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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN from Great Old Movies!

Here's a round-up of horror films and TV shows to check out during this sinister occasion!

Dress up, grab some pumpkin pie and cocoa -- or something stronger -- and watch a good -- or not so good -- horror flick this evening.

Have fun -- and, as always, thanks for reading!

THE DEVIL WITHIN HER

Cute li'l fella
THE DEVIL WITHIN HER (aka Sharon's Baby/I Don't Want to Be Born/1975). Director: Peter Sasdy.

Lucy Carlesi (Joan Collins) does an act with a dwarf, Hercules (George Claydon), who tries to take liberties with her in her dressing room. When she doesn't comply, he puts a curse on her. The result is that Lucy becomes suspicious of, and terrified by, her adorable baby boy, Nicholas, who is apparently possessed by the still-living Hercules and runs about committing fiendish murders, such as beheading Lucy's doctor (Donald Pleasance) with a shovel! The Devil Within Her is utterly absurd but entertaining, greatly abetted by the very good performances of Collins, Pleasance, John Steiner as a sleazy club owner, Tommy; Ralph Bates [Horror of Frankenstein] as Lucy's husband, Gino; Caroline Munro [The Spy Who Loved Me] as her sister, Mandy; and especially Eileen Atkins [Madame Bovary] as her sister-in-law, Sister Albana. It's Alive, which was made the year before and also featured a killer baby, at least gave its monster fangs and claws and a hideous appearance, but aside from a couple of illusions of the infant resembling the dwarf, this baby is just an adorable little tyke, making the whole project even weirder (the child is so angelic-looking that his gruesome acts seem rather comical). Peter Sasdy also directed Hands of the Ripper and many others. The original title of the film was Sharon's Baby even though the mother is named Lucy. While this film is by no means intellectual, one could claim that it cleverly exploits parents' fears about children and the life/financial changes the little dears bring about. Ray Bradbury once contributed just such a story to an EC horror comic in the fifties.

Verdict: Ridiculous but has a good cast and even some suspense. **1/2.

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF

Oliver Reed
THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961). Director: Terence Fisher.

In a prologue, we meet a miserable landowner, the Marques Siniestro (Anthony Dawson), who wrongly imprisons a mute servant girl (Yvonne Romain), simply because she won't respond to his repulsive advances. In her cell the poor woman is raped by another prisoner (Richard Wadsworth), and then dies in child birth. Her son, Leon (Oliver Reed), is raised by the gentlemanly and compassionate Alfredo (Clifford Evans). Leon goes off to work for a wine merchant, and falls for the man's daughter, Christina (Catherine Feller). Christina's father objects to their romance, but Leon has a more serious problem -- when the moon is full the cursed man turns into a werewolf, running home to commit flesh-tearing murders. Director Fisher has done some excellent Hammer horror pictures, but somehow this misses, a victim of awkward continuity and Reed's overwrought performance, although the other cast members are good, especially Feller, and Hira Talfrey as the servant Teresa. Benjamin Frankel's musical score is a decided plus. This was based on Guy Endore's "Werewolf of Paris."

Verdict: A lesser Hammer despite the talent involved. **. 


THE FLY II

THE FLY II (1989). Director: Chris Walas.

Martin (Eric Stoltz), the son of Seth Brundle from the remake of The Fly, fully grown at five [!], is raised in an isolated section of a laboratory, whose head, Bartok (Lee Richardson) -- although he pretends to be a father to the boy -- is only hoping to use the creature he'll turn into as a kind of weapon. Martin wants love, and nearly gets it in the form of employee Beth (Daphne Zuniga), but even she is horrified when Martin begins ... changing ... due to his mutated genes. Then the Martin-creature takes off after all of his tormentors with predictable if messy results. The Fly II starts off well -- has some good scenes such as when Martin discovers his beloved dog didn't die but was used in a ghastly experiment -- but quickly becomes schlocky, and not even very good performances from Stoltz, Richardson and others can salvage it, although it is fairly entertaining throughout and moves fast. At least it's better than Return of the Fly, the sequel to the original. Some of the characters in this, such as Dr. Jainway (Ann Marie Lee), are so odious that they seem like variations of Snidely Whiplash!

Verdict: Stick with the first and best. **1/2.

JACK'S BACK

JACK'S BACK (1988). Director/writer: Rowdy Herrington.

John Wesford (James Spader) works at a medical clinic in Los Angeles, which is currently besieged by a maniac who is reenacting the murders of Jack the Ripper exactly one hundred years after they originally occurred. Besides John, suspects include the strange shrink Dr. Battera (Robert Picardo), John's obnoxious boss Sidney Tannerson (Rod Loomis), his beefy co-worker Jack Pendler (Rex Ryon), and others. John comes across a murdered hooker named Denise (Danitza Kingsley), sees someone running from the scene, and then the movie does a 180 degree turn, with a new lead character turning up just as you're scratching your head at what's going on ... Spader and the other actors are fine, but Jack's Back substitutes a mid-movie twist for a solid plot, with the killer's motivations and logic unresolved, and the 100 Years Later Jack the Ripper premise pretty much goes nowhere. The BBC series Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns took the same idea years later and really ran with it. Cynthia Gibb plays Spader's co-worker and a potential love interest. This probably looked good on paper but it's sunk by its contrivances.

Verdict: Although there's some suspense of a minor kind, this is a Ripper movie you can live without. **.

EIJI TSUBURAYA: MASTER OF MONSTERS

EIJI TSUBURAYA: MASTER OF MONSTERS. August Ragone. Chronicle; 2007.

From the outset and in full disclosure I must say that with one or two exceptions, I'm not a big fan of Japanese monster movies/science fiction. I also wouldn't compare Japanese FX man Eiji Tsuburaya to the great stop-motion specialist Ray Harryhausen, especially when it comes to monsters. Harryhausen brought his creatures to life with painstaking stop-motion animation, while Tsuburaya used "suit-mation" -- a guy in, say, a Godzilla costume -- and some models. I have seen most of the films discussed in this book and have to say there is absolutely nothing to compare to the fight with the skeletons at the end of Jason and the Argonauts. To be fair, Tsuburaya did more than just work on monsters, and the book details his contributions to Japanese cinema while also examining some aspects of his private life. Master of Monsters is well-researched, and packed with loads of behind-the-scenes black and white and color photographs. An over-sized trade paperback, it is printed on thick paper stock. If you're interested in Japanese sci fi and how the films were made, this is definitely the book to get.

Verdict: For fans of Japanese monster movies -- all others beware. ***.

THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1978)

THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1978). Director: Dennis Donnelly.

A (not very well) masked man goes through an apartment complex murdering women he sees as immoral with a variety of tools. The Toolbox Murders is typical of a type of "horror" film made in the seventies, although it is not as graphic as some, but it has supposedly become notorious, a reputation it doesn't quite deserve. The picture is produced on a professional level, with an okay score and crisp lensing, but if anything puts it over it's the acting. Cameron Mitchell [Blood and Black Lace] is excellent as the owner of the complex, who lost his beloved daughter in a car accident and has become unhinged. Pamelyn Ferdin [The Beguiled] also turns in a strong performance as a young lady who is kidnapped by the killer, and Aneta Corsaut is also fine as her mother; she looks sexier than she ever did on The Andy Griffith Show. Wesley Eure is also good as Mitchell's strange nephew, as is Nicolas Beauvy as Ferdin's brother, who pays a terrible price for trying to find her. The script is illogical at times, thrown together, and there isn't enough real suspense to make this memorable. Various recordings are used as back drops for the murder scenes, which include death by hammer, power drill, and nail gun. Donnelly mostly directed television episodes. Remade by Tobe Hooper in 2004. 

Verdict: A couple of stand-out performances amidst the gristle. **.

LIZZIE BORDEN TOOK AN AX

LIZZIE BORDEN TOOK AN AXE (2014 Lifetime telefilm). Director: Nick Gomez.

Lizzie Borden (Christina Ricci) is arrested and put on trial when her father, Andrew (Stephen McHattie of XIII) and stepmother Abby (Sara Botsford of Murder By Phone), are axed to death about an hour apart in their own home. Lizzie's sister Emma (Clea DuVall) sticks up for her sister but has nagging doubts, and the whole town turns against them. This look at the famous, unsolved murders offers nothing new, has stick-thin characters, provides little motivation, and is awash in a rock score that is not only inappropriate but gives the whole project a mindless veneer. The acting is okay enough, although to be fair to Ricci she really isn't given much of a character to play. Lizzie's alleged lover, actress Nance O'Neil [Transgression], is briefly portrayed by Andria Wilson, but there is little about Lizzie's possible lesbianism or how it may have influenced prosecutors. The movie gets a lot wrong about the case -- it's as if the writer just threw together a script based on conjecture and other movies and didn't do any research.

Verdict: Not much to this by-the-numbers look at an infamous murder case. **.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Farewell Larry

Gloria Swanson with reporter Larry Quirk
LAWRENCE J. QUIRK 1923 - 2014

Larry Quirk was my best friend and longtime companion for 35 years. Larry had been an Army sergeant during the Korean War, a Hearst reporter covering the crime beat, a Hollywood columnist and publicity man, and the author of numerous books on movies and celebrities, such as the bestselling Fasten Your Seat Belts: The Passionate Life of Bette Davis and The Kennedys in Hollywood, to name just two. Larry and I collaborated on a few books as well.

It's fitting that of the two pictures I've chosen for this post -- one when Larry was relatively young, decades before I'd met him, and another when he was older -- the first features Gloria Swanson a year or two before she did Sunset Boulevard, a still from which graces this blog. After a solid body of books behind him, Larry began tendering "Quirk Awards" named for his uncle, James. R. Quirk, who edited and published Photoplay magazine back in the golden age. Therefore the second photo shows Larry giving Claudette Colbert an award in her dressing room when she was appearing on Broadway. Originally the awards were for films and actors, but when I began tendering them along with Larry we made them full-fledged performing arts awards, with venues ranging from the Roosevelt Townhouse to the 5 Oaks bar and Rose's Turn in the village, to St. Clement's Theatre on 46th street.

Larry with Claudette Colbert
There was nobody like Larry. He liked people and liked to help them, and while the "Quirk Awards" may not have had the prestige of other awards, they were given respectfully and sincerely to both talented newcomers and older people with a solid body of work behind them. Larry had a great sense of humor and enjoyed life to its fullest.

He was a true original, and I and others will miss him very much.

Rest easy, Larry.

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 advance 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!