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

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. **.

ANN DVORAK: HOLLYWOOD'S FORGOTTEN REBEL

ANN DVORAK: HOLLYWOOD'S FORGOTTEN REBEL. Christina Rice. University Press of Kentucky; 2013.

Like many of us, Christina Rice first discovered Ann Dvorak in a videocassette of Three on a Match decades after the film had been released, and became a fan, intrigued by the reasons why this talented actress didn't have a much bigger career. Biographies written by fans can often be superficial love-fests, but Ms. Rice has avoided that trap by not only doing solid research, having access to personal letters, but by recognizing that Dvorak could sometimes be her own worst enemy. Dvorak took on Warner Brothers in court before Bette Davis did; the trouble was, Bette Davis was Bette Davis and Ms. Dvorak was nowhere in that league of fame and clout. She was poised for potential stardom when she got married [to first husband, actor-director Leslie Fenton of The House of Secrets and Pardon My Past] and simply took off for a several months-long honeymoon all over the world and never quite got back in the studio's good graces. She had ambition but it was at war with a certain need for independence which was frequently stymied by her marriages, all three of which had definite difficulties, to put it mildly. Rice not only examines Dvorak's film roles thoroughly, but absorbingly details her personal life, such as when she followed British Fenton overseas during WW2 out of devotion to him, but afterward found she'd outgrown him; her troubled relationship with her mother, who'd appeared in silent pictures but was long forgotten; and her on-again off-again third marriage to Nick Wade which played out in Hawaii and elsewhere; not to mention her austere final days when she worked on various abortive projects to no avail. Dvorak gave some fine performances throughout the years, with a particularly excellent portrayal in A Life of Her Own; she also appeared in such films as Scarface, The Strange Love of Molly Louvain, Gangs of New York, Flame of Barbary Coast, The Private Affairs of Bel Ami and The Walls of Jericho, among many others. The book is enriched with some great personal photos as well.

Verdict: Excellent biography of an actress forgotten by all but old film buffs. ***1/2.

THE KISS (1914)

William Desmond Taylor, Margaret Gibson, Myrtle Gonzalez
THE KISS (1914). Director: Ulysses Davis.

In this silent short, Alice (Margaret Gibson) is a shop girl with a plain boyfriend, a floorwalker named Fred (George Holt). Into the store come dapper society man George Dale (William Desmond Taylor) and his fiancee, Helen (Myrtle Gonzalez); Dale catches Alice's eye. There's also a new shop girl named Mazie (Jane Novak) whose fashionable clothing makes Alice envious. Determined to get George to notice her, Alice buys a new outfit, including one of the most hideous hats imaginable, but George asks her out anyway. When George introduces her to Helen and other friends, Helen gives Alice an affectionate kiss on the cheek. Later when he is having a drink alone with Alice, her tries to kiss her and she says "That's where she kissed me because she loves you!" Exit Alice. Okay. Alice learns it is better to stick with her simple life and floorwalker Fred [and hopefully she'll get rid of that hat!]. Because of the presence of Taylor and Gibson [aka Patricia Palmer] The Kiss is of historical interest, but it is hardly a lost classic. It only lasts about ten minutes and the acting is broad.

Verdict: Not one of the more memorable silent films. *1/2.

OUT OF THE BLUE

Ann Dvorak and Carole Landis
OUT OF THE BLUE (1947). Director: Leigh Jason.

Arthur Earthleigh (George Brent) is a hen-pecked husband in Greenwich Village who meets up with a kooky, tippling gal named Olive (Ann Dvorak) while his wife, Mae (Carole Landis of A Scandal in Paris) is out of town. Taking Olive to his apartment, Arthur is panicked to discover that it's hard to get rid of her -- until she apparently drops dead in his living room. He puts the body on the terrace of his disliked next-door neighbor, artist David Gelleo (Turhan Bey of The Mummy's Tomb), who is trying to entertain fellow dog lover Deborah (Virginia Mayo). David insists that Arthur help him get rid of the body, but is Olive really dead, and what will happen when Mae gets back in town? And could either Arthur or David be the notorious Greenwich Village Murderer who has already amassed several victims? Out of the Blue is as silly as it sounds, although it has some amusing moments, and the performances are more than okay. Brent [The Great Lie] is fine in a much nerdier role than he normally played, and Ann Dvorak is absolutely delightful, although it may not be her fault that eventually the presence of drunken Olive -- dead, not dead, and so on -- becomes rather tiresome. Elizabeth Patterson is cute as a little old lady who keeps seeing corpses and Flame makes an impression as David's dog Rabelais.The light tone of the movie is at odds with the whole business of a fiendish murderer killing young women, albeit his activities are never shown.

Verdict: A little too cute: **1/2.

WHEN THE GIRLS TAKE OVER

James Ellison and Robert Lowery
WHEN THE GIRLS TAKE OVER (1962). Director: Russell Hayden.

On the island of Hondorica, whose chief export is sugar, prime minister Henri Degiere (Marvin Miller) learns that his daughter, Francoise (Ingebord Kjeldsen), has been kidnapped by the Castro-inspired El Maximo Toro ["The Most Bull"] --  who is played by Robert Lowery --  and taken to his island. Francoise, a hellcat, is really Toro's lover, and it's all a plot to get some rifles from Degiere. Texas millionaire Longhorn (James Ellison) brings a bunch of women to Toro's island, and they shave his beard and somehow defeat him. Or something like that. Others trapped in this mess include Jackie Coogan, as Degiere's assistant; Tommy Cook [Missile to the Moon] as native Razmo; and Gabriel Dell [Junior G-Men] as Henderson, Toro's good right arm. Henderson has a pretty girlfriend named Melesa (True Ellison, James Ellison's daughter, who played Snow White in Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm).The music is okay but the attempts at satire are pitiful and the film hasn't got a single laugh.

Verdict: If only the girls had taken over! 1/2 star.

THE RECRUIT

Al Pacino
THE RECRUIT (2003). Director: Roger Donaldson.

Computer genius James Clayton (Colin Farrell of Fright Night), whose father died under mysterious circumstances years before, is recruited by instructor Walter Burke (Al Pacino of Jack and Jill), for the CIA. Clayton joins a group of young hopefuls at the Farm in Langley for training, but seems to strike out after an especially rough exercise in which he thinks he has actually been kidnapped by enemy agents. But Burke tells Clayton that far from being axed  he has been chosen for a covert assignment involving supposed double agent Layla Moore (Bridget Moynahan), another member of the class, whom he is told is trying to steal a CIA-engineered computer virus right out of HQ. But as Clayton gets closer to the woman in order to learn her secrets, will this all turn out to be yet another elaborate game -- or something much more sinister? The Recruit is a mild if entertaining entry in the paranoia sweepstakes, with the leads, including lovely Moynahan, giving good performances. Pacino seems practically like a supporting player in Farrell's movie until the picture's climax in which he has a chance to shine.

Verdict: A paycheck for Pacino. **1/2.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

FRENCHMAN'S CREEK

FRENCHMAN'S CREEK (1944). Director: Mitchell Leisen.

Dona St. Columb (Joan Fontaine) is tired of the way her witless husband Harry (Ralph Forbes of Convicts at Large) keeps throwing her at the slimy Lord Rockingham (Basil Rathbone) -- who keeps making passes -- so she takes off with the children to a summer retreat where she finds the cuddly old servant, William (Cecil Kellaway), waiting for her. She also finds a notorious pirate named Jean Aubrey (Arturo de Cordova) who claims he's really not such a bad guy as pirate's go. It isn't long before Dona is smitten with Jean and vice versa and longing for a romantic and adventurous life at sea. But can she forsake her children to go off with the man who has so aroused her fiery passion ...? Fontaine, as good as ever, has probably never looked more gorgeous and indeed the whole movie is expertly filmed in especially ravishing technicolor by George Barnes. Rathbone sparkles in his scenes as Rockingham, and the film's highlight is a rousing battle he has on a staircase not with Jean but with a desperate Dona. Mexican actor Arturo de Cordova is not terrible, but this part needed a sexier fellow, like maybe Errol Flynn, to make it believable; de Cordova was a major star in Mexico and South America, however. Victor Young's score sounds like ersatz Debussy. Based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier.

Verdict: Stick to Rebecca. **.

PLAY MISTY FOR ME

"Play Misty for me," says the lady on the phone
PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971). Director: Clint Eastwood.

Radio DJ Dave (Clint Eastwood) plays easy listening on the night shift, and he consistently gets calls from a woman who says "Play Misty for me." One night Dave meets a woman named Evelyn (Jessica Walter) at a bar and has a one-night stand with her. She not only turns out to be the lady who requests Misty, but she seems to think this one encounter means that she and Dave are in a "relationship." Things get worse when Dave sleeps with her a second time, and she acts as if they're engaged, showing up uninvited, expecting him to act like a significant other when all he wants to do is get away from her. In spite of this, Dave shows compassion after Evelyn's suicide attempt [a doctor friend risks his license by not reporting the incident, even though it would have forced Evelyn to get help], after which Evelyn is even more deeply "attached" to the man. If anything her behavior gets worse ... Play Misty for Me is an entertaining visualization of one man's Casual Sex Nightmare, and features a striking performance from Jessica Walter with an okay Eastwood pretty much along for the ride. Eastwood also directed the film, which is well-shot by Bruce Surtees. There's an exciting, if too brief, climax wherein Evelyn tries to butcher Dave; a sequence where she stabs repeatedly at his poor maid, Birdie (an amusing and sassy Clarice Taylor) is acceptable but hardly has the "Psycho-like editing" one critic attributed to it. Eastwood, as usual, whispers all of his lines [the way a woman would if she wants to sound slinky] in a way he assumes sounds masculine and sexy. Donna Mills [Curse of the Black Widow] plays his on-again/off-again girlfriend, Tobie. In this she is sweet and fresh-scrubbed; she later successfully reinvented herself as a devious sexpot for the show Knot's Landing. John Larch ["It's a Good Life" on Twilight Zone] and Irene Hervey [Honey West] have notable bits as, respectively, a cop who comes afoul of Evelyn, and a radio producer who wants to sign Dave to a great new contract until Evelyn interferes. Duke Everts plays Tobie's gay friend Jay Jay like a stereotype, and Don Siegel has his first acting part as a bartender. A romantic sequence to the strains of Roberta  Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is effective, but a long sequence at a jazz festival just stops the picture dead. Although I haven't seen Fatal Attraction in a long time, I think this is a better picture.

Verdict: A zesty Walter makes this a pleasure. ***.

SOMEBODY: THE RECKLESS LIFE AND REMARKABLE CAREER OF MARLON BRANDO

SOMEBODY: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of MARLON BRANDO. Stefan Kanfer. Knopf; 2008.

After many previous bios of Brando, Kanfer's book sort of serves as an overview of the actor's life and career, as there are few if any fresh interviews in the tome with really major figures in Brando's life. That being said, Somebody is still well-written and engaging. Brando had a difficult childhood, discovered he had a talent for acting, was throughout his life torn between the need to make films for money and his contempt for Hollywood and many of the films he appeared in. He was embarrassed to be a "movie star," took up social causes, but was not immune to wanting the perks he felt he was due as a celebrity. Brando's reputation rests on a surprisingly short list of classic films -- On the Waterfront, The Godfather -- and he made some truly terrible films such as The Island of Dr. Moreau, wherein his "eating disorder" had turned him into an unsightly blimp. Ever on the edge of becoming a has- been, Brando tried to revive his career with the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, a not-bad picture that was a mega-bomb, but had more luck with the controversial Last Tango in Paris, which some critics at the time chose to take very seriously.  On one hand he could choose edgy projects like Reflections in a Golden Eye, playing a married Army major who's lusting for a handsome private, and on the other appear in big budget FX films like Superman for a hefty paycheck, phoning in a performance. Somebody takes the tone that Brando often wasted his talent, and compares him to Marcello Mastroianni, who made important films in Europe while Brando was doing a lot of Hollywood junk. Somebody may not convince you that Brando's life was that tragic, nor will it persuade you that he's the World's Greatest Actor if you feel otherwise, but it is an interesting read. Kanfer mentions gossip that he has gleaned from other books that he names in the text, but as those books have dubious sources, why mention them at all? For balance, he also has lengthy quotes from critics who did not think much of Brando nor his performances along with the raves.

Verdict: Entertaining bio. ***.

TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE

Mabel Normand, Charlie Chaplin and Marie Dressler
TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE (1914). Produced and directed by Mack Sennett. Restored version.

Tillie (Marie Dressler) is a hard-working country girl who gets little love and lots of abuse from her father (Mack Swain), who is fond of booting her in the rear. Therefore she is easily duped by a stranger (Charlie Chaplin) into running off with him with her father's stash. Unfortunately for Tillie, the Stranger already has a much prettier girlfriend, Mabel (Mabel Normand), and the two of them run off with Tillie's money. Tillie gets a job as a waitress, but is arrested when she sees the couple and takes after them, but she's released when the cops learn she is the niece of a certain millionaire (Charles Bennett). Tillie's uncle is just as mean to her as her father, but when he falls off a mountain she becomes his heir, a fact that she doesn't know but the Stranger does ... Tillie's Punctured Romance is the film adaptation of Marie Dressler's hit Broadway show Tillie's Nightmare, and it was similarly well-received by the public. The three leads are fine, with Dressler getting the lion's share of the action and most of the laughs. Tillie is so put-upon that you almost can't blame her when she positively runs amok at the end of the picture, although Dressler isn't really given much opportunity to milk her role for pathos in this farcical comedy. She inherits her uncle's millions without benefit of inquest or probate! Some very amusing bits in this, and Dressler, while bordering on the vulgar at times, is ever-delightful [although it perhaps remained for the sound era to unveil her special genius]. This is probably the closest one can come to getting any sense of what Dressler was like in vaudeville and on the legitimate stage.

Verdict: Overlong but quite cute in spots. **1/2.

DADDY O [LOST PILOT]

Lee Phillips and Don DeFore
DADDY-O (unsold pilot/1961). Director/producer: Rod Amateau.

Daddy-O was a situation comedy with a fairly unusual premise. Ben (Don DeFore of Killer Bait) is a carpenter who is working on a house for TV producer Albert Shapian (Lee Phillips). For some reason, never explained, Albert thinks Ben would make a good actor, and the fellow winds up in a show called Daddy-O, produced by Shapian, wherein he plays a hapless family man in slapstick situations. The show-within-the-show is a big hit, but despite all the money Ben is dissatisfied. He thinks his work is frivolous whereas before he was helping to build homes and thereby helping the nation. He wants to quit Daddy-O, but Shapian won't think of it. At a hospital where Ben's wife Polly (Jean Byron) volunteers, he meets an elderly female patient who tells him how much the show means to her and other lonely people of all ages, to whom it has given a family. Ben decides to stay with Daddy O, not realizing that the old lady was an actress paid by Shavian, although she tells the producer that she actually meant every word. Other characters in the show include Ben's two teenaged sons, and Shavian's dumb brunette but sexy secretary. In the opening sequence -- a scene from Daddy O -- Sheila James from Dobie Gillis plays his daughter. Shavian seems to have a bit of a thing for Polly.

This pilot was apparently aired but wasn't turned into a series. The actors are fine -- even bland DeFore -- but perhaps it was too critical of dumb sitcoms for its own good, and without delivering the major laughs that any good sitcom requires. A surprising scene has Shapian and his colleagues adjusting the laugh track on an episode  -- the fact that sitcoms used laugh tracks was generally downplayed in this era. Still Daddy-O is amiable and has a few chuckles in it. Had this gone to series it might have developed into a memorable show. Phillips at least gives the project a little sex appeal, as does his uncredited secretary. Created and written by Max Shulman. DeFore wound up in the long-running Hazel with Shirley Booth.

Verdict: Had possibilities. **1/2.

THE WEREWOLF

THE WEREWOLF (1956). Fred F. Sears.

Duncan Marsh (Steven Ritch) comes into the town of Mountaincrest with no memory of who he is or what he may have done in the past couple of days. Duncan has apparently been experimented on without permission by two conscienceless mad scientists, Chambers (George Lynn) and Forrest (S. John Launer), and can turn into a murderous wolfman without warning. The werewolf make up is rather good, but it's amazing that no one in Mountaincrest seems especially astonished by a wolfman in their midst, as if this were something that happened every day. Don McGowan is the sheriff, Joyce Holden his fiancee, and Harry Lauter [Trader Tom of the China Seas] is his deputy, while Eleanore Tanin and Kim Charney play Marsh's distraught wife and son. Ritch, who gives a credible performance, wrote the screenplay for City of Fear, in which he also appeared. Decidedly downbeat and overall second-rate despite some good scenes and an effective lead performance. Sears also directed the minor sci fi classic Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and many, many other low-budget movies.

Verdict: Somber horror film. **.

A SOUND OF THUNDER

T-Rex and time travelers
A SOUND OF THUNDER (2005). Director: Peter Hyams. Loosely based on a short story by Ray Bradbury.

In  the future Travis Ryer (Edward Burns) works for an outfit that sends wealthy clients back in time to hunt dinosaurs, the animals' slayings timed to occur just before they would have died anyway. This is done to prevent anything screwing with the time stream and affecting the future. Travis meets a lady scientist, Sonia Rand (Catherine McCormack), who claims she not only helped create the time machine and was shut out of enjoying its success, but that Ryer and his associates are endangering the world with their time jumps, on one of which something comes back from the past. This happens because boss Charles Hatton (Sir Ben Kingsley) wants to save money by turning off the energy-using screen that would prevent this. Because of this anomaly, the world is affected by time waves that create new "prehistoric" animals and even begin affecting the human race itself. Can Travis and Sonia manage to set things right in a world beset with dangerous monsters, hysterical humans, and weird sweeping changes to the landscape and everyone else at all the wrong moments ...? A Sound of Thunder has a great idea and is entertaining for the most part, and some scenes are rather well-done (a struggle with a hungry underwater creature, for instance) but there's just something off about the movie. By no means as bad as, say, a Syfy Channel Original, there's still something second-rate about the entire enterprise. Edward Burns, who often makes and stars in smaller personal films, seems uncomfortable in the role of action hero, although Kingsley is more on the mark as slimy Hatton [although you still have to wonder what he's doing in this movie]. McCormack and the other cast members are all professional and then some. The effects are uneven, although there are a host of good-looking futuristic baboon-dinosaurs, and most of the other monsters are at least well-designed. Ultimately the movie isn't terrible, just unconvincing. Hyams has directed better movies, such as Outland and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, and Kingsley has appeared in worse movies, such as Thunderbirds.

Verdict: Interesting disappointment. **1/2.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

VACATION

Great Old Movies is on vacation this week. But we'll see you next week with a new crop of book and movie reviews. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

THE BEGUILED

Geraldine Page, Clint Eastwood, Elizabeth Hartman
THE BEGUILED (1971). Director: Don Siegel.

During the civil war a wounded Union soldier, John (Clint Eastwood), winds up at a Southern girls school run by Martha (Geraldine Page) and her assistant, Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman). These two women and a couple of the nubile students are mightily intrigued by this Yankee, and agree to keep him hidden in the school until he's recovered, as they are afraid in his condition he might die in a rebel prison. With survival uppermost in his mind, John romances the two ladies, tells them anything they want to hear, and unsuccessfully fends off the advances of sexy student, Carol (Jo Ann Harris). Finally one night he gets an invitation from all three women, but whose bed should he go to, and what will the consequences be if he makes the wrong choice ...? The Beguiled is more about sexual tension than about anything else, and on that level it succeeds, although it could be argued that it's somewhat sexist and even rather silly at times. In spite of that the movie has a certain fascination. Eastwood [Revenge of the Creature] is more than adequate, although he's out-acted by his two powerhouse co-stars, with Page [Sweet Bird of Youth] convincing as the headmistress with her pansexual fantasies, and Hartman excellent as the virginal spinster who's come to see John as her escape. Harris, Pamelyn Ferdyn [The Mephisto Waltz] as 13-year-old Amy, and Mae Mercer as the black servant, Hallie, are also notable. Siegel also directed the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Verdict: Obvious but entertaining and nearly a classic. ***.

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1962)

Marlon Brando
MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1962). Director: Lewis Milestone.

Sailing to Tahiti in 1787 to get breadfruit, the crew of the Bounty eventually rebel against what they see as the heartless tyranny of their captain. This second film version [of three] of the famous story is also based on the novel whose fictionalized events have sometimes replaced the true story in the mind of the public. For some reason, Marlon Brando chose to portray Fletcher Christian as an affected fop, possibly the only way he could keep up the British accent -- other than that, his performance isn't bad, although it is not as good as Trevor Howard's as the notorious Captain Bligh or Richard Harris' as a sailor named Mills. Hugh Griffith, Richard Hadyn [The Lost World], Percy Herbert and Tim Seely as young midshipman Ned, are also notable, among others. The movie is long and bloated and follows the mutineers onto Pitcairn Island, where they settled, but a framing sequence that takes place on the island with Haydn and Torin Thatcher was excised from the film and can be seen on the DVD. As Maimiti, the king's daughter, who falls for Christian, Tarita strikes the right note [as she obviously did with Brando, who married her]; Frank Silvera is convincing as her father. One problem with the movie is that at times it has a very fortyish tone, becoming awfully "cute." However Milestone keeps things moving and Bronislau Kaper's score is very effective.  Originally shown in ultra-Panavision 70. Ultimately, this is not a bad picture, although it's no better than the other versions, the original Mutiny on the Bounty and The Bounty.

Verdict: If you can't get enough of Christian and Bligh. ***.

MR. LUCKY (TV SERIES)

Ross Martin, Betty Garde, and John Vivyan
 MR. LUCKY television series.1959. Created by  Blake Edwards.

In this series, one of several created by Blake Edwards, Mr. Lucky (John Vivyan) -- with no first name -- operates a legal gambling ship outside the limit with his friend, associate and fellow adventurer Andamo (Ross Martin) -- which could be the fellow's first name or last. The boat is named the Fortuna, which means luck. Halfway through the first and only season of the show, Lucky decides to give up gambling and turn the Fortuna into an exclusive and very expensive private restaurant and night spot; oddly the scripts seemed somewhat better afterward and there was even more action. Pippa Scott was a semi-regular who played Lucky's girlfriend while Andamo played the field. Another character who appeared frequently was Lt. Rovaks, (Tim Brown), whose voice was so squeaky that he sounded like a cartoon character [maybe "Lucky Duck."] Mr. Lucky, frankly, was not one of the classic shows of television, nor was it one of Edwards' better or more successful series, but some of the generally mediocre episodes were somewhat more memorable than usual, with the best single episode being one wherein Lucky gets targeted by a hit woman played by Mari Blanchard. Another memorable episode has Jack Nicholson and Richard Chamberlain robbing the Fortuna and its customers at gunpoint. There were plenty of desperate, kooky or sinister females, as well as gangsters [one of whom is played by Lou Krugman, from the "Lucy Gets in Pictures" episode of I Love Lucy] and other reprobates. Despite the competent and often charming performances of the two leads -- although Vivyan was a borderline stiff -- the characters were shadowy and never quite came alive. Other guest-stars on the show included Betty Garde [that tough maid in a classic Honeymooners episode]; Grant Williams, Barbara Bain, Cyril Delevanti, Eleanor Audley, Lee Van Cleef, Nita Talbot, and Doris Singleton [Carolyn/Lillian Appleby on I Love Lucy] who's striking as an especially ruthless female with murder on her mind. Henry Mancini's music is nothing special. Ross Martin ["Death Ship" on The Twilight Zone] would have much more success with The Wild, Wild West a few years later.

Verdict: Stick with Mike Hammer with Darren McGavin.**