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

Thursday, March 26, 2015

FEDORA

Fedora (Marthe Keller) accepts her Oscar
FEDORA (1978). Director: Billy Wilder.

"Moral turptitudeYou can have six husbands but you can't have one illegitimate child. Now you can have no husbands and six children and nobody cares."

Years ago Barry Detweiler (William Holden) once had a fling with the famous actress, Fedora (Marthe Keller). Now she's a recluse in Corfu, living on an island with an old countess (Hildegard Knef) and her doctor (Jose Ferrer of The Shrike). Detweiler, who is now a rather desperate producer, tries to use this slender, long-ago connection to the woman to coax her into coming out of retirement, especially as she looks many years younger. But Fedora's associates seem determined to keep her out of the limelight ... Fedora was pilloried by many critics when it came out primarily because it wasn't Wilder's earlier "Hollywood" picture, Sunset Boulevard, which has many similarities to Fedora (Holden stars in both movies and in each gets involved with an aging actress who is no longer in the business.) Taken on its own terms, however, Fedora is a fascinating picture, not quite a Gothic horror story, that examines image vs reality, irresponsible and tragic behavior, and in the end unravels a decidedly bizarre deception. Marthe Keller was criticized for her work in the film, but she actually gives an excellent performance, far outstripping the others, especially Holden, who seems completely listless. Mario Adorf makes an impression as the Corfu hotel manager. Miss Balfour (Frances Sternhagen of Outland), Fedora's companion,  is almost comically evil and the picture is a trifle overlong. Still, it is a worthwhile companion piece to Sunset Boulevard with its twisted and tragic story. Based on the novella from Thomas Tryon's "Crowned Heads."

Verdict: Weird old Hollywood story generally well-told. ***.

THE SPLIT

THE SPLIT (1968). Director: Gordon Flemyng.

McClain (Jim Brown), fresh out of jail, comes to see his attractive lady friend, Ellen (Diahann Carroll). But he's even more interested in another lady named Gladys (Julie Harris) who has the set-up money for another score: McClain and five associates are going to rob a football stadium of its booty. But will any of them get to spend the money when thieves fall out? And who is that weird guy, Herb (James Whitmore) who is coming on to poor Ellen? The Split is a suspenseful and entertaining caper film with an excellent cast and some intriguing developments. Oddly, the robbery itself is sort of tossed off -- it's what happens later that matters --  but there is a very exciting scene with Brown and Jack Klugman getting into a chase involving a limo. Brown is okay, but there are fine performances from Whitman, Warren Oates, Klugman [Twilight Zone], Gene Hackman [The French Connection], Donald Sutherland, and especially Julie Harris [The Last of Mrs. Lincoln] in her tough, highly memorable portrayal of no-nonsense she-boss Gladys. The well-edited movie is based on "The Seventh," a novel by Donald Westlake ("Richard Stark") that features his amoral protagonist Parker.

Verdict: Quite absorbing and well-acted. ***.

HOPE

HOPE Richard Zoglin. Simon and Schuster; 2014.

Although Simon and Schuster is promoting this book as "the untold story of Bob Hope," that is hardly the case. Hope's career achievements, USO tours, Viet Nam controversy, and voracious lust for ladies other than his wife has been well-documented elsewhere. Zoglin's book has nothing new to say, although in general Zoglin says what he has to say well, a more-than-credible job of rehashing old stories. Zoglin makes the case that Hope was, as the publisher puts it, "the most important entertainer of the 20th century," pointing out that Hope virtually invented stand-up comedy and was a show business forerunner in other ways as well. Zoglin often disagrees with previous biographers' assessments of Hope's movies -- a stab at writing something new, perhaps -- but he doesn't argue that the comic's latter-day film projects were simply abysmal. Although Zoglin is supposedly putting forth a more positive spin on Hope's life and career, he doesn't shy away from the negative aspects of Hope's personality. All in all, this is by no means a bad book, but if you've read previous bios you'll just find it over-familiar.

Verdict: Not hopeless, but it's been done before. **1/2.

PAINT YOUR WAGON -- CITY CENTER ENCORES

Keith Carradine hoists a glass in Paint Your Wagon
PAINT YOUR WAGON. City Center Encores; Manhattan. Live. March 19, 2015.

First, let me make it clear that this is the stage musical "Paint Your Wagon" and not the awful film adaptation that had Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin croaking out songs, and which has a completely different (and stupid) plot from the Lerner and Loewe musical. In the show, Ben Rumson (Keith Carradine) is a grizzled prospector hoping for a gold strike while living in a ramshackle town where his daughter, Jennifer (Alexandra Socha), is the only woman. Eventually more women of "ill repute" show up in town, while Ben buys a Mormon woman from her first husband, and Jennifer goes east to school pining for her Mexican lover, Julio (Justin Guarini). She returns only to find that Julio has gone off again and nobody knows quite where he is. Will these two lovers be reunited despite the fact that this is decades before cell phones, ipads, fast planes and the Internet? "Paint Your Wagon" has an interesting book and some wonderful music, with the tunes including "I Talk to the Trees;" "They Call the Wind Maria;" and "Another Autumn;" as well as several rousing numbers, including "I'm On My Way" (which could have used more dancing). Carradine makes an effective leading man. He hasn't got a great voice by any means, but he gets the songs across without any problem. Guarini, formerly of American Idol, also does a very nice job with both his acting and singing, and Socha is charming as Jennifer. She has perhaps more of a pop style than a Broadway style, but somehow that isn't a distraction. Nathaniel Hackmann as a prospector named Steve is handed one of the show's most beautiful numbers, the aforementioned "Maria," and while he has a very nice voice -- and the song is great -- it didn't quite knock my socks off like it should have; maybe his interpretation wasn't quite dramatic enough. There's some wonderful dancing in the show, the orchestra is fine, and the whole production -- presented by Encores at City Center -- is pretty much outstanding.

Verdict: Excellent revival of a time-lost Broadway classic. ***1/2.

MURDER OVER NEW YORK

Ricardo Cortez, Victor Sen Yung and Sidney Toler
MURDER OVER NEW YORK (1940). Director: Harry Lachman.

When Hugh Drake (Frederick Worlock), formerly of Scotland Yard and now with Military Intelligence, is found dead of gas poisoning, Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) goes into [relative] action, while son Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung) kibbitzes. A strange man named Paul Narvo is involved in the murder plot, but even his wife, Pat (Marjorie Weaver of The Great Alaskan Mystery) -- from whom she ran away -- doesn't know who or where he is. Suspects and other characters include the butler Boggs (Leyland Hodgson); Inspector Vance (Donald MacBride); Drake's friend, Kirby (Ricardo Cortez); stockbroker Richard Jeffery (John Sutton); David Elliot (Robert Lowery), special friend of Pat's; the obnoxious Britisher Herbert Fenton (Melville Cooper); and Ralph Percy (Kane Richmond); who is involved with experimental aircraft that may be subject to sabotage. Junior Coghlan [The Adventures of Captain Marvel] has a nice bit as a club employee who helps Chan, and Shemp Howard [Brideless Groom] has an amusing turn as Shorty, who pretends to be the "Great Rashid." The exciting climax has many of the characters in a death-trap on a plane miles high in the air. With Richmond, Lowery, and Cortez in the cast -- as they were in many other Charlie Chan films -- this practically comprises the Charlie Chan Stock Company.

Verdict: Death-traps are always fun! ***.

BOMBA AND THE JUNGLE GIRL

BOMBA AND THE JUNGLE GIRL (1952). Writer/director: Ford Beebe.

"Every animal in the jungle has a mother and father but me. I don't even know who I am."

Bomba (Johnny Sheffield) begins to wonder who "his people" are when he realizes that he has no true identity. He was raised by an older man who died, and has been living on his own ever since. Now he gets a clue from Linda Ward (Karen Sharpe) and from a tribe who remember the native nurse, Linasi (Amanda Randolph), who took care of him years before. Chief Gamboso (Martin Wilkins) and his wicked daughter, Princess Baru (Suzette Harbin), tell Bomba that Linasi is dead, but a young man named Kokoli (Morris Buchanan) tells Bomba otherwise. Bomba discovers the evil plot engineered by Gamboso and the fate of his parents, the Hastings. With a better story than usual, Bomba and the Jungle Girl emerges as one of the more interesting Bomba movies. The picture features two strong female characters in Linda, who is an intrepid, brave and fairly tough heroine, and the princess, who is equally tough if completely amoral. The climax features a jungle fire, a cat fight in a cave, and has a nice score by Raoul Kraushaar. The acting is generally good, with the best performance provided by Suzette Harbin. Andy (Leonard Mudie) and Kimbbo the chimp also appear. There are more black actors with roles and dialogue than usual.

Verdict: Good conflicts and story make this a more than decent Bomba adventure. ***.

SPACE STATION 76

Patrick Wilson as the captain
SPACE STATION 76 (2014). Director: Jack Plotnick.

On the Omega 76 fueling station, inter-relationships between the characters seem to take precedence over any sci fi action when newcomer Jessica (Liv Tyler of Dr. T and the Women) comes aboard. Captain Glenn (Patrick Wilson of Watchmen), who is in the closet, is upset by the departure of his lover Dan, who tells him that he is sick of the way Glenn has to get drunk to get it on and always collapses into tears afterward. Ted (Matt Bomer of Superman: Unbound) is married to Misty (Marisa Coughlan), who is having an affair with shipmate, Steve (Jerry O'Connell), who is also married. Ted and Misty have a young daughter, Sunshine (Kylie Rogers), who roams the ship, bored and boring. Jessica and Ted are drawn to one another even as the captain attempts suicide more than once. Finally there's a confrontation towards the end which very briefly wakes up the sleeping audience ... Space Station 76 has been called a comedy-drama [if only!] but it is neither funny (aside from one quick bit) nor dramatic (ditto) and descends into tedium fairly quickly. Wilson and Bomer give the best performances; Tyler is also good even if her collagen-type lips and Joan Crawford shoulders are a distraction. Ted has an artificial hand and Steve puts his mother-in-law in suspended animation and carts her around like luggage. The conceit of the film is that it takes place in the future but everything supposedly has a 1970s ambiance, although the water beds in the cabins are perhaps the only thing that ever gets this across. It's hard to believe that people actually spent time and money turning this screenplay into a movie. Calling it "minor" is an understatement; it's like a bad sitcom or TV sketch without jokes. The best scene has a huge computer-type asteroid nearly smashing the space station -- no such luck.

Verdict: Maybe a laugh track would have helped. *1/2.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

THE CHAPMAN REPORT

THE CHAPMAN REPORT (1962). Director: George Cukor.

"The one thing we must remember: we must be sensible."

"Why?" 

Researcher Dr. Chapman (Andrew Duggan) and his assistant Paul (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), interview several women about their sex lives. These include Sarah (Shelley Winters), a married woman who is having an affair with a theater director named Fred (played by who else but Ray Danton); Naomi (Claire Bloom), whose nymphomaniacal activities doomed their marriage; Teresa (Glynis Johns), who is happily married but requires one fling with a really hot man (Ty Hardin of Berserk); and Kathleen (Jane Fonda), a widow whose late husband complained of her frigidity. In an unlikely development Paul finds himself drawn into a romantic relationship with Kathleen. While the movie is obviously inspired by the Kinsey report (and a trashy potboiler by Irving Wallace), the types in this movie are no different from women in countless other movies and the really eyebrow-raising stuff in Kinsey's report is avoided. So what we're left with is a reasonably entertaining soap opera with some fine acting. Zimbalist is no better than he ever is, Duggan has nearly a bit part, but the ladies offer something more. Bloom gives an affecting performance as a lonely, semi-alcoholic woman who is gang-raped in one chilling sequence. Winters is excellent as the wife with an unattractive husband (Harold J. Stone) who needs passion in her life with a handsome partner. Johns is okay in a sequence that is played primarily for laughs (John Dehner is her unsuspecting husband). Jane Fonda, always more talented than her father, gives another wonderful performance. Chad Everett shows up briefly as a hunky water man who appears at Naomi's house, and Corey Allen [The Big Caper] is very effective as the slimy musician, Wash Dillon, who casts a sick spell over Naomi. Perhaps the best performance comes from Henry Daniell [The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake], a psychologist who fears that Chapman may be setting things in motion without the appropriate follow-up.

Verdict: Laughably unscientific but entertaining. ***.

THE SWAN

THE SWAN (1956). Director: Charles Vidor.

"[Like a swan] be a bird but never fly. Know one song but never sing it, until the moment of her death. And so it must be for you, Alexandra. Head held high, cool indifference to the staring crowds among the banks, and the song, never."

"[Albert] spends more time with the tutor than he does with Alexandra."

Beatrix (Jessie Royce Landis) has spent her whole life preparing for the marriage of her daughter, Princess Alexandra (Grace Kelly), to her cousin, the Crown Prince Albert (Alec Guinness). When he shows up at their estate, however, Beatrix and her relatives are appalled by his behavior, and worse, he hardly pays the shy Alexandra any attention [some have theorized that Albert is gay]. Beatrix hits upon the idea of inviting her young sons' tutor, Nicholas (Louis Jourdan), to the ball, with the intention of making Albert jealous. This plan seems to backfire when Nicholas declares his true feelings for the princess ... The Swan, frankly, is a highly-imperfect film -- a bit slow, neither funny nor dramatic enough until the ending -- but the acting can not be faulted. Kelly [Rear Window] offers a lovely lead performance as the princess; Guinness scores as Albert, who is resigned to a life he seems not to aspire to; Landis and Estelle Winwood (as her mother) are fine as the elder ladies of the court; Brian Aherne [The Locket] is excellent as Landis' brother, who resigned from royal life to become a monk; and Agnes Moorehead [Dark Passage] makes her mark, as usual, as the termagant mother of Albert. Jourdan is good, but he, perhaps, underplays too much during some of his romantic sequences, and the movie, as a whole, takes much too long to create any real conflict. But then there's that wonderful, bittersweet -- in fact, downright depressing -- conclusion. It's ironic that Kelly made just one more movie before becoming a princess in real life, also with a bittersweet conclusion, as she wanted to make a comeback (with Hitchcock) but was not allowed to, and apparently found herself quite disillusioned with life in the palace.

Verdict: The acting makes the movie. ***.

BAD BOY

Audie Murphy
BAD BOY (1949). Director: Kurt Neumann.

Danny Lester (Audie Murphy) is an incorrigible, nasty young man who beats, shoots and robs and is nearly sentenced to a reformatory or prison. However Marshall Brown (Lloyd Nolan) is convinced, without any real basis, that Danny's anti-social tendencies stem from something that happened in his youth. [Danny acts like a sociopathic creep, so it's a question if what happened in his youth even matters, but in movies like Bad Boy there has to be some dubious psychological explanation.] Brown importunes Judge Prentiss (Selena Royle) to take Danny under his wing and bring him to the Variety Clubs Boys Ranch in Texas, where he steals, acts all bitter, and has the boys so mad at him that they all give him the silent treatment. Can this boy be saved...? In his first starring role Murphy, the most decorated soldier in WW2, proves not to be a "great" actor, but is more than competent, displaying charisma and surliness in equal measure; he would develop in time. Jimmy Lydon of the Henry Aldrich series plays another student, Ted, and is excellent, as is James Gleason [The Girl Rush] as Brown's more cynical associate, "Chief." Jane Wyatt [The Man Who Cheated Himself] is Brown's wife; Martha Vickers is Danny's half sister; and Rhys Williams [The Corn is Green] is his step-father. There are some fairly interesting developments in this but the movie never really amounts to much. Murphy would go on to better things. Murphy single-handedly held off a squadron of German soldiers while standing atop a tank that could have exploded at any second -- it's safe to say Hollywood couldn't have scared him that much!

Verdict: Half-baked melodrama. **1/2.

DR. GIGGLES

DR. GIGGLES (1992). Director: Manny Coto.

"Good thing I make house calls!"

When a maniac nicknamed "Dr. Giggles" (Larry Drake) escapes from an asylum, he returns to his home town to embark upon a killing spree. Years before, Giggles' father -- himself a doctor -- lost his wife on the operating table, so he went about cutting out patients' hearts. Now his son wants revenge for his father's death. The heroine is a likable young woman named Jennifer (Holly Marie Combs) who has a minor heart condition and faces surgery. Dr. Giggles murders off her friends and others via various medical instruments, then takes Jennifer to the basement of his crumbling mansion where daddy (inexplicably) kept his own operating room ... One might argue that Dr. Giggles is chock-full of highly familiar elements [such as the maniac-on-the-loose scenario] but somehow it doesn't matter. The fast-paced picture has characters that are better developed than usual, a suspenseful climax, a fine lead performance by Drake, and laughs and chills in equal measure in this very black comedy. (Admittedly, some of the doctor-related puns become tiresome after awhile). Combs is also notable, as are Cliff De Young as Jennifer's father; Keith Diamond as Officer Joe; and Richard Bradford as Joe's older partner, Hank. Fairly slick and well directed by Coto, this is, unsurprisingly, quite gruesome at times.

Verdict: Fun if grisly movie. ***.

CHARLIE CHAN AT THE WAX MUSEUM

Victor Sen Yung and Sidney Toler
CHARLIE CHAN AT THE WAX MUSEUM (1940). Director: Lynn Shores.

Convicted criminal Steve McBirney (Marc Lawrence of Jigsaw) manages to escape from the court room, where he makes his way to a wax museum run by crazy Dr. Cream (C. Henry Gordon). With plans to dispose of him, Cream invites Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) to participate in a radio program of unsolved cases wherein Chan and Dr. Von Brom (Michael Visaroff) will try to determine if a man named Rocke was wrongly executed years ago. Naturally the program is to be broadcast from the wax museum, where son Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung), who faints more than once, keeps confusing his real father with the wax duplicate. Then someone turns up dead, killed by a poison dart. Suspects, besides McBirney and Cream, include reporter Mary Bolton (Marguerite Chapman of Man Bait); lawyer Carter Lane (Archie Twitchell); old caretaker Willie (Charles Wagenheim of Meet Boston Blackie); engineer Edwards (Harold Goodwin); radio man Agnew (Ted Osborne); Lily Lattimer (Joan Valerie); and the creepy Mrs. Rocke (Hilda Vaughn). This is an entertaining but somewhat oddball Charlie Chan movie with confusing elements that don't quite jell, and the fact that most of it takes place in one closed-in setting doesn't help much, either. Still, it's fun.

Verdict: Charlie and Jimmy among the cobwebs. **1/2.

THE BAEN BIG BOOK OF MONSTERS

THE BAEN BIG BOOK OF MONSTERS (Baen; 2014). Edited by Hank Davis.

As a lover of monster stories [the larger the monster the better] and movies -- as well as the author of more than one "giant monster" horror novel -- I looked forward to this compilation of classic creature tales. Unfortunately, the book also includes some new stories by writers whose work has been published by Baen, for publicity purposes, I suppose. So on one hand we have famous stories like H. P. Lovecraft's masterful "The Dunwich Horror" and Robert E. Howard's wonderful "The Valley of the Worm," along with lesser-known gems such as Murray Leinster's "Planet of Dread" and Anthony N. Rud's "Ooze," but on the other hand we've got some pretty bad modern-day monster tales that pad the book and waste paper. There is at least one exception, Steven Diamond's "A Single Samurai," in which a man climbs and attempts to slay a creature of Godzillian proportions. So this is a mixed bag, but it has its pleasures. "The Dunwich Horror" has the countryside beset by a destructive, huge and invisible creature, offspring of a human and a demon; "Valley of the Worm" features a huge serpentine creature that devours entire villages; and "Planet of Dread" takes place on a world full of giant insects where there is added tension due to the feelings and actions of the crew. These and a couple of other stories are worthwhile.

Verdict: Some great stories with others force-fed the readers by the publisher. **1/2.

THE LOST TRIBE

THE LOST TRIBE (1949). Director: William Berke.

In the second "Jungle Jim" feature after Jungle Jim, our hero (Johnny Weismuller) learns of the hidden city of Zarn. Li Wanna (Elena Verdugo of The Frozen Ghost) comes from Zarn, and her brother Chot (Paul Marion) has given away the secret of the city's location out of lust for the hard-boiled Norina (Myrna Dell of Why Men Leave Home). Now Norina's associates, including her supposed uncle, Calhoun (Joseph Vitale), are after the diamonds of Zarn. To appease the crooks, Li Wanna's father, Zoron (Nelson Leigh of World Without End) asks JJ to bring them a peace offering, although the big guy realizes one little pouch of diamonds won't be enough for them ... The Lost Tribe seems to have a plot built around stock footage, but it's still somewhat entertaining. There's one great shot of the treacherous entrance to Zarn on a narrow plateau many miles above the valley, and JJ has a well-edited battle with a crocodile, and later saves a pearl diver from a voracious shark. JJ's animal friends include Skip the dog; Simba, the gorilla (a man in an ape suit); as well as a frequently-seen crow; and a raccoon. In one scene Simba, with a baby chimp [!] in her arms, battles a lion, and a whole bunch of gorillas go ape shit at the end when they attack the bad guys who are looting Zarn. This has everything but the kitchen sink and the score (uncredited) helps a lot. Jungle Jim simply comes off like an older version of Tarzan who speaks in slightly longer sentences. At one point Li Wanna calls him "Mr. Jim" as if Jim were his last name. It all moves quite swiftly.

Verdict: Fun if you like minor Jungle epics. **1/2.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

KING OF THE ROARING 20'S

KING OF THE ROARING 20'S (1961). Director: Joseph M. Newman.

Arnold Rothstein (David Janssen) grows up to become a mob boss in 1920's New York. He fixes races and runs bookie operations with his old pal Johnny Burke (Mickey Rooney). Rothstein marries an entertainer named Carolyn (Dianne Foster) but she becomes tired of being left alone, his crooked deals, and his cold-blooded attitude. The "true" story of Rothstein, aka "The Brain," should have made a much, much more interesting picture than this concoction. True, Rothstein tried to run his operations like a business instead of employing a typical violent mob approach, but even so the picture could have used a lot more excitement, and the facts of his life would have been more compelling than fiction. Janssen [Richard Diamond, Private Detective] is okay as Rothstein, but his essentially small-screen persona only fits the basic and cheap TV tone of the whole production. Foster [The Brothers Rico] is quite good, as is Mickey Rooney, and there are also notable performances from Robert Ellenstein [Too Much, Too Soon] , Dan O'Herlihy, Mickey Shaughnessy, Jimmy Baird (as Arnold as a boy), and especially Joseph Schildkraut as Rothstein's father.

Verdict: Strictly mediocre TV-type fare. **.

ROME ADVENTURE

Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue
ROME ADVENTURE (1962). Director: Delmer Daves.

"What if something happened to you?" -- Mrs. Bell

"Mother -- what if nothing did?" -- Prudence

Prudence Bell (Suzanne Pleshette of A Rage to Live) decides to resign from her position in a fashionable girls school because she gave a student a too lustily "romantic" novel to read and the old hen board disapprove. Looking for romance herself, she travels to Italy and gets a room in a pensione, where she meets Don (Troy Donahue), who's just been jilted by the wealthy Lyda Kent (Angie Dickinson). On the rebound, Don travels all over Italy with Prudence, as the two fall in love to the strains of Max Steiner's pretty score and all the attractive scenery. But then, who pops back up but Lyda ... Rome Adventure has a few good moments and performances but it's not a very good movie. Pleshette is a good actress, but there's something so unpleasantly aggressive, almost tough, about her that you can understand how she managed to get that tom cat Donahue to the alter (albeit it took two years and the marriage only lasted eight months); she hasn't a trace of vulnerability. As for Donahue, he's slightly better in this than, say, My Blood Runs Cold, perhaps because he was developing some romantic feelings for Pleshette, but anyway you look at it he's no actor. Rosanno Brazzi is the handsome older man whose kisses don't bring out bells in Prudence; Constance Ford -- in a typical Constance Ford movie role -- is the wise older woman who employs Prudence in a book shop; Hampton Fancher is the charmingly shy Albert, an American boy who has a big crush on Prudence; Pamela Austin is a young lady who has a brief flirtation with Albert; Gertrude Flynn is her chaperone; and even Al Hirt shows up playing himself at one point, only to have his haughty model-like date wind up making out with a sexy Italian stallion; all of them are fine. The two best scenes have Prudence and Lyda sparring with each other during dinner with Don and Albert; and a very nice scene between Albert and Prudence on a train. A singer who comes out with "Al di la" in a restaurant deserves his applause, but it's ridiculous when dozens of people start clapping after Don -- remember this is Troy Donahue -- finishes up a poorly delivered speech from Romeo and Juliet [admittedly, Don is no more an actor than Troy is]. As for Brazzi, he had more time to romance Katharine Hepburn (in Venice) in Summertime. Chad Everett is listed in the cast and in the opening credits, but his scenes must have been left on the cutting room floor.

Verdict: Pretty things to look at and listen to but don't expect more. **1/2.

TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS

TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS (1945). Director: Kurt Neumann.

Jane (now played by Brenda Joyce of Little Giant) returns to Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller), Boy (Johnny Sheffield), Cheeta, and Africa in this entertaining installment of the highly popular series. Tarzan rescues a young lady, Athena (Shirley O'Hara), and takes her back to her people, a race of Amazons in a handsome city nestled in a valley. Jane importunes archaeologist Sir Guy Henderson (Henry Stephenson) to lead his group to this hidden city for the sake of science, but Ballister (Barton MacLane of The Mummy's Ghost) and his cohorts have no such noble motives, being primarily interested in looting the city's treasure. The Amazon queen (Maria Ouspenskaya of Dance, Girl, Dance) refuses to let the men leave, and even tries to sacrifice Boy, who foolishly leads the group to the city even after Tarzan has forbidden it. Tarzan and the Amazons is entertaining and well-done, its one flaw being a much too abrupt climax.

Verdict: Tarzan Always Knows Better! ***.

WOMAN WHO CAME BACK

John Loder, Nancy Kelly and Otto Kruger
WOMAN WHO CAME BACK (1945). Director: Walter Colmes.

Returning to Eben Rock, Massachusetts after an absence of two years, Laura Webster (Nancy Kelly of The Bad Seed) is involved in a bus accident in which a strange old witch-like woman who appeared in the night out of nowhere and boarded the bus disappears. Laura was once ready to marry Dr. Matt Adams (John Loder of Old Acquaintance) and their feelings are rekindled, which disturbs Matt's sister, Ruth (Ruth Ford), who thinks Laura is a little strange. Laura herself thinks she's been possessed by an evil witch who was burned at the stake, and frightening incidents occur which has the whole town up in arms ... Woman Who Came Back has a rather interesting is-she-or-isn't-she? plot which is reminiscent of a classic EC comic story, but while the acting isn't bad, the picture lacks real tension and atmosphere. That's too bad, because the movie has some clever notions in it, as well as an interesting wind-up. Otto Kruger [The Jungle Captive] plays the town priest, and Almira Sessions is fun as the creepy, chattering, highly opinionated housekeeper, Bessie.

Verdict: Watch out for old ladies on buses. **1/2.

AFRICAN TREASURE

AFRICAN TREASURE (1952). Writer/director: Ford Beebe.

Johnny Sheffield and Ford Beebe are back with another Bomba adventure, this time with the Jungle Boy and associates coming afoul of diamond smugglers and a convict named Gilroy (the ever-dull Lyle Talbot). Lita Sebastian (Laurette Luez of Prehistoric Women) is on a search for her father, and Andy Barnes (Leonard Mudie of The Scarlet Clue) tries to help round up the bad guys, including Greg (Arthur Space of Panther Girl of the Kongo). Manly and maturing, Sheffield could easily have played Tarzan now that he'd outgrown "Boy," but it was not to be, and when the Bomba series wrapped up his movie career was over. There are cliffs and tunnels, an underwater battle, and it all adds up to an acceptable action flick if you're not too demanding. Although Bomba seems to keep referring to his pet chimp as "Akimba," he was played not by Cheeta, but by a rival named Kimbbo.

Verdict: Not enough action between Lita and Bomba. **1/2.

CHARLIE CHAN IN PANAMA

Kane Richmond and Jean Rogers
CHARLIE CHAN IN PANAMA (1940). Director: Norman Foster. 

Charlie (Sidey Toler) and number two son (Victor Sen Yung) are in Panama, which is a nest of secret agents. A man is about to tell Charlie (who is in disguise as hat seller Fu Yen) the true identity of the spy named "Reiner," when this contact suddenly dies from smoking a poisoned cigarette. Charlie learns that the mysterious Reiner is out to sabotage the fleet going through the Panama canal. Suspects include Dr. Grosser (Lionel Royce), who keeps plague-carrying rats; Richard Cabot (Kane Richmond), who works in the nearby plant; Kathi Lenesch (Jean Rogers of Secret Agent X-9),  a dancer who catches Cabot's eye; Manolo (Jack La Rue of The Story of Temple Drake), who owns the club where Kathi dances; the somehow- sinister Compton (Lionel Atwill of The Devil is a Woman); school teacher Jennie Finch (Mary Nash); and others. There's a creepy scene in a cemetery with a dank tomb and a hidden room, and the climax has all of the suspects held captive by a bomb about to go off. 

Verdict: Lots of fun. ***. 

RIGHTEOUS KILL

De Niro and Pacino
RIGHTEOUS KILL (2008). Director: Jon Avnet.

Homicide detectives Turk (Robert De Niro) and Rooster (Al Pacino) try to discover whoever it is who is murdering sociopaths and low lives. One of the detectives narrates the story in flashback, sort of stripping the film of suspense -- the twist at the end comes a little too late. It's a great idea to combine Al Pacino and Robert De Niro [Raging Bull] in the same movie, as they were in the excellent Heat, but someone should have come up with a workable script. Righteous Kill is far-fetched and may have the members of the audience scratching their heads at the ending. John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg are wasted as younger smart-alec detectives, Brian Dennehy [The Challenger Disaster] has some good moments as the cop boss, and Carla Gugino has a thankless role as a fellow detective who is also sleeping with Turk. Avet also directed 88 Minutes, which is better than this.

Verdict: Poor suspense film. **.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

THE CROWDED SKY

THE CROWDED SKY (1960). Director: Joseph Pevney.

While Captain Dick Barnett (Dana Andrews) and his bitter co-pilot Mike Rule (John Kerr) fly an airliner, a small Navy jet piloted by Dale Heath (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) is heading in the same general direction. Heath notes to his passenger McVey (Troy Donahue) that there are "2000 near-misses each year." As the audience tenses itself for the disaster to come, the movie features flashbacks showing the back stories of several of the characters, including crew and passengers. Rhonda Fleming [While the City Sleeps] is Heath's bored and unfaithful wife; Anne Francis is a stewardess in love with Rule; Barnett has a poor relationship with his son, Dick Jr. (Ken Currie); and so on. The Crowded Sky manages to maintain suspense not just over the plane situation, but also over the various characters' inter-relationships. Some of this is soap opera, but it is generally interesting to watch. Keenan Wynn flirts with a passenger, Jean Willes [Desire Under the Elms], whom he jilted years before and whom he doesn't recognize, while Patsy Kelly is an agent for actor Tom Gilson, both of whom feature in scenes of -- on one occasion -- inappropriate comedy relief. Joe Mantell plays the likable navigator, Louis, whose grotesque death is pretty much forgotten (shockingly) by the other characters. There is evidence that much footage was left on the cutting room floor, as Troy Donahue's role practically amounts to a bit, and another major character's death is also not given any kind of moving post script, making it all seem a rather callous exercise. One suspects there's a much better movie left somewhere, but The Crowded Sky is still quite entertaining. Freida Inescort shows up briefly as a woman who may or may not be Kerr's mother. The acting in this is perfectly okay but nobody really stands out as anything special. Pevney also directed The Strange Door.

Verdict: Stay on the ground. ***.

TWO ON A GUILLOTINE

TWO ON A GUILLOTINE (1965). Producer/Director: William Conrad.

Cassie Duquesne (Connie Stevens of Susan Slade) has not seen her father in years when she attends his funeral and is given the strange (and unlikely) conditions of his will. She must stay overnight for seven days in Duke Duquesne's (Cesar Romero) house or she will forfeit a small fortune that will go to her associate Buzzy (Parley Baer) and Connie's former nanny, Polly (Virginia Gregg of Crime in the Streets). Val Henderson (Dean Jones) helps Connie explore the house and its weird goings-on but she is furious to learn that he is a reporter. Then Polly shows up screaming that Duke is alive ... Two on a Guillotine was one of three light thrillers directed by Conrad in the sixties along with Brainstorm and My Blood Runs Cold, and is the best of them. The performances of everyone, including a Jack Lemmon-like Dean Jones, are all good, and Gregg (always an outstanding actress), and Connie Gilchrist as an hysterical housekeeper, are particularly noteworthy. There's a genuinely suspenseful climax involving the title object. The plot, which is reminiscent of some of William Castle's chillers, will not hold up to inspection but it doesn't need to. Max Steiner provides a good backdrop for the action. One has to wonder if the rabbit that is seen running through the house (and for which Steiner composed its own theme) ever actually gets anything to eat?

Verdict: Entertaining and effective comedy-thriller. ***.

MY BLOOD RUNS COLD

Troy Donahue and Joey Heatherton
MY BLOOD RUNS COLD (1965). Producer/Director: William Conrad.

"Oh, father, you sound like something out of East Lynne." 

Julie Merriday (Joey Heatherton) meets a handsome and brooding young man named Ben (Troy Donahue) who tells her that they are the reincarnation of past lovers: Julie's lookalike great-great-grandmother and the sailor she was separated from. Naturally Julie's father, Julian (Barry Sullivan), thinks that Ben is a fortune hunter while her Aunt Sarah (Jeanette Nolan) at first can't seem to make up her mind between Ben and Julie's fella, Harry (Nicolas Coster). Julie, who thinks she might be "a trifle over-bred,"  finds herself drawn to the strange young man even as Julian protests, and then the corpse of the caretaker (of their retreat, Spindrift) is washed up on shore... My Blood Runs Cold hasn't got a bad plot, but its interesting elements never really jell. Although Heatherton is the better actress, both she and Donahue [Live Fast, Die Young] appear to have the IQs of doorstops. The dialogue is cliched and the ending drawn out and tedious. Heatherton has given better performances elsewhere, but Sullivan [Suspense] and Nolan [The Big Heat] are excellent as the arguing brother and sister, and Coster is also effective. A major problem with the film, and one that in this case really sinks the movie, is Donahue's lousy acting. Scenes that might have been touching or bristled with tension or passion, are just frittered away by an actor who can say his lines, look pretty and gloomy, but little else. In this, at least, Donahue is a model, not an actor.

Verdict: This had possibilities, but ... **.

TARZAN TRIUMPHS

TARZAN TRIUMPHS (1943). Director: William Thiele.

Jane is out of Africa looking after her sick mother when who should show up but the beauteous Zandra (Frances Gifford of Jungle Girl). She saves Boy's life but then finds herself in trouble when a pack of loathsome Nazis -- who first pretend to be friends -- descend on her tribe in the city of Pallandria and begin to enslave them. At first Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) stays out of the conflict, making him seem not very heroic, but he cries "Now Tarzan make war!" when Boy (Johnny Sheffield of Bomba the Jungle Boy) is kidnapped and he, Zandra, Boy -- and of course, the magnificent Cheeta -- roust the invasion of German soldiers. Tarzan seems pretty hot for Zandra in at least one sequence when they go swimming. The actors are all fine for this sort of thing, and Cheeta proves once again that he is the most wonderful and talented creature in all of Hollywood's animal kingdom. Cheeta dances to band music, steals grapes from monkeys (and then has to return them, chastened) and even talks on the radio to the Germans. The final shot of Cheeta about to talk to Hitler is priceless! Sig Ruman plays a Nazi sergeant.

A note of sheer disillusionment: Apparently Cheeta was actually played by a wide variety of chimpanzees. The Cheeta feted here died in 2011 and may not have appeared in any movies. Well, whichever Cheeta played what, these chimps were cute and talented and the highlight of every movie they were in.

Verdict: They should have given Cheeta -- whoever he was -- his own picture! **1/2.