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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

THE NAKED KISS

Bald and Beautiful: Constance Towers
THE NAKED KISS (1964). Produced, written and directed by Samuel Fuller.

A prostitute named Kelly (Constance Towers) comes to a small town, Grantville, after a violent incident with her pimp, and briefly hooks up with a hypocritical cop named Griff (Anthony Eisley of The Mighty Gorga). Griff wants Kelly to "get out of town" and go across the river to an establishment of ill repute run by Candy (Virginia Grey). Instead Kelly gets a job working at an institution that helps disabled children. Kelly then meets the hospital -- and the town's -- chief benefactor, the romantic and cultured Grant (Michael Dante). Despite at least one red flag, Kelly finds herself falling for Grant, but he has one highly disturbing secret. The Naked Kiss is superior to Fuller's earlier Shock Corridor, and full of equally controversial material. Of course it's not the first movie to have a hooker for a heroine, and not even the first to look into the subject of pedophilia (Never Take Candy from a Stranger came out four years earlier in Britain). The movie has a very interesting script, but, unfortunately, it descends into melodrama that only cheapens it. Towers is more effective and not as overwrought as she was in Corridor; Eisley is perfectly cast as the slimy Griff; Grey is terrific as ever; and Dante, while his character is essentially a charming if one-note villain, has his moments as well. Patsy Kelly appears as a nurse in the institution. The Naked Kiss, whatever its flaws, certainly has some interesting scenes. There's the opening with Kelly assaulting the pimp who shaved her hair off as her wig falls off of her head and she's revealed to be bald; Kelly's smack-in-the-face purse assault, this time on madame Candy; Kelly's landlady (Betty Bronson of The Locked Door) talking about the soldier she intended to marry but who never came home from the war; and especially the poignant scene when all of the children sing the plaintive melody 'Tell Me Why." Towers, who years later co-starred with Yul Brynner in "The King and I," reveals a lovely voice in this sequence. Edy Williams, who dated Dean Martin, appears briefly as a hooker. In Grantville, the movie theater's marquee reads "Shock Corridor."

Verdict: Good story, but too lurid and superficial. **1/2. 

GIVE ME A SAILOR

Martha Raye and Bob Hope
GIVE ME A SAILOR (1938). Director: Elliott Nugent.

"Try to look like something." -- Hope to Raye.

Letty Larkin (Martha Raye) is in love with sailor Walter Brewster (Jack Whiting) who is, unfortunately, engaged to her prettier sister, Nancy (Betty Grable). Walter's brother, Jim (Bob Hope), who is also in love with Nancy, hooks up with Letty to come up with a scheme to break up Nancy and Walter so each can have the person of their dreams. Unfortunately, fate has a way of conspiring to keep the "lovers" apart -- or does it? Give Me a Sailor has a very amusing screenplay (Anderson and Butler) and features some fine comedic performances, especially from the top-billed Hope and Raye; J. C. Nugent [Midnight Intruder] is also appealing as Mr. Larkin. The plot goes a little haywire toward the end, but it's consistently funny. Give Me a Sailor also boasts some very pleasant tunes (by Rainger and Robin), including "A Little Kiss at Twilight," well sung by Raye, and the bouncy and irresistible "What Goes On in My Heart?," a very snappy number indeed. Whiting and Grable do a very charming dance routine as well. Irving Bacon plays the druggist with his usual panache.

Verdict: Raye and Hope play extremely well together and the picture is a pip.***.

COMMANDO CODY: SKY MARSHAL OF THE UNIVERSE

Judd Holdren  and Aline Towne
COMMANDO CODY: SKY MARSHAL OF THE UNIVERSE  (12 episode Republic series/1953). Directors: Harry Keller; Fred C. Brannon; Franklin Adreon.

In the near-future Commando Cody (Judd Holdren of Zombies of the Stratosphere) whose identity "must" be hidden behind a mask "for security reasons," and his team are up against, the Ruler (Gregory Gaye of Dodsworth), an outer space despot who is out to take over the earth, as he has other planets, or destroy it. The Ruler creates weather changes that lead to tidal waves, destroys atomic research stations, employs germ warfare, alternately freezes the earth than causes super-high temperatures via twin suns, then tries to tilt the earth using a magnetic field. In each episode the Commando and his assistants foil the Ruler's plans, taking off to such places as the moon and Mercury when they need to in the Commando's rocketship (he also uses a jet pack to fly). There has always been a debate over whether Commando Cody is a serial or a TV show. Apparently it was originally conceived as a TV series, but for some reason was shown in theaters first as a series of short films (the episodes don't end with cliffhangers as serials usually do, but are more or less self-contained). The series was then shown on television. In any case, Commando Cody is a lot of fun, with adequate acting and more than serviceable special effects. Along with the colorless Aline Towne, William Schallert [The Man from Planet X] and Richard Crane play Cody's associates, Lyle Talbot is cast as an equally colorless earth guy working with the Ruler, and Rick Vallin plays Captain Duron. Gloria Pall is the space babe who answers messages for the Ruler; she is decorative and little else.

Verdict:  You either love this stuff or you just hate it! ***.

NEVER SAY DIE

You're strangely attractive, my Henry: Devine and Sondergaard
NEVER SAY DIE (1939). Director: Elliott Nugent.

"I don't want any trouble with you -- you get back here in bed!" -- Henry to John.

Scene: the Bad Gassewasser health spa in Europe. John Kidley (Bob Hope) is worth twenty million dollars, and is being chased by "black widow" Juno Marko (Gale Sondergaard). Meantime, Mickey Hawkins (Martha Raye) is ordered by her father (Paul Harvey) to marry a man she does not love, the impoverished Prince Smirnov (Alan Mowbray), only so that he can get into the country club. John and Mickey decide to marry each other to keep out of the hands of their persistent suitors, but then Mickey's boyfriend, Henry (Andy Devine of Between Us Girls) shows up and accompanies the couple on their honeymoon, with the two men sharing a bed! An added complication is that John has mistakenly been told that he only has a short while to live. not to mention the fact that the prince wants to fight a duel with him. Never Say Die is a very funny movie with a great script and terrific performances from everyone in the cast, which includes Monty Woolley [Life Begins at Eight-Thirty] as the confused doctor; Ernest Cossart as "Jeepers," John's helpful butler; and Sig Ruman [Thank You Mr. Moto] as the hotel proprietor who is astonished by John's apparent bed-hopping.

Verdict: As usual Hope and Raye make a splendid team. ***.

TARZAN AND THE HUNTRESS

Cheetah's pals
TARZAN AND THE HUNTRESS (1947). Director: Kurt Neumann.

"We really have to do something about Cheetah -- she's getting as vain as a peacock." -- Jane

Animal trainer Tanya Rawlins (Patricia Morison of The Fallen Sparrow) comes to Africa with boyfriend Carl Marley (Jack Warburton), and hooks up with gruff Paul Weir (Barton MacLane of Cry of the Werewolf) for help. Tanya importunes King Farrod (Charles Trowbridge of The Fatal Hour) to allow them to take many animals out of the jungle, but the king says they can only take a pair of each species. A bigger problem for the king is that his evil nephew, Ozira (Ted Hecht), is plotting against him. A bigger problem for Tanya is that Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) is mightily opposed to anyone caging his animals and takes decided action with the help of Boy (Johnny Sheffield) and Jane (Brenda Joyce). Desirous of a compact owned by Tanya, Cheetah, unfortunately, winds up playing into the hunters' hands, for shame. Boy also does the wrong thing by taking two bear cubs from their mother in exchange for a flashlight he covets. Tarzan and the Huntress is the penultimate Tarzan/Weissmuller film, and it's one of the better of the latter "B" movie entries, with plenty of, at times, bloodthirsty action and a very fast pace. Cheetah gets a large share of the screen time, and has a funny encounter with bees -- the finale with the chimp parachuting out of an airplane is priceless. As usual, we've got a lot of elephants going on the rampage. Maurice Tauzin plays Prince Suli, the son of the king. Paul Sawtell's musical score is a decided asset. This was Sheffield's last appearance as Boy.

Verdict: Exciting and amusing Tarzan adventure. ***.

APOLOGY FOR MURDER

Hugh Beaumont and Ann Savage
APOLOGY FOR MURDER (1945). Director: Sam Newfield.

Toni Kirkland (Ann Savage of Pygmy Island) is married to a much older and wealthy man (Russell Hicks), who has given her no grounds for divorce. Toni wants the money, but she doesn't want him. When reporter Kenny Blake (Hugh Beaumont) shows up to interview Mr. Kirkland, he and Toni are immediately attracted, but Kenny thinks Toni is the old man's daughter. By the time he learns the truth, he's hopelessly smitten, and agrees to help her carry out a plan to murder her husband on an isolated highway. Apology for Murder is a blatant rip-off of both Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, and it's not what you could call unpredictable, but the leads are interesting and offer solid performances. Poor Pierre Watkin is cast in another thankless role as a friend of Kirkland's, and he's just as mediocre as ever. Charles D. Brown is marginally better as Kenny's editor, and Norman Willis makes a minor impression as Toni's amorous lawyer, Allen Webb.

Verdict: I'm sure Billy Wilder lost no sleep over this. **.

OLDBOY

Elizabeth Olsen and Josh Brolin
OLDBOY (2013). Director: Spike Lee.

Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is a self-destructive, hard-drinking douche bag of a man who has little to do with his ex-wife and baby daughter. One night he wakes up in what seems to be a hotel room -- and spends the next twenty years there as the world goes by, "missing" such events as 9/11 and the New Orleans hurricane. He learns through the TV that his ex-wife has been raped and murdered. When Joe gets out, he makes up his mind to find out who imprisoned him and why. Oldboy is a remake of a 2003 Korean film, and while it certainly has a fascinating premise, its execution is problematic; one wishes Lee hadn't tried so hard to emulate Quentin Tarantino. At one point, Joe takes on a half dozen nasty hoods all by himself a la Captain America; such scenes as this push the film right up to the edges of camp. Once you accept that the movie has become increasingly far-fetched and even ridiculous, you can get caught up in the suspense of wondering what exactly is going on, although some viewers may not care. The movie has a twisted ending which may have fooled some people into thinking this is better than it really is, but you may be asking yourself if it really adds up to anything. Brolin [American Gangster] gives an excellent performance, and there is nice work from Samuel L Jackson [Twisted], Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperiolo, and James Ransone [Sinister 2]  as a doctor, among others. The lead character is definitely an asshole but he probably doesn't deserve all that happens to him. There is no attempt to actually make Brolin or other characters look twenty years older; in the early scenes a 45-year-old Brolin is playing 25.

Verdict: Arresting at times, but there's less here than meets the eye. **1/2.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Great Old Movies is taking the week off to enjoy some turkey.

Happy thanksgiving!

See you next week!

Bill

Thursday, November 17, 2016

SHOCK TREATMENT (1964)

 Lauren Bacall: Who's crazy?
SHOCK TREATMENT (1964). Director: Denis Sanders.

Harley Manning (Judson Laire) hires actor Dale Nelson (Stuart Whitman) to feign mental problems so that he can be admitted for observation in a mental hospital. It seems that crazy gardener Martin Ashley (Roddy McDowall), who lopped off his elderly employer's head with garden shears, may know where some of the old lady's fortune is hidden. Unfortunately, Dr. Beighley (Lauren Bacall), also has an interest in that money, and has developed a drug that can turn certain people into catatonics ... Made a year after Shock Corridor, in which the hero also feigned mental illness in order to be admitted to an institution, Shock Treatment may not necessarily be a better movie, but it is a lot more fun, a rather absurd melodrama that typically exploits mental illness without ever having anything of note to say about it. However, as a melodrama this works all the way through. While Whitman [Sands of the Kalahari] and Bacall [The Cobweb] are okay, the best performances come from Carol Lynley (as another patient) and McDowall [Fright Night], who gets across the character's anger and madness without chewing the scenery. Ossie Davis and Bert Freed have smaller roles. Everything seems resolved a little too neatly at the end, but the finale is very amusing, if not very believable.

Verdict: Watch out for Bacall and her needle! ***.

CONQUEST OF SPACE

effects of acceleration on astronaut Andre (Ross Martin)
CONQUEST OF SPACE (1955). Director: Byron Haskin. Produced by George Pal.

A giant space wheel has been erected above earth whose purpose is twofold -- as an observation post and as a platform to launch a ship to the moon. However, General Samuel Merritt (Walter Brooke) is informed by his superiors that there will be no test flight to the moon, but a direct trip to Mars where it is hoped they will find a way to replenish the earth's diminishing resources and find more land for a growing population. Merritt leads the expedition with his son, Barney (Eric Fleming), as second-in-command. The others on board include Andre (Ross Martin); the crude technical expert Sgt. Siegle (Phil Foster); the Japanese Sgt. Imoto (Benson Fong); and a stowaway, Sgt. Mahoney (Mickey Shaughnessy), who was told he was too old to go along. Trouble begins when the elder Merritt starts wondering if Man has any right to "invade" space, which, in his opinion, is the province of God. Conquest of Space is a more "serious" science fiction film with character-based melodrama substituting for sexy space-babes, giant spiders, and other far-out elements of fifties outer space epics. Although the human drama is not always convincing in this, it does make the picture more entertaining than it might have been. The special effects are quite good considering this was made in a pre-CGI time period, and the science itself, while far from perfect, is more reasonable than in the more outlandish sci fi flicks made around the same time. There are some good actors in this even if it has what might be called a C level cast. Walter Brooke is fine as the general; he was actually only ten years older than Eric Fleming [Queen of Outer Space], who plays his son. As the dead-common Siegle, Phil Foster isn't terrible, but his character and style of acting make him less comedy relief than extreme irritant. Fong and Shaughnessy are pretty much the same as always, and Ross Martin [The Twilight Zone: "Death Ship"], always a very good actor, isn't given enough to do. The best scenes have to do with a humongous asteroid that almost smashes into the spaceship, and the grim sequence when a dead astronaut's body, still attached to the end of its lifeline, floats outside the porthole. Filmed in technicolor,  the Martian landscape is striking. This ambitious picture led the way to the better -- and more macabre -- Forbidden Planet the following year.

Verdict: Highly interesting and well-done early science fiction film. ***.

ATHENA

Jane Powell, Steve Reeves and Edmund Purdom
ATHENA (1954). Director: Richard Thorpe.

Athena Mulvain (Jane Powell) and sister Minerva (Debbie Reynolds) -- two of several siblings -- belong to a family of health nuts, vegetarians, numerologists, and body builders run by Grandpa (Louis Calhern) and Grandma (Evelyn Varden). Grandpa is seventy-eight but can swing around the parallel bars with ease. Athena and Minerva find themselves falling for men who don't quite believe in the same things they do, with the former setting her cap for Adam Shaw (Edmund Purdom), a lawyer running for Congress; and Minerva becoming involved with boyish crooner Johnny Nyle (Vic Damone). Both women already have highly muscular boyfriends, Ed (Steve Reeves) and Bill (Richard Sabre), both of whom compete in the Mr. Universe contest at the end of the movie; and Adam has a sophisticated fiancee named Beth (Linda Christian). Will true love win out in the end, or will Adam and Johnny find themselves in some crushing body blocks? Athena is a very silly and kitschy musical with some pleasant songs by Martin and Blane, the best of which is "Love Can Change the Stars," well-warbled by Powell. Powell also does a creditable job with an aria from Donizetti's "Daughter of the Regiment." Obviously wealthy, the Mulvain family come off at first as free-spirited non-conformists who are at one with the earth and all that, but in one of the better scenes Adam tells Grandpa that they are actually intolerant of (indeed obnoxious toward) others who don't think as they do. Athena is typical of so many movies in which supposedly nice people simply decide they want someone for themselves and don't give a damn for the fact that they are already involved with someone else. The actors in this are all good, but Louis Calhern, as he often did, gives the best performance, and there are notable turns from Kathleen Freeman as Adam's secretary and Ray Collins as a political associate.  Calhern and Collins appeared together in Invitation. Steve Reeves is so handsome it's a wonder he ever bothered with the beard that he wore for most of his career. He was a real-life Mr. America and Mr. Universe, and his American career could have been developed, but he didn't want to slim  down the muscles for the role in Samson and Delilah that was eventually given to Victor Mature. Reeves became a name after the Italian Hercules became a surprise hit, and he was reportedly offered the role of James Bond in Dr. No but turned it down. In all but two films, Reeve's excellent voice was dubbed. NOTE: The body builders of the fifties and sixties were a different breed from what you see today, typified by Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose musculature is so overdone that he resembles something that was mutated in an H-bomb explosion. Steve Reeves had a great physique but he was in no way grotesque.

Verdict: The script is rather annoying, but there are some pleasant moments and performances. **1/2.

THE GREATEST SCI-FI MOVIES NEVER MADE

THE GREATEST SCI-FI MOVIES NEVER MADE. David Hughes. A Cappella Books/ Chicago Review Press; 2001.

This entertaining and well-researched book examines the struggle to get many science fiction films made, (some of which have since materialized since the publication of this first edition). These include efforts to bring to the screen such novels as Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination;" and Arthur C. Clarkes' "Childhood's End." More often the book examines how the scripts of certain films metamorphosed from the screenwriter and/or producer's original conception into something entirely different. Superman Lives (as Superman Returns) and I am Legend were eventually made, but in very different form and with different actors and creative people attached. Spider-Man eventually came to the screen but without the participation of James Cameron, who was attached to the project for several years. Then there are dissections of why certain released films, despite promising starts, emerged as both critical and financial mega-bombs: Thunderbirds and The Island of Dr. Moreau are two examples. The latter, starring a morbidly obese Marlon Brando, was especially dreadful, but despite Hughes assertions, one can't imagine that the vision of Richard Stanley, supposedly a "life-long fan" of H. G. Wells' novel but who was taken off the project by others, would have been anything other than a campy mess. There's a chapter on the Star Trek films that never were and lots of backbiting from screenwriters saying how awful other writers' screenplays for the same project were. My favorite quote in the book has to do with Gerry Anderson, who created the TV marionette show Thunderbirds Are Go. When a live action film based on the series was in the pre-production stage, Anderson was told that his participation was not required: "We really have enough creative people on the crew, so we can't take on  another person." NOTE: There is an updated edition of this book.

Verdict: Another good read on the insanity of Hollywood filmmaking. ***.

SHOCK (1977)

SHOCK (aka Beyond the Door 2/1977). Director: Mario Bava.

Dora Baldini (Daria Nicolodi of Opera), her second husband Bruno (John Steiner of The Devil Within Her) and her little boy Marco (David Colin Jr.) move into the home she previously occupied with her late first husband, a drug addict who presumably committed suicide. Being in the house -- a rather bad idea -- has an effect on Dora, as it seems to have on her son, an adorable seven-year-old child who begins doing upsetting things that he later tearfully denies. Bruno thinks it is all in Dora's head, reminding her of her stay in a mental institution after her husband's suicide. But do Dora and Bruno have other secrets as well ... Shock is Bava's last film, and it's not one of his best, although the story does lead up to some interesting twists and the performances are good. Little Colin is a wonderful scene-stealing child actor who easily walks off with the movie. There are some genuinely creepy moments in this, but the movie is still tedious and silly for much of its length. Steiner was a British actor who did much work in Italy, including Tenebrae, which starred Nicolodi. Shock was released in the U.S. as Beyond the Door 2 after the success of the original, which is related only in that Colin Jr. also had a role at the ripe old age of 3. Shock has been vastly over-rated by Bava fanatics.

Verdict: What this needs is a little more shock. **1/2.

JUNGLE JIM IN THE FORBIDDEN LAND

Johnny Weissmuller and Angela Greene
JUNGLE JIM IN THE FORBIDDEN LAND (1952). Director: Law Landers.

"Greed feeds on itself and destroys itself."

De. Linda Roberts (Angela Greene) is an anthropologist who hopes that Jungle Jim (Johnny Weissmuller) will guide her to the land of the "giant people." These supposed giants live near a passage that is blocking certain elephants from making their way to safety. Meanwhile a lady named Denise (Jean Willes of Desire Under the Elms) and her boyfriend Doc Edwards (William Tannen) only hope to slaughter said elephants for their ivory, and have no qualms about murdering people as well to achieve their goal. They even manage to frame Jungle Jim for murder. The "big" problem with this poor JJ adventure is that the allegedly "giant" people are just very tall actors in fright masks -- they resemble the wolfman with out-sized incisors. On her way to find Jungle Jim at his home on Ingabi lake, Dr. Roberts' boat is sunk by hippos and natives are killed, a fact she doesn't even find important enough to relay to Jim with appropriate dismay when he pulls her out of the water some time later. Tamba (formerly Timba) the chimp is on hand and is, as usual, adorable. Jean Willes is typically saucy as the ill-fated Denise.

Verdict: Not one of the better JJ adventures. **.

YOUNG AND DANGEROUS

Good-looking couple: Mark Damon and Lili Gentle
YOUNG AND DANGEROUS (1957). Producer/director: William F. Claxton.

19-year-old Tommy Price (Mark Damon) is considered a "bad boy" who spends all of his time chasing bad girls for "all-night petting parties" and showing no signs of doing anything with his life, to the consternation of his father, Dr. Price (Edward Binns). But when Tommy goes on a date with 17-year-old Rosemary (Lili Gentle) -- which initially goes badly -- she brings out some of the inner sensitivity that was always inside of him. But can they convince his parents that he's changed? This mis-titled film sounds like a typical juvenile delinquent-jukebox melodrama, but while it's certainly no East of Eden, it is a well-done and quite well-acted romance. Damon and Gentle not only play together beautifully, but they are very good actors. Gentle married Richard D. Zanuck (son of Darryl) the following year -- their marriage lasted a decade -- and only made two more movies before retiring. Damon made some other teen movies, appeared with Vincent Price in House of Usher and with Boris Karloff in Black Sabbath -- he made several films in Italy -- and is now a successful producer. Handsome and with considerable acting ability, Damon was geared for a major stardom that never quite materialized. Dabbs Greer and Ann Doran offer strong support as Rosemary's parents, and Binns is fine as Tommy's father. One very long sequence, filmed in one shot without cutting, shows Tommy's friends "Weasel" (George Brenlin) and Roscoe (uncredited) in a phone booth trying to make a date with an "old reliable" girlfriend. Meant to be comedy relief, it just stops the picture dead. Produced in widescreen for Regal pictures, this was released by Twentieth Century-Fox.William F. Claxton later directed the lovably notorious creature feature Night of the Lepus.

Verdict: Not bad light drama with very appealing leads. ***.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

THE WOMAN IN QUESTION

Dirk Bogarde and Susan Shaw
THE WOMAN IN QUESTION (aka Five Angles on Murder/1950). Director: Anthony Asquith.

Agnes Huston (Jean Kent), a woman who has a fortune-telling act as "Madame Astra," is found strangled in her home. Supt. Lodge (Duncan Macrae) and Inspector Butler (Joe Linnane) interview assorted suspects and seem to get very different impressions of the woman. A neighbor, Mrs. Finch (Hermione Baddeley), sees her as a warm and classy lady, while her sister, Catherine (Susan Shaw of Pool of London) sees her as a crude and hateful antagonist. Then there's Bob Baker (Dirk Bogarde of I Could Go On Singing), who wants to do a mind-reading act with Agnes but winds up engaged to Catherine. The kindly Albert Pollard (Charles Victor) does lots of favors for Agnes and becomes smitten with her, and the sailor Michael Murray (John McCallum) has a hankering for her as well. The Woman in Question is an absorbing mystery-drama that features excellent performances from the entire cast, with a special nod to Jean Kent, who also appeared to good advantage in The Browning Version the following year. The film illustrates the fact that every person we know or meet forms a different impression of us depending on their own personality, circumstances, and a variety of other factors. The killer may not come as a big surprise, but the film is still quite watchable. With his good looks and acting skill, Bogarde was clearly destined for major stardom and was already on his way. McCallum was not well-known to American audiences.

Verdict: Noteworthy British mystery with top-notch performances. ***.

AFI FEST: IDA LUPINO, ANNA MAY WONG AND DOROTHY DANDRIDGE


AFI FEST (American Film Institute Festival).

The AFI Fest of November 10 to 17th, 2016, will highlight the talents of three very special women in film. Ida Lupino was not only a talented movie star, but one of Hollywood's early female film directors and producers. Anna May Wong was the first Chinese-American movie star, and Dorothy Dandridge was the first black woman to ever be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar (for Carmen Jones).  

These three women were all very unique and talented actresses.

I wrote my young adult bio of Dorothy Dandridge, Heartbreaker, some years ago, and it recounted the sad story of the actress trying to establish herself as a major player in major films despite her being African-American -- and this after nearly winning an Academy Award -- and her romantic heartbreak and other personal problems. One of her earliest film appearances was in the Republic musical Change of Heart.

As for the other ladies, Wong gave a memorable performance, among many, in Daughter of Shanghai and Lupino boith directed and starred in the notable drama The Bigamist, with Joan Fontaine and Edmund O'Brien. For other films and biographies of these actresses, simply type their names in the search bar above.

NO MAN'S WOMAN

Richard Crane and Marie Windsor
NO MAN'S WOMAN (1955). Director: Franklin Adreon.

Harlow Grant (John Archer) wants a divorce from his hateful wife, Carolyn (Marie Windsor), so that he can marry his sweetheart, Louise (Nancy Gates of World Without End). But everyone seems to hate Carolyn, including her father-in-law, Philip (Douglas Wood); her assistant, Betty (Jil Jarmyn), whose sexy boyfriend she tries to steal; said boyfriend, Dick Sawyer (Richard Crane), who owns his own fishing boat; and even Carolyn's own boyfriend, Wayne Vincent (Patric Knowles of Five Came Back), who is in the art business with her. Then the movie turns into a lesser Perry Mason episode without Perry Mason when one person is murdered, as expected. No Man's Woman is well acted and entertaining -- Windsor [Swamp Women] is as much fun to watch doing her slimy "bad girl" act as ever -- but the solution to this mystery holds absolutely no surprises. John Gallaudet, who later played a judge on the aforementioned Perry Mason, and Morris Ankrum are police officers, and Great Old Movies favorite Percy Helton is a caretaker. From Republic studios.

Verdict: A good role but not a great vehicle for Windsor . **1/2.

JUNGLE MANHUNT

Sheila Ryan and Bob Waterfield
JUNGLE MANHUNT (1951). Director: Lew Landers.

Photojournalist Anne Lawrence (Sheila Ryan) has come to Africa to search for Bob Miller (Bob Waterfield), a former war hero and football player who vanished into the jungle 9 years before. Miller seems to enjoy playing, as Ann puts it, "Great White God" to the natives, but he seems much more benign than certain "skeleton men" -- wearing black uniforms with skeletons painted on them -- who are decimating villages and enslaving many of the natives. Dr. Heller (Lyle Talbot) has cooked up a scheme to mine radioactive igneous rock that can be turned into valuable industrial diamonds. This is one of the better Jungle Jim adventures, with our hero (Johnny Weissmuller) leading Anne and Bob into isolated territory where they encounter a 100 foot lizard that battles a "sailback" crocodile in stock footage, not all of which seems to have come from One Million B.C. Bob Waterfield was a hunky former quarterback who was married to his high school sweetheart, the famous Jane Russell, for twenty-five years. Although he has an appealing personality in this, good looks and a fine physique seemed to be his chief assets and he only appeared in three films; Jungle Manhunt is the only one in which he actually played a character -- he later became head coach for the Los Angeles Rams. Sheila Ryan [Hideout] is a welcome and perky presence in the movie, and Lyle Talbot [The Vigilante], who gets a great death scene, gives a better performance than usual. Rick Vallin, cast again as a native, spends much of his time dealing with chimp Timba. At one point he seems a bit exasperated with his or her antics but on other occasions he certainly acts like he's charmed by the scene-stealing ape, who gets a lot of footage. The shark vs octopus stock footage that we see in so many movies also reappears in this one.

Verdict: 100 foot lizards, pretty gals and football players -- all in one movie! ***.

DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS / DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT

The eyes have it!
DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS (aka La morte cammina con i tacchi alti/1971). Director: Luciano Ercoli.

DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (aka La morte accarezza a mezzanotte/1972. Director: Luciana Ercoli.

Nicole Rochard (Nieves Navarro), an exotic dancer in Paris, is the daughter of a murdered diamond thief. A masked man with startling blue eyes threatens her with death if she doesn't tell him where the diamonds are. Nicole fears that the masked man may be her own boyfriend, Michel (Simon Andreu), so she flees Paris with one of her fans, Dr. Robert Matthews (Frank Wolff). Matthews, an older man who is in an apparently loveless marriage, takes Nicole to a private retreat outside London, where the two begin falling in love. And then Death Walks on High Heels takes a 180 degree turn. It would be criminal to give away any of the plot twists in this highly interesting Italian suspense film which is enthusiastically and capably acted by all.

Beware that spiked metal glove!
Director Ercoli and star Navarro [Kiss Kiss Bang Bang] -- the two were married that year and were together until his death 43 years later -- reunited for Death Walks at Midnight, in which a model, Valentina (Navarro), agrees to participate in an experiment with a hallucinogen during which she has a vision of a woman being murdered by a man who wears a spiked metal glove. This murder supposedly occurred six months earlier, but there may have been a more recent victim. The killer stalks Valentina wherever she goes, and she also encounters Verushka (Claudie Lang), the rather agitated sister of one of the victims. And there are other weird people and events throughout. This one gets a little too tricky for its own good, but it is suspenseful and has a very exciting conclusion. Simon Andreu plays a reporter, Gio, and Pietro Martellanza is Valentina's sometime boyfriend, Stefano.

Although both of these films feature horror movie-type elements, such as masked killers on the loose, they are really convoluted mysteries.

Verdict: Death Walks on High Heels. ***
              Death Walks at Midnight. **1/2.

GREAT CHARACTER ACTORS: ROBERT H. HARRIS

Robert H. Harris
ROBERT H. HARRIS (1911 - 1981). Born: Robert H. Hurwitz.

Character actor Robert H. Harris amassed 116 credits during his lengthy career, and was one of those ever-reliable players that always gave a solid and interesting performance.

Although he appeared in quite a few movies, most of Harris' credits were for television work. He appeared on every television series of note in the fifties and sixties and afterward. and co-starred on The Court of Last Resort for its single season.
Particularly notable television appearances were as a fortune hunter in "Love Me to Death" on Peter Gunn  and "The Case of the Purple Woman" on Perry Mason.In one episode of that series, he was one of the most sympathetic murderers you ever saw. 

He had notable roles in such films as Valley of the Dolls, The George Raft Story, and The Big Caperand was especially good in Mirage. The only film he starred in was How to Make a Monster. and he lent a note of class to the proceedings.

Harris also appeared on the stage in everything from Richard III to Eugene O'Neill to the musical Foxy and indeed was in dozens of productions over the years. 

Like many a fine character actor, Harris was sometimes the best thing in a poor production, and his presence added luster to a superior one.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

SHOCK CORRIDOR

Attack of the Nymphos!
SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963). Produced, written and directed by Samuel Fuller.

"Their sickness is bound to rub off on you." -- Cathy

"Nymphos!"

Johnny Barrett hopes to win a Pulitzer prize by feigning a mental disorder that will get him committed to an asylum where he can find out who murdered one of the patients. He enlists his highly agitated girlfriend, Cathy (Constance Towers), to pretend to be his sister, so he can claim an incestuous attachment. Among the inmates that Barrett investigates are an ex G.I., Stuart (James Best), who turned traitor and now thinks he's a general in the confederacy; Boden (Gene Evans), a genius scientist who suffered a nervous breakdown and acts like a child; "Pagliacci" (Larry Tucker) a likable chubby guy who sings an aria from Barber of Seville off-key; and Trent (Hari Rhodes), a black man who has deluded himself that he is a white supremacist. Trying to be topical and controversial, Fuller has managed to come up with a movie that is undeniably arresting at times but, sadly, isn't very good, with some awful and pretentious dialogue, and scenes that border on parody. Barrett somehow manages to wind up in a ward for nymphomaniacs-- only because the script demands it -- where the women seem more interested in clawing him than kissing him -- it's an hilariously ludicrous sequence, badly overdone as so much of the movie is. Periodically Fuller inserts color stock footage (in a black and white movie) to illustrate certain points, and what can one say about Towers' dance number but that it is seriously weird? There are some good performances, with Breck [I Want to Live!] and Evans [The Giant Behemoth] coming off best. Fuller seems to have directed Constance Towers to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown herself. Mental illness is more exploited by the movie than examined. Samuel Fuller could make some good movies -- Forty Guns, for instance -- but this one is a notable failure.

Verdict: It's different, certainly, but still not very good. **.

DEAD EYES OF LONDON

DEAD EYES OF LONDON (aka Die toten Augen von London/1961). Director: Alfred Vohrer.

In London, there is a series of "accidental drownings" of vision-impaired men on foggy nights. These deaths are tied in with the Greenwich insurance company and may have something to do with a home for blind pensioners run by Reverend Dearborn (Dieter Borsche). Then there are the infamous, possibly mythical "blind killers of London" run by Jacob Farrell aka "Blind Jack" (Tor Johnson lookalike Ady Berber). Inspector Holt (Joachim Fuchsberger) and a braille teacher named Nora (Karin Beal) nearly pay a heavy price for getting involved in this mystery. Dead Eyes of London is a remake of an old Bela Lugosi film of the same title (aka The Human Monster), and it is an extremely suspenseful movie with some very good plot twists. Karl Lob has contributed some unusual camera work, such as a shot from inside a man's mouth as he sprays his throat! There's an exciting climax, and a well-handled murder inside an elevator shaft. The biggest "name" in the cast is Klaus Kinski [Doctor Zhivago] as Edgar Strauss. Based on a novel by the prolific Edgar Wallace.

Verdict: Well-done West German suspense thriller. ***

THE WHISTLER

Richard Dix
THE WHISTLER (1944). Director: William Castle.

This is the first of several Columbia films (and later a TV series) based on the radio show where a weird, whistling figure narrates mystery stories, as he does in this film. Earl Conrad (Richard Dix) is despondent after the death of his wife, Clair, and arranges to have a hit man murder him. Then Conrad discovers that Clair is still alive, and tries to call off the hit man. Unfortunately the go-between, Vigran (Don Costello),  has been killed by the police, and the hit man (J. Carrol Naish), who has been paid, thinks it is a point of honor to finish his assignment. The basic premise of the film was undoubtedly used in other movies both before and after The Whistler, but it has effective variations, Castle's direction is adroit, and the acting is generally good. Naish is a bit miscast as the hit man, a role that would have been better played by Peter Lorre. Joan Woodbury has a vivid turn as Vigran's angry wife, who blames Conrad for her husband's death, and Trevor Bardette scores as a sinister bum in a men's shelter where Conrad is hiding out. Billy Benedict, Byron Foulger, Cy Kendall, Alan Dinehart, and Gloria Stuart (as Conrad's secretary, who is secretly in love with him) also have roles of varying importance. One puzzling aspect of the film is it is never fully explained how a woman, Claire, who supposedly drowns on a vacation winds up in a Japanese POW camp. Later Whistler films include The Secret of the Whistler and The Return of the Whistler.

Verdict: Interesting low-budget suspense film. ***.

LA PAURA (FEAR)

Ingrid Bergman 
LA PAURA (aka Fear aka Non credo piu all'amore/1954). Director: Roberto Rossellini.

Irene Wagner (Ingrid Bergman), whose husband spent some time in jail, has drifted into an affair with Eric Baumann (Kurt Kreuger). Irene and her husband Alberto (Mathias Wieman) run a pharmaceutical company together and their children, who live in the country, are cared for by a nanny. Although Irene wants to break things off with Eric, she finds herself being blackmailed by an alleged old girlfriend of Eric's named Joanna (Renate Mannhardt). Then things get worse ... La Paura is an Italian "B" movie that has a lovely ending and is reasonably engaging without ever quite hitting a dramatic high note. The acting is good, with Bergman, as usual, giving a superior performance. Bergman left her husband and daughter four years earlier to be with the director of the film, Rossellini, but the scandal eventually died down after she divorced Rossellini [Voyage to Italy] three years after making this film and she came back to Hollywood. Based on a novel by Stefan Zweig.

Verdict: Has some suspense and intriguing situations, but decidedly minor. **1/2.