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

Thursday, November 26, 2009

THE GAY SISTERS


THE GAY SISTERS (1942). Director: Irving Rapper.

The Gaylord Sisters have been waiting 27 years for their father's will to be probated, but a stubborn businessman named Charles Barclay (George Brent) refuses to accept their settlement offer. Seems the man has a personal grudge against one of the sisters, Fiona (Barbara Stanwyck), the reason for which comes out as this highly entertaining movie progresses. The other sisters Evelyn (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Susie (Nancy Coleman) don't like each other very much, with a true-to-form Evelyn doing her best to steal Susie's beau, Gig Young (played by Gig Young, who took his screen name from this picture). Then there's that little charmer Austin, who's sort of been adopted by Fiona. But whose little boy is he really? There are very interesting twists to this very well-acted and directed drama that transcends soap opera due to Lenore Coffee's excellent script and its sheer quality. Stanwyck is excellent, as are Fitzgerald and Coleman, and a large supporting cast including Donald Woods, Donald Crisp, Anne Revere, and Grant Mitchell. Young and Brent aren't slouches, either. Certain to stimulate debate is a scene between Stanwyck and Brent that could be taken as consensual (if cynical) sex or as rape! Irving Rapper, who is in full command of the picture, also directed Deception, The Corn is Green, Now, Voyager, and many others.

Verdict: Really the kind of movie they don't make anymore. ***1/2.

THE CRASH


THE CRASH (1932). Director: William Dieterle.

Linda Gault (Ruth Chatterton, pictured) grew up very poor and is determined that she'll never be poverty-stricken again. Her husband Geoffrey (George Brent) drinks and importunes her to get stock tips from a man (Henry Kolker) who's smitten with her. When Geoffrey goes broke after the Wall Street crash of 1929, Linda takes what money she can gather and goes off to a sun and fun retreat where she meets millionaire Ronald Sanderson (Paul Cavanagh). Should she go for the loot or settle for love? Who cares? This is a minor film with Chatterton giving a surprisingly stiff and obvious performance. A secondary love story concerns Linda's French maid Celeste (Barbara Leonard) and her lover Arthur (Hardie Albright).

Verdict: Watch Dodsworth [with Chatterton in fine form] instead. **.

REPUBLIC STUDIOS: BETWEEN POVERTY ROW AND THE MAJORS


REPUBLIC STUDIOS: BETWEEN POVERTY ROW AND THE MAJORS. Richard M. Hurst. Scarecrow Press. Updated 2007.

This book looks at Republic studios, which was most famous for cliffhanger serials and westerns, but also turned out the occasional "A" feature. It has chapters providing an overview of the studio and its work and influence; a look at sound serials of Republic's golden age; Republic's cowboy movies; their series films such as The Higgins Family and films starring hillbilly comedienne Judy Canova; etc. Although some chapters have been added, including an in-depth look at the Captain America serial, it is obvious that this was basically a dissertation, and indeed its academic tone is occasionally quite dry and pretentious, with the same themes stated over and over again. [The book does not appear to have been edited.] On the plus side, despite his prose style [or lack of same -- Hurst was a museum administrator for many years and not a professional writer] Hurst's enthusiasm for these films comes through, and the book is full of a lot of solid information although it certainly does not go into detail on all Republic films or even the famous ones. Still it has value as a reference book for those interested in the history and output of a famous "second-tier" Hollywood studio which issued some of the finest cliffhanger serials ever made. Other books that deal with Republic serials include The Great Movie Serials and In the Nick of Time.

Verdict: Some good stuff about the old serials. **1/2.

JUDGE JEANINE PIRRO


JUDGE JEANINE PIRRO (Fox 2008).

Last year with little fanfare this new court-TV show slipped into the line-up with allegedly tough New York prosecutor Jeanine Pirro in the role of judge, a role that, frankly, doesn't suit her very well. There are two kinds of reality court TV programs. The first kind -- Judge Judy and The People's Court with Judge Milian are good examples -- features an actual experienced judge who absolutely controls his or her courtroom and won't brook any nonsense. The second kind -- Judge Mathis, Judge Joe Brown, and now Judge Pirro are good examples -- are cut from the "Jerry Springer" cloth and have a judge -- real or imagined -- who allows the litigants to run off at the mouth, take over the court, and publicly disgrace their fool selves for the sake of the audience. Their selling point is sleaze and humiliation. [The fact that Judge Judy, who does not allow this nonsense, leads the pack in the ratings doesn't seem to have impressed itself upon the producers of these other shows. Judge Pirro comes from the same camp as Judge Mathis. ] "Judge" Pirro not only doesn't display much courtroom savy -- she sllows people to talk over her all the time [imagine Judy doing that!] -- but doesn't seem to have the intellectual depth to really see what's going on in certain cases. One case of harrassment between two women clearly had intimations of homophobia and self-hatred, but it was all above the head of Pirro. On one episode she had two drug dealers in front of her, and while she expressed amazement at the situation, she never made any mention of "unclean hands." She actually awarded one of these scuzzbags $1500 for mental distress because the other one claimed he stole both money and drugs from him at gunpoint when he didn't. Who cares? Not only does this call into question Pirro's competency as a "judge," it calls into question her competency as a prosecutor or anything else. Hopefully this will come back to bite her in the ass should she ever decide to run for public office when her five minutes of fame are over. One senses that as long as the occasional male litigant tells Pirro that she's "hot" and the checks roll in, Pirro doesn't give a damn.

Verdict: Disgraceful and scuzzy! Watch Judge Judy instead. *.

THE WALKING DEAD


THE WALKING DEAD (1936). Director: Michael Curtiz.

After John Ellman (Boris Karloff) is framed for murder by criminals and executed, he's brought back to life by Dr. Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn) via the use of assorted electrical devices. This Frankenstein-inspired horror film has Ellman going after the gangsters who framed him one by one and bringing about their deaths. Ricardo Cortez plays Karloff's crooked lawyer. The movie isn't bad -- neither is Karloff nor Marguerite Churchill as his daughter -- but the mix of horror with gangland doesn't quite work and the story is certainly predictable. Warren Hull, who starred in several cliffhanger serials, is also in the cast, as are Barton MacLane and Joe Sawyer. Churchill was also in Dracula's Daughter. Warner Brothers.

Verdict: Karloff always gets his man! **1/2.

THE STAIRCASE MURDERS


THE STAIRCASE MURDERS (2007 telefilm). Director: Tom McLoughlin.

Real-life novelist Michael Peterson (supposedly successful and supposedly bisexual) was put on trial for the murder of his wife, who was found bloodied and dead at the bottom of a staircase in their home in Durham, North Carolina. During the trial it turned out that another woman in Peterson's past also died in the exact same manner. This case was covered by Dateline, on a two hour ABC special and other programs, and was also the subject of a foreign documentary called The Staircase. In this fictionalized version of the story -- which includes the documentary filmmakers -- Peterson is played by Treat Williams. Although he gives a good performance, the more down-to-Earth Williams is an odd choice to play the glib, superior, vaguely epicene sociopath, Peterson. Based on the book "A Perfect Husband" by Aphrodite Jones, this is an absorbing and fairly fascinating study of a murder case that apparently a great many people found riveting. Whether it increased the sales of Peterson's books is another matter.

Verdict: If only he'd just come happily out of the closet and left these poor women alone! ***.

HUNT THE MAN DOWN


HUNT THE MAN DOWN (1950). Director: George Archainbaud.

A busboy named Kincaid (James Anderson) becomes a hero during an attempted robbery, but it turns out that he's an accused murderer on the lam. Supposedly he murdered a jealous man who accused him of having an affair with his wife. Paul Bennett (Gig Young, pictured) is the public defender who hunts down witnesses and tries to figure out who actually committed the killing. Hunt the Man Down is like a slightly longer episode of the Perry Mason TV show with just a little more action in it. Gerald Mohr and Cleo Moore are also in the cast.

Verdict: Worth missing. *1/2.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A LIFE OF HER OWN


A LIFE OF HER OWN (1950). Director: George Cukor.

Lily James (Lana Turner) leaves her dead-end small town for a life of glamor, modeling, and excitement in New York and gets a little more than she bargained for. After a variety of adventures and mis-adventures, she becomes involved with a married man (Ray Milland) who has a crippled wife (Margaret Phillips). Dismissed as soap opera and "fluff" by the critics at the time of its release and after, this is actually a hard-hitting drama with an excellent script and dialogue by Isobel Lennart. Cukor, well-known as an actors' director, certainly worked his magic on the cast. Lana Turner is first-class throughout, giving what may have been her best performance in films, and Ray Milland, often a Great Stone Face, is much more impressive than usual. Ann Dvorak almost walks off with the movie as the aging model, Mary Ashlon, who is hoping for a comeback that even she realizes is unlikely. Tom Ewell, Louis Calhern, Margaret Phillips and Sara Haden [as a nurse] are also notable. Barry Sullivan superbly delivers a great super-cynical speech near the end of the film. Although one could argue that the movie sticks to a dated sin-and-suffer formula, it actually is true to its essentially dark tone (even though the original ending was softened quite a bit).

Verdict: Fascinating stuff in its own way and very well-performed. ***1/2.

THE PATSY (1929)


THE PATSY (1928). Director: King Vidor.

Pat Harrington (Marion Davies) lives with her loving father (Dell Henderson) and a mother (Marie Dressler), who clearly favors her snotty sister, Grace (Jane Winton) over her. To make matters worse, Pat has an unrequited longing for Tony (Orville Caldwell), her sister's boyfriend, although Grace apparently prefers the company of that sexy scalawag Billy (Lawrence Gray). This reasonably entertaining comedy-drama is in no way in the league of Vidor's classic silent The Crowd, but the actors are all appealing. One wishes the film had a little more depth, and there are tiresome detours (such as Pat coming out with allegedly witty sayings in an attempt to develop a "personality"). The new original score by Vivek Maddala adds a lot to the picture, however. Davies is quite good and it's always a pleasure to see Dressler, here in a mostly unsympathetic role.

Verdict: Interesting if unspectacular silent. **1/2.

BEHIND THE MASK


BEHIND THE MASK (1932). Director: John Francis Dillon.

Jack Quinn (Jack Holt) is a secret service agent who goes undercover as a crook, even taking part in a jail break, to expose the identity of a sinister figure, "Mr. X," who heads a criminal organization. If only this were half as much fun as it sounds. Quinn is one of the stupidest Fedeal agents ever put on film. Boris Karloff enlivens things just a bit as one of X's henchmen, and Edward Van Sloan is a cackling doctor also in the employ of X [whose identity comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone]. Constance Cummings isn't bad as the frightened daughter of a doctor (Claude King) who is victimized by the evil mastermind. Bertha Mann is the evil Nurse Edwards, who is always reporting to X.

Verdict: Any X movie would be better than this! *.

EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK


EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK (1972). Director: Woody Allen.

Allen took some questions from the book of the sane name and filmed several segments supposedly relating to the questions. "Do aphrodisiacs work?" is a very funny medieval sketch where Allen winds up with his hand locked in the chastity belt of his horny married queen (an excellent Lynn Redgrave). "What is Sodomy?" actually looks at bestiality as Gene Wilder plays a doctor who falls in love with a sheep. It's a bit yucky, like anything pertaining to the subject, but it has its moments. "Why do some women have trouble reaching orgasm?" is a spoof of Italian movies with Allen discovering that his wife (Louise Lasser) only gets turned on in public places. "Are transvestites homosexual?" presents Lou Jacobi [who's terrific] as a husband who gets caught wearing the clothing of his hostess at a dinner party. "What are sex perverts?" first has a homoerotic hair tonic ad, and then presents an episode of the TV show What's My Perversion? an erotic take on What's My Line? "Are Sex Research Findings Accurate?" has John Carradine letting loose a giant breast upon the world in a spoof of monster movies. In "What happens during ejaculation?" Woody plays a nervous sperm who doesn't really like the idea of being thrust out into the big wide womb. This is probably the most inventive segment. Everything You Always Wanted to Know is certainly not for all tastes but it has its share of laughs and holds the attention. You'll probably learn no more about sex than you did from the book.

Verdict: Watch out for giant boobs! ***.

THEY ONLY KILL THEIR MASTERS


THEY ONLY KILL THEIR MASTERS (1972). Director: James Goldstone.

Chief of Police Marsh (James Garner) investigates when a woman is found dead and it is at first assumed that she was the victim of a Doberman Pinscher. But it turns out that she was murdered by a much more human adversary. Her husband (Peter Lawford) says she told him she was going to leave him for another woman. Interestingly enough, she was also pregnant at the time of her death. Suspects include a vet (Hal Holbrook), his assistant (Katherine Ross), who becomes involved with Marsh, and the vet's wife (June Allyson, who is quite good in a brief sequence). Edmond O'Brien plays the owner of a liquor store, and Tom Ewell and Ann Rutherford are in here as well. Harry Guardino is another cop. This is typical of slick TV-like movies released theatrically in the seventies that try to be "hip" by adding homoerotic elements, but Lane Slate's script is pretty dated when it comes to the subject of homo and bisexuality and swinging. Garner is Garner; Ross is pretty. The best scene has the doberman going a little nutty when Garner and Ross are in bed.

Verdict: If you're a swinger you gotta die. **.

VALENTINO (1977)


VALENTINO (1977). Director: Ken Russell.

Ken Russell takes the life of Rudolph Valentino [Rudolf Nureyev] and gives it the usual camp-grotesque treatment that he favors. Leslie Caron overacts [or was directed to overact] as Nazimova; Michelle Phillips [of The Mamas and the Papas] is barely adequate as Natasha Rambova. Other familiar faces in the cast are Anton Diffring as a cabaret owner; Linda Thorson ["Tara King" of TV's The Avengers] as a dance hall hostess; Huntz Hall of the Bowery Boys as Jesse Lasky; Carol Kane as an actress-friend of Fatty Arbuckle's; Seymour Cassel as an agent; John Ratzenberger of Cheers as a reporter. Russell himself plays Rex Ingram. Hall and Kane are quite mediocre. Some of the bad acting probably has to be attributed to Russell's lack of flair with actors. The picture really only comes alive when Rudy dances; especially good is Valentino's tango with Nijinski [Anthony Dowell] early in the picture. Nureyev has charisma and charm and sometimes even hits the mark with his acting, but a different director could have brought out a better performance. This is even worse than the 1951 Valentino. There is no attempt at characterization to speak of. Worse, it's actually quite boring. Russell wants so bad to be hip, but the dumb, homophobic humor works against it, as does just about everything else. The climactic boxing match never actually happened, which is true of most of the picture. NOTE: To read a fascinating, illustrated article about the real Valentino, click here.

Verdict: Turn it off after the tango. Another freak show from one of the worst film directors ever. *.

CIRCLE OF FRIENDS (2006)


CIRCLE OF FRIENDS (2006 telefilm). Director: Stefan Pleszczynski.

Maggie (Julie Benz, pictured) returns to the town where she grew up for a funeral, and discovers that several of her old high school class mates have recently died in accidents. Or were they accidents? One of the victims is her late husband. She renews a relationship with old boyfriend Harry (Chris Kramer) and tries to get a detective (Peter Dillion) to seriously investigate the situation. Does it all have something to do with a photograph of a picnic years before? This is a suspenseful mystery that doesn't telegraph its conclusion too obviously, and is well-acted by [almost] all; Nicolas Wright leaves no stereotype unturned in his dreadful portrayal of Rodney, an obviously gay fashion designer. The murderer-unmasking scene is a bit abrupt and unreal.

Verdict: A pleasant, somewhat intriguing time passer. **1/2.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953)


THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953). Director: Byron Haskin.

The first Hollywood version of H. G. Wells' wonderful novel of a Martian invasion is still great entertainment. Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) is called in when strange meteors begin falling to Earth. At one site, he encounters Sylvia (Ann Robinson), her uncle, Pastor Collins (Lewis Martin), and General Mann (Les Tremayne). But neither prayers nor weaponry seem a match for the sleek alien vehicles with their devastating death rays that emerge from the meteors. Edgar Barrier of The Giant Claw is a professor; Gertrude Hoffman of My Little Margie is a news vendor; Paul Frees of Space Master X-7 is a radio announcer; and Paul Birch of Not of This Earth is an early victim. The early scenes are very suspenseful, and the sequence wherein Barry and Robinson are holed up in a farmhouse when the martians come a'callin' is harrowing. Very entertaining, with fine special effects. Produced by George Pal. This clearly inspired many movies, especially Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

Verdict; An absorbing and colorful science fiction classic. ***1/2.

HOLD THAT KISS


HOLD THAT KISS (1938). Director: Edwin L. Marin.

June Evans (Maureen O'Sullivan) and Tom Bradford (Dennis O'Keefe) meet at a society function and both believe the other one is well-to-do. Tom actually works for a travel agency and June is a model for a couturier, but they do their best to keep up the deception, afraid the other would dump them if they knew they weren't wealthy. The leads are swell, and the picture is bolstered by a fine supporting cast: Mickey Rooney, Frank Albertson and Phillip Terry as June's brothers; Fay Holden as her mother; Jessie Ralph as her Aunt Lucy; Edward Brophy as Tom's roommate; and George Barbier as the father of a bride in the opening sequence. A definite scene stealer is the St. Bernard with soulful eyes who plays Blotto. No world-beater, perhaps, but a cute and amusing trifle.

Verdict: Fun picture with appealing cast. ***.

THE EX (1997)


THE EX (1997). Director: Mark L. Lester. Screenplay by Larry Cohen.

Nutty Deidre (Yancy Butler) has never gotten over her ex-husband David (Nick Mancuso) so she befriends his new wife Molly (Suzy Amis), and pretends to be her own psychiatrist, Lillian (Babs Chula), so she can bond with the couple's adorable youngster, Michael (Hamish Tildesley), who has anger issues. Talk about anger issues! Deidre convinces nearly everyone that she's having an affair with David and that he tried to kill her. Reasonably entertaining entry in the "psycho bitch" film sweepstakes isn't badly acted and has an exciting finale, even if it seems a little over-familiar. The bit with the possibly lesbian shrink Lillian is awkwardly, even offensively, handled.

Verdict: Another devious sociopath on the loose. **1/2.

WITHIN THE LAW


WITHIN THE LAW (1939). Director: Gustav Machaty.

This is a remake of Paid, which really put Joan Crawford on the map. In this version Ruth Hussey acquits herself nicely in the same role, Mary Turner, who's wrongly convicted of stealing jewelry from her employer, Gilder (Samuel S. Hinds), and winds up the big house for three years. She vows to get even with Gilder when she gets out. Studying law books she realizes that there's a way to earn quick cash unethically while still staying "within the law." As part of her revenge scheme, she romances Gilder's son Richard (Tom Neal of Detour fame). This is a snappy, entertaining picture with a good cast: Paul Kelly, Paul Cavanagh, James Burke, and Rita Johnson are among the thieves Mary falls in with; William Gargan is the cop who's out to get them.

Verdict: Not a lost classic from 1939 but creditable enough. ***.

THE DUNWICH HORROR


THE DUNWICH HORROR (2009). Written and directed by Leigh Scott.

This telefilm makes the 1970 version of The Dunwich Horror seem like a masterpiece in comparison. Based on the famous story by the great [and ill-served by Hollywood] H. P. Lovecraft, this concerns a woman from the Whateley family who consorts with a demon and gives birth to twins, one human, and one a monster. Dean Stockwell, who played Wilbur Whateley in the aforementioned theatrical version, plays a doctor in this film while Jeffrey Coombs (pictured) of The Reanimator fame plays Wilbur in this [if not very well]. Griff Furst plays Dr. Walter Rice, a teacher who has trouble believing that any of this stuff is real [and this film doesn't help]. The climactic rampage of the demonic twin is even more disappointing than in the 1970 version. The great film based on this fascinating and seminal novella has yet to be made. NOTE: For a book about Lovecraft's life click here.

Verdict: Poor Lovecraft deserves much better. *1/2.

THE BRUTAL TRUTH AKA THE GIVING TREE


THE BRUTAL TRUTH (aka The Giving Tree/2000). Director: Cameron Thor.

A group of high school friends now in their twenties have a reunion at a cabin and one of them, Emily (Christina Applegate, who has little to do), winds up committing suicide. Yes, this is another fucked-up-friends-from-high school-with-secrets stinker, a bit duller than others. It all seems like an excuse to hear wailing "sensitive" singers do mediocre songs on the soundtrack. The guys seem to be a-holes; there's a gal with a little girl voice named "Vanilla;" the token lesbian who's come out; and even a game of charades. This awkward blend of dumb comedy with "serious" drama throws in an ugly rape or two just to make it seem profound and meaningful, which it certainly isn't. Justin Lazard appeared on the TV show CPW [Central Park West] and in Species 2 and is given a truly thankless role in this. Molly Ringwald, who plays the wife of one of the pals, was a teen star who isn't likely to have much of an adult acting career as she's pretty bad here. Some of the other actors are okay, however.

Verdict: Pretty terrible. *.

HANK

HANK (2009 ABC TV show.) Director: James Burrows.

Kelsey Grammer stars in this new sitcom in which he plays a New York City executive who got laid off due to the economy and has moved back to Virginia with his wife and two children. One can't expect Grammer to play Frasier for the rest of his life, but one can't help but compare every other sitcom the actor does to that jewel he did a few years ago. Grammer is at his best playing sophisticated characters, not middle-class family men, and some of those old Frasier vaguely epicene mannerisms keep creeping in. Grammer is fine in Hank -- in fact, with all due respect to the other actors, he's basically the whole show. One pleasant enough episode had him encouraging his teenage daughter to go to work, and he of the big mouth wound up beside her selling ice cream in a shop with an obnoxious manager. Still, this had none of the bite or wit of the best -- or even the least -- of the Frasier episodes. I like Grammer but I can't see Hank sticking around for long. Someone should put Grammer in a more intelligent and sophisticated program -- Hank isn't it.

Verdict: Hurry up or this will be gone. **/2.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

OF MICE AND MEN (1939)


OF MICE AND MEN (1939). Director: Lewis Milestone.

"It's just havin' someone to talk with. It's just bein' with another guy."

George (Burgess Meredith) and his brain-damaged cousin Lennie (Lon Chaney Jr.) arrive at a ranch and hope to save up enough money to buy their own farm and be their own boss. The elderly Candy (Roman Bohnen), afraid of almost literally being put out to pasture, wants to go in with them, as does Crooks (Leigh Whipper), the black man who is isolated in his own shack away from the bunk house with the other men. But then there's the nasty little Curley (Bob Steele), the boss's son, and his bored, lonely wife, Mae (Betty Field), and the trouble they represent. John Steinbeck's heartbreaking tragedy is brought to the screen with great intensity and power and has many memorable moments: the death of Candy's dog; Curly gets his hand crushed; the climactic accidental death. Bohnen gives perhaps the best performance, but Meredith and Field are also great, and Charles Bickford, Lon Chaney Jr. and Bob Steele are no slouches. Okay, maybe the acting is a little over-empathic at times, and Copland's score is nice but not that special. Still, this is one hell of a great movie. The streak of misogyny -- if that's what it is -- and the moral ambiguity of the ending, only make it more fascinating. Remade several times, including a version in 1992, starring and directed by Gary Sinise of CSI New York.

Verdict: Another masterpiece from 1939 and a great study of loneliness. ****.

THE SHAGGY DOG (1959)


THE SHAGGY DOG (1959). Director: Charles Barton.

Fred MacMurray's career was given a new lease on life when he signed to do this silly comedy for Disney Studios and it became a tremendous hit. Wilson Daniels (MacMurray) is a mailman who hates dogs. A magic spell turns his older son Wilby (Tommy Kirk) into a sheepdog -- or rather he takes over the body of a neighbor's sheepdog -- and he turns back at awkward moments. This charming and amusing comedy for children is a bit dragged out by a heavy-handed spy plot that develops late in the picture -- it also has a rather slow pace -- but it has enough laughs to keep you interested if you're game and MacMurray is splendid. There are also good performances from Kirk; Kevin Corcoran as his brother, Moochie; Tim Considine as his girl-crazy pal, Buzz; Jean Hagen as his mother; Cecil Kellaway as a professor; and especially that amazing dog who plays Chiffon. [Watching the animal go through its paces, you sometimes have to remind yourself that it hasn't a human brain but is just a dog.] Annette Funicello and Roberta Shore are the young ladies; Alexander Scourby is head of the spies. NOTE: To read about a fine biography of Fred MacMurray, click here.

Verdict: Watch Chiffon go for a drive! ***.

THE PERFECT ASSISTANT


THE PERFECT ASSISTANT (2008 telefilm). Director: Douglas Jackson.

Rachel Partson (Josie Davis) is an excellent assistant to ad exec David Westcott (Chris Potter) but she's harboring a secret. She is so pathologically in love with the man that she's willing to resort to anything, including murder, to have him for herself. This quite entertaining teleflick gets across the anguish, hope and delusional state of unrequited love so strongly that you almost find yourself feeling sorry for a woman who is otherwise not very sympathetic. It doesn't hurt that Josie Davis gives a terrific performance as the sociopathic assistant. The premise of a deranged woman out to get a man by any means necessary is a popular and familiar one, but The Perfect Assistant is one of the better films on the subject. Rachel Hunter plays one of Westcott's associates.

Verdict: Absorbing and suspenseful. ***.

THE LAW AND THE LADY


THE LAW AND THE LADY (1951). Director: Edwin H. Knopf.

"At my age a good cook is more important than a husband." --Marjorie Main

Another version of The Last of Mrs. Cheney -- Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford did the others -- with Greer Garson and Michael Wilding as a lovable team of jewel thieves and rogues at the turn of the century. Jane Hoskins (Garson), with the help of Wilding, the brother of her former employer, reinvents herself as "Lady Jane Loverly" and becomes welcomed in American society, especially the home of wealthy old Julia Wortin (Marjorie Main), who has a fabulously valuable necklace. Fernando Lamas, Margalo Gillmore, Hayden Rorke, and Natalie Schafer all add to the fun as various guests and suitors. The movie gets kind of silly and unreal toward the end, to say the least, but it never quite loses its sense of humor. Speaking of which, it's definitely fun to see Marjorie Main as a lady in society! Soledad Jimenez scores as Lamas' peppery grandmother. This is arguably the best screen version of Frederick Lonsdale's play.

Verdict: Light and snappy for the most part. ***.

THE FORGOTTEN


THE FORGOTTEN ABC-TV series 2009.

The somewhat shaky premise of this show has a group of men and women, headed by an ex-cop whose own daughter disappeared, investigate John and Jane Does, trying to find out who they are, and -- with the help of a female detective -- figure out how they died and who, if anybody, killed them. This is in the same mold as Cold Case and Without a Trace, and is reasonably effective and entertaining. The members of the squad often go way out of bounds in their investigating, considering they aren't cops, and this has been dealt with on at least one episode. The trouble is, once the person has been identified, you would think their job is through, but they continue to interview suspects and the like as if they were cops [of course, what would the show be without a murder and its solution]. This is similar to the way the members of the CSI squad go far beyond their specialties on each episode. Christian Slater is the only recognizable face on The Forgotten, which is full of perfectly competent actors. So far the back stories of the regular characters haven't gotten in the way of the mysteries. Like the other shows mentioned, there's a certain amount of welcome pathos, such as in one episode about a shamefully forgotten football player. Time will tell if this will develop into a must-watch, but for now it's a creditable entry. Future episodes should probably not have the victims being identified too early in the show.

Verdict: Okay non-cop drama with distinct possibilities. **1/2.

THE KILLER IS LOOSE


THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956). Director: Budd Boetticher.

When Detective Sam Wagner (Joseph Cotten) goes after Leon Poole (Wendell Corey), who held up a bank, he accidentally shoots the man's wife. When Poole breaks out of jail, he murders everyone in his way as he makes his way to Wagner-- so that he can kill Wagner's wife (Rhonda Fleming). This is a decidedly minor film for all concerned, but it does manage to work up a certain degree of suspense, in large part due to Lionel Newman's taut musical score. Filmed by Lucien Ballard. Alan Hale Jr. of Gilligan's Island is more subdued as another cop. Fleming is okay, but the female acting honors go to Virginia Christine as another cop's wife and friend, and Dee J. Thompson as the wife of Poole's old sergeant (John Larch). Some other familiar faces scattered throughout the movie in bit roles. Not always logical. Cotten is solid although this is not one of his more memorable credits.

Verdict: a respectable if forgettable 73 minutes. **1/2.

IRRESISTIBLE


IRRESISTIBLE (2006). Written and directed by Ann Turner.

Sophie (Susan Sarandon) is convinced that a married neighbor named Mara (Emily Blunt) is sneaking into her home, stealing things, masquerading as her, and so on. Sophie's husband, Craig (Sam Neill), thinks that his wife is having a breakdown due to his neglect. A vase full of wasps causes problems for Sophie and she breaks into Mara's home and is arrested. Is she crazy -- or is Mara the nutty one? This is the type of movie where a certain bit of information is suddenly introduced into the story which instantly clues the viewer into just what's going on -- but the clueless heroine just doesn't get it. Irresistible is reasonably entertaining and well-acted by all, but it's very forgettable, and the confusing twist at the end -- or is it? -- doesn't help at all.

Verdict: Watchable -- but that's about all. **1/2.