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

Thursday, October 20, 2016


Brian Smith and Michael Redgrave
THE BROWNING VERSION (1951). Director: Anthony Asquith. Screenplay by Terence Rattigan, based on his stage play.

Andrew Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave), a teacher at a boy's school, is having a pretty lousy day. Ill health has necessitated his going to another school with less strenuous duties, but he may not be given a pension. His bitter wife, Millie (Jean Kent), is having an affair with another teacher, Frank (Nigel Patrick). And Andrew is beginning to realize that his attitude towards his students, brought about by his disappointment in life, marriage and career achievements, has turned him into a stuffy, rather unpleasant fellow whose students call "Himmler." Yet there is a young boy named Taplow (Brian Smith) whose compassion for the older man might be his saving grace ... The Browning Film is a rare gem, one of those beautiful movies that gives you hardly anything to quibble about. Although Michael Redgrave [Dead of Night] at first seems to be bordering on caricature, channeling Richard Haydn, he actually gives a wonderful and touching performance. The second best performance is from young Brian Smith, who essays a kindly, decent fellow who is wise beyond his years. Years ago Andrew began a new translation of Agamemnon and Taplow gives him a copy of "The Browning Version," translated by Robert Browning. Patrick and Kent [The Prince and the Showgirl] are also quite good as the dissatisfied lovers, with Frank ultimately ashamed of his actions, and neglected Millie unable to cope with the fact that her husband wanted companionship and she wanted much more. There's also nice work from Ronald Howard [Black Orchid] as Gilbert, who will take over Andrew's teaching duties, and Wilfrid Hyde-White as the headmaster. All aspects of the production are superior. Young Brian Smith, who was 19 but looked much younger, amassed sixty credits after completing this picture. Remade with Albert Finney in 1994.

Verdict: Beautiful and moving classic movie. ****.


A SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM (1990). Director: Jan Egleson.

Graham Marshall (Michael Caine of Alfie) works in the marketing department at a large Manhattan firm. He is sure that he is next in promotion after his current boss, George Brewster (John McMartin), but to his horror and rage learns that has has been passed over in favor of a younger, slick asshole named Robert Benham (Peter Riegert). Adding to Graham's irritation is the presence of his wife, Leslie (Swoosie Kurtz), who is not sensitive enough to his needs, and whose response when he is passed over is not exactly supportive. When Graham is nearly frazzled in an electrical accident in his home, he comes up with an idea for solving his problems ... Based on a far superior novel by Simon Brett, A Shock to the System is well-acted by all, holds the attention, and is probably more entertaining to those who have never read the book. Andrew Klavan's screenplay makes many unnecessary changes -- including switching the story's locale from England to New York! --but has stupid moments, eliminates characters, jumbles sequences, and emerges as an acceptable "Lifetime" movie and not much else. (Klavan is typical of a minor screenwriter who thinks he can "out-clever" the original author, and fails.) Jan Egleson, basically a television director, covers the action adequately but there is no inspiration in the presentation of events, and even the suspense is comparatively minimal. Barbara Baxley [East of Eden] is Graham's mother-in-law (a highly interesting character in the novel who is virtually a non-entity in the film); Will Patton is a detective (also a much less interesting character than in the book); and Elizabeth McGovern of Downtown Abbey plays an office worker who dallies with Graham.

Verdict: Okay enough on its own terms, but you'd be better off reading the novel and skipping this adaptation. **1/2.


Diana Lynn, Ronald Reagan, and Bonzo in the back
BEDTIME FOR BONZO (1951). Director: Frederick De Cordova.

College professor Peter Boyd (Ronald Reagan) gets in hot water with Dean Tillinghast (Herbert Heyes), when the latter finds out Boyd's father was a criminal. Tillinghast wants Peter to resign at the end of the semester, and orders his daughter, Valerie (Lucille Barkley) to end their engagement. Peter sets out to prove that environment and upbringing have more to do with criminal behavior than heredity. How does he do this? By taking the science department's chimp, Bonzo, home with him, and hiring a woman, Jane (Diana Lynn) to act as the ape's "mother!" That is the incredible premise of this movie, which gets stupider by the second. Since I happen to be very fond of chimps and their antics, I thought this movie might be cute and entertaining, but another Bringing Up Baby (which had a leopard instead of a chimp) it is not. I need not say that Ronald Reagan [Kings Row] is hardly in the league of Cary Grant, but his performance in this isn't bad, and Diana Lynn [Ruthless] is charming. Walter Slezak is fine as another professor, while Jesse White is typically obnoxious and unamusing as a man named Babcock. Considering Peter is a professor it's odd how often he refers to Bonzo as a monkey instead of a chimp. Bonzo is a cute and capable performer, but the chimps are a lot more fun in the Tarzan movies.

Verdict: Why Reagan went into politics. **.


The irrepressible Mickey as Carmen Miranda!
BABES ON BROADWAY (1941). Director: Busby Berkeley.

Tommy Williams (Mickey Rooney) and Penny Morris (Judy Garland) are talented young people who dream of being on Broadway. Penny gets the idea of putting on a show to raise money for some orphans to get a vacation in the country, but when Tommy learns of a possible engagement in Philadelphia, he's ready to chuck the whole thing until his conscience catches up with him. (The point is made that aspiring artists are often thinking more of themselves than others when it comes to charitable performances.) Like most of the Rooney-Garland musicals, this one is sheer fantasy in terms of how to get on Broadway, but the duo are in top form and the picture is quite entertaining. The highlights include Mickey doing one number as Carmen Miranda, and another as Cyrano de Bergerac. Ray McDonald [All Ashore] is a stand-out, especially when he dances, and there's a cute little kid (Richard Hall of Shadow of the Thin Man) who plays a number on the piano. The excellent song numbers include "How About You?'; "Hoedown," and especially "Carry On," which in a sobering moment refers to the London Blitz. Burton Lane was one of the composers.

Verdict: An unbeatable combo of Rooney and Garland. ***.


"Dreamboat" and jailbird: Phil Regan
HAPPY GO LUCKY (1936). Director: Aubrey Scotto.

Mary Gorham (Evelyn Venable of Death Takes a Holiday) gets a shock when she walks into a Shanghai nightclub. Her fiance, Bill (Phil Regan), disappeared while on a transatlantic flight and is suspected of treason, but there he is singing under the name of "Happy Jack" Cole. Jack still seems happy -- if confused -- when he's confronted by Mary, but he insists that he has never seen her before. Is this a case of amnesia, or something more sinister? Mary's father, wealthy Charles Gorham (Jed Prouty of College Holiday) is delighted to see "Bill" again, but still wonders if his story about being someone else is entirely true. Then there's J. Lansing Bennett (Jonathan Hale of Strangers on a Train), who is the secret head of a spy ring. Happy Go Lucky is an odd movie, a sort of musical with a slightly more complicated plot than usual, and some "serious" aspects to it. Phil Regan, the NYPD detective who became a singer and dancer, (and who ironically served a one-year sentence for real estate bribery years later) is not bad in this (although one could argue that his singing is better than his acting), and has a pleasing personality to go with his good looks. He appeared in films for ten more years, but because they were released by Poverty Row studios like Republic and Monogram never emerged as a major motion picture star. Regan's singing of "Right or Wrong" is a highlight of the movie.

Verdict:  Somewhat different story line for a Republic musical, but still not very good. **.


A pitiful victim (Sally Kirkland) strangled by psycho-killer
DOUBLE EXPOSURE (1983). Writer/director: William Byron Hillman.

Photographer Adrian Wilde (Michael Callan) has intense and horrible nightmares in which he is murdering his models and others. Then these killings occur for real. Is Adrian a psycho, or could it be someone else? Adrian receives succor from his disabled brother, B. J. (James Stacy), new lady friend, Mindy (Joanna Pettet of The Evil), and his shrink Dr. Curtis (Seymour Cassel). Pamela Hensley and David Young are two inept blow-dried cops assigned to the case, and Cleavon Little overacts a bit as their ferocious supervisor. Sally Kirkland [Coffee Date] is an audacious prostitute who comes to a bad end. Don Potter provides some fun as a stereotypical but likable gay associate of Wilde's. Double Exposure is a sort of slasher film that begins well enough, with an interesting cast and characters, but quickly degenerates into a dull, meandering, disjointed "thriller" that does little with its perfectly workable premise. As the protagonist, Callan [Mysterious Island] at least gives it the old college try, and the other actors are adequate. The only thing that stands out in the film is a genuinely imaginative murder scene that involves a trash bag and a rattlesnake! Jack Goga's music score does what it can to drum up some excitement in this snail-paced horror film.

Verdict: Seems as if it's five hours long! *1/2.


SHIVERS. William Schoell. Cemetery Dance.

Forgive another shameless plug, but here is another of my classic horror novels in epub format for the first time. The publisher is Cemetery Dance, and the cover was designed by Kealan Patrick Burke.

In Shivers, Steven Everson goes on a search for his missing brother, Joey, and discovers that many, many more people have gone missing in Manhattan than usual. A detective, a lonely alcoholic woman, a scientist, an older woman who claimed she was Joey's lover, and several others are embroiled in a horrific plot that leads to the frightening deaths of several of these individuals, who seem to be controlled by a powerful force no one can see and whose origin is unknown. Steven's investigation leads him down to hidden vaults beneath the New York City subways, where he uncovers the terrifying truth.

Shivers is available for Amazon kindle and other ebook readers and applications.

Thursday, October 13, 2016



This week we look at a round up of spy movies and novels, including the latest James Bond feature, Spectre; two recent James Bond novels, Solo and Trigger Mortis (love that title!); three eurospy movies featuring Tom Adams as Charles Vine, Tony Kendall as Kommissar X, and Gordon Scott as Bart Fargo; a spy spoof, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, starring Vincent "Just give me the money" Price; and The Girl from Rio, which is not a spy movie as such but certainly borrows all the conventions of the genre. Some of these movies are fun; others are just dreadful, not "so bad they're good" but just bad. But that's what you get with this genre: either a slick piece of entertainment or pure schlock!


Secret Agent Charles Vine (Tom Adams) is back! 
WHERE THE BULLETS FLY (1966). Director: John Gilling.

Secret Agent Charles Vine (Tom Adams) is out to stop a weird character named Angel (Michael Ripper of Night Creatures) from stealing a certain "sporium" alloy. Angel employs a dapper hit man, Seraph (Tim Barrett),  who wears a bowler hat, carries an umbrella pistol, and laughs like a hyena; a reasonably lively scene has Vine pursuing Seraph through the sewers. The best thing about the picture is the prologue, in which a group of lady tourists at the Thames turn out to be Vine and other agents in drag; they manage to stop a missile from hitting Big Ben. There's also the room with an electrified floor, and a striptease to a jazzed-up version of Scheherazade! Alas this sequel to The 2nd Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World, aside from one or two sequences, is an absolutely dreadful picture, not even half as good as the original, itself no world-beater. Whereas 2nd Best was more or less told straight, the sequel has a surplus of silliness, most of which is distinctly unamusing. Adams is fine as Vine. but one isn't certain if Michael Ripper's character is supposed to be Japanese or not. The women are Suzan Farmer [Die, Monster, Die], Dawn Addams, and Heidi Erich. John Arnatt is Vine's unpleasant boss, Rockwell, and Sidney James [The Glass Tomb] has a nice turn as a mortuary attendant who finds himself with more corpses than he can handle after a gun battle. Unfortunately, Adams did another of these, O.K. Yevtushenko, two years later.

Verdict: Not ripe off the vine. *1/2.


Who cares? Just give me the check!
DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS (aka Le spie vengono dal semifreddo/1966). Director: Mario Bava.

Probably due to the ad campaign, the spy craze of the period, and the presence of Vincent Price, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikimi Machine was a hit for AIP. A year later the inevitable sequel materialized, with Price reprising his role of the diabolical doctor who has escaped death and is now blowing up horny generals by using beautiful robot girls full of explosives. Instead of Frankie Avalon, we have another teen idol, Fabian, playing spy, and there are two Italian alleged comedians who also play bumbling agents. Goldfoot's ultimate scheme is to drop a super-hydrogen bomb on Moscow, bringing about WW3. Goldfoot also has a pool full of piranha who never figure in the plot, as well as another general who happens to be Goldfoot's twin -- nothing much happens with that, either. Despite the fact that Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs has one more laugh-out-loud moment than Bikini Machine -- bringing the total up to half a dozen (that's one laugh every fifteen minutes) -- it's an even worse movie than its predecessor. Price, with both eyes on his paycheck and certainly not on the script, gives a gleefully hammy performance and probably never sat through this crapola himself -- if only his fans had been spared! As an actor, Fabian [A Bullet for Pretty Boy] actually amassed 48 credits. Possibly Mario Bava's worst movie.

Verdict: Just awful. 1/2*.


Delfi Mauro and Gordon Scott
DANGER!! DEATH RAY (aka Il raggio infernale/1967). Director: Gianfranco Baldanello.

When Professor Carmichael (Tullio Altamura) is kidnapped along with his death ray -- more powerful than a laser beam -- American agent Bart Fargo (Gordon Scott) is sent into action. En route to Barcelona, Fargo first encounters a pretty plane passenger (Silvia Solar), who turns up again in dramatic circumstances, and then meets the painter, Lucille (Delfi Mauro). In addition to flirting with the ladies, Fargo has to fight off several assassins, including one, Al (Massimo Righi), who becomes Bart's helpmate when his companions turn on him. The hired guns in this are especially inept, particularly in one comical sequence when an assassin tries to push Bart out a window and goes flying into space himself! The high-tech effects include an obviously toy helicopter and submarine, and the "death ray" certainly doesn't do much until a few seconds at the end. (Any notions that the movie presents attacks on cities or buildings by giant death rays because of the title are quickly forgotten.) One clever bit has jackhammers being turned into machine guns. Gordon Scott, best known for playing Tarzan in such films as Tarzan's Greatest Adventure, makes a perfectly acceptable super-spy, the ladies are adept enough, and Alberto Dalbes is effective as Carver, the slimy villain of the piece. The movie's score is terrible.

Verdict: Sub-standard Eurospy trash in widescreen Eastmancolor. **.


Tony Kendall and Brad Harris
KOMMISSAR X: ISLAND OF LOST GIRLS (aka Three Golden Serpents/Drei goldene Schlangen/1969). Director: Roberto Mauri.

Those adventuresome daredevils, private eye Joe Walker (Tony Kendall) and Captain Tom Rowland (Brad Harris), are back in another "Kommissar X" adventure set in Thailand. ("Kommissar X" is a nickname for Walker.) Tourist Maud Leighton (Loni Heuser) contacts the two men when her daughter, Phyllis (Hansi Linder) is kidnapped in Bangkok. Phyllis has been taken to an island where captive women are held to be sex slaves for wealthy perverts. Armand Landru (Walter Brandi), is a French agent who is actually in the employ of  Madame Kim Soo (Vilaiwan Vantanapanich, a supposedly benevolent woman who has numerous charitable interests and is apparently above reproach. Petra (Rotraut de Neve) is assigned to watch over the ladies, but makes a break for it and tries to get help. There is also an ice princess, Kathin (Monica Pardo), who makes poisons for Landru and paralyzes Joe at one point, placing a cobra near his bed. The cultists employed by Madame Kim Soo all have tattoos of three snakes (hence the alternate title Three Golden Serpents), and her handsome associate Frank (Carlos de Castro) has a mean way with a knife. Island of Lost Girls boasts some colorful locations and has a fast pace. The basic plot actually deserves a better movie. Everyone in the movie is dubbed, including the two lead actors. An Italian-West German release.

Verdict: Average, modestly entertaining Kommissar X feature. **1/2.


Shirley Eaton as Sumuru  or Sumitra or Sumanda
THE GIRL FROM RIO (aka Rio 70/aka Die sieben Manner der Sumuru/1969). Director: Jess Franco.

In this pseudo-Eurospy movie and sort-of sequel to The Million Eyes of Sumuru, the arch-villainess who wants women to take over the world has created her own country of Femina. Sumuru (Shirley Eaton) kidnaps people and does other nefarious deeds to raise money for her all-female nation. A private eye named Jeff Sutton (Richard Wyler) has been hired to find his client's daughter, Ulla (Marta Reves), and cooks up a scheme to carry a suitcase allegedly filled with ten million dollars, figuring Sumuru is sure to nibble at the bait and take him to where Ulla is imprisoned. A weird character named Masius (George Sanders) has also heard about the money and orders his hit man, Carl (Herbert Fleischmann). to get it, meaning Jeff not only has to get Ulla out of Sumuru's jail but dodge attacks from Carl and his cronies. "Sumuru" first appeared in several novels by Sax Rohmer, the creator of Fu Manchu, but for some reason she is called "Sumanda" in this even as the closing credits list her name as "Sumitra." By any name, The Girl from Rio is an atrocious film, whose only purpose is to combine a trip to Rio for Carnivale with a tax loss. Eaton does her best, Sanders is as professional (and as wasted) as ever, and Wyler [The Strange Door] is also a capable enough actor, but the movie can best be described as a glorified home movie with terrible cinematography and typically poor Jess Franco direction. Sumuru keeps her prisoners in glass cells, half-naked, and entranced by a hypnotic mist. One scene has Jeff "tortured" by having several women crawling all over him and kissing him. The shame of this is that Rohmer's character was an interesting one, with fascinating aspects, but she's been reduced to a cartoon. The novels definitely had a homoerotic edge to them, although Sumuru was clearly interested in men, but in this movie the only sex she has is with another woman. The title tune is pleasant, although it reminds one of "The Girl from Ipanema." Most of the money for this film seems to have been spent on costumes for Eaton and the ladies. The script is by schlockmeister Harry Alan Towers, who also produced the film. Jess Franco's The Awful Dr. Orloff was not as awful as this. Rohmer's character later appeared in the 2003 film Sumuru.

Verdict: Interminable! *.

SOLO -- A James Bond Novel

SOLO. A James Bond novel. William Boyd. HarperCollins; 2013.

The year is 1969 and James Bond's boss, "M," asks 007 to intercede in a civil war going on in a small West African nation, Zanzarin. Oil has been found on one tribe's land, and said tribe decides to secede instead of sharing the bounty with the entire country. The head of this new nation of Duham is Solomon Adeka, who might have to be "taken care of" because Duham is now seen as a threat to certain oil interests. Portraying a journalist, Bond infiltrates Duham with the help of a pretty agent named Blessing Ogilvy-Grant, and encounters the vicious mercenary Kobus Breed and a millionaire philanthropist named Hulbert Linck who is using his money to bring arms and more mercenaries into Duham to fight against Zanzarin forces. Betrayed by familiar faces and nearly killed, Bond winds up in Washington, D.C., on an unsanctioned (or "solo" mission) where he re-encounters some of the Duhami players as well as Felix Leiter of the CIA, and comes face to face with hard and cold facts of war and oil. Solo is a more serious and sobering James Bond novel than usual, with less of the more flamboyant aspects of the 007 books written by Ian Fleming and John Gardner. Suspenseful and intriguing, the only flaw in Solo is that there is no really memorable villain for Bond to match wits with, as Kobus Breed is a merely an especially nasty underling. Still, this is a solid, entertaining Bond book. A questionable aspect of the book is how an agent of Bond's ability can be taken by surprise -- by a group of men, no less -- sneaking up on him on more than one occasion.

Verdict: Solid 007. ***.

TRIGGER MORTIS -- A James Bond Novel

TRIGGER MORTIS. A James Bond novel. Anthony Horowitz. 2015; HarperCollins.

Trigger Mortis takes place after the events of Ian Fleming's Goldfinger. James Bond is back in London co-habiting with the apparently happily bisexual Pussy Galore. Both of them are aware that this will not be a long-lasting romance, and in a scene that is somewhat comical Pussy meets up with her next lover a few chapters into the book. Then Bond is ordered to become an undercover auto racer in order to save the life of speedster Lancey Smith, who has been targeted by those nasty Russians of SMERSH. Meanwhile Bond also encounters a sinister Korean man named Jason Sin, who seems to be in league with SMERSH and unveils a diabolical plan to wipe out half of Manhattan. Sin's origin includes the horrifying true-life massacre at No Gun Ri -- in which hundreds of innocent refugees, mostly women and children and the elderly -- were mowed down by U.S. soldiers with orders to kill (although some claim this was an unfortunate "accident"), an event that had a devastating impact on the few survivors. Bond's female helpmate in this is the unfortunately named Jeopardy Lane (ugh!). Horowitz has done a good job of updating Bond and exploring his psychology while remaining faithful to the 1950's period, and there is plenty of action, hair-breath escapes and death traps, and a finale thrilling enough to please any serious 007 fan.

Verdict: Excellent James Bond adventure! ***1/2.


SPECTRE (2015). Director: Sam Mendes.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) seems to have two adversaries in this outing. One is Ernst Stavros Blofield (Christoph Waltz of Inglorious Basterds [sic]), who is running the organization, SPECTRE, a group that links together previous villains and deaths in 007's sphere. The other is Max Denbigh or "C" (Andrew Scott), the head of the Center of National Security, who thinks M (Ralph Fiennes of Wrath of the Titans) and his methods are hopelessly out of date. M sends Bond out on an assignment that has him infiltrating a SPECTRE meeting, one of the best and most suspenseful scenes in the movie. Other characters include Marco Sciarra (Allesandro Cremona), who engages Bond in Mexico City, and the Bond women include Lucia (Monica Bellucci), the widow of an infamous criminal, and Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), the daughter of another criminal named White (Jesper Christensen), who may have secret knowledge of SPECTRE. Craig is terrific as Bond, Waltz makes an effective Blofeld, and the other actors are good, including nice turns by Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, and Ben Whishaw as "Q." The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is excellent, and there's a good score by Thomas Newman, although the title tune is all but ruined by the dreadful "singing" of Sam Smith. A train fight doesn't compare to the one in From Russia with Love.

Verdict: Sinister, but not as thrilling as it ought to be, although it's not a bad 007 entry. ***.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


Steve Cochran and Mamie Van Doren
THE BIG OPERATOR (1959). Director: Charles F. Haas.

Bill Gibson (Steve Cochran) comes afoul of a foul union boss named Little Joe Braun (Mickey Rooney). In his campaign to keep everyone in line and stay out of jail, Braun has Gibson's friend and neighbor -- and an angry union advocate -- Fred McAfee (Mel Torme) beaten, dumped and set on fire. Worse, Braun has Gibson's little boy, Tommy (Jay North), kidnapped, leading to a surprisingly dull and protracted scene when Gibson and his wife, Mary (Mamie Van Doren) drive around -- and around and around -- searching for the kid. The Big Operator is decidedly minor-league film noir of a type, but it is distinguished by some vivid performances. Rooney gets top honors for his sterling portrait of the loathsome mob boss, with Ray Danton also making his mark as Braun's "executioner." Cochran [The Chase], and even Van Doren [Born Reckless], are fine as the parents (in an early scene they express worry over the child and then leave him alone in the house!), and while not a "revelation" as such, Mel Torme [The Fearmakers] is quite good as McAfee. Others in the cast include everyone from Jim Backus and Vampira (Maila Nurmi) to Jackie Coogan and 'Red" Barry, with Ziva Rodann thrown in for good measure.

Verdict: Minor crime film with interesting cast. **.


Cover by Kealan Patrick Burke
Shameless promotion!

I'm happy to announce that the prestigious Cemetery Dance publishers is releasing spanking new epub editions of several of my horror-suspense novels. These books are available on kindle and elsewhere.

The Dragon has to do with very strange goings on at an archaeological dig in New Mexico. There are pregnant workmen, huge slugs crawling across the desert, the ruins of an ancient city inside a mesa, and, of course, the title creature who causes a lot of havoc. Bizarre stuff indeed, and many readers thought it was a lot of fun; hopefully new readers will agree. Kealan Patrick Burke did the great covers for the books.

Shivers and Things That Go Bump in the Night are also currently available. More on them in the near-future, as well as on additional titles from Cemetery Dance.

The Dragon is available at amazon and elsewhere.

Yes, it would make a great movie!


Slingin' Sammy Baugh
KING OF THE TEXAS RANGERS (12 chapter Republic serial/1941). Directors: William Witney and John English.

Texas ranger Tom King Jr. (Slingin' Sammy Baugh) learns that his father (Monte Blue) has been murdered by fifth columnists who are out to sabotage certain oil fields. Since these fields  are out of his jurisdiction, King decides to fight against the saboteurs as a private agent. Working with King are Pedro (Duncan Renaldo of Zorro Rides Again) of the Mexican Rurales; intrepid reporter Sally Crane (Pauline Moore of Arkansas Judge); and Wichita Bates (Kermit Maynard). Working against King, although King is unaware of it, is John Barton (Neil Hamilton), who secretly reports to "His Excellency" (Rudolph Anders of She Demons) from his dirigible. Sammy Baugh was a football star who had a very brief career as an actor, and is perfectly adequate in this serial. Cast in the Lyle Talbot role of smooth bad guy, Neil Hamilton is slightly more interesting than Talbot, but hardly riveting. Duncan Renaldo probably makes the best impression as the likable Pedro, and others in the cast, generally Barton's henchmen, include Roy Barcroft and Jack Ingram. Chapter one has a great cliffhanger in which oil fields are set ablaze and a flaming derrick falls on top of a cabin with King and Sally inside. Even better is the explosion at the end of chapter two, which blows up both ends of a tunnel containing a train. There's a tense business involving a hood holding a grenade in order to force a man to obey his orders. In chapter seven a truck smashes into a shed with King inside. Cy Feuer's music helps keep things moving at a rapid pace. The serial's suspense is minimized, however, because we're clued into the ultimate bad guy's identity from the very beginning.

Verdict: Republic serial is not bad and not great. **1/2.


LANA: THE LIFE AND LOVES OF LANA TURNER. Jane Ellen Wayne. St. Martin's; 1995.

This fairly short, readable volume provides an overview of the life and career of Lana Turner, whose acting talents were always questioned (in spite of giving some effective performances in certain films such as These Glamour Girls and A Life of Her Own), and whose troubled marriages and love life were widely reported on in the press. Lana, who apparently was always "Lana Turner," seemed to marry men who were less interested in the woman herself and more in her beauty, fame and money. She is a perfect example of someone who seems to have everything but whose personal life provides only heartbreak and emotional turmoil. The biggest scandal in La Turner's life was when her daughter, Cheryl Crane, stabbed Lana's brute of a lover, Johnny Stompanato, to death -- Crane wrote her own book, but questions still remain about this incident, which was turned into the book and movie Where Love Has Gone with Susan Hayward in the Lana role. Lana documents virtually every affair Turner had, as well as most of her movies, medical issues, and later years which were undeniably difficult for an aging glamour queen. One of Turner's ex-husbands, actor Stephen Crane, appeared in Cry of the Werewolf. Jane Ellen Wayne also wrote Stanwyck.

Verdict: Page turner for Turner fans and movie star enthusiasts in general. ***.


Peter Lorre
MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY (1941). Director: William Morgan.

Socialite P. Cadwallader Jones (Dennis O'
Keefe) is assigned to the district attorney's office primarily on the strength of his father's name. At first he's a first-class screw-up, but then he gets involved with some missing money, and a suspect, Hyde (Peter Lorre), who seems to be missing himself. This picture is the first of two that were based on the radio series of the same title -- there were two TV series as well -- all of which have the exact same title, which meant that I looked up Mr. District Attorney and couldn't understand why there was a completely different cast aside from O'Keefe (not even playing the same character) and Lorre was nowhere to be found. Well, of course that was the 1947 version. In any case, this picture is utterly undistinguished but for the brief appearance of Peter Lorre. O'Keefe is okay, and the supporting players include Minor Watson, Grady Sutton, Stanley Ridges, and Florence Rice. After Lorre, Helen Brown makes the best impression as Hyde's wife. Let's hope the second movie with this title was a bit better.

Verdict: Fast-paced but stupid and uninteresting. *1/2.


SWAMP FIRE (1946). Director: William H. Pine.

The teaming of Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe as adversaries who come to blows is the chief selling point of this pot-boiler. Although Weissmuller is top-billed, probably because of his Tarzan films, the main character is actually played by Crabbe. Mike Kalavich (Crabbe) returns from  the war and back to the Louisiana bayou, where a lack of confidence interferes with his ability as a pilot to safely guide ships through the Mississippi river. People think he's lost his nerve when he makes a decision that costs him his cargo, but not human lives. Meanwhile Johnny Duval (Weissmuller) returns from combat duty to his home on the Delta and eventually comes into conflict with Mike. Mike, who joins the Coast Guard, is involved with Toni (Carol Thurston) but a spoiled heiress named Janet (Virginia Grey) has set her cap for Mike; she and Toni have a lively bitch-slap session and a hair-pulling match that is probably the highlight of the picture. Crabbe isn't bad in this, but as expected, the best performance comes from the always-vital Virginia Grey [Another Thin Man] . Pierre Watkin is also in the cast as Grey's father, but then Watkin seems to have been in virtually every other movie ever made and is competent but little else in all of them. Weissmuller and Crabbe also appeared together in the "Jungle Jim" film, Captive Girl.

Verdict: Two Tarzans and Olympic swimming champs face off but the results are less than spectacular. **1/2.


Josh Duhamel and Alice Eve
MISCONDUCT (2016). Director: Shintaro Shimosawa.

New Orleans lawyer Ben Cahill (Josh Duhamel), feeling neglected by his busy nurse wife, Charlotte (Alice Eve of She's Out of My League), makes a date with an ex-girlfriend named Emily (Malin Akerman). Emily is the lover of possessive pharmaceutical giant Arthur Denning (Anthony Hopkins), who fiddled with the lab results of his drug Vypraxilin to get around the FDA, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Emily gives Ben confidential information that can help his firm win a major lawsuit against Denning; Ben's boss, Charles Abrahms (Al Pacino), agrees to go along with it. But, of course, there are major complications as well, including murder, and a handsome, dying Asian-American hit man (Byung-hun Lee of G. I. Joe: Retaliation) who shows up now and then ... Misconduct is aptly named, although there are many who will argue that it is the filmmakers who are guilty of same. The movie isn't dull, and it has a few interesting plot twists, but it becomes increasingly ridiculous as it goes along, and the ending probably had most people in the audience going "what the f--k?" There are some mildly clever ideas in the screenplay, but they are not well-executed, and the movie throws so many disparate scenes at the viewer that most people watching the flick will only be irritated and confused. Even when the damn thing is over there are still loose ends. (For instance, did the hit man take Vypraxilin  himself?)  This is the "Al Pacino" movie that notoriously made only $150 in the UK, but both he and Hopkins have just supporting roles. [One would think they would have called this an "Anthony Hopkins" movie in England, but despite Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins was never quite as big a star as Pacino.] Pacino is in his southern jive talk mode, which doesn't really work for his character, and his accent, as usual, comes and goes. Hopkins makes a better impression as his opponent and easily steals the movie. Josh Duhamel is quite effective in the lead role, although he may be way too calm in certain sequences. Malin Akerman makes an impression as the provocative Emily, but Alice Eve's every line and look seems heavily coached by the director, and she is generally unconvincing. Julia Stiles [The Omen] is much better as a private eye hired by Denning when his girlfriend is allegedly kidnapped. The final twist in this was already used in a well-known novel/movie of a few years ago in which it was equally predictable.

NOTE: For more about Al Pacino and his films, good and bad, see Al Pacino: In Films and On Stage by yours truly.

Verdict: Coherency is not this film's strong point. Maybe if it were a French film with sub-titles? **.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


STRIKE UP THE BAND (1940). Director: Busby Berkeley.

High school student Jimmy Connors (Mickey Rooney) has one passion: playing the drums in a band. Mary Holden (Judy Garland) has just one passion: Jimmy Connors. Mary can also sing quite well. Jimmy wants to take his band to Chicago to play on Paul Whiteman's radio show in a band competition, but where oh where can  he get the money for traveling expenses. Just when the money is raised, a dear friend, Willie (Larry Nunn), becomes seriously ill and needs an operation ... The sentiment is thick  but somehow never overbearing in this charming musical which boasts the talents of Rooney and Garland, both of whom are typically superb. Larry Nunn offers a highly appealing and sympathetic portrait of Willie, who has a hopeless crush on Mary and proposes -- at thirteen! William Tracy [Terry and the Pirates] and June Preisser [Judge Hardy and Son] play two more of the kids, most of whom look like they've been out of high school for quite a few years. The title tune was composed by Gershwin, but the other songs are by Freed and Edens, including the memorable "Our Love Affair," expertly warbled by Garland, and "I Ain't Got Nobody." (Garland's torch song, "The Curse of an Aching Heart," was cut.) Ann Shoemaker [Seventeen] plays Jimmy's mother, who has always wanted him to be a doctor. While Shoemaker is always good, in this she just seems to come on too strong and smothering.  Nunn was a very talented child actor but his film career only lasted eight years.

Verdict: Rooney and Garland in top form! ***.


The amazing Cheetah
TARZAN'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE (1942). Director: Richard Thorpe.

Hunter Buck Rand (Charles Bickford of Anna Christie) and his associates Jimmie (Paul Kelly of Zeigfeld Girl) and Manchester (Chill Wills) are in the Congo trying to capture lions for a circus. Naturally Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) objects to this, but Boy (Johnny Sheffield) is fascinated by their plane. Buck is fascinated himself when he observes how Boy can make a pack of elephants do whatever he wishes. After it appears that Tarzan and Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) have been killed in a fire, Buck takes Boy back to New York with him. But when Tarzan finds out his son is gone ... Tarzan's New York Adventure is a very entertaining Tarzan film even though it goes far, far afield from Edgar Rice Burroughs' original conception. In this film Tarzan is so stupid that he takes a shower before taking off his one good suit (which dries off in miraculous time). In the novels, Tarzan had his savage side when it was called for, but he wasn't a monosyllabic and unsophisticated dummy. The stupidest moment in this movie occurs when Tarzan gives out with his famous yell and Jane says" Good heavens -- what's that?" even though she's heard it hundreds of times. Burroughs gave Tarzan and Jane a biological son who was named Jack, and later became known as "Korak" -- the boy in this movie is an orphan. Despite all this, the movie is a lot of fun. Cheetah has so much to do in the movie that it could almost be re-titled Cheetah's New York Adventure; you certainly hear her cackle that fabricated hyena laugh often enough. The chimp's special moments include her encounter with a water cooler, and her putting a trio of elephants through their paces as if she were an orchestra leader. The pachyderms are also amazing as Boy has them put on a show for the trio from New York. The actors in this are all good, with an uncredited Mantan Moreland having a couple of good moments reacting to Cheetah on the other end of the telephone. Virginia Grey is also fine as a nightclub singer who helps Tarzan and his mate find Boy. Cy Kendall, fatter than ever, plays the head of the circus. Sidney Wagner's photography, especially those striking shots of New York, is outstanding. This was O'Sullivan's last appearance as Jane, but Weissmuller and Sheffield had a few more pictures to go. Followed by Tarzan Triumphs.

Verdict: Highly improbable but also highly enjoyable Tarzan movie. ***.