WELCOME!

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, February 25, 2010

IN A LONELY PLACE


IN A LONELY PLACE (1950). Director: Nicholas Ray.

"I said I liked it. I didn't say I wanted to kiss it." -- Laurel referring to Steel's face when he tries to kiss her.

Screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is the primary suspect when a pretty hat check girl, Mildred (Martha Stewart) ,who tells him the plot of a novel at his home, is brutally murdered. Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) is a neighbor who becomes involved with Steele and is troubled by his temper and all the rumors. Did he do it or didn't he? Frank Lovejoy is the detective on the case. There's a nice score by George Antheil, and the film is well photographed by Burnett Guffey. The acting is good -- Martha Stewart is especially effective -- but the problem with the movie is that the lead character is so repellent. Very good, uncompromising ending, however. An uncredited Alix Talton of Deadly Mantis plays Fran, a friend of Dixon's, and Morris Ankrum of The Giant Claw and Steven Geray are also in the cast. Martha Stewart was attractive and talented but her career petered out by 1964 with only a short list of credits.

Verdict: Holds the attention, has interesting aspects, but one suspects there's less here than meets the eye. **1/2.

THE CAT AND THE CANARY


THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1978). Written and directed by Radley Metzger. Director's Cut.

This is a disappointing color remake of the old scary silent movies of the same name. In 1934 at Briarcliffe Manor, the heirs are gathered together to find out which of them will get all of the late Cyrus West's money -- from Cyrus West (Wilfrid Hyde White) himself speaking on a film he made before his death. [An interesting aspect of this sequence is that the housekeeper is not only serving dinner to the heirs as they look at West's will-movie, but is also seen serving West in the movie-within-a movie, passing behind the screen in real time and showing up on the screen a second later. The only problem is that the actress doesn't look any younger, even though the will-film was made years before]. An added complication arrives in the form of a doctor (Edward Fox) who tells them all that a madman who thinks of himself as a cat and likes to tear at flesh has escaped from his asylum and they are all in danger. The main problem with this movie, which has an interesting cast, is that it has absolutely no atmosphere and is greatly over-lit. Talky and slow, it gets better in the second half when the Cat makes his appearance, and there's a good, suspenseful climax, but it may be too little too late. Wendy Hiller comes off best as West's lawyer, although Fox, Honor Blackman, Daniel Massey and Peter McEnery are also swell. Michael Callan and Carol Lynley are the nominal hero and heroine. and Beatrix Lehmann is the aged housekeeper. Olivia Hussey of Romeo and Juliet appears as another one of the heirs. Metzger was better known for his erotic features, and was the editor for The Flesh Eaters, which was way more entertaining than this borderline campy movie which never realizes its full potential.

Verdict: At least the hidden passageways are interesting. **.

KING DINOSAUR


KING DINOSAUR (1955). Director: Bert I. Gordon.

When a new planet, christened Nova, somehow enters our solar system in a nearby orbit, four scientists are sent by spaceship to the world to investigate. There they find normal-looking snakes and gators, as well as a big ugly bug and an island full of prehistoric monsters. The biggest, supposedly a T-Rex, is "King Dinosaur." The first quarter of the film is mostly narration and stock footage, but things pick up a bit -- comparatively speaking -- when the scientists start exploring. The climax with two of the members of the expedition trapped in a cavern by King Dinosaur, who thrusts his snout and sticks his claws into the hole in an attempt to get at them, is fun. The music by Louis Palange and Gene Garf sounds like a lazy pastiche of Ravel's Bolero most of the time, but there is effectively-done action music for the climactic scenes. Of the actors, Bill Bryant, who plays Ralph, had the most potential, and indeed he had a long career as a working actor. Douglas Henderson also had a long list of credits both before and after making this movie. The actresses did not fare as well, however. Patti Gallagher had only a few credits, and this was the only film that Wanda Curtis ever appeared in. This was the first of Mr. BIG [Bert I. Gordon's] giant monster movies. NOTE: For more on this and similar films see Creature Features.

Verdict: Perfect for a rainy Sunday, but for fans of cheapie creepiers only. **1/2.

THE PEARL OF DEATH


THE PEARL OF DEATH (1944). Director: Roy William Neill.

Very loosely based on Doyle's The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, this is the seventh of Universal's "modern-day" Sherlock Holmes films and the 9th in which Basil Rathbone plays Holmes. The great sleuth finds himself temporarily embarrassed when the famous Borgia Pearl is purloined after he disconnects the electric alarms for a demonstration of how ineffective the security for the pearl is. Holmes' main opponent in this is Giles Conover, played by Miles Mander. Scream Queen Evelyn Ankers is Conover's associate Naomi Drake. The plot has a hideous fellow named the Oxton Creeper (Rondo Hatton) running around stealing busts of Napoleon and breaking the backs of their owners. [This Creeper fellow was decidedly not in Doyle's original story. Rondo Hatton later starred in a film called House of Horrors where he again played a "Creeper."] Nigel Bruce as Watson had become dithery comedy relief by this point. Despite its "modern" setting, this still has that old-style flavor, and is quite entertaining, even if you may feel you're one step ahead of everyone in the movie throughout.

Verdict: Creepy and well-done. ***.

DELIBERATE INTENT


DELIBERATE INTENT (200). Director: Andy Wolk. Based on a book by Ron Smolla.

A man hires a hitman to murder his wife and paraplegic son so he can get a two million dollar insurance pay-off. The hired killer uses a book called "Hitman" to learn how to commit the crimes. Professor Rod Smolla (Timothy Hutton) and lawyer Howard Siegel (Ron Rifkin) -- after much arguing and debate amongst themselves -- decide to sue Palladin Press, the firm that published "Hitman," claiming that their book led, in part, to the deaths of this horrible man's innocent family. In the resulting trial first amendment rights are intoned, and there are discussions as to whether the book was ficion or non-fiction. This is a thought-provoking telefilm, based on a real case, with top-notch performances from Hutton and the ever-reliable Rifkin. Kenneth Welsh is also on target as publisher Peder [sic] Lund.

Verdict: Agree or disagree, this is fascinating stuff. ***.

CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON


CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON (1953). Director: Arthur Hilton.

When a group travels to the moon in a spaceship, the only female member of the team, Helen (Marie Windsor), begins receiving psychic input from someone named Alpha (Carol Brewster). It seems that there's a race of women on the moon who want to kill the earth men and take over their spaceship -- or something like that. They even influenced Helen to fall for the ship's commander, Laird (Sonny Tufts) instead of the man she really loves, Kip (Victor Jory), because Laird had a lot more technical information. There's also a giant fake spider that wiggles about and emits high-pitched noises. Some of the cat-women are man-friendly and disagree with Alpha. This was much more entertaining when it was remade six years later as Missile to the Moon. After the terrible Queen of Outer Space, this is probably the worst of the bunch of "space babe" movies that were made in the fifties. The actors all do their best, however.

Verdict: Watch Fire Maidens of Outer Space instead. **.

AMERICAN PSYCHO


AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000). Director: Mary Herron.

This is a rare case of a movie being better than the book it's based upon -- in this case Bret Easton Ellis' shlocky, pseudo-literary pop novel -- although it's still no great shakes. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale, who also plays Batman) works for an investment firm and enjoys killing people whenever he feels like it. Sometimes it's people he can't stand or who have annoyed him in some way; on other occasions he's just in the mood to off someone. Bateman feigns concern for minorities and the poor, but is actually a typical, over-bearing, insufferably smug over-privileged jerk who thinks he's better than everyone else. The social commentary is fairly thick and obvious, so the movie gets no points for that. As a thriller it is passably entertaining, with a certain degree of suspense, but Herron is hardly a Hitchcock. The movie is certainly more entertaining than the novel, possibly because it doesn't seem to take itself as seriously, among other reasons. Bale gives an excellent performance, and in general is better than the material. Reese Witherspoon plays his fiancee; Willem Dafoe is an investigator looking into the "disappearance" of one of Bateman's colleagues. The picture looks good, but whatever its merits, it's ultimately as empty and unsatisfying as its unsatisfied lead character. Chloe Sevigny scores as Bateman's likable secretary, Jean, and there are several other good performances.

Verdict: You'll probably forget it the minute it's over. **.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

THE STAR


THE STAR (1952). Director: Stuart Heisler.

"Take a good look ladies! I am Margaret Elliot! And it is a shame that Margaret Elliot is waiting on a couple of old bags like you! I am Margaret Elliot and I intend to stay Margaret Elliot!" -- Margaret Elliot [Bette Davis]

Margaret Elliot (Bette Davis) was once one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but now her belongings are being auctioned off, she's locked out of her apartment by the landlady, and she drives around so drunk one night that she -- and her Oscar -- wind up in the hoosegow! Davis actually gives one of her best performances in this absorbing movie, and her character is self-absorbed and a bit monstrous at times, but also sympathetic. Davis has several particularly effective scenes in this: telling off her greedy relatives, who don't seem to understand that she's broke; yelling at two nosy and nasty customers when she temporarily [very temporarily] takes a job as a sales clerk (see dialogue quote above); and when she reacts to a screen test as she realizes to her horror that trying to play a drab middle-aged woman as if she were a much younger sexpot was a disastrous mistake. The amusing opening has Davis walking into her own agent Harry (an effective Warner Anderson) carrying off the chandelier from her mansion at the aforementioned auction. [Apparently, nothing sold for very much because it does nothing to relieve her financial problems; she never mentions getting any money from the auction house in any case.] Sterling Hayden gives a nice performance as a former leading man and ex-actor who comes to Margaret's rescue and bails her out of jail; and young Natalie Wood is lovely and adept as her worshipful daughter. Kay Riehl and Fay Baker are also notable as, respectively, Margaret's compassionate landlady and her not-so-understanding sister. Minor Watson from Beyond the Forest plays a studio chief; Katherine Warren is his wife and both are swell. Blossom Rock/Marie Blake, sister of Jeanette Macdonald, plays a maid. Very nice score by Victor Young. Starlet Barbara Lawrence, one of the sweet young things supplanting aging actresses like Elliot, plays herself. She had appeared in A Letter to Three Wives and years later was in Kronos, making her last film in 1962. Paul Frees also appears as a producer who tries to interest Margaret in a script.

Verdict: Very entertaining and vivid. ***1/2.

DR. ERLICH'S MAGIC BULLET


DR ERLICH'S MAGIC BULLET (1940). Director: William Dieterle.

In Germany before the rise of the Nazis, Dr. Paul Erlich (Edward G. Robinson, pictured) experiments with controversial methods to cure different diseases, including tuberculosis. Short-sighted and mean-spirited colleagues at the hospital don't see that the compassionate Erlich has more to offer than the average doctor. In time he comes up with "magic bullets" or synthetic drugs that can combat disease, and eventually even gets into an early type of "chemotherapy" -- which causes a break between him and his closest friend, Emil (Otto Kruger). Attempting to cure syphilis, Erlich allows a new drug to be administered, but when some of the patients die he is accused of murder, resulting in him suing for slander. Although the film is a bit talky and slow in the first half, it eventually becomes quite intriguing and dramatic, bolstered enormously by the performances of Robinson and the other cast members. Although she isn't seen too often, Ruth Gordon is lovely as Erlich's wife, Hedy. Kruger, Donald Meek, Donald Crisp and the inimitable Maria Ouspenskaya are also wonderful. Ouspenskaya figures in an amusing and daring [for 1940!] dinner party scene in which Erlich discusses his work on syphilis! Max Steiner's touching score is another plus.

Verdict: "Syphilis" at the dinner table! ***.

SUPERSTITION


SUPERSTITION (1982). Director: James W. Roberson.

A priest (James Houghton) becomes involved with a haunted house where a witch in the guise of a little girl is murdering off anyone who dares to come into the place. There's lots of action in the picture, but most of it is to little effect. There are, however, some modestly creative gore scenes. We've got the head-in-the-microwave business [see photo], and a very inventive business when a flying saw bloodily spritzes its way through the body of another priest. Despite all the gruesomeness, the movie is kind of boring. Houghton isn't much of an actor, although this led into a brief role on Knot's Landing. Albert Salmi is more on the mark as the police inspector on the case.

Verdict: Be careful what you put in the microwave. **.

ADVENTURES OF BUCKEROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION


THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKEROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984). Director: W. D. Richter.

Penny: "Buckeroo, you forgot your thruster."

Buckeroo: "Why don't you hang onto it for awhile."

This attempt to make a new action hero franchise is a tedious and woeful, career-killing failure virtually devoid of entertainment value. Buckeroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a multi-talented scientist, adventurer and rock star [with his group the Hong Kong Cavaliers] who winds up battling evil lectroids who came to Earth by way of the 8th dimension. They apparently settled in New Jersey during the Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" hoax-panic, only it was no hoax. Buckeroo is one of the few people who can see what they really look like. Aiding the lectoids is Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow, in an embarrassingly awful performance). Ellen Barkin plays Penny, the twin sister of Buckeroo's late wife, Peggy. This may have been intended as a light-hearted updating of those old movie serials, but they were a lot more entertaining and better-made than this, despite the advances in FX. Earl Mac Rauch's script is a complete mess with only one or two funny lines. Jeff Goldblum, as an associate of Buckeroo's, is the only one of the cast who really survives intact. Even the action sequences are boring. Michael Boddicker's closing theme music is fun, however.

Verdict: Virtually unwatchable. 1/2*.

THE SCARLET CLAW


THE SCARLET CLAW (1944). Director: Roy William Neill.

"For the first time we've been retained by a corpse."

After learning of the murder of Lord Penrose's (Paul Cavanagh) wife, supposedly at supernatural hands, Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) receives a note from the very same woman telling him of her fears and apprehensions. Holmes and Watson then head to the small Canadian village of Le Morte Rouge [The Red Death] to investigate the series of mysterious deaths that have occurred there, including that of Lady Penrose. Creepy and suspenseful, with those great Universal sets and that certain atmosphere, The Scarlet Claw emerges as one of the best of the "modern-dress" Holmes films. This was not based on any of Doyle's original stories. Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are as wonderful as ever, as is the ever-reliable Cavanagh, and there's fine support from Gerald Hamer, Miles Mander, Kay Harding, Ian Wolfe and Arthur Hohl. Very well-directed by Neill. Watson makes an interesting reference to a famous "Father Brown" story by Chesterton.

Verdict: Spellbinding. ***1/2.

IRON MAN: FEMME FATALES


IRON MAN: FEMME FATALES. Robert Greenberger. Del Rey; 2009.

In this paperback novel brought out in the wake of the Iron Man movie with Robert Downey, Tony Stark -- the inventive genius who is also the super-hero Iron Man -- has his hands full with attacks by both the forces of Hydra ["cut off one limb and a dozen take its place"] and the mafia-like European Maggia. Both groups are being led by sexy woman who coincidentally have scarred faces: Madame Hydra [formerly the Viper] and Madame Masque [formerly Whitney Frost, the daughter of Count Nefaria, who heads the Maggia]. Masque comes to work for Stark in disguise, and Madame Hydra intrigues him and beds him in the guise of a mysterious green-haired woman named Katalin [that should have been his first clue]. This is a moderately entertaining book using concepts and characters created way back in the "silver age" of comics in the sixties. The hoped-for meeting/battle between the two different if similar women never materializes; the separate elements don't quite jell [there is a fight between Masque and Pepper Potts, Stark's executive assistant, however]. On the other hand, the book builds up suspense near the end and there's a nifty sequence in the Lincoln tunnel on the verge of being destroyed by the forces of Hydra. Whatever the book's merits, you're basically left with the feeling that super-heroes work better in comics -- and in movies -- than they do in prose works.

Verdict: Some fun for Iron Man fans. **1/2.

THE LOVE OF HER LIFE aka A WOMAN'S RAGE



THE LOVE OF HER LIFE (AKA A Woman's Rage/2008 telefilm). Director: Robert Malenfant.

Allison (Cynthia Preston) is a deranged woman who can't let go of her ex-boyfriend (Cameron Bancroft). When she discovers that he's engaged to another woman she murders him, and then murders his sister so that she can take her place. She winds up moving in with the dead man's fiancee (Brandy Ledford) and her teenage son, Scott (Alex House), feigning friendship with the boy so she can do as much damage as possible. The acting is more than okay, but this is a lesser entry n the "psycho-bitch" sweepstakes, and the climactic confrontation between the two women is abrupt and utterly flat -- a big build-up to nothing.

Verdict: Very minor-league study of obsession. *1/2.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

BOY ON A DOLPHIN


BOY ON A DOLPHIN (1957). Director: Jean Negulesco.

Let's see. This movie has spectacular scenery shot on location in Greece, the spectacular body of Sophia Loren (pictured) whose every outfit shows off her great figure, a story about sunken treasure and some skulduggery -- and it's still a deadly bore! Loren, who gives a saucy and credible performance, plays Phaedra, who tries to team up with more than one man -- Alan Ladd and Clifton Webb are the guys -- to bring up the title statue of gold whose location is known only to the "Greek" beauty. Webb and Laurence Naismith add some zest to the picture, but most of this is talk, talk, talk and little suspense or action. Loren and Ladd have absolutely no chemistry. Loren sings -- lip-syncs actually -- a sexy song in a tavern scene.

Verdict: Not even Sophia can save everything. *1/2.

TEENAGE CRIME WAVE


TEENAGE CRIME WAVE (1955). Director: Fred F. Sears.

Jane (Sue England) goes out on a blind date and finds her life turning into a nightmare when the other teens in the group commit armed robbery and she's arrested along with them. Things get worse when crazy Mike (Tommy Cook), manages to steal away his girlfriend and moll Terry (Molly McCart) when she's being transported to a facility and drags poor Jane along with them. They all wind up holed up on a farm with a pious, bible-reading old couple and their soldier son. This would be a completely forgettable movie were it not for the vivid and convincing emoting of the two leads, Cook and McCart, who give strong portrayals of nasty, disaffected young people. McCart [also known as McCard] only made a few films after this; her last was Daughter of Dr. Jekyll in 1957. Cook, who also appeared in Missile to the Moon --wherein he was equally nasty -- amassed nearly 90 credits. Fred Sears also directed The Giant Claw, The 49th Man, and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

Verdict: Well, not exactly a crime wave, but it has its moments. **.

THE SPIDER WOMAN


THE SPIDER WOMAN (1944). Director: Roy William Neill.

This is one of the best of Universal's "modern-dress" Sherlock Holmes movies. Holmes (the always wonderful Basil Rathbone) investigates when there is a series of "pajama suicides" of prominent men. A mysterious if somewhat familiar Indian Prince turns up at the gambling houses where some of the dead men interacted with Adrea [sic] Spedding (Gale Sondergaard), who sometimes goes about with a little mute boy named Larry. [There's a fascinating scene with this boy in Holmes' office. Although he has no dialogue, the kid is marvelous but, unfortunately, uncredited.] Sondergaard, who is outstanding, makes an excellent sparring partner for Rathbone. And watch out for one of the most hideous spiders you've ever seen! Supposedly based [very loosely I'm sure] on a story by Doyle.

Verdict: Creepy and very entertaining, with a great cast. ***1/2.

MY SON JOHN


MY SON JOHN (1952). Director: Leo McCarey.

Lucille and Dan Jefferson (Helen Hayes and Dean Jagger) have three sons, two of whom are football-playing joes who've enlisted in the Army, and the third of which is -- gasp! -- apparently a communist. This dated movie doesn't look at the issue with any particular objectivity, but it's the detailing of the emotions of the characters and the emoting of the actors that gives the film what little power it possesses. Despite the good performance of Robert Walker, John never really comes to life as a real person. He simply seems like a sophisticate whose relatives are well-meaning, perfectly pleasant bohunks. Jagger and Hayes, especially Hayes, are excellent, although Lucille does seem slightly demented at times. Van Heflin is solid as an FBI agent who's investigating John. Whatever its intentions, this can hardly be considered a serious look at either the communist threat or the threat to freedom posed by men like Joe McCarthy.

Verdict: Lots of talk but well-acted. **.

TWO SECONDS


TWO SECONDS (1932). Director: Mervyn LeRoy.

High rise worker John Allen (Edward G. Robinson) is about to be executed for murder, and the entire film is a flashback detailing the events that led up to this in the "two seconds" it takes him to die. Allen marries a dance hall girl, Shirley (Vivienne Osborne), while he's drunk, and she proves to be a shrew of the first rank. This brings John into conflict with his best friend and former roommate, Bud (Preston Foster), leading to a horrific tragedy. But things, if possible, get worse ... Robinson gives a ferociously superb performance in this [although it's quite odd that he appears almost drunk in the courtroom/sentencing scene]. J. Carroll Naish offers yet another of his excellent portrayals as Tony, and Osborne's performance certainly has bite. Guy Kibbee has a small role as well.

Verdict: Not exactly great drama but the acting is terrific. **1/2.

DRAG ME TO HELL


DRAG ME TO HELL (2009). Director [and co-writer]: Sam Raimi.

It seems inexplicable to me that a few prominent critics who should know better gave this crappy movie rave reviews. It's a typical 21st century horror film -- in that it's more laughable than scary, and is more of a morbid comedy than any kind of serious fright flick. Hoping to get a promotion, bank loan officer Christine (Alison Lohman) refuses to give an extension to an elderly woman (Lorna Raver) who's about to lose her home and be tossed out into the street. In retaliation, the woman [pictured] puts a curse on Christine: in three days a demon will come and drag her down to Hell unless she can come up with a way to stop it. The basic premise isn't bad, and there are some clever moments -- and the ending is good and uncompromising -- but the movie seems more interested in coming up with gross out moments than in developing character or creating true chills. There are a lot of tired old tricks and gags, and an essentially unlikable heroine. Fight scenes between Christine and the old woman border on elder-hatred. It's surprising how much of this is simply tedious. Raimi also directed the Evil Dead movies and the far-superior Spider-Man 2. The performances, including Justin Long's as Christine's boyfriend, Clay, are good.

Verdict: You can watch it in hell. **.

THE PRICE OF A BROKEN HEART


THE PRICE OF A BROKEN HEART (1999 telefilm). Director: Paul Shapiro.

When Dot Hutlemeyer (Park Overall) discovers that her husband Joe (Timothy Carhart) is having an affair with his secretary, Lynn (Laura Innes), whom he's fallen in love with, she sues Lynn for alienation of affections. This is based on a real case in North Carolina. The deck seems to be a little bit stacked against the mistress, although the wife doesn't come off as completely sympathetic -- or realistic -- either. The verdict in the case is surprising to say the least. While the story is told in flashbacks, various men and women comment on the proceedings in a bar-restaurant. Interesting, thought-provoking and absorbing movie is well-acted by all.

Verdict: Some people just can't let go. ***.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

GIRLS ON THE LOOSE


GIRLS ON THE LOOSE (1958). Director: Paul Henreid.

"Let's check everything, just to be sure!" Vera, sizing up the hunky delivery man.

Startling study of an all-girl gang directed by Paul Henreid, the male lead of Now,Voyager and Deception. Mara Corday, who starred in such delightful creature features as Black Scorpion, Tarantula and The Giant Claw, plays Vera Parkinson, the owner of a night club who leads her gal pals into a payroll robbery. This is basically the when-thieves-fall-out plot with a distaff twist. Corday is attractive and viciously capable as the sociopathic Vera, and Barbara Bostock makes an impression as her more sensitive singing sister, Helen. Lita Milan is the dunken French hairdresser Marie, and Joyce Johanneson is the callous blond masseuse, Joyce. Abby Dalton of Viking Women vs. the Sea Serpent and Mark Richman also have roles. There are zesty cat fights, lively action, more than competent performances, and it's all quite vivid and entertaining in its way.

Verdict: Mara like you've never seen her! ***.

SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH


SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH (1943). Director: Roy William Neill.

Dr. Watson: "Ghosts don't stab people in the neck, do they?"
Sherlock Holmes: "Not well-bred ghosts."

In this very loose adaptation of Doyle's story "The Musgrave Ritual," Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) investigate murders at Musgrave Manor, which has been opened for convalescent war patients and staff. There are hidden treasures, secret passages, and a floor that resembles a chessboard. Although this is another of Universal's "modern-dress" Holmes films, it retains the old-style atmosphere that is so crucial to the success of these mysteries. Hillary Brooke plays the sister of the murdered men and she isn't too terrible. Her boyfriend is played by Milburn Stone, who also appeared in The Great Alaskan Mystery, Roadblock, and Captive Wild Woman. Dennis Hoey is great as Inspector Lestrade, a role he repeated in most of these films, and which served chiefly as comedy relief. Halliwell Hobbes and Minna Phillips make an impression as the butler, Brunton, and his wife.

Verdict: Crackling good fun! ***.

RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE


RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE (1961). Director: Jose Ferrer.

In this sequel to Peyton Place, Allison MacKenzie (now played by Carol Lynley) goes to New York with her roman a clef manuscript about the town she grew up in, and falls for her handsome married publisher (Jeff Chandler). Her mother Constance is now married to Mike Rossi [these two are now played by Eleanor Parker and Robert Sterling of Topper TV series fame], and while mama is appalled, Mike wants to place the book in the school library. Selena (now played by Tuesday Weld) is mortified that Allison chose to write about her rape and subsequent trial in her novel, and Roberta Carter (Mary Astor) is outraged that the principal wants to put his step-daughter's filthy book in the library where anyone could read it. Brett Halsey is Roberta's son Ted, who shows up with a new wife (Luciana Paluzzi, who later did Thunderball) in tow. Meanwhile Selena meets a guy named Nils (Gunnar Hellstrom). [They ignore the fact that Selena and Ted were not just friends but were once engaged]. The acting is good and there are a few surprises. Although few would argue that Eleanor Parker was a more talented actress than Lana Turner [despite the latter's fine stint in A Life of Her Own], Turner was actually more suitable for the role of Constance Mackenzie [and it doesn't help that Parker is doing one of her "actressy" turns]. Brett Halsey comes off better than usual. It's absolutely no surprise, however, that the whole movie is positively stolen by the superb performance of Mary Astor, who gives the entire cast and everyone who sees the film a lesson in sharp and superlative thesping.

Verdict: A pleasant return to old Sin City. ***.

THE SHAGGY D.A.


THE SHAGGY D.A. (1976). Director: Robert Stevenson.

In this sequel to The Shaggy Dog, Wilby Daniels -- the young man who turned into a sheepdog in the first film -- has grown up and is now played by Dean Jones. Running for office, he finds himself turning into a dog at very inopportune moments. Although Fred MacMurray is sorely missed, this has a great cast that includes Suzanne Pleshette, Keenan Wynn, Hans Conreid, Iris Adrian, and especially Tim Conway as an ice cream vendor whose dog is the one that switches places and brains with Wilby. This is a cute picture, if no world-beater, and the best sequence has a bunch of dogs in a pound who all talk with the voices of such famous actors as Peter Lorre, Mae West, Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson!

Verdict: If you liked the original you might get a minor kick out of this. **1/2.

BRIDES ARE LIKE THAT


BRIDES ARE LIKE THAT (1936). Director: William C. McGann.

Bill (Ross Alexander) is an irresponsible and irrepressible young man who charges everything to his angry uncle (Joseph Cawthorn) and wants pretty Hazel (Anita Louise) to marry him. Unfortunately, she's already accepted the proposal of the much more practical if duller Dr. Jenkins (Dick Purcell, who much later played Captain America in the cliffhanger serial). Can Bill win Hazel away from Jenkins, and will he ever find a job? While the premise wasn't exactly original back in 1936, this is a fast-paced and amusing picture with solid acting from virtually everyone in the cast -- all of whom are funny. Ross Alexander makes a very appealing and likable hero. Kathleen and Gene Lockhart are great as Hazel's parents and even Purcell makes an impression. Mary Treen has more lines as usual and is swell as a disapproving friend of Hazel's family.

Verdict: Quick and snappy. **1/2.

7 WOMEN, 1 HOMOSEXUAL AND CARLOS



7 WOMEN, 1 HOMOSEXUAL AND CARLOS [AKA 7 mujeres, 1 Homosexual y Carolos/2004). Writer/director: Rene Bueno.

Carlos (Mauricio Ochmann) loves his fiancee Camila (Adriana Fonseca) but his friends and co-workers keep telling him that every man has a right to be unfaithful. More than one person tells him that every man has a right to "seven women and one homosexual" -- whatever the hell that means [but it comes off as quite condescending and homophobic, not to mention moronic. Would the "macho" guys in this movie really want to have sex with another guy?] Despite the title and the ads, this is not a racy sex comedy, but a pretty dull, routine and conventional comedy about a guy who loves one woman but whose peers try to pressure him into being unfaithful. Who cares? As his girlfriend is beautiful the whole thing doesn't make any sense anyway. From Mexico.

Verdict: This is considered one of the better movies to come out of Mexico, which means they've really got a problem. *.

LONG LOST SON


LONG LOST SON (2006 telefilm). Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith.

Kristen (Gabrielle Anwar) is warned by the husband (Craig Sheffer) she's divorcing that he won't be separated from his son no matter what, but it all seems academic when he and the boy are drowned at sea. Then fourteen years later she sees her husband in a video with a young man at his side. With her new husband's approval she takes off for the island where they are located, and contrives to get to know the young man who is her grown-up son. This movie and its star are both so low-key that the film never works up any tension, suspense, drama, or even poignancy. It's a question if Anwar is taking underplaying to a new level or is just a lousy, inexpressive actress. Chace Crawford [who is now on Gossip Girl] is appealing as the son, and Craig Sheffer does what he can in a thankless role as the runaway husband. But the movie is directed to have as little impact as possible and you suspect Anwar just wanted to find a nice little corner where she could go to sleep.


Verdict: This may put you to sleep as well. **.