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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER

BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER (1960). Director: Edgar G. Ulmer.

Major William Allison (Robert Clarke) flies his plane on a test run and somehow manages to cross the time barrier, winding up in a dismal world 64 years in the future. Due to a cosmic plague from space travel, the inhabitants of the underground city he is taken to are mostly sterile deaf mutes, and there are mutants -- with very wrinkled bald pates -- groveling in a prison pit. People who have escaped the plague are contemptuously referred to as "Scapes." Both the Captain (Boyd "Red" Morgan) and Supreme (Vladimir Sokoloff), who are the rulers, suspect Allison of being a spy, although it's hard to imagine why anyone would want to spy on this pathetic "civilization." Other "spies," whose aircraft or spacecraft also crossed the time barrier in later years than Allison's, include General Kruse (Stephen Bekassy of Black Magic), Dr. Bourman (John Van Dreelen of The Leech Woman) and Captain Markova (Arianne Arden Ulmer, the director's daughter). The most sympathetic person in this futuristic world is Trirene (Darlene Tompkins), who seems to have some psychic power and is hoping to repopulate the world with Major Allison. The other "spies" want to help Allison get back to his time so he can prevent the plague, but perhaps they have something more sinister up their sleeves ... Clarke [The Hideous Sun Demon], who also produced, gives a good performance in this, but the movie is old comic book-level sci fi schlock: dying future societies with horrible mutants were nothing new even in 1960, and a couple of interesting ideas are not well-developed. The acting is generally good, with Arianne Ulmer, who had few other credits, credibly bitchy, and the expressive Tompkins, who was introduced in this picture, poor gal, getting things across with no dialogue; she had a few more credits than Ms. Ulmer. Both Sokoloff and Boyd, who wears a ridiculously long and pointy beard in this, had a great many credits. The ending is rather downbeat, especially given that the Major is a pretty decent guy.

Verdict: Could have used a few monsters to liven things up; Clarke deserved better. **.

THE FIRST TRAVELING SALESLADY

Very odd pairing: Clint Eastwood and Carol Channing
THE FIRST TRAVELING SALESLADY (1956). Producer/director: Arthur Lubin.

In 1897 feminist Rose Gillray (Ginger Rogers) tries to make a killing selling corsets, but when that doesn't pan out she inveigles a job selling barbed wire in the wild west, but has to deal with a powerful rancher, James Carter (David Brian), who is opposed to the use of it. Rose has a sort of thing going with Charles (Barry Nelson,) who has a horseless carriage, while her assistant Molly (Carol Channing) becomes embroiled in a romance with Lt. Rice (Clint Eastwood) in one of filmdom's strangest pairings. The performances are all good in this, with Rogers affecting a high squeaky voice and Channing, sounding just like "Satchmo," just being her own weird self. James Arness [The Thing from Another World] and Tristram Coffin [Up in the Air] have smaller roles.

Verdict: Cute picture. ***.

DIARY OF A BACHELOR

DIARY OF A BACHELOR (1964). Director: Sandy Howard. Screenplay by Freddie Francis writing as Ken Barnett.

Skip (William Traylor) is about to end his long, happy bachelorhood with Joanna (Dagne Crane). Joanne is already jealous enough when she decides to poke into Skip's diary, which collects his romantic misadventures, some of which are illustrated by scenes in the movie. There's the pretty blond call girl, Barbara (Susan Dean); the let's-just-keep-it- simple Nancy (Joan Holloway); the kooky Lois (Arlene Golonka) with the angry boyfriend; southern Jennifer (Jan Crockett), whom he keeps giving excuses to; and relatively plain Angie (Eleni Kiamos), whom he meets in a bar. Then Skip hits a week-long dry spell and is afraid he's losing his touch ... The big surprise about this very American independent production is that it was scripted by the veddy British Freddie Francis, director of numerous English horror flicks [The Creeping Flesh; Craze]. Traylor isn't bad in the lead but he lacks that exquisite comedic ability of, say, Lemmon or Grant. The ladies are all pretty good, including the uncredited actress who plays Thelma, the cleaning lady in the office. Dom DeLuise plays one of Skip's card buddies, and Joe Silver scores as his homely if more sensitive friend, Charlie. There's some good writing in the movie and way too much narration by Skip/Traylor. Pretty cheap production and some frank talk.

Verdict: Nothing that shocking in this diary. **1/2.

TINSELTOWN: MURDER, MORPHINE AND MADNESS AT THE DAWN OF HOLLYWOOD

TINSELTOWN: MURDER, MORPHINE AND MADNESS AT THE DAWN OF HOLLYWOOD. William J. Mann. HarperCollins; 2014.

Biographer Mann resuscitates the William Desmond Taylor murder case in this recycled but entertaining look at scandals in old Hollywood. Besides actor-director Taylor, who was homely but attracted more people than you would imagine, the players include the "three desperate dames" Mabel Normand, who was Desmond's friend; Mary Miles Minter, who was sure she was in love with the older gay man; and Margaret Gibson, who tried to reinvent herself as "Patricia Palmer" after a prostitution incident. Another major figure in the cast is Darryl Zanuck, who is terrified of scandals during an era when self-appointed moralists and church ladies were coming out of the woodwork to denounce the motion picture industry. Then there's Will Hays, who was appointed to monitor said industry to prevent dreaded government censorship, and Gibson's circle of sleazy friends. not to mention Minter's possibly maniacal mother. Without fictionalizing, Mann tells the story in the style of a novel, which is occasionally awkward, but does build some suspense. While many might dismiss the book as a rehash of old material -- albeit a clever rehash -- Mann does uncover some interesting new information about some of these individuals, and has come up with a new theory as to the identity of Desmond's murderer which makes sense while at the same time involving some slightly far-fetched speculation. Tinseltown does do a good job of recreating the feel of the period, the desperation of many of the people there, and the tireless efforts to prevent an art-destroying censorship due to the interference of self-styled moralists. At least six previous books have been published about this unsolved mystery. Mann is the author of excellent biographies of Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and John Schlesinger, as well as of Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood. NOTE: This review is of an advanced reading copy of the book.

Verdict: At the very least a good read with some compelling material. ***.

HONG KONG CONFIDENTIAL

HONG KONG CONFIDENTIAL (1958). Director: Edward L. Cahn.

Special Agent Casey Reed (Gene Barry of The War of the Worlds) works in a nightclub in Hong Kong as a singer as his cover. He is told that the Russians have kidnapped the young son, Abdul, of Thamen's King Faid, to force his cooperation in a deal that is also important to the U.S.. Reed is assigned to find the boy, and along the way pretends to be a crook who wants an alliance with Macao gold smuggler Elena Martine (Allison Hayes of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) and her associates, Chung (Philip Ahn) and Owen Howard (Noel Drayton). Casey's pretty accompanist, Fay (Beverly Tyler) is brought to Macao via subterfuge to put pressure on Reed. Hong Kong Confidential has obtrusive narration that tells us what we're seeing, and is on the level of a cheap TV production, but it does boast a tense scene when Reed, still pretending to be a crook, is told to prove his loyalty by killing the British agent John Blanchard (Michael Pate); the climax is also suspenseful and the movie is fast-paced. The performances are okay, although Hayes, without much of a character to play, seems a trifle bored at times. Ed Kemmer also appears as an old flame of Fay's. When Barry goes into his song and dance routine it looks as if he's doing a parody! Cahn directed a number of cheapie-creepies, some of which, like Voodoo Woman, were a lot of fun.

Verdict: Amos Burke meets the 50 Foot Woman. **1/2.

VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA Season Three

The Seaview crew must battle a giant lizard in "Night of Terror"
VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA Season 3. 1966.

Irwin Allen's series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea had an excellent first season, a good second season -- and then deteriorated badly. The producer clearly thought of it strictly as a Kiddie show, and figured the children wanted more and sillier monsters over good storylines. Reportedly this was extremely embarrassing to star Richard Basehart, who hated the scripts. There were far too many episodes in which Admiral Nelson (Basehart) or Captain Crane (David Hedison) are mesmerized or brainwashed into trying to destroy the Seaview or each other. The nadir of monsters were the idiotic lobster-like creatures (not to be confused with the Lobster Men of the fourth season) of "Doomsday Island." There were very few memorable episodes: "Day of Evil" combines nuclear reactor problems with an alien impersonating Nelson who wants to create a holocaust. "The Thing from Inner Space" features Hugh Marlowe as a TV host urging Nelson to search for a monster that killed his crew. "The Brand of the Beast" has Nelson turning into a werewolf and has some suspense. "The Day the World Ended" is another suspenseful episode in which all life on earth seems to have disappeared. "Deadly Waters" is a serious episode -- and the best of the season -- in which the Seaview is trapped on the ocean's bottom below crush depth. Seaman Riley was replaced by Patterson (Paul Trinka), and the unnamed Ship's Doctor (Richard Bull) made many appearances, along with Kowalksi (Del Monroe) and Sharkey (Terry Becker). The acting was generally quite good, with Basehart, Hedison and the others playing more or less with conviction regardless of how absurd the plots and creatures were, although Admiral Nelson seemed increasingly dyspeptic (along with Sharkey), possibly because of Basehart's feelings about the series. A big lizard from Allen's The Lost World showed up yet again in "Night of Terror."

Verdict: Way too much silliness and stupid scripts. **. 

GODZILLA (2014)

GODZILLA (2014). Director: Gareth Edwards.

A gigantic egg is discovered in the Philippines and taken to what is supposed to be a nuclear power plant in Japan. When a "meltdown" occurs scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) must close a hatch on his own wife (Juliette Binoche) to keep radiation from leaking. That's pretty much the last dramatic thing -- in the human sense -- that happens in this new/old take on Godzilla, in which the main monsters are not the Big Guy but a pair of creatures known as "MUTO"s [Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism]. It was the emergence of one of these creatures that actually caused the meltdown. It also develops that Godzilla actually did appear back in 1954 (when the first Godzilla film was released), and he's come back to set nature right and get rid of the MUTOs, who are ravaging Las Vegas after causing much destruction on Honolulu. Joe's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is one of the military men fighting against the monsters. Godzilla got surprisingly good reviews and fan reaction. Unlike the first American Godzilla film with Matthew Broderick, the movie doesn't ignore what's happened in the Japanese films -- Godzilla is a good guy fighting the bad monsters; there are little kids running about; one of the MUTOs attacks an elevated train -- but what the geeky fans of the Japanese movies may love about the series pretty much sinks this reboot. There's not enough of Godzilla, whom others have described as "a guest star in his own movie." The too-metallic MUTOs remind one of the monster in Deadly Mantis, and while Godzilla doesn't look bad, some of his scenes are so underlit that it's hard to see what's happening or be especially impressed. There are a couple of good scenes and shots -- Godzilla swimming under a bridge where the people look like ants; the flood that washes through Honolulu --- but these aren't enough to save the movie. Only slightly better than Pacific Rim, another movie influenced by Japan's monster flicks.

Verdict: Too much pandering to the geeky fans of the Japanese series -- but it appears to have paid off commercially. **. 


LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

For my UK readers, here is information about the London Film Festival.

You may still be able to catch a screening of Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings with Cary Grant on the 18th, and there's more interesting movies to choose from!

William In New York.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

DREADED DEADLINE DOOM

Oops. This has been another busy week, so Great Old Movies will be back next week -- if not before -- with a new crop of movie, book, and TV reviews. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

THE EIGER SANCTION

Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy
THE EIGER SANCTION (1975). Director: Clint Eastwood.

"Sorry about this, but twice a year all of my blood must be replaced." -- Dragon

"With what?" -- Hemlock

Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) collects art treasures and can afford to pay for them by taking on assassination assignments for a strange agency headed by the bizarre "total albino," Dragon (Thayer David). Hemlock wants to retire but he's importuned into going after one last target, but all he's told is that it's one of the men on an international team attempting to scale the Eiger. Sounds intriguing? -- alas, the leisurely-placed Eiger Sanction takes forever to get going, and doesn't amount to much even when it finally gets to the mountain. Eastwood, who both stars and directs and is only passable at both, supposedly risked his life with location filming, so it's a shame that the results aren't more felicitous, as the movie has hardly any excitement or suspense. A type of semi-spy movie, Eiger not only has secret organizations but something about a germ warfare formula that comes to nothing. The supporting cast includes George Kennedy [Strait-Jacket] as a friend of Hemlock's; Gregory Walcott [The Steel Jungle] as Pope, a tough agent; Jack Cassidy [Richard Diamond] as an idiotic gay character who calls his dog "Faggot;" -- Hollywood's idea of a proud gay man? -- and Vonetta McGee as a lady spy who plays various games with Hemlock. Walcott is good, and McGee manages to retain her dignity despite the dumb proceedings.

Verdict: Macho meatheadedness is one thing, but at least make it entertaining! Stick with Play Misty for Me. *1/2.

FREE CLASSIC MOVIES

The Rampant Age
FREE CLASSIC MOVIES website. 

A gentleman named Jimbo Berkey has put together a website -- Free Classic Movies -- from which you can very easily download hundreds of movies from the public domain. It's a mixed bag of genres, countries, decades, and quality -- not every movie is a classic (but then not every movie I review here is "great" or even old) -- but there are surprises and some real gems in the batch. You can search the site by decade, year, stars, or genre, and you can also sign up to get weekly emails that list all the new movies that have been recently uploaded. Berkey helps you decide which movies you may want to spend time watching by giving synopses and posting numerous screen captures for each movie. I have downloaded a number of movies that I have always wanted to see and couldn't find anywhere else and am just waiting for an opportunity to catch up with them. The website is well put together and fun, and you'll never know what you may find waiting for you. Berkey also has a website devoted to classic TV shows. Lots of great old episodes! Recommended!

THE MAN WHO SEDUCED HOLLYWOOD

THE MAN WHO SEDUCED HOLLYWOOD: The Life and Loves of Greg Bautzer, Tinseltown's Most Powerful Lawyer. B. James Gladstone. Chicago Review Press; 2013. An A Capella Book.

Now that pretty much all of the major stars of classic Hollywood have been written about ad nauseam, authors have turned to supporting players [Mary Wickes] or talented minor stars who never quite got the breaks [Ann Dvorak]. And now The Man Who Seduced Hollywood is about a fringe figure who has wandered into biographies over the years, lawyer Gregson Bautzer, who dated famous stars such as Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Ginger Rogers,  and Dorothy Lamour [and who married Dana Wynter of Invasion of the Body Snatchers fame], and who made a great many deals for the power brokers of Hollywood, as well as representing them and their players in court. Bautzer was tall, dark and handsome, but he also had a severe drinking and anger management problem; he also had completely undistinguished WW2 military service. At times the hero worshiping-tone seems overdone and unwarranted, but while the material isn't always presented in the most dramatic fashion, this is still a workmanlike and interesting job.

Verdict: Behind the scenes in Old Hollywood. ***.

DATE BAIT

Marla Ryan and Gary Clarke
DATE BAIT (1960). Director: O'Dale Ireland.

Sue (Marla Ryan) is in love with Danny (Gary Clarke), a boy of whom her parents disapprove, even though he certainly seems nice enough. A nasty character named Brad (Dick Gering) thinks of Sue as his personal property, and sics his older brother Nico, a drug dealer, against Danny. This doesn't stop Sue and Danny from eloping, and their wedding night scene is rather well-played. Gary Clarke appeared in Missile to the Moon and other movies, and Steve Inhat, in a smaller role, was mostly a busy television actor. Marla Ryan was also known as Marlo-with-an-O Ryan but she had few credits, whatever the spelling. This super-cheap melodrama doesn't have much to recommend it, although some of the acting isn't terrible, and Clarke and Ryan prove competent and reasonably appealing. O'Dale Ireland also directed High School Ceasar.

Verdict: Save it for a rainy Sunday and then watch something else. *1/2.


RHYTHM IN THE CLOUDS

RHYTHM IN THE CLOUDS (1937). Director: John H. Auer.

Aspiring and audacious (and hungry) songwriter Judy Walker (Patricia Ellis of Romance on the Run) uses the name of successful composer Phil Hale (Robert Paige), with whom she has only corresponded, to get entry into a studio, pretend to be his collaborator, and to even move into his apartment while he's out of town. There her next door neighbor, songwriter Bob McKay (Warren Hull of Mandrake the Magician), whom she comes to loathe, engages in a feud with her. Then Hale comes back to town ...  Ellis and Hull give good performances, but the movie is nearly stolen by Zeffie Tilbury [Werewolf of London] as the advertising "Duchess; William Newell also scores as the radio assistant, Lyons. Dorothy Day has a nice turn as the sexy singer, Suzanne. Some of the music is a neat combination of classical and jazz. It's all easy to take if quite minor.

Verdict: Perfectly amiable if nothing to crow about. **1/2.

THE WOMEN'S CLUB

Michael Pare
THE WOMEN'S CLUB (1987). Director: Sandra Weintraub.

"I know more about how a woman feels being a sex object than any man in the world."

Patrick (Michael Pare) is a struggling screenwriter and full-time bartender with an on again/off again girlfriend named Cali (Dotty Coloroso). One night he meets a successful and wealthy lady named Angie (Maud Adams), who not only wants to hire him for stud services, but sets him up in a house -- with his actor friend Carlos (Eddie Velez) as butler -- where he can "entertain" dozens of Angie's "clients" -- rich gals who want some hot action on the side. Trouble starts when Patrick starts writing a screenplay based on his experiences, and it surfaces that he has taped all of his sex sessions with the ladies. Then Angie finds out about it ... Reminiscent of Lawrence Sander's The Seduction of Peter S, also about a call boy operation [published three years earlier], Women's Club takes a comic approach to the premise with mixed results. Although there are attempts to add a feminist perspective, the movie is basically exploitation with few laughs and some okay performances; Adams [The Man with the Golden Gun] is particularly good and Velez has a certain charm. There is no mention made of condoms, diseases, or pregnancy. A spoof of the sexy eating scene in Tom Jones is actually pretty disgusting.    

Verdict: 'Tis a pity he's a whore. **.                                              

THE LEGEND OF HERCULES

Kellan Lutz as Hercules
THE LEGEND OF HERCULES (2014). Director: Renny Harlin.

Argos, 1200 B.C.: Wanting a hero to end the reign of tyranny of her husband, King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), Queen Alcmeme (Roxanne McKee) agrees to bear the child of Zeus, a boy who becomes known as Alcides. However, the child's true name is Hercules (Kellan Lutz) and he grows into a hero who takes on the forces of his evil stepfather with the aid of such friends as Sotiris (Liam McIntyre). A complication is that Hebe (Gaia Weiss) is engaged to Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), Alcides' half-brother, but is in love with Alcides. Who cares? Legend of Hercules has excellent scenic design and some astounding shots [Sam McCurdy], but unlike the tales of mythology that spawned it (but which it pretty much ignores) it hasn't got a bit of  fantasy in it. Director Harlin has a habit of freezing the action for a second or two (or employing slow motion) during fight scenes, a "technique" that quickly becomes annoying. A Nemean lion that briefly appears looks like something out of a video game. Tuomas [sic] Kantelinen's musical score is a plus, but if anything puts this over it's the acting, especially the performances of Lutz and Adkins as chief opponents. Renny Harlin also directed the unfortunate Exorcist: The Beginning.

Verdict: As mythological films go this is much too prosaic but plenty butch, a fantasy film with nothing fantastic. **1/2.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

THE WHITE ORCHID

THE WHITE ORCHID (1954). Director: Reginald Le Borg.

Archaeologist Robert Burton (William Lundigan, in a Richard Denning-type role) plans to hunt for the remains of a lost Mexican civilization. His magazine sends him a female photographer,  Kathryn Williams (Peggie Castle), which brings out his not-so-latent chauvinism. Kathryn is not above using her sex appeal to get the very handsome rancher Juan Cervantes (Armando Silvestre) to guide them to the ruins. Cervantes owns a vanilla bean plantation that also boasts white orchids, and it isn't long before he's forsaking his lady love Lupita (Rosenda Monteros) and declaring undying devotion to Kathryn as an annoyed Burton looks on. During a fiesta scene, there's some business with men flying around a tall pole on ropes that is cleverly-edited, but the movie doesn't lead to anything too exciting, and doesn't amount to much, despite the heavy breathing. Silvestre was born in San Diego, and was a busy actor, mostly in Mexican productions. Lundigan was also in The Case of the Black Parrot and many others, and Castle starred in Beginning of the End. Le Borg also directed Voodoo Island, which was more interesting than this.

Verdict: Good-looking cast with little to do. **.


ANNA CHRISTIE

Greta Garbo and Marie Dressler share a cocktail
ANNA CHRISTIE  (1930). Director: Clarence Brown.

"If my old man don't help me, it's men again. Men all the time."

In this loose adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's play, the first film in which "Garbo Talks," coal barge captain Chris Christopherson (George F. Marion) is nervous because the daughter he hasn't seen in may years is coming to town. Chris' companion, Marthy (Marie Dressler), agrees to move off the barge to make way for Anna (Greta Garbo), who far from being innocent was employed as a prostitute after her cousins on the farm had their way with her. As father and daughter awkwardly try to mend fences, into their lives comes a sailor named Matt (Charles Bickford), who falls in love with Anna. But what will he think when he learns of the woman's past? Garbo's performance in her first talkie is a bit uneven, still influenced by the style of silents, but she does have some fine moments, such as when she delivers the poignant "I am my own boss" speech in which she tells of being misused by men throughout her life, and there's a beautifully played scene when Anna and Chris have their first meeting in the bar. Marie Dressler [The Patsy] almost walks off with the movie as Marthy, and has some especially splendid moments when she has a drink with Anna when the younger woman first arrives at the saloon. "You're me," Anna tells her, "forty years from now!" Charles Bickford [The Big Country] is a little broad but effective as Matt. The story is resolved much too neatly [except for poor Marthy] but the movie is well-done and well-acted for the most part. A German language version was made immediately afterward using the same sets but Garbo [Mata Hari] was the only cast carry-over. O'Neill's play was also the basis for the musical "New Girl in Town" decades later.

Verdict: Garbo Talks and More! ***.

OLIVIER Philip Ziegler

OLIVIER. Philip Ziegler. MacLehose; 2013.

This is a very entertaining overview of the life and career of Lord Laurence Olivier which makes it clear that if he lived for anything, it was his art. The book examines his emergence as a fine if often controversial Shakespearean actor, his three troubled marriages (to Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright), his career in films, including work in Hitchcock's Rebecca, The Prince and the Showgirl, Carrie (in which he gave a particularly superb performance), and other films, and especially his job as director of the National Theater, which was beset with difficulties but which he was determined to hold on to. There are also behind-the-scenes details of the productions of Olivier's Shakespeare films to go along with his numerous stage performances of the Bard. Whether he was director, star, or both, Olivier always liked to take charge, which sometimes put him in conflict with the rest of the cast. One of the most amusing aspects of the book is how it recounts Olivier's rivalry with the other two Great Actors of his day, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud, not to mention his attitude towards American film stars such as Kirk Douglas. Olivier may well have loved his wives and children, but he was, above all, An Actor. Author Ziegler may not have a background in film or theater -- most of his books are historical works -- but he still manages to do well by his subject.

Verdict: Absorbing look at the world of Laurence Olivier. ***1/2.

THE SHERIFF OF COCHISE / UNITED STATES MARSHALL

John Bromfield
THE SHERIFF OF COCHISE (1956 - 1958)/ UNITED STATES MARSHALL (1958 - 1959).

The Sheriff of Cochise was a modern-day "detective" show that metamorphosed in its second season into United States Marshall [aka U. S. Marshall) when the main character went from being a sheriff in Cochise County, Arizona to a Marshall in Tucson. John Bromfield stars as Frank Morgan, a no-nonsense lawman who was also a veteran of the Korean War. About a dozen or so episodes of the series are available on DVD or on youtube. In "Lynching Party" James Best is accused of murder when he is confronted by his girlfriend, Gloria Talbott's, angry old man. In "Trigger Happy," Martin Milner is accused of murdering the man he was sent to arrest; Jean Allison and Donna Douglas are also in the cast and are notable, as is Milner. Charles Bronson is vivid as a soldier who goes on the warpath in the well-done "Pursuit," with Abbie Shelton and Robert Fuller. "Helldorado" finds the sheriff protecting gambler Robert Horton during an annual celebration week, with Frank Ferguson as an excitable old codger who lost a lot of money. Other guest stars on the show include Joan Taylor, Jack Lord [in a fine turn as a hard-bitten killer], Kathryn Card from I Love Lucy, Michael Landon, Michael Connors, and Ric Vallin. In movies such as Three Bad Sisters and The Big Bluff, handsome star Bromfield was usually a sleazy, sexy character who was busy lovin' up and two-timing the women. In this series he's the good guy, stalwart and brave, and he's fine, but the character is humorless -- and dateless. The producers should have brought in a few femme fatales for Bromfield to fool around with and vice versa -- it might have made the show more interesting and more fun. It's as if the part were created for Broderick Crawford, the homely star of Highway Patrol! The show was produced by Desilu.

Verdict: Standard but reasonably entertaining intrigue. **1/2.  

TIME TABLE

Felicia Farr and Mark Stevens
TIME TABLE (1956). Director: Mark Stevens.

A man gets sick on a train and the conductor calls for a doctor (Wesley Addy), but it's all a robbery plot, which is revealed in the first few minutes of Time Table. Insurance investigator Charlie Norman (Mark Stevens of The Dark Corner) is assigned to the case, which means he has to cancel a trip to Mexico with his wife, Ruth (Marianne Stewart). Also mixed up in the plot are Frankie (Jack Klugman of I Could Go On Singing), Bobit (John Marley), and a femme fatale of sorts, Linda (Felicia Farr). Stevens doubles as both star and director and turns in  workmanlike if uninspired performances, although Walter Scharf's [The Saxon Charm] music and Charles Van Enger's photography are effective. Stewart gives an especially memorable performance as Charlie's wife, and King Calder is likewise notable as an investigator for the railroad.The movie cries out for a longer running time and better character development but there's a fairly flavorful climax.

Verdict: Interesting if minor film noir. **1/2.

MARIE DRESSLER: THE UNLIKELIEST STAR Betty Lee

MARIE DRESSLER; THE UNLIKELIEST STAR. Betty Lee. University Press of Kentucky; 1997.

This is another fine biography of the woman who became a top box office attraction even though she was old, fat and homely in a Hollywood full of young and pretty faces. The Unlikeliest Star records Dressler's triumphs and failures, her long stage career and in vaudeville, her silent and sound pictures, and her final days which combined pinnacles of success and Oscars with the terrible illness that eventually took her life. This book has more on the relationship between Dressler and her friend and companion, actress Claire Dubrey [actually Du Brey], as author Lee had access to the latter's unpublished manuscript on Dressler. If we're to take the ms. on face value, Dressler snatched away opportunities for Du Brey to continue to advance as an actress just so she could remain as her companion, and even objected when she wanted to go off and visit her sick mother [Dressler thought she was really going to see some man]. Whether this merely indicates the possessive, overbearing quality of the Celebrity towards one of her sycophants, or something deeper, is up to the reader to decide. After their split, Dressler worked on some of her most famous movies while Du Brey stayed in touch with the former's friends. Dressler's final days are well-documented. [Claire Du Brey actually had a long list of movie credits both before and after her period with Dressler, such as the Jones Family film Everybody's Baby.] NOTE: Mathew Kennedy also wrote an excellent tome on Dressler.

Verdict: Highly interesting account of the life and career of Marie Dressler. ***.

ROBOCOP (2014)

Joel Kinnaman as RoboCop
ROBOCOP (2014). Director: Jose Padilha.

In the future American robots are used for overseas combat, but so far the country has resisted the idea of having robot police men back in the U.S. Omnicorp, a company run by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton of Batman),  hopes to change all that, and figures the answer is to use the same technology on a real human being. Their opportunity comes when Detroit officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is nearly destroyed by an explosive device put in his car by a man named Vallon (Patrick Garrow). There's not much left of Murphy -- the movie's most startling scene has his armor dropping off to reveal how much of his original body is actually missing -- but he's put in a high-tech suit and given assorted abilities to fight crime. Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) is able to override Murphy's consciousness, but his memories still fight to the surface and take over. Do either Norton or Sellars care about the ethical concerns of this "project," and why won't Omnicorp let Murphy's wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) visit him? There are many interesting elements to this remake of the original Robocop, and the film boasts some excellent performances from Keaton and especially Kinnaman, with a solid supporting cast (such as Jackie Earle Haley [Shutter Island] as the snarky Mattox and Samuel L Jackson [The Spirit] as a commentator, among others), but the action scenes are cluttered and uninvolving, even a bit dull. The amount of time, energy and money made to turn Murphy into RoboCop doesn't make the project seem very cost-effective, which the movie hilariously ignores.

Verdict: The performances help put this over. **1/2.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

AND THE ANGELS SING

AND THE ANGELS SING (1944). Director: George Marshall.

Pop Angel (Raymond Walburn) lives with his four daughters and tries to encourage them in a musical career, but only one of them, Bobby (Betty Hutton), has singing aspirations. Forcing her sisters to accompany her on a club date, they meet bandleader Happy Morgan (Fred MacMurray), a heel with a conscience. He promises Bobby a job in New York and takes money she won gambling, which sister Nancy (Dorothy Lamour) is determined to get back. To Manhattan the four gals go. Happy finds himself romancing both sisters to keep them at bay, although he's only in love with one of them. Can true love find a way through this mess...? And the Angels Sing is pleasant and the performances are good. The other two Angel sisters are played by Diana Lynn [Ruthless] and Mimi Chandler. MacMurray sings, but not that well, and Hutton [The Betty Hutton Show] "overacts" her supposedly comedic song numbers to the point where they're hard to take. A subdued Frank Albertson [Psycho] plays Nancy's easily discarded boyfriend, Oliver, and Eddie Foy Jr. is cast as MacMurray's bandmate, Fuzzy. There are a couple of saucy song numbers.

Verdict: Amiable tomfoolery. **1/2.

BLACK WIDOW (1951)

Christine Norden
BLACK WIDOW (1951). Director: Vernon Sewell.

A man is thrown out of a car and onto a highway, but he survives to show up at the home of a woman, Sheila (Jennifer Jayne of The Crawling Eye), and her father (John Longden). Unfortunately the man (Robert Ayres) has amnesia and just wandered into the place. After resting up for a few days with these good Samaritans, he takes off to see if he can find out who he is. The title pretty much tells you that there's a wife in the picture, Christine (Christine Norden), and our man gets home to her just in time to attend his own funeral. Then there's his best friend, Paul (Anthony Forwood), and a certain insincere glint in Christine's eye ... Black Widow is a short, forgotten Hammer non-horror film that plays and looks like a TV episode. There are no twists to the plot, the acting is competent, Norden is reasonably slinky, and the film has nothing much to offer. It is barely an hour long. Not to be confused with the 1954 Nunnally Johnson film Black Widow.

Verdict: Forgettable. **.