage, that due to some faulty paperwork, their union wasn't entirely legal. Rather than simply tell the ostensible missus, Montgomery relishes the notion of an evening out with his "mistress". Trouble is, Lombard also learned separately of the sticky predicament, but kept mum, waiting for her past and hopefully future hubby to re-pop the question. When his true, lascivious intentions become clear, she throws him out, and the rest of the film deals with him trying to win her back (mostly from his partner and supposed best pal, Gene Raymond, who turns in an appealing performance as a low-key Southern gentleman in a role that by rights should've been far less sympathetic). I actually laughed out loud at scene in which, caught by Lombard at a fancy bistro with new pal Jack Carson, the newly-single Montgomery pretends to be talking to the elegant blonde at the adjacent table and not the floozy Carson set him up with--Lucy Ricardo couldn't have done it better!! Look for a brief scene set at the 1939/1940 NY World's Fair. Nowhere near being a traditional Hitchcock flick, and far from the best screwball comedy ever filmed, it's still moderately entertaining, both for Lombard's charm and as a peek into the outdated mores of the past. Plus, after notching up at least a half dozen Montgomery pics, before watching, I FINALLY realized he was Elizabeth's dad! It's all in the eyes, it seems--though I've yet to see him do that Samantha thing with his nose!
"The Monster That Challenged The World" (1957, 83 min) With a plot suspiciously similar to that of "Them!"--thus time it's massive mollusks that the military is attempting the stop the spread of rather than giant ants--but nowhere near the quality of writing (or effects), this is hardly a must-see. However, Hans Conried as the head scientist and Tim "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" Holt as the hero offer up a modicum of interest. The monster looks really stupid, though--and a scene featuring what looks like the head of a department store manniken (!) nestled in a diving helmet, freshly killed by the underwater creature, is truly laughable! The final sequence--monster hatched in the lab because little girl turned up the room's temperature to warm up one of the bunnies kept there for experimentation--is about as exciting as things get. By far, the lesser light of the four giant creature features TCM ran together one night a few weeks back.
"Breaker Morant" (1980, 107 min) Based on actual events during turn of the twentieth century Boer War (which I was blithely unaware of until the end credits finally clued me in--duh!...), this Australian film memorably portrays the sham of a court martial given three British soldiers, offered up as scape-goats by their superiors in the hopes of ending the largely senseless conflict. Edward Woodward does fine work in the title role, the ranking officer amongst the accused trio, while Jack Thompson is top-notch as the defense attorney who says all the right things and still loses. Riveting. Recommended.
"The Blind Side" (2009, 129 min) Lynn and I went to see this movie solely on the strength of Sandra Bullock's Oscar win. All I knew about it was that it concerned a rich Southern woman taking an impoverished young black teen-ager into her family as an act of kindness. Fine. Then, in the opening scene, I quickly realized football was also part of the mix. Okay, I'm not a football fan, but I willing to play along if it was a good enough movie. And it was, sorta. A bit heavy on the "feel-good" side of things (it struck me as a more upbeat--and white-washed version, you should pardon the expression--version of "Precious"), we nonetheless went along for the ride, until, much to our mutual surprise, with the flick's final scene and the end credits that followed, learned it was BASED ON A TRUE STORY!?! Honestly, we had NO clue (which may've made us the only two folks attending a showing anywhere at anytime, but there it is). Learning that suddenly put the whole thing in an entirely different perspective (I HAD wondered why a filmmaker would put Ms. Bullock's character in such a self-congratulatory position. Answer: it REALLY happened!). That may've explained some of the story's superficiality--with the real people still around (and this being an inspirational sports story after all), why show anybody in a lesser light? An okay movie, I suppose, but next time, would you PLEASE tell me if a flicks events are based on actual occurrance up front? In a bizarre coincidence, later that very same day, I pulled out a tape pretty much at random to watch--"Breaker Morant"--and learned for the first time during the end credits that that too was based on historical fact!! What were odds of THAT happening twice in one day? Talk about being blindsided!! I began to wonder if there really were giant ants roaming New Mexico back in the fifties!!!). Unrelated note: playing Bullock's hubby, I couldn't help to notice, as a long-time Mets fan, how much Tim McGraw resembles his late dad, Tug! If only Tim had shouted out "ya gotta believe!" just once, maybe I woulda known....
"Them!" (1954, 94 min) I last saw this classic--THE gold standard in giant insect flicks--back when I was around ten years old. While certain plot points had been completely lost to me over the years, the first occurrence of the eerie off-screen sound made by the ants brought it all rushing back!! While the giant puppetry may not've had the visual finesse of a Harryhausen stop-motion creation, a genuinely well-written script, rife with believable paranoia, makes this more than just a really good monster movie--this is a really good movie, period! Fine performances turned in by a vast array of familiar faces doesn't hurt--it's Marshall Dillon, Santa Claus and Harry S. Truman (after an earlier sighting by Davy Crockett) against the big bugs!! Besides James Arness, Edmund Gwenn, James Whitmore and Fess Parker, there's quick bits from the likes of William Schallert, Richard Deacon, Dub Taylor, and a smooth-eared Leonard Nimoy (as well as a nice turn by Joan Weldon as The Girl). The opening scenes are effectively suspenseful, despite knowing full well what was coming. If you haven't seen it, do!
"It Came From Beneath The Sea" (1955, 79 min) Ray Harryhausen's giant octopus--with arms that apparently can reach in several city blocks from the waterfront--menaces San Francisco, abeit never too convincingly. Lotsa time is spent on a potential romance between military man Kenneth Tobey and scientist Faith Domergue--including a "From Here To Eternity"-like beach romp--even though fellow scientist Donald Woods always seems to be part of the equation as well! The picture even ends with a scene of the three sharing a victory meal that seems almost to be a prelude to a menage a trois! Okay, probably not, but still... Kinda dull, especially compared to the far more entertaining "Beast From 20,000 Fathoms".
"Shanks" (1974, 93 min) Trust me--you've NEVER seen anything like William Castle's so-called "grim fairy tale", his final directorial effort and the sole starring vehicle of famed French mime, Marcel Marceau. Marceau plays deaf mute Malcolm Shanks, a puppeteer who lives with his abusive step-sister and her booze guzzling second hubby (Tsilla Chelton and Phillippe Clay, MM's fellow French mimes). He gets a job working with eccentric scientist, old Mr. Walker (also Marcel, speaking a half-dozen words at best), on experiments reviving dead animals via some tiny electrode devices. They don't actually come back to life per se, but instead have their dead bodies manipulated like puppets. Well, Mr.Walker dies, so Shanks tries the device on his late friend--and eventually, in some of the the most surrealistic and amazing scenes you'll ever see, on the now-late married couple he'd been rooming with. Toss in 16 year-old Cindy Eilbacher (who looks 13 at best) as a girl who follows the 48 year old around like a love-sick puppy dog, initially amused by the antics of the manipulated corpses, then horrified when she realizes they're dead--and THEN, taking it all in stride as the foursome celebrate her birthday at Walker's mansion!!! The movie is largely devoid of dialog, and as Marceau stipulated he wanted to do a fantasy, not a horror film, a lot of otherwise obvious aspects (like decomposition) and such are totally ignored. But it's still all unsettlingly creepy--though the whole alleged whimsy thing goes off the tracks in the final quarter when a motorcycle gang shows up, with the poor little girl dragged away screaming by the gang's leader, to be (presumably) raped and (definitely) murdered. THAT I didn't expect. Shanks has his revenge, though--AND one last dance with his underage gal-pal, as well. Did I mention creepy? Castle has a nice cameo as a grocer, and the actually miming is breathtaking--it's the overall story that's a bit deficient. But see it if you get the chance--movies don't get much odder than "Shanks"...
"College Confidential" (1960, 91 min) A must see for fans of films fitting the category, "so bad they're good"--which this Steve Allen/ Jayne Meadows starrer is in spades!!(The real -life married couple also co-produced along with schlockmeister/director Albert Zugsmith) is in spades!! Opening with an Oscar worthy confrontational scene between 29 year old co-ed Mamie Van Doren, who's being screamed at for coming in at 2:45 AM by her dad, Elisha Cook, Jr (!), you just KNOW you're in for something unlike you've ever seen before! Rather than rat out boyfriend Conway Twitty (who yes, does warble a ditty later on), she places the blame on college prof Allen for keeping her out late. Seems Steverino is conducting a written survey of his students, with two of its twenty pages focusing on their sex lives!! It's all very much on the up and up, thoroughly academic--which reporter Meadows discovers after her paper receives an anonymous note complaining about the immoral questionnaire. He invites her to a party he's giving for the students--who all dig him--to show the film he's taken of them down at the ol' swimming hole, but things go awry when someone spikes the punch AND tacks on a porno flick to the end of swimming footage!! The kids--all of 'em, even the guys--rise up as one in disgust, and storm out of the accidentally tipsy professor's pahd--with the police not far behind, very quickly arresting Allen on charges of corrupting minors! A hearing is held in friendly town grocer Mickey Shaughnessy's store, and because it's all about SEX, somehow a half dozen actual once famous columnists show up for the proceedings, headlined by the unmistakable Walter Winchell! You'll laugh in disbelief as Mickey examines the witnesses--my favorite moment comes when one young lass mentions "the virginity question" and the whole audience gasps simultaneously!! Steve--who's given scant opportunity to showcase his good-natured humor--delivers a supposedly inspiring speech in his defense, but he still woulda been person non grata in town if it weren't for it accidentally coming out that Shaughnessy was behind it all as a ways of getting daughter Cathy Crosby (daughter of Bob, niece of Bing) attention enough to win her the screen test she never really wanted. Mickey gets to emote heavily during his confession scene as well. Randy Sparks appears and sings a tune that Allen provided lyrics for, two years before he would form The New Christy Minstrels. I've always been a big fan of Steve Allen, but it's hard to fathom him picking THIS project to do at what was pretty much the height of his fame!! (Oh, and that porno film, which we viewers never actually saw? It was established during the hearing that it was merely folks in flesh colored outfits, which gives you a pretty good idea how tame this so-called shocker actually was!)
"The Beast From 20, 000 Fathoms" (1953, 80 min) Twasn't beauty that killer the beast, but Lee Van Cleef wearing a hazmat suit on the crest of a rollercoaster, armed with a radioactive isotope!! And why not--Ray Harryhausen's rudely awakened mythical dinosaur was the the first such cinematic beast to be defrosted by an atomic test blast? While many later giant monster flicks are just plain laughable, this one has enough internal integrity to be enjoyed with a modicum of seriousness. Scenes of the stop-motion monster wreaking havoc in New York City are especially memorable. Swiss actor Paul Hubschmid (here billed as Paul Christian), he of the thick accent, seems an unlikely choice for the film's hero, but I found him all the more interesting due to this inescapable aspect of his character. Cecil Kellaway plays the kindly scientist who put off that long over-due vacation just a couple of days too many, and there are plenty of other familiar fifties' era faces to be found in the cast (including Alvin Greeman, who played Alfred, the young janitor in "Miracle On 34th Street" several years earlier). I'd somehow never seen this one before, but wound up thoroughly enjoying a movie I fully expected to be far cheesier than it actually was. Bring on Godzilla!!
"The Mysterious Island" (1929, 93 min) This loose adaptation of the Jules Verne novel (shoehorning in plot points from the author's other works as well) is fascinating on several levels. A troubled production history--three years in the making, and originally filmed in color, prints of which no longer exist--ran up costs astronomically, and then audiences stayed away in droves, dooming science fiction on film until the fifties. Plus, it's one of those films that was made as a silent, but belatedly tacks on some sound sequences. In this film, the dialog scenes come about five minutes in, and last another ten or so--and boy, are they ever STATIC!! Scientist Lionel Barrymore stands opposite friend Montagu Love (Baron and would be King of a small country adjacent Barrymore's island) and carries on a conversation as the camera never leaves a medium shot, all the while Barrymore seems to be reading from off-screen cue cards!! It's a special hoot when, after hearing Lionel's plans for his revolutionary submarine,Love practically licks his lips, saying, "With that, we could conquer the WORLD!!". Barrymore's having none of THAT, though, and soon--save for a few stray radio transmission dialog lines and a lot of sound effects, the movie turns silent for the duration--which is actually for the better, as the action becomes far more fluid. Love returns with armed soldiers to seize Barrymore's two ships, torturing the scientist (and his sister, Jane Daly, who retired from films after this) in the process. Eventually, everyone's on the ocean floor and a massive group of sea dwelling creatures (midget actors looking an awful lot like The Mole Man's moloids) attack the two ships. Some of the effects are laughable--an alligator with fins pasted on top comes to mind--but others, like the deep-sea suits worn by the crew, are positively charming. A must see for any sci-fi fan with a hankering for film history, and just plain entertaining for plenty of other reasons as well!
"One Heavenly Night" (1931, 82 min) Demure flower girl Evelyn Laye agrees to impersonate a bawdy opera star (Lilyan Tashman, who delivers her lines like a European Mae West) when the local authorities ask the provocative singer to spend some time outside their district and instead at the castle of a randy Count (John Boles, Colin Clive's pal/romantic rival in "Frankenstein"), taking faithful friend, Leon Errol, along with her. Of course, given Tashman's reputation, Bole's is justified in assuming Laye to be an easy, um, lay, but off course that's not the case. With a handful of forgettable tunes belted out by the principals, operatta style, several scenes border uncomfortably on near date rape--though in the end, when the truth is revealed, wouldn'tcha know the pair are suddenly blissfully and romantically in love? The antics of Leon Errol take up substantial screen time, with at least three longish scenes devoted to the pretend drunkeness the man perfected and based his career on. If you love Leon, check this one out--otherwise, don't bother.
"Spinout" (1966, 90 min) This Elvis vehicle was erroneously included in the Medved brothers book declaring the 50 Worst Films of All Time--this is my 9th post Army Presley flick viewed in recent months, and it's far from the worst ("Kissin Cousins" comes to mind as lesser in all ways, save for the category of twin Elvii...). But that's all a matter of taste, I guess. I found the music, if not brimming with classic tracks, much peppier than most other Elvis flicks, the supporting cast first-rate, and the writing fairly amusing (a year later, co-writer Theodore J. Flicker would write and direct the beloved James Coburn cult film, "The President's Analyst"). Despite the title, the race car aspect mainly figures in the story's climax. Elvis helms a musical foursome featuring Jimmy Hawkins, Jack Mullaney (a sixties era sitcom supporting actor who never quite made the big time but whose work I remember fondly; here, he plays dumb to great effect), and drummer Deborah Walley, forever taken by the other three members as one of the guys, much to her constant consternation. Spoiled rich girl Shelley Fabares (joined here by Carl Betz--her "Donna Reed Show" father--playing the same role in a radically different manner) and icy cool author (she writes investigative sex books) Diane McBain, who, along with Walley, all want to marry Elvis--and how THAT'S worked out in the end is marginally clever! Also featuring Warren Berlinger, Will Hutchins, and, as a rich couple Elvis talks into letting him and his group house-sit while the pair take off on a belated second honeymoon are Hollywood vets Cecil Kellaway and Una Merkel (this would be Ms. Merkel's last big screen appearance). Hey, how can you NOT love a movie where the King Of Rock and Roll snarls out a tune entitled "Smorgasbord"??
"Ride The Wild Surf" (1964, 101 min) Fabian, Tab Hunter, and Peter Brown vacation in Hawaii in order to catch the REALLY big waves, and match up with, respectively, Shelly Fabares, Susan Hart, and Barbra Eden. Unlike the Frankie and Annette series, this flick was almost totally devoid of comedy, and its single song was the Jan and Dean title tune that played over the end credits. What this film DOES have is a lot of spectacular surfing footage--a WHOLE lot. An almost endless competition--also featuring nominal bad guy, Jim (son of Robert) Mitchum--serves as the film's finale, with the winner never in any doubt. Cheesy closeup footage of the actors ostensibly swaying back and forth on their boards is combined with stunning footage of pros riding the surf in the plentiful long shots. Most amusing to me was that two of the male stars had to change their normal hair color to match their stunt surfers--AND two of the women in turn had to change theirs as well, as contrast to their on-screen boy friends!! Incidentally, not a single woman attempts--or even considers--riding a surf board in this movie. Beautifully lensed, but overlong and ultimately dull. Sure coulda used a visit from Erich Von Zipper...
"Society Doctor" (1935, 67 min) The great but lamentably forgotten Chester Morris plays an idealistic doctor who butts heads with his superiors, mentors intern Robert Taylor, and avoids a relationship with nurse cutie Virginia Bruce on the grounds that it just wouldn't be fair to her. Enamored patient (and society widow) Billie (Glinda the Good Witch) Burke offers to set Chet up in his own lucrative practice, and at one point he's so disgusted with his current lot, he bites. When she starts blathering about office and outfit color schemes, he quickly comes to his senses. Then there's the gangster's mom down the hall--you just KNOW bullets will fly when he comes to visit, and one finds its way into Morris. The old fogey docs figure he has no chance, but Chester enlists young Doctor Taylor to perform a new technique to remove the bullet--all the while a groaning Chester directs the operation!! Silly stuff, sure, but Morris's fast-talking, all-out commitment to the material makes this short feature entertaining enough to spend an hour plus change with.
"Tillie's Punctured Romance" (1914, 72 min) The very first full-length motion picture comedy is also the last film Charlie Chaplin appeared in that he didn't direct himself. Playing a big city con-man--NOT the Little Tramp--Chaplin marries naive Marie Dressler (top-billed, due to her stage success using the same material) for her million dollar inheritance. Beside a few predictable twists and turns in the plot, there's very little to laugh at here--director Mack Sennett's idea of comedy mostly consists of people either falling down or getting kicked in the butt, and oft times both. Of interest to students of film--or Chaplin--history. Those looking for a good laugh need not apply.
"His Brother's Wife" (1936, 88 min) Until I saw this, I thought there was no such thing as a bad Barbara Stanwyck movie, but this proved THAT assumption wrong (I'm still pretty certain there's no such thing as a bad Stanwyck PERFORMANCE...). Actually, for about the first third, it ain't so bad (not great, but...)--the trouble is, it tries to be two wildly different movies in one!! Future Babs hubby Robert Taylor (this is where they met) plays a gambling playboy scientist who's due to head out for the jungle in ten days to help discover a cure for a killer tick bite. He meets Stanwyck in the gambling palace of the always delightfully slimy Joesph Calleia (here called Fisheye!), and they fall in love. Bob decides he's not going--let kindly Jean Hersholt and the rest of his crew find a cure without him--but because Taylor owes Calleia a $5000 debt, he takes Babs to the house of staid older brother John Eldredge (a four time foe of George Reeves, most memorably as Mr. X in the Lois Lane fantasy, "The Marriage of Superman") to ask for the money--AND tell him of his impending wedding, minus the research trip. John says, you want the money, you make the trip. When they break the news to Barbara, she doesn't take it very well. She goes to Calleia, takes him up on an earlier job offer as long as her pay can cover Taylor's debt anonymously. Eldredge comes in to pay off Calleia, runs into Babs, she strikes up a conversation, they dance, and--after we see Taylor going nuts in the jungle cuz he's getting no mail from her, so he heads home for a furlough--we next see the brother being dismissed from his job at the local hospital because he can't keep his mind on his doctoring! Why? Stanwyck seduced him, married him, and then--as soon as it became official--laughed in his face and dumped him!! Nice. But he can't get her out of his mind, and won't divorce her. So Taylor decides to take her back to the jungle with him as an assistant, and that's when things REALLY go off the track!! We never see Eldredge again--we await his signed divorce papers so the two original lovers can be together again (Barbara's sorry for what she did, don'tcha know), but as soon as they arrive, Taylor explains he's been playing HER!! He hates her--get out!! But--and mercifully, I won't go into detail--the only way to prove his antidote to the deadly tick bite actually works is for Stanwyck to inject herself with the poison and find out for sure!! Which--surprise--it does, and the pair head home happily on a cruise ship. Bouncing back between the two wildly differing locations--and bouncing back and forth from "I love you!" "I hate you!"--is enough to make a viewer dizzy--but not dizzy enough to swallow this whole contrived mess!! Gee, no wonder John Eldredge turned to crime!....
"The Young Rajah" (1922, 54 min) Long thought lost, a surviving print consisting of the last third of this Rudolph Valentino silent film surfaced a few years back. Using publicity stills, snippets from trailers, and the original script, the first fifteen minutes or so of this restored version consists of a cobbled together set-up for what does remain. Too bad most of the elaborate costume party mid-way through no longer exists, but we DO get the story of a pre-cognitive Rudy--an Indian Rajah smuggled to the USA as a babe and raised here--being called back to his home to stop an evil ruler, even if doing his duty for his home country does mean having to turn his back on his true American love. Plus, he foresees his own death!! But, worry not--it all works out. Interesting curio, but y'know, if this thing was really three times as long as it wound up being in this truncated version, maybe I'm lucky so much of it was lost!
"Valentino" (1977, 128 min) A highly fictionalized biography of silent film icon Rudolph Valentino (played here by famed Russian ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev in his first and only headlining role), as imagined by visually inventive but otherwise demented director Ken Russell. Told in flashback at his funeral by the women in life, there are some terrific scenes sprinkled throughout this movie, most of which include dancing (Valentino was a dancer before he became a movie star, y'see). My fave is early one when he pulls Carol Kane from the audience to be his partner after her date--an obnoxious film comic referred to as "Mr. Fatty"--drives his original partner from the dance floor with his cat-calls. Also of note: ex-Bowery Boy Huntz Hall as studio head Jesse Lasky and former Mama Michelle Phillips as Rudy's second wife (oddly, the first one is never seen, and only mentioned once, albeit not by name). Watch for a totally nude conversation between the Phillips and Nureyev (who reportedly couldn't stand one another) in a tent. And the trumped up boxing match that ends the film is a hoot as well--while the scene of Valentino trapped in a jail cell with a group of perverted derelicts is just the sort of thing one expects from Russell, unfortunately. Nureyev is no actor, but he tries hard, and I found his effort somehow endearing. Watch for a pre-"Cheers" John Ratzenberger as a reporter hounding the various mourners (including Leslie Caron as the actress Nazimova, wearing an outfit that has to be seen to be believed). Not a great film by any measure, I found it an absorbing curiosity, and shamefacedly admit to enjoying every minute of it!
"Sherlock Holmes" (2009, 128 min) After seeing previews that made this look like an action-movie, I went into this update directed by Guy Ritchie (whose other films I'd never seen, though am well aware of their less than universally beloved critical reception) with great trepidation. But whaddaya know--I LIKED IT! A lot. (Although I wasn't quite willing to commit to that judgment until the ending proved, much to my relief--yes, there WAS some doubt--that Sherlock was only up against a particularly clever criminal, not actual magical forces. THAT woulda knocked things down a couple of notches for me.). While the film's frantic nature was a bit startling so soon after viewing all those old Basil Rathbone flicks--there were more fisticuffs than the story actually needed--some of the action sequences were memorably breathtaking, specifically the errant ship-launch and the literally dizzying finale up on the unfinished bridge. The acting by Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law in the leading roles (offering fresh takes on seemingly stale characters) was quite good--even if Watson more often than not played straight-man to Holmes, rather than the other way around. And if the couple seemed a wee bit gay at times, well, not there's anything wrong with THAT, right? The carefully explained logic behind events, big and small, was a winning approach with me, as was the palpable atmosphere of the film's set design. Mark Strong made a good baddie as well. I had to laugh at that scene with Sherlock handcuffed to a bed, naked save for a strategically placed pillow--it had absolutely NOTHING to do with the story, and only lasted as long as it took to insert into the trailer, no doubt in the hopes of luring in unsuspecting movie-goers!! Well, the guy WAS married to Madonna, after all! I look forward to the follow-up (if only so Downey can finally utter the AWOL line, "Elementary, my dear Watson...").
"Moran of the Lady Letty" (1922, 68 min) Bored playboy Rudolph Valentino is shanghied aboard (memorable Laurel and Hardy villain) Walter Long's ship--and soon discovers he LIKES the sea-faring life!! But when the ship presided over by the father of tombyish Moran (a plain but top-billed Dorothy Dalton) goes down with her as the only survivor--rescued by Valentino--friction develops between Rudy and the less than honorable Cap'n Long. Featuring plenty of outdoor location shooting on both land and sea, Valentino acquits himself nicely in the role of action-hero. While apparently not a typical vehicle for the actor, right on the cusp of his icon-hood, I nonetheless found it mildly interesting.
"A Woman Of Affairs" (1928, 91 min) This Greta Garbo/John Gilbert silent melodrama is both riveting (due mostly to the leading lady's mesmerizing performance) AND confusing (due mostly to being adapted from a book filmmaker's were afraid to even name in the opening credits--"The Green Hat" by Michael Arlen--apparently changing many key plot points along the way). Greta has loved John since childhood. Dad Hobart Bosworth doesn't want his son to marry her. Brother Doug Fairbanks Jr (giving a wonderful performance) prefers she marry his idol, athletic Johnny Mack Brown. After Gilbert is forced to turn his back on Garbo, she does indeed hitch up with Brown, but on their wedding night--BEFORE the festivities, shall we say, culminate--the couple recieve a pair of visitors, and Brown throws himself out a window to his death!! Garbo explains he died for "decency", and she soon becomes hated by all save family friend Lewis Stone. She goes off and has meaningless affairs, but eventually returns just as Gilbert is about to marry sweet Dorothy Sebastian. They spend the night together, coupling just a dissolute Fairbanks, Jr--who's long hated his sibling for allegedly driving Brown to his death--dies across town. Eventually, it comes out that Brown was an embezzler and Garbo was protecting his good name--and to make sure Gilbert stays married to the angelic Sebastian, she jumps in a car and drives it into the very tree the two pledged eternal love under as children! Now THERE'S a movie! Except, in the book, the Brown character has SYPHILIS, and the Garbo character says he died for "purity", which makes a lot more sense. Watching this without prior knowledge of the screenplay's source material, I could never quite figure out WHY Garbo sacrificed her own reputation to cover for a crook she wasn't even in love with--and worse, the film saves the big reveal for the final scene (like I didn't realize what the two guys with guns had in mind when they arrived on site, even if the director did quickly jump to the next scene without them anywhere to be found). Still, that Garbo sure was something, and if you dig her, worth tuning in to.
"Congo Maisie" (1940, 71 min) The second in a series of ten B movies featuring Ann Sothern as wisecracking Brooklyn showgirl Maisie Ravier finds our heroine stranded at a small medical outpost in a remote African village with gruff John Carroll, a disallusioned doctor who's turned his back on medicine, and Sheppard Studwick and Rita Johnson, the husband and wife team who've taken over Carroll's old beat. Sickly (and distracted) Studwick doesn't have the same winning way with the natives that Carroll did, and soon, the medicine men are instigating trouble against the "white devils". Only Maisie's Carmen Miranda hootchie cootchie dance in front of the natives--AND a well-timed downpour--saves the day! And aside for some tepid wisecracks, that's about as close to comedy as this fairly standard melodrama gets, much to my surprise. Sothern is entertaining, and given the opportunity, I'd probably watch a second "Maisie" installment, but this time, without any particularly high expectations.
"Our Dancing Daughters" (!928, 85 min) They say this is late era silent movie (with a few ambient sound effects and miscellaneous yelping thrown in for good measure) is the one that made the previously long-toiling but mostly overlooked Joan Crawford a star, and I can easily see why. I confess to not being a fan of the lady, but her vibrant performance here as a Roaring Twenties party girl (with honor intact, mind you) is positively dazzling. Rich bachelor Johnny Mack Brown has to make a choice between fun-loving Joan and her friend, pretend-demure Anita Page (who, by the way, is absolutely stunning, and acts her role of scheming gold-digger to the hilt), and as he soon finds out, makes the WRONG choice. The storyline is all tied up in the mostly antiquated morals of the day, but unlike some other silent melodramas, I never felt bored with this one for a second. The finale is laughably predictable--even the filmmakers seemed to realize that, as they tease us with the inevitable for several drawn out minutes. I mean, why ELSE is there such a long staircase included on set if not for a tipsy villainess to--but no, see for yourself. Wonderfully garish art deco sets, and here's an odd observation: Joan Crawford resembled, to these eyes, a somewhat sexier Gracie Allen!?! Say good night, Joanie...
"Five Minutes To Live" (1961, 80 min) I'd never heard of this before, but I'm telling you, it's a don't miss!!! Vic Tayback has a plan for the perfect crime: he'll go into the local bank and ask VP Donald Woods (the General in "Kissin Cousins") for $70, 000--and if he doesn't get it, he WON'T call his henchman back at Wood's house and tell him not to shoot his wife (Cay Forrestor, who also wrote this, her only screenplay). The henchman? JOHNNY CASH!! In full killer psycho mode (earlier in the film, he shot his girl-friend point blank cuz he heard the truth about her last affair). Johnny--posing as a guitar lesson salesman to get into the house, thus allowing him to strum a little and sing a few lines of the ominous title tune to his prey--is flat out scary, if not particularly polished, acting-wise. Watch him gleefully torture the trembling wife by destroying ever knick knack and doodad in her suburban living room--and THEN ask where the bedroom is! "Are--are you going to lock me in the closet?" "Not even close, lady..." But, she's literally saved by the bell from THAT sorry fate, and we watch as the so-called perfect crime slowly falls apart, culminating with the unexpected arrival home midday by the couple's six-year old son (RONNY HOWARD!! Yes! Opie to the rescue!!) And when the smoke clears, the movie's STILL not over (unlike so many thirties' flicks that end abruptly) as a series of loose end tying epilogs play out, much to my satisfaction. Vicious Johnny Cash has to be seen to be believed, and while the film-making as a whole is, um, not first-rate, it is entirely entertaining!! So what if Johnny's silencer makes a loud bang with every fired shot and Vic Tayback gives his real name to the clerk when going into the bank to see Donald Woods? Mere details. Highly recommended if you have a taste for this sort of thing.
"Kissin Cousins" (1964, 96 min) Below mediocre Elvis vehicle which crosses "Li'l Abner" with "The Patty Duke Show" as Air Force Captain Jack Albertson enlists southern born Lt. Elvis to accompany him on a trip to wrest an agreement from some ornery mountain folk in order to use their territory to build an ICBM missile base. At which point, the pair encounter distant cousin, blonde-wigged Elvis. The fun here is watching for the true faces of the stunt doubles in the non-split screen scenes that pepper the film. A remarkable job is done keeping the illusion up, most amusingly in the final scene as the pair duet (while dancing, one facing the screen, the other with his back to it, the camera rapidly switching between the "two") during a big production number featuring the title tune, the only marginally decent song in the flick. Plot-wise, little is made of the situation--there are no wacky mix-ups, no sly substitutions. Basically, it's brunette Elvis's show--blonde Elvis mostly stands around, acting cranky and wanting to wrestle. Yvonne Craig is the cousin brunette Elvis actually kisses (and, by implication, marries), with Arthur O'Connell as the stubborn hill patriarch. I was surprised--and delighted--to see Glenda Farrell as the film's ersatz Mammy Yoakum. She was a busy supporting actress back in the thirties--I've seen half a dozen of her movies in recent times--and here, she gets ample screen time, AND the chance to sing a solo number all by herself (plus her forty-ish son nicely plays a sergeant in the flick). Donald Woods is the general, and somewhere in all this hillbilly mess is Maureen Reagan, daughter of Ronald. Producer Sam Katzman's wife, Hortense Petra, shows up briefly in a nothing role. Not one of The King's best, but seeing twin Elvii--not to mention a scantily clad Yvonne Craig--has got to count for SOMETHING!!
"Ann Vickers" (1933, 76 min) As the opening credits--a book being opened, page by page by a faceless hand--visually informs us, this is a cinematic adaptation of a then current best-selling novel by Sinclair Lewis, starring Irene Dunne in the title role. But having watched this, even without reading the book, I'm thinking 76 minutes is way too short to properly fit in the entire story. It plays almost like three movies in one. First off, social worker Dunne is seduced by shipping out dough-boy Bruce Cabot on the eve of WW1, and winds up pregnant for her trouble. Only, viewers get absolutely no indication that Cabot isn't the love of her life and won't marry her as he'd pledged to do when he returns--until she spots him in a restaurant with another cutie while on leave. Learning the news, he begrudgingly agrees to get hitched, but Dunne wants nothing more to do with him--he's never seen or mentioned again, and as for the baby? Stillborn or aborted--flip a coin; guess you'd have to read the book to find out which. Next, she goes to a woman's prison to work, but witnesses such horrible conditions (consisting of a series of montages of brutal acts with Dunne's ghostly, worried face superimposed over them) that she wants to reform the system. The system doesn't want to be reformed, though, so the warden and his chief henchmen lay a trap for her--lured up the room of the prison's doctor, lying unconscious on his bed in an alcoholic stupor, the pair wait in his closet to snap a photo of her trying to revive the doc, looking all the world like the proverbial compromising pic (interesting note: the doc is played by J. Carroll Naish, who gets a screen credit, even though this is his only scene and he has absolutely no dialog!! Nice gig if you can get it!). So she leaves, writes a best-seller about prison reform, and about half-way through the film, meets second billed Walter Huston, a married judge with questionable friends who eventually winds up in jail, but not before stealing her heart--AND giving her another illegitimate child!! He gets out at the very end and reunites with her and their son, and she realizes that being a wife (his divorce from his first missus FINALLY came through) and mother is what will TRULY satisfy her!! Wonder if that was the book's final revelation as well? I did like the line where she tells a prisoner she was gonna help her "quit the snow, cold turkey"--and it WAS the first time I've seen Walter Huston play a romantic lead, which he pulls off decently, if not exactly in a Gablicious mannner. Dunne's fine as well, and there's lots of interesting pre-code quirks to be seen, but the story's all over the place. These filmmakers probably could've buried even "Gone With The Wind" in cinematic obscurity...
"The Beast Of The City" (1932, 86 min) This is a visually dynamic, fast-moving, snappily written gangster movie, told by MGM as the flip-side of the more well-known Warner Brothers entries, this time from the view-point of the police rather than of the criminals. Walter Huston plays an over-zealous cop whose vain pursuit of mob boss Sam Belmonte (usually kind-hearted Jean Hersholt, with slick-backed black hair and questionable accent) gets him demoted to the sticks. Until, that is, Huston's exploits garner him enough front page buzz to get himself made police captain of the entire city. Happy-go-lucky younger cop brother Wallace Ford is disappointed when Captain Walter cheerily informs him he's gonna have to earn that promotion he wants, and his resentment is all the seed Belmonte's former moll, Jean Harlow, needs to plant (with the help of J. Carroll Naish) in order to corrupt the heretofore straight shooter. The initial seduction scene between Harlow and Ford ranks right up there with the hottest stuff I've yet encountered in a pre-code film--with witty dialog to boot. Things eventually go all to pieces, and soon, Ford is sitting on the dock, next to Nat Pendleton, charged with murder. But Hersholt thinks it would be a big gag to get Huston's kid brother and off, so shyster Tully Marshall--giving the most deliciously over the top closing argument I've EVER seen (and remember, I've seen Lionel Barrymore in court!)--succeeds with flying colors! Up that point, this movie is absolutely wonderful, but then comes the ending. It's dramatic, it's stunning, it's incredibly violent, but it's also, logically speaking, incredibly stupid. I won't give it away--and recommend you see the film anyway--but c'mon, was that the ONLY way to handle things? I really don't think so Harlow's role is comparatively small, but whenever she's on screen, she's totally riveting. 11 year old Mickey Rooney has the unbilled, minor role of Huston's son, Mickey.
"The Star Witness" (1931, 68 min) A typical thirties era family is sitting down to dinner when they suddenly hear some shooting outside: gangsters have killed a cop and a stoolie, and are soon running through their house in order to slip out the back, unscathed by the law. DA Walter Huston wants to nail mob boss Ralph Ince badly, and has the eager cooperation of the entire family--until dad Grant Mitchell is lured into a warehouse and is brutally beaten by Nat Pendleton (in some disturbingly no-holds barred scenes of repeatedly throwing the hapless man head first against a wall). NOW the family changes its collective tune--all save Granpa (47 year old Chic Sale convincingly--and annoyingly--playing 87, in full 'tarnation' mode). Even when young George Ernest is kidnapped, Gramps is still willing to testify, much to the horror of the rest of the clan. But worry not--the old man tracks down the young 'un on his own, and the blasted furriners get their just desserts!! Huston is top-billed, but it's really Sale's picture. Middling at best. Comics fans should look for the youngest cast member, Dickie Moore, playing a character named Ned Leeds.
"The Criminal Code" (1931, 97 min) DA Walter Huston gets a second degree murder conviction for Philip Holmes after confiding to an associate that were he the 20 year old's defense attorney, he'd get him to walk free via a self defense plea. But his job is to get convictions and The Criminal Code--the book of laws he refers to throughout the movie--says punishment must be meted out, and so the boy is shipped off to prison. One of his two cell-mates is Boris Karloff, a con who had his parole revoked and was thrown back in jail to serve out his time simply because he was spotted in a speakeasy having a beer several days after being sprung. The man who turned him in is one of the prison guards, a man Karloff vows to "have an appointment with". Several years into Holmes' sentence, Huston is made warden, and recognizing the near-broken boy, the prison's new head takes him under his wing (as does daughter Constance Cummings), and is on the verge of getting him out on parole when he inadvertently serves as the only witness to Karloff's murder of a stoolie. With his own future freedom in jeopardy, Holmes adheres to his own Criminal Code, refusing to rat out his cellmate, despite Huston's best efforts to get him to do so (and the ham is sliced mighty thick during THIS sequence--tasty, too!!). A wonderful movie, with Karloff (whose dramatic scene cornering the hapless stoolie is replayed in Peter Bogdanovich's 1968 "Targets" as an example of Boris's fictional Byron Orlac character's early film career) a true-standout. Menacing, but never to Holmes or the other inmates--his unique mixture of sympathetic creepiness is apparently what drew James Whale to him, as the story goes it was this performance that attracted the eye of the "Frankenstein" director. Look for a small speaking part played by a young and almost thin Andy Devine. Recommended, even to non-Karloff fans.
"The Ruling Voice" (1931, 72 min) Walter Huston plays the business-like chairman of a board of thugs who control the protection rackets in an unspecified--but large--section of the country. Very well-mannered and charming, he's delighted at the return of daughter Loretta Young home after a decade abroad. That is, until his calmly logical explanation of what exactly it is he does for a living fails to win her over, and in fact, drives her away. The film's title refers to the room where he disciplines straying henchmen--they hear his voice, but never see his face (save for Huston's eyes peering through a small slit). This plot device figures in the flick's tense finale. Rather talky, but Huston always makes excess verbiage interesting. Look for a fully suited Nat Pendleton in a more refined than usual role for him--albeit, still a crook. And most memorably, plenty of unintentional yocks are to be had at the expense of Young's finance, David ("Dracula", "The Mummy") Manners, simply because his character's full name is repeated at least a dozen times over the course of the movie: "Daddy, meet Dick Cheney. I'm going to marry Dick Cheney. There's a Dick Cheney here to see you..." and so on. Plenty of laughs--you might even say, a BUSHel full!...
"Annie Oakley" (1935, 90 min) With my new favorite actress, Barbara Stanwyck, in the title role, how could I possibly pass up this breezy, highly fictionalized, and ultimately slight retelling of the west's greatest female shooting star? Preston Foster plays a cocky new headliner in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show--and the man Annie would soon overshadow. Don't worry, though--there's love in the air for the pair, and after overcoming a few strategic personal obstacles, all is right in the end. Stanwyck is winning as always, playing Oakley as demure yet confident. Not a true western, but better described as a reenactment of an old time rodeo show, with trick horse riding, play-acting Indians, and plenty of sharp shooting. Melvyn Douglas plays the romantic third wheel, Pert Kelton (the original Alice Kramden--who would later play Alice's mother on a color episode of "The Honeymooners") is Foster's ex-partner, and Moroni Olsen (distant cousin of Merlin Olsen and perhaps best known to present day audiences as the judge who presided over the dispute between the Ricardo's and the Mertz's regarding a shared TV set, ultimately kicking the screen in himself while in chambers) is impressive as a blustery but kindly Buffalo Bill. Nothing particularly special here, but as always, Babs makes the time put in worthwhile.
"Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire" (2009, 109 min) This Oscar nom-magnet boasts truly electrifying acting (Mo'Nique deserved her Supporting Actress statue, and newcomer Gaby Sidibe turns in a remarkable performance in the title role) while telling what I'd consider a less than uplifting tale (despite the strides made by Precious by film's end). It's a good movie and I'm glad I saw it, but the flurry of ecstatic publicity surrounding it reminded me of similar hype afforded "Slumdog Millionaire"--I went into both fully expecting a life-changing experience, which I felt I'd been implicitly promised. Didn't happen. Just saw a pair of well-done, comparatively off-beat films. Well, I guess I shoulda known better--after all, I'm the type more likely to have my life changed by the likes of "Elf " or "Enchanted"!....
"Sherlock Holmes In Washington" (1943, 71 min) My favorite of the three wartime "Holmes versus the Nazis" propaganda films has the sleuth and Dr. Watson traveling to the nation's capitol in search of a secret document that's disappeared from the hands of a now-dead British agent. Reduced to microfilm, viewers are clued into it's wherebabouts before the folks on screen are, which makes for some entertaining--and blissfully ignorant--"hot potato" sequences. Nigel Bruce has several amusing scenes attempting to utilize his book of American slang, the black actor Clarence Muse holds his own with Rathbone as a train porter recounting pivotal events, and George Zucco--NOT Moriarty this time around--makes for a memorable mastermind--albeit, given the film's climax, a befuddled one. 25 year old Marjorie Lord--famous later at Danny Thomas's sitcom wife--plays the female lead. Uncle Tounoose is nowhere to be seen, however....
"Three Godfathers" (1936, 81 min) Apparently, both a silent version and a full-color 1948 remake (a full-blown John Ford/John Wayne collaboration) of this story concerning three western outlaws who come across a dying woman and her baby in the desert while fleeing a bank hold-up exist, but from gleaning commentary left on imdb from other viewers, this is clearly the toughest take on the material (the ending of the more popular Wayne film--which I haven't seen--sounds downright idyllic compared to the finale here). The marvelous Chester Morris--and how great is THIS regrettably forgotten actor?--plays Bob (that's right--Bob), a black-hearted and black-suited bad man returning to his home town (and to the woman he left behind) mere days before Christmas to knock over the local bank. Lewis Stone, as an aging gunman with a penchant for Shakespeare, and Walter Brennan, ignorant but loyal, round out Morris's gang. I generally avoid westerns, and only tuned into this on the strength of Morris's participation, but I found it to be a surprisingly strong movie, guilty of very few of the genre's tedious cliches. As the only one who wants no part of safely delivering the orphaned tot back to civilization, Chester Morris plays a truly bad man with enough charisma that we don't feel any particular shame when we eventually end up rooting for him. Stone and Brennan are top-notch as well. Recommended.
"Sherlock Holmes And The Secret Weapon" (1943, 68 min) Holmes versus the Nazis, round two! This time Lionel Atwill as Professor Moriarty is working with the Germans against Basil Rathbone's famed detective, who's trying to keep a Swiss inventor's top-secret bomb sight from falling into enemy hands. Not much detecting going on here, save for an elaborate visual code using small stick men that I wouldn't understand if I reran this flick a hundred times. Holmes begins the action is disguise, meeting with Nazi agents who hope to kidnap the Swiss inventor. The disguised Holmes tells them to grab the pair after he lures the inventor out of his home and onto the street, but once we follow Sherlock inside, we discover his TRUE plan--to send out a pair of the inventor's servants in look-alike outfits to lure away the Nazis while Sherlock and the REAL inventor slip away. And it works! "But what about my servants?" "Don't worry--they'll be safe. I've arranged it" Sherlock calmly replies--and that's the last we ever hear of THAT!! Sloppy, and it bugged me for the duration of the pic. In the role of arch enemy Prof M, Atwill's no Zucco, and this film's no classic.
"The Day Reagan Was Shot" (2001, 98 min) This docudrama (a Showtime original production) starring Richard Crenna as The Gipper, Holland Taylor as the First Lady and mostly Richard Dreyfuss as Secretary of State Alexander "I'm in charge here" Haig is both fascinating and frustrating. The minute by minute details of how events unfolded the day the president was shot back in March of 1981 are fascinating, but the overblown histrionics of Dreyfuss, loudly bickering with members of the cabinet, quickly become frustrating afterwards while watching a short companion documentary featuring the actual folks who were on the scene that dark day, because excerpts from an actual tape recording made by Richard Allen of discussions in the situation room (a tape that he'd somehow forgotten about, rediscovering it only after the movie had been shot but before it was broadcast) contradict the flick's heated tone. Very little strum and drang could be detected, unlike the highly entertaining--but highly exaggerated--Dreyfuss performance. What then to believe? Reagan was a lot worse off than we were led to believe--and what was with that unstable ex-med student wandering into the operating room? And Secret Service agents in scrubs brandishing machine guns, mere feet away from the doctors operating on the Prez--REALLY? Entertaining, if sorta cheaply TV movieish looking at times. Crenna does credible imitation, and Taylor's hairdresser has Nancy Reagan's 'do down pat. Note that while gunman Hinckly writes a note to "Jody", and later a cabinet member says it was all done to impress that actress in "Taxi Driver", Ms. Foster's full name is never used. Guess it was be kind to your Hollywood buddies day, but go ahead and make Caspar Weinberger look like the biggest putz possible, huh?...
"Meet The Parents" (2000, 108 min) Ben Stiller accompanies girlfriend Teri Polo home to attend her sister's wedding--and, when he has the chance, to ask her father (who he's never met) for her hand in marriage. Mom Blythe Danner seems nice enough, but retired CIA agent Robert De Niro--a man who's taught his beloved cat to use a human toilet and who keeps a working lie detector in his private study--is a much harder nut to crack. Simply put, everything that can go wrong, does. I resisted this one for quite awhile--I've never been much of a Stiller fan (dunno if I've even actually seen any of his flicks)--and additionally, I was afraid the level of humor was going to be on par with Ben's character's last name: Fokker (pronounced, well, you know...). But this movie turned out to be very amusing, cleverly constructed, and benefiting from stand-out performances from Stiller and most especially from Mr.Intimidation himself, Robert De Niro. If you haven't seen this, don't shy away like I did--it's fairly hilarious!! I very much look forward to tracking down the sequel, "Meet The Fokkers".
"The Crooked Circle" (1932, 70/59 min) This movie has the historical distinction of being the very first film to be broadcast over the television airwaves (though one source has the date as 1933, another as1940, albeit both in very limited situations). A spooky old dark house mystery/comedy--a genre I love--it features ANOTHER historical tidbit: the origin of Olive Oyl's vocal style! Just listen to top-billed Zasu Pitts moan, whine and tremble, and you'll realize (as explained on the film's imdb page) that Mae Questel lifted Pitt's speech pattern as template for Popeye's gal pal in a series of extremely popular cartoons that launched the very next year!! The movie itself features a masked group of criminals called The Crooked Circle up against their civilian adversaries, The Spinx Club, headed by stalwart Ben Lyon. C. Henry Gordon--a favorite of mine with as sneaky a looking kisser as you'll find in early talkies--comes aboard as the mysterious Indian, Yoganda, and bumbling James Gleason plays a hapless cop who keeps bumping into skeletons, bodies, and Zasu Pitts!! In the end, all is exposed, allegiances revealed, and baddies unmasked. I saw this movie online (Google it) in a 59 minute format, though imdb has it as 70 minutes. I could tell there were cuts, but it didn't seem to hurt the story much. I guess even back in 1933, TV station managers were making cuts for commercials!! Not a great film by any means, but if you like the type, you could do worse.
"My Friend Irma" (1949, 103 min) The film version of a then-popular radio program might seem an odd way to introduce America to the country's latest comedy sensations, Martin and Lewis, but somehow, it works. Marie Wilson plays Irma Peterson, a blonde with the mind of Gracie Allen and the body of Marilyn Monroe, Dianne Lynn her roommate (and series narrator) Jane Stacy, and, best of all, John Lund (who I only first ever saw a few months back as the lead in Billy Wilder's under appreciated "Foreign Affair") as Irma's con-man boyfriend, Al. Al comes across Dean singing a few tunes at the orange juice stand where he and partner Jerry work, and decides to make himself rich by becoming his manager. Along the way, despite finally landing a job as millionaire Don DeFore's secretary--hoping to eventually land DeFore as well--Dianne Lynn falls for Dino instead. Martin, as always, is in fine voice, and Jerry Lewis definitely makes an impression with his tacked on role, despite being off screen for long periods of time(he's virtually AWOL during the climax). To me, John Lund was the funniest character in the film (no wonder Lewis reportedly wanted his part). Ending on a sort of cliffhanger, the same principals (save DeFore) regrouped for a sequel, "My Friend Irma Goes West". Ironically, were it not for Dean and Jerry, the whole franchise would largely be forgotten today. With radio carry-overs Hans Conried and Gloria Gordon (mother of Gale) in small supporting roles. Breezy fun in the forties' romantic comedy tradition.
"Twister" (1996, 113 min) When, about an hour in, Bill Paxton's frazzled fiancee Jamie Gertz screams at him and his motley crew of storm chasers, "You people area all crazy!", I thought to myself, sister, I knew THAT 45 minutes ago! Rated PG for "the intense depiction of weather" (that's the official line), this popular disaster flick from a decade and a half back is a lot of fun if you like seeing things destroyed--likes barns, trucks, and logic! Which I usually don't (though the scene of the drive-in movie screen showing "The Shining" dissolving in the wind WAS impressive...). Helen Hunt as the ex-wife scientist who seems to consider tornadoes serial killers cuz one took her daddy off into the really wild blue yonder when she just a kid is just the sort of woman Paxton deserves, as he unthinkingly throws therapist Gertz into mortal danger repeatedly in the first two-thirds of this pot-boiler of a plot. And who knew Phillip Seymour Hoffman could ever give an appealing performance after witnessing his one-note obnoxious turn here? Seeing a cow fly across the screen may well've been cool in a movie theater, but at home on the tube, "Twister" is just...okay.
"Suicide Fleet" (1931, 87 min) Three Coney Island employees--tour guide James Gleason, photographer Robert Armstrong, shooting gallery honcho Bill (future Hopalong Cassidy) Boyd--vie for the affections of the girl in the candy booth, Ginger Rogers. And then the war breaks out (though there's absolutely no effort in making things look like 1917 as opposed to 1931), and three go off together on a Navy ship, with the previously enlisted Boyd (the one Ginger truly loves) instantly made an officer, with the other two serving beneath him. Eventually, the trio--along with several others--pretend to be the crew of a Norwegian cargo ship sunk earlier by the Navy, who know it's scheduled to be meet up with several German U-boats in the hopes that Boyd and associates can wrangle some valuable secrets out of the enemy. Not a great movie--an action comedy that's not all that funny, with decent action during the finale that doesn't end realistically. Not being a western fan, I don't think I've ever seen a Hoppy flick, but this film clearly illustrated both Boyd's likability and limited acting range, which I suppose made him perfect for his eventual lifetime role. Rogers has a key role, but limited screen time. Gleason mugs it up, Armstrong plays dim, and I was just waiting for it to end.
"Finishing School" (1934, 73 min) Babbling, disinterested mother Billie Burke sends innocent daughter Frances Dee off to Beulah Bondi's ritzy (and snobby) finishing school, where she roomed with Ginger Rogers, a girl who well knows how to circumvent the house rules. Dee soon finds out that as long as you're not caught, the faculty doesn't care what you do--but when she's returned early from a ill-conceived weekend romp by white knight rescuer Bruce Cabot (a hospital intern doubling as a hotel waiter), Bondi nearly flips out, due to how bad it looks!! Dee, initially willing to go along with all the institution's rules, suddenly realizes the hypocrisy behind them, and does her level best to see Cabot whenever possible--which isn't often, as Bondi pulls all sort of strings to keep the two apart. This is one of those movies where the main character is continuously mistreated by authority, causing more than a few swear words aimed tube-ward by aggravated viewers like myself. Sneaking in just before the code went into full effect, there's a clear hint of pregnancy in the final act--but happily, no one suffers for it!! Ginger Rogers' role isn't all that large, but she peps things up whenever she's on screen. Dee and Cabot make an appealing couple, and watch for the ever dignified Theresa Harris in a brief scene as Burke's black maid, giving her boss's mindless blatherings all the attention they deserve. I enjoyed this movie--I always like stories where underdogs eventually triumph over a close-minded authority, and that's "Finishing School" in a nutshell!
"You Said A Mouthful" (1932, 75 min) Joe E. Brown plays a fellow mistaken for a swimming champ (even though he's afraid of water and had earlier invented an unsinkable bathing suit) who keeps up the ruse due to his growing affection for Ginger Rogers, who in turn wants him to beat romantic rival Preston Foster in a 22 mile swimming race. Brown's only confidant is played by young Allen "Farina" Hoskins (nearing the end of his "Our Gang" career). The athletic Brown shows off his skills, albeit in comedic fashion, in this largely outdoor filmed feature (and though pre-code, unlike "The Tenderfoot", there's nothing askance here--darn it...). Mildly amusing.
"Doctor X" (1932, 76 min) I saw the last 15 minutes of this horror/mystery movie a few months back, when that was all my VCR recorded of it in the wee hours of the morning after mistakenly thinking it was Daylight Savings Time Weekend. Normally, I would've just skipped the whole thing, but I've wanted to see this film for so long, and wasn't sure when next I'd get a chance, so I went ahead and watched the ending. Well, my chance came up again just the other day, so I got watch the suspects dutifully assembled, all the while knowing the TRUE culprit--and y'know, it didn't spoil my enjoyment one bit!! The early two-color process is atmospheric, Fay Wray is gorgeous, and Lionel Atwill opts such for a bizarrely twisted (if totally nutty) manner in which to smoke out the murderer amongst his colleagues that it turns a standard whodunnit into a truly unique one. The final scenes of the killer applying synthetic flesh to his face are unforgettable--and I love Preston Foster's wild, Einstein-inspired hairdo as well!! Lots of pre-code fun, with wise-cracking reporter Lee Tracy as our hero! A must-see for classic horror fans.
"Race With The Devil" (1975, 88 min) Two married couples (Peter Fonda and Lara Parker, Warren Oates and Loretta Swit) head out on vacation in one of those big ol' houses on wheels. Everything's going fine until, parked in a seemingly deserted field one evening, Fonda and Oates witness a Satantic ritual, human sacrifice included. Once the cultists notice their uninvited audience, the foursome are on a non-stop run, all in the hopes of getting to the nearest big city (the small town cops contacted the next morning are no help, and may've even--but hey, that'd be telling...). The acting is nothing the make Henry (or Jane) Fonda envious--and the women do little more than scream constantly--but this thing does have an undeniable forward motion that'll keep you interested, especially during the last twenty minutes of RV targeted road rage (and how about those snakes?) The downbeat ending reminded me a bit of "The Wicker Man", but whereas that film had an isolated town turning fully on an outsider, here we have folks from seemingly hundreds of miles around all conspiring against our unlucky quartet, which is too much to swallow, logic wise. But as a thrill ride, it's pretty entertaining.
"Sherlock Holmes and The Voice Of Terror" (1942, 65 min) The first of Universal's series of Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films set in the present day has a nice bit with Watson reminding Holmes to leave his deerstalker cap home on the hat rack and instead take more modern head wear as they head out the door on their case. The super-detective helps British war intelligence track down the source of threatening Nazi radio broadcasts, saving all of London in the process. Lovely Evelyn Ankers plays an undercover agent (in more ways than one, apparently, as she pays for her patriotic indiscretion at film's end--sometimes that Production Code just wasn't fair....). Thomas Gomez (his film debut) is memorable as a Nazi, though I found the solution to the mystery of the voice of terror's true identity to be fairly unconvincing.
"Frankenstein" (1910, 16 min) The hundred year-old, Edison Studios version of Mary Shelley's famous novel--the first filmed attempt--can be found online, which is where I saw it. After having the very unKarloff-like image of Charles Ogle's monster burned into my brain via monster magazines purchased nearly a half century back, I never thought I'd actually have the chance to see this once thought to be lost movie. But someone apparently found it, so now I have, and it was worth it for curiosity value alone. Nice trick there toward the end with the mirror.
"Hot Rods To Hell" (1967, 100 min) I first saw this on the tube as a teen-ager, and I'm happy to report it still retains all it's cornball charm. After being injured in a car crash, Dana Andrews moves his family across country to the desert for his health, where he'll run a motel, bought for him sight unseen by his well-meaning brother. Only, on the way there, he makes enemies with a trio of hot-rodding teens (dressed in menacing Wally Cleaver lookalike outfits), who try repeatedly to run the family off the road. Wife Jeanne Crain screams hysterically constantly, as does daughter Tina Mock--when she's not being seduced by ringleader Paul Bertoya at the roadhouse in front of their new digs, that is. Mildly satisfying ending is a little bloodless, all things considered. Music in aforementioned roadhouse provided by Mickey Rooney, Jr, and his Combo. Yup, THAT' S the kind of movie it is--enjoy!!
"The Tenderfoot" (1932, 70 min) Joe E. Brown stars as a newly arrived Texan in NYC, taken in by a pair of sleazy theatrical producers in order to glom onto his life savings in order to mount their show. Ginger Rogers plays the secretary who helps rope him in, and then wants out when she develops real feelings for the naive cowboy. All ends well, fear not. This amusing pre-code comedy has several jaw-dropping risque moments, including a chorus line of gay cowboys and the malaprop substitution of "ejaculations" for "salutations". Joe E. Brown is one of those comedians I've always been aware of, but save for his immortal turn in "Some Like It Hot", can't recall where else I'd ever actually SEEN him!! Certainly not in any of his early films, which I'll admit I was a bit wary about watching. But he wasn't at all what I expected (i.e., annoying and/or tiresome), and while I wouldn't classify him a comedic top-liner, he was a lot better than average. Worth seeing for the nostalgic air of raciness and the fine work of the two leads.
"Blue Hawaii" (1961, 102 min) The most successful Elvis movie of them all--and the one that put a stake through the heart of any serious actings ambitions Presley may've harbored--is a surprising amount of fun, as The King, still engaged in his work, appears to be having a blast! Lots of music, with a wild hip-swivelling "Rock-A-Hula Baby" being the standout (future classic, "Can't Help Falling In Love", is tossed off as a birthday serenade to the 83 year old grandma of E's native Hawaiin gal pal (Joan Blackman)). Angela Lansbury hams it up as Elvis' snooty, southern, bigoted mom, who wants her son to have nothing to do with the islanders (even though she is married to one-time Charlie Chan, Roland Winters). Lots of gorgeous scenery, as Elvis soon finds himself working as a tour guide for Howard "Floyd The Barber" McNear. He's assigned an attracive teacher and four teen-age girls to show around, one of whom is a real downer, played by twenty year old Jenny Maxwell. Two decades later--well, let me simply quote extensively from her imdb page: Both Jenny and her husband, Irvin Roeder, were gunned down during a robbery in June, 1981. Her husband, Irvin ("Tip") Roeder was an attorney. One of his clients was actor Nick Adams. Nick allegedly committed suicide in 1968, but Tip and others felt he was murdered and was involved in trying to find out the truth as to the cause of Adams' death. A little over a decade after Jenny and her husband were brutally slain, writer John Austin, in his 1992 book More Hollywood's Unsolved Mysteries, accused Ervin of murdering Adams after Nick discovered that Roeder was misappropriating the actor's money. The writer, however, cited no sources for these surprising allegations. Unquote and aloha!
"When In Rome" (2009, 91 min) I belong to a very exclusive club--people who actually LIKED this Kristen Bell/Josh Duhamel romantic comedy! (It scored a whopping 17 % positive reviews over on Rotten Tomatoes, and even Lynn wasn't particularly thrilled). When unlucky-in-love Bell meets Best Man Duhamel at her sister's wedding in Rome, she thinks she's found the real thing--until she spies him smooching a shapely brunette. Drunk, she wanders into the Fountain of Love, and pockets five of the coins tossed into it's waters, soon after flying home to NYC. But legend has it, you take with you the hearts of those who tossed the coins into the fountain if you remove them, and soon, Bell is pursued by a quartet of lovesick nut-jobs: Will Arnett, a painter; Danny Devito; a sausage salesman; Jon Hader; a street magician; and funniest of all (maybe the ONLY funny one, truthfully, as these guys are the flick's glaring weak link) Dax Shepard as an egocentric male model (his scene in the deli, and later, during the "Wizard of Oz" finale tribute, are comedic highlights). The fifth coin? Ah, therein hangs the plot--you'll have to see for yourself (I guessed the surprise ending way, way early on). I wanted to see this movie for Duhamel, who I've thought highly of since his stint on "All My Children" and later, "Las Vegas" (though not enough to subject myself to a "Transformer" flick or two)--guess you could say it's a man-crush (if he were ever cast opposite Amy Adams, I think my head would explode!). Bell (whose "Veronica Mars" series I never watched) was extremely appealing as well, so, add a few good laughs (and I insist, there WERE some), you've got a fantasy tinged rom-com with appealing leads that I really liked, despite obvious problems. Watch at your own risk, but hey, I dug it!
"Rafter Romance" (1933, 73 min) Because both Ginger Rogers and Norman Foster are struggling to keep up with their rent payments, kindly Jewish landlord George Sidney hatches a plan--they can share the attic apartment, living in it on opposite schedules since Foster is a night watchman!! They never have to meet--and don't, except accidentally, outside of the apartment, where they fall in love (despite each despising their respective unseen roommate, leaving behind nasty notes--and even nastier tricks--for each other). Silly, but for the most part it works (though there's no mention of what happens on weekends). With Robert Benchly as Rogers' lecherous boss and Laura Hope Crews (GWTW's Aunt Pittypat), who gets the most laughs as a boozing rich woman trying to unsuccessfully turn part-time artist Foster into her boytoy. Not a classic, but funnier than the first Rogers/Foster pairing, "Professional Sweetheart".
"The Clairvoyant" (1934, 81 min) This modestly budgeted British film gives Claude Rains the first chance for audiences to actually see him after his debut in "The Invisible Man"--and another chance to see Fay Wray, as lovely as ever playing Rains' wife. They're touring music halls with a mentalist act that suddenly turns real when Claude finds himself in proximity of a newspaper owner's daughter (Jane Baxter) who acts as an unwitting conduit to his never explained powers to accurately predict the future. Rains is initially hailed as a hero, but when miners fail to heed his predictions of disaster--and then that disaster happens, partially due to the seed of panic planted by Rains--the public turns on him, and he's brought up on charges in court. The soundtrack is a bit muddled, but the acting is first rate in this effectively told story concerning the fickleness of fate (and the public), even if the potential for a powerful romantic triangle is never fully realized. With an amusing final scene.
"The Mind Reader" (1933, 70 min) Regally smarmy Warren William is in his absolute glory as fake mentalist, The Great Chandra--and who better a henchmen than Allen Jenkins, seen here in a liberally expansive role? (Black actor Clarance Muse completes the initial grifting trio, happily suffering virtually none of the usual stereotypes of the day). Young, naive Constance Cummings comes along, and, voila--it's love!! I sure didn't need to be a mind reader to know THAT was going to happen! She buys wholeheartedly into the act until it's too late--watch for a brief but pivotal appearance by Mayo Methot, ones of Bogart's ex-wives, as a woman steered tragically wrong by William--and goads her hubby into going straight. But it doesn't last, and he and Jenkins start up a whole new racket on the sly. The results? More tragedy, natch. William and Jenkins are tremendous fun to watch, greatly elevating the so-so story. Mildly recommended.
"The Guilty Generation" (1931, 82 min) Released by Columbia on November 19th, 1931, two short days before Universal unleashed "Frankenstein" on an unsuspecting public, "The Guilty Generation" features Boris Karloff as Italian mob boss, Tony Ricca, and 24 year old Robert Young as the son who adopted the name John Smith in an effort to cut all ties with his criminal family! Trouble is, he falls in love with Constance Cummings, daughter of Karloff's one-time partner but current blood rival, Mike Palmero (Leo Carrillo). Young's been raised in Europe by his mom since he was ten, so no one recognizes him--he lets Cummings in on his secret, but plans to let Carrillo learn his true identity after the couple return from their honeymoon. But, as each crime family knocks off various relatives in a deadly tit-for-tat--and Carrillo discovers the truth in the pic's final moments, you know things aren't gonna end without SOME additional bloodshed! While Carrillo somewhat overdoes the Italian accent, Boris wisely never even tries--he's menacing enough without it. Aside from some early scenes with Young, Karloff's screen time is limited--the majority of the story takes place in Carrillo's family mansion. Most of the violence takes place off-screen, unlike in the more famous Warner's gangster flicks of the day, but the film provides a shocking finale nonetheless. With a young Phil "Professor Pepperwinkle" Tead in a small but pivotal role as a reporter. Two days later, Karloff would become immortal, but this one's worth a look, too.
"Carnival Boat" (1932, 62 min) 37 year old William (pre-Hoppy) Boyd wants to marry 21 year old Ginger (brunette, pre-Astaire dance partner) Rogers, but cranky old dad Hobart Bosworth wants his son to follow in his footsteps as the boss of a logging camp. Unremarkable romance--though Rogers, as a showgirl on the Carnival Boat that stops by the camp to provide the men with some well-deserved entertainment has some nice moments, especially towards the end in a confrontation with Bosworth. Worth seeing because of it's vivid location filming--and two exciting sequences: a log-jam on a dam, and a runaway train transporting lumber. Sure, there's plenty of rear-projection and sped up film, but for it's time (and still), the scenes are pretty thrilling. Marie Prevost has little to do as Rogers' gal pal, but as a pair of comedic lumberjacks, Edgar Kennedy and Harry Sweet (as Baldy and Stubby, respectively) make for a fine team. Sadly, this was 31 year old Sweet's last appearance in front of a camera--with nearly 60 films to his credit as an actor, nearly as many as director, and half that as writer, he'd perish in a small plane crash the following summer. Two movie icons, pre-iconic--AND really big trees! You're a sap if you pass THIS one up!
"The Big Timer" (1932, 72 min) Ben Lyon is Cooky Bradford, a hamburger chef with dreams of becoming a prize fighter. When gal pal Constance Cummings' dad the fight promoter dies, he suddenly has an in--and, in a very short time, has his name on top of big-time fight bills. Socialite Thelma Todd comes along, Lyon loses his edge, loses his girl, and is soon back on the bottom. Cummings--working for another fight manager--goads him into a fight with Nat Pendleton right there in the boss's office, and suddenly Cooky has his edge back--AND his girl. The end. Unremarkable, with a plot I've now seen a dozen times over--only the background elements are varied. Cummings is a first rate thespian, Lyon is not. My favorite thing about all this was Tom Dugan as sidekick Catfish whose oft repeated catch phrase was a simple, "Sensational!"--which this film clearly was not.
"Professional Sweetheart" (1933, 73 min) In her first top-billed role, Ginger Rogers plays Glory Eden, the Ippsie Whippsiie Washcloth Purity Girl, a big time radio star who isn't anything like her all-important image would have the public believe. Realizing they can't keep her under wraps forever, her handlers--Mr. Ipwhich, company owner (Gregory Ratoff), Frank McHugh, press agent (who conceives most of the plans and gets most of the lines), and Franklin Pangborn, hairdresser (prone to a surprising amount of blatantly gay allusions)--pick a bumpkin (Norman Foster) out of her fan mail for her to become romantically involved with, all while trying to secure a new contract from her while a competing firm (headed by Edgar Kennedy and trouble-shot by Allen Jenkins) attempts to steal her away!! Meanwhile, Zasu Pitts is looking for an interview, and an unbilled Thersa Harris gets some choice screen time as her black maid/confidant, even getting a chance to take Rogers place and sing on the radio late in the proceedings (Harris appears often as maids and such in films of the era, but always manages to somehow maintain her dignity--too bad she was never able to exploit her natural appeal and achieve true stardom). Sounds like a swell flick, doesn't it? But a great cast does not a great screwball comedy make, and I found it just off enough to come up short of being the top-notch film it could've been. It's not bad, but oh, it coulda been so much more.
"Housewife" (1934, 69 min) When Bette Davis is hired at top salary to work as a copy-writer at her hometown's advertising agency, she discovers the football hero she had a crush on back in high school (George Brent) working there as a lowly office manager. Wife Ann Dvorak uses this as motivation for hubby to strike out on his own, and voila--halfway through the pic, Brent is running his own successful agency, and has hired Davis to work for him!! And then, despite Dvorak's loyalty, he starts fooling around with Davis!! The film ends with a silly, out of left field reconciliation in divorce court!! Davis is clearly third wheel here, and there are some clever touches (look for a client's disasterous radio program), but the reason to sit through this one is the lovely and talented Dvorak--why Brent could even consider turning his back on her is the REAL mystery here.
"Desirable" (1934, 68 min) Jean Muir plays the naive, shuttered away, 19 year-old daughter of stage actress Verree Teasdale (convincingly, too--even though the latter was only eight years older that the former), who falls for George Brent, a man who unexpectedly stumbled across the young woman when he let himself into mom's apartment with a key she'd given him (the kid had unexpectedly been sent home from school due to a quarantine, so no one knew she was there). Brent is immediately taken with the youngster as well, but resists as along as he can (up until the fade out, actually). Muir is fresh, Teasdale calculating, but the newly instituted production code doesn't allow for much to be made of the whole intriguing mom/daughter/boyfriend situation--and though a Warner's flick, there are none of the usual familiar faces on display. Nonessential.
"Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?" (1966, 131 min) Back in 1966, my parents dragged their extremely naive 13 year-old offspring (that'd be me, folks) off to see this controversial flick--AT A DRIVE-IN! And it's not as if my folks were devotees of the theater and wanted to see Edward Albee's acclaimed play brought to the silver screen. Nope, they were far more interested in seeing current super couple Liz and Dick (Taylor and Burton, for you young 'uns) bicker endlessly, using words that had never before been uttered on celluloid, instead only in such places as, well, OUR house!! And when it was all over, I had NO idea what I had just seen, but I knew I had seen SOMETHING!! Well, I finally gave it another look, and now it makes sense--more, anyway. The acting--including late night guests George Segal and Sandy Duncan--is exemplary, especially Burton. Not for the faint of heart, as the ever increasing verbal, mental--and occasionally physical--abuse becomes more and more harrowing. I've never been a fan of Taylor's--I don't think I've seen any of her other films--and I realize now why: she did such a good job here playing an obnoxious shrew that I've unconsciously shied away from her other movies ever since!! Well worth seeing, even if this, the movie that broke the back of the antiquated production code and prompted the creation of the ratings system, features words you can hear every night during early prime time on the tube. If I'm not mistaken, "Hump The Hostess" even runs on the Game Show Channel, right?....
"Dante's Inferno" (1935, 89 min) Good an actor as he undoubtedly was, I've never much cared for Spencer Tracy, but he's not the main attraction here--that'd be the carnival attraction that gives the film it's name. That, and nine-minute fantasy sequence set in Hell lifted from a 1924 flick of the same name. Overly preachy at times, and featuring a ridiculous finale on a cruise ship that goes up in flames way, WAY too easily, there's enough crazy cool set designs to warrant a look see. Watch for a young Rita Hayworth (billed as Rita Casino) to show up in the film's waning moments for a dance number.
"Executive Suite" (1954, 104 min) The film opens with POV shots of a heard--but unseen--top exec who orders, via telegram, a 6pm business meeting of his top associates, only to fall over dead on the a NYC sidewalk, declared a John Doe due to his wallet being lifted off his body. Sleazy board member Louis Calhern's sees it all out of his office window, and tries to pull a fast one by selling his stock. Eventually, the news becomes public, and a new top man must be chosen for the furniture company--Walter Pidgeon's too old, Dean Jagger's retiring, Paul Douglas's affair with secretary Shelly Winters disqualifies him , so it's down to calculating numbers cruncher Fredric March and idealistic designer William Holden--with the deciding vote (it takes 4 of 7) potentially coming from the daughter of the company's founder, (and lover of the dead man) Barbara Stanwyck! A great ensemble (including June Allyson and Oscar nominate Nina Foch) with a predictable ending that's nonetheless gripping. Stanwyck's screen time is limited, but man, is she ever good!! No music whatsoever--even under the opening credits--and a time frame of under 24 hours gives the film an authentic sheen. And except for the good guys actually winning, it doesn't seem at all dated. Recommended.
"Lilly Turner" (1933, 65 min) Ruth Chatterton marries smoothie Gordon Westcott, winding up as a magician's assistant in a traveling road show. Bigamist Westcott takes off, leaving her pregnant and technically unhitched--in steps lovable barker (and boozer) Frank McHugh, who weds (though never beds) her to provide the child a name. But the baby dies in child birth, so they hook up with a snake-oil salesman (Guy Kibbee), his wife, and a strongman (Germanic Robert Barret). Bad headaches drive the Chatterton-fixated Barrett into an asylum, and her then real life hubby, George Brent, steps in to take his place in the show. They fall in love, but the strongman escapes, and tragedy ensues. The ending surprised me--I expected a conveniently happy one, like in "The Keyhole". No such luck here. I enjoyed seeing the always likable McHugh get such an extensive role for a change. A slightly better than average pre-code "B" pic.
"The Keyhole" (1933, 69 min) Older man Henry Kolker hires private detective George Brent to follow solo vacationing wife Kay Francis onto a cruise ship to get the goods on her, not realizing she's hatched a plan with his sister to rid herself of an old dance partner who's blackmailing her with the news that he never did get that divorce he promised her years ago. All very innocent--sorta--but Brent tries (in vain) to seduce her, eventually falling for Francis for real. As his dim-witted associate, Allen Jenkins, is taken for a sucker by golddigger Glenda Farrell, providing a nice comedic counterpoint to the main leads. The finale ties things up in a very neat and satisfying manner. Not a must-see, but as these things go, pretty darn entertaining.
"The Sea Wolf" (1941, 87 min) Edward G. Robinson excels as the heartless ship's captain in this taut Jack London adaptation, with able support from John Garfield, Ida Lupino, and especially Alexander Knox as a writer rescued from the sea by Robinson, only to suffer treatment near as horrific as drowning. Genel Lockhart as a booze ridden doctor earnestly looking--and failing--to regain some respect, and Barry Fitzgerald as the ship's slimy squealer, make solid impressions in smaller roles. Exciting special effects bring the sea to terrifying life--though Robinson is still the scariest thing here.
"God's Little Acre" (1958, 118 min) Trumpeted via the trailer as being based on the world's (then) best selling novel (Erskine Caldwell's1933 tome) AND as the most adult movie ever made, times have rendered both boasts long outdated. A fine cast--Robert Ryan, Aldo Ray, Jack Lord, Vic Morrow, Michael Landon, even Buddy Hackett--is most noted today as the film debut of Tina Louise. Ryan plays the head of a southern family who's spent the last 15 years digging up his farmland--all save for "God's little acre", which he's set aside for a church--looking for his grandaddy's gold. The first half plays like a demented version of "Andy of Mayberry", the second half veering sharply off into tragedy, touching cautiously on the novel's leftist preaching regarding company towns and the mill shut down in Ray's burg. Wikipedia helped me figure out what THAT was all about, but hey, it was the fifties--they did their best. Tame by today's standards, but I still found it interesting to finally see what all the fuss was about.
"An Education" (2009, 100 min) Superbly subtle film (based on a true story) detailing the seduction of English schoolgirl Carey Mulligan (in a star-making performance) by 30ish Peter Sarsgaard, and her subsequent education, both in hard life-lessons and in pursuit of academics. A character study that grabs hold from the marvelously evocative opening credits and doesn't let go until the final frame--recommended!
"Female" (1933, 60 min) Ruth Chatterton plays the no-nonsense president of a big automobile company who's all business by day, but invites the best looking men in the office home for stud-service by night--and if they get any goofy ideas about "love" the next day, she transfers 'em to the Montreal branch! That is, until about mid-way through, when Chatterton's then real-life hubby, George Brent shows up and won't take the bait. Soon, she's acting all girlie, and at the fade, gives it all up for marriage and a family!! Suggestive and curious role reversal film, enlivened by aged Ferdinand Gottischalk as Ruth's fey male secretary. Count the number of times Chatterton says "can't" in such a manner as to rhyme with "want"--if you can stand to!!
"The Body Disappears" (1941, 72 min) College professor Edward Everett Horton inadvertantly invents an invisibility serum, which accidentally (don't ask) causes Jeffrey Lynn to fade away, much to daughter Jane Wyman's disappointment. The whole story is told in flashback in court in front of judge John "Perry White" Hamilton, and also features a young Herb "Henry Mitchell" Anderson and the film debut of Natalie "Lovey Howell" Schafer (snooty from the get go), as well as devoting extensive screen time to Willie Best as Horton's manservant. Best balances his usual stereotyed shuffling with some of the best (and most sensible) lines in this whole tepid affair. EEH is funny enough, the effects fairly standard, and scenes of invisible--and naked--Wyman and Lynn together in the back seat of a careening car unintentionally suggestive, but overall, nothing that can't be skipped.
"Everybody's Hobby" (1939, 54 min) The first (and last) of a planned series about The Hobby Family--dad's a photographer, mom collects stamps, junior is a ham radio operator, sis collects records, uncle memorizes esoteric statistics--features a cast of actors usually billed about 7th or 8th on an "A" picure, led by Henry O'Neill and Irene Rich as the parents in this mildly fun--and truly odd--"D" pic. There's a big forest fire at the end, and wouldn't you know it--pop and son's obsession sure do come in handy!! Collecting stamps? Not so much. Maybe THAT woulda taken center-stage in the sequel, but alas, we'll never know...
"Her Husband's Affairs" (1947, 84 min) Supportive and bright Lucille Ball always seems to be bailing out screw-up hubby Franchot Tone in his BUSINESS affairs, and all he ever feels is emasculation, not gratitude. When he stumbles onto an embalming fluid that doubles as a hair-remover (and later, hair restorer), he can't appreciate it when Lucy saves his hide with bald boss, Edward Everett Horton. Tone is fine in dramas, but has no flair for comedy--and his character, ungrateful right up through the end credits for Lucy's well-meaning help--has got to be one of the most unlikable I've come across in a so-called comedy. Avoid, unless you're a Lucy completist.
"A Study In Terror" (1965, 95 min) John Neville plays Sherlock Holmes in this match of wits with Jack the Ripper. Look for heaving bosoms, flowing red blood, a young Judi Dench, and Robert Morley in an amusing cameo as brother Mycroft. Not the most satisfying of endings, but of undeniable interest to fans of the legendary detective.
"The Hound Of The Baskervilles" (1959, 87 min) Hammer's full-color adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classic features Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville. The ending varies significantly from the 1939 version--not having read the original, I think I prefer the solution offered here. Nicely done all around--too bad it wasn't successful enough to spawn any of the planned sequels.
"M" (1931, 110 min) Fritz Lang's unforgettable German film about a child-killer (Peter Lorre, in a devastating performance), who has both the law and underworld after him. The bouncing ball and balloon caught in telephone wires denoting a young girl's death are indelible cinematic images, and Lorre's scene pleading his case before a court of criminals is masterful. The ending seemed a bit abrupt--otherwise, a masterpiece well worth seeing, subtitles and all.
"Dementia 13" (1963, 75 min) Given the go-ahead to use the same cast and location on weekends during a concurrent film shoot by producer Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola's first full-fledged directorial effort is a "Psycho" influenced tale of a dysfunctional family with a deadly secret. that leads to a series of vicious murders. Decent--though without the Coppola connection, would hardly be noteworthy.
"The Terror" (1963, 81 min) Patched together by credited director Roger Corman (although featuring work by an additional four directors), this oddball period curio starring a young Jack Nicholson and then current wife, Sandra Knight--mixed in with a week or so's work owed Corman by horror icon Boris Karloff--boasts a the story doesn't make very much sense, but is fun to watch simply due to the two male leads.
"Up In The Air" (2009, 108 min) Businessman George Clooney spends most of his life flying from city to city, firing people for downsizing companies too timid to do their own dirty work. Rootless and proud of it, all that eventually changes after Vera Famiga and Anna Kenrick come into his life. All give performances worthy of the Oscar noms they received, and once I was able to settle in with the unusual premise of Clooney's occupation, I was greatly taken with the film. Recommended.
"The Heat's On" (1943, 79 min) Mae West's last film until "Myra Breckenridge" decades later, this stinker hardly features it's ostensible star, instead concentrating on the machinations between slick Broadway producer William Gaxton and naive money-man Victor Moore, with plenty of forgettable musical numbers thrown in as filler (Xavier Cugat and Hazel Scott being the most notable). A young Lloyd Bridges plays the boyfriend of second leading lady Mary Roche (who's not bad, but only ever made this film)--look for him. Or better yet--don't. Unless you're a West fanatic, steer clear.
"The Magician" (1926, 88 min) Long thought lost, this silent film features Paul ("The Golem") Wegener as a hypnotist (based by W. Somerset Maugham, whose early novel served as the film's templete, on real-life Satan worshiper, Aleister Crowley) who needs the blood of a young girl to complete his mad experiments. A fantasy sequence set in Hades and a finale that looks to serve as a blueprint for the laboratory scenes in "Frankenstein" five years later are the main reasons to catch this otherwise slow-moving flick. Kinda dull, to tell the truth...
"Miss Pinkerton" (1932, 66 min) Joan Blondell plays a nurse enlisted by detective George Brent to help on a case that's initially believed to be a suicide but is in actuality a homicide. Taking place in the proverbial old dark house, with shadows looming and suspicious servants creeping through the hallways, the film is very atmospheric--and features Elizabeth Patterson convincingly playing an old woman two full decades before she really was one as Mrs. Trumbell on "I Love Lucy"! Fun, though hardly a must-see.
"Heat Lightning" (1934, 63 min) Innocent Ann Dvorak and world-weary Aline MacMahon play sisters who run a filling station in the desert, and after a comedic premise establishing scene featured Jane Darnell and Edgar Kennedy as her henpecked hubby, the true drama sets it: MacMahon's old flame, Preston Foster, shows up fresh from a bank job with reluctant henchman Lyle Talbot. A pair of rich golddiggers (Glenda Farrell and Ruth Donnelly) and their driver, Frank McHugh, complete the main players. Squeaking in just under the rigid enforcement of the production code, there's plenty of hanky panky going on overnight. Drama, too. I really liked this unheralded "B" pic--recommended!!
"Johnny Eager" (1941, 107 min) Mustachioed Robert Taylor seems to be the model ex-con to his parole officer, but when the law isn't looking, he's still gang boss. Van Heflin rightfully won a supporting Oscar as his philosophizing, booze-swilling pal, and 20 year old Lana Turner is lovely as the gal Taylor cons, then falls for. A twist at every turn, up to and including the last line, I'd never heard of this flick before tuning in, but enjoyed it immensely. Recommended!
"The Gorgeous Hussy" (1936, 103 min) In this semi-historical drama, Joan Crawford plays a friend of President Andrew Jackson (Lionel Barrymore, in silly make-up), with historically accurate suitors played by Robert Taylor and Franchot Tone, and one wildly inaccurate--but in the film, main one--portrayed by Melvyn Douglas. Fifth billed not quite a star Jimmy Stewart acts same as always--like Jimmy Stewart. Ultimately, kinda dull--and far from the actual reality.
"Live Wires" (1946, 65 min) The first of 48 Bowery Boys flicks, it was preceded by 21 East Side Kids pics also starring Leo Gorcery and Huntz Hall (a financial dispute motivated Gorcey to quit the latter and start the former), which I tuned into simply due to the novelty of it being the series starting point. Well, it wasn't really, but it was fairly--if mindlessly--entertaining. Producer Gorcey merits the bulk of the screen time (Hall would eventually match it, but not here), trying to stick, unsuccessfully, with one job after another, before finally hitting his stride as a repo man. There's a plot about a crime ring secretly run by "Adventures of Superman" fave, John Eldridge, with muscle provided by massive Mike Mazurki. I'm not a big fan of the gang--WHATEVER name they're going by--and this one didn't convert me, but I've seen worse.
"Gem Jams" (1943, 18 min) I used to stay up into the wee, wee hours of the morning back in the late sixties to watch the comedy shorts run by local station WNEW, many of which starred (like this one) Leon Errol. Turns out they're as funny as I recall them. In this one, Errol plays the husband of a suspicious wife who, after he calls up saying he'll be home late from work for the fifth night in a row, decides to do a little investigating of her own. He really IS working--but the client he's meeting is an attractive woman, and once Leon realizes his wife is prowling around the very same hotel as the innocent duo, it all becomes an elaborate game of hide and seek, with Errol the only one in on the playing. A fast-paced farce, with Errol's comedic contortions knocking the already amusing script up a notch--I'll be looking for more of Leon Errol quickies on the TCM schedule! .
"Zero Hour!" (1957, 81 min) Yes, this is the movie so memorably pararodied by "Airplane!" (which TCM screened just prior to the original, but which, having already seen it, I passed up this time around), with the same plot, situations, and an awful lot of the same dialog. For the most part, I was able to give it a serious look-see (though the scene in the cockpit between the pilot and young boy provoked unavoidable giggles). Still, how serious can you take a movie where the romantic love interest is played by Jerry Paris--as a ventriloquist whose puppet is his own hand?? Dana Andrews--a remarkably blank-faced actor--plays the lead, a man with a tragic past who's thrown into the unwanted position of being the sole hope of an entire plane full of passengers. If there had been no "Airplane!", this would likely be noted as a nice, small scale, airborne nailbiter--and would STILL evoke laughs regarding it's dire "don't eat the fish" warning!! Sterling Hayden comes along onto the proceedings late, but is exemplary as the tough-nut who's gotta talk his old military buddy down safely. No jive-talking June Cleaver, though, which is a minus...
"Meet The People" (1944, 100 min) This is one of those wartime musical propaganda pics, but not a particularly inspired one. I tuned in mainly cuz Lucille Ball played the lead--she's incredibly lovely here, and there's also enough of her trademark wisecracking to foreshadow her future success. Dick Powell plays a wartime shipyard worker who's written a play extolling the merits of the common man, and he get's Broadway star Ball interested enough to mount a production. Only, he visits rehearsals and finds it's way too glitzed up for his tastes, so he takes it back!! Lucy follows him to the shipyard and signs up for riveting duty so as to TRULY meet the people!! Yup, incredibly lame. But along the way, there are bits by Bert Lahr, Vaughn Monroe, June Allyson, and Spike Jones and his Orchestra, who perform "Schickelgruber", complete with a chimp in a Hitler outfit, moustache and all! And the flick's opening number by a fellow named Ziggie Talent has to be seen to be believed!! THAT'S worth tuning if for alone--you're on your own for the following 95 minutes! Interesting period piece (including a fellow intermittently doing dead-on impressions of then-current celebs, some of which you'll likely NOT recognize)--otherwise, mainly for curious Lucy fans.
"Contempt" (1963, 102 min) This Jean-Luc Godard directed film concerning crass American film producer Jack Palance hiring writer Michel Piccoli to pep up the script of director Fritz Lang's adaptation of Homer's "Odessey", causing rift's in the scribe's marriage to Brigitte Bardot in the process, received a tremendous amount of praise from the reviews over on imdb. Of the 99 posted, I'd say roughly half called "Contempt" one of the greatest movies ever filmed--and more than one, THE very greatest. Another quarter liked it, with reservations. Then there's the group I find myself most sympathetic with--the folks who found it to be boring, pointless, and pretentious. Yeah, it was that bad--if not for the insistence of the producer that Godard add several scenes of Bardot naked derierre to the finla cut, it would've been a complete waste of time (though the novelty of the great director Lang playing himself was diverting--for a while). There's a scene between Bardot and Piccoli (during which he never takes off his hat--even while bathing!!) in their apartment that lasts a full half hour, most of which is comprised of vague bickering leading to no firm resolution--now, THAT'S something you don't see every day (thank god!)! Palance overacts, and the ending is so incredibly random I just found it stupid. This was my first Godard film, and while I'm still willing to give "Breathless" or "Alpahville" a look should they ever cross my path, it'll be with a great deal of suspicion.
"The Jazz Singer" (1927, 88 min) Film history--the first talkie!! Well, not exactly--there are four short segments, mostly given over to star Al Jolson singing, that likely total ten minutes, tops. Otherwise, this is a standard (and cornball) silent movie telling the story of the cantor's son who chooses a career singing on the Broadway stage over one in his father's temple. My favorite scene is the one where Jolson sits at the piano, serenading his giggling mother, bantering all the while in between stanzas. This movie seemed incredibly famous when I was a kid back in the early sixties, but nowadays only film geeks seem aware of it's true significance. The sound sequences turn up in every decent history of cinema, but just try sitting through the whole thing!! A quick glimpse of William "Uncle Charly" Demerast and Myrna "Nora Charles" Loy might be worth your time, but don't expect a movie masterpiece.
"Twilight: New Moon" (2009, 130 min) We saw the first installment of this series several months ago and found it to be passable, so we figured forking over a buck apiece to see part two would provide for a diverting afternoon. What Lynn and I got instead was some prime time for a little afternoon nap--BORING!! Boy, did this thing drag. I'm not gonna blame the young actors--I saw Kristen Stewart in "Adventureland" where she capably created a multi-faceted, even likable character. No, it was mainly the fault of the hackneyed writing and lethargic direction. So, Bella breaks up with her vampire boyfriend, and rebounds into the arms of a fella who just happens to be a werewolf--gee, what are the odds? My main problem here is that, in this grand love story, I see no discernible reason why our immortal vampire puts it all on the line for Bella, who is absolutely one of the most unappealing heroines I've ever come across. Plus, vampires who walk around in daylight, sparkle, and don't bite anyone--I'm not exactly bloodthirsty, but c'mon! And that ending! That's the sorta thing your garden variety TV drama pulls to lure you back the following week--tacky. But yeah, I'll be back for the third one--heaven help me, I've come this far....
"The Brothers Warner" (2008, 94 min) This documentary recounting the history of the four Warner Brothers--Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack--was the product of Harry's granddaughter, Cass, who was ten when the eldest Warner passed away in 1958. I've been a fan of Warner Brothers movies for years--and have enjoyed a resurgence of that interest in recent months--so I was very much interested to learn the behind-the-scenes story of the family so vividly brought to life here (including never before seen home movie footage). Harry, 11 years Jack's senior, was the heart of the organization, while the youngest member of the quartet, the hammiest (and ultimately, the cruelest, with several jaw-dropping family betrayals to his dis-credit). And how about poor Sam, the visionary who pushed his brothers into making the first sound-synchronized film, "The Jazz Singer", only to die two days before it premiered to great acclaim, but no Warners, all of whom were on a train headed to LA for their brother's funeral? Cass Warner doesn't wallow in the lurid details, and maybe favors her grandpop a little, but this is a worthy jumping off point in examining a family to genuine trailblazers. If you like movies, you should watch this.
"It All Came True" (1940, 97 min) A slyly comedic Humphrey Bogart and an energetic Ann Sheridan headline this charming gangster comedy musical. Bogie--who in the film's opening minutes shoots dead stoolie Herb Vigran (exceedingly familiar "Adventures of Superman" crook, given no lines here but at least a screen credit), and thus needs a place to hide-out. Mopey piano player Jeffery Lynn takes him to the boarding house jointly owned by his and Sheridan's mothers. At first, he hides out in his room, but eventually comes down to dinner to mix with likes of tenant Zasu Pitts. A little variety show is put on in his honor--including the unintentionally hilarious magician, The Great Baldini (Felix Bressart) and Fanto the Wonder Dog--and a highly amused Bogie gets the notion to turn the place into an exclusive night-club, The Roaring Nineties. On opening night, the cops eventually track him down, and he's all set to use his fail-safe plan to implicate Lynn in the murder of Vigran, until, well--you can't hang two moms for that amount of time without a little of their goodness rubbing off, y'know? Bogart is flat-out hilarious and charming all the way through--he even sings a few bars of "Sitting In The Park One Day" while reading a newspaper up in his room!--and Sheridan (who, I realized for the first time, facially reminds me of Marilyn Monroe) is top-notch in her role, as are all the folks playing the eccentric tenants. It gets a little heavy on the 1890's music in the final act, and is nowhere near realistic, but I found this flick to be highly entertaining in a very off-beat way!
"The Big Shot" (1942, 82 min) The middle entry of three flicks Humphrey Bogart made between stone-cold classics "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca", "The Big Shot" is a nicely done story of a potential three time loser (Bogart, natch) who's facing life in prison if he gets caught pulling one more caper. He resists temptation at first, but is ultimately drawn into the planning of an armored car heist--which he's ultimately prevented from participating in by old girl friend Irene Manning (whose lackluster performance brings everything down a notch--a first class actress as the love interest may've elevated this one to minor classic). The hitch is her hubby is the crooked lawyer who bankrolled the botched job, and when Bogie is mistakenly placed at the scene of the crime, the lawyer pays a young car salesman (Richard Travis, a Gomer Pyle like innocent sans accent) to provide an alibi--until he finds out where his wife REALLY was that night!! So he deliberately loses the case and Judge John (Perry White) Hamilton sentences Bogie to life. Soon after, our anti-hero (he really does have a heart of gold in this one) plans a unique break with a fellow inmate called Dancer (Chick Chandler, the best thing in this pic aside from Bogart) during a prison variety show! But when a guard is killed (by Dancer, who doesn't live to make it over the wall), the authorities mistakenly believe Travis--who's serving a year for perjury--was in on the plan, and thus, has to pay with his life for the murder. Bogie and his gal pal hear the news, and well, scores are settled, and wrongs are righted. There's an amazing chase scene at the end, with cars and motorcycles racing down winding, snow covered streets--and this is clearly the REAL white stuff, not some Hollywood concoction! Dangerous! Great acting by Bogart--well worth a look!
"Girls Of The Road" (1940, 61 min) The lovely and talented Ann Dvorak--my, what expressive eyes she had!--was on the downward slope of her career when she starred in this "B" minus dose of ostensibly cinematic social commentary that doubles as a (mildly) lurid expose of the problem of homeless woman vagrants. Playing the daughter of a (nameless state's) governor, Dvorak takes it upon herself to go undercover and learn about the problem first hand. she buddies up with wise-cracking Helen Mack (in a very entertaining performance) and encounters the likes of bossy Ann Doran, confused (and doomed) Marjorie Cooley, and sticky-fingered Lola Lane (...say, didn't she date Superman in some Weisinger-era Imaginary Story?...). HIGHLY sanitized (the specter of prostitution isn't even hinted at), and the notion of hitting the road in brand new duds with $200 in your pocket strikes me as sorta foolhardy, y'know? But the acting is decent, the outdoor locations seem authentic, and it's an interesting (if hardly authoritative) look at a forgotten problem. Plus, there's a happy ending! (What? You expected otherwise?...)
"Crash Landing" (1958, 76 min) Gary Merrill plays a hardened pilot whose plane loses two engines over the Atlantic, necessitating he land his commercial airliner--and the 30 plus passengers and crew--on the water, all the while wife Nancy Davis (aka Reagan, in her last big screen role) waits nervously at home. Told partially in flashback--and a "B" flick all the way--time devoted to (star-less) passenger vignettes takes up considerable running time. Apparently based on a true life incident, (SPOILER WARNING), Captain Merrill does Sully one better--nobody's lost, nobody's injured, heck, nobody even gets WET (there's a convenient naval destroyer in the area, y'see...)!! AND he rescues a little boy's dog from the storage compartment!! Plus, once back home, he even lightens up on his own poor kid in the final scene--it's a miracle all the way around!! Decent if you like this sort of thing.
"Brother Orchid" (1940, 88 min) Oddball gangster comedy that tosses in religion for good measure!! Edward G. Robinson decides to step down as boss of his mob, bound instead for Europe to amass some class, ceding his position to number two man, Humphrey Bogart. He returns home broke five years later, fully intending to return to being his gang's top man, but Bogie has other ideas. Eventually, Bogie orders a hit on his past employer, but Eddie G. just barely escapes, landing on the doorstep of a monastery, where Donald Crisp and Cecil Kellaway teach the mobster the true meaning of class. Of course, contented as he is to help his fellow brothers grow and peddle their flowers, he still has to return to his old life one last time to even up things with Bogart and free long-time gal pal, Ann Sothern (virtually unrecognizable, vocally or otherwise, from her latter day sitcom heyday) to marry Texas rancher, Ralph Bellamy. Bogart's role is a necessary plot device, but his screen time is limited--as I've come to notice with every Edward G. Robinson flick I've seen recently--and there have been a LOT of the--Eddie G. takes center stage as much as possible. He gives a nice performance, as does Sothern as his ditzy dame (Allen Jenkins is even funnier as his loyal, malaprop inclined, henchman). Can't say this thing was particularly hilarious, but it WAS different, given that most of the last third of the picture takes place in a monastery (and wait'll you see Robinson traipsing around in those robes!!). Not much meat for Bogart fans--though I did like his one scene with Ann Sothern--but still a modestly entertaining picture
"Between Two Worlds" (1944, 112 min) A diverse group of passengers--foremost amongst them John Garfield--find themselves on a mysterious ocean liner, with only a young couple--Paul Henreid and Eleanor Parker--aware of the truth: they're all dead, awaiting final judgement. To that end, there's steward Edmund Gwenn and, later, Sydney Greenstreet as The Examiner, to send 'em off to their final destinations. Based on a popular play from the mid-twenties, "Outward Bound" (later made into an early talkie I've yet to see), its stage origins are particularly noticeable in the film's latter half. A nice, mildly eerie atmosphere is maintained throughout, befitting the fantasy angle. Garfield (and actor I haven't quite made my mind up about yet) hams it up, but doesn't dominate, as each member of the cast gets their own moment to shine. There's even an unexpectedly happy ending!! Lots of yakking, true, but interesting, well-acted yakking. Better than I expected, and worth a look if you'd care to get an idea of what was popular on the stage back in the days before David Mamet discovered swearing.
"The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946, 113 min) James Cain's popular novel had to be substantially tamed down before reaching the big screen in order to meet mid-forties sensibilities, but there's enough randy implication to put over this tale of a drifter (John Garfield), a beautiful but bored young wife (Lana Turner, whose appeal I never quite got--until now...) and the considerably older hubby (Cecil Kellaway) the pair ultimately bump off. While the story isn't entirely convincing, and the ending seems more like a random event than it does a true climax, Turner is memorable, dressed entirely in white throughout, thoroughly convincing as temptation enough to motivate an otherwise honest man to commit murder. During the latter portion of the flick, Hume Cronyn steals every scene he's in as a lawyer without an ounce of conscience. Also of interest: Alan "Fred Flintstone" Reed's attempt to blackmail the couple. A justifiably famous film that, while it isn't quite a cinema classic, is nonetheless required viewing for film noir nuts.
"You Can't Get Away With Murder" (1939, 79 min) Dead End Kid Billy Halop apprentices in crime with small time hood Humphrey Bogart, but has second thoughts when Bogie kills a man using the revolver of Halop's sister, a straight arrow cop who was just on the verge of getting the whole family out of the slums. Instead, he finds himself in the big house, waiting for a turn sitting in the hot seat. Halop--who along with Bogie have wound up there as well on a lesser, unrelated charge--doesn't dare rat out his ex-buddy, and spends a majority of this picture agonizing (and some would say, over-acting0 in the process, dithering over what to do. This is really Halop's picture, but Bogart maintains a nicely menacing presence throughout. With Henry "Clarence the Angel" Travers as the prison librarian that serves as the young man's conscience, as well as Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, who provides comic relief as a con who stops by the library each day to read aloud an exotic dessert recipe for his own satisfaction. And this being a prison picture (a better one than "San Quentin", if not a true classic), naturally Joe Sawyer's on hand as well, in a more sympathetic than usual roleas an inmate expecting his walking papers only to be denied at the eleventh hour. Cons George E. Stone and Harold Huber make impressions as well. A decent if not spectacular flick.
"Smilin' Through" (1932, 98 min) A Best Picture nominee, I'd never heard of this Norma Shearer/Fredric March/Leslie Howard film before watching it. Initially, it played out before me as an incredibly corny and dated romance, but then a remarkable thing happened--I found myself thoroughly caught up in the beautifully realized finale, and had to scramble to the Kleenex--QUICK!! I'm not gonna go through the entire plot with you here--better you should see it for yourself (and besides my keyboard isn't tear-proof), but suffice to say, Howard has never stopped loving the woman who died on their wedding day a half century earlier. When her five year old niece comes to live with him after her parents die in an accident, she grows up to be the spitting image of his lost love, save for her hair being dark as opposed to blonde (both roles played by Shearer, natch). But nothing creepy here--Howard still has ghostly visits from his lost love to keep him busy. Young Shearer falls for March, only to later discover that his father was the very one responsible for robbing Howard of his happiness, and naturally, this potential pairing doesn't sit well with the bitter, unforgiving Leslie, and he forbids his niece to ever see him again. She TRIES to comply, but well, you know how that goes. But soon. March is off to the battlefields of WW1--and when he returns, badly injured? Every cliche in the book about noble sacrifice is trundled out, and I SHOULD'VE been scoffing, but I wasn't. Not to go all mushy on you, but the ending's gotta be one of the most romantic I've EVER seen! Creaky but effective--not for action fans, true, but all you others might consider giving it a chance. Just make sure to have a hanky handy...
"Wild In The Country" (1961, 114 min) It's "The King and Mrs. Muir" as Elvis falls for his court appointed psychiatrist, older woman (all of four years in real life) Hope Lange, in Presley's last gasp attempt at launching a serious acting career. Unfortunately, not enough of the public flocked to to this nicely done if somewhat talky pic--not the way they came in droves for the follow-up, "Blue Hawaii"--and so the Colonel nixed any further adventures in thespianism in favor of lightweight musical froth. Too bad--he may not have had great range, but in the right part--like here--Presley does a fine job. A rebellious, misunderstood youth--he wants to be a writer, which doesn't set well with his ne're do well relatives--he's caught between three women: the aforementioned proto-cougar Lange; good girl childhood sweetheart, Millie Perkins (who, eerily enough, would go on to play his mother 29 years later in a nicely done short-lived TV series); and bad girl cousin Tuesday Weld. The seduction scene between Elvis and Hope is pretty intense. With a screenplay by noted playwright Clifford Odets (adapted from a novel by J.R. Salamanca), several endings were filmed, including one that had Elvis committing suicide!! Test audiences were aghast, so instead we get an uplifting finale. There's very little music--eight minutes total, tops--but I must admit, "I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell" is a way under appreciated gem of a ditty. Look for Alan "Alfred The Butler" Napier as a college professor suitably impressed by The King's novice literary accomplishments. Also, it's the screen debut of Christina "Mommie Dearest" Crawford, and the final big screen appearance of Jason Robards Senior, playing a character identified as "Judge Tom Parker"--and we all know how the REAL Tom Parker judged THIS one!! Enjoy it while you can--"Kissin' Cousins" was right around the corner.
"The Return Of Dr. X" (1939, 62 min) Humphrey Bogart was saddled with the title role of this otherwise minor horror flick (no true relation to the earlier--and far creepier-- "Dr. X") as punishment for annoying the Warner studio bigwigs, and bless 'im for doing so--this thing is an absolute hoot!! On it's own terms, it's fairly entertaining--cocky reporter Wayne Morris stumbles upon the corpse of a famous stage actress in her apartment, phones in the story to his paper for an exclusive (watch for Huntz Hall in a bit part as a copy boy) , but is stunned when she shows up the next day in his editor's office, threatening to sue! Morris is fired, so he goes down to the local hospital to enlist the aid of pal Dennis Morgan, an intern, discussing the niceties of the four-inch wound he found on the newly animated--but very, very pale--stabbing victim. Older physician John Litel is consulted in turn, but he seems to be hiding something, and about 25 minutes into this 62 minute production, we all finally get to see what it is: Bogie the bogyman!! What an entrance--maintaining a cover identity as Litel's lab assistant--we first glimpse him, unearthly pale, bespeckled, a shock of white running across the top of his neatly cropped hair, shuffling slowly into the room, arm in a sling, casually stroking a rabbit, and speaking in slow, sibilant tones!! Oh, it is a sight to savor!! Bogey hated this role, but you can't say he didn't give it his all!! Unfortunately, he doesn't get nearly enough screen time, but perhaps that's for the best--all the better to relish what is there, as every second is an absolute treasure!! Y'know, I've been aware of Bogey's fright-faced make-up job since I first saw stills of it in books back during my teen years, but nothing compares to FINALLY seeing that ridiculous character shuffle across my TV screen!! Another one of my life's goals--accomplished!! Turns out Bogey was a certain Dr. Xavier who was executed for some rather nasty experiments (starving a baby to death, just to see how long it could survive without food--geez, even's Bogart's most rotten gangster character's wouldn't stoop THAT low!....), but brought back to life by Litel using a synthetic blood serum, one that clearly needs some fine-tuning, as the Bogster roams the city streets in search of fresh blood! Sometimes, bad movies are just plain bad, but sometimes bad movies are absolute bliss like this one! Here's looking at you, Dr. X!--I think I'll go play it again, cuz THIS is the stuff dreams are made of!
"Pennies From Heaven" (1936, 81 min) It's Bing Crosby as the easy-goin' wandering minstrel, armed with lute and song (including the immortal title tune) helping a smitten13 year-old (Edith Fellows) and her homeless grandfather (Donald Meek) fend off the grasping tendrils of social worker Madge Evans in this lightweight--albeit pleasant enough--"B" picture released several years before Der Bingle achieved "A" list status on the big screen. His chemistry with the adoring teen is among the best things in the film; his chemistry with the social worker (c'mon--you just KNEW they'd hook up), well, not so much. The true highlight comes midway through when the trio turn an old abandoned house into The Haunted House Cafe, replete with wild special effects coming right out of the tables as the guests dine!! But best of all, cast as carpenters, and then as the house entertainment, is the Louis Armstrong Band!! (In fact, Not-So-Ol' Satchmo gets fourth and last featured billing on the opening title, reportedly at the insistence of Crosby, making him the first black performer to merit such prominence in a Hollywood production). Unfortunately, Armstrong only performs a single number (I would've loved an additional duet with Bing, but alas...). I'm a big fan of Crosby's singing, but aside from his team-ups with Bob Hope, don't know all that much about his movie career. He's very charming here, but the story's fairly lackluster--can't give this one a wholehearted recommendation, but if you dig this sorta music, it might be worth taking a look.
"The Champ" (1931, 86 min) Wallace Beery shared a Best Actor Oscar statuette with Fredric ("Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde") March for his performance as a broken down boxer who shares his shabby lifestyle with the son who adores him, Jackie Cooper, in this King Vidor cinema classic. The genuine feel of the relationship between the two characters is what gives this sentimental, oft-times far-fetched story (why is the kid with Beery in the first place, given that his mother remarried into money?) its plausibility. Both actors excel, though I suppose I would've been even more drawn into their world if I hadn't seen a 1953 film called "The Clown" starring Red Skelton and Tim Considine a few months back. Save for sequences substituting a show biz comeback for one in the ring, it's a near word for word remake of "The Champ", with all the father-son stuff nearly identical, so I knew exactly what was going to happen before it did. (Incidentally, Skelton and Considine do a reasonably decent job, and in at least one pivotal scene, Red tops Beery for my money: after slapping his kid so as to make him run off (for his own good) to his mother, Red's anguished reaction to his unforgivable breach is far more powerful than Beery's. But the original is the better film, mainly because Cooper is in a class by himself...) Reportedly, off-screen Beery was a widely disliked, violent man, which makes his performance as a lovable lug even more amazing (in real life, I guess HE was the REAL Dr. J and Mr. H!). Of additional note is Jesse Hill as Cooper's young pal, Jonah. Jonah's black, but is never given to any exaggerated or stereotypical gestures, and in fact is treated far better than just about any other character of color I've yet to come across in the film's of the era. And you KNOW I've been watching way too many flicks from the thirties when I immediately recognize the names of Roscoe Ates and Edward Brophy on the opening credits (dig Brophy, but find Yates' stuttering schtick tiresome and offensive)!! Well worth watching, as long as you adjust your mental intake to thirties' mode.
"San Quentin" (1937, 70 min) That Joe Sawyer--always getting Humphey Bogart in trouble! First "Black Legion" ( a much better film), now this. Bogie's doing his first stint in the big-house, see, and the new-fangled reformation methods of recently instituted head officer, Pat O'Brien, seem to be working. So, Bogie wants no part of Sawyer's bust out plan. That is, until he learns O'Brien's dating his older sister, Ann Sheridan (15 years Bogie's junior in real life, as opposed to reel life)--THAT'S when he wants out to get revenge on the rat for taking advantage of his sibling!! Only, it's not like that--they're in love, and when Bogie finds that out, he literally crawls back to the prison, expiring at the gates, his last words vindicating O'Brien's approach, "Tell the cons to play ball with him, he's...swell." Yeah, it's just about the corniest thing I ever heard either! Truth to tell, this is a rather mediocre flick, despite the fine cast (Barton MacLane is suitably nasty as the former top guard O'Brien replaces)--other than Bogie being Sheridan's kin, there's really no evidence that O'Brien (a former army man) should see anything special in him, as he continually repeats throughout the movie. An okay film that shouda been so much better.
"Nine" (2009, 118 min) There were awfully high expectations--and an equal amount of promotional brouhaha--surrounding this musical from the director of "Chicago" (Rob Marshall) before it hit the theaters Christmas Day last. I mean, Oprah had the whole cast on--and what a cast it is!! Since then, I haven't heard much about it, and now I finally know why--it just plain isn't very good. Adapting a hit 1982 Broadway production, itself inspired by Fellini's classic "8 1/2" (which I have on tape, unseen, awaiting an upcoming viewing), it's razzle-dazzle mostly falls flat as we watch the world's greatest actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, attempt to play a charming Italian film director, one who's at a total loss for the subject of his next project, whose start date looms a mere handful of days off. The many women in his life wander in, sing their big number, and then sashay off again. One critic called this a musical Victoria's Secret fashion show, and he wasn't far off the mark. Not that something like that couldn't be interesting, it's just that here, for the most part, it's not. Kate Hudson's number--a character and a tune reportedly not in the original play--is by far the worst of the lot. Others numbers are either dull (Judi Dench) or overdone (Penelope Cruz). Only one character, one actress, one number (actually two, as she alone gets a second song) comes alive convincingly: Marion Cottilard as Day-Lewis's long-suffering wife. HER I believed--the rest were just taking their turns up on stage. Seeing Sophia Loren as the director's mother was a nice tip to the original source, however, and pop star Fergy acquits herself decently with her big-screen moment. But y'know what a movie about a director unable to come up with a suitable script REALLY needed? A better script!! I still wanna see "Chicago", but if you wanna know if I think you should check out this one, I'd have to revert to my German heritage and say "nein!" to "Nine"!
"General Spanky" (1936, 71 min) The only feature-length outing for The Little Rascals (or at least, three of them), set during the Civil War, apparently due to the success of several Shirley Temple flicks set in the same era. This movie WASN'T a hit however--y'think maybe it had something to do with one of its lovable central characters, Buckwheat (Billie Thomas), being cast, out of necessity, as a slave? Kinda kills a lot of the fun, y'know? Plus, there's that whole glorification of the South shtick that just doesn't set right, especially in this context. Lastly, it's simply not very funny--though, truth be told, while I watched the Rascals' antics on the tube back in the early sixties, I was never an ardent fan, and have very little nostalgia for them. I watched this merely as a curiosity, and on those limited terms, it's worth a look. Can't recommend it otherwise. Admittedly, Spanky McFarland is an astonishing performer for a child his age (8 here; Thomas was 5, and he to turns in a polished performance as well), but he's clearly better than the material. Alfalfa and several ersatz Rascals show up mid-way through--and yes, he does warble a tune off-key, as per usual--but it's mostly Spanky's show. There are adults involved, too, most notably Ralph (brother of Frank) Morgan as a kindly Northern General and Irving Pichel as a nasty Union officer. Your jaw will hit the floor when an abandoned Buckwheat, overhearing two white fellows opine that that masterless slaves should be rounded up and put to death, proceeds to go from person to person on a riverboat, asking to be their slave, only to be turned down until he finally comes upon Spanky!! Yup, now THAT'S comedy!...
"The Sin Of Madelon Claudet." (1931, 75 min) Supposedly, MGM chief Irving Thalberg, in deciding to green light this less than intellectual enterprise, said "Let's face it. We win Academy Awards with crap like 'Madelon Claudet'"--and sure enough, in her first sound picture, Helen "First Lady of The American Stage" Hayes took home the Oscar! What's it all about, you ask? Well, lessee--it's turn of the century Paris, and young, naive Hayes is in love with American painter, Neil "Commissioner Gordon" Hamilton. He's called back to the U.S., however, never to return, but leaves her with a parting gift--an illegitimate child! Hayes' father tries to fix her up with farmer Alan "The Skipper's Dad" Hale, but he's having nothing of raising another man's offspring. Instead, she takes up an offerr to play mistress to the much older Lewis "Judge Hardy" Stone, a man she believes to be a Count only to discover he's really a jewel thief when the ring she lent her best buddy, Marie "The winner who was a doggy's dinner" Prevost, to pay off the farm her hubby, Cliff "Jiminey Cricket" Edwards lost gambling, is discovered to be stolen. The ersatz Count commits suicide upon capture, and the police instead jail Hayes for ten years, figuring she must've known SOMETHING about his exploits (she didn't, but oh well...) Once released, she goes to visit her son at the orphanage, but meets a kindly doctor, Jean "Humanitarian Award" Hersholt, who informs her that the boy has the hands of a surgeon, but due to mom's notoriety, will likely get nowhere. So when she meets the boy, she pretends to be an old friend of mom's, here to deliver bad news--your mother's dead. After that, she promises to send Hersholt money each month to make sure the boy goes to medical school. Hayes tries for a legitimate job, but there are no openings, so when a passerby mistakes her for a prostitute on the street, she initially pushes him away, but quickly reconsiders. At this point, time speeds up to an even more dizzying pace--we watch the grown son, Robert "Marcus Welby" Young, enter his first day of classes, begin his studies, graduate, set up his practice, all counterpointed by mom dolled up all ritzy-like working high-class joints, growing more hardened and roaming less reputable establishments, and eventually skanking out stealing from customers in dives. Finally, she's an old woman--and amazingly, looking just like the Helen Hayes of her actual later years, if a bit too fleet of foot--and goes to see a mustachioed Robert "Father Knows Best" Young. STILL she doesn't reveal her true identity, and when he offers to help her track down the son she casually mentioned, she runs off, and you'd think that'd be the end of this tearjerker, but it's not. The whole thing was told in flashback by Hersholt to Young's wife, Karen "This Space For Rent" Morley, who'd been frustrated with the sacrifices the wife of a doctor has to endure. Lady, you don't KNOW from sacrifices!! Turns out, the old lady is still kicking, and plans are made for her to come live with the young couple--even if ol' Doc Young has no idea of the truth!! Belatedly tacked on bookends? Yup--and Ms. Hayes wasn't around to add her talents, instead having a movie where she dominated every scene end with other characters talking about her! Frankly, I'd never even heard of this flick before I watched it (it fit my pre-1934 viewing criteria), and since I don't imdb 'em until AFTER viewing 'em, I had no idea of the Hayes' Oscar win. Yeah, she was good, but in such a sentimental movie, I gotta admit, I didn't shed a single tear (and if you read my review of "Emma", you know I'm a soft touch). I guess I can't get behind the whole "your mother is dead" fib--it annoyed me enough to forget about caring for the character. Frankly, I fully expected Hamilton to return at some point to meet his son, but it never happened. I suppose he got caught up in his Gotham duties. Not a great movie, but of some curiosity value.
"Emma" (1932, 72 min) Marie Dressler stars as the housekeeper who, after Jean Hersholt's wife dies giving birth to their fourth child, is more of a mother to the family than a hired hand. The movie jumps ahead after that tragic establishing scene (including a pre-"Thin Man" Myrna Loy as one of the adult children) to a point where the youngest is in college. Dressler is off to her first vacation in 32 years, and unexpectedly, Hersholt proposes and marries her on the trip! As he's wealthy inventor, all his children are mortified at the idea of their father marrying a servant, all except the youngest, Ronnie, who's delighted. Then dad, who has a bad heart, dies on his honeymoon, and Emma returns home to learn he left his considerable fortune in her hands, to dole out as she sees fit. She's all for turning it immediately over to the his offspring (all of whom she loves unconditionally), but before she can say anything, they turn on her (all save Ronnie), and soon have her in court on trumped up murder charges having to do with the medicine she gave Hersholt. Ronnie, a flyer, is off in the Canadian wilds, and knows nothing of the trial until it's nearly over, and risks his life to take off in miserable weather to lend his support. I don't want to spoil the ending, but this thing had me blubbering like a baby during its final minutes, weeping both sad and happy tears!! Cornball, yes, but somehow effective. Other Dressler pics I've seen--and lately, there've been plenty--didn't quite hit home the way this one did. Not much comedy, but the actress's odd mixture of naturalism and theatricality really worked in this flick. Bonus points around the Hembeck household because Marie used one of my most oft uttered expressions, "thingamadoodle" mid-way through--believe you me, when I showed that clip to wife Lynn, THAT sure had her laughing her, um, thingamadoodle off!!...
"Smart Money" (1931, 81 min) The only movie to feature both Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney is hardly a balanced affair--Robinson was already a big star when this was filmed, while Cagney's break-out pic, "Public Enemy" was in the can but had not yet been released (it would be before this one hit the theaters, though, knocking Jimmy's billing up to co-starring status, an exaggeration at best). Edward G dominates as Nick the Barber (yes, he's an actual barber) who's apparently also the luckiest gambler in the world; Cagney plays his best pal (and, as some folks over on imdb would have it, his gay lover--but that's stretching things, I'd say). EGR is in virtually every scene, JC leaves the screen for long stretches at a time--so as a team-up of two screen immortals, it's disappointing. As a movie, it's fairly entertaining, though nothing special--Robinson lays on the charm and lays off the menace. Except for a fatality at the finale (which comes from out of left field--the punishment doled out hardly seems to fit the crime, overall), this all very genteel. Robinson's small town buddies finance him so as to aid him in entering a high stakes poker game, and after some ups and downs--and several blondes, Nick's weakness--he's running several ritzy gambling casinos of his own and is declared a public menace by the DA! Robinson really is deft at playing a nice guy--whoda thot? The film debut of the immortal Charles Lane playing, naturally, a desk clerk. Most intriguing scene comes very early on: Nick is summoned by an attractive blonde outside of his barbershop--she needs $100. Why, he asks? She whispers in his ear, he agrees, gives her a C-note that'd been torn and taped. She walks off, and in a long shot, we see her hand over the money to a shady man standing in an alleyway. Meanwhile, Robinson, Cagney, and half a dozen others are playing craps in the back of the barbershop when this fellow comes ambling in, asking to play, and wanting change for the big bill in his hand. Robinson recognizes the torn bill, and insists he play it all or not play at all. From underneath a wide brimmed hat, he reluctantly agrees, and soon looses the hundred back to Robinson, shuffling off and out of the picture for good, the whole situation between him and the blonde (also never glimpsed again) left totally unexplained. And here's the kicker--that mystery man was played by an unbilled Boris Karloff, mere months before teaming again with Robinson for "Five Star Final" and later, attaining screen immortality as the Frankenstein monster! Folks, I'm telling you--there's a whole 'nother movie in THAT little exchange!!
"I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang" (1932, 93min) A must see! Paul Muni plays a man who's in the wrong place at the wrong time, and winds up with a ten year sentence on a southern chain gang. The inhuman conditions are presented in excruciating detail, from the slop served as dinner to the routine of chaining up prisoners in their beds overnight. After about a year, Muni escapes, and manages to make a good, productive life for himself in Chicago, but after half a dozen years, he's found out. Illinois doesn't want to extradite him, but representatives from the unnamed southern state assure him that if he goes back, as a technically, he'd only have to serve out a mere 90 days--and as a trustee, to boot--before he's pardoned--promise. He takes the offer, but guess what? They lied--and here's where the movie REALLY gets the viewer's blood boiling! After another miserable year, there's another escape, with the movie culminating in one of the most haunting scenes--and most chilling lines of dialog--as you're likely to see. If you haven't seen it, I won't spoil it for you; if you have, there's no need for me to mention it here--I doubt you've forgotten it. A risky picture for Warners to make at the time--this was based on an actual case, albeit in somewhat exaggerated form--it was a big hit and is credited with helping reform the dehumanizing chain gang system. Paul Muni is astonishing as the returning war hero, looked up to by all, who's reduced to the life of a hunted, haunted animal. A bona fide classic.
"The Divorcee" (1930, 84 min) My second Norma Shearer flick in a week features her Academy Award winning performance--achieved primarily by alternately giggling, crying, and staring pensively off into space. Hey, I did that myself last Thursday!!Aw, Shearer's not so bad--she's undeniably lovely, with a great screen presence--but acting-wise, nothing overly special. Of course, this was a controversial topic for a film back in 1930--Norma marries Chester Morris (solid as always), but discovers on their third anniversary that he'd had a fling. Meaningless, of course, but as he has to go off on a business trip that very evening, Shearer has time to stew--AND fall into the willing arms of Chester's good buddy, Robert Montgomery! Morris is relieved at the pleasant and seemingly forgiving reception he gets from the missus upon his return home--until she informs him that (in a great turn of phase) she's "balanced accounts"!! Naturally, he flips out--double standard, anyone? They divorce, and apparently, being a divorced woman back in the thirties meant a license to sleep around. But this being an MGM pic, there's a happy ending. The best scene is when Chester encounters Montgomery in a NYC eatery, still unaware of the identity of his wife's one-nighter. They have a friendly conversation, and when the topic of Shearer's infidelity comes up, Morris vows to kill the guy, should he ever discover who it is. Montgomery stays cool, they make a date for dinner, and then part ways--with Montgomery sticking his head back around the corner for one more look, relieved he got away with it--THIS time!! And I like the fact that Morris never does find out what Ol' Rob was keeping under that top hat of his!! With Conrad Nagel as Shearer's second choice, who runs a car off the road in a drunken rage after learning she chose Morris over him, obligating Nagel to marry one of his passengers whose face was irreparably scarred by the accident. Yes, LOT'S going on here--but it's MGM, not Warners, so it's only mildly interesting. Worth seeing for the historical aspect, as well as Morris and Montgomery (my favorite character in the film--he clearly doesn't take advantage of Shearer so much as merely go along with her...).
"The Pumpkin Eater" (1964, 118 min) This is one of those films whose peculiar title--and Anne Bancroft's Academy Award nomination as Best Actress--has been stuck in my head all these years, prompting me to finally give it a look-see when it turned up recently on TCM. First, let me just make one thing abundantly clear--if you're looking for laughs, Harold Pinter screenplays sure AIN'T the place! In fact, if you're looking for warm, identifiable characters, you're pretty much in the wrong place as well. Skillfully directed by Jack Clayton and impeccably acted by the aforementioned Ms. Bancroft (sporting an English accent) and Peter Finch (with an animated turn by James Mason, who turns up midway through for what amounts to an extended cameo), the whole thing is a depressing examination of a couple of depressing people. Told in flashbacks and flashforwards, Bancroft plays a thrice married woman with six (or is it seven?) kids, always at the ready to spawn more. Interestingly, aside from an older daughter who appears in several scenes in the film's latter portion, the children have no specific identities--they're just a brood Bancroft's character revels in amassing. Eventually, there's infidelity, with the film's resolution heading towards a possible reconciliation. Good for them. There's a couple of stand-out scenes: Yootha Joyce as a fellow beauty parlor client who begins a conversation with Bancroft by telling her how much she admires her and ends by taunting her with the intimate details of her sexual prowess (and no, she has no connection to Finch); the other being how the genteel Mason breaks some disturbing news to Bancroft while visiting the zoo. Trivia points: playing Bancroft's father, this was Cedric Hardwicke's last film. In fact, his character dies in the film, while he passed away in real life several months before the movie was released. The undertaker for his funeral--glimpsed only briefly--is played by John Junkin, whose very next imdb credit would be "A Hard Day's Night", where he played Shake (the tall one)! Not really my cup of tea, there's no denying this is a well-made film. Just not sure WHY it was made...
"The Wall Street Mystery" (1931, 17 min) The third of eleven shorts made starring Donald Meek as criminologist Dr. Crabtree working on cases with Inspector Carr, played by John Hamilton two decades before he attained video immortality as Perry White on "The Adventures of Superman" TV program--but sounding essentially the same ("Make it snappy!") if slightly thinner and decidedly less gray. Truth is, the novelty of seeing Hamilton bark at someone other than Lois, Jimmy, or Clark is what lured me into watching one of these they first time I accidentally stumbled across one on TCM--the mysteries aren't much, what with so little time for proper development. This one also features perhaps the most egregiously insulting black caricature I've yet come across in one of these old movies (and that's saying a lot)--an elevator operator named Amos Andy Lindbergh who combines over the top bad acting with unusually demeaning lines (imbd doesn't list the actor, and he looks totally unfamiliar--perhaps he got out of show biz while the getting was good). This is the third one of these I've seen, and I'd mostly recommend them as curiosities to fans of the old George Reeves show or to really hard-core mystery buffs.
"Black Legion" (!937, 83 min) Humphrey Bogart--a good-natured fellow with a wife and kid--fully expects to made the foreman down at the machinist shop after the current one moves up, but when a younger, foreign born man is chosen instead, fellow worker Joe Sawyer picks up on his resentment, exploiting it to lure Bogie into the Black Legion vigilante group. Wearing back robes instead of white (with a skull and crossbones logo thrown in for good measure), clearly the Ku Klux Klan was the model for this criminally wrong-headed organization. Hate speech cloaked with patriotic homilies rousing up the ignorant and the impressionable is, sadly, hardly a tough plot device to swallow. Bogie turns in a fine performance, as he quickly devolves from devoted family man to just another dupe of the mob. When someone's finally killed, left holding the bag, Bogart wants to take what's coming to him, but the Legion has other ideas--they've cooked up a self-defense scam that involves him declaring his love for the town floozy, otherwise his wife and kid'll get it. But he can't bring himself to spout these lies on the stand with his wife sitting only a few short feet away, and he tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Subsequently, when he and a dozen other men are sentenced to life in prison for their part in the murder, the scene where his wife (Erin O'Brien-Moore in a nicely understated performance) lock eyes one last time as he's being taken away will break your heart. He was a good man once--but just look where irrational hatred got him. The message is laid on a bit heavy-handed at times, true, but there's probably no more infuriating scene than one mid-way through that has several businessmen--and their accountant--totaling up their take on dues nationwide, not to mention the mandatory $6.75 outfits and $15 revolvers. Still relevant, unfortunately. With Dick Foran and Ann Sheridan.
"Three On A Match" (1932, 63 min) We first meet the three central female characters in grade school, and watch as they graduate and go off to finishing school (Ann Dvorak), business school (Bette Davis), and reform school (Joan Blondell). They meet up ten years later--Davis a hard working stenographer, Blondell an aspiring show girl, and Dvorak, the well-to-do wife of prominent lawyer Warren William, mother of a young son. She's also highly dissatisfied with her entire life for no discernible reason--the ever understanding William sends her and the boy off on a sea cruise in the hopes the change will clear her head. But before the ship leaves dock, she runs into Blondell and a few friends, on board to attend a send-off party in another cabin. Dvorak joins them, and is soon under the spell of a slimy Lyle Talbot. The newly smitten couple leave the boat together before it sails, and hole up in a local apartment, partying 24 hours a day, despite the young child still being under her care. Blondell tries to appeal to her good sense for the sake of the boy, but when that does no good, she goes directly to Williams. A year goes by--Williams divorces Dvorak and marries Blondell (and hires marginally important to the proceedings Davis as the child's nanny). Dvorak hits the skids, and so does Talbot--he needs two grand to pay off a gambling debt to Edward Arnold or otherwise Humphrey Bogart (who doesn't appear until about two-thirds of the way through, but at least gets a screen credit this time around) and Allen Jenkins will work him over. Desperate, he gets the brilliant idea to kidnap the kid for money, eventually holed up in a grimy apartment with a cocaine sniffing Dvorak and Bogie's thugs. With the cops closing in--and the child's life in clear danger--Dvorak redeems herself with a shocking final act that'll leave you gasping!! Man oh man, I sure do LOVE these old flicks--another winner from Warner Brothers!
"The Crowd" (1928, 104 min) This has got the be the best non-comedic silent film I've come across yet. Filled with breathtaking shots (often filmed on the sly) of a late twenties New York City, this King Vidor directed film tells the story of Johnny Sims (James Murray), a man who truly believes he's destined to stand out from the crowd--but sadly, doesn't. An emotional roller-coaster of sorts, Vidor mixes scenes of great humor next to ones of heart-rending tragedy, all knowingly depicting the up and down slog of everyday life. Eleanor Boardman (Vidor's wife) delivers a subtle performance as Sims' wife Mary, who sees her dreams slowly slip away over the course of a half-dozen years, but it's Murray who truly stands out. Selected from a pool of virtual unknowns (since the director didn't want the audience distracted from his tale by star power), Murray would never again reach the heights of this performance, and would soon after sadly drift off into alcoholism, and eventually, in 1937, fall off a NY city pier to his death. Suicide? No clear cut verdict was ever determined, but like the character he essayed in this, his sole shining cinematic triumph, he'd been beaten down by life, and perhaps he found surrendering was just the easiest route out. This film stands firmly on its own merits, true, but somehow, that bit of melancholic background gives it just that much more punch. The silent film drama for people who don't like silent film dramas. See it.
"Big City Blues" (1932, 63 min) Humphrey Bogart isn't even given a screen credit in this, the first movie he made for the studio that would (eventually) make him a star, Warner Brothers. To be fair, Lyle Talbot doesn't merit one either, and without the pair, the plot woulda stalled out mid-way through. Naive small-towner Eric Linden (who I've now seen in a half a dozen flicks but still can't place that distinctive urban accent of his) heads to New York City, armed with a couple thousand dollars he'd just inherited. Cousin Walter Catlett is there to greet him, show him all the sites, and--in much the manner of a civilian Sgt. Bilko--bleed him for as much of his fortune as humanly possible. Catlett is tremendously amusing, especially when looking into his wallet and continually feigning surprise that either nothings was in it or the bills that were, were too big, necessitating one "loan" after another from the clueless Linden!! Soon, he arranges a party up in young Eric's room, rounding up several of his show-biz friends, including Joan Blondell and the aforementioned Bogie and Lyle. It's all a big laugh--the movie plays like a comedy about half-way through--until a drunken, jealous Talbot starts a fight with Bogie, who'd been hitting on his girl friend. The lights go out, a bottle is thrown, the gal pal is conked dead in the head, and everyone clears out, leaving a stunned Linden holding the bag!! Suddenly, we're in the midst of a melodrama. Blondell--who'd been warming up the the farm boy--finds him again, ashamed for deserting him. The cops arrest the whole gang, but when hotel dick Guy Kibbee finds the corpse of a despondent Talbot hanging in his liquor closet--next to half of a tell tale bottle--the case is closed, and Linden is free to go. After only 24 hours, it's back to the sticks for him, but he vows to return to Blondell in the very near future. The End. Bogart's part, though small, does have it's moments, and as with any early thirties Warners flick, it's fast moving, sassy, full of familiar faces (look for gravel voiced Ned Sparks and chameleon-like J. Carroll Naish as well) and maybe just a wee bit racy. Not great cinema, granted, but great fun!!
"Gladiator" (2000, 155 min) Oscar winner for Best Picture and Best Actor (Russell Crowe), this grand spectacle--and wildly inaccurate history lesson--is set back during the days of Rome's gladiatorial combat exhibitions. Not my sort of pic--save for Kubrick's "Spartacus", I've found little to interest me in the genre. Storywise, it goes like this: the general who would be ruler has his position usurped by the psycho son of the dying emperor, barely escapes with his life, only to return to Rome as a super-star gladiator bent on revenge. Sure, why not? Good acting by the entire cast, especially Joaquin Phoenix (a Best Supporting Actor runner-up) as the cunning, craven Commodus, though I felt Crowe turned in a more notable performance in "L.A. Confidential" (which I also regard as a much better movie). Lotsa violence--not overly graphic by today's admittedly ridiculous standards--that, while exciting and effective, especially in the climactic scenes, bordered on tedious as well. For what it is, it was pretty good, but not really my cup of tea.
"A Free Soul" (1931, 93 min) Lionel Barrymore won Best Actor Oscar for his role as an alcoholic criminal defense attorney whose final courtroom scene, an uninterrupted 14 minute take (the longest in screen history, they say), likely won him that prize. He's good, but me, I prefer Rasputin or Mr. Potter. Seems his daughter (also nominated but did not win Norma Shearer) takes up with one his clients (Clark Gable, in the role that got him noticed) even though she's engaged to Leslie Howard (hey, that sounds sorta familiar somehow?...). She learns the true nature of the man she's smitten with too late, and it's up to the noble Howard to right things--and THEN for Barrymore to tidy up after him with an emotional courtroom appearance. The plot is serviceable, if nothing overly original, but I've been watching enough of these old movies to know by now that if this were a Warners/First National flick, the thing would charge ahead, full of snappy dialog and energy. But nope, this an MGM production, and is instead filled with flowerly lingo about love and life that would make a pulp writer blush with embarrassment. My first encounter with Ms. Shearer is guardedly positive--she has a lovely freshness and a spritely demeanor during the up scenes; her handling of the heavy stuff is a wee bit more questionable. The three male leads--as well as James Gleason--do what they can with the material, and if you're interested in any of them, you might want to take a look. But I've seen plenty of flicks lately with much less star power but far more entertainment value. When rival gangsters shoot at Gable and Shearer in his jalopy parked at a hamburger joint on their first date, well, right then and there, she shoulda had the good sense to know what she was getting into!...
"Svengali" (1931, 81 min) John Barrymore hams it up deliciously as the evil hypnotist who turns a young innocent girl name Trilby (Marian Marsh) into both a singing sensation in nineteenth century Europe and (it's implied), his love slave. Unexpectedly, the first third of the flick could almost pass for a comedy, with gags about Svengali's bathing habits and tongue-in-cheek delivery by Barrymore that recalls a smart-mouthed old Jewish uncle on a sitcom more than it does a nefarious mind-controller. But, eventually he siphons all the life out of Marsh (quite lovely and appealing early on, with a mind of her own), and melodrama ensues. Still amazing effects give Svengali's hypnotic gaze a real power, and the "Cabinet Of Dr. Calgari" inspired sets are a marvel to look at. As is Barrymore, in shaggy beard and heavy face make-up.While I still prefer brother Lionel's performance as Rasputin a few years hence, in the battle of the beards, this Barrymore more than holds his own! Watch for a fake nude scene, with Marsh's body double wearing barely perceptible clothing.
"Five Star Final" (1931, 89 min) When I tuned into this runner up for 1931's Best Picture Oscar, I knew I'd be getting Eward G. Robinson as the editor of a sleazy tabloid, but didn't know that his best down and dirty reporter would be played by none other than Boris Karloff, several months before "Frankenstein" wound make him a household name!! Turns out this is a pretty terrific picture, if you can overlook some of the more stylized acting of the era (primarily among the folks outside the newsroom). Circulation is down--Robinson had been trying to upgrade the paper's content, causing a sales drop--so, under orders from the publisher, he decides to reopen a twenty year old murder case, as a sort of "where are they now" series to sell papers. Trouble is, the woman who shot her lover (Frances Starr)--and was acquitted of the crime primarily because she was carrying his child--has changed her name and vanished. But Karloff tracks her down, and posing as a minister, weasels his way into the home she shares with hubby H.B.Warner. It seems her daughter (Marian Marsh) is marrying into high society the very next day, and they mistakenly believe Boris to be the clergyman performing the service, realizing the truth far too late. The girl has no idea of her's mom's lurid past, but when the story is heartlessly splashed across the front pages of Robinson's newspaper on the morning of the wedding, tragedy ensues. The confrontation scene between a fiery Marsh, a shamed but stand-up Robinson, a cowering Karloff, and the publisher is unforgettable. Aline MacMahon nicely plays the secretary with a conscience. Watch for an innovative split screen scene as Starr fruitlessly tries to get the publisher and then the editor of the paper on the phone in vain hopes of squashing the story. Plus, Boris Karloff plays a scene as a happy drunk, reporting back to Eddie G after getting his story--now, THAT'S something to see!! Recommended!
"The Lost Patrol" (1934, 73 min) When the officer in charge is killed in the opening shot of this flick, his orders dying with him, Sergeant Victor McLaglen suddenly finds himself in charge of a dozen British soldiers, lost in a Mesopotamian desert during the first World War I. Eventually, they find refuge at a small oasis, but it's hardly their deliverance--one by one, they're picked off by unseen Arab snipers. This John Ford directed film isn't my usual cup of tea--I watched primarily due to second-billed Boris Karloff--but it's quite an effective downer, watching as the men come to terms with their sorry fate. McLaglen turns in a nicely restrained performance, and Karloff gives a totally UNrestrained one, playing a man who's a religious fanatic at the outset, and a throroughly mad man carrying a cross on his back out into the desert at the end! Worth seeing for Boris alone!! Wallace Ford also offers nice support--and how about that fellow who lands his bi-plane nearby, steps out of his aircraft, is immediately shot, his last words prefaced with a gurgled out" I say..."?
"Pacific Liner" (1939, 76 min) I tuned into this one solely due to the presence of my new favorite old-time actor, Chester Morris, though in truth, the plot DID sound like a good one--when a case of cholera turns up on a cruise ship, can panic and even mutiny be far behind? Well, yes, they can, if the material is this ineffectively handled. Morris plays the ship's doctor, and shares top billing with Victor McLaglen as the ship's brutish (but lovable) chief engineer--and the two rather unrealistically compete for the love of nurse Wendy Barrie even as men around them are dropping like flies!! The whole outbreak is confined to the coal shoveling class, and late in the pic when it seems like the carriers are finally heading upstairs to the passengers--they don't. End of drama. My first encounter with McLaglen finds him turning in a cartoonish performance, repeatedly preening in his cabin, chattering at his bird. Morris is good, but not good enough to save this picture. This falls into the thankfully small category of recently-seen flicks that, afterwards, I wished I hadn't even bothered. Beware, mateys--mediocrity off the port side. Thar she blows indeed!
"A Foreign Affair" (1948, 116 min) Billy Wilder filmed much of this cynical romantic comedy in bombed-out post-war Berlin (the opening sequence, with a group of Congress folk looking down on the devastated city from their approaching aircraft is chilling). Sent to check on the morale of the military men toiling in the reconstruction, Jean Arthur plays an authoritative, uptight Republican congresswoman who wants to get the bottom of why suspected Nazi-sympathizer Marlene Dietrich is still running about free, singing in a local makeshift nightclub. John Lund, as a Captain, is the reason--he's fudged Marlene's papers because they're romantically involved. Desperate to throw Arthur off the scent, he makes a play for her, which Jean goes for big-time, and so Dietrich is safe--for now. Needless to say, there are complications. A clever script, solid performances, and a real peek into actual history--living in 1948 Germany was no picnic, as this picture clearly shows. One thing I can't figure, though--throughout, the Colonel (Millard Mitchell) is shown scratching his nose in an odd manner (and only once with his middle finger, so it ain't that), including the very last shot before fadeout. The significance of this gesture is beyond me. Otherwise, here's yet another Billy Wilder classic, albeit a lesser known one--see it!!
"The Racket" (1928, 84 min) Produced by Howard Hughes, this silent movie was thought lost until it turned up in Hughes' vault long after his death, and was finally restored for viewing only a few short years back after being out of circulation for over a half-century. The story of a police chief (Thomas Meighan, a long-time silent star in one of his few talkies) fighting not only a gangster (the marvelously expressive broken-nosed mug of Louis Wolheim steals the show) and his mob, but a corrupt city hall as well. Marie Prevost provides an aggressive performance as Wolheim's ultimate nemesis. Based on a play, Lewis Milestone's direction of the latter-half of the flick betrays its stage-bound origins, after a nicely cinematic opening. A decent story that moves along nicely with fine performances, backed by a refurbished score, one specific thing to look out for if you get the chance to watch this--the character Chick, played by Lucien Prival. He looks EXACTLY like Paul "PeeWee Herman" Reubens, right down to that creepy smug smile!! And it's not just me--two of the twelve folks who wrote reviews of the flick over on imdb made the very same observation!! Not a classic, but not a bore, either.
"Ball Of Fire" (1941, 111 min) Of all the many, many, MANY movies I've watched over the recent months, THIS is one I'd have to call my very favorite!! What a WONDERFUL film! It reminds me of two of my other all-time faves, "Elf" and "Enchanted"--although THIS time, instead of an innocent thrown out into the big bad world, a street smart gangster's moll (Academy Award nominated Barbara Stanwyck) seeks refuge from the police by hiding out with a group of eight cloistered academics. Billy Wilder's hilarious script is a clever rewrite of Snow White and Seven Dwarfs. Gary Cooper--who should've received an Oscar nom as well--plays the nerdy English professor (the eight men are living together, writing an encyclopedia, each with a different specialty) who comes across Sugarpuss O'Shea in his quest to write an entry on current slang for the project. I've never been all that taken with Cooper, but here, he plays the fast-talking, clueless academic with pure straight-faced hilarity, providing a perfect counterpoint to the sassy Stanwyck!! Henry Travers, S.Z.Sakall, and Oskar Homolka play several of the professors smitten with their new house guest, as does Richard (the guy with the silly, nasally voice) Hayden, who convincingly mixes in with the real-life oldsters even though he's only in his mid-thirties. Of course, Babs and Coop fall for one another, which puts a definite crimp in Dana Andrews' plan to marry his moll (the better not to testify against her hubby, y'see). Until a few months back, I had absolutely no idea how swell an actress--and how appealing a movie star--Barbara Stanwyck truly was, but brother, am I ever on board THAT train now!! This flick had me grinning from beginning to end--that is, when I wasn't laughing out loud, which was often!! Yeah, I may be overplayed my enthusiasm a bit here, but why not see for yourself? A bona fide classic!!
"The Lady Eve" (1941, 94 min ) Written and directed by Preston Sturges, this comedy has Barbara Stanwyck and Charles Coburn as a father/daughter con-man team loose on a cruise ship, where they reel in a tremendously wealthy--and tremendously naive--Henry Fonda. Only, wouldn't you know it, Babs falls for Hank--for real!! And also wouldn't you know it, just as she's about to confess her shady past to him (in preparation for their upcoming nuptials), he discovers the skeletons in her closet on his own and coldly turns his back on her. What she does next to have her revenge--with nearly a third of the film's running time left--I found both a bit hard to swallow logically and as to her motivation. However, the sequence, like IS entertaining, and the fade-out provides a suitable ending. A delightful film, with the two leads in top form.
"It's Complicated" (2009, 120 min) If you go into this expecting a Steve Martin laff-fest, you'll be sorely dissappointed. This is actually a Meryl Streep movie, co-starring Alec Baldwin, with Steve Martin, featuring John Krasinski. After 19 years of marriage--and three kids--Streep and Baldwin divorced a decade back, with him marrying the younger woman he'd been cheating on his wife with. But during a graduation weekend gathering for their son, the old magic is reignited, and the pair soon find themselves back in the sack, much to Baldwin's delight--and Streep's mortification! Enter Steve Martin as a mild-mannered architect who has blossoming feelings for new client Streep. Apparently, writer/director Nancy Myers has trod similar paths in her past work, but not having seen any of her earlier films, this was all new to me. After decades somehow missing most of her movies, I've now caught Meryl Steep's last five big screen appearances! She really IS as good an actress as they say, but more importantly (especially in a role like this, which could've easily been off-putting in an "oh poor me" manner), a very appealing one as well. Alec Baldwin is hilarious throughout, his brazenness stealing nearly every scene he's in. Steve Martin mostly plays straight man (until a literal hit of weed renders him very non-straight in a very funny--if somewhat illogical scene: WHY, after 27 years off the weed and on her first date with Steve--to her son's graduation party, no less!!--would Streep think NOW would be a good time to sample that joint Baldwin left her a few days earlier? But it DID produce some easy laughs...), and John Krasinski, as the fiance of Streep's oldest daughter, racks up the most laughs after he inadvertently learns of the divorced couple's illicit affair and gets to react knowingly to stuff that flies right past the rest of the cast, the biggest guffaw having to do with Streep and a piece of cutlery. Lynn and I saw this on Valentine's Day with an absolutely packed house at the two dollar theater, and the audience's repeated laughter unfortunately rendered a lot of the follow-up lines inaudible. At 120 minutes, a bit overlong--and as a muffin merchant, Streep's life appeared unreasonably glamorous--but the performances of the four leads are top-notch, and there are enough solid laughs (if not quite as many as the other folks in the theater seemed to feel warranted their appreciation) to make this a pleasant diversion.
"Love Affair" (1932, 68 min) A young Humphrey Bogart in his first leading role (though he takes second billing to Dorothy Mackaill, a star of the silents whose career was headed downwards after this film). She's a rich n'er do well, he's a poor pilot who's invented a new airplane engine--they fall in love, but there are complications, not the least of which has Bogie's kid sister being the kept woman of the Mackaill's business manager (who repeatedly proposes marriage to his client). The scene in which everyone finally compares notes as to who's sleeping with who, and when, (this is pre-code, natch) is hilarious in it's strained civility. There are also a pair bi-plane scenes that bookend the flick that are worth a look, especially the finale that has Bogie chasing after a plane taking off, grabbing a hold, and climbing in as it lifts into the air!! One slip, and SPLAT--it woulda been George Raft searching down that Maltese Falcon!! A fairly innocuous movie, but fascinating for fans of Bogart, as he plays a character so unlike those that would later make him famous.
"In A Lonely Place" (1950, 94 min) this past December, TCM ran 64 of the 75 films Humphrey Bogart made during his career. During my teen years, I had a big-time Bogie obsession that stretched into my twenties, but has been fairly dormant ever since. Still, I thought this would be a good chance to see some of his early flicks, which due to their age didn't get broadcast on The Late Show back in the day, thus would be new to me. But I decided to also give this later pic a second look as it's garnered a lot of favorable buzz in recent times for being unjustly neglected. In this Nicholas Ray film, Bogie plays a charming screenwriter with a combustible temper. He invites a young hat-check girl back to his apartment to summarize the plot of a trashy bestseller he'd been assigned to read, but doesn't want to. It's all very innocent--there are even several amusing moments--and then Bogie sends the girl on her way. Everything changes the next day when she turns up dead. Luckily, a non-plussed Bogie has an alibi--his neighbor across the way, Gloria Grahame, saw the girl leave. Gloria and Bogie subsequently become a couple, but as she--and we--witness several barely provoked examples of his vicious temper, we begin to wonder: DID he do it? The ending is devastating, one you won't soon forget, and yes, this one DOES deserve to rank within the higher echelon of the celebrated actor's many fine performances.
"The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" (1939, 85 min) Basil Rathbone's second outing as the famous detective is the last set in the Victorian era--and the last as an "A" picture, before the series moved from 20th Century Fox to Universal's slate of "B" pics. A young Ida Lupino engages Sherlock to save her brother (unsuccessfully, as it turns out) from threatening notes he's been getting. Turns out it's all part of a plot by Professor Moriarity ( a masterfully evil George Zucco) to distract Holmes from his REAL master plan. My favorite part: Zucco taunts his butler while being shaved, accusing the servant of desperately wanting to cut his throat, but far too much to a coward to follow through with his dark desires. A great scene. As these things go, amiable fun.
"After The Thin Man" (1936, 112 min/ "The Thin Man Goes Home" (1945, 100 min)/"Song of The Thin Man" (1947, 86 min) Up until a few months ago, I'd never seen a single entry of the celebrated Thin Man series of films starring William Powell and Myna Loy as Dashiell Hammett's sophisticated wise-cracking detective tipplers, Mr. and Mrs. Nick and Nora Charles. Now I've seen five of the six films (and would've had 'em all at my disposal if I hadn't gotten confused and on New Year's Eve last, when TCM ran 'em all in order, mistakenly taped "Shadow of the Thin Man", the fourth entry, but already viewed as my first taste of the series a few months back, neglecting instead the third entry, "Another Thin Man", because I got the titles confused--but I guess at least it gives me something to eventually look forward to...). Simply put, these flicks are just as good as everyone makes them out to be! The Powell/Loy chemistry IS something to behold, and the writing is generally fresh and fast. I watched these three films over the last three evenings, and was left wanting more. "After The Thin Man" may be my fave of the bunch. The action takes place on New Year's Eve (though curiously, there's no "stroke of midnight" scene) and the several days following. Nora's rich relatives have no choice but to turn to the otherwise detested Nick to help solve a family mystery, and before it's all over, Penny Singleton (future "Blondie" actress not yet blonde--or even named Penny Singleton; she goes by Dorothy McNulty here), Joseph Calleia (a new favorite of mine; he plays great bad guys), and most importantly, third-billed, not quite star Jimmy Stewart, who gives a memorable performance, are all part of the merry mix!! "The Thin Man Goes Home" jumps ahead six years, and may be the series most unique entry--it all takes place in Nick's bucolic hometown--and there's NO drinking!! (Frankly, I found that aspect of the series a bit overdone, but I suppose it's a reflection of the times. At least, no one ever played things out and out drunk, just a bit tipsy at most...) Nick's dad the doctor doesn't approve, y'see, so it's cider for the vacationing detectives during the whole picture. Naturally, there's a murder, and naturally, Nick solves it, rounding up all the myriad suspects at film's end, getting the culprit to confess. These movies all ended that way, but I thought this finale was particularly well done. Of note in the cast was Lloyd Corrigan, a short rotund actor with a very distinctive voice who seemed to appear in every TV show I watched as a kid, and a 20 year-old Gloria DeHaven, who's absolutely gorgeous!! I remember when she did a years stint on "Ryan's Hope' back in 1986--she was 60 and looked 25 years younger!! Then there's the aptly titled swan-song, "Song Of The Thin Man", only two years following the duo's trip home (and thirteen after their first big screen case), but the pair--and the formula--were finally showing their age. This one's about jazz musicians, and features a young Keenan Wynn, full-head of hair and all, as a jive-talking clarinet player who guides the couple through the unfamiliar musical mileu. Of course, it's not the REAL jazz world--for starters, there aren't any black faces to be seen in any of the jam-session scenes--but rather, Hollywood's idea of same (much the same way Frankie and Annette flicks represented rock and roll). Look for an 11 year-old Dean Stockwell as Nick, Junior (who thankfully was off-screen--and left behind--during his folks previous adventure), Gloria Grahame, Leon Ames (his second Thin Man flick in a row),and a young Jayne (Mrs. Steve Allen) Meadows gathered amongst the likely suspects. The finale makes little sense, though--clarinetist Buddy Hollis (dig that name) had been committed to a mental institution in (nearby to me) Poughkeepsie because he had been made to believe that he was the killer, and then was somehow rehabilitated by being made to believe that, no, the murder never actually happened, and THEN was brought back to give a concert on the very gambling boat said murder DID take place, Nick informing the audience (and down front, the likely suspects) that afterwards, poor Buddy was going to announce the identity of the killer from the bandstand!! THIS is mental health? Easily the least of the series, it's still worth a look-see, as are all of them. But if you can, watch the first one first one first--THEN you'll know who the Thin Man actually was!!
"Pickup On South Street " (1953, 80 min ) Samuel Fuller wrote and directed this riveting--and brutal--film noir. Richard Widmark is a small-time pick pocket who, in the opening scene on a NYC subway car, unknowingly lifts microfilm containing state secrets being couriered to Communist agents by prostitute Jean Peters (who thinks she's simply delivering some industrial espionage for ex-boyfriend Richard Kiley). FBI agent Milburn Stone, assigned to follow Peters, witnesses the theft, but doesn't get to Widmark in time. Lovable stoolie Thelma Ritter (who justifiably earned a best supporting actress nom for her role) is called in to finger Widmark, and soon, EVERYONE'S looking for that microfilm!! Widmark's tough throughout--his reactions aren't always what you'd expect--and even if Peters falls for him a little too easily, she does a fine job as well. Great use of extreme close-ups to ratchet up tension, and the scene in a dumb-waiter is a real nail-biter. Watch for perennial sit-com face Parley Baer in one short scene as a commie. Gripping all the way through, this has gotta be one of the best movies I've seen on TCM recently!
"If I Had A Million" (1932, 88 min) With a framing story concerning a wealthy man, teetering on the precipice of death, (Richard Bennett, father of Constance and Joan) giving away one million dollars apiece to a series of complete strangers, you wind up with a film containing eight separate stories, several directors, and twice as many stars. The vignettes wary widely in tone and length--celebrated director Ernst Lubitsch's comedic teaming with Charles Laughton clocks in at a minute, tops, for instance--but makes for interesting viewing overall. Known these days for it's ten minute W.C. Fields sequence, it also features stars such as George Raft (as a small-time forger who can't get his check cashed for fear of being jailed) and Gary Cooper (with Jack Oakie, in my least favorite episode, as a thick-headed marine who thinks the whole thing in just an April Fool's joke). There's a brief segment focusing on a barroom prostitute who uses the money to check into the best room in the best hotel in town--so she can sleep ALONE!! It's a telling vignette, efficiently told--and because this is still the pre-code era, replete with Wynne Gibson stripping down to her sexy black lingerie before getting into bed!! Best part? She flips off the lights, and then a few seconds later, flips 'em back on--she forgot something. So she gets up out of bed and takes off her black nylon stockings--no need to leave 'em on, y'see, as she's no longer on duty!! As for the Fields episode goes, well, his vocal delivery is more pronounced in what you might call a stereotypical W.C. Fields manner (he even says "My little chickadee" twice). He's funny enough, though the point of his sequence is thoroughly unbelievable by today's standards: after he and his wife have their brand new car wrecked by what they call "road hogs" (in a shockingly real collision that made me wondering how their two stand-ins weren't severely injured), they use their new-found wealth to buy a dozen or so junkers at the used car lot, hire drivers for each to follow them ,and then begin to prowl the road for road hogs to run off the road, going off to their next spare auto after each revenge fueled wreck! Some amazing footage here, even if common sense is completely out the window! Also with Charlie Ruggles as a man who gets the best of his ex-boss, Gene Raymond who discovers even a million dollars can't save him from the electric chair, and May Robson in the last and longest sequence, as an elderly woman who takes over from a mean-spirited head mistress at a home for older woman. Uneven, but worth a look--you'll undoubtedly find SOMETHING you like here.
"Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009, 87 min) Based on a book by Roald Dahl and directed by Wes Anderson (whose "Rushmore", "The Royal Tenebaums", and several other critically acclaimed live action films I've yet to see; given the chance, I will. They were all released back in my pre-obsessive filmgoing days, y'see), this animated flick--puppets combined with stop-motion animation--is visually stunning. Oft times, the composition and on screen realization of same reminded me of the frozen wonder of a View Master still come vividly to life. And the articulation of the various characters is eerily convincing--you begin to believe animals really ARE talking, even if their voices sound suspiciously like George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, and Jason Schwartzman. This story of a reformed chicken thief (Mr. Fox/Clooney) who tries for one last big score, only to bring down the wrath of three hateful farmers upon the entire local animal population scored a remarkable 100 % with the top critics over at Rotten Tomatoes (and 93 % overall), and while I'm not here to give it a negative review, of the three movies based on children's books I've seen recently, I'd easily rank it third behind "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" and "Where The Wild Things Are". I'll admit I got a little tired of the whole thing towards the end, and there simply wasn't enough humor to suit me. Marvelous to look at, well acted by the voice artists, and an interesting story up to a point, it just didn't live up to my expectations. Semi-fantastic at best.
"Never Give A Sucker An Even Break" (1941, 71 min) The final starring vehicle for 61 year old W.C. Fields (his last four film appearances over the next several years would be cameos and specialty bits) has him playing himself, trying to sell an unenthusiastic producer at Esoteric Pictures (Franklin Pangborn, also using his own name) his latest screen play. Fifteen year old Gloria Jean plays--yup--Gloria Jean, Fields adorably devoted niece--who stops to sing a few numbers along the way (including one accompanied by pianist Irving Berlin, one of the great tunesmiths few acting turns(yes, he has a few lines of dialog)). The movie veers back and forth between Fields on the studio grounds and his totally whacked out screenplay, being read by Pangborn. In it, Fields leaps off the observation deck (?) of a plane to retrieve a dropped bottle of booze, only to land, unharmed, on the mountain retreat of the richest woman in the world (Margaret Dumont) and the fully-grown daughter she's shielded from men all her life. Naturally, W.C. teaches her a nonsense game whose sole point is kissing!! Oh, it's crazy movie all right, finishing up with an elaborate car chase. Not nearly as funny as "It's A Gift", true, but as a swan song, Fields coulda done far worse.
"It's A Gift" (1934, 68 min) Back in tha late sixties, there was a wave of revived interest in the works of both the Marx Brothers and W. C. Fields. I was in my late teens then, and soon became a full-fledged Marx-maniac, watching every one one of their films over and over again. But despite a few attempts, I never quite managed to develop into a Fields-fanatic, and essentially never again watched any of his movies since that brief foray, circa 1969. Well, recently, during our three free months of HBO, I checked out "W.C. Fields and Me", a mid-seventies biopic starring Rod Steiger. Oh, it wasn't very good, but it DID arouse my curiousity for the real thing, so when TCM ran three of his films back to back a few weeks ago, I eagerly rolled tape. Here, Fields plays a henpecked husband, a New Jersey grocer (living, as a close-up of a piece of mail revealed, in Wappinger Falls--which is also the name of MY (albeit New York) town!!) who inherits some money and heads for California to run his own orange grove. I found Field's manner far less irascibly off-putting than I expected--he was downright sympathetic in his low key reactions to his imperious wife (wonderfully played by Kathleen Howard). And several of the set pieces were outright hilarious, including the blind man's calamitous visit to his store (how did they EVER film that scene where he crosses a busy street without the actor being at least clipped by one of those speeding cars?) and especially the extended scene where W.C. tries (and fails) to get some shut-eye on the back porch. The name Carl LaFung is now firmly embedded in my mind as equaling hilarity! And I liked that, in the end, when all looks lost, Fields triumphs. For once, the put-upon little guy wins. I'm not quite ready to declare him The Greatest Film Comedian of all time, like a lotta folks over on the imdb comments section have, but a definite reassessment is in order. A VERY funny movie!!
"The Hound Of The Baskervilles" (1939, 80 min) The first of 14 Sherlock Holmes vehicles starring Basil Rathbone as the famed sleuth and Nigel Bruce as faithful sidekick, Dr. Watson--and some say the best. We'll see for ourselves as we slog our way through last Christmas's 24 hour "Homes For The Holidays" marathon on TCM. I wouldn't pretend to be any sort of Holmes expert, but to this layman, Rathbone is the personification of the character. This is a very nicely made film; atmospheric, fast-moving, intriguing. Top-billed Richard Greene (later TV's Robin Hood) as the Baskerville heir has a deeply resonant voice, is impossibly handsome, and even acts a little! Lionel Atwill and John Carradine provide sturdy support in small roles. One thing DID bother me, though: at film's end, the mystery of the killer hound is revealed as nothing more than an elaborate ploy to hang a murder rap on a long-lived family legend. Well, if that's the case, why does some unknown assailant point a pistol out a hansom cab on the streets of London at Sir Henry early in the movie, only to be stopped by Holmes? How does THAT fit into the overall plan? We'll never know--it's a point long forgotten by the finale. And speaking of the finale, what an odd ending--after explaining the plot to the remaining cast members, Homes rushes out the door, and calls to the lingering doctor: "Watson! The needle!"! And THEN, end credits!! I've learned that this line, the only one in the Rathbone cycle alluding to Holmes fondness for cocaine, was excised from the flick for many years, only to be restored in the seventies. Figures.
"The Green Goddess" (1929/1930, 73 min ) Filmed in '29 before "Disraeli", it was released a year afterwards at the behest of star George Arliss, since he (rightfully) considered the latter a better vehicle for his sound debut (both pics had already been made as silent features during the early twenties, again starring Arliss). "Disraeli" netted him an Oscar; "The Green Goddess" merely a nomination. But well deserved--as the high muckety muck rajah of a fictional realm based in the Himalayas, he controls life and death for three unfortunate British citizens whose small plane crashes nearby, just days before the raj's three brothers are scheduled to be executed for murdering British officials. Turns out his people demand an eye for an eye, and consider the Brits unplanned landing an act of providence. Arliss exhibits much the same charm he did as Disraeli--it's hard to think THIS guy is gonna kill anyone; though ultimately, one of the unlucky grounded passengers doesn't make it out alive. And naturally, he offers the sole female member (Alice Joyce, who played the same role seven years earlier in the original) her life in exchange for--well, GUESS! An eleventh hour rescue by the cavalry nips THAT sordid notion in the bud, and inspires the film's hoot of a last line, as the raja calmly lights a cigarette: "Well, well, she'd probably have been a damned nuisance..."!! Featuring a tumble over the precipace down down down death scene for Arliss's British manservant (Ivan Simpson) and a wild-eyed native who inexplicably carries around a trident. For a 1929 flick, this ain't bad. Arliss only made 19 sound films, the last in 1937, but now that he's on my radar, I'll be looking for as many of 'em as I can find!!
"Disraeli" (1929, 87 min) George Arliss won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the late nineteenth century British Prime Minister. I knew next to nothing about either Disraeli or Arliss going in, save for that unforgettable photo of the actor featured in numerous Academy Awards histories: after all, brandishing William Shakespeare's haircut along with a Bill Haley spit-curl is a look that tends to stay with you! The first ten minutes are fairly slow going, but as soon as the story shifts to Disraeli plotting to buy the Suez Canal from Eygpt for Britain--all while Russian spies infest his office and Bankers refuse to help due to his Jewish lineage--things brighten up considerably. Plus, the old man (who his real life wife, in the role ofthe PM's beloved spouse, adorably calls "Dizzy") takes enough time out from these affairs of state to match-up a 19 year old Joan Bennett with one of his young proteges. Arliss was a legend of the stage, and he brings his tried and true techniques to the screen--clearly, he's a mastered 'em all!! I fully expected to find him an old-fashioned bore, but quite the contrary--he's a joy to watch!! His Disraeli is wonderfully playful, but forceful when necessary . While the whole thing is fractured history at best (from what I've been able to ascertain), it makes for gripping drama (even if the emotional see-saw of an ending is a bit of a cheat). Dunno about his competition, but I'm thinking Arliss deserved that Oscar!!
"Five Graves To Cairo" (1943, 96 min) I'm not particularly fond of WW2 movies, but when I
discovered this one was directed by Billy Wilder (pretty much my all-time favorite director--even if I obviously HAVEN'T seen all his films), I HAD to tune in. I wasn't disappointed--this is top-notch stuff. Franchot Tone plays the sole survivor of a tank crew who crawls through the Egyptian desert, only to stagger into a bombed-out hotel. He arrives just minutes before a contingent of German soldiers--including The Desert Fox himself, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel himself (played by a delightfully imperious Erich von Stoheim)--take over the place as their temporary headquarters. To survive, the British soldier takes on the identity of a waiter killed during the previous evening's bombing--only to discover that the waiter was actually a German spy!! Akim Tamiroff as the hotel's perpetually flustered Egyptian owner adds some welcome comedy relief to the proceedings, and Anne Baxter as a resentful French maid, hoping to be granted a personal favor by the Nazis, keeps everything interestingly off-balance. Tone, the hero who eventually discovers the secret behind the film's title and has to get it back to his British superiors, is fine as well. An engrossing thriller with finely drawn characterizations, it sports a short epilog of sorts to the main story that serves as wartime propaganda (not unexpected as the conflict was till raging when this pic hit theaters). but doesn't diminish any of what came before. I wouldn't give this flick my absolute highest recommendation; maybe just a half notch down from those lofty heights. See it!
"You're In The Army Now" (1941, 79 min) You might think it'd be difficult to take two comedy legends (Jimmy Durante and Phil Silvers), a beautiful young actress on the brink of stardom (Jane Wyman), a collection of always reliable character actors (Joe Sawyer, Donald MacBride, even Regis Toomey) and the number one topic of the day, military enlistment, and make a bad movie out of these seemingly sure-fire ingredients, but you'd be wrong. Just watch this. You know you're in trouble right from the get-go when Durante and Silvers (given the names Jeeper and Breezy, respectively--heck, even Wyman's name is Bliss!?!..), playing two vacuum cleaner salesmen, perform that hoariest of gags: dumping all sorts of trash on a prospective customer's floor only to discover there's no electrical outlet available to plug in their vacuum!! The pair's accidental enlistment (while selling a recruiting officer a vacuum) is awfully underhanded on the part of the Army--does the U.S. really need these two THAT badly??? (Durante's Jeeper claims to be 35, the cut-off age; actually he's 48 and looks it). Silvers does his 'grabbing the mouth while ostensibly teaching singing" shtick he used to far better effect years later on "Sgt. Bilko", but aside from that, Durante carries the load, comedy-wise. And what a load it is: pure unadulterated stupidity, leavened with a few clever quips and malaprops. Look, there's always a sort of poetic license to comedy, but to be effective in my mind, it has to go one of two ways: have a logic, however unlikely, to it, or go completely surreal. The problem with this movie is that too many of the core gags are so out there, only a surreal approach would explain them, but the film nevertheless wants you to believe in its logic. To wit: getting an old school cavalry officer to accept new-fangled tanks is an important plot point. Fine. But putting the colonel in an out of control tank with a disguised Durante at the wheel, plowing through homes and barracks alike--and later, Durante pulling the officers house across town with the same tank, depositing it on a cliff, where it nearly teeters off the next day when some ammo accidentally blasts away the earth underneath it--and we're to accept these two guys are STILL in the military? The idiocy of it all is stunning. Look, I love Silvers, and like Durante, but man, watching this was tough going. Next time I get a chance to tune in, I'll simply say, "Tanks, but no tanks..."
"Flaming Star" (1960, 101 min) A Don Siegel ("Invasion Of The Body Snatchers", "Dirty Harry") western filmed in Cinemascope concerned with exposing the prejudice suffered by the son of a white father and Indian mother caught between two worlds--starring ELVIS PRESLEY??? Yup--and it's a pretty darn good movie, too(and that's coming from someone who generally doesn't care for westerns). There are only two songs in the entire film--the title tune played over the opening credits, and the second, about two minutes later, a little hoe-down sung at a family birthday party for his (all-white) older brother (Steve Forrest). Two other songs actually were recorded for the movie, but cut before going into wide release. Just as well--shortly after attending the joyous get-together, several of the neighbors are slaughtered by angry Kiowa Indians, under the direction of the tribe's new (and decidedly angrier) chief. From here on in, the story heads in a unswervingly downbeat direction. I'd always thought "Flaming Star" was Elvis's native-American name in the flick, but it's not--it's what the red-man senses upon their impending demise: the flaming star of death. Mom Dolores Del Rio senses it first, and then later--well, YOU figure it out. Marlon Brando was reportedly considered for the part of Pacer, and while The King is no Brando, given the chance, maybe he COULDA been a contender!! I always assumed that all of Elvis's post-military flicks were pure piffle, some better than others, but with no heavy-lifting, acting or storywise. "Flaming Star" gives the lie to THAT assumption. As best I can ascertain, Elvis wasn't thrilled with his first post-Army movie, "G.I Blues", and yearned to do some actual acting; this movie and it's follow-up, "Wild In The Country", were the results of that desire. However, neither did anywhere near the box-office "G.I. Blues" did, and Colonel Tom Parker used that bottom-line fact to nudge Elvis into the insipid film career he wound up with. What a pity. With a fine supporting cast (including Barbara Eden), taut direction by Siegel, an engaging, intelligent script (which treats the plight of the Indians with remarkable sympathy, despite a massacre or two along the way) this is clearly the Elvis movie for people who don't like Elvis movies.
"Two For The Seesaw" (1962, 119 min) The film version of a stage play written by William Gibson (most notable for authoring "The Miracle Worker"), this stars Robert Mitchum as a middle aged attorney from Nebraska who relocates to NYC attempting to come to grips with the impending divorce from his wife of 12 years, who then meets Shirley MacLaine, a younger Jewish would-be-dancer kook with a heart of gold. They fall in love, sorta. He can't let go of his past, though, and in the end, we have a bittersweet finale. Very good acting in what is essentailly a two-person play (with quick cameos by familiar sit-com faces Elisabeth Fraser ("Sgt. Bilko"), Ken Berry ("Mayberry RFD"), and Ann Morgan Guibert ("The Dick Van Dyke Show"), though I'd give MacLaine the edge here (even if she did remind me of a svelter Sylvia Schnauser from "Car 54, Where Are You?" in both looks and mannerisms). There are some gorgeous B&W location scenes of the early sixties Big Apple, but not nearly enough--director Robert Wise did very little to open up this play, so most of it is talky scene after talky scene in one of two apartments. Can't say it's not well done, but there's just something unsatisfying about it (and it's not just the ending--about midway through, I began having a hard time buying Mitchum's character...). If you're a fan of either of the two stars, by all means go for it. Elsewise, proceed with caution.
"College" (1927, 66 min) Academic standout Buster Keaton fruitlessly attempts to excel in one sport after another at college to impress a potential girlfriend. I'm no Keaton expert--in fact, I think it's his trademark stone-face that keeps me from warming up to his obvious genius; I prefer emotional reactions with my comedy--but this appears to be one of his lesser efforts, simply a series of sports-related gags strung together, with a few interludes of the cash-strapped freshman attempting to maintain a job (including a wince-inducing sequence as a "colored" waiter, with the color washing off in untimely fashion). Becoming a human rudder for this rowing team was about as good as it got for me, though the film's final ten seconds--a montage of marriage, children, old age, and finally, side by side graves--for the young lovers is certainly something you don't see every day! (Nor are actors with names like Snitz Edwards, who plays the Dean!...)
"Rasputin And The Empress" (1932, 121 min) Here's something you've undoubtedly seen before :"This motion picture is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental". Well, THIS is the picture responsible for the nearly universal institution of that disclaimer: though the names were changed, a scene (later excised) intimates (falsely) that the wife of the Prince who killed Rasputin was raped by the evil monk. Thing was, the couple the characters were based upon were still alive when this film was released, and they subsequently sued MGM, reportedly winning a one million dollar settlement--and that's in 1932 dollars!! The other tasty morsel of trivia regarding this film: it's the only screen pairing of the three illustrious Barrymore siblings (and Ethel's only leading role in a sound film; she's the Empress). I understand that as history, this ain't cutting it. As a film, it has it's faults (stock footage of Russian armies, and later, revolution in the streets, are integrated badly with actors on reviewing stands, looking out proudly over the troops). And though giving mostly a subdued performance, the reigning First Lady of The American Theater bugs her eyes out on more than one occasion in exaggerated double takes at some dramatic pronouncement or another (no spit takes, though), not fully realizing the silent era was over. Plus, it takes nearly half an hour for Rasputin to show up, but when he DOES, boyoboy, does the fun ever start!! Brandishing a gloriously fake beard, Lionel Barrymore's specactularly over-the-top take on the greatest hypnotist in Russian history is thoroughly entertaining--AND unforgettable!! Brother John--who, I noticed, whenever possible parades his Great Profile in front of the camera lens--is the good guy who isn't fooled by the man who somehow used the power of his mind to cure the royal couple's young son, thereby winning their favor. Every minute the mesmerizingly evil, crude, power-mad, lascivious, potentially pedophile (Princess Anastasia is rescued in just the nick of time) Rasputin is on screen is a sheer delight, but their were three scenes that stood out for me: the battle to the death between the two Barrymore brothers (John's shining moment); Rasputin making the young heir-to-the-throne (upon whose mind he has a mysterious hold) watch, against his will, actual footage of an ant fighting and killing a fly under the lens of a microscope as part of his "education"; and best of all, mid-way through, when the Prince is still attempting to be civil to Rasputin, he takes the monk off into his office at a state dinner in the feted healer's honor to talk with him privately. Rasputin, munching on a pastry, plops on the couch. The Prince opens a box, offering him a cigar. Rasputin reaches in, takes one, then casually spits out the food in his mouth and throws the remainder of his food on the floor! I swear--John Barrymore glances briefly into the camera, then cocks his head slightly upward, rolls his eyes almost imperceptively, then continues on his conversation with brother Lionel as if nothing had happened!! It's almost as if he was saying to viewers, "Hey, can you BELIEVE this guy??" I laughed out loud! Gotta qualify as one of my favorite cinematic moments ever!! This movie is a must-see for Lionel Barrymore's Igor-meets-Dr. Pretorious portrayal of one of the most infamous men of the early 20th century!! With Ralph Morgan, brother of Frank "Wizard of Oz" Morgan, as the czar.
"Teen-Age Crime Wave" (1955, 77 min) Sue England makes the mistake of agreeing to go on a double date with a girl she met at work, Molly McCart, and before she knows it, she's being aggressively pawed by her blind date in the back seat! She manages to put an end to Jimmy Ogg's unwanted advances just in time for him and Tommy Cook to exit the coupe and jump the middle-aged man McCourt picked up in a local bar!! England stands by horrified as the cops arrive; the boys getting away but since McCart tripped, the two girls are arrested and sentenced to time in reform school (watch for Doris Packer, Beaver Cleaver's principal, Mrs. Rayburn, in the small role of the judge who sentences them). But they never get there--Cook runs the car transporting them from the local clink off the road, killing a deputy sheriff in the process. The remainder of the movie has the pistol packin' pair of Cook (who was Little Beaver in the "Red Ryder" serials but never caught on as an adult actor--his unrelenting hamminess may lend a clue as to why) and McCart (whose own film career was mysteriously brief--in her Shirley Maclaine pixie hairdo, her hard-as-nails allure is the acting high-light of the film) keeping their guns trained on the elderly farm couple whose home they invaded, as well as on the hapless England, waiting for Ogg to show up as their safe transport out of the country. A final confrontation with cops at the Griffith Observatory--also setting for "Rebel Without A Cause"s climax, filmed that same year, somewhat more memorably--doesn't, as you might suspect, end well for the teenagers. The acting is serviceable (though playing the couple's son coming home from college for Thanksgiving, Frank Giffin is so noticeably stiff, it's no wonder he migrated to behind the camera, amassing more than 60 credits as a make-up artist, most recently working on several Steve Martin pictures). Nothing exceptional here, but dullness never set in either...
"Girls On The Loose" (1958, 77 min) This only SOUNDS like an uncensored tape you'd find offered for sale on late night cable television--actually, it's a sprightly fifties' exploitation pic from Universal-International, directed by Paul Henreid (yup, "Casablanca"'s own Victor Lazlo himself!). Three late-twentyish career girls don fedoras, trench coats, and full face masks, looking like a trio of Inswpector Gadgets, and knock over a payroll office, netting 200 grand. The next day, their inside associate (Abby Dalton) starts to get panicky at the notion of having to answer routine police questioning like everyone else at the robbed company, so coolly calm ringleader, Mara Corday, goes over to her apartment to allay her fears--and facilitate her suicide!! NOW it's a three-way split, not four!! Oh wait, there's also kid sister mara dotes on, Barbara Bostock--she was tricked into unknowingly driving a portion of the getaway, and big sis wants her to get a cut. Apparently running her own night club (where Bostock sings, unremarkably, and dances pecularily--combining stripper moves with grass skirt shimmies) isn't enough for Corday. She takes what she wants--including the new grocery delivery boy, Danny, who apparently exists only to satiate her lust (and who's a horrible actor to boot--luckily his screen time is limited). Things get dicey when young Bostock falls for a cop (Peter Mark Richman), and soon, it's every gal for herself, with only one left standing at the film's conclusion! This is a pretty nifty B movie, nicely acted by all save Danny, with a fast and largely visual opening sequence depicting the robbery. Corday's calculated badness leaves an impression, even if an early score by a neophyte Henry Mancini doesn't . If you have a taste for this sorta thing, this one's sweeter that most.
"Five Came Back" (1939, 75 min) I'll admit--the end of this disaster flick prototype had me weeping like a baby!! Twelve people board a plane to South America, it crashes in the jungle--all eleven on board survive (there's yet another disturbing fall to their doom scene while the plane's still airborne, y'see...). But after nearly three weeks of repair work, it's determined that the patched up aircraft can only manage to lift five to safety. But WHICH five? Well, by the time things draw to a conclusion, it's not too hard to guess (count me as getting 100% on THAT particular quiz), but the finale is heart-rending nonetheless. Top-billed Chester Morris plays a pilot thrust into the leadership role, Kent Taylor his co-pilot (trivia aside: imdb reports that, as the brother-in-law of Mrs. Jerry Siegel, his name was the inspiration for half of Superman's bespeckled alter ego, Clark Gable responsible for the other half). Lucille Ball--who, at 27 was, in the parlance of the day, quite a dish--plays a fallen woman of some sort; the details of which are very ambiguous. She dresses WAY better than Miss Sadie Thompson, though--more low-key as well; she has plenty of screen-time but little of substance to add. C. Aubrey Smith as an elderly professor, Allen Jenkins as a gangster with a heart of gold watching over his bosses' young son, and especially Joseph Calleria as a convicted anarchist being returned to his homeland by mercenary cop John Carradine (who's totally focused on the five thousand dollar reward), are all outstanding. But then, the whole cast is. Somewhat predictable, plot-wise, but with scripting from Dalton Trumbo and Nathanael West, the level of dialog is a couple notches higher than you'd expect.While not a total drop dead gorgeous classic, I'd have no problem recommending you give this one a look-see. Just have some Kleenex at the ready!!
"The Dark Corner" (1946, 99 min) Engrossing film noir starring top-billed Lucille Ball as
secretary to PI (and ex-con, albeit via the ever popular set-up) Mark Stevens, whoonce again finds himself set up, this time for murder. Wlliam Bendix and Clifton Webb also figure in the draconian plot, and if Stevens manages to have pieces of the puzzle fall perhaps a little TOO conveniently into place during the film's waning moments, well, there's a lot here to enjoy aside from plausibility. All four leads turn in sturdy performances--Lucy Ricardo and Chester A. Riley may always be lurking not too far afield from Ball and Bendix, but they're convincing in their roles nonetheless. This also marks the third flick I've seen in the past week ("Two Seconds" and "Alibi" being the others) featuring a man falling to his death from high atop a building, and for someone as squeamish about heights as myself, this trend is definitely getting to me!! Good movie--perhaps not a noir classic, but certainly more than merely watchable.
"Stop! Look! And Laugh!!" (1960, 78 min ) Y'know, it seemed like serendipity--TCM was running this movie on my birthday, a film I'd seen in theaters upon it's initial release as a seven year old, five whole decades earlier!! Watching it a second time a full half century later was gonna be a rare treat!! Except, it wasn't--it just reminded of something I'm loathe to admit (for fear of being cast out of men's organizations every where): I just don't find the Three Stooges very funny. There are very few things from my childhood that I ever actually outgrew (which should come as no big surprise), but of what I have, the Stooges top that decidedly short list. Hey, I just I find their comedy sadistic and stupid, dig? Maybe if it were sadistic and CLEVER, or maybe stupid and kind, I don't know--but the current combo just doesn't work for me, and I found very little in the excerpts from nearly a dozen of their shorts included herein to be even mildly smile inducing (but a lot certainly cringe-worthy). Yeah, sure, I liked 'em a kid, but c'mon--whaddya expect from someone whose favorite Stooge was always Shemp? Framing sequences featuring Paul Winchell (accompanied by dummy buddies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff) merit considerable screen time, and come off as fairly amusing, in a Kiddie Matinee-type manner. An unfortunate interlude as ventriloquist Winchell tells Jerry the story of Cinderella using the Marquis Chimps to accomplish the task nearly brings things to a dead stop, but that's the only glaring misstep here. A glaring disappointment? The ballyhooed casting of NY TV host Officer Joe Bolton in the film--and then allotting him all of ten seconds screen time!! No exaggeration!! Eager to see my TV buddy on the big screen, I suddenly recalled my long-ago disgusted reaction to this turn of events! Yup, fifty years ago, this film taught me a very valuable lesson--never believe everything you read, especially film credits!!
"Rain" (1932, 94 min) It's The Preacher (Walter Huston) versus The Prostitute (Joan Crawford) in this celebrated film version of the stage play based upon Somerset Maugham's novel. An unlikely group of travelers are stranded together on a south sea island for several weeks while a mild ship-board contagion plays itself out, including the oil and water combo of Miss Sadie Thompson and Reverend Alfred Davidson. With a relentlessly superior air, he bullies her endlessly, even arranging for the island's governor to have her deported back to the US, which is the last place in the world she wants to go. About an hour into the movie, he finally breaks her, and she becomes just another one of his brainwashed acolytes. But somehow, seeing her in a more conducive light does...something to the preacher, and well, tragedy ensues (though clearly, there's a happy ending of sorts). Crawford's dramatic entrance has her looking like a drag queen, but maybe that was standard hooker apparel for the day--once the lurid outfits are scaled back (and especially sans make-up during the "saved" sequence), she looks quite attractive. I've never been a big fan of hers--and this flick didn't totally win me over--but Crawford turns in a sold performance here, as does Huston in a role calling for overbearance. His final moments on screen are subtly telling. My favorite character may well've been Guy Kibbee as the genial Joe Horn, who owns the trading post housing these unplanned guests. He's been popping up in practically every other flick I've been watching lately, usually in small comic relief roles. While obviously not the plot's focal point, as a key observer of unfolding events, he gets to make some telling observations along the way, and handles his task rather adeptly. A solid story, told in a straight-forward old fashioned manner.
"The Whole Town's Talking" (1935, 93 min) It's Caspar Milquetoast versus Little Caesar as Eward G. Robinson plays duel roles in director John Ford's only foray into the field of screwball comedy (with a script provided by Robert Riskin and Jo Swerling (based on a W. R. Burnett short story), two oft-time Frank Capra collaborators, one suspects this film was originally meant to be helmed by another, but Ford does a servicable job). The main focus is on meek clerk Arthur Ferguson Jones initially, until we learn that he's a dead ringer for the homicidal "Killer" Mannion. After a rather overblown series of mix-ups land Jonesy and fellow clerk, Jean Arthur, in the police station (her coolly amused confession to a long litany of crimes she well knows she had nothing to do with is one of the comic highlights of the film), everything is eventually put to rights. But afraid the cops would continue to pick up the wrong man, the DA gives the doppelganger clerk an official letter that he has only to produce to maintain his freedom, should he once again be mistaken for Mannion. Good idea--except it's published for all to read in the newspapers the very next day!! So WHO shows up at Jonesy's apartment, looking to utilize this literal "Get out of jail free" card? Uh huh--you guessed it. But this isn't any fanciful Damon Runyon story with colorful characters who never actually hurt anyone--over the course of the last half of this picture, there are several off-camera murders, and one chilling on-camera one. Needless to say, this dulls the film's comedic edge more than a little. Robinson is fine in both roles (and the technical aspects of the two sharing the same screen are, for the time period, well done), but after recently watching EGR in "Two Seconds", I'm well aware of his range, and wasn't all that surprised that he could play more than just tough guys (plus, yup--ANOTHER drunk scene is included!!). Not as funny as it could've been, and Arthur disappears for a large chunk of the final portion of things, which doesn't help. Not bad, just not great.
"Julius Caesar" (1953, 120 min) I'll cop to not being one much for Shakespeare--I generally find the lingo a bit too difficult to penetrate--but I was lured into this one by the pure star power: Marlon Brando! James Mason! John Gielgud! Edmond O' Brien! Louis Calhern! Deborah Kerr!! Greer Garson!! (Though fans of Ms. Kerr and Ms. Garson tuning in to see their favorites will likely be severely disappointed: each, aside from a brief walk-on in the opening march through Rome, have one short scene--each less than five minutes, easily--apiece.) And besides the big stars, you'll see bit parts filled with such familiar stalwarts as Alan Napier, Douglas Dumbrille, Michael Ansara, Ian Wolfe, Ned Glass, and "Adventures of Superman' alums Rhys Williams and John Doucette (imdb has the great Dabbs Greer listed as well, but if he was in there, I somehow missed him...). Early on, I found the film to be a bit tough going--Gielgud especially delivers his lines in the rapid-fire British thespian tradition--but eventually, I found my bearings. Mason, as Brutus, is the true star of the film, and he delivers a fine performance, but it's Brando who steals the show completely about half-way through when, after the murder of Caesar by Brutus and several co-conspirators, hedelivers a mesmerizing speech, one that so famously begins, "friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears". Up til this point, Brando's Marc Anthony had little to do and was allotted scant screen time, but then takes center-stage to give the film an emotional punch I was totally unprepared for with his powerful reading of this sequence!! Wow!! And I later read that Brando had always made a point of avoiding Shakespeare, so this is him a Bard NOVICE?? Double wow!! Worth seeing for Brando alone, but Mason (and O'Brien as well) give top-notch performances--and despite being true to the original text, I can honestly say I DID understand the story, and that's gotta count for something!! (TCM paired this with "Master Will Shakespeare" (1936, 11min) a short promotional film for MGM's then-upcoming "Romeo and Juliet" adaptation, a quick bio of the Bard helmed by future "Curse Of The Demon" director, Jacques Tourneur, a bit of mildly interesting if unremarkable cinematic filler.) (And just yesterday, I watched both Mason and Calhern star alongside Lucy and Desi in something that'd hardly be mistaken for Shakespeare, in a movie broadcast months after this one. I just happened to view 'em back to back! Well, actors had to eat, I suppose--they can't ALL be Avon-generated roles, after all...)
"Forever, Darling" (1956, 96 min). This was the second of two flicks Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz made during the run of "I Love Lucy" ("The Long, Long Trailer" being the other), both of which I saw many a year ago, but never since. Like so many others, I was practically raised on endless B&W "Lucy" reruns, so I thought it might be interesting seeing the couple not only in color, but playing roles other than the Ricardos (he's Lorenzo "Larry" Vega, a scientist responsible for inventing a new insecticide, and she's his wife, Susan "not Suzanne" Vega). A brief scene of Desi in a lab coat sitting in front of beakers and test-tubes is worth an unintentional chuckle, and an early scene where the erstwhile Ricky verbally cuts down to size snobby dinner guest Natalie "Gilligan's Island" Schaefer as maid Nancy "Beverly Hillbillies" Kulp silently roots him on gets things off to a nice start. But as their marriage starts to head for the rocks, Lucy's guardian angel shows up. Turns out he looks just like James Mason--and he's PLAYED by James Mason as well! Things start getting dull awfully quick. The last quarter of the film features a slapsticky camping trip (never put Lucy near an inflatable boat in close quarters, or hand her a knife while sailing in one--you'd think Desi woulda known that!...) ghost-written by the "I Love Lucy" scribes to pep up the limp script, one that had been sitting around for ten years unproduced before Arnaz rescued it (unwisely) from the reject pile. The last shot, where a ghostly Mason merges with Desi as he's kissing Lucy, causing her eyes to widen in surprised delight, is kinda...sleazily creepy. Oh, and up until that very last scene, Lucy never once mocks her hubby's accent, but caps off the flick with one good "dun't", albeit delivered in a sweet, loving manner. Louis Calhern has a small role--one of his last--as Lucy's dad. A necessary curiousity for "I Love Lucy" fans--all others beware...
"Dead Of Night" (1945, 103 min) I first caught this celebrated British horror anthology on the tube back in my teen years, but not anytime since. It still packs a quiet punch. While everyone rightly focuses on the crazed ventriloquist story that closes out the five stories recounted by the various guests caught in Mervyn Jones' dream, there's a lot to be said for the aforementioned framing story, as well as the "room for one more?" Hearse Driver episode, which actually sent a chill up my spine! The haunted mirror tale, if a bit overlong, is effective as well. The ghost story featuring the teen-age girl is fairly minor, but thankfully, relatively short. A humorous entry (cut, along with the teen entry, from the initial US release, so I may very well have missed these back on seventies' American television) about a pair of competing golfers (starring the same two actors who made a similar pairing in Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes" so memorable a decade earlier) allows for a brief respite before Michael Redgrave and his out-of-control dummy bring the storytelling to a terrifying end. Well made, well acted, well written, and a must-see for anyone interested in classic horror films. However, if your idea of a classic horror film is, say, "Saw", I doubt you'll see the appeal here. More's the pity.
"The Men Who Stare At Goats" (2009, 94 min) Purportedly based upon a true story concerning the military's efforts to develop the physic abilities--and other extra-ordinary attributes--of their soldiers, this fanciful flick features Ewan MacGregor as a newspaper reporter tagging along with the project's top graduate, George Clooney, on a trip into war-torn Iraq, as Clooney recounts (with an admirable straight-face) the origins of this peculiar unit, including the contributions of such top-notch actors as Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey. While not an entirely successful satire, with ultimately no true story (it's all in the journey, y'see, not the destination), I was nonetheless charmed by this decidedly off-beat flick. Clooney is always fun to watch, and there's something irresistibly endearing in the way he continually attempts to school a wide-eyed MacGregor in the ways of "The Jedi Knight", which is the military's code-name for the unit!! Clearly not for all tastes--OR all political persuasions, I'm guessing. I must say, I got a real big kick out of the film's final shot--I don't think I'll ever be able to listen to Boston's "More Than A Feeling" again without it coming to mind!...
"Broadway Melody of 1936" (1935, 101 min) Jack Benny plays an aggressive newspaper columnist (comedically assisted by Sid Silvers) who cooks up a feud with Broadway producer Robert Young, who has his own problems finding a leading lady for his new show AND discouraging high school sweetheart Eleanor Powell from trying to break into nasty ol' show biusness and and instead head home for Albany New York. As you might imagine, everything works out in the end, but on the way there we get to see Taylor clock Benny three separate times in the kisser; witness the screen debut of the dance team of Buddy Ebsen and his sister Vilma (who'd never appear before cameras again); listen to leading man Taylor warble out a tune; watch as Silvers dons a dress for a disguise; endure not one but two protracted scenes of a fellow demonstrating the various types of snoring; and mostly, watch Powell become a star. While I was familiar with her name, this was the first time I sat down and really watched Eleanor Powell, and my gosh, could that woman dance!! Her tap-dancing is absolutely astounding!! Quite the looker as well--plus, she has a nice light comedic touch. This is the flick that really put her over, I've read, and I can easily see why. However, she's not even part of the best dance sequence (which won an Oscar, back when the Academy had such categories--the pic also garnered a Best Picture nomination), which spotlights a fellow by the name of Nick Long, Jr. and features some stunning camera trickery to accompany his dazzling footwork. I tuned into this one specifically to see my all-time favorite comic--Benny, who plays nicely against the type of character he'd later develop with this brash, fast-talking role--but gladly stayed for the musical high jinks!! Fun, if admittedly on the mindless side. With Una Merkel.
"Alibi" (1929, 83 min) A fascinating early talkie directed by Roland West with more of an eye for visuals than your standard stage bound 1929 production. While there are a number of overlong static dialog scenes, there are also plenty of snappy visual touches to be found in this tale of a paroled ex-con (Chester Morris, who received an Oscar nom for his work here, as did the film itself for Best Picture) who has an alibi--he thinks--for the night a cop was shot dead. A chase across the rooftops near the pic's end looked remarkably like something you'd see in an Eisner "Spirit" episode--not to mention a creepy earlier shot of a dozen men watching a police line-up, all disguised in masks and hats of the Denny Colt variety!! There's a lot of interesting things going on here--early on, you feel Morris truly WAS set-up by a corrupt policeman (whose naive daughter he marries rather quickly once out of prison), and then later, well, you'll know better before his wife does. There's a harrowing scene of the cops threatening a confession out of a suspect--AND several musical numbers in a night club! Something for ALL tastes. The acting, aside from Morris (whose big scene comes toward the end) ranges from indifferent (the daughter), to stiff (the hero), to wildly over the top (the policeman father), but special mention must be made of the screen debut of Regis Toomey, who, despite his performance here, actually had a long, long career. He played a perpetually silly drunkard who frequents the establishment Morris's pal runs, specifically to get the goods on the baddies--he's actually an undercover cop, y'see!! With a grin that'd make The Joker grimace, he gets irritating awfully quick, and viewers could be excused for breathing a sigh of relief when he's finally shot--except his death scene goes on endlessly!! He lies fading in the arms of a police buddy, at one point, actually commenting, "It's getting hard to see"--after which he STILL hovers around for ANOTHER minute or so!! It truly has to be seen to be believed!! Director West would retire from films two years later and instead go into the restaurant business with actress Thelma Todd, and was still her companion a few short years later when she was murdered. Reportedly, he confessed to her killing to friend Morris on his death-bed in 1952, but officially, the case remains unsolved. Unlike the protagonist of this film, I guess he had a pretty solid alibi...
"Two Seconds" (1932, 67 min) Oy--for a jewish actor, Edward G. Robinson sure liked to ham it up!! From coolly calm to wildly histrionic--this performance has it all. Eddie plays a skyscraper riveter (and you just know THAT'S not gonna play out without someone taking a dizzying tumble--and when it finally did come, it actually had me flinching!! Great effect!) whose buddy, Preston Foster, is trying, without much success, to set him up with a girl acceptable to Robinson's high standards. After a mix-up, Edward G. ducks into a Dime A Dance Hall, and comes to the rescue of brassy blonde Vivienne Osborne, who'd been causing a ruckus after being pawed by one too many customers. Their first dance--and subsequent visit to the soda shoppe--are handled very sweetly, and had me rooting for Osborne's interest in Eddie to be genuine, not just a way out of her dismal existence. No such luck. During their next meeting, instead of the lecture at the library he had planned, she drags him off to a nightclub, feeds him booze, and marries him while he's practically in a drunken stupor. This allows Robinson to play drunk for an extended amount of time. But married life ain't all roses, and after the aforementioned accident, Eddie suffers a nervous breakdown (more acting!), eventually cracking entirely (up the thespianism another notch!), tracking down his wife to her former place of employment (presided over by, yes, J. Carroll Naish), and--bang bang! A final scene in court has Robinson chewing AND digesting any and all available scenery--and then his two seconds are up. Y'see, that's the time it takes for the switch on the electric chair to be thrown and to work, allowing a man to relive his whole life in those final scant moments, as this whole thing was told in flashback. Y'know, I may've mocked EGR a bit here, but to witness the breadth of his acting chops truly is a wonder to behold, and this fairly obscure flick is certainly worth a look, should you ever get the chance.
"Captured!" (1933, 69 min) Set in a German POW camp during WWI, Leslie Howard plays the prisoner's ranking officer. After A botched escape attempt (provoked by J. Carroll Naish), the men are tossed in the dungeon for months. Finally, a new commandant arrives--the cultured Paul Lukas, Howard's fellow (albeit older) Oxford graduate--and things in camp turn downright homey, as long as Lukas has Leslie's word that no one will try to wander off to freedom (war was so much more refined back then--the prisoners even get mail from home!). Things are going along very nicely until Howard's best buddy, Doug Fairbank's Jr, shows up. Howard is especially excited cuz his old pal should have some word of his beloved wife, a woman he met, married, and was shipped off to the front from in a whirlwind six days. Doug has news alright, but he ain't sharing it--she (Margaret Lindsey, seen briefly at two junctures in the film) is now in love with HIM!! Unable to drop this tidbit on Howard, he decides to violate the no escape clause instead--and that's where things get REALLY complicated!! Interesting story--and fascinating to see a so-called war movie (there's very little battle action) where the German's are portrayed as worthy enemies (Lukas comes across as especially sympathetic) and not the evil monsters Nazis would later personify on the big screen.
"Mississippi Burning" (1988, 128 min) Alan Parker's fictionalized version of the murder of three civil rights workers in the deep south of 1964 has generated some criticism for making the investigating white FBI agents unrealistically noble and the black victims mostly extras in their own story, but as a movie--if not history--it works remarkably well. One can't help but grasp the true evil of racism after viewing this picture. Willem Dafoe plays the young, idealistic Northener in charge of the case, and Gene Hackman his savvy, Southern partner. Hackman rightfully earned a Best Actor nomination for his work, and Frances MacDormand a supporting nod for her role as the deputy's wife, trapped in a marriage gone tragically wrong--and don't miss Brad Dourif, truly hateful as Dark Barney Fife. Powerful movie, extremely well made--see it.
"No Other Woman" (1933, 58 min) Irene Dunne marries steelworker Charles Bickford, wanting out of the dreary company town. Boarder Eric Linden provides a way when he invents a dye that the couple finance, the partnership resulting in a shift from hovel to mansion mid-way through the picture. Now a millionaire with the sweetest wife ever, Bickford still isn't satisfied--he hooks up with exotic blonde Gwili Andre (who's in cahoots with sleazy lawyer J. Carrol Naish). Dunne won't give him a divorce to remarry, as she figures it's merely an infatuation he'll eventually come to regret, so Bickford (aided by Naish) sues HER, alleging adultery, based on trumped up evidence and paid-off witnesses. But he comes to his senses, confesses all, gets a year in jail for perjury, the scandal destroying his multi-millionaire business, and, at stories' end, is back working in the steel mill--but at least Dunne still loves him!! Whew--that's a lot of life to pack into 58 minutes!! Based on a 1916 stage play, the eternally forgiving wife is a wildly outdated stereotype, and watching Dunne gallantly play doormat to big dope Bickford isn't the easiest thing to endure. Odd footnote: "No Other Woman' is infamous as the flick that derailed Danish actress Gwili Andre's career due to her character being so unlikable. She plugged away for another ten years to in hopes of regaining a higher Hollywood profile but only managed a few bit parts. In 1959, seventeen years after her final screen appearance, she committed suicide in her apartment by surrounding herself with all of her old publicity photos and press clippings, setting them and herself on fire.
"The Strawberry Statement" (1970, 109 min) I was a junior in high school when this flick originally hit the theaters, totally fascinated by the counter-culture of the era. This, one of several films focusing on the college unrest of the era, recounts a fictionalized version of the events that led to strike by students at Columbia University in 1968. I THINK I saw it shortly after it came out (and bombed, as did all the other student radical pics--the studios apparently vastly overestimated the subject's appeal), but have little memory of it. Watching it again, I can see why--it's not that good a movie. In fact, it's down-right flinch-inducing at times, in a sort of "gee, did I REALLY think that was a good idea?" fashion. A lot of the filmmaking is hipster-trickery that now just looks so hopelessly outdated. Bruce Davison--who's in virtually every shot--gives an earnestly likable performance as an apathetic row-team college student who eventually becomes radicalized, with Kim Darby equally appealing as the girl he meets--and wins--along the way, but that's sorta the problem: the pair are TOO nice. They'd be swell as the leads in a contemporary love story, but as evolving radicals, they just come across as way too Hollywood. There's other folks in the film--Bud Cort, James Coco--but the spotlight shines clearly on our young lovers, with lots of authentic (and embarrassing) rabble-rousing rhetoric thrown in for good measure (it's not as if they're protesting the Viet Nam War here--that'd be understandable--mostly it's a bunch of privileged white kids rallying against The Man!!). The film ends with a longish sequence of the cops (aka "the pigs") tear-gassing a student sit-in that's both harrowing and difficult to believe. Aside one: so proud of the coup of working in recordings by Neil Young, CSN&Y, and Thunderclap Newman (the glorious "Something In The Air"), the producers actually list the various tunes in the OPENING credits!! Now, THAT'S something you don't see these days. Aside two: dunno where TCM got the print they broadcast, but ALL the swearing was bleeped out (including even the decidedly tame word "ass"), as were a few nude scenes. I've heard enough cussing--and seen enough bare boobies--on TCM to know it wasn't their doing: wha hoppen? Didn't spoil it for me, though--growing up is what did THAT trick. Still, worth a look if you're curious for a snapshot--however distorted--of the times. .
"It's Tough To Be Famous" (1932, 79 min) Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is the young commander of a submarine lying sunk on the ocean's floor, jettisoning his crew one by one through the escape tubes until only he's left to die. Only he doesn't suffocate--divers rescue him before the oxygen gives out. For his potentially selfless actions, he's suddenly hailed a national hero--ticker tape parades, giving flowery ghost-written speeches, the subject of novelty tunes, a front-page marriage, life in a fishbowl. In short, Doug learns it's tough to be famous!! While not exactly a hard-hitting look into the dark side of fame, the movie is effective (and entertaining) enough getting across its message. Walter Catlett has his PR mastermind role down pat, and Mary Brian makes for an appealing love interest. (Curiously, this film was broadcast as part of a day-long birthday salute to character actor J. Carroll Naish, and though his name DOES appear in the opening credits, according to imdb, his scenes were DELETED!?! I saw no evidence of him, either!! Gee, what if they gave a birthday party, and the guest of honor failed to show, hmm?...)
"The Hatchet Man" (1932, 74 min) I was all set to consider this one totally ridiculous. I mean, c'mon--Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young both play Chinese! Young is passable--and rather lovely--in her make-up, but Robinson? Well, except for a braided haircut used in the opening scenes, there's no attempt to change his distinctive features, and thankfully, aside from speaking a bit more softly than usual and saying "honorable" a lot, there's no attempt at silly accents, either. Instead, we have an intriguing--if ultimately perverse--story of a hachet man (Robinson) who is obligated to kill the enemy of his Tong, said enemy who just happens to be his best friend (J. Carroll Naish, who DOES make the attempt to disguise his true ethnicity). Naish's will leaves everything to Robinson--including the care of his six-year old daughter, whom Naish stipulates him to wed when she becomes of age!!! The movie then skips ahead 15 years, so we don't actually witness their father/daughter-like relationship, but it's still creepy when the now grown Loretta Young accepts her step-dad's marriage proposal!! (Though to be fair, Robinson gives her the choice of consenting--he doesn't force himself on her. Still...) (Oh, and did she ever find out that Eddie was the one who chopped off her dad's noggin? Another unsettling bit of business that's left completely unanswered). What does happen is she meets Leslie Fenton (in bad Chinese make-up), a young strong-arm brought in to protect the Tong before the possible outbreak of another war. They fall in love. Robinson catches then in a clinch, and gets out his hatchet, and right here I thought, "It's the plot of "Tiger Shark" all over again"--but no, it isn't. The last ten minutes of this movie raise it's stature considerably, taking the plot in wildly unexpected directions and winding up with maybe one of the most unforgettable endings of all time!! See it just for that--it's a killer!!
"Crooner" (1932, 67 min) David Manners (last seen by moi as a blind man playing opposite Barbara Stanwyck in "The Miracle Woman" but best known for his roles in "Dracula" and "The Mummy") plays the leader of an unsuccessful college dance band--unsuccessful, that is, until the ensemble's singer is out with a sore throat and a drunk Guy Kibbee hands conductor manners a megaphone to amplify his meek attempts to vocalize, and suddenly he becomes the latest sensation!! Hard to believe, true, but to enjoy the story, you just have to go with it. J.Carroll Naish plays the club owner who tries to undercut his new star act financially, Ken Murray (who I mostly recall from his Hollywood home movie footage on sixties TV variety shows) plays the slick agent who does his best to prevent that from happening, and Ann Dvorak plays his long-time sweetheart. Manners starts out modestly, but fame eventually goes to his head, setting him up for the inevitable fall. This is the sort of role you'd expect someone with some comic background to tackle, and there's precious little evidence here that Manners knows from comedy (though scenes of the egotistical star calling for his manservant whilst in bed do evince some sly humor). Murray comes off best here. A minor, quick flick.
"The Strange One" (1957, 100 min) One night, back when I was about nine years old, I was sitting in the same room as my mother (probably reading a comic) as she surfed the late night TV for something to watch. eventually, mom stumbled across this extremely odd flick from just a few years earlier, and before long, we were BOTH transfixed!! How could we not be? The action starts at lights out at a southern military academy, where seniors Ben Gazzara and Pat Hingle force there way into the room of a couple of freshman roommates (one of whom is George Peppard, in--like Gazzsara--his film debut). Gazzara, wearing black boxer shorts, socks and garters, a loud pajama shirt, a military cap, and spouting an ever-present cigarette holder, was a sight to behold. And THEN his twisted manipulation of the lower classman began--picture an evil Sgt. Bilko, and that was Jocko DeParis!! What started out as seeming to be a gag in the eyes of Hingle's amiable co-conspirator soon escalated into a carefully calculated plan to get the cadet in the next room--the son of the academy's commanding officer--thrown out of school!! The remainder of the movie deals with how the others deal with their inadveratnt guilt, and how DeParis attempts to maintain his control over them, knowing full well they'd ALL be expelled should the true nature of the situation come to light!! Whew!! I NEVER forgot this movie, but only recently had the chance to view it again. Gazzara's portrayal of the ever cool Jocko is unforgettable, even if he does look way too old for the part (as do the rest of the cast--most were veterans of the stage production that the film was based upon). Psychological torture can be fascinating to watch, and Jocko DeParis--as hateful a character as you're likely to come across in film--was an absolute master at it. Any chance of me ever attending military school was ruled out immediately after watching THIS!! There's also a character (or perhaps two) who's clearly gay, something the filmmakers had to disguise somewhat in those waning days of production code rule--though frankly, at age nine, back in 1962, I had absolutely NO clue as to this aspect of the story. Dunno how it'd stand up without my quirky nostalgia to fuel interest, but I still think it's a pretty compelling viewing experience and suggest you see for yourself should you ever get the chance..
"Tiger Shark" (1932, 77 min) Edward G. Robinson plays a Portugese fishing boat captain (VERY heavy on the fake accent) who's unlucky with the ladies. That is, until he delivers the bad news to Zita Johann (whose brief Hollywood career's highlight had her featured opposite Karloff in "The Mummy") that her dad fell overboard and wound up shark food. A bond develops between the two, and though Zita freely confesses that it isn't love on her part, she agrees to marry the older man anyway. All fine and good--until she meets her hubby's best pal, the younger Pipes Boley (some name, that!), played by Richard Arlen. NOW there's love--though out of loyalty to Robinson, neither acts upon their feelings. Unfortunately, Eddie walks in on the pair in their first and only clinch and over-reacts, knocking out Pipes, and throwing him overboard in hopes of providing the sharks with another snack!! Pipes is rescued, though, and it's Eddie G. who meets his maker--but not before he delivers a flowery, upbeat death-bed speech, complete with an angelic choir rising up behind his final words!! LOTS of shots of tuna fishing of a bygone era--including some wherein they're prepared for public consumption. Johann is quite good, but the attraction between her and Arlen (who actually has a nice enough girl when the movie opens) comes totally out of nowhere. J. Carroll Naish appears in a single scene as a nogoodnik putting the moves on Zita. Not awful, but I can't really recommend this one, either--as they used to say in the tuna commercials, sorry Charlie.
"The Fountainhead" (1949. 114 min) Before seeing this movie, which was adapted for the screen by the novel's author, the closest I'd come to Ayn Rand's words was reading some of Steve Ditko's comics from the seventies and eighties. Well, apparently, I came pretty darn close, because virtually every line of dialog in this thing sounded like it was lifted directly from some old "Mr. A" or "Mocker" episode--and if that verbiage seemed decidedly on the clunky side coming out of the months of comic book characters, well, you ain't lived until you've heard big stars like Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, and Raymond Massey try to put over Rand's political dogma as real honest to gosh talkin' amongst Earth people!! I sorta figured this thing would be a bit unusual, but I never expected it to sound so totally alien to the way real people talk!! Romantic overtures from thirties' flicks like "Gosh, you're swell" suddenly seemed authentic by comparison!! I laughed out loud several times--and not because anybody was going for comedy, trust me!! Happily, my very favorite line was transcribed by some diligent individual over on the film's imdb, and I simply MUST share it with you!! As a set-up, know that Neal had previously turned down a marriage proposal from Massey on the grounds that, well, she hated him. But for reasons we won't go into, she's changed her mind, and this is the exchange in which Ray gets the good news. Mostly, this sounds like typical bad movie chatter, but it's the last line that's the absolute killer--and bear in mind, it's all spoken very matter-of-factly, with little or no emotion evinced by either party...
Patricia Neal: I'll marry you. Don't you want to ask me any questions?
Raymond Massey: No.
Patricia Neal: Thank you. You're making it easier for me.
Raymond Massey: Whatever your reason, I shall accept it. What I want to find in our marriage will remain my own concern. I exact no promises and impose no obligations. Incidentally, since it is of no importance to you, I love you.
Wow! And then there's the PLOT! Cooper (about twenty years too old for the part--I had to laugh when Massey, five years his senior in real-life, commented how his new-found friend reminded HIM of his youth!!) plays an architect who refuses to compromise--EVER. While I don't think I'd ever buy into this philosophy of Rand's, had the main character been a painter, a playwright, a composer, or a sculptor, his rock-solid adherence to his own vision might've been easier to digest. But when friend Cooper discovers that a complex of his had had some facades and balconies added to it without his approval, he does the reasonable thing--he gets some dynamite and blows up all the buildings!! This makes sense HOW? And then, in a rambling six-minute speech to the jury (which Cooper reportedly didn't fully understand--hey, join the club, fella!...), he manages to successfully defend this act of structural terrorism (thankfully, it hadn't opened up to the public yet, so no one was hurt). All sorts of crazy things go on (there's a architectural critic--who dresses in such a manner as to suggest nothing less than John Quincy Adams evil twin--who gains control of millionaire Massey's newspaper and practically shuts down the tabloid's production! That's like the guys who write Page 6 wresting the New York Post away from Rupert Murdoch!), but you'll have to see for yourself. Highly recommended as perhaps the worst big studio flick ever made,.with top-flight stars guided by a storied director (King Vidor), betrayed by a script that, well, you just have to see it to believe it!! (Though apparently Cooper learned SOMETHING of its glorification of The Selfish Man, as the fortieish star cavalierly began a long-running tryst with 22 year old Neal, his own family be damned...).
"The Shout" (1978, 86 min) This peculiar film (based on a story by Robert "I, Claudius" Graves) amounts to an art-house horror flick, and a pretty good one at that. Told in flashback to Tim Curry by mental institution inmate Alan Bates--thereby allowing the line between truth and fancifulness to presumably blur--it tells the story of a man (Bates) who arrives, unannounced, into the lives of married couple John Hurt and Susannah York, and slowly wreaks havoc on their relationship. Bates claims to have spent decades in the Australian outback, learning many of the mystical secrets of the aborigines, including the ability to kill with only a shout. Hurt doesn't believe him, but nonetheless puts wax in his ears before getting a demonstration--and lucky for him he did!! Bates also has the ability to bend women to his will merely by stealing one of their small belongings; in Yorks's case, a buckle. Bates appears most evil in scenes flaunting Hurt's wife's mindless devotion to him in front of her incredulous husband, grinning all the while. Sound plays an important role in the film aside from the aforementioned shout--director Jerzy Skolimowski apparently desires viewer's use their ears as much as their eyes while taking in his picture. The acting is top-notch from all three principals, the ending satisfyingly ambiguous. Plus, there's a fair amount of Susannah York nudity! Off beat, not for all tastes, but I dug it.
"The Most Dangerous Game" (1932, 62 min) Classic horror movie has men hunting men--but you all knew that, right? Filmed on many of the same sets with several of the same actors by the folks responsible for the concurrently lensed "King Kong", this flick still packs a punch. Joel McCrea is fine as the stalwart hero, Fay Wray fetching as the game's ultimate prize, and real-life scar victim Leslie Banks triumphantly hammy as the cultured yet evil Count Zaroff!! (Robert Armstrong as Fay's perpetually tipsy brother is pretty darn annoying, though...) Watch for African-American actor Noble Johnson in white-face as Ivan the Cossack! And before McCrea's ship hits the reef, catch a young Phil "Professor Pepperwinkle" Tead as one of the ill-fated yacht's doomed passengers. The trophy room scene is truly chilling, and the hunt itself suspenseful. The fist-fight at the end, though? Not quite up to the standard set by a typical Elvis film...
"Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" (2009, 90 min) Never an overly big fan of computer generated animated features, I went into a 2-D showing of this 3-D flick not knowing what to expect (I had no idea beforehand that it was based on a beloved children's book, for instance), and came away totally won over by it's sly humor, contagiously absurd storyline, appealing characters, and vibrant design. Hey, I didn't nod out once, which may be the highest compliment I can bestow upon one of these computer cartoons!! Except for a blatantly obvious Mr. T, I didn't recognize any of the voice artists until the end credits ran. Kudos to Bill Hader, Anna Faris, and James Caan for jobs well done. The plot concerns a nerdy scientist (Hader) who attempts to invent a machine that rains food from the sky to replace the strictly sardine diet that his island home produces en masse for the rest of the world. Caan is nicely understated as the father who just doesn't get him. For awhile, Hader's the local hero--that is, until his machine malfunctions and all of a sudden we're in the midst of a disaster movie, with deadly food wreaking havoc on the world!! It's both funny and awe-inspiring. Kids will eat this movie up, but there's enough clever gags and appealing characterizations to keep all but the most uptight adults happy as well!!
"It Happened At The World's Fair" (1963, 105 min) Elvis Presley and Gary Lockwood are partners who own a crop-duster. Circumstances have them arrive at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair in the back of pick-up truck with a seven year old girl (Vicky Tui, her sole acting credit, though amazingly, today, she's the first lady of Hawaii) whose busy uncle entrusts her care at the fair with virtual stranger Elvis!! Yes, the plot is preposterous, the songs mediocre (save for the passable "One Broken Heart For Sale"), the love interest (Joan O'Brien) dreary (though a short scene up top co-starring Yvonne Craig does emit some heat), and this was made during the period when The King's hair looks absolutely shellacked to his head!! But on the plus side, there are plenty of fine scenes shot on location at the fair, and the delicious irony of a 12 year old Kurt Russell making his big screen debut in a pair of scenes with the man he'd so memorably portray in a telefilm little over a decade later counts for SOMETHING!! Plus, there are a couple of fist fights that have to be seen to be believed--my goodness, but did Elvis ever REALLY get in there and deliver the goods!! Makes me wonder how he made out in "Kid Galahad"--better keep my eyes on the TCM schedule for THAT one!!...
"L.A. Confidential" (1997, 138 min) The New York Film Critics chose this as the best film of the year over the Oscar-winning "Titanic". Is it? Apples and oranges, friends--both tasty fruits, but different. For my part, I liked it an awful lot. This adapation of a James Elroy novel set in 1953 has three detectives--Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce-- of wildly divergent personalities and professional methodology in three seemingly separate storylines, only to all eventually wind-up on the same case, each under the munificent tutelage of James Cromwell as their superior officer. Danny DeVito plays the publisher of "Hush Hush", a "Confidential"-like scandal mag, and Kim Basinger won a supporting actress Oscar for her Veronica Lake-lookalike call-girl with the proverbial heart of gold. It's a wonder no one else garnered a little gold statue--the acting is that good throughout. Longish and violent, but engrossing nonetheless, with a complicated plot that becomes clear as events unfold. Decent period atmosphere, even if there is quite a long list of anachronisms over on its imdb page--gee, who REALLY notices that the diner's catsup and mustard are in plastic containers as opposed to the standard glass one's used in the fifties? That shouldn't deter you from enjoying this wonderfully dark excursion into the underbelly of Tinseltown--I give it my highest recommendation!!
"The Big House" (1930, 87 min) This early prison talkie was up for Best Picture of the year, with co-star Wallace Beery getting a Best Actor nomination as well, but the big win was for best screenplay--written by a woman, Frances Marion! As the story begins, Robert Montgomery, with no previous criminal record, begins a ten year sentence for DUI manslaughter, and the film very effectively illustrates the horrifyingly dehumanizing process entering the big house entails. He finds himself sharing a cell with Beery, an unrepentant murderer, and Chester Morris, a career criminal. Here, the plot shifts somewhat, and Morris's foiled parole and subsequent escape take center stage. A decade later, Morris would become closely identified with the role of Boston Blackie (of which I've recently enjoyed my first exposure to in a pair of early series entries), but he's quite the revelation here--gaunter and more lithe, he reminds me of a young Matthew Perry. He evinces an easy charm, yet is capable of exuding danger when called upon. A romance with Montgomery's sister (reshot after an early cut had her as the character's wife didn't sit well with preview audiences, particularly with the ladies) softens him, and leads to his eventual salvation. B ut not before a climactic prison riot pares down the cast significantly. Beery hams it up in his usual manner, equally likable and menacing, and Montgomery's wide-eyed portrayal of a man slowly broken down registers powerfully as well, but it's Morris who left the greatest impression on me. A bit talky at times, corny as well, yet true enough to hold a viewer's interest, as long as allowances for its era are given.
"Scream of Fear" (1961, 81 min) This B&W Hammer mystery may seem, at first, a bit old hat--step-daughter in wheelchair (Susan Strasberg) comes home after nine years, and is soon manipulated by her father's new wife (Ann Todd) into thinking she's going insane, so as to ultimately allow the money from the old man's will to go directly to evil step-mom's bank account instead of to his blood relation. But then a funny thing happens: first, a twist comes along in the final minutes of the film that I'd wholly expected--and then one I DIDN'T!! Followed a violent act as that serves as a neat little capper to the entire proceedings!! Often, I feel cheated at the end of these sort of things, cuz there's never enough explanation to make sense of events, but I was EXTREMELY satisfied by the way things played out here. Strasberg makes an appealing (and undeniably lovely) heroine, and Ronald Lewis as Robert, the family chauffer, does a fine job with his part as well. Christopher Lee, fourth-billed, essays the role of a French doctor--dig that crazy accent! A bit slow-going for some (me, I like slow), it nevertheless rewards with a clever payoff. Originally known as "Taste of Fear".
"Night Nurse" (1931, 72 min) What a crazy movie!! The first third deals with Barbara Stanwyck and pal Joan Brondell enduring the rigors of earning their nursing spurs, but before this can turn into some tepid hospital drama, the pair are assigned alternating shifts watching over a pair of out-patients, two young sisters who are being slowly starved to death so as to garner a massive trust fund payout to the girl's mother, kept in a perpetually drunken state by the Nick, the evil chauffer (an incredibly loathsome, totally dressed in black, sans moustache, pre-startdom Clark Gable--his screen time is limited, but the impression he makes sure isn't!!). Of course, there's a doctor on the take here as well--Ralfe Harolde twitches, blinks, and speaks so rapidly it's difficult not to assume that he's been dipping into his own prescription bag more than occasionally! Another amazing performance!! And of course, Stanwyck is having none of it! Wait'll you see her stand up to Gable--and get socked on the chin for her trouble (albeit off camera)! Or loom above the body of the boozed up mom and spit out, in total disgust, the telling phrase, "You...MOTHER!...". But don't worry--Ben Lyon plays her friendly bootlegger chum, and he helps put thinks right. And where else but in a pre-code flick would the blatant intimation of a murder set in motion by our "hero" provide for a HAPPY ending? (And let's not forget those four separate scenes of Joan and Babs getting in and out of their nurses' uniforms!! Tamer than today's lingerie commercials, true, but for 1931? Hotcha!!) (Oh, and former silent star Lyon? His career in front of the camera would slow up considerably in the decades ahead, but he still left his mark indelibly behind it: as a casting director, he discovered, and then named, Marilyn Monroe!! Gee--how'd I EVER live without imdb?...). Yeah, the plot is preposterous (those kids hardly look like they've missed any meals of late for one thing), but the great Stanwyck is gangbusters as usual, and the whole thing moves along briskly, with crackling thirties era dialog, so if that's your thing, let the good Dr. Fred prescribe you a viewing of "Night Nurse" the next time TCM runs it!
"I Love You, Alice B. Toklas" (1968, 92 min) Peter Sellers plays an uptight Jewish American lawyer who ultimately ducks marrying his secretary, Joyce Van Patten, to take up with the much younger Leigh Taylor-Young, a blissfully unencumbered hippie chick (and sometime girl-friend of Sellers younger brother). And yup, there are pot brownies for everyone!! This is one of those films that I heard a LOT about when it came out (I was 15 at the time), but until now, never had a chance to see. Sadly, though fascinating in a time-capsule sense, it didn't live up to my expectations. With Paul Mazursky as one of it's writers and producers, I fully expected something a bit more on target than that infamous episode of "Gomer Pyle" where Jim Nabors warbles "Blowin In The Wind" alongside a couple of garishly dressed flower children, but this ain't a whole lot more sophisticated. I'll admit to never being much of a Sellers fan (though I commend his performance here--it seems authentic, if not particularly funny). The first hour, as Sellers slowly becomes less and less uptight, is best--once he grows his hair long, it just gets silly. I enjoyed seeing Joyce Van Patten and Herb Edelman (as Sellers' law partner) together in several scenes--not long after, they'd play man and wife on the CBS sitcom "The Good Guys" (co-starring Bob Denver), a show I generally recall as being funnier than this movie. And while Taylor-Young in undeniably lovely, she plays her part with such a vacant innocence that it's hard to believe in retrospect that there ever really were hippie gals as sweetly perfect as her. The whole thing degenerates into a pretentious quest for self, which is fine, I suppose, but I woulda preferred a few more chuckles in the mix.
"Play-Girl" (1932, 60 min) 19 year old Loretta Young leaves her job at a department store (look for horror semi-icon, Edward Van Sloan, in a pair of short scenes as her boss) to marry a compulsive gambler (Norman Foster), a pertinent little fact about hubby that she doesn't discover until AFTER the honeymoon's already commenced. She makes him vow to get a real job, but he doesn't--not until he discovers she's with child. But due to a misunderstanding--she thinks he took the $90 out of the bank to play cards when in reality if was to buy a baby carriage, something she learns AFTER she throws him out--the pair split, and he disappears from her life for months. And so, to make ends meet, Loretta turns to...gambling? Huh? This turn of events makes no real sense, nor does Foster's eleventh hour return (where he was and what he was doing is left frustratingly unexplained) in order to reunite the family for the baby's birth. Top-billed Winnie Ligntner plays Young's earthy female buddy, and if this film has anything to recommend it, it's risque pre-code exchanges like this: Winnie, as her underpants blow off a makeshift clothesline and out the window of the apartment she shares with Young: "Oh, that was my last pair of panties!" Loretta: "What will you do?" Winnie: "Stay off of ladders!"...
"Life Begins"( 1933, 71 min) ..in a maternity ward, which is where this entire picture takes place (though curiously the word "pregnant' is never once uttered, despite this being a pre-code production). Specifically, in a room reserved for potentially difficult births, including Clara "Auntie Em" Blandick who's having her sixth(!), brassy Glenda Farrell who's prepared to give up her twins (guess how THAT little scenario turns out?...), and star Loretta Young, a convicted killer (who apparently killed a well-heeled lech in self defense but got a raw deal from the jury). Eric Linden--who looks about 16--plays her overly emotional husband, Aline MacMahon the head nurse with a heart of gold, and Frank McHugh--nicely showing some dramatic range beyond his standard comic sidekick turns--as another worried hubby. Plus, a women from the psych ward wanders in to steal a baby--it's all there, including a less than happy ending (though some philosophical mumbo jumbo tries to put a happy face on the turn of events). It's fascinating to see just how much of a trial having a baby still was as recently as 1933, and for that alone, I found this picture to be worthwhile watching. Decent acting, decent writing--not a classic, but hey, how many OTHER thirties era maternity ward epics are you gonna come across anyway?...
"The Big Cube"(1969) Lana Turner--ingesting LSD? How is it I'd never heard of this 1969 cinematic nugget before? Well, I watched it last night and now I know a perfectly good reason for it's well deserved obscurity--it's pretty bad. And unfortunately, not in a "so bad it's good" way. No, it's just a bunch of down on their luck American actors trying to catch the then current cultural zeit-geist in this Mexican made production, and missing by a mile. Late fortieish (and looking older) Turner plays an esteemed actress who retires to marry a rich financier (Dan O'Herlihy), much to the consternation of his twentyish daughter (Karin Mossberg, in her third and last imdb credit, sporting a European accent ridiculously at odds with dad's all-American vocal delivery). Naive to a fault, she falls in with a bad crowd, none badder than George "West Side Story" Chakiris, who plays an over-aged med student cooking up LSD for his hippie friends in his spare time. He's also money hungry, and when Lana's hubby dies unexpectedly, George plans to marry the easily manipulated Mossberg and reap the massive inheritance--only a clause in the recently drawn up will says the couple will need Turner's approval for that, and she won't give it!! So, they dose her unknowingly with LSD in an attempt to drive her legally incompetent. Their plan succeeds--Lana has blocked out everything that's happened in the three months since her ill-fated marriage, so now the kids are free to tie the knot, and at a garishly groovy ceremony (oh, the sixties!...), they do. Chakiris botches the whole thing, though, by trying to take Karin's (willing ) best buddy to bed on their wedding night, albeit generously inviting his new wife to join the fun after she objects!! Daughter kicks newly minted hubby to the curb, confesses all to Richard Egan, playing a playwright buddy who's long held a torch for Lana. Their solution? Write a play about Lana's predicament, and, in the final scene (the LSD dosing), sub the real step-daughter for the actress playing same, shocking Turner back to reality, right there on stage (AND earning a standing O for Ms. T in the bargain)!! Chakiris? We last see him in a hovel, victim of a way, way bad acid trip, reduced to talking to the ants on the floor!! The plot of this movie might almost work save for a.) the uniformly bad acting, and b.) the poorly defined motivational shifts of the various characters, especially the daughter who blindly (and illogically) goes along with whatever the LSD dosing dude asks of her!! Sigh---I shoulda known there was gonna be trouble when I saw the opening credits note the participation of a rock group named "The Finks"...
"Roustabout"(1964) I glean from reviews found online that Elvis's performance as chip-perpetually-on-shoulder Charlie Rogers is in direct contradiction to the standard nice guy characterizations found in his sixties movies. So I'll give him a pass on being unlikable--it was, as John Lovitz would say, ACTING!! Nor great acting, true, but servicable. After being run off the road by a grumpy Leif Erickson (cuz he's trying to pick up daughter Joan Freeman in a moving jeep while riding a motorcycle--don't ask...), carny owner Barbara Stanwyck gives him a job as a roustabout while he waits for his cycle to be repaired--hijinx ensue! Also songs--most of which were superior to the tunes warbled in the two other, later Presley flicks I've seen recently. There's a lot of colorful outdoor location shooting, fine supporting acting from the likes of Dabbs Greer, Pat Buttram, Sue Ann Langdon, Billy Barty--and even Richard "Jaws" Kiel, who shows up for a few fleeting seconds as the strongman in the final minute of the film! And Barbara Stanwyck? Still top-notch! And can you just imagine her and Elvis as an item? Rowwrr--cougar time! Didn't happen, unfortunately. Still, a pretty good film, if you judge films on an Elvis-scale, not on a strictly quality-basis (okay, I admit it--I'm hooked!). Special kudos to The King's stunning ability to lip-synch: herein he performs flawlessly both while driving a motor cycle and riding on a ferris wheel--and best I could tell, rear projection footage wasn't involved in either number!! Wow--for that alone, the guy shoulda received an Oscar!...
"Clambake" (1967) For years, I carefully avoided all the movies Elvis made, save for the quartet lensed before he inducted into the army, and, eventually, the iconic "Viva Las Vegas". After all, has a bigger star ever made so many inconsequential flicks? Nope. But in recent times, as I 've begun to check out all the sixties beach and teen movies I'd similarly avoided, I figured, really, HOW different was an Elvis starrer from those fun but dumb trifles? Not very much, I'd have to say--though this is only my second tenative dip into The King's post-USAF cinematic oeurve ("Girl Happy" was the first). Elvis plays the son of a rich oil tycoon who wants to know if girls love him or his money, so to find out, he switches places with Will Hutchins, and takes on the role of water ski instructor at a fancy Miami resort (even tho the star never left LA--all location shots feature a body double--or is that a pelvis double?...). He meets Shelley Fabares, who has her sights set for boorish millionaire Bill Bixby (whose coif is burdened with a rust colored dye job), but who ends up with--aw, I'm noty tellin'.. James Gregory hams it up agreeably as Presley's screen dad, and there's a jaw-dropping musical number called "Confidence' which features a group a school children on a playground goofily cavorting with Elvis and Hutchins, while also being an unabashed knock-off of Frank Sinatra's "High Hopes". A motor boat race figures in the big finale, but my favorite scene came mid-way though when we discover that our hero was actually a chemical engineer in his father's lab. Thus, we get a montage of Elvis working with beakers and test tubes in an effort to make a indestructible coating for his boat!! The unnerving image of scientist Elvis actually made me laugh out loud, a worthy reward for wading through this less than classic pic. Piffle, true, but Presley's somehow likable enough to carry the day.
"She Had To Say Yes" (1933) To keep clients happy, the owner of a large business (department store? garment factory? ) decides that the gals from the steno poll should do double duty and date a seemingly endless succession of out-of-town buyers!! Geez--talk about taking dictation!! It's all Regis Toomey's idea--though he's all for keeping his own secretary--and financee--Loretta Young--out of the mix. That is, until a really BIG client--Lyle Talbot--comes along, and he casually nudges Loretta into helping out. It's not soon after that we learn that Regis is cheating on her--and she soon finds out as well. After that, Lyle's cross-country stalking--he pawed her to no avail on their first date, finally realizing at 4:30 in the morning she actually was a"good girl", and became love smitten instead of lust driven, calling incessantly on the phone--begins to appeal to her, and they become something of a couple. Agreeing to date lecherous Hugh Herbert to help Talbot swing a big business deal, it all soon leads to a series of misunderstandings that has Lyle believing that she's been holding out on him all along, and that the whole nicey-nice business was only an act--so he takes her off to a friend's empty house and nearly rapes her!! He comes to his senses, and tells her to leave, but then hears her confrontation with Toomey--who'd been following the pair in a taxi--on the front steps, which clears up all his misconceptions, so he comes out and clocks Regis! Asking forgiveness--and proposing a marriage the very next morning--Young happily accepts, but whispers something in his ear the audience isn't privvy to, after which he picks her up in his arms, and heads, threshold-like, for the front door, intimating that the heretofore chaste steno is opting for a wedding night practice run with the man who not ten minutes earlier tried to sexually assault her!! Good golly gosh--what a movie!! Also known as "All Men Are Slime" (except for maybe the omnipresent Charles Lane, who, at the meeting where this whole crackpot idea was hatched, suggested that having a good product to offer clients should be enough. He was outvoted.). Another fascinating example of Hollywood's pre-Code product, this one also notable for being the directorial debut of Busby Berkeley.
"Heroes For Sale" (1933) This pre-Code flick begins in the trenches of WW1, and ends shortly after FDR's inaugeral address in (the then present day of)1933. During that period of time, central character Tom Holmes (nicely played by silent screen star Richard Barthelmess) is left for dead in a foxhole while his cowardly buddy gets credit for his heroics; gets taken prisoner by the Germans, who keep him alive, but to manage his pain; leave him with a morphine addiction; looses his job at his credit grabbing buddies bank due to his inadvertent addiction; goes into rehab; gets out, starts fresh in Chicago, meets Loretta Young and marries her; gets a job at a laundry and, with the help of a device invented by a communist leaning German friend, automates the plant, getting a guarantee from the kindly owner that no one will loose their jobs; kindly owner dies; new owners reduce workforce drastically; tries to stop angry unemployed mob from storming plant; wife tries to intervene; gets knocked to the ground dead instead; is wrongly convicted for starting riot; serves five years in prison; gets out, gives all his profits from laundry machine to local soup kitchen, leaves young son with family friend after Red Squad detectives run him (and other seeming innocents, in movie's most chilling scene) out of town; where he ends up a depression hobo, running into his old pal, the cowardly /banker's son, who's lost everything in the Crash. Whew!! Quite a journey--and pretty darn leftist for a Hollywood film!! "Bad Things Happen To Good People, You Betcha" might be an even better title for this engrossing journey into one man's seemingly endless well of bad luck.
"Golden Boy" (1939) When 20 year old William Holden bursts into the office of fight promoter Adolphe Menjou at the outset of this classic film version of a celebrated play, I honestly didn't reconize him, though I knew full well he was the star of the movie! With a wild mane of curly hair (chopped to a more managable length about twenty minutes in) and his unmistakably raw youth, he looked more like a ringer for first season Jack Larson on TV's "Adventures of Superman" than any Holden I'D ever seen before!! But once I got my bearings--at least 28 year old Lee J. Cobb, convincingly playing his father, albeit leaning a mite heavily on the Italian accent, looked like Lee J. Cobb ALWAYS looks--I was hooked. While the basic story is seemingly so cliched as to be over-ripe for parody, the fine acting by the entire cast (including my new favorite actress, Barbara Stanwyck, the thirtiesh gal pal of Menjou who eventually falls for the kid) made the whole "boxer who must choose between fighting and playing the violin' shtick palatable The final scenes actually caught me off guard, and provided (you should pardon the expression) a wallop of an ending. But poor Menjou--always a bridesmaid, never a bride...
"Die, Die My Darling" (1965) Tallulah Bankhead's final big-screen role (though she'd last appear in front of a camera as the Black Widow two years later on the "Batman" TV show) was in this Hammer film as a fanatically religious woman holding the ex-fiancee (a lovely 23 year old Stephanie Powers) of her late son in her remote mansion against her will, even reading from the Bible to her at gunpoint!! Yup, she's one crazy old lady, and Bankhead plays it to the absolute hilt!! Powers starts out merely irritated, but as her hostess's strange behavior escalates to the point of actual kidnapping, she in turn become more frantic, indulging in several nasty double-free wrestling bouts with brawny servant Anna in attempts to escape. However, never once did I REALLY fear for Powers true safety--the goofy, "Addams Family" harpsicord music that played frequently behind Tallulah managed to squash any genuine sense of danger. But the movie's not boring, as the two women make for worthy antagonists. Watch for a hulking Donald Sutherland in an early role as a mentally challenged handyman.
"42nd Street" (1933) A few months back, I watched "Gold Diggers of 1933" and "Footlight Parade"(1933), and discovered I really enjoyed these Pre-code, Warner Brothers backstage musicals that always culminate with several dazzling Busby Berkeley production numbers, and that this, the one that kicked off the genre--the one that set in stone many of the oft-parodied conventions and cliches of the form--is just as much fun!! Oh, I'd probably give the nod to "Footlight Parade' as my fave, purely on the stength of Jimmy Cagney's energetic performance as the show's director who has to step in--literally--for his leading man during the big finale, but "42nd Street" ain't nothin' to trifle with!! Boasting a great supporting cast--Ned Sparks and Guy Kibbee being the stand-outs here--there's enough plot, enough witty banter, enough romance, and enough crazy dance numbers to satisfy anybody hunting for a good old fashioned smile!! Only...I just don't get Ruby Keeler. She plays essentially the same role in all three films (this was her debut), that of the naive chorus girl who's suddenly thrust into stardom by fateful circumstances. She's cute, she can sing a little, and her dancing is above par, but as an actress? Blandly awful. She delivers every line the same--unconvincingly. Her best bit in this flick comes when director Warner Baxter tries to rehearse her mere hours before the curtain goes up, when her acting is SUPPOSED to be lousy! Now, THAT was a convincing performance!! Even harder to believe is when the show's "angel" (Kibbee) shows up with Ginger Rogers as his suggested replacement for the injured Bebe Daniels, and Rogers herself confesses that she hasn't talent enough to carry the show, but Keeler has!! Wrong on every level, but it'd be a few years before the radiant Ginger would achieve true stardom, so for now, she played mere feature roles in these extravaganzas, not pivotal ones. No matter--these are fun from start to finish, and that's coming from someone who never bothered to take a peek at one until recently!!
"Sherlock Homes: The Fatal Hour" (1931) Arthur Wontner plays the title role in this early British film (and would do so four more times, lastly in1938), and does a nice job playing (essentially) "Sherlock Holmes, Non-action Hero!". Yeah, it's very talky, but I found it surprisingly engaging--even after I realized that the Ian Fleming playing Dr. Watson WASN'T the same fellow who created James Bond!! While the script had Wontner saying "elementary my dear Watson'" about five times too many, the pair's banter held my interest throughout. I also totally misread the mystery, guessing wrong regarding Moriarity's true identity, but don't go by me--I NEVER figure out mysteries correctly!! (Notice that the title card refers to Holmes' creator as "The late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle". presumably since he'd passed away only a year earlier. I assume that particular screen credit expired soon afterwards...)
"Rain Or Shine" (1930) I goofed setting the timer to record this early Frank Capra film, and only managed to secure the first 45 minutes of its 90 minute running time. Normally, I would've just skipped it entirely, figuring I'd catch it on the next go-round, but this one seemed so obscure, I wasn't entirely sure there WOULD be a next time!! Ultimately, I'm glad I watched what I watched, as this wasn't so much a Capra film but a film showcasing the amazing talents of the once celebrated (but now totally forgotten) Vaudeville/Broadway performer, Joe Cook. Who he? A comedian, a juggler, a song-and-dance man, an acrobat--literally, a one man circus, which is how (according to the reviews posted over at imdb) this film about a small time big top ends (Joe's the show's barker and utility man, y'see). Joe looks a bit like Jerry Seinfeld, and he totally dominates this movie--he's on screen constantly, and never stops talking!! And he talks fast, way, way FAST!!! Playing off bespeckled straight man Tom Howard and wild-haired stooge Dave Chasen (who would later go on to found the famous Chasens restaurant--hard to believe based on the evidence here!), at times this looks more like an alternate universe Marx Brothers movie than a Frank Capra flick. Cook can clearly be a bit much, but there's no denying his immense talents. Sadly, Parkinson's disease limited him to only a few shorts and two feature films before he chose instead to return to the stage. I hope to someday catch the rest of this thing, and if it ever shows up on TCM again, I recommend you do the same, if only to see a movie star who never quite was...
"The Bicycle Thief" (1948) This Italian film, directed by Vittorio De Sica, is an absolute masterpiece! Wow! Not quite as talky as some of the French films I've seen recently, so I was able to concentrate a bit more on the vivid location visuals, despite having to keep up with the (relatively terse) subtitles. The plot is simple--a man's bicycle, necessary for him to hold onto a recently acquired--and desperately needed--job is stolen. The man and his young son (all amateur actors--something I didn't know (and wouldn't have suspected)--until after viewing the film) spend all the next day searching for it, with everything ending in a surprising (or perhaps inevitable) fashion, one that'll likely haunt you long after "Fin" plays across the screen. Like I said, wow.
"Sherlock Holmes"( 1922) Apparently thought lost for decades, a rag tag copy this silent version starring the legendary John Barrymore as the equally legendary sleuth was discovered hidden away in 1970, and it took several more decades before it was suitably reassembled for viewing. Maybe they shouldn't have bothered--it's a snoozer. Title cards that use too many words without telling enough, a jumbled timeline that has Sherlock attending college at the outset, and, oh my, overall, it's just a big ol' confusing mess! Marks the screen debut of Roland Young (as Dr. Watson) and William Powell (young and gawky, a Moriaritry agent turned Holmes helper), and sure, Barrymore LOOKS good, but really, I found watching this tough sledding. Historically fascinating, but little else.
"Aventure malgache" (1944) Alfred Hitchcock made a pair of propaganda films for the British war effort spotlighting the French, using French actors and crew--zoot allures, who knew? Clocking in at little over half an hour, this one deals with the French Resistance on the Vichy controlled (read: Nazi) colonial island of Madagastar. Very talky--which meant lots of screen reading for me, as I never did learn French--so it's difficult for me to comment overmuch on Hitchcock's usually distinctive directorial style. Interesting as a historical footnote to both WW2-era films and to the career of a great director, but not much else.
"The Cameraman" (1928) Thanks to TCM, I'm familiarizing myself with the works of Buster Keaton--but unlike Harold Lloyd, who's totally won me over thanks to the Turner Movie Channel, I'm still on the fence regarding Buster. Oh sure, he's a comedic genius, no denying it, but I just don't necessarily find myself drawn to his standard characterization, the old stone face, because I'm kinda fond of emotions. That said, I found this silent feature (67 minutes long) to be very engaging in its middle section, when Buster goes out on his first date with the girl he's smitten with. The sequence of him running up and down several flights of stairs to answer her phone call--followed by him racing through Manhattan, arriving at her apartment before she finishes talking on her end of the receiver--is absolutely wonderful. And Buster loosing his bathing suit in the community pool is a marvel as well. I was less enamored with his trip to Yankee stadium, playing a solo game on the field all by his lonesome; and his involvement filming newsreels of a Tong war in Chinatown, accompanied by an admittedly amazingly well trained monkey, got a bit tedious as well. The finale was sweet, though. Side note: for the first time, I noticed how much Keaton reminds me, facially, of Chris Kattan, never one of my favorite SNLers. But if TCM keeps running Buster flicks, I'll keep watching....
"The Matinee Idol" (1928) In this Frank Capra directed silent feature, Johnnie Walker plays Broadway star Don Wilson, and later, opposite Bessie Love, another actor called Harry Mann!! How about THOSE names? His Broadway persona is billed as "America's Favorite Black-faced Comedian", an unfortunate guise that's nonetheless integral to the plot. Y'see, Don and his producer pals stumble across a small town drama production, and he's enlisted at the eleventh hour to take the place of a missing participant. Only they don't know he's a celebrated actor, and he likes it that way, calling himself Harry Mann. His producer buddies find the troupe's Civil War scenario so awful it's hilarious, and decide to bring it to The Great White Way and add it to their revue. Only, leading lady Bessie has no idea that star Don is the same fellow as supporting actor Harry, and doesn't find out until after a disaster of a performance that has the sophisticated NY audience howling with laughter (something that never happened out in the sticks), prompting a still made-up Don to run out in the pouring rain after the woman he's come to love. You can guess what happens next. A very deft mix of situation comedy (as opposed to the pure slapstick silents were known for) mixed in with pathos, as the small-timers come to understand they were brought aboard for audiences simply to ridicule, not entertain with their dramatics. Bessie Love--who I first encountered in the early talkie, "Chasing Rainbows"--brings both fine comedic and dramatic chops to her role. Clocking in at a mere 57 minutes, it's fast paced, breezy way to spend an hour with a legendary director working his apprenticeship.
"Where The Wild Things Are" (2009) Director Spike Jonze's adaptation--reinvention, actually--of Maurice Sendak's classic, ten-sentence 1963 children's book, is an amzing achievement. I harbored no personal nostalgia for the original--I was ten when it was first published, and didn't even become aware of it until a college art professor brought it to my attention years later. Daughter Julie has a copy, but it was never anything she doted on. So I was willing to see whatever the filmmakers had in mind, just so long as they didn't bore me. No worry there. Child actor Max Records excels as the film's focal point, alternately vulnerable, aggressive, happy, and sad. After setting up his seemingly less than stellar family situation, he runs off, hops a boat, and winds up on an island populated by Sendak's Wild Things--puppeteers wearing elaborate nine-foot costumes, voiced by name actors, and afforded CGI aided facial expressions. As someone who's not always enamored with either straight or computer animated features, I loved that those routes were avoided and instead this unreality was filmed right out there in the open!! This is a kid's picture for adults, but I think it connects with younger viewers as well, since being a kid isn't all lollipops and rainbows, and that comes across nicely in this flick. I liked it an awful lot, but it's one of those film's where your individual mileage will undoubtedly vary--you'll have to make up your own mind.
"Conflict" (1945) I wanted to get a second look at this, the very first Humphrey Bogart film I'd ever seen back in my teens, the flick that launched an ongoing Bogie obsession that lasted nearly a decade. Hardly a classic like "The Maltese Falcon" or "Casablanca", it's nonetheless a solid little murder mystery--the mystery being just when and how will killer Bogart be caught. He offs his nagging wife, deluded that that would free him to be with her younger sister (a ravishing Alexis Smith), who's fond of her brother-in-law, true, but has no idea he's in love with her!! Family friend Sydney Greenstreet--a psychiatrist--helps (SPOILER ALERT) the police lay a trap for the grieving husband who's apparently lost his wife to a mysterious car accident, finally flushing the killer out into the open. Not realizing that Greenstreet in onto him pretty much from the get-go, it's fascinating to watch these two actors--so closely associated with one another for more famous roles in the aforementioned films--reverse their usual personas this time around. I'm oddly partial to the way the thing winds up--returning to the scene of the crime, Greenstreet and the police pop out of the bushes to bust Bogart, who calmly accepts his fate. "Well, Doctor", he says wearily as they walk off into the morning fog, "it's over. This is the end." and it IS!! You just gotta love a movie whose last line of dialog is "this is the end", y'know?...
"State Of The Union" (1948) It's a Tracy/Hepburn film--and I didn't even realize it until TCM's Robert Osborne came on with his after-flick comments! Duh! I've never been partial to either thespian, y'see, and have heretofore avoided their teamings. But I had tuned in for this on the strength of director Frank Capra's participation (and did actually note that this was the second Spencer Tracy/Van Johnson teaming I'd viewed, the first being 1952's "Plymouth Adventure", not quite a Thanksgiving turkey, but close...). Filmed as follow-up to "It's A Wonderful Life", this adaptation of a popular stage play of the day has industrialist Tracy being manipulated into seeking the Republican nomination for President by his mistress, Angela Lansbury (23 years old in reality, but effectively playing a cold-hearted, fortieish newspaper magnate). Naturally, estranged wife Katherine Hepburn is has to go along for the ride, and that's where the fun begins; she wants him to remain true to himself (which ALWAYS gets a politician in trouble), while Lansbury and campaign hack Adolphe Menjou want him to follow their script. Which he does, until the finale, a big speech broadcast over both radio and the infant medium of TV!! A lot of the rhetoric in this flick remains relevant today, unfortunately--you'll no doubt sigh when Spencer calls for universal health care, for instance. The dialog is fast and furious, Johnson is fine as the cynical reporter assigned to the campaign, and if the ending qualifies as so-called Capra-corn, well the, dish me out a heaping helping!! Not quite a bona fide classic, but a fine film nonetheless with vivid performances turned in by all--gee, maybe I was wrong about those two...
"Pocketful of Miracles" (1961)/"Lady For A Day" (1933) I made the mistake of watching Frank Capra's bloated 137 minute remake of his far superior 96 minute version of the tale of street peddler Apple Annie and her transformation into a lady of high society, engineered by a kindly gangster in order to impress the father of the intended groom of the daughter she gave up at childbirth and has never met, a Spanish count, in this Damon Runyon fairy-tale. Everything plays so much better in the 1933 version--mainly because it IS 1933 and not a garishly recreated 1933! Mae Robson garnered an Oscar nomination for her turn as Annie; Bette Davis garnered a paycheck. Warren William makes for a more effective Dave the Dude than Glenn Ford--especially when you learn that Ford's on-set antics (he put up some his own money to produce the remake, and insisted then girl-friend Hope Lange be given the roll of Queenie, his moll) drove Capra right out of the movie-making business; this was his final film, even though he lived another thirty years!! The supporting players enliven both versions; though Peter Falk earned a supporting nom as right-hand man Joyboy, I'm partial to the dryly played, foghorn voiced Ned Sparks as Happy in the original. Both Guy Kibbee and Thomas Mitchell (his last screen appearance) are top-notch as Annie's make-believe hubby, and if there's a single improvement in the later film, it's expanding the role of the complicit society butler and assigning it to Edward Everett Horton, who steals nearly every scene he's in. Watching the ending of the remake (SPOILER ALERT), I was confused when all the local dignitaries came waltzing into Annie's reception at the last possible second; I was expecting some big reveal, like the governor was actually the father of Annie's daughter. But no. In the original, it's a bit clearer that it's simply a good-will gesture on behalf of these folks. Still fairly unbelievable, but presented more clearly, which has got to count for SOMETHING! If you want to see an impressive roster of character actors--look! There's Barton MacLane! Isn't that Ellen Corby?--catch the remake. If you want to see a pretty good movie, catch the original.
"Ladies of Leisure" (1930) Barbara Stanwyck's third leading role, her first big hit, and the first of five collaborations with director Frank Capra. Early on, she calls herself a "party girl", but I later discovered that the phrase that gives the movie's it's title is code for prostitute. Wealthy scion Ralph Graves (an incredibly stiff actor who didn't fare well once the movies began to talk) fancies himself a painter, and happens upon Babs, hiring her to model for him--and that's all. Soon enough, they fall in love, but railroad magnate dad doesn't approve. Mom backs her son, but goes on the sly over to see Stanwyck and ask her not to run off with Graves if she truly loves him. She ultimately agrees to give him up, but their entire heart-wrenching exchange is overheard by roommate Marie Provost, who tracks down Ralph and fills him in on the situation, thus assuring us of a happy ending. What struck me here was that a year later in a flick called "The Good Bad Girl", almost the exact scene was replayed with both Provost and mom Nance O'Neil reprising the exact same roles, only here opposite reformed gangster moll, Mae (Jimmy Cagney's grapefruit gal) Clarke, though the scene isn't anywhere nearly as effective. For one thing, the writing is much weaker--O'Neil comes across as imperious in her demands, whereas with Stanwyck, she shows admirable sympathy, truly believing that this lady of leisure had indeed changed, but still knowing that others would scarcely accept the transformation as meaningful. Then there's Stanwyck--Clarke was no Stanwyck! Few actresses, I'm beginning to realize, were. She's utterly remarkable in this pivotal scene--both actresses are--and she really brings life to a potentially hackneyed situation. Y'know, up until recently, to me, Barbara Stanwyck was simply the old lady on that show my mom watched, "The Big Valley", as well as Fred MacMurray's downfall in "Double Indemnity", and nothing more. Not classically beautiful like so many of the leading ladies of the day, I never gave her much thought when it came to film favorites. But now that I've recently seen eight of her movies--five from the early thirties, two from the forties, and one from the mid-fifties--I gotta say, she's won me over in a big, big way!! If the role calls for gorgeous, she can play it--I'm convinced she can play ANYTHING!! Starting now, I'm seeking her out simply as a matter of course, not because she's in a Capra, Sturges, or Christmas flick!! And watching her playing opposite Graves is almost an extended lesson in how-to act and how-not-to act!!! (One last note, and why I LOVE imdb--where else would I learn that, between 1904 and 1906, Nance O'Neil was once good friends with Lizzie Bordn--AND may've even been her lover? Man, and she had the nerve to criticize her SON'S gal pal?...)
"The Treasure of The Sierra Madre" (1948) It was a Christmas miracle--19 year old daughter Julie agreed to sit down after dinner and actually watch this old B&W classic with me!! I'd seen it nearly a dozen times during my heavy-duty Bogart phase, back in my late teens, early twenties, but hadn't viewed it in the nearly three decades since. It's still quite the flick--I used to call it my all-time fave, and I'm not sure I'm ready to modify my opinion--though this time around I was especially curious to watch Walter Huston and Tim Holt. Up until a few months ago, I'd never seen director John Huston's dad in any other movie, but now that I have 1932's "American Madness" and "Gabriel Over the White House", as well as 1941's "The Devil And Daniel Webster" under my belt, I've come to realize just exactly how terrific an actor the elder Huston was! His Supporting Actor Oscar for the role of grizzled old prospector Howard was a well deserved one. My curiuosity regarding Holt extended to his dad (who has a fleeting cameo as a flophouse bum herein), as I've now seen father Jack star as the square-jawed hero (didja know they say Chester Gould modeled Dick Tracy's profile after him?) in several early thirties flicks (and playing support in the mid-forties "Cat People"). Tim's style of acting measures up as a lot more naturalistic, I must say, and he does and admirable job in this scenario with the thankless role of the comparatively bland good guy. Bogie? Still at the top of his game!! Just LOVE watching him get more and more paranoid! Julie's verdict? "It was okay." Hey, what do you expect from someone totally unfamiliar with the iconic phrase "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!!"?...
"The Miracle Woman" (1931) A young Barbara Stanwyck stars in director Frank Capra's fictionalized riff on the controversial female evangelist Aimee Semple Macpherson (Google it). Starting things off with an absolutely gangbusters scene of Babs denouncing, from the pulpit, the parishioners of her (now late) father's church as base hypocrites, she subsequently gets taken in by a con-man (who just happened to be passing through town and heard her heated emotional rant) and is soon turned into the hottest thing on the revival circuit. Redemption beckons when blind David Manners enters her life, and has way better luck with her than he ever did with The Mummy or Dracula--though I suspect his endearing turn as a ventriloquist was dubbed. Watch for the scene where Barbara's driver actually gives the con-man (now Stanwyck's manager) the finger (albeit after leaving the room)! LOVE those precious pre-Code moments!! Barbara Stanwyck turns in an excellent performance (which, I'm beginning to realize, is pretty much par for the course), and the rest of the cast does a fine job of supporting her. An interesting take on mixing religion with show biz.
"Believe It or Not #5" (1930) Robert Ripley himself appears in this short, one of apparently a whole series, but the only one I've as yet seen. Mostly he simply talks to an audience, spellbound by his claims, and even illustrates a few of his anecdotes on a large pad of paper, proving that one can simultaneously draw while totally lacking charisma! A man who hasn't slept in 75 years is trotted out, along with some of his old news clippings, so I guess we'd better believe it. On the other hand, Ripley's tale of the women who had one child during the first year of marraige, twins during her second, triplets her third, quads her fourth, quints her fifth, and six all at once during her sixth year--that's an "or not" id I ever heard one. Interesting oddity, and I hope to run across another one sometime soon, believe it or not!...
"Forbidden" (1931) Barbara Stanwyck is a youngish spinster looking for love on a cruise ship, and Adolphe Menjou soon turns up to fill the bill in this Frank Capra directed weepie. The opening scenes with the couple playfully falling in love are borderline adorable--Menjou especially thrives in the unaccustomed role of romantic lead--but soon reality rears it's ugly head: he's married. And he can't leave his invalid wife--PLUS he's a politically ambitious D.A., so Babs gives him the boot. THEN she has his baby, and a few years later, they reunite, and he finds out about the child he never knew he had. Later, newsman Ralph Bellamy--who harbors a long unrequited love for Stanwyck and a deep-set hatred of Menjou--comes across the trio in the park one day while the D.A.s wife is out of the country. To cover, Babs claims to be the governess of the newly adopted child of the local politico, and of course, Adolphe has to play along--to the tune of actually adopting the child! But playing governess to her own child lasts only one day, as Stanwyck storms out of his mansion, to barely ever set eyes again on her daughter, though she keeps up the affair with her illicit lover for decades, right on into the governor's mansion!! And here's the odd thing--though the story spans at least three decades, we see 1931 era cars, styles, and haircuts at the film's beginning, and we see 1931 era cars, styles, and haircuts at the film's end as well! Plus, the whole maternity angle is played way, way down--you'd think Barbara woulda been just a wee bit more sad to bid the kid adieu, but you wouldn't know it from what's up there on the screen. That said, all three leads turn in strong performances (Bellamy is boisterous and slimey), and the story moves along nicely, if occasionally illogically.
"Piccadilly" (1929) This late-silent era British potboiler offers striking photography and settings (nicely tinted in this restored version), a charismatic performance by Anna May Wong as a dishwasher who's elevated to star dancer in an exclusive night club, and even a brief but pivotal turn by Charles Laughton as a customer objecting to eating off a dirty plate! That's right--for once, Laughton is merely chewing food, NOT the scenery!! But whatever merits this film has are almost totally negated by the worst score I've yet to encounter on a silent flick!! It's loud, often inappropriate, and plays non-stop--and sounds like it's from the fifties, not the twenties!! A full brass band blares endlessly during the opening dance sequence, which I could almost understand, but when the same theme plays non-stop during scenes taking place in the office of the club's manager, well, THEN I knew we were in trouble!! Wong IS mesmerizing as the Chinese dancer, and you can sense that she could've easily had a more celebrated career as a leading lady if Hollywood hadn't simply pigeon-holed her as a supporting character stereotype. Overall, a bit tedious, even without the headache inducing score.
"Christmas In Connecticut" (1945) Barbara Stanwyck plays a famous Good Housekeeping-type columnist who pretty much makes up everything she writes from whole cloth--which gets her in big. big trouble when her no-nonsense publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) wants her to host a war hero (Dennis Morgan) at her the homey Comnnecticut farm she shares with her husband and baby,. cooking everyone a scrumptious Christmas dinner for good measure. Fine, except she's not married, there's no baby, no farm, and she can't cook!! This is one of those wacky little comedy farces that I love so much wherein a facade--ever on the brink of caving in--keeps half the characters furiously busy attempting to maintain it!! Stanwyck has a nice touch for light comedy, and there are plenty of fine back-up performances, including two future "Adventures of Superman" alums--Robert Shayne as Babs' editor, frantic to keep the deception going in order to save his job; and Frank Jenks, so memorable as the Bob Hope-lookalike detective Candy in the 1st season classic, "The Stolen Costume") Also, S.Z.Sakall, Dick Elliot, and "Bride of Frankenstein's Una O'Connor. I THINK I saw this as a kid, but found it wanting in the Christmassy category--there's a tree in the living room, and a quick carol or two is sung, but otherwise this very same story could've taken place on Thanksgiving or the 4th of July. But strictly as a comedy, it's pretty darn good.
"Orpheus" (1950) I found French director/writer/poet Jean Cocteau's modern-day retelling of the Greek's legend about a man braving Hades to reclaim his wife and return her to the land of the living to be absolutely stunning, both visually and in terms of its scenario!! THIS is a bona-fide classic, one I thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in a thoughtful fantasy film. Using simple camera tricks--like merely running film backwards--memorable images are achieved. Death--a beautiful brunette--and her envoys (two gents on motorcycles) unexpectedly enter the life of Orpheus (Jean Marais) wife Eurydice (Marie Dea), and nothing will ever be the same again. I know I'LL never look in a mirror the same way again!! Watch it!!
"Hamlet 2" (2008) Steve Coogan plays a never-was actor turned high school drama teacher whose department is in serious danger of being shut down completely at the end of the semester, so he writes a sequel to "Hamlet" (featuring a time machine, Hillary Clinton, and Jesus) in the hopes of putting on a production that'll rally support and save his job. What he gets instead is trouble from all sides, and what WE get (or at least, what I got) is a lot of quirky interactions between mis-matched characters passing for comedy, leading up to a pretty funny (but belated) theatrical extravaganza finale. I know Coogan has his rabid acolytes, but this was pretty much my first exposure to him, and I clearly wasn't bowled over (doesn't mean I CAN'T be, I just wasn't here). The always hilarious Amy Poehler arrives towards the end as a foul-mouthed ACLU lawyer, but the funniest performance is given by actress Elisabeth Shue as...ex-actress Elisabeth Shue. Wha? Watch the film if you want an explanation. I don't regret spending time with this movie; it simply didn't meet the the expectations I had for it going in. "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" IS a show-stopper, though, no denying it!...
"The Divine Lady" (1929) And the Oscar for Best Director of 1929 goes to Frank Lloyd--right? No, I had no idea, either. In fact, I had no idea what this movie was about going in, but I was soon to learn it was a historical drama--and a silent one at that. There's this girl, Emma, y'see. Her and her mom (Marie Dressler--yes, TCM was having a spotlight day. How'd you guess?...) come to serve this fine English nobleman at the end of the eighteenth century, and before you know it, she's married to HIS uncle, and later meets Horatio Nelson, soon to become Lord Admiral Nelson, England's greatest naval hero--and all because if HER!! Really. I checked it on Wikipedia. There are lots of fancy costumes, lavish sets, sea battles, not to mention H. B. Warner as her hubby (who has to grit his teeth while wifey "inspires" the good Admiral), but there's not much Dressler at all--once her daughter marries up, mom is never seen nor mentioned again. Ah well--I'd had my fill of ol' Marie anyway. The original soundtrack features a few lip-synced tunes. I found this to be interesting, if only because I was totally unfamiliar with Nelson's story (even if he seemed like a bit of a stiff in this flick, and doesn't even arrive on screen until nearly at the film's mid-point.).
"Chasing Rainbows" (1929) This is the movie that introduced that famous thirties anthem of self-delusion, "Happy Days Are Here Again", but you'll only hear a few scant seconds of it at the film's opening. That's because this tale of a roadshow's backstage intrigue opens with the revue's final number, but doesn't do it up properly until the actual end of the movie. Which you'll never see. That--along with another earlier sequence, midway through--was filmed in technicolor, accounting for several tunes and about 15 minutes, but has been lost over the years. TCM runs an 86 minute B&W version, and posts a few publicity pics and key plot developments on screen in the place of the AWOL footage, and I must say, it pretty much works, though you don't get to enjoy the rousing finale. You do get to see a young Jack Benny as the wise-cracking stage-manager, and watch the fine old ham that was Marie Dressler (aided, as usual, by Polly Moran) as one of the show's performers. The actual stars of the story are a couple of long forgotten folks (but very big in their day, trust me) named Bessie Love and Charles King. She loves him; he doesn't realize it and falls for every other leading lady in the cast, always with less than ideal results. In short, he acts like an idiot time and again and it's hard to buy into their potential romance because he acts so obnoxiously oblivious to Bessie's feelings. But if you're a jack Benny fan (like me) or simply fascinated by very early talkies (also like me), it might be worth a look.
"Curse of The Mummy's Tomb" (1964) As someone who's seen every entry in each of the classic Universal horror series several times over, it astonishes even me when I stop and realize that THIS is my first ever viewing of a Hammer horror film series entry!! And as as far as I can tell, it's a lousy way to start. Oh, the ever-reliable Fred Clark keeps things interesting for the first two-thirds portraying a crass P. T. Barnum type who wants to exhibit The Mummy in carnies all across the USA, but the rest of the cast is dull, dull, dull (our leading lady, the french accented Jeanne Roland, merited an "Introducing" credit up top, but I checked her imdb--it was all downhill after wards, not surprisingly). And why oh why don't people ever simply RUN from the slow-footed Mummy? I really need to see me some Christopher Lee...
"The Robot Versus The Aztec Mummy" (!957) My intro into redubbed Mexican horror movies, apparently the third in a series concerning our Mummy friend (but worry not--extensive flashbacks will get you up to speed. Assuming ANY of it makes sense, which is a big, big assumption...). Wacky in a "so bad it's good" way, I found that the middle portion dragged as it focused on the nondescript heroes. But when the corpulent villain, The Bat, and his scarred henchman, Bruno, set the cheesy robot up against the walking Mexican corpse in an extended finale, well, now THAT'S entertainment!! Aye carumba!!
"Dirigible" (1931) The third and final pairing of director Frank Capra with stars Jack Holt and Ralph Graves (following 1929's "Flight" and 1928's silent "Submarine", which I've yet to see) highlights the short-lived golden age of airships (five years before the Hindenburg disaster ended it for good) as the basis for it's story, and it's utterly fascinating to see such rarely heralded bygone technology so lovingly celebrated, even to someone like me, who had little interest in the subject before sitting down to watch. The scene where a hurricane lays waste to the airship is worth the price of admission alone. But then there's the whole bit about getting to the South Pole--Graves, playing a showboating pilot named "Frisky" Pierce, manages the feat, but then decides to attempt an ill-advised landing, and pal Holt has to hop in his airship and rescue his old buddy. Fay Wray--who's absolutely gorgeous--plays Frisky's neglected wife and Holt's unrequited love in the romantic subplot. Despite several occasions when--both in the air and in his apartment--I wanted to reach through the screen and slap Frisky--and slap him HARD-- this is a highly entertaining little flick about a fairly obscure subject.
"The Red Lily" (1924) A young couple (Ramon Novarro and Enid Bennett) flee their small town to marry in Paris but are separated by cruel fate (and a cruel scriptwriter) in this lushly filmed but overwrought silent melodrama. The pair search for one another for literally two years, unknowingly sharing different sides of the screen on several occasions! When they finally do reunite, he's become a small time thief (under the tutelage of Wallace Beery, playing a character named "Bo Bo" and given to wearing--no lie--berets, ascots, and striped shirts) and she a, ahem, working girl (briefly employed by a madame with--no lie--the most obvious unintentional moustache I've ever seen on a woman!). So of course, her no longer being the angel of his cherished memory, he socks her one in the jaw! Nice. Like HE'S any bargain. At the end, she throws herself in front of police gunfire to assure his escape, but he comes out of hiding to visit his dying love in the hospital--and then a title card comes up that says"two years later"! She's seamstress, he's freshly out of jail, and in a scene that mirrors the opening scene, they ride off into happily ever after land--HUH? Sometimes the best thing about these old flicks are the newly minted musical scores attached to 'em, and Scott Salinas' music adds a lot to the proceedings. Not the worst silent melodrama that I've ever seen, but hardly the best either.
"The Bitter Tea of General Yen" (1933) Missionary Barbara Stanwyck lands in war-torn China and discovers she has a yen for a cruel--but cultured--Chinese warlord (played by Danish actor Nils Asther) in this atypical (and for it's time, highly controversial) Frank Capra film. Solid performances all around, this serious--yet never dull--movie is about as far away from the standard expectations a viewer brings to a Capra production as you can get. Watch for Stanwyck's erotic nightmare featuring the General as both a menacing vampire and a heroic rescuer. First movie to ever play NYC's famous Radio City Music Hall--and first to bomb there as well, apparently...
"One Million BC" (1940) Luckily, I've never been much of a dinosaur guy, so I wasn't offended by the live lizards with fins glued to their backs serving as stand-ins (though the man in the T Rex outfit shot mostly through obscuring trees WAS laughable, and putting a toupee on an elephant does not a woolly mammoth make)--I was here for the people (aside from the lame present day opening sequence with Conrad Nagel, that is...)!! I loved how the beautiful--and scantily clad-- Carole Landis (she of the mellow shell people) taught proper table manners to Victor Mature's more rough and ready rock people! Nice turn by Lon Chaney Jr as the bullying chief who (literally) suffers a big come-down. The biggest box office hit of any flick released in 1940--whoda thunk it?
"Flight" (1929) Frank Capra directs the duo of Jack Holt (father of Tim) and Ralph Graves as marine air pilots--mentor and student, respectively--in this early talkie bromance. Oh, nurse Lila Lee is there to make it all kosher, but you'll gasp at the scene where the two engage in some spirited horseplay, and Graves has to quickly pull his toupee back into place!! By the standards of 1929, very adeptly done, with lots of non-faked flying footage.
"The Younger Generation" (1929) Frank Capra's last silent film--AND first talkie!! This oddity--about a Jewish family from the lower east side that's dragged into Manhattan society by the machinations of son Ricardo Cortez despite dad Jean Hersholt's affinity for his old life--starts out quietly, with the first of four short dialog scenes kicking off about twenty minutes in, comprising about a quarter of the flick's running time. An engaging, if predictable--and downbeat--story. Last shot glumly effective.
"The Creature From The Haunted Sea" (1961) I tuned into this expecting a standard cheapie horror flick, but was delighted instead to witness a cheap but demented Roger Corman satire! Stupidest looking monster ever! Animal imitations comprise 90% of another character's dialog! And dryly inane voice-over narration by actor (and future celebrated script-writer Robert Towne)--what's NOT to love?...
"Man In The Attic" (1953) A virtual remake (by the same screenwriter) of 1941's "The Lodger", but where that Jack The Ripper Coulda Been was (brilliantly) played by the hulking Laird Cregar, this time around the more attractive Jack Palance gets the role--AND a kiss or two from the scenario's resident actress! Plus, the back story changes from Mr. Slade (that's the name he's using) hating actresses cuz one drove his beloved brother to suicide to one driving his dad to slowly kill himself with booze--and that actress was none other than MOM!! Who ALSO turns out to be Jack's first victim. Nice plot tweaking there. Oh, and the older couple who take in the lodger (who lives in the attic)? Andy Taylor's Aunt Bea herself, Frances Bavier! Her hubby is played by Rhys Williams, aka Macy Taylor aka the ghost in the window who scared the crap outta Jimmy Olsen on the old Superman show's "Evil Three" episode. Not better than the 1941 version, but Palance does a decent job bringing a brooding vulnerability to the role--and it's fun to seeing Jack stare down Aunt Bea when he catches the old biddy snooping in his room!!
"The Lady From Shanghai" (1947) My reaction to a first time viewing? WOW!! Even studio tampered with, WOW! Liked: Orson Welles Irish brogue. Loved: Stunning visual climax in Hall of Mirrors. ADORED: Glenn Anders creepily demented portrayal of giggling, nuclear Armageddon fearing, psycho lawyer George Grisby--now THERE'S a memorable character!!
"Hot Water" (1929) Harold Lloyd
"Notorious"(1946) Hitchcock Cary Grant Ingrid Bergman Claude Raines 2
"Star Trek" (2009)
"The President's Analyst" (1967) *
"Golddiggers Of 1933" (1933) Busby Berkley
"The Milky Way" (1936) Harold Lloyd
"What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?" (1966)*
"The Sin Of Harold Diddlebock" (1947) Haold Lloyd
"Not So Dumb" (1930) Marion Davies
"Manhattan Melodrama" (1934)* Clark Gable
"Green Mansions" (1957)*
"Get Yourself A College Girl" (1964) Dave Clark 5
"Marianne" (1929) Marion Davies
"Show People" (1928) Marion Davies silent
"It's A Bikini World" (1965)
"The Patsy" (1928) Marion Davies silent
"For Those Who Think Young" (1964)
"Crime of Passion" (1957) Barbara Stanwyck Raymond Burr Sterling Hayden
"The Lodger" (1944) *
"Footlight Parade" (1934) Busby Berkley James Cagney
"Suddenly" (1954)* Frank Sinatra
"Fashions of 1934" (1934) William Powell Bette Davis
"The Window" (1949) Bobby Driscoll
"Hangover Square" (1945)*
"The 27th Day" (1957) Gene Barry
"Funny People" (2009) Adam Sandler Judd Apatow
"Whistling In The Dark" (1941)* Red Skelton
"Whistling In Dixie" (1942)* Red Skelton
"Whistling In Brooklyn" (1943)* Red Skelton
'Behind The Rising Sun" (1943) J. Carroll Naish anti-Japanese propaganda
"Hitler's Children" (1943) Tim Holt anti-Nazi propaganda
"I Saw What You Did" (1965)* William Castle
"Homicidal" (1961)* Wlliam Castle
"Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian" (2009) Amy Adams
"The Godless Girl" (1929) silent
"The Clown" (1953) Red Skelton
"Edge Of The City" (1957) Sidney Poiter John Cassavettes 2
"The Shadow Of The Thin Man" (1941) William Powell Myrna Loy
"Point Blank" (1967) Lee Marvin Angie Dickenson
"A Patch Of Blue" (1965) Sidney Poiter Shelley Winters
"High School Confidential " (1958) Russ Tamblyn Mamie Van Doren
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1927) silent
"The Trouble With Harry" (1955) Hitchcock Jerry Mathers John Forsythe Shirley Maclaine Edmund Gwenn
"Sergeants 3" (1962) Sinatra, Deano, Sammy, Joey, Peter
"Hold On" (1966)* Herman's Hermits
"Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter" (1968)* Herman's Hermits
"Mata Hari" (1931) Greta Garbo Lionel Barrymore
"A Face In The Crowd" (1957)* Andy Griffith Elia Kazan
"Strange Cargo" (1940) Clark Gable Joan Crawford Peter Lorre
"The Man From Planet X" (1951) Sally Field's mom
"The Outlaws Is Coming" (1965) The 3 Stooges Adam West
"Around The World" (1943) Kay Kyser
"(500) Days Of Summer" (2009) Zooey Deschanel
"Faster Pussycat!! Kill! Kill!" (1966) Russ Meyer
"Mudhoney" (1965) Russ Meyer Jay North's dad
"Hollywood Canteen" (1944) Joan Leslie plus star-studded cameos
"The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956) Hitchcock Jimmy Stewart Doris Day 2
"Vertigo" (1958) Hitchcock Jimmy Stewart Kim Novak 2
Charley Chase shorts
"Up!" (2009)* Ed Asner
"Sherlock Jr." (1924) Buster Keaton silent
"Twilight Of Honor" (1963) Richard Chamberlin Claude Raines Nick Adams Joey Heatherton
"Steamboat Bill, Jr." (1928) Buster Keaton silent
"Hallelujeah I'm A Bum" (1933) Al Jolson
"Black Moon" (1934) Fay Wray
"13 Frightened Girls" (1963) William Castle
"When The Boys Meet The Girls" (1965)
"I Married A Monster From Outer Space" (1958) Tom Tyron 2
"In The Cool Of The Day" (1963) Jane Fonda Angela Lansbury Peter Finch
"Lured" (1947) Lucille Ball Boris Karloff Charles Coburn George Sanders
"The Shaggy Dog" (1959) Fred MacMurray Tommy Kirk
"Where The Boys Are" (1960) Connie Francis George Hamilton Paula Prentiss Jim Hutton
"Baby Mama" (2008) Amy Phoeler Tina Fey
"Bedlam" (1946) Boris Karloff Val Lewton
"The Walking Dead" (1936) Boris Karloff
"20 Million Miles To Earth" (1957) Ray Harryhausen Ymir
"The Devil Doll" (1936) Lionel Barrymore 2
"The Tell-Tale Heart" (1941) short
"Mr. Sardonicus"(1961) William Castle
"Straightjacket" (1964) Joan Crawford Lee Majors William Castle
"The Tingler" (1959) Vincent Price Darryl Hickman William Castle
"13 Ghosts" (1960) William Castle
"The Old Dark House" (1963) Tom Poston Robert Morley William Castle
"Gabriel Over The White House" (1933) Walter Huston produced by William Randolph Hearst
"The Corpse Vanishes" (1941) Bela Lugosi
"The Old Dark House" (1932) Boris Karloff Ernest Theisinger Charles Laughton 2
"Caught Plastered" (1931) Wheeler and Whoolsey
"Peach-A-Reno"(1931) ) Wheeler and Whoolsey
"Nosferatu" (1922) Max Schreck
"Diablotique" (1955) French
"Wild Oranges" (1924) silent
"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"(1969) Jane Fonda Gig Young Red Buttons 2T
"Targets" (1968) Boris Karloff Peter Bogdonavich 2
"Phffft!" (1955) Judy Holliday Jack Lemmon Kim Novak
"The Black Room" (1935) Boris Karloff
"The Ghoul" (1933) Boris Karloff Ernest Theisinger 2
"The Mask of Fu Manchu" (1932) Boris Karloff Myrna Loy
"Behind The Mask" (1932) Boris Karloff
"Diary of a Madman" (1963) Vincent Price
"Murders At The Zoo" (1933) Charlie Ruggles Lionel Atwill Randolph Scott
"The Crash" (1932) subject: TheDepression
"The Paradine Case" (1947) Hitchcock Gregory Peck Charles Laughton Louis Jordan
"Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde" (1941) Spencer Tracy Ingrid Bergman Lana Turner
"The Match King" (1932) subject: TheDepression
"Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" (2009)
"Easy Riders and Raging Bulls" (2003) documentary
"W.C. Fields and Me" (1976) Rod Steiger Valerie Perrine
"Isle of the Dead" (1945) Boris Karloff Val Lewton 2
"The Devil Commands" (1941)Boris Karloff
"Slumdog Millionaire" (2008)
"The Ape" (1940) Boris Karloff
"Before I Hang" (1940) Boris Karloff
"The Man They Could Not Hang" (1939)Boris Karloff
"The Man With Nine Lives" (1940) Boris Karloff
"District 9" (2009)
"Looking Forward" (1933) Lionel Barrymore subject: TheDepression
"Min and Bill" (1930) Marie Dressler Wallace Beery
"The Vagabond Lover" (1929) Rudy ValleeMarie Dressler
"Cat People"(1942) Val Lewton Simone Simone
"Curse Of The Cat People" (1944) Val Lewton Simone Simone
"Val Lewton: Man In The Shadows" (2007) documentary
"Beach Blanket" Bingo" (1965) Frankie&Annette Buster Keaton Don Rickles Paul Lynde
"Felix Saves The Day" (1924) Felix the Cat silent cartoon
"Happy Days" (1929) "Winnie Winkle" silent short
"His Last Game" (1909) silent short
"The Basher" (1919) silent
"Johnny Mercer: The Dreams On You": (2009) documentary
"Always Leave Them Laughing" (1949) Milton Berle Bert Lahr
"Putney Swope" (1969) Robert Downey Sr director
"The Hangover" (2009)
"Greaser's Palace" (1973)Robert Downey Sr director
"The Deliquents" (1957) Robert Altman's big screen directorial debut
"The Young Stranger" (1957) John Frankenheimer big screen directorial debut James Macarthur
"Here Comes The Groom" (1951) Frank Capra Bing Crosby Jane Wyman Alexis Smith
"Faithless" (1933) subject: TheDepression
"One Potato, Two Potato" (1964) Barbara Barrie Bernie Hamilton Richard Mulligan
"American Madness" (1932) Frank Capra Walter Huston Pat O'Brien subject: TheDepression
"Mummy's Boys" (1936) Wheeler&Woolsey 2
"Prosperity" (1932) Tallulah Bankhead Robert Montgomery subject: TheDepression
"The Invention of Lying"(2009) Ricky Gervais Jennifer Garner
"The Girl Said No" (1930) Marie Dressler William Haines
"Politics" (1931) Marie Dressler
"Lady In The Lake" (1947) Dashiel Hammett Robert Montgomery star&direct w/POV camera
"Plymouth Adventure" (1952) Spencer Tracy Van Johnson Gene Tierney Rhys Williams Ken Osmond
"Meet Boston Blackie" (1941) Chester Morris
"The Red Shadow" (1932) stage musical adaptation short
"Girl Happy" (1965) Elvis Shelly Fabares
"The Thin Man"(1934) William Powell Myra Loy
"Jamaica Inn" (1939) Hitchcock Charles Laughton Maureen O'Hara
"Blackmail" (1929) Hitchcock first British talkie
"The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934) Hitchcock first version Peter Lorre English debut
"Titanic" (1943) German version
"Julie and Julia" (2009) Meryl Streep Amy Adams
"A Night To Remember" (1958) British version of Titanic David McCallum
"Battle of The Sexes" (1928) silent DW Griffith Jean Hersholt
"They Came From Beyond Space" (1967)
"From Earth To The Moon" (1958) Joseph Cotton George Sanders
"First Men In The Moon" Lionel Jeffries 2T
"A Trip To The Moon" (1902)
"The Wicker Man" (1973) Christopher Lee Britt Eklund
"Night Of The Demon " (1958) Dana Andrews Jaques Tourner 2
"The 400 Blows" (1959) Francios Truffeaut French
"The Lady From Shanghai" (1947)
"Bumping Into Broadway" (1919) Harold Lloyd silent short
"Number, Please?" (1920) Harold Lloyd silent short
"Platinum Blonde" (1931) Robert Williams Jean Harlow Loretta Young Frank Capra
"The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1941) Walter Huston Edward Arnold Simone Simone
"A Sailor-Made Man" (1921) Harold Lloyd silent feature
"Grandma's Boy" (1922)Harold Lloyd silent feature
"Dr. Jack" (1922) Harold Lloyd silent feature
"Why Worry?" (1923) Harold Lloyd silent feature
"The Hitch-hiker" (1953) William Talman Edmund O' Brien Frank Lovejoy director Ida Lupino
"Alias Boston Blackie" (1942) Chester Morris Larry Parks Christmas setting
"The Christmas Party" (1931) star-studded MGM short re: Jackie Cooper party
"The Bigamist" (1953)Edmund O' Brien Joan Bennett Emund Gwenn director/star Ida Lupino
"DOA" (1950) Edmund O' Brien Neville Brand
"Girl Shy" (1924)Harold Lloyd silent feature
"The Rocker" (2008) Rainn Wilson
"Man In The Attic" (1953) Jack Palance Frances Bavier Rhys Williams "The Lodger" remake
"Capitalism: A Love Story" (2009) Michael Moore