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Welcome to William Schoell's GREAT OLD MOVIES blog. Feel free to leave a comment regardless of the date the review was posted -- I read 'em all. Or if you prefer -- and especially if you have any questions directly for me -- email me at tawses67424@mypacks.net and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Click on a label link (labels can be found at the bottom of each post) to find other movies from that year, the star, that director or genre and so on. Or enter a title, director, genre, star or supporting player in the small Blogger "search blog" box at the far left up above and click search blog. [NOTE: While this blog mostly reviews films -- and TV shows -- that are at least twenty-five years old, we do cover films up until the present day.] HAVE FUN AND THANKS FOR DROPPING BY. William.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

ISLAND OF DESIRE

The brat: Mike (Tab Hunter) peers at the object of his affection
ISLAND OF DESIRE (1952). Director: Stuart Heisler.

"Unpleasant -- brat!"

When a ship is bombed during WW2, the only survivors are a young marine named Mike (Tab Hunter of War-Gods of the Deep) and a middle-aged lady doctor named Elizabeth (Linda Darnell of Hangover Square). After they make their way to a deserted island that resembles paradise, their antagonistic relationship softens into a mutual attraction. Despite their situation, all seems quite blissful until an English pilot crash lands on the island and a triangle soon develops ... One problem with Island of Desire is that the two main characters never mention their lost comrades, nor wonder what's happening with the war; instead they engage in silly banter not long after everyone else is killed. However the fact that both of them don't quite seem to fit in and have no one else in their lives helps make their relationship more plausible. Darnell is quite good, and Hunter is also believable as the callow marine who bristles at being called a boy. This was Hunter's second film and he shows some acting ability to go with the considerable sex appeal. It would be easy to dismiss this as an "old maid's" fantasy film --virginal woman winds up on an island with handsome Royal Air Force pilot and Tab Hunter -- or sheer romantic folderol, but it holds the attention, is well-acted, well-photographed by Oswald Morris, and has a nice score by William Alwyn. John Laurie appears in flashbacks as another man who was shipwrecked on the island.

Verdict: For romantic souls and Tab Hunter/Linda Darnell fans. ***.

WHEN WILLIE COMES MARCHING HOME

Willie (Dan Dailey) is questioned by French resistance













WHEN WILLIE COMES MARCHING HOME (1950). Director: John Ford.

After Pearl Harbor, small-town boy and bandleader Bill Kluggs (Dan Dailey) is anxious to enlist. Although his early training doesn't go so well, he eventually develops "the highest rating of any instructor," which means the Army has more use for him in camp than overseas. Unfortunately, said camp is located right in Bill's home town, where he stays -- and stays -- while other men ship out and his neighbors get more and more resentful. Eventually he goes on a mission and winds up behind enemy lines and working with the French resistance, and is sent back to England with important information -- unfortunately he can't talk about the mission. One annoying thing about this otherwise good and funny movie is that no one -- not even Bill's parents -- acknowledge that he's performing an important service as an instructor (an assignment that is not without its dangers). Dailey is excellent, and he has fine support from William Demarest [Pardon My Past] and Evelyn Varden [The Bad Seed] as his parents; Colleen Townsend as his girl, Marge; Jimmy Lydon [Henry Aldrich Haunts a House] as her brother; and Corinne Calvet as a beautiful lady with the French resistance.

Verdict: Well-done and keeps you chuckling, with a fine lead performance. ***.

MICKEY ROONEY (1920 - 2014)

Mickey!
MICKEY ROONEY (1920 - 1914).

Mickey Rooney lived 93 years and left a lasting legacy of talent and fine comedic, musical and dramatic performances. Although he received two honorary Oscars, he never received a Lincoln Center Film Society tribute or similar honors, and was certainly more deserving than some of the recipients; now it's too late. But he had a legion of fans who will always remember him as one of the most talented players in Hollywood and on the stage [the long-running Sugar Babies].

Some of Rooney's more memorable performances were in Judge Hardy and Son; Little Lord Fauntleroy; Reckless; and a memorable episode of Night Gallery, among many, many, many others. Rooney was one of those performers whose presence added to the quality of a good movie, and who was often the best or only noteworthy thing in a bad one.

Farewell to a real trouper!

THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WANTED

Charles Laughton as Tony Patucci
THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WANTED (1940). Director: Garson Kanin.

This is the third film version of Sidney Howard's 1924 Pulitzer prize-winning play, and the only one to use his title. The story line -- later used by Frank Loesser in his brilliant musical theater piece The Most Happy Fella -- concerns a middle-aged vintner named Tony (Charles Laughton) who becomes infatuated with a pretty waitress named Amy (Carol Lombard), and asks for her hand in marriage -- but sends a photo of his younger, better-looking hired hand, Joe (William Gargan), instead of his own. When Amy arrives she's horrified to discover that the man she's been dreaming about is years older, uneducated, and rather homely, but her attraction to Joe is still there -- and vice versa ... Although you wouldn't first think of Laughton for the role of the Italian-American Tony Patucci, he's as superb as ever. Similarly, Lombard might not be considered the best casting but she is also excellent, as is Gargan [Strange Impersonation.] The biggest problem with the movie is that the production code was in effect, and there's an awful lot of moralizing and hand-wringing, and the ending is changed from happy to bittersweet [which kind of works anyway]. There's also an annoying priest, Father McKee (played by Frank Fay, who was Barbara Stanwyck's first husband), hovering over the whole movie like the literal embodiment of a censor. Tony is also a bit of an idiot, drunkenly falling off of a roof as he shows off for Amy [in the original version he is in an accident instead]. Despite its many flaws They Knew What They Wanted works because of the superior performances, good direction from Kanin, and a fine score by Alfred Newman. Karl Malden has a small role as Red. Playwright Howard did the screenplay for Dodsworth. Kanin also directed Next Time I Marry with Lucille Ball.

Verdict: Not all it could have been, but noteworthy for the acting. ***.

THE MOST HAPPY FELLA

The cast of City Center Encores' The Most Happy Fella
THE MOST HAPPY FELLA. New York City Center Encores. April 2014.

Arguably lyricist-composer Frank Loesser created the finest version of Sidney Howard's Pulitzer prize-winning "They Knew What They Wanted" with his musical theater masterpiece The Most Happy Fella. City Center Encores presented a semi-staged production with lots of singing and dancing in April 2014, and it served to remind the very appreciative audience of just how memorable this musical/opera is. Awash in sensitive melody from start to first, it tells the story of vintner Tony Esposito (Shuler Hensley), an uneducated middle-aged man who falls for a young and pretty waitress he calls Rosabella (Laura Benanti). Foolishly he sends her the picture of his young friend and worker, Joe (Cheyenne Jackson), instead of his own, setting up a situation that can only culminate in, as his sister Marie (Jessica Molaskey) would put it, trouble. Rosabella agrees to marry Tony, but gets a bitter surprise when she shows up in Napa Valley ... Besides this triangle, there's a secondary, comical romance between Rosabella's friend Cleo (Heidi Blickenstaff) and another of Tony's workers (Jay Armstrong Johnson). Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, this production boasts a remarkably talented cast. Benanti has a wonderful voice that wraps itself around such numbers as "Warm All Over" and "Somebody Somewhere." While he may not be a Robert Weede vocally (Weede sang the role in the original production), Hensley still has a good voice and his acting is excellent. Jackson demonstrates his beautiful singing with Joe's big number "Joey, Joey, Joey," and Blickenstaff, Molaskey, and Johnson also give superior performances. I was also especially impressed with Zachary James and Kevin Vortmann, but I must say the entire company performed with verve and enthusiasm. But if The Most Happy Fella doesn't bring out the best in everyone, what will? One final note: We don't learn that "Rosabella's" real name is Amy until the very end of the show, but of course Tony had to know her real name because of their exchange of letters. This production makes a few cuts, and Marie's number (Eyes of a Stranger, but don't quote me) rarely is included these days.

Verdict: A masterpiece. ****.

KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS

KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS (1948). Director: Norman Foster.

In post-WW2 England Bill Saunders -- who thinks with his fists -- lashes out at a middle-aged bar owner simply because he says it's closing time and inadvertently kills the man. He runs off -- and hides out in the apartment of lady doctor Jane Wharton (Joan Fontaine). Jane tries to resist her attraction to Bill, but gets drawn deeper into his unsavory life, and winds up committing an act  of violence herself. Does this screwed-up couple have any hope? Frankly, it's hard to care about this romance of two unsympathetic people. Jane makes dumb excuses for Bill, and Bill never gives a thought to the man he killed or his family. Thrown into the mix is a creepy guy named Harry (Robert Newton of Obsession) who wants to get Bill involved in criminal activities, but whose chief purpose is to introduce someone Bill can feel morally superior to. It's as if the film is telling the audience: "See, Bill isn't so bad. Now this guy is a rotter." [But as far as we know Harry was never responsible for anyone's death.] Then there's the casting. Joan Fontaine can certainly play a woman who is obsessed with one man -- witness Letter from an Unknown Woman -- but she simply seems too intelligent to fall so hard for this loser, the vagaries of love notwithstanding. Lancaster also gives a good performance, by Hollywood standards at least, getting across the man's violence but not necessarily the aspects that make him a love object for Jane. Although only 80 minutes long the movie eventually becomes tedious, which is a shame because it has atmospheric photography by Russell Metty [The Omega Man], a nice score by Miklos Rozsa, adroit direction and editing -- but, sadly, a script that is lacking, to say the least. Norman Foster also directed the film noir Woman on the Run and many others.

Verdict: At least it has a good -- if kind of gross -- title. **. 

THOR: THE DARK WORLD

Thor (Chris Hemsworth)  and Loki (Tom Hiddleston)  join forces
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013). Director: Alan Taylor.

"She no more belongs in Asgard than a goat does at a table" -- Odin, referring to Jane Foster

In this sequel to Thor, a malcontent named Malekith and his friends return to life and want to take over the universe -- or something like that. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) again disobeys his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and temporarily joins forces with his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to take on the bad guys, but Loki always has a trick up his sleeve. There's little point in discussing the [lack of] plot as the film boasts some impressive scenic design and special effects and little else. As with the first film, Hiddleston and Hopkins offer the best performances -- Hemsworth has his moments as well --  and some of the comparatively minor characters from Thor are also back. It's one thing to have girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman of Black Swan) on board, but why do we need Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard, who doesn't even seem to be acting) and especially the annoying, collagen-lipped Darcy (Kat Dennings) -- they add absolutely nothing to the movie except pad the running time. With all of the fascinating villains that have appeared in Thor comic books for the past several decades, Malekith -- who comes off like nothing so much as a Star Trek reject -- is the least interesting they could have come up with. Rene Russo makes a good impression as Thor's mother, Frigga, and again Hiddleston almost walks off with the movie as Loki. There are only a couple of effective action scenes, most of which are not handled with any real panache, and the photography is often cluttered and unattractive.

Verdict: Read a stack of old Thor comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby instead. **.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A DELICATE BALANCE

Katharine Hepburn and Paul Scofield













A DELICATE BALANCE (1973).  Director: Tony Richardson. Play by Edward Albee. AFT [American Film Theatre] production.

"I can't stand the selfishness. Those who want to die and take their whole lives to do it." 

"I was not and never had been an alcoholic. I had nothing in common with them. They were sick. And I was merely willful."

Agnes (Katharine Hepburn) and Tobias (Paul Scofield of A Man for All Seasons) are a married couple who live in an upscale Connecticut community.  Also living with them is Agnes' sister, Claire (Kate Reid of She Cried Murder). who has a "drinking problem" whether she wants to admit it or not, and is continuously berated by Agnes. The couple's daughter, Julie (Lee Remick of The Omen), is also coming home when it looks as if her fourth marriage is going to wind up on the rocks along with the first three. But the strangest house guests are Agnes and Toby's best friends, Harry (Joseph Cotten) and Edna (Betsy Blair), who come over to stay when they suffer a panic attack [over encroaching age, fear of death, fear of losing one another?] that absolutely terrifies them. They move into Julia's bedroom, but when she returns Julia is horrified to realize that her parents aren't going to ask them to leave. They are friends, yes, but she's their daughter. Yet Harry and Edna seem to think they have more right to the room than she has. This situation brings out all the tensions in the family (albeit most of them were out already) making the atmosphere even more poisonous... A Delicate Balance won Edward Albee a Pulitzer Prize --  although it was back in the days when most Pulitzers went to wealthy white guys like Albee. Albee isn't the first person to write about a dysfunctional family and others have done it better [for instance, this in no way compares to O'Neill's brilliant Long Day's Journey into Night]. If Delicate Balance  has anything going for it it's some excellent -- if occasionally dated --  dialogue, but the people are perhaps more dreary than interesting. As with Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe the playwright resorts to black comedy -- and much of this is quite funny -- when all else fails. The characters (archetypes that border on stereotypes) are more obscure than well-developed, as if they were all people Albee knew but he isn't able to make them really come alive for anyone who didn't personally experience them. This is left for the actors to do, and they do their best, even if the casting isn't perfect. Hepburn and Scofield are quite good, Remick is fine, Reid quite intense, Cotten actually gives one of the best performances of his career, and Blair, while a cut below the others, has some excellent moments. The acting and situations hold your attention, but ultimately this is unsatisfying, and hardly a really great drama.

Verdict: A lot of talk, some of it interesting, that ultimately goes nowhere. **1/2.

THE BROTHERS RICO

James Darren, Kathryn Grant, Richard Conte













THE BROTHERS RICO (1957). Director: Phil Karlson.

Eddie Rico (Richard Conte) has been out of the "family business" -- run by his "uncle" Sid (Larry Gates) -- for some time, but that is not the case with his two brothers. Gino (Paul Picerni) performed a hit on Sid's orders and Johnny (James Darren) drove the getaway car. Now both are in hiding afraid that Sid thinks they're going to talk and wants to silence them. Eddie can't believe that of Sid, whose life was once saved by his mother, Mrs. Rico (Argentina Brunetti), so he agrees to go find his brothers. This couldn't happen at a worse time, as Eddie and his wife, Alice (Dianne Foster of Drive a Crooked Road), are hoping to adopt a baby and Eddie needs to be at an important meeting. He learns to his regret that you can't trust Uncle Sid ... Larry Gates plays Sid with admirable, understated menace, and James Darren is dead-on as the conflicted youngest brother. Although she's billed above the title and gives a terrific performance as Darren's wife, Kathryn Grant (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) is on screen for only about five minutes. Foster and William Phipps as Joe are also notable. The Brothers Rico has some effective scenes, and is well-photographed by Burnett Guffey, but it's somehow unconvincing, and considering what's happening Conte is much too controlled throughout. A funny scene has Grandma Rico delightedly watching Earth vs the Flying Saucers on television [unlikely, since the movie was released only the year before].

Verdict: Acceptable potboiler. **1/2.

DON'T TRUST YOUR HUSBAND aka AN INNOCENT AFFAIR

Madelaine Carroll and Fred MacMurray













DON'T TRUST YOUR HUSBAND (aka An Innocent Affair/1948). Director: Lloyd Bacon.

Advertising man Vincent Doane (Fred MacMurray) is trying to land an account which happens to be controlled by his still-amorous ex-fiancee, Margot Fraser (Louise Allbritton of Fired Wife). Vincent's wife, Paula (Madeleine Carroll), thinks he's spending all his evenings with a Mr. Fraser, but she suspects something's up. Vincent's sister, Eve (Rita Johnson of The Naughty Nineties), comes up with the dubious idea of testing her brother's love for her sister-in-law by seeing how jealous he gets if a paid actor pays too much attention to Paula on their anniversary. Clued in to the scheme, Vincent invites the man into his home and even asks him to take out his wife the next night! What nobody realizes is that the man in question is not the paid actor, but rather wealthy cigarette man Claude Kimball (Charles "Buddy" Rogers), who thinks the Doanes have a wonderfully carefree attitude. This all sounds rather cute, but it's almost by the numbers, with not enough real laughs -- although there are certainly amusing bits -- to make it stand out from the crowd. MacMurray is terrific, as you would expect, and the ladies are all good if not on his level. Alan Mowbray offers his customary fine performance as a man who pretends to be Margot's husband, and Anne Nagel has a small role as a receptionist. Rogers gets by on charm. Bacon also directed Crooner and many others.

Verdict: Cute, if formula, comedy. **1/2. 

SMASHING TIME

SMASHING TIME (1967). Director: Desmond Davis.

Two young ladies decide to go to London and take the town by storm, and they nearly do. Yvonne (Lynn Redgrave of Georgy Girl) is large, gaudy and gauche, and her pal Brenda (Rita Tushingham of The Leather Boys) is slight, homely, but sticks up for herself. They head straight toward Carnaby street where the excitement is. Their assorted misadventures include working in a club where a patron takes a tipsy Yvonne home to his apartment as Brenda follows; Brenda working for a woman who owns a fashion shop but who couldn't care less about business; Yvonne working in a restaurant, "Sweeney Todd," that only serves pies (leading to a major pie fight); and Yvonne becoming a screechy pop singer while Brenda is somehow turned into a model. Smashing Time is amiable and the ladies are fine (although Tushingham perhaps mugs a bit too much), but director Davis lets everything go on too long, including an early scene in a coffee shop and the aforementioned pie fight, until it just isn't funny anymore. Michael York [Something for Everyone] plays a photographer who takes a picture of a delighted Yvonne, but publishes it as a look to avoid, "the girl who got it wrong." There are some pleasant music hall-type tunes in the film as well, and a zany climax.

Verdict: Some fun and an awful lot of silliness. **1/2.

IS YOUR HONEYMOON REALLY NECESSARY

Diana Dors and Bonar Colleano
















IS YOUR HONEYMOON REALLY NECESSARY (1953). Director: Maurice Elvey.

American serviceman Commander Laurie Vining (Bonar Colleano) arrives in London for his honeymoon with his second wife, Gillian (Diana Decker). Unfortunately his first wife, Candy (Diana Dors of Berserk) shows up at the hotel and insists that they were never actually divorced. Laurie calls his lawyer, Frank (David Tomlinson) for help even as he makes up excuses to stay out of the marital bed. Eventually both Candy and Frank wind up moving into the suite. How will Laurie manage to get out of this sticky situation! Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary is based on what must have been a mediocre drawing room comedy and never gets off the ground, although some of the performances help. Dors is adorable and adept; Tomlinson is on the money; Becker is very appealing; and while the unconventionally attractive Colleano is certainly no Cary Grant as an actor, he manages to get his character across. Sidney James is a soldier friend of Laurie's named Hank, and MacDonald Parke is Admiral Fields. Lou Jacobi has a very small role as a testy captain. One odd thing is that an unmarried maid named Lucy (Audrey Freeman) keeps flirting with various men and they react as if she's Margaret Hamilton when she's actually quite pretty. Hank acts upset when she kisses him, but she's out of the homely guy's league, which the picture just doesn't seem to get. Maurice Elvey also directed The Tunnel.

Verdict: Skip it if you can. **.

SAFETY IN NUMBERS [JONES FAMILY]

Lucy (June Carlson) is comforted by her mother (Spring Byington)















SAFETY IN NUMBERS (1938). Director: Malcolm St. Clair.

Mrs. Jones (Spring Byington) wins a radio contest as "best mother" after daughter Lucy (June Carlson) pens an essay about her. Meanwhile Major Jones (Jed Prouty) is nearly hornswoggled by some folks who say the town swamp contains mineral water with miraculous properties and want money to build a health spa on the site. On the romantic front, Jack (Kenneth Howell) falls seriously for a gal, Toni (Iva Stewart), who is already engaged to another, a situation which doesn't thrill her mother (Helen Freeman). The title comes from a speech Mrs. Jones has in which she mentions that the advantage of large families is that if one member is sad or in trouble, the others can pitch in and help -- there's safety in numbers. Robert Lowery [Batman and Robin] has a small role as a radio show host, and Cy Kendall is again the portly Chief of Police. Followed by The Jones Family in Hollywood.

Verdict: More than acceptable entry in the Jones Family series. **1/2

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

Tilda Swinton and Jasper Newell
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011). Director: Lynne Ramsay.

"When I see fat people they're always eating. Don't give me this hormones and glands business." 

Eva (Tilda Swinton) is dealing with a lot in her life, much of which we don't even realize until the end of the movie. One thing we do know is that her son, Kevin (Ezra Miller) has done something terrible, which has made many members of Eva's community, some of whom lost loved ones, despise her. Kevin jumps back and forth in time [sort of pushing the viewer out of the story instead of pulling him in], but the young Kevin, although difficult at times, seems no more and no less childish and annoying than many children can be at times. Eva, who can't seem to see the humor in Kevin's behavior, loses control and breaks the child's arm [although no one but her son is aware of this act of decided child abuse]. As a teen Kevin is incredibly obnoxious, and seems to (understandably?) hate his mother. In present day segments Eva gets a job and deals with loneliness and the cruelty of some of the people around her, and endures depressing visits to see Kevin in an institution. Some of the details of what Kevin actually did to his family and others are finally unveiled at the ending. Ms. Swinton gives a good performance, but the actress is so androgynous, even boyish, that during the film's opening moments you might think that she is playing Kevin. Rocky Duer, Jasper Newell, and the aforementioned Miller are all excellent as Kevin at varying ages. The biggest problem with the movie is the non-linear directorial approach, which does little to help us understand Eva or her situation. The soundtrack consists of various songs which often relate to what's going on but can be nonetheless distracting.

Verdict: An interesting but ultimately unsatisfying look at a tragedy of modern times. **1/2.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

DUEL IN THE SUN

Jennifer Jones watches as horse gives Gregory Peck a kiss















DUEL IN THE SUN (1946). Director: King Vidor.

In post-Civil War Texas, the tempestuous "half-breed" Pearl (Jennifer Jones) comes to live with her aunt Laura (Lillian Gish) after the death of her father (Herbert Marshall), who was convicted of murdering her mother. Laura's husband, Senator McCanles (Lionel Barrymore) is an anti-Indian bigot who refuses to accept Pearl, and whose main occupation is keeping the railroad off of his property [leading to a tense confrontation between cowboys and train men halfway through the movie]. McCanles has two sons, the decent Jesse (Joseph Cotten) and the more unsavory Lewt (Gregory Peck). While Pearl falls in love with the kind Jesse, she can't fight her attraction to the sexy "bad boy," Lewt, creating a lot of problems, not to mention a highly perverse climax. Producer David Selznick was hoping for another Gone With the Wind when he made Duel in the Sun, but the film is almost forgotten. The acting in this entertaining "epic" is generally of the second-rate "Hollywood" variety across the board, but on that level it isn't bad. Jones [Love Letters] gives a good performance, although she looks almost ugly in some shots, and a miscast Peck [Mirage] does his best with a role he's really not suited for; neither Peck nor Jones are that good with transitions of mood, which occur frequently in their exchanges. Barrymore, Butterfly McQueen (who is great despite the patronizing attitude held toward her by both the other characters and the filmmakers), Charles Bickford (as one of Pearl's suitors), Otto Kruger, Charles Dingle as a sheriff, and Scott McKay as nasty Syd all make a favorable impression. Some beautiful cinematography from Lee Garmes and others. King Vidor also directed Beyond the Forest and the silent masterpiece The Crowd. Possibly the first of the "sex-westerns," as lust has a lot more to do with it than cow-punching.

Verdict: This could have been a lot better, but it certainly has its moments. ***.


GEORGY GIRL

Big Face meets Big Bones: Alan Bates, Lynn Redgrave
GEORGY GIRL (1966). Director: Silvio Narizzano.

Georgina (Lynn Redgrave) is a homely, big-boned, schlumpy 22-year-old who lives with her ice princess roommate, Meredith (the well-cast Charlotte Rampling of Asylum), who has a nutty boyfriend named Jos (Alan Bates of An Unmarried Woman), Georgina gets a bizarre "business" proposition from James Leamington (James Mason) -- her father is Leamington's major domo -- who wants her to become his official mistress; obviously big bones and messiness turn him on. But Georgy is much more attracted to Jos, who has gotten Meredith pregnant and may marry her ... what's a big-boned girl to do? It's hard to believe that this movie was once popular, because the only thing really memorable about it is the amusing theme song performed by the Seekers. Redgrave and Georgy are irritating to the extreme; Bates seems to think he's acting in a cartoon; Mason, demeaned by his role, doesn't seem to know where the hell he is or what he's doing; and Rampling, of all people, comes off best in her steely portrait of a cold, unrepentant bitch. The "mod" approach of the film severely dates it, and everyone seems horribly miscast. Not a single character is remotely sympathetic. Aside from the theme song, the one thing that stands out is a wonderful shot of a dog standing stock still (for a while) as a funeral procession goes by. Things pick up a bit for the very ending, but by then it's too late. This is not only stupid and unfunny, but tedious. Incredibly, Redgrave [Last of the Mobile Hot Shots], who is not that good, was nominated for a best actress Oscar [Mason was nominated for supporting actor even though this is one of his least memorable roles] and won the Golden Globes.

Verdict: Play the tune and skip the movie. *1/2.

THE COMPANY SHE KEEPS

Jane Greer and Lizabeth Scott












THE COMPANY SHE KEEPS (1951). Director: John Cronwell.

NOTE: Some plot points are revealed in this review. Diane (Jane Greer) is released from prison after passing bad checks and the like, and is assigned to parole officer Joan (Lizabeth Scott). Diane resents kindly Joan from the first, and makes a major play for Joan's boyfriend, Larry (Dennis O'Keefe of Hold That Kiss), which the big lug falls for. Before long Larry and Diane are in love, but they need Joan's approval to marry ... what a weird situation. The problem with The Company She Keeps is that the two lovers are pretty unsympathetic, with Diane returning Joan's friendship by stealing her boyfriend, and Larry betraying the faithful [if eternally busy] Joan, who is too sweet for words -- or reality. Fay Baker [The Star] plays another parolee who works with Diane as a nurse, and Gertrude Hoffman [My Little Margie] has a silent role as a woman on the parole board. Paul Frees is a judge's clerk and Great Old Movies' favorite Kathleen Freeman plays another parolee. Jeff Bridges and his brother Beau supposedly appear as an infant and a small boy. Given Diane's essential nature, it's unlikely that the "happy" ending for this couple is going to last. The acting is generally solid.

Verdict: These two lovers deserve each other. **.

THE BEST FILM YOU'VE NEVER SEEN

THE BEST FILM YOU'VE NEVER SEEN: 25 Directors Champion the Forgotten or Critically Savaged Movies They Love. Robert K. Elder. Chicago Review Press; 2013.

Recently there have been a whole slew of "concept" books about movies -- say, the worst pictures ever made etc. --  as opposed to serious [or not so serious] film criticism. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. Elder's concept isn't a bad one as he asks several directors to talk about a particular film that they love and which either got no attention or got especially negative reviews. [To be clear, they are not talking about their own movies, but someone else's.] Some of the directors picked movies which have actually won Oscars, which makes their choices a little ridiculous. Another problem is that most of the directors are comparatively obscure. The exceptions include Peter Bogdanovich discussing Trouble in Paradise, Arthur Hiller on The Iceman Cometh and a couple of others, but few are heavyweights. There are a couple of films from the golden age, but most are more recent. They include: The Swimmer, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, The Honeymoon Killers, Some Came Running, A Man for All Seasons, 10 Rillington Place, The Chase, Sweet Charity, and Can't Stop the Music, among others. Elder is hampered somewhat by the fact that some of his interviewees are kind of dizzy [for instance, Guy Maddin seems to think The Chase is full of homoerotic material simply because it was based on a novel by possibly closeted writer Cornell Woolrich]! Elder seems to be a good, prepared interviewer.

Verdict: Interesting idea, but not essential. Some interesting interviews with a few that have no value. **1/2.

NIGHTFALL

Brian Keith and Aldo Ray
NIGHTFALL (1957). Director: Jacques Tourneur.

James Vanning (Aldo Ray) and his friend Doc (Frank Albertson of Man-Made Monster) are on a hunting trip when they come to the aid of two men -- John (Brian Keith of The Parent Trap) and Red (Rudy Bond) -- who, unbeknownst to them, have robbed a bank. The ingrates murder doc and try to kill Vanning, who takes off with them in pursuit. The crooks take the wrong bag and assume that Vanning has the bag with the money in it. While on the run, Vanning meets a model named Marie (Anne Bancroft of Gorilla at Large) in a bar and she becomes embroiled in his problems. James Gregory plays an insurance man who is also following Vanning, albeit with less sinister intent. Although well-acted for the most part, and well-photographed by Burnett Guffey, Nightfall is a fairly weak entry in the film noir department, only really coming alive at the climax when thieves fall out and there's a sequence involving a runaway snow plow. Bancroft is good, if miscast as a model, and Ray pretty much walks through the movie, barely getting by on a little bit of charm and showing little emotion. Given a lead role, he pretty much muffs it. He kept acting right up until his death in 1991, however.

Verdict: Not much to this cheapie. **.

LOVE ON A BUDGET

Wise Women: Spring Byington and Florence Roberts
LOVE ON A BUDGET (1938). Director: Herbert I. Leeds.

"Somewhere in that deep, dark breast of yours lies the spirit of Carnivale."

Bonnie Jones (Shirley Deane) and her new husband Herbert (Russell Gleason) are having trouble making ends meet and have little furniture in their attractive new home. Along comes Bonnie's free-loading Uncle Charlie (Alan Dinehart), who has Herbert cashing in his bonds not to buy furniture but to invest in a scheme that ultimately leaves him deeper in debt. Shirley wants to move back in with her parents, or file for divorce, and things aren't helped when Herbert and Charlie go out dancing with the former's employee, Millie (Joyce Compton of Dark Alibi), who looks sensational without her glasses. Love on a Budget is an amusing trifle with Granny Jones (Florence Roberts), in particular, in top form, dispensing wisdom and put-downs to Uncle Charlie in equal measure. The scene when Bonnie prepares her first dinner for the whole family is also quite funny. Mayor Jones (Jed Prouty), Mrs. Jones (Spring Byington), Jack (Kenneth Howell), Roger (George Ernest) and sister Lucy (June Carlson) are also along for the ride, as is a much more subdued Dixie Dunbar as Jack's date, apparently a different character from the crazy gal she played in previous Jones Family movies. Leeds also directed Bunco Squad. Shirley Deane was Princess Aura in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. Florence Roberts was the Widow Peep in Babes in Toyland. This is the eighth movie in the series.

Verdict: Pleasant minor comedy. **1/2.

BLUE JASMINE

Cate Blanchette










BLUE JASMINE (2013). Writer/Director: Woody Allen.

Jasmine (Cate Blanchette) once had a successful husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin of The Departed), a great life in New York, plenty of money, and pretty much never let her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), whom she finds declasse, forget it. But now her husband is a jail suicide, her life is in tatters, she's flat broke, and her stepson, Danny (Alden Ehreinreich), won't even talk to her. Who does Jasmine turn to, but Ginger in San Francisco, with whom she moves in, continuing their love/dislike relationship. Flashbacks show Jasmine's former life, and reveal that Ginger's ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), who invested with crooked Hal and lost all of his money, still believes that Jasmine knew everything the man was up to. Ginger has a boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), but enters into an affair with Al (Louis C.K.), who turns out to be married, while Jasmine fights off advances by her dentist employer, and meets a great guy in widower Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard of Green Lantern), only to have ... well, that would be telling. Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen's [Shadows and Fog] best movie in years, a totally absorbing comedy-drama with expert thesping, a great cast, and a totally winning lead performance from Blanchette, who manages to make Jasmine sympathetic in spite of everything. The movie examines how we can love people we may not otherwise respect or approve of, and looks at how lives can go completely awry without any warning, especially when it comes to people left behind when their loved one is convicted of  various malfeasances. Blanchette won a completely deserved best actress Oscar, as well as several other best actress awards.

Verdict: Near-perfect with a fantastic Blanchette. ***1/2.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

HOUSE OF STRANGERS

Tense date: Richard Conte and Susan Hayward















HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949). Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Gino Monetti (Edward G. Robinson) is the opera-loving head of a bank and has four sons, one of whom, the lawyer Max (Richard Conte of Thieves' Highway), he seems to love unconditionally. The oldest son, Joe (Luthor Adler) is bitter that Gino treats him with disdain and employs him only as a poorly-paid bank teller. Pietro (Paul Valentine of Love Happy) resents the fact that his father thinks he's stupid. Tony (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) seems more interested in the ladies than in anything else. Although Max has a pretty fiancee named Maria (Debra Paget), he can't help but be attracted to a zesty, very self-confident lady named Irene (Susan Hayward), who comes to him for legal advice and with whom he enters into a sexy if exasperating love-hate affair. Then Gino discovers that his unorthodox approaches to lending have brought him under the scrutiny of bank officials and he may go to jail. Max has a scheme to get his father out of trouble, but he doesn't reckon with Joe's hatred ... House of Strangers is an absorbing, well-acted drama that just misses being really special, but is still quite worthwhile. Although Robinson is miscast as an Italian, he still gives his customary fine performance, and Conte and Hayward make an arresting couple. Luthor Adler almost walks off with the movie with his quietly ferocious portrayal of deceptively steel-hard Joe. Hope Emerson (Peter Gunn) is fun in a small role as Maria's termagant mother, trading verbal and nearly physical blows with Robinson, whom she towers over.

Verdict: Has quite a few memorable and powerful sequences. ***.

TOGETHER AGAIN

Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne
TOGETHER AGAIN (1944). Director: Charles Vidor.

"You're a big shot in the office, and a non-entity at home!"

After making Love Affair in 1939, Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer were "together again" five years later in this slightly screwball comedy. Anne Crandell (Dunne) has been mayor of a small town in Vermont ever since the death of her husband and lives with her father-in-law, Jonathan (Charles Coburn) and neurotic stepdaughter Diana (Mona Freeman of Angel Face). Jonathan wants Anne to have more of a life, to forget his son [oddly] and her attachment to him and to the town they were happy in. When her late husband's statue is beheaded by a bolt of lightning, Jonathan sees this as a sign, but Anne only travels to Manhattan to meet with a prominent sculptor named George Corday (Boyer). After misadventures, including being mistaken for a stripper in a nightclub raid, Anne returns home convinced that George is not the right man for the job. But George follows Anne home and is determined to win her, if only he can get her to unbend ... Together Again basically gets by on the charm and abilities of its leads. A luminescent Dunne offers one of her best comic portrayals and is in absolutely top form throughout, Boyer is sauve and smooth as ever, and Coburn a delight as usual. Unfortunately, the material is second-rate, although there are a few amusing moments. Carl "Alfafa" Switzer has a funny cameo as an elevator boy, and Jerome Courtland [Sunny Side of the Street] scores as a young man who is dating the difficult Diana and often wishes that he weren't. Vidor also directed Rhapsody and many others.

Verdict: Great leads who need stronger material. **1/2.

THE HOUSE OF REDGRAVE: THE LIVES OF A THEATRICAL DYNASTY

THE HOUSE OF REDGRAVE: The Lives of a Theatrical Dynasty. Tim Adler. London: Aurum Press; 2012.

Despite the title, this book is essentially a biography of the late Tony Richardson, the British film director who was married to Vanessa Redgrave and was the father of the late Natasha Richardson, who died when she was married to actor Liam Neeson (The Other Man). Apparently the book's publisher thought that Richardson's name wouldn't sell a book, so this was re-imagined as a book on all of the Redgraves, which it isn't, even though there are sections on Vanesssa, her brother Colin, and her daughters late in the book; most of the text covers the life and career of Tony Richardson (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner; Tom Jones), who brought a stark reality to British theater and cinema that had been missing before. Adler looks at the nutty brother and sister duo of Vanessa and Colin (the latter of whom is largely unknown in the U.S.), both of whom devoted more attention to radical politics than to their own children. Lynn Redgrave, despite a highly successful career, gets short shrift except for passages on her discovering that her husband was the actual father of her grandchild and the resulting scandal, and her death from cancer. Richardson is portrayed as a gifted narcissist who could be both generous and loved, nasty and hated, and was decidedly confused and uptight about his sexuality. Adler doesn't seem that comfortable or up-to-date when writing about Redgrave's and Tony Richardson's homosexuality, and some passages might be considered borderline homophobic and decidedly dated. However, the book is a good read and generally well-done if you're looking for a tome on Richardson and his circle. For a book that's actually about Michael Redgrave and his family, see Donald Spoto's The Redgraves: A Family Epic.

Verdict: Quick and entertaining read, albeit flawed. ***.

5 FINGERS

Unholy Alliance: James Mason and Danielle Darrieux















5 FINGERS (1952). Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Based on a true story, 5 Fingers looks at the secret "career" of Ulysses Diello (James Mason) who is valet for the British ambassador in Turkey, a neutral country, during WW2. Diello had originally been valet for the late husband of the Countess Anna Stavisky (Danielle Darrieux of Madame de), who has become friends with the ambassador and is the "impoverished widow of a pro-German count." Diello wants to make a lot of money and doesn't care how he gets it, so he steals top secret papers from the ambassador's safe and sells them to the Germans. He enlists the countess' aid and she agrees -- for a price. Still, the countess may still see Diello as a servant, even if she is attracted to him... Michael Rennie [Phone Call from a Stranger] is a British Intelligence agent who takes over the security for the embassy, but it sure takes a hell of a long time for anyone to change the combination to the safe. In spite of that, 5 Fingers is absorbing and very well acted, with Mason giving another terrific performance; Darrieux is also on the money. Mankiewicz is no Hitchcock, and does little to maximum the story's considerable suspense, but the movie is still effective enough in spite of it; Bernard Herrmann's musical score certainly helps. There are ironic developments and an interesting climax.

Verdict: Mason at his slimiest. ***.