Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY

LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938). Director: George B. Seitz.

"Really, we're getting much too old for that sort of thing, hugging and kissing!" -- Polly

"Christmas -- with Andy Hardy next door!" -- Betsy

When Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford) goes away for the holidays, Andy's (Mickey Rooney) pal Beezy (George P. Breakston) importunes him to date girlfriend Cynthia (Lana Turner) to keep the other guys away from her while he's on vacation. An added complication is Betsy Booth (Judy Garland), who is visiting her grandmother next door and develops a big crush on Andy despite him seeing her as "a child." Betsy, who despairs that she has "no glamour, no glamour at all" sings the cute number "In-Between" and proves that Garland was a great singer even at that tender age; Rooney and Garland both give especially outstanding performances in this and are a simply wonderful team. Meanwhile Polly comes back unexpectedly and is jealous of Cynthia, whom she calls "That awful red-headed creature!" In other developments the Hardy grandmother has a stroke and Mrs. Hardy (Fay Holden) has to go off to take care of her while cook Augusta (Marie Blake) complains about Marion's "mud" or coffee. Marion (Cecelia Parker), as flighty and immature as ever, finally breaks up with a still-unseen Wayne and Betty Ross Clarke again temporarily replaces Sara Haden as Aunt Millie as she did in Judge Hardy's Children. Communicating with Mrs. Hardy over ham radio, Judge Hardy acts as if he'd discovered the iphone. There is an excellent scene when the Judge (Lewis Stone) and Andy talk about the possibility of the much older man dying. Turner is a lot of fun as Cynthia, although she does seem to be out of Rooney's league. Don Castle [Roses are Red] plays a handsome bandleader who turns out to be Polly's cousin. Followed by Out West with the Hardys

Verdict: A nice combination of good humor and honest sentiment. ***.

AN AMERICAN DREAM aka SEE YOU IN HELL DARLING

AN AMERICAN DREAM (aka See You In Hell Darling/1966). Director: Robert Gist.

When TV host Stephen Rojack (Stuart Whitman) pays a call on estranged wife, Deborah (Eleanor Parker), the vicious, drunken woman winds up falling off her balcony to her death. Rojack, grilled by police, does the sensible thing after his wife has just died and shacks up with old gal pal, Cherry (Janet Leigh). Rojack's father-in-law (Lloyd Nolan) contemplates pushing Stephen off of a balcony, and detectives Barry Sullivan and J. D. Cannon act like they'd like to tear his throat out. And we mustn't forget the whole host of mafia boys headed by Eddie Ganucci (Joe De Santis) and Johnny Dell (Warren Stevens) who have their own beef with Rojack. Whitman isn't bad, Parker [Lizzie] is vivid, Leigh plays it all in the key of bitter, Nolan is, frankly, terrible, Cannon over-acts in stock TV fashion, and Sullivan [Suspense] isn't much better. There are some interesting elements to An American Dream -- which is very loosely based on a novel by Norman Mailer -- but the movie is pretty much a melodramatic and at times even laughable mess. Acrophobes in the audience may have a few tense moments. Richard Derr has a bit as a producer while Murray Hamilton has a little more to do as an associate of Stephen's. Harold Gould and George Takei also have bits as lawyers. Whitman and Leigh appeared together in the monster bunny movie Night of the Lepus, which was actually a lot more entertaining than this.

Verdict: Everyone seems to be yelling -- or simmering -- to little effect. **.

THE GEORGE RAFT STORY

THE GEORGE RAFT STORY (1961). Director: Joseph M. Newman.

Dancer George Raft (Ray Danton) meets gals, entertainers and hoodlums in New York City nightclubs. Then it is suggested that he take off for Los Angeles and try his luck in the movies. He treats women like dirt, punches out people at the slightest provocation, gets a swell head, becomes a has-been, appears in Some Like It Hot as a kind of comeback, and in general acts like a major asshole. Oddly Raft -- who could have sued for defamation of character -- was still alive in 1961, so one supposes he actually liked that image as well as the fact that "Bugsy" or Benny Siegel (Brad Dexter of 99 River Street) was one of his best friends. Danton is an odd choice to play Raft, especially as he's much better looking and arguably much more talented than the real George Raft, who seemed to be a passable dancer and little else. Danton does an okay job of faking the fancy footwork with lots of coaching, but there's no genius there a la Fred Astaire. Jayne Mansfield, of all people, gives a more than credible performance as a fictional character who may or may not be Raft's bosomy wife. Neville Brand [Eaten Alive] is memorable as Al Capone, and Robert H. Harris makes a sympathetic if  exasperated producer, and there are other bits and supporting performances from Julie London as a singer; Margo Moore as a hat check girl; Barrie Chase as the actress, June; Barbara Nichols as a dubbed Texas Guinan; Frank Gorshin as a Raft associate; and Hershel Bernardi as Raft's much-maligned manager. The movie comes to a dead halt during a lengthy performance of a deadly song-and-comedy team. The cliches in the film -- and there are many -- include Raft earnestly complaining that he "can't say these lines!" (-- maybe because he can't act!) No matter what poor Danton played, he always came off as a low-life; he was equally sleazy in Too Much, Too Soon and other films.

Verdict: Poor biopic of someone hardly worth mentioning. **.

CHASE A CROOKED SHADOW

CHASE A CROOKED SHADOW (1958). Director: Michael Anderson.

On an estate near Barcelona, Kim Prescott (Anne Baxter) is mourning the death of her father. Then a stranger named Ward Prescott (Richard Todd) shows up claiming to be Kim's brother. But Kim insists to police commissar Vargas (Herbert Lom) that her brother was killed in an auto accident the year before. "Ward" then invites a woman, Elaine Whitman (Faith Brook), to move in with them. Kim does everything she can to expose the man she insists is an impostor, but no matter what she tries it seems that the strange man is really Ward Prescott. Even her uncle Chandler (Alexander Knox) thinks Ward is the real deal, and there's some skulduggery involving missing diamonds. Then Kim begins to fear for her life ... Chase a Crooked Shadow is an intriguing suspense film with Baxter [Carnival Story] chewing the scenery in superior fashion -- she actually gives an outstanding performance wherein her intensity and overwrought quality makes perfect sense. Todd [Stage Fright], Lom [Mark of the Devil] , and the others are pretty much along for the ride. The ending is satisfying if implausible, as -- without giving too much away -- we have a case of entrapment, coerced confessions, and the police acting in such a way that would probably never hold up in court. Chase a Crooked Shadow might have been even more interesting if we could have witnessed the legal shenanigans that would have resulted after the end of the story proper. Producer Douglas Fairbanks Jr. shows up at the finale to admonish the audience not to give away the denouement.

Verdict: Anne steals the show! ***.

BRAINSTORM (1965)

Jeffrey Hunter
BRAINSTORM (1965). Director: William Conrad.

Jim Grayam (Jeffrey Hunter) discovers a passed out blond named Lorrie (Anne Francis) in a car on the railroad tracks. Saving the woman, he takes her home to her wealthy husband, Cort Benson (Dana Andrews), where it becomes obvious that this is a marriage from Hell. Jim and Lorrie began an affair (incredibly, they seem to think they're being discreet), and Jim is subjected to a campaign of harassment. Then Jim decides that the only way for the couple of be free -- and be free to take care of Lorrie's small daughter -- is to plot a murder ... Brainstorm features a very good performance from the "impossibly" good-looking Hunter [Belles on Their Toes] and isn't badly directed by portly actor William Conrad [Cry Danger]. Francis is more than okay, but Andrews is atypically listless as Benson. Viveca Lindfors, with her Cheshire cat grin, is very effective as a psychiatrist who has to determine Jim's sanity. Mann Rubin's screenplay -- he also wrote An American Dream --  becomes increasingly implausible as it progresses, however. Strother Martin, Kathie Browne, and ham-handed Richard Kiel have smaller roles, and the last two are certainly vivid. Conrad is seen in the background of a hospital as an asylum inmate. Francis and Hunter appeared together as a romantic couple in Dreamboat 13 years earlier.

Verdict: Quite effective lead performance in half-baked melodrama. **1/2.

BOMBA ON PANTHER ISLAND

BOMBA ON PANTHER ISLAND (1949). Writer/director: Ford Beebe.

Rob Maitland (Harry Lewis) has traveled to Africa with his sister Judy (Allene Roberts) and is consulting with Commander Andy Barnes (Charles Irwin). While a dangerous panther is stalking and killing natives, Rob gets the idea of starting a fire to clear the brush on an island so he can have a base for agricultural research. Two attractive young women compete for the attentions of Bomba (Johnny Sheffield) as a fire rages out of control during a wild storm, and the panther makes its move. Bomba on Panther Island is an improvement on Bomba the Jungle Boy, with a more interesting story and some exciting developments. Bomba may have been called the Jungle Boy, but at 18 Sheffield (and his alter ago) was a man, something that is definitely noticed not just by Judy but by the sensual and beautiful native girl, Losana (Lita Baron), who is seen as a mysterious creature by the other natives. Baron [Jungle Jim] isn't bad, but Roberts isn't much of an actress. Irwin and Lewis are also professional. In this entry Sheffield is adept and quite charming as Bomba.

Verdict: Bomba better watch out for those "predatory females." **1/2.

OCEAN'S THIRTEEN

OCEAN'S THIRTEEN (2007). Director: Steven Soderbergh.

When Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) winds up in the hospital because he gets screwed over by hotel man Willy Bank (Al Pacino), his friends gather together to enact one more con. The idea is to deprive Bank of a coveted award by giving the reviewer (David Paymer) a miserable vacation -- and ruining Bank's opening night -- while rival hotelier Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) agrees to help with their plan if they steal some of Bank's coveted diamonds for them. Ocean's Thirteen is leisurely but entertaining, with the best acting from Paymer, Garcia [Twisted], Gould, Pacino and Carl Reiner, not to mention Don Cheadle and especially Ellen Barkin [Adventures of Buckeroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension] in an excellent turn as Bank's security gal, Abigail. George Clooney and Brad Pitt sort of saunter dully through this affair without raising a sweat, while Matt Damon is somewhat more interesting. Soderbergh also directed Behind the Candelabra and the inferior Ocean's Twelve.

Verdict: Amiable nonsense. ***.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

PAINTING THE CLOUDS WITH SUNSHINE

PAINTING THE CLOUDS WITH SUNSHINE (1951). Director: David Butler.

"Money has always been very mysterious, and on the first of the month, very elusive."

A sister act that is actually comprised of three unrelated ladies is the cornerstone of this kitschy musical comedy. Abby (Lucille Norman) is in love with Vince (Dennis Morgan), but can't put up with his gambling, while Ted (Gene Nelson of So This is Paris) is carrying a torch for Abby, while June (Virginia Gibson) in turn is pining away for Ted. Meanwhile the more practical Carol (Virginia Mayo of Smart Girls Don't Talk) decides the gals should move to Les Vegas and each find themselves a millionaire. By the time "Cuddles" Sakall shows up as the ever-lovable and often cloying honorary uncle, who runs a casino-hotel, you know the movie will be a positive mass of cliches. The cast is at least enthusiastic, there's brilliant Technicolor, and several nice song numbers, such as "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" (years before Tiny Tim made it popular again), "With a Song In My Heart," and "Jealousy." Unfortunately there are also some tunes which I believe were written just for the movie -- "A Necessary Evil" and "Mambo Man" -- which are truly wretched, although Gene Nelson does some excellent dancing for this and other numbers. Tom Conway [The Atomic Submarine] gives a fine comic performance as a banker who at first disapproves of his cousin, Ted's, upcoming nuptials. Wallace Ford is strictly irritating as a grubby business associate of Sakall's. Lucille Norman was a professional singer with a gorgeous semi-operatic voice; she made few appearances in films. Virginia Gibson had a longer list of film and TV credits. The big finish takes place at the "Helldorado" festival -- you can miss it.

Verdict: Amiable enough if rather treacly. **1/2.

THE LOCAL STIGMATIC

Al Pacino and Paul Guilfoyle
THE LOCAL STIGMATIC  (1990). Director: David F. Wheeler.

Cockney roommates Graham (Al Pacino) and Ray (Paul Guilfoyle) are two borderline sociopaths obsessed with dog races and celebrities. One afternoon the two men go to a pub and encounter actor David (Joseph Maher), whom they are jealous of and whom they brutalize. There isn't much else to The Local Stigmatic, which is based on a short play by Heathcote Williams in which Al Pacino appeared in the sixties. While the characters are unmemorable and one-dimensional, the acting can't be faulted, with both gentlemen giving very good performances; Pacino is especially good as a coolly sinister borderline sociopath, even if his accent was criticized. The Local Sigmatic, less than an hour long, was never officially released but was seen in private screenings before being issued on DVD. Guilfoyle (not to be confused with the unrelated older character actor and director of such films as A Life at Stake) has also been a very, very busy actor throughout his career.

Verdict: A mesmerizing Pacino if nothing else. **1/2.


CITY IN DARKNESS

Leo G. Carroll and Lynn Bari
CITY IN DARKNESS  (1939). Director: Herbert I. Leeds.

Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) is in Paris where assorted characters are converging in a blacked-out city on the verge of war. Marie Dubon (Lynn Bari of Shock) is hoping to buy a forged passport from Louis Santelle (Leo G. Carroll) so that her husband, Tony (Richard Clarke), accused of embezzlement, can escape the city. Antoine (Pedro de Cordoba) sends his young son, Henri, off to war only to learn that his employer, Petroff (Douglass Dumbrille) may be up to treasonous activities. Lady spy Charlotte Ronnell (Dorothy Tree) is mighty handy with a gun, but she may not be the murderer Chan is looking for. This is an atypical Chan film in that there are no proverbs, few if any suspects, no sleuthing sons of Chan, and little suspense or excitement -- in other words it's a pretty dismal concoction. The performances are okay, with Dumbrille [A Life at Stake] taking top honors, but Harold Huber over-acts too much as a would-be French detective. Adrienne D'Ambricourt is more on the mark as a large and boisterous landlady. Lon Chaney Jr. has a bit part and just a couple of lines. Leeds also directed Bunco Squad.

Verdict: This one should have stayed dark. *1/2.

BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY

BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY (1949). Director: Ford Beebe.

"Filmed in glorious sepia tone," Bomba the Jungle Boy is the first in a series based on the children's books by Roy Rockwood. Photographer George Harland (Onslow Stevens of The Vanishing Shadow), his daughter, Pat (Peggy Ann Garner of Black Widow), and their friend, Andy (Charles Irwin) try to find more interesting wildlife and scenic views across a certain "Big Rift," but Pat gets lost. Bomba (Johnny Sheffield), who was raised by an old recluse who died, isn't too crazy about Pat at first, but then warms up to her, helping her build a refuge. When Pat asks Bomba for a leopard skin, he tries to take his off right in front of her; later she shows up in a remarkably professional leopard dress that seems fitted, patterned and sewn by experts. There is a plague of locusts, some hungry lions, a monkey named Otto, and more stock footage than you can shake a stick at. This is an ultra-cheap Monogram production that even serial thrill-king Ford Beebe can't do much with. The best performance is from Smoki Whitfield as the personable and bright native guide, Eli. Sheffield, of course, played "Boy" in the Tarzan films.

Verdict: Definitely room for improvement with this series. **.

YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE

Mickey Rooney and Lewis Stone
YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE (1937). Director: George B. Seitz.

This is the second film in the Andy Hardy series after A Family Affair and the first to star Lewis Stone and Fay Holden as Judge Hardy and his wife. The judge and family go on vacation to Catalina island, primarily because the judge wants to take in some fishing. Although Marion is apparently still in love with the unseen Wayne, she becomes smitten with a handsome lifeguard named Bill (Ted Pearson). Andy is also smitten with a sixteen-year-old named Geraldine (Eleanor Lynn), whom the judge thinks is much too fast for her. Judge Hardy acts as if her son is going to get married to the girl when it's only a summer romance, and Marion (Cecelia Parker) remains completely flighty in this and later pictures; fiance Wayne is simply forgotten. Meanwhile poor Aunt Millie (Sara Haden) is an old biddie if ever there were one, and the family nearly loses their house at one point. Mickey Rooney, terrific as always, was seventeen playing at fifteen, while Eleanor Lynn, playing sixteen, was an old lady of twenty-one looking five years older. You're Only Young Once has some sentiment and humor, but it's pretty much by the numbers, retreading the first picture with much less aplomb. Ann Rutherford is a lot of fun as Polly, however. Followed by Judge Hardy and Son, which was a decided improvement.

Verdict: This installment is a bit hokey and sanctimonious. **1/2.

THE AVENGERS Season 4

Emma Peel as queen of the Hellfire Club
THE AVENGERS (season four/1966).

The Avengers began life in 1961 as a man named John Steed (Patrick Macnee, who lasted through all seven seasons) helps "avenge" the murder of Dr. David Keel's (Ian Hendry) wife; the two men then went on to have several more adventures. Keel was replaced by Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) for seasons 2 and 3, the episodes for which appeared to be on tape and rather low-tech in nature. With the 4th season, The Avengers was on film, became a very slick show, and best of all starred Diana Rigg [No Turn Unstoned] as the jumpsuit and leather-clad Mrs. Peel, who retained her femininity while apparently excelling in every form of combat known to man -- or, rather, woman. This was the first season in which the British series was shown in the U.S. on the high-rated ABC network. The show tried to maintain a balance between quirky, tongue-in-cheek humor and stories that had genuine suspense and excitement. Often the show would go over the line and descend into camp ["The Girl from Auntie" being a prime example, and as bad as the lowest camp episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.). On the other hand, many of the episodes were quite smart and entertaining: "Death at Bargain Prices" features a bomb inside a department store; athletes are hypnotized into committing crimes in "The Master Minds;" a murder-for-hire outfit masquerades as a dating service in "The Murder Market" (with Patrick Cargill of Inspector Clouseau and Suzanne Lloyd);"A Touch of Brimstone" features Emma caparisoned as a black queen in the Hellfire Club; and a bunch of pseudo-feminist slayers take orders from a marionette in "How to Succeed ... at Murder." We mustn't forget the "Man-eater of Surrey Green" with its monster plant. Other memorable episodes include "The Gravediggers"  with Paul Massie; "The Cybernauts" with Michael Gough; "The Hour that Never Was;" "Two's a Crowd;" "The House that Jack Built" with its weird, twisting domicile; "The Danger Makers;" and "A Sense of History." The show was generally very well directed and edited with many exciting fight scenes, and Mrs. Peel took on female opponents more than once, especially in "Murder Market" (two gals go after Emma at the same time) and "How to Succeed at ... Murder."

Verdict: Peel and Steed make a lively and sophisticated duo. ***.

GIGLI

Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck
GIGLI (2003). Writer/director: Martin Brest.

A "cute" (that is "nice") hit man named Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck of Hollywoodland), and a pretty -- and nice -- hit woman named Ricki (Jennifer Lopez of Monster-in-Law) team up to kidnap and possibly murder a mentally-disabled youth named Brian (Justin Bartha). And this is an (alleged) comedy? Perhaps in a very wild farce with extremely gifted farceurs this may have worked, but Gigli deserves its reputation as one of the worst movies ever made -- what on earth was Brest thinking (no wonder he hasn't worked since)? Let me make it clear that Gigli wasn't just excoriated because of over-exposure to "Bennifer" -- Lopez and Affleck were lovers at the time -- but because it was a tedious and dreadful picture. To make matters worse -- if that's possible -- there is even some homophobic nonsense with Ricki, a committed lesbian, having sex with Larry simply because the real-life couple had to sleep together in the movie! Al Pacino [88 Minutes] is the best thing in the picture as a maniacal mob boss, but there isn't enough of him to save the movie.

Verdict: If only this had been about Beniamino Gigli, the opera singer. This is beyond abysmal. 1/2 star for Pacino.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

THE GROOM WORE SPURS

Joan Davis and Ginger Rogers
THE GROOM WORE SPURS (1951). Director: Richard Whorf.

Cowboy star Ben Castle (Jack Carson) owes 60,000 dollars to a gambler named Harry (Stanley Ridges of Black Friday), so attorney Abigail (Ginger Rogers) tries his best to make a settlement. Ben winds up getting married to Abigail, but he fears it's all just part of the deal. Later there's a murder and an unfunny business with a plane going out of control on the runway. In the meantime, most of the minimal laughs have to do with Alice (Joan Davis), who wears a short chic hairstyle and thinks Abby is a little nuts. Carson and Rogers are adept, Davis is as lively as ever, but the script is pretty bad. James Brown is a pilot named Steve who would probably make a better match than lunkhead Carson, and Ross Hunter [All I Desire] is Austin Tindale, a banker who seems to have a hankering for Alice. Mira McKinney [Young Fugitives] is fun as a termagant cook, as is Victor Sen Young as Carson's butler, although he's unfortunately asked to speak fractured Chinese.

Verdict: Davis deserves much better, which is usually the case. **.

DIARY OF A MADMAN

Vincent Price
DIARY OF A MADMAN  (1963). Director: Reginald Le Borg.

"I don't know if I'm innocent of guilt or guilty of innocence." -- Odette

Magistrate Simon Cordier (Vincent Price) speaks to a condemned murderer, Louis Girot (Harvey Stephens), in his cell, wherein Girot says he only killed people because he was possessed by a spirit called a Horla. Cordier learns to his dismay that Girot was telling the truth, when said Horla reveals its presence and its terrible intentions. Cordier, who mourns his wife and child, falls for a very pretty model named Odette (Nancy Kovack), who already has a husband in poor painter Paul (Chris Warfield). A sculpted bust that Cordier makes of Odette is later used for a very grisly purpose. Loosely based on stories by Guy de Maupassant, Diary of a Madman has an excellent story and features a wonderful performance by Nancy Kovack -- its main problem is Vincent Price, who offers his customary charm but otherwise walks through the movie and its horrific events as if all he were thinking of was using his paycheck to acquire more artwork, which was probably the case. Cordier is a terrific role for any actor, but almost always Price just goes through the motions, maintaining that certain image that, unfortunately, often undermined his thesping. Most of the other actors, however, including Ian Wolfe [Games] as Simon's butler, are more on the mark. Price does not ruin the film's entertainment value, but he was more than capable of being so much better if director Le Borg had insisted upon it.

Verdict: Creditable horror flick. ***.

I, THE JURY

Peggie Castle and Biff Elliott
I, THE JURY (1953). Writer/director: Harry Essex.

"No one should belong to someone so completely that it blocks out the rest of the world, because if something should happen, you're lost." -- Dr. Charlotte Manning.

"From now on no one cuts me so deep I can't close the wounds." --Myrna Devlin

"You're not gettin' the heebie jeebies, are ya, baby?" -- Mike Hammer

Mike Hammer (Biff Elliot) is so outraged that someone murdered a friend, Jack, who saved his life during the war, that he vows to take care of the guilty party himself, being judge, jury and executioner. His friend, Captain Pat Chambers (Preston Foster) hopes to find the killer first. There are numerous suspects: art dealer George Kalecki (Alan Reed), who may be up to shady business; alleged college student Hal Kines (Bob Cunningham), who may be Kalecki's "playmate," among other things; the flirtatious Bellamy twins, Esther and Mary (Tani Guthire and Dran Hamilton); and a host of toughs and other nasty characters. Jack's girlfriend Myrna (Frances Osborne) has been seeing the sophisticated and wealthy shrink Dr. Charlotte Manning (Peggie Castle), with whom Mike becomes involved during the investigation. Then there are more murders, and Mike becomes more frustrated and violent. Who the hell is shooting all of these people, and why? I, the Jury, based on Mickey Spillane's first Mike Hammer novel, is an absorbing and well-acted thriller, with Biff Elliot, the first and arguably best Mike Hammer, playing the pants off of the role; he's just perfect as Hammer, with his good looks, sensitivity and sex appeal playing well off his brusque, rude and two-fisted manner. Castle [Beginning of the End] gives one of her more memorable performances, and there is fine work from the others mentioned, as well as from Mary Anderson [Chicago Calling] as Eileen Vickers. Margaret Sheridan [The Thing from Another World] makes a more than creditable Velma, Hammer's helpful secretary. Franz Waxman contributed an interesting jazz score. The story is the usual twisting Spillane concoction, watered down from the novel, and with the usual soupcon of misogyny underlining the whole story. When Kalecki breaks down into tears when he hears news of Hal's death, it seems clear the film is hinting that he was in love with him, but otherwise this is not explored. Some good dialogue sprinkled throughout. Elisha Cook Jr. and Nestor Paiva have smaller roles. This was remade with Armand Assante as Hammer about thirty years later.

Verdict: Highly interesting Mike Hammer picture. ***.

THE FLIGHT THAT DISAPPEARED

Paula Raymond and Craig Hill
THE FLIGHT THAT DISAPPEARED (1961). Director: Reginald Le Borg.

Flight 60 takes off from LA and is heading for Washington D.C. with several special passengers aboard. Carl Morris (Dayton Lummis of The Music Box Kid) is a physicist who has come up with an idea for a devastating Beta bomb. Marcia Paxton (Paula Raymond of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms) is a mathematician and Morris' assistant. Tom Endicott (Crag Hill of Deadly Duo) is a rocket engineer who feels an attraction to Marcia. Inexplicably the flight keeps rising higher and higher into the air despite the best efforts of the crew. Then the engines stop running and the three aforementioned find themselves in a weird, fantastic nightmare -- or the Twilight Zone, if you prefer. The Flight that Disappeared is like a long, third-rate TZ episode complete with heavy-handed message. The first half is intriguing and well done and holds the attention, but then it collapses into illogical, incoherent stupidity below comic book level. The acting is generally professional, with Lummis taking top honors. Harvey Stephens [The Cheat] and Meg Wyllie are vivid as an hysterical, mentally-disturbed passenger and his blind wife. Another messterpiece from the fine folks at Bel-Air.

Verdict: A Rod Serling reject. **.

HARPER VALLEY P.T.A.

The "Harper Valley hypocrites" on the PTA board
HARPER VALLEY P.T.A. (1978). Director: Richard Bennett.

Based on Jeannie C. Riley's amusing hit record, this details the struggles of widowed mother Stella Johnson (Barbara Eden of A Private's Affair) against the hypocrites of the Harper Valley PTA. As in the song, Stella - who's been called an unfit mother -- attends a meeting, calls out all the board members, exposes their sins and hypocrisy -- and that should have been enough. Instead Stella, who doesn't seem to be playing with a full deck, spends time, money and energy getting further revenge on everyone on the council, even importuning her friend Alice (Nanette Fabray), who owns a beauty parlor, to put acid in the hair of council president Flora Simpson Reilly (Audrey Christie). Of course Ms. Reilly's hair falls off in clumps until she's practically bald, at one of her chi chi parties. Sure, the woman was a snob, but talk about overkill! Since we never see the repercussions of these revenge schemes, one imagines that Alice was arrested for assault and received the papers for a million dollar civil suit off-screen [not to mention that hardly anyone would go to her beauty parlor after they heard what happened to Reilly!] True, movies like this are not supposed to be looked at too closely, but via her actions Stella seems to prove that she really isn't a fit mother! There's an amusing bit of business with Stella locking one board member out of a hotel room stark naked -- he finds a clever way to drape his body --  and the scene involving horse manure doesn't, er, stink, but most of the movie is simply strained and unfunny. Not one of the many actors in this betrays any great comedic skill aside from John Fiedler, who is very amusing as an aging and unlikely Casanova. This was a hit, and led into a pretty bad TV series of the same name. Audrey Christie made a better impression years before as the reporter Jane in Keeper of the Flame, her first film.

Verdict: At least it's a great song. **.

THE RECKLESS WAY aka THE LURE OF HOLLYWOOD

Marian Nixon and Malcolm McGregor
THE RECKLESS WAY (aka The Lure of Hollywood/1936). Director: Raymond Johnson (Bernard B. Ray).

Helen Rogers (Marian Nixon) is a hotel stenographer who gets a lucky break and becomes the "Million Dollar Legs" gal for a ad campaign for a stockings firm. Due to a misunderstanding, she is named co-respondent in a divorce suit filed by an old battle axe named Mrs. Stoner (Gloria Gordon). Determined not to wind up struggling with bills like her relatives, Helen decides to take advantage of the notoriety and gets herself a movie contract, although this has Don Reynolds (Malcolm McGregor of Lady of the Night), who hired her for the stocking campaign, plotting behind the scenes to ruin her career even as he's proposing marriage. And where does this leave handsome Jim Morgan (Kane Richmond of Tough to Handle), the hotel clerk who's crazy about Marian ... Other characters include Helen's wise-cracking friend, Laura (Inez Courtney), director Von Berg (John Peters), Carl Blatz (William H. Strauss), who runs Apex Studios, and British screenwriter Arthur Delaney Morgan (uncredited), whom Blatz calls in to fashion a new story that Helen can actually act. The Reckless Way is by-the-numbers film-making with a plot that was creaky even in 1936. The actors are all adequate, but you couldn't see any of them becoming major stars, and none of them did. Nixon nicely warbles the tune "I Spoke Out of Turn."

Verdict: Another old movie resuscitated for the DVD market that should have stayed forgotten. *1/2.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

The apes in a contemplative mood
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014). Director: Matt Reeves.

Two factions are in conflict, with hurt and angry feelings on both sides. Some members of each faction want to go to war and wipe out the enemy, while others want to avoid a devastating war at all costs. Some members can't get past the mistreatment of the past, and are full of hate and bitterness .. and fear. And misunderstandings abound ... That basic situation has been the basis of a great many movies, and it's the basis of this sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A contagion has wiped out many humans, and a pocket of them needs the cooperation of the intelligent, talking apes who were created by a lab experiment, but who mistrust human beings. Can they work together, or will violence break out in spite of the best efforts of ape leader, Caesar (Andy Serkis)? Dawn boasts some excellent FX work (although at times it resembles a video game), and some effective scenic design, but its story is so over-familiar and everything is generally so predictable that all you can do is watch the apes go ape-shit and wait for the whole tedious business to be over. I think undiscriminating teenagers who think there's something profound in the ape-human debate made this a hit. The apes, such as Koba (Toby Kebbell of Wrath of the Titans), are much more interesting than the human characters, and usually out-act them as well. Gary Oldman [Criminal Law] is fine as human leader Dreyfus, but he deserves to be in better movies than this.

Verdict: Enough with the apes! **.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

DARK VICTORY

Bette Davis and George Brent
DARK VICTORY (1939). Director: Edmund Goulding.

"You might fold up and I might fold up, but that horse has the breeding."

An outstanding performance by Bette Davis is the cornerstone of this tearjerker that deals with a dying wealthy woman who falls in love with her doctor. Judith Traherne (Davis) has headaches and vision problems, and is afraid to see anyone about it. Finally her family physician (Henry Travers) arranges for her to be examined by Dr. Fred Steele (George Brent), whose initial diagnosis is glioma [this is not a phony Hollywood word but is actually a general term for any tumor in the brain that arises in the supporting tissue]. Steele performs surgery on Judith, but learns that her illness will reoccur and there is nothing to be done to prevent her eventual death. A happy, unknowing Judith goes on planning her life while her doctors and secretary/best friend Ann (Geraldine Fitzgerald) try to keep the truth from her ... Dark Victory is what's known as a "well-mounted soaper" and it is graced by Davis in one of her best performances, a lovely Fitzgerald, and even Brent delivers with perhaps more sensitivity than usual. Ernest Haller's photography is also excellent. But like most soap operas, Dark Victory is terribly contrived at times, and its look at terminal illness is almost offensively stupid -- like most movies that treated the subject at this time, the sick person looks more beautiful the closer they come to dying, which is completely absurd. (Davis does look beautiful in the movie, however.) One of the stupider moments has Steele, without the slightest prelude, telling a terrified patient, Judith, "We have to operate!" just so the scene can be more dramatic. The whole business of Judith looking and feeling absolutely normal until just before her death is also ludicrous, but it means Davis can wear some striking evening wear throughout the movie. Humphrey Bogart isn't bad as the Traherne's horse trainer, and has one very interesting scene when he comes on to Judith in the stable. Ronald Regan makes virtually no impression as one of Judith's friends, but Dorothy Peterson as the nurse Miss Wainwright, and Virginia Brissac as the maid Martha, are more on the mark. "Give Me Time for Tenderness" is warbled -- and very nicely -- by Vera Van in a nightclub scene (although some sources say it was Mary Currier, who may have acted the part and been dubbed). One must assume Dr. Steele is rich because he seems to spend months doing nothing but attending to Judith (or else he gives her a mighty big bill). Dark Victory is very well directed by Edmund Goulding, who guided Davis to do some of her best work in pictures, The Old Maid being a case in point. Goulding also directed Davis and Brent in The Great Lie. This was remade 26 years later as Stolen Hours aka Summer Flight starring Susan Hayward.

Verdict: Yes, a "well-mounted soaper" with a splendid Davis. ***.

STOLEN HOURS aka SUMMER FLIGHT

Susan Hayward
STOLEN HOURS (aka Summer Flight/1963). Director: Daniel Petrie.

In this remake of Dark Victory, Laura Pember (Susan Hayward) is experiencing headaches and vision problems and is scared to see a doctor. In a wholly contrived scene, her friend, racing car driver Mike (Edward Judd), brings Dr. John Carmody (Michael Craig) to see Laura at a party she's throwing for her younger sister, Ellie (Diane Baker). It isn't long before Laura is being operated on [there's less technical information in this than in the original], thinking she's had a full recovery, and falling in love with her rather dreamy doctor. She doesn't know that her condition will reoccur and she'll be dead in a few months ... As in the original, Laura will experience no symptoms until the very end, and can die looking beautiful. At 46, Hayward is slightly too old to play the very youthful Laura, but her performance is generally very good. Judd [Island of Terror] and Baker are suitable support. Michael Craig [Doctor in Love] is required mostly to be handsome and certainly fills the bill. This version ups the tear factor by having Laura bond with a lonely little boy, Peter (quite well acted by Robert Bacon, who had only this one film credit), whose mother is an alcoholic. Laura takes the mother's place at a parent-child celebration, and holds a party for him and his friends. Although it's absurd that Laura would send away her husband and sister when the "moment" approaches -- does she want to drop dead in front of a bunch of unsupervised children? -- the ending is still quite poignant. Mort Lindsey's score is a help as are the beautiful shots of the Cornish coastline [Harry Waxman]. The most interesting scene has Laura objecting when paramedics want to cover the face of a badly injured man at a race track. "Don't cover his face while he's alive," she says. "Let him see as long as he can see." (Of course, the whole notion of paramedics covering a living person's face, no matter how injured or unconscious, is highly improbable anyway.) Petrie also directed Moon of the Wolf and many other movies.

Verdict: Has its moments, but stick with the original. **1/2.

CAMPUS RHYTHM

Reaction to a kiss: Gale Storm and Johnny Downs
CAMPUS RHYTHM (1943). Director: Arthur Dreifuss.

Joan Abbott (Gale Storm) sings on the radio for her sponsor, Crunchy Wunchy cereal, but she'd really rather go off to college. When her guardian, Uncle Willie (Douglas Leavitt), renews her contract without her knowledge, she takes off for Raleigh College by assuming the name of the sponsor's high-spirited secretary, Suzie Smith (Marie Blake). There she encounters the oh-so-serious editor of the campus paper, "Scoop" Davis (Johnny Downs); the dreamy, likable lover boy, Buzz (Robert Lowery); the weird if lovable Harold (Candy Candido); saucy, singing Babs (GeGe Pearson); and the venomous Cynthia (Claudia Drake of The Face of Marble), who's out to get her because she caught the eye of Buzz. In an attempt to find their wayward songstress, the sponsor holds a contest, and the funniest scene has to do with Uncle Willie traveling to Raleigh to find his niece and winding up in the hands of the law. The cast, led by a sparkling-as-ever Storm, is more than capable, and the film is pleasant. Babs sings "Oh, you character!" while Joan warbles "But Not You" to Buzz. GeGe Pearson has a nice voice and a lot of personality to go with her horse face; Candy Candido is the weirdest of novelty singers (and speakers) as his voice can go from falsetto to bass all within the same sentence. Both of them later did a lot of voice-over work for television and movies. John Duncan plays one of the fraternity boys; six years later he would team with Robert Lowery for the serial Batman and Robin, wherein he played the latter. The strange thing about this movie is that there's no fade out clinch between Storm and Downs, although it's intimated that they've gotten together again, but considering Scoop's behavior it's even more likely that they didn't. Downs [The Mad Monster] also starred in a movie called All-American Co-Ed, which is also known as Campus Rhythm, but it is not the same picture.

Verdict: Easy to take. **1/2.

CHARLIE CHAN IN RENO

Cute couple: [Victor] Sen Yung and Iris Wong
CHARLIE CHAN IN RENO (1939). Director: Norman Foster.

Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) arrives in "the biggest little city in the world" after a hateful woman named Jeanne Bently (Louise Henry) is murdered in a hotel occupied by ladies awaiting their divorces. Sheriff Fletcher (Slim Summerville) is convinced that the culprit is Mary Whitman (Pauline Moore), whose husband, Curtis (Kane Richmond) ,was dumping her for Jeanne; Curtis knows Charlie and importunes him to intervene. Suspects and others involved in the case include Mrs. Russell (Kay Linaker), who owns the hotel; Dr. Ainsley (Ricardo Cortez of The Big Shakedown), who is the hotel's doctor; Wally Burke (Robert Lowery), who was jilted by Jeanne; Chief of Police King (Charles D. Brown); Vivian Wells (Phyllis Brooks), who despised Jeanne; a talkative cab driver (Eddie Collins); and the victim's ex-husband, Bently (Morgan Conway of Dick Tracy), who is hiding out in a ghost town. Meanwhile number two son Jimmy (Victor Yen Sung) is investigating/screwing up with the help of the dead woman's pretty maid Choy (Iris Wong). Toler, Yung and most of the cast are very adept, Summerville is terrific, and the movie is fun, if not necessarily one of the better Chan mysteries. This was followed by the excellent Charlie Chan at Treasure Island.

Verdict: Chan and company always amuse. **1/2.