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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, December 31, 2009

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939)


THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939). Director: Sidney Lanfield.

"Oh, Watson, the needle."

This is the first of two Sherlock Holmes films made by Twentieth Century-Fox and the first in which the wonderful Basil Rathbone created perhaps the definitive movie portrayal of the famous detective -- he is simply outstanding. The plot has to do with Holmes and Watson (Nigel Bruce) trying to save the life of an heir (Richard Greene) while dealing with rumors of the huge title beast roaming the foggy moors where the story takes place. John Carradine has a small role as a servant, and Wendy Barrie is the love interest. Lionel Atwill, who played Holmes' nemesis Professor Moriarty in a later film, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, is excellent in the more sympathetic role of Dr. Mortimer. Mary Gordon played Mrs. Hudson for the first time in this picture. Barlowe Borland scores as the cranky, litigious old Frankland. Morton Lowry is fine as John Stapleton. The 1959 color remake is also quite creditable, and some may feel it has the slight edge. Followed by The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Verdict: Fine introduction to the Rathbone portrayal. ***.

ONE FATAL HOUR AKA TWO AGAINST THE WORLD


ONE FATAL HOUR (aka Two Against the World/1936). Director: William C. McGann.

This is a superior remake of Five Star Final, which starred Edward G. Robinson. In the original, a newspaper began running articles on a twenty year old murder case. In this version, a radio network decides to do a nightly dramatization of the incident. In the first version, the murder was morally ambiguous, but in this version, it is made clear that the woman, who was acquitted, killed in self-defense, and the victim was not her daughter's father. This removes two of the more irritating elements of Five Star Final. Humphrey Bogart plays the Robinson role in this version and it's a major understatement to say he's not in the same league as the great Robinson. Helen McKellar is superb as Martha Carstairs, who was once the notorious "murderess" Gloria Pembrook. Beverly Roberts makes a snappy, bitter secretary for Bogart, and Harry Hayden is properly loathsome as Dr. Leavenworth, who exposes Mrs. Carstair's true identity. Not a great movie, but it is absorbing, generally well-acted, and is a big improvement over the first version.

Verdict: Sometimes the remake is better. **1/2.

SMART GIRLS DON'T TALK



SMART GIRLS DON'T TALK (1948). Director: Richard L. Bare.

Linda Vickers (Virginia Mayo, pictured) gets involved with gambling bigwig and shady character Marty Fain (Bruce Bennett) -- but so does her brother, "Doc" (Robert Hutton), who patches Fain up when he's shot and pays the ultimate price. This seems like a remake of an old Bette Davis movie that wasn't all that great in its original incarnation. Tom D'Andrea as Sparky Lynch adds a little spice, but not enough to save the movie. Mayo is competent enough but she seems to play everything in one note, although the script hardly gives her many opportunities to shine. Richard L. Bare also directed the much more interesting Wicked, Wicked many years later.

Verdict: Smart people stay away from movies like this. *1/2.

GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING


GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING (1956). Director: Jacques Tourneur.

In the period just before the Civil War, Owen Pentecost (Robert Stack) comes to town and promptly becomes the new owner of the saloon after smitten Boston Grant (Ruth Roman) fixes a card game in his favor. Then there's big Jumbo Means (Raymond Burr), who hates it when anybody calls him fat, especially if it's a female. Ann Alaine (Virginia Mayo) also takes a shine to Owen, although she pretends that she couldn't care less. Owen bonds with the young son of a man he killed in a gunfight. And so on. Sporadically interesting western with under-developed characters and a "storyline" all over the lot seems to build to the scene where the two women confront each other over Owen. The actors all handle this stuff more than competently, although Stack, playing it stoic, seems a little wooden in most of his scenes. Regis Toomey is the town preacher.

Verdict: More like great groan in the evenin'. **1/2.

SEVEN DAYS ASHORE


SEVEN DAYS ASHORE (1944). Director: John H. Auer.

Daniel Arland (Alan Dinehart) goes to sea engaged to two different women -- Carol (Virginia Mayo) and Lucy (Amelita Ward) -- but his heart really belongs to Annabelle (Elaine Shepard). He has two buddies played by the strikingly mediocre team of dull Wally Brown and the thick-lipped, especially repellent Alan Carney. There's a midget-like girl singer named Dot Diamond (Marcy McGuire) who sings a snappy number now and then. But the most memorable scene in this mostly unmemorable movie is when Margaret Dumont, the Marx Brothers' favorite foil, warbles "Far Over the Waves" and is deliberately awful.

Verdict: Seven days too many. **.

AND NEVER LET HER GO


AND NEVER LET HER GO (2001 telefilm/2 part, 4 hour mini-series). Director: Peter Levin.

Based on Queen Ghoul Ann Rule's true-crime book, this is the story of Thomas Capano (Mark Harmon) and his lover Anne Marie Fahey (Kathryn Morris of Cold Case), who disappeared one night after an argument with Capano. Rachel Ward of The Thornbirds and Night School plays a mistress that the married Capano had for twenty years; both she and Capano's wife were unaware at first of his involvement with Fahey. Olympia Dukakis is Capano's mother, who gets angrier at her other sons for telling on Capano than she is with the son who committed murder. Paul Michael Glaser is the detective on the case. Morris is excellent, Harmon is much better than usual, and the large supporting cast is mostly on the money. They probably didn't need four hours to tell this sad and sordid story, however.

Verdict: Reasonably absorbing true crime drama. ***.

BOSTON BLACKIE GOES HOLLYWOOD


BOSTON BLACKIE GOES HOLLYWOOD (1942). Director: Michael Gordon.

Reformed thief Boston Blackie (Chester Morris) is suspected of stealing a valuable item and winds up going into disguise, with his buddy "The Runt" (George E. Stone), pretending to be a child. A very young Forrest Tucker plays a thug and Lloyd Bridges has a bit. Constance Worth is the dame. The film is well performed, for what it is, but even for a "B" movie it's decidedly on the minor side. Some mildly amusing vignettes and very little real action add up to a programmer that you practically forget even while you're watching it.

Verdict: At least it doesn't last very long. **.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

BEYOND TOMORROW


BEYOND TOMORROW (1940). Director: A. Edward Sutherland.

Three elderly millionaires (Charles Winninger, Harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith) get involved in the life of a handsome young singer, James (Richard Carlson), whom they meet on Christmas Eve, even after all three are killed in a plane crash. This rather silly, occasionally touching, movie presents the after-life as a misty limbo with voices calling you either up or down to you-know-where. There is a big difference between honest sentiment and sappiness, which this movie doesn't seem to realize. Jean Parker and Helen Vinson are the two women who get involved with Carlson. Frankly, it's irritating watching these ghosts trying to influence what a grown man should do, just as it's somewhat misogynous to suggest that the supposedly "bad" [or sexier] woman in the story is responsible for every terrible thing that happens. It's a pleasure to see Maria Ouspenskaya being warm, pleasant and grandmotherly instead of muttering gypsy curses.

Verdict: This is no It's a Wonderful Life but it has its moments, however rare. **.

THE LOST WORLD (1960)


THE LOST WORLD (1960). Director: Irwin Allen.

"Eaten alive! Horrible! Horrible!"

Colorful and loose adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel has a motley group trapped on a South American plateau with a variety of prehistoric monsters and cannibalistic natives. Fitted with bibs, horns and the like, the "dinosaurs" are actually rather majestic lizards, and the sets during the climax are redressed from Journey to the Center to the Earth [especially the Atlantis scenes). The peppery exchanges between Professor Challenger (Claude Rains) and Summerlee (Richard Haydn) are amusing, and Jill St. John as the only woman in the group is as saucy as ever. The climactic scenes as the party is chased by natives through the foggy Caves of Fire -- and encounter the monstrous Fire God -- are suspenseful and exciting. David Hedison, Michael Rennie, and Fernando Lamas don't do that much more than walk through the picture, but Jay Novello is as splendid as ever as the weasel-like Costas who winds up a blue plate special. Uneven effects. You have to see the pink poodle Frosty come up against a leaf-munching dinosaur to believe it. NOTE: For more on this film and others like it see Creature Features: Nature Turned Nasty in the Movies. FURTHER NOTE: It is best to see this in wide-screen and high definition.

Verdict: Silly but entertaining creature feature. ***.

THE CAPTAIN'S KID


THE CAPTAIN'S KID (1936). Director: Nick Grinde.

Aunt Marcia Prentiss (May Robson) doesn't want little Abigail (Sybil Jason) hanging around with disreputable Uncle Asa Plunkett (Guy Kibbee) because he drinks too much, among other things. Little Abigail, who sings the title song at one point, importunes kindly Asa to go look for a treasure that he's been talking about for years. A wicked brother and sister team try to take it away from him and Asa winds up getting in trouble with the law. None of it is as serious as it sounds, as this is a light-hearted, overly "cute" film with a couple of mild chuckles now and then. Kibbee and Robson are as good as ever. Jane Bryan of The Old Maid plays Betsy Ann. Mary Treen is the housekeeper, Libby. Sybil Jason is a talented little monkey-face, although some might find that her appeal runs out about halfway through the movie.

Verdict: Paging Shirley Temple! **.

EASTWICK (2009)


EASTWICK (ABC TV series/2009).

Based on the film The Witches of Eastwick, this has three women in the same town encountering the mysterious Darryl Van Horne (Paul Gross, who starred in the TV show Due South about ten years ago), and discovering that they've suddenly become empowered with a kind of magic. The suspense of the series is not only what will happen to them with these new abilities -- and their new-found strength -- but if they will ever discover the true identity of the oddly likable Van Horne. By the time you read this Eastwick will most likely be off the air due to low ratings. While it has its entertaining moments and some good performances, it hasn't quite become a "must-see." Gross isn't bad, although at first he seemed to be trying too hard to imitate Jack Nicholson [who played the same role in the movie]. Lindsay Price ( a decade after The Bold and the Beautiful) and Jaime Ray Newman are fine as Jennifer and Kat, respectively, but Rebecca Romijn [Mystique in the X-Men movies] was probably not the best casting choice as Roxie. Sara Rue probably makes the best impression as Jennifer's friend, Penny. Veronica Cartwright, who also appeared in the theatrical film, is fun but hasn't much to do as the put-upon "Bun." A real problem with the series is that the very likable Jennifer and the weak-gal-seeking-strength Kat both became just a little too obnoxious, especially the former.

Verdict: It was here but now it's gone. Magic! **1/2.

STUDIO ONE: THE ROCKINGHAM TEA SET


STUDIO ONE: THE ROCKINGHAM TEA SET (1950). Director: Franklin J. Schaffner.

"You''ll never be rid of me! Never!"

For curiosity's sake since it stars Grace Kelly, Turner Classic Movies resuscitated this utterly forgettable melodrama from the golden age of live television. The Rockingham Tea Set is an episode of Studio One. A young nurse (Grace Kelly) tells the story of her last employer, a neurotic woman, Celia Arden (Louise Allbritton), who became crippled after a car accident. Her fiance, David (Richard McMurray), was driving the car at the time and has been doing penance ever since. Celia is convinced that the nurse and David are falling in love with one another and it all leads to alleged tragedy. Kelly is quite good; Allbritton chews the scenery but is effective. [For a much more interesting Allbritton performance see Son of Dracula.] This is a riot of unreal characters, lousy dialogue, and some stilted acting as well.

Verdict: Not everything in the golden age was golden. *1/2.

RIVER'S END


RIVER'S END (1940). Director: Ray Enright.

Sgt Derry Connison (Dennis Morgan) of the mounties takes off after escaped convicted murderer John Keith (also Dennis Morgan), who happens to look quite a bit like him. When the former lies dying of exposure, he suggests that Keith, whom he believes to be innocent, take his place in the mounties and solve the murder for which he was accused. When Connison's sister (Elizabeth Earl) shows up thinking Keith is her brother, he finds himself falling for her. Talk about a sticky situation! Georgie Tobias is Keith's Pal, Andy, and Steffi Duna is Cheeta, who has an unaccountable yen for him. Victor Jory is wasted as a witness at the trial who comes back into the scene. Although the premise is intriguing, this is not a very good picture.

Verdict: Two Dennis Morgans for the price of one! **.

THE PRISONER (2009)


THE PRISONER (2009 Television 6 hour/3 part mini-series on AMC.) Written by Bill Gallagher.

This is a remake of the cult British TV show The Prisoner, which aired in the sixties and starred Patrick McGoohan as an ex-agent imprisoned in a place known only as "The Village." In this update James Caviezel is cast as "number 6," who wakes up in the village and is told that it is the only civilization that exists or has ever existed, even though he remembers his former life, as do many of the other residents. His nemesis is the village's leader, "Number 2" (Ian McKellen), who knows much more than he's saying. The first installment of this mini-series was intriguing, using a more naturalistic approach than the kind of pop art, vaguely campy approach of the original. Unfortunately, as the series proceeds, if anything it becomes even more obtuse than the original -- and deadly boring. The whole business with Number 2's possibly gay and sociopathic son only adds to the confusion. There are too many characters, few of which are memorable. By the time this mini-series is over you won't really care what the hell it's all about, where the village is, or much of anything else. Caviezel is okay, but this is probably the worst vehicle Ian McKellen ever had and even his performance becomes tiresome.

Verdict: Six hours of your life you can never get back. *1/2.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL


THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL (1985). Director: Peter Masterson.

A lovely, low-key movie and character study about an elderly woman, Carrie Watts (Geraldine Page, who won and deserved an Oscar), who desperately wants to go back to her childhood home for at least one last look. Carrie lives with her son, Ludie (John Heard) and daughter-in-law Jessie Mae (Carlin Glynn) in a small home and sometimes there is a definite strain. Based on Horton Foote's play (he also wrote the screenplay), the mood piece is moving because it invokes feelings of lost youth, distant times of (alleged) happiness, past regrets and wasted chances, and all the things that most human beings feel as they grow older. Still, the film primarily works because of Page's superb performance. She makes a woman that many of us would find quite tiresome in real life (what with her hymns and dumb religious assertions) perhaps more interesting than she deserves to be. Still she comes off as a very real person. Heard and Glynn are also quite good. Rebecca De Mornay and Richard Bradford are also notable as a fellow bus passenger and the local sheriff, respectively. One could quibble about certain things, but this is all about mood.

Verdict. Quietly touching. ***.

VIOLENT SATURDAY


VIOLENT SATURDAY (1955). Director: Richard Fleischer.

While a group of criminals gather in Bradenville to plan and commit a robbery, we are treated to vignettes about some of the townspeople. The problem with this caper movie is that it wants to be something else, a small town drama, with the robbery almost being incidental [it fact it takes place in only a couple of minutes]. The soap opera gets in the way of the caper story, and the look at small town life -- a man (Richard Egan) with a philandering wife, a librarian (Sylvia Sidney) with debts, a mousy bank manager (Tommy Noonan) who's sort of a peeping tom -- isn't all that interesting. There are so many actors hardly any of them really get a chance to shine. Victor Mature is the nominal hero; Stephen McNally is the head of the crooks; Ernest Borgnine is an Amish farmer [!]. J. Carrol Naish and Lee Marvin are as flavorful as ever as two members of the gang. Virgina Leith is a pretty nurse who arouses passions before becoming The Brain That Wouldn't Die. A much better Richard Fleischer film was Fantastic Voyage.

Verdict: Not worth the time it takes to tell. **.

EVIL DEAD 2


EVIL DEAD 2 (1987/AKA Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn). Director: Sam Raimi.

Not so much a sequel as a revisioning (and parody) of Raimi's cult hit, The Evil Dead. Ash (Bruce Campbell) is back in a cabin, has to murder his possessed girlfriend again, and then not only has to deal with demons trying to take him over but with the possessed bodies of the cabin's occupants and visitors, including Annie (Sarah Berry), the daughter of a scientist (whose dead, devious wife is rotting and plotting in the cellar). Even more of a comic book than the original, the burlesque, black comedy tone of the film probably made it more influential on the alleged "horror" films (actually gory comedies) that came later. There's a naked, headless corpse dancing ballet in the woods, an eyeball that shoots out of another suppurating corpse and into Annie's mouth, and it becomes very clear that this is nothing that anyone, even the filmmakers, could possibly take seriously. Sporadically amusing and entertaining, but basically too ultimately schlocky to care about. There are some decent stop-motion monster effects near the end. The climax has Ash sucked through a warp into another dimension, setting up another sequel. Bruce Campbell manages to preserve his dignity no matter what shit the script puts him through, acquiting himself nicely in a performance that has to balance [ersatz] horror with humor, and definitely displays star charisma. But while the "Evil Dead" movies may have put him on the map, in the long run they probably didn't do him all that much good.

Verdict: Some inventive stuff but overall the same old grind. **.

WHO NEEDS SLEEP?


WHO NEEDS SLEEP? (2006 documentary). Director: Haskell Wexler.

The famous cinematographer Haskell Wexler [pictured] put together this film which looks at the problem of sleep-deprived workers in the film industry. Wexler and others were especially galvanized after one man fell asleep at the wheel driving home to his family and was killed. As is said, this covers the film industry, but it could be about "any group of industrial workers fighting to have a fourteen hour day." Workers in the movie business typically put in 19 hour days without the commensurate salaries of the stars and [generally] the directors -- hardly a "glamorous" business. After the man's death petitions were signed and circulated insisting on a 14 (!) hour work day but it didn't stick. There has been "no real appreciable change." The trouble is that the movie makers are on a deadline to finish a film and there are variable factors at play. Still, this is a very interesting documentary showing an aspect of the movie business that few people outside the industry ever really think about. There are brief moments of celebrities being interviewed, but mostly its people working behind the scenes.

Verdict: Sobering. ***.

THE SECRET OF THE WHISTLER


THE SECRET OF THE WHISTLER (1946). Director: George Sherman.

Artist Ralph Harrison (Richard Dix) is married to a wealthy, ill woman (Mary Currier) but his heart belongs to his very sexy model Kay (Leslie Brooks). The prognosis for Mrs. Harrison isn't very good, but when she makes a full recovery poor Ralph finds himself in quite a dilemma: How to enjoy the woman's money but have sweet Kay for his wife. Entertaining mystery is fairly predictable but it does have a memorably ironic conclusion. Michael Duane, who plays handsome painter Jim, was the star of The Return of the Whistler. Claire Du Brey is Laura, Mrs. Harrison's loyal servant and husband-hater. Good acting doesn't hurt. Narrated, as such, by the shadowy Whistler character, as usual.

Verdict: Okay Whistler entry. **1/2.

A JOB TO KILL FOR


A JOB TO KILL FOR (2006 telefilm). Director: Bill Corcoran.

Jennifer Kamplan (Sean Young) has been brought in to bring an advertising agency up to speed and she's determined to do just that, even if her husband Patrick (Ari Cohen) feels neglected most of the time. Jennifer hires a go-getter, Stacy Sherman (Georgia Craig), to whip the crew into shape, and while she's no charm girl, half the time her opinions are correct. But Stacy is perhaps a little too zealous when it comes to her job and making things easier for Jennifer. Yes, this is another psycho-bitch movie with the usual homoerotic undertones. Sean Young gives a good performance, Georgia Craig is terrific, and the movie holds the attention, even if it's something you'll forget five minutes later. The two cops following a trail of bodies are annoying -- and alleged -- comedy relief. Clever wind-up, though.

Verdict: Not a movie to kill for, but what the hey? **1/2.

THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG


THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG (1939). Director: Nick Grinde.

A young assistant agrees to become part of an experiment with a doctor he works with, Savaard (Boris Karloff), even though the assistant's fiancee, Betty (Ann Doran), begs him not to do it. In essence the young man has to be killed so that Savaard can bring him back to life. Horrified, Betty gets the authorities, who shut Savaard down just before he can revive his assistant, dooming the young man to an early death. Savaard is put on trial for murder, and vows revenge on all those who put him away. The fascinating climax has him trapping everyone in an old house and swearing that every fifteen minutes someone will die! Karloff, not exactly looking fetching with blond, wavy hair, gives one of his best performances in this entertaining and interesting thriller.

Verdict: One of the better Karloff vehicles. ***.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

THE MONEY TRAP


THE MONEY TRAP (1965). Director: Burt Kennedy.

Cop Joe Baron (Glenn Ford) is married to Lisa (Elke Sommer), and they have serious money troubles. When Dr. Horace Van Tilden (Joseph Cotten) shoots a burglar in his house, it turns out that the burglar's wife is Baron's old girlfriend, Rosalie (Rita Hayworth). Then there's Baron's partner, Pete (Ricardo Montalban), who would also like to get his hands on some green. I won't give away any of the twists or plot developments because that's about all this picture has going for it. Despite the gun play, love scenes, and so on, this is remarkably dull. Elke Sommer is as inadequate as ever, but the rest of the cast, especially Hayworth, is fine. This just never really comes to life.

Verdict: A waste of money. *1/2.

EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958)


EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958). Director: Bert I. Gordon.

A gigantic spider who's been snacking on luckless folk who wander into his cavern or environs is apparently killed, but revives in the high school auditorium when the band starts rehearsing. The spider appears to suffer from gastritis, as it is always squealing like a pig. The movie has many unintentionally funny scenes and cheesy effects, but much of it plays perfectly well and, like most of Mr. BIG's [Bert I. Gordon] films it's entertaining for fans of creature features. Gene Persson and June Kenney are perfectly swell as the teen couple who get trapped in the cavern with the spider at the climax; Ed Kemmer is only adequate as their teacher. Gene Roth as Sheriff Cagle nearly steals the movie away from the spider. Gordon also directed The Cyclops, The Amazing Colossal Man, Attack of the Puppet People and many others. To read more about this film see Creature Features: Nature Turned Nasty in the Movies.

Verdict: A lowercase Tarantula but fun. **1/2.

STINGAREE


STINGAREE (1934). Director: William Wellman.

"You'll be just as safe here -- as you want to be."

Bizarre but likable comedy-drama-musical-what-the hell? with Irene Dunne as Hilda Bouverie, who desperately wants a career as a singer, and Richard Dix as "Stingaree," a notorious 1874 Australian bandit who wants to make it happen for her -- even if at gunpoint. Unintentional hilarity ensues when Dunne begins singing Lucia di Lammermoor [off-screen] at all the great opera houses -- Dunne has a lovely, perhaps even an operetta-type voice, but Renata Tebaldi she ain't! However, she's as charming as ever in this film. What can one say about Richard Dix except that he's devoid of looks and insouciance and is more at home in those Whistler movies. The movie needed a Tyrone Power type and that Dix is not, although he's at least professional. As others have noted, nobody wants to see the delightful Mary Boland as a mean-spirited bitch, which she is in this film. When she sings [a dubbed voice that is not operatic-great but hardly terrible] another character says: "Being shot right now would be a blessed relief!" Jealous of Hilda's youth and talent, Boland is the type of singer who blames the accompanist for her inadequacies. There are many amusing moments in the film, an interesting sequence when Hilda hears off-stage gunshots [has her beloved been shot?] at a concert, and the songs, especially "Tonight is Mine," are lovely. So fast-paced that it doesn't give you much time to ponder the absurdity of it all. Una O'Connor is fun as ever as a maid-companion.

Verdict: Stupid but cute. ***.

THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE


THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE (2005). Director: Mary Harron.

Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) travels from Nashville to New York City in the 1940's and becomes a pin-up queen, also appearing in naughty soft-core movies [mostly on bondage and discipline] made by Irving and Paula Klaw (Lili Taylor] of the Movie Star News shop. Rediscovered years later, Page became a cult figure in the seventies and after, especially among male comics fans. Mol has a great body and gives a fine performance as Page, and there are other professional performances, but ultimately one wonders if she was really a worthy subject for the biopic treatment. The whole project, co-written by director Harron, is rather lightweight. Page's healthy, open-minded attitude toward her work is refreshing, but she "finds God" at the end. John Cullum and Austin Pendleton are also in the cast.

Verdict: More a little naughty than notorious. **1/2.

SNOWBOUND


SNOWBOUND (2001). Director: Ruben Preuss.

After she is attacked by a man in a parking garage, Liz (Monika Schnarre) tells her best friend, Barb (Erika Eleniak) that her abusive ex-husband, Dale, is out to get her. Showing little common sense, the two take off for an isolated cabin when a serious storm is coming on. Although the basic premise of two women alone fighting off who-knows-what is workable, the script is stupid and the movie is badly-acted by the two female leads, who show as much emotion as department store dummies. The film sustains some suspense due to its twists, and there's an exciting climax, but the ending isn't much of a surprise. Peter Dobson turns in a solid performance as Barb's boyfriend, Gunner, but the leading ladies simply aren't actresses. Canadian.

Verdict: Get these women into fashion shoots -- quick! **.

THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES


THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES (1940). Director: Nick Grinde.

Dr. Leon Kravall (Boris Karloff) was a leader in the field of "frozen therapy" in which cells and people are frozen for allegedly beneficial results, but he disappeared ten years ago. Aha -- it turns out that the good doctor and several others were actually accidentally frozen in a cavern in his basement. Thawed out, the megalomaniacal Kravall insists on doing things his way whether everyone agrees with him or not. Karloff is fun, Jo Ann Sayers is fine as the nurse Judith, and there are some okay ideas and moments in the movie, but overall this doesn't add up to all that much. Still, Karloff is always watchable and so is the film.

Verdict: Just don't expect too much. **1/2.

JUST ASK MY CHILDREN


JUST ASK MY CHILDREN (2001 telefilm). Director: Arvin Brown.

Brenda and Scott Kniffen (Virginia Madsen; Jeffrey Nordling) get caught up in every person's worst nightmare when they are accused of molesting their own children and wind up convicted and sentenced to jail due to overzealous prosecutors caught up in witch hunt fever and influenced by over-coached children who merely say what they think everyone wants them to say. Based on a true story that happened in the 80's, this is both heartbreaking and horrifying. The innocent couple spend years separated from their children, struggling to vindicate themselves. The chilling post script suggests that victims of this witch hunt are still sitting in prison. Very well-acted by Madsen and Nordling and the entire cast.

Verdict: Now this is one scary movie. ***.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

LADY WITH RED HAIR


LADY WITH RED HAIR (1940). Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

The "true" if fictionalized story of Caroline (Mrs. Leslie) Carter (Miriam Hopkins) who goes on the stage after she is divorced by her husband. The film purports that Carter became an actress only to get money to fight for custody of her son, but in real life the boy actually stayed with his mother and was cut out of his father's will because of it. In the film Carter unrealistically tries to storm Broadway by coming in on the top instead of the bottom, but it is true that her association with David Belasco (a magnificent Claude Rains) helped put her over the top. The film doesn't make clear that she was considered the American Sarah Burnhardt in her day. Richard Ainley plays her second husband, and as the film suggests, their marriage did signal the end of her association with Belasco (although in the film he comes in at the end to help guide her in one last production). Miriam Hopkins gives a solid performance, but up against Claude Rains there is little she can do to steal the picture. The supporting cast includes such sterling players as Laura Hope Crews, John Litel, Victor Jory, and Cecil Kellaway. A very young Cornel Wilde has a small role, and you probably won't notice Alexis Smith or Craig Stevens.

Verdict: A lady you might like to make the acquaintance of -- on film, at least. ***.

SON OF DR. JEKYLL


SON OF DR. JEKYLL (1951). Director: Seymour Friedman.

Edward Jekyll (Louis Hayward) discovers that he is the son of the notorious Dr. Jekyll of Mr. Hyde notoriety. For reasons that are never explained, he finds his father's note books and decides to continue his experiments, even down to drinking the dangerous formula. [Apparently brains don't run in the Jekyll family.] Meanwhile Dr. Lanyon (Alexander Knox), a friend of the late Dr. Jekyll, hovers about looking ominous. Although Edward does briefly turn into Mr. Hyde, this is less a horror film than a mystery. When the secret is revealed, it occurs to the viewer that everything could have been avoided if only a certain party hadn't stupidly told Edward who he was. In any case, a somewhat similar premise was used for the superior Daughter of Dr. Jekyll six years later, although Son holds the attention, has atmosphere, and is not without entertainment value. Well-acted by Hayward and the rest of the cast, which includes Paul Cavanagh as an inspector. Nice score by Paul Sawtell.

Verdict: Has its moments but Daughter is more fun. **1/2.

PRETTY POISON (1996)


PRETTY POISON (1996 telefilm). Director: David Burton Morris.

If you're going to remake a movie, at least make pretty certain that it's going to be better than the original. The 1968 Pretty Poison was hardly a masterpiece, but it was better than this fairly dull psycho-drama. Dennis Pitt (Grant Show, who is at least adequate as an actor but not really up to some of the challenges of this role) is released from an institute for the criminally-disturbed and winds up in a small town where he encounters pretty Sue Ann Stepanek (Wendy Benson-Landes), who he is much more psychotic than he is. The well-cast Benson-Landes is a good actress who gets across the angelic sociopathology of her character. Michelle Phillips is fine as her mother, as is Lynne Thigpen [one of the worst show biz names ever] as Pitt's concerned counselor. The havoc that ensues is presented without much flair or excitement and the suspense is decidedly minimal. It must be said for his fans that even with a bad haircut Show [of Melrose Place fame] is still sexy, as is Benson-Landes.

Verdict: Good-looking stars do not a great thriller make. **.

EVERYTHING SHE EVER WANTED


EVERYTHING SHE EVER WANTED (2009 Lifetime telefilm/4 hour, 2 part mini-series). Director: Peter Svatek.

Based on a true-crime book by Ann Rule, this is the sordid and pathetic story of Pat Allanson (Gine Gershon), who always wanted to live a genteel life on an estate modeled after Gone With the Wind's Tara. To that end she becomes a mistress of manipulation, and tries to poison as many people as Lucretia Borgia, including her own sister! Naturally the main characters are made far more glamorous, attractive, and dynamic than they were in real life. While no one could argue that Gershon is a great actress, she's more than acceptable as the sociopathic Pat. Gershon is backed up by a large, talented cast including Victor Garber as her father-in-law and Martin Donovan as a crippled patient who falls in love with her. "Pretty-boy" Ryan McPartlin as Tom Allanson gives a credible performance but he certainly looks and sounds nothing like the double-chinned "good ol' boy" he's portraying. Whatever its flaws, Everything She Ever Wanted is completely absorbing, fascinating, chilling, suspenseful, and ultimately disgusting.

Verdict: Solid true crime thriller illustrating the "banality of evil." All it needed was a stronger central performance. ***.

MURDERS IN THE ZOO


MURDERS IN THE ZOO (1933). Director: A. Edward Sutherland.

Zesty little horror thriller is certainly enlivened not just by a variety of animals, but by the superb performance of Lionel Atwill as a man so pathological jealous of his wife that he'll do anything to eliminate any rival -- and her. Although Charlie Ruggles supposedly has the lead as a nervous publicist for a zoo, he and everyone else are pretty much wiped out (figuratively -- and in some cases literally -speaking) by the excellent Atwill. Kathleen Burke is the wife with the roving eye who has a date with some alligators. Randolph Scott is a veterinarian. Great climax has a variety of hungry felines on the loose -- guess who's on the menu? There are other creepy crawlies as well.

Verdict: This would make a great double bill with Black Zoo. ***.

TOO LATE TO SAY GOODBYE


TOO LATE TO SAY GOODBYE (2009). Director: Norma Bailey.

Rob Lowe [pictured] stars as Rob Corbin, accused of murdering his wife, Jenn (Stefanie von Pfetten), in this telefilm based on the true-crime book by the mistress of ghoul, Ann Rule. This was the case where the wife supposedly committed suicide and where her Internet lover, unbeknownst to her, turned out to be female. The deceased woman's sister, Heather (Lauren Holly), nags at the cops to get at the truth, but she discovers that a woman Corbin dated in college years ago also committed suicide the same way. Michelle Hurd is Detective Ann Roche. This is a pretty superficial treatment of the story and is frankly nowhere near as riveting as accounts of the case on non-fiction television programs. Lowe gives another low-key, rather dull performance that he seems to specialize in.

Verdict: Watch The Staircase Murders instead. **1/2.

KIRBY FIVE-OH!


KIRBY FIVE-OH! Celebrating 50 Years of the "King" of Comics. TwoMorrows Publishing; 2008.

Essentially a special issue of The Kirby Collector, devoted to the works of comics giant Jack "King" Kirby, this is a huge trade paperback chock full of info and drawings, including rare sketches and comic book covers done by Kirby. Kirby's cinematic style on Captain America and other titles from the golden age and onward is always dynamic and vivid. Kirby worked on and co-created such characters as The Fantastic Four, Avengers, and X-Men for Marvel Comics, and at DC Comics he created the New Gods, Forever People, and Mr. Miracle as part of his "Fourth World" saga. Some of the written tributes to Kirby by other comics professionals become a bit pretentious and self-serving, but there's a lot of great material in this book -- and lots of great stuff to look at. Chapters include 50 People Influenced by Kirby; 50 best Kirby Covers; and so on, all with the "50" theme. Kirby occasionally drew Superman when he worked on Jimmy Olsen and when the Man of Steel guest-starred in his Fourth World titles.

Verdict: Illustrates why Kirby is one of the greats! ***.