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

Thursday, April 28, 2016

THE ROBE

The stunning scenic design of The Robe
THE ROBE (1953). Director: Henry Koster.

After angering Caligula (Jay Robinson), tribune Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton), son of a senator (Torin Thatcher), is sent off to Jerusalem with his proud slave, Demetrius (Victor Mature). Marcellus is one of several men ordered to crucify Christ by Pontius Pilate (Richard Boone). Marcellus wins the robe of dead Christ in a game of dice but finds he is unable to wear it, then Demetrius runs off with it. Ordered to get it back by Emperor Tiberius (Ernest Thesiger), so the "bewitched" item can be destroyed, Marcellus encounters a group of devout Christians and begins to see things their way ... The Robe, the first film shot in CinemaScope, is often rather spectacular to look at, thanks to Leon Shamroy's superb cinematography and the splendid scenic design, but it can hardly be called a "great" movie. It's a given that the film's religiosity might seem oppressive to some viewers, but the film begins to lull about halfway through and never quite recovers -- it's when the quite pious Justus (Dean Jagger) shows up, along with the crippled and beatific singer Miriam (Betta St. John). However, the film does boast several good performances, especially Burton as Marcellus, with good (if unexceptional) turns from Jean Simmons as our hero's lady love, Diana; Thatcher as Marcellus' father; Robinson as a screechingly effective Caligula; Thesiger as the elderly emperor; and Michael Rennie as Peter. Three actors worthy of special mention are Victor Mature [Kiss of Death], who is excellent as Demetrius, even if his performance consists mostly of expressive pantomiming; Michael Ansara [Dear Dead Delilah] in a striking turn as Judas; and Jeff Morrow [The Giant Claw] who certainly scores as the centurion, Paulus, and who figures in an exciting sword fight with Marcellus. Jay Novello, Percy Helton and Thomas Browne Henry are also good in bits as a slave trader, wine merchant, and physician, respectively. Alfred Newman's score washes the whole movie in dramatic overtones. Followed by Demetrius and the Gladiators.

Verdict: Certainly well turned out for what it is. **1/2.

ALIEN 3

Alien checks out Sigourney Weaver
ALIEN 3 (1992). Director: David Fincher. NOTE; This review is of the special expanded edition/assembly cut.

After the end of Aliens, Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) escaped from LV-426 with the child, Newt, and Corporal Hicks. Unfortunately, it turns out that there was an alien on board, and the ship crash lands on Fury 161, a closed prison planetoid whose inhabitants have chosen to remain on this dismal world. As if she hadn't enough heartbreak, Ripley learns that Newt and Hicks have died, and discovers something even more horrifying about her medical condition. The company is still after a specimen of that dreadful alien species, and nothing else seems to matter, leading Ripley to make a moving sacrifice to save the lives of millions. Not overly loved at the time of its release, and with undeniable flaws, Alien 3 is actually a very good horror sci-fi flick with some excellent performances, interesting psychological elements, and adroit characterizations in the screenplay by Giler, Hill and Ferguson. The supporting characters include the medical officer, Clemens (Charles Dance), who has his own secrets; Dillon (Charles S. Dutton), who has turned the other cons into religious converts; the crazy Golic (Paul McGann), who sort of "bonds" with the alien; Aaron (Ralph Brown), a kind of warden who only wants to get back to his wife and kids; and others, who are vividly brought to life both by the script and the performances. Some creepy and suspenseful sequences as well. Elliot Goldenthal contributed an effective score; a nice touch is the way the 20th Century Fox fanfare at the opening ends on an ominous, sinister and sustained down-note. Followed by Alien: Resurrection.  Fincher also directed Gone Girl and Zodiac.

Verdict: A highly interesting mix of genres and characters with some fine performances. ***1/2.

THE WICKED LADY

 Faye Dunaway having a Horrible Hair Day
THE WICKED LADY (1983). Director: Michael Winner.

In this remake of The Wicked Lady, Caroline (Glynis Barber) is about to marry the wealthy Sir Ralph Skelton (Denholm Elliott), when along comes her cousin Barbara (Faye Dunaway) who steals away Skelton, marries him, and retains poor Caroline as her domestic. When Barbara loses a treasured heirloom in a card game to witchy sister-in-law Lady Kinsclere (Prunella Scales), she decides to disguise herself as a highwayman and steal the jewelry back. Barbara realizes that she finds great excitement as a robber and decides to continue her career, meeting up with the notorious Jerry Jackson (Alan Bates) ... This is not quite a black comedy version of the original, but it does border on the burlesque, especially with the portrayal of Dunaway during one part of her campaign to come off like a drag queen having a Hideous Hair Day. There is no subtlety whatsoever to Dunaway's performance, but then no one comes off that well under Michael Winner's direction, despite some of the noted players. Barber makes little impression as Caroline, and even the great John Gielgud as the pious servant Hogarth can't hold a candle to Felix Aylmer in the original. It's hard to believe that Caroline would prefer Ralph as portrayed by Elliott over Kit Locksby (Oliver Tobias). That being said, The Wicked Lady retains its great story and those who are unfamiliar with the Margaret Lockwood-James Mason version may at least find it entertaining. This is almost a scene-by-scene remake but it adds a kinky, gratuitous cat fight between Barbara and Jackson's girlfriend (Marina Sirtis), with the former taking a whip to the latter's naked breasts at a public hanging. Alan Bates [Georgy Girl] does what he can with the Jackson role, but he hasn't that perfect style of Mason. Dunaway is almost photographed as badly in this as she was in The Eyes of Laura Mars.

Verdict: Unless you like seeing bare breasts being whipped, skip this and stick with the far superior original. **1/2 out of 4.

THE HOLLYWOOD BOOK OF BREAKUPS

THE HOLLYWOOD BOOK OF BREAKUPS. James Robert Parish. John Wiley and Sons; 2006.

This absorbing tome looks into the lives, loves and break-ups of both old and new, very familiar names in movies and on television: Woody vs. Mia; Aniston vs. Pitt; DeMaggio vs. Monroe; Cruise vs. Kidman; Hughes vs Peters; Eastwood vs Locke; and so on, going all the way back to the days of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Sr., while stopping to revisit the likes of Madonna vs. Sean Penn and Sonny vs. Cher along the way. There are also chapters on Petter [sic] Lindstrom's bitter split with Ingrid Bergman over lover and film director, Roberto Rosellini; Ted Danson's bizarrely appearing in blackface during his involvement with Whoopi Goldberg; the bad marriage of Cary Grant and Barbara Hutton; and dozens more. Throughout its pages, the book documents one basic Hollywood truism: that relationships in La La Land are often based more on career advancement than "love." It is amusing how people who break up relationships via affairs justify their infidelity. Anne Heche, who discarded Ellen DeGeneres as she had Steve Martin before her, seemed to blame DeGeneres for her affair because Ellen didn't trust her, but considering that Heche had an affair with a cameraman while everyone was filming a documentary about Ellen, it seems DeGeneres' fears were thoroughly justified!

Verdict: Excellent look at the bizarre nature of Hollywood relationships and the disasters they often incur. ***1/2.

CRY VENGEANCE

CRY VENGEANCE (1954). Director: Mark Stevens.

Former cop Vic Barron (Mark Sevens) comes to Alaska in search of mobster Tino Morelli (Douglas Kennedy), whom Barron feels is responsible for the death of his wife and child as well as his own facial disfigurement. Searching for the man and plotting his revenge, he encounters bar owner Peggy Harding (Martha Hyer) and old girlfriend, Lily (Joan Vohs). Barron is so understandably intent on getting even that he even contemplates harming Morelli's little girl, Marie (Cheryl Callaway). But before he can get to Morelli, he has to deal with a nasty blond hit man named Roxey (Skip Homeier). Homeier [Stark Fear], Hyer and Vohs [Lure of the Swamp] give the best performances in this; striving for a depiction of single-minded intensity, Stevens, who also directed, plays it all in one note. Mort Mills, the cop in Psycho, has a small role, as does Richard Deacon [The Birds] as a bartender.

Verdict: Acceptable if minor-league film noir. **1/2.

THE CREEPING TERROR

Vic Savage
THE CREEPING TERROR (1964). Director: "A. J. Nelson" (Vic Savage).

Sheriff Martin Gordon (Vic Savage, who also directed) discovers that a spaceship containing two very weird creatures has landed in his figurative backyard. One of these creatures, who resembles a shambling carpet with vacuum hoses on top, shuffles around devouring people whole, victims who never seem  to have the common sense to just run away from the slow-moving alien.  Martin and his wife, Brett (Shannon O'Neil) are newlyweds who would rather be spending their time alone but Martin and his deputy Barney (Brendon Boone), as well as Dr. Bradford (William Thourlby) and Colonel Caldwell (John Caresio), must investigate all of the disappearances. The creature attacks a dance at a gymnasium and seems to consume virtually all of the souls there (at least the film might have suggested the victims were hypnotized). There is some minor suspense at the end when the protagonists try to stop the alien ship's computer from broadcasting info about earthlings and their weaknesses back to the home planet. Much of the soundtrack to The Creeping Terror was lost, which is why the movie is practically narrated. It's by no means a good movie, but it has a workable plot and might have amounted to something had it been directed by Roger Corman. Savage and the making of the film were examined in the docudrama The Creep Behind the Camera. Some of the actors in Terror actually went on to have decent careers.

Verdict: Oy vey! *1/2.        

THE CREEP BEHIND THE CAMERA

Josh Phillips as Vic Savage
THE CREEP BEHIND THE CAMERA (2014). Writer/director: Pete Schuermann.

Art Nelson (Josh Phillips) struggles to finance and put together a terrible monster epic called The Creeping Terror, in this docudrama about the making of the film and the life of its director, who was actually named Vic Savage. The film "savages" the late director's reputation with real-life scenes of his widow talking about how he was a wife-beater, psychopath, and a pedophile and god knows what else, but this embittered woman seems to be the only source of these horrible stories -- there is no real research into the veracity of these reports at all, but then the film has to live up to its title. There are also on-camera interviews with other people involved with the movie, some of whom are played by actors during the fictionalized segments. Josh Phillips gives a good performance as "Nelson," as do Jodi Lynn Thomas as his wife, Lois; Bill LaVasseur as actor/producer William Thourlby; and Mark Lee as FX man Jon Lacky, but the style of the film is off-putting and disorganized, and it needs a much better script. It seems the most unforgivable thing in Hollywood is to make a cheap and lousy movie.

Verdict: A burlesque in more ways than one. **.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

SUMMER HOLIDAY

Mickey Rooney and Marilyn Maxwell
SUMMER HOLIDAY (1948). Director: Rouben Mamoulian.

In this musical adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness!" Mickey Rooney plays Richard Miller, the teen son of a solid Connecticut family. Richard is always trying to stir the pot with his radical political ideas, even as his Uncle Sid (Frank Morgan) hopes to gain the hand of Cousin Lily (Agnes Moorehead) in marriage. Richard has a girlfriend in Muriel (Gloria DeHaven ) but out on the town with a friend he encounters hooker-hard showgirl, Belle (Marilyn Maxwell). Unfortunately, none of this leads to anything very interesting and eventually the flick becomes quite tiresome. Rooney is as good as ever, as are Moorehead, and Walter Huston as the boy's father, and Maxwell makes a minor impression as the showgirl. The songs by Warren and Blaine might be the type that need to grow on you, but on first hearing they don't linger in the mind. This as Eugene O'Neill as filtered through Andy Hardy! The same play was also turned into a Broadway musical by Bob Merrill called "Take Me Along" with Jackie Gleason playing Uncle Sid.

Verdict: Scene by scene this might mimic O'Neill, but there's something missing. **.

NICE GIRL?

Franchot Tone, Deanna Durbin, Robert Stack
NICE GIRL? (1941). Director: William A. Seiter.

Small-town girl Jane Dana (Deanna Durbin) has a perfectly swell, handsome boyfriend in Don Webb (Robert Stack of The Tarnished Angels), but wanting to appear more sophisticated, she makes a flagrant play for an older man, Richard Calvert (Franchot Tone of Honeymoon), which only makes her seem like an idiot. That's basically the plot of this dull movie that hasn't enough drama or laughs to make it even worth sitting through -- not even Durbin's singing can save it! There are some good actors in it, including Robert Benchley [The Bride Wore Boots] as Jane's father; Helen Broderick as a housekeeper, Cora; and Walter Brennan (almost looking young) as a mailman who has a hankering for Cora. Ann Gillis and Anne Gwynne play Jane's younger sisters, and we've also got Elisabeth Risdon from the Mexican Spitfire movies and Kenneth Howell from the Jones Family series in much smaller roles.

Verdict: This picture is so slight it hardly seems to exist. *1/2.

ALIENS

Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn
ALIENS (1986). Director: James Cameron. Extended edition/director's cut.

After the climax of Alien, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has drifted in space for 57 years. (In a scene omitted from the theatrical version, we learn Ripley had a daughter who grew up and died while she was away, which intensifies her feelings for the little girl, Newt, that she meets later on.) The powers-that-be, including corporate employee, the slimy Burke (Paul Reiser), first "disbelieve" Ripley, but then they learn that a colony that was established on LV-426, from whence Ripley escaped, is no longer in communication with earth. Stripped of her rank, Ripley is promised a promotion if she returns with Burke, android Bishop (Lance Henriksen), and a contingent of marines to LV-426 to see what's up. Naturally they find a whole host of alien monstrosities, along with the sole survivor, Newt (Carrie Henn), and a monstrous mother queen who is laying more eggs on a regular basis. Unlike the first film and in spite of its sci fi/horror trappings, Aliens is more of a war movie/action film than anything else, but on that level it is extremely exciting, although, as in the first movie, there are too many long scenes of Ripley running and running through smoky corridors. One especially good and scary scene has Ripley and the child discovering that a face-hugger (the creature that wraps itself around your face and deposits a parasite) has gotten into their quarters and they're locked inside with it. The acting from Weaver [Tadpole], Reiser [One Night at McCool's], Henricksen [AVP] and Henn is excellent -- I rarely like Weaver in anything but the Alien movies -- and there are also noteworthy performances from Michael Biehn as Corporal Hicks, William Hope as his commanding officer, Lt. Gorman, and especially Bill Paxton as the overtly cocky but understandably terrified Private Hudson, with some nice work from Jenette Goldstein as the tough, Hispanic Private Vasquez. This vision of the future is already dated, and the movie has several illogical moments, but it is very, very entertaining. Followed by Alien 3.

Verdict: Like quite a few people, the aliens have acid for blood. ***.

CARRY ON CRUISING

CARRY ON CRUISING (1962). Director: Gerald Thomas.

Captain Wellington Crowther (Sidney James of Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary?)) of the Happy Wanderer cruise ship discovers that most of his crew have been replaced and are fairly incompetent. Since Crowther is hoping to gain the command of an ocean liner, he is none too happy with the situations he finds himself in. Other crew members include the snooty first officer (Kenneth Williams); the bartender, Sam (Jimmy Thompson); the cook, Wilfred (Lance Percival); the shy Dr. Binn (Kenneth Connor) and the steward, Tom (Cyril Chamberlain). The passengers include Flo (Dilys Laye) and Gladys (Liz Fraser), two young women with an eye out for eligible bachelors, and the delightful old lady, Mrs. Madderley (Esma Cannon). While Carry on Cruising is a minor picture, it does boast an excellent cast of fine comic actors, and has some very amusing sequences.

Verdict: As "Carry On" movies go, this isn't too bad. **1/2.

CAPRICORN ONE

Sam Waterston, O. J. Simpson, James Brolin
CAPRICORN ONE (1978). Director: Peter Hyams.

Astronauts Brubaker (James Brolin), Willis (Sam Waterston) and Walker (O. J. Simpson) are about to go off on a flight to Mars when they are told by Dr. James Kelloway (Hal Holbrook) that the mission is scrubbed because of a faulty life support system. Kelloway is afraid the space program will lose its funding. so he and his associates decide to film the astronauts on a sound stage and make the world believe they have actually landed on Mars. Brubaker and the others are appalled by what they've participated in, but they really get worried when it is announced that the three "died" during re-entry. Then the chase is on ... Capricorn One has an utterly absurd premise (inspired by the notion that the Moon landing was staged), but it holds the attention and has a terrific, suspenseful climax where a suspicious reporter (Elliot Gould) tries to save Brubaker, and an old-fashioned bi-plane is engaged in a dogfight with two sinister helicopters. As for the acting, Holbrook walks off with the movie, particularly in a long monologue when he tells the three men what's happened and the reason for the hoax they're about to perpetrate. The three lead actors are okay but give perfunctory performances (considering what has happened to them), even Waterston, although he has some good moments out in the desert. Brenda Vaccaro as Brubaker's wife plays the role of "widow" a little too jovially. The script lacks depth but that may be because no one had any real faith in the premise.

Verdict: If you ignore the sheer preposterousness of the premise, the movie is fun. ***.

CALENDAR GIRL MURDERS

Tom Skerritt
CALENDAR GIRL MURDERS (1984 telefilm). Director: William A. Graham.

Richard Trainor (Robert Culp) is the publisher of Paradise magazine. He has just issued a new calendar with shapely naked women in it, when one of those women is shoved off a tenth floor balcony. More murders of models follow. Lt. Dan Stoner (Tom Skerritt of Alien) is assigned the case, but would rather be doing anything else. He is drawn to pretty Cassie Bascomb (Sharon Stone), who wants to have an affair with him despite the fact that he is married. Suspects in the case include everyone from Trainor's assistant Cleo (Barbara Parkins) to comic Nat Couray (Robert Morse). Robert Beltran [Eating Raoul] plays another cop; Alan Thicke is a photographer; and Meredith MacRae plays herself as a TV reporter. Calendar Girl Murders features good performances from Skerritt, Stone, Morse, and some of the others, but it's pretty bad, even dull, like a slasher film that excised all the slashing and suspense. Talented Morse has had a strange, if interesting, career. In the sixties, around the time of How to Succeed in Business, he had a fairly high profile. Some years later he was appearing on sit-com episodes but wasn't even listed as a "special guest-star." But weep not for Morse, as now he is playing the real Dominick Dunne on American Crime Story and all along has had a busy career. This movie is not one of its high spots. Sharon Stone [Catwoman], of course, went on to better (?) things. Despite the success of the big-screen Alien, Skerritt has kept busy mostly on television.

Verdict: Clumsy TV movie looks thrown together with spit and chewing gum. **.

FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

The supposed Dr. Doom
FANTASTIC FOUR (2015). Director: Josh Trank.

I thought the original Fantastic Four film franchise, which consisted of two films, was perfectly good, but the FF was rebooted with this mediocre, but not totally awful, picture, which fans and critics seemed to hate, to put it mildly.  Fantastic Four does have a number of problems, the first being that the cast appears to be a little too young. As Reed Richards or "Mr. Fantastic," Miles Teller [Whiplash] completely lacks the charm of Ioan Gruffudd in the original films. Kate Mara [House of Cards], as Susan Storm or the "Invisible Girl" looks, as usual, as if she's twelve. [Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell play, respectively, the Human  Torch and the Thing.] The origin of the team and how they gained their powers has been changed from a trip to outer space and an encounter with cosmic rays, to a journey to an alternate dimension called "Planet X." The "Dr. Doom" (Toby Kebbell of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) of this movie only remotely resembles the venerable character from the comic books (admittedly Doom was a bit different in the previous films as well). There are too many military complications in this, and a tiresome plot, but there are some interesting touches, and the film, while disappointing, is not that bad. There's a good score by Marco Beltrami and Philip Glass. As of now Marvel is no longer publishing its flagship title (which first appeared in 1961!), and the failure of this film will probably not change that situation any time soon, for shame. See The Silver Age of Comics for more info on the FF.

Verdict: Better stick with the X-Men. **1/2.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

THE HORROR! THE HORROR!

Michael Redgrave in Dead of Night
THE HORROR! THE HORROR! 

This week we've got a round-up of horror anthologies, which have been around for quite some time. Dead of Night is one of the earliest, and we have anthologies from the sixties (Dr. Terror's House of Horrors); seventies (The House that Dripped Blood); and eighties (From a Whisper to a Scream); and others.

If you like horror anthologies, several have already been reviewed on Great Old Movies, including Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Asylum, Tales that Witness Madness, Trilogy of Terror and the telefilm Dead of Night, which bears no relation to the Michael Redgrave film.

Enjoy!

DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)

Michael Redgrave
DEAD OF NIGHT (1945). Directors: (Alberto) Cavalcanti; Charles Crichton; Basil Dearden; Robert Hamer.

Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns of Edward, My Son) comes to a house to see about a possible restoration, and encounters a group of people that he has seen in a dream. He wants to leave, because in his nightmare things end very badly, but some of the guests tell of their own peculiar experiences. Grainger (Anthony Baird), a racer who nearly died, has a vision of a hearse that warns him of disaster; a young girl, Sally (Sally Ann Howes) discovers the ghost of a little boy (uncredited) during an party in an old house; Peter Cortland (Ralph Michael) is given an antique mirror whose original owner comes to possess him; a triangle over a woman, Mary (Peggy Bryan) and two golf enthusiasts leads to comical, supernatural complications; and Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk of Bad Blonde) relates the tale of a ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave), who is convinced that his dummy, Hugo, is alive and wants a new partner. The best tale by far is the last of the five, and it boasts an intriguing script and a superb performance from Redgrave, whose despair is palpable. The mirror story isn't bad, but the other two aren't that well developed. The fourth story about the golf enthusiasts is pretty stupid and not especially amusing. Georges Auric [Caesar and Cleopatra] has contributed an interesting score. In addition to the ventriloquist story, the most memorable sequence details poor Walter's exacting and delirious nightmare.

Verdict: Redgrave and the dummy make the movie. *** out of 4.

DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing
DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965). Director: Freddie Francis.

In this horror anthology from Amicus, the fortune teller Dr. Shreck (Peter Cushing) entertains fellow travelers on a train by using his cards to tell their futures, none of which look especially bright. All of the tales that follow employ very familiar concepts. Architect Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) goes to work at the old house and discovers a werewolf with other, bloody plans for him. Inspector Hopkins (Bernard Lee) investigates when a very strange and intelligent plant begins killing people. A musician (Roy Castle) incurs the wrath of a voodoo god when he uses a West Indian chant from a religious ritual for one of his songs. Art critic Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) is so humiliated by painter Eric Landor (Michael Gough) when the former praises a painting actually done by a chimp, that he runs Landor over -- and the latter's disembodied hand begins following him everywhere. Dr. Carroll (Donald Sutherland) discovers the surprising identity of a vampire who is on the loose. The only really memorable segment in this is the one with the severed hand, and that's primarily because of the performances of Lee and Gough, who make marvelous antagonists. Peter Cushing and others in the cast are all quite good, including Jennifer Jayne [They Came from Beyond Space], who loses herself in the characterization of Carroll's French wife, Nicole; Sutherland [The Split] is also excellent. That same year there appeared a much better "killer plant" story on TV's The Avengers, "The Man-Eater of Surrey Green."

Verdict: Not much originality in this, but it's entertaining and well-acted. **1/2.


THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD

Jon Pertwee tries out his cloak
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971). Director: Peter Duffell. Screenplay by Robert Bloch.

"Dracula -- the one with Bela Lugosi, of course, not this new fellow." -- Paul Henderson

A well-known actor in horror films has disappeared from an old house he had rented, and this leads into the telling of four tales centered around this creepy domicile. In "Method for Murderer" a fiction writer's creation, a maniac (Tom Adams of The 2nd Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World), seems to come to life to cause havoc for which the writer (Denholm Elliott) is blamed. In "Waxworks," two men (Peter Cushing; Joss Ackland of Crescendo)  become obsessed with the wax figure of Salome, who reminds each of them of a lost love, whom -- you might say -- they lose their heads over. In "Sweets to the Sweet" the stern John Reid (Christopher Lee of The Horror of Dracula) hires a nanny (Nyree Dawn Porter) for his strange little girl, Jane (Chloe Franks), with terrible results. The fourth tale, "The Cloak," is an amusing black comedy in which actor Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee) finds a cloak in a shop which turns him into a vampire each time he puts it on; Ingrid Pitt is Anderson's female lead in this and is fine. But the best performances come from Cushing, Lee, Pertwee, and little Franks. The House that Dripped Blood is very entertaining, and is one of the best of the horror anthologies, not lame as some of Bloch's other screenplays.

Verdict: Chills and laughs all served up with relish. ***.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974). Director: Kevin Connor.

This anthology, based on the work of R. Chetwynd-Hayes, features stories that are loosely tied in with an antique shop run by an elderly proprietor (Peter Cushing). The first story deals with a mirror  with a demonic inhabitant who urges the owner, Edward Charlton (David Warner) to butcher women. In the second story Christopher Lowe (Ian Bannen), a man saddled with a harridan of a wife (Diana Dors,) encounters an old fellow veteran (Donald Pleasance of You Only Live Twice), and his rather odd daughter (Angela Pleasance) who falls for him -- or so he thinks. The third story is about a man (Ian Carmichael) and his wife (Nyree Dawn Porter) who hire a medium, Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton of The Astonished Heart), to get rid of an "elemental" that is causing havoc. The fourth and final episode, which is easily the best and most suspenseful, has a man (Ian Ogilvy of And Now the Screaming Starts) affixing an antique door to a cupboard and discovering that it now opens into a cobwebbby and sinister old room that is kept alive by human sacrifices, one of whom almost becomes his wife (Lesley-Anne Down).

Verdict: Well-produced Amicus film with some good actors and generally mediocre scripts. **1/2 out of four.

NIGHTMARES

NIGHTMARES (1983). Director: Joseph Sargent.

This horror anthology is unusual because it has no framing sequence. "Terror in Topanga" is the old chestnut about an escaped maniac terrorizing a town. Phil (Joe Lambie of Falcon Crest) tells his wife Lisa (Cristina Raines) not to go out for cigarettes, but she doesn't listen. The ending to this segment is so utterly flat that it's a wonder anyone bothered reading past it in the screenplay. "The Bishop of Battle" is equally forgettable, a silly business about a young man, J. J. (Emilio Estevez of Mission: Impossible), who has a desperate need to reach the highest level of a video game and wishes that he hadn't. 'The Benediction" is a lower-case version of Duel and The Car, with a priest (Lance Henriksen of Damian: Omen 2) who is having a crisis of faith, being pursued on the highway by a demonic van. This is religious twaddle, but the highway scenes are not badly done. The fourth and best episode is "The Night of the Rat," in which a couple (Veronica Cartwright and Richard Masur) discover that their home has been invaded by a giant and rather intelligent "Devil Rat." Some would dismiss this segment as monster schlock, but it is undeniably creepy and suspenseful with some very effective scenes.

Verdict: "Night of the Rat" pretty much saves this otherwise lame horror pic. *** out of 4.

FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM

Vincent Price
FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (aka The Offspring/1987). Director: Jeff Burr.

After Beth Chandler (Susan Tyrrell) witnesses the execution of murderess Katherine White (Martine Beswick of Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde), she visits White's father, Julian (Vincent Price), who tells her that his daughter was affected by the evil influence of the town of Oldfield. To illustrate his point, he relates several stories from varying time periods. Stanley Burnside (Clu Gulager) has a weird relationship with the sister (Miriam Byrd-Nethery) he lives with, but is developing a passion for a co-worker that leads to disaster. Jesse Hardwick (Terry Kiser), on the run from gangsters, runs into a very old man named Felder Evans (Harry Caesar), who has a life-sustaining potion that Jesse tries to kill for him, but Evans gets terrible revenge upon him. Steven Arden (Ron Brooks) is afraid to love Amarrillis (Didi Lanier) because he's scared of the "Snakewoman" (Rosalind Cash) who runs the carnival where he is employed as a glass eater. This voodoo priestess has terrible powers that keep everyone in thrall to her. Finally, during the very final days of the Civil War, Sgt. Gallen (Cameron Mitchell) and his fellow soldiers come afoul of a group of children who answer to a creepy "magistrate" who does not have the soldiers' best interests at heart. From this situation emerges the new and creepy Oldfield. From a Whisper to a Scream has EC Comics-style plots and features some good performances, especially from Price, Cameron [Pier 5 Havana], and Gulager in a well-done character turn.

Verdict: Absorbing if imperfect horror anthology with a more subdued Price in good form. **1/2.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

BECKET

Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole
BECKET (1964). Director: Peter Glenville.

In the 12th century the Saxon Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) becomes friend, companion -- and some feel, collaborator -- with King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) -- and the two go "drinking and wenching" together. First Henry makes Beckett the Royal Chancellor, and then hits upon the idea of making him Archbishop of Canterbury. This is done because of the friction between the king and the Catholic Church, but Henry gets a surprise when Becket takes his role seriously and becomes seriously pious. When an arrested priest escapes jail and is killed by a Nobleman, Becket wants the man excommunicated, which Henry sees as a blow against England. If Becket goes ahead with his plans, there will be terrible consequences ... Becket is a handsome, well-produced, and well-acted film with a fine score by Laurence Rosenthal, striking production design by John Bryan, and excellent wide-screen photography by Geoffrey Unsworth, but Becket must not be taken as literal history. Edward Anhalt's script was based on a poorly-researched play by Jean Anouilh which ignores the fact that Becket was not a Saxon, but a Norman as Henry was. While this may add more motive and conflict to the story, it simply isn't true. Then there's the blatant homoerotic element. The relationship between the two men first seems like a warm if cautious friendship, but turns strange (by 1964 standards) when Henry's wife and mother both object to the presence of Becket in the king's life. Henry's mother accuses her son of having an "unhealthy" and "unnatural" obsession with him; O'Toole plays certain scenes like a discarded lover; Henry clearly loves Becket much more than his wife and children; and at one point cries out in anguish in front of his men at how much he still loves Thomas Becket. If King Henry II had romantic or sexual longings for Becket, or if the two had a relationship early in life, there has never been any historical proof of it . In a sense the portrayal of Henry is the cliche of the tormented homosexual or bisexual man who acts as much out of "twisted" passion and rejection as anything else, like Rod Steiger's character in The Sergeant.

Richard Burton is excellent as Becket, while O'Toole is superb as the king. There is also fine work from John  Gielgud as the King of France; Donald Wolfit [Room at the Top] as Bishop Folliot, who'd hoped to be made Archbishop himself; David Weston as Brother John, a would-be assassin (of Becket) turned monk; and Sian Phillips as Gwendolyne, who loves Becket and comes to a sad fate. As the movie's representations of Henry's mother and wife, respectively, Martita Hunt [The Brides of Dracula] and Pamela Brown seem merely to be striking poses and busily "acting" compared to the others. Besides the distortion of history, there are other problems with the movie, such as the "cutesy" element of some scenes, with the king acting like a girl-crazy adolescent and the Pope almost turned into a figure out of a sitcom. There is absolutely no sense of the passage of time.

Verdict: Entertaining, dramatic "history" served up on a now dated psycho-sexual platter. ***.

THE WICKED LADY

Lock Up Your Valuables: Margaret Lockwood
THE WICKED LADY (1945). Director: Leslie Arliss.

"How can I fail to love a man as rich as he is?" --  Barbara Worth.

Sir Ralph Skelton (Griffith Jones) is engaged to lovely Caroline (Patricia Roc), when her cousin, Barbara (Margaret Lockwood), shows up and manages to steal Ralph away from her. After the marriage the somewhat masochistic Caroline stays on to help run the estate. Barbara becomes a little careless and in a card game loses an heirloom, a beautiful necklace that belonged to her mother, to the unctuous Henrietta (Enid Stamp-Taylor). Hearing of a notorious highwayman who robs coaches, Barbara decides to emulate him to get the heirloom back and for excitement continues her career as  a masked desperado. The Wicked Lady seems to take a weird turn at this point, but that's when things get really interesting, with Barbara falling in love with the highwayman, Captain Jerry Jackson (James Mason) even as her husband, Ralph, pursues the both of them without knowing her true identity. The performances from the entire cast, including Felix Aylmer [Never Take Candy from a Stranger] as the pious servant, Hogarth, are excellent; the movie has a fast pace; and the situations that develop are suspenseful and fascinating, Lockwood [Hungry Hill] and Mason [Child's Play] make a great team -- the two appeared together in the terrible A Place of One's Own -- and Michael Rennie delivers in a small but significant role as another man who falls in love with Barbara.

Verdict: Dark and twisted romantic melodrama with excellent performances. ***1/2,

CONSTANTINE AND THE CROSS

CONSTANTINE AND THE CROSS (aka Costantino il grande/1961). Director: Lionello De Felice.

Cornel Wilde [The Naked Prey] is cast as Emperor Constantine, who as a general beat back the barbarian hordes, in this fictionalized story of his trials and tribulations and his relationship to his Christian mother Elena (Elisa Cegani); wife Fausta (Belinda Lee of Footsteps in the Fog); and her evil brother, Maxentius (Massimo Serato), who accuses Constantine of murdering his own father, among other melodramatic elements. Then there is the secondary romantic couple, also Christians, Livia (Christine Kaufmann) and the centurion, Hadrian (Fausto Tozzi). The multi-national cast in this Italian epic isn't bad, and there is some excellent widescreen photography (Massimo Dallamano) of sweeping battles and the like. Wilde has his usual commanding presence.

Verdict: Not bad historical epic with an interesting cast. ***.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RAINBOW: WITH JUDY GARLAND ON THE DAWN PATROL

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RAINBOW: With JUDY GARLAND on the Dawn Patrol. Mel Torme. Galahad; 1970.

Mel Torme, who had a successful career as a singer in his own right, was importuned to sign up as the musical director of the new Judy Garland Show for television during a slow period. Torme's marriage was also breaking up at the same time, and dealing with the difficult, mercurial, and neurotic Garland while also dealing with his unhappy wife almost gave him nervous prostration. Then there was the usual behind-the-scenes backstabbing and power plays that are generally a part of TV shows where more than one ego is wrestling for control. Due to her consumption of pills and liquor, Garland went through mood swings and personality changes and the crew and co-stars never knew if the lady would even show up for the rehearsals and taping and how good -- or how bad -- she would be if she did. Torme talks about the best and worst moments of the show, and many of these bits can be seen on youtube. While The Other Side of the Rainbow is a good and fast read, the details of how this show was put together by an insider may be more interesting than the already familiar and unpleasant stuff about dipsomaniac Garland. Torme gives the woman her due as a great singer and entertainer, but underneath the praise you can tell there was some honest hatred of Garland over her two-faced and unfair dealings with Torme. For one thing, she sort of tried to push him out after she developed a hankering for young singer, Bobby Cole.

Verdict: Anything you ever wanted to know about The Judy Garland Show and a good look at the inner workings of a dying TV series as well. ***.