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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER

THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (1962). Director: John Gilling.

"I'm not a man of action. Perhaps I think too much to be brave."

Jason Standing (Andrew Kier), a magistrate at a 17th century Huguenot settlement on the isle of Devon, sends his own son Jonathon (Kerwin Mathews) to a penal colony for the alleged crime of adultery. Jason manages to escape and falls in with a group of French pirates run by a Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee). Being assured that the pirates represent no danger to his people, Jonathon leads them back to Devon, and discovers you can't quite trust the word of a pirate. Other characters caught up in the action include Jonathon's sister Bess (Marla Landi), and her fella, Henry (Glenn Corbett of Homicidal). Michael Ripper and Oliver Reed [Paranoiac] play other pirates. This is a very handsome non-horror Hammer production, with Lee, unfortunately, being more subdued than usual in trying to avoid the stereotype of the fire-breathing pirate chief. There is an unconvincing attack by piranha, but Gary Hughes' score is a plus, as is the photography of Arthur Grant [The Terror of the Tongs]. Andrew Kier offers the most memorable performance.

Verdict: Not bad Hammer historical melodrama with an interesting cast. **1/2.

MILLION DOLLAR WEEKEND

Gene Raymond and Osa Massen aka Stephanie Paull
MILLION DOLLAR WEEKEND (1948). Director: Gene Raymond.

Stockbroker Nicholas Lawrence (Gene Raymond) steals a million dollars cash from the office safe and takes off for a "vacation." On the flight to Honolulu he meets troubled Cynthia Strong (Stephanie Paull), who is under suspicion of murdering her husband. These two people bond, developing feelings for each other, but they have to deal not only with their own possible guilt but with Alan Marker (Francis Lederer), who tries to blackmail Cynthia but then is content to run off with Nicholas' suitcase full of loot. Nicholas and Cynthia pursue Alan to San Francisco, where Lawrence is desperate to recover the money so he can return it before the theft can be discovered ... Million Dollar Weekend is a good and unpredictable suspense film bolstered by very good performances from Raymond [The Locket] and Lederer [Terror is a Man], and has a lively climax. Paull later changed her name to the better-known Osa Massen [A Woman's Face], and is okay as Cynthia. The picture doesn't have a lot of style but as the director, as well as star, Raymond keeps things moving. Massen's clothing was designed by Barbara Barondess MacLean, former actress turned fashion designer.

Verdict: Quick entertaining melodrama. ***.

SO RED THE ROSE

Randolph Scott and Margaret Sullavan; guess who loves whom
SO RED THE ROSE (1935). Director: King Vidor.

When the Civil War breaks out it deeply affects the Southern Bedford family, run by patriarch, Malcolm (Walter Connolly), who is married to Sally (Janet Beecher), with whom he has two sons (Harry Ellerbe; Dickie Moore) and a daughter, Val (Margaret Sullavan). Val is in love with a distant cousin, Duncan (Randolph Scott), but he seems completely unaware of her feelings whereas George Pendleton (Robert Cummings) has affection for Val. At first Duncan tries to be neutral, which prompts Val to accuse him of cowardice, not exactly the right way to get a romance off to a good start. But then Duncan joins up with the confederacy and off to war he goes ... This is a more or less forgotten Civil War epic made four years before Gone With the Wind, but it's a creditable film, bolstered by fine performances by Sullavan [The Good Fairy], Connolly, and others; Elizabeth Patterson [Lady on a Train] overacts a bit as old Mary Cherry but is also good. On the debit side is a lot of phony glory and the depiction of rebellious slaves as being both lazy and criminal. Johnny Downs [Trocadero] plays a Yankee soldier, a mere boy, who is temporarily hidden by the Bedfords. The film is well-photographed by Victor Milner -- one especially striking shot shows Sullavan running past a tree into the sun.

Verdict: Anything with Sullavan in it is of interest, but this is not a bad movie despite flaws. ***.

THE FAKE

THE FAKE (1953). Director: Godfrey Grayson.

Paul Mitchell (Dennis O'Keefe of Weekend for Three) is investigating the theft of a couple of da Vinci paintings when he arrives at the Tate gallery in London. Once there, he suspects that the da Vinci in their collection is a fake. One of the main suspects for the forgery is an unsuccessful painter named Henry Mason (John Laurie of Island of Desire), whose daughter, Mary (Colleen Gray of The Phantom Planet), works at the gallery and is appalled and angered by Mitchell's suspicions, which hardly helps him make time with her. Others mixed up in the case include Smith (Guy Middleton), Peter Randall (Gerald Case), and Sir Richard Aldingham (Hugh Williams). Will Mitchell survive this investigation as the forger gets increasingly desperate to avoid capture? The only really interesting thing about this by-the-numbers movie with its TV-like production is that the score is based on Mussorgsky's "Pictures from an Exhibition." The acting is decent.

Verdict: Not quite a fake movie, but close. **.

THE BIG CAPER

THE BIG CAPER (1957). Director: Robert Stevens.

Frank Harper (Rory Calhoun of Night of the Lepus) is the original instigator of a plot to rob a bank that holds a huge Army payroll. Among Harper's confederates are nervous Zimmer (Robert H. Harris of Mirage), pretty Kay (Mary Costa), Harry (Paul Picerni), big operator Flood (James Gregory of Nightfall), and sexually ambiguous Roy (Corey Allen), who wiggles his ass in front of Kay but is also gleefully whipped by Flood in one weird sequence. Harper has second thoughts about the whole business when he learns that part of the scheme includes blowing up a school ... The kinky characters are what distinguishes this otherwise standard caper movie, which has some good performances, especially from Gregory, Harris and Allen. Roxanne Arlen plays a woman who has the misfortune of getting in with the gang.  Robert Stevens also directed In the Cool of the Day and many television shows.

Verdict: Okay caper film with some zesty scenes and acting. **1/2.

TERROR FROM THE YEAR 5000

TERROR FROM THE YEAR 5000 (1958). Director/writer: Robert J. Gurney Jr.

On an isolated island scientists are working on a machine that can both send and receive items to and from the future. It takes nearly an hour for them to drag the title "terror" from the future, a radioactive woman (Salome Jens) who kills in a panic and runs about like a mutant, clawed chicken with its head cut off. The picture becomes livelier with her appearance, but not much better, as it is basically a low-budget sci fi programmer with a couple of interesting ideas but mediocre execution. Jens is the only actor in the cast who makes any kind of impression, and she went on to better things, such as the excellent Seconds with Rock Hudson. The movie is badly over-scored. Leading lady Joyce Holden was also in The Werewolf.

Verdict: Go out and miss this visitor. **.


THE CORPSE CAME C.O.D.

George Brent
THE CORPSE CAME C.O.D. (1947). Director: Henry Levin.

Beautiful actress Mona Harrison (Adele Jergens) gets a big crate delivered to her, postage due, and discovers that there's a dead body inside it! The corpse belongs to Hector Rose (Cosmo Sardo), a fashion designer for the studio. As handsome Lt. Wilson (Jim Bannon of Unknown World) tries to solve the case, he is helped and hampered by two rival reporters -- Joe (George Brent) and Rosemary (Joan Blondell) -- who are fighting their attraction to one another. Then there's another murder, and a mysterious cache of diamonds. You want to like The Corpse Came C.O.D., because of its premise and its cast -- Adele Jergens [The Fuller Brush Man] in particular is a Great Old Movies favorite -- but this sinks into tiresome mediocrity almost from the first, although the identity of the killer is a mild surprise. The leads do their best to enliven the somewhat leaden proceedings. Adele looks great -- she puts poor Blondell [We're in the Money] in the shade -- but this is not one of her more memorable performances. Such reliable actors as Una O'Connor and Grant Mitchell do their bit and there are quite a few familiar faces, including famous columnists such as Hedda and Louella, who are featured in a prologue about Hollywood. The producers obviously wanted to hedge their bets by using the columnists/critics in the movie, but it doesn't make the picture any better.

Verdict: Dead nearly on arrival. **.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

FLIGHT TO HONG KONG

FLIGHT TO HONG KONG (1956). Director: Joseph M. Newman.

"When a man makes a mistake, all of his friends suffer."

Tony Dumont (Rory Calhoun of The Colossus of Rhodes) has been living well ever since he got in with hood Michael Quisto (Paul Picerni), to the consternation of his fiancee, Jean (Delores Donlon). Tony's rationale is that he was afraid to say no to Quisto. On a flight to Hong Kong Tony meets writer/socialite Pamela Vincent (Barbara Rush) and the two are attracted to each other; the flight is hijacked to assist in the theft of a fortune in industrial diamonds, a theft that Dumont has actually had a hand in. As Pamela pursues Tony -- his fiancee be damned -- Tony's associates Nicco (Pat Conway) and Lobero (Aram Katcher) try to betray Quisto with unpleasant results. But then, drawn to Pamela, Tony makes up his mind to do the same thing ... Flight to Hong Kong is a flavorful, unpredictable crime drama with interesting settings from Hong Kong to Macao, good photography (Ellis W. Carter), and a suspenseful final quarter. Other cast members include Werner Klemperer, Carleton Young and Mel Welles [The Little Shop of Horrors] but the best performances are from Barbara Rush [Bigger Than Life] and Soo Yong as Tony's friend, Mama Lin. Nice score by Albert Glasser.

Verdict: Not bad at all. ***.

CASH ON DEMAND

Peter Cushing and Andre Morrell
CASH ON DEMAND (1961). Director: Quentin Lawrence.

Harry Fordyce (Peter Cushing of Frankenstein Created Woman) is a tight-assed manager of a local bank. One afternoon into the bank walks amiable Colonel Gore Hepburn (Andre Morell of The Plague of the Zombies), who represents the firm of Home and Mercantile, which provides security for the bank. Once Fordyce and Hepburn are ensconced in the former's office, Fordyce receives a desperate phone call from his wife, who tells him that she and their little boy are being held prisoner. Hepburn then coolly tells him that if he wants the woman and child to live, he must help him rob the bank ... Cash on Demand is not only suspenseful, but beautifully acted by the two principals and the rest of the cast. It even manages a moment or two of pathos. It is a real and rare treat to watch those fine actors Cushing and Morell work together. Quentin Lawrence also directed the delightful Crawling Eye/Trollenberg Terror.

Verdict: A little gem from Hammer studios. ***.


ROCKETSHIP X-M

The astronauts explore red planet Mars
ROCKETSHIP X-M (1950). Director/producer/writer: Kurt Neumann.

The first manned spaceship and its team -- consisting of Colonel Floyd Graham (Lloyd Bridges), Major William Corrigan (Noah Beery Jr.), Dr. Karl Eckstrom (John Emery of Kronos),  Dr. Lisa Van Horn (Osa Massen), and Harry Chamberlain (Hugh O'Brian) -- take off for the moon but somehow, as if they were Abbott and Costello, wind up on Mars instead. Wandering around in stark, red-tinted landscapes, they discover stone age savages and have a depressing realization. The decent production values insure that the sets and FX are less cheesy than they are in similar movies, and there's a nice theme by Ferde Grofe [Albert Glasser was musical director]. The picture was also photographed by Karl Struss [Sunrise] and has a downbeat conclusion. Morris Ankrum gives perhaps the best performance as Dr. Fleming back on earth. There are no giant spiders in this although some may feel it could have used them.

Verdict: Not quite serious sci fi but close. ***.

THE MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES

THE MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (aka Perseo L'invincible/Perseus Against the Monsters/1963). Director: Alberto De Martino.

Perseus (Richard Harrison), an "honorary" son of Hercules, becomes embroiled in a war between two kingdoms, Seriglos and Argos. The ranks of the soldiers from the former kingdom, where Princess Andromeda (Anna Ranalli) holds court, have been depleted by a man-eating dragon that emerges from a lake, and many more have fallen victim to a Medusa in a valley whose gaze turns men into stone statues. Perseus must first manage to conquer the dragon, then decides to free all of the soldiers turned to stone by taking on the nearly impossible task of killing the hideous gorgon. Apparently there were a number of Italian mythological flicks made that, at least in their American versions, featured assorted "Sons of Hercules" and this is one of them. Carlo Rambaldi worked on the monsters: a mechanical dragon with limited movement which nevertheless doesn't look too terrible; and the Medusa, who resembles a tree with one yellow glowing eye and many hair-like stalks. Richard Harrison was an American muscle man hired to star in many Italian epics of this nature; he is still working in films at seventy-nine. The settings and music are effective and the film is modestly entertaining, although not in the league of the original Clash of the Titans, which also features Perseus and Medusa. De Martino also directed Kirk Douglas in The Chosen.

Verdict: Fun Italian spectacle. **1/2.

HOUSE OF WHIPCORD

HOUSE OF WHIPCORD (1974). Director: Pete Walker.

Anne-Marie (Penny Irving) falls for a guy who calls himself "Mark E. DeSade" (Robert Tayman). Unfortunately, Anne-Marie doesn't get the reference, and she goes off with him to meet his parents. Said parents turn out to be a demented former judge (Patrick Barr) and his wife (Barbara Markham), who, with the assistance of two female prison guards, capture and punish "loose" and immoral women for their alleged betterment. House of Whipcord is not the super-sadistic, gruesome field day that one might imagine  -- and some might have preferred -- but it isn't badly acted and holds the attention, although it should have been trimmed of at least twenty minutes. The older actors make more of an impression, with Sheila Keith vivid as the somewhat butch matron, Walker. Director Pete Walker, in the meantime, also directed SchizoThe Comeback (in which Keith was also quite effective), and several other horror films.

Verdict: Not terrible, just kind of ho-hum. **.

CAGE OF EVIL

CAGE OF EVIL (1960). Director: Edward L. Cahn.

Detective Scott Harper (Ron Foster) is bitter because he's been passed over again for a promotion, but the higher-ups feel the man is too free with his fists. Sexy blond showgirl Holly Taylor (Pat Blair) comes upon Harper in his disgruntled state, and cooks up a scheme for the two of them involving stolen diamonds and betrayal. The movie has a good script by Orville H. Hampton (although the narration is unnecessary), but what really puts it over is two very good lead performances from Foster and Blair [City of Fear]. Cahn's direction is typically undynamic. Robert Shayne [The Neanderthal Man], Henry Darrow, and Ted Knight are also in the cast.

Verdict: Rather absorbing low-budget crime drama with good performances. ***.

GRABBERS

Watch out for that mouth!
GRABBERS (2012). Director: Jon Wright.

On isolated Erin Island, where nothing much ever happens, Garda [or cop] Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) comes to work temporarily. Ciaran O'Shea (Richard Coyle), who drinks more than he should, is the island officer she is assigned to. Before long they both have their hands full with alien monstrosities of varying sizes -- one is absolutely huge -- who have slimy tentacles the better to snatch you up with and insert you into their toothy maws for dinner. Scientist Adam Smith (Russell Tovey) and the others determine that people who survive attacks by the monsters have a large amount of alcohol in their systems, so the two cops gather up the island residents to the local pub and get everybody drunk to save their lives; liquor is toxic to the hungry creatures. This is a likable, mildly gruesome horror-comedy that is abetted by good actors playing engaging characters; it's scary and funny but ultimately a little too silly for its own good. The FX and photography are top-notch.

Verdict: Not as much fun perhaps nor as inventive as Attack of the Crab Monsters, but it has its moments. **1/2.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

SEPTEMBER STORM

SEPTEMBER STORM (1960). Director: Byron Haskin.

In Majorca Joe Balfour (Mark Stevens of The Dark Corner) and his buddy Ernie (Robert Strauss of Here Come the Girls) hope that model Anne Traymore (Joanne Dru) will use her feminine charm to convince handsome young Manuel Montoya (Asher Dann) to let them use his boat to find some lost treasure of doubloons. They don't realize that Manuel only pretends to be a wealthy playboy and the boat is really owned by his employer, LeClerc (Jean-Pierre Kerien). A bigger problem is that Ernie may not really be the buddy that Joe thinks he is. September Storm is okay enough, but is much too leisurely-paced to build up much suspense, and is rather slipshod all told. Dru is odd casting. Supposedly this was shot in 3D, but you'd never know it. This was charming Dann's first movie; his other four credits were in television. Kerien made mostly French films.

Verdict: Not even three dimensions could save this. **.

TYRONE POWER EXHIBIT AT THE HOLLYWOOD MUSEUM


I got an email from Nicole Player, Manager of Media Relations & Operations at Weissman/Markovitz Communications:

Since you are an obvious fan of classic Hollywood, I wanted to forward you info about a new exhibit that might be of interest to your readers…

The Hollywood Museum, which houses the most extensive collection of Hollywood memorabilia in the world, is celebrating matinee idol TYRONE POWER’s centennial birthday year with a huge exhibit, opening this Friday, November 14. Tyrone Power was a huge heartthrob back in the 30s-50s and he has a huge following among classic Hollywood buffs like yourself.



 
NOTE: Some of Power's most memorable performances can be seen in Witness for the ProsecutionSon of Fury, The Mark of Zorro, Diplomatic Courier, Day-Time Wife, and Nightmare Alley.

 And here is the press release with lots of details:
 
Hollywood, CA, November 5, 2014 - The Hollywood Museum debuts “Tyrone Power: Man, Myth & Movie Idol,” celebrating Tyrone Power, sexy stage and screen idol of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, and his centennial birthday year with an intimate retrospective curated in collaboration with his son, Tyrone Power, Jr. This special exhibition will take an ‘inside’ look at the life, passions and career of the handsome star of more than 50 films, best known for his swashbuckler roles, romantic leads and striking good looks. The exhibit is on display November 14 through January 11, 2015, at The Hollywood Museum in the Historic Max Factor Building located at 1660 N. Highland Ave. at Hollywood Blvd.

Power was one of the top male sex symbols of Hollywood's golden era, from 1936 to 1958. He became an overnight sensation at just 22 years old and made more than 50 films during his career. Six months after his breakout role in Lloyd's of London (1936), his hand and footprints were memorialized in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Power was nicknamed "King of the Movies" by his fans and was also recognized as “King of the Fox Lot” (20th Century Fox Studios).

“We are delighted to spotlight one of Hollywood’s greatest legends and heartthrobs whose star talents transcended motion pictures, radio, live theater and television,” said Donelle Dadigan, Founder and President of The Hollywood Museum.

The “Tyrone Power: Man, Myth & Movie Idol” exhibition explores Power’s personal life including many illustrious romances, three marriages and three children. The comprehensive collection includes never before displayed items gathered from family, friends, private collectors and The Hollywood Museum archives.

Highlights of the Exhibition includes:

Costumes worn by Power include the iconic matador “suit of lights” from Blood and Sand (1941); embroidered pants from The Mark of Zorro (1940); black tailcoat with silver buttons from Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942); black hat with red feathers from Captain from Castile (1947); navy suit from The Luck of the Irish (1948) and much more.

Costumes worn by Power’s co-stars include a black gown worn by Maureen O’Hara in The Long Gray Line (1955), a pink brocade gown worn by Wanda Hendrix in Prince of Foxes (1949), a crème silk with fur trim jacket and gown worn by Gene Tierney in That Wonderful Urge (1948), a red sequin costume worn by Coleen Gray in Nightmare Alley (1947), a chartreuse ball gown from Marie Antoinette (1938) starring Norma Shearer; a vest worn by Don Ameche in In Old Chicago (1937) among many others.

Behind the Scenes in Hollywood include Power’s silk brocade dressing gown; personal mementos and photos provide a private look at Power’s many romances, three marriages, cars, friends and family.

Hollywood History - Power kept a copy of scripts from all of his movies. The exhibit includes scripts from The Razor’s Edge (1946), Blood and Sand (1941) and three 1937 films: Thin Ice, Love Is News and In Old Chicago. This collection also includes lobby cards, posters, press kits, press books and sheet music from songs in his many films.


Collectors include
Tyrone Power, Jr., Taryn Power, Romina Power, Maria Ciaccia, Debbie Beno, Cindra Reaume Webber and The Hollywood Museum Archives.

For Exhibit Photos: Click here

ABOUT TYRONE POWER:
Power appeared in a wide variety of film genres, from musicals to comedies, from westerns and swashbucklers, to dramas, showing a remarkable acting range. Before he made it in Hollywood, Power began his career on Broadway, mentored by stage actress Katharine Cornell. Scouts spotted him in a play and he was signed by 20th Century-Fox, becoming their top leading man for many years. He worked with most of the famous actors and directors of his time, including directors such as King Vidor, and actors Humphrey Bogart, Raymond Massey, Jeanne Crain, Alice Faye, Al Jolson, Cesar Romero, George Sanders, Loretta Young and Lana Turner, with whom he had a well-publicized romance in 1946. He also had liaisons with Judy Garland and Mai Zetterling.

Power took time out of his career to serve his country as a U.S. Marine Corps pilot in World War II, flying wounded soldiers out of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. His father, actor Tyrone Power, Sr., died in the arms of his son while on a film set. Power Jr.’s own life was cut short at the age of 44 when he had a heart attack on the movie set of Solomon and Sheba (1959). Actor Yul Brynner replaced him in the film. During his career, Power turned down a number of powerful roles including Burt Lancaster’s role in From Here to Eternity (1953) and Richard Burton’s lead role in The Robe (1953).

ABOUT THE HOLLYWOOD MUSEUM IN THE HISTORIC MAX FACTOR BUILDING:
The Hollywood Museum in the Historic Max Factor Building houses over 10,000 real showbiz treasures and the most extensive collection of Hollywood costumes, star cars, props, posters, photographs and memorabilia in the world showcasing more than 100 years of Hollywood history. Discover the glamour of old Hollywood from Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and Elvis Presley. Experience the excitement of today’s Hollywood stars from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, to Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Lo, Miley Cyrus, George Clooney among many others. The Hollywood Museum is also home to Max Factor's world-famous makeup rooms where Marilyn Monroe became a blonde and Lucille Ball first donned her signature red hair. Exhibitions spotlight Marilyn Monroe: The Exhibit, Hannibal Lecter's jail cell movie set from The Silence of the Lambs The historic photo gallery and the official walk of fame exhibit. The Hollywood Museum is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.

Location
: 1660 N. Highland Ave. (at Hollywood Blvd). Hollywood, CA 90028
Hours: Wednesday - Sunday, 10am - 5pm
Tickets:
General admissions $15, $12 for students and seniors; and $5 for children five and under.
Museum information: (323) 464-7776 | The Hollywood Museum

Follow the museum on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

MEDIA CONTACT:
Cheri Warner l Weissman/Markovitz Communications I cheri@publicity4all.com l 818.760.8995
 

THE BLACK WIDOW (1947)

THE BLACK WIDOW (12 chapter Republic serial/1947). Directors: Spencer Gordon Bennet; Fred C. Brannon.

"Wait! Open the tunnels and we'll cremate them!" -- Sombra. 

Sombra, aka The Black Widow (Carol Forman),  heads a group of nasties who are out to take over America and are desperate to get their claws on a new rocket formula. Sombra takes orders from her father, Hitomu (Theodore Gottlieb), who appears in a special chair via molecular teleportation, and comes off more like a Yiddish comedian on the Borscht circuit than a world-class international villain. Two reporters investigate the Black Widow: Joyce (Virginia Lindley/Lee), who is experienced, and Steve Colt (Bruce Edwards), whose only experience is as a writer of detective fiction and who never misses a chance to be obnoxious and sexist with Joyce [true, he also saves her life on more than one occasion].  Forman [Federal Agents vs Underworld Inc.] who is Asiatic by way of Alabama, fairly drips with steely disdain and evil; Virginia Lee proves plucky and makes an acceptable heroine, but Edwards is utterly colorless as the alleged hero. Some of the cliffhangers in this are recycled, but there are nifty ones as well: Joyce, stuck in a crate, nearly tumbles out of an airplane, and is nearly beheaded by a falling pane of sharp glass. Then there's the old gag with a bomb in the car. The business with Sombra's henchmen using a gas to change the color of their car while in flight is clever. All in all this is a very entertaining Republic serial. Tom Steele and Ramsay Ames are also in the cast.

Verdict: Sombra will getcha if you don't watch out! ***.




THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF

THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF (aka Gritos en la noche/L'Horrible Dr. Orloff/1962. Director: Jesus [Jess] Franco.

With the assistance of the mute, disfigured servant Morpho (Ricardo Valle), Dr. Orloff (Howard Vernon) kidnaps young woman which he uses in experiments to try to restore the beauty of his horribly scarred daughter, Melissa (Diana Lorys). Inspector Tanner (Conrado San Martin) is assigned to the case, in which several women have disappeared and descriptions are circulating of two sinister men. His fiance, opera singer Wanda (also played by Lorys), has seen the killer and stupidly decides to try to trap him on her own. Very reminiscent of Eyes without a Face, made two years earlier, almost to the point of being an imitation of it, The Awful Dr. Orloff is atmospheric and beautifully photographed by Godofredo Pacheco. There is full frontal nudity, much grabbing of naked breasts, and the film was undoubtedly considered sick for its day. The performances are adequate, but aside from the moody and poetic visual look of the film, this isn't especially memorable. Still, it's a lot better than many of Franco's movies [Count Dracula]. A Spanish-French co-production. For some reason in this the opera "Faust" is attributed to Meyerbeer instead of Gounod.

Verdict: Nice to look at if little else. **1/2.

DRESSED TO KILL

DRESSED TO KILL (1941). Director: Eugene Ford.

Private detective Michael Shayne is on the cusp of marrying his girlfriend, Joanne (Mary Beth Hughes), when murder intervenes and he discovers a couple of corpses at a theatrical (in every sense of the word) dinner party. The producer-host and an actress, both in costume, have been killed by an unknown party. It isn't long before Shayne is forgetting all about his nuptials and is frantically running about trying to solve the murders. Rarely is an actor cast as private eye Michael Shayne who is anything like the character created by novelist Brett Halliday, and homely Lloyd Nolan -- who played the part in several movies -- is no exception. However, miscast though he may be (he makes Shayne come off like a song and dance comedian), he gives an ingratiating performance. Hughes (The Cowboy and the Blonde) doesn't make much of an impression in this as his fiancee, but there are snappy performances from Henry Daniell [The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake], Mantan Moreland, Erwin Kalser, Milton Parsons [The Monster That Challenged the World], Virginia Brissac, and May Beatty, among others. The mystery plot itself has some clever moments.

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

VICE RAID

VICE RAID (1960). Director: Edward L. Cahn.

Tough gal Carol Hudson (Mamie Van Doren) is importuned to help her sugar daddy Vince Malone (Brad Dexter of Macao) frame vice cop Sgt. Whitey Brandon (Richard Coogan), who is threatening his modeling agency/call girl rackets. But then Carol's innocent, sweet sister, Louise (Carol Nugent) comes to town ... The best performance in this mediocre crime drama is from Barry Atwater as the sinister, kind of sexy Phil, who goes after the sister when he can't get Carol. Van Doren [High School Confidential] is competent, but she isn't riveting, and in this at least lacks that X factor that makes a big star. The other performances are at least professional. Nestor Paiva [Tarantula] has a small role.

Verdict: Low-grade melodrama with mostly minor-league performances. *1/2.

PASSION

PASSION (2012). Director/writer: Brian De Palma.

Christine Stanford (Rachel McAdams) is an advertising executive who takes credit for an idea developed by her assistant, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace). When Isabelle starts to assert herself -- and sleep with Christine's what-are-they-thinking? boyfriend, Dirk (Paul Anderson) --  Christine doesn't like it and humiliates her publicly. It all leads to bitchery of the extreme kind, as well as betrayal and murder. This is a remake of the mediocre Love Crime and is slightly better than the foreign original, though no world-beater. The film is more homoerotic than the original, but more likely because De Palma finds girl-on-girl action sexy than because of any desire to seriously explore lesbianism -- in fact, it's fairly exploitative and childish when it comes to the subject. The movie even goes so far as to present a lesbian as a blackmailing sexual predator! [In one stupid scene Christine calls an employee, Dani (Karoline Herfurth) a "dyke" and the latter lets her get away with it even though she just witnessed Christine kissing Isabelle on the lips!] Passion holds the attention and isn't badly acted, but it's nowhere in the league of De Palma's best movies, such as Carrie.

Verdict: Only for people who are easily titillated. **1/2.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN

Rudy Vallee, Loretta Young and Van Johnson
MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN (1949). Director: Lloyd Bacon.

Since her trust fund can't be accessed for several months, Abigail Fortitude Abbott (Loretta Young), a widow with a college-age daughter, has to figure out how to pay her bills. Most people would get a job, but instead Abigail decides to take advantage of a bizarre clause in her grandmother's will which allows anyone with her exact name to get a scholarship to her alma mater. So Abigail goes to classes at the same school as her daughter, Susan (Betty Lynn of Cheaper By the Dozen), but the two keep their relationship a secret. Wouldn't you know that both mother and daughter fall for the same handsome and charming Professor Michaels (Van Johnson)? Mother is a Freshman is highly-contrived but cute, with excellent performances, but it doesn't quite sustain the fun, although it's consistently pleasant. Barbara Lawrence [Kronos] plays another co-ed, and Rudy Vallee, once a singing idol, is again cast in middle-age as a stuffy unattractive-to-women type, in this case Abigail's lawyer, as he was in Unfaithfully Yours and other movies.

Verdict: Perky Loretta and dreamy Van make a good combo. **1/2.

STOP ME BEFORE I KILL!

STOP ME BEFORE I KILL! (1960). Director: Val Guest.

Race car driver Alan Colby (Ronald Lewis of Scream of Fear) is still recovering from a very serious highway accident and is on vacation with his wife, Denise (Diane Cilento of The Third Secret). Alan loves Denise, but has recurring feelings that he may harm or even kill her due to a neurotic nature he can't control. Denise seeks help from slimy psychiatrist David Prade (Claude Dauphin), whom most people wouldn't buy a used car from or anything else. Can Prade get to the root of Alan's psychological problems before disaster occurs? Stop Me Before I Kill! features a fine lead performance from Lewis, and a notable supporting performance from Francoise Rosay [September Affair] as David's mother -- the others are not bad, either -- but it's slowww, long, stagy and talky, and would have been better off as a half hour TV episode, although the "twist" in this can be seen coming practically from the first. An honest-to-goodness plot never really develops.

Verdict: A Hammer thriller that bores much more than it thrills. **.

MOTHRA VS GODZILLA

Yuriko Hoshi, Akira Takarada, Hiroshi Koizumi
MOTHRA VS GODZILLA (aka Mosura tai Gojira/Godzilla vs. Mothra/1964). Director: Ishiro Honda. Dubbed version released in the United States as Godzilla vs the Thing.

A gigantic egg is found floating offshore and a greedy entrepreneur decides to claim it and exhibit it, even though the tiny little twins from Infant island tell him it is the giant moth Mothra's egg and it must be returned to avoid "problems." Concurrently, Godzilla reawakens from his recent burial [in Godzilla Raids Again, perhaps?] and goes on another rampage. Professor Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi), reporter Ichiro (Akira Takarada), and pretty photographer Yoka (Yuriko Hoshi) appeal to the islanders to send Mothra to battle Godzilla, as the former's egg is threatened by the big lizard. The battle between the big bug and a flabby-jawed Godzilla is pathetic, the process work is decidedly uneven (with a few effective shots), and even children probably found this to be ultimately tedious. There is some majestic music as well as the twins' awful songs to Mothra. Akira Takarada, known as "Mr. Handsome" in Japan for good reason, was also in the original Godzilla/Gojira. FX by Eiji Tsuburaya. At least Mothra is a colorful and "attractive" creation.

Verdict: For Godzilla completists only. **.

A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY

A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY (1970). Director: Larry Buchanan.

In this pretty much entirely fictionalized story of "Pretty Boy" Floyd (former pop singer/teen idol Fabian Forte), Floyd is a sympathetic figure who only fell into crime because he was unfairly accused of murdering the man who shot his father to death. Before long prison escapee Floyd is under the wing of a middle-aged madame named Beryl (Annabelle Weenick), robbing banks with confederates, and becoming a kind of handsome folk hero. Forte doesn't disgrace himself in the role but the acting isn't the main strength of this movie, which is clearly aimed at the non-discriminating drive-in market and wears out its welcome pretty quickly. Larry Buchanan was also responsible for Zontar the Thing from Venus. At least this has somewhat better production values.

Verdict: Nothing all that pretty in this low-grade melodrama. **.