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

Thursday, November 19, 2015


John Justin and June Duprez
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940). Directors: Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and others.

In this first remake of the silent film with Douglas Fairbanks, King Ahmad (John Justin) is dethroned and imprisoned by the evil usurper Jaffar (Conrad Veidt). Ahmad meets a young beggar-thief named Abu (Sabu) in jail, but the two affect an escape. The Sultan (Miles Malleson, who also wrote the screenplay), trades his daughter, the princess (June Duprez of None But the Lonely Heart) for a mechanical horse that flies. This exchange is engineered by Jaffar, who has designs on the princess, who, unfortunately for her, is in love with Ahmad. Confronted by Ahmad and Abu, Jaffur blinds the former and turns the latter into a dog. Human again, Abu encounters a gargantuan genie (Rex Ingram) who helps him steal a fabulous ruby eye from a statue guarded by an enormous and hideous spider. Ahmad gets his sight back, but only in time to face the headsman's sword. Will Abu be able to get back to Bagdad on a flying carpet in time and save the day? The Thief of Bagdad is an excellent fantasy film that boasts amazingly beautiful Technicolor, some wonderful effects work (despite some fuzzy process shots), a very creepy and almost beautiful mechanical spider, and top-notch performances from the appealing Justin and Duprez, and especially Conrad Veight. Sabu is charming as the young thief, and Rex Ingram, although he doesn't exactly sound like something out of the Arabian nights, is terrific as the frightening if personable genie/djinn. While this movie really must have been quite eye-popping in its day, it is still a very memorable and entertaining picture 75 years later. Malleson appeared in the 1959 remake of The Hound of the Baskervilles. This was the first film for John Justin, who played Dorothy Dandridge's lover in Island in the Sun, made quite a few other movies, and often appeared on the stage, including productions of Shakespeare. The Thief of Bagdad was remade again in 1961.

Verdict: Watch out for that giant Djinn! ***1/2.


THE CRUEL TOWER (1956). Director: Lew Landers.

"I've seen guys with two left feet before, but not on the same leg."

Hungry and needing a job, Tom Kittridge (John Ericson of Rhapsody) goes to work for "Stretch" Clay (Charles McGraw) who is building a kind of water tower in a small town. Stretch has a girl named Mary (Mari Blanchard) even though he already has a wife who's dallying with Stretch's associate, Casey (Steve Brodie). Then there's chubby Joss (Peter Whitney), who is brain-damaged and loyal to Stretch. Unfortunately jealousies and rivalries break out, which isn't so good when men are working high up in the air ... The Cruel Tower might have had more impact had the fellows been working on a skyscraper (as has been erroneously reported elsewhere), but there's still some suspense and excitement, and the tower is plenty high enough for me. Alan Hale Jr. [The Killer is Loose] plays a man who comes afoul of Stretch. The acting is more than okay, with Blanchard [No Place to Land] perhaps making the best impression.

Verdict: Entertaining, with a taut climax, but it just misses being special. **1/2.


THE CAPTURE (1950). Director: John Sturges.

When a payroll is robbed, Lin Vanner (Lew Ayres) goes after the alleged thief, Sam Tevlin (Edwin Rand), and kills him. But it develops that Sam might not have been the robber after all. A guilt-racked Vanner goes off and encounters the man's widow, Ellen (Teresa Wright), and becomes both surrogate husband and a father to her young son, Mike (Jimmy Hunt). Not only does Lin have to wonder how Ellen will react when she learns the truth, but he still has to capture the real payroll thieves. Injured and bleeding, Lin tells his story to a local priest, Father Gomez (Victor Jory of A Woman's Secret). The Capture is half-baked and sets up an intriguing situation that it doesn't develop with any dramatic intensity. Ayres [Damian: Omen 2] isn't bad in the lead, but the part requires a more passionate actor. Wright [Something to Live For] and little Jimmy Hunt come off best, and we also have weird Milton Parsons for good measure. William Bakewell and Duncan Renaldo are also in the cast.

Verdict: Holds the attention. **1/2.


THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK (aka L'orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock/1962). Sub-titled Italian version. Director: Riccardo Freda (Robert Hampton).

London, 1885: Cynthia (Barbara Steele) is the new wife of Dr. Bernard Hichcock (Robert Flemying), who has created a new anesthetic. Cynthia doesn't know that Bernard's first wife Margherita (Maria Teresa Vianello) was an accidental  victim of this new drug, and even he doesn't know that Margherita is still alive, insane, being attended to by the housekeeper, Martha (Harriet Medin of The Whip and the Body). Nothing good can come of this situation, and of course it doesn't. This is a Gothic tale with some overtones of Jane Eyre. Steele is dubbed, so we lose the impact of her great voice, but the film has an interesting score by Roman Vlad, as well as some style and atmosphere. This was double-billed with The Awful Dr. Orloff in U.S. markets. Freda also directed Caltiki, the Immortal Monster.

Verdict: Fairly standard Italian horror flick has its moments. **1/2.

SHATTERED LOVE: A MEMOIR Richard Chamberlain

SHATTERED LOVE: A MEMOIR. Richard Chamberlain. ReganBooks; 2003.

TV's "Dr. Kildare" writes about his life and philosophy of living in this disappointing memoir. While Chamberlain does write interestingly of career highlights such as Shogun, The Thornbirds [with Barbara Stanwyck], appearing on Broadway in My Fair Lady -- he's had a much more interesting career than people might imagine -- he spends too much time gassing off in psychobabble (and I do mean babble) style about new age religion. Just when you're getting interested in some aspect of his professional or personal life -- his reaction when he was "outed" while still being immersed in self-hatred -- off he goes on a tiresome jaunt on the nature of God and such. It's as if Chamberlain, recognizing that he was essentially a good-looking, totally self-absorbed  actor, had to go to all sorts of people for help in getting over himself. He may not even understand that most people don't need to go through all of this just to become more decent human beings. More anecdotes about his early days in television, background on a few more movies, would have been welcome. Chamberlain writes how an older actor told him he became a star before he learned how to act, but this is belied by a Bourbon Street Beat episode -- pre- Dr. Kildare -- in which he gives an excellent performance in only his third credit. He makes no mention of this show and indeed gets through Dr. Kildare in only a few pages. The show lasted for five seasons -- surely there were many more interesting episodes and guest-stars than Gloria Swanson? Nowadays too many celebrities don't just want to give you inside stories of their days in Hollywood, but feel a need to be some kind of guru to the reader. Too bad. After the book was published Chamberlain had a good role on Brothers and Sisters and is still working today.

Verdict: Some good passages nearly lost in a sea of psycho-babble. **1/2.


THE CREEPING UNKNOWN (aka The Quatermass Xperiment/1955. Director: Val Guest.

The Quatermass Xperiment first saw life as a six-part TV serial in 1953. Professor Quatermass (Reginald Tate) has helped send a trio of men into outer space for the first time. However, when the rocket returns, only one astronaut, Victor Carroon (Duncan Lamont), is inside. Quatermass and associates try to find out what happened to the missing men as well as what's happening to Carroon's own physiology as he undergoes frightening changes. Carroon's wife, Judith (Isabel Dean of Man Bait) has started a relationship with colleague Gordon Briscoe (John Glen), but she remains with her husband during his illness. Victor eventually metamorphoses into a horrible creature that contains the minds of the missing men and terrorizes London. The Quatermass Xperiment is taut, suspenseful and well-acted. Only two parts of the serial remain and are available on youtube, but the other four parts have been cobbled together expertly using production stills, music and background sounds, and written synopses -- these, too, are available on youtube.

Reginald Tate as Quatermass with Isabel Dean
The Quatermass Xperiment was turned into a theatrical film as well. Tate was replaced by American Brian Donlevy as Quatermass for limited marquee value, and the film was retitled the edgier The Creeping Unknown for distribution in the U.S. Donlevy is good but he plays Quatermass quite differently from Tate, making the professor colder and more callous that he needs to be, almost the stereotype of a "mad scientist." The triangle business with Mrs. Carroon (Margia Dean) torn between the doctor and her husband has been dropped, as is the notion of the missing men's minds being somehow active inside Carroon's brain. The creature Carroon turns into is even more repulsive in the TV serial than it is in the movie, although it's quite respectable in appearance. Also dropped from the movie are scenes in which Carroon is briefly kidnapped by hoodlums. Although he has not a word of dialogue, Richard Wordsworth is superb as Carroon, horrified by what is happening but unable to speak or explain. Jack Warner scores as Inspector Lomax, who investigates the mystery of the missing spacemen along with Quatermass, and also helps him hunt Carroon down when he escapes. Thora Hird certainly makes her mark as Rosie, the drunken street woman who tells a police sergeant (Sam Kydd, who's also notable) that she's seen the monster. Lionel Jeffries [First Men in the Moon] is also good as reporter Blake, as is Maurice Kaufmann [The Giant Behemoth] as Quatermass' assistant, Marsh. The Creeping Unknown has atmosphere, particularly in the spooky scene when Carroon invades a zoo at night, as well as the eerie footage taken from the spaceship of the men being buffeted by an alien force. The Creeping Unknown was quite influential, engendering such movies as Caltiki, the Immortal Monster; The Blob; and The Crawling Eye, among others.

Verdict: Creepy imaginative stuff for its day. Quatermass Experiment: ***. Creeping Unknown: ***.


Jason Flemying as Quatermass
THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT (2005 telefilm). Director: Sam Miller.

This new version of Nigel Kneale's television serial, The Quatermass Xperiment, was broadcast live over the BBC. Things do not begin auspiciously when a rocket goes off course and there are only three people inside the control room -- not exactly like NASA! [If the BBC wanted to save money they should have used stock footage.] In the past the actors who played Professor Quatermass were at least middle-aged and kind of crusty, so for this production they get a much younger and handsomer Jason Flemying [X-Men First Class], who comes off more like an older male model than a scientist, not that his acting is bad. The plot is the same as the original -- rocket returns from space and two of the three astronauts are missing --  and it adheres more to the 1952 TV production than the 1955 film version thereof. The Quatermass Experiment seems to exist in an alternate universe. Everything about it screams "1950's" yet there are computer terminals and other signs of the 21st century. The shame of it is that this version does manage to get across the horror and especially pathos of what has happened to Victor Carroon and the other two missing astronauts -- in this the music helps -- but the ending misfires (and drags) and we never see any kind of creature, for shame. Indira Varma is fine as Mrs. Carroon, as is David Tennant [Fright Night]as her lover, Dr. Gordon Briscoe. Little Greg Sheffield does a nice job as the very frightened boy who comes across Victor Carroon, and there are some other very decent supporting performances.

Verdict: This is one experiment that fails. **.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


DANGEROUS (1935). Director: Alfred E. Green.

Don Bellows (Franchot Tone) is a successful architect engaged to Gail Armitage (Margaret Lindsay). One day Don spots the dissipated actress, Joyce Heath (Bette Davis), who has gone on a long bender after her once-promising career disintegrated. Joyce, and anyone who could hire her, are convinced she is a jinx. Admiring her talent and feeling that she once inspired him, Don takes it upon himself to bring Joyce back into the light -- and the limelight. But can Joyce overcome her own fears and insecurities, or will she sink back into the morass of doubt and depression? Dangerous is a good and entertaining picture, but one senses there's an even better movie lost in there somewhere. The sudden introduction of Joyce's husband, Gordon (John Eldredge), adds an almost weird plot turn to the movie, as well as an ending that may be strange to many (although I thought it worked). Davis [Dark Victory] won a Best Actress Oscar for Dangerous, although she's certainly given better performances elsewhere. Both she and Lindsay [Baby Face] ruin some dramatic scenes by rushing through their lines as if there's an explosive fire on the sound stage just out of camera range, and there's an unintentionally comical moment when a producer says of Joyce: "even in rehearsal it's the greatest performance I've ever seen." Unfortunately, Davis' on-stage emoting in this scene is laughably mediocre. There's some very good dialogue in the movie, but a little too much of "Mildred" from Davis' Of Human Bondage. Both Joyce and Gail are convinced  they will wind up with Don when neither lady has a good reason for thinking so. Franchot Tone [I Love Trouble] gives a fine performance; Eldredge is also good in a very under-written role; and Alison Skipworth is terrific as Bellows' housekeeper, Mrs. Williams. Dick Foran and Mary Treen have smaller roles and are swell.

Verdict: Snappy if suspect melodrama with some good lines and acting. ***.


Horst Buchholz
THAT MAN IN ISTANBUL (aka Estambul '65/1965). Director: Antonio Isasi.

Since the extremely popular From Russia With Love took place mostly in Istanbul, is it any wonder that a spy film made the following year would also use the city as its setting? But this flick is perhaps more similar to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in that the hero is a shady character who gets into the spy action for money. An atomic scientist named Pendergast (Umberto Raho) has been kidnapped, but just as he is being returned his plane blows up -- but was he on it? American agent Kelly (Sylvia Koscina) suspects that Tony Mecenas (Horst Buchholz), who has a gambling operation, a few henchmen and many female admirers, might be behind this deception. However, the two wind up working together as a bunch of Chinese (who seem to work for a Spectre-like organization that also has its own island) and assorted roughnecks are out to find Pendergast and kill off anyone who gets in their way. That Man in Istanbul doesn't make a lot of sense, and doesn't begin auspiciously, but it gets a bit better and has some effective sequences, chief among them a fight high in a minaret-like tower, and a suspenseful climax when Tony and Kelly try hard to get away from a boat that's about to explode. Klaus Kinski [The Million Eyes of Sumuru] shows up briefly but has a decent fight-to-the-death with Tony, who runs half-naked through a Woman-Only sauna and winds up in the back seat of a limo with a startled dowager. The film is essentially farcical, with Buchholz turning to the audience at one point and saying, "What -- me worry?" Tony's affectionate nickname for Kelly is "baby fat" and there's another lady named Elisabeth (Perette Pradier) who gets involved in the action. Buchholz [Dead of Night] does not give a bad performance as a "cute" light-hearted operative, but no one would have cast him as Bond. An international "eurospy" co-production.

Verdict: A really good-looking hero never hurts. **1/2.


Kane Richmond and Buster Crabbe
FLASH GORDON'S TRIP TO MARS (15 chapter Universal serial/1938). Directors: Ford Beebe; Robert F. Hill

When destructive winds buffet the earth causing mass disaster, Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe) heads to Mongo with Dr. Zarkov (Frank Shannon) and Dale Arden (Jean Rogers), but they discover that a deadly ray is trained on earth from Mars. On Mars, Flash discovers that old adversary Ming the Merciless (Charles Middleton) has joined forces with Azura, Queen of Magic (Beatrice Roberts) -- known as "Her Magnificence" -- who is fond of turning anyone who displeases her into living clay. Flash and company take quite a while, nearly the entire serial, to finally turn off that ray, but along the way we see interesting sets, bridges made out of solid light, cloaks that allow people to fly through the air, and an underground tube through which Flash races in a speedy vehicle. Trick photography, as it used to be called, makes the clay people seem to come out of walls made of the same material (these sequences remind one of the rock people in the later Missile to the Moon) and there's a group of Forest People who are even more threatening. The cliffhangers aren't particularly special in this serial, although there is a disintegrater room sequence in chapter nine. With her hair short and brunette instead of long and blond, Jean Rogers is less of a sex object and comes off braver and more competent than in the original serial, but she doesn't look as hot. Beatrice Roberts [Love Takes Flight] is only acceptable as Azura, but Middleton again steals the show as the marvelous Ming. Flash is such a gentleman that at one point he actually apologizes to Ming: "I'm sorry I have to rough you up, Ming." Huh? Crabbe seems a little bored at times. Jack Mulhall, Anthony Warde and future Spy Smasher Kane Richmond [Haunted Harbor] are also in the cast, with Richmond playing an enemy soldier.

Verdict: Hearty hokum. **1/2.


ARKANSAS JUDGE (1941). Director: Frank McDonald.

Tom Martel (Roy Rogers, who is not the star but heads the supporting cast) comes back to Peaceful Valley, Arkansas where two women are waiting for him: "Nice girl" Maggie (Pauline Moore), daughter of the judge, and the much sexier Hettie (Veda Ann Borg of Jungle Raiders). However, there's bigger trouble when old Widow Smithers (Elly Malyon) insists that $50 was stolen from her flour barrel by Mary Shoemaker (Spring Byington of On Their Own), who does cleaning for all the ladies in town. Before long the whole community is torn apart, and Hettie's father, August (Frank M. Thomas), who heads the church council, wants everyone to shun Mary but has suspicions about his own daughter. In the meantime Tom and Hettie grow closer, much to Maggie's consternation. The members of Maggie's family are played by Leon, Frank and June Weaver, who had formed a hillbilly singing group called "The Weaver Brothers and Elviry." As Cicero, Frank just whistles a la Harpo Marx. Minerva Urecal has a small role as one of the town biddies. Arkansas Judge is a good comedy-drama with pleasant songs, good performances, and an unpredictable story line. And Roy! Pauline Moore appeared in three Charlie Chan movies, the best of which is Charlie Chan at Treasure Island.

Verdict: Nice picture. ***.


HEY LET'S TWIST (1961). Director: Greg Garrison.

"I'm paralyzed with fascination."

Widower Papa Dee (Dino Di Luca), who loves to listen to Caruso, owns an Italian restaurant that is barely getting by. His sons Joey (Joey Dee) and Ricky (Teddy Randazzo), who play with a group called the Starlighters, decide to turn the restaurant into the Peppermint Lounge and offer milkshakes (!) with the twist. The seriously weird Zohra Lampert [The Mad Mad Tea Party Affair] plays columnist Sharon, who takes a shine to sexy Ricky, while ditsy Piper Patton (Jo Ann Campbell), who also lusts for Ricky, has to make do with Joey. This is the highly fictionalized story of Joey Dee and the Starlighters, and the Peppermint Lounge where they performed. The character of brother Ricky was made up for the film and to add a little sex appeal for the teenyboppers. Di Luca and Kay Armen as his likable lady friend Angie offer the best performances, but Lampert and Randazzo are also good. Randazzo was mostly a musician, and he had only one other acting credit in Rock Rock Rock! Dee [Two Tickets to Paris] is personable but not much else. He played himself in two movies, both directed by Greg Garrison, but had no other acting credits.

Verdict: Shake that booty! ** out of 4.


DIE SCREAMING MARIANNE (1971). Director: Pete Walker.

Marianne Evans (Susan George) is supposed to be marrying Sebastian (Christopher Sandford) when she finds out that someone stupidly filled in the name of their friend, Eli (Barry Evans), on the marriage certificate -- and it's legal. Sebastian only wanted to marry Marianne because he knows that she's heir to a fortune which is coveted by her father (Leo Genn), and half-sister, Hildegarde (Judy Huxtable). Hildegarde unaccountably has a hankering for the unattractive father, but all of the characters in this are a little weird -- without being terribly interesting. They all wind up on the father's estate where unpleasant things occur. Director Pete Walker normally put together horror items like House of Whipcord but this is more of an un-thrilling thriller with a very low-grade production. George is unlikable as both actress and character, Huxtable is adequate, Evans is somewhat appealing, and Genn [Personal Affair] was probably wondering how he wound up in this mess.

Verdict: Not worth a single scream. *1/2.


CURSED (2005). Director: Wes Craven.

"There's no such thing as 'safe sex' with a werewolf."

Ellie (Christina Ricci of Lizzie Borden Took an Axe) and Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) are a likable brother and sister team living on their own, but their lives are upended when they are attacked by a werewolf, whose identity is unknown. As the two wonder what's going to happen to them due to the werewolf curse, they try to ferret out the identity of the original werewolf, whom they suspect might be Ellie's boyfriend, Jake (Joshua Jackson of I Love Your Work). Or could it be someone else they know? Cursed is an entertaining, well-acted flick, with some exciting scenes and good FX work, but it becomes rather stupid as it progresses. Actor Scott Baio plays himself in a couple of scenes, as does former talk show host Craig Kilborne, and Lance Bass. Good-looking Milo Ventimiglia plays Bo, a homophobic jock who bullies hetero Jimmy, but who turns out to be gay himself; he's fine.

Verdict: Likable actors and characters help put this over. **1/2.

Thursday, November 5, 2015



In honor of the release of the latest James Bond movie, Spectre, this week we have a round up of 007 adventures dating from the sixties (From Russia with Love with Sean Connery) to the 21st century (Die Another Day with Pierce Brosnan) with Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton in-between. All of these gentlemen -- including the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, as well as George Lazenby -- did their own take on the famous fictional spy, and I think all of them were very good, if different.

As for the evil organization, SPECTRE, it has been around since Dr. No in 1962. Dr No was working for the Russians in Ian Fleming's novel; Spectre, run by Ernest Stavros Blofeld, was invented for the films [maybe the studio didn't want Cold War problems?] The training center, Spectre Island, was introduced in the second Bond film, From Russia with Love, and really came into its own in Thunderball. As for Blofeld, he was up to his tricks in several later films, including You Only Live Twice.


FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1964). Director: Terence Young.

A beautiful Russian agent, Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi), is told to romance James Bond (Sean Connery) as part of a scheme engineered by the sinister organization, Spectre. Tatiana is given her orders by Colonel Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), whom she believes is still her superior, but who has actually defected to Spectre. At stake is the Lektor decoder, which is coveted by both the British and Ernst Blofeld (Anthony Dawson, unseen but for the hands stroking his white cat), who is the head of Spectre. Bond and Tatiana come together in Istanbul and wind up in Venice, where along the way they are pursued by a deadly Spectre assassin, Grant (Robert Shaw), chased by speedboats and helicopters, and nearly come to an end at the feet -- yes, feet -- of Rosa Klebb. From Russia With Love is very entertaining, well turned-out hogwash with some very good performances. Although she's playing an "evil lesbian" stereotype, Lenya [The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone] is terrific and nearly walks off with the movie, although she gets competition from a superb Robert Shaw [A Man for All Seasons]. The tense train compartment scene which climaxes in a to-the-death battle between Grant and Bond is one of the best sequences in the picture. "Dr. No" was also a Spectre operative in the previous film, and this one introduces the training camp on Spectre Island, where Rosa punches Grant in the stomach while wearing "wooden knuckles." The copter attack does not compare favorably with the crop duster scene in North By Northwest, but there is a very good boat chase, and the climax with nasty Klebb is memorable. There's a zesty dance from a Gypsy dancer, as well as a cat fight in the Gypsy camp; one of the participants is Martine Beswick [Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde], although her name is misspelled as "Martin" Beswick in the opening credits. Bianchi was "introduced" in this film -- it was actually her fifth credit -- and is capable and very attractive, although it has been reported that her voice was (very skillfully) dubbed due to a too-thick Italian accent. Vladek Sheybal also makes an impression as the Spectre employee Kronsteen. The title tune is sung over the end credits by Matt Monro, a British pop singer of the period. 

Verdict: More fun with James Bond. ***.


DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971). Director: Guy Hamilton.

"Making mud pies, double oh seven?" -- Blofeld.

Although it is generally considered that Roger Moore's Bond films -- with a couple of exceptions -- were the most absurd and cartoonish of the series, it was clear that Diamonds are Forever was already a step in that direction. George Lazenby wasn't interested in playing Bond again after On Her Majesty's Secret Service -- possibly a bad career choice -- so Sean Connery was again drafted to do duty as 007. Bond takes the place of a man involved in a stolen diamond pipeline, a scheme that takes him to Las Vegas where Ernst Stavos Blofeld (Charles Gray of The Devil Rides Out) has taken the place of a Howard Hughes-type, Willard White (Jimmy Dean), and where the master villain has yet another diabolical plan that Bond must demolish before the end. Connery is quite good as Bond, Jill St. John [The Lost World] makes an impression as jewel thief Tiffany Case (as does Lana Wood as "Plenty"), and Gray is excellent as the sinister, smirking Blofeld. In Ian Fleming's novel there are two homosexual hit men, but they are not the caricatures of the movie, with Bruce Glover as Wint being even more offensive than Putter Smith as Kidd. The sixties sensibility also includes the two female bodyguards Bambi (Lola Larsen) and Thumper (Trina Parks), who are like a condescending nod to women's lib, but who are dispatched by Bond fairly easily. Leonard Barr is fun as the deadpan comic "Shady Tree." Despite its many flaws, Diamonds Are Forever is very entertaining and colorful, with at least one excellent fight scene in an elevator, a nice bit in a crematorium, and an interesting interlude in a scientific laboratory and an underground desert pipeline, not to mention Bond scaling skyscrapers and the like.

Verdict: Lots of mindless fun.***


OCTOPUSSY (1983). Director: John Glen.

Ian Fleming wrote a short story featuring James Bond for Playboy magazine and gave it the provocative title of "Octopussy." The film that emerged uses only the title and little else. The renegade Russian General Orlov (Stephen Berkoff) has a diabolical plan to cause world-wide chaos by setting off a devastating bomb at a circus in Berlin. Orlov's allies include the exiled Afghan Prince Kamal (Louis Jourdan) and the woman only known as "Octopussy" (Maud Adams), who has a bevy of beautiful gals doing her bidding in both criminal and legitimate enterprises; she is unaware of the bomb plot. Then there's her ally, Magda (Kristina Weyborn), who engages with Bond (Roger Moore) over a certain suspicious Faberge egg.  Much of the movie takes place in Delhi, where we're treated to a variety of typical Indian stereotypes and cliches. There's a suspenseful climax with the circus and the bomb, and an excellent and harrowing epilogue with Bond trying to survive on the wing of a plane. Never considered the greatest of the 007 movies, Octopussy is nevertheless a very sleek and entertaining picture, extremely colorful, and with opulent settings and interesting set-pieces. Moore is fine, Jourdan is excellent, Adams is not bad as Octopussy, and Kristina Wayborn is lovely as Magda but isn't given enough screen time to really show what she can do, acting-wise, although she's a trifle stiff in her dinner scene with Bond. Vijay Amritraj scores as Vijay, an ill-fated agent, and Kabir Bedi makes an impression as Kamal's rather striking assistant, the master assassin, Gobinda. Another assassin uses a kind of buzzsaw/yo yo as a weapon. The theme song "All Time High" [Barry/Rice] is one of the best for a Bond movie, although Rita Coolidge's voice isn't quite sexy enough to do it justice.

Verdict: This seems to get better each time you see it. ***.


THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987). Director: John Glen.

Timothy Dalton inherited the role of James Bond from Roger Moore and made an excellent, much more realistic 007 in an outing that has little of the overly campy humor and absurd situations of Moore's films. The pre-credit sequence, in which a training exercise at Gibraltar goes horribly wrong, is outstanding. The main story has to do with the defection of General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), whom Bond protects from a possible sniper attack. The "sniper" is a pretty cellist named Kara (Maryam d'Abo) but Bond resists killing her when he sees what an amateur she is and suspects something's up. The two wind up teaming up as assorted factions try to kill them. The action takes Bond from Czechoslovakia to Vienna to Tangiers and finally Afghanistan where the thrilling climax takes place on a plane as Bond and the assassin Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) dangle in the air and struggle even as a bomb is ticking in the cargo bay. Dalton makes a fine, more human Bond; Krabbe is wonderful; D'abo is hardly a classic Bond sexpot but she is effective and convincing; and there are good performances from Joe Don Baker [Criminal Law] as an American arms dealer, John Rhys-Davies as General Pushkin, and Art Malick as rebel Kamran Shah. "M" and "Miss Moneypenny" have been replaced by other actors, but Desmond Llewelyn is back as the marvelous "Q." Thomas Wheatley deserves special mention for his portrayal of fellow agent, Saunders, who is a bit tight-assed but likable. John Barry's music is a plus, especially the end title song "If Someone Was You." Followed by Licence to Kill, Dalton's second and last appearance as Bond.

Verdict: Entertaining, highly credible 007 outing. ***.


Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Elektra (Sophie Marceau)
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999). Director: Michael Apted.

"There's no point in living if you can't feel alive."

Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is assigned as bodyguard to oil heiress Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), who has just gotten out of the clutches of kidnapper, Renard (Robert Carlyle). But is something else going on here? Bond tries to figure out who's the real villain as he stops a plutonium meltdown, battles bad guys near an exploding pipeline, tries to rescue a kidnapped "M" (Judi Dench), and faces torture at the hands of the series' most fascinating -- and perhaps only? -- major villainess. In addition to Brosnan and Marceau, there are good performances from Robbie Coltrane as Zukofsky and Carlyle as Renard, and an acceptable one from Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones. The title is the Bond family's personal motto. Apparently this made more money than any other Bond film released in the 20th century. Brosnan first appeared as Bond in Goldeneye.

Verdict: Not on the level of Goldfinger or some of the other classic Bonds, but entertaining enough. ***.


Rosamund Pike and Halle Berry
DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002). Director: Lee Tamahori.

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is captured during a mission and spends over a year in a prison in North Korea. General Moon (Kenneth Tsang) blames Bond for the death of his corrupt son, Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee), but is the colonel really dead? After Bond affects his escape, "M" (Judi Dench) sees him as a useless non-agent, but 007 goes rogue (as he did in Licence to Kill) and takes off to capture the dangerous spy and terrorist, Zao (Rick Yune). Along the way he encounters American operative Jinx (Halle Berry), who also uncovers a clinic in Cuba where criminals can have their appearances altered via DNA manipulation. Bond learns that Gustave Graves (Toby Stephens), a man without a past and who has made a fortune in diamonds, may have made an alliance with Zao. Bond has both Jinx and undercover agent Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) helping -- or hindering -- him as he investigates Graves' operation in Iceland, and has a final encounter with Graves on a plane carrying a devastating weapon. I must say that I loved Die Another Day, which is one of the most exciting Bond movies in years. Brosnan is perfect as a more human Bond; Berry [Catwoman] and Pike [Gone Girl] are fine; Dench is on the money; and Stephens makes a sensational Bond adversary. Rick Yune, Yun Lee, and Tsang also offer superlative performances. There's a superbly-handled sword duel between Bond and Graves at the latter's club; a frenetic business with lasers running amok as Jinx tries to escape captivity; a laser beam pursuing Bond from on high as he races across the ice in his "invisible" car; and an outstanding climax with multiple battles on a plane that is breaking into pieces all around the participants. The only negatives are the over-abundance of high school-type double entendres that really make anyone over the age of eight groan. [For example: Miranda: "Has Mr. Bond been exploring his big bang theory for you? Jinx: "Oh, I think I get the thrust of it."]. Not to mention Madonna's dreadful title tune. Madonna [Shadows and Fog] herself, without her mole, shows up briefly as someone or other ("Verity"), and isn't bad. Die Another Day is full of entertaining absurdities. This is Brosnan's last appearance as Bond and his best 007 outing.

Verdict: Breathless, fast-paced fun. ***1/2.

Thursday, October 29, 2015



Welcome to Great Old Movies' annual round-up of horror movies. This year it's a mixed bag of old and new, with everything from Vincent Price and Barbara Steele to those lovable maniacs Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees and other mad slashers, as well as "horrible" books, and blood-curdling TV shows.

Curl up with a nice slice of pumpkin pie (with real whipped cream) and have some Halloween horror!


NIGHTMARE CASTLE (aka Amanti d'oltremtomba/1965). Director: Mario Calano.

When Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) discovers that his wife, Muriel (Barbara Steele), is having an affair with hired man David (Rik Battaglia), he imprisons, tortures and murders both of them. Somehow Muriel is declared dead even without a body, and her twin, Jenny, winds up married to the doctor, after inheriting everything, and living back in creepy Hampton Castle. Arrowsmith is a certified nut job, but Jenny herself seems to be going crazy -- or is dead Muriel trying to take over her twin's mind? Dr. Derek Joyce (Marino Mase) tries to help her, but will their attraction to one another lead to another disaster...? There are ghosts, murder plots, horrified servants, fiery conflagrations, and more, not to mention lots of atmosphere. Unfortunately, despite all that the movie is still just mediocre. Steel's great voice has been dubbed, minimizing her impact, but the acting from all seems more than adequate.

Verdict: Zesty if disappointing Italian horror flick. **1/2.


"Hackett isn't saying anything!"
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972). Director: Robert Fuest.

In this sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes, the not-so-good doctor (Vincent Price) is after certain Egyptian scrolls that he hopes will bring his beloved Victoria (Caroline Munro) back to life, but first he has to get rid of anyone who might get to the scrolls first. Phibes' chief adversary is archaeologist Darrus Biederbeck (Robert Quarry of A Kiss Before Dying and Count Yorga, Vampire), but Phibes has absolutely no problem ridding himself of everyone in Biederbeck's party by various inventive, diabolical -- and often quite funny-- means. There's a fog that melts away flesh; a phone device that snaps a spike through the caller's ear; a body- crushing device; an attack by falcon; crawling scorpions; and the like, all served up with ghoulish and amusing relish. Peter Cushing, Beryl Reid, Fiona Lewis, Hugh Griffith, and Terry-Thomas have smaller roles, while Price himself seems to be having a ball.

Verdict: Gruesome and funny in equal measure, this is a sequel that's as good as the original. ***.


Michael Myers on the rampage
HALLOWEEN (1978). Director: John Carpenter.

In the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois in 1963, a little boy named Michael Myers stabs his teenage sister to death. Fifteen years later, Myers, who has been institutionalized ever since, escapes from an asylum and makes his way back to Haddonfield. Myers has been in the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) -- named after a character in the vastly-superior Psycho -- and pursues him to Haddonfield, where his former patient begins a killing spree of babysitters and the like. Loomis has come to see Myers as being the embodiment of evil, although his reasons for this are never explained, as until the very end the man just seems like your typical, normal maniac-on-the-loose. Halloween benefits from Dean Cundey's excellent Panavision photography, which gives it a look that almost fools you into thinking it's not borderline schlock, which it is. Still, the movie does have some suspense and atmosphere, and the acting is professional. Jamie Lee Curtis basically owes her career to the fact that her mother was the star of Psycho, but she's quite good in Halloween, and Nancy Loomis/Kyes and P. J. Soles are effective enough as Curtis' friends. Brian Andrews and [Ms.] Kyle Richards are charming as the babysitters' little charges. Donald Pleasence eschews chewing the scenery and is excellent as the restrained but nearly hysterical Dr. Loomis. Halloween is deliberately paced and while the theme music is good, the rest of the repetitious "score" is mediocre and could have used different music. The non-gory Halloween lacks the visceral energy and shocks of Friday the 13th, which came out two years later and also engendered a mess of sequels. Halloween is not a bad movie for what it is, but it was very over-rated upon its release and its designation as a "classic" is a major over-statement. Aside from a couple of things, I've never thought that much of director Carpenter [The Thing], either.

Verdict: Has the glimmer of a really good horror film but doesn't quite hit the mark. **1/2