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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

THE MAN WHO COULD WORK MIRACLES

Roland Young
THE MAN WHO COULD WORK MIRACLES (aka H. G. Wells' The Man Who Could Work Miracles/1936). Director: Lothar Mendes.

"I must have a whiskey. If I don't have a whiskey my mind will give way." -- Colonel Winstanley, upon discovering that all of his whiskey has turned to water

British clerk George Fotheringay (Roland Young) suddenly finds himself with the ability to make whatever he wants come true, and everyone around him tells him what they would do if they were him. Should he make himself master of the world, or recreate the world for the greater good? The vicar Maydig (Ernest Thesiger) has some definite ideas on that score, but George won't allow himself to be overly influenced, unless it's by Ada (Joan Gardner), upon whom he has a crush. H. G. Wells adapted his own short story, adding many new characters as well as a framing sequence which shows that George's power was a gift from the gods [apparently the filmmakers felt that the audience would want to know exactly how Fotheringay got his powers, even if the answer isn't a terribly satisfying one]. Wells somewhat destroys a modern audience's sympathy for George when he has him trying to use his power to make Joan fall in love with him instead of the man she prefers, which is equivalent to using a date rape drug. Still, even if you've read the story, the film is unpredictable, has some fine effects work, and is very well-acted  by all. Topping even Roland Young [Topper Takes a Trip] is Ralph Richardson [The Heiress] in his excellent portrayal of the rather buffoonish Colonel Winstanley. Thesiger is also fine as the vicar, and there are notable appearances by George Zucco as the colonel's butler, Ivan Brandt as the Power Giver, and an impossibly young George Sanders and Torin Thatcher as his heavenly and cynical associates. Wells gives George a memorable speech at the climax, and the story is in its own way as influential as other works in the brilliant Wells' canon. Lothar Mendes also directed Payment Deferred.

Verdict: Intriguing and amusing. ***.

THE REMARKABLE MR. PENNYPACKER

THE REMARKABLE MR. PENNYPACKER (1959). Director: Henry Levin.

"Morality is a matter of geography."

The progressive Horace Pennypacker (Clifton Webb) has one wife and many children in one town in Pennsylvania, and a whole different family in another town in the state -- sooner or later each family will learn of the other's existence and then what? Mr. Pennypacker answers that question and manages to milk much humor out of a decidedly serious situation. It also manages to be surprisingly frank at times, if a trifle unreal. Webb is, as ever, excellent, and there are fine performances from Dorothy McGuire [Invitation] as unwitting wife, Emily; Dorothy Stickney [Murder at the Vanities] as Aunt Jane; Doro Merande [The Gazebo] as the secretary, Miss Haskins; and Charles Coburn as Grandfather Pennypacker; and there's nice support from Jill St. John as Kate. Ray Stricklyn and David Nelson are two other children, and Ron Ely is a young minister who's fallen for Kate. However entertaining the film may be, there is no denying that Horace's reasons for entering into a second bigamous marriage are rather spurious and self-centered. Still, it's hard not to like the movie on its own terms, and it even has some suspense.

Verdict: Another winning Webb performance. ***.

PRESENTING LILY MARS

PRESENTING LILY MARS (1943). Director: Norman Taurog.

"Peter Pan! Macbeth! The Follies!"

Lily Mars (Judy Garland) is a talented singer, but for some reason she decides to audition for Broadway producer John Thornway (Van Heflin) -- who comes from the same small town and whose father delivered her -- by doing a scene from Shakespeare, in which she stinks. Lily follows Thornway to New York, where he's staging a new show starring Isobel Rekay (Marta or Martha Eggerth). Is Lily a desperate and naive amateur or a coldly calculating, rather pushy worldling who knows full well what she's doing? In this simplistic movie in which the key to Broadway stardom is to become an annoying pest and vamp the producer, we're supposed to believe the former, but I'm not so sure. In any case, things don't work out so smoothly for Lily until the Hollywood happy ending. Presenting Lily Mars was originally a novel by that fine American writer Booth Tarkington, whose books Alice Adams and The Magnificent Ambersons, among others, were turned into pretty good movies. While I've read the first two excellent novels, I've not read Presenting Lily Mars, but it had to be better than this treacle, which is simply a standard Judy Garland Movie when it could have been a whole lot more. That being said, Lily Mars is by no means a bad movie, with Garland in her reasonably effective cutesy mode between child and adult, and Van Heflin, as good as ever, managing to play quite well with her.

The movie has many charming elements. The brother (Douglas Croft of the Batman serial) who steals and collects doorbells. The younger sisters who sob along with Judy/Lily whenever she's upset [they are a cute bunch]. In an early development Judy does a scene outside Thornway's home which causes some of his associates to think he knocked her up and abandoned her, and there's the eyebrow-raising scene when Thornway has playwright Owen Vail (Richard Carlson) stand in for Isobel in a love scene. When Owen keeps it up after the scene is over Thornway tells him to stop kidding around. "Who's kidding?" says Owen, in a scene meant as a joke but which probably caused some fluttering among nervous censors. [Lily watches all this wide-eyed and confused.] Connie Gilchrist [A Woman's Face] makes her mark as an ex-actress who does a number with Judy, who also nails "Tom the Piper" and "When I Look at You." My favorite scene has Isobel giving her black maid, Rosa (Lillian Yarbo of Between Us Girls), a hat that she no longer wants because Lily wears a copy of it. When Isobel sees the maid wearing it, she commands her to throw it out. Later both of them see a chimp wearing the hat, which infuriates Isobel even as the maid, having the last laugh, smiles behind her back.

Spring Byington is wonderful as Lily's mother, as is Ray McDonald as her boyfriend, whom she discards early on. Fay Bainter is also notable if a bit wasted as Thornway's mom. Bob Crosby and Tommy Dorsey also make appearances. Despite a fairly nice if unspectacular voice, Eggerth doesn't make much of an impression, which may be why she was hired -- this, after all, is a Judy Garland Movie and nobody better get more attention than her.

Verdict: Silly but enthusiastic twaddle with a dignified Heflin and energetic Garland. **1/2.

POOL OF LONDON

Earl Cameron and Bonar Colleano
POOL OF LONDON (1951). Director: Basil Dearden.

Several sailors have misadventures and find romantic interests when they disembark in London. The film focuses on two of them, Dan Macdonald (Bonar Colleano) who participates in a robbery in which a watchman is killed; and his Jamaican friend, Johnny (Earl Cameron), who develops a warm relationship with a pretty white girl named Pat (Susan Shaw). Leslie Phillips is another sailor named Harry, and the women include Sally (Renee Asherson), Maisie (Moira Lister),  and her sister Pamela (Joan Dowling); two of them have a zesty "cat-fight" at one point. The most interesting aspect of the film is the dilemma of Johnny, a black man on the outside looking in, and his doomed romance with the sympathetic Pat. Earl Cameron gives a wonderful performance, as does Colleano [Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary?], who has personality and presence if not conventional good looks. There are great shots of London locations (Gordon Dines did the photography), a fine musical score by John Addison [Dead Man's Folly], and Dearden's direction is solid.

Verdict: A nice picture that just misses being a classic. ***.

THE DEVIL'S PARTNER

THE DEVIL'S PARTNER (1961). Director: Charles R. Rondeau.

Nick Richards (Ed Nelson) arrives in a small isolated town looking for his uncle, Pete Jensen, who turns out to be dead of unspecified causes. Jensen may have been dabbling with devil worship and come afoul of some demon. Or does his "nephew" know more than he's telling, not only relating to Pete's death but to animal attacks on various townspeople? David Simpson (Richard Crane), whose girlfriend Nick covets,  is horribly mauled by a once-friendly dog. David's facial injuries have him contemplating suicide and insisting that the girlfriend, Nell (Jean Allison), find another guy -- will Nell turn to Nick for consolation? And who will die next at claws or cloven hooves? The average viewer won't give a damn because The Devil's Partner is slow-paced and has no suspense. The acting isn't bad, however, with Crane [The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd] and Allison -- along with ever-reliable Byron Foulger -- giving the most memorable performances. Edgar Buchanan plays the old Doc, Nell's father, the same way he plays every other character. Rondeau also directed The Girl in Lovers Lane. Allison appeared on such TV shows as The Sheriff of Cochise.

Verdict: A complete mediocrity. **.

BACKSTAGE (1919)

Molly Malone and "Fatty" Arbuckle
BACKSTAGE (1919 silent). Director: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.

In this silent comedy short "Fatty" Arbuckle plays a stagehand at a theater and is assisted by Buster Keaton (whom in real life Arbuckle discovered). They come afoul of a strong man (Charles A. Post) who treats his female assistant (Molly Malone) so terribly that Arbuckle, Keaton and others team up to get even with him. The strong man and the other players go on strike, so Arbuckle, Molly and Keaton have to take their places on stage. Then the strong man sits in the front row of the balcony with plans of his own ... Backstage is a cute picture which shows Arbuckle's appeal as a funnyman. Jack Coogan Sr. plays a multi-dexterous specialty dancer that the boys try to imitate with expected results, and Al St. John is another stagehand.

Verdict: Funny and fast-paced with some good clowning and stunt work. ***.


AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM [Season 2]

Jessica Lange as one weird sister
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM [Season Two]. 2012.

"Mental illness is the fashionable explanation for sins." -- Sister Jude.

In this at times very suspenseful and superior second season of the hit horror show, most of the action takes place in an asylum, Briarcliff Manor, run by nuns. The lead characters include Sister Jude Martin (Jessica Lange), who is in charge of the place, although that opinion isn't shared by the psychotic Dr. Arden (James Cromwell), who conducts sick experiments on the inmates. One of these inmates, and the heroine of the show, is Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), a lesbian who has supposedly been incarcerated for inversion therapy [the main storyline takes place in the sixties] but who actually had been threatening to dig too much into how the miserable institution was run. A present-day framing story has to do with the reappearance of a maniac, Bloodyface, who once had something to do with the Manor, and whose first victim is that annoying mouse, Adam Levine. Other characters include the "nympho," Shelley (Chloe Sevigny); Monsignor Timothy (Joseph Fiennes); sympathetic Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto of Star Trek into Darkness); Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), who undergoes a startling change in personality; and deceptively calm serial killer Leigh Emerson (Ian McShane of Young and Willing). Along with a compelling storyline which pits Lana vs. Sister Jude (until everything gets switched around), there are alien abductions, weird monsters in the forests surrounding the asylum, a winged angel of death who makes periodic appearances, and even a self-indulgent but fun rock video with the sisters and patients dancing to "The Name Game." In other words, almost everything but the kitchen sink, but mostly it works. While the show occasionally comes close to veering into "torture porn" territory, it is very well-acted by all mentioned, with a truly marvelous Lange making a much better impression than she did in season one. One could say this season of American Horror Story has the spirit of E.C. Comics.

Verdict: Very entertaining, creepy, and with some excellent performances. ***.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

FALLEN ANGEL

Alice Faye and Dana Andrews
FALLEN ANGEL (1945). Producer/director: Otto Preminger.

" ... and love alone can make the fallen angel rise,  for only two together can enter paradise."

In a small coastal town not far from San Francisco, ex-publicity man Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) has set his sights on the wealthy June Mills (Alice Faye), whose sister, Clara (Anne Revere), may be a tougher nut to crack. Then there's sexy waitress, Stella (Linda Darnell), who may throw a monkey wrench into Eric's schemes if he's not careful. A murder investigation ensues, which brings in tough detective Mark Judd (Charles Bickford), and a suspect named Dave Atkins (Bruce Cabot). Fallen Angel can be looked upon as a mystery, film noir, or whatever you want to call it, but it's full of such good performances and nice moments that it emerges as a strong (if flawed) and compelling drama. In a different role for her, Faye [On The Avenue] is excellent as a woman who loves someone unconditionally -- she has a particularly good moment telling Eric how she feels about him  --  Darnell [Day-Time Wife] is vivid and vital as the saucy waitress, and Andrews [Boomerang] gives another sharp and solid performance, playing a man who is more complex than he first appears. Revere, Cabot, Bickford, as well as John Carradine as a professor and Percy Kilbride as a cafe owner with feelings for Stella, are all on the mark. The story is, perhaps, wrapped up a bit too neatly, but this is an engrossing and interesting movie.

Verdict: One of Preminger's better efforts. ***.

TOMORROW AT SEVEN

TOMORROW AT SEVEN (1933). Director: Ray Enright.

A masked murderer who calls himself the Black Ace is stalking people in an old mansion. Neil Broderick (Chester Morris of The She-Creature) investigates, alternately helped and hindered by two cops played by Allan Jenkins and Frank McHugh. Vivienne Osborn is the heroine [a scene on a train when she tells a man she doesn't like the work of a certain author, unaware that he's the writer in question, was repeated in Leave Her to Heaven]. The suspects include Grant Mitchell and Charles Middleton [Daredevils of the Red Circle]. Tomorrow at Seven is unexceptional, but it does boast good performances from Morris, Jenkins, McHugh and Middleton, as well as from Virginia Howell as the housekeeper, and Henry Stephenson as Thornton Drake. As Old Dark House movies go, this one is no better nor worse than most of them, although it could be argued that this one just doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense.

Verdict: Creaky but engaging. **1/2.

THE MUSIC BOX KID

Luana Patten and Ron Foster
THE MUSIC BOX KID (1960). Director: Edward L. Cahn.

"The crumbs are the easiest kind of guys to knock off."

In 1920s Bronx, Larry Shaw (Ron Foster) is so ambitious for the good life and money that he goes to work as an enforcer for mob boss Chesty Miller (Grant Richards of The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake). His wife, Margaret (Luana Patten), and priest (Dayton Lummis), are dismayed by the kinds of people who pay a call at their home, but Larry is so determined to "make good" that he becomes the head of Miller's murder-for-hire squad. Shaw then hits on the idea of kidnapping Miller and other hoodlums for ransom, making him the target of all the bad guys in the Bronx. The Music Box Kid, said to be inspired by the life of "Dutch" Schultz, would be a fairly standard crime drama were it not uplifted by a terrific lead performance from the talented Foster [Cage of Evil]. Handsome, gifted, and charismatic, Foster had some very good roles but in the wrong, minor movies; he also did a lot of TV work. The "music box" of the title is a tommy gun.

Verdict: Foster is the whole show. **1/2.


THE MINOTAUR, THE WILD BEAST OF CRETE

THE MINOTAUR, THE WILD BEAST OF CRETE (aka Teseo contro il minotauro/1960). Director: Silvio Amadio.

Theseus (Bob Mathias) saves the life of a banished princess, Ariadne (Rosanna Schiaffino), whose own wicked sister, Princess Fedra (also Schiaffino), wants to kill her, seeing her as a rival and a threat to her power. Fedra is aided in her evil by the nasty Chirone (Alberto Lupo), who tries to manipulate her father, King Minosse (Carlo Tamberlani). Theseus has Demetrios (Rick Battaglia) on his side, as well as others who are secretly working against bitchy Fedra. When Ariadne is sacrificed along with a batch of virgins to the monstrous minotaur in its cavern, Theseus makes his way into the rocky maze to deal once and for all with the horrible creature. While deliberately-paced, The Minotaur is not a bad Italian fantasy film, and the shaggy, fanged minotaur itself is not too shabby. If you're expecting something along the lines of a Ray Harryhausen fantasy film, however, look elsewhere. California-born Mathias won medals in the Olympics, was a former marine, and after his brief acting career wound up became director of Selective Service and a congressman. His performance is okay, and Schiaffino is similarly vivid.

Verdict: Entertaining muscle man-monster movie. ***.


SCHIZO

SCHIZO (1976). Director: Pete Walker.

Samantha (Lynne Frederick of No Blade of Grass) is engaged to be married to Alan Falconer (John Leyton), but she can't shake a feeling of doom or the fear that she is being stalked by her crazy "stepfather," Haskin (Jack Watson of Tower of Evil). Sam seeks advice and comfort from her friend Beth (Stephanie Beacham of Inseminoid) and another friend, Leonard (John Fraser) who happens to be a handy psychiatrist. There's also a young psychic lady named Joy (Trisha Mortimer) who tries to give Samantha a desperate warning. Then bodies start dropping all around Sam ... Schizo is, if nothing else, suspenseful as it drops in its red herrings and clues as to the true identity of the maniac, but it's not especially memorable. Walker also directed The Comeback and House of Whipcord. His movies always just seem to miss.

Verdict: Half entertaining. **1/2.

WISEGUY Season One

Ken Wahl as Vinnie Terranova
 WISEGUY Season One. 1987.

Vinnie Terranova (Ken Wahl) gets out of prison after several months and is the shame of his mother, whose other son is a priest. What Ma doesn't know -- and his brother does -- is that Vinnie only went to jail to cement his cover as an agent for the OCB (Organized Crime Bureau). His first assignment is to go to work for mob boss Sonny Steelgrave (Ray Sharkey), with whom he truly becomes friends. Wiseguy looks at the conflicted feelings of agents who have to get close to bad guys as part of their job, but who get to know them on a personal level and ultimately feel as if they are betraying them. In the first season's second story arc, Vinnie gets involved with hit man Roger LoCocco (William Russ) and his bosses, the nutty brother and sister team of Mel (Kevin Spacey, in his first major role) and Susan Profitt (Joan Severance). Wahl is perfect as Terranova, embodying the toughness he would need as an undercover hoodlum as well as the sensitivity to care not only for victims but on occasion for the bad guys as well (this gets a little sticky at times); his Brooklyn accent gets thicker as the season progresses. The other players already mentioned are also on the money, and there's fine work as well from Dennis Lipscomb as mob accountant Sidney; David Steinberg as a rogue government agent; Elsa Raven as Vinnie's mother; David Marciano as the psychotic Lorenzo; and others. Jim Byrnes is fine as "Lifeguard," an agent who answers all of Vinnie's questions and gives him information, and Jonathan Banks, a superb actor, is simply outstanding as Frank McPike, Vinnie's hard-headed but complex liaison in the agency. Joe Dallesandro is certainly interesting casting as rival mob boss, Patrice. While some of the developments in the series are not credible -- Vinnie proposing to a perfectly psychotic woman at one point -- and Vinnie is sometimes too sympathetic to the criminals (the second story arc in particular has a head-scratching wind-up) Wiseguy is entertaining and well-acted.

Verdict: Not quite a classic show but not bad and often suspenseful. ***.

FREE FALL

Hanno Koffler (top) and Max Riemelt
FREE FALL (aka Freier Fall/2013). Director: Stephant Lacant.

Marc Borgmann (Hanno Koffler), a German in the police academy, has a pregnant girlfriend (Katharine Schuttler) but finds himself attracted to the more open Kay (Max Riemelt), a very handsome fellow male cop. Marc tries to resist his attraction, but the affair has repercussions both on the job and within his family. Free Fall seems somewhat dated for the 21st century -- its story of a closeted, guilt-wracked man, although such men certainly still exist, smacks more of the 1970's. The characters are not developed enough, which is particularly true for Kay, who seems to exist only to be sexy and "torment" Marc. [You might also be left with the sense that Kay is a bit out of Marc's league.] In other words, it's all been done before and done better. Even That Certain Summer, made forty years (!) earlier for American television, was more progressive. The acting is quite good, however. This got much more enthusiastic reactions than it deserved. If taken as a parable that shows how old-fashioned shame screws up a gay person's life it might have some resonance, but that may be giving it too much credit.

Verdict: Downbeat, rather regressive (however unintended), and a little pointless. **.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

GREAT OLD MOVIES

As I had an edition of Great Old Movies posted for Thanksgiving, I am taking off this week. More news and reviews will be posted next week. As always, thanks for reading!

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 (Osa Massen using the name "Stephanie Paull" for the first and, apparently, only time), 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. Osa Massen [A Woman's Face] 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. ***.