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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA

Deborah Kerr and Richard Burton
THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (1964). Director: John Huston. Based on the play by Tennessee Williams.

"Don't make me take steps, Dr. Shannon ..." -- Judith Fellowes.

The former minister T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton), who was locked out of his church, is now guiding ladies on a tour bus through Mexico. Young Charlotte Goodall (Sue Lyon) can't keep her hands off Shannon, inspiring the ire of her formidable guardian Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall). Shannon takes the gals to a small hotel run by an old friend, Maxine Faulk (Ava Gardner), whose husband died a short while ago. While some of the tourist ladies put up a fuss, Maxine reluctantly admits the impoverished artist Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) and her aged poet father, Nonno (Cyril Delevanti) to her hostel. As these characters interact and Shannon faces dismissal from the tour business, will the man finally find himself  "at the end of his rope," like one of the iguanas tied to the stairs? Like many Williams' adaptations The Night of the Iguana is a mix of the poetic and the pretentious, but it does have some very tender moments. Burton, Lyon and Delevanti walk off with the acting honors. Grayson hall [House of Dark Shadows] is a bit overwrought, almost ridiculous at times, as Judith, but the whole idea of the fire-breathing repressed lesbian is terribly dated. Deborah Kerr [Edward, My Son] is good, but she doesn't quite get across the weary defeatedness of someone who is a caregiver to a man in his nineties [walking him around Mexico in the heat with little money could almost be considered elder abuse], and is apparently homeless besides -- where is the sheer desperation she would be feeling? Gardner [Seven Days in May] is not bad at all and suitably earthy; Bette Davis played the role on the stage. The poem that Nonno completes, written by Williams, of course, is beautiful. Despite its flaws, the movie casts a certain exotic and haunting spell.

Verdict: Imperfect but entertaining and well-acted, with some interesting characters. ***.

WORLD WITHOUT END

WORLD WITHOUT END (1956). Director: Edward Bernds.

Four American astronauts on a trip to observe but not land on Mars, wind up caught in a super-speed time warp and arrive on Earth in 2508 AD. There they find that one-eyed mutates rule over savage humans who roam the countryside, while the dregs of intelligent humanity hide inside a mountain HQ. The men are old and eunuch-like and wear hideous outfits, while the younger women are clad in glamorous gowns that show up sexy legs. Yes, welcome to the future -- or rather 1956! The astronauts also encounter two giant mutated spiders -- unconvincing mock-ups -- in a cavern. World Without End has a few ideas -- it's not as dumb, say, as Queen of Outer Space, also directed by Edward Bernds -- but most of them are recycled. Like Queen, this is also decked out in CinemaScope and Technicolor. The astronauts are played by Hugh Marlowe, Rod Taylor (who would have somewhat similar adventures in The Time Machine a few years later), Nelson Leigh (The Adventures of Sir Galahad), and Christopher Dark, while the attractive ladies are Nancy Gates, Shawn Smith (The Land Unknown), and Lisa Montell. Everett Glass plays aged Timmek, who rules the underground society, and Booth Colman is Mories, who can hardly wait to take over. The credits for most of these actors were largely on television. Not enough is made of the fact that the astronauts will never see their loved ones or time period again, but then this isn't exactly intellectual material. Very influential, for better or worse, on such later movies as Beyond the Time Barrier.

Verdict: Even big spiders can't save this from being rather boring. **.

JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND Scott Eyman

JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND. Scott Eyman. Simon and Schuster; 2014.

Examining the life and very long career of John Wayne from a largely positive angle, the book makes a case for him as a fine actor and misunderstood human being who had more facets to him than people realized. Frankly, the lengthy book probably won't change the minds of people who saw Wayne as distinctly limited, especially in his middle-aged years (although he could give very good performances and was more talented than his detractors would suggest) nor those who saw him as a swaggering hypocrite. Wayne became quite the war hawk when he was too old to serve in the military, but during WW2, when other actors with big careers enlisted, he fell back on deferments that other stars rejected. [His attempts to get into the O.S.S. do not seem that whole-hearted.] Eyman scrutinizes Wayne's friendships, romantic involvements, movies, and performances, and the book may make you want to search out such classics as Stagecoach and The Searchers, if you haven't seen them already. While Eyman does include some negative critical and political reaction to Wayne, his approach is, frankly, so worshipful at times that the book can't be considered objective by any standard -- but that, of course, is the author's right.

Verdict: Informative and well-done for the most part if just a bit slanted. ***.

A COLD WIND IN AUGUST

A COLD WIND IN AUGUST (1961). Director: Alexander Singer.

Iris Hartford (Lola Albright) has been disappointed by the men in her life, so she decides to slap the make on a boy this time, the super's 17-year-old son, Vito (Scott Marlowe). The two fall in love, but Vito can't deal with Iris' profession. Right away the movie has a problem because Scott Marlowe was actually 29 at the time of filming, and looks considerably older, so the whole idea of a supposed twenty year age difference is completely lost; Albright was 36. Marlowe gives a good performance, but can't quite compensate for his miscasting. Albright is much more interesting in this than she was in her white bread role on Peter Gunn, but the greatest actress in the world would have trouble making the confused and confusing, underwritten Iris come alive. Joe De Santis scores as Vito's father, Mr. Pellegrino, and Herschel Bernardi, also from Peter Gunn, is excellent as a "friend" of Iris who is clearly in love with her. Perhaps the most notable performance is given by Clarke Gordon as Iris' desperate ex-husband, Harry. This script should probably never have been filmed, at least not with these leads. Singer also directed Love Has Many Faces with Lana Turner.

Verdict: Under-baked, with titillation that goes nowhere slowly. **.

CAUGHT IN THE ACT

Henry Armetta
CAUGHT IN THE ACT (1941). Director: Jean Yarbrough.

Mike Ripportella (Henry Armetta) is expecting the day of his daughter's wedding to be eventful, but he has no idea of exactly what a misadventure it will be. Mike works for a construction contractor, Brandon (Charles Miller of Phantom of Chinatown), but has no clue that his boss has been threatened by racketeers, and that he's been promoted because Brandon thinks he's too honest to play ball with them (and may inspire their ire more than Brandon). Then there's the hard, flashy blonde, Fay (Maxine Leslie) who jumps into Mike's car and inspires the jealousy of his wife, Mary (Inez Palange)  -- the two women wind up sharing a jail cell after the cops come to arrest Mike, thinking he's a hoodlum. This comedy-melodrama of mistaken identities features a good performance from Armetta and the others. Iris Meredith  of The Green Archer plays the daughter, Lucy. William Newell of The Invisible Killer plays the desk cop, Riley.

Verdict: Nothing special but amiable enough. **1/2.

THE BABY

David Mooney (Manzy) and Ruth Roman
THE BABY (1973). Director: Ted Post.

Social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) is a widow who lives with her mother-in-law, Judith (Beatrice Manley). She asks to be assigned to the case of the Wadsworth family, who live in a big rundown house and live off the money given them by the state for the care of a member they call "Baby." Although he has the mind of an infant and sleeps in a crib, Baby (David Mooney/Manzy) is actually a grown man. Ann comes to believe that his problem isn't true retardation, but that for some reason his mother (Ruth Roman) is holding him back developmentally. In the meantime Baby is poked with an electric prod by his sadistic sister Alba (Suzanne Zenor); his other sister Germaine (Marianna Hill of The Astral Factor) takes off her clothes and climbs into the crib with him; and in an even more tasteless scene -- if that were possible --  his babysitter abuses him. But as awful as the Wadsworths may be, is it possible that Ann Gentry is even worse and has her own plans for Baby ...? The Baby is well-acted, especially by Mooney, but it is so exploitative of the mentally ill that it's rather hard to take at times. The movie gets points for originality, but little else. Even the plot twists are pretty sick. This is the kind of movie that does no one's career any good. Tod Andrews, who plays a doctor, was the star of From Hell It Came.

Verdict: Too repellent to be entertaining. For a more sensitive look at the mentally-challenged see A Child is Waiting. **.

88 MINUTES

88 MINUTES (2007). Director: Jon Avnet.

The testimony of FBI psychologist Jack Gramm (Al Pacino of The Recruit) helped put away a fiendish killer, Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), who is about to be executed. Gramm then gets a call in which an unknown person tells him he only has 88 minutes to live, a number that has special significance to him. Gramm figures Forster is behind it all, but who is his ally outside of prison? One of Gramm's students? His teaching assistant, Kim (Alicia Witt of Urban Legend)? Her motorcycle-riding boyfriend? His secretary, Shelley (Amy Brenneman)? The movie, with its hints of dark deeds in the past, numerous twists and red herrings, reminds one of  a giallo film by Italian director Dario Argento, but without the cinematic flourishes or sick violence. The performances are good, and the slick movie moves fast enough to keep you from dissecting what's going on too carefully. Whatever its flaws, 88 Minutes is quite entertaining.

Verdict: Pacino treading water. ***.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER

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

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

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

THE FIRST TRAVELING SALESLADY

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

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

Verdict: Cute picture. ***.

DIARY OF A BACHELOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HONG KONG CONFIDENTIAL

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

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

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

VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA Season Three

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

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

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

GODZILLA (2014)

GODZILLA (2014). Director: Gareth Edwards.

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

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


LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

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

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

William In New York.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

DREADED DEADLINE DOOM

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

Thursday, October 2, 2014

THE EIGER SANCTION

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

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

"With what?" -- Hemlock

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

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

FREE CLASSIC MOVIES

The Rampant Age
FREE CLASSIC MOVIES website. 

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

THE MAN WHO SEDUCED HOLLYWOOD

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

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

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

DATE BAIT

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

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

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


RHYTHM IN THE CLOUDS

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

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

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

THE WOMEN'S CLUB

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

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

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

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

THE LEGEND OF HERCULES

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

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

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


Thursday, September 25, 2014

THE WHITE ORCHID

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

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

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


ANNA CHRISTIE

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

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

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

Verdict: Garbo Talks and More! ***.